Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A prime example of the stupidity of war

You won't get through this with dry eyes: "A Mideast Bond, Stitched of Pain and Healing", Ethan Bronner, New York Times, 2009-12-30.

Contradictory parental advice

As I was walking gingerly on slippery, bumpy, ice-and-snow-covered sidewalks, carefully watching where I stepped, slouched over so that I saw the surface only a few feet in front of me, I thought of the parental advice, "Watch where you walk!"

But as I was slouched over, I also thought of the parental advice, "Stand up straight!"

Momma, make up your mind!

A famous bartender

When it comes to beer, nobody can outdraw Wyatt Burp.

Oh, no! I thought I was so clever to come up with this, but I'm late to the party again. I searched for "Wyatt Burp" in quotes and had about 10,700 hits!!

Monday, December 28, 2009

The title of this blog still holds

When I started this blog, I didn't think I would put much in regularly, and so I called it the Irregular Blog. Then I wrote more and more to the point that I felt compelled to write daily.

Meanwhile, as I grew older, my to-do list got longer and longer. But the blog seemed to come first, and I ignored or never got around to many items on the list.

We went to our daughter's lake place for Christmas; a place with no internet access except by smart phone. Plus the social and physical setting is such that it is difficult to go off by oneself to spend time writing.

There is more about the holiday and my to-do list, but let me just say that the snow storm in Duluth changed my to-do list drastically. I still have much snow to clear from in front of our garage and I have no idea when the city will clear the snow boulders from our sidewalk. I know it won't be me!

Let me see: I should sing next, answer some email, copy some documents, find some lost documents, investigate some software problems, work on income tax, make some reservations, … Nah! I think I'll just read some of the books I got for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More on the changing economy

David Brooks wrote an interesting column on how we are changing from making stuff to creating ideas or protocols, ways of doing things. See "The Protocol Society", New York Times, 2009-12-22.

I checked on the local availability of the books Brooks recommended: "From Poverty to Prosperity" and "Smart World". Neither the Duluth Public Library nor the UMD Library has either book.

Are we changing fast enough? Are we too concerned about jobs for doing the same old things few want to pay for? Shouldn't we be more concerned about opportunities to bring forth new ideas? Is "No Child Left Behind" more about training kids to make stuff rather than to create ideas? Are our politicians more interested about protecting companies and industries that make stuff rather than encouraging companies and industries that make protocols?

Sometimes I think we have more of the prerequisites than any other country to move to a protocol society, and sometimes I think by we are going to let other countries get there first.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Benefits day is coming!

Yep, Tax Day is coming. That is the day in April when our income tax filing is due, as well as any money due. Then there is also "Tax Freedom Day", the day supposedly when the average person has earned enough money to pay all the taxes he or she owes for the year. See also
"The 'Tax Freedom Day' Trick", Dave Johnson, Huffington Post, 2009-01-13. After "Tax Freedom Day", the average person supposedly can enjoy the benefits of his or her work.

What the "Tax Freedom Day" people don't want you to think about is all the benefits you get from government. They want you to think only about the "frivolous" things that government does with your taxes. Of course, they don't mention the "frivolous" things large corporations do with the money you paid for their goods and services, or the money they could have given you in your pay.

We should also celebrate "Benefits Day", the last day of the year, a time when we can look back at all the benefits we have received from government, from corporations, and from individuals. When they all work together for the common good, we all have a better life.

Spam or legit?

I received an eCard from Blue Mountain but no sender name in the subject. I think that Blue Mountain is a legitimate company, but when I looked at the source of the message, I didn't find any name that I recognized.

If it was your card, I'm sorry that I deleted it. If it was really a spam message, then I did the right thing.

A little word play about chords

I am bored with the chore of finding a cord for my electronic keyboard to make a chord, which I'll probably lose anyway.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Whoa to a tale of woe!

This morning I received the following email:
It is with profound sense of sadness i wrote this email to you. I don't know how you will find this but you just have to forgive me for not telling you before leaving. I traveled down to United Kingdom Yesterday for a short vacation but unfortunately,i was mugged at a gun point on my way to the hotel i lodged all my money and all other vital documents including my credit card and my cell phone have been stolen by muggers.

I've been to the embassy and the Police here but they're not helping issues at all,Things are difficult here and i don't know what to do at the moment that why i email to ask if you can lend me £1,500.00 so i can settle the hotel bill and get a returning ticket back home. Please do me this great help and i promise to refund the money as soon as i get back home.

I look forward to your positive response.
It was with the email address of a cousin. Very strange! One, we are not very close and she would have no reason to let me know her travels. Two, she has others who are closer relatives who would be able to find help. Three, she lives in California and wouldn’t go “down to United Kingdom”. Four, why would an American ask another American for money in pounds? Five, I can't believe that the police and embassy were of no help. Six, I do know that my cousin writes much better than this.

I called her and left a message and then called her stepmother about it. Her stepmother called her and then called me back. Sure enough, her email account was hacked and she is closing the account.

I don't know if I was the first to warn her, but it leaves me feeling better that I know she knows about the problem.

What does bother me is that I could not find any way of reporting this to her email provider. You would think that they would be interested in tracking down crooks like this hacker.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Climate change and so-called bipartisanship

How can there be bipartisanship on any issue when there are more than two sides? Actually, as Stewart Brand writes in "Four Sides to Every Story", New York Times, 2009-12-14 there is a continuum from alarmists who think there is no problem, to those who think caution should be applied to a possible problem, to those who think we should address a given problem, to alarmists who think the problem needs immediate, drastic action.

Brand divides the stances on climate change into the Denialists, the Skeptics, the Warners, and the Calamatists. The real scientists who are Skeptics are often quoted by the Denialists, much to the discomfort of the Skeptics.

This division could be applied to many issues, like health care. We have those who deny there is a problem and even exaggerate the effects of any propose solution and those who exaggerate any problem and deny that proposed solutions will do enough. Then there are all the people who recognize there is a problem, something should be done about the problem, disagree on the severity of the problem and about which solutions are most appropriate.

Unfortunately, the Denialists and the Calamatists too often control the public discourse and make the work of more reasoned minds more difficult. It is even worse when the Deniers and some Skeptics are locked into one political party and the Calamatists, the Warners, and some Skeptics are locked into another political party. With this arrangement how is any real bipartisanship possible?

We would be much better off if we had five political parties: Denialists, Skeptics, Warners, Calamatists, and Referees. The last party would examine the positions of the Skeptics and the Warners, and blend them into politics of the possible. Hopefully, the Denialists and the Calamatists would be marginalized to mere commentators.

Spelling changes from Deniers and Calamitists to Denialists and Calamatists made 2010-01-23.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Is the Web imploding?

Recently have you more frequently received a message like

"Safari can’t open the page “” because the server where this page is located isn’t responding."

Just a few minutes ago I was not able to access a newspaper server with two different browsers. I have been receiving such messages more and more frequently from a wide variety of sites. I know it is not my connection because I was able to receive email between two attempts.

Could it be my provider has not kept up with the number of subscribers it has? Could it be that many sites are not keeping up with the number of accesses they receive. Could it be we are seeing more denial of service attacks? A search of Google for "denial of service attacks 2009" get over 76,000,000 hits!!!!

I do know that a few minutes later I was able to access the News Tribune again.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

How dumb can I get?

When I went to bed last night my nose was a bit stuffed. I looked for the nasal spray in my toilet kit and couldn't find it. I couldn't believe I had left the nasal spray on my dresser at home. I did have an inhaler and used it. Now I could go to sleep a bit more comfortably.

This morning when I was ready to put my contact lenses in I found the nasal spray. It was on the counter where the lens solution should have been. The lens solution was still in my toilet kit! At least the nasal spray is saline solution and doesn't have menthol and other stuff that would make my eyes burn.

I used the lens solution liberally before putting the lenses in. No problem so far.

I wear old felt boot liners as slippers in the cabin. One seemed to catch as if I a carpet square was up. I'd move my foot and it wouldn't catch again. But this kept happening. Finally I saw that there was a thread coming out of the liner. I pulled the thread up. It was stuck under a box. I moved it out from under the box. It was wrapped around a chair leg. I untangled it from the chair leg. I followed the thread. It was under another chair leg. I picked up the chair and the thread; finally I had found the end. I pulled off the slipper. The sole and upper were not joined from the big toe to the arch! The thread wouldn't break; I had to cut it with scissors. I hope my wife can fix the liner; they are cozy in the cabin.

This morning as the inside temperature dropped quite a bit, I started another fire. But why was it so smokey? Ah, yes, the air intake was partially closed and the damper was shut. Smart people pay attention to details.

Oh well, I took a walk this morning on a trail we haven't kept up for a few years and I remembered all of its twists and turns. I exaggerate a bit. It was the third time I've been on that trail this fall. A few weeks ago we walked it with some friends. Even though several landmark trees had fallen; deer and other animals had used the trail enough to give me a sense where the trail was.

