Thursday, April 30, 2009

Will India break up its "two-party system"?

The Washington Post has an interesting article about independent candidates running for Parliament in India. Many professionals are getting fed up with the corruption and dynasties in Indian politics and are giving up professional careers to run for Parliament. See "In India, a Grass-Roots Shift: New Parties Compete in Election as Mumbai Attacks Spur Greater Political Engagement"

A Specter is haunting "the two-party system"

Arlen Specter's move from the Republican Party is welcome in many quarters. It is welcomed by many in the Republican Party who think he is not "ideologically pure". It is welcome by many in the Democratic Party who think it will help them push their agenda more easily. It is welcome by many who think "moderates" should assert themselves more. It was not welcome by at least one remaining moderate Republican. Sen. Olympia Snowe wrote an eloquent essay for the New York Times: "We Didn't Have to Lose Arlen Specter".

However, his move to the Democratic Party should sadden those who don't want to see a "one-party" state. As long as the Republican Party marginalizes itself with an agenda that appeals to a dwindling portion of the voters and with an attitude that opposes anything the Democratic Party or "liberals" propose, it will have a dwindling number of government positions. It could dwindle to the point where it gets less votes than so-called "third parties", parties which too many voters think are "spoilers". Maybe we should start considering the Republican Party as the spoiler, like Dean Barkley didn't "take" votes from Coleman and Franken, but Coleman took votes from Barkley and Franken.

I would have hoped that Sen. Specter had become an "independent", but this would reduce his chance of reelection. Reelection is also probably why he didn't join one of the existing moderate parties. Too few people are not ready to vote for "third party" candidates.

This is too bad because we are long overdue for a new major party. The Republican Party was started in 1854 by disenchanted Whigs. Now if enough disenchanted moderate Republicans would start or join a "third party" they might pull in some moderate Democrats.

For a list of parties, see Minor Party Links. Interestingly, this list includes both the Democratic and Republican Parties.

Two interesting possibilities are The Reform Party of the United States of America and The Independence Party of America. Be sure to look at the simple platform of The Independence Party of America.

See also my blog entry “The time for a moderate party is now” and my Reader Weekly article “The Moderate Manifesto”.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Premonitions, ghosts and other para-abnormalities

Today as I sorted my change, I put sixty cents in my jeans' watch pocket, just in case I didn't have enough money on my stored value card for the bus. When I got to the bus stop I pulled out my wallet to get the card. It wasn't there!

I searched among all the card in my wallet. I searched my shirt and jacket pockets. Nada! There was not enough time go back home to search other jackets. What great power was looking over me to make sure I had the correct fare ready?

The short story is that my wife had used it last week and had forgotten to give it back to me.

As I was dressing at the fitness center, one fellow said "Okey, dokey" to another as he left. I asked the second fellow if "Okey dokey" was the name of a family in John Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath".

When I went out to catch the bus on the way home, I decided to listen to the remainder of a BBC World Tech Podcast. The last piece was "Google Lit Trips"; a high school teacher was putting trips taken in literature on Google Maps. The first book? "The Grapes of Wrath"! For the podcast, click here. For more info about the podcast, see Podcast 239 in

Coincidence? Premonition? Or had I forgotten that I heard the beginning of the section before I even returned to the locker room? I think it was the last.

Last week when my wife was in Japan and I had already gone to bed, I thought I heard her call my name. I wondered if it was an intruder and went downstairs to check that the doors were locked. Either the same night or a couple nights later, I thought I heard my son's voice. He was in Taipei.

Ghosts? I don't think so. Either the voices were a complete figment of my imagination or they were how I interpreted voices outside, for example, the students next door returning home.

When we lived in Plymouth sometimes when I sat home alone in a corner of the living room, I was sure I heard very subdued voices in the diagonally opposite corner of the room. It was like a radio broadcast turned low.

Ghosts? I don't think so. It was probably a combination of sounds that echoed from that corner. Could it have been sounds from some nearby highways? Possibly. I-494 was about a mile away and in our back yard we could hear an almost steady drone from it. That drone could then have been reverberating through our walls. The type of sound may have been such that it could be heard only when there was no other sound in the house.

Rational thinking is so easy in the light of day. It's too bad most of our thinking must be done in the murkiness of insufficient or ignored information.

Mileage tax for pedestrians

State Representative John Overthere is pushing to tax pedestrians based on how much they walk. He says that pedestrians are a minority in our state and are not paying their fair share for the sidewalks they use. He claims that it is grossly unfair to have homeowners and other property owners pay for sidewalks that they never use. Most people go out their back door to the garage and drive away. They have no use for sidewalks. Can't you tell by the number of unshovelled walks in the winter?

Rep. Overthere's bill would mandate that all pedestrians wear state-sanctioned pedometers whenever they are on a public walkway. Pedestrians would have to have them checked once a month and pay the applicable tax. The fine for not having an official pedometer would be $100 for the first offense and $200 for subsequent offenses in the same year.

Immediate opposition was raised by ARM (Association of Runners of Marathons). They claimed the tax would strongly discourage marathon runners and would greatly reduce the amount of sales taxes paid during marathon events.

