Monday, April 29, 2013

Paper covers net, a readership comparison

Many of my acquaintances in Duluth ask me if I still write for the Reader Weekly.  Other than an occasional letter to editor, I haven't written any column since 2008.

After an article about some of the proposed mining in the region and the promises of no damage to the environment, I submitted my blog entry "The Invisible Adam Smith".  After all, the Reader often reprints material from the Christian Science Monitor and from Jim Hightower's web site.

With my using a wrong email address and the delay of having an open spot, the Reader Weekly published "The Invisible Adam Smith" in the 2013-04-25 issue.

Considering that hundreds of people in the region read most articles in the Reader Weekly, I assume more people have read my article in the Reader than have read my article on the web.  The latter count is 57!!  Since October when I posted it!

So, if you're an obscure blogger like me, you might have more readers if you write for some local print media than if you write a regular blog entry.  That is, paper can still be a more powerful medium than the internet.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and violence

"But we must ask a question only Muslims can answer: What is going on in your community that a critical number of your youth believes that every American military action in the Middle East is intolerable and justifies a violent response, and everything Muslim extremists do to other Muslims is ignorable and calls for mostly silence?"
- Thomas Friedman, "Judgment not included", New York Times, 2013-04-27

But violence against others is not a Muslim "franchise".  People of all kinds of religious persuasions have turned to violence to promote certain distorted ends.

Christians practiced violence.  The Roman Catholic Church burned people at the stake for supposedly not conforming to the prescribed beliefs.  Torquemada of Spain had many torture devices to get people to admit to being Jewish.  Hitler was never ex-communicated from the Catholic Church.  Catholic Irish who planted bombs were considered heroes by many.  Michael Servetus was "burnt at the stake as a heretic by order of the Protestant Geneva governing council."

Jews have been killing more Arabs than Arabs have been killing Jews: since 2000,  6617 Palestinians vs 1,097 Israelis (including 1,447 vs 129 children).  See

Buddhists, supposedly a peaceful group, are attacking Muslims in Burma (Myanmar).  The recent riots of Buddhists against Muslims is only a part of centuries-long list of anti-Muslim events.

And all these perpetrators of violence seem to forget that a tenet of their religions is "to do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The high cost of low regulations

Corporation after corporation calls for less regulation, but can we trust them to regulate themselves as to consumer and employee safety?  The answer is over century old: "No!"

Think of all the mine disasters because production was more important than worker safety.  Think of the "Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire" over one hundred years ago.  Think of all the auto and food recalls.  Think of the shortcuts that led to the latest BP oil spill

Now the latest is the Bangladesh factory collapse, a collapse a day after police ordered it evacuated: "Western Firms Feel Pressure as Toll Rises in Bangladesh", Julfikar Ali Manik, Steven Greenhouse, and Jim Yardley, New York Times, 2013-04-25.

And there was a deadly fire in a garment factory in Bangladesh in November 2012.  Almost any story you find will have links to other factory disasters in Bangladesh.

All because we in the West look for low prices and corporation after corporation looks for the lowest price manufacturers.  Maybe it's time we double-check what we buy and look for the lowest price executives.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Scientifically we're in deep doo-doo

Sometimes links can lead to very unexpected articles.  I clicked on a link in New York Times Science to an article in Smithsonian Magazine:  "We Had No Idea What Alexander Graham Bell Sounded Like. Until Now".

From there I clicked in the sidebar on "How Much Do Americans Know About Science" by Terence Monmaney.

The caption below the main picture was "Many Americans think U.S. teens perform even worse on standardized science tests than they actually do, according to a new national survey."

The article asked that readers take a science quiz before continuing.  I took the quiz and found most of the answers obvious.  The only question I hesitated on was what is the most prevalent gas in the atmosphere.

I answered 13 of the 13 questions correctly; something only seven percent of the respondents did.  I found that very disappointing.  Most of the questions one should have been able to answer from high-school science or from reading the newspaper.

If we can't correctly answer simple science questions, can we correctly answer political science questions?  Or economic questions?  Although the answers in these last two disciplines are not as provable as science questions, there are definitely many answers that have been shown to be wrong again and again.  Unfortunately, too many people persist in believing these wrong answers.

