Saturday, June 30, 2012

Reflection on the Supreme Court ruling…

If the Supremes had struck down the health care reform law, I was prepared to accept that decision as the ruling of the highest court in America. I would have been angry. I was prepared to say "Two steps forward, one step back, we're going to have health care reform in America, it's not going to happen overnight, let's move on."

I'm waiting to read about anyone—anyone—among the prominent leadership of the opponents of the health care law who will say "We took our case to the Supreme Court, we lost, we're angry, let's support the validity of the Court's decision, let's move on."

Many provisions of the Affordable Care Act are very popular. Let's build on that.

Initial reaction to the court ruling....

Other thoughts on health care in America

Friday, June 29, 2012

Health care reform: let's get on with it

OK, the Supreme Court said the health care reform law is constitutional. Let's get on with it.

The "Obamacare" opponents who took their case to the Supremes should acknowledge that it is the bona fide law of the land. Of course I understand that personal opinions of the law weren't changed yesterday.

Romney and the Republicans promise a legislative remedy if they win in November. I don't believe for a minute that they will repeal all the provisions of the law.

Too many Americans like the parts about keeping your young adult child on your health insurance policy, and not worrying about "previous conditions" when you buy or change your health insurance.

Many Americans like a lot of the current law. It needs more work.

We need to reduce the high cost of prescription drugs, which are created in part with research funding provided by the federal government.

We need to shift routine health care from "fee for service" to "payment for good outcome for the patient."

And we need to make sure that everyone pays fairly for health care, because I believe that Americans will continue to provide health care on an emergency basis to whoever shows up in the emergency room.

More about health care...

Thursday, June 28, 2012

More confidence in our "medical system"?

A new Gallup poll says 41% of Americans "have confidence in the U.S. medical system," up from the 31% confidence rating reported in 2007.

Gallup's long term record of polling does indeed show interesting trend lines when we look at the results for the same question asked year after year after year.

But I'm darned if I can imagine a good answer to this question: what does "confidence in the U.S. medical system" mean? How does one come to have more or less confidence in the "medical system"? Does this question mean "Do you trust your doctor?" or does it mean "Are you satisfied with health care in America?" or does it mean something else, or something different to everybody?

I suspect this is another example of pollsters asking the wrong question.

Here are two questions I wish Gallup would ask: "Do you want health care next time you're sick or injured?" and "Do you think you should pay for your own health care?"

I think reasonable people will say "Yes" to both of these questions, and then we can understand that the individual mandate (requirement to buy health insurance) makes common sense.

Anybody who doesn't have health insurance and plans to get sick or injured in the future should wear a wrist band that says "I didn't pay for health insurance, so if I'm sick or injured and I can't pay cash for treatment, please park me on a gurney somewhere and wait until I get better all by myself or die" ……or something like that, except for sweet old grandmothers, toddlers, and really really poor or really mentally incapable people, you know what I'm saying….

Just sayin'…..

More on health care

...and a little more on health care

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Facebook: You've got mail!

Jeepers! Facebook did it again.

If you don't know already what Facebook did, it's a good bet you don't care.

The nice way to describe what the chieftains of Facebook did is to say that they made a change not necessarily at the tippy top of every Facebook user's "Reasons I like Facebook" list. Again.

I don't know why they did it.

Which of these explanations do you favor?
   1. Thus spake Zuckerberg.
   2. The Facebookian chieftains think the Big F is
        in trouble , so they're doing desperate things.
   3. Clueless Mr. Z and his clueless execs DON'T
        think Facebook is in trouble, so they're pulling
        the same crap they've pulled before.
   4. Stuff happens…

Oh yeah, heads up to the Facebook folks who handle angry customer feedback: You've got mail!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Immigration, another bottom line…

OK, the Supreme Court said "No" to Arizona's punitive immigration law. Most of its provisions were invalidated because they "undermine federal law."

