Saturday, September 27, 2008

Las Olas Boulevard: A Backyard Tourist's Photos

I am richly lucky to live in a subtropical paradise. I played backyard tourist this afternoon, after the morning's downpour stopped, and wandered down to Las Olas Boulevard. It's a center for restaurants, jazz clubs and nightlife, as well as shops and galleries. This waterfront restaurant on the New River epitomizes the South Florida experience.

Las Olas is close enough to the beachfront hotels, just across the Intracoastal Waterway, to attract tourists. But the area also is home to many of Fort Lauderdale's more prosperous citizens, including a substantial gay community.

This building is a newer structure. Its steamboat balconies overlooking both the New River and the boulevard are undoubtedly among the priciest in the building.

Stucco walls and voluminous foliage seclude this mansion on a quieter stretch of Las Olas -- and even closer to the Intracoastal Waterway. Spanish Mediterranean architecture was popular in the 1920s and 1930s.

Next door to the mansion -- and separated from it by the walls, are a row of a half dozen townhouses.

Each is tucked away behind its own gated entranceway and foliage. They are chicly European.

The gate creates something much like a foyer, as seen from the sidewalk. Two of the residents want even more privacy and added these canvas curtains to shield the tiny yards from view. I had to alter the colors a good deal to make the dark green fabric visible.

It would be lovely to live in a spot that was simultaneously close to restaurants, shopping, museums, the main library, the Riverfront walkway with its beautiful parks, and the beach -- yet so beautifully hidden. The pricetag? I saw a listing for a new townhome on the New River in a real estate office window for a well-groomed eyebrow under $1.7 million.

All gates are not created equal. This one shields a ground-floor suite in a new building that appears not fully occupied. What were they thinking to use wooden paneling of a completely different architectural mood?

These three charming slight buildings huddle together as new structures crowd them. I expect they have been there for many decades.

Careless colors and a jumble of signs evoke the nearby Caribbean islands in a building turned to multiple uses.

The building (above) has good bones, with a substantial upstairs veranda. It could easily be rehabilitated with an ironworks upper deck in the French-Spanish style of New Orleans and Savannah.

The courtyard entrance to an upscale restaurant, at a different location on Las Olas, would be at home in the French Quarter.

Purple trim properly emphasizes the artistic details of this art deco apartment building (below).

A trompe l'oeii mural adds interest to the exterior of this bar and restaurant.

Even a parking lot is beguiling (and barely noticeable, at the left in photo) when festooned with palms and lush subtropical foliage.

Ironically, there will be no tomorrow for this interior design business. Notice the shop's prominently displayed name and the for-rent signs in the windows.

Signs of the economic downtown are apparent in closings along the boulevard. This handsome cabinet, inlaid with a variety of woods, will be in a property auction in October.

A plaid front inexplicably decorates the facade of Hound and Herringbone,also shuttered and out of business.

On a happier note, a festive table painted in the Haitian tradition delights the eyes. Whimsical dancing figures add to the merriment.

Next door, a stuffed Siberian tiger hangs out with real ice that can't melt in a jewelry store window. Window glare adds a fantasy quality to these photos.

So I'll close with this shot of an entrancing gown, probably circa 1920s, that emerges like a shimmering ghost from this lavish window display. May the national troubles we seem to be facing vanish like the chimera of bad dreams, so we dance like giddy flappers until dawn.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Federal Bailout Won't Work; Martial Law Would Not Surprise Ordinary Gal

Considering that every single prediction the Bush administration makes is dead wrong, I simultaneously do not believe is a federal bailout is necessary to resolve the economic crisis -- and I doubt that an bailout will work, if the economic picture is this bad.

I cannot for the life of me understand why the free marketers only become socialists when the need arises to rescue their rich friends from bad decisions. My hunch is that my frugal life would remain pretty much unchanged if the market shake-out were allowed.

I would not be at all surprised if the country is in sufficient chaos by inauguration day -- should Senator Barack Obama win the election -- for the current administration to declare martial law. On the other hand, I believe that the administration is illicit anyway. Gore won in 2000, and the Supreme Court overturned the results. The computer balloting of 2004 also is suspect by conspiracy theorists.

I hope there are some glad hearts out there to tell me how nuts I am.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

McCain Squirms as Debate Approaches

Sen. John McCain is trying to squirm out of Friday’s presidential debate with a claim to doing the public’s business.

I don’t doubt that the country is in serious economic trouble. I’m very uncomfortable with socialism for the wealthy and bailouts for the Wall Street high rollers. It’s strange how these are the same folks who reject all plans to provide socialized medicine for we who need. Nor do I see any relief coming down the pike for those of us who have lost half the values of our homes but can afford to pay our mortgages. I tried negotiating with my mortgage holder on the basis that they hired the appraiser, so half the mistake is theirs. Nopesy. The debt is all mine.

