Friday, November 27, 2009

More Thankfulness

In the interests of not being a churl and grouch, I am going to continue being thankful --
for the sunlight on the red brick buildings across the street,
the National Geographic photo of the day,
the astronomy photo of the day,
a picture of a feathered dinosaur which I saw on Daily Kos this morning,
for the essay I have almost finished, and the other writing I am working on,
for Patrick and our home, full of lovely things to look at,
for friends and relatives,
for our hoya which is about to put out more flowers.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving II

Pat just gave thanks for the Internet and flash drives, because he has a lot of videos by the South African musician Johnny Clegg, which we can play later. According to Pat, Clegg is an accomplished Zulu dancer. Petty good for a white guy born in England.

I don't know anything about Zulu dance styles, but I will enjoy the Clegg videos.

Clegg's bands are interracial, which was illegal when he first began playing. His music combines Western and Africa musical forms and instruments, English and Zulu lyrics.

Something else to be grateful for: the music of Africa and the African diaspora.


Patrick and I just got up at 10 a.m. We are fiddling around the kitchen, heating English muffins and making coffee. Patrick began to make a list of things to be give thanks for: our health and having a home and lovely things to look at. He then put on an Albany River Rats baseball cap and gave thanks for American Hockey League teams with great team logos. He said he'd put on a Hersey Bears cap later.

The coffee's hot and tastes pretty good. A cd by Madeleine Peyroux is on our new Bose radio/cd player. Outside is gray, but not raining or snowing.

Some of the people in the building are doing a Thanksgiving dinner for family, friends and fellow tenants in the community room. But we are staying in our own apartment (with lovely things to look at) and having a quiet, private dinner.

I gave some money to Al Franken's campaign and am on Franken's e-mail list. Yesterday, Al's wife Franni sent out some favorite family recipes. I'm going to try Al's wild rice recipe, slightly modified, along with a chicken and root vegetables, basted in olive oil and maple syrup. The latter is not a Franken recipe. It comes from L.L. Bean.

I could say something cynical about faux community and getting one's holiday recipes from politicians and catalogue stores. But one of many things to be thankful for is -- I don't have to be cynical. I can simply be happy. The L.L. Bean recipe is from one of their employees and is terrific. Al's wild rice sounds darn fine.

Happy Thankgiving.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

National Geographic Photo of the Day

The photo today is labeled Blue Lagoon. The steam rising suggests this is the famous Blue Lagoon in Iceland. So here the photo is, since I love most things Icelandic, though not the bankers and politicians who did so much damage to the Icelandic economy.

Morning in November

I got up late today, at eight. It's a gray, misty morning. We had no coffee in the house, so I went to a local coffee shop to buy half a pound of beans. Now I'm back home, listening to classicial music on the new radio.

I will check the usual websites for jobs, then think about what to do next.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Two comments from a thread on FireDogLake discussing hunger in America and the Leonid meteor shower currently taking place:

Crystal clear here in central Texas. Much ambient light makes it about 2 visible meteors every 5 minutes. Still very cool...

For us household income is down by more than half in the last 5 years. Both of us are under-employed and now, because of age, that is irreversible. Health insurance costs forced a choice late this year and now one of us is uninsured. Both of us are well and have between us seen a doctor only 3 times in the last 2 years. Insurance declined to pay for the office visits because the provider billed the clinic as a hospital. So in spite of being payed over $26,000.00 over the 2.5 years of the policy they would not pay the only $400.00 ever submitted for payment. Great system.

The bottom line is this; a once solid middle class family is on the brink of ruin as a result of economic mismanagement begun under Reagan and relentlessly carried on by every administration since. The saddest and most disturbing thing is, we are not an anomaly. We are average.

I could go out and star-gaze for a bit, but I don’t think it’s strong enough medicine to make me forget. I haven’t had a job in nearly two years, have had cancer and been dropped by the good folks at Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. Yet I am one of the lucky ones, I am not “food insecure”. Thank You Bill Clinton for NAFTA, and Blue Dog Democrats for voting with Republicans during the Bush years; thus contributing to our current state of affairs that allows for 1% of the population to control 95% of the wealth. And thanks to this current crop of do-nothings for raising my hopes only to leave me with one of the biggest let downs of my life. This situation calls for a jug of rum and some Xanax.

It's a sunny day in the Twin Cities. I am updating my 2004 Wiscon speech on "Writing Science Fiction during the Third World War," which was a somewhat grim look at contemporary world conditions. I have been collecting new data for the essay and posting much of it on my blog, so I don't lose track of it. This explains a lot of somewhat grim blog entries.

Taken all in all, I am in a good mood. Congress and the Administration are looking at another stimulus package, which is very good news.

Monday, November 16, 2009


This is from today's New York Times, writing about an US Agriculture Department report that just came out:

In its annual report on hunger, the department said that 17 million American households, or 14.6 percent of the total, “had difficulty putting enough food on the table at times during the year.” That was an increase from 13 million households, or 11.1 percent, the previous year...

