Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holiday

Eat, drink and be as merry as you can this year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

On Women and Money

Dean Baker had an interesting piece on Truthout yesterday, looking at why two women, Sheila Bair and Brooksley Born, have done much better than the guys, both in seeing the problems with our financial system and figuring out how to solve them. Born headed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission during the Clinton Administration, and suggested that regulating derivatives might just be a good idea. But The Big Boys, Rubin, Summer and Greenspan, were opposed, advocating self-regulation etc. Well, we know where that got us. Rubin, in an attempt to defend himself, said that Born was insufficiently collegial and--strident.

Ah, whenever women tell men that they're doing something stupid or dangerous, we're strident. And/Or shrill. And that's always a sufficient justification for not listening. I mean, "if only she hadn't been so strident, we wouldn't have kept doing what we were doing, you know, the stuff that crashed the financial system." Not only is that really dumb, but it's not true.

Suppose Ms. Born had come into the meeting, sat demurely with eyes downcast, her hands folded neatly in her lap, and said something like, "I don't want to upset you, but I really think that we might want to think about looking at some problems that might, potentially, some day, show up, maybe, in the derivatives' market that could, if we weren't
careful, have an impact on the financial system." Then The Big Boys would have done what they did anyway, and defended themselves by saying that Born didn't seem overly concerned, or wasn't sufficiently forceful in her presentation.

Every woman who has ever done anything knows that it doesn't matter how we present ourselves. If they ain't gonna listen, they ain't gonna listen, and we might as well say what we have to say in the way that's most comfortable for us.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Sun Returns

Happy Solstice, everyone. Well, in the Northern Hemisphere anyway.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

It's Cold

For the past couple of weeks we've been assaulted by a Canadian cold front. (Will they send us their health care system? Noooo. Will they send us their nasty cold air? Sure, here's a couple weeks worth.) Now a lot of people laugh at those of us who think 43 degrees is a cold winter's day. But we're Californians. We're not used to it. We drag out our down jackets when the temperature gets below 50. And J has taken up wearing a scarf indoors, although I will admit that we only warm our house to about 62 degrees--our heater would run constantly if we put it up any higher.

Even the cats have been cold. Sure they demand to be let outside at 7:30, but they don't really mean it. We let them out at about 10, and they're usually back inside by 11:30 to settle down for their naps.

The appointment of Representative Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor is a bone throw to labor. The real power will rest with the big boys at Treasury and the White House. I wonder if she'll last a full term.

The Winter Solstice is at 4:04 AM, Pacific Standard Time. The Sun returns!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

On Our Present Condition

There's an interesting discussion over at TPM Cafe this week on Depression economics (economic, not personal depression). I can't pretend to understand much of it, given that I took (and dropped) only one Economics class in my life, but wanted to pick up on a couple of the less technical points. The first is that much of the focus is on getting us consuming again. While I'm not of the Mall is the Playhouse of the Devil school, it seems to me that we could use a little mindfulness in our consuming--buying things we need or want--rather than just hosting products on their way to the landfill, Goodwill or our next garage sale. Much of what is on offer at Target, WalMart and the Dollar Store could disappear from the world tomorrow with no noticeable deterioration in the quality of anyone's life. Unfortunately what really happens during recessions is that all the good stuff disappears from the shelves, to be replaced by junk that is cheap to produce and cheap to buy. I can only think that this happens because capitalism is desperate to sell us something, anything, just to keep the wheels grinding. And please note that I am not suggesting that people purchase only those things they need, in a reprise of the Maoist patch and patch again, but that we think about what we want just a wee bit more than "see it, want it, buy it."

The second issue that goes unmentioned is that a good portion of the population (about 2/3) really didn't have enough money to go shopping even in the before time. Most of the income of most people is spent on the necessities--housing and utilities, health care, transportation, food--and there's damned little left over for the mall. If they really want to get consuming going, the powers what control the economic sphere should give the poorest 2/3 of the population a wage increase. And no one is even talking about the population of the rest of the world, which would just like to consume some safe water and an adequate amount of food.

And finally, how much consuming should people do when little planet Earth really can't absorb all the garbage we're spewing out. Do we really want a world like Wall-E's, where we're forced to abandon most of it to the packaging left behind? Certainly we could do some simple things, like outlawing bottled water in San Francisco, which has the best tap water in the country. Or getting rid of the seven layers of packaging that we have to wade through to get to the item we actually bought.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Solstice Tree

J and I went out this morning to acquire our Solstice Tree. Luckily the Winter Solstice comes just before Christmas, so we're able to piggyback on the larger Christmas celebration. Because this is Sacramento, most people either have plastic trees or obtain their live tree the day after Thanksgiving. By the time we're ready to shop for our tree, the live trees have been sitting around the lot for a loooong time. We went to three purveyors before we--finally--found an acceptable tree at, of all places, Home Depot. Home Depot, I can't believe it. They speak the truth, though, when they say that new trees arrive weekly. We didn't lose half the needles the first time we shook the tree.

J installed the tree in its stand and then put on the lights. We now use the very energy-efficient LEDs, and wonder why anyone ever put 25-watt bulbs on a dead tree. It's amazing the whole country didn't go up in smoke between December 20 and the end of the year. J has become very good at light installation and we only used one strand for our little tree.

We used to use a living tree. But the majority of living trees are either Monterey or Aleppo pines. They're great trees, but nurseries choose them because they grow rapidly. The Monterey pine we had in Oakland grew a couple of feet the first year. We realized then that we weren't going to be able to wrestle it up the stairs for its
third year. So we planted it in a corner of the back yard. It grew and grew--and grew. I read up on them, and discovered that Monterey pines grow 50 feet in twelve years. That tree is on its way to taking over our old neighborhood.

I then set about installing the ornaments--using only only about a quarter or our collection. I don't know how I acquired so many ornaments. I didn't use all of our little wood snowmen and Santas, and none of the large balls. I could probably do a tree twice the size of this one and still have ornaments left over.

On the Solstice, the tree topper will be turned from the Moon side to the Sun side. Spring is coming!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Obama and the Progressives

Various of the punditry are now rising to remind the progressive/left community that we shouldn't be to hard on Obama for his Cabinet choices. After all, he's choosing responsible people. Or he hasn't done anything yet. Well, I disagree. I never thought Obama was going to be all that great in the first place. And I see no reason not to point out that his choices for economic policy include some of the worst offenders in bringing about the present crisis, that his choices for foreign policy are a bunch of hawks (as if we could afford another war), his Chief of Staff is famous not for any progressive legislation, but for his work to bring us NAFTA, and he kept a Republican as Secretary of Defense. And while these choices don't tell us what his policies will be, they give us a pretty good indication. And it's not good.

