Sunday, June 30, 2013

Curious advertising

As we carefully lifted our teabags out of our mugs and put them in a small dish without spilling a drop, we thought of the slogan "Good to the last drop" for Maxwell House coffee.  How did anyone know if that last drop was any good?  The ad always showed it falling out of the cup onto the table or some surface.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

An old joke about problem solving

The problem of Microsoft Outlook causing a disabling of the keyboard/trackpad made me think about an old joke about a tough automobile problem.  See "Computer withdrawal resolution continued".

Decades ago, an auto dealer gave his wife her choice of cars on his lot.  She happily drove away in a nice new model but was back in an hour because the engine was running so roughly.

The mechanics tested everything they could think of and found nothing.  She drove off again but was back again in another hour.  Same problem of engine running roughly.

The mechanics pulled out all their diagnostic manuals and tried all the suggestions.  Again, the engine ran quite well for them.  She drove off again but was back again in another hour.  Same problem of engine running roughly.

The head mechanic decided he should ride along with her.  When they got in the car, she pulled out the choke and hung her purse from it.

Modern cars have automatic chokes and we don't think about such things anymore.  We might if we have certain small engines that won't start unless the choke is pulled out, and we know once the engine is running, the choke has to be pushed in to get full power.

Computer withdrawal resolution continued

I sent the following as part of the Geek Squad customer survey:

Malcolm was very courteous and cheerful throughout his explanation of the tests made.

However, I think the Geek Squad didn't have an odd bit of information to explain the problem of my keyboard/trackpad being unresponsive.  These worked fine yesterday evening after I brought my Mac Book Pro home.  But this morning, it started going dead again.  I wondered if Outlook, which was acting slow and squirrelly might be the problem.  I quit Outlook, and maybe rebooted, and I haven't had a problem since.  I also duplicated the Main Identity and reorganized it.  Outlook now runs much faster and I'm still using the keyboard and trackpad without problem.

There always seems to be one crucial piece of information a customer doesn't supply.  See  Outlook was the missing program that none of us thought of.  At least this problem didn't take months to solve, if indeed it is solved (crossed-fingers).  Also, if I hadn't brought my laptop in to the Geek Squad, would I have thought of this solution???

Thanks, folks, for your help!

See also
Computer withdrawal symptoms
Good news about a large corporation
Computer withdrawal resolution

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

More wacky magic!

I went out this afternoon on a few errands.  Just before I found a parking spot at the supermarket, a heavy downpour started.  Even with the umbrella on the seat beside me, I wasn't going to venture out in that cloudburst.

I sat and played sudoku on my iPhone for a while.  Then I thought I had better call my wife to let her know I would be delayed.  Before I finished the sudoku puzzle, the rain let up considerably.

When I checked out the cashier asked how I was doing with the weather.  I told him that I made the rain stop by calling my wife.  He asked if I could keep it from raining until his shift was over.  I asked if he had an hour or two.  He looked at a clock and said more like four hours.  I replied that I couldn't make my magic work that long.

As I walked out to my car, I remembered an old incantation from Boy Scouts.  Just say "Oh-wah, Tah-guh, Siam" over and over again until the rain stops.  If the rain hasn't stopped after fifteen minutes, start saying the incantation faster and faster.  If the rain doesn't stop, you should get a message.

Computer withdrawal resolution

This is a follow-up to "Computer withdrawal symptoms" and "Good news about a large corporation".

I picked up my Mac Book Pro at Best Buy this morning.  The repair comments from the Geek Squad were:

"Unit passed all hardware testing, including trackpad diagnostic.  Unit did not display any issues with the trackpad or keyboard.  Mission complete!"

So, wha' happened?  Did I inadvertently make some preference reset?  Did my Bluetooth keyboard for my iPad get too close to my laptop?  That shouldn't be a problem because Bluetooth is turned off.  Did I accidentally turn it on and somehow turn it off again?

Maybe the problem was cured by the laptop being off for an hour or so.  Maybe it was cured when we ran it on battery at Best Buy.  Maybe the twists and turns of carrying it jiggled something just right.  Maybe my computer withdrawal anguish made the computer feel sorry for me.

