Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Disaster is only one step away!

Sunday afternoon I went out our front door to take two containers of compost to the bins at the corner restaurant.  One moment I was vertical on our front walk, the next I was flat on my back.  There seemed to be no transition, no feeling of falling.  I felt my head bang against the concrete.  I hollered my wife's name.

The next thing I remember is being inside asking my wife to get the container of sidewalk salt.

Then I remember my wife telling me to sit in a chair and relax.  After a bit I felt fine and got up to put salt on the sidewalk.  When I got outside I saw little holes in the ice.  Somebody had already salted.  As hard as I tried, I couldn't remember being out the first time.  I did remember later, but was that just a reconstruction?

My wife's reconstruction is that our grandson, looking out the front door, said, "Grandpa!" and then she heard me holler.  She went outside and found me in a fetal position and helped me get up and inside.  She said a neighbor across the street watched her, wondering if he needed to help.  She said I wanted to take the compost then and there, but she made me sit down.

Now let's look at the what ifs.

What if instead of my head hitting the sidewalk it had hit the bottom step?  Would I have a broken neck?

What if I had not been wearing a hat?  My winter hat is not very thick, but it seemed to be thick enough to absorb some of the force.  Later I did see the imprint of the hat in the snow.

What if I had been home alone?  Would anybody have seen me in a timely fashion?  Chuck Frederick, Editorial Editor of the Duluth News Tribune, wrote "Duluth didn't watch out for student frozen on porch" 2013-12-12.  My situation could have been similar.  The neighbors on one side are gone for college break.  The neighbors on the other side rarely go out the front door.  Even if they did, the snow banks might have hidden me.  Drivers going by aren't checking every notch in the snow banks for pedestrians lying on the sidewalk.  Pedestrians going by are checking where they walk and will rarely turn their heads to look up a house walk.  Whatever, I doubt if all of Duluth should be held accountable if I were not found in a reasonable time.

Why did I slip?  I had cleared the sidewalk the previous day, there shouldn't be a problem, right?  Not quite, the temperature was around freezing on Saturday.  Some of the snow had melted and flowed in a thin layer across the sidewalk.  Carrying two containers did not give me a free hand to hold on to the railing.  I probably went "charging" down the steps like it was a spring day.  Skid, flop, plop!

Well, all's well that ends well.  I did have a headache later, but that was a sinus headache around my eyes, not on the back of my head.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Quirky romantic thought

No greater love has a man for a woman than to give up his peace and quiet for the visit of a grandchild.

Friday, December 27, 2013

How much corporate nonsense can I take in a day?

I received an email about a sale of Adobe Photoshop Elements 12.  Since my old Elements expired long ago, I decided to give it a go.  I clicked on the button in the message and a webpage opened with an ad for Elements 12.  It required me to sign in before continuing.

When I did so, it said that I needed to use a new password.  They would email me a temp password.  That came in a short time.  I used the temp password and created a new password.  That verification came in a short time.

Finally, I could order Elements 12 and I did.  I went to my cart and was ready to whip out my credit card.  Fortunately, I read the details of the order before I checked out.  It was for a Windows version!!!  No matter what I looked under, I could never get a Mac version.

I was going to give up, but somehow I clicked on Chat Now!  I explained my problem to 'Selena' and after a few minutes, she gave me a link to the Mac version of Elements 12.  Then I looked at the download times and decided to pass.  Besides, the time for this simple chat was almost ten minutes!  Total time trying to order must have been over 30 minutes!

I have been slowing moving my email from one provider to another.  Sometimes we can tell an organization our new email and it is changed in minutes.  Some organizations say it will be updated in 10 days.  Sometimes we tell an organization and our email is only updated for one department; email from other departments goes to the old email address.

And sometimes we get a doozy of a notice:

"Your primary e-mail address has been updated.  Please note that if you deleted your e-mail address, you are no longer eligible to suppress your account statements…"

"Suppress" our account statements?  What country was this task outsourced to?  Didn't they mean "access".  And why so wordy? 

I have a Monster iCarPlay FM transmitter that I use to play podcasts in the car.  Somehow the tuning goes out of whack and I have difficulty finding a unused frequency.  I know I have the instructions buried somewhere, but I could not find them in the car.

I went to the monster.com to look for the instructions, but all I found was a flyer (called instructions or directions).  It described what one could do but not how to do it.

With a few more searches, I found the PDF of exactly just the piece of paper I can't find.  But it was not at monster.com!  I put those directions on my iPhone and will use them next time I want to drive and listen to a podcast.

I think I dealt with  a couple of other websites or programs that did not operate as one would expect, but it has been such a hectic day, I can't remember what they were.  Oh, yeah!  Blogger "crashed" on me while I was posting a blog entry.  At least, it didn't lose any of my text.

Obamacare and careless corporations

I sent the following letter to the Duluth News Tribune.  It was published 2013-12-24.  You can also find it at http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/event/article/id/286844/publisher_ID/36/.

Enough already about Obamacare glitches

Please, enough letters about the computer problems related to Obamacare. A truism of any organization, government or corporate, is that people tell the boss what they think he or she wants to hear.

When customer complaints about installing Windows7 came rolling in, did the press call it “Windows Steven” after Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, or Steven Sinofsky, then head of the Windows Division?

Complaints are rolling in about Apple’s latest operating system, Mavericks. Has the press called Mavericks “Cookware” after Tim Cook, CEO of Apple?

Creating software is a messy business; the more that is promised, the less that works right. Way back in the 1960s I was part of a team developing a new, groundbreaking operating system. New releases were never on time and never took care of all the reported problems. Very few customers had a day without crashes. That software was simple compared to what we have today on our computers and even in our smartphones.

President Barack Obama was educated in law, not computer science. He has to rely on others, including all the private contractors, to give him correct and timely information. Do you think Steve Ballmer got as much bad news as he should have? Do you think Tim Cook got as much bad news as he should have? I know we were under a lot of pressure to report good news about that ancient operating system.

The designers of HealthCare.gov were probably behind before they even started. Few, in or out of government, fully appreciate the complexity of the task.

Hah! Funbug!

Whew!  Thanks to all our efforts we have brought the sun back.  The days will be growing longer, warming the earth, and allowing crops to be planted.  Then they will be harvested and stored, ready for the cold season that will follow.  Then when the amount of daylight is at its shortest, we will make our celebrations once again to bring the sun back.  So it has been and so it shall always be.

Oh, but the ways that we observe this annual ritual!  It has almost nothing to do with bringing the sun back and a lot to do with our own beliefs.

For some it is to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  However, many biblical scholars think that he was born in September not December.  Others say that the Roman Church moved the celebration of the birth of Jesus to the winter solstice to compete with the various pagan celebrations.

The church “lost” in three ways.  First, many pagan symbols became attached to it.  Consider the Christmas tree, holly wreaths, and mistletoe, all celebrations of life continuing in the darkest time of the year.  Second, secular celebrations of feasting, drinking, dancing, and singing have proliferated.  Many forget that the Puritans banned the celebration of Christmas because of these celebrations.  Third, commercial interests have taken over much of the attention of the season: buy, sale, the perfect gift...

Ah, gifts!  How greedy I was as a kid.  The department store catalogs arrived and I immediately went to the toy sections.  I would want that and that and that.  What I would give to others was a minor distraction.  Now, it seems that I only consider what I might give to others.  What others might give me is a minor distraction.

We have had a major distraction for the last few decades.   It seems to me that “political correctness” came first and then a reaction to it.  “Merry Christmas” was not considered inclusive because not everybody celebrated Christmas.  We should say “Season Greetings” and “Happy Holidays”; these are supposedly more neutral and less offensive.  Now we have the counter-reaction about the “War on Christmas”.

I should back up a bit.  The objections were not just to the words used; many objected to the manger scenes erected on government property.  If you think about it, this is an indirect “religious Test” that is forbidden in the Constitution for “legislators” and “all executive and judicial officers”.  In order to meet “public approval” city councils had to erect mangers.  Conversely, if they did not erect the mangers, they would receive “public disapproval”.  The Constitution saves them from responsibility for either choice.

Taken together, the vapid greetings and the prohibition of governmental endorsement of Christmas have been seen by some as a “War on Christmas”.  But are they really?  Are those who consider themselves as celebrating Christmas as a religious observance being prohibited from making their own private observances in home or church?  That’s almost like saying that government wages a war on Hanukkah because cities don’t erect Menorahs and greet each other with “Mazel tof!”

One could consider the phrase “Merry Christmas” as a “War on Christmas”.  If you take the Puritan view that Christmas was a time of contemplation of the birth of Jesus and all it meant to Christians, then any suggestion of merriment was counter to that contemplation.  The Puritans saved their merriment for other times; they did like their beer and feasts.

The celebration of Christmas and other winter solstice celebrations have widened to over a month of holidays around the world.  The vagaries of various calendars and the adaptability of many cultures have spread festivals of light from late November until early January.  This year Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of light, was celebrated on the same day as Thanksgiving.  Christmas was once celebrated on the winter solstice.  Then with the Gregorian calendar reform the winter solstice was moved from the 25th of December to the 21st or 22nd.  But somebody neglected to change Christmas from the 25th.  The Orthodox Church didn’t move to the Gregorian calendar and celebrates Christmas on January 6th.