The court did not reject the controversial "show-me-your-papers" provision because it hasn't yet been implemented, and the Supremes explicitly anticipated "other preemption and constitutional challenges" to that provision after it goes into effect.

I'll repeat myself here: I absolutely agree that illegal immigration is illegal, and we should work hard to minimize it. Regulation of immigration to the United States can only be implemented reasonably at the federal level. We should have more effective regulation.

And, with trepidation, I'll repeat the tired point that many of our forebears were illegal or unwanted immigrants in the past, and look how we turned out…

Let's call it as it is. Many illegal immigrants and many legal immigrants work real hard doing work that most American citizens don't want to do.

If you think it's a great idea to get rid of all immigrants, then you have to be willing to make some very unlikely changes in your life.

Let's offer citizenship to the folks who are here—legal or illegal—and want to work hard, often in jobs we don't want to do.

A previous thought on immigration....

Monday, June 25, 2012

Immigration, one of the bottom lines…

I see that Sen. Rubio (R.-FL) says he supports Arizona's very controversial immigration law, but doesn't think it should be copied in other states. Of course, the federal government has sued to block implementation of the onerous Arizona law, and the Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on it this week.

I'm not qualified to argue all the merits (or not) of the Arizona law. I am quite willing to put out this bottom line thought on immigration and immigrants:

Let's just call it as it is. Many illegal immigrants and many legal immigrants work real hard doing work that most American citizens don't want to do. For instance, several states have somewhat perversely adopted more strict laws regarding immigrants, and many farmers in those states have discovered that much of their seasonal work force has disappeared.

If you want to stop eating lettuce forever, and you don't care if the grass around your condo is never cut again, and you're willing to take your own trash to the municipal dump, and.....well, you get the picture. If you think it's a great idea to get rid of immigrants, then you have to be willing to make some very unlikely changes in your life.

I absolutely agree that illegal immigration is illegal, and we should work hard to minimize it. And let's offer citizenship to the folks who are here—legal or illegal—and want to work hard, often in jobs we don't want to do.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Did they really think?....(part 4)

Did they really think they weren't trading on inside information?

I'm talking about our congresspersons, the ones who bought and sold stock of companies whose business was affected by legislation that was being considered in committee or in one of the houses of Congress.

The Washington Post reported on June 23 that 130 members of Congress—almost evenly split among Republicans and Democrats—have traded the stocks or bonds of companies that were actively lobbying for or against legislative proposals, while the legislation was being actively under consideration.

That kind of highway robbery is currently allowed under Congressional ethics rules. See, our elected representatives are forbidden from trading based on "inside information" about the companies themselves, but our public servants in Congress aren't forbidden from trading on "inside information" about proposed legislation.

The distinction is not a fine point. It's a grotesquely obvious loophole. The senators and representatives who did such trading should be ashamed of themselves.

The ethics committees of both houses should start some high-energy investigating. These people are enriching themselves while they're supposed to be doing the people's business.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The wisdom of Daniel Kahneman

"We are often confident even when we are wrong."
Daniel Kahneman (b. 1934)
Psychologist, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences

I imagine that you're like me: many times in your life you've made a snap judgment that turned out to be right, and, admit it, many times in your life you've made a snap judgment that ended up going south on you…..

Kahneman has done Nobel-worthy work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, in the economics realm it embraces the study of behavioral economics. He says that our intuition is an important and valuable element of our behavior, but sometimes – and not infrequently - our intuition is wrong.

That isn't exactly a hold-the-presses insight. What Kahneman finds essentially important is not the acknowledgment that intuition can be wrong, duh ---- he says it's important to recognize that often we are casually and unknowingly confident about our demonstrably wrong intuitions and about the decisions we make based on gut feeling and snap judgment.

This confidence can lead us to ignore or denigrate evidence that's contrary to our gut feelings and beliefs, and to ignore or denigrate the people who have conflicting gut feelings and beliefs. For example, we have the spectacle of our current, partisan, dangerously polarized political discussion featuring a lot of screaming and not too much listening..

