Friday, January 31, 2014

Some Contrary thoughts. Utah school lunch fiasco.

Happy Friday, everyone.  We only had a dusting of snow yesterday late.  More significant snow coming later overnight.  The local weather people say that this January is the third snowiest on record with a little less than a yard of snow.  What is coming won't change that.

We are staying snug at home for the most part and carefully selecting those days we go out on errands.  Last thing we need is to get caught in nasty conditions.

So the Utah school district has apologized for taking the lunches (already distributed) from children whose parents were behind on paying their children's accounts.  One of the parents claims her child's account was up to date.  Contrary thought one: the cruelty of this is mind blowing.  Or, rather, would be if it weren't for several recent similar incidents.  An Arizona school district thought giving children with unpaid accounts a slice of cheese food between a couple of slices of white bread was a reasonable response.  Contrary thought two:  evidently the all notions of adequate nutrition went out the window when money is considered.  Strange isn't it that financial considerations had considerable weight for a school district but not so much in discussions of the urban poor in food deserts? Contrary thought three:  the waste was obscenely immoral.  I don't know how many stories I have seen over the last few months claiming that as much as half of all food produced in this country (and, according to one, worldwide) is wasted.  I often wonder if people have simply had their common sense surgically removed.

Question: Why has it taken three months to get this bit of idiocy this far?  I know our court system seems to move in a glacial pace but three months for a case of vandalism seems a bit much.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Not so cold but more snow coming. How to trivialize weather woes. Miscellaneous and contrary thoughts.

We should be getting the firs of three waves of snow starting this afternoon.  The snow removal people our landlord brings in worked most of yesterday taking out some of the snow that last came in just before the deep freeze and clearing the snow from in front of the mail boxes.  We don't know if the post office simply didn't deliver on Monday and Tuesday because of the sub zero temps or if the carrier couldn't reach the boxes.  If anything blocks their access, they don't deliver.

Our news has focused on the weather troubles in the south--meaning Kentucky to the Gulf.  However, this story irritated me.  That little phrase "horror of horrors--buying cheap wine." is simply inane.  And what exactly does it mean that the woman they interviewed admitted that her responses to the cold was "simply an first world problem."?   And though the title touted "Heat or eat?" they quote her saying "Eat out? What is that?"  This article trivializes the whole problem of people facing double or triple their normal energy bills.  I look around our living room and see my shawl and lap blanket and Mom's lap blanket.  We are wearing layers.  Our thermostat is set at 70 degrees only because the actual temperature in the upstairs rooms is 65 and downstairs about 68.  Those adjustments, for us, are normal annual routines.

And now the blame game pitting politicians against the weather forecasters.  Frankly, I agree with the sentiment that the politicos should simply suck it up and admit they were wrong.  They did have warning of the possibility but, in our 24/7 365 culture, no one wants to close down.  Workers won't call off on a "possibility."  Shoppers won't stay home for a bad weather "possibility".  Business won't close on a "possibility."

Tomdispatch linked to this article.  I hadn't heard the term "dead muds" before but it sounds like an apt description of the fact.

I have followed a number of controversies concerning women (usually Muslim) who wear some form of veiling (and there are several levels of veiling).  This is one of the few where researchers actually asked the women themselves why they wear veils--in this case the niqab or face veil.  It refutes the notion that most women who wear veils are forced to do so.  I am always somewhat bemused by those on each side of the argument--those who claim it is a sign of oppression and those who insist it is a sign of religious purity.  Both are pure BS.

John Michael Greer always writes an interesting blog at the Archdruid Report.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

No, we didn't watch the SOTU.

We simply didn't want to devote that much of our evening to it.  I didn't expect anything more than we saw last year: Dems cheering at the drop of a phrase and the Repubs sitting stone faced.  The political reporter on our morning news said that was exactly what we got.  One of the reporters last night remarked that most Americans were very pessimistic and didn't trust the government--any part of the government.  My very contrary remark: well, duh!!!  What have we to trust?  When a government does something and is seen to do something, you can have some trust that they will address problems.  You might not agree with what they do but at least they are doing something about the problems.  Our government is so dysfunctional they are doing almost nothing.

I wondered if someone would bring this up.  One of the prominent sound bites from the State of the Union was Obama's pride in the "lowest unemployment rate in five years."  But how has that rate been achieved and who is left out.  I am glad to see the article note the drop in the participation rate (the percentage of working age people in the labor force) is only partly due to baby boomers retiring. I wonder how many "retired" boomers are like me.  I "retired" as soon as I qualified for Social Security but after two-and-a-half years unemployed without unemployment benefits.  And during which time I had only one interview inspire of filing applications for every job out there.  How many people simply fell off the statistics?

The sentiments expressed here mirror mine very closely.  I do go on Facebook but only to play a couple of games and those are becoming less and less enjoyable.  I hate the notion that I have to have oodles of not-really friends to get anywhere or I have to spend real money for virtual (non)goods.  I have often thought how nice it would be if they arranged a game that you could play without inviting all of your not-really friends to join in also.  I do have family on Facebook but they all know that the best ways to contact me are e-mail or phone.  Every now and then I fantasize about deleting Facebook.  Just have been too lazy to do it--yet.

