Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Antidote du Jour

With apologies to Yves Smith.

Milo and Otis were two kitties who showed up at the dumpster outside the SPCA. They had the notched ears of feral kitties who've been neutered but, given that the dumpster was outside the SPCA, the staff took up feeding them. Then during our cold snap, the staff decided to bring them in from the cold. The bros took to indoor life and they were put up for adoption as a couple. It's hard to find homes for adult cats, and finding homes for bonded adults can be really difficult. But it being the holiday season, they managed to find a home that would take both of them in. I hope that Milo and Otis, having eaten breakfast, are having their morning naps on their new humans' bed.

Monday, December 28, 2009

I Told You So

I'm not surprised that Obama managed to do little more than George W would have on health care and climate change. Republicans and Democrats share so many assumptions that it only matters at the margins which of them is in power. What's most interesting is that the last two years should have demonstrated why so many of those beliefs are so entirely silly. But nooo, they just keep shoveling resources to the screw-ups and hoping that those of us who are not of the Tea Party persuasion will just retreat to our living rooms with a cup of tea and a long Russian novel. "J, where's my copy of War and Peace?"

The Winter Solstice was celebrated appropriately at our house. On December 21, at exactly 9:47 AM (PST), I went into the living room and turned the Solstice Tree topper from the moon to the sun. We've purchased a new Solstice Tree, a Colorado blue spruce, which should grow slowly over the next few years, thus remaining an appropriate size for our house. I got tired of cut trees, as the trees must have been cut down in October and so were fire hazards by mid-December.

Emma and Dash continued their Solstice tradition of knocking ornaments off the tree--usually two or three every night. It appears that Emma was the primary culprit, rising at some time around 2:30 AM, heading out to the tree, and making her selections for the night. She had successfully blamed Dash for the tree carnage, but I caught her at it one night. She didn't even try to deny it, sitting proudly before the floored ornament.

This week I really will be working on my other blog. I promised to have it finished by Christmas, but have been inordinately lazy lately.

Oh, I came across a really good book, thanks to Doug Henwood's Left Business Observer. It's Our Lot, by Alyssa Katz. At a couple of points, it's irritating, as when she asserts that houses have doubled in size over the last x number of years. As any number of people have pointed
out, that's because new houses are built exclusively for the move-up market and entry-level buyers purchase the older, smaller houses. In fact, the space people actually live in has increased by one room--not a major change. And of course, in discussing her former status as a tenant, she describes the rental building (converted to empty condominium units) as inhabited by proper creative class types, as though those folks are deserving of greater protection than, say, retail clerks and janitors. But it's generally a GREAT book and, in the last chapter, she nails it:

"...If the government doesn't act to prop up home prices, a collapse and resulting foreclosures will claim millions more victims and their neighborhoods. But if officials do successfully intervene to keep prices high--and so far, that is exactly what has happened--the cycle of extreme debt continues and deepens. The unprecedentedly high price of real estate consigns future generations to the same trap, huffing on a treadmill of debt..."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's Cooold

Sacramento is having an unusual cold snap. Lows have been in the mid-20s for a couple of days now, and the high hasn't made it to 50 degrees. Hibiscus has been turning black, bougainvillea shriveling, and even the mandarin orange crop may be decimated. People in colder parts of the country are laughing at us, but we're not used to the cold. We're used to chilly nights (in the high 30s), but we're not used to having the wear coats at mid-day.

There was measurable snow in the foothills. My friend A and her husband drove up to take pictures. You can see the video here. Play it full screen to see the flurries.

Let It Fail

I seldom hope for a Republican victory on any issue, but the health care reform package that's being developed just ain't worth the trouble. It doesn't cut costs one cent, increases the power and influence of the insurance companies, won't insure most of the uninsured at a price they can afford, and just leaves things largely as they are until rising prices for drugs, doctors and medical procedures bankrupt the country.

My particular favorite was the "agreement" made by Big Pharma to reduce drug prices by some $80 million. Then they immediately raised drug prices so that the $80 billion is less than the money they'll get from the increased prices. Way to go, Democrats!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Birthday Greetings

The great J, who cooks my meals, lifts heavy objects, digs up and moves plants over six inches after planting them the wrong place because I told him to etc. was 61 yesterday. Happy Birthday, Old Guy.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Few Final Thoughts on Portland

The more I'm in Sacramento, the more I like Portland. It's a prettier place, my skin doesn't dry out so much, and there's more to do. After all, Sacramento's main tourist attractions(!) are the State Capitol and the Railroad Museum. Oh, gee, we could go to San Francisco and ride a cable car and go to Golden Gate Park and Coit Tower--or we could go to the Railroad Museum in Sacramento. Not much of a contest.

