Friday, June 29, 2012

Greedy CEO Unions

The mantra of "greedy teacher unions" or "greedy unions" or "greedy overpaid government workers" appears in letters to the editor, blogs, and even in articles by people who should be more objective.  These phrases have the same nebulousness as "paying fair share".  "Fair share" generally means "more" but little thought goes into why some should pay more taxes.

"Greedy unions" generally comes from those who not only don't want to pay more taxes, but they don't want to pay more wages to their employees.  And guess what they form to advance their agenda?  Unions!

They aren't called unions, but they are in the sense of coming together to advance an agenda.  These include Chambers of Commerce, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), numerous "conservative" think tanks, and many, many trade associations.

Like every other group, they work more to advance their short-term interests than to advance the public good.  They want government off the "people's backs", but then they rush to government for contracts or laws favoring one industry over another.

Like every other group, they purport to represent all like them.  As the Occupy movement claims to represent the 99%, these CEO unions claim to represent all businesses.  But the large corporations do not all have the same interests, and the large corporations do not have the same interests as smaller businesses.  McDonald's does not represent the interests of all restaurants, and Walgreen's does not represent the interests of all pharmacies.

Organizing to promote a special interest is the American Way.  It was going on before the ink was dry on the Constitution.  We just have to be vigilant in our reading to look for hidden agendas and slogans over careful thought.  It's a hard job being a good citizen and voter.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Quotes of the day - Magical thinking still persists

"[I]f the science didn’t prove what it had been told to prove, then the science had been tampered with by Satan."

In 2004, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued "Scientific Integrity in Policy Making", signed "by more than 60 of the country's most accomplished scientists".  "The eight years that have passed since its publication have brought with them not only the illusion of “The Magic Kettle” on Wall Street, but also the election of President Barack Obama in the belief that he would enter the White House as the embodiment of Merlin or Christ."

Lewis H. Lapham, "Magic and the Machine", republished in Utne Reader, originally in the Summer 2012 issue of Lapham's Quarterly.

Science doesn't agree with us that there is no global warming, so we'll find a scientist paid by a fossil fuel company who agrees with us.  And so, the globe is still warming.

Barack Obama didn't deliver all the "Change" that we wanted, so we won't vote for any Democrats in 2010.  And so, the stay-at-homes gave more power to Obama's opposition

Ah, so often magical thinking gets just the opposite of the result desired.

The globe is still warming and even faster because many efforts at slowing it were stymied by politicians.

The stay-at-homes didn't cast their votes for Democrats and so more Republicans opposed to Obama were elected.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Duluth Super-storm Part III and pictures

Our cleanup, or rather prep for the next storm, continues.

I've pulled out lots of old wood from the basement that was used for hanging tools etc.  It was several 2x4s hung from the joists with 1x6 tongue and groove nailed to them.  Some of the 2x4s I couldn't pull from the joists because the joists were too close together.  I have no idea how anyone could pound nails in the hanging boards.  I used a saber saw to cut them down.

But before I could do that, I had to go to our cabin for the batteries.  I had taken the cordless drill to the cabin.  I didn't encounter any problems driving there because I took a different route to drop off some of the old boards at the Materials Recovery Center.

I did have to wait for a grader on the dirt road and then the next section was a lot narrower than normal - six inch deep ruts on one side.

At our cabin the only noticeable thing was that puddles had formed in the balsam needles leaving interesting patterns.  Our well was now full of water and I filled up several jugs.  We won't drink or bathe in it, but we can use it for fertilizing many of the later transplanted trees.

Coming back, I had to make a huge detour on the last county highway, Jean Duluth Road.  There had been a complete washout at the Lester River.

Now we have all the hanging boards down and ready to go to the dump.  My wife has patched lots of the holes and cracks on that corner and put the Dry-Lock paint on.  How much more we will do how soon remains to be seen.

I've posted a selection of my pictures on Flickr at  They are not as iconic as many you probably have already seen, but thundering Chester Creek is almost mesmerizing.

See also earlier entries and

Airlines: Lose if you win, lose if you lose

Many have complained about speculators driving up the price of oil, but few think of who the speculators might be.  Many of these speculators are fuel users who try to minimize their future fuel costs, for example, airlines and large trucking companies.  I oversimplify a bit, but they buy at today's prices to protect against tomorrow's higher prices.

