Thursday, July 31, 2008

Why, oh why?

This ran in the Vicad this week. The understanding in typography used to be that size of type is considered to indicate relative importance of a word. Can you think of any reason that 'want' and 'happened' and 'again' have more significance than the other words in the headline? More likely, a graphics nitwit liked the weight of the words visually and gave no thought to meaning. Too many things go just to have graphic impact without adding to the understanding of the story. One piece this week on the Port of Victoria had pix of asphalt and rusty railroad tracks. Didn't clarify much for me. Just another reason that most graphics people should be taken out into the parking lot and given a hollowpoint round through the third cervical vertebra. Too many papers these days look like someone puked Technicolor confetti on the page.

The big he-rooster of our neighborhood

This big pretty boy has taken up residence in a little patch of cane on the next corner; he greets the day with a hearty 'cock-a-doodle-doo' -- or perhaps he speaks Spanish and it's 'qui-qui-ri-qui' -- and generally treats all passersby with a cocky disdain. Our pup, outweighing him by perhaps a factor of three, is interested but a little wary. That's probably smart, as the bird looks like he could hold his own against anything smaller than a stray jaguar. The Garden Goddess observes that his spurs are long and thick. I hope nothing happens to him, since he's so sleek and sure and handsome it would be a shame for him to get run over or incorporated into a stir fry.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bye bye, book page

The Tribune group, which includes the LA Times, has been bought by a big real estate guy named Sam Zell. Facing a general catastrophe in advertising and circulation, and to make his considerable interest payments, Zell has been slashing all around the company's properties. A recent cut is of the in-house production of a book page in the Times. This cut leaves only a couple of book sections among major dailies that are not slapdash productions filled with wire stuff. In a review on a recent book about the effect of the Internet on modern reading habits, the book page published
In the four minutes it probably takes to read this review, you will have logged exactly half the time the average 15- to 24-year-old now spends reading each day. That is, if you even bother to finish. If you are perusing this on the Internet, the big block of text below probably seems daunting, maybe even boring. Who has the time? Besides, one of your Facebook friends might have just posted a status update!

Read all here. The reviewer seems to find more hope than the author of the book, but maybe he hadn't heard the whisper of the ax when he wrote the review.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Joys of diversity

Big-time bombings in Ahmedabad, an Indian city that has been the site of religious tensions in the past. This from Agence France-Presse:
Indian television channels said a little-known Islamist group calling itself the "Indian Mujahedeen" had claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Following WWII when the British Empire was unravelling, Pakistan, as a Muslim state, flaked off from India, but there were still considerable numbers of Muslims left in India and the majority Hindus have been known to thrum on them. Read the rest of the story here. India has enough problems with the many languages and castes without the added stress of religious diversity. Remember the adage: In Asia all life is sacred ... except human life. English is the great unifier for the educated in India; we might think about trying that.

Friday, July 25, 2008

More G, more D

Jim Kunstler has been having a fine old time with recent financial news. From one post this week:
We also don't have fifteen years to prop up the systems we are currently running for everyday life, including suburbia, Happy Motoring, the airline industry, Big Box Shopping, just-in-time food deliveries, air-conditioning places like Phoenix, Houston, Orlando, and Las Vegas, heating one-story sprawling centralized schools and fueling the yellow bus fleets that service them. . . . You get the picture? All this stuff is toast. And so is the economy that accompanies them.

Read the rest of this particular diatribe here. My Friday night delight is to watch the lineup on PBS -- Jim Lehrer, Ifill, McLaughlin and his lot, Nova, the money show that replaced Louis Rukeyser but isn't half as interesting, and Bill Moyers. The money show tonight was about how much money you really, truly need to retire. Bill Gates may have that much, but most of the rest of us are out of luck. Somehow, I can't worry too much about that ... we eat pretty well and digest easily what we eat, the house is OK, shrimp are still cheap, we live in a place that some people come to on vacation ... not to seem like a grasshopper, but there is a lot of gratuitous cause for concern out in the world. This may be the result of shrimp for dinner accompanied by a bottle of Portuguese white and followed by a big hunk of sweet, crisp watermelon. Summer pleasures.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

It's all in your mind

From the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
In June, employers took 1,643 mass layoff actions, resulting in 165,697 unemployment insurance filings, seasonally adjusted. Layoff activity in manufacturing was the highest since August 2003. Average weekly initial claimants reached its highest June level since 2001.

