Thursday, July 30, 2009

Misguided safety measures

I have more gas cans than I should have. I lose a vent cap or a disc seal and can't seem to find either for that particular can, and so I have to buy another gas can with yet a different vent cap or disc seal.

But the last one I bought is a @#$%&* nuisance. Both the vent cap and the spout ring have stops. To unloosen them one has to raise a plastic doohickey to get over a little wedge in the body of the can. These are bad enough in the summer when one can take off work gloves, but it is finger-numbering when its below 20° F.

I finally took a Leatherman saw to the tabs and got them out of the way. However, the designers overlooked one safety feature that is lacking in almost all gas cans. It takes a lot of effort to put the spout on just so to make sure the can doesn't leak as one pours gas into a tank.

I talked to Scott Cyr at Denny's Lawn and Garden about this. He said he had never found a can that wouldn't leak at the spout. I thought I had found a way to reduce the leaking. I keep the spout a quarter turn counterclockwise from where I want it as I tighten the cap. When I think I have it as tight as possible, I turn the cap again letting the spout turn also.

Today, as I poured gas into my lawn mower, I noticed that I had a puddle of gas on the driveway!

Safety engineers! Product designers! Before you fiddle around with making your gas cans difficult for kids to open, how about making sure that adults don't spill gas?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The saga of the Iranian military coup continues

For an analysis of all the machinations going on in the corridors of power in Iran, see "Showdown between Khamenei and IRGC?"

If the Iranian situation really interests, check your sources and more regularly. I sense things are going to come a head soon. No matter which way things go, it's not going to be pretty for one or more groups.

But take heart, in the long run, the people will prevail.

Censorship and anti-censorship

There are great leaks in the dam of Iranian censorship.

Where's the wrist with the green band in this picture from Iran's Press TV?

Mohsen Shadi bags Iran 1st world rowing gold

But then the comments include the following:

** beginning of selected comments. Copied 2009-07-29 20:04 CDT

Wed, 29 Jul 2009 07:43:42 GMT
Just I came here to see you cut his hand in picture!

The Yellow Blue
Tue, 28 Jul 2009 12:07:23 GMT
Not only wrists, they can even cut heads, tongues, eyes, ears, etc...!

Tue, 28 Jul 2009 11:17:51 GMT
DO NOT WORRY EVERY BODY!! all comments will be deleted lool

** end of selected comments **

If you would like to see the original picture, go to

Mohsen Shadi Naghadeh Pictures - FIS World Rowing U23 Championships - Day Four - Zimbio

Republicans used to invest

Once upon a time Republican politicians invested in the infrastructure of our country. Lincoln was very instrumental in building the transcontinental railroad. Eisenhower was instrumental in building the interstate highway system. Both of these transportation systems transformed the United States, saved millions of dollars in transportation costs, and increased investment in other areas.

Now it seems the only "investment" Republican politicians want to make is in destruction, a so-called strong defense.

Everything else Republicans look upon as costs and taxes. Opportunity costs are not part of their accounting. They just don't see the costs that can be saved by investing in schools and colleges, in health care, and alternative energy. And they ignore the opportunities that these investments will create.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Prof. Gates and Sgt. Crowley: So many editorial assumptions

The blogosphere and the editorial pages are filled with commentary favoring one or the other these men. None of the commentators were there and can only conjecture if one or the other or neither was right.

The closest thing we have to being there is a single photo. Gates has his hands cuffed in front and appears to be shouting, a white officer has his hand on Gates back, and a black officer is in the foreground looking stern.

If Gates has his hands in front, I would assume that officers didn't consider him dangerous. The hand on Gates back looks more like the officer is guiding Gates rather than shoving him.

Then we have a second picture of five or six Cambridge police officers. The same black officer who was in the first picture is standing at Sgt. Crowley's side. I would think that this officer's presence would imply that he thought Crowley acted properly.

Third, we have that Gates and Crowley have agreed to meet, which means they are willing to listen to each other.

Outside Cambridge the opinions rage on. Crowley's wrong and Gates is right. No, Crowley's right and Gates is wrong.

We can assume two other things. Gates was tired and irritated because he had returned from a long trip and encountered a stuck door. Crowley responded to a call and began by following usual procedure.

What was it Crowley said? His only mistake was not knowing who Gates was.

Monday, July 27, 2009

"Bipartisanship" and health care

A recent Senate Finance Committee effort for bipartisanship on health care wound up gutting some important features of the health care plan. See "Senate Finance Committee Dropping Dem Health Goals".