See "Oberstar pushing to tax motorists based on how much they drive", Duluth News Tribune, 2009-04-29

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What gives with spammers this week?

I haven't seen as much spam ever as this week. At six in the evening I already have 23 spams for watches, losing weight, sexual dysfunction, and stock tips. The Russian spam has gone down considerably. I got the first in days: something about filtering internet ads, I think. I haven't gotten any Turkish spam for awhile.

I have been passing on phishing spam to the spoofed companies, even if I don't do business with them. I figure it's my little bit to put a stop to these criminals. If you go to the legitimate site for a spoofed company, you may be able to find something about their spoof policies. Either forward the spam or include it an attachment.

Three I know about are

May you never need to use these addresses.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Now I really understand a turkey shoot.

I've often heard the term turkey shoot and thought it meant that something was easy. Today I learned how easy a turkey shoot really is.

We were driving back to Duluth from our cabin in Brimson and I saw a turkey walking in the road. The last time I tried to take a picture of a turkey from the road I never got a clear picture. I pulled over and stopped.

Before I could even get my camera out, the turkey was walking toward me, making strange sounds like a puppy's bark and whimper. As I started taking pictures it turned and went the other way. I was able to get seven pictures from several different angles, most of them reasonably sharp. I wish I had thought to take a movie because of that whimper.

The turkey walked directly towards me one other time but generally walked parallel to me. If I had had a big net, I could have captured the turkey almost anytime. Finally I chased it to the side of the road and we went on our way.

Wild turkey

Click on the picture to see it in other sizes.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Believing and belonging

This morning the minister of the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Duluth, the Rev. Gail Lyndsay Marriner, gave a sermon on belonging, about the four levels of belonging we have - intimate, personal, social, and community. Sorry, I don't think I have the last right but it is beyond the level of neighbors, friends, and groups we join.

As an example of belonging she cited an atheist who joined a Presbyterian church because of the moral beliefs of the members. Although he didn't believe in God, he felt he belonged with people who lived as he thought Jesus taught.

This led me to think about how many people reject those who don't believe exactly as they do and therefore do not belong in their company. We have that in people who claim to be Christian rejecting those who are Muslim. We have those who claim to be Muslim who reject Christians. We have people who claim to be Sunni killing those who claim to be Shi'a and vice versa.

They don't look to the common ground that they have in being neighbors or citizens of a city or country that needs to make the electricity function reliably, to provide clean water, to properly dispose of sewage, and to have a fair and responsive police force.

Jonathan Swift captured the folly of belief being more important than co-operation in "Gulliver's Travels" where those who broke their eggs on the little end (little-enders) were superior to those who broke their eggs on the big end (big-enders) and vice versa. For this, they had war without end.


In trying to find the source of the Rev. Marriner's story, I came across a wonderful quote:

Infidel: In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion; in Constantinople, one who does.

- Ambrose Bierce, "The Devil's Dictionary", quoted in "Atheistic quotes"

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Freedom, democracy, security, and confusion

Most of us have seen the battle among those who think the internet should be one free playground, those who see it as a source of income, and those who see it as a tool to track criminals and terrorists. Many of us are just plain confused by what is really going on.

This little bit started with my intent to buy a couple of Swedish CDs as gifts. I have bought CDs from before and tried to login to my account. I was told my username or password were wrong. I double checked my cheat sheet of passwords. I carefully watched my fingers. Still wrong. After several attempts I asked for my username and password to be sent to me.

Within minutes I received an email giving exactly what I had been typing. I tried again. Wrong. I cut and paste from the email. Wrong. I gave up and sent email (or is it emejl in Swedish) asking for help. Since it was after hours, I wouldn't get a reply until late Sunday, early morning in Sweden.

Meanwhile, I looked at all the help files and other interesting detours on the site. One was It had a few interesting thoughts, but one that struck me was "2009 - året då internet dog?" or "2009 - the year when the internet died?"

It had a link to an article in Aftonbladet "138 - Mitt desperata fem-i-tre ragg, Lisa Magnusson om EU:s telekompakt och framtidens internet"

I'm already in linguistic trouble, I never heard of "fem-i-tre ragg". I looked it up yesterday, but didn't make much sense of it. Anyhow, 138 refers to a proposed European Union law about the internet, and Lisa Magnusson sees it as affecting the future's internet.

My rough translation gathers that she complains about the internet not being as free as it once was (that is, no cost access) and the internet being too regulated. I never knew the internet was free unless you were getting somebody else to pay for it, like at a university. Regulated? Yes and no. But hang on.

She writes that her MSN account was suspended because she used the words "Hitler" and "pedophile" in a chat room.

Now I'm getting in over my head in Swedish and look for some similar stuff in English. Even in English, it is very confusing. Yes, there are police and security authorities who want all data traffic to be retained for at least 30 days. But it is very hard to understand how much is actually being put into law or has even been put into law.

