Friday, February 28, 2014

It’s actually hard to hate your neighbors….

Psychologist Daniel Goleman recently gave some clues about the perhaps surprising fact that it’s rather difficult to hate your neighbors because it’s so easy to see the ways in which they seem to be pretty much like you.

On the other hand, disdain or condescension or indifference or plain hatred aren’t too hard to conjure up when you thinking about or talking about people you never see face to face.

Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, says, for instance, “A growing body of recent research shows that people with the most social power pay scant attention to those with little such power.” A big part of the reason is that the powerful elite don’t see much of the bourgeoisie, or the hoi polloi, or the great unwashed, or the “little people.”

He says although “. . . research finds that the poor, compared with the wealthy, have keenly attuned interpersonal attention in all directions, in general, those with the most power in society seem to pay particularly little attention to those with the least power.” Out of sight, out of mind. Very wealthy folks don’t usually encounter the poor in a meaningful way, and so “rich people just care less” about less fortunate human beings.

The research of Thomas F. Pettigrew, research professor of social psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, finds that “even in areas where ethnic groups were in conflict and viewed one another through lenses of negative stereotypes, individuals who had close friends within the other group exhibited little or no such prejudice. They seemed to realize the many ways those demonized ‘others’ were ‘just like me.’ ”

This research reinforces earlier studies showing that living in mixed neighborhoods, with a range of ethnic, racial and socio-economic attributes, tends to minimize racist and discriminatory attitudes among the residents who share the space.

It’s not impossible to hate your neighbors, but people tend to mellow when they’re up close and personal….

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Rep. Camp’s “tax reform” a charade….

Federal tax reform that doesn’t bring in any more tax revenue is a joke.

That’s just what Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) has proposed this week with his ultra mysterious revelation of the biggest tax overhaul proposal in three decades.

And by the way, every Republican leader in Congress has already declared that Camp’s tax package has approximately zero chance of being officially debated, let alone being actually passed, before the November elections. You know, Congress is all about getting re-elected right now, there isn’t much governing going on.

And anyway, here’s the thing:

First-pass analysis of Camp’s comprehensive “tax reform” bill indicates that, after it cuts personal and corporate tax rates (reducing taxes owed) and eliminates scads of personal and corporate tax deduction (increasing taxes owed), this public policy disaster will INCREASE OVERALL FEDERAL TAX REVENUE BY ONLY ABOUT $3 BILLION DURING THE NEXT DECADE.

I know, $3 billion is a lot of money to you and me, but $3 billion is more or less peanuts when we think about the money we need to spend for infrastructure repairs, environmental cleanup and protection, education, health care, national defense…..

What happened to all the talk about “reducing the national deficit” and “reducing the national debt”?

We can’t put our national government and our national economy on sounder footing without spending more money, and that means raising taxes. I know it. You know it. We’re not going to “fix” the national debt by sending some welfare cheats, and some Social Security cheats, and some corporate bad guys to jail.

This “tax reform” proposal is a charade.

It’s a talking point for politicians who are heading out on the campaign trail.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The wisdom of Edmund Burke (part 3)

More thoughtful reflections by Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
Irish politician, author, political theorist, a Whig who supported the American Revolution

Take a minute and read Edmund Burke’s 18th century disquisition (below) on the political and social foundations of government and human society.

He outlines the conditions for a successful civil society, very unselfconsciously, I think, without realizing that he is clarifying the principal reasons that civil society can never be really successful.

Burke acknowledges the need for “moral chains” to curb human appetites, and suppress human “rapacity,” and ignore “the flattery of knaves.”

His conception of the “men of intemperate minds” expresses clearly the systemic defect in our popular conception of modern democracy.

Sadly, there aren’t enough men of good will to permanently overcome the debilitating effects of the widespread lack of self-imposed civic obligation to nurture the common good, as well as personal benefits and prejudices.

“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites, — in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity, — in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption, — in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves."  
Edmund Burke, 1791

Monday, February 24, 2014

“ . . . Take heart with the day . . . “

“ . . . Take heart with the day and begin again.”

Sarah Chauncey Woolsey (1835-1905)
American poet and writer of children’s books

Maybe you’re like me and you never heard of “Susan Coolidge.” That was the nom de plume of Sarah Chauncey Woolsey, a New England socialite who died more than 100 years ago.

She was a nurse during the Civil War, and thereafter commenced her prolific writing career, notably as the author of several “What Katy did . . .” books for kids.

Perhaps her poetry is under-appreciated. It certainly was by me.

I like this excerpt from “New Every Morning,” written in the 19th century:

“Every day is a fresh beginning,
  Listen my soul to the glad refrain.
  . . . Take heart with the day and begin again.”

I spotted it on the blog A Year Of Being Here

Sunday, February 23, 2014

. . . long may it wave!

The good news is that, by law, henceforth the Pentagon must buy American flags from American companies that actually make the flags in America.

The bad news is that this wasn't true until now.

The other bad news is that our government is the single largest purchaser of clothing made outside the United States, and that includes military uniforms.

