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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Madness Is Here!

It is mid-March, that means five things: 1) The Ides of March are upon us--are your friends and supporters truly friendly and supportive? Et tu? 2) St. Patrick's Day will turn 25 year old Jewish guys of Polish-Somali-Panamanian decent into Green Beer chugging-Guiness sipping-"where's my Green Top Hat" wearing fools 3) I need to get a card for my Dad's birthday next week 4) I need to get my tax crap together to pay for my portion of the "stimulus" bill and 5) the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship, aka March Madness, is here!

Far and away the best sporting event in not only America but the world (yeah, yeah, 3.8 billion people watch the World Cup--but it earns bubkus because U.S. television money isn't there because we don't care. Before you harp on my provincial and jingoist stance, ppphhhhlllllbbbbtttt! I watch parts of the World Cup, I have lived in Europe during the World Cup and know the passion it generates--It ain't the Fianl Four so big deal). No other sporting event has 63 games (64 if you count the stupid "play-in" game they added a few years ago) over on ten days over two weeks spread through out the country where half the games, though it seems like every game, comes down to the final seconds. Nothing comes close--though NHL playoff hockey does have its share of tight games and exciting finishes but now I'm drifting into World Cup territory for many SoCals.

March Madness, who came up with that moniker? Dick Vitale? Final Four, another great name that has been appropriated by other sports and even companies; "Hey Dick who is in our Final Four for West Coast Environmental Control Management Oversight Developer?" Thank God for ESPN because it was made for the NCAA's and the NCAA's were made for ESPN and together in the mid-80's when the two got together both exploded.

When I was growing up the NCAAs consisted of who was going to lose to UCLA in the Championship as John Wooden's Bruins won ten titles in twelve years. With only sixteen teams in the tournament it only took four games to win it all as oppossed to the six in a row now required, but Wooden and UCLA just played the format they were given--and always won.

When I was in high school in Brussels our news of the tournament came in delayed scores and reports in the International Herald Tribune, the English daily; or via the Armed Forces Radio Network broadcast out of Germany that we were able to pick up. Thirty years ago, 1979, was the most anticipated match up of my lifetime between two of the greatest players of all time and we had to wait until the next morning to see who had won between the Michigan State team of Earvin "Magic" Johnson and the Indiana State team led by Larry Bird. Setting the stage for a decade of combat in the NBA, the game was won somewhat handily by Michigan State but that was almost a sidebar to the personal match up between Magic and Bird.

Two years later I was in California for college and finally able to watch some of the early round games and the finals. There was no live coverage of any of the first round games, we had to watch them on tape delay at 11:30 at night--but being in college we could care less! We would stay up and watch the upsets and last second shots that ended one teams season and allowed the other to play at least one more game.

More importantly to watching the games in college was the begining of The Pool. My friend Wes and I devised our own bracket pool, one that seems to have been spontaneously spawned across America over the ensuing years. With increasing "points" for each correctly predicted round, we began our annual tradition with the 1982 tournament I believe--the year Freddie Brown of Georgetown through the ball away to James Worthy of North Carolina in the closing seconds costing the Hoyas a shot at winning the game. What is more widely remembered today about that game was the game winning shot with about 15 seconds left hit by a freshman, Michael Jordan. Anyway I believe that was the year we started The Pool.

After I graduated in 1984 (Wes had diplomad the year before) we got together our pool members, me, Wes, Schnell, BT, Buddy and Rocky for the 1985 tournament. Wes and I shared an apartment on Redondo next to the Reno Room parking lot in Long Beach and we had cable. And ESPN had signed a contract to carry all of the games on the opening Thursday and Friday. The tournament field had expanded to 64 teams so ESPN would have coverage from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. bringing us all or parts of all 16 games each day. With Dick Vitale anchoring coverage in what now is a cheesy studio set up, ESPN would break into game coverage for exciting finish after exciting finish. About every two hours when games were winding down we would see last second shots and blocks from game after game after game. It was nirvana! And ESPN showed the die hard sports fan what we had never seen before, all the drama in one day over thirty-two teams playing a one and done tournament.

Since that year we added Don, Wes' Dad, to the pool and it stayed that way until about ten years ago when we added Pete. Wes and I are in the LA area, Don is in Escondido, Schnell works in Colorado, BT dodges rain in Seattle, Rocky is in Portland, Buddy is stitching people up in Pensacola and Pete is painting houses in New Jersey. Eight guys with the same routine for over two decades, with the exception of Don, before careers we had The Pool, before wives we had The Pool, before kids we had The Pool. Once a year I know I will communicate with each of these guys catching up on our lives, ribbing about picks and years past, keeping the friendships and the relationships active.