We could say that Christmas has gotten out of control of any one group.  There are those who celebrate Christmas quietly and simply in church or at home.  There are those who enjoy Christmas religious music but don’t believe any of the words.  There are those who attend parties and parties.  There are those who give lavishly to others.  There are those who use Christmas as a time to give to the less fortunate.  There are those who promote the sale of merchandise for giving to others.  There are those who are not Christian but create a whole Christmas culture, for instance, the Japanese.

Whatever, I hope you had a Merry Christmas, and I wish you a Happy New Year!

Also published in the Reader Weekly, 2013-12-26, at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2013/12/26/2665_party_of_one-10.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

iPhone and Google Maps save our marriage

As I drove towards our son's cabin my wife was reading the directions from an old Google Maps printout.  In Aitkin we are supposed to turn right onto County 1.  But there is no sign for County 1.

I pull over and pull out my iPhone and open Google Maps.  Lo and behold it shows exactly where we are.  I type in Cross Lake MN.  I don't remember whether I fat-thumbed a button or not, but a woman's voice says turn right on to County 1!

I am writing this early in the morning and I can't double check the directions because the sounds may wake somebody.  But we follow our guide's directions.  Well before each turn she tells us we should turn in so many feet.  At the turn she tells us to turn.

We made into Cross Lake without any further problem than the snow-packed roads.

There was more adventure but it is late.  Maybe I'll continue another time.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Disorganized organizations

There are too many bloviators who claim that government stands in the way of corporations, corporations who can nothing wrong.

There are too many alarmists who think that corporations are taking over the world and the 99% will be the worse for it.

As with all human endeavors, the truth lies in the squishy middle.  Or is that the muddled middle?
My dozen regular readers are probably tired of these rants, but then there are all the drop-ins who stumble on this blog because I managed to put in keywords that gives an entry a high search ranking.  Try "duluth minnesota billionaire".

This blog entry is a result of some frustrations that I've had recently.

Because I've been doing so much snow shoveling and snow blowing, my Christmas planning keeps getting pushed back.

I keep getting emails from the Pretty Good Goods catalog because I contribute to Minnesota Public Radio.  OK, our family's tradition has been to give T-shirts or books.  What interesting T-shirts can I find for some on my list?

But when I try using the Pretty Good Goods catalog, I'm told I don't have an account.  What, my MPR ID and password aren't the same.  So, I create an account and place an order.  I received most of the items rather quickly, but one item has been "drop sent" whatever that means.  My credit card has already been charged for that item.  Pretty Good Goods has not responded to my query about this, but then I should give them slack because they are overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, I keep getting emails from Pretty Good Goods at the email address I want to drop.  If I try to use the unsubscribe, I'm told that I don't have an account.  How can I not have an account when I just ordered stuff?  Please excuse me if I'm inaccurate on the details.  Lots of this is becoming a blur.

Geek Squad, owned by Best Buy, sent me a notice that the warranty was running out on my wife's iPad.  The notice offered an extension.  Given all the hazards that were covered, I thought it was a good deal.  I went to the Geek Squad page and requested the extension.

While I was at it, I changed my email address to that which we plan to use over an older one.  That went through without problem.

And then I received one of the many-times-per-week emails from Best Buy at the old email address.  I went to the site and tried to login and change my email address.  I don't have an account at Best Buy!  What?  What about the Geek Squad account?  What about the rewards program account?

After searching some old messages, I found that I had to go, not to bestbuy.com but to my.bestbuy.com!?!?  The email address and password I had in my head worked.  Hey, folks, you work for the same company, and customers use all of your websites.  According to some, corporations are efficient, more efficient than government.  Sorry, I have had government communications that have gone far better than this.

My iPhone was getting low on power and I tried to sync it on my Mac.  "Sync could not complete" or some such.  What the heck!  This has never happened before.  Well, not to me, but certainly many others.  I found an answer in the Apple Community rather quickly.  The first answers were rather complicated and didn't seem to fit my OS level.  But then I found one about shutting off the iPhone, quitting iTunes, and then restarting both.  Voila!  It worked.

I have over fifty years of computer problem solving and can often find the right keywords to get a solution proposed by somebody else (or as in "Helpless help desks revisited" doing it myself).

And of course there are the dozens and dozens of problems that I just give up on.

It's sort of like my last straw of the day.  Some bolts on my snow blower gave way on the speed setting mechanism.  Rather than go to the equipment store to get the exact bolts, I went to a hardware store and got off-the-shelf bolts for 44 cents (and $20 for a ceramic knife for someone on my Christmas list).  When I returned home, I tried replacing the bolts.  Let's just say the positioning is awkward.  Using my bare hands and wrenches (not a good idea when it's well before freezing), I was able to get two bolts in and secured.  But the third was in a very awkward position such as I could not easily get the lock nut started on the bolt.

There is a time that discretion is the better part of valor.  I gave up and went back to the house with a bent back after being bent over so long.  Finishing the fix will have to wait until another day.  I just hope I can get it done before the next snow dump!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Who needs comics? We live them!

Yesterday my wife came back from Japan via Minneapolis.  She was to call me on her cell phone when she was in line to board the flight to Duluth.

That was the first of many delays.  The plane had not arrived yet.  It needed to be de-iced at its previous landing, but the de-icing equipment was broken.  This wasn't so bad, I don't think it left Minneapolis more than 45 minutes late.

When she called, I started off on several errands before I met her, figuring I could do quite a bit in an hour.

The first was to dump food scraps for compost at a neighborhood restaurant.  I did that then went in to pick up the latest Reader Weekly.  It wasn't in yet.  I came back to the car and it wouldn't start.  Oh, no!  I left the lights on?

What do I do?  Walk the block back home and get the other car?  Or do I just bring the battery charger?  I opted for the latter.  Then I couldn't get the lid off the charging contact.  Even with the pen knife I had recently bought to replace the one I lost.  I kept trying and eventually got the lid off.  I hooked up the cables and nothing.  I put the ground at a different place, and vroom!

OK, I can go now.  But as I shut the hood, I forgot to take out the prop.  For the second time this year I bent it!  So, there's five more minutes to straighten that out so I can close the hood properly.

Next stop is to mail a bill and a Netflix DVD.  That went OK though the mailbox access was not the best.  And I managed not to get my door banged by other traffic.

Now it is too late to do my next errand.  So, it's straight to the airport.

As I'm on the way to the airport, my cell phone rings.  The best I can do is peek at the caller and see that it is my wife calling.  She has landed.

OK, so I go directly to Arrivals and call her to say that I am out front.  No answer!  I try again and again assuming she either went to the rest room or has it buried in her purse.  After six or seven tries, I loop around to the "cell phone lot".  I try two or three times more.  #%&!  I drive to the pay lot and trudge across the cold, windy, snow-packed lot to the terminal.

What do I do first?  Yell and scream at her for not answering the phone?  Give her a big hug because I'm so glad that she has come back safely.  Of course, the latter.  Then I "yell and scream" and she admits she had turned her cell phone off!

She is ready to trudge across the lot with her big suitcase, our granddaughter, and our granddaughter's little suitcase.  I say no, I'll drive up to the Arrivals and meet you there.

So, I trudge back across the cold, windy, snow-packed lot to our car.  I have $2 out because that is the cost for the first hour.  I present the ticket and $2 to the attendant.  He presses a few buttons, says it's free, and gives me my $2 back.  Second best thing of the day after my wife coming back.

The rest of the day was "normal".  She had enough energy to visit the store I had planned to visit first, to go to two other stores, and to go out to eat at the restaurant that I had stopped at first.

Then she crashed!  Then woke up and couldn't sleep.  Then she crashed and slept to ten this morning.

Maybe in a few days, we'll be back on our normal cycles.

Oh, my wife also suggested that maybe I forgot to press the brake as I started the car with keyless entry.  Did I?  Didn't I?  I vaguely remember both!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

This I Believe

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.”
- Matthew 22:37-38

The Bible quotes I use are from the New International Version as found in www.BibleGateway.com.

Jesus is quoting an earlier text: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
- Deuteronomy 6:5

But who or what is God?  Is he some big guy in the sky?  This is what people of the times believed about God or most other gods they believed in.  Now we can see into the “heavens” and all we see are big rocks and burning suns on and on and on.

Or is God a metaphor of all existence.?  A God that “sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous”?  That is, if we follow the “laws of nature” or take steps to protect ourselves from these laws we can “keep ourselves dry”.

“And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
- Matthew 22:39-40, see also Leviticus 19:19

Leviticus is more narrow than Matthew.  Leviticus limits “neighbor” to “among your people”.  Matthew expands “neighbor” to those outside “your people”, the hated Samaritans.

Rabbi Hillel, who taught from 30BCE to 10CE followed “Love your neighbor as yourself” with “the rest is commentary.” See http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Quote/hillel.html.

Research for writing can take one down many unexpected paths.  The Jewish Virtual Library has an article on Hillel and his “friendly rival” Shammai.  See http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/hillel.html.  What was interesting about this article was that Hillel was often the more liberal and popular of the two whereas Shammai was more conservative with very strict views.

What commentary we have in the Bible.  To me it is a source of myth, fable, propaganda, and wisdom.

The myths are the stories that attempt to explain how things came to be, from the creation stories to the Exodus.  If Adam and Eve were the first and only people, who did their children marry?  The children would have had to commit incest!  Compare Genesis 4 with Genesis 5. They seem to be two very different stories.

