Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Economic development for the sake of economic development

Duluth, Minnesota has a new parking ramp that has been controversial. From a small motel that was losing parking space for some of its RV customers to the mayor getting angry at a medical center for not following through on its supposed agreement with the city to rent some of the space.

As I walk by the First Street Ramp (the one between 3rd and 4th Aves. E.), I wonder if those that conceived it did their homework beforehand. At one o'clock on a weekday, almost none of the metered parking on the street was in use. From what I can see, there are few cars in the ramp. A friend who has used the ramp said that there were few cars in it.

When I don't take a bus or walk to the fitness center in the medical center (SMDC - St. Mary's Duluth Clinic) I park in the Second Street Ramp which is part of SMDC's Second Street Building. Only once have I found the ramp full and I generally find a spot in the first two levels. The cost is $1.25, $1.75, and $2.00 for one, two, and three hours. The city's First Street Ramp is a flat $1.00 per hour, and it is farther away.

One SMDC employee who wrote a letter to the editor of the Duluth News Tribune complained she couldn't afford the rates the city wanted for the First Street Ramp. SMDC does run a shuttle to another city-owned ramp and lot (at the DECC - Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center). SMDC provides the shuttle and the parking free to its employees. The shuttle runs every fifteen minutes at shift changes and otherwise every thirty minutes.

A new Sheraton Hotel and condos does contract for some of the space, but a hotel that occupies a quarter block shouldn't need a ramp that occupies a half block.

My guess is that more frequent bus service throughout the city could have been provided for the cost of this ramp and would have provided just as many "jobs" for a much longer time.

Maybe the Building Trades Council has more clout than the Teamsters, the union of the bus drivers. Maybe certain politicians think changed real estate will provide more tax revenue than basic services. I bet an investigative reporter could come up with all the whys and wherefores and a better cost/benefit analysis than seemingly was done for this project.

For more of my thoughts on Duluth, see "Downtown Duluth: Pizza but no pizzazz!" The sidebar of this article lists more articles on Duluth.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The real lessons from Iraq and Vietnam

President George W. Bush recently spoke of lessons to learned from Vietnam; mainly that if the U.S. leaves, chaos will follow. The true lesson is that if the U.S invades without careful thought is that chaos follows. Put more broadly, the lessons which few military thinkers have learned are:

1) Pick your wars carefully
2) Know thine enemy
3) Have sufficient resources to win
4) Change strategy and tactics as needed
5) Know when you have failed and get out

Wishful thinking passing as political thought

So-called conservatives see the world as they wish it had been and so-called liberals see the world as they wish it would be. Any compromise to work with how it really is is anathema to the hard-core base of either camp.

See "Just what are conservatives conserving?" and "The left just doesn't get it".

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The truth ducks when Mallard Fillmore quacks

Bruce Tinsley's "Mallard Fillmore" can make a zinger of an observation on public figures or current fashionable ideas, but more often than not he follows a "conservative" "party line" without regard to the facts.

His August 17, 2007 cartoon on basic subjects and sex education was a "more often than not". He has a teacher "then" telling how she teaches basics and leaves sex education to the parents. He has a teacher "now" telling how she teaches sex and leaves the other stuff to the "street".

His footnote says, "Guess which era had fewer S.T.D.s and unwanted pregnancies and better educated kids?"

First, "then" didn't have AIDS, but it did have syphilis and gonorrhea. I have two great uncles who contracted syphilis, "then" being WWI era. These two diseases were mentioned in mandatory health classes where I went to school.

Unwanted pregnancies are as old as the human race, many the result of rape by otherwise "civilized" men. Given my parents were married in September and I was born in March, I'd say the pregnancy may not have been unwanted but is was probably unexpected. This was 1937-8. One of the girls in my Methodist Youth Fellowship became pregnant in the late 50's.
"Between 1945 and the early 1970s, an estimated 1.5 million unwed American girls and young women, most between ages 16 and 23, surrendered their babies for non-family adoptions." - "Unwed mothers forced to give up babies share their stories", Star Tribune, August 19, 2007
Really great teaching by the parents of "then"!

As to "better-educated kids", when I went to high school and took trigonometry there were some colleges that were offering that subject. Now, many high schools offer calculus and statistics, courses I didn't receive until college. Oh yes, many students from my city high school went on to college and many dropped out.

The Duluth News Tribune has put "Doonesbury" on the editorial page because it is "political". Maybe the Star Tribune should do the same for "Mallard Fillmore". Not!

See also the Wikipedia entry on "Mallard Fillmore".

Water in view but little on the ground

We have been having a drought in northeastern Minnesota and our house is in view of Lake Superior (see "Dandelion in drought").

