T P O

T   P   O
The Patient Ox (aka Hénock Gugsa)

G r e e t i n g s !

** TPO **
an irreligious blog
with egalitarian and individualist tendencies!


On the menu ... politics, music, poetry, and other good stuff.
There is humor, but there is blunt seriousness here as well!


Parfois, on parle français ici aussi. Tous sont les bienvenus!

Intelligent comments are always welcome!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Schadenfreude! Hawthorne's on Fire! - Jim Toomey ("Sherman's Lagoon")


Schadenfreude!

Hawthorne's on Fire! 

/// === ///

Sherman’s Lagoon *
April 28,2013
by Jim Toomey 
[Sherman’s Lagoon is a comic strip set in an imaginary lagoon inhabited by a cast of sea creatures whose lives are curiously similar to our own.]

(Click on strip to magnify)
 
* Source: http://shermanslagoon.com/


Thursday, April 25, 2013

On the Corrosiveness of Doubt - by Pinchas Winston






[ On the Corrosiveness of Doubt ]

Keeping our Wisdom

by Rabbi Pinchas Winston *


I knew someone who met his wife only after 110 shidduchim [dates]— 110 shidduchim! Even though he was happily married, he complained about the amount of times that he had to date before finally settling down, and attributed it to the fact that he had probably met his soul mate early on in the process, but out of doubt, had passed her up. To teach him a lesson, he surmised, God didn’t bring another one around until 100 shidduchim later!

Maybe yes, and maybe no. One thing is for certain, though, and that is, that doubt can be very destructive—VERY destructive. It can lead to relationships that should never have begun, and destroy those that should never have stopped. It can cause world leaders to trust those who threaten their lives and those of their countrymen, and not trust those who have their best interest at heart. In short, doubt is insidiously dangerous for mankind.
….......................................................

At first, doubt, as troubling as it can be at times, doesn’t sound so bad. This simple example, however, shows why we’re easily fooled by doubt, until it’s too late to do anything about it, and the full depth of its destructive power becomes known.

Imagine standing on the corner of a busy street, waiting for the light to change before crossing, when all of a sudden, a news reporter along with his film crew approach you.

“Can you answer a question for us while we record?”

Thinking about it for a moment, wondering how bad the situation could possibly get, you answer, “Sure, I can try.”

“Great,” the reporter says. “We’re part of a survey crew for the Channel 2 News, and we just want to find out how well the man in the street knows his history.”

Recalling that history was one of the subjects to which you barely ever paid good attention, you shift your position, displaying obvious nervousness. Picking up on your uneasiness, the reporter says, “We just have one simple question that you probably know the answer for.”

You smile uncomfortably, doubting the sincerity of the interviewer.

“And, just to make it worth your while,” he adds, “we’re going to give you and your wife an all-expense paid vacation to a resort of your choice if you get the answer right.”

How did I get myself into this? you wonder to yourself, as you break out into a sweat. If you get the right answer, you can finally take your wife on a long awaited vacation at no cost to you, but if you don’t get the answer right, public humiliation won’t be the worst of it!

“What’s your name?” he asks.

“Ah . . . David . . .” you answer, hesitatingly.

“Well, David, for an all expense paid vacation at the resort of your choice, tell me, what is the name of the thirtieth President of the United States of America?”

“Funny you should ask that question,” you tell him, “because when I was in college, my roommate used to memorize the names of all the Presidents of the United States. I used to make fun of him, telling him, ‘Like that’s ever going to make a difference in your life!’ but he just kept on doing it.”

“That is funny,” the reporter says. “Bet you now wish you memorized those names right along with him, eh?”

You laugh nervously, wondering if your old roommate is going to watch the interview later on, yelling out the answer, long after you blew the opportunity to take your wife on her well-deserved vacation.

“So, David, do you have the answer?” the reporter asks, clearly wanting to move on already to his next victim.

In a voice that clearly reveals your doubt, you say, “Ah . . . Roosevelt?”

“Wow!” he responds, boosting your hopes momentarily, before crashing them with the words, “So close . . . but not exactly. The thirtieth President of the United States of America was Calvin Coolidge. FDR,” he tells you, as you turn different shades of red, “was the thirty-second President, I believe.”

“Right,” you say somewhat sheepishly.

“Well, thanks for participating in our survey,” he says, getting ready to move on to the next interviewee, “You have a good day now,” he adds, leaving you totally humiliated and deflated, and wondering if your entire office staff was watching. And all you had wanted to do was cross the street and get some lunch. What a turn of events.
….......................................................