The fables are stories to illustrate some larger issue.  For example, the book of Job examines the problem of bad things happening to good people.  A loving, all-powerful God would not put the lives of innocent people in danger just because they were related to one “blameless and upright” man.

The propaganda is justification for deeds that are prohibited elsewhere: “but all the people [the Israelites] put to the sword until they completely destroyed them, not sparing anyone that breathed.” – Joshua 11:14.  And this supposedly is after Moses brought down the Ten Commandments which included “You shall not murder.” – Exodus 20:13

The wisdom abounds.  The prime example is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If we don’t get along and help each other what kind of tooth and nail society will we have. “… for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”  Is a drone the modern version of a sword?  “You cannot serve both God and money.”  We certainly have become a nation that justifies letting money rule while claiming to be a “Christian nation.”

Many of us know “the sins of the fathers will be visited upon the sons, yea unto the seventh generation”.  I tried to find a source for this; I found nothing but others quoting it.  I guess this is a case of popular editing of the Bible.  What I did find was “punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 20:5 and others).  It was an admonition to follow the faith being laid down.  However, it could equally apply to pollution and global warming.  The harm we do to “God’s creation” could punish our children to the third and fourth generation, and beyond!

The greatest problems with the Bible are the selection of what is included, how accurate are the generations of transcriptions and translations, and how much crept in that was a belief of the time.  One example is just who went into town after Boaz scooped grain into Ruth’s shawl?  Boaz or Ruth?  See http://biblehub.com/ruth/3-15.htm for many variations of Ruth 3:15.  Did “he” go into town or did “she” go into town?

Does it really matter?  What really matters is that we seek a moral compass to help us all achieve a prosperous and just world.

M. Imran Hayee, a regular Local View contributor to the Duluth News Tribune, wrote that he considers the United States an Islamic nation: “Freedom, cleanliness make US the world’s most Islamic nation”, Dec. 8, 2013 (http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/event/article/id/285407/publisher_ID/36/).  He differentiates between Muslim countries where the majority consider themselves Muslims and Islamic countries where most Islamic values prevail.  He considers the Islamic values in the U.S. as cleanliness, charitable giving, and religious freedom.

Now if we could only have a Christian nation too; one where we “do unto other [nations] as we would have them do unto” us.

Also posted on the Reader Weekly website at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2013/12/19/2635_party_of_one-9.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Politics can change

If you really want to be informed, you have to have multiple news sources.  I have a lot of news sites on my devices, but I don’t access many of them very often.  Gosh, when was the last time I accessed The Daily Star of Lebanon?  That probably has a lot more news on Syria than we get in Minnesota.

I often access the Huffington Post and get some different views.  But the HuffPost often borders on the sensational.  I accessed Al Jazeera a lot during the Arab Spring and watched more online TV than I had in the previous two years.

In a moment of not knowing what I wanted to do, I accessed Al Jazeera again.  One of the headlines was “Socialist in Seattle: City councilor expects not to be a rarity for long” at http://alj.am/1aLZUlH.  What was interesting was how an “outsider” gained a seat on the city council.
Kshama Sawant, an immigrant from Mumbai and an economics professor, overturned many of the expectations of the establishment.  She did it mostly with individual donations and an organization of people hungering for something different.  Are voters who normally don’t show up desperately seeking candidates who are not the same old, same old?  Apparently so, one of her volunteers said, "People who have never voted before not only voted but also volunteered for this campaign."

I have been unable to easily find final results, but what I’ve been able to figure out, Sawant’s win was extraordinary in that her party is Socialist Alternative.  Otherwise, it was not really a spectacular win.  Turnout was less than sixty percent and she won by about one thousand votes of the less than 170,000 votes cast for that seat.

She and her campaign project a Tea Party attitude with a different agenda, that is, we’re right and everyone else is wrong.  It will be interesting to find out if she works with the other eight councilors to get things done or if she is marginalized or disruptive.

If you read only local papers you probably missed the story.  The Star Tribune had two stories in mid-November.  The Duluth News Tribune had no stories.  And even that liberal rag, the Reader Weekly has no finds for Sawant.  Oh, well, I do like writing “scoops”.

You can find two different editorial views of her in the Seattle Times and TruthDigger.

Thanh Tan of the Seattle Times asks “Can Kshama Sawant move past rhetoric, work with City Council?”  See http://blogs.seattletimes.com/opinionnw/2013/11/22/kshama-sawant-seattle-city-council/.  She thinks having “an immigrant woman of color join the Seattle City Council is a powerful, symbolic feat.”  But she warns that Sawant’s partisanship may get in the way of making “policies work for Seattle.”

Alexander Reed Kelly of Truthdigger writes about Sawant as the “Truth digger of the week”.  See
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/truthdigger_of_the_week_kshama_sawant_20131123.  He writes, “Sawant’s victory over a 16-year Democratic incumbent by a difference of more than 1,000 votes provides evidence that their abandonment of common people has created opportunities for different political ideas to take hold.”

I am of two minds about this.  One, it is about time that some change come to our “two-party system”.  Two, will this election only be a minor disturbance of the status quo?  Think back to Jesse Ventura’s upset for Minnesota governor in 1998.  He made speeches that resonated with many who felt the state government wasn’t working in their interest.  And the polls completed missed his appeal, predicting that he would come in last in a three-way race.  Remember though, he did not get a majority of voters supporting him.  Once he left the governorship, we went back to the “flip-flop” status quo.

Lori Sturdevant wonders pessimistically if “America’s alienated apoliticos, disgusted pragmatists and people-without-a-party moderates will find each other and turn themselves into a political force potent enough to compel politicians to compromise.”  See “New politics won’t come easily, but come it must”, Star Tribune, 2013-12-08 at http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/234823611.html.  She highlights the “No Labels” group whose issue is “make government work again.”  I wonder if that slogan will catch on and get some candidates elected.  All the anti-government slogans in the blather-o-sphere seem to have gotten more people to stay away from elections, leaving the field wide open to anti-government politicians.

I am reading a pessimistic book, “The PARTY Is OVER: How Republicans Went CRAZY, Democrats Became USELESS, and the Middle Class Got SHAFTED” by Mike Lofgren, a former Republican Party congressional staffer.  An example of how the Republicans manipulate the voters that he points out is that Republicans know how to use emotional words, Democrats use bureaucratese.  Think of PATRIOT Act versus Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  Skipping ahead to the end of his book I found that he is optimistic that the Millennials will turn to a politics of “what will work.”

Maybe the next book on my list, “Electoral Dysfunction: a Survival Manual for American Voters” by Victoria Bassetti has some good ideas of getting “We, the People” to take our country back.  She does have an afterword by Heather Smith, President of Rock the Vote.

BTW, you did vote in the last city election, didn’t you?  And all the elections before that?  If not, please don’t complain about the results.  Who knows, if more people who shared your views showed up, the results might have been very different.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.  We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  We are the change that we seek.”
- Barack Obama

Well, maybe next time.

Also posted on the Reader Weekly website at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2013/12/12/2595_party_of_one-8.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Exodus Decoded: separating myth and reality

I watched "The Exodus Decoded" the other night, produced and narrated by Simcha Jacobovici.  It had lots of fascinating facts and conjectures, but it was overproduced with complicated sets and some overreach.  It is fascinating to consider how some unusual natural phenomena are attributed to divine intervention.

In this case, it was the explosion of the mega-volcano Santorini or Thera in 1628 or according to some as late as 1500.

"Santorini" from Wikipedia gives some interesting information and further references on both the Exodus and Atlantis connections.

"The Exodus Decoded" has been disputed by many but others corroborate his general outline.  One is Barbara J. Siversen's "The Parting of the Sea: How Volcanoes, Earthquakes, and Plagues Shaped the Exodus Story.  Another is "Thera and the Exodus" by Riian Booysen.

One of my own conjectures is that the Thera eruption may also be the basis of the Biblical flood story.

So many books and so little time!!

Monday, December 09, 2013

Don't touch that phone!

Those of us who grew up on radio remember the admonition "Don't touch that dial!"  It was said to keep you listening for the next program.

Now "Don't touch that phone" is an admonition to not answer a robo-call or other unsolicited message.  We had started to not answer the phone between 5 and 7 in the evening.  We had learned that almost all the calls were unwanted calls.  Now we don't answer the phone at all.  These calls come at almost all hours of the day.  I just had one at 9:30 in the morning!

We wait for the caller to leave a message; if the caller is legitimate, we pick up the phone and apologize for not answering immediately.  Almost all these callers are understanding as they suffer the same at home.

Quote of the day: military spending

"A dollar appropriated for highway construction, health care, or education will create many more jobs than a dollar appropriated for Pentagon weapons procurement: The jobs argument is thoroughly specious."

The PARTY is OVER: How Republicans Went CRAZY, Democrats Became USELESS, and the Middle Class Got SHAFTED, Mike Lofgren

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Computer glitches? What's new?

Many, especially Republicans, are complaining about the computer problems with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.  What did they expect?  Version x.0.1 to be ready on day one?

They should look at the software on their iPhones.  Everyday I seem to receive an update to one of the apps that I downloaded.  What is the main reason for the update – bug fixes!

