April 30, 2008

Victim Contests

The KJ-Heather race is looking less and less like the Obama-Hillary race. Bob Herbert of the NY Times sees Rev. Wright as narcissistic and vengeful. I see him more as a pressure-relief valve. (But I also disagree with most conspiracy theories.) On the other hand, KJ's backers have the good sense to stay in the shadows and let him take the heat for the possessive and domineering attitude towards women that poisons the world of men.

Next to Herbert today I also read Marie Cocco of the Washington Post explain how the Supreme Men have made the glass ceiling bulletproof. What kind of men are these? who don't understand that woman are more important to men than men are to women, particularly in these times of cheap gasoline when woman can substitute machines if necessary.

Being an uppity woman myself, I look to variations on the Lysistrategy. The caring instincts of mend and tend, as well as the survival instincts of fight or flight, exist in all humans and in different proportions in all humans. But what good is survival if mending and tending are sacrificed, disrespected, and disempowered? Why are you men willing to pay more for fighting or fleeing than for mending or tending?

I bet it's because too many women have been too brainwashed by internalized disrespect, just like too many blacks. (The real tragedy of the Civil War was the loss of states' rights by evil means - the same military and vigilante violence that enslaved so many Africans - a strategy that deeply sabotaged the victory of the North and centralization.)

Is Heather like Hillary? Somewhat. But I don't think Heather would pander like that, such as Hillary's support for a gas tax vacation instead of talking about the outmoded oil subsidies Republicans are protecting.

April 29, 2008

Taxes & Investments

The first thing to understand about your money is that's not really just your money. If no one accepts your money as valuable, it's not money. Your money, like mine, can be money only because we all use it that way. Money is just the poker chips we have all agreed to use to play the game of life as we know it, even though it's pretty tough to make any other choice.

Anyway, most of us will get some kind of tax rebate to be saved or spent on gas and food. Is the government giving us our money back? Not exactly, because the government gets to print money, and control certain limits on money. To create more money, the government buys assets and makes loans based on collateral. So then the money is backed by the quality of the assets and collateral.

So to keep the economy going, the government (that's us) has to invest in assets and loans (ours). So, we can save on transaction costs by doing this locally, investing some of our tax rebates or retirement funds directly in local projects. For example, we could invest in better food markets in unhealthy neighborhoods with too many junk food stores. Or we could invest in passive solar construction and renovations.

Some say that Fresh & Easy will be a good healthy market for Oak Park, so I went online to check them out. I think they are aiming at the Trader Joe's market niche, plus perhaps more produce from local farms. But I saw way too many packaged products with their recipe suggestions. I also saw that they offer $1000 to every community where they open a store, but they didn't say exactly who gets the money.

The affordable way to eat healthy food is to buy basic ingredients and make it yourself. It can be super-simple. If you're stumped, ask friends who do make good food for just a few tips. The truth about eating your vegetables is it takes a bit more time to prepare them than simple stuff like eggs or cheese toasties. But think of it as health insurance. And they can taste great. Oils, maybe butter, are an important part of a balanced diet. If you want to lose weight, just don't eat white flour/rice/pasta/sugar/etc., and do get more exercise. 

If I lived in Oak Park and wanted to buy healthy food, I would go to the Co-op and to the farmers markets, and occasionally to Trader Joe's. I like to play the field. But transportation can be a problem for moms or bus riders. When the city was looking high and low to find a grocery store at Stockton & Broadway, I suggested the neighborhood consider organizing a consumers' cooperative store. And there is nothing stopping them from doing this now, investing their rebates in themselves.

April 25, 2008

Boomer Retirement & Youth Education

Proposals to expand CalPERS' scope is opposed by stock market brokers, no surprise there. But is it a good idea to make a big player even bigger? Will that ensure elder security?

I think my economic security as a state pensioner will be enhanced if CalPERS invests some money in education. Reportedly, graduating seniors are facing a scarcity of tuition lenders. Perhaps there is an opportunity for farsighted investment in motivated students who propose to pursue useful studies such as ecology, entomology, machining, or biodynamic permaculture, the sort of knowledge that will ensure a healthy economy for my old age. (And no I don't mean psych or political science majors.)

At the same time, there is no reason for grads to panic. A year or 2 in the labor market is a great apprenticeship in the school of life, and existing schools are not going to die on the vine in the meantime. Everyone could benefit from a bit of cost-benefit analysis.

A little research reveals that Los Rios fees are $20/unit, Sac State's are $1200-$2100 for CA residents, and UC rates are around $4000, all for a semester. But the word on the street is that textbook totals are in the triple digits, and affordable student housing means living with mom and/or dad. 

There is an opportunity here for adults to contribute some 'sweat equity' by offering room & board to termed-out foster kids, and by reminding colleges of all kinds that almost all the information presented in expensive new texts with fancy graphics is also available in the old ones, some of which can be found for free at the Sacramento Surplus Bookroom (bookroom.org). Old editions are also available online for pennies on the dollar. So what if professors have to work up new problem sets or solutions?

