Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fiscal responsibility is irresponsible

The great hue and cry is that government should be fiscally responsible, live within its means, and pay as it goes.  Oh, yes, and government should not raise taxes; in fact in these times of an economic downturn, government should lower taxes to stimulate business.

Let's see, your kitchen caught fire.  Luckily for you, the fire department arrived quickly and limited the damage to the kitchen.  But you forgot to pay your fire insurance premium and the insurance was canceled.

You could eat out more often, but that would cost you more money than preparing food at home.  For some budgets, that might be fiscally irresponsible.

Your next recourse is to take out an equity loan on your home to pay for the repairs.  That certainly isn't pay as you go on home improvement.

Many people don't realize that we have something similar in government expenses.  Suppose in this time of fiscal austerity that the city didn't have the money to replace its aging fire hoses.  Then when the fire department came to your house some of those aging hoses burst and your whole house burned down.

What about sewer repairs?  Suppose in this time of fiscal austerity that the city didn't replace some of its aging sewers.  As the fire truck drove to your house it was the "last straw" for a big sewer pipe and it collapsed.  Your house burned down, the city lost a fire truck, and the city has a major, major sewer and street repair project on its hands.

Do you think we can count on free will donations to pay for all of this today?  The banks certainly won't be any of these donors.  They will want interest on the loans they make to the city.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Let's solve illegal immigration for once and for all!!

Illegal immigration has been a problem in America (and many other countries) for centuries.  In what is now called the United States let's solve it by sending the children of illegal immigrants and the children's children, yea unto to the sixteenth generation, back where they came from.  Let's start with sending all the Mayflower descendants back to England!

Did they really get permission from all the governments of the people already living here to stay put and to take resources from the then current occupants?  Did they learn the customs and the languages of the people already living here?  No, they insisted on following their Old World customs and speaking their Old World language.  Even that language was a mishmash of the language of illegal immigrants from another part of the Old World.

Then let's send back all the children of the Southern planters and the children of their children.  They grabbed great swaths of land from those already reaping the bounty of the land, they cleared the land of those pesky forests that produced an abundance of food, and they pushed those who already lived on the land farther and farther from the coasts.

And on and on it went, decade after decade, farther and farther west.  Now the true illegal immigrants want to push out the descendants of the Anasazi, the Aztecs, the Toltecs, and the Mayans from land they had occupied for millennia until the real illegal immigrants arrived.

And we should send the Ojibwe out of the territory they took from the Dakota.  And we should send the Lenni Lenape out of the territory they took from others as they pushed east to the Great Salt Sea (see James Fenimore Cooper).

If we all stayed put in the land of our fathers and their fathers, just think of how we could reduce the problem of illegal immigration!!  Of course, if we all did that, we would still be peasants working from dawn to dusk, suffering cold and heat according to the season, and wondering when a drought or the foreign overlords would wipe us out.

We really should follow the advice of Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along?"  That means we have to absorb people moving in and we have to be sensitive when we move into others' territory.  And next year we will have world peace.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Duluth has become more international

I find it amusing that so many small cities call their airports International, as in Duluth International Airport.  Unfortunately, there are few, if any, flights from some "International" airports to cities in other countries.

For example, to fly from Duluth MN to Winnipeg, Manitoba, one has to go first to Minneapolis-St. Paul or Chicago.  Today's flights from Duluth International Airport are to Minneapolis, Detroit, Chicago, and Orlando.  It could be that freight or private planes fly in and out of Duluth directly to Canada, Asia, or Europe.

Another "requirement" for an "International" airport is currency exchange.  I've never seen any currency exchange at the Duluth airport.

Even currency exchange anywhere in Duluth has been difficult.  A local bank had to get the money from a correspondent bank.  On the other hand, I could go into a bank in a small town in Ontario and exchange U.S. travelers cheques for Canadian dollars.  Today I told a teller that I had taken my nasty pills and asked if she could give me Canadian money.  She replied, "Yes."

