Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Recycle bread, save millions of stalks of wheat

As I sit in front of our fireplace, I contemplate the slogans about how many trees are saved by recycling. We have probably burned twelve trees in our fireplace this year, from deadfall to those cut down with a chain saw. Actually more, much of the deadfall was trees about four inches around.

However, twelve trees from 80 acres is probably a miniscule portion of the trees that were either blown down or rotted. In fact, some of the large trees that we are burning should have been cut down long ago because of all the rotted wood in them.

All of the trees that we burned were aspen, almost a weed. Like birch, they grow from rhizomes, no need to replant. When we bought our property 17 years ago, there were a few dozen birches 12 inches or more in diameter, all dying or dead. Birch borer had infested them. Now we have several dozen birches scattered around, mostly on trail edges, each 3-5 inches in diameter. Aspens are even more vigorous in replenishing themselves, sometimes.

Within three years after we bought the property, there was one large stand of aspen that was blown down in a heavy storm. It still hasn't recovered and is mostly scrub. However, the property is filled with aspen of all sizes, some springing up where we don't want it. Other species can also regenerate rapidly, we have balsam of Gilead (bam) and red maple springing up all over. And balsam firs are really all over. I just wish our white spruce and white pine were as vigorous.

My point is that with stewardship that forests often regenerate themselves. Sometimes they need a little help with seedlings from a nursery, sometimes they don't need help.

A second point is that some percentage of our pulp wood comes from private land, some owned by large corporations. The land owners have an interest in regenerating their forests.

Yep, I recycle, after all it can cost more to start from scratch to make paper than it does to recycle used paper. I just don't want to make a religion out of preserving every single tree no matter where it is.

Monday, December 29, 2008

One of my favorite economists is running for Congress

I've enjoyed reading Charles Wheelan's column's on Yahoo Finance and I enjoyed reading his book, The Naked Economist. He always struck me as writing common sense rather than dogma. That is, nothing is as simple as we would like it to be, but here are some guidelines to help us getting the results we really want.

He has now decided to put his economic knowledge and common sense into being a U.S. Representative from the fifth district of Illinois. See "Goodbye Yahoo! Finance, Hello Congress?"

I wish more in government were as interested in looking for solutions as he is rather than posturing for stature. For more on his campaign, see Wheelan for Congress website.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Obama not the first minority president

Barack Obama is not the first minority president! All presidents in recent memory have been minority presidents. Turnout has rarely exceeded 60% of the eligible voters. That means that about 40% or more of the eligible voters voted "I don't give a damn" or "none of the above".

According to the Washington Post over 131 million people voted in 2008 elections, or 61.6% of eligible voters. That means there were 213 million eligible voters. Infoplease, based on New York Times figures, says there were 231 million eligible voters. Whichever figure is used, that means 90 to 100 million eligible voters did not show up!

CNN gives the final totals as 66,883,230 for Obama and 58,343,671 for McCain. I don't know who to feel more sorry for, Obama for coming in second or McCain for coming in third. Well, Obama can take some comfort that with his 29-31% of the eligible voters he did somewhat better than Reagan did with his supposed 1980 landslide with 28% of the eligible voters. See "If you don't vote, you have only yourself to blame".

More performers than audience or preaching to the choir

I sang another solo today, but it wasn't to a full house. It was the first service of the Wassail service that was scheduled two weeks ago and cancelled because of the weather.

My quick count was there were 27 choir members, soloists, and readers, but only four non-performing people in the sanctuary. This was probably because it was the early service and a holiday weekend. The second service definitely had more non-performers than performers.

During my "solo" my wife and most other people joined in the chorus. I did three verses of "Lord of the Dance", Sidney Carter's words to "'Tis a gift to be simple". It was really fun, almost every one joined in, and my knees didn't shake.

I did wake up at three this morning drawing a blank on the chorus. I could get, "Dance then, wherever you may be" but then what's next. After tossing and turning a lot, I got up and checked: "I am the Lord of the Dance said he." As it was, I only bobbled one syllable in the performance.

"Lord of the Dance" is in The Christmas Revels Songbook, available from For five bucks extra, you can get the CD.

The album is also available from iTunes.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Thanks to my six loyal readers!

A big thank you to my six or so regular readers of this blog. I get this number from Feedburner, the site that makes my blog available as a feed and tracks usage.

It's not as good as the over 150 people who said they enjoyed my regular column in the Reader Weekly, but I don't have to meet a deadline to reach you.

I do hope to have an entry of 100-400 words every other day. It will be either observations on the news or just a tale from my own life.

If you see me or correspond with me by email, please let me know what you think.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Musical performance when you're not among the best

Tonight at the Christmas Eve service I sang a solo of Sankta Lucia, in Swedish, by memory. I am not really among the good singers, but I keep striving. It is made somewhat more difficult when one is a poor musician married to a really good musician with a good ear.

Anyhow, with years of voice lessons and many repetitions of a song, I can give an acceptable performance. I have done five or six recital solos at the music conservatory and about three solos at church. All were politely received and sometimes better received.

In rehearsing Sankta Lucia at home, my wife had almost always found some error in my timing or pitch. The last day or two, she's remarked that I had improved. Today before the service I ran through it with the music director. Wouldn't you know, I forgot the words before I finished the first verse? Without looking at the score, I did remember them and tried again. The music director's only comment was that I rushed certain parts.

The moment of truth arrives. I am up in front of over 100 people all watching me. No music in my hands. No mike in front of me. The music director plays the opening bars, which I listen to intensely. I start. Oh, no! I don't feel on pitch. I keep plowing on. Think ahead to the words of the next phrase. Remember to take breaths. Hold the half notes long enough. Look at the congregation, scan from side to side, sometimes look directly at one person. My knees start shaking. Am I getting the high note correctly? A mere B below middle C, for crying out loud! I make it to the end and hold the last note longer. I pause and start to walk away. My wife is beaming. The music director is grinning. The congregation applauds. I turn back, bow slightly, and say thank you.

After the service, over a dozen people told me that they enjoyed my performance. I deliberately sought out a couple of really good musicians who were sitting in the back row. Did my voice carry well enough? They said they heard me clearly and complimented me on my performance.

What a high!

And I get to sing another solo on Sunday! What a way to end the year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Explanation of rising health care costs in five words

Insurance will pay for it!

How often have you heard in response to a broken bone or a dented fender: "Insurance will pay for it"? People say this as a way of saying the cost of fixing a problem is no problem; it won't be out of their pockets.

But it is out of their pockets in higher premiums and even higher taxes.

People go to the doctor for things that might go away on their own, but "insurance will pay for it." People go the doctor for minor conditions for things that aren't very serious and with which they aren't bothered that much, but "insurance will pay for it."

Doctors will perform procedures on minor conditions because a patient doesn't have to worry about the cost. In fact, doctors often don't ask if a patient wants the procedure done; they say, "I'm going to do such and such". After all, "insurance will pay for it."

Often, insurance doesn't pay for it. Insurance pays part of the stated cost. Big insurance companies negotiate prices as discounts. "We'll include your health care facility in our coverage if you give us an xx% discount." So it is in the interest of health care providers to keep their official prices high in order to be sure their actual prices give them an adequate compensation.

Of course, the more people use insurance, the higher the premiums become. The insurers have to raise enough money to cover all the claims and still make a profit.

You can argue about how insurance executives are overpaid, how doctors are overpaid, and how many inefficiencies there are in health care, but the basic fact is that the less people really make price-benefit choices, the higher the costs will be.

This latter point is the argument that promoters of health savings accounts and patient choice make. If people buy their health care on rational economic choices, the costs will be brought under control.

Unfortunately, rational economic choice for health care is not like rational economic choice for a new TV or car or for what kind of vacation one will have.

If you are injured in a car accident and rescued while unconscious, health care providers are going to give you the best care they know. Even if you are conscious, will you be thinking clearly?

What if your child suddenly becomes gravely ill? Are you going to spend the time to research what doctors can give the most cost effective care? No, you are either going to see the doctors you already know or you are going to see the closest doctor.

We are not going to solve our "health care crisis" until a sufficient number of hard-hearted patient choice advocates and a sufficient number of soft-hearted "damn the true cost" advocates discuss all of these issues rather than grandstand.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Finding gloves that work as claimed

I have many pairs of gloves, work gloves, dress gloves, and ski gloves and mittens. I sometimes where them in layers, either glove liners or bigger gloves over smaller gloves. Some of the gloves are cheap and some are moderately priced. None of them keep my hands warm in all conditions, even with hand warmers. Do I have to get mountain climber gloves to keep my hands warm.

When I try on a pair of gloves in a store, they seem so soft and cozy. When I start to use them, they sometimes feel almost useless.

I did see an online site for battery heated gloves, $249 for the four-ounce battery pack version and $349 for the lithium-ion version. I would like to find a store that has these. Why pay these prices and find out your hands are still cold?

When I ski, I find that my right thumb get colder before any other finger. This may because I whacked it with a hammer many years ago while in an awkward position. I call the cold thumb my early warning system.

Interestingly, if I'm outside walking or snowshoeing, my hands don't seem to get cold as often. I was using a $9.97 remainder table pair to blow snow yesterday and I had to go in before I was finished; I had done the same on previous occasions with "better" gloves.

I blew snow at the cabin today and started getting cold fingers. The temperature was about 20 degrees F.!! After lunch, we went snowshoeing and my hands stayed relatively warm for the 30-40 minute trek. Later I split wood and didn't get cold hands like I did last week. I wore the cheap gloves for all these activities.

