Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The lost word

Last night as I was falling asleep I had an idea for a blog.  It was so clear that I had it half-written in my head.  I should get up, start up my computer, and start writing.  Naw!   I would rather go to sleep.  I can do it in the morning.

The sun came up and the idea had gone completely away.  Just like Adelaide Anne Porter's "The Lost Chord", my lost word "trembled away into silence… I have sought, but I seek vainly".  See "The Lost Chord" in Wikipedia.

Quote of the day: A plumber

We saw on the side of a plumber's truck: Sudden Service!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Nuclear energy and floods - everything has been taken care of

Nuclear plants around the country are in flood plains, and some have had barriers placed around them.  One barrier sprang a leak when a worker accidentally punctured it.  However, nuclear plant operators are saying there is nothing to concerned about, including Xcel Energy in Minnesota, which has had a faulty back-up switch for years.

Be sure to consider the "first fully automated passenger plane".  "Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the world's first fully automated passenger plane.  There is no crew on board and everything has been put in the control of fully tested computer systems.  So, please sit back and relax, and relax, and relax, …"

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Is the economy changing away from current models?

The Coffee Party had a Facebook link to "The New-Economy Movement", Gar Alperovitz.  It was originally published in "The Nation", 2011-05-27

Alperovitz writes that there are many alternatives to the large corporations doing business successfully.  There include co-operatives and employee-owned companies.  Many companies have become "triple bottom line"; the environment and social outcomes are considered as well as profits.

The American Sustainable Business Council recently told the Labor Secretary Hilda Solis "that the US Chamber of Commerce does not speak for all American business".

Alperovitz thinks that many of these efforts will bring about systemic change.  I wonder if this might also mean a couple of new parties to replace the two corporate parties.

Republican spending vs. Democratic spending

Pete Langr wrote an interesting column this week on how the Republicans and the Democrats are looking at the budget, each from the wrong perspective: "Taxes aren't the problem: the real solution is to control supply costs".  As of my writing, the Duluth Budgeteer has not posted his article on line.  Watch for it at http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/event/tag/group/Budgeteer/tag/Budge%20Opinion/

My take is that the Republican goes to a certain restaurant every week and pays one dollar for his dinner and leaves a dime tip.  One dollar for dinner?!?  Yep, I could do that in the 50s when I worked at a grocery store.  Meat, potatoes, and a vegetable for one buck.

But the Republican refuses to spend more than that dollar for his dinner.  Over the years he gets less and less food.  After a time he refuses to tip because he isn't getting his "value".  Now he is lucky to get a half a cup of diluted coffee for his buck.

Meanwhile the Democrat orders the same meal and pays whatever is on the check.  The restaurant, appreciative of his business, gives him more food, of course charging more over time.  The Democrat is getting so much food that he needs "a box" for the extra.  But he never asks to get less food for a lower price.  Because the customary tip has changed from ten percent to twenty percent, he willingly includes that in his bill.  Now he is paying more than $36 for what once was $2.20 bucks worth of food.  And he is happy to do so.

Who "destroyed" free markets?

Which of the following do you have in your area?

Independent, locally owned grocery store
Independent, locally owned drug store
Independent, locally owned stationery store
Independent, locally owned movie theater
Independent, locally owned book store
Independent, locally owned department store
Independent, locally owned daily newspaper
Independent, locally owned lumber yard
Independent, locally owned hardware store

By independent, I mean that there is only one location and that often the owner works in the store.

Grocery stores and drug stores are most likely chains, either national or state-wide.  Stationery stores are most likely national chains.  Movie theaters have been done in by technology, either television or VHS/DVDs.  Independent book stores have been done in both by large chains and technology, the latter being e-books.  Department stores multiplied with large shopping malls and then got gobbled up by large chains.  Daily newspapers have been part of large syndicates before I was even born.  Lumber yards have been replaced by three or four large chains.  And local hardware stores are dwindling.

So much for a large number of sellers, an integral part of the classical free market.

If it wasn't technology that did in a retail outlet, what or who was responsible?

