Archive for April 2011

Vine/Wine Friday (Saturday)

Late Spring afternoon, grass lush and green, vines pruned and dripping water. It is times like these that I remember why I do this.

 

Vine: Well not much to report.  It is still unseasonably cool with a light frost Friday morning so the buds are wisely staying buds instead of leafing out.  But with more normal weather forecast for next week, things are going to get hopping.  Finally got all of the pruning debris out of the vineyard and will burn next week.  For all my trellis grapes (Syrah and Viognier) I have been re-tying on the cordon.  That simply means that the horizontal part of the Y (see pictures from last weeks Vine/Wine) needs to be re-tied every couple of years due to growth and the old ties disintegrating.  I use a device called a Tapener instead of hand tying them as it is much faster and does the trick of stabilizing the vine.  Basically it wraps the tape around the vine and the wire, staples and cuts the tape in one squeeze.  Sadly though, I over did it (I am recovering from hernia surgery) so I will have to wait a few days to complete the last few rows.

I did not spray out my rows this year since my vines are quite mature and competing with natural (and annual) grasses is no longer an issue.  I want to minimize any non-organic treatments in the vineyard.  There are two reasons to spray (herbicide).  The first is as noted above, to remove competing plants.  The second is simply ease of maintenance.  With the rows sprayed out (2′ wide strip along the line of the plants – see vineyard pictures from last year) it is much easier to mow down the center and spray out bad weeds in the cover crop.  My cover crop is an annual mix of grasses and clovers and is well established so that really offensive weeds are few and can be hand pulled when the ground is still soft (probably one of the reasons I over did it).  That means that later in the year when things dry out and the cover crop goes to seed, I will have to mow and weedeat in the rows.  You probably could just let it alone, but come about late June, I like a neat and manicured vineyard.  So we will see how it works out.

Next up in the Vineyard will be budding out, and then thinning of the shoots, followed by daily walks through the vineyard to push the rapidly growing vines up through the wines (in the trellis).  See, isn’t being a farmer fun?

Wine: Well, not much to report here either as I am recovering and trying to stay away from rich food and too much wine.  My daughter is in town so last night I cooked her a really simple but delicious meal that went very nicely with a Holly’s Hill Patriarche.  Basically it is just skinless boneless (organic) chicken breasts coated in flour and sauteed (olive oil) with some shallots and garlic until golden brown and cooked through.  Then you set them aside and add wine, chicken stock, butter, and mustard to the pan and reduce it as the sauce.

For a vegetable, boil fresh green beans for about five minutes to leave them still crispy and then dump them in an ice bath to stop them from cooking further.  In a large skillet add olive oil, finely chopped shallots and garlic, cook about two minutes to release their flavors and then turn up the heat and add the green beans and cook till hot. For the last minute or so, add lemon zest (about a tablespoon), and toss.  On each plate put a chicken breast with the sauce ladled over it, and a nice serving of the green beans with some parsley for color.  Bottle of Patriarche with some nice bread and olive oil and they think you can cook. For dessert serve a few of your sister-in-laws wonderful spiced ginger cookies with more wine and they think you are a genius.

Today (Saturday) they are having a lunch for wine club members at Holly’s Hill.  Lunch will be Paella (Josh has two giant pans and he loves to cook in them over and open fire) probably paired with more Patriarche (Rhone blend).  It is a tough life, but somebody has to do it.  Carpe Diem,

Thoughts on the Wedding

Probably like many of you, I was sick of the reporting of the wedding in Britan overshadowing real news.  I mean after all aren’t we all really the same and royalty is a figment of our imagination (at least their perceived status)?  They really aren’t any more special than the rest of us.  But I have to step back and say I enjoyed watching them (replay, I did not get up at o’dark thirty) take their vowels and the celebrations that followed.  In the times we are in we need a party once in a while and what can be more uplifting than a young couple committing to each other and beginning their adventure in life together.  It was a nice break.