Even if it will not be put into law, think about how the more complicated laws become, the less the average person, or even legislature can understand the full implications of these laws. Just think about the original PATRIOT Act and how few legislators even read it.

And this is how freedom will be lost to security. When we become so afraid of something that we want the authorities to do anything to protect us, some authorities will do anything, even if it really winds up making us less secure.

Friday, April 24, 2009

That bear's so cute, but...

Yesterday's Duluth News Tribune had a front page picture of a polar bear looking in a lodge window. It really is a great shot and the bear's expression is marvelous. One would be tempted to call the bear cute.

But I would keep that window between the bear and myself. That bear is probably looking for food and I wouldn't want to be its lunch.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I'm not a busker; I'll be a busker

I got my first rejection notice as a busker. The Duluth Division of Parks and Recreation turned down my application to be a Downtown Waterfront Performer and returned my check.

I knew this was coming because I had passed on the message that my name should be put at the bottom of the list. I knew that I would not appear very often and could be taking one of the twenty spots from somebody who would. Probably the real story is that the twenty performers who had spots last rear reapplied making my "generosity" rather moot.

This afternoon I received email from the Marketing Manager of Glensheen Mansion inviting me to be a busker at the 30th anniversary celebration on May 22. I know, I know, it wasn't a personal invitation but an invitation to a mailing list. Still, it is nice to still be on the list and invited. I replied that I was interested.

BTW, you can find an interesting, but lengthy, article on busking at

Gotta go! Time to practice some more!

I'm missing the boat again on a trend

I got in early on the trend of main frame computers and did quite well in salary and some other perks. Then I switched to microcomputers and blew opportunity after opportunity. In short, I never worked hard enough, smart enough, and long enough at any one idea. I flitted off to another idea when one wasn't an "immediate" success.

Now I seem to be missing another boat on blogging. A Wall Street Journal article published on Yahoo! Finance, "America's Newest Profession: Bloggers for Hire", says that the number of professional bloggers is approaching the number of lawyers. Nearly a half a million bloggers blog for their primary source of income.

The way I'm going, I might get a check from Google for the ads on my web site and this blog in about ten years. That check, if it ever arrives, would pay for two years full membership in Flickr.

Ah, Flickr, another indication of my very amateur status. I have neglected to post a photo for several months and haven't even checked for views or messages for at least two months.

Now I'm scattering myself further by doing more singing, an activity that I will be paid for even less than my blogging and as much as I am for pictures.

But, hey! I'm in all these activities to have fun. I'm retired and the first rule of retirement is to not show up. So, if I don't feel like writing today, I won't. If I don't feel like taking pictures today, I won't. However, I better at least practice singing a bit everyday. That skill disappears faster than photography or writing.

Therein lies the joy of my many activities, I try to do what I please when I please.

And what I please right now is a pint of good beer. Unfortunately, there is no beer in the house. What I don't please is going out to buy some beer. There I go again, putting myself in a no-win situation.

Thank you for reading this far. I hope you had a good chuckle.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

If our government can torture foreigners...

...what's to stop it from torturing us?

Reflection on reading "Torture Retorts" in the New York Times "Opiniator", 2009-04-22.

Have you seen President Obama in "Doonesbury"?

Garry Trudeau pictured President George W. Bush as a Roman general's helmet floating over an asterisk. To many on the right this proved that Trudeau was a liberal and should be on the editorial page.

What they forget is that Trudeau is an equal opportunity satirist and lampooner. He pictured President Bill Clinton as a floating waffle with a pat of butter dripping off of it.

When and how will he portray President Barack Obama? A floating Constitution, a wad of money, some symbol behind a podium? A suit, tie, and flag pin? Whatever he chooses, I hope we get a good chuckle and feel, "Right on!"

All Scandinavians are blonds, right?

This past week's Parade magazine had the crown prince and princess of Denmark on the cover, both very dark-haired.

When I worked in Sweden decades ago I supervised a group of Swedes, three men and a woman. The only blond was one of the men. And almost every where I went, the blonds were in a minority.

Another stereotype was the "dour Swede". I didn't see many of those. Most people were open and friendly. Sure they had down days, or times they were angry, but by and large they were quite ready to laugh. Few ate lutefisk but most loved crayfish in August. How many people who call themselves Swedish in America eat crayfish?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What's the whole story? Overzealous government or suspicious neighbor?

Ben Stein wrote an interesting editorial for Yahoo! Finance, "Big Brother and Your Taxes".

A friend of his called from California that the state tax authorities sent her a letter questioning how she could afford a car far more expensive than her income would indicate she could afford. She had had a car accident and received a lump sum insurance payment of around $30,000. She used that money as a down payment on a very expensive car.

Stein went on about how the servant has become the master. How did the state know which make of car she had bought and compare it to her income? What unfeeling processes are going on to flag such occurrences? Does the government know too much detail about us?

