Thursday, February 26, 2015

Muslims do speak out. Are you listening?

A few weeks ago a letter writer to the Reader stated that “ALL Muslims” must speak out.  He stated this over and over again.

Should others claim that “ALL Christians” must speak out about slavery, lynchings, or discrimination?  In an ideal world maybe “ALL” whoever would speak about crimes committed by some of their “co-religionists”, but we live in a complex world where people’s abilities and wishes vary.

Many Christians didn’t speak out about slavery or lynchings out of fear for themselves and their families.  Many Christians didn’t speak out because they were far removed from where these crimes were being committed.  Many Christians didn’t speak out because they had other concerns that were more immediate to them.

Are not many Muslims in similar situations?  Are those in areas controlled by the Islamic State or by dictators going to speak out against injustice and be killed, imprisoned, or tortured for their opposition?  Are those far from these awful situations going to spend all their time speaking out against injustice instead of going to work or caring for their families?

Well, if you have several news sources you will find that many Muslims are speaking out.  The Duluth News Tribune of Sunday, February 22 had a story headlined “Norway’s Muslims form protective human ring around synagogue”.  This was in reaction to a Danish Muslim killing two people at a synagogue in Copenhagen; the synagogue was holding an event to promote free speech.  The Star Tribune has published several stories about the concern of Muslim parents that their children are being seduced to join ISIS.

Remember that one of the first people killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack was a Muslim police officer.  Remember that in the attack on the Kosher grocery one of the people who led some people out was a Muslim employee.

Remember that Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses”, condemned to death by Ayatollah Khomeini for blasphemy, is still speaking out against injustice.

Remember that Egypt struck back against ISIS in Libya because of brutal beheading of Coptic Christians, Christians who were Egyptian citizens.

Note that Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish journalist and Muslim, has been writing about the need for toleration by Muslims for the New York Times.  You can find two of his latest columns at and  See also his TED talk at

He also wrote Islam without Extremism, A Muslim Case for Liberty.  Here are two notable quotes from his book.

“In all these cases, the Muslims who reacted with anger and violence probably were sincere in their zeal to defend their faith. Yet, alas, the practical result of their actions was to vindicate the very accusation brought against them—that Islam is an intolerant and aggressive religion. So, if they really want to change that negative perception about their religion, they must begin by changing their course of action.” p. 252

“Beyond the Hadith literature, a response to blasphemy that is more compatible with the liberal standards of the modern world actually comes from the Qur’an. The Muslim scripture not only lacks any suggestion of earthly punishment for blasphemy, it also advises a nonviolent response: ‘When you hear God’s revelations disbelieved in and mocked at, do not sit with them until they enter into some other discourse; surely then you would be like them.’” p. 254

My notes for this column include many more quotes about the tension among various Islamic schools of thought.  I’ll try to summarize some of the highlights.

After the death of Muhammad, politicians dictated Islamic thought.  They interpreted it to increase their power rather than to increase the welfare of the people.  Sounds like something that has happened and is happening in Christendom.

A tool to increase political power were the Hadiths, “a collection of literature that claims to communicate the Sunna (tradition) of the Prophet Muhammad.”  Many of them are contradictory to the Qur’an and to each other.  Unfortunately, a number of historic events squelched the more liberal schools of Islamic jurisprudence and strengthened the more illiberal school.

“In 1258, the Mongols sacked Baghdad–then the most vibrant and polished city of Islamdom, if not the world.”  The Mongols were so destructive that “that the river turned black for the ink for days on end”, ink from all the documents the Mongols destroyed.

Other invasions followed that weakened liberal Islamic thought and strengthened conservative thought.

Turkey allied itself with Germany in the early 20th century as a counter to its old rival, Russia.  Poor choice!  The defeat of Germany led to the breakup of the Ottoman Empire.  The Allies slowly broke the Empire into pieces and installed leaders they chose.  This continues today with the West trying to decide who should be rulers of these pieces.  These actions certainly aren’t Christian: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

A second invasion was of oil men.  Keep the flow of oil in our control and keep local leaders who support us in control.  This strengthened those who supported Wahhabism, a very strict form of Islam that Akyol calls more of the desert than of Muhammad.

But beware, it can happen here in the hands of those who call themselves Christians.  Jacques Berlinerblau warns in How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom that the “Revivalists” who claim that the United States is and has been a Christian nation really don’t want a pluralistic Christianity, but a Christianity as they interpret it.  They ignore that the Founders were concerned with any given Protestant sect taking control and limiting the freedom of other sects.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Do you give elections away?

