Saturday, April 9, 2011

Steinbeck on the Measure of Man

At the end of some of my letters, I sometimes include the following passage from Steinbeck:

“Where does discontent start? You are warm enough, but you shiver. You are fed, yet hunger gnaws you. You have been loved, but your yearning wanders in new fields. And to prod all these there’s time, the bastard Time. The end of life is now not so terribly far away--you can see it the way you see the finish line when you come into the stretch--and your mind says, “Have I worked enough? Have I eaten enough? Have I loved enough?” All of these, of course, are the foundation for man’s greatest curse, and perhaps his greatest glory. “What has my life meant so far, and what can it mean in the time left to me?” And now we’re coming to the wicked, poisoned dart: “What have I contributed to the great ledger? What am I worth?” And this isn’t vanity or ambition. Men seem to be born with a debt they can never pay no matter how hard they try. It piles up ahead of them. Man owes something to man. If he ignores the debt it poisons him, and if he tries to make payments the debt only increases, and the quality of his gift is the measure of the man. -- John Steinbeck from Sweet Thursday

The last two sentences are pure poetry, aren't they?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Funny Stuff My Mom Sez

On voting:

Her: "I don't want my taxes to be raised. Who do I vote for? (showing me Democratic absentee ballot form)

Me: "Then you have to vote Republican."

Her: "No! I won't vote Republican! They take our money and destroy their families. They don't have values or morals. Who was that man who went to Argentina to cheat on his wife?"

Me: "I can't believe Gov. Sanford just raised my taxes."

[P.S. My mom loves Bill Clinton. That man is pure teflon, I tell ya.]

Voting 2010: my mom and I, discussing propositions on the ballot.

Me: Your taxes will go up...

Mom: No!

Me: ...but children's health services will receive more money.

Mom: Wait! This is tricky...

Scolding Me: (English is my mom's second language.)

"You are getting out of the line."

On Pancakes: Saturday morning, 8:00AM.

Me: "Okay, Mom, let's go get some pancakes."

Mom: [excited] "Are we going to IHOP?"

Me: "No, someplace better, called Stacks."

Mom: [incredulously] "Better than IHOP???!!"

Me: [shaking head] "I can't believe you think IHOP is the pinnacle for pancakes."

[Update: she liked Stacks, but didn't think it was significantly better than IHOP.]

On Style:

Me: [On my way out the door, wearing shorts and a t-shirt for my doctor's appointment.]

Mom: "Why don't you wear something nice? People will not respect you dressed like that. Why don't you dress like the Spanish people?"

Me: "Mom, you've never even been to Spain. Sigh."

On Cleanliness:

Mom, checking out my bathroom and unhappy with its uncleanliness:

"How are you going to live with other people? I bet [when it happens] people will complain and the police will come and arrest you."

On X-Mas cards:

Mom: [showing me a proposed holiday card she's written] "Have a blast, happy and wonderful holiday" [sic]

Mom: "So, is it 'holiday' or 'holidays'?"

Me: I can't believe you've written a sentence that is impossible to fix. I bet I can submit this to a record book of some kind.

Dad: It's "holidays."

On X-Mas presents (2010):

Mom: [gives me a mug with the phrase, "Christmas Calories Don't Count."]

Me: I know I collect mugs, so thank you, but this one is for women.

Mom: That's okay, you are getting fat.

On Super Bowl (2011):

Mom: every touchdown is 7 points?
Me: it's 6 points, and if you make a free kick, it's 7.
Mom: you mean if it goes through that thing?
Me: [sigh] Yes. If it goes through the thing, it's an extra point.
Mom: What if it doesn't go through the thing?
Me: Then it's 6 points.
Mom: When is the halftime?
Me: At the half.
Mom: What do you mean the half? The time, or the score?

Mom, on Usher: he stole all his moves from Michael Jackson.

Payback Time, from Mom:

Me, on telephone, leaving someone a message: "I would rather have this [referring to someone who is blunt but passionate] than someone apathetic."