Anyway, we noted that the housing in all but the most remote suburbs and a few infill projects is much older than the housing in Sacramento. I wondered why and sent off a request for information from the Sacramento Public Library's AskUs email reference service. My working hypothesis was that Portland had a much larger population much earlier and, consequently, more housing in the early years of the 20th century. The wonderful James at AskUs sent me the population figures and on reading them, I discovered that I was right. While Sacramento now has a population of more than 400,000 souls, the population was only about 80,000 in 1940. In 1940, Portland's population just above 300,000, and it has grown to 529,000 in 2009. Unfortunately I'm perfectly willing to give up crown molding and other evidence of "charm" for adequate plumbing, wiring, and sliders leading from the living room to the garden. (Prior to the 1920s the back yard was the midden, which is why it's off the back porch, with no window out to the yard. Only the servants' quarters looked out on the garbage pile.) I even want a dishwasher, though it means that I will permanently lose another skill, this time the ability to do all the dishes from a dinner party for four at one time, stacking plates, glasses and cooking pots into a single dish drainer.

Today would have been my mother's 80th birthday.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

So Lazy

I haven't blogged for a month. And it's not as if nothing happened--it's just that I was too lazy to write about it. The weather has been pretty normal for fall here--warm to hot some days, cooler others. But we also had an unusual storm, the remnants of a cyclone, that dumped three inches of rain on Sacramento in a couple of days, and 40 mph winds. That's not much for most places, but for Sacramento--a desert climate--it's major. The plants loved it and so did the humans, mostly. The cats were split, with Emma sitting in the window to get the full picture, while Dash retreated to the Panic Room (linen closet) for the duration. Dash is only three, so his experience has been of drought; a lot of rain is very strange for him.

Fall here also means that some of the spring bloomers bloom again. The roses, which took a break during the heat of the summer, are putting out a few tentative blooms, and if the weather is moderate (doesn't turn too cold), they should bloom until mid-December. Pelargoniums are also in bloom, but the hardy geraniums appear to be going dormant. I'm experimenting with diascia, which I grew in Oakland. It bloomed for months there, but here not so much. In fact, it keels over dead in the heat--of May! I purchased one plant and am going to see if it does better in the fall to spring--as a cool season bloomer.

The trees have been turning color. J and I took a drive to the foothills last weekend, hoping to see some fall color. We did--green and brown. Most foothill natives are either evergreen or oaks, and oak leaves just turn brown and fall off the tree. (I know this well, as I have an oak tree in the back yard and have been sweeping up oak leaves and picking them out
of the plant pots for several weeks now.) But I did visit Georgetown for the very first time, and determined that I wouldn't want to have to commute from there to Sacramento. The road out is winding and narrow, and would be less than enjoyable in the dark. It's a pretty drive though, on Sunday afternoon, with little traffic and no deadline.

I also replanted the same section of the back yard that I replanted last October. I wasn't happy with it again, so I ripped it out and started over. This year's version has retained the tree mallow from last year (which suffered some damage in the storm), which has been joined by a fringe flower, butterfly bush, ceanothus and cistus. I wonder if people will starting putting money on whether I tear out this incarnation next year.

On the various issues of the day:

1. I'm amazed that we're getting such a lousy health insurance reform. It's not even going to cover everyone, and it's going to provide more subsidies to the health insurance industry (which hasn't done an exactly stellar job to date). What are these people thinking? I know, it's all about the campaign contributions, but do the "moderate" Democrats and President Obama have to be so obvious about it?

2. Afghanistan. Sending more troops is likely to strengthen the Taliban. Worked for the Soviets--now we can do it too.

3. Our local planning administration gave the go-ahead to a Nestle bottled water plant, which will take our tap water (yes, tap water), pay industrial rates for it (very cheap), and then re-sell it to us for premium prices. As it turns out, the administration fast-tracked the process and no one found out what had happened until the facility was half-built. Aside from the fact that we're on water restrictions because of the drought, the bottled water "industry" is
one of the most worthless wastes of money ever conceived. Right up there with Credit Default Swaps. Even the little town of McCloud managed to keep Nestle out. We'll probably end up doing what Bolivia did to get rid of Bechtel--pay them money to leave. Bolivia at least had the excuse that the World Bank forced them to do it. And Sacramento is a world-class city. Uh huh.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Bit More on Portland

I missed Friday cat blogging last week, so I'll save that for this Friday unless there's overwhelming interest in the story of Emma and the Plastic Bag.