I think the Democrats are not recognizing that there are really four parties in Congress: the major faction of the Democrats, the "Blue Dog" Democrats, the realistic Republicans, and the "Say No" Republicans. The real bipartisanship is for the major faction to be discussing the issue with the "Blue Dog" Democrats and the realistic Republicans, however few of the latter there are. These two groups are the ones to be working with, not the G No P.

Pragmatic Republicans, It's time to abandon ship

With some Republican office holders supporting the "birther" movement, and with many Republican office holders indulging in "Just say no!", it's time for office holders who want to address the real problems of this country to abandon ship and form a new party.

It has been done successfully at least twice in the U.S. The Whig Party was formed to address the overreach of President Andrew Jackson. It had two candidates win the Presidency. The Republican Party was formed because many thought the Whigs were not adequately fighting the extension of slavery. The Republican Party has had some successful candidates who addressed the problems of their times.

But now the party has become home to many people who have many contradictory ideas and would rather blame Democrats for any and all ills than offer any real solutions.

Like Abraham Lincoln who withdrew from politics rather than be a Whig, many moderate Republicans have withdrawn to the sidelines rather than be active in the current Republican Party.

Lincoln re-entered politics as a Republican and went on to be a very successful President. Maybe one of the current sideliners might join a new pragmatic party and go on to be a very successful President.

The Iranian people fight on; their leaders can only follow

You can find an interesting update of the opposition to the official election results at
"Iran's Protesters: Phase 2 of Their Feisty Campaign", Robin Wright, Time, 2009-07-27.

People who normally wouldn't demonstrate in the streets are finding some subtle ways to express their dissatisfaction. Both private and government companies are losing money as a result.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

More cracks in the Iranian government

Melody Moezzi reports that many Basiji are getting tired of enforcing prohibitions on demonstrations. They moved from being heros when they helped in disasters to being villains for their street actions. People in opposition often ask Basiji to join them, and some do.

See "The Basij Are Cordially Invited to Join the Opposition".

When in Rome, do as the Romans do; but...

When outside Rome, do Romans do as others do?

I'm not picking on Romans; many of them are adaptable and follow the customs of the places they visit. In fact, the Italian version of "When in Rome" is "Paese che vai, usanza che trovi."

Many Americans expect anybody visiting or moving to this country to speak English. Some of these same Americans, when visiting other countries, expect everyone to speak English.

Many American governments have had no reservations about interfering in other countries, militarily, covertly through bribes and assassinations, and overtly by public statements of criticism. Conversely, those same governments get very upset when other countries or groups want to take military action against the U.S or attempt to bribe or kill American officials. Fortunately, American response to criticism is often muted.

The ultimate hypocrisy is having enough nuclear weapons to blast many countries "back to the Stone age" for our defense. But if any of the countries we have long standing disputes with feel threatened by the U.S., we work hard to prevent them from having nuclear weapons. Given the number of politicians, fortunately not yet in the administration, have called for large scale bombing of some countries.

I had some more "When in Rome" stuff to rant about, but I discovered I wrote similar stuff over a year ago. See "How portable should customs be?"

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Message from a swelled head

Goodness gracious! I've received three compliments on my writing in the last couple of days. "Awesome writer!" "I just absolutely love the way you write and what you write about..." "[I] was particularly struck by the [entry] about driving and cell phone use."

Some of these comments were in connection with a Caring Bridge website created this week. The title of the message of one of the complimenters was "How to keep people connected". To her I responded with

How to stay connected
1. Find an easy way to generate a website
2. Make sure that the website is easily accessible, avoid passwords
3. Carry a laptop
4. Be near to internet access
5. Make frequent updates
How to write well
1. Write often
2. Proofread
3. Rewrite
4. Repeat step 1-3
5. Promote yourself shamelessly
Now I hope you'll tell three friends about this blog.

This chair is now seated

For the beginning of this story, see "This chair is not seated".

I sent an email to the distributor of the chair and received a prompt reply. She said she would send a replacement part as soon as I sent my postal address and my telephone number. I expected I would get the part in two days; the distributor, Home Casual, is located in Shakopee MN, an exurb of the Twin Cities.

Well, I blew it. I forgot to include my phone number. It wasn't until late afternoon that I sent that to Home Casual.

However, the part arrived in this morning's mail.