Last week my wife and I walked it and placed yellow flagging tape at several places. Today when I walked it, I couldn't always see the next bit of tape. That was because I had walked forward to pick a place for the next bit. I could see where we had placed the last bit, but I didn't think we might not be able to see the next one from the previous.

I did spend a bit of time noting how the landmarks had changed. For example, I knew we had gone through a thicket of alder, went past a couple of large balsam, stepped over a fallen tree, and then bore left into a grassy area. Animals had changed the path to go above the alder, and the two balsam had been uprooted. Today I was able to identify that place by spending a bit of time looking around.

Am I an expert woodsman. Far from it. But when you do certain things over and over again, you can retain memories long afterwards. Now if I can only find the old trail that went east from where this trail turned west.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Vertical farming: down to earth or pie in the sky?

The Reader Weekly had an article in its 2009-12-03 issue on vertical farming; that is, farming in an agricultural skyscraper. Vertical farming will supposedly solve a lot of agricultural problems, including scarcity of land and cost of delivery to market.

The Reader Weekly article was taken from I thought I had accessed the original article but can't access it again. It may be in response to a question in the 2009-11-06(?) issue.

One constant reference is to The Vertical Farm Project. This seems to be nothing but design projects, no demonstration projects. I did find "Vertical Farm Built in Iqaluit". but the article is about a nearly completed project and was written in 2008-04-01. Unfortunately, note the date! The story goes on to tout the wonders if the story were true.

I have a hunch that many people took this story for gospel. Hm, something more akin to the "The Age of Unreason". We believe uncritically what we want to believe.

I've lost my way in all the twists and turns of my search for more info on vertical farming. Supposedly there was a vertical farm demonstration project at Cornell University, but a search of the Cornell web site gives nothing on vertical farming.

If the benefits were so great, one would think there would be hundreds of demonstration products by now.

The Age of Unreason

Sarah Palin quit as governor to become a celebrity. Sarah Palin is a Republican. Therefore all Republicans want to become celebrities.

Bad reasoning? Yes, but it is exactly the type of reasoning Sarah Palin uses in her recent article, which I saw in yesterday's Star Tribune. The original article is "Copenhagen's political science", Sarah Palin, Washington Post, 2009-12-09.

She maintains that some scientists in England supposedly falsified data. These scientists are proponents of the idea of global warming. Therefore all scientists who are proponents of the idea of global warming have falsified data.

If you have time, follow the links from the Washington Post. You might be able to find the posted emails, judge for yourself if they all are real, and determine how much they "disprove" global warming, if at all.

For a more balanced view, see "Whose war on science?", Michael Gerson, Washington Post, 2009-12-11.

You also can find many interesting comments by following almost any link.

Before you judge "conservatives" too harshly, consider that many "liberals" take facts out of context to make a point. Sixty some million people do not have health insurance. Sixty some million people are in imminent danger of a health crisis. Sixty some million people will suffer greatly because they don't have health insurance. Yes, there are many people who will suffer because they don't have health insurance, but let's find other justifications for health care being available to all who need it.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Racing to the top to reward the top

Bank of America is rushing to repay its government bailout funds, not because it has more money, but it doesn't want a government cap on CEO pay ("Bailout Refund Is All About Pay, Pay, Pay", Andrew Ross Sorkin, New York Times, 2009-12-08).

BofA and other large corporations want to pay their executives "competitively" to attract "top talent". My question is what has happened to "rising through the ranks"? Wouldn't people inside the company know more about running the company than an outsider? And if someone inside the company who was a real contributor, feeling shunted aside in favor of an outsider, quit to go elsewhere for a top job. This person would be contributing to the company's competitors and speeding the upward spiral of executive compensation.

Of course, if the board hires an outsider at a "competitive" salary, then they will have to pay themselves a competitive salary. I often think a board should work only for the long-term benefit of the personal investment they made in shares.

I think this behavior belies the myth of capitalism and free enterprise. Many corporations are run for the benefit of the top executives with employees, small shareholders, customers, and communities coming in a distant second.

See also my columns "Talk about Boards with Conflicts of Interest!", Reader Weekly, 2000-04-27 and. "Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander", Reader Weekly, 2006-04-27.

But for the real clincher, see "Why Changing the CEO May Not Change the Company", Jason Zweig, Wall Street Journal, 2009-12-01. Hm! this sounds like a liberal opinion coming from the Wall Street Journal:) Note that the link may be temporary.

Smoking is not a private act

I went to the car wash today with a nice-smelling car; I left with a stinky car!

The prep guy is a heavy smoker and in this very cold weather he keeps the overhead doors closed. Just opening my window to give him the sales slip let so much smoke residue into my car from the air and from his clothes that by the time I got home the car still smelled of stale smoke.

See also "Smokers are a dying breed".

Monday, December 07, 2009

I'm not transitioning, prioritizing, or strategizing with neologisms

As you know, I'm not the world's best writer and I don't always write clearly. But I have been jolted by grandiose words that could be replaced with simpler words or more elegant phrases.

When I have time, I report phishing emails to the appropriate authorities. Today's phishing email purported to over four million dollars in accrued interest for me at Abbey Bank in London.

I tracked down Abbey Bank's web site and found the page on reporting spam. It said that one should send details to and then followed it with
The emails are then made available to our colleagues who liaise with the various law enforcement agencies and ISP's.
Argh! Can't their colleagues work or co-operate with law enforcement and ISPs?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Reality in dreams, dreams in reality

Last night I had a dream about wrapping presents. One of the presents was food and we had to hide it from the dog. I suddenly woke up with the thought that we had no dog. We haven't for about nineteen years.

I went back to sleep, probably had some other dreams, and then one in which a salesman was trying to get me to sign for a car. I was reluctant and woke up with the realization we didn't need a car; we had recently bought a car.

I find it interesting how often we have dreams that we think are the real world.

But then in the real world we have dreams about what we will do. Some will come true; some won't.

I long had a dream of visiting Europe again and visiting friends I have living there. Now I've given that up because I don't want to fly again. The last trip to Japan was too much sitting still for too long. And all the security hassle at either end makes the sitting still even more burdensome.

I have all kinds of dreams about what we will do with our Brimson property. We long ago gave up on building a house there. Now it's a lot to fix the floor insulation of the cabin; something I keep putting off every year as we have more squirrels with silicosis. I have a dream of opening up all the trails I once had cut. Will I spend enough time there? Even with the new chipper, it takes about four hours to sixty feet, what with the gathering of the brush and branches to stuff into the chipper. Four hours is about all the time I spend on this activity each two-day stint; there are other tasks to be done, including walking and loafing. I probably had at least two miles of trails.

I have all kinds of small dreams of becoming a better singer. I can't do that if I keep writing these blogs:)

So which is reality? The dreams when I'm sleeping or the dreams when I'm awake?

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Healthy choices equal healthy life, always?

In the last two months several letters in the Star Tribune and the Duluth News Tribune have stated that if people would make healthy choices they would lead healthy lives and we wouldn't need a health care system for all. If this were only so.

A doctor once told me the secret to a long life was to not smoke, drink in moderation, exercise regularly, and pick healthy grandparents.

Granted there are many people who don't follow the first three rules. We see them all the time. These people do make up a large portion of those who need medical care. But should those of us who didn't pick healthy grandparents and didn't pick something else important to our health be left to our fate as described by some of these letter writers.

I have a heart murmur that has raised false alarms a few times. Should my ability to obtain health insurance determine if I get care to be sure the problem was not more serious?

I just read an entry on a Caring Bridges site of a person that almost died at the age of four. Did he have a choice then of a healthy life style?

There is a lot to the "wisdom" of "picking healthy grandparents". Many conditions are genetic and may be detected at a time early enough to prevent more serious consequences. Should this detection be based on the ability to pay or obtain health insurance?

The "something else important to our health" is to pick a good environment to live in. The problem is that we may not know our environment is unhealthy until it is too late.

A school in California had an abnormal number of students and teachers getting cancer, some of who died. See "Is Dirty Electricity Making You Sick?" Prevention Magazine, December 2009. Maybe there is another cause besides excessive radiation, but did those who became ill have any way of knowing they would be in an unhealthy environment.

Minamata Bay in Japan had excessive mercury that poisoned many, including giving children severe birth defects. Did the residents know that their bay was a dumping ground for industry? Did they have sufficient knowledge to relate the health problems to the pollution? Did they have the resources to stop the pollution or to move away?

Over two hundred people contracted pneumonia while attending an American Legion Convention in Philadelphia in 1976; thirty-four of them died. We lived in the area at the time and remember how baffled authorities were. It wasn't until January of the next year that it was determined that the bacteria came from the cooling tower of the hotel. According to Wikipedia there have other outbreaks of Legionnaire's Disease in Europe with fatalities; all traced to problems with the air conditioning. Does this mean that we should all stay away from air-conditioned buildings to stay healthy?

Even if we stay outside or only in our own homes, we don't know what harmful substances may be in our environment. Doctrinaire "free enterprisers" think any control on industrial pollution is bad for business. But sick and dying customers are bad for business. Sometimes we don't know if a product we use in our home is harmful until too late.

