Monday, November 21, 2011

Catching Up On My Reading

Sometimes I feel there’s just too much stuff to read. I marvel at those who have the time, perhaps I’m really envious of their inclination, to read books and magazines and newspapers and blogs and, oh, you get the picture. I thought today I’d comment on some articles of recent and not so recent vintage:

Earlier this month (Nov. 6) the NY Times magazine section did a short blurb on Switzerland joining other European countries and San Francisco in passing a law making it illegal to own just one guinea pig. Seems the critters are gregarious and prone to loneliness if they don’t have a mate, same sex or not, so the law is intended to avoid animal cruelty. I wonder if the writer, Jacob Goldstein, is aware that in her early journalism career Gail Collins, the paper’s Op-Ed columnist, and her husband Dan Collins, kept two guinea pigs. They named the fur balls Lionel and Stewart, after the owners of the New Haven Register, Lionel Jackson, and his son, Stewart. Dan and I were both reporters for the Register. Gail, at the time, ran an independent news service covering the Connecticut state legislature.

Spare the Rod: The next day The Times ran a story on the merits, and dangers, of spanking children. Followers of a Bible-belting (pun intended) preacher, Michael Pearl, have been accused of going too far in their administration of corporal punishment, resulting in the deaths of several children (

I was spanked as a young child. My rump felt the wrath of my parents’ hands when I misbehaved. My father threatened to use a belt, but never did. Merely unfastening his belt produced the desired effect from me and my siblings.

In justifying their physical discipline regimen, Pearl’s adherents often cite the Bible (“He that spareth his rod hateth his son”). Of course, many choose to focus on more tolerant and loving prescriptions from Scriptures. They recognize that some passages, such as the admonition to stone a stubborn and rebellious son at the gates of the city, are no longer acceptable behavior, unless you’re a Taliban or some other Islamic fanatic.

As for my two children, I don’t ever remember spanking them.

Payback Time: For all those NY Jets fans who disapproved of my schadenfreude moment when their team lost to the lowly Denver Broncos last Thursday, Sunday night was their moment of gleeful revenge as my NY Giants played ineptly in losing to the down and hopefully not resuscitated Philadelphia Eagles.

No Deal: It appears at this writing the Congressional supercommittee charged with finding a deficit reducing formula has been unable to accomplish its mission. Each side points to the recalcitrance of the other to compromise. Congress no longer is an institution where priority is given to the people’s business. Rather, members are more concerned with ideological purity and their ability to win re-election.

No less an observer than former Republican Senate majority leader Bill Frist was quoted in The Times on Saturday thusly: “There was much more willingness (in the past) to reach across the aisle in a bipartisan manner for the good of the country as opposed to the next election.”

Black eyed Friday: USA Today, among others, is reporting a backlash by consumers and store personnel against retail companies that will be opening for business on Thanksgiving ( Just remember—I was among the first to rant against this despicable and demeaning practice (

What Would John Hughes Say? USA Today reported over the weekend the increase in high schools doing away with student lockers ( Don’t these well-meaning school administrators know they could be stifling the creative juices of the next film chronicler of American youth?

Learning the Trade: Sunday’s Times carried a story on the poor job law schools are doing preparing graduates for real world lawyering ( I’m not a lawyer, but I can relate to the predicament new attorneys face learning their trade.

After earning a master’s degree in newspaper journalism, I thought I was qualified to be a reporter. Until, that is, I covered my first Board of Selectmen meeting in Seymour, Conn., for the New Haven Register. Oh, I easily followed the reports on requests for more sewer lines and the need to replace police cars. But I was confounded (perhaps even dumbfounded) when the discussion turned to the town’s budget. The selectmen kept talking about “mill rates,” not a term ever mentioned in any of my journalism classes (by the way, my professors also never told us what a selectman was).

It was only when the selectmen excused the reporters present for a short period while they discussed in executive session some personnel matters that I was instructed in the finer points of Connecticut town finances by my kindly competitor from the Ansonia Sentinel. Property taxes on buildings, motor vehicles and other major capital goods such as boats funded town finances. Assessments were based on the value of property. The tax per dollar of assessed value was expressed in the mill rate. One mill was one-tenth of a cent ($0.001). Each governing municipality set its own mill rate every year based on the community’s overall budget needs. If Seymour had a mill rate of 20, for example, a house valued at $200,000 would be taxed at $4,000. If the town had to spend more money the following year for new police cars and other projects, the mill rate might jump to 23, meaning the taxes on that $200,000 home rose to $4,600.

It was all Greek to me that night, but it quickly taught me real-life reporting was much more mundane and complicated than the glorified depictions seen in the movies and on the nightly news.