Thursday, December 30, 2010

Yeah, the Boomers Did It

In preparation for cutting Social Security and Medicare, we're going to have a spate of articles like this, blaming the Boomers for not saving enough for retirement, for being self-absorbed, for spending with abandon, for [whatever sin of omission or commission is being used to bash us and justify cutting benefits].

But if we look, for example, at the article above, it's a simple matter to figure out what's wrong with the argument. First, the featured Boomer used to make $100K a year--that's twice the median income for the United States, so this poor sacrificial lamb isn't representative at all. Anyone who has bothered to do the simple arithmetic (you know--counting, addition, subtraction) has figured out that the Boomers didn't spend oodles of money on consumer electronics, fancy clothes or vacations. The largest increases in spending were for housing and health care, and one need only prepare a simple budget for a household making the median income to find that, once you've acquired the basics, there wasn't a whole lot left over for other stuff, whether a boat or retirement. If you don't believe me, look at this. (What amazed me is that there's a government agency that collects this information.)

More important though, are the factors entirely beyond the control of most Boomers. Yeah, we really wanted to give up pensions for 401ks. Why have professional money managers take care of your retirement when you can receive the "services" of self-serving, and often incompetent, financial advisors? We all collectively decided that we didn't want pensions. Uh huh. And then, having put our money into the stock market, we caused it to crash. Uh huh. And then, we all decided to crash the housing market after we'd been told, for like 30 years, that our houses would fund our retirements. Oh, please!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An Anniversary

J has now officially put up with me for 30 years. He deserves a medal.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

J's Task

J has been going through our old photos, discarding the embarrassingly large number of duds. I then approve his selections, and the rest go to the garbage. He's finished the first 10 years--only 20 more to go! He also found the original newspapers reporting the Oakland Fire and the Loma Prieta earthquake.

And a pipe burst this morning. We're the only house in Sacramento without potable water.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Dinner

The Great J humors me far more often than he should. When I announced that I wanted to do a turkey for Christmas, he suggested that a whole turkey was a lot for two people and that, perhaps, we should just do turkey parts instead. I insisted, and J dutifully ordered a free-range bird from our local supermarket. He will remind you that it was hugely expensive. And the bird was also huge, some 12.5 pounds.

I made the turkey and the stuffing (using the recipe my mother had probably acquired from a bag of bread crumbs in 1956). J did everything else--the gravy (best turkey gravy I have ever had), mashed potatoes (the secret is sour cream), fancy brussel sprouts (steamed with lemon butter is better), cranberry sauce (really good, the secret being tangerine juice), and the fennel and smoked salmon salad.

Did I mention that we have enough food for several weeks?

Presents were purchased for the cats. The crinkly paper balls were not a hit, and the mouse on elastic was a hit for about 5 minutes.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Lousy Democrats

Our local paper had an article today on the Democrats who have decided to join the Republicans in blaming the teachers' unions for the state of the schools. What's the point of that? Well, in California, the Democrats drank the KoolAid and promoted the very system that has wrecked education here. Huh? Well, every legitimate study of student performance has found that there is one factor, above all others, that determines student performance--parental income. More than quality of the school district, more than the parents' education, parental income determines how well the kid does in school. (Interestingly, this means that expensive private schools are selling to stupid, but rich, parents. Or more likely parents who don't want their kids going to school with the rest of us. Children of rich parents who go to public schools do just as well as the children of equally rich parents who go to private schools.) So the best thing we could do for the children in California schools is to reverse the neoliberalism that has promoted income inequality and depression of wages for the vast majority as a social and economic virtue.

More than that, the Democrats would have to deal with the problems faced by lower-income parents--particularly housing. In Los Angeles a third of the students change schools every year because their parents can't keep their housing. But it would cost a lot more to solve that problem rather than bash the teachers.

Worse than that, the proposals promoted by Rhee and her corporate sponsors are likely to make the problem worse rather than better. Teachers who might have chosen to work with lower-income students and distressed communities will, if the lose tenure rights, move to jobs in richer communities, where the incomes of the parents insure higher test scores.

Ngram: Neoconservative and neoliberal are both unknown until the late 1970s. Neo conservative peaks around 1990, while neoliberal is still (unfortunately) on the ascent.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


The solstice was yesterday at 3:37 PM.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dabbling in Ngrams

I've been playing with these. Use of "millenium" is highest right around 1980, but references diminish as the millenium approached. And "countenance", one of my favorite verbs, is at its high point in the 1830s. It then begins a long slow slide to the present. But "renege" is the opposite; it begins its climb in the 1930s and, except for a small decline in the mid-1990s, keeps on moving up. And both God and the devil are sinking like stones.

