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 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 with attribution.  The author is Ric S. Bastasa, a judge in the Phillipines.

His list of poems at 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
“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 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

Corporate bug fixes

I am ready to start the update on my iPhone from iOS 7.0.2 to iOS 7.0.3.  The explanatory text is

"This update contains improvement and bug fixes."

Wasn't iOS 7 supposed to be this wonderful update?  Frankly, I long for iOS 6 because a lot of things that used to work don't work as well with iOS 7.

BYOD and corporate efficiency

"Call it a movement of sorts, but employees are increasingly ditching their company issued computers and smartphones in favor of using their own devices to get work done. One big reason: Their company's tech is, well, terrible."
- "BYOD or bust: How bad tech hurts companies", Cadie Thompson, CNBC, 2013-10-24.

However, read the full article about all the complexities companies face when employees use their own devices.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dreaming of sleeping

I had a colonoscopy yesterday and am still a bit sleepy, partly from the anesthesia and partly from the liquid diet for a day and a half.  I slept until 8:30 this morning and had my usual breakfast.  I had intended to go to the fitness center, but I was just too tired.

I went back to bed and fell into a deep sleep.  I dreamed I was outside our cabin and getting sleepier and sleepier.  I couldn't get inside fast enough to lie down on the couch.  It seemed almost as soon as I was comfortable on the couch I woke up to the reality of lying in our bed in Duluth.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

In the cellphone WiFi desert

I was hoping "to cut the cord" and go completely cellular with telephone and internet.

With some false assumptions, I thought we could get equivalent service by getting another Consumer Cellular Home Phone Base to replace our Duluth telephone line and a wireless hot spot to replace the DSL service.  My back of the envelope calculation showed the monthly cost would be about equivalent.

Another Home Phone Base would cost us about $10/month and all calls would be charged to my wife's cell phone account.  Since we rarely use all our minutes, we wouldn't have any other extra costs.

A quick search of the web for wifi hot spots came up with the AT&T Unite which would cost about $50 per month.  Since we pay about $60 per month for our phone and DSL service, this looked like a break-even deal.  Since the hot spot was portable, we would have the bonus of using it at our cabin.  The deal-maker was that one commenter said he often got 19Mbps with his Unite.  Hot diggedy dog!  Greased lightning.  A lot better than zero Mbps at our cabin and around 6Mbps at our house.

So, on Tuesday off I went to the local AT&T store to buy one.  A friendly representative met me at the door and answered all my questions.  He showed my the Unite which is about the size of a cell phone.  When I told him that I had read that it was capable of 19Mbps he replied that some people even got 25Mbps.

I went through all the rigamarole of filling out a contract, but then got ticker shock.  With all the taxes and fees the monthly cost for 5 gigabytes would be $63!!  Oh, well, maybe it will be worth it to have access at the cabin and having three times the speed I now have.

The contract did include a 14-day return policy.

I brought the hot spot home, unpacked it, read the instructions, assembled it (insert battery and put on back cover), and turned it on.  I set my laptop to access it and was surprised that it seemed slow.  I ran an Ookla speed test on my MacBook and found it was doing less than 4Mbps compared to over 4Mbps with the DSL modem.  I ran similar tests with my iPhone and my wife's iMac.  I moved the Unite close to windows and received even slower speeds.  The only upside was that upload speeds with the Unite were faster than with DSL.

I also found that the megabytes were also adding up, even when I did nothing.  After a half-afternoon of use, I had used over 220 megabytes.  With both of us online we would easily exceed 5 gigabytes in a month; that could add $10-20/month to our bill.

I reluctantly repacked the unit and took it back to the AT&T store yesterday.  Surprise, the same friendly representative met me at the door again.

He was sympathetic to my problem, but he wanted to double-check.  When he used the hotspot with his iPhone, he was getting around 20Mbps!  He checked the coverage map and found a tower within three blocks of our house.  Oops!  It won't become active until December.  So, he took our unit back and waived the restocking fee.

We said we would periodically check with my wife's Consumer Cellular phone (AT&T network).

When we got home, I downloaded Ookla to my wife's cellphone.  Test runs gave less than 3Mpbs!  Even when I pointed the phone at the nearby tower!  Oops!  I was still using our DSL modem!  I turned WiFi off on my wife's cell phone and tried again.  The ping was slower than through DSL, but the download never even began!  It stayed on 0.00 until I got a message about connection error.  We are in the desert compared to up on the hill in the mall area.

