The land of the old.

It was a few years ago that I started to notice a particular type of billboard on our travels up north. Once the subdivisions give way to forests, they come fast and furious: A smiling old person sits in a wheelchair, while a young woman in a gaily printed medical-scrub top stands nearby, or perhaps kneels so as to look up into the old person’s eyes. In the big type, one of two basic messages:

When you think joint replacement, think (name of hospital) “Joint replacement” is interchangeable with “cardiac catheterization” or any other surgery unlikely to be performed on people under 50.

Your No. 1 choice in health-care careers: (name of community college)

What this tells any half-bright observer is that you’re entering an economic dead zone, a post-industrial (or, in the case of northern Michigan, post light-industrial) wasteland filled with old people who lack the will or cash to move. Or you’ve entered Florida, Arizona or North Carolina. But this is a signifier, as the proprietor of Gin and Tacos knows well:

Visit the website of any derelict Rust Belt city and search for references to the number of hospitals or the strength of the health care sector. It won’t take long to find them. It turns out that along with local government and, of course, prisons, hospitals are one of the few things that remain open when everything else closes. They may not have jobs anymore, but someone still needs to lock ’em up and occasionally stitch ’em up. The hundreds of Fast Company-style articles in the business media over the past few years proclaiming nursing as THE NEXT BIG THING in the job market always puzzled me… is it really a sign of the strength of our economy when the best job (supposedly) is to take care of the rapidly increasing number of dying old people?

When I went to New York last fall, I was amazed at all the strollers being pushed around Brooklyn, even as I knew Brooklyn is the breeders’ borough of choice. I felt like one of the old people in “Children of Men,” P.D. James’ novel about a dystopian future where all the women in the world have become infertile. Michigan is an aging state, even below the up-north regions, something our booming health-care sector indicates. I’m not quite one of those women who, at the sight of a baby, wants to run up and beg to stroke the infant’s downy-soft flesh, but I feel I’m getting there. This maybe the the grandma years asserting themselves, I admit.

But if I’m such a grandma-in-waiting, why did I seriously consider making this — “tatted up, overweight, half-ass English speaking gap-tooth skank ho” — my Twitter bio yesterday? This is from the woeful recent works of a local judge, who was booted from the bench yesterday, and you can follow the link to get the rest of the story, but for some reason that line stuck with me. Some people can really make a text message sing.

Oy, what a week. The cold is finally, finally breaking. Wendy and I worked at home today, and that usually means a morning/noon walkie, but we both stood at the back door and just scowled; as the misery drags on, we both seem to be getting weaker, not stronger.

And Opening Day is Monday. I can’t decide if I want to go to the office and behold the spectacle; it could be terribly ugly.

A little light bloggage: I’ve talked before here about urban farms in Detroit, really more like super-gardens. Here’s a charming story about a woman I know here, who raises ducks on four lots adjacent to her home. Actually, she doesn’t exactly raise ducks, but rather has them, and collects the eggs. At some point you can’t really say you’re raising livestock if you’re unwilling to swing the axe on the chopping block, and Suzanne treats her flock like friends. She has a B&B on one side of the complex, and if any of you are interested in visiting the Paris of the Midwest, I’m sure she can hook you up for a great price.

Otherwise? That’s it for me. Have a great weekend, all.

Posted at 12:30 am in Same ol' same ol' |

55 responses to “The land of the old.”

  1. Dexter said on March 28, 2014 at 1:36 am

    “The Tigers have agreed to an eight-year contract extension with Miguel Cabrera reportedly worth $248 million.”~ Freep-
    By gawd, I’m gonna get in shape and be a baseball player.

    Park Slope is in Brooklyn

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  2. Deggjr said on March 28, 2014 at 7:11 am

    When company retiree medical coverage fades away and Medicare is drained of money, those healthcare jobs won’t exist either.

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  3. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 28, 2014 at 7:39 am

    Allow me to gently demur at “old people who lack the will or cash to move.” The bulk of them have no desire to move, whether or not they wish to liquidate their primary assets and head for the Gulf or the Rio Grande. It does create a particular set of circumstances that you describe quite accurately — the outflow of manufacturing jobs does mean there’s an inexorable exodus of young people, ratcheting up the average age when each new cohort out of high school or technical college (we an excellent one of the latter) muddles about locally for a while and then, like a flock of geese, start to peel off in singles and pairs and clumps and then what seems like the whole flock to fly south for the remainder of their lives.

