Ban Water

March 11, 2010

A Brooklyn legislator has introduced a bill in the New York legislature that would ban chefs in New York from adding salt to food – he must be the same guy that designed my new toilet. Good for him. The public is a dumb as a pillar of salt and needs its enlightened lawmakers to guide them to eternal safety. Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, he’s the guy looking out for us, hasn’t gone far enough.

He obviously hasn’t realized that most of New York’s restaurants serve water – WATER! Can you believe that? Hasn’t he heard of water intoxication? Even one death from water intoxication is too many. I pray to all that’s holy (or secular if that’s your preference) that he get’s on the water wagon and bans the noxious stuff from the Empire State’s eating emporiums. And where’s the FDA when we need them? I would ban water not only in food preparation but on the table as well. We could turn the taps off for 20 hours a day and tax bottled water at twice the rate of gasoline. Of course, all in the name of public health. Don’t the chefs, restaurant owners, and purveyors of bottled water realize that their product can cause convulsions – fits for the vulgar.

Why do you think the 2000 year old man lived that long? Because he limited his diet to clouds, stars, and an occasional stuffed cabbage. Let no drop go unregulated.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine


Addio, del passato bei sogni ridenti

March 10, 2010

She’s gone. She’s been in place for 50 years. A faithful servant. Not that there haven’t been problems. The last 10 years she’s struggled with the problems of age. She’s had her innards reamed out. She’s undergone multiple open lid surgeries. Old hardware has been removed and replaced with new, but eventually no one was making replacement parts anymore. She overflowed a lot, but I nursed her through each episode. She got clogged. We had her reamed out as often as needed. Through all this she served on, uncomplaining, as best she could. But it was obvious that the end was near. She was irreplaceable. Her capacity exceeded that permitted by the government. She was grandfathered in, but once gone a pygmy would attempt to sit in for her.

Finally the day came when her therapist said that even palliative care was useless. She had to go. I had her put down on a Friday morning when I had a dental appointment. I had fabricated a tooth ache to be out of the house when she was removed from her station of half a century and sent to the junkyard. My faithful commode was no more. Gone was her 5 gallon reservoir, and her flush that could sweep away the droppings of a dinosaur, no problem with anything human. In her prime she could swallow books and boxes, cartons and crates. She was sanitary saint, a hygienic hero.

What replaced her? Nothing. She is irreplaceable. But something had to do her job. The federal government had moved into the toilet business long before my queen of commodes had expired. The first government approved proxy was a thin porcelain shell that could not bear the weight of an anorexic 15 year old ballerina. When confronted with a man it sheared from the wall taking with it not only my inflow pipes but those of my neighbors north and south. A local water emergency was declared and not lifted until the county water inspector, the state sanitation commissioner, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency agreed on a second unit that was up to code. What code was never explained to me, but I have faith that it, like divine providence, exists in some privileged bureaucratic niche.

This quadratically blessed apparatus appeared to have been filched from the steerage lavatory of a superannuated steamer beached on an Indian coast for salvage. Alternatively, it may have come from a DC3 bleaching in the desert sun in the American Southwest. It too was a dwarf, but a strong dwarf. It did not cleave from the wall when used. What it did do was take in half the air from the house when its leaver was pressed. So powerful was its intake that oxygen was required when using it. The small amount of water that accompanied its sucking action was so small that the machine had to be used 5 or 6 times in succession to achieve a satisfactory elimination of waste.

The noise that resulted from these blasts of air that moved from inside my house to the exhaust pipes connecting to the county’s sewerage system rattled the windows and shook the roof. After several days use of this devil’s device singles started to fall around the house and cracks appeared in several windows and in all the mirrors. The EPA returned and cited me for noise pollution. The county decreed that I must be using an industrial strength device and thus was liable for a business tax of $8,000 and a fine of $5,000 for a zoning violation. The state said I was liable for not paying unemployment taxes on my worker. I told them I had no workers, but they declared my wife and me to be workers and we had to pay. The IRS wanted social security and Medicare contributions on our workers.

I agreed to replace the commode after paying everyone what they asked. But this time the four agencies couldn’t agree on a replacement. Unable to be continent for four months I had to rent a commode. Unfortunately the only way to rent a commode is to rent a room that has a commode in it. The Holiday Inn has very nice commodes that don’t make much noise and which get the job done with only four or five flushes. I conditioned myself to using the commode only four times a day. Luckily the nearest Holiday Inn is only a five minute drive from my house. Getting up in the middle of the night is a chore, but I bucked up (actually sucked up) and gritted my teeth until my 7 AM alarm went off and then raced to the Holiday Inn.

