Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Fiscal responsibility" can be irresponsible

"Fiscal responsibility" is one of the current buzzwords in politics and is one of the core beliefs of The Tea Party Patriots.  The Tea Party Patriot statement on this is rather amorphous with phrases like "freedom of the individual to spend the money that is the fruit of their own labor" and "high levels of taxation".

But was the money the fruit of their own labor free of any infra-structure, like roads, education, police and fire protection?  A high level of taxation is a relative term.  What is high in simple times to fill the treasury of the king can be too low in a complex times to provide all the services that individuals need to be fully productive.

The users of "fiscal responsibility" and "living within its means" are conspicuously silent about these same terms applied to corporations.  Some very large corporations have more debt than they have shareholder capital.  If corporations were to live within their means, why do airlines raise fares when the price of fuel goes up or food processors cut the size of their packages when the price of agricultural goods goes up?

If government were to "live within its means", can you imagine calling the fire department and getting the answer, "Sorry, we can't come any more this month; our diesel budget has run out."  I'm sorry, but if corporations can raise their prices without even consulting their customers, why can't government raise its taxes when the prices of goods goes up?

If we're going to talk about "fiscal responsibility", let's be specific about what is truly fiscally irresponsible.  Do we really need a second engine manufacturer for an already overly expensive fighter plane?  Do we really need "a bridge to nowhere".

The sad reality is that there are petulant people in Congress who think their constituents need these projects and they won't vote for projects for constituents of other members of Congress unless the latter vote for their projects.  Pork to one is bacon to another.  And what newspaper doesn't praise its local member of Congress for "bringing home the bacon"?

The sad reality is if only ten percent of the populace are for a project, thirty percent don't care, and sixty percent are opposed to the project, then many of the ten percent will be very vocal in support, and few of the others will even say anything.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The truth shall make you free but "THE TRUTH" can imprison you

The truth is a never-ending quest that leads to more knowledge and sometimes wisdom.  For example, many people discovered chemical elements that they thought were indivisible.  Then others discovered that the elements were composed of protons, electrons, and neutrons.  This led to greater understanding of compounds.  Then yet others discovered that there were many more sub-atomic particles than these three.

Governance is another truth that many are discovering.  Once it was thought that kings ruled by divine right; how else could they have become kings?  More and more people are discovering that democracy can be a much better form of government.  Now we need more and more people to discover how to make it work better.

On the other hand, "THE TRUTH" can lock people into a very limited view of the world.  For example, "THE TRUTH" that the Sun revolves around the Earth gave very limited ability to predict celestial events, knowledge that was needed to make accurate calendars.

"THE TRUTH" can divide people based on religious or other differences.  If we still held "THE TRUTH" that women are inferior to men, would we have some of the scientific, literary, musical, and political ideas we now have if only men were deemed capable of complicated thought?

I got another view of the distinction between the truth and "THE TRUTH" reading Sheri S. Tepper's "The Visitor".  Most of it takes place centuries after "The Happening" when some astronomical object struck the Earth and wiped out most of the population.  One group of survivors considers themselves "The Spared" and believes that the only other beings are demons.  This belief gives inordinate power to a few, and as Lord Acton said "Power corrupts".  If you decide to read "The Visitor", be forewarned that the powerful deal in gratuitous violence.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A couple of interesting quotes

The first is from the panel, appointed by and funded by Toyota to look into its safety problems.  The Star Tribune, 2011-05-24, Business quoted the panel that Toyota noted its success in saving over $100 million by negotiating a limited recall of all-weather floor mats".  The Strib wrote this as "an example of what the independent panel called the automaker's view of regulation as an 'adversarial process' that considers blocked regulations to be 'wins.'"

Gosh, too bad more complainers of government overregulation aren't caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

The second is some words of wisdom in Sheri S. Tepper's "The Visitor", a post apocalypse science-fantasy: "You asked for wisdom?  Hear these words.  Nothing limits intelligence more than ignorance; nothing fosters ignorance than one's own opinions; nothing strengthens opinions more than refusing to look at reality."

The problem is what is reality: we are spending too much or we are not investing enough?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I'm two degrees of separation from Muammar Gaddafi?

A couple of weeks ago I received an email supposedly from Aisha al Gaddafi, the daughter of Muammar Gaddafi.  I'll spare you the tale of woe about her fleeing Libya, but as you can guess it is really a plea that I help her get access to "Thirty Million Great Britain Pounds Sterling" in Barclays Bank London by transferring it to my account.

