Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"Moving" auto jobs from country to country

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Typo of the day, a "split vote"

"Some 1.9 Floridians have already voted…"

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

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

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

Mitt and FEMA, ideology trumps pragmatism and sympathy

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

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

Another inefficient corporation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to vote intelligently

We went to a League of Women Voters meeting, supposedly to watch "Patriocracy", a movie about the divisiveness in this country.  For some reason, the movie never made it to the meeting place.  Instead we had an impromptu discussion about the subject.

One of the complaints voiced is how many news organizations don't separate fact from fiction, treating every pronouncement from politicians as fact, especially on TV.

I gave these four suggestions for voting intelligently:

Don't watch TV
Don't answer the phone
Read lots of newspapers
Show up and vote

If you don't follow my advice on the first three points, do me, yourself, and your country a favor by proudly acting on the fourth point.

If you're not scared this Hallowe'en, you should be

According to Frank Rich, win or lose, the Republicans are going to be very detrimental to our future.  And these pseudo-conservatives won't be going away.  See "Right will rage if Obama wins", David Daley, Salon, 2012-10-27.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Plutocracy and democracy

Someone on a facebook page asked what is plutocracy.  I don't remember whether it was about all the money in politics or not.  I answered that plutocracy meant rule of the wealthy.  We certainly see it with the Koch brothers and Michael Bloomberg.  The greatest danger of plutocracy is that it drives out participation by ordinary people, the essence of democracy.

I looked up plutocracy on Wiktionary and found this wonderful quote by G.K. Chesterton:
"Modernity is not democracy; machinery is not democracy; the surrender of everything to trade and commerce is not democracy. Capitalism is not democracy; and is admittedly, by trend and savour, rather against democracy. Plutocracy by definition is not democracy. But all these modern things forced themselves into the world at about the time, or shortly after the time, when great idealists like Rousseau and Jefferson happened to have been thinking about the democratic ideal of democracy."

Why Read?

Fact: Reading can make you a better conversationalist.

Fact: Neighbors will never complain that your book is too loud.

Fact: Knowledge by osmosis has not yet been perfected. You'd better read.

Fact: Books have stopped bullets - reading might save your life.

Fact: Dinosaurs didn't read. Look what happened to them.

From an email from ABE Books.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Another quote from the past - flying

"Flying is like taking a very expensive Greyhound bus" - Shari Flasness

I found this as a note from the June meeting of the Italian Conversation Group at Sir Ben's in Duluth.  The conversation is more often about travel to Italy than speaking Italian.

But Shari's expensive bus is starting to get poor maintenance.  See "Fixing American Airlines", 2012-10-23, Jim Hightower, republished in the 2012-10-25 Reader Weekly

Quote of the day - Competition

"When, for instance, competition laws are not enforced, monopolies grow, and with them the income of monopolists. Competition, by contrast, drives profits down." - "Some Are More Unequal Than Others", Joseph E. Stiglitz, New York Times 2012-10-26

The article relates how the oligopolists are over and over driving down their costs, including taxes and wages, and increasing their profits.

My thought is that there may be a time when there are no profits to made because few can afford to buy the oligopolists' products and services and there will be insufficient qualified employees because there were insufficient taxes to educate a large number of people.

See "fastest to ruin" quote in "The Invisible Adam Smith".

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Invisible Adam Smith

Many who claim to be "free market proponents" cite the "invisible hand" of Adam Smith in "The Wealth of Nations".  However, Adam Smith only uses the term once, only in reference to individuals, and in the context of trade among nations. The chapter is "Of Restraints upon the Importation from Foreign Countries of Such Goods as Can Be Produced at Home".  Among the questions Smith raises is :

If a restriction benefits an industry, does it also benefit society?

As to the "invisible hand", Smith does not apply it as a metaphor for an absolutely free market, but as an indication that the acts of an individual can lead to consequences not intended by the individual.  A more complete citation than "invisible hand" is:

"[The individual] generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain; and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention." - pages 242-243

In other words, seeking his own security he may benefit society and seeking his own gain he may harm society, or otherwise, depending on the circumstances.  In no way does this describe a "perfect market".

All page references are to the PDF version of "Wealth of Nations" transcribed by the Gutenberg Project.  You can select your preferred format from

For the most part, I don't think Adam Smith provides a prescription of how an economy works.  Instead he provides a description of what he observed worked or didn't work.

Smith only uses "free market" once, in a discussion of the bad effects of restricting exports - pages 353-354.  Woolen manufacturers wanted to restrict exports of wool so that their supply of wool would be increased.  The problem was that English wool was inferior for clothing compared to wool from other countries.  The prohibition of exports caused the price of wool to drop drastically, making it unprofitable to produce.  The "invisible hand" now works to raise the price of mutton because the farmer has to pay his costs.  That means to give the woolen manufacturers cheap wool is to give the consumers expensive meat.  So, restricting exports did not give society much benefit.