I didn't know there was any manufacturing left in this country. Thought it had all gone offshore. Oh, well, they can all take service jobs as part of the happy process of creative destruction.

Second-day hurricane results

Today we caught the backwash of Dolly. The bay was churning and the water was up within a foot and a half of the top of the seawall. The water is up into the parking lot by the boat launch on the corner and almost washing over the little pier at the west end of the bayfront park. The sky was threatening all day, but still I don't imagine we've had more than a couple inches of rain in the last couple of days.
The rains have the little herps all a-singing in the undergrowth and bring out my personal totem, the toad, to forage around by the porch. I admire toads because they work night shifts mostly, never rush much, and manage to get left alone by most of the world. We could all aspire to toadhood in an later incarnation as a higher being. There were six storm birds, more properly known as magnificent frigatebirds, hovering along the bayfront, just easing back and forth into air currents as required to get where they wanted to go or stay where they were. 'Magnificent' says it. I love to look up and spot that strange, angular silhouette against the sky, like some kind of mini-pterodactyl. Could never get all six in the viewfinder, but three were hanging close enough together to catch. All in all, a pretty satisfactory bit of weather. Hope it's the last we see of hurricanes this summer, but suspect it won't be.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Winner, flower-wise

We've had a couple of botanic winners this year. The fig out back was hugely fertile, just poured out dozens and dozens of the best figs I have ever eaten, perhaps the best fruit I have ever eaten. I was really proud of it.
And this bougainvillia in the front yard just dug in and worked really hard this summer, throwing off hundreds of gaudy blossoms. I wonder what 10 inches of rain will do to the plants in the yard. The tomatoes and cukes have already burnt up, and everything else's looking stressed.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hello Dolly

Note headline on post ... if the hurricane continues on current course, I guarantee you will see it on at least one paper in South Texas. I beat them to it, just for a joke. The poor, lame copy editor cannot resist any cliché that presents itself. Oil nudged up a little on the possibility of Gulf weather, and the remodel guy said he was gonna go fill his truck before gas jumps in price. More ominously, he said that once he had a hurricane hit in the middle of a job and was stymied for months afterward, as materials became unavailable. We really, really need to finish this kitchen job pretty soon.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A pilgrimage to Evilopolis

We're off today for some low-level culture-vultching ... the Houston Gilbert & Sullivan Society is putting on 'Yeomen of the Guard' this year, and we're going up to see it. It used to be a for-real joke in the newsroom that three instances of any phenomenon constituted a trend, which meant that some pinhead editor would ask for a story on the phenomenon. This is our third visit to the annual show, so it must be a trend. Despite my well-grounded suspicion that any trip away from the bay is fraught with the possibility for malign forces to slap me around, we have a good time. We go with a young couple of our acquaintance and they are good company, we eat a splendid Vietnamese meal before the matinee, and we get to pick up a SundayNYTimes, a thing now impossible to do in Victoria, where they've discontinued carrying them. It should be enough excitement to last the week.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Another hit

From the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Median weekly earnings of the nation's 107.1 million full-time wage and salary workers were $719 in the second quarter of 2008. This was 4.2 percent higher than a year earlier, compared with a gain of 4.4 percent in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) over the same period.

