Friday, October 30, 2009

Hello, Everyone. It has rained most of the night here--at times heavily. We expect more today. However, the temps have been a bit more normal for this time of the year. As it stands this October will make it on to the list of the coldest and wettest Octobers of all time. We have seen the sun so seldom this month we celebrate those rare occasions when we do see it.

Talk about celebrating--have you see all of the news readers and pundits celebrating the end of the recession. Every now and then I see one who is cautious about it but very few question the statistics and then not closely. You tell me--has this downturn ended for you? It certainly hasn't ended for us.

Here is a little item I found this morning that is not surprising on so many levels. Influence peddling and much too cozy relations between lawmakers and big companies and/or lobbyists? So what else is new? A preliminary report that somehow got posted to a public site? Again, what else is new? I do find it interesting how many of the individuals noted in the story as being under investigation are Democrats. Is that a function of the fact that the Dems have a majority in each house, or is it evidence of media bias? Interesting question since financial chicanery is an equal opportunity crime.

Mark Morford has an interesting commentary on the latest vampire craze. I can see where he is coming from. I also enjoy a good horror flick/novel/graphic novel. But even "back in the day" I was very selective. I liked Interview With A Vampire and Queen of the Damned. But most of the others didn't hold my interest. Some of them I read only because I got my hot little hands on them and was in the 'I read anything' phase. I am no longer in that phase and I wouldn't have read them now. Of the rest of his modern list, the only ones that caught my fancy were Blade (the movies), Moonlight and the original Buffy movie. But I wondered as I finished Morford's commentary if, in twenty years time, another commentator (a twenty-something now) will be waxing nostalgic about the cultural desert and wishing for something new, with real social commentary. Probably.

A couple of days ago I mentioned being intrigued by a story that, unfortunately, has an English teaser but was in Arabic. I found another mention of it today and found it in English. This author is mostly astounded by the shear number of unlicensed, traditional healers as opposed to legal doctors practicing in India. The original story was, evidently, on CNN.

A brief comment I heard on the news this morning has stuck with me. The mass transit authorities in Chicago have all experienced recurring financial problems for at least the last three years. For the last two the news has carried frequent stories about draconian layoffs and 'doomsday' budget cuts. Late last year, former (and now indicted) Governor Rod Blagojevich and the state lawmakers enacted a rescue plan that they touted as a permanent solution tot he problems. Blagojevich and a number of allied legislators insisted on including in the package free rides for seniors and then added, afterwards, free rides for active duty military personnel. They were told then that these measures would cause financial problems for the transit authorities but insisted on the legislation anyway. Now, thanks to the economic meltdown, those predictions appear to have come true and everyone is scrambling to fill the gap. A big part of the fight centers now on the seniors' free rides and proposals are on the table to rescind most of the free rides except for means-tested poor seniors. The comment that stuck in my mind was a man on the street interview with a relatively young man who saw the whole program as 'a transfer of wealth' to which he was opposed. To my way of thinking either option is a transfer of wealth. On the one hand transfer of wealth from the taxpayers supporting mass transit to the elderly many of whom would spend what they saved in transit charges to consumption in the neighborhood. On the other the transfer is from elderly riders to the transit authorities. Either way it is a transfer of wealth. The question--which is the better transfer? Also in the background is another transfer of wealth, and it is the one the commentator, I think, was most opposed to: the transfer of wealth from his pocket, in the form of taxes, to the transit authority and ultimately to the seniors, with whom he has no sympathy and no connection.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Good Morning, Everyone. Haven't had much to say over the last couple of days. The political scene is the same as it always is--'our' legislators are deeply engaged in their continuing efforts to secure the interests of their real masters: the banks, insurance companies, big pharma and whoever else contributes mightily to their continued employment. When they finally come up with something I might comment on it but for now I will save my breath (or, rather, my fingers).

Our weather is following the pattern set at the beginning of this month: mostly damp, mostly cooler than normal with brief periods of sun and seasonal warmth. At least I can be glad I am not in Colorado anymore. Beautiful scenery but snows like what they are getting are not exactly rare. And at least I don't have to go out in that mess anymore which I had to do when I lived there. Saw some amazing pictures of the snow on a friend's facebook wall.