A word that Smith uses frequently is "labour", would you believe over one thousand times?  And how many times do you hear proponents of the "invisible hand" talk about labor, other than "greedy labor unions"?  Smith looked favorably on labour, both as the basis of all economic activity and how labor can be marginalized by those with power.

The opening paragraph of "The Wealth of Nations" is:

"The annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniencies [sic] of life which it annually consumes, and which consist always either in the immediate produce of that labour, or in what is purchased with that produce from other nations." - page 3

In other words, without labor, nothing happens.

"The liberal reward of labour, therefore, as it is the necessary effect, so it is the natural symptom of increasing national wealth. The scanty maintenance of the labouring poor, on the other hand, is the natural symptom that things are at a stand, and their starving condition, that they are going fast backwards."

As the National Football League found out, not paying referees what they asked lowered the owners wealth.

As for those who complain about "greedy unions" and promote "right-to-work laws", consider:

"The masters, being fewer in number, can combine much more easily: and the law, besides, authorises, or at least does not prohibit, their combinations, while it prohibits those of the workmen. We have no acts of parliament against combining to lower the price of work, but many against combining to raise it. In all such disputes, the masters can hold out much longer. A landlord, a farmer, a master manufacturer, or merchant, though they did not employ a single workman, could generally live a year or two upon the stocks, which they have already acquired. Many workmen could not subsist a week, few could subsist a month, and scarce any a year, without employment." - page 142

Few seem to understand the need to balance interests.  When profits and wages are out of balance we are in deep trouble.  Given the rising cash hoard of many large corporations and the still uncertain job market, we should consider:

"It is the stock [materials, equipment, and workplaces] that is employed for the sake of profit, which puts into motion the greater part of the useful labour of every society. The plans and projects of the employers of stock regulate and direct all the most important operation of labour, and profit is the end proposed by all those plans and projects.  But the rate of profit does not, like rent and wages, rise with the prosperity, and fall with the declension of the society. On the contrary, it is naturally low in rich, and high in poor countries, and it is always highest in the countries which are going fastest to ruin." - page 142

In other words, without corporations much work doesn't get started and without labor it doesn't get finished.

Finally, Smith didn't think business people ["those who live by profit"] should be trusted in public affairs:

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

Adam Smith was an academic who read widely, considered what he read, and wrote an opinion for the powers-that-be.  Those who consider "invisible hand" and "free market" as the only things important about economics, should consider reading more of modern economists, who have the benefit of having read all of "Wealth of Nations" and over two centuries more of data to consider.  They are no more in an ivory tower than Adam Smith was.

For a poster of "The proposal of any new law…" see "Poster: A warning from the 'Invisible Hand'".

Updated 2013-07-21 to include Adam Smith's words for "business people.
Updated 2013-08-20 to include link to the poster.

Which is the largest political party?

According to Robert Reich, the largest political party is the party of non-voters.  See "The Politics of Fear and the Party of Non-Voters" on his  blog, 2012-10-09.

My own take was published in today's Duluth News Tribune at and follows

Will another election be given away by no-shows?

Consider that more people have stayed away in most elections than have voted for the eventual winners.

The following data is compiled from the American Presidency Project at

Since 1980, turnouts varied between 47 percent and 53 percent of the voting-age populations. That means that more people stayed away than voted for the successful candidates.

If we multiply the turnout by the winner’s percentage of votes cast, we get:

--26.6 percent for President Reagan in 1980
--31.2 percent for Reagan in 1984
--26.8 percent for President Bush in 1988
--23.7 percent for President Clinton in 1992
--24.1 percent for Clinton in 1996
--24.6 percent for President George W. Bush in 2000
--28.0 percent for Bush in 2004
--30.4 percent for President Obama 2008

No matter who you favor, consider that if you stay away from the polls because you don’t want to vote for “the lesser of two evils,” you actually may be helping elect the candidate you consider “the greater of two evils.”

If you want a better democracy, show up on Election Day, vote for your choices, and proudly wear your “I voted” sticker.
Melvyn Magree

- End of letter

And remind your friends and relatives to vote!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Thanks for reading, please tell others

The daily page views of this blog have gone way up from the usual 20 or so, discounting the Russian reverse-spammers, to nearly 100.  I doubt that it is that I'm writing more interesting articles.  I think it is that much of what I write is of interest in the election season.  In fact, U.S. page views are now about the same as Russian page views.

Whatever your reason for visiting here, regular reader, finder via Google, or link from another site, I thank you for visiting.  If you like what you see, please tell others or put links in your own site.

In turn, I'll do my best to post some interesting thoughts more regularly.


Don't answer the phone until November 7

We have given up answering the phone until after election day.  Monday we must have had seven calls, only one of which left a message.  That was a personal call that my wife returned immediately. 

Why should we drop everything for a political robo-call?

The second American Revolution has started, and it ain't pretty

The Republican Party has become a revolutionary party, one that tolerates no opposition.

