Pre-inaugural Chum

Although Monday’s are usually quiet news days, perhaps the hoopla tomorrow is churning it out:

  • From the “Brands That Live and Die” Department: The NY Times is reporting that even though the Sharper Image stores have closed, the brand is living on. Specifically, the new owners of the brand are using it for new innovative, although cheaper, electronics. Other brands aren’t so lucky. A local franchiser is closing most of the Southern California Applebee’s, including those in Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, and Santa Clarita. Another bane of the mall, Libby Lu, is also closing their locations. I’ve always had a grudge against Libby Lu, as they took over the GameKeeper location at the Northridge Mall.
  • From the “Feeling the Pain of the Recession” Department: Many other groups are feeling the pain of the recession. The LA Times has an interesting article on one such group: gardeners. It seems local service providers such as gardeners, housekeepers, and pool cleaners are often hit hardest during a recession — and they are the ones that can often ill afford such a hit. There’s another group being hurt by the recession: Bush-administration appointees. Normally, when an administration leaves office the appointees can count on jobs in the DC area at local corporations and lobbyists. But the tightened job market is making those jobs harder to come by, and so these folks may have to look elsewhere.
  • From the “Perhaps The Expectations Are Too High” Department: I know that everyone is excited about the change of administrations tomorrow, but let’s not elevate the man to patriarch status until he has earned it. Even our great leaders didn’t come into office with such high expectations (and that includes the man of the hour, Abe Lincoln). But I’m already seeing movements to rename Delmar Blvd in St. Louis as Obama Blvd, and even CNN is indicating that everyone expects Obama inauguration speech to be carved in marble. I admit, he is doing some interesting bipartisan actions — even going so far as to consult with his election opponent, but let’s not raise the expectations so high he can never meet them. We should, after all, be used to low expectations.
  • From the “Moving Day” Department: And speaking of low expectations, how about those Bushes? Seriously, one thing that has always interested me is the logistics of moving one occupant out and one in on the same day. It appears that that the Bushes have been smart here, or at least Laura has. Starting in the summer, Laura Bush started moving out of the White House, completing the move of personal belongings from Camp David over Christmas. The only things really left for President and Mrs. Bush are their personal belongings and luggage for the last day. Of course, they will leave a legacy…
  • From the “They’re Dieing to Get In” Department: Speaking of legacies… There is an interesting legacy in the Santa Monica Canyons: The Marquez Cemetary. The LA Times has an interesting article today on how the family is attempting to restore the cemetary and open it to the public.
  • From the “Read a Good Book” Department: If you are at all like me, you love a good bookstore. Especially used book stores. Ever wonder how they are faring these days? There’s a good article in the Daily News on A&M Book Cellars in Canoga Park (website), a used-book store that has been around 24 years. The secret of their success: don’t change. It reminds me of another favorite used book store: Cliff’s in Pasadena.

Chum chum-un-ey, Chum chum-un-ey, Chum chum chum-ee!

As we come closer to the wire for the conference, I’m getting crazier and crazier. Thank goodness for lunch time and being able to read the news. That will keep me calm, right?

  • From the “Sneaking It In Under The Wire” Department: The Bush administration is planning some last minute regulation changes that will provide for a broader ability of doctors and other medical personnel to refuse to do things based on their conscience. This broad new “right of conscience” rule would permit medical facilities, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare workers to refuse to participate in any procedure they find morally objectionable, including abortion and possibly even artificial insemination and birth control. In addition to permitting the refusal of abortions, it would go further by making clear that healthcare workers also may refuse to provide information or advice to patients who might want an abortion. (Given the controversy with Prop. 8, I could also see providers refusing to help same-sex couples on moral grounds–a bad thing). HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said he intends to issue the rule as a final regulation before the Obama administration takes office, to protect the moral conscience of persons in the healthcare industry. If the regulation is issued before Dec. 20, it will be final when the new administration takes office, HHS officials say. Overturning it would require publishing a proposed new rule for public comment and then waiting months to accept comments before drafting a final rule.
  • From the “Goodnight Irene” Department: The legendary folk singer Odetta has died at 77. I hope this isn’t the start of another trifecta; Mary Travers has been sick for a long time. Anyway Odetta was one of the top folk singers of the 1950/1960 folk revival. I’m one of those revivalists: I was much less into rock in the 1970s and 1980s — I was listening to Peter, Paul, and Mary, the Kingston Trio, and soft folk like John Denver or Gordon Lightfood. Even today I listen to albums by The Weavers, The Gateway Singers, Tom Paxton, and of course PP&M and the Kingston Trio. Odetta was central in the folk music community, and it is sad to see her voice stilled.
  • From the “Son, Go To College” Department: According to the New York Times, higher education may be unaffordable for most in a few years. California fares better than most, but still the costs of a UC or CSU education are rising, and high school students are fighting over a smaller financial pie, with loans less available. I’m not looking forward to facing this myself in 2012. Basically, a recent report shows that published college tuition and fees increased 439% from 1982 to 2007, adjusted for inflation, while median family income rose 147%. Student borrowing has more than doubled in the last decade, and students from lower-income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families.
  • From the “Wilma, Stop This Crazy Thing!” Department: Next on the musical bandwagon: “The Flintstones”. Yup, Bedrock’s favorite familiy is being prepped for the stage by none other than Marco Pennette (Book), with music and lyrics by Jeff “Avenue Q” Marx and Jake Anthony. The plot of The Flintstones, according to Variety, will focus on contemporary issues: “Wilma, for example, mulls leaving Fred because he still acts too much like a caveman and hasn’t adapted to more modern ways. Barney and Betty tackle fertility issues before deciding to adopt. Musical will also tackle global warming — but in this case, as The Flintstones takes place before the ice age, the characters will confront ‘global cooling.'”