I pounded and pounded to get the old bushing out and had to use a piece of dowel to get it out. Actually, the dowel was supposed to be a Japanese drumstick for Taiko. I don't think I damaged it more than it has been from use as intended. Then I pounded and pounded to get the new bushing in. As it went in, the shaft shaved bits of plastic off the ribs of the bushing. After several minutes I had the bushing in as far as I had patience for, about a 1/8 inch gap.

OK, here we go. Put the base on the chair. My first push gets it about a third the way on. Twist. It goes farther than with the original bushing. Twist, rock, twist, rock, and bit by bit it goes farther. Yay! The two parts are together.

I pull off the last of the bubble wrap and put the cushion on. I call the queen to try her new throne and take her picture.

Murphy strikes again! The camera battery is depleted. Run upstairs to get a charged battery. Put it in camera. Come downstairs and take the queen's picture. Her majesty is very pleased with her new throne.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A different take on political parties in the U.S.

I've been hoping for a new political party in the middle. Bill Maher says that we have one; it's called the Democratic Party. He's calling for a true leftist party. See "Democrats Have Moved to the Right and the Right Has Moved into a Mental Hospital".

Capitalism is a good thing except when it's a bad thing

Bill Maher wrote an interesting article about how capitalism has run amok in this country.

"New Rule: Not Everything in America Has to Make a Profit"

Hang up and drive!

Yesterday's Star Tribune had a couple of op-ed pieces on cell phone use and driving. Despite well-known statistics on the dangers of using a cell phone while driving, many people persist on using them, even after near misses.

A friend crossed over the yellow line on a curve while coming towards me, busily chatting away on her cell phone. When I chided her on it, my words went right over her head as if my warning was unimportant.

I've lost track of the near misses I've head with cell phone users.

What can be done about this threat to our own safety?

Many communities are passing laws to make cell phone use illegal while driving. But they've also had laws about speeding, running red lights, and driving while intoxicated. Too many people consider these laws impingements on their rights. Never mind the rights of their victims.

About the best that can be done is reduce the number of people acting unsafely.

Here are a couple of ideas that might help reduce cell phone use while driving.

Cell phone providers should change their manuals to stress not using cell phones while driving. Either let a passenger answer and make calls or wait until you can stop in a safe place. My cell phone manual has almost a page of advice about how to use a cell phone while driving. It should be changed to one word: Don't!

Insurance companies should amend their policies to automatically increase the deductible if the driver has an accident while impaired, either by substances or by use of a cell phone. Money does have a way of getting people's attention. This change probably would also require enabling legislation by states.

There are two personal things we can do to help reduce cell phone use by drivers.

The first is easy. I changed my cell phone voice mail message to:

Hi, this is Mel. Either my phone is off or I'm driving. If I'm driving I'll return you call as soon as I can stop safely.

The second is socially hard. If you believe a caller is driving, ask if he or she is driving. If so, ask them to call back when they have stopped safely. You might antagonize suppliers or friends, but...

Please feel free to pass this entry on to your cell phone provide or insurance company.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The world's largest democracy tries terrorists in open court

The surviving Mumbai terrorist has confessed in open court with reporters present. The trial will proceed to make sure all the facts are revealed publicly. See "Mumbai Attacker's Trial Will Proceed", New York Times, 2009-07-23.

Meanwhile, in the world's second largest democracy, suspected terrorists are held for years without a civil trial.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

This chair is not seated

My wife wanted a chair for the "sun room" so she could read or nap surrounded by natural light. Yesterday we went to Brownie's in downtown Duluth to look for one. Almost everything was the overstuffed variety; the only simpler version was available in the catalog and would take 4-8 weeks for delivery. The salesman recommended that we try Menards; they supposedly had a variety of patio furniture.

We next stopped at Schneiderman's, a furniture store that can be seen from the highway but requires a zigzag route to get to. Again, the chairs were mostly overstuffed. They did have some patio furniture but it was more than we wanted to pay. And again, the salesman recommended that we try Menards.

So our next stop was Menards. We found what my wife wanted and it was on sale for $66 or so. We went up to where the stock was kept and found that it was boxed in sets of four. We found a clerk to open a box for us and take out the appropriate pieces.

As he did so, I said that it was the best price we found. He joked, "Save Big Money at Menards" but I think his eyes were glazed because he hears that phrase so many times each day over the PA.

We took the pieces to the cash register, paid for them, and put them in the back of our truck. We could have used the car instead; I had expected to bring back an assembled unit.

Ah! Assembly! First thing is glance at the instructions. Next is to get all the nuts, bolts, and other things out of their plastic wrap. That's a minor chore in itself.

