Monday, June 30, 2014


If you’re a parent or a grandparent, you know what I’m talking about:

The binky, that thingie that seemingly calms the infant, the squirmer, the squaller, for a while at least….

You probably don’t know how it got its name.

Originally called a “baby comforter,” the pacifier as we know it was invented in 1901 to replace the rags, wooden beads, and “gum sticks” made of stone, bone or coral, all the stuff that anxious parents had been using since at least the 16th century.

In the 1940s, a very popular brand was manufactured by the Binky Baby Products Company of New York, and….you guessed it….

By the way, some experts advise that you stop binky-fying your child at the age of 3.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

“I can see my neighbor’s chimney smoke….”

“I can see my neighbor’s chimney smoke….”

If you’re of the committed liberal political stripe, you could probably say that with some satisfaction.

If you’re strapped in to conservative political views, not so much….

The Pew Research Center says 8 out of 10 “consistent liberals” say they’d like to live in a community with smaller houses and cozier lot sizes, and with schools and restaurants within walking distance….that is, life on a neighborly scale….

Only 2 out of 10 “consistent conservatives” say they’d go for that.

OK, puh-tay-toe, puh-tah-toe, you know….

Still, the neighborly approach really appeals to me.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Lake Wobegon at the VA

A report yesterday on revealed that every one of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ 470 senior executives has been rated “outstanding” or “fully successful” at least once in the last four years, and most of them got one of these top two ratings in multiple years.

Last year, almost 80% of the VA’s senior execs were rated “outstanding” or “fully successful.” About two-thirds of them got bonuses.

In the last four years, none of the senior VA honchos received either of the lowest two performance ratings, not one of them, not once.

It's a miracle. Seems every one of them is above average....

This report says as much about a big organization like the VA as it says about the egregious failure of darn near everyone everywhere to implement a performance evaluation system that actually evaluates widely varying performance, instead of simply forcing supervisors to complete the hated chore of doing a once-a-year gloss of their subordinates' work performance that disguises the identify of all the poor performers.

This report also is another stupefying example of top executives being allowed to claim that "bonuses are vital to hiring and retention" without having to prove it. Of course, that claim can't be proved, because it's not true. 

No bonus plan has ever been shown to materially improve discriminating selection of "the best candidates" or "retention of the high performers." You know, it's the old "every Little Leaguer gets a trophy" mindset....

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The KKK?....wha?

Of course you know it’s not over yet.

But did you know that there are at least 160 active chapters, under various names, of the Ku Klux Klan?

Only a few states don’t have at least one. It’s not like the Klan is popular— reports that the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates nationwide membership is roughly 5,000-8,000.

But also mentions the obvious: “the KKK isn't some silly relic of the past, but still real and potentially dangerous in many places around the US.

Of course you know it’s not over yet.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Everyone should vote, maybe….

A columnist bravely called for universal participation at the polls in a thoughtful piece yesterday….

….but I’m reminding myself that one often should be careful about what one wishes for….

Charles Blow makes his case that everyone should vote, in a starkly realistic piece about “voter frustration with Washington.”

I have believed for several years that America’s 238-year flirtation with republican democracy has been a very sad failure. In the past I too advocated 100% voter participation, even entertaining the Australian notion of levying a fine on folks who don’t vote.

But, lately, as I slowly understand more and more about the disinterest and disdain so many folks feel about politics and the social contract, I've begun to fear that the votes of all the apathetic, uninformed citizens might not produce the beneficial result that I optimistically imagined until a short while ago....

My optimism about democracy and the future of our democracy is getting pretty thin….

Monday, June 23, 2014

A random thought about refrigerator art….

I spotted this provocative little comment in a New York Times Book Review item on current books about raising children:

“Wait, I just put my kid’s painting on the fridge and said ‘I love it,’ not ‘I love you.’”

I don’t think you should necessarily look here for deep wisdom or a magic prescription for raising beautiful, smart, happy kids….

I do think it’s a potent reminder to talk directly to your kids, express your love directly, engage them directly as you and they live life on the run, remember that the refrigerator art is, in fact, mostly ugly, but loving your children is beautiful….

