Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Who's Gonna Fix Our Moral Problems?

Halloween is a very important holiday. Not because of anything specific that it celebrates. But it serves as a pressure-relief valve from the work grind that many of us have been caught up in since just after Labor Day. It’s a chance to dress up in costume, dress your kids up in costume, decorate your home or your office, have a party, and just have fun. Enjoy it!

“Living History” quote of the day:
“In the early sixties we suddenly cheered up when some historian noticed that the late, Massachusetts-born, white-mustachioed Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who had served on the bench into the nineteen-thirties, had in his long lifetime shaken hands with both John Quincy Adams and John F. Kennedy.”
--Roger Angell, in "The New Yorker," September 11, 2006

Quote of the day no. 2:
“Experts decry our moral slippage, and recommend more technology, laws and prisons. Or they condemn parents while calling for a revival of traditional religious values. Fine. But, as far as can be told, such talk hasn’t produced much except political polarization.”
--Richard Louv, in today’s "San Diego Union-Tribune"

Louv’s piece suggests we need to find a way to address ethical and moral issues that goes beyond simply passing increasingly restrictive laws and mandating increasingly harsh prison sentences. The reason: these strategies are not working.

Where do we begin? We usually begin by blaming someone--usually parents, media, big business or the justice system. While this helps us feel righteous and avoid personal responsibility, it accomplishes exactly zero.

Where do we begin? Well, it begins with leadership. He quotes Daniel Yankelovich, who recommends that business take the lead with a “stewardship ethic”: “If we rely primarily on regulatory and legal mechanisms to repair the damage, we will not get very far. We will force the gamesters of the system to be more ingenious and more careful. But we will not transform the ethical climate.”

Where do we begin? I have a simple suggestion, that each of us stop being a “gamester.” What does that mean? It means stopping making any decisions based on “can I get away with this?” or “will I get caught?” Just stopping that. Is that possible?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Don't Know Who Said It, But It's Important

Quote of the day:
"Cynicism is often the shamefaced product of inexperience."
--A. J. Liebling

We live in a time when easy, slogan philosophies predominate, especially among politicians, marketers and management consultants. Also, millions of quotes and anecdotes circulate daily on the internet, usually with questionable or no attribution.

Bill Ward, in the "Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune," reminds us that much of what we assume or are told about who said what is simply wrong. He points out that Humphrey Bogart did not say “play it again, Sam” in the movie Casablanca, though Ingrid Bergman did say “play it, Sam.” Also, Sherlock Holmes never said “Elementary, my dear Watson.” Nor did Tarzan ever say “Me Tarzan, you Jane.”

Sgt. Joe Friday never said “Just the facts, ma’am.” And one of the favorites these days, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way” was not said by Gen. George S. Patton, but by Thomas Paine.

As a minister, people often approached me with a written quote or a story, usually with a religious theme. Sometimes these would be interesting or funny, sometimes they would be just awful. Rarely was any attribution attached.

Often people assumed that certain sayings came from the bible or somewhere else in the tradition, when the reality was that no one knew where they came from.

It took me a while to realize that when someone brought me a quote or story, they were telling me something about themselves. So who wrote it became an unnecessary question.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Is This This?

Quote of the day:
“You do not become a ‘dissident’ just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society.”
--Vaclav Havel, who also said:

"If you want to see your plays performed the way you wrote them, become president."

Quote of the day no. 2:
“Consistency is not really a human trait.”
--Collin Higgins, from the script for "Harold and Maude"

While we’re on the subject of quotes from the movies, one of my favorites of all time is from Michael Cimino’s masterpiece "The Deer Hunter": “This is this.”

This “this” comes to mind because I’m confused. On TLC there’s a show called "Flip That House," while a similar show on A&E is called "Flip This House." So is this “this”? Or is this “that”?

Stay It, Don't Say It?

Quote of the day:
“Hey, Cherie! Why is our music so bad? I just heard The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ album for the first time; I think it’s genius. There’s no band now, not the Killers, Yellowcard or anyone, that is doing anything that great.
--Loves The Beatles

“Hey, Loves! It’s hard to be second. There’s a reason The Beatles were The Beatles. They broke ground, and everyone’s been trying to catch up for 40 years. I do think there are other great bands around; however, the groups that stand the test of time, like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the Who, do so for a reason. They’re a cut above. Congrats on discovering the best of the best.”
--Cherie Bennet, in her advice column to teens and young adults

Quote of the day no. 2:
“What made any of us think that the place we are trying to reach is far, far ahead of us somewhere and that the only way to get there is to run till we drop?”
--Barbara Brown Taylor

Quote of the day no. 3:
“The cynical take on the contradiction between Mr. Bush’s solemn vow not to say we’ll stay the course, while promising in not so many words but with equal solemnity to stay the course, is that although the president adamantly insists he doesn’t follow the polls, Karl Rove makes no bones about the fact that he does, and avidly.”
--Alan Abelson

Friday, October 27, 2006

Shopping 'R' Us

Quote of the day:
“Of course parents want their children--regardless of age--to come to them if there is a crisis. And I am told that seven out of 10 teens who find themselves pregnant do just that. However, those who don’t usually have a good reason for not doing so.”
--Dear Abby, today.