Evidently I am not the only skeptic looking at the economic data the pundits are abuzz over. Growth of 3+%?? With or without the stimulus. One of the talking heads said about the same on CNBC this afternoon. And that is the jist of this article on MSNBC. All we see is the use of statistics to produce misleading or meaningless conclusions.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Good Morning, All. The car is still in the shop so we are making do. Yesterday we decided to walk over to the bank so Mom could deposit a check and since the grocery story was only a block away we went there, too, to pick up a gallon of milk. We had often talked about the possibility that, should anything happen to the car for any length of time, that we could walk that distance but we thought this was a good time to find out if we can walk it. We tried to pick up our daily walks in the spring but Mom's sinuses became so congested she could hardly breath. No such problem yesterday. We made it in good shape and fairly good time. It did take about 45 minutes for an errand that would have taken about 10 with the car.

We notice that the public option has come back from the dead just in time for Halloween. From what Mom read to me on the details it has become something of a vampire. The terms she saw would have restricted participation to those whose employers do not offer health care plans. In other words, this is a full employment plan for the health insurance industry. I have been in one situation which reveals the weakness of the proposal. My last job, two years ago, provided a health insurance plan so I would have been barred from participating in the public option. However, my monthly take home pay was too low to allow me to participate in my employer's plan. I wonder how many others would have been in the same situation. I also wonder whether the legislation as proposed would force individuals to switch from plans they signed up for either when unemployed or when employed by company that did not offer health insurance if they become employed by a company that does? What does that do to Obama's promise that if you do have coverage you like you won't be forced to change? We need a public option that is open to all.

I just found a site I wish I could have read. It is in Arabic but had an interesting teaser. That teaser (in English) claims that informal street herbalists and healers provide a significant part of India's health care economy. The western oriented medical establishment labels these practitioners as quacks but without them many would be without health care of any kind because the cost of 'approved' doctors is beyond them. Interesting. Given the cost of health care and of health insurance in this country I wonder..... .

Well, the car is back. And like every other perverse piece of machinery it behaved beautifully for the mechanic. I am glad the tow truck driver also tried to start the car because otherwise we would have appeared as a pair of batty old ladies. Our mechanic thinks a relay got suck and the towing jolted it back into operation.

Foreign Policy In Focus has a nice article on the Yes Men who made the news this last week for a hoax news conference where one pretended to be a representative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announcing an end to the Chamber's efforts to derail climate change legislation. The author makes some very good points about why companies cannot be relied on to 'do the right thing' even if that right thing is very evident.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hi, again.

Thanks, Kay, for the compliment on the quilt. I only wish I were all that organized. Sometimes I feel very disorganized.

The Kay also asked about what books I have been reading. Well, there are quite a few and they are an eclectic batch. I have found my reading patterns have changed over the last few years. I used to read each book I got all the way through. I find I don't do that any more. Too often I find that what looks like an interesting book just fails to hold my interest. I have learned to give myself permission not to continue with those books. Often I find that re-reading an old favorite is more enjoyable than a new acquaintance. That said, here is a bit of a taste.

I found S.M. Stirlings' 'Emberverse' series this summer. Those include Dies The Fire, The Protector's War, Meetng at Corvalis, Sunrise Lands, Scourge of God, Sword of the Lady, Island in a Sea of Time, Against The Tide of Years, On The Oceans of Eternity. These books tell parallel stories. The first six follow the survivors of a strange event that changed the physical nature of the world in such a manner that electricity doesn't work, internal combustion engines can't function, even steam engines simply don't work. Suddenly, people are thrust into a world that hasn't been seen in five hundred years or more. The second trilogy follows the inhabitants of Nantucket Island who are thrust a bit more than 2000 years into the past by the same event that killed the modern power based society for those left in the modern world. The two groups face many of the same problems. However, the inhabitants of Nantucket have also to deal with bronze age societies in the age of Ramses the Great in Egypt and Agamemnon of Greece. My favorite entries in this series are Dies the Fire and Island In a Sea of Time. I am a sucker for good 'It's the end of the world a we know it' stories. Unfortunately there aren't that many of them.

I also enjoyed James Kunstler's The Long Emergency and A World Made By Hand. The first is non-fiction in which Kunstler looks at the implications of our dependency on oil and what would happen if oil were simply unavailable. The world in which workers can commute long distances between home and work, shop by car at big box stores supplied a couple of times a week by truck, work mega farms with massive machinery that requires copious quantities of fossil fuel derived substances (oil, gas, tires), and grow super abundant crops that require large scale applications of oil derived pesticides and herbicides. A world Made By Hand is fiction based on the premises outlined in The Long Emergency.

Mysteries have long provided me a great deal of pleasure ever since I discovered Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Charlie Chan, Judge Dee, Hercule Poirot, and Jane Marple many decades ago.
More recent additions include Susan Wittig Albert's sleuth, China Bayles, and Monica Ferris' Betsy Devonshire. Both are series characters and I have almost all of the books in each. The latest entries are Wormwood (China Bayles) and Blackwork (Betsy Devonshire). I have always preferred the 'puzzle' mystery over the 'hard boiled.'

