Sunday, January 30, 2011

Computer Problems and Revolution in Egypt

I have become addicted to the internet. Sad to say. Yesterday, my laptop started acting up and would not get beyond the opening screen except once in every 10 attempts. Problem is continuing this morning. I find myself trying to figure out how to share Alma's laptop and not inconvenience her until we can secure a good replacement for me.

I have four activities that I perform on a daily basis on the internet:

1) Manage Alma's art business and website
2) Manage Alma and my financial portfolio
3) Look for a new job
4) Post new entries on this blog.

Without my own working computer, I can do each of these four, but must find times to do them when Alma doesn't need her laptop for her own devices. We seem to have arrived at a good compromise which is that I will use her laptop until 9 a.m. PST each morning and then again from 11-1 p.m. each day, to sync up with the financial markets hours on the east coast.

Also over the past five days there's been a revolution taking place in Egypt. I am rendered speechless at the courage of the Egyptian protesters. Really awe-inspiring watching them stand up to and bring down a corrupt, dictatorial regime after years of taking its abuses. Looks like the thug Mubarak is gone or will be gone soon. Not soon enough for Egypt's downtrodden masses. Here's hoping they can get rid of him and his junta without too much more innocent blood being spilled.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Alma and the Killer Bees

You have read here about dolphins and starfish. As this year continues, you will read about birds and dogs Alma and I have encountered. Truth is, there is a wealth of animal life down at the beach, an endless menagerie of laughter and wonder.

But all is not wine and roses. Yesterday, we were again walking barefoot in the sand, specifically the hard pack sand close to the ocean. It was a beautiful day, much like the day before it.

Alma pointed out that there were a large number of small jellyfish on the hardpack. "Be careful not to step on them, as they will sting." She also pointed out that there were bees on the beach and that I should be careful not to step on them, because she knows I am somewhat allergic to bee stings.

Yes, bees come down to the ocean looking for (we think) water to drink but not realizing that salt water from the ocean will be their doom. Not every day and not enormous numbers, but enough so that if one looks for them one can readily see them.

The bees wind up squirming on their backs in the hard pack, sluggish but still very alive. Not five seconds after Alma issued her caution to me she stepped on a bee and got stung on the sole of her right foot. She was able to keep walking but she complained that it really hurt. I suggested we cut the walk short but she wanted to continue and so we did. She found that walking in the cold water of the ocean helped to numb the pain somewhat, even if it meant her feet got cold.

Every time Alma passed someone barefoot in the sand from that point on, she warned them about the danger of bees. I was being very cautious about where I walked. I made sure that every step I took landed on clear sand and, in places where there was any significant amount of beach detritus, I would move up away from the surf into the softer sand.

About 30 minutes later, as we were finishing the first leg of our walk, Alma got stung a second time on the sole of her left foot. Alma is nothing if not stubborn and she refused to stop her walk. She also refused to put her socks and shoes back on. So we continued our walk. The cold of the sand and the sun's diminshing warmth finally convinced Alma to put shoes and socks on mid-way through the second return leg of our walk. And by the time we reached the end of it, she was no longer complaining of much pain.

We bumped into a couple acquaintances as were heading back to the car. One of them, a nice guy named Chris, said, "The bee stings are supposed to be good for joint pain." That allowed me to chime in that Alma's joints should be completely healed up now that she had gotten not one, but two stings in a single walk. Al, another of our acquaintances, looked at Alma and said, "Don't you just hate those people that always say the glass is half full?" I must admit to the tiniest shiver of schadenfreude at the thought that Alma, so busy dispensing warnings to others, had gotten stung twice. It was not funny the first time, but the second time I couldn't help laughing a little bit. Fortunately, Alma herself laughed too.

But it's weird. One doesn't normally associate barren stretches of sand and salt water with insects like bees. About the only insect one sees down there regularly are the ubiquitous sand fleas that tend to congregate around rotting sea weed. But for those of you planning to walk at Venice Beach, watch out for the killer bees.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Only in Southern California

There are days when I wonder why anyone would want to live anywhere else. Yesterday was just such a day at the beach. Alma and I actually did our entire 3 mile walk barefoot. The sun was shining pleasantly, there was only the slightest of breeze and the faintest whispers of clouds. All in all, it was a perfect day to walk at the beach.

I love the feeling of loose sand between my toes when I walk if the sand is warm. It's like having a million foot micro-massagers working over the soles of your feet. Even though as a child, I never spent much time at beaches, I can say that walking in the sand barefoot allows me to feel somewhat like a child again. It's a nice feeling.