She couldn't give me the exact equivalent because she didn't have small change, but that is to be expected almost anywhere.  So, I asked for Canadian dollars in an even amount, and she was able to give me change in U.S. money.

On top of that, I can bring back any left over Canadian money and exchange it for U.S. dollars.  Except for small change, like everywhere else.

Will yen and euros be far behind?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Quote of the day, make longer plans

The other day my wife was wondering with a cousin on how old their grandfather was when he died.  He was Dr. Frederick L. Smith of the Mayo Clinic; I should be able to find something with Google.  As it was, very little and no obituary.  But I did find quite a few other Fred Smiths.  This one was in "Christianity Today" by a Fred Smith who was dying and ready for it.

"I used to lecture with a psychiatrist. He was at our home on my 50th birthday and said, 'Now that you're 50, make longer plans.' I said, 'Now I know why you're a psychiatrist, you're nuts.' He said, 'No, when you start making shorter plans, your subconscious is telling you to die.' "

Now I know why I want to cut down trees and plant trees, clear paths and lay down chips, and many other projects in Brimson.  I probably wouldn't get done all of what I dream if I live twice my current age (72).

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Do, teach, or legislate?

Today the Duluth News Tribune published a short letter of mine involving the three words in the title.  Since I promised, according to the DNT guidelines, that I have not had it published elsewhere, I'll give you a hint: the core of my letter begins, "Those who can, do."

You have until next weekend to look at it free.  After that, it will cost you $2.95.  When are newspapers going to learn Apple's 99 cents model.

Second Amendment and Insurrection

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

- Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

Many people are using this amendment to justify carrying guns to defend themselves against what they believe is the tyranny of the state.  But the amendment doesn't mention the security of the "people"; it says that a militia is necessary for the security of the state.

Moreover, Article I, Section 8, enumerating the powers of Congress states that it shall have the power

"To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;"

Some of the people who want to be armed against a tyrannical state give a broad definition of the Militia, citing some law defining the Militia, that the Militia includes most adult males.

So, if those arming themselves against a tyrannical state rise up against a state they judge tyrannical, then they should obey Congress when they are called upon to put down their own insurrection.

Oh, well!  As I read somewhere lately, the Constitution is not a coherent philosophical document, but a political document full of compromises and sometimes inconsistencies.  Too many people are making it a philosophical document, selecting only those clauses that support their political beliefs.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Whatever happened to "The computer for the rest of us"?

Remember way back in 1984 when the Macintosh came out.  "The computer for the rest of us" was Apple's primary slogan.  The interface was intuitive and almost every thing worked right out of the box.  No messy commands to remember.  Typing was only for when you had something to write, otherwise it was point and click.

In fact, a joke for a long time and still valid in many situations was "Macintosh users never read the manual."

For many people, Macs are a joy to use right out of the box and many still don't read the manual.  Updates often come automagically and when they have been downloaded, the user goes to the Apple menu and clicks on restart.

But then Apple and other vendors forget to co-ordinate their updates.  Or one doesn't provide certain features in all circumstances.

One that happened to us was that we could no longer scan with our HP 3310 All-n-One when we reconfigured the AIO to be a wireless printer for two computers.

I've been looking for a solution every so often for a couple of years.  I've been to apple.com forums, HP forums, and independent forums.  And support articles.  Dozens and dozens of people have complained about this problem, but I never found a clear solution.

This week I tried sending a webform to Hewlett-Packard.

Chris of HP Total Care responded.  His suggestions might have worked but he only wrote about connections through Ethernet or USB.  I wrote back that I wanted wireless.

Michael responded.  I tried his suggestions and I noted all the things that didn't work as stated.  Still scanning didn't work.  I wrote back with these problems.

Priscilla responded.  She gave five pages of instructions.  I started working through them one-by-one.   One of the steps was to download software from Apple.  That page was down for a good part of the afternoon.  When I finally got the download and installed it, one part of the installation ran over five minutes with "Install time remaining: About a minute"!!!!

