Steve Cotler

Steve Cotler
One man's squint at the metaphorical signposts, songbirds, soapboxes, street musicians, and hot dog stands of life. Criticism, lyricism, polemics, performance, and making change…all with mustard.

Deflategate and Bikeshedding

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 2.13.50 PMWith Super Bowl XLIX (how many Americans can quickly translate Roman Numerals?) just days away, the sports pages (even some science and editorial pages) are passionately afroth with Deflategate chatter. Was the football intentionally underinflated during the first half of the Patriots/Colts game? Hands are wringing! The world trembles with the possibility that an NFL team might be cheating!

Cyril_Northcote_Parkinson_1961

C. Northcote Parkinson

In 1957, C. Northcote Parkinson, British naval historian and author of over 60 books, published the international best-seller, Parkinson’s Law, a series of trenchant and oft-humorous essays, which made him a name in public administration and management. The eponymous adage explained in the titular essay as Parkinson’s Law is: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Less well known, but just as pithy and important, is Parkinson’s Law of Triviality.

Now also known as “bikeshedding,” Parkinson’s Law of Triviality states that the more complex an issue, the less time spent on it. Read More »

MLK Day and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

esq-kareem-bioAmerica is struggling in the aftermath of police killings of black men in Ferguson, New York City, Cleveland, Florida, and more…and more. Today Time published an essay by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar entitled “Why I Have Mixed Feelings About MLK Day.” Few celebrities utilize their celebrity status for the well-being of society. Mr. Abdul-Jabbar does.

I reprint the beginning of it below. I encourage you to click through and read the whole thing.

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Glenn Philips

[Full disclosure: I have no interest in the NBA, but I have been a fan of this intelligent and articulate man for years. In fact, I included “Kareem” in Cheesie Mack Is Sort of Freaked Out as the middle name of one of Cheesie’s friends, Glenn Philips…and he, according to Cheesie, is the smartest kid in school.]

Abdul-Jabbar’s essay begins:

I have mixed emotions about Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For me, it’s a time of hopeful celebration — but also of cautionary vigilance. I celebrate an extraordinary man of courage and conviction and his remarkable achievements and hope that I can behave in a manner that honors his sacrifices. And while Dr. King still has his delusional detractors, who have a dream of dismissing his impact on history, it’s not them I worry about. Read More »

Are Authors Rich?

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 6.32.12 PMI end each Cheesie Mack school presentation with a Q&A. And I can count on certain questions always being asked:

“How long does it take to write a book?”
“How did you come up with the idea for Cheesie Mack?”

Those are not surprising. But I also always get questions you might not expect:

 “How old are you?” (I award a Georgie 4 President sticker if the questioner can guess my age within ten years. Their answers have ranged from 16 to 96!)
“Are you rich?” (Often this question is disguised…e.g., “What model car do you drive?”) Read More »

Father’s Day in Australia

logo2It’s Sunday, Father’s Day in Australia.

Looking for lunch on the South Coast of NSW, we see a sign for a bistro. It appears to be housed at the Coledale RSL, so we pull over. Many cars. Many people. What’s an RSL? We have no idea, but we vote unanimously to give it a look-see.

DSC06848People are sitting at outside tables eating and drinking beer. Inside, they’re doing the same, but the walls are covered with many video screens, each one of which shows a race track in operation or Lotto numbers being picked.

Is this a casino? Read More »

On Balance

I-5There is very little to recommend California’s Interstate 5 except straightness and speed.

In a midsummer’s sunset somewhere south of Buttonwillow, I am rolling at 80, glazed by oncoming lights and nearly listening to bad luck and worse love on a Country FM out of Visalia. I lift, drink, and am down to an inch in my water bottle.

Suddenly a below-decks clang-clank yanks my eyes to the rearview, and there’s something bouncing along behind me in the road dusk, losing ground. A non-conscious thought hikes my foot off the accelerator, and I coast into senses and an immediate inventory: there is no smoke, no smell, Read More »

Gas(p) Prices!

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 8.56.42 PMAfter a terrific cioppino lunch at Duarte’s Tavern in Pescadero (the huge quantity of crab paired extremely well with the wallet-slimming price), my wife and I motivated south on California’s Highway 1.  She was driving. I was marveling at guano-encrusted rocks jumping up from the seabed. It was a bright blue day, and we were in our Prius, on the way to Santa Barbara for a long weekend.

“I think we need gas,” she warned.

I leaned over, glanced at the gauge, and gave my mathematically confident reply. “We have 125 miles before empty…give or take ten.”

Her expression convinced me she was unconvinced.

“We can make it to San Luis Obispo,” I explained. “I’ll drive.” Read More »

In Praise of Children’s Librarians

When I was a boy, elementary schools did not have libraries. We didn’t know what we were missing because our town had a Carnegie Library.

Oxnard Public Library

Beginning in 1889, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie built homes for books. Eventually his philanthropy erected 2,509 public libraries, two-thirds of which were in the United States. The one in my little California farming community was by far the grandest structure in our town. The stairway on the left led up to the adult library. I was not permitted to pass through those doors. But there was a entry Read More »

What America Wants…according to Walmart

MAD-MENAs a Harvard Business School MBA, I learned that the leading edge of knowledge about the American psyche can be found in the back rooms of Madison Avenue. Other than the NSA, probably no group is more in tune with American desires than advertisers. They survey, they run focus groups, they look at what’s trending and what’s actually generating sales…and they put their bullets in the marketing guns that will win the battles for their clients.

This morning I opened my day-after-Christmas newspaper and the advertisement pictured below fell out onto my breakfast table. Read More »

Nigerian Scam Mathematics

Free-money Over the last 15 years or so I have received perhaps as many as a dozen emails frantically explaining that I have millions of dollars waiting for me in Nigeria if only I would help some poor, benighted soul get his money out of a locked bank account. Usually the scam requires I provide my  banking info so that funds can be transferred into my account. What the scammer hopes is that I am greedy or gullible enough to get involved…and then there will be complications that need some quick cash from me to bribe someone or pay for a transfer license, or some such expense.

Of course I’ve never done it. And I bet neither have you.

Why haven’t we? Read More »

Mysteries

I very much admire and agree with the comment made by my daughter, Emily Cotler, about a photo taken by her friend, Lisa Boscia Bouillerce.

Picture 10

Wow.

I imagine myself in ancient Athens, or ancient Wales, or some other place thick with polytheistic mythology…

Looking at this, of course that’s a Sun God, or some ominous portent, the story of which will help shape the moral compass of my village.

Sometimes it’s just less rich to live in a post-modern, monotheistic society where something as beautiful as this can be explained in a quick Google search or an unearthed mental fragment from a college class of distant past… Crepuscular rays, every magical aspect of which can be explained by science…