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Public confidence in Congress is down to 7%

It’s a new low – only 7% of Americans feel good about what Congress is doing.

When you think about it, what has the current Congress done this year that would move even 7% of adults to say “Good job”?

Who are this small minority who told the Gallup organization that they have “a great deal of confidence” or “quite a lot of confidence” in our senators and representatives in Washington?

Think about the expectations of this bunch of Americans who believe that the most “do nothing” Congress in history is right on the mark….

Why do we keep re-electing the people who refuse to do The People’s business?

Saturday, June 21, 2014


                                                      How much of “place” is

                                                         state of mind? How much is “I”?

                                                            I am here. I am.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The wisdom of T. S. Eliot

“The naming of cats is a difficult matter.
               It isn’t just one of your holiday games.”

Poet, essayist, playwright, critic

My trusted personal advisor reminds me that Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is the basis for the runaway hit musical “Cats.”

But I don’t think Eliot gets much credit for “Cats.”

Indeed, the justly famous poet’s idiosyncratic views on naming domesticated felines are little known, I think.

Indeed, hardly ever mentioned.

Puss is not pleased.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Jindal goes berserker against Common Core

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has some bad news for the unfortunate under-educated kids of the Pelican State.

He’s trying to unilaterally withdraw his state from participating in the Common Core educational standards and associated standardized testing.

Never mind that Jindal helped bring the Common Core and standard tests to Louisiana in 2010.

Never mind that he’s been a fan since then.

Never mind that he was quoted just last spring by the U. S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, saying 
Common Core is a way to “raise expectations for every child.”

Never mind that the Louisiana state legislature supports Common Core, and the state’s Superintendent of Education said yesterday that his department would continue to implement Common Core as required by Louisiana law.

Never mind that the business community in Louisiana largely supports the Common Core initiative.

Never mind that Louisiana schoolchildren rank 44th in language arts achievement, compared with kids in the other 49 states, and Louisiana kids rank 46th in math achievement.

Oh, have you heard? Jindal’s running for president….

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Too many millionaires?

Does the world need 16 million millionaires?

Around the world last year, men and women in 2.6 million households joined the ranks of millionaires for the first time.

That’s an increase of almost 20%. And that’s just counting financial assets, not including real estate.

The Boston Consulting Group says there are now more than 7 million U. S. households that include a millionaire. Almost 5 million of them have more than $100 million in financial wealth.

You know, you can’t really spend $100 million in any meaningful way. In fact, most very wealthy folks don’t 
spend much of their money.

I think it’s because they have too much money.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Some people have too much money (part 8)

Maybe you missed this news item:

Last year 25 of the principal U. S. hedge fund managers gave themselves a 50% pay increase—they took home about $21 billion.

Never mind that their hedge funds overall didn’t do nearly as well as the general stock market, for the fifth year in a row.

Never mind that these 25 hedge fund honchos paid themselves more than the annual payroll of New York City’s 200,000 public school teachers.

Never mind the subpar returns for the investors who ponied up $2.7 trillion for these robber barons to manage.

The highest paid hedge fund manager paid himself $3.5 billion. He’s not worth it.

Some people have too much money.

Congress at least should revoke the tax break that lets hedge fund managers pay a special low tax rate on this shamefully undeserved income.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

New life

Of course, it's a Norman Rockwell....

New life: new neighbors,

   new doctor, new wine store….and

      new joys to welcome….

Friday, June 13, 2014

Not too disgusting for words….

There have been 74 school shootings since the killings in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School  in Newtown, CT.

That’s about one every week.

Our elected leaders at the state level have done damn little to stop the carnage, and our elected leaders in Congress have done nothing.

It’s not too disgusting for words.

Try these words.

Imagine 20 dead kids sprawled on the floors, with bloody bullet holes in their little bodies.

Imagine yourself letting this happen again, and again.

We're going to let this happen unless we start doing something different.

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

Too many guns.

Too many dead people.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Cantor’s backers stayed home….