Without a big investigation into all the facts, we really don't know. A possible explanation is that someone who knew the woman reported her to the tax authorities and a human investigator started looking into the matter. We do know that the Federal government will pay part of the recovered taxes of deadbeats to those who give it leads. Maybe a jealous or suspicious neighbor reported this woman as cheating on her taxes.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Adventures of Superwoodsman, Episode 5

Today I went to our cabin with the plan of moving pieces of two already felled trees to a splitting stump and then cutting down as many trees as I could. This is part for firewood for next winter and part to make space for 25 basswood seedlings we have on order.

Most of the two felled trees was already cut in rounds, and it was short work to finish the job. The major problem was that I'm back to angled cuts rather than perpendicular. That does make splitting a bit more difficult. Another problem was that there was a big pile of wood right where I wanted to pull the cart. The second time I went around it I realized that I hadn't dumped wood there; it fell there off the stacked pile. As the snow between pieces melted, the pile shifted and plop went about a third of the stacked wood. My wife won't be happy when she restacks it.

Now that most of the snow was gone, I had hoped to use the sickle mower to clear brush around the trees I planned to cut. I pulled it out of the shed, filled it with gasoline, and pulled the starter rope. Nothing at first, then it would cough a bit. One more pull should do it. No such luck, a few more coughs and then no sound. In fact, one time the rope didn't retract. Oh, boy! Pushing a stick on the bigger disk did get it back.

OK, next step is to remove spark plug, pull a few time to unflood the engine, replace plug, and try again. Except, I can't find my small socket wrench. It's not in my tool box. It's not in the chain saw tool box. It's not in a couple of other boxes. Damn! What could I have done with it? I do know it is in a small box with my magnetic wand. That should be the sickle mower parts box. I bet I didn't look past the parts that are on top. Well, I better get on with the brush clearing and worry about it another day.

I take the hand brush axe and whack at some brush. The brush just bends and whaps me in the face. Also swinging the brush axe is a strain on my back. I guess I'll use the big nippers instead. Kneeling down is a strain too, but I start making progress. Later I discover I didn't take the guard off the brush axe blade!

Finally I have the brush cleared and can cut the tree. I look up at it and it doesn't look like its lean will let it go the way I want. OK, I guess it will have to go down a bit more clockwise than I wanted. Cut wedge. As usual, I have to work harder to get the wedge out than a real logger would have done. It's out. Now the back cut. Oh good, I'm only an inch above the bottom of the wedge. The back cut is widening, the tree is falling, step back, crash! Yay! Right where my second choice was.

Take a rest, have some water and chocolate.

Now I'm ready to take the next two trees both of which are smaller. I clear the brush around both and am ready for the bigger of the two. I make the cuts more easily than the last time and the tree starts to topple where I want it. Then it bounces at least two feet in the air. Good thing I had stepped back or I might have had a bruised chest. The tree had hit a stump; a stump I thought of cutting to the ground just to avoid this problem.

On to the third and smallest tree. Roar! Buzz! Roar! Buzz! The tree starts toppling in the opposite direction I want. I set the saw down and try to push the tree the other way. I stop its fall but it seems stuck in the branches of another tree. I try again with both hands and it drops off its stump. I try again and over it goes where I want it. Superman? No. Fool? Maybe. The tree is at most six inches around at the stump and does push easily.

Time for another break. Now I'm ready to tackle the fourth tree for the day. Bend over and cut brush. Hm! This is getting tough! After getting half way around the tree I say enough. I still have to pack up and drive home. Back into the cabin for a nap. What? It's only 3:30! I guess I worked harder and faster than I thought.

Next Saturday will be my next chance to continue.

Stay tuned for the next episode of "The Adventures of Superwoodsman".

Previous episodes include
Skilled woodsman? Hah!
Premonitions revisited and other woodsman stuff
The Adventures of Superwoodsman, Episode 3
The Adventures of Superwoodsman, Episode 4

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I busked and I'm bushed!

Today I was a busker at the Tweed Museum of Art on the UMD Campus as part of the Gallery Hop. A busker is a street entertainer, but I wasn't on the street. I was in the Activity Room where coffee and cookies were offered as well as some kids' activity materials.

People wandered in and out of the Activity Room and the adjacent Museum Store. Sometimes people would poke their heads into the Activity Room from adjoining rooms. Because my voice could be heard in other rooms, I would sing even if no one was in the Activity Room. I figured the music was part of the ambiance and would be welcome as long as it didn't intrude on conversations.

I sang from a list of fifteen songs with varying skill. Every so often I would have a senior moment and forget what came next. Making mistakes was often an ice breaker. Sometimes I would start badly and have to sing the beginning notes softly to myself before starting again.

A few people would sit and listen to me for a while and we might chat about the music. Some were fascinated that I sang songs other than in English. Every so often people would applaud.

Some parents came with children and I would start "I knew an old lady who swallowed a fly" or "Allouette". They would look at me with rapt attention, but they would not join in.

I did leave out a list of the songs, business card, and a cap for tips. Nobody took or left any paper. Oh well, I was not in it for the money but the experience and the fun.

My assignment was for three hours and nobody was assigned to follow me. But at two-and-a-half hours my voice was getting strained. I put more time between each song and called it quits at three hours.