We'll keep checking the local tower.  If and when service improves to about 20Mps, we'll reconsider cutting the cord.

Note: This article was corrected 2013-10-24 to state that the first speed test with my wife's cellphone was using our DSL modem and that the test failed on the AT&T network.

How not to write spam

I received the following message from "Amazon";
Important For Your Online Account Access . Action Suspended

this email send by Amazon

Dear Customer

During our usual security enhancement protocol, we observed multiple login attempt error while login in to your online amazon account. We have believed that someone other than you is trying to access your account for security reasons, we have temporarily suspend your account and your access to online amazon and will be restricted if you fail to update
Your first clue to an official-looking email being a spam is how bad is the English.  We all maik misteaks and other tipos, but the above is ridiculous.

Your second clue is where do the included links really go.  I find these by just putting the cursor over the links or dragging the message to a text editor program.  In Microsoft Outlook the first shows the link as a drop down.  In Apple's TextEdit the second shows the source code of the message.  You don't really need to know that much about HTML, but you can scan it for suspicious looking items.

Speaking of spam, this blog has a lull in reverse spam from Russia.  These reverse spammers may have moved to Ukraine.  In any case, the number of pageviews from the United States has gone up but not to the level I was receiving Russian "pageviews".  I hope the US pageviews are real human readers who enjoy what I have written.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Efficiency is not dependent on organizational form

I emailed the following to the Reader Weekly 2013-10-10.  They published it on 2013-10-17 as "People make mistakes!  All the time.  Everyday."  It is also available at

Some people are using the glitches in the Affordable Care Act exchanges as proof that government is inefficient.  Duh, how often have you updated software on your devices with version x.0 and then within a week or two received a notice of the release of version x.0.1?

Government is run by people.  Corporations are run by people.  People make mistakes!  All the time.  Everyday.  In every way.  Government screws up.  Corporations screw up.

For examples of corporate screw-ups and non-response to customer complaints, take a look at the customer “support” message boards.  All the support comes from other customers who spent hours trying to figure out how a product really worked.  If they are lucky, other users mark their responses as helpful and they get “points”, whatever those are worth.

I’ve seen some issues go on for two or more years.

Let me give you a short summary of some customer service issues I’ve had this year.

I think it was late spring when we had several days of windy, rainy weather.  Our DSL service was erratic.  It would be slow then normal then nothing at all.  The DSL light on our modem would go out.  I called CenturyLink and spoke with a tech in Idaho.  She said that our service had been throttled back from the nominal 7Mbps to 3Mbps.  She did some resetting and things were better.

The bad weather continued and our DSL service became erratic again.  I made a call and sent some emails, but this time I was told that it was my modem and that I should buy a new modem.  I checked online for the current CenturyLink modem, and guess what!  One customer had left a message that he bought that new modem and was having the exact same problems as we were!  Two months before my search!

I didn’t buy a modem and a few weeks later our modem was doing just fine.  Our service now runs about 6Mbps.  Could it be that CenturyLink had some line problems that customer support was not told about?

I bought a solar light for the outhouse at our cabin.  It worked fine and then it would not turn on until it had been off for about an hour.  I sent email to the customer support and received back a request for my address, phone number, date of purchase, and a scanned copy of the receipt.  I said “Phooey” and figured out that I had drained the batteries by leaving the light on.  Replacing the batteries improved the performance.  It looks like the first line of customer support is only screeners who have no access to problems and solutions.  Now this dumb customer left the light on again and it wouldn’t turn on again.

We replaced our cabin landline with a wireless home phone base.  The answering machine now gave a time an hour later than the time of call.  Consumer Cellular replied it was my answering machine.  With a bit of web searching, I found out that the wireless home phone base is passing the wrong information and that a firmware upgrade fixes the problem.  The upgrade is available only from the original manufacturer and only can be installed with Windows software.  When I relayed this information back to Consumer Cellular, they replied they could not help me and implied it wasn’t even their responsibility!  This from a company that is rated highly in customer service.

The keyboard and keypad on my laptop would not respond.  I tried the various reset tricks from Apple support boards but none worked for long.  I took my laptop back to Best Buy where I bought it, but everything worked fine for the Geek Squad.  It worked fine for a while at home and then… “Dead” again.  I figured out that it was Microsoft Outlook that I always have on that was the problem.  The techs had closed all my apps before their tests.  I reorganized Outlook's database and the keyboard has been working fine since.  If only I could make the fingers hitting the keys work as well!

