Monday, April 30, 2012

Give me those old-time politicians

Write a short letter or email to a contemporary politician and get back a lengthy position paper that may or may not address the issue that you brought up.  Read a contemporary politician's newsletter and you find that the I's have it.  Both Republicans and Democrats do this.

OK, I'll back off a bit.  Most local politicians in Duluth respond briefly and to the point.

OK, maybe I've been spoiled by two Republican former members of Congress.

I generally agreed with Bill Frenzel, former Representative from the 3rd District of Minnesota, which covered many of the western suburbs of Minneapolis.  He wrote model newsletters that related objectively what Congress was doing, not what he sponsored or voted on.  He was elected again and again, partly with my vote and maybe a small contribution.

I generally disagreed with Rudy Boschwitz, former Senator from Minnesota.  Among his mantras that I didn't like was "across the board cuts".  Yeah, cut the kids' milk budget and Dad's beer budget an equal percentage.  Why not leave the milk budget the same and let Dad do without beer?  Anyhow, Rudy served in the days before the internet and communication with him was by letter.  He answered by returning the letter with a short to-the-point comment on it and a smily face.  I hope I can find at least one of these somewhere in my files.

"Liberal" corporations are no better at free markets than "conservative" corporations

This is a test.  Do you see the free market flaw in the following email from the New York Times?
Dear Reader,

Because you are a valued reader of the world’s finest news site, we want to offer you the chance to try unlimited access to all of the award-winning news, opinions, videos and interactive features at this special rate of just $5 for your first 12 weeks.*

*New York Times digital subscriptions are sold separately from e-reader editions, Premium Crosswords and The New York Times Crosswords apps. Mobile apps are not supported on all devices. You will be billed $5 for the first 12 weeks upfront which is non-refundable. After the first twelve weeks, all subscriptions will automatically renew and your credit card or PayPal account will be charged in advance of each four-week billing period unless canceled. If the subscription is canceled, refunds and termination of access will follow the Terms of Sale policy. Prices are in U.S. dollars and are subject to change. Other restrictions and taxes may apply.
Did you see the free-market flaw in this email?

Where in this email did the New York Times tell you what your subscription would cost after "your first 12 weeks"?  That is, the New York Times is not providing full information.  You have to go elsewhere to find out what the regular four-week subscription costs.

Sorry, NYT.  I'll just put up with reading a few articles a month.  If you return to the $50/year subscription that you had before you went to free subscriptions, I will most likely subscribe again.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Russians are coming! I wish most of them would go away.

In "Добро пожаловать в мой русский посетителей" I speculated that many of the Russian visits to this blog may be spammers looking for email addresses.  I may have gotten that partly right.

I read that "referral spam" has become quite common on blogs with small audiences.  The idea is that the little-guy bloggers, like me, are so eager for traffic that they check out some of the linking sites to see what has been written about them.  These sites can be pornography or other traps to suck in users.

Some of these sites are obvious and I couldn't figure out why they would be referring to my site.  Those I didn't even check. Russia is known as a large source of spam, but most of my email spam is Turkish or Japanese.  So I assume that most, if not all, the references to my blog from Russia are spam referrals.

I am certain that none of the Russian visitors know me; the few Russians I know have my email address or can get it from friends.  No Russian sent me email about my blog.

Gosh, I might say the same thing about French visitors.  The readers from France has gone from one or two a week to four or five a day.  None of my friends living in France have mentioned anything.  Claude, Christian, and Birahim, are you reading this?

I also had a recent spike in visits from Italy, but I had an explanation for that.  Our son was in Milan on business.  Thanks, son, for reading your father's ramblings.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Friendly government service

After I wrote "Customer Service Department?" I thought about the courteous service we received after our car was dinged, both from the medical center security and the Duluth Police.  I thought I had mentioned it this in my blog "Premonitions and coincidences", but I hadn't.

I did send a thank you to the Duluth Police Dept. naming the officer who wrote the report.  A few days later I received a personal thank you from the police chief, Gordon Ramsay.

I did not send a thank you to the medical center.  I did that before I finished writing this.

Customer Service Department?

The Star Tribune box near our house in Duluth is often empty by eight o'clock or even earlier.  Once this week it had three or so copies after eight, but it was back to empty by 7:30 this morning.

Earlier this week I sent email to the customer service department and received no reply.  I thought maybe more copies yesterday was the action the Star Tribune took in response to my email.  When it was empty today, I sent another email.  I received a reply that included:

"Thank you for contacting the Star Tribune. I would be happy to assist you with your inquiry. Please call our single copy department at 612-673-4313."

Excuse me, but shouldn't customer service route complaints to the relevant department rather than ask the customer to call that department.

And people complain about being routed from one government department to another.  Bureaucracy is found in all economic models.

To be or not to be a government employee

…or to have been or not to have been a government employee.

