Friday, May 31, 2013

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The wisdom of the Cherokees (part 14)

"…Reach out to someone, when your heart is too heavy
                               to feel the sunlight or to taste the rain…"

The wisdom of the Sequichie of the Cherokees

The Cherokees always teach their young to listen…

Teach your children to listen. Be sure that you can listen.

Listen to your children.  Listen with your children.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The wisdom of the old farmer (part 11)

"Live a good, honorable life.
        Then when you get older and think back,
                     you'll enjoy it a second time." 

Overheard in the front pew 

Gosh, advice don't get no better than this, even from the old farmer….

I like to think about doing stuff that'll make me feel good again when I think about it later.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Surveys, as silly as they get....

OK, I'm slightly picking a nit here, but just to make a point:

A recent CNN poll reports that "54% of Americans oppose" the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

Trouble is, the poll result is just about the opposite, apparently showing a majority supporting it.

The ACA expands health care coverage and will require almost all Americans to pay for health insurance, you know. Or maybe you don't.

The fourth paragraph of the story gives this detail: CNN's pollsters say 35% oppose the health care program "because it's too liberal," and 16% oppose it "because it's not liberal enough."

The poll says 43% of Americans support ACA. But see, the 16% who reportedly think "it's not liberal enough" obviously support the whole concept of the law because they want its impact to be wider and more effective. 

Combine those two groups and the poll result is that 59% of Americans like the current law or want it to have more impact.

Shame on CNN and its polling organization, ORC International.

And let's not even get into squabbling about why CNN would ask Americans if the health care law is "too liberal" or "not liberal enough." What does that mean? How do you define the "liberal" aspects of health care? 
How does the other guy define them?

And anyway, CNN didn't report how many of its poll participants could give any meaningful confirmation that they understand the details of the ACA.

Most Americans couldn't save their lives by describing the basic elements and policies of the law.

But a majority like it. CNN says so, even if CNN doesn't say so.

Reminder: no polling organization in America is capable of reaching a true random sample of persons for any survey, and all polling organizations "massage" their data to "improve" the results, so all poll results should be viewed as rough guesses about the truth.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Movie review: Quest For Fire

Quest For Fire

The Oscar for Best Makeup is icing on the cake, but let's face it, nobody really knows what your basic early human Cro-Magnon looked like.

My delight in this film has nothing to do with makeup. The "moment" in Quest For Fire is Naoh (Everett McGill) watching in epiphanic amazement as a young boy of the Ivaka tribe makes fire with two sticks.

Imagine that all your life you've been driving a succession of stolen cars that mysteriously stop running after a while, and you could never figure it out. One day you see a young fella with his Hyundai at one of those places that have pairs of big shiny machines, each with an attached  hose and nozzle, and this kid is sticking the nozzle into the recessed pipe over the left rear fender of his car and….

Suddenly you feel like a Cro-Magnon.

And the movie is heroic in many ways: tribesmen sacrificing themselves for their fellow early humans, salvation as a reward for good deeds, a love interest that makes a baby and keeps Mom and Dad together, staring at the same moon that you and I see….

And the monosyllabic proto-language is surprisingly easy to decipher, with body language and facial expressions contributing just as much to understanding as they do today.

Great low-key adventure film, straight, no chaser.

Salute to American veterans!

                     Thank you for your service to our country.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Coast-to-coast flights, the good old days….

Do you hate the hassles of check-ins and security screening at airports? Have you suffered through a messed-up vacation with cancelled or delayed flights? Do you get bleary-eyed looking for discount ticket prices on the Internet?

The good old days of coast-to-coast flights weren't as good as you think they were.

The first New York to Pasadena flight was in 1911. It took 49 days, and along the way, the plane landed (or crashed) 70 times.

Coast-to-coast passenger flights were inaugurated in 1933. With stops, it took most of the day to get there. The one-way ticket price in current dollars was about $6,900.

Non-stop flights didn't get started until 1953.

The first in-flight meal was served in 1927 (British Airways offered a "luxury sandwich").

And by the way, take a look at old photos of passengers in a plane: they got dressed up to fly! Gents: coats and ties! Ladies: nice dress and hat!

The value of voter apathy

I haven't figured out why most people don't bother to vote in a primary election.

