Friday, May 19, 2017

A Poetic Guide to Good Living


Some of us who reach a certain age become convinced we've seen, read, or heard just about everything--at least everything of any importance. Then along comes a bit of  impressive wisdom that had completely escaped our notice.

That happened to me last weekend. As a part of the prelude to a talk by a local Rabbi at my church, a program coordinator read part of the poem "Desiderata" by Max Ehrmann. A fellow geezer stopped me after the program and asked if I had heard of Desiderata. I said no, and he said, "We ought to check it out, that reading was wonderful." So I did.

The background was interesting. Ehrmann was a lawyer and poet who lived in Indiana. He wrote Desiderata in 1927, but only circulated copies locally and the poem was largely unknown during his lifetime. Because a clergyman in New York included it in an array of writings he mislabeled, some who did learn of it thought it was centuries-old philosophy. When Adlai Stevenson, an Illinois politician who unsuccessfully ran for president of the United States against Dwight Eisenhower, died in 1965 a copy of the poem was found on a night stand beside his bed. We are told that Desiderata then became hugely popular with counter-culture people in the late 60s and early 70s.

It seems reasonable that I would have heard of any bit of philosophy that was "hugely popular" for a decade or more during prime years of my lifetime. However, I definitely was not part of any counter-culture movement and also have never been much of a fan of poetry. I thus missed  inspiring advice on what is desirable for those striving to live a good life, and some powerful words of hope during trying times. I think is worth sharing:

                                           Desiderata

            Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
            and remember what peace there may be in silence.
            As far as possible without surrender
            be on good terms with all persons.
            Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
            and listen to others,
            even the dull and the ignorant;
            they too have their story.

            Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
            they are vexations to the spirit.
            If you compare yourself with others,
            you may become vain and bitter;
            for always there will be greater and lesser persons then yourself.
            Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

            Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
            it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
            Exercise caution in your business affairs;
            for the world is full of trickery.
            But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
            many persons strive for high ideals;
            and everywhere life is full of heroism.

            Be yourself.
            Especially, do not feign affection.
            Neither be cynical about love;
            for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
            it is as perennial as the grass.

            Take kindly the counsel of the years,
            gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
            Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
            But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
            Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
            Beyond a wholesome discipline,
            be gentle with yourself.

            You are a child of the universe,
            no less than the trees and the stars;
            you have a right to be here.


                                          # # # # # 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Lady Luck Smiled On a Low Roller

Beautiful wife Sandy and I consider ourselves to be quite expert at playing deuces wild poker on slot machines. We practiced for years during short vacation trips to Wendover, Nevada, from our long-time home in Ogden, Utah.

Of course, we didn't need many trips to learn the golden rule of slot playing--stay there long enough and you will lose. Casinos are not charities, and the odds are not in your favor. I also learned the hard way that my father's advice about gambling in general was wise counsel. "Never play any games you don't thoroughly understand, and don't risk a penny you can't afford to lose," he said.

We developed our strategy in the days when casino visits could be quite pleasant. Excellent buffet meals for a couple of dollars and the famous ninety-nine cent breakfasts were nice benefits. Dropping real coins into slots was fun and occasionally needing hand-washing breaks stretched the time one could play with a small stake. Slot players actually had pleasant conversations with each other. Noise levels were far below those of today when greedy casino managers cram together as many slots with outrageous musical accompaniments as possible.

Those good old days are long gone, but an occasional 15-mile drive to an elegant casino operated by a local Indian tribe provides exceptional meal offers to seniors like us and has a few slots we enjoy playing. So we go there about once a month to savor the food and risk a bit of surplus money.

Our gambling strategy is simple. We start with equal small cash stakes. We play only deuces wild poker on machines that accept nickels, because we know how to play them well to improve the odds a little, and at worst our stakes will last quite a while. We play only five nickels at a time, although messages on most machines strongly encourage playing ten. We establish a time when we will leave no matter what. If one of us loses the stake, he or she simply waits for the other to lose or the departure time arrives. If we happen to hit a substantial jackpot, we cash it out as it happens and go home with the proceeds.