But we should also look on the bright side.  Corporations have done a great job of making our cars more reliable and comfortable.  If we take some reasonable precautions they start every time and get us where we want to go safely.  We have all kinds of extras that weren’t on my first car, a 1940 Chevy.  Turn signals, windshield washers, side view mirrors, power steering, power brakes, anti-skid, ABS, air-conditioning, and accurate speedometers.

Ah! Accurate speedometers!  I had a 1969 Fiat that said I was going 70mph when I was actually going 63.  I had a Ford Escort that said I was going 55mph when I was actually going 47 mph!  The Ford dealer blamed it on the tires and wouldn’t do anything about it.  I found it was a wide-spread problem; when I compensated for the error I passed many Ford Escorts driving well under the speed limit.

If the dealer was right about the problem, the tires would have to be about 15 percent smaller than “standard” to have that speed disparity.  For a tire that was about two feet in diameter, that would work out to over an inch of tread wear.  The grooves on a auto tire are not even that deep!  What was it that Adam Smith said?  “Those who live by profit deceive and oppress the public.”

In the favor of those who live by profit, our latest cars do much better on speedometer accuracy – 30 mph on the speedometer at 30 mph and 71 mph at 70 mph! Oh, and we have one domestic car and one foreign car.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Insurgencies, outside forces, and good government

Why is it that those seeking to overthrow a government can often do it without outside help other than weapons, but that government forces need outside advisers?

We saw it in Viet Nam where the Viet Cong kept fighting and fighting against both the South Vietnamese government and their U.S. advisers.  It got to the point where the "advisors" were doing more of the fighting than the government forces.

We saw it in Iraq where a large variety of "insurgents" fought against the foreign invaders and then against the Iraqi government as well as each other.  The outside invaders stayed to advise the new government, but that government seems ineffectual against the "insurgents".

We see it in Afghanistan where the Taliban keeps striking at the foreign invaders/advisers and the Afghan government, including local governors as well as the Afghan army and police.

Could the common thread be that all these governments were not only corrupt but not fully supported by the general populations?  Could it be that the only way to put down anti-government forces is to have a strong, dictatorial government or to have wide-spread popular support of a freely elected government?

And a freely elected government cannot really be imposed from outside.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Maybe I'm preaching to the choir

The following was published in the October 10 edition of the Reader Weekly of Duluth.  It is also available at

Almost every time Bob Boone sees me, he asks me to write again for the Reader.  When I saw him last week he twisted my arm so hard that I yelled “Uncle!”  Unfortunately, my arm is so sore that I’ll have to do a lot of cutting and pasting from my notes and blog postings.  I must admit I gave in partly because so many people ask if I’m still writing for the Reader but few visit my blog (it has more Russian reverse-spammers than American readers).

By the time this is published will the government be open again?  Regardless, consider what the uproar would be if the Democrats in the Senate would not approve a spending bill unless certain provisions were removed from the PATRIOT Act.

Many are promoting Hilary Clinton for President in 2016.  My own view is that we have had enough of Presidential dynasties.  If you think a woman should be President, consider Kathleen Sebelius and Elizabeth Warren.  Sebelius has governed and with some bi-partisan success.  Warren really is good at exposing contradictions in the positions of the powers that be.

Once again it is that tiresome time of year in the Northland.  Off in the distance, bang!  Too close for comfort, bang!  Bird season has started and then next month is deer season with a few other hunting seasons thrown in.

Last time I checked, landowners in Minnesota are supposed to post their property with "No Trespassing" signs every 300-500 feet.  In other words, hunters are free to trespass on private land that is not posted.

Even if posted, some hunters ignore the signs or even evidence that they were shooting into private property.  One fall a bird hunter shot down our driveway with our red pickup plainly visible.  My wife happened to be nearby and yelled at him.  He grabbed his bird, ran to his truck, and drove off as quickly as he could.

What if my wife had a gun in her hand?  If Minnesota had a "Stand Your Ground" law, would she be in the right to shoot the trespassing hunter?

Last season some bird hunters shot into our land where there was no brush under the power line.  There were "No Trespassing" signs within 300 feet of where they shot.  What if I had been walking on a trail that paralleled the road and had a gun with me.  Would I have been "standing my ground" to shoot back?  They were also shooting within 200 feet of an occupied dwelling on the other side of the road.

