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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

New Semester_Fresh Start

Happy New Year! Young minds eager to learn, to conquer, to change the world!
OK. Maybe my standards are too high. Maybe some of these young minds are eager to secure a satisfactory grade that won't damage their GPA. Maybe some of them intend to squeak by doing the bare minimum without inhibiting whatever is their preferred schedule of activities.
If experience tells me anything it is that the classes will be comprised of a wide variety of inhabitants (the jury is still out on whether they earn the right to be considered "students"). Some will, indeed, want to have their minds broadened, their points of view challenged. They will be willing, at least for a semester, to do the work, pay attention to the world and world shaping events. They'll learn how to do research and write papers sufficient to meet the standards of the class.
Others simply won't. They'll aim for getting by without the course changing anything about their life or their opinions.
Reasonable goal for ye ole instructor? Meet the needs of the "students", and surprise a few of the others into deciding that becoming an observant, active citizen is worth the effort it takes.
Wish me luck!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Time Passages

Do you ever during summer daydreaming think about the passage of time over the generations?
As a small lad I had two living grandfathers who were both born in the early 1880s. And when I think about my youngest grandchildren who have been born in 2009 and 2010 I realize they could easily (or not so easily) live until 2100. To know and see and talk with people whose lives span 220 years is mind boggling. The grandfathers predated automobiles and electricity (at least on the farms). Who knows what the grandchildren will witness in 50 or 60 years?
There obviously have been many changes. Technology, inventions, American ingenuity, etc. have wrought standard of living improvements over the meager living conditions faced by all but the wealthy in my grandfathers' days. Laws and changing expectations have gone a long way toward reducing xenophobia, prejudice and discrimination, particularly among races. Yet hatred, bad behavior and sin have in no way disappeared.
Aspects of living are much easier and more comfortable. Yet the challenges of life are unchanged. Who knows what the future holds?

Monday, June 21, 2010

On Language_June Update

Once again the FedSmith website has produced a worthwhile article summarizing solid recommended tips for clear writing. It is at:

I hope my students this Fall follow these suggestions.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

On Language_April Update

It's good to know that I don't have to catch all the interesting and amusing writing errors that are made. And who would expect to find a relevant article in a federal employee website? Check out this link. I love it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Undercover Boss

I haven’t checked any media websites or blogs. So maybe this has been adequately addressed and covered somewhere. (Actually I did look after I drafted this.)
But does anyone else have any simmering skepticism about the new “reality” show “Undercover Boss”? Parts of it I find encouraging and refreshing. But I can’t get over the lingering unease at the theme that’s permeated every episode so far. That is the notion that employees are almost universally depicted as harder working and more innovative and imaginative than the CEOs believe them to be. This leads the CEOs to love and trust the workers more and to give them various perceived rewards which supposedly represent a ‘Win-Win-Win’ for the company, the employees and the ultimate customers/consumers. What seems missing from all these shows so far is what I believe to be the more rampant fear, stratification, rigidity to founder’s original vision, and mediocrity at all levels of any given organization. What about the examples of employees undermining the company’s goals through sloth, greed, and lack of appropriate oversight? What about supervisors and mid-level managers who are “Yes_Men” unwilling to allow the innovation and imagination because it is “out of the box”?, to use an extremely trite cliché, but one which is apropos.
Admittedly I’ve only watched maybe one entire episode (Churchill Downs), but I’ve seen bits and pieces and the endings of a couple of others. And in every one so far the CEO who went undercover discovers that his workers are better, harder working than he realized. And he proceeds to do what he has unilateral authority to do to improve their work lives. This, in and of itself, is laudable. However, it seems to be pitched as a revelation that is offered up to CEOs of all companies and not for profits. Sounds good. But I don’t see it happening.
For starters, many of the perks, benefits and pay raises that the CEOs lavish on the few lucky guinea pigs who work with them would, if applied across the board to entire companies, eat into the short-term profit/loss posture of the company. One of the reasons the companies were picked, I’m guessing, for being spotlighted on the show is that they are “successful” companies. Among other things, they were profitable companies. I haven’t seen an AIG or Enron or Acorn featured yet.
Secondly, it would be interesting to see a followup program with the front line supervisors and middle managers in some of these companies as to their reaction to the TV treatment of their environment and their application of company policies. They can’t be unanimously happy with how they are portrayed, even indirectly.
Thirdly, I’d like to see a unionized company featured and the program include a little of the give and take of formal labor management processes in the workplace.
Having offered all these caveats and concerns, I generally approve of and endorse the show. I think increases in overall understanding of what I studied in college under the name of “industrial sociology” is a good thing. I just wish the producers wouldn’t leave it at the pabulum level.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Well it only took 14 months from inauguration to final passage of what is now touted as "Health Care reform". And to my mind it represents almost a textbook example of compromise. Want proof? Advocates on both sides hate it. The Republicans are screaming for "repeal" and vowing to defeat at the polls all Democrats as a result of it. Left-wing Democrats, especially pro-choice ones, held their nose and finally accepted that this bill was better than no bill, but not much.