Then I had to download some HP software.  That process was a bit more automatic than Priscilla described, but the installation began.  At one point I was sent to System Preferences to do some selection or other.  When I clicked on Scan another window opened.  It said "Press scan to start".  So I pressed the scan button on the AIO.  That gave weird results I won't go into.  Aha!  I have to CLICK the SCAN button in the window.

Away the scan went, wirelessly, scanning a piece of paper I had on the scanner bed.  Whoopee!  The first scan in over two years!

OK, let's try a slide.  I put in a favorite from Sweden of a big, white ferry dwarfing some apartment buildings on a bluff behind it.  It scanned and scanned.  But like years ago, the scanned photo had a blue wash over it.  I got a better and faster result taking a picture of the slide shown through a table-top viewer.  WYSIWYG is really WYSAWYG!  "What you see is what you get" has become "What you see ain't what you get!"

Oh, well!  At least I'll be able to scan all those pieces of paper that I don't want to file or that I want to email copies of to others.

And finally, despite all these complaints, I'll keep buying the "latest, greatest" Mac every few years.  They are still easier to use than the competition.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Critical thinking about pricing disparities

Many students have complained about the high cost of books, especially at university bookstores.  I recently found out how great the disparity was between bookstore prices and online prices.

I keep telling myself to take Critical Thinking in the Philosophy Department at the University of Minnesota, Duluth.  I even got my wife to consider taking it also.

Today, I looked it up in the UMD catalog.  For the fall semester the class is full and even the waiting list is full.  Besides, I looked at the costs and it would be about $1,000 apiece to take the class, if I read the fee schedule correctly.

OK, what's the text, maybe I'll just read that.  I clicked on the bookstore link and Moore and Parker's "Critical Thinking" is $111 new and $83.25 used.  What does Abe Books charge, a consortium of used booksellers across the country?  Would you believe $1.00?  With shipping less than $4.00?

As always, there is a caveat.  Although the books may be in fair or good condition, these super-low prices are for editions from the 1990's.  If you want an edition in 2004 or 2005, then the prices with shipping are about $35.00.  If you want the latest edition (2009), then it will cost you less than $70.00.  Three were available new and one used.  That still beats $83.25.

The advantage to the newer editions may that they use examples from current events.  I would think the pre-2000 editions wouldn't have much about global warming or wars of choice.

Now to figure out when I want to read "Critical Thinking".  I think I have over 200 books on my to read list:)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

To get out of Afghanistan, invite the Chinese in

Actually, the Chinese are already in Afghanistan.  The Chinese won a bid for a copper mine in Logar province, but according to a recent U.S. survey, there are over a trillion dollars worth of metals and minerals in Afganistan, "U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan", James Riesen, New York Times, 2010-06-13.

What if the U.S. gets China more involved in extracting resources from Afghanistan?  Would the Chinese have to bring in their own military to protect their interests?  As the Chinese got more and more involved in mining, would they have to bring in more troops?  They've managed to take over Tibet; would they be able to take over Afghanistan?  Then the Taliban would be direct their ire against these new invaders and the U.S. could slip out.

There are a couple of caveats about this.

First, Logar was the province where several Afghani groups destroyed a 350-vehicle convoy, including tanks? Would the Chinese fare any better?  Would they want to take on that kind of risk?

Second, if China takes over Afghanistan, they might lock out others from access to the mineral riches of Afghanistan.  This could put U.S. companies at a big disadvantage.

A better way would be to promote the mineral wealth as a means for co-operation among all interested parties: large companies that want access, Afghanis that want jobs, Afghanis that want peace, and Afghanis that want political power.  It really comes down to would you rather fight and keep Afghanis poor or would you rather find out ways to benefit all interested parties.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Broadband gets broader

I went to an informational meeting put on by the Forest Service in the Brimson-Toimi area this afternoon.  While chatting with other attendees I learned that broadband has become more widely available in Brimson.  It is now within walking distance of our cabin.