Questions are being asked in Congress about why the trouble escalated to the point that Congress is being asked to rush a $7 billion bailout through in one week. As Stephen Colbert pointed out on The Colbert Report last night, Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson, who has asked to administer this unprecedented governmental slush fund without oversight, is a former employee of Goldman Sachs himself. This is a lot like Wiley Coyote says only he can protect the henhouse; just trust him.

Until today, The Idiot In Chief said he wouldn’t sign the bill – the bill he is so adamant must be passed – if limits were placed on executive salaries.

The whole thing stinks.

Like his Republican Party counterparts who are exploiting the economic downturn for personal gain, McCain is exploiting the so-called crisis to avoid debating a contender who is smarter and better prepared to deal with complex economic situation than he is.

Let the housing market crash. People will find apartments to rent. People with savings will buy the homes at reasonable prices. At last. No bailouts for the wealthy.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mama Duck Saves Her Brood

This mother duck was quietly enjoying a lawn picnic with her ducklings when I happened by. Some were so comfortable, they were lying down while snacking on insects. The vigilant mama was distressed by the whirring-click of the camera.

She appears to be giving marching orders in this photo.

There they go. Mama conveyed the distinct impression that she is in a huff at how rude I was to interrupt their dinner with my clackety intrusion.

I felt guilty at disturbing this brood. It is late in the year to see Muscovy ducklings. Some South Floridians do not like the Muscovy ducks because of the wattles on their faces and the dirt they leave on the walkways. I am glad to see what I can of nature in our cityscapes.

Here is the catchment lake just a few yards from these ducks. There are many places for them to hide and sleep beneath the branches of trees and in the cattails.

These pine trees were stripped bare by hurricane Wilma in 2005. Even now, they have a strange, denuded appearance.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

AIG Holds Pension Funds for Milliions of Public Service Employees in Many States

News of the AIG federal bail out only scratches the surface of what is going on. Millions of schoolteachers, firefighters, and other government employees have 403bs managed by AIG.

The Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund inaugurated a lawsuit against AIG in May of lying. According to Reuters, the fund “accuses New York-based AIG of repeatedly but falsely assuring investors that its risk management and diversification insulated it from credit market turmoil in 2007. Credit market problems led AIG to suffer a $7.8 billion first-quarter loss.”

Google links suggest that the California Public Employees Pension Fund, the largest in the country, was considering suing AIG for similar reasons.

MSNBC reporters and online sources are assuring people that FDIC savings and checking accounts are safe. Retirement funds typically are stock funds that are not insured by the FDIC. This misdirection by newscasters is not helpful; it does not answer the questions that people are asking: Are my AIG retirement funds safe?

AIG representatives are not returning phone calls. My did not, and I see posts on the Internet that other clients are getting the same treatment.

I am trying to move my funds into a different fund. The representative warned me that it is going to take time. Tens of thousands of people are also rolling over their funds from AIG into other accounts.

With the economy in meltdown, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of us wind up, like those poor Enron employees, with nothing. My mother is reminiscing about the great depression. Her father had six children and was jobless. The landlady kept track of missed rent, and the owner of the deli down the street provided food on on credit. “What can people do when no one has money?” my mother asks.

The end of defined payment pension funds and the inauguration of IRAs, 401ks, and 403bs, is turning into a huge swindle of hard-working Americans. We worker ants have routinely been salting away a percentage of our paychecks, forgoing cars and vacations, to save money for our old age.

On the other hand, some people bought homes they could not afford based on the fast talk of mortgage loan officers who promised that everything would turn out right in the end. These loans were made out of the funds that we worker ants were plowing into our retirement funds.

Now, those who wanted to live beyond their means are asking the federal government to bail them out. I include in this category the person who was working an ordinary job and wanted a 2,000-square-foot home, with swimming pool, hot tub, and two-car garage, purchased at 105% credit with escalating interest payments. I also include in this category investment bankers and brokers who have have been living the high life in New York and other investment capitals, looking out on cityscapes from million-dollar lofts and driving Ferraris. At least part of this money is that of those of us who have slogged through jobs we didn’t really like.

We did what we were supposed to do. We fulfilled our obligations. We lived responsibly. Now the rules of the game are changing. We are being told that it's too bad things didn't work out like we were promised they would (at least, not for us); so sorry that you lived modestly and sacrificed.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Funky Sculpture Near Fort Lauderdale Beach

This colorful sculpture at Art & Design on Commercial Boulevard near the Fort Lauderdale beach is simultaneously funky and contemporary.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Palms Are the Poodles of Trees

Palms are the poodles of trees – tufts of fronds at the end of slender stems.I wish I could claim that thought as my own, but I read it somewhere so long ago I cannot remember the source.

