Saturday, October 31, 2009

Prepared for the unprepared

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 30, 2009

Why should students stay in Duluth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A perspective on prices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Foreign troops can't fight "insurgencies"

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 26, 2009

The End of Ignorance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Family ghosts and computer ghosts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 23, 2009

What the pyramids are really made of

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

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

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Misuse of statistics?

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

He wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A bit of gallows humor

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Serendipity and Politics

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A "Conservative" compromises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want Windows 7? Buy a Mac!

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 19, 2009

A couple notes on green jobs

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

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

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Abraham Lincoln was a liberal!!

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

Our greatest Republican president was left of center!!!

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

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Trespassing mystery explained

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for all you do with limited resources.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Now I understand media "bias"

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

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Nuclear weapons and climate change - is there a connection?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

No simple answers in war and peace

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

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Multicultural cooking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 12, 2009

American fashion pops up in strange places

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

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

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

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

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

There are Republicans and there are Republicans

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

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

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Surprising connections in the adoption of customs

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 09, 2009

Lessons from Colonial Quakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A terrible mismatch of foods

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

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

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

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

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

What I'm not reading about

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Missing info for "Paul's Song"

We get so tied up in the systems we use, we assume everyone has all the same tools. I didn't think that some people have computers that don't come equipped with QuickTime Player and wouldn't be able to hear my rendition of "Paul's Song".

You can download a free copy of QuickTime for the PC at

Hospitals are not healthy places

In addition to the old bromide that people die in hospitals and to the fact that one can pick up an infection easily, there are a few other unhealthy aspects of hospitals. Many don't support the healthy life style I mentioned in yesterday's post.

My wife is in a hospital now after surgery. She found the food not to our idea of healthy - the bouillon was too salty, the juice too sweet with added white grape juice, and the gelatin tasted of non-food chemicals.

Roommates can cause stress. They often have the TV sound too loud or their guests talk too loudly. Of course, listening to the complaints of an uncooperative patient can be a big distraction.

My wife's current roommate is generally quiet but she wanted to watch the Vikings-Packers game. My wife has as much interest in professional sports as I have in ironing clothes, as well as in professional sports. I made sure I was back at home during the game with the TV off. My wife heard it even from other rooms, but she was still so fatigued from her surgery that she slept through most of it. Neither of us knew the score until this morning.

Another unhealthy aspect of hospitals is the number of overweight staff, not a good example. Besides the amount of carbonated beverages they drink, some have too many treats around. On one stay, we saw a whole box of donuts. And the cafeterias are often only a step above fast food restaurants.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Right living needs no health care, right?

This whole health care debate seems to come down to doing anything is an intrusion of big government versus doing something before everybody goes broke on health care and dies.

Proponents of the second cite the 40-some million without health insurance and act as if each and every one of the 40-some million is facing a dire health crisis and will die without federal government intervention. Never mind that some of 40-some million think they are healthy enough or are rich enough that they don't want to pay for health insurance.

Some proponents are pushing the argument that federal health insurance is not needed if only people would be responsible and lead healthy lives. This argument is so simplistic that it borders on the irresponsible.

Granted, there are far too many people that make irresponsible choices from smoking to eating far too many junk foods. However, many people also draw a short straw on health through situations beyond their control.

Let's start with the personal. My wife and I try to eat sensibly, exercise frequently, and get regular dental and medical checkups. Ah, dental checkups! Guess what we both have in our mouths. Amalgam!

A mix of mercury and silver. Mercury is a poisonous metal. But amalgam was the filling of choice by dentists for decades. Even those of us who brushed our teeth regularly before the widespread use of fluoridated water still got cavities.

How much of that mercury from our teeth is leaching out into our bodies and causing who knows what problems? Maybe none, maybe lots! We don't really know what the personal result will be.

My wife has had cancer twice. This particular cancer has no known cause from personal life choices. My wife suspects that it was caused by chemicals in the environment - air borne chemicals, chemicals leaching from packaging, or contaminants in tap water. We don't know and we have little control over what large corporations or even local companies spew into the air and water or use in their processes. Many people can tolerate these contaminants; others have severe health consequences long after the exposure to these contaminants.

I have a heart murmur. For the most part this is inconsequential. I can do many physical activities without problem.

This is a good point to make an aside on our dependence on fallible human beings for our health care. One year a doctor is concerned about my heart murmur; the next he says I have the heart of an athlete. I think it might have been related to my use of stairs or elevator to reach his office. I now make sure I take the elevator for doctor visits.

I have had the heart murmur for over thirty years. Four times I have had symptoms that indicate I have serious problems. Once a doctor gave me an ultrasound check; once a doctor insisted on sending me to the emergency room; once we called for an ambulance; and once my wife drove me to the emergency room. In none of these was there any indication of damage to my heart. In retrospect, I think they were the result of overexertion that seemed OK at the time, probably resulting in sore chest muscles and hypoglycemia with nausea and sweating. In the last three cases, the costs would have made a serious dent in our savings and even future earnings.

Maybe I could have avoided these problems if I had traded in my parents. After all, they were the ones who gave me the genes that caused the heart murmur.

Fortunately, we've had employer-provided health insurance or Medicare with supplemental that paid for all these incidents with no or little out-of-pocket expenses.

Unfortunately, not everybody has generous employers or can afford more than basic Medicare in retirement.

But I too am relying on anecdotal evidence for my case. Are some really tragic cases as reported in some newspapers the norm? Or are they the exception? Whichever the case, we really need to be careful in collecting data to bolster our position. Unfortunately, emotion is used more than reason, no matter the position.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Paul's song

Our friend Paul is at Mayo undergoing some patience-trying therapy. A relative and a couple of friends wrote additional lyrics to "Frère Jacques". I finally made a half-way decent recording of it. If you're not a musical perfectionist, click here. I also posted it on his site on Caring Bridge.

