Friday, December 31, 2010

We need to do a makeover of Duluth

In 2007 I wrote an article for the Reader Weekly, "Economic development to beat all economic development" about tearing Duluth down and starting all over again.

As I've been clearing plowed snow off our sidewalk and getting ice out of the sump pump hose, I've been thinking about this again.

Snow plowed from the streets onto sidewalks is an old issue with me.  Suffice it to say that streets widened to accommodate more traffic mean narrower boulevards (tree lawns to some) to store plowed snow.

Much of Duluth has an early 20th century sewer system.  This means that storm water run-off often got into the sanitary sewers and filled the sanitation holding tanks past capacity.

First we had to have a sump pump installed and any basement drainage into the sanitary sewer blocked.  This meant that water that had been put into the sewers was now dumped out on the lawn.  Because Duluth is built on a hill, this meant the water would often run onto the sidewalk causing ice buildup in the winter.

Next we had to have our sanitary sewers from the house to the street replaced because ground water was seeping into them, contributing to the capacity problem.  This also meant that the ground was even more saturated after rains or thaws, and that meant that even more water flowed onto the sidewalk.

Add to this overflow problem that the snow bank acts as a dam and that many sidewalk sections are tilted away from the street, the overflow stays on the sidewalk.  This then means that homeowners need to spend hours each week to ensure that the sidewalks in front of their houses are accessible and safe.

Revisiting the ideas in "Economic Development", when we level Duluth to start again, we should include double sewer lines from houses, one for sanitary waste, one for ground water runoff.  We should rebuild all streets with a minimum of four-foot wide boulevards.  We should rebuild all sidewalks with a slight tilt toward the street, and we should place them higher than both the curb and the boulevard.

I'm sure you can add many more ideas about improving walkability in Duluth, but I'll limit this little essay to dealing with snow and ice.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

War of the words

In response to Germany's Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer suggesting that employees not use foreign words such as "der Laptop", U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has suggested that employees respond to fellow workers sneezes with "Bless you" rather than "Gesundheit".

"Der laptop?  Nein, nein", Deutsches Presse-Agentur as reported by the Star Tribune, 2010-12-30

Hm!  Has somebody started a rumor?  If I go to either or and search for "laptop", I get "Kein Suchergebnisse" - "no search 'whatever'".  Besides, the Star Tribune is not using richtig Deutsche; it should be "Der Laptop?"  Nouns are almost always capitalized in German.

Mein Deutschekunnigheit?  Nicht so gut!  Ich habe zu viel vergessen:(

1968 Letter from Europe

My mother-in-law kept many of our letters from Europe in a scrapbook.  After she died three years ago, my wife kept the scrapbooks.  This week she has been rereading our old letters.  She pointed out to me one I wrote from Basel 29/30 October 1968.

I was in Basel, Switzerland to prepare a demo for a potential Univac customer.  Univac didn't have one of its own computers in Europe yet, and so we borrowed or bought time on customer computers.  For this demo I was working with an 1108 at Sandoz in Basel.  Sandoz is now called Novartis.

I don't remember much of the trip except I was introduced to raclettes, cheese melted on a board in front of a fire.  The German I was working with took me to a restaurant near the bahnhof that specialized in raclettes.  I've had and have made raclettes since then, but none have compared to those at that Swiss restaurant.

And I don't remember if we made the sale for which we did the demo.

Letter to my in-laws, Jean and Fred Smith, 29/30 October 1968

Dear Folks,

I am back in Basel on a four week assignment and back to learning German, but tomorrow or Thursday I go back to Rome for the rest of the year, I hope.  Not quite, we hope to take a two week ski vacation at Christmas time, but in Switzerland.  I tried calling three hotels in Davos yesterday, and found out you have to make your reservations in the spring or in January when you leave, so we will probably spend this year in Italy.

All this travel is not as exciting as it may seem.  As I generally work nights and have to see people during the day it often becomes an eat-sleep-work cycle.  Right now I am writing this while waiting to get on the machine [a Univac 1108 computer].  Hah, just as I finished the last sentence, the machine became free.  Now I am baby-sitting the machine at the console.

The most interesting and frustrating experience of being in Europe is the language problem.  My minimal French, German and Italian gets me throughout quite a variety of situations, but general conversation is a rare and difficult thing.  The missing ingredients are vocabulary and listening ability.  I really think that in the U. S. not enough emphasis is put on foreign language ability and they are are treated as an academic subject.  Throughout most of the world to much importance is given to grammar and not enough to vocabulary.  I always cringe when a grammar author boasts that he only introduces 20 words per lesson.  I have found, especially in Italian, that one can use a grammarian's nightmare of a sentence but still convey the thought if one has sufficient words.  Conversely with a bit of vocabulary and little grammar one can at least get the sense of newspaper stories.  To me the best method would be to have classes using conversation and reading newspapers and magazines.  Tests would be on the things read just as they might be in English lit or History.  (Most Europeans who graduate from high school can speak 2 foreign languages, of course not all finish, but still.)


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

We don't have political parties, we have dreaming parties

We have one party that engages in wistful thinking and another that engages in wishful thinking.  One dreams of a time that never was and the other of a time that never will be.

Too many commentators try to make a continuum from one to the other.  What we really need are a political party or two that can define the real problems of here and now and come up with practical solutions for them.  These would not be "moderate" parties, taking a little bit from one side and a little bit from the other.  These would be parties that are interested in governance over grandstanding.

It's happened before in our country, but we are 150 years overdue for it happening again.

Government workers aren't productive?? Try this job!

I haven't taken time to read all the stories about the East Coast blizzard, but there seem to be a lot about the various governments not being prepared.  Do these critics want to pay the taxes necessary to have enough equipment and personnel ready to clear the snow?

The people who clear the snow work harder and longer than most of us would tolerate.  I know it's hard enough to drive a bus for eight hours on dry roads; try running a snow plow with obstacles everywhere you look.

In the case of New York City, they assigned park employees who normally took down trees to drive plows on city streets.  See "Obstacles at Every Turn for Plow Crew", New York Times, 2010-12-29.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Let's get our perspective right on healthy food

My daughter handed me a cellophane bag of chocolate balls as an early Christmas present.  She said they were chocolate-covered cranberries and were half-healthy.  I replied, "You mean cranberries aren't healthy?"

If you liked this anecdote, you might enjoy "Major Food Groups", a spoof piece my wife and I dreamed up ten years ago and was published by the Reader Weekly, then called the Northland Reader.  It still is one of the more popular pages on my website.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"The People" decided what?

In a presidential election year, when a president is selected by the number of electoral votes, many of those who supported the successful candidate say, "The people decided…"

Wait a minute!  Electoral votes do not always coincide with actual votes.  A candidate may win based on electoral votes, but not have gained a majority, or even a plurality of the actual votes.  The people who voted for the other candidate are not "people"?

In a presidential election year, the party of the winning presidential candidate generally gets majorities in both the House and the Senate.  But the other party always gets a large number of votes.  The people who voted for the other party are not "people"?

Then two years later, supporters of the party that was less successful start saying the President and members of Congress are not listening to "the people".  But the President and Congress are listening to "the people" that elected them.

Unfortunately, too often more people didn't bother to vote than voted for either candidate in far too many races.  Does this mean "the people" don't give a damn about either party?

It would be great if "people" would use more precise words in their discussions and writings, but it ain't going to happen.  "People" want to use imprecise words so that they can prevent both their supporters and the opposition from thinking clearly.

Tired of pouring gas on your shoes?

How often have you poured gas into your lawnmower or snowblower, looked down at your shoes or the tires, and seen gas dribbling on them?  Gosh, darn, you tightened the spout on as much as you could.

Somehow, a couple of years ago, after decades of frustration, I came upon a little trick to get the spout on really tight.  Most of the time, that is.

Place the spout 1/4 turn counterclockwise from where you want it, place the screw ring around the spout, hold the spout a bit up and in its turned position, and tighten the screw ring as best you can.  Then without holding the spout, tighten the ring even more.  The spout should turn close to the desired position.

Now, maybe, just maybe, the spout should be the gas can sufficiently tight so that no gas dribbles out.

Of course, all bets are off with these new "safety cans" with their little stops to prevent accidental opening.  Of course, they also deter planned opening.  How can something be safer if users become so frustrated using it that they become careless in some other aspect?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

City to be run like a business

Bowing to critics who say that government should be run like a business, Mayor Les S. Moore has announced several initiatives to follow certain business practices.

Following the lead of orange juice companies who reduced the size of their cartons from 64 ounces to 59 ounces, he has ordered all snow plow drivers to clear only 59/64th the width of city streets.

Noticing that facial tissue now comes in 132-count boxes instead of 200-count boxes, he has ordered the police department reduce its staff from 200 sworn officers to 132.

When Mayor Moore goes grocery shopping, he'll be looking for more examples to apply to city government.

When the city produced its new quarterly to keep citizens informed of the activities of the city government, he followed the lead of the newspapers and had no one proofread the articles.  He was embarrassed to see that a library manager wrote that the library had materials for geneology.