I think the question asked in this headline can be answered in the affirmative.  We are, indeed, sleepwalking into a cashless society where every transaction we make is recorded and noted somewhere.  I wonder how long before the dictionaries will drop the word "privacy" and its variants because we won't be using it.  It will be meaningless.

The State of the Union--as it should have been.

Is it me or do these things always turn out worse than initially reported.

Thankfully, no cows were hurt.  Until I saw the source (Reuters) I wondered if it was a serious news story.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Over the last decade or so it seems like we are remarking on how strange the weather and weather related conditions are.  Area (including Chicago) schools are closed a second day for the wind chill.  I grew up in this area and I can't remember a time when wind chill has closed schools.  The governor of Illinois has just declared an emergency because of a shortage of natural gas.  He has asked consumers to conserve electricity and not run appliances like clothes dryers.  I have never seen that happen here either.  So what happened to the bonanza we supposedly were getting from hydraulic fracturing?  This might be part of the problem but I can't remember so many explosions, leaks and other accidents involving oil, natural gas or other fuels as we have seen over the last three or four months.

This is a refreshing attitude.  Let's see what she does.

Another reason not to put apps on your phone.  Why make it easier for the snoops to follow you?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Cold and getting colder. Insanity.

The temperature is just barely above zero and it will get colder over night.  They say we may get some sun but it won't warm us any.  For the first time that either of us can remember school districts are closed because of wind chill temps that are already deep into negative double digits.  Those are also expected to go much lower.  Hope you are staying warm and safe.  These conditions are brutal.

Another case of agricultural insanity.  We keep doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.  However, since Monsanto and other agribusiness giants are heavily invested in the genetically modified plant technology and want a massive return on their investment, we are not likely to do anything significantly different.  I have to ask one big question.  The system as it stands is setting up a nasty technological/scientific failure and what happens to our faith in science and technology when the failure comes?  Monsanto and its brethren have over-promised and under-delivered and all of their proposals simply double down on the original plan--if plants resistant to one herbicide is good then making plants resistant to another herbicide as well is better.  Might we not end up with a situation resembling the problem we are now having with strains of multiple-drug resistant bacteria?  I would guess that is a very likely outcome.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

hope you all are staying warm. Another data breach. Other miscellaneous links.

We did get snow over night--maybe another 2 inches.  Temps right now about 10F.  We are supposed to get some really cold temperatures over the next week.  Cold as in below zero.  We are still hibernating.

File this story under "here we go again."  I haven't shopped at Michaels for a good while.  They changed their inventory to a lot of things I really didn't want or use.  I was glad when Hobby Lobby opened just so Michaels would get some serious competition.  I don't like the politics of either company so that is a bit of a wash.  I wonder how many other retailers have been hit.

We have often suspected that our "antiseptic" culture is detrimental to health.  This story lends credence to that notion.  Don't get me wrong.  Cleanliness is one thing but our focus on indiscriminate killing of any and all bacteria is another.

This is an argument I can support.  But it is interesting that all of the economic theories involved have more resemblance to religious belief than to science.

Some time ago I said that perhaps the way to handle the notion of gay marriage was to simply take the state out of marriage all together.  The problem, of course, is the legal relationship has so many repercussions which the Oklahoma law makers proposing a ban on all marriages have not considered.  Think about how marriage structures real estate ownership and inheritance.  Think about how marriage structures influence child custody and adoption.  Think about how marriage controls what benefits one can tap or how much one has to part with in taxes.  Instead, we would have to regularize a contractual system to cover all of the relationships wired into the notion of marriage.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A respite before the next cold snap. Miscellanea.

Our temps started in the low 30s (F) but have been dropping and will continue to drop to single digits by this evening.  The wind of course makes it feel much colder.  We had planned to visit the annual garden show but decided against.  Sorry to miss it but by the time we would be coming home the wind chill will be well below 0.

This story intrigued me and infuriated me at the same time.  I was intrigued because I had never heard of abrin which led me to Wikipedia where it was described as a "select agent," something else I had never heard.  I won't link because you can easily find it if you want to.  It is a nasty substance related to ricin.  What infuriated me?  The lawyer giving a sob story about the poor little shit who was orphaned before age 15, and has been in and out of foster care since.  So now, at age 19, he should be treated gently.  Sorry, I don't buy it.  He was producing it (and ricin), trying to sell it on line with specific instructions on how to use it to kill someone, and had two meth labs in his house.  Maybe Floridians should elect the brat to congress.

I will not download this but I absolutely love what it does.  I don't need the program to translate bullshit titles.  I do a pretty good job by myself.

Found another intriguing article.  What was especially intriguing was the notation that the pig virus was also spreading in the U.S.  We hadn't seen anything about it here.  However, the Wall Street Journal had an article two weeks ago.  Being a business publication the WSJ focused on the probable effect on the meat industry and consumer prices.  Mainstream media, however, is very urban oriented.  All it would report is the rise in prices (after the fact) and nothing about the cause.