But is it pricey!!   Starting at $49.99 or something like that for up to 6Mbps for existing customers.  Notice the "starting at" and "for up to".  It is not exactly clear that you can get 6Mbps service for $49.99.  Frontier's web site does not provide more details unless you click on "Buy now".  Otherwise you have to talk to a representative to get more details.  Why does one have to talk to a representative?  Probably because one would be more likely to buy while talking to a representative.

I should state that there are other offers, say for $24.99 for up to 3Mbps for the first year and $34.99 the second year.  There is also a $4.50/month equipment rental.  And of course, "taxes, surcharges, and USF charges".

And the offers conflict.  Existing customers can get this through Dec. 31 according to one page.  Nation-wide the offer is available through Jun. 30.

Frontier is not alone in this.  Look at the cell phone plans.  Look at other phone companies offers.  It's mind boggling.  I just want simple tables:

x benefit y dollars
z benefit w dollars

Dream on!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

It's time for a little levity

Enough with oil spills, storms, demonstrations in Iran, and all the turmoil in the world.  Let's take a moment to laugh a little.

One of our coffee group is very good with quips.  The trouble is that we often forget them even though we laugh and laugh at the time he comes out with them.  He often forgets them himself.

One that we forgot but he didn't was "If bubble wrap is used for Petri dishes, is that pop culture?"

He wore shorts earlier this week and when I said he had declared it's summer, he responded, "Summery judgment."

I had two I came up with this week, but I didn't write them down, now each of them is a lost word.  That weak pun made me think of another pun.

Did you hear about the lumber truck driver who didn't know that he dropped part of his load?  It was a lost cord.

Not remembering quips or not writing them down, reminds me of a saying of my favorite English teacher, Miss Palmer.  She defined wit as "That which you have on the way home that someone else had at the party."

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Coffee Party on Corporate Personhood

The Coffee Party has started a National Summit on Corporate Personhood.  If you are interested in engaging others on discussing this, see http://coffeepartyusa.com/content/national-summit-corporate-personhood-0.

If you are interested in joining a Café Call on Money and Politics, see http://coffeepartyusa.com/content/join-coffee-party-“café-call”-money-and-politics.

The Coffee Party was organized to promote civil discourse on political issues.  From a sampling of messages on one of the forums of the Coffee Party, I would say that the discourse is argumentative but civil.  Responders may call into question an idea, but they don't seem to call into question the character of a writer.

Was BP rewarded for risky behavior?

Drilling in deeper water carries more risks, but why drill in deep water if it is so risky?  Some say it is because environmentalists prevent drilling closer in.  Some say we need domestic sources of oil for energy independence.  And some say that deep drilling is subsidized but shallow drilling is not.

On the latter, the Deep Water Royalty Relief Act exempted oil companies from paying a 12 percent royalty in the deeper water.  When crude was cheap the royalty was not an issue but as the price of oil climbed, it made more sense to drill in royalty-free deep water than in royalty-required shallow water.

For more, see "Why was BP Drilling in 5,000 Feet of Water Anyway?", Justin Sharon, Minyanville (via Yahoo Finance), 2010-06-11.

Friday, June 11, 2010

If corporations are persons then…

Let's not only give them some of the "rights of persons" like "free speech", let's give them some of the responsibilities and consequences of being persons.

If corporations are persons then shouldn't they pay personal income tax?  Many argue that corporate taxes are taking away from shareholders or are being passed on to customers.  Well, aren't exorbitant executive salaries being decided by a self-selected board of directors taking away from shareholders also?  Aren't the taxes being paid by my plumber or my barber being passed on to me?   So, what's so different about corporations if they are considered persons?

If corporations are persons then shouldn't they be restricted severely for pollution?  If I burn trash in my backyard or have a faulty furnace that is sending soot all over the neighborhood, won't I be called to account for it by my neighbors and the city?  If I dump poisonous chemicals in my sink, won't I be called to account for it?  If corporations are persons then shouldn't they be held to the same standards as physical persons?