As I wrote a few days ago "Magic really works!"  Taking your computer to a technician makes the problem go away.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Good news about a large corporation

Yesterday I wrote about my problems with the keyboard on my Mac Book Pro.  See "Computer withdrawal symptoms",  I didn't expect to see my computer again until tomorrow.

A few minutes ago I got around to checking my email.  Best Buy had sent me an email that my computer was ready for pickup.  The message was sent at 6:15.  I looked at the message after store closing!  I guess I'll hightail up there tomorrow after we run all our morning errands.

I have this strange feeling that the Geek Squad found nothing wrong.  That my moving it from home to the store jiggled something into place.  We shall see.

I have always had respect for The Geek Squad, ever since they started at Washington and Plymouth in Minneapolis a couple of decades ago.  After they fixed one problem with my Apple whatever that handheld was called, I should have taken it back to retrieve data when it bit the dust sometime later.  All those wonderful notes of wisdom that were lost:)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Computer withdrawal symptoms

Come on, Mel, how can you have computer withdrawal symptoms when you obviously are posting something to the web.  You can't do that without a computer!

True!  I am using a "computer" but it is not my very familiar laptop.  I'm using my iPad to write this and I'll probably use it to post this.

But it is not the same as using a laptop with hundreds of applications and many gigabytes of storage. Plus, even with my Logitech compact keyboard, my fingers are challenged even more to hit the right keys at the same time.

This morning, my Mac Book Pro suddenly decided not to move the cursor.  Nor accept any keystrokes on the keyboard.  I could reboot it and get some reaction for awhile.  I don't remember whether it was through my iPad or one of the few times the keyboard worked, but I found that one supposed fix was to mangle your fingers on reboot on the option, command, R, P, and turn on keys.  This, according to some advice in one of the Apple Support Communities, would reset the PRAM (Programmable Random Access Memory) and put things right.

This worked for one or two times for about fifteen minutes.  Then there was no way I could put things right.  I could use the USB mouse from my wife's computer to have some access.  But then she wouldn't be able to use her computer.

After awhile, my system kept looking for a Bluetooth keyboard/mouse.  I wasn't using one, and I could find no way in System Preferences to change this "demand".

So, off I go to Geek Squad at Best Buy where I bought the laptop less than two years ago.  I was unable to find my receipt, but Best Buy had the record and I had a three-year warranty.

When I get there, guess what?  The touchpad worked, the keyboard worked, and everything seemed hunky-dory.

The Geek Squad guy was very helpful in the sense of courtesy and understanding.  We agreed that it would be best to leave my laptop with them to more thoroughly check what may be going on.  He said that would take a day or two, but they might have to send it to their repair center if there were more serious problems.

I feel like the local priest in "Babette's Feast" turning away suitors for his two daughters.  They were his right hand and his left hand.  I have the feeling that I've lost my "right hand".

P.S.  Google on an iPad has made me feel like I've lost my "left hand".  Google just would not respond properly to Safari on my iPad.  When I went to my wife's iMac and used FireFox, I saw about six copies of this entry.  I've deleted all but this copy, and now I'll see if I can open it up to my loyal reader.

For the rest of the story and its resolution see
"Good news about a large corporation", "Computer withdrawal resolution", and "Computer withdrawal resolution continued".

Sunday, June 23, 2013

If all else fails, follow instructions

After much rain and with grass that was growing like a beanstalk, I thought I had better mow our lawn.  I had made an attempt a few days ago and decided the grass was too wet.  I felt the grass and it seemed reasonably dry.  OK, let's get it done before supper time.

Digression: Last year I had traded our gas lawnmower in for a light-weight electric mower.  The old lawnmower's wheels didn't really grab going up the short but sharp incline in front.  It was a lot of work to heave it around and I didn't want to pay the repair bill to get the clutch readjusted.  Even though the electric mower didn't cut as wide a swath, it sure beat heaving the gas mower around.

I started mowing and the blade would slow down.  I banged the mower up and down and big chunks of grass would fall out.  Repeat.  And again.  Then the mower stopped and the gauge showed no power!  What have I done?

I took the battery inside and plugged it into its charger.  Then I started looking for the instructions.  And looking, and looking, and…  I found an update on charging the battery.  The only info I got was that it should take 8-14 hours to charge.

I looked again for the instructions, and looking, and …   Finally I found them, sort of in an obvious place, but under something else.