The next step is to attach the "T-rock" to the chair frame. This is the part that contains the shaft that goes into a sleeve on the base. I won't go into how I was trying to force the T-rock on the frame, but I eventually reread the directions enough times to understand what I should do.

To attach the T-rock to the chair frame one has to assemble in order bolts, steel plates, chair frame, T-rock, steel plate, lock washer, and lock nut. This takes quite a bit of juggling for the first bolt because everything doesn't stack neatly. Once the assembly for the first bolt is lined up comes the fun of tightening a lock nut on a bolt with a single wrench. It can't be done! Unless one is very adept at holding a hex bolt head tightly with two fingers.

Fortunately I had a metric 13mm box wrench that I could use for the turning. A box wrench was very helpful because either open wrench would easily slip off.

The T-rock is finally attached to the chair frame and we're ready to insert this assembly into the chair base. This should be a piece of cake.

Down it goes and then jams. It still has an inch-and-a-half to go! The instructions say, "Make sure you have inserted it all the way. If you experience difficulty, use a twisting motion as you insert."

Well, we twisted, and we rocked, and we twisted, and we rocked, and we took it off, and we put it back on, and we twisted, and we ...

We folded up some cardboard, put it over the end of the sleeve, and whacked it multiple times with a hammer. Nada! Partly because the design of the base doesn't leave enough swing room for a hammer. I used a heavy dowel between the cardboard and the hammer head. It still won't budge past one-and-a-half inches.

I guess I'll have to email the distributor for advice. I do appreciate that they give both a phone number and an email address for customer service.

For the rest of the story see "The chair is now seated".

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The people will not be silenced

"Then he smiled. They can try to keep us incommunicado. They can try to silence us. But knowledge is more powerful than ignorance. Curiosity is more powerful then fear."
- From the conclusion of "Jupiter", a science fiction novel by Ben Bova, published in 2001

The novel is based on the conflict between scientists orbiting Jupiter who hope to discover life on Jupiter and the various religious authorities on Earth. The latter effectively govern most of the nations of Earth and believe that God only created life on Earth. They wish to suppress any evidence to the contrary or any attempts to seek such evidence. What it really boils down to is a struggle for power.

Does this sound familiar in several places in current times? Many existing governments or rebels attempting to overthrow governments want to have only their version of the "truth", sometimes in the name of religion, sometimes in the name of another orthodoxy, almost always for the sake of power.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Geek or non-geek, some tips to help the Iranian people

See "How Geeks (and Non-Geeks) Can Help Iranians Online", Cyrus Farivar, Tehran Bureau, 2009-07-17

"They" are out to get me

Several days ago, I pulled up to a stop sign and planned to turn right. I looked both ways, looking to my left last. Just as I started moving, a car coming fast from my right cut the corner right in front of me, driving over the near side of the crosswalk.

A couple days the later the same thing happened at another intersection. The driver was driving with one hand and holding a coffee cup in the other. She looked at me as if to say, "What are you doing in my lane?"

This past Monday I was crossing Lake Ave. on Superior St. with the pedestrian light in my favor. A car came roaring up to and over the cross walk just as I was in its path. I hollered, "Hey! This is a crosswalk!" I was tempted to walk over to the driver and point out that one stops at the heavy white line before the crosswalk, not in the middle of the crosswalk. But I didn't; I just kept going while my heart slowed down.

Are "they" after me? No, I think not. But there are too many drivers that think they are the only people in the world and their actions have no affect on others. You can see this in people that pull over the crosswalk when a bus or truck is obviously going to turn in their direction. You can see it in people who keep driving fast in a parking lot even when the driver of a backing vehicle can't see them. You can see it when people enter an intersection without checking even though a siren is wailing in the area.

Sometimes I wonder if we shouldn't require regular refresher driver training for people under 55.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Forget about a problem to solve it

We've had a small tiller for about thirty years, but have only used it once in the last ten years - to reseed a section of lawn. My wife wanted to sell it or take it to a church rummage sale. She keeps asking if I had tried starting it.

Last week I gave it a try without success. I said I would bring back some starter fluid from the cabin. I did and on Tuesday I took off the air cleaner, squirted some starter fluid in, and gave the starter rope a pull.

Rumble, a big poof of white exhaust, and then silence. Repeat, and repeat, and repeat, and ...

I said I'll get a new spark plug. I did that yesterday. I put the new spark plug in. I took off the air cleaner, squirted some starter fluid in, and gave the starter rope a pull.