Kahneman's latest best seller  – "Thinking, Fast and Slow" – is a fascinating read as long as you're not expecting beach novel prose. And in case you just made a fast, intuitive decision that it's probably not your cup of tea: slow down, think again, give it a try.

Another take on knowing....

Friday, June 22, 2012

The wisdom of Aeropostale?

I respect the presumptive human nobility of all persons, great and small, of all colors and creeds, folks who share my politics and the other kind, those of all shapes, weights and sizes, including our fellow beings who look good in tight sweatpants and also those who, well, you know…

Today's free lecture on civil obedience, reluctantly, has to do with our possibly mirror-challenged fellow creatures who venture into public view with their very voluminous selves encased in those form-hugging "Aeropostale" logo sweatpants, with the brand name boldly imprinted on the butt area.

Memo to the chief of marketing for Aeropostale: what were you thinking?

Your company name makes me seasick as I watch it in full animation, lurching from side to side, up and down, shimmy to the left, sashay to the right, dip here, shudder there…

I'm really not condemning the lady who was broadcasting your logo marketing message, albeit a bit too broadly…she is who she is, I trust she is loved.

I'm thinking of you, Aeropostale marketing director – you should be charged with at least a misdemeanor in civil disobedience, for disturbing the peace and tranquility in this great land with an ill-conceived and visibly disturbing name recognition campaign. I got the picture this morning as I was eating breakfast in an Allentown diner, and I'm trying to get the picture out of my mind….

No ifs, ands or butts…..

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Reading is for sissies...

….and reading is for everyone else, too….it's one of the things that undeniably distinguish humans from all the other apes.

I'm not real sure there's a "wrong" way to do reading….but if you think reading is boring, it's doggone sure something is wrong…..go to your local library, and just wander around for a while, a good book will jump into your hand…

I actually learned to read with the old "Dick and Jane" readers in the 1950s, so I've racked up more than 60 years of turning the pages and queuing up all the books I want to read. I've never been bored with a book, although once in a while I don't make it all the way to the end….I have a houseful of books, and if I had another house, I'd have more books….

Every grownup, at least once in his or her lifetime, should invest some time in making sure a child doesn't think reading is boring….

If you have kids, you already have a full-time job…..part of it should be reading aloud, until they can do it….

And if you're a grandparent, finding all the nearby ice cream stores is the first priority, and then it's reading to the kids….

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The search for a vice president……

OK, today it's Pawlenty, a while back it was Christie, it never was Santorum….

The news media and the cable TV talking heads are starting to get frothy about who Romney will pick for his vice presidential running mate. As far as I know, every presidential nominee since Washington has gone to some lengths to keep his VP pick secret until the "last" or "right" moment, and I guess Romney will do the same…

So the media speculation, as usual, is very close to completely useless, although I grant there may be some entertainment value there from time to time (e.g. Christie as Veep…omigaw!)

Here's my prediction: Romney's biggest challenge right now is to decide how much of a consolation prize he will toss to the Tea Party folks when he picks a running mate.

The Tea Party candidates crashed and burned during the primary season, but that doesn’t mean that our friends and neighbors of the Tea Party persuasion have gone away…..

I'm hoping that more of the Tea Party adherents will start to put their own self interests, and those of their families and friends, in a more respectable balance with their political views.

But in the meantime, Romney's got his challenge in the search for a VP ….I can wait to find out…

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The wisdom of Mark Twain (part 2)

"A habit cannot be tossed out the window;
        it must be coaxed down the stairs a step at a time."
Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Twain more than occasionally offered droll insights like this one, with a mid-West river boatman's colorful animation.

I think Twain would have been willing to argue the point, if anyone had wished to do so, as long as it could be done without hurrying the thing along, and without taking it too awfully seriously…..

More from Mr. Clemens......

