Thursday, December 25, 2008


Greetings and best wishes to everyone during this holiday season.

New Year's Day I'll be seated in the bleachers at the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California accompanied by two family members and a couple who are our friends. I'll wave to you if I'm aware the television cameras are panning us.

I'm seeing an increasingly extravagant number of outdoor light and animation displays this year. Subdued light decorations have been my choice especially ever since the energy crisis was announced many years ago. We were encouraged that year to cut back on outdoor light displays. Nothing has changed as far as energy issues are concerned to the best of my knowledge, but that particular energy conservation seems to have become more minimal with the public each succeeding year.

I've enjoyed the colorful lights through the years as have my children, so I defer to the varying attitudes we each have about this matter.

I have chosen to continue a minimalist attitude toward what sort of holiday light display I prefer. I simply place artificial candles in one window that faces the house's front. This year I began by lighting just one candle beginning Sun., Dec. 21st, the night some of my family arrived. I've added a candle each night since and will continue to do so in honor of the various celebratory occasions this time of year.

I just learned last night a couple more family members will arrive for a few days after Christmas, so am looking forward to a lot more unexpected joy and laughter.

Hope everyone has a wonderfully happy holiday!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday '08/Memories/Movie "Australia"

(Computer internet connectivity problems have resurfaced the past several days after several honeymoon weeks when they did not occur for unknown reasons. Has taken me an hour of repeated efforts to publish this post. The future with ease of publishing is a mystery. Thanks for your patience.)

Holiday preparation is upon me and I'm not really doing that much. This preparatory activity is my excuse for not having posted here more frequently this December and I'm sticking to my story. I've been a bit busy with my current part time work. Always when I anticipate my work to be slow the opposite occurs as this month has again confirmed.

This year is calm by comparison when I think of how harried and frantic so many past holidays were. My children and husband were at home contributing their own support, assistance and sometimes frustrating complications. I was helping an ultimately not too well mother living nearby who was striving to remain living independently though she was legally blind, a long term problem to which she had amazingly and successfully adapted. The more recent stroke affecting her balance mechanism thus necessitating she use a walker was more challenging.

An even more unwell mother-in-law was flying across country to be with us. Inevitably she became ill, seriously a couple of times, because she revealed she had eaten a green salad on the plane (remember when they actually served food on planes?) even though she knew she shouldn't because of her gall bladder issues. One year she became immobile in bed partially as a consequence of her morbid obesity. Bless my doctor's heart, he who had long since given up house calls came to our house a few blocks from his office and successfully treated her. Then, when she could get around more she delighted in making homemade noodles, and introducing us to pizzelles – an Italian cookie - all of which we delighted in eating.

Some of those years I was taking classes. All too often classes with needed study preparation had tests scheduled around my busiest at home times with my children's activities. My final graduate school semester I developed compressed neck discs due to wee hour morning studying. I would periodically curl up in an Early American wingback chair deliberately positioned uncomfortably so if I fell asleep in the early A.M. hours I wouldn't drowse long, would arouse and get back to studying. Beginning loss of sensation on my right extremity, certain fingers, arm necessitated long hours daily flat on my back, regular episodes of 'hanging myself' to stretch my neck and some high powered meds that seemed to have some adverse affects. The most challenging aspect was my having to write and type my final thesis standing upright at a draftsman's table.

Other years I was working full time with unpredictable daily changing work sites, especially during my initial supervised work experience year (like a medical internship) to qualify for state licensure and national certification. What seems illogical to me now is that since being by myself I've been less organized personally than I was before. Fortunately, this year I've been making more significant gains in structure than at any time since my husband died. Given the state of the economy, the future uncertainty, the appliance replacements and other expenses I've incurred this year, some of which I've written about in earlier posts, I'm glad to have some work available.

I did take advantage of a regular special "senior" rate and showing of a movie I've anticipated viewing about "the land down under." "Australia," starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. They created credible believable performances of characters who could have been ancestors in their homeland. Awesome colorful film footage featured spectacular views showing the vastness of a country I've often thought I'd like to visit. Excerpts from the movie are seen on the official movie website link above.

The breadth of the film's story compressed a significant historical span integrating social, cultural and political issues indigenous to the nation. The one word that best describes this movie from my perspective is that of extravaganza. This is a film that for me tries to encompass entirely too much in the storytelling.