Consider that if a Republican politician doesn't follow party doctrine then he or she is is sidelined as soon as possible.  Why do you think there are so many ex-Republicans?  See Jim Ramstad's praise of Wellstone, "Remembering Paul Wellstone", Star Tribune 2012-10-19.

Consider that Republicans keep insisting that their solutions will solve certain problems even when experts point out historic facts that show similar policies have not worked in the past.

Consider that Republicans' stated goal at the start of Obama's presidency was to ensure he did not have a second term.  Some commentators think this is barely concealed racism.  This may be true, but it is also an effective smokescreen.  Their true motive may be to destroy the Democratic Party and to become the only party.

Consider the Republican claims of voter fraud. Are not voter ID requirements a thinly disguised attempt to reduce the number of Democratic voters?

Consider that the Republicans may have already started a civil war.  As they give more power to corporations, are they transforming our government from "by the people" to "by the corporations"?  Once corporations were tools of the people to be dissolved when their purpose was fulfilled.  Now people seem to be the tools of corporations to be discarded when no longer economically useful.

See "The Great Unraveling" by Paul Krugman.  He saw this revolution in 2003!

Consider that the Republicans call themselves "conservatives" but they are nowhere near being classical conservatives as defined by Edmund Burke in the Eighteenth Century.  In fact, many of the so-called liberals in the Democratic Party may be closer to the Burkian model of Conservative than the Republicans.  For more details, see "Why Voters Should Turn From the Pseudoconservative Party of the Great Recession, Part I", Louis M. Guenin, Huffington Post, 2012-10-24.  It is quite an indictment of the hodgepodge of conflicting ideas of the Republican Party.  Watch for Part II in the Huffington Post tomorrow (2012-10-25).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The MacBook Pro doesn't have a touch screen, yet!

Lately, I've been trying to touch the screen of my laptop to get it to do something.  Nothing happens!  I've even gone so far to touch it several times trying to get the exact spot and the right amount of pressure.  Nothing happens!  Not quite, the screen does move back a bit.

I used to know quite well that I had to move the cursor with the trackpad and then click with the nearest part of the trackpad.  But now I spend a lot of time using my iPhone and iPad.  With these it's poke and swipe.

Someday I'll get it all sorted out and do the right things in the right place.  It's sort of like speaking one language with one person then turning to another and speaking a different language.  It's all in practice, practice, practice.

Debates? What debates?

According to the newspapers, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama had their third and final debate last night, supposedly on foreign policy.  As with the previous two, I didn't bother watching.  What for?  See What do the debates prove? and Netflix disappointed me

From what little I read in newspapers, I didn't think it was worth watching.  I think the debates were summed up by two snippets from "Sparring Over Foreign Policy, Obama Goes on the Offense
", Peter Baker and Helene Cooper, New York Times, 2012-10-22.

"For all its fireworks, the debate broke little new ground and underscored that the differences between the two men on foreign policy rest more on tone, style and their sense of leadership than on particular policies. Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney seemed to align on matters like withdrawal from Afghanistan, the perils of intervening in Syria and the use of drones to battle terrorists."

"Mr. Romney pinned the cascading crises around the world on Mr. Obama’s shoulders, saying the president had failed to live up to his promises from his 2008 campaign and left the country in a weaker position."

Baker and Cooper seem to say that whoever wins the election will follow essentially the same policies.  Maybe, maybe not.  However, I think the second quote is quite telling of Romney's attitude that the President of the U.S. should be emperor of the world and bring all these hot spots in line with U.S. "interests".  My usual question is who elected the President as "the leader of the free world"?  It certainly wasn't the people of Canada, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.  How can you claim to be for freedom and democracy if you anoint yourself as "the leader of the free world"?  Napoleon crowned himself as Emperor of France, and look what happened to him.  Look what's happening to our economy as we spend all this money on weapons and war without raising the taxes to pay for them.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Netflix comes out ahead again on customer service and trust

We put a Netflix DVD in a mailbox outside a post office on Sunday, October 14.  On Saturday, October 20, it was still listed as not returned.  I clicked on a button about returns, noted that I had returned it on October 14, clicked that it was a street mail box, gave my ZIP code, clicked OK or whatever, and poof!  The DVD was no longer in my account as not returned!!!

We thought about the problem a bit and wondered if it was because we opened the mailer at the wrong end.  That cut off the closing tab from the return envelope.  My wife jury-rigged a closure.  Maybe that closure didn't hold and the package wound up getting jammed in a sorting machine.  I also realized that the post office where we returned the DVD does not have the same ZIP code as we do.

I called Netflix and within two minutes was speaking with Travis of the cheery voice.  Essentially he said, "Don't worry.  It's not your problem.  It will probably turn up."

I know there are lots of company's that take the customer's word about a problem and make amends quickly.  But there are also many company's that don't trust their customers any farther than they can throw them.  The former are companies that treat their employees with respect; the latter are companies that create rule-burdened bureaucracies.

Who creates jobs? Government or Corporations?

