Friday, November 14, 2008

Hey, Nero, get out the fiddle!

World-wide recession? What world-wide recession?

Pass the wine, George.

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Descending Washington Park

Rambled this November afternoon in Washington Park.

Wound down Wildwood Trail (leaf-strewn, color-splashed wild woods — indeed).

Japanese Garden.

Low, late autumn sun casts shadows across stone garden paths. Volunteers prepare exhibit of woven bamboo in the Tea House. One shuts the door. “Sorry. Come back tomorrow.”

Descend through the International Rose Test Garden of a few, faded, still fragrant roses. Pass a plodding, earnest Great Dane puppy. Full-grown, immense feet. “Five-months-old,” says the owner. "Come back tomorrow," I think.

Happen on, visit and linger in the dark, immense agony of the Oregon Holocaust Memorial. Cautionary epic tragedic history etched on its black granite slabs.

Down, down past an idle BMW dealership to Goose Hollow.

Catch the MAX train on the verge of its plunge into the mountain. It rumbles through blackness. Commuters read mysteries in the dark.

Zoo Station. Up the elevator with three smart-assed, foul-mouthed teens. Mercifully brief ascent. Back to the trailhead lot and my waiting car. Home.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Baffling murders?

The headline on the on-line version of the New York Times story reads “Mother baffled in Arizona Murders.”

The story recounts how an 8-year-old boy confessed to shooting and killing his father and another man.

I’m going to highlight a few of sections from the story. They don’t give the necessary details to end the bafflement, but they certainly point to at least one obvious line of inquiry.

First, note the boy’s age — 8.

A substance abuse counselor at the local health clinic in the remote community of St. Johns, Arizona, tells the Times reporter, “A lot of people around here say there’s nothing to do.” Boredom leads to drug abuse, she says.

Then there's the description of the boy by his mother, Erin Bloomfield, who had divorced his father, Vincent Romero, six years ago but talked to her son every week and visited every month.

Ms. Bloomfield called her son a “normal boy” who "played video games nonstop and doted on his new dog, a boxer." But in recent months, she said, he “seemed to be changing.”

That’s an interesting definition of “normal,” playing video games "nonstop." Of course 8-year-olds and all children have this habit of "changing." The question is, who, or what, is influencing those changes.

According the Times account, authorities said there was no evidence that the boy had been abused, but his mother worried he might be. The boy had told her that his father and his step-mother had quarreled often.

Recently, Ms. Bloomfield had learned that her ex-husband bought the boy a .22 rifle for hunting. To quote from the story, hunting is “a common pastime of young boys and their fathers in this town of about 4,000 people.”

It’s worth reading the Times’ story. The case is still unfolding. The investigation continues. The mother doubts her son even committed the murders. There were no witnesses; the boy confessed in a police interview.

Here’s what caught my eye: the boy’s impressionable age, his “non-stop” video gaming (question: What games? First-person shooters?) giving him a .22 rifle (not locked in a gun locker?), the possibility of child abuse or an environment of abuse, which could also include drug and alcohol abuse.

Baffling murders?

We’ll see….

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

CEO/worker Inequity short-circuits Circuit City

Time to do the ratio of CEO compensation to the pay of in-the-trenches sales clerks at Circuit City.

The national retailer has been so brilliantly managed by its top brass that it just declared bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy, of course, means that thousands of sales staffers soon will be on the streets while the golden parachutes unfurl for top management.

So what's that ratio? reported earlier this year that in fiscal 2006 Circuit City’s CEO Philip Schoonover was paid $8.52 million including a salary of $975,000.

To cut costs last year, Schoonover and management fired more than 3,000 “overpaid” floor sales people who were making a whopping $11 per hour. Management replaced them with inexperienced new hires being paid $8 per.

Morale immediately tanked as did sales, but at least management didn’t do the unthinkable — cut Schoonover’s stratospheric compensation.

So what’s the ratio of Schoonover’s take to that of a floor salesperson, who we’ll figure averages $9/hour or $18,720 a year?

The management is rewarding Schoonover with 456 times as much as the average sales stiff.

To experience why workers might be embittered, Mr. Schoonover ought to try living for a year on $18,720, which is what Schoonover makes in roughly five hours.

I have maintained that any executive demanding or accepting pay of more than six or seven times what the average worker earns is in business strictly for the money. Workers, customers and shareholders be damned.

As the government ladles out billions to corporate American, the money should be conditioned on barring greed from corporate executive offices.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day addenda

On this Veterans Day, I turned to the small cardboard carton stuffed with my Dad’s neatly arranged letters home during World War II. My mother had saved them all. They got passed on to me after she died.

I don’t know exactly what I was looking for in those yellowing letters from 1944 and 1945. If it was Veterans Day inspiration or patriotic pride, I didn’t find them.

Dad’s been dead more than 20 years now. He lived into his late seventies, but dementia and palsy haunted him for the last 10 years of his life. He rarely and reluctantly spoke of the war. In his mid-30s, he was a flight surgeon on B-29s. (Dad, Capt. — and later Maj. — William F. Seifert, MD, is the tallest of the three men in the front row of the photo taken somewhere in the Pacific theater of war.) He was first assigned to India, flying “The Hump,” or the Himalayans, on bomb runs into China. Then he was in China itself and finally on the small coral island of Tinian, where the B-29’s assembled for the decisive air raids on Japan.