    Yet there are large number of older Midwesterners who have some options, many possible courses of action, and have chosen to maintain roots and spend amazing amounts of time (seventies, eighties, nineties age folk) working in the churches and non-profits and community causes. I have to say this even more cautiously, because my parents have joined this other group, but the snowbirds are generally the least happy, most discontented seniors I spend time around. I hope, I imagine, that there are happy relocated older people in the lands of blessed sunlight in January, but those who do the half and half are not entirely at home in either unless it’s inside of the reassuring familiarity of a Red Lobster on either end of their ongoing search for home. The come back north, and we all have irritatingly moved on in various ways (painting church bathrooms, tearing down decaying structures, letting gay people have rights within our/their organizations) without consulting them, and they flail about in impotent dismay for a few months before returning to their more southerly Ruby Tuesdays’.

    Do I see and work with a contingent of seniors who would like to move to McAllen TX and can’t because they never had two dimes to rub together? Sure, but that’s not the whole story. They’re not even most of the story. The problem, as Nancy goes on to point more specifically at, is that the main economic engine is health care and Medicare dollars for those remaining young graduates. And our ongoing community challenge is to figure out what industries and investments we can keep encouraging and facilitating without giving away the store in tax breaks that you just can’t structure cleverly enough to keep them from using beyond what had been intended and fleeing the moment they end, leaving newer abandoned building to keep company with the empty brick blocks of former tire and casting and machining plants from the Fifties and Sixties.

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  4. Rob Daumeyer said on March 28, 2014 at 8:06 am

    I have this crazy thought that when global warming hits a certain temperature, people will head back to Michigan and Ohio and Indiana because these states have bearable weather and water. I don’t care how big your air conditioner is, who wants to live in Atlanta if/when it’s 103 degrees every day?

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  5. beb said on March 28, 2014 at 8:17 am

    People will be flocking back to Michigan in another decade or two because we have one thing other parts of the nation don’t — water!

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  6. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 28, 2014 at 8:56 am

    Excellent point, beb.

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  7. nancy said on March 28, 2014 at 9:15 am

    Water is the oil of the 21st century.

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  8. Peter said on March 28, 2014 at 9:36 am

    I think the article Gin and Tacos referred to has a typo – it says that “540,000 health care jobs were created last year in Michigan alone” Michigan has 4.2 million non farm jobs – that would mean 13% of Michigan’s economy are new health care jobs created in the past 12 months. Not even North Dakota can claim that kind of increase in one sector….

    OTOH, they’re predicting the jobs will vanish when the old age bubble bursts. Brother, that ain’t happening in their lifetime. There’s millions of boomers who’ll need their butt wiped (me included!) and, doom and gloom about social security to the contrary, there’s plenty of retirement funds around to be tapped.

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  9. coozledad said on March 28, 2014 at 9:49 am

    They’re already working on commodifying water. There are a bunch of ag subsidy scammers out here who bilked the country out of millions during the Iraq debacle, shipping overpriced water as an integral part of the KBR grift. Coupled with the Carlyle group’s heavy metals contaminated human shit spraying operations out here (Synagro)and Duke energy’s handpicked governor and state legislature stonewalling while they dump coal ash in the aquifer, they’re making sure their commodity is in short supply somewhat in advance.


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  10. Deborah said on March 28, 2014 at 9:50 am

    Water is an enormous issue in Northern New Mexico already. People are having to change their ways and many of them don’t like it one bit.

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  11. mark said on March 28, 2014 at 10:08 am

    The accuracy of the Gin and Tacos observation is largely limited to white people. And as minorities become an ever greater percentage of the US population, the consequences of this “white” issue will be correspondingly smaller. Michigan’s hispanic and AA populations are getting larger and younger even as the overall population groewth comes to a halt. The growth will resume again soon as the effect of non-minority behavior becomes a proportionally smaller issue.

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  12. Joe Kobiela said on March 28, 2014 at 10:10 am

    Hanging out in Gallipolis Ohio today, kinda your old stomping grounds eh?
    Sunny and 55 down here, pretty down by the river, haven’t run into any Meth heads yet but were looking.
    Pilot Joe

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  13. Bitter Scribe said on March 28, 2014 at 10:15 am

    How is the McCree guy not in jail? And he’s running for re-election. His stones are definitely bigger than his brain.

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  14. Julie Robinson said on March 28, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Shout out to Dorothy–your team is now the official Cinderella. Now can they also be the giant killer? Florida is looking very, very good. Fingers crossed.

