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Life and Times of an itinerant slacker in Sacramento. Thrills, Spills Galore coming soon. Not to mention lots of opinions.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Why I Blog

"Rat", a character in "Pearls Before Swine" must be reading my mind. Here’s the real dope.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Susato Thanksgiving

We had the traditional Thanksgiving at my uncle’s place in Santa Rosa . They had 25 people this year.

I brought the cranberry relish, one batch of the Stamberg variety (see the next blog entry), and one batch of plain old whole berry sauce. Otherwise we just ate and had a good time.

The highlight of the evening for me was that my cousin-the-professional-bass-player and I played a set of Tielman Susato songs from the 16th century. As the galliards and pavanes were flying, the electricity went out, so we finished our playing by candlelight! In my life, that’s about as cool as it gets.

We saw the usual suspects from Los Angeles and northern CA.

We took the mountain road route on Thursday morning, since the interstate was a mess. Lots of scenic and winding two-lane roads. We enjoyed the scenery, but DMIL forgot to mention that she gets carsick on mountain roads. So, most of us enjoyed the scenic drive.

We stayed over Thursday night at the Sandman Motel in Santa Rosa. We’ve stayed there every thanksgiving. The breakfast area is always full of protestant missionaries and their families. Strange.

Cranberry Relish – Try This Recipe Sometime

Susan Stamberg has pushed her cranberry relish recipe for years. I finally made it this year, and it kicks ass. I have been thinking about making this for at least 10 years, I wish I had tried it sooner.

The relatively small amount of sugar and the horseradish make this relish more savory than sweet. The color is truly shocking. Stamberg compares it to pepto bismal, it reminded me of whipped up strawberry jello and dream whip. All credit for the recipe goes to Susan Stamberg.

Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish

2 cups whole raw cranberries, washed
1 small onion
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons horseradish from a jar ("red is a bit milder than white") I used the white horseradish, and it was fine.

Grind the raw berries and onion together. ("I use an old-fashioned meat grinder," says Stamberg. "I'm sure there's a setting on the food processor that will give you a chunky grind — not a puree.")
Add everything else and mix.
Put in a plastic container and freeze.
Early Thanksgiving morning, move it from freezer to refrigerator compartment to thaw. ("It should still have some little icy slivers left.")
The relish will be thick, creamy, and shocking pink. ("OK, Pepto Bismol pink. It has a tangy taste that cuts through and perks up the turkey and gravy. It's also good on next-day turkey sandwiches, and with roast beef.")
Makes 1 1/2 pints.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

When Financial Industrial Complex and the American Dream Collide

I watched a football game last Sunday. I noticed a repeated theme in the commercials from the Financial Industrial Complex, formerly known as the insurance and brokerage industries. What I heard seemed striking when compared to the insurance industry that employed me in the 1980s.

The Financial Industrial Complex of late identifies itself as a resource for “wealth management”.

In an article about U. S. wealth and income statistics , I found this interesting story:

“If you're not parked near the top of the ramp, you're of little or no interest to financial services firms and financial advisers. There's no money to be made at these levels. Last year, a handful of Wall Street firms told their brokers they would no longer receive commissions on accounts holding less than $50,000. This effectively tells people with nano-Numbers to get lost. But for the Wall Street firms, there's gold on the floors above. The greater the household assets, the more fees and transaction costs can be extracted from an account. The result is a flood of advertising that captures a lifestyle so gloriously affluent it's enough to make everybody feel poor.”

This is a major change in these industries from their founding values (at least those values presented through their Public Image machinery) which pretty much stayed in place from the late 19th through late in the 20th centuries.

Financial services are promoted by telling a “corporate story”, rather than playing up specific benefits of the contracts and services available. This indirect approach is driven by State and Federal laws which restrict the ability to promote investment or insurance contracts on radio or television. The advertisements present a very broad story, limited to (1) customer identification, (2) identifying the sponsoring Financial Services Firm, and (3) an extremely vague notion of the benefits the customer can anticipate by giving money to the Firm.

The 20th century story was (1) the customer is the American family. The narratives often followed a “journey through life” story, following a WASP family from cash strapped starter house life with babies through comfortable retirement surrounded by adoring grandchildren; (2) the advertisement usually characterized the sponsor as the friend and protector of the young family whose hands are firmly placed in the bootstraps by which they will pull themselves up; and (3) if the young couple behaves like good WASPs, and associates with the firm, they will be rewarded with a satisfying and abundant life.

Well, as we moved into the 21st century, the story has changed. (1) the customer is already sitting on a pile of money, which we politely call wealth; (2) the Financial Services Firm is a very powerful and impersonal corporate edifice, large and powerful beyond description; and (3) if you bring the Financial Services Firm into your life, the pile will get bigger and bigger.

Just another way of saying, “if you are not already rich, we don’t need you”. Besides, the middle class is totally so tiresome.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Very Stupid Day

I can only describe yesterday as a very stupid day. Thanks to Google and the proliferation of stupid blogs, I am assured that I am not the only person who has the occasional Very Stupid Day.

The day started with discovering that the ceiling-mounted fluorescent lights in the kitchen aren’t working. I recalled having an electrician in to install the fixture, but I couldn’t find any records. I dragged Kathleen into the search. After about an hour, I recalled that the installation I remembered was in our house in Milwaukee, where we haven’t lived for about seven years. So goes the first Very Stupid Hour of the Very Stupid Day.