Now nothing remarkable happened yesterday. No dolphins, no starfish. No scintillating stories or gloriously eccentric personages. Just gorgeous weather. But it was January 26. I moved out to Southern California in 1994 from Wisconsin. The last January I spent in Wisconsin saw a 7-day stretch where the windchill (the combination of temperature and wind speed) never got higher than a -70 F. We always talked about a warm front in Wisconsin if the temperature would only reach 0 F and stay there for a day.

Only in Southern California can one greet each January day with the entirely reasonable expectation that one will be able to walk barefoot on the sand at the beach that day. There are a lot of reasons not to stay in Southern California, the 12.5% unemployment rate I blogged about yesterday being only one, the horrible traffic and cultural vacuity being others. But the chance to walk at the beach barefoot in the height of winter is one of the main reasons to live in Southern California. We would not trade it for the world.

Weather looks like it will be nice again today. So here's hoping Alma and I will again walk barefoot in the sand.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Thanks A Lot, Ah-nold

So the latest unemployment statistics for California came out yesterday for December 2010. The official unemployment rate went up .1% to 12.5% in December, the final month of Arnold Shwarzenegger's tenure as governor. Thanks a lot, Ahnold, you fucking douche-bag. When you came into office, California's unemployment rate was less than half what it is today, just like the nation's unemployment rate was half what it became under your Republican butt-buddy Bush.

Now our new governor, Jerry Brown, is left to clean up the mess you and your Republican goons made of California. Just like Obama is left to clean up the mess your butt-buddy Bush made of the national economy.

So let's talk about what a 12.5% unemployment rate for California means. It means that roughly one out of every 8 able-bodied Californians cannot find any work. The 12.5% rate (referred to as 'U2') is a narrow measure also, including only those able to work, looking for work and unable to find it. Using a broader measure, like U-6, California's unemployment rate is probably closer to 20%. That means one out of 5 Californians who wants to work full time cannot find work, can only find part-time work but want to work full time, or has grown so discouraged he or she has stopped looking for work entirely.

Yep, that's right. If someone grows so discouraged about the job situation that he or she stops looking for work entirely, he or she is no longer counted as 'unemployed.' Why not? Well, because they are deemed to have 'left the labor force.' In order to be defined as 'unemployed' under the U-2 definition, you must be looking for work. It brings to mind Mark Twain's witticism that there are "lies, damned lies and statistics." When one out of five Californians is not working, there is a huge wastage of human potential, a huge under-utilization of human productive capabilities to advance the interests of human-kind. And we're still supposed to believe that capitalism, the economic system that enforces this idleness, is the best or only system under which we can live?

Alma and I were discussing this phenomenon of people so discouraged they have given up looking for work entirely. We were both wondering who exactly can afford to stop looking for a job. Well, the young people who have just graduated college with massive student loan debts and are forced to move back in with parents or relatives might comprise one sub-section. Yes, all those silly idealistic youth who bought the capitalist propaganda line that they should go into heavy debt to finance an education because of all the wonderful career benefits it would bring. They're finding no jobs but the student debts they incurred are not dischargeable through bankruptcy, but only through death. That's right. Student loan debt will follow them even into retirement if not paid off before then. In a more educated past, this system was known as 'indentured servitude' and was supposedly one reason the American Revolution was fought. But no matter. These poor youth actually believed in the American dream. So thanks a lot for destroying their dreams, you Republican douche-bags.

Another group that might have become so discouraged as to stop looking are factory and service sector workers whose jobs have been exported en masse to third-world economies like China or India, who have lost their homes and are forced to live in the exponentially expanding tent cities. This one can't be laid entirely at the feet of Republican douche-bags. After all, it was the Democrat Clinton who pushed passage of NAFTA and other global free trade initiatives like the World Trade Organization through. But the Republican douche-bags were there enabling it and cheering it on the whole time.

Yeah, there are plenty of people who have gotten discouraged. I am one of them, although I continue to look for a job. I've been through enough of these boom and bust capitalist cycles to have grown very skeptical about capitalism's supposed benevolence for the working class. As bad as Obama and his centrist Democratic cohort are for the working class, they are nothing compared to the Republican douche-bags who would take us back to an almost pre-capitalist feudal landscape with a few uber-wealthy oligarchs and an impoverished mass of peasants.