Doubt is to a human mind what germs are to a immune system. While kept in check, a person can remain healthy and in control. But, should a germ find a weak spot, it can grow and fester, and, in some cases, even result in death. Likewise, doubt can eventually result in intellectual and spiritual death, and has, so many times through history.
_____________________________________
* Source: http://www.torah.org/learning/perceptions/5773/tetzaveh.html
___________________________________________________________ 

TPO's advice is to resort to the old tried and true ... "When in doubt, don't!"


Monday, April 22, 2013

Geography: America's Forté ! - by TPO


Preface by TPO ...

Americans strike out again ... in the area of world geography! 

Back in the Seventies, I heard about an interesting moment at a cocktail party here in the States.  One of the guests was a Nigerian student, and he was being introduced by the host to some of the hoity toity upper class guests there. One of the guests, an elderly socialite lady, asked the young man what his nationality was.

He said, "I'm Nigerian."

The old lady shot back with consternation in her voice: "You mean Algerian, don't you, dear?"



Czech Republic: We’re Not Chechnya *
by Daniel Polti
SLATE, April 20, 2013

It seems there were so many people on social media who thought the country of origin of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects was the Czech Republic that Petr Gandalovic, the country’s ambassador to the United States, was compelled to keep the record straight. In a statement  posted on the embassy website, the ambassador makes clear this wouldn’t  happen if people just took a look at a map: 

As many I was deeply shocked by the tragedy that occurred in Boston
earlier this month. It was a stark reminder of the fact that any of
us could be a victim of senseless violence anywhere at any moment.

As more information on the origin of the alleged perpetrators is
coming to light, I am concerned to note in the social media a most
unfortunate misunderstanding in this respect. The Czech Republic and
Chechnya are two very different entities—the Czech Republic is a Central European country; Chechnya is a part of the Russian Federation.

As the President of the Czech Republic Miloš Zeman noted in his message to President Obama, the Czech Republic is an active and reliable partner of the United States in the fight against terrorism. We are determined to stand side by side with our allies in this respect, there is no doubt about that.
###################################################################

Slate Readers' Comments:

JC:
Some of the most geographically knowledgeable people I've ever met have
been American. Some of the least, too. 
Big, big country.
--------------------

Bill in San Diego:
Some years ago I heard a story on NPR (yeah, I'm a lily-livered lefty)
about how some guy from New Mexico wanted to get tickets to the Olympics
in Atlanta. He called the number (in Atlanta) necessary to order the tickets. The administrator told him he had to go through his embassy. He asked why.
She said that Mexican citizens had to go through the Mexican embassy. She
didn't believe that there is a US state called "New Mexico".
-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Frank:
Americans can't be bothered to know basic facts about geography.

It's all they can do to keep up with the minute-by-minute sizes of all
the Kardashians' kiesters.
--------------------------------

lastreagandemocrat:
Considering that about 1 in 3 Americans can't correctly point out
Afghanistan on a map (despite being at war there for nearly a dozen years),
it's not a big reach to conclude that they couldn't get this right, either.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

san jose:
It's next to the Czech Republic, right?
-----------------------------------------------

DANERTANT:
what?, Kim's kiester ?
--------------------------

san jose:
No, her kiester is closer to the Banana Republic (just kidding--she'd never
wear retail).
--------------

Vinnie:
Wait...you mean Americans...are bad at world geography?
------------------------------------------------------------------------

rwlorenz:
We're Americans, we shoot first and ask questions never. If the name looks foreign and is hard to pronounce, that's close enough for us.
-----------------------------------------------

cartago:
It's not just the US, I was surprised when living in Turkey to meet people
who thought New York was in Europe and Tokyo was in China and had never
heard of Gandhi or Nelson Mandela.
---------------------------------------------

Jacob10:
Yes, but you were speaking to Americans in Turkey, no?

___________________________________________________

* Source: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2013/04/20/


Surprised owl !!



Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Art of Drowning - by Billy Collins





The Art Of Drowning
----------------
by Billy Collins (1941 - )


I wonder how it all got started, this business
about seeing your life flash before your eyes
while you drown, as if panic, or the act of submergence,
could startle time into such compression, crushing
decades in the vice of your desperate, final seconds.

After falling off a steamship or being swept away
in a rush of floodwaters, wouldn't you hope
for a more leisurely review, an invisible hand
turning the pages of an album of photographs-
you up on a pony or blowing out candles in a conic hat.

