Monday, August 31, 2009

Fire III

On this the second week of the fires in LA I learned that several of my friends have been evacuated from their homes because of the Station Fire.  Back fires are being set to try to get some control.  The LA Times reports that over 100,000 acres have burned and the transmitter for television in the LA area is in jeopardy.

Two years ago, my college suite mate, who lives in San Diego, was evacuated during the major fire there (the Witch fire).  She said the smell of smoke overwhelmed the city.  Los Angeles is large enough that the smoke can be seen all over but not smelled except closer to the fire. 

Most sadly, two firefighters died yesterday in an accident on a mountain road near Acton, which is at the north edge of the fire.  See LA Times map.  

Firefighters from all over the region are helping.  One of my friends said that she was escorted to her home yesterday by firemen from El Segundo (two towns over from mine) and she saw fire engines from my town, Hermosa Beach, in La Crescenta.  When I get crabby about the heat I need to remember these firefighters who deal with unbearable heat fighting these fires during the day when temperatures are in the high 90s and 100s.  Perspective is a bitch.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pet Peeve du Jour

My pet peeve du jour is use of the word "noodling" as a synonym for "thinking" as in "I was noodling over what to say next . . ." which I just read in Bill Patry's latest salvo in the blogathon debate with Ben Sheffner.  Leaving aside the content of the blog, when did it become permissible to turn a wonderful noun denoting a delicious food into a gerund signifying a hoity toity version of a very user friendly gerund? If one "noodles', one does more than "think", one thinks with an Ivy League intensity that will yield only brilliance but in the guise of the common folk. (sorry Susan Jacoby but I must use the word "folk")

Noodling, in another context, is catching fish bared handed, typically catfish as it is a Southern tradition. It can also be used to describe a form of  musical improvision, typically in a desultory manner. included the definition at issue (and disdained) here:


[nood-l] Show IPA verb, -dled, -dling.
–verb (used without object)

2.Informal. play; toy: to noodle with numbers as a hobby. improvise, experiment, or think creatively: The writers noodled for a week and came up with a better idea for the ad campaign.
However, there is no etymology for this use.  The nuance, of course of this definition, is the addition of "creativity" to the type of thinking one does while noodling.  Maybe I am a food addict, but my creative thinking when I hear someone use the word is to dream of pasta or chinese food.  MMMM.

Fire II

One more shot that I have "borrowed" from a friend (Wayne) who is taking these photos from his home. Unbelievable.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


As many of you know, Los Angeles is on fire again.  Our fire season is typically in the fall and started earlier this year.  It has hardly rained at all in the past 12 months.  I actually cannot remember as dry a year in the almost 35 years I have lived here.  So the mountains are dry tinder just itching to go up in smoke.  Fuel that with Santa Ana conditions-- dry air, heat and offshore winds--you get the recipe for disaster.

I live near the beach so I have been blessed with not having the fires ever come close  to my house because there are no hills with vegetation near me.  The closest we have come is fires on the Palos Verdes Peninsula which is about 5 miles from my home.  On Thursday there was a substantial fire there and I could hear the fire engines heading up the hill to lend a hand.  Luckily that fire was contained in a day.  However the fires to the east of downtown near La Canada/Flintridge (the "Station" fire- like hurricanes and tropical storms, fires have names) have gotten worse in the past few days.  Here are some pictures of those fires taken by various friends (Mark W., Wayne S. and Ashley A.) and posted on FB.  Some really amazing shots.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

We Will Miss You Teddy

My husband said to me this past Sunday when we were discussing health care legislation and the absence of Ted Kennedy that he thought we would hear "any day now" that Kennedy has passed. He said that Kennedy must be at the end because he did not attend his sister's funeral. My husband's father died of cancer so I suspect he is particularly attuned to a cancer victim's last days. So we were sad but not surprised to hear the news that Teddy Kennedy died last night.

Kennedy proved to be a major force in our government as a US Senator for the past 36 years. Unfortunately like other Kennedys he is remembered for his peccadillos as much as the great service he has given to our country. I hope history will focus on his contributions rather than events like Chappaquiddick.