Many so-called conservatives constantly complain about government employees, especially those at lower levels who are "feeding at the public trough".  If government employees can do nothing right, why are so many Republicans clamoring to be government employees?  Or their large corporation bedfellows clamoring for government contracts?

Now we have an interesting attack from so-called liberals on former government employees who have taken jobs in large corporations.  See "EXPOSED: Fox News, BP, And Goldman Sachs Don't Want You To Know About This", Sara Critchfield, Upworthy, 2012-04-23.  The article shows overlapping circles  of government employees moving to corporate jobs, whether appointed or elected officials.  People in both parties have done this.

These moves sound fishy and maybe some are fishy.  On the other hand, if you are, say a geologist, who is most likely to hire you - an oil company.  Does every government expert in every field start out as a government employee for life?  No, they often build up credentials in corporations or academia, serve for a few years in government, often at lower pay, and then go back to a corporation or a university.

This is the problem with taking sides on political issues.  Too much is at stake to open oneself to a broader view of issues.  As a result, sound bites become the "facts" and few look at a problem thoroughly.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fun with computer translations

To make some small improvement in our Italian skills, we go to a monthly conversation group.  Each month, the organizer emails a reminder, and this last time she asked us to let her know if we'll be coming.

I can read Italian books and newspapers with so-so comprehension, but I have trouble coming up with the simplest everyday phrases, especially if they are not in the present tense.  So, I called on the friendly, knowledgable folks at Google Translate.

"We will be there" -> "Ci saremo"

That's OK, but do I want to make a statement of certainty?

"We plan to be there" -> "Pensiamo di esserci"

But that seems to me to mean "we're thinking of being there", implying we haven't made up our minds yet.

"We hope to be there" -> "Speriamo di esserci"

Naw! Hope is not as certain as plan.  I guess I'll go with "Ci saremo" and hope that our plans work out:)

Interestingly, Google translated "Pensiamo di esserci" to "We plan to be".  My goodness, we plan to be lots of places for many years to come!

Oh yeah!  Since May 1 is Labor Day all over Europe, I asked Google to translate "labor day" into Italian.  It gave, I kid you not, "Labor day", and pronounced it "lahbor die".  However, if I put in "festa dei lavoratori" it gives "labor day".


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A repair cost too little!!

Several weeks ago I "fried" my compact camera.  As usual, I had it on my hip as I drove to Brimson.  But that hip was also sore, and so I put a hot pad on it.

When I got to our cabin, I decided to take a picture from the same place as a week or two before.  I had taken a nice picture through some pines of our sauna with snow on the ground.  Now I wanted to take a picture without snow.

When I turned the camera on the screen showed "Lens error".  I turned it on and off but nothing improved.  When I got back to Duluth I checked the manual.  Turning the camera on and off was the suggestion.  If that didn't work, the camera would require service.

I took it to the camera store where I bought it and left it with $25 for an estimate from the manufacturer.  I might have to wait 4-6 weeks for the estimate.

So, I start dreaming.  If the repairs were too much, then I would buy a new camera.  Let's see, more zoom, brighter view finder, Canon instead of Nikon because I prefer Canon's software, my finger wouldn't cover part of the lens, …  How much would too much be? $200-250?

About three weeks ago the estimate came in - $117 and some cents.  That's a lot less than $200 or the $350 for the kind of camera I would like next.  OK, fix the camera.

Yesterday I received a call that the camera had been returned, and today I picked it up.  Still, I couldn't resist the techno-lust and the salesman showed me a nifty Nikon with a 14x zoom.  Gosh, that would make it easier to get a picture of skittish woodpeckers than my 5x zoom.

Sigh, maybe some other year!

Adam Smith didn't care for the ALECs of his day

I received an email from a group that asked people to thank Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton for vetoing a tenth ALEC-sponsored bill.  ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council.  Adam Smith predicted the problems of working against such groups.

I sent the following to Gov. Dayton via web form:

Thanks for vetoing ALEC created and sponsored bills.  Who elected them anyway?

"The member of parliament who supports every proposal for strengthening this monopoly, is sure to acquire not only the reputation of understanding trade, but great popularity and influence with an order of men whose numbers and wealth render them of great importance. If he opposes them, on the contrary, and still more, if he has authority enough to be able to thwart them, neither the most acknowledged probity, nor the highest rank, nor the greatest public services, can protect him from the most infamous abuse and detraction, from personal insults, nor sometimes from real danger, arising from the insolent outrage of furious and disappointed monopolists." - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

Find more interesting excerpts from Adam Smith at
- End of email to Gov. Dayton

If you live in Minnesota, you can send your own comments to Gov. Dayton at  Also, wherever you live, be sure to vote in each and every election.  Groups such as ALEC depend on voter apathy.  Or they even work to reduce the number of eligible voters.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Pizza no longer delivered in Florida

Several pizza shops have closed in Florida, especially those who depended on home delivery.  Given Florida's "Shoot First" law, many delivery people have resigned because they didn't want to get shot when they went to the wrong house or when they were trying to read address numbers in the dark.