I was reminded during WWII scenes of how significant the work of our military, especially the U.S. Navy submarine fleet and radiomen were in combating the Japanese onslaught in the South Pacific. Recently, coincidentally, I talked with one of those radiomen who spoke with pride of his service. I've written previously about the men who served then (see Archives May 2008) in reference to Mary Lee Fowler's memoir about her father in her book, Full Fathom Five, that captures details of the WWII South Pacific theatre.

About my holiday preparations -- I am looking forward to some family crossing the country to be with me this year after my having made the trek in the opposite direction last year. At least one of our Southern California activities may be of interest, especially New Year's Day, but I'll share that in a later holiday post. Meanwhile, I do have a few things to do.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Changing Local Economic Picture

FDIC Bank Takeovers

Retroactive Medical Charges to Medicare Patients

State Legislatures "Cuckoo"

Media Convergence

The local economic picture is always changing. Daily in recent months there have been a never-ending number of national and local news stories that tweak my thoughts. FDIC Problem Bank List was one such recent story by Laurie Kulikowski at

I wonder what others observe happening in their communities influencing banking and local business compared to what I'm observing here in Southern California's northeastern Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Orange Counties?

Only a few months ago our local area was impacted by the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation takeover of Indy Bank that had a nearby branch. Rumors had spread prior to that event about the questionable status of a long respected banking institution, Pomona First Federal Savings and Loan, that had successfully first publicly offered stock only a few years ago.

I was told about one PFF depositor so concerned about the institution's rumored financial status that they had transferred all their funds to Indy Bank, where ironically soon after, Indy was taken over by the FDIC renewing that depositor's anxiety. The government's poorly handled takeover triggered lines of depositors frantic to withdraw their funds before officials were finally able to reassure customers most of their money was safe.

Televised L.A. area news scenes reminded me of the seasonally popular Jimmy Stewart movie, "It's A Wonderful Life" in which his character is a banker faced with a run on his bank. Locally, subsequent FDIC takeovers of financial institutions have been handled with more finesse that outwardly has alarmed the public less. Ultimately, our U.S. govt. took steps to increase insured deposit amounts that also alleviated many individuals concerns.

Since then I have observed changes that have affected every bank branch in our city. Bank of America acquired Wall Street financial company Merrill Lynch. The other shoe has dropped however, since the current news is this joining of institutions will result in thousands of jobs lost across our country. Happy Holidays, workers! J. P. Morgan Chase absorbed Washington Mutual which was one giant eating another. Meanwhile, Citibank was reported to be on shaky ground needing more financial support.

Just a few weeks ago another area financial group, Downey Savings and Loan, thought to be careful, conservative and cautious with their investments succumbed to the deterioration of their institution's value. I learned depositors would generally be protected, but those with stock in the institution, many of their own employees, would likely incur loss. For some staff the lost dollars would be a major portion of their retirement funds.

The scenario described to me was that in an FDIC take over the officials would likely walk through the door on a Friday at closing time, then reopen the office the following Monday with little or no disruption in business for customers. A week after learning this, I read in the paper that's exactly what happened at Downey. That same Friday to the surprise of many a similar FDIC takeover occurred at PFF. A Los Angeles bank that had earlier been announced as combining with PFF had their proposed transaction denied by government officials due to that bank's own financial weakness so in stepped the FDIC.

Recently I read U.S. Bank has negotiated purchase of both Downey and PPF. I just can't keep up with who owns what, which name goes with what institution any more, and exactly what financial group I'm doing business with. Perhaps it doesn't really matter since it may all change again next week or next month. I wonder if any of these institutions are borrowing money from me (the taxpayer billions, or is it trillions now, coming from our U.S. Treasury)? I just double-checked and quadrillion comes after trillion, but the information said numbers higher than that are rarely used. Oh, yeah?

I believe I read Citibank was one of the first banks to benefit by borrowing from that initial 700 billion. The Troubled Assets Relief Program, called TARP, will distribute our money. If figures I read earlier still prevail, I think it's been nothing short of criminal Citibank was given the financial deal they received at taxpayers expense – that's your money and mine they received and they're not paying much for it. You can bet if we're borrowing from them they'll have no reservations about what they charge us. They certainly didn't when I returned to college years ago and needed money.