I guess the only way to have a guaranteed healthy life is to live in a cocoon. Oh, wait a minute! What is the cocoon made of? What are the nutrients being given to us from the outside?

I guess that leaves the only way to stay healthy is to never be born.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Bureaucracy and email

I had a contact at the Duluth News Tribune to report problems with the DNT and Star Tribune boxes at the corner. Problems like running out very early, missing sections, wrong price settings, and on and on.

Things had been going smoothly until last week. Supposedly the Saturday Star Tribune has the funnies included; they weren't last week. One day this week there was no Variety section in the Star Tribune even though it was mentioned on the front page.

On that day I emailed my contact at the New Tribune, which prints and delivers the Star Tribune in the Duluth area. A day later I got an email from titled "Delivery Status Notification (Failure)" with a copy of the message I sent to my contact.

I assume my contact has either quit or been laid off. In either case, that's too bad because she was a friendly person to work with. However, instead of just bouncing email to her, shouldn't the company forward email to whoever is doing some of what she did? Or, give some notice of an alternate email address?

This just doesn't happen in large corporations like Forum Communications. It happens in small companies, too. I sent email to a salesman that I had bought a computer from; I never received a reply. The next time I went into the store I was told he had left. Shouldn't somebody have received his email? But employees who are still at this company don't always answer their email. I've bought other computers from same company and my current favorite salesman doesn't always answer his email. Maybe I should just go to the Apple Store in Roseville next time instead of buying local.

See also "Bureaucracy can exist in any economic model".

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Inclusiveness is exclusive

Sometime in the fall, I started reading "The Gospel of Inclusion" in UU World, the quarterly magazine of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I started gnashing my teeth part way through and couldn't continue.

It was about a black Pentecostal bishop who became Universalist in his thought, was ostracized in the megachurch he was active in, and brought some of his followers to a large Unitarian church in Tulsa OK. That's OK, but some of the underlying thoughts in the article bothered me.

One was the statement that the only problem with the Unitarian church was that it "was really, really white." Is that a problem? There are churches that are really, really black, and there are churches that are really, really mixed. In fact, the megachurch the bishop came from had four white ministers.

The other was that the new congregants transformed much of the Unitarian church to be more active in the services, saying "Amens" and "Preach it, brother". That's OK if that's what most of the existing congregation wants.

However, what about the people who want a quiet, contemplative service? What about the people who don't want somebody clapping or shouting in their ear? They are being excluded in the name of inclusiveness.

I lay awake much of the night after I read this article thinking about what I would write. I told myself to get up and make some notes. But I didn't want to disturb my wife. In the light of the next day those thoughts just didn't come back to me. But the thought of writing a blog about those thoughts has been hanging over my head since.

I have this feeling that much of the inclusiveness of UUs is more a guilt feeling than a true inclusiveness. All groups by their nature are exclusive. They are made of people with some common interests. If you share those interests you are generally welcome; if you want the group to have other interests, please go elsewhere. For example, would a social bridge club really be interested in having poker players who bet?

Unfortunately, our society has a false division for many things on black and white. On the other hand, for a variety of reasons, cultural interests tend to follow this division. But, color divisions aren't the only divisions. Would these "inclusive" churches welcome practicing Catholics who wanted to bring the mass and cross into their churches. If so, it would be quite a turnabout for churches that have taken crosses out of their sanctuaries and taken "God" out of the hymnals. They were excluding the ideas and words they didn't agree with. "Joy to the world, the word has come…" The "word has come"??? That's not the way I learned that carol.

My own feeling is that inclusiveness is a guilt trip. Some people feel guilty about being white and that having more contact with black people will do their consciences good. I resent this! Not because I think the races should be separate, but because I don't share in their guilt. My contacts with others have been made by circumstance and they are not exclusively white.

The inclusive people don't know the neighborhoods I've lived in, the friends and acquaintances I've had, who I've shared meals with, who my subordinates and my superiors have been, who I've done favors for and who has done favors for me, who I've proven wrong and who has proven me wrong.

So, please, be inclusive in accepting people who share the beliefs of your organization, but don't exclude them on things that are irrelevant to those beliefs.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Coffee, tea, and you

After dinner tonight, my wife asked if I wanted coffee in the dining room or wanted it upstairs at my computer. I responded that I would rather have it in the dining room with her. After all, we may have only forty years more together.

Actually, she would have had her coffee at her computer, but having coffee face to face is better than having it back to back.

Bureaucracy can exist in any economic model

Many people complain about government bureaucracy as if it went away everything would be so much better. Unfortunately, bureaucracies occur in organizations of all types and sizes. They occur in government, in non-profits, and in profits.

We should also note that some employees have flexibility in almost any type of organization. I had a water inspector accept on my word that our usage dropped because I replaced a washer, not that something had happened to our meter.

The incident that triggered this blog entry was an automated call from a non-profit medical center reminding me of an appointment in two days. Some hours earlier that department had called me to move the appointment to next week. Left hand, please meet the right hand!

A couple of weeks ago I had sent an online problem report to a well-known computer manufacturer. I received a boiler plate response about checking that I had the latest version of the operating system and the latest version of the software with the problem. That information was automatically included in my report.

Today I discovered there was a work around to my problem, but it was not obvious. There were several non-intuitive steps involved. I sent a report to the agent who had initially responded to my problem report, including the suggestion that what I wanted should be a menu item. She thanked me for the report and suggested that I send the manufacturer a feedback suggestion. Duh! Couldn't she and shouldn't she do that herself? Shouldn't somebody in the call center be looking at the reports and extracting trends?

See also my "The Federal Government has no corner on bureaucracy", Reader Weekly, 2008-01-03.

Monday, November 30, 2009

An apology to my loyal readers

I'm sorry that the 8-13 people who regularly check this blog haven't found much here lately.

The cause is threefold.

The older I get, the longer my to-do list gets. Sometimes it's what-I-please; sometimes it's haftas. I do know my desk is overflowing with unfiled papers.

We've been spending a lots of time on outside activities, including trying to get more time in at the fitness center. And we've been spending three to four days a week at the cabin. After a day of moving stuff to the chipper and stuffing the chipper; I just want to read a book. Of course, the s-l-o-w internet speed doesn't help.

The muse has left me because I've ignored her. The text file in which I draft each month's blogs is filled with snippets of ideas waiting to be developed. I look at a snippet, write a sentence or two, and get stuck!

I make no promises, but I will try harder to keep this blog interesting to you.

Meanwhile, I promise that this sunset picture is not indicative of a sunset of this blog.

I took this Friday afternoon on our way back from the cabin. It is from Hwy 44 south of the cut through the moraine south of the tracks. As an indication of this not being a sunset of this blog, we went back to our cabin on Sunday and came back today.

As they say on Radio Nations Unies, "Merci pour vôtre fidelité."

As they say on Radio Nations Unies, "Merci pour vôtre fidelité." I'm sorry I can't promise, "Au demain, même heure, même fréquence."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Real values from a real conservative

I enjoy reading David Brooks columns in the New York Times because he often makes sense out of all the conflicting ideas. He is conservative in the non-ideological sense; he doesn't take automatic positions because those are the currently popular "conservative" "values". He looks at ideas from several perspectives; he weighs the good and bad of proposals both now and on a longer time scale.

A good example is his column "The Values Question", New York Times, 2009-11-24.

The values in question are caring for the vulnerable in our society. If we care for the vulnerable, then we may not have resources to invest in other things we as a society want. On the other hand, do we want to live in a society that does not care for the vulnerable?

To me, this is real conservatism, even compassionate conservatism.

His apostasies from "true conservatism" include that to pay for the costs of some of these programs "the Democrats have admirably agreed to raise taxes."

A computer screen is not a piece of paper

Many companies and organizations are making their documents available online. This can save many costs, including postage, paper, and printing. Unfortunately, they provide to their computer readers exactly the same format as they would in print. In fact, they often use the PDF files that go to the printer. Sorry, but my computer screen is not 11 inches high. And it is very difficult to read two columns meant to be on an 8.5x11 page.

I just found it impossible to read one document concerning Medicare supplemental insurance. The tables for comparison were spread across facing pages, that is a 17x11 document. The PDF file had the facing pages one under the other. I gave up trying to read it; we asked for the printed booklet.

Please, all of you information providers, please redesign your printed documents to be easily readable on computer screens. Have the information flow on seven to eight-inch high pages. Have all the information that belongs in a block on the same page, not at the end of one and the top of the next. Hire some good designers who understand these things.

If you do, you may find you have even less demand for the paper copies of your documents.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

How many people have you forgotten?

A few weeks ago an executive of an alumni association of a school I attended left a message when he was in town. He later sent me email about getting together and thought we had an affinity because we received degrees close together in the same subject. I responded that I was not interested.

He responded that was OK and asked if I had contact with any of my classmates. I replied that I had only sporadic contact with a couple of people who were in the same high school as I was and started at that college together.