Sometimes the best part is leaving. As I left, some staff members congratulated me on my performance and said my voice resonated nicely through the rooms. I prized the comments even more because one staff member was a musician who was having a CD rollout party tonight.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Government inefficient, private companies efficient?

Many people complain that government workers are inefficient. They base this on sometimes seeing street workers standing around "doing nothing". Or they base it on seeing a postal clerk walking around near a closed counter even when the lines are long.

The street workers may be "doing nothing" because they are waiting for more paving material or because they have to wait for one worker to do something before they all pitch in. The postal clerk may have other tasks besides waiting on customers directly, or he or she better take a break now or never get one.

As I write, we are having major sewer work done from inside our house to the street. At times there are six workers here, sometimes only one is working and the others are watching or chatting. Then they all pitch in and are busy. Shall they all go home until the precise moment they are needed? Then everybody is working except the back hoe operator. Should he clamber out of the cab and pitch in or should he stay put until the back hoe is needed?

Think of your last visit inside a bank. Were there only two teller windows open but at least three tellers available? Could it be there are many other tasks for tellers than just passing money and deposit slips over the counter?

Then there was the time I was visiting a major government contractor as a software trouble shooter for a computer manufacturer. One day the computer was down for hardware reasons. So, us software types played bridge.

Next time you think private enterprise is so efficient, read a few Dilbert strips. Scott Adams may be exaggerating corporate inefficiency, but he is getting plenty of anecdotes from employees who see their own companies' inefficiencies up close.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The lady doth protest too much

Several days ago a letter writer to the Duluth News Tribune claimed there was irony in an icebreaker being needed during global warming. Today in the Star Tribune a woman at one of the anti-tax "Tea Parties" was holding up a sign:

"My father fought 4 freedom, not socialism. Support our vets."

Hm! Does anybody see the irony? Wars need to be supported with taxes. Our vets pensions and medical care need to be supported with taxes. In fact, the Veterans Administration hospitals are the original "socialized medicine" in this country.

A letter writer to the Star Tribune pointed out that the Boston Tea Party was not a tax protest but a protest against a monopoly on shipping tea. The monopoly was putting many small tea merchants out of business. Many of the organizers of these tea parties are supporters of large corporations; many of these corporations have put small merchants out of business.

Don't conform your way, conform my way!

Poor George Will doesn't like so many people wearing jeans for almost all occasions. See "Demon Denim", George Will, Washington Post, 2009-04-16

He called it an "obnoxious misuse of freedom" and other diatribes. He doesn't like the undifferentiated look. Now look in the back page of a company annual report. If it weren't for the women on the board, everybody would look a lot a like. The suits of the men look undifferentiated all dark gray or blue, maybe with different colors of ties.

Will confesses to having a single pair of jeans. I confess to having one suit (pin-striped), a tweed jacket, a camel jacket, and several pairs of slacks. I will wear them if I feel I must, but I avoid wearing them. I much prefer my blue jeans for almost all occasions. They are comfortable and not baggy; if I get them dirty they are easily washable. And if I tear them, they become strictly work clothes.

I guess George Will wants us to go back to the undifferentiated time when all men wore suits and wore fedora hats. That time was an obnoxious misuse of conformity.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Trigger sappy in America

Concealed-carry supporters argue that concealed weapons will allow people to defend themselves against mass murderers. Texas and other states are considering legislation to allow concealed weapons on college campuses.

"The American Way", Bob Herbert, New York Times, 2009-04-14

Will it really work? Will one or two people with minimal training in the use of a pistol be able to stop some idiot with an assault weapon. Is everybody with a pistol a Navy Seal sniper?

Consider the number of police officers who have been killed by assault weapons. These officers have regular target practice. They are trained to react to armed people. Three officers were killed by a single gunman in Pittsburgh. Four officers were shot to death in Oakland.

Consider the Luby's Cafeteria massacre in Killeen TX in 1991. My memory from the newspapers of the time is that there were two police officers eating in the restaurant at the time of the shooting, but by the time they reacted, the gunman had already barricaded himself in restroom. I can't corroborate this easily today via Google.

On the other hand, one of the survivors had left her gun in her car instead of her purse. Both of her parents were killed by the gunman. She has become a strong advocate of concealed carry. But would she have been able to get close enough to kill the gunman before he killed her with his semi-automatic pistol? In fact, he was wounded by police before finally being shot to death.

Frankly, I don't think the gun question can ever be satisfactorily settled. The Constitution was written in a time when all guns were single-shot. One person could not possibly defend himself against a government patrol coming to arrest him. However, neighbors banding together could defend themselves somewhat from an out-of-control government. I think this is what the founders had in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment (couldn't they have been less ambiguous). Even then, many of these groups didn't succeed: Shay's Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Three shots heard 'round the world

Now the question is how will those shots be perceived. Will they be perceived as the opening action to stop piracy on the high seas? Or will they be perceived as part of the ongoing dominance of the rich over the poor? Or will they be perceived as many things in between?