But I think I can estimate what that apathy is worth to the average person:

About 25 minutes.

I figure the average Joe or Jane in my town can probably get to the polling place, pull the levers or push the buttons, and get back home in about 25 minutes.

There are a lot of things you can do in 25 minutes.

In my town, this year, last week, choosing the next mayor of the city was one of them.

Not too many people picked that one….

Roughly, 2,700 Democrats picked Candidate X. Candidate X was conservative Old Guard. Candidate Y was progressive New Blood. There was no Republican candidate, so Candidate X is a shoo-in come this November. 

It's gonna be same old, same old.

Only 18.5% of registered Democrats turned out to vote, X won by only a couple hundred votes , so about 11% of the city's Democrats picked the next mayor.

In other words, our mayor was chosen by about 5% of the adults who are old enough to vote.

This is not democracy at work.
Maybe this is one reason...

Some sizeable number of the non-voters must actually care more or less about how the city is run, especially as it affects them throughout the year.

But they didn't bother to vote…

A foundational assumption of democracy—motivated, participating citizens—is wrong.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

"…I get a treat?!"

Sometimes it's very worthwhile to pay attention to what the dog is saying….

Dogs know stuff.

With dragons you want tidy?

See, I agree and everything, neatness has its place….

But when there are dragons upstairs….

…just dump your things on the counter, or anywhere, and start browsing….

Friday, May 24, 2013

Would Ron Johnson have screwed up J. C. Penney for less?

I waited a decent interval before writing this, so I could do it without biting through my lower lip.

Maybe you've heard that J. C. Penney, iconic American retailer, isn't doing so well. Under Ron Johnson, a new CEO, the company's sales last year dropped 25%,  and sales were down double-digits in the first quarter of this year. The stock price dropped 50% since Johnson took over in late 2011. Johnson's new sales and marketing strategies bombed, spectacularly.

Johnson resigned a few weeks ago, after less than 18 months on the job. The three top execs that he recruited also went out the door.

The directors of J. C. Penney spent at least $170 million just to get Johnson and his marketing troika in the door. That doesn't count their salaries or good-bye parachutes. A recent story on tells it all, read it here.

Among other goodies, Johnson received $52.7 million in "restricted" J. C. Penney stock when he was hired in November 2011. All of those shares vested last year, so I guess it wasn't too restricted….

I won't even get into details about Johnson's salary and going-away doggy bag of money, or the tens of millions paid to the other gents.

Apologists for sky-high executive pay packages love to claim that they have to "pay the going rate for top talent." That might make some sense if they were actually getting top talent.

"This is a story of how just tossing money at management doesn't guarantee success," commented Steven Hall, an executive compensation consultant.

Amen, brother.

Would Ron Johnson have taken only $25 million in restricted stock? We'll never know.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

…so, technically, my paws…..

Dogs are very smart.

Also very smarty-pants.

Also, they like being on the furniture.

And that's OK, pretty much,

...unless they drool or dribble…

That goes for humans, too.

more dogs and stuff

(Thanks to my friend Catharine for this delightful item.)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Play review: The Confidential Clerk by T. S. Eliot

The Confidential Clerk by T. S. Eliot
First performance August 25, 1953 at the Edinburgh Festival

Mistaken identity is the nuts in this post-war period piece. There is no actual rollicking involved, but there is some very English romping going on. The very business-like Sir Claude Mulhammer thinks that Colby Simpkins is his long-estranged son, and tries to sneak him into the house as his "confidential clerk" in hopes that the very eccentric Lady Mulhammer will decide to "adopt" him. Yes, and it gets wackier and it gets more sobering as multiple parent-child identities are revealed or hinted at….

I won't spoil the ending. This is light stuff, mais un divertissement….one sympathizes with most of the characters because they're, well, needy, and they try to help each other, and there's no schlock….
It's a very genteel tragedy.

…another kind of book club

                                  There's only so much time left in your life for reading….

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Oklahoma disaster, my disaster, your disaster….

The tornado devastation in Oklahoma is horrible, we mourn those who died and we reach out a helping hand to those who suffered and had losses.

But, for most us, the "reach out a helping hand" part is going to be handled by federal disaster relief funds, in other words, out of the tax dollars we all pay.

