Sunday, January 30, 2011

On Facebook

Several weeks ago I deleted my Facebook account. A former co-worker had invited me to join so that I could see the pictures of another former co-worker's children. And while they are very cute children, it didn't justify the time and attention it took to deal with it. I got a bunch of notifications that people wanted me to join this or that protest. Someone got hold of my password and made my friends miserable for a couple of days. I found that I had "friends" I didn't know because I was too polite to ignore "friend" requests. I thought it was pretty harmless. On the other hand, I didn't "friend" my nephew. What self-respecting college kid wants his aunt as a friend? And would I really want to know what he was doing?

But the last straw was when I received a birthday notification for one of the "friends" I didn't know. I thought, if I send this guy a birthday greeting, it's going to be weird. Not stalking, exactly, but not normal. So I deleted my account. I am now entirely friendless, except for the people who telephone me or email me or contact me in some normal way.

And once I watched The Social Network, I was glad I'd done it. What a miserable collection of dreadful people. How did Zuckerman get to college without someone explaining to him that when you go on a date, it's not all about you, or at least not if you want another date? And your SAT score is not the most important thing to talk about. I mean, J too got 1600 on the SAT, but we'd been married for 14 years before I found that out.

Friday, January 28, 2011

On the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Report

Peon is not really very interested in this report, certainly not sufficiently interested to read all of it--or any of it, for that matter. Peon likes Naked Capitalism's take on it, and will therefore not repeat what's already been written there, although she disagrees that the housing bubble wasn't central to the meltdown. Whatever financial shenanigans was going on, the bubble ruined more lives than all the synthetic CDOs put together. Peon is particularly irked by the "we all share the blame" assertions. We do not all share the blame. People who were desperate to buy a house or to get money for repairs or were scammed into believing that subprime mortgages were a good idea do not share the blame. They were victims of both the bad actors on Wall Street and venal politicians and regulators willing to do the bidding of Wall Street. They were also victims of a political economic system that refuses to address the housing problems of the poorest half of the population--people who have to pay high prices for lousy housing in mediocre to dangerous neighborhoods, and have little to no security of tenure in said housing.

What's most infuriating in this "we all share the blame" number is that tenants in foreclosed properties have suffered far more than Richard Fuld ever will. Tenants Together produces a yearly report detailing the impact of foreclosures on tenants. You can read the actual reports for 2008, 2009, and 2010. In 2008, while Kathleen Fuld was shopping at Hermes, some 225,000 California tenants were being evicted from their homes, some with as little as 30-days' notice. In 2009 and 2010 an additional 413,000 tenants lost their homes, bringing the 3-year total to 638,000 tenants, who got to "share the blame" without ever getting a single sou from selling a derivative.

Frankly, at this point, I'm more interested in other issues--whether I can get a ficus to survive more than six months in my living room, whether I can get fancy-leafed begonias to grow at all in Sacramento, whether I'll have to drag J to Berkeley to get cape mallow.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


I've probably written on azaleas before. Many serious gardeners here turn up their noses at them as common. And it's true. You can travel around older parts of Sacramento looking at the most unimaginative, uninspired gardens, those with hedges clipped into ugly squares and green meat balls, and find a clipped hedge of flowers in February and March. Those are the azaleas. (Newer suburbs have even more unimaginative gardens. It's hard to travel through vast swathes of Elk Grove, Rocklin and Roseville and find anything other than juniper and ivy.)

But here's the problem. Azaleas love the climate. They almost never get bugs, bloom reliably and, if not clipped to within an inch of their lives, provide an attractive background to other, more interesting, plants later in the season. And even if neglected, as mine have been lately, they will survive anyway. So I'm going to rehabilitate my azaleas and plant a couple more--preferably late bloomers (April into May).

Monday, January 17, 2011

On the Garden

I've not written much on the garden lately. For one thing my arthritic knees have kept me on the couch a lot of the time. For another, it's been cold this year and I don't garden in cold weather. And it's been wet, which makes the clay soil difficult to work. But I get my cortisone on Wednesday (better living through chemistry) and plan to whip the garden into shape before Spring. (For those of you who live in parts of the country with real winter--snow, sleet and the like--Spring now arrives in California at the end of January.)

So the plan is, so far, to prune the roses and then feed them, replant the cape mallow on the driveway side of the yard, put in a bunch of Icelandic poppies, cut back the erigeron which is in danger of taking over the yard, cut back the penstemon and incarvillea to prepare them for new growth, plant something, anything, to cover up the hut-like structure my landlord put up to shade the electric meters, and hope that the red feather grass will come back in April. Oh, and the butterfly bush needs trimming again. And I hope that my sunroses bloom again. I've planted them both here and in Oakland, but never had them make it more than one season until this year.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

More About Guns

Some observers (if we can dignify them with the term) have suggested that if more people had been armed at the Tuscon grocery store, there would have been less carnage, as the armed would have taken out the shooter. Yeah, haul out your piece and start shooting into a crowd of people. I can't see that ending well. Others have suggested that the shooter would have been less likely to be a shooter were everyone carrying a concealed weapon. Uh, this kid was mentally disturbed. I don't think it would have mattered. A lot of guys with guns think they're the Lone Ranger, riding to the aid of damsels in distress and picking off the bad guy with a single shot. That was a TV show. No one was actually shot. The "bang bang" was all sound effects.