After the four months mentioned above I got a letter from OSHA (I don’t know who they are) telling me that I had to have one commode for every two workers – that would be me and my spouse. Faced with dueling agencies I decided to go with the flow, so to speak, and buy a new commode. I found one with two government seals of approval. I had it installed.

It’s not like my prelapsarian commode, Old Faithful, but it eventually gets the job done. I don’t need oxygen when I flush, and my windows and mirrors are safe. To be sure, each flush injects about as much water as a midget water pistol, but it reloads in less than 30 seconds. Thus about five or six minutes of flushing suffices. The downside is that if you spit twice into it gets stopped up. I’ve solved this problem with three plungers. Each one dispatches a different sized load. So flush and plunge then repeat as needed is now reflexive.

All’s well that ends well. Maybe later I’ll tell you about my new government approved shower head.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

The Ghost in the Machine – A Cautionary Tale

June 25, 2009

This piece has been floating around the internet for a while. I decided that I might as well have it on my own site. I’ll also put it under Commentary.

It all started a couple of years ago on a Saturday afternoon. I turned on the radio to listen to the weekly Metropolitan Opera broadcast, forgetting that Parsifal was scheduled. Being comfortably settled in a stuffed reclining chair, I was too lazy to turn the radio off. Besides, nothing can put you to sleep faster than Wagner. No sooner had
the music started than I conked out. A couple of hours later, I woke up with a terrible toothache. The first act of Parsifal was still oozing from my speakers. I called my dentist who agreed to see me immediately; the weather was too bad for golf, which explained his availability. A few minutes later, I was in his chair after having had enough
X-rays to cure two cancers.

“Root canal,” he said after looking at the films.

“You always say that,” I opined. He ignored my comment and proceeded to fill a syringe with enough anesthetic to make me numb to the waist.

“Wait,” I said, unwilling to be narcotized for a week. “Turn on the radio.” He did. The first act of Parsifal was still on. “God never made a pain that could stand up to that,” I said pointing to the radio.

The dental work took an hour. I felt nothing. Wagner’s slow, slower, and slowest tempos had turned my brain to Jell-O. I wondered if I shouldn’t have opted for the anesthetic after all. When I left the dentist’s office, the first act of Parsifal was still coming from my car radio which I always leave on.

After entering my house, my jaw started to ache. I turned on my stereo, set the volume as loud as my three amplifiers (1200 watts) and six speakers would reach allowing me to get the maximum anesthetic effect that the first act of Parsifal could deliver. It worked. I was immediately numb. Three hours later, the first act of Parsifal still not concluded, I figured could handle any residual pain sans Wagner. I turned off the stereo and went about my usual Saturday night activities.

On Sunday, I stayed home. Monday morning, I got into my car to drive to work. The radio started up as usual. The first act of Parsifal was still on. Strange, I thought, I don’t remember it being this long. But I really had never paid much attention to the opera, so maybe it was just a little bit longer than the rest of Wagner’s oeuvre. That evening as I drove home, the first act of Parsifal was still coming from my radio. Now I was sure something untoward was afoot. I turned the radio off to allow my brain to clear sufficiently to analyze what had happened. No explanation came to mind.

When I entered my house, I was afraid to turn on the radio for fear that the first act of Parsifal might still be on. But eventually, curiosity got the better of me and I turned the thing on. You can imagine my relief when not a trace of Wagner emanated from my speakers. KOHM was in the middle of a Frank Bridge festival. Thus, the problem seemed solved even if I could not explain it.

I was halfway to work the next morning when I turned the car radio back on, hoping to miss the end of whatever NPR was playing when to my amazement I encountered the first act of Parsifal. It now hit me that my car radio had contracted a persistent infection. I had heard about people being infected by Wagner, but never a machine. What might the cure be? The only thing I could think of was to put the radio at prolonged rest. So I turned it off, planning to keep it inactive for at least a month. Again I was amazed; it wouldn’t go off. Not only would it not quit, but the first act of Parsifal was now coming from every position on the dial. The infection had spread. The only way I could make the thing shut up was to turn off the ignition. That was not a long-term solution, however. In fact, it proved not to be a short-term fix either. When I turned off the ignition upon returning home that night, the first act of Parsifal continued to drone from the car’s speakers. What was I to do now? You could hear lugubrious leitmotifs all over the house. If I moved the car out of the garage onto the street, the neighbors would probably call the police. After a while, my dogs started to howl, the cat ran away, the parrot went permanently mute, and all my tropical fish died. I had to get rid of the car, but who would buy a car that was chronically infected with the first act of Parsifal?