They are useless for shade. Queen palms and several other varieties drop nuts that are remarkably fertile, causes sprouts everywhere that must be weeded. When the nuts are especially thick, they ferment, creating a odorous, slick paste that must be carried away. Only the coconut palm provides a useful fruit.

I am fascinated by the palms in front of this church complex on Federal Highway (U.S. 1) in Fort Lauderdale. The palms perfectly mirror the steep slopes of the roof. It was gray out, from the bands of hurricane Ike circulating in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast. I experimented with different lighting effects on these shots.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Empty Mall Contradicts McCain's Assurance of Sound Economic Fundamentals

If John McCain really believes America's underlying economy is fundamentally sound, he is not living on the same planet as I am. I invite him to visit the strikingly empty Boynton Beach mall – a once bustling retail center centrally located in an area of average families and retirees.

Boynton Beach is by no means a tourist mecca on the order of Daytona, Fort Lauderdale, or the Keys islands. Sandwiched between the old wealth of Palm Beach and the nouveau riche of Boca Raton, Boynton Beach is an area of mostly newer and more affordable single family homes, over-55 duplex villas, condominium apartment and mobile home complexes.

Boynton Beach Mall has grown in size since the last time I was there, circa 2004 when I moved from Palm Beach to Broward county. It has a new Muvico multiplex, a grand Starbucks, and a TooJays Delicatessen – a favorite in these parts. I was shocked to find the mall all but empty on Wednesday at 1 p.m., as these photos show.

Is this sad? This is not an out-of-the-way, dilapidated strip mall. It is a major commercial retail center that serves a large, densely populated middle-class citizenry.

Another customer at Ritz Camera store said he’d gone to Delray Beach on Sunday where Atlantic Avenue’s many restaurants attract Sunday brunchers. “The roads were empty, and I had no trouble at all finding a parking place,” he said. Usually, one has to drive around to find a spot.

I grumbled that my 403(b)s have lost so much value that I may never be able to retire. “Don’t even go there,” he said. “I’ve lost so much that I will never gain it back in the remainder of my lifetime.” Of course, the economic Big Boys have been playing fast-and-loose with our retirement monies, investing in FreddieMac and SallieMae (according to NPS's Marketplace, even when it appeared these massive housing market lenders were in trouble). We were promised that we would be oh-so-much better off when we didn’t have to rely on fixed income retirement plans. Hahaha.

Earth to McCain: The economic fundamentals are not good for us who cannot afford $313,000 designer ensembles.

Footnote: I stopped by a local Salvation Army before going home. It was Wednesday Madness, with half-off on everything. The parking lot was full, and the store was mobbed. There were lines at the register, even though the store's air-conditioning was out. That is a big deal here in South Florida, when outdoor temperatures are in the high 80s and inside can top the 90s. But we cannot eat T-shirts.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Politics of Fashion: This Ordinary Gal is Galled by Cindy McCain's RNC Bling

The politics of fashion is not an appropriate topic for Fashion After, I've decided. But I am one very ordinary gal who was galled at the ostentatious show of bling by Cindy McCain at the Republican National Convention.

Vanity Fair editors estimated that McCain's designer shirtdress ensemble on the first night would ring the cash register at an eye-popping $313,000, according to Melanie Coffee for the Associated Press.

I cannot a house that expensive -- even wit a 30-year mortgage. Remove the diamond earrings, the dress, shoes, watch, and accessories would total around $20K. Geez, I couldn't even buy a luxury car for that paltry sum.

Reporters cover the candidates' wives as if they are engaged in a fashion throw-down. Michelle Obama favors Chicago designer Maria Pinto. You'll find lots of photos of Obama in Pinto styles at The Black Snob blog. CNN commentators (Sept. 5 morning news) said the pricetag for Obama's dress for the closing night credits at the Democratic National Convention was $1,250. Have these people heard of T.J. Maxx? Beall's Outlets? I think not.

Amanda Fortini's article, "The Semiotics of Convention Fashion," suggests an intellectual treatment of the topic for
The New Republic. Fortini does not seem to fully understand the concept of semiotics. The article is packed full of fashion details, but the cultural analysis is missing.

If you want to understand the semiotics of style, read Real people understand how really silly spending this kind of money on fashion is, when young people are dying in strange lands, families are losing their homes in America, and the economy is in crisis.

Perhaps no writer was more incisive about the relationship between economics and culture than Roland Barthes in the landmark volume,
Myth Today (1972). Umberto Eco eviscerates American cultural pretensions in Travels in Hyperreality (1985), continuing the great tradition of the semiotics of culture from an economic perspective. Propeller readers understand this analytical approach: it is the semiotics of real life.