Don't look for a "Second verse, same as the first" any time soon. I got a feeling Obama will tell himself and others that he gave bipartisanship a try but the Republicans don't intend to play fair. Some other template will be sought for the next contentious issue.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

This Week's "On Language"

One of the firm groundings I received from my beloved late parents was the understanding that one of the best forms of humor was the lowly pun. It and other language jokes. They both tended to be more amused by verbal humor than by visual, slapstick attempts at humor. My dad could chuckle for hours at a particularly delicious pun.

That being said, I am reminded this week of one of the earliest verbal jokes that I can recall from my childhood. This week's reminder comes courtesy of the death notices for Fess Parker.
There was a line in the ballad "The Legend of Davy Crockett" that always cracked me up, once I got it. See if you can pick out the gem from this verse:

Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee,
Greenest state in the land of the free.
Lived in the woods where he knew every tree;
Killed him a b'ar when he was only three.
Davy Crockett
King of the wild frontier.
OK, it doesn't take that much to amuse a nine year old kid.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

COMPROMISE _ Continued

I first posted on this back in Nov/Dec. But if I go back and stick this as a mere comment on that thread, it'll be basically buried. So a new post is in order.
Almost three months later, the Democratic Party in Congress is now lumbering toward possibly passing some form of health care reform legislation. And as of today it still remains to be seen if they can keep their eye on the ball long enough to actually get a hit here. After the initial bills passed their respective chambers the ideologues and caucuses on both ends of the spectrum declared that compromise was probably not possible since their pet issue couldn't be sacrificed on the altar of passing any bill.
Now, however, they are talking as if they realize a partial or "bad" bill would indeed be preferable to no bill. And they are seemingly realizing that if the Republicans are going to hide behind the Senate's filibuster cloture rules (which means 60 vote minimum to pass anything) then perhaps the Democrats can use a parliamentary procedure to thwart this, namely "reconciliation". Reconciliation would allow the Senate to vote on the bill on an up or down, simple majority basis instead of the super majority.
But all this has yet to transpire in the coming couple of weeks. So we'll see. If compromise is indeed struck and some bill is passed it will indeed represent one of the first important such events in Congress in several decades.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Comics and cartoons | - Houston Chronicle

Comics and cartoons - Houston Chronicle
Trying to figure out how to post this. Reminded me of Cooley Pasley when I read it; don't know why.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Health Care "Summit" at White House

I watched as much of today's spectacle as I could stomach. And in recent days I've read several Op-Ed columns on various aspects of the topic. It kinda all runs together in my pea-brain.
One pundit had mentioned that to date the Republicans have prevailed in their strategies over Obama and the Democrats. To wit: They have found that if they refuse to compromise one bit, one iota, on any point, that the Democrats will move toward them and say, "OK, your turn". And in this way the Democrats have moved or given in four or five times and the Republicans not once.
The primary two "ideas" offered by Republicans, if I may simplify and summarize, are as follows:
  1. One change that would be beneficial would be to allow health insurance to be sold "across state lines".
  2. The other big ticket item would be to address medical malpractice tort reform, thereby supposedly eliminating expensive "preventive" medicine in the form of unnecessary tests that are performed only to indemnify the physicians from liability.

