Thursday, May 31, 2012

The wisdom of Woody Allen

"Eighty percent of success is showing up.”
Woody Allen (b. 1935)


Well, I don't have to tell you who Allan Stewart Konigsberg is, after the name change, I'm pretty sure about that.

I'm pretty sure you've watched a couple of his movies, at least you've heard of "Annie Hall" because I've heard of "Annie Hall" and not because it won an Academy Award, I just learned that, maybe you already knew…..

Anyway, I think ole Woody is probably pretty close to being right about the "showing up" part, you have to play to win and all that kind of stuff, you have to be there to grab the brass ring….

I prefer to think about Woody's endorsement of "showing up" as a call to be there and to be in it: show up and show some interest, get up off your rusty dusty and get in the action, sound off, jab your finger in the air every so often when you're making that big important point, stand up and speak up for something, don't let the egregious outburst of prejudice go unchallenged….

….and by the way, if anyone can give me even one pretty good reason to watch a Woody Allen movie all the way through, please do….

On the other hand, he does play a pretty hot jazz clarinet.

The wisdom of Jerry Seinfeld



Wednesday, May 30, 2012

CEO pay: Would they do it for less?


A May 25 report from the Associated Press says that typical pay for the CEO of a large public U.S. corporation was $9.6 million last year, up 6% from 2010. That's a median figure, so half of CEOs got more, half got less.

I think that's way too much. In fact, the typical American worker earning median pay of $39,300 would have to work about 244 years to match the typical CEO's pay.

I realize that the "right-ness" of CEO pay scales is a hot-button issue with no clear-cut resolution. And I sure do agree with the notion that in America, you and everyone else have a chance to make it big. But throwing money at people isn't what I call American pie.

We need to keep asking the boards of directors of the big companies what the heck they're thinking when they hand out multiple millions of dollars to their CEOs. Too many CEOs have raked in millions while the prosperity and stock price of their companies deteriorated.

Here's my basic question: what would happen if all the CEOs were paid less? I'm not talking about cutting them back to $39,300 a year or anything….I'm talking about cutting the $9.6 million guy back to $9 million or a mere $8 million or a lousy $7 million…..


If Mr. CEO of Big Company, Inc., was paid $9.6 million last year, what would he do differently this year if his board cut him back to $9 million? Or $8.6 million? Or $8.1 million? Would he suddenly be less creative, less bold, less dynamic, less competitive, less aggressive, less dedicated to his company? Would he start doing a crappy job if his pay was cut a bit? Would he have fewer good ideas? Would he be less of a leader? Would he leave the company? Could the board hire some guy or some lady who was equally good for less than $9.6 million?



I realize there are lots and lots of variables and market conditions and competitive concerns to think about in considering those questions.

I think the answer to almost all of those questions is most likely "No", and I think the answer to one of those questions is most certainly "Yes." And you already know which one I'm thinking of…..

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

College for everyone?...Nope.

Robert Samuelson says "the college-for-all crusade has outlived its usefulness" in a Sunday piece for the Washington Post. I think he's quite right. In fact, I don't think the college-for-everyone crusade has ever made much sense.

About 40% of Americans have some kind of college degree, including two-year associate degrees. Samuelson notes a Labor Department finding that almost 70% of real-life jobs don't require a post-high-school degree………….so, in a very simplistic way, by the numbers only, "enough" people already are getting college degrees.


I realize how explicitly insulting and offensive that last sentence is, for many folks….but let's put it in less provocative language: it would be absurd to argue that every adult in America "needs" a college degree, and it defies reasonable imagination to think that every adult in America is capable of earning a college degree --- you probably know one or two very nice people who couldn't possibly complete a college degree ---- and so the realistic truth is that something less than 100% of Americans with college degrees is "enough"…



I'm ready for the debate about whether 40% is a pretty good benchmark…and then we can continue the debate about which degrees are beneficial to individuals and to society as a whole….

Anyway, read Samuelson's May 27 take on it here.

And then come back and we can talk about whether most folks getting college degrees are actually learning much that's worthwhile…..one study cited by Samuelson reports that only a third of college students "significantly improved their critical thinking and writing skills" after four years of study.

And after that we can get started on the sky-high cost of college….there's not enough money available in America to pay for a college degree for everyone.

No Child Left Behind redux...

Monday, May 28, 2012

The wisdom of Oscar Wilde (part 3)


"What is a cynic?
             A man who knows the price of everything
                          and the value of nothing."
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

One of my personal advisors is firm on this point: she says she is, in many circumstances, a cynic, and yet she is far from ignorant of the value of things.