Quote of the day No. 2:
“People come in here, and they feel at home. Unless they live in one of those homes that are always clean all the time.”
--Jan Cano, who runs the Frame Gallery in downtown Chula Vista, California.

Cano was responding to the opening of Otay Ranch Town Center, a very large shopping and restaurant complex dubbed a “lifestyle center.” These centers are being developed across the country adjacent to new, outlying suburban housing. Sometimes they are designed as part of mixed-use, urban-style neighborhoods, so that people can easily walk to shopping and other conveniences.

The developers of these centers say that they are responding to desires for a downtown, community-oriented experience in the suburbs. Those, like Cano, who continue to operate businesses in downtown areas, respond with bafflement.

The lead architect of Otay Ranch Town Center, Robert Anderson, says, “These places are the social hubs of our community, whether we like it or not. People might criticize that they’re commercially driven by a bunch of national retailers, but shopping is a big part of people’s lives. So let’s make it great.”

Whatever our reservations, these “lifestyle centers” will be successful, because many people, including many of those with reservations, will patronize them. It’s similar to our attitude about Wal-Mart. We may have reservations about how they have altered the communities they have entered. But they are successful because we either need, or must have, low prices.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fun With Scorcese

Quote of the day:
“Sometimes people carry to such perfection the mask they have assumed that in due course they actually become the person they seem.”
--W. Somerset Maugham

"The Departed" is a fun movie. Jack Nicholson clearly enjoys himself playing the head of a crime organization. Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon are excellent as the cops he sets up against each other. There are fine performances from Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen and especially Mark Wahlberg. A cast studded with stars. Or starred with studs.

The movie is a bit unusual for director Martin Scorcese. It is not as intensely visual as, for example, Casino (I think his best film) or Raging Bull. His focus seems to be on using the camera to tell the story rather than express the theme.

And it’s a very involving and unpredictable story with bad good guys and good bad guys. The film is blessedly free of the usual blasts of sound effects or incessant quick-cutting which seem to be the norm for action movies now.

There is gun violence in the film, but, thankfully, no close-up brutality (except for one moment seen in the TV trailer).

It’s a good time at the movies, for adults.

Have You Waited in Line For Water Today?

Quote of the day:
“Only in the past two decades has the majority of the human race joined the market economy with the fall of Communism, the opening of the emerging markets and the liberalization of international trade.”

Quote of the day No. 2:
“China has less water than Canada--and forty times as many people. With wells draining aquifers far faster than they can be replenished by rain, the water table beneath Beijing has fallen nearly two hundred feet in the last twenty years.”
--Michael Specter in "The New Yorker," October 23, 2006

With our recent fixation on oil and gas prices, there has been very little attention paid to water, which is, of course, a far more necessary resource. Specter’s story on the global water situation is well worth reading.

He details the machinations that the poor go through in New Delhi to simply get enough clean water to live on. “Even in the most prosperous neighborhoods of cities like Delhi and Mumbai, water is available for just a few hours each day--and often only as a brown and sludgy trickle....”

Worldwide, Specter says, “More than a billion people lack access to drinking water, and at least that many have never seen a toilet.

“[E]ven if the population of the earth stopped rising tomorrow--and no demographer considers that possible--the number of people facing water shortages will continue to grow for decades. There are simply too many people who lack access to clean water; even the slightest improvement in the standard if living for hundreds of millions of them would increase demand immensely.”

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Hot Sauce, Germs and Absolute Truth

Followup to "Who Is Your Editor?":
“Google lets sites create customized search tools.”
--Dawn C. Chmielewski, today’s "Los Angeles Times"

Quotes of the day:
“Made while I was mad.”
--From a label on a bottle of homemade hot sauce. It turned out to be very, very, very, very hot.

“Soap and water don’t actually kill microorganisms, but they create a slippery environment so that the critters slide off.”
--UC Berkeley Wellness Letter

“Our dream of safety has to disappear.”
--W. H. Auden

“Pat Robertson talks like he is everyone’s daddy, which I don’t believe he is.”
--Claire D. Lune

“Every time I am pretty sure that I have some absolute truth all worked out, a human being comes along to pose an exception to my rule. Over and over, the human exceptions prove to be more revelatory than the rules.”
--Barbara Brown Taylor

Monday, October 23, 2006

Self-Description or Deception?

Quote of the day:
“The difference between a violin and a viola is that a viola burns longer.
--Victor Borge

Quote of the day No. 2:
“The former fighter jock and ‘scamp,’ as his mom called him, has become so lifeless and base-whipped that he is scared to be seen knocking back Stolis with a nice Methodist girl from the Midwest who wears crosses around her neck.”
Maureen Dowd of "The New York Times," referring to Senator John McCain’s unwillingness to talk about a vodka-drinking contest with Senator Hillary Clinton. The contest happened during a congressional trip to Estonia two years ago.

