Friday, January 31, 2014

My illustrious second-rate sports career

As long as I can remember, I’ve done quite a bit of physical activity – from riding on the back of somebody’s bicycle at 3 or 4 to lots of snow shoveling this winter.  The first-named led to a bleeding ankle; the last-named led to a sore back.  Not all my physical activity has led to injury, but there have been quite a few “incidents”.

In between I’ve climbed trees, sledded, rode bicycles, played pickup games of baseball, touch football, and basketball, canoed, hiked, and a few organized sports.

In the summer of 1952, nine or more of the boys I hung out with formed a Class F Baseball team.  I sometimes pitched, sometimes played third-base, and maybe sat on the bench.  The most memorable incident was that I pitched a 0-1 no-hitter.  The other team got their run by a combination of walks and stealing.  This “feat” made it to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, but they misspelled my name as Melvyn MacGree.

Class F baseball still exists in Cleveland and is still sponsored by the Cleveland Baseball Federation.

In my first year of high school gym, I ran a “mile” in 5:12 and 5:19.  The coach suggested I join cross-country team.  I never made the cut for the seven that counted, just part of the crowd that might push some in the other sevens down in finish ranking.  In one race I did slow down to help one of our seven who had been hit in some way by an opposing runner.

I also joined the cross-country team in my second year of college.  But I didn’t do so well as I developed “shin splints”.  I got some therapy for them, but they plagued me now and then.

I did take a fitness class at a Y in my forties.  That included gradually increasing running distance.  I was proud of myself when I ran a mile in about eight minutes.

Now it’s a big deal for me to walk from my house to UMD.

A high-school classmate recommended that I join the wrestling team.  I did and managed to be the 133 lb. wrestler for a couple of years.  There was no one else in that weight class.  If there was, I generally won the wrestle-off for a meet.  I had a miserable record.  I was often taken down in less than a minute.  The coach selected five or so wrestlers to go to state, none me, of course.  Every year at least one of those guys won a state title.  My last year I had a better record, I think 4-3.  It should have been 5-2, but being a January starter, I graduated the night before my last allowed match.  Guess what lots of high-school graduates do.  At least, I lost on points rather than by a takedown.

I practiced with the Case Institute of Technology wrestling team.  I wrestled in intramurals at 147 for a fraternity I didn’t join.  The first guy was a well-muscled rock.  That was how he behaved.  When he had the down position, I could not budge him.  I even sat back on my heels to give my opponent a chance to move.  He didn’t.  When I had the down position he gripped me tight but made no move to get better control.  The score: 0-0!  I won a referee’s decision for being more aggressive. My second was with another team freshman.  This was a much more interesting match: 4-4.  Again, I won on referee’s decision.  The last match should have been the hardest.  I won 7-2.  However, I never made the cut to wrestle in a team match.

After I flunked out of Case, I went to Ohio Wesleyan University.  I wrestled once in the intramurals at 154 as an independent.  I really don’t remember any of the matches, but I won all of them.  I had practiced with team, but I never made the cut for a match.

I took up skiing in the early sixties.  I took a week off work to learn at Buck Hill.  After the class I did snow-plows on my own.  On one run I was heading straight for the lift.  My best tactic was to fall.  One ski came off, windmilled, and hit me below the knee.  My four-dollar ski pants have a hole in them!  There’s blood in there!  I’ll spare you more details, but the doctor put extra-padding on the stitches.  I did learn enough that week to move beyond the snow plow.

I do have many more ski stories, but I’m running out of space.  In the spirit of my “second rate” career, let me tell a bit about my amateur racing.  At Spirit Mountain, I qualified for going to the NASTAR nationals.  Why?  The top three in each gender-age-speed category qualify.  Since there were never more than three male racers in my age and speed category, I qualified five times.  I went to Park City in 2004 where I was 21 out of 23 and to Steamboat Springs in 2007 where I was 14 out of 15.  My times were about twice those of the winners!

I still have a season pass at Spirit Mountain, but I’m getting wimpy about when I go.  If the temperature is not above ten degrees Fahrenheit, I’m not too interested.

So, other than sporadic visits to the Essentia Fitness Center, my exercise is some woodcutting, some lawn-mowing, and some snow-shoveling.  Now I have a sore back from all this season’s snow shoveling.