I figured out why the gloves don't always keep my hands warm when I'm active. I'm gripping snowblower handles or ski poles or ax handles. The gloves are being compressed and lose some of their insulation properties, no matter how super-duper the seller claims they are. (I almost said manufacturer, but no matter what the brand, they all are labeled "Made in China".)

Maybe the next time I shop for gloves, I should ask for a warranted rating and not accept gloves with something like "Keeps you hands warm in all conditions" or "Our special liner gives more warmth." I should ask for gloves with a rating such as keeps your hands at 60 degrees F. for an hour or more when the temperature is -10 degrees.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Obtuse books can have interesting insights

I had to return the library book The Global Village by Marshall McLuhan and Bruce R. Powers, published in 1989. I would like to have reread it and write a more extensive review of it, but there are so many more books on my reading list.

In general I found it rather obtuse but it has some interesting observations and predictions on and off the mark. Their main thesis was that the tetrad would provide a reasoning tool to better understand developing trends. The opposing corners of the tetrad are enhance-obsolete and retrieve-reverse. Is this a two-dimensional dialectic, an either-or at another level?

p. 48 Music is right-brained and left-brained. We learn notes and then understand harmonic structure.

p. 60 "Propganda cannot succeed where people have no trace of Western culture."
- Jacques Ellul, Propaganda
McLuhan and Powers claim that literacy is required to be susceptible to propaganda. However, many illiterate people subscribed to the teachings of churches.

p. 84 Linking of military adventures to immigration. Immigration "will splinter the white Anglo-Saxon cast of U.S. government, education, and business structures and create a salad-like mélange of ethnic minorities without any single one being predominant."

"[M]ost native-born Americans will be unprepared for the new consumer economy which will emerge, offering service-related jobs not always suited to their intelligence or training. Ethnic diversity will help ignite a full-blown economy based on information exchange."

And much more.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Are Detroit vehicles worse than the competition?

Much is being written about the pay of Detroit auto employees and the quality of the cars they make. The pay is somewhat distorted because it seems to include paying for current retirees. The quality of cars may vary. See "$73 and hour, adding it up", David Leonhardt, New York Times, 2008-12-09.

We have a 1997 Ford F-150 (standard cab) and a 2002 Toyota Prius.

The truck has only let me down once in the sense I couldn't use it right at the moment. It had a flat tire on the way to work.

Both cars have had warning lights come on, almost about the same number. However, the Prius seems to do this at the start of big trips. We have been lucky in that if we didn't get immediate service, we at least got assurance that we could continue our trip.

Because I drive the truck more often on dirt roads and don't wash it as often as I should, I had major hidden rust damage. I did get the damage repaired. Even this year I've had people ask if the truck is new.

I'd say it is a wash on quality.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Companies are still giving away razors... the hopes you'll buy their blades.

First, it was the mobile phone companies selling phones at steep discounts when you bought a two year contract. Now it is VOIP providers giving away their service within their network in the hopes you will subscribe to additional services. (VOIP is voice over internet protocol.)

We and our adult children all have Skype. We can have a video call with our son, his wife, and their toddler in Tokyo or a video call with our daughter and her family in the Twin Cities. Or we can have a three-way voice-only conversation. All of this is free.

However, if you would like to call a land line, you need a "calling card" or a monthly subscription. I opted for a $10 "card" that will be automatically renewed to my credit card. So far, we've only used it to call our daughter after she shut her computer down. My wife plans to use it to call her sisters. The charge was 2.1 or 2.3 cents a minute. This beats the 6.9 cents that a long distance provider we had been using.

Another advantage is a clearer signal. The signal quality for the more expensive provider seems to have been deteriorating.

We could use my cell phone to make "free" long-distance calls; I have yet to use much more than ten percent of my minutes. However, one sister lives in Ontario and the charge is 65 cents per minute! And she lives closer to us than people in the U.S. on either coast. So, 2.3 cents a minute is a real bargain.

Today CNet News had an article on truphone, which allows iPod Touch* users to use there iPods for VOIP. Again, its free for truphone subscriber to truPhone subscriber. To call land lines the charge is six cents a minute to many places in the world.

Free razors! Extra charges may apply for blades and shaving cream.

* truphone is only for the second generation iPod Touch. You also need a headphone and microphone.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

"Appropriate defense" is coming!

Sometimes I'm lucky in my forecasts ("Republican principles are contradictory").

The Washington Post published "U.S. to Raise 'Irregular War' Capablities", 2008-12-04. The policy directive was signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England on Monday. DoD has been working on this for a year.

It's not exactly a fulfillment of my forecast, but I'm pleased to see that there have been people addressing this "war" instead of the last war.

Failure of Big Three automakers not necessarily failure for dealers

Some are implying that the failure of the Big Three automakers will mean the failure of their dealers. But this assumes that all of these dealers sell only Big Three vehicles. On the contrary, many dealers sell several manufacturers' vehicles, both domestic and "foreign". For example, Kolar of Duluth MN sells Toyota, Hyundai, Scion, Buick, GMC, Chrevrolet, and Pontiac.

Others saw the writing on the wall long ago. Kari Toyota of Superior WI started out as a Studebaker dealer. How many readers even know what a Studebaker is? Kari had many ups and downs, but eventually became a Toyota-Jeep Eagle dealer. Kari sold the Jeep line in 2001 and is now exclusively a Toyota dealer.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Republican principles are contradictory

Some "conservatives" are calling for a return to basic Republican principles: less government, low taxes, and strong defense. I posit that these are contradictory and sometimes even useless.

Generally the proponents of strong defense imply a military that is capable of blowing other people up better than other people can blow us up. This means bigger and faster ships and planes with bigger things to blow people up.

In order to have this kind of defense, you need to have a large bureaucracy to procure, staff, and maintain it. A large bureaucracy means large government

If you have lots of thing to blow people up and a large bureaucracy then you will need to raise lots of taxes or borrow lots of money. One estimate I read was that World War II took up to 42% of the gross domestic product.

The strong defense of blowing people up is not working.

First, having more nuclear weapons than anybody else is not doing much good. And if they were used, say, like Hillary Clinton declared, to obliterate Iran, who would die? How many "bad guys" are there in any given locale? How many women and children would be obliterated? Probably more women and children than bad guys.

Second, all these "surgical strikes" with 500-lb. bombs and Predator missiles somehow have killed many women and children. Even if no women or children are killed, many believe there were. The many are both allies and enemies. Such perceptions do not hearts and minds win.

Third, what country seriously has the intent and the resources to invade and occupy the continental United States?

We have only two military concerns: nuclear proliferation and piracy.

The concern of nuclear proliferation has to be addressed with more active diplomacy than has ever been applied. If China were to increase its nuclear arsenal, what would the U.S. do but increase its nuclear arsenal. Now if the U.S., with its huge nuclear arsenal, is using harsh words against Iran and North Korea, should it surprise us that these states want to have nuclear arsenals? If the U.S. can have a nuclear arsenal for a deterrent, shouldn't these states also have a nuclear arsenal for a deterrent? It's just another arms race in the history of arms races covering almost all of human history. The only solutions are to have all sides back off, to have a nervous stalemate, or to use the arms. The latter two solutions are expensive, which doesn't help keep taxes low.

The concern of piracy cannot be addressed with diplomacy and cannot be addressed with a "strong defense". Well, diplomacy would help in isolating and reducing support for the pirates. Diplomacy would also help in co-ordinating the activities of various navies and other forces to defend ships against pirates. The "strong defense" of super-duper fighter jets, heavy tanks, and super carriers won't defend against pirates. What are needed are faster armed boats and many helicopters. But the helicopters should be prepared for Stinger missiles, something the "strong defense" provided to the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan to fight Soviet helicopters.

What about terrorism? The defense of terrorism is a combination of diplomacy and police work. Diplomacy is needed to isolate and ferret out terrorists. One country cannot do this all over the world. Police work is needed because terrorists often create and implement their deeds in cities, not isolated mountain hideouts. They are going to come in two and threes, not in brigades. Effective police work is knowing about suspicious activity and halting it before it can become a catastrophe.

Although limited government and low-taxes are laudable goals, let's hope the proponents of these change their goal of "strong defense" to "appropriate defense".

See also "India's 9/11? Not exactly", Amitav Ghosh, New York Times, 2008-12-02

Sunday, November 30, 2008

How is it that irregular fighters so often beat the regular soldiers?

I posted the following to President-elect Barack Obama's transition website:

The 10,000 Greek soldiers that battled their way through hostile territory after the Persians killed their generals, 4th Century, B.C.

American irregulars against the British Army, 18th Century

French Resistance against Hitler's war machine, 1940's

Viet Cong guerrillas against a super power, the United States, 1960-1970s

Iraqi "insurgents" against the superior firepower of the United States

Afghani fighters against the British, the Russians, and the Americans.

Except for the Greeks, all of these groups were battling on their home turf. The Greeks were trying to return to their home turf.

Except for the Greeks, all of these groups were battling against a foreign power with an accompanying "puppet" government. The Colonial Americans did have an advantage in that many of the politicians were against the occupiers. Even with that advantage, it took six years to get the occupying army to surrender.

Could it be that many of the population have no incentive to support the foreign-supported government? If there is not direct foreign-support, could such support be perceived? If such support is not perceived, could it be that the government is ineffective in providing basic services or is seen as corrupt? If the last, does an ineffective or corrupt government have the resources to buy the loyalty of its own ruthless army.

