Archive for the ‘greed’ Category

The trouble with lawyers

June 4, 2008

Now I’m not one that thinks the solution is in killing all of the lawyers, but I’ve had it to the nth with Hillary R. Clinton.

First of all, my apologies to my international friends who probably couldn’t give a rip about the current U.S. political campaigns. But what is going on here is almost as big a nuisance as modern packaging (a rant very much worth its own post).

The last couple of weeks of the Clinton campaign have demonstrated beyond doubt (Q. E. D., is, I believe, the correct phrase) exactly why I would never vote for Hillary Clinton in any capacity. If the rules don’t favor you, figure out how to get around them.

Now Bill, at least, is angling for a VP spot for Hillary. Dear Barack, this is the one choice that would ensure I could never vote for you. I hope you have the good sense to put a foot squarely where it belongs. Besides, selecting a VP who keeps pointing out the advantages to be realized if you were to be assassinated seems a self- defeating choice.

Here would be an interesting set of ticket choices:

  • John McCain with Condoleeza Rice as VP (and I say this hesitatingly because her voice is impossible, but she is young, female, black, and experienced in foreign policy), vs.
  • Barack Obama with Madeleine Albright as VP (she’s older and experienced and female–besides all of that, she has a wonderful sense of humor).

Obama needs a woman on the ticket just to get rid of the taint of “sexism” (although in my never humble opinion sexism has virtually nothing to do with the growing antipathy toward HRC). The sad truth of the matter is that women with experience in high-level international policy are few and far between, and if Obama has a serious weakness it’s in international experience.

Ben and I were kicking this around tonight, and it’s really fascinating that so much of the tone of this November’s ticket will depend on the VP selections. But I think it will.

On another front, the hummingbirds are making me crazy. We have 12-13 of them at any peak time (on a 6-flower feeder). They are like a swarm of angry insects. Some of them would rather fight than eat (hmmm, I thought I was through writing about politics tonight but maybe not). Tonight I probably created a monster. The feeder was getting low, and I didn’t want to have to get up at 5 a.m. to refill it, so I put some semi-warm nectar in it. The excitement level was so high I had to leave the porch to get away from the noise. But if these nutty birds think they’re getting warm food from now on, sorry. . .

I just got interrupted by a rather protracted phone call. I’ve lost my train of thought totally, so now I’m off to bed. Ciao, more tomorrow.

I can hardly wait to hear Hilary’s latest excuse.

Time for a quick break

February 25, 2008

The Sunday NY Times used many column inches of print to virtually declare Hilary Clinton’s campaign for President of the U.S. dead.

I suspect they’re right, unless the political machine can somehow put enough pressure on the “superdelegates” (one word, according to William Safire and the NYT copy edit desk, sort of like “superhero”) to swing the election away from the popular vote choice.

I’m sure the Republicans would far rather campaign against Clinton than Obama. She is a much more known quantity, with trunk-loads of baggage, her own and her husband’s, following her around. Many voters are too young to remember some of the financial scandals that swirled around the Clintons, but rest assured that the GOP hasn’t forgotten them or would hesitate to drag them out in a cutthroat campaign.

Obama, on the other hand, comes more or less out of left field. He’s a swirling, nebulous target who seems more than willing to confess to past peccadilloes. It makes him a difficult target.

One of the most interesting points raised in the NYT stuff was that of “experience.” If, the Times writer asked, experience counts for so much, how come Clinton’s made a complete hash of her campaign and Obama’s has been executed flawlessly? A question worth thinking about in someone you’re planning on electing to a high-level executive position.

The Times also pointed to “Clinton fatigue,” not so much with HRC as with the duo. It’s something that came into play the first time WJC stepped out like a little pit bull with both jaws bared and teeth snapping.

If course, I confess that I look with suspicion on anyone who really wants to run for high political office. If they want to be there, I probably don’t want them pretending to look after me. . .

OK, that’s enough break for now. It’s poetry competition time. Back to editing, formatting, printing, and all that other dull stuff.

