Monday, June 30, 2008

Bottom of the Food Chain

I think artists are at the bottom of the food chain. Art is the one thing all consumers feel they can delete from their budgets in times of economic upheaval.

So we are frequently the first to know the economy is not strong like GW maintains. And the last to see the effects of any turnaround. I personally think everyone ought to give up ESPN before art.

At this last weeks big New Mexico Arts and Crafts Fair there were a moderate amount of viewers but a dismal amount of buyers. Which means that us artists are returning home with empty fuel tanks, plenty of inventory and doubts about whether or not to continue to create.

We spent much of the slower moments of the show talking alternatives to art shows as a way to peddle our wares and other things to do to make money. Most of us have day jobs we have not quit but they are generally marginal and getting more so. I am thinking of putting on some workshops in my new studio. But do people have money to pay for art lessons and, heaven forbid, art supplies?

So I returned home to make an agonizing appraisal of expenses, delete two other possible shows from the calendar, and hope the next show is better.

I suppose any plea I made here to support your local artist would fall on deaf ears. But it is not just artists. Think of what you are deleting from your expenses and the people connected with that. I am not getting the house stained because of the poor show so the painter is probably not putting any money toward his kid's college fund. It is the trickle down theory at work.

Someone call Bill Gates and tell him to go out and buy art and have his houses painted.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Consumer Confidence?

I think maybe consumer confidence is an oxymoron. I certainly have very little.

My confidence in the foods I buy at the market has reached an all time low. Admitted it has been eroding for some time. In 1981 I discovered rather painfully and almost fatally that the ingredient sulfur does not have to be mentioned on a product label because it is not added to the final product deliberately.

Sulfur, which an alarming number of people are deathly allergic to is a "hitchhiker" on any corn byproduct. It is used on corn to prevent it germinating while it is waiting to become corn syrup or corn starch, etc. And it does not go away in the processing. The incident of the emergency ward alerted me to this little known fact. There has been a very strong lobby to try to get it listed for decades now. Until then I and millions others like me just simply avoid products with corn in them. And dehydrated fruits, and artificial creamers, some sugar substitutes, etc.

I had become used to this process when I discovered a sensitivity to petrochemicals. Also obliquely named on product ingredient labels. Sun block gives me sun blisters of mega proportions. Hand creams cause rashes not heal them, etc. Then came pet food. After losing my aging cat at about the same time my other two got put on an organic diet. The dogs are on the only dog food that has not been named in a recall. I avoid lettuce and spinach in plastic bags and have devoted part of my sun porch to a green house for tomatoes.

When beginning my spring garden this year I discovered the problem with seeds. Burpee and other seed companies are treating their seeds so not only do they not germinate for longer than the one season for which they are purchased but the plants grown from these seeds are sterile. Does this sound like we are painting ourselves into a corner? I live in an area where Anasazi beans discovered in pre-Columbian pottery can be planted and they grow. Now we have genetically altered plants and animals that cannot reproduce.

I am growing my own lettuce, spinach, chard and herbs as well as the tomatoes and sweet bell peppers. I am looking for a good general hunting rifle and have plans with my neighbor for a deer hunt this year. I am also splitting a pig or lamb with her grown by one of our animal raising neighbors. I have my eye on a little chest freezer and thankfully never got rid of the pressure cooker. Back to canning I think. What I don't raise myself I can get from the local farmers' markets. And I buy organic any product I cannot get locally like milk and cheese.

Oh, yeah, they could be mislabeling organic products. But I did read that there is a higher likelihood that organic products will be produced locally. Translate that to mean not Mexico or China. I urge all food producers in Canada and USA to label their products clearly as to point of origin. I find this raises my level of confidence in the product. And I avoid any highly processed food because that increases the chances of some ingredient coming from China or Mexico which does not have any product controls or safety, nor any EPA oversite. That is why the companies moved there to manufacture. It is not all because of low cost labor. Well, I'm not buying.

Now what are you going to do? I am shopping local and shunning global.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Where did my poison come from?

One of those little side agreements that came with the many free trade deals G.W. Bush has been engaging in without congressional oversight is the elimination of point of origin labeling.

Probably not a big deal since his administration has also totally stripped the Food and Drug Administration (and the Environmental Protection Agency too) but now with poisoned tomatoes in 17 states we haven't a clue where they came from. Ergo nobody is buying tomatoes period. Which is a shame as there are some United States suppliers of this wonderful fruit/vegetable that have proven clean of any contamination. But they are having to trash their production for lack of markets.