Update:  just looked out the patio door and saw near whiteout.  The wind has picked up and is blowing both new and old snow sideways.  Just as well we decided to hibernate.

Update 2:  we have sun now but the wind is still high.  Mom is happy--the wind is clearing the car for her.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Brutal weather continues. Odds and ends.

The only good thing about the weather today is that we have sun--for now.  We expect more snow and wind later today.  We plant to do some shopping early today (and very close to home) only because that will get us pass worse temps and weather coming.  But we won't do anything we had planned.  Why, you wonder?  This is why.  No, we weren't involved.  But it happened only about 10 miles north and 20 east.  It is an area we travel every now and then during the warmer months.  And that is the second multi-vehicle over the last couple of weeks crash in areas with which we are familiar.  The other was on I-65 a bit west and an hour south of us.

And we are worried about Iran and N. Korea???

I saw some pictures of this phenomenon a couple of days ago but these are more spectacular.  The glow is the result of a microorganism that fluoresces when agitated.

Update: we ain't goin' anywhere.  The car won't start.  The thermometer in the mini-greenhouse registered -5F.  Thankfully, we don't absolutely need anything we were going shopping for.  Our back stock will carry us over nicely.

Update 2:  Mom decided to see if the car would start this afternoon.  It turned over nicely.  The temperature was 25 degrees higher than it was when she tried earlier.  We did go to the store after all but were lucky because just as we headed to the register we found that the store was closing.  They had a major water leak in the ceiling.  I wonder if their pipes burst in the cold.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Brrrrrr! Negative temps and lower wind chill. Thursday miscellanea.

We are hibernating for another day.  It is much too cold to do anything outside.  We got about another inch of snow yesterday so we feel lucky.  Others only a few miles away are still digging out from Tuesday's snow.  Hope you all are staying warm and safe.

I found this interesting piece early in my trip through the 'net.  I am not surprised by the efforts to challenge climate science in courts or in legislative bodies using smear tactics but little or no contradictory scientific evidence.  I am fascinated by the history of the Heartland Institute.  Huffington Post has a list of articles concerning Heartland here.

We knew that last year was a bad one for rail accidents involving oil tankers.  We didn't know it was this bad.  Moving volatile, flammable, or toxic materials from anywhere to somewhere else by any means will always be dangerous but we seem to be giving the corporate interests a get out of responsibility free card.  Accidents may be accidents but the people who own the infrastructure should be responsible for cleaning up after the accidents.

I read this article to Mom after commenting that these guys sounded like us discussing phones or some other gadget.  We have simple tastes and simple needs but everything out there seems to have loads of functions and features we don't want and won't use.  We made the mistake of saying as much in front of my younger sister who immediately informed us of how useful the web surfing or other features can be.  You can look up an address or a phone number or play a game while waiting for whatever, etc., etc., etc.  We print out directions from the computer before we leave home.  We write down phone numbers we might need on paper and take it with us.  We don't play on the phones.  "Simple" seems to be a concept our modern consumer society doesn't understand.

These are sentiments I can totally agree with.  We have commented here that the old definitions of privacy are dead and no one has come up with anything to replace them.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Continuing to dream of a summer garden and Wednesday miscellanea.

We dodged a bullet.  Or, perhaps I should say the storm dodged us.  Even the lake effect snow was anticlimactic.  One of those glad/sad situations.  Looking at the weather predictions on Monday we decided to miss a monthly breakfast we normally attend.  As it turns out we had blue skies and sun for most of Tuesday and could have gone.  Oh, well.  As I said when I e-mailed our regrets: better safe than sorry.  Just thirty miles west of us received a foot plus.  They are still digging out.  And what missed us is hitting the east coast hard.

Last Wednesday (or Thursday) I ordered my seeds and plants.  I was totally surprised to get the first of the orders--seeds from Territorial Seed and Baker Creek.  Yesterday I got the Burpee seeds.  Sometime in the next couple of days I should get the replacement cover for my mini-greenhouse from Jung.  I am simply amazed by how fast everything has come.  All that remains are plants that won't be shipped until close to the safe date for planting: two roses and a scented geranium.

So what did I order?  From Burpee:  Patio Princess tomato and the Ms. Mars sunflower.  From Territorial Seed: epazote, lemon balm, and Elegance Purple lavender.  From Baker Creek: purple shiso, Corno di Toro Rosso pepper, albino bullnose pepper, lemon basil, and summer savory.  The only plants of totally unfamiliar types are the shiso and epazote.  They should be very interesting.

I seem to be shifting my gardens toward herbs.  I plant to put in sage, lemon thyme, spearmint, peppermint, basil, purple hyssop, borage, pineapple sage, in addition to what I listed above.  We'll see what else as the season goes on.