I agree with her objection to Oscar's felicitous epigram, she called him on it, I think he was insufficiently precise in defining the so-called cynic. Being a cynic goes much deeper.....

I'm not so sure that a cynic must claim sure knowledge, a priori, in order to claim the title…..in any event, a cynic certainly can ply his trade without complete knowledge….I suspect that with a little dose of common sense, and the ability to prefer reality most of the time, and the inclination to recognize the phonies at your local bonfire of the vanities, you can step right up to the microphone and be a respectable cynic, no problem at all…..


Better yet, be a full-blown realist. I'm comfortable with the notion that a realist is a cynic who knows too much, and cares too much, to simply be a plain old garden variety Oscar Wilde-type cynic….my advice is: Be a realist…..and then, if, on occasion, for recreational purposes, you wanna dabble one toe into your old "La Cynique" shoes and do a two-step or two, and call down imprecations on the Undesirables, with a pure heat, I say, no problem at all…..they deserve it.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The wisdom of Michael Pollan


"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Michael Pollan (b. 1955)
American author, journalist, activist

 
Michael Pollan is a food expert, plain and simple.
He has famously said that much of what we eat is really "edible food-like substances."



Try his books, for instance: In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Most likely you'll think twice about some of the stuff you're eating.

If you're not convinced by much of what he has to say, try reading them again and make sure the chips and dip are far away when you're doing it.










Friday, May 25, 2012

Hoarding cash...

U. S. corporations are hoarding cash. We're talking about commercial corporations, not banks or investment firms. At the end of last year, non-financial corporations had socked away $2.2 trillion in cash and short-term securities. That's trillion, the 12 zeros kind. That's a lot of cash, and it's 60% more than such corporations had in 2008.

You know what short term interest rates are like, they're close to zero, for all useful purposes they ARE zero. So the corporations aren't stashing the cash away to earn interest...

And actual corporate tax payments (not the tax rate, but what they actually pay, after figuring in all the deductions and loopholes) are the lowest they've been in decades, so they're not saving money to pay taxes….

It's hard to avoid suspecting that they're deliberately keeping their feet on the brake pedal instead of the gas pedal, intending to tamp down our national economy and weaken President Obama's chances for re-election in November.

Why aren't they investing that cash and creating new jobs?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

"Phone sex".....an update


The publisher of Parents magazine released a new survey revealing that 12 per cent of "Millennial Moms" say they use their smartphones during sex.


Why would somebody even ASK that question?.....umm, all the things I can think of to say here…..I really think I shouldn't say them.

Maybe you have to be "pro-phoned" or otherwise enlightened to understand this item.



Anyway, as a retired market research wonk, I would be interested to know exactly how the question was phrased….

…if you know anything about this, gimme a call….but not while you're….you know….




Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Is it a gift if you don't get paid?


The Washington Post notes that Rick Santorum had $2.3 million in debt when he ended his quest for the Republican presidential nomination. Newt Gingrich threw in the towel with $4.8 million still owed to folks and companies that provided campaign services.

Maybe these debts will be repaid. Often, political campaign debts go unpaid for a long time.

For example, last year Rudy Giuliani still owed $2.6 million from his 2008 presidential bid, and Hillary Clinton still owes $245,000 from hers.

If you provide services to someone's political campaign, and you don't get paid, I think the straight way of saying it is that you made a gift to that campaign. If you have to wait a long time to get paid, you really made an interest-free loan to the campaign.

As far as I know, neither of these scenarios is covered by campaign finance law. They should be.



Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pssst.... Wanna buy one of Babe Ruth's shirts?

I know, I know, if you have $4,415,658 and you want to spend that much to win the auction for a New York Yankees uniform shirt that Babe Ruth wore somewhere back around 1920, you have a right to do it.

Yeah, you read it right, that price was over $4.4 million.

But I have a right to say that I think it's wrong to spend that much money for a shirt, even if The Babe did wear it. Hey, Abraham Lincoln's favorite beard comb? Now maybe that's worth 4.4 mil, you know what I'm saying?.....

Back to the shirt. I'm guessing that the person who bought the shirt probably can't fit into it, so it's probably not like it's a wearable item, and it certainly wouldn't be business casual attire or anything….

But utility is not the issue. I'm just saying that I'm exasperated, and I'll be honest, a little angry, to know that somebody, somewhere has $4.4 million to spare, and can't think of anything better to do with it.

To whoever bought the shirt: it wasn't a proud thing you did.