Supposedly piracy grew out of Somali fishermen striking back at those who overfished their coastal waters. But also warlords control much of the country and may have seen it as a way to enrich themselves. There are also many Somalis who wish the warlords would go away and leave them in peace. These same Somalis fear the rich countries will attack the warlords but bomb the shops and homes of the people.

I read an interview with Joshua Cooper Ramo, author of "The Age of the Unthinkable", in "Why Things May Never Return to Normal", Rick Newman, USNews, 2009-04-10

The quote that stood out as apropos the piracy situation was:

"We need a complete revolution in how we act and how we should think. One shift we need to make is how we look at the world. We focus on single objects without paying attention to other realities of the situation. We need to go from narrow-gazing to a broad focus."

Firing three shots is narrow-gazing; looking at all the grievances, perceived or real is broad focus. Let us hope that Obama and many other leaders can come together to address all the grievances involved in the piracy problem.

The ultimate bumper sticker

Save a tree
Don't buy a bumper sticker

or more ironically

Save a tree
Don't buy this bumper sticker

Monday, April 13, 2009

Today is "Tax Freedom Day", why am I not applauding?

According to a story in CNNMoney republished on Yahoo Finance today is Tax Freedom Day, the day when the average American has earned enough to pay all of his or her local, state, and federal taxes.

Well, I don't like paying taxes either, but I don't like paying insurance premiums, car repair bills, and many, many other bills. So where is Insurance Premium Freedom Day, when the average American has earned enough to pay all the premiums for life insurance, mortgage insurance, house insurance, auto insurance, and here's the biggie, health insurance? And none of these have deductions according to charitable donations, dependent exemptions, or variable rates according to type of income, like dividends or capital gains.

"Tax Freedom Day" is another misdirection that treats taxes as something imposed by a non-representative government to support an idle noble class and foreign wars.

Maybe we should create a non-tax state for those who want to abolish taxes. Oh, we can't do that, they'll never get representation in the Federal Government because they won't pay taxes for the salaries of Senators and Representatives. If volunteers serve, won't that be a tax on the volunteers? If the citizens of the non-tax state take up a collection to pay these salaries, won't it be a tax on those who want representation?

As I've said before, you will always pay taxes, it's just a question of to whom.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

I'm still here

I went to the cabin on Friday and came back tired and with a red face. However, the ride back made one back pain go away; I sat up straight with most of my back firmly against the seat. But in the night I turned over in bed, bumped my side with my arm, and nearly jumped to the ceiling with a new pain more to the front. This pain hasn't completely gone away, but read on.

My wife had a cold that she is mostly over, but she generously gave it to me. The pain in my side may almost be forgotten, then comes a sneeze I can't suppress, and Ai, yai, yai!

On top of this I'm trying to memorize more songs for my busker gig, with a voice that is not smooth as I would like.

Oh, yes, my wife is on her way to Japan to visit our daughter-in-law and granddaughter. So now I have to work three times as hard at household chores, or is it four times as hard?

As soon as I post this, I'm into a hot tub and then into bed with a book. Maybe tomorrow I can write about if growth is a good thing or about piracy. Both more complicated than I'm ready to think about now.

Thanks for checking if I have written anything worthwhile.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Be careful what you ask for

A few days ago, Michael Gerson wrote that Obama is not reaching across the aisle as he promised ("The Most Polarizing President", Washington Post, 2009-04-07). It was reprinted in the Star Tribune on April 9. Today's Star Tribune had a couple of letters rebutting Gerson pointing out that it is some Republicans that are the polarizers. The moderate Republicans are far and few between.

As my wife and I discussed this, we brought up Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin, two very polarizing politicians. From there I went to those who think there should be more women in government. Since most of the people who tout this idea are liberals, are they so sure they would get more balanced politics.

Then we went on how once a seat has gone to a woman or a black, then the replacement should be the same gender or race. This notion had us go from Thurgood Marshall to Clarence Thomas.

My mind then went back to women in politics and Bachmann and Palin. Because they wear high heels doesn't give stature to their ideas.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

People who need people are the luckiest people in the world

Just before my massage therapy today for the body I've been abusing lately, I came up with this little ditty:

A couple married each other because they needed to be needed.
They went to their message therapists because they needed to be kneaded.

Why should foreign soldiers be needed against native insurgents?

I've long wondered why the U.S. or any other country needs to send its armed forces to another country to fight home-grown rebels. If the rebels can fight effectively, why can't the local government soldiers fight back effectively?

First, how strongly do the fighters on either side believe in their cause? Too often, the rebels are "true believers" who think their cause will bring about a "better" world, and the government soldiers are reluctant supporters of a weak or corrupt government. The latter may be in the military because it is one of the few jobs available, and even some erratic pay is better than no pay at all.

Second, a weak or corrupt government cannot organize itself to effectively solve any problem. It either spends too much time trying to get people involved co-operatively or spends too much time lining pockets.

A foreign army can't do much about either situation unless it completely takes over the country and rules with an iron fist. Armies from democratic countries find this very unpalatable.

For the most part, foreign armies are just that, foreigners. They don't speak the language and don't understand either the customs or the politics. This was especially true in Iraq, where the foreign army created more enemies than it eradicated.

