Saturday, January 29, 2011

Will North Africa and the Middle East join the democracies of Europe?

People in their 50s and older may remember not only the dictatorships of Eastern Europe, but the dictatorships of Portugal, Spain and Greece. Many of these are now gone.  About the only authoritarian European regimes left are Russia and some of its former "republics".

Many of us had hopes for Iran a couple of years ago, but some of the Ayatollahs, the Republican Guard, and the Basiji put the damper on that.  Now the government of Tunisia has toppled and the situation is in flux.  The Egyptian government has been seriously challenged to a greater extent than Iran was.  In fact, as of today, the people practically rule the streets and have destroyed many government building while protecting popular buildings like museums.

What will the next ten years bring?  The European model or more of the same old self-perpetuation of self-appointed elites?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Compared to North Africans, Tea Partiers are quibblers

Many people in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen are staging wide-spread protests against autocratic governments that were elected, if you can call it that, by sham processes.  Their governments have been corrupt, the top raking in all kinds of benefits with no accountability, the bottom requiring bribes to do the simplest things, like even apply for a government job.

The protesters are fighting the police and army with their large presence, stones, and returned tear-gas canisters (made in the U.S.A.)  In Alexandria, the protest was so overwhelming that the police gave up and shared water bottles with the protesters.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S.A., underwriter of these corrupt regimes in the name of defense, some Tea Party supporters are appearing in public with weapons to protect themselves against "the overreaching government".

How is the government "overreaching"?  It is taxing them more than they would like to provide services they claim they don't like.  They complain that their freedoms are being taken away, but it seems that they have plenty of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly to express their views.  Have you heard any reports of blocking of the internet, shutting down newspapers, or canceling the licences of broadcasters in order to silence supporters of the Tea Party?

How were these "overreaching" government activities achieved?  By elected officials and their appointees.  Sure, we see flawed elections.  But the Floridas and Ohios are the exceptions rather than the rule.  Do we have corruption and bribery?  Sure!  But how often are those who complain about or who expose corruption put in jail or otherwise silenced?  If such silencing was going on, would we even have a Tea Party?

If America is supposedly "exceptional", would we even have a Tea Party to complain about all the things that "are wrong"?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

One way government should be run like a business

When a public corporation has its annual shareholder meeting, and the shareholders vote for a certain number of board members, to approve the auditing accounting firm, and such other business that may come before meeting,  the results are almost always announced as the number of shares voting for a proposal out of the number of shares outstanding.  It's been a while since I attended a shareholder meeting, but I don't remember if they give the number of votes withheld or abstaining for a proposal.  I don't think they were.

Wouldn't it be great if the results for elections for public office where announced similarly?  It would be a bit of guesswork as to how many eligible voters there were, but the number of registered voters is known.

Then we might get newspapers reporting that a presidential candidate received 44 million of the votes of the 140 million registered voters.  Reporting like this would give pause to any declaration of mandates or the will of the people.

Of course, we don't want some of the other goings on of corporate elections.

The board chooses a single slate of candidates for each election and recommends that shareholders vote for these candidates.  We wouldn't be happy if we had a single list of candidates for the legislatures that were picked by the legislatures.

The board hires and fires the chief executive officer, who often also sits on the board.  We would not be happy if the legislatures hired and fired the governors or the president.

The board also sets its own compensation.  Few complain about this, but hoo boy!, let the legislatures raise their salaries and the newspapers are flooded with letters.

Corporations don't have one person, one vote, but one share, one vote.  The person with one million shares has a lot more clout than the person with one hundred shares.  If we were to run government like a business, maybe we should have one vote for each dollar of taxes paid.  Gosh, that sounds like a great way to raise taxes.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Second amendment rights, to what purpose?

"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."

Like so much in the U. S. Constitution, the second amendment is open to a variety of interpretations.  One that is used by many is that gun ownership is needed to protect oneself against the government.

Those who hold to this interpretation ignore Article I, Section 8, which includes the power of Congress "To provide for the calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions" and Article III, Section 2, which includes "The President shall be Commander in Chief of … the Militia of the several States when called into the actual Service of the United States".

This has happened at least twice.  George Washington, as Commander in-Chief, lead forces against the insurrection of the those tax-evading participants of the Whiskey Rebellion.  Old George knew what he was doing; he had been president of the Constitutional Convention.  Abe Lincoln was Commander in Chief of the various militia against the insurrection of the Southern States.