Democracy isn’t working too well in Virginia's 7th Congressional District.

Nearly everybody in the 7th didn't vote on Tuesday for David Brat to be their congressman.

And I’m pretty sure that most of Eric Cantor's supporters stayed home.

Too bad for the 757,917 people of this suburban Richmond district. I think it’s a good bet that most of them really don’t want either guy to be their guy in Congress.

The thing is, less than 12 per cent of the Virginians eligible to vote turned out for the Republican primary election that resulted in the shocking defeat of the incumbent Cantor, who is the Republican majority leader in the House.

Brat stomped all over Cantor, with almost 56 per cent of the vote.

But gee whiz, Brat only got 36,110 votes.                           

Barely more than 6 per cent of the folks who can vote in this solidly Republican district turned out to pick David Brat as the GOP candidate.

This is not democracy at work.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What are we learning here?

I voted for President Obama twice, so this isn’t ritualized Obama-bashing….

The recent presidential headlines about making it easier to repay student loans are obscuring some of the basic facts and basic problems:

F’rinstance, way too many students with student loans don’t have degrees, because they didn’t finish their programs.

Way too many students have burdensome student loan obligations because they overpaid for their college degrees.

And, anyway, apparently most of the 37 million Americans who have student debt didn’t learn enough at college to be able to pay attention to the government’s high profile efforts and take advantage of easier loan repayment terms.

The “Pay As You Earn” program that lets borrowers cap repayments at 10% of discretionary income has been around for a couple years, but only about 4% of the nation’s borrowers have signed up for it. More than 35 million Americans with student loans haven’t taken advantage of the easier payment/forgiveness benefits.

NPR says too many borrowers don’t even know about the program. I can’t explain that one to you….

NPR also says—no surprise—that loan servicers, including the quasi-government Sallie Mae and other private financial companies, have little incentive to promote any loan payment adjustment option because it reduces their servicing fee revenue. It seems that some of the servicers make it difficult for borrowers to reduce their interest rates and repayment schedules. I think I can explain that one to you….

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

More Iowa Poll silliness

Shame on the Iowa Des Moines Register and the Iowa Poll for peddling nonsense from the latest iteration of the poll.

The newspaper and its pollster reported in great detail on their survey about almost a dozen possible 2016 Republican presidential candidates, without mentioning that the survey results are technically meaningless.

Selzer & Co., the pollster, interviewed 400 Republicans who “planned to vote” in the June 3 primary in Iowa. Hardly a credible sample frame, for starters….

Selzer reported the survey had a margin of error of plus/minus 4.9 percentage points.

OK, so here’s the up-front problem: nearly all of the different survey results—for “favorability” and “most electable” and so on—for most of the 11 candidates are with the range of the margin of error, meaning that the only honest interpretation of the findings is “we can’t say there’s any reliable difference between the candidates.”

Technically, based on these poll findings, there are no obvious frontrunners. With a margin of error of 4.9 points, any two results less than 9.9 percentage points apart do not legitimately represent any real difference.

And by the way: the news release I saw made no mention of the computerized statistical “weighting” that pollsters must do these days to even pretend that they’re reporting results from a satisfactory random sample, which of course they aren’t because no pollster can reach a true random sample these days. All political survey results are adjusted and privately cooked by the pollsters to make the results seem more reasonable—but the “weighting” makes them less reliable.

Monday, June 9, 2014


So many ways we

   feel at home without knowing,

      yet, every new way….

But, I mean....

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014 All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Gay marriage….even in North Dakota

OK, seven couples in North Dakota have sued to overturn the state’s ban on gay marriage….it’s about time.

North Dakota was the last state whose law against gay marriage had not yet been challenged in court.

Now, every state in the union allows gay marriage, or is awaiting adjudication of legal objections to its ban.

As reports, no state law against gay marriage has survived a court test since last summer, when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated parts of the Defense of Marriage Act and extended federal recognition to gay marriages.

