Coffee heat rising

Merry Christmas…i guess

Christmas treeWelp, Merry Christmas one and all. Think some spiritual thoughts…that will take Herculean effort. (So we invoke one ancient culture’s religion when we see our own, as interpreted by its fundamentalists, has failed). Personally, I find it a shade difficult to choke up much merriness, given that we’re watching our country crash in flames.

Thank God I’m too old myself to be called into active military duty, or to have a kid young enough for that. The mess the Trumpites are making in the Middle East sooner or later will come back to bite in a big way, and at that time a mere force of mercenaries will not suffice. Expect to see your sons and daughters — or grandsons and grand-daughters — called up for active duty within the next decade. To say this bunch has plunged the country into chaos is, my friends, an understatement.

Or maybe we ourselves will want to join up, if the military will take us. God knows, we’ll need the money.

Watching what appears to be the start of the Bush Crash redux, I have exactly zero confidence that a collapse of this magnitude is going to do me any good in my enforced retirement. What I do feel confident of is that it will leave me with nothing like enough in savings and investments to support me through my dotage. It is almost certain, thanks to the lunatics who put a seditious fool in the White House and inflicted their set of wackshit discredited economic theories on us all, that I will not have enough to live on for the rest of my life.

During the 1970s, I watched my father’s savings — an amount he thought would support him comfortably through a lengthy retirement — melt away under an inflationary blowtorch. Now we get to watch my generation’s retirement savings disappear, too.

Lovely.

Oh well. There’s not a thing we can do about it. If you haven’t hunkered down yet, financially speaking, it’s too late now.

Remember what I told you, some time back: Politics is economy; economy, politics.

In one last gasp of optimism, tonight I’m singing with the choir for the evening service and then for the midnight service. That will be fun. The church tends to overflow on these big religious holidays. Though it’s not exactly empty the rest of the time, on Christmas and Easter people flow into the parking lots.

We — the women’s chant choir — sang for Compline last night. It’s a very short but very lovely service. The entire thing is sung, much of it in chant. It’s  relaxing and soothing, something that’s much needed these days.

In between the two Christmas Eve services, we have a potluck dinner. That should be fun. I’m hoping SDXB will show up for that and for the late service. Connie the Long-Haul Trucker is in Moab, headed toward the Valley as fast as she can fly for as far as the gummint will let her drive in any one 24-hour period: expects to reach the truckyard about 10 a.m. tomorrow. So she will miss the Xmas festivities, but will be here to see her family on Christmas day. That’s something. I guess.

Cassie the Corgi continues to have her ups and downs. Yesterday was a definite up. Today she seems to have crashed, along with the Trump economy. {sigh} Not only can she barely hobble around but (to continue the endlessly amusing simile) she seems confused. It’s like she’s not sure where she is. She’ll get outside and look around, appearing utterly flummoxed, like she’s wondering Where am I? What is this place and what am I supposed to be doing here? Eventually she’ll pee on the ground and then stumble back in the house, evidently only slightly enlightened.

That’s today. Yesterday she was downright peppy and for a moment was actually running around the backyard (very, very briefly) after Ruby.

So one is led on a merry psychological chase, in which one moment you think gosh! maybe she COULD recover somehow and the next you’re figuring where to dig her grave.

The neighborhood is brightly decorated. One street is completely lined with luminarias. Young people love to gussy up their places for Christmas, which is a delight. I personally am too lazy to feel inclined to climb on a ladder to hang up lights, then climb up again to take them down and then make myself crazy wrapping them back up and putting them away. Never have been much for conspicuous decoration, myself. But that doesn’t keep me from enjoying other people’s displays.

Luminarias line a garden path as part of Hispanic celebration of Christmas

 

 

The (Not So) Good Old Days

Just finished the chest freezer’s first defrosting job. The thing doesn’t collect very much frost, but after enough months pass, it does need to be chipped free. This summer’s humidity caused enough frost to grow that it was threatening to interfere with closing the lid, so, reluctantly, I finally moved myself to action.

