Sunday, December 30, 2012

We are corporate guinea pigs!

"Let's stop allowing them to conduct the largest genetics experiment in the history of mankind." "Gun violence and good food", Blake Donley, Star Tribune, 2012-12-37

This opinion piece is a good rant about how so many people are ranting about this and that, but few are offering any real solutions.  Donley's point in this paragraph is that large corporations are poisoning our water and food with "toxic compounds, toxic chemicals, and toxic organisms".

As I wrote elsewhere, all this is done without any real research into how people and the environment will be affected.  See "GMO producers don't want free markets".

Thursday, December 27, 2012

How we got "Mother Goose and Grimm"

Since my two most popular blog entries have been about Mike Peter's last two Mother Goose and Grimm "Twelve days of Christmas", I thought that some of you would like to know more about him.  From I found a link to an interesting article in the St. Louis Dispatch:

"Mike Peters: The Man Behind Mother Goose and Grimm: Mike Peters extracts humor from catastrophe, political angst, private fears, and a goose's pet dog…", by Jeannette Cooperman.

English speakers should be the best linguists

Read the following out loud:

With one statement he charred Charlene's character.

Anybody who has learned to deal with three different pronunciations of "cha" really should have the mental tools to learn bits and pieces of many languages.

Corporate Entitlements

For a neat interactive map of state-by-state corporate subsidies, see "Explore Government Subsidies" by Louise Story, Tiff Fehr, and Derek Watkins, New York Times.

It also has data by corporation.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

How I nearly spoiled our Christmas

We sang in the early Christmas Eve service last night and had the soup and bread dinner between the services.  The dinner almost didn't happen because nobody had been appointed to take charge of it.  My wife did a lot of calling around and found many volunteers to bring food, serve it, and clean up afterward.  She told me that she would help set up and then let others clean up.

Well, it didn't work out that way.  After I ate and chatted with a few people, I put on my coat.  The second service started and my wife was still in the kitchen.  We also wound up bringing home the tablecloths to wash.

I was irritated; I still had presents to wrap and a few other things I wanted to do at home.

When we arrived home I made a few trips between the garage and house with things we wouldn't have had if we had left right after we ate.  The last thing I brought in was the big bundle of tablecloths.  My wife said I should just drop them down the laundry chute, but I said I would rather just take them downstairs.

This shouldn't be a problem.  I frequently take heavy boxes of firewood to the basement.  A box of tablecloths should be easy.  This despite that my vision is blocked with either the firewood or the tablecloths.

I got to the last step and caught the heel of my boot.  Forward I pitched.  I think I dropped the tablecloths.  My right knee slammed into the concrete floor and I rolled onto my back.  Oh, great!

My knee was sore, but otherwise seemed OK.  My pants weren't ripped, but there was a sheen that wasn't there before.

I picked myself up, put the tablecloths by the washing machine, and went back upstairs on my own power.  But I was even more irritated for having to stay later at church than I had planned.

Well, I did get the presents wrapped, and I did get some of the other tasks done that I had planned.  I also slept rather well, even if sugar plums weren't dancing in my head.

When I woke up this morning, my knee was not the color of a plum and I could walk OK.  Whew!  I won't be in the hospital with a broken knee cap or anything else.  Bring on the presents!  Raise our voices on high in song!  Serve the punch!  Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Quote of the day - Health care costs

Well, not quite of today.  I'm just trying to make a dent in my backlog of notes.

"How does Medicaid achieve these lower costs? Partly by having much lower administrative costs than private insurers. It’s always worth remembering that when it comes to health care, it’s the private sector, not government programs, that suffers from stifling, costly bureaucracy."
- "Medicaid on the ballot", Paul Krugman, New York Times, 2012-10-29.

For some counter arguments, see "Krugman Flunks Health Econ 101", John Goodman, National Center for Policy Analysis, 2012-11-05

One thing critics ignore about private sector versus government programs is that government doesn't have CEOs taking home eight-figure salaries and other perks.

Energy – picking winners and losers

"In addition to legislative aid, Excelsior also has received a large share of financial assistance from the public sector. The company received about $22 million in development funds from the U.S. Department of Energy before the federal agency decided to cut off its support for the morphing project this summer. Initially, Excelsior had been slated to receive $36 million in support of the “clean coal” technology it aimed to develop, but the federal agency chose to stop its funding $14 million shy of that original earmark when Excelsior’s focus shifted to natural gas."

– "Key land auction for Excelsior Energy slated for today", Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune, 2012-12-19

See also "Report: Excelsior Energy project could run out of gas", Minnesota Public Radio, 2011-08-23.

Rather than decry all these subsidies, the Minnesota State Legislature passed a law in 2008 that made the financial records reported to state agencies secret.

It is interesting that many hold alternative energy companies to a different standard than fossil fuel companies.  In the one case it is crony capitalism on the part of government, and in the other case it is creating jobs. "'At the end of the day, this is a project that has not hired one full-time worker on the Iron Range. Only lawyers, lobbyists and professional meeting attenders have gotten jobs,' said Rep. Tom Anzelc, D-Balsam Township, the only Iron Range legislator who opposes the project."  See MPR article.

Friday, December 21, 2012

NRA wants to raise your taxes

The NRA proclaims that having police officers in all schools will prevent more shootings.  Is the NRA willing to pay the taxes for tens of thousands of police officers?

There are about 99,000 public K-12 schools in the U.S. and the average police officer is paid about $50,000.  That's nearly five billion dollars.  If there are an average of two school shootings per year, that's over two billion dollars to prevent a single school shooting.  Would the NRA agree to a sales tax on guns to pay for these police officers?

Over ten million guns were sold in the U.S in 2011.  To fund the NRA's protection plan would require a $500 tax on each gun sale.  I doubt the NRA would accept that tax.

There were 93 million children enrolled in public schools in 2010.  If we taxed the parents for police officers in their children's schools, that would be about $54 per child.  So, all parents would be required to pay $54 per child so that the NRA can keep gun regulations to a minimum.  Sounds fair, not!

However, what would be assurance that said police officers would reduce school shooting deaths to zero?  The NRA is watching too many westerns where the good guys can shoot an apple out a tree, even from the hip!  The reality is that many police officers themselves are victims of mass murderers.

Sgt. Kimberly Munley, the first police officer on the scene at the Ft. Hood mass shooting, is a member of a SWAT team and an advanced firearms instructor.  Maj. Hassan, the shooter, wounded her at least twice, and supposedly he was able to kick her gun out of her reach.  Whether she wounded him sufficiently to subdue him or her partner did so is not clear from what I read.

In another case, New York Police wounded nine bystanders trying to take down a gunman on a city street.

The NRA also claims that more armed citizens will prevent mass murders.  In the Arizona shooting in which Rep. Gabby Giffords was wounded, one armed citizen almost shot the wrong person in the melee.

Several commentators are pointing out that the NRA is not so much about the right to bear arms but the right of gun makers to sell arms.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mike Peters' "Twelve Days of Christmas" puns for 2012

Mike Peters, creator of "Mother Goose and Grimm" is at again with his puns on "The Twelve Days of Christmas".  As I write this, he is on the Eighth day of Christmas.  If your newspaper doesn't carry "Mother Goose and Grimm", you can find his comics at his web site.

I was led to write this for a couple of reasons.

First, my blog entry "For word nerds only" from last December has been getting several hits a week and a common set of keywords used is "mother goose" "grimm" "twelve days" "Christmas".  This particular set puts this blog entry first of over 25,000!!!

Second, we stopped buying paper copies of the newspaper.  The online versions of the Duluth News Tribune and Star Tribune don't carry the same comics as the print edition, and even then, you have to click on the individual listing of a comic to see the current panel.  It's almost enough to get me back to the print edition.  Oh, yes, with the Star Tribune eEdition I can get a copy of the comic section.  It does take a bit more effort than scanning the paper copy, but I do have all the comics in one place.  Shall I call the Star Tribune eEdition my Christmas present to myself: two chortle doves?  Or "my blue glove waved to me"!

And another interesting tidbit!  When you pass the cursor over today's Google logo, it shows "200th Anniversary of Grimm's Fairy Tales".

Quote of the day: Gun Control

"Why is voting & adjusting my Facebook settings harder than buying a semi-automatic?"
"The K Chronicles" by Keith Knight, 2012-12-19,

For many of your favorite comics, see for alphabetic listing of many popular comics.

Climate change - can you catch the typo?

"The annual rise of 17 billion tons [of atmospheric carbon] translates into a rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Each additional 7.8 billion tons is equivalent to one part per million in the atmosphere, so that an extra 17 tons each year is equivalent to a rise of roughly two parts per million."
- Common Wealth, p. 92, Jeffrey D. Sachs

Hint: The word "billion" is missing in one place.