Politics, pragmatism, and probity

February 12, 2008

I confess that for many years I’ve wondered how anyone could seriously want to be President of the United States. This comes from my experience of JFK.

He was the youngest President ever elected. He didn’t serve a full term. By his third year in office, he had transformed from a young, vital man into an aging man in pain with bags under his eyes and a deep note of sadness. This was a sobering lesson.

I started watching how other Presidents aged in office. It seemed to me that no one would seriously want that job. It made anyone who did suspect in my eyes, driven by ego at the very least.

I am a great fan of pragmatism. The philosophy of pragmatism dictates that actions be judged by the results they produce. This isn’t a case of “the end justifies the means” but rather an acknowledgment that a diverse society requires compromise and an understanding of “the Other.”

Our polarized and fragmented social structures seem to be missing both of those elements.

I think it is possible to be pragmatic without relinquishing probity. I also want someone leading me whose moral position is unequivocal. I suppose from a political standpoint I’d like to feel good again about waving the flag. It’s been a long time.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to agree with each and every belief of a candidate. If I had that sort of sure lock on right/wrong, perhaps I would be running for office.

But I don’t. I muddle along making the best decisions I can with the information I have. I don’t want to invest what limited physical and mental resources I have in knowing everything there is to know that’s important about our world today. I’d rather, frankly, write poetry and try to make sense of what I perceive as “the big issues.” And those have NOTHING to do with politics, or government, or status, or financial gain.

They have a lot to do with kindness, social justice, grace, and fiscal responsibility, pretty much in that order.

I’d like to know that the people I’m voting for value those things as well.

I see evidence of those qualities in McCain and Obama. The rest of them are just politicians. They may be “pragmatic” (do anything to get elected), but their values are different from mine.

Listen up, magazine publishers

December 22, 2007

OK, this is a rant. I admit it. I’m getting older, crankier, and less tolerant of 1) stupidity, 2) consumerism, and 3) other things that annoy me greatly.

But I have no intention of going gently into the night, so I will rage as it pleases me, and it does occasionally please me very much.

The topic on my mind today is publishing and reading. I’m disturbed by the continuing news that fewer and fewer people actually sit down and read things like books. This has nothing to do with the fact that I write and everything to do with the fact that I think. I want other people to think, too, not just swallow whatever sound bite is being handed out at the moment. And I believe I owe a great deal of my ability to think to the fact that I have been a voracious reader all of my life.

But what’s really bringing on this rant is what I see as a disturbing trend in periodical (magazine AND newspaper) publishing. It seems to me that this trend actually discourages readers at a time when most publications are wracking their brains to figure out how to keep/increase subscribers.

I first noted it with Vanity Fair.  When my subscription was running out, I almost didn’t renew it. The reason was their continuing burying of the table of contents in a rash of photo ads. In one notable issue, the first page of the TOC was on something like page 46!

The really stupid thing about this is that VF’s photo ads are so beautiful that I would probably look at them anyway if they were scattered appropriately throughout the magazine. But having to search for the TOC is so annoying that I almost gave the magazine up.

Then I realized that every issue had at least one article that I was really glad I read, an article that in all likelihood I wouldn’t have seen published elsewhere. So I renewed. But interestingly enough, now I skip those beautiful photo ads and flip through until I find the various TOC pages (they are never adjacent). I dog-ear them, and that’s the end of my attention to the ads.

But now the practice is spreading. Even my beloved New Yorker recently has run several pages of ads before the TOC. At least they keep the multi-page TOC all together. The corker for me was this week’s Sunday NY Times.  In section A (the news section, remember), more than half the pages were devoted to full page advertising. That’s not while I buy the NY Times.

I understand that advertising keeps my prices lower (although $5.00 for a Sunday paper hardly qualifies in my mind as a “bargain”). But I’m also one of those “real readers,” people who actually pay extra money to subscribe to publications that don’t wallow in advertising, publications like The American Scholar, The Hedgehog Review, and Poetry Magazine.

