Saturday, November 30, 2013

Butterballs around!

I have an idea: the Walton family (hint: they own Walmart) could have brightened the Thanksgiving holiday for all of their employees—many of whom had to work on Thursday—by offering a turkey to every family of a Walmart worker.

I feel safe in assuming the turkey giveaway would have been welcomed in almost all of those Walmart homes….see, here's the thing: the company recently organized an in-house food drive, asking its employees to donate food for their less fortunate co-workers.

Walmart has 1.4 million American employees. Some of them probably wouldn't want a turkey, even a free one....and probably there are some families with more than one family member on the Walmart payroll.

Just for round numbers, let's say 1 million Walmart households would have welcomed a free turkey from the Waltons. Let's say you could get a heckuva nice bird for $15. So, for a measly $15 million, the Waltons could have made history by putting a turkey in every oven….

A little perspective: the Walton family members are worth almost $150 billion. Here's how the turkey spree would have worked out for them: they could have divided all their money into 10,000 equal piles of about $15 million each, used one of the piles to buy the turkeys, and kept the other 9,999 piles.

I think there would have been smiles all around. I think it's a nice thought.


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Friday, November 29, 2013

Don't supersize me….

Turns out, average-size American men and women can't find anything that fits in Lululemon and Abercrombie & Fitch stores, and the average-size lady can't find a stitch to wear in J. Crew.

A recent piece on Yahoo Finance cites the Center for Disease Control, and mentions that the average red-blooded American guy is about 5' 9" weighing in at 196 pounds with a 40-inch waist.

Average lady: 5' 4" at 166 pounds with a 37.5-inch waist.

Shop where you wish….but shop where you fit.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Do unto others….

"I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way.
      I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house,
            we had an enormous feast,
                  and then I killed them and took their land."

Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz "Jon Stewart" (b. 1962)

Yeah, it's the dark side of the Pilgrims' saga…..

Stewart says in a sort of funny way what many of us never knew or maybe just don't think about too much….

In fact, most of the First Peoples on the Atlantic coast in the 17th century weren't killed by Europeans in battle…..rather, they were struck down by the diseases the new arrivals brought to America.

Within a generation or two after first contact with Europeans, 90% of the mis-named "Indians" were dead.

That's one of the reasons why successive waves of new colonists thought North America was "an empty  paradise"—most of the people who had already lived there weren't there any more.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Health care reform, let's keep it moving

The Gallup organization says almost 25% of Americans believe that high cost "is the most urgent health problem facing the U.S. today."

This isn't a blow-me-away shocker. Have you looked at anyone's hospital bill lately?

No, the real headline for this report is that access to health care (essentially, this means having health care insurance) is no longer the top concern of Americans. It had been for the last six years.

The percentage of Americans concerned about access to health care has dropped from almost 30% in 2007, to about 16% now.

Most Americans want better, more cost-effective health care, and Obamacare is a step in the right direction.

Everyone in America gets health care now—even if it's a wretched minimum in emergency rooms—and everyone should pay for health insurance (the "personal mandate")….

Doctors should be paid mostly for keeping people well, not for prescribing tests….

The Social Security administration should start negotiating on drug prices with the nation's drug 

Let's keep working on it….

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The personal journey of John Boehner

So, a story about Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), Speaker of the House, a most lamentable public figure, the tempest-buffeted conductor of the merry-go-round formerly known as the U.S. House of Representatives….

He's come full circle in a personal way….

We have the Affordable Care Act—OK, even President Obama calls it Obamacare now…

In the 44 months since Obamacare was approved as the law of the land, Boehner has led the Republican-controlled House to vote 46 times to limit, defund or repeal it. All impotent, doctrinaire outrage, of course…

A couple days ago Boehner signed up on for an Obamacare health insurance policy.

Hope he makes sure all his friends in the House know about this.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Shop at Kmart. Put turkey in oven. Bake pie.

Goodbye, Black Friday. Hello, Black Thursday.