A couple amusing things on the the TV news:  A snow plow operator actually said, in an interview, he was ready for spring.  Those guys usually complain that there has been too little snow.  Good Morning America noted the story I linked to yesterday about doctors warning women that their "shareware" might be causing serious physical problems.  I never did like girdles by what ever name you call them.  One of the news stories last night acknowledge a trend I saw (and, I think, linked a couple of weeks ago) that indicates Americans are switching from margarine and such to butter.  I told Mom that we are ahead of that curve.  We switched months ago.

This is hardly a surprise.  The Governor of W. Virginia tells people that if they don't trust the water, after being ordered for about a week not to use it because of a chemical spill, to buy bottled water instead.  He cites the U.S. Environmental Protection standards to claim it is safe while covering his ass by not declaring it "100% safe" since is no firm evidence of what levels are safe for the chemical in question.  I guess it really depends on your definition of "safe."  If they mean you won't fall down dead in the next ten minutes, they might be right.

Isn't globalization wonderful?  And the writer makes one of the few connections between our demand for Chinese manufactured goods and their air pollution--which is now reaching our shores in significant amounts.  The quote toward the end which insists that measures to limit trans-border pollution must confront how much responsibility for that pollution rests with the countries consuming the end product of pollution-producing process.  Reminds me of the drug-producing countries in Central and South America telling our government that curbing production in their countries must be accompanied with equally stringent measures to curb consumption in ours.  Interesting note: the TV news story concerning that only mentioned the arrival of the pollution over here with no link to the arrival of the manufactured gadgets.

So this is why I don't care much about Obama.  I find commercials more irritating as I get older whether they are political or retail.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tuesday miscellanea.

Good Tuesday, All.  I haven't seen much to comment on--especially anything I haven't commented on before (or ranted about).  I used to describe myself as a "news junkie" but over the last couple of years my "addiction" to the news has lessened considerably.  For the most part it is repetitive and dominated by "fluff"--celebrity driven stories in which I really have no interest at all.  So I will have to concentrate on other things.

I was amused this piece this morning.  As the old saying goes: what is old is new again.  Or as is repeated throughout the last couple of seasons of Battlestar Galactica: this has happened before and will happen again.  Fashionable Victorian women often had their floating ribs removed so they could cinch their corsets tighter.  Autopsies and dissections often revealed radical displacement of internal organs.  As Ives Smith (from whose Naked Capitalism site I found the story) wrote: "Girdles came back in fashion when I wasn't looking?"

This is an interesting story.  It seems older people don't have failing memories.  They simply have much more "data" to sort through.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Dreams of a summer garden.

Though it is still cold and we still have a heavy blanket of snow (thankfully a lot less than a week ago), I am planning what I will put in my garden this year.  I put in four seed and plant orders yesterday.  I wanted to put in a couple of roses but I am picky.  I want roses that not only look good but have a good fragrance and are hardy to at least one zone above mine.  That was not easy.  I loved one new rose--a purple striped beauty.  It had everything except hardiness.  I finally found two.  They will be coming later in the season when it is appropriate to plant.  With everything still dormant outside (and snow covered) I can't tell how much will come back.  I am pretty sure of the tansy, pyrethrum and strawberries.  But this is the first winter for the hyssop, bee balm, and hibiscus.  Do you all have gardens?  If so, what are you planning?

I like Gene Logdson's blog pieces and I may have to pick up his latest book, Gene Everlasting.

Anyone remember that natural gas explosion in California that leveled part of a neighborhood?  Well, Washington DC might just be sitting on a similar leak waiting to explode.  But, hey--Washington Gas says they maintain a rigorous inspection schedule.

I love Ronni Bennett's alter ego, Crabby Old Lady.  She is in good form today--on the difficulty involved in trying to shop for drug prices.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Nuisance snow and cold. How to avoid responsibility. More linguistic legerdemain.

Interesting:  the news readers are noting the "time worn" tactic Chris Christie used in his mentions of the bridge closing scandal--"mistakes were made."  Nice way to avoid specifying who made what mistakes.  And simply saying that he takes responsibility isn't enough because he didn't say for what he is taking responsibility.  Clearly not for the initial situation.  Merely for the damage, perhaps?

From the same bureaucrat that gave us the phrase "least untruthful" we now have this humorous bit of linguist obfuscation.  And I don't mean humorous "ha ha."

At least 11 oil spills off Trinidad.  How long before the entire Gulf and Caribbean area becomes a dead zone?  And the president of their national oil company considers the $3.1 million fine "harsh."

So--the oil companies engaged in hydro-fracking are not only polluting huge quantities of potable water they are creating a more explosive oil that has to be moved somewhere else.  Isn't that just wonderful.  We have the choice of having pipelines which seem to be quite prone to leak or rail tankers that are prone to explode.  Either way we are screwed.

Hell of a way to fight a war!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Musings on: an 8 month-old in a restaurant, Elk River, credibility gaps, bookcases

Hope your Tuesday is going well.  I am about ready to start ordering my seeds and plants.  By the middle of nest month I will be starting some of them under the grow light upstairs.  Let's see what is on the net this morning.