Other things about Portland. For those of us in California, Portland is an incredibly white place. That doesn't mean that there aren't people of color there, but they are much fewer in number and percentage than in California. It's not awful, but it is a little strange. Portland also has the same urban ills as California cities--gentrification, homelessness and so on. The City Parents of Portland twice passed anti-homeless legislation, but the court there ruled it unconstitutional, so the homeless have re-established themselves at the waterfront. The now- being-discussed latest incarnation of this is legislation to keep doorways clear and prevent the blocking of thoroughfares. Now any urban street is going to have blocked thoroughfares as large numbers of people more from place to place, so the enforcement of that legislation would necessarily be selective. The solution would be to provide housing, but that costs money and requires an allocation of space to poor people. And that's not what Portland's "sustainability" is all about.

This isn't Portland's problem alone. This month's Sunset Magazine ran a piece on communities where people could live without having to use the car too much. Davis, California, was featured. (Davis is about 20 minutes west of Sacramento.) Now Davis is a really nice place to live. It features a university, walkable streets (except on the hottest days), and lots of recycling and composting. But it's also very expensive, so much so that many of the people who work there can't participate in the sustainability because the housing there is far more expensive than janitors, baristas and clerical workers can afford. Communities should not be rewarded for providing sustainability to the well-to-do, while requiring that the majority of the workforce live elsewhere--and drive to work, as public transit serves the residents rather than those who have to commute to work.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

On Jury Duty

Nothing strikes more fear into the hearts of the citizenry than the appearance of an official "jury summons" in the day's mail. The citizen sees herself being herded like cattle, subjected to hours of boredom punctuated by silly questions designed to elicit "bias" with respect to the parties in the action. For those of us who have somehow earned the enmity of either the prosecution or the defense in particular actions, it's a long, slow slog to being "thanked and excused." Prosecutors don't want me on murder cases or three-strikes cases, but defendants don't want me on child molestation or rape cases. I don't know who wouldn't want me on a fraud case, but I may, some day, find out.

The very first time I was called for jury duty, I spent an entire day in San Francisco's Jury Assembly Room, and read an entire book. I was lucky--in those days you could be forced to come every day for an entire week. When the citizenry began rebelling by not showing up, California switched to the "one day, one trial" system, which at least limited the amount of time people could be kept waiting.

But that doesn't mean that you're free after one day because you can be part of a jury panel suffering voir dire, which always seems to go on forever. And the questions! I mean, how many people in this day and age are going to say, in a room full of strangers, that they're biased against African-Americans or police officers or whatever. It reminds me of the days when airline ticket agents used to ask if I'd had my eye on my luggage since I packed it. Well, I suppose my cat could have planted a toy in my suitcase while I wasn't looking.

Judges have taken over voir dire, as the process had become so involved that questioning the jurors took days. (I remember once being asked what magazines I read. I tried to provide a comprehensive list, wondering all the time if I'd be convicted of perjury if I forgot one.) This time, the questions for a murder case were only one page. Do not believe, however, that this is for the convenience of the jurors. It isn't. It's to keep the judge from falling asleep.

And some of the questions! The defense attorney in my most recent brush with the legal system asked if I "was acquainted" with neighborhoods like Oak Park and Del Paso Heights (two of the more perceived high-crime areas in Sacramento). I asked what was meant by "acquainted", as it could mean whether or not I had lived there, or whether I'd read about them in the newspaper. Amazingly, once the defense attorney clarified the issue, the majority of the panel indicated no knowledge of these neighborhoods. Do they not read the newspaper? Or (perhaps, especially) watch television news?

Then there are the hardship applications. Because those aren't handled administratively, people with problems can't be excused without being interviewed by the Court. This means that several hours are taken up with these applications. I think that about a third of my panel was excused for hardship. More time was taken up questioning jurors who didn't want to discuss their answers to voir dire in public. (I'm a lot more sympathetic to this, as one of the questions was whether the prospective juror had been the victim of a crime. Many people might not want to discuss these in front of a room full of strangers.) What all this meant, though, was that most of the jury panel had a three-hour break, long enough for a French-style lunch.