Rumble, a big poof of white exhaust, and then silence. Repeat, and repeat, and repeat, and ...

We couldn't find the manual at home and assumed it was at our cabin. But the rummage sale was this week and we wouldn't go to our cabin until Saturday. I guess we'll have to wait until next year to donate it.

Last night I had some crazy dreams, but I never woke up until well after daybreak. I lay in bed pondering this and that. Suddenly I had vision of a little lever on the gas line under the fuel tank. I had never checked that when starting the tiller. Why should I? No other piece of yard equipment we have has a gas shut off.

After breakfast, I went to the garage and pulled the tiller out. Sure enough, the lever was in the off position. I turned it to on and gave the starter rope a pull. Nothing! And again. And again.

I took air filter off, squirted some starter fluid in, and gave the starter rope a pull. Rumble! A continuous cloud of white exhaust! The engine slowed down and sped up, slowed down and sped up, but it kept running.

I shut the tiller off, replaced the air filter, heaved it into the back of my truck, and secured it. Off we went to the church where I dropped the tiller and my wife off. I went to my regular Thursday coffee session.

When my wife came back in the afternoon, she said it had been sold for $25.

May the new owner enjoy fresh, home-grown vegetables for many a year.

And may all of us solve perplexing problems whenever we sleep on them.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Web is a library that never closes...

... and it is so easy to get lost in it. Just like in a physical library, you look up one thing and you find at least three more of interest. Since it never closes and most likely you are already home, you just keep looking up one thing after another, winding up far from where one started.

And serendipity is more prevalent on the Web because there are far more items that cross your gaze. Here are some examples that I might not have seen in the daily papers.

"Monkeys recognize "bad grammar", BBC News, 2009-07-08

"Whales Watching Us", Charles Siebert, New York Times Magazine, 2009-07-08

"Dozens of Dazed, Huge Squid Wash Up on San Diego Beach after Earthquake", Huffington Post, 2009-07-13

Monday, July 13, 2009

A new third party coming?

Here is another forgotten thought. I am sure I saw an article two or three days ago headlined something like "Palin to start new party". I'm not sure if it was in the Huffington Post, the New York Times, or the Washington Post. Wherever it was, I can't find it in the first several dozen hits.

Now that is the good news! I get many, many hits on "new party", whether it is the hard-nosed conservatives leaving the Republican party or moderates leaving the Republican party.

Whichever way it goes, it can only be a plus for our country. If the hard-nosed conservatives leave the Republican Party, then more moderates will join it, even from the Democrats, and we may gain a truly pragmatic party. If the moderates leave to form a new party we may get the same result.

That result is that we may get a party that balances what needs to be done, what can be done, and what is consistent with our history and Constitution.

Here we go again, exaggerated threats

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned in May that Iran was building a mega-embassy in Nicaragua. The Washington Post can't find any evidence of any building site ("Iran's Rumored Nicaraguan 'Mega-Embassy' Set Off Alarms in U.S.", Washington Post, 2009-07-13) Some right-wing think tanks are perpetuating this myth.

The problem is that not only does the mega-embassy not exist or is even planned, but all the big talk of aid and investment from President Ahmadinejad has not resulted in any major projects.

What really gets me is the double-standard American politicians of any stripe use. Why is it OK for the U.S. to build a mega-embassy in Iraq, a few hours drive from Tehran, but it is not OK for a country the U.S. government doesn't like to extend its interest, like in Managua, a "48-hour drive from Brownsville TX" (Ronald Reagan).

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Why so little news about Iran?

The news out of Iran has all but dried up. The last posting in Nico Pitman's blog was at 10:47 ET on Friday. Granted, Huffington Post was moving or rearranging its offices, but New York Times, Tehran Bureau, and BBC had no or little recent coverage.

The only two items I found were "Iran Prepares Plan for Talks with the West", dated July 11 and "Mehdi Karroubi warns of 'unimaginable consequences'", also dated today. The latter was published in Karroubi's newspaper. All other news about Iran since July 10 concerns events outside Iran.

Is the opposition resting after Thursday's demonstrations? Have security forces locked down Iran, including all means of communication?

A lost joke

This afternoon at our cabin my wife and I engaged in a bit of répartée. It wasn't a "he said, she said" exchange, but more a "A said, B said". I got in the last word with a joke on myself, and we both laughed. I said that I should post a blog about our exchange.

OK, now it is blog writing time, and I can't remember what we said. Neither can my wife.