Quote of the day: We do not have grown-ups in Washington

Watch "The Economic Argument is Over – And Paul Krugman Won", Daily Ticker, Henry Blodget.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Bible is unerring?

When the royal printers, Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, released their 1631 King James Bible, they dropped a "not" - "Thou shalt commit adultery".  See "To Err is Human: Typos in Literature", ABE Books.

"The Great He Bible" of 1611 has "and he went into the city" in reference to Ruth - Ruth 3:15.  However, if you check you find that some versions use "he" and some use "she".

If typos creep into printed Bibles, how often do mistranslations creep in?  How many mistranslations were done in ignorance and carelessness?  How many mistranslations were done deliberately to put forward a certain viewpoint that was not validated by the original text?

I think the point of Bible study should not be to take every word as literally true but to look for the greater truths among conflicting points of view.  For example, adulterers shall be put to death (Deuteronomy 22:22) compared to "he who is without sin cast the first stone", John 8:7.  One might say that forgiveness is more important than strict punishment for every act that is considered a misdeed.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Nation of laws or nation of revenge?

As expected, several Republican members of Congress don't want Miranda rights read to Dzhogar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bomber; they want him tried in a military court as an enemy combatant; and of course, they want the death penalty.

This does not sound like due process for a U. S. citizen; it sounds like revenge is more important.  A nation of laws would be sure that any accused is proven beyond doubt to guilty of the crimes as charged.

As for the death penalty, what does that prove?  That the government believes killing is a solution just as the killer believes killing is a solution to some real or imagined problem.

Finally, whether the Tsarnaev brothers acted out of anger and craziness or they acted for political reasons, executing Dzhogar Tsarnaev will provide Islamists with yet another martyr.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Immigration and leaping to conclusions

“Given the events of this week, it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system.” - Sen. Charles Grassley, Rep. IA, quoted in "Senator Says Boston Attack Should Factor in Immigration Debate", Ashley Parker and Michael D. Shear, New York Times, 2013-04-19

Let's see, it is a loophole to let teenagers into the U. S. if they are Muslim, if they come from a country with ethnic violence, or…

One brother came at the age of 15.  He was probably somewhat unhappy to be taken away from his friends and never really got over it.  And how many immigrants from wherever come at that age and somehow manage to fit in and have socially satisfying lives?  The other brother came at the age of 8 and seemingly adapted quite well and was popular.  But because he adored his older brother, he probably picked his brother's dissatisfaction and anger.

If we are to close the "gaps and loopholes" on a couple of loopy brothers, maybe we should have never let Italians into the U. S.  Isn't Lanza, the last name of the Newtown terrorist, an Italian name?  And the Mafia is Italian based.  Ah, yes, we should suspect every Italian of being a Mafia member.  But then we wouldn't have had "Woody Woodpecker" to chuckle over, created by Walter Lantz.  Immigration changed his father's name from Francesco Paolo Lanza.  We wouldn't have Ghirardelli chocolates and Jacuzzis and Zambonis.  For hundreds more famous Italian-Americans who enriched our country, see

If we are to close the "gaps and loopholes" maybe we should never have let Germans into the U. S.  After all, many German-Americans became spies or apologists for Hitler.  Remember the informant in "Stalag 17".  Unfortunately, if German immigrants had been kept out, I wouldn't be here.  Some readers think this might be a good thing.  Four of my great-grandparents were born in Germany.

Maybe the original inhabitants of this continent should have closed the "gaps and loopholes" that let thousands of English and others in.  The English and others unleashed a reign of terror on the original inhabitants for over three centuries that led to the massacre at Wounded Knee.

As Pete Seeger told it, two Indians watched a ship launch a small boat.  When the boat landed, Columbus stepped out and said, "Buenos días, señores!"  One Indian turned to the other and said, "There goes the neighborhood."