Friday, December 5, 2008

More Shopping

Why do we keep getting bad advice from the local newspaper? First they all suggested that we buy houses, no matter what the cost. Now we're supposed to buy small, useless trinkets made by local artisans and sold in yuppie replacements for the Gifte Shoppe. Take, for example, this piece from the San Francisco Chronicle:

"Now, this 'buying local for the holidays' credo may mean that when I buy, I buy small. I am well aware that hand-crafted items and those sold in boutiques may cost more, sometimes alarmingly so. There's a premium because artists aren't buying raw materials or producing in bulk; for the stores, there are no efficiencies of scale to help drive down the unit price. That's why a hand-sewn wallet ends up costing the same as a larger, factory-made purse from a department store, a fact not lost on me as I peer at the wallet wondering, 'Is this gold thread or something? Did she raise the cow and hand-cure the leather?' So maybe instead of the wallet, I buy a key fob."

No, no, no, you don't. It doesn't matter if the key fob is handmade by a local artisan or from Target, if the person who receives it just dumps it in a drawer or sends it off to Goodwill. Don't buy people things they neither need nor want. Not only is that not frugal in the present period, but it just adds to the National Junk Heap. If you really want to purchase something handmade for someone, take her with you, notice what she likes, and then go back and purchase it later. I can almost guarantee that it won't be the key fob.

Our local "alternative" weekly has a "Shop Local" campaign this year. I think it's designed to sell ads. But its biggest problem is that Sacramento has the worst local shopping of any city in the country. Even J, who believes that shopping is a torture inflicted specially on him, was excited by the opening of a new Cost Plus, as that provided better stuff than the local boutiques. I'd be happy to shop local if I could find anything to buy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Such Fun

It's been such fun reading the more right-wing pundits work their way through our economic crisis. I mean, it's so difficult to argue against $60 billion for a national health system when the gummit has just blown $350 billion, and you're not quite sure what they spent it on. And then the gummit decides that the $350 billion didn't do much good and they need to spend another $350 billion and you're not quite sure what they want to spend it on.

But they're doing their best to limit the damage, so to speak. There's been a concerted effort to argue that the New Deal policy to enable unionization was, in fact, bad for workers, as it maintained high levels of unemployment. And now Robert Samuelson has made his contribution, arguing that Obama should devote himself to the immediate crisis and leave
issues like health insurance and green industries for some indefinite future. I'm sure that someone probably argued to Roosevelt that he should pay attention to the immediate crisis and leave Social Security to another time. Luckily for us, he didn't listen. And while I expect that Obama would dearly love to offload his more progressive campaign promises, public pressure may force him to come through.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Happy Birthday, J

J is 60 today. Happy Birthday!

On the Liability of Rating Agencies

This is an interesting idea--go after the Big Three security rating organizations (Moody's, Standard and Poor's, and Fitch) not for the quality of their ratings, which are protected by First Amendment rights ("we can say any silly, stupid thing we want, no matter how dumb we know it to be"), but for the effect of the ratings on African American and Latino communities. One of the scandals of the foreclosure crisis is that the mortgage brokers and non-bank lenders (those not subject to the Community Reinvestment Act) mined African American and Latino communities for potential borrowers, encouraging people who could easily have received safer loans to take out exploding ARMs and the like.

This complaint attempts to sidestep the First Amendment protections afforded the ratings' agencies. Whether it works or not, it would be useful for the EEOC to investigate the ways in which minority homeowners and homebuyers were steered to these nasty loans.


The Washington Post reports this morning that the East Coast oaks aren't producing any acorns this year. We don't have that problem this year; our trees have been producing bumper crops. So many that we've found acorns on the ground, ones the squirrels who live in our yard have either missed or rejected. And the squirrels are getting chubby.

For several years we didn't see any acorns and wondered if there was something wrong with our Valley Oak. But local naturalists reassured us--oaks don't produce every year, but in three to seven year cycles. So in years with fewer acorns our squirrels are assiduous in their hunt for the acorns our tree produces. Only in years with a lot of acorns do we find any leftovers.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ready for My Bailout

Now that it seems that the government is bailing out every bank in the country, not to mention various manufacturers, it's time for the rest of us to start thinking about what we want for our bailout. I know that some people are opposed to bailouts altogether, but it's too late for that. Our government has spent hundreds of billions bailing out people who make hundreds of millions a year. So what about bailing out those of us who make barely more than the median income? It's our turn.

I've thought about my bailout a lot. I can't do a lot of shopping without a bailout, so it takes the place of pointing and clicking and entering my credit card number. I do have a problem in that my bailout doesn't include paying off my credit card or refinancing my mortgage. I don't have a credit card balance and I rent. But I could receive a bailout. Really.

First I could have a line of credit at my favorite shops. My favorite shops would vie with one another to provide me the cheapest prices, the best service. I would no longer be just the woman who occasionally makes small purchases, but the woman who has a line of credit guaranteed by the government. The local bookstore would probably send someone over with the latest garden book acquisitions. The plant nurseries would call me with plant lists from their growers. My clothier would call when the pinwale corduroy jackets arrived, rather than just sending me a postcard.

Second, I'd receive a restaurant allowance. This would enable me to try new ones, as well as revisit old favorites. J would never have to cook again, unless he wanted to. Our reservations would be honored promptly. Indeed we might receive calls when the chef was preparing our favorites. If we didn't feel like going out, the restaurant could deliver. And did I mention that all of those who served us would be union employees, with good wages and benefits?

Third would be purchases of durable goods. Now unfortunately I don't need much in the way of consumer durables. Our 1200 square foot duplex holds quite enough furniture for us, thank you. And for the most part, we wouldn't want to replace it. I would be interested in one of those skinny TVs, though, if I could get an energy miser. And I might be convinced to revisit the sofa question, if excellent choices were provided. I'm afraid, though, that my fellows will have to use their bailouts for consumer durables.

Then there's the matter of concerts, plays and the like. Some portion of everyone's bailout should be used to support cultural activities. This would require many more performances, but would also thereby allow many more artists to make living wages. Small troupes would require larger spaces, and new groups could take over the ones vacated. These funds would augment the direct bailouts to arts' groups and the income earned by performing at senior centers, schools and day care facilities. J might be encouraged to get a couple of guitars, bass and drums together for the Centrum Silvertones, performing old acid rock and alternative folk at senior centers and nursing homes.