    Both our kids are very interested in the urban farming movement on a small-scale basis. They’re both city kids, as much as the Fort can be called a city, and don’t want to be isolated in the country. They’re scheming of a small place where they can have a largish garden, chickens, bees, maybe a few small goats; in other words, the life our great-grandparents lived, with electricity. Some days I admire this, others I think they’re nuts. Like Nancy’s friend, I can’t see them butchering their animals.

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  15. JMG said on March 28, 2014 at 10:59 am

    The old folks in Massachusetts are clustered on Cape Cod, where all but like two of the towns with the oldest median age populations are located. Summer vacationers become year-round retirees. In Chatham, for instance, one of every eight residents is 80 or older!

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  16. nancy said on March 28, 2014 at 11:05 am

    There’s a difference between well-to-do retirees who choose a nice resort area and those who are simply left behind. There’s a county in northern Michigan where one in four residents is over 65, but it’s pretty far from the nice-stock-portfolio-dude precincts of Traverse City.

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  17. LAMary said on March 28, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Water has been a big issue in the western US for as long as settlers have been moving in. When I worked for the NYT in Denver in the seventies my first boss, Grace Lichtenstein, did an excellent article for the NYT magazine.

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  18. Deborah said on March 28, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    In Abiquiu, our initial cabin that we’re finally going to break ground on this summer, will have no running water. It will have a dry composting toilet which separates liquid and solid waste (sorry), it’s a pretty amazing device, they’ve come a long way in the few years I’ve been doing research about them. We will catch some water on the roof for an occasional shower etc. We also won’t have electricity in the cabin, although we’ll add solar later. I read that it takes 10 acres of land to sustain a single person in the delicate ecosystem (this has mainly to do with the water supply). We have 100 acres so we don’t feel too bad about that. Also we wanted a buffer around us to keep out development. Down the road we will build a bathhouse and a kitchen house, at that time we’ll have a well drilled which we’ve already had located by a dowser (that was fascinating to watch). Permits are required to drill wells and there are limits as to how much water you can use, not sure how they regulate that. We’re not going to live in Abiquiu full time, we’ll always keep a place in Chicago and go back and forth because of my husbands practice. He’ll never retire. Hopefully our health will stay good, of course you never know. After we die our land will go to some kind of trust which we haven’t determined yet. Our heirs will not be allowed to sell the land (Little Bird knows this but it’s unclear if my husband’s daughters understand this). The land will revert back to nature in perpetuity, or at least we hope so.

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  19. Jolene said on March 28, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    As is the case with so many issues involved in food production, water consumption is driven by the demand for meat. Alfalfa, which is grown to feed cattle is, apparently, a very thirsty crop, and, despite the drought, a lot of water is being used to produce it. Even more aggravating to vegetable and fruit growers, a big chunk of the the alfalfa crop is exported to feed cattle in China.

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  20. Julie Robinson said on March 28, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Deborah, you’ve really put a lot of thinking into it, and I hope it works out–keep us posted!

    Farming has completely changed since I was a kid, but back then the number of alfalfa cuttings depended on how much rain there was. Both sets of grandparents raised alfalfa and stored it in silos for their cattle and dairy cows. Just like humans, they liked their greens best when it was fresh. Around here these days, I don’t see anyone growing alfalfa.

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  21. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 28, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    Just about got my ear chewed off by a farmer in my congregation Wednesday night when I said “I’m not ready to start mowing grass.” “That’s feed, son,” he said cheerfully, but with the faint hint of an edge. “Can’t start soon enough for me!”

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  22. Dexter said on March 28, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    Unflattering? It’s in the eyes of the beholder. Yeah…it’s unflattering alright.×540.jpg

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  23. paddyo' said on March 28, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    Indeed, LAMary, water will always be the issue here in the West, and the efforts to get and keep and import more of it to marginally liveable locations where the people are (Phoenix, Vegas) will only get more outlandishly byzantine. Phoenix, in fact, was built upon the buried ruins of the ancient Hohokam people, who were experts at capturing, moving and using water around the Valley of the Sun until there just wasn’t enough of it to go around. We do seem to love to repeat our mistakes, don’t we?

    For anyone not from here or unacquainted with the issue, Cadillac Desert is an excellent, and only slightly dated, book-length primer.

    The only water-related things in the West for which there will never be a shortage are the stories — of water fights (both in court and with fists) and water schemes (hey, let’s tow icebergs south from the Arctic! . . . or let’s drill 100s of wells in remote Nevada ranching valleys and pipe the water to Vegas in a $15 billion pipeline !). I covered many water stories in my reporting days, and they are barely a thimble’s worth in an ocean-sized history.

