Thursday, May 31, 2012

Thurvey 5/31/2012 Nanny, nanny boo-boo

Political rhetoric has become more irritating than Fran Drescher's "Nanny" laugh.  Of course that abrasiveness was part of a personality that was the basis of a successful career for Fran, which, I suppose, is also the hope of the candidates, parties and PAC's.  A phrase that is being introduced into the annoying public discourse more frequently is the warning that the the USA is becoming a "Nanny State."   The Thurvey questions for this week relate, more or less, to this concern.  Answer any or all by commenting to the blog.  The world needs your opinion.

#1  Mayor Bloomberg of New York City announced that the Big Apple will soon be outlawing your ability to "super-size" you sugary soft drink.  (I was amused by the reference in the Times article to "pre-sweetened ice tea".  Maybe they should also address word obesity)  Our forefathers fought hard for our individual liberties. How do you feel about the government limiting how much you Dew?   Or your addiction to Coke?  Or limitations on SWEET TEA?  Just another act of northern aggression as far as I'm concerned.  Tell us about your favorite sugary drink and how you feel about this intrusion on your right to pursue happiness (a little slower with all that weight gained from the habit, perhaps, but pursuit just the same).

#2  There is a movement for schools to once again require regular, perhaps daily, P. E. classes in public schools.  This despite a report from a research group at LSU that excessive exercise can be unhealthy.  Okay, that report deals with all you folks who run farther than I drive each week.  An example of citing something that is misleading.  Just trying to get us used to checking our facts.  Anyway, how do you feel about re-introducing more physical exercise into the education system?  What was your experience with public school P. E.?

#3  State governments that we elect by casting our votes at the polls are deciding that millions of us are not qualified to vote and are requiring more proof of qualification before we can vote again, even though there is virtually no evidence of abuse of the system by voters.  Florida had been in the news for months regarding the issue. . This is one of my favorite reports.from Stephen Colbert.  Another case of governments offering a solution for no problem as far as I can tell.  The effort is costing us money as well.  How do you feel about the government restricting our right to vote without any proof of cause?

#4  It is now illegal to text and drive in Alabama.  Is there anyone out there with an argument against that?  If so, let me know where you regularly drive so that I can avoid it.  So obviously, there may be some cases in which we need a Nanny.  How do you feel about the law, and do you have any other suggestions for Nanny laws that the government should consider?  You may be serious, or not.  I prefer not.

#5  What question (about Nannyism or anything else) do you want answered this week?

You should answer the Thurvey. It'll be good for you.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Are you better off now than you were four years ago?  

The question was made famous by Ronald Reagan in his 1980 campaign against Jimmy Carter. Not a bad question to ask when considering who to vote for. Nothing is that simple, but still, a logical place to start.  

The economy seems to be the primary concern for most voters. Sure, we all have other issues that are important to us, but, lest we be called "stupid", which could happen thanks to Bill Clinton's campaign mantra against George Bush in 1980, we will begin our look at whether we are better off now than we were four years by looking at the economy.

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is a statistical indicator of the health of the economy of a country.  It is the sum of the market value of the goods and services produced by the economy.

In the first quarter of 2008, George W. Bush's last year in office, the growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was -1.8%.  That's right. Negative 1.8%.  

Four years later, In the first quarter of this year, the percentage of growth in the  GDP was 2.2%.  That is positive 2.2 percent.

Are we better off in the most widely used indicator of the health of the economy?  Without question.

If you want to look a little later in 2008, things look even rosier now.  The growth rate in the GDP in the last quarter of 2008 was -8.9%.  That's right. Negative 8.9 percent.

President Obama took office the third week in January, 2009.  In that quarter, the GDP was still negative, but 2.2% better at -6.7 %. By the third quarter of Obama's first year, the GDP was back in positive territory, where it has remained.

Only one quarter in 2008 yielded a positive growth rate in GDP, that being the second quarter in which the GDP grew at a red-hot 1.3 %.

Three quarters in 2008 produced negative growth in America's GDP. Three negative quarters. One year.