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Quote of the day – violence

"And that speculation leads me to wonder about acts of violence against innocent victims cloaked in the language either of religion or nationalism, of Islam or the perceived national interests of the USA, or even of revenge. We 'know' that violence begets violence, yet some/many, of us persist in acting as if planting another bomb (or dropping just one more from a drone) would break the endless cycle."

Comment left by JO to "The Mind of a Terror Suspect", Charles M. Blow, New York Times, 2013-04-19.

Blow's column is a description of the morphing of a "nice kid" into someone with a bigger and bigger chip on his shoulder.

Default Social Security but not China?

A company was founded that used bonds for its financing rather than stocks.  It issued bonds for various lengths of time: short term to smooth cash flow, medium term for starting new projects, and long term for capital improvements such as office buildings and factories.

When it began hiring a large number of people, it started a retirement and disability insurance fund for its employees.  It paid half of the premiums and collected the other half from the employees.  All the premiums purchased short-term bonds of the company.  Essentially, the company used the premiums to smooth its cash flow.

This went on for several decades.  Some employees never collected because they died before retirement.  Others collected for a few decades after retirement.  Few complained about the arrangement.

Then the company hired a new CEO.  He looked at the retirement fund and decided that instead of paying interest on the bonds of the fund, he could use that money to increase his own salary.  He also found a loophole in the decades-old contracts that allowed him to not pay the principle on the bonds.  He could apply it to his own salary.

There was a big hue and cry from current retirees about having their retirement checks reduced, but the votes of the bonds were controlled by the company, not the retirees.

Meanwhile,the holders of the higher interest bonds, the big banks and the foreign governments, including China, were assured that the company would meet its regular interest payments and pay the bonds in full on maturity.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Let's all praise government workers

A favorite sport of too many people is to bash government as inefficient.

Let us consider the many ways that we should be thankful to government.

Let's start with the rather prosaic in Minnesota.  We have had a lot of snow in Minnesota this month.  Schools have been closed and events cancelled.  But the plow operators were out clearing streets and alleys at all hours.  Major streets were opened almost immediately, other streets within a few hours, and alleys within a few hours more.  The plow operators are union city workers that are doing their best to battle nature without damaging parked cars.  Are they greedy union workers or are they people requesting just compensation for the difficult work they do?

A favorite target of many anti-government people is the U.S. Postal Service.  Sometime after nine I got busy on the walkway around our house.  I wanted to make sure our carrier didn't have much difficulty.  I saw her park almost in front of our house rather than down the street, just about on her usual schedule. Before I could even get to the front walk, Sara came trudging up the steps in nine-inch drifts.  She said that if she hadn't seen me, she would have waited until tomorrow to deliver our mail, none of it urgent.  Maybe regulations don't cover her discretion, but she was making a very good effort at delivering important mail in a timely fashion for all on her route.

Then there is the big government operation in Boston.  It is just amazing how the federal, state, and local criminal investigation bureaucracies worked through thousands of pieces of information to determine who the prime suspects were, locate them, and fatally wound one of them.  As I write this, the other is apparently cornered in a boat in somebody's yard.  All of this in less than a week.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Fake Republicans

"A Fake Republican mistakes conformism for conservatism, forgetting that the history of true conservatism (in the Burkian tradition) rest[s] on intelligent and thoughtful non-conformism distilled from independent thinking, careful analysis, and tradition—and not the spewings of pre-determined talking points that ignore evidence, facts, and rationality."

-Michael Charney, Tea with the Mad Hatter

Michael Charney has a blog "Chasing Glenn Beck, An Incredibly Minor Public Figure".   Charney also contributes to the Coffee Party where he is known the Coffee Party Conservative.

I highly recommend "Tea with the Mad Hatter" as a refreshing attempt to get some sanity back into politics.

As for the conservatism of Edmund Burke, see several of his quotes at  Included among them are:

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." (not in writings, but may be a paraphrase)
"Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it."

See also

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Check the data of those claiming proof of whatever

Many are claiming that high national debt leads to a decline in growth.  According to Mike Konczal, this claim is based on a paper whose results cannot be replicated by other economists.  See "Shocking Paper Claims That Microsoft Excel Coding Error Is Behind the Reinhart-Rogoff Study On Debt",  Business Insider, 2013-04-16.  Among other things, the authors of the study have not released the data they used to determine their results and that they didn't use comparable data from one country to another.