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  24. Hattie said on March 28, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    I’m not going to live in some crappy place just because I’m old. So Hawaii suits me just fine, thank you very much. Not only that, but I don’t get the useless oldster treatment from people around here, either, because they are NICE TO OLD PEOPLE!
    I think people should decide where they want to end up in old age and get there before age 55 so they can make good local connections while they are still young(ish) and frisky.

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  25. beb said on March 28, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    I never thought of alfalfa as a thirst crop. It has a deep root system so it is actually rather drought resistant, but like what Julie said, growing up alfalfa was cut when it was tall enough usually three times over the summer. How much it grew depended entirely on how much it rained. (Just like our lawn). When I read that farmers in Arizona and California expect to get as many as 12 cuttings a year there’s no way they can do that except to irrigate heavily. I don’t think it’s that the crop is “thirsty” so much as California farmers are forcing the plant to grow abnormally.

    I’m not sure it’s fair to say those northern Michigan people over 65, live there because they can’t afford to move or because they have been “left behind.” My Dad (N. Indiana) has lived in the same house for what must be 60 years. He’s on social security so it doesn’t matter where he lives, but why should he leave the house he’s lived in for most of his life? He’s not stuck where he lives, it’d just comfortable the way it is. I think a lot of the elderly feel the same way.

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  26. Bitter Scribe said on March 28, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    I’m late saying this, but to anyone who doesn’t know Gin and Tacos, the blog Nancy got the first part of the post from, I highly recommend it. It’s a wonderful blog and highly simpatico for people who share Nancy’s general views.

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  27. coozledad said on March 28, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    They don’t know much about art, but they know what they like.

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  28. ROGirl said on March 28, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    LA Mary, my family name used to be Lichtenstein (changed to Lightstone), and I always wondered if Grace Lichtenstein was a distant relative. Also Roy Lichtenstein, for that matter.

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  29. Deborah said on March 28, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    Those poor sheep!

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  30. Deborah said on March 28, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    Just a couple of days ago in comments here I mentioned that Rizzoli’s was my favorite book store in Manhattan, and of course today I find out it’s closing.

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  31. LAMary said on March 28, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    ROGirl, are you familiar with Grace’s writing? I re-read A Long Way Baby which she wrote in the mid seventies a few years ago and it blew me away. It’s about women’s pro tennis. She wrote a book with her sister about New Orlean music a few years ago too. Lichtenstein is her married name, BTW.

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  32. ROGirl said on March 28, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    I only knew of her journalism, didn’t realize she has also written books.

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  33. Charlotte said on March 28, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    Folks interested in water issues, especially in the West, might want to follow Gary Nabhan’s work —

    I figure if it gets really bad here I can fill up my wagon with 5-gallon buckets, walk down to the river, and at least keep my veggies alive. The trees, that’s another story. Move west and learn you have to water your trees! This had never occurred to me. Two or three times a summer I need to leave a trickling hose on overnight for my fruit trees.

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  34. Judybusy said on March 28, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    I’ve been out of commission due to work and a mild cold. Here’s my offering in the free-for-all:

    Happy weekend. I’m finally going to see 20 feet from stardom at the best movie theater in town, the Riverview. $3 tickets and popcorn freshly popped with real butter. Connected with a former neighbor tonight, heard all about his new boyfriend, and he, my wife and I are headed to that movie tomorrow night.

    Deborah, I can not believe Rizzoli’s is closing.

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  35. LAMary said on March 29, 2014 at 12:33 am

    5.3 quake about 20 minutes ago. Rocking and rolling.

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  36. basset said on March 29, 2014 at 9:52 am

    Dexter@22… how about some context on that definitely unflattering picture? In other words… what the hell is that about?

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  37. basset said on March 29, 2014 at 9:55 am

    And, on a completely different topic… Mrs. B. and I could use some advice on where to stay and eat in Cincinnati, haven’t been there in probably close to twenty years but she wants to go see the Princess Diana exhibit at the city museum. Don’t know when yet, it’ll be there through August. We do like the German food, not sure which of the places I’m seeing online are the best and most authentic though.

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  38. Deborah said on March 29, 2014 at 11:01 am

    LA Mary, how close were you to the epicenter?

    Someone mentioned Cadillac Desert in an earlier comment, it’s also a video series, I don’t remember how many episodes, I think it was on PBS. We used to have it on VHS. It’s very interesting.