So, Kmart is leading the pack. Opening at 6 am on THURSDAY, Thanksgiving Day.

So, you can switch off the alarm, run out to do some quick Christmas shopping at Kmart as the sun is rising, then rush home to put that big bird in the oven and start getting ready for brother Freddie and the kids who always come to your house for turkey and pumpkin pie….

And you can sleep in on Black Friday morning….

Why are the stores doing this?

The quick, easy, wrong answer is they're "serving the customer."

I think a more accurate answer is they don't know what else to do, and opening earlier and earlier is easy to do in their pell-mell quest for more Christmas sales, and yeah, it disrespects their employees but so what?

One commentator on Yahoo Finance notes that conspicuously profitable stores like Nordstrom and Costco are conspicuously NOT going to open on Turkey Day.

Why do many retailers endlessly persist in presuming that if they open more and more stores, and stay open for earlier and longer hours, their customers will spend more money in "my" store and spend less in "other" stores?

Think about your favorite store, and your main reasons for shopping there—is "store hours" high on your list? I think your average consumers pretty much have a Christmas shopping budget, and a limit, and WHEN they spend it is mostly irrelevant.

If  you're a Kmart shopper, are you going to spend more at Kmart this holiday season because you get a chance to stuff your cart and blow some cash at 6 am on Thursday morning before you start stuffing the bird?

Your average retail marketing VP is always looking for a proprietary, low risk, high profit, niche-creating, customer-loyalty-building gimmick to boost sales….and mostly they end up settling for the tired, easily duplicated, high profile, low payoff stunts that stir the revenue pot and don't do much else.

If you're in line at Kmart at 5 am next Thursday, you don't have to save a spot for me….

Friday, November 22, 2013

The wisdom of Bernard Baruch

"There is only one thing wrong with the younger generation:
               some of us don't belong to it anymore."

Bernard Baruch (1870-1965)

See, if you're one of THEM, you might feel a bit uppity even if you don't fully understand why….

But if you're one of THEM, you might feel a bit disinterested even if you really want to care about it….

When you're young, it can be hard to imagine being old….
            but don't spend too much time on it.

When you're old, it can be a gift to remember being young….
            but don't spend too much time on it.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Health care: we can do it better….

I'm sick of this website fiasco.....President Obama has failed to keep the focus on the real story line: we're taking real (OK, real baby) steps forward to improve health care in America, and more and more people are getting health insurance, and more steps forward are needed.

Of course the whole rollout/website have big problems. Do the words "stupid," "blundering" come to mind?....

But that's a's not the issue.....and it's not the public policy.

I wish the politicians and the insurance companies and the news media and the cable TV talking heads would do more to explain the Affordable Care Act, and help people to sign up, instead of squabbling with or cheering for the contestants, and throwing eggs at them....

Americans want better, more accessible, more cost-effective health care….and everyone should pay for health insurance….that's the story.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dancing the night away....

Yep, dogs were wolves.

OK, so you probably think you already know this: way back in history, there were no dogs, but there were some wolves who evolved to become dogs.

Now some scientists have nailed it down a bit: a journal report (Science) says a massive study of dog and wolf DNA confirms that some kinder, gentler wolves in Europe started to become dog-like between 19,000 and 32,000 years ago. In terms of geologic, evolutionary time frames, that's a few days before yesterday….

The dog is the first animal to be domesticated by men and women. Some scientists suggest that some wolves—maybe they were wimpy, maybe more friendly, maybe they liked the smell of phosphatherium bacon—made repeated contact with Cro-Magnon types, maybe it was the macho C-M bunch who got a kick out of throwing a bone to the wolves prowling in the flashing shadows of the campfire….maybe man and wolf started sharing a kill here or there, maybe the wolves started sounding off when the nasty marauding tribe or the predators came too near….

Or, maybe, maybe, there was some wolf pack with a jones for dancing, and the brutes just didn't know how to do it, and they spotted this Cro-Magnon guy groovin' in the field, and….