I refuse to enjoy the fact that the two Republican senators from Oklahoma, Senators Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe, are between a rock and a hard place. Both have gushingly denounced federal disaster aid in other states in the recent past, with complaints about wasted funds and calls to offset disaster relief with real budget cuts in current operations. Both of them are now choking on their political dogma as they refine their talking points on how much Oklahoma needs federal aid, and how the money should be allocated. I guess they've figured out that trashing federal disaster aid only works well in states that aren't Oklahoma…

Here's my view: I think an important advantage of being part of a bountiful society is that everyone pitches in to help after natural calamities. The obvious channel is government assistance, and that means your tax dollars and mine are being spent to help those who got hurt. I support that.

But just for the record, I think any homeowner or business owner should be required to have sufficient private insurance to cover the costs of rebuilding after a devastating storm hits. In Oklahoma, tornado insurance will cost you a chunk, but hurricane insurance will cost about 13 cents a year in Kansas, and flood insurance will cost about the same in the Berkshires….

And while the rebuilding is going on, I also think that the folks who are handing out the government checks to those homeowners and business owners should remember to say, from time to time, "you didn't rebuild that."

All of us are chipping in to do the rebuilding. And everyone should pay a fair share, so that everyone can reasonably get the benefit when it's needed.

"Wear the old coat…"

Sure, that old coat will last another season, I don't wear it that much anyway….

…and, see, I could live with this, really….

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The "golden years" – does anyone still say that?

Americans who aren't retired yet say they're going to keep working for a while….they say 66 is the average age when they plan to clean out the desk and head for home.

I think that's optimistic. They're probably going to work a little longer than that, because a lot of folks are getting the idea that Social Security benefits aren't going to get a whole lot better in their realistically attainable future, and, anyway,  most folks who are still working only have about one egg in the old retirement account….

The Gallup poll says* that folks who are already retired hung up their track shoes at the average age of 61. In the early 1990s that number was 57, so part of the reason that retires are getting older, aside from increasing life expectancy, is that they're waiting longer to punch out.

The whole notion of "retiring" is a relatively new concept. You only have to look back to the pre-World War II era to see a world in which the average person basically expected to work until she died, or became too sick or frail to work anymore.

American society hasn't completely figured out this retirement thing yet.

If  you're in your prime, you really need to think carefully about the current and long term effects of government policies on your personal future. Congress isn't doing anything that makes sense right now.

All of us need to take personal responsibility for retirement, and we have to make sure the government doesn't screw it up..

Attention Baby Boomers....

* Just for the record: no polling organization today is capable of reaching a legitimate random sample of people, so all poll results should be viewed as very approximate versions of the "truth."

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The wisdom of the old farmer (part 10)

"It don't take a genius to spot a goat in a flock of sheep."
Overheard at the cracker barrel. 

Sure, you've heard this one before, or roughly the same thing….

Me, too.

Still, I realize every once in a while that I'm puffing myself up after spotting another goat amongst the sheep, too easily asking myself "How do I keep doing this stuff?!" and then, you know….

I'm trying to cut back on my "I see the goat!" announcements, trying to take a second look, scanning for a detail that maybe the other guy didn't see, trying to get beyond the goatish stuff….

Friday, May 17, 2013

Having fun at Disney….

Folks with too much money are hiring handicapped folks to get themselves and their kids to the head of the line at popular attractions in Disney World.

You can buy your own bona fide handicapped person, in a motorized scooter labeled "Handicapped," to be your "family member for-a-day" from Dream Tours Florida, for only $130 an hour. Only about $1,000 for a full day. Here's a New York Post story on it.

Disney allows families with handicapped members to scoot around the long waiting lines and do the rides without waiting.

Whatever you're thinking, I already thought it….


Thursday, May 16, 2013

IRS in Ohio: wrong, for a different reason

OK, let's get this out of the way right now: of course, the IRS employees in Ohio should not have targeted the Tea Party folks who submitted applications for tax-exempt status. Wrong on so many levels. Heads should roll.

But here's the thing: one way they did wrong was that they didn't put every single application under the microscope. After the horrifying Citizens United court ruling, partisan and obviously political groups all across the spectrum actually doubled the incoming applications for tax-exempt status all over the country.

The carelessly zealous IRS folks in Ohio should have been the model for IRS application reviewers in every state, for every application.

