Saturday, August 31, 2013

Let's have some revulsion, please….

In all the public debate and news coverage about Syria and Assad's use of chemical weapons to kill his own people, I'm not hearing too much general outrage about that fact.

Let's have a moment of silence, and let's put aside the antiseptic arguments about whether there should be a "limited" response or how many nations will support punitive action.

Then let's talk about the horror and evil of killing one's own countrymen with ghastly weapons.

In my mind, that's also one of the main points in this dialogue.

Death by poison gas is grisly, it's despicable.

Imagine watching your child die in a plume of poison gas....

Let's feel more outrage.


Friday, August 30, 2013

Watch out! Wild horses!

Pony burger, anyone?

See, here's the thing: I bet most of us think wild horses are romantic, all-American, beautiful, proud and free…. you can picture the herd on the high plains, rippling muscles, with the floating manes, the precious ponies, the endangered hallmark of the American West….

Ooops. Science magazine says we're just about this close to a "serious wild horse crisis." There are just too many of those beautiful critters. They're destroying rangeland and disrupting the ecosystem, and some of the horses are starving to death. An adult horse needs 20-40 pounds of forage every day.

There are roughly 33,000 wild horses roaming free in the American West. The Bureau of Land Management has a legal mandate to maintain the herds at a total of 23,622 horses—much easier said than done. Those pesky stallions keep doing their thing, you know?....the BLM estimates that we could have 100,000 wild horses in a half dozen years.

And here's the other thing: the BLM spent $75 million last year in its failing attempts to manage the size and health of the herds. If nothing changes, the government could spend $1.1 billion over the next decade-plus just to keep the horses alive.

That's a billion dollars that should be spent on other policy initiatives: education, health care, climate change, you name it.

People regularly eat horse steaks and pony burgers in France, China, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Germany, Belgium, Japan, Switzerland and Scotland.

And it is legal in the U.S. to sell horse meat for human consumption.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Rising college tuition: somebody has to pay….

From President Obama on down, the public and private complaint is "college costs too much, why is tuition going through the roof?"

I've been asking the same question, and it's personal: I am deeply involved in the affairs and the success of my alma mater, I'm one of those alumni who know the words—both verses—of the school song.

So I offer this fabulously interesting analysis of why college tuition has been rising since the year 2000—this cuts right to the bone:

A current series, "The Tuition Is Too Damn High," is taking a careful look at tuition and college finances in general.

Here's the short version of why college tuition rose during the 2000-2010 decade, a period when federal aid to college education and college students was increased:

1. Public colleges and universities (all but the "research" universities) didn't raise spending during 2000-2010, but their state funding was cut drastically, so tuition went up to cover the shortfall. Students and their parents are paying directly to make up for the state cutbacks.
   Public community colleges have actually cut their spending during 2000-2010, but their state funding has been cut back so much that tuition had to be raised.

2.  Private non-research colleges and universities have been boosting spending per student only moderately. However, endowment revenues and donations from college boosters have declined, so tuition is up more than 23%  during 2000-2010.

3.  Big public and private research universities are boosting their spending, and raising tuition to cover it. You want the prestige, you gotta pay for it.

There it is, in the old nutshell. Not a pretty picture.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Book review: The Kingdom of the Kid

Book review: The Kingdom of the Kid: Growing Up In The Long-Lost Hamptons
By Geoff Gehman (b. 1958)
State University of New York Press, Albany, NY 2013
238 pages

I stepped outside my comfort zone to read Geoff Gehman's memoir about some of his childhood years in the "long-lost Hamptons." I'm glad I did.

If you have a particular point of view about memoirs, either for or against, try to forget it and pick up The Kingdom of the Kid, and just settle in for the ride.

This is more than a prosaic romp through childhood memories, it is a paean celebrating a child's-eye-view of life.

Gehman is a writer who likes to "linger over words," that's my kind of writer. His prose, his stories, his memories…sassy, salty and singular.

Gehman is a poet, too. Repeatedly, he offers lush insight into his industrious youth, his friendships with the young and the old, his affinity for the place, the "long-lost Hamptons" where Geoff and his pals spent the good old days.

He describes the scene as he observed mourners in the Wainscott Cemetery:
"…I sat on my bike in the school parking lot, shaded by grand sycamores, and watched visitors treat the cemetery with reverence. They placed flowers by graves, prayed on their knees, cried on their backs. They stared at the sky, held séances in broad daylight, eavesdropped on eternity.