One other change in local business transactions has occurred with my doctor. A few months ago I received a long bill from my medical doctor's billing office suddenly charging me for a litany of services beginning as far back as 2006. Ostensibly these are for amounts over and above what Medicare and my supplemental insurance would allow as payment for my doctor's billing charge. I'm now being charged retroactively for that difference. I wonder if this is happening to others across the country?

The rest of my community shows me two or three closed businesses in each of most small but once busy prosperous strip malls. Once filled storefronts similarly located in surrounding cities showcase a like number of empty shops. Several months ago a large private family restaurant, long a hallmark for many years in a heavily trafficked location, suddenly closed. They were located in a prime spot with ready access to a major freeway and a cross street on a well-traveled boulevard featuring numerous businesses but absent close competing family restaurants. My mother and our family used to enjoy eating there. I guess they could no longer survive despite so many years in business.

I'm not even including here all the newspaper items I see about local retail businesses announcing closing, going out of business sales. Linens 'N Things, Mervyns Department Store readily come to mind. Circuit City is still open locally but nationally they filed for bankruptcy. Then there are the national and local companies, also car dealerships that are shutting down. Obviously in all these instances, there's the human factor. I think of all these people affected whose numbers are continuing to increase. How many are or will be without jobs and money for needed food, clothing, housing and healthcare? Where does help for them come from?

I wonder how many others are seeing similar scenes or observe other scenarios where they live?

I have grave doubts we can expect our California State Government to be in a position to help residents. The last I heard one of their solutions to aid also long-suffering education needs was to alter the payoffs of the State Lottery so there could be more small winners with a reduced single large payout to only one winner. I'm sure every resident looks to that solution to minimize educational shortfalls and for financial security.

Probably, those of you who don't live in California aren't aware of just what dire financial straights this State is in. Some other States are in difficulty, too. There's a tragic-funny article posted by Jane Wells at CNBC that includes a short video clip of public policy expert Joe Kotkin of Chapman University wondering if this is "Cuckoo Land" that "...both parties live in and refuse to leave, no matter what." (short NYT ad at clip's beginning)

More and more I become convinced locally and nationally almost everyone in legislative office should be pitched out on their ear and replaced. Don't any of them realize that if there was ever a time when rigid ideology needed to be set aside with an eye toward compromise for the good of our State and our country, this is that time? They're all a bunch of Neros, fiddling while Rome burns. I hope we're all spared shock one day when we awaken to the realization their stubbornness and ineptitude has resulted in a foreign nation owning our country.

Our State's economy, let alone our national economy and that of the world, gives me motivation to keep working however little or much as I can. Is Wall Street willing or in a position to be able to loan money to any States in financial difficulty? Does the Federal Govt. have loans for these States? Our State Legislature fumbles along busily disagreeing on action of any consequence to rectify our existing problems. Do other States Legislatures demonstrate the same sort of lack of action?

Perhaps the day comes when loans to anyone or any group is out of the question. Perhaps the only solution is the dreaded belt tightening and cutbacks well beyond what many individuals are already doing. We can be assured that those who are least in a position to cut more will likely bear the brunt of most loss.

Traditional news gatherers and writers add to the human element faced with a potential narrowing of employment opportunities. The congruence of print with the Internet is significant on its own, but the timing coinciding with the financial crisis lends its own exacerbation of the problems such workers experience. The most recent newspaper with survival threatened is the Los Angeles Times as the Chicago owner petitions to file for a bankruptcy that also includes his Chicago Sun paper. The Detroit Free Press is reported to be ending most home delivery of their newspaper but will expand their Web Editions.

I do have confidence we will ultimately have universal financial recovery. I wonder if meaningful and accurate distribution of news to the masses will temporarily decrease until everyone readily has inexpensive access to the Internet. Meanwhile, I'm not brooding, but directing my energy elsewhere. Wondering what to expect between now and then does give me pause for thought.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Oven Fiasco

Using my new electric oven on Thanksgiving for the first time was a fiasco. I've been cooking for two years using my stove top, microwave and toaster oven when my regular oven ceased working and they've worked just fine for me. Meanwhile, I've been pondering just what all I might want to do to my kitchen. Pondering some decisions an unduly long time is what I realize I've been doing in the years since my husband died. Besides I kept getting side tracked from oven action this year when so many other replacements, repairs and other personal factors kept demanding my attention.