I'm supposed to "keep this conversation and business between you and I confidential for security and success".  However "I" includes me and "undisclosed-recipients".  I wonder how many people this group includes.

Needless to say, I'll forward this email to the Anti-Phishing Working Group .  I hope many others have already forwarded this, but I could be the first.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Marriage amendments rather than budget compromise

I posted the following on Facebook in response to a relative's posting of the curt response of Tony Cornish, Republican, MN House concerning his vote on the proposed "marriage" amendment to the Minnesota Constitution.

I plan to vote blank on this proposed amendment in 2012.  Unlike voting for people, in Minnesota a blank ballot is counted for constitutional amendments - as a no vote.  My purposes are two - I don't like the amendment, and I don't think such amendments should be put on the ballot.

Unfortunately the Republicans and our Democratic governor don't consider that a minority of the eligible voters actually supported them.  Many people are proud of the Minnesota turnout of 55.9%, the highest in the country.  But to have half the eligible voters support a candidate, nearly ninety percent of the people who actually voted would have to vote for the candidate.  I doubt that any candidate in 2010 got that support, even if unopposed.

To end minority government, be sure to vote, even if you have to write somebody in.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Rapture? I'm still here!

It is now past 1:00 a.m, Sunday, 2011-05-21, and I'm still here.  Did the Rapture happen?

I could say I don't know because I'm in the woods, but since "The Prairie Home Companion" is on the radio right now, I'd say the Rapture didn't happen.

Why did I pick Jerusalem time?  If you're going to be precise in Biblical predictions, you should use time references from the place where they were supposedly made.  But then when has Biblical consistency been used by many modern-day prophets?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

An efficient big corporation, sometimes

Since I complain so much about big corporations, I should say something nice when a big corporation gives unexpectedly good service.

We are going to make a trip this summer, and I finally got around to making our hotel reservations.  I got online to our favorite hotel chain, but I couldn't make the reservation for the full stay.  I kept shortening the stay until the reservation was accepted.

I then tried to make a reservation at the tail end of our planned stay.  The site said there was no hotel in the my desired location!!!  The hotel was even in the list of my confirmations.

I called the chain's 800 number to report the problem.  I also told the representative that I would call the hotel directly to get on its wait-list.  He confirmed that that was my best plan.

When I called the hotel, I got better than being on the wait-list; I got the reservation for the full planned stay.  And I received email confirmation of the updated reservation within minutes.

I think the "secret" to this excellent customer service is that employees are given quite a bit of leeway to satisfy customers.  Too many organizations (government and private) impose a rigid set of rules on their employees.  One could say that "liberal" organizations fare better than "conservative" organizations.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I've not stopped writing because the end of the world is near

I have become erratic in my output for a couple of reasons.  One is all the problems with synching my contacts and calendars.  That has also made me tired, but two, I have either cold or hay fever symptoms.  The coughing and sniffling take energy.  Three, my wife has gone out of town for a few days, and now I have to work three times as hard as when she is here.  Make that five times as hard given the first and second reasons.

So, the end of the world is near.  Or so the Bible tells us according to some self-styled prophets.  But if every word of the Bible is true and the word of God, what does one make of Mark 24:35-36, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.  But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels or heaven, but my Father only."  That means either Harold Camping and his "rapture" followers don't really understand the Bible or they have one heck of a lot of hubris to know more than God.

Thanks to Josh Nelson, pastor of Spirit of Joy Lutheran Church in Buffalo MN for "They say the world will end Saturday.  What do they know?", Star Tribune, 2011-05-18.

Anyway, if you're still around on Monday or Tuesday, I hope to have one or more ideas posted by then.  I have quite a backlog of notes.

Enjoy your weekend, especially Sunday:)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Little box vs. BIG BOX (Videos)

Several weeks ago we went to our favorite video rental store, Video Vision in the Mt. Royal complex of shops in Duluth.  We don't rent movies often, maybe twice a month on average.  Even then, we weren't big spenders, as seniors we paid $1.08 for videos not considered New Release.

As we entered, we noticed a sign that the store would be closing in about two weeks.  The sign referred customers to its other two stores that our outside our normal errands.  I should mention that the now closed store was in walking distance for us.