I have questions about these two notions that that is all that is needed to take large portions of cost out of health care. If these questions were answered today it was after I had tuned out in disgust or was not one of the soundbites covered by the media. The questions are as follows:

  1. Doing #1 above would involve a federal mandate overruling states' control of "their" insurance industries. This sounds to me the opposite of the kinds of trends states righters (Republicans) normally advocate. How do conservatives square proposing this with their normal preference for allowing states to control as much as they wish to control?
  2. The poster child for how #2 above would be wonderful for the nation is the state of Texas, which enacted medical malpractice tort reform some 4 yr. ago. John McCain trumpeted it today in some of his televised remarks. He offered impressive sounding statistics about how the outflow of physicians from the state had been reversed and that Texas was supposedly attracting all the doctors it needs now. But if all that is true, then why does Texas rank something like 48th in #s of uncovered children and very high in numbers of Texas residents who have no health insurance coverage?? If medical tort reform is the silver bullet, why isn't Texas a state where medical care is excellent and cheap?

I would welcome the opportunity to be enlightened as to how I am so far off the reservation on all this.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Reform rules in US Senate_Revisited_Compromise

The announcement by "moderate" Dem. Evan Bayh that he's leaving the Senate cause the mainstream and 24hr cable news channels to wonder what it all meant. Without consuming myself with that controversy, I did arrive at something of an epiphany with regard to finding "a way out" of the wilderness. And it harkens back to my prior post advocating a Senate rules reform lowering the threshhold to 55 votes for blocking filibusters. How? and why?, you wonder. I shall attempt to explain.
I believe, and given a burst of energy and time I'm sure I could find polls that back this up, that the nation is basically more moderate than either of the major political parties and certainly than the Congressional delegations representing each state. The Republicans in Congress are much more conservative than the average American voter or citizen. And the Democrats in Congress are more liberal than the average American. What's worse, the "moderates" in the House and Senate are a vanishing species. Each party is tending to elect only ideologues rather than moderates. This means, among other things, that any chance for meaningful compromise between the two parties in Congress grows less likely each successive session. And this would help explain the explosion in the use of filibusters in the Senate the last two presidential administrations.
So now for my soloution. If the Senate backed off of the 60 vote mandate for cloture, dropped it to 55, then the "no man's land" between the two parties would be a much smaller chasm. Particularly in competitive states the voters would find it in their interest to select more moderate Senators, who would be in position to cast "winning" votes more often. This could produce a resurgence of moderates and more accurately reflect the national electorate.
Who knows, then maybe even a moderate leaning news network might rise from the ashes of the failed prior networks. Or maybe somebody can find a way to make NPR and CSPAN interesting to Nascar fans.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On Language

With William Safire being gone and James J Kilpatrick no longer opining about the proper use of the English language, my meager blog occasionally addresses the issue. This is closely related to my previous rants about cliches and the media.

Topic for today: Pronunciation errors by sports broadcasters. One of the most glaring would have to be the word lackadaisical. The Olympics commentators butchered this several imes the past few days. By my estimation at least 80% of the time people who voice this word insert an "s" after the "k" when using this word. And to me, folks, that's not rigorous reporting and broadcasting. That, instead, is pretty lackadaisical.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Longing for a personable time

Is there a large organization, be it a private business or governmental organization or NGO, that currently employes enough "Customer Service" representatives to handle the volume of telephone business that gets directed their way? I doubt it.
How many times have you called a company or gov't office only to encounter a voice mail answering device that has you jump through hoops categorizing the reason for your call and THEN directs you to stay on the line until a real person can "help you"? This wouldn't be so bad if they meant it, if they intended to come on the line within a reasonable amount of time. But after three or loops of Musak and recorded messages extolling their desire to get to you soon, then comes the dreaded different announcement "We are having an unusual high volume of calls today. For faster service why don't you try to get our computer choices to satisfy you.?" or something to that effect.
I'll bet that as much as half the time we, the poor caller, give up, hang up and decide either to try again at some "less busy" time or to resolve our issue some other way, such as writing them a letter. I for one don't buy their "today there's an unusual high volume of calls" excuse. It happens too often to be that unusual. What they mean but don't want to admit is that they refuse to employ sufficient phone answerers to handle their normal volume of phone traffic. This was probably one of the ways they got "leaner" back when they "right-sized" in order to drive up their profit margin. Profits for them; costs for us. They never calculate the lost time suffered by their customers, clients, patrons, parishoners, whatever.
I am not anti-technology. I often use the self-service checkout lines at the local supermarket. But on those occasions when I need to talk to a real live person, sure would be nice if companies and organizations would make it possible.