It is only when all these questions are properly addressed, can anyone, superpower or not, hope to bring peace and stability to countries where neither exists.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

My best chuckle of the week

Jim Heffernan for years wrote a weekly column for the Duluth News Tribune. His column was a mix of commentary on daily life, Duluth, the state, the country, and the world, often with a bemused or satirical slant. He is now retired, but continues his column in his blog.

His latest was about the Second Coming, "The More Things Change, the More They Are the Same..." After reading it, I sent this note to Jim:
Dear Master of Satire,

“The second commandment is like unto to the first...” but many who call upon His Name seem more concerned about the commentary. The second commandment also means “we are the change”.

- Mel

Friday, November 28, 2008

You are the change!

President-elect Barack Obama's staff has set up a website for public input -

You can put up your story at or your ideas at

Maybe your input won't get past the filters, but then if you don't make a post to it will only stay in your head.

Don't trash the Constitution

I put the following on Barack Obama's website

President George W. Bush has made a mockery of the United States Constitution. Please do not follow his footsteps in appointing Sen. Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.

"No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office."
- United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 6

Wearing a flag pin has become a symbol of patriotism. Worship of the flag is not patriotism; respect for and adherence to the Constitution is.

"Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:--'I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.'"
- United States Constitution, Article 2, Section 1

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Peace in the middle east?

Daniel Terdiman thinks that cheaper desalinization might be the most pressing problem to solve (What innovations are most important to world's future?, CNET News, 2008-11-14). He also suggests that water access may be a more important issue between Israel and Syria.

If Israel could desalinate water and sell it cheaply to Syria, Jordan, and Palestine, it may make itself indispensible to the supposed enemies.

See also his Space Station residents to drink recycled urine", CNET News, 2008-11-14.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Palin and Africa, who said what when?

Bob Lundegaard's letter ("The Palin Effect, McCain camp should have given her a map", Star Tribune, November 15, 2008) set off some alarms in my head, especially when he wrote about "the media" and even more so when he wrote about "the media elite".

I've written elsewhere that "the" is one of the most dangerous words in the English language, second only to "they". Too many people use "the" for sweeping generalizations about a particular group when it is really a few with whom they have a complaint. "The media" covers a wide variety of broadcasters, publishers, and bloggers. The opinions and skills of the people vary so greatly that one cannot really generalize. Can one lump Rush Limbaugh and Arianna Huffington together in "the media? Or a skilled writer like George Will with a ranting blogger who uses only ad hominem attacks?

Lundegaard complained that the timing of the release of the story about Palin and Africa confirms "people's suspicions that the media elite can't be trusted." I submit that the timing may have been because a certain news team could be trusted. However, to find this out, I had to spend more time than any of the online commenters to Lundegaard's letter seem to have spent.

The first inkling I got of a really big problem was when I saw CNET News item about a McCain advisor named Michael Eisenstadt claiming to leak the story to Fox News. This story was actually a New York Times story published in Arts and Entertainment, Nov. 12, "A Senior Fellow at the Institute of Nonexistence". The man posing as Eisenstadt said he really was not the leak.

I can't remember all the twists and turns of my search for the facts, but I did find two Fox News broadcasts on YouTube of interviews with Carl Cameron, Chief Political Correspondent for Fox News. These both took place on November 5, one on the late afternoon news and one on the Bill O'Reilly program. On both he mentions Palin not knowing Africa was a continent. He mentions no sources except in the first he says "McCain aides told me today..."

When I searched Fox News for "Palin Africa" I found 25 hits in the ranges May 5 to September 10, September 18 to October 26, and November 7 to November 16. Either Fox News' search software leaves gaps or Fox News has pulled certain pieces.

I did find a news recap that mentioned the Africa charge. Jane Hall said on Fox News Watch on November 8, "And Newsweek had it and Carl Cameron had it and Hugh Miller had it." I don't know who Hugh Miller is, but when I searched Newsweek for "Palin Africa" I had zero hits.

I also did a search of the Star Tribune and the New York Times. The Star Tribune has nothing on "Palin Africa" until Lundegaard's letter. The New York Times has six hits after the election. Four were by columnists who attributed the remark to Fox News or Carl Cameron or stated it was a contention, one was the story about the hoax, and the sixth was about Palin defending herself against the charge, "Palin Calls Criticism by McCain Aides 'Cruel and Mean-Spirited'", November 8. She is quoted as saying, “For the most part, absolutely, media persons, reporters, have been absolutely right on and there has been fairness and objectivity. There have been some stinkers, though..."

So, where does this "revelation" that Sarah Palin didn't know Africa was a continent come from. One could say that Carl Cameron made it up; Wikipedia says that he has fabricated stories in the past. One could also say that one remark by Palin has been blown out of proportion and context. Apparently she did have a discussion about South Africa and was unsure whether it was about South Africa the country or southern Africa the region. If this is so, we should cut her some slack. Whatever, Carl Cameron is not "the media".

Who is "the media, who agreed to hold the story until after the election"? Remember Jane Hall's comment about Newsweek and Carl Cameron? For many years, Newsweek has done "Secrets of the Campaign" reportage. They offer to document many of the behind the scenes events in exchange for the promise not to publish anything until after the election. I think they have gotten co-operation from both Republicans and Democrats for many elections. Newsweek isn't "the media" but they have shown they can be trusted. You can see dozens of clips of both the McCain and Obama campaigns that were not made available until November 5. You might enjoy them if you have a few days free.

See also "Palin and Africa, who said what when? Sources for article"

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Vote early, vote often (An alternative to Instant Runoff Voting)

As the melodrama of the Coleman-Franken recount unfolds, much invective, hyperbole, and puzzlement is appearing in print and online. One of the "solutions" brought forth to the close vote is Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). See

"Avoid the agony of recounts, and more, with instant runoffs", David Durenberger, Star Tribune, 2008-11-25


"Elections with less acrimony? That's the true beauty of IRV", Nick Coleman, Star Tribune, 2008-11-24

I think IRV is another magic bullet that is going to cure confusion, apathy, and the common cold. As in any system of voting, one can find scenarios in which the system will not give the desired results.

Suppose Al, Bert, and Chuck are running for dog-catcher in an IRV system. The choices of the voters are

First choice - 100(Al), 100(Burt), and 50(Chuck)
Second choice - 75(Al), 75(Burt), and 100(Chuck)
Third choice - 75(Al), 75(Burt), and 100(Chuck)

Assume further that the voters for Chuck split their votes for Al and Burt, 25 each for second choice and 25 each for third choice.

Eliminating Chuck's first place votes and distributing those voters' second choice votes, we wind up with Al and Burt each getting 125 votes each. Recount anybody?

Add to this the task of verifying that the original vote calculations were correct...

My own preference is for a blanket or jungle primary followed by as many runoffs as needed to achieve a majority vote. See "Nonpartisan Blanket Primary" and "Blanket Primary" in Wikipedia.

In Louisiana, several candidates are allowed to run under the same party label. I suggest that candidates may use a party label only if they have received the endorsement of that party.

Under "my" system, people would not "throw their votes away" by voting for the candidates they really want to be in office. Assume the polls say that Chuck would receive only 20 percent of the vote. If Al were to get 50 percent of the vote plus one, he would clearly be the winner.

If Al and Burt got 40 percent each as in the above example, then they would have a runoff without Chuck. With only two candidates in the race, it is more probable that one of them would get a clear majority. If not, we're in just as much trouble as with the IRV example.

But suppose the polls are wrong. Many voters refused to read the polls and voted as they really believed. Not knowing they "would throw their votes away" voting for Chuck, 40 percent voted for him, 35 percent voted for Al, and 25 percent voted for Burt. In the runoff the result might be as high as 65 percent for Chuck or as high as 60 percent for Al; either case would be a clear majority. Of course, we could still have a tie and ...

As usual, no human system is flawless, but I think this system is more fluid than the so-called "two-party system". Rather than having to vote for a "major" party that has lost much of its popular support and voting for it only as a vote against the other "major" party, voters can feel more free to vote for a party more to their liking. It took less than 70 years for a new party to replace a major party; at over 150 years since the last change, we are long overdue for a new party.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

How do you measure pain?

I have visited doctors' offices more than I wanted in the last few months, including two ER visits and a same-day surgery. After the latter I have had varying degrees of pain for over a week now.

In almost every doctor's office there is a 8.5x11 pain chart with a bar of varying colors and a scale from 0 to 10. Just what is a pain of 2 or 4? I don't know. On one visit I found out that there is another scale on this chart, from smiley face to extreme grimace with tears. Even with the faces, I'm hard put to measure my pain because I don't hold any particular facial expression constantly. If I had a pain that had me tight-lipped and someone told a really good joke, I would smile and laugh.

Today, I came up with my own list of descriptions based on my own current and past experiences.

Barely noticeable would be a tender spot that you didn't think about until someone touched it with a bit of pressure.

Noticeable would be a minor ache or pain that you think about when you are still or make certain movements.

Annoying would be a pain that is always there but you can function normally and sometimes put out of your mind.

Distracting would be a pain that stops all activity. Your mind is just too occupied with it to do much else. You can force yourself to act, but you do so with reluctance.

Excruciating is not only distracting, but you want to cry out in anger or frustration.

Stop, stop, stop! has your full attention. All you want is for the pain to stop. You can think of nothing else.

