Friday, January 29, 2010

Rhyming with filibuster

Yesterday's Star Tribune had an op-ed article based on Yeats and the current political situation where there seems to be no center. The author asked what rhymes with filibuster.

How about philobluster? Love of bluster. To me, filibuster seems more bluster than substance.

Philobluster is not original with me. I did think of it independently today, but there are nine references on the web.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Federal government has no corner on bureaucracy

In December I signed up for online bill pay for our cabin telephone. Last month I received an email that my online bill was ready, I went online and paid it. A few days later I received the paper bill in the mail. This situation was repeated this month

I emailed that phone company about it. The response was, "It takes 2 to 3 billing cycles before you stop receiving paper statements." Maybe I could paraphrase this as, "It takes 2,000 to 3,000 customer suggestions before a company stops wasteful practices."

See also "The Federal Government Has No Corner on Bureaucracy", Reader Weekly, 2008-01-03.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

We're sorry, Wall Street???

For a marvelous piece of sarcasm, read, "Dear Wall Street, We're sorry" by David Weidner, MarketWatch, 2010-01-26, subtitled "How the Little Guy Ruined Wall Street".

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Quote of the day

Charles M. Blow wrote an interesting commentary in "Mobs Rule", New York Times, 2010-01-22. He wrote that "many see Barack Obama as a left-leaning version of George W. Bush: just another out-of-touch emperor." He concluded with Obama's "agenda will suffer now that the emperor has no cloture."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Senate seat of the people of Massachusetts?

Scott Brown, the newly elected United States Senator for Massachusetts, called his new position "the people's seat", "G.O.P. Senate Victory Stuns Democrats", New York Times, 2010-01-20. I read somewhere that he called it not a Kennedy seat, not a Democrat seat, but "the seat of the people of Massachusetts".

But how can it be "the seat of the people of Massachusetts" when so much money and time pour into Massachusetts for both candidates? I would say that outsiders determined the vote almost as much as the people who actually voted.

Scott Brown and the Republicans should be careful about congratulating themselves about the election. The turnout was 55 percent of the 4.1 million registered voters. That means that Scott Brown came in second to none of the above: forty-five percent of the registered voters didn't think the election was that important, twenty-eight percent voted for Brown, and twenty-six percent voted for Martha Coakley, and less than one percent actually took the trouble to vote for neither of the two major-party candidates.

Given that many commentators think Brown's 52-47 percent win over Coakley was a strong rebuke of the Democrats, I think they really should look at the 45-28-26 percent "win" for "none of the above" should be looked at as a strong rebuke of the political system in general.

Fighting back on the overturning of corporate campaign spending

The Supreme Court overturned precedent about granting "political speech" to corporations, unions, and other organizations, "Justices Overturn Key Campaign Limits", New York Times, 2010-01-21.

I find it very interesting that the "conservatives" who were appointed by presidents from a party that proclaims it is for individual liberty gives greater liberty to corporate interests.

We can't do much about various groups promoting or panning candidates, especially candidates for whom few of the members of the group can vote. But we can refuse to vote for candidates who accept contributions from groups or from people who have no right to vote for that candidate. And we can let them know why we won't vote for them.

Too often we as a people make voting an either/or proposition; we must vote for one of the major party candidates or we will be "throwing our vote away". It is way past time to stand up and be counted in a different way.

If any candidate for whom you might vote accepts contributions from those who can't vote for him or her, write and tell that candidate that you will vote for somebody else or leave that spot on the ballot blank. Maybe you will make no difference for an election cycle or two, but we have to start someplace. If you tell your friends and relatives what you did, if you write letters to the editor about what you did, maybe, just maybe the idea will catch on.

If you vote for the same old, same old, is it really democracy? Real democracy starts with individuals making their voices heard, not with sheep following the herd.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I wish I had written that about taxes

Myles Spicer had a good op-ed piece about taxes in today's Star Tribune, see

He dispels many of the myths about high taxes including businesses moving because of taxes, the relative rate of U.S. taxes to other countries and of Minnesota taxes to other states, the efficiency of government, and the effect on economic growth.

Although he too doesn't like taxes, he appreciates the things that taxes provide.

He made my day!

Morgan Freeman is quoted in the January/February AARP Magazine as wanting to be like Clint Eastwood when Freeman grows up.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Guess who is a capitalist?

Many in the calamitist side of "liberals" decry capitalism as if it were some evil force out to destroy the world.*

Is this so-called capitalism really capitalism or is it management hi-jacking a company? Upper management controls the company even though they have no or few shares in the company. They appoint other corporate managers to serve on their boards. Then they grant themselves and the board members shares in the company, or at a minimum give them a well-below market price for the shares.

