Friday, August 31, 2012

Some business people in Superior, Wisconsin don't believe in free markets

One of the conditions of a classical free market is the ability to enter and leave the market at any time.

Many are faulting a homeowner in Superior, Wisconsin for not selling to a supermarket chain that wants to build a new store.  See "One homeowner holds up construction of new Superior Super One", Shelley Nelson, Duluth News Tribune, 2012-08-31.

Shouldn't the company have made sure that all the homeowners were willing to sell before buying any of the properties?  Many say the homeowner is holding up progress and should accept the very generous offer above and beyond "fair market value".  But are all values measured in dollars and cents?

The end result will most likely be that his house will be taken by imminent domain and at a price far less than the maximum he was offered.  I know, I know, it's "eminent domain", but unless you are a large corporation with deep pockets, the result is imminent.  Remember Best Buy versus Lindahl Oldsmobile in Richfield, Minnesota?  Lindahl Olds and many homeowners were forced out.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Can't corporations live within their means?

Many complain about government borrowing and say that government should live within its means.  But few complain about corporate borrowing.  Shouldn't corporations live within their means?

From the semi-annual report of the AllianceBernstein Income Fund (Ticker AWF):

AT&T, 6.50%, due 2037
Ford Motor Co., 7.45%, due 2031
Citigroup, 8.50%, due 2019
Pacific Life Insurance Co., 9.25%, due 2039
Weyerhauser Co., 7.375%, due 2032

Borrowing does have its purposes, among other things having the capital for expansion or to smooth out cash flows.  But how much borrowing is too much?

For example, Citigroup as of June 2012 had a debt to equity ratio of 3.024, that is, it owed bondholders three times as much as the value of shareholders' stock.  See  On the better side, General Motors had a debt to equity ratio of 0.3555.  See  On the worse side, Ferrellgas Partners has a debt to Equity Ratio of 25.36.  See

But why is Citigroup paying bondholders 8.50% when it pays savers 2% or less?  See "Taking a Look At Citigroup's Latest Fixed-Income Prospectus", Rajiv Tarigopula, Seeking Alpha, 2012-07-11.  Remember when savings and loans were required to pay 5% by law (which they used to justify not paying more)?  And this 2% is not being paid for demand deposits, but three-month notes.

It gets even a bit screwier.  Citigroup does offer a fixed-rate 15-year mortgage at 4.375 percent.  So, it is borrowing at 8.50% to finance mortgages returning 4.375%.  That doesn't sound like it's living within its means!  See "Who Are the Best Mortgage Lenders for Bad Credit", Beth Lytle, eHow Contributor, no date.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Humpty Dumpty and Free Markets

The Coffee Party on Facebook had a link to a CNN interview of Christine O'Donnell by Soledad O'Brien.  O'Donnell claims the Obama has made Marxist remarks.  O'Brien did call her on using the term Marxist but didn't really follow through.  Many respondents to the Coffee Party page were disappointed that O'Brien didn't press for specifics.

One commenter mentioned that the Wealth of Nations wasn't published when the Declaration of Indendence was written, and so the signers couldn't include Adam Smith's thoughts.

I added the following to the comments:

Words! Words!  As Humpty Dumpty said in Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass": 'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

Worse than the misuse of the words "Marxism" and "Socialism" is the misuse of the word "Free Market".

The classical definition of a free market is:

1. Many buyers and sellers
2. Buyers and sellers are free to enter and leave the market at any time.
3. Buyers and sellers have all the information they need to make a satisfactory transaction.
4. All the costs are covered in the transaction, that is, no externalities.

Interestingly, it is "free marketers" who don't want true free markets.

We have more and more consolidations into larger and larger corporations.

Are you free to leave the health care market when your child is sick?

GMO producers and others don't want buyers to know what's in their products.

Who is covering the costs of pollution and nuclear waste?

Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" was first published in 1776.  Maybe the signers of the Declaration of Independence hadn't received copies yet, but I'm sure that many of the signers of the Constitution had read it by 1787.

Those who love to quote the "invisible hand" should read the other 500+ pages, including "When the regulation, therefore, is in favour of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes
otherwise when in favour of the masters."