If the market is indeed rising, they do win a bit because they pay a bit less than if they had waited.  Still, if fuel costs continue to go up, so do their costs, and down go their profits.  On the other hand, if the market switches direction, they are caught paying more than the market price for fuel.

See "As Hedges Go Bust, Airlines Hit by Crude Drop", Kate Kelly, CNBC, 2012-06-26.

Memory and coincidence

Last Thursday I listened to a "To the Best of Our Knowledge" podcast from 2012-06-17.  One of the segments was on the brain.  It was rebroadcast of an interview with David Eagleman, author of "Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain".  One of his points was how we push problems to our sub-conscious and an answer may just pop into our heads later, like after a good night's sleep.

I've often felt this, but one incident after the show really emphasized the truth of this.

I was trying to remember the name of a singer we hosted years ago when she gave a concert in Duluth.  I could even picture one of her albums that we have.  Nada!

Friday night we were on Skype with our son and he was talking about his July visit to Minnesota.  He mentioned that he wanted to attend a concert of his friends, the duo Patchouli.  Bingo! Claudia Schmidt!  She's still performing.

I should reconnect our record player and run through an LP or two of hers.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Duluth Super-storm, Part II

Although we didn't encounter any serious damage from the super-storm, we did have a hectic time.  If you read my original post, you might have noticed several typos that escaped my eagle-eyed proofreader, like 2010 instead of 2012 and June 22-23 instead of June 19-20.  Oh, my eagle-eyed proofreader was still working on cleaning up our basement before we went to the Joe Gomer statue unveiling.  And we were going to our cabin after the unveiling.  Since the dial-up is so slow there, I wanted to dash off a little bit of our experience.  Haste makes waste of plans.

Back to our basement and other Duluth events.

I had long thought of waterproofing our basement, but I never really thought hard enough about it.  And I should have because this has been a rainy spring.  The worker bee in our house has been mopping up many times a week while the drone types away at his computer.  The drone did ask the hardware store about the paint that stops a nine-feet wall of water.  It's UGL Dry-Lock.

Well, the storm was an impetus to actually go buy some Dry-Lock.  The online Duluth News Tribune had an advisory for people to not even go to work.  But I saw so much traffic in front of our house that I decided it was worth a try.  I called the hardware store and they were indeed open and had the paint I wanted.

I expected to detour around an intersection that was flooded, but I went through it on wet pavement.    I almost wrote "I sailed through" but that was not the case.

The hardware store was busy with people coming and going.  They had a gasoline pump outside the store sending a big stream of water across the parking lot.  The other end was a hose to the basement that had been flooded.  One customer walked out with the last of a large diameter hose.

I carefully read the instructions to the paint, and they recommended using the company's quick setting cement for cracks and holes.  OK, pick that up too, as well as a brush and a scraper.

We still haven't used the paint.  We did use the cement with mixed results on cracks and holes.

I won't bore you with more details, but we spent more time on getting some old hanging peg-boards down from in front of one corner, so we could clean, patch and paint that area.  Our basement will be an ongoing project for many weeks, if not months.

When I came back from the hardware store, I did see that two cross streets were still flooded at dips a couple hundred feet from the intersection.  One of these was the intersection that supposedly was flooded.

In the afternoon we went for a walk in our neighborhood; our prime destination being the bridge over Chester Creek.  The bridge had been closed earlier because of concerns that the footings might have been damaged by the torrent.  Looking down from the bridge, the creek was still a torrent.  The small residential street that parallels the Creek, Chester Park Drive, was closed to through traffic.  As did quite a few other people, we took a stroll up it.

There were a couple washouts where all the sand and gravel under the edge of the road was gone, only about two-three inches of asphalt was left, sometimes hanging up to a foot over the hole.  It wasn't even safe for a pedestrian to stand on.

I took several pictures, but they are not as dramatic as those you've probably already seen.  I'll post a selection to Flickr or YouTube in a few days or weeks.  When I do, I'll post an entry here with links to pictures.

Meanwhile, I have run out of time again to write anything more.

See other entries and

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Duluth Super-Storm June 19-20, 2012

Tuesday afternoon we saw a flash of lightning and almost immediately heard a humungous clap of thunder.  Then it started to rain hard.  This kept up all night with only sporadic breaks.  We really didn't get to sleep until after one in the morning.