I looked under "Trouble shooting" and found three important pieces of information.

If the grass is too dense, it might trip the circuit breaker.
If the grass is too dense, raise the height of the deck.
The circuit breaker is located at this place on the handle.

I found the circuit breaker, pushed it, and it went in and stayed in.
I raised the height of the deck to its highest, three inches.
I put the battery back in and worked the controls to get the engine running.

I was no longer shaving the lawn but I was making it look more even than it had.

The time and energy to cut the grass was less than the time and energy to find the manual and make the correct adjustments.

Panic and frustration can be such time wasters!  When will we ever learn to be calm and focused in the face of unexpected problems?

Have I learned my lesson?  Probably not!

See also "If all else fails, read directions".

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Quote of the day: A rebuke to an insult on ancestry

"My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey. You see, Sir, my family starts where yours ends."
- Alexandre Dumas, French author and playwright, his father was the son of a French aristocrat and a slave in Haiti.

The French version is:

"Mon père était un mulâtre, mon grand-père était un nègre et mon arrière grand-père un singe. Vous voyez, Monsieur: ma famille commence où la vôtre finit."

In 2002, French President Jacques Chirac has Dumas' ashes re-interred at the Panthéon of Paris.  Chirac remarked that Dumas was the most widely read French author.

If regulation is bad for business, then…

Why are so many breweries opening in Duluth and elsewhere in Minnesota?  See "Canoe give me a Bent Paddle".  Alcohol production and sale is very highly regulated.  Why are so many other small businesses opening, if they don't compete with giant corporations?  See "Big corporations hinder little corporations".

This blog entry was inspired by an interview with Niall Ferguson about his book "The Great Degeneration".  The interview was by Lauren Lyster "The Daily Ticker" and entitled "The 1.8 Trillion Tax You've Never Heard Of".  This huge tax is the supposed cost of all the government regulations.  Among other indicators for increased regulations is the increased number of pages in the Federal Regulations.

The premise is if we only cut back on regulations then we'll free up businesses to be more productive.  What Ferguson doesn't say is less regulation pushes costs off on everybody else.  Yep, if businesses were free to pollute they would be more productive and their prices would go down (or would it be the CEOs salary would go way up).  But if they were free to pollute what would our costs be in health?  If they were free of regulations in construction then rents would be less (or CEO salary…).  But if they were free of construction regulations how many of us would die when their buildings collapsed or caught fire?  Triangle Shirtwaist Factory anyone?  Bangladesh garment factory?  Salvation Army building collapse?

Regulations have increased not because government is eager to have more control.  Regulations have increased because we live in an ever increasingly complex and compact society.  Regulations increase because we understand more about the harmful effects of many activities and substances on ourselves.  Lead in gasoline was seen as beneficial because it reduced engine knock.  But then lead was seen as harmful to growing brains.  Factories could dump whatever pollutants into nearby streams and lakes, but then people realized that the pollution was killing fish and costing cities more to clean up the water for drinking.

A counter to Niall Ferguson's position can be found at "Niall Ferguson Cites Flawed Evidence to Stoke Regulation Fears", Albert Kleine, Media Matters for America.

This article cites an Office of Management and Budget report of the costs and benefits.  Two of my selections from this report follow.

"The estimated annual benefits of major Federal regulations reviewed by OMB from October 1, 2001, to September 30, 2011, for which agencies estimated and monetized both benefits and costs, are in the aggregate between $141 billion and $691 billion, while the estimated annual costs are in the aggregate between $42.4 billion and $66.3 billion. These ranges are reported in 2001 dollars and reflect uncertainty in the benefits and costs of each rule at the time that it was evaluated."
"It is important to emphasize that the large estimated benefits of EPA rules are mostly attributable to the reduction in public exposure to a single air pollutant: fine particulate matter. Of the EPA’s 19 air rules, the rule with the highest estimated benefit is the Clean Air Fine Particle Implementation Rule, issued in 2007, with benefits ranging from $19 billion to $167 billion per year. While the benefits of this rule far exceed the costs, the cost estimate for the 2007 Clean Air Fine Particle Implementation Rule is also the highest at $7.3 billion per year. In addition, the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CAIR Replacement Rule (2060-AP50)) has benefits ranging from $20.5 to $59.7 billion and costs of approximately $0.7 billion."
- 2012 Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations and Unfunded Mandates on State, Local and Tribal Entities

Magic really works!

