Sunday, July 28, 2013

The wisdom of Africa (part 2)

"One twig alone is easy to break. Many twigs bound together cannot be easily broken.”
African proverb

I got this one from one of my trusted personal advisors. She sees the big picture.

I think understanding of this proverbial concept is intuitive: it's very hard to tear a phone book in half…

I also think we need to grasp the point in an expansive way:  the strength of "many twigs bound together" is one of the reasons that human beings form societies.

Gorilla spotting…

A Washington Post-ABC News poll indicates that 50% of Americans don't believe that "blacks and other minorities receive equal treatment as whites in the criminal justice system."

I guess the folks in the other half haven't been reading newspapers, or watching TV, or reading books, or browsing the internet for the past 50 years or so……

Seriously, regardless of your political and personal persuasions, you can't say "everyone is treated equally by the police and the courts" with a straight face.

It's the 800-pound gorilla of color in the room….

Friday, July 26, 2013

Gulf spill fine: Halliburton gets off easy, again

Why aren't some of the folks at Halliburton Co. going to jail?

Halliburton is an oil services behemoth that shares responsibility for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill that permanently damaged the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Yesterday Halliburton agreed to pay a $200,000 fine for destroying incriminating evidence during the investigation that followed the spill—you remember that one, criminal negligence by Halliburton and BP dumped about 5,000,000 barrels of oil into the gulf after their rig burned and sank, killing 11 men. It seems that on two occasions, Halliburton managers directed engineers to "get rid of" test results that showed the company's actions in an unfavorable light.

Not much of a penalty, I'd say….last year Halliburton made $4,430,000,000 in profits, so the fine amounts to about half of one-hundredth of one percent of the money the company took to the bank in 2012. In other words, for every $22,150 of profits last year, Halliburton paid $1 toward the penalty.

Does anyone in an executive suite at Halliburton think this penalty is anything but a teeny weeny fine and a great big relief? The company's stock popped up almost 5% when the market opened today….

Here's an update on the effects of the Deepwater oil spill:

Last January a NASA physicist reported "a dearth of marine life" within a 30-50 mile radius of the former rig site off the Louisiana coast.

Other scientists have noted that as much as one-third of the spilled oil is still in the Gulf waters or on the bottom, still poisoning the entire food chain.

Long-term environmental and human health dangers could persist for generations.

"Generations" means your great-grandchildren, and mine, could be dealing with the harmful effects of the Deepwater spill.

Why aren't some of the folks at Halliburton Co. going to jail?

Insider trading: alive and well

Yesterday, a U.S. Attorney in New York wrapped up a six-year investigation and charged SAC Capital Advisors with four counts of securities fraud and one count of wire fraud.

In plain English, the feds are going after SAC Capital Advisors for illegal insider trading.

Here's part of the indictment: "…for insider trading offenses committed by numerous employees and made possible by institutional practices that encouraged the widespread solicitation and use of illegal inside information. Unlawful conduct by individual employees and an institutional indifference to that unlawful conduct resulted in insider trading that was substantial, pervasive and on a scale without known precedent in the hedge fund industry."

In plain English, the folks at SAC Capital knew they were breaking the law, everybody was doing it, they were doing it big-time, and they were screwing lots of investors like you and me.

What's the big deal, you ask? Doesn't "almost everybody" on Wall Street engage in insider trading when they think they can get away with it?

Yeah, that's the big deal. There are plenty of repeat offenders on Wall Street. The news report about the SAC Capital indictment also mentioned that government watchdogs have charged about 80 firms and individuals with insider trading since 2009, and 73 of those defendants were convicted. My guess is the other 7 defendants got lucky and skated…

My other guess is that for every person or brokerage that gets caught doing insider trading, there are dozens or hundreds more that don't get caught, and make millions by fleecing other investors.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Shameful secrecy

Our U.S. senators are launching a shameful stunt: they're promising each other 50 years of secrecy about their personal proposals for tax reform, that is, changing or eliminating income tax credits and deductions.