To centralize citizen/customer communication with the city, he has ordered that the phone numbers and email addresses of department heads no longer be published.  Instead, a single 800 number and a single email address,, will be provided.  These both will be handled by a limited staff in India.

Taking a cue from the telecommunications industry, he will offer more and more services electronically with greater and greater speeds.  Each increase will be advertised as with no new taxes in the first six months.

He did balk at following one business example as he thought it would reduce his chances of re-election.  He didn't think he would be very popular if he increased his salary as he cut the number of employees.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The high cost of no new taxes

High cost of no new taxes

In my part of Duluth we had about 12 inches of snow on the night of 2010-12-20.  The city snow plow drivers did a great job of clearing the streets, but the result is heavy packed snow on our sidewalk, too much for this little 5hp 22in snowblower, and definitely too much for my back.

According to city ordinance, home owners are responsible for clearing their sidewalks within twenty-four hours of a snowfall.  However, if the city plows push snow on to the sidewalk, the city is responsible for clearing the sidewalk.

Even if I made a Herculean effort to clear the sidewalk, it would be futile.  When the plows come by again, there will more heavy snow on the sidewalk.

If last year's Christmas week storm is any guide, the city won't clear our sidewalk for at least a week.  Meanwhile, pedestrians of all ages and abilities have to walk in the street; they are taxed for the city not raising taxes.

You really are good at foreign languages

How often have you heard people say, "I never was any good with foreign languages!"  But any of us who read a lot or listen a lot, know lots of foreign words and phrases as part of our own language.

Consider the following:

Oui, non, savoir faire, coup d'état, menu, restaurant, merci beaucoup, la plume de ma tante, père, mère, soirée, bon jour, monsieur, madame, mademoiselle, garçon, parlez vous français

Si, gracias, señor, señora, señorita, taco, burrito, chili, sombrero, serape, fiesta, siesta, madre, padre, muchacho, muchacha, piñata, guerrilla, mesa

Ja, nein, Blitzkrieg, danke, sprechen sie Deutsch, guten morgen, auf Wiedersehen, angst

Da, nyet, troika, glasnost, perestroika, tsar, soviet, sputnik, vodka, tundra

Smörgåsbord, fjörd, tack, Viking, ski, lingon, orienteering, ombudsman, moped

Judo, karate, karaoke, sumo, sushi, tofu, miso, manga, sake, kimono, samurai, futon, tsunami

Si, no, italiano, spaghetti, opera, pasta, forte, piano, ciao, arrivederci, buon giorno, vino

I bet you know over 90% of these words and can identify each of the groups.

Interestingly, Apple's TextEdit only flagged five words as not in its dictionary; these were burrito, chili, serape, nyet, and fjörd.  TextEdit was happy when I spelled fjörd as fjord. In fact, TextEdit insisted on changing it as I typed.  Microsoft's Word is a bit fussier; it didn't recognize any of the words that contained diacritical marks, like in garçon, señor, and smörgåsbord.

See, you're also smarter than a computer.  You could recognize all the words.

Next time somebody says they have never been good at whatever, reply that they just haven't spent enough time and interest learning that whatever.

Ciao, amici miei!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Forget Ranked Choice Voting, Try Ranked Vote Reporting

Many people tout Ranked Choice Voting as a solution to the gridlock of the so-called two-party system.  Others say it will be to confusing to voters.  One thing I do know is that it requires charter and constitutional changes.  Like many elections of candidates, charter changes will probably not be brought about by a majority of eligible voters.

We can put a better perspective on election results with a simple election administration change.  Each precinct, county, and state should publish the totals of registered voters who did not vote and include it in a ranked report.

For example, assume a precinct with 1,000 registered voters of whom only 600 showed up.  290 voted for A, 250 voted for B, and 60 voted for C.  A is declared the winner because A received the plurality of votes.  And A's party will be dancing until midnight celebrating the victory.

But, let's consider the true count.  400 voters didn't care to show up at all.  If the precinct had to include these un-cast votes in its report, we might see something like this:

400 (40%) no vote cast
290 (29%) Candidate A
250 (25%) Candidate B
  60  ( 6%) Candidate C

Even if Candidate A had received 310 votes or a majority of the votes cast, the report would still show Candidate A coming in second to "no vote cast".  Not exactly an overwhelming victory; Candidate A did not get a "mandate".

Actually, we don't even need an administrative change.  If media started reporting results in this manner, it would have the same effect.  Most large media organizations have access to this data.

If this idea really took hold, we might get one or more of the following.  Candidates would work to increase turnout; candidates would work to widen their appeal; additional candidates may run because they would see the "popular" candidates as not so popular.

Social Security checks didn't stay the same; they went down

This week we received our Social Security Benefit statements for 2011.  As predicted the "monthly amount" stayed the same, but the deductions went up!

Medicare medical insurance went up $74 per month and the Medicare prescription drug plan went up $4.60.  So, we'll each have $78.60 less every month to spend in the local economy.

We do have other sources of income, but we have saved those to use for big ticket items, like property tax.  For us, this decrease is an inconvenience; for others it can be a major blow.

I sent the above to Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and to Rep.-elect Chip Cravaack.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Duluth Digs: Hope for shoveled walks??

Email to Don Ness, Mayor of Duluth, on Duluth Digs, an initiative to "encourage people to do a little more to keep sidewalks clear."

As you know from some of my Reader Weekly articles on walking in Duluth, I'm all for keeping sidewalks clear for pedestrians.  I applaud you and Duluth Digs for attempting to make Duluth a more walkable city, but I'm pessimistic it's going to happen for two reasons.

First, wherever there is a narrow boulevard, which is anything less than four feet, snow plows are going to dump a huge amount of snow on the sidewalks.  This snow is not the light, fluffy, new-fallen snow, but heavy wet gunk.  It is not easy to lift.  Because of this, many people don't even attempt to shovel their walks.

We were away during one of the big snows last winter.  When we came back our sidewalk was covered with three feet of ice and snow.  It was even hopeless to do with a snowblower.  It was many days before a crew was able to get to our block to clear this.

Second, the mandated sump pumps are putting a lot of ice on the sidewalks.  With the many rains, the ground was saturated and the pump water continued on to the sidewalks.  When the temperature dropped, the standing water became ice.  I did sand it, but given its unevenness, it was no fun to walk on.

I don't know how many hours spread over many days I've spent chipping at this ice, some of it two inches thick.  Only today did I manage to have a strip less than two feet wide along our portion of the sidewalk.

I have just about given up walking in Duluth in the winter or after dark.  In winter because the uneven surfaces lead to various muscle problems; after dark because of all the overhanging branches and protruding shrubbery.

I know in your heart you would like to follow in the footsteps of a former mayor of Eden Prairie.  When asked why her city was successful in attracting businesses, she responded that they made Eden Prairie a nice place to live.  Sadly, doing so today is considered a cost rather than an investment in a benefit.

"Talking about walking about",
"In-Your-Face while Walking",
"Save energy! Encourage Walking!"
"Save energy! Promote Walking!"

Friday, December 10, 2010

Who took votes from whom?

In 2000, many Democrats said that Ralph Nader took votes from Al Gore in Florida making it easier for George W. Bush to become president.

In 2010, Tony Sutton, chair of the Republican Party in Minnesota, said that Tom Horner, Independence Party candidate took votes from Tom Emmer, allowing Mark Dayton to become governor of Minnesota.

Maybe both complaints are misdirected.

In either case, have they considered that many of the people who voted for the "minor" candidate might not have even voted if they hadn't had a third choice?

In the 2010 Minnesota governor case, has anyone considered that Mark Dayton might have "taken votes" from Tom Horner?  Maybe many voters would have voted for Tom Horner, but they didn't want to "throw their votes away" and allow Tom Emmer to become governor.  So, maybe they voted for Mark Dayton because they thought he was a better choice than Tom Emmer.

Unless we interview in depth every single voter, we'll never really know their motivations.  It really is presumptuous to assume to know the intent of unknown voters.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Would today's Republicans support Abraham Lincoln?

When I read Wired's "Republican Congressman Crowdsource Attack on Science", I thought of all the projects they oppose without even weighing costs and benefits.  The crowdsourcing is an attempt to get the general public to expose "waste" in federal spending, starting with the National Science Foundation.  They essentially take an apparently frivolous aspect of a project without looking any deeper into what benefits might be gained.  They have started YouCut Citizen Review.  Maybe the first cut in the federal budget should be to disband YouCut?

Would today's Republicans support Abraham Lincoln's push for a transcontinental railroad?  Especially with the huge outlay of bonds to fund it?  That would not lead to a balanced budget.

Would today's Republicans support Abraham Lincoln's handling of the Civil War?  Although today's Republicans are big on spending on the military (without any meaningful analysis of the benefits), they are also big on states' rights, the major argument leading to the Civil War.

Those special places

Today Jim Heffernan republished "That Special Christmas Place" on his blog; it was originally published in 1983.