Are you going to be in the 40% who lets the 31% decide who's going to be elected?

If you are among those who stay away in elections, then a majority of a 60% turnout is less than 31%.  Too many media outlets use "landslide" when the victor receives 55% of the vote.  If the turnout is only 60%, then the victor only received 33% of the eligible vote.

If these figures were reported more often, then maybe the "winners" would have less hubris when they take office.

Always vote because all votes count!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The sound of Scandinavian languages

John McWhorter writes that the Scandinavian languages are dialects of a common language.  I know from personal experience that Norwegian and Swedish speakers can easily communicate.  To me Danish was quite a bit more difficult to understand because it is very guttural.  The Swedes even call it “a throat desease.”

But Sweden has its own “throat speakers”, those from Skåne, the area around Malmö, across the channel from Denmark.  Listening to some Skånsker reporters on a Swedish podcast led me to “Skånska is understandable Danish.”

Monday, February 23, 2015

Voting choices

As I was balancing my checkbook, I noticed that a payment that I had sent last week had not been debited to my account.  I wondered if it was corporate slowness on the part of the recipient or a less efficient postal service.  That led me to think how too many Republicans are trying to make the postal service inefficient.

From that I thought about the voter mantra of “choosing the lesser of two evils”.   Isn’t that a bit harsh?  Shouldn’t it be “choosing the lesser of two incompetents”?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Religion, politics, and corruption

Mustafa Akyol in Islam without Extremism wrote that when politics interfered with Islam then Islam became narrow and restrictive.  When politics let Islamic scholars have more open discussions, then Islam, culture, and commerce flourished.

In the United States we have restrictive religions corrupting politics, and many believe that if they get their way, the U.S. will be a less pleasant place to live for those who don’t hold to these restrictive religions.

For the latter, see How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom, by Jacques Berlinerblau.  He doesn't call for no religion, but asks that people be tolerant of other religions and wary of religions that want their way for everybody.

For the latter, see How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom, by Jacques Berlinerblau.

Excessive Corporate Inefficiency

This afternoon I got a call from the Essentia Health Fitness Center that I have not made the annual payment for use of the facility.  We never received any notice that this was due.  Last year we were told at the reception desk, and we were able to pay there.

This year, the phone call was my first notice from anyone, Essentia, Medica, or Silver&Fit.  The administrator said we had to pay Silver&Fit directly.

Now the fun begins.

I called the 800 number for Silver&Fit.  I was told by the pleasant recorded voice that there was a very long wait.  Have you seen anything in the papers about this like you’ve seen about MNSure’s wait times?

I went to the Silver&Fit website.  When I began the registration process, it knew my address and phone number just from my name, but then efficiency disappeared.

I had to enter my birthdate in a specific format; the format was not described next to the box. I was asked to select a security question and give the answer.  I clicked “Next” and then I was told how to enter my birthdate.  But then it would not go any further until I selected a security question again.  It showed my answer, but it wouldn’t show the drop-down list again.  It said I needed to select a security question??

I gave up and started a new session.  I ran into similar problems again.  On the third try I found the form for paying by money order.  No form for check or page for using a credit card.

I gave up on that and sent an email of dissatisfaction.  At least there was a link to do so.

I went to the Medica website and managed to find a form for paying by check.

So we each filled out a form, wrote our checks, and put them in a single envelope.  That will probably screw things up at Silver&Fit.  One of us will be credited with another year’s membership and the other not.

With Congress screwing up the Postal Service, it will probably take more than three days to arrive at Silver&Fit, two more days to get to a clerk to open the envelopes, and two more days for Silver&Fit to notify Essentia Health.

It is not the form of an organization, it’s the personnel and management.  Good and bad of these are found in both government and corporations.

BTW I went to St. Louis County Auditor’s License office last week to renew my driver’s license.  The longest part was filling out the form.  Somebody waited on me right away, had me sign the form, took my money, gave me a copy, and asked me to step over to the eye exam device and the camera.  It took me longer to take off my coat than to have my picture taken.  And all this was done with cheer and courtesy.

Petting someone else's pets

I was going to title this “Interaction with animals”, but decided that the above title was snappier.  I will write about pets this time and write about some of the interesting interactions that I’ve had with wild animals another time.