Monday, December 20, 2010


I ran a across the link to this on Patrick Killelea's website. I thought it was an inspired solution to the foreclosure problem. What was more interesting though was the author's comment that "[p]erhaps to the surprise of much of the industry, abuse of the PTFA [the federal Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act] has been limited to one-off events, eviction attorneys told me as recently as last week." The real estate industry, which includes eviction attorneys certainly, always claims that tenants shouldn't have the most basic rights because granting tenants these rights might, somehow, enable tenants to engage in nefarious acts in our rental units. That there is no evidence for this is irrelevant--in the propoganda of the "industry" tenants would take any opportunity to run wild in the streets.

Indeed one of Jerry Brown's initiatives as Mayor of Oakland was to "clear out" rental units being used as drug emporiums. Brown became very quiet on the subject when it turned out that most of the drug selling was being done by homeowners, not tenants.


Something I liked in the morning newspaper. I was first subjected to the inappropriate use of the word "awesome" some years ago when I performed a thoroughly inconsequential service for one of my then coworkers. He said, "Awesome. Thanks." I thought, there was nothing awesome about it. I made a phone call. I asked someone to email a form. The person at the other end of the conversation agreed to do that. I had become inured to the use of "hella" as an adverb, e.g. "hella good concert". I had also become used to chats that began with "hey"--so much so that I sometimes used it, although the first time I did so, the recipient of the "hey" didn't believe I was the person chatting him.

Over the years I have been described as "awesome" both for my personal character and for mundane services I have provided. I have gotten used to it. I no longer say, "I don't think so" even though I'm quite sure that I've never done a single thing that could be described as "awesome"--not one. It's just comforting to know that someone else finds this misuse as irritating as I do.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A New Shopping Irritation

When did it become impossible to get sheets individually instead of in sets? I use two different sizes because using a one-size-larger top sheet limits the accusations of covers thieving. But it seems almost impossible to find anything that isn't in a set.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Let's Stop Speaking English

If you dislike income inequality as I do, look at this. It's clear that there's a strong correlation between increasing income inequality and being an English-speaking nation. Let's all switch to French.

Update: It's a joke, comrades.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Spring Courses

I've finished Astronomy. The course ended last week. I shall miss it. Unfortunately the next in the series isn't a TV course and, even were I willing to sign up and go in person, I have to collect J from work just as class begins. I missed a few of the TV lectures, as there's something about a 3:00 start that's really easy to miss. My courses for the Spring term are Introduction to Art (on Monday evening) and Art Survey: Renaissance to 19th Century (Monday and Wednesday, noon to 1:20).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday Morning

And I couldn't believe this. You'd think that the banks would wait a suitable period before coming after our meager incomes again. Unfortunately it does confirm my view that the financial elite is trying to restart the neoliberal economy. Disgusting--and pathetic.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Last night I cooked. Yes, cooked. Assembled ingredients, chopped ingredients into little pieces (I hear that it's called mincing), scrubbed ingredients, melted butter, and cooked them all up into a rather large amount of mussels with a butter sauce. Oh, and I peeled a tomato. J did suggest that we didn't need three pounds of mussels, but I insisted. We didn't need three pounds of mussels--two would have done fine.

I don't cook. Ever. I am not a good cook and J is a very good cook, so I set the table and, mostly, do the dishes. I do have a few dishes though, and one of them is mussels. When we lived in the Bay Area, I regularly acquired clams (when we were flush) and mussels (when we weren't) from, first, the fish market at 19th and Mission, where the clams and mussels were still in water, and then from the fish market in Oakland's Montclair district. In those days mussels were about half the price of clams, so it was a good, cheap feed. Now mussels and clams are the same price, so it's a matter of whim.

I have a really easy recipe, so here goes:

Two pounds of mussels or clams
1/8 to 1/4 lb of butter
medium onion
4-6 cloves of garlic
fresh parsley
medium tomato
white wine
good bread

Mussels or clams should be rushed home from the store, placed in a kettle of water covering them, and put in the fridge until prep time. (When we lived in San Francisco, the fishmonger would put the clams or mussels in a plastic bag filled with water. I would then transport them home on BART.)