That got me thinking about all the people we've known throughout our lives whom we've lost contact with and have even forgotten. Sometimes if we drop an old acquaintance a line they may or may not respond.

I sent an email several years ago to a classmate who had gone on to be president of the college in which we started together, congratulating him on something of other. He never responded. I sent an email to a classmate at another school who I often hung out with at the student union. He was a professor at another school. He never responded.

Of course, there are a few who have responded but the follow-up is sporadic. I worked with people in various groups for several years. I can't remember the names of some in the group. Of those whom I remember, the correspondence is often a few emails about someone who died and then it lapses.

I think some people make an almost mystical attachment to old acquaintance, especially from high school or college. But it is not shared by others. Often I think the staff of puts more enthusiasm into people getting involved than many members of any given class. I know members of my high school class rarely post anything on the message board. I know that I've posted a couple of news items and have had no follow up messages.

One of the most poignant was my memory of a dance. When my date for that dance came to the registration table at a high school reunion, I said, "Ah, my favorite date!" She looked at me and said, "Who are you?" When I gave my name, she said, "Oh!" and walked away.

I think you can get a good sense of how few people share an attachment to their past by looking at donations by percentage of graduating classes in alumni magazines. I've rarely seen it over forty percent. Or if you are interested in family history, how many relatives are even willing to respond to requests for the names of other relatives?

The choir I am in will soon be singing a song with the words, "The past is behind…" I think this is the attitude of many people. They are focused on either the here and now or the future.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Congress and the Chamber of Commerce gave the Chinese my lunch!

Somewhere Thomas Friedman wrote about other countries are going to be eating our lunch because we are standing pat on education or technology. Here is one way it is happening.

Congress and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have been dragging their feet on global warming and clean energy. The Chamber has claimed that doing something and investing in green energy will cost jobs.

Guess what? The foot dragging is costing jobs. China is already outstripping the U.S. in lower and lower cost of producing solar cells, wind turbines, and so on. Not just because of lower labor costs, but because of scale and improving products and techniques. Already several U.S. green energy companies have moved production to China, and the largest Chinese solar company has a large contract with the U.S. government.

See "The new arms race", Robert Kennedy Jr., Huffington Post, 2009-11-19, "The New Sputnik", Thomas Friedman, New York Times, 2009-09-27, and "Who has the right priorities?", a blog of mine in February.

I think China is putting up a big smoke screen, pardon the pun, about being a developing country that needs the dirty energy to catch up to the developed countries. The Chamber has fallen right into the Chinese trap. The Chinese are going to develop right past us while we hobble ourselves with old technology.

Thanks, Congress and the Chamber, for giving away our lunch.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Well, our well is not well!

In 1999 we had a well dug at our cabin in Brimson. It was a really rainy fall and the digging was delayed a bit. But when the well was dug did we have water! It even passed the lab test. We only had to lug enough water to prime the pitcher pump.

We had plenty of water for the sauna, for dishes, for drinking, and for putting out campfires.

Then the water started tasting bad. We dumped liquid bleach down it, pumped and pumped to dilute the bleach, and tested the water with something from Menard's. We were fine again.

Then the water was bad again. Repeat.

Then we had some very dry years. No water. Then we had some wet years. We only used the water for washing but not drinking.

Then we had some dry years again. Finally last year we could get some water again. But it was greenish or grayish. Lots of sediment. We only used it for putting out campfires. Same thing this year. I dumped some bleach down, but then I couldn't get any water out at all.

I checked the flapper leather and decided it was shot. In fact, it broke when I took it out. Today I bought and installed a new flapper leather. Still no water. I dug around in a shed and found a new cup for the plunger. It was a tight fit but eventually the pumping got easier. The primer water didn't disappear as fast, but still no water came up.

OK, let's stick a tape down. At 23 feet, 8 inches from the top of the pipe the tape hit bottom. As I reel the tape it feels damp, but that's only condensation because the ground is colder than the air. Up comes the tape: 6 feet, just moist; 4 feet, just moist; 2 feet, just moist; 1 foot, it's wet!! But we need more than three feet of water in the well to pull up any.

Drat! I guess we can only hope for a snowy winter with a slow melt.

I have a suspicion that the pressure of the well reservoir opened up the vein on the downstream side, and so the well drains faster than it did when it was first dug.

I guess we should have spent more money and had a drilled well. But the only driller we knew about at that time charged $60/foot, minimum 100 ft.

Oh, well, between my allergies and the slow internet connection there, we don't go up more than two days at a time. We can bring all the water we need in the SUV.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dentistry and the economy

Today I got a new crown in my mouth, learned something about modern dentistry, and had a reinforcement of an idea on the economy.

I went to Lake Dental in Duluth today to have a bad tooth replaced. Instead of putting dental putty over the area, holding it until it set, sending the impression out to a lab, and having me come back another day, the dentist made the crown while I waited.

He wheeled a cart smaller than an airline beverage cart next to the chair, waved a "magic" wand over my teeth to take a three-dimensional picture of my teeth, manipulated the image as I looked, highlighted and improved the bad tooth, and clicked somewhere to start the making of the crown.

While the automatic process was going on, he prepared the site of the bad tooth for the crown.

He later brought out the crown, put it in temporarily to check fit, took it out to buff it, and put it back in. He ground off any sharp edges I described and made the bite better.

When he held up a mirror for me to see the result, I could see almost no difference. The real teeth are a bit more translucent at the edge.

The total time was less than two hours.

What does this have to do with the economy?

My father, a high-school dropout, became a dental prosthetic technician, probably with on-the-job training. He later started his own company out of his basement, Crown Postal Lab. He received impressions in the mail, made the crowns, and mailed them back to the dentists who ordered them. This means the orders took a minimum of four days, especially since my dad had to go into town to mail the packages. He did excellent work; I have a pile of letters of appreciation from dentists when he retired.

Now a computerized machine can do the job in less than two hours.

How many other jobs have become outmoded because of better techniques or machines. Does anybody earn a living ditch digging? No, contractors want people trained to operate back hoes. Even mental jobs have changed drastically. When I started programming, a mathematics degree was not even required. The level of skills now wanted even exceed what was expected when I gave up on programming.

The basic problem of the economy is not so much that it is "bad" or "slow" but that it is changing faster than people can adapt. There are too many people who can do the jobs that are no longer needed and too few people to do the jobs that are needed. It was not helped by the brain drain towards the financial industry to create "products" out of thin air. Now too much money has gone to rescue these "wizards" and not enough is available to train people for the goods and services needed for a solid economy.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

More about being a psychiatrist than a Muslim?

I don't normally read Gary Kohls' column in the Weekly Reader, but the headline for his column this week caught my attention - "The Fort Hood Murders/Suicide and the Taboo Question", Reader Weekly, 2009-11-12.

Kohls proposition is that modern psychiatrists rather than talk with their patients in depth prescribe too many psychotropic drugs. These drugs can often lead to delusional, self-destructive behavior. Worse yet, some psychiatrists use these drugs themselves. Dr. Nidal Malik Hasan's behavior prior to and on the day of the killings reflects many of the symptoms of psychotropic drug use. Kohls claims that many of the shootings over the past decade have been related to psychotropic medications.

Kohls cites "Drug-Induced Dementia: A Perfect Crime" by Dr. Grace E. Jackson and "The Fort Hood Shooter: A Different Psychiatric Perspective" by Dr. Peter Breggin, Huffington Post, 2009-11-08.

Kohls doesn't write it but Dr. Breggin does, "… Major Nidal Malik Hasan was driven by religious ideology."

Which came first, the ideology or the drug-induced delusions? Was the delusional behavior overlooked because of "political correctness" in the Army?

BTW, I've noticed "political correctness" in news reports, "the alleged shooter". For crying out loud, if two cops are shooting at a guy running loose with a gun, how can he be an "alleged shooter"?

Dr. Breggin writes that too many Army psychiatrists are nothing but pill-pushers who are letting soldiers into combat by suppressing their symptoms and creating greater problems for them in the field.

Then Dr. Breggin reduces his own credibility by touting his book on "How to Live Like Our Heroic Founders". Not that some of them didn't live exemplary lives some of the time, but…

Whatever the biases and credentials of those commenting on the Fort Hood case, it should get more attention than some media coverage and a military or civil trial. Organizations and professions need to look long and hard at their practices.
This case should get more attention than some media coverage and a military or civil trial. Organizations and professions need to look long and hard at their practices.

Friday, November 13, 2009

If you consider your course just, will your means be wise?

"When you once describe a venture as a holy war you surrender all capacity to judge honest alternatives." - Jamail Tabari, Arab archaeologist, character in "The Source" by James Michener. This was published in 1965.

Tabari was describing the blunder of the Crusaders assuming that Arabs were part of the "enemy". The Arabs wanted to form an alliance with the Crusaders against the Turks. The Crusaders saw the Arab clothes and slaughtered the "enemy", even those who were Christian.