Hey, when my back doesn’t bother me, I can do over 30 pushups!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Today's round: corporations beat government on inefficiency

This morning I went to my medicare.gov to ask that I receive "Medicare & You" online rather than the big fat paper tome we never read.  I supplied all the information asked and was told I couldn't be found!  There was a help number I could have called, but I don't care to call for help because I never know how long I'll have to wait.

I downloaded the paid version of Evernote sometime ago, but iTunes never told me a download was in progress or completed.  It appears that the paid version is only a switch setting to enable more features.  I have the paid version working.  I sent questions about this to both Evernote and iTunes.  I was charged and then uncharged for it by Apple.  The iTunes representative keeps coming back with the same "I don't understand message", even after I answer that the question is settled.

I tried to set my iPhone up as a hotspot with Consumer Cellular.  My iPhone gives me the choice of calling Consumer Cellular via 611 or going to Consumer Cellular's website.  When I get there I can find nothing about setting up a hotspot.  I sent email and received a reply today.  Essentially it said I should call.

I was notified of a new iTunes version today.  After I downloaded it, many things no longer worked as before.  Apps are marked as having updates even when I have already updated them on my iPhone or iPad.  Podcasts are duplicated on my iPhone.  No longer can I sync a device just by having it on anywhere in the house.  I have to hook it up to my Mac with a USB cable.  I'm going to have to spend an hour or so in the Apple Support Community to find out what's going on.

Good news on the government side.  Several weeks ago I received a notice that my commercial driver's license would no longer be valid unless I had a physical exam before January 31.  Since I haven't driven any commercial vehicle in over 13 years, I decided to give it up.  I went to the County Service Office to have it replaced.  The latest number being served was 16 and I drew 19.  A guy who drew 18 groused about the wait!  I filled out a renewal application, watched as the clerks explained to their current customers various details, took pictures, and gave eye tests.  When my turn came, the friendly intern and her mentor explained the I did not need to reapply.  All I needed to do was sign an affidavit that I would not be driving a commercial vehicle.  No charge.  Smiles all around.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Fox in the chicken poop?

Frank Rich wrote a very interesting article about the waning of Fox News, including that the average age of its viewers is 68.  But even cable news is waning, CNN's and MSNBC's viewers' average age is over 60.  See "Stop beating a dead Fox".

Rich asserts that the real power of Fox is not in convincing people to believe what Fox reports, but in getting "the left" to waste energy railing against Fox.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Let's you and him fight!

“There are people who would love to see America fight their war for them,” Kerry said. “But that is not their choice.”

– "U.S. coming under fire from Mideast allies, who see retrenchment", Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, 2014-01-24.

Finally, the U.S. is recognizing that it is not the world's policeman and it cannot stop every "bad guy" from harming the "good guys".  Generally when we fight the "bad guys", many of the "good guys" resent the U.S. coming in and disrupting their country.

I often wonder why the U.S. has to "train" a government's soldiers and police in counter-insurgency or whatever.  It seems the ragtag bad guys do quite well with AK-47s and IEDs than the government does with it more powerful weapons.  Could it be that the soldiers and police are in it only because it is a job, they can extort people, and they really don't have much faith in the government?

I often wonder why we don't say to corrupt or ineffective leaders "Shape up or we ship out!"

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Altered states of consciousness

“Altered states of consciousness” has different meanings and values for different people.  Many think of the states induced by alcohol, marijuana, peyote, and a long list of other drugs.  Sometimes the alteration can be beneficial, either for relaxation or removing some blocks to a problem solution.  Sometimes the alteration can be detrimental and even deadly, not just to the partaker but others.  The too common example of detrimental is the drunk driver.

I have found the best ways to alter my state of consciousness are done without any exterior aids.  These are distraction, sleep, and meditation.

If I go away from a problem for a while the answer may “sneak up” on me.  One of my most common problems is forgetting names, something that seems to be occurring to me more and more.  If I see or talk to someone I may just draw a blank on their name.  The face and voice are familiar, but I just can’t think of the name.  Not always, but often, I think of the person’s name right after parting or an hour or a day later.

This reminds me of a definition given by my high-school English teacher:

Wit: That which someone else has at a party that you have on the way home.