We will miss his influence particularly as Obama struggles to get past the evil forces of the insurance industry and pass legislation providing health care for everyone. Hopefully all the accolades in Kennedy's passing will not be forgotten when Congress gets back to work this fall on health care.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Oil in China Shop (or Is It China in Oil Shop?)

In the past month, the two largest oil companies in China have entered into stock purchase agreements with two Canadian oil companies, Addax Petroleum and Verenex Energy. (I understand Addax is Canadian although some reports say it is Swiss based and the oil assets are located in West Africa (primarily Nigeria) and the Middle East (mostly Iraq). Sinopec (2nd largest Chinese oil company) has purchased Addax and China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) (largest Chinese oil company) is purchasing Terenex subject to Libyan approval, which may or may not happen. The Addax purchase is much larger, worth $7.5 Billion whereas Verenex is valued at about $460 million.

These purchases have gotten very little attention, barely popping into mainstream news although Reuters, ABC and AP have online articles. And there are other possible acquisitions of interests in oil companies in the wings- including interests in an American company, Marathon, and a sizable interest (at a sizable price) in Argentina's YPF.

CNN claims it is our own damn fault. We buy too many Chinese goods and China has to use its trade surplus in dollars to buy something so why not buy oil companies. China needs oil and other minerals to keep its manufacturing juggernaut going and so the cycle continues. Everything is made in China now from household appliances to those nifty "green" stainless steel water bottles sold in Whole Foods to the counterfeit Viagra and other medicines one can buy on the internet from"Canadian" pharmacies. (But see this article about placebo effects in Wired which leads one to the conclusion that counterfeit Viagra (i.e. the "sugar pill") be just as good as the real thing.)

At least China is outright buying these oil companies. At other times, China has acquired interests in oil and minerals in third world countries, particularly in Africa, by loaning money to build infrastructures like roads and electric plants and using the mineral rights as collateral for those loans which inevitably comes due. Peter Navarro refers to it in The Coming China Wars as Chinese imperialism. China is a giant Pac-man gobbling up the world's natural resources. We probably cannot stop it, although some such as Libya and Iraq object to the outright acquistitions. We need to pay more attention to it and perhaps look at our own role as consumers of cheap goods in feeding the giant Chinese Pac-man.

Monday, August 24, 2009

No Child Left Behind (Just Call in Sick on Test Day)

My local paper reported that my home town school district was one of the top ones in the state in STAR testing this year. STAR test scores and the related Academic Performance Index (API), among other things, affect whether schools may be subject to interventions, and more recently eligibility for Obama-aid (Break me off a piece of that $4.3 Billion stimulus package).

What interested me most about the 2009 scores is that my school district had the highest percentage in our area of those proficient or better in Math. (86.3%) It reminded me of one of the events that eroded my daughter's self confidence in her academic abilities. Her 6th grade math teacher, who is given a lot of credit for raising the test scores in the middle school, did daily speed drill tests of "basics" with the students first thing in the morning. My daughter, who never had any trouble with basics, could not do those particular speed drills and amassed a number of "F"s. My daughter also could do math in her head but if you did not show every step of your work in this class using the method for solving the problem that the teacher taught (because there is apparently only one correct way to get the right answer to a math problem!) you got no credit. So my daughter started getting Ds and Fs in Math even though she was getting the answers right. She became then labelled as "bad in Math" and started to hate it and school in general. Later when I had a tutor work with her who was familiar with real math learning problems he told me that she did not have any such problems. It was a matter of confidence and focus.

By 7th grade, my daughter felt subtly encouraged not to show up for STAR testing in Math. My son, who also had trouble with Math and standardized tests, similarly believed his high school (in a different school district)  would not mind if he missed the STAR tests. He has since graduated magna cum laude from a good university. Even so, he still feels anxiety about standardized testing as he prepares for the LSAT which luckily only has logic and games theory and no other mathematic type concepts.

