Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Interesting research showing that when authority figures speak to us our brains literally turn off.

Well, not the WHOLE brain shutting down, just the part that makes decisions.

This explains so much. In fact, it could explain the entire sub-prime loan mess. When a
(pick one)

-loan officer

gives you advice, you take it.

Apparently the only way around this is to make your own decisions without letting any experts having access to you, or to your brain.

(Topiary quickly discounting expert opinion that her Topiary trim is lopsided).


Monday, March 30, 2009

Real Estate Frauds

Since narrowly escaping a house sale at a loss, Cow has been eagerly gathering knowledge about the real estate business.

Neil Jenman, author of "Don't Sign Anything" has written a fascinating book wherein he alleges than not just individual realtors but the entire real estate industry, is basically corrupt and ripping off buyers and sellers.

In example after example, he exposes the tricks of the trade, tricks used to get a seller to accept "low-ball" offers, tricks used to buy houses from sellers themselves and then turn them around a few days later at an obscene profit, tricks used to sell properties at auction.

Because this author is Australian, not all his examples apply outside that country, but so far it is the only book which exposes the inner workings of realtors to "condition" buyers to sell quickly, at a loss to everyone but the real estate agent. Must read for anybody buying or selling property. Has Topiary seal of approval. Plus his website lets you read quite a bit of the chapters before purchase.


Schiller Price Index

Stumbled upon this graph showing the history of home values, by Yale economist Robert J. Shiller.

Unfortunately it is limited to the United States. The graphic depiction of the runaway increase in home prices since 2000, and the probable descent of future values, is amazing.

Thank goodness Topiary needs no home, just a humble, green, leafy canopy of carefully trimmed hedge.

Graph courtesy of the Bubble Meter.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Ever watched a movie that gave you nightmares, and you couldn't figure out if it were really bad, or really good? So you looked up reviews?

"Darkly comic thriller"
...it was?...

"Satire of consumerism and control"
....oooh, missed that entirely...

"Repulsive and lame-brained mess"
....Ah. but the acting was really good...

"Ugly, boring, and stupid"
...hmmm. Boring, stupid, maybe, but the actors weren't ugly (see the weightlifting scene)

Guess you can say the critics were split on this one.


Veronica Mars

On the recommendation of a friend, Cow rented Veronica Mars (VM), and has been thinking about the High School experience. How, who you are, defines what your High School is.

For instance, in VM, there is the almost-obligatory "biker-gang" who of course are always getting in trouble. Academics did not loom large in their High School.

Cow, in her wild youth of Junior-Year High School, once dated a "bad guy"...Well, he had a car, which in those days, was really something. And he was cute. As we walked around campus, Cow realized that not only did Bad Guy Date know the names of the undercover policemen, they knew his name too!

Cow, of course, never even knew these men existed, and had no idea of their function at school, and if she had to guess, would have thought, Topiary maintenance?


Monday, March 16, 2009

Weekend Reading

A little light reading....murder mystery: "Le Crime" by Peter Steiner, 2009. Set in France. More thoughtful and introspective than many murder mysteries. Lots of nice touches about living in France.

And then, something more thought-provoking. "Paranoia, the 21st Century Fear" by Daniel Freeman. 2009.

"Being the victim of a violent crime is not an experience one can take in one's stride. And it's not likely to do much for one's faith in other people either. After having suffered these traumas, paranoia can seem a reasonable viewpoint on the world. In 2005-6 about a quarter of the adult population of England and Wales, 10 million people, were victims of crime. A dramatic rise in crime has made us feel increasingly threatened and vulnerable, and stoking our sense of paranoia."

Trends the authors highlight which give rise to greater paranoia are haphazard reasoning and inaccurate risk assessment, increasing urbanization (causing isolation), migration, victimization and our growing awareness of conspiracies and cover-ups.

The lack of trust in leaders, the belief that everyone lies, leads to breakdown in social institutions.

Except for bankers, of course. And mortgage companies. Cow steadfastly believes them to deserve every penny of their bonuses; to have conducted business in the most ethical manner, and only to be rewarding employees who adhered to the highest possible standards.

Topiary dreams on, happy in the Land of Topiary, where everyone is honourable, where companies flourish because of good businsess practices, where the Sunday paper has two color magazines AND a TV guide, where unethical practices are rooted out and poor managers chastized, where investors are give a fair return...


Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Cow watched an entire season of "Moonlight" in two nights. How? By fast-forwarding through all the fights, bad guys and marginal characters without charisma or interest.

Doug Liman of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" seems to be the only director who gets it. The audience doesn't care about the bad guys. Even if it's Heath Ledger, would much rather watch Christian Bale. Monsters fighting Buffy, Bond-assassins, Superman-evildoers, Ironman plotters...they're all filler.

Cow wishing she could recut these moovies herself, leaving just the "good parts." Whee! Those would be some goooood moovies! And life, too. No more waiting in lines, getting ready for work, doing the dishes, boring conversations. Just the exciting parts, please.