Whenever we woke up, it was more of the same - flash - crash, though time between flash and crash was often longer, 5-15 seconds.

When we got up the thunderstorm was still in progress, but with longer breaks between rains.  However, the street in front of our house had water almost to the middle.  As I watched it receded to only about quarter of the width of the street.

Meanwhile, our basement had streams of water in many places.  My wife got out the Wet-N-Dry Vac and filled it on short order.  She called me and I dumped it.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.

There's more, but it's time to get ready to go to the official unveiling of the statue of Joe Gomer, a Tuskegee Airman, living in Duluth.  Although it was scheduled for Wednesday and supposedly cancelled, about 90 people showed up.  We hope its still on, there was nothing in today's Duluth News Tribune.

See later entries and

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The fallacy of paying by "productivity"

Many claim that more productive workers will get paid more.  That may be true of sales representatives who work on commission, but what about other workers who have several constraints on their "productivity".

I thought of this as I was driving on a weekday on the dirt road in Brimson on the way to our cabin.  In front of me was a trash hauler.  He stopped to pick up one neighbor's trash, and while he did so I passed him.  He continued behind me and I knew his next stop was not for another mile.

When I drove back to Duluth a couple of hours later, the same driver, or at least the same firm, was in front of me on the main highway.  I thought he has over an hour's drive to get to the landfill. 

It would take him a lot longer to fill his truck than it would for a driver with a city route.  Should this first driver be paid for his "productivity"?  Or for his time?

Possibly his lower "productivity" is partly compensated by a higher pickup rate for rural customers.

The same holds for UPS and FedEx drivers, and as far as I know the rate for the senders of packages are the same for a given large area.  The sender pays for the terminal-to-terminal distance, but not the local distance.  Should these drivers be paid for packages per hour or be paid for hours worked?

I had the same situation when I drove for a school and transit bus company.  I was paid by the hour no matter what I did.  And I got a premium for seniority.  Many was the charter on which I read, slept, played chess, ate, or went to the same event as the customer.  I had one charter for a theater company where not only did I not drive for the two-to-three hours of the production, the production manager gave me and wife very good tickets for the last performance.

So, what was my "productivity" on this charter.  Showing up on time, getting the passengers to their destination on time, driving safely, and being friendly.

I can't end this without mentioning another "productive" kind of employee who is often overlooked - the schmoozer.  This is the employee (or even owner) who takes time to know customers and make them feel welcome.  During this time they provide no goods or services.  But they certainly increase return business.  Think of places where the sales staff is on commission and you can hardly stand doing business with them.  They are know-it-all fast talkers who want to close a sale as fast as possible.  You may wind up buying from them, but only because of the salaried or hourly support staff who act like you are the only customer they have.

I had a vehicle for 13 years and for the last six I kept going to a certain dealer because the service department was good and the front guy was a schmoozer who always acted glad to see me.  They had a really good salesman who kept kidding me about buying a new vehicle from him, another schmoozer.  Well, by the time I decided to trade-in that vehicle he had retired.  A friend told me she bought a truck from him because all the other salesmen were jerks.  I found out she was right.  And so, I went to the guy who sold me the truck in the first place, also a schmoozer.  He was now selling another make of vehicle.  He schmoozed, listened to us, and had a selection of vehicles ready for us to test-drive.  We bought one of those vehicles.

For those not completely familiar with colloquial English, a schmoozer is someone who makes other people feel at ease with friendly, non-intrusive, conversation.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Foreign money in U.S. politics? Wait a minute!

John McCain has claimed that foreign money is slipping into the presidential campaign, mainly through Sheldon Adelson's SuperPAC.  McCain's argument is that Adelson owns three casinos in Macau and that profits from these casinos are going into his SuperPAC.  See "McCain says foreign money influencing US elections, sneaking in through SuperPACs", Associated Press, 2012-06-15.

Let's see, if I owned thousands of shares of Nokia, the Finnish cell phone maker, and thousands of shares of CTRIP, the Chinese online travel company (don't I wish), and donated to a campaign the equivalent of the dividends from these companies (if they were paying dividends), would that be Finnish or Chinese money influencing the campaign?  I don't think so.

