CNET has amongst the most inept writers of the tech world but their blogger at The Digital Home is a gem. What a dork! In a recent post, he moans about his lousy experience during the last days of Circuit City — duh! as if the notoriously incompetent salesmen would all of a sudden pull out MBA skills just before their company goes bye-bye…

At the beginning of his long, rumbling, pompous, indigestible prose — even before he gets to meet one of the poor employees — a couple of a paragraphs stand out where the bore shares with us his horrid needs and anguishes and his internal conflicts:

I need a new HDTV. Usually, I buy my HDTVs from Amazon.com because I’ve found it has the best prices and delivery service. But since I knew Circuit City was going out of business, I decided to make a trek down there to see if there were any hidden gems at a good price. Signs said the TVs were 30 percent off, and when I looked around, I realized the inventory wasn’t picked over, as I had feared. There were some nice Sony LCDs on the shelves, as well as Panasonic plasmas.

I was drawn to the Panasonic TH-58pz800u, which was on sale for approximately $2,600 at the store. I own the 50-inch model of that plasma and couldn’t be more pleased with its quality. So when I saw it offered at such a discount, the wheels started turning and I was thinking about how I was going to be able to fit it into the back of my SUV.

I mean! We are on the verge of a worldwide financial collapse; employees get kicked out of their jobs without consideration; families lose their homes, and this young man tries to get us interested in how he’s going to load a $2600 58-inch plasma TV into his SUV to replace his freakin’ 50-inch?!

Who the heck is going to read that? My boss?

These are the comments I left on his column…

I have never seen such beautiful poetry. Your art lifts up our spirits in these times of need. When the world is crumbling around, you continue to hold high the best of the American values. Thank you.

- Homo Consumerus

 

Years of enjoyment. Never obsolete.
Years of enjoyment. Never obsolete.

 

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Pierre left for the office today, and 4 hours later, he walks back in through the door. Why did Pierre return early?

“I got laid off today” he says, walking through the hall, going about his busyness.

That’s just great news. Pierre, the guy who only 3 months ago moved from San Francisco to Sebastopol in order to be close to his job, no longer has a job.

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We moved for the stability, and because it’s a good place to raise kids. But most of all, we moved here because Pierre had been guaranteed one year of job security by his company. It wasn’t like we were on tenterhooks taking precautions should Pierre get the axe (like so many are these days). Then a mere three months and $12,000 in relocation expenses later, Pierre is told to pack up and leave. Bye Pierre, you’re on your own, dood!

 

“Can we buy organic with food stamps?”
“Can we buy organic with food stamps?”

 
The lay off itself does not upset me — economy changes — things happen. The one thing that does is that Pierre was laid off with only 2 weeks notice. No vacation pay. No severance package. No more insurance. Not even the computer that was given to him while on the job (not standard in the industry).

Manu & I dressed for the Women’s Shelter
Manu & I dressed for the Women’s Shelter

Okay, so we panic a little the first day and Pierre jumps on-line to research his options in creating time for us to live while he gets another job. He finds several possibilities. Yay!

 

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So, 2 weeks to find another job, insurance & doctors for the kiddos in another county, 2 weeks to move, lose $3500 in deposit, find a place to live, come up with another $6000 of move in cost out of our fairy dust butt holes.

 

On an aside and calmer note, Pierre and I aren’t too worried because we realize that we’re fortunate enough to have all the advantages that our age, education, resources and our continual good luck bring us.

Pierre is getting responses from good companies, and I’m trying to get my work in galleries. I like Sebastopol. I like being a stereotype family in a quaint little town with a little nanny, a house cleaner, babies, dog parks, and a main street that really is called “Main St”. How fucking awesome is all that? Now we might be homeless in a month.

Well then, as Kurt Vonnegut says, “Hi, Ho”.

As Edith Piaf says, “La Vie en Rose”

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My friend Daniel pointed to that chart from Time Magazine showing the unemployment figures from the past 6 recessions in the US. The current recession is in blue (click for a larger image).

Scary, eh?
Scary, eh?

 

Just today, forecasters announced that they expect the unemployment rate, currently at 7.6%, to hit a peak of 9% this year. “Even in the best-case scenario, with the recession ending sometime in the second half of this year, employment conditions will be tough.” By simply extrapolating the curve, here is what it gives.