If corporations are persons then shouldn't they suffer the same consequences for capital crimes?  If a corporation commits such malfeasance that people die then shouldn't it go to prison?  Prison in this case could be putting all its assets in escrow for the equivalent prison time.  If a corporation willfully murders people and if the jurisdiction executes murderers then shouldn't the corporation be liquidated?  Blackwater employees willfully shot Iraqis.  The only consequence was the loss of some contracts and the company reorganized under a different name.  Do you think that you or I could publicly change our name and address to escape punishment for any crime?

Remember the old adage: be careful what you ask for, you may get it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"We all know that schools can be more efficient…"

Arne Duncan, U.S. Education Secretary, sent an op-ed piece to newspapers across the country about the financial crisis of the schools.  The Star Tribune published it
2010-06-09, others as early as 2010-06-06.  I tried finding a master at ed.gov but couldn't.  He wrote that help may be on the way in the form of $23 billion dollars in emergency funding.

In the midst of all his exhortations on the importance of schools he wrote, "We all know that schools can be more efficient…"  Oh! We all know?  For a contrary view on that see "Arne Duncan's History Lesson to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)".  It is a radical voice on how schools were designed to turn out factory workers.  There is some truth in this diatribe.  It does give some insight in this call for "efficiencies" in schools and government and where the call is coming from.

Efficiency means doing more with less resources.  An efficient engine uses less gas. An efficient widget factory uses less material and energy to produce more widgets.

But you can't move a busload of people in a Prius; that many people would make a Prius very inefficient.

And you can't treat a classroom of children like widgets. Especially if your only measure of success is standardized tests.  Children are individuals with varying levels of preparation and interest.  Some will sit quietly and absorb knowledge like a sponge; others will fidget, disrupt, fall asleep, and get very little knowledge.  It takes a lot of skill and a a lot of teachers to deal with such variety.

Using standardized tests for judging students and schools is like expecting a blue-grass musician to pass a written test on playing Beethoven.  Let's put it another way.  One student passes an English test of spelling and grammar, but writes very dully.  Another student struggles through the same test, but writes prose that draws the reader in.  Whose book would you rather read?  Or manual?  Or business plan?

Maybe the best means to efficient schools is to require parents to have a degree in early childhood development before they have any children.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Let's stop letting ideologues drive the debate

Two of the great mantras of our time are the need to improve test scores and the need for performance pay to satisfy the first.

One article that seemed to make sense was "The Uncertain Impact of Merit Pay for Teachers", Edwin Glaeser, New York Times, 2010-06-08.   Even though some studies were not solid on merit pay, Prof. Glaeser still supported merit pay for teachers.

In trying to retrieve this article, I stumbled on "Let's Have Merit Pay for Economists Who Muck Around in Education Issues",  Jim Horn, School Matters, 2010-06-08.  Horn counters with other studies that showed performance pay doesn't work, including a study presented at the conference that Glaeser wrote about.

See also Horn's "More Research on Teacher Performance Pay for Duncan to Ignore".

What all this clamor for performance pay misses is that schools aren't really about test taking and getting good scores.  They are about learning to learn and learning to be creative.  I read that East Asian kids may be much better at passing tests than American kids, but they don't seem to have the innovative skills that are far more abundant in the U.S.

A refreshing antidote is "History for Dollars", David Brooks, New York Times, 2010-06-07.  He wrote that many students are opting for college degrees in "practical matters" like accounting and that the portion of humanities majors has dropped as much as 50 percent in a generation.  He argues that humanities gives communication skills, "a wealth of analogies", and the ability to think in different ways.

Ah!  Think in different ways!  That certainly beats thinking in differing ways.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Blogger was down

I tried posting the Carly Fiorina update on Sunday night, but when I signed on to Google's Blogger I was given a notice that "Blogger is unavailable".  I tried again this morning and afternoon with the same result.  This afternoon there was a status report:
"We're aware of isolated access issues in certain regions within the US. We're investigating this now and will follow-up as soon as we have more information to share

Thanks for your patience in the meantime."