My family has had goldfish now and again, but none have been memorable.  The first pet that I remember was when I was in elementary school.  I met a stray cat that welcomed the food that we gave it.  I remember feeding it by the icebox on the back stoop.  Yes, ice box, one that was filled by an iceman.  Like most cats it spent time roaming the neighborhood.  Then one day my friends on the next block said they thought their dad had run over “my” cat in their driveway.  It was hard to tell, but “the cat never came back”.

We didn’t have any more pets until I was in college.  My mother and stepfather bought a dachshund.  Somewhere there is a picture of me on the kitchen floor playing with the dog.  I think they had two more dachshunds after that.

My mother’s aunt and uncle had a parakeet that they would let fly loose in the house.  I think they called it Petey. It would land on extended fingers or even on Uncle Clyde’s bald head.  One day somebody opened a door at the wrong time, and Petey was never seen again.

My wife’s family favored boxers.  When we started dating, they had one called Grig.  Grig liked to “fight”.  If one put on a leather glove in the back yard, she was happy to jump up, grasp one’s hand in her teeth, and hold on as one swung the gloved had every which way.  She would even hold on while being lifted into the air.  I think I usually wore out before Grig did.

After our daughter was born, I bought a black spaniel mix from a shelter; my wife named him Jynx, word play on ink.  We moved with him from Cleveland to Minneapolis.  We moved to Minnesota partially for the canoeing, and we took Jynx with us on many of our trips.  We often put a white sheet around him to keep him cool.  We gave him away when we moved to Europe, and he went to the new owners like he belonged there.

When we moved back to the United States, my wife and kids chose a puppy from a pound.  They named her Silky because her hair was so fine.  She was sort of a wild one; she would often slip her leash and run around the neighborhood.  This went on her whole life.

Our son also picked up a stray cat that he named Ralph; it too was run over.  Shortly thereafter my wife brought home Felicia from a co-worker.  Felicia and Silky got along for the most part.  We have a picture of them curled up together on a cushion.  But they had their tussles; Silky would try to eat Felicia’s food, and Felicia would ambush Silky.

We had to put Felicia’s food up on a counter to keep it safe.  Felicia needed to leap up to the counter to get to it. Actually she didn’t so much leap as do a fast climb.  The tops of the cabinet drawers showed how she had clawed her way up.

Felicia had a litter box in the basement, and so she didn’t go out as often as Silky had to.  Many times Felicia would wait around the corner from the stairs for Silky to come in.  She would pounce, startle Silky, and then walk away.

I would play my own mind games with Silky.  She would bring a ball for me to throw down the hallway. Sometimes she would chase after the ball and bring it back.  Sometimes I would only make the motion of throwing, and she would chase after the ball and wonder where it went.  But these tricks did not deter her from asking to play another day.

Going outside was Felicia’s undoing.  I had let her out and went back to my home office.  Suddenly Silky, who was inside, started barking angrily.  Two stray dogs had attacked Felicia in our back yard.  I chased them away, but they had already seriously injured Felicia.  I took her to a vet, but she was too gravely injured to have any surgery.  For a long time after, Silky would wander the house looking for her buddy.

Silky’s turn came a few years later, not by attack or accident, but by old age.  She had difficulty controlling her hind legs and neighboring parts.  We took her to the vet.  The vet shaved a leg, put a needle in, and Silky collapsed.

Over twenty years later, it is hard to write about these two buddies with dry eyes.

Since then, I have decided that pets are for other people to care for.  You feed them, take them outside, and vacuum up all the shed hairs. I’ll happily scratch ears, necks, and chests.  It’s surprising the number of dogs who poke their noses at “strangers” for this affection.

Mel has learned to ignore the “dog that wants out”, aka robo-calls.

This was also published in the Reader Weekly of Duluth, 2015-02-19 at

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Terror as theatre

I heard a piece on a Swedish Radio program about terrorists not being generals but theatre producers.  They are not trying to win battles as put on theatre to gain maximum effect.  If we could only think of some way to make each of their productions a flop in their own eyes.

I followed up the information on  The program interviewed Yuval Noah Harari, author of “the theatre of terror” in The Guardian, 2015-01-31.  Read the full article for more.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The crime of war

"That’s because war — no matter how justified or unjustified, noble or ignoble — is always a crime."