Management tip of the day:
“I'll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there's evidence of any thinking going on inside it.”
--Terry Pratchett

The other day in a radio interview I heard a musician call himself “passionate.” Then he used the word again. And then a third time. I guess he’s passionate about us knowing he’s passionate. I can’t remember the last time I heard someone describe himself or herself as “not passionate.”

This reminded me of when a colleague of mine stood up and gave a short lecture to all of us in the room about the need to fight for justice and how he had spent his life fighting, and he continues to fight. Then he pulled out a picture of his aunt, whom he admired because she had spent her life fighting for social causes. "Fighting" was the key word.

Does there come a point when the need to be identified with “fighting” or being “passionate” overwhelms or even stifles life around us?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Perfectionism Kills

Quote of the day:
"There are sadistic scientists who hurry to hunt down errors instead of establishing the truth."
--Marie Curie

In today’s "Parade" magazine, columnist Marilyn vos Savant answers a reader’s question about perfectionism this way:
“I believe that if perfectionism is directed toward a goal, it can be enormously beneficial: I don’t see how some goals can be achieved without perfectionism! ... Yet if perfectionism pervades our personality, and you cannot give up--at least temporarily--on a problem without moving on, the trait will drain your most precious resource: time.”

I guess I should expect it in a short advice column, but the glibness and brevity of this answer is worrisome. Vos Savant is correct that there are benefits to seeking perfection, but only in very narrow contexts. She uses the careers of golfer Tiger Woods and pianist Lang Lang as examples. I would add that seeking (not expecting) perfection in yourself in a specific hobby or project can be very rewarding.

However, if we live our lives expecting perfection in everything, or almost everything, we are sentencing ourselves to lives of frustration and unhappiness. And our time will not be the only victim. There is a reason that virtually every drug or alcohol or work addict has perfectionism as a basic part of his personality.

For a very compelling look at perfectionism and its effect on relationships, I strongly recommend Woody Allen’s movie "Interiors." Geraldine Page gives an excellent performance as someone devoted to perfection above all--and we get to see how the people who love her (or try to love her) are indelibly affected. It is a serious, adult film, and may be Allen’s best.

A 1968 Movie for Now

Quote of the day:
“Of course we carry knives. It’s 1183 and we’re Barbarians.”
--James Goldman, from the script for "A Lion in Winter."

Follow-up to “The Most Amazing Story of 2006?” and “Amish Values: Aren’t They Interesting?”:
“We need to accept it. There is no other way we can go on.”
--The family of one of the girls killed in the Nickel Mines school shooting.

The plot of "A Lion in Winter" is an attempt by British King Henry II to choose an heir to his throne among his three sons. It sounds simple enough. And it sounds boring, especially if you don’t like period pieces. But there is as much action here as in any Bruce Lee movie. Few movies contain this much emotional movement.

This is likely Katharine Hepburn’s best performance, and Peter O’Toole is equally good. A young Anthony Hopkins plays the oldest son. The writing and the acting are worth the price of admission, but there’s much, much more here.

This film is startlingly contemporary, more so than than "The Graduate," which also came out in 1968. It is about relationships and politics, and how each complicates the other, and spoils the other.

As I watched, I slowly realized that there were very few words passing the characters’ lips that were not deceptive or manipulative. I found myself thinking how pervasive this kind of conversation is today, from the national political arena to our workplaces.

The question the movie left with me was this. Can relationships survive in the face of never-ending desire for triumph? Can there even be any authentic human contact, when everything must be calculated for political or personal-advancement purposes?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Deal or No Deal?

Caption for photo:
"There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality."
--Pablo Picasso
It’s fairly easy to imagine traces of reality being removed from the photo above.

Quote of the day:
“One-fifth of the people are against everything all the time.”
--Robert Kennedy

I’ve had requests for more about movies, so watch for that in coming days.

Followup to my entry "Trend, We Hardly Knew Ye":
“You have to think about the tremendous changes that are taking place in the media landscape. The pace of change over the next five years is going to dwarf the pace of change over the last 50 years and we’re going to have to get out in front of it.”
--Jeff Zucker, chief executive of NBC Universal’s television group

Jeff, Jeff, Jeff. I know you are trying to convince your bosses and investors that you are totally on top of the situation. But let’s not get all hyperbolic and hyperventilatory.

Certainly the media landscape is changing, as it has changed consistently and inexorably over the last 50 years. (I would extend that to the last 100 years.) Certainly there will be some significant and even fast change over the next five years. But I think your "bold” statement above is what will be “dwarfed.”

One thing to consider is that often we mistake short-term fads for ongoing trends. It's like thinking that your popular show "Deal or No Deal" is more than a short-term phenomenon. I love the show, by the way. It's excellent, very lightweight entertainment that gets me to thinking about probabilities and the vagaries of chance.

Now "The Office," there’s a trend. It's fine and very funny, consistently. And it works because it is incisively knowing, well written, expertly acted and very carefully edited. It knows when to stop, and has no laugh track. These characteristics give the show staying power. These characteristics have always defined great shows, and they will continue to define great shows. No matter what the medium.