Source for Carly Fiorina and the "real world"

The article I referenced in "Carly Fiorina, get real!" was the Huffington Post, "Carly Fiorina Gets the Demon Sheep Treatment From DSCC, California Democrats", Sam Stein, 2010-05-06.

She ran a "Demon Sheep" spot against her opponent in the Republican Senate primary for California, Tom Campbell.  Campbell was the architect of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's  budget.

I got it backwards that she was running for the Governor of California; she's running to oust Democrat Barbara Boxer from the Senate.  Meg Whitman, another über-rich former CEO (EBay) is running for Governor of California.

The Democrats produced their own campaign video, "Demon Sheep II".  In it, they have have a clip of Carly Fiorina saying, "Those of us who do live in the real world…"  See "Demon Sheep II" in Sam Stein's article above.

Many of us may be envious of her "real world" with millions of dollars in the bank and the power she had as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, but I think most of us prefer our own "hum-drum" "real world".

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Carly Fiorina, get real!

Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, is running for governor of California.  I saw a snippet of one of her ads, on The Huffington Post, I think.  In it, she says something like politicians should join the real world.

Come on, Carly, when were you last part of the real world?  Your first year at HP you had compensation of over 69 million dollars.  Is that a real-world salary?  That's over a thousand times what many people wish they could make in a year.

A few years later, you were fired from HP with a severance pay of 22 million dollars.  A lot of people in the real world aren't making one thousandth of that every year and when they get laid off they get zilch.

Now you're trying to buy your way into being the CEO of California.  Are you going to arrange to buy Nevada like you bought Compaq?

Sadly, the so-called capitalist system as run by CEOs and their crony boards is getting worse than what I wrote about ten years ago in "Talk about Boards with Conflicts of Interest", Reader Weekly, 2000-04-26.  One thousand teachers in Duluth were trying to get a two-year raise that was one-tenth for all of them of what you got in a single-year.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

On freedom of the speech: Do I have a better memory than the Internet?

The Huffington Post reported that a newspaper was told by a court that it must reveal the name of an anonymous contributor to the comment section of an online story.  The plaintiffs in the case complained that the comment was libelous. See "Illinois Newspaper Forced To Disclose Names of Anonymous Commenters", Huffington Post, 2010-06-03.

This made me think of a quote that I remember as this: "The antidote to too much freedom of speech (or the press) is more freedom of speech (or the press)."  I thought Winston Churchill made it.  I can't find it in Bartlett's Quotations, George Seldes' "Famous Quotations", in Wikiquotes, or with a Google Search.

I did find a whole bunch of interesting quotes relating to freedom of speech and of the press under Censorship in Wikiquotes.  Two that seem to fit the above case are:

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania (1759)

"Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost." - Thomas Jefferson

I did find a good quote by Winston Churchill in the Censorship section:

"You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police. Yet in their hearts there is unspoken - unspeakable! - fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts! Words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home, all the more powerful because they are forbidden. These terrify them. A little mouse - a little tiny mouse! -of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic."

I am sure you can think of quite a few dictators or terrorists who fit this quote today.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

"Revolutionary" ideas

I serendipitously picked up “The Case for Big Government” by Jeff Madrick.
One of my favorite quotes is “If high taxes allegedly reduce efforts, surely unfair compensation should do the same.  Fair compensation should improve effort.”

I have several other quotes that I may post from time to time.

If you would like to read a description of the book and some reviews, visit the Hennepin County Public Library catalog https://catalog.hclib.org and enter its title in the search box.

Health was worse in the cities than in the country because of sanitation.  Government provided sewer systems and the health improved.  Government also mandated certain vaccinations and funded the development of many vaccines.

Bumper sticker: if you don’t have smallpox, thank the government.