Sunday, August 26, 2012

And outsiders run amok in almost every campaign

The other day I wrote about Credo Mobile, "the only phone company with a progressive agenda", "A progressive SuperPac?"  I questioned whether they would request donations or use profits to make contributions.  It matters not, they are trying to influence elections where they have no vote, just like those other bad guys.

They have added Michele Bachmann to their target list, "Dem super-PAC adds Bachmann to target list" Cameron Joseph, The Hill, 2012-08-23.  I don't care for Michele Bachmann for a laundry list of reasons.  But whether she stays in office or not is for the voters in her district to decide, not people who have no right to vote for or against her.  Think of my objection as an extension of the prohibition against foreigners contributing to U.S. campaigns.  See "Illegal political contributions from multi-national corporations?"

Have Republican defections gotten a big boost?

Former Florida Republican Governor Charlie Christ has come out in support of Barack Obama.  See
"Here's why I'm backing Obama", Tampa Bay Times, 2012-08-26.

Once upon a time I was active in the Republican Party, and then it nominated Ronald Reagan over John Anderson.  I did keep voting for Bill Frenzel, Rep., 3rd District, MN, until he retired.  And I voted for Arne Carlson for governor when he replaced the Republican candidate who behaved inappropriately in a swimming pool with teen-age girls.

And the Republicans have gotten even worse.  If they really looked at Ronald Reagan's ability to compromise, they would consider him a "Marxist".

I keep hoping the current Republicans will self-destruct and be replaced by a common-sense party based on facts rather than ideology.  Meanwhile, I feel compelled to vote for Democrats even though they try to cater to too many narrow interests.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A progressive SuperPac?

Today we got a flyer "Take Down the Tea Party Ten: Credo Mobile fights Tea Party.  Does your phone company fund them?"

Credo has all kinds of teasers with 40% off for a year and contract buyout credit.

I visited  I found that Credo uses the Sprint network and has the usual rates.  I also found in the fine print "Brought to you by Working Assets".  If I remember correctly, Working Assets is a "socially responsible" investment company.

The big question is are your subscriber costs used for political contributions.  Or as a member of the network will you receive numerous appeals for donations?

If you are curious about this, I'll let you follow the links.  As for me, I'll stick with Verizon Wireless until such time as I think I can afford an iPhone with Sprint Virgin.  Big cost for the iPhone, really low cost for voice and data.

Illegal political contributions from multi-national corporations?

This little note was inspired by "Corporations can't pledge allegiance", Frances Moore Lappe, Huffington Post, 2012-08-16.

The Supreme Court "issued an order upholding prohibitions against foreigners making contributions to influence American elections", "Supreme Court Retains Ban on Foreign Campaign Donations", John H. Cushman Jr., New York Times, 2012-01-09.

This decision was against two individuals who were working temporarily in the United States.  Foreign nationals may not make contributions to candidates or parties and may not make independent expenditures in elections.

If corporations are people, then shouldn't this same ruling apply to many large corporations.  Corporations also have foreign nationals on their boards.  For example, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chairman of the Board of Nestlé, a Swiss corporation, sits on the board of Exxon.

In 2011 Exxon gave $226,700 to candidates and caucuses and its employee/retiree PAC gave more than $747,000.  See  Before "liberals" get too smug, Exxon donated $117,946 to Obama's 2008 campaign and a lesser amount to McCain.  I guess they believed in equal bribery, er, covering all the bases.  See "Exxon, Chevron, BP Greased Obama's Campaign", Paul Bedard and Danielle Kurtzleben, US News, 2011-03-14.

So, if the Chairman of Nestlé, an Austrian citizen, is on the board of Exxon, wouldn't he have some say in how Exxon makes its political contributions?  If so, isn't that a foreigner "making contributions to influence American elections"?

Will God's blessing or wrath descend on the GOP convention?

I considered this question reading "Gay marriage would bring wrath of God upon us", Rev. Helen Millen, Letters to the Editor, Duluth News Tribune, 2012-08-22.

Rev. Millen implies the wrath of God would descend on us if the Marriage Amendment is turned down in Minnesota.  If God is so ready with his wrath and blessings, how will we interpret what happens on the Republican Convention in Tampa FL next week?

If Tropical Storm Isaac hits Tampa during the Republican convention, does that mean the wrath of God has descended on the Republican Party?  If Isaac misses Tampa, does that mean that God has blessed the Republican Party?