Given that a GPS unit costs less than most rifles and that St. Louis County, Minnesota, publishes plat maps, available free online, listing all the properties and owners, should landowners even be required to post their property?
Responsible hunters know where they hunt and respect property rights.  They would be safe.  But the few irresponsible hunters give the impression that all hunters do not respect property rights.  These irresponsible hunters should be very glad that Minnesota doesn't have a "Stand Your Ground" law.
How often have we heard the following before:

"Notwithstanding the NRA’s win in Colorado in knocking off two gun control Democratic State Senators for supporting more stringent ‘gun control’, if Liberals vote they will win. In fact if one analyzes the Colorado race, Liberals were disinterested and stayed home, something that must be worked on going forward. Voters must learn that it is their civic duty to vote every time. Political engagement must be a requirement for effective citizenship."
 - Egberto Willies, "America Is A Liberal Nation.  A Liberal Wins On a Liberal Message."

Maybe I’m preaching to the choir.  Reader Weekly readers always vote, don’t they?  Remember city council and school board elections are on November 5th as well as a school levy.

Ah, a school levy!  How often have you heard people complain about taxes for schools because they don’t have any kids in school?  Conversely, how many younger people complain about paying into Social Security and it goes almost directly into the pockets of seniors?

Well, we have many cross-generational transfers and we always will.  Who paid for seniors’ schooling?  People long dead.  Who paid the Social Security for those long dead?  The seniors now collecting Social Security.  Who paid for the highways and public buildings?  People long dead.  Who is paying for new roads and public buildings?  People who will use them only a few years of the lifetime of those roads and public buildings.

Schools, roads, and public buildings are considered public goods.  That is, things that benefit all people regardless of their ability to pay.  Would you have been able to go to school if your parents were poor?  Would you want to pay a toll for every section of road you drove on?  We all get to use these public goods independent of how much we paid for them.  It is these public goods that help make a civil society.  Those countries that let the rich pay few or no taxes and make the poor pay lots of taxes are not pleasant places to live.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Bible for all seasons

The Bible is an amazing collection of history, fables, rules, and wisdom.  Almost anybody can find something somewhere to support their beliefs.  Some believe because the New Testament does not mention instrumental music then there should be no instrumental music in church services.  On the other hand there are many who take the Old Testament to heart to "make a joyful noise unto the Lord" with all kinds of instruments.  Thank you, Bach, Handel, Verdi, and many others.

Unfortunately much evil has been done by some interpretations, from the burning of "heretics" to the following:

"John’s visions, throughout the centuries, have been applicable to almost every conflict or fit of us-against-the-world madness. Charles Manson read the Book of Revelation before his followers’ rampages; Hitler, encouraged by Joseph Goebbels, apparently read himself into the narrative as a holy redeemer, while the rest of the civilized world saw him as the book’s beast."

"Into the Apocalypse With an Unruffled Tour Guide: 'Revelations', by Elaine Pagels", Dwight Garner, New York Times, 2012-03-20.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Distortions in family history

If you are working on your family history, be careful of what you are told.  What you are told could be made up or it could be misinterpreted.  Document everything and then crosscheck it with other documents.

The most blatant tale that I can think of is what my mother told me around a St. Patrick's Day.  She said, "We are Orange Irish."  One, her ancestors were from England and Germany, not Ireland.  Two, she didn't know any of her in-laws besides her U.S. born father-in-law and German-born mother-in-law.

So far, I have found only one Magree ancestor going back four generations that was not born in the United States.  My great grandfather, John James Richard Magree, was born in Liverpool, England of an American father and an English mother.  Given that her maiden name was Pope, she may or may not have had Irish ancestors.  Many Irish immigrated to Liverpool.  However, all of the other records that I have for him say he was born in the U.S. and more specifically in Brooklyn.

I do know that the name Magree is centered in Kilkenny, Ireland and some of those Magrees are buried in a Catholic Church cemetery.  If my Magree ancestors were from there, they most likely would have been Catholic.

I was told that my grandfather was born in Poughkeepsie, New York.  But his death certificate gives Brooklyn, his parents were in a Brooklyn city directory at the time of his birth, and one of his sister's birth certificates gives that same address.  But somebody else on has that sister born in Poughkeepsie!