It made me think of some of the places where I lived that don't exist anymore.  I personally saw that the house I lived in from 1947 to 1951 is no more as well as some of its neighbors.  From Google Street view I saw that an apartment building I lived in from 1951 to 1953 is gone and that a drugstore that we lived over in the early 1940s is gone.

They weren't the best houses in the world, but they were home.  I have no ownership of them and few would value them as a place the "famous" Mel Magree lived.  However, that there is a vacant lot or a parking lot where I once lived does leave a vacant spot in my heart.  I think this is so because I can't put my hands on any pictures I may have of these places and that my descendants can't go to the places as they are in my memory.

See also "Often you really can't go home".

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Don't worry, insurance will pay for it!

How often have you heard this remark?  This leads many people to see a doctor for even small problems that may go away on their own.  This also leads many providers to not be cost conscious of the work they do, at least not as cost conscious if the patient was paying out of pocket.

People rarely ask the follow-up question: who pays for insurance?  The answer is that we all do, directly or indirectly.  If we pay the premiums directly, it comes out of our pockets.  If our employer pays the premiums, its money that could go into our pocket instead or its money that has to come from the price of the goods or services sold.  If the government pays, it comes out of our taxes.

Since there are so many payers of health care, there are no real controls on the costs.  So, no controls, no limit on costs.  Up and up they go.

For some more thoughts on this, see "What Happened to U.S. Health Care Costs?" Megan McArdle, The Atlantic, 2010-12-01.

She has an interesting graph showing how U.S. health care costs diverged dramatically from the costs in other countries.

We're exceptional 'cause we say so

Thomas Friedman wrote a spoof cable from the Chinese Embassy back to Peking; it would be hilarious if it weren't so sadly true.  You can find it at "From WikiChina", New York Times, 2010-12-01.

I've always found "exceptionalism" a bit arrogant.  It's kind of grade-schoolish; "my whatever is better than your whatever!"  Does it really matter?  Can't our whatevers be our whatevers without having to be better than somebody else's?

See "I Live in the Best House in the World".

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A response to one troll

While I was preparing tuna fish salad for dinner, a picture in Wikipedia of trolling for tuna came to mind.  That lead to thinking of those who troll on the internet.  That lead to a possible response to the person who left the trolling comment about all Democrat voters being in cemeteries:  Do you have copies of their death certificates?

Why I don't open this blog for comments

I just read "Online, Anonymity Breeds Contempt", Julie Zhou, New York Times, 2010-11-30.  From it I learned the term for people who leave comments like I mentioned in "A couple examples of how some 'discourse'"; these posters are called trolls.  For more on internet trolls, see

I've seen some of the off-the-wall comments on other blogs and I've received combative phone calls and letters from complete strangers.  I decided that I'm not going to open the Irregular Blog to any of that.

Besides, I would have to read all the comments, respond when appropriate (including writing thanks), and delete comments that are inappropriate.  That means I would write even fewer blog entries, which are getting too infrequent to attract many readers.

What do you think?  If you know me, drop me a line or say something next time you see me.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

TSA is wrong target, but the only one we can reach

A major boycott may be forming against the full-body scanners of the Transportation Security Agency.  See "Viral 'pornoscan' protest challenges TSA" and

However, the TSA is only a product of decades of foreign policy failures.  The United States has been meddling in other countries affairs at a level and a time span that we would not tolerate if other countries did the same to us.  Our chickens have come home to roost.

Andrew Bacevich has been warning about our military/intelligence failures for some time, but despite the volume and popularity of his writing, he doesn't seem to be making much progress bringing about reform.  See his "The Limits of Power, The End of American Exceptionalism" and "Washington Rules, America's Path to Permanent War", and many of his magazine articles.

Maybe a boycott of air travel could bring about a major change in foreign policy.  It may seem like a win for the terrorists, but they keep winning in small ways all the time.  The burden on passengers of airport security is a big win for terrorists; they have disrupted our economy and our sense of well-being.  How long will we have to put up with terrorists before governments figure out how to permanently neutralize them without violence that creates more terrorists.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Another business not living within its means

A couple of weeks ago I bought some facial tissue on sale, thinking I was getting such a deal that I bought 2 three-packs.

Last week opened a box because an old box was almost empty.  When I put the new box next to the old box, I discovered that the new box was about 2/3 the size of the old box.  What's going on here?

Neither box contained a count, but the pack wrapper for the new boxes listed it as 132 tissues per box.  132?  What kind of count is that?  Oh, that's about 2/3 of the old count of 200.

So, Proctor & Gamble, the distributor of Puffs has effectively raised its price per tissue by over fifty percent.

I bet the board of P&G would be hollering bloody murder if government raised taxes by the same percentage.

See also

P.S. Our other favorite fresh-squeezed orange juice producer also went from 64 oz. containers to 59 oz. containers.  Maybe we'll just buy fresh oranges and get more fiber.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Jim Hightower recently asked his readers to give a different name to the Republican Party.  My favorite was Republicants.

This evening I'm at my daughter's watching more TV in an evening than I watch in a couple of months.  She and her husband like watching all the Friday night public TV news programs.  One segment included the Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate, Tom Emmer, claiming that the Democratic Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie, said that there were 20,000 more ballots cast than there were voters.  I'm not sure of the exact figure, but it was large.

OK, don't take anybody's, and I really mean anybody's, assertion as fact.  I looked for "mark ritchie" and "more ballots than voters".  I couldn't find any source other than Republican or "conservative" sites asserting this.  This doesn't mean that Ritchie didn't say it, but it certainly does make one wonder if he did say it.

Unfortunately, this seems to be a conservative strategy to make assertions without proof, repeat them often enough, and hope few challenge the assertions.  If anyone does, disparage their credentials or just ignore them.  We see this with climate change, we see it with the military, we see it with taxes, we see it with …

I am really saddened by these tactics.  First, it is no way to run a democracy or a republic.  Second, I used to be a Republican Party active member.  When Ronald Reagan was nominated for president, I saw that it was no longer my Republican Party.  About the only thing I did after that is support Arne Carlson for governor when the nominated Republican candidate self-destructed in the light of sexual improprieties involving teen-agers.

See also:

Government of whom, for whom, and by whom?
Republicans do not have "people's" support or a "mandate"
A couple examples of how some "discourse"

A couple examples of how some "discourse"

I posted a comment to "American Angst", Jeremy Siegel, Yahoo Finance, 2010-11-17,, very similar to the webmail I sent to Gail Collins about projecting how some people voted to being what all people wanted,

As of yesterday I had two replies.  I'll let you judge how germane they are to the issue of voting.  I chose not to honor them with a reply.

On vote count for Democratic Senators
Yes, but many of these folks were in cemeteries, so they had little choice.

It was not clear to only those with tin ears.
The message to all parties in the recent election was that YOU WORK FOR US. Start doing what you are suppose do or we will come after you.....elephant, donkey, green or whatever.


What neither poster seems to understand is there are a lot of people with differing views, many not in agreement with theirs.  The first demonizes these "others".  The second assumes that all the voters have an agenda that is different than that of the politicians.  What the second poster doesn't understand is that some people were willing to keep an incumbent in office and some people wanted the incumbent to be replaced.  This is true of either party.  Some incumbents of both parties were returned to office; some incumbents of both parties were not returned to office.  And far too many people didn't even care to cast a vote for or against an incumbent.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fair share or share fairly

Many say "the rich" should pay their "fair share" of taxes, but what really is a "fair share"?  I think often the argument is that since the rich have more money, they can afford to pay more taxes, and that they should pay at a higher marginal rate without a lot of gimmicks that allow some to pay even less taxes than some earning less.

I think that this is the wrong approach. What one should add up the "benefits" that the rich get for their taxes.

How often do we consider that those involved in commerce benefit from a good transportation network?  Every part of the network is paid for in full or part by taxes.  Almost all roads are paid for by taxes, local property taxes, state and federal taxes, and probably some by income taxes.  Airports are built and operated partly from landing fees and partly from taxes from all levels.

How often do we consider that those in business depend on a trained work force?  Without taxes we would have far fewer schools and a far smaller trained work force.  Kids could only go to school if their parents could afford it.  We have examples of this imbalance all over the world and even in our own country's past.

How often do we consider that business depends on a court system to settle disputes?  Some say we need "tort reform", meaning reduce the ability of individuals to sue corporations.  But does anybody consider how much corporations sue each other, sometimes resulting in settlements in billions of dollars.

How often do we consider that business depends on public safety, sanitary systems, and many other aspects of tax-supported infrastructure?  Would every business want its own fire department and security department.  If they are going to have their own security department, are they going to have their own courts and detention centers to do something with those who harm people or things on company property?

If businesses need all these government services, shouldn't they pay the taxes for them, either directly or through the income of those profiting from the business?

Many argue that "taxing the rich" limits their ability to invest and create jobs.  But how many of them are putting money into new ventures or expansion?  Or are many of them just moving money around?  The answer is both but I would say more of the latter than the former.