What makes this waiting possible is that jurors don't get compensated for their time. If, for instance, courts had to pay jurors the median wage, the courts would have long since figured out a more efficient process. Jurors wouldn't be called in until needed, and they'd develop a process for weeding out those who couldn't serve without having a lot of expensive people waiting around. Couldn't the panel fill out the voir dire questionnaire online or by mail? This would enable those who couldn't serve to present their case without having to show up at all, and enable people with privacy concerns to discuss their situation without taking up hours that the vast majority could be spending on the sofa with bon bons. If you pay me nothing, it's easy to make my civic duty an onerous burden; if you have to pay me $20 an hour, you're going to come up with a more efficient system.

What's most noticeable, though, is that judges have become much better behaved. It used to be that judges would ream out the prospective jurors, particularly those they didn't like. I once had a right-winger try it on me, but I'm a big girl and can take care of myself. But I once was on a panel where the judge's behavior toward another juror was so appalling that I very nearly wrote a letter to the Presiding Judge complaining about the judge's conduct. (While the prospective juror was not the brightest penny on the block and was making a dumb argument, nearly reducing her to tears was thoroughly inappropriate.)

In my recent service, I was pretty sure that the judge didn't like me one bit and, had he been the prosecutor--he was a former prosecutor--would have bounced me from the jury in a New York minute, he managed not to sneer at me. (He'd heard of the organization I used to work for and managed not to refer to it as a bunch of "lefties.") More impressive, however, was the way he used the voir dire to insure that the prospective jurors were capable of sitting in judgment in a murder case. I don't know what he would have done if he found someone who wasn't capable of understanding the issues and instructions, but he made eliciting the information painless.

But jury duty is still a complete waste of my time. Either the prosecution or the defense will bounce me. I just wish they'd figure out a way to do it faster.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Cat Blogging 6

The cats were so happy to see us back. Now they can go outside to the patio. They didn't miss their beloved humans, but our ability to open doors.

Twice in the latest Sacramento News and Review it was suggested that Sacramento had "world class city" potential because it possessed this or that. Sacramento will never be a world class city--not in dreams, not in a parallel universe, not ever. Just ain't gonna happen.

Neither will Portland, even though Portland has some things Sacramento doesn't, and those things make Portland a more interesting place to live. First Portland was created by cutting down forest, so it's surrounded by the remaining forest. Portland has excellent downtown transportation and a reason (shopping) to go downtown. Residents and tourists can travel free through most of downtown free, yes, free. But once you get out of downtown, and particularly in the southeast part of the city, you need a car. There are too few bus lines and the buses appear too infrequently to be useful for daily transit.

In addition, because the light-rail and streetcar systems work on the honor system (you get on without having to pay a fare or show a ticket), it's easy for the transit police to discriminate in checking tickets. We saw young, nonwhite and apparently poorer citizens being stopped by transit police at the stations outside the free fare area and asked to produce proof of payment. I probably could have traveled for years without being asked to produce a ticket.

Portlanders also dress better than Sacramentans. While Portland is as casual as Sacramento in dress, fewer people think that warm weather requires shorts and flip-flops. That doesn't mean that they dress up; they don't. It's just that their casual is better than Sacramento's casual.

Downtown Portland has most of the same shopping that you'll find anywhere--shopping has become very homogenized throughout the country. You'll find Macy's, Nordstrom's, Sak's etc. in a downtown mall that looks very much like the Westfield Mall in San Francisco (although it's actually owned by Clear Channel). And of course there was Cinnabon at the food court. We did find The Real Mother Goose, a craft store with some of the most expensive crafts around. Beautiful, but very expensive.

And of course, we made an expedition to Powell's Books, where I discovered that I could purchase as much as I wanted and have it shipped home. The staff there is used to book tourists and was immensely helpful. But even an entire day wouldn't be enough to skim their collection. Powell's has an outpost out on Hawthorne, which we visited, but it was nothing like the downtown store and really isn't worth the time.

Another find was the Saturday Portland Farmer's Market at Portland State University. Food vendors of all kinds--fruits and vegies, meat, fish, baked goods...And also reasonably good music. We stayed for about three hours and could have stayed longer, but we then took ourselves off to the Portland Saturday Market, which was not worth the trouble. Okay crafts, but nothing spectacular, and some of the jewelry was positively cheap-y. It was also 95 degrees and muggy.