I’m not one of the folks who blindly argues “Buy American,” there’s way too much stuff we all need and want that isn’t made or grown in the United States, it really is a post-isolationist world as far as commerce goes.

But, by gosh, I do think I have a narrow-minded bias in favor of supplying our armed forces with uniforms, weapons and other stuff, including flags, from companies staffed by American workers.

Let’s agree that our men and women in uniform should see “Made in the U.S.A.” when they look at the labels on their shirts, and when they salute the flag.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Stockholder? Stakeholder? Bagholder?

No law requires a corporation to make as much profit as possible in the next quarter, or next year, or whenever.

In fact, a corporation isn’t legally required to be “profitable” an any particular quantifiable way.

Harold Meyerson put a fine point on this obscure fact a few days ago on

He threw cold water on the rather modern business buzz of “maximizing shareholder value,” in short, driving the price of the company’s stock ever higher.

Meyerson said:
“ . . . the fact is that there is no legal requirement for for-profit companies to maximize returns to shareholders. When a company is for sale, its directors are required to do all they can to maximize its value. 
At any other time, corporate law simply dictates that directors are supposed to help the company prosper and do nothing to benefit themselves at the company’s expense. But no law requires corporations to maximize returns to shareholders. Say a company would prosper by hiring more skilled but more costly workers, by building a new factory or outlet, by spending more on research and development — even if such actions reduce returns to shareholders in the next dividend payment. Those actions are entirely legal, not to mention existentially smart . . .”

The idea of “maximizing shareholder value” is not uniquely American, but in most other countries it is not viewed as a divinely inspired idea.

Meyerson of course makes the followup point: since Milton Friedman got the “maximize profits” ball rolling in 1970, American corporate leaders and corporate directors have twisted the idea into a popularly respectable coverup—for their greedy manipulation of stock prices and pay packages to give CEOs and directors and top execs those multi-million dollar pay packages. This ripoff is sometimes euphemistically called “shareholder capitalism,” but shareholders aren’t really the beneficiaries.

Meyerson sums up: “Shareholder capitalism is sustained not by law but by an institutional edifice of greed. The U.S. economy will not work again for the American people until they tear down that edifice.”

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ignorance spills over….

OK, the Bad News Bear reports that 1 out of 4 Americans don’t know that the Earth revolves around our sun.

I guess, in a way, we’re sort of talking about rocket science, but, hey, it’s not a complicated bit of knowledge.

The National Science Foundation surveyed 2,200 adults and reported that only 74% could correctly state that our favorite planet revolves around our favorite star.

Ptolemy was wrong
It seems to me it’s a fairly easy fact to learn, and there’s no big reason why anyone should forget it.

More than 85% of adults are high school graduates, so obviously a chunk of those folks didn’t pick up on the solar system basics while they were in school.

As we think about public policy, politics, public opinion and civic engagement, I think we have to keep in mind that there’s a lot of stuff that a lot of folks don’t know.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Movie review: "Jane Eyre" (1996)

Movie review: "Jane Eyre" (1996)
William Hurt, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Director: Franco Zeffirelli
Based on the book Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
112 minutes

A quick scan on turns up more than two dozen screen versions of Bronte’s classic Jane Eyre. This version, with a subdued William Hurt as Mr. Rochester, and a startling, demure Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane Eyre, is worth watching a second time.

If you’re reading this, you may think you know the story, and how it ends. Let’s agree on this: from our modern vantage point, if we discovered a previously unknown Charlotte Bronte novel, I don’t think it would be difficult to guess the general storyline and character development. Not to say that this makes Bronte uninteresting or unexceptional—I think you can best appreciate and enjoy Bronte if you know what you’re getting into, if you can bring an openness to deeply personal, individual human drama to your reading.

Any movie version is an abbreviation. I think this one brings Bronte’s protagonists to life in a steadily stronger crescendo of the tragic and fortuitous experiences of two lives that are, at first, on grimly divergent paths, and, finally, reach a happy convergence that literally strikes the sparks of love in the ashes of Thornfield Hall.

For me, the romance of Jane Eyre is, of course, the storybook love of Edward, master of Thornfield, and Jane, the governess, but the love story ebbs and flows, and, for me, there is a concurrent theme that is equally satisfying.

I am drawn to the stark reality of the separate lives of Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre, and their gritty willingness to endure that reality, even as they yearn and yearn for the improbably better lives that they profoundly imagine. Right up to very end, they don’t know how it’s going to turn out.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Your emoticon is really smiling….

OK, this seems a little bit like weird science. The white coat types at Flinders University in Australia say your brain is starting to think that this    :-)   sort of looks like a human face.

It’s an emoticon. Some of us who are the oldest members of the Baby Boomer generation may not have used it very much in our less-than-frenetic texting habits which possibly disqualify us from being fully wired, but we get it—it’s the keyboard version of a Smiley Face.

And now the folks at Flinders, who no doubt righteously determined that they had nothing better to do, have wired up 20 research subjects, and traced their brain activity as they looked at actual human faces and various emoticons including that one.