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  39. LAMary said on March 29, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    About fifteen miles. It wasn’t a hard shake here. Just a long shake. I was keeping clear of stuff that could fall, but nothing did. There are photos online of the scenes in stores like Trader Joes. Lots of wine on the floor, lots of broken glass closer to the epicenter. People are spooked because we’ve had a lot of small to moderate quakes in the last two weeks. We’re all waiting to see if this is some sort of lead up to a big one.

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  40. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 29, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Basset, I like A Tavola on Vine St., but that’s not German. Not by a few Alps.

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  41. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 29, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    And Tucker’s for breakfast . . . diner further into Over-the-Rhine. Not sure which German restaurant is Schmidt’s worthy (our German Village mainstay in Col’s). But I’d rather eat at Plank’s that Schmidt’s, too, so we need someone else with Cincy info.

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  42. coozledad said on March 29, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    The Republican Party is a hate group:

    The Matt Barber piece bookends nicely with this.

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  43. beb said on March 29, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Looks like the vultures are starting to peck at the eyes of the Detroit Institute of Art.

    Like any financial organization, they don’t care that they’re trying to destroy an irreplaceable treasure, as long as they can make a couple of bucks off the bonfire.

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  44. Deborah said on March 29, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    Today is officially George RR Martin day in Santa Fe. Little BIrd and I took each other’s pictures sitting on the iron throne from Game of Thrones. I’m not really that much of a fan but LB is a huge fan. It was fun to see people in line, in costume. Geeky for sure.

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  45. Deborah said on March 29, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    Errol Morris about Rumsfeld Part 3

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  46. MarkH said on March 29, 2014 at 10:57 pm

    Another significant (4.1) quake in LA among 100 aftershocks from Friday’s 5.3. Ominous warnings being sounded. Unusual.,0,7895131.story#axzz2xP4EWBh6

    Hang in there, LAMary.

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  47. LAMary said on March 29, 2014 at 11:05 pm

    It’s getting old. I think the 4.1 was an aftershock to the 3/17 quake which was near Westwood. The 5.1 was in La Habra which is at least 30 miles east of Westwood. Who knows how the faults run, though. Even the ace seismologists at Caltech and USGS freely admit they don’t know where all the faults are.

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  48. Judybusy said on March 29, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    Stay safe, LAMary. I hope it’s not all a precursor to a severe quake.

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  49. LAMary said on March 29, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    I’ve been through two big quakes in 87 and 94. Never had any major damage to the house, just the drywall cracks that everyone in LA must have in their houses. You get used to little quakes here but when you feel one start that you know is bigger and it keeps building? Scary stuff. You don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m sitting here waiting for some excellent Mexican take out to show up. I’m keeping an eye on the ceiling fans and the stuff on top of the bookshelves. Life on the Pacific rim.

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  50. Sherri said on March 30, 2014 at 1:33 am

    Duck and cover, LAMary! The ground is so fractured on the Pac rim that nobody knows where the faults are. When we bought our house in California about a year and an half after Loma Prieta, the inspector was on the roof and put his hand on the chimney top and it swayed. The chimney was cracked at the roofline, probably from Loma Prieta. When we sold the house in 2006, the inspector found a crack in the foundation; not sure when that happened. Not during Loma Prieta, because when our earthquake insurance more than tripled in price after the ’94 quake in SoCal, we had a structural engineer come in and bolt the house to the foundation and dropped the earthquake insurance.

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  51. Dexter said on March 30, 2014 at 2:11 am

    basset @ #36: I thought there would be an easy track-back to the explanation, but there wasn’t, so bad on me. Here’s what that portrait is all about:
    “he emperor’s new clothes: Twenty-five-year-old artist Olga Oleynik’s painting “The Naked King” depicting ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych hangs in Oleynik’s “anti-cafe” in Kiev. The unflattering portrait shows a grim, portly Yanukovych slouching with no detail left to the imagination. The painting has swept to fame in the revolution that forced Yanunkovych to flee the country in February.” ~ (info from sf dot com)

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  52. Deborah said on March 30, 2014 at 4:57 am

    Errol Morris on Rumsfeld part 4 (final)

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  53. alex said on March 30, 2014 at 9:04 am

    Dex, I thought it might have been an unflattering picture of Alec Baldwin and the artist some aggrieved mistress. Thanks for the context.

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  54. coozledad said on March 30, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    From the department of moving the goal posts so deep up your ass they’ll have to put a speculum in your throat for the inevitable field goal:

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  55. MarkH said on March 30, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Totally separate from LA, of course, Yellowstone rumbled more than usual today with a 4.8 in the Norris Geyser basin, roughly 50 miles from Livingston, and 80 miles from us here in Jackson Hole. We felt nothing, but Charlotte may have.

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