The situation may be changing in Afghanistan. According to David Brooks, "The Winnable War", New York Times, 2009-03-27, "every Western agency is finally focused on" creating a civil society. We shall see.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A skeptic had another premonition

I think it was Monday that I thought about Steve Cannon, a personality on WCCO-AM for many years. I was standing in our dining room when I thought about him, possibly in connection with the person I carpooled with. He alway had "The Cannon Mess" on as we drove home.

This morning I read that Steve Cannon died on Monday. I read it in the Duluth News Tribune but I can find no online reference. The only online reference I found in the Star Tribune was a tribute, "Remembering Steve Cannon: the king of talkers".

Do I have some psychic antenna that picked up that Steve Cannon died? I doubt it. The question is how many people thought about Steve Cannon on any given day over the past year or two or three. Nobody really knows because few people would make a remark about thinking of somebody they don't know.

And I've had premonitions about things that didn't happen. See "Premonitions and predictions".

And I had no premonition about falling backward on a stump. See "The Adventures of Superwoodsman, Episode 4".

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Cold War Revisited

Today was the first day of the University for Seniors class "Cold War Revisited" led by Neil Storch, a UMD Professor Emeritus. It was supposed to be the second day, but the "Cold War" was cancelled because of the cold (a blizzard).

I'm not a great note taker, but I do get some highlights.

What we know of history today may not be true tomorrow. New evidence seems to become available frequently, especially about recent history. Archives may be opened or other sources may be discovered. For example, the Soviet archives showed that Julius Rosenberg really was a spy.

Much of the Cold War was an attempt to contain the Soviet Union, especially in Europe. There was great concern in the West that Stalin would overrun Europe to expand the Soviet Empire. Stalin didn't want to invade Western Europe because it would reunite Germany, and even under Soviet control, Germany would be a threat to the Soviet Union.

Monday, April 06, 2009

"Thomas Jefferson's" advice to young people (and probably everybody else)

Clay Jenkinson used Skype and iChat to visit as Thomas Jefferson with a grade school class in Naperville IL. This is episode 757 found on iTunes or At about 31:12 into the episode, he leaves them with three pieces of advice:

1) Read all the books you can. He said when he was their age he spent 10 hours a day reading.

2) Learn at least one foreign language, better two or more. He said he spoke seven languages, three dead and four current. From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia these were Latin, Greek, Anglo-Saxon, French, Spanish, Italian, and English. He also dabbled in others.

3) Take up a music instrument. He played violin, pianoforte, and harpsichord. "You are creating harmony in your life."

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Instant run off views put me instantly to sleep

The clamor for instant runoff voting seems to be getting more intense. I find most of the articles on either side to be tiresome, rarely offering anything substantial. Today's Duluth News Tribune had two articles on instant runoff voting (IRV):

"Instant runoff voting lessens impact of voters' choice"

and "Instant runoff voting would make Minnesotans vote count"

The latter is by David Durenberger, former Republican Senator, and David Schultz, a Hamline University professor. Even though their column is better written, I still don't see IRV "as broadening the appeal of major-party candidates and encouraging viable third-party candidates."

Suppose there are four candidates for a particular office and 11 voters. All the voters give only a first and a second choice. The results are

A 5/0
B 3/3 for D
C 2/2 for D
D 1/1 for B

Under IRV no candidate received a clear majority, and so Ds second choice is a vote for B. Now we have

A 5
B 4
C 2

and we still have no clear majority. If you feel up to it, see how many different scenarios you can come up with that give less than certain results.

IRV has been touted as the solution to many "ills", including "spoiler votes", more viability to third party candidates, preventing our current fiasco with Franken and Coleman, and on and on. In the latter case, suppose half of Barkeley's voters gave Franken as their second choice and half gave Coleman as their second choice?

I have long thought the "jungle primary" as used in some Southern states was a better alternative. All the candidates who file for an office are on the first ballot, regardless of party affiliation. If any candidate receives the majority, that race has been decided. If not, the candidates are ranked according to votes and those whose combined votes are greater than 50 percent, go on to the next election.

This does eliminate the "spoiler" candidates of open party primaries. That is, voters who gave neither a dime or some time to a party get to decide a party's candidates.

Many say we have poor turnout to elections and that repeated elections will be a burden on many. This is very strange from a nation that talks about the sacrifice of people in the military to defend our freedom but can't make the sacrifice of a small bit of time to vote to defend that same freedom.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

I am a busker

I had a message on my answering machine yesterday that I will be busking at Tweed Museum on the UMD campus on April 18 from 11 to 2. The busking is part of the Gallery Hop, a tour of art galleries in Duluth organized by the Public Arts Commission.

The call was because the caller couldn't quite decipher my email address; she wanted to send written confirmation. I know my handwriting can be bad, but my printing too? I left a message this morning.

I also sent in an application yesterday for a busking permit for the season to the Parks and Recreation Department. I probably shouldn't have. Only twenty will be selected. I probably wouldn't even perform once a week, and if I were selected, I would be taking the slot of someone who would perform more often. I'll have to ask to have my application put at the bottom of the pile.

