Friday, November 30, 2012

Why state secession is a bad idea

Several petitions are under way for various states to secede from the Union.

Be careful what you ask for.

What the proponents of secession ignore is that the United States is and has always been a country with a mobile population.  Not only was the United States started by people who moved from other countries or their descendants, but these people kept moving west, often overrunning people already there.  In the Twentieth Century people moved in almost every direction.  Small town people went to the big city.  People moved from one city to another to seek different opportunities.  Corporations moved people from state to state for many reasons.  I myself have lived in three states and my wife in six.

If a state were to secede, what would they do about "immigration"?  Would business people from other states need a passport to do business in the independent state?  Would tourists need a passport?  If no passport were required, what would the independent state do about "illegal immigration".

What about people in the seceded state?  Would they need passports to work or vacation in other states?

What about all the wars that the United States has been involved in?  Would seceded states continue these wars?  Often the states with secessionist movements have a significant portion of their populations who are bellicose.  If the seceded states were involved in their own foreign wars, would they drag the United States into their wars?

Speaking of war, wasn't it a Republican who led a war against states seceding from the union?  Isn't it ironic that some of the major proponents of secession call themselves Republicans?  Did Lincoln "die in vain"?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Let's Look at Entitlements

Political reporting is full of stories about the need to rein in entitlements, mostly meaning Social Security and Medicare.  Remember these are insurance programs for which people pay premiums.

Consider auto insurance.  Suppose you buy a car and buy collision insurance for it.  The day after you pay your annual premium of, say $1,000, you are involved in a crash that totals your car.  Is the insurance reimbursement an entitlement?  Of course it is.  Is it an unjustified entitlement.  Well, if you've been paying car insurance payments for years and never had a claim, you might think so.  It's your premiums that are giving the owner who had made only one payment the reimbursement.

The question with Social Security and Medicare is if enough premiums are being paid in to cover the payouts, not whether those who paid in are entitled to the benefits or not.  One can question the level of payouts but not the fact that payouts are made.

In both the auto insurance and Social Security cases, the recipients are not determining the benefits.  It is either the insurance companies or the Federal Government.

However, there are other benefits that are being determined by the recipients, not some "disinterested" second party.

Consider CEO salaries.  It is not an independent group of shareholders that are determining the ever increasing CEO salaries.  It is a board often picked by the CEO!

Consider board member salaries and fees.  Who determines that board members will get $100,000 plus for five or six board meetings a year plus expenses?  The board members!  Who determines the stock benefits given to executives and board members to "align their interests with those of the shareholders"?  It's certainly not the shareholders.

Consider the "golden parachutes" given to fired executives.  Do you think a laid-off worker would receive a few million dollars and lifetime high-value health insurance?  If the worker receives any benefits at all, they are often considered entitlements, especially if part of a union contract.  Why don't more supporters of "capitalism" recognize the golden parachutes as undeserved "entitlements"?

Consider that corporations depend on employees  and customers to succeed.  Employees are often treated as costs rather than investments.  Customers are often treated as annoyances rather than supporters and free advertisers.  And too often, executive pay is inversely related to customer satisfaction.  See "Executive Pay and Customer Satisfaction".  That certainly smacks of entitlement on the part of the executives.

Consider that the owners of professional sport teams strong-arm cities and states to provide a larger portion of their increasingly expensive stadiums.  They argue that the newer, bigger stadium will be an investment in the local economy.  I wonder how many of these owners are willing to pay for all the schools, roads, sewers, and so on that modern communities need and provide.  Oh, the stadium will pay for those.  That sounds like a multi-million dollar entitlement to me.

My guess is that the "entitlement" of Social Security puts more money into a local economy than all the corporate entitlements.  My guess is that the "entitlement" of Medicare gives a lot of support to the local health care facilities than all the corporate entitlements, plus the employees of those facilities spend a lot of their wages in the local economy.

In short, an entitlement is something others receive, we only receive what is due us.

My computer reads my mind!

An annoying "feature" of Microsoft Excel for the Mac 2011 is that it will, without seeming cause, open a workbook at almost full screen rather than at the last size I closed it.

As I opened a worksheet a few minutes ago, I thought about this problem.  Sure enough, the workbook opened as almost full screen rather than the "tidy" size I last closed it at.

Another reminder that large corporations are not as efficient as many would like to believe.