How about a short animated film, a slide presentation?
Your life expressed in an essay, or in one model photograph?
Wouldn't any form be better than this sudden flash?
Your whole existence going off in your face
in an eyebrow-singeing explosion of biography-
nothing like the three large volumes you envisioned.

Survivors would have us believe in a brilliance
here, some bolt of truth forking across the water,
an ultimate Light before all the lights go out,
dawning on you with all its megalithic tonnage.
But if something does flash before your eyes
as you go under, it will probably be a fish,

a quick blur of curved silver darting away,
having nothing to do with your life or your death.
The tide will take you, or the lake will accept it all
as you sink toward the weedy disarray of the bottom,
leaving behind what you have already forgotten,
the surface, now overrun with the high travel of clouds.



Wednesday, April 17, 2013

John Wayne's Sidekicks - by TPO (Hénock Gugsa)




JW meets JW
by
TPO (Hénock Gugsa)
///-----\\\

In this slide video vignette, John Wayne has a  tête à tête with Jonathan Winters. The outcome may be described as a job interview that went loco right quick!

Gary Owens does the little intro.
And the voice of John Wayne is superbly done by Rich Little. 
But (crème de la crème) Jonathan Winters * is his usual unpredictable, manic, wacky, hilarious self !

------------------------------------
* More Jonathan Winters ... a) The Genius of J W
                                            b)  The Civil War



video




Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Bonjour, Suzon - Alfred de Musset




Alfred de Musset



Alfred de Musset (1810-1857)

Chanson : Bonjour, Suzon...
---------- /// ----------

Bonjour, Suzon, ma fleur des bois !

Es-tu toujours la plus jolie ?

Je reviens, tel que tu me vois,

D'un grand voyage en Italie.

Du paradis j'ai fait le tour ;

J'ai fait des vers, j'ai fait l'amour.

Mais que t'importe ? (Bis.)

Je passe devant ta maison ;

Ouvre ta porte.

Bonjour, Suzon !



Je t'ai vue au temps des lilas.

Ton coeur joyeux venait d'éclore.

Et tu disais : " Je ne veux pas,

Je ne veux pas qu'on m'aime encore. "

Qu'as-tu fait depuis mon départ ?

Qui part trop tôt revient trop tard.

Mais que m'importe ? (Bis.)

Je passe devant ta maison ;

Ouvre ta porte.

Bonjour, Suzon !




Monday, April 15, 2013

"International Space Prison by 2018 ! " - The Onion



ISP built by PRC *
------- /// -------

The Onion, 4/9/2013

BEIJINGIn a highly anticipated announcement that is being met with widespread enthusiasm by Chinese Communist Party officials across the country, the People’s Republic of China unveiled plans Monday to build and operate a new state-of-the-art international space prison by the year 2018.

The detainment complex, expected to orbit approximately 200 miles above the Earth, will reportedly be the most technologically advanced of its kind ever built, and officials from the China National Space Administration claim it will propel the exploration of criminal punishment forward in ways never before thought possible.

“Today marks the beginning of a bold new era in maximum security imprisonment,” Chinese president Xi Jinping said during a nationally televised address announcing the ambitious “ISP Program.” “Utilizing our nation’s great pioneering spirit, we will have a fully operational prison base in space before the end of the decade. This will move China to the forefront of human persecution and enable us to make historic leaps and bounds in the confinement of those who subvert the Republic.”

“Ultimately, though, we hope the ISP will serve as a vessel for international cooperation,” Jinping continued. “The governments of North Korea, Iran, Cuba, and Russia have already pledged financial support and their own convicts to the project. One day, this glorious facility will be filled with inmates representing countries from every corner of the world.”

According to officials, the sprawling 60,000-square-foot facility will be the largest man-made satellite in history, containing over 3,000 prison cells, 500 solitary confinement pods, and as many as 10 cutting-edge torture labs.
 

Construction of the base’s highly advanced components will reportedly cost over $130 billion and will require roughly 10,000 man-hours from peasants toiling in forced labor camps.

“The orbital prison will be completely self-sustaining,” said ISP lead engineer Li Xuanzhi, explaining that refuse, waste, and 100 randomly selected prisoners will be jettisoned into space twice each week. “The station will be equipped with thousands of custom-built solar panels for converting sunlight to electricity, which will then be used to simultaneously power the entire facility and put detainees through electroshock torture. Moreover, a progressive new electrical grid will enable guards to adjust the temperature in individual cells to either negative 15 degrees or 110 degrees Fahrenheit.”
 