How about a Republican president?  Dwight Eisenhower pushed the interstate highway system which led to urban sprawl.  City neighborhoods were decimated when people in large numbers moved to the suburbs.  Dwindling neighborhoods led to fewer customers who walked to do most of their shopping.

How about large corporations?  With their greater buying power, large corporations can easily undercut small stores on prices.  Greater buying power also gives an advertising edge to large corporations.  In Duluth, a locally owned group of drug stores went out of business this year.  Walgreen's was just too much for it.  Only about three or four owner-operated pharmacies are left.  When I was a teen-ager, I lived in a Cleveland neighborhood that had three owner-operated pharmacies.

How about development-hungry city governments?  Duluth made a big splash about getting an Office Depot to locate downtown.  Guess what, the locally-owned, downtown stationer went out of business.  Guess what again, Office Depot corporate closed the store within a year or so.

How about ourselves?  We would rather go to a big store with a big selection.  We would rather go to a chain we know than try something unknown.  I know when I travel I favor one hotel chain and too often eat at a chain restaurant.  The latter I do because too often the only restaurants around chain hotels are chains themselves.  Fortunately, I do find pleasing exceptions now and then.

Take heart, true believers in true free markets.  There are many businesses still around that are local and numerous.  There are the craftspeople - plumbers, carpenters, electricians, and so on.  Despite the proliferation of chain restaurants and coffee shops, there are quite a few local restaurants and coffee shops.  There are still plenty of local barbers and hairdressers.  Local breweries are making inroads on mega-breweries by providing better taste.  And at least in Duluth and Superior, most liquor stores are locally owned.  I'll drink to that!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Read labels carefully

A couple of weeks ago I went along one of our paths in Brimson with a string trimmer.  When it ran out of gas, I went back to get the gas can.  I refilled the trimmer and it wouldn't start.  Gosh, a friend had just fixed it a year ago and had it running great.

Eventually I got it started but it would only keep running when I could grab the throttle quickly enough.  For many tries, I just wasn't soon enough.  Then I did grab the throttle quickly enough, but I couldn't hold the throttle and get the trimmer back on the harness.  Again and again, the fool pushed on.  I gave up trying to get it in the harness and just rested it on my hip.

I was really cutting grass now.  Then the trimmer ran slower and slower and started smoking.  I stopped it and headed back to the cabin.  Then I looked at the gas can I had taken.  It was regular gas and not gas-oil mix!!

The can for the mix does still have a clear 50 on it for 50-1 mix.  Read labels, dummy!

I emptied the tank and refilled it with the mix.  After many, many pulls, the trimmer ran as it should.

The old saying "If all else fails, read the directions" still holds.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

You can't argue with Tea Party supporters

Today's Duluth News Tribune had a rebuttal of my Tea Party Local View.  See "United States on a fast track to tyranny".  You can see it free for about seven days.

His first fixation is on taxes as being a sole driver of economic activity - "High taxes drive taxpayers out of high-tax states…"  True if you consider only people who measure only taxes as a cost.  These writers never consider that taxes buy us lots of things that drive economic activity.  He ignores that many companies move to where skilled labor is available and that it takes taxes to educate and train people.

That bastion of free enterprise, the Wall Street Journal, published an opinion earlier this week that a company moving to the South (low taxes and anti-union) may be getting lower quality: "Boeing's Threat to American Enterprise: When major firms move to the South, it's usually a harbinger of quality decline.  Why let that happen?", Thomas Geoghegan, Wall Street Journal, 2011-06-20.  Sorry, you'll have to subscribe to see the whole article.

He gets on the tax and spend mantra and that much is paid for by borrowing.  But why is the money borrowed?  For two wars?  For infra-structure investment?  To bail out large corporations?

He claims that the "intent of our country's founders is obvious from their writings…"  I guess he knows better than the Supreme Court, which over the decades has had difficulty discerning the intent.  He completely missed my comment that first a slave was property and not a person and then property (a corporation) was a person.  I didn't put in my article that these cases were Dred Scott and Citizens United.

He claims that we are on "the fast track to tyranny as we relinquish … our dollars and choices to government officials who supposedly know what is best for us."  He ignores that we are still a republic and can vote these people out.