And ditto to the screamingly unimaginable person who spent $120 million recently to buy the 1895 Impressionist painting "The Scream," by Edvard Munch. Here are two comments on that from theweek.com:

"Today’s art market is mostly about hype, said Abigail R. Esman in Forbes.com. As this record sale shows, the fabulously wealthy private collectors who now dominate the art world care less about owning the world’s great paintings than they do about being 'the one to pay—or to acquire—the highest price for them.' Their obscene spending perfectly illustrates 'the gaping inequalities of our age,' said Michael Casey in The Wall Street Journal."

To whoever bought "The Scream": buy an ad in the New York Times and explain why you did that.
I dare ya.







Monday, May 21, 2012

Re-election: what is the point?


Maybe Judd Gregg was the first.

I mean, maybe former U.S. Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire was the first……the first more-or-less moderate member of Congress who decided that it was time to throw in the towel because of the partisan bickering, hatred and deadlock that has caused Congressional approval ratings to drop so far that 90% of Americans despise the 535 men and women who "serve" in Washington.

In February 2009, Gregg announced he wouldn't run for a fourth term as Senator. That was after the then brand-new President Obama was trying to reach across the political aisle for a bi-partisan cabinet, so he nominated Republican Sen. Judd to be Secretary of Commerce, but the political sniping and backlash was so intense that Judd bowed out. Apparently at the same time he started to see the writing on the wall.

That would be same writing on the wall that many long-serving, more-or-less moderate members of Congress—like Olympia Snowe (R) and Ben Nelson (D)—have been reading, causing them to call it quits.


Congress isn't working right. The doctrinaire, partisan and ideologically closed-minded members are holding Congress hostage, while very damn little that would help America and Americans is getting done. For them, the argument is the point, and all-or-nothing partisanship is the goal, and ideological purity is the standard of performance.

Judd Gregg wrote an opinion piece today on The Hill website: "The Vital Center." He says:

"… it is almost always necessary to include the minority party in any action that is going to actually lead to governance, especially if the act contemplated affects a significant number of Americans...

"…Most Americans want a government that works. Partisanship cannot fulfill this need in the end because it cannot lead to effective governance in our constitutional system.

"The American people understand this, which is why their level of frustration with Washington is so high right now. Many members of Congress, to be fair, understand this too.

"Yes, reelection is important. But what is the point, if you do not govern once you get there?"

The next time you vote for your representative in Congress, ask this question: Are you voting for the person who will shout what you want shouted in Washington? Or are you voting for the person who will actually work with other representatives to reasonably do what's right for America, and for Americans, and for you?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The wisdom of the old farmer....(part 4)


"You cannot unsay a cruel word."

Overheard in the old farmer's barn

This one is a dagger in my heart. A cruel word is a dreadful weapon……and the unintended cruel word pierces, through and through, and it hurts the speaker more, if the speaker has a heart.

I have had such a searing cruel word in my mind, in my memory, in my heart, for many years. I know the old farmer is right. I have apologized to the one I love, whom I so cruelly and casually wounded so long ago…..that did not unchain me from my memory……I was repentant but not relieved…


Recently I have realized that a kind of expiation is possible…I'll have to wait a few more years, but I can bear it….in time, I know that I can remove this dagger, I can turn it into a fragile missile of love, I can toss it to a beautiful child and I know that will make the child laugh, and make a father happy, and make a somewhat lighter burden for a remorseful old man…

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The wisdom of Randy Pausch

"Experience is what you get
               when you didn't get what you wanted."

Randy Pausch (1960-2008)
Professor of Computer Science and Human-Computer Interaction
"The Last Lecture," Carnegie Mellon University


Dr. Randolph Frederick "Randy" Pausch is justly famous for his "Last Lecture" at Carnegie Mellon shortly before he died, very much prematurely, in 2008. He talked about achieving his childhood dreams…..you do have time to watch him here, you'll be glad you did…

His insight about experience is the greatest invitation I've heard to get in touch with your inner frame of reference for much of the less-than-perfect stuff that happens in life, and walk away a little bit more wise and a little bit less angry, less whiny, less depressed, less self-indulgent, less obstinate…..you know what I'm saying….

Friday, May 18, 2012

They're still doing it….


According to The Financial Times:

The bankers at JPMorgan have created a time bomb.

Last week you probably heard about the JPMorgan investment unit that racked up—so far—more than $2 billion in risky derivatives trading losses.

Well, it seems that the folks in that cubicle have put JPMorgan's money into more than $100 billion of European mortgage-backed bonds, collateralized loan obligations and other complex high risk debt securities…

I know, I know, it's hard to write these words because so few people understand what they really mean, including me, but the point is: these are the same complex, risky bonds and other financial instruments that blew up in the nationwide financial crisis in 2008…and JPMorgan's $100 billion stake dominates the market, in other words, there's really nobody they can sell it to in the short run….