The North Dakota plaintiffs say “Without any legitimate governmental interest, North Dakota has targeted a minority of individuals for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

Let’s keep this public dialog real personal: people who love each other should be able to get married. What kind of satisfaction does anyone get from making that impossible? If you're against gay marriage, how does that make your life better?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Take it or leave it….?

Actually, there is no “take it” part in this library, and the “leave it” part is fairly obvious….

….and you never have to worry about overdue fines, either….

Guilty, guilty, guilty....

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014 All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

“The Graduate,” 2014 version….no job, big debt

You're a proud, new college graduate.

You walk across the stage, get your sheepskin from the college prez, smile into Mom's iPhone, and start wondering how you're going to repay almost $30,000 in student loans….

The Chronicle of Higher Education says about 75% of students who graduated from four-year colleges last year had student loans averaging $29,400.

Twenty years ago only half of college graduates had a student loan burden, and their loans averaged only $9,000.

CHE also says that doctoral-degree recipients took on additional debt, averaging more than $14,000—up 70% from 10 years ago.

And, relentlessly, the typical cost of college has climbed nearly 30% in the last five years, as the country struggled to recover from the 2008 financial collapse.

But the conventional wisdom says it’s worth it, right?

Sure, everybody assumes there's still a big career payoff for getting a college degree. A lot of recent grads with no job are waiting for that payoff to start coming true….

And let's keep this in mind: a large majority of those students also got financial aid from their colleges.

Much of the financial aid comes from alumni: current gifts from living alumni, and earnings from endowments created by departed alums.

I'm starting to question the wisdom of relying on alumni for continuing financial support to subsidize current college students.

I've been a loyal alumni giver, and I've already “repaid” my long-ago college financial aid several times over, so I think I have some high ground here….

I question the current high cost of college. I question the aptitude of many current students to do high quality work in college, and I question the grade inflation that is oh so evident. I question the mantra that a liberal arts education is good—necessary—for everyone. For many career tracks, I question the need to spend four whole years at college getting ready to work.

Despite my love for my alma mater, and my personal deep passion for the lifelong benefits of a liberal arts education, and my impulse to write a check to help a needy, deserving student—I'm slowly choking on my reluctant suspicion that I've been throwing my money away….

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The first children’s book—a bestseller in Latin

I’m a Dr. Seuss fan, and Richard Scarry books are first rate, and “llama llama red pajama” gets curtain calls from the kids I know….   

Someday soon I’m going to try this 17th century blockbuster on them:

Orbis Sensualium Pictus (often called Orbis Pictus) by John Amos Comenius, the pioneering Moravian educator who was one of the earliest advocates of universal education for boys and girls. mentions that, after its publication in 1658, Orbis Pictus became the most popular elementary textbook in Europe.

It begins with a sentence that sets the tone for this transparently didactic work: “Come, boy, learn to be wise.” It contains about 150 woodcut pictures that illustrate scenes from everyday life in the late 17th century: tending gardens, brewing beer, butchering animals, etc. There are lengthy sections on philosophical and religious themes.

Comenius wrote this durably spectacular book in Latin. Obviously it was meant to be read by educated folks who could retell and pass on its guidance for everyday life and its instruction for the good life.

Maybe not as much fun as The Cat in the Hat, but, it was a start.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Finally: kids getting involved in global climate change politics

Kids in all 50 states have sued the EPA and several federal departments for “failure . . . to confront human-made climate change.”

It’s about time.

The federal suit is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D. C. Circuit, and supporting lawsuits have been filed in every state by five teenagers, WildEarth Guardians and Kids vs. Global Warming.

The legal action declares: “The welfare of youth is directly affected by the failure of government to confront human-made climate change, and unless the government acts immediately to rapidly reduce carbon emissions ... youth will face irrevocable harm: the collapse of natural resource systems and a largely uninhabitable nation.”

In part, it’s based on the “public trust” doctrine, which mandates that government must safeguard resources that are necessary for the survival of future generations.

This planet is the only one our grandchildren will have to live on.

Let’s start now to reduce our use of coal, and to reduce the impact of global climate change and global warming.