But all that is mushy stuff we don't analyze or think about. What matters most is whether Memphis can get out of the West or if Syracuse will upset Oklahoma in the South. It's tournament time baby!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Random Thoughts Waiting For IT

Yesterday my hard drive crashed, the dreaded blue screen "scanning disk" message appeared followed by the "unable to read" message.

Good bye data! Thankfully I have subscription to great backup program. Unthankfully hours and money are spent to restore the many software programs I use and then the data. Ay-yi-yi.

While waiting for different steps and procedures in the process I started a list of very random thoughts to occupy myself, here they are in no order...since they are random!

When heading into, in the midst of or coming out of a recession job growth and creativity is a very good idea. Most jobs in America are created by small and medium sized businesses. Because of their margins they are generally the most susceptible to changes in tax rates and fees. Point A.

There are many in America who feel health care is a right, as is health insurance to assist in paying for medical care. Some feel the government should take on the responsibility of providing health insurance, many feel that employers should take on the responsibility of providing health insurance. While it is not the employers responsibility to ensure employees have auto insurance or homeowners coverage or life insurance, it has become not only common practice but often a requirement for employers to offer and/or provide health care insurance for their employees and their families. This costs employers money. Point B.

The word on the street is that President Obama will not propose it, but he will definitely support it. What is it? Some Democrats in Congress looking for more revenue they can shovel as pork to their donors are proposing removing the tax-free status of employer provided benefits. Point C.

Connecting the dots, let's force employers to offer, and in many cases pay for, health care insurance to their employees and let's also make them pay taxes on it. Points B and C do not connect to Point A, creating jobs. Points B and C lead to Point D: job loss, which is loss in income taxes, and continued recession. Simple geometry.

Having worked on an alien laptop (a 2001 Toshiba Satellite) for a day and a half I realized how much I hate using a mouse and will most likely never again have a computer/laptop that does not have a touchpad mouse. As efficient as computers make our lives how inefficient is it to take one's hand off the keypad to manipulate a mouse and then return to the keyboard? I love my Synaptics Pointing Device!

Several upper level appointments derailed from taking office due to personal responsibility issues, failure to live up to promises, inability to extemporaneously communicate with ease and substance, senior advisers and authorities making statements against core values and beliefs, consistent marketing that presents product in a negative tone and light. If these actions were the actions of the CEO of a company where you held a lot of stock in your portfolio would you buy more, hold or sell your position? Anyone out there who supported Obama getting buyer's remorse fifty days in? For many Republicans buyer's remorse set in with President Bush when he joined forces with Teddy Kennedy and pushed through No Child Left Behind which expanded the role of the Federal government; some came back after 9/11, some stayed away. What is the sentiment from lukewarm supporters after Obama's appointment gaffes, handing his fiscal policy to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, having a Secretary of State seemingly unconcerned about human rights, signing a spending bill with almost 9,000 earmarks despite campaign promises to go line by line through all spending bills and eliminate earmarks, not to mention the pork in his stimulus bill, increasing our nation's debt 200% in 40 days, and in virtually every speech has nothing but negative messages about our nation's present and future after wagging his finger at the "politics of fear" from Republicans. Again, anyone having any buyer's remorse?

After working on Internet Explorer 6.0 I missed the tabbies of IE 7.0. How did we manage on IE 1.0??

Darwin's theory of evolution was that species over time, a lot of time, adapted to the environment--thicker or thinner fur, change in colors to avoid or promote detection, gills. Man has undergone changes to walk upright and having to shave some parts. As I was without keyboard based email and utilizing my Blackberry more the last few days I noticed a significant adaption I had made that was missing. I had clipped too short my thumbnail. This dramatically changed my ability to type using the left side of my Blackberry keypad, I am eager for this nail to grow rapidly so I might have a more normal texting experience.

How come the Democratic politicians are taking the road with the California Teachers Association to protest cuts to education in California? Didn't they cause the fiscal situation we are in--albeit with complicity from a handful of Republicans with each budget. CTA has exclusively funded Democrats for office in California, Democrats have completely controlled the budget process, spending has gone up over 40% in the past five to six years, and they have the cojones to protest? An example of chutzpah is a teenager who has murdered his parents pleading for mercy because he is an orphan--Democrats and the teachers' unions in California have killed the fiscal health of our state and now are claiming they are underfunded: chutzpah. If one were to list the three parties most responsible for our fiscal mess I would say the Democrats in the legislature, the public employees unions who funnel millions and millions into their campaigns, and the blind California voters who just look for the (D) when punching a ballot.

I think I have found a great cheesecake recipe, but I have only made it once. It was terrific but was it a fluke? I am hoping to find out this weekend. Keep your fingers crossed.