President Obama has only had two quarters of negative growth in the GDP since he has been in office.  One of them was the first quarter, which he shared with the previous administration.

Is economy better off than it was four years ago? 

Without question.

Unless you just want to assume otherwise.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Assumption Consumption

I made some faulty assumptions today.  I assumed that I would save a lot of money at Joseph A. Banks during the "buy one suit, get two more suits free" sale.  I assumed that Mr. P's in Bluff Park would be open for lunch on Memorial Day, and I assumed that there was solid ground under the leaves covering an old drainage ditch as I steered my dad's riding lawn mower over it.

I wanted the suits. I wanted to eat at Mr. P's.  I didn't want to have to get off the lawnmower.  So I didn't question my assumptions.  They permitted me to do as I wanted. So, I spent way more than I thought, I drove to Bluff Park for nothing, and I had to lift the riding mower out of a hole. 

Assumptions are epidemic, due in part to laziness, but perhaps as much because an assumption can justify  desires.  So we defend our assumptions fiercely, often from the hole they leave us in.

Of course, we must make assumptions in life. When based on reasonably reliable facts assumptions allow us to make decisions and take actions that have a good probability of working out nicely.  But the  key is having the desire and taking the time to discover the reasonably reliable facts.  The presence of skilled salesmen pushing the high end suits was discoverable. A phone call to the restaurant would have worked. And sometimes, you just have to get up off your seat and dig around for solid ground.

It seems that we are at a critical point in our history.  It is not just about who will be the next President of our country, but the rhetoric around that question is a good case study in assumptions.  So, maybe it is time to take a look at some of them in the next few days, weeks and months. 

Today is Monday, and since it is a holiday, the Monday Week in Preview Haiku staff has taken the day off. So, this will have to do . . .

Pay for one, get three
A deal too good to deny,
Know first the one price.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Take a walk . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I tend to get up with the sun.  My adherence to natural circadian rhythm contributes to my general worthlessness in the dead of winter, when the sun is as sluggardly as I, rising late and turning in early. I think I may have evolved more from the hibernating bear rather than the tropical ape.  People that know me well would say I retain significant traits of both.   But now, as we sprint toward June's summer solstice, the longest day of the year around here, I awake early.  It is a beautiful time of the year to get up early in Alabama and go for a walk.  As the sky begins to lighten, the birds squawk and sing (perhaps they are all singing, just some are more musical than others, but at least they are joyful). I like to sleep with the window open, so the music of my feathered neighbors make my cell phone alarm completely unnecessary. Before the first rays of the sun finally hurdle over the ridge of Streight Mountain (now spelled Straight Mountain, but it was originally named for a Yankee Union Army officer named Streight, perhaps the reason for the spelling change), the deer graze cautiously at the edge of the treeline outside my window and other small varmints like armadillos, raccoons, skunks and possums (I have no opossums around my house, no matter what the zoologists say, my critters are not that pretentious) forage around hurriedly like vampires anticipating the dangers of the imminent light. (Except for the armadillos, they are getting a little too bold for my taste as they look at me as if to say, "I'm wearing this armor shell, what are you going to do about me digging these divots in your yard?")

The major flora feature of the morning walk was the abundance of wild cherries that had fallen on the pathway. The soles of my shoes were purple by the time I made it back to the house.  Wild cherries are edible, though not a very efficient fruit, each cherry being about one quarter the size of an M&M. And there is a pit inside. But, it is still fun to eat a few, wondering if one could survive on such fare for very long. My mother claims you could eat enough of the ripe cherries to get drunk.  I don't have that kind of patience.  In younger days they were the early summer source for the poor man's paint ball, perfect for hurling at passers by.  While not nearly so loaded as the purple berries of the polk sallet (yes, I know, we all call it polk salad, as in Tony Joe White's southern anthem "Polk Salad Annie"), the wild cherries were sufficient until the polk salad plants went to seed later in the summer.