A few years ago I discovered the Anita Blake series by Laurel K. Hamilton. Anita is young, pretty, small, feminine and a vampire executioner who raises the dead. In the later books in the series she is also the human servant of the Master vampire of the city of St. Louis, the Lupa (queen) of the local werewolf clan (though not a werewolf herself), the Namir-Raj of the local wereleopard clan (also not a wereleopard) and a powerful necromancer. The latest in the series is Skin Trade but I think my favorite of them all is Obsidian Butterfly which I think is the best vampire/mystery crossover I have ever come across.

Jeffrey Deaver also puts out a good story. His Lincoln Rhyme series is well worth the time. Rhyme is a quadriplegic who is a crime scene analyst usually partnered with his lover Detective Amelia Sachs. This year's soft cover release is The Broken Window which is a terrifying story of a serial killer who can find any information on anyone and really mess up some lives while taking others. As an introduction to the series try the first--The Bone Collector.

Another recent addition was the latest in the Gideon Oliver series by Aaron Elkins--Skullduggery. Gideon Oliver is a physical anthropologist who also solves mysteries by looking at bones. This latest is set at a Mexican resort owned by relatives of Gideon's wife, Julie and weaves a tangled thread between the 10 year old skeleton of a murdered child, a skull attributed to a Toltec princess 1000 years dead, and a recent stabbing death of an itinerant poor Mexican man.

If you want some enlightening books on modern economics and politics you might look at Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy and Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell. If you now anyone who thinks that politics and religion and oil have nothing in common referr them to Phillips. And the next time anyone tells you that Wal-Mart means a jobs bonanza give them a copy of Shell's book.

That is a partial list and since I am getting tired so I will bid you all good night and see you tomorrow. Have a good night.

Hello, again. It is supposed to be sunny and mild today. The weather people say it will be the warmest and driest for the next several so I have to remember to go out and replace the front porch light. Like so much else I think about it and then forget it for a while longer. At least it isn't something that is absolutely necessary. I didn't get to the library yesterday. The car wouldn't start and Mom had it towed to her favorite repairman. We are both wondering why everything seems to happen at once. She just had the motors for the heat/air conditioning fan and one of the rear windows replaced two weeks ago. Last week we replaced the computers after hers died and mine showed its age. Now the car is back in the shop. Damn!!!

Oh, well. I have been busy trying to get my computer somewhat set u
p like the old one was. Just tried out the camera download system. It works fairly well.

The picture on the left shows the garden containers as they were in mid spring. Most of the plants started slowly as I complained about on a couple of posts back then. They tried to make up for it laster when things warmed up a bit but never produced what they would have had the weather cooperated. The right-hand picture shows the containers as they are now--closed up and ready for winter. More ready for it than I am.

The picture at the top is the newest quilt top as it was about two months ago. It is actually further along that the picture shows.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Good Morning, Everyone. Still cool and gray here. We might get some sun later today. Nothing to do outside since the garden containers are all retired for the year. I have made a bit of headway getting the plastic bags we have accumulated for the last few months cut into useable strips. I seem to go through phases. For several months I will do some kind of craft work daily and then do nothing for a stretch. Well, not nothing. I shift to reading books that have accumulated on my list. Then it all shifts back. I am in that shift now as my reading list has been whittled down and my mind turns over the needlework projects thinking about what to finish and what to start.

Didn't see much to comment on so I will post now. Have books to go back to the library.

Take care and have a good day everyone.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Good Morning, All. It is cool and rainy today. It rained most of the night--often heavily. According to the weather people this morning our area got almost 2 inches overnight with up to an inch more expected during the early hours of this morning. This has been a schizophrenic year. We had above average precipitation from January through the end of May followed by a dry and cool summer and, now, what looks to be a wet fall. We haven't had snow yet like some areas of the plains west of us but I am sure it is coming. After last winter, when we couldn't see our 6 ft fence for much of the time, I am not looking forward to it. The one bright thought in that is that we only have one car to dig out now.

Mark Morford has another nicely sarcastic entry this morning. It parallels the notions we had here when we first heard about Coke repackaging their beverages into smaller 'serving' size portions. We have thought the same thing about the drug industry which changes the shape, or color, or binding agent in their formulations and then files for a patent extension as though they had really created something new. Or some of the food processors who present us with a 'new' smaller package with grand hoopla while charging the same price. If we look closely those 7.5 oz cans of Coke probably cost more per ounce that the old ones did.