I do not know the best way to teach Math to students in general and particularly to those who cannot do inflexible speed drill tests. I recognize those types of tests likely help raise test scores, which, while people decry their prominence, are a surprisingly popular measure of all things good. Read Malcolm Gladwell's chapter in Outliers about Mathematics test performance. He questions the standard explanations for certain Asian countries excelling in Math but never questions the tests as measures of excellence. (Although to be fair to Gladwell, he also talks about math instruction at KIPP Academy which seems to spend extended time teaching concepts rather than to the test)

Our pandering to the test is doing harm to some children. As Julie Diamond put it today in a letter to the editor of the NYT "The Obama administration should reject the basic tenet of No Child Left Behind: children are not numbers."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Home Away From Home

That's the motto of the  Residence Inn Marriott Manhattan Beach where we are staying the next few days while the termites are being smote.  Here are a few pictures of the place:
Not bad but the bed not so good for my back.  There is a nice flat screen TV and movies on demand.  Almost like a holiday.  If only I did not have to go to work . . .

Monday, August 17, 2009

Stormy Weather

BNO just announced:

Hurricane Bill gains strength in Atlantic and now is a category 2 storm with winds at 100 mph.

Hillary just can't catch a break.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fuddy Duddy

That's me. I have become my parents, who looked remarkably like the wonderful image here by Ann Huey. I have started railing about the presence of "hobos" on the beach town streets (see below) and today found myself craving the small town relationships in business. I even find myself with the strange urge to buy "American" or at least not Chinese, particularly after listening to Peter Navarro's diatribe about the "coming China wars". Oh how the Woodstock generation has turned! Of course, I did not actually go to Woodstock even though I had tickets to one of the days. By the time we were supposed to go on the Sunday of the 3 day festival, the gates had long come down and the mud and rain overwhelmed. I was not the kind of teenager to revel in mud and sewage. Maybe I was an incipient fuddy duddy even then.

But I digress. I want to rant about my efforts to buy a refrigerator and stove for my son and his family as they prepare to move into a rental house this weekend. First, I tried to order online from Sears but the delivery availability was too far out in time and for whatever reason, the presence of the stove is a key factor in my son's family's move. Without the stove, they will remain in my house, sleeping on the floor. Don't ask me why. I just go with the flow and try to accommodate.

So I thought I would try the local appliance store in Torrance where I have purchased most of my appliances and repair services for the past 10 years. It was a small store with a limited display but I trusted their judgment and found that time after time they recommended and delivered good appliances. I am not big on shopping for appliances (or doing repairs in my home but that is another story). I made my last two purchases of appliances from the small store over the telephone and had them delivered the next day, paying with a credit card over the phone and never stepping into the showroom. Lord, I had died and gone to heaven because I was able to take care of something otherwise very irritating over the telephone in a few minutes.

I looked up the phone number on the internet and got an answering machine of a business with a different name and address. OK, I thought. Times are bad and they have consolidated but the online review said that the store was like that in a small town and you were a valued customer. After several attempts on the automated phone system (which should been a red flag) I got through to a person who turned out to be the owner of a different business located in another South Bay city farther east. I told the owner my dilemma and he made helpful recommendations of low price stoves and refrigerators that would work for my son's family and rental house. I just needed to check whether the house my son was moving into had a plug near where the stove would go so I could decide between an old fashioned pilot stove and an electronic one. The owner suggested that I call back and speak to one of his sales people, one of whom was the person I used to deal with at the other store.

I called back today and got a different sales person. He first tried to sell me a much more expensive stove and refrigerator, claiming that I would never want one of those "old fashioned" pilot stoves and how could an 18 cubic foot refrigerator possibly work for a family of 5. (The owner had, in contrast, said it would be small but workable). When I told him what I had discussed with the owner, he said he did not know if they even had those items but after checking revealed that there was just one refrigerator left. Then I explained that I wanted the items delivered. He asked for the address and became impatient when I did not have it immediately available. I said I wanted to have them delivered on Monday afternoon because the gas was being turned on Monday morning and he asked me "are you sure? We shouldn't come if the gas is not on." He then also started to run off the charges for delivery, setup and required equipment for setup, which I expected but then he told me I could not charge the purchase over the telephone because it was too expensive for them and I would have to drive the 15 miles to their showroom tomorrow to "swipe the card." When I said I did not want to do that and the owner had said I could pay over the phone, the salesman said that he would have to ask the owner. In a minute, he came back and said that he could not talk to the owner who was on the phone but would do the credit card transaction over the phone if I would pay another $20 or so , because those transactions are "so expensive for them." I repeated that when I talked to the owner I was lead to believe I could pay with a credit card over the phone. The salesman, sounding like the lawyers I deal with all day, said "You said before that the owner said it was ok and now you say you were lead to believe it was ok. Which one is it because they are not the same." At that point, I lost it and said, somewhat angrily, "do you want to sell me these appliances or not?" At that point, he said he would call me back after talking to the owner. The other salesman did call me back (at the owner's request) and when I returned the call minutes later he was gone. I got the owner who did not really want to deal with the issue again so I offered just to call back later.