Monday, June 18, 2012

Did you like my essay?

I think data analysis is exciting, fascinating. Sometimes I like to write poetry. I enjoy writing a carefully constructed essay. I love computers.

So I'm conflicted. A recent piece by Randall Stross in the New York Times says that computer algorithms can judge a student's written essay just as well as human graders. Appropriate studies were done to compare the results of human and computer grades ("scores") for actual students' work, and the computers and the humans produced essentially the same results.

I'm not convinced. Even though the Stross story says that human graders spend an average of only three minutes grading an essay, I'd still prefer to have my essay graded by a real live person. I'd like to have a human being share the experience of my thought, even if only for three minutes.

A computer by design can't really effectively grade any really exotically creative aspects of an essay that is the product of a living brain, which reflects the life experiences and conscious thoughts of its body. A computer algorithm is going to grade all of the standard aspects of the essay. I'm pleased to believe that some essays have non-standard aspects. Some of those essays are the ones I'd really like to read. I think I've written one or two of them.

A computer can't enjoy reading an essay. And please don't go all Isaac Asimov on me and start talking about A.I….until the scientists figure out how to make a computer smile, or go all misty reading that sentimental poem, and grit its teeth reading that aggressively and cleverly provocative political diatribe, don't talk to me about computer intelligence.

A computer is never my target audience when I write something. I may be scribbling for my own pleasure. I may be writing to inform or teach my students. I may be crafting a piece that's intended to awake throbbing emotion in the minds of my readers. I never write anything with the intention of feeding it into the computer and typing "Here ya go, HAL, enjoy!" on the input device.

So, when I say "Did you like my essay?" I'm not talking to my Dell Inspiron 530, I'm talking to you.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Slowly but surely, health care reform…(part 2)

The headline said "Insurers take heat off GOP." Three of the big health insurance companies have announced that they will voluntarily maintain some popular provisions of the health care reform law ("Obamacare") regardless of the pending Supreme Court decision on it.

UnitedHealthCare, Aetna and Humana will continue to provide health insurance for young adults who piggyback on their parents' policies, eliminate co-pays for some preventive care, do away with lifetime limits on coverage and keep some other elements of the federal law.

It's sort of the "free market" at work, although let's be honest, the companies wouldn't be doing this if the health care reform law hadn't been passed.

Honestly, this isn't a surprise to me. I have always assumed that the Republicans will never "Repeal Obamacare on Day 1" because far too many Americans like far too much of the provisions in the Affordable Care Act. We all want lots of high quality health care…of course, the problem is: how to pay for it.

Now the recent announcements by the insurance companies are easy to understand: many parents and young adults are all too willing to pay for health coverage (that's revenue, a winner for the insurance companies). Preventive care actually reduces the future cost of treatment for actual health problems, a winner for the insurance companies. Most people don't use all of their "lifetime coverage" benefits, so eliminating the cap really doesn't cost the insurance companies much at all. And so on…

And yeah, I guess it does provide some political "cover" for Romney and Boehner and Republicans who thunder that they'll "Repeal Obamacare on Day 1." If the Supremes invalidate the law, or failing that, if the GOP manages to repeal the law, who will care if all the popular provisions remain intact?

Oooops. How to pay for improved health care insurance available for all Americans as the years go by? How to get all Americans to actually pay for the insurance, so they're actually paying for the emergency room and other health care they get? How to reduce the relentless increase of costs? How to get the drug companies to stop selling drugs to Medicare at absurdly high prices? UnitedHealthCare and Aetna and Humana didn't mention that. Romney and Boehner haven't mentioned anything about that recently…..the "free market" isn't going to fix it….

We're getting health care reform, slowly but surely….the "slowly" part is costly to all of us.

More thoughts on health care...

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The wisdom of Mae West

"You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough."

Mae West (1893-1980)

Probably this is one of the least suggestive quotes recorded for Mae West, who was notoriously glib in her more characteristically bawdy one-liners.