In other words, the folks who brought us the mortgage meltdown and the financial failures and the Great Recession are still doing it, and still getting away with it…

And, a correction, they haven't been using "JPMorgan's money," they've been using "JPMorgan stockholders' money"….

Here's the full story from The Financial Times

Thursday, May 17, 2012

George F. Will, the thinking man's antagonist


Full disclosure: Often I disagree with much of what George Will says, not because I hate the way he says it…..he wraps an infelicitous hodgepodge of prejudices in the most elegant language, but the latter usually isn't wonderful enough for me to avoid gagging about the former, y'know?




Anyway, here's a tidbit that illuminates the latter, from his May 16 Washington Post column, savor it if you will…..







          Campaigning recently at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., Romney warned students
          about their burden from the national debt, but when he took questions, the first 
          questioner had something else on her peculiar mind: “So you’re all for like, ‘Yay,
          freedom,’ and all this stuff and ‘Yay, like, pursuit of happiness.’ You know what would
          make me happy? Free birth control.”
         
          While awaiting that eventual entitlement, perhaps she can land a subsidized loan so
          she can inexpensively continue to hone her interesting intellect.


I wish I could add a trenchant something that would be icing on this little piece of cake, but George said it all…..


My take on student loans:




The wisdom of Paulo Coelho

"OK, I'm doing my best…"
Paulo Coelho (b. 1947)
Brazilian lyricist and novelist


I don't know enough to recommend Coelho's books, but I think that what he says in an Open Culture interview about "fear of failure" is worth passing on:


"I’m never paralyzed by my fear of failure… I say 'Ok, I’m doing my best… ' And, from the moment that I can say that I’m doing my best … I sit down, I breathe, and I say 'I put all of my love into it, I did it with all my heart.' …




I can take that to heart. It's a wonderful antidote to fearing actual or possible failure…..it doesn't actually guarantee that you won't fail, but it lessens any debilitating or distracting fear about not getting something completely right. As soon as I can say "I've done my best" or "I'm doing my best on this," I feel a little exaltation and I feel comfortable taking the next step, that is, let this current work be what it is, and move on…..try it on some part of the next big project you're working on.

And while I'm talking about "my best," I realize that "my best" is not necessarily a shining beacon on the hill, somewhere out there…."my best" often is defined by how much time is available to go for it, and also by my current (and changeable) expectations about what I want and what I care about……I strongly believe in standards, and I believe there are some moral absolutes, and I cherish my personal values, but those important guideposts do not unavoidably mandate an impossibly high bar for performance in every case…..and right here I'm deciding that I'm not going to try to clarify this point any more….I've done my best.


current post on Paulo's blog also deals with some aspects of fear

...and here's his website

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"I think maybe there is much…"


"I think maybe there is much where we think there is nothing."
Brian Doyle
Author, editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland
"Fishering," in the March 06, 2006 issue of High Country News


This piece by Brian Doyle just draws in the horizons until I am in a small space, contemplating a feat of nature that is alien, but beautiful…I guess I hope I never see a ferocious fisher face to face, I'm not too sure I could calmly sit down and watch it as Brian did, but the fleeting truth is that I wish I could do what he did and see the thing, out there, and have a wonderful, fearful, essential moment of contact to remember….I want to try to be open to the moments in life when there can be much, instead of nothing…

For your delectation, read on:

"Fishering" by Brian Doyle

In the woods here in Oregon there is a creature that eats squirrels like candy, can kill a pursuing dog in less than a second, and is in the habit of deftly flipping over porcupines and scooping out the meat as if the prickle-pig were merely a huge and startled breakfast melon.

This riveting creature is the fisher, a member of the mustelid family that includes weasels, otter, mink, badger, ferrets, marten, and — at the biggest and most ferocious end of the family — wolverine. Sometimes called the pekan or fisher-cat, the fisher can reach three feet long, tail included, and weigh up to 12 pounds. Despite its stunning speed and agility, it is best known not as an extraordinary athlete of the thick woods and snowfields, but as the bearer of a coat so dense and lustrous that it has been sought eagerly by trappers for thousands of years — one reason the fisher is so scarce pretty much everywhere it used to live.

Biologist friends of mine tell me that Oregon has only two “significant” populations of fisher: One in the Siskiyou Mountains in the southwest, and the other in the Cascade Mountains south of Crater Lake. All the rare sightings of fisher in Oregon in recent years have been in these two areas. In the northwest coastal woods where I occasionally walk, biologists tell me firmly, there are no fishers and there have been none for more than 50 years.