Tornadoes in the South

There is a silver lining.  There will be a massive rebuilding program funded by insurance companies and that big bad federal government that everybody in red states wants to downsize.  That will give people jobs and stimulate the economy down there.  Maybe it will also give them some time to think about whether they really want the federal and state governments to go away or not.

Fair Competition and Taxation – Amazon.com

I love Amazon.com.  It usually has what I want, at best or close to best prices, delivers them in a timely fashion, and has great customer care.  But there is a dark side and that is its refusal to collect state tax in the states it sells to.  In California the onus is on you to keep records and pay tax on your out of state purchases (use tax) if the merchant did not collect it (sales tax).  You can guess how many people really do that (Yes, I do because I buy and depreciate items for my business so I keep accurate records and pay the sales tax each year).  But you can imagine the loss in sales tax to the state and other revenue to local businesses.    In California that loss is close to $100 million.  Amazon.com has filed a law suit in New York State court to block a new law meant to force it to collect sales tax on Internet sales to New York residents.  California is considering a similar law.

But the plot thickens.  Amazon utilizes venders throughout the country to supply their retail sales and threatens to drop California vendors if such a law is passed (Fresno Bee).  That is just the beginning.  Apparently they were building a large distribution center in South Carolina after the state had donated the land, provided property tax breaks on equipment, state job tax credits and abolition of longtime Sunday morning sales restrictions in Lexington County to facilitate Amazon’s round-the-clock opposition.  But  a coalition of local businesses, national retailers, and Tea Party members got the legislature to turn down a sales tax exemption for merchandise sold in South Carolina.  So Amazon is going to finish the center, but put it in moth balls and go elsewhere (The State). Apparently this is not the first time they have done this.

Now extortion by businesses to locate jobs in a state is not new or novel, but should we tolerate it anymore?  Let me ask this another way:  Would we allow businesses that are from another country to bankrupt your local businesses because they can avoid local taxes and under sell them?  If not, why do we allow it from another state?  States are in dire straights and their main source of revenue is sales tax (at least for most states).  The last thing we need is some kind of low tax war waged between states to attract business.  Now I have to tell you that regardless of the sales tax, I will probably make the purchase because they have exactly what I want.  But others complain that with the sales tax and the shipping, it would put these businesses out of business.  I rather doubt it and quite frankly, making these purchases and avoiding sales tax may be bankrupting our state and putting our own citizens out of work.

So I would guess I would have to say that it is time states banded together and started fighting this type of extortion.  It is hard for me to admit it, but the Tea Party was right on this one.  There is no free ride and when we give businesses (or sports teams for that matter) what we think is a free ride, we are only robbing ourselves while enriching their stock holders.  Besides in the true spirit of competition, if we level the playing field in taxes don’t you think we will see innovations in distribution (to reduce shipping costs) and real price competition?

U.S. Economic Growth Slows to 1.8% Rate in First Quarter

Another no shit Sherlock moment.  States are radically cutting their budgets.  The Republicans, aided and abetted by fearful Democrats, have abandon spending to create jobs and are looking at major slashes in the federal budget.  And somehow the Tooth Fairy and this austerity program are going to make companies bullish on the economy and start hiring.  Hiring for what?  If there is no demand because payrolls are shrinking, why would you increase production?  Better to move overseas where the economy is better.  This is the moronic logic now in vogue in Washington (Really Serious People) that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.  Enjoy your double dip.  You must want it really bad to continue these insane policy choices while you cower in the corner fearful of the deficit while making it worse.