Of course, I should remember that I do a lot of useful stuff with Excel, but it would be a little bit more comforting if its behavior was consistent and accurate.

The serendipity of the web

This morning I went to a coffee shop with my iPad to read various newspapers if I had no one to talk to.

I started with the New York Times and eventually found "Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality?", Nathaniel Rich, New York Times, 2012-11-28.  This is fascinating not only for a particular jellyfish to move between a young state and an older state and back but also for the description of the Japanese scientist who studies them without much funding.

The jellyfish story mentioned "The Remarkable Life of Benjamin Bottom" by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I checked its availability at the public library upstairs and thought about borrowing it later.  I also checked iTunes and found that it's in a set of six stories for only 99 cents.  I downloaded the iBook and read "Benjamin Bottom" at my table.

As it approached noon, I decided it was time to go home.  As I was leaving, not paying attention to the people I passed, a familiar voice greeted me.  It was one of the couple I often sit with.  I asked them why they hadn't joined me.  They said that they didn't want to bother me as I was absorbed in my computer.  I sat down with them and chatted on for another half-hour.

This was a more interesting and varied coffee hour than I had expected.  Plus, by walking there, I had two miles of exercise!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Free market and the Internet

Like lots of people, I'm looking for faster internet or even internet.  One thing I can say for certain that it is not a free market - few sellers and very little useful information.

At our cabin, we use dialup on our phone that costs us about $37/month.  Periodically I dig around Frontier's web site to find information.  The latest pricing is $50/month additional for "up to 6Mbps".  If I had a internet-dependent business this might make sense.  But not for 4 to 8 evenings a month.

In Duluth, our phone bill is $58/month, but I can't break it down at the moment.  My wife doesn't save the detail pages of our bill.  Given that we used to pay $23/month for land line, then we are paying about $35/month for "up to 7Mbps".  I just did a CenturyLink speed test that showed 6Mpbs at 12:50 on a Sunday.  Other speed tests in evenings have shown 4Mpbs.  Trying to determine what higher speeds would cost is a big hassle.  See for some users experiences with CenturyLink.

When I bought my iPhone, I switched from Verizon to Virgin Mobile because the pricing was more advantageous to me, only $30/month including data.  When we visited our daughter at her lake house near Grand Rapids MN, I thought I would be able to use my iPhone to access the web.  I was, sort of.  I would get a one-bar 3G signal, then without moving I would get a roaming signal, then no service, then searching, then back to one-bar 3G, even standing by an upstairs window.  Our daughter's house is 10 miles from Grand Rapids and less than 2 miles from a major highway.  Granted that there are many trees, but can waving leafless trees cause that much variation?  The second surprise was that we thought with the iPhone and a low-power FM-to-car-radio cable that we would be able to listen to Minnesota Public Radio all the way back to Duluth without changing the dial.  No such luck!  On the major highway we were on, the cell signal kept coming in and out.  Oh, well, at least the Virgin Mobile/Sprint coverage map doesn't claim that that area is covered.

I knew that AT&T had put up a couple of towers in the Brimson area where we have our cabin, but I've heard many complaints that many AT&T's customer are not satisfied.  I checked AT&T's coverage map and did discover coverage areas in Brimson; they are a whole bunch of small islands that make no sense.  Besides telling me that our cabin address is could not be matched (other web sites can find it), it shows a coverage area that starts just west of where our cabin is and ends less than a mile farther west.  That's too iffy to make a decision with.

The lesson is that you have to make a long checklist of all the features you want in a product and then spend hours and hours to find out what portion of those features are available to you at a price you want to pay.  Nobody else is going to help you.  And of course, after you buy the product, you'll find a new feature you want but your choice doesn't provide – like listening to public radio without switching stations.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Lessons in governance

"Clearly, the ability to solve problems, much more than sustaining some sort of ideological leadership, is now the key to the Communist Party’s legitimacy."  - C. Cindy Fan, "Don't Expect Big Changes", "Dawn of a New China?", "Room for Debate", New York Times, 2012-11-23.

Could this statement be equally valid if "Communist Party" were replaced with "Republican Party"?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My first eBook

I've have downloaded a few books to read online, but they've been in PDF format.  This includes Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations", the U.S. Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence.  I can annotate PDF versions, but the pages do not fit or correspond to the screen.