"Those pilgrims taught me the morality of mortality. Without asking anyone I learned to walk around the stones, to respect the dead as if they were alive."

In every chapter he offers another little piece of his heart.

Good reading. Real good.

[Also see review in The Morning Call, Allentown, PA by Bill White, July 27, 2013]

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2013 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A three-year degree?

I'm working on research to figure out who decided that American college students have to go to college for four years to get a bachelor's degree. I'm not convinced that's necessary for everyone.

One thing colleges need to do is to figure out how to offer a degree in three years. Personally, I am strongly in favor of the traditional "liberal arts education," and I have one. However, many students don't want this, and, ipso facto, they don't need it.

Typically, a four-year undergraduate degree includes about a year of  "liberal arts, general education" courses required for every major: the traditional liberal arts courses in history, the arts, ethics, foreign language, science and so on.

Many students want the specific, academically rigorous training for a degree in psychology or biology or managements or whatever, and they don't want the general education "liberal arts" add-on.

I'm not the first person to suggest this: Let those students earn a degree in three years, call it a "professional degree" or something to distinguish it from the traditional four-year liberal arts degree.

And let them (and their parents) chop 25% off the cost of their college education.

Let's chew on this idea for a while. There's a lot of common sense in it.

Monday, August 26, 2013

"…in their flying machines…"

I got a surprising education at the air show yesterday.

Did you know that a helicopter can fly backwards? (fer sure)

Did you ever take a look at the inside of a Medevac chopper? (it's tiny)

Did you know that a stunt pilot in a biplane can zoom up in a steep climb and then delicately  throttle back  just 
the right amount to keep the plane motionless in the air, nose pointed straight up, for an unbelievable number of seconds? (she can)

I know that you know that a plane can fly upside down for a while, I know it, I saw them do it at the air show, I still don't understand how that works….

Flying through the air remains a thrilling concept for me, 110 years after Orville Wright flew a heavier-than-air machine at Kitty Hawk for the first time in human history.

As we do with many technologies, we take air travel for granted now.

I think it would have been marvelous to live in the time when airplanes were a novelty, when people everywhere still gawked and pointed at the sight of "those magnificent men in their flying machines."

Friday, August 23, 2013

The new voodoo: paying for college….

Here's the latest wacky twist on paying for a college education: don't do it now.

Instead, promise to pay 3% of your annual earnings—for 24 years after graduation—to the state where you went to college.

Nobody knows if you'd end up paying more or less than the sticker price for your sheepskin.

After Oregon's governor signed a bill this month to study such a plan, at least four other states are looking into it (New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington).

The basic idea is:  don't pay for your college degree at a state college now, go to college "for free" now and pay for it over the next 24 years.

No one has any answers for questions like:
… suppose a graduate dies 17 years after getting the degree, is anyone responsible for the remaining payments?
…how will the state government actually collect the payments if the graduate moves out of the state?  has multiple jobs? never gets a job? refuses to authorize payroll deduction, or otherwise refuses to make the payments?
…obviously some graduates would pay more for their degrees than others, depending on their post-graduation salaries, is everyone OK with this?
…how long will the state government continue to subsidize the education of current students if the stream of payments from graduates doesn't cover the cost of a bachelor's degree in future years?

This goofy idea is ethically, economically and legally challenged.

It seems so obvious: this is an undisguised proposal to get somebody else to pay for Fred Freshman's and Susie Sophomore's college degree, sometime in the future.

Isn't this the fundamental flaw of public finance?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hey, job creators! Get to work!

The so-called "job creators" aren't working for Mr. and Mrs. America.

The self-proclaimed "job creators," who have enjoyed a favorable tax climate for several decades, aren't doing much of anything to create jobs for millions of Americans who want to work.

And many of the jobs that are available are low-paying jobs.

Harold Myerson, on, reports that the U.S. has a higher proportion of low-wage jobs than any other industrialized nation:
"Fully 25 percent of the [U.S.] workforce makes less than two-thirds of the nation’s median wage — ahead of Britain (where just 21 percent hold such low-paying jobs), Germany (20 percent) and Japan (15 percent)."

And that's not all. Another piece says that the median hourly wage, adjusted for inflation, was the same last year as it was in 2000—while productivity was up about 27% in the same period.

American workers are increasing their hourly output, but someone else is raking in the resulting profits.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The wisdom of the Cherokees (part 21)

"How many…rewards we have missed because we resisted something that looked like too much responsibility."
The wisdom of the Sequichie of the Cherokees

I am slowly learning to live closer to the edge.