To my surprised delight, it didn’t take anything like as much effort or time as expected. Only about a half-hour with a hair dryer defrosting the glaciers, plus another half-hour of winnowing out the hopelessly aged items and organizing the survivors.

The reason I dreaded this chore and put it off as long as I could is that I can remember what it was like to defrost a Frigidaire. O God!

Defrosting the icebox’s freezer was a half-day job. In the first place, the freezer compartment started to build layers of frost from the instant you plugged in the refrigerator. Frost built up on everything: every surface of the machine and every surface of anything you put into the freezer.

First, you’d wait until your family had gone through most of the food in the freezer and the refrigerator. Turning off the freezer in older models entailed turning off both compartments. Later, you could shut off just the freezer, but even then, since the job would take a long time, you didn’t want to leave much frozen food sitting in the refrigerator or sink.

In those days, women didn’t have hand-held hair dryers. A hair dryer was a lash-up with a plastic bonnet on the end of a hose connected to a contraption that looked a little like…I don’t know…a drag-around vacuum cleaner. It never occurred to anyone to try to use one of those things to speed defrosting, if that were even possible.

On the day you decided to defrost and clean the freezer, you’d turn on the soaps to keep you company. The soap operas would start around 10:00 or 10:30 in the morning. So if you started with the first soap, which I recall was Days of Our Lives, you would clean through As the World Turns, The Guiding Light, The Edge of Night, and finish about the time The Dumb and the Feckless came on. If you worked steadily, you’d finish around 12:30 or 1:00 p.m.

It was a messy, foot-aching, back-aching, endless job that entailed boiling water, pouring it into flat pans, setting them into the freezer compartment to melt the two- and three-inch thick ice, wiping up the mess, and repeating. Over and over and over. Then you had to clean up the mess you’d made on the floor and kitchen counters. So, as you can imagine, I wasn’t looking forward to doing that with a chest freezer that would add bending over to the list.

Moderns suffer way too much nostalgia for the good old days. One thing that concerns me about both this bottomless recession and the sometimes silly sentimentality inherent to the environmental movement is that both of these forces are tending to push back our standard of living.

To my mind, not having to stand in front of a freezer for two or three hours pouring, chipping, scrubbing, sponging, and mopping comes under the heading of “standard of living.” So does having a freezer at all. So does running an air conditioner and electric lights and an indoor stove. So does walking into a supermarket and having a choice of all the fruits and vegetables that grow in any season of the year, somewhere on this earth or in some agribusiness’s greenhouses.

One of the problems with the locavore movement is that, taken to its logical end, it means that you eat whatever is in season in your local area. Whatever does not grow in your immediate vicinity and is not in season, you don’t eat.

While that sounds very romantic and green, its reality is far plainer and far simpler than most locavores would relish: malnutrition.

Enthusiasts tell us that “most Americans should not expect to have tomatoes in January” and that “to eat truly locally means learning to live without those foods that won’t naturally grow in your own backyard, or in your local farmer’s fields.” Be careful what you wish for.

My mother grew up in upstate New York during the 1910s and 20s. She lived with her grandparents on a small subsistence farm. During the summer and fall, they ate what they could grow or gather in the forest. During the winter, they ate what they could store.

My mother grew up with rickets. Thanks to poor childhood nutrition, all of her teeth had been removed from her head by the time she was 45.

She told me that an orange was a rare treat. Citrus was expensive, too expensive for people who lived off their own land, and even if you could afford them, oranges were rarely available. During the winter, she said, oftentimes all they had to eat was beans and potatoes her grandmother had put up, served in bowls of hot milk taken from their cow.

That’s locavore eating. Do we really want to take ourselves back to 1918?

