Thursday, January 29, 2015

Let’s Stop It with Global Warming Denial

The blogosphere is filled with nitpicking about NASA’s supposedly only 38 percent certainty about 2014 being the warmest year for recorded data.  Does it really matter if 2014 was the warmest year in recent history or the third warmest year? The trend is still up even though there may be slightly cooler years or there may be cooler spots that had been warmer.

Think of your house in winter.  Assume it is a five-room house with a basement. Assume you have no central heating and your only heat is from electric space heaters.

If you turn on one space heater in one room, you will feel warmer by the heater and colder as you move away from it.  Suppose you turn on a space heater in every room.  Each room will warm up near the space heater and be cooler away from the space heater.  If you are on the opposite side of the room, there is no room-heating!  And if you go to the basement, you have proven that there is no household warming!

What happens if you put a space heater in every corner of each room and in every corner of the basement?  You will have a very warm house, maybe an unbearably hot house.

So what happens if you have a few steam-powered factories?  Not much.  What happens if you add hundreds and thousands of steam-powered factories.  Well, the areas around these factories may be a bit warmer, but few will notice until they go into the factories.

What happens if you have a few steam-powered trains?  Not much, just like with the factories.

What happens if you have a few thousand gasoline-powered cars?  Not much.  But if you take lots of measurements, you will find that the temperatures are rising slightly around the areas where these factories, trains, and cars operate.

What happens when there are hundreds of thousands of factories and trains and millions of cars?  Where is all the heat from these going to go?  Magically back into the ground where the fuel came from?

Add to this that these factories, trains, and cars generate carbon dioxide.  Since the Earth takes in energy as ultra-violet radiation and sends out energy as infra-red radiation, you would think there would be some stability in energy.  But carbon dioxide (and other gasses) block infra-red radiation.  The more carbon dioxide we dump into the atmosphere, the more heat will be retained on earth.  The more generators of carbon dioxide we have, the more carbon dioxide we will have dumped into the atmosphere.

Let’s go back to our household heaters.  Nowadays, we use electric heaters.  Any carbon dioxide that results from our use is generated outside the house.  But what if our heaters are fireplaces and wood stoves?  The carbon dioxide is being generated inside our house.  If we are not careful, we could suffocate ourselves.  To make sure we have enough oxygen, we have to have leaky windows and doors or some controlled source of oxygen.

A simple thought experiment shows that we are definitely putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  For millennia, people cooked their food and warmed themselves with wood fires.  The wood provided the carbon for fuel and the trees absorbed the carbon dioxide to grow more wood.  This is a virtual cycle: what gets used for one purpose is recycled to produce more of the original substance.

Then people discovered coal in the ground.  This burned better than wood and was never rotten or damp.  For millennia, the techniques for extracting coal were too inefficient to provide world-wide use.

As the world population grew and agriculture spread, more trees were cleared for buildings and farms.  This meant less wood was available for fuel and alternatives were needed.  Extracting coal became more efficient.

However, its use wasn’t always efficient.  Many fireplaces and factories didn’t burn coal efficiently and much soot was dumped into the air.  This resulted in dirty laundry and more cases of pulmonary diseases.  As late as the 1940s, steam locomotives would spew cinders and other pollutants as they rumbled by.  At the time, we lived right next to the tracks in an otherwise nice neighborhood.  We would have to brush our hair after a train passed.

Coal and other fossil fuels are inefficient for another reason.  They ain’t making them anymore!  We have drained the swamps where critters large and small drowned and slowly broke down into coal and oil.  We have also “drained” the easy access to oil and coal.  Now we blow up mountains to get coal and pound the heck out of the underlying rock formations to get oil and gas.  The first has ruined towns and rivers.  The second is causing minor earthquakes.

Both of these operations remove thousands of trees and other vegetation that would absorb carbon dioxide.  Add to that we want larger and larger parking lots, wider and wider highways, and larger and larger buildings.  We will need more oil for these and will take away more of the carbon sink vegetation.  This is a vicious cycle; things only get worse.