Since Adelson's SuperPAC promotes Romney and attacks Obama, I would doubt that the Chinese government is telling Adelson where his Macau profits should go.  After all, Romney wants to have the "strongest defense" in the world.  Is it in the interest of the Chinese government to enter into an escalating arms race?  Maybe the interest of the Chinese military.  But does the Chinese military have that much control that it can direct where the profits of a foreign country go?

No, I think it is just a question of the absurdity of the "Citizens United" decision, which McCain doesn't like, and of the wish of Sheldon Adelson to defeat President Obama.

Maybe we should just call Sheldon Adelson the drunken sailor of politics.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Don't like Washington? Look in the mirror!

I'm kind of with Pete Seeger who sang "Our leaders are the finest men, we elect them again and again".  And I feel just as sarcastic as he did when he wrote this in "What did you learn in school today?"

Basically we elect those who bring home the bacon, those who look out for local interests even when not in the national interest.  And we've been doing it for over 200 years to the dismay of many of the writers of the Constitution.  See "The Radicalization of the American Revolution", Gordon S. Wood.

For a more lengthy screed on this conflict of interest, see "I don't blame Congress; I blame you!", Andrew Heaton.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Quote of the Day – Education, immigration, and taxes

"We've bought into the idea that education is about training and "success", defined monetarily, rather than learning to think critically and to challenge.  We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers.  A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is to its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death." - Chris Hedges, posted on Facebook.  The quote is from "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle".  Click on the title to see more quotes from the book.

Here's some more food for thought.  There are over 1,000,000 (or is it 3,000,000) jobs that can't be filled because there are not enough "qualified" applicants.  There are not enough "qualified" applicants because "qualified" is often very narrowly defined (can you do everything on day one).  Many corporations expect applicants to have gained the "skills" elsewhere.  To gain "skills" one has to have been trained at another company or at a university.  Many large corporations and overpaid CEOs don't want to pay the taxes for a high quality education system.  Many are calling for more H1-B visas to allow for more "highly-skilled" immigrants.  In other words, the taxes in other countries are supposed to pay for educating these "highly-skilled" immigrants.

Personally I'm all for unlimited immigration, but not when it is a dodge to get lower-paid workers.

BTW, I spent six years in Europe as a "highly-trained" foreign worker.  I sometimes had to travel to another country to help out on a problem, even when the local was probably better qualified to solve the problem.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Another noisy summer Tuesday night

We are sitting in our home office with closed windows.  We are getting a city-sponsored concert whether we want it or not.  The park is 0.57 miles away, but the volume is as if somebody in the next block is playing a radio at full volume.  Now and then we can even distinguish a few words sung or spoken.

We used to go to the concerts now and then, but we gave up when the volume got louder.  A couple of years ago we were standing on the road about an eighth-mile from the stage.  We couldn't tolerate the volume.  We don't even look for the schedule of events anymore.

We considered going to a restaurant and hanging out until the scheduled end of the concerts, but many restaurants have live music later in the evening at, you guessed it, high volume.

Hey, I'm an old guy who likes a wide range of music, but I would like to hear music for a few more decades.  Please, promoters, preserve my hearing.

Quote of the day: Our food, from lab or garden?

"Our foods are grown more in laboratories then cooked in kitchens." Unknown, quoted by Forrest Johnson, "Industrial foods and farming methods and your brain", Reader Weekly, 2012-05-17.

My wife and I like to think we eat mostly natural foods, but we do eat lots of stuff that is not right out of the ground or off the hoof.  But a lot of it is processed - wine, oil, cheese, pretzels, chocolate.  At least what we buy has been processed in centuries-old traditional methods; you might say it was "cooked" in somebody's kitchen.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Farmers, pollution, and large corporations

Rod Hamilton, member of the Minnesota House and a farmer, wrote an op-ed piece "Please, a little more understanding for farmers: Their stake in our resources is deeply personal", Star Tribune, 2012-06-09. He writes that certain groups are targeting farmers for cleanup of river sludge.  He claims that farmers are stewards of the land and need to protect their land for generations.

First, are all farmers that careful stewards of their land?  Probably most of those he knows, but there probably will be a few who cut corners.