I read the death certificate of my paternal grandmother's father as his birthplace being "Schlossing"; the information was provided by one of his sons.  Knowing my grandmother was born in Germany I kept looking for a town with that name.  Then it dawned on me that it should be "Schlesien", German for Silesia.  Silesia is now mostly in Poland.  Somebody else on had his birth as "Schlassing".  As part of checking if my grandmother may have been Catholic, I looked up Silesia.  I learned that there is a Silesian German and the speakers call themselves Schlässinger.  I have since found out that my grandmother's town of leaving was called Osseg; it is now Osiek in Polish.

I have learned so much family history in the last thirty years, but I will need another thirty years to even fill in details about the people whose names I know.

But, regardless of where my ancestors came from, I do not consider myself Orange Irish or Green Irish or German or Polish or even Brooklynite:)  My nationality is American!
See also What nationality are you?  An irrelevant question!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Quote of the day: Negotiating

"You cannot negotiate with people who say what's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable." - John F. Kennedy

I cannot verify this with an original source.  The only find I made in the John F. Kennedy Library is in 1960 press releases.  However, it is very difficult to read.  I couldn't find the quote but the title is "The fight on crime".  See

Whoever wrote it came up with a good observation.  My variant is:

A: "You owe me a hundred dollars."
B: "I owe you nothing."
A: "OK, let's compromise.  You owe me fifty dollars."

One of best defenses of government

Sen. Elizabeth Warren gave an excellent speech defending the importance and effectiveness of the American government recently.  Watch her speech at

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Post-modern times are not now

Ross Douthat wrote another interesting column, "The Promise and Peril of Pope Francis",  New York Times, 2013-10-06. It is about the juggling act that Pope Francis has to perform to attract more fallen-away Catholics and keep the faithful but conservative Catholics.

One commenter used the term "post-modern world".  "Excellent article. In terms of reclaiming the so called absent middle for Catholics, Jews and members of all faiths confronting a post-modern world the question needs to be asked: Does attendance at religious services really matter anymore? The vast numbers of adherents who identify only culturally to their religious tradition need to be reached in creative new ways and respected for their lack of participation in what are perceived to be archaic institutions."

How can we be living in "post-modern" times or a "post-modern world"?  These terms are often used to denote the here and now as coming after a time that was modern then.  But "post-modern" times, like tomorrow, never come.  We are always living in modern times.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Paradox of the day – IQ and high-level physics

"Richard Feynman’s I.Q. was a less-than-remarkable 125."

"Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?", Eileen Pollack, New York Times Magazine, 2013-10-03.

Richard Feynman was a Noble laureate in physics.

For more on Richard Feynman, see also

Apropos women in science, he encouraged his younger sister to be a scientist.  She has a Ph.D. in physics and has made major contributions to the study of solar wind.  Take your pick of thousands of entries on her with a search of "Joan Feynman physicist".

What if Senate demands compromise on PATRIOT Act?

What if the U.S. Senate demands that the House of Representatives compromises on the spending bill by removing certain aspects of the PATRIOT Act?

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Hunters should oppose "Stand Your Ground" laws

Once again it is that tiresome time of year in the Northland.  Off in the distance, bang!  Too close for comfort, bang!  Bird season has started and then next month is deer season with a few other hunting seasons thrown in.

Last time I checked, landowners in Minnesota are supposed to post their property with "No Trespassing" signs every 300-500 feet.  In other words, hunters were free to trespass on private land that was not posted.

Even if posted, some hunters ignore the signs or even evidence that they were shooting into private property.  One fall a bird hunter shot down our driveway with our red pickup plainly visible.  My wife happened to be nearby and yelled at him.  He grabbed his bird, ran to his truck, and drove off as quickly as he could.

What if my wife had a gun in her hand?  If Minnesota had a "Stand Your Ground" law, would she be in the right to shoot the trespassing hunter?

Last season some bird hunters shot into our land where there was no brush under the power line.  There were "No Trespassing" signs within 300 feet of where they shot.  What if I had been walking on a trail that paralleled the road and had a gun with me.  Would I have been "standing my ground" to shoot back?  They were also shooting within 200 feet of an occupied dwelling on the other side of the road.

Given that a GPS unit costs less than most rifles and that St. Louis County, Minnesota, publishes plat maps, available free online, listing all the properties and owners, should landowners even be required to post their property?

Responsible hunters know where they hunt and respect property rights.  They would be safe.  But the few irresponsible hunters give the impression that all hunters do not respect property rights.  These irresponsible hunters should be very glad that Minnesota doesn't have a "Stand Your Ground" law.

Let's compromise!

I'll compromise with the House Republicans.  They increase my Social Security by 50% and cut their salaries by 50%.