Meanwhile we have more and more carbon being burned and many people making lots and lots of money producing carbon fuels.  To understand the denial of global warming, follow the money.  As Adam Smith wrote in his “Wealth of Nations”, those who live by profit are not to be trusted.

You can find more thoughts like this at my blog:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names cannot hurt me

"A faith that cannot withstand ridicule is no faith at all. And a faith that cannot laugh at itself is a faith that defies human nature."
- “Your Free Speech, and Mine”, Timothy Egan, New York Times, 2015-01-16

There are too many people and too many governments that take offense too easily at any criticism of their religion or their government.  They are so insecure in their beliefs or of their power that they are willing to kill those who criticize them.

The current political insecurity is shown by the North Korean government.  They can’t take the spoof of their leader in an American film.  One, should they worry about a rebellion in North Korea because of this film?  It will definitely not be shown publicly.  Two, have they considered the spoofs of American politicians that are made daily in all kinds of media all across Europe and the Americas?  Does President Obama really have such big ears as drawn by many cartoonists?

The current religious insecurity is shown by those who take offense at caricatures of Mohammed.  This is also a political insecurity by certain governments who use religion to control their people.  Have they considered all the spoofs of religion and religious figures that have been made for centuries in Europe and the Americas?  Does the Pope really wear such a high mitre that his aides have to check the height of a bridge before the Pope can ride under it?

Wiley’s “Non Sequitur” frequently draws the foibles of people entering heaven.  I bet most of us have seen over a dozen cartoons in the last year from a variety of cartoonists picturing God.

Many of you probably know several jokes about religion.  Here are a few that I’ve known for decades.  I’ve shortened them a bit to save space.

A priest and a rabbi golfed together every Sunday afternoon for many years.  One day the priest asked the rabbi if he ever ate ham.  Hem, haw! “Well, yes, I have.”  “Tasted pretty good, huh?”  A couple holes later the rabbi asked the priest if he ever slept with a woman.  Hem, haw!  “Well, yes, I have.”  “Better than ham, huh?”

Two priests and a Protestant minister went fishing together.  After a bit, one priest said he forgot something on shore and walked across the water to shore and came back.  A bit later the other priest did the same.  The Protestant minister had to show that he could walk on water also.  He stepped out of the boat and sank up to his neck.  One priest asked the other, “Do you think we should have told him where the rocks are?”

Jews tell this about themselves: If two Jews are in a room there will be three opinions.  You can substitute Unitarians for Jews and probably several other religious groups.

Garrison Keillor claims the original settlers of Lake Wobegon were Unitarian missionaries, one of whom wanted to convert the Ojibwe with interpretative dance.

For a lot more jokes about Unitarians, see  The lead paragraph is “Many of these jokes are collected in the fine volume "The Church Where People Laugh" by Gwen Foss. They're full of unwarranted stereotypes suggesting that all UUs are flaky, coffee-swilling environmentally fanatical atheists ... as a UU, I find them hilarious.“

Monty Python produced two popular movies heavy on spoofs of religion: “Life of Brian” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”.

Ah, “The Holy Grail”!  There is a violent religion for you.  All the Christians that pillaged their way across Europe and the Near East to drive Muslims out of the Holy Land.  And many of them made alliances with the Muslim rulers.

Even religious groups that many consider strait-laced can laugh at themselves.

“A teacher asked her students to bring an item to class that represented their religious beliefs. A Catholic student brought a crucifix. A Jewish student brought a Menora. A Southern Baptist student brought a CorningWare.”

For many more like this, see

I was given a book by a French friend, “Dieu rit en Alsace” (“God laughs in Alsace”).  It has many anecdotes about clergy and lay people.  One of my favorites is about a young Protestant pastor asked to perform a wedding in another town.  He directed the couple to exchange knees and bend their rings.  I wish I still had the book to see the original German and all my other favorites in French.  I hope the person I lent it to can find it.

I wonder if God is so great, then can't he take care of blasphemers like he did with the Great Flood or with Sodom and Gomorrah?