After the worst night of my life, I called the National Kidney Foundation. They have a program that accepts used cars as donations. They were really interested when I described my almost new car, until I got to the Parsifal problem.

“This type of disease is outside the purview of the NKF,” said the foundation’s spokesman. He then hung up the phone before I could beg him to take the car.

The only course was euthanasia. I took the car to my vet and had him put it to sleep. It was a total loss. I immediately bought a new car, but only after trying out its radio. To my relief, the Frank Bridge festival was still being broadcast by KOHM.

When I got home, I turned on the TV to watch Sesame Sweet, but the picture tube was dark while the first act of Parsifal snaked from the set’s speaker. The first act of Parsifal was also on every radio and TV in the house. It was even on the house’s intercom. I had destroyed the car too late to prevent contagion. I turned off every device in the house attached to a speaker and darkened the house. The place was quiet for a few days. I felt comfortable enough to turn the lights on. The calm persisted. At six the next morning, my alarm clock went off as usual, but instead of the electronic beep, I was roused by the first act of Parsifal. Like a string of firecrackers, every speaker in the house took up the first act of Parsifal in a sequence of belching tubas and guttural barks masquerading as singing. I dressed as fast as I could and fled my contaminated house.

What was I to do? Burning down your own home is illegal – I think. Before I could ponder my predicament further, the first act of Parsifal came unbidden from the speakers of my new car’s stereo system like quicksand at a Tupperware party. The revelation of Oedipus’s descent was a mere bagatelle compared to the emotion that this sound provoked in my breast. My old car had infected my house, which in turn had infected my new car. I was in an abyss of despair. I abandoned the car in the middle of the road and walked to work.

The rest of the day passed like the final recollections of a drowning man. I couldn’t go home knowing what was waiting for me there, so I checked into the cheapest motel I could find hoping that it would not have a radio or a TV in it. Even at $12 a night there was a television set in the room. Of course, I didn’t turn it on. In fact, I unplugged it and left it in the parking lot.

I finally fell into a frenzied sleep, seething with primal fear. Then I awoke with a shudder. A sound filled the inside of my head; it was the first act of Parsifal. It was coming from the fillings in my teeth. They were acting like a crystal radio. I had become Parsifal positive. Despite the hour, I called my dentist. He was quite huffy about being disturbed at such a premature time until I told him that Wagner was coming out of my teeth – and not just any Wagner, but the first act of Parsifal.

“I’ve heard about cases like yours,” he said, “but I never thought I’d see one.”

“You haven’t seen it yet,” I said, hoping to encourage him to prompt action.

“Okay,” he said, “meet me at my office in 20 minutes.”

I was there in five.

“I’m afraid there’s only one thing that can be done for you.” The dentist was gowned and gloved; he wore a lead apron and protective headgear and leggings. He breathed through a portable oxygen apparatus. His office music system played Rossini overtures which he felt would protect the place from the infection. “All your teeth have to
come out.

“Will that cure me?”

“Who knows,” he shrugged, “but it’s all science has to offer.”

Two years or so have passed since I last showed signs of the first act of Parsifal.
I’m toothless, homeless, carless, and on permanent leave from my job. I won’t be allowed back until I’m symptom-free for at least five years. My health insurance has been canceled. My friends and family have abandoned me. I am a shell of a man.

Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be Wagnerians.

Originally published:
Kurtzman NA: The Ghost in the Machine – A Cautionary Tale. Lubbock Magazine (August):34-35, 1997.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

We Lose Money on Every Car We Sell But Make It Up In Volume or The Accountant Ascendant

April 30, 2009

I was flabbergasted when I reread the following piece originally published in 1997. It outlines our current economic plan. I had no idea that our future president read Lubbock Magazine 12 years ago. But don’t impute any bitterness to my remarks. I’m perfectly willing to let him take all the credit for the plan I outlined.

Losing money on every car but making it up with volume was the marketing strategy mockingly attributed to General Motors a generation ago. Surprisingly it turns out to contain the key to the closest universal truth yet promulgated by our fallible species; i.e. if you control the numbers you control the world. You can make people retroactively happy. You can do anything.