We are the ultimate low rollers. But sometimes we leave with a profit. Yesterday was one of those times. The biggest deal of the day was when Sandy broke our rules by accident.

Four deuces popped up on Sandy's machine, and the jackpot bells started ringing. I knew that was a $50.00 winner for her quarter investment, so was amazed when the total went higher than that. "What's going on?" I asked.

She laughed and said, "I made a mistake. I looked over at a lady who was acting strangely a couple of machines away and hit the ten nickel bet button instead of the five."

The $50.00 win thus became $100.00. Sometimes disciplined play is not the best way. Our expert was hardly embarrassed at all as she took that hundred home.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Save Those Bags, Help Save the Earth

Earth Day is coming up, again offering an opportunity to reflect on the role each of us can play in protecting and improving our environment.

The "Three R's"--Reduce, Reuse, Recycle--continue to be good general guides for positive things individuals can do. With spring and Earth Day coming on, I've been conducting a small, unscientific survey of one action that helps with two of the three R's. Bringing one's own shopping bags to the supermarket reduces reliance on plastic or paper bags, and fabric bags are reusable.

In my little survey I asked three veteran checkouts to estimate how many people bring their own
Reuse and Reduce
fabric bags. Somewhat surprisingly, the answers were identical--40 percent. That seems a poor performance considering widespread publicity for many years on problems with plastic waste in the environment and the often-repeated assertion that conserving paper saves trees. (Although the tree-saving idea is questionable, it is appealing).

Fabric shopping bags are easy to find. Both major supermarkets we visit display them prominently. One charges 99 cents for a bag, the other only 50 cents. In addition, one of the markets offers a 5 cent per bag discount every time you provide your own bags at checkout. In other parts of the country, some supermarkets provide free bags to promote use.

My checkout contacts offered two major reasons customers say they don't bring their own bags. They are (with my comments):

1. I tried using them, but forgot to bring them to the store so often I just gave up. Solution: Keep four or five extra bags in your vehicle's trunk. If you get all the way into the store before your light bulb flashes on, the brief round-trip back to the parking lot for bags will be just a bit of healthy exercise.

2. You have to wash them regularly. Not so: We have a few fabric bags we've used for more than 10 years and they still are clean. Items such as fresh meats and veggies that could cause sanitation problems will not if they are separately wrapped or bagged as you pick them up or you request extra wrapping at checkout.

Two of the three checkouts I contacted said they wished more customers would bring their own bags. Amen. Check here around next Earth Day to see if my follow-up survey shows any improvement.

Friday, April 14, 2017

New Attacks Target Newspapers


Just as President Trump seems somewhat distracted by world events from his war against news media, far right and alt-right Republicans are launching new assaults on the press, especially newspapers that serve small communities. My hometown newspaper in Wisconsin published an appeal to readers to "oppose proposals to eliminate legals from newspapers" by contacting elected officials.

Old-style progressive Republicans such as "Fighting Bob" LaFollette, once powers in the Badger State, must be turning over in their graves. As in many states, progressives led the way in pushing adoption of legislation requiring openness in local government operations and some private matters such as settling estates and debt collection. Some key features were requirements to print notices of bid invitations, election sites and hours, government employment opportunities, and proposed regulation changes in a "newspaper of public record." These "legals" or "legal ads" not only have long supported democracy by helping to make government activities transparent, they have been important sources of revenue for community newspapers.

I did a bit of calculating just how important legals can be to a small newspaper by measuring ads in my local weekly paper, a modest journal that usually publishes eight pages per issue. The number and sizes of ads seemed normal.  Of the 197 total column inches of advertising, 74 or 37.6 percent were legal ads. A small newspaper simply cannot survive if it loses a third of its advertising revenue.

Printed publication of legal notices shines light on democratic processes. Moves to rescind state legislation requiring publication of "legals" threaten many newspapers, especially small community publications.

Newspapers, generally, have taken heavy hits in the last two decades. Many closed, consolidated with others, or made moves into internet publication to stay in business. Advertising revenues plunged. In the U.S., print display advertising revenue dropped 45 percent. Revenue from classified ads went down 75 percent, with declines in real estate ads leading the way. Revenue from just two forms of advertising--paid obituaries and legal notices--stayed relatively stable.