Scrub the mussels or clams with a brush. Almost all are farmed now, so they're much cleaner than in the past, but you don't want grit in the sauce. Place them in clean water and set aside.

Place the tomato in a saucepan filled with water and heat to loosen the skin.

Mince the onions and garlic and set aside.

Do the same with the parsley.

Skin the tomato, cut out the core and cut into chunks.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Have husband set the table, make the salad and slice the bread.

Do all of this before cooking, as the cooking is over in about 20 minutes.

Melt butter in a large pot. Add onions and garlic, and cook slowly until the onions are soft and just starting to brown. Do not burn. Add the tomato and cook to soften until it's mush and dissolves into the butter mixture. Add the parsley and continue heating. Dump the mussels or clams into the pot and cook until all are opened, about 10 minutes. Shake the pan every 2-3 minutes.

Remove the mollusks from the broth with a slotted spoon, place in the serving bowl and put the bowl in the oven.

Boil the cooking liquid to reduce and thicken. The butter is important here, as it is what makes the sauce thick and suitable for bread-dunking. Pour the sauce into cups suitable for dunking and move the mussels from the oven to the table.

Update: The wine should be added just before the mollusks, about 1/2-3/4 of a cup. And J suggests that, if you want a less salty broth, change the water in which you're keeping said mollusks several times. The liquid they release on cooking will be less salty.

And the mussels (the best we've found in Sacramento) were from Oto's on Freeport Blvd.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Peon on a Rant II

Alas the ruling class cannot limit their behavioral experiments on the rest of us to enticing us to line up at the Halls of Commerce three days before Black Friday for a chance to rampage through the stores seeking one or another "doorbuster." They now want to perform experiments on the most precarious among us who seek assistance to stave off eviction. The focus of this "study" is to determine whether or not the recipients of aid from a housing program would be more or less likely to end up homeless if denied the aid. So petitioners are chosen by lot to be denied aid and given a list of other resources where they might receive assistance.

What's interesting is that the whole idea is silly. Whether or not they receive aid at one point has no impact on any future crisis they might face. People who are precarious with respect to housing (and that's a fair percentage of the population) are precarious all the time. If they receive aid this month or this year, ending that aid just restores them to the previous precarious position. If they stave off eviction this time, the next financial crisis--an unexpected bill of, say, $25--leaves them just as precarious the next time. It doesn't solve the fundamental problem, which is that some 30% of the US population shouldn't be in the private housing market at all. And sending the near-destitute who are facing eviction off for job counseling doesn't solve the immediate problem, and won't solve their longer-term problems until they've completed the course work for a Master's.

A couple of commenters noted that it stank of Tuskeegee, and others suggested that we should divide rich taxpayers into two groups, one of which kept its Bush tax cut and the other not, to see which group created more jobs.

HUD is advocating these kinds of studies. And I voted for this?

Peon on a Rant I

Peon was trying to be more positive during the holiday season. She really does want to concentrate on good food, pretty decorations (and inflatables on the front lawn are not pretty) and better driver behavior. She really does. But then she got up and read the newspaper.

How could Obama sign off on a tax plan that gives bunches more money to already rich people? The vast majority of taxpayers would see no increase in taxes if the Bush taxes were allowed to lapse. Yes, the vast majority.

But first, one of the changes whacks low income workers. Workers making a bit less than the national median household income would be better off (read: get more money) from the Making Work Pay tax credit that was part of the stimulus last year. That's the $400 per worker that was part of your refund. Giving lower wage workers a payroll tax reduction instead means that they'll (a) get less money and (b) won't get it as a lump sum. (Yes, getting it as a lump sum is good for lower income workers. We then can plan for its use--and lower income workers have plenty of possibilities when faced with a $400 windfall.)

But it gets even worse. For most taxpayers the tax cut was always minimal. For many taxpayers there wasn't a tax cut at all. For couples with a taxable income between $17,000 and $57,650, the marginal tax rate under the Bush system is 15%. If the tax cuts expire, the tax rate for these taxpayers is, yup, 15%. Taxpayers making above $57,560 would pay higher taxes, but that's because flattening the tax bands pushes them into the same band as those making $140K, with a marginal tax rate of 28%.

The people who really clean up, though, are taxpayers with high incomes. Their highest marginal rate is 35%. Yeah, people who make half a million a year have a marginal rate only 10% higher than people with an income of $70K. Bring back the 90% marginal rate! But what this really points out is that it makes more sense to maintain the tiny tax cut for lower-income taxpayers, while allowing them to expire for the rich.