Ruth Marcus had some serous insight on this point in her Wednesday column on, read it here.

The news media and the cable TV talking hours have spent approximately zero minutes on taking a deep look at the applications that were actually sent in, and approved or disapproved, in Ohio. How many of them were bogus, blatantly outside IRS guidelines?

I don't think I'm going out on a thin limb here when I suspect that way too many of those Ohio groups who climbed on the bandwagon, seeking tax-exempt status, were manifestly unqualified to receive it because they intended from the git-go to get involved illegally in political electioneering.

The IRS flubbed in Ohio, and literally failed to do its job all over the country.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book review: Girl With A Pearl Earring

Book review: Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

A slim offering of historical fiction about Johannes Vermeer's enigmatic portrait of an unknown young girl, circa 1665.

It's a breathtaking, tantalizing love story….tantalizing because Vermeer and the maid, Griet, almost embrace their passion, each stepping over the line without transgression, but not without hurt:

Vermeer, the worldly one, the master, tempted to the edge of the precipice…

Griet, the child innocent, heedless of her woman's heat, trespassing unaware and ever nearer to the mystery that she barely understands in the beginning….

She feels the lush weight of the earring, his fingertip sears her skin, she inclines toward his touch, trembles with a disembodied, virginal start of pain….

Quickly stilled, she sits for him.

He trembles—a long moment—with the rush of desire, masters it, and steps back to his easel, granting her a little more time in the childhood she is leaving behind, giving her a peace that will become a bereavement, a keening memory….

They look at each other, mute, apart yet bound, in flagrante delicto, withering, without joy….

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2013 All rights reserved.

Are you nuts?

Here's hoping…..

And by the way, you're never too young to learn that quiet privacy is a good setting for a good read….

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"Slow-motion mass murder…."

The Newtown murders of 20 first-graders didn't suddenly go away, but the story has sort of gone away in the feckless mass media and the cable TV news shows….the breathless media and the talking heads are endlessly chasing the next blowout news sensation.

E. J. Dionne, in the Washington Post, has again sagely offered a calm jolt to our communal sensibilities: his column last Sunday simply referred to the routine daily toll of gun deaths in America as "slow-motion mass murder." Read it here.

These are not E. J.'s words, but they shout out his convictions.

Mine too.

Other than many craven representatives in Congress, who are the people who have forgotten Newtown, and given up their passionate revulsion?


Saturday, May 11, 2013

The wisdom of Theodore Roosevelt (part 2)

"…the man in the arena…"

26th President of the United States

Has victory or defeat ever been your portion in life?

Teddy put life, and himself, in the crosshairs.

Medal of Honor

He said:
"The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly...and…if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." 

Lots of folks have said this in different ways, but the Bull Moose President puts his personal courageous stamp on it, think San Juan Hill and "the divil take the hindmost…" ---

Here's TR's complete statement:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Friday, May 10, 2013

We’re cooking the planet (part 9)

A new report from Hawaii says scientists at Mauna Loa, for the first time in human history, have measured atmospheric carbon dioxide at 400 ppm.

In 1958, when the observatory was established, CO2 was measured at 320 ppm.

In 1800, at the beginning of the industrial revolution which spawned manmade global warming and global climate change, the worldwide CO2 level was about 280 ppm.

Folks, we're cooking the planet. The entirety of  believable science says so.

It's the only planet our grandchildren are going to have to live on.
We need to do more, now, to mediate the worsening effects of global climate change.

Heard "thank you" from your boss recently?

I worked hard all my life. I did some good things. I'm proud to say I held up my end.

Without embarrassment, I say that I was self-motivated.

Sadly, too many folks do the same for the same reasons, without much recognition or reward from their organizations.

For many years I thought this was a depressing mystery.

Now, I don't think it's a mystery.

How do managers learn right and wrong?

And here's a confirming anecdote from my trusted personal advisor:

"During a recent visit to our local state park, I was on my way to the ladies' room, and the lady from the state park's cleaning service had just finished swamping it out (and I use that term with specificity). She was standing at her truck, resupplying her cart to attack the men's room. I said 'Hi!' and she returned the greeting.

"I stuck out my hand, saying 'You know, cleaning public restrooms is usually a thankless job, so let me thank you for your effort today, I appreciate it.'