Only once in recent memory have I had "Stop, stop, stop!" pain. I had an abscess in my upper jaw giving me pain varying from noticeable to excruciating. I was scheduled for oral surgery to treat the abscess, but the oral surgeon took me in just to drain the abscess. When he put the needle in, it felt like he was putting fluid in me rather than taking it out. I must have tightened every muscle in my body. After that, if I remember correctly, the pain stayed in the range of annoying to distracting until the complete surgery.

Fortunately, sort of, pain doesn't stay at one level. It can subside and come back again. The best way to keep the pain at a lower level is to do something: read a book, watch a movie, be with friends, or write a blog about pain.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Control the terms of the debate

After reading my submission to the Star Tribune on "The media", my son sent me a link to a New Yorker article on the Republican Party, "The Fall of Conservatism" by George Packer, 2008-05-26.

One interesting point was:
The Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, in his new book, “The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008” (Harper), argues that Reagan “learned how to seize and keep control of the terms of public debate.”
I thought of how the Republicans have seized and kept control of the terms of the public debate on taxes by constant harping on "high taxes" and "low taxes". I really think the debate needs to be on "appropriate taxes". With that in mind, I sent the following to President-Elect Obama's change web site,
Appropriate the adjective appropriate.

The Republicans are controlling the debate on taxes with a charge of "high taxes" and a call for "low taxes". The real question is not whether taxes are too high or too low but whether taxes are appropriate for the tasks facing the government.

If a war calls for a large portion of a nation's resources, a fifty-percent tax rate may be appropriate to bring the war to a successful conclusion.

If a country is at peace, if all the infra-structure is working well, and if the country is healthy and prosperous, a five-percent tax rate may be appropriate to keep the country running smoothly.
I encourage to send your thoughts to Obama's transition team. Who knows, if you have a well-thought and well-prepared idea that resonates with one of the filters, your idea may be adopted. If you don't send your thoughts to the transition team, ...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Supreme court ruled by military?

Many people are wary of this country becoming more and more militaristic. Sometimes events seem to strengthen this belief. The Navy vs. environmental groups on SONAR being a threat to marine mammals seemed to be heading in that direction.

A recent New York Times article seemed to imply that the Supreme Court was leaning towards extreme deference to the military. See "Supreme Court rules for Navy in SONAR Case", New York Times, 2008-11-13.

The opening paragraph reads:

"Courts must be wary of second-guessing the military’s considered judgments, the Supreme Court said Wednesday in lifting judicial restrictions on submarine training exercises off the coast of Southern California that may harm marine mammals."

Oh, boy! thought I. We are on a slippery slope here. We have all the politicians who want to defer to the military with its interpretation of the "situation on the ground." Now we have the Supreme Court doing so.

It isn't until the end of the article that one finds a much more nuanced judgement:

"'Of course,' Chief Justice Roberts added, 'military interests do not always trump other considerations, and we have not held that they do. In this case, however, the proper determination of where the public interest lies does not strike us as a close question.'”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Palin and Africa, who said what when? Sources for article

I get a strong reaction when anybody writes about media bias. "The media" covers a wide range of skills and opinions. When I read "The Palin Effect: McCain camp should have given her a map" in the November 15 Star Tribune, I got busy at my keyboard. It took two days, but I churned out over 700 words of analysis looking for the "real" story about what Palin really said. I can't post it here unless the Star Tribune decides not to print my article. While we wait, you can "enjoy" some of the articles I used.

2008-11-05 Carl Cameron, Fox News, broadcast bit about Palin not knowing Africa is a continent. No mention of source of information. Cameron does say, "McCain aides told me today" about Africa statement.

O'Reilly and Cameron No mention of sources of information. Cameron does say that McCain staffers were met by Palin in a bathrobe.

2008-11-06 Palin-Africa Story Implodes Right Wing Media Cabal, Gawker,

2008-11-08 Fox News recap,,2933,449566,00.html, Newsweek, Cameron, and Hugh Miller "had it".

2008-11-08 Gail Collins writes that Carl Cameron of Fox News said Palin didn't know Africa was a continent. Collins includes that Palin says this is untrue. "A Political Manners Manual"

2008-11-08 Article on Palin reaction to criticism. “For the most part, absolutely, media persons, reporters, have been absolutely right on and there has been fairness and objectivity,” Mentioned some "bad apples". "Palin Calls Criticism by McCain Aides 'Cruel and Mean-Spirited'"

2008-11-09 Nicholas Kristof's indirectly quotes Fox News, "Obama and the War on Brains"

2008-11-10 "Palin Defends Herself in Fox Interview", The Caucus Blog, New York Times

2008-11-12 "MSNBC retracts false Palin story; others duped" Associated Press, Fox and others reprint

2008-11-12 Maureen Dowd mentions Palin defending herself about remarks that did not confuse Africa as country or continent. "Boxers, Briefs, or Silks?"

2008-11-12 New York Times publishes article about hoax, "A Senior Fellow at the Institute of Nonexistence"

2008-11-15 "The Palin Effect: McCain camp should have given her a map", Letter to the Editor, Star Tribune, Bob Lundegaard

If you have the patience to read the comments to this letter, you'll find few that actually address what Lundegaard wrote. They almost all are off on their own agenda.

Friday, November 14, 2008

One solution for GM's problems

I sent the following to Barack Obama's transition web site at

One solution for GM's problems is for it to start selling like mad in China.

Supposedly many Chinese like big vehicles. American auto manufacturers traditionally have bought foreign factories rather than export. Rather than the paltry 50,000 vehicles that Ford supposedly sold in China, why don't all of the U.S. auto makers start some really serious sales in China.

Oh, I forgot, foreign languages are a "frill" in American schools. Well, maybe there are enough English speakers in China to respond to some of the American car ads broadcast or published in English.

Thomas Friedman for Secretary of State

I sent the following to Barack Obama's transition web site at

Thomas Friedman for Secretary of State. He speaks Arabic and Hebrew; he spent years in both Lebanon and Israel; and he has contacts all over the world. He also has a realistic view of the difficulty of bringing people together. See
"Show me the money", New York Times, 2008-11-09

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes or No! No Ifs, Ands, or Buts!

Creationism vs. evolution, anti-abortion vs. pro-abortion, pro-Americanism vs. anti-Americanism, “you’re for us or against us”, “my way or the highway”, Democrat or Republican! On and on it goes for issue after issue – taxes, gun control, and war. Loud voices drown out reasoned voices. Slogans overwhelm discussion.

Now the election is over and we shall see if we get more partisanship or more governance. If McCain has won, we’ll definitely see more partisanship and less governance; each side working to show how they “know best”. If Obama has won, we may see less partisanship and a bit more governance. Even then, with our “imperial presidency”, there will be grandstanding both in Congress and in the Executive Office to show how “hard everyone is working for the people.”

Whoever has won, we will see many shortsighted solutions. On one hand, we’ll see “free market knows best” solutions with a lot of government breaks for favored industries. On the other hand, we’ll see “the people know best” solutions with a lot of government breaks for favored industries.

Charles Wheelan, author of “The Naked Economist”, recently wrote “The Twilight of Free-Market Ideology”. He faulted those who promoted lessening regulations to let business thrive, especially those who say government should get out of businesses’ way. He wrote that, at a minimum, we need government for when we want to sue somebody.

Many of the comments that followed on were extremely vituperative. Almost any hint of government involvement is seen as socialism or communism. Fortunately, we have few public voices that are espousing either of these extreme ideas of government involvement in the economy.

In health insurance, McCain has been promoting individual choice and wants to tax employee-provided insurance. He seems to forget all the fraternal societies founded in the 1800s to provide various forms of assistance to members as well as help to others. At one time insurance companies were owned by policyholders; that’s why they included the name “Mutual”.

Obama has a several-point plan on reducing costs and providing insurance for more people. However, it will take a lot of jawboning on the part of the Federal government to implement many of these ideas.

Wouldn’t a better way be to encourage states to improve health care and insurance costs? This way a lot more ideas can be tried sooner with a lot less hassle than a national plan.

“Obama will take our guns away.” Other than an ill-advised, off-the-cuff remark about some people finding solace in having guns, I don’t think Obama has said much about gun control. Even if some future president and Congress wanted to take guns away, does anyone think they will succeed? President Bush hasn’t been able to take guns away from people in Iraq and Afghanistan in over five years. And there are enough Democratic hunters in Congress to block any extreme action in the U.S.

“Gay marriage will destroy marriage!” “All couples should be treated equally!” Hm! I find both positions tiresome. Gay marriage surely will not destroy my marriage of 48 years. And everybody has the right to marry a person of their choice of the opposite sex. However, there are many living arrangements that require more legal support than is currently available. How about two widows living together to save costs?

As for the Biblical basis of marriage being one man and one woman, what about Solomon and his 700 wives and 300 concubines?

Every abortion is a difficult choice. To criminalize abortion is to assume that the federal government knows best; strange coming from the party that wants “to get government off our backs.” Criminalizing abortion will work no better than prohibition of alcohol or drugs. We would be much better off working to reduce abortions by providing more non-governmental counseling, just like is done with substance abuse.

“The two-party system” is the king of “yes or no, no ifs, ands, or buts”. We are bamboozled into making a choice between two candidates, both of whom may cause more problems than they will solve. “Don’t throw your vote away!” “A vote for Nader was a vote for Bush!” It was? More Democrats stayed home than voted for Nader in 2000 in Florida. Nader got 9,000 votes and over 100,000 Democrats stayed home.