David Brooks, "The Moral Injury", New York Times, 2015-02-17

The victims of war are not only those who are killed or maimed, but those who were put in a position of killing.

Are atheists their own worst enemy?

“This is why the more extreme atheist groups, with their penchant for mocking all believers, are so hazardous to secularism’s already failing health.”

Jacques Berlinerblau, “How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom”, p. 196, section “Understand the Value (and Etiquette) of Coalitions"

Monday, February 16, 2015

“Blasphemy” cuts two ways

Many Muslims complain about the “blasphemy” of cartoonists’ and others’ depictions of Mohammad.  More extreme Muslims consider any non-belief in Islam as “blasphemy”.

What if non-Muslims considered any slanderous statements about their beliefs as “blasphemy”?  What would Muslims think of non-Muslims shooting or blowing up Muslims who made these slanderous statements.  Unfortunately, too many non-Muslims commit these heinous deeds against Muslims, and generally these Muslim victims never made any such statements.

One of the phrases many Americans consider annoying is one made by the Iranian revolutions is “Marg bar Amrika!”  “Death to America!”

Fortunately, there are Iranian politicians who would like to see this phrase fall out of use.  They figure it is counter-productive to reaching an agreement with the West about Iran’s nuclear capabilities.  See

What all those hardliners who profess Christian or Islamic values is a key value of both religions is forgiveness.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Disappearing Server Tips

Friday night I went to a neighborhood restaurant for dinner.  I put the bill on my debit card and included a tip.

Saturday I stopped at an ATM to get some cash and asked for a balance also.

When I got home I updated my checkbook application* and things didn’t look right.  The balance in my checkbook didn’t match the balance given by the ATM.  I couldn’t find any sales slip that matched the discrepancy.

Today as I looked at my sales slips I recognized the discrepancy.  It was the tip on the sales slip.  When the restaurant takes my card, it puts a hold on the amount on the slip.  When I add the tip, the hold isn’t taken off, but the total is submitted.  Given that I was checking on Saturday, when my account would not be updated, I was unable to find the restaurant charge in the online list of transactions.  But the ATM slip did show the balance with the hold on the printed sales slip.

I will get verification of this on Tuesday.  Monday is Presidents’ Day and I assume the online data will not be updated during the day.

But it did spoil my Saturday evening as this control freak tried to get everything balanced.

*The checkbook application is Checkbook Tao for the Mac, no app version yet.  You can find it in Apple’s App Store.

Horsing around

I had originally planned this column to be “Interaction with animals”; I forget what triggered the idea.  One of the subjects was horses.  Since most of us consider pets as those animals we keep in our houses, I thought I would make horses a separate column.  The only people I know of who keep horses in their houses are Pippi Långstrump and Danae of Wiley’s “Non Sequitor”.

My first memory of riding a horse was from when I was 10 or 11.  I went to camp where one of the activities was riding in a group.  i was riding at a walking pace in a line of horses and riders.  Suddenly my horse lay on its side.  One of the leaders said that horse often did that.  Memory stops there, but I assume they got the horse up, I remounted, and we continued on.

I’m sure that I rode a few more times as a teenager, but I don’t remember any.

I don’t remember if I was a member of a youth group or a leader at the time of the next incident.  We were in a field where a horse was grazing.  It was standing near a platform and I decided to get on it bareback.  The horse tolerated my intrusion, but it soon trotted off to another part of the field with me still on its back.  It then proceeded to eat grass without any mind of me, and I could do nothing to make it move.  I managed to dismount without falling and walked away.

The next riding experience was the most complex and exciting.  We went to a hotel in Tällberg, Sweden for a week.  One of the activities that the hotel owner arranged was horseback lessons at a nearby stable.

Most of our activity was in a paddock.  We rode around in circles at various paces.  One of the things we had our horses do was run up a ramp and jump off, only about a two-foot drop.  But what excitement for us novices!  We also had some boring time.  One rainy day those of us who cared to mounted up.  Our horses just stayed put in the middle of the paddock.  Probably on the last day we did something I wouldn’t have dared do alone or with friends.  With a trainer, we took our horses into the woods.  One part was on a trail where we had the horses walk, canter, and gallop.  My horse also liked to stop and eat blueberries.  The real highlight was riding down a rocky slope.  The rocks were slabs that probably were at a twenty to thirty degree angle; to me they felt like they were at a forty-five foot angle!

