Friday, March 29, 2013

What the heck is Congress doing?

What the heck is Congress doing?

It's easier to answer this question: what is Congress not doing?

Congress is not putting all of its energy and brainpower to work on sensible action to boost the growth of our national economy and help create jobs for millions of Americans.

Instead Congress is wandering in the political wilderness, trying to avoid taking action on reasonable gun controls, reasonable immigration reform, reasonable tax loophole reform, reasonable efforts to slow down global climate change, reasonable efforts to bring regulatory common sense to Wall Street…

..and the leaders of both parties are stepping up to the microphones to pat themselves on the back for their political shrewdness and dedication to narrow-minded partisan myths about the role of government…

The Republicans and the Democrats play their self-serving games, and the rest of us twist in the wind...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The wisdom of the Cherokees (part 9)

"Sometimes loneliness comes
           because we have not made room for anyone else."

The wisdom of the Sequichie of the Cherokees

Ani Tsiskwa - Small Bird Clan

No easy explanation of loneliness. No easy reasons for becoming lonely, or remaining lonely. No easy remedy for the silent pain of loneliness.

The Cherokees were deeply committed to family and clan relationships. They made room in their lives for those they loved.

Try it. Make a little more room in your life for someone you love.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"Large" soda at McDonald's in 1955…

Some of you are old enough to remember your dad splurging for family dinner at McDonald's in the 1950s.

Hamburger, fries and vanilla shake, that was my dream meal. I think that whole order cost 40 cents.

And by the way, just a side note on the Bloomberg/"Big Gulp" frenzy in New York:
in 1955 a "large" soda at McDonald's was an eye-popping, belly-filling, two-handed offering,
all of 7 ounces.

Way too much for ladies and young children, you understand….that "large" drink was the he-man size…

I'm thinking the preachers of America should take off the gloves and speak truth to today's
40-ounce "Big Gulp."

And that monster shouldn't be sold within 100 feet of a kid.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The wisdom of Calvin

"Some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don't help."

Calvin (1985-1995)

Hobbes, of course, offered a blandly condescending retort, but sadly it has been lost…..

Anyway, you get the picture.

But keep the underpants....

Monday, March 25, 2013

Dear, sweet Emilie…..

I've been wavering for quite a while about reprinting this letter.

It's so simple, yet it probes so deeply into the human psyche, it reveals so much about who we really are, it excites an emotion that many of us can't deny, it asks a question that may be all too answerable for some of us, and beyond understanding for others…
If you're ready, I invite you to reach your own judgment.

Here's the letter, forwarded by a quiet philosopher who works in the principal's office of  Woontin Elementary School in Bartonsburg, Ohio. The children at the school had organized a luncheon for elderly folks who lived nearby. One of the octogenarian guests won a small radio as a door prize, and she wrote this thank-you letter:

Dear Woontin Elementary School,

God bless you for the beautiful radio I won at your recent senior citizens luncheon. I am 84 years old and I live here at the Springerly Home for the Aged. All of my family have passed away. I am all alone now and it's nice to know that someone is thinking of me. Bless you for your kindness to an old forgotten lady. My roommate is 95, and she's a bit cranky. We've shared a room for 11 years, although I've tried a couple times to switch to another floor. She has always had her own radio, but she would never let me listen to hers, even when she was napping. Yesterday her radio fell off her night stand and broke into a lot of pieces. It was awful and she was in tears. Her distress about the broken radio touched me, and I knew immediately what I could do. She asked if she could listen to mine, and I told her to kiss my ass.

To all of you wonderful children, thank you again for my radio.

Emilie Louise Bartrum

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Movie stars in the Senate…..NOT!

I've pretty much made a personal vow that I'm not going to vote for any celebrities who are running for seats in the Congress.

For instance, even if I were a resident of Kentucky, I wouldn't be planning to vote for  Ashley Judd to run against incumbent Mitch McConnell. It's not because I have any favorable inclination toward McConnell, I mean, I'm not saying I wouldn't vote for McConnell if he were the last candidate on earth, but he's real real close to the bottom of my list. The man is a shameful partisan.