As I was wandering through Facebook and the multitude of Coffee Party items, I came across mention of David Frum's "Why Romney Lost".  I think the article was written by disaffected Republican Michael Charney.  As I read through the article, I felt I should read "Why Romney Lost".  It was published only as an eBook, and so I downloaded it from iTunes.

It was a quick read, only 146 pages on an iPad including an extensive bibliography.  I annotated several sentences or paragraphs with an eye to writing some blog entries.

The experience sold me on eBooks because I can store so many in a small space and carry them around with me.  The only problem would be having sufficient battery power.  How often will I reread or check the annotations; probably no more than I review my hundreds of computer and scratch paper notes.

A class that I will be taking in winter quarter has Jacob Needleman's "America's Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders" as its text.  I waffled on getting the eBook or supporting a local bookstore with a paper copy.  For the time being, I'll support the locally-owned bookstore.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Nickname for a star kicker

A star kicker in football or soccer might by called "Missile toe".

This phrase is not original with me, but I did think of it independently.  For more uses, search for "missile toe".  Don't forget the quotes.

Capitalism and socialism - let's get our definitions straight

A survey polled people on how they felt about capitalism and socialism - positive or negative.  But did the pollsters give a definition of these two terms or ask respondents to give their own definitions?  I think not.

See "Is Rush Limbaugh's Country Gone?", Thomas B. Edsall, New York Times, 2012-11-19.

Capitalism is gathering  resources to do something, whether it's to start a neighborhood grocery or to start an airline.  Capitalism is not the buying and selling of stocks and schemes based on the stock; that is finance.  Finance can raise capital, but the secondary markets of that capital are not capitalism.

Socialism is the government providing all the resources to do something and controlling how those resources are used.  I don't think there is a country in the world where that happens for all projects.  Even China has private capital ventures.  Social welfare is the government providing various safety nets or investments that help people with needs that "capitalism" doesn't provide to everyone.  Most developed countries have capitalist economies supported by social welfare programs.

Think of LM Ericsson in Sweden, Nokia in Finland, Siemens in Germany, and FIAT in Italy.  These large capitalist companies aren't going away.  Well, maybe Nokia will go away but that's because of technology, not government interference.

And many of these social welfare programs depend on a large number of private organizations, large and small.  Germany has hundreds of insurance companies underpinning its health care.  England has thousands of physicians in private practice who provide government listed services.

What I find ironic is that proponents of "capitalism" don't understand how "socialism" makes "capitalism" work better.  If there weren't government-provided roads, sewers, schools, and yes, regulation there would be chaos.  Chaos is something capitalists do not need or want.  If there wasn't government-sponsored research, many new ideas would never even reached the capitalists who would implement them into products.  If there is a good public health care system, then corporations don't have to fund them directly at great inefficiency.  Wasn't it G. Richard Wagoner of General Motors who said that he wasn't an auto executive but a health care executive?  See "U.S. Firms Losing Health Care Battle, GM Chairman Says", Ceci Connolly, Washington Post, 2005-02-11.

Be careful how you define things.  If you define things incorrectly or too narrowly, you may miss out on many opportunities for a better society.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The idiocy of race and nationality

Several weeks ago a Duluth Fox news director caused quite a stir when he put on Facebook a derogatory, racist remark about somebody that was near his house.  I don't remember if he resigned or was fired.  He then said that his great-grandfather's great-grandfather was Indian or some such chain, and he claims he is Indian too.  He even was admitted into an Indian journalists' group.

Come on!  Just because you had an ancestor of a certain origin doesn't make you one of the group the ancestor belonged to.  Many people even one generation removed from some place have none of the language or culture of where their parents came from.

My surname is Irish, but I can find no ancestor that lived in Ireland.  The best I can tell is that my great-great-great grandfather, Vincent Magree, was probably born in Maryland.  I am assuming that Magree is Irish because several Australians named Magree trace their ancestry back to Kilkenny.

I have great-grandparents who were born in England and Germany.  I consider myself neither English or German.  When I was in England and Ireland, I was called a Yank.  When I was in Germany, I was called Amerikaner.  Some of my ancestors born in what was then Germany may have had Polish ancestors.  I do not consider myself Polish.

I consider myself an American because I was born in the U.S., had almost all of my education in the U.S., and except for some trips to Canada, never went outside the U.S. until I was 30.