I am a guy who wanders around looking for nothing in particular, which is to say everything. In this frame of mind I have seen many things, in venues urban, suburban and rural. While ambling in the woods I have seen marten kits and three-legged elk and secret beds of watercress and the subtle dens of foxes. I have found thickets of wild grapevines, and hidden jungles of salmonberries, and stands of huckleberries so remote and so delicious that it is a moral dilemma for me as to whether or not I should leave a map behind for my children when the time comes for me to add to the compost of the world.

Suffice it to say that I have been much graced in these woods, but to see a fisher was not a gift I expected. Yet recently I found loose quills on a path, and then the late owner of the quills, with his or her conqueror atop the carcass staring at me.

I do not know if the fisher had ever seen a human being before. It evinced none of the usual sensible caution of the wild creature confronted with homo violencia, and it showed no inclination whatsoever to retreat from its prize. We stared at each other for a long moment and then I sat down, thinking that a reduction of my height and a gesture of repose might send the signal that I was not dangerous, and had no particular interest in porcupine meat. Plus, I’d remembered that a fisher can slash a throat in less than a second.

Long minutes passed. The fisher fed, cautiously. I heard thrushes and wrens. I made no photographs or recordings, and when the fisher decided to evanesce I did not take casts of its tracks, or claim the former porcupine as evidence of fisherness. I just watched and listened and now I tell you. I don’t have any heavy message to share. I was only a witness: Where there are no fishers, there was a fisher. It was a stunning creature, alert, attentive, accomplished, unafraid. I think maybe there is much where we think there is nothing. Where there are no fishers, there was a fisher. Remember that.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The wisdom of the old farmer…(part 3)

"Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance."

Overheard in the old farmer's barn




It's not that you're not good at what you do….but think about all the stuff you've done, if any of it had a lot to do with timing, it might be time to think twice before you have another go at it….







More from the old farmer:
http://barleyliterate.blogspot.com/2011/12/wisdom-of-old-farmer-revisited.html
http://barleyliterate.blogspot.com/2011/12/wisdom-of-old-farmer.html

Monday, May 14, 2012

The buck stops…..where, exactly?


So, maybe you heard, JPMorgan's senior banker in charge of the London unit that lost $2 billion will "step aside," as will two of the traders involved in the debacle.

Ina Drew, chief investment officer with three decades of experience at JPMorgan, is taking the fall for the ghastly trade that went wrong in the past several weeks. She earned $14 million last year, and was the bank's fourth-highest-paid officer. The New York Times reported "it was unclear what type of severance package Ms. Drew will receive."

To his credit, Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan, has said in the past few days that the whole mess was "a terrible, egregious mistake" and it was "sloppy" and "stupid." Funny how an opportunity to actually agree with something Jamie Dimon says will come up every so often….

At this point I don't really want to throw dirt on Ina's head, she's gone, that's the right move for the bank….two of the culpable traders are gone, that's the right move. Maybe they're the only ones who were actually responsible for the murky derivatives position that went sour and cost JPMorgan at least $2,000,000,000, and apparently could have gone even deeper into the red if it hadn't been terminated.

I would have been happier if Dimon had stood in front of the microphone a little longer last Thursday when he announced the colossal loss….I would have been happier if he had said at that time that "the executive in charge of this stupid, sloppy loss has been terminated, along with the traders who put this stupid, sloppy deal on"…..I would have been happier still if Dimon had also said "…and I have informed the board that I will give up $2 billion of my bonus this year to cover the loss."

The buck should stop at the big guy's desk. I think that would have made a lot of JPMorgan shareholders happy.






Sunday, May 13, 2012

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The wisdom of Archbishop Desmond Tutu


"I can't for the life of me imagine that God will say,


     'I will punish you because you are black,
           you should have been white;
     'I will punish you because you are a woman,
           you should have been a man;
     'I will punish you because you are homosexual,
           you ought to have been heterosexual.'


"I can't for the life of me believe that is how God sees things."

Desmond Mpilo Tutu (b. 1931)
Archbishop Emeritus of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa


Wow. Pour yourself another cup of coffee or tea, we could talk about this one for a while. This is a little deeper than your standard Poor Richard's Almanac kind of stuff. I imagine there's some discomfort level here for just about everyone…it makes me back up one or two steps and whisper to myself: "The totality of my beliefs….are they fully consistent?...do those sometimes pesky angels on each of my shoulders have anything to argue about?...."




Friday, May 11, 2012

How much money does he need?


Here's an item that popped onto my screen today:

Eduardo Saverin, the multi-billionaire co-founder of Facebook, renounced his U.S. citizenship last year, in advance of Facebook's pending initial public offering (IPO) that values the social network at almost $100 billion. This is a move that will ultimately reduce his tax bill. He is now a resident of Singapore.