Grist has a more complete coverage of a story I saw on the morning news--a new poll says that Americans are much more skeptical about whether 'global warming' is real I don't trust polls for one of the reasons mentioned in the Grist article--the wording of the question can change the results dramatically. I wasn't terribly surprised on the general results. As the article mentioned, we in the midwest and northeast have had an unusually cool summer and, as I have noticed in my trips around the blogosphere, many people don't distinguish between weather and climate. I am in a strange camp as to the whole issue--there is plenty of evidence for climate change and there is plenty of evidence that a large part of the conditions leading to the change are the result of human activity. What I am skeptical about is whether 1) we can acquire the political will, globally, to act on a global scale and 2) we can do that in a time frame that will make any difference. Just take a look at the differences between the positions of the various national players at the Copenhagen conference. Does that give you any confidence that either of those conditions will be met?

Just in case you think I am overly pessimistic take a look at this Grist article. Developing countries, led by China and India, want access to large amounts of cash from developed countries and a large transfer of technology that is mostly privately owned by companies in the developed world. I don't know if anyone else watched ABC's 'Earth 2100' earlier this year but one of the scenarios presented was one in which the negotiators for various countries staked out exactly these positions and the negotiations failed because neither side felt they could give much on these positions.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Good Morning, everyone. Haven't much to say about goings on here. The garden containers are retired for the season. Haven't done much needlework/craftwork lately. Been thinking about it but haven't done much so far. We are slowly getting used to the new machines which are, for the most part, doing well. The only irritation came when I tried to find out where they had put the Appleworks program and found they hadn't put it anywhere. A bit of exploration revealed that Apple now bundles it with a system called IWork and sells for an additional cost what had once been part of the package. We then thought to see about an open source program that had worked well for Mom but the old version doesn't work with our Intel based machines and the new version costs a pretty penny. So I finally copied the old Appleworks program from my old IMac and transferred it to our machines. Sorry, Apple, but the basic Text Edit program simply doesn't cut it.

Mark Morford has a new post this morning. He does a marvelously sarcastic job of capturing the insanity of our holiday driven consumer culture. Monday when Mom and I did our weekly grocery shopping she noted a sign for 'Sweetness Day' and remarked that she thought that was in February. I told her that she was thinking of Valentine's Day. Sweetness Day is a marketing holiday invented simply to sell the same kind of merchandise normally sold for Valentine's Day. I don't think there is a month in which there is not some kind of marketing holiday and most of the traditional holidays have been converted to marketing holidays. I am always amused by the annual protests by some Christian groups to 'put Christ back in Christmas.' They lost that fight over a century ago.

For another take on our 'consumer' economy take a look at the latest Tomdispatch post that deals with the choices we will be making on defense spending. Ever since the heady days of the early to mid 1960s we have acted as though we did not have to make a choice between 'guns and butter.' Too many of our political/economic/military leaders believed that our economy would always grow (and at phenomenal rates) and, with a bigger pie, we would never have to make serious choices about how to divvy up the proceeds. Well, the time has come but we have a bunch in the Senate and Congress that would rather spend more on useless wars that drain our resources for no great gain while starving our civilian social programs. What does this say about our 'American values?'

For another interesting take on the economy take a look at this post. I don't watch 'The Good Wife.' I get the concept and it never really clicked with me although I loved the scene were the philandering/corrupt politician husband asks his shell-shocked wife if she is 'alright' and she slaps him. The recession is over (they say.) The Dow exceeded 10k so celebrate (even though that a level it reached first ten years ago.) But I don't feel like celebrating and I don't think the recession for my level of the economy is over by any means.

And here is yet another interesting take on our modern economic/political system. It is rather dismal reading. An interesting parallel just came to mind. Most people forget the the Constitution was the second constitution under which this country has operated. One of the factors that impelled the leaders of the new United States to change their form of government was their dismay at the chaos of rampant self-interestedness. They had relied on the notion of Republican Virtue to guide individuals who would sacrifice their immediate self interest in favor of the public good. When that didn't happen they constructed a system that was designed to pit the competing self interests of various individuals, states, and groups against each other. Now that system has become a 'war of all against all,' as Thomas Hobbs said.

