Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Random paranoia

Banana prices have gone up 18% at SFW, where they used to be 33 cents a pound. They have also gone up to 39 cents a pound at the korean market where they used to be 27. My natural thought is that the banana republics that used to have their currency pegged to ours are getting unpegged. But maybe it's due to bad weather, or the vagaries of the market economy.

Salmon prices are up from $4/pound to $5 and sometimes $6. The korean market sells whole salmon for $3/pound, though. They used to sell salmon heads for $1.50 a pound but they don't have them now -- however they have cod heads for $2.00. And they have whole tilapia for $2.50 too.

At SFW the cheapest cuts of beef are up to $5/pound, from $4, not counting heart at $3 and kidney at $2.50. The korean market has beef shank at $2.50 a pound and beef hind shank at $3. But flank is up to $6, skirt is up to $5.50, frozen tendon is $3.50, tripe is $2, tail is $3.50, and frozen neck bones are $1.35.

Chicken is up. I can get a whole chicken for 99 cents a pound at the korean market, but it's one of those strange-looking ones. They have small frozen turkeys at 99 cents a pound, and frozen duck for $2 a pound.

Green beans are 95 cents a pound at the korean market and $1.65 at SFW. Tough-skin tomatoes are 95 cents at the korean market and $1.79 at SFW. Romaine lettuce is $1.75 a bunch both places.

Milk is $2.50 for 1%, $2.65 for 2%, and $3.05 for whole milk at SFW. That's by far the cheapest, milk costs $3.49 at CVS and $3.69 at Safeway.

Eggs are cheap, 89 cents an extra-large dozen at SFW and 99 cents at the korean market.

Beans are expensive at the korean market (and presumably higher quality), they're up at SFW, most kinds of dried beans were 69 2 weeks ago but 78 today, with some variation. An exception is dried split peas, which are 62 in the american aisle and 45 in the hispanic section.

Canned peaches have gone from 89 to 1.05 at SFW. The light syrup ones have sugar now instead of pear juice, but there are still canned pears in pear juice.

Cheese is up. Bread is up. Fresh produce is up. This is inflation. But you can get a lot more computer for the same price than you used to, which for some people makes up for it.

I've noticed myself buying extra food for emergencies. One day's worth of canned food for the car, in case we're driving and people get hungry. Another week's canned food plus vitamins to put in the car quick if we want to. It doesn't really make sense -- if you can get gasoline you surely can get food. I feel comforted to have it.

A couple months of dried food -- rice, beans, flour, pasta, oatmeal, vitamins, etc. More trouble to cook but cheaper and bulkier and so less valuable, less worth stealing. Ten gallons of water stored and stuff to purify creek water.

A couple weeks of backpacking food, mostly dried with a little freeze-dried for emergencies. It doesn't make sense -- how far could I get on foot with a 2-year-old? It's a comfort.

A candle stove in the car (and can opener, and spoons), and a zip stove with extra batteries ready to load.

All things I kept in california in case of earthquake. There isn't going to be a major earthquake in northern virgina. Somehow I feel a little better to be a little bit prepared. I'd feel better still if I knew what I was preparing for.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Random party conversation

At a birthday party at Chuckee Cheese's with my daughter, I met somebody from a DC think tank. There was a birthday show going on, *very* loud. When it got a little quieter I pointed to the Chuckee Cheese mascot. "Is that a rat?"

"That's Chuckee Cheese. Just like on the sign outside."

"Yes, but is it a rat?"

"It's a rat or a mouse."

"Out of all the animals they could have had, how did their marketing people think to use a rat?" The big manikin wiggled its long nose and batted its eyes like it knew that it was cuter than a thousand children. I tried to imagine somebody inside wearing that big head as a mask. I could see two tiny irregularities on the face at what would be eye level on a human, that seemed too far apart and way too small for eyeholes. But then, it could be a fiber optic deal. Spread them out on one end and you'd get a wide field of view, but the perspective would be off. You'd have to learn how to walk with that.

"That's true. They could have used a rabbit or a kangaroo."

"Or even a raccoon. Say, I overheard you talking about social security. Do you write to publish?"

"Yes, sometimes. We're just a little think tank, we only deal with one issue, but I'm writing a paper about how social security affects our issue and vice versa so I've spent a few weeks finding out about it."

I said, "Good. We need more people to understand about that, though it doesn't take much to understand how it relates to the Bush administration."

"The media has been doing a piss-poor job of reporting this. The issue isn't anything like what people think it is."

"Yes, I'd been hearing about that from blogs and such, but I didn't study it in detail myself."

"They say it has a long time before it goes into crisis, but really it goes broke in 2017. They want to count one point seven trillion dollars in treasury bonds as assets, plus interest. And the government won't be able to pay those bonds, so they aren't really assets for social security. I don't trust the Bush administration, but they're right about this."

I said, "Why do they talk about social security and not medicare?"

"Medicare would be an even harder problem so they're going after the easy one first. And social security is in deep trouble in 2017."

"Well, but that isn't something wrong with social security, that's something wrong with the budget. Why is the US government spending so much more than we collect?"

"I'm a moderate and I don't say whether taxes are too low or too high. But yes, there's a problem with that and it's going to hit social security in 2017. They can't count those t-bonds as assets. This business of the government loaning itself money is just wrong."

"There's a simple solution about that for social security. Just sell all the t-bonds and buy commercial bonds. Then social security wouldn't be loaning money to the government. We'd get more interest from them too because there's the chance they might default while government bonds never default. US bonds are the safest investment there is."

"Um, it used to be that way."

I said, "It still is. Do your really think the US government would default on its bonds? That's something sleazy third-world countries do. You don't really want our bondholders to think that, do you? So anyway, social security could sell all its t-bonds and buy commercial bonds, and bonds from the british government and the german government and all like that. There isn't any danger that britain will default on their bonds, or germany or japan or india. It's only the USA that's in trouble."

"But if social security sold their bonds the government would be in deep shit."

"Yes. It isn't social security that's in trouble, it's the federal budget, and a long time before 2017."

"Well, when you look back at how it got this way it wasn't just republicans and it wasn't just recent. I'd put the blame about 50:50."

I said, "Yes. But who are you going to trust to get us out of it? The Bush administration has shown us they're liars and thieves. They're talking about social security instead of medicare because social security has money they want to steal, and medicare doesn't. We can't get a start on a solution for another four years. We need a reform government and I don't care whether it's republican or democrat, but the people who got us into this aren't going to get us out. Certainly not under Bush's leadership."

"Excuse me, I have to take my son out to play the Chuckee Cheese games and win tickets."

Awhile later I met him in the aisle as he was returning to the table. I stuck out my hand. He seemed surprised for a moment, then he shook my hand. "Good conversation!"