But not all is lost in my memory.  I have memorized several songs in foreign languages: some languages I can speak or understand a few hundred words, some languages I have no idea what the words mean.  If I forget some of the words, I can often remember them again with a few runs-through with the score.

As I type these words, a cascade of thoughts, some distractive, some only slightly relevant, keeps popping up in my head.  As many Reader Weekly columns are a chat with the readers, I’ll pop in a few of these pop-ups every few paragraphs.

Where was I?  Oh, yes, songs in foreign languages.  Many people tell me, “I was never good at foreign languages.”  I often ask them if they know the chorus to the “Witch Doctor Song”.  I bet that chorus has now popped into your head with no additional clues.

Panic and frustration are distractions to clear thinking.  I couldn’t figure out where I put the sketchy notes for this column.  I searched all kinds of files.  I picked up scrap after scrap of notepaper.  Finally, my brain plowed through the panic to tell me to look in my folder of Reader Weekly columns.  I had been ignoring the file because its name included a future date!

Sleep can do wonderful things for our brains.  First, it just lets our conscious minds relax for a few hours.  Second, it lets our subconscious minds keep working on their backlog of problems.  Third, if we wake at the right time, it can provide solutions or misdirections that we hadn’t considered before sleep.  Fourth, it can let our brains go off in all kinds of impossible fantasies.

Recently I was working on some writing that wasn’t going well.  In the middle of the night I woke with some key sentences in my head.  I immediately wrote them down and easily went back to sleep.  Delightful surprise!  The sentences made sense in the morning and helped me complete the writing.

Conversely, those “illuminating” thoughts can be deceiving.  A few years ago I woke up in the middle of the night convinced a minister friend had died.  As far as I know, he is still alive.  Every so often there is a report of somebody having a premonition about something and that thought became reality.  But how often do people have premonitions that don’t come true; these probably far outnumber the former but rarely get reported.

Several years ago the Unitarian Church of Germantown (Pennsylvania) organized a large set of adult education classes.  We took at least two, both on the mind.  I think one was called “altered states of the mind” and the other “meditation”.

The first gave primarily a sense of relaxation.  I only remember three things about the class: a view of the room, a woman who said she always fell asleep during the exercises, and one particular exercise.  The leader “walked” us down a set of steps in a cave to a river.  A boat was there for us to board and float down the river.   Once in awhile I use this imagery to relax.

The second gave us exercises to get into a meditative state.  That is, our bodies would relax and our minds would go quiet for about twenty minutes.  The trick was to start relaxing at the top of our heads and let a flow of relaxation go down our bodies.  Once I got this technique mastered, my whole body would feel slightly numb.

The major distraction in the class was the teacher!  She encouraged those who believed they had previous lives to speak up.  She talked about the energy flow going around the circle.  One fellow often walked out at this point.  One time while sitting right next to her, I put in my mind the image of the devil statue from “The Exorcist” standing right between her feet.  The “energy flow” never stopped!

I’ll stop the writing now.  I’ll try meditating before I send this.

It sort of worked!  I slept a bit and I couldn’t get a kink out of one knee.  But I am much more relaxed!

This was also published in the Reader Weekly at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2014/01/23/2803_lies_damn_lies_and_misstatements-1. Someone forgot to change the headline.

If you are a live person reading this…

If you are a live person, I'd like to have you counted as a live reader rather than a reverse spammer.

To be counted as a live reader, would you please access this blog from a Google search for "magree.blogspot.com"?  When you do the search, please use your local Google search, besides google.com for the US, there include

google.ru
google.cn
google.co.uk

and many others.

I just did a search for magree.blogspot.com from google.cn.  Although my access was recorded as from the U.S., the reference was from google.com.hk (Hong Kong).

Thanks, Mel

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Quote of the day: democracy or great wealth

"[W]e can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
– Justice Louis Brandeis, quoted by Chrystia Freeland, "Thanks to Pope Francis, Revolt Against the Global Super-Rich Is Underway", Huffington Post, 2014-01-21

For this and more Brandeis quotes, see http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Louis_Brandeis.