Hmmm, we might find that this kind of bailout worked much better than the one given to Citi, and learn something for the next go-round.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

On Thomas Friedman

I think that the period Thomas Friedman took off to write his book, which I haven't bothered to read, was a little less miserable for those of us who do a lot of reading. No rattling on about the joys of the new financial system, Davos Man, and his unfortunate construction of globalization. But watching him now is almost fun. It reminds me of the writing on Cuba just after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the government there stayed in power by repressing the population at the same time (and sometimes in the same article) that the government was entirely unable to control the population. What that confirmed was that they can't see that their analysis is wrong, even when the contradictory facts are directly before them.

So in his column of November 16, we are informed that while shopping may have gotten us into this mess (which isn't exactly right anyway), we must get ourselves out of it by--by--more shopping! But by the next week he's changed his mind and, on November 23, he's--silently we hope--admonishing the young people in restaurants to go home and eat tuna fish. In other words, stop shopping. I should be critical, but right now it's just fun to watch people who spend their time justifying the unjustifiable depredations of the elite try to negotiate their way through this.

Update December 9: I can't believe that this piece ended up on NetRightNation. Uh, I'm kind of embarrassed to be there.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Refund

Can we just declare the bailouts a waste, take back all the money, and try again? I mean, the banks were given a lot of money and it seems to have disappeared into their reserves and executive compensation. I wrote earlier that the government should do direct lending, and I still think that's our best option. Depending on the people who brought about this mess to fix it has been a complete waste of money.


I've been playing with SiteMeter, a free counter that lets me know how many people have been to my blog, where they come from etc. I'm most interested in it for my Tenants and Foreclosure blog (link to the right), as I want to track who is coming and what they're looking for. Did you know that people in other countries also go from link to link, reading things that may be of no use to them whatsoever? Netherlands, Malaysia, Korea. Most of my readers come through Google searches, so I also know what their search words are. I assume that the blog answers most of their questions, although I've had a few to whom I could have given more information on their exact question. (SiteMeter doesn't give me their email addresses, and I'm not sure I'd want them anyway, but I do sometimes want to say, "Wait. Wait. Here are some options for dealing with that.")

Monday, November 24, 2008

Fall Leaves

Instead of going on our usual brisk walk yesterday, I dragged my friend A to the park, so that I could take pictures of fall leaves. California doesn't have fall like the East, where all of the trees turn at the same time. Our fall dribbles from the end of August through January. Some trees are budding out at the end of January, just as the last trees going dormant lose their leaves. We do, however, have good years and bad ones--well, not so much bad, as mediocre. The best color seems to come with a short, sharp fall, when the nighttime temperatures drop suddenly from 60 to 40 degrees. This year we had erratic temperatures through the fall, so our fall color has ranged mostly from dull yellow to brown.

I've written before that I had little expectation that I would be happy with the Obama Administration. And so far, I've not been disappointed. He headed straight for the miserable centrists in and about the Democratic Leadership Council that brought us the eight-year fiasco that was the Clinton Administration.
(The only reason that one no longer seems quite so awful is that the present government is so thoroughly appalling.) The economic advisors are mostly people who helped bring about the mess we're currently in. It will soon become part of the ruling conventional wisdom that the Republicans were responsible for the deregulative frenzy that collapsed so many of our major banking houses. This is not true; the Democrats were as culpable in bringing about the "modernizing" legislation that enabled the development of the alpahbet soup (SIV, CDO, CDS) as the Republicans.

I've been thinking lately about the intersection of Wall Street and Main Street in the present crisis. What made the housing bubble so much more disasterous than the stock bubble? Yes, the collapse of the stock bubble did cause a recession, but it didn't threaten the entire economy. The housing bubble does. Several things are at work here. The first is that the poorest 2/3 of the population has been precarious since the mid-1970s.
Wages have been declining since then, and it's only because more family members have gone out to work that household incomes haven't collapsed. (In 1973 a family could make the median income with forty-two work hours a week at the average weekly wage. By the mid 1990s, achieving the median income required eighty-two work hours a week.) When that was no longer sufficient, families turned to the credit card to stretch their incomes. Credit cards were particularly important for single-earner households, as they couldn't work the eighty-two hours a week required to make the median income. Brett Williams called the credit card the virtual domestic partner and that's an apt description. The banking system made huge amounts of money from the expansion of credit card lending--interest, late fees, overlimit fees--but by the beginning of the 21st century, it was pretty obvious that people couldn't borrow much more from Mastercard and Visa. There simply wasn't sufficient income to service all of that debt. I remember Alan Greenspan trying to explain that not all households were in insurmountable debt--only some of them.

So what was left? If I were someone who believed in conspiracy theory, I'd imagine a bunch of bankers looking at the little house on Cul de Sac Lane, light bulbs going off over their heads. What was obvious to them, I'm sure, was that housing was the only resource left to exploit. Most Americans didn't have anything else left. What the mortgage brokers, lenders, hedge fund managers didn't understand was that people were so precarious that they were taking loans they couldn't hope to pay back. I remember reading in the local papers that people would always pay the mortgage, no matter what. But if the mortgage payment is more than the household's monthly income, there's no belt tight enough to save it.

So a good number of our fellows started borrowing against their houses to pay off the aforementioned credit card bills, fix up the house, buy cars and so on. I suppose that some of them bought big-screen TVs with the money or took expensive vacations or whatever, but a lot of people just wanted to send the kid to college. What's
worse is that some tenants, who should have been living in subsidized rental housing, were induced to take on mortgages so that they could have a decent place to live. Many tenants are barred from decent rental housing by credit problems, so their best option really was to buy a house they couldn't afford.

That they believed that housing prices would only go up isn't surprising; most of the nation's leading financiers thought the same thing, and produced charts and graphs to show us the truth of their proposition. Unlike our nation's financiers, however, they are suffering the consequences of those beliefs. Whatever credit they had has now been trashed, and they're now doubled up with friends or relatives. Some have rented apartments from unscrupulous landlords, paying exorbitant deposits, only to find that the house they've rented has gone into foreclosure. Particularly sad are the people in their mid-50s who suffered foreclosure, as they will never recover from it.
(For a variety of reasons, people born in the mid-1950s are less likely to own houses than those born before or after, so they were specially susceptible to the "now or never" pressure.)

I do wonder what Wall Street will come up with next. They tried commodities, but that seems to have been a bust. Maybe tulips?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pictures in the Fog

Today I woke up in the fog and decided to take some pictures. I didn't have good luck with fog pictures with my old not-digital camera--I once took a picture of a tree in the fog that led J to ask me, "Why did you take a picture of that building?" The building had been masked by the fog in real life, but the camera picked it up clearly.