Saverin owns about 4% of Facebook, meaning after the IPO his Facebook stake will be worth close to $4 billion. He's 30 years old, he won't live long enough to spend it all. If he would spend $5,000 every day, starting today, it would take him more than 2,000 years to spend that chunk.

Several words spring to my mind when I think about people who renounce U.S. citizenship to cut their tax bills…."distasteful" is one of the nicer ones. Hey, they have a right to do it, no question about that.



My question for Saverin is: How much money do you need to be content?

My general question is: Does anyone need $4 billion?

More on folks who give up U.S. citizenship.....





The wisdom of John Maynard Keynes

"When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?"

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946)

There are folks who may not know exactly that Keynes was an influential British economist but have heard of "Keynesian economics"…..and of course there are lots of folks who have an opinion about Keynesian economics without knowing exactly what it means…

In the tiniest nutshell, Keynes demonstrated that governments could "prime the pump" with spending in times of economic recession in order to stimulate demand and restore economic vitality.


In 1999 Time Magazine named Baron Keynes among the 100 most important and influential people of the 20th century, and said: "His radical idea that governments should spend money they don't have may have saved capitalism."

I don't suspect that no one will disagree with that observation….I also don't suspect that the so-called "free markets" have done a great job in curing the financial disaster that hit us in 2007-2008. For instance, I'm waiting for the "job creators" to do their thing…..



Anyway, Keynes famously responded with the retort printed above when a critic accused him of changing his position on some aspect of monetary theory during the Great Depression.

I like this quote because it's a reminder that old facts and old opinions need to be revisited sometimes, and sometimes it's immensely satisfying to defend a long-standing opinion, sometimes it might even be an ego builder, but sometimes it's not very smart…..

A few words about truth...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Oooops!......(part 4)

Yessir, the power of advertising…



Sometimes, it's only the thought that counts…….

…and if you can't read this post, click HERE for more printed information…

...and if the link isn't working, refer to your printed manual








Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Did they really think?.... (part 3)


Did they really think they were doing a good thing? I'm talking about the 72,459 West Virginians who want a convicted felon—who's currently serving time in a Texas prison—to be their Democratic candidate for President of the United States. Wow.

This is you know who....
In fact, 41% of the Democrats who voted in their primary on Tuesday pulled the lever for Keith Judd, who is inmate No. 11593-051 in the Federal Correctional Institution in Texarkana, Texas. Judd is serving time for extortion. His hobby is running for president, he's been on every primary ballot since 1996.



Hey, this is a democracy, those folks in West Virginia had the right to do it…but in what twisted world or twisted state of mind does that seem like the right thing to do? I think this is a display of closed minds, acting out. Since 2008 there has been speculation that some folks in West Virginia don't like the idea of a black man in the White House.

There is no indisputable argument in favor of having a convicted felon as President. I don't think I need to try to make a list of reasons why that was a goofy and wrong thing to do, you fill in the blanks with your own list and send the list along to me, as soon as I have 10,000 different reasons I'll publish them, shouldn't take more than a few days, I guess….

Some background, an update...

Student loans, how interesting…

Both the Dems and the GOP say they want to extend low interest rates on student loans, that is, they want to keep in force the current federal loan rate of 3.4%. That's a very attractive rate, much lower than the private market loan rate.


But bullheaded partisanship is getting in the way, what a surprise. The Republicans in the House want to "pay for" the low rate extension (that is, make up for the federal revenue we won't get from higher student loan rates) by using money allocated for preventive health care in the Affordable Care Act, and the Democrats aren't buying it. The Democrats in the Senate want to "pay for" it by eliminating current business tax loopholes, and the Republicans aren't buying it.

Same old story.



Doggone it, it's time for Congress to start doing what's right for America. Think about the big picture: suppose neither party gets control of both the House and Senate for the next 20 years.....are we going to have this political dance of death on everything forever? We have to accept the necessity of sensible political compromise…………if the right and the left and the Dems and the GOP decide they're going to hold out for everything they want, then America and Americans will get nothing but chaos and despair.

More on do-nothing Congress...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The wisdom of Benjamin Franklin (part 2)

"Well done is better than well said."

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Old Ben knew how to say it, short and sweet. Others have said it in different ways, as in "Put up or shut up" or "Talk is cheap" or even, for the classically inclined among you, "Facta, non verba."


Yet, I want to say a kind word for the well spoken word. In a world with Twitter and rap, it's not amiss to suggest that a bit of finely crafted prose can have a durable power and an emotional thrill that can change hearts and minds…and with a bit more elegance than " 'sup? " and "r u ok?" and the desperate unintelligibility of that gangsta stuff…..