My wife has been having difficulty accessing her bank account online.  She had me look over her shoulder as she signed on.  Of course, it worked!  I said, "Of course!  You showed me."  She replied, "It's like taking a car that's making a noise to a mechanic."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Canoe give me a Bent Paddle?

Bent Paddle Brewing is one of the many new locally-owned breweries in Duluth and in Minnesota.  I had a pint of their IPA when we went to Sir Benedict's for pasta and drinks tonight.

The first server I said "Canoe give me a Bent Paddle" to when I ordered it was so busy with doing three things at once that she didn't even notice.  The second server threw back his head in laughter and repeated it to another server.  The owner, Antonino Coppola, also enjoyed the pun.  I don't know if this is original with me, but I hope I am one of the very first.

The Bent Paddle I was served was an IPA (India Pale Ale) with a strong but not overwhelming bitterness.  I think I might be ordering it in the future over a brown ale from another regional brewer.

This incident also is another of the two degrees of separation that one often finds in Duluth.  We know the parents of one of the owners of Bent Paddle Brewing.

Big corporations hinder little corporations

Not quite always, some little corporations do grow into big corporations and some big corporations buy from little corporations.  But think how hard it is for people to start a company in many fields.

When I grew up in Cleveland, there were many grocery stores in walking distance of one place we lived and there were many drug stores and grocery stores in another place.  By walking distance, I mean less than ten minutes, more like five minutes.  Since we moved to Duluth fourteen years ago, a state-wide drug store has closed, a city-wide drug store has closed, and only two independent pharmacies are left.  All the others are in large chain stores and medical centers.

Now suppose you start a small company that makes a skin medication.  How are you going to get it into all those chain stores?  Will the local managers of those stores have the authority to buy local products on their own, or will they have to get corporate approval?  It depends on the company.  But if you had access to locally-owned stores, you would have a greater chance of getting in the door.

I'm only writing based on observation and not personal experience.  I know people who know people who are active in such a small company, and I have observed their marketing results.  The company is Apolonia B, a maker of a skin ointment.  When it first came out, it was available at the city-wide pharmacy, Falk's Pharmacies.  Falk's closed all of its stores rather than compete with the big chains.

As my own jar was getting low, I wondered where I would get a refill.  I checked Apolonia B's web site and found one retailer listed - Whole Foods Co-op (not to be confused with the national chain Whole Foods Market).  Bias warning: we are two of many owner-members and we shop at Whole Foods Co-op regularly.

I can only surmise that being a locally-made natural-ingredient product, Apolonia B was an easy sell to the buyers at Whole Foods Co-op and was probably too time-consuming to try to sell to the big chains.

Our choices for buying locally are dwindling.  At least we have a great choice in locally-owned restaurants and even locally-produced beer, many local hair salons, several locally-owned coffee shops, three or four locally-owned hardware stores, and one locally-owned camera shop.

Minority births now surpass white births! So what?

News organization after news organization reported recently that minority births now surpass white births or that white births are less than white deaths.  Among others, see "Census: Minorities Now Surpass Whites in Births", Hope Yen, Associated Press, 2013-05-17

Duh!  Given our attitude of "one drop" and of nationality what would you expect?

More and more couples are "mixed": "blacks" marry "whites", "whites" marry "Asians", "Native Americans" marry "whites", and so on.  Fewer people are concerned about racial "purity" than ever before in U.S. history.  And what are the offspring of "white"-"whatever" couples called in our society?  It ain't "white".

Sometimes people self-select the non-white designation; sometimes others make the designation for them.  For the first case, look at all the tribes that will allow a person to enroll if only one grandparent was "Indian".  For the second case, look at all the people that too many designate as "black" because one grandparent was "black", or even one ancestor was "black" many generations ago!

Not all of my parents' descendants are "white".  Boy, would my father's mother be horrified!  Three lines have married "Asians" and another may marry a "black".  As far as many of my generation and after are concerned, all of these "non-whites" are most welcome into our family.

Sorry, white supremacists, we will all be "brown" some century from now.