I think she's right, we only live once. We only get one shot at it, but we do it day by day, and so there's abundant opportunity to do some fine tuning and to get in a re-do now and then when the first effort falls a bit short… my mind, doing it right includes being honest with yourself and with others, trying to do your best whenever it makes sense and making a sincere effort to do what's at the top of your list, leaving the lesser priorities to another day…..

Now, sure, figuring out what's at the top of your list ain't the easiest thing to do….but you can pretty much get that right, most of the time…

Friday, June 15, 2012

Too much money….

A piece today on suggests that the uber-wealthy Koch brothers are starting to look and act like a political party. This is uber-dangerous for our democracy.

I'll try to leave aside for the moment the matter of which candidates and political principles the Koch brothers support….I think the Koch brothers support dangerously irrational anti-government ideas and unbelievably transparent attempts to channel more money into the hands of the very wealthy at the expense of most Americans and at the expense of our national economic well-being and at the expense of our environment…and I also understand that some people say "pa-tah-toe" and it's their American right to do so.

But it has never been part of our American democratic heritage to encourage unimaginably wealthy individuals, regardless of their political persuasion, to use their money to buy candidates and buy elections.

It is every American's right to vote for a preferred candidate, and it is every American's right to personally try to influence our political debate….it is not any individual's right to determine the outcome of any election, and that's what very wealthy folks like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson are trying to do. That's wrong.

I'm beating the drum for more sanity in our democratic elections. Just take half a minute to think about the impact of this huge, horribly legal spending of very wealthy Americans who are trying to buy acceptance for their point of view, and trying to buy the election.

When they "put their money where their mouths are," they do it in a big way, much bigger than almost everyone else can manage.

The flood of cash from the rich, the few and the furious doesn't take away your vote. It swamps your vote and drowns out your voice and puts in office too many politicians who aren't inclined to listen to you after they take office.

They hear the sound of money and a drum beat that I don't like to hear. How about you?

Campaign finance reform on the back burner...

More on elections for sale...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Weird or what?

Suppose you're a woman who is a college graduate, who grew up in Sierra Leone and then moved to Centerville, Utah, to be near your relatives and start your own African hair-braiding business.

Now, in Sierra Leone little girls routinely learn how to do hair-braiding. In Centerville, Utah, you might matter-of-factly call it African hair-braiding.

You might guess that there isn't a big market for African hair-braiding in Centerville, Utah. On the other hand, it's not like there's nobody who wants African hair-braiding, and some Utah families have adopted African children, and anyway you don't have to be African or black to like the style.

Anyway, the point is that, if you know how to do African hair-braiding in Centerville, Utah, you can't just advertise on the internet and go to work. See Jacob Goldstein's NYT piece here.

First, you need to get a cosmetology license from Utah's inconveniently named "Barber, Cosmetology/Barber, Esthetics, Electrology and Nail Technology Licensing Board." And to get the license you need a diploma from a cosmetology school that'll cost you about two years of your time and about $16,000 in tuition. And you need to pay a state licensing fee. Or you could ask the board to waive the licensing requirement. But since the board is composed mostly of licensed barbers and cosmetologists (in other words, your prospective competitors), there's a good chance that you're never going to see your first customer.

Gee whiz. Weird or what?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The wisdom of Aristotle (part 2)

"There is a foolish corner in the brain of the wisest man."
Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

There's a corner in my brain that wants me to try to make a snappy comment on this caution from Aristotle….

More from Aristotle

Wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The wisdom of Havelock Ellis

"All the art of living lies in a
      fine mingling of letting go and holding on."

Havelock Ellis (1859-1939)
British physician, psychologist, social reformer

Ellis also wrote canonical stuff on human sexuality—he offered some enduring insights about the kind of people we are.

I guess we have to say that the art of living surely includes more than the "fine mingling" Ellis mentioned above.