He missed my point about free markets being many players with sufficient information.  He ignores that our free markets have devolved into a few players with the power to buy our government.  Now that is tyranny!!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Monday, June 20, 2011

Misdirected ire about buggy software

In "Quote of the day - Ease of use"
I berated Steve Jobs and Apple about his quote "Everything syncs without us having to think about it" because calendars in Microsoft Outlook, Apple's iCal, and my iPod were not synching properly.

Well, the problem was far worse than a few duplicated events.  I had dozens and dozens that were duplicated over 100 times and one possibly over 500 times.  That's a lot of shift-clicks followed by a delete.  I've spent over a week now cleaning up at least three months a day.

Why delete duplicates from nine years ago?  Because each item takes up space.  For every three months cleaned up, I would back up the calendar.  For 2004 it could take well over five minutes to backup.  When I cleaned up into 2010, it started backing up in a minute.  When I cleaned up into 2011, it backed up in less than a minute.

I also spent lots and lots of time looking at Microsoft's support pages.  Hoo, boy!  There ain't much praise there!  Message after message complains about this and similar problems.  The only posted responses are from MVPs (whatever that stands for), volunteers who try to direct users to relevant support pages.

Microsoft put out an update last week that I downloaded and installed.  However, despite people complaining about sync problems since April 6, there was no mention of them in the notes for the update.

I wonder how much Microsoft is even screening any of these comments.  I posted two comments on June 13, and they are still marked "Your comment is awaiting moderation."

This whole situation has the earmarks of upper management declaring something should be done by such and such date, middle management trying to figure out how to assign the work to too few people, and the programmers trying valiantly to put round pegs in square holes.

Shades of Dilbert!

Shades of the bad old days of mainframes!  We felt lucky to get out a new system that crashed a few minutes less frequently than the previous version.

How Conservatism Lost Touch with Reality

The Coffee Party put a link on Facebook to "How Conservatism Lost Touch with Reality", Fareed Zacharia, Time, 2011-06-16.  When Zacharia was a student, he interviewed George Will, who told him that "Conservativism is true."  Although Zacharia thought the statement a bit arrogant, he wrote that down through the ages conservative thought has been based on how the world was, not on some abstract principles.  Current American "conservatives" have gone from the pre-Reagan realism to a laundry list of abstract principles.

I knew the Republican Party was in trouble when it nominated Ronald Reagan, an abstractionist, over John Anderson, a pragmatist.  I knew it was in even further trouble when it described those Republicans who didn't fully subscribe to a laundry list of abstract principles as RINOs - Republicans in name only.  Actually RINOs are realists insist no orthodoxy.

A man had to give away his cute dog…

It was a tick magnet!

Friday, June 17, 2011

No new taxes is so one-dimensional

Some rich will leave for states with lower taxes.  But are taxes their only costs.  I wonder how many have even checked.  I know some, at least well-off, who have moved to other states, claiming they don't like Minnesota's "high taxes".  I wonder how much different their cost of living is.  Maybe it is less because they moved to a "low wage" state, and being on pensions, they need not be concerned about their own pay checks.

Interestingly, companies that moved to a low-tax state like North Dakota can't find enough qualified workers.  They are trying to entice people to move there.

Polaris has recently bought two out-of-state companies and is moving its operations to the high-tax state of Minnesota.  It is moving an electric vehicle company from North Dakota and Indian Motorcycles from North Carolina.  Isn't North Carolina a "low-tax" state and more non-union than union?

Maybe there are more companies that look at the big picture and not just taxes than there are who look only at taxes.  It's easier to find cases of the latter because they make so much noise about it.

Where's Grover Norquist when we need him?

I find it amazing that the Republicans are not up in arms about no new taxes for the Vikings stadium in Arden Hills.  We certainly don't hear them talking about greedy players and owners.

Hey folks, a much better investment in Minnesota is schools and colleges.  It's not the rich that create jobs, but the well-educated.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

If we change Lake Calhoun's name, then…

we have to change the names of thousands of other places.

Once again someone is calling for changing the name of Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis because John C. Calhoun, for whom it was named, was proslavery.

If we do this then we must change the names of everything named for George Washington and Thomas Jefferson; after all, they both owned hundreds of slaves.