If you have difficulty listening to "Paul's Song", you can download a free copy of QuickTime for the PC at

Saturday, October 03, 2009

How about a good news story about energy?

I've often wondered why more effort hasn't been made to bring low-tech or at least low-cost tech to many parts of the world where resources are scarce. They cannot afford and really don't need mammoth electric networks. Commercial power sources meant for off-grid generation are often way beyond the means of people in poor countries.

Well, one boy did something about it in his small, rural village. Because his parents couldn't afford the $80/year for school, he had to drop out. He still wanted to learn and visited a nearby library where he found a book on generating energy for wind. With scrounged parts he built a windmill that would power a light in his bedroom so he could read after sundown. Then he built two more that provide electric light and much more for all in the village.

I first read about William Kamkwamba in Wired, "Teen's DIY Energy Hacking Gives African Village New Hope", Kim Zetter, 2009-10-02. "Hacking" in this context is not malicious tampering but making do with limited resources.

Kamkwamba now has his own web site, I hope he encourages many more like himself.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Piano, piano, pieno!

This is the title of a book I saw a few weeks ago in the Duluth Public Library. At first I thought it was a typo and the book was about music. Then I realized what it really meant. Slow, slow, full! It was a book about the slow food movement. Eat slowly, enjoy what you eat, and be truly satisfied.

Today has been a mix of troppo di fare and basta cosí. Too much to do and it suffices so.

We set out for our cabin in our newly purchased used SUV. As soon as we backed out of the garage I noticed two warning lights on. Panic! These lights weren't on when we brought the vehicle home from the dealer. Somebody else was coming down the alley and so we went to the side street and pulled over.

My wife figured out that one light meant the rear door was open. I got out and closed it properly. The light went off but the other was still on. I figured out that it meant we had low tire pressure. Since we were going to stop to fill the tank, I'd check then.

When I pulled up to the air pump I noticed that the left front tire was really down. When I put the tire gauge to it, nothing registered. I filled it up to the appropriate pressure and checked the warning light. It was still on. I checked the other three tires and a couple needed a couple of pounds. I filled them but the warning light was still on!

I drove over to the gas pump and filled the tank. When I pulled away, the low tire warning light was off but now we had two warning lights that the stability gizmos were not working. Oh great! Do we have to call the dealer already? Oh, but we had gone over a muddy road construction area. Probably the vehicle didn't like the difference in traction among the wheels.

We drove up to our next stop, a lawn and garden store. I wanted to check on the price of a chipper that a friend had bought and was very satisfied with. I found that it was a quarter of the price I had expected and how long it would take to ship. I wasn't ready to buy it today, but I was also curious about a weed whip on wheels.

Surprise! They had three in stock and on sale. Well, how can any guy resist another guy toy? I whipped out my credit card and said I'll take it, plus a chain saw wheel for woody stuff.

We had just enough room in the SUV for it to fit in. Off we went to our cabin. Surprise again! All the warning lights were off!

But, I forgot the USB/FM transmitter for my iPod. We would have to settle for Minnesota Public Radio.

The next little problem was getting the cruise control to work properly. By the third stop sign I had it working the way I wanted. Surprise again! Despite what the manual implies, I can come to a complete stop and have it resume back to the previous speed.

The only blip for the rest of the trip was a straight-line speeder who passed us and then went ten miles per hour slower than I wanted through the curves by Pequaywan Inn.

We unloaded our vehicle just before lunch and wondered how the weather was going to be. There were only about five jobs I wanted to do outside. Do I play with my new toy or take on some other task?

After lunch it was iffy. There would be a misty rain, no rain, a fine-drop rain, and then… I opted for using the new weed whip that would work on wet grass. I won't bore you with the details of the joy and frustration of using it. Suffice to say, I got a lot of high grass and other growth cut over quite a bigger area than I expected.

Two sessions with the weed whip got me to the cocktail hour. I had a bottle of beer and then went for a walk. Oh, no! More work! Tomorrow I'll have to use the chain saw to clear trees that fell across the path. But it was still a delight, seeing our spruce that were growing taller, the large number of birch and red maple that were coming along, and just being out in the fresh, rain-washed air.

Back in the cabin for another beer before dinner. My wife prepared a dinner of barbecued pork, garlic potatoes, fresh beets, and home-made bread. And of course we had to drink some wine with it. And some more wine. It is amazing how easy it is to drink one half-glass after another. I was feeling very much piano, piano, and non pieno. There was still a little dessert my wife had bought at the coffee shop to go with our home-brewed coffee.

My gosh! Where did I get the energy to write all this? Maybe it was Wagner's gift to his wife Cosima on public radio, the Minnesota Orchestra with Osmo Vänska.

I do know I don't have much energy to practice my own singing and despite going slow, I won't have the patience for a slow internet connection. If this is posted on Friday night, I'll consider it a major achievement.

Basta cosí!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

U.S. wins even as it "loses"

The New York Times has an ironic picture of Chinese youth marching in a Beijing parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. See "China's Next Stage: Spreading the Wealth".

Are they wearing traditional Chinese festive dress? No. Are they wearing unisex Mao jackets and caps? No. They are wearing unisex jeans and T-shirts. The T-shirts say in big letters/symbols, "I (heart) China".

The U.S. may be losing the economic "war" but it certainly is winning the cultural "war" as American popular culture reaches into more and more places in the world.