Ironically, just before I was reading Freeland's article I heard on an old "Godmorgon, världen" podcast that Rush Limbaugh called Pope Francis a Marxist.  See "The message of Pope Francis can survive Rush and the rest", Mary C. Curtis, Washington Post, 2013-12-06.

So, according to Rush Limbaugh, Justice Louis Brandeis was a Marxist.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Software systems working incorrectly? What's new?

I'm cleaning up lots of old notes and I found this feedback that I sent to Apple on 2002-12-18.  Sorry, the referenced article is not available on Yahoo.com anymore.  You can find it at http://arstechnica.com/civis/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=728071 with lots of sarcastic commentary.

Beginning of feedback

I concur with Mike Berman's article at http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/nf/20021218/bs_nf/20277.  Although I don't have the degree of problems he has, there are many things in OS X and software written for OS X that definitely do not provide "seamless" operation.

Instead of putting flashy new interfaces or applications into OS X, I wish Apple would devote far more resources to making OS X a truly effortless operating system.  For example, when I select a server to access a computer connected to mine by a single Ethernet cable, it takes a long time and then OS X starts dialing the phone!!!!

Second, it would help users greatly if Apple certified third-party software as being "seamless".  For example, Microsoft does not have a consistent handling of text among Office products (Word to Entourage is worst).  For example, I can click on Send Messages in Entourage and it will connect with Internet Connect and wait for the connection.  If I select a site from Favorites in Internet Explorer, it starts the connection but says the server can't be found when the connection is made.

Third, it would help if Apple would certify major web sites as being "seamless" for Macintosh users.  Try using Ameritrade.com with a Macintosh; many of the fancy features just don't work or can be erratic.

I don't see any point to upgrading to OS X 10.2 at a cost of $200 for two computers for features I don't have any great need for and I don't have any guarantee all the little gotchas in 10.1 have been fixed.

Apple has been a leader in user friendly software for 18 years.  I hope Apple will now turn its focus to being a leader in software reliability.

End of feedback

Has it been eleven years since I learned to be a late adapter? Well, I haven't completely learned my lesson.  iOS 7 had a huge learning curve, and I still encounter many annoyances.  And in 29 years they still haven't learned to "do it right" on the first release.  And people expect the ACA systems to work seamlessly on the first day?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Republican Party and community

In 2009, David Brooks chided the Republican Party for learning the wrong lessons from Hollywood Westerns.

"Today, if Republicans had learned the right lessons from the Westerns, or at least John Ford Westerns, they would not be the party of untrammeled freedom and maximum individual choice. They would once again be the party of community and civic order."
"The Long Voyage Home", New York Times, 2009-05-04.

It seems with their obsession with gun ownership and worship of large corporations, they haven't heeded David Brooks who is called a conservative by many.

On how movie Westerns are not a reflection of life in many western communities, see "How the Gunfighter Killed Bourgeois America" by Ryan McMaken.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Corporations, Water, and Al Qaeda

A relative reposted the following on her Facebook page:

"If Al Qaeda had poisoned the water of 300k people, we'd have already invaded the wrong country.  Since it's a corporation, carry on.  #TYTLive DubMasterC@DubMasterC"

She got it from Daily Kos's facebook page.  The original source is https://twitter.com/DubMasterC/status/422869150604607490.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Lies, damn lies, and misstatements

Much political hay is being made about President Obama saying that people could keep their current insurance.  As thousands find that their current insurance is being cancelled, there is a clamor that Obama lied.

Did he really lie?  That is, did he make a statement that he knew with certainty to be untrue?  Or did he make a statement that he believed to be true given the information that he had?

Consider that any leader has to rely on the advice and information provided by hundreds of people.  If that leader had to verify every piece of information he or she was given, would anything ever get done in government or business?

What Obama and his staff had no control over was all the insurance companies deciding it was not in their best interest to have people keep those older policies.  I’ll leave that to historians to figure out who was right or wrong, truthful or deceitful.

Now the shoe is on “the other foot”.  Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is accused of lying about the deliberate traffic jams caused around Fort Lee by his staff and associates.  He had directly asked some of them if they had any involvement in the situation.  They all said no.

Christie has worked with some of these people for years and has relied on them for good advice.  Should he believe anything differently?  If he was suspicious, how much time should he spend finding out more?  If he did so, how many other things that he should attend to would be ignored.