Neither!  It does mean that the Republicans were taking a chance on scheduling a convention during hurricane season.  If they are going to take a chance with a rather predictable event, what else are they taking chances on things that whose outcomes are predictable, like climate change and cuts in government spending?

I will neither cheer nor boo the weather during the Republican convention.  If a storm does hit and there are many cancellations, I will feel sorry for all the hospitality workers that were hoping for lots of work and tips.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A start on getting back to 1940 budget levels

If we want 1940 government budget levels, then we will have to give up many government services that we take for granted.  Let's start with our well-equipped, modern police forces and consider what they would have in 1940.

First, we have to get rid of the computers and all the services that they provide.  If we start with patrol cars and assume a department has 20 cars, that is easily 60 thousand dollars saved.

Next, we have to toss out the radios and go back to call boxes.

Modern cars have many costly features that were only luxury add-ons in the 1940.  We should revert to manual transmissions, take away power steering and power brakes, remove air conditioning, windshield washers, side view mirrors, turn signals, backup lights, electronic locks, air bags, and seat belts.  I must have missed a few other things that were only wished for in 1940 that are standard in any car now.

We could also reduce the number of police cars and put more officers on foot patrol.

My gosh, these "efficiencies" could save hundreds of thousands of dollars for any medium size city.

The downside is that police departments effectiveness would go down because they lack many of the modern tools.

But, the great upside is that our taxes would go way down.  Now, if we could only get insurance companies to charge us 1940 premiums for theft insurance.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Limited choices for DVD rentals

Over two years ago I wrote "Netflix busts Blockbuster, or the Changing Economy". Over a year ago I wrote "Little box vs. BIG BOX (Videos)".  I meant to write some follow-on articles about little boxes vs BIG boxes, such as drug stores, hardware stores, book stores, camera stores, and others.  But I never did.  Now about the only little boxes left are hair salons and restaurants.  And the individual entrepreneurs in these have to compete with big chains.

I was also remiss in noting that almost every movie rental store in Duluth has closed.  The last convenient movie rental, Mr. Movies, closed because they could not renew their lease on their terms.  For me this was unfortunate because Mr. Movies had a good selection of foreign films, including some classics.

Now our choices for movies are DVD by mail or DVD by download.  I shied away from Netflix because I didn't see paying ten bucks for one or two movies a month.

I did try downloading from iTunes and some other sources, but that is a two-hour wait at a nominal 7Mbps rate (more like 4Mbps actual).  But at least twice, iTunes just hung up with 30 minutes or so left to download.  I could restart the download and it would pick up at the hang-up point, but one shouldn't have to babysit a download.

Oh, yes, iTunes movies have subtitles that can't be turned off.  Subtitles make it very hard to listen to the words being spoken.

We could stream DVDs, but that can be a jerky experience.  And we can't stream at all at our cabin which has only 24Kbps.  Even accessing the web has become a hassle at that speed.

We finally opted for Netflix, starting with the one DVD at a time program.   The service has been excellent; I wrote about it in "Why do people pick on the Post Office?"

My latest choice is "The Hunger Games", which was released Saturday.  I moved it to the top of our queue Sunday after I put the previous DVD in a mail box.  Netflix told me "The Hunger Games" has been shipped and I should be receiving it tomorrow.  That sure beats babysitting a download.

We do have a small problem.  My wife doesn't care for movies with any violence, including murder mysteries.  I wonder if she'll watch Miss Marple.  So, I have to schedule watching such movies when she is gone or I'll be at the cabin alone.  This, in turn, limits our shared watching.  That sucked me into upping our Netflix account to two DVDs at a time.  At about $12 a month, that beats one visit to a movie theater for both of us, or getting five DVDs a month from a store.

Has inflation changed the expression "nickel and dimed to death" to "ten dollared to death"?

I just hope this increased viewing doesn't reduce my book reading.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The political spectrum – from wrong to wronger

The conventional idea of the political spectrum from left to right is as if one adapts different ideas as one moves smoothly from one side to the other.  But people aren't so easily graded as eggs.  Some people are for ideas 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, and other are against all six.  Some people are for ideas 1, 2, and 3, and against ideas 4, 5, and 6.  Others are for ideas 1, 3, and 6 and against 2, 4, and 5.  And so on.