Alabama is a wondrous place to live.  Everyone that lives here, regardless of race, religion, economic status, sexual preference or fashion taste, can enjoy perfect, peaceful early summer mornings, the music of the wildlife, the beauty and abundance of the plant life, even in the middle of our largest urban areas if one is willing to look a little harder. Alabama's gifts of creation are available to all in a very democratic way.  In fact, those Alabamians who have less money to use pursuing the shiny, shallow attractions, or maybe distractions, of popular culture, seem more knowledgeable of the best places to enjoy the natural abundance within walking or short driving distance.  Creek banks.(Underneath bridges make the best secluded easy access getaways)  Swimming holes. Hideaways tucked in giant limestone formations reachable only by root and rock filled pathways. Mountain top vistas (sometimes enhanced by climbing water tanks or fire towers).  Even secluded gathering spots along old abandoned railroad beds.

It seems that of all places, Alabama has a head start on equality, as endowed by a generous Creator.  And yet, as managers of this abundant garden that we have been given, we allow cruel inequalities to continue.

The notion of equality is acknowledged in our Constitutions, both federal and State, penned by the hands of men.  But, the reality of equality is exhibited by the author of that equality,  the abundance of the Creator in full display on early summer mornings like this.

Forget politics. Please.

Just take a walk this weekend and ponder if you have done anything to deserve the beauty and abundance of the natural world.

Sometimes our mothers get it right. Maybe not about wild cherries making us drunk.

But it is better to share.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Thurvey 5/17/2012 Faster space travel, slow earth traffic, life-giving beverages, and shrunken heads. . . .

Thurvey (Thursday survey) time.  Time once again for readers to supply valuable input on the important issues of the day, steering public policy through the shark infested waters of the ocean of our mutual existence . . . To prevent our generation from just becoming so much chum, answer the Thurvey questions of the week.

#1   Alabama's Redstone Arsenal is developing a nuclear fuel system that will cut the travel time to Mars from several months to a few weeks. (I think this is seriously cool). This development, along with the Alabama legislature's decision that all Alabama public school students must have a long summer vacation, should allow opportunities for most of us to take a Mars getaway while the kids are out of school.  Hope that doesn't hurt the Alabama beaches economy.   If you were offered a free summer trip to Mars, or a free summer on the Gulf Coast, which would you take?  Why?

#2   Speaking of trips to the beach or to Mars, when I was young, and even now, I was, and am,  a sucker for tacky souvenirs.  I think this was developed during family trips to the beach and to the mountains (but not Mars) when I was a child.  Generally, I could look but could not buy.  An unrequited passion which lingers to adulthood.  Perhaps I am alone in this secret desire, but if not, or even if you just want to make me feel as if I am not alone, tell us about your favorite tacky souvenir, bought, or just longed for.

#3  Important beverage news this week.  Brewmasters in Vermont are once again making beer from the lifeblood of their state, Maple sap.  And new studies are out proving that drinking coffee leads to a longer life. For many, beer or coffee are more than beverages, they are a source of peace, comfort, cheap therapy.  What food or drink do you lean on for more than nutrition?  Be brand specific if that is important to you.

#4   If you drive often in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Huntsville, Oneonta, or other lesser Metro areas like Atlanta or Nashville, or points in between, perhaps you suffer from traffic rage disorder.  Too many of us are on the road at the same time trying, it appears, to get to the same places.  Any metaphorical dreams of a fast lane kind of life are hampered by the literal slow lanes that we travel in.  Where are the worst traffic nightmares?  What are the best solutions?  Be as creative as you wish.  It's not like we're going to do anything about it anyway.

#5  What charitable, religious, or civic organization would you like to promote this week. Use this space for promotion of events if you wish.

#6   What question do you want answered this week?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monday Week in Preview . . .Haiku

After a little more thought, I think it might be handier to do the new feature Monday Week in Preview in Haiku.  With links to more detail.

Monday Week in Preview . . . Haiku

State legislature
Immigration and budget
One day left to pass.
(Huntsville Times)

Immigrant workers
Leave Alabama in fear
Farmers plant less food.
(Washington Post, via Oneonta)

Braves lead NL East
Hot bats turning into wins,
But summer is long.
(Capitol Avenue)

Bama gator hunts
Enter lottery to go
Luck be a lady.
(Alabama Live, Montgomery)

J. P. Morgan Bank
Short two billion again
Darn derivatives
(New York Times)

They're rubber, they're glue,
Words bounce off and stick on them
Obama Romney.
(Do you really need a link for this?)