Many think of Germans as being superefficient.  Consider one of the reasons for the latest update for the Die Zeit newspaper app update: “Generelle Stabilitäts-Updates!”  In other words, the previous version of the Die Zeit app crashed.

We often do our own screwing up.  I received a letter from my bank that they had moved money from my savings account to my checking account.  On my first try to access my account, the bank’s system was unavailable.  When I finally got on, I found that there had been yet another transfer made.  As I reviewed the online statement, I found that I had transferred money from checking to savings instead of the other way around.  At least I have an account that makes sweeps rather than overdraft charges.

That grand and glorious new iOS 7 for the iPhone and iPad is now at version 7.0.4!  Apple’s customer help forums are filled with questions on how to fix this problem or that problem, many of the questions unanswered.

I have been using Microsoft’s Outlook and Apple’s Address Book and iCal for years.  Outlook for email and events, Address Book for other purposes such as envelopes, and iCal for events.  Supposedly they should sync with very little effort.

Some time ago I found that I was getting more and more duplicated events and two items for every person in my address book.  If I remember correctly, my daughter’s birthday was duplicated 800 times!  After I cleaned that mess up, I stopped using Outlook’s calendar.
I also had duplicate names in my address books.  As with the calendars there was a sync that went bad long ago with the Outlook and Apple address books.  I gave up on syncing them and kept updates to each manually.  This past week I cleaned up the Apple address book on my laptop with Contact Cleaner.  It eliminated all the duplicates.  The duplicates were eliminated on my iPhone but almost all the names disappeared from my iPad.  There was only one entry for each of a dozen or so letters of the alphabet!  Needless to say, I did not sync my address book to my iPhone.

Then my iPhone would not turn on!  Off to the Apple Community.  Rather quickly I found a customer comment that said to hold the power and home buttons at the same time.  This is now happening on my iPad!  Could it be iOS 7.0.4 for this and the disappearing contacts?

My bluetooth keyboard would not sync with my iPad.  It had been working fine and made life much easier than typing on the screen.  Off to the Apple Community.  I had to “forget” the keyboard and then look for it again.  Thank you, Apple Community.

On top of all these other problems, I spilled coffee on my laptop keyboard recently.  I tried holding too many things at the same time.  Now the shift key on one side wouldn’t work and neither option keys worked.

I took my laptop to Best Buy to find out if the Geek Squad could repair my keyboard with little time and no charge.  I found out that I still had a service warranty that covered all hazards.  The agent recommended that I take my laptop home and back up everything.  He wasn’t sure if my laptop would be repaired or scrapped.  I’m glad that I backed most of the stuff up because I could then use my wife’s iMac to do all the computer tasks I’m accustomed to, including writing this column.

On Friday the Geek Squad called me that my computer was back.  Now we’re seeing some corporate efficiency.  Instead of the “safe” promised one month, the Geek Squad did the repair within a week.

It often seems that if one has a problem, one hears of others with the same problem.  Pamela Jaskoviak, a Swedish writer, spilled coffee on her MacBook Pro late at night working on a past due deadline.  She did worse than I did; the computer quit and she had to have her hard drive copied to a new computer.  If you understand Swedish, you can find her “Godmorgon, världen” monologue at http://sverigesradio.se/sida/default.aspx?programid=438

So many companies cannot be satisfied with their websites.  They seem to regularly roll out “exciting” new sites, sometimes they provide some useful new features, sometimes they are no big deal, and sometimes they are major screw-ups.  Recently Yahoo Finance did a major makeover of its website.  To me, they removed some clutter and replaced it with other clutter.  It took me awhile to figure out how to get quotes for a list of stocks, but once I did Yahoo Finance provided the request data in the format I was accustomed to.

Then, poof!  It didn’t work at all.  Every time I clicked the return button, it added a string of nonsense to what I had copied or typed in the quote box, and it told me it couldn’t find what I requested.  Off to “the community” to seek answers.  Hoo boy!  The critics of ACA should see the long list of bitter complaints, and some of these complaints come from people who make their living with timely stock quotes!

All those complaining about the ACA rollout should remember two bits of folk wisdom:

Murphy’s law: If something can go wrong, it will.

To err is human; to really screw up it takes a computer.

Also posted on the Reader Weekly website at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2013/12/05/2582_party_of_one-7.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Corporations: sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander

"But now critics are pushing back [at proxy advisers], accusing the firms themselves of conflicts of interest and secrecy. Corporations are aiming to limit what they see as inappropriate influence."
– "Proxy advisers face challenge from corporate critics", Jim Spencer, Star Tribune, 2013-11-30.

Proxy advisers are firms that advise large institutional shareholders about voting for or against the management and boards of corporations.

I think the irony of this push back is that the large corporations don't consider being members of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) or any of their own lobbying efforts or political contributions as "inappropriate influence" on "the government of the people, by the people, and for the people".

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Does the Apple of my eye have a black eye?

I've been using Macintoshes and other Apple products since September 1984.  Maybe for the first 20 years I was eager to update to the latest releases.  Especially when I was a Certified Apple Developer so that I could make sure my software ran on the new release.

Then I started getting "burned" by new releases.  One time the migration from one computer to another crashed.  Many times software that should have worked on the new release had new problems.  Often it seemed like I was an unpaid debugger of software (not just Apple but Microsoft and other software publishers).

One of the latest was the introduction of iOS 6 followed by iOS 7.  Many were the problems that I had with each, and Apple's "Community" web site was filled with similar complaints or others that often were never answered.

The latest was the new release of Pages, Apple's supposed challenger to Microsoft Word.  As I would like to move away from Microsoft Word, I was interested in Pages.  Especially so since the rumors are that Apple will be providing Microsoft "competitors" free, even for new versions, in the next year or so.

I looked up Pages in Apple's App store.  Hoo boy!  Many users were angry! Over half of those rating Pages gave it only one star.  A representative comment is:

"But the fact remains that Apple removed so much functionality from what was once a decent, viable and affordable option for desk-top publishing for the Mac platform."

Oh, yes, on top of all those problems, Apple, which pioneered cut and paste, does not allow copy from its App Store!  I had to retype the above comment.

This is another case of the "Corp giveth and the Corp taketh away".

Watch also for "Computer glitches? What's new?" that will appear in the Reader Weekly of Duluth later this week.  It's about how computer problems are not limited to the software for the Affordable Care Act.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

First blizzard of the season

We've had a few snowfalls in Duluth this season but all of them have been minor snow shoveling jobs.  Now we are on day 2 of a three-day blizzard.  Then the temperature will drop to 0 F to 15 F.  What snow isn't cleared now will be cement later.

This has been problematic to us for two reasons.  One is that my wife flew to Japan this morning.  Two is that I told Denny's Lawn and Garden that I would bring in my chipper for maintenance today.

So we were up very early this morning so that my wife could be at the airport two hours before takeoff.

But before we could go, I had to shovel the walk to the garage and then at least half of the apron to the alley.  I had already planned to take the SUV because I would go direct to Brimson to haul the chipper back.  Good choice.  With four-wheel drive it was easier to maneuver into the alley. Done!  Onto the side street.  Oops!  Intersection was blocked by ridge made by snowplow on through street.  Back up in snow.  Don't hit parked cars.  Back into alley and go another way.  Hurray!  No ridge on the other through street.  All streets were packed snow, even plowed streets.  Three cheers again for SUV with its super-duper tires that are skid-resistant.  Drive 5-10 mph under the limit.

Arrive at airport with plenty of time before my wife's flight.  Haul out her humongous suitcase and place on dry part of sidewalk.  Give her a long hug and wish her a good trip.

Drive on plowed roads at 40mph because they had packed snow.  As I was outbound in the morning I don't think I had a single car behind me.

The snow kept falling and falling as I drove.  I had visions of having to get the cabin snowblower out of the shed, fueling it, and getting it started by hand rather than electrically.  Should I abandon this chore.  No, I told Denny's that I would bring the chipper in today.  After all, they had called me last week that my service request had come up and I had said I would bring it in today.

When I was in the Brimson area the snow seemed to be less deep, in fact it looked like there was three inches or snow or less on the side of the road.  As I drove the final road to our cabin, I thought I might be able to just pull in.

No such luck!  The snowplow ridge was just to high to plow through with four-wheel drive.  I'll have to hand shovel an opening.  Oops!  I didn't put a snow shovel in the SUV!  Trudge through the ridge and walk down the drive to the cabin.  Oops!  Where's the snow shovel by the stoop?  Ah! There it is covered by snow, but at least I can still see its outline.

Trudge back to the road (we're talking about a football field length).  Clear snow from end of drive.  That really was enough exercise for the day, and I had already cleared about 200 sq  ft at home that was fluffy.  This wasn't!

Take lock off driveway cable.  Oops!  I dropped the lock.  I don't see it.  Whew!  With enough foot scuffling I found it.

Drive in close to chipper.

But first check sheds for mice.  Oops!  One shed has an open lock.  How did we not check it on our last visit?  Good news for me and for the mice; none were in any of the traps.

Get trailer hitch out and insert it with the correct ball up.  It has to be the one with the most wear.

Drag chipper to car.  Thank goodness for the wheeled hauling bar I bought.  But the increased leverage won't get one wheel over a frozen ridge.  Great!  Pull this direction.  Pull that direction.  After too many minutes I get the chipper moving.  Then another ridge.  Pull!  Puff!  Pull! Puff!  Finally I get chipper's trailer tongue near the hitch.