I hope you didn’t stay home on Nov. 4 but cast your vote as you saw fit, whether it was for McCain or Obama, Barr or Nader, or whoever else was on the ballot. If you didn’t like any of them, I hope you voted for “None of the above”. You didn’t see it on the ballot? It’s there in two ways. In Minnesota, you can write someone in (remember to give two names when voting for President) or you can leave the boxes blank for any given office.

This election may see the rise of a viable national third party. There may have been enough Republicans, dissatisfied with the McCain-Palin candidacy or with the ideological hardening of the Republican Party, who will split off into a new party. Don’t forget that the Republican Party was started by dissatisfied Whigs.

As the first and last real Republican said, “As our case is new, so must we think anew, and act anew.”

Monday, November 03, 2008

Will the Republican party become marginal?

"But the G.O.P.’s long transformation into the party of the unreasonable right, a haven for racists and reactionaries, seems likely to accelerate as a result of the impending defeat."

"The Republican Rump", Paul Krugman, New York Times, 2008-11-03

Krugman doesn't predict the demise of the Republican Party, but he thinks moderate Republicans will have to confront that their party has become the party of intolerance.

See also "Are we getting closer to a viable third party?"

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Republicans calling the kettle black on Democratic control

The Rovebaughlicans are complaining that we need to have a Republican president to offset a Democratic Congress. This is a bit hypocritical. In 2000 and 2004 Newt Gingrich and others were looking for a permanent Republican majority in Congress along with a Republican president appointing Supreme Court judges.

Millionaires' crocodile tears for the middle class

Obama, Biden, McCain, and Palin are trying to out-shout their opposition in how much they are working for the middle class. Give me a break, all four of them are millionaires.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Candidates are not apples and oranges

Comparing candidates is not like comparing apples and oranges. There are distinct differences in candidates' styles, history, knowledge, and skills. Candidates strengths and weaknesses are not a product of their politically parties.

I'm led to these thoughts by newspaper comparisons of the 2004 and the 2008 elections, generally about how various areas of the country went for Bush or for Kerry in 2004. Party affiliation is the wrong measure of future success.

In the 2004 debates, George Bush often came across as folksy and engaged with his audience. John Kerry was often wooden and detached. He also was a bit self-centered. I groaned each time he said, "In my plan" or "I have a plan..."

In 2008, John McCain is exciting people with narrow interests that they perceive he supports, but Barack Obama is exciting people with a larger vision of what our problems are and of where we should be headed.

One might say both the 2004 and the 2008 elections hinged on vision versus me-first.

I lately lost a preposition

I have tried to remember this little poem for quite some time. Today I did a search for it and found several copies.
I lately lost a preposition

It hid, I thought, beneath my chair

And angrily I cried: perdition

up from out in under there!

Correctness is my vademecum

Straggling phrases I abhor

Still I wonder what should it come

Up from out in under for? and others.

See also Language Log_ Churchill vs. editorial nonsense.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The fleeing elite

Republican partisans apparently have used the word "elite" to describe those who disagree with them too many times. Now the Republican-leaning elite are distancing themselves from the McCain-Palin candidacy:

David Brooks, Kathleen Parker, Charles Krauthammer, George Will, and now Christopher Buckley and Colin Powell. Now if some prominent politicians would do the same. Maybe we will get a strong, new moderate party.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Will McCain's health proposal cost most people less?

I find it hard to believe that McCain's health proposal will cost most people less. McCain is proposing to discourage employer-sponsored health insurance in favor of individually purchased insurance

Employer-sponsored health care is group health insurance. True, this could be more expensive for the young and healthy. Until they are married and have kids. Group health insurance is a better deal for people who are not so healthy. People who have some health issues in their family are going to pay a lot more for individual health insurance.

Group health insurance can be cheaper than individual health insurance because of sales costs. If you get health insurance online these costs may be very low. However, if you get health insurance from an agent, that agent may get a cut of your premium for as long as you hold your policy. This is also called a performance award; the more policies an agent sells the bigger his or her award.

(We should pay teachers the same; as long as their students are getting an income, the teachers should get a cut of the students' income taxes.)

McCain's five-thousand dollar tax credit is a joke. My wife and I are paying $6,941.40 per year for Medicare B, Medicare Drug Plan, and supplemental insurance. What would a family of four or five with known health issues pay?

Health savings accounts are also a joke. A single night in a hospital now costs $1,000, each time a doctor sees you in the hospital could be $200 or $300. How many people are going to have that much money in their health savings accounts?

There is already a tax deduction for all health expenses over a small percentage of income. Why not make it a tax credit?

If you would like to read more about both candidates' health plans, see "Health Care Spin" at

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Who on Wall St. is contributing to Obama's campaign?

Several critics have questioned the sources of contributions to Barack Obama's campaign, one of these criticisms being that many contributions are coming from Wall St. firms.

Contributors to political campaigns are required to give the names of their employers and their occupations. Is anybody breaking down these contributions from Wall St. firms into those from executives and those from others, say janitors, clerks, accountants, and brokers. Consider the following:
More generally, this year's registration tilt is part of a broader shift since 2004 away from Republican affiliation, particularly among younger and Hispanic voters and among college-educated professionals in former GOP strongholds such as New Hampshire, Colorado, and the suburbs of Philadelphia and Northern Virginia.

- "Registration gains favor democrats", Washington Post, 2008-10-06
Could it be that many of the donations from Wall St. are from these young professionals? Could it be that the sum of their donations to Obama exceeds that of their executive bosses?

Monday, October 13, 2008

High hopes for my to-do list

I find myself trying to do more and more in less and less time. Soon I'll be doing everything at once.

Rovebaughlicans have sowed the wind

...and now they are reaping the whirlwind.

They have sowed untruths and now have to contain the anger of their base. John McCain, normally a nice guy, has fallen among thieves of truth and acted like them. Now McCain has to quiet rowdy crowds who are saying things that would get them arrested at other events.

The Republicans have been taken over by mob rule and the Democrats are under siege by the Dreamocrats.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Choose your gospel wisely; times change

Adam Smith wrote about prosperity in his time, and now some have taken his writings as gospel for all times. Karl Marx wrote about poverty in his time, and some took his writings as gospel for all times.

Adam Smith wrote about many small businesses competing for customers, and then came conglomerates that were near monopolies. Karl Mark wrote about the conglomerates exploiting workers, and then came unions to bring prosperity to many workers in the conglomerates.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Are we getting closer to a viable third party?

In the mid nineteenth century, one of the two major parties became more irrelevant to the real problems of the era, namely the question of slavery. They, the Whigs, were tepid on abolition, and were replaced by a new, vigorous party, the Republicans. In the 1856 presidential election, the Republican candidate, John C. Fremont came in second in a three-way race. Former President Millard Fillmore, now in another "third party", the American Party or Know Nothing's, came in a respectable third. Four years later the Republican candidate won and the rest is history.

In the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century, the Republicans became more and more ideological. Rather than work with some general principles to work out compromises to govern, many Republicans became naysayers. See "The Audacity of Nope", Eva Fairbanks, Washington Post, 2008-10-05.

Ms. Fairbanks, a congressional correspondent, describes herself as a "card-carrying moderate 'weenie'" and is not happy about the shift to ideology.

As the Republican Party sidelines more and more moderates in favor of die-hard ideologues, will it become less relevant and only be an irritant to the Democrats. What will happen with the sidelined moderates? Will enough of them get together to form a viable third party?

We have some inkling in Minnesota that this is possible. Dean Barkley, the Independence Party candidate for the Senate, is closing in on 20% according to some polls. I don't know how many former Republicans are migrating to the IP, but if any momentum gathers, a third party could be an active participant in the 2012 elections, and by 2020, the current Republican Party may be a minor party.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Who has the right "experience"?

John McCain keeps hammering away that he has foreign policy experience and that Barack Obama is inexperienced. McCain claims that Obama is willing to meet Iranian President Ahmadinejad "without preconditions". Obama responds that "Ahmadinejad is not the most important man in Iran and may not even be the right person to talk to."
- Duluth News Tribune, 2008-10-03

Notice Obama's use of "may not". I'd rather have someone who is ready to adapt his foreign policy to others' reactions than someone who sings "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran."

Unbalanced "balanced" reporting

We were only able to watch the Biden-Palin debate for about a half-hour. After about the third time that Gov. Palin refused to answer a question and went on to something else, we turned the TV off and went to do other things.

I was amazed later in the evening to find hardly any mention of this in online commentary. I was still amazed when the Duluth News Tribune gave both fairly good marks for their performance. It was only when I got to the very end of an article about UMD students watching the debate did I find this:

“She keeps changing the subject, cutting off the issue, like she’s trying to hide something or doesn’t have an answer,’’ [Josh] Clarke said. “She just shows a lack of experience, kind of naive.’’
- Duluth News Tribune, 2008-10-03

Fortunately, similar comments are appearing today. And surprise, more of it is coming from so-called conservative or centrist commentators. So-called liberals seem to be afraid of any criticism of Palin; that would make them part of the "biased media."

I'm sorry, but if most people understand there is a problem, and one candidate states there is no problem and another states we must address this problem with thoughtfulness; shouldn't we be more critical of the first?

Friday, September 19, 2008

What kind of gadgets would the presidential candidates be?

I meant to publish this on Sept. 19; somehow I saved it as a draft instead.