Treyvon Martin - other truths

Some are defending George Zimmerman claiming he shot Treyvon Martin in self-defense and that his action was covered by Florida's "Shoot First" law.

Let's look at another way.  Treyvon Martin felt threatened by George Zimmerman who was stalking him.  Eventually Treyvon Martin "pushed first" in self-defense.  Zimmerman and Martin may even have had a shoving match.  Eventually Zimmerman fell down, pulled his gun, and fatally shot Zimmerman.

Under the old rules, Martin might have been guilty of starting the fight.  Given the new rules, he was acting in self-defense and pushed first.

Now, what if Martin was a neighborhood watchman in his own neighborhood?  He saw a suspicious white person looking at house addresses.  What if he acted exactly as Zimmerman had acted?  Would Martin be considered as acting in self-defense or would he be considered as committing a murder?

As with all violent actions, we can only speculate on all the possible causes and results.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Premonitions and coincidences

Last week my wife and I were in the parking ramp returning from the fitness center.  I had a feeling that our car might have been damaged and asked my wife if she had her camera. She replied that she did not.

When we got to our car, sure enough there was a big depression behind the tire.  We could even see tire tracks of the truck that had been parked next to us when we arrived.  At least I had my cell phone and called security.

Within a few minutes a security guard came and took notes.  She called a colleague who had a camera.  He came took a few pictures and promised to email them to me.  They both recommended that we also call 911 to report it.

I called 911, said it was a non-emergency, and gave the details.  Some minutes later a squad car arrived and that officer filled out a form and gave us a case number for our insurance company.  We are now waiting for a claims adjuster to look at our car.

My wife is disgusted about it but I'm amazed by it.  But not that amazed.

I'm taking a class at University for Seniors called "Religious Thinking and the Evolution of Christianity".  For the first half of the class we've watched a video by Lloyd Geering on Karl Jung's ideas about religion, basically that it arises out of archetypes in our brains.

A few members told about their own experiences of prayer and their belief that it had helped.

I was going to tell about the time that I woke in the middle of the night certain that a friend had died.  This was at least ten years ago and he is still alive.  On the other hand, my mother, my stepfather, my father and many other relatives died and I didn't know about their deaths until I got a phone call or a letter.  Some even I didn't know about until I found their names in the Social Security Death Index.

Similarly, I've many other premonitions of something being not right. For example, a garage door being left open.  Well, a few times we did leave it open.  But many other times we've come back and found it closed.

So, the incident above is a worry that I often have, but generally nothing had happened.  In other words, it was a coincidence that I had the worry and I was right.

Another coincidence happened after I talked with a friend who had been a nuclear submariner.  He said when they turned the key in drills they never knew if the missiles would stay put or be launched.  Now as a father, he is concerned about all the nuclear weapons that exist.

When I got home I found out that somebody had read my parody of nuclear proliferation, "New spear proliferation" from nearly two years ago.  I had given my friend my blog business card, but I doubt that he had had time to look at my blog by the time I saw the reference.

There have been a few times that I have thought of something, and something happened that had a connection to that thought.  But time after time I've thought of something and absolutely nothing related has happened.  What a coincidence!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Look who's engaging in voter fraud!

The Republicans in Wisconsin are putting fake candidates into the Democratic primaries.  Oops, sorry, they are "protest candidates" according to Republican Party of Wisconsin Executive Director Stephan Thompson.  The primaries are to replace elected officials who have been recalled.  To me, the placing of these "protest candidates" is fraud, and the Republican Party claims voter ID will prevent fraud and protect the "integrity" of elections.

It is bad enough that those who support one party will cross-over to vote in a primary for the "weakest" candidate in the other party, but for a party to choose that "weakest" candidate for the other party is fraud, pure and simple.

See "Wisconsin Republicans name fake Democrats for recall primaries", The Republic, Associated Press, 2012-04-04 and "Attorney: Fake Democrats in Wisconsin committing criminal election fraud", The Raw Story, Eric W. Dolan, 2012-04-05.

Friday, April 20, 2012

State secret: Ronald Reagan changed his mind

Ronald Reagan had a heart attack at his California ranch.  Nancy called 911 and within five minutes the local Fire Dept. EMTs arrived.  They said, "We are from the government and we're here to help."  Both Reagans replied, "Thank goodness!"

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Hope for RINOs in getting their party back

Coffee Party Radio interviewed Michael Charney, a New Hampshire Republican, who started an on-line social media experiment to counter Glenn Beck.  You can find the link to the show, commentary, and more links at

Some of the interesting comments are electile dysfunction, big money doesn't buy votes but only expensive advertising, Beck and others created illusions but they are not having the impact that they did in 2010.