I should add here that I don’t think I ever learned to ride properly.  When the horse went up I went down; when the horse went down I went up; not very nice to the horse.

One ride where I had no ups and downs was on a donkey in Rhodes.  Some in our party opted to take a donkey ride up to the temple at the top of the bluff.  The rest of us walked up and maybe took a donkey down.  The donkeys are led by guides and the ride is very stable.  Somewhere I have an “official” picture of me on donkey back, smoking a pipe.

One summer, probably in the early eighties, my wife’s cousins arranged a big family get together at Jackson Hole for the fiftieth anniversary of their parents.  One of the activities that I did was the trail ride.  I think we did nothing but walk through grassland, but it was really something to do it within site of the Grand Tetons!

The cousins also organized a reunion on Mackinac island.  Most of our exercise was walking to meals and to miniature golf.  There were a couple of stables and I envisioned riding all the way around the island.  Nobody else in our party was interested in even getting on a horse, and so I made a reservation for myself.

When I showed up for my ride, I was surprised that the stable assumed I could ride alone, not in a group.  My wife took a picture of me on the horse, and armed with a trail map, off my horse and I went at a walk.  Once we were off the city streets I became a bit uncertain of where I was, even though the trail was marked.  I think some other riders passed us and my horse cantered for a bit.  When I determined that half the time was up, I turned my horse around and returned to the stable.

I did have to be a control freak at one point.  As the horse turned left onto the street where the stable was, it wanted to cut the corner.  I made it stay in the “proper” lanes.

Our son organized a ride somewhere in Minnesota.  I remember that we had to cross a road, most of the trail was sandy, and that when we got back to the stable as soon as I wrapped the bridle around a post, my horse locked its legs and went to sleep.

My last ride was about ten years ago in Iceland.  An Icelandic horse is not much bigger than a donkey, one almost feels as if one’s feet are dragging the ground.  We went on a group ride to the top of a bluff up a rutted road and back down again.  This time I remembered to ask for a carrot at the farm-stay kitchen, and I gave it to my horse when the ride was done.  Even if Iceland is mostly a no-tip country, it is a good idea to tip your horse.

Mel's high horse is now his column.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Only the quiet ones have true religion

I am listening to the ecstatic singing of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the CD is called “Shahen-Shah”.  Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan leads a group of Muslim singers from Pakistan.  The words are in Urdu.

My own meditation as I listen is the variety of beliefs around the world, even within religions considered complete.  For example, the CD would be banned by the Taliban because they don’t like singing.

I would say that the “true believers” are those who hold their religion in their hearts, not those who are willing to kill those who hold different beliefs.  The latter are the insecure ones who can only believe if everybody believes exactly as they do.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

People, government, and spending money

“The people know how to spend their money better than the government.”  Really?

A Minnesota politician was quoted last month stating some variation of this Libertarian statement, but I can’t find it in a search of the Duluth News Tribune or the Star Tribune.  This mantra keeps popping up when a Republican doesn’t like a particular program or a given tax.  Funny how they rarely apply it to the bailout of the big banks.  And it never applies to any government activity that they support.

Let’s start with the military budget.  Do the people really know how to spend their money on the military better than the government does?  Those who spout my introductory statement seem to want to throw even more money at the military budget.  Regardless of your attitude toward the military, it is in the Constitution that the government should spend money on the military: “provide for the common defense”.  I don’t think the signers meant for the government to take up a collection to support our numerous wars.  Wars are often strongly supported by those who make the claim about the people knowing best how to spend money.

If your house were burglarized, would you want to be responsible for paying for an investigation, a trial, and a prison term for the culprit?  Would you want to have to buy insurance to ensure the thief was brought to justice?  We buy insurance to cover the loss, but we pay taxes for a criminal justice system.  Who runs the criminal justice system?  The government.  Who runs on platforms of “tough on crime”?  Those who are first to put government down.

If your neighbor’s house catches fire, do you want to pay for your private fire department to ensure the flames don’t reach your house?  Government pays for and organizes fire departments that are a phone call away for taxpayers and tax dodgers alike.  Even when local fire departments are all volunteer, they seek support from local taxes and state and federal grants.

We complain about the condition of our streets and the congestion of our freeways.  If we know best how to spend our money, do we want to be responsible for the condition of the streets in front of our houses?  You pay for a nicely paved street in front of your house, and your neighbor leaves the street a muddy mess.  We need government to co-ordinate this so we don’t get our cars stuck in the mud.