Basically, I'm opposed to the notion of any celebrity running for the Senate, or the House, or mayor, or whatever…

I think I'm just too suspicious that too many citizens would vote for a celebrity candidate BECAUSE of the celebrity, along the lines of "She was a great judge on American Idol, so I'm voting to send her to the Senate." Maybe we need more American Idol judges on the Senate floor, I'd be willing to chat about that, but still, way out of my comfort zone….

Nothing against Ashley Judd as a person, although, off the top of my head, I can't think of any Ashley Judd movies that I really liked.

And I realize that dissing celebrities as political candidates is the moral equivalent of being categorically opposed to taxi drivers or bank tellers or astronauts….my whole point starts to get indefensible very quickly.

I think the ideal political candidate is someone other than a celebrity, someone who brings a certain gravitas to the quest, someone who seems more habitually and conspicuously conscientious about the task and the challenge and the opportunity.

Unless we're talking about Liam Neeson.

Hey, I'm not a fanatic about this "no celebrities" thing….

Friday, March 22, 2013

The wisdom of John Maynard Keynes (part 2)

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

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946)

This quip from Keynes is possibly—probably—the most wonderful, most depressing thing he said during his controversial life.

It deflates so much defiant ideology, so much partisan ignorance and prejudice.

There is so much defiant ideology, so much partisan ignorance and prejudice still out there, escaping deflation….

Thursday, March 21, 2013

"Today is the house."

"We have the power to keep yesterday in its place
                 and make the most of today.
     Yesterday was the foundation, but today is the house."

Wisdom of the Sequichie of the Cherokees

The Roman poet Horace may have been the first one to say "carpe diem."

The lyric Cherokee version above is pretty good advice.

Here is Mahatma Gandhi's offering: "Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever."

My version: Do what's at the top of your list. Don't do the other stuff.

And my trusty personal advisor adds: "Make every day a bonus day."

Wisdom of Chief Standing Bear

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Maybe Diana would have done it differently...

I try to avoid knowing about things like this. I really do.

But before I could turn away, told me that some folks with way too much money paid more than $1.2 million at a charity auction for 10 dresses that belonged to the late Princess Diana.

A highlight of the auction was the velvet, midnight blue Victor Edelstein gown Diana wore in 1985 at the White House when she famously danced with John Travolta.

It was gaveled down at $362,470.

With that kind of cash, I could buy about 52,000 books for poor kids who don't have enough books to read.

I know, I know, the dresses were sold at a charity auction. But a few folks including the auctioneer took their cut….the charities didn't get the whole $1.2 million….

I'd like to think that Diana actually believed there is a better way to give away your money: give it directly to the people who are needy.

Does your library smell like leather?

A number of my books are older than your books.
Many of them smell like old leather.
And "No." You can't borrow them.

You can look at them.
Carefully, with love.
The way I do.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Is this wisdom from Steve Jobs?

"You can't connect the dots looking forward;
                 you can only connect the dots looking backward."

The Apple guy

OK, I'm stumped. This little blurb from Mr. Apple Computer sounded profound the first time I read it.
Then I tried to parse it for everyday meaning….
Then I started to think it should be stated the other way around….you know, "You can't connect the dots looking backward…"

Finally I realized the thing is morbidly ambiguous.
At least I understand a little better now why I'm still using an Android phone and a PC with an Intel processor on the motherboard….

Monday, March 18, 2013

"I got the PFA, but he still has a gun…"

Take John, for instance. He hits his wife, Jane, and physically abuses the kids. She got a "Protection From Abuse" order against him, and the judge told John to stay away from her, but the judge can't take John's guns away from him. Sadly, John is one of the abusers who's going to kill Jane with a gun.

Thank the National Rifle Association for that. For the last 20 years the NRA has been doggedly blocking federal and state efforts to require those named in protection orders to give up their guns. That's shameful, lethal ideology at work.

The New York Times reports that "Intimate partner homicides account for nearly half the women killed every year…More than half of these women are killed with a firearm."

The Times estimates that 20 per cent of the women killed by a spouse or partner had obtained a protection order against the killer. Thanks to the NRA, the "protection" part didn't work for those women.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

So many books....