The more you dislike the attack ads, the more important it is that you vote in 2012 (and all the other elections to come).

The kleptocracy of corporate boards

Many corporations fight vigorously against unions, claiming that they would ask too much in pay.

But executives and board members of these corporations never seem to recognize that they have a union that determines their own pay.  I just checked the executive pay of Radio Shack - over $11 million for seven current and former executives for 2011.  The board of ten grants each of its members $150,000 in stock each year.  Talk about the foxes guarding the chicken coop.

Oh, yes, Radio Shack's stock dropped by a half over the past year.  The above compensation is not pay for performance but kleptocracy - rule by thievery.

I single out Radio Shack because its proxy statement is the latest that I read.  Corporation after corporation rewards their top executives and board members quite well regardless of how well the corporation fared.

If corporations are sending work to lower wage countries, why not send CEO jobs to countries like Sweden, Norway, France, or Belgium?  CEOs in these countries average a third of less the total compensation of U.S. CEOs.  See "CEO Compensation: US and other countries", Ben Lorica, last updated Oct 2011.  Better yet, why not export the CEO jobs to India or China?  I haven't checked, but I bet CEO pay is a lot lower than in Europe.

But things are changing.  Citigroup shareholders voted no on the CEO's compensation.  The shareholders of three other companies did likewise.  As of today, a search of "Executive Pay" yields many articles about the ongoing revolt against CEO pay - from unions to church groups to large investors.

P.S. See "Director pay: how high can it go?", footnoted*, Michelle Leder, 2012-04-13.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Save money by spending?

I just received a message from AbeBooks about saving money by buying now.  Um!  Sorry, but I don't see how buying books now will save me money when I already have several unread books.  The best way to save money is to not spend it.

That makes me think of Menard's slogan, "Save Big Money".  Same argument about spending.  The next question is saving from what.  If all the retailers of building supplies and hardware are large corporations, how can I "save big money" from what the now-mostly-gone local building suppliers and hardware stores would have had to charge to stay in business?

We as communities probably lost a lot of money by saving big money.  We have to drive further to the store.  We have lost the taxes that the small retailers would have paid.  We have lost control of how our communities function, their having been made "all the same" by corporate interests, interests who consider any restrictions as "anti-business" and "job-killers".  These interests forget how they themselves have destroyed businesses and jobs.

We have lost communication with the owners; the big box folks may be friendly and helpful, but how many of our suggestions will go up sufficient corporate levels to bring about change?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Добро пожаловать в мой русский посетителей

Не понимаю русский язык.

Welcome to my Russian readers.  I don't understand Russian.  I forgot most of what I learned in summer school over 45 years ago.

I am a bit surprised about a sudden spike in visits to my blog from Russia.  Generally most visits are from the U.S. with a scattering of six or seven other countries.  Often, the second largest number of visits are from Russia.  But for the past few days there have been over 40 visits per day from Russia. 

What is happening?  I don't think many of my blogs have a specific Russian interest.  Are a bunch of spammers trying to mine my entries for email addresses?  Have a bunch of friends told each other about this blog because they find it interesting.  We hosted a Russian from Petrozavodsk last year and I did give her my card.  Irina, did you pass it along to your friends?

Whatever!  I hope you find some interesting commentary here.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

ALEC takes a licking, sheds crocodile tears

In response to several large corporations withdrawing their membership or promising to withdraw from the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC has issued a press release "…on the Coordinated Intimidation Campaign Against Its Members".  The truly ironic statement by an organization that behind a well-funded, expertly co-ordinated intimidation campaign of manipulating public policy is "Today, we find ourselves the focus of a well-funded, expertly coordinated intimidation campaign."  See

For commentary on how ALEC does not believe in the free market it promotes, does not really want small government, and definitely does not want free speech see "As Donors Flee, Corporate Front Group ALEC Whines That Critics Are Trying To 'Eliminate Discourse'", Zaid Jilani, Republic Report, 2012-04-11.

The Republic Report gives its purpose as "Investigating How Money Corrupts Democracy".  One of the articles featured in today's issue (2012-04-15) is "Corruption Responsible for 80% of Your Cell Phone Bill", Matt Stoller, 2012-04-09.  However, if you think the Republic Report is a left-wing rag trying to discredit Republicans, see "The Real Hilary Rosen Scandal: Does Her Firm Sell Access To The White House To Powerful Corporations?", Lee Fang, 2012-04-13

Quote of the day: pollution

"Pollution is a symbol of design failure", William McDonough, co-author with Michael Braungart of Remaking the Way We Make Things, quoted in Plan B 4.0, Mobilizing to Save Civilization by Lester R. Brown.