But at any given moment, I guess figuring out how to do the fine mingling with reasonable success would pretty much qualify for living the good life.

I'm going to let go of something today.

I'm going to hold on to a double handful of the stuff that's worth keeping.

And I'll mention that remembering to say "I love you" is high on the "Art Of Living" to-do list.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A horse race….NOT!

When is a horse race like the presidential primary?

Answer: when the news media say it is.

If you're like me, you're feeling pretty much starved most of the time for real information about the candidates and their policies and programs and philosophies.

That's no surprise, because most of the media coverage of the current political season has been about anything but the substance, the meaty "what they stand for" stuff…

And this observation is more than just the bad feeling you get when you think about the vacuous news and reportage offered by newspapers and TV news and the cable news talking heads…'s proof: only about 11% of media coverage is focused on "the candidates' stands on the issues," according to analysis by the Pew Research Center's non-profit Project for Excellence in Journalism. Almost two-thirds of media reporting was devoted to "polls, advertising, fundraising, strategy and who was up or down," in other words, to the horse race concept of the presidential primary. The rest is commentary on the candidates' personal lives and other stuff.

So, most of what we get is the meaningless, day-to-day musings of pollsters and anchors and experts, and the ever-popular but completely useless "projections" of who will win in November....the latest on who's up in the polls today...breathless reporting on which candidate dropped a percentage point in the conveniently simple but desperately simplistic "approval rating" questions....serious commentary on the format of the latest TV ad....horrifying accounts of yet another partisan billionaire planning to buy an election for his favorite candidate.

The media are convinced that this tripe is entertaining. My own favorite descriptive word is unprintable.

More on the horse race thing....

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Taking time to be civilized...

It's not right to say there's "no news worth talking about" this morning, but a quick scan of my trusty news websites shows mostly posts that are 1 or 2 days old…..OK, it's Sunday morning, but it's notably drowsy on the news front.

So I'll just mention that my wife and I had dinner with good friends last night, they're very civilized, we're very civilized, we had a very civilized dinner at a very civilized eatery in Allentown.

It's not the kind of place that's popular because the din of chattering, laughing and shouting patrons makes it actually impossible to have a civilized conversation while eating.

It's not the kind of place that serves huge portions that a lumberjack would cherish.

The bartender makes a very civilized martini exactly to order, always a mark of distinction.

With our friends, we actually talked for two hours about interesting stuff, shared some personal life stories, cleverly reviewed other restaurants we've known and loved, actually enjoyed the crafted entrees….

We had pleasing, thoughtful, intense, face-to-face communication about ourselves, our lives, the human condition, the possible reasons why a side of rice was served to only two of us…..mostly focusing on indulging in the civilized banter that defines a good dinner…

…and we didn't put anything out on Twitter, y'know what I'm saying?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The wisdom of Gary Dologite

"Management contradicts human nature."

Gary Dologite

True on so many levels.

For one thing, there is the Hollywood movie truth: nearly all really good sergeants don't want to be lieutenants.

For another thing, so many people are really no good at being a manager. Too much ego, too much fear, too much ignorance, you name it….

I suspect that the reason we don't have enough good managers is that there simply aren't enough capable people to fill all of the management slots. I suspect that the first thing a new CEO should do is eliminate half of the management positions in his company, and then ask all of the current and former managers to re-apply for the remaining slots…….that way, at least some of the worst managers would be culled.

And to Gary's point above: I don't think good managers are super-human or non-human….I think they are compassionate enough to sympathize with human joy and human aspiration and human frailty, and they are smart enough to know that you don't get far if everyone in the boat is paddling in a different direction…

…and yeah, they do strategic planning and profit-maximization and that kind of stuff, you can teach people to do that part…

Everybody's a manager?

Are you a great manager?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Speak up for straight talk...

On June 3 a Washington Post columnist, E. J. Dionne Jr., asked "What might a reasonable, constructive presidential campaign look like?" I recommend his column, read it here.