If you want to have a gun to protect yourself against the government, the government has the constitutional right to call out the militia to protect itself against you.

So, you want term limits?

If you really want term limits, be sure to vote.  And when you vote, be sure to vote against the incumbent.  At least, vote against the incumbent if he or she has served what you consider a maximum number of terms.

Of course, if your favorite candidate serves more than this maximum, remember that according to some the people have decided.  This means the people have decided against term limits.

I think that term limits is a canard of those who think their party is not getting enough seats.  What will they do when the other party keeps getting more seats more often even with term limits?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

If government should get out of the way of business, why…

If government should  get out of the way of business, why do so many businesses keep asking for government help?

Wellington Management Inc. wants to develop the former State Farm Insurance site in Woodbury, MN into an office park, a senior housing center, and a Costco store.  Among government assistance it would like is financing through bonding or tax exemption.  See "State Farm site plan may need state help", Star Tribune, 2011-01-22.

The owner of the company claims that the project will create 2,000 new jobs.  I won't judge the accuracy of that projection, but it would be interesting to see how many such projections come true.  It certainly didn't happen with United Healthcare in Duluth.

Some critics of government support for industries, for example, ethanol production, say government shouldn't be picking winners and losers in business.  I wonder how many supporters of the Woodbury project are among those critics.  I do know some supporters of the project belong to the same party as those critics.  Many members of that party do say that government should get out of the way of business.

Friday, January 21, 2011

No new taxes, but lots of new costs

I just came back from the hardware store where I bought my second 50-lb. bag of salt, $21.99 per bag plus tax.

I have put no salt on the garage apron next to the alley, none on the sidewalk to the garage, a little bit on the sidewalk around the house, practically none on the front walk and steps.  I have put almost all the previous salt on the public sidewalk in attempt to get rid of the ice buildup from the street snow plowed on the sidewalk.

Now let's put some perspective on taxes and costs.  Our real estate taxes to the city are about $330, half what we pay to the county and about two-thirds what we pay to the school district.  The city taxes are what many people complain about the most.

Let's see if I can figure out Duluth's 2009 financial report correctly.  From the summary of revenues, expenses, and changes in net assets, page 17, Duluth spent 124.942 million dollars of which Public Works spent 7.616 million.  That's six percent of the city budget, or I paid far less than $20 per year for snow removal by the city.

But I've personally paid over $40 in 2011 for snow reduction.  I've spent many hours working on snow reduction, and there is still much to go.

I assume the city could keep my walk practically clear for far less money and in less time than I have.  But that would mean I would have to pay more taxes.  So, it is a good thing I'm paying more out of pocket for a bit of service than I would pay in taxes for more service.

I think I'll go have a cup of tea.

Business-friendly? Friendly to which businesses?

One of the current political buzzwords is "business-friendly" or more likely "business-unfriendly".  "Business friendly" generally means minimum or no interference with businesses or giving of breaks, tax or otherwise, to businesses.

Although some consider "business-friendly" to mean "people-unfriendly", one "business-friendly" act for one business can be "business-unfriendly" to another business.

I read a case of this in today's Star Tribune, "TCF gains in fight over debit-card fee limits", 2011-01-21.  TCF and other banks are complaining that new Federal Reserve rules on exchange-fee limits will hamper their profits.

However, other businesses complain that the exchange fees cut into their profits.  And of course, the exchange fees may cut into people's pockets with higher prices.

It wouldn't surprise me that many of the proponents of higher fees see no conflict with their call for lower taxes.  It's all right for businesses to raise prices when their costs go up but not all right for government to raise taxes when its costs go up.

Another example of one business' gain being another business' loss is fuel costs.  Maybe the producers will have more profits, but the truckers and the airlines, will have higher costs.  The fuel users will do their best to raise their prices, but another fuel user, the governments that clear the snow will be constrained.

Maybe we should have a mantra to match "No new taxes" with a people-friendly "No new prices".

The same issue of the Star Tribune reports that the newly elected governor of Wisconsin want to increase the setback for wind-farms, "Wind showdown".  On first glance, this would seem a business-unfriendly move.  But I suspect it's only towards a new business many Republicans don't like - alternative energy.

Were these politicians opposing a high-voltage power line when many Wisconsin residents were fighting against it?  The line went across, not near, their property, and they were forced to sell the right-away at a cost determined by others.  Doesn't sound very free market to me.