Overall, one-third of all the families that are affected by hunger, or 6.7 million households, were classified as having very low food security, meaning that members of the household had too little to eat or saw their eating habits disrupted during 2008. That was 2 million households more than in 2007.

14% is one in seven households.

According to the blog Political Animal these households represent 49 million people. Since the current population of the US is 304 million people, this means 16% of the population does not have reliable access to adequate food.

16% is getting close to one in six people.

Sick Leave

I have just been on the fine public health blog Effect Measure, where I found this quote from the English paper The Independent:

The United States is one of only five countries in the world without a national policy on paid sick leave, (Senator Chris) Dodd said.

"We're in the company - and I say this respectfully of these countries - of Lesotho, Liberia, Papua-New Guinea and Swaziland. Those countries and the United States are the five that don't have paid sick leave," Dodd said.

"Five nations, four of whom are struggling economies, barely surviving as nation-states, and the richest country in the world," he told a hearing in the Senate health, education, labor and pensions subcommittee.

And here is a comment by Revere, the public health doc who runs Effect Measure:

There are an estimated 57 million private sector workers without sick leave who are much more likely to go to work while sick or send their children to school when they are sick. The attack rate for this virus isn't know with certainty, but CDC is using a reasonable estimate of 10% of workplace contacts. It might be more or it might be less but it is avoidable. Dodd has introduced emergency legislation to require paid sick days for influenza, but it's not likely to pass nor is it any where near sufficient. Republicans have already announced their opposition on the grounds it would hurt an "already aching economy."

Floyd B. Olson

From the Wikipedia entry on Floyd Bjornstjerne Olson, governor of Minnesota from 1930 to 1936:

In its April 24, 1933, issue, Time magazine quoted Olson speaking from the steps of the state capitol:

"I am making a last appeal to the Legislature. If the Senate does not make provision for the sufferers in the State and the Federal Government refuses to aid, I shall invoke the powers I hold and shall declare martial law. ... A lot of people who are now fighting [relief] measures because they happen to possess considerable wealth will be brought in by provost guard and be obliged to give up more than they would now. There is not going to be misery in this State if I can humanly prevent it. . . Unless the Federal and State governments act to insure against recurrence of the present situation, I hope the present system of government goes right down to hell."

Also from Wikipedia:

During his three terms as governor, Olson proposed, and the legislature passed, bills that instituted a progressive income tax, created a social security program for the elderly, expanded the state's environmental conservation programs, guaranteed equal pay for women and the right to collective bargaining, and instituted a minimum wage and a system of unemployment insurance.

November Weather Report

The sun is up and shining on the buildings across the street.

October was cold. November is unseasonably warm, according to the DJ on Minnesota Public Radio. I'd prefer more traditional weather. But the sunlight on the buildings is lovely.

Early A.M. Thoughts

It's six thirty, my usual rising time. In the summer, light comes into my bedroom at four thirty. Right now, it's pitch black outside. But I'm up and making coffee and thinking about Bill Holm.

Bill, who was slightly younger than me, died a few months after retiring from a job that was wearing him down, a job he had come to dislike intensely. He was beginning the life he had dreamed about for years, when he would be free to spend his life doing what he wanted, especially free to write.

I am not being depressed when I mention Bill, though heaven knows I wish he were still with us.

I am thinking -- I am free to write. I have the time; I have enough money to get by; and I am still alive.

So why not be grateful for the time and the freedom from a job that was sucking my life? Why not do what Bill can't do and write?


Patrick and I went out last week and bought a new radio/CD player, a Bose. I am listening to it right now. The DJ just told us that Dvorak was a passionate train spotter, something I didn't know, and then went on to play "Funiculi, Funicula" which is -- I just learned --a song about the new funicular railway up Mount Vesuvius that opened in 1880.

The train theme is in honor of the North Star, the new commuter train into Minneapolis from the northern suburbs, which is making its first run today.

I love trains.

I love finding out that "Funiculi, Funicula" is about a railway.

I have been looking at Bose radios for something like 20 years, but I could never nerve myself to spend the money. It sounds a lot better than the FM radio my father gave me 40 years ago or Patrick's boombox radio and tape player.


Finally, I am making toast from the bread I bought at the St. Paul Farmers Market yesterday. It's good bread and makes good toast.

So, good bread, good music on a radio that sounds just fine, and time to write.


I still want a part-time job. But my life right now is okay. I should stop brooding about things in the world that could be better and write.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Dr. Doom

Dr. Nouriel Roubini (the economist known as Dr. Doom) quoted in Digby's blog:

Think the worst is over? Wrong. Conditions in the U.S. labor markets are awful and worsening. While the official unemployment rate is already 10.2% and another 200,000 jobs were lost in October, when you include discouraged workers and partially employed workers the figure is a whopping 17.5%.

While losing 200,000 jobs per month is better than the 700,000 jobs lost in January, current job losses still average more than the per month rate of 150,000 during the last recession.