But the hitch won't fit over the ball!  I try and try.  I clean out debris from the hitch.  To do this, I let the chipper go back on its feed end (which is about five feet high).  Check the ball, check the hitch.  This has to be the right ball.

Oh, no!  I can't get the chipper upright again.  Am I going to have to abandon the project?  After several tries, I get the chipper upright again.  This time, the hitch fits over the ball and I can latch them together.

I had a few more details to tend to, but you've probably read too many already.

Finally I am ready to leave.  I drive out, lock up the cable, and turn onto the road out stressing the hitch or hitting the SUV with it.

The drive to Denny's Lawn and Garden was slow but uneventful.   The speed limit for the trailer the chipper is mounted on is 45 mph.  Because of the packed snow I generally went 35-40 mph.  Still, the chipper bounced around a couple of times that made me wonder how much it could take.

When I arrived at Denny's the place was packed!  More than I had ever seen it.  It was lots of people in to buy snowblowers or get parts for snowblowers!  The manager asked me why I brought my chipper in during a blizzard.  I replied that I had said I would bring it in on Tuesday when they called last week that they could take it in for maintenance.

After a couple of other stops, I finally got home about one o'clock.  I knew I should go out and shovel and blow snow, but not just yet.  The snow had really piled up since we left at seven.

When I checked for mail, I saw a neighbor shoveling a path on our sidewalk. I thanked her but said don't bother, I'll do it later with a snowblower.

After a leisurely lunch I put long underwear on under my shirt and jeans.  It was a-blowing and getting colder.  I better clear the snow before it set.

I got out, fueled, and started our Duluth snowblower without too much difficulty.  I got most of the snow off our apron including the ridge made by a grader while I was out there.  I also cleared the ridge for a neighbor.

After I finished that, I brought the snowblower around the garage to the walk to the house and the front sidewalk.  It kept riding up over the snow.  I looked at the blades and they were packed with snow.  I cleaned them out, but the same thing happened again.  And again.  And again.  Finally, when I got to the house, I did a more thorough check.

One of the blades wasn't turning or would catch on the housing.  The blade was bent and the shear pin was broken.  Rather than looking for the shear pin, I put the snowblower away

So much for doing the front walk with the snowblower.  Off I went with the shovel.  Even shoveling smart, that is, lifting snow in layers rather than from the sidewalk up, it was a lot of work.

Finally at about four (was it that late) I called it quits.  I'll need to do it all again tomorrow.  At least, I hope, it won't be a 12-15 inches deep.

Now I'm wondering how I managed to reheat some of the food my wife had left me.  I do know that I was so tired, I didn't even want to have wine.  That would have put me to sleep and you wouldn't be able to read this long tale, if you did get this far.  Thanks for reading!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Are we on the cusp of peace or of war?

President Rouhani of Iran is working to make life more open for Iranians and to build more bridges to the West.  See "Not for Prime Time: Music Video with Iran's President" and "Iran Invites Inspectors to Nuclear Site".

On the other hand, China has declared certain air space as requiring permission for others to enter.  The U.S., Korea, and Japan felt compelled to enter that air space.  Now China is sending fighter jets into that space.  See "China Sends Jets into 'Air Defense' Zone After Flights by Japan and Korea".

We have one situation slightly defused and another situation ignited.  The first can bring about more peace, and the second can put war a lot closer than most of us want.  Will we have a Kennedy and a Khrushchev to resolve the latter?

Flipped quote of the day – assurances not to be trusted

“It’s another broken promise and more proof this administration’s assurances have no credibility,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio. “This law has been an absolute disaster, leaving us to ask ‘what’s next?’ “
– "Small-business rollout for Obamacare postponed for a year", Noam N. Levey, Star Tribune, 2013-11-27

“The war in Iraq is another broken promise and more proof the  Bush administration’s assurances have no credibility,” never said John A. Boehner, R-Ohio. “This war has been an absolute disaster, leaving us to ask ‘what’s next?’ “

“The release of Xbox/Playstation is another broken promise and more proof Microsoft's/Sony's assurances have no credibility,” never said House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio. “These products have been an absolute disaster, leaving us to ask ‘what’s next?’ “

"[In] 2007 [Microsoft] has spent more than $1 billion to repair the problems associated with the Xbox 360."
– "Xbox, PlayStation deal with launch glitches", Derrick L. Lang, Associated Press, from Star Tribune, 2013-11-28

I wish that those who complain about government inefficiency or corporate missteps would realize that both are organizations of people and people are bound to over-promise and under-deliver.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Quote of the day - civilian control out of control

"[T]he notion of civilian control of the military became meaningless, since civilians were the leading militarists."
- Michael Mann, "Incoherent Empire", quoted by Andrew J. Bacevich in "The New American Militarism".

This was in reference to the reaction to 9/11.  Same section states that military felt it failed to protect country against attack, but is it the military's job to stop criminals?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Google does no evil?

After learning that Google had joined ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, I sent the following letter (paper) to Larry Page, CEO and a founder of Google.  I forgot to include that Google got its start with a federal grant.

By the way, I think that paper letters have far more influence than petitions, online or otherwise.  It's easy to add your name to a petition; it takes time and thought to write a letter.

I didn't take the time to fit into my letter a reminder that Google's start was made possible by a government grant.  See the very interesting "On the Origins of Google".

Larry Page
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View CA 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

I was surprised and disappointed to learn that Google had joined ALEC, an organization that is opposed to much of what Google stands for:

From “Ten things we know to be true” on your company philosophy:

“You can make money without doing evil.”

ALEC is an anti-democratic organization if there was ever one.

Consider the words of Adam Smith:

"The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order [those who live by profit], 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."

Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, 1776

For more tidbits from Adam Smith, see “The Invisible Adam Smith” at http://magree.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-invisible-adam-smith.html

I wonder if I want to keep using Google products.  But maybe I should use Google products to fight whatever “evil” Google may do.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Who will you thank at Thanksgiving?

Most people will give thanks for their Thanksgiving dinner to God and to the preparers.  Consider all the others who helped make your dinner possible.

First, consider the people who built the roads for you to get to the store and all those who paid taxes for those roads, both now and long ago.

Consider the people at the grocery store who stocked the shelves, coolers, and freezers with all the food you bought and who checked you out and bagged your groceries.

Consider the people who drove the trucks on the above-mentioned roads to deliver the food to the grocery store.

Consider the people in the warehouses who unloaded the goods from one set of trucks coming from processors, stacked them, and then loaded them on another set of trucks for delivery to local stores.

Consider the people who drove the trucks on the above-mentioned roads to deliver the goods to a warehouse.  Sometimes they are driving long hours under a deadline.

Consider the people who processed the food at a cannery, a packager, or a slaughterhouse.  Many of them work under conditions and wages you wouldn’t tolerate.

Consider the people who drove the trucks on the above-mentioned roads to deliver the produce or animals to a cannery, a packager, or a slaughterhouse.

Consider the state and federal inspectors who try to enforce those “burdensome” regulations so that you have safe food, uncontaminated by unwanted organisms and chemicals.

Consider the environmentalists who want to reduce the contaminants in our air and water that could make your food less healthy.

Consider the people who picked the fruit and vegetables that are on your Thanksgiving table.  Some of them worked in air-conditioned harvester cabs; others of them picked by hand so long that they wondered if they could stand straight at the end of the day.  Some of them owned the land they worked and kept any profits.  Some worked seasonally at wages you wouldn’t tolerate.

Consider the people who ran the farms.  Some of them were corporate managers and some of them were resident farmer-owners.  These latter took many risks to produce your food besides the general risk of physical injury.  Was the weather going to be just right to give a great crop?  Were the market prices going to be favorable enough to pay their bank loans and still have money left over to live on until the next crops came in?

Consider the local bankers who made many of the loans to farmers.  Did they evaluate the risk properly so that the bank would have enough profit to continue the next year?  Now savings account interest is a joke, but when it was a decent return would the banker have enough profit to pass on to his or her savings customers?

Consider all those who contribute indirectly to your having an enjoyable meal.

If the weather is bad, consider all the snowplow operators who work long, weird hours so that you or your guests could get safely to wherever your Thanksgiving meal will be.

Consider the police who are out patrolling while you travel or are eating.

Consider the firefighters who may have to jump up from their meal at moment’s notice because somebody knocked over a candle or burned themselves with hot food.

Consider the complexity behind some of our simple pleasures.  Without the efforts of hundreds and thousands of people we may never meet, we would have to go out ourselves to grow and harvest what we enjoy in good company in a warm house.

Also posted on the Reader Weekly website at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2013/11/21/2479_party_of_one-6.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Did I miss an important call?

We must get five or six junk calls a day, no longer just at dinner time.  If we don't recognize the voice and the caller doesn't identify himself or herself but only asks for one of us by name, we either hang up or say whoever was asked for is not available at the moment.

A few minutes ago a reasonably sounding female voice asked if I was here.  I replied "He is not available at the moment" and hung up.

Then I regretted my action.  I do have a couple of outstanding discussions with a company or two.  Could it have been one of these calling back as a follow-up?