I’m also one of those people who is likely to continue reading and subscribing, at least to publications that don’t annoy me beyond my tolerance level. And it seems to me that publishers are running a real risk of alienating readers who are really the bread-and-butter of their subscription revenues.

Of course this is all driven by the god of Consumerism, the great American religion. But that topic annoys me so much I couldn’t possibly do justice to it here. If you’re still with me this far, I applaud you. I’ll rant separately about consumerism. . .

End of rant. I do feel better now.

The Cluetrain Manifesto

November 13, 2007

My friend Josh will be ecstatic to learn that The Cluetrain Manifesto is featured prominently in the current issue of The Economist.

The occasion is an article on how marketers are tapping social networks in the cause of promoting their clients’ products. The Economist points to “Cluetrain” as the first broad statement of what they are trying to do.

You might want to read the article and then consider what you are revealing on your Facebook or My Space Page. 

If you aren’t familiar with the 95 theses (not a coincidence: the authors are hoping to revolutionize marketing the way that Luther tried to revlotionize the Church) of The Cluetrain Manifesto, the entire text is online. Go to the home page for a quick recap, then click on “Read. . .” in the left navigation bar.

Say goodbye to “the common good”

November 8, 2007

I ranted a couple of days ago about our cowardly legislators, and I suppose this is a related topic. The election results are in, and I am very depressed all over again.

I was born and grew up in Oregon, although I haven’t lived here all my life. But I’m old enough to remember when there WAS an Oregon. People who lived here or were from here were always proud of the fact. Oregon was different. It was, perhaps, peopled by an odd assortment of folks, but it worked, maybe because there were so many odd ones. They respected each other’s right to be odd.

Now, it seems we live in a divided state. It’s divided in many ways, but certainly the most obvious one is the urban/rural divide. And the differences are so great that it might as well be two different planets.

More than half of Oregon’s population lives in three counties–Multnomah (Portland), Washington (Beaverton/Hillsboro), and Clackamas (the eastern suburbs). The combined weight of all these bodies (and votes) is enough to skew most elections in favor of what the urbanites want. And far, far too many of them have no idea what Oregon is really all about.

But what’s worse, they have no idea that what is a great solution for Portland may not play out so well in counties where the average town population is under 10,000 people. Or if they do, they don’t care.

Here are the election results:

Measure 49 (severing restricting the property rights voted in twice by the people of Oregon in majority votes, most recently in Measure 37): Passed handily, about 62% of the vote statewide. But the heavy yeses were all in the populous counties. The lesser populated counties had a mix, but generally voted no.

Measure 50 (adding a very large tax to each pack of cigarettes to pay for children’s health care): Failed. No one disagrees that children need health insurance, but as one columnist pointed out, if we really think it’s so important, a levy of $1.29 a month on each household would pay for the program. The legislature had extra money this year and opted to allocate not a cent of it for the project. I’d like to note at this point that Measure 50 actually passed in Multnomah County, the only county in which it did. But it did not pass by sufficient margin to outweigh the votes of the rest of the state. In more rural areas, people are aware that the ones they are taxing are their neighbors, and they seem more sensitive to issues of fairness.

I’m actually in favor of things like user fees. If they would tax cigarettes to pay for the increased health costs of smoking, I probably would even vote for that. If they would license bicycles to pay for bicycle lanes, I’l love it (and I would have a way to identify the asshole bicycle riders that you meet occasionally). Let’s increase alcohol taxes and spend the money on drunk driving enforcement and additional police officers and more treatment programs. That sort of thing actually makes sense.

One of the concepts that the original European settlers brought with them was the concept of “the commons.” Each of the old, old towns you find on the east coast has a “commons” area. The commons was a part of the landscape that residents shared. Each resident could graze a cow or sheep on the commons instead of having to have enough property to do it at their residence.

The commons was a cooperative concept. No one was allowed to hog the grazing space. It was for the good of all.

What I think we’ve lost is the idea that decisions should be measured in terms of what is “good for all.” It seems to have been replaced by “what is good for me”: “This is important, but I don’t want to pay for it. Who can we stick with the bill?”