So, thanks a lot, Ahnold, to you and your Republican douche-bag friends. And thanks a lot. also, to all you douche-bag Californians who threw Grey Davis out of office and elected Schwarzenegger. I'm too much an advocate of the working class to engage in a heavy dose of schadenfreude. But I'm willing to bet that a fairly large number of Californians who voted for Schwarzenegger's sad, sorry punk ass are now unemployed and at risk of losing their homes. Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of douche-bag Californians.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Mixed Blessing

When Alma and I were on our way down to the beach this afternoon, a Los Angeles Police Department officer diverted our vehicle off of Centinela and into a residential neighborhood we had never driven through before. We ended up using Slauson to get on the 90 Freeway and took it into Marina Del Rey, exiting on Lincoln Blvd where the 90 ends and taking Lincoln to Washington Boulevard and from there to the beach. Ended up taking an extra 30 minutes because so much traffic was diverted onto this narrow residential street.

No big deal. We reached our beach, found ready parking and took our customary 3-mile walk. It was a glorious day and we ended our walk about 5 minutes before a glorious sunset. On our way back to the car, we got to see our favorite beach dog, a golden Labrador named Zoe, whose owner had been out of town for several days and had just returned. We gave Zoe a couple tennis balls we had found on the beach and she enjoyed chasing them and bringing them back to us.

On our way home, we wondered whether our regular route would be open. It was open but Alma was watching as we were driving. Sure enough, at a certain point on Centinela, one lane had been roped off although traffic was now travelling in both directions. Alma looked and observed a Los Angeles Fire Department truck parked in the street and police tape up across the entrance to a gas station and to a public storage facility directly across the street.

We both thought that someone had illegally stored a hazardous substance or explosive at the storage facility and resolved to find out when we got home by going onto the internet.

You know something? The internet has become a real pain in the ass. Between us, we spent about an hour on the internet using Google, Bing and Yahoo search engines, using every possible search string. And there was absolutely no mention of any problem at that location. No mention on any site, not on any of the local news sites, not on Twitter, not on the LA Fire Department or the LA Police Department sites. So whom were we going to believe? The interent or our own lying eyes?

Well, as it happens, after an hour of fruitless searching on the internet and much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments by your humble narrator, Alma picked up the old-fashioned phone, called the gas station and spoke to one of the clerks there. Turns out there was a chemical spill at the gas station that required the road be closed and the Fire Department Hazardous Materials unit be summoned.

I am very disappointed in today's internet. The fact that this incident showed up nowhere online despite an hour of the most diligent searching by two very web-savvy adults speaks volumes about how much of real value the internet provides. Sure, you can use Twitter to keep up with your fav celebrities. You can use any of our local news media's sites to find stuff to buy in a global strip mall. You can use the LAPD's site to become a police booster. Presumably you can do something similar for the Fire Department. But you can't use those sites to find out what is going on in your own neighborhood. Un-friggin-believable.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Gone But Not Forgotten

When Alma and I went down to the beach Thursday, almost all the garbage was gone from the sand. The same Pacific Ocean that washed the garbage onto the beach three days earlier scrubbed almost all the evidence of it away. Alma and I took plastic garbage bags with us Thursday and yesterday, but there really was very little garbage left to pick up.

So, on one level, it's a relief not to have to see the garbage on the beach (and not to have to pick it up). And yet we know that no men in little blue HazMat suits came down to clean the beach. And that means that garbage is somewhere in the ocean, either on the ocean floor or floating around. Our colleague Josie says there are floating islands of refuse somewhere out in the ocean. (Alma has read about this independently of Josie's account, by the way.)

I did find a couple links that suggest where this garbage may have wound up:

Apparently, this "vortex of trash" may stretch across the breadth of the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Japan. Here's an interesting passage from the second article referenced above:

Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer and leading authority on flotsam, has tracked the build-up of plastics in the seas for more than 15 years and compares the trash vortex to a living entity: "It moves around like a big animal without a leash." When that animal comes close to land, as it does at the Hawaiian archipelago, the results are dramatic. "The garbage patch barfs, and you get a beach covered with this confetti of plastic," he added.
So Alma and I were not hallucinating or imagining how bad it was.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

There's No Art in this Garbage

There are times when the beach can make me rhapsodic. But this is not one of those times. This is no time for me to wax poetic. Even Thoreau would have problems finding transcendence here. The garbage has not gone away. No little men in blue suits have come in the past two days to police it up. If anything, the garbage has gotten worse since I last posted on Monday. Yesterday and again today, Alma and I took plastic grocery bags down there and picked up two bags each. We barely made a dent.