Consider, too, the bright ideas intended to save water and energy. Front-loading washers, for example: there’s a throwback to the “good” old days, if ever there was one. They work very much like the old Bendix my mother and I used in the early 1950s. Put a tablespoon too much detergent in the thing, and it would bubble up and flood the service porch. This is why washer hookups in 1950s houses are often outside, on the back porch or in the garage. It’s a lot easier to clean up the concrete garage floor or the back porch slab than to have to scrub an interior floor every third time you do the laundry.

I remember that damn thing overflowing, and I remember my mother racing to wipe up the mess with a mop and on hands and knees with rags. As if she didn’t have enough physical labor to do!

And I remember both of us bending over with aching backs to haul the heavy wet laundry out the front side the thing—even a little girl can get a back-ache, believe it or not. The Bendix induced back pain in users of all ages and sizes.

Why on earth do we think reverting to the 1950s is a good thing?

Then we have the repercussions of the present economic depression. How many of us are putting off buying appliances and other tools that make our lives more tolerable? I, for one, can’t afford to replace my dangerously overheating clothes dryer. It will run on “air fluff,” but that cycle doesn’t dry clothes. Most of my laundry can be hung out. But what happens when I need to wash the down comforter? That has to go through a dryer, and it can’t go into an ultrahot commercial dryer.

If I didn’t have a dryer, I wouldn’t own a feather comforter. I’d be doing the same thing my mother did: hauling heavy woolen blankets and bedspreads to the dry cleaner once a year. When we unwrapped them and put them on the beds, we’d sleep in toxic fumes for two weeks, until the stink dissipated.

How “green” was this? Well, take a look at a map of the Superfund sites in your area, and note how many pieces of land contaminated with dangerous chemicals once housed neighborhood dry cleaners.

While I can stand to hang out my clothes on a line, the truth is that having no working dryer puts one foot back in the 1950s, when most people didn’t own dryers. Or dishwashers. Or electric stoves and ovens. Or televisions. And no one ever heard of a microwave.

We no longer have the Russians to bomb us back into the Dark Ages. The Chinese are too busy turning themselves into the world’s economic superpower to bomb us into the Dark Ages, and the Iraqis are in no position to return the favor just now. But we seem not to need any help: we appear to be taking ourselves there on our own.

Don’t get me wrong: I’d like to see the developed world and everyone else consume less fossil fuel; spew less gunk into the atmosphere; quit polluting air, land, and water with toxic chemicals; quit bulldozing farmlands and blading the desert to make way for square mile on square mile of sprawl; stop torturing animals in grotesque factory “farms”; live well but not so large; and all such good things.  I just don’t think we should do it at the expense of our health. Or at the expense of the positive factors that make us a “developed” country.

Another Tax Hike!

taxation-food-tax

Well, for the first time in recorded history, Arizona’s right-leaning voters approved a one-cent sales tax on food. We’re told by the state’s fuzzy, Tea-Partying leadership that this tax will get us off the economic shoals on which we have been cast by the crash of the Bush economy. The public schools will be rescued, and the massive cuts to the state government already planned will not have to take place.

Right.

A tax on food, at a time when about 10 percent of Arizonans are officially out of work and many, many more have dropped off the unemployment tracking radar, is about as regressive as a tax can get. It hits hardest at the people who can least afford it: people who are already struggling to buy basics like food and shelter.

Here’s the problem: Arizona has an essentially circular economy. We don’t manufacture anything, unless square mile upon square mile of ticky-tacky houses built by people who build, finance, supply, and repair ticky-tacky houses for people who build, finance, supply, and repair ticky-tacky houses can be called “manufacturing.” The primary bases for the economy here are housing construction and services. We wait on each other—at amazingly low wages—and we build houses for people who wait on each other. We don’t do anything productive.

So, when the economy goes down, we have nothing left to build on. The jobs for people who deliver services dissolve, there’s nothing to take their place, and no amount of taxation or any other make-shift scheme will change the fact that we don’t have jobs and we’re not going to get jobs.

Why? Because we don’t do anything productive. We just wait on each other.