My wife said the person should have identified herself and would call another time if the business was important.  But I have reservations about the caller identifying herself.  The caller may not have known if she was calling a home or an office.  Would the callee want the answerer to know who the call was from?

I suppose I should have at least asked who was calling before hanging up.

Good service news

Geek Squad sent me email the other day with a link to a status page for the repair of the laptop that I spilled coffee on.  I saw that it was shipped on Saturday.  Today I saw from the UPS tracking number that it had been delivered to a loading dock in Kentucky this morning at about 8:30.  Later the status page said it had been received at 10:57

I think there may be a discrepancy between the UPS time and the Geek Squad time.  The first is using local time and the latter is using customer's time.

Anyhow, as the afternoon progressed, the messages were needed a part at 1:42, part in stock at 1:43, and work completed at 3:16.  I supposed I'll get a status tomorrow that it was shipped, and I will probably be able to pick it up Friday, maybe Saturday.

This incident has sold me on comprehensive coverage for more expensive items.  I don't know what the repair would have cost me without the coverage.  And as I get older and more clumsy, this kind of coverage seems like a very good idea.

The Russians are back!

Me and my fat fingers!  I posted an entry on how the page views of this blog from Russia had gone to zero.  Now the Russians are back and the U.S. page views are down and far less than the Russian views.

I just can't believe that there are more Russians who are truly interested in what I post than Americans.

If you reside in the U.S. and like this blog, please tell your friends.  If you reside outside the U.S. and actually read this blog, I thank you for your interest and I hope I can keep your interest.  Maybe if the ranking of this blog goes up enough, the reverse spam will go down.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Paranormal events

Wisconsin Public Radio's To the Best of Our Knowledge had an hour devoted to ghost stories recently.

One of the sections was on people who think of someone dying at another place and they are proven right.  What too many people don't consider is all the people who thought of someone dying and no such thing had happened.

I woke up one night certain that a friend had died.  This was almost two decades ago and he is still alive.

Too often people are incredulous about some "miracle" but completely ignore all the times the "miracles" didn't happen under similar circumstances.

One of the anecdotes I read long ago was a picture of a shipwreck where survivors were huddled on shore.  Supposedly these survivors had prayed they would reach safety.  The cynic asked about all those who prayed to reach safety but drowned.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Whither America? Idealism or Ideology?

The following was published in the Reader Weekly of Duluth on 2013-11-14 and can be found at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2013/11/14/2433_party_of_one_whither_america_idealism_or_ideology

Idealism is a set of goals; ideology is a set of rules.  Idealism is a guide to how you act; ideology is a set of rules on how you and everybody else must act.  Idealism takes into account reality; ideology creates its own “reality”.  “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”  This is attributed to Karl Rove or Dick Cheney.  They ignore to our detriment Newton's third law of motion:  "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."  If you create your own reality, then others will create their own reality.  Overwhelming force meets roadside bomb.

The Alworth Center for the Study of Peace and Justice had two recent speakers who addressed these issues.  Robert J. Art, author of “A Grand Strategy for America”, cautiously leaned toward ideology.  Andrew J. Bacevich, author of “The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism” and “Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War”, is fed up with the “Imperial Presidency” and the “Wise Men” who are getting us deeper and deeper into problems,  thus creating even more problems.

Art states that we must strike a balance between isolationism and being the world’s policeman. Isolationism often means withdrawing from most of the world’s affairs.  This is rather difficult given how intertwined the world economy has become.  We have already seen how often being the world’s policeman causes more problems than it solves.

Art says we have six important interests:

1) Protect the homeland and prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction
2) Keep deep peace among Eurasian great powers
3) Assure assets (oil) for market
4) International economic openness
5) Democracy’s spread and observance of human rights
6) Avert severe climate change

To support these interests, Art gives eight grand strategies, including dominion, isolationism, and selective engagement.  Dominion just won’t work; it will get us into deeper and deeper military involvement.  The U.S. has tried it on various scales for over a century, and our politicians still haven’t learned.  Isolationism has many aspects, but if the U.S. isolates itself from the rest of the world, will the rest of the world help if the U.S. needs help?

Art prefers selective engagement.  Selective engagement is based on fundamental goals, it concentrates on those “regions of most consequence to the United States”, “it maintains a forward-based defense posture”, “it prescribes a set of judicious rules for when to wage wars”, and “it calls for American leadership.”

But the devil is in the details.  It seems to me that this selective engagement has been going on for decades.  President after president, Republican or Democrat, has had a set of fundamental goals, has thought that region after region was consequential, has had “defensive” forces all over the world, has thought his rules for war were correct, and of course, has insisted on being first among “equals”.

In both “The Limits of Power” and “Washington Rules”, Bacevich examines the consequences of strategies like Art proposes.  We have moved to an imperial presidency where the President not only does his best to ignore Congress in “power projection” but ignores the military and diplomatic departments and huddles with his “Wise Men”.  Kennedy did it in the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Bush did it with Afghanistan and Iraq.  Obama is doing it with drones in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  And often the President doesn’t understand that he, the unelected “leader of the free world” is being manipulated by his “Wise Men”–McNamara, Cheney, and so on.  Bacevich writes about Kennedy’s team, "With the certainty of men unacquainted with the actual use of power, they did not doubt their ability to compel war to do their bidding."  This could apply to just about every inner circle since.
Bacevich sees U.S. leaders having a credo backed up by a “sacred trinity”.

Credo: “The United States—and the United States alone—to lead, save, liberate, and ultimately transform the world.”

Sacred trinity: "an abiding conviction that the minimum essentials of international peace and order require the United States to maintain a global military presence, to configure its forces for global power projection, and to counter existing or anticipated threats by relying on a policy of global interventionism”.

Bacevich suggests an alternate credo: “America's purpose is to be America, striving to fulfill the aspirations expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as reinterpreted with the passage of time and in light of hard-earned experience.”

He proposes a new trinity:

“First, the purpose of the U.S. military is not to combat evil or remake the world, but to defend the United States and its most vital interests.”

“Second, the primary duty station of the American soldier is in America.”

“Third, consistent with the Just War tradition, the United States should employ force only as a last resort and only in self-defense.”

Bacevich quotes Reinhold Niebuhr frequently:
“[H]e warned that what he called ‘our dreams of managing history’–born of a peculiar combination of arrogance and narcissism–posed a potentially mortal threat to the United States.”  “The Irony of American History”, 1952

Niebuhr predates Pete Seeger who said it more simply, “When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn.”

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A bad tech week

Besides the problem of my iPhone not turning on yesterday, I spilled coffee on my laptop keyboard this morning.  I tried holding too many things at the same time.  Now the shift key on one side doesn't work and both option keys don't work.

Besides that, I've been trying to sync my calendars among my laptop, my iPhone, and my iPad.  I've read post after post on this problem and have found no satisfactory answer.  People on one device never get transferred to another device.  I used Contact Cleaner on my laptop address book and wound up deleting a couple hundred people on my iPad.  Needless to say, I did not sync my address book to my iPhone.

Then I received a letter from my bank that they had moved money from my savings account to my checking account.  On my first try to access my account, their system was unavailable.  When I finally got on, I found that there had been yet another transfer made.  As I reviewed the online statement, I found that I had transferred money from checking to savings instead of the other way around.  At least I have an account that makes sweeps rather than overdraft charges.

Now I'm off to Best Buy to find out if the Geek Squad can repair my keyboard with little time and no charge.  I assume there will be a charge because it was my fault rather than Apple's.  I do hope that I move money the right way to pay any charges.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

PANIC! My iPhone won't turn on!

Boy!  All those complaining about the glitches about the Affordable Care Act should go to the discussion boards of almost any hardware or software company.  Dozens and dozens of people complain about problems and the companies never respond directly.

This evening my iPhone would not turn on after my not having used it for an hour or so.  I held and held the power button or the home button.  Nada.  I planned on going to Best Buy tomorrow about it, I have a two-year warranty contract.  But first, why not try the Apple Community?

Ah ha!  People have been complaining about this problem for over a year.  I found at least four threads about the problem.  The solution provided by other users is simple: hold the power button and the home button down at the same time.  I think my screen came on within a few seconds.  Some had to hold it even longer.  Some had no success.

By the way, when I had my iPhone working again, I noticed I had an App update.  The reason for the update?  Bug fixes.  When was that app updated last?  About a week ago.  The reasons?  Bug fixes!

If you like the Boundary Waters of Minnesota…

…make your voice heard.

I received this as part of an email from Sustainable Ely:

Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness and Sustainable Ely hosted Bill Carter, author of Boom, Bust, Boom, in Ely last week.  He spoke to over 120 people in a packed venue about the impacts sulfide ore mining will have on this area if it is allowed to proceed.

There was a great deal of worthwhile information in his presentation, but two points stood out.

    •    Towns with copper mining are not nice places to live or visit.  He stated his belief that sulfide ore mining will change this area.  The pollution, the industrial activity, the make up and culture of this community, and the current sustainable economy will be impacted, and not in a positive way.

    •    We need to make our story national.  People from around the country (and world) come to recreate here, vacation here, and live here.  We need everyone with a connection to this area or who wants to protect public lands to know about this possible sulfide ore mining.  It is possible to stop this, but we need to spread the word and engage more people.  NMW has taken the lead on this by forming a national coalition to stop mining in the Boundary Waters watershed. (More information will be coming out about this in the weeks to come.) The work has started, but there is much, much more to be done.