Seeing this garbage day after day gets to you. It gets under your skin. Sissyphus could have learned a thing or two at Venice Beach. The garbage goes on and on in an unbroken string for two miles. Alma and I are only two middle-aged people. I do find that it helps, when contemplating the magnitude of the task at hand, to break the beach up into small squares of sand, no more than 5 yards wide by 10 yards (from the high water mark down to the surf). I use my mind's eye to draw an imaginary line in the sand and pick up the multiple lines of detritus that the ocean has deposited within the grid square. Today it was taking me about 30 minutes to fill a plastic grocery bag within one of these grid squares. All in all, I would estimate that Alma and I cleared an area of beach about 10 by 10 yards today.

Although a few people have stopped to say "thank you" to us for our efforts, the majority studiously ignore us. We bring a few extra plastic grocery bags with us and, yesterday, a woman requested one. We gave her one and left her picking up some detritus while we walked to a different section of the beach. Today, a woman jogging by stopped to say 'thank you.' But otherwise, it's a pretty thankless effort and can make you really disgusted with the human race.

What we found yesterday and today: clear plastic bottles for water and soda, styrofoam (cups and plates and, strangely, packing peanuts), juice pouches and the mini straws that accompany them, hard plastic cigarillo tips but, strangely, very few cigarette butts. Medical waste (syringes) and personal hygiene products (tampon applicators). Baby products (pacifiers and diapers). And used condoms. Things that enrage me: balloons (Happy Birthday and Quincenara) and motor oil bottles. Tennis balls -- enough to supply Wimbledon.

If you were thinking of donating to this blog via the PayPal link, now you have another reason to donate: to support our efforts to keep the beaches clean. We have only one planet to live on and we need to treat it with reverence. In keeping with my previous post on the donation link ("Money, It's a Drag"), Alma and I would prefer that anyone living in Southern California with access to the beaches spend some time picking up garbage. But if you live elsewhere, your donations will enable Alma and I to keep doing what we are doing a bit longer.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at Marina del Rey Beach

We have had three days of decent weather and so have been to the beach all three days this holiday weekend. In fact, the weather was so nice on Saturday and Sunday that we were not able to find parking at our regular beach and had to go to Venice Beach proper on Saturday and Santa Monica Beach on Sunday. Today, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we were finally able to find parking at our regular beach again today. It turned out to be something of a mixed blessing.

For some reason. there was a lot of garbage today at the beach. Oodles of plastic bottles, broken styrofoam detritus, plastic wrappers and packaging of all sorts punctuated by an occasional Happy Birthday baloon or its Latino equivalent. (The balloons absolutely enrage me, as they have this ribbon attached to them that I know cannot be good for any sea life.) Alma and I think that most of this garbage came from the recent storm run-offs we have had. For some reason, the Pacific Ocean chose today to vomit this garbage back onto the beaches in a thin, but continuous, line that stretched from the Washington Boulevard Pier almost to the Villa Marina jetty. In fact, there were two lines of garbage, one down at the low tide mark and another at the high water mark. The picture below gives some idea of what we saw. But neither photo nor words can do justice to how horrible the garbage on the beach was.

Now I am not an environmentalist per se, although I am deeply sympathetic to many of the goals of the environmentalist movement and share many of its ideals. Alma is more the pure environmentalist in our family. As those who read this blog regularly know, I tend to focus more on bread-and-butter economic issues and issues of militarism and foreign affairs. However, my affinity for Thoreau and his naturalist tendencies and my admiration for his stances against the militarism and imperialism of his day and against the abomination of slavery make today especially noteworthy.

Because it just so happens that Martin Luther King studied Thoreau's ideas in detail in order to refine his own ideas about non-violence and civil disobedience. (Mahatma Gandhi, another important practitioner of non-violent civil disobedience in the 20th Century, also studied Thoreau in detail.) I do not know enough of King's biography to know whether he ever saw the Pacific Ocean and our little stretch of beach along its coastline. (The Villa Marina jetty was finished in 1957 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.) But today, as the sun was setting in a cloudless sky, I found myself hoping that he and Coretta had seen the Pacific so that he had a chance to experience the magesty of creation for himself without the baggage of being a civil rights leader weighing him down for a few moments.