To beat somebody with a stick, recite to them a limerick

My wife and I were talking after dinner about the connection between how much I write and how much I read.  I said that I don't read so much as that I write a lot about what I do read.  She replied that I do read a lot compared to many other people.

She then asked about how to get out of the Limerick group on Facebook that a relative put us into to.  I said that I had already dropped out, but she hadn't figured out how to yet.

Of course, those who know me well know that this will create all kinds of associations in my head, both clever and silly.  With about four or five iterations I came up with the following:

There was a lady from Limerick
Who had a very poor memorick.
She wore lots of bows
To get lots of beaus.
She got one, but was it Tom or Rick?

Before the above result, I had the last line as:

She got a laddie and lost him quick.

I didn't think that was a good parallel to the second line.

On my first try I had a different ending, but …

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The price of gas and other things, a perspective

Many are complaining about the cost of gasoline as the price approaches $4/gallon.  Consider that about fifty years ago gas was often 25 cents/gallon.  The price is now about 16 times as much.  But consider also the use of those gallons of gas.  Fifty years ago many cars got 10-15 miles per gallon; now many cars get 30 or more miles per gallon.  In other words we are getting an effective $2/gallon or better of travel compared to fifty years ago.  So, as far as our use of gasoline, the price could be considered only eight times as much.

Consider postage.  Fifty years ago the price of a first class stamp was three cents.  Now it is 47 cents (I don't know exactly because I buy forever stamps).  Hm!  That's about 16 times as much, about the same as the increase in the price of gasoline.  But postage is now a better deal.  Fifty years ago a first class letter would take five days or more to go across country.  Now it can go coast to coast in three days and even four or less to Hawaii.  To get that kind of service fifty years ago, you had to buy an airmail stamp at eight cents.  So, in one sense, postage has gone up about six times as much as fifty years ago.  Pretty low inflation considering it is a government service continuously hobbled by Congress.

Consider newspapers.  Fifty years ago the price of a daily paper was five cents.  Now it is one dollar, twenty times as much.  And they are a lot smaller.  And in most cities there is only one newspaper rather than two or three.  Worse, the last newsstand increase was from 75 cents to one dollar.  A 33-1/3 percent increase, and I never saw a single complaint in letters to the editor.  A newspaper is produced by a "free market" company.

The list of items whose prices have "skyrocketed" goes on and on.  I remember sixty years ago going to the movie (sometimes a double feature with a cartoon, a short, and the news) for ten cents for the ticket and ten cents for a box of popcorn.  I wouldn't buy a candy bar at the theater because they cost six cents compared to five cents at the drug store next door.  Ice cream cones were five cents a scoop.  Sundaes and milk shakes were 25 cents.  "Pepsi-Cola hits the spot / Twelve full ounces, that's a lot / Twice as much for a nickel, too / Pepsi-Cola is the drink for you!"

Friday, April 13, 2012

Barack Obama may be our first majority president if…

I am in a bit of self back-patting remembering my blog entries in 2008 predicting the Great Recession and that Obama would be elected President.

I refer to the first in "I predicted the Great Recession", the original being "Free market is a construct, not reality", January 2008.

I predicted the second in "We now have a three-party system" in June 2008.

"I think that Obama will win in a landslide because he represents the future.  He will win because he will get more people voting than ever.  He will win because he has built a strong organization of average people rather than of Washington insiders.  He will win because he is a better speaker and thinker.  Finally, he will win because people do want change."

Once Obama was in office, too many people expected immediate results.  In 2012, many of these with high-hopes didn't even show up, giving many elections to the Republicans.

Now in April 2012, I am not so sure yet, but that could change by the summer.  However, I do think that if certain things happen, then Obama might not only be re-elected but he may be the first President in a long, long time to get not only a plurality of eligible voters, but a majority of eligible voters.

Those certain things are a very high Democratic turnout and a lower Republican turnout.

If the Democrats put as much energy, time, and money into getting people to show up in November as they do countering Republican campaign speeches and ads, they could get a record turnout.

If many Republicans think that Romney is not conservative enough or if they don't want to vote for a Mormon, many of these will probably not even vote in November.

If many independents think that Romney is too conservative, they may either stay away or vote for Obama.

For Obama to be the first majority President, we would need a 90% turnout in November 2012 with 60% of those who show up voting for Obama.  Sixty percent of ninety percent means that 54 percent of eligible voters voted for Obama.

The reality is probably that we will be lucky to have 70% turnout with 50% of those voting for Obama, something less than that for Romney, and a few voting for Ron Paul or some other third-party candidate.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Quote of the day - Peace

"Peace is not something you wish for;
It's something you make,
something you do,
something you are,
and something you give away."

- Robert Fulghum -
This quote was included in the latest newsletter of Duluth Minnesota Sister Cities.

I tried to find where Robert Fulghum wrote this, but the first dozen search items gave no attribution other than the author's name.  Robert Fulghum's most famous work is "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten".