Jesse's Cafe Americain has a piece this morning on a topic we have commented on here: credibility--of government, social, and financial leaders and organizations.  It comes up almost weekly when the government stats on the labor market are released.  We hear the numbers and simply don't believe it.  We take almost any pronouncement with more than a grain of salt.  We greeted Obama's so-called Promise Zones with the question of which corporate interests would benefit most.  Every time some politician speaks the word "reform" I wonder whose ox will be gored.

A Chicago chef (at a very pricy restaurant) posted a tweet that became one of the dominant stories on our local news and actually got a mention on Good Morning America.  A couple arrived for dinner with an 8 month old baby in tow and the baby started crying about an hour into the meal.  At one point they were asked to take the baby into the foyer or the restroom and quiet it.  After the family left, other diners nearby started complaining.  The chef felt caught in the middle.  He didn't want to refuse patrons with children but sympathized with diners who were spending $250/head for a "special dining experience."  I have a bit of a different take on the story.  It is part and parcel of a process that has, over the last century or more, separated people by age.  We separate children in some form of school for most of their time or in other groups with only a couple of adults supposedly supervising.  We separate older folks in "retirement communities" or "nursing" homes.  Working age adults don't often see, much less interact, with anyone much younger or older than themselves.  And we have little sympathy or patience for them.  Which brings me to my second reaction to this story.  We have become so self-absorbed, so selfish that we can't empathize with anyone else's predicaments--especially if those conditions in even the mildest way interferes with our "experience."  We can't be bothered to be polite or tolerant or, heaven forbid, helpful.  It isn't much of a step from complaining (as the other diners did) to pulling out a gun and blazing away (as happened, evidently, in Florida.)  Mom and I have very suspicious and cynical minds that run parallel.  We wondered how many of the complaining diners hoped to cash in on their "spoiled" experience and get a discount from the management.

The people who designed these bookcases not only love books, they have one heck of a design sense.

Rude Pundit is somewhat restrained in his rudeness today writing about the chemical spill on the Elk River.  According to the news the situation in W. Virginia has eased and many areas will be able to use tap water (if they trust the system after the last week).  However, Cincinnati has taken measures to deal with pollution reaching that area.  I wish I was hopeful that the politicians would finally choose people over corporate profits but I am not.  I think the news media will move on and the public pressure to do something will dissipate.  That seems to be the way these things go.  I am intrigued that Cincinnati's actions received only a one line mention on the TV news this morning.  So far I haven't found anything on a NBC or a couple of other sites.  I wonder if our collective amnesia is already kicking in.

Ouch!!!  Tell me again--who won the Cold War???

Monday, January 13, 2014

Good Warm Monday morning.

Didn't see anything much to comment on yesterday but today I saw this bit of weirdness.  Sorry, I actually hit the publish button instead of the link.  So anyone visiting will see a work in progress until later when I have completed my trip through the news and 'net.

We have talked about the ADHD "epidemic" which has had a lot of press over the last few years.  It seemed to us that our mental health professionals were all too quick to label what was once normal childhood behavior as pathological and too quick to prescribe mind altering drugs.  Of course, parents and teachers were all too happy to go along.  A drugged out zombie of a child was much easier to deal with than a normal active, rambunctious child.  This article confirms our gut instinct.

The continuing (and growing) story in this post-holiday period has been the hacking of commercial systems releasing the credit records of tens of millions of customers into the ether.  However, this is another story that has bubbled up in the news media over the last couple of years.

Of course, high technology isn't the only part of our life that can go awry.  People in parts of West Virginia are spending a fifth day without water because wonderfully named Freedom Industries spilled a toxic chemical into the Elk River.  I am intrigued by two lines in separate stories.  The first is in the above linked article which cites an official with the WVA Department of Environmental Protection who claims that the chemical was not considered "toxic" and the site wasn't subject to regular inspections.  So residents were warned not to use their tap water for anything except flushing the toilet because a chemical not considered toxic by the state agencies charged with protecting them leaked into their water supply.  The second statement came up in last night's news story.  The reporter claimed the company wasn't subject to inspections because they didn't manufacture the chemical but only stored it.  Really??  Why should simple storage of a toxic chemical be less dangerous than the manufacture??  Oh, I forgot.  The state agency didn't consider it toxic.

God, I hope not!!!  Haven't we had enough of that over-blown ego's self-promotion?

Reading the headline I wondered: if the Dollar Stores are getting too expensive for many Americans, where are they shopping?  The story doesn't say but I agree that is says something disquieting about our so-called recovery.

Conversation at the grocer check out this morning.  Favorite Grocery Clerk: How did you girls do with the snow and cold?  Me:  Fine.  We did our shopping two days before the blizzard and then hibernated.  FGC:  I don't have much sympathy for those who moaned about running short.  They were warned well ahead of time.  Mom:  We watch the weather reports to schedule the best days to shop on.  Why so many others don't I don't know.