But a group of activists or diehard or hard-nosed have determined that if you are for ideas 1, 2, and 3 and against ideas 4, 5, and 6, then you are a conservative.  If you are against ideas 1, 2, and 3 and for ideas 4, 5, and 6, then it is obvious that you are a liberal.

Even the labels conservative and liberal are misnomers.  If you are for liberal extraction of resources then you are a conservative.  If you are for conservative extraction of resources you are a liberal.  If you are liberal in what powers should be given to corporations you are a conservative.  If you are conservative in what powers should be given to corporations you are a liberal.

About the only thing conservative about conservatives is keeping privileges and powers to themselves.  About the only thing liberal about liberals is spreading privileges and powers to larger and larger numbers of people.

So, Mel, what about your title "from wrong to wronger"?

That was a bit of whimsy based on my dissatisfaction with political discussions, mostly spectrum categorizations.

Many of the "liberal" causes don't excite me.  Sure, two people who share some property should have rights of inheritance.  I have many gay and lesbian friends, but I don't get excited about celebrating their status.  I buy as much as I can locally, but on the other hand I'm not going to give up bananas and coffee because they are transported so far.

Most of the way "conservative" causes are presented excites me even less.  Many regulations may be hard to fathom, but let's not get rid of all regulations.  Do we want unsafe trucks on the highways and tainted food?  Freedom is a nice idea, but "freedom" doesn't mean free to do whatever one damn well pleases.  Abortions may be something to avoid if possible, but bombs cause lots of abortions without the mother even having a choice.

It is tough to be a thoughtful voter nowadays.  Even if you like idea A of the conservatives and idea B of the liberal, they all muddy the waters so much that I'm afraid too many people are going to stay home on election day.  As for me, I'll vote for wrong over wronger.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

If corporations are persons, why aren't they taxed like persons?

The right wants to get rid of corporate taxes but wants corporation to be treated as persons with regards to "free speech" and political contributions.  If corporations are persons, why aren't they taxed like persons?  That is, their tax rates should be the same as individual tax rates. If an individual is taxed on worldwide income, shouldn't corporations be taxed on worldwide income?  Currently, they are only taxed on "repatriated" income.

I lived in Europe from 1968 to 1974.  I've long thrown away my tax returns for those years, and so I can't verify my memory.  I do know that I had to file U. S. income tax and pay any due amount after any foreign tax credit.  When I worked in Italy, the tax rate was lower than it was in the U.S.  And so, I had to pay to the U.S. Treasury the difference.  When I worked in Sweden, the tax rate was higher than it was in the U.S.  And so, I did not have to pay any money to the U.S. Treasury.

As an ex-pat employee of an international company, I did get reimbursed for the difference.  And I had to report that income on the next year's U.S. income tax forms.

So, if corporations are persons, shouldn't U.S. corporations pay U.S. taxes on all their net income?  With credit for foreign taxes, of course.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Solyndra loan, just the facts, ma'am

The Republicans have been jumping all over the Obama administration for the collapse of Solyndra; Paul Ryan accusing the Obama administration of "crony capitalism".  Guess which administration actually approved the loan?  The Bush administration!  The loan was not actually made until Obama was in office.  See "Clean Energy: Obama Says It's the Future, Paul Ryan Calls It a Fad", Stacy Curtin, Daily Ticker, 2012-08-16.

Meanwhile, the Republicans don't seem to notice the subsidies to oil, gas, coal, and nuclear.

Ryan also said, "We want to get Washington out of the business of picking winners and losers."  He seems to forget that the last great Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, was very much in the business of picking winners and losers and providing subsidies.  What would this country be like if he hadn't pushed the Transcontinental Railroad with "subsidies" of bonds and free land?

BTW: one of the commenters asked where Paul Ryan called clean energy a fad.  Given how quotes of any kind get distorted and go viral, it is hard to find sources for a supposed quote.  What Ryan said was "fads like Solyndra" on "60 minutes" with Bob Schieffer.  I can't find a direct quote from 60 minutes, but dozens of repeats by many sites, each with its own particular bias.

Whatever, the fact is the Bush administration approved the loan.  Now the Republican Party has morphed to promote only fossil fuels and nuclear energy and to disparage any alternate sources of energy.

Why do people pick on the Post Office?