I think those who criticize “blasphemy” are insecure in their own beliefs.  Like the North Korean leaders they see everything that contradicts their world view as a physical threat to themselves.  Many believe that the best counter to “blasphemy” or any insult is to dismiss these with “consider the source”.

Take a look at the “Charlie Hebdo” cover.  It was republished last week in both the Reader Weekly and the Duluth News Tribune.  Isn’t Mohammed shedding a tear about the violence done is his name?  At least twice this past week I’ve seen Muslims retell the story of Mohammed’s forgiveness of a women who threw garbage at him as he passed her house.

“...and you should forgive And overlook: Do you not like God to forgive you? And Allah is The Merciful Forgiving.” – Qur’an

“Life ain't no how serious.  We have met the enemy and he is us.” – Pogo

“Can't we all just get along?” –  Rodney King

Je suis Charlie!  Je suis Ahmed!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

If we have smaller government…

...will smaller corporations follow?

I thought a recent article in the New York Times had a headline linking Jeb Bush and “small government”.  At the time, I only saved the link.  When I revisited the link, the article didn’t have that headline but one about his emails as Governor of Florida.  (“Emails from tenure as governor of Florida show Jeb Bush’s agenda and goals”, 2014-12-25).

He did campaign on promising to make Florida state government smaller. He did set a goal of cutting the number of state employees in half.  “And while he did not slash the number of state employees by half, he did privatize thousands of public jobs.”

The problem with promises of smaller government is that often little discrimination is made between what government services are important and what services are superfluous.  It reminds me of Senator Rudy Boschwitz and his call for “across the board cuts”.  Are we going to cut understaffed court systems as well as grants to the arts?  Many people will step in with increased donations to the arts, but how many are willing to donate to the court systems?

What services did Gov. Bush cut?  Could these cuts have resulted in longer wait time for developmentally disabled individuals to receive assistance?  Did he cut law enforcement?  Would this have resulted in more traffic crashes because irresponsible drivers had more chances to hurt other people?

What about the privatizing of public services?  Who are these companies responsible to: the people or the shareholders?  If prisons are privatized, do the companies have an incentive to help inmates re-integrate with society?  Or do they have an incentive to maximize profits and feed and house prisoners at the lowest possible cost without any concern about recidivism?

What is it that makes some people automatically assume corporations will always do better than government?  Have they considered that both corporations and governments are run by people?  And what do people do too often?  Make mistakes.

Deadly mistakes like air bags that kill people and brakes that don’t work.

People lie too often.  Government officials tell us about weapons that don’t exist.  Corporations tell us that their projects will create jobs and will not harm people or the environment.

Two of the favorite punching bags of government critics are the Departments of Motor Vehicles and the Postal Service.  Sorry, but my experiences with either have been almost always positive.  Sure, I have to wait in line sometimes, but I console myself that the clerks will treat me as if I were the only customer.  And the last words of a postal clerk are “Anything else?”  Our usual postal carrier trudges through the snow and cold, and she can still greet us with a cheery smile.

Most of my interactions with large companies are generally positive, but the number of things that go wrong is far too many.

I have accounts with several corporations for various services from online newspapers to cell phone service.  I make payments to many of these by automatic payment through my credit card. Some of these have been sending me emails that my card has expired!

This was beginning in December and into this month.  Strange!  My card has an expiration date of 01/15!  My bank verified that means 1/31/15.  I’ve called or emailed a few about this.  I said I would probably not receive a new card until mid-January.  How can I update it without an updated card?

My new card arrived this past week!  Hurray, I won’t be receiving these messages for another three years.


I spent half a morning updating half the auto-pay accounts.  I wrote some of this while waiting for Virgin Mobile to give me the next page of ???  I lost count.  Each took over a minute to load.  This is corporate efficiency?

Ah, Virgin Mobile accepted my card.  No, it did not!  It doesn’t like the old card number that is displayed with mostly asterisks.  I replaced that with 16 digits all jammed together.  It didn’t like that.  I can’t remember all that happened but finally I had a screen that had the updated info.  Except my choices now are to cancel or pay now.  I would pay automatically on the due date.  I cancelled.  When the next page finally came up it looked like I was all set, but the expiration date wasn’t included.  Then I was waiting  for the page “Edit info”.  The expiration date was NOT updated.