So, if some ancestor long, long ago was from a certain group and some of that person's descendants claim they belong to that group, shouldn't we consider President Barack Obama a white man.  His mother was a white American and a long list of her ancestors were white.  Given the reasoning for people to claim Indian inheritance, then we can also say that Obama is white.

We're born here; we're Americans.  End of story.

The economy ran into trouble when…

...When employees became associates;
...When personnel became human resources;
...When employee pay stagnated and executive pay soared;
...When executives were more concerned with the bottom line than with employee safety;
...When executives complained more about regulation instead of examining their own business.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Contrarian definition of a worker

A worker is a person who is told he or she earns too much by someone who "earns" way too much.

A couple bumper stickers I'd like to see

You've probably seen the bumper sticker "Start seeing motorcycles".  When I see these, I wonder if the drivers of these cars are seeing pedestrians.  Some are, some aren't.  Regardless, I'd like to see the bumper sticker:
Start seeing pedestrians!
Just last week, the light for traffic going in my direction and the pedestrian light went on at the same time.  A driver in a pickup truck who wanted to turn right looked to his left and proceeded to turn right without ever looking my way.  I hollered, "Watch for pedestrians" and he stopped momentarily and then proceeded.  I hope my message got to him.

I have a good idea of the accuracy of our vehicles and speedometers.  I do my best to drive at the speed limit, but others don't.  On freeways many go whizzing by at five or ten miles over the limit.  On city streets with 30 mph I've had a backup behind me.  So, the bumper sticker I'd like to see is
What part of speed limit don't you understand?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Jon Stewart - Off-the-wall and on the point

I don't watch television and especially late night television.  Fortunately, others provide interesting snippets of various shows online.  Both Huffington Post and the Coffee Party USA do so with many interesting pieces of editorializing of news by Jon Stewart.  I don't think I could take a whole hour of his manic activity, but I've found many five to six minute outtakes that are off-the-wall and on the point.

One such piece was "Jon Stewart Slams Bill O'Reilly Over 'Traditional America' Hysteria", Huffington Post, 2011-11-16.

Bill O'Reilly bemoaned that "traditional America" is disappearing with this election.  Stewart simply demonstrated that "traditional America" has always been changing.  Stewart reminded O'Reilly about "No Irish need apply."  My choice of words; Stewart used news clips and editorials from the 19th Century and other eras of anti-immigrant complaints.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pain for the low, gain for the high

Labor unrest and union activity seem to be gaining.  Some workers even they feel they have to sacrifice their jobs so that others may have it better.

"[We] know we will probably lose our jobs, but if we accept these concessions, standards for bakers and other workers will keep going down. We are taking it on the chin for workers all over." - a striking Hostess employee

"Some companies need to make cuts to say alive. Firms don't always have a choice about how to run themselves and closings and concessions are part of business," said Kurtz. ""You can't just have a visceral reaction. Both sides need to be involved in a thoughtful process." - Dave Kurtz, a partner in the Edwards Wildman's Labor & Employment Group.

"And workers are saying to companies, 'why do we have to take cuts when other parts of your business, like suppliers are not. Why is it on our backs?'" - Jim Matthews, a partner at Fox Rothschild and co-chair of the firm's Labor and Employment practice

Have you heard of many cuts in the executive suite?  How many $4,000/hour executives are willing to cut their pay by even ten percent.  That cut would provide twenty $10/hour jobs (assuming that overhead costs may match direct pay).

The above quotes are from "Beyond Twinkies: Why More Workers Are Striking", Mark Koba, CNBC, 2012-11-16.

The article also has a link to an interview with Colby Harris, a protesting Wal-Mart employee in Dallas.

See also "So you want to join a union", Part I and Part II.

Don't answer the phone

I gave this advice before the election, and it still holds true.  See "I still don't believe the polls".

Wednesday our phone rang three times.  I did not answer as it was ringing.  I waited for the caller to leave a message.  The first two times no message was left.  The third time it was somebody I wanted to speak with, I picked up the phone and apologized, explaining why.

So far today, we've had two calls, one without a message, and one with a message about our credit and the stimulus package.

We've long made it a practice not to answer the phone during meals.  Most callers leave no message, a few a message we're not interested in, and once in a very long while someone calls that we want to talk to.  We've now made it a practice not to answer until we know who is calling.