Unfortunately, "This has been one of the most cited stats in the public debate during the Great Recession. Paul Ryan's Path to Prosperity budget states their study 'found conclusive empirical evidence that [debt] exceeding 90 percent of the economy has a significant negative effect on economic growth.'"  And the Washington Post considered it a consensus view of economists!

But the debate doesn't end here.  See also "New Research Undermines The GOP's Austerity Agenda", Jeff Spross, Think Progress, 2013-04-16 and the rebuttal from Reinhart and Rogoff, "Critique of Our Work Still Confirms What We Found on High US Debt", Rob Wile, Business Insider, 2013-04-16.

Terrorists win the skirmishes but not the war

Terrorists never win in the long run where there is a strong functioning government and a sense of community.  Dennis Lehane wrote a beautiful op-ed on the resiliency of Boston.  See "Messing with the Wrong City", New York Times, 2013-04-16.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

President Obama calls U.S. a terrorist nation

Well, he didn't directly say that the U.S. is a terrorist nation, but he didn't choose his words carefully in response to the Boston Marathon terrorism.

First, let me back up to my first knowledge of this meaningless act.

One of my earliest reactions was when Rep. John Boehner called it a terrorist act.  I read the subtext as an "Islamist terrorist act."  I don't know if that was his intention or not, but he certainly gave me the impression that was what he meant.

Some authorities were reluctant at first to call the bombing a terrorist attack, but I don't think there is any other definition for it.  Sandy Hook was a terrorist attack; the Boston Marathon was a terrorist attack.  The whole object of these and many others is to frighten, maim, and kill a large number of people.

Given that nobody has claimed any responsibility, my guess is that someone who was disqualified from the Marathon might have done this out of spite.  Whoever it was and for whatever reason, I hope the authorities can track that person down, for no other reason than some sense of closure for the victims who lost their lives or who have had their lives drastically altered.

President Obama said the right words under the circumstances, but some of them may haunt him and other politicians later:

 “This was a heinous and cowardly act, and given what we know about what took place, the F.B.I. is investigating it as an act of terrorism.”  “Anytime bombs are used to target innocent civilians it is an act of terror.”

“What we don’t yet know, however, is who carried out this attack or why,” the president said, “whether it was planned and executed by a terrorist organization, foreign or domestic, or was the act of a malevolent individual. That’s what we don’t yet know.”

- "Obama Calls Blasts an 'Act of Terrorism'", Mark Landler, New York Times, 2013-04-16

So, Mr. President, if bombs targeting innocent civilians are acts of terror, what are missiles shot by drones into occupied dwellings?  What are missiles shot from ships into cities?  What are atomic bombs dropped from planes or sent by guided or ballistic missiles?  Are these weapons only taking out "bad guys" or are a lot of people who have no control over the bad guys just going to be "collateral damage"?  We certainly don't want to think of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombs as being "collateral damage" for somebody's grudge against Boston or against the United States.

Acronym of the day: GOP

In his online essay "The United States of Inequality", Bill Moyers gives another meaning of GOP - Guardians of Privilege.

In the same essay, he also castigates the Democrats for being willing to make cuts to Social Security.  He puts a wry emphasis on "Security".

Monday, April 15, 2013

I was right to be positive about a negative

This morning my urologist called me.  He was pleased to tell me that there was no sign of cancer in the biopsies of my prostate.  See "The Impatient Outpatient".  However, he wants to see me again next February and his staff called me back with a specific date.

Where are my get-young pills?

Ah, this is a good place to stick in my notes about Ponce de León and the Fountain of Youth.  Ponce did not discover Florida.  "By 1513, when Ponce de Léon first arrived, so many Europeans had visited Florida that some Indians greeted him in Spanish."  The fountain of youth at St. Augustine was concocted by Washington Irving over 300 years later.  See "Ponce de León, Exposed", T. Allman, New York Times, 2013-04-01.