According to "The Myth of Job Creation", Editorial, New York Times, 2012-10-21, Obama and Romney agree that "government does not create jobs".  The New York Times disagrees, "Except that it does, millions of them — including teachers, police officers, firefighters, soldiers, sailors, astronauts, epidemiologists, antiterrorism agents, park rangers, diplomats, governors (Mr. Romney’s old job) and congressmen (like Paul Ryan)."

It is so hard to break the Norquist attitude that government is useless.  If government was so useless, why do so many corporations spend fortunes to get a government that will pass laws they favor?  If government was so useless, why do so many corporations seek government contracts?  If government was so useless, who would give corporations patents?  If government was so useless, who would adjudicate corporations billion-dollar suits against each other?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Who controls gasoline prices

As I watch the gasoline prices drop, I wonder if those who blamed Obama for an increase in prices are  giving him credit for the drop.  I doubt it, because the latter is just as unrealistic as the former.

"In the end, supply and demand is causing prices to moderate once again."
Sharon Epperson, CNBC, 2012-10-18 via Yahoo Finance.

In other words, free market proponents are all for free markets when markets work to their benefit, but they blame someone else when markets work to their detriment.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Letter about the safety of GMO foods

Brandon Ferdig submitted an opinion piece to the Star Tribune about science and political belief, writing that both conservatives and liberals are selective about the science they accept and reject.  See "How Deep Have You Dug in Your Heels?", Star Tribune, 2012-10-16.

One of the items he wrote that liberals don't accept is "The science behind the safety of genetically modified foods."

I wrote a letter that was published today in response: "Food and Science, GMO opposition can be quite reasonable" (The Strib's title).

See also "Corporations hate free markets" and "GMO producers don't want free markets".

An argument for universal health care

"First, a civilized society compensates for the human propensity to screw up. That’s why we have single-payer firefighters and police officers. That’s why we require seat belts. When someone who has been speeding gets in a car accident, the 911 operator doesn’t sneer: 'You were irresponsible, so figure out your own way to the hospital' — and hang up."

Read the full story at "Scott's Story and the Elections", Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, 2012-10-17.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The endless use of "infinite"

How often have you seen claims of "infinite storage" or "endless possibilities" or "limitless growth"?

All of these are impossible!  "Boxee TV, New Media Player, Combines Live TV, Unlimited DVR and Apps in Latest Shot At Cable", Huffington Post, Jason Gilbert, 2012-10-17 states that "Boxee provides an infinite amount of online storage space for your recordings…"

One, how can a finite human being accumulate an infinite amount of anything?  Two, if Boxee's customers ever fill up the very large space that it provides, where are they going to put more storage space?  In space?  I would say that a finite company can only do a finite amount of work.

Now maybe the storage space would be infinite if Boxee continues to operate for millennia and eons and is able to put online storage farther and farther out in space.  But the retrieval times would get longer and longer to the point that a retrieval request would not be filled in the user's lifetime.

Maybe a more accurate description of Boxee's capabilities would be that it can store billions of shows for millions of users.

Quote of the century

"Our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is over."  Mock quote of President-elect George W. Bush, The Onion, 2001-01-18, quoted by Paul Krugman in "The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century", 2003

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Some thoughts on compromise

To some, compromise means come promise to believe as I do.

Compromise between blue states and red states yields a purple nation; purple is the color of bruises.

Compromise conversation

A:  You owe me $100!
B:  I owe you nothing!
A:  Let's compromise; you owe me $50.

See also:
Not always two sides to every issue
More on two sides to every issue
π is an Obama liberal plot to socialize America
Compromise reached with flat earthers

Monday, October 15, 2012

Quote of the day - money in politics

"[M]oney doesn't just talk in politics - it screams."

From "'Munger Sandwich' Squeezes California Governor", Robert Frank, CNBC, 2012-10-15, via Yahoo Finance!

It's about a very wealthy man opposing a tax hike Proposition and is very wealthy half-sister supporting a different tax hike proposition that she claims provides more support to schools.  Both are spending tens of millions of dollars.

The same paragraph that I took the above quote from also includes: "But one family pouring more than $50 million to defeat the governor's proposal will only add to the media chorus that the rich are distorting democracy."

Of mice and wolves and shrews, too

The first time I saw a shrew was in Sweden in 1973 or 1974.  We took a train from Stockholm to the seaside.  While walking around a park, I saw some movement in the grass.  It was a shrew, the smallest mammal I'd ever seen.  It went about its business completely unaware of this giant standing over it.

I haven't seen a shrew since, until yesterday.  I found one in a mousetrap in one of our outbuildings in Brimson.  It came in from a little hole in the back of the shed, walked across the trap, and that was that.  I dumped the shrew next to a mouse that no scavenger had found yet; it was about the quarter of the size of the mouse.

What I use is "The Better Mousetrapwolves, mice, shrews, hunting, trapping, season, deer, endangered species, trespassing", a reusable trap that the mouse simply walks across.  The idea is that you place the trap along a wall or other vertical object, the mouse uses it whiskers to navigate, and just thinks the trap is another object to climb over.  When a mouse has been caught, open the trap without touching the mouse, and throw it in the woods.