Most papers are hedging their bets in the fashion throwdown. The New York Post, for example, compares Cindy McCain's flashy, high-end fashion statements with the classic, easy glamor of Michelle Obama. The language allows for the styles to be evaluated as separate but equal. The United Kingdom's Guardian qualifies both as polished dressers ready to be a stylish First Lady.

Project Runway judge Tim Gunn had no trouble taking a strong position. He observes that Obama seems comfortable in her clothing and has some snarky things to say about McCain.

Even though my interest in the politics of fashion of presidental candidates' wives is recent, as early as February, Bean at asked, "Why Are Blogs Evaluating What Political Wives Wear?" The question is, of course, essentially contradictory: discussing the question adds to the buzz about First Lady wannabe wardrobes.

There are even paper doll books that allow us to dress the senators McCain, Obama, and their wives, according to Adam Tschorn,
Los Angeles Times writer. McCain in his undies? Thanks but no thanks, I said.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Fashion After 50 Launch

A free fashion archetype quiz is now available on my website, Fashion After 50. Until there is enough traffic to hire a information technologist to make the quiz interactive, you'll have to use pencil and paper. It is based on my several years of reading about Jungian archetypes and goddess archetypes. I'd love to know how accurate you find the archetypes so that I can fine-tune them.

The website is about how to dress attractively after we reach a certain age, as the French so refreshingly term older females.

There is a lot more work to be done on I am trying to figure out how to integrate a blog that will feature photos of attractive older women. Do you know how hard it is to find stock photos of older women for sale online? Fuggetaboutit. Even though I have written some scholarly analysis about the absence of older women from popular culture, even I was astonished at thoroughly all sign of us is erased every place but the AARP monthly magazine.

I was not planning on making Fashion After 50 a place for political expression, but my first entry is about Cindy McCain's $300,000 Republican National Convention outfit. Sigh. You can count on not finding any expensive designer togs touted by Fashion After 50.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Everglades Canals Are Swollen
From Tropical Storm Fay

The canals along Alligator Alley through the Everglades are more filled with water than I have seen them. Tropical storm Fay crossed and re-crossed the state at a slow 12 miles an hour, flooding some areas. Now the River of Grass is doing its job – draining the excess into the ocean.

You can see how the water comes all the way up the boat ramp to the parking lot at this rest area along highway 75. The other photos also were taken there. These canals would normally would have visible sides, rather than spilling into the grasslands. One shot, taken out the car window, shows standing water in the highway media, almost enough to be a canal in itself. On other drives, the median has been dry.

The Everglades usually appears as a dry sea of long grasses, with an occasional island of trees popping out here and there. One knows that there is water under the grasses, a swampy and complex ecosystem. I have rarely seen that water. Now, however, lakes have formed on the surface in a few places.

The magnitude of the flat grassy swamp is as awe-inspiring, in its way, as the Grand Canyon, the glaciers of Alaska, or the desert stretches surrounding Death Valley, California. Even this vast river or bay area outside Bradenton fills me with wonder at the beauty of Florida. I love this place.

Three more storms are lining up in the Atlantic. Hannah is expected to make landfall in the Carolina. It will skim the east coast of Florida. I do not expect much water from that. Josephine is dissipating off the coast of Africa.

Ike is the one to watch. Landfall is expected early next week. The hurricane meteorologists are not sure of Ike’s path. Already a cat(egory) 4, Ike will blow through the Bahamas, leaving destruction in its wake. Whether this storm will land in south Florida, bump northward along the east coast, or rush into the Gulf of Mexico is not known. If Ike enters the gulf, the storm will be Somebody Else’s Problem but could do great harm elsewhere in the United States or Mexico.

Palin's Speech Is Not Enough

Gov. Sarah Palin gave a rousing, smart-mouthed speech last night as she accepted the Republican vice-presidential nomination in St. Paul. Some people don’t like sarcasm. I do.

That, plus the accolades to John McCain as a national hero, was almost enough to make me switch teams. But not quite. In the end, an election is a question of values, not gonads or hormones. I do not share those of the Republican candidates for the nation’s highest offices, Sen. John McCain and Palin.

Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look

So Shakespeare characterized one of Julius Caesar's assassins in his play of that name. The line, describing a friend tuned traitor, has become a descriptor of ambition. I do not, of course, literally see Senator Barack Obama as murderous or traitorous. Yet, when I see this slim young fellow of somewhat meagre national political credentials, the renowned playwright's words come to my mind.

I remain disappointed, and more so by the day, in the Democratic nomination of Barack Obama. Had he served his full Congressional term – even, in a worst case scenario, waiting out eight years of a Hillary Clinton presidency – he could have run with unassailable credentials of experience.

If he loses, it will be because of his ambition to pluck the golden apple from the tree before he was ripe.