This article tells exactly why we don't watch much news any more--there isn't any coverage of real news.  The author criticized the Sunday talking-heads shows but the regular news isn't much better.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Oh, my goodness--how the snow has melted.  We still have a lot of it but not nearly as much as before.  Had heavy rain yesterday that helped wash some of it away.  The temps are supposed to be around 40F today and tomorrow followed by another cool down and snow.  Not as brutal as the last stretch, thankfully.  And, thankfully, we didn't have this much rain.

Fascinating!!  Takes snow art to a new level.

Interesting take on the so-called "Promise Zones" President Obama has proposed.  I haven't been impressed by any of the "private-public" partnerships so far.  Most simply shift public resources into private pockets--where it fossilizes.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Warmer but fog developing. Upside to the deep freeze. Food/diet.

And rain for later.  The city street crew was out yesterday making sure the sewer grates were clear.  We'll see how much of the various snow mountains melt with the warm up.  And 'warm' means we get back to seasonally normal--mid 30s. The postal service got through yesterday.  I had a couple of new gardening catalogs.  Something fun to look at.

When our recent freeze was starting out I wondered if this would be the upside.  And perhaps other noxious insects will also die off.

I saw this item on the evening news last night also and it is no surprise.  We take these stories with a grain of salt.  We don't eat out often so the excess calories don't have a big impact on our weight.  The holidays were worse.  Also, more often than not, we wind up taking half of it home and finishing it the next day.  Several years ago we found we could no longer eat the full restaurant meals without feeling very uncomfortable.  So we don't.

Another story claims that Americans are switching from margarines and such spreads back to butter.  The reporter speculated that the phenomenon is driven by health concerns because most contain transfats.  As one who has made the switch, I can tell you that the decision was more complex.  I have always hated how soggy my toast became when I used margarine.  It didn't matter if I used stick margarine or the soft.  My toast always turned into a soggy mess.  It doesn't with butter.  And frankly the butter tastes so much better.  What about the calories, you ask?  Well, the margarine we used (and still use for cooking) contains only 30 fewer calories per serving.  We actually use about half as much butter so we actually consume fewer calories.

I haven't said anything about Chris Christie although I have followed the latest kerfuffle lackadaisically.  This piece at Firedoglake has a couple of interesting points--especially the question about what in the relationship between Christie and his aides led them to think their actions would be acceptable.  To me, it has the whiff of Henry II and Thomas Beckett.

Fascinating phenomenon!!

Given all the brouhaha over Muslim women's veils in parts of Europe (including the recent conviction of a British woman for wearing niqab) I found this article interesting.  In Cairo, a Muslim woman's religious fervor may be judged by her style of veiling while in Chicago a woman's serious commitment to her career may be judged by her hair style.  Either way the woman is judged by social norms and both may be oppressive.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Warming, a bit. Too big to fail. Animal Farm 2014. Modern illusions.

Didn't see much worth commenting on yesterday.  Still cold but the daytime temps are getting close to normal which, for this place and this time of the year, is in the mid 30s.  We will be in the mid 20s today so I will get the patio and the car cleared.  Hope you all are staying warm and safe.

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism posted this Wolf Richter article on the state of the labor market which pretty much labels the happy face the mainstream media puts on the unemployment numbers a lie.

So the financial powers that be are arguing that investment funds that manage very large amounts of money are "too big to fail."  So, basically, if those guys (and gals) do something stupid, the governments of the world (a.k.a., taxpayers) have to back stop them in the name of stability.  Investments, by their nature, risky and those who make investments should know that they are taking risks with their money.  They should be applying the old rule which says that, if you can't afford to lose it, don't gamble with it--and investing is gambling.  Unfortunately, putting your money in a bank savings account is just about on par with investing now-a-days.  You might be forced to "bail-in" the bank if something goes wrong with it.

Some animals are more equal than others.  (Some) world leaders are more entitled to privacy than anyone else.

But who says anyone has any privacy in the internet age.  Privacy, like security or stability, are modern illusions of which we had best disabuse ourselves.

While we recover (slowly) from a week of deep freeze Australia is still setting records in the opposite direction.  We expect temps above freezing and now the worry is flooding as the mountains of snow start to melt under the expected rain.  I just read a piece (sorry, didn't safe the ink) that Australia set records for the hottest day, hottest week, hottest month and hottest year in 2013.

This is just another example of the current fashion of apologies that aren't really apologies.  Dennis Rodman shoots off his mouth and stamps off in a giant snit but then says "what the hey!  I'm sorry.  I had a few drinks and was stressed out."  I don't buy it.

There has been another train crash involving oil tankers.  I saw a piece on a news channel last night where the pundit/apologist for the oil industry said that we had two choices: accept the high probability of accidents on the rails because of the badly maintained and out dated infrastructure or build more pipelines.  Sorry.  I call bullshit.  Not too far from where I live two pipelines have leaked  causing considerable damage and costing quite a bit to "clean" up.  Such messes are never really cleaned up.  That is a fact the so-called expert failed to mention.  Neither option is all that palatable.  We should be looking for a third or fourth option.  But as long as we are locked into the notion that we don't have any other alternatives we will be stuck with the failings of the options the industry finds acceptable to them.