So, if it feels like you have less lately, that's because you have less lately. I notice that steaks I buy on sale have gone up a dollar a pound on the on-sale price.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The ax whispers

Mark Potts, writing on his Recovering Journalist blog, has some unhappy assessments of the state of the big newspaper chains:
As documented by Alan Mutter, the market value of the nation's big newspaper companies has slumped $3.9 billion in just the past couple of weeks and $27.7 billion since the first of the year. By Mutter's reckoning, 10 of the companies combined–including industry household names like The New York Times Co., A.H. Belo, Lee, McClatchy and GateHouse–are now worth a total, yep, all together, of $3.6 billion. Stunning.

Read the whole post here.
I don't know where the salvation of journalism lies, if anywhere, but we'll all miss this water when the well runs dry. People blithely say that they only read the paper on-line, but if the present situation continues, there will be only about three on-line papers left to read, and they won't report your local school board meetings. The idea of citizen journalism is a grotesque joke; it may look easy from the outside, but gathering information and synthesizing it into coherent form is at least a skilled trade.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Interesting times

The big news over the weekend was that the Treasury Dept and the Fed will back Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, thus bringing a little welcome socialism to the chaos of mad-dog capitalism that has brought the American financial system very near collapse. Good ol' Jim Kunstler wrote in his Monday post
What would happen if the US Government acted to bail out these feckless enterprises (and what if they don't)? Either way, it's not a pretty picture. If Mr. Bernanke does start shoveling loans into the GSE black hole, he'll further undermine the soundness of his own outfit and do nothing, really, to repair Fannie and Freddie's structural problem of having securitized too many loans that will never be paid back. If instead Fannie and Freddie are flat-out taken over entirely by the US government (and remember the Federal Reserve is not the government), then the national debt will roughly double overnight -- which will pound the US dollar down a rat-hole.

Read all the gloom here. Kunstler practically has us out raising gardens for our sustenance, and that may be a little extreme, but things are certainly a mess. Guy who sends me financial stuff has been zipping out little gloomy rockets by the dozens in the last week or so.

Happy Bastille Day

July 14 is the biggest patriotic holiday of the French calendar. Hope they had a good time, unless they've given up the celebration so as not to give offense somehow to their Muslim immigrants. I read a couple months ago that some city in Spain, where the Reconquest of Iberia from the Moors is the central national myth, had given up some very old festival celebrating the Reconquest lest they give offense to Muslims. The Muslims, meanwhile, yearn audibly for the reinstitution of the caliphate of Al Andaluz in Spain.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Nice goofs

A couple of nice political goofs this week. Johnny Mack's main econ guy, Phil Gramm, seems to think that the misery of four-buck gas is all our imagination, and vocalized distress is nothing more than whining. Gramm was always amazing to me, the best possible example of just how high a human can rise on intelligence and cold calculation unleavened by one iota of humanity or charm. Guy makes my skin crawl.
Then Barack, in a remarkable panderfest, suggests to a gathering of Latinos that every American child should learn Spanish. Then we wouldnt have to press #1 for English ... they could just make all the recordings in Spanish. Obama's really whoring. It's a popular cheap shot for elitist types to chide Americans for not knowing more languages and to go on about all the polyglot Europeans. Fact is, until the huge invasions of immigrants, particularly Mexicans and Central Americans, in the last couple decades, most Americans had no practical use for second languages. The people who lived where a second language was useful, like many Texan borderers, learned one. A language is a wonderful thing to know, but before the floods of immigrants a 20th-Century Iowan, say, had no more immediate use for a second language than a Russian peasant had, and I suspect few Russian peasants spoke second languages. It's not some sinister xenophobia, as the snotty media people like to imply; it simply wasn't necessary. Someone has remarked that a bilingual person is a treasure but a bilingual society is a catastrophe. Judging from Barack's godawful accent when he does his little audaciously hopeful mottoes in Spanish, I suspect he doesn't speak any Spanish. Wonder if he speaks any foreign language? Oh, well, his English is impeccable, which gives him one huge advantage over the current cripple-mouth president.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Eat locally how?