About the only Fountains of Youth are to pick long-lived grandparents, don't smoke, drink moderately, eat your vegetables, and exercise regularly.  I've failed at some time or another on all five, but I have followed the second for over 30 years and I try to follow the last three every day.  Plus I have Magree's push-up rule of longevity - you'll live as many years more as you can do pushups.  I have been doing between 22 and 26 most mornings.  See "The Magree Inexpensive Heart Stress Test".

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"Free marketers" rail against free markets again

"Think Those Chemicals Have Been Tested?" Ian Urbina, New York Times, 2013-04-13

Think again!  "[T]he overwhelming majority of chemicals in use today have never been independently tested for safety."

The American Chemistry Council "has also argued that the bill risks raising costs, squelching innovation and putting American companies at a competitive disadvantage."  Raising whose costs?  The industry's costs or those of individuals and health insurance companies?

So much for the full information of a free market and once again "this order of men" seeks to "deceive and oppress the public".

See"Humpty Dumpty and Free Markets" and "The Invisible Adam Smith".

The Impatient Outpatient

In mid-January I visited my primary physician for my annual physical.  Because my PSA shot up above 7, he recommended I see a urologist.   I had to wait until early March to see the urologist I've seen before.

When I saw him, he decided he wanted to take 20 biopsy samples, which means it would be done with anesthesia in a hospital rather than in his office.  So, that was scheduled in late March, at 5:45 in the morning.  But then he wanted me to see my primary physician for a pre-op.  I scheduled that for a few days before the biopsy surgery.  When I saw my primary physician, he didn't think there would be any problem.

But then he thought about it and because I have a heart valve blockage he thought I should see a cardiologist.  This was about two days before the scheduled surgery.  I couldn't see my cardiologist until the following week.  I notified the urologist's scheduler and she supposedly notified the hospital.

I think the hospital called a day or two before the surgery and I informed them of the delay.  At 6:15 of the morning of the original scheduled surgery, the hospital called asking why I wasn't there!

I saw the cardiologist the following Thursday.  He didn't see any reason I couldn't have the biopsy.  The risk of surgery to open my artery was greater than the risk of the biopsy.

I called urology scheduling and she "penciled" me in for April 10th.  At least this time I wouldn't miss a class. "Penciled" probably means entered in the computer system with a provisional note.  Surgery called me back a few days later and said I was scheduled for 8 in the morning.  A much more civilized time.

So no alcohol 24 hours before and 24 hours after.  I like my wine but I could give it up for a couple of days.  No breakfast on the day of surgery.  Now, that is hard to give up.  Only coffee, water, and clear juice.  At least I get a jolt of glucose with clear apple juice.

Off we go on Wednesday morning with my wife to keep me company and drive me home.

We get whisked into a small room with a hospital bed and a woman working on a computer in the other half of the room.  Hm!  Are they getting crowded for office space?  I'm given a gown, a robe, support hose, and cloth socks with sticky bottoms.  My wife looked at the last and said she should have brought those $125 socks from home; that's what was on the bill for her surgery a couple of years ago.

So, I'm just about ready to be trundled off to surgery.  We sit and wait.  My wife has a book, but I can't get into reading much.  I just sit quietly on the edge of the bed (gurney).  And we wait.  It's nine o'clock.  We hear there has been an emergency surgery.  That's certainly more important than my biopsy.  And we wait.

A guy is brought in on a gurney to recover from his surgery.  The woman working on a computer is his girl friend trying to catch up on work while waiting.

I play with words in my head and come up with "The impatient outpatient".  I tell it to a nurse and she just about cracks up.  She was my best audience; others smiled or shrugged.  Maybe they took it as a serious criticism.