Another thing to consider is that, virtually every time someone like you makes a prediction, the time frame turns out to be much longer than they predict. Certainly we will all be downloading movies and TV shows into our homes. But when? Certainly we will all be gaining access to TV shows through menus rather than schedules. But when? Certainly internet and TV content will be joined together. But when?

I will bet that, five years from now we will have seen incremental change in all three of these areas. But the “media landscape” will be 95% the same.

Deal or no deal?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Today's Record and 19 Years Ago Today

Quotes of the day:
“God is not dead but alive and working on a much less ambitious project.”

"We should look inward and think about the meaning of our life and its purposes, lest we do it in 20 or 30 years and it's too late."
--Robert Coles

For the first time in history, today the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 12,000. Also, it was 19 years ago today that the Dow dropped 22 percent in one day. If it happened today, it would be a 2,600-point drop. Then, it was more than a 500-point drop.

On October 19, 1987 I was a financial reporter for KPBS in San Diego. I remember being very deliberate and reassuring in explaining exactly what all the numbers were--I wasn’t sure anyone would believe them. It was an amazing day.

What became clear in subsequent days is that the precipitous drop had been fueled by what became known as “program trading.” It turns out that many, many traders had programmed their systems to automatically sell when certain stocks declined to certain levels. Once the market began a significant decline, it quickly became a free fall.

This was clear evidence of the profusion of machine-generated trading, and resulted in some new safeguards from the stock exchanges. More important was the emotional impact.

Many investors were spooked. And the scare headlines in the newspaper didn’t help. But long-term investors seemed to take it in stride. Within months, things were back to normal.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Politics and American Values

Quote of the day:
"God is dead ... and we have killed him!"
--Friedrich Nietzsche

Quote of the day No. 2:
“I am sure that Senator Clinton would make a good president.”
--Senator John McCain on Meet the Press, February 20, 2005.

Quote of the day No. 3:
“[B]oth parties are committed to calibrating the precise level of incremental tinkering required to be elected.”
--Joan Didion in "Political Fictions"

Quote of the day No. 4:
“In the face of bitter opposition, the Warren Court imported the great values of America’s Declaration of Independence and the promises of the Bill of Rights into the working life of the nation.”
--Karl Fleming in "Justice for All"

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

New Cue Lur

Quote of the day:
“I felt very, very strong light, very bright. Then, same time, knock me down, strong wind. I don’t know how long I was unconscious. But when I looked around I couldn’t see anything, I couldn’t hear anything, but just see red and black and grey, so dark, just like a dead country, a dead place.”
--Shikego Sasmori, a survivor of the nuclear bomb exploded over Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. The bomb killed between 80,000 and 140,000 people.

Quote of the day No. 2:
“I wish that we remember it all--the good and the awful.”
--John Young, from the script for "Testament"

With the news of North Korea’s test of a nuclear bomb, national attention has been on the number of additional nations who have or may be developing nuclear devices. There is a lot of speculation and debate about if or when certain nations or groups may be able to develop nuclear weapons technology.

To me, it is certain that nations and groups both friendly and hostile to us will eventually develop this capability. With this proliferation, the probability of a nuclear bomb being used is increasing, and will continue to increase over the next 20 to 30 years.

After the fall of the Soviet Union 16 years ago, we went through a period where the nuclear threat seemed permanently minimal or nonexistent. Then September 11th made us very aware of the direct terrorist threat to us. Now North Korea explodes a nuclear device, and there is evidence Iran is working on one. And so we realize that nuclear capability will--in a year, 5 years or 20 years--be a part of the threat to us.

With this in mind, the 1983 movie "Testament" is definitely worth renting and viewing. It is based on a story by Carol Amen, who said she woke up after having a dream about her family’s response to a nuclear blast, and wrote the first draft before going back to bed.

The film stars Jane Alexander, William Devane, Kevin Costner (young), Rebecca DeMornay (young) and Lukas Haas (very young). There is no quick cutting or special effects. Yet the film feels very real to the experience of a sudden and unexpected explosion and its slow and real effect on an American family and the surrounding community.

The DVD’s special features include a “20 years Later” visit with the director and cast. There are also excerpts from both a recent Homeland Security video on preparing your family for an attack and the 1951 Civil Defense film “Duck and Cover.”

Monday, October 16, 2006

Oil Prices, YouTube and Powerpoint

Quote of the day:
“Open big, have a good comedy act, put in something for children, and keep the show clean."
--Ed Sullivan

Followup to "YouTube, MeTube, WeAllTube":
“At this very moment, your kids are on YouTube watching a cat on a toilet.”
--Julie Supan, Director of Marketing for YouTube

Followup to "Better Living Through Powerpoint":
“Powerpoint presentations damage your brain. If you look at too many you become immoral.”
--Yossi Vardi, inventor, in "The New Yorker"

Quote of the day No. 2:
“Oil and gas prices, like all world commodities, are set by the twin forces of global supply and global demand in a competitive international marketplace, not in the conference rooms of oil companies.”
--Mark Perry, Associate Professor of Finance and Economics at the University of Michigan, Flint

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Vote As I Say, Not As I Vote

Quotes of the day:
“We seem to be at our most creative figuring out ways of destroying each other.”
--Clint Eastwood, in today’s "Parade" magazine. His two films, based on the battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese and American perspectives, come out this week.