I also thought of "When will they ever learn" as the title of this blog entry.

Bush invades Afghanistan without many Pashto-speaking troops and Iraq without many Arabic-speaking troops. Did he really understand what people on the ground really wanted? He thought of himself as a liberator; they thought of him as an invader.

Jihadists wage war against those wherever who don't agree with them. Are they any different than the Crusaders massacring Arab Christians? Or George Bush invading countries he doesn't understand.

Where are the Crusaders? Where are the Mamalukes? Where will the Jihadists be in one hundred years? Where will the United States be in one hundred years? I don't think either will achieve its supposed goals by then. And each will be replaced by other antagonists on their own "holy wars".

When will they ever learn?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

An Amazing View of Earth

We are all familiar with the picture of the blue planet, a full daylight view of Earth as seen from space. Another amazing picture is a less than "quarter-earth" as seen by Rosetta, the comet hunter launched by the European Space Agency.

For an image, see either "Comet Hunter's Last Look at Earth is Haunting" at or the European Space Agency's posted copy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Art imitating life or life imitating art?

Last week, Zoe of the comic strip Baby Blues asked for and got a pair of pink cowboy boots. She was so delighted with them that she even tried wearing them in the bathtub.

I had never even heard of pink cowboy boots until today. At UMD I saw a student wearing them.

Did Zoe get them because they had become popular, or did the student get them because Zoe got them?

My wife informed me that pink clothing had become popular in support of the fight against breast cancer. When I typed "breast cancer" and "pink ribbon" into Safari's Google panel, it suggested "breast cancer pink ribbon merchandise". Following through on that search, Google found over 512,000 items!

My wife said that some of these merchants contribute some of their proceeds to breast cancer causes.

What's that saying about Venus and Mars?

Fall of the Berlin Wall

Besides all the press coverage about the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I had another indication about a week ago. I was getting at least one hit a day on my Reader Weekly article, "Berlin Wall", first published just after the tenth anniversary of the fall.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Spending can be saving

Many want to cut government spending, sometimes even if would save money. The AARP Bulletin has a couple of good articles that highlight this problem.

See "Criminals Bilk Medicare of billions each year" online, "Busting Medicare Fraud" in print, November 2009.

Four years ago Congress turned down a request for $300 million to track down Medicare fraud. An inspector general said every dollar spent doing so would return $17. Hmm, so not spending $300 million cost $4.8 billion (300 x (17-1)). Million wise, billion foolish?

If crooks bilk Medicare, it's bad, but we don't want to spend the money to catch them. If businesses bilk Medicare, it's OK because these businesses contribute to our campaigns.

Medicare is being invoiced for wheel chairs on average four times the cost paid by suppliers. "Congress blocked attempts to impose competitive bidding." Hmm, competition is good for schools but not medical suppliers. See "The Case of the Expensive Wheelchair". Gosh, I thought it was bad that my daughter was charged twice the amount for contact lenses that the ophthalmologist paid. I wasn't supposed to know this, but I saw the invoice as the receptionist took the lenses out of the shipping container and put them in a package for my daughter.

Arguments for new political parties

I've had in my notes for a week a couple of articles about this year's elections, but haven't taken the time to comment on them. This morning a change of plans had me staying at home, and I took the time to catch up. Catching up included scanning the New York Times web site for articles of interest. The first I chose was "Paranoia Strikes Deep", by Paul Krugman, New York Times, 2009-11-09. When I started to write a note about it, I rediscovered the two older opinion articles and the three seemed to tie together.

Ross Douthat is now the resident "conservative" at the New York Times, David Brooks apparently not being conservative enough. However, Douthat is not a conservative in the current sense, but an older, more respectable sense. Instead of saying no to anything "liberals" propose and adhering strictly to a set of conservative "principles", he says, "Wait a minute, let's think about this" and looks at issues from many perspectives.

Last week Douthat wrote "Three's Company", about the governor's race in New Jersey and the Congressional race in New York. He praised the "spoilers" for shaking things up. He wrote that we need more third parties to break up the corruption of one-party states (both red and blue) and the inertia caused by an intransigent minority. He hoped that new local parties would emerge that would address local issues locally rather than along national fault lines.

David Brooks, "What independents want", New York Times, 2009-11-06, wrote that independents want stability. Independents are moving to the right because they don't see government solving the problems that affect their lives. This should not be seen as a ray of hope for Republicans except in that independents will most likely give less support to Democrats. Brooks didn't write it, but I wonder if too many independents stay home when they are unhappy rather than vote against the party in power. I wonder what would happen if these unhappy independents voted with blank ballots instead of staying home. Or better yet, if a new moderate party arose that promised more stability.

Paul Krugman wrote that the paranoiacs have essentially taken over the Republican Party. Newt Gingrich is now a voice of moderation but he has no power. The power resides in, surprise, the media - Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin. The result will be that we have "a rump party with no interest in actually governing" but enough power to prevent anybody else from governing.

I think Douthat is on to something. Instead of looking for new parties to start at the top around some popular figure like Colin Powell, we need to have parties start around local and state issues. Jesse Ventura did it once; can someone else do it with more pragmatic issues. "Rest assured", we really do need more choice in politics.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Paying another generation's way goes both ways

"Making the young pay for health care", Michael Gerson, Washington Post, 2009-11-03, claims that the young are footing the bill for the health care of the old.

I would not call this a conservative argument against health care, but a simplistic view of transactions. It reduces all transactions to a willing buyer and a willing seller with no side effects (externalities). Very few transactions fit this description.

Most transactions have ripple effects that move through a community and even through an entire society. If I trade a vehicle in for a newer vehicle, an unknown seller now has a buyer for an unwanted car and an unknown buyer has a vehicle that he or she can afford. If I buy a new vehicle, I have indirectly created jobs for those who build vehicles.

Michael Gerson implies that the young are getting a raw deal because they are paying for the health care of older people who get sick more often. But he ignores many major benefits the young get from older people. Who paid for the roads, the bridges, the public buildings, the schools, and on and on that the young enjoy today? It would be impossible for the young to pay for these because they didn't have the money to do so or weren't even born yet.

How often have you heard a senior grouse about paying taxes for schools because he or she doesn't have children in school? But if seniors and other adults don't pay for schools, how are young people going to get an education to become doctors, engineers, lawyers, and on and on to provide services for older people?

So many transactions are of the "pass it on" variety. Many people don't expect tit for tat for small courtesies. Rather than accepting payment for helping a stranger, they request that the helped person pass it on by helping somebody else another time.

This is the actual situation of inter-generational payments. The old pay for the education of the young; the young pay for the health care of the old.

Besides, taking care of the elderly sets an example for future generations when the young become the elderly. Child to parent: I'm going to treat you just like you treated Grandma.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Online frustration in covering my financial butt

When I wrote about just happening to have my checkbook when I picked up my new chipper, I didn't mention that the necessary amount was not in my account ("Prepared for the unprepared"). Since I was not prepared to pick up the chipper, I hadn't moved money from savings to checking. Denny's said not to worry as they wouldn't deposit my check until Monday.

However, I did worry. What if I forgot or had something else to do? As soon as I had a fire going in the cabin and as soon as I ate my lunch, I set up my computer and accessed my bank. Magree's first law of computing struck! See "The tortoise and the hare of the Internet" and "Magree's first law of computing".

Ten minutes after logging onto my bank account, I was on the page to move money between accounts. Two minutes later I was able to click "Submit", but the confirmation page never came up. I tried another browser and after seven minutes I was able to click "Submit". This time I got a confirmation.

Twenty minutes to do something that would only take two minutes at faster speeds. The irony is that the bank's pages are not very complicated. Could it be that my rural telephone line has lots of noise and it takes multiple times for any particular request to make it through? A couple of years ago I didn't have these kinds of problems. Could it be the "improved" web sites are the problem?

Whatever, with all I like to do on the web in the evenings, it certainly decreases my willingness to stay overnight often.

Monday, November 02, 2009

I didn't have a clue about a clueless movie

Last night we watched "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World". We kept wondering just what was going on as it went along. My wife gave up half way through, but I stuck it out to the end, wondering why I kept watching.

It was only when it was over that I realized it was poking fun at people who are clueless, including the star and writer, Albert Brooks. Brooks, the character, tries very hard to move his shtick of poking fun at comedy to a land that never saw that kind of comedy. His Indian assistant thinks very highly of him; others completely misinterpret his actions, including governments.

Only two characters criticize Brooks' style in the light of what most comedians do, but even these two characters seem clueless in other circumstances. Only one character really seems to know what he is doing, and his motives are rather sinister geopolitically. Clue: the Pakistani "comedians" didn't seem to be comedians to me.

Unfortunately, it is only on reflection that I understood the movie. Others didn't seem to have the patience. It grossed less than ten percent of its cost. I realized the film was about all kinds of cluelessness in many cultures. People act on their biases rather than getting to know others. That realization almost makes me want to watch it again with that understanding.