He admits that "ideology quickly gets in the way" of answering this question, I'm not going to try to give a short solution or a short complaint about how unlikely such a campaign is in the current twisted, viciously partisan state of public debate.

But I think it's worth taking a moment to admit that we don't have a reasonable, constructive political debate going on, and to wish that more people would just talk straight about what they really want.

And let's make this finger-wagging apply to the whole spectrum, I'll start by mentioning that Democrats and progressives and liberals and such who draw the line in the sand, and say "We can't touch Social Security benefits!" are defining a political rampart, not a sound public policy.

Dionne offers a provocative call-out to the other side, the Republicans and conservatives and Tea Party backers and such….E. J. says "Forgive me for noting that conservatives seem to believe that the rich will work harder if we give them more, and the poor will work harder if we give them less."

E. J. also says "Arguing in a serious way about the single question of economic inequality would make all the other nonsense of the next five months endurable."

I don't know how endurable the rest of the presidential campaign can be, I'm hunkered down.

I do know that it could be better if we all would talk straight about what we personally believe and what we personally want and what we honestly see as our own personal best interests….. and stop all the codeword argument and all the shadow debate about deficits and Social Security and health care and class warfare and "college for all" and "welfare queens" and the Keystone pipeline and "job creators" and……

Another take on straight talk

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The wisdom of Benjamin Franklin (part 3)

"The virtue of sincerity:
  Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and,
  if you speak, speak accordingly."

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Today we wouldn't generally say it in Ben's literate 18th century prose style, but any way of saying what he said would be a good way.

At the age of 20, Franklin wrote out his personal list of 13 virtues by which he intended to guide his life. No. 7 was Sincerity. A pretty good one.

Imagine how the bitterly partisan comments on today's news and political free-for-all web sites would be different if everyone followed Franklin's dictum about speaking "innocently and justly."

The next time restraint is a soothing alternative to whatever you're planning to say, speak accordingly…

More wisdom from old Ben:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Let there be light…

The House of Representatives has done another silly thing: Republicans are trying to pick a fight with the "energy police."

I'm rooting for the "energy police."

Seems that during the Bush administration, back in 2007, the federal government approved some efficiency standards that included regulations for light bulbs, requiring that the familiar incandescent bulbs eventually must be replaced with higher efficiency bulbs like the curly fluorescents.

"Eventually" is getting to be "now," and Republicans led by Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas are making some political hay again by trying to prevent the phase-out of the cheaper incandescents. The new fluorescents cost more, but they last so much longer that they're cheaper in the longer run, and they use less energy.

Sounds like a no-brainer: costs less, energy-efficient, everybody benefits because everybody uses light bulbs, manufacturers like GE already have started switching their production lines to the new type of bulb.

Burgess says "people are sick of the government treading where it just doesn't belong," and "I'm smart enough to make my own decisions about the purchase of energy." He mocked government "enforcement" of the bulb change-over: " 'We don't need no stinkin' badges. We're the energy police.' "

I submit that Burgess may not, in fact, actually be smart enough to make his own decisions about the purchase of energy. By opposing energy-efficient bulbs, he certainly isn't making a smart decision for America and Americans. He didn't mention how he feels about government standards for fuel efficiency in cars and trucks.

I think we do need smart "energy police," both government and industry working together, working on our huge problems with dependence on foreign sources of oil and inefficient energy production by dirty coal-fired generating plants, for example.

But I do agree with Burgess on one point: We don't need any of those stinkin' badges.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Business taxes: "Hide and Seek" for tax lawyers…

One of my personal advisors reminds me that avoiding payment of taxes is big business for lots of businesses……corporate tax lawyers try to hide income from the tax man, and IRS tax lawyers seek to find that income and collect what's due, along with penalties and interest in many cases.

Now, I'll try to deal fairly with one obvious retort: of course it makes no sense for a company or an individual to pay more tax than is rightly due.