And we went to the Pearl District, a redeveloped industrial area, which is now filled with some overpriced shops, a few decent, but not spectacular restaurants, a lot of condominiums and, of course, given the present economic situation, a growing number of empty storefronts. I read the local paper every day, and got the sense that Oregonians were surprised that the Great Slump was happening to them too. The Pearl District, though, is in less bad shape than the South Waterfront, where a number of projects are either in or heading for foreclosure.

And the South Waterfront was just kind of weird. We walked along a river trail and were suddenly deposited in what appeared to be a mall. It reminded me of the Grand Canyon where a walk along the canyon rim suddenly deposits you, with no warning, in a tourist district sort of like San Francisco's Pier 39.

More later.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Cat Blogging 5

I'm not at home this week, so the cats are being cared for by the Exploitable Teenager.

And if the Democrats can't get it together to pass a health care reform bill with a public option, they should just dissolve the party and allow something better to develop. Yeesh!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

In a Rationally-Ordered World

the silliness over President Obama's speech to school children wouldn't exist. I mean, what do people think he's going to say? He'll probably talk about how great it is that they're starting a new school year, the importance of education, working hard, enjoying themselves, wearing their seat belts and eating enough fruits and vegetables. He may then remind them of the importance of personal responsibility and striving for success. These kinds of speeches are always like this. How many people are opposed to striving for success, ferhevensake? I do hope, though, that someone asks him why his children don't attend public school.

Once Evil and Stupid, Now Evil, Stupid and Creepy

The New York Times reported yesterday that the bright and shining fellows who brought us our present economic predicament have hit upon a new way to part Americans from their meager resources. Having trashed our tiny retirement accounts, the equity from our homes and taken our jobs, they've set their sights on the only thing left--our life insurance. Yes, if you have life insurance and are elderly and/or sick, you can sell your policy for cash, whereupon it will be securitized and sold as bonds.

Aside from the general creepiness of this idea, I'd wish that the banker types would figure out that there's no more to get here and they should move along and try tapping into people with actual resources.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday Cat Blogging 4

The cats were obnoxious this morning. They still don't understand the schedule on Furlough Friday. Maybe they'll get it after a few more weeks. I certainly hope so, as it's tiring to be awakened at 4:00 A.M. So there will be not cute cat pictures this week. At least none of my cats.

I haven't done much commenting on the issue of health insurance reform, mostly because there's so much information and commentary out there that I'd just be one more voice in favor of single-payer (a system like Medicare where the government establishes pay rates for doctors, drugs, hospitals etc.), and health insurers bite the dust. Even if a single-payer system did nothing else, it would wipe out the 15-20% of health care dollars that go to administration and profit. Medicare is run far more efficiently; even Medicaid (which is means-tested) runs more efficiently. I'll shut up before I get going...

Everyone should watch Glenn Beck on Fox at least once. As an entertainer he leaves Bill O'Reilly in the dust. Outrageous, ignorant, just plain silly, but fun. His latest victim is Van Jones, in charge of green industry for the Obama Administration. I assume that he actually understands what Jones' work has been (developing green industries as a job source in minority communities and forcing the clean-up of toxics in those same communities), but in BeckWorld, Jones is a black nationalist and a commie! Huh?

And I have no idea why my Azalea Rutherfordia Alaska is blooming in August. The sage is supposed to bloom at this time of year.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Cat Blogging 3

This morning Emma decided to wake us up. She began by pulling on the cupboard doors--the ones that have kitty-proof latches to keep the cats from getting into the cupboard and playing with the toilet paper. (This activity appears to involve tearing it to ribbons.) Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. J closed her out of the bathroom. Then she got up on the bed and tried to wake J by nipping at him. She never nips at me; she doesn't care if I get up. J threw her out of the bedroom. They always look so innocent in pictures.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On Whole Foods

I don't shop at Whole Foods. I was in the Berkeley store once and the only thing I wanted was a pair of earrings at the jewelry counter. I've never been in the store again. It's not only the anti-union policies. It's that the basic strategy of the store is to sell overpriced stuff to stupid rich people. And it doesn't matter whether it's overpriced clothes or cars or vacations or food. Unlike farmers' markets or co-ops, Whole Foods doesn't worry about how we can provide food grown sustainably for the the world's population, but how they can make money selling it to the rich in industrialized countries. The Michael Pollan plan. Given the size of that population relative to the population of the world, that's not much sustainability.