It hurts, eh?
It hurts, eh?

 

Now, continue to read the same article and towards the bottom, they say that they expect the unemployment rate to hit 10% next year. This time, we are completely out of the charts!

Everybody for himself!
Everybody for himself!

 

My comments on Daniel’s blog to the first chart were:

If you draw the tangents to the curves, you can see how the declines (and in a large degree the recoveries also) became less and less steep over time in each one of the 5 last recessions. The growing size of the US economy and the interconnections with the rest of the world may have played a role to damp down the crises (a corollary being that modern morasses might not be as deep as they used to but we stay in it longer).

Now I find it worrisome that the current recession is plunging as steeply as the steepest one from the 1970’s, knowing that we (the US) are taking the rest of the world down with us and there isn’t anybody else to cushion the fall. We might very well still be in it in 5 years from now. Or 10. Thank you, George Bush!

After looking at the last chart, I can smell at least 5 more years of merde.
Or maybe, it’s just time to change the kids…
We’ll still be in it when they outgrow their diapers, for sure!
 

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It’s becoming worse by the day! A particularly bleak report from the San Francisco Chronicle, under such titles as “A global calamity” and “Banks are in denial“, now quotes economists warning that “Americans can expect unemployment to reach 11 or 12 percent“. 12 percent!? Let’s extrapolate some more! Here is what 12% looks like:

Journey to the Center of the Earth
Journey to the Center of the Earth

 

As a note to my European friends, you have to consider that an unemployment rate of 12% in America isn’t at all like the same rate in France or elsewhere. Here, it really is catastrophic! The unemployment benefits are extremely meager and expire after 4 months. In the San Francisco Bay Area, you can’t even pay the rent with what you get, plus you don’t have health coverage when you are jobless (or you have to pay for your own: $1000/month for a family of four + $50 per doctor visit).

A severe recession in America means that entire families are thrown to the street. It’s one of the things that still baffles me about the country and I don’t know what their God and their Jesus think about that. Sometimes I ask a Republican but their response is always the same. They sigh and say with a deeply empathetic voice: “I know… It breaks my heart so much to see these poor people… I pray to God they’ll find a solution… I’m sure they will…” but then they turn around and go vote for the same guys who maintain that the country needs to give more money to the rich in order for it to trickle down to the poor. Dupes. Heartless dupes.

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Pierre & I drive through the Castro District in SF, and often we imagine what it would be like for a young guy who has grown up in an insular town, who has had to hide his sexuality or suffer torment and violence, to arrive for the first time in SF and walk through the Castro .

Clean as a middle aged man’s bottom.
Clean as a middle aged man’s bottom.

The sidewalks and thoroughfares of the district are a stage for anyone, particularly gays, to openly show some serious affection without fear of reprisal from the intolerant. You can even use philanthropic excuses to take off all your clothes and show off your hot pelt like these guys! (photo anon.)

Like half the stores and bars cater to the gay lifestyle with names like “Does Your Mother Know?” Or the “The Lookout”, all under a giganto, rainbow flag of pride blowing huge above the district.

Equality looks good in white.
Equality looks good in white.

I was lucky enough to be driving by the court house the day after the same-sex marriage bill passed. I jumped out and headed toward these 2 men with my camera. The dominant queen bee (on the right) was yelling to the crowd to be grateful to live today in the present when minorities and alternative lifestyles are being more and more accepted. He then laid a romantic kiss on his stubbley love kitten, and they paraded across the street towards the court house to begin their constitutionally recognized life together. (Though I wonder what he’s yelling now that Prop 8 passed.)
 

Tastes like Homo.
Tastes like Homo.

It’s fantastic to see different lifestyles and belief systems being more integrated - legally and otherwise into our society. I doubt however, that the makers of this here fine milk product, available at one time throughout the US, intended on marketing the taste of an actual homosexual. “Tastes Like Homo” Is sure to leave a queer taste in the mouths of their more conservative customer’s kisser.
I want to know, What DOES ‘homo’ taste like!?