You can find his blog and other information about him at

BTW, I'm not as wise as Fulghum; I started school with the first grade.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hang up and drive!

A few minutes ago my wife was driving on a through street when a car started across the intersection in front of us.  I gave a loud YEOW envisioning us broadsiding the other car.  My wife had applied the brakes and stopped before crossing the path of the other vehicle.  That driver had also seen us and had stopped before crossing our path.

Thump! thump! go our hearts still.

But think about some of the other scenarios.  Suppose the through-street driver had been on a cell phone.  Would that driver have reacted in time?  Suppose the cross-street driver had been on a cell phone.  Would that driver have reacted in time?  What if the through-street driver had been speeding?  That driver would not have reacted in time, especially if that driver had been on a cell phone.

This is a good example of how much attention is needed to drive safely.  A cell phone requires too much of that attention.  Hang up and drive!

Lack of transparency of corporate political donations

A mutual fund recently asked its clients to petition the Securities and Exchange Commission for transparency in political contributions.  The fund included a website to do so.  The suggested message was long-winded and so I wrote my own very brief statement:
If corporations do not have the right to vote, then why do they have the right to contribute to political campaigns?

If corporations claim it is their right in a democracy, then why do they only present a single slate of candidates for their boards, pre-selected by who else but the current board?
If you haven't received a similar request through a mutual fund, you can send your own comment to

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Pedestrians seem left out of Bluestone plan (Duluth MN)

When I grew up in Cleveland and East Cleveland, Ohio, my primary transportation was walking, biking, a streetcar or the bus. Most of the commercial districts abutted sidewalks and any parking was on the street or behind buildings. In other words, pedestrians were encouraged and drivers were an afterthought.

You can still see this urban design in most downtowns and in many neighborhoods. In Duluth examples include Central Avenue and some parts of Grand Avenue in the west and Superior Street in Lakeside.

Suburban design is creeping in, however. Mt. Royal Center is not pedestrian-friendly. More often than not pedestrians have to walk across parking lots or in the roadways. This is really ironic because there is so much senior housing abutting Mt. Royal. Every Walgreens being built is separated from the sidewalk by a medium-sized parking lot. Many other commercial buildings are far from the sidewalk.

Bluestone Commons is an ambitious project proposed for the Woodland School site. Its vision, as posted at the city of Duluth website, is to “create a mixed-use development comprising new retail, restaurants, student and professional housing components; reuse of the existing school building for possible postsecondary education; housing; (and) medical and office uses.” The vision purports a “Dinkytown-like environment.”

That does sound very interesting and exciting. The report includes many nice pictures of shops on streets and people on sidewalks or at sidewalk cafes. It also includes some pictures of typical, suburban, car-centered structures. I thought all of the pictures might be artists’ renditions, but then I realized I had seen some of the places before. Sure enough, the Excelsior and Grand photo was from St. Louis Park, Minn. I didn’t recognize any of the pictures as being from Dinkytown.

But I nearly went into shock when I saw a map of the proposed development. It was cross-hatched with parking spaces. Only three of seven buildings would have direct pedestrian access to Woodland. I hope the developer will maintain better-painted crosswalks than Mt. Royal Center does; too many drivers drive 20 mph or faster through parking areas.

This is not a “Dinkytown-like environment.” Almost all the shops in Minneapolis’ Dinkytown abut sidewalks, and all the area’s intersections are controlled by traffic lights.

For a better example in Duluth of urban-commercial development, see Carla Blumberg’s proposal  for a new building on the northwest corner of Eighth Street and 19th Avenue East. It is planned to abut the sidewalk on East Eighth Street with parking in the rear and a community garden on the east. It is to have offices or apartments on the upper two floors. You can see the plans on the bulletin board of the vestibule of Chester Creek Cafe or here.

If Bluestone Commons is supposed to be student-accessible, I wonder if the Duluth Public Works Department has plans and resources to provide painted crosswalks across Woodland Avenue at all the intersections between St. Marie Street and Kent Road. Only the Clover Street intersection has a painted crosswalk, but there are four other legal crosswalks. Very few drivers stop for pedestrians at these legal crosswalks. Drivers stop for pedestrians in Dinkytown.

Melvyn D. Magree of Duluth is a writer and former computer programmer. Read more of his musings here.

As published in the Duluth News Tribune, April 08, 2012 at  I've added two links.

2014-03-26 Update:  The City of Duluth or somebody put a traffic signal at the main entrance to Bluestone Commons for both cars and pedestrians.  The shops that have pedestrian access from Woodland are occupied or soon to be occupied.  Bluestone Commons also keeps its sidewalk frontage clear to the same high standard as UMD does

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Which is better, civil disobedience or voting?