I found this a cute post that can be filed under 'everything old is new again and probably greener to boot' category. I am old enough that I can remember some of these same things. And my mother remembers even more of it. Over the last few years we feel like we have been moving back towards those times--trying to garden, freezing in season produce (we haven't got the space to do any canning), making more of what we eat from scratch.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Good Morning, Everyone. We have had some dry, sunny and slightly warmer weather yesterday and it is supposed to continue through tomorrow. I got the last of the planters cleaned out and one of the containers of compost dumped into a couple of the large containers. We kept all of the lids for the 30 gal. storage bins we converted into planters so we could cover them over winter. Found only one problem--the pressure of the dirt pushed the sides out and the most of the lids no longer fit well enough to simply snap on. Well, that is what they made bungie cords for. Much as I hate to we are going to start throwing away the plastic milk and juice containers again. We simply don't have the storage space for a lot of that and we have enough to start next spring and will get more over the season. They do make excellent planters for small plants.

The new computers are wonderful. Everything is so much faster--games, moving between sites and pages. We are still getting back everything we need to have but are amazed by how much we are simply going to leave behind.

I noticed this morning that the move by the Colorado legislature to roll back their minimum wage made the national news on Good Morning America. A bare mention but more than usual and a comment that that was part of the news that the Balloon Boy fiasco has obscured. They don't usually acknowledge the news that is missing so they can cover the fluff.

James Kunstler has a new Clusterfuck Nation post that is a worthy read. We are in the middle of a crisis in confidence regarding our political and economic institutions. I voted for Obama but I my lack of confidence in his ability to change the way we do business (politically or economically) has grown. Too many people with political power are aligned with the big companies and are willing to sacrifice the rest of us on the mistaken belief that those who survive will be better off. I don't care to be part of the sacrifice but I am not sure how to escape.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hello, again, everyone. It is still cool and damp here. The weather reporter on the morning news says that this will be one of the coldest Octobers on record if the pattern continues for the rest of the month. This is already, thanks to a wet spring, one of the wettest. We are supposed to get sun and a bit more warmth over the weekend. I hope so because I have one more planter to clean out and I need to finish getting things ready for winter out there on the patio.

I found this item on MSNBC as I was going to the e-mail. I think we can file it under the 'more things change, the more they stay the same.'

And here is an item that has sneaked in under the radar embedded in the health care reform legislation. I guess having a corporate 'big brother' if fine but not a governmental one. Frankly, I see this as another give with one hand and take away with the other situation. First problem--how often do we hear about health problems that defy attempts to find the underlying medical condition? Just think of how many stories about lupus sufferers who went from doctor to doctor over years trying to find out what was wrong and how many were told it was all in their heads. Next problem--how often do we read about a study that declares some behavior or some component of our diet to be unhealthy only to find later that the study was flawed? And who do we trust to give us good information? The government agencies who depend on industry studies to make their pronouncements? Next problem--how much of our 'unhealthy' lifestyle is due to the very structure of our modern society? Sedentary work, long commutes, the 'choice' of getting some sleep or cooking a healthy meal at home? Here is an irony for you--my weight is at its lowest level in 25 years thanks to two years of unemployment which has allowed me to reset my meal times, eat at home, and get adequate sleep. Or consider a hypothetical situation. I get a job and my employer has some 'wellness' program that requires blood tests for cholesterol, tobacco and drug metabolites, blood pressure and body mass index screenings. I don't take illegal drugs so I have no problem with that although I have read of false positives for people who drank certain herbal teas. I guess I would have to give up that 'vice.' My cholesterol and blood pressure have always tested in the low normal range no matter what my weight. I have lost 60 pounds in the last 2 years but still would not pass a bmi. But then I would be in good company since many well conditioned football players and other sports figures would also fail that test. The tobacco metabolites would also be a problem because I live with my mother who smokes. Now, Mom is 79 (this year) and has been complemented by new doctors who don't know that she smokes on how clear and healthy her lungs are. I think you can see where I am going with this. I see the proposed measures as simply a way to legitimize the last acceptable bastion of prejudice and allow some to legally discriminate against others.

Well, I guess it is 'Good Morning, again' since I started this on Friday and it is now Saturday (Oct. 17). We got busy with errands and trying to figure out a problem with Mom's computer. We are still trying. She is reconfiguring after we reinstalled the operating system. We will see if that works.

I found this on MSNBC this morning. Isn't it wonderful how the banks we taxpayers have bailed out are no so healthy? And yes--I am being sarcastic.

Oh, well--best laid plans and all that!! The reinstall and reconfiguration on Mom's computer failed totally. So we spent the better part of yesterday looking at, buying and setting up (at least in part) new computers. Yes that is plural. My machine was actually older than mine and I had been having some issues with it. So, we replaced both. together. We have managed to adjust to one car but one computer--that is much harder. It is now Sunday, Oct 18, and I have a whole lot of reading and e-mail to go through.