Friday, January 14, 2011


I am an unarmed American--no gun, no hunting knife, not even a baseball bat. I don't want a gun. I don't hunt, don't want to do target practice, am not a survivalist. I don't want to shoot a miscreant youth to save my television or even my grandmother's silver. I don't believe that I'm safer if I'm packing heat. In fact, I'm a lot less safe. Twice over the last few years some idiot has broken into my car glove box and taken my car registration. I don't know why. It can't be of any use. The first time s/he got the original. We don't make that mistake now. We keep the original in the file at home and a copy in the glove box. What if I were one of those people with a gun in the glove box? My car registration can't hurt anyone. A gun could. Unarmed and proud of it.

I don't have much to say about the recent events in Tuscon that isn't just a rehash of what everyone else has said. But our pundits and politicians are making the same mistake they always do. "Civility" hasn't diminished because our politicians are too divided, but because there's barely a thimble-full of difference between them. Republicans and Democrats alike have become so wedded to the same political economy that they have to fight over relatively trivial points to distinguish themselves from one another. Hence the assaults on the "character" of the opposition. One need only compare the Schwarzenegger and Brown budgets to see that there's not enough difference between them to thread a needle.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

High Risk Health Insurance Pools

I can't find the link for the article, but there was an article on the high risk insurance pools that are supposed to insure people who can't get insurance because of pre-existing conditions, a stopgap until the new federal insurance rules prohibit denial of insurance for pre-existing conditions in 2014. Very few people have signed up, but those who have are costing the system huge amounts of money. Well, duh!

Most of the people denied private individual policies don't have very expensive illnesses. In fact, many of them aren't sick at all. They've had accidents or illnesses in the past that insurers are afraid might cost in the future. If you had childhood asthma, you're uninsurable because you might, once you pass 40, get it back again. If you ever had joint surgery, you're uninsurable because you might develop arthritis in the joint in your 50s. A broken bone, a concussion, any unexplained fever, can be grounds for denial.

But insurance through the high risk pools costs a lot of money--$5-6,000 a year. So people without insurance who are generally healthy are likely to take the risk and wait until 2014. Those who buy the insurance have serious illnesses that cost lots of money. For people who have cancer or heart disease or uncontrolled high blood pressure, the insurance is a necessity. If you had asthma as a kid, but are reasonably healthy now, you could drop $18,000 down a black hole, or just wait until 2014.

You wonder if reporters ever think. How could they not have figured this out from the beginning?

Ngram: Bourgeoisie and proletariat have common trajectories. Bourgeoisie outdoes proletariat very slightly until about 1910, but proletariat remains more common until the late 1950s. Then bourgeoisie becomes more common, reaching its high point in the late 1970s. Both have been on a downward trajectory since. And it appears that they're linked, as they rise and fall together through most of the 20th century.

The Last Station

J and I watched The Last Station night before last. It's particularly notable as one of the few decent films this year; 2010 was certainly not anywhere near 1939. Helen Mirren was the star of the film, even though Christopher Plummer was Tolstoy (and didn't do badly himself). But what was most interesting to me was that the Russian aristocracy was in deep trouble in 1910, and that Tolstoy's decision to will his literary works to the public domain would have put his family in serious financial straits. Lenin once observed that revolutions do not happen when the poor can no longer go on as before, but when the elite can no longer do so. Land wealth just wasn't enough to keep the Russian aristocracy going.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


I'm afraid that I have about as much enthusiasm for Jerry Brown as Governor as I did for Barack Obama as President--better than the other, but not by much. As I noted not that long ago, Jerry Brown did distinguish himself by accusing a group I was with of "Mau Mauing" him. It was an honor, probably undeserved. Brown committed himself to an early incarnation of neoliberalism, "lowered expectations," which brought about many of the problems California has today.

One of the interesting proposals is to broaden and flatten the income tax rate, which would shift the income tax burden from rich Californians to low-and moderate-income families. That's because the income distribution here is one of the most neoliberal in the country, with a small percentage taking the vast majority of the income, while most Californians struggle to pay for the basics. It might work if the government took responsibility for its failure to provide affordable housing by, for instance, giving low-and moderate-income tenants a tax credit for excess housing costs. (This, comrades, is a bit of a joke. Were the Legislature to pass such tax relief, it would cost the state huge sums of money. Half of California's tenants pay more than 30% of their income for rent, and about a quarter pay more than 50%.)

Unfortunately we're more likely to get some version of Darrell Steinberg's "stick it to the tenants" initiative. This one would redistribute the income tax, assuming that taxpayers could recoup the losses by itemizing on the federal taxes. But tenants don't itemize, as the main deduction is for mortgage interest, so tenants would pay higher state taxes while being ineligible for any federal relief. (And yes, I am amazed that Steinberg didn't know something so basic about taxation for the vast majority.)

Ngram: F**k declines from 1800 to 1820 and doesn't appear again until 1960, and has been increasing since. S**t is almost non-existent in literature until 1960, and then rises much more quickly than f**k. Hmm. The only explanation I can think of is that because pornography was a large segment of literature in the 18th century, f**k appears much more frequently than later in the 19th century, when pornorgraphy is overtaken by other forms of literature.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Christie at Disney World

I wonder how many regular state workers (you know, the ones New Jersey Governor Chris Christie bashes) put off trips and activities they were planning to do with their children to help clear the streets and highways of New Jersey.

One thing this points up is why the government isn't a business. Governments have to plan for events that one would hope only occur once a century--flood, earthquake, massive snowstorm--but they have to be able to respond to such events. And they can't depend on volunteers to do the work. After the Loma Prieta earthquake, it was suggested that those who wanted to help could do one thing--stay home, keep off the roads, let the people who knew what they were doing do their jobs. (Amazingly, some employers docked the pay of workers who did just that. I always thought that we should have legislation that not only required employers who did stuff like that to pay their workers, but to pay a stiff fine to the state for having been so un-civic-minded.)