Oh, yes!! Technology is wonderful--until it isn't.

And again, technology is wonderful--until it isn't.  The companies developing GMO seeds promised higher yields with less fuel, fertilizer, and pesticides.  In other words, larger profits because farmers could grow more while spending less.  More and more studies and anecdotal evidence have challenged that promise over the last couple of years.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Staying warm and inside.

The deep freeze continues but we should break into the low single digits today.  Wind chill will stay at or below zero.  The city got our streets (back and front) cleared mid-afternoon yesterday.  The snow removal crews got the parking area and the back sidewalks cleared but not the front walks.  I don't know if the mail was delivered.  I'm not complaining if it wasn't because I have no intention of going out to the mail box until the sidewalks in front are clear and I can get to the box reasonably easily.  I doubt there is anything of overwhelming importance anyway.

I am struck (again) about how removed from nature we are--until she slaps us in the face.  The highway patrols in Indiana had closed major highways to try to get them cleared and open but numerous drivers drove over or around the barriers.  And then got stuck and had to be rescued.  Officials are still urging us to remain off the roads today and inside.  We intend to do just that.

We seem to be split between excessive cold and excessive heat.  And Australia isn't the only place in the southern hemisphere.  I have read some jaw-dropping accounts from Argentina and Brazil.  Some of the pictures of high seas and flooding in eastern Britain are stunning.

The GOP has an empathy gap???  Ya think???  I have seen way too many "news" segments featuring either conservative politicians or pundits from conservative think tanks bemoaning things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other so-called safety net programs as destroying the "moral" fiber of Americans (the poor particularly) remaking us into European socialist clones.  What I haven't heard from those moralizing assholes is any real program of how to break that system other than throwing away all the people depending on them.  What those idiots totally ignore is the fact that the vampiric capitalism we live with has failed a large number of people to varying degrees.  They also ignore the fact that while our social safety net may be detrimental to the moral character of the recipients, the extreme poverty that would result if those supports are withdrawn would be worse.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Weather Gods are pissed.

We definitely got the 12 inches of snow predicted.  And the wind is still blowing it all over.  The major highways are closed here and barely passable in Chicago proper.  You can imagine what the lesser roads and side streets.  Our governor and the state police are advising everyone to not travel at all.  [update:  we have a state of emergency declared for this area.]  The temps are in the negative teens with wind chills around -40F.  Anyone out in this weather is insane.  Having said that I can remember when I was much younger and definitely insane.  But I have gained some sense with my years.  Nothing short of a life or death emergency will get either of us outside for most of this week.

Talk about insanity: for most of yesterday, while school districts all around were canceling classes for today, the Chicago school system was planning to hold classes while urging parents to use their own judgement whether to send their kid out in this mess.  After the teachers' union issued a very critical comment which questioned the board's "concern" for students' and teachers' welfare, they finally decided to stay closed.

Hope you all are staying safe and warm.

What is old is new again.  Unfortunately the bosses "boss-napped" aren't the ones driving company policy.

I thought, when I heard the news, the General Mills' move to market a GMO-free original Cheerios that the effect would be very limited and largely a PR move.  This article supports my view.  General Mills had to find non-GMO sources for its sugar and its corn starch.  That is a bit of a problem given that more than 95% of the beets (source of the sugar) and corn are GMO crops.  If you eat anything made from corn, wheat, or soy, it is almost certain you will eat a GMO product.  General Mills needed a year to find new ingredients and get them into production.

I can only say "AMEN!!" to this one.

I saw numerous stories over the last several days which claimed that North Korea's Kim Jong Un executed his uncle by throwing him (literally) to the dogs.  As with so many stories in the news I consider them with a whole lot of salt and enormous amounts of skepticism.  With good reason as this shows.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

We only got, maybe, three inches over night.  But the weather people are saying that the bulk of our expected 12+ inches are yet to come.  Our temps are still in the low 20s but going down.  We did our shopping done yesterday--two days ahead of schedule.  We didn't really need much but wanted to make sure our milk and juice and Mom's meds would carry over the misery to come.  We intend to stay indoors for the next four days.  Evidently, according to the news this morning, a lot of other people decided to do the same.  The news showed a lot of people hitting the grocery and home improvement stores to stock up.  I was a bit amused as they interviewed some people getting the plastic window coverings.  We have had ours up since late October.

"An era of indulgent slothfulness..."  Understatement of all time.  We arranged things so that the only thing that would drive us out into this mess.  We certainly will not ask anyone to deliver pizza to us. We plan on pizza today--home made.

I have never been a great fan of Ralph Nader though some of his positions do resonate.  However, I love his response to a fund raising communication asking a donation for George W.'s presidential library.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Getting cold as a billionaire's charity!

We have temps in the mid 20s right now but going to get much colder--like sub-zero.  The weather people say we may get onto the list of longest stretches of below 0F cold.  We are going to do next week's shopping today so we can stay inside.