I wonder how many people who can't do the math think that they got a windfall from the Bush tax cuts, and would find, if they did the arithmetic, that their tax cut was about $24. And if this is what the Democrats have on offer, why did I bother to vote?

Peon is so mad about this that she intends to bank every sou of the payroll tax cut.

And if you're not already sufficiently angry/depressed, read this.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Watch the Video

of Cornell West here. West is a bit conservative for my taste, but he has a wonderful speaking style, and puts at least one of the fundamental questions of our economic development quite succinctly. Having decimated our industrial base, what are we going to do now to improve the lot of the poorest 2/3 of the citizenry? Pay more for existing jobs? Develop new industries? And how much are we going to have to spend to do this? West notes that we spent nearly a trillion dollars to bail out the financiers, but not nearly so much on the rest of us.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Like most of the world, I've been doing a little Wikileaks dabbling. Most of the leaked documents won't tell anyone who pays reasonable attention to the world anything she doesn't already know. Karzai's government is corrupt, for instance. Noo. Really. Who could've known? Russia is a criminal enterprise. Been paying attention for the last 20 years? You'd think after all this time that we'd have figured out that "unfettered" capitalism is likely to become, yes, a criminal enterprise.

But one cable interested me just because it confirmed something I'd suspected for awhile. That is that Rene Preval, the Haitian president, has become entirely uninvolved in the problems of his country, and entirely ineffective, simply because he doesn't want to follow President Aristide to house arrest in South Africa. Well, we now have the cable confirming just that (see bullet 15). Sometimes I am sooo smart.

The problem for Preval is that anyone who wanted to solve the problems of Haiti would have to do things that the Western powers wouldn't like--expropriating land, forcing higher wages, demanding that the French pay back all the money that Haiti paid France (under an agreement with Charles X) to compensate French owners for their slaves--with interest--and the like. And the last person who made proposals like that ended up...

If you want to keep up on Haitian issues on a regular basis, read this. I check in about once a week; it's too depressing to read it more often.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Restaurant Reviews

As part of the great J's birthday week, we have been going out some, and ate out twice this week. First we went to see the new Crocker, which is much bigger and better laid-out than the old Crocker. In fact, it's quite beautiful. Unfortunately it has the same old art. Would someone please move the Sabines to storage? Please, please. The changing exhibition was the art that will be contributed over the next century. Some of it is good, but it's too bad we can't just say no to some of the pieces. Of particular note, though, is the third floor front sculpture gallery, which has a beautiful view of the trees through the sculptures. Very cool.

The cafe, though. Hmm. J, who had the misfortune of a cracked tooth during his birthday week, had a bowl of clam chowder. It was better than Progresso, but just barely. He gave Progresso a 3 and the cafe chowder a 4. I had the Chicken Breast Salad. It was okay, but nothing spectacular and should have been for $11. There are far better, and cheaper, places nearby for lunch. Skip the cafe.

Then we went to The Grange for the official birthday dinner. Deciding against the fixed-price menu, we ordered off the regular menu. The house-cured sardines with mussels and clams was excellent. Highly recommended. Really good. We then had house-made pasta with mushrooms, splitting the large order. It was, well, okay, but nothing spectacular. J suggested that it needed salt. I wasn't sure of that, but it did need something. We split the braised short ribs. Very good, over excellent mashed potatoes. But the highlight was still the sardines. We were comped dessert, as the waiter thought the service had been too slow. I thought it was fine.

We also had really expensive wine, one of which--a mix of Chardonnay and Voignier--was excellent, and was perfect with the sardines. The red, though, was not much better than the table red we drink at home. The white blend was Blend 23 from B Cellars. And they were both expensive!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tenants Together--Improving Rental Property Around the State

The five of you who read this blog already know about the Landlord Hall of Shame. Some of the nominees are newbies, while others could have been nominees 30 years ago. But who could have known that a nomination could send maintenance crews heading off to make repairs--in some cases repairs that should have been made years ago? Well, that's what happened in Fresno. It helped, of course, that the nomination made the Top Story at one local TV station, complete with video of some of the conditions in which the tenants are forced to live. The very next day the offending landlord sent maintenance crews to begin remedial work.

One note though. Sacramento doesn't have enough nominees. If you live here and your conditions are like this, turn your landlord or property management firm in. Nominate them!