Second, what about corporate farms?  How many are there in Minnesota?  Technically,  none.  This claim was made in "Tara and Nick Meyer provide a glimpse of life as young Minnesota farmers", Audra Otto, MinnPost, 2011-12-16.  Tara Meyer stated, "Corporate farms only exist in the eyes of the media. There are no corporate farms in Minnesota – this a huge misconception."  She provided a link to Minnesota's "Corporate Farm Law".

Well, few laws are so straight-forward, and some special interests always manage to protect their interests.  This law is no exception in that it has several exceptions.  These include poultry and feedlots, general and limited liability partnerships (really a corporation), and land for sod.  Do you think all such entities are going to have the same stewardship ideas as Rep. Hamilton?

Then there is the granddaddy of loopholes - "entities that do not meet any of the above criteria may apply to the commissioner of agriculture for a special exemption."  And we've always had Minnesota governors who hold the public interest higher than corporate interest, right?  Wisconsin is now "Open for Business"; will Minnesota be far behind?

Friday, June 08, 2012

British refuse to negotiate with American Colonists

September 30, 1781 – The British Prime Minister, Lord North, refused to negotiate with the Continental Army, claiming, "Why should we negotiate with those who are killing our soldiers?" (Made up quote for sake of argument)

October 18, 1781 – After General Cornwallis realized that his situation at Yorktown was hopeless, sent a delegation to negotiate with the American and French.

When Lord North learned of the defeat at Yorktown, he proclaimed, "Oh God, it's all over."

May 26, 2011; Jan 23, 2012; Feb 2, 2012; May 2, 2012; and on many more dates appear variations of "Why should we negotiate with the Taliban who are killing our soldiers?"

In 1781 and in 2012, too many people wanted/want to keep up a foreign invasion because their troops are being killed by people who don't want foreign troops in their country.

When will they ever learn?

If you can't vote, you shouldn't contribute

I think U.S. law prohibits foreign nationals or governments from contributing to U.S. political campaigns (though we don't seem to mind contributing to keep foreign leaders in power).  What if we took this one step down.  If you don't live in a state and can't vote in that state, you should be barred from contributing to any political campaign in that state.

Too many politicians accept and even look for contributions from people far away from their constituents.  We have Scott Walker of Wisconsin accepting millions from corporate givers all across the country.  We have Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida soliciting contributions from Minnesota.  Debbie who?

We received a mailing from Debbie Wasserman Schultz for Congress, Hallendale Beach FL.  The message on the envelope is "Inside: why Republicans want me out."  Well, maybe we don't want many of the current Republicans in; but if we don't live in Florida and if we don't want Republicans accepting money from out of state, should we contribute to a Democrat in another state?

Sorry, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, your request is out into the recyclables, unopened.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

All's fair in love and war and elections, too?

I looked at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to get some feel for the turnout in today's recall election in Wisconsin.  It looks like the turnout is mixed as are the reactions.  Some polling places have short lines, some long.  Some people are happy to vote Scott Walker out, some are unhappy that there is even an election.

One item in particular caught my eye.  It was about a mailing designed to increase turnout.  Using public records, the mailing gave the voting record of individuals and their immediate neighbors.  It was sent out by a liberal group.  Will it get more people to vote in general, or will it get more people to vote for Walker?  Judge for yourself.  See "Mailings that list voting records set off some neighbors", Meg Jones, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2012-06-05.

If you live in Wisconsin and the polls haven't closed, make sure you vote.

Monday, June 04, 2012

"One percent has money, 99 percent have votes" not original with me

I felt a bit of pride in coming up with "The 1% may have the money, but the 99% have the votes".  I never saw it anywhere else, and I had a hard time searching for it.  In fact, I was disappointed that a search for the phrase as I wrote it in turned up nothing.  Even when I give the phrase to Google in quotes, it only shows articles with the pieces, not the whole phrase.  Maybe this is why I don't see many hits of my blog for this mantra.

Last week I finally found something very similar.  It is at "Message to 99%: Help Stop the 1% From Using the Super Committee to Rob the American People", a blog on the Huffington Post by Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson, 2011-10-29.  Their exact quote is "The 1 percent may have most of the money, but the 99 percent have the votes."

It doesn't surprise me that my version didn't go viral, but I'm surprised that something written on HuffPost did not circulate more.  In a sad way, that shows that too many of the 99% don't exercise their vote.

Sadly, I bet the turnout in Wisconsin tomorrow won't exceed 60% of the registered voters.