And how does this all relate to Max & Emmanuelle? Well, it doesn’t, except that I’m thankful that they made their way into the world when major discriminations are illegal or are on the table for discussion. And I hope if either are gay, that by the time they are young adults…. our lovely country will have realized that the arguments for such discrimination are from the same old mill that churned out the propaganda that women were too weak… , blacks weren’t human enough… , and non-Christian believers were all going to hell. After the gays, who will be next in line to take the torch? I think it’s going to be the Athiests!

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A kiss is a kiss is a kiss… Max&Manu 4 months.
A kiss is a kiss is a kiss… Max&Manu 4 months.
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Yes, you can impress the French with champagne! It’s actually very simple: just bring a good bottle - a very good bottle - of California champagne. But then from that point on, please let them do…

 

 
Allez… Bonne Année!!!

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part of the “real america”
part of the “real america”

Whenever I want me some good ideas for child rearin’, I look no further than to Alabama. Them folks always have something good cookin’ in the pot that I can easily adopt into my own life. And being that money is a scad tight for me and the Mr. now, I found just what I was lookin’ for.

Alabama has the recipe on how to feed men and women for an entire day on less than the price of a Coke and a bag of Fritos!

That’ll teach em!
That’ll teach em!

Alabama prisons have a law allowing sheriffs $1.75 per day to feed inmates*. If they can feed them for less, they pocket the left over money, and you know what? some of them crafty sheriffs are turning a profit.

See, Pierre and I have been feeding ourselves and offspring at a beautiful little San Francisco market a few blocks away with organic produce and free-range meats from local farmers. We didn’t think much of paying $8/lb for broccoli salads, or $9 for their cheapest bottle of red ’cause you know, these are the goodest deals at our little market.

Cool Hand discount
Cool Hand discount

But now I see the error of my ways. Like Alabama prisons, I can be feedin’ my family with a 2 dollar bill each with cha-ching left over. I just have to figure out where them Alabamian prisons are buying their food. I have a business resale license so I’m thinkin’ that buying wholesale may save me even more.

Pierre is gonna be proud. Feedin’ the whole family for well below $10 with change to spare so he can buy more Camembert. Damn, thanks for another great idea Alabama!

~———————————————~

 
* Alabama sheriffs feed inmates on $1.75 a day:
During the days of the chain gangs, Alabama passed a law that gave sheriffs $1.75 a day to feed each prisoner in their jails. More than 80 years later, most Alabama counties still operate under this same system, with the same $1.75-a-day allowance. Read on dear reader ….
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,356436,00.html

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Earlier this month, a sheriff in Alabama actually went to jail for having pocketed more than $200,000 out of the inmate food stipend. How long did he stay locked up for? One night! It’s not specified what he was served for dinner or even if he ate at all. Last year, he and another sheriff paid $500 for half a tractor-trailer full of hot dogs, which were served to the inmates at each meal until they had been depleted. The sheriff is now back at work but the jail’s nutritionist lost his job - boohoo. If you want to congratulate the sheriff for his cost-saving acumen, please give him a call. Here is his contact page and two articles narrating his achievements:
http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/01/09/alabama.sheriff.jailed/
http://www.waff.com/global/story.asp?s=9640226
 
 

Alabama has many fans
Alabama has many fans
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Last weekend, we went to Babies’R'us. I captured for the posterity this picture that, I know, a certain Mommy Grooms and a bunch of giggling friends would have never believed to see one day. We arrived in the middle of the afternoon and left past 10pm, by far the last customers, and $950 lighter.

For those of you who don’t live in the US, Babies’R'us is the supermarket where you can find absolutely everything you need for a baby, except the baby itself. For the baby, it’s simple: just follow Brad and Angelina who started the trend and go help yourself in Vietnam. They’ve got literally tons of them over there at $25,000 each (approximately $4,000/pound or 5,500 euros/kilo: it’s a very profitable business). It might seem a bit steep at first but at least you are guaranteed to get the model you want, healthy and all, unlike IVF at $15,000 a pop with dubious success rates.

But let’s not let these little preoccupations spoil our pleasure: we came back with the car packed full of delights and we can’t wait to have our two little wonders at home with us.

An Authentic Mother Hen
An Authentic Mother Hen
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Obama got the nomination today, I’m very happy and I’m not alone. I voted for him the way people vote in America: if you like someone, you send him money and if enough people like him as much as you do, he buys himself a good campaign and he gets elected (assuming the voting machines aren’t rigged against him).