I know that some of you who are reading this
                  are saying to yourselves, "Omigaw, I'm not alone!"

Stay calm, you can admit it. You've been afraid, sometimes…..the bad times…that you might get to the last book and there would be nothing left…

We've all been there.

But believe this:  there are so many books, and so little time. 

                  Another way to handle it:

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The phony budget proposals

I'm waiting for the news media and the cable TV talking heads to honestly dig in to the so-called federal budget proposals that have been floated by the Republicans and the Democrats—both plans are crazy.

The Democrats in the Senate are cooking up a doozy of a "budget" that has no reference to scaling back or modifying social safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare. We all know that there isn't enough money on the surface of the planet to pay all of the currently authorized benefits to all of the 75 million Baby Boomers who are entering retirement and everyone else who's coming after them. We have to sensibly reduce these future benefits and raise taxes now to help pay for what remains.

The Republicans in the House have the Ryan (Rep. Paul Ryan) Plan, another one of his more or less transparent whack-a-doodle "budgets" that adamantly cuts government benefits for the poor and disadvantaged, and "simplifies" tax rates to give a roughly $400,000 tax cut to our fellow citizens who earn more than $1,000,000 a year. Wrong. The very wealthy need to pay a larger share of the cost of the government goods and services that we all want. 

I know, you know, everyone knows these plans are just the first slap-down on the negotiating table. We need more insistent, disdainful media analysis that says so.

Neither plan has the slightest chance of getting full congressional approval.

These plans are nothing but raw meat, they're entertainment for the respective political "bases."

I'm not enjoying the spectacle so far.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The wisdom of Chief Standing Bear

"Certain small ways and observances
   sometimes have connection with large and more profound ideas."

Standing Bear  (1834-1908)
Chief of the Ponca

Yes, Virginia, details do matter.
Sometimes the "small ways and observances" may have unimagined connection to outcomes we do not want, so thinking through the details is always good advice…

But don't forget the dictum of Winona LaDuke, an Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) Indian who only thinks big and bigger:

"If you're working on something you plan to finish in your lifetime, you're not thinking big enough."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

National economy? Yoo Hoo! Remember the economy?

Will Congress start to stop the silliness and actually give our economy a shot in the arm?

I'm very happy to read several times in the last couple days that business and corporate leaders are actually starting to make waves on Capitol Hill, telling both Dems and Repubs that they have to start doing stuff that will actually boost growth in our national economy.

Seems like President Obama has been singing a solo for too long about our real priorities: economic growth and creation of jobs for the millions of Americans who are still out of work.

Republicans in Congress have been doing their darnedest to do absolutely nothing on this score for years, and most Democrats have been sitting on the sidelines too….

Our elected representatives have been playing their self-serving political games, and the rest of us have been twisting in the wind…

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The wisdom of Abraham Lincoln (part 6)

"Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
16th President of the United States

I'm happy to believe that much of the time what Old Abe says here is true, certainly I've known folks who seem like they wake up in the morning, look in the bathroom mirror and say "Man, I'm still not happy, looks like I'm gonna have to scowl and gripe all day today, man, this sucks…." or something along those lines…..

Mr. Lincoln didn't mean you can make happiness out of tragedy by snapping your fingers…but if you have old unhappiness, maybe you can let it slip away, especially if the other party has already forgotten it…

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The wisdom of Henry David Thoreau

"None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm."
American author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, transcendentalist.

If you can't get up enough blood pressure to vigorously shout "I'm not old," well, then……

One way to keep your personal pot of enthusiasm on the boil is to work real hard at doing the things you want to do, and not doing the other things…I think no one is so busy that she can't decline to do some unappealing or unhealthy or distasteful thing.

I've read Thoreau's Walden and his Civil Disobedience, the first with a reluctant awareness that it wasn't that interesting and the last with gusto, more or less the way Gandhi and Dr. King did….

A minor note to you who are Thoreau fans: this prolific writer and careful thinker didn't pronounce his name like this:    Thor-oh' with the accent on the second syllable
He pronounced it like this:  Thor'-oh with the accent on the first syllable

Monday, March 11, 2013

The wisdom of George Orwell

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity."