The “Super Fortresses” there included the two that ended the war by obliterating Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs.

Dad’s letters to Mom were censored so he was left to write about boozing, gambling, dysentery, his buddies, his eagerness to come home, his longing for Mom and me (I was a toddler), the oppressive heat, the foibles of his medical colleagues and the pettiness and bureaucratic demands of the military.

It’s a side of war we don’t hear much about. The parts that Dad had to censor largely make it into the history books and are celebrated on Veterans Day.

Dad’s letters are Veterans Day addenda, remembrances that war, in addition to being hell, bravery and sacrifice, is also, diarrhea, drug abuse, drudgery and bureaucratic in-fighting.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Bring back $4-per-gallon gas!

Back in May, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote about and endorsed a plan for placing a mandated floor under gasoline prices.

At the time, the price of gasoline was approaching $4 a gallon.

Despite the drain on our wallets, much of the news was actually good. Demand for small fuel-efficient cars was rising, gas guzzlers weren’t selling, people were driving and polluting less, and many were finally taking mass transit. We were adopting some good habits. Moreover, the demand for imported oil dropped, making us less dependent on Middle Eastern oil fiefdoms.

And our carbon footprint got smaller.

Under the plan floated by Friedman and proposed by energy economist Philip Verleger Jr., the government would never allow the pump price of gas to fall below $4 a gallon. If the market price did fall below that level, Washington “would increase the federal gasoline tax on a monthly basis to make up the difference between the pump price and the market price.”

Verleger’s proposal would use the extra money to help the less well-off by reducing their payroll taxes. It sounds overly generous to me, but anyone earning under $80,000 year would get the tax cut.

The economist proposed another option: use the money to buy back gas guzzlers and send them to the crushers.

That was then and this is now. The price of gas is now less than $2.50 a gallon. I paid $2.29 a gallon at the local Chevron on Saturday.

If the Verleger plan were in place, the tax revenues would be rolling in and we would be making the much needed changes in habits we were making in the spring.

The other change since the spring is that the economy is tanking, and the automobile industry is on the ropes. The Big Three, too long wedded to a gas-guzzler strategy, are about to go down for the count, taking thousands of jobs with them.

It’s pretty clear that Verleger had the right idea, but the new tax revenues need to be retargeted in these dire economic times.

The new Obama administration should use the money to subsidize 50 percent of the purchase price of all-electric cars. The provision would kick in in the fall of 2009, giving the auto industry time to retool.

Before the electric car subsidies kick in, the money should be used to modernize alternative forms of transportation, including metropolitan commuter rail and high-speed intercity Amtrak trains. Build sidewalks and bike lanes. Provide more incentives for transit-oriented commercial and housing development.

The resulting work would provide much needed jobs in the flagging economy. The promise of subsidized electric car purchases would force the American automobile industry to change and end its own axis of evil with the profiteering oil industry and the petro-fiefdoms in the Middle East, Russia and Venezuela.

There’d be an added benefit. The policy would indirectly cut into the flow of funds to radical Islamic terrorists who are sustained by Middle Eastern, oil-rich interests. Paying $4 a gallon at the pump, might even be seen as an act of patriotic sacrifice in a time of war.

We may be getting ahead of ourselves, but in the long term the policy might even allow us to trim defense spending and produce a peace dividend.

It all seems worth paying an extra $1.50 per gallon at the pump, at least until the emission-free cars powered by solar, tidal and wind generated electricity start rolling off the American production lines.

Then driving our new electric trucks and cars, we'd end our dependence on foreign oil, to cut off funds to terrorists, to turn back global warming and to rebuild our economy.

Sounds like a change we can believe in. What to you say, President Obama?

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Be a Part of the Change at

The Office of the President-Elect is on line at its own web site.

A brilliant idea.

Be there now!

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A Being in the Silence

Portland's Laurelhurst Park

Wallace Bass Boyd, who calls himself a “folk life artist,” has written a poem, “Song for Seekers,” which he recited out of the silence of our Quaker meeting this morning.

“I am as complex as I can be, and I am patient with dear me because I really want to see the nature of complexity…”

The poem describes the immortality of an ancient oak that falls, decays and “becomes a cradle for sapling progeny.”

The poem’s final line is “I write to remember what I sometimes forget, ‘Live one day at a time to end a lifetime of regret.’”

We fell back into the silence then. My mind’s eye focused on an oak’s acorn — the oak's essence, its being, its progeny.

What is our essence? I wondered. If we could distill ourselves to our purest form, what would it be?




Something beyond words?

I didn’t share my little list with the others when we talked after the hour’s silence, but I did mention that Wallace’s reference to being’s complexity had led be to ponder being’s simple essence.

He offered “breathing.” The word for breath in Latin is “spiritus,” whence our word “spirit” is derived.

Perhaps because of my age and time in life, I join death with being in my own search for our essence. I continue to believe the answer resides in silence. It is greater than words and so cannot be spoken, but it may — just may — be felt. It is a deep, deep feeling in the wordless, thought-free silence.

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