Alma raged against the polluters whose carelessness turns our beaches into cesspools. But it was not all raging, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. Between the two of us, Alma and I picked up about three plastic grocery bags' worth of garbage and walked it to the distant garbage cans. But we really only scratched the surface today. There was just too much garbage for two well-meaning but middle-aged people to police up properly. And we were the only two people I saw who were picking up anything, although we did get expressions of verbal support from a couple passers by. Most of the people at the beach today were, as usual, studiously indifferent.

And I am trying to think of what Martin Luther King or Thoreau might have done had either man witnessed the travesty and felt the same moral outrage start to churn in the pit of the stomach. As Alma put it in a message she sent to her Facebook friends, "What did a dolphin ever do to deserve swimming around in this?"

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Once More to the Mall

Alma and I invited our friend Adrienne over to our place for lunch yesterday. By the time we had eaten and talked, it was too late to go to the beach while there was still sufficient daylight out. Even though the weather has been nicer the past few days, after the sun sets the temperature cools rapidly. So we prefer to arrive at the beach no later than 3 p.m., so that we can finish our walk before the sun sets.

Well, Adrienne did not leave our place yesterday until 3:45 p.m. and, because she does not drive, we had to give her a ride back to her place. Result is that it was 4:15 before we were ready to start our walk. Since the sun sets right now at about 5 p.m. this meant we had no opportunity to do our 90-minute walk at the beach while the sun still shone. So it was back again to the Westfield Culver City mall for another 90-minute perambulation through consumer hell.

Not much has changed there since I last reported. Except I'm getting a funny feeling that all is not well in consumer mecca. When I last reported, Alma and I had our eyes on 4 stores that had closed or were in the process of closing. To that list, I can now add at least two more that show signs of impending closure. The four anchor stores (BestBuy, Target, Macy's and J.C. Penney) show no signs of any serious malaise. But the aisles of the four anchors all seem fairly empyt. The food court still seems popular, as do the retailers Game Stop, Claires and Bath and Body Works. The stores that seem to be suffering are all small retailers, mostly clothiers and parfumeries. They're offering sales prices of 70% off and have signs saying that "everything must go". And still I see very few people in any of the stores.

It seems to me as if much of the rah-rah talk of the mainstream media about economic recovery has little bearing in reality, based on what I have seen. In fact, with earnings season commencing as retailers report final quarter of 2010 results, I remain very cautious in how much of my portfolio is exposed to stocks. I have not gone so far as to take significant short positions, but I am sharply restricting how much of our net worth is in long positions in stocks.

I told Alma today that I plan no further commentaries from the mall. The weather remaining nice has allowed Alma and me to walk on the beach today and presumably we will be able to walk the beach again tomorrow.  So my commentary will again return to beach-related themes beginning with my next post. But I will be keeping an eye on the economy and commenting as I see fit as events unfold. I hope I am wrong about what is coming, even as I feel this sense of strong forboding. I think we are looking at a classic double-dip recession beginning in this quarter. We shall see.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Money, It's a Drag

Those of you who read this blog regularly may have noticed a new feature since yesterday in the upper right-hand rail: a PayPal donate button. I have been wrestling with the issue of money almost since I began this blog. I am more fortunate than most in that I live quite frugally and am good at saving money. However, my cash flow has become sharply curtailed since October 2010 and I am trying to develop alternative flows of cash to make up for the missing regular paycheck. I decided to put the PayPal donation button there to give my readers the opportunity if they so choose to support my writing efforts and Alma's art without having to view a bunch of annoying cyber ads.

It turns out that allows its writers to display ads from Google and get money from the views of people looking at the ads. Since so much of the internet has devolved into a giant cyber strip mall with all the attendant hucksterism and plain out ugliness, I decided not to inflict the ubiquitous Google ads upon my readers, a decision of which I hope Thoreau would approve. This blog is meant to be a refuge from the 'getting and spending' that so dominates every cyber minute these days, a place the reader can come to catch his breath and reflect upon some of life's simpler (and less expensive) pleasures. And, of course, read my scintillating commentary on current events and the consumer society as seen from the trenches.

However, I will say this. As much as Alma and I will be able to put your donations to good use in further funding my writing and her art, we would prefer that anyone making a donation here first make a comment on the blog or at Alma's virtual gallery. In fact, my preference is that my readers comment first and donate second. I will accept any donations but would really prefer that anyone donating first comment on one or more of the posts that move him or her.