I wonder if the Wisconsin Republicans will bend to the popular will if there is land-owner opposition to a new nuclear plant.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Computers: How the times change!

Twenty-eight years ago last month, I left Univac to form my own software company based on the new microcomputers.  Partly I felt Univac was stuck in old paradigms of big boxes, and partly I wasn't doing very well myself on creating new ideas.

A few years after that, Burroughs bought Univac and called the new company Unisys.  Unisys continued making mainframes for a few years and slowly moved to being more of a consulting company.

Before that really happened, I moved to using Macs only and haven't stopped since.

Now, Unisys is now considered a "technology services specialist", and some Motley Fools think that Apple and Unisys may reach some agreement to help Apple seek enterprise and government contracts.

Also, once companies started adopting personal computers, the "gold standard" became PCs and Microsoft.  The Mac was a toy and not a business computer.  Now "Apple's Tim Cook [acting CEO] says the iPad is being deployed or piloted in 80% of the largest corporations today, and 88 of the Fortune 100 companies are testing or using the iPhone."

See "3 Stocks Ready to Roar", Motley Fool

And older readers may remember all the predictions of Apple's demise in the 80s and 90s.  I read somewhere that Apple now has more market value than Microsoft.

And as I've said many times before, we ain't seen nothing yet in technology.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Health care repeal is the real job-killer

The Republicans are calling for the repeal of the "job-killer health care bill".  But have they considered that the previous health care "system" was the real job killer?

Why?  Consider that many people seek jobs based on the "benefits" offered by the company – "benefits" generally meaning health care insurance.  These people will seek jobs in large companies rather than smaller companies.  Once people work for large companies, they are almost "locked" into their jobs.

People who are "locked" into their jobs won't venture out on their own, whether to be consultants, to be employees of smaller companies, or to start their own companies.

When people move in any of these directions, they may be moving to a more creative environment.  That creative environment may in itself create more jobs.  Thank goodness that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were young, healthy, and well-enough off to start Apple and Microsoft, respectively.

But have many people not started companies because they didn't want to be concerned or couldn't afford health care for their employees.  That situation is/was a job-killer.

About the only job-killing I think the health care bill does is reduce the number of people who are looking for ways to deny care.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ideology, compromise, and the big picture

Today was another publication day for me.  My letter to the editor of the Star Tribune was published as "Political Discourse: You want compromise?  Are you sure about that?"

Ross Douthat also wrote a blog about politicians jockeying for position rather than trying to solve problems: "The Roots of Overheated Rhetoric".

He does take a good look at bigger issues than just who believes what on some "little" issue.  However, I take issue with one of his statements: "a protective government ready to save us from our foolishness when the economy goes bad".

Who is this "we" in "our foolishness"?  Granted, many of "us" overextended ourselves with inducements from many sellers of this and that; a little reflection could have kept our credit card bills small.  On the other hand, credit was extended by "trusted advisors" who few had any reason not to trust.  When the mortgage officer at "Neighborhood Bank and Trust" tells us we can afford the mortgage, few of us have the expertise to ask the right questions.  And when "Oversize Bank and Trust" of Wall Street tells Neighborhood Bank and Trust that it will buy Neighborhood's mortgages, Neighborhood feels it can and should sell as many mortgages as it possible.  The whole problem was out of "our" hands.

Well, maybe not completely.  Enough of us believed the rhetoric about "getting the government out of the way", not realizing less government oversight meant less corporate oversight of the long-term effects of its short-term thinking.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A possible name and basis for a new party?

There is no real middle between today's so-called conservatives and so-called liberals, other than those who feel caught between two extremes.

What we need is a party that determines what the real problems are and what real, possible solutions to those problems may be.  Maybe this party should be called the Realistic Party, not to be confused with reality shows.

Of course, once a group has a name and real people start joining it, then the group starts moving from its original goals.  Oh, well!  I tried.

This entry was partially inspired by Ross Douthat's latest column, "Scenes from a Marriage", New York Times, 2011-01-16.

He writes about the mutual antipathy between "the media" and Sarah Palin, which Douthat writes is more co-dependence.

Based on his realistic look at the issue, I would say he might be an ideal spokesperson for the Realistic Party.  On the other hand, does his over-generalization that some journalists are "the media" disqualify him from this role?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Freudian slip of the fingers?

As I was copying the keywords from "Give Governance a Chance" to attach to the next entry, I discovered a big, bad typo.  I had typed "Conversatives" instead of "Conservatives".