CNET News has a poll on what kind of gadget would McCain be. Last week they had one for Obama: iPhone - 43.3%, Windows Vista - 27.5%, Facebook - 19.3%, and Baby's First Walkman - 10%

This week's poll on McCain is at

and the choices are

Panasonic Toughbook (ruggedized laptop)


Leatherman multi-tool

Presto (HP's device that receives and prints e-mail for those that don't have a PC)

I chose phonograph because it is so dated (yeah, I still have one and lots of LPs, but hardly ever use it). The result when I voted was over 56% out of over 1440 votes.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Today is Constitution Day

I bet you didn't know that. I know I didn't remember it until yesterday. The Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787.

It is really a shame that the most important event and document gets short shrift. We are distracted with flags and memorials rather than sober consideration of our past and our future. If we reflected on the Constitution more, then we might hold our presidents and representatives more accountable.

Here's one. The Founders were leery of standing armies because their very existence made wars easier to start. They gave the power of declaring war to Congress, not the President. They made the President the Commander-in-Chief but gave him no army. Now we have a large standing army, and ...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

If Republicans think a comedian is unqualified... be a U.S. Senator, why are they acting more like comedians with their attack ads and other remarks than like serious politicians who have a serious view of policy?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Politicians and Weather Forecasters are alike

They all tell different stories.

For Duluth, MN we have the following weather reports for 1700 today:

current temperature, tomorrow's high and low

52 60 47 CNN
64 64 48 AccuWeather 64 64 48
66 62 53 Yahoo
61 Our back porch thermometer

At least they all agree there will be rain tomorrow.

Monday, September 01, 2008

God told the Republicans to tone down their convention

Let's see, if God creates the weather, then Hurricane Gustav is God's handiwork. If the Republicans are responsible for doing something about weather damage, then they can't spend a lot of energy and money on the hoopla of a convention now. So, it must be God's will that the Republican's not hold their convention, at least not in the traditional way.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

High taxes or appropriate taxes?

Republicans make a big thing of charging Democrats with creating high taxes, and to many Republicans, this also means no taxes are preferred.

Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to run a successful business in a society without taxes. A taxless society has too many uncertainties. Uncertainties can be reduced with a civil society that sets and enforces rules. The price of a civil society is taxes. How much tax are we prepared to pay for what kind of civil society.

The question really should be do we have appropriate taxes for the society we want. If businesses needs skilled workers they will pay for them either with their own training programs, which cost money or with taxes for publicly supported schools. Otherwise, they will hope enough potential workers will pay for their own education.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Internet overload?

It seems to us that since the Olympics started, access to the Internet has become an iffy proposition.

We will have all the lights green on our DSL modem one minute, and then the Internet light goes off or even turns red. When this happens, the DSL blinks green.

This can happen every few minutes and be OK for a few minutes. It can be OK for hours and be off for many minutes or even hours.

Saturday night we had iffy access; two minutes on, one minute off. Sunday night we had almost continuous access. This morning we had access, then didn't, then did, and now we haven't had access for over an hour.

I wondered about our having an Apple Time Capsule added to our home network. I also wondered if our modem was going bad. Pushing reset or pulling the plug seems to make no difference: if it was working, it still works; if it wasn't working, it still won't work.

I also wondered about our phone company having problems. I talked to a friend who lives about a mile away about this. He has cable and has also been having spotty access.

It would be interesting to see if there is any correlation to these problems with access peaks to either or YouTube.

A final irony. I went to Qwest's home page and eventually to a discussion group. Just as I was registering to join the group, access disappeared!

No, one more irony. The phone rang downstairs and I tried to answer upstairs on the headset. Nothing! I tried the wall phone. Nothing. When I tried downstairs, I got a dial tone (the caller never left a message). I checked the wall jack upstairs. It was out for enough that a light kick would pull it out. Have I been kicking the jack all along or pushing a wastebasket against it? However, why did the red internet light come on and go off? We shall see this evening when local web traffic goes up.

Lawyers and objectivity

Every so often a lawyer will use the term "facts of the case" as if he or she has an objective view of a situation. But is the "objectivity" based on a subjective selection of the facts?

I think of this because of different interpretation of online security and of how things should be named.

My current irritation is with my bank requiring me to reset my PIN every so often. It is the only financial institution that I deal with that requires this. I know it's bad practice to keep passwords for a long time, but I'll change them on my own schedule, thank you.

I used to change my bank password when required, and then change it back again. Now it won't let me use any of the last four passwords. Worse yet, if I make any mistake in the entry, the site makes me change other information. Most sites leave all the correct information in the form and only want the missing information entered or the correct information entered. I gave up trying to figure out what the "correct" information I should enter.

A long standing irritation is with a mutual fund company that wants me to agree to the terms and conditions every time I sign on. This is the only company that I know that requires this.

My only explanation is that the companies' lawyers required these steps even though few other companies see these steps as important.

An example of a lawyer not going far enough. I applied and received a trademark for "Helper" with respect to software. The application was for "cassette tape and magnetic media". Then came electronic distribution and CDs. Of course, any challenges my lawyer made were stonewalled by other lawyers, regardless of how the other "Helper" software was distributed.

The most ridiculous case was the advice that a computer club received. It had had a DOM, disk-of-the-month, for many years. When it hired an attorney to register its name and to ensure its tax-exempt status, he suggested that it change DOM to eDOM, educational disk-of-the-month. Of course, how educational are a bunch of games and utilities?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Subtle racism in the presidential campaign

Mark Penn, an aide to the Clintons, wrote a memo about Obama's "lack of American roots." According to E. J. Dionne, Washington Post, 2008-08-14, "Clinton thankfully declined to take up this idea, but John McCain's ads are now subtly toying with it."

Let's see, John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone, which some maintain disqualifies him from the presidency. And has he forgotten the "No Irish need apply" signs of the past?

Friday, July 25, 2008


Today is my wife's birthday. This week I was pondering making her a card or buying her a gift. For the latter I wondered about some digital photo gadget to carry photos in her purse. I thought it would be bulky and clumsy. I wound up doing neither for her. I bought a store card that expressed our relationship perfectly.

However, today in preparation for her first high-school reunion meeting, I started putting photos on my iPod touch. Migod! That's it! Hundreds of photos! Organized in folders! Show a trip! Show a grandchild! Show a particular event!

She says we can share my iPod. But will we?

The rest of us have been left behind

I sent the following email to the store where I bought my MacBook Pro. I picked the computer up two weeks ago today and sent this email on July 14.

Well, I have the MacBook Pro up and running, almost. This has been the worst installation and migration since I worked on mainframes.

First, migration assistant crashed leaving many applications and other files unmoved. I forget if I repeated it, but not much moved.

Second, I couldn’t get the MacBook Pro to access my DSL modem. This was my first call to Apple Care. After talking to two people for almost an hour, including wait times, I discovered that I had set it to allow access only the PowerBook G4!

Third, the installation of Leopard on the PowerBook crashed. Nothing would boot at all. Second call to Apple Care but immediate response!! After much discussion the agent suggested holding the option key (I think) while booting. Leopard is now on the PowerBook also.

Fourth, the installation of the Time Capsule did not go according to instructions. Third call to Apple Care and again immediate response. This agent was also the most patient of all. I’m glad I have a couple of Ethernet cables handy. All the new stuff has a minimum number of cables.

The Time Capsule is up and running on the MacBook Pro now. I’ll do the PowerBook another day. The first backup took about five hours; I started it just before going to bed and it was over half done when I got up two or three hours later. The Time Capsule is one hot machine. I put it on a wooden cutting board so the desk surface doesn’t get damaged. No char marks on the cutting board.

Fifth, when I synched my iPod to the MacBook Pro, iTunes deleted all my purchased music from the iPod because I was not authorized to play them on the MacBook Pro. Even after I authorized it, iTunes would not download the purchased music to the iPod. I sent email to iTunes support and got a pretty quick response. Unfortunately this agent deauthorized all my computers (I wanted only one deauthorized, a G3) and said I could download the particular lost music again without payment. I haven’t gotten back to her yet.

Sixth, I did use a Firewire cable to move all the files that Migration Assistant didn’t move. That went fairly fast, maybe a couple hours or less. Probably over 40GB of stuff. Thank goodness Apple provided the FireWire cable with the PowerBook G4. Of course, this copying doesn’t make many of the adjustments that Migration Assistant would have made.

Seventh, Excel 2008 doesn’t recognize Visual Basic macros, and I had a bunch. Now I have to spend time learning AppleScript, something I’ve made several attempts at learning. Online manuals are not as easy to use as paper manuals.

Eighth, ExpensePlus on my Palm Zire doesn’t like Excel 2008. Even when I follow the instructions for Leopard on the WalletWare site, HotSync still won’t upload my expense sheets from the Palm.

Ninth, because Migration Assistant crashed, I’ve had to reregister much of my third party software and not always successfully. This is a good argument for keeping old email. I have found some of the registration codes in three- and four-year email.

Tenth, I had a deadline for my Reader Weekly column. With all this frustration, I did not put together a column as coherent as I would have liked.

Eleventh, a piece of good news. For some reason the receipt for the PowerBook G4 is out on my desk. Everything on it was more expensive then except AppleCare which was the same price. The total was $3,355.10 and I got more stuff and more powerful stuff for $3,144.40.

Twelfth, all the other little glitches I forgot.

Maybe my problem is that I know too much about computers, and so I blithely charge ahead without reading the instructions carefully. But that would only explain some of the above problems (iTunes, web access, ...)