Democratic capitalism is an oxymoron

Democratic means government by the people.  It is commonly understood that each person has one vote.

Capitalism is raising money for an enterprise with the contributions of a few people or thousands of people.  Each contributor of capital to the enterprise has as many votes as the number of shares he or she holds.  One can argue that this is fair; the person who put one million dollars into the company had a greater interest than the person who put one hundred dollars into the company.

In practice, capitalism becomes distorted to the rule of a few.  Capitalism leads to a plutocracy both in the enterprise and in the various governments.

In the enterprise, members of the board periodically award themselves and the top executives shares in the enterprise, thus increasing the number of votes they have, at no or low cost.

In government, the executives and other large shareholders put a lot of money into lobbying government for laws in their favor and into campaigns of political candidates who they believe will be sympathetic to their interests.  Regular readers of this blog know what Adam Smith thought of that influence.  See "The Invisible Adam Smith".

Capitalism, when there are many companies with similar focus, is a very good idea.  It means that there are many people working on bringing new or lower cost products to the market.  This doesn't mean that government can't produce good ideas; it just does not have enough resources to produce as many good ideas as are needed.  And often government is needed to encourage good ideas in certain fields or to curtail bad ideas that are harmful to the public.  In fact, corporations fall all over themselves to get government contracts to build roads or build more lethal weapons.

You might be able to come up with a better blended phrase that reflects the need for both democracy and capitalism.  My best shot today is balance of democracy and capitalism.  Now the next question is: when will this balance be achieved?

Monday, November 11, 2013

I don't miss Russian reverse spamming

Starting about a week ago, this blog has had no readers from Russia.  Up to then, the number of page views from Russia often outnumbered the page views from the U.S.  Then the page views from Russian started dropping.  My minuscule page count dropped somewhat, but it seemed my U.S. views went up.  Not to stellar heights, but a bit better than previously.

I don't know why the Russian reverse spamming stopped, but I'll take any and all of the following: they saw no response from me,  Russian authorities put some of them out of business, or internet authorities in the U.S and elsewhere stopped the spammers probes.

Now, is the increase in page views because reverse spammers have moved to the U.S. or is the increase because real readers are telling their friends or I'm thinking up clever keywords.  I do now that some of my entries on Kathleen Sebelius are still getting many hits.

Whatever, I do appreciate the two or three dozen regular readers.  I  hope I can give you something of interest several times a week.

Spam français

For francophones, here is the text of an email I received this past week; the email gives itself away as spam.  For francophobes, an explanation follows.

Chér(e) client(e)

Nous vous informons que votre compte arrive a expiration dans mois 48 heures, il est impérratif d'effecteur une vérfication des vos informations prérsent, sans quoi votre compte sera détruit. Cliquez simplement sur le lien ci-dessous et ouvrer une session ' l'aide de votre Apple ID et de votre mot de passe.

Vérfiez maintenat.

Merci, L'assistance a la clientéle Apple

This email is filled with misspellings: dropped letters and unaccented letters.  It is misdirected; what makes the sender think that I have a French Apple account.  And the dead give-away that too many gullible people miss, one never acts on a strange email that asks for the recipient's password (mot de passe).

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Elections – Congratulations and condolences

To all those elected or re-elected yesterday all across the country, congratulations on the support you received from voters.  May you serve wisely.

To all candidates, elected or not, condolences on the poor support you received from the people. If Duluth is any indicator, turnout was probably a third of the registered voters.  That means two-thirds of the registered voters did not show support for any of the candidates.

If you lost and are willing to try again, get a larger number of supporters who will turn to get even more voters out on your next try.  If you are successful, may you have received the votes of a majority of registered voters.

If you won, may you have the humility to realize that more registered voters did not support you than those who did.  If you run again, get a larger number of supporters who will turn out to get even more voters on your next try.  If you are successful, may you have received the votes of a majority of registered voters.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

I love taxes and regulations!

Printed in the Reader Weekly, 2013-10-31 and found at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2013/10/31/2364_party_of_one-3.

I submitted it as follows; I did remove from this copy the missing section in last week's Reader Weekly.

Well, not all that much.  What I like is all the benefits that taxes and regulations bring me and many other people.

Like many, I find paying taxes a chore.  I have to set aside money twice a year for property taxes.  I have to keep lots of records and fill out detailed forms to calculate how much federal and state income tax I owe.  And because I don’t have withholding on all of my income, I have to estimate these taxes quarterly and pay a portion of the presumed shortfall.

A few years ago I had a sore chest, extreme sweating, and nausea.  Was this a heart attack?  Don’t hesitate; call 9-1-1!  Within five minutes a fire truck with four fire fighters/emergency medical technicians arrived.  Without going into all the details, I was hospitalized but it was determined that I did not have a heart attack.  My taxes, your taxes, and the taxes of many others paid for this quick response.

Was this an entitlement?

One of the ER doctors I saw lived in our house a few years before we bought it.  He was a graduate of the UMD medical school.  State taxes paid some of the cost of operating UMD.  Would there be as many doctors and nurses if they or their parents had to pay the full cost of their education, starting with elementary school?

Is this an entitlement?

Keep in mind George Washington’s farewell address, which contained among much other ignored advice:

“[I]t is essential that you should practically bear in mind, that towards the payment of debts there must be Revenue; that to have Revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised, which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant…”

Most of us drive regularly on streets and our commerce depends on the roads.  They cost a lot more than the streets of George Washington’s time.  And city streets like George Washington rode his horse on still existed in my lifetime.  See “11 Traveled Dirt Streets to Be Hard Surfaced at No Cost to Property”, Kansas City Star, 1944-04-06.

Are hard-surfaced streets an entitlement?

Red lights are a bothersome regulation.  Why should I wait while somebody comes by on the cross street?  Well, when I’m driving on the cross street, I appreciate that the other traffic will stop periodically so that I may drive into the intersection safely.

Requiring auto insurance is a bothersome regulation.  But it sure is nice when another person is at fault for banging my car that their insurance will pay for the damage.  I think it was in Michigan that a driver came out from a parking lot and put a dent in the side of our car.  He didn’t stop, and so I made a U-turn and followed him a block or two before he stopped.  We pleasantly exchanged information and we went on our way.  But after a few blocks we saw his insurance agency.  We stopped in and related the incident.  Oh, but he buys the insurance and cancels within a week or so.  Off we went to the police station and told our story again.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everybody followed these “burdensome” regulations?

Among my allergies is quaternium-15, an ingredient in many lotions.  Imagine my surprise when a hypoallergenic lotion contained quaternium-15.  If regulations didn’t require a list of ingredients, would I wind up having an allergic reaction and not know why?

My wife has to stay away from soy lecithin.  Dark chocolate is a healthy treat.  Many dark chocolate bars contain soy lecithin.  If regulations didn’t require the labeling of ingredients, what would happen to her if she ingested soy lecithin unknowingly?

When all the nutrition information was mandated on foods, I pooh poohed it.  Come on, you know a candy bar has lots of calories; so stay away from candy bars if you have a weight problem.  I recently had a colonoscopy and was told not to take iron before the procedure.  Chocolate was one of the OK foods.  But, dark chocolate contains 6 to 35 percent of the daily value of iron.  If I had that much iron would it have changed the diagnosis?  I stayed away from chocolate and I had a negative result.  Without the regulated nutritional information I might have had a false positive result.

Many corporations regard regulations against air and water pollution as burdensome and anti-free market.  Many studies have shown that many of the chemicals in our environment are causing brain impairment in children and that they don’t perform well in school.  Oh, poor school performance is not caused by pollution, it’s the “greedy teachers’ unions”!

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. supposedly said he liked taxes, “They buy civilization.”  I would add without regulation, we would not have civilization.

Letter - ACA and Murphy's Law

Almost two weeks ago I sent to the Duluth News Tribune about the computer problems with the Affordable Care Act.  I had given up on its being published because of the huge number of election letters the DNT has been publishing.

At a meeting this morning, a friend said he liked my letter in the DNT.  I was surprised and checked with my iPhone.  It was below the last letter I looked at when I read the DNT online this morning.  I would have seen it if I had just scrolled a bit further down.

You can find the published version at http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/event/article/id/282477/.  Chuck Frederick, the opinion editor, did a good job of editing my letter, adding a phrase and some punctuation.  What I actually sent follows:

A major computer system has problems; what's new?  In this case, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) software for signing up.  I've been working with computer systems for over fifty years and Murphy's law is still in force.  If something can go wrong, it will!

Decades ago a customer computer crashed regularly.  It was my job to find out why.  It took months of asking questions until I received sufficient information from the customer to isolate the problem to a single program.  That information allowed me to determine the crash was related to a hardware problem.

Murphy's law is working today in almost every computer and every program we use.  How often do you install version x.0 of some software and within weeks you receive version x.0.1?

Those working on the ACA software have my sympathy.  May you ask the right questions.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Am I a descendant of illegal immigrants?

My great-grandfather, John J. R. Magree, was supposedly born in Brooklyn, New York, at least according to all the census records from 1870 on, his obituary, and other records.  Brooklyn has no record of his birth.