For some time it has seemed the fashion to claim the United States Post Office is a bad example of government services, that it is run by the greedy mail carriers' union, and that it should pay its own way.

From my experience, the United States Post Office has been run effectively, provided friendly and courteous service, and provided an essential public good.

I have often found that mail deposited one day is often delivered the next day within the state and often delivered within three days within the lower 48.  It almost always arrives in the same condition as it was deposited.

A case in point is the delivery of DVDs from Netflix.  I put a DVD in a box on Sunday, next scheduled pickup was 12:30 on Monday, at 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday Netflix sent me email that it had received my DVD, and on Wednesday around 10:00 a.m. I had my next selection.

Granted the return address for Netflix is Duluth.  But what would happen if the processing center was closed in Duluth and all local mail had to first make a 300-mile round-trip to the Twin Cities?

If the Post Office is so inefficient, why does UPS use USPS for the last-mile delivery of small packages?  Several times I've gotten small orders delivered by our mail carrier, but the shipper had originally given the order to UPS.  This hand-off happens because it is inefficient for UPS to deliver such small packages door-to-door.

Some have complained about surly counter service at the Post Office.  My general experience is that counter personnel treat every customer as the only customer.  They give alternative shipping costs and conditions and always ask "Anything else?"

The Postal Service seems to be the only government agency that Congress expects to pay its own way.  Is Congress going to insist that every Interstate highway be a toll road?  Is Congress going to insist that every homeowner whose house has been saved by U.S. Forest Service firefighters pay a fee?

The U.S. Constitution states: "Congress shall have the power … to establish Post Offices and post Roads."  The Constitution mentions nothing about how post offices and post roads should be paid for.  In fact, in recognition that newspapers were important for an informed populace, an early Congress determined that newspapers should be sent at a lower rate than letters.

The benefits and the costs of the Postal Service should not be examined as a direct cost/benefit problem but as a system cost/benefit problem.  It is not a question if the revenue of the Postal Services is meeting its costs, but it is a question of what benefits would not be realized if postal service were cut back.  For example, if all Duluth mail had to go to the Twin Cities to be processed, would the Netflix office in Duluth close, putting some local people out of work?

What does a teacher make? Surprise answer!

If you're tired of the bashing of teachers, tired of the complaints of their performance, and tired of the charges of "greedy" teacher unions", you'll enjoy this bit of stand-up ire by Taylor Mali.

You can find his biography at  His website is at

A "real" Republican stands up

David Stockman was director of the Office of Management and Budget during Ronald Reagan's first term.  He wrote a sharp criticism of current Republican thinking in "Paul Ryan's Fairy-Tale Budget Plan", New York Times, 2012-08-13.

Among other things Stockman points out that for all the budget cutting in "entitlements", Ryan wants to fund the "warfare state" with a budget twice what Eisenhower thought was sufficient to contain the Soviet threat, adjusted for inflation.  Stockman writes that we have no real credible threat from any "advanced industrial state" and that Iran is benighted but irrelevant.

You might not agree with everything Stockman wrote, but you'll find his thinking is more in tune with reality than what currently passes for conservatism, that is, conserve the entitlements of large corporations and their "right" to raid the Treasury and the pockets of savers.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Which set of no-shows will give the election away?

I started this entry as a Quote of the Day entitled "Something very disgusting".  It was from hearing a radio interview with a man who called himself a Democrat.  He wouldn't vote for any Republican but he was unhappy with Obama.  He said, "I think I'll sit this election out."  Effectively, he's helping the party he doesn't want elected.  It's happened over and over again with Democratic voters, even when in a large majority, staying home on election day and "giving" the election to the Republicans.  I've never heard of major no-shows by Republicans.

With Mitt Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, there may be many Republicans who stay home on election day.  These would be some of the mainline Republicans who consider the Tea Party as too doctrinaire.  These would also be the RINOs who have been unhappy with the Republican move to more uncompromising stances on many issues.

I think the Democrats will "win" the no-show battle thus losing the election to the Republicans.

Why?  Because the Republicans have more "true believers" who feel the issues personally.  They "don't want our guns taken away", they "want government off our backs", they "know better how to spend our own money", and on and on.

