CONTEXT

October 19, 2016

‘Neither Snow nor Sleet, nor Aging of the Fleet…’

I am a huge fan of the US Postal Service, so their recent years on the Republicans’ Ten Most Wanted list of government agencies has been painful to watch.

truck Joshua Reading at Foreign Policy magazine summed it up nicely: “The biggest obstacle to a more efficient post office may be the U.S. Congress, which has failed to approve reform efforts such as setting up retail outlets in post offices, raising prices, shuttering less-used offices, and ending six-day delivery. (As part of its new cost-saving measures, the USPS has managed to circumvent Congress by keeping only parcel service on Saturdays so that, technically, there’s still some service six days a week.)”

But things are finally improving for the venerable USPS – someone had the bright idea of playing to their strengths. They do after all go everywhere and now they do it for Amazon, Fed Ex and even UPS.  That last mile has turned out to be very profitable for them.truck

And that means they can finally replace their geriatric truck fleet – the Northrup Grumman trucks that were new in 1987 were set to be retired after 24 years, but were declared usable – by necessity -for another six years. Now the deadline is upon us and so the USPS is taking bids.

This is a $6 billion contract which does not seem like small beer to me, but maybe it is, because Ford, Nissan and GM, who were all automatically short-listed, failed to make the cut;  I suspect they weren’t interested. (For more, go to Motley Fool.)

Here are your finalists:

  • AM General
  • Karsan Motors
  • Mahindra
  • Oshkosh
  • Spartan Motors
  • VT Hackney

AM General evolved from Jeep via American Motors and gave us the Humvee. Karsan is a Turkish company, Mahindra is Indian and VT Hackney is a subsidiary of VT Systems, which is a subsidiary of a company mostly owned by the government of Singapore.truck

Apparently the old rules no longer apply, because I thought federal contracts had to go to American companies, preferably with union workers.  So call me old-fashioned or ultra-nationalist or whatever you like, but I think American tax dollars should support American workers. Oshkosh is one of the top 100 federal contractors already, so I vote for Spartan, which was started by  four engineers from Diamond Reo when that company closed down years ago. I think six billion will matter to them and be a good thing for the state of Michigan.

In any event, all six finalists have gotten $37 million to build a prototype, which should be available for testing next year. The USPS is looking for fuel efficiency of course and any other green breakthroughs the companies can come up with.  Pretty soon the little truck on the corner wil be brand spanking new and we may have not just the largest (six thousand pieces of mail go through the USPS every second) but the most efficient postal service in the world.

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August 31, 2016

What I did this summer

Filed under: commentary,history — jchatoff @ 7:17 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Not very damn much, to tell the truth. June and July just kind of slid by, the weather generally mild – often below normal – and pretty benign compared to the rest of the country.

At least until this month, when the wild fires started. They got quite close and for several days the air was nasty and cars were covered with ash.

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Sunset through fire smoke.

It didn’t last too long though and soon things went back to normal here in Pleasantville – normal until Sunday night, when an aggressive raccoon decided to make a meal out of my little Doxie-MinPin mix.

She’d barked just once and then run out of the room, barrelling through the screen door to chase the intruder off the porch. Seeing her mistake almost immediately, Lola turned and headed for the safety of the living room.

But the raccoon wouldn’t let go of her back leg until my sister-in-law grabbed a broom and whacked the crap out of him.

So we wound up in the pet ER and Lo came home with a big bandage on her foot and a pack of meds. The docs and techs were great and she seemed to be the only patient, so while we waited, we got into a little convo with the receptionist and I don’t know how – probably my doing – we started talking about Social Security.

She was shy of 30 I think, and mentioned in passing that she doubted that there would be any benefits for her by the time she retired and it just made me feel so sad.

It isn’t only the pitiful job market, student loans and climate change that have been dumped on Millenmials, it’s also the shocking inadequacy of mass media, which delights in fear-mongering and which can’t be bothered to provide actual facts.

Here’s a fact: Raising the cap or raising the tax – or both – would make benefits available for the indefinite future.

As it is, we are good until 2030.

At the moment, the cap is $118,500. After that amount, no SS tax is deducted. If you make 300,000 or 3 million, you pay FICA only on the first 118,500.

Raise that by 100,000 and every Millennial can enjoy a spartan but predictable old age like the rest of us.

For more actual facts, check out The Motley Fool: http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2015/02/10/6-key-facts-about-social-security.aspx

May 15, 2016

Let a thousand salvias bloom…

…because, depending on who you talk to, there are as many as 2,000 species and so you can.

Some botanists insist there are only about 700, but there is a perfectly acceptable list of 986, so I’m sticking with that. Wikipedia has a list of them and just under the letter A you will find almost 80 salvia species.

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Salvia farinacea ‘rhea’ – a beautiful blue, but a tiny bit water-needy

What’s good about salvias is that most of them are not only drought-tolerant, but are uncomplaining when it comes to mediocre soil, which makes them an excellent landscape plant here in Southern California. And all the places that will soon be just like Southern California.

Most of them are also extremely popular with pollinators, which, as we all now know, is a very important aspect of home gardens.

Salvias are the largest genus of the Lamiaceae or mint family – hilariously also known as the deadnettle family -and include shrubs, herbaceous perennials and annuals. And compare their variety, for instance, to their cousins the lavenders, which number only 39.

The name comes from Latin salvere, which means to heal, to feel well – clearly it’s been a medicinal herb for a very long time. Generations have used it for tea, though these days it is used primarily I suspect for its flavor, especially at Thanksgiving, when everyone touts their sage dressing.

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Garden sage. Photo by Kurt Stuber

Thus, Number One on the very long list of salvia species is Salvia officinalis, garden or common sage.

Salvia divinorum is also pretty well known, since it has psychotropic properties. And another member of the family – chia – is familiar to most people, though I was surprised to find it in the salvia family.

A lot of what makes salvias salvias has to do with the flower, which has a kind of orchidish look, but for all the gory details about the calyx and corolla, you’ll have to find your own way to Wikipedia. I still can’t keep my racemes and panicles straight.

Because they are low-maintenance and good for pollinators, I have recently become a huge salvia fan and I would like to share a great resource with you – http://www.fbts.com.

That is the link to Flowers by the Sea, a nursery in Mendocino CA that specializes in salvias and ships from now until mid-June. They literally have hundreds of salvias to choose from and the website is loaded with info. Go right to ‘Getting Started with Salvias’ and they will even tell you what’s best for your planting zone.

In any event, you can heal your garden and your water bill and make the world a better place for bees and butterflies this year, one salvia at a time.

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A lovely pink salvia I saw at the nursery – sorry, I don’t know its name, but there are many pinks to choose from.

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