Losing legal ad revenue would be a crushing blow to many community newspapers. Wisconsin is not the only state where moves are afoot to eliminate laws designating "newspapers of record" and requiring legal notices be placed in them. In New Jersey, where governor Christie has had numerous run-ins with the press, legislation to curtail legals has been introduced several times and is said to have a good chance of passing this year.

The reasoning of proponents is simple, and difficult to argue against. They claim cities, counties, and townships would save considerable costs. Legal announcements could be made available just as well through the internet. Opponents say there are undefined but substantial costs in setting up and maintaining web pages to post legals. They also decry a loss of openness in public affairs without state laws requiring traditional publication of legals.

Unfortunately, I think those who would strip newspapers of their monopoly on publishing legal notices will prevail eventually. Printed community newspapers are destined to succumb to financial pressures and be replaced by some form of internet news media. What the effect on democratic processes will be is unknown, and that is frightening.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Finding An Honest Man

Greek philosopher Diogenes is said to have strolled about in broad daylight carrying a lamp as he looked for an honest man. Legend has it he found only rascals and scoundrels in the human race.

I found an honest man this week without searching.

Following our last winter snowstorm about two weeks ago, roads were icy in places. One especially treacherous stretch was a curved section near our driveway on the entry road to our community. Our home is set back far enough from the road so we seldom hear any traffic noises when we are inside.

In mid-afternoon, I answered the door and met Jim Beebe. To my surprise he said, "My 16-year-old son came home and told me he slid off the road onto your property. He grazed your mailbox and ran across part of the lawn. I do home improvement and repair work for a living, and want you to know we will take care of all damages."

Mr. Beebe handed me a  business card and said I should call him to get the work done when the snow was gone and I had a change to assess the situation. He thought the mailbox was OK, but knew there would be some work needed on the lawn.

The first day of spring brought good weather, and beautiful wife Sandy and I checked things out. Big chunks of sod were gouged out of the lawn in three places. At first I thought the mailbox was a little wobbly, but probably would be all right. Sandy thought otherwise. As usual, she was right. The plastic parts that
Diogenes failed, but I found an honest man.
supported the box were broken in two places, not just cracked as I thought, and we decided the box was inadequate. I could see no good way to make repairs. I thought, however, that we might get an argument about the need for a new unit. Similar replacements cost about $65.

I phoned Mr. Beebe. He said he and his son would be over that afternoon to take care of things. Kenny Beebe rang our doorbell at about 3 p.m. He said we should buy a mailbox, we would be reimbursed, and he and his father then would be over to install it and repair the lawn.

About an hour later we spotted Mr. Beebe and son working on the lawn damage. I told Mr. Beebe we thought the work would be done after we got a mailbox. He said, "I told Kenny that's not good enough. When we've done with this, we're going shopping for a box. When we have one, we'll ask you to approve it before I install it."

Two hours later, the Beebes reappeared with a mailbox that proved to be an updated version of the one that was damaged. They said they visited three stores to find just the right one. We agreed they had succeeded. Mr. Beebe did a beautiful installation job, and the result was a unit superior to the one it replaced.

Had Kenny Beebe simply driven away and not told his father about the accident we would have had no way to know who caused the damage. I told Mr. Beebe that his son seemed like a fine young man. "Not quite," he replied. "He should have told you right away, not gone home to tell me. I've straightened him out about that."

I think there will be more than one honest man in the Beebe family if Jim has his way.


Monday, March 06, 2017

A Trump By Any Other Name . . .

Some of my internet correspondents have been busy coining nicknames for our president. Most of them are not flattering. "Dopey Donny" seems truly insulting for the leader of the free world. "Groper in Chief" is not nice at all. One widely read blogger went so far as to claim she will never mention Trump's name, and chose instead to indicate him as an * in her writings.

Although political opponents traditionally have tried to hang derogatory descriptors on presidents, most of the slurs did not become widely accepted enough to make it into formal histories. However some terms have had remarkable staying power.