I’m also tired of being barraged with the old canard that I need to maintain my place in its pristine condition so that city residents can take a drive in the country and enjoy the view. Aside from the fact that they often trespass, leave behind beer cans and other garbage, and roar down the road with radios blaring, I frankly don’t think it’s my responsibility to maintain their amusement. Of course, if they wanted to help pay my property taxes and other maintenance costs, I might feel differently.

I have another rant about our state’s largest newspaper, but I think it’s going to have to wait for tomorrow.

But I have to admit I’m mulling over new possible meanings for the “not im my back yard” attitude.

Our legislators are a bunch of cowards

October 30, 2007

OK, so I don’t usually write about politics. Mostly that’s because I find the whole topic disgusting. There’s something in me that wants my elected officials to live up to the vision of the Constitutional Convention, a vision that had regular folks (OK, white males that owned property) going off to do the nation’s (or state’s) business as a form of public service, then returning home to live out the rest of their regular lives.

I admit it. I’m on a tear tonight.

This comes from reading my Oregon voters’ pamphlet over and over and wanting to go out and shake my fist at the sky and shout curses. What is wrong with these people?

I want my elected representatives to figure out what’s required to do the business of the government and then to get on with making it happen. I don’t want a bunch of numb-nuts (an old car-racing expression) calculating what will make them more popular in the next election cycle. I think decisions should be made based on what is right, fair, and practical, not on what will make the official more popular with the voting public and able to come back and suck from the public trough for another two, four, or six years.

I want people of character and courage. There don’t seem to be too may of them around any more, at least among our elected officials.

As an electorate, we probably have only ourselves to blame. When someone running for office had the audacity to tell the truth, we pilloried them. I’m thinking here of national figures like Edmund Muskie and Thomas Eagleton, but I suspect local examples abound as well.

What I don’t want are the sort of people we have in office now, people who are afraid to make the hard decisions. Instead, the elect to send the to “the voters,” a singularly ignorant bunch of consumers who, it appears, can be easily swayed by political rhetoric and a NIMBY attitude–“If it doesn’t have a negatice impact on me, I’m all for it whether it makes any sense or not.”

My ballot has two measures on it (actually three, but one is local and so non-controversial as to be ignored). These two measures have in common that they can be presented in language so distorted as to be downright deceptive. One is an attempt to circumvent the clearly expressed will of the people of the state of Oregon, clearly expressed in not one but two elections. It truly is, as opponents have advertised, a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Measure 49 will probably pass because the majority of the people who will be voting on it are too lazy to read the entire measure and too ignorant to understand what it really says if they did.

Measure 50 is another animal altogether. It’s a blatant attempt to raise taxes by assessing a minority too small to obstruct it: smokers. But it is an absolutely immoral and irrational approach to goverment and to government financing.

The Oregonian supports both measures. I don’t know if the editorial staff is that dumb or if they have been co-opted somehow. But I’m disgusted, thoroughly.

This, of course, is only part of the problem. I’ve wondered for years how people elected to do the most important business of the republic could be so caught up in sexual peccadilloes and fantasies that they could ignore the business of the government to address moral issues. If Larry Craig is not fit to represent Idaho, it seems to me that this is a decision for the people of Idaho, not the U. S. Senate. Focusing on scandal is a way of ignoring the important things that need to be done.

This is the end of this rant. I can’t fix these things, any more than Tiresias could protect Oedipus from his fatal flaws. But I think I feel better for having vented.

Slogging through my poetry manuscript, I discover that Whig has weighed in. . .

June 4, 2007
  • whig Says:
    June 3rd, 2007 at 6:32 am   editMy needs are to have a way to live together with people in a society which does not sustain itself on the blood of the innocent, which does not sacrifice people on the altar of profit, which acts to benefit humanity and all of us who will have to share this world in the future.
  •  I think this is in response to a comment on a previous post.

    Whig, I doubt that there’s a person reading this that would not agree with you. But I have to ask: What does that society look like? Not the abstract higher aims, but the reality.