I don't mean bungee jumping, or cocaine, or speed dating, or anything like that….

I mean saying "Yes" to an unexpected plan, or accepting a new volunteer task on the spur of the moment, or moving to another state, or stuff like that….

For most of my life, I didn't realize that the edge is so interesting.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

But, bot, I thought you loved me….

Yeah, yeah, social media is here to stay, it's reality, we all know that, everybody's doing it, more or less…

Except when it's less.

See, here's the weird thing: lots of the people using social media aren't people.

Robotic programs—"bots"—are all over the place. Maybe you've flirted with one….

Ian Urbina in the August 11 Sunday New York Times digs in to this in a piece on "socialbots," automated algorithms that act like humans on Twitter or Facebook or Reddit or Foursquare, or you name it: "these automated charlatans are programmed to tweet and retweet. They have quirks, life histories and the gift of gab."


Urbina reports on research suggesting that half of the world's internet traffic is generated by machines, not people. And if you think you're the Pied Piper on Twitter: two-thirds of the average Twitter user's "followers" are machines, not people.

I'll admit I don't use Twitter, I've never tweeted….but a little research on Twitter users makes me feel better: most Twitter users don't use Twitter either.

Over 500 million "people" use Twitter. One source says about 25% of  the folks who say they use Twitter have actually never sent a tweet, not one. Another source says HALF of Twitter accounts have never tweeted. 

There are a lot of inactive accounts, and a lot of lurker followers….

…and a lot of bots that are doing…..what, exactly?

I don't want to get involved with a computer program on social media, I think bots have issues, y'know?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Water over the dam

Here's some transitory knowledge: watching water relentlessly surging over the spillway of the dam is a bit like watching the campfire long after the sun has doesn't get old too soon.

Heraclitus observed that one "cannot step into the same river twice," the second time you dabble a toe, you're in new water, the water you splashed the first time is gone, downstream, swirling out of sight, immediately out of mind.

The moths in scattering flight around the campfire mimic the ragged action of the flames, never the same trajectory, repeatedly tracing new patterns in the light and through the shadows, taunting the licks and darts of flame and sparks that pull your gaze always back to the fire pit....

The spoiling flow over the dam has more power, but no more charm than the fire....spontaneous animation mixes through the inanimate sameness of it all, action is born and dies all in the moment, you know, of course, that you've seen it before....

...but this time it's just a little know what I mean....

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Animal it is

You remember how it was on Orwell's Animal Farm, with the pigs taking over, and gradually becoming more and more like men, and Comrade Napoleon establishing his dictatorship, and the oppression that gradually returned to harden the lives of the other animals on the farm....

It may be easy to forget that all of the animals who weren't pigs were deeply affectionate and actually comradely in their own society.

I visited an organic farm yesterday, it had almost a full complement of farm animals, the usual suspects including pigs, and I observed with great interest that the animals, at least within their own species, were completely gregarious and at least seemingly friendly to each other. There were no obvious outsiders, no apparent outcasts, no isolated animal anywhere.

It seemed like there were no strangers in the chicken run, or in the combined goat/sheep enclosure, or in the pig pen, or the rabbit hutch, or the turkeys' patch....

You get the picture.

Humans are pretty smart did we invent "loneliness"?

Why do we tolerate it?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

"Beggin' Worms"? Oh yeah....

Here it is, plain and simple:

Yesterday, I watched a chicken begging for a dried worm.

And, no. No alcohol was involved.

More facts: the hen is not quite a family pet, but almost. She lives a comfortable backyard life. She's a steady layer.

Obviously she's figured out what the plastic container of dried worms looks like, and yesterday she stood underfoot, deliberately looking up at the container in my hand, and stretching her head upward with her beak stabbing the air in the direction of same.

I swear she sort of almost jumped, once....

That's my story, I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson

"No member of a crew is praised
                  for the rugged individuality of his rowing."

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
American essayist, lecturer, poet

This epigram makes me think of Peter Drucker, but it has a nice, 19th century feel to it.

Emerson's point is obvious.

I think a not-so-obvious corollary is that we permit ourselves, too often, to use all-American cultural touchpoints like "rugged individualism" without much reflection on the genesis of these prescriptive tidbits of social morality, and without much regard for the implications of what we say.

Rugged individualism, for instance, is real good for some stuff—"doing" the Appalachian Trail comes to mind—but hearty cooperation is real good for a lot more stuff.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

You can call him "Ray," or you can call him "Jay"….