On an adminsitrative note, Alma and I share a PayPal account for her virtual art gallery: So if you do click to donate, you will see her art gallery's primary email address: It's the address of record on our PayPal account and it seemed the height of silliness to me to create yet another PayPal account just so that readers thinking of donating would not be confused.

To those who do donate, thank you in advance. I will endeavor to respond to anyone donating, technology willing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Return to the Beach

We finally had a day of sunshine and clear skies yesterday, such that Alma and I felt confident in returning to the beach. Our confidence was amply rewarded with very nice weather yesterday and we did our customary 3-mile walk between the Washington Boulevard pier and the Villa Marina jetty (and the short breakwater a 1/2 mile north of the pier). Nothing remarkable happened on this walk. We saw nothing especially of note and, although I thought I might have seen a dolphin beyond the surf, I decided it was merely my eyes playing tricks on me and making me see what I wanted to see.

While we were walking, though, Alma happened to ask me how many cumulative miles I thought we had walked on this stretch of beach in the past 6 months. I guessed that, out of the preceding 180-odd days, we had probably walked this stretch of beach about 100 days. 3 miles/day makes some 300 miles of cumulative walking on this one stretch of beach.  We have walked this particular stretch so much that I think we are entitled to call this our beach in a way few other Californians can, even those whose dwellings face it. I have grown very fond of it.

I mention this only to note that, although we are there every day the weather allows, I never grow sick of it the same way that I have grown sick of our trips to the Westfield Culver City mall on days when the weather is bad. And indeed the weather appears to have again taken a turn for the worse over the past 24 hours and is again cloudy and cold. So we may well be headed back to the mall for our daily constitutional today. Ugh, I do not look forward to that walk at the mall in the slightest. It will be very hum-drum going through the motions unless Alma and I stumble on an enlivening topic of conversation.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Political Situation Today

I have spent the last 48 hours trying to stay on top of the act of domestic terrorism that took place in Tucson, Arizona yesterday. During the attack yesterday, a lone gunman went on a shooting spree with a semi-automatic handgun and killed six people, among them a sitting federal judge and a 9 year-old girl. This same lone gunman allegedly severely wounded a sitting Democratic Congressperson (Gabrielle Giffords) who was at an event to meet her constituents and hear their concerns.

I cannot think of anything to write about this that has not already been written about at, or But I will say that I am simply astounded that Sarah Palin has not been forcibly repudiated and admonished by the elder statespeople of her party for her incendiary and inciting speech that placed gunsights over the congressional district of Giffords and 19 other Dems whom Palin and her crowd wanted to see defeated.

Here's what I wrote on Democratic Underground today:

OK, so let me make sure I have it straight.

Sarah Palin maintains a website that 'targets' various Dem officials by putting the image of a telescopic gunsight over each of the districts.

One of those Dem officials is subsequently attacked and severely wounded by a gunman who kills 6 people during a shooting rampage.

And no Republican, not one, of any national stature has yet publicly repudiated, rebuked or admonished Sarah Palin in any meaningful way for her website's incitement of its viewers to violence?

Here's what I'm tryng to get my mind around:

I understand that various Reupblicans have condemned the attack on Giffords. But why is the Republican Party or its national leaders not publicly admonishing or repudiating Palin for inciting people to violence?

The silence on Palin is positively deafening and I cannot help wondering if the Republican Party, by its deafening silence, is now insinuating that political violence is acceptable.

When I said that I thought this might mark the start of Civil War v2.0, my wife responded that I was being needlessly alarmist and using inflammatory rhetoric to frame yesterday's events. I sure hope my wife is correct. I guess I'm trying to figure out what yesterday means and portends. As in, how bad could this get?

Opinions on Democratic Underground are sharply split. Some see this as the opening salvo in a new civil war; others see it as indicative of little more than a crazed lone gunman acting in response to his own peculiar demons.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

My Other Job as Alma's Theo

Well, I don't have a job that brings in a regular paycheck right now. I am getting unemployment compensation while I try to find one of those gigs with a steady paycheck. I send out applications almost every day and I know it's a numbers game and that eventually I will land something.

But until that day comes, I have other jobs that are not as remunerative on a steady basis but that manage to keep me amused and\or intellectually engaged. For example, I fancy myself something of a 'day trader' (not to be confused with a 'day tripper') and so I spend a couple hours each day researching and trading stocks in our retirement and investment accounts. So far, I am sorry to say, the market has not recognized my brilliance. While I have made some modest gains since being laid off in October, I am nowhere near being able to make ends meet based on what I make from day trading. Oh, some days, I make more than enough for that day. Other days, I lose a little bit. Result is that I don't make enough of a steady profit to survive long-term without a gig that pays regularly. (Those of you who notice my use of musical metaphors should know that one reason I stayed in Los Angeles was to try to get a career going in music. That did not work out as I had hoped for a variety of reasons.)