After I went out for a walk and to pick up a salad, I realized that if I was not going to get decent service from the local small store, I might as well get comparable service (or lack thereof) from the big box store. So I went online, ordered a stove and refrigerator and saved myself over $100 all the while paying by a credit card. We will see how well it worked when they deliver the appliances next week on Tuesday.

After today's episode, I yearn for the convenience and competence of the small town business that I used to know. I will miss the old appliance store. I wish we could turn back the clock to that nostalgic and possibly in my lifetime nonexistent time when you got personal and good service at your local business. I am resigned to buying from the big box store (stocked almost exclusively with foreign made goods, probably from China, although I suspect the smaller store also has made the same types of goods). I can hear China cheering.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Santa Cruz-ing

This past weekend I did my second round of apartment hunting with my daughter in Santa Cruz so she and her beau can have a place to live while they go to community college there. The college is actually in Aptos (with a soft "o" rhyming with boss) a little north on Hwy 1 of the Cruz. Aptos is a lovely bedroom community on the beach with virtually no low cost apartments. We went to the only property management company there and were treated with lethargy if not downright disdain. I guess it is a seller's market because we simply could not get an apartment through them. Kate and Chris applied for 4 apartments the last time and the property managers did not return phone calls. And they would not allow co-signors which would suggest that the apartment owners really do not want students. Funny because many of the people I saw looking were students.

This time we looked in Santa Cruz itself and some of the surrounding communities. Two of the apartments we saw for about $1000/month were tiny studios (one so small that a twin bed made it look crowded and cluttered) and located in crack central i.e near the boardwalk. As one person put it, all you heard was the sound of screams from the roller coaster. Better than the sounds of screams from someone being mugged by the down on their luck people walking on the streets. Call me crazy but I do not want my beautiful young daughter walking around at night from her car to her apartment amidst drug addicts and psychotics. I finally convinced her that she left San Francisco to get away from that type of street life for a while, which, at least in SF, is mitigated by other types of people on the street. One of these studios was in a back building of a a historic building called the Golden Gate Villa. It was really very nice and my daughter was torn until I pointed out that everyone on the street at 7:30 p.m. was yelling at people we could not see and there was no secure parking spot.

Santa Cruz during the summer is crowded and the hotels jack up their prices for the weekend. I paid twice the nightly rate at Holiday Inn Express to stay Saturday night than I did two weeks ago for weekday nights. It is hard to park downtown where the only movie theaters are and on Saturday night we missed a showing of Julie and Julia because we took so long to find parking the movie was sold out. So we walked around and looked at the street scene which reminded us a bit of Burlington VT with the street musicians and the drug addicts sharing space. We started to wonder where the mellow was.

On Saturday we also looked at a couple of rooms in houses on the so-called westside which was much more appealing than the areas near the boardwalk, downtown and the hotel. Neither place, however, worked out. One was like a boarding house and too crowded for my daughter's taste and the other too expensive for mine. So we also drove out into the Santa Cruz mountains to look at two places in Ben Lomond, a small town about 15 minutes away from Hwy 1 in Santa Cruz. We liked both places but worried about the commute. Mother and daughter anxiety started to fester and cause a lot of yelling and cursing at each other. Finally the owner of one of the Ben Lomond places called on Sunday to say Kate could have the apartment. Leon Festinger and cognitive dissonance strikes again as the anxiety went away and she concluded she loved the place notwithstanding the commute. This reaction after much doubt about whether this move to Santa Cruz was such a good idea--doubt that persisted even after several glasses of wine on Saturday night.