OK, why am I killing these cute little critters?  Because they gnaw on anything paper and build nests in nooks and crannies.  OK, you say, why not put any paper or cardboard boxes up on a shelf?  Hah, mice are climbers.  Two of our outbuildings have floors that are two mouse lengths above the ground, and the mice just climb up the vertical surface.

The hard part is that these traps are not always immediately lethal.  Sometimes a mouse gets only a leg caught.  I won't go into any more details on this, but I'm not happy that things were not immediate.

So, what does this have to do with wolves?

Wolves have been removed from the endangered species list and states may now set wolf seasons.  Minnesota had done so with much controversy, with the usual suspects taking the usual sides.

An aside: one letter writer complained that if people didn't kill wolves, the wolves would be out of control and eat all the deer.  He ignored that at a certain point there would be too few deer to feed all the wolves, then the wolves would start to starve and the deer population would increase.  This has been going on for centuries.  Maybe we should kill automobiles because they kill more deer than wolves do.

I have nothing against hunting deer and such; to me hunting is a very expensive and time-
consuming way to get meat.  And I can enjoy the outdoors where the only shooting I do is with a camera.  What I don't like is that in Minnesota land-owners have to post "No trespassing" signs to legally keep hunters off.  This can be a time-consuming task including to be sure no "path" is left unmarked.  Even then, we've had bird hunters shoot down our driveway with a plainly visible "no trespassing" sign and with a bright red pickup truck in plain sight!

What I also don't like is that I have to wear orange during hunting season to protect myself.

Now Minnesota has set a wolf season that not only coincides with deer season, but the state has also set a wolf season that goes into January.  How long do I have to wear orange on my own property?

Additionally, trapping of wolves is allowed.  What happens if some trapper decides that one of my paths is an ideal place to place a trap.  I do know that wolves use our property, both from the scat and one kill that we saw.  It's bad enough I have to watch that I won't stumble on a rock, but do I have to be on the lookout for traps also?

Consider what I didn't tell you about trapped mice; the same applies to wolves.  The mice are going where they are not supposed to be.  The wolves are going where they've been going for centuries.

Friday, October 12, 2012

More on more appropriate party names

Given the number of misleading and untrue statements that Mitt Romney made in the first debate, given the Republicans claim of voter fraud, denial of climate change, and mischaracterizations of free markets, maybe the best name for their party is the Republicons.

Given how often the Democrats give in to many of the Republican charges against them, like soft on communism, soft on crime, and soft on terrorism, maybe the best name for their party is the Fraidycrats.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Socialism or needed regulation, they ain't the same thing

It seems every where one turns, there are cries that Obama is a socialist, that the country is becoming socialist, and on and on ad nauseum.

One, do many of these people even know what socialism is?  In short, it often means state ownership of the means of production.  Is any major party candidate calling for government takeover of all companies?  I haven't heard of any.  Is it co-operatives?  Could be, but they are operated by their members, not the government.  For a more complex discussion of socialism, see the Wikipedia entry on socialism.

Two, are those orchestrating the cries of socialism those who want no government regulation unless it is to their benefit.  Is it polluters who cry socialism when they are called to task?  Is it those who cut corners on safety of workers or consumers?  Is it those who would cheat customers or not provide customers with sufficient information?

Considering the sources of the orchestration, I would say its those who want to operate without any government regulation at all.  They don't want to pay taxes for all the public goods they depend on, including an educated work force and an infra-structure of highways, water, and sewer.

In short, they want to privatize profit but socialize losses or costs.

Ironically, Adam Smith, the guru of so-called free-marketers, and many of the writers of the U.S. Constitution called for regulation in varying degrees.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

WWII in Russia, a meandering search for a book

I like to keep up what little foreign language skills I have by listening to podcasts and reading newspapers.  For a Swedish paper I chose Svenska Dagbladet over Dagens Nyheter.  I was reading the former on my iPhone when I came across an article about Soviet women in WWII.

This has a special interest because we are going to a book club meeting tomorrow about "City of Thieves" by David Benioff, a novel set in the siege of Leningrad.  It is very grim tale of the deprivations and horrors as the hero goes on a quixotic quest for a dozen eggs.

The article in Svenska Dagbladet is "Kriget enligt kvinnorna (The war according to the women)".  It is about the book "Kriget har inget kvinnligt ansikte. Utopins Röster (The war has no womanly face. Utopians Voices)"  The author, Svetlana Alexievitch, interviewed hundreds of women about their experiences, including active combat.

I wanted to give an English reference to the other attendees of the "City of Thieves" discussion.  I went round and round with various translations of the Swedish, having no Russian title.  Finally by using a translation of the title of the series "Utopia's Voices", I found it.  The English title is "War's Unwomanly Face" and is widely available.