Finally about ten o'clock I'm trundled out of the room in my bed.  I watch the ceiling lights flash by and chat with the nurse pushing me.  She places me in a curtained alcove.  The urologist comes by to check on me; his beaming face is a relaxant.  The anesthesiologist comes by and I ask him his name.  It's Muzzi.  "Parlai italiano?"  Boy, does he!  Not exactly like a native, but better conversation than I could make.  And he spoke slowly enough that we understood every word.  He learned it from his "nonna" (grandmother).  Next comes an anesthesiology nurse who heard some of the previous conversation and said he was "German" and asked me to use some German phrases.  In the course of these comings and goings, I rattled off a few phrases in other languages.  Was I entertaining the staff or were they distracting me?  While this last conversation is going on, the nurse puts an I.V. in me and starts a saline drip.  No big deal except the tube irritates the crook of my elbow a few times.

The surgery space becomes available and I'm moved two or three curtained spaces.  Daphne, another anesthesiology nurse, starts the drip of Propofol.  Hoo boy!  My arm feels like somebody is squeezing it everywhere.  Then somebody says, "Melvyn, wake up!"

I feel really tense and stretch everything I can.  But otherwise I am content to just lie there.  After a few minutes I again watch the lights flash overhead but I don't chat as much.  Back in the room.  Goodness, it's two o'clock.

I'm offered beverages and I choose water and apple juice, the latter again for the energy.  I feel better and better.  My bladder says its time to go down the hall.  I manage mostly on my own, but slowly and with a nurse at my elbow.

At about three I get permission to get dressed and go home.  The staff gives my wife time to bring our car to the front door and escorts me out.  Home we go and life returns to normal, sort of.

I was told I would learn the results in a couple of days.  Well, those couple of days were thrown into turmoil by the weather.  Duluth was hit by a heavy, wet snow fall and many activities were cancelled.  As of Sunday I have not been given a result.   My attitude is that I'm positive the results are negative.

Meanwhile, I've moved a lot of snow and slept well.  The worst side effect was a sore throat from the breathing tube that was put in my throat so I could breathe properly.  Today I feel I have some of my singing ability (whatever that means) back.

For the follow-up, see "I was right to be positive about a negative".

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Axis of Weasels

Syria, Iran, and North Korea have voted against the Arms Trade Treaty.  An axis of weasels that would rather have the right to threaten opponents, domestic and foreign, than have a reduction in the arms trade that enables petty tyrants and terrorists to destabilize countries.

Now, thanks to a few who wrongly fear that the Arms Trade Treaty would take away their right to have their guns, the United States may be prohibited by a vote of the Senate from signing the treaty, thus joining the Axis of Weasels.

Oh, well, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who warned against the military-industrial complex would be a RINO to those opposing the Arms Trade Treaty.

See "Tell the Truth about the Arms Trade Treaty", Rachel Stohl, New York Times, 2013-04-11

Dictatorship of the directorate

I've long promoted the idea of withholding votes for directors of companies who are paid too much.  Well, even if all the shareholders withhold their votes, the directors of many companies get to keep their jobs.  All that is required is a plurality of votes.  Since one vote with no opposition is a plurality, they get to keep their jobs.  And their perks.  And accumulate more shares.  And run the company without any consideration for the owners.  Instead of Milton Friedman's corporate purpose of "shareholder value", they run the company for "director value".

For more, see "When Shareholder Democracy is Sham Democracy", James B. Stewart, New York Times, 2013-04-12.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Why snail research is important

On a Bill Maher show, "Stephen Moore, libertarian economist and Wall Street Journal columnist" kept pounding away that we must reduce the debt and one way to do that is to cut funding for science grants, like $2 million for snail mating research.  "19-year-old Zack Kopplin, science advocate and history student" retorted that government-sponsored science often gives far better returns than many investments.  He gave as an example that the government investment in genome research paid back 140 times the investment.  See "College Kid Forced To Remind Know-It-All Economist That He's Actually Not A Scientist".

Warning: this segment deteriorates into a shouting match!

I might add, would we be reading these stories if the government hadn't invested in the Internet decades ago?  Would we have had Google if the government hadn't given a California university a grant to study search algorithms?

About the snail mating research, "it's to prevent children in developing countries from getting parasitic worms…"  Why should we protect these children from parasitic worms?  Parasites increase poverty.  Poverty leads to corruption.  Corruption leads to terrorism.  Two million dollars is a much better investment to prevent terrorism than two hundred million dollars and rising per F-35, a plane that still has many problems.