For those of you who have what you consider a good amount of savings, how much of it have you put into helping somebody start or expand a business?  More than likely you have put it into mutual funds, stocks, and bonds.  What happens when you invest.  Directly or indirectly you buy stocks and bonds from somebody who already owns them.  Does that money go into creating jobs?  Probably not, except for the transaction fees pay the salaries and bonuses of those working for mutual funds or brokerages.

The only real benefit of your buying stock and bonds is providing liquidity to the market.  This is necessary but it really doesn't really do that much for creating businesses and jobs.  Liquidity has many advantages but let us look at only one.  You put $1,000 into some investment.  It may go up or down, but let's assume not by much in either direction.  Now something happens to your car or house that you need about $1,000 to pay for.  Assuming you have no other savings, you want to quickly get your $1,000 back.  If there was no liquidity, you would have as much chance of getting your $1,000 back as you would have of quickly selling a film camera on eBay.

I could go on with many more "yes, but" considerations about taxing and investment.  I do hope that this little bit of text does help you consider almost all the arguments in print and on the blogs are over-simplifications of something that needs more than just taking a position.  And taking a position may be a way to invest, but it is not the way to run a country.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Republicans do not have "people's" support or a "mandate"

Gail Collins wrote "Believing in Barack", for the 2010-11-12 New York Times.  She laments that Obama has not come through on many tasks.  In it she makes the statement, "The people of America made it clear in the election that they want something done about the deficit."  I sent her the following email:

Thanks for an interesting column on your ambivalence about Barack Obama.  Much of what you wrote has some basis in what's happened.

However, you fell into the "media-bias" trap of over-generalization with "The people of America made it clear in the election that they want something done about the deficit."

The people of America made nothing clear.  34 million voted for Republican Senate candidates, 31 million voted for Democratic Senate candidates, and far too many stayed home.  If we project an estimated turnout of 40.3% to a count of total eligible voters (165 million), we then have the Republicans coming in a distant second to "None of the above", cast de facto by 96 million eligible voters.  Unfortunately, too few people actually show up to cast blank ballots, and so they are not counted.

BTW, the Republicans 34 million votes were not even a majority of the votes cast for Senate.

I do wish those who have a bigger platform than my little blog would point out more often just how many eligible voters don't show up and just how hollow claims of electoral victories are.

United States Election Project, George Mason University,
United States Senate Elections, 2010, Wikipedia,,_2010

End of email to Gail Collins

Monday, November 08, 2010

Government of whom, for whom, and by whom?

In the car I generally listen to classical music or podcasts; my wife listens to public radio news.  I had taken my car in for service and she was driving me to pick it up.  On our way, "Talk of the Nation" was on, and Neal Conan was interviewing Chris Hedges, author of "Death of the Liberal Class".

You can find an excerpt of the book and a link to the audio at

Hedges basically says that the Liberal elite has been bought out or co-opted by corporate interests and are no longer really concerning themselves with the plight of ordinary people.

As I listened to and read some of the political advertising and sloganeering in the latest election farce, I wondered can these ideas be coming from average citizens or is some small group orchestrating these ideas.

Republicans said that Rep. Jim Oberstar was out of touch with the people.  But which people - the people that voted against him, the people that voted for him, or the people who didn't even bother to vote?

Republicans said they wanted to limit the government that was encroaching on our freedoms.  Which freedoms?  The freedom to breathe clean air and drink clean water?  Or the freedom of large corporations to pollute as they please.  The freedom to have a safe workplace?  Or the freedom of large corporations to cut corners on safety at the cost of workers lives?  The freedom to have safe food and medicines?  Or the freedom of large corporations to use carcinogenic pesticides in factory farms and to limit the testing of medicines?  The freedom to obtain health care at a reasonable cost?  Or the freedom of large corporations to make large profits on health care insurance?  The freedom to have financial institutions safeguard our investments?  Or the freedom of large banks to make unregulated, risky investments and pay themselves huge amounts of our money?

An effective government provides these freedoms to people.  A bought government provides the opposing freedoms to large corporations.

It seems to me that certain corporate interests are doing their best to create a mythology of an intrusive government, both by the propaganda they put out and by the politicians they buy.

If you want a good example of how certain corporate interests are subverting rational public discussion, see "Global Warming: Man or Myth - Global Warming Denial Machine", by Prof. Scott Mandia of Suffolk County Community College.  I was lead to this article by "Scientists Join Forces in Hostile Climate", Andrew Revkin, New York Times, 2010-11-07.

Did the Republican Party die with Abraham Lincoln?  Many commentators think that his "government of the people, by the people, for the people" has already perished from the earth.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Weak economy with record profits?

I've long thought that blaming government policies for the "weak economy" has been so much hooey and that blaming the Democrats alone for all the "bad" government polices has been even more hooey.

Morgan Heusel looks at all the factors in "Why Corporate America Isn't Hiring".  He has a long list of factors including that many companies have learned they are getting just as much work from fewer employees and that older employees are staying longer.

I also note that the Star Tribune has been reporting many Minnesota MANUFACTURING companies have seen increased business, especially exports, and profits.  And so many letter writers complain, "We don't make anything in America anymore."  Hooey!

Heusel concludes with "we have a jobs crisis not because of a lack of demand, but because we're suffering from a mental recession of fear and uncertainty."

Have political parties become irrelevant?

That is a question the Independence Party of Minnesota is asking.

I'm on the Independence Party's mailing list because I contributed to a couple of gubernatorial candidates from the Independence Party in the past.  Being a "Party of One", I don't contribute to parties but I do to candidates who I believe in.

Anyhow, the rest of this entry is an edited (reduced and for typos:>) version of an interesting email I received today.  Take whatever action you feel appropriate.  But whatever you do, be sure to show up and vote on Tuesday, whether it is for certain candidates, against certain candidates, or for none of the above.  Remember, an uncast ballot is not counted, but a blank ballot is counted.

"How political parties don't matter

"Today we have witnessed a remarkably bad transformation in Minnesota's political landscape, something that has never happened before in over 160 years of state history.

"Outside political interest groups, we will call them "quasi-parties", are now overcoming the DFL and Republican parties as the dominant powers on the left and the right. Campaign finance reports filed just yesterday, show that ALLIANCE FOR A BETTER MINNESOTA, an organization on the left which aggressively attacks Republicans, has expenditures of around $5 million this year.  MINNESOTA FORWARD and MINNESOTA FUTURE, two right-wing organizations which aggressively attack Democrats, have combined expenditures of around $3 million. They are overtaking the parties which use to be the leaders on the left and right.

"What does this mean?

"It means that these groups are now the functional heads of the liberal and conservative politics in the State of Minnesota. They are now passing the parties they support, they use the ugliest attack ad politics possible, and they are not accountable to the public in any meaningful caucus or primary. If you need a Halloween tale, that is it.

"What can you do?

"Please talk to your friends from the left and right and help them understand that politics should not be about hatred and mudslinging, and then ask them to do the one thing that will prove to them what is going on. Ask them to demand that candidates from Mark Dayton and Tom Emmer on down, thoroughly reject and rebuke the actions of these groups and tell Minnesotans that this is no way to express their politics in Minnesota...and they had better be sincere (one candidate tried it earlier in the year despite knowing that family members were donating to a group).

"If your friends don't get a straight answer, ask them to consider if they are really voting for someone or against! Then tell them to vote for candidates with real ideas and solutions."

BTW, a Google search of "are blank ballots counted", without the quotes, yields over 55,000 hits.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Elections are good for the economy, let's have more

Daniel Gross wrote that elections pump a lot of money into the economy, almost all of it spent domestically.  According to Open Secrets, over $3.6 billion dollars has been spent on the 2010 campaigns as of 15:40 CDT, 26 October.  Watching their meter, I'd guess $1,000 is being spent every 13 seconds.

See Quantitative Electioneering, Yahoo!Finance, 2010-10-26.

We're getting the best candidates money can buy!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Is the People's Republic of America coming?

For over sixty years when Communists or other dictatorial groups took over a country, they tried to give a veneer that their government was a popular government: for example the People's Republic of China.  But it was not a republic and it relied more on dogma than any definable public will.

Now we hear charges in the U.S. that elected politicians are not listening to the people or that the people are angry or the people are…

But who are "the people"?  It depends on who you talk to.  "The people" are whoever agrees with the speaker, it doesn't matter what portion of the population actually agrees with the speaker.  We have the Tea Party speaking for "the People", we have the Democrats speaking for "the People", and we have the Party of One speaking for "the People".

Lost is the "We the people" of the preamble to the Constitution:

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish
Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…"

That is, "the People" work together to achieve these things, not form factions that consider all the other factions wrong.

Oh, well!  Before a decade had passed, U.S. politics was descending into charge and counter-charge, extravagant insults were begin hurled about, and much other uncivil discourse had become part of the national landscape.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Debates are no way to select candidates

It is almost mandatory for candidates for public office to debate their opponents in some public forum, whether on a TV or radio program or live in some public meeting space.

But do these debate really prove anything?  The candidates appear without notes or aides and answer impromptu questions from a moderator or members of the audience.  They are judged on how well they respond and on their grasp of the issue of the question.  But if elected, do they govern that way?

