Thursday, February 28, 2013

Is Detroit screwing it up again?

In big U.S. cities, most households can't afford to buy a typical new car.

Why aren't the automakers pushing more of the cheaper models? It doesn't seem like they're on a smart path for sales growth.

New studies by and say that, in all but one of the top 25 cities in the U.S., a household with median income really can't afford the payments on a typical new car costing $30,500.

Only in Washington, D.C., (surprised?) can the median household with income of $86,680 easily consider buying new wheels.

Where is the Volkswagen when we need it?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The "job un-creators" are hard at work…..

J. P. Morgan Chase & Co. plans to cut about 17,000 jobs by the end of next year.

At the same time JPM announced that all those jobs will be eliminated, executives said they're optimistic that the huge global investment bank will generate record income this year.

I guess those execs aren't worried about losing their jobs. They're probably not worried about their personal pay packages and bonuses either….

The so-called "job creators" sure aren't lurking at J. P. Morgan Chase & Co…

Health care cost reform, another step…

We need more health care reform so that everyone gets health care that's needed, and everyone pays for health care. That's the "individual mandate," we need it because no one should get health care free. And, where it exists, we need to fix egregiously excessive compensation to drug makers and health care providers.

I'm not simply, blindly saying "hospitals and doctors and drug makers charge too much." That brush is way too broad, too incendiary.

But, for instance, compared to other rich countries, we're not getting enough for what we're paying when we schedule an office visit with a doctor.

Here's an interesting explanation (Feb. 27) from Matthew Yglesias on

"The last time the OECD looked at this (2008 data, PDF), they found that, adjusted for local purchasing power, America has the highest-paid general practitioners in the world. And our specialists make more than specialists in every other country except the Netherlands. What’s even more striking, as the Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff observed last week, these highly paid doctors don’t buy us more doctors’ visits. Canada has about 25 percent more doctors’ consultations per capita than we do, and the average rich country has 50 percent more. This doctor compensation gap is hardly the only issue in overpriced American health care—overpriced medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, prescription drugs, and administrative overhead are all problems—but it’s a huge deal."
We need to fix our health care system, one step at a time, and there are so many places to start the work….

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The wisdom of Robert Frost (part 2)

"Education is the ability to listen to almost anything
             without losing your temper or your self-confidence."

American poet

"I do not like the man. I must get to know him better."

Monday, February 25, 2013

The wisdom of the Cherokees (part 4)

"Having done all, stand,
         and refuse to be drawn back into a place of no peace."
Cherokee wisdom

After you've done your best, give yourself permission to move on and tackle a new challenge.

Oh yeah, and take time to tell yourself "Good job!"

I don't know where the TV remote is...

Four years ago today I stopped watching television.

I mean it. I stopped routinely turning on the TV to catch the news (think "talking heads") and to catch up on the stock market (think more "talking heads" who don't know any more than you or me about what the market's going to do today or any day…).

OK, I admit I watched the Nov. 6 election returns, and I think I've done a Super Bowl or two or three in the past several years…maybe I've checked the weather three or four times….

Turning away from the TV, cold turkey, actually was pretty easy.

Pretty much immediately I realized that my average daytime temperature was a bit lower, my blood pressure was a bit lower, I was muttering quite a bit less, and I had stopped randomly biting myself…

TV had lost its entertainment value for me.

The news content was mostly all politically charged and partisan and a lot of ugly yelling.

The stock market's talking head chatter just finally obviously transitioned to 100% mostly civilized, endlessly repeated, shamelessly contingent and transparently irrelevant guessing.

I didn't give up much, and I retrieved a nice chunk of usable time for other things in my life.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Hey, Congress: Do your job!

Congress needs to do a compromise on the trumped up "crisis" about the "sequester," and then get to work on the important stuff: boosting growth in our national economy and helping to create jobs for millions of Americans who are out of work.

The sadly familiar rhetoric and the revoltingly familiar politics-as-usual is getting cranked up as we approach the deadline for the much-misunderstood "sequester" cuts.