There's an odd and interesting movement afoot that encourages people to eat only food produced within some proximity of home. Sixty miles is one figure I've seen. We'd be better off than most people, owing to the climate, the topography, and the fertility of the coast. However, herself was in San Antonio this week and went shopping at the wonderful Central Market on Broadway in Alamo Heights. In the produce section, every product was labelled as to its place of origin. She said the only Texas products were mustard greens, sweet onions, and Hill Country peaches ... all good things but inadequate to sustain life. The pears were from Argentina, green beans from Georgia, lots of stuff from Florida and from California. If energy prices forced more localized truck gardening, it wouldn't be at all a bad thing. Maybe we could get fruits and veggies selected for flavor rather than for their suitability for shipping.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

End of 'burbs?

From a post on Environmental News Network:
Ever since the rise of the automobile in the 1950s, the American Dream has featured a home in the suburbs and two cars in the garage.
Now the iconic white picket fence comes with a hefty price tag in the form of the cost of the gasoline needed to drive to work and to the supermarket, and the suburban idyll is under review.

Read the rest here.
Too many of our metropolitan sprawls in the West are endless seas of suburbs appended like ugly excrescences to a small core of real city. High gasoline can make them economically uninhabitable at some point. Story also makes an interesting point about what will happen when retiring Boomers [spit] begin to put their McMansions on the market in a few years.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Guess the Fed doesn't think about Sub-Saharan Africa

From one Anthony Faiola, writing in the WaPo:
People worldwide are coping in different ways. For the 1 billion living on less than a dollar a day, it is a matter of survival. In a mud hut on the Sahara's edge, Manthita Sou, a 43-year-old widow in the Mauritanian desert village of Maghleg, is confronting wheat prices that are up 67 percent on local markets in the past year. Her solution: stop eating bread. Instead, she has downgraded to cheaper foods, such as sorghum, a dark grain widely consumed by the world's poorest people. But sorghum has jumped 20 percent in the past 12 months. Living on the 50 cents a day she earns weaving textiles to support a family of three, her answer has been to cut out breakfast, drink tea for lunch and ration a small serving of soupy sorghum meal for family dinners. "I don't know how long we can survive like this," she said.

Read it all here, and be thankful our most annoying problem is high-priced gasoline. I guess those poor, hungry people could make one of those substitutions that economists love to prate on about – maybe bark instead of sorghum?

What the Fed thinks about Texas

An excerpt for Texas economic situation from the latest Federal Reserve Bank Beige Book , issued less than a month ago ... things are better than most places, but slow, except for oil and gas.
Gains in retail sales continued to be slower than last year. Retailers said growth has been weaker than they hoped because high fuel costs are limiting discretionary spending. Stores that extend credit reported a deterioration in timely payments. Stimulus checks have increased spending at discount stores. Contacts say shoppers are looking for value, and sales growth is expected to remain weak for several months.

Read it all here.
I guess the guys at the Fed don't pump their own gas or go to the store for groceries.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Refugees from violence

The unrest on the other side of the border is pushing people across the Rio Grande besides drywallers and motel maids. The upper-middle class of Mexico has been trying to move across to safer lands in the U.S.
Pressured by violence and insecurity, a new wave of Mexican professionals is quietly making its way across the border to the United States in search of a better life. Reflecting a variety of career goals as well as personal aspirations, the new immigrant wave illustrates how the deteriorating public safety situation in cities like Ciudad Juarez is fueling capital flight and brain drain.

Read the whole story here. The chaos surrounding the 1910–1920 revolution, or, more properly, civil war, in Mexico fored to the north most of the ancestors of present-day Texas Chicanos. The border did not cross them; they crossed the border.