Don't forget to check out my weekly rate and mortgage market updates on my professional website at, though this week it may be delayed due to previously noted computer issues.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Long Beach Library Parcel Tax: Good Idea? Bad Idea?

Fifth District Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske has created the Save Our Long Beach Libraries Task Force as a reaction to budget cuts facing the City of Long Beach which will most likely have a very negative impact on the budget for the City's libraries. Schipske is proposing a parcel tax, currently being floated is approximately $35 per year per single family residence, that would be dedicated to the Long Beach Public Library.

This appears to be a good idea, a way to guarantee funding for libraries, and perhaps even increase the budget for the library system in Long Beach. Three dollars a month does not seem like a lot of money to most property owners. The cause, funding to restore, maintain and grow the library system's infrastructure and services would impact literacy and guarantee future generations would have a stable library in their community. Who is against increasing literacy, or the opportunity to become literate, in their community?

The difficulty with this tax at this time is the distrust between voters and those for whom they cast their votes. We have seen our Federal budget explode to over $3 trillion in the last month. We have seen a decade or more of fiscal irresponsibility in Sacramento where spending has out paced population by 400% and thousands of dollars of new taxes have been added to California families each year. Locally, Long Beach residents have seen the loss of $20 million imprudently invested weeks before Lehman Brothers crashed, budget deficit projections of $20 million or more in the coming years, and a belief that City Hall does not spend the tax payers' money prudently. Millions on a pier to no where for the Aquataxi, millions year in and year out for consultants to do the work for departments that are already staffed, millions in salaries for personnel that are redundant throughout the city, i.e. "spokesperson" or "community advisor" or "communications director" in every department--many of whom do not, speak, advise or communicate that is. Why should we give another $3-5 million every year to an entity that we feel has not been wisely spending our money? Further, if the parcel tax is passed will this free up the current library budget for other departments?

So how to balance the good idea and the bad idea? To increase the chances of the parcel tax passing I feel to ballot proposition needs to clearly state who will be overseeing the funds to ensure they are used only for the Long Beach library system for buidlings, books and technology. Clearly define the purpose of the funds and also state who will oversee the allocation and accounting of the funds received and spent. Oh, and this body of oversight should be removed from City Hall.

Currently there are two organizations operating as non-profits that state as their missions they support the Long Beach Public Library, the Friends of the Long Beach Public Library (Friends) and the Long Beach Public Library Foundation (Foundation). In looking at their websites it appears the Friends are affiliated directly with the library, with an "Executive Board." The names of the Executive Board and how they are selected are not listed on the site. The Foundation appears to be much more independent of the library system and while offering support and programs has a listed board of directors, none of whom currently work for the City of Long Beach. In searching through both websites neither indicates how individuals are selected to sit on their Executive Board or Board of Directors.

I bring up the selection of leadership because it may be that either of these entities, or a hybrid of their community leadership, may be the answer to an independent body to oversee the distribution of funds for library projects should one be provided for in a ballot initiative. Citizens of Long Beach would be much more likely to vote for a library parcel tax if they had assurances current or future city officials would not be able to raid the funds, or strip library funds from the General Fund, for other projects or to back fill budget shortfalls.

A parcel tax for Long Beach Public Libraries? A good idea if proper oversight, away from City Hall, is applied to the process, a bad idea of the revenue raised from the tax is loosely guarded and vulnerable to future appropriations for non-library purposes.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Coyotes in Bixby Knolls...What To Do?

There are morning people and there is the rest of the world. Morning people often like to start their day off by themselves, enjoying their solitude as their part of the world wakes up around them. Some morning people welcome the new day dawning with a walk or jog through their neighborhood. Listening to their steps and the rhythm of their pace blending in with the twittering birds coming alive in the trees over head, a semi-meditative state allows the morning person to plan his day, write his correspondence, contemplate his purpose in life and pray for guidance in the decisions that lay ahead.

If you neighborhood is like the neighborhoods I have lived in over the years most of your early morning inhabitants are solitary creatures; solo walkers and joggers easily outnumber those in pairs by a factor of five or six to one—not counting those with canine companions. And so it has been with me for many years as I naturally awaken before dawn, put on the coffee, take about ten to fifteen minutes for an inspirational read, and grab a cup of coffee and the leash—time for the dog to take me for a thirty to forty minute walk.

Imagine you are a morning person, if you already are one Good Morning!, and you are on your daily routine quietly keeping pace on your standard route when you come across a predatory wild animal. Now imagine instead of coming upon not one coyote but two. Yikes! If you have a pet on a leash you quickly run through the options, keep him on the leash so you can drag him out of a fight, but that may lead the coyotes to you, let him off the leash so he can run, but that may doom him to the pair ganging up on him, take him off the leash and use the clip as a weapon you can swing and hit with if need be, pour hot coffee on their heads. You come to your senses, stop walking and very slowly and carefully back away until you are a safe enough distance away to quickly make it home.