According to sources, a select group of 15 Chinese men and women caught criticizing the deteriorating standard of living in rural Lanzhou have already been chosen as the first to be confined in the historic ISP station.

The captives will reportedly undergo a battery of tests and intense training in preparation for the conditions awaiting them in space, including being submerged underwater for minutes at a time, being spun in a human centrifuge at high g-forces until they lose consciousness, undergoing days of sleep deprivation, and having teeth slowly pulled from their mouths with pliers. Sources also confirmed that CNSA engineers have designed a zero-gravity simulator in order to acclimate the inmates to the daily 20-hour shifts of hard labor in the prison’s revolutionary Re-education Module.

“The human body functions very differently without the effects of gravitational pull, so the ISP will allow us to examine how prisoners react to starvation, beatings, isolation, and psychological torture in the weightless environment of space,” said Xuanzhi. “One of the first experiments we look to carry out will determine whether a human rights activist can simply survive for two weeks in space without any food or water. From there, we can chain them to the outside of the spacecraft and monitor their vital signs as they are subjected to incredibly high doses of radiation from the sun.”

“These types of trials will allow for groundbreaking advancements in human confinement and subjugation,” Xuanzhi added. “The ISP can open new doors to faster and more effective methods of sentencing without judicial process, and in the end we hope to push the boundaries of aeronautical technology and incarceration in order to make life far worse for prisoners here on earth.”

Experts say China has been keen to launch an international space prison ever since the Soviet Union successfully sent the world’s first modular space gulag, the Vinovnyy, into low orbit in 1989.

With Vinovnyy no longer in commission as of 1996, China is reportedly aiming to use its international space prison to not only break new ground in convict discipline but also inspire a whole new generation of children to be obedient, loyal, and patriotic.

“Our hope is that this site will also one day serve as a hub for the transportation of space-bound prisoners from every nation,” said CSNA senior director Zhenwei Han. “It can allow, for instance, a ship containing hundreds of stripped, gagged journalists to dock and refuel before continuing on a journey to Mars. This opens a new frontier for sending political dissidents to the far reaches of the solar system, and perhaps someday even farther across the galaxy.”

“Who knows, it could even pave the way for creating an entire colony of Tibetan nationalists on the moon,” added Han, proudly smiling. “The possibilities are truly limitless.”

______________________
* Source: The Onion


Friday, April 12, 2013

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Bloated University - by Arne Carlson


 
University of Minnesota's bloat must end
##########
by Arne Carlson *
Star Tribune, Opinion
(April 6, 2013)
--------- /// ---------
America’s global economic strength has long been driven by the quality and accessibility of its higher education. This has been particularly true since passage of the GI bill at the close of World War II. The new access it delivered defined another opportunity to live the American Dream.

Now that opportunity is in jeopardy. Consider this:

In 1970, a student could pay his or her way through the University of Minnesota by working 24 hours a week at a minimum-wage job. Today, it would require an impossible 61 hours.

The average student today accumulates $30,000 of debt, costs that increase in graduate school. For instance, in medicine the typical debt load is $150,000. This influences students’ choices, with specialties gaining and general practice in decline.

Nationally, student debt totals around $1 trillion. About 15 percent, or $150 billion, is expected to go into default.

These trends will hurt our economy …. Rising costs will also prevent many talented individuals from seeking advanced degrees in areas vital to economic growth. A recent Price-­Waterhouse report noted that the United States is losing its “innovative edge” in medical technology to countries like China and Brazil.

Over the past several months, troubling stories have been published in the Star Tribune, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal concerning to the University of Minnesota’s administrative bloat and excessive compensation costs. Despite administrators’ efforts to brush aside the importance of these rising costs, it is of vital importance that we deal with them and prevent further harm.

The reality is that higher-education leaders have created a financial model that focuses on their importance, and it is spiraling out of control ….  It only exacerbates the problem when many universities, including Minnesota, launch studies to compare their rising costs with those of other spiraling systems and proclaim this to be “the market.” In fact, administrative salaries have exploded.

When I came into the governor’s office in 1991, the president of the university made approximately $152,000. I made $112,000 — for a gap of some $40,000.

Today, the governor makes $120,000, and the university president is paid $610,000 — a gap of $490,000.