We did have a fraction of an inch yesterday, and I remarked to my wife that the grass was starting to look green. She replied, "No, it's just a richer brown from the moisture."

Friday, August 17, 2007

If "they" are supposed to learn English...

shouldn't "we" learn the languages of countries we visit, work in, or invade?

I think requiring immigrants to learn English is an idea that ignores history and ignores too many Americans' cultural ignorance.

The U.S. has had many communities throughout its history where languages other than English were spoken. First, there were many Indian communities with a rich linguistic tradition. Second, there were many Spanish communities which were absorbed into the United States by various means. Finally, there were many communities founded by immigrants where they spoke their native language for a generation or more. This was especially true of German immigrants back to the Revolution and Swedish immigrants in the nineteenth century.

Americans have been tourists to many areas of the world without even knowing how to say, "Thank you." After all, "they" all speak English. Many a business deal has been lost because many of the ex-pats haven't or even refuse to learn the local language. Unless an invader has "overwhelming force", an invasion and subsequent occupation will be very difficult without a large number of the invaders knowing the local language and the local culture.

If we want immigrants to "learn English", we should do far better than treating foreign languages in school as a "frill".

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mix solar and hydrogen power?

This morning's Duluth News Tribune had an article about Algeria beginning a massive solar project in the Sahara. One of the goals is to provide a goodly amount of Europe's electricity via undersea cables.

I wondered if it would be better to manufacture hydrogen fuel and ship that. Then the fuel can be used in cars or fuel cells to provide local electricity. The fuel would not be shipped as liquid but in a hydride form. With a quick search of the web I found two companies that produce the hydrides. One has a hydride slurry that safely store and release the hydrogen; I didn't delve into its current status. The other has a sodium-boron-hydride; it was being tested in a Chrysler Town and Country. The storage was equivalent to that for gasoline, the mileage was 30mpg gasoline equivalent, and the range was 300 miles.

Off the top of my head, I'd say transporting energy by cable would be more cost-effective. However, considering the bulk of some hydrides is about the same as gasoline, it would cost only twice as much to ship the hydride. The gasoline doesn't come back, but the depleted hydride does to be re-used.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Open software: follow-up

Every so often I solve a nagging problem by a slightly different approach. I wrote in "Open Software - You get what you pay for" of my difficulties of finding a replacement for Netscape Composer 7. The file I downloaded was corrupted, and I found it difficult to wade through all the help options.

A few days later, I thought to do a search on the name of the downloaded file. Within the first ten hits was a question just like mine. The questioner received several answers, mostly variations telling her that the product in question was no longer supported and had been replaced by Sea Monkey, all-in-one internet application suite. It is available for Windows, Linux GTK2, Mac OS X, and other systems.

The annoying problem that I had a few days ago no longer exists and I can update my web site pages much faster.

Where are the resignations?

And I don't mean resignations assuming responsibility for the collapse of a bridge. Where are the high-level resignations when "something went wrong during my watch"? Once upon a time, British or Japanese ministers would resign if things fell apart during their term, regardless of how culpable they may have been.

How many high-level resignations can you remember? Nixon, of course, but he went out with a long drawn-out fight? Most resignations, other than fatigue, occur because someone disagrees with his or her boss' policies. Others are forced out when popular opinion turns against them and the President asks for the resignation; the resignee rarely offers to resign until asked. For example, John Bolton as Ambassador to the U.N. or Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense.

We won't see Minnesota Lt. Gov./Commissioner of Transportation Carol Molnau or U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales admitting that they let things get out of hand or that they didn't monitor things as thoroughly as they should have. It isn't just Republicans who won't admit responsibility for bad policies. Robert McNamara, Lyndon Johnson's Secretary of Defense, didn't see the "light at the end of the tunnel" until decades after the Viet Nam war ended.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Bridge collapse speculation

The Star Tribune posted an aerial photo taken of the I-35W bridge about three hours before the collapse. One of the tags mentions that the repairs were "using heavy equipment and stockpiled supplies". Could the stockpiled supplies have had greater density than any vehicle that might have gone over the bridge?

Clash of civilizations?

Many of described the current struggle against terrorism as "a clash of civilizations". Al Qaeda and its ilk are not a civilization. They are nihilists with a romantic yearning for a non-existent past. It is more a struggle of good and evil: those who would build and those who would destroy. Unfortunately, some of the "good" think only in destructive terms.