The little MacBooks (cheap edition) are doing very well. It is evident that both of the old machines were going out because the new ones load so much faster and navigate so much more smoothly. I guess we should have expected that since the old ones were somewhere around 8 or 9 years old.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Good Morning, everyone. I haven't had much to say lately so I have simply read and commented on other people's sites. The gardening has shifted into the last phases of getting everything cleaned up and ready for winter and planning for next spring. I haven't been in a mood for needlework for a while so everything is hanging fire in that department.

I found this on one of the Google alerts in my e-mail this morning. Colorado appears ready to lower its minimum wage which is only $.03 (that is 3 cents) below the federal minimum. Thankfully, for Colorado minimum wage workers all the state can shave off, by law, is those 3 cents. The excuse for this proposal is that the cost of living has gone down and so the minimum, which is tied to the cost of living, should also. The same argument applied to not giving Social Security raises next year. I don't know about anyone else but I haven't seen any decrease in my cost of living. Gas prices migrate in a band that is at least $1 more than when I first started feeling pain at the pump about 3 years ago. I haven't seen any price reductions at the grocery store in spite of the stories of supermarkets cutting the prices on 'tens of thousands of items.' Those must be items we simply don't buy. But, hey, we should celebrate!! The Dow closed at just over 1000--a level it first surpassed in 2000 and which it hadn't seen for months. And look at all of those bankers getting mega bonuses. Life must be good--for someone.

We just got back from taking the car over to get a couple of things repaired. While there (we had to wait because we are now down to one car) we read through the three or more newspapers they had. One of the articles stated that the sales of canning supplies has gone up 30% as of mid September. If I remember, that was about how much the sales of seeds went up last spring. Think there might be a connection there?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Hello, again. Getting chillier here and it is wet. We are slowly getting the patio and gardens cleaned out. We don't have a lot to do all at once. I have found a few weeds that escaped me this summer but none too many or too big. I do have one note to myself that I shouldn't plant cosmos in the containers--unless they are the only plants in the container. I pulled the three I had planted and found their roots had invaded every part of the container. No wonder the peppers and lettuce I had in that container failed to thrive. When I tried to pull the cosmos I almost pulled the soil out and moved the container (with all the dirt!!) a couple of inches. The only way to get them out was to cut through the roots with the trowel. I hadn't grown cosmos before and had no idea of how they would do. They do extremely well--so no more. I would rather the poblano peppers had less competition.

MSNBC reports this morning that our national legislators are close to a deal to extend unemployment benefits. I noticed that the Republicans are crying that they need more time to study the bill. I also remember that they never needed much time to study any proposal the Bush Administration put to them. Of course most of what he put forward were half-assed wars carried off the books, tax cuts for the rich, gutting the regulatory agencies, emasculating FEMA, and bailouts for the banks. They didn't have to look very hard at those proposals did they?

And for anyone who thought the mortgage mess was behind us there is this story about trouble at FHA. But, hey, only a smidge over 500k people lost jobs last month--an 'improvement' of about 30k. Damn, what wonderful news!! I wonder how many had FHA insured mortgages.

Robert Reich has posted an excellent assessment of what the last 10 months have yielded from Washington and why so little has resulted. And why so much of that little benefits the few at the top or is totally ineffectual.

Like almost everyone else we heard the news that President Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The first two time it was mentioned in the news programs we were wondering what the punchline was--it had to have been a joke, right?? Well, it wasn't. I am glad for Obama but--what does this award say about the world situation today? A Nobel Peace Prize that seems to have been awarded more on hope of what is to come than on concrete achievements paints a rather bleak picture. And if it was awarded as a slap in George W.'s face, as one report maintained, that is also rather dismal. I hope Obama can deliver on the hope.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Good Morning, All. It is overcast and cool this morning with forecasts for even cooler weather for the coming week. We may even get our first frost, at least at ground level. By then I hope to have the gardens totally cleaned out. I took the last of the green tomatoes yesterday and a couple were large enough that we had some of them fried last night. The rest of the red and green tomatoes will be done up into a salsa.