Hilariously, we’re assured that this tax is going to rescue Arizona’s educational system. This is the system that’s already at the bottom of per-pupil funding in the nation—we rank 49th, just ahead of Mississippi! Grade schools now cram about 32 kids in every classroom. One cent per dollar, whose purpose is simply to avoid laying off more teachers, isn’t going to make much difference. Let’s remember, when times were good, graduates of this system arrived in my university classrooms and, as juniors and seniors, informed me that Wisconsin is a Rocky Mountain state, that the only thing of note that happened in the U.S. during the 19th century was the Industrial Revolution—well, if you let out World War I, which also happened in the 19th century—and that the word Episcopal is pronounced ep-is-COP-al. A graduating senior in English—that’s English, not English Education—asked me what a preposition is.

This is a school system that will not be helped by a one-cent Bandaid. It needs major surgery.

Despite being a raving, foaming-at-the-mouth sooooocialist liberal, I did not vote for this tax. I didn’t vote for it because it was cooked up by a retrograde governor and supported by an even more Neanderthal legislature. Nothing that these people say makes sense, and so it’s reasonable to believe that the tax as it was proposed is even more ludicrous than it appears on the surface.

It doesn’t get at the problem. The problem is, we need to build an economy that produces things, not one that waits tables, sells insurance, and polishes shoes.

It’s America’s problem, of course: we’ve off-shored the lifeblood of a strong economy. And since Arizona is part of America, Arizona is part of the problem.

Image: from H. G. Wells, The Outline of History, 1920. Public Domain.

How Middle-Class Are You?

This is a guest post from Crystal of Budgeting in the Fun Stuff: A Personal Financial Blog about the Next Financial Step. It’s an open fiscal diary and a personal finance blog rolled into one that is looking to get as many people involved as possible.

This article at Yahoo Finance, How to Gauge Your Middle-Class Status, made my inner-financial competitor salivate. It’s chocked full of ways to compare yourself to others. I know that is a bad thing, but I want to spread the naughty.

According to the article, the typical two-parent, two-kid household:

  • Makes $51,000 to $123,000 with both parents working a total of 3747 hours per year.
  • Owns a home worth $231,000 that is about 2300 square feet.
  • Spends about $5100 a year on health insurance and non-covered expenses if their employer provides their insurance.
  • Spends $12,400 a year on two medium-sized sedans that were bought for $45,000.
  • Puts $4100 aside for college expenses for two kids (it seems to mean total…that’s a little low if you really want to help, right?)
  • Spends $3000 on an annual one-week vacation.
  • Doesn’t save at least 3.2% a year for retirement.
  • Spends about $14,200 a year on clothes, food, entertainment, and living expenses.
  • Has a typical head of household that has about 2 years of college under his/her belt.
  • Wants free time more than they want healthy kids, a strong marriage, or to be wealthy.
  • Has a net worth of about $84,000.
  • Spends about 18% a month towards debt.

Okay, so my husband and I seem to be doing very well comparably, but we don’t have two kids to contend with either. Here’s how we fall; we:

  • Make $78,000 with both of us working about 4000 hours total.
  • Own a home worth $130,000 that is about 1750 square feet.
  • Spend about $1500 a year on health insurance and non-covered expenses – my company provides insurance and hubby pays $75 a paycheck.
  • Spend $7000 a year (including his car payments) on two medium-sized sedans that were bought for $12,000 and $21,000.
  • Put $0 aside for college expenses (I know, unfair comparison, we suck)
  • Spend $1500 on an annual one-week vacation.
  • Save at least 15% a year for retirement.
  • Spend about $12,000 a year on clothes, food, entertainment, and living expenses.
  • Have two college graduates and one person in graduate school.
  • Want health and a strong marriage way more than free time or to be wealthy…although I want it all.
  • Have a net worth of about $125,000.
  • Spend about 19% a month towards debt (since we overpay our mortgage).

What do you think of the typical amounts?