Although Rupert Smith, a retired British general, doesn't discuss the Iraq war in The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World, he makes many points that are instructive for this conflict. Essentially, "Smith argues that the military aims of the West are fundamentally at odds with the structure of Western military organizations, a contradiction which leads military operations into difficulty and potential failure." See "On War and Politics", Robert Farley, American Prospect, July 13, 2007.

Or as Abraham Lincoln said, "As our cause is new, so must we think anew."

Buried notes

I am making one of my rare desk clean-ups. Buried in various piles are scraps of paper with random thoughts. One I just uncovered includes these.

Blog, but writes more in head than on paper or computer.

A bird doesn't learn to fly unless it gets kicked out of the nest. Some birds die; the rest fly.

If your only tool is the military, every problem looks like a war.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Terrorists are criminals, not combatants

"Why Terrorists Aren't Soldiers", New York Times, Aug. 8, 2007, by Wesley K. Clark, former supreme commander of NATO and Kal Raustiala, law professor, is an important definition of who we're against. When Bush treats Al Qaeda members and suspected Al Qaeda members as "unlawful enemy combatants" he increases their stature. He also sees the military as the counter to such "combatants". On the other hand, if we treat them as criminals and use police forces to counter terrorist activities, we stand a much better chance of reducing their threat.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Bring freedom and democracy to who?

President George W. Bush has expressed many times his desire to bring "freedom and democracy" to other lands. His wishful thinking follows many other leaders before him.
Like other Great Powers before them, both Russia and the United States had to grapple with the hard fact that their "universalist" message would not be automatically accepted by other societies and cultures.

Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000, pp. 394-395 in the chapter "Stability and Change in a Bipolar World, 1943-1980
For several other examples of expectations of "great" leaders not being met, see
When will they ever learn...

Friday, August 03, 2007

How many lives is a tax cut worth?

Within hours of learning of the collapse of the I-35 bridge, I wondered if a backlash against the anti-tax crowd would develop. If one op-ed piece in today's Star Tribune and several letters are any indication, the backlash has started.

To have an infrastructure we need taxes. If you cut taxes, you reduce your care of your infrastructure. If you reduce care of your infrastructure, people and businesses can't thrive. In fact, some of them may die.

Grover Norquist wants to reduce government to the size he could drown in the bathtub. Well, because of his ilk, some people have drowned in a river.

e-Democracy, User provided support, and other assumptions

The Duluth News Tribune has been running "Mayoral Madness" on its editorial page. It has devised a play-off among the twelve candidates and has online voting for each pair. When today's pair had 56% (Charlie Bell) and 44% (Don Ness), I wondered if Bell got 7 votes and Ness 5. The DNT did not give vote totals.

I found out from a Don Ness campaign update that the vote had been running the other way until late when a huge number of votes were cast for Bell. Did lots of Bell supporters get a cheerleading message and rush to their computers, or did somebody deliberately cast a lot of votes?

The problem with this kind of voting is how easily it can be manipulated. The winner of the vote may get more publicity out of all proportion to the actual interest among real voters. This kind of voting Makes news instead of reporting news.

Another problem is that the electronic voters are even more self-selected than election-day voters. The electronic voters have to have an interest in participating, the tools to participate, and the time to participate. True, election-day voters need these also, but there is more cultural pressure to participate. Current electronic voting also has a heavier burden of "does it really matter."

The whole array of internet opportunites to participate in discussions or solving your own problems annoys me.

There are thousands and thousands of discussion boards on almost any subject. If you participate, you should participate. When I was a sysop on GEnie, a defunct private precursor to the web, people called those who only read "lurkers". I didn't like the term because it implied that they were spies rather than those who may not have had much to say. Those who do participate in discussion boards have to spend a lot of time reading and writing their messages. Even one message board could take an hour a day to read new messages and reply to a few. If the message board is very popular, you could get an overwhelming number of responses to your message. If it is not popular, you may never get an answer to your question.

Even if a message board is popular you may never get an answer to your question. This can be especially true of product support message boards. It could be you didn't phrase your question correctly, few are interested in your problem, or if interested, no other user has a good answer to your problem. Meanwhile, every few days you work your way through the log-in process, work your way through new messages, and go away disappointed. I much prefer direct email support, even if I sometimes get completely unsatisfactory answers.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Open Software -You get what you pay for

I've been busy updating my website with some new ideas (to me) and am getting tired of some of the pecularities of Netscape Composer 7.2. I looked for a later version but Netscape 9 is only a browser.

I found that Mozilla Suite replaces it and tried downloading it. When I try to open the downloaded package, my system tells me it has damaged files. I checked the Mozilla website but any support seems too complicated for the time I want to spend.

I guess I'll put up with Composer 7.2 for awhile longer.