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?)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Dash's 3rd Birthday

Dash celebrated his birthday on Saturday. One of his favorite activities is helping with the laundry. Here he's supervising me as I move the clothes from the washer to the dryer. He also likes to make sure nothing is amiss inside the dryer.