My personal guess is that the tomatoes came from Mexico. Like to blame China but that is a bit far for a ripe tomato to travel. And the first states where the suspect food showed up were Texas and New Mexico. Right along the Mexico border. But proving that is darn near impossible because of that no point of origin labeling. And if NAFTA gets its way and they allow trucks from Mexico to just roll across the border with no unloading to US trucks we will really be lost. Poison tomatoes can go straight through to Canada.

So since I do not know where the produce in my market comes from I am not buying any of it. Growing my own lettuce and tomatoes and waiting for the farmer's markets for everything else. So if you are a United States producer of vegetables and fruits put Grown in the USA in large letters on it. If I don't see that I will assume Mexico. Not a good assumption. I want to know what I am eating and where it is from.

Monday, June 9, 2008


As I sit here this morning debating the necessity of making a 50 mile round trip into Taos I realize how times have changed. This was once a twice a week routine.

I belonged to a gym in Taos. I had friends there I met for lunch. I did almost all my shopping there except for the trips to the more distant Santa Fe with a Sam's Club, a Lowe's and a Home Depot. Now I seldom go to Santa Fe and only a couple times a month to Taos. And that usually with a friend so we can share gas expenses.

I live in a rural community which depends upon tourism for its livelihood. That is down and the resort has made layoffs. Because of that the tax base for the village is down and they have made layoffs. I have a rental unit which is seldom empty, but it is now. So are lots in the area which once had a shortage of affordable rental housing. So my income is suffering there. And I am an artist. Less art being sold these days.

It is not a new story for many people and yet a CNN news poll said that 3% of the country still felt the economy was strong. G.W.Bush has to be one of those 3% and I would assume his cabinet the rest. And isn't the margin of error on most polls 3%?

What hit me this morning as I looked at the must get list which has been growing beside my computer is the gap between the forced shopping local and the local stores being able to accommodate our needs. They are getting better but not quite there yet. All the little retail stores switched to bare essentials when the big box stores in bigger towns sprung up. Now they are having to reconsider their market needs. The grocery store here is doing a pretty good job of it. So is the local hardware. Can't always get it when you want it but they can order it in for Thursday.

And there are the friendships. I have quite a few friends in Taos. We met rather routinely when I was over there for errands. We did lunch. Now that I am there less frequently my list grows to the point that lunch just isn't possible time or money wise. So once close personal relationships are now e-mail affairs. Taos and Angel Fire used to be neighbor cities and now we are rapidly becoming strangers. With the help of blogs I have closer connections to friends in Australia. We have not quite gotten it that the high price of gas is changing not just our economy but our friendships. It is difficult to think regionally let alone globally.

I definitely don't have any warm and fuzzy feelings for the oil companies or OPEC or the current administration. I remember being in this place in the 70's and everyone talked of solutions that obviously nobody put into effect because of the huge political clout of Exxon, etc. I certainly hope this time will be different but somehow I doubt it. That 3% that think the economy is solid are the ones pulling all the strings.

Oh, and I am having a difficult time even feeling sorry for the rest of the country with the announced $4.00/gallon prices. We have been over $4.00 for weeks.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Just a Horse Race

My father always said it was the difference of opinion which made horse racing possible. I would think how boring it would be without horses. And horse races. Or contests of any kind. It only seems in politics that I am inclined to think, "How stupid are you to think your candidate is better than mine?"

I believe this thinking first was evident during the campaign of Richard M. Nixon. I recognized in him a certain insanity that seemed reflected in the people that fell into what I have come to think of as "mad dog" supporters. Those individuals who will absolutely no listen to reason or hear a single bad think about their candidate. It was shortly after he resigned from office and was pardoned that I fell into voting for the lessor of two evils. I have always voted. But I will admit I seem to vote for losers. Even with horses I might add.

I voted for Gore and for Kerry. I worked on McGovern's staff. Was clean for Gene. Frequently the candidate I most like is eliminated in the primaries like Biden or Richardson. Since I liked him I just knew Obama was going to lose the fight with Hillary. I was rather shocked that he didn't. So having learned something with age I didn't break up marriages or relationships or kiss off friendships over this primary. I have a few friends that are Hillary supporters. Fewer that believe in McCain. I admit I fall back to the, "How can you be so stupid?" gut reaction with avid McCainites.