This store was tucked behind a coffee shop and not easily seen from the street.  It had a reasonable selection but was becoming eclipsed by two other competitors.  One of course is Netflix, which many people find very convenient.  The other is Red Box, which has a limited selection but is in high traffic areas.  The nearest Red Box is at Mt. Royal Fine Foods, a supermarket that probably has more traffic in an hour than the video store had all week.  Of course, not every supermarket customer is looking for a video, but I've seen many people standing in line with one.

The nearest video store to us now is a small shop that is for sale.  We haven't visited it in years because of its small selection and at that time, nearly no DVDs.  The next is Mr. Movies in the Plaza shopping center.  It does have a large selection, including many foreign movies.  But it is out of our normal shopping routes.

I couldn't tell you where the big video chains are without checking the phone book.  We may be skipping the big boxes for videos completely and going "out of the box".

With a nominal 7Mbps internet speed, we can access movies online.  It has some drawbacks, but we don't have to leave home to access a movie.  Both Google's YouTube and Apple offer recent releases at $3.99.  The customer has 30 days to access the movie and once viewed, 24 hours to complete viewing.  Viewing includes backing up to see parts again.

We gave "The King's Speech" from YouTube a try.  I ordered if from my laptop for delayed viewing and then we watched it several days later by streaming it on my wife's iMac.  Even with the supposed high-speed internet, we had little, minor, annoying discontinuities.

If I remember correctly, YouTube only offers streaming.  We could never watch a movie this way at our cabin with dial-up at 24kbps.  At this speed, it takes five minutes to load the main page of many online newspapers.  It would probably take most of the evening to get through the initial credits.

I checked Apple's iTunes store and they have the same deal for recent movies, but one can choose between streaming and downloading.  Since I already "blew" my movie "budget" for the month with "The King's Speech", I chose "All the Pretty Horses" at 99 cents.  I downloaded it for later viewing, but it took over two hours.  I have yet to watch it but plan to do so later in the week.  We'll see if it offers smoother viewing.

Wow, how movie viewing has changed in my lifetime!  Neighborhood theaters at 10 cents for kids with a newsreel, a short, a cartoon, and one or two features.  Were they ever crowded on Saturday afternoons.  Downtown theaters with first-run movies.  Drive-ins.  The suburban multiplexes, making money with many of the seats empty.  Then VHS for home viewing.  Then DVD for home viewing.  (Oops, I forgot cable because we never had it.)  Stores cropped up in malls and neighborhoods to rent them.  Each type of the movie theater has all but disappeared.  The video stores are disappearing.

I wonder if anyone has done an analysis at the number of jobs "lost" as the tastes and technology changed.

Now we'll have less than a dozen companies offering movies for on-demand viewing, each with its huge banks of servers holding thousands and thousands of movies.  It wouldn't surprise me if many movie producers had no hard copy of their work.  From camera to computer to editors to computer to the online retailers computers.  What meaning will "roll", "cut", and "in the can" have anymore?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

More foibles of free enterprise

I write these little diatribes against "free enterprise" not because I oppose "free enterprise" but because I get tired of those who believe "free enterprise" should be free to do what it damn well pleases and that government can do nothing right.

"Free enterprise" and government are both human creations and, as such, can do wonderful things and can really screw up.  The latest free enterprise screw up screwed up my day recently.

I use my computer and my iPod to keep my calendar.  Because I prefer the calendar in Microsoft Outlook, I have to use Apple's iCal on my computer to synchronize the iPod calendar and the Outlook calendar.  Normally this works "seamlessly", but a few times it hasn't.

Last week the calendar on my iPod became blank.  All the entries had disappeared.  Years of past data and months of future data gone without any effort on my part.  I checked iCal on my computer; all that data was gone also.   I checked the Outlook calendar and the data was all there, whew!

But, could I restore the data to the other two calendars by synching or would the Outlook data be wiped out also?

Off to the wonderland of Apple support.  With most large companies, this doesn't mean talking with an "expert" anymore.  Instead you have to rely on hundreds or thousands of other customers asking and answering questions.  This means sifting through dozens, if not hundreds, of messages that seem to be about a problem similar to yours.

There were many threads about iCal calendars disappearing, going back to 2006 (or was it 2004).  I'm using the latest publicly available version of OS X (10.6.7). Come on, Apple, can't you get this problem fixed permanently in five years?