A few words from Chief Joseph...



Monday, May 7, 2012

To all job creators: Get to work! (part 7)

Corporate tax payments are the lowest they've been in decades, and the so-called Bush tax cuts are still in force. What the heck are the "job creators" doing? They sure aren't doing much job creating. It's hard to avoid suspecting that they're deliberately keeping their feet on the brake pedal instead of the gas pedal, intending to tamp down our national economy and weaken President Obama's chances for re-election in November.

Lots of companies are actually in pretty good financial shape. There is a record amount of cash in the corporate coffers….interest rates are pretty darn close to zero, so companies aren't making any money on that cash. Why aren't they investing it and creating new jobs?

Execs of big companies are writing home to Mom about their success. In 2007—before the financial meltdown—the firms in the S&P 500 reported an average $378,000 in revenue per employee. Last year the number was $420,000. That's a pretty good imitation of "recovery."

And CEOs are doing OK….last year the top 100 best-paid CEOs had median income of $14.4 million. You can live on that….

To all job creators: Where are you? Who are you? Create some American jobs!


More advice for job creators:
http://barleyliterate.blogspot.com/2012/04/to-all-job-creators-get-to-work-part-6.html
http://barleyliterate.blogspot.com/2012/02/job-creators-look-what-ge-is-doing.html
http://barleyliterate.blogspot.com/2012/02/to-all-job-creators-do-your-thing-part.html

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Oooops! …. (part 3)

Who do you call when you absolutely, positively gotta get rid of that rust?

Of course...




..except, well, sometimes there's a problem.....









For obscure reasons, I'm reminded of a short, exquisite poem by Robert Frost, his "Nothing Gold Can Stay," written in 1923…..the final couplet is:

"So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay."

This is much more lyrical than a Rustoleum can, I dare you to read the entire poem below without having a sobering thought and a moment of delicious musing….

     Nature's first green is gold
     Her hardest hue to hold.
     Her early leaf's a flower;
     But only so an hour.
     Then leaf subsides to leaf.
     So Eden sank to grief,
     So dawn goes down to day.
     Nothing gold can stay.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Daniel R. Gilbert (1924-2012), R.I.P


Dr. Daniel R. Gilbert, 87, Professor Emeritus of History at Moravian College, died April 25, 2012.

I didn't know Dan Gilbert well enough to say he was my dear friend, but we had a friendly relationship and I know I join thousands of his friends and colleagues and former students when I say that. Dan was a memorable teacher, a gregarious guy, a confident man who loved history and loved his work and loved being very good at it.


He was very proud to recall that he joined the Moravian faculty in the 1950s as one of the first of a wave of young, secularly trained faculty who came to Moravian with Ph.D. degrees to boost and build the caliber of what has traditionally been a strong teaching institution. Dan and his cohort of academics who put teaching first, and the younger profs who followed them, have been the backbone of Moravian for 60 years.




Dan told me and many others that one of the secrets to his success was "never be boring in the classroom." He wasn't. He wasn't boring anywhere. It was a great pleasure to know him.

The wisdom of Arnold H. Glasow

"One of the tests of leadership is the ability to
          recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency."


Arnold H. Glasow (1905-1998)
American humorist

OK, now here is one fascinating guy. In the humorist field, he's well known.... he published jokes for 60 years…..and he doesn't have a Wikipedia page. I think I'll start being on the lookout for people who are somehow celebrities but don't have a Wikipedia page.


Anyway, his pronouncement on leadership rings a familiar bell for me, I'd be rich if I had pocketed $20 during my working career every time somebody said to me "Susan hasn't filed the variance reports for the last three months, and our quarterly report has to be sent in today" or "the vendor just called, we were supposed to get our regular monthly shipment tomorrow but it's going to be late" or something along those lines. Somebody, somewhere, was in charge but didn't take action when the problem was just getting started. Somebody, somewhere, was in charge but didn't routinely ask every day "How are things going? Are we having any problems?" Maybe nothing like this ever happened to you.

Maybe today you'll see some little problem that you can nip in the bud.

Go ahead, nip.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Who will watch the watchdogs? (part 3)

Doesn't this really seem whacky to you?

The New York Times reports that Congress has failed to provide the funding that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs to fully and promptly investigate and approve new drugs and medical devices as part of its regulatory responsibility.

Soooo, the companies that make drugs and medical devices volunteered to pay "user fees" to the FDA to help pay for more FDA staff and scientists who would do the testing, evaluation and regulatory approval of new drugs and medical devices. The stated aim of the big drug and device manufacturers was to "speed up" the regulatory review process.