Monday, June 17, 2013

King Canute and the House Republicans

King Canute, king of England, Denmark, and some other places had followers who thought he could do anything.  He had his throne placed way out on a beach at low tide and commanded that the tide not come in.  Of course it came in and he had his throne moved back a bit.  The tide kept coming in.  Repeat move.  Repeat incoming tide.  Finally Canute declared that only God could control the tides.  One hopes that his followers were appropriately chastened.

The House Republicans have followers who want them to do certain dogmatic things.  The House Republicans have voted 37 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  The Senate has not acted on this or has voted against the repeal.  The House Republicans are ignoring the tide of history that eventually most of the world will have universal healthcare, where rich and poor will have adequate health care at a minimal personal cost.  Will this tide drown the Republican Party?

Round robin service robbin' my time

I started this entry near the end of May as "Good Service from a Large Corporation" but never finished it or posted it.  The original follows up to the ellipsis (…).

Last week our internet service kept going out.  The "internet" light on our DSL modem would go out, and we couldn't send or receive any data.  We would unplug the modem, wait about five minutes, and replug the modem.  Within a couple of minutes, all the modem lights would be lit normally.  This kept happening more and more frequently.

We attributed it to the wind and the rain that went on for about three days.  But when the weather cleared the problem persisted, maybe with less frequency.

I sent email to our phone company, CenturyLink, with the suggestion that the storm may have been causing the problems.  I received a sympathetic reply from Martina that there was no known problem in our area.  My guess is that few people call up when they have problems that they think will go away.  Martina also suggested that I call a service number or set-up an online chat.

I was reluctant to do so because, with so many companies, one just goes around in circles.  Also we were heading to our cabin that has no DSL.

When we came back on Saturday evening, we still had the problem now and then.  When I woke up in the night, I checked if the internet light was on.  I reset the modem from my iPhone, it came on.  Before I had gone back to bed, the light was off again.  I reset the modem again and went back to bed.  When I got up in the morning, the light was off again; I reset the modem.  Repeat three times within an hour.

I'm not sure when the light finally stayed on, but I called my ISP, Hickory Tech, to hear if they had heard any problems.  The support person who I talked to said there had not been any major problems reported.  He thought, as I did, that the modem may be becoming faulty.

I fussed and fumed about going to the CenturyLink store in the local mall or to Best Buy.  I would do that on Monday.


Well, on that following Monday I did nothing about buying a new modem.  Over two weeks later the problem still persists but as I write this sentence the internet light is on.

I think the Monday was Memorial Day, and I knew Best Buy would be open.

On Tuesday after Memorial Day I did have an online chat with Melanie of Boise of CenturyLink.  She did some tests and found that our service had been throttled back.  She wrote "…all I did was go in and correct the provisioned [sic] speeds from 3M to 7M".  I thanked her and told her she deserved a raise.

However, speed has dropped again.  We also had a major power outage last night; see "Taking life for granted".

So, I'm back dithering about buying a new modem.  The ActionTec website recommends the "C1000A for CenturyLink" or the "Q2000 for Century Link".  I went to BestBuy page for the C1000A and looked at customer comments.  Many said that it was simple to install but a few others described exactly the problems I have been having with my DSL modem bought in October 2005 (the date is on one of the line filters).  These comments were made for purchases this year: 2013!  I should shell out a hundred bucks just to have the same problems again?

If some people have no problems at all and some people have problems no matter when they bought their DSL modems, I would say one of two things is happening.  Either the quality of the modems is inconsistent or the quality of the internet service provided by CenturyLink is inconsistent.  Or maybe both.

I didn't feel any better about my quandary when I found out that CenturyLink was rated 14 of the worst 15 companies for customer service by Business Insider.  And replacing telephone service with cable service isn't a good alternative.  Charter is rated 3 in the worst customer service list!!!

See all my other rants about this problem in
Internet service – What free market?
Internet service but not customer service
Who is worth more, the CEO with rigid rules or the employee giving excellent service?
Free market and the Internet

I guess my only recourse is to have a chat with Melanie in Boise every so often to get my provisional speed bumped up again.  She gave the best customer service on this issue of anyone else.

To end on a good note about customer service, see
Why do people pick on the Post Office?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Taking life for granted

Here we sit in the descending darkness three hours after a power outage.  At about five a thunderstorm with thunder, lightning, hail, and strong winds came through.  In the middle of working on our computers the Internet went out on our modem.  Then we heard a clap of thunder very close and then another.  Our power went out.  Later my wife said the second seemed more like an explosion of a transformer.