I don't know if I could read it after "City of Thieves".  Consider that the Germans began the siege of Leningrad before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Soviet Army and partisans didn't push them back until 1944, before the Allied landing at Normandy.  Residents were starved and bombed and more.  Getting supplies into the city took a lot of ingenuity, including Allied truck convoys over the frozen Lake Ladoga.  We were in Leningrad in 1973 and saw the mass graves, dozens of furrows of mounded earth.

Is it any wonder the Soviets wanted a big, secure buffer between themselves and Germany?  They weren't nice about it and made themselves quite unwanted.  They only withdrew when their crumbling economy couldn't support the occupation any longer.

Are there any others who could learn from this lesson?

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Netflix disappointed me

I've posted a couple of entries how the US Postal Service and Netflix give excellent service in keeping me supplied with movies.  If I put a DVD in a mail box, Netflix has it early in the morning of the next delivery day and sends me the next DVD in my queue.  I receive that DVD on the next delivery day, in effect, two days turnaround.

I think it was Sunday morning that I woke up wondering if the last DVD I sent back to Netflix even got there.  I had to think when and where I put it in the mail.  Ah, yes, I watched an Inspector Morse DVD on the night of the Presidential debates, last Wednesday.  I put it in the mail box at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, on my way to a University for Seniors class.

Did mail get picked up from that box?  I checked my account and it was no longer on my list.  Ah, yes, I did get an email that it had been received but I had already deleted it.  Then I got an email that the next DVD would be sent for Monday delivery.

Well, that wouldn't happen because Monday was the official Columbus day this year.  Then my account said it was not available.  I forgotten the other changes for the status that DVD.  Finally, the status was that I would get the second DVD in my list on Wednesday and the first DVD would be sent shortly.

Drat, my wife isn't interested in murder mysteries (except Agatha Christie's) and she went to the Twin Cities today. So, I would be able to watch it without disturbing her.

Oh, well, the bright side, maybe, is that I wrote that "delightful" critique of the political parties at  If you read that, I hope you are pleased that I didn't watch a DVD instead.  If you were pleased, I hope you'll let me know if you see me.

The true names of the Republicans and the Democrats

I've often thought that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats live up to the names of their parties.  The Republicans are more in favor of res privata than res publica and the Democrats may often make noises of being the party of the people (demōs) but often bow to corporate interests.

I've often thought of the Republicans as the Republicants or the Republiwonts because they are often such nay-sayers to anything the Democrats may propose.  Then a few years ago I noticed the all the Republicans seemed to be all in lockstep on a laundry list of issues.  They must be anti-abortion, pro-war, lower and lower taxes, climate change deniers, America firsters, anti environment protection, anti safety rules, anti-labor unions, and pro-pro-pro business.  They all must bash the public schools and their "greedy teacher unions".  They all must decry run-away spending without being specific about what really should be cut, except for the military that they think needs more money without limit.  They all must decry deficits without considering that running a deficit may be because of investments that will pay off in the future.  They must decry subsidies for alternate energy but must demand subsidies for sports stadiums.

Then I heard about ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council run by the Koch brothers and others.  Ah, so, the Republicans are not a bunch of politicians with similar ideas who may disagree on some points.  They have almost all become beholden to ALEC and its ideology.  They have become puppets of and parrots for a small plutocracy.  So, their true party name is Repuppetans or Reparrotans.  We could also call them Reprivateers, because they put the private interests of a few far over public interests.

The Democrats at least make some effort to put public interests above private interests.  Of course, it's hard to do so when the private interests provide so much larger campaign contributions than the general public does.  They also lack the energy of a Teddy Roosevelt, a Franklin Roosevelt or a Harry Truman who were willing to face down large corporate interests in favor of the public interest.  I wonder if modern Democrats should be called Democravens or Democave-ins.  From reports I've had of the October 2, 2012 debates, these could be very apt names.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Is Hugo Chavez more popular than U.S. presidents?

Hugo Chavez, president of Venezeula, won a fourth term.  Compared with his previous elections, he had a tighter race.  However, like U.S. presidents should do and never do, Chavez should consider that he did not receive the support of the majority of voters.

The turnout was about 80%, far higher than any one state in the U.S. ever got recently and Chavez received about 55% of that.  In other words, only 44% of the voters turned out to support Chavez and 56% of the voters either supported someone else or didn't care.

Consider that the turnout in U.S. elections has not been over 60% since 1972.  For Reagan's "landslide" in 1984 the turnout was 53.11%.  Reagan had 58.77% of the votes cast, which means that he had the support of only 31.2% of the voting age population.  In percent of votes cast, Reagan did better than Chavez, but in the support of all the people Reagan didn't fare as well.

The lesson for every election is that those who show up determine the results.  Too often elections are given away by those who aren't completely satisfied with the losing candidate.

An unfortunate pirate

A pirate was not a success because his cutlass cut less.

Thought for the day: hyperbole

When you engage in hyperbole will you dig yourself a hyper hole?