The "true believers" among the Democrats are more empathetic to other people.  Their issues are helping the poor, protecting wetlands, reducing emissions, and so on.  They might not even experience any of these problems directly.  Because many people who lean Democratic don't feel as strongly on these issues, they are more likely to not show up at elections than the "true believers"

In other words, lukewarm Democrats far outnumber lukewarm Republicans, putting Democrats at a disadvantage when voters stay home.

Whatever your political leanings are, don't give elections away.  Show up and vote!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Why I don't believe polls

I've long been suspicious of polls, especially political polls.  I also dislike polls because they turn elections into horse races rather than thoughtful consideration of candidates and because they reinforce the myth of "the two-party system".

The first question is who is asking what questions of who.

Who are the pollsters?  Are they completely neutral or are they hired by a party or a candidate?

What are the questions and what order were they made?  Were the questions framed to get a desired response?  Were questions asked in an order to set up the responder for a desired answer?

Who responded to the poll?  Was it only people who happened to be at home?  Was it only people who always answer the phone and politely enter into a dialog?  How many people screen their calls and won't respond to pollsters or other solicitation calls?  How many people who did answer hung up right away?  What about people who only have cell phones?  Even if cell phones are called by pollsters, do the phone owners screen their calls and don't respond to unknown callers?

For some of these difficulties facing pollsters, see "Pollsters struggle to find the right sample of voters", John Harwood, Star Tribune, 2012-08-06.

Polls also can be very far off.  One iconic picture is Harry Truman holding up a newspaper in November 1948, "Dewey Wins".  Harry Truman didn't even stay up for the results, but the polls were way off.  It was one of the first telephone polls, but nobody seemed to think that many Democratic voters didn't have telephones.

More recently, the 1998 Minnesota gubernatorial polls predicted Hubert Humphrey III (DFL), Norm Coleman (Rep), and Jesse Ventura (Reform Party) in that order.  The result was just the opposite with Ventura winning with 36.99 percent of the votes.  The turnout was 60 percent, and so Ventura came in second to none of the above.  See,_1998.

I wonder if anyone bothered taking a poll of the 40 percent who didn't show up.  What fraction were Democrats who didn't feel Humphrey would do "enough", what fraction were ex-Republicans who didn't like the direction the party was taking even then, and what fraction were people who just didn't give a damn about getting good governance?

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Rossini, the Lone Ranger, and dating oneself

I was listening to Public Radio when a familiar theme came on - "out of yesteryear", "thundering hooves", and "from WXYZ, Detroit".  It was the "William Tell Overture" performed last week as part of the Minnesota Symphony's Sommerfest.  I didn't hear any shouts of "Hi Ho, Silver" at the end, but the announcer, Allison Young, remarked some in the audience had shouted that.  She also mentioned the familiar TV show.  Wait a minute, young lady, it was a radio show!

Monday, August 06, 2012

How to stop political ads

Well, not quite stop them, but here are two ways to avoid them.

1) Don't watch TV.  Read lots of newspapers and magazines instead.

2) OK, you don't want to give up sports, reality shows, and Comedy Central.  Then try these simple steps each time a political ad comes on the screen.
a) Close your eyes
b) Put your hands over your ears
c) Count to 60
With these three simple steps you won't have missed anything meaningful.

Remember also that political ads are designed not to get you to vote for a candidate, but to get you discouraged about the other candidate and not even vote.  It seemed to work very well in New York's Ninth Congressional District in 2011.  The Republican candidate won despite a 3 to 1 Democratic registration.

So, get even yourself and be sure to vote.  Remember that the biggest spender is not always the winner.  Think Meg Whitman who outspent Jerry Brown by a wide margin for governor of California and lost by a wide margin.

Quote of the day – Republicans crazy, Democrats useless, and we're shafted

The full quote is the book title: "The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted" by Mike Lofgren, a former Republican staffer.

You can read a short interview with Mike Lofgren at

I was lost in the woods three times in two days

At our cabin we have a triangular trail about a mile long.  Its base is near the south property line and its apex is near our cabin.  We have a bunch of cut brush on the east leg, but the chipper is on the west leg.  We don't want to haul the brush up one leg and down the other, a total of 660 feet extra.  We can use a cross path that parallels the boundary between an alder/balsam stand and a much bigger aspen stand.

The problem is that we have not maintained that path, a deer trail, since some brush was bent over by a heavy snow.