Good Morning America had a story this morning that mom saw on the AARP site concerning a woman who ate a hamburger and wound up paralyzed from the waist down (after nearly dying). The AARP story, of course, gave more details and, I will be honest, the story is frightening. Especially since I have been hearing about this strain of e coli for the last couple of years. Diane Sawyer's comments were interesting and reflect our own responses here. We had no idea of what went into ground beef. Scraps that would once have been used to make dog and cat food are now processed for human consumption. I loved one exchange between Sawyer and the show's medical expert. They noted that freezing the meat doesn't kill this particular strain of e coli. She commented that heat should do the trick and the doctor noted that the hamburger would have to be cooked to thoroughly brown and hard. 'Shoe leather?' Sawyer replied. To which the doctor agreed noting that one needed to cook the burger to the point 'most people wouldn't want to eat it.' Both the Good Morning America piece and the AARP story noted that the ground beef most of us buy comes from multiple sources. The burger that caused the illness which paralyzed that young woman featured in the stories came from three domestic suppliers and one in Uruguay. AARP further noted that the suppliers often require legal agreements from the grinders they supply to NOT test the meat for any contamination and the contamination can occur at ANY point in the supply chain. Also interesting was the doctor's recognition of the source of the spinach linked outbreak of e coli in 2008--field contamination from runoff from an animal feeding operation nearby.

Mom and I have been discussing this since she read the AARP article to me yesterday. We have decided to explore a couple of different options. First, to see if the supermarket from which we normally buy our meat will grind the cuts we select on site. Second, to check out a couple of local meat markets with the same aim. Third, shift from ground beef to finely cubed beef and pork for chili and other such dishes. Fourth, and this is one that the doctor suggested along with the first option, grind our own.

This is only the latest assault on our consumers' sensibilities. We recently bought a ham which turned out to be considerably less than satisfactory. As mom cut it up into the various slices, cubes and 'roasts' we would be using she found squishy flesh and fat that fell apart it was so water logged. It was supposed to be fully cooked and smoked but did not look like it. The salt content is off the chart. We are going to check out other sources for ham next time we want one. That follows on a batch of beans (from a jar) which were so salty that we did not need to add any salt at the dinner table (and mom doesn't cook with salt). We have gone back to doing our beans from scratch (that is, from dried beans.) Even the canned vegetables are too salty for our tastes. We are considering our options there, also.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Good Morning, Everyone. The weather has settled into another rut--cool with sunny spells alternated with clouds or rain. We are settling into our cool weather patterns--getting the windows covered with plastic, wearing sweats, etc.

I caught this little piece this morning on MSNBC. The evening news mentioned the controversy--barely--within the last couple of week. The credit card companies are right that the merchants don't want to pay the fees which seem small enough if you don't dig below the surface. I worked for a small business (and I do mean small--3 employees including the owner) a couple of years ago and that fee to the credit card company for those transactions took a lot of the profit margin. If we tried to put a dollar limit on purchases with a credit card that would make sure the purchase was large enough to ensure a profit above the fee, we were told it was illegal. Damned if you do, Damned if you don't. I can understand the credit card issuing companies wanting to cover their costs and make a bit of money on the transactions. However, how often have we read about how profitable these cards are and how many banks relied on these fees to pad their bottom lines? I would say that the characterization of some of the executives as white-collar pirates is not far off. Let me add another perspective. I use a debit card only that is tied to my checking account which carries no fees so long as I have no overdrafts. I would deeply resent it if I were charged a fee to use the money in a free checking account. If I were charged for that convenience I would go back to using checks or cash.

Here is another entry in the 'business behaving badly' file. Frankly, I am not just outraged by the cost to a small town for the clean up, or the back taxes which will probably never be collected, or the several years of difficulties the town had with this company. The waste of all that meat was absolutely criminal. But these pirates will not likely be hanged or forced to walk the plank. Damn!!!

Then there is this little story. Did anyone else notice the jobs that are going begging? All of them require at least two to four years of college level training--in those specific fields. A bachelor's degree in english or history won't cut it. How many of the however many millions of unemployed have that training. Does anyone remember the little story from Elkhart a couple of weeks ago detailing the dilemma of those who have gone in for retraining of trying to finance that retraining? For most of those who manage to get through they will be up to their eyeballs in debt, what they had before as well as what they accumulate for the training. Another damned if you do, damned if you don't situation.

Tom Englehardt has provided an interesting post by Max Bivens today. The sarcasm just drips off his writing. I liked this quote: "The entire Gross Domestic Product -- the number reflecting all wealth generated in this nation for this year -- is only $14.1 trillion. So whether the sum of our money that's now their money is $3 trillion (1/5th of all wealth generated in America in a year) or $4.7 trillion (1/3rd of all wealth generated in America in a year), it still means that, for a big chunk of the year, every single one of us was working for Goldman Sachs et al." Damn, I didn't even get to spend a penny of it. Never even saw a check.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Good Morning, again. It is cool and wet today. I have to go to the library so I hope to dodge the raindrops and stay fairly dry. Needless to say--no gardening today.