The old radio advice still holds: "Don't touch that dial."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Quote of the day: sex is more sinful than killing

"The real scandal is that we're scandalized by sexual escapades, not by the license to kill given to the CIA's drone program." - a paraphrase inserted in bold in "Real spies don't behave like Bond. Or do they?", David Rothkopf, Star Tribune, 2012-11-14, originally published in Foreign Policy as "Shaken, Not Stirred by CIA 'Values'", 2012-11-12.

I just find it amazing that we are willing to upset people's lives to suit our own purposes, whether it is with subpoenas to ransack houses of people we don't like or with drones to demolish houses of people we don't like.

The Coffee Party, civility, and harassment

I received an email from the Coffee Party that I send an invoice to Karl Rove and his Crossroads GPS for the electoral votes he attempted "to buy".  See

I replied to the email with
"Isn't this harassment?  Would you like it if the Coffee Party received 50,000 letters from the Tea Party?

"I think many of the SuperPACs got their comeuppance in this latest election.  And, of course, they aren't making us vote their way.  I sure didn't.  Have you so little faith in the intelligence of the American people?"
I find this "harassment" way out of character of the Coffee Party.  The Coffee Party asks members to sign the Civility Pledge:
"As a member or supporter of the Coffee Party, I pledge to conduct myself in a way that is civil, honest, and respectful toward people with whom I disagree.  I value people from different cultures, I value people with different ideas, and I value and cherish the democratic process."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Check your chain mail, it might not protect you from falsehood

I received an email from a friend asking me to pass on a quote supposedly from Warren Buffett that we should have a Constitutional amendment to forbid all members of Congress to run for re-election if the budget is out of balance greater than a certain amount.

For more context, see  The chain email, started in 2011, is included on that page.

If all members of any other group were held responsible for the behavior of some members of the group, we would call it discrimination.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Philosophy from science-fantasy

"Power is power as the sun is the sun, the wind is the wind.  The villager blesses the rain as it falls on his crops.  The pillager uses it to cover his approach.  It is the wielder who determines the good or evil."

"Teachers are rare beasts.  We find they thrive best in a supportive environment whether they teach toddlers or adults."

Sherry S. Tepper Waters Rising, a novel of good and evil in a post-Apocalypse world

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Driving lessons from a bus driver

When I was trained as a school bus driver long, long ago, a couple of rules I learned hold true for drivers of any type of vehicle.

The first rule is to always drive with your full headlights on.  I actually first learned this in Sweden where the police cars had their headlights wired to come on automatically on starting the car.  I've tried to remember this ever since.  I forget now and then, including at night with a bus in downtown Minneapolis!!!

Your headlights increase your visibility to other drivers, especially if you have a car whose color is close to the background.  With lights on, a light car on snow and a dark car on asphalt are much more visible.  If your car is more visible, you have less chance of a driver turning into your path.  This can also be important in parking garages where many cars almost become invisible without lights.  Even if you think you can see very well, always assume others might not see as well.

If your full headlights are on, then your taillights are also on.  This can protect you if you are coming from an on ramp that merges in a tunnel.  Few drivers will even notice you if your taillights are not on.  Have you noticed cars at night without taillights, but if you pass them you see they have headlights?  The drivers assumed the daytime running lights also turned on their taillights.

The second rule is that backing vehicles have right-of-way.  At the company I worked for, school buses were parked front in.  If a driver backs out with a 30+ foot bus on either side, there is no way that driver can see a bus coming down the lane.  So, the rule a backing bus has right-of-way.

It also is a good rule in a public parking lot or ramp.  With all the SUVs and pickup trucks, can a driver backing out a space have any way of seeing a car coming down the lane at 10+ miles per hour.  Yet there are many drivers who think they are the only driver around and will zip right behind a car already partially out.  And often these same drivers do not have their lights on in the parking ramp!

Friday, November 09, 2012

"Free marketers" once again prevent free markets

Well, Proposition 37, requiring labeling of GMO foods in California, was defeated by the overwhelming resources of self-interested corporations.  Free markets mean all necessary information.  By hiding the contents of their products, agribusinesses are denying free markets to the consumer.  See "Letter about GMO foods".

You might also consider the words of Adam Smith in "Wealth of Nations":

"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

I included the above in "The Invisible Adam Smith".