I had cleared in a few feet from each end of the cross path and had been working to reopen the path.  However, in the eight or so years since the path was blocked, a lot of stuff has gotten bigger, way bigger.

Saturday, to get some idea where I should cut, I just pushed and ducked my way from west to east.  I came across an old pit I'd never seen before, an old well maybe.  I didn't see any of my old yellow flagging tapes.  I saw something familiar in a clearing ahead.  It was the remains of fox cages from the thirties.  We had never gotten rid of all the chicken wire fencing.  I tried stepping over it carefully, but I tripped on the last roll, nearly jabbing my gut with the handles of the nippers I was carrying.  This spot was about 60 feet north of where I intended to be.

I went to the east end of the path and plunged into the thicket again.  I never recognized anything except the old pit.  I eventually came out where we had planted red oaks 19 years ago.  The last died out about 14 years ago.  This spot was also about 60 feet north of where I intended to be.  At least I don't have a left or right bias.  I think I misjudged the sun's position relative to where I wanted to be.

Then on Sunday, I worked on clearing some of the west end of the path.  I flagged ahead where I thought I should clear the next time I work on this path.  I turned around to go back to where I had left the cart.  I couldn't see it, and I couldn't see where I had flagged.  I went in what I thought was the easiest way.  When I finally saw the cart again, you guessed it, I was somewhat north of it.

When I got back to Duluth and a half-way decent internet connection, I checked the length of the cross path - about 320 feet in a straight line!

So, I'm clearing 320 feet so we don't have to haul a few cartloads of brush an extra 340 feet!

Oh, well, I enjoy clearing and chipping brush, and I do like having that cross path open just for the variety.

Besides, if I clear enough brush maybe I'll be qualified to be President:)

Saturday, August 04, 2012

A modern parable of the Good Samaritan

 man was robbed, beaten, and left for dead late one evening in a downtown.

A conservative drove by in his SUV, rolled down the window, and shouted, "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!"

A liberal drove by in his Prius, rolled down the window, and shouted, "The government will by soon to help you."

A homeless man walked by and asked, "Can I help?"  The beaten man could barely whisper, "Please!"  The homeless man, seeing all the cuts and bruises, said, "I'll be right back!"

He went to a public restroom to get some paper towels.  The restroom only had hand dryers.  The homeless man tried a second and then a third public restroom.  The third had paper towels.  He grabbed a couple dozen, moistened half of them, and ran back to the beaten man.

The homeless man used the wet paper towels to wipe away the blood and to soothe the bruises.  He used the rest of the paper towels to dry the man up.

The homeless man tried to help the beaten man up, but the man couldn't stand.  The homeless man knelt down, put the beaten man's arms around his neck, and stood up.  He carried the beaten man on his back nearly a mile to the nearest hospital.

The homeless man deposited the beaten man at the emergency room, explained what he had found, what he did, and walked out the door.

One nurse asked another who the man was who brought the beaten man in.  The other replied, "I don't know, but the beaten man is City Councilor Tightwad.  He voted last year to cut the city's shelter, police, and fire budgets in half."

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Traditional marriages! What are they?

I submitted the following to the Star Tribune over five weeks ago.  I think I can assume it will not be published.  It was my response to the ongoing heated exchange about the "Marriage Amendment" that will be on this fall's ballot in November.

I don’t know what all the fuss is about protecting marriage.  About the only protection marriage needs is from two people who can’t get along together.  And that has been happening for centuries.

My parents were married in September 1937 and I was born in March 1938, supposedly six weeks premature, at 8+ pounds!  They were divorced when I was five.

My father’s parents took a ferry from Chicago in 1905 to St. Joseph, Michigan, the Cupid Capitol, were married, had lunch, came back and told their parents.  At least my father, their eldest, had the decency to wait about four years to be born.

My father’s grandfather abandoned his wife and six children in Illinois and lived with another woman in Indiana for the rest of his long life.

His father, a sailor and ship’s master, married a woman in England and had a son there.  He brought them to New York and then abandoned them there.  He later had a son with another woman in Baltimore.

As for me, I’ve been married 52 years.  My brother has been married nearly fifty years.  My daughter has been married 25 years.  Given the above history, I guess the six of us just don’t have traditional marriages.

Always throw away unidentified mail?

Last week we received a letter that only had my name and address and something like "Important Update Inside" on the envelope.  Normally such mail goes straight to the recycle box.  But my curiosity got the best of me.