I had resisted Facebook for a long time but have finally caved in and enrolled. Most of my family are on it and so are several old and dear friends. It does provide a nice way to keep up and some other nice entertainment.

I found this item that surprised both mom (who is on social security) and me (who is just shy of eligibility.) I really do think this sucks big time--to find that if you opt out of medicare because you qualify for a better health program only to find that you also must opt out of Social Security. We both thought the two were totally separate. After all you can opt for 'early' Social Security benefits at age 62 but must wait until age 65 to get Medicare. Something about this is totally screwy.

This one can be filed in the 'damned if you/damned if you don't' folder. Enrollment in Social Security is running above expected levels this year as older Americans who can enroll do so. Either they have lost jobs or they need the extra income in these nasty economic times. On the one hand the higher enrollment numbers will advance the time line for Social Security paying out more than they take in. On the other hand those who opt for social security and do not have a job are relieving the employment crunch somewhat. I don't blame those who opt for early benefits.

The Slate has an article examining the latest resurrection of 'fat taxes.' Actually they shouldn't be called 'fat taxes.' They aren't really because they are on a category of food most of us think of as junk food. Often these were already taxed because they were subject to sales taxes unlike other foods. Take a look at you checkout receipt at the supermarket and see if you state or local government follows that. You might buy potatoes, which are not taxed, and potato chips, which are. I am not really convinced by the argument that junk foods are 'engineered' to be irresistible, addicting even. They are just so readily available and convenient. But then we have whole categories of foods that are highly processed but aren't considered in the same category--he cake mix you bought along with the potatoes and potato chips for example. How do you want to categorize these foods? Or take a look at the canned vegetables on the supermarket shelves. Mom and I have and have been shocked at how much salt is in them. We recently had our first meals of beans and corn bread which were so salty we didn't have to add any salt. Mom doesn't add salt in cooking. She uses spices and herb mixtures exclusively. We add salt to taste at the table. We switched from the already prepared beans to the dried beans from then on. And we have switched to more of the frozen vegetables for the same reason. Alcohol and tobacco taxes are nicely straight forward compared to the swamp of trying to impose fat taxes.

But then there is another reason why I am somewhat leery of this kind of tax. Like all other 'sin' taxes they become a crutch for governments that impose them and those governments are not likely to take any real action to reform the behavior. In the 19th century the Czarist government knew that alcoholism was rampant but taxes on vodka and other alcoholic products provided the major support for their finances. Needless to say no real efforts were made to curb alcoholism because that would have diminished the revenues.

And then here is another bit of insanity. Since tourism brings in money why throttle the goose who should be laying the golden eggs? Thanks to Chris in Paris for the link. My first thought was to wonder if this proposal had anything to do with Chicago's fourth place finish for the 2016 Olympics--especially since one of the IOC members asked Obama about travel restrictions.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Good Morning, People. Cool after a night of rain. I don't know how much we got but we are supposed to get more today. Took out one container of tomato plants yesterday. Mom is going to make a green tomato salsa out of the fruits. We also put in all the storm windows and put the plastic over two of them. We will get the last one next week. That is almost the last of our fall rituals. We used to change out our dressers and closet but have reduced the clothing to the point where we don't have to do that any more. We haven't had to put the heat on since the overnight temperatures haven't gone below 68 degrees. Hopefully it won't for a while.

I have just about given up on watching the economic statistics. If you do you wind up with mental whiplash. Last month everyone was so overjoyed at the slight dip in the unemployment rate and touted the slight reduction in new unemployment claims. This month just the opposite. July and August had the pundits raving about the 'Cash for Clunkers' program and this month gloomily noting that auto sales were down in September compared to last year. Does anyone remember the fanfare a couple of decades ago when Saturn was touted as the future of the auto industry? Now Saturn is gone--at least according to the latest news on that front.

I just caught the first round of voting for the 2016 Olympic host city--Chicago is out of the running. I am neither sorry nor glad. The Olympics might have been a catalyst for some good changes in Chicago but its economic impact probably would not have reached me. I am surprised it was knocked out in the first round.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Good Morning, All. Bright and sunny for now but definitely chilly. Our thermometer on the patio door registered only 40 degrees and the roofs had frost on them. I hope to get out and get some more of the garden containers cleaned out before the rain comes later today. They say severe thunderstorms are possible.

I found this on MSNBC this morning which was also carried on the news last night. I know that the last sentence carried the researchers disclaimer that they did not intend to pass judgement on working mothers but that is a lot of crap. How can they not? After all where is the companion story about working fathers? I like the notion of more support for parents but I notice how they use 'parents' there not just 'mothers.'