I used my cell phone to call the power company.  The automatic system informed me that 2,956 customers were affected and crews would be working on it as soon as possible.  I hoped not too soon because the weather was still rather bad.

We considered going to the restaurant at the corner but figured they wouldn't be able cook much, and so I made tuna salad.

I read the New York Times on my iPhone and played a lot of Sudoku.  My wife read the paper copy of the Duluth News Tribune and then a book.  As it got darker we gathered flashlights and put them where we could find them in the dark.

About twenty minutes ago I looked out the front window to see if the corner restaurant had any cars in its parking lot.  It did and its lights were on!  It is on a different local grid!  We could have gone there for supper and had coffee afterwards!

Oh, well!  My wife is ready for bed and reading a book by flashlight.  Hey, the power just came back on!  Thanks to the Minnesota Power crews who are ready to work on a Sunday evening.

We'll get everything back in order and I'll send this on my laptop.

We considered this power outage as a minor inconvenience that we were certain would be fixed in a reasonably short time.  Even if the repair had taken several hours longer, it still would have been only an inconvenience.  Considering how many people whose lives have been turned upside down by violent storms, fires, and wars we can only look at our little problem as just that, a little problem.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Contradictory thoughts on contradictory thoughts

"Apes and Humans" was one of Wisconsin Public Radio's "To the Best of Our Knowledge" (TTBOOK) broadcasts for 2013-06-09.  One segment was about the so-called "monkey girl", a five-year-old girl kidnapped in Columbia and then abandoned in the jungle.  Supposedly she survived with the help of monkeys who "adopted" her.  She, Marina Chapman, and her daughter, Vanessa James, wrote a book on Marina's experiences – "The Girl with No Name".  Philip Sherwell of the Telegraph was asked to go to Columbia to check up on her story.

There were some inconsistencies in the stories he heard, but considering the events were fifty years ago, he would have been concerned if they were consistent.  He came away not establishing anything that would make him "believe that she'd made it up…"

In other words, by compiling a mosaic of thoughts, Sherwell came away believing Chapman's story in general.

On the other hand, in the preface to his satire, "L'Ile des Pingouins", Anatole France claims if you have a "fact" about certain events from one person, you should believe it, but if you have reports from several people then their reports are always contradictory and always unreconcilable (my translation).

Unfortunately, too many people today rely on one source of news, and whatever is said by that source must be true.  They just don't want to believe that some of what the source says may be true, some may be partly true, and some may be completely false.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

World Getting Better? Depends

I finally finished Charles Kenny's "Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding – And How We Can Improve the World Even More".  We bought the book when he spoke at the "Confronting Global Poverty" lecture Series of the Alworth Center for Peace and Justice at St. Scholastica in Duluth on Nov. 13, 2012.  You can watch his lecture here.

Many were disappointed in his talk and book because they thought he was painting a rosier picture than reality.  Kenny's thesis is that we should concern ourselves less with increasing GDP and look more at quality of life measures.

These include health, longevity, education, child mortality, and family size.  He claims that throughout the world with a couple of notorious exceptions, the first four measures are getting greater and the last less.  Rather than look at the number of roads and dams, we should look at how people are living day-to-day and what they and we can do to improve daily life.

For an example of a low-tech solution that improved the lives of trash pickers in India, see "Out of India's Trash Heaps, More Than a Shred of Dignity", Sarika Bansal, New York Times, 2013-06-12 .  Do read some of the comments.

Score one for Clarence Thomas

Supreme Court Clarence Thomas wrote the unanimous opinion against Myriad Genetics claim that it had a patent on the naturally occurring BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that are used for its breast cancer tests.

See "Justices, 9-0, Bar Patenting Human Genes".

It is very heartening to see another case where dire predictions of strict ideology don't come true.  The big corporation was overruled in its attempt to patent nature.  Scientists in academia and other corporations should be allowed to access and use these genes.

If you're interested in all the details, you can find the ruling at

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

If you have nothing to hide, why worry?