Eric Arthur Blair, pen name "George Orwell" (1903-1950)
English novelist, journalist

I sincerely think I can't say it any more clearly.

Consternation to the enemies of clear language!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

"Touching the earth is a lovely thing…"

"Touching the earth is a lovely thing…"
The wisdom of the Cherokees

It was mid-day, I was stretched out on the ground in the middle of my front yard, with young Harry sprawled on the ground in front of me,

I showed him how the skunks had dug up my turf overnight to eat the grubs living just beneath the green, he was fascinated, I was fascinated, touching the earth was a thrill….

Money talks….who's listening?

"Politics really understands a couple of things - votes and dollars. My father always used to tell me, 'No peso, no say-so.' "

That's the way Henry R. Munoz III sees it. He has a good vantage point: he's the first Latino to be finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Former U.S. Rep. Michael "Ozzie" Myers of Philadelphia said it in a bit more gritty way:

"Money talks…and bullshit walks."

Too many powerful people are listening when money talks.

Why do we keep re-electing these dangerously greedy jerks?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

For bibliophiles….

                 So many books, so little time…

…and by the way, have you read a book with a child lately?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Another reason we need health care reform…

Wow. More than 1 out of 4 Texans have no health insurance. Other people are paying for the health care they get. You're one of them.

According to Gallup, for the fifth straight year Texas has the highest uninsured rate of all 50 states. Almost 29% of Texas residents have no health care coverage.

Massachusetts is the best-insured state, only 4.5% of Bay State residents don't have any coverage. Among all states, the average is 16.9%.

So, who is paying for the health care that all these uninsured Texans are getting every day?

OK, maybe it's not the best health care in every case, but this is America, the people who get banged up in the three-car pileup on I-10 are going to get medical treatment even if they don't have an insurance card.

Some of  these uninsured folks in the Lone Star State are going to break an arm today, and they're going to get emergency room treatment.

Some of the ladies are going to have a baby in a hospital today, and get a doctor's attention.

Some of them are poor and old and unable to care for themselves, and they're in some version of the Shady Rest County Home, getting some kind of health care today even if they're not getting many visitors.

Who's paying for all this?
Somebody is paying for it.
If you pay federal taxes, you're helping to pay for it.

The wisdom of Reba McEntire

"To succeed in life you need three things:
                    a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone."

Reba McEntire (b. 1955)
The "country music" Reba

Pretty hard to snap your fingers and say, "Oh, hey, Reba forgot to say…."

I guess I want to make sure my versions of Reba's three bones are in pretty good shape…

And I don't want to forget that every once in a while you need to succeed by being "bad to the bone"….

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Yes, we do want universal background checks for gun buyers

A recent poll by Johns Hopkins confirms that 89 per cent of Americans want to require background checks for all firearms sales, including private, person-to-person sales.

Plain and simple. We don't want bad guys or crazy folks buying guns.

What part of this almost unanimous public opinion doesn't our Congress understand?

What is taking our elected representatives so long?

Why aren't they doing their job?

We have too many guns.
Too many dead people.

Let's start changing that.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"…and step on it!"

From Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (1962-2008), esteemed American novelist.

Very much too bad Wallace cut his life short, at least parts of his heart and soul were in a good place…

David Foster Wallace, R.I.P.


The wisdom of Gen. George Patton

"A good solution applied with vigor now is better
              than a perfect solution applied 10 minutes later."

General Patton in Sicily in 1943

I can't say a George Patton thing any better than Old Blood 'n' Guts could say it himself…

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The wisdom of Harold Macmillan

"A man who trusts nobody
                  is apt to be the kind of man nobody trusts."
Harold Macmillan (1894-1986)
British statesman, Prime Minister 1957-63

He was the last Prime Minister who had been born during the reign of Queen Victoria. Macmillan was a pragmatic Tory who had a fairly successful run at the helm of the British government.

His point of view is a sober reminder of the fragile basis of trust and the powerful need to develop it AND earn it.

Obviously, he wasn't talking about blind trust or careless trust...

Who do you trust, really? Try looking in the mirror when you answer….