Is there some truth in that so-called "conservatives" react "conversely" to anything they perceive so-called "liberals" espousing?

Responses to "Give Governance a Chance"

So far there have only been two posted responses to my "Local View" submission, "Give Governance a Chance".  One simply was "Well stated."  The other was a long paragraph about living at the end of a mile-long private road and not worrying about getting cholera.  The Like or Dislikes were 10-2 and 2-11, respectively.

I haven't been around town since it was published, but four acquaintances told me that they liked it, as well as my two adult children (of course).

"Give Conservatives a Chance" has over thirty comments, including replies and replies to replies.  I didn't bother reading most of them, being "same old, same old" regardless of the "side" taken.

Was Microsoft Office 2011 for the Mac written by the government

After a long wait for a replacement for Office 2008, which took away Virtual Basic macros, I was able to buy Office 2011, which supposedly put macros back.

Guess what?  I'm not sure they work.

I put a simple one-line macro back in an Excel spreadsheet, and it worked.  But, every time I typed in a cell, Excel would only except one number and then do nothing.  I had to enter the data in the formula bar.  At least the formula bar seems to be standard in Office 2011; in some update to Office 2008 the formula bar would keep disappearing.

I tried removing the macro and putting it back in again, and now the macro stops with some mysterious error.

If I opened the progress bar in Entourage (Office 2008), it would be there the next time I opened Entourage.  In Outlook (Office 2011), it is never present the next time I open Outlook.

The installation process for Office 2011 ignored many of my preference from Office 2008.

Outlook changed the type font and size, and it only remembers the reset type font but not the reset size.

Outlook automatically includes the message I'm answering in my response.  I had turned this off in Entourage; I have yet to find a preference for this in Outlook.  I have to remember to remove the message in my response, and it is often below my writing area.

Outlook has put some of my old messages in the task list.

Outlook did not get my message categories right.  It put "Family" messages in "Iphone, saved to".

Outlook changed the links to many of my Entourage replies.  The linked messages sometime bear no relation to each other.

Gosh, with these errors and many others, Office 2011 must have been written by the government instead of an "efficient" private company.

To tell the truth, I do have some sympathy for the Microsoft programmers.  When I gave up on my own software programming company, for my far simpler program I had a problem list far longer than the list above.

I do wish Microsoft had had a bit bigger budget on testing.

I also wish that I could just call or email someone with these problems.  Instead, the user has to spend hours looking through forums to find a specific problem, which nobody may have raised yet.  This is part of the larger trend in far too many enterprises to push costs on to the customers.  See "Technology: A big bother we can't do without".

Friday, January 14, 2011

Give Democracy a Chance

After reading of the popular uprising in Tunisia, I can't help but give this entry a parallel title to my previous entry.

The chance I hope for any democracies that arise in the Arab world by popular demand is that the U. S. stays out of the way.  Almost anything the U.S. does, be it some support for the existing rulers or some support to the people is bound to backfire in one way or another.

The only thing the U. S. should do is to listen to whoever is in power, but promise nothing.

But, I'm pessimistic.  Somewhere in the vast U.S. military-intelligence complex will be those who call for intervention in our national interest.  Our only national interest is to help any U. S. citizens who want to leave countries in turmoil.

Give Governance a Chance

This is the title of a "Local View" article I wrote for the Duluth News Tribune.  You can find it at

It was my response to "Give Conservatism a Chance" published earlier in the week.  It is at

Be forewarned: The Duluth News Tribune makes articles available for free for only a week; after that you have to pay.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Limp or wimp?

Today I decided to make my traditional triangle walk to Bixby's for coffee, UMD for University of Seniors, and back home.  I have been driving to Bixby's because with all the unshoveled walks, walking has been no fun.  However, parking at UMD is no fun during the day.

Because the city of Duluth has partially cleared many walks with a large snowblower, I've been able to stride instead of mince.  Even though it was snowing lightly, off I strode.

Our street wasn't so bad.  Then I got to the first traffic light.  The pedestrian button was unreachable without climbing a thigh-high pile of snow - an icy pile with few footholds.  I got up high enough to push the button, but when I turned around to come down, things looked almost impossible.  I kind of leapt down from depression to depression but my momentum carried me right into the street.  Fortunately for me, no cars were whipping around the corner.

I stood at the corner waiting for the light to change, but guess what?  There was no traffic!  Do I cross now or wait?  I waited.