So I braved the cold in robe and slippers to get some pictures of the garden. And some of them came out "not bad." (No one will ever describe me as a good photographer--ever.) The picture at the left is of the tree mallow that has grown much larger than I intended (I guess it was the compost I spread in that part of the yard) fronted by the Cape mallow that J inexpertly cut back a couple of months ago.

For reasons that are not clear to me, my impatiens are still blooming. I had planted them in small pots, thinking that they'd last through the summer and then keel over at the end of October, which was what happened last year. But they're still going strong. (Had I known that they would make it this long, I'd have repotted them in larger pots. If, however, I do that now, they will certainly die within the week.) The cyclamen, which traditionally blooms at this time of year, survived from last year. In fact, the cyclamen didn't even die back over the summer. I have no idea what I did to keep them going--none. I favor white flowers on the living room side of the yard, as we can see them at night. On really dark nights we can't see the foliage and the flowers "float" around the patio.

My Japanese maples are turning color now. They are all still small--the eldest is only about four years old--so they still live in little pots, but they are giving us a preview of what they'll be like when they get bigger. The red one is my Burgandy Laceleaf, purchased as a small expensive stick. Some day I will have to move this one to a better location, as it needs more sun in the summer, but I love having it outside the living room window.

This one is in a better location, but can't be seen from the window. Its leaves have turned a golden yellow this year, but the real treat is the coral bark through the winter. Both of these are grafted onto sturdier root stock, but I do have one that was grown as a cutting. It's doing well now (its first year), but I have no idea whether it will survive as well as the grafted trees.

This is not the season for flowers here. Some of the azaleas have, for reasons entirely unclear, put out a few blossoms, and the sasanqua camellias are in bloom. For several years I had a Yuletide--one of the most prolific bloomers of the sasanquas--but it suddenly sickened and died a couple of years ago. I purchased a new one this summer, but it's still a real baby and has only put out a few blooms so far.
My Setseguekka has been blooming like mad. It's a gangly plant, but with my very favorite sasanqua flowers.

The pelargoniums did very badly this year. I don't know why--they're supposed to do well here. (Pelargoniums are often featured plants in window boxes and planters in pictures of American-owned villas in Tuscany, as they survive in hot, dry climates.) I have determined that they're not appropriate in natural gardens, but I like plants that (most years) grow well, and I don't mind that they're a bit more structured than the rest of my plantings.

I may be doing something wrong, or perhaps it's just that I'm experimenting with new varieties and the new ones are just not going to make it. Plant hybridizers have quit test-gardening most plants, as they've found it cheaper to just toss them into the market and see which ones make it.
That wouldn't be so bad if the untested were cheaper, but the cost of plant material has increased rapidly over the last couple of years. Gardeners are paying high prices for plants that don't make it. And garden centers wonder why people are cutting back. Hmmm. Hmmm.

At the right is one of the survivors. The picture of another came out fuzzy, so I did what is so wonderful with a digital camera--I deleted it.

And I guess Senator Clinton really does want to be Secretary of State. And so does the former President, as he's going to have to give up most of his income-producing activities for the duration.

A note on taking pictures in fog, assuming that you want to capture the foggy conditions. Force the flash on, which does two things. It lights the foreground, which then enables the camera to "see" the fog. (I found this out by accident, when I neglected to turn the autoflash off.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Unimportant Small Things

The speaker rehabilitation worked! Our speakers haven't sounded this good in about 15 years. I am so glad J made the repair. I can hear the bowing on Il Giardino Armonico's Il Proteo. Even the treble sounds better, although J only fixed the bass speakers. (I don't quite understand that, but both J and I noticed it.)

It's been a bit cooler for the last couple of days, so cats have started coming in earlier for their afternoon nap. Said afternoon nap now takes up most of the afternoon. But they want to go back outside just as it's getting dark. That's not permitted.

I checked in on the auto executives testimony before Congress over the last couple of days. While it's difficult to have much sympathy for the people who fought against seat belt laws and for the nine gallon to the mile SUV, it's hard to understand why we're not bailing them out if we've already rescued the people who gave us the SIV. Yes, one does have to wonder at their political incompetence--leave the corporate jets at home and go slumming in first class. However, is it really that big a deal when the financial services executives have been able to keep the salaries and bonuses they got for--I can't think of anything else--convincing the Secretary of the Treasury to keep them out of bankruptcy?

Maybe it's just that the financial services sector employs people who are more likely to be white and to have attended elite universities, while auto companies have a more diverse employee base, most of whom did not attend Harvard or Yale.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Clinton for Secretary of State?

Hillary, that is. It's not that much of a surprise. Were I Barack Obama, I wouldn't want Senator Clinton working her base in the party and her colleagues in the Senate. In a dispute between Congress and the Administration, she might become a countervaling force--with her own interests, constituencies and policy priorities. So giving her a Cabinet position neutralizes her politically and keeps her really busy. If I were Hillary, I'd turn it down--for just those reasons.

Shopping and Other Things

J will celebrate his 60th birthday this month and asked for and received an electric guitar. Much time was spent at guitar emporia listening to him noodle on various prospects, but finally the selection was made, and the guitar and its attendant equipment came home. J, who used to play acoustic guitar proficiently, hasn't played for about 15 years, and he needs to practice, practice, practice.

And we--oh happy day--learned that we could repair our old Marantz speakers, rather than having to spend a stupendous (for us) sum of money on new ones. We discovered a while back that our speaker hiss was the result of deterioration in the foam on the edge of one of our bass speakers. There was much procrastination, but we finally headed off to Best Buy and Circuit City to test new speakers. We were mightily disappointed in the quality of the sound, even of the expensive prospects. Tearfully, we looked at the possibility that we might have to spend four figures to replace our speakers, and the sound wouldn't be as good as what we already had. We returned home, dejected.

The prospect of spending so much for so little led me to my computer, where I went online and Googled Marantz speaker repair. And was saved. There's a whole industry devoted to repairing and reconditioning old Marantz speakers and receivers. We could obtain repair kits or send our speakers in to be fixed. J examined the instructions and decided that this was an easy fix, so he ordered the repair kit. It arrived promptly and J set about reconditioning the speakers. The bass speakers are now in the final drying phase and will be reinstalled tomorrow. I'm not sure whether I'm happiest about keeping speakers that are better than much of what is out there now, or saving so much money. But I am especially proud of myself for Googling BEFORE we spent a lot of money on new speakers.