No!  Sure, there are debates in legislative sessions, but those often do not sway anybody but the folks back home.  The legislators have generally worked out what is in a bill and are merely expressing their support or opposition to it.

The real work is done in offices with plenty of aides and other research sources.  The legislators draft a bill and pass it around to colleagues who have an interest in it.  A legislator may have a bias one way or another about the issue, but he or she has to construct it in a way to maximize support for it.  This cannot be done in the two-to-five minutes allowed in a debate.

Debates also give an advantage to the glib who can come up with a plausible answer within a few seconds.  They put at a disadvantage to the thoughtful who try to consider many aspects of a problem.  We need fewer politicians like the former and more like the latter.

A much better way would be to have a public discussion on an issue, each candidate having access to research assistants to provide additional information.

Thoughtful consideration was essentially the idea of the original Roman Senate and of the original federal legislature of the United States as expressed in the Constitution.

Unfortunately, the government of both Rome and the United States degenerated into bread and circuses.  In the case of the latter, it is entitlements, earmarks, pork as bread and flashy ads and phony debates as the circuses.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Who delivers "snail mail"? You'd be surprised!

I hate the term "snail mail" because it is unfair to the post office.  It assumes using the internet is instantaneous.

The internet is not instantaneous.  First, it assumes the recipient is ready to read email at any time of day.  Some people only check their email once a week.  Second, it assumes the recipient will respond immediately.  Some people never respond; lots of companies take two to three days to respond.  Third, it assumes that any message sent is instantly available to the recipient.  Many factors can lead to delay of email.

Any of the servers involved in routing a message from sender to receiver can be overloaded and thus delay the message by minutes or hours.  A message may be sent by a third party who may take a few days to send it but with the time stamp of the original message.

This just happened to me.  I received a message from a vendor dated 16 Oct 2010 04:27:31.  However, it was sent by the third party at 20 Oct 2010 07:12:36.  The times are PDT.  The USPS generally does a better job; a first class letter put in a box before the last pickup on Saturday may be delivered Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, depending on the distance.

Worse, the address of the bulk mailer makes the email look like spam.  However, the mailer has a legitimate URL; its home page lists "Enterprise Email Marketing" as one of its services.  I guess I won't be sending this email to the Anti-Phishing Working Group.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Whatever you think of the candidates, do not stay home on election day!

I posted the following, including the above title, on a U.S. News and World Report article republished by Yahoo!Finance, "How Republicans, Too, Can Botch the Economy", Rick Newman, 2010-10-19,  I don't know if it will be published.

If you are certain of your choices on November 2, be sure to go to the polls and vote for your choices, even if your choices are down in the polls.  The polls don't vote; you do.  Remember the Dewey "won" in 1948 while Truman slept.  The polls didn't consider that many Truman supporters didn't have telephones.  What false assumptions are the polls making now?

If you are uncertain of your choices on November 2, be sure to go to the polls and turn in a vote.

Here are some guidelines for the uncertain.

What kind of message are the candidates giving?  If they are more negative about their opponents than positive about themselves, vote for the opponent.

Who is financing the candidates?  If large sums are coming from out-of-state to candidates, vote for the candidates who are getting the least from out-of-state.  I wish I could say that a few candidates refuse to accept contributions from those who have no right to vote for them, but I haven't heard of any.

If a candidate is putting large amounts of his or her own money in the campaign, consider voting for the opponent.  Do you want the best candidates money can buy or the best candidates?

If some mysterious organization is putting out ads criticizing a candidate, consider voting for the opponent.  Where is the money for the ads coming from?  Do those who provide that money have any right to vote in that election?  Again, do we want the best candidates money can buy or do we want the best candidates?

If none of these suggestions provide any satisfaction and if you don't really care for any of the candidates, you still have two choices.  You can write somebody in, but that makes a lot of work for the election judges.  You can always leave any or all of the choices on the ballot blank.

People do this all the time.  How many people cast ballots for each judge position or for the commissioner of whatsit?  What's wrong with leaving a blank ballot for governor, representative, senator, or even President?

If you don't show, your choice is NOT counted.  If you show and leave a blank ballot your choice is OFFICIALLY counted.

If those of you who don't like any of the choices on the ballot cast blank ballots, consider that a candidate coming in second to "none of the above" will not have a "mandate".  That candidate might more carefully consider how he or she governs.

Just think, "Ronald Reagan won in a landslide in 1984 but he won with a low turnout.  In fact, only 27% of the eligible voters cast their votes for Reagan.  What if the 47% who didn't vote had showed up and cast blank ballots, would there have been a Reagan Revolution?"  - "Voting is not a horse race",

Sunday, October 17, 2010

For year-round deer season, shoot from the hip

For the last few weeks of bird season, I've been hearing shots all around our cabin.  I dread deer season when there may be even more shots because deer hunting is more popular.  What frosts me the most is that I need to wear orange on my own property to protect myself from the few who pay no attention to where they're hunting.

Otherwise, I don't need to worry about when it is deer season, because I shoot deer without fear of breaking the law year round.

I shoot from the hip.  That is, I grab my compact digital camera off my belt and get as many shots as I can.  Sometimes I get a deer looking directly at the camera, sometimes  I get a bobbing white tail.  But I think I get at least six good shots a year.

I just looked up "Magree" and "deer" on Flickr; I don't have as many as I thought posted.  I'll have to review some of my recent pictures and upload them.  One is a cool one of a deer munching a twig at the roadside.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The difference between "greedy teacher unions" and "greedy CEOs"

Have you ever noticed that those who complain about "greedy teacher unions" rarely complain about CEO salaries and that those who complain about "greedy CEOs" rarely complain about teacher salaries?

Well, the teacher unions negotiate with school boards who have some idea about how much money the school district has.  The school board members are elected in often competitive elections and serve only part-time for salaries they wouldn't accept for their real jobs.

On the other hand, CEOs often have a say in who sits on the boards of their companies.  The boards are "elected" by the shareholders as a single slate chosen by the board.  The board also decides on its pay, and in order to justify its six-figure salaries for showing up for five or six meetings a year, grants the CEO seven- or eight-figure compensation.  Some companies even go into debt to maintain this compensation.

About the only way a "greedy teacher" can get a six-figure income for showing up five days a week is having a second job or writing a lot of books.

We used to be able to have very successful companies without six-figure boards and seven-figure executives.  Would we be able to have successful companies without teachers?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

People should fulfill their obligations; corporations need not?

I found this link on a Motley Fool weekly update: "Mortgage Bankers Association Strategic Default".

The video shows John Courson, President and CEO, talking about how homeowners should fulfill their mortgage obligations and not walk away from them.  However, the Mortgage Bankers Association walked away from the mortgage on its $79 million headquarters.

Maybe Jon Stewart and Comedy Central are "flaming liberals", but the Motley Fools are serious capitalists, investing their own money in various companies.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Ads for a moderate party

A coin is flipped and lands on the left side of a line.  "Heads - nobody wins."  A coin is flipped and lands on the right side of the line.  "Tails - everybody loses."  A coin is flipped, lands on edge on the line, and rolls off into the future.  "You can make the 'improbable' happen."

A person tries to budge an elephant.  The person tries to budge a donkey.  The person jumps on a horse, into a car, whatever, and goes off to the future.

Abraham Lincoln said, "As our case is new, so must we think anew."  Third party candidates have become president.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Taxes are not the only consideration for picking a retirement destination

Or picking any other place to move to.

Yahoo Finance republished a Kiplinger article, "5 Tax Factors to Consider When Picking a Retirement Destination", Mary Beth Franklin, 2010-10-06.

I added the following comment to the article.

Beware of isolating tax factors from all other considerations.  Maybe you'll pay less taxes in the State of Bliss but less taxes could mean slower response times by fire departments.  Slower response times may mean higher insurance costs.  Less taxes could mean less road repair.  Less road repair could mean more auto repair costs.  Less taxes could mean less regulatory oversight.  Less regulatory oversight could mean higher electricity costs.  This could mean you pay more for air-conditioning in your retirement home than you paid for heating in your previous home.

Tax factors are only one part of the two really important considerations: the cost of living and the quality of life.  Look at the big picture.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

How to get serious about "throwing the bums out"?

If you are tired of the same old, same old with politicians, no matter what the party, you have a choice but few exercise it.  Vote for none of the above, whether it's on the ballot or not.

You can do this in on of two ways.  Write in a candidate of your choice or leave that particular item blank.

I remember reading that a hippo in a Brazilian zoo once got more votes than any of the candidates on the ballot.  I would recommend writing in Mickey Mouse, but we should consider the vote counters.  They work long hours, and they don't need to count hundreds of write-in votes.

If you leave a particular choice blank, then that will reduce the percentage of votes for all candidates.  That means if enough voters leave a choice blank, the leading candidate may get less than 50% of votes.  That would hardly be a mandate.

However, if you do neither of the above and stay home, the leading candidate may get 52% of the vote and claim a "mandate" from "the voters".

My wife just said that we need to get into the popular vernacular "A blank ballot is a vote for change!"