If you would like to read more about "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World", see and read some of the user comments.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Prepared for the unprepared

I've been waiting and waiting for a humongous chipper to take care of all the brush I've cut on our cabin property. The twenty-year-old plus 5 hp chipper just doesn't "cut" it anymore. I was spending more time unjamming it than actually chipping anything.

I've forgotten how long ago I ordered the chipper, but many of the accessory parts arrived over a week ago at Denny's Lawn and Garden. It supposedly was shipped from Vermont almost two weeks ago and I was hoping it would arrive last week, especially as the weather is getting more rainy and snowy. I called Denny's every couple of days are so to check on the progress. I wondered if the driver had gone to Duluth GA instead of Duluth MN.

I called yesterday afternoon and it still hadn't arrived. Today I was going to our cabin with a plan to do several other things. On my way I stopped at Bixby's to meet with our little gang for coffee. About 10:30 I left and thought I'd pay a courtesy call at Denny's.

As I parked my SUV I noticed a familiar-looking machine outside. It was a chipper like I had ordered! It was on trailer base like I had ordered. I went inside with my mouth agape and surprised. Tom, the manager, said that he had called this morning and left a message. I had already left by then. The chipper had finally arrived about four yesterday afternoon. Tom had assembled it this morning and it was ready to go.

I had promised to pay by check rather than credit card, and normally, I don't carry my checkbook. However, I had made some debit card purchases yesterday but hadn't entered them in my check register. I just happened to decide to bring the checkbook along to do so when I was at our cabin.

I wrote the check for the amount Tom told me, but as he was entering it into the register he noticed that he had given me a higher price than he should have. He asked me if I would write another and I did. As I tore it off, I saw that it was the last check in my book!!

After a long, slow drive, never more than 45 mph, sometime less than 30 on really bumpy sections, I arrived at our cabin. I let it sit while I started a fire and ate lunch.

I won't bore you with the details of setting it up by a huge pile of brush, branches, and small trees. But I was finally ready to go. Set all the levers, push the start button, and a big cloud of exhaust. Everything eventually settled down and I started stuffing things in. Chomp, chomp, spit, spit. Beautiful! The stuff was drawn in and out came chips into a cart. Down went the pile of brush, up went the pile of chips. When the cart seemed to be heavy enough, I moved it a few feet and dumped the chips along the path I was on. In about five cartloads, I had the essentially three pile all chipped. The only things I left behind were lots of leaves, some really small branches, and branches that had too many smaller branches at the wrong angle to go into the chipper. In two hours I did what would have taken me five days with the old chipper.

Better yet, I had no skin problems. Earlier this summer if I was even at the cabin for a day, the balsam would produce a skin reaction. I guess the zinc tablets have helped.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow when I prepare some piles of really crooked stuff and stuff the result into the chipper. If it doesn't snow or rain much.

Next year I should make some real progress on keeping our trails open and "paved".

Friday, October 30, 2009

Why should students stay in Duluth?

Many in Duluth complain that not enough students stay in Duluth. The implication is that there are not enough jobs for them in Duluth and the cause is that Duluth is "business unfriendly".

One would hope that a large percentage of high school students would remain in the town in which they attended school. If many remain, it would provide some stability and continuity to the town. On the other hand, no locality has all the possible opportunities that graduating students might seek. To be in the cutting edge of many ideas, a student has to move elsewhere. How many foreign service officers can Duluth support? How many computer scientists can Duluth support? And on and on.

One cannot expect a large percentage of college students to remain in town. The reason is simple; most of them didn't grow up in Duluth and will move on for personal reasons and for the reasons above.

I saw a good illustration of this in a UMD theatre program. Of the 24 student collaborative artists in the production of "Sugar", only three are from Duluth. Thirteen are from elsewhere in Minnesota, four are from Wisconsin, three are from North Dakota, and one is from Zambia. Of these 24, fourteen are seniors. Can a metropolitan area of 100,000 people support fourteen new actors and designers in any given year? Most of them are going to go elsewhere for graduate school or to become part of a pool of actors and designers in cities across the country.

What many people don't look at is how many students do stay in their home town and quietly build businesses. Some are modest, some are large. Almost every week I read of some little success story of local people in business. These are the people who follow the zoning rules, don't ask for government subsidies, and don't demand tax breaks to even consider their projects.

The mayor of Eden Prairie said some years ago, "We didn't do anything special to attract business; we just made Eden Prairie a nice place to live." Do you think she was on to something?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A perspective on prices

Many people complain about the cost of postage, claiming it has risen way out of proportion to anything else. Let's do some simple arithmetic to check this.

Postage: was 3 cents, now 44 cents - 14-2/3 times as much

Daily newspaper: was 5 cents, now 75 cents - 15 times as much (and in Duluth half as much stuff to read)

Bus fare (Cleveland OH): was 10 cents, now $2.25 - 22-1/2 times as much (but many routes are longer)

Gasoline: was 25 cents, now $2.70 - 10.8 times as much (of course, this hasn't been adjusted for a much needed gas tax for highways)

Doctor office visit: was $5, now $100++ - 20 times or more as much

Haircut, man: was 50 cents, now $10+ - 20 times or more as much

Ice cream cone, double scoop: was 10 cents, now $3.00+ - 30 times as much

It looks like three of the prices that many people complain the most about are the best bargains!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Foreign troops can't fight "insurgencies"

King George hired Hessian soldiers to fight the "rebellion" of the colonists. They were resented more than British soldiers, who also were considered "foreign" troops by the colonists.

Napoleon III wanted to install his own king in Mexico, but many Mexicans had different ideas. Napoleon III sent an army that hadn't been defeated in 50 years. It was routed by a much smaller Mexican army on May 5, 1862 (Cinco de Mayo). The Mexican Army was not exactly an insurgency in the hit and run fashion we normally think of, but it was fighting a foreign enemy. There is more to this story; see "Cinco History".

The German Army overran France in World War II and ran into another "insurgency". It may have killed many members of the French Resistance, but they were always replaced by others. See "Occupation Déja Vu". See also some of the articles in the side bar of "Occupation Déja Vu".

The Russian Army has its Chechnya; the Chinese have Tibet and Xinjiang. Only the Chinese may succeed in that they have the resources for the "Powell Doctrine" (overwhelming force). And like the U.S. against the Indians, a population ready to move in and displace the prior inhabitants.

The United States is just not ready to fight insurgencies, no matter how hard the members of the armed forces try militarily. They don't speak the local language, they don't understand the local customs, the local national government is corrupt and inept, the American people are unwilling to pay the taxes to provide ALL the tools needed, and no matter how little the purported enemies of the U.S. are supported locally, the people like the foreigners even less. And I wonder if we will ever learn.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The End of Ignorance

I've long thought that all of us, myself included, don't learn all that we could as well as we could. Today I did have the importance of one learning tool reinforced - serendipity!

I was wandering around the web and decided to visit The Huffington Post, and I stumbled on a sidebar item, "Math is not hard: A Simple Method…" whose full title is "Math Is Not Hard: A Simple Method That is Changing The World", by Julia Moulden.

It is about John Mighton, a man who had his own struggles with learning. Mighton was a playwright who supplemented his income as a tutor. That led to his deciding to be a mathematician. But his struggles with the subject almost made him give up. Remembering some of his tutoring experiences, he broke things down into small increments and went on to get a Ph.D.

He started a not-for-profit organization to promote a different way of teaching math -

He has written two books whose title alone should lead us to rethink teaching and our own learning - "The End of Ignorance" and "The Myth of Ability".

If you read Julia Moulden's article, be sure to follow as many links as you can, including the one to Thomas Friedman's article, "The New Untouchables", New York Times, 2009-10-21. I was going to write a blog about Friedman's article but as usual didn't find a round tuit. Ah, that's the secret of learning, finding round tuits:)

Math Is Not Hard: A Simple Method That Is Changing The World

The following is my comment to Julia Moulden's column of the same title. The above picture was added by the Huffington Post when I checked that I wanted my comment posted on my blog.

I've long thought that most of us can learn more than we do. Years ago I heard a radio interview where the speaker had a boy tell him, "I'm dumb" and the man replied, "Who told you that." Most of us have had people tell us that they were never any good in math, foreign languages, music, or whatever. The true answer is that they didn't have enough interest to invest some time in the subject.

I have proven it with my own increased singing ability. I once was told that I was hopeless. After years of my taking voice lessons, that same person is delighted with my ability. No, nobody is going to pay me to sing, but I have been asked back to sing solos.

I wrote about some of this experience in "Men Can Sing",

If you are interested in a subject, start somewhere. Read about it, get lessons on it, just do something. And be willing to change and correct yourself.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Family ghosts and computer ghosts

A second cousin once removed recently emailed me about information about her great aunt. "Second cousin once removed" means one of her parents shares a set of great-grandparents with me.

The computer ghosts is that I have a lot of information about our shared ancestry but it is not readily available.

First, I interviewed her great aunt some years ago and have the interview on cassette tape. Problem is, I don't know where that tape is and if I still have extra copies.