If Christie was not actively involved in the traffic jams, he did make the mistake of being gleeful about Fort Lee’s problems.  After all, the Democratic mayor did not support him in his reelection.

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman” is probably one of the most infamous lie and even damnedest lie ever made by a U.S. President.  Bill Clinton later backed off that strong denial, but the Republicans jumped with joy over his predicament.  Lots of federal money was spent on this investigation and that investigation and an impeachment.

But the whole mess rings hollow when Republicans have done similar acts and made similar denials.  I wish politicians would spend more time on thoughtful evaluation of laws and policies and less on personal attacks.  What a way to run a country!

Many have criticized President George W. Bush for a long string of lies about Iraq, for example Saddam Hussein’s stockpile of “weapons of mass destruction”. Now, was he just parroting what his advisors were telling him because of their own agendas or was he directly involved in creating these falsehoods?  We may never know.

But I can guess about one misstatement that he made that has become infamous – his advice that in response to the World Trade Center attacks Americans should go shopping. It was a stupid remark, but consider its underlying meaning.  The attacks were meant to disrupt the United States.  If people went about their ordinary business, then the planners of the attack would have failed in their attempt to disrupt the country.  In other words, if we shopped as we normally did, then the country would not have been disrupted as much as planned.

We probably all have experiences of sales people telling us what they think we want to hear, not what we need to know.  Sometimes they withhold details; sometimes they really do lie; and sometimes they divert us.  How often have you heard, “It’s a standard contract”?  In other words, just sign, don’t bother reading it.  Do you wonder why we had a mortgage crisis?

My favorite misdirection was decades ago when we bought a TV in a big box store.  We told the salesman that we liked a particular model, and he replied that he had one in the back room.  Only later did we see that as a ploy to get us to buy on the spot.  Of course he had one in the backroom; he may have also had one dozen.

This whole column is a misdirection to write about an irate phone message I had last week.  The caller was upset that I had spoken badly about Gannucci’s in my column of January 2.  I was flabbergasted!  I meant no such thing!

OK, let’s parse what I wrote to find the irritant.  Remember that I was writing about going to a plant-based diet and doing my best to stick to it.

“Just my luck that every item on the menu had cheese and/or meat.”  Many restaurants have meat, dairy, or eggs in most if not all of their menu choices.

“So I went with a turkey sandwich, figuring that was the leanest meat that I could get.”  I thought that was a neutral statement.  Maybe I should have said the turkey sandwich was delicious.  It was, but is that relevant to that fact that I made a choice?

“The organizers of the monthly social plan to go back in January.  I think I better call ahead to Gannucci’s.”  If I want to join the group and would like to avoid meat, dairy, and eggs, I should ask the restaurant in advance if they have any alternatives.  If not, maybe I’ll have a turkey sandwich again.  I am a vegan not because I object to turkeys having their heads cut off but because I don’t like what the turkeys might do to me.

This was also published in the Duluth Reader, 2013-01-16 at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2014/01/16/2766_lies_damn_lies_and_misstatements

Saturday, January 11, 2014

You can write haiku

You can write haiku
Next come seven syllables
Then another five!

Haiku an art form
I cannot think how to do.
Once I start oh wow.

Haiku you can do.
Just forget correct grammar.
And write what you think.

In the dark of night
I wrote haiku left and right.
Gone with morning mist.

Many of these have been
In my notes for a long time
Now I share with you.

The order random
Just like my poor scatter brain.
If you chuckle, fine.

Impatient patient
Waiting, waiting, and waiting.
Doc will see you now!

The older I am
There is so much more to do,
Haiku forgotten.

It is a good thing
To think difficult deep thoughts,
Results could come soon.

Count so carefully,
Two of the haiku I wrote
Had more syllables.

Oh, I misled you!
The previous is about
Something I had fixed.

You don't like being
A bit silly now and then?
Stop reading right now.

Now it is bedtime,
But my brain is now working
Overtime darn it!

English is crazy
Sows got in a row over
How to sow in rows.

Poetry Sunday
Was attended by too few
I had no haiku.

If I cannot sleep
My brain generates haiku.
Must write or forget.

Silly doggerel
Is not what haiku should be.
But what do I know.