Monday's Week in Preview . . .

A new Monday feature.  As always, you can add to the content by commenting.

Monday's week in preview  . . .
Stomping out ignorance early

1.  The bad news is that the Alabama legislature has only one day left in session and have yet to pass budgets or taken  action to reform the immigration bill.  The good news is the legislature has only one day left in session to consider strange legislation that has nothing to do with Alabama's looming financial problems.  Wednesday is the final day of the regular session and should be a wild one, with budgets being passed without opportunities to know what is really in them.  They may not want to know what is in the budget, because due to a revenue problem, all state services, including education, will take dramatic cuts.  A special session will probably be called immediately to consider re-drawing the legislative districts.

2.  It has been one year since Alabama's now  famous, or infamous,  immigration law, was signed into law.  There have been protests and litigation since that time.  It is in the news now not only because the Alabama legislature planned to take up some reforms this term.  It is in the news because once again farmers are having a difficult time finding enough workers, some cutting back or changing their crop plans.  Oneonta, Alabama, made the Washington Post again.

3. The Braves lead the National League East with hot offense.  The NBA play-offs continue.  Mo Williams, a former University of Alabama point guard, is a significant contributor to the LA Clippers, who advanced yesterday with a win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

4. Gasoline prices are falling despite everything Obama could do to keep them elevated.

5.  More and more will be heard from Congress about spending and taxes.  The results of the bipartisan agreement of last year regarding the national debt ceiling which required that cuts to the budget be made by agreement or automatic cuts would kick in (sequestration) will be coming home to roost very soon. Dramatic cuts, mostly in defense spending, will happen unless an agreement is reached.  This, in conjunction with the automatic expiration of the Bush tax cuts at the end of the year are, or should, cause panic among Congress, no matter the party affiliation.  The rhetoric will continue to get hotter.

6.  Presidential races are out of the starting blocks and getting up to speed.  So far, the campaigns can be summed  up by assertions of both sides of sage wisdom such as  "Liar,liar pants on fire . . ." and  "I'm rubber, you're glue, what you say bounces off of me and sticks to you . . ."

Feel free to supplement the preview if you wish.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Words with Friends Fiend

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

My plan is to spend much of the day outside, beating back the rain forest that threatens to overtake my castle. But it looks like more rain is on the way.  I may be trapped here forever by the advancing flora, sort of like the thorns that surrounded Sleeping Beauty's castle in the Disney movie, except for the Sleeping Beauty part.  I may take a nap later, but that is where the analogy ends. (As an aside, googling "Sleeping Beauty" these days does not automatically get you to the Disney movie).

I'll probably catch up on Words With Friends.

 My name is Bob, and I am a Words with Friends addict.

For the innocent who have been untouched by this blight, Words with Friends is an internet word game, a Scrabble knock-off, which allows the addict to make connection with other addicts, so-called "friends", and play a game.  Insidiously, the game is available twenty four hours a day, and one can be involved in  multiple games with multiple friends at the same time, with absolutely no protection. When one cannot find enough friends to satisfy the addict's growing needs or when your friends become disgusted with your habit, the game encourages hooking up with complete strangers, or multiple strangers, regardless of sex, age, nationality, or religious affiliation, and with no way of knowing how many playing partners they have been involved with.    How did I fall so far?  I personally blame Alec Baldwin.   I can assure you, I now know Alec is no role model.

Excuse me for a moment, I need to check and see if anyone has played a new word.

Okay, I'm back.

The addictive quality of the game is the negative.  But like prescription meds properly used, there is much good that can be derived from Words.

There are the obvious things, like sharpened  vocabulary (those of you who resort to Scrabble Cheat and like websites should at least have the ethics to memorize the definition of those weird words you discover using your devious little device.  We all know you do it.)  Vigorous mental exercise. Entertainment.