Consider Social Security. It appears to be growing broke. The realities of American life seem to preclude discussion of this problem by anyone in authority; so federal commissions are threatened. Whenever the government sets up a commission to deal with something important they are embracing the white feather. Yet the accountants are quietly rushing to the rescue with a fix breathtaking in its simplicity and implications. They propose, as you may have heard, that the government which annually adjusts Social Security payments for inflation has been systematically overestimating the inflation rate and thus the cost of living increases given Social Security recipients for decades. Reducing the annual cost of living increase by 1.1%, which is what the accountants believe the inflationary overestimate to be (actually they picked 1.1 arbitrarily from a range of 0.6 to 1.8%), eliminates three quarters of the Social Security shortfall projected to occur when the baby boomers retire (baby boomers has the same resonance as a murmuration of marsupials). No pain, lots of gain. But think about the implications of this adjustment.

Readjusting inflation downwards over the past few decades requires rewriting a lot of history. If inflation has been less than stated by more than 1% a year, the wages of American workers have gained ground over the past 20 years, rather than the reverse. In other words, their real wages have been much more than they thought. All those workers who have been unhappy with their economic lot will have to become retrospectively happy. Alternatively, they could sue someone for making them unhappy when they should have been delirious with delight. No wonder Bob Dole lost; he was telling us we should feel worse than we do when the truth is that we really should feel better. Bill Clinton will have to renounce the pain he felt four years ago even though it got him elected.

Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve will also have to redo the past. They have been fixated on the inflationary effects of too rapid economic growth. They threaten to raise interest rates any time the gross domestic product seems to be growing faster than a coral reef. Well it turns out that the economy has been speeding along like a runaway race horse without any impact on inflation and without the Fed knowing what was happening ever since Jimmy Carter decided to make being an ex-president his life’s work. The truth seems that we can safely lower interest rates without penalty until the banks are almost paying us to take their money.

Having shown that the accountant is omnipotent, I will now use the magic and romance of double entry bookkeeping to show how we can spend ourselves rich, which is the so far unrealized goal of every liberal democracy. Not too long ago Time or Newsweek, they’re indistinguishable to me, was carrying on about depression at such length that I was getting depressed until a dollar sign caught my eye. Depression (the disease not the economy) was said to be costing the country around 100 billion dollars annually. I was very impressed; that amount is more than 10% of the national medical care bill. I decided to see what other diseases were costing us. Of course I couldn’t consider diseases as obscure as acute intermittent porphyria, but I did tally the cost of every disorder that had at least one special interest group devoted to it.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the direct and indirect costs of disease in America come to three times the gross domestic product, (GDP is currently about 7.5 trillion dollars). Here was a real investment opportunity. Most experts have been worried about the high cost of American medicine, about 15% of GDP. They want us to spend less. It should be obvious that we should spend much more. If we triple or quadruple what we spend on medical research and health care we should eliminate human disease, or at least vastly reduce it. Let’s think positively and assume we’ll cure or prevent everything. This would raise our national income from about seven and a half trillion dollars to about 30 trillion. All this for a measly cost of three to four trillion.

Medical care is, of course, just the start. Everything we do costs something. I’m sure that when these costs are calculated they will also exceed what we spend on them, though I admit some of them might not exceed GDP. Biggies like pollution and occupational injury will likely amount to a multiplier of national income, however. Thus, we must increase spending on the environment until we are blue from cleanliness and eliminate every hazard from life until accidents are impossible. Another gigantic economic benefit that also needs to be factored in is that this spending on medical care, pollution, occupational safety, etc will create new businesses and jobs. More entrepreneurs will become billionaires, most of us can become as rich as Bill Gates. Unemployment will be a mystic memory.

I hope you see how the conservatives have gotten everything backwards. Rather than reducing spending and taxes we should increase them. Taxing and spending can only make us rich because the more we spend the more we make, just like GM.

By spending more and more we can only increase our net income. Accurate accounting holds the solution to everything; the more something costs the more profit there is in it if only we will invest in America. Dr Pangloss didn’t quite get it right. I envision a future that is better than the best of all possible worlds. Future columns will discuss investment opportunities in the Brooklyn Bridge, the Philosopher’s Stone, and perpetual motion.