Let's make this idea viral!  Pass on this entry or its link to as many friends as you think would be receptive to politics as unusual.

More on follow the money

Bob Herbert wrote a good one how raising corporate money seems more important to many politicians than governance.  He focuses on John Boehner, Republican representative from Ohio ("That's where the money is", New York Times, 2010-10-05).

One of the best comments to the article was "The Republican Moral Compass looks like a Salvadore Dali painting."

I would have added a comment on showing up to vote no matter how you cast your vote, even leaving a blank ballot, but comments were already closed.

keywords: campaign finance reform, corporations as person, elections, best politicians money can buy

Businesses don't live within their means; why should government?

"Minn. Power granted 11% rate increase" is a headline on the front page of today's Duluth News Tribune.

Hm!  If government is supposed to "live within its means", shouldn't businesses?  If taxpayers are paying too much taxes, then aren't ratepayers paying too much?

Minnesota Power justified the rate increase "to pay for investments in reducing emissions,…" and to pay for a transmission line for wind-generated electricity.

On the other hand, government isn't supposed to raise taxes for investments in education and transportation infra-structure.  Is business going to step in and make these investments?  It certainly needs an educated work force and transportation to move goods and services.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Financing the post office, where are the strict constructionists?

Once again, with the changing means of communicating, the U. S. Postal Service is in financial trouble.  Many think it shouldn't be subsidized but privatized.  This can lead to some Constitutional fun.

The U. S. Constitution merely says that "The Congress shall have the power … to establish Post Offices and post Roads;…"

Does "establish" mean "set up" or "operate"?  How is it financed?  Should it be self-funded or are Post Offices" part of the "General Welfare"?

All we know is at the time of the writing of the Constitution, the only means of communicating were either face-to-face or putting words on paper and sending them to other people.  One of the means of putting words on paper was called "newspapers", and the Founders considered newspapers so important to having an informed citizenry that they subsidized the postal delivery of newspapers (Post Office Act of 1792).  So, from the beginning, the Post Office was not self-supporting and was not intended to be.

The writers of the Constitution did not foresee the telegraph, the telephone, the Teletype, radio, television, and the Internet; all means of expanding the distribution of information (or misinformation).  Maybe the Internet should be subsidized to have an informed citizenry.  Of course, it is subsidized in a way.  Government organizations from local to international provide websites for public access to information.  But these sites are maintained by government employees.

We do have a slightly subsidized Internet - it's called public libraries, many which have free, albeit limited, access to the Internet.  Of course, free libraries and free Internet require taxes, which we can have none of.

What a long way we've come from
“However firmly liberty may be established in any country, it cannot long subsist if the channels of information be stopped,” Massachusetts Senator Elbridge Gerry stated in his fierce defense of providing federal subsidies to newspaper postal distribution in 1792.
– "The History of Transparency – Part 1: Opening the Channels of Information to the People in the 18th Century"

BTW, we have the wish to limit information all over the political map.  The Obama administration want to get authority to eavesdrop on the Internet.  See "U.S. Tries to Make It Easier to Wiretap the Internet", Charlie Savage, New York Times, 2010-09-27.

Again, where are the strict constructionists?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Muslims do speak out against "Islamic" violence

Several letter writers to newspapers have complained that Muslims are silent about the violence of "Islamic" terrorists, but is the whole Muslim world really silent?  I think these critics aren't reading the likes of Al-Jazeera and Dawn, both available in English online.

I found an example of the concern of Muslims about violence by Muslims in an article about the conviction of Aafia Siddiqui in U.S. courts, Dawn Editorial, 2010-09-25.
"Denialism embedded deep in the public psyche has allowed the real threat to the Pakistani state and society, religious extremism, to grow to dangerous proportions. The ‘impossibility’ of a Muslim committing a crime against another Muslim or the sympathy extended towards those who resort to violence against the West as ‘retaliation’ for its crimes against Islam and Muslims serve to obfuscate the campaign by a militant, fringe minority to hijack a religion of peace. The cancer within grows, ironically even as it is occasionally held up as a symbol of heroic resistance. If the government can, it must try and bring Aafia Siddiqui back to Pakistan, given the unsatisfactory conclusion to her trial. But long after the story of Dr Siddiqui will eventually fade, Pakistan will still be faced with an internal enemy it has not even begun to comprehend."
Also see "Siddiqui's 'missing years', Stories differ over the whereabouts of Pakistani scientist between 2002-2008".  This doesn't read like a one-sided headline that Siddiqui must be innocent because a U.S. court said she was guilty.

You can also read a long Wikipedia article about Siddiqui.   It is a complex story.

Whatever the facts in the case, ask yourself how you would feel and act if the Chinese invaded the U.S., if they captured you as a "terrorist", and if they tried you in Beijing.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Losing money by avoiding taxes

On NPR's "All Things Considered" we heard an interview with a businessman who said he was reluctant to hire any new employees because of the uncertainty of the tax rate changes.  I immediately thought, "What do tax rates have to do with hiring?  Either the costs are covered by sales or not.  Taxes will be on the net income, not costs.  Doesn't this guy know accounting?"  So, I made up a scenario and ran the numbers.

Suppose a new employee would be paid $20,000 a year.  Payroll taxes, health insurance, and so forth could be $10,000 a year.  Materials for the employee to do his or her work might cost $10,000 a year.  The employer would then have to have $40,000 a year in additional sales to break even.  Taxes would not be an issue.

Suppose that the employer makes $44,000 in additional sales a year because of hiring the new employee.  That gives $4,000 additional net income.  If the company is an S corporation, then the $4,000 passes on to the employer's income, not the $44,000 in additional sales.

If the marginal rate for the employer's personal income tax was 30%, then his or her additional tax would be $1,200 leaving $2,800 extra income.  If the rate was 35%, then the additional tax would be $1,400, leaving $2,600.

So, this employer would give up over $2,000 in extra income to avoid paying $200 more in taxes in his "worst case" scenario.

I ran this scenario by my daughter who is a partner in and president of her own company.  The only thing she said was that most companies would want to have a 200% return in sales per each new employee rather than a 110% return.  That is, if a new employee cost $40,000 per year, then sales should increase $80,000, rather than $44,000 I propose.  If so, that is lot of extra income to throw away to avoid paying additional taxes.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

How to win in politics

"Winning is the important thing. Giving speeches is not a matter for average minds, but rather a matter for practitioners. They are not supposed to be lovely or theoretically correct. I do not care if I give wonderful, aesthetically elegant speeches, or speak so that women cry. The point of a political speech is to persuade people of what we think right. I speak differently in the states than I do in Washington, and when I speak in Chicago, I say different things than I say in the party caucus. That is a matter of practice, not of theory. We do not want to be a movement of a few straw brains, but rather a movement that can conquer the broad masses. Speeches should be popular, not intellectually pleasing. It is not the task of speeches to discover intellectual truths."

Does that seem to you how our politicians come across?  Think of all the catch phrases that have been thrown out to catch votes - Obamacare, government off our backs, tax the rich, live within its means, working families, and on and on.  "They" all do it.  They don't want the truth, intellectual or otherwise, they want our votes.

Now guess who said something very close to the above quote.

Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the minister of propaganda of the Nazi government of Germany.  For the translated original speech, see

Saturday, September 18, 2010

If Republicans are for the people, then why…

Are they opposed to a consumer protection agency?  Aren't consumers people and people consumers?

Could it be that Republicans are really for corporations and the people be damned except for their votes?  Come on, Mel, isn't that a bit cynical?  Oh, wait, corporations are now people with the right to make political contributions.  Of course, let's follow the money.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Why gas prices go up faster than down

How often have you heard the complaint that gas prices go up faster than when they go down?  Especially after the latest pipeline break in Illinois.

Consider how wholesale gas or any high turnover products are purchased. 

Merchants pay for product with some of today's receipts.  In order to buy more product tomorrow, they need to raise prices PDQ.

Conversely, when prices go down they want to make up for some of the smaller margins they had as prices went up and to provide some protection against prices going up again.

If the rate of prices going up matched the rate of prices coming down, we would probably be very upset when our favorite station ran out of gas.

An ad for candidates with deep-pocket opponents

I thought up the following after reading about Meg Whitman spending $119 million of her own money for the California gubernatorial campaign:

Do you want the be$t candidate money can buy,
or do you want the best candidate.

BTW, I think it was Meg Whitman who said we needed candidates with experience in the real world.  Gosh, I wish I lived in her "real world".

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"The Media" is biased, but not the way many think it is

"The Media" is some mythical beast devouring the minds of people with slanted information.  Slanted is often in the mind of the complainant.  Too often the charge is "The Media" is "too liberal".  I've observed "too liberal" often means "The Media" doesn't emphasize a supposedly "conservative" view sufficiently according to the view of the complainants.

I think "The Media" gives too much coverage to views of all kinds that are based more on emotion than on fact, irrespective of where on the "political spectrum" they may be.