In a nutshell: the "sequester" is a poison pill of cuts in defense and social safety net spending that was approved (think "kick the can down the road"…) more than a year ago by Democrats and Republicans in Congress and by President Obama, because none of them believed the cuts would ever go into effect.

Now only some folks with possibly wacky intentions want all of these meat-ax cuts to occur, with no thought to their disruptive effect.

Our elected reps in Congress are trying to hold each other hostage to this "sequester" nonsense, with verifiably stupid catcalls about who's going to "take the blame," and silly "line in the sand" pronouncements about "no new tax revenue" and "no cuts to Social Security and Medicare."

They're playing their dangerous political game, and the rest of us are twisting in the wind.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The wisdom of Hugh Downs

"Hatred is never anything but fear—
                            if you feared no one, you'd hate no one."
Hugh Downs (b. 1921)
American broadcast journalist, game show host

I guess I've never thought of Mr. Downs as a deep thinker, and I'm not too sure he's captured the full scope of the foundations of hatred here….I think the emotions that drive hatred are, in too many folks, broad and deep…

I think if he had said "Hatred is never anything but self-serving fear…." he would have been closer to the mark. 

Hatred doesn't make you a better person, and if the people around you like to hear you boast about your hatred, then you're hanging around with the wrong people….

Mommy, the camel bookmobile is here!

"Run and get a book, honey, but don't let the camel step on you."

Remember hearing those words from your mom when you were growing up? No?

I guess you didn't live in Garissa, Kenya, when you were a kid.

It's an isolated place in Kenya's isolated northeastern province, near the dangerous border with Somalia.

In 1996 a persistently dedicated gentleman named Mr. Farah sought book donations from around the world, set himself up with three camels, and started hauling books to poor, semi-nomadic people who lived too far away from any library, anywhere.

An unknown sponsor wrote this description when the book-by-dromedary service was in full swing:

"The library now uses 12 camels traveling to four settlements per day, four days per week….The books are spread out on grass mats beneath an acacia tree, and the library patrons, often barefoot, sometimes joined by goats or donkeys, gather with great excitement to choose their books until the next visit."

Here's the only website I could find about the camel bookmobile:

I don't know if this unique service, this feelgood eruption of civilization, is still active—the last online evidence I could find is dated 2008.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The wisdom of Elbert Hubbard

"Everyone is a damn fool for at least five minutes every day.
             Wisdom consists in not exceeding that limit."

American writer, artist, philosopher

Too bad most of us don't have a considerate angel standing nearby during our waking hours, ready as needed to whisper "Your five minutes are up."

The wisdom of Bob Marley

"One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain."

I'm not the biggest fan of reggae, I guess I like hearing it from time to time but I guess I don't really "like" it, well, there, I guess I'm glad I said it… 

But watching performers who more or less have the time of their lives every time they go on stage IS a big thrill, so Bob Marley's on my list, I don't think he ever felt any pain…I guess it's not true that he singlehandedly made reggae a world phenomenon, but without Marley, would you know what "reggae" means?.....

My sort of connection to Marley is that my main man, Eric Clapton, took a fancy to "I Shot The Sheriff" and performed it in 1974—it was a gonzo hit in the U.S., giving a boost to Marley's rising star.

Marley was born in Nine Mile, Jamaica. His dad was white, his mom was black….Marley reflected on his heritage:

"I don't have prejudice against meself. My father was a white and my mother was black. Them call me half-caste or whatever. Me don't deh pon nobody's side. Me don't deh pon the black man's side nor the white man's side. Me deh pon God's side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white."

That works for me.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Baby boomers! Do something for you!

Get healthier!

Baby boomers are living longer than their parents, but they're not as healthy as their moms and dads were.

More than half of boomers don't exercise regularly—20 years ago, only 17 per cent of seniors were sedentary. 

Today only 13 per cent of boomers rate their health as "excellent," compared with 32 per cent of gray-hairs who said the same 20 years ago.