It was from a regional manager of Frontier Communications, the telephone company for our cabin.  It was about a recent 13 hour outage because a fiber optic cable was cut in Duluth.  The cable was not Frontier's but supplied lots of its traffic.

The letter said that Frontier was working on (or had installed) a second fiber optic cable to provide redundancy.

Well, that was nice to know.  I sympathize with Frontier with a problem outside its control and that it has taken steps to reduce the possibility of future outages.

The letter did have the name and email of the manager, and I did send him something about identifying mail.

This really comes under the third point of a free market - complete information (see "GMO producers don't want free markets").  Was Frontier trying to hide something by not identifying itself on the envelope?  Was it outsourcing the mail to a firm that used a standard envelope for "hidden purpose" mass mailings?  I'll probably never know because the Frontier manager never responded.  We do know that this is another example of corporate "efficiency" at the expense of effectiveness.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

How do you pronounce fir, fur, and for?

You think the first two rhyme and the third rhymes with a number, then listen to several speakers.  Just as "to" has morphed into "tuh", "for" has morphed into "fer", rhyming with the first two words.  See "How do you pronounce two, too, and to?"

I was reminded of this when my son, a manager in a large company, recently said "fer" for "for" in casual conversation.

I have begun saying that there is no "correct" language, only that which people use.  We constantly see words or expressions that were once "unacceptable" have become commonplace.  When I was in grade school, teachers reminded us that "kid" was a baby goat, not a young person.  Now teachers talk about their students as their kids.

We don't need a tower of Babel to create different languages.  We do it all by ourselves, both in the short term as above but in the long term such as the various Romance languages or the divergence (and melding) of American and British English.

GMO producers don't want free markets

Susan K. Finston has written an op-ed piece on GMO products and labeling in many places, including the Fresno Bee, "FDA shouldn't order costly GMO labels".  I read it in the Duluth News Tribune was part of one the DNT's Pro and Con pairings.  See  It was published in many newspapers across the country on 2012-07-07.  The DNT published only two letters on her article, both in opposition.  One was mine that was titled by the editor as "Lack of information spells doom for free markets – and possibly people".  See  The text is :

Free markets are disappearing, and it is free-market proponents who are taking them away.

The classic definition of a free market is:
Many buyers and many sellers.
Both buyers and sellers are free to enter and leave the market.
Both buyers and sellers have all the information they need to make an advantageous transaction.
All costs are covered in the transaction; that is, there are no externalities.

In this letter I want to cover a third point: all the information needed. This was ignored by Susan K. Finston in her Pro/Con commentary, “FDA shouldn’t order costly GMO labels just to satisfy scientific illiterates,” which was published in the News Tribune on July 7.

The top story on an online search for “GMO deaths” is about sudden cattle deaths at a small ranch in Texas. However, it was hybrid grass that produced cyanide after a couple of drought years that caused the deaths.  If a hybrid grass can do this, how do we know that a GMO grass won’t do the same?

As to be expected, most of the hits led to “sensationalist” sites, those with a cause; they only repeated stories from elsewhere. I added, “Union of Concerned Scientists” to my search and found a much more credible report: “Environmental Effects of Genetically Modified Food Crops — Recent Experiences,” by Margaret Mellon and Jane Rissler, writing for the Union of Concerned Scientists website.

“No major human health problems have emerged in connection with genetically modified food products,” Mellon and Rissler reported. But a company put a Brazil nut gene into soybeans to increase the latter’s nutritional quality.  Experiments showed that people allergic to Brazil nuts were also allergic to the altered soybeans.

Some allergic reactions are fatal. Would you rather eat foods you know don’t give you a reaction? Or would you like being surprised by a fatal ingredient? Labeling is important!

Global warming – how to lose your case

The Coffee Party's Facebook page has a link to "In case you missed it, Greenland just melted".

One of the color-coded pictures shows Greenland with mostly white, the other with mostly pink or dark pink. If you read the text though, 97% of the surface ice on Greenland is melting.  Quite a bit different than all the ice melting.  The question is how normal is this summer melt compared with previous summer melts.

A few of the commenters pointed this out.  Some leapt on the article as a chance to claim global warming doesn't exist.  And many leapt on the article with an alarmist view.

For more, see