Andrew Jackson will forever be known as "Old Hickory," a tribute to his toughness supposedly applied by soldiers he commanded before becoming president. Calvin Coolidge, who said little and also didn't achieve much, is known to most students of American history as "Silent Cal." And who doesn't still like to refer to "Ike"?

Is there a pattern to all this? Indeed, there is a minor trend along party lines. Although the first president to be known by his initials was a Republican, Theodore Roosevelt's "TR" designation was the only such label that stuck among GOP presidents. The Democrats, for reasons unknown, assumed leadership in nicknaming by initials. Even many in our younger generations know that HST was Harry Truman, JFK was John Kennedy, and LBJ denoted Lyndon Johnson.

The Republican trend in nicknaming is quite different. The best known labels represent some great deed or characteristic attributed to the president. Abraham Lincoln became "The Great Emancipator" for his proclamation that freed many slaves during the Civil War.  Ronald Reagan is widely known as "The Great Communicator" for his abilities as an orator.

So how should tradition and performance guide us in attaching a suitable nickname to Mr. Trump? "The Donald," a label bestowed on him by his first wife Ivana in 1989, may speak to his ego but hardly relates to any great achievement. Reading the findings of fact checkers who have analyzed Trump's various statements and claims during his presidential campaign and early days in office is perhaps our best guide to an appropriate label.

One respected fact checker found that three-fourths of Trump's statements during the campaign were exaggerations or downright lies. He hasn't improved much, if at all, on that level of performance as president. Perhaps, "The Great Emancipator" and "The Great Communicator" should be followed on the list of lasting Republican presidential nicknames by "The Great Prevaricator."

DONALD TRUMP
The Great Prevaricator



Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Stress Buster

These are stressful times as Americans and others vitally interested in American government policies ponder the damage caused by pronouncements emanating from the White House and quiver at thoughts of what is yet to come.

Responding to the excessive worry, experts in the workings of the human mind have produced hundreds of words of advice on how to cope with stress. Ideas range from hugging your puppy to taking a strenuous run through the park. So far, only a few I've read have suggested a hearty laugh.

Yet laughter can be good medicine in trying times. It was years ago when I was one of about 100 college students taking the final exam in Psychology 101. The multiple-choice test would determine a full half of our grade for the course. The lecturer was a newly appointed PhD who brought lots of enthusiasm to his task. He was serious about his work and had presented a ton of information. No one thought the final would be a snap.

Sure enough, there was dead silence in the lecture hall and sweat popped forth on more that a few foreheads as we started work on the problems. But after about 20 minutes a few snickers were heard. Then mild laughter filled the hall, followed finally by raucous guffaws.

Most of the students had reached the tenth question:

     "10. The Fallopian tubes are:"

And read the third choice:

     "Subways in Rome."

Arrivederci, stress.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Trump Started a War He Cannot Win

On Friday, Donald Trump once again lashed out at the news media, this time for no apparent reason. He endorsed a comment by his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, that the media are "the opposition party in many ways."

Trump added, "I'm not talking about all of them . . . but a big portion of the media, the dishonesty, total deceit and deception. It makes them certainly partially the opposition party, absolutely."

That garbled prose seems to indicate that Trump is slightly narrowing the number of his journalistic enemies. Earlier, he exempted no one in a talk at the Central Intelligence Agency. There he said, "I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth, right?"

I'm a journalist. I've never considered myself to be a dishonest person, let alone one of the most dishonest on the planet.

By coincidence, two of the most principled people I've ever been acquainted with, both journalists, died recently. Their passing and Trump's assaults on the profession caused me to spend some time recalling my hundreds of encounters with journalists both as a newsman and as an information specialist in government and private industry. How many individuals do I remember practicing "deceit and deception?" Exactly two.

One was a young television reporter who interviewed me about a Forest Service program. Before he turned on the camera, we agreed that he would not ask questions in one area. To my amazement, his
Trump will be scrutinized as no other has been
second question hit directly in that area. I learned from others at his station that he was totally dedicated to advancing his career, and sometimes bragged about using questionable tactics to enhance his stories. How did that work out for him? Several months after he embarrassed me, he disappeared from the airways and never was seen on television again. Apparently his supervisors did not endorse deception.