Even the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, waffled on the issue.  He said slavery should be abolished in the District of Columbia, but only if the people wanted it.  He would say in an election speech in northern Illinois that "all men are created equal" and say later in southern Illinois that "… I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of of bringing about the social and political equality of the white and black races".  See "A People's History of the United States", Howard Zinn, page 188.  Honest Abe?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The "political spectrum" is so one-dimensional

I wish people would get out of the habit of talking about the "political spectrum" as is one's beliefs could be positioned on a single line.  That is an unjustified limitation of the complexity of human beings.

The political spectrum is defined as being either to the left or to the right.  These in themselves are rather meaningless terms.  Those on the right are not approaching fascism and those on the left are not approaching communism.  Both of these bankrupt systems were only interested in state power.

Take the case of Rep. Anthony Wiener, a Democrat.  His Twitter foibles are an aberration not shared by other Democrats.  Neither are the foibles of Sen. Ensign shared by other Republicans.  Maybe we need a couple of political dimensions for arrogance and for sexual dalliance.

How about a dimension for ignorance vs. diligence?  Rep. Michele Bachman complains about being forced not to use incandescent lamps.  The bill has no such prohibition; it specifies the energy needed for so many lumens.  She never read the bill; I did.  Senators were challenged to read the entire original PATRIOT act.  Only one did and he voted against it.

How about a dimension for certitude and doubt?  We have too many all along the political spectrum who have too much of the first and not enough of the second.

Finally, how about a dimension for being right and for being wrong?  We have people all along the political spectrum who are often more right than wrong as well as those who are often more wrong than right.

Tim Pawlenty is right about growth but…

his examples of five percent growth are a bit less than five percent, and that growth is paltry compared to other other periods.  For example the 1930's under Franklin Roosevelt when it was around ten percent or better.  See Daniel Gross, "Pawlenty's 5 percent growth solution makes historical sense", Yahoo Finance, 2011-06-14.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tea Party critique published

I submitted a "Local View" on the Tea Party to the Duluth News Tribune.  It was published today with the title "Tea Party positions misses today's complexities".  You can find it for a week or so at http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/event/tag/group/Opinion/tag/Local%20view/

The opinion page editor, Chuck Frederick, changed almost every line, as his wont.  Fortunately, his sends his revisions of my Local Views to me before publication.  It was a good thing because he added a word that changed the meaning of one point.  I pointed it out and he printed it with my correction.

Thanks to the four people who said they liked it.

Essentially I wrote that the Tea Party Patriots' fiscal responsibility can be irresponsible, their limited constitutional government cannot be determined by the "intent" of the writers, and their free markets haven't existed since the railroads began.

One question readers may have in reading "the last great Republican President, Abraham Lincoln" is who do I consider the last great Democratic President.  I thought about it for five minutes and came up with Thomas Jefferson, who was then called a Democratic-Republican.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Quote of the day - Ease of use

"Everything syncs without us having to think about it." - Apple CEO Steve Jobs, 2011-06-06, on introducing iCloud

Hey Steve!  How about coming to my house and think about syncing my iPod and MacBook Pro?  I have spent I don't know how many hours trying to restore dropped calendars and contacts or remove duplicate entries in either.

Maybe it's Microsoft's fault.  These problems seem to have started when I switched from Office 2008 to Office 2011.  Microsoft replaced Entourage in the former with Outlook in the latter.  Similar software, but as usual, the new improved version can be several steps backward.

I don't know how many times I've searched in Apple's and Microsoft's support pages.  Lots and lots of people report the problem, but few people, if any, answer with a solid long term solution.  I've tried some, and some have worked for a while.  But like the infamous cat, it always comes back.

I've called AppleCare and got some advice that sort of helped. But the cat came back.

I looked in Apple's support pages and did find a more detailed solution.  It sort of seems to have worked, but I had duplicates going back to 2002, like 20 Christmas days on the same day and six voice lessons on the same day.  I've spent well over an hour eliminating the duplicates in 2002.  At least for the holidays I won't have to delete duplicates in later years, but all those other activities, it remains to be seen.