You passed the first test of what to do when you spot a coyote in your environment: do not engage and quickly exit the immediate area. But now what? Now that you are home what are you to do? I put this question and more to John Keisler who is the Bureau Manager for the City of Long Beach Animal Care Services after spotting two coyotes who appeared to be stalking/hunting what I presumed to be a cat near the corner of California and Claiborne on Wednesday morning just before dawn (about 5:50 a.m.) as I was walking Harrison. Fortunately we were still a block and a half away when the yelping and barking alerted me to their presence and we were able to turn back without being noticed by the coyotes.

Keisler told me that our neighborhood, bordered by Atlantic on the West, San Antonio on the North, Orange on the East and Carson on the South, has been very active with coyote sightings and reports—he knows because they track them from calls (562-570-PETS <7387>) and entries on their website where they have a coyote incident form residents can complete (here).

What should I do if I spot a coyote or two in my neighborhood? Who should I call? If you spot the animal(s) outside of Animal Control’s regular hours and call their number (562-570-PETS or 7387) it is forwarded to the Long Beach Fire Department. If it is a life or injury threatening emergency they will send assistance.
What if it is not life threatening, I want to report the animals and have them removed from our neighborhood?
Animal Control’s ability to trap and/or kill coyotes is restricted by state law and is under the guidance and governance of the Department of Fish and Game. If coyotes are spotted under “normal” circumstances, which means pre-dawn or post-dusk when they are most active and hunting for food, animal control will not and cannot pick up the animals unless there is the threat of personal injury or risk. If coyotes are spotted roaming during daylight hours, which is considered unusual, then Animal Control can trap them—however state law mandates that the animals are released in proximity to where they were trapped.
In other words, there is not much residents can expect from Animal Control in terms of removal of coyotes from their neighborhood.
Correct, because of the state law limits the terms under which coyotes can be trapped or killed, unless a very unusual circumstance is occurring residents must find a way to share their neighborhood with the wild animals that sometime inhabit the area.
What are my risks as a resident, a parent and as a pet owner?
(I told Keisler we have a collie) Since your dog is pretty good size most coyotes will avoid him and not want to engage—they are after smaller and easier prey like rats, mice, birds and cats if they are hunting. Also humans are fairly safe as long as they do not attempt to interact with the coyotes. Coyote attacks on humans are very rare (website here indicates that this is not so much the case any more with three attacks on children in California in 2008. While most of the attacks have occurred in newer developments on the “edge” of natural habitats, as coyotes in urban areas like Long Beach become more accustomed to humans the chances of attacks increase).
Why are the coyotes in my neighborhood?
They are looking for food and the easier the better. Feral cats are a prime target, as are small dogs and other pets left out of the home at night. A primary source of food for all roaming animals is trash cans—if the coyotes do not raid the open containers then feral cats may be attracted to them, which in turn draw the coyotes; it is like a buffet for them.
How long will they be around?
Depending on the food supply most coyotes move on after a couple of weeks, however the ones in your neighborhood have been there for a while longer. Your neighbors have been very good about documenting the sightings.

Keisler was very informative and I am grateful for his time. What I took away from the conversation was a few items. First, to those who insist on maintaining outdoor cats and feeding feral cats—you are just setting them up to be coyote bait and by keeping them you are luring them into a neighborhood with children and responsible pet owners. Bring the cats inside or be prepared to lose them to our wild animal residents--deservedly I will add.

Second, neighbors who leave their trash containers open, like these two on the alley between California and Myrtle just north of Tehachapi (one block south of where I spotted the coyotes last week) who always leave their containers open so they can just drop their trash bags over the fence, are inviting the coyotes into the neighborhood. The irony on these two families is they both have dogs and are inviting predators to come and possibly attack them with their irresponsible behavior in regards to their refuse containers.

Third, the protection of the coyote as a wild animal in a long established residential area takes precedence over the protection of the residents from attack from the coyotes per state law; I am sure there are some who agree with this policy and some who disagree with it--either way it is the policy and Long Beach Animal Control must abide by it.
It is resident beware. Make sure if there is coyote activity in your neighborhood you alert your neighbors, take care during non-daylight hours as to your pets and children, and encourage your neighbors to not leave out over night pets or pet food and to make sure refuse containers are properly secured. One advantage of our coyote prowlers is there will certainly be a decrease in feral cats using our gardens as litter boxes and spreading fleas and other diseases to our pets--for every cloud there is a silver lining.