I posted the following response to a Coffee Party article on civil disobedience and voting.  A commentator claimed that corruption was preventing people from voting.

Corruption is not excluding people from voting, individual voters are excluding themselves. When we have turnouts of less than 50% in 2010 the no shows have only themselves to blame. I often wonder how many who protested in Madison had voted. How many of those who signed the repeal petition in Wisconsin will actually show up for the recall election? Turnout in 2012 was low because too many stayed away because President Obama wasn't "perfect". If you're going to wait for the "perfect" candidate, you are going to let other people vote in some very imperfect people.

Rules of democracy - 1) show up to vote; 2) vote for who you believe in, even if you have to write some body in; 3) show up to vote; 4) the only vote thrown away is the vote not cast; 5) show up to vote!

Also make your voice known to the media; not just in the letters section. If a reporter claims, for instance, that Gingrich "won" in Georgia, email the reporter that only 6% of the eligible voters cast their vote for Gingrich in the Republican primary. If a reporter claims that someone won in a "landslide", email him or her that that someone received the vote of only 1/3 of the eligible voters. If we get more accurate reporting that show how thin the support of the "winners" is, maybe we'll get more people saying, "OMG, if I had only voted!"

Be your own little get-out-the-vote campaigner. On election day or the day before, drop off a home-made flyer at every house on your block. Be non-partisan. Make up a few catchy slogans like "Democracy counts on your vote to work".

Finally, be sure to show up to vote!

After I wrote the above I thought about how representative civil disobedience and voting are compared to each other.  If 1,000 people show up for a demonstration in a town of 200,000, how representative are they of the other 199,000?  If 60,000 people vote on election day, aren't they more representative of the 200,000 than the 1,000?  Talk about the 1%, the 1,000 are only a half percent!

Friday, April 06, 2012

Exceptionalism or arrogance

Once again we are having politicians claiming American exceptionalism.  In other words we are the best country in the world and anybody who denies it is unpatriotic.  If you go around town claiming that you are the richest or the best-looking, will you gain many friends?  Similarly, if you claim to the world that you are an exceptional nation and have the right to tell other countries how to behave, will you gain many friends, or world peace?

History is filled with countries that thought they ruled the world, or at least the part they knew.  They thought they had the answer to everything and the power to bend others to their will.  Where is the Persian Empire, the Roman Empire, the Aztec Empire, the Incan Empire, the Russian Empire, the Japanese Empire, the Third Reich, the Soviet Empire, or even the British Empire?

This arrogance is often that of many an Old West gunslinger.  He had outdrawn and killed many men, but then one day he was killed – either by a luckier shot or by a sniper.  Because of his arrogance, he had made himself a target.  If lucky, old age made him a shadow of his former self.

If we are a democracy, how can we claim our President is "the Leader of the Free World"?  Who elected him to that position?  The minority of the eligible U.S. voters who cast their votes for the President are an even smaller minority of the citizens of the world's democracies. What qualifies an American President to know how to run the rest of the world when, more often than not, his leadership is questioned in his own country?

Two things made the U.S. great – lots of free or stolen land and a bunch of extremely well-read career politicians.  The free land is all gone and today's politicians don't even read the bills they vote on.

Don't get me wrong.  I like living in the United States.  Having moved to Europe, I could have stayed there.  But I preferred coming back to the U.S. because it is my country.  To me, it doesn't have to be the "best country" or an "exceptional country"; it just is my country.  My house doesn't have to be the "best house"; it is my house and I plan to stay in it for some number of years more.  See "I Live in the Best House in the World" and "We're exceptional 'cause we say so".

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Tips and minimum wage

Sometime ago there was a big argument about raising the minimum wage for restaurant workers.  One of the anti-arguments was that some servers earn $100,000 a year with tips.  That is a rather short-sighted view.

For sake of easy arithmetic, let's assume $100,000 a year in tips, as if many servers should be so fortunate.  Why did the server earn so much in tips?  If you assume all diners tipped at 20% (lucky server), then that means the restaurant had $500,000 gross income a year.  So, if the waiter was earning a base pay of $10/hour with 40 hours per week, the cost to the restaurant would have been $20,800 per year, not a bad investment to have a return of $500,000.  Gosh, members of boards of directors often get $100,000 per year or more for six meetings a year, don't get sore legs, and they often have other full time jobs.

If the restaurant had more tight-fisted customers and the average tip was only 10%, then the server would have been bringing in $1,000,000 gross income for the restaurant.  For that amount of income, shouldn't an employer treat a server as an asset instead of a cost?  As Adam Smith wrote, when the profits go up and the wages go down, that is a sure road to ruin.

With friends like these who needs enemies?