Check out these other posts from Budgeting in the Fun Stuff:

The BFS Way To Diagnose Your Financial Health
Want a Raise? Got These Traits?
Determining Our “Allowances”

When real estate is funnier than real life…

Here’s a fine, recently built little palace, billed as 1,400 to 1,600 square feet, for sale in the far-flung Phoenix suburb of Anthem, an instant “community” that contributed richly to the destruction of, at the height of the real estate boom, an acre an hour of irreplaceable Sonoran desert habitat. This great lake of lookalike tracts was expected to house as many people as live in the city of Flagstaff, Arizona, most of whom would commute (endlessly!) into town over one, count it, one freeway.

In 2005, somebody paid $329,000 for this place. The current owners have been trying to unload it for the past seven months, with no luck, at the bargain-basement price of $199,000—a 39.5 percent loss on their investment.

The address?

2446 West Myopia Drive

😆    🙄    😆

Economy Is Politics: Arizona’s politico-economic disaster

Bet you thought I was exaggerating when I described the shenanigans going on down at the state house. Truth to tell, though, that post was barely the half of it: a lazy job of reporting, indeed.

To date, budget shortfalls have gutted higher education in Arizona, trashed K-12 education, closed down state parks, and shut down important segments of the state government. Tens of thousands of state workers and employees of companies that contract to the state have been thrown out of work. Far from showing any concern about these disasters, our legislators persist in a demented campaign to balance the budget on the backs of our children, of our most vulnerable citizens, and of every other resident.

What they are proposing to do is cut state income tax revenues by a half-billion dollars, repeal the $250 million state equalization tax, and inflict a further 5.2 percent cut on our already devastated education system. Health care for low-income children would be cut. Child Protective Services, never the nation’s finest agency of its kind, will be further reduced. Food banks will be cut.

To silence opponents, the legislature’s plan proposes to put the governor’s desired temporary 1 percent sales tax increase to the voters; in the unlikely event that they approve it, the 5 percent education cut will be erased.

The 3 percent flat tax legislators are straining to push through in this budget proposal will cut state revenues by $450 million just as a three-year sales tax hike phases out.

As a clue about what kind of people these are, Arizona Senator Jack Harper has described teachers as “feeding at the public trough,” and he made himself the subject of an ethics complaint when, acting as chairman of the committee of the whole, he “accidentally” shut off all the microphones in the room and then cut off an ongoing debate.

Meanwhile, these nut cases are legalizing dangerous fireworks, banned in Arizona for years because of the horrific risk they pose to the children to whom they are marketed (good idea: the more of the little darlings we can maim and kill, the less we’ll have to pay to educate them!), ending the hard-won domestic partner benefits for state employees, and planning to allow Arizonans to carry concealed weapons without a permit and to carry guns into public buildings and schools. They want to close the Arizona Historical Society (shutting a half-dozen museums and effectively discarding their holdings) and they have withheld $18 million in research funding promised to the Science Foundation Arizona. However, overcoming their distaste for “socialism,” these worthies are applying for $1 million in federal funding to save the state’s debunked, intellectually bankrupt abstinence-only program.

A  million bucks for abstinence-only…these are the same folks who tell us that if you’re poor and your sick child needs expensive medical care, you’re out of luck. See? If you had just abstained, you wouldn’t have had that weakling brat!

Jon Talton, an observer who calls the gang in power the Kookocracy, suggests we allow the fools to have their way. The disastrous result, he thinks, will demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt what extreme right-wing dogma means to the individual citizen’s pocketbook, jobs, and quality of life. That’s what it will take—the collapse of the state’s government and economy—to persuade Arizona voters to put the wackos out of office, once and for all.

Maybe so. In the interim, the disaster that will ensue—that is ensuing—will make this state a terrible place to live for a long time to come. Friends are talking about retiring to northern New Mexico. Not a bad idea: once I’m out of work this winter, thanks to the dismantling of higher education, I won’t really have to stay here. I may follow them to Los Alamos, joining the brain drain that’s already under way.