Quote of the day: Smart action or mooching?

"Why is it that if you take advantage of a corporate tax break you're a smart businessman, but if you take advantage of something so you don't go hungry, you're a moocher?"

- "Jon Stewart pins down the media with their own words"

Unfortunately, the headline is one of those sweeping generalizations that tar a large group with the same broad brush.  Jon Stewart is part of the media.  Does he also call one advantage smart action and the other mooching?

Monday, April 08, 2013

Commerce without connection

"Historians will tell you that nothing changed the American retail experience in the 20th century more than the shopping mall. Once developers clustered hundreds of stores in a single place (with ample parking), the American Main Street all but disappeared. People stopped seeing each other in the center of town. They felt less connected to their community — certainly less connected to its businesses."

Mitch Albom, Duluth News Tribune 2013-04-08

This quote was in "'Just browsing' may become a memory" also published on his website on 2013-03-31.

His article is on how the shopping on the web is changing our shopping habits as much as or even more than the shopping malls changed our shopping habits.

I grew up walking or taking a street car or bus almost everywhere I went.  At one place we lived there were three locally-owned groceries on our block and two store-front chains a bit farther.  At another place we lived there were three locally-owned drug stores in walking distance.

Now almost everything is chains.  The only locally-owned stores are restaurants, bottle shops, hardware stores, and some gas stations.  I really appreciate the few of these places where I can walk in, know the names of the people behind the counter, and be known by them.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Health care or wealth snare

The following are notes I took this morning on a presentation on health care fraud titled "Lifting the veil:  The Citizens Federation’s discoveries of financial mischief by insurance executives and regulators".  It was given by Buddy Robinson of the Citizens Federation at the Lake Superior Freethinkers meeting.

His talk was based on "Who Is Minding the Store", a report by the Citizens Federation.

Added up numbers and found that non-profits took profits.  Put into reserves which became excessive – twice the safe amount and four times the required amount.

Reserves went into investments which in turn increased reserves.  Insurance companies didn't report this to Minnesota legislature.

Several Minnesota counties are dealing directly with the state for employees' health care.  Some are now considering opening to public.

Strange things found about financial reporting.  CEO compensation reported at half actual - Health Partners

Money from state increased at greater rate than payments to providers.

Overpayment reimbursement not in contracts but if fraud involved then overpayments can be recovered.

Insurance companies don't want to divulge payments to providers.

State allowed companies to police themselves.

Motivation?  Medica contracts with former parent UHC, giving it 2/3 of income.

Insurance companies use government money to subsidize commercial policy losses.

Private insurance was to save money; it wound up costing a lot more.

Are HMOs too big to fail or jail?

End of my meeting notes.

So much for the efficiency of private enterprise.  Efficiency (sometimes) in lining corporate management pockets!

I gave as my comment Adam Smith's "The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order…"  See "The Invisible Adam Smith".

Read before signing

How many of us read all the details before we sign a document?  Few of us read software agreements and blithely click "Agree".  Sales people often say it is a standard contract as they wish we would stop reading and sign the damn document.

We are having our shaker porch rebuilt, and Wednesday a local lumber company delivered the materials the carpenter ordered.  The delivery guy stacked the dimension lumber all nicely in our back yard and I signed the order form.

Later I looked out and there was a new pile of cedar shakes.  I looked at the form and saw that the shakes were listed.  Probably the delivery guy saw the mistake after another delivery and came back.

There are honest people in the world, lots of them.

Limerick of the day - Corporate accountability

Poor decisions don't merit praise,

Just a compensatory raise,

Corp Directors deserve

A big raise for their nerve,
In weathering wan woeful days.

- Larry Eisenberg, a comment to "Little Accountability for Directors, Despite Poor Performance", Steven M Davidoff, New York Times, 2013-04-05

My comment to this article was:

"I read once that most of the stock in many companies is held by mutual funds and other financial institutions. They vote with management because of policies of 'fiduciary responsibility'. Individual shareholders who vote against overpaid management are just a minor nuisance."