The rest of the walk to the coffee shop was uneventful.  Some parts of the sidewalk were even, some had deeper snow, none too difficult to walk in the 8-inch work boots I had on.

After coffee I went to UMD for a couple of classes.  When I got to the campus, the walks were freshly brushed with only a dusting of snow.  There were some icy patches at the edge, but I could walk normally.

While I was in the classes there was light snow.  I wondered if I wanted to take a bus home or walk.  As I told a friend, it was a question of limp or wimp - limp on uneven sidewalks or wimp out by taking the bus.  I opted to limp.

Again, the campus walks were no problem at all.  As soon as I crossed into a neighborhood, the situation deteriorated.  The first couple of blocks had wide boulevards and plow snow had not made it to the sidewalk.  But few had shoveled their walks in the last couple of weeks.

When I turned onto the thoroughfare, things got worse.  The city's snowblower had come by, but a plow had been by again, putting snow and "rocks" on the sidewalk.

Now walking became mincing.

Just after I took the picture and stepped off the curb at the corner, a car turned right in front of me!  What nerve!  What luck!  It was my wife who was coming home from her own activities.  I only had about three minutes walk to get home, but I was glad for the relief.

She wended her way through the neighborhood to our alley, and just as she was pulling in the garage, I saw the bus coming down the hill.  I would rather have ridden with her than with a bunch of strangers.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sign language: does it really means what it says?

Toilets block easily
Please go easy on toilet paper
The management

So said a sign in a store restroom.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Mandate? Landslide? Let's count ALL the voters

Frank Rich used "Reagan" and "landslide" many times in his article, "Let Obama's Reagan Revolution Begin", 2011-01-09.

I was going to post the following as a comment, but I was too late as comments were already closed.

Please stop using the term "landslide" to describe Reagan's win of the 1984 election.  Forty-three percent of the voters didn't even show up, indirectly voting for "none of the above."  Ronald Reagan did receive 58.7% of the votes of those who did show up which is impressive.  But if one considers the no-shows, he had the backing of only 33.5% of the people.  In other words, he came in second to none of the above.

If we reported elections with all the relevant data we could either stop winners from declaring a "mandate" or get more people out to vote the next time.

See also "Voting is not a horse race" and "If you don't vote, you have only yourself to blame".

Are fewer manufacturing jobs always a bad thing?

Dick Palmer picked a poor example about the decline of manufacturing when he mentioned Rochester, New York, home of Eastman Kodak.  How many rolls of film has he been buying recently?  Few people use film anymore; most cameras are now digital and can take many more pictures than film cameras.  In fact, it is difficult to even sell a film camera on eBay. "State exports may be up but nation still hurting", Dick Palmer, Duluth Budgeteer, 2011-01-06.

Technological changes have led to many more job changes, but I'll come back to these in a bit.

Another contributor to job changes for over two hundred years has been low cost manufacturing, whether by low-cost labor or high productivity.  Weavers in England and India were put out of business by power looms in England.  Instead of high-skilled weavers, children could and did operate the machines.

New Englanders stole some of the designs and set looms up in Massachusetts.  They hired hundreds of young women to operate the machines.  Feeling exploited, workers organized into unions to push for more rewards for their labor.

Then the textile mills lowered their costs by moving to the South where unions were not tolerated. Even then, people found opportunity for better paying jobs and to attract labor, the companies had to raise wages.

Then shipping became cheaper, and textile companies found even lower cost labor in Asia and Central America.  And as labor becomes more expensive in those countries, the companies move on to other countries.

Higher productivity means fewer people are needed to manufacture the same amount of goods.  Higher productivity comes from more and more mechanization and now computerization.  Even in the 80s, Ford could produce cars for less than GM because it used more mechanization and fewer workers.  Fewer highly skilled machinists are needed thanks to numerically-controlled machine tools.  Write a little program to make the cuts, put the code into the machine, and have a cup of coffee.

My father was a well-regarded dental prosthetic technician specializing in crowns.  I have a folder of letters from dentists praising his work.  When I got a crown last year, the dentist waved a wand over my teeth, an image appeared on the computer screen, he rotated the image and made some adjustments, he clicked OK, and a machine in the basement proceeded to make the crown.  We chatted awhile, and then he went downstairs to get the crown.  He put it in my mouth, pulled it out, made some adjustments with his drill, put it back in again, had me grind my teeth, and so on.  In two hours, I had a new crown in my mouth, not a temporary to be replaced in three weeks and several visits later.