Maybe one of us will remember in the middle of the night. If so and it still seems funny, I'll post it the next day. That is, if we don't forget it again.

Soda pop beer

When I sang at the Grandma's Marathon, we got drink tickets for the entertainment tent at the finish line. One of the choices was Summer Shandy. I first encountered shandy in Taunton, England in the 1970s. It was made with ale and lemon soda. I don't remember if I tried it then or not. I know I later would sometimes mix beer and 7-Up, but it had been years since I did that.

Anyhow, I passed the chance to have Summer Shandy; see "Standing still at Grandma's Marathon" for why.

On a visit to our local liquor store, I saw that Summer Shandy was on special in 12-packs. OK, why not give it a try?

Well, now I've worked through all but two bottles and I doubt I'll buy it again. It's OK, but it's way too sweet for my taste. In fact, I dubbed it soda pop beer. I get more the taste of lemon-lime soda than I do of beer. Worse yet, nothing on the bottle describes what's inside. Too much space is taken up with all the required warnings. I hope I remember to look at the carton before I throw it away.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Who's impaling Palin?

Many are complaining that "The Media" are out to get Sarah Palin. My own take is that they are only reporting what she says and does. The more that gets reported, the more she goes on the defensive. When a politician goes on the defensive, a good reporter looks for what else may be going on.

When partisans of whatever stripe feel one of their own is being attacked, they too often gather in a circle and blame outsiders. Too rarely do they ask themselves what may be true about the reporting.

One partisan who did look more deeply into the Palin story, Peggy Noonan, wrote an opinion piece for a partisan media, The Wall Street Journal. See "A Farewell to Harms", Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal Online, 2009-07-10.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Confusing definitions of conservative and government

Democrat appointees to appellate courts are supposedly 13 percent more "liberal" than Republican appointees. Liberal is ruling in favor of the defendant; conservative in favor of the prosecution. If conservatives are for personal freedom and limited government and liberals are for big government, shouldn't it be the other way around? Again, it surprises me that people who think government can't do anything right think that government prosecutors, another variety of bureaucrat, are almost always right.

See "Uncommon Detail Marks Rulings by Sotomayor", Jerry Markon, Washington Post, 2009-07-09

The one-fingered victory sign

At 2:45 into this YouTube video is Iran's version of Tiananmen Square. Granted that the young woman is not facing tanks, but her gesture is definitely more defiant. I can't say whether this particular picture is made up or not. Even if it is made up, it expresses somebody's feelings "eloquently".

Al Qaeda and Slaughterhouse Five

I have long had Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five" on my reading list. I borrowed it from the library recently and finished it yesterday afternoon.

I did know that Vonnegut was a survivor of the Dresden fire bombing. I had thought that Slaughterhouse Five was about five survivors who were in a meat locker. Actually it was the address of where they were bunked as prisoners of war assigned to work in Dresden: Schlacthof fünf. There were about 100 prisoners guarded by four old or teen-age German conscripts.

They were about the only survivors of the firebombing. When they emerged from their shelter, they saw no standing buildings. Even then, they were strafed by planes attacking anything moving.

One character, a retired Air Force officer justifies the bombing because of what "the Germans" did. He also states that more people died in Dresden than in either the firebombing of Tokyo or the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. He also justifies the latter two because of all the things "the Japanese" did to other people.

Amazing the different attitudes of people in the air or far away and of the people actually on the ground.

The imposition of collective guilt is always wrong. Jewish children of the twentieth century had nothing to do with the crucifixion of Jesus. German children of the 1940s had nothing to do with the Holocaust or the bombing of England. Japanese children of the 1940s had nothing to do with the attack on Pearl Harbor or the Rape of Nanking. Yet all these children are worth killing because of the actions of some of their elders. The god Maloch still lives and we still sacrifice children to his fires.

Is it any wonder that Al Qaeda thinks it appropriate to kill Americans anywhere anytime because they don't like the actions of a few Americans?

Obama's reaching out to people around the world is not going to quench the fires of Maloch soon, but let's hope it is a start.

Did you remember...?

I wanted to saw up some birch stumps in our back yard. They were just about flush with the ground, but I still had to be careful mowing around them.

So, this weekend I put the chain saw from our cabin in the back of the truck along with 50:1 gas mix and bar oil.

I decided I didn't want to make noise on Sunday afternoon and so I delayed to Monday. But, before I even got out of bed, I didn't think I brought work gloves home. And then, the stopper to the work, I had no safety topper. I had left my hard hat at our cabin.