And I do not feel at all guilty for not propping up the economy by purchasing something new, when reconditioning the old serves us so much better. In fact, I'm becoming distinctly irritated with the constant calls for us to go out shopping to support the economy. Even people with secure jobs are feeling nervous about our economic prospects, as the number of unemployed increases by the hundreds of thousands every month. And somehow it's unseemly to be spending lots of money when your neighbors are losing their jobs, their homes, their retirement savings.

And aren't some of these same people claiming that we brought this on ourselves by spending our home equity (for those who don't rent their homes) and running up our credit cards?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


And here we all thought we'd be up 'til the wee hours waiting to find out who would be the next President. And it was called the minute the polls closed in California. I'm glad Obama won--I actually voted for him--but I know that I'll spend much of the next four years demonstrating against him.

It also appears that Kevin Johnson has beaten Heather Fargo to become Mayor of Sacramento. Johnson is supported by many of the developer and anti-environmental interests that wanted someone even more willing to do their bidding than Fargo was.

And at this writing Proposition 8 is passing and, while Alameda and Los Angeles returns are (a) always late and (b) some of the most progressive in the state, I'm not sure that will be enough to upset this one. It's passing 53-47.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

It Rained

More than an inch and a half. The air is fresh, the buildings have been washed down, the plants are happy, happy, happy. And we're supposed to have more rain tonight and tomorrow. (I hope not all day, as I have some mesclun to plant.)

Friday, October 31, 2008

I Voted

Not only did I do my ballot, but mailed it off last week. A really early voter.

Rain, Rain

It hasn't rained here since February. Moist, fresh air. I've opened the windows.

Update: I went for a walk in the sprinkles. Everyone was smiling--including me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Lizard in the Linen Closet

Who says suburban life isn't exciting?

"J," I called, "there's a lizard in the linen cabinet." Yes, a little baby lizard had taken up residence in our linen cabinet. I discovered this when I was getting fresh towels for the bathroom. We spent a good half hour trying to capture the lizard, as he moved from shelf to shelf to avoid our attempts to rescue him. We did not allow the cats to help, although they indicated a willingness--even an inappropriate eagerness--to do so.

I effected the rescue, and J released the little creature in the front yard.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Front Yard

J took a week off work to help me with the front yard. Actually, J took a week off work to dig most of the remaining ivy out of the front yard, remove the juniper that was in my way, turn the soil, turn it again with six bags of compost, and terrace the slope for me. We then laid out the plants and he installed them for me. And he did it all with winds that gusted to 35 mph. I supervised.

Some of the penstemon moved from other parts of the yard isn't going to make it, so we purchased new penstemon, which J planted on Sunday for me. We also planted more red feather grass, another mallow and a butterfly bush that has already attracted a butterfly. (Unfortunately we can't see this one from the house, so we'll only see the butterflies when we're standing at the corner looking at it.) We'll have to find some smaller plants for the foreground, and then install the erigeron on the border.

And, no, I haven't been oblivious to the economic crisis unfolding. I just don't have a whole lot to say about it that hasn't been said more concisely and better by others. One thing I have noticed though is that we're getting the usual crop of media pieces on frugality. This happens in every recession, and I've gone from being amused to irritated by them. Most of them are obvious--don't go out to dinner every night--or irrelevant to the vast majority--limit the cost of vacations. I mean, if I owned a house, I could sell it and move to a cheaper one, theoretically, but that's not an option for us. And it's not even an option for many people who own houses; they owe more on the house than it's worth. Most people's big costs are fixed and can't be reduced--rent or mortgage payment, transportation, health insurance, childcare. We can fiddle 'round the edges with food and entertainment, but most of us aren't eating extravagantly or buying big plasma screen TVs, or going on expensive vacations to exotic locales. I already use the library. I don't go to Starbucks every day. In fact, I rarely go to Starbucks at all.

Even things that once might have been considered extravagant are really necessities. I don't use my cell phone enough to make it worth keeping it, but with the demise of the pay phone, I do need to keep it for emergencies. At one point I investigated getting one of those phones that requires that you refill them with minutes, but I discovered that the savings over the basic plan I have now would be less than $2 a month. Without the "limited basic" cable service that I have, we wouldn't be able to get regular broadcast channels. So we might be able to cut out a few things, but it wouldn't save us more than $100 a month. And I suspect that's true of most people. Half the population lives in a household with an income of $50,000 or less per year. You only need to add up the cost of living to find that most of that income goes for basic necessities. Savings is all very well and good, but people have to have the incomes to make that possible, and most people don't.

And some of the ideas are positively dumb. For instance, carrying collision and comprehensive insurance on my car costs less than $100 a year. But it means that if a tree falls on my car or, as happened when we lived in Oakland, some idiot in an SUV runs into my parked car in the lot, I can get the car fixed for the cost of the small deductible. Coupon-clipping is great, if the coupons are for products you already use, but a lot of them are for packaged and processed foods that are overpriced even with the coupon.

And some of the ideas are obvious--rent movies for $2.99 instead of going to the theater for $20. Duh.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Contra Aphids

J ran across this in our local paper. I'm going to try it. At worst, I'll just have dried up banana peel in the yard.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Cook County Sheriff

I'm sure a lot of people have heard about this, the Cook County Sheriff who has refused to evict tenants from foreclosed properties, when those tenants had no notice of the foreclosure or the eviction order. Foreclosing lenders often don't bother to tell the tenants that a foreclosure proceeding has begun, don't bother to find out who lives at the property and ask the Sheriff to evict the owner from the property, without ever finding out that tenants live there.

I've written on this subject before here. I wondered why tenants seemed to believe that if their first notice of the foreclosure was the Sheriff's eviction notice. But it soon became clear that what happens is this: the mortgage servicer hires a Foreclosures-R-Us service to process the foreclosure. In California, that takes a minimum of four months. Then to save time and effort, the realtor hired to clear the building doesn't bother to find out whether tenants live at the property and proceeds to evict the owner from the property. In the process the realtor would have to file documents indicating that the owner had been served with the court papers. Unless the owner is hanging out 'round the foreclosed house, the proper service isn't happening. The F-R-Us service then proceeds to file an unlawful detainer action against the owner, gets a judgment, and has the Sheriff evict the people (yes, tenants are people) living at the property.

The Sheriff, who often has close, close ties to the real estate industry, turns a blind eye to the Order calling for the eviction of the owner and evicts everyone living at the property. In California what this really means is that tenants get the Sheriff's Notice, consult with a lawyer, and decide that it's easier to just move than to fight the eviction. Doing that would require spending money on a lawyer and moving quickly to stop the eviction. And all for 60-days' notice?