There is a new beer
Canoe give me Bent Paddle?
I'll take the hops, please!

To write a haiku
You have to add or subtract
A word on a line.

The fire is now lit
Back to bed I can now go
Up again too soon.

Some of the above
Were written as I got cold
In a small cabin.

Most haiku I write
Are little bits of humor.
Next is serious.

If you really want
To have a democracy
Remember to vote.

Let’s try politics,
Both funny and serious,
Comic and tragic.

Carter farmed peanuts,
Knew lots about submarines
Not much of Islam

Reagan complained that
Government was the problem.
How did ray-gun work?

Clinton promised a lot.
Congress helped and hindered him,
Then came Monica.

The muse has left me,
The line count could fill a page,
I’ll quit while ahead.

magree.blogspot.com
Is the place to find much
Witty and profound.

These also appear
in Duluth Reader 1/9
URL fits not!

http://duluthreader.com/articles/2014/01/09/2736_you_can_write_haiku

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Let's give Gov. Chris Christie some slack

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican, is getting a lot of heat and blame for staff members who did really dumb stuff.  They caused traffic snarls around Fort Lee as retaliation against a Democratic mayor who didn't support Christie for governor.  When Christie asked them directly if they had anything to do with the snarls, they denied it.

Now many people are giving Christie a lot of heat for something he had little control over.  Let's give him slack.  He is not a king who can command exact obedience.  Just as Obama makes statements like keeping your current insurance plan, he must rely on others to give him correct and timely information.

If we expect our leaders to know everything they need to know by their direct experience, they will never be able to lead because they are spending so much time gathering information.  Why do you think there are briefing books and executive summaries?

Do we blame the small business owner for the shenanigans of a trusted bookkeeper who siphoned off funds for years?  Without trust, any organization large or small would become inefficient with a burden of checks and cross-checks.

The "two-party system" is broken and we let it happen

Here are some quotes from "The PARTY Is OVER: How the Republicans Went CRAZY, Democrats Became USELESS, and the Middle Class Got SHAFTED", Mike Lofgren, a former Republican Congressional staffer.

"Twenty to 25 percent is not a majority [right-wing authoritarian..will not change minds], but it is enough to swing an election, especially when you consider that the authoritarian follower is more easily organized and mobilized than the rest of the population." p. 185

If this doesn't scare the more pragmatic and flexible to vote, then nothing will.

Is there really a difference in the parties?

"In a deep and intractable recession one can never discount the possibility that a Republican could win the presidency against an incumbent Democrat.  But if the GOP nominates a candidate too deeply flawed or too right wing to be plausible, it won't really matter.  The main thrust of the establishment's policies will be implemented regardless of who wins.  That is the genius of our two-party system." p 199

How much pressure do each of us put on Democrat office-holders to put people before corporations?

"And charitable or otherwise nonprofit organizations should no longer be allowed to compensate their executives at almost Wall Street level.  Does it make sense that an organization should not pay taxes if it can funnel $5.1 million a year into the pocket of its CEO?" p 208

His footnote is:

"Slideshow: Who Are the Highest-Paid Nonprofit Executives?" Dallas Business Journal, September 16, 2011

Many nonprofits are scientific, charitable, or educational.  Some claim to be educational but they are political trying to educate others on their politics.  The IRS was right to double check on the non-taxable status of Tea Party organizations.  It was not that the Tea Party was singled out per se, but they were the worst offender of all the political abusers.  Let's say that drivers for Mucking Trucking were more likely to speed than any other drivers.  Shouldn't the State Highway Patrol check on Mucking Trucking drivers more often than other drivers?

"The people of this country must make an effort to clean out their cultural baggage of … fondly-held illusions: illusions that make it easier for ambitious and manipulative politicians to bamboozle them and build bureaucratic empires that only sap the country's true potential." p. 209

He cites the foremost illusion as the myth of American Exceptionalism.  It is a disease that has infected all previous great powers or empires.   He quotes J. William Fulbright's "The Arrogance of Power":

"The causes of the malady are not entirely clear but its recurrence is one of the uniformities of history: power tends to confuse itself with virtue and a great nation is peculiarly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God's favor, conferring upon it a special responsibility for other nations––to make them richer and happier and wiser, to remake them, that is, in its own shining image."