Supporters of the NSA wire-tapping and of the PATRIOT Act assert that if we have nothing to hide, why should we be concerned.  Consider that an administration may construe any criticism of itself to be criminal and covered by the PATRIOT Act.  Don't laugh, but there have been people who have privately called their leaders jerks and put in prison for it.  Don't laugh, Joseph McCarthy hounded people for their political beliefs.  Don't laugh, Richard Nixon had his enemies list of people who were critical of his policies.  Don't laugh, George W. Bush said, "You are either with us or against us."

But how many of these same people don't apply the same reasoning to corporate labels.  If a corporation has nothing to hide in its products, then why is it concerned about laws concerning labeling?  If GMO foods are good for you, then what do corporations have to hide in having laws past to prohibit labeling foods as GMO?

If various political front organizations of any stripe have nothing to hide, why do they need 501(c) status?  Could it be that the law requires candidates to give the names of their donors but a 501(c) organization doesn't have to?  If you live in California and want to contribute to a candidate in Wisconsin, why do want to hide that you are an out-of-state donor?

Consistency has never been a hall-mark of those with uncompromising political mind-sets.

The Read the Bill Caucus

I've long been pondering what a viable new political party would be based on and what it would be called.  Considering all the current comments about the NSA telephone surveillance and the Patriot Act, I have considered a new solution to the rigid stances.

I forget the details, but someone challenged Congress to read the entire Patriot Act.  Only one Representative did and he voted against it.  Many Democrats in the House opposed it and only Russ Feingold opposed it in the Senate.  Many did complain that they weren't given enough time to read it, and some complained there weren't even enough copies available.

Given this "knee-jerk" voting on so many issues, rather than look around for a third party to replace one of the two current major parties, maybe we just need a new caucus open to all: The Read the Bill Caucus.

To join The Read the Bill Caucus, a Senator or a Representative need only promise to read a bill before voting for it.  If a caucus member has not read a bill and understood it, then the member will vote against the bill or abstain from voting on the bill.

The beauty of this idea is that a member of Congress doesn't have to change his or her ideology.  Members only have to understand what they are voting for instead of just following a party line or caving in to mass hysteria.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Another witty ditty mined from my mind

Ginger the singer was singed by something rude and lewd zinged from the crowd.

Muslims do speak out; anyone listening?

See "An Interviewer Asked A Muslim Leader About The Murder Of A British Soldier.  Here's How He Answered".  Imam Ajmal Masroor gave a heartfelt condemnation of people who want to injure or kill others in the name of religion.

The comments on Facebook are all over – from support to blind, sweeping opposition.  One I like best is from Rafi Uddin Ahmed:

"I agree 100%.
The Muslim leadership in US has been condemning these terrorist acts for years and can not get any media coverage. We work closely with FBI, TSA and Homeland security in safeguarding our country. Majority of foiled terrorist attacks were a result of tips from muslim community."

See also "Violent militants are not Muslims", Fouza Saeed, Star Tribune, 2013-05-28.

She didn't write this phrase, but I think the best term for those she describes is "pseudo-Muslim criminals.

See also "Qur'an burning - Questions for Muslim protesters"

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Labor unions bad, corporate unions good?

Anti-union sentiment is getting more and more vociferous among Republicans.  A case in point is an op-ed in the Star Tribune about day-care providers "union benefits" – "Minnesota is the latest scene of desperation", James Sherk, Heritage Foundation, Star Tribune, 2013-05-26.  However, this article is more balanced in that it questions only a particular situation.  Should self-employed people be forced to join a union?

But isn't a union a group of people with similar interests.  And aren't there many labor laws to ensure that labor unions have democratic leadership?

If we are to ban unions or pass laws that make it difficult for workers to form unions, shouldn't we also ban corporate unions, like Chambers of Commerce or National Association of Manufacturers?

See also Adam Smith on wages and who gets to organize to control them.

Concerning the Heritage Foundation and its bias, see "Heritage Shock", Paul Krugman, New York Times, 2013-06-05 and "Yes, Europe is really is in the throes of austerity", Dylan Matthews, Washington Post, 2013-06-05.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Buy gold?

As I was waiting at the barber shop, I had two choices.  Look at Fox News or keep my eyes closed.  The visual noise of the multiple banners of modern news broadcasts is bad enough, but the hype of the advertisements is even worse.

One of the ads that caught my attention was a company selling gold.  They offered it at one percent over dealer cost and with free shipping.