What really needs to happen here is that there should be some perjury prosecutions. The mortgage servicer has to allege that the landlord was served. In most cases the landlord wouldn't be served personally because he's disappeared. So there are other service possibilities, which would insure that the tenants received notice and could call up and say, "excuse me, but we're renting here." The F-R-Us service would then have to start over with the service of a 60-days' notice to the tenants. But that's clearly not happening. Oh, the District Attorney gets campaign contributions from the real estate industry too.

Rule: Read anything that comes to the house and if the Foreclosures-R-Us service doesn't know tenants live at the property, call them immediately and let them know. If they proceed with the eviction of the landlord, maybe, someday, a District Attorney will take action. In our dreams.

Update (10/14/08): Accredited Home Lenders filed suit against the Cook County Sheriff last week to force the Sheriff to carry out an eviction order. Accredited then withdrew the suit--I wonder if Accredited realized that they might have to show that the tenant(s) had received the legally required notice.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Brighter Than I Thought

Dean Baker, famous for having called the housing bubble in 2002, reports this morning that the Fed is going to lend directly to non-financial corporations that can't get loans though the usual channels. I guess it's because I'm a bit of a control freak that I didn't think giving money to banks (I mean, buying bad securities for high prices isn't exactly "purchasing") would solve our credit problems. What, I thought, if the banks just pocketed the money? The Paulson Plan (PP) doesn't require much of the banks or their officers, after all.

So I'm feeling a bit cocky this morning, and will therefore make some more suggestions, in no particular order or priority:

1. Can the $700 billion to the banks. It's throwing good money after bad. If the banks are insolvent, and it appears that they are, nationalize them. We can keep them, sell them, whatever, later on. Just get control and find out what's going on.

2. Make grants to state and local governments where necessary. State and local governments are losing revenue even as we speak, since they're dependent on tax revenue that is declining with dispatch. This won't increase spending; it will just keep spending even.

3. Freeze foreclosures. We have no handle on who owns what, who owes what, who can be saved, who can't. Just put everything on hold through the end of the year. That way, the government has time to figure this out and work out an orderly sell-off. (Yes, we're going to end of selling off a bunch of property for much less than the face value of the mortgages. Get over it.) And no one gets evicted before the holidays.

4. We're going to have a lot of unemployment. In addition to the collapse of construction and housing-related industries, retail is going to be in bad trouble and retail employs a whole lot of low-paid (and therefore precarious) workers. So dump a lot of money into unemployment insurance, so that these workers can survive. And because unemployment insurance doesn't cover a lot of workers, create a new fund to cover those workers.

5. Create new jobs--useful jobs. In addition to the army of financial regulators we'll need, every state has public projects that need to be done. Set priorities to employ the unemployed.

6. Provide funds to buy up foreclosed houses for use as permanent affordable housing. But insure that local governments don't just bail out the real estate industry by purchasing the abandonment-grade stuff that should be torn down.

J and I will be working in the garden today, so I'll come up with more ideas in future posts.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Lizard in the Yard

We've had all sorts of critters visit the yard--frogs, possums, racoons, cats--not to mention every aphid and whitefly for 30 miles. And we have lizards living in the front yard. This is the first, though, in the back. We think he was waiting for evening, when bugs fly toward the living room window and he could get an easy meal.

The day after this picture was taken, Dash was caught chasing the lizard across the yard. I grabbed Dash and allowed the little guy to escape. Emma, who is not known as kitty Mensa material, spent a couple of hours waiting near where she and Dash had first sighted the lizard, I guess hoping for its return.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Is It Extortion?

I try not to think of the current credit crunch as a conspiracy to extract free money from the taxpayers. But the problems the State of California is having arranging bridge loans makes me wonder. Governments are generally very good credit risks; after all, they have an ability to raise money from a nearly bottomless pit. (Yeah, us.) So I wonder if the threat not to lend to the state government doesn't indicate that the banks are overplaying their hand here.

There's a lot in the credit crunch that's bad. But there's some common sense in it too. As real estate prices have fallen, people find it more difficult to borrow against their houses. Well, they should find it more difficult. They don't have as much equity in their houses and the banks look at that in deciding how much to lend. And if the banks believe that prices may fall some more, they're going to be a lot more conservative in their lending decisions.

And cars. People are having trouble getting car loans, but if you read down into the articles, it's because they can't come up with the down payment from their home equity. See above. When they have to finance a car without that down payment source, they have to buy smaller, cheaper and, hopefully more fuel-efficient, cars.

Particularly in the big bubble areas, we can expect that all sorts of retail will go out of business. These businesses were subsidized with home equity extractions. Without that, there's a lot less money around and at least some, if not a lot, of retail establishments won't make it. So the housing bubble won't just bring us empty houses, but empty storefronts as well.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What Silliness

One of the dumbest arguments in defense of the bailout of the banks is that we all participated in the bubble. It's hard to argue, though, that tenants participated in it. And arguing that someone who got a job as a clerk at Home Depot benefitted is pretty iffy. (After all, if the money had been put into something other than trading toxic securities, the worker might have gotten a better job doing something else.) We could, I guess, argue that real estate salespersons, construction workers and others received some benefit, but getting a job and then losing it happens to lots of people and we don't generally hold them accountable for the rise and fall of their industries. Some homeowners might have benefited, particularly if they sold their houses, but I can't see a windfall profits tax. And homeowners who face foreclosure or ruinous mortgage payments--I just don't see a lot of good coming out of their participation in it.

All this seems to be designed to cover the fact that the people who have done so much to collapse our financial system are the bankers and traders who packaged and sold mortgage securities they knew or should have known were junk. And it's possible that we'll have to deal with the problems they have wrought. But it shouldn't be easy for them. If they're going to get welfare, they should have to jump through the hoops we make single mothers with children jump through for a pittance and food stamps.

I have a vision of bankers filling out long, involved forms--maybe equivalent to the 28 pages that parents had to fill out in California to get their children insured through Healthy Families. How long would the equivalent form be when the bankers are asking for billions? Bankers would then bring their forms and the supporting documentation to a grungy office, either too hot or too cold, where they would sit on an uncomfortable plastic chairs, chairs that are bolted to the floor, for the day. Their caseworkers would then reject the application and the bankers would have to redo the forms and obtain more documentation. Oh, and don't forget the armed security guards protecting the office.