What stuns me about the boycott of Whole Foods is that people didn't know what the corporate strategy was. Really, folks, they're based in Texas. And they hate unions and have devoted lots of time and energy to keeping unions out of their stores. But that hasn't really been all that difficult, as the target market is one that neither comprehends nor cares about the condition of the people who serve them. They're the people who want those who serve them to commend their purchases as they go through the checkout line, remind them that their shopping choices make them worthy of environmental gold stars. And that's what Whole Foods checkers are trained to do. It's part of the establishment of "community." But what kind of community doesn't care whether the checker can take her kid to the doctor or has to spend the day in the emergency room?

Maybe the Whole Foods "community" will learn from this experience--that the corporate interests have as little interest in them as they do in those who serve them.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Cat Blogging 2

Now that we have Furlough Friday, the cats have gotten confused. And when cats are confused, they seek help. Instead of patiently waiting for their humans to rise from bed, they remind them that it's past time to get up. And as time passes, it's not only time for the humans to get up, but also to open the doors to the back patio. Sunbeams are being wasted and bugs are flying about with impunity. We also think that Dash who, at 14 pounds, does not need it, breakfasts at home and then with the cats in the next yard over. But he's got to get there in time, or those cats will have eaten all their food.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

TV School

A couple of years ago I was sitting--actually reclining--on the sofa with the TV remote in my hand. It was a Monday which, for those of you who know television, is a TV wasteland. (Yes, some days are worse than others.) Our limited basic cable service gave us access to the public service channels which, during the school year, broadcast classes from the local community colleges. Anyway, I found one of these classes, Cultural Anthropology and, for lack of other options, started watching. Within minutes, I was hooked. The professor was a really good lecturer--something that's very important on TV school. And the course was fascinating, particularly the historical stuff. (Yeah, I did major in history.) Not only did I get hooked on it, but I addicted J to it as well, and we took up eating dinner in the living room while watching class. (This enabled me to load the dishwasher during the break.) It was a lot better than the programs shown during the constant fundraising on our local public television station.

In addition to the anthropology, I learned a lot about teaching in the community college system. First, Sacramento has a diverse population, but the communities tend to be fairly segregated. Except in borderland areas, African-Americans live in one area, Latinos in another, Russians and Ukrainians in still another etc., so there's very little unconscious mixing. We have to travel a fair distance to get to a Russian bakery, for instance, and the Vietnamese sandwich place (best Vietnamese sandwiches I have ever eaten) is 25 minutes from our house on a good day. But school is where everyone meets up. And for a cultural anthropology class, that is joy. Because you can ask students to provide examples that illustrate points, expose cultural differences and similarities, without every having to turn to a reference work. Really fun.

And you learn how another diversity makes teaching at community colleges so difficult. The students have a wide range of skills and abilities, so that, as a friend of mine once said, "You have students who could be at Harvard and students where it's remedial 7th grade." And everything in between. Then, of course, there are the students who didn't bother to read the book. Teaching under those circumstances is very difficult, as you want to engage the students who are getting it, help those who are clearly struggling, and suggest that reading the book is a good idea. Not an easy task.

The next year I started searching for other classes. I found Statistics, which had bored me in college, and still bored me. I found Macroeconomics, which would have bored me had it not been for the fact that the session coincided with the financial meltdown last year. So I took up Macroeconomics and, while I did learn a few things, was more interested in the commentary on the financial meltdown. Like the anthro instructor, this one had a good sense of television teaching as a performance, and had charts and graphs and cartoons to illustrate his points. (Taking this class, though, really required that you have the text, as there was technical information that wasn't presented fully in the lectures. And I'd missed the first couple of sessions, so I didn't know what text he was using.)

Now I'm looking for new classes. There's art history, or astronomy, both of which I'd have to record for later viewing. But that's what VCRs are for.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Notes on the News

First I've been surprised that various of the mainstream media have been noting that retail sales ain't going so good. Those of you who are regular readers of my blog (all five of you) will remember (if you pay attention, as two of the five do) that I first pointed out the problem with expecting all to be well when people headed back to the mall last year, in that people just didn't have any money to go shopping with and only had enough money during the bubble because of the bubble. Various observers have suggested new bubbles, but there doesn't seem to be a good candidate on the horizon. So our government and its corporate sponsors seem to be at a loss. Increasing wages, providing secure pensions, and actually reducing the cost of health care by reining in the profiteers, aren't on the table at this point, although they're likely the only policies that will actually work. So we may spend the next couple of years diddling around with any number of policies that don't work, and only with a new administration have any hope of working our way out of this mess.