Or as I've said, who elected the President of the United States as "leader of the free world"?

Monday, January 06, 2014

The simple done with difficulty

Years ago I bought a Timex Ironman from a jewelry store: a $50 watch from a store that would rather sell me a $500 watch.  It is one of those multi-function watches, and I think I used every one of them.  Also it is very accurate.  I think that it would gain about three seconds a month.  I was very annoying in telling people that whatever clock they were using was off.

Twice the battery wore down and I went to the same store to get a new battery.  The second time the clerk was not too happy about replacing it.

The watch is starting to get old and most of its functions are on my iPhone.  The best feature is that I don't need to dig in my pocket to check the time, I just hold up my wrist and pull my sleeve back.

Then suddenly, on my way to our cabin, the screen went blank.  At some point when I didn't want to be outside, I decided to pull the battery out myself and later buy a new one at Walgreen's.  I did have a set of small screwdrivers and set to.

I got all the screws out but the back wouldn't come off.  I had to repeatedly slide a pen knife under the back to loosen it.  Once I got it off I was confronted with a mechanism I didn't understand.  There were two tabs with arrows closely that indicated that they should be pushed towards the center.  It never budged.

I gave up and put it back together.  I think I only dropped one of the tiny screws once.

Yesterday I took it to Walgreen's and two friendly clerks worked on opening it up.  The first deferred to another who more experienced.  The second easily exposed the battery, went to the rack to get a replacement, put it in, and closed everything up, without dropping a thing.  She proceeded to reset the time, but I said I could do that later.

My cost, $6.25 for the battery!

When I got home, I tried resetting the time, but I couldn't get the next button to work.  Hoo boy!  Shall I just give up on the watch and purchase a cheap, time only watch?

Today, I thought if I took the mechanism out, then I could push on the next button directly rather than the button on the case.

I successfully took the watch apart again.  I don't have any small screwdriver at home, but I was able to use the blade of my pen knife as a screwdriver.  I was right that pushing the next button directly did work.  I reset the watch to the current time and proceeded to put it back together.

I got three screws in, losing them only twice on the floor.  The fourth screw just wouldn't stay upright in the hole.  I don't know how many times it fell to the floor, a floor with a rug whose nap is bigger than the screw!

I asked my wife to try with her smaller and more dextrous fingers.  She too dropped the screw a few times.  I went to the cold, cold garage to get a magnetic wand from my tool box.  I made a swipe over the floor and heard a tiny click.  There was the screw.

After a few more tries I was able to get the last screw started in the last hole.  Of course, it didn't seem to set right.  I loosened the other screws, tightened the last screw, and then tightened them all.

Well, I hadn't set the time as exact as I wanted.  But guess what, the outside next button worked!

I reset the time as close as I could to the time displayed on my laptop, a time that is synced with a standard clock somewhere.  I can't quite look at both times easily, but I would say that my watch is two seconds or less behind the actual time.

I'll see how much it diverges in a month or two.

Once again I can be a time pain; "that wall clock is off by…"

Quote of the Day: Low wages, low prosperity

"The human cost of low wages is obvious and has been extensively documented. But there are important economic and business costs to low wages that are far less clear and little understood. Many of America’s largest employers pay as little as possible, driving down the consuming power of their workers, and then wonder why their customers are unable to spend."

"Henry Ford's Genius Wage Hike", Daniel Gross, The Daily Beast, 2014-01-06.

Some of the comments add a bit more nuance, such as Henry Ford was not all that angelic in paying "all" of his assembly-line workers that much.  They had to meet certain personality standards with home checks that few people would tolerate today.

Henry Ford, at least partially, was following Adam Smith's advice:

"The liberal reward of labour, therefore, as it is the necessary effect, so it is the natural symptom of increasing national wealth. The scanty maintenance of the labouring poor, on the other hand, is the natural symptom that things are at a stand, and their starving condition, that they are going fast backwards."

His contemporaries and his successors seem to be bent at making things go "fast backwards".

For more ignored advice from Adam Smith, see "The Invisible Adam Smith".