I hope you're not allergic to any foods that have been spliced into other foods.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

The political spectrum is too narrow a concept

Many speak of the political spectrum as if it was a well-defined concept of how people stood on very issues - often "conservatives" on the "right" and "liberals" on the "left".  Fortunately, people are much more complex than that.  Somebody may be a "religious conservative" but believe "corporations have too much power".  Somebody else may complain "government is interfering with business", but have a "liberal interpretation" of the Bible.

I think it has become a ridiculous situation when some define others as "not conservative enough".  I think "conservative" has become something defined by ALEC which has come up with a lot of issues that real conservatives have not even considered - like voter ID.

I think we should think more of "The Political Pie".  Each issue is an irregular slice of the pie.  In the middle of the pie is "The Truth" represented by a fuzzy tennis ball.  On some issues people are far away from the "The Truth" and on other issues the same people may be closer to "The Truth".

Each blur represents people of one "side" of the political spectrum or the other.  Neither "side" consistently comes close to "The Truth".  Instead of dividing themselves into left and right on everything, people should work with people who share their views on a given issue.  Today a "conservative" and a "liberal" may be in agreement on an issue and tomorrow they may be in disagreement on another issue.  This was the dream of the writers of the Constitution.  Unfortunately, even they fell into factionalism and we've had polarization ever since; sometimes less than other times; too many times more so.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Winning candidates, be humble!

Most of the election results are in, and once again the "largest party" came in first.  The "largest party" is the party of no-shows, the eligible voters who chose to stay away.  The turn out figures are estimated to be around 60 percent.  In order to come in "first", a candidate would have to have about two-thirds of the votes cast.  Few, if any, have received this level of support.

Well, maybe in pockets here and there.  For example, Obama may have received 75 percent of the votes in Boston, but throughout the country, he received just over half the votes.

Some claim can be made that the Hurricane Sandy lowered the vote in New York and New Jersey, but  Sandy can't account for 19 percent fewer votes in Arizona and 25 percent fewer in Alaska.  Voter ID laws may have had some effect, but not that big in Alaska.

What would be interesting to know is how many 2008 Obama supporters stayed away because Obama didn't do all they wanted and how many Tea Partiers stayed away because Romney wasn't "pure" enough.

At least at the top of ballot, both Romney and Obama are acting humble.  Their speeches this morning were filled with gracious remarks.  Let's hope that these attitudes are shown by those down the ranks.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Thanks for reading

I would like to thank all who have been reading this blog, whether long-time readers or recent visitors.  The number of page views per day has gone way up for the couple of dozen per day.  I don't kid myself that I'm writing better.  It's mostly the same old stuff.

I think there are two factors, one mine and the other the times.

I've been writing more entries per day.  Probably because of the other factor.  It is election time in the United States, and so all the political junkies are looking for as many opinions and I like to peck out my opinions

I thank you for your visit to the "Irregular Blog", and I hope you will come back often.  And if you like what you read, please tell your family and friends.

A couple of Middle East surprises

When I wrote "Muslims do speak out" I mentioned some newspapers including The Daily Star of Lebanon.  I scanned the headlines and read a story or two.

One story was that the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said that Syrian rebels have about 50 Stinger missiles.  Stinger missiles were used quite effectively by Afghani fighters against Soviet helicopters.  I wondered when some would be available to the rebels in Syria against the aerial attacks by the government.  I didn't see any mention of the missiles actually being used.  But Lavrov voiced concerns about the missiles being used against civilian aircraft.  Given the shifting mix of fighters, this should concern all countries.

The other surprise was an ad near the bottom of a page - an ad for Mitt Romney for President sponsored by!  We're being tracked!!

Muslims do speak out

Many have complained that Muslims aren't speaking out about violence perpetrated by some Muslims.  Do all whites speak out against violence against blacks?  Do all blacks speak out against blacks who commit violence?  Do all... speak out against violence or hate spread by people like themselves.  No, most of us try to quietly go about our business, partly not wanting to be involved with hate, partly fearing the haters, partly feeling we don't have the right words, and partly believing we won't be heard.

Here's how two Muslims have spoken out.