The Garden in Summer

I haven't written much about the garden this summer, and I'm not sure why. I've done a good deal of revision this year, tearing out the weak and non-performing, rearranging the survivors, and finishing out most of the front. Two of the cape mallows died, and were replaced by red fountain grass, which is a great performer here. (I cannot say the same of the green feather grass, which grows gangly and spreads so much that it may be invasive.) I added more agastache, as it grows well here and attracts all sorts of garden life. Our butterfly bushes seem to attract mostly the standard white butterflies, but we've seen a swallowtail several times, and one monarch! The lizards and the frogs are still in residence, but I don't see them very often.

The weather has ranged from almost comfortable to miserable. We've had a couple of long spells of temperatures in the 80s, which is tolerable here, punctuated by nasty stretches of 100+ degree days. We've only had a few days of smoke, as wildfire season didn't start in June this year. We got some smoke from the La Brea fire though--it's several hundred miles away! It all depends on how the wind blows. It's nothing though like last year, when the smoky haze hung near the ground for weeks, giving us some of the worst air quality in the country. (Public health officials recommended just staying inside.)

I don't have many new pictures. August isn't a month here for new flowers, as the spring-bloomers are long gone, and the fall bloomers haven't come in yet. How often can I expect anyone to be fascinated by yet another picture of my coneflowers? But I should have Tagetes lemonii and Japanese anenome soon, as well as some rebloom of plants that went dormant in the heat.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Cat Blogging

Finally on the right day of the week. Dash and Emma are well. Dash has taken over my spot on the sofa, while Emma is happily ensconced on bed where she is shedding all over my pillow.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Playing with SiteMeter

Last year I put SiteMeter on both of my blogs. The free version tells me where people come from and, more importantly, what their search terms are. What this means is that I can figure out how people are getting to my site--and it's mostly by Google. Many people are looking for specific information--how to negotiate cash for keys or what their rights are to their security deposits. Some people want to know what a Notice of Default is, or they heard about the new federal legislation on foreclosure evictions and want to know how it works. And at least once a week I get a search something like "lease option foreclosure deposit," which unfortunately informs me that some sleazeball made some extra money on his soon-to-be-foreclosed house by enticing a tenant to sign a lease option on a property that was about to be foreclosed. (Because lease options often involve large deposits, the soon-to-be-foreclosed owner can get $5-20,000 from the unsuspecting tenant.) I also apparently had a landlord, as the search was "i'm in foreclosure and my tenants have stopped paying on their lease option." Uh, what should the landlord expect?

Sometimes people want to come back to my site and, not realizing that "tenants foreclosure California" reports me first on the Google search, remember odd things and search for things like "tenants foreclosure Sacramento cats" because they remembered that I live in Sacramento and have two cats. I wonder if J will be upset when he discovers that no one has searched for "tenants foreclosure Sacramento husband."

One thing I discovered is that if people search for "renters foreclosure California," I don't turn up for dozens of pages. While I don't like the term "renter" and don't use it most of the time (believing that I am a renter when I rent cars or power tools, but I am a tenant in housing, with all the political and legal disabilities that attach to that status), I do want people to be able to find me without having to search through pages and pages of Google entries. So I have to figure out how to get "renter" in a sufficiently prominent position that it will enable that search.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Watching HGTV

I twisted my ankle the other day while working in the garden.

Through a combination of circumstances I won't explain, I've had access to some cable stations recently, and have been watching a lot of HGTV. (I have to say that, looking over the cable schedule, I don't understand why anyone pays good money to watch old episodes of not-so-good TV shows. If there's anything on cable that's worth watching, you can rent it on DVD or, more sensibly, get it from the library. Not only is the library free--okay, you pay for it through taxes--but our local library lets you keep the DVDs for three weeks.)

But back to HGTV. First there are hardly any gardens. It's all about the houses. Even when it is about the outside space, plants are an afterthought. And I mean afterthought! The people doing the landscaping spend more time laying out the stone (and stone is very big these days) than selecting the plants. And the designers (I can't really think of them as landscapers) tell you all about the selection of the stone and the stamping of the concrete and the painting of the trim, but almost nothing about the plants. Indeed the plants are mostly nondescript and low-maintenance. So it ends up being some boring shrubs planted entirely too close to the foundation (three feet, folks, three feet!).