Second, I have lots of information in computer files, but mostly in outdated media, like 3.5 inch diskettes.

Third, that information was created by a program I wrote and sold, but all that is on an outdated software system. For those with long memories, it was called Family Events.

Fourth, I still have a computer with that software system on it, but the computer is buried in a closet and needs lots of room to set up. And of course it needs time to set it up.

Fifth, is the information still on that old computer? I remember starting to erase all my data so that the computer could be recycled.

Almost every family has "ghosts", insubstantial personalities that we know very little about. But all the data that one descendant might have collected also becomes ghosts because it is not disseminated to other family members and replicated. This has happened with data on paper and data on computers.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What the pyramids are really made of

Throw away your pictures of slaves pulling giant blocks of stones on rollers. The pyramids are not built of natural stone but poured stone. The Egyptian engineers knew how to make super-concrete. It was much easier to raise barrels of liquid concrete and cast the stones in place.

For more details, see "Super Concrete in the U.S. Military, Iran … and the Pyramids?", David Hambling, Wired, 2009-10-22.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Misuse of statistics?

Stephen J. Schroeder-Davis wrote a generally good article about "gifted students" being "left behind", "Federal rules leave gifted kids behind", but I have a few bones to pick.

He wrote:

"There are no provisions in NCLB to support gifted students, and these student receive less than 3 cents of every $100 in federal education dollars."

First, are federal dollars the only available money for education? I hope not.

Second, does every student need the same amount of resources to get a good education? For example, advanced students can often be given an assignment and go off by themselves to do it. I would hope that teachers would still be available to answer questions. On the other hand, "average" students would need more attention and help. "Slow" students might need one-on-one assistance.

Third, he assumes that all students should make the same amount of progress throughout their education. He cites a study that low achieving students "were progressing in reading at five times the rate of high-achieving students". Is progress in reading unlimited? If the low-achieving students move from 100 words per minute to 500 wpm, does it follow that the high-achieving students should move from 800 wpm to more than 4000 wpm? Few schools have ever been equipped to teach the techniques to read at that rate.

Fourth, we overuse the word "gifted". Advanced students may have very supportive parents who encourage them to learn. OK, good parents are a "gift". These advanced students may have worked harder earlier and have a good base to learn at faster rates later. Sort of the more you learn, the easier it is to learn more.

I do agree with the author that advanced students could be given many more opportunities to learn as much as they can. It is no fun to sit in a high-school class with people who stumble over book reports. We have cut off many classes that not only would give advanced students more opportunities for learning, but that would give many other students opportunities to expand their interests and abilities. In the interest of low taxes we have considered libraries, foreign languages, music, arts, and other creative subjects as frills. These have been touted by many as keeping young minds more active and receptive to other learning experiences.

Oh, well! I guess we get what we pay for.

A bit of gallows humor

As King Louis XVI stepped up to the guillotine, he said, "Je suis le roi, Louis Seize!" The executioner looked at him and said, "Says who?"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Serendipity and Politics

Bob Goldish recently wrote a letter to the editor of the Reader Weekly praising a column by Ed Raymond.

I want to tell Bob that he can find Ed Raymond's email address and columns at the High Plains Reader. I went to the High Plains Reader's website to check that Raymond's email address was indeed there.

While I was scanning the list of opinion columns I saw "Don't Cry for me, Richie Daley" by Charlie Barber. Barber proposed that Obama's trip to the Olympic Committee was paying a political debt to Chicago politicians for their support, something I had suspected.

Maybe the loss of the games is a loss for those who would make lots of money building new things, but it is a big gain for the average Chicagoan and for Obama. The average Chicagoan already has plenty of sports venues and other entertainments. He or she doesn't need the aggravation and inflation that Olympic crowds would bring. Obama now has paid his debt to Chicago politicians and owes them nothing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A "Conservative" compromises

You think that is an oxymoron; conservatives don't compromise because they are too busy sticking to principles. Maybe you are sticking to close to your principles of political definition.

I started thinking about this when reading Ross Douthat's column "A compromise that's centered on catastrophe". It was originally published as "The Catastrophic Option" in the New York Times, 2009-10-19. It is about shifting the health care debate to something that might actually work.

Ross Douthat supposedly is the resident "conservative" columnist for the New York Times. One of those attempts to show that a newspaper doesn't have a "liberal" bias. I've found some of his columns to be "liberal" in the sense that he approaches issues in a thoughtful, adaptive manner rather than a reactive manner.

In an email to a local columnist who generally writes reasoned columns, I wrote, "If you don’t change your paradigms, you won’t have a pair of dimes for change." I didn't mean to apply this to him, but to people who expect things not to change.

I think one of the paradigms we have to change is the "conservative/liberal" divide, especially when those to whom these labels apply don't really act that way. Rather, they are locked into positions that are neither conservative nor liberal.

Maybe we can move away from this locked horn position by looking at some of our definitions again. For starters, I offer these. A conservative is one who says, "Not so fast" with regard to change. A moderate is one who says, "Here are our choices and the probable consequences."

There are many other ways at looking at political viewpoints, but I think these two would be a good starting point on how we define our political parties and how we choose those who would govern us.

Want Windows 7? Buy a Mac!

That's the advice that Forbes gives in "Want To Run Windows 7? Buy a Mac", Brian Caulfield, 2009-10-20

Apparently, the new Macs have many of the features that make Windows 7 shine that many other PCs don't, for example, fast graphic processors.

If you do buy a Mac to run Windows 7, you'll have to buy a separate copy of Windows 7 and install it yourself. Apple's Boot Camp, available on all late model Macs, makes the process easy. See "Built for Compatibility". The available interoperability and connectivity from Macs to Windows is mind-boggling. I don't think I have any recently created file that I can't email to or put on a CD or DVD for a PC user.

Let's see, is it the FTC or the FCC that's worried about bloggers shilling for products. If so, here is my disclaimer. As far as I know I stand to gain nothing from Apple for writing this blog. I have used Macintosh computers since September 1984 and really don't want any others. OK, iPods and iPhones. What I might gain is more Mac users, fewer complaints about the difficulties of using PCs, and fewer people recoiling in fear at the mere mention of Macintosh.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A couple notes on green jobs

Many pooh-pooh the idea of green jobs. However, in 2008, there were more jobs in wind power than there were in coal mining. - "Wind Jobs Outstrip Coal Mining", Fortune, 2009-01-23.

And as a follow-on to my blog "Nuclear weapons and climate change - is there a connection?"
see "Texas site to harness ocean for power, water" about using wave/tidal pumps a company will start bottling water from sea water. When they scale the project up, they plan to provide millions a gallons of fresh water for a city.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Abraham Lincoln was a liberal!!

Take out a five-dollar bill. Fold it in half. Which side is Abraham Lincoln's picture on?

Our greatest Republican president was left of center!!!

Can you imagine any recent Republican president spending so much tax money to invest on railroads (Lincoln), parks (Theodore Roosevelt), or highways (Dwight Eisenhower)?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Trespassing mystery explained

We had invited another couple to spend the afternoon with us at our cabin in Brimson. We took an easy walk around one loop, ate a late lunch, and instead of doing any chores, took a walk around a loop that we haven't cleared in years.

When we got back there was a strange truck in our drive, right next to our SUV. We also heard shots now and then. We immediately assumed it was a brazen hunter who didn't respect no-trespassing signs.

The truck was unlocked and we blew its horn repeatedly. We shouted as loud as we could. The only thing we heard were some infrequent shots. We took its license plate number and called 911.

We wanted to return to Duluth. We couldn't call for a tow truck; how would the owner leave? We couldn't lock the chain; how would the owner leave? Almost anything we could do might get a spiteful reaction.

Well, it ended "happily", sort of, after 45 minutes of fretting over what to do. Here is the thank you message I sent to the sheriff's office:
Please thank the deputy who responded to the trespassing call from 1354 Little Creek Rd. (Twp. 6225) in Brimson.

Fortunately, we did not follow her advice and did not call a towing company, and we decided not to lock the cable across the drive. Even more fortunately the group with the strange truck appeared just before we were ready to leave. They were friends who had interpreted too liberally an old offer to walk on our property.

They had arrived after we started a long walk to the East and they went West. It would have been nice if they had put a note on our cabin door or on our vehicle.

Thank you for all you do with limited resources.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Now I understand media "bias"

Assume that politician Smith does 5 good things and 2 dumb things and that politician Jones does 2 good things and 5 dumb things. According to some letter writers, the "media" is "biased" because it commented unfavorably on the 5 dumb things that politician Jones did. It is irrelevant to these letter writers that it also commented unfavorably on the 2 dumb things that politician Smith did.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Nuclear weapons and climate change - is there a connection?

Of course, any nuclear weapon going off is going to generate a lot of heat that will have some effect on global warming. I wonder if anybody has calculated that effect.

However, there is a more roundabout connection between nuclear weapons and global warming.