"An unlikely fact-checker, an 11-year-old girl, Malala Yousafzai, stood up and defended her right to an education, exposing Taliban’s biggest whopper. In an online blog for BBC, she wrote, 'I will show them the Quran, what Quran says. Quran didn’t say that girls are not allowed to go to school.' Malala also remembered Prophet Muhammad’s advice that, 'Seeking knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim man and Muslim woman.' Using her knowledge and unparalleled courage, Malala repeatedly pleaded with the world to help her people get rid of ignorant and barbaric occupiers." - M. Imran Hayee

Malala Yousafzai, now 14, was shot by Taliban extremists who felt threatened by a girl who threatened their skewed view of their religion and of the world.  How many brave children must be wounded or die before all perpetrators of violence, state actors or not, will see that "Peace is the way."

For more of how important education is where there are few fact checkers who can counter lies, see
"Spreading education in Pakistan harms Taliban", M. Imran Hayee, Duluth News Tribune, 2012-11-06.

If you want more "speaking out", read Dawn of Pakistan, Al-Jazeera, and The Daily Star of Lebanon, all in English.

Thought of the day - Vote! Strengthen America

I cast the 34th vote in my precinct at 0713 this morning.  Because there were few parking spots, I thought I would have a longer wait.  Those who had a bit of a wait were same-day registrants.

I do hope that the turnout in my precinct is indicative of eighty percent or better turnout in Duluth.  Will we have better than seventy percent turnout in the nation?

If you are a U. S. citizen and haven't voted yet, please vote.  By exercising your vote, you strengthen America!

Please pass this on!

Monday, November 05, 2012

Remember to vote

Tomorrow I plan to vote early, go to a class, see some friends for coffee, read and write some more, go out for pasta and a beer, and read about the results of the election Wednesday morning.  My wife, on the other hand, will be working as an election judge from the before the polls open until probably well after they close.  She will come home too tired to even listen to the radio or check her computer.

If you are an American citizen and have not cast an absentee ballot for the November 6, 2012 election, be sure to make every effort to show up and vote for the candidates and issues of your choice.  There are lots of choices of candidates and issues, wherever you live.

I'm sorry but it is hard not to close with an admonishment.  If you don't vote, don't complain about the results, especially to those who took the time and made the effort.

Quote of the day - from a REAL conservative

"And allowing our financiers to run unchecked is about as conservative as leaving the faucet running."

- Maurice Manning, "My Old Kentucky Conservatism", New York Times, 2012-11-05.

Manning has a lot more gems about how the so-called conservative Republicans are wasting resources, who have no other values than purely monetary gain and have "no interest in local preservation or local well-being" and who are "shortsighted, opportunistic and wasteful".

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Never, ever use never and ever - a note to Mitt Romney

I noticed that an ad at the top of "Citizens or soldiers, which do we want" is for Mitt Romney, probably because I quote from The American Conservative".  (You may see a different ad.)

The ad boldly repeats Romney's assertion, "I will never apologize for America."  I am afraid of leaders who assert, "My country, always right!"  I'm sorry, Mr. Romney, but history is full of aggressive acts by American governments where others were pushed aside for American "interests".

I guess Romney would not apologize for the atrocities against Native Americans that have been admitted by other presidents.  Note: the measure was introduced into the U.S. Senate by Sam Brownback, R-KS with the words: “to officially apologize for the past ill-conceived policies by the US Government toward the Native Peoples of this land and re-affirm our commitment toward healing our nation’s wounds and working toward establishing better relationships rooted in reconciliation.”  See

I guess he would not apologize for the internment of Japanese-Americans as did his hero, Ronald Reagan.  See

I guess he would not apologize for an American sniper using the Qu'ran for target practice as did his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.  See "Real conservatives can say they're sorry", Nicholaus Mills, CNN, 2012-09-20.

I guess he would not apologize for the atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers in the Philipines (see "Revolt in the Ranks" written by a conservative).

I guess he would not apologize for all the meddling in other countries' affairs that we would not tolerate if done by other countries to us.

Citizens or soldiers, which do we want?

Many talk about the National Guard being citizen soldiers.  Unfortunately, many consider those who become soldiers to no longer be citizens.  That is, once a person becomes a soldier that person is to become an automaton, blindly following orders without dissent.

However, if we are to be a democracy, all must question authority, whether in the military or not.

Our history is full of incidents questioning the decisions of those above in the chain of command, from the Revolution to the Philipines takeover to Bradley Manning.  Sometimes it is only because a higher officer has ignored custom; sometimes it is because the generals or the politicians are lying about the purposes or results of a war.