Now I have to get cracking on memorizing several songs.

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Adventures of Superwoodsman, Episode 3

I thought I had written up this adventure but I can't find it. I guess I just thought about it.

My wife and I went to our cabin Thursday, March 26, to gather more firewood for next season.

I selected a tree to cut down and cleared the brush from around it. I made my wedge cut on the side I wanted it to fall and started the cut on the other side. The tree started to fall in the general direction I wanted and then stopped! It got caught in the top branches of a nearby tree, the tree I should have cut first.

From the bottom I didn't have enough leverage to nudge it. It seemed that almost anything I might try would be dangerous; I had no idea which way the tree would fall. I used a pole pruning saw to get a rope around the tree about 16 feet up and then tied the rope to another tree some distance away.

We could pull on the rope and make both trees sway a lot, but the cut tree wouldn't dislodge. I tried winding the rope bight with a stick. Nada! I thought of using a come-along, but I was sure it was in the truck, which was in the shop. A come-along is a small hand winch.

I did manage to pry the tree off its stump with a five-foot bar. I did see that the problem was that my back cut was not parallel to the wedge cut. So the tree twisted as it started to fall and was a few too many degrees off my intended fall direction.

We left the tree leaning there and I hoped to try again once I had the truck and the come-along. Stay tuned for the next episode of "The Adventures of Superwoodsman".

The Adventures of Superwoodsman, Episode 4

I finally got my truck back on Wednesday and went to the cabin to bring the stuck tree down. As those of you in Duluth know, we had quite a blizzard on Tuesday. I hoped that the winds would have brought the tree down. No such luck, it was still placidly embracing its neighbor.

I pulled the box out of the truck that I thought had the come-along, but the come-along wasn't in it! I looked in all the boxes in one shed and all the little nooks and crannies. No come-along! It can't be in the basement in Duluth. I looked in another shed and there it was in a box in the shadows.

I assembled all my equipment in a toboggan: the come-along, a chain saw, a long piece of rope, a nylon tow cable, and the pole pruning saw and I went to the tree site. I got the rope up as I could over a small branch, swung the pole around, brought it down, and tied the rope. I then brought the rope to a pair of trees that I could take shelter behind.

After much relearning, I was able to pull the come-along cable out to its full length, attach it to the rope and to the tow cable. I cranked and I cranked, but the tree moved only a foot or two. I could pull on the rope and make both trees sway but not separate.

Ah ha! thought I. Why not pull the tree back the way it came? I selected a pair of trees on the other side of the problem tree and reattached everything. I was at less risk because the second tree of the pair was off to the side; the first tree acted as a pulley.

I started cranking. The tree started up from its leaning position. It separated from its neighbor. It started falling in the opposite direction. it went down, down, and hung up on another tree, but way lower than the first time. Now it would be easier to cut a section off, let the tree's new base fall a bit, repeat.

I did have to clear quite a few branches to have a clear work area as I moved up the trunk. I was tugging one branch when it suddenly came loose. I started to fall backward, told myself to relax and go with the fall, then I didn't hit the ground. I hit another stump. OW! OW! OW! Do I have a cracked rib? Am I going to have to lie here all afternoon? No, I'm intact, but I sure had the wind knocked out of me. After I caught my breath, I was able to get up and continue.

Eventually I got the tree cut up and all the wood piled near one stump or another for splitting. I cleaned up the cabin, packed up, and drove home without incident.

How's my back. Last night it wasn't even black and blue. I did lie on a cold pack for awhile. But the real problem is my face. My allergic reaction to balsam or something left my face red and puffy. I'm beginning to think that it may be the chain saw exhaust rather than the balsam; I am also allergic to formaldehyde, a by-product of diesel and gasoline combustion. I'll see next week after I heal a bit and go back to split the wood, leaving the chain saw in the shed.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Pres. Thomas Jefferson on the Inauguration of Pres. Barack Obama

Today on the way to and from our cabin I listened to two episodes of the "Thomas Jefferson Hour", both were on the inaugural address of President Barack Obama.

In the first, Clay Jenkinson, acting as President Thomas Jefferson, gave his take on Obama's address. In the second, Jenkinson gave his own view of the address. As Thomas Jefferson he gave a pretty good review of the address. As Jenkinson he gave the address a B-minus. Jenkinson did not consider it one of the great inaugural addresses. He credited Abraham Lincoln with giving the best address at his second inaugural. He also ranked George Washington's first address and John Kennedy's address among the top.

The reason that he ranked Obama's address so low was that it lacked "poetry" and was too obviously the work of a committee.

However, Jenkinson rated the inauguration, which he attended, very highly. It was the coming together of people that impressed him.

The Jefferson Hour can be wordy, but Jenkinson and his interviewer often have some interesting insights.

These two episodes are "Jeffersons Review" (755) and "A Day in Washington" (756). You can get them from iTunes or listen to them at

Click on "Download the Show" or "Listen to the Show" on the left side bar.