The one high point of the trip for me was finding a Sri Lankan restaurant on Friday night. The restaurant, called Pearl of the Ocean, was run by these lovely young women who served us plentiful delicious food and a wonderful home made sweet tea. Sri Lankan food is somewhat like Indian food but with a lot of garbanzo beans and coconut flavors. We had a Chicken Tikki Masala which was divine and some very tasty curry side dishes. We also gobbled up a plate of pakoras and left feeling overly full but happy.

It took us 10 hours to drive home yesterday because we got stuck in fog and very bad traffic around Santa Barbara for an hour and a half. At least we were successful in finding a place for the kids to live.
ADDENDUM 8/12/09 An article today in the LA Times reminds me that downtown/boardwalk Santa Cruz is mellow compared to LA Skid Row. No one should have to live in such conditions. Unfortunately this is the public face of homelessness and as Kate says no one thinks about the large number of women and children who are homeless.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sharing is What Good Friends Do.

Years ago, my son was infatuated with Teddy Ruxpin. We timeshifted episodes onto VHS (thanks Supreme Court) in the days before there were DVDs for sale and my son watched them endlessly. One of the themes songs had to do with sharing, as in the title of this piece. The next line was "Whatever I have, you can have some too!"

I asked my grandson for a piece of cookie the other day and he said "No. I don't want to share." Interestingly about the same time, his dad pulled out the old Teddy Ruxpin tapes which extol love of Dad ("He's my Dad and I'm glad we're together again.") and of course, sharing. It got me thinking about my own distaste for sharing. Perhaps I need to go back to kindergarten or watch a round of Teddy Ruxpin myself.

I also think my focus on not wanting to share may have something to do with how much I do have to share with others these days. I share a secretary. I share my house with 7 and sometimes 8 or 9 other people (when my daughter is visiting as she is now). During the wedding week we had 12 people in the house.

I am not crazy about sharing my food with the hordes in the house. WHERE ARE MY ICE CREAM SANDWICHES?! Or the driveway. CAN"T YOU PARK THAT CLUNKER ON THE STREET?! Or my makeup and toiletries. WHERE IS MY LIPSTICK, MY DEODORANT, MY LOTION?! Most people would not find these issues too crazy. (notwithstanding the delivery.)

However, my lack of desire to share has spread. As you may know from reading this blog, I also do not much care to share my doctor or my birthday with my otherwise lovable husband. Last week, I found myself getting annoyed that a few other people in the legal department were promoted to SVP like me. While they may be deserving, I was thinking that it was MY TITLE and no one else should get it for a while since it took me so long and so much effort to get the title. (I am not alone in this irrational thought. Another person in my department reacted unfavorably to my promotion because I would then have the same title as she.)

Which leads me to Hillary. Does she resent sharing the spotlight with Bill given that he was the public face of the rescue of the two women journalists from North Korea in the past 48 hours. As the NY Times and LA Times revealed, Hillary was very involved in the plans since March to get these two women freed. I understand as Secretary of State she could not be the one to go to North Korea to fetch them back since that would be too big of a concession from the Obama administration to the rogue state. Indeed, she tried to get the North Koreans to accept Al Gore and, according to Richard Wolffe's book Renegade, Obama thinks Bill is a loose cannon. But Bill was the one to go and he got the headlines so having everyone love Bill for going must stick in her craw. Particularly since she went to Africa and no one is paying attention to her. The NYTimes thinks so also:

Mr. Clinton’s mission may be less of an issue for Mr. Obama than for Mrs. Clinton. The same day he landed in North Korea, she arrived in Kenya, beginning an 11-day journey through Africa — a visit now largely eclipsed by her husband’s travels.
Hillary talks in her book, Living History, about doing what is best for the country and putting aside, with difficulty at times as with Bill's tryst with the famous grad of Pacific Hills, her own feelings. I respect and honor her service to this country. I just hope that somewhere she is privately grousing about having to share the credit and limelight with Bill. After all, she is only human.