Senators Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) cooked up this juicy charade as a way of enticing their fellow senators to make initial suggestions for the Senate Finance Committee's current work on preparing "reform" of the U.S. income tax code.

Seems too many senators don't want to go on the record right up front with their personal choices about which credits and deductions should be cut, i.e. which special interest group they plan to ignore in the tax reform process.

This is shameful political chicanery. If any tax reform legislation is ever brought to a vote, the Senators are going to have to cast their votes openly to decide which tax avoidance provisions will be altered or dropped.

Who do they think they're fooling with this "50-years of secrecy" dodge?

Why do we keep re-electing these people who act with such disdain for our best interests and our intelligence?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The art of Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Creator of crime fiction and that ace crimestopper, Sherlock Holmes

I'm re-reading some of Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" adventures, including several that are new to me….yes, yes, of course I read "The Five Orange Pips" again, doesn't everyone?
This time I tried "The Adventure of Lady Frances Carfax" and "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire" and a few others.

Basil Rathbone as Holmes

I first read some of the exploits of Sherlock Holmes when I was too young to be entertained by anything but the action. With that constraint, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" was somewhat boring, and "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" was simply pedestrian. The Complete Sherlock Holmes languished on my "To Read" list for years.

Now I am an older, more aesthetic fancier of the agile mind and the haughty generosity and the dimensioned humanity of Sherlock Holmes. Time after time, Holmes austerely allows Lestrade to claim a vaunted reputation that is too often boosted by the singular and covert prowess of Holmes himself. Holmes always takes the opportunity to be genteelly solicitous to the frightened widow. Despite his loveless bachelorhood, he is charmed by young lovers and easily condones their righteous excesses. He can be excited by discovery, and clap at each revelation, with the innocence of a child.

Jeremy Brett as Holmes

And yet, the fabulous boarder at 221B Baker Street has no fear of the nastiest brute….Holmes will leap—leap!—onto the back of an escaping felon….he will defy the powerful and the villainous alike, in defense of the letter of the law and in obedience to humane justice….

Holmes is a good man.

His adventures are good reading, time after time.

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2013 All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Whale tale

Overheard recently at about 30 fathoms deep off the coast at Laguna Beach:

Whale mom: "Billy, where have you been? You're late!"

Billy: "I went on a people watching swim with Tara and Josh -- we had to go far."

Whale mom: "See any?"

Billy: "Oh yeah, there was one of those boats with two hulls, bunch of people, too, it was neat!"

Whale mom: "Any big ones?"

Billy: "Yeah, couple, wow! We spotted three babies, too!"

Whale mom: "What did they look like?"

Billy: "Couldn't really see their faces, they were all wearing hats or those dark circles over their eyes, and most of them were holding those shiny things up in front of their faces every time they spotted me, and then right away the whole boat got real noisy, you know, those propeller things, and it just moved off fast and disappeared."

Whale mom: "Well, maybe you'll see more next time...."

Saturday, July 20, 2013

O! sea! ...once more

Once more I come,
 again I hear
  the lashing surf,
   the endless thrum.

Once more I gaze,
 again, delight
  to see so far
   and taste salt haze.

Once more I'm blessed:
 the zephyr's lull,
  the rasp of sand,
   O! sea! O! zest!

O! sea!....once more

Friday, July 19, 2013

Walk in their shoes?.... reports that almost 1 out of 4 black men, ages 18-34, say they've been "treated unfairly" by police in the past 30 days.

Think about the ethnic/racial/demographic group you're in, define it any way you like....

....if 25 per cent of the young men in your group said they'd been hassled by the cops in the past 30 days, how would you feel?

What would you do about it?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

"Know when to fold 'em..."

You know the Kenny Rogers song, "The Gambler," it's all about risk taking and how you should "...know when to walk away and know when to run."