Medical advances mean longer life expectancy for the boomer generation that's now turning 65 years old, but that boon comes with greater incidence of chronic disease and poor health.

I'm one of the boomers. This is not the way we thought the golden years would turn out for us.

Hey, boomer! Take a walk today.

                                     Don't smoke, or......

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

2,000 people killed by guns since Newtown…

In case you were wondering, about 2,000 Americans have died from gunshot wounds since Dec. 14, when a crazy shooter killed 20 first-graders and several adults in Newtown, CT.

That's about 30 people each and every day.

We have too many guns.
Too many dead people.

The average household in America has more guns than balloons.
We need more balloons, fewer guns.

Men are no good as secretaries?

I guess maybe men just can't cut it as secretaries...
…oh no, wait, maybe it's just dat old debbil gender discrimination…

Most common job for women in 1950:   secretary
Most common job for women today:   secretary

Almost 4 million people are working today as secretaries and admin assistants, and 96 per cent of them are women.

Looks like the glass ceiling is a lot lower than I thought it was…..

You know this is true: there must be a lot of good people with management potential still working as secretaries….

                                                    The wisdom of Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

See with the eyes of the artist…

I think my friend's daughter is gonna be "discovered" before too long, in the fullness of time…

She's an artist and she has mojo.

Here's a taste of her work. This is her first charcoal sketch. Her first try.

If you're a parent or a grandparent, you recognize this child's visage, this inquisitive and fully ingenuous look,
this trusting openness to see and experience what is right in front of you….

You've already seen this look on your own beautiful baby's face, and you haven't forgotten it.

How wonderful to see it again.

Monday, February 18, 2013

What's the "right" minimum wage? Who knows?

President Obama has proposed a $9 minimum wage, and the blogosphere debate is raging.  Frankly, I'm not in favor of the whole minimum wage concept.

One of my criticisms is this: there's no way to rationally set the minimum wage at the "right" level to achieve any particular policy purpose you have in mind. What's the "right" number? No matter how you slice it, any specific dollar figure for the minimum wage is a wholly arbitrary choice. 

So, here's the question: should the minimum wage be $8.97 an hour? should we set it at $10.31 an hour? How about $20 an hour? Why don't we just make it $30 an hour….yeah, that's the ticket, that sounds like a good number, if I had to take a minimum wage job I'd sure like to make $62,400 a year doing it.

Pythons still rule in Everglades

Everglades Pythons 1, Humans 0

Recently about 1,500 hunters with guns and machetes tried for a month to kill some of the estimated 100,000 Burmese pythons that have taken over much of the Florida Everglades and devastated the prey species.

It was slim pickin's….the hunters of woeful countenance only bagged about 50 of them.

Keep your dog on a leash when you're in the Everglades, y'know?.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

You mean, like, real zombies?

Diabolical hackers recently broke into a Montana TV station's emergency alert broadcasting system and sent out this creepy message: "The dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living."

Hey. So absolutely bogus, right? Doesn't everyone know that "Night Of The Living Dead" is just a movie?

So, I guess the folks in Montana should feel good about this:

Only four viewers called their local police departments to ask if the zombie alert was for real.

The wisdom of Terry Pratchett

"In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods;
           they have not forgotten this."

Popular English fantasy novelist

Yeah, I'm a cat lover.

Yeah, Pratchett pretty much got it right.

Sorry, dog lovers, I love dogs, too, but the Egyptians didn't worship dogs.

I guess I walk like an Egyptian.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Need a gun permit to vote?

A gun permit's OK, but a Social Security card isn't? Huh?

An item from the News & Advance, the Lynchburg, VA, newspaper:

The Virginia state legislature, with both the upper and lower houses controlled by Republicans,  has passed a new voter identification law.

It eliminates these previously-acceptable forms of identification: Social Security card, a utility bill.

The new form of identification?    a gun permit.

The only possible reasons for passing this bill are political, partisan and disgusting.

Shame on the Virginia state legislature.