We wouldn't want them to develop a sense of entitlement, after all.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

My Poor, Poor Lettuce

I planted lettuce, thinking that the really hot weather here was over for the year and that my red oak leaf would grow and flourish in the cooler weather. It promptly turned hot (98 degrees today) and I fear the lettuce will bolt.

Cats and Their Toys

Dash and Emma have a full basket full of cat-appropriate toys. They play with about four of them. Dash is an afficionado of feather or cord on a stick, while Emma prefers mouse on elastic. Why? We have no idea. It is not not the place of the human to question the wisdom of the cat; the human is there to put the toy of choice into play.

When Dash was a kitten, he would play fetch with the little mice (no, not live ones) that we bought at the pet store. He could play it for an hour at a time. A human threw the mouse, Dash recovered it and brought it back. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Emma, who always preferred play to any other activity, was a tart in her toy affections. She'd play with any toy, so long as a human was playing with her. She liked kitty racquet ball for a long time. To play this game: select a small round object, throw it against the window, watch the cat run and catch the object. The cat will then drop the item, so that the human can put it in play again.

But Emma has lost interest in racquet ball, just as Dash will no longer fetch. Now Dash wants to play either feather or cord on a stick, while Emma makes clear that no game other than mouse on an elastic will please. So I sit in the chair, holding the elastic end and flinging it back and forth. Emma chases, catches, attacks the mouse. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Maybe We SHOULD Recall Him

The Guvernator struck several blows in defense of his friends, the mortgage brokers, lender servicers and landlords who brought you the mortgage crisis. In a stirring defense of the right of mortgage brokers to behave like the used car salesmen to whom they are kin, the vetoed AB 1830, which would require that mortgage brokers regulated by the state meet certain quite minimal requirements. Schwarzenegger asserted (I will not call his statements "arguments") that requiring those working for entities regulated by the state to meet these requirements would put these organizations at a disadvantage with respect to federally-regulated mortgage dealers. Well, given that 60% of the subprime mortgages issued in California were issued by state-regulated entities, it might be a good start. But Schwarzenegger got even sillier when he stated that allowing the plaintiff who sued a miscreant broker to recover attorney's fees if she prevailed in a lawsuit was an onerous burden. Uh, Gov, lots of legislation allows the prevailing party to recover attorney's fees--it's part of winning. And it's an additional deterrent to making a loan that is in the interest of the broker's commission, but is potentially dangerous to the borrower, a loan which is then sold into the secondary market, packaged in a mortgage-backed security, sold a bunch of places...and then...and then...costs the taxpayers $700 billion.

Alas, the Governor didn't stop there. Perhaps he didn't know how often tenants who demand their rights face harassment from lenders and their realtor representatives, and how important it is to have specific laws detailing exactly what these people cannot do in dealing with tenants in foreclosed properties. But it's much more likely that he saw how much the realtors, mortgage brokers and lenders had contributed to his campaigns, and decided that tenants just weren't all that important.

So he vetoed both AB 1333 and AB 2586, which would have provided clear recourse for tenants facing the harassment of utility cutoff. His assertions in defense of the vetoes ranged from ones that were irrelevant--tenants already have the right to utilities--to the offensive--if someone's gotta lose money, it should be tenants, because it would be too much of an onerous burden to lenders or landlords. You can read his veto messages here and here.

With respect to security deposits, the guy doesn't know the law. Some years ago the rules on security deposits were revised to prevent just this kind of theft of security deposits. The State Legislature, not a known defender of tenants' rights, was convinced to make clear that the entity that owned the building when a tenant moved was required to return the tenant's security deposit. On any transfer of the building, the landlord was required to either transfer the deposit to the new landlord or return the deposit to the tenant. And if the deposit was not returned, the tenant could assume that the deposit had been transferred. And if the new owner hadn't received the deposit, that was not the tenant's problem. So if you read his veto message, you'll note that he doesn't understand the law as written. Yeesh!

(This actually had nothing to do with foreclosures, but the bad habit of landlords failing to return security deposits when buildings had been sold, sometimes several times, during a tenancy, where the landlord died and the probate court failed to transfer the deposit to the new owner etc. The Legislature determined that tenants shouldn't have to figure out where the money went. If you owned the building when the tenant moved, and the deposit hadn't been returned to the tenant, you paid the money.)

And as for tenant harassment, uh, Governor, I don't have a short section on my Tenants and Foreclosure blog for fun, explaining that if tenants are threatened or assaulted, they should call the police. It's because I've had people write to me who have suffered abuse at the hands of the lenders and their agents. Utility cutoffs are only the beginning of their bad behavior. So, should you be so inclined, feel free to call the Governor's office at 916-445-2841 and tell him what you think.

The Debate Tonight

A cure for insomnia. The government could make the money for the bailout by selling tapes.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

New Planting

People who live in colder climates are winding down the garden at this point. But in California we've only begun the fall planting. Temperatures are still in the 80s and, while it cools down more in the evening, the soil is still warm enough to plant newbies. And I can plant lettuce! Our summers are too hot for even the most heat-tolerant lettuces. They bolt in about an hour. But we can plant lettuce in the fall, and they will do well until mid-November--unless it gets very cold. Protection against snails and slugs is a must, so J puts copper tape around each pot. Whitefly is another pest--I have to spray each lettuce every day to discourage them.

And 'tis the season of plant sales. Last weekend J voluntarily took me to the local California Native Plant Society sale. And then he took me to Robert Hamm's sale, where I purchased things I didn't need. But I managed to squeeze them all in, and we are beginning to think about the next section of the front yard.

As it turns out, we're going to have to leave a small portion of the front yard unplanted, as we have a future mighty oak sprout and have decided to allow it to become a tree. But this still leaves plenty of territory. J has asked for more red feather grass, as that's done extremely well next to the driveway, and we're going to move the unhappy penstemon from under the eucalyptus tree to a sunnier location. And I will finish off the erigeron border, which seems to be the only plant providing continuity throughout the yard.

I know I should be thinking about the crisis brought about by the morons on Wall Street, but I have so little to say that hasn't been said better by others.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Something Important

I was going to write a profound post today. But I devoted a good part of yesterday to cleaning the kitchen counter, cleaning off two bulletin boards, cleaning the cooktop and the outside of the fridge. It's difficult to compose profound thoughts as you stand on a chair reaching for the back of the top of the fridge with a sponge. And today's activities aren't any more exciting. I have to clean the shower, both bathrooms and wash the kitchen floor. If I have time, I then need to dust and vacuum the living room.