Also, I don't know what the side effects of deleting ALL the files in the cache folder.  There was stuff for TurboTax, Google Earth, Adobe, and I've forgotten what else.  At least they are backed up on my Time Machine.

Ah!  Time Machine, that marvelous hourly backup in the background.  Background? Hah!  When the backup is busy for over an hour, lots of other things slow down and certainly make me think about it.

No, I'm not going to go over to the dark side.  Microsoft Office is enough.

But I certainly wish you would run a company that is more efficient than the IRS, which contrary to Republican doctrine, does a nice job of co-operating with private companies to make reporting and refunds quick.

P.S. Thanks to the messed up composing page in Google's Blogger, I couldn't post this right away.  Or maybe it was because Apple's instructions to delete the cache.  I fixed the problem by quitting and restarting Firefox.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Book about the myths of capitalism

The Coffee Party facebook page had a link to a Truthout article.  It is the first chapter of Ha-Joon Chang's "23 Things They Don't Tell You about Capitalism"; the chapter is "There Is No Such Thing as a Free Market".


The Duluth Public Library has a copy, but it is out until June 29.

Stop minority government, vote!

This is the gist of a letter I wrote to the Star Tribune.  You can find it free for about a week at http://www.startribune.com/opinion/letters/123663169.html.

Quote of the day - Stock Market

"Why is it that when everything goes on sale at Sears everyone gets excited and rushing into the store, but when everything goes on sale in the stock market, everyone panics and runs out of the store?"

- Member TheLudicFallacy on a Motley Fool board

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

"Life is not conservative"

Harry Drabik concluded an interesting analysis of "conservative" thought with the above statement.  It is in his column "north shore notes" in the Reader Weekly, 2011-06-02.

"Life is not conservative.  It is wildly radical existing on sea bottom deeps, high mountain peaks, and dry deserts.  There is nothing conservative about life on this planet.  If you believe in a Creator about the most disrespectful thing would be to take all that marvelous, vibrant complexity and reduce it to a narrow little fairy tale that suits you small fancies."

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A little known public-private co-operation

I was driving on some errands on Duluth's Central Entrance today.  As I neared the traffic light at Arlington, I saw flashing red lights in my rear view quite some distance behind.  I pulled over to the side which surprised the driver behind me.  More and more drivers pulled over.  An ambulance passed us all, went into the left side of the road to get around the cars stopped at the light.

Right after the ambulance passed, the light turned green and we all proceeded.  We were still in sight of the ambulance as it neared the next traffic light and the light turned red.  Also a little white light on the crossbar went on.  The ambulance went through the intersection, then the little white light went out and the light turned green.

The city of Duluth has put special switches on many of the traffic lights.  When an emergency vehicle approaches, either somebody points a special wand at the traffic light or the vehicle has some transponder.  When this happens, the lights turn red for all traffic entering the intersection.  After the emergency vehicle passes, the traffic signal resumes its normal cycle.  I bet these special switches ain't cheap.

How is this public-private co-operation?  The only ambulance service in Duluth is a private company.  If the city hadn't put up the special switches, the ambulances would have to slow down a lot more at intersections, making their run time longer and more costly.

This is just one more example of the way government and taxes make a civilized and advanced society possible.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Want a low-tax, business-friendly country?

Nicholas Kristof offers such a paradise in "Our Fantasy Nation?", New York Times, 2011-06-04.

The country?  Pakistan!  How many low-tax advocates are ready to move there?  Oh gosh!  I don't see any hands raised.

Kristof goes on to write about all the low-tax countries where there are insufficient police because the well-off hire their own security, no public transit because a Mercedes and a private airplane do just fine, no or little public education because private schools abound.

Remember that old nasty about "going back to where you came from"?  Why not a new one about "going where they practice what you believe"?

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Shoot first? Why not think first?

Tony Cornish, a Minnesota State Representative, has produced a law that loosens the restrictions on use of firearms, namely that a person has a right to shoot another if that person believes the other is a threat (HF 1467).  This has already passed the Minnesota House and was working its way through the Senate.

Let's see.  A hunter is lost and comes to my cabin door asking for directions.  Blam! He's dead and I'm not responsible.  An irresponsible bird hunter shoots down my driveway.  Blam!  He's dead and I'm not responsible.