Hint: If the amount of carbon dioxide needed to add 2ppm is what he wrote, then the earth would have become a desert already.

The moral: Once you proofread something you wrote, proofread it again.  I caught at least one in what I typed above!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Helping the sick and injured is age-old

Many hunter-gatherer cultures helped those who could not contribute fully.  Many of us have read stories about hunter-gatherer cultures caring for the elderly and healing the sick, but do we know how much they cared for those younger who could never contribute a great deal to the group?

As it is, archeologists have found cases of primitive societies caring for people that couldn't even feed themselves or could not keep up as the group traveled.  See "Ancient Bones that Tell a Story of Compassion", James Gorman, New York Times, 2012-12-17.

The archeologists, Lorna Tilley and Mark Oxenham, ask "what care for the sick and injured says about the culture that provided it."

These pre-historic cultures were close-knit communities that knew all of their members.  It is hard not to care for those in a small community.  But what happens as the community becomes larger, more diverse, and more dispersed?  Children move to another city or even another country.  People associate more with those at the factory or office than they do with people on their own block.  Driving out the garage and down the street we may not even meet many of our neighbors.  We don't know who is sick and disabled.  Even when we know our own neighbors, we aren't aware of all of their problems.  It took a mail carrier asking a neighbor about my step-father before anybody realized that he had died.

Even when we know a neighbor is ill, do we have the skills needed to care for the neighbor?  Our expectations of health-care are much higher than in pre-historic times.  In the last few centuries, charitable groups established hospitals to take care of people who couldn't be cared for at home.  But our expectations became even higher and many of those groups could not raise sufficient funds to give care to all who needed it.  Hospitals needed to charge all comers in order to have the funds; those without enough money often did without needed care.

If we are to replicate in today's dispersed societies the attention given to the sick and injured in primitive societies, wouldn't we need to have universal health care?  We still must ask "what care for the sick and injured says about the culture that provided it."  We certainly have many politicians who are more concerned with guaranteeing people access to guns than guaranteeing people access to health care.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The opportunity cost of freeways

"Opportunity cost" is an economic term to describe the cost of spending money one way instead of another.  Consider the penchant for "across the board cuts" in government spending.  If a family were to do that say with "across the board cuts" in its grocery spending, the kids would suffer.  That is, if Dad cut his beer spending by 25% and the spending on milk by 25%, then the opportunity cost of Dad's beer would be less healthy children.

Every time I drive through the mammoth interchange of I-35 and I-694 in the Twin Cities, I think of all the houses or farms that could be in that space.  I think of all the property tax that has been lost so people ever farther out can get between here and there in a "minimum" amount of time.  Could the lost tax revenue have gone into more public transportation, moving more people with less space?  If public transportation was more widely used, would more people spend less time in traffic when weather conditions make driving difficult?  I'm sure you can think of many more costs associated with complex highways that could be better spent elsewhere.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Disconnect on subsidies

Why is it bad to subsidize an industry such as wind or solar but it is all right to subsidize a company for locating in a particular spot?

There are many who call for an end to subsidies for alternative energy, but do they complain about subsidies for fossil fuel companies?  For example, Sasol is getting a $2 billion subsidy from Louisiana to build a gas-to-liquid plant.  See "Sasol Betting Big on Gas-to-Liquid Technology",  John M. Broder and Clifford Krauss, New York Times, 2012-12-17.

I wonder if any economist has ever done a long-term study on the value of subsidies.  I know there have been subsidies to get companies to locate in a particular city or state, and many companies abandon that city or state before the locality has even recouped its investment.  I also know that government subsidies have transformed the economy mostly for the benefit of many.  Lincoln called for subsidies to the transcontinental railroad which greatly improved the U.S. economy.  Would we have computers and the Internet without many other government subsidies?

What we really need are some metrics that show whether a government subsidy will provide a huge social benefit or will only be a drain that lines the pockets of a few.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Pistol-packing principals?

"Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, was the sole representative of gun rights' activists on the various Sunday talk shows. In an interview on 'Fox News Sunday,' Gohmert defended the sale of assault weapons and said that the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School, who authorities say died trying to overtake the shooter, should herself have been armed.

"'I wish to God she had had an M-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn't have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands. But she takes him (the shooter) out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids, Gohmert said.'"

- "Senators call for ban on assault weapons, want commission to examine gun laws, mental health", Anne Flaherty , Associated Press  Updated: December 16, 2012 - 2:52 PM

Do we really want to live in a country where every citizen is armed?  Do we have to add weapons training to the curricula of our schools of education?  When I went to high school in the 1950s, we didn't even have cops in the schools.  What has changed in our country?  Maybe it was too many westerns in which the hero was always the fastest draw and the most accurate shot.  For a couple of more realistic views, see "Myth of the Hero Gunslinger" and "How the Gunfighter Killed Bourgeois America".

As for the proposed year-and-a-half waiting period "to discuss this volatile matter" the U.S. has been averaging two mass murders per year for the last thirty years.  "And in most cases, the killers had obtained their weapons legally."

- "11 facts about U.S. gun massacres", Ezra Klein, Washington Post  Updated: December 15, 2012 - 7:10 PM, retrieved from Star Tribune

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Strange remarks on gun control

On the Connecticut shooting, a letter to the Star Tribune included:

"To discuss this very volatile matter, we need to wait until we have a period of, say, a year and a half with no mass killings that come about as a result of gun sales and ownership."

I wonder if the writer considered that "a year and a half with no mass killings" is about the same as never.  First, unfortunately there will be some copycat killings.  Second, what does he define as "mass killings", more than two dozen victims, more than a dozen, more than six?  This writer also thought that the killer could have killed as many with a club and feet!

We really should have been having intelligent conversations how to reduce the number of killings, no matter how many are killed by no matter how many.  But, no, we have the National Rifle Association (NRA) raising political hell on any restrictions of unlimited availability of guns and a few less politically powerful calling for complete restrictions.

I wish some Constitutional scholars would really take on the meaning of the Second Amendment:

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

Many argue that the single-shot "Arms" of the time were nowhere near as lethal as the large-magazine automatic pistols of today.  Unfortunately, few argue about the choice of words for who has the right to bear arms or for what purpose.

First, the purpose in the Second Amendment is "the security of a free State", not the "defense of home or self".  Many claim that the Constitution gives them the right to have arms to defend their home.  That is common law, the so-called "castle doctrine", not constitutional law.  Given the times, I venture that this was meant for communities on the frontier to defend themselves against Indian attack or foreign invasions.

Second, please note the choice of words to describe who has the "right to bear arms" - "the people", not persons or citizens.  The writers used "the people" only twice in the original Constitution: "We, the People" in the preamble and "The House of Representative shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People..." in Article I, Section 2.  That is, "people" is a collective noun.  Otherwise, when writing about individuals, the writers used "person" or "citizen" in the singular or plural form as appropriate.

I do find it ironic that the party that wants a strict interpretation of the Constitution gives such a loose interpretation to the Second Amendment.  This same party completely ignores the parts of the Constitution that state office holders need only give an oath (or affirmation) to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." - Article II, Section 1, and Article VI.  Article VI also includes "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."  It would seem the political pressure to attend prayer breakfasts or to end speeches with "God Bless America" are certainly violations of the Constitution.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The strange workings of our minds

My wife has read many Janet Evanovich novels.  She mentioned that the story line used to be clever and tight but has become just raunchy.  She said the main character, Stephanie Plum, was a bounty hunter, but at the moment she had the wrong idea of a bounty hunter, thinking mostly about animals.  In bits and pieces I pulled out of my own mind that a bounty hunter was a person who tracked down those who jump bail.  They are hired by bondsmen but have to get a receipt of the capture from the police.

I said I had seen a movie about this, I remember the bondsman kept his money in his socks and the bounty hunter was played by Robert DeNiro.  Then it came to me that the movie was "Midnight Run".  I checked Google and one of the top entries was the Wikipedia article -

The movie was produced in 1988 and I probably watched it on VHS in the early '90s.  I didn't remember all the details given in the Wikipedia synopsis, but I did remember that the bail jumper got away (or was let go) and that DeNiro's competitor had gotten DeNiro's credit card cancelled.

I don't claim any particular genius in remembering these long-ago details; most of us have these same capabilities.  They are just so hit and miss.  We can't remember the name of somebody we met yesterday, but we remember the name of somebody we haven't seen in decades.

I think David Eagleman got it right with "Incognito: The Hidden Lives of the Brain".  There are so many processes going on in our brains of which we are not aware.  See "Memory and coincidence".