I was pleasantly surprised this morning to see that I had over 50 page views of this blog in the last 24 hours.  I was unpleasantly surprised that 42 of them were from a virulent anti-obama website.  I took a peek at the site and really felt the entry they visited, "Alarmist liberals and alarming conservatives" was justified.  I won't mention the website; I don't want to give them the satisfaction of more visits.  BTW, I couldn't find the link to my blog; it might have been just a temporary item on the page.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Alarmist liberals and alarming conservatives

So-called liberals often cry wolf or throw statistics around with scant analysis, all to support their perception of people in need of the "liberals'" political assistance.

So-called conservatives often are willing to throw facts out the window, to stage events, and to edit liberally(?) to put organizations that they don't like in a bad light.  See "At Advocates' Offices, Confronting an Anti-Liberal Scheme", Michael Power, New York Times, 2012-04-02.

Whatever happened to the "virtue" written about so liberally in the Federalist Papers?  Whatever happened to promoting the public good rather than private interest?  Whatever happened to reasoned argument based on fact and acceptance of different views?  Our political system has been debased to a war where the other side is always, absolutely wrong.  At least this war is being fought with words rather than swords and with bucks rather than bombs.  If you look around the world, we probably should be thankful for this little "boon".

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

More appropriate political mascots?

Instead of the elephant for the Republicans and the donkey for the Democrats, maybe more appropriate mascots would be the ostrich for the Republicans and the giraffe for the Democrats.

The Republicans often put their heads in the sand rather than face the complexity of modern life.

The Democrats may see farther, but they often have their heads in the trees or the clouds.

"Socialism" and "free markets", an observation

The ideologues of "socialism" think that taking away the benefits of the few will benefit the many.

The ideologues of "free markets" think the benefits of the few will benefit the many.

In either case, only the ideologues benefit and the many get the crumbs.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Politics done right

This evening we attended the State of the City address by Duluth Mayor Don Ness.  It was a really upbeat address on all the obstacles the city has overcome – unfunded pension liabilities, sewer overflow problems, street repair backlog, and others.  But Don did not take all the credit.  He praised the City Council for all the work they've done to come up with solutions.  He praised the city employees for all the efforts they have made.  And he praised businesses and citizens for the contributions they have made.

Now the process was not all sweetness and light; there were many disagreements.  But the council and the city administration worked to arrive at solutions rather than gain political points.  If we could only have pragmatic governance at the state and federal levels.

Disclaimer: Don Ness and I are long-time acquaintances.  When he was a city councilor and ran Rep. Jim Oberstar's Duluth office, I would drop in at Oberstar's office about once a month for a chat with Don.  I also had a bit of "clout" because I often wrote for the "Reader Weekly", a local, widely-read newspaper.  I contributed to Don's campaigns, and  I sent him lots of emails with suggestions or comments about city government.  However, I now send him few emails; I figure he has enough feedback and suggestions from hundreds of others.

I think this is how the writers of the Constitution envisioned government.  Most of the towns were smaller than Duluth is now, and even the big cities weren't that much bigger.  Now we have cities bigger than the United States was in 1787.  Some of these are very difficult to manage and are overburdened with competing interests.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Publish or perish in the eBook world

Apple has recently updated iBook Author, software to create books to be read on iPads.  Being in the greedy screechers union, I'm always looking for a way to make a buck (or even a few cents) from all my rantings and ravings.  I thought I'd take a look at iBook Author.

Carrying on its tradition of making things more obtuse for the rest of us, Apple did make me jump through a lot of hoops before I was able to figure out how to download iBook Author.  Among other things was a popup box that appeared twice asking me for an App to download descriptive material and then at least once again to download the actual application.

Finally I had iBook Author up and running and was given six templates to select from.  I chose the "Basic Template", but basic it was not.  Boxes jumped around when I was just a wee bit off from where I thought I should click.  The template has two pages per view; is that a comfortable way to view a book on an iPad?  I don't know, I'm not ready to buy one.  I still haven't figured out how to remove frames that I don't want and add frames that I do.  The table of contents is not organized the way I would like.

I did manage to get a cover organized and the text of one of my Reader Weekly columns in as the first story.  The first story is "Bear Stories", originally published in the Northland Reader in September 1999.  The cover is below:

Advanced orders welcome!

One of the little glitches is that I couldn't figure out how to get my name in upper and lower case.  I guess I'm not supposed to according to this template.

My next project with iBook Author is just how to organize the template to my liking.  Maybe I'll have to create my own.

My proposed content will be animal encounters, adventures in the fire dept., adventures in various projects, and other musings about life in the woods and on the water from my Reader Weekly (fka Northland Reader) and my blog.

I wonder how many months this will take me and what the price point should be on it - 99 cents or $3.49.

On the other hand, it might be simpler to do this project in Google Books or whatever first.  iBook is limited only to iPad users.  Google Books and other formats might have a greater number of potential readers.  I certainly hope more than the 30 or so people that read this blog regularly.   Thank you very much to those 30 people.