Have you thought that your neighbors may be the real capitalists? What about the people that do lawn-mowing for a living? Nobody is going to cut grass with a pair of shears on their hands and knees. Nobody is going to cut grass with a scythe (I saw this being done in Budapest in 1974). Few are going to cut grass with a push mower. Anybody cutting grass as a job is going to have a power mower or two or three. Having a power mower requires capital.

Because few could make a living mowing grass within walking distance of their home, they will need a truck to haul their mower around. Having a truck requires capital.

Some jobs will require different kinds of mower. More capital for more mowers and more capital for a trailer to haul several mowers. Oh, yes, mowers need gasoline. Capital buys gasoline.

In northern climes snow covers grass part of the year. To keep cash flow going, our lawn-mowing capitalists have to also clear snow. The equipment to clear snow requires capital.

Capitalism permeates many trades: carpenters, plumbers, and electricians. These tradespeople generally don't work for large corporations, but themselves, their families, or small companies. They need capital for their tools and materials.

Capitalism is part of all small businesses - the coffee shops, the restaurants, the shoe repair shops, the web designers, the free lance programmers, the free lance photographers, the small farmers, …

If we didn't have individuals practicing capitalism, who would create innovative stuff? Would we have Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak creating new computers in a garage? Would we have Bill Gates selling his BASIC? Selling software!!?? How uncooperative!! Would we have Earl Bakken creating Medtronic? We can't wait for government or for large corporations to do these things.

The next time somebody criticizes "Capitalism" ask them to explain what they mean. Ask them how an individual can start a business without capital. If an individual starts a business, is that a bad thing because that individual is a capitalist?

* For more on "calamitists" see Climate change and so-called bipartisanship.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cutting health care costs, one economist's view

The "Naked Economist", Charles Wheelan, bared his soul and writings to the slings and arrows of his critics with "Here's how we can cut health care costs" published on Yahoo! Finance, 2010-01-11

The bureaucracy doesn't want the truth

Whether it's a government or a corporate bureaucracy, it sometimes doesn't want the truth, but the "right" answer.

I've put myself in this bind because of some passwords or secret question answers I've created. Rather than creating a "true" answer, I've created misleading answers. So if I'm asked a secret question, I can't give the true answer, I may only give the right answer, which I may have forgotten!!

For more on this, see "The True Answer and The Right Answer", Stanley Fish, New York Times, 2010-01-11.

They sang better than I would

Yesterday I led the first session of the University for Seniors study group "Singing for the Singing-Impaired". Well, none of the participants were singing-impaired and certainly none were shy.

Too boot, I still had a bad cough and could only get through the first two or three songs.

I used a computer-driven, MIDI-played, and video displayed words and notes, a cappella "call and response", and YouTube.

If you're still thinking about joining us, we sang "Happy Birthday", "I knew an old lady", "Do Re Mi" from "Sound of Music", "Dough, the stuff I need to buy beer", "Auld Lang Syne", "Yankee Doodle", "Aura Lee" and its reincarnation "Love Me Tender", "This Land is Your Land", "Clementine", "Pop Goes the Weasel", and "We Shall Overcome".

All that signed-up but two showed up. We'll see how many return next week. We still could use more lower voices.

For more about the study group, see "Are you timid about singing?"

Why do I go to the fitness center?

I go so I have energy to shovel snow.

Why do I stop shoveling snow? So I have energy to go to the fitness center.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Are you timid about singing?

While I was sitting in church I thought that I should put an announcement about the study group I'll be leading, “Singing for the Singing-impaired”, in the University for Seniors announcements. Maybe because it was Poetry Sunday I started thinking in verse. Then it was announced that poems were welcome from those not on the program. I read mine, and surprise, I received applause as well as laughter.
When singing begins in the house,
Do you want to hide like a mouse?
When songs ring out in a bar,
Do you try to be afar?
When voices raise in a house of worship,
Do you look for ways out the door to slip?
You need fear no more,
Singing is no chore!
Join Singing for the Singing-Impaired;
You will be very glad that you dared!
And if you voice is lower,
You will help our group flower.
Singing for the Singing-Impaired, Mondays 1:00 p.m. Except January 18, University for Seniors, University of Minnesota, Duluth, KPlz 303. Basses especially welcome.

For more information, call 218-726-7637 or email

Friday, January 08, 2010

A dietary conundrum

A saying is "Waste not, want not", but often the truth is "To waist is to want more".

Mindful relaxation

As we drove to our cabin today, we listened to a "To the best of our knowledge" podcast on the mind. One of the points was letting the right hemisphere take over and live in the present moment.

We realized as we drove through the frosted evergreens that we were living in the ride rather than anticipating our arrival at the cabin.