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Resolutions, predictions, and premonitions

First, here are my guaranteed true predictions:

I won't break any of my New Year’s resolutions.
The stock market will go up and the stock market will go down.
The nation-wide turnout for the November elections will definitely be less than 70% and maybe even 60%.
There will be no new major national political party.  I really hope I am wrong on this.
There will be updates for major fixes in almost all major computer software.

The first prediction is easy.  I won’t break any New Year’s resolutions because I don’t make them.  I do make plans and to-do lists, some of which I accomplish or do, but too often the items get pushed down and forgotten.

I have made a major commitment to be on a plant-based diet, aka vegan diet.  In one of those little bits of randomness, when I saw the animation in the DVD “Forks over Knives” of plaque going off an artery, I was hooked on trying it.  Essentially it’s avoiding meat, eggs, and dairy.  There went yogurt on my oatmeal and my once a week omelet.

For the most part I’ve stuck to it.  Within a week of starting, a friend sent us some Alaskan salmon.  It is a standing joke with my wife and I that I get the bones and she doesn’t.  Would you believe that almost every piece I ate had a bone and one had three!

The Freethinkers had their December monthly social at Gannucchi’s.  Just my luck that every item on the menu had cheese and/or meat.  So I went with a turkey sandwich, figuring that was the leanest meat that I could get.  The organizers of the monthly social plan to go back in January.  I think I better call ahead to Gannucchi’s.

We have our three-year-old grandson from Japan with us.  At one visit to the grocery store, he chose a sushi tray.  Four of the pieces had salmon.  But then he didn’t want those.  He wanted only the rice under the salmon.  So, Grandpa “had to eat” one of those pieces of salmon.

I hope I don’t get stuck in any of these situations again before my next cardiologist visit.  I would like to see an improvement in my flow rate.

The prediction on turnout is easy, because we have so many people who don’t bother to show up, even when they have registered to vote.  I don’t know if they are just plain lazy or don’t like any of the candidates.  They don’t seem to realize that by not voting, they increase the odds of seeing the candidate they favor least elected.

There will be no new major party unless some national leaders create it.  The Green Party has been around for years, but it has not become a major force in politics.  The Independent Party of Minnesota has been around since Jesse Ventura won as a Reform Party candidate.  There will be a “Forum for Building Progressive Political Power” on January 11 at “Copper Top”.  But will the usual “liberal” suspects be able to engage more than each other?  The only real hope is that a large number of “moderates” at the national level say enough is enough.  It happened in 1854 with only thirty people meeting in Ripon, Wisconsin.  The result was the Republican Party had a winning presidential candidate in 1860.  Aren’t we past due for a re-alignment?  Wouldn’t those who met in Ripon because they didn’t want to compromise on slavery be surprised to learn that their party has morphed into a party that doesn’t want to compromise on corporate interests?

What else can I predict than the no-brainers above?

No major advances will be made on abating global warming, at least at the government level.  Many people will do their part on using less energy, but these people will only make a small dent in the emissions.  Some municipalities or counties will plant more trees to absorb some of the carbon dioxide.

The sleeper may be China.  As the complaints increase about the air pollution in many Chinese cities, the authorities may make a major push for alternative energy sources.  This might include major grants to universities and companies to produce more efficient and cheaper energy sources.  If they do so, the United States will be a major loser on the manufacturing side.  Something the U.S. should have taken seriously, would you believe, in Jimmy Carter’s presidency!

There probably won’t be any major wars, but there will be plenty of local wars and terrorist attacks.  Let’s hope Russia can take sufficient steps to thwart any who want to upset the Winter Games at Sochi.

I seriously doubt that there will be any major propaganda push to negate the appeal of hardline Islamists.  The Qu’ran, like the Bible, certainly has many passages that call for peace and warn against violence.

My premonition is that China and the U.S. will continue their power play to assert their authority wherever they think their “vital interests” are at stake.  Even though it is much more in either’s interests to avoid conflict, hardliners in either capitol could escalate the situation to the point of open war.  Think Sarajevo and World War I.

I doubt if any leaders are going to step forward and say “enough”.  “We really need to cut down on military expenses.  We all could make better use of our resources.”

To end on a brighter note, may you have a happy and prosperous new year!

This was published in the 2014-01-02 edition of the Reader Weekly at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2014/01/02/2696_resolutions_predictions_and_premonitions.