I’m very happy for the country too. Something tells me that if a black man got where he is now, it’s because a lot of people were really tired of the stupid white men that have been leading the nation to war, recession and record deficits for the last 8 years. It’s time for a change.

Part of me feels as joyful and inspired as Jesse Jackson Jr, observing through Martin Luther King’s words that “the moral arc of the universe” will “bend toward freedom and justice for all” on August 28th, the day Obama officially accepts the nomination, exactly 45 years after the famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

But part of me sadly notes with Warren Buffet, the richest man on the planet (whom you can hardly accuse of interventionism), that there is only so much that governments can do anymore. Talking about the world economy last week, he declared: “That’s the problem. You can’t steer it, you can’t regulate it anymore. You can’t get the genie back in the bottle.” Basically, we sold it all to the corporations and we did it in such a way that we can’t even take it back.

Another thought that comes to my mind, as a French expat living in the US, is that it’s going to be much easier for me to explain my friends and family that if I enjoy living here, and especially in San Francisco, it’s because for all the abuses and dysfunctions of the American society - most of the time inherited from naive idealizations of an extremely conservative, religious, racist and violent past - there is a fascinating minority of very progressive artists, inventors, thinkers and leaders that acts as a counterbalance and continue to lead the country forward. Which is what Obama will contribute to…

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Two weeks in bed: $75,000
Two weeks in bed: $75,000

Million Dollar Babies. Nope, it has nothing to do with Clint Eastwood’s movie. It’s just the tale of a normal middle-class American family with a pair of kids who were born a bit too early.

We received Merritt’s bill for her first two weeks of bed rest at the hospital: $75,000. That’s more than $5,300 per day — $5,100 for the bed and $200 for miscellaneous stuff (like the $15 vitamin pill or the cheerful Nursing Consultant who stops by the room, introduces herself as “Hi, my name is Sally and I’ll explain you how to nurse your baby”, then stays 10 minutes and bills $85 for the service).

But Merritt stayed 3 1/2 weeks, so the total for the bed rest should be $130,000.
Add the costs of a C-section, $30,000, and her total is $160,000.

Now if the room where Merritt was vaguely monitored already costs 5 grands a day, how much can it be for the kiddos? We took a bet, then asked a nurse and, lo and behold, the result came in at $10,000 a day. Each, of course.

Max & Manu were born at 29 1/2 weeks and a good guess is that they’ll stay 6 weeks in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit. Total: 6 weeks * 7 days per week * $10,000 per day * 2 babies = $840,000.

So the Grand Total to bring our two precious little people on an already crowded planet is $160,000 + $840,000. And that’s….

BINGO! ONE MILLION DOLLARS!
Merritt and I got the Million Dollar Babies!!!
 
and we can assure you that we already love them so much more than that…
- - - - - - - -

 

Fortunately, all that will be taken care of by Merritt’s insurance (fair deal, these babies are her idea anyhow - you know, women…), a public insurance which comes from the State of California and allows her to choose her doctor.

Now imagine if a programmer like me, covered by Kaiser (a private insurance that’s rated as average in terms of actual care but the best in California in terms of coverage), decided to extend his coverage to his wife and his kids… How much would that cost him? Between $800 and $1,000 per month of premiums, plus $7,000 dollars a year of out-of-pocket expenses. Total: up to $19,000 dollars a year. And he would not even be free to go see the best doctors in town, he’d be stuck with the doctors who are employed by the same company that insures his health (a bit as if your car insurance company was employing an army of auto-mechanics to maximize their profits). Yuck!

And what does happen if the programmer can’t fork out 20 grands annually for health care? Easy: he gets the bill for one million. Why Americans don’t want a health system that’s organized by physicians and ran by the public rather than exploited by the corporate boards of private companies, it’s beyond me…

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chirac.jpgJacques Chirac has never been very technologically inclined. In 1996, 12 years after the Mac, he did not know what a computer mouse was. In 2008, 12 more years later and still mulling the benefits of the invention, he proposes to “tax the clicks on the internet”.

Well, I think the government should tax toilet paper. It would allow us to take advantage of our daily isolations to meditate over those who are a pain in the ass. That’s what we do here in San Francisco

[link, pointed by Daniel]

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