Source:  NYT

Saying It’s So Makes It So

Sadly we live in a culture where saying it is so makes it so.  If you hear something enough times, it must be true, critical thinking be damned.  It would be nice if news editors (do they still exist?) would learn this.  The case in point is the birther nonsense.  It was noted (NYT) that the one network who talked more about the birther conspiracy and debunked it was MSNBC, yet the belief grew.  The only conclusion you can draw is that when you put someone with outrageous and erroneous allegations on TV and debate them, it lends credence to their position for a large portion of the viewing audience.    Continuing to air ignorance and stupidity just spreads ignorance and stupidity to the unwashed masses (those who did not learn critical thinking and refuse to read).  Donald Trump and his coverage is the case in point.  Why cover him at all?  Ratings people, ratings.  And so goes the decline of a once a very great nation.

Logical Disconnects Confirmed

Our political conversations have not been making sense.  We are denying what we know and I feel like I am living through a nightmare where all around me are birthers, climate change deniers, and people who think we pay off our deficit by lowering taxes (Actually I am since I live in El Dorado County, redder than red where ignorance is bliss).  You know, a complete lack of logical connection similar to the Ryan Budget.  Any examination of it shows it simply makes things worse, but our (or their) ideology blinds them (and our media) to simple math.   It is like we have lost our collective minds, notwithstanding that the Tea Party never had one to lose.

But reality has a way of intruding on nonsense.  We can (that would be the conservative we) continue to try to define our reality by our ideology, or we can let reality tell us what to do.  So here is exhibit A in “what were they thinking?”.  England is going through a severe recession so the morons, ignoring ECON 101, decided that austerity would then create demand, sort of like believing in flow down and the Tooth Fairy.  They are ignoring that the problem is lack of jobs and demand so they thought let’s create some more lack of jobs and demand and the private sector will take off.  So in that vain, Paul Krugman shed some light on the events that have followed:

“The bad GDP number for the UK isn’t a surprise — in fact, judging from market response, investors seem to have expected something even worse. Still, if you step back and look at what has been happening, it’s doubleplusungood: zero growth over the past 6 months, with every reason to be worried on the downside looking forward, as Cameron’s austerity bites deeper.

…right now, we’re living in a world in which basic economics points to conclusions utterly at odds with what Very Serious People are supposed to believe, in which radical outsiders base their views on standard economics while orthodox types turn to heterodox, highly dubious speculations.

Econ 101, buttressed if you like by fancier New Keynesian models, says that contractionary fiscal policy is, well, contractionary. Yet much of the world of movers and shakers bought into the exotic notion that expectational effects — the confidence fairy — would make contractionary policy expansionary. And they clung to this belief even as the supposed historical evidence in favor of expansionary austerity was thoroughly debunked.

And now we’re watching Econ 101 in the process of being confirmed. I wish I thought this would change anyone’s mind.”

So to the know-nothings who seem to dominate the debate, no shit Sherlock and same to all you morons who have been denying climate change, Econ 101, think flow down works, and we can get ourselves out of trouble while lowering the tax rate.  But the lunatics rave on.  It’s called the Republican Party (and moderate Democrats who are really Republican lites).

The Profit Motive and Disasters

What do the three largest disasters in our recent decade have in common?  They all came from the private sector, regulation was co-opted, and the profit motive over rode or clouded good judgement. There was the financial meltdown, the BP oil spill disaster in the gulf, and the nuclear meltdown in Japan.  I actually had a market place worshiper tell me that since these types of accidents really hurt the companies bottom line, it was the motivation they needed to prevent these types of events.  Clearly this person does not live in the real world and really doesn’t understand the complexity of motivation.

Let’s start with the financial meltdown.  First it is clear that the risky investments that finally brought down these institutions were there for everyone to see.  Some in the industry were pointing out the nature of the Ponzi scheme and their eventual collapse, but as common with each of these events, were ignored and shunned.  Also common in all three cases was that the regulators were being co-opted by the system by the revolving door to a future career in this case.  Rating agencies were being rewarded in big fees for triple  “A” ratings and the profits for taking on more and more risk was exorbitant.  To compete in the market place (earnings on investment), investment firms were racing to see who could manufacture and sell more of these WMDs (Warren Buffet’s term for this type of investment).  The bottom line here is that although they were putting the whole banking system and our economy at risk, the personal gains were just to great to forgo.  So they denied the dangers.  So many were profiting and they were suckers if they were hesitant.  And worst of all, those responsible did not suffer when their house of cards collapsed.  So much for the profit motive and fear of failure moderating these activities.  They accelerated them.  See Inside Job.