The deficit ain't the big problem…

The existing federal deficit/debt is NOT America's biggest problem right now. The news media and the cable TV talking heads should stop treating it like it is.

Our biggest national issue right now is: stimulating faster growth of the national economy, and helping to create more jobs for the Americans who are out of work. Let's work on those first.

Here's an interesting item from Evan Soltas at on the deficit hype:

"Of course, the news media seem obsessed with the subject. The Washington Post has run 2,310 separate stories with the word ‘deficit’ in them over the last year, according to the LexisNexis database of U.S. newspapers. That’s one deficit story for every 10 the newspaper publishes in its front and opinion sections. But this doesn't mean anybody actually cares. Deficit talk is a rhetorical ploy — a decoy justification for the unpopular-but-necessary component of both parties’ larger political agendas…

"Here's what's really going on: a schizophrenic conversation about the proper size and role of government. It's really easy to win political support for lower taxes or for particular government spending. It's really hard, by contrast, to win support for the concomitant part of the Republican or Democratic agendas:  big cuts to specific federal programs or increases in average tax rates on the middle class....

"Washington doesn't have deficit monomania. It has an acute case of deficit displacement syndrome: a tendency to use a budget shortfall as cover to expand or contract the federal government. Instead of talking mainly about tax increases or cuts to government services, both parties disguise the real issue by feigning concern about deficits.

"If you want to argue for more government, argue for more government. If you want to argue for less, argue for less. But don't keep saying that the deficit is the real problem, unless you actually believe it."

Both parties voted for all the past spending that created today's current national debt and deficits.
Let's concentrate on an open and candid debate about the proper size and role of the federal government.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Time bomb for health care costs?

Ever wonder what your doctor or hospital is really doing with the jacked-up "Total charge" that's listed on your bill? That's the one that lists $1,473.38 as the "Total Charge," but your insurance will "Allow" and the doc actually will accept $65.81….

Your correspondent was in the hospital recently for surgery that is more or less mandatory for many old men, I'll spare you the details, it was one overnight stay. I was in the hospital slightly less than 24 hours.I'm a completely happy, but completely confused customer. The hospital's "Total Charge" was $26,151.30, but it accepted a mere $3,671.71.

Why is the "Total Charge" so incomprehensibly higher than the amount the doc or hospital will actually accept from your insurance company? (Let's leave aside for the moment what happens if you don't have health insurance….).

It seems like it's similar to saying "Our regular retail price is $7,999.99, but today only, our sale price is $249.99." Except for this difference: retailers are required by law to state a regular retail price that has some connection to reality, that is, some of the items must have been legitimately sold or offered at that price in the recent past. Also, people WANT to buy stuff from retailers.

No doc has a "Today's Specials" sign on his wall, with stuff like "Liposuction! Only $299!" No hospital advertises "This Week Only! Get an appendectomy for $1,399!"
That's because nobody WANTS to buy stuff from the doc or the hospital. They're the last resort when we're sick or hurt.

So why is the "Total Charge" so unimaginably high? What reference does it have to reality? More or less, no one ever pays anything even close to that amount. Is this the health care provider's wacky way of setting up the perpetual negotiating position with health insurance companies over what will be paid for your procedure? Is this some murky legal positioning, anticipating some future federal health care cost reform, when there will be high stakes national bargaining on how much health care providers will be paid?

I'm pretty sure about this: the hospital's "Total Charge" has no connection to any economic reality. If every patient who goes to my hospital this year would actually pay the "Total Charge," good old St. Mary's General would have more money than General Motors, they'd have to build a new hospital wing just to hold all the money.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The wisdom of Audrey Hepburn

"The best thing to hold onto in life is each other."

 Audrey Kathleen (Ruston) Hepburn (1929-1993)

I hadn't realized that I have been longing to endorse a quotable quote from Audrey Hepburn, the elegant English-Dutch beauty, one of my fave cinematic actresses….think Wait Until Dark, My Fair Lady, Two For The Road……

So, "the best thing to hold onto…"…..