Mom, over-hearing me: "That's not right. It should be 'her,' not 'this.'"

Me: "Unbelievable. You're actually right for once."

Mom, later, texting me: "U should say in face book that I corrected your English. U make fun of my English. now is d pay back time. Let's see what your friends say. I bet they all love me more."

On Nutrition:

Me: "You know how to identify good orange juice, right?"
Mom: "Yes, 'from concentration.'"

On Overeating:

Me: "You're eating too much."
Mom: "Me? What about you? All you do is eat. You're a potato."
Me: "What? A potato?"
Mom: "A potato couch."
Me: [confused] "What's a potato couch?"
Mom: "Someone who sits down and eats all the time."
Me: "You mean 'couch potato'?"
Mom: "Yes, that's what I meant."

On Overeating, Part II:

Mom, unhappy at seeing me eat an entire pint of ice cream: "If there is shortage of food, you will die quickly."

On Idioms:

Repairman [installing kitchen microwave]: "This microwave just needs some elbow grease."

Mom: "Where do I buy that?"

Grandma Edition, shopping together:

Grandma (in Farsi): "Is this blouse good?"

Me (in Farsi): "No. It's terrible. Are you able to see well?"

Grandma: "Yes, I can see very well. I can see all the way over there." (pointing to end of store)

Me: (joking) "Then why can't you see the dress in front of you?"

Grandma: "I am going to hit you."

Not sweet by any name:

Mom: "What smells? Something smells really bad."

Me: [finally noticing a smell]

Mom: "It's a skunk, be careful!"

Me: "Uh, Mom, I think that's marijuana."

Mom: "In the daytime?"

Bonus: why my dad is voting Democrat in 2010: "Bush destroyed America, and now China is going to lead, and most of us will need welfare."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

California Lawyer Magazine on Public Pensions

From California Lawyer, "A Thousand Cuts" by Thomas Brum:

In February 2010 the Pew Center on the States reported that, in the next 30 years, state governments would be on the hook for $3.35 trillion for pensions. Two months later the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research reported that California's three main public pension funds had unfunded liabilities of $425 billion. And last October the Milken Institute reported that, by 2013, the combined liabilities of these three funds will be more than 5.5 times larger than total state general fund revenue...

In California, the state constitution protects public pension benefits, like other contracts, from impairment. (Cal. Const., Art. I, § 9.) Described succinctly by the state Supreme Court, "A public employee's pension constitutes an element of compensation, and a vested contractual right to pension benefits accrues upon acceptance of employment." (Betts v. Bd. of Admin., 21 Cal. 3d 859, 863 (1978) (citing Kern v. City of Long Beach, 29 Cal. 2d 848 (1947)).)...

[T]he court noted, " not unconstitutional." (County of Orange v. Ass'n. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, 2011 WL 227711 at *8.)

More here. Unfortunately, the article doesn't discuss how these government benefits were negotiated. Many people don't know that government workers received their compensation packages behind closed doors--away from the average voter's oversight--due to an exception in the Brown Act for labor negotiations. Thus, government union compensation contracts are not the same as ordinary arms-length contracts. Instead, such contracts are the product of union organizing and using superior organization to get better compensation for themselves. But when compensation is negotiated behind closed doors and in a system where residents/voters must pay whatever is negotiated, it is clear that government unions have an advantage that is not necessarily compatible with the interests of the general public.

Private unions are different. If a GM worker is paid a million dollars a year, it does not necessarily concern me, because I do not have to buy a GM product. I have a choice, and if a private union gives themselves overly generous pay packages, they destroy the company and their own work prospects. No such check and balance exists when government unions negotiate overly generous compensation packages. Taxpayers must pay whatever is negotiated behind their backs, no matter how outrageous. If you say the problem is negligent oversight by politicians, I agree, but when the system is designed to favor politicians who cozy up to government unions, it's hard not to blame government unions as well as the voters.
Just my two cents.