“The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold.”
--Barbara Tuchman, from "A Distant Mirror"

“I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”
--Susan B. Anthony

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
--Eleanor Roosevelt

Three weeks ago, Gallup asked 1,010 adults: “Generally speaking, do you think Americans are ready to elect a woman president?” 61% said “yes.” In 2003, the same question drew a 67% “yes” response.

The Gallup poll also asked: “Would you vote for a woman candidate for President?” In 2003, 87% said “yes.”

Question of the day:
If 87% of us say we would be willing to vote for a woman candidate for president, why do only 67% (or 61%) of us think America is ready for a woman president?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Time, Tears, and Tolerance: Forget It

Quote of the day:
“So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.”
--Peter Drucker

Followup to yesterday, "Churchill, Bono, Holmes and Lincoln":
An unsigned editorial in today’s "Los Angeles Times" cites a new survey of ethical attitudes of teenagers by Michael Josephson. The results of the survey were not flattering. Example: 57 percent admitted lying to their parents, and 27 percent admitted lying on the survey. But the editorial said this:
“We can bemoan the misdeeds of teens, and indeed they’re troubling. But before we disdain adolescents too fast, we should remember that, luckily for us, Josephson doesn’t do a similar survey of adults.”

Quote of the day No. 2:
“We have become ever more impatient with the complexities and convolutions that characterize our most intractable problems, ever more intolerant of solutions that require patience, long-term thinking, and the coordination of multiple strategies. Like overweight people looking for a fat-burning pill, we want magic solutions that require no investment of time, tears or tolerance.”
--Leonard Pitts Jr. of "The Miami Herald"

Friday, October 13, 2006

Churchill, Bono, Lincoln and Holmes

Quote of the day:
“This is the sort of errant pedantry up with which I will not put.”
--Winston Churchill, responding to an aide who, in editing one of Churchill’s speeches, had changed a sentence ending with a preposition.

Quote of the day No. 2:
“It’s a beautiful day, don’t let it get away.”
(even in Buffalo, buried under snow today)

Statistic to anticipate:
It’s the time of year when we’ll hear about surveys showing that more high-school students can identify Justin Timberlake than Abraham Lincoln. This will be followed by various “ain’t it awful” interviews with experts who, we assume, can identify both Timberlake and Lincoln. I am on the edge of my recliner.

Justice quote of the day:
“Prison does not deter crime because criminals are too crazy, too drunk, too high, too uneducated, too unintelligent and too young to fully comprehend what they were doing at the time they broke the law.”
--Convicted murderer Jens Soering, in his book "An Expensive Way to Make Bad People Worse."

Justice quote of the day No. 2:
“General propositions do not decide concrete cases.”
--Oliver Wendell Holmes

When we hear about a crime--or, worse, are the victim of one--the focus is on dealing with whoever did it. If and when the person is convicted and sent to jail, we are relieved. They are away from us, and can do no harm. But what then?

This is an uncomfortable question which we dismiss, as individuals (unless it is someone we love who is in jail) and as a culture. It’s as if we expect the key to be thrown away.

Look at the multiplicity of TV shows about crime--they are all about analyzing evidence, catching and convicting. The only show about prison right now is "Prison Break," but it’s mostly a cat and mouse drama. The HBO show "Oz" was an excellent, in-your-face drama set in prison, but it’s gone now. It was so harsh it was difficult to watch.

I am no expert on criminal justice or how rehabilitation might be possible. But it’s hard not to notice that we seem to be focused on finding criminals and putting them away, with no consideration of what is going to happen when they are away to make them different when they are released.

Which 99% of them are.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Dwelling on Dwelling Prices

Quote of the day:
“Dude, there’s those dried peas in there. That counts.”
--John Loeh, a college student subsisting mainly on Cup-O-Noodles, reacting to a suggestion that he might need some vegetables.

Current candidate for most overused and annoying phrase of emphasis: “first and foremost.”

Average number of minutes into the TV shows "Flip That House" and "Property Ladder" that the word “granite” is first used: 2.5.

Average number of times that the word “granite” appears in one of these programs: 7.

Quote of the day No. 2:
“[Realtor Patti] Jelley blamed a slowing market on news media concentration on local real estate’s downward trend.”
--Roger Showley in today’s "San Diego Union-Tribune." His story reported a 4.4 percent year-to-year decline in San Diego home prices in September.

Patti, that’s called shooting the messenger.

We homeowners all take delight in watching real estate prices rise. And we share disappointment when they fall. In both this delight and disappointment, we are a tad irrational.