April 22, 2008


Yesterday I attended Kevin's pep rally at Sac City College. Today I read in the paper that KJ has scored with biz & (again) labor. What I don't understand is why they are hot to be his cheerleaders.

Metro Chamber of Commerce's CEO Mahood complains Heather doesn't call him back right away. Gee, since when did straightout guys start playing that phone game? It's usually a girl game. But KJ says he will listen, and to labor too, via a hired communication liaison. Right.

Hmm. I don't understand why the Metro Chamber and the Labor Council don't just talk to each other directly. I can't help thinking about the other phone game, that kids play by whispering in each other's ears. I can't help wondering if the Labor Council has stopped returning calls from the teachers' union, and if it's because they endorsed Heather. And I can't help wondering if a candidate who regularly stands up dates he has made to appear at forums with other candidates is someone you're gonna call when the chips are down.

Anyway, "leaderitis" is my word for our tendencies to want someone to take care of us and tell us what to do, particularly when we're busy or befuddled. I say grow up and get over it. Democracy won't work otherwise. Mayor Fargo suggests "There are a lot of people who, despite their call for leadership, want someone who will really follow them and their ideas. I'm a little too independent for that. I always do what's best for the city of Sacramento. That independence scares some people."

We all need to be independent thinkers, and the kind of leader described in this letter which recently appeared on the Bee's op-ed page:

"The Real Candidate For Change-
So much time, energy and, unfortunately, money has been spent this election year to position the best candidate for November. I would like to make a bold appeal for my candidate - you!

The platform - the real candidate of change. The time - now!

Every one of us has the ability to make positive changes in this country. Starting today, make a positive commitment to a nonpolitical area of your choice and begin making real change happen.

Not sure where? Tutor or mentor our young people, assist our elderly or needy, change your consumption habits, work for the environment, change your energy usage, bring integrity  back to all your dealings, take care of animals, or any other area about which you care. The list is endless.

No time to give? Then make a donation to the nonpolitical organization you most believe in; even the smallest can make a difference.

We can make positive change starting now. And - who knows? - maybe then November's outcome might not leave us wringing our hands and shaking our heads so much.

I am a candidate of change, and I approve this message.

Pat Paul, Fair Oaks"

April 20, 2008

Extinction: Salmon or Fishing?

Every time I read in the news lamentations about hardworkingmen who are being victimized by environmental restrictions that will beggar them, I can't help thinking back to the early 1980s when I kept reading about the callous, social-Darwinist, attitude of then-President Reagan and his corporate buddies toward the hordes of blue-collar union workers in the Rust Belt who were being dumped like yesterday's trash.

I still don't understand the difference in these situations. Do you?

At the end of the article a fisherman says "I don't want a handout, I just want to go back to work." Just like a lot of union guys have been saying. Unfortunately, I fear that boycotting farmed salmon won't suffice. The real question is why the kind of work that is healthy and nourishing for people and communities isn't available or doesn't pay enough. What kind of work? How about farming, weaving, sewing, cooking, childcare, teaching apprentices, building eco-villages or manufacturing bicycles?

April 19, 2008

"It's The Economy, Stupid"??

At the end of his column in today's Bee, Paul Krugman wrote "the very good economic record of the only Democratic administration most Americans remember."

It's absolutely true that the U.S. annual deficit was turned into an annual surplus for a few brief years at the end of 1990s, and the U.S. accumulated debt began a slight decline. (However, it's not news that since then the Republicans have tripled or quadrupled the total debt, which will be funded by future borrowing at oil-fueled interest rates.) 

More unfortunate even than that perhaps was the Clinton administration's failure to understand that "It's Not The Money, Stupid." The infatuation of both parties with trade and globalization was based on a widespread and mistaken idea that money is essential and inherently positive, and that it is reliably related to economic benefit. In effect, economists typically recast the standard definition of efficiency used by physicists into a calculation about the amount of money attracted by a given input of energy and other resources.

The annual Earthday season is a good time to review what the economy is about. An earth-friendly economy would look at overall human efficiency, the amount of human welfare available from a given input of physical energy and resources. The physical part of human welfare is: clean air and water, healthy food, and protection from extremes of heat, cold, and rain. If the rules of money suggest that funding my retirement through investing in the stocks of corporations that are raping Mother Earth and selling us junk food is a good idea, then the rules of money are wrong.

In times of stability, money can provide an efficient shortcut to evaluate what's economically good and bad. But in times of turbulence such as we confront, the true relationships between moneys and realities are equally turbulent, and a return to fundamental principles is the only way to keep one's bearings. Maslow's hierarchy builds on the foundation of physical needs listed above. Other things like sleep, affectionate touch, meaningful work, community are all important for a happy natural human life, and his schematic offers a perspective outside of the box of business as usual.

A balanced economy would integrate all these human needs into a culture of life that would support sustainable and relocalized societies, as well as all the other species without which life in this ecosystem would be boring (like my cat) or impossible (like insects).

April 17, 2008


It's not about test scores. It's not about grades. It's not about diplomas.