Frequently showing off the new paint and trim and stone and stamped concrete requires removing a tree, a beautiful stately old tree that just happens to be positioned so that the "improvements" can't be photographed easily, and precludes the installation of the aforementioned low-maintenance plants. Well, goodbye tree. (It's hard to find a tree service that wouldn't say that eventually the tree will die, and that it should be removed. They make more money taking out a tree than leaving it alone.)

Then there are a bunch of shows where designers come to your house and paint and build things out of MDF and rearrange the furniture. These come in two varieties--the ones where the designer does something "inspired" and "original" and awful, and the ones where the designer comes to take apart all the above to prepare the house for sale, and leaves it boring. Out goes the orange and lime green (Color Splash's favorite combination), and in comes the taupe and pale grey. Out goes the cool and funky painted dresser, to be replaced by the Crate and Barrel knockoff. In one episode the sellers were instructed to get rid of their dog beds; I wondered if they also had to get rid of the dogs. Potential sellers are instructed to pack up all their books, so that the shelves can be covered with knick-knacks (called "accessories"), pack up all the kids' toys, and turn the nursery into a spare bedroom. This, I guess, assumes that buyers are so stupid that they can't say to themselves, "Since we don't have any children, this room could be a guest bedroom or an office." The same is true for the dining room, which many people use for other purposes, so the seller is instructed to obtain a table and chairs, assuming that our stupid buyers can't figure out that it's the dining room.

The housing renovations come in two forms--cheap and more expensive. Some of them cost $1,000 to $2,000. For others the subjects have allocated $15-25,000. The former involve paint and accessories, and a few pieces of MDF, while the more expensive ones are bathroom and kitchen renovations. Bathroom and kitchen renovations include the following: tubs with jets, oversized showers with glass doors, dual vanities, islands, stainless steel appliances, cherry (or cherry-looking) cabinets, and the ubiquitous granite countertops. Unless you never use your appliances, you don't want stainless steel, as they show every fingermark and are impossible to keep clean, and the granite countertop is well on its way to being the avocado refrigerator of the 21st century. But none of the renovations comes close to the over-the-top renovations (which frequently cost more money than most of us will ever make) of PBS's This Old House. The virtue of the This Old House renovations, though, is that they involve expert craftmanship. They don't cut any corners, and viewers get to see beautiful, if shockingly expensive, work. This Old House would never do what one of the HGTV design shows did, and wallpaper only part of a wall, painting the rest, because they hadn't ordered enough wallpaper.

Every so often one of the shows does something truly dreadful, mostly because it can't easily be undone. Once you've painted over the original wood trim, it becomes a major (and expensive) project to get the paint off. And they did it only because the trim around the bay window had been painted, so the rest of the trim had to be painted to match. No! No!

Then there are the house-buying programs, the most famous of which is House Hunters. House Hunters, once upon a time, concentrated on the much-edited experiences of first-time buyers. But as the housing bubble expanded, it was too difficult to find houses that first-time buyers could afford, and they gravitated to move-up buyers. Now they've expanded to include people buying vacation homes in tropical locales as well.

I guess I have a somewhat jaundiced view, but the walk-in closet in a million-dollar house should have better fixtures than the standard-issue metal racks from Home Depot. And the secondary bedrooms should have closets larger than the hall coat closet. Do the builders think that kids only have two shirts and one pair of pants? Hmmm. Maybe that's why all the kids' stuff is in the living room. And why are they back yards devoid of any plant life? Patchy grass and a spindly little tree is not "landscaping."

The first-time buyer experience is now recorded by other programming. It's not so bad, as most of the potential buyers are eligible to borrow quite a lot of money (a graduate student with half a million!), but every so often there's some poor buyer who can only borrow $120,000, and ends up buying a condo-converted apartment, in the process giving up the two-bedroom house for which she's paying much less rent than she'll be paying in mortgage payments. They ought to have a show where some realtor sits down with potential buyers and explains why they're much better off renting, even if it means the tenant can't faux paint the living room chartreuse.

And finally there's the nod to the present period, where a realtor delivers tough love to buyers who spent toooo much money and now have to sell at a loss. These Real Estate Interventions, which are painful to watch, spend most of their time on the "updating" of the fixtures and removing anything that makes the house interesting, even though the important factor in selling the house is the price reduction. But if they concentrated on that, each episode wouldn't last ten minutes. (As part of the process, the Intervenor takes the victims to see houses that have been properly tauped and have allegedly sold. But does anyone live without a single piece of bad art or a book or magazine on the table? If so, who are these pod-people?)