Then I was watching the wait circle go round-and-round for “Contact Us”.  Ah, it finally loaded.

I received an email from Virgin Mobile a couple of hours later.  The representative listed five straight-forward steps.  Why didn’t I see the first step?  Did I go off to another page where that step was not shown?  I don’t know, and I’m not going to double check now.  I do know that all was not peaches and cream.

“Terms and agreement” had a check-box for acceptance, but it was not obvious.  It was partially hidden by text.  I finally got all the steps done, and was told that it would take fifteen minutes to reflect the change in my account.  I bet it wouldn’t take them fifteen minutes to notify me if I had run over the limit on my credit card.

I could rant on about some of the other problems of two days updating only a few accounts.  Some went smoothly; other were almost as bad as the Virgin Mobile experience.

I do know some people who would not even attempt this task.  They would find an expert to do it for them.  With all the research in the last thirty years that has gone into human interface and ease of use, one would think that large corporations with their “efficiency” would be experts in this field.

Mel wonders if there is a Moore’s law for software bugs: every 18 months, the percentage of errors doubles.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Muslims do speak out!

Too often someone writes or says that Muslims should speak out against the violence committed in the name of Islam.

Are these complainers in a cocoon?  Muslims do speak out about the violence.  The complainers probably don’t read what is even in local dailies.

Maybe they spend too much time on Fox News.  Someone put on the Coffee Party site a snippet from Fox News of an interview with Reza Aslan, author of “Zealot: Jesus of Nazareth”.  The interviewer kept repeating “How can a Muslim write about Jesus?”  In another era, many would ask, “How can a black women be an interviewer on TV?”  Or today, “How can a non-Muslim write about Islam?”  or “How can a non-Muslim even ask questions about Islam?”

As to speaking out, many Muslims do.  A group of Muslim scholars in Britain condemned the violence and the cartoons both but counseled patience and restraint.

One writer who stands out from several that I have read recently is Ahmed Tharwat, a broadcaster and writer in the Twin Cities.  He wrote “I am Ahmed – non-terrorist”.  He wrote for many Muslims that he is tired of being held responsible for the actions of a few out of over a billion Muslims.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Tout est pardonné

I've spent a lot of time researching the "Tout est pardonné" issue of Charlie Hebdo.  But I have found no address to order a copy.  I could impose on a couple of French friends, but I email them too infrequently.

I did find out how to donate and did:  This site has almost nothing else but donation forms.

But I won’t go to eBay for it.  I read that somebody is already offering this issue at $300!

P.S. 2016-01-02 A French friend did mail me the "Tout est pardonné" issue of Charlie Hebdo.  It really does tax my French.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Incomplete quoting to fit ideology

Many who want government to stay out of corporate affairs quote Milton Friedman with “The only purpose of the corporation is to maximize shareholder value.”

However, he actually had a more nuanced statement:

"There is one and only one social responsibility of business--to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud."

See “The Benefits and Costs of Social Investing”, Alex Brian, Morningstar, 2015-01-07.

Too many forget everything after “so long as it stays within the rules of the game…”

Also, who should be the arbiter of “the game”?  The Chambers of Commerce?  But Chambers interests are those of its members.  Government?  Horrors!  Who else do we have that could be “impartial”?

Note my use of “could” rather than “can”.  Too many corporations work to get government to make decisions favorable to themselves without regard to the “General Welfare” stated in the U. S. Constitution.

What we have is that the “rules of the game” as manipulated by corporate interests often lead to lots of “deception or fraud”.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The many flavors of favors

I had started my column for this week on politics and was trying to figure out how to use a U.S. Court of Appeals opinion.  As I tried to find a good summary of the case, there was a knock on our front door.

It was one of the students next door.  Her boyfriend’s car wouldn’t start.  She wondered if I could pull my car around and help; they had cables.  I replied that I had a jump starter and we could use that instead.

I put on my coat and boots and went to our garage.  I pulled the starter out of the back of my SUV and checked it.  The green light didn’t come on, but three red bars were showing.  I’ll give it a try anyway.