Think of the ones you love, go find 'em, hold on, teach the grandchildren how to hug…

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The wisdom of Marcel Proust (part 2)

"The only real voyage of discovery
              consists not in seeking new landscapes,
                                but in having new eyes."
Marcel Proust (1871-1922)
French novelist, critic, essayist

This penetrating epigram from Proust caught my eye because I have attained the elevated and energized status of grandfather-hood, and I am repeatedly re-learning the thrill of trying to see with the eyes of my granddaughter.

We walk in the woods, and we touch the huge oak tree, and I vainly try to remember the first time I touched the rough bark of a grand old tree, and we tilt our heads back to look at the topmost branches, and I try, consciously, to experience the notion of "sky high," because I think that's what she is doing…..

Oh yes indeed, I have "new eyes"…….

Friday, February 8, 2013

Making college cheaper…

We've got to find ways to do it.

One way is to create a three-year bachelor's degree. Don't call it "college degree lite." Call it "the professional degree."

I love the liberal arts. For those of you who care about these things, I cling to the Trivium and the Quadrivium.

But the ancient and honorable concept of the liberal arts is not for everyone.

Here's a take on this from Jonathan Last, in The Wall Street Journal online, Feb. 2, 2013:

"Since 1960, the real cost of goods in nearly every other sector of American life has dropped. Meanwhile, the real cost of college has increased by more than 1,000%.
"If college were another industry, everyone would be campaigning for reform. Instead, politicians are trying to push every kid in America into the current exorbitantly expensive system. How could we get college costs under control? For one, we could begin to eliminate college's role as a credentialing machine by allowing employers to give their own tests to prospective workers.
"Alternately, we could encourage the university system to be more responsive to market forces by creating a no-frills, federal degree-granting body that awards certificates to students who pass exams in a given subject."

That's what I'm talking about: the professional degree.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The wisdom of Benjamin Franklin (part 5)

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

OK, maybe you're not in good shape right now to breeze on down the road….

Steady on. Imagine the better tomorrow that you can get to.

Ask a friend or loved one for help. Better yet, ask two of them…

Keep going.

(By the way, I've also seen this aphorism attributed to Winston Churchill, maybe they both said it, anyway, everyone should say it…..)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

"Mother Nature owns it…."

Hark! Was that the sound of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo saying we shouldn't eternally rebuild every $1 million bungalow that's destroyed by storms on the coastal floodplain?

Yes, it was! Hooray!

I will quibble with his plan, but he's got my nod, it's the right thing to do.

Gov. Cuomo wants to spend $400 million of the $51 billion Hurricane Sandy federal aid package to buy  "10,000 or so homes built on the 100-year flood plain," and turn the land back to Mother Nature. No rebuilding, not ever again.

Quibble: there was no mention of private flood insurance. I think every owner of property in the 100-year-flood plain or anywhere vulnerable to severe storms should be required to purchase full replacement cost insurance for any loss, for any reason.

You wanna rebuild your storm-damaged home, again? That should be on your dime.

Monday, February 4, 2013

1,300 people killed by guns since Newtown…

In case you were wondering, about 1,300 Americans have died from gunshot wounds since Dec. 14, when a crazy shooter killed 20 first-graders and several adults in Newtown, CT.

That's about 25 people each and every day.

We have too many guns.

Too many dead people.

The average household in America has more guns than balloons.

We need more balloons, fewer guns.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The wisdom of Edmund Burke (part 2)

"It is the nature of all greatness not to be exact."
Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

That's sort of exactly what I would have said, more or less.

If you do great things—or want to—give yourself a little slack.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The wisdom of Lin Yutang

"Besides the noble art of getting things done,
             there is a nobler art of leaving things undone."
Chinese writer

I guess it would be pretty easy to snap off a couple rustic comments about this aphorism from Lin Yutang.

I guess it would be more worthwhile to think on a bigger scale, a higher scale….

Here's one:  suppose some big resource extraction companies decided to make a bit less profit, and clean up their operations that are polluting our environment.