This story is what inspired the line in the tag line above.  These poor little rich boys can't stand the Pope's sympathy for the poor and criticism of our misanthropic and vampiric form of capitalism.  But what really pisses me off is that the charity they are threatening isn't even for the poor.  The subject came up in a discussion of a potential donor's reluctance to donate to the renovation of St. Patricks Cathedral.  And to describe the Pope's remarks as "exclusionary" is totally self-serving.  They don't want to be "included." They want to dictate.  I guess they forget Christ's words on how hard it is for a rich man to enter heaven as well as quite a few other phrases.

Friday, January 3, 2014

More nasty weather. The dirty shirt economy. Who has NAFTA helped? Political bums and the voters who love to hate them.

Now that I have posted the pictures I will see what is on the 'net today.

In case you think I am feeling like the Lone Ranger with our brutal weather--here is a story about 30ft storm surge waves in southwest Britain.  I follow weather reports world wide and have for the last five or six years.  And the number of unusual weather phenomena seems to be increasing.  Going from ice to fire, there is a nasty heatwave in parts of Australia where temperatures are reaching the high 40sC.  For those who need a translation to fahrenheit (as I do), 50C is equivalent to 122F.  Last year the meteorologists had to add a color to their charts for the levels above 45C.

I also follow economic news and some of that over the last seven years has been increasingly odd--to put it mildly.  I often get the feeling that our political and economic leaders have been putting a happy face on some very deep and serious problems.  I have thought that anyone who thinks Europe or the U.S. economies are recovering are looking at things through very distorting lenses.  This account of a new IMF paper reinforces my assessment.  I don't know how many times I have heard the US economy being described as the "cleanest dirty shirt in the laundry" which explains why so much investment money has come in.  I would remind everyone that the cleanest dirty shirt is still--dirty.

An interesting essay on how well NAFTA has worked in Mexico.  A good argument against the TransPacific and TransAtlantic partnerships now being so secretly negotiated with the "assistance" of major global corporations and financial companies.

This is a twist on my observation that voters may want to throw out the bums except, of course, for their own bums.  Which is why the politicos don't feel the need to hammer out mutually satisfactory (or unsatisfactory) compromises.  If you don't like your bum, who do you vote for when the only choices are another ideologue from the same party with the same philosophy or someone from a party you despise even more?  Not much choice, is it?

Friday and the snow has stopped but temps below 0F. Pictures.

We already went out to clear the car and the patio.  I think we got another 6 to 8 inches of snow on top of what we cleared yesterday.  I have pictures I will post soon.  The bird feeders were totally blocked with snow.  I sympathize with those east of us.  This storm was, and is, brutal.

At least we have perfect weather to stay inside and study the seed and plant catalogs--and start planning this year's gardens.
Ah, what the hey!  I might as well post the pictures now.  Mom tackled the car while I shoveled a path from the car back to the house and cleared parts of the patio.
 These lumps are actually flower pots topped by fluffy snow.  We used one to keep the gate open. It will probably remain open till spring.
 Twelve to fifteen inches of snow on top of the mini-greenhouse.  Right now it is simply a place to store pots and such.
 Northeast corner with remains of hibiscus.  Some of that snow I put there yesterday.  The rest fell on top since.  I cleared the snow off the bird feeders as you can see below.  At least they can now find food.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Quiet Thursday with continuing snow. A "What if?" map of the US. Other miscellaneous thoughts.

The snow continues here with lake effect kicking in.  I think we got about six additional inches.  And it will be around for a while because the temperatures won't break 30 for at least the next week.

The Daily Mail has a map of what the U.S. might look like if the myriad separatist movements succeeded.  I noticed that the professor who drew up the map missed one newer movement--the counties in northeast Colorado that want to form their own state after a drought-plagued summer contending with water restrictions imposed by Denver.

I was simply totally flummoxed by this bit of officious insanity.  The screeners opened a musician's luggage when he wasn't present.  They didn't know what they were dealing with and didn't consult the owner before destroying hand made musical instruments they decided were "agricultural" products.

I read a month or so ago that fishing authorities were considering canceling the Maine Shrimp season this year.  I guess it was officially closed because of a "precipitous" decline in shrimp numbers.  They cite over fishing and warmer than normal water temperatures as cause.

So Colorado now has a "legal" recreational marijuana industry that is taxed and regulated.  I put that in quotes because the Feds have no such thing and they have staged raids in several states that have "legal" medical marijuana over the last couple of years as the clamor for legalization has grown.

The title of this article is interesting: California in a drought--who knew?  I suspect most Californians (and most of us Urbanized Americans generally) won't know a thing until we are inconvenienced by restrictions that turn our lawns brown and our cars dusty gray, or until the taps don't flow.  I am thankful that the drought here has ended but I know how quickly we might go into drought again.  All it takes is a prolonged dry pattern.

Now I do like this development!!  I always thought the drug testing requirements were more about punishing people for being poor than about drug enforcement or public health.  Florida would have more cause to institute a blanket testing of its congressmen than its poor since one was caught with cocaine, pleaded guilty and is serving a term of therapy.  I wonder if some poor welfare recipient would have gotten off that easily.  And I'll bet not.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014