"She looked at me like she'd been pole-axed. Then she shook my hand, saying 'No one, not even my boss, has ever thanked me. This means a lot to me. You've made my day.'

"Such an easy thing for me to do…."

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The wisdom of Chief Joseph (part 2)

"I am tired of talk that comes to nothing."
Chief Joseph AKA Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt ("Thunder rolling down the mountain") (1840-1904)
Chief of the Wallowa of the Nez Perce

Well, who isn't?

I'm going to try to make something happen today.

A wise man of the Cherokees offered this profound advice:
"Listen! Or your tongue will make you deaf."

And Chief Joseph had lots more to say about talking:

"It does not require many words to speak the truth."

Non sumus pulvis et umbra….

"We are not dust and shadow…."

Recently I read a homily that included a casual observation—pulvis et umbra sunt—with this intended meaning: we are nothing but dust and shadow.

I'm familiar, as you are, with the standard poetic and philosophical thought bubble that argues on these lines: 

"Man is a mote in the cosmic crystal spheres, a life is a bit in the vastness of being" and so on….

That doesn't ring true for me. My life is all my own, it is all, I share my being and my living with those I love, I think it's a big story and I love it.

Dust and shadow are involved, yes, but we can strive always to limit dust and shadow to circumstance, to a dust whirl, to a passing shadow….

I like to hear the song of the Sequichie of the Cherokees:

"O, listen! Hear! Sing with me, for I am joy."

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

389,000 millionaires in New York City

Yup, the U.S. has about 5 million millionaires, that's 5,000,000 millionaires, and almost 400,000 of 'em live in the Big Apple.

That's a lot of millionaires.

Now, Tokyo is the go-to city for millionaires, with 461,000 of 'em.

This is according to, with data recently released by London-based WealthInsight.

We're talking about individual persons who have at least $1 million in assets, NOT counting the value of their primary residence.

Y'know, you can live on that….

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The wisdom of the old farmer (part 9)

"Meanness don't just happen overnight."
Overheard in the old farmer's tractor barn  

Seems like some folks are schooled to meanness, or embittered into a permanently nasty condition….it strikes me that the old farmer is right, again, a person just doesn't get mean all at once, whatever the creeping causes may be…

I'm going to try to stop my next potentially mean thought right in its tracks.

I want to stay off the casual, step-by-step path to meanness, don't want to go there.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A new reason for gun control legislation

At least let's agree on this:  some Americans shouldn't be allowed to buy .40 caliber ammo.

Florida police recently reported that a 31-year-old man with a BB gun and,  apparently,  a real jones for squirrel meat, did something you and I could have told him not to do, not now, not ever, it's a No-No, don't even think about it….

Seems Mr. Squirrel Hunter actually taped a .40 caliber bullet to the end of his BB gun, and, you know, aimed at that tasty-looking rodent and squeezed the trigger….

….yup, the BB pellet hit the bullet cartridge, which exploded, causing shrapnel wounds in the man's arms and legs.

Obviously we need a universal background check on all ammunition buyers, so we could uncover any latent tendencies to tape bullets to BB guns in pursuit of a squirrel steak.

Animal lovers should get behind this proposal, too, and I'm sure they're happy to hear that the squirrel is still on the loose.

"Kids don't learn from people they don't like."

Dr. Rita F. Pierson, a teacher in Houston for more than 40 years, gives the kind of TEDTalk that makes TED rightly and spectacularly famous. Watch it here: Rita Pierson at TED

If she isn't the "my favorite teacher" that you remember, well, I hope your favorite was close to her level of sparkle….

She gives lots of believable advice on motivating young children, the kind of stuff you'd like to believe that teachers say to each other in the teacher's lunch room.

She remembers a colleague whose mantra was "they don't pay me to like the kids." Pierson's rebuttal: "kids don't learn from people they don’t like."

She recalls, with a smile, a youngster who muffed 18 questions on a 20-question quiz….Pierson marked "+ 2" on the quiz and handed it back.

She explains to the TED audience: "you know, a 'minus 18' sucks the life out of you…a 'plus 2' says you ain't all bad…."

This TED talk is so short you'll feel like you want to watch it again, right now. It's a rousing summons to educators to believe in their students and actually connect with them on a real, human, personal level.