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Quote of the Day - Entitlements

"Social Security and Medicare aren't entitlements. They're subsidies to companies that do not sufficiently cover the health care and retirement needs of their employees."
- Gary Peterson, Letter, Star Tribune, 2012-11-24

But companies often more than sufficiently cover the health care and retirement needs of their executives.  See "Let's Look at Entitlements".

Monday, December 10, 2012

A different idea for capital gains tax

Many don't want capital gains to be taxed any amount, even if a stock was bought and sold in seconds.  But how does such a short term profit make any real contribution to the economy compared to an hourly worker producing a tangible product such as vegetables or automobiles?

We really should tax capital gains on a sliding scale.  Securities held for less than a year should be taxed at the same rate as earnings.  Securities held for more than a year should be taxed at a progressively lower rate until securities held for, say, ten years should be taxed at zero percent.

Of course, we are still rewarding people for luck at throwing darts more than people who show up for work everyday.

I'm probably preaching to the choir on this.  I've been writing for some time on this and you can see how much it's caught on.

See "Let's do away with capital gains taxes, dividend taxes, and estate taxes by…" or do a search for "Irregular Blog" and "Capital Gains".

Remember Tom Lehrer?

He's still around and has a web site  I'm not sure how much is his doing and how much is a tribute to him.  I do know it includes a clip of Daniel Radcliffe singing the elements song.  Puff!  Puff!

For more on Tom Lehrer see Wikipedia,

Garrison Keillor and the Prairie Home Companion are keeping some of his songs going.  This past Saturday the Digiallonardo Sisters did Tom Lehrer's "Hanukkah in Santa Monica".

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Thanks to my really loyal reader

Often when I post more than one entry, Blogger will show that the entry I posted a few minutes ago has already been read by one person.  This evening I've posted four in a row, and all but the last have already been read.

If you are a real person, thank you very much for your interest.  Please tell your friends about the Irregular Blog.

If you are one of the Russian reverse spammers, I just wish you would go away.  I would like to have my writings read by real people.  Also, you are wasting your resources.  I don't click on the referring links shown by Blogger.

If you are one of the less immediate readers from around the world, thank you also for your interest.

For those interested in where my readership is, for the following week I've had page views from Russia, United States, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Netherlands, Canada, India, Phillipines, Brazil, and Kazakhstan.  I hope most of these are real people and not 'bots.  If you are a person, thank your for your interest.  I hope I can keep you coming back.

Penny stock ready to soar?

Really?  If a penny stock is ready to soar, why tell anybody else?  Just keep buying as much as you can afford.

You have probably seen these ads dozens or hundreds of times.  I think the thinking behind these ads is of one of two types.

First, the advertisers have bought lots of the unnamed stock and want you to buy some so the price will go up.  When the price goes up and seems to plateau, they sell out at a huge profit.

Second, and more likely, the advertisers want you to buy a "special report".  Once you do, you are on their mailing list and they will try to sell you more reports or their newsletter.  The newsletters may have dubious advice, more so if the writers have a political stance.  They will probably never own many shares of the stocks they promote, if any.

Simple reason for global warming

For millennia humans burned wood for cooking and heat.  As long as there were a large number of trees, trees absorbed the CO2 from the fires and created new trees.

Then humans pulled coal and oil from beneath the ground and burned it.  The rate of CO2 being put into the atmosphere increased dramatically.  Furthermore, because trees all over the world were being cut down faster than they could be replaced, the absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere decreased.  The increase in atmospheric CO2 traps more heat and thus warms the Earth overall.

Those who deny the human effect on global warming must believe that 1+1-1 equals 3!

Quote of the day: democracy or wealth

"We must make our choice.  We may have democracy, Or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few but we can't have both."
- Louis Brandeis quoted by Forrest Johnson in the Reader Weekly, 2012-12-06

For the quote in context see

Christmas is coming?

It can't be there is no snow!  And this is Minnesnowta!

Oh, maybe it is because there's lots of snow predicted for tomorrow. We shall see.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Books, advertising, and independent vs. large corporation

My books-to-read list keeps getting longer and longer, possibly because I wander the internet so much and find interesting titles.  My next problem is that when I choose a book to read, how shall I obtain it?  As a hard copy from a library, an independent bookstore, or a large corporation like Amazon?  Or shall I get an eBook from another large corporation, Apple?

Getting a book from a library is free and my borrowing a book helps it stay in circulation for others to read.  Getting my own hard copy is either calling ahead to an independent bookseller or ordering it online.  Getting it from a local bookseller helps the local economy.  Ordering it online may get the copy to me faster.  Most would opt for Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  I opt for ABE Books which is a consortium of independent booksellers.  An advantage to ABE Books is that I can find foreign titles and maybe even have them shipped free.

But then I already own so many books, where can I put new books without throwing out older ones.  And which ones?

If I get an eBook, I can have a bigger choice of reading when I'm away, I can easily add comments, and I can easily copy excerpts for a blog entry.

Life is so full of choices!

So, what does all this have to do with advertising?  I've noticed that many sites that mention a book have links to that book at Amazon.  From reading about Maria Popova's "Brain Pickings" and seeing some of her links, I know that web authors can get a small fee if readers click on the book reference, probably only if someone buys the book.

Now I always like to earn a few bucks more if I can, but do I want to earn those bucks by supporting a large corporation?  If I go that route, I'll probably have to drop the Google Ads, which aren't providing many bucks anyway.  The easiest thing is for me to do nothing; given the underwhelming readership of this blog, the revenue from either source would be about the same, not much.  Maybe I should make this blog a "cleaner" reading experience by having no ads at all.

So, dear reader, if you see me around, please let me know what you think.  I think I have five or six regular readers in Duluth.

Free markets and governments

"Alex Marshall, a journalist and senior fellow at the Regional Plan Association, has written two books on the topic of cities: "How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl and The Roads Not Taken" and "Beneath the Metropolis: The Secret Lives of Cities." He also lectures on urbanism and teaches courses on infrastructure.

"His newest book, released this fall, is a departure—but not as radical of one as it might first appear. "The Surprising Design of Market Economies" debunks the notion that free markets are 'natural.'"

From "What Jane Jacobs Got Wrong About Urban Economies", Allison Arieff, TheAtlanticCities, 2012-12-05.

Marshall's final comment is "We are a democracy and we ought to act like it."

Can Gov. Chris Christie change the Republican Party?

I had my Jon Stewart dose of the day.  In, Stewart tries to pin down Christie on why Republicans thinks it's alright for the Federal Government to pay for the aftermath of natural disasters but its wrong for any government to pay for health insurance.  For example, Stewart asks if having cancer and no health insurance is a natural disaster.

Christie spoke about how he tries to work with those with different philosophical ideas to come to some agreement.  I understood his meaning to be that one cannot take a rigid stand.

Will other Republicans follow his lead or will they consider him a RINO (Republican in Name Only)?

Thursday, December 06, 2012

A more thoughtful blog than this blog

Maria Popova is the "curator" of the blog "Brain Pickings".  If you are interested in books, this is a go-to-site for thoughtful commentary on books of many genres.  See "She's Got Some Big Ideas", , Bruce Feiler, New York Times, 2012-11-30.

From the article I added Albert Einstein's "Ideas and opinion" to my reading list.  Popova is quoted in the article with:

“In times of turmoil, I often turn to one of my existential pillars of comfort: Albert Einstein’s ‘Ideas and Opinion.’ ” She ended with this thought: “There is a way to critique intelligently and respectfully, without eroding the validity of your disagreement. It boils down to manners.”

Her latest entry as of 2012-12-06 is "The 10 Best Psychology and Philosophy Books of 2012"
By: Maria Popova 2012-12-04, "From Buddhism to the relationship between creativity and dishonesty, by way of storytelling and habit".

From the sidebar, I went to "Isaac Asimov on Science and Creativity in Education"
by Maria Popova, 2011-01-28 "What vintage science fiction has to do with the future of self-directed learning."

It includes some snippets of Bill Moyers' interview with Isaac Asimov.  From this article, I added Asimov's "The Roving Mind" to my reading list.

My booklist from suggestions on the web is getting so long, maybe I should turn my computer off, sit in an easy chair, and start reading the books on my list (plus a few I would like to reread).  Maybe I'll be halfway through my list be next Christmas?  Maybe by the time you make your way through all of Popova's blog entry you'll visit my blog again next Christmas.

Happy reading.  May you always find something not only interesting but something you find is more interesting than anything else for the moment.

A strong antidote to political posturing

"The antidote to Political Fatigue. Click Here for Immediate Relief. [Video]"

This is a BBC Mundo interview with Jose Mujica, President of Uruguay, "The Poorest President in the World".

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The strange behavior of Google search

The statistics for this blog include search words used to find an entry.  Every so often I follow up on these search words to see where Google had ranked my entries.

"why read is irregular"  had nearly 19 million hits and "Why read?" is at the top!

"toast anachronism" had about of 3.5 million hits and "French toast – an anachronism in a classic of French literature" is also at the top!

Has Google changed its algorithms to be give more personal results?  That is, do these show at the top because my name is in them?  Or did I really have blog entries that were more appropriate to the query?  I could believe this with a find of a couple of dozen, but not millions.

Follow-up on Steve Jobs blog entry

Well, at least one journalist doesn't credit Steve Jobs with everything Apple created.  See "Apple's Forstall Got What He Deserved: iPod Inventor", Cadie Thompson, CNBC, 2012-11-29.

Of course, did Tony Fadell "invent" the iPod, or did he lead a team that came up with all the basic ideas?  And which iPod are we talking about?  The music player or the all-but-smart phone of today.

My original entry is "What do Steve Jobs, Adam Smith, and Xenophon have in common?"

Sunday, December 02, 2012

If all else fails, read directions

Last spring I replaced an old, hard-to-start chain saw with a new "easy-start" chain saw.  But I had difficulty starting it.  I thought I was following directions, but it still took a long time to start, if at all.  I felt embarrassed about it and was reluctant to try again.

So I used a nice-sharp curved draw saw to cut trees up to four inches in diameter.  In one sense, it was nice because it was quiet and good exercise.  And I could change hands when using my right hand caused too much irritation in my bum shoulder.  The only problem is that I didn't get much cut, especially of the bigger stuff.  And we have lots of downed trees to take out as firewood before they rot.

We went to our cabin yesterday only for the day and did a variety of chores and a bit of walking.  I had a few minutes to spare before returning to Duluth, and so I gave the chain saw another try.

I tried to get the trigger to lock in position for starting, but it wouldn't stay.  I looked at the symbols along the lock and figured out that maybe I was using the right position.  I think the needed position was one stop short of the full lock.

Push the primer a few times.  Put the handle between my legs and hold the cross handle.  Pull gently on the starter rope.  It had the appropriate feel for the easy-start.  I find it hard to describe the change in tension as I pull it out.

One pull.  Two pulls, sounds and feels even better.  Three pulls, roar from the saw and yay from me!

I ran the chain saw for a few minutes, and I felt great pride that I finally persevered.  Unfortunately, I didn't think there was time to do any cutting and I shut the saw off.  But at least I know that the next time we go to our cabin, I can start a more productive cutting of firewood.  I have two nice size birches in mind whose absence will let some smaller birches grow.

Spring skiing in December in Minnesota?

As I walk around Duluth and our cabin in Brimson, I'm amazed at the wet snow on the ground.  Hey, this is December; we're supposed to have white fluffy stuff at least six inches deep.  This snow is like March snow.

This is bad for the tourism industry because fewer people will come to Duluth to ski.  In fact, Spirit Mt. will not be open for a full daily schedule until Dec. 8.  It used to be that ski hills in Minnesota began full-time operation at Thanksgiving, even south of Minneapolis.  Forget "over the hill and through the woods to Grandmother's house…"

It's also bad for all the snowplow operators, public and private.  They will be called out less often.

Almost any change has winners and losers.  The big winners are those who get to spew lots of CO2 and other pollution in the air.  The losers are all those who depend on seasonal shifts, but they're little folk and I guess they don't count.

Am I getting to the age where the disappointment of fewer opportunities to ski are offset by the joy of shoveling less?

Saturday, December 01, 2012

What do Steve Jobs, Adam Smith, and Xenophon have in common?

They all understood that the whole requires many parts.

I thought of this while contemplating all the commentators who seemingly give full credit to Steve Jobs for all of Apple's innovative products, from the original Apple computer to the iPad.  Sorry, but he needed the help of thousands of people to bring these products to market.

Let's start over two thousand years ago in Persia.

Many Greek mercenaries were in the service of Cyrus, brother of the Persian Emperor.  Cyrus used the Greeks in a battle to overthrow his brother, but Cyrus was killed in battle.  The Emperors forces invited the Greek generals to peace conference and slaughtered them all.  The Persians thought this would demoralize the Greek mercenaries.

As usual, tyrants never understand democrats.  The Greeks, having a democratic tradition, elected new generals and fought their way against much opposition back to Greece.

For more about Xenophon, see Wikipedia -

Adam Smith opens "The Wealth of Nations" with

"The annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniencies of life which it annually consumes, and which consist always either in the immediate produce of that labour, or in what is purchased with that produce from other nations."

In other words, the masters, the capitalists, the CEOs, or whatever name you give to those at the top of an economic hierarchy would not be able to do anything without a few dozen or thousands of people doing all the "labour" needed to bring an idea to market.

Many reporters are giving full credit to Steve Jobs for the iPhone and the iPad.  Really?  Could Steve Jobs conceived of every detail of these products all by himself?  Could Steve Jobs have designed all the circuits or all the programs that make these products so useful.

Sure, he may have had a vision for these products.  But don't you think that he had lots of discussions with others on how to design, manufacture, and market these products?

Let's go back to 1983 and before when the first Macintosh was being designed.  I think about two dozen people were involved, some of them responsible for a single software project, like MacWrite and MacPaint.  But these designers weren't cloistered in their cubicles, noses to the coding sheet until they finished.  They collaborated with each other and Steve Jobs.

In short, success does not come about by the "hard work" of somebody at the top.  It comes about by the hard work of people at all levels.  If a worker doesn't set a switch properly at a certain time, the whole enterprise could come tumbling down.  If a manager doesn't ensure the proper training,  if a director doesn't ensure proper design, if a treasurer doesn't provide adequate funding for that design...

"For want of a nail..."

Friday, November 30, 2012

Why state secession is a bad idea

Several petitions are under way for various states to secede from the Union.

Be careful what you ask for.

What the proponents of secession ignore is that the United States is and has always been a country with a mobile population.  Not only was the United States started by people who moved from other countries or their descendants, but these people kept moving west, often overrunning people already there.  In the Twentieth Century people moved in almost every direction.  Small town people went to the big city.  People moved from one city to another to seek different opportunities.  Corporations moved people from state to state for many reasons.  I myself have lived in three states and my wife in six.

If a state were to secede, what would they do about "immigration"?  Would business people from other states need a passport to do business in the independent state?  Would tourists need a passport?  If no passport were required, what would the independent state do about "illegal immigration".

What about people in the seceded state?  Would they need passports to work or vacation in other states?

What about all the wars that the United States has been involved in?  Would seceded states continue these wars?  Often the states with secessionist movements have a significant portion of their populations who are bellicose.  If the seceded states were involved in their own foreign wars, would they drag the United States into their wars?

Speaking of war, wasn't it a Republican who led a war against states seceding from the union?  Isn't it ironic that some of the major proponents of secession call themselves Republicans?  Did Lincoln "die in vain"?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Let's Look at Entitlements

Political reporting is full of stories about the need to rein in entitlements, mostly meaning Social Security and Medicare.  Remember these are insurance programs for which people pay premiums.

Consider auto insurance.  Suppose you buy a car and buy collision insurance for it.  The day after you pay your annual premium of, say $1,000, you are involved in a crash that totals your car.  Is the insurance reimbursement an entitlement?  Of course it is.  Is it an unjustified entitlement.  Well, if you've been paying car insurance payments for years and never had a claim, you might think so.  It's your premiums that are giving the owner who had made only one payment the reimbursement.

The question with Social Security and Medicare is if enough premiums are being paid in to cover the payouts, not whether those who paid in are entitled to the benefits or not.  One can question the level of payouts but not the fact that payouts are made.

In both the auto insurance and Social Security cases, the recipients are not determining the benefits.  It is either the insurance companies or the Federal Government.

However, there are other benefits that are being determined by the recipients, not some "disinterested" second party.

Consider CEO salaries.  It is not an independent group of shareholders that are determining the ever increasing CEO salaries.  It is a board often picked by the CEO!

Consider board member salaries and fees.  Who determines that board members will get $100,000 plus for five or six board meetings a year plus expenses?  The board members!  Who determines the stock benefits given to executives and board members to "align their interests with those of the shareholders"?  It's certainly not the shareholders.

Consider the "golden parachutes" given to fired executives.  Do you think a laid-off worker would receive a few million dollars and lifetime high-value health insurance?  If the worker receives any benefits at all, they are often considered entitlements, especially if part of a union contract.  Why don't more supporters of "capitalism" recognize the golden parachutes as undeserved "entitlements"?

Consider that corporations depend on employees  and customers to succeed.  Employees are often treated as costs rather than investments.  Customers are often treated as annoyances rather than supporters and free advertisers.  And too often, executive pay is inversely related to customer satisfaction.  See "Executive Pay and Customer Satisfaction".  That certainly smacks of entitlement on the part of the executives.

Consider that the owners of professional sport teams strong-arm cities and states to provide a larger portion of their increasingly expensive stadiums.  They argue that the newer, bigger stadium will be an investment in the local economy.  I wonder how many of these owners are willing to pay for all the schools, roads, sewers, and so on that modern communities need and provide.  Oh, the stadium will pay for those.  That sounds like a multi-million dollar entitlement to me.

My guess is that the "entitlement" of Social Security puts more money into a local economy than all the corporate entitlements.  My guess is that the "entitlement" of Medicare gives a lot of support to the local health care facilities than all the corporate entitlements, plus the employees of those facilities spend a lot of their wages in the local economy.

In short, an entitlement is something others receive, we only receive what is due us.

My computer reads my mind!

An annoying "feature" of Microsoft Excel for the Mac 2011 is that it will, without seeming cause, open a workbook at almost full screen rather than at the last size I closed it.

As I opened a worksheet a few minutes ago, I thought about this problem.  Sure enough, the workbook opened as almost full screen rather than the "tidy" size I last closed it at.

Another reminder that large corporations are not as efficient as many would like to believe.

Of course, I should remember that I do a lot of useful stuff with Excel, but it would be a little bit more comforting if its behavior was consistent and accurate.

The serendipity of the web

This morning I went to a coffee shop with my iPad to read various newspapers if I had no one to talk to.

I started with the New York Times and eventually found "Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality?", Nathaniel Rich, New York Times, 2012-11-28.  This is fascinating not only for a particular jellyfish to move between a young state and an older state and back but also for the description of the Japanese scientist who studies them without much funding.

The jellyfish story mentioned "The Remarkable Life of Benjamin Bottom" by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I checked its availability at the public library upstairs and thought about borrowing it later.  I also checked iTunes and found that it's in a set of six stories for only 99 cents.  I downloaded the iBook and read "Benjamin Bottom" at my table.

As it approached noon, I decided it was time to go home.  As I was leaving, not paying attention to the people I passed, a familiar voice greeted me.  It was one of the couple I often sit with.  I asked them why they hadn't joined me.  They said that they didn't want to bother me as I was absorbed in my computer.  I sat down with them and chatted on for another half-hour.

This was a more interesting and varied coffee hour than I had expected.  Plus, by walking there, I had two miles of exercise!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Free market and the Internet

Like lots of people, I'm looking for faster internet or even internet.  One thing I can say for certain that it is not a free market - few sellers and very little useful information.

At our cabin, we use dialup on our phone that costs us about $37/month.  Periodically I dig around Frontier's web site to find information.  The latest pricing is $50/month additional for "up to 6Mbps".  If I had a internet-dependent business this might make sense.  But not for 4 to 8 evenings a month.

In Duluth, our phone bill is $58/month, but I can't break it down at the moment.  My wife doesn't save the detail pages of our bill.  Given that we used to pay $23/month for land line, then we are paying about $35/month for "up to 7Mbps".  I just did a CenturyLink speed test that showed 6Mpbs at 12:50 on a Sunday.  Other speed tests in evenings have shown 4Mpbs.  Trying to determine what higher speeds would cost is a big hassle.  See for some users experiences with CenturyLink.

When I bought my iPhone, I switched from Verizon to Virgin Mobile because the pricing was more advantageous to me, only $30/month including data.  When we visited our daughter at her lake house near Grand Rapids MN, I thought I would be able to use my iPhone to access the web.  I was, sort of.  I would get a one-bar 3G signal, then without moving I would get a roaming signal, then no service, then searching, then back to one-bar 3G, even standing by an upstairs window.  Our daughter's house is 10 miles from Grand Rapids and less than 2 miles from a major highway.  Granted that there are many trees, but can waving leafless trees cause that much variation?  The second surprise was that we thought with the iPhone and a low-power FM-to-car-radio cable that we would be able to listen to Minnesota Public Radio all the way back to Duluth without changing the dial.  No such luck!  On the major highway we were on, the cell signal kept coming in and out.  Oh, well, at least the Virgin Mobile/Sprint coverage map doesn't claim that that area is covered.

I knew that AT&T had put up a couple of towers in the Brimson area where we have our cabin, but I've heard many complaints that many AT&T's customer are not satisfied.  I checked AT&T's coverage map and did discover coverage areas in Brimson; they are a whole bunch of small islands that make no sense.  Besides telling me that our cabin address is could not be matched (other web sites can find it), it shows a coverage area that starts just west of where our cabin is and ends less than a mile farther west.  That's too iffy to make a decision with.

The lesson is that you have to make a long checklist of all the features you want in a product and then spend hours and hours to find out what portion of those features are available to you at a price you want to pay.  Nobody else is going to help you.  And of course, after you buy the product, you'll find a new feature you want but your choice doesn't provide – like listening to public radio without switching stations.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Lessons in governance

"Clearly, the ability to solve problems, much more than sustaining some sort of ideological leadership, is now the key to the Communist Party’s legitimacy."  - C. Cindy Fan, "Don't Expect Big Changes", "Dawn of a New China?", "Room for Debate", New York Times, 2012-11-23.

Could this statement be equally valid if "Communist Party" were replaced with "Republican Party"?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My first eBook

I've have downloaded a few books to read online, but they've been in PDF format.  This includes Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations", the U.S. Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence.  I can annotate PDF versions, but the pages do not fit or correspond to the screen.

As I was wandering through Facebook and the multitude of Coffee Party items, I came across mention of David Frum's "Why Romney Lost".  I think the article was written by disaffected Republican Michael Charney.  As I read through the article, I felt I should read "Why Romney Lost".  It was published only as an eBook, and so I downloaded it from iTunes.

It was a quick read, only 146 pages on an iPad including an extensive bibliography.  I annotated several sentences or paragraphs with an eye to writing some blog entries.

The experience sold me on eBooks because I can store so many in a small space and carry them around with me.  The only problem would be having sufficient battery power.  How often will I reread or check the annotations; probably no more than I review my hundreds of computer and scratch paper notes.

A class that I will be taking in winter quarter has Jacob Needleman's "America's Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders" as its text.  I waffled on getting the eBook or supporting a local bookstore with a paper copy.  For the time being, I'll support the locally-owned bookstore.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Nickname for a star kicker

A star kicker in football or soccer might by called "Missile toe".

This phrase is not original with me, but I did think of it independently.  For more uses, search for "missile toe".  Don't forget the quotes.

Capitalism and socialism - let's get our definitions straight

A survey polled people on how they felt about capitalism and socialism - positive or negative.  But did the pollsters give a definition of these two terms or ask respondents to give their own definitions?  I think not.

See "Is Rush Limbaugh's Country Gone?", Thomas B. Edsall, New York Times, 2012-11-19.

Capitalism is gathering  resources to do something, whether it's to start a neighborhood grocery or to start an airline.  Capitalism is not the buying and selling of stocks and schemes based on the stock; that is finance.  Finance can raise capital, but the secondary markets of that capital are not capitalism.

Socialism is the government providing all the resources to do something and controlling how those resources are used.  I don't think there is a country in the world where that happens for all projects.  Even China has private capital ventures.  Social welfare is the government providing various safety nets or investments that help people with needs that "capitalism" doesn't provide to everyone.  Most developed countries have capitalist economies supported by social welfare programs.

Think of LM Ericsson in Sweden, Nokia in Finland, Siemens in Germany, and FIAT in Italy.  These large capitalist companies aren't going away.  Well, maybe Nokia will go away but that's because of technology, not government interference.

And many of these social welfare programs depend on a large number of private organizations, large and small.  Germany has hundreds of insurance companies underpinning its health care.  England has thousands of physicians in private practice who provide government listed services.

What I find ironic is that proponents of "capitalism" don't understand how "socialism" makes "capitalism" work better.  If there weren't government-provided roads, sewers, schools, and yes, regulation there would be chaos.  Chaos is something capitalists do not need or want.  If there wasn't government-sponsored research, many new ideas would never even reached the capitalists who would implement them into products.  If there is a good public health care system, then corporations don't have to fund them directly at great inefficiency.  Wasn't it G. Richard Wagoner of General Motors who said that he wasn't an auto executive but a health care executive?  See "U.S. Firms Losing Health Care Battle, GM Chairman Says", Ceci Connolly, Washington Post, 2005-02-11.

Be careful how you define things.  If you define things incorrectly or too narrowly, you may miss out on many opportunities for a better society.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The idiocy of race and nationality

Several weeks ago a Duluth Fox news director caused quite a stir when he put on Facebook a derogatory, racist remark about somebody that was near his house.  I don't remember if he resigned or was fired.  He then said that his great-grandfather's great-grandfather was Indian or some such chain, and he claims he is Indian too.  He even was admitted into an Indian journalists' group.

Come on!  Just because you had an ancestor of a certain origin doesn't make you one of the group the ancestor belonged to.  Many people even one generation removed from some place have none of the language or culture of where their parents came from.

My surname is Irish, but I can find no ancestor that lived in Ireland.  The best I can tell is that my great-great-great grandfather, Vincent Magree, was probably born in Maryland.  I am assuming that Magree is Irish because several Australians named Magree trace their ancestry back to Kilkenny.

I have great-grandparents who were born in England and Germany.  I consider myself neither English or German.  When I was in England and Ireland, I was called a Yank.  When I was in Germany, I was called Amerikaner.  Some of my ancestors born in what was then Germany may have had Polish ancestors.  I do not consider myself Polish.

I consider myself an American because I was born in the U.S., had almost all of my education in the U.S., and except for some trips to Canada, never went outside the U.S. until I was 30.

So, if some ancestor long, long ago was from a certain group and some of that person's descendants claim they belong to that group, shouldn't we consider President Barack Obama a white man.  His mother was a white American and a long list of her ancestors were white.  Given the reasoning for people to claim Indian inheritance, then we can also say that Obama is white.

We're born here; we're Americans.  End of story.

The economy ran into trouble when…

...When employees became associates;
...When personnel became human resources;
...When employee pay stagnated and executive pay soared;
...When executives were more concerned with the bottom line than with employee safety;
...When executives complained more about regulation instead of examining their own business.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Contrarian definition of a worker

A worker is a person who is told he or she earns too much by someone who "earns" way too much.

A couple bumper stickers I'd like to see

You've probably seen the bumper sticker "Start seeing motorcycles".  When I see these, I wonder if the drivers of these cars are seeing pedestrians.  Some are, some aren't.  Regardless, I'd like to see the bumper sticker:
Start seeing pedestrians!
Just last week, the light for traffic going in my direction and the pedestrian light went on at the same time.  A driver in a pickup truck who wanted to turn right looked to his left and proceeded to turn right without ever looking my way.  I hollered, "Watch for pedestrians" and he stopped momentarily and then proceeded.  I hope my message got to him.

I have a good idea of the accuracy of our vehicles and speedometers.  I do my best to drive at the speed limit, but others don't.  On freeways many go whizzing by at five or ten miles over the limit.  On city streets with 30 mph I've had a backup behind me.  So, the bumper sticker I'd like to see is
What part of speed limit don't you understand?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Jon Stewart - Off-the-wall and on the point

I don't watch television and especially late night television.  Fortunately, others provide interesting snippets of various shows online.  Both Huffington Post and the Coffee Party USA do so with many interesting pieces of editorializing of news by Jon Stewart.  I don't think I could take a whole hour of his manic activity, but I've found many five to six minute outtakes that are off-the-wall and on the point.

One such piece was "Jon Stewart Slams Bill O'Reilly Over 'Traditional America' Hysteria", Huffington Post, 2011-11-16.

Bill O'Reilly bemoaned that "traditional America" is disappearing with this election.  Stewart simply demonstrated that "traditional America" has always been changing.  Stewart reminded O'Reilly about "No Irish need apply."  My choice of words; Stewart used news clips and editorials from the 19th Century and other eras of anti-immigrant complaints.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pain for the low, gain for the high

Labor unrest and union activity seem to be gaining.  Some workers even they feel they have to sacrifice their jobs so that others may have it better.

"[We] know we will probably lose our jobs, but if we accept these concessions, standards for bakers and other workers will keep going down. We are taking it on the chin for workers all over." - a striking Hostess employee

"Some companies need to make cuts to say alive. Firms don't always have a choice about how to run themselves and closings and concessions are part of business," said Kurtz. ""You can't just have a visceral reaction. Both sides need to be involved in a thoughtful process." - Dave Kurtz, a partner in the Edwards Wildman's Labor & Employment Group.

"And workers are saying to companies, 'why do we have to take cuts when other parts of your business, like suppliers are not. Why is it on our backs?'" - Jim Matthews, a partner at Fox Rothschild and co-chair of the firm's Labor and Employment practice

Have you heard of many cuts in the executive suite?  How many $4,000/hour executives are willing to cut their pay by even ten percent.  That cut would provide twenty $10/hour jobs (assuming that overhead costs may match direct pay).

The above quotes are from "Beyond Twinkies: Why More Workers Are Striking", Mark Koba, CNBC, 2012-11-16.

The article also has a link to an interview with Colby Harris, a protesting Wal-Mart employee in Dallas.

See also "So you want to join a union", Part I and Part II.

Don't answer the phone

I gave this advice before the election, and it still holds true.  See "I still don't believe the polls".

Wednesday our phone rang three times.  I did not answer as it was ringing.  I waited for the caller to leave a message.  The first two times no message was left.  The third time it was somebody I wanted to speak with, I picked up the phone and apologized, explaining why.

So far today, we've had two calls, one without a message, and one with a message about our credit and the stimulus package.

We've long made it a practice not to answer the phone during meals.  Most callers leave no message, a few a message we're not interested in, and once in a very long while someone calls that we want to talk to.  We've now made it a practice not to answer until we know who is calling.

The old radio advice still holds: "Don't touch that dial."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Quote of the day: sex is more sinful than killing

"The real scandal is that we're scandalized by sexual escapades, not by the license to kill given to the CIA's drone program." - a paraphrase inserted in bold in "Real spies don't behave like Bond. Or do they?", David Rothkopf, Star Tribune, 2012-11-14, originally published in Foreign Policy as "Shaken, Not Stirred by CIA 'Values'", 2012-11-12.

I just find it amazing that we are willing to upset people's lives to suit our own purposes, whether it is with subpoenas to ransack houses of people we don't like or with drones to demolish houses of people we don't like.

The Coffee Party, civility, and harassment

I received an email from the Coffee Party that I send an invoice to Karl Rove and his Crossroads GPS for the electoral votes he attempted "to buy".  See

I replied to the email with
"Isn't this harassment?  Would you like it if the Coffee Party received 50,000 letters from the Tea Party?

"I think many of the SuperPACs got their comeuppance in this latest election.  And, of course, they aren't making us vote their way.  I sure didn't.  Have you so little faith in the intelligence of the American people?"
I find this "harassment" way out of character of the Coffee Party.  The Coffee Party asks members to sign the Civility Pledge:
"As a member or supporter of the Coffee Party, I pledge to conduct myself in a way that is civil, honest, and respectful toward people with whom I disagree.  I value people from different cultures, I value people with different ideas, and I value and cherish the democratic process."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Check your chain mail, it might not protect you from falsehood

I received an email from a friend asking me to pass on a quote supposedly from Warren Buffett that we should have a Constitutional amendment to forbid all members of Congress to run for re-election if the budget is out of balance greater than a certain amount.

For more context, see  The chain email, started in 2011, is included on that page.

If all members of any other group were held responsible for the behavior of some members of the group, we would call it discrimination.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Philosophy from science-fantasy

"Power is power as the sun is the sun, the wind is the wind.  The villager blesses the rain as it falls on his crops.  The pillager uses it to cover his approach.  It is the wielder who determines the good or evil."

"Teachers are rare beasts.  We find they thrive best in a supportive environment whether they teach toddlers or adults."

Sherry S. Tepper Waters Rising, a novel of good and evil in a post-Apocalypse world

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Driving lessons from a bus driver

When I was trained as a school bus driver long, long ago, a couple of rules I learned hold true for drivers of any type of vehicle.

The first rule is to always drive with your full headlights on.  I actually first learned this in Sweden where the police cars had their headlights wired to come on automatically on starting the car.  I've tried to remember this ever since.  I forget now and then, including at night with a bus in downtown Minneapolis!!!

Your headlights increase your visibility to other drivers, especially if you have a car whose color is close to the background.  With lights on, a light car on snow and a dark car on asphalt are much more visible.  If your car is more visible, you have less chance of a driver turning into your path.  This can also be important in parking garages where many cars almost become invisible without lights.  Even if you think you can see very well, always assume others might not see as well.

If your full headlights are on, then your taillights are also on.  This can protect you if you are coming from an on ramp that merges in a tunnel.  Few drivers will even notice you if your taillights are not on.  Have you noticed cars at night without taillights, but if you pass them you see they have headlights?  The drivers assumed the daytime running lights also turned on their taillights.

The second rule is that backing vehicles have right-of-way.  At the company I worked for, school buses were parked front in.  If a driver backs out with a 30+ foot bus on either side, there is no way that driver can see a bus coming down the lane.  So, the rule a backing bus has right-of-way.

It also is a good rule in a public parking lot or ramp.  With all the SUVs and pickup trucks, can a driver backing out a space have any way of seeing a car coming down the lane at 10+ miles per hour.  Yet there are many drivers who think they are the only driver around and will zip right behind a car already partially out.  And often these same drivers do not have their lights on in the parking ramp!

Friday, November 09, 2012

"Free marketers" once again prevent free markets

Well, Proposition 37, requiring labeling of GMO foods in California, was defeated by the overwhelming resources of self-interested corporations.  Free markets mean all necessary information.  By hiding the contents of their products, agribusinesses are denying free markets to the consumer.  See "Letter about GMO foods".

You might also consider the words of Adam Smith in "Wealth of Nations":

"The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it." - pages 142-143

I included the above in "The Invisible Adam Smith".

I hope you're not allergic to any foods that have been spliced into other foods.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

The political spectrum is too narrow a concept

Many speak of the political spectrum as if it was a well-defined concept of how people stood on very issues - often "conservatives" on the "right" and "liberals" on the "left".  Fortunately, people are much more complex than that.  Somebody may be a "religious conservative" but believe "corporations have too much power".  Somebody else may complain "government is interfering with business", but have a "liberal interpretation" of the Bible.

I think it has become a ridiculous situation when some define others as "not conservative enough".  I think "conservative" has become something defined by ALEC which has come up with a lot of issues that real conservatives have not even considered - like voter ID.

I think we should think more of "The Political Pie".  Each issue is an irregular slice of the pie.  In the middle of the pie is "The Truth" represented by a fuzzy tennis ball.  On some issues people are far away from the "The Truth" and on other issues the same people may be closer to "The Truth".

Each blur represents people of one "side" of the political spectrum or the other.  Neither "side" consistently comes close to "The Truth".  Instead of dividing themselves into left and right on everything, people should work with people who share their views on a given issue.  Today a "conservative" and a "liberal" may be in agreement on an issue and tomorrow they may be in disagreement on another issue.  This was the dream of the writers of the Constitution.  Unfortunately, even they fell into factionalism and we've had polarization ever since; sometimes less than other times; too many times more so.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Winning candidates, be humble!

Most of the election results are in, and once again the "largest party" came in first.  The "largest party" is the party of no-shows, the eligible voters who chose to stay away.  The turn out figures are estimated to be around 60 percent.  In order to come in "first", a candidate would have to have about two-thirds of the votes cast.  Few, if any, have received this level of support.

Well, maybe in pockets here and there.  For example, Obama may have received 75 percent of the votes in Boston, but throughout the country, he received just over half the votes.

Some claim can be made that the Hurricane Sandy lowered the vote in New York and New Jersey, but  Sandy can't account for 19 percent fewer votes in Arizona and 25 percent fewer in Alaska.  Voter ID laws may have had some effect, but not that big in Alaska.

What would be interesting to know is how many 2008 Obama supporters stayed away because Obama didn't do all they wanted and how many Tea Partiers stayed away because Romney wasn't "pure" enough.

At least at the top of ballot, both Romney and Obama are acting humble.  Their speeches this morning were filled with gracious remarks.  Let's hope that these attitudes are shown by those down the ranks.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Thanks for reading

I would like to thank all who have been reading this blog, whether long-time readers or recent visitors.  The number of page views per day has gone way up for the couple of dozen per day.  I don't kid myself that I'm writing better.  It's mostly the same old stuff.

I think there are two factors, one mine and the other the times.

I've been writing more entries per day.  Probably because of the other factor.  It is election time in the United States, and so all the political junkies are looking for as many opinions and I like to peck out my opinions

I thank you for your visit to the "Irregular Blog", and I hope you will come back often.  And if you like what you read, please tell your family and friends.

A couple of Middle East surprises

When I wrote "Muslims do speak out" I mentioned some newspapers including The Daily Star of Lebanon.  I scanned the headlines and read a story or two.

One story was that the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said that Syrian rebels have about 50 Stinger missiles.  Stinger missiles were used quite effectively by Afghani fighters against Soviet helicopters.  I wondered when some would be available to the rebels in Syria against the aerial attacks by the government.  I didn't see any mention of the missiles actually being used.  But Lavrov voiced concerns about the missiles being used against civilian aircraft.  Given the shifting mix of fighters, this should concern all countries.

The other surprise was an ad near the bottom of a page - an ad for Mitt Romney for President sponsored by!  We're being tracked!!

Muslims do speak out

Many have complained that Muslims aren't speaking out about violence perpetrated by some Muslims.  Do all whites speak out against violence against blacks?  Do all blacks speak out against blacks who commit violence?  Do all... speak out against violence or hate spread by people like themselves.  No, most of us try to quietly go about our business, partly not wanting to be involved with hate, partly fearing the haters, partly feeling we don't have the right words, and partly believing we won't be heard.

Here's how two Muslims have spoken out.

"An unlikely fact-checker, an 11-year-old girl, Malala Yousafzai, stood up and defended her right to an education, exposing Taliban’s biggest whopper. In an online blog for BBC, she wrote, 'I will show them the Quran, what Quran says. Quran didn’t say that girls are not allowed to go to school.' Malala also remembered Prophet Muhammad’s advice that, 'Seeking knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim man and Muslim woman.' Using her knowledge and unparalleled courage, Malala repeatedly pleaded with the world to help her people get rid of ignorant and barbaric occupiers." - M. Imran Hayee

Malala Yousafzai, now 14, was shot by Taliban extremists who felt threatened by a girl who threatened their skewed view of their religion and of the world.  How many brave children must be wounded or die before all perpetrators of violence, state actors or not, will see that "Peace is the way."

For more of how important education is where there are few fact checkers who can counter lies, see
"Spreading education in Pakistan harms Taliban", M. Imran Hayee, Duluth News Tribune, 2012-11-06.

If you want more "speaking out", read Dawn of Pakistan, Al-Jazeera, and The Daily Star of Lebanon, all in English.

Thought of the day - Vote! Strengthen America

I cast the 34th vote in my precinct at 0713 this morning.  Because there were few parking spots, I thought I would have a longer wait.  Those who had a bit of a wait were same-day registrants.

I do hope that the turnout in my precinct is indicative of eighty percent or better turnout in Duluth.  Will we have better than seventy percent turnout in the nation?

If you are a U. S. citizen and haven't voted yet, please vote.  By exercising your vote, you strengthen America!

Please pass this on!

Monday, November 05, 2012

Remember to vote

Tomorrow I plan to vote early, go to a class, see some friends for coffee, read and write some more, go out for pasta and a beer, and read about the results of the election Wednesday morning.  My wife, on the other hand, will be working as an election judge from the before the polls open until probably well after they close.  She will come home too tired to even listen to the radio or check her computer.

If you are an American citizen and have not cast an absentee ballot for the November 6, 2012 election, be sure to make every effort to show up and vote for the candidates and issues of your choice.  There are lots of choices of candidates and issues, wherever you live.

I'm sorry but it is hard not to close with an admonishment.  If you don't vote, don't complain about the results, especially to those who took the time and made the effort.

Quote of the day - from a REAL conservative

"And allowing our financiers to run unchecked is about as conservative as leaving the faucet running."

- Maurice Manning, "My Old Kentucky Conservatism", New York Times, 2012-11-05.

Manning has a lot more gems about how the so-called conservative Republicans are wasting resources, who have no other values than purely monetary gain and have "no interest in local preservation or local well-being" and who are "shortsighted, opportunistic and wasteful".

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Never, ever use never and ever - a note to Mitt Romney

I noticed that an ad at the top of "Citizens or soldiers, which do we want" is for Mitt Romney, probably because I quote from The American Conservative".  (You may see a different ad.)

The ad boldly repeats Romney's assertion, "I will never apologize for America."  I am afraid of leaders who assert, "My country, always right!"  I'm sorry, Mr. Romney, but history is full of aggressive acts by American governments where others were pushed aside for American "interests".

I guess Romney would not apologize for the atrocities against Native Americans that have been admitted by other presidents.  Note: the measure was introduced into the U.S. Senate by Sam Brownback, R-KS with the words: “to officially apologize for the past ill-conceived policies by the US Government toward the Native Peoples of this land and re-affirm our commitment toward healing our nation’s wounds and working toward establishing better relationships rooted in reconciliation.”  See

I guess he would not apologize for the internment of Japanese-Americans as did his hero, Ronald Reagan.  See

I guess he would not apologize for an American sniper using the Qu'ran for target practice as did his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.  See "Real conservatives can say they're sorry", Nicholaus Mills, CNN, 2012-09-20.