The other miscreant was a reporter for a small radio station. He taped a speech I gave at a luncheon following the announcement of the closing of a Job Corps Center operated by RCA where I served as public relations coordinator. I was astounded to hear his broadcast that evening. The tape of my talk had been edited to completely reverse the meaning of what I said. That reporter merely was running true to form. He was opposed to the Job Corps as part of his personal political ideology, and took every opportunity to show the program in a negative light. Certainly, there are people like him associated with media in small and large markets, but I believe their numbers are relatively small.

It's only one person's experience, but two bad apples in a barrel with hundreds may indicate there is little reason to disparage the entire group.

Above all, journalists who follow the code of ethics that guides the profession attempt to be objective. They often fail. Humans develop biases and it is difficult, perhaps impossible, for anyone to completely set theirs aside when reporting events or selecting which items to include in print or programs and how to present the stories. Nevertheless, the true professionals strive for personal integrity in their work and balance in the products.

When anyone, especially a person who frequently displays his own lack of integrity, accuses journalists of deliberate dishonesty he is making a big mistake. I take Trump's remarks along those lines as a personal insult, and I've been out of the workaday information business for a long time. You can bet many in the media are going to have more than the usual struggle to keep their anti-Trump biases under control. They will try to treat him fairly, but they also will be extra diligent in their responsibilities to serve as watchdogs over government, and they will pull no punches in their reporting.

Mr. Trump can expect to see a whole lot of reports such as the one that appeared in the January 24 New York Times under this headline: "Trump Won't Back Down From His Voting Fraud Lie. Here Are the Facts." An editor who had not been insulted by the major player in the story might have created a more kindly label, yet it is not "dishonest and deceitful."

Trump's assaults on the media ensure his activities will be scrutinized as no other president's have been. Every move will be reported, and not kindly. Who will win this "war"?  We might get a clue from an historic figure who participated in many wars: 

"Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets."--Napoleon Bonaparte


Monday, January 16, 2017

Let's Do Lunch--Got Three Dollars?

It's mid-January, and much of the annual bad economic news for retired geezers is in. The meager cost-of-living increase in my annuity and social security payments was eliminated by increases in medical insurance premiums. Gasoline prices and our annual auto registration fee soared, courtesy of hefty tax increases imposed by our Michigan legislature. Property taxes also increased. Yes, state and my local governments are under complete Republican control. Those are the same guys who preach, when running for election, that they will spare no effort to cut taxes.

Lesser items not subject to political control also increased in cost, or are projected to do so. What's a poor retiree to do? Of course, it's the American way to combat bad news by ingesting a heavy dose of comfort food. That's just what I did, although to feel completely comforted I had to hold the cost to a minimum to blunt effects of the rising costs of just about everything else.

Aided by some advance actions, my net cost was $3.18 (including sales tax) for a very satisfying (and
What made America fat--hard to resist at any price.
quite unhealthy) midday meal at the local Burger King. The lunch featured a Whopper sandwich (regularly priced at $4.48), french fries, and a good-sized coffee blended to my specification.

Normally, that meal would have cost nearly $7.00. How did I get it below half price? First, I spent about five minutes filling out an online customer satisfaction survey after a previous visit to Burger King. That got me a coupon for a free Whopper. Then I used a gift card bought online at a 13 percent discount to pay my tab. Next month, I'll knock another 1 percent off the meal cost because I paid for the low-cost gift card with a credit card for which I always get at least 1 percent off all purchases by paying my balance every month.

I had to visit a store right next to Burger King for a necessary purchase, so no transportation costs were involved in getting to my comfort luncheon. And, on the way out I picked up a free copy of the local weekly newspaper, courtesy of Burger King. It costs 75 cents at the supermarket next door. So we might say my net luncheon cost really was less than $2.50. But that's a bit of a stretch, so let's stick with $3.18.

Don't worry, I'm not going to reduce my life span by changing to a diet dominated by burgers and fries, even at three bucks a meal and no matter how tasty the comfort food is. I'll keep my healthy standard items on the menu--tuna or chicken chef salads. Now where can I find discounted gift cards for tuna and chicken?