Thanks for your eyeballs and your friendly service. See you in three or four years when technolust overcomes me again:)
I have worked through most of the problems, but there are still many little problems to go.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Vote! Even if you don't like the choices

I was just reading "Conservatives Ready to Battle McCain on Convention Platform", Washington Post, July 7, 2007. It made me think of all those Republicans who say they will sit out this election because they don't like McCain's policies. And also of those Democrats who are disappointed that Hillary Clinton did not win the nomination.

I think it is more likely that the Republican no-shows will help Obama win than the Democrat no-shows will help McCain.

To both groups of no-shows, I say vote anyway. You still have a third choice, even without the Libertarian Bob Barr. You can leave the presidential ballot blank. You at least get counted for showing up. If you stay home, you are not counted. One could even say a stay-at-home doesn't even count in the election.

Remember, Reagan's "landslide" was with less than 30% of the eligible voters. What would his "mandate" have been if the 40-plus percent who stayed home had actually cast a ballot?

At a minimum, let's hope reporters give more weight to no-shows.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Whose independence from whom?

Do these statements apply to times, people, and places other than for which they were written?

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution...:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

They are from the Declaration of Independence, 1776.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Is every earned dollar hard-earned?

I think politicians over-use the terms "hard-working families" and "hard-earned dollars"; this usage is more demagoguery than descriptive.

Sure, there are many workers who have boring, sweaty jobs or who have to spend much of their time with abusive bosses or customers or who have dangerous jobs.

But there are other workers who spend at least some of their time enjoying the outdoors, gazing out the window, having coffee and donuts in a meeting, or standing around the water cooler chatting with co-workers.

Personally, I've had jobs that run the gamut from making me bone-weary to making me eager to come in to do extra work. I've stood at a cash register with lines going half-way down the aisle. I've loaded 100-pound bags of potatoes on a truck. I've had customers and bosses yell at me. I've stood around chatting or even playing games on the clock. I've been sent out of town when I'd rather be at home. I've been paid to take very interesting trips. I've had days when I couldn't wait until five o'clock arrived. I've had days when I was so involved I forgot about eating. I've had days when I was paid just for showing up. I've had days when I was expected to work around the clock.

So, when politicians talk about hard-working people, are they talking about coal-miners deep underground or are they talking about somebody sitting in air-conditioned comfort listening to the radio? Are they talking about the rushed chicken processors wondering when they're going to slip with the knife or the front office clerk playing solitaire on the computer?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

We now have a three-party system

I read Frank Rich's "One night, two Americas" in today's New York Times.

He essentially writes that Clinton and McCain are of the past and Obama is of the future. From this I thought of how both the left and the right are stuck in battles and world views of the past; Obama has captured the hopes of those who look to the future. My quick diagram of this is

|| –

The vertical lines are the parties of the past, stuck in the past; the horizontal line is the party of the future moving forward. Another way to look at it is the right is the party of globalization of business but of anti-globalization of politics (we know best) and the left is the party of anti-globalization of business but of globalization of politics. They are also stuck in the polarization of ideas many Americans would rather not take a firm stand on: gun control, abortion, immigration, and so on.

I think that Obama will win in a landslide because he represents the future. He will win because he will get more people voting than ever. He will win because he has built a strong organization of average people rather than of Washington insiders. He will win because he is a better speaker and thinker. Finally, he will win because people do want change.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

"Democrats Win Landslide Victory" Hoax or reality?An email supposedly from former Sen. Bill Frist is making the rounds. It is titled "Democrats Win L

An email supposedly from former Sen. Bill Frist is making the rounds. It is titled "Democrats Win Landslide Victory". It is a request for donations to the National Republican Senatorial Committee because Obama is working hard so that "new voters and record resources will produce a Democrat landslide victory this fall."

I am always suspicious when people quote an email in the hope of nailing the author and his associates. I have tried looking for a denial of this email or for a posting on a Republican website supporting the email. I have found neither using the keywords "Democrats Win Landslide Victory", frist, and nrsc.

I can only conclude for now that Frist actually sent it. Such emails and letters often go out to huge mailing lists which often include opponents and non-interested persons. Many of these non-supporters probably jumped on it with glee. Look what the Republicans have been doing with Clinton's and Franken's words. Turnabout is fair play.

As to Frist's concerns, I believe heavy voter turnout has generally favored Democrats. Remember that Bush didn't win because of Nader in Florida; he won because too many Democrats stayed home.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Just who's voting for Clinton?

It seems to me that Hillary Clinton has been "winning" more primaries since John McCain gained enough delegates to clinch the Republican nominaton.

Could it be that people who call themselves Republicans are voting for Clinton because they think she will be easier to beat than Barack Obama?

If so, will these voters be there for her in November if she does win the Democratic nomination?

Friday, May 30, 2008

How portable should customs be?

Some Muslim women have sued their employer because they were required to wear a certain uniform. They said the uniform violated their religious freedom. Would a Muslim country allow a western women to wear whatever she chose?

It has long bothered me that Americans are supposed to adopt certain customs in other countries, but non-Americans should be allowed their own customs in the U.S. We should eat in a certain way in Japan; but Japanese should feel free to slurp their noodles and soup in the U.S.

I remember learning in school that U.N. envoy Ralph Bunche graciously accepted the sheep's eye in a stew while he was in North Africa. But will a Muslim accept a ham dinner in the U.S.? If not, I should be freely able to decline a sheep's eye.

Closer to home, some people wear their shoes in their houses, and some don't. Many of the latter request that their guests take off their shoes. Some of these latter even insist on taking off their shoes when their hosts are wearing shoes, often cluttering up a hallway with their shoes.

Che paese vai, che usanze trovi! Whatever country you go to, adopt the customs that you find. Or, when in Rome do as the Romans do.

But if the Romans are throwing the Christians to the lions, should you do likewise?

Addendum 2009-07-26
As I was planning a similar entry today, I double-checked the Italian phrase above. I made two mistakes, one in word order, the second in making a word plural. The correct phrase is "Paese che vai, usanza che trovi."

A day of infamy

Today is the anniversary of the first internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry in 1942. The later Supreme Court ruling justifying the internment as a national security measure still stands. This same thinking has led to abuse of power by several succeeding presidents.

On the other hand, my German-born grandmother was never interned. If some movies are to be believed, Germans in America were more dangerous than Japanese. After all, they "looked like" everybody else.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A true response to telemarketers

While I was eating dinner, the phone rang. I thought it might be a friend calling for help on a computer problem. No, it was a recorded telemarketing call. I hung up.

As I sat back down again, I thought if a person had been on the other end, I could have responded, "I was expecting an important call." It would have been a true statement, even if I had not been waiting for a call.

As I get up, I assumed it was a friend calling. If it had been a friend calling, his or her message would most likely have been far more important than the telemarketing call, even if it was just to say hello.

So, the full "truthful" and polite response could be:

"Oh, I'm sorry. I was expecting an important call. I must hang up now." Click.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Political surveys

Both the Democrats and the Republicans think I'm one of theirs. I get surveys and requests for donations from both. They don't seem to realize that the title of my column in the Reader Weekly is "Party of One".

OK, OK, I may support with a check a candidate that I like now and then, but that doesn't mean I support the candidate's party.

Yesterday I received a survey from the Democratic National Committee. I don't plan to return it; see "Can You Believe the Polls Anymore". However, I do find this survey more meaningful than those I receive from Republicans. Recent Republican surveys have been full of leading questions; this Democratic survey has only three.

These are:
"Do you believe that John McCain's pledge to keep troops in Iraq for another 100 years will be a liability in the General Election?" McCain didn't "pledge" to stay in Iraq; he said troops would be in Iraq 100 years if necessary.

"How likely do you think it is that John McCain and his Republican allies will launch a "Swift Boat" style smear campaign against our presidential nominee?" We can be certain that allies of both parties will engage in distortion campaigns. Let's hope both presidential candidates stand above such nonsense.

"How concerned are you that Republican voter suppression schemes will disenfranchise Democrats and impact the outcome of the presidential race?" The best antidote to any " suppression schemes" is to get out the vote, massively. Remember more Democrats stayed away in Florida in 2000 than voted for Ralph Nader.

I might send in the survey anyway. Its last question is "If your could offer one piece of advice to the Democratic presidential nominee, what would it be?" I've thought of a couple over the past few weeks; if I can recall them and express one concisely, I might send the survey in.

Mark Trail did it again

As I assumed, Mark Trail used violence against a bad guy. Yesterday he kicked in the door of the bad guy's house. Today, the bad guy took a swing at Mark Trail; Trail swung back and knocked the bad guy off his feet.

Lone wolf policing and fisticuffs is not my image of a conservationist.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mark Trail will do it again

Mark Trail is on the trail of a bad guy again; this time a dognapper. How do I know that Mark Trail will have a fist fight with this bad guy?

Creationism is hubris

Those who study evolution observe how God created life. Creationists tell God how He created life.

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
Proverbs 16:18

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Can you believe the polls anymore?

In the 1948 presidential election, many polls predicted that Thomas Dewey would beat Harry Truman. They were so wrong. The polls were made by telephone, but many Democratic voters had no telephone. So, they were not counted.

Now more people have telephones; and polls, except exit polls, are conducted by telephone. But two things make them inaccurate. Many polls are conducted by robo-dialer and a large number of people hang up when there is silence on the other end. Polls are conducted to numbers that are in some database, but many of those database are based on listed numbers. People with unlisted numbers might not be called. Cell phone numbers generally do not appear in listings. Many young people have cell phones only. So many young people will never be called by polls.