Or if you want a rhyme, sort of:

When you engage in hyperbole, are you being hyper holy?

Sunday, October 07, 2012

"Government-made" billionaire

Hamdi Ulukaya, a Turkish immigrant, started making Chobani yogurt with the help of a Small Business Administration loan.  He bought a Kraft Foods factory in 2005 with the help of that loan, and he began shipping Chobani Greek yogurt two years later.  It is now the best selling yogurt brand in the U.S.  He is now estimated to be worth 1.1 billion dollars.

Of course, the government didn't make him a billionaire.  He and many other people had to do a lot of work to produce and sell all that yogurt.  But could he have started without the SBA loan?  Maybe if there had been a friendly banker who believed in him.  So, the government didn't make him a billionaire, but it certainly gave him a rung or two to start the climb to success.

See "The billionaire behind Chobani", Devon Pendelton, Bloomberg News, Updated 2012-09-25, via Star Tribune.

Something else to consider: was the SBA loan government spending or government investment?  Consider all the jobs that Chobani created and the taxes the employees pay.  Consider how much more taxes Ulukaya paid than if he hadn't been so successful.  Consider how those taxes in turn can be reinvested in education, roads, and loans to other fledgling companies.

Three cheers for independent stores

A twist switch on a kitchen wall light wouldn't stay in the on position.  I kept putting off looking at it, but finally did last week.  We turned off the circuit breaker for the kitchen and I disassembled the light.  Hurray, there was enough wall wire to reconnect it.

I took the switch to Denny's Hardware for a replacement.  Denny Moran, the former owner, who now spends his time on the floor, was in.  He said he didn't have exactly the same thing but something close.  The difference was the new one had screws to attach wires rather then wires soldered to it.  Close enough and in fact even better.

This afternoon I reassembled the light and it works fine.

Now if I'd gone to a big box hardware/lumber store, I would have wandered the aisles to find the right shelf.  If I didn't find what I needed, I might wait five minutes for a clerk.  The clerk may or may not know if the store had the part.  I might have paid a few cents less for the part, but I would have used up the savings in the gas to get to the box box store.

As it was, I parked right at the door of the local hardware store, I was waited on right away, I got exactly what I needed, and was in and out in less time that it would have taken me to walk from my car to the correct aisle, walk to the cashier, and walk back to my car.

Three cheers for the dying breed, the local hardware store.  Two bigger ones have closed in the last five or six years in Duluth.  Killed not by policies in Washington, but by big box stores.

And maybe by local politicians who are always trying to attract businesses to town.  Often those new businesses put local businesses out of business.  The key to business success in a city is not to attract businesses but to attract people.  People start businesses.  Businesses don't start people.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Cereals sponsor serials - a homonym homilie

The only cereal sponsoring a radio serial that I remember at the moment was Wheaties for "Jack Armstrong,  the All-American Boy" but I think there were a few other cereal sponsors  for radio serials.

This little play on my words popped into my conscious mind when I was thinking about the title of the Italian podcast, "Fuori Tempi", which means Outside Times, but I'm not sure what that means.  I'll probably find out when I get around to listening to it.  The title made me think of the phrase "fuori serie" that means a special car model that is not in a companies usual line.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

What do the debates prove?

I don't plan to watch the presidential debates tomorrow.  What will they prove?  Only how well either participant can answer questions in a couple of minutes.  This is not how a president governs.

A good president asks the right questions of the right people and then deliberates how to get others to act.  There may be a time for quick responses, but for the most part, the president engages in long term thinking.  This can take weeks of interviews and of deliberation.

The debates may actually be harmful to the governing of the country.  They encourage too much off the top of the head thinking with insufficient information.  What one says in the heat of the debate may be quite contrary to what one should do in practice.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Short cuts can short change you: Part II

For Part I, click here.

After I returned from the fruitless search for the missing sheet of plywood, I ate supper, went to bed, and tossed and turned too much of the night, considering various options for the next day.

The next morning I plotted out the work for the day.  On one of my crawls underneath, I noticed that there were lots of staples sticking out.  These would have hindered moving plywood sections and so I began removing them.  I think it took me all morning to get them out; I don't remember if that was one-quarter of joists or all of them.

Finally, maybe it was after lunch, I measured out lengths of insulation and stuffed them between the joists, two layers of 3-1/2 inch denim "no-scratch".  I think I did one "sixteen inch by six feet" section at a time.  However, the insulation would not stay between the joists; it sagged and even dropped completely out.

I had set aside some of the old insulation supports, springy sixteen-inch wire rods.  These did the trick of holding the insulation up.  I also had a full package of them left from when I had first put insulation under the floor.  Fortunately, I didn't let my wife throw them out or give them to a rummage sale.

Sometime in the afternoon, I had insulation in place on one-quarter of the joists.

My memory may be wrong, but I think I considered that it a good stopping place.  The next step would be to cover what I had done with plywood.  That would be the next visit's work.  Now it was time to return my friend's trailer.