Toll road ripoff

Guy who sends me stuff sends a story in the Metroplex paper by a guy name of Ben Westhoff who rented a car and drove it unwittingly through some toll-collection points on a freeway. He was billed an unconscionable amount for the tolls despite the fact that he hadn't been informed about his possible liability for tolls in his rental. It must be some kind of big-capital dream to be able to smack people with charges in this way. Read the whole story here and be amazed at the duplicity of the money-sharks. I'm sure if ol' Slick can sell the entire Texas highway system to these bandits, he'll grab the opportunity and explain that it was all for our own good.

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Happy Fourth

We got a hard rain that has left things soggy, but notwithstanding that, the village is full of strangers and the seawall is lined with anglers. Can you imagine any set of today's putative leaders who would take the moral and financial risk taken by the Founding Fathers in declaring independence from the most powerful country in the world? We're lucky we had men of such fiber to give us our start as a nation. Would that we got such leaders today.

It's true, I swear it

Was nosing around on some forum yesterday and saw the title 'Bozo dies.' My first thought was 'Oh hell ... that means Cheney is president for the next seven months.'
On yesterday's Vicad Page 1A, the first headline that fell under my eyes was 'Federal government give contradictory advise about Social Security numbers.' Unless the paper has adopted the British style of making government a plural – as, 'My government have instructed me to ... blah blah blah' – then, we have two pretty ugly errors in nine words.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Wet here, hot elsewhere

Friend in NM sends a pic of a fire two weeks ago on the west side of the Organ Mountains, overlooking Las Cruces.
We finally got some real rain here in **Adrift and get to turn off the watering hoses in the back yard and not a minute too soon. The tomatoes are burning up, and the sewer/water bill was almost doubled this month.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What's news?

The NYTimes has a piece up on-line today about five people being killed in post-election rioting in Mongolia. OK. I guess Mongolia is important to us in some way, but the way escapes me right now. Meanwhile, in the World's Worst Newspaper, this:
Violence flared up again in Palomas, Mexico, on Monday afternoon when three men were gunned down in a mob-style street shooting as the wave of killings continue in the border region.

Plus, two other were shot, one plumb dead, in Cd. Juárez. Read it all here. To me, the specter of a failed state just across the street from the U.S. is of more import than unrest in Mongolia, but the Mexican chaos gets only scanty regional coverage. Only time it's caught national ink was when someone had murdered enough women to catch the eye of American feminists.

News grumps

Vicad today has a P1 story, where passages read, "Brett Bonnell, 40, was found laying [blah blah blah]" and then, later on, "[blah blah blah] he was laying on a hill." Poor microcephs up there have become totally confused about lie-lay or maybe just totally indifferent to the distinction. What an embarrassment.
Then a headline in the NYT on-line read, "Fund manager / Who faked his / Own suicide / Surrenders." Seemed to me they could have omitted "his own," but maybe I'm a little dim today.
The Vicad keeps running house ads telling us how great the on-line stuff is, but according to, which monitors Web traffic, Advocate page views/viewer are down 23% against three months ago. Another year of that kind of progress and they'll have almost disappeared.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

New caudillo in Latin America?

Patriot-journalist Georgie Anne Geyer wrote an interesting column last week about the possibility of Mexico falling under the control of a leftist Big Man of the sort that has resurged lately in the South. The chaos and economic inequalities in Mexico have left a large segment of the population with a legitimate grievance about life's unfairness. She discusses the possibility as put forward by eminent Mexican historian Enrique Krauze. Krauze's candidate as likely caudillo is Andres Manuel López Obrador, the defeated PRD candidate in the 2006 election that put Felipe Calderón in the presidential chair.
In short, what was being suggested -- for the first time since the election of 2006 when President Calderon defeated Mayor Lopez Obrador -- is that the Mexican state might actually come to be ruled by a caudillo-style leader. Would that be possible? A Fidel Castro of Mexico? A Juan Peron of the Rio Grande? A Hugo Chavez of Baja California?

AMLO has continued support of people who feel that he was robbed in '06. It's an interesting essay, properly damning U.S. inattention to events next door. Read Geyer's column here.