What is manufactured has changed dramatically in the last few decades.

When I worked at Univac programming mainframes mainframes in the 1960s, dozens of people would thread wires through little iron donuts for the main memory.  When I started, a large memory had less than 400,000 characters, each character represented by six donuts.  When I left nearly twenty years later, a large memory had about six million characters on an array of integrated circuits on several sets of large circuit boards.  Now I carry eight billion characters of memory in my shirt pocket.

The miles of film that Eastman Kodak spewed out and put in little boxes have been replaced by memory cards the size of the end of one of those boxes.  On a 1991 trip to Japan I shot nine rolls of film; my cost was over one hundred dollars for film and processing.  On a 2007 trip to Japan I shot almost forty percent more pictures on a single memory card that cost less than fifty dollars, and I used the card over and over again for many hundreds of pictures more.  My cost of processing was my time to download the pictures to my computer.

What is considered manufacturing has changed even more dramatically.  We don't consider software on a disk or downloaded from a website as a manufactured product, but it is.  It's just that the balance between design and physical rendering has moved dramatically to the design side.  I haven't checked, but I assume that Apple Computer has more employees today than IBM and the "Seven Dwarves" of mainframes had thirty years ago.  Apple definitely has more customers spending a lot more money than the mainframe manufacturers did.

The problem is not the decline of an economic sector, but the rate of change of the economy.  I think few people, whether individuals or people in government, business, and education, have sufficient understanding of the change.  Too many people are judging tomorrow by what happened a decade ago.  And too many people are assuming that solutions that seemed to work twenty years ago are going to work today.

Abraham Lincoln said it 165 years ago, "As our case is new, so must we think anew."

To his credit, Dick Palmer has started to think anew.  He does end his column with and elaboration on "The secret ingredient to success today is education…"

Thursday, January 06, 2011

The "Huckleberry Finn" rewrite: Thomas Bowdler is alive and well

Michiko Kakutani wrote a marvelous slam about the latest attempt to force Mark Twain to write according to some people's taste; "New 'Huckleberry Finn' Edition Does Disservice to a Classic", New York Times, 2011-01-06.

One of her best sentences on changing "nigger" to "slave" was, "Never mind that attaching the epithet slave to the character Jim — who has run away in a bid for freedom — effectively labels him as property, as the very thing he is trying to escape."  Another is that it "stands as a powerful indictment of slavery (with Nigger Jim its most noble character)".

Rewriting by translators is one reason that I prefer reading books or seeing movies in the original language.  I may comprehend the text less in the original, but that is my doing, not some intermediary's.

See also "Bowdlerization", Melvyn Magree, Reader Weekly, 2001-04-12.

Are those worried about blasphemy the real blasphemers?

Although I will be referring to Muslims because the actions of some Muslims are in the current news, let us not forget that other believers have taken drastic action.  The Grand Inquisitor, Torquemada, had many tortured and killed because they were suspected of not having complete fealty to the Church of Rome.  The Puritans of Massachusetts executed Quakers because they refused to stop preaching.  And the Jews of Biblical times slaughtered those who worshiped Baal.

The latest incident to make the news is the assassination of the Governor of Punjab by one of his bodyguards.  The "sin" of the Governor?  He wanted to overturn the blasphemy laws of Pakistan that call for the death penalty for those who "insult" Mohammed or Islam.

Other incidents include the murder of a Dutch filmmaker and the threats against European cartoonists who have "insulted" Mohammed or Islam.

If God/Allah is omnipotent, wouldn't God/Allah deal with blasphemers with a bolt of lightning or other public displays of power?  If Elijah's Jehovah could burn a water-soaked offering pyre, why did Elijah chase down and kill the priests of Baal?

If God/Allah is unknowable, how does anybody know the mind of God/Allah enough to actually carry out "God's will"?  If a person assumes that he knows the mind of God/Allah, isn't that blasphemy too?

It is ironic that many Muslims preface taking an action with "Insallah" ("God willing").  But if they don't know God's will, how can they act in God's name?

I think people who attack those who believe differently are themselves insecure in their faith.  Their beliefs are threatened by those who believe differently.  This holds for radical Muslims, the Puritans, Torquemada, or Elijah.

Fortunately for those of us who don't have the "True Belief", whichever one that is, most of the co-religionists of the "True Believers" are willing to get along with others who do not share their beliefs.