The reason we are irrational is that most of us plan to continue to be homeowners, so the rise or decline in prices will have little real effect on us. We will stay in our current home, or we will move to a different home here or in a different city.

The people at risk in this situation are over-leveraged investors. If you bought an investment house or a condo a year or two ago, anticipating a quick profit, your profit may have evaporated. If you borrowed more than your house or condo is now worth, you likely will not make any money if you sell it now. If you are not financially prepared to hold on to the property for a few years or more, you have a problem.

Here’s a rational note. Do you know what the average annual appreciation of real estate is, nationwide, since records have been kept? 6 percent. The reason so many people have done well is that they buy in, live in and stay in.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The End of the Culture War?

Quotes of the day, from cab drivers in Tehran:
“Amrika? Amrika! We love Amrika!”
“America treats North Korea better than us. If we had the bomb they’d have to talk to us.”
--From an article by Noreen Herzfeld in the October 3, 2006 "Christian Century"

In the aftermath of the resignation of Republican Rep. Mark Foley, the "Washington Post’s" Eugene Robinson wrote this:

“The culture war is supposed to be about morality, but really it’s a crusade to compel Americans to follow certain norms of private behavior that some social and religious conservatives believe are mandated by sociology, nature, or God.

“Republican officeholders have paid lip service to this crusade, all the while knowing that the human family is diverse and fallible. They know that the gravest threat to marriage is the heterosexual divorce rate. They know that Republicans drink, swear, carouse, and have affairs, just like the Democrats. They know that homosexuals aren’t devils.

“Most Americans, by the way, know all of this, too. Main Street hasn’t been Hicksville for a long time.”

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

YouTube, MeTube, WeAllTube

Quote of the day:
“If you throw enough darts, one will hit the bulls eye, no matter where it is.”
--Dr. Duh

Quote of the day No. 2:
“If you believe it’s the future of television, it’s clearly worth $1.6 billion. If you believe something else, you could write down maybe it’s not worth much at all.”
--Microsoft CEO Steven Ballmer, on Google’s purchase of the online-video site YouTube

The growth of YouTube has been extraordinary--from nothing to the tenth-most-popular website within 18 months. While Steve Ballmer’s statement might be seen as some form of sour grapes, he does have a point. It comes down to this: is YouTube a fad that will fade, or does it signal a major new way that entertainment will be created and shared?

Right now, I see the appeal of YouTube for two purposes. First, for friends and family to share video clips. Examples: “Here’s the video from the party!” “Look at this weird thing my hamster does!” “Shawn’s first steps!” “Harold falls in the Trevi Fountain!” “Bush looks like Paris Hilton!”

Second, for advertising and promotion. Companies can post ads and ask for comments or participation--all the while exposing viewers to their products or services. There are many creative ways that marketers can use (and have used) YouTube. American Express held a competition and asked for submissions of 15-second commercials. The possibilities are almost endless.

What gets talked about is the “rise of the amateur,” or, more ridiculously, the ”end of Hollywood.” The fact is that 65,000 videos were posted to YouTube last month. 64,900 of them were either posted by professionals or uninteresting to anyone but the poster and one or two of his friends. Some of the remaining 100 would qualify for “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” Maybe 10 show promise beyond that.

I’m sure that YouTube will find some sustaining success within the Google family. It’s an intriguing new tool, available to anyone. But, as usual, what makes news are those who claim that “this changes everything.” Not exactly.

YouTube does not signal the end of Hollywood any more than the rise of the internet has signaled the end of books and newspapers. As always, we need very good editors. Sound familiar? See my entry "Who Is Your Editor?"

Monday, October 9, 2006

Play and Be Happy

Quote of the day:
“Perhaps, above all, play is a simple joy that is a cherished part of childhood.”
--From a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which suggests that free play is being sacrificed to scheduled activities.

Statistic of the day:
25-30 percent of children with learning disabilities will deal with addiction in adolescence and adulthood.
--From the A&E documentary series "Intervention," which follows the lives of those suffering from addiction, and their families.

Followup to my entry "Who is Your Editor?":
Here is an excellent guide to good information and resources on the internet: The Librarians’ Internet Index at www.lii.org.

"The Wall Street Journal’s" Jonathan Clements recently wrote on “Nine Tips for Investing in Happiness.” Seven of the tips are: make time for friends, forget the pay raise, count your blessings, enjoy a good meal, challenge yourself, volunteer, and give it time.

The other two tips were intriguing. First, “keep your commute short.” Clement says, “it turns out that commuting is one of life’s least pleasurable activities. While we’re usually pretty good at adapting to hardships, it’s hard to adjust to commuting because it is so unpredictable.”

Second, “don’t trade up.” Clement says, “research indicates that, once folks achieve a fairly basic standard of living, it takes a lot of additional money to bring about even a small increase in reported happiness.