Today is… Oh, Never Mind

Today would have been National Gorilla Suit Day, however, last November, mark_evanier indicated that Don Martin’s widow had asked him not to mention him or his holiday. So, in celebration of the fact that today is Not National Gorilla Suit Day, please do not wear your gorilla suit. Keep it in the closet for another holiday.

However, do remember that not all gorilla suits look like gorilla suits, and although you might dress up a monkey, at heart, he’s still a chimp monkey. I’m sure we were all reminded of this earlier this week with the unimpressive State of the Union address. And so, in honor of chimps monkeys in suits everywhere, we present this song from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels:

Dress up a monkey in Armani,
He may seem precocious and cute.
Despite all that primpin’,
You still got a chimp in
a suit.

Teach him the second Verse of “Swanee”
And most of “Moon River” to boot.
Sure people will gape
But you still got an ape
in a suit.

Shprizt him ’til wet
With the Eau de Toilette
And you’re still gonna get
A stench.

Dampen him well
In a quart of Chanel,
It won’t cover the smell.
I should know, I’m French!

    Take him to see Don Giovanni,
Show him Cezanne’s lovely fruit,
Teach him to cook from Escoffier’s book,
He’s still a gorilla en croute
You still got a chimp in a suit.

So you’ve shaved off his fur,
Decked him out in couture
And endowed him with pure
Saviour Fare
You dressed him up fancy
And trained him to dance, he
Remains a chimpan-cee,
He’s not Fred Astaire!

Give him a dandy little topper,
Tie on a natty cravat
Buy him a castle,
He’ll still be an asshole
And nothing you do will change that
He’s still just a stinky little minkey
In a dinky little suit

And a cheap little hat!


Three Famous Lies

We all know the three famous lies: (1) the check is in the mail; (2) I’m from the government, and I’m here to help; and (3) the dog ate my homework. Well, the third one is debatable, with some believing it is (3) sure, I have protection (or something along that line). But here are three lies from today’s news:

  1. This government does not torture people.” [G. W. Bush]. We do, however, use a combination of techniques such as head slaps, freezing temperatures and simulated drownings, known as waterboarding. Torture we reserve for congress, as we make them listen to the State of the Union speech.
  2. I did not use steroids, it was flavored oil” [Marion Jones] Right. And Barry Bonds broke the homerun record on his own.
  3. We trust Blackwater” [Condi Rice]. We trust them so much, we’re putting in video cameras and chaperones to monitor them.

And California Gets It Again

We all know that Shrub has never been a friend to strongly-democratic states such as California or New York, especially to the populous cities where he isn’t popular. Well, he just did it again.

According to the papers (there’s another good summary in the Washington Post), Shrub announced some steps to help in the current mortgage crisis:

  • He said he would take steps to allow the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which insures the mortgages of low- and moderate-income homeowners, to guarantee the loans of some borrowers who are more than 90 days behind in payments of the loans.
  • He would seek to temporarily change a provision of the tax code that now penalizes homeowners who refinance their mortgages to reduce the size of their loan payments or who lose their houses to foreclosure.
  • He also called on Congress to pass his proposal to reform the FHA, in part by raising those loan insurance limits to $262,000 in most states and $417,000 in pricier areas.

It is this last one that is significant. Shrub is proposing raising the FHA insurance limit, basically to bring it in line with the limits of the loans that can be handled by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. With a 20% down payment, that’s just over $500K… well below the median prices of housing in these higher price areas.

The problem is that once you are above the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac limits, rates are becoming exhorbitant. This is because below those limits, these quasi-government agencies will buy the loans, ensuring the brokers of their needed secondary markets. Above the limits, however, private or market purchasers must be found. With the liquidity crisis, that’s harder, which is what is raising the rates. What needs to be done reformation of more than just the FHA insurance limits: there needs to be reform of these Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac limits. That’s why I support the move by the California Assn of Mortgage Brokers to increase the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac limits. If California was declared a high-cost state, it would place it among select regions where the conforming rate limit is about 150% higher. Other high costs areas include Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Such a move would make mortgages in LA, SF, and NYC more affordable.

However, Shrub is not supporting the increase in the conforming loan limit to realistic values (say, 110% of the median home value in a given county). I wonder if it is because most of these “high cost” areas tend to be areas that support the other party. I’m sure politics has nothing to do with it.


[Apologies to tsgeisel for deleting the earlier version of this post. I needed to find the correct facts.]


You Knew It Would Happen Someday

“Allegedly reacting to some sort of hallucinogenic fever dream following an overlong bubble bath during which he reportedly sputtered lots of motorboat noises and ate one too many purple crayons, President Bush today made the stunning yet somehow entirely understandable announcement that all Republicans in his administration are hereby officially excused from any and all crimes they have committed, are in the process of committing, are planning to commit, or even merely fantasize about committing”

(full article)


But do they make them large enough to fit over politicians?

A lunchtime news observation:

Previously, I had written about how NYC had been planning to issue NYC-branded condoms, and how they would have a subway theme. Well, they have gone and done it, with a wrapper that uses the subway style lettering. Specifically, the black plastic wrapper simply says “NYC condom” on the front, with each letter in a circle, like the letters used by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to denote subway lines. (The authority gave the city permission to use the letters, which are the intellectual property of the subway system.)

Not to be outdone, Washington DC has distributed 250,000 condoms to promote HIV awareness. They are in a purple and mustard-yellow package, with the message “Coming together to stop HIV in DC”. DC Officials had planned to introduce the new design on Valentine’s Day, which doubles as National Condom Day (betcha’ didn’t know that)…. but internal complications and bad weather allowed NYC to come first be the first municipality to issue municipal condoms.

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