"The Media" reinforces the emotional impact of its coverage with a different, more worrisome bias.  A bias towards economy of words and away from nuance.  Just think of some of the headlines:

Angry voters
Consumers hold tight to their wallets
Investors were buoyed/dejected by …
Americans think…

These headlines convey "all voters", "all consumers", "all investors", or "all Americans" are acting as one.  What we rarely know is if the implied "all" should be replaced by "most", "many", or "some".  Sometimes we can read deep into an article that a poll claims that 45% of respondents answered with view A, 40% answered with view B, and 15% had no opinion.  That certainly doesn't justify a headline "People hold view A".

Oh, yeah!  It's probably even more problematic.  Few polls admit how many people hung up without responding.

For more of my rants on generalization, see "General Ization Battles Truth".

Malice in Wonderland

Political discourse is often filled with exaggeration, both of the efficacy of one's own plans and of the deficiency of an opponent's plans.  Too often discourse also generates into calling into question the character and purpose of one's opponents.  And too often the rhetoric gets way off the mark.

I think Obama is engaging in wishful thinking that the various initiatives he proposes are going to create jobs.  Far too many of the jobs that match the "skill sets" of many workers are gone, not to return anywhere in the world.  Obama's opponents are engaging in wishful thinking that tax cuts will create jobs that match those "skill sets".  Sorry, folks, but investment is going to the jobs of tomorrow, not the jobs of yesterday.

Interestingly, both "sides" claim to be in support of the people.  But which people?  Republican John Weaver claims that victory will be given to the Republicans "by an out-of-touch, big spending president." ("GOP is riding a tiger in Tea Party movement", Star Tribune, 2010-09-16)  My question is which people is Obama out of touch with.  Certainly not all the people.  Almost all of the elections are a bit over one-third of the people voting for one party, a bit under one-third voting for the other party, and one-third of the people not voting at all.  Results may vary by electoral district.  Projecting results like these to a mandate of the "people" is living in Wonderland.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The beginning of the end of the open primary?

With the election of Tea Party-backed Christine O'Donnell as the Republican candidate for U.S. Senator for Delaware, some of the Republican establishment see less hope in taking control of the Senate.  Conversely, some Democrats have reinvigorated their campaigns with attacks on Tea Party-backed Republican candidates.

O'Donnell claims she doesn't need "the support of Washington Republicans" and will "harness the power of 'the people' to defeat her Democratic opponent in November."
- "The Morning After: Whose Party Is it?" Michael D. Shear, New York Times, 2010-09-15.

But who are the "people" that supported her in the primary?  Are they members of the Republican Party who give of their time and money to the Party?  Are they people who only say they are Republicans and only show up at election time?  Are they "independents" who voted for her on a lark?  Are they Democratic sympathizers who think O'Donnell will be easy to defeat in November?

Come November we will see how many "moderates" and "independents" reject Tea Party-backed candidates.  If many of these candidates lose, there may be a push for closed primaries.  On the other hand, "moderates" and "independents" may not even vote because they dislike both candidates.  If so, we could be looking at two more years of Congressional gridlock.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Who's a sexist?

At coffee and at the barber's I asked the one about the barber who shaved all the men in town who didn't shave themselves.  Who shaved the barber?  My barber answered, "the barber".  The usual response is that it is a contradiction; I've long held that the barber is a woman.

My barber replied with a man and his son were in a car crash.  The father was killed but the son was rushed to the hospital.  The doctor walked out of the operating room and said, "I can't operate; the patient is my son."  Who is the boy's father.  I replied, "The doctor is the boy's mother."

I told this to my wife when I got home, and she puzzled over an answer.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Weak economy? Which economy is weak?

Many people complain about the economy being weak, but have many stopped to think that certain segments were bound to become weak?  And if certain segments have become weak, might other segments have become strong?

Consider the booming sales of iPods, iPhones, smart phones, DSL subscriptions, wireless subscriptions, and on and on.  Airlines are making a mint on their extra fees – to some people's displeasure and to other people's pleasure.  Regional activities of all kinds are drawing people to the events and local merchants.

What has become weak is more of the same.  Cars are built to last longer and cars are built with less labor.  People are staying in their houses longer and not moving so frequently; that means less turnover and that means fewer home sales.

What has become weak is credit card purchases.  Not that people have stopped using credit cards, but many have stopped using their credit cards as indefinite loans.  In other words, more people have become "dead beats" – people who pay off their current balance every month.  That certainly cuts into the profits of credit card companies and banks and the sales of all kinds of businesses

Businesses are still being started.  Both the Duluth News Tribune and the Star Tribune feature new or growing businesses every week.  These owners have found products and services that people want to pay for.  In a world of iPods it will be difficult to sell lots of CDs.

We do have to recognize that life has become difficult for many people.  And business "efficiencies" and "no new taxes" governments are making matters worse.  If businesses and governments lay off employees, then there will be fewer consumers to buy goods and services.  If there are fewer consumers to buy goods and services, there will be fewer sales and taxes.  If there are fewer sales and taxes…

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Vote for Dayton, Emmer, Horner, or nobody; but VOTE!

I left the following comment on a Star Tribune editorial, "This November, the choice is not either/or".

Whatever you do in November, vote one of four ways according to what you believe, not what the polls say.  Remember 1998 when the poll rankings were Humphrey, Coleman, and Ventura.  The election rankings were Ventura, Coleman, and Humphrey.

Four ways, what fourth way?  The fourth way is to not be a stay-away.  If you don't like any of the three candidates, vote anyway with a blank ballot.  If you leave a blank ballot for governor your vote is counted.  If you stay away, your vote is not counted.

If everybody who stayed away in 1980 and many other elections had cast a blank ballot, the winner would have come in second to none-of-the-above.  There would not be any trumpeting about a landslide with less than 30 percent of the eligible voters casting a vote for the "winner".  When this happens, we are all losers.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ku Klux Klan = Al Qaeda?

Too many people think Islam is a violent religion because of the actions of a few.  But one could think the same of Christianity.  Does the Ku Klux Klan or Torquemada represent Christianity?

The Ku Klux Klan terrorized "uppity niggers" for a long list of imagined crimes and terrorized whites from opposing the Ku Klux Klan.  The Klan used the cross as its symbol and even corrupted it by burning crosses in the yards of those who opposed them.  They purported to be defending Christianity, but it wasn't the religion of Jesus.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban terrorize all those who don't agree with them for a long list of imagined crimes.  They have used the Koran as their symbol, but ignore all those parts that don't fit their rigid view.

The Grand Inquisitor Torquemada tortured many people on real or imagined threats to Catholicism.  Jews, Muslims, and Protestants were tortured to get them to confess to not following the "true belief".  Torquemada worked with the blessing of King Phillip of Spain; religious orthodoxy was a means to quell dissent with his policies.

The Iranian government tortures many on real or imagined threats to Islam or its national security.  But isn't it behaving like King Phillip?  Religious orthodoxy is a means to quell dissent with its policies.

There are far too many historical cases of "bad apples" of any major religion; it makes it very easy to argue that any religion is violent.

What doesn't make the news is the multitude of people of all religious faiths who follow the example of the Good Samaritan, offering help to those in need regardless of differences.  On the one hand we have Afghans offering tea to American soldiers who broke down their doors; on the other hand we have Americans sending money to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees for Pakistani flood victims.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Your tax cuts at work

The cartoonists of "The Wizard of Id" couldn't have said it any better.  See

Or given some of the news items this week, Congress fiddles while homes burn.

Peace quote of the day

"All the work that Beyond the 11th has done in Afghanistan over nine years has cost less than keeping a single American soldier in Afghanistan for eight months."

Beyond the 11th is an organization founded by two 9/11 widows to help women in Afghanistan.  To read the full column, see "The Healers of 9/11", Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, 2010-09-08.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Cut! A story of two movies

On Saturday we rented two movies to take to our cabin: Chris Rock's "I Think I Love My Wife" and Helen Hunt's "Then She Found Me".

I liked Chris Rock in "Head of State" and thought we would have quite a chuckle with this one.  In "I Think I Love My Wife", Rock comes across as a nice, well-meaning guy with a good job.  His problem is that his wife is only interested in sex when she wants to have another baby; they already have two children.  Then Nikki appears from his past, sweet talks him into signing a recommendation letter that he didn't even read, and persuades him to have lunch with her.  Over lunch she starts asking lots of personal questions, including about his sex life.  Cut!

"Then She Found Me" is about a school teacher who marries at 39 to a guy who turns out to be gay and leaves her.  Her grousing adoptive mother dies, and another woman appears who claims to be her birth mother.  The birth mother invites the school teacher to lunch.  The mother starts asking lots of probing questions while bubbling over how glad she was to find her daughter.  Cut!

Why cut?  It was the manipulation.  In "I Think I Love My Wife", we just knew that Nikki was going to draw him into deeper and deeper trouble at home and at work.  In "Then She Found Me" we wondered if this was some scam being played on the school teacher or if it wasn't just a bit too cloying.  Enough!