Knowing when to walk away, to avoid a disaster or a squabble, is an all-purpose skill, a disposition really, a frame of mind too easy to abandon....

Admonitions for patience and prudence -- among the better parts of valor -- are as old as the hills.

For example, Abe Lincoln's early political career gave him many chances to step back from a conflict that he might have won, perhaps easily, a conflict that offered him no lasting benefit even in victory, or gave promise of ill favor as a future consequence.

John Hay and John Nicolay, Lincoln's presidential secretaries and later his biographers, recorded an anecdote expressing Lincoln's lifelong preferred reaction to conflict and political horsetrading:

"No man (who is) resolved to make the most of himself can spare time for personal contention...(give up) larger things to which you can show no more than equal right...Better give your path to a dog than be bitten by him in contesting for the right. Even killing the dog would not cure the bite."

Of course, Lincoln was a steadfast advocate and practitioner of doing the right thing, in compelling circumstances, regardless of personal cost.

He also believed, as Hay and Nicolay recalled, that "habitual peaceableness involved no lack of dignity."

"Know when to fold 'em..."

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Happy talk!

Happy talk, keep talkin' happy talk!

Or any kind of talk.

To your baby, that is...

...or your grandbaby.

Talk back when your pre-verbal child babbles at you -- that sweet, burbling little girl is talking to you, but you can't yet understand what she's saying.

Linguist Deborah Fallows (July/August 2013 issue of The Atlantic) reports on a decade of compelling research that shows the lifelong benefits of talking TO and WITH your kids, even when they're too young to talk back.

You know this is true. It's intuitive.

Let the children hear new words and inflected meanings and syntax when they're most open to learning them.

One researcher says it with bare truth:

"You can only do one thing at a time: talk to the baby or talk on the phone."

Stash your iPhone! Here come the kids!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


At the edge of the pool, he launches his small body forward in space, ignorant of gravity, heedless of the deep water, the elemental danger....

He plunges in, smiling!
He rises, gulping air, laughing, in his father's arms.
He cannot know what a father may fear....

He cannot know that Daddy lurches with instinct frenzy to retrieve him every time he jumps....

He cannot know that Dad's proud shouts of approval mask the silent, primal imperative to shout "Careful!"

He cannot know that a father's love drives the ritual: to teach jumping, to expose the mysteries of submergence, to stand chest-deep in the pool and urge a beloved son to risk his life with every leap.

He cannot know that, at some future time, when the time is right, he himself will ignore his guardian duty, and eagerly, with a smile, beckon to his own beautiful child to make the first intrepid leap.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The wisdom of the Cherokees (part 19)

"Take my hand and walk with me until you can go alone."
The wisdom of the Sequichie of the Cherokees

Say these words, and show your heart to a friend in need.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Wait! What about the economy?

A Texas congressman seems to have forgotten that Congress should be working on ways to boost growth in our national economy and help create jobs for millions of Americans who want to work.

Instead, Rep. Steve Stockman (R) is pushing a bill that would deny federal education funds to school districts that forbid "harmless expressions of childhood play" like using a finger and thumb as a make-believe gun.

Stockman's bill is a transparent and silly attempt to support gun advocacy. I'm trying to avoid sputtering as I write this….

I think schools should protect our children from bad people with guns. I think the "zero tolerance" policies sometimes go too far…suspending a first-grader for raising his thumb and pointing his forefinger is, in general, not in the "real smart thing to do" category.

But Stockman crossed over into La-La Land with his goofy bill that plays to the gun "base."

Here's a sample: Stockman's bill would block federal funding to a school district that sanctions students for "brandishing a pastry or other food which is partially consumed in such a way that the remnant resembles a gun."

Read it again, slowly….yup, it really says "brandishing a pastry"…..

Stockman heard about a second-grader in Maryland who was suspended after he chewed on a Pop Tart to make it look sort of like a gun….

Ummm….sorry, I just have to stop here…..