“Yet your income and wealth could still loom large--if you start comparing yourself with those around you. For instance, if you moved to a neighborhood you could barely afford, you would likely be disgruntled. The reason: You will be surrounded by wealthy families, and this will be a constant reminder of your financial standing

“’If you can look out your window and see neighbors with lower incomes, you’ll be happier,’ says Andrew Oswald, [economics professor at Warwick University in England]. ‘People are very keen to move into the elite neighborhoods. They don’t realize that they won’t be as happy as they expect. That’s the curse of being human.’”

Sunday, October 8, 2006

The Most Amazing Story of 2006?

Quote of the day:
“In the beginning there was nothing. God said, 'Let there be light!' And there was light. There was still nothing, but you could see it a whole lot better.”
--Ellen DeGeneres

Thought for the day:
“We live in a talking culture, not a thinking culture or a feeling culture. Maybe if we make noise we don’t have to think or feel.”
--Dr. Duh

More followup to "Amish Values: Aren’t They Interesting?:"
“Dozens of Amish neighbors came out yesterday to mourn the quiet milkman who killed five of their young girls and wounded five more in a brief, unfathomable rampage.”
--Mark Scolforo of the AP

That may be the most amazing news story of the year. It brings to mind the poem by William Wordsworth:
“Thanks to the human heart by which we live,/ 
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,/ 
To me the meanest flower that blows can give/ 
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”

Saturday, October 7, 2006


Quote of the day:
“There's a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot.”
--Steven Wright

Quote of the day #2:
--Expletive often used on the TV series "Battlestar Gallactica." The current plotline of the show features human beings battling to win their freedom from tyrannical cyborgs and clones. The humans’ main tactics are insurgency and suicide bombings.

Quote of the day #3:
“Iraq is the most xenophobic, sexist and reactionary society on earth.”
--David Brooks

When I read this quote in the September 24th "New York Times," I assumed Brooks was giving an opinion. It turns out that the statement is based on research by the World Values Survey. I highly recommend a brief visit to their website, www.worldvaluessurvey.com. Click on the Inglehart Values Map to view a matrix of where the world’s nations fall along the axes of “traditional” to “secular-rational” values, and “survival” to “self-expression” values. (Iraq has not been added to the matrix yet.)

Note that the United States is on the right side, rated -.5 “traditional” and +1.5 “self-expression.” This is an interesting place to be, because traditional values do not especially support self-expression. And vice-versa.

Friday, October 6, 2006

"The Most Remarkable Singer"

Quote of the day:
“I never forget a face, but in your case, I'll make an exception."
--Groucho Marx

Followup to yesterday, “Amish Values: Aren’t They Interesting,” from Mark Scolforo of the AP:
“The killer’s widow was invited to one of the funerals yesterday, according to a Roberts family member, but it wasn’t known if she attended.”

Kudos to the police for this, from the same AP story:
“To protect the privacy of the Amish, roads leading into the village of Nickel Mines were blocked for the funerals.... Airspace for 2 1/2 miles in all directions was closed to news helicopters.”

On a much lighter and soul-nourishing note, it has been refreshing over the last three months to see an exceptional talent get her due. Singer Lorraine Hunt Lieberson died in July. She was 52, and had been diagnosed with breast cancer several months earlier. Since then, music critics have heaped glowing praise on her career and legacy. Most recently, Alex Ross of "The New Yorker" called her “the most remarkable singer I ever heard.”

Lieberson had no press agent and gave few interviews. Also, she was known among fellow musicians for being a bit eccentric. Being from Northern California didn’t help.

I have known her voice only on CD over the last few years, after reading Gramophone raves about her recordings of the Bach Cantatas BWV 82 and 199, and the Handel Arias. She has a wonderful, warm and full voice, and she employs it exquisitely, with ease, precision, passion, and control.

But what makes this music such a gift to us is that she has made it part of her. These are not just performances. In some way, she has gone to a different place. It is hard to describe, but I suggest you do yourself a favor and listen for yourself.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Amish Values: Aren't They Interesting?

Quote of the day:
“I hope they stay around here, and they’ll have a lot of friends and a lot of support.”
--Daniel Esh, an Amish artist, woodworker and great-uncle to three of the children in the Pennsylvania school when Charles Roberts attacked. Esh was speaking of Roberts’ family.

We read about the forgiveness being extended to a Pennsylvania murderer and his family from the Old-Order Amish community, and we have a variety of responses. When we examine these responses, we likely wind up at one of two places. Either we say “these people are quaint,” which means we can’t relate to their behavior, or we say “these people are deluded,” which means they are not part of the “real” world.

We may also assume that, for them, forgiveness is easier than it would be for any “normal person” (like us). That is not true. Forgiveness is always extremely difficult. The Old-Order Amish families and community have to deal with the same extraordinary pain and anger that any other families or communities would deal with facing this horrible crime. But the Old-Order Amish have a way to deal with these powerful emotions. That is what we see right now.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Driving, Real Estate, and Genocide

Quote of the day:
“Kilometers are shorter than miles. Save gas; take your next trip in kilometers.”
--George Carlin

Quote of the day most in need of qualification:
“[Real estate] prices are going to go down and stay down for a while. It will take at least a couple of years to work off the excesses of the last decade.”
--Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s website, economy.com

Qualifications needed: 1) The most-important words in the quote are “at least,” 2) Predictions from economists are usually wrong (I’m not just saying this, it’s a fact), 3) Although we think we’re good at it, and some of us are paid handsomely for it, human beings are terrible at recognizing and forecasting trends--see my entry "Trend, We Hardly Knew Ye."