Originally published in Lubbock Magazine (February): 22-23, 1997. (Also posted under “Commentary”)

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

Musings on the Extraordinary

April 18, 2009


I’ve been reading a biography of the transcendental Indian mathematical genius Ramanujan and thinking about the current economic crisis. What does the one have to do with the other? They are both extraordinary and we are helpless when confronted by the unique. Many commentators in the wake of our immediate economic duress fault the government for not preventing it. Similarly many Indians criticize their educational system specifically and government generally for not treating Ramanujan and his once in a century genius better than they did.

I think both a unique crisis and a magical genius can be treated no other way than the government is now messing up our economy and the desultory way Ramanujan was largely ignored by his compatriots. No one hits a home run who has never seen a baseball before.

Start with Ramanujan. Showing a genius for mathematics beyond the ken of anyone around him as a teenager, he flunked important exams twice because he wouldn’t study anything except mathematics. He lost his scholarship and didn’t receive a degree. He was so far ahead of everyone else that at first (or second or third…) glance no one could tell if he was a quack or a genius. Even England’s greatest mathematician, GH Hardy – Ramanujan’s mentor at Cambridge, took a while to realize what he was dealing with.

How can any system be prepared to do justice to a student who appears once in a century and who appearance might just as well be in Montana or Madrid as easily as Madras? There’s no way to prepare the soil for the seed of magical genius. One can only hope it drops on fertile ground. How many other Ramanujans withered before harvest in India? Probably none. Because a genius of his magnitude is likely to appear no more than once every few thousand years in any one country. The list of intellectual magicians is very short. Indian pedagogues and bureaucrats should not be too hard on themselves. They did the best that could be done under the circumstances.

Governments, democratic or autocratic, fail to respond to an economic crisis at their peril. If the crisis is unprecedented they will get their response wrong. Governments like generals are always prepared for the last war. When fiscal disaster strikes they will always be accused of failure to regulate properly. It couldn’t be otherwise. If they had regulated correctly there wouldn’t be a crisis. And if the crisis is truly new they would have had to anticipated it. If they were anticipating this crisis they would have had to prevent the infinite number of other crises that didn’t happen. Some one is always screaming that the sky is falling. But it actually does fall only once every generation or two. To prevent all the false sky fallings government would have to regulate society past paralysis.

The current catastrophe seems to have occurred because the government encouraged (or forced) lenders to loan money to people who were poor credit risks. This with good intentions, convinced that all should own homes beyond their means. Banks have always sold their mortgages to larger third parties to free up money on their books so they can make more loans.

This time the third parties realizing they had some potentially bad loans in their portfolios securitized them with other less risky loans. The principle here was similar to that of insurance portfolios. The failure of some will be made up by the success of others. The long term increase in real estate values made these kinds of bets look good. So why not add a few more marginal (or worse) loans to the basket. Eventually the loans got repackaged and sold so many times that no body knew what was in what. It was a perfect example of one of life’s basic problems. Going from A to B is logical, so is B to C. Keep going until you get to Z. Then look only at A and Z. What you see is totally illogical. You’ve gone crazy by a series of logical steps. It happens all the time because the actors can’t see where they’re ultimately going – which is off the cliff; not even when the last fatal step is taken.

Then finally the cliff is breached. Government reacts the way it always does. It proclaims that unless extraordinary action transpires the world will end. Who wants to prevent government from forestalling Armageddon? So the government acts. The problem is that what it does is not extraordinary. It’s exactly what it should have done at the last crisis, but didn’t. Appropriate for then, but dead wrong for now. What should the government do? Who knows? We’ll figure that out several decades from now in time to do the wrong thing the next time around. In the meanwhile the public gets scared to death and looses all confidence in anything to do with money. This failure of confidence induced by the government’s prompt action secures the coffin’s lid. The government had to act but in doing so it ensured the catastrophe it had to pretend to prevent.

In the meantime we’ll enact regulatory schemes that will prevent this disaster from happening again, but which will be inapposite for the next new way of going wrong. Those who remember the lessons of history are doomed to make new mistakes. History is fun to read, but is almost useless as a guide for the future.

As an aside, you’ll often hear (usually by people who want the government to spend more money) that we didn’t get out of the great depression of the thirties until we entered World War II and really started to spend big bucks. I suppose that could be true. But there’s another possible explanation. We had the only large economy left intact by the war. Economically we couldn’t have gone wrong. We were not only number one, we were all the other numbers between one and 100.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

Americans Addicted to Food

March 8, 2009

The normally sober George Will seems to have lost his marbles over corn. His latest column makes the discovery that America has figured out how to make almost endless amounts of food at a very low price. Mr Will thinks that this is bad because cheap food allows people to eat too much of it. If you eat too much you get fat, If you get fat your health may suffer. Wow! What a discovery. Stop the presses or whatever passes for them on the internet.