Government inefficient, business efficient? Hah!

The following is the second message that I've sent in the last two days to Wells Fargo; Wells Fargo manages shareholder reinvestment accounts for Allete.
Once again you are emailing me that "A new Allete, Inc. tax form has been posted to your account", and once again that form is for the 2009 tax year, identical to the one I received a year ago, and at least twice this past few weeks.

The 2010 Form 1099 should have a larger amount than the 2009 form because I have the dividends reinvested.

I think I'll post this business inefficiency to my blog:
Isn't Wells Fargo one of the banks involved in improper foreclosures?  A Google search for "wells fargo foreclosures" yields "Judge Rejects Wells Fargo Foreclosure Documents Again", Daily Finance, Abigail Field, 2010-12-10.

I'm glad that I long ago paid off my truck loan with Northwestern Bank (now Wells Fargo).  At least they couldn't repossess it from me for some obscure technicality; I sold it.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Snow removal – something only higher taxes can buy

To avoid taxes on residents for clearing sidewalks, cities by law expect that residents clear the sidewalks in front of their houses.  But to do so one must spend time and energy clearing the sidewalk or pay somebody else to clear the sidewalk; either one is a tax by inaction.  If one has a friendly neighbor volunteer to clear a walk, that time and energy is a tax on that neighbor.   Add to the time and energy the costs of snow shovels, ice chippers, snow blowers, and ice melt or sand.  Oh yes, gas and oil for the snow blower.  And in some cases heart attacks or muscle pain.

All of this is inefficient and more.  Hired snow clearers do a couple of houses in one area and move on to another.  Individual homeowners may or may not clear their walks at the same time or even on the same day.  Depending on the size of the boulevard, the sidewalk snow may be thrown into the yard, to become melt water in warmer weather, run across the sidewalk, and then freeze in colder weather.

People who might normally walk now drive for their own safety and comfort.  Parents who are concerned about their children's safety demand school buses, even for walks of less than a half-hour.  School buses are operated with tax money.

This cycle can be repeated several times in any given snow season, the snow pile getting higher and the frozen melt getting thicker.

Wouldn't it be more efficient and cost effective if the city were to remove as much plowed or blown snow as possible after each storm?  The state certainly does it on bridges and underpasses.  What if as soon as possible after plowing, the city came back with large snowblowers and trucks and removed the snow on boulevards?  What if next the city came back again and cleared and removed the snow from sidewalks?  It may be a lot of money up front, but the overall savings to the community might be very large.

If all else fails, let's resort to the argument that snow removal creates jobs.  Gosh, if there is tax money to induce a business to move to a city to "create jobs", can't there be tax money to "create jobs" to make a city more livable?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

What nationality are you? An irrelevant question!

Asking "What nationality are you" seems to be an American social game.  But is it really a relevant question?  When people ask me this, I answer, "I'm American."  How can I be anything else?

Three of my grandparents were born in the U.S. and one in a part of Germany now in Poland.  I hardly knew my German-born grandmother when I was growing up.  I certainly was not German when I went to Germany.

Four of my great-grandparents were born in Germany.  See above.  I never met any of them.  Three of my great-grandparents were born in England.  I only knew one of my great-grandmothers and about the only English custom observed when we visited her was drinking tea, with Carnation milk!  I certainly was not English when I went to England.

One of my great-grandfathers, the one with the "Irish" name, was born in Williamsburgh, New York, now a neighborhood of Brooklyn.  I never knew him, and I only drove through Brooklyn to get to JFK.  I doubt anybody anywhere would consider me a Brooklynite.

I've known several people who've called themselves Swedish or Italian, but I bet I've spent more time in those countries and know more of both languages than many of these people's parents.  Not all by any means, but enough to wonder why these people call themselves Swedish or Italian rather than Americans.

Ironically, Americans often consider Canadian, Australian, and New Zealander as nationalities.  But these countries are populated with people from all over the world, just like the United States.

Even more ironically, many of the "nationalities" represent nation-states that are themselves made of people with ancestors outside the borders of the nation states.  Consider the often beleaguered nation Poland.  Most of the people there have German, Swedish, Finnish, Russian, Latvian, and other ancestors.  The French skier, Jean-Claude Killey's grandfather was a Kelly.  And what nationality is the president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy?  According to American custom he is Hungarian-Greek-Jewish-Spanish-…  Are there any French "birthers" demanding to see Sarkozy's birth certificate?