Barack Obama is attracting and energizing many young people. Will a representative number of his supporters be called? Some polls show him getting fewer votes than John McCain. Will John McCain be the 2008 version of 1948's Thomas Dewey?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A better way to elect a President

The current way of electing the President of the United States is limiting and unfair.

It is limiting in that our choices are self-selected candidates from two tired old parties. This further limits our choices in that they must appeal to the "base" of either party, even if the rest of the country sees different problems and solutions than either "base".

It is unfair in that people who have no affiliation with either party get to vote to select a party's candidates. It is also unfair that people who have leanings toward one party or are even affiliated with that party get to vote for a candidate in the other party. It is also unfair that party members are now supposed to rally behind a candidate that was not of their choosing.

If we're going to have such "grass roots" selection, let's really make the start of the process "grass roots". In the spring before the presidential election, all voters can submit the names of an eligible pair to run for a president. How wide open this part should be is open to discussion. It could be by online voting, by petition with a certain number of signatures, or by a mail-in ballot.

Order the candidates by nominations and select the candidates whose nomination totals add up to some threshold. Or take the top so many candidates. Now the entire voting population can select one candidate.

If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, we repeat the process until one candidate gets more than 50% of the vote. Depending on how many candidates we start with, it could take four to six cycles.

Will Americans turn out so many times to vote? Maybe, maybe not. But all the candidates, and all civic-minded citizens should stress the importance of voting. Supporters of this system should also stress the alternative of absentee voting.

This idea will meet much resistance, but if we keep doing things as we have, we are going to be stuck with more of the same old, same old.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

How to end the "war on drugs" in one fell swoop

A friend wrote that her brother had a fire in his apartment. When the fire marshal investigated, he found marijuana residue. As a result the brother lost his teaching job. Would a teacher have lost his job if the fire marshal had found alcohol?

Isn't it time we end the war on drugs? It certainly hasn't succeeded, it costs lots of money for enforcement, it leads to violent crime, and it doesn't make us friends in foreign countries when we aid unpopular governments in the eradication of the plants.

Isn't it time we treat drugs the same as we do alcohol? People get in trouble when they pose a public risk: driving under the influence or being a public nuisance. Shouldn't we only concern ourselves with the use of drugs when the use directly impinges on us? We don't worry about people getting drunk in their own homes; should we worry about people getting high in their own homes?

A lot of money and law enforcement personnel were wasted during Prohibition. Not only was time and money wasted looking for alcohol, but even more was wasted fighting the dealers. Didn't we learn anything from this?

Now instead of wasting these resources on enforcing the unenforceable, we regulate the sale and use of alcohol at a much lower cost and also gain tax revenue from its sale. Isn't time we did the same with drugs?

We would save money in enforcement, prosecution, and incarceration. We would gain money in taxation. We could use the gain to provide many more productive public services.

How to reduce the price of gas

The quickest way to reduce the price of gasoline is to stop driving. Unfortunately, too many people would rather drive than take the bus. The next quickest way is to price gas in liters. Just think, the current $3.459/gal. in Duluth could become $0.909/liter.

This has the added benefit of making comparison with other countries easier. One would only have to convert euros or yen or whatever to dollars instead of first converting liters to gallons and then currency to dollars.

A third benefit, probably short-lived, is that gas would once again be below $1.00 per unit.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I may never fly again

Where have the friendly skies gone? Well, skies are still friendly, at least staff-wise. Counter personnel and cabin attendants do their best to be friendly to all. Even the security inspectors do their best to be friendly and helpful, even when you forget that liquid in your carry-on luggage.

But the security inspection is the middle of the hassle that flying has become. The parking and drop-off areas are more and more crowded. The lines are long at check-in. Then you have to stand in a long line at security, empty your pockets of keys, change, and other paraphernalia (you did leave your pocket knife at home, didn't you?), take off your shoes and belt, and put your cell phone, PDA, camera, and laptop in the box. Because of the long lines, you feel rushed doing all of this.

You've successfully gotten through security without forgetting anything or without having anything confiscated, and now you can relax, sort of. You still have to find a seat in the lounge, hopefully enough together for all in your group. Thank goodness that airports are now smoke-free.

Finally your plane is ready to board. There's no hurry because they won't leave the gate until everybody is buckled in. Still, it is a pain to wait for somebody with their butt in the aisle while they put their stuff in the overhead bin. Then of course you have a middle or window seat and the person in the aisle seat is already in place, You finally manage to sidle into your seat, find the seat belt ends, and buckle up. If you're lucky the plane takes off in the next fifteen minutes.

The plane finally gets to cruising altitude and you open a book to read. But suddenly the seat in front of you comes practically in your face. The person in front wants to nap and doesn't even consider how close the seat top comes to you. It's even worse if you were hoping to work on your laptop.

If the flight is more than a couple of hours of long, you start to get tense in your legs because you can't move them much. It is almost too much effort to get out, even if you have an aisle seat. If you are on a transoceanic flight, the airline will run a video about exercise. The trim young lady is shown doing all of her stretches without a seat in front of her or any other passengers by her side. If you try any of these exercises, you bump your shin against the seat in front of you or put your elbow in your neighbor's eye.

Finally, after much fidgeting and catnapping, you land at your destination airport. As soon as the plane stops, half the passengers pop up and start getting their belongings from the overhead bins. If you have other luggage it doesn't matter how fast you get off the plane. Even if you're the last person off and walk very slowly to baggage claim, your baggage won't be ready.

When you get to baggage claim, half the passengers are jammed right up the the carousel, even if their bag is nowhere in sight. You have to watch carefully between heads or arms for yours. If it comes, you bowl three or four people over as you try to right your moving bag, get a good grip on it, and heave it over the lip of the carousel. On the other hand, in some ridiculously high percentage of the time, one or more of your bags may not arrive at all. This is especially true if you had connecting flights, even on the same airline.

Matters are more complicated if your flight crosses some man-made line, referred to as an international border. You have to stand in one or two more lines, one to prove who you are and where you live, and another to prove you aren't smuggling in any prohibited material. Generally the second is perfunctory; you just walk on by. Again, the people who staff these barriers are generally friendly, or at least courteous. But the system is a great nuisance. If you live in the United States, aren't you glad each state isn't a separate country?

After our trip to Japan last year I said I never wanted to fly again. The U.S-Japan leg was bad enough, but we made it a three-day, three leg trip each way. We were accompanying my 92-year-old mother-in-law who lived outside Toronto. Our trip was Minneapolis-Toronto, Toronto-Chicago, Chicago-Tokyo and the reverse. If I couldn't drive to a place, I wouldn't travel again.

So, for Christmas, our daughter and son-in-law gave us a trip to Heavenly Valley. How could we say no? It was only a three-hour plane trip to Las Vegas and an eight-hour drive to Lake Tahoe, but still that three hours felt like eight. I renewed my vow to never fly again. And I so want to visit Europe, Iceland, and Japan again, but...

Friday, April 11, 2008

A blizzard in the internet age

A blizzard started in Duluth last night. All during the night the wind howled, the house creaked, and wet snow smacked against the windows. Every so often a snow plow would go by; its yellow light flashing through the blinds. I just snuggled under the covers more.

My wife was scheduled to be at a conference in Omaha today and planned to drive down with two others. They had originally planned to drive to the Twin Cities late in the afternoon and continue on to Omaha today.

Given the prediction of a blizzard in Duluth and a storm warning in Omaha, they weren't sure if they should leave earlier on Thursday or even go at all. We checked the National Weather Service for both cities and determined that Omaha would have rain but not snow yesterday. They opted to leave at 11 yesterday and arrived in Omaha about 9 or so. They did encounter a lot of wind and rain, but otherwise made good time.

However, just about everything has been canceled in Duluth, including the buses.

When I finally roused myself this morning, I couldn't see out a single window. See the photo "What blizzard?". I couldn't open either the front or back door very far; I had to push against 2-4 inches of wet snow. Before it got worse, I retrieved a snow shovel from the back porch. Without stepping outside, I could just barely reach the blade and bring it inside. I put it in the laundry tub where it will probably get too warm and ice up when I take it outside again. At least I'll be able to push a small path outside the front door and step outside to continue shoveling.

But not today! As of 11:10 this morning, the Duluth News Tribune reported the blizzard warning is in effect until Saturday morning. There is no point in even shoveling until tomorrow, not even to make the mail carrier's job easier or to get the newspapers at the corner.

Again, here's where the internet is such a help. I got my local news online plus I got a later update than I would with the paper addition. I know, I know, I could turn on the radio or TV, but on the internet, I can get the news when I want to, not when the stations broadcast it.

Of course, with a blizzard one can lose power or phone service. Several neighborhoods in Duluth have lost power. As soon as crews restore one area, another is knocked out.

So, with all this time on my hands because I can't go anywhere, I should be getting a lot done, right? Ha! What do I start first? Nah, I don't want to work on taxes just now. I'll practice singing later. Filing all those loose papers on the desk seems like such a chore. I could read a book, but it seems so much easier to play su do ku online then anything else, especially since I couldn't do the newspaper puzzles today. Just one more game. Oh, my time wasn't so good, I'll do another to see if I can do better. Oh, I almost got to my record time, I'll do another now that I'm on a roll. You don't believe me about the addiction, see

It is amazing that I even wrote this blog. Maybe now I can file some papers, but first...