First, what do they mean by "dealer cost"?  Is that the cost to buy it in the first place?  Or is it the cost to buy it and sell it together?  After all, the sales people, the management, and the advertising are all costs for the sale.  And isn't the "free shipping" a cost?

Second, if owning gold is such a good deal, why aren't they holding it as an investment?  Won't they make more money by holding it than selling it?  Maybe they are trying to dump it before the price drops even further.

Magree's law of market timing:  When others are excited about buying, keep what you already have.  When others are excited about selling, sell what you already have.

Monday, June 03, 2013

There are no porches in Portugal…

and there are no gulls.

Well, I am sure many houses in Portugal have verandas or porches and many beaches have many gulls.

However, if you consider how many Americans pronounce the word Portugal and how the Portuguese pronounce the name of their country, you will understand my quip.

Many American pronounce the name of the country as Porch-uh-guhl or Porch-you-guhl where "uh" is the most frequent vowel in the English language, the schwa, an unaccented form of a short u.  Some may get closer to the Portuguese pronunciation with Porch-uh-gahl.

In the Google Translate (, the English speaker says POUR-chyu-gahl, but the Portuguese speaker says Por-tu-GAHL with the "l" held a bit longer.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Do you really want term limits?

If you think that term limits of legislators at all levels will solve all of our government problems, then you better impose term limits on another group.

We will need term limits on individual lobbyists.  If we don't then experienced lobbyists will walk all over inexperienced legislators.  See "The Fixer", James Fallows, The Atlantic, June 2013.  It is about Gov. Jerry Brown and California politics.  California voters imposed term limits.  "Because legislators don't know what they doing, they're more under the permanent influence structure of lobbyists and bureaucrats."

But we'll also have to have term limits on lobbying firms.  The experience of their term-limited lobbyists will just be passed on.

We will also have to have term limits on corporations.  They will just pass their experience from one lobbying firm to another.

While we're at it, why not term limits on political donations.  If you donate to a candidate, then you can't donate to that candidate or that particular office until the term limit expires.  For example, if the term limit for the House of Representatives is six years, then you cannot donate to any candidate for that seat for six years.

The law of unintended consequences will bite you no matter what solution you find for current problems.  Gov. Hiram Johnson gave California voters the initiative to create law.  This was supposed to be an antidote to the control that the Southern Pacific had over legislators.  Now, deep-pocket corporations use the initiative to promote their own interests.  Propositon 8 on limits to property tax brought California's spending on school systems to second in the nation to somewhere in the 40s.

Be careful what you ask for, you might get it.  And then some.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Oklahoma, tornadoes, Pat Robertson, God, and James Imhofe

Pat Robertson supposedly stated that the deadly tornado that destroyed homes and killed people in Moore, Oklahoma was because people didn't pray enough.  See "God and the Moore Tornado", Roger Talley, Examiner, 2013-05-25.  This in turn cites "Pat Robertson: Tornadoes Could Have Been Stopped If People Had Prayed", Huffington Post, 2013-05-20, which in turn uses a video from other sources.

What exactly did he say?  If you watch the video, both the Examiner, which seems to have a bias toward religion, and almost all the other "short quote" media, didn't give the full context of Robertson's statement.  In the video, Robertson gives a scientific explanation of tornadoes, stating that this is the way God set things up to provide thermal balance for the earth.  He then asks why people build in places with known dangers.  He does state that God could have stopped the tornado if enough people had prayed.  That is quite a different statement than God punished Moore because not enough people prayed.

This pokes a bit of a hole in the joke that I have, but I'll push on anyway, partly because the Examiner article put this spin on it.  What if the Moore tornado was a warning from God?  Could it have been a warning not about prayer but about re-electing James Imhofe to the U.S. Senate?  After all, Sen. Imhofe is one of the chief global-warming deniers in Congress.

All kidding aside, the data is not in on the connection between global warming and tornadoes.  As usual, we have the usual suspects jumping to draw their own conclusions.  On one side global warming doesn't exist because scientists have not found a definitive link between tornadoes and global warming, and on the other side tornadoes must be increasing in severity because of global warming. Actually, global warming could increase them or global warming could decrease them.  For a balanced view on the research in progress, see "Tornadoes and Global Warming", Robert Kunzig, National Geographic, 2013-05-22.