Monday, March 4, 2013

I'm not in a relationship with my cereal…

Commitment has never been my problem, but, Facebook-wise and cereal-wise, I do have to draw the line….

Although it's not my public persona, I'm actually a very emotional guy. I am deeply, fully in love with the ones I love. I have sincere moral and visceral energy about the values I cherish. I get angry easily at people who do wrong.

So, I have a heart and a soul.

Now, I don't get blubbery about it….and I don't make my life an open book…and I'll risk mildly alienating some friends and acquaintances by saying bluntly that I don't do Facebook, and you know what I mean….

So when I carelessly looked at the top of my cereal box this morning, I choked for a second when I realized that Post Grape-Nuts wants me to be a friend on Facebook.

I checked out the Grape-Nuts Facebook page, and I learned that "Grape-Nuts helps you conquer your mountain, everyday." Grape-Nuts and my mountain, perfect together…..not.

More than 120,000 Facebookers "Like" the Grape-Nuts page. Wow.

Not me. Can't go there.

I eat Grape-Nuts for breakfast every day.

I like Grape-Nuts.

But I'm not ready to make a commitment…

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The wisdom of Benjamin Franklin (part 6)

"He that speaks much, is much mistaken."
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Silence isn't always golden, but a thoughtless blabbermouth is as sounding brass…

Chief Joseph bluntly said it another way:
"It does not require many words to speak the truth."

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The wisdom of Carl Sandburg (part 2)

"Love your neighbor as yourself; but don't take down the fence."
Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)
Poet, writer, editor

I was momentarily fascinated by this reference to the righteousness of a fence, the feeling passed quickly enough…

In "Mending Wall," Robert Frost somewhat ambiguously said "good fences make good neighbors," although he cautioned "Something there is that doesn't love a wall…"

Fences have been around for a long time, maybe since the advent of human agriculture, at least since the 7th century B.C., when Numas, the second king of Rome, decreed that each property owner should mark the boundaries of his land with stones.

I guess I'd like to think that good neighbors could see the virtue in a fence, but would take care to put a gate in it… 

Music to my ears! Zhing-zhing!

Just stop and think about the sounds you can't forget, take a half a minute, you can hear them, right?....

You know what I'm talking about. The withery, vibrating, slapping sound of the old screen door swinging back into the doorframe as you careen into the backyard, while your mom yells "Don't slam the screen door!"

Another one I’d like to here is the sound of the little spring-loaded bell that we attached to the handlebars of the (one-speed, coaster-brake) bike, with the little lever that you operated with your thumb while you were riding…… Zhing-zhing! Zhing-zhing!....

or the spuddering fart-ish sound of the Pee Wee Reese baseball card that we attached to one of the wheel frames so the spokes would make it flutter as the wheel turned….

Or the irresistible notes of pixie music coming from the Good Humor truck as it slowly cruised through the neighborhood….(listen here) calls these alluring audibles the "endangered sounds," you can click here for a brief collection: the sound of a manual typewriter and other such antediluvian stuff.

And here's a tip: my trusted advisor assures me that the Astronaut Hall of Fame near the Kennedy Space Center has an exhibit, nicely done, chronologically engineered, that "walks" you through each of the space-flight eras, and each display offers not only photos, but also tech memorabilia and audio sounds consistent with that decade. Don't miss it if you get there.

Friday, March 1, 2013

2,363 people killed by guns since Newtown…

In case you were wondering, about 2,363 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 31 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.

The wisdom of the Cherokees (part 5)

"…Look beyond rejection, see beyond limits,
                 think around the bend in the road.
 It may be that we have been trying to settle for less than the best— 
                 and we have been doing it for a long time."

Joyce Siquichie Hifler
Di Ka No He SGi-Di Go We Li SGi
(She Who Writes Her Philosophy On Paper)
Cherokee writer

It struck me that Joyce Hifler said "trying to settle…" instead of "willing to settle…."

I think that almost always we should be willing to settle for "less than the best," not because compromise is inherently good, but because realistic acceptance of something good is almost always better than unrealistic insistence on perfection when that outcome isn't really attainable.

I believe we should always try to get the best there is, or the best we can do….and only in that frame of mind should we be satisfied with a loaf that has one end missing….