Oh, well, I managed to cut around the stumps one more time.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

One trillion dollars for health care sounds like a bargain

One trillion dollars over ten years for some health care proposals is claimed as an excessive cost by critics of those proposals. These same critics generally look on government spending as expenses without any return.

Consider that the U.S. spends over two trillion dollars each year and the rate is rising at over six percent per year. See "Health Care in the United States", Wikipedia. If a universal health care system costs one trillion over ten years, that sounds like quite an improvement of over twenty million for the same span of time.

Diplomacy can "kill them" with kindness

One of the best arguments that I have read about keeping diplomatic channels open to Iran is "Iran will never be the same again", Huffington Post, Meir Javendanfar and Dex Torricke-Barton, 2009-07-07.

If someone calls you a Great Satan, the best thing you can do is to appear as a Good Angel. If you show calm in front of a tirade, who will come off looking better. Despite Iran being a sham democracy, the Iranian government still has to deal with the people. Remember, the Iranian people have already put their government on shaky ground. Diplomacy is a good opportunity to win the hearts and minds of a people.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Iran - A turn for the worse, or better?

The mask of democracy has been removed in Iran. The Iranian Republican Guard has effectively taken control, Los Angeles Times, 2009-07-06.

But now that the mask has been removed, will the Iranian people be more imaginative in their resistance to an election they consider stolen. Supposedly a strike has been called during Istafan, a three-day holiday in remembrance of martyrs during which people can take off work without excuse or penalty. At the same time a large sandstorm is moving eastward from Iraq. The Tehran pollution committee has declared the city should be shut down for two days.

Will enough clerics stand up against events or will the Republican Guard start arresting clerics?

I have lost track of all that I have read today. One story leads to another. Two articles at Tehran Bureau are notable. "Eye of the storm - 18th Tir" is a reflection on how the ideals of the 1989 revolution may work against the Republican Guard. "The Death of the Republic" is a look at how this situation has been developing over the years.

Roger Cohen's "A Journalist's 'Actual Responsibility'", New York Times, 2009-07-05, is a good look about how important journalism is to helping people get word of their struggles to the rest of the world.

In "What can we do about Iran?" I wrote that we could "donate to humans rights organizations that are following the situation." Another donation we can make, which I did, is to the Tehran Bureau. It is one-woman collector of Iranian news that many people in and out of Iran depend on.

On a lighter note, you could learn or listen to "Ey Iran", a very popular patriotic song. The best version I found was at but you can find several more at and search for "Ey Iran". Your search will yield several You Tube videos, some duplicates, of people playing or singing "Ey Iran". Note also that many feature waving flags.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Marriage is one man, one woman?

Many who oppose "gay marriage" claim the Bible says God defined marriage as one man and one woman. However, the Bible says that Jacob married both Leah and Rachel, that David had many wives, and that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. All three of these men were supposedly favored by God.

Solomon was almost a marriage machine. He ruled about 40 years or about 14,000 days. We can probably assume that he didn't marry much near the end of his reign and probably married some of his wives before he became king. If his marrying days were still about 40 years, that would mean he would be marrying a woman every 20 days or marrying a woman or taking a concubine every two weeks. That sounds like Solomon's life was one continuous honeymoon!

Why does being an American have to be special?

The newspapers are filled with testimonials on why people are proud to be American. They give many reasons including a list of freedoms. But underlying many of these is a notion that being an American is preferable to being anything else. Nowhere else in the world could be as good as living in America.

I have lived in and visited other countries and people there are quite happy to stay there. Sure it may be nice to visit or live in America, but they would just as soon live in their native land. In fact, I have many friends who lived in the U.S. for several years and chose to return to their home countries.

Being proud of one's country is a good thing, but it becomes a bad thing when one thinks one's country is superior to anything else.

I find this very strange. After all, my house is not necessarily the best house, but it is my house. My city is not necessarily the best city, but it is my city. My state is not necessarily the best state, but it is my state. Why do we have to have the best country, not just our country. See "I live in the best house in the world".

As the song says, "This is my home, the country where my heart is; here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine". Hymn 159, "This is My Song", Singing the Living Tradition, The Unitarian Universalist Association

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Bear attack!

When we got to the cabin I noticed an orange container 15 feet to my right. It was a pump bottle of Fast Orange hand cleaner. It was supposed to be on the picnic table 15 feet to my left. The wind could not have been strong enough to move it since our last visit.