I know--our financial system is crashing, the government is bailing out people who should have known better, and we may elect a vice-president who approves of shooting wolves out of helicopters. (There's a video on YouTube of that--it's gross, disgusting and cruel.) But I will take up thinking tomorrow. Maybe.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Scary Headline

From Drudge: Bush says he's working hard on economic turmoil

We are lost. We are lost.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Sarah Palin on ANWR

Uh, comrades, it's likely that it's damn near impossible to find an Alaskan who doesn't support drilling in ANWR. Oil and gas royalties provide 85% of state revenues in Alaska. Alaskans pay almost nothing in state and local taxes because they have the oil money. If I were Alaskan and could get past the polar bear problem and the environmental degradation thing, I might support ANWR drilling too. And Alaskans, looking to the future, see the eventual exhaustion of the North Slope/Prudhoe Bay fields--already these have declined from producing 2 million barrels per day to producing about 800,000.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Why I Will (Probably) Vote for Obama

A friend telephoned last night, just before Obama spoke at the convention. I mentioned that I thought it was interesting that people would assume that those who would take race into account in their decision-making would therefore vote against Obama. I am taking race into account, and that means that I am more likely to vote for him than I would for a white candidate who took the same positions. (It should be noted, of course, that I come from the left and that I'd be more likely to vote for McKinney or Nader if I don't vote for Obama. McCain is not an option.)

In 1992 I voted for Bill Clinton. It was the first and only time I voted for him. I knew that he'd most likely renege on the important positions, and he did. Within weeks of taking office he was already returning the Haitian refugees to certain death. And from there it just got worse.

And unlike Bill Clinton, who graciously waited until after the election, Obama is already backsliding. He said that he would get us out of Iraq. Now he will--someday. He has already crawled into bed with the Wall Street boys who, in case he hasn't noticed, did silly, stupid things that have made a complete hash of the economy. Instead of being brave enough to explain that offshore oil-drilling will have a negligible effect on oil prices, and that we could save more oil than we could ever produce if we just increased the fuel-efficiency of the cars on our roads, he now thinks that drilling might be a good idea. (C'mon folks, my car gets almost 40mpg on the highway, and it's 10 years old!) A lot of his policies look like warmed-over Clinton, but without the bubbles and the high-value dollar to pull it off.

But he is the first African-American candidate selected by a major party. And that means something beyond the weakness of his positions and his willingness to keep the corporate interests happy. That the United States might elect an African-American president means that, in some small way, we are confronting the racism that is central to the construction of our national identity. But I don't expect that I'll be chattering on about how much I like his policies. Demonstrating against them is a lot more likely.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Food and the Democrats

I ran across this in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle and was mightily amused. I've always known that the quality of the food at an Democratic Party event is entirely determined by the cost of the event for the attendees. The rubber chicken dinner costs $50-75. The chips and cheese event is $25-40. That's why I never go to any Democratic Party event that I can afford--the food is bound to be awful.

Many years ago, a friend asked me if I planned to attend the victory party for a local candidate for Congress. I declined, noting that it was a free event and that the food table would be graced with stale chips and old salsa. The next morning my friend telephoned to tell me that he thought of me every time he looked at the food table. Yup. Stale chips. Old salsa.

On Vacation

Last week J and I made a short trip to Lake Tahoe, where we camped, walked and lazed on the beach. J took some really good lake pictures (although I think it may be hard to take a bad picture of Lake Tahoe). At left is one of my favorites.

Lake Tahoe is a beautiful place, but very crowded. It's a relatively easy drive up two highways--Interstate 80 to the north side of the lake and Highway 50 to the south side--so people can come for the weekend. Further a huge percentage of the basin is in private hands, so the area available for public use is fairly small. (There are no public campgrounds, for instance, on the north end of the Lake at all. All camping is on the less elite south end.)

Now that we have a digital camera, I can put up pictures all by myself. It used to be that I'd have to ask J to scan them for me, but the digital camera and Blogger make it easy for a technopeasant to post photographs to her heart's content. So here's a picture of the pretty beach at D.L. Bliss State Park. This one is down a long, steep flight of stairs, so it's not good for long-term lounging with beach chairs, snacks, books and so on.

So J and I spent our beach-lounging time at Lester Beach, where we could easily carry all of our equipment to the beach. Much time was spent reading magazines (he the
Linux Journal, she Elle, Vogue and various house magazines). Lest you misapprehend and conclude that the reading of fashion magazines indicates any fashion sense on my part, I present this picture to disabuse you of that notion. (We were at Balancing Rock, a short walk from the road at Bliss.) I would easily make Mr. Blackwell's Worst Dressed list, had he ever heard of me.

Wildflowers at Lake Tahoe are best in July. The short summer season begins in June and lasts until mid-September. By the end of September most years, Tahoe has had a hard freeze and the first snow often falls by the beginning of October. So wildflowers sprout grow, flower and die within just a few weeks. By the middle of August many flowers have already gone to seed. But J, using the really cool flower setting on the aforementioned camera, was able to capture a few of the remaining flowers near the seasonal creeks that still had water. This is one of the remaining columbine.

Several flower varieties near this spot had already gone to seed, and we saw the remains of meadow rue (a columbine relative) as well. We went to the Visitor Center at Bliss and looked through the flower books to identify some of the common flowers we saw there. Unfortunately I didn't write down their names, so I must either present unidentified common plants and expose my ignorance to the millions or leave these pictures unpublished.

The yellow-flowered plant is common; it grows in open ground and in the rock crevices along the highway all over the Tahoe area. I was able to find it in one of the wildflower books easily, but couldn't remember what it was called.
Through the magic of the Internet, however, I was able to quickly determine that it's buckwheat.

The picture of Emerald Bay was taken when we walked back up from Vikingsholm, an old house that is now a Tahoe tourist attraction. It's a long walk back up and I demanded that we stop several times. J used the rest stops as an opportunity to take pictures. Emerald Bay is pretty, but the motorized boats
give the water a sheen that is not natural.

And no camping trip would be complete without the obligatory picture of me drinking coffee in the tent. The tradition began early in our marriage, when I refused to get up until it was no longer freezing. J would bring me my coffee in the tent, in the hope that it would encourage me to get up. He later took a picture of me as I drank coffee in the tent so, were I to search through our old pictures, I could trace the development of my wrinkles and grey hair through the coffee in the tent photographs.
Here's the latest.

We came home to two cats who seemed to have done quite well without us, thank you. In fact, I think they might have enjoyed spending time with the Exploitable Teenager we hire to take care of them when we're away more than they enjoy spending time with us.