Another job that I am really starting to love is serving as manager of Alma's art career. The first thing I did in pursuit of this was to build a website\virtual gallery for her (http:\\ I have spent the past couple months getting the site set up and populated with images of some of her recent creations and learning how to administer and manage email. This week I started emailing gallery owners about Alma's work to find out how to get a show for her. So far, no gallery owner has responded to my emails. And so, today, I started thinking that maybe I don't have the faintest idea what I'm doing.

Not to worry, though. One of the places Alma and I had visited in person some time back offers a class for those starting to market and promote their art. Called 'TheWhole9,' the place has a physical art gallery but also functions something like an artists' collective where artists can set up a virtual gallery\presence online and where I had already built a presence for Alma ( So today I signed up for the class 'Get Hung' to be held on Saturday, January 22 from 1-4 p.m.

I have so many questions for this class. Here's a good one: how do you ask a gallery owner to show the works of the artist you manage? I have noticed that many galleries have an explicit statement on their websites that they do not accept 'unsolicited submissions.' So I have been deliberately avoiding approaching those galleries when I see such  sentiments expressed. But even if a gallery is willing to consider unsolicited submissions, is the best way to approach them via email, by phone, in person with a physical portfolio or just what.

Speaking of physical portfolios, one question I will try to answer is whether the art world has gone totally digital now. If it has and the physical portfolio is now a relic of a bygone era, do artists do their own virtual portfolios or do they hire them done with a professional photographer? And, if the art world retains the idea of a physical portfolio for professional artists, how are these portfolios arranged? Are works showed chronologically, thematically, by genre or by some other organizing principle?

Depending on what comes out of this class, Alma and I will be deciding whether to purchase a higher-quality camera as an investment in the business, whether to continue doing as we have done with our existing photographic technology or whether to hire a professional photographer. It will be interesting to find out a little more about the business side of the art world. If I can't be Vincent, at least I have a shot at being Theo.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Thw Decline and Fall of American Consumerism: The View from the Trenches (Part V)

The weather the past few days has been unstable. Both yesterday and today it appeared as if it might rain were we to go to the beach. So Alma and I have spent the past two days doing our 90-minute trek at the Westfield Culver City Mall.

Now that the holiday shopping season is over, we have seen four stores in the mall either close their doors or appear close to doing so: Debue (a women's clothier), Up Against the Wall (an urban clothier), Brookstone (electronic gadgets and household sundries) and Utopia (home furnishings). At least three other stores show signs of being on their last legs and about ready to fold up shop. So, all told, I would guess that between 10-15% of the retail outlets in this mall (but really only about 5-7% of the retail floor space) did not make the Christmas 2010 cut.

Alma and I have been debating what this portends. She says the fact that most retail outlets remain open means that the sky is not falling, my earlier prognostications notwithstanding. I am not sure what to make of it -- I suppose Alma is correct that a certain amount of retail turnover is to be expected in the normal cycle of American consumerism. Alma also points out that the Westfield Culver City mall does not exemplify the norm in SoCal retail shopping. A mall like the Westside Pavillion or the Beverly Center probably captures the more upscale demographic on the west side of Los Angeles.

Still, when the Thompson Reuters December 2010 Same Store Sales figures were released this morning, showing lackluster and tepid sales growth by retail stalwarts like Target and American Eagle Outfitters in same-store sales during December, I was not entirely surprised. Our walks in the malls during December suggested that, while there was plenty of foot traffic, there were not a tremendous number of shoppers carrying bags of goodies. (At least not until the week before Christmas, when activity seemed to pick up.)

Now that the Republicans have taken control of the House in D.C., I forsee at least another two years of stagnation. The 10% unemplloyment rate is highly likely to remain and may even worsen if the Repupublicans' fiscal cuts are enacted into law. When private sector demand falls, government simply must make up for that demand with increased government spending or aggregate GDP will fall. What this portends for the ranks of the unemployed (myself included) are extended bouts of joblessness.