Monday, November 18, 2013

Just say "I don't know"….

A week ago 51 economists "surveyed" by the Bloomberg organization got the monthly jobs "forecast" spectacularly wrong. Off the mark by 50%. Wrong ballpark.

The U.S. economy added 204,000 jobs in October—the collective guess of the clueless wonks was 120,000.
Notice I said "guess," although Bloomberg called it a "survey" and the (always unnamed) economists called it a "forecast."

The economists are always wrong. Their average guess is always wrong. Individually, they're always wrong.

Why do Bloomberg and the news media and the cable TV talking heads keep reporting the useless advance guesses of the 51 guessers who are always wrong?

What's the fascination with trying to know the number one week or one day or one hour before the official report, when we all know that it's impossible to reliably forecast it?

Why do we want to keep fooling ourselves that we know it in advance?

We turn now to a Bloomberg panel of 51 eminent psychologists and sociologists….

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pssst! Act like a little kid. Pass it on.

A stunning bit of research shows that three-year-old kids smile about 300 times a day!

….if I spent a whole day with a three-year-old, I'd want to see every single one of 'em!

But, here's the thing: the same research says your average old man smiles only about three times a day….

Something going on here….life shouldn't be a process of forgetting how to smile.

Old men of the world, unite!

Start acting like three-year-old kids again!

Friday, November 15, 2013

The wisdom of the Iroquois

"In your actions and in your conversation do no idle thing."

Wisdom of the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy

I don't think this doesn't mean "don't rest" or "don't take it easy" or "stick to business" or any superficial stricture implying that one should be busy all the time….

Rather, I think it means you should strive to act and talk with passion, ambition, pleasure, pride, compassion, delight, generosity, love, introspection, fairness, good humor….everything that motivates your life in a way that seeks and shares a bountiful existence….

….especially when you are alone, and especially when you are with others.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The wisdom of Albert Einstein (part 2)

"If I had an hour to solve a problem,
          I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem
                   and 5 minutes thinking about solutions."

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

See, sometimes it isn't the problem that's the problem….

Sometimes we start to squabble about competing solutions before we agree on what the problem is.

We could use a standard problem-solving technique: no discussion of solutions is allowed until each person can state the problem in a way that satisfies everyone else.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bad boys and girls don't blush, I guess….

The latest report says that only 9% of Americans approve the way Congress is "handling its job."

Yup, it's the lowest approval rating recorded in the 39 years Gallup has been asking the question.

We all know why.

Does anyone in D.C. feel embarrassed by this, on the record?

I mean, heck, even when they were dead, Bonnie and Clyde were more popular than Congress…..

I'm waiting for my congressman to admit that he feels the heat of the 91% who think that Congress, well, you know, sucks….

Why do we keep re-electing the people who won't do The People's business?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Cpl. Frank Buckles (1901-2011), R. I. P.

Join me in belatedly saying "Thank you" to Frank Buckles.

Cpl. Buckles was the last surviving American veteran of World War I when he died in his West Virginia home on Feb. 27, 2011. He was 110 years old. At the time of his death, there were only two other confirmed WWI veterans alive in the world, both of them British.

Buckles was an American hero. The teenage corporal was an Army ambulance driver in Europe during the "Great War" which ended with an armistice at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

After the war, he began a career as a merchant ship captain. It was interrupted in World War II when he was captured by the Japanese and held prisoner of war for more than three years.

He's buried in Arlington National Cemetery with other American heroes.

I gratefully and respectfully salute Frank and all men and women who have served their country in the armed forces.

Veterans Day began as "Armistice Day," which was proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson on November 11, 1919, to honor those who served in World War I.

In 1954, Congress changed the name of the holiday to "Veterans Day," and officially broadened its scope to honor all Americans who have worn the uniform.

Just for the record:

About 4,272,500 Americans served in World War I, including 204,000 who were wounded and more than 116,000 who died in the combat zone.