You guessed it. Our brains have a remarkably complex ability to recognize a face as a human face, and to recognize (identify) specific faces. It’s so tough to do this that the folks who care have only had marginal success in getting a computer to do it. The Flinders research shows that the occipitotemporal loci in the brain associated with human face recognition actually light up (albeit less intensely) when the subject looks at     :-)

And by the way, the research subjects did NOT tend to recognize the reverse image   (-:    as face-like.

Well, that’s the news from Australia.

"This is an entirely culturally-created neural response. It's really quite amazing,” said one of the scientists.

I say it’s not necessarily bad news or good news.

….and, umm, not really encouraging, I think…. I think you know what I’m thinking...    :-( 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

If it’s not hatred, what is it?

Two Republican senators are ramping up the right-wing crusade against gay people.

I’m pretty sure that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) know lots of people who are gay—all of us know lots of people who are gay. We may not actually know for sure about which ones are gay, but gay people are our family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers.

Cruz and Lee don’t want to give full human consideration and respect to gay people. Why? Is it hatred?

My dictionary defines hatred to be “intense dislike or ill will.”

I think it’s hatred.

Or, as my trusted personal advisor suggests, maybe it’s fear.

Either way, it ain't pretty. I don’t understand it.

Last week Cruz and Lee introduced the “State Marriage Defense Act” in the Senate.

The short version is: these elected representatives of all the people in their states want to restrict the federal government’s insistence that all individual states must recognize marriages that are legal in other states. The senators want to exalt an individual state’s right to deny marriage to two gay people who love each other.

Cruz and Lee are flaunting their doctrinaire bias against homosexuality. It ain’t pretty.

I wonder how many gay folks are personal friends, staffers or campaign workers for Cruz and Lee?

Imagine that you are one of them….

Friday, February 14, 2014

The wisdom of the Cherokees (part 30)

"A woodland path is good medicine for a weary walker…"

The wisdom of the Sequichie of the Cherokees

I can think of a woodland path whose bosky beauty invited me to feel a revived thrill of energy and solitary pleasure, as I silently listened to the music of the dell….

And this brief bit of Cherokee wisdom makes me think of Robert Frost’s "The Road Not Taken," you remember that one:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
. . . And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
. . . and I—I took the one less traveled by, . . .

Try not to look back after you take the fork in the road.
Mostly, it’s easier that way.

Some other thoughts:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The wisdom of Abraham Lincoln (part 11)

"A capacity, and taste, for reading, gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others.
It is the key, or one of the keys, to the already solved problems.
And not only so. It gives a relish, and facility, for successfully pursuing the unsolved ones."

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
16th President of the United States

I just like the quiet, full, erudite, confident exposition of this Lincoln gem, Old Abe was a wordsmith, no doubt about it.

He was a book lover and a confirmed reader.

If you relish les bons mots, if you get a little thrill when some reflective wisdom is expressed just so, then this is a curiously satisfying way of saying that there is a good alternative to spending another hour or two playing Grand Theft Auto V.

Some other thoughts:

Sunday, February 9, 2014

No, really, what's your name?

Here’s a pooch who’s more optimistic, probably, than you or I or the kid down the street would be if those were the familiar words heard every day….

OK, with a dog, maybe you need to repeat “Get down!” more often than you’d like.

With a person, with a child, invoke some humanity in yourself before you carelessly diminish it in someone else….

I recall that Joe Namath recalled  “ ’Til I was 13, I thought my name was ‘Shut Up.’ ”
Maybe he was mostly kidding….

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The art of Barbara Crooker

An excerpt from “Ordinary Life” by Barbara Crooker, Ordinary Life, ByLine Press --

“ . . . this has been a day of grace
in the dead of winter,
the hard cold knuckle of the year,
a day that unwrapped itself
like an unexpected gift . . .”

It has been my good fortune to have one such,
       I have wrapped the memory carefully in my heart….

I can unwrap it to share the delight with loved ones, on many days to come.

As posted on “A Year Of Being Here” -- 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Some people have too much money (part 4)

Some people have too much money.

I wouldn’t mind that so much if the really, really wealthy folks paid a really, really bigger share of their income and assets in the form of federal and state taxes, to support our commonwealth and the common good.

The New York Times reported on Feb. 3 that two economists put another spotlight on the galloping growth of wealth inequality in the U.S.

They say that in 2012, the top 5 percent of earners were responsible for 38 percent of domestic consumption, up from 28 percent in 1995. That’s huge—the small group with the biggest paychecks spent almost 8 times more than the average Joe or Jill who punches a clock somewhere.

Prof. Steven Fazzari, of Wash­ington University in St. Louis, and Barry Cynamon, of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, make a bigger point: the nationwide economic recovery since the 2008 financial meltdown has been stoked almost entirely by the top 5%, whose spending has increased nearly 17% while the other 95% of the workforce has boosted its overall spending by only 1%.

You know why that’s true: incomes for the really, really wealthy have risen dramatically, while the average Joe’s paycheck has stayed about the same.

Some people have too much money, some people don’t.

Fazzari and Cynamon say this growing inequality is destroying the American middle class.

Where do you stand?

Some other thoughts: