Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Picking and choosing from the Constitution

One of my relatives posted on facebook the following poster with reference to the shootings in Chardon High School in Ohio:
Why do you allow so much violence in our schools?
signed, a concerned student

I'm not allowed in schools.
Which God are we talking about?  The God of Roman Catholics, the God of Southern Baptists, the God of Jews, the God of Muslims, the God of Unitarians, the gods of Hindus, and on and on.  It was not that God was not allowed in schools, it was that the schools couldn't determine how students should pray.

If the schools determine how students should pray, then the schools are determining the religious beliefs of the teachers.  If the schools determine the religious beliefs of the teachers, then that is a religious test of the teachers and such a test is definitely unconstitutional.

"The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." - Article VI, Constitution of the United States

Banks – Part of the free market?

Two quotes from "Why Big Banks Deserve to Get Slammed", Rick Newman, U.S. News and World Report, 2012-02-22.

"To the banks, the latest news from Washington represents a continued assault on the livelihood of fine working Americans, and on free enterprise itself."

"Banks are required to list all these fees on a fee schedule that they must provide to customers who ask for it, but banks rarely advertise all the fees they charge and obviously they hope customers won't notice."

If the buyers, bank customers, don't have complete information (one of the requirements of a free markets), then how can these banks be part of "free enterprise".  It is the banks that are making the assault on "free enterprise".

An open day to catch up, but I'd rather do nothing

Here I sit, in our house in Duluth during a blizzard.  I had planned to go skiing today, but even before the snow started, I decided that Spirit Mt. wouldn't be open because of the wind.  I thought of doing some shopping, but driving is not recommended.

I did go out for the papers this morning and that was a bit of a struggle – bare sidewalk and then shin-high drifts.  There was only one car at the restaurant where the paper boxes are, and I had breakfast there to give them a bit of business.  I had planned to go tomorrow.   A few more people came in, but the restaurant was short-staffed because of the blizzard and it closed at nine.

When I came back home it was into the wind.  To keep my hat on, I had to look at the ground in front of me.  To get up the steps from the sidewalk I had to pull myself up with the handrail because of the drifts.  And I had to struggle to get the front door open because of another drift.

I thought of going to the fitness center because the buses were running, but did I really want to battle my way to the corner again?

Some of the heroes today are those who put the papers in the boxes, the bus drivers, the restaurant staff, and our mail carrier.  She or her sub came by far earlier than I expected, and our box let in a lot of snow.  At least there were no soaking checks or blurred ink.  Another hero is the person who went down the block struggling with a snowblower.  Unless he has somewhere to go, I don't see the point; the continuing snow and the gusting wind will soon fill the path up again.

It was fortunate that my wife had chosen yesterday to go to Tokyo to visit our son and his family.  The same flight out of Duluth today was cancelled.  Even then, her flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Tokyo was delayed because of snow.

My lunch was rather makeshift because I was going to buy some of the stuff I had planned to eat.  So I had to pick and choose stuff out of the refrigerator that I wouldn't normally eat for lunch, like yogurt and peanut butter.

So, here I sit with a pile of stuff on my left to file or throw out and a similar pile on my right.  I could download Turbo Tax and get started on taxes.  I could clear up my backlog of email.  I could practice singing.  I could read any of the five, six, or seven books I've started.  I could even start a fire in the fireplace and sit all afternoon reading.  But I just flit from one little thing to another.  I read a bit of one newspaper or other online. I play a bit of SuDoKu.

Instead I stare at the screen or I try to look out the snow-covered window to see if the storm has abated.  I really can't see if it is still snowing without going right up to a window and looking out through a "clearer" spot.  I do know the wind is still blowing.

I do get in some of my physical therapy exercises for my sore shoulder, but that only takes five minutes or so.

I could drink our last bottle of wine, but I would only get woozy and sick.

Maybe I will light a fire and then finish "Il Compagno Don Camillo" and then reread "Comrade Don Camillo" to see how much of the Italian I understood.  I do get the larger picture, but I know I'm missing lots of nuance.  Well, maybe not lots.  I do know that compagno Don Camillo doesn't miss any chance to use Communist doctrine to point up inconsistencies in Soviet practice.

That's what I need.  A good chuckle!  Ciao!

Quote of the day: Governance

"The big difference is that the protesters don’t believe in governance."  "The Possum Republicans", David Brooks, New York Times, 2012-02-29.

Brooks wrote that the protesters of the Tea Party and the professionals may agree on the issues, but that the protesters would rather make a statement of belief than get any legislation passed.  He has many more right-on observations in this column on the polarizations within the party creating legislative polarizations.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

An interesting reference to this blog

Among the statistics I receive about this blog are the search words used to find it.  One recent one was "tundra lingon och chili"; "och" is Swedish for "and".  Whoever used it must have gone through many search items; I couldn't find this blog in the first fifty entries when I used the search terms in quotes.  I tried just the words without the quotes and found it - "You really are good at foreign languages".

It's interesting that the searcher used a Russian word, a Swedish word, and a Spanish word.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The blame for high gas prices goes to…

Many different players and causes.

Oil is sought in places where it costs more to extract.

There are threats to oil supplies from many sources.  For example, Iran threatens to blockade the Straits of Hormuz.

Threats of war increase the prices of oil futures as many buyers try to lock in prices.  It is ironic that many on the right attack Obama about oil prices but are willing to attack Iran, a major producer of oil.

Although U. S. demand for gasoline is the lowest in some time, world-wide demand is increasing.  Oil and gasoline are traded on world markets, not local markets.

And finally, many U.S. refineries are closing down because they can't be cost effective because of the types of oil they use are in short supply.  See "Angry About High Gas Prices?  Blame Shuttered Oil Refineries", Matthew Philips, Business Week, 2012-02-24.

Why no military can be trusted

No military can admit a weakness.  It can be exploited by an enemy.  Therefore a military must hide problems from its own country.

I mused upon this from a comment in a University for Seniors class at the University of Minnesota, Duluth.  The class is "The Future of Energy".  One of the members pointed out that the U.S. Navy has been running ship-born nuclear reactors and has had no nuclear accidents.

Who says so?  The U. S. Navy.  Why?  If there are any problems, they can't let them be known to potential enemies.  Therefore, besides its bureaucratic interest, the U. S. Navy cannot admit any problems to the U. S. public.

However, there are always leaks.  See "WHEN INCIDENTS ARE ACCIDENTS: The Silent Saga of the Nuclear Navy".

Remember, SNAFU, FUBAR, and other pejoratives are about the fallibility of the military.  If the Right says that government can't do anything right, why does the Right insist that the military can do it right?

Why you should always vote

"In the 2010 electorate, the proportion of voters under 30 fell by roughly a third, while the proportion of voters over 65 years old rose by a similar amount—the white share, too." - "Why 2012 is the Republicans' Last Chance", Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, 2012-02-26.

In other words, if you don't show up because your "side" has not lived up to your expectations, you will give the election to the other "side" who wants to defeat your "side".

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Coffee Party, demand, and civility

I've been a member of the Coffee Party for some time, and I follow them on Facebook.  Now and then I add a comment to one article or another.

I have a Coffee Party bumper sticker that I haven't used yet that states "Incite Civility and Reason".  The Coffee Party often suggests that members write this politician or that government office to demand something or other.  But is demanding some outcome "civility and reason"?

"Demand" is something done by ideologues, not by somebody trying to be civil and reasonable.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Diversity Revisited

In reviewing yesterday's use of my blog and web site, I saw that there were three hits on http://www.cpinternet/~mdmagree.diversity_2001-03-08.html.  It's web title is "I Hate Diversity" and was originally published in the Reader Weekly as "One little, two little, three little Representatives" almost eleven years ago.

I didn't write it against diversity itself; my whole life has been diverse in the people I've known.  I wrote it against the bean counter approach to diversity; there has to be so many women, so many people of color, so many …  I don't give two hoots whether the people I associate with are purple or orange.

Time for a diversionary chuckle.  I think Bill Cosby told this story.  A school bus driver got tired of the squabbling between white and black kids.  He stopped the bus and told each kid alternately that they were purple or orange, independently of their skin color.  When done he went to the front of the bus and told all the orange kids to go to the back of the bus.

Maybe you think this is just another example of racism.  I think it is a good example of the arbitrariness of people who make judgments based on skin color or other external, non-relevant factors.  "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Who I am interested in are people who share some of my interests.  Not lock step agreement, but enough overlap that we can have a pleasant conversation.  This was highlighted by a chance meeting at our neighborhood bus stop.

When we arrived at our neighborhood bus stop, a black gentleman was waiting in the shelter.  I had never seen him before.  We said "Good morning" and he replied equally cheerfully.  The three of us started a conversation.  When the bus arrived, my wife got on the bus and the other man and I still in conversation got into a "Aprés vous, Gaston!  Mais non, aprés vous, Alphonse" moment.  Then I realized I should be following my wife and got on.

We continued our conversation to our stop.  It was mostly about a lecture we had attended last night; he had wanted to go but had another commitment.

My wife knew him by reputation, but I don't think I had ever heard of him before.

I looked him up on the web this afternoon, and no surprise, I learned he had a different take on the "Unfair" campaign.  I don't care; he's an interesting person and I hope to meet him again at the next lecture in the series.  I won't give you his name; I don't want to embarrass him.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Legislators must prove they have read the books

I have had on my to-do list for awhile to write a blog entry about a standardized test for legislators.  After all, if a standardized test is good enough to judge school children's abilities, a standardized test should be good enough to judge legislators' abilities.

I was prodded to act on this to-do item on seeing "Teachers must prove they can do the math", Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Kim McGuire, Star Tribune, 2012-02-23.  Gov. Mark Dayton signed a law that "requires would-be teachers to pass a college-level basic skills test before they can lead a classroom."

So, again sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.  Shouldn't we have a requirement that legislators pass a political history test before they can serve in a legislature?

Here are a few questions:
What did Adam Smith state was the basis of a nation's economy?

Was Adam Smith concerned with special interests?

Was Adam Smith more sympathetic to workers or to employers?

Did Adam Smith think that banks should be regulated?

Were the writers of the Constitution concerned with the common good and virtue?  Please define these terms and give examples of their use in the Federalist Papers.

To what degree did the writers of the Constitution think that commerce should be regulated?

What was the intent of the writers of the Constitution when they used the words "people", "person", and "citizen".  Please define each term.

Did Thomas Jefferson think that "limited government" applied to financial institutions and other corporate interests?
Please feel free to send these questions to your legislatures at the state and federal level.

The right to bear Canons

Jim Heffernan, formerly of the Duluth News Tribune editorial staff, wrote a great letter that was titled "Obama isn't coming after your guns".  Unfortunately, none of the letters for 2012-02-21 were posted online, and so I can't give those of you outside Duluth a link to Jim's letter.  [Update: Jim's letter is at]

Although Wayne LaPierre, executive vice-president of the National Rifle Association, backed off from any claim that President Obama has tried "to take guns away" in his first term, LaPierre stated, "he's hiding his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment in his second term." ["At CPAC, Defeating Obama Trumps Fight for Nomination", New York Times, Erik Eckholm, 2012-02-11.]  Jim wrote that LaPierre "doesn't have a clue" about Obama's intentions.  Jim countered that he knows "very well that LaPierre and the NRA soon will arm every student in Columbine High School in Colorado with an assault rifle."  Jim adds that of course he doesn't know that, but he wouldn't be surprised.

In an email exchange with Jim, I wrote, "the right to bear cameras should be the same as the right to bear cannons. (Or the right to bear a Canon or a cannon.)"  See "Constitution, Rights, and secretive Congress".

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

An interesting truth-telling blog or two or three

This morning's Star Tribune had an article on Karl Bremer, who writes the blog rippleinstillwater . He digs into government records better than some politicians and lays out the facts. One current entry is on the proposed Stillwater bridge and its actual costs. Another is that he and two others have written a book on Michele Bachmann that is selling better than Bachman's own book on herself, at least in Stillwater.

Bremer has a sidebar of "leftyblogs" that gives a list of current blog entries from a long list of "progressive" blogs. I wondered about adding this blog to the list, but I decided I didn't meet their condition of entries mostly on state politics. As I said about my Reader Weekly "Party of One" column, I write what I damn well please.

I did like leftyblogs definition of "progressive": "progressives generally believe in the power of people to organize themselves for the improvement of society, through government and other institutions." Now who could argue with that. Probably not even corporations that fund "grass-roots" organizations for the benefit of themselves.

One of the interesting ads this morning on the sidebar of rippleinstillwater was for the Scott Walker campaign. It was not there this afternoon. Was that because Google AdSense rotated ads? Or did the Walker campaign pull it because it was on a Minnesota blog? Can't be that. Walker takes money from every state (just as do the people we like). Or did the Walker campaign pull it because too many people clicked it who had no interest in contributing, thus costing the campaign and putting a couple cents or a couple of dollars in Bremer's pocket? We'll never know, but I hope Bremer did get a bit more revenue because of the ad.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Foreign policy rhetoric can bite you back

There are tabloids and there are tabloids! There's the National Inquirer and then there's the Onion. They both make up stories to titillate their readers. The Inquirer makes up stories hoping its readers will believe them. The Onion makes up stories hoping readers will see the irony in them.

One such unbelievable ironic story is "New Breeding Program Aimed At Keeping Moderate Republicans From Going Extinct".

You know, I know, the writers know that there is no such program. But given the way that so many Republicans who don't fall in lockstep with the ALEC program are being sidelined, don't you wish there was a way to bring back Republicans who think for themselves.

The story that inspired the title of this entry is "Iran Worried U.S. Might Be Building 8,500th Nuclear Weapon". The Onion has Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi parroting much of the rhetoric that the U.S. has used to describe Iran. Unfortunately, U.S. military policy based on short-term goals too often loses sight that U.S. actions may be causing more problems than they solve. Remember, the U.S. toppled the democratically elected Mossadegh of Iran and supported the Shah; then Iranians toppled the Shah and got the ayatollahs. The U.S. hasn't forgiven Iran for the capture of the Embassy and Iran has forgiven the U.S. for the installation of the Shah.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton promises to veto ALEC-sponsored bills

The Coffee Party Facebook is all abuzz about Gov. Dayton's promised veto action. See

I sent Gov. Dayton a thank you at

Thanks for vetoing ALEC's bills.

Those who cite Adam Smith's "invisible hand" often ignore the rest of his cogent observations, including:

"It is by this superior knowledge of [the merchants and manufacturers] own interest that they have frequently imposed upon [the country gentleman's, often a member of Parliament] generosity, and persuaded him to give up both his own interest and that of the public, from a very simple but honest conviction, that their interest, and not his, was the interest of the public."

From "Political manipulation - begging the question"

I posted the above on Facebook as well as the next: Cookbooks in German are Kochbücher. Does this mean that legislators who enact ALEC drafts are Koching by the book?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Selective "religious liberty"

Many are raising a hue and cry about the Department of Health and Human Services requiring all employers to include various birth control treatments in their health plans.

For example, Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN8) wrote in a newsletter: "Forcing Catholic hospitals to comply with this mandate violates their core moral commitment to protecting the lives of the unborn."

Where is the hue and cry about forcing Quakers and other pacifist religions to pay taxes for wars? They have a core moral commitment to protecting the lives of the born. And the Catholics should equally raise a hue and cry about paying taxes for war - a lot of unborn are killed by drone attacks, by indiscriminate use of other conventional weapons, and by nuclear weapons.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Will the Republicans defeat themselves?

OK, I hope I'm done quoting from "The American Prospect" for the day. In my wanderings I saw on the sidebar "The GOP Must Really Want to Lose this Election", Jamelle Bouie, 2012-02-16. Bouie thinks that the Republican's push to eliminate contraceptive coverage without any meaningful input except from those who agree with them will turn many voters against them in November.

I agree that many votes will be cast against Republicans because of this issue, but will enough people show up who are unhappy with the Republican position. Too often, the right has shown up more often than the left on hot-button issues.

Quote of the day: Stealing the Constitution

"The far right is now stealing the Constitution in plain sight. I don’t speak here of ordinary conservatives who may differ with me on the scope of the Commerce Power or the meaning of the 11th Amendment but of the Bachmanns, the Perrys, the Pauls (father and son). These charlatans are not being answered as they should be, in part because too many progressives see only the imperfection and shame in the Constitution’s history and blind themselves to the promise of its text." - "The Constitution: A Love Story", Garrett Epps, The American Prospect 2011-10-17.

This was another of the serendipitous finds made as I wandered from one link to another.

 The comments to this article are just awful, not just because I disagree with the Constitutional points made, but the attitude is so ad hominem or generalized, like "all liberals". Note that Epps doesn't attack "conservatives" in general, but those who raise specific points that would bother anybody who loves the Constitution.

Revisit: The invisible hand controls the market?

Another interesting blog entry I revisited was on CEO pay, "The invisible hand controls the market". The wonderful quote from it is "[When] it comes to CEO pay, the grasping hand usually trumps the invisible one." It was in "The Winner-Steal-All Society and the persistence of the CEO-market myth" by Jerry Useem, a Fortune magazine writer; the article originally appeared in The American Prospect, 2002-10-21.

I predicted the Great Recession?

In the usage reports I receive I've noticed that a blog entry has no title. I'm going back through the list of blogs and haven't found it after 2008-01-08. But on the way, I've found many interesting things that I wrote, some right on, some whimsical, some whatever. But one that really struck me as too right on was "Free market is a construct, not reality".

Probably many other commentators made similar predictions, but I was amazed that I was so right about mortgage default spinning out of control. Remember that this was well before the 2008 elections.

Getting older with an active mind

The older I get, the longer my to-do list gets.  In fact, it is so long that it seems I spend half my time deciding which item to do next.

Even then, after I do something, I am on to so many other things I forgot what I have done.

Several acquaintances have told me that they enjoy reading my letters to the editor, either in the Star Tribune or in the Duluth News Tribune, mostly the latter.  Many ask we when I'm going to write something again.  I've been telling them that I can only get published every 30 days, if my letter or article is accepted.

Today somebody asked me when I would have something in again, and I replied that I had submitted to the Star Tribune.  But I couldn't remember what the subject was; I think in part because I moved on to several other ideas.  It wasn't until hours later that I remembered it was on the proposed marriage amendment to the Minnesota Constitution.

Gosh, I wish I could get as many people who ask me about my letters would read this blog.  I'm still running between 20 and 30 subscribers every day with only one or two actually looking at the full text.

Now to decide which of the seven items in my list in my composition file to write next, or should I select one of the dozen or so in another to-do list, or …

Capitalists Who Make vs. Capitalists Who Take

I found a wonderful analysis of good and bad capitalism, "Capitalists Who Make vs. Capitalists Who Take".

I haven't finished reading it yet, but I posted the comment below to it.  I think the title is very descriptive of the definition trap we've fallen into.

Aren't we way past the time of evaluating Gross Domestic Product where speculation in tulip bulbs is considered part of the GDP?  Maybe we should keep track of Net Domestic Product, or maybe even Minimum Domestic Product.  The latter would be to evaluate the wealth of the bottom 10 percent.

If we were truly a Christian nation, we would take to heart "whatever you did not do for one of the least among you, you did not do for me." - Matthew 25:45.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Minnesota House votes to jettison legislator seniority

The Minnesota House voted Thursday to scrap legislative tenure in the state and replace it with a plan that gives house leaders the authority to consider performance when making decisions about committee assignments. "Experience matters, but the number of years served is not an adequate measure of ability, competence and success in forming legislation," said House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove. "We need to stand up for voters." Oh, my bad! That was "scrap teacher tenure", "decisions about layoffs", "success in teaching kids", and "We need to stand up for kids." See "House votes to jettison teacher seniority system", Kim McGuire, Star Tribune, 2012-02-16. However, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Too few politicians are noted for consistency.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ain't standardization wonderful!

Our under-the-cupboard mounted microwave has been erratic for some time. It either flashes or the turntable stops and starts. Today, we bought a replacement.

But it won't be a simple replacement. We called our favorite appliance store, Daugherty's, to check on a replacement. The only under-the-cupboard microwave they have has mounting screws at least an inch closer (side-to-side) than our older one. This means we have to drill at least one new pair of holes. That also means that are going to recut our spacer, the one that went over the brackets so we could slide dishes in and out without their getting caught on the brackets.

All that is a job for tomorrow!

The new look of this blog

Am I getting old or are techies writing less clearly?

I've noticed how the ads on this blog were placed on top of some other header stuff. It looked ugly, but I didn't want to take the time to correct it. Finally I did and took up Google Blogger's offer of a new interface. The new interface certainly looks better and is easier to manipulate.

I also think the layout is better and cleaner.

But getting there was a chore. Windows have cursors that change to hands, but the hands don't move anything. You have to go to another window to that action. I'm not sure how users can subscribe to my blog, but I put in a "gadget" that supposedly allows that.

Oh, for the days of the printed manuals with good indexes! I remember when the Macintosh first came out and I wanted to type certain Swedish, French, or German characters, I just looked up certain terms in index, found the page, and there were the key combinations for those letters. Now, I bet few of you who even speak these languages have figured out how to type these characters.

Well, I do know the ads are better placed. I just wish I would get more revenue from them and I could figure out how to center them. If you see me, please let me know what you think.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Taxes, can't govern without them, can't govern because of them

Taxes, who should pay them and how much? And so many misconceptions and distortions abound in any assertions about them. I almost wrote "discussions" instead of "assertions", but few listen well enough to have any meaningful discussions about taxes. Legislatures have almost ground to a halt because of the rigid stances of those who say "taxes are too high" and of those who say "the rich should pay their fair share".

We have those who claim taxes are holding businesses back from investing. But why was there such much investment when taxes were a lot higher?

We have those who claim that taxes are job killers. But how is taxing at a lower rate the sale of stock on the open market a job killer? The companies whose stocks are sold see nothing of the money. The jobs involved in buying and selling of stock have already been killed, by computers!

Actually, a complicated tax system is a job creator. Many people depend on accountants and tax preparation companies like H&R Block to prepare their taxes. Of course, computers are killing those jobs thanks to TurboTax and other tax programs.

It is ironic that today's Tea Party is anti-tax. The Boston Tea Party was an action against a private corporation with a government monopoly. One of the rallying cries of the Revolutionary times was not "No new taxes" but "No taxation without representation".

On the other hand, we have those calling for all to "pay a fair share". Just what is this fair share besides just more? It is almost an unanswerable question. Fair in what sense? Fair because those who have more are able to pay more? Fair because those who have more depend more on the public infra-structure for their earnings?

Just how do you measure the effect of infra-structure on earnings?

Certainly we can say Zigi Wilf does need a stadium to get any money with a football team? He also needs roads or public transportation to get fans to the games. Do we determine his fair share on the profits he derives from this infra-structure? Or do we determine his fair share on how much he can afford to pay?

Many corporations (and CEOs) depend on educated skilled workers. Many corporations now do little unsubsidized in-house training. Is their fair share based on the profits they derive from employees educated at the employees' own or at public expense? Or is their fair share based on how much they can afford to pay?

Finally, it is ironic that the headquarters of Fortune 500 companies tend to be located more in "high-tax" states than in "low-tax" states. In other words, these companies have been grown based on the public investments made in these "high-tax" states. Besides, the CEOs prefer the quality of life offered in "high-tax" states. See "The fallacy of ranking states by 'tax burden'".

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pledge of allegiance revisited

I find it interesting to look at Google's reports of this blog and of my website with many of my Reader Weekly articles.

One report is referring websites. That led to "Extremism continues on the Unfair campaign".

Another report is search words. One set today was "in defense of obama's patriotism a dissent on the pledge". Hm! What did I write that showed up in a Google search of that phrase? Doing my own search with that phrase, I found that one of my blog entries turned up fourth out of about 169,000 results!!! The entry is "Pledge of Allegiance or Sledge of Allegiance" from February 2008.

My only reference to the phrase is "Among the more interesting hits, you'll find "In Defense of Obama's Patriotism, A dissent on the pledge", Ron Rosenbaum, Slate, Nov. 12, 2007". My tags didn't include that specific phrase but I guess I used enough other relevant tags to get a good position.

I did reread Rosenbaum's article, and I still agree with him. It makes me think that my renaming Republicans as Roboticans was very appropriate. Hm! I typed that new name as Roboticons; that might be appropriate too.

And since I'm running wild at the keyboard, I'll be an equal opportunity name changer. Given that so many Democrats also depend on big buck, corporate donors, shouldn't they be called Plutocrats?

How would you handle this customer service?

I went to the corner about eight this morning to get the Sunday Duluth News Tribune. There were none in the machine. On the other hand, there was at least one copy of the Star Tribune in the other machine. Generally, it is the reverse. The daily Star Tribunes often are gone by eight and sometimes even by seven.

Whoever stocks these machines doesn't practice Magree's first law of inventory: you know you have stocked enough product when you have exactly one left at the next restocking. If you have two left, you know you stocked too much the last time. If you have none left, you have no idea on how many you might have sold if more had been available.

So, since two papers are too much to read on Sunday, we did without a paper at breakfast. On our way to our cabin for the day, we picked up a Duluth News Tribune at a gas station. I didn't really look at it and put it in a box in the back of our SUV.

Before we started eating our lunch, I separated the paper, mostly set aside all the ads. There were no comics! Oh, horrors! There was no sports. So what! There was no local news and no opinion pages! We can't do without those! We were left only with the front section and "Scrapbook", the section of puzzles, obituaries, anniversaries, and other personal events. We checked and double checked for the missing sections. The only non-glossy sections we had were the front section, "Scrapbook", and one section of classified.

When we came back to Duluth we stopped at the gas station we bought the paper at. The clerk hadn't heard anybody remark about missing sections. I went back to the news rack and checked a copy. It had everything. There was no set of other sections behind the pile. I told the clerk that another copy had all the sections. I did not offer to buy another copy.

So, now what is the appropriate customer service?

The clerk probably had no authority to offer me another copy. Typical of bureaucratic organizations.

A manager might have offered me another copy. Better organizations allow this flexibility.

An owner of a locally owned service station likely would have offered me another copy. He or she has a personal interest in my being a return customer.

If any of the above knew me personally, they might or might not have offered me another copy, depending on how strongly they felt it would have been a good-will gesture.

There is no right answer, but organizations that put satisfaction of random customers above a rigid procedure often do better than those who follow every "jot and tittle" of the rules.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Comment on taxable income

I posted the following comment to "CommonWealth:Assets vs. Income" by Will Rice on the Facebook page of the Coffee Party. It and the comments are various positions about taxing interest and capital gains.

If John and Mary start a company and sell stock in it to you, you have made an investment. If later I buy that stock from you at more than you paid John and Mary, I'm not making an investment in John and Mary's company; I'm providing you with liquidity for your investment. John and Mary have gained nothing from my purchase of your stock. Well, not quite, the liquidity I have provided to you makes it easier for them to sell new stock if they need to expand.

If purchase of stock on the open market is truly an investment, then why are you taxed at the full rate on the whole amount that you withdraw from your IRA or 401k? You are not taxed on the sale price minus the cost basis as you would be if you had bought stock for a regular account.

In either case, we have not done much work for our gains, unless you count biting nails when the stock goes down as work. The people who have done the actual work are John, Mary, and their employees. They have sweated and worried as we watched on the sidelines. And for this, we tax them at a higher rate. That does not sound like an incentive to get people to work.

Worse, we expect them to pay for all the infra-structure that makes their company successful: education, streets and sewers, police and fire, courts, and many other public goods. Those who pay a smaller portion of their income for public goods are free riders; without public goods they would have much smaller incomes. If you don't think public goods matter, consider that more large corporations tend to have their headquarters in "high-tax" states than in "low-tax" states. The public goods in the "high-tax" states made the corporations possible and the CEOs like the quality of life in these states. See "The fallacy of ranking states by 'tax burden'".

Beware of labeling Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts

I'm taking a class called "Congress: A Messy Democratic Body" at University of Seniors at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. The instructor, Marv Heikenen, asked us to profile some Senators and Representatives. I chose Scott Brown, Sen. from Massachusetts because I think he is more independent than many think he is.

In a mostly Democratic state, he beat Attorney General Martha Coakeley to replace the late Ted Kennedy. Tea Party groups gave him support. However, "when told that at various times he has been labeled a conservative, moderate and a liberal Republican, he responded 'I'm a Scott Brown Republican.' According to Politifact, while Brown was a Massachusetts legislator, he voted about 90 percent with the state Republican leadership; however, Republican Leadership in the Massachusetts legislature is generally considered far more moderate than the national Republican Party."

He has praised some Democratic senators and said he is willing to work across party lines and has taken positions "at odds with some of his fellow Republicans and Tea Party conservatives" as well as "Glenn Beck other prominent conservatives."

"According to the Washington Post, Brown voted with the majority of Republicans 80% of the time. In the same poll, '56% of Massachusetts voters believed he has kept his promise to be an independent voice in the U.S. Senate.'"

As a pre-1980 John Anderson Republican, I think it's great to see that not all Republicans are Roboticans.

Quotes are from

Friday, February 10, 2012

Extremism continues on the Unfair campaign

The most ridiculous thing concerning the Unfair campaign, unfortunately to be expected, is from those who are truly racist. They have been sending hate emails to the Mayor of Duluth, Don Ness. The Mayor is a supporter of this campaign. I didn't read the full article about his email, but I know that some of it comes from places far from Duluth.

The next ridiculous thing, though far more justified than the hate mail, are those who persist in objecting to criticism of the Unfair campaign as using a broad brush to describe people who are "white".

This latter was brought home to me when I checked the usage this morning of my blog. I had over twenty links from to "Is the Un-Fair Campaign Unfair?"

Thanks for the interest, but the link to my blog entry proves my point of the campaign itself being unfair: "much less learning to notice white privilege". I don't think the writer read my blog entry with an open mind.

Let me give a couple examples from my bus driving days in the Twin Cities. The employees and the customers were all over the map as far as wealth, race, and religion. The employees and the customers were all over the map as far as promptness, courtesy, and consideration. The two categories did not map one to one with each other.

The first example started and stopped in a minute. I picked up a busload of kids from an inner-city community center. They were probably all black as were most of the adults. I was driving down a long street with a string of traffic lights. Like a good driver, I was looking well ahead. Except, I was looking too far ahead. One of the adults pointed out that I had run a red light. I acknowledged that I had and I thanked him for pointing it out. I certainly didn't have any "white privilege" that made me right and him wrong.

The second example was a charter that left an extremely angry customer who we lost for repeat business. About six buses were sent out to pick up kids and adults from a all-white church camp about two hours away; the drivers were all white except maybe a Central American Indian. We had no appointed leader and relied on those who had made the trip before on what to expect.

This being before cell phones were so ubiquitous, we had to rely on the camp phone to talk to our Jewish dispatcher to try to resolve some of the problems. He was unsuccessful in mitigating some of the problems, but we did get all the campers back to the Twin Cities, late.

When we got back to the terminal, the black dispatcher was on duty. Boy! Did he lay into us as a group. And he was right; he had probably spent far more time on the phone with the customer than he would have liked.

The only complaint I had with the dispatchers is they didn't appoint a trip leader; we were just a milling crowd at every problem point. Maybe I should have exercised "age" privilege and taken leadership?

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Posters, translations, and strange French idioms

A French friend sent me a poster of a shaven head guy in tights with a "wrap-around" mustache.

Overlaid on the picture was

"L'affiche est aux beaux-artes ce que le catch est aux bonnes manières."

I understood most of it except "le catch". I put the sentence into and was given

"The poster is in fine ridges that wrestling is good manners."

Ah, so "le catch" is wrestling. So I sent the following correction back to Google.

"The poster is to the fine arts as wrestling is to good manners."

You can see a version of the poster at

My friend has worked at Ligne à Suivre for several years.

Constitution, Rights, and secretive Congress

I left the following comment on OccupyVotingBooths Facebook community to an item on the arrest of Josh Fox taking pictures of a Congressional hearing. The article is "The Arrest of Josh Fox: What Are They Trying to Hide When They Deny Our Right to Take Pictures?"

This all is a slippery slope of intent. If cameras were unknown at the writing of the Constitution, then how can we positively say that use of a camera is a First Amendment right? Since multiple-shot, concealable weapons were unknown at the writing of the Constitution, then there is no Constitutional right to conceal and carry. Either we have to interpret the Constitution to cover modern technology or we have to interpret it to not give rights of use of modern technology. As it is, we are interpreting it to suit our own interests. Nothing new there.

What we can assume about the arrest of Josh Fox is that some members of Congress have something to hide.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

"Liberals" should stop playing nice

See "The right's stupidity spreads, enabled by a too-polite left: Conservatism may be the refuge of the dim. But the room for rightwing ideas is made by those too timid to properly object", by George Monblot, Guardian, 2012-02-06.

As expected, this article generated lots of comments, some justified, some not. However, the point remains that Obama and company try to "compromise" and the Republicans keep demanding more. The party with a selective reading of Adam Smith and a selective reading of the Bible is not countered by anybody in power who has a wider understanding of either the "Wealth of Nations" or the Bible. Could it be that Democrats also don't have a wider understanding of either. If so, there goes our Republic.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Free markets, unions, and Adam Smith yet again

I was published again, this time in the Star Tribune on the selective reading by many of Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations". I also proposed a standardized test for legislators. See

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Is Mitt Romney fit to govern?

Mitt Romney seems to be out of touch with so much. His statements include "Not concerned with the very poor" and "Corporations are people". Yeah! Made up of people, but it's the few who speak for the corporation without consultation with the many. Those few are not elected in competitive elections by the many. Then his math is atrocious "I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling." See "Romney fails the empathy test", Eugene Robinson, Washington Post, 2012-02-02.

If 90-95 percent are struggling, why are new car sales up? Why are many brew pubs opening and why are popular restaurants full? Yes, many of that 90-95 percent are struggling (including the 15-20 percent who are considered poor), but many others of that group are not struggling. It could be that this statement is an attack on President Obama; in other words, everything is screwed up because of Obama and I, Mitt Romney, will make it all better. Interestingly, some of the data coming out seem to indicate that Obama "has made" a lot better already. Or maybe more people are thirsty for good beer or more people like the features in newer cars or…

A busy day of trying to do too much

I read the newspaper and it gives me ideas for blog entries. When I write a blog entry I often think of something that needs more clarification. To get more clarification, I search the web for relevant material. I may find something interesting, but that also needs more clarification. The latest find was a chapter of a book. The file had no citation about the larger work or the author. So, I sent email to the webmaster asking for details. I probably won't receive an answer until Monday or Tuesday.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to learn several songs for "Madrigal Dinners". I would like to memorize them but first I have to sing them correctly. For a guy who has been told he has a nice voice, I'm also one who has difficulty staying in key and in time. Plus, I have difficulty grabbing enough air to sing more than two bars on a single breath. And we just remembered we have a practice tonight.

So, you wonder what are "Madrigal Dinners". For the second year, the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Duluth is putting on Madrigal Dinners. These are five course meals supposedly in a renaissance manor with much entertainment. The choir is part of the entertainment.

Can you attend a Madrigal Dinner? I'm glad you asked. For more information see "Winter in Love Madrigal Dinners". Tell them Mel sent you.

Super bowl? What's that?

I've been hearing a lot about a super bowl. Is that a new super-sized soup at McDonald's?

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Politicians have no clothes!

The Republican party used to be a party of a certain way of thinking; now it has become the party of what to think.

The old Republicans might wonder if voter fraud was a problem and if so, they would ponder what could be done about it. Today's Republicans "know" "voter fraud" is a problem and they "know" that voter ID will "fix" the problem. And anyone who doesn't "know" this is a "RINO", Republican in Name Only!

The Democratic party isn't much better. Rather than a grand vision of making life better for all the people, they have degenerated into an opposition party that often caves in to the claims of the Republicans.

Both parties have also become beholden to corporate interests who promote those interests with a smokescreen of "creating jobs".

Maybe the Democrats should work to rebuild themselves from the ground up with much more participation in the neighborhoods. But that won't happen because the car culture has changed neighborhoods. Now neighborhoods are online and those neighbors don't vote in the same precinct.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Why so few read Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations", much less understand it

"Had the Scotch cattle been always confined to the market of Scotland, in a country in which the quantity of land, which can be applied to no other purpose but the feeding of cattle, is so great in proportion to what can be applied to other purposes, it is scarce possible, perhaps, that their price could ever have risen so high as to render it profitable to cultivate land for the sake of feeding them."
- page 124 of the Project Gutenberg HTML version

Your homework assignment is to rewrite this in 21st Century English.

Polarization: Another reason to vote

"The people who see the world split into two opposing factions are also most likely to vote …", "Americans Political Views Not So Far Apart", Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience via Yahoo, 2012-01-29.

So, if you are not in one of these opposing factions, be sure to vote. Don't let a minority of eligible voters decide an election. It could be the minority faction that you don't like.

Teacher Performance, can it really be "measured"?

The Duluth News Tribune published my "Local View" with the title "Teacher Performance has always been variable". You can find it at

I wrote it in light of all the bashing of teachers that has been going on and of the notion that you can judge performance at the end of a school year. I really think teachers should be paid like insurance agents - instead of a cut of the ongoing premiums they get a cut of the income taxes their former students pay.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Nuclear plants and childhood leukemia, a tenuous link

A new French study has shown that incidents of childhood leukemia are twice as high within 5 km of nuclear plants. See "Child leukemia doubles near French nuclear plants", Reuters, 2012-01-12. Hoo boy! Maybe we can get the damn things shut down!

But, wait a minute! We're still talking about some very small number of cases. Fourteen! 14! Similar studies have found no significant radiation increases near nuclear plants. Could there be another explanation?

"German study finds nuclear energy causes leukemia… or maybe not…" suggests that nuclear plants are in industrial areas, some of which have had severe pollution from other sources, like munition plants. Second, poorer people tend to live near these areas and for a variety of reasons tend to have more health issues, for example, more parents who smoke.

I checked Google for "smoking leukemia" and was given over six million items. Here's one from an "unimpeachable" source - "Kids' Leukemia Risk Tied to Dad's Smoking", Fox News, 2011-12-15 (actually from Reuters). The risk is given as 15 percent higher if the father smokes. The sample size was 400 for children with leukemia and 800 for children without.

I think these cases show that people shouldn't leap to alarmist positions nor should they be quick to dismiss indications of a problem. Unfortunately, our political climate leads to uncritical acceptance of one position or the other.