But Judge Ballew says you can't call him "Messiah."

In case you missed it, a local judge in eastern Tennessee ruled that a mother can't name her baby boy "Messiah" because "the word Messiah is a title and it's a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ."

Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew took note that the child will be growing up in Cocke County, the home of many Tennessee Christians: "It could put him at odds with a lot of people and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is," Ballew explained.

In fact, the judge ordered that the boy's name will be "Martin."

At least, that's settled.

I guess little Marty doesn't mind, at this point, I guess "Martin" won't put him at odds with too many people….

Speaking of odds, I bet you didn't know that 387 baby boys were named "Messiah" last year in the United States.  I wonder how many of them live in Tennessee?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Higher health insurance rates for smokers says that 58% of Americans think smokers should pay higher health insurance rates.

I think so too.

The interesting point here is that 42% of Americans don't think smokers should pay higher rates for health insurance…even among non-smokers, 1 out of 3 aren't in favor of making smokers pay more.

I don't get that.

Smokers get sick more than non-smokers. Smokers make a choice every time they light up (and I know it's hard to quit, but it's doable, I did it).

About 19% of Americans smoke. Tobacco should be taxed much more than it's taxed now, and smokers should pay more for the health insurance that, statistically speaking, they're going to need to use a lot more health care than non-smokers use.

We have to start deliberately doing more sensible things to make our health care better and more affordable for everyone.

And all Americans should pay their fair share for health insurance.

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.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Colonial sex manual

Well, it's a bit of a stretch, but I guess you have to admit that books about sex have been published ever since we started having books, so I guess this seemed like a no-brainer in 1766 in the American colonies:

A Boston publisher brought out "Aristotle's Complete Master-Piece," the 30th edition of a bestseller first sold in London in 1684.

Never mind that the use of Aristotle's name was simply marketing hype – there's nothing in the book from the Greek master.

Never mind that this "Treasure of Health" was not a paragon of accuracy or medical common sense – it cautioned that man and wife in flagrante delicto should not look at monsters, or hairy creatures, or the like, for fear of begetting a monstrous child….

Never mind that the wood-cut illustrations of the naked human form, and "those nobler parts" thereof, are not likely to remind any sweaty, curious teenager of the visual fare available today in your average Playboy issue….

Never mind that, even if you let your mind wander, you can't imagine Francis Ford Coppola's great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather buying the film rights to "Master-Piece" and turning out "Last Tango in Boston"....

Sex manuals are published because people want to know about it, always have, always will.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The wisdom of Christopher Morley

"A Man of Feeling…"
Journalist, novelist

Morley once contributed a few words to an advertisement for Leary's Book Store in Philadelphia:

"…Why do the literary journals say so little in honor of man's only nirvana, the Secondhand Bookstore?...A Man of Feeling always frequents the secondhanders."

Exactly. I find that I am never annoyed by spending another few minutes in an old bookstore where there are used books stacked floor to ceiling….

If that makes me a "Man of Feeling," well, yes, I plead guilty.

Sadly, Leary's—despite Morley's kind words—closed its doors in 1969.

Requiescat in pace.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The wisdom of Charlie Brown

"I only dread one day at a time."
Charlie Brown (b. October 2, 1950)

Mostly, this is a word balloon from the mouth of a comic strip character, more or less a joke….

If it seems like good advice to you, I hope you have loving friends and family nearby…..

First Peanuts comic strip

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Drug "deals" in Major League Baseball….

OK, I'm not a sports fan. I didn't even know which team Alex Rodriguez plays for until I had to wade through the news announcements today.

So, let's see: A-Rod and 12 other players were suspended by Major League Baseball for using "performance-enhancing drugs." The 12 players who accepted their punishment were suspended for 50 games, essentially for the rest of this regular season.

Rodriguez was suspended through the end of next year's season, a total of 211 games. He'll appeal, so he can continue to play.

Rodriguez admitted four years ago that he had used drugs. I'm guessing that no one thinks he's innocent this time.

I'm also guessing that tens of millions of baseball fans are just completely fed up with the repeated exposure of players who use steroids and other drugs, making a mockery of personal athletic prowess and team performance as well.

I'm guessing that, right now, those millions of dispirited and angry fans are vowing that they're going to boycott their favorite teams' games—no ball park tickets, no Sunday afternoon TV marathons—for the next 50 games.

I'm guessing that this boycott frenzy will be all over the news, any day now….