Also, remember: The last recession ended in November 2001, but job losses continued for more than a year and half until June of 2003; ditto for the 1990-91 recession.

So we can expect that job losses will continue until the end of 2010 at the earliest. In other words, if you are unemployed and looking for work and just waiting for the economy to turn the corner, you had better hunker down. All the economic numbers suggest this will take a while. The jobs just are not coming back.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tuesday Report

Duluth on Friday was sunny and lovely. The Arthur Anderson slid through the shipping canal right on schedule. We took lots of pictures. I will post some later.

We walked around in Canal Park and looked at things to buy, but did not buy anything.

Saturday I went to media conference and enjoyed it. I am not a nonfiction writer, but I am interested in new media and think I will begin to pay more attention.

Sunday I went to a meeting of my poetry workshop. I am not writing poetry currently, but I really enjoy hearing poetry and commenting on it; and this group writes really fine poems.

Monday I joined a couple of people from my fiction writing workshop at a coffee shop. In theory we get together to write, but this time we mostly chatted.

This morning I am checking for jobs on the Internet, a wonderful invention, especially since these days most places want resumes emailed. So I can sit at home and do my employment search in my jammies with a cup of coffee next to me. Of course, the work isn't there -- not the jobs I'm looking for, anway -- but none the less this is a far more efficient way to look for work.

Not a bad few days.

Peak Oil

This is from The Guardian on Monday, November 9:

The world is much closer to running out of oil than official estimates admit, according to a whistleblower at the International Energy Agency who claims it has been deliberately underplaying a looming shortage for fear of triggering panic buying.

The senior official claims the US has played an influential role in encouraging the watchdog to underplay the rate of decline from existing oil fields while overplaying the chances of finding new reserves.
The allegations raise serious questions about the accuracy of the organisation's latest World Energy Outlook on oil demand and supply to be published tomorrow – which is used by the British and many other governments to help guide their wider energy and climate change policies.

In particular they question the prediction in the last World Economic Outlook, believed to be repeated again this year, that oil production can be raised from its current level of 83m barrels a day to 105m barrels. External critics have frequently argued that this cannot be substantiated by firm evidence and say the world has already passed its peak in oil production.

Now the "peak oil" theory is gaining support at the heart of the global energy establishment. "The IEA in 2005 was predicting oil supplies could rise as high as 120m barrels a day by 2030 although it was forced to reduce this gradually to 116m and then 105m last year," said the IEA source, who was unwilling to be identified for fear of reprisals inside the industry. "The 120m figure always was nonsense but even today's number is much higher than can be justified and the IEA knows this.

"Many inside the organisation believe that maintaining oil supplies at even 90m to 95m barrels a day would be impossible but there are fears that panic could spread on the financial markets if the figures were brought down further. And the Americans fear the end of oil supremacy because it would threaten their power over access to oil resources," he added.

The Bottom 40%

This is from a Jon Taplin post at Talking Point Memo Cafe:

So here is the reality of life for the bottom 40% of America's families. After they pay for food, housing and transportation they have $1200 per year to spend on "discretionary items" like clothing, medicine and doctors. Never mind telephone, Internet or cable TV which are supposed to be middle class entitlements.

He is writing about families with an income of $22,000 before taxes. This is $10.57 an hour. Many jobs pay less than this and have no benefits, certainly no health insurance.

Two out of five American families have $100 a month for health care, clothing, toys, education. Pencils and notebooks for kids to take to school, a TV, the cost of taking a sick kid to an emergency room. Doctor's offices are clearly not possible. I suspect dentists are not possible.

Think of working parents trying to keep their jobs, care for their children, get to food shelves, deal with car breakdowns, find free health care, find a few lousy gifts for their kids in the holiday season.

These are Great Depression lives.


Steve Clemons has a post at Talking Point Memo Cafe on the Hindery Report on Effective Unemployment. This report is done by Leo Hindery, a former economic adviser for the John Edwards and Barack Obama campaigns. Hindery's figure for unemployment includes changes in farm employment and self-employment, which are not included in the usual government figures, and includes discouraged job-seekers and the underemployed.

The official unemployment figure in 10.2%, one worker in ten.

Hindery's figure is 19.18% unemployment, almost one worker in five.

Friday, November 06, 2009


Today is bright and sunny. Patrick and I are going up to Duluth to watch the Arthur Anderson -- Pat's favorite lake boat -- come in through the shipping canal.

I have trouble with November, because the days are getting short and there is a fair amount of overcast weather. The darkness tends to pull my mood down. This week has been difficult, even though it's sunny today. Pat and I have both been unemployed for six months, and neither of us is seeing any good job prospects at the moment.

I had an awful job interview on Tuesday. The job was not what I thought it was, and I left the interview still unsure as to what the job was about. It's a new job, and I'm not sure the employer is certain what it will turn out to be. Anyway, I interviewed poorly, and I felt I was wasting the time of the people doing the interview.

Patrick found out that his last job is not going to be able to rehire him, so he is feeling a bit low.

And I am not happy that Maine voted down marriage equality.