Once we got there, we did a number of chores to get a fire going, unloading the SUV, having some hot chocolate, and preparing for a sauna. Again, we were mostly living in the moment.

When we finally got in the sauna, we let our minds float and thought only of our breath. Of course, after a while we started feeling the sweat and the giddiness of not taking saunas enough.

Back in the cabin, it was eat and drink slowly and just savor being here.

Now I've ruined that feeling by writing this:) I was going to end this entry with the preceding sentence, but then my wife sighed, "You've made it into a task!"

Teaching: putting in or drawing out?

"A teaching artist is an artist who actively engages learners in consciously developing the aesthetics of their own processes of learning."

- Arnold Aprill, Chicago Arts Participation in Education (CAPE)

Quoted in "The Music Teaching Artist's Bible: Becoming a Virtuoso Educator", Eric Booth, p. 16.

See the same section for other incisive quotes on what a teaching artist is.

When I read the above to my wife, she said that's what most teachers strive for. I replied that that's not what politicians want. She replied, "Unfortunately!"

One of the other quotes mentioned education as drawing out rather than putting in. It was this idea that led me to make the remark about politicians. "No child left behind" rewards schools for "putting in" and makes no provision for drawing out.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Who wished us an unhappy new year?

For me, 2009 ended with a whimper! Me whimpering as a developing cold sufferer.

My cold made itself known after supper and by bedtime (yes, 10 on New Year's Eve) I was wondering if my coughing would keep both of us awake. I did manage to stay asleep until one and woke every hour or so after that.

There went our three-day weekend at our cabin. No way did I want to keep my wife awake with the shaking of the smaller bed every time I coughed. And there was no escape to another room to muffle the worst of my coughing.

2009 also ended with a whimper in that my wife's car wouldn't start. We did jump start it and she ran an errand or two. But then it died again. Jump starting a Prius is not much fun because the battery is buried under a bolted-down cover.

On Saturday when I was feeling better we did go shopping, including for a battery charger.

As you can see from "Stopped in our tracks" Sunday was better.

But Monday was downhill again. On the first of several errands, somebody noticed that the spare tire was hanging wrong. Oh, boy, back home right away. I read the manual about accessing the spare, but nothing seemed to work to raise it or lower it. I tried three times, coming in when my fingers got cold. The third time, I called the dealer for a service appointment for Tuesday, today. But by the time I called I was sick again with cold. It took to bedtime for me to feel half-way decent again.

Of course, I was sick with worry a good part of the night figuring out how I would get to dealer without the spare tire falling all the way down and doing who knows what damage.

Before the appointment I hooked a nylon tow cable to the wheel of the spare and wrapped and wrapped the tow cable around the trailer hitch. For extra security, I wrapped and hooked a bungee cord on top of the cable.

I drove normally to the dealer but I kept hearing a ping. When I pulled into the service area I saw my securing of the cable had worked fine. But the hook came out of the spare tire wheel and was dragging on the ground!! At least the spare tire wasn't scraping on the ground.

For $33.68 I was told that the tire had been stowed upside down. Having somebody else stow it correctly in a warm place was worth it.

Tomorrow we jump start my wife's car and she takes it to a dealer to have the battery checked.

Maybe then we can start a normal new year? Whatever normal is.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Stopped in our tracks

Today we visited our cabin for the second time since the December snowstorm, but only today did we have time to go snowshoeing. We didn't get far before we were blocked by twenty feet of bent over alder.

Stopped in our tracks

We did manage to get through by shaking the snow off the branches and zig-zagging our way through.

Next time I'll have to remember big nippers and a pruning saw.

What this photo doesn't show is how blue the sky was.

Did the "surge" in Iraq keep the tigers away too?

Sometime ago I wrote a blog or an article about how people connect actions to results without careful examinations of the relationship. Keeping the tigers away is a reference to a hippie sitting on a park bench snapping his fingers to keep the tigers away.

Reading "The War Within" by Bob Woodword I got a good sense of how the "surge" in Iraq was not a major factor in an improvement. The major factor was appointing General David Petraeus as commander in Iraq (pp. 335-337).

Petraeus assembled his own team to evaluate the situation. It included Colonel H.R. McMaster who led the Tall Afar campaign, the only apparent successful clear, hold, and rebuild campaign, and Derek Harvey of the Defense Intelligence Agency, one of the few people who had gone out and spoken, in Arabic, with many of the factions in Iraq. His team went out all over Iraq to assess the situation and find out what was really going on. Petraeus himself went out into the streets to see what had been happening; he was appalled at the "ghost towns" of once prosperous sections.

Now Petraeus is in charge of both Afghanistan and Iraq. Will he bring about lasting change in either?