Will invokes Tom Vilsack Iowa’s former governor and current Secretary of Agriculture throughout his screed. While he doesn’t come out and say it he strongly implies that the government should do something about overeating and overproducing of food. I’d have thought that he’d value the latter but he thinks we have too much corn and beef and that we can’t be trusted with this abundance. This from a conservative.

You’d better put a lock on your refrigerator and cupboard, not to keep yourself from pigging out but to keep the government inspectors away. What inspectors? Well if George Will thinks the government should do something about overeating what will the current administration do about the fat problem? The FBI will become Fat Bureau of Investigation.

We already have weigh stations for trucks. Why not have them for people as well. If you’re walking down the street the FBI can haul you aside and weigh you. If your BMI is over 25 you’ll be fined $100 for every number over 25. Fines will double at 30 and triple at 35. OK, I know nobody walks, so we’ll put weigh stations on the roads and get the food transgressors on the way to the supermarket. We could even put scales at the checkout counter. Let no pound go uncounted.

Restaurant use obviously needs more government regulation. We could have a free market solution by instituting a cap and trade food coupon program. If you want to go to MacDonalds and have used up all your food coupons you could buy them from some anorexic teenager who still has all of hers. Let capitalism reign supreme.

So we’ve added food addiction to our addiction to energy. The finale of the second law of thermodynamics (the nasty one that requires the ultimate heat death of the universe) can’t come too soon for those obsessed by the latter. What’s next? The answer to that one is obvious. Water addiction.

Most of the world is short or soon will be short of water. Everyone knows, well not everyone – doctors, well not all doctors – nephrologists, that most people drink more water than they need. Typical fluid intake by American adults is about two liters. They could get by on 600 ml if they stayed cool and didn’t exercise too much. Ah, but now we have a problem. We don’t want people to stay too cool. Air conditioning, energy use, greenhouse gases. If they don’t exercise they’ll get fat and will need more government intervention. But if they do exercise they’ll get thirsty and drink more. We might need a blue ribbon commission. Then we can ration fluid intake appropriately.

The 800 pound gorilla that no one dares bring up but which will crush the life out of us if we don’t confront it is — air addiction. Every time you or anything animal breathes it emits carbon dioxide. OK it’s out in the open. Too much breathing and the polar bears die. George Will the ball is in your court.

NY Times Execs Make Millions

February 23, 2009

The NY Times is waxing indignant about the high salaries paid to employees of universities. I predicted this 10 days ago. Of course I share their dudgeon as I don’t make that kind of money. Obviously these guys are paid too much. Of course, if I did make as much money as they do I would think I was appropriately paid and well worth a seven figure income.

The people listed in the Times article are all doing rather well at their jobs which may be an argument for their high salaries. I know this is lame, but I’m trying to be fair. Tamar Lewin who wrote the Times piece is doubtless a dandy reporter. She has a vastly larger audience than do I. She’s on to something and should pursue it.

The compensation packages for the NY Times’ top five executives are listed below. As you can see the information for the top two is N/A which could stand for not available, but not ashamed.

Mr. Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., 57
Chairman and Publisher of The Times
Ms. Janet L. Robinson , 58
Chief Exec. Officer, Pres, Exec. Director and Member of Foundation Committee
Mr. Michael Golden , 59
Director, Publisher of the International Herald Tribune and Member of Foundation Committee
$1.10M $66K
Mr. P. Steven Ainsley , 56
Publisher of The Boston Globe and Head of New England Media Group
$814K N/A
Mr. John Geddes ,
Managing Editor

Mr Golden makes more than $1 million so it’s reasonable to assume that Mr Sulzberger makes considerably more. What kind of job has he been doing? Look at the chart of the Times’ stock price below and see what you think.


In one year under Mr Sulzberger’s leadership the share price has gone from about $20 to $4.  Five years ago a share of the Times sold for $50. And for this he gets millions! Why is he hiding his salary? Where’s the transparency? Ms Lewin needs to splash this across the front page. I bet she’s already on to the story. Good for her. There could be a Pulitzer here.

All this salary envy reminds me of Babe Ruth. In 1932 he was asked to explain why he earned more than President Hoover. His answer: “I had a better year.”