What we're talking about here is use of arcane tax shelters and book-cooking that reduces payment of legitimate tax obligations, and sometimes (not often enough) results in payment of penalties when the tax man catches on.

I won't bother trying to prove this with stats and citations. We all know it happens. It sucks that some highly paid employees actually get paid to try to stiff the IRS, and it sucks that companies are routinely willing to pay the penalties when the tax man sniffs out the chicanery.

For companies that do it, it's a disgusting "cost of doing business" that everyone else ends up paying for…..

Monday, June 4, 2012

A bit of gas….

Gas prices in my town have dropped about 20 cents a gallon in the last couple weeks, down to $3.35 yesterday. That's nice, I don't mind paying less.

You may have been noticing that the price of crude oil has been dropping, from a high of $110 a barrel to about $82 a barrel now, so no wonder local gas prices are down.

Funny thing: all of the politicians who were blaming President Obama for high gas prices have forgotten to give him a high five now that prices have dropped….John Boehner, where are you? Romney, where are you?

Another funny thing: the news media that were having so much fun bringing us the jaw-dropping news about climbing prices at the gas pump have forgotten to hype the recent story….

I guess they were just all gas in the first place…

Speculators and gas prices...

Gas price silliness...

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The wisdom of Africa

“If you want to go quickly, go alone.
                      If you want to go far, go together.”
African proverb

I guess there's a proverb in every culture about making a journey. For the earliest humans, it's likely that no journey was risk-free and it's likely that every journey was an adventure, at least a snap, crackle and pop kind of adventure, if not an explosion of discovery and wonder. Guidance about making the journey was a pretty good thing to have….

So I'm going to try to be aware of the adventure in my next journey, and to savor it, and to git some of that snap, crackle and pop, at least….I want it to be the "go far" kind of adventure too, so I'm going to make sure I have a loved one along for the ride…

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The wisdom of James P. Brennan

"Help the helpers. Give to the givers."

James P. Brennan
Interim Executive Director
Lehigh Valley Associate of Independent Colleges

You can see any number of payoffs in this advice. I'm thinking that the most positive payoff may be simply getting involved.

Don't let the helpers do all the helping.
Don't let the givers do all the giving.

What's important in your life?
Who's important in your life?

What are you doing about it?

…and P.S.
My personal advisor reminds me that there is much to learn in this bit of enhanced wisdom from
St. Augustine of Hippo     (354-430):

"Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by accidents of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you."

Friday, June 1, 2012

My creation myth can beat your creation myth…..

A recent Gallup poll reports that almost half of Americans don't believe the scientifically established fact that humans spontaneously evolved from other life forms during the last 5 million years.

Gallup's current figure (46%) has been roughly unchanged since Gallup started asking the "creation" questions 30 years ago.

Here's the statement that 46% of Americans say they believe: "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so."

I accept the reality that different human beings have different beliefs. Some of my beliefs are not exactly mainstream.....I also accept as an axiom that beliefs should be defensible...

Here's an explicit question Gallup has been forgetting to ask for the last 30 years:

"Do you believe that nearly all of the world's biologists and chemists and physicists and social scientists, who have studied and proved the theory of evolution, are dead wrong?"

I'll leave for another time, preferably in a place with a crackling wood fire and a good single malt Scotch at hand, the rational discussion about ignoring science. I'll plan to block out the entire evening….

Here's another explicit question Gallup has been forgetting to ask for the last 30 years:

"Do you believe that your creation myth is right, and the creation myths of every other religion and culture in the world are dead wrong?"

I do suspect that we would see some surprisingly conflicted answers if all of those questions were asked at the same time.

It's one thing to believe, or tell your friends and the phone interviewer that you believe, the American biblical Christian story of creation.

It's another thing to believe without proof that the significantly different non-scientific creation stories believed by billions of people in other cultures on the planet are dead wrong.

There are billions of believers, but they can't all be right.

There's something wrong with that.