Another Annoying Overused Cliche

We're going to tell you what the banks (or insurance companies or government or THEY) "don't want you to know".

How many different come-ons or scams are currently using this same tired cliche?

I've noticed, though, that the advertisers or promoters who employ this never get around to 'splaining why and how the nefarious bad guys intended to keep helpful information from us. They just offer their premise up as a truism and move on.

What I DON'T want to know is why so many people want to pull my chain.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


As I sit watching the TV news coverage of the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti I have both feelings of empathy and sorrow for the suffering that is depicted. But my mind wanders (a common occurrence as I grow older). I ponder how others view and react to this:
  1. What do the Wall Street bankers who are poised to cash their multimillion dollar "bonuses" think as they see the devastation in Haiti on their HD flatscreen TVs?
  2. How quickly will Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney as well as Glenn Beck find the nefarious link to President Obama? He surely caused this or allowed this or didn't respond quickly enough.
  3. Is Mark McGuire hoping this disaster pushes his ugly mug off the 24hr news cycle?
  4. Is Simon Cowell aware of what's happened?

I know my random thoughts are gauche, and I apologize to all "who may have been offended" as well as the poor, poor victims of the earthquake. May our Lord guide the steps and hands of the relief workers as they strive to do the impossible.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Reform rules in US Senate

Good thing about having a blog that nobody reads (and/or comments on) is that my private musings remain quite private. And this often nudges me to daydream about topics that nobody in the "mainstream media" seems to be addressing at all. Two of these are as follows:
  1. Major modifications to presidential election procedures, making the "Electoral College" more fairly reflective of actual popular votes cast across the country. The biggest aspect here is abolishing the "unit rule" whereby states cast all their votes for whoever wins a bare plurality of popular votes in that state ( a rule employed by 48 states). More on this musing later.
  2. The majority party in the US Senate (at present time would be the Democrats) deciding to revise Senate rules at the start of their legislative session each January (or is it every other January?) specifying that the required "super majority" for defeating a filibuster is 60 votes. This one is my topic for today.

The Senate rules are not mandated by the Constitution. The Senate could set the "super majority" at any number they wished, or even do away with it entirely if they wished. I start by acknowledging that Americans in general seems to like the notion of Congress only taking actions endorsed by a "substantial" majority of citizens. And in pursuit of that, the idea of the Senate needing a super majority to proceed to votes on important bills is generally approved. But how "substantial" does this gap need to be? If 60 is good, wouldn't 90 be great? No! Ninety or eighty, or even I would argue 60 are too tall a requirement. Why should a clear minority be allowed to prevent the majority from moving forward?

The Senate rules have not been changed, even though changing them would be fairly easy to do. It would only take a simple majority vote in January to create new, revised rules. So why doesn't the majority party change them. Inertia and fear. If they changed these rules and subsequently lost control of the Senate, the other party might also relax or scrap the "super majority". That is why Democrats have been reluctant to act.

The only recent episode that generated any national debate on modifying the 60 vote cloture rule was last administration when Republicans talked publicly about changing Senate rules to a simple majority for judicial confirmation votes. They wanted to be able to get a justice approved with a bare majority vote, which they had at the time. But that ole fear of the other party, them wascally Democrats, getting in power and doing likewise prevented Republicans from going down this road. Instead they came up with a "Gang of 14" Senators, 7 from each party deemed "Moderates", to reach consensus on judicial nominations and take the filibuster and cloture issues away. Bottom line: Republicans were almost ready to stick their big hairy toe over the line they'd previously honored.

My thinking and suggestion is that some degree of "super majority" is wise. It gives the country comfort that the issues that get passed are not razors' edge divisive. But I think 60 votes is "a bridge too far". Why should the majority be required to scrounge for 50% more votes than the minority party? Doing so gives perhaps too much power to the moderate "swing voters". (See Nebraska's Senator Nelson). And in recent years as Republicans have purged their legislative bodies of moderates, all the moderates that are left are Democrats. (Yes, I'm not forgetting about the two Maine Senators, but when push comes to shove, they vote with the conservatives way too much of the time.)

So, keep the "super majority" rule. But modify it down to 55. This would still require that the majority party elect 10 more reliable votes than the minority party. That seems to me to be enough. In fact it is a threshhold that Republicans rarely reached during the almost 8 years they controlled the Senate.

That's my opinion. What you think?