I saw that it was oozing a bit of white cleaner from a nice round hole. When I got closer I noticed that there were a couple of other round holes. We assumed that a bear thought the orange smell meant food and probably got a rude surprise when he tasted the detergents.

This was supposed to be an opening to another episode of "The Adventures of Superwoodsman", but I never got around to writing it. Since then I've forgotten all the various adventures and misadventures of that weekend, except one.

When I went to the well to pump some water, I saw my primer jug on the ground with a big dent. I'm not sure if a bear took a swipe at it or the wind blew it off the bench. It was almost full, and so I doubt the latter.

Today when we went to our cabin, the Fast Orange container was again on my right with a few more holes in it. Either the first bear didn't learn or another bear liked the smell but not the taste. From now on we'll keep the Fast Orange inside the cabin.

The bears have been busy in the area. I used the weed whip to clear the grass along one of our paths today. Every so often I would see big chunks of sod pulled back. A bear had been looking for grubs or other delicacies under the grass. I hope it was satisfied. I wouldn't want a really, really hungry bear prowling around.

We've had many other encounters with bears. You can read some of them in "Bear Stories", my first article for the Reader Weekly of Duluth, then called the Northland Reader. We do know enough not to deliberately feed them. See also "Misguided freedom" and "That bear's so cute..."

Friday, July 03, 2009

You might be surprised who wants improved Iranian-American relations

Roger Cohen wrote a very interesting and surprising commentary on who wants to see an improvement in Iranian-American relations. See "Let the Usurpers Writhe", New York Times 2009-07-01. Apparently, those currently in government need an improvement in relations, but they don't want to see the opposition get credit for the improvement.

Cohen would very much like to see an improvement, but he believes that best way to bring down Ahmadinejad is for Obama to keep his distance.

My own view is that those who call for Obama to be more forceful are overly optimistic about U.S. power, military or diplomatic. Somehow they think when the so-called leader of the free world speaks, the whole world will jump. They neglect the long history of the U.S. telling some country to do this or that, and the U.S. gets just the opposite. The rulers, legitimate or otherwise, become more popular by their resistance to U.S. pressure.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Reconstructing family history

Genealogy once upon a time seemed to be a search for illustrious ancestors. As it became more and more popular for people just to connect back to Europe, people came just as interested in the stories of their ancestors as in the connections of one generation to another. Besides, the stories often gave clues on how to find the connections.

I've been interested in the origins of the name Magree for years, but really didn't make much progress until the 1970s when I stumbled on a whole bunch in Australia. From some of them I found that they could trace their ancestors to Kilkenny, Ireland.

My own personal search stopped with my greatgrandfather, John J.R. Magree who was born in Brooklyn in 1851. I've gathered a few stories about him and his descendants, but I gave up on searching documents to go back further.

Meanwhile, I do a Google search on Magrees and turn up a few I never heard of before. I generally don't follow up because the letter exchange or telephone calls would just eat up time from all the other activities I want to do.

Every so often my curiosity gets the better of me and I attempt to contact someone. I did this recently through and got a reply. She gave me some information about her ex-husband. I made the connection to one of my uncles, replied to her, and haven't heard from her since. I probably exhausted her interest in the subject.

However, this led me to reflect on some decades-old issues. My family is not very good on keeping connections up, possibly because of many divorces. I had not seen my paternal grandmother since I was about 7 or 9, but I sent her Christmas cards and maybe birthday cards for a long, long time.

The year after I was married, we drove through Chicago on our way home to Cleveland. I stopped at a phone booth, looked my grandmother up, called her, and she invited us to stop by.

She was living upstairs in a duplex where her youngest son, his wife, and children lived downstairs. My wife and I remember her bitterly complaining about her daughter-in-law.

A couple of nights ago, during a sleepless period, several weeks after I received the message through, two explanations about the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law conflict popped into my head.

Both were born in Germany.

My grandmother had come to the U.S. when she was about six, but as an adult she spoke probably only English. Her children would ask for German words but she had a harder and harder time remembering any.

My aunt was the widow of a German soldier and the mother of a young son. She met my uncle, a G.I., after the war and came to the U.S. with her son.

I wonder if there was friction between the two women because 1) my grandmother could no longer speak fluent German and was frustrated, or 2) my grandmother had antipathy towards Germans in general because of the two World Wars.

I may never know. All the principals are dead now except possibly my aunt's first son. I may never get sufficient curiosity to follow up with people who may be reluctant to get involved with distant relatives.

And this is how so many interesting stories get lost or garbled.