Because John C. Magree was a mate in New York harbor in the 1850 census and master of the Ship Ivanhoe in Jan. 1851, I assumed that John C. Magree was his father.  The Brooklyn city directories of the 1850s list a Margaret Magree, widow.  Was she the abandoned wife of John C. Magree?  John C. Magree was still alive during the Civil War.

However I did find records of the marriage in Liverpool, England, of John C. Magree and Margaret Pope, and then of the birth to this couple of John James Richard Magree.  Given the rarity of the name Magree, isn't the probability rather strong that this is the John James Richard Magree who became known as John J. R. Magree as an adult?

But I can find no record of Margaret Magree and John J. R. Magree traveling on John C. Magree's ship or any other ship.  Did John C. bring them as unlisted passengers?  Did they not need to be on the manifest because they were the master's family?  As far as I can tell, the same manifest did not list any of the crew, either.

So, do we follow the rule that Barack Obama, born in Hawaii of an American mother and a Kenyan father, is not born in America?  Or do we follow the rule that Ted Cruz and John McCain, born in Canada and the Panama Canal Zone, respectively, of at least one parent who was a U.S. citizen, are born in America?  I guess, sarcastically, since I am white we follow the Cruz/McCain rules.

However, if we follow the "Obama" rule, then I am the descendant of illegal immigrants.  Not only was my great-great grandmother presumably born in England, but we have have no birth certificate to prove that John C. Magree was born in the United States.  The only "proof " is that on his marriage application in England, John Cornelius Magree gave his father's name as Vinsent Magree.  There was a Vincent Magree in the 1840 census with at least one male around 12 years old.

That's all rather slim evidence that my paternal line has been born of legal immigrants.

If that makes me an illegal immigrant too, where should I be deported to?  England, Germany, Poland?  I have traced ancestors to all three of those countries.

"Bank failure" explained

See "My bank is a failure?"

Today I went to my bank with my checkbook.  As I walked from my car I saw that the ATM was open for business.  I went inside anyway to chat with the staff.  The manager explained that they put the ATM offline about four o'clock everyday for balancing or something.  I hope I remember that time frame the next time I want cash.

This also shows the wisdom of buying local.  Personal attention without a bureaucracy.

Why do corporations keep proving their inefficiency?

After the stellar, personal service I received from Mike at the Duluth AT&T store, AT&T customer support gave incomplete and insufficient service.

I received a bill in the mail today for $88.93.  As I had cancelled the service within the 14-day return window, I wanted to check if I could get a revised quote or if I would get a refund in the next billing cycle.

I called the 800 number on the bill and after the usual automated rigamarole, I reached a tired sounding human being.  After asking for the last four digits of my Social Security number (already entered as part of the rigamarole) she heard me out.

She then transferred me to another department.  More rigamarole including the cell-phone number I already entered and the last four digits of my Social Security number!!!  Then I heard, "This number is no longer in service."  So much for AT&T service!

On top of that, in the first rigamarole, an automated voice gave a dollar or so less balance due and a one day earlier due date!

I tried going to att.com but didn't have any better luck.  It wouldn't let me login or register.  After all the combinations I could think of for userID and password I tried with the phone number to retrieve them.  It wouldn't give them to me.  It gave me a few other paths to try, but it wouldn't let me complete any of them.

I think I'll just post this and then print out a copy for Mike as well as a copy of the other blog entry.

Maybe I should also send copies to my members of Congress as a comparison to complaints about the Affordable Care Act.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

My bank is a failure?

This afternoon I drove up to my bank's ATM to get some cash before some other errands.  "Lane closed" and the machine had all of its panels closed.

If I go by the criticism of the computer problems of the Affordable Care Act, I'd say my bank is a failure.  Can't it keep its computers running all the time without error?

Also sent to Rep. Rick Nolan, Sen. Al Franken, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Unattributed quotes

One of the drawbacks of the web is that writings can be spread without any attribution to the original author.  As a writer myself and as a former programmer, I am very sensitive to people copying my work or ideas without renumeration or attribution.

One of my relatives on Facebook linked to a beautiful poem that began

at the end of life
what matters is not what we bought

but the item did not mention the author.  I did a search for these phrases, but almost every site that had a portion of the poem did not give the author's name.  I finally found the complete poem at http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/for-2009-to-all-poets/ with attribution.  The author is Ric S. Bastasa, a judge in the Phillipines.

His list of poems at http://www.poemhunter.com/ric-s-bastasa/poems/ has titles in Greek, Russian, Arabic (or is it Farsi), Chinese, and Japanese.  Can one guy write poems in so many languages?  In this case, no.  Only the title are in other languages, the poems are in English.  He probably did as I do with foreign languages, he looked up keywords on Google Translate.

Monday, October 28, 2013


We have racism, sexism, and anti-semitism.  Now we have Congressism.  Congressism is a dislike of Congress out of all proportion to reality.  Commentators claim Congress is broken.  Polls indicate that people are very dissatisfied with Congress but that they are satisfied with their own Representatives and Senators.
Wait a minute!  Congress is broken but people like their own Representatives and Senators.  But Congress is made up of other people’s Representatives and Senators.  And those other people are satisfied with their members of Congress.  If all these Congress members are doing such a good job according to the people who supposedly elected them, how can Congress be broken?
“The Tea Party wins if we start hating our government. The solution is to find ways to be informed and engaged in our democratic process all the time, not just when there is a presidential election.” - Annabel Park, a Coffee Party founder (see www.coffeepartyusa.org)
“Well, Doctor, what have we got – a Republic or a Monarchy?”  Doctor Ben Franklin replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
If we don’t trust Congress, which is supposed to be most representative of the three branches of our government, are we giving up on keeping our republic?
So, let us not give up on our government.  Let us count the ways we can improve it.
First, of course, is to show up at every election and vote.  This is especially true if you live in a “gerrymandered” district.  You could contribute to an upset or you could reduce the margin of victory.
Also, don’t make any assumptions based on polls.  Vote whether the candidate you support is ahead or behind the polls.  The polls sample far fewer people than actually vote.  Remember also that polls can be very, very wrong.  In 1998, the polls predicted Skip Humphrey, Norm Coleman, and Jesse Ventura for governor in that order.  The results were Ventura, Coleman, and Humphrey.  As far as big money in politics, Ventura spent about one-tenth as much money per vote as either of his opponents.
Second, write about government.  Write letters to the editor.  Write to your representatives.  Write to the mayor, governor, or president.  You don’t need an essay.  You can simply state your support or opposition for some action.  Personally, I prefer writing directly to signing petitions.  One hundred persons writing about an issue probably has more influence than one thousand people signing a petition.
Unless you have some compelling information for or against an issue, a short letter is best.  Consider that the more people a politician represents, the greater the volume of mail and the less the chance that the politician will even see your letter.  But his or her staff will probably be counting them by subject and position.
One of the reasons Congress is “broken” is that few, if any, members read every word of the bills they vote on.  They depend on staff advice and often just follow their party.  I read that somebody challenged Congress to read the Patriot Act before voting on it.  Supposedly only one Congressman took up the challenge and voted against it.  I find it a bit hard to believe because supposedly complete copies were not available to Congress until twelve hours before the vote!  What’s this about the U.S. Senate being the greatest deliberative body in the world?  And people who are making the most noise about limited government now voted for the Patriot Act then.
Maybe we should follow Grover Norquist’s example and get Congress to sign a “Read the Bill Pledge”.  Maybe Warren Buffet or George Soros could fund this effort.
If all of these ideas seem to be getting nowhere, then maybe a few brave souls would start a new third party.  Say a few Republicans who don’t like the theft of the Party of Lincoln by the Tea Party and Southern Conservatives and a few Democrats who don’t care to jump whole-heartedly into every cause that some in the party expect everybody to support unconditionally.  Also, members of either party who feel that large corporations have too much influence on a “government of the people, by the people, for the people”.
The name I thought of was “Pragmatic Populists”.  That is, the government should work for the people as a whole with consideration that there will be conflicts of interests.
As usual, when I think I have a new and unique idea, somebody has already thought of it.  One source I found is an analysis of Justice John Paul Stevens’ decisions with regard to the First Amendment.  Gregory P. Magarian considers the balance that Justice Stevens sought in “The Pragmatic Populism of Justice Stevens’ Free Speech Jurisprudence”.  The abstract is at http://law.bepress.com/villanovalwps/art57/ and you can get the full text by clicking the “Download” button to the right of the title.
I don’t know if I’ll ever finish all forty-some pages of legal reasoning, but Magarian writes that Justice Stevens thought that the purpose of the First Amendment was to ensure that all could participate in political discourse, regardless of their background, status, or wealth.  Justice Stevens was writing opinions in support of this view, opposing his colleagues who interpreted the First Amendment as protecting political speech from government interference.  In other words, he didn’t think the First Amendment protected those who had the most bucks from buying the biggest microphones thereby overwhelming any speech of those who disagreed with them.
And the great irony is that John Paul Stevens is a Republican appointed by a Richard Nixon, a Republican.  The next irony is that Stevens seems to be holding the ideal of protecting individual against state power and the other conservatives seem to be favoring state or corporate power.
You can find an interesting biography of him in “TheDissenter, Justice John Paul Stevens, Majority of One”, Jeffrey Rosen, New York Times, 2007-09-23.
"Congressism" was also published in the Reader Weekly, 2013-10-23 and can be found at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2013/10/24/2305_party_of_one-2