Cow just realizing she doesn't HAVE any exciting parts, and thus would be trimmed out of existence.


The Local Paper

Cow can only imagine how much revenue has fallen at the local newspaper to require layoffs and enforced time off without pay.

The paper is a shrunken shadow; only a pitiful skeleton remains.

Cow wonders at the strategy of keeping the price of the commodity low while reducing the quality. Why not increase the quality and raise prices?

Yes, there is that pesky ratio of cost versus number of units sold. Yes, we are in a recession. But with moovie attendance booming to historic rates, surely people who can afford moovies could also afford, say, a $3.00 Sunday paper. Or $4. Or even $5, but there better be TWO glossy magazines inside for that price!

With each slash the paper loses a paying customer. Cut off Bloom County? Now those devotees no longer buy. Orley Hood gone? As are his readers. Cut out the TV Guide? People who bought the paper just for that, gone.

Cow thinks nostalgically of the Saturday-available "Sunday" paper so temptingly offered in some cities.

Why not cut out the thin, crappy Saturday paper and make the big, beautiful, Sunday paper, with it's color-comic-wrapped heft whispering: "Buy me and you'll have something to read all weekend" available for Saturday shoppers? The major shopping day for most folks. Increase cost, increase sales volume by adding Saturday and Sunday buyers, increase profits.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Weekend Reading

"The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century", by Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz. 2009.

A point made by the authors, both psychiatrists, is that mental illness has been de-stigmatized to the extent that people are more comfortable admitting they are bi-polar than that they are lonely.

Census data shows a continual increase of those living alone, now approaching 50%. The authors see loneliness as a symptom of getting "set in your ways" and urge roommates and family-unit living---to "maintain flexibility" as loneliness prevention.

Hmmm. Cow thinking how she always has the thermostat exactly where she likes it. The way the house is always quiet when she wants to go to sleep, and how there's always only food she likes in the refrigerator. The only sounds are Cow-selected media (never music or stations she doesn't like). How the only messes are ones she makes, which she also cleans up. How housework is done when Cow feels like doing it, not before, not after. How, if Topiary needs trimming, it can wait till the whim strikes.

Obviously, Cow has lost any flexibility she used to have. But then Topiary is hardly known for flexibility---nay, known instead for the beauteous shapes cast upon a perfectly trimmed lawn.


Saturday, March 07, 2009

Weekend Moovie


Cow would like to tell moviemakers: "This fight scene is too long, just like all the others."

Aside from that, at almost 3 hours long, you get the buffet. Special effects? Yup. Action, fights? Got 'em. Luuuuve interest? Yep. Long, leggy girls, scantily-clad? (Cow knows Gorilla is interested) Yes, indeedy. Boffo special effects? More, much more, than you could possibly want.

Watchmen has evil President Nixon, the Doomsday Clock, a soundtrack including Bob Dylan back when he could sing, and unexpectedly, classic Jimi Hendrix.

Make sure to bring earplugs because the differential between the loud parts and the soft parts is so extreme, you risk losing hearing. And be prepared to look away quickly from the gory parts, if you are secretly a big chicken, as is cow.

Otherwise, it's obviously a labor of love by the director, and worth the admission.


Friday, March 06, 2009

Thoughts for Watercolor

Loyal blogger Watercolor is having a tough time.

Watercolor is a talented painter, a girl architect, a charming and lovely person who always has a pleasant thought and kind support for others.

Watercolor battles a painful chronic condition, and now she has lost a beloved pet.

Topiary sends all best wishes to Watercolor.

Image courtesy of cartoon stock.

Happy Friday!

Actual photo of Topiary Driveway, showing evening spread (dog food, sunflower seeds and cut-up, over-ripe cantaloupe) and unexpectedly early guest for dinner.

Raccoon seems to have made it through the winter in fine shape!

Occasionally Cow will also catch a glimpse of the renowned rodent-killer and insect-eater patrol, otherwise known as North America's only marsupial, the oppossum. And here is a cute story about two baby possums being raised by a wildlife rehabilitator!

Who knew that they could be easily trained to use cat boxes?

Cow of course does not attempt to tame or capture wild critters---merely provides food supplementation during the winter to help them have their little lives without starving.....

(Cow now pruning handy bush into Topiary Triubute to Cute Baby Oppossum)


Sunday, March 01, 2009

Rick Steves: Travels in Europe

You've got to admire a guy willing to get into a peat-bath for the cameras.

Cow's local public broadcasting station just finished a Rick Steves marathon, and Cow watched every episode.

These episodes are a good way to see places you probably never will visit, such as Poland. And Rick's cheery visage (a life spent travelling Europe, obviously this is a guy who found a way to make money doing what he loves) always encourages Cow to think: must plan a vacation!

Just wish he would have a trifle more emphasis on Topiary.