The BP oil disaster is a case in point about how our judgement gets warped in a high risk operation where all the incentives are on speed and profit.  Drilling in deep water is a highly costly endeavor.  So the motivation from the top down is speed.  Those managers who get in, get the job done, and get out are the winners.  Those that slow down and ask hard questions are the losers.  If you get away with this risky behavior, then you start to think it isn’t so risky (see both space shuttle disasters where the measure of risk was we got away with it last time in classic groupthink behavior).  Once again there was a close relationship between regulator and the regulated and self inspections were the norm.  Risk was piled on risk as the consequences of the risks were down graded as they kept winning the game of Russian Roulette and those that took them were rewarded.  And then….  But once again, what was the financial punishment?  In the most profitable industry in the world, this is just a hiccup to their bottom line.  It will happen again.

Finally we look at the nuclear meltdown (actually only partial at this date) in three of the five reactors in Fukushima Japan.  As noted today in the NYT (Culture of Complicity Tied to Stricken Nuclear Plant), the government and industry were in a symbiotic relationship.  Licenses were being issued to extend the life of the plants without expensive upgrades to fix serious problems or to bring the safety systems up to present day requirements.  These repairs were costly and impacted the energy companies bottom line and since things were working just fine without them, they were safe.  When a brave regulator pointed out the problem, he was shunned from the industry.

Do we have a trend here?  Let’s see, high profit industries, managers who were rewarded for risky behavior, management teams deep into groupthink, regulators who were co-opted, risks that in hindsight were there for all to see, and what I did not point out, politicians who are heavily subsidized in campaign contributions by these industries to keep things just they way they are or to make their business climate more friendly.  No, these people are not evil, it is just that money corrupts and impacts our judgement and our perceptions.  And note one other common element, while the nuclear accident is still on going, the other two have almost been forgotten.  There are no laws passed by Congress to tighten requirements for off shore drilling and we are leaving that to regulation, and in the case of the financial meltdown, the laws that were past did not address the root cause of the problem, too big to fail.  Again, we are depending on regulators who will once again be co-opted and desensitized to the risks that will again be piling up as the profit motive drives riskier and riskier behavior.

Okay, maybe this is an oversimplification of all the psychological elements that lead to this type of behavior.  A more in depth look can be found in Margaret Hefernan’s wonderful book, Willful Blindness, Why We Ignore the Obvious At Our Peril.  She actually looks at the first two cases I cited above.  But my point here is simple:  The market place is a dangerous place that can cause ruin and havoc.  It needs to be carefully controlled.  If we should have learned anything from these events it should be that the idea that business knows best is a road to disaster.

 

Obama Releases Full Birth Certificate

Why? Once again the man of steel (actually badly dented tin) has capitulated to his attackers showing his weakness in actually responding to this dribble. And does he think this will end it? This will simply egg them on and we will see more birther bills and more Donald Trump interviews and more conspiracy theories. By giving in to these nuts he has just lowered the bar. What a moron.

Unbelievable: Misplaced Priorities

Here we are in Sacramento with their NBA Basketball team threatening to leave for Anaheim and we get the following news (Sacramento Bee):  “Calling it “a historic day in Sacramento,” Mayor Kevin Johnson emerged this morning from a two-hour meeting with NBA officials and more than two dozen local business leaders willing to make deposits on multi-year sponsorship deals and ticket purchases for the Sacramento Kings.”   Let’s see, we are firing school teachers, laying off public workers, we can’t fix the streets, but when it comes to overpaid and mostly under-educated basketball players in baggy pants, well, open up your wallets.  Holly crap!  We have lost all sense of purpose or direction.