These situations can also show the fallacy of casting issues as conservative or liberal.

See "Revolt in the Ranks: Dissent in the armed forces is a patriotic tradition", Chris Bray, The American Conservative, 2012-06-12, republished in Utne Reader, Nov.-Dec 2012

Saturday, November 03, 2012

More "real" names of political parties

Given Romney's false statements, maybe he's a Republicon.  Given that Democrats often don't seem to be what many vote for, maybe they should be called Lemoncrats.

Pessimistic quote of the day: responsibility for business success or failure

A small BBQ chain in Richmond went out of business.  Mitt Romney used it as an example of how the Obama administration is bad for business.  He ignores that another BBQ in Richmond is quite successful, but Romney won't give the Obama credit for its success.

"Mr. Romney’s take on Bill’s seems perfectly representative of his general outlook. If a business succeeds, the government can’t share the credit. If it fails, it’s the government’s fault."

See "Bad Barbecue? Blame Obama", Juliet Lapados, New York Times, 2012-11-02.

Protect the unborn, forget the pain of the born children

Idaho has a "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" which supposedly is based on some neuroscience findings about what a fetus might feel.  It tried to convict a woman of self-abortion because she used RU-486, a legal drug bought out of state.  The case was dropped because of lack of evidence.

My question is if these pseudo-conservatives are so concerned about the pain of the unborn, why are they not also concerned about the pain of the born caused by their own wars?  Does not a drone missile cause pain and death to children?  Does not a nuclear bomb cause pain and death to children?  Think Sadako Sasaki of a thousand cranes.

For a lengthier discussion of the implications of basing decisions on limited scientific research, see "Can Neuroscience Challenge Roe v. Wade", William Egginton, New York Times, 2012-10-28.

Will U.S. be the Soviet Union of the 21st Century?

Is the United States moving towards

A single contradictory ideology
Seeing threats everywhere
Giving a large portion of its resources to military
Meddling in other countries' affairs
Being ruled by an oligarchy with sham elections

Or maybe it will become like today's China, building with few environmental considerations, obsessed with security and squashing dissent, and giving sweeping power to large organizations?

I do wish the U.S. would develop a party with enough confidence to stand up to the pseudo-conservatives who are driving most of the political "discussion".

Thursday, November 01, 2012

I still don't believe the polls

… and I don't really have any well-based predictions of my own.

Consider that our phone rings several times a day.  We don't answer and very few leave a message on the answering machine.  Those who do leave a message have some meaningful connection to us.  Given the approaching election, these "empty" calls are

1) Robo-calls for a candidate or a party
2) Person calls for a candidate or a party
3) Poll calls

Also consider that many people have cell phones but no land line.  Although some pollsters say they are calling both land lines and cell phones, many cell phone numbers are not in any directory.  My cell phone has few calls and the two recent unknown calls may have been misdials or random spamming.  Besides, I generally have it off.

Which way will those who are not reached by a poll lean?  I can't really say.  Will too many younger voters stay away because they didn't think Obama didn't do enough?  Are those who don't answer more likely to lean toward Obama?  As I write this yet another call came in that stopped after three rings.

How likely are those who respond to actually vote?  One of the questions is if the respondent is a likely voter.  Many people say they are likely voters because they are embarrassed to admit that they don't plan on voting.

I think the election will be determined by the balance of unhappy people, which group will stay away in larger numbers - Tea Party types who don't think Romney is "conservative" enough or "liberals" who don't think Obama did enough.  My inclination is that the latter will be the larger group.

I hope you, dear reader, will not be a stay-away on election day.  Please remind your friends to vote.

I'm a winner in a photo contest!

But it's not a big deal.  There were only four entries submitted to the South St. Louis Soil and Water Conservation District, and so everybody was a winner.

You can see a poster of the winning entries at and from there you can order the poster or a set of note cards.

FEMA - A smart conservative speaks

FEMA does need reform, many states should look out for themselves, and the private sector can do things for disaster relief.  But instead of a broad brush attack on the Federal Government or a broad brush defense of business as usual, we need calm deliberation of the facts and of where the best resources are available.

See "How a Smart Conservative Would Reform FEMA", Jordan Weissman, The Atlantic, 2012-10-31.

Maybe Matt Mayer could be a catalyst for a "Real Republican" party?