Disturbing quote of the day:
“What connects Sunni Hamas and Shi’ite Hezbollah is the theology of genocide, which sees the Jews as a satanic people and the destruction of the Jewish state as a divine imperative.”
--Yossi Klein Halevi

Mr. Halevi is a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem-based research institute. In a piece in the September 19th Christian Century, he goes back to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations President Clinton held just before he left office.

In those talks, Israel agreed to cede to the Palestinians almost all the West Bank, all of Gaza and three-quarters of Jerusalem’s Old City. Halevi says, “Israel became the first country in history to voluntarily offer shared sovereignty over its capital city. The Palestinian counteroffer was four years of suicide bombings.”

He says, “Many Westerners have failed to notice that the Arab-Israeli conflict has been transformed into a holy war against the existence of a Jewish state.” When Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah calls for the destruction of Jews, there is a yawn.

And, he says, “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel’s destruction so often that it barely makes the news anymore.”

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

I'm Concerned, You're Not

Quotes of the day:
“After the elections, if the Republicans are still in power, this may signal a change in the leadership, if it appears they knew more than they have reported to us.”
--Mike Mears, executive director of Concerned Women for America’s political action committee, the wake of the scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley

--Spokesman for Unconcerned Women for America

Followup to yesterday, "Perpetrators: Inside and Outside":
In reference to the man who killed himself after killing three children and wounding seven at an Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, AP reporter Mark Scolforo said this:
“[Charles Carl Roberts’ wife] issued a written statement offering sympathy to the families of his victims, and said that she could not reconcile the day’s events with the man she had loved.”

A much-less sensational news story may have more relevance to us. A Porsche 911 was tailgating another car, evidently quite impatient with its slowness. The driver swung to the left to pass, and then swung back suddenly to the right, clipping the other car. Both cars spun, and the Porsche wound up dropping off the side of a freeway ramp. The driver was crushed and killed.

All of us fit into one of three categories: 1) At some time we have been angry and impatient and have followed the car in front of us too closely; 2) We have been followed by such a driver; or 3) Both 1 and 2.

Monday, October 2, 2006

Perpetrators: Inside and Outside

Quote of the day:
“If you can’t stand to be alone with yourself, why do you inflict yourself on us?”
--Carl Jung

If you’re familiar with "The New Yorker," you know that they publish one short story in each issue. I was quite taken by Antonya Nelson’s story "Kansas," which appeared in the September 4, 2006 issue. It describes a family coping with a problem-plagued adolescent who disappears with her young niece. The story says this about the psychologist father of the adolescent:

“He’d never grown accustomed to thinking of [his daughter] as a criminal, even when she’d been arrested and charged, found guilty and made to pay--this despite the fact that he made his living hearing how people were routinely failed by their loved ones.”

This is such an eloquent way of describing the difference between “inside” and “outside” views of criminal behavior. The “outside” view is on display in the reality show “Cops,” which shows incident after incident of people behaving illegally (and sometimes bizarrely) and being arrested for it. We learn little about where these people came from or who their family is. We do know that they’re going to jail.

There is so much crime news and TV programming available to us. Today, in fact, we’re hearing about the third school-shooting incident in the last week. We watch all this criminal behavior and may begin to unreasonably (or irrationally) classify or dismiss such people as “bad,” “crazy,” or “evil.”

Similarly, family members or friends of those arrested may unreasonably (or irrationally) deny that the behavior happened.

As always, the truth resides somewhere in the middle of this.

Sunday, October 1, 2006

The 60 Minutes Effect

Quote of the Day:
“The problem with my problems is that they follow me wherever I go.”
--Dr. Duh

Ridiculous Quote of the Day:
“I think I work really well with people, as long as they stick to my game plan.”
--Julie, a Real Estate Agent featured on “Flip That House”
(Memo to Julie: How, exactly, does this distinguish you from the other 5 billion living people? And maybe even some dead ones?)

Endearing Boss Quote of the Day:
"I think it's useful to wake people up and remind them of how they get their paycheck.”
--Fox News Chief Roger Ailes, commenting on his practice of sometimes calling 5 a.m. staff meetings

Sunday is an especially interesting day of the week. For many folks for many years, it is a ritual to begin the end of the weekend by watching "60 Minutes" at 7 p.m. The original executive producer, Don Hewitt, once suggested that watching the show allowed viewers to assuage their guilt about not doing the serious work they had planned to do over the weekend.

While the show’s influence and ratings have faded a bit over the years, it remains a distinct marker in the weekends of many of us. Watch, sometime, how the numbers of folks out and about declines quite significantly between 6:30 and 7 on Sunday evenings. Might it be the “60 Minutes Effect”?