First, what is the effect of nuclear power on global warming? Nuclear reactors give off lots of heat. Why else do they have those humongous cooling towers? They are often if not always located by a body of water, either a river or an ocean. They need that water for cooling. What is the effect downstream of the warmer water? An ocean location is less of a problem because the heat is diffused more quickly; given the size of the oceans this may be insignificant in comparison to other factors warming the oceans.

Second, some nations are justifying their processing of nuclear material as for peaceful purposes - medicine and power. Are thousands of nuclear fuel centrifuges needed for medical purposes? If the nuclear material is to be used for power, are the plants located near water? If so, what change in temperature will there be in that water and how will it affect surrounding areas?

Third, what is the opportunity cost of nuclear weapons? Where could the money needed to create, maintain, protect, and deliver nuclear weapons be used more constructively? For example, how many desalinization plants could be built from the cost of a single nuclear weapon? How many miles of irrigation pipes could be constructed to bring that water inland? How many thousands of bushels of crops could be raised if that water were available? How much would the water evaporated from those crops help reduce global warming? How many people are even thinking seriously about such possibilities?

See also
New spear proliferation
Does "green energy" use too much water?
The nuclear option
Mission Impossible: Global warming debunking debunking

And for many, many more opinions on climate change, visit

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

No simple answers in war and peace

For a good overview of the complexities of the Afghan war, read "Stanley McChrystal's Long War", by Dexter Filkins, New York Times, 2009-10-14. It is intended for the New York Times Magazine, 2009-10-18.

Many Afghans would like to live in peace, but a corrupt government and a deadly insurgent force aren't helping them do so. Can a foreign force help them, or does it make matters worse?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Multicultural cooking

When I wrote about our attending a Dewali festival Saturday, I didn't write that it was also a potluck.

We don't have any Indian cookbooks, but we do have a Sri Lankan cookbook. We bought it at the Sri Lankan Curry House in Uptown of Minneapolis well over fifteen years ago. I have a few interesting stories about this restaurant, but suffice it to say that we bought it on one of our infrequent visits. In fact, the author, Heather Jansz Balasuriya, signed our copy of "Fire & Spice: The Cuisine of Sri Lanka", "You gotta come back more than once a year. Best Wishes enjoy". How's that for a multicultural name?

Migosh! I just looked up Balasuriya on Google. Amazon has one new copy of her book at $155, a collectible version at $175, and 13 used copies from $30 to $155! We never thought our $19.95 list copy would be so valuable!

And the web serendipity goes on. Heather Jansz no longer works in a restaurant, but she does catering. You can find more about her services at

Back to the Dewali potluck. It was to be vegetarian and we leafed through "Fire & Spice" looking for suitable recipes. We found two we liked: one for a tomato-raisin chutney and one for an eggplant pizza. We thought the chutney would be more appropriate for the potluck; we would have to make two or three pizzas to make an appropriate contribution to the potluck. We thought we would do the pizza for ourselves another night.

Following the chutney recipe, we had about three cups of chutney. When the potluck was over, one needed a piece of naan to scrape up what was left. Unfortunately, the naan was long gone. (Naan is a popular flat bread.)

Tonight, we tackled the eggplant pizza project. It called for six chilies, my wife said three was enough. We doled out the tasks. One of mine was to fry the chilies.

Since the recipe said to fry and crush them, I chopped off the stems and put them in a bit of peanut oil. That didn't seem to work very well. I then thought I should have taken out the seeds first and then fried them like bacon strips. Oh, well! I did chop them as finely as I could. When I looked at the pile of chili bits, I thought that one chili would be enough for my half of the pizza. (My wife has to be careful of her innards after surgery.)

On top of a store-bought "thin" crust we piled on pasta sauce, eggplant slices, chopped onions and garlic, a bit of curry powder, lots of shredded mozzarella, and one bit of chili. It really looked pretty.

We let it bake and it took longer than the 12-15 minutes recommended in the recipe. We probably should have turned it because the back side was darker than the front side. But it looked good!

And it tasted good! But it was filling! Of course, for my part, the two glasses of beer during preparation didn't help. My wife didn't quite finish her quarter serving and I made it through only two-thirds of my quarter. But the heat was just right for my tamed taste buds. Thanks, Jan, for your restraint at the grocery store.

Gosh, that's quite a comedown from when I would order the moderate dishes at the Sri Lanka Curry House in Minneapolis fifteen to thirty years ago.

But, I look forward to leftovers for dinner tomorrow night!

For a bit more on Heather Jansz, see also Jeremy Igger's column "Heather Jansz: Still Spicy After All These Years".

Monday, October 12, 2009

American fashion pops up in strange places

Have you noticed the caps on members of Iran's Islamic Republican Guard Corps (IRGC)? They look very much like American baseball caps – a round cap on the crown of the head with a curved bill in front.

Today I saw a picture of Pakistani police commandos after a terrorist attack – round caps on the crown of the head with curved bills in front.

I may be wrong, but I think at least one of the London subway terrorists was caught on a surveillance camera wearing a baseball cap.

Or should I call them seed caps, since so many seed companies gave them to farmers.

Whatever! Imitation is considered the sincerest form of flattery. I just wish some of the more important and effective means of American governance would be imitated.

There are Republicans and there are Republicans

Many Republicans are complaining about President Obama getting the Nobel Prize for Peace, some saying that he should decline it.

At least two Republicans are showing some class, congratulating Obama - Sen. John McCain and Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Surprising connections in the adoption of customs

We attended a Dewali festival tonight, the Hindu Festival of Lights, which marks the end of the monsoon season.

Most of the women wore saris and some of the men wore traditional slender-legged trousers and long jackets. But some men showed up in jeans and T-shirts.

This made me think of Iran where women are required to wear a head scarf and a manteau, the dark knee-length coat. BTW, manteau is French for coat. But underneath their manteau many young women wear jeans and athletic shoes.

And around the world you find many men wearing blue jeans, including Iran and the Arabic countries. Ironically, blue jeans were first manufactured by a Jewish merchant in California - Levi Strauss!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Lessons from Colonial Quakers

From the founding of Pennsylvania until the mid-18th century, the colonial government was under the control of the Quakers. With increased immigration of other groups, especially Germans and Irish, the Quakers became less representative of the populace and found it hard to govern for at least two reasons.

The Quakers of the time held strongly to their beliefs no matter what the pressure. One was they refused to take an oath; another was their pacifism.

English law required that court officials and witnesses take an oath. Since the Quakers wouldn't take an oath they couldn't serve as judges and other officials. Since they wouldn't take an oath, they felt they couldn't administer an oath. The courts nearly ground to a halt.

As the population increased, the western movement put more and more pressure on the Indians. The invasion of Europeans was resisted violently be the Indians. Of course, the Europeans didn't think they were invaders but civilizers. Since the Quakers were pacifists, they didn't provide any military protection of the settlers. In fact, they thought gifts to the Indians would keep the peace.

Fewer and fewer Quakers ran for public office. In fact, some even withdrew from office rather than act against their beliefs.

For more about the Colonial Quakers, see "The Americans: The Colonial Experience", by Daniel Boorstin.

Doesn't this sound familiar in today's events? We have a party that would rather see the government fail than go against their own beliefs. We have people who don't like foreign troops in their countries and react violently. We have people who think if we only provide gifts to others things will get better (military aid to corrupt governments or concessions to people who are fighting those they consider invaders).

We will be in deep, deep trouble if we are governed either by those who look for ideological purity or by those who think we should act nice to violent people.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A terrible mismatch of foods

I've long wondered why hot dog buns are longer than the hot dogs available. Tonight I was again puzzled by this mismatch.

We had hot dogs from Whole Foods Co-op in Duluth with buns also bought there. I think all the varieties of hot dogs, chicken, tofu, real, are about the same size. They sell only one kind of hot dog bun from the Positively 3rd Street Bakery, less than a mile away. The buns are at least one-and-a-half inches longer than the hot dogs!

You would think the grocery that has a good relationship with its primary bakery could work out a better match.

Of course, other grocers don't match their buns to their hot dogs either; it's just that we bought the food for this meal at Whole Foods Co-op.

Speaking of mismatched foods, what about the "foot-long" hot dogs sold at the State Fair? These supposedly super long hot dogs are no longer than the maximum spread between the tips of my thumb and little finger — nine inches. Do you think the vendors would accept payment of 75 cents on the dollar?

What I'm not reading about

I often base a blog entry on articles I've read in newspapers, in print or online. Last month with a flood of news that I didn't care to read about in depth, if at all, I made a short list of what I wasn't reading about. The next paragraph is my note on what I'm not reading about.

Michael Jackson, Michelle Obama, fashions of whoever, Jaycee, Edward Kennedy, letters knowing that we're headed for socialism, letters telling us how bad war is, almost anything predictable by the headline, the sexual affairs of the high and the mighty.

This weekend there was a flurry of news that I haven't been reading: the Vikings-Packers game, the Twins, the stadiums in the Twin Cities, and some guy named Letterman. Is he a sports figure who couldn't cut his ties to his high school or college sports team?