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Quote of the day - Diplomatic Imperialism

Remember when George W. Bush said that you're with us or against us?

Fareed Zakaria wrote "Washington ... has not yet figured out that diplomatic imperialism is a luxury that the United States can no longer afford."
- The Post-American World, Release 2.0, pp. 258-259

He concludes his book with the idea that we are an open, welcoming country but that our foreign policy is narrow-minded and paranoid.

Many are calling for Congress to compromise on many issues.  Maybe we should be asking Congress and the Administration to compromise with the rest of the world.

"The Post-American World" is a very good read.  Zakaria lays out all the pitfalls of assuming that economic and military might can mislead a country into thinking its "On top of the world and outside history".  On the other hand, Zakaria thinks that as the first "universal nation" (people of many origins and faiths) has a lot of strengths that can be harnessed to bring about a more prosperous, peaceful, multi-polar world.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Lead and "failing" schools

Public school critics blame "failing" schools on the teachers, but consider what the teachers may have to work with, especially with large classes.  Not only are there the cultural issues of not being interested in school, peer pressure not to perform, and homes where books are few or non-existent, but there is also the problem of too much lead in the environment.

"Too much lead can harm developing brains and can mean a lower IQ."

"Lower levels can reduce intelligence, impair hearing and behavior and cause other problems." "Lower levels" meaning lower than those leading to "coma, convulsions, and death".

And higher concentrations of lead are found in older or dilapidated houses.  And there are higher concentrations of older or dilapidated houses around "failing" schools.

See "More than half a million young children have lead poisoning under revised standard", Associated Press, 2013-04-04, published in the Washington Post and others.

If CEOs get incentive pay to turn a company around, why not give teachers incentive pay to turn schools around?

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Job Skills Done Right

Many companies expect prospective employees to have the right "skill set" on day one and do absolutely nothing about creating prospects with those "skill sets."  "A recent study by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development found that the shortage of skilled workers is a chief concern among factory managers. But the study also found companies don’t offer competitive wages or train new workers to program today’s computerized high-tech factory machinery."

One company doing it right is E.J. Ajax & Sons Inc. of Fridley, a metal fabrication company.  Erick Ajax works with Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis to find interns, to sponsor scholarships, and to hire graduates.

See "Fridley family firm E. J. Ajax is a model for training", Dee Depass, Star Tribune, 2013-03-31

You get what you pay for!

Monday, April 01, 2013

Quote of the day: On top of the world and outside history

"Well, here we are on top of the world, and we have arrived at this peak to stay there forever.  There is, of course, a thing called history, but history is something unpleasant that happens to other people.  We are comfortably outside all of that I am sure."  Arnold Toynbee, historian, remarking about the atmosphere while watching a parade during the sixtieth anniversary celebration of Queen Victoria, quoted in "The Post-American World, Chapter 6, American Power" by Fareed Zakaria.

Apropos that, watch "ShiftHappens: What Do You Know?"  We saw this video this morning on a smart board at the administration building of the Duluth Public Schools.  It was part of a presentation on technology in the Duluth  Public Schools for the University for Seniors.  Although the presenters had all this high-tech equipment, they said American schools are still run as if preparing students for factory jobs in the 19th Century.

I think with our militarism, politicians beholden to certain business interests, and lack of investment in public schools we are behind the parade of history.

How is this blog doing?

Probably among my loyal readers, pretty well, all 20-30 of you and maybe rising.  Among the rest of the blogs in the world?  How about 29,082,475 sites being more popular in the last three months?  I guess that's what I get for writing what I damn well please:)  And as the name implies, irregularly.

This ranking comes from

This ranking probably accounts for my large Russian readership, often twice as much as my U.S. readership.  Supposedly there are a lot of reverse spammers in Russia who go to low traffic sites in the hope that the site owners will click on the link backs.  Нет, спасибо!  Пожалуйста, уходи!

For my more legitimate readers who like what they find here, please tell your friends or make references in your own sites.

Also you can give me an eyeful by taking the survey by clicking here.

So far I've only had one response.  Of course, I didn't help my cause by posting derogatory comments about surveys at Insecure corporations.