DIY Step 1 – Replace all four tubes in the fixture. Drive to the local hardware store, find the right tubes, drive home, remove old tubes (fluorescent lights rarely can be fixed by replacing some rather than all of the tubes). Testing fluorescent lights can be tricky, because the mountings for the tubes (appropriately called tombstones) are pretty touchy. So I inserted and reinserted the tubes’ contacts several times. No luck still just getting a flicker. So went the next hour of the Very Stupid Day.

DIY Step 2 – Having determined the problem was more than blown tubes, I went back the internet to find instructions for the next steps. I looked at several sets of instructions which for the most part contradicted each other, so I had to figure out a “consensus approach from about three DIY websites. So went the next hour of the Very Stupid Day.

DIY Step 3 – Examined the wiring for visible bad connections. I removed the new tubes, and opened up the protective plate covering the ballasts and wiring. I am sure the protective covering is designed in some part top keep people like me away from the inner workings. HAH, I showed them! I looked at the wiring for about 10 minutes, gently pulling to test wires for faulty connections. All the connections looked OK to me. I wrote down the model numbers etc. on the ballasts, since after this test, it appears that the ballasts (really power transformers) are probably the problem. So goes the next hour of the Very Stupid Day.

DIY Step 4 – Went to the home improvement big-box stores to figure out what to do next. Went to Home Depot, where I learned that (1) if I replace the entire fixture, I will need to special – order to get a fixture the same size as the current fixture. This means that replacing the fixture with a more reasonably priced fixture will require repainting the kitchen ceiling, or promising myself to never look up in the kitchen, and (2) ballasts vary in cost, from about $45 to $120 in total for the two ballasts I probably need to replace. Replacing the ballasts could cost more than replacing the entire lighting unit. Given that I don’t have the tools or the “know-how” to be sure of where the problem is located (power source versus ballasts versus tombstones), the next step will involve attempting to install a bunch of expensive components that I am not sure of how to select the right component, or how to install it correctly, without electrocution. I also visited Lowe’s to reinforce this conclusion. I realized that it was after 1:00 PM, so I stopped at a local taqueria for a burrito. I ate too much, but with little real consequence. So goes the next two hours of the Very Stupid Day.

DIY Step 5 – I called Oleg the housepainter, who is our link into the world of reputible local Russian immigrant contractors (probably another Ivan or Vlad). He will call back today with a referral for an electrician. It was a very stupid day, because I could have just called Oleg at the beginning of all this, after the new tubes didn’t work.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Beginning of the End

As is the case in much of Sacramento, our neighborhood has a lot of rats. Sometimes we can see them running on the telephone lines, like people in more wholesome environments see squirrels and chipmunks. I have learned to tolerate the rates, since we only seem to get a rat in the house once or twice every five years. When we get rats, they quickly succumb to traps baited with peanut butter.

However, a new twist has been added to the rat drama. FLEAS! Our neighborhood has been full of fleas this summer. I nearly contemplated giving up sandals. I have had to use Advantage on our indoor-only cat. The vet said fleas can jump onto the cat through screens when the cat sits in the window. The advantage is working great, I flea-combed the cat and she looks clean. Before using the medicine, the flea comb brought up lots of flea dirt and on live flea. We’ll re-apply the Advantage next month, and hopefully denying the inside-the-house fleas their nutrition for 2 months should take care of the problem.

So, it’s rats and fleas. Somehow, this doesn’t sound very good. Isn’t this how you get a bubonic plague outbreak? Just remember this, so that your last words gasped from your bubo–swollen lips will be, “I read about it first in Hangininsac.” That’s all I ask of you.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Like A Hole In The Head I Need This, Oy!

Dana Milbank, a columnist for the Washington Post had a somewhat tongue-in-cheek column about the American Enterprise institute (AEI) forum discussing claims of superior Jewish intelligence.

At first I thought this was some kind of joke, perhaps the Washington Post had a Halloween tradition like April Fools Day in other regions. Not so, Mr Smarty Pants Big Shot! The American Enterprise Institute, those wonderful people who brought us neoconservatism has published a book explaining claims of superior Jewish intelligence. Abraham’s Children discusses the link between observed above average IQ scores in Jews and some theory that this proves that Jews are truly a race apart and possibly the Chosen People after all. Jonboy appears to spend a lot of time and energy attempting to reinvent the concept of pure race, whose only imaginable use is a pseudo-scientific justification for racism. THE AEI website promises us this book is based on “breakthroughs in genetic genealogy” (sic). GENETIC GENEAOLOGY, WTF? No doubt they also used historical creationism, statistical numerology, and astrological astronomy in their study.

I did a little research to see what background Jon needed to manage “breakthroughs in genetic genealogy” (sic). Turns out all those PHD Students devoting their lives to academic studies of genetics and Mormons studying genealogy are wasting their time. Our boy Jonjon, according to his own website has no education outside of journalism and philosophy. His work experience appears to center around television production and writing books justifying old-time racism (e. g., Jews are smart weaklings, blacks are well suited to athletics, but not intellectual pursuits (see his previous book “Taboo”)).

The fact that these books, beyond being taken seriously, are usually best-sellers provides a very good example of the true cost of weak science education in our schools. However, the AEI’s publications and other odorous outbursts seem to get taken pretty seriously. After all, when you have John “Yosemite Sam” Bolton as your fellow fellow at the AEI, how could you be wrong?

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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I must enjoy shouting into a vacuum, but I think about getting my act together one of these days. My mom says I am very handsome and intelligent.

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