The lead attorney for the university makes $295,000. That’s about $180,000 more than Minnesota’s attorney general, $95,000 more than the attorney general of the United States, and over $70,000 more than the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The university president’s chief of staff earns a salary comparable with that of the U.S. secretary of state. The university lobbyist who pleads the school’s case at the State Capitol earns some $60,000 more than the governor.

Joel Maturi, a fundraiser and part-time teacher, makes $468,000; the president of the United States earns $400,000.

Overall, the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post found some 17 administrators making over $300,000 per year — well more than the vice president of the United States. Some 81 earn over $200,000 per year, or more than any cabinet-level secretary.

As if this is not sufficient cause for alarm, retirement packages also have attracted attention.

First of all, the university has a rich pension formula for its higher-level employees, including administrators. Prior to January 2012, the required employee contribution rate was 2.5 percent of salary, with the university contributing 13 percent. Most public employee systems require a more-even split between employer and employee. In January 2012, a new formula went into effect, with upper-level employees contributing 5.5 percent while the university puts in 10 percent — still a most generous plan.

Interestingly, the university is far less generous to its civil service employees. They are part of the Minnesota State Retirement System and contribute 5 percent of their salaries, with the university putting in another 5 percent.

Simply put, the top echelons of administrators have a substantially richer pension reward system than the average employee.

On top of this, the Star Tribune has revealed the enormous costs of particular retirement packages.

At the height of the deep economic slump from 2007-12, while the middle class was losing some 40 percent of its total net worth and students were buckling under the weight of sharp tuition increases, some top university administrators were helping themselves to unprecedented retirement riches.

For instance, the chancellor of the University of Minnesota Duluth was granted a $535,700 bonus package by retiring President Robert Bruininks. Other top administrators were also benefactors, sharing the $2.8 million made available by the university.

The enrichment package that caught everyone’s attention was that of Bruininks. Upon leaving the presidency, he received $455,000 for the purpose of preparing himself to return to the academic world. He also funneled some $355,000 to his newly created Center for Integrative Leadership, where he teaches at a salary over $340,000.

This excess directly translates into higher administrative costs, which are then charged to the university’s various colleges. For instance, the medical school pays more than $66 million a year for overall administration services, ranging from utilities to a variety of student services as well as technology, library, etc. No one specific item identifies administrative overhead. Rather, these costs are blended in with the overall figures.

But the bottom-line result is that our medical students pay the highest or near the highest tuition among public universities, and this affects our ability to attract the highest-quality students.

Further, most management employees are under contract rather than serving at-will. This means they can be fired only for cause. This has created some highly expensive and inefficient practices, including lawsuits. It is not uncommon for an outgoing president to extend the contracts of his favorite managers, thereby limiting the flexibility of the incoming president.

It has also created an environment resistant to dismissal and supportive of transferring less-productive employees.

A failure of oversight

Good management learns from past mistakes and uses that learning to make meaningful long-term reforms. Large public universities, including North Carolina and California, Berkeley, have engaged a well-respected management-consulting firm that laid out a path to savings of $66 million at UNC and $75 million at Berkeley. The same firm created savings of $85 million at Cornell.

In many ways, the most intriguing and far-reaching reforms occurred at the University of Maryland, which achieved savings of $136 million over a period of six years …. Rather than kicking the can into the future, they launched an ambitious reform effort and got buy-in from the public as well as the faculty. It was bold and painful but yielded good results.

The same level of bold leadership is needed here.

Clearly, the oversight function has failed. ….

The Legislature would be well-advised to consider the following:

1. Put into effect in the pending budget a realistic savings target that compels the university president and regents to overhaul the administrative systems and achieve reductions now.

2. Request that the legislative auditor review two critical parts of the university’s enterprise system [ namely, the Human Resources Management System and the Enterprise Financial System]. ….
It is imperative that the Legislature uses the independent services of the legislative auditor, who has always demonstrated a keen understanding of government management and will tell it like it is.

3. The governor should take the lead in bringing together some of Minnesota’s best leaders to develop a new approach for creating a competent and visionary Board of Regents, chosen on the basis of competence and not politics. ….

The final responsibility lies with us, the taxpayers. We love the university; we value its mission of quality education and research, and we have personally benefited from its services. It is our university, and we want it be the best it can be, and we want it available and affordable for our children. But we must insist on reform, and on an administrative culture of efficiency and public service.
-----------------
* Arne H. Carlson was governor of Minnesota from 1991-99.