     An example of what I mean:

     You wrote: “a  society which does not sustain itself on the blood of the innocent, which does not sacrifice people on the altar of profit.”

    What does that look like? If I’m part of a 10K-employee firm, do I get 1/10,000 of the profits? Who’s shedding blood? Where?

    I’m not trying to be a smart-ass. But I need something a great deal more concrete than what you offered me to even know what we’re discussing. Give me your vision for consideration, please.

    And please don’t forget to identify your standards for what benefits humanity. I suspect this is another area where there might be radical differences of opinion.

    Whig, I’m not trying to put you on the spot, just to point up the places where language, particularly abstract language, gets us into a great deal of trouble as a society/culture.

    This is why I think politics has nothing to really offer us. No one can get elected on anything but an abstract platform.

    A customer manifesto: Pen or sword

    May 11, 2007

    Who knows?

    But my desktop computer seems to be more or less up and running, and I have even reinstalled IE7, and so far none of the evilness I’ve been experiencing is happening again. So far.

    I am declaring war on Microsoft. As with so many wars, it has to be adjudicated and waged in an environment in which I need the company. You can’t blow someone sitting on one quarter of the earth’s oil supply off the face of the map. At my age, I’m not sure I’m up to learning all of the stuff I would have to learn to divorce them entirely. I actually like MS-Office and know how to use most of the applications. XP works great for me, too, most of the time. And even IE7. . .most of the time.

    But upon reflection, I think my problems started when I got tired of looking at the little yellow shield on my applications bar that said an update was pending. The update was Microsoft’s “Genuine Software Advantage,” a Newspeak name if there ever was one.

    So I opened up the little shield and got to the place where I had to accept or decline the license agreement.

    At this point I should tell you this about me: I actually buy software. I have no aversion to paying reasonable user license fees for the product of someone else’s brain. So it wasn’t the idea that Microsoft might find out I had pirated stuff on my computer that got me worked up. It was the thought of MS trying to be the morality police, I think, and I went a bit over the edge.

    So I declined the license agreement. That’s when my troubles started.

    Several days and I no longer know how many hours later, my desktop computer seems almost normal again. We’ll see what happens when I boot it tomorrow.

    But I am still really angry. A couple of days of gardening and fixing some really good meals (I’ll write about wienerschnitzel later) can’t mitigate it, and these are my common refuges in an increasingly uncertain and annoying world.

    My anger at the moment is focused on Microsoft, and I have to decide what to do about it. Some of you have suggested abandoning MS applications–loading Ubuntu as my OS, using Firefox instead of IE, and the like. But I actually like the applications. What I resent is the anti-customer attitude that MS seems to be adopting increasingly frequently.

    I don’t need a policeman, for Pete’s sake, I need a software vendor. When something gives me value, I buy it. When it doesn’t, I don’t. And I sure as heck don’t need a vendor looking over my shoulder to check for the dotted i’s and crossed t’s. I have a moral code that Microsoft could only hope would be emulated throughout the land.

    And I’m not willing to be subjected to the kind of nonsense I’ve dealt with for the last several days because others might not have the same moral code.

     Josh Bancroft turned me on to the marketer’s manifesto in “Cluetrain.” It begins with 95 theses, in emulation, I’m sure, of Martin Luther. Having once sat through Lutheran catechism classes (another story for another day), I always thought Luther was a bit long-winded. Here is my customer manifesto, which is a great deal shorter (Microsoft, I hope you’re listening):

    • Offer me something that makes my life a little bit easier and I will buy it.
    • I want things to work the way that you present them, with no ifs, ands, or buts, no fine print, no “beta” qualifications.
    • If something breaks, I want to be able to fix it quickly and at a reasonable price. Ask me sometime about boomboxes.
    • I trust you to deliver the product as advertised. I want you to trust me also. If you don’t, then we probably don’t have a good vendor/customer relationship.

    But I’m not going to go blow up MS’s headquarters. I think instead I will write about this experience and see if someone like “Wired” won’t publish it. Maybe I can shame MS into treating customers as they should be treated.