A Hillary supporter friend of mine was half apologetic following Hillary's non-concession speech on June 3rd. I think she thought I would rub her nose in it. No, that was one horse race. Now we are on to the second horse race. Who do you like in his field? I am finding this rather refreshing actually. Because during the ten year campaign of G. W. Bush it was hostile and all about make wrong. After 9/11 you were either for the dictator or a traitor. We started whispering in corners. And by his second stolen election we were sure we were going to be burned at the stake or hung from the yardarm. I had anti-war friends during the Nixon years that vanished from the face of the earth. I fully expected
it again.

So we have run a long and difficult horse race and we are all still here. Nobody has died or vanished yet. When you live through JFK, RFK and Martin Luther assassinations you start expecting the worst routinely. So far it is just a horse race. And that is good. Now on to the second horse race. Wouldn't it be nice if there was no bloodshed, no cheating, no name calling, nobody dying? Just a race for President of the free world. Wouldn't it be nice if the world was really free.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Dream Ticket Really A Nightmare?

Barack Obama acquired the necessary delegates to be the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party. But Hillary has not conceded the race. Sour grapes? Certainly bad sportsmanship.

She has let it be know that she will consider vice-president. Will she only admit Barack won if she is begged to be on the ticket? Who knows, but there is something about the whole thing that just smells bad.

Several of her supporters are on air today saying what a great idea the dream ticket would be. I think it would be a nightmare for Obama and for the nation. And I think it would be an open invitation for some rabid supporter of Hillary to assassinate the President once they are elected. John F. Kennedy was urged to take Lyndon B. Johnson as his running mate and look what happened to him when he visited Johnson's home state? And Hillary has already brought up the thought in references to RFK.

But that aside can you imagine establishing a working relationship with her? One of the many reasons she failed in the bid were staffing problems. And she showed on numerous occasions during the campaign her inability to compromise to admit error. She was also totally unable to reign in her husband, so any campaign for President with her as second would have Bill to deal with. And clearly she does not lose gracefully.

I can think of several other possible running mates that would be a far better ticket than Obama/Hillary. I personally like Obama/Richardson though it makes for a bit longer bumper sticker. You could go with Barack and Bill. Has a nice ring. But whomever he chooses should be his decision. He certainly should not be forced into adopting the failed Clinton political machine when he is professing to be the candidate of change.

I saw his speech last night and loved it. I believe choosing Hillary as VP would put much of that speech in doubt. Yes, he needs a VP with experience but he does not need Hillary. That is like trying to swim the English Channel with the mooring lines still tied to the pier.

And Hillary needs to bow out gracefully and concentrate on being a really great Senator. We are going to need another icon like Ted Kennedy in the future.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bad States, Bad

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has at last spoken and the states of Michigan and Florida have had their hands slapped for breaking the rules. But what about Hillary? She broke them too.

All the other candidates when the DNC decided to censure these two states from jumping ahead in the primary slate removed their names from the ballots. But not Hillary. She even campaigned in Florida knowing it would not count. Sorry, folks but this reminds me a lot of G.W. Bush who feels the rules are not for him.

Well, she whined enough that the DNC decided to hold a meeting and see if the could come up with a compromise that would satisfy all parties. I think it did rather the reverse but such is the nature of compromises at times. And it is not like Michigan has not tried this before. Or that the Clintons have shown a tendency to follow the rules if it does not benefit them. But as a trainer of dogs I know if you don't make them sit when you say sit the first time they will take it as meaning they can sit when they damn well want to sit. I see that rather too much in our politicians as it is.

In fact there is in this country a growing tendency to not make people, organizations, businesses, Presidents, states, kids or even dogs suffer the consequences of their actions. We are so afraid of how it will look, or the potential for lawsuits that we tip toe around and just mumble under our breath how bad this or that was. We never even tried to impeach G.W.Bush for lying about Iraq and its WMD. But we impeached Bill Clinton for lying about sex with Monica. Our rules and the degree to which we want to enforce them seems all to flexible.

There seem to be different sets of rules. In the court system there is clearly a set of rules for the rich (O.J.Simpson among others) and another set for the poor which are nameless and numerous. Politics seems to also have different sets of rules for those that whine and for those that try to play fair. And Florida and Michigan clearly backed the DNC into the corner by threatening to go Republican. And Hillary won some of the illegally obtained delegates by whining (something I find particularly reprehensible in women because we get accused of it unfairly at times). But she did not get them all. And it did not put her ahead of Obama that played by the rules set by the DNC.

So just let me add: Bad States, Bad; Bad DNC, Bad; Bad Hillary, Bad. Go to your crates until you can behave like good dogs. Nobody report me to the SPCA please.