He said he had “one of those” but it wasn’t charged.  We hooked up my charger, and he tried the ignition.  Whir! Whir! Whir! but no start.  He said that was better than before.  I said I would plug my charger in and come back if his didn’t get charged first.

Back to the political article.  Steps on front porch.  My neighbor was back.  She said they were going to Chester Creek Café.  I said, “Let’s give a try with my car.  I forgot all about using it.”

But first I checked the charger and it did show the green bar intermittently.  We hooked it up to boyfriend’s car again. Whir! Whir! Whir! but no start.  He said that was better than before.  I apologized for not bringing my car next to his.

I did that and we hooked up his jumper cables.  Even though the negative sparked on contact, his car didn’t start.  He suggested using a point at the end of the ground cables from the battery. Whir! Whir! Whir! but no start.  He said that was better than before.

Oh!  I forgot to gun my engine as he tried to start his.  I gunned it.  He tried to start his.  Thumbs up!

They thanked me profusely.  I said,  “Pass the favor on.  I know you will many times.”

Oh!  How many times have people done favors for me without any expectation of reward?  Their only motivations were either politeness when there was no real inconvenience and trying to help someone in need even if it was inconvenient to them.

How often do people hold the elevator door or open a door for others?

Last winter I wrote about a father and son pulling us out of the ditch.

How many times do neighbors do more shoveling or snow-blowing than just their own portion?

I’ve lost track of times I’ve left my lock or a piece of clothing behind at the fitness center, and somebody has turned it in to the front desk

My wife left her wallet at a bus stop and didn’t realize it until the bus pulled away.  We got off at the next stop and ran back.  Her wallet was gone!  She reported it to the transit authority, but they had no record of it being turned in.  She called the fitness center.  No wallet.

She called to cancel her credit cards and was considering applying for another driver’s license.  Two days later, a small package was in the mail.  It was her wallet with all of its contents.  The woman who found it had decided that returning that way was better than turning it over to a bus driver.  My wife sent a thank you note to the finder and a bit more money than the postage.

How many times have we left hats or gloves at various places?  When we return, the left items are in an obvious place or behind the counter.

When I visited Prague I had taken a long walk taking many pictures.  At one point I realized I didn’t have my lens cap.  I retraced my steps and found it on one of the concrete posts of the bridge I had been on.  I could have set it down there myself, but I don’t think so.  I believe somebody found it on the sidewalk and put it in a more obvious place for the owner to find.

Sometimes we have mixed emotions about the favors people do for us.  I had skidded my car into the gully of a freeway medium.  There was no way I was going to get it out by myself.  I started to walk to a nearby hotel, but two guys offered to take me to a garage farther away.

They were smoking, playing loud music, didn’t give me a chance to put my seat belt on, and went over the speed limit.  I wondered if I would even be dropped at that garage.  They did drop me off and asked for nothing in return.  Within an hour my car was out of the median strip and I was on my way home.

I think this all may be indirect payback for the time, decades ago, that I stopped one night to help four teen-agers who had some car trouble.  I don’t remember if it was a flat tire or something else.  I don’t even remember if I did more than provide some light to change a tire by.  I do think they were on their way again before I went my way.

Whether you help someone or are helped, most likely the roles will be reversed another time.

Mel wonders where he would be if others hadn’t helped him in big or little ways.

The greatest threat to Islam is…


Islamists have probably killed, maimed, kidnapped, or threatened more Muslims than any other group in the world, be it Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or secular.

Islamists are among a long line of the supposedly devout that think they know better than anybody else what God/Allah wants.

Islamists have strengthened the hand of militant “Christians” who want to constrain all Muslims, regardless of how well they fit in or stand apart from the society they are in.  Anti-Muslim parties are springing up in many countries, including Sweden and France.

The number of Muslims who actively oppose Islamists far exceeds those who support Islamists.  The problem is that most anti-Islamist Muslims do not have AK-47s and do not blow themselves up; they only have their cell phones.