I did find a suitable solution, which involved deleting a certain folder from the Library folder and replacing it with a backup copy from before the error occurred.  Well, the certain folder wasn't where the message said it was, but it was close enough for me to find it.  Second problem for many people is how often do they even back up their Library folder.

Fortunately, I have installed Apple's Time Machine, which frequently backs up my internal hard drive to an external hard drive.  And it backs up multiple copies for up to a month.  I selected a copy of the folder from when I knew my calendar had data.

Bingo!  The computer iCal was restored and after I synched the iPod, I had both calendars up-to-date, sort of.

But I was not home free.  After the Outlook calendar was synched with iCal, I had double entries for many events.  I still haven't removed all the duplicates.

A half day shot for the "efficiency" of free enterprise.  Those who make the false comparison between free enterprise and government either don't use computers or are blinded by their ideology.

I'm not completely unsympathetic to the problems of software.  When I closed my software business fifteen years ago, I had a problem book at least nine pages long.  That program was a toy compared to the complexity of most software today.  Much of modern software is not the product of one programmer in a home office, but of a vast bureaucracy.  The bureaucracy screws up a lot, but boy, we still get lots of great stuff from the bureaucracy, be it corporate or government.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Is Obama "lowering" the summer gas prices?

Many have been blaming President Obama for the rise in gas prices.  Analysts are predicting that gas prices will be dropping over the summer.  Will those blaming Obama for a rise in gas prices praise him for lowering gas prices?  I doubt that they will.  Is Obama responsible for the rise or fall of gas prices?  The President is only one of many actors in events with many causes.

For a more nuanced look at the rise and fall of gas prices, see "Gas prices expected to drop 50 cents by summer", Chris Kahn, Associated Press, 2011-05-08 through Yahoo! Finance.

For comparisons of gas prices, see "The World in Gas Prices: From 10 cents to 10 Dollars a Gallon", The Atlantic, 2011-05-03, via Yahoo! Finance.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Taxes aren't preventing businesses from creating jobs says a business

See "Sorry, Republicans, The Economy Is Not Crappy Because of 'Uncertainty' About Taxes And Regulation", Business Insider, Henry Blodget, 2011-05-04.

Another case of different rules for corporations than for people

It's been in the news that many U. S. corporations don't pay taxes on earnings in foreign countries.  Consider that U. S. citizens living in other countries must file and pay U. S. income tax every year!

"If you are a U. S. citizen or resident alien, the rules for filing income, estate, and gift tax returns and for paying estimated tax are generally the same whether you are in the United States or abroad."
- Publication 54, Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Why do we expect more from kids than adults?

Every day all across the country, we make kids sit still in classes of dozens for 40-45 minutes at a time, sometimes listening, sometimes participating.  They are supposed to do this every weekday for over 30 weeks a year.

Now, go to any lecture or concert.  Look around you about a half hour into the event.  How many adults do you see (or hear) nodding off?  How often do you yourself stay awake through a lecture without a cup of coffee in front of you?  And we went because we were interested in the lecture or concert!

This little diatribe was inspired by "Apple co-founder Wozniak: computers can teach kids", Reuters, 2011-05-03.  My favorite quote is:

"School in itself is pretty much a restrictive force on creativity," he said. "When you come to class, you do the exact same pages in the book, the same hours as everyone else in the class. You don't go off in your own little directions."

BTW, he secretly taught elementary school for eight years.

Monday, May 02, 2011

One born-in-USA citizen who "can't" be President

Jim Heffernan, retired Duluth News Tribune editor and writer, explains why his birth certificate would make it difficult for him to run for President.  See "Obama birth proof puts mine to shame".

Free enterprise: Free to do what, kill us?

In the name of short-term profits, is free enterprise free to kill us long term?

One of the complaints of "free marketers" is government interference.  But who else but government is going to protect us from the carcinogens that free enterprise dumps into our environment?

For a summary, watch the trailer of "Living Downstream" based on Sandra Steingraber's book "Living Downstream: An Ecologists Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment".

Was Saif Al-Arab Gaddafi really killed by NATO?

Given the destruction shown by Libyan State TV of the house that Gaddafi's son was supposedly killed in, how did Muammar Gaddafi and his wife escape unscathed?

Is it possible that Saif also called Aruba wanted out of Libya?  Is it possible that he was advising his father or others against continuing the war?  Is it possible that Gaddafi had his own son killed for his own reasons, but then he made the death look like NATO was responsible?

Will we never know one way or another?