Thursday, July 11, 2013

"Delayed payment" for college tuition?....goofy

OK, this is my candidate for Goofy Idea Of The Month:

The Oregon legislature has passed, and Gov. John Kitzhaber is poised to sign, a bill that tells the state's Higher Education Coordinating Commission to figure out how to collect college tuition from students AFTER they graduate.

Two education policy wonks, Audrey Peck and John Burbank, thought this one up: for example, students would complete college without paying tuition, and then would pay a percentage of their annual income for 25 years to cover the cost, i.e. graduates would pay 4% of their income for 25 years.

I think this is nuts. Obviously different students with different income streams would end up paying different amounts for the same education. No guarantee that the students collectively would actually pay back all of the tuition they deferred. Some students would die before completing their payments. How to enforce the future payments? Would Oregon try to garnish the wages of graduates who move to another state? Wow. I think this idea is goofy.

The main objection: this plan does nothing to address the issues of why college costs so much, and why the cost of attending college keeps rising faster than inflation.

Deferring payment for college way into the future is a pretty transparent way of more or less guaranteeing that someone else is ultimately going to pay for it.

College isn't free. Let's not do goofy stuff that suggests anyone can "go to college for free now, and pay later."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

History repeats itself….

News item on July 9, 1913:

Barnes & Noble Saddlery and Horseshoe Nail Purveyors announced today that they are abandoning sales of the new "automobile tyre." This failed "new technology" venture was pushed strongly by CEO Wm. Lynch, who is leaving the company. A Barnes & Noble spokesperson said B&N will henceforth concentrate on its established and well-respected core business of "providing for all the needs of those who travel, everywhere."

News item on July 9, 2013:

Barnes & Noble Books Stores announced that CEO William Lynch has "resigned," effective immediately. Lynch was responsible for pushing Barnes & Noble into the new "e-reader" technology with the Nook reader, which has been a big loser for B&N. Leonard Riggio, founder of B&N, has resumed leadership of the company. It is well known that Riggio's vision for B&N is to focus on its 675 established and well-respected bricks-and-mortar book stores, and avoid the competitive fight for e-book readers.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The art of Mary Oliver

American poet

And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds -
A white cross
Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings
Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

(from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems, 2010)

Another discovery for me, the poetry of Mary Oliver, where have I been all her life?

Her muse is strong, her words have the gentle bite of 
truth, a deep longing for full awareness…..

Sunday, July 7, 2013

I double dog dare ya....

Yeah, make that "triple dog"....

Do you think you could have graduated from the 8th grade in Bullitt County, Kentucky, in 1912?

The only thing between you and the diploma would have been the test below (thanks to for this little eye-opener).

Now, I'm not going to say any of the obvious things that will come to your mind, as they came to mine….

I'm not going to mention my guess that many of the young folks who walked across the stage at college commencement a couple months ago wouldn't do real well on this test.

I'm not going to make any comment about the thought you're going to have, along the lines of "nobody needs to know this stuff!" and so on…

And I'm certainly not going to give you any clue about my approximate score of right and wrong answers…that's personal, you know what I'm saying….

Saturday, July 6, 2013

No, no! be a truck driver...!

"You wanna be a politician?!"

Gallup says about 2 out of 3 Americans would not want their children to "go into politics as a life's work." Also, the polling organization reports, that sentiment has been pretty much unchanged during the last 20 years.

Well, no surprise, right? Think of all the politicians you know, respect and love…

Congress is currently getting something like a 14% approval rating…who are the 14% who think the folks in Washington are doing a good job?

For that matter, who are the 1 out of 3 Americans who WOULD like a son or daughter to go into politics?

I think politics SHOULD be a noble profession.

It's not. I don't expect it will be.

In politics, there is too much reward for the wrong kind of motivation.

Every elected representative should be limited to one brief term.

And come to think of it, who are the people who keep re-electing the incumbents?