These corporate user fees now pay for 60% of the cost of reviewing and approving new drugs, and about 20% of the cost of reviewing and approving new medical devices.

Almost half of the FDA scientists have publicly said they think these user fees are buying influence in the regulatory process.

Does anyone with clout in the FDA think there is anything wrong about this arrangement?



We could naively hope the FDA scientists are wrong…..

We can also hope that the prescriptions ordered by our doctors aren't for drugs that went through an inadequate, "speeded up" regulatory review…

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?




The wisdom of Benjamin Franklin

"When you're finished changing, you're finished."

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Gee whiz, could anyone say something original about one of Franklin's "sayings"? Who can top Poor Richard's Almanac? ….. or the "healthy, wealthy and wise" thing?......


So, it's been said before, I'll just repeat that change is often tough, but change is often good…..clinging to what's comfortable is, well, pretty comfortable….clinging to an old truth or a nasty prejudice is not nice, if you have one of these hanging around, let it go

…and make sure you change with the ones you love…..

Another thought on change...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The wisdom of Edgar Allan Poe


"And so being young
and dipped in folly,
I fell in love
with melancholy."

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

Poe offers much to like for so many people, I think his poetry is under-appreciated….and try reading The Tell-Tale Heart when you're home alone some evening, and it's unpleasant outside, and you would really prefer to feel pleasant inside, except you're reading the masterpiece…

I really only like the first half of Poe's snippet, melancholy ain't my thing….."dipped in folly" suggests the exotic and self-indulgent excess of youth, mostly not fatal because it's usually hauled along by optimism and rescued once in a while by love….

If you're not personally in the "youth" category any more, be prepared to supply the love, let's keep pushing melancholy into the next county somewhere…


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Men and women without a country…

About 1,780 Americans living overseas gave up their U.S. citizenship last year, up from only 235 in 2008.

Many of the folks who turned in their U.S. passports were wealthy expatriates, many living in Switzerland, who don't like the blooming effort by the U.S. government to collect income taxes from our citizens, especially the ones who live with their money overseas.


I never knew any of these folks who have given up the rights of an American citizen. All of them were never going to be my friend. I hope they paid all of their taxes due before they handed over their passports.

I guess in some ways it's tough to be very rich, living overseas, away from whatever used to be "home"…….anyway, they're gone.



It happens that I think of these lines from Sir Walter Scott's "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" --

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,

Who never to himself hath said,

This is my own, my native land?

Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,

As home his footsteps he hath turn’d,

From wandering on a foreign strand?

Football: too dangerous to watch?


Maybe you spotted this item on Slate.com yesterday: Malcolm Gladwell thinks we should ban college football.

I'm not a football fan—heck, I have trouble keeping track of the sports seasons, is it time for hockey yet?—so I wouldn't care one way or the other. Maybe you care…check out Gladwell's line of argument, here's the link.


Basically he says that "repetitive subconcussive blows" to the head cause brain damage, like when big strong guys head-butt each other or tackle the runner head-first…it happens, and Gladwell says it happens so often that colleges are at risk to be sued by players and ex-players over head injuries.

His scenario: colleges "maim and exploit" their football players without paying them, colleges will end up in court, insurance companies will stop insuring the collegiate football programs, colleges will stop offering football programs and the feeder system for professional football will start to dry up.

Hold off on buying those season tickets for the Steelers….

Now, my personal counselor wisely says, fuggeddaboudit, college football ain't gonna disappear anytime soon. She's right. Alumni everywhere will resist, highly paid coaches haven't finished building their legends, and the TV rights for the Orange Bowl are very persuasive….

Gladwell notes that pro boxing is very dangerous unless you think getting punched in the head a few thousand times is a healthy choice….and pro boxing used to be much more popular, think "Friday Night Fights," I remember watching them…Malcolm presses his point: boxing has persisted, but is slowly and irreversibly declining.

Anyway, he says, banning college football because it's dangerous to amateur players is one question. "A better question is whether it is ethical to WATCH football."

Might take a while for Penn State Nittany Lions fans to chew on that one…..

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The wisdom of Gustav Mahler


"Tradition is tending the flame, it's not worshipping the ashes."

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

I think it's not well known that this late-Romantic Austrian composer worked primarily in his life as a conductor, and only later did his music become as popular as it is today. Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten acknowledged influence from Mahler's musical legacy.

Mahler's forward-looking comment about tradition appeals to me…..I tend to think of myself more as a traditionalist than as an early adopter, but I take Mahler's point: the great benefits of tradition are not the reward for looking backward, they are the energy and revelation we can adapt as we work at living a good life…