Oh, the advantage of renting DVDs, especially at senior rates - $1.08 each.  If we had been in a movie theatre or had rented them from Netflix, we would have sat through to the bitter end.  Oh, well, there is probably a happy ending in both cases, but it would have been a tense wait for the happy ending.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

We've already been taken over by a foreign power

Many on the right claim to be for a strong defense.  But a defense against what?  After nine years of a strong defense against guys in sandals with rocket launchers, we haven't moved much closer to peace.  Many say that fighting these guys in sandals is going to protect our freedoms.

Are these guys in sandals going to take away our freedom of speech?  Or is it somebody hidden in plain sight who is controlling the debate.

Are these guys in sandals going to take away our freedom of the press?  Or is it somebody hidden in plain sight who is controlling a large part of the so-called mainstream media?

Are these guys in sandals going to take away our freedom of assembly?  Or is it somebody hidden in plain sight who gets police to keep those who dissent away from  the meetings of his fellow travelers (or is it dupes)?

Are these guys in sandals going to take away our freedom of religion?  Or is it somebody hidden in plain sight who gets people riled up about people who have the same religion as the guys in sandals claim to have?

Do these guys in sandals have any serious chance of invading our country and taking it over and denying us our freedom?  Yeah, a few of them can cause some serious damage in a few places, but is that damage that much greater in sum than the damage we have caused in their countries in the name of our freedom?

We have already been invaded by a foreign power hiding in plain site who with a few fellow travelers is playing many of our citizens as puppets to do his will.

Who is this foreign power?  Rupert Murdoch, a native of Australia, who controls News Corporation, which controls Fox News, which controls Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, who frame the debate.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Why do we have "out-of-control" government spending?

One reason is our state of permanent war.  Wars as envisioned by the bright minds of the Pentagon bureaucracy and the best Congress money can buy don't come cheap.

In 2009, The Washington Post reported that the war in Afghanistan was costing two billion dollars a month ("Obama Plans More Funding For Afghan War", Karen DeYoung, 2009-03-27  Gosh, if Afghanistan has a population of 28.4 million, that means the U.S. could just give every man, woman, and child in Afghanistan $70/month or $840/year.  That's pretty damn good for a country with a gross national per capita income of $250/year (

Ironically, many of the deficit hawks are for a "strong defense", but against foreign aid and taxes.

A second reason is that we vote for Congressional candidates who will "bring home the bacon" to our districts.  Alaska is home to a large number of anti-tax people, but Alaskans get more per capita in federal money than in any other state.  Isn't bacon another form of pork?

Or maybe it is that not enough of us vote.  If 25-40% of the registered (or eligible) voters don't bother to show up, we are going to have candidates elected by a plurality rather than a majority.  And we are going to be left with candidates who either want to spend a gazillion on wars and pork or want to spend a gazillion on social programs and pork.

National Security? The emperor and his clothes

This morning at coffee, various wars came up in the conversation.

I mentioned Andrew Bacevich and his books, especially "Washington Rules, America's Path to Permanent War".  I said that the Department of Defense has become a vast bureaucracy where few question many of the assumptions.  It's another case of nobody noticing the emperor has no clothes.

A World War II veteran, shot down over France, hidden by the Resistance, and smuggled out through Spain, said, "Department of Defense!  It should be called the Department of Offense!"

Later, another person who comes up with many good puns, which unfortunately we soon forget, asked, "Does an immortal emperor have no closure?"

If the national security bureaucracy thinks it is immortal in its path to permanent war, we certainly will have no closure.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Grading teachers, there you go again!

See "Method to Grade Teachers Provokes Battles", Sam Dillon, New York Times, 2010-08-31.

Supposedly somebody's come up with a way to accurately grade teacher performance, but others find many flaws in applying the measures.

However, the major flaw is that teacher performance can be measured on how students perform on standardized tests.  Passing tests is not what made this country great; it was learning to be creative.

Furthermore, if you look back at your own education, which teachers do you think were most effective.  Those who prepared you for tests or those who put a dream in your head?  Who do you remember best?  Miss Grumpy who made you an expert on parsing sentences?  Or Frank McCourt who taught you how to tell your own story?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Do we have a democracy or a plutocracy? Follow the money!

It has long bothered me that the Republican Party has morphed from a "big-tent party" to a "lock-step party".  Instead of being a party that discusses ideas to reach some consensus that fits the party's ideals, the Republican Party has become a party of the checklist.  If you don't agree with each and every item on the checklist, then you are a RINO, Republican In Name Only.

A party with a definite agenda that gets many people to agree with it has an advantage of a party that has a wide range of opinions.  Not every Democrat gets up in arms to save the whales or feels that the world will end if gay marriage is not legalized.  But, because these "wafflers" belong to a party who has a large number of people who support these issues, they have more difficulty defending themselves against a party in lockstep.

It has also bothered me how quickly items can be added to the checklist.  This is not a hallmark of a grassroots movement.  A grassroots movement, at least in a democracy, would be discussing the issues and forming some consensus about them.  This doesn't happen overnight.

Of course, we do have the Glenn Becks and the Rush Limbaughs who have many of their fans at their beck and call.  But somebody has to have an organization that translates these ideas into action.  Or, maybe somebody has an organization that feeds ideas to Beck and Limbaugh.  That is, maybe Beck and Limbaugh are at some hidden figure's or figures' beck and call.

I was overwhelmed when I read "The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party" by
Frank Rich, New York Times, 2010-08-28.  He wrote about how the Koch brothers of Koch Oil have been founding and funding libertarian groups to promote their laissez-faire ideas.  Not only should we follow the money, we should follow the associations.  Some employees of Koch Oil sit on the boards of these "independent" groups.

When you have ten minutes, I suggest that you read Frank Rich's column.

When you have an hour, I suggest you read one of his references,  "Covert Operations: The Billionaire Brothers Who Are Waging War Against Obama", Jane Mayer, New Yorker,

When you have a week or two, I suggest you read one of her references, "Merchants of Doubt", Naomi Oreskes, which "chronicles various attempts by American industry to manipulate public opinion on science".  Hm!  Is "junk science" any science that is contrary to somebody's short term interests.

This all makes me think of Robert Heinlein's "The Puppet Masters", an alien race that attached themselves to the backs of human beings and made them do their will.  In this case we have a plutocracy attaching itself to people's minds making the people believe they are defending democracy.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Salt of the girth

When we came back in 1974 from six years of living in Europe, we were struck by how salty much of American food was.  Thirty-six years later, we still think most American food is too salty.

We bought some roast turkey from a deli for tonight's supper.  My wife decided not to eat it because it was too salty; she opted for her own brown rice and black bean concoction instead.  So I'll have her turkey tomorrow and she'll have my brown rice and black beans.

She is fussy about where we have pizza; a couple of pizzerias are off her list because their pizzas are too salty.

One day a week I used to have a three-egg omelet, home-made muffins, plus breakfast sausage from the local supermarket.  Then the sausage seemed a lot saltier.  I mentioned it to the meat cutters, but the salt content seemed to stay the same.  Now I just have the omelet and muffins.  I put no salt on the omelet and my wife says that she makes the muffins 24 at a time with a half teaspoon of salt for the batch.

For several years I've said that excess salt belongs in two places - on the rim of a margarita glass and on pretzels.  I can't even remember the last margarita I had, but I like to have some pretzels with wine before dinner.  Also olives.

A couple of weeks ago I had one leg swell up to a third larger than the other.  I didn't hurt much but it was an anomaly.  My wife called the nurse online who recommended I go into urgent care the next day, a Saturday.  In the morning the swelling had subsided and I decided to just watch it.  The following week it swelled up again, and I called for an appointment with my regular doctor.  By the time I saw him the swelling had gone down again.

I thought it might be excessive salt and mentioned it to him.  I said I had the wine, pretzels, and olives most nights.  He couldn't find anything abnormal, but recommended that I get an ultrasound.  He also said watch the salt.

The ultrasound was negative.  Total charge: $690!

I started thinking about my activity or lack thereof.  I have been very involved in family history research and just get carried away sitting in front of the computer looking at record after record, finding new stuff or confirming old stuff.  Maybe I'm just cutting off my circulation.  I also have the chair rather high because my computer is on a rather high table.  I've lowered the chair and try to get up more frequently.  The swelling has not come back in a big way.

I also decided to check my salt intake.  For the most part, we eat very few processed foods.  I won't bore you with a list of the salt content of various foods that I do eat, but for what I could find of sodium content for the foods I do eat, my intake was 96% of the daily value.

The sodium percentages were surprising.  For olives and pretzels, no.  But 1/2 cup of low-fat yoghurt was 3%; a few "baby" carrots, 3%.  The big surprise was a 2-1/2 inch slice of French bread was 14%!!!

If I eat French bread, I often have two servings, 28% of the daily value for sodium.  But I don't eat French bread very often, and so that gets me down to 82% of the daily value of sodium.  And my doctor wants me to watch my salt?!?

Joan D. Vinge wrote a series of science fiction novels starting with "The Winter Queen".  A persistent theme in some of the later values is when a distant super computer is asked for information, it responds with, "Ask the right question."

And that theme is something for a different blog entry.