But are there deeper lessons in the game?  The origins of many of our favorite competitive sporting games comes from preparation for battle.  War games.

Words with Friends is kind of like that.  At least that's my excuse. It is good for us.

In fact, Words with Friends should be called "Life."  But that's another game.

As in life  (not the game, it doesn't really require much), one's ability, creativity and determination are important.

But as in life (again, real life) , it is not that simple. Luck is a factor. You must play with the letters you are randomly dealt. Some days it's all vowels. Some days its all j's q's and x's.   And you can't just put a word down in a vacuum. It is only valuable in the context of the existing reality.  It must connect to other words, often words that were offered by your opponent (friend). Sometimes you can't play a word at all and must take a pass. Sometimes your best word, or your chance to dump the q comes as a result of your opponent's play. Sometimes you have to pass up a good word because playing it might allow your opponent to make a better word.

And, I suppose it seems obvious, you must spell real words.

I could go on, but I'll save most of it for the book, "Words with Friends, Words for Life", soon to be available on Amazon.   Just one last observation this morning. I've got to get back to the game pretty soon.

Like all games, the manner of play depends on the goal of the game.  Words with Friends is fiercely competitive.  The goal is to play in such a way as to score all the points you can while holding your opponent to an embarrassingly low score and send him or her back to Farmville.

But one of the annoying little notifications that pops up from time to time on Words with Friends exclaims with excitement "John Doe and Jane Doe have scored an amazing 943 total points in a game of Words with Friends".  It doesn't say what the individual scores were. It doesn't say who won or lost.  It just celebrates the huge combined score of the players.  It is clear that when players are playing to produce a higher total score rather than against one another, significantly higher total points are scored.  The same skill, knowledge and creativity is required.

 The only thing different is the goal of the game.

And those are my last words here this morning. I've got to go play.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Anything Goes, Mandatory summer vacation, and good manners for candidates . . .

The Thurvey questions for the week have arrived.  Join the chorus of Thurvey responders (more like a quartet, a family quartet at that. Thanks for your support guys. On the other hand, I have a huge family.  .  .wait till I see the rest of you at the reunion. But I regress.)    RSVP:

#1  The Alabama legislature has enacted legislation requiring that the summer vacation break for public schools begin no later than a week prior to Memorial Day and end no earlier than two weeks prior to Labor Day. Under that law school will start no earlier than August 20 next school year and end no later than May 24.  The  reasoning behind the legislation was the idea that assuring a longer summer break would mean more vacations at the beach for Alabama families, boosting the tourist industry, the economy, and tax revenues. Local school boards will have no discretion.  Governor Bentley has said he has some reservations about the legislation and is going to review it carefully before signing it into law.  What would you tell the Governor Bentley (another cousin who has not responded to the Thurvey) if he asked you your opinion about the law?  Feel free to be technical, for you education wonks, or wax poetic about good summer break times, for you waxy types.

#2   There has been interesting conversation in the political arena this week about the appropriate or inappropriate statements by the President about the killing of Osama Bin Laden in the course of political campaigning.  Other things have also been questioned as appropriate . . . families, religion, choice of salad components (arugula scandal of 2008) and pet care (transportation vs. menu item).  What should be tabu?  If you were put on a committee to make some rules of conduct for candidates (and super PAC's if they were subject to any rules) what would you require?

#3  Anything Goes, a competition for teams from the high schools in Blount County, will be held at the Agribusiness Center in Oneonta tonight at 7:00 p.m.  It is a fundraiser for the Danny Hicks Scholarship fund and quite a hilarious and ultimately heated competition, featuring events like the egg toss, the dizzy bat relay, and other Olympic quality events.  You've got nothing better to do on a Thursday night.  Come on out.  Or just send your money.  If we could stage an Anything Goes for the Alabama Legislature, or for Presidential candidates, what events would you propose and why?

#4   It is the season for gifts, graduation and wedding.  Some of us may be a bit out of the loop when it comes to choosing useful gifts for such events.  Any suggestions?  Or perhaps more importantly, what is not a good gift for such occasions?

#5  What question do you want answered this week?

Real Time Analytics