When I couldn't find anyone locally who could repair my oven, I finally decided I needed other plans. Later, I learned my new neighbor shipped the "innards" of his oven off to a Midwest address that he has since lost. He wanted to maintain his kitchen's '50's look. I considered my change by debating with myself giving up some cabinet shelf space to accommodate some other oven type built-in appliance configurations, ultimately deciding I didn't want those. I really have missed having my husband to exchange ideas with as he usually had a perspective with uniquely different aspects from my own. We didn't always agree, but neither of us ever totally wanted a rubber stamp of our own opinion.

I finally concluded a working full size oven was needed for these holidays. Early Thanksgiving week I had a new oven installed. The young man installer said the oven worked as together we watched all the lights, clock and timer functioning just fine. Neither of us had sense enough to open the oven door to see if it was actually heating. Personally, I prefer to accept no responsibility whatsoever for not having done so. That's right! Blame the installer -- it's all his fault Actually, my oven installer was remiss for not having checked for heat, but I should have checked, too.

Thanksgiving Day, unfortunately, the oven did everything but produce heat after twenty preheating (hah!) minutes. I was befuddled for a few moments as I thought about what to do. The toaster oven was not large enough to be a cooking option, but perhaps the trusty microwave would not let me down. I rescued the stuffed turkey roll from the cold oven and placed it in my microwave. I felt quite smug that I had salvaged the turkey roll, but pride was my downfall. I misjudged how long to cook the roll, did not carefully check it since I didn't have any guidelines. Later when the little bell chimed that the cooking process was complete I was in for a surprise. The bottom of the turkey roll meat strip had actually turned black which I soon noticed when I removed the roasting dish. Fortunately, my tasting revealed the other three quarters of the roll was not tainted by that burned meat. I will confess even though the stuffing was relatively moist, the rest of the turkey was, shall we say, just a bit dry and chewy?

I do wish my husband had been living as we would have had a hilarious time laughing at the Thanksgiving oven event. To make a long story short I checked my circuit breaker the next day (even though I had seen the oven installer turn it on those days earlier, or so he and I thought.) For the first time I learned that my circuit breaker could have one side "on" and the other side of the same breaker "off." The connection took multiple attempts on my part to turn both sides "on" at the same time, possibly because this is a really old circuit breaker system. I quickly checked my oven, have since baked stuffed pork chops and heat is forthcoming. Seems like it takes a long time to preheat, but guess I just need to get used to the oven. I'll get that opportunity in the weeks ahead.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Outsourcing Writing Local News -- Incredible!

Incredibly, local Internet news writing has been outsourced in one Southern California city. I urge you to read Maureen Dowd's "A Penny For My Thoughts" in her New York Times Opinion piece November 30, 2008. She has written some interesting new facts and observations since I first reported her interest in this approach to news reporting. She provides her special unique humorous perspective on the topic as can be expected.

I wrote here earlier about attending Ms Dowd's recent local speaking engagement. (See "An Evening with Maureen Dowd" consecutive posts November 21 & 24, 2008 in Archives.)

I noted that she mentioned as a sidelight that:
"...while here in So. Cal. she met with James Macpherson, editor and publisher of the Pasadena Now website. He has outsourced coverage of the Pasadena City Council to two reporters in India."

Ms Dowd's account of that meeting and related information gathered raises concerns in my mind. Her speculation about the prospect of local city, state and national news being outsourced to inexperienced writers of another country reads like some sort of weird science fiction story. There's only one problem with dismissing this scenario as a bizarre humorous joke -- it's actually happening in Pasadena and has been for a while. I do wonder if the practice could spread?

Just what our country needs in an already shaky U. S. economy is creating even more job losses by outsourcing writing. The information Ms Dowd gathered leads me to think there is also that pesky little problem of outsourced writers having a realistic perspective for credible news interpretation. I realize that can be a problem with our own home grown news people, but somehow I'm not convinced outsourcing lends itself well to being an improvement.

I have to ask again, just how capable of effectively understanding and writing about the intricacies of our city issues are individuals on another continent? They likely have little knowledge of local particulars with no vested interest in the city, our state and country? When you read Ms Dowd's article you'll likely have a few doubts and thoughts of your own.

I wish I could just dismiss the possibility of this latest outsourcing as being limited to Pasadena, but that's one too many instances from my point of view. I hope this isn't the future of Internet news.