I guess he would not apologize for the atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers in the Philipines (see "Revolt in the Ranks" written by a conservative).

I guess he would not apologize for all the meddling in other countries' affairs that we would not tolerate if done by other countries to us.

Citizens or soldiers, which do we want?

Many talk about the National Guard being citizen soldiers.  Unfortunately, many consider those who become soldiers to no longer be citizens.  That is, once a person becomes a soldier that person is to become an automaton, blindly following orders without dissent.

However, if we are to be a democracy, all must question authority, whether in the military or not.

Our history is full of incidents questioning the decisions of those above in the chain of command, from the Revolution to the Philipines takeover to Bradley Manning.  Sometimes it is only because a higher officer has ignored custom; sometimes it is because the generals or the politicians are lying about the purposes or results of a war.

These situations can also show the fallacy of casting issues as conservative or liberal.

See "Revolt in the Ranks: Dissent in the armed forces is a patriotic tradition", Chris Bray, The American Conservative, 2012-06-12, republished in Utne Reader, Nov.-Dec 2012

Saturday, November 03, 2012

More "real" names of political parties

Given Romney's false statements, maybe he's a Republicon.  Given that Democrats often don't seem to be what many vote for, maybe they should be called Lemoncrats.

Pessimistic quote of the day: responsibility for business success or failure

A small BBQ chain in Richmond went out of business.  Mitt Romney used it as an example of how the Obama administration is bad for business.  He ignores that another BBQ in Richmond is quite successful, but Romney won't give the Obama credit for its success.

"Mr. Romney’s take on Bill’s seems perfectly representative of his general outlook. If a business succeeds, the government can’t share the credit. If it fails, it’s the government’s fault."

See "Bad Barbecue? Blame Obama", Juliet Lapados, New York Times, 2012-11-02.

Protect the unborn, forget the pain of the born children

Idaho has a "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" which supposedly is based on some neuroscience findings about what a fetus might feel.  It tried to convict a woman of self-abortion because she used RU-486, a legal drug bought out of state.  The case was dropped because of lack of evidence.

My question is if these pseudo-conservatives are so concerned about the pain of the unborn, why are they not also concerned about the pain of the born caused by their own wars?  Does not a drone missile cause pain and death to children?  Does not a nuclear bomb cause pain and death to children?  Think Sadako Sasaki of a thousand cranes.

For a lengthier discussion of the implications of basing decisions on limited scientific research, see "Can Neuroscience Challenge Roe v. Wade", William Egginton, New York Times, 2012-10-28.

Will U.S. be the Soviet Union of the 21st Century?

Is the United States moving towards

A single contradictory ideology
Seeing threats everywhere
Giving a large portion of its resources to military
Meddling in other countries' affairs
Being ruled by an oligarchy with sham elections

Or maybe it will become like today's China, building with few environmental considerations, obsessed with security and squashing dissent, and giving sweeping power to large organizations?

I do wish the U.S. would develop a party with enough confidence to stand up to the pseudo-conservatives who are driving most of the political "discussion".

Thursday, November 01, 2012

I still don't believe the polls

… and I don't really have any well-based predictions of my own.

Consider that our phone rings several times a day.  We don't answer and very few leave a message on the answering machine.  Those who do leave a message have some meaningful connection to us.  Given the approaching election, these "empty" calls are

1) Robo-calls for a candidate or a party
2) Person calls for a candidate or a party
3) Poll calls

Also consider that many people have cell phones but no land line.  Although some pollsters say they are calling both land lines and cell phones, many cell phone numbers are not in any directory.  My cell phone has few calls and the two recent unknown calls may have been misdials or random spamming.  Besides, I generally have it off.

Which way will those who are not reached by a poll lean?  I can't really say.  Will too many younger voters stay away because they didn't think Obama didn't do enough?  Are those who don't answer more likely to lean toward Obama?  As I write this yet another call came in that stopped after three rings.

How likely are those who respond to actually vote?  One of the questions is if the respondent is a likely voter.  Many people say they are likely voters because they are embarrassed to admit that they don't plan on voting.

I think the election will be determined by the balance of unhappy people, which group will stay away in larger numbers - Tea Party types who don't think Romney is "conservative" enough or "liberals" who don't think Obama did enough.  My inclination is that the latter will be the larger group.

I hope you, dear reader, will not be a stay-away on election day.  Please remind your friends to vote.

I'm a winner in a photo contest!

But it's not a big deal.  There were only four entries submitted to the South St. Louis Soil and Water Conservation District, and so everybody was a winner.

You can see a poster of the winning entries at and from there you can order the poster or a set of note cards.

FEMA - A smart conservative speaks

FEMA does need reform, many states should look out for themselves, and the private sector can do things for disaster relief.  But instead of a broad brush attack on the Federal Government or a broad brush defense of business as usual, we need calm deliberation of the facts and of where the best resources are available.

See "How a Smart Conservative Would Reform FEMA", Jordan Weissman, The Atlantic, 2012-10-31.

Maybe Matt Mayer could be a catalyst for a "Real Republican" party?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"Moving" auto jobs from country to country

Mitt Romney's campaign has made a big deal of Jeep expanding its manufacturing in China, claiming Jeep is outsourcing jobs and blaming it on President Obama.  Is he also going to blame George W. Bush for all the outsourcing that was done between 2000 and 2008?

The fact is that Jeep is expanding its total manufacturing, including manufacturing Jeeps where they will be sold.

What does he think of Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, Nissan, Subaru, Mitsubishi,  BMW, Mercedes-Benz,  and Volkswagen having factories in the U.S.?  Are they exporting jobs from their home countries?  Or expanding closer to their markets.  Maybe it's the shipping companies that should complain, all that trans-oceanic traffic that is lost and the associated jobs.

See "'Transplant' auto factories in USA turn 30 this year", James R. Healy, USA Today, 2012-04-03.

As Thomas Friedman wrote, "The World is Flat".

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Typo of the day, a "split vote"

"Some 1.9 Floridians have already voted…"

I have heard about split votes before, but this vote count really takes the prize.

This is what appeared in today's Star Tribune as "GOP steps up early vote" by Michael Cooper and Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times.  As I write this, the above phrase still appears in the Star Tribune online edition at

I don't know whether the original New York Times article had this same error, but the online edition at the time of this writing, titled "Early Voters, and a Hurricane, Change the Rhythm of Voting", has "Some 1.9 million Floridians have already voted…"  The article is at

Mitt and FEMA, ideology trumps pragmatism and sympathy

See "A Big Storm Requires Big Government", New York Times, 2012-10-29.

I wonder how Mitt Romney thinks massive disaster relief by private corporations would work.  "Before we rescue from your roof, would you please give us your credit card number?"  "Before we spray your house with water as the forest fire gets closer, would you please give us your credit card number?"  "Before we give you information about the hurricane's path, would you please…"

Another inefficient corporation

When I bought my iPhone in September, I cancelled my Verizon Wireless account in favor of Virgin Mobile.  I was told at the time by the Best Buy representative that I would have a cancellation fee of around $80 from Verizon.

When Verizon notified me in early October that I had an online statement, I thought I would pay that cancellation fee.  Ha!  Even though the statement showed an outstanding balance of $89.46, in the "Pay Bill" section, the amount was $0!  The site wouldn't even let me pay the true balance online with my debit card.  The site did say I would get a paper statement.

The due date was October 23, and so I had plenty of time to get the paper bill and write a check. And the paper bill did not come, and it did not come.  Finally, about October 22, I looked up the phone number for "Contact Us".  The woman that responded said that I could pay at such and such URL.

Surprise, at that URL I could pay, and I could pay with a debit card.  I did and the payment has cleared my bank.

Yesterday, October 29, six days after the payment had been due, I received the paper bill.  The paper bill states that I owe $89.46!

From my posts about Netflix, you know the Postal Service can provide next day service.  If the sending post office is not within a day's drive of Duluth, Netflix states a DVD will be delivered within 3-5 days.  If memory serves me right, the actual delivery is 2-3 days.

The Verizon bill was dated September 28.  The only mail that takes over a week to arrive is mail that gets mis-delivered, stuck in a crevice somewhere, or is never sent promptly by the sender.  I will go with the last.  Is this a deceptive practice to hit me with a late payment fee or is this extreme inefficiency.  I think the latter.  Of course, if I were actually late with a regular payment, Verizon or many other vendors would promptly charge me with a late payment charge.

Thank you to Netflix, Best Buy, and many others for giving me counter-examples that show corporations can provide efficient customer service.  It just goes to show that the management/ownership form of any organization doesn't predict its efficiency or effectiveness; the real guide is the kind of people in the organization – from top to bottom!