However, I consider myself as having two or three jobs right now, just none with a regular paycheck. First of all, I manage our investments in our retirement and brokerage accounts. Second, I manage Alma's art website and business. Finally, I look for a job with a steady paycheck. I shall have more to write on each of these three endeavors in the days and weeks to come. I suppose my fourth job is documenting here the records of the three jobs mentioned above. All in all, it's enough to keep me busy and to keep the depression that can come from unemployment away.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Chase Bank Sucks

As many of you know, I am currently unemployed going on about 3 months now. Alma and I were walking to the local shopping center before Christmas. A music store there had recently closed. I assume Chase acquired the property, because it had put up a sign in the parking lot to announce that it would be opening a branch and was hiring.

I thought to myself, "Wow, I have not worked in a bank since my temp job days while in graduate school and it sure would be great to have a job that I could walk to each day." So I applied at the Chase Bank website, filling out their online application and sending them a copy of my resume. I was not expecting too much, not even an interview, mainly because Chase is a multi-national corporation and I have no formal training or experience in finance or business. I suppose I entertained a vain fantasy that my natural charm might win me an interview. Actually, make that my communication skills and ability to write a clear sentence. But when I did not receive a call for an interview, I was not disappointed or even surprised. And I had frankly forgotten all about it.

But imagine my surprise when I received a message a few days ago from the new branch manager at Chase that they wanted me to . . . open an account at Chase. How did they get my phone number, you ask? Why from the resume that I submitted through their online application process. Yup, someone in their HR department had the brilliant idea to just turn the personal data on the resumes they received over to their marketing department to see if they might be able to turn an applicant into a customer. Ugh, that's not banking or best practices, that's just plain scum.

Talk about your scuzzy, unethical business practices. Talk about preying on the unfortunate (in this case, the unemployed). Any thought I might have given to banking with Chase or working for Chase immediately turned to an icy cold disdain. I cannot hope that this branch closes because our primarily African-American neighborhood needs the jobs. But I don't need a job that badly. And any company that treats its job applicants' personal data so cavalierly certainly does not deserve my business.

Just another petty indignity in this post-Great Depression, v2.0 era, I guess. But Chase Bank sucks.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Rhythm of My Days and the New Year

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope 2011 brings each of my readers a productive and fulfilling year in whatever endeavors you take on and wherever you happen to find yourself.

The torrential rains of last week ended by Thursday, such that Alma and I were able to resume our beach walks on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. So I can honestly say that Alma and I witnessed both the final sunset of 2010 Friday and then the first sunset of 2011 yesterday. The rains had stopped but it was still quite chilly. And the skies stayed cloudy both days. So these are not the greatest sunsets I have ever seen. But after the torrential rains we had, any sunshine is welcome and any sunset is better than walking inside a souless mall.

But I was thinking about New Year's Day and what it all means as I walked today. The fact that Friday and yesterday seemed almost indistinguishable from one another suggests that New Year's Day is just another day. If it had any special signficance, it would instead happen on Winter Solstice (December 22), the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.

Each of my days has taken on a quite similar rhythm. I wake up and check stocks and investments, then work on the blog, look for a job and manage emails. Then Alma and I have lunch. After lunch, we head to the beach or, lately, to the mall for our daily walk. When we get home from the walk, I will work on Alma's website\virtual art gallery and work on figuring out which actions I wish to take in the stock market the following day.

And yet the New Year offers a possibility of renewal, of being able to get things done right this time, of being able to re-make ourselves and reform those traits we find undesirable. How beguiling to have a 're-set button' that becomes available once a year.

I have made three resolutions for the New Year of 2011.

1) To continue looking for a new job until I find one that will pay our bills and that does not make me want to vomit;
2) To maintain our net worth through smart and timely investing, even though I am not working;
3) To not work for an asshole who will earn profits from my labor.

These three resolutions may directly conflict with one another. For example, in order to satisfy resolution number 2, I might have to break resolution number 3. By the same taken, satisfying resolution number 2 might demand some injury to our net worth. So I will be spending the next few days intensely thinking about and figuring out how to work for a non-profit that pays enough to meet our monthly expenses or to use some combination of investing and working to not break either resolution.

Alma has also made two resolutions:

1) To keep up the good work in keeping off the weight that she has already lost;
2) To find ways to encourage herself to continue producing new works of art.

In order to help her with her resolutions, I wanted to make sure everyone knows about Alma's website\virtual art gallery at If you have not already done so, please stop by the Asylum, check out her wonderful artwork, and fill out her guestbook.

Again, Happy New Year and Best Wishes for 2011!