If you have a twitter account, see #notinmyname.  If not, see  As could be predicted, a wide range of views are expressed, from Muslims who just want to go about their lives in a secular society to those who want to tar all Muslims with the actions of a few.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

January 1 Is Just Another Day

On December 31 many people will be staying up until midnight to welcome in 2015, hoping for a new beginning.  But will it be all a change for the better?  Some problems will be solved in 2015 and new problems will arise.

The only significant change is the close-out of personal books and of some corporate books.  Many corporations will close their books at the end of some other quarter.  We, the People, actually have three and a half months to make a definitive reporting of our books.  And many of those “efficient” corporations won’t give us the data we need until late January.  So January 1 remains just another day.

Well, many will have the day off, but for us to have the day off without staying home, many people will be working, restaurant servers, gas station attendants, and police and fire.  The last two to protect us from some of our New Year’s Eve foolishness.

I was going to explore the various calendars in use around the world, but two things changed my mind.  The number of calendars described by Wikipedia was a bit overwhelming, and I didn’t know if I could summarize them by the Reader Weekly’s holiday deadline.  Also, I woke from a dream last week about New Year’s Resolutions.  Of course, I didn’t write a good summary right away and all I have left is some fuzzy sense of a room with several people discussing something.

On the calendar issue, I was going to explore how we got from a winter solstice celebration to a man-made celebration ten days later in the year.  I’ll have to do that another week, maybe next December?

We have attended many New Year’s celebrations and had fun and comradary.  Sometimes drank a bit too much and sometimes very little.  Close to midnight, the countdown would begin and at midnight the big cheer, “Happy New Year!”  Then we might hang around a bit or a lot.  But what was really new other than we would have to put a different year on our checks?

Now we have made it a tradition of going to bed at our usual time and sleeping through the night.  The world is no better or worse for us having done so.

Many have the custom of making New Year’s Resolutions.  They promise themselves and other that they will make some small or big change in their lives.  Many of the regulars at a fitness center see how unsuccessful many of these resolutions are.  The gym is more crowded in January than in any other month.  By February attendance is down and the wait for weight machines is back to normal.

I keep making resolutions all the time: it’s my to-do list.  The list keeps getting longer and longer.  Those that require attention today get done.  Others move up and down the list as some things get done and others added.  “Clean desk” is one of them.  This past week I actually dusted two-thirds of it!  Another is to send slides out for scanning to DVD.  I have two piles of slides I have to double check that they were scanned and a carousel of slides I have that I think hasn’t been scanned.  Maybe by Wednesday they will either be thrown away or sent on their way to be scanned.  Maybe!

Writing this column is always on my list.  If the idea is hot and I am organized, the words flow.  If I have a hazy idea then it takes more research or more time rattling around in my brain.  With the two different ideas for this column competing, it was easier to put writing off to the last minute.

I used finishing a book as my diversion for this.  And reading books is another one of those items on my list.  I have three bought books that I haven’t even opened yet, and I drop by the library to pick up fiction.  Guess which gets priority.  And this leads to another addition to my to-do list.

I had read some of Sharon Shinn’s “Archangel” series and just picked up “Mystic and Rider”.  It is one of those medieval fantasies where the main characters possess magical powers.  In this one our heroic group is on a quest for the king to determine if a rebellion is fomenting.  Yesterday I decided I was going to finish it rather than work on this column.

One of the problems in the book is that certain people are out to destroy all mystics.  These people claim all mystics are a threat to “normal people“, no matter how little a threat they really are.  I sensed a parallel to the politics of today.  The book was published in 2005.  A phrase that stood out was “Standard fanatical rhetoric!”  This was a comment by two of the “good people” after their different encounters with one of the “really bad people”.

As I got closer to the end, I noticed more and more things appeared that would not be resolved in this book.  I checked the list of the author’s books and sure enough there is a sequel.

So, if I am going to have any New Year’s Resolution that will be completed, reading all of Sharon Shinn’s books will be the one.

Mel would like 48-hour days and 96-hour energy bars to do all he would like to do.

This was also published in the Reader Weekly of Duluth, 2015-01-01 at