It's about what you learn. It's about what you can do. It's about learning how to provide for yourself, both directly, and indirectly by taking care of others.

It's about being economically productive. But it's not about the money. It's about knowing how to get clean air and water, healthy food, and shelter from hot, cold or rainy weather. It's about meeting the hierarchy of needs described by Maslow.

It's about knowing how to think. (Hint: Don't believe everything you think.)

If you are a parent who is concerned about their child's education, I recommend "The Teenage Liberation Handbook," by Grace Llewellyn, available at your local library. It can liberate parents as well as youth.

April 16, 2008

Soaring Food Costs

Yesterday's Bee described price increases for basics like eggs that are squeezing even middle-class budgets. So I share below some key ways I keep my costs low and still buy healthy food.

The first key is scratch cooking at home. It's really not that hard if you know a few basics, so I wrote an inexpensive cookbooklet called "How To Play With Your Food" that empowers readers to avoid marked-up, less-nutritious, packaged processed products.

Here are some other principles:
Buy fruits and vegetables in season, at farmers markets. Eat eggs, cheese, or rice-and-beans rather than meat. Drink tap water (if you let it stand the chlorine evaporates after a half hour or so) and don't buy soda or bottled water. Eat fruit not fruit juice. Don't eat white flour/pasta/bread/rice or sugar. Dandelion greens are one of the most nutritious greens and they're free for the taking (but make sure they haven't been sprayed).

I've also developed some techniques for keeping foods longer and recycling them:
*store cheese in a dry and cold environment
*raw eggs keep a LOT longer than hardboiled
*food stored in airtight glass keeps longer than in plastic
*mix a spoonful of active yogurt into cottage cheese and cream cheese
*aged salad can go in the soup
*stale bread makes great bread pudding
*vinegar, wine, and salt are other traditional preservatives

And of course we can always share with those who are hungry.

April 8, 2008

How To Be Tough On Crime

Crime is behavior, so one must be tough on the behavior. But being mean to criminals and temporarily banishing them to haphazard cruelty in prison is just that same kind of anti-social behavior. Discipline - relentlessly kind, firm and consistent correction of behavior - is instead in order.

Most people's dominant feeling about crime is natural fear of violent crime. Unfortunately, many lack a rational understanding of the differences between violent crime and property crime, both legal and statistical. For example, few realize that both perpetrators and victims tend to share the demographics of poverty, youth, and masculinity. Nor that most criminals who have guns get them to protect themselves.

And it can be hard for youth to find good role models. Our country was the violent, pre-emptive aggressor in the war with Iraq, but national leaders don't know how to back down and be respectful and peaceful. Moreover, economic insecurity and rampant unfairness suggest that the comfortable people don't care about anyone else either so what goes around comes around. It's also worth noting that malnutrition can make people act out and commit crimes.

April 6, 2008

Do We Have A Right To Health Care?

I think we have a right to the basic foundations of good health--clean air and water, healthy food, and warmth. And plenty of sleep and affectionate touch. Providence had arranged a world where obtaining these needs led to exercise and cooperation. But then coal, oil, wage-slavery, and adolescence were discovered, not necessarily in that order.

I don't think we have the right to live forever, nor does it sound like much more fun than never sleeping. (And the real solution to the social-security/medicare 'crisis' is to invest in truly sustainable development, like early childhood education, apprenticeships, and eco-villages, not Bechtel and Blackwater.)

I do think we have the right to expect the legislature to approve sensible bills such as SB840 which can improve basic and preventive care while cutting the costs of red tape and the number of emergency room visits. Is the Republican policy of cutting government investment in societal health in order to increase private monetary profits our real health care problem?

As my golden birthday recedes behind me, I feel my body begin to soften and slow down. Eating right and exercising regularly are really great health care investments, and I continue to reap the dividends. But accidents happen, such as broken bones and mutations. That's what affordable health insurance should be there for. And also for key, simple modern preventives such as vaccinations. But no health care system will ever be able to do everything for everyone.

My prescription for myself is to get as much as I can of the foundations listed above. And also to try to get them in ways that minimize exploitation, and maximize the exercise and cooperation in one's life. And of course I try to inform others of these benefits, but they are often too busy watching TV which peddles a lot of junk. Germs are not the real problem.

April 4, 2008

Separation of Church and State

The separation of any church from state sponsorship was intended by our Founding Fathers to prevent one church in any colony from trying to lord it over the other brands. 

It is not well known what the Founding Mothers thought, but if I were one of them I would think that this should not mean the separation of the state from the time-tested wisdom of the higher spiritual truths which are found in all faiths, albeit in different measures.

One measure's commonality is striking - the Golden Rule.

Doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. I have a hard time believing any Founders disagreed with this. But politicians often seem to. In fact, cynics like to repeat the corrupt version, that them who has the gold makes the rules. Voters can change this by making sure their decisions aren't influenced by gold, but rather by friendly and proactive kindness.

Can prayer assist the voting process?  Maybe. What's prayer?