For some reason, I took the longer way around, thinking that a more direct road was still closed, even when I knew it had been opened.  I had gotten directions to my friend's house from Two Harbors from Map Quest or Google.  When I got into Two Harbors and cell phone coverage, I called him to let him know I was on my way (his Duluth number was long distance from our cabin).  It's a good thing I did.  He told me that I can't use Cant Rd. to get to his place.

When I did get there he noticed the tire iron wasn't on top of the loose spare tire.  Hoo boy!  At 65 mph it must have bounced out.  At least traffic was sparse and it didn't slam into someone's grille or worse.

On Friday I returned to our cabin and tried getting a 4x8 sheet of 1/4-inch plywood in place to screw it to the joists.  No way could I manage this by myself.

So I cooked up what I call Plan A-.  My trying to cover the insulation with whole sheets of plywood was Plan B; the original Plan A having been to put the insulation in from the top.  Plan A- was putting in pieces of plywood from the bottom and holding them up by some means.

Before I cut up my brand new sheets of plywood, I found some old, squirrel-chewed 1/4-inch plywood on our lumber left-overs pile.  The squirrels probably liked the glue.  There was enough good wood to make two about 70x14 panels.  I also found that my circular saw, unused for many years, had a plywood blade and still worked.

My original thought had been to screw runners to the side of the joists and then zigzag the plywood up and let it drop back down.  I measured a "pocket" carefully and tried to cut each piece carefully.  I cut one piece in and tried to fit it in.  I couldn't push up on one side and get the other side to go over the opposite runner.  That didn't work so well.  I took the runners off one side and then just held the piece up with one hand and used a cordless drill to put 1-1/2 screws every 18 inches or so.  That worked.

Except!  There were hangers over the support beams that prevented the piece from going completely to the outside edge.  I had to make notches in the piece.  Then, because I was using low supports to cut the plywood, my cuts weren't the straightest possible.  I had to trim wherever a piece was too wide.  And of course, the joists are not precision cut or placed lumber and are different distances apart - 14-1/2 inches one place and 14-1/4 another.  Some places a piece may fit snugly, and other places there are huge gaps that will have to be filled with caulk.

To shorten this long tale of fortitude, stubbornness, stupidity, and cleverness, the two pieces of scrap worked, and so I cut four more pieces out of the new sheets.  At five o'clock Saturday afternoon, I had one quarter of the insulation up and supported.  Now I began putting all my scattered tools away.  That took an hour.  Then another hour straightening up the cabin and packing up.  When I went to turn off the refrigerator I discovered I never turned it on.  Fortunately the cabin had been so cold when I arrived the day before that the food stayed cool enough.

At about seven I drove out the driveway and locked the cable.  I looked East down the road and saw a full moon almost over the center of the road.  Take a few pictures.  I should have done it with a tripod; the moon is bleary.  Off I go on the hour-long drive listening to the latest "To the Best of Our Knowledge" on my iPhone plugged into the radio.  It gets darker and darker.  I'm not used to this.  My eyes dart back and forth watching for deer.  Then I realize I don't have my high beams on.  Ah, that makes a difference.

Finally I arrive back in Duluth, but no way am I going to prepare supper for myself at this hour.  I stop at Bulldog Pizza for a pint and a big sandwich.  What a relief to sit down without a cabin floor hanging six inches from my face or without a steering wheel in my hands peering into the dark.

Still 3/4 of the insulation to go.  At least the next time I'll have my wife there to help in so many ways.

One corporation still can't live within its means

On 2011-09-26 I wrote how Forum Communications raised the price of the Duluth News Tribune by 33-1/3 percent.  Now just over a year later they've raised the price by 25 percent!  I had been forewarned by a vendor that the Sunday paper would be raised to $2.50, but I didn't know that the daily would be raised to $1.25.

When I went to the corner boxes this morning I was surprised to find that there were still copies of the Star Tribune.  This location is chronically understocked with the Strib, often being sold out a bit after seven.  I put four quarters in the Strib machine and took my copy.  Then I put four quarters in the DNT machine.  It wouldn't unlock.  I tried again.  Same thing.  I looked at the price labels on the box, and I know I saw $2.50 for the Sunday edition and $1.00 for the daily edition.

When I got home, I sent email about this to the Customer Service representative.  She had not responded by about one this afternoon.

I went out later and stopped at a convenience store.  It had signs about the price change for both editions of the DNT.  As I forked out the extra quarter, I joked with the clerk, "If government raised taxes by 25 percent, people would complain loudly.  Hell!  If they would complain if government raised taxes by 2.5 percent."

When I got to the fitness center, the DNT box outside the door had the new prices written in marker, not a "permanent" sign.

What a way to run a railroad, I mean a newspaper!  I wonder what a 67 percent increase in just over a year will do to circulation.  I really do appreciate having a physical copy of the newspaper to read at breakfast and lunch.  I wonder if the employees have seen a comparable increase in their income.

See also "Can't corporations live within their means?"