This is the legislature that was working hard on the state budget?

Saturday, June 04, 2011

The antidote to apathy

An interesting seven-minute video on political/civic apathy is Dave Meslin's TED talk of the above title.  TED means Technology, Education, Design.  Every one that I have looked at has provided some new perspective on the problems of today.  One of his interesting points is that newspapers often don't provide as much when and where for civic events as they do for entertainment events.  Fortunately, the Duluth News Tribune is not one of these.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Are buzz words fuzz words?

Buzz words!  Sometimes they can capture a powerful thought in a phrase.  Too many other times, they complicate a simple thought or they obscure a complex thought.

An example of complication is using an "-ize" verb when simpler more direct forms are more appropriate.  Prioritize and conceptualize are a couple of these.

Politics is where buzz words obscure more complex and nuanced thought - fair share, live within means, compromise, job creation, exporting jobs, business-friendly government.  Let's examine some of these.

Fair share - this seems to be a mantra of Democrats meaning the wealthy should pay more taxes.  End of discussion.  But what is fair share?  Is it the total amount of taxes they should pay, is it a greater percentage than they pay now?  I have yet to see a clear definition or justification.

Whatever the definition, some of us cannot pay a "fair share" for the public goods we use.  That is one of the reasons for public education.  Consider that where parents must pay for their children's education, literacy is far less than where there is free public education.  And a whole host of private and public problems accompany illiteracy.

On the other hand, the higher the level of education for everybody, the more wealth is generated.  The CEO of an innovative corporation cannot become wealthy without a large pool of creative people.  What is a "fair share" of taxes for this CEO who benefits so much from the public good of free public education and subsidized state universities?

Compromise - this used to mean negotiation to reach an agreement that would be acceptable to most of those involved.  Now it means taking a very rigid position and expecting the opposition to give up anything that does not conform to that position.

Job creation - almost no public policy can be proposed unless it is going to create jobs.  Sometimes it seems the proponents are willing to spend one million dollars for each job that will supposedly pay $50,000 for ten years.  Conversely, others are willing to forgo one million dollars in taxes to create one job that will pay $30,000 for eight years.

Exporting jobs - this has been going on for a very long time.  English textile mills "took" jobs from Indian weavers.  Cheap power in New England (and stolen plans) took jobs from English textile workers.  Cheaper power from TVA (and cheaper labor) took jobs from New England textile workers.

Sometimes the criticism of exporting jobs is way off the mark.  For some corporations, it is ridiculous to use only U. S. labor around the world.  Wal-Mart is not going to move U. S. citizens to China to staff its stores.  Fed-Ex is not going to move U. S. drivers to India to deliver packages.  Yet, some critics look at the world-wide employment of large corporations, look at the proportion of U. S. workers, and assume that each of those jobs was "exported".

I would say that anyone who uses simple terms to describe complex situations is incapable of dealing with those complex situations.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Too much free speech?

I've long had in my mind a quote that the answer to too much freedom of speech (the press) is more freedom of speech (the press).  I've thought is Winston Churchill but could find no reference.  I've thought it was Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., but could find to reference.

From looking at some articles related to the Citizens United case, I think I found the context.

It was in Whitney v. People of State of California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927).  For her activities in the Communist Labor Party, Miss Whitney was convicted to prison based on the Criminal Syndicalism Act of California.  The U.S. Supreme Court let the judgement of the state court of appeals stand.  Justice Sanford wrote the opinion.

Justice Brandeis concurred but with much more nuance; Justice Holmes joined in this opinion.

Brandeis wrote that the mere statement of an action in the far future does not constitute a threat.  He did concur that the lower court had established that the threat was more imminent.

"If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence. Only an emergency can justify repression. Such must be the rule if authority is to be reconciled with freedom. Such, in my opinion, is the command of the Constitution. It is therefore always open to Americans to challenge a law abridging free speech and assembly by showing that there was no emergency justifying it."

I think it is worthwhile struggling through all the reasoning.  The quote I used is the only place "more speech" is used, and so your browser should find it in the text.