To all of them:
Requiescat in pace.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The seas are getting hotter and higher

Here's more detail on the dangerous facts of global climate change and global warming:

Most of the additional heat—it's mostly man-made—is going into the oceans all over the planet.

This latest report, by Phil Plait on, says 93% of the increased heat is warming and expanding the seas, so they're getting higher. Sea levels are rising.

Do any of these facts sound like good news?

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

It's the only planet our grandchildren will live on.

We need to do more to mediate the worsening and dangerous effects of global climate change.

Let's start doing something about it right now.

If you're not going to do something about it, you're not going to do anything about it.

Friday, November 8, 2013

America: fat and getting fatter says almost 63% of American adults are "overweight" or "obese"….and getting fatter.

Recent findings from yearlong surveying by Gallup show that 27% of adults are "obese," based on the Body Mass Index (BMI) calculation, and that figure is up 1 percentage point from last year. More than 35% of Americans are "overweight."

You can get your own BMI at this National Institutes of Health website.

Example: if you are 5 feet 10 inches tall and you weigh 209 pounds, you are clinically obese….drop 1 pound and you move into the "overweight" category.

At that height, you'd have to get your weight down to 173 to avoid being classified as "overweight."

Those are startling numbers. Makes me want to remember to avoid blurting "Super-size me" the next time I'm in a McDonald's….

Here's the scoop on the Gallup report:

Gallup and Healthways began tracking Americans' weight in 2008. The 2013 data are based on more than 141,000 interviews conducted from Jan. 1 through Oct. 28, as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Individual BMI values of 30 or above are classified as "obese," 25 to 29.9 are "overweight," 18.5 to 24.9 are "normal weight," and 18.4 or less are "underweight."

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Virginia polls were wrong! End of story….

The news media and the cable TV talking heads and the pundits (how does one acquire punditry?) are sending up a lot of smoke signals about Terry McAuliffe's "surprising" narrow win Tuesday in the Virginia governor race. I think there's not much more than smoke involved here….

The standard commentary is all shock and awe, comparing McAuliffe's 3-percentage-point win (48% to 45% for Cuccinelli) to the pre-election polling that had McAuliffe ahead by as much as 12 percentage points. The standard observation is that McAuliffe "didn't do as well as expected" and stuff like that….

I think I can explain much of the sensationalized discrepancy between the actual voting and the campaign polling results:

The polls were wrong. The survey techniques were questionable, and there was arbitrary tweaking of the data before results were published.

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

The pollsters got it wrong in Virginia….they're going to get it wrong in the next election, too.

The news media and the cable TV talking heads should examine and explain the candidates' platforms and the campaign issues, and stay away from the destructively faulty polls. Why do they think we need to know in advance who's going to win?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The dark side of election results

Well, some of the people have spoken in New Jersey and Virginia elections, but this ain't democracy, folks.

Point: Gov. Christie handily won re-election in New Jersey with almost 61% of the vote….but only 18% of eligible Garden State voters cast their ballots for him….and 70% of adults in New Jersey didn't bother to vote.

Point: Democrat Terry McAuliffe beat Republican Ken Cuccinelli for the governor's mansion in Virginia with 48% of the vote….but only 13% of eligible Old Dominion voters cast their ballots for McAuliffe….and 65% of adults in Virginia didn't bother to go to the polls.

We're in trouble.

These were two sensationally publicized political races, and, in both states, a huge majority of folks who are old enough to vote couldn't give a rat's asterisk about actually bothering to do so.

And a huge number of those stay-at-homes are going to complain in the next four years about what their state government is or is not doing…

This ain't democracy, folks.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Time out for America's pastime.…

The "Babe" in his heyday

Major League Baseball's World Series TV ratings have dropped to only one-third of what they were in the mid-1960s.

Only about 9% of U.S. households tuned in to the latest Red Sox-Cardinals extravaganza.

I wonder what percent of households have Grand Theft Auto V ?