    Planes, trains, and automobiles, redux

    April 14, 2007

    It took about 24 hours to get us back to Oregon from Boston, something that seems almost unfathomable in today’s world. At some point we began to joke about living out the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” but after awhile it wasn’t very funny. Here’s the story.

    The hospital asked Tom to stay over an extra day for treatment preparation and planning. That treatment is now perhaps off the table for the moment, but of course we didn’t know that at the time.

    I called United AL to try to change our tickets (heavily discounted fare). They wanted a modest $1,500 to rebook the two of us one day later. This was about three times the total original fare, and I’m afraid I went ballistic. The poor customer service rep, who I know was doing his best and only following his scripted policy, closed the call with “We certainly hope you’ll consider United for your future travel arrangements.” I’m afraid I just started laughing, but all I could respond was “I’ll bet you do.”

    Let me just say that I have a new code for future travel–ABU: “anything but United.”

    But then the adventure began in earnest.

    A relative had offered us guest passes on Alaska, my favorite airline. The two tickets cost about $50 each. As of Tuesday there were ten seats available on the Thursday flight we wanted, so we took them. What we didn’t know was that on Wednesday weather had created havoc at O’Hare, and between Tuesday and Thursday United and American had snapped up all available seats out of Boston that didn’t go through Chicago, trying to get their affected passengers out. Had we taken the United change, we would have been out $1500 and been part of the affected group with no recourse.

    That morning we took a cab out to Logan Airport. When we arrived Thursday morning at Logan to check in for our standby tickets, the passenger service rep for Alaska just looked at us in horror. She told us the first available seats were currently for the following Wednesday. We bought the tickets anyway and went to the gate.

    The same agent came down to check in passengers, saw us waiting there, and started burning up her terminal. She said she really thought there was zero probability at that point of getting us out before the following Tuesday. We were both out of our prescription medications, having brought enough for two extra days only.

    But then she offered a suggestion. There was a flight with lots of available seats leaving the Newark airport that evening. Then she gave us a whole transportation plan, complete with departure times and estimated fares on all of the elements required. Here’s what we did.

    We left the terminal and boarded the T’s (Boston central transit authority) Silver Line ($2 each). It took us directly to South Station. We walked several hundred yards and bought tickets (total cost $188) on Amtrak to the Newark airport. At the airport stop, we took a monorail into the terminal and checked in as standby. Then we waited.

    The flight was delayed from 6:10 to 8:30 p.m. Congestion at the Newark airport had caused air traffic control to hold our plane in Seattle for 2.5 hours. The gate agent advised us that we would be arriving in Seattle about two hours after the last flight to Portland that night. We went anyway, just wanting to be back on the left coast.

    I briefly flirted with the idea of renting a car in Seattle to drive to Portland, but figured (rightfully) that after being up for 24 hours I probably would not be in condition for three hours of freeway-speed driving at night. Besides, John Candy set fire to his rented car. . .

    So we waited from about midnight to 5 a.m., got on standby on the 6 a.m. shuttle, and just squeaked on, making it to Portland about 7 a.m. Tom’s wonderful wife came and picked us up at the airport. We drove an hour to their home, I got in my car, and made it back home (including stopping for groceries) at around noon. Then I collapsed like I had been pole-axed.

    We both got home for less than $300 total. It required a cab, a bus, a train, a monorail, a lot of walking (although we never resorted to hitchhiking), and a private car pickup. But we made it.

    After a good night’s sleep, I’m feeling almost recovered. One more night should do it. The trip was very hard on Tom, and he caught a cold or something that’s got him a little laid up today. This is the first air trip I can remember that I didn’t get a sinus infection, so adrenalin and exhaustion must be good immune boosters.

    I am so glad to be home.

    One thing I forgot to mention. Because we were flying one-way, and standby, we got selected for super security screening each time we went through a gate, a fact that just added to the idiocy of the whole experience. It seems to me that people flying on airline employee guest passes would logically be the least suspicious, but what do I know?

    Just one thing–I am so glad to be home. Our security system here, a lock on the gate, is just right.