We go to restaurants and buy groceries without giving any thought to the cleanliness or condition of the food.  Most restaurateurs and grocers are scrupulous about what they provide, but they aren’t in control of every step of processing the food or even have the time or means to give a thorough quality check.  Government provides some oversight with food inspections, for example, in meat-packing plants.  Many corporations complain about this government “intrusion”, but without it we would have many more food-borne illnesses.  Think about Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”.  Think about the City of Duluth closing a couple of local restaurants because of numerous health violations.  Would “the people” have all the resources to make these checks?

Corporations complain about the lack of “qualified” employees, but they complain about the taxes to train these “qualified” employees.  Industrialized countries invest heavily in public education supported by taxes.  And they provide a range of subjects that provide skills to learn more about technical subjects and about subjects that make for better informed citizens.  What if education were only supplied by parents, either directly or by paying tuition to schools.  First, few parents know enough about all the subjects to fully education their children.  Second, many parents don’t have the resources to pay tuition for professional teachers.  Think of the literacy rates in countries where parents must pay school fees.  Only the well-off in these countries are sufficiently literate.

Speaking of education, a parallel statement to the one about spending money is that “parents know best what is good education for their children”.  A close example is the sweeping generalization that “Parents know kids don’t need Common Core, so politicians should listen”, Ben Boychuk, republished in Duluth News Tribune, February 1, 2015.

We were involved in helping our children with schoolwork, but we didn’t even pretend to know how to teach them the various subjects they took.  Except for the six years we lived in Europe, we sent them off to the local public schools.  In Europe, we sent them to Anglo-American schools because we expected to be in a given country for only two years.  About the only curriculum shock I had was when our daughter showed us the catalog for American history.  Rather than an overview, she had to select one or two narrower subjects, such as Andrew Jackson.

My own education experiences were more self-directed or teacher-encouraged than parentally involved.  My mother encouraged my brother and me to do well, but I doubt she knew much about what we learned or how we learned it.  For the most part we went to schools in the neighborhood. However, we rarely stayed in the same neighborhood for more than three years.  When we moved after I started high school, I selected an out-of-area high school to be with friends who I had known before.  And as Robert Frost wrote, “that made all the difference”.

It was Mr. Rush, a math teacher who punctuated his remarks with “when you go to Case”.  Six of us in my class went to Case Institute of Technology.  It was Mr. Cameron, the assistant principal who recommended that I apply for a Huntington Fund scholarship, which paid full tuition my first year.

Thank you, government, for spending so much money on me to get to that point.

Also published in the Reader Weekly, 2015-02-05 at

Memory’s strange behavior

Today I had an annual physical that included a “Wellness Visit”.

The Wellness Visit was an interview with an RN who asked various questions about my health and made some recommendations.  One of the first items was for me to memorize three words: apple, table, penny.  I tucked "ATP" in my brain to help remember them.  A few minutes later I could only remember apple and table!  Fortunately my total score for all the cognitive tests was fairly high for my age.

Later I told the doctor about this, but forgot “table”.  As soon as he left the room, I remembered "apple, table, penny".

After the visit, I went back to the fitness center to pick up my things.  The person next to me looked familiar.  Another person came in and said, “Hi, Gary.”  Click: Gary Houdek, owner of Jitters Tea and Coffee.  Except he had sold it recently to relatives of the owner of the building.  He also remembered me even though I hadn’t come in for several years, probably from my Reader Weekly column.

But then I forgot about a play tonight at UMD.  My wife reminded me of it, and so we won’t forget to go.

I had a different closing, but I forgot it.  Just kidding!  I actually remembered that I had forgot about the play and intended its mention to be my last sentence.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Understandable cell phone service

When I wrote “Junk mail and the fine print”, I neglected to mention my cell phone provider, Consumer Cellular.  It is very upfront about the costs and the usage.  I get to tailor it to what I think I will need in the next month.  Plus, Consumer Cellular gives me a report when I approach a limit.

You can buy a variety of phones from Consumer Cellular, either by phone or in certain chains.  If you want a smartphone, the prices start at $80.  If you want higher end phones, they start at $xxx plus $25/month for so many months.  This is the one place that Consumer Cellular is a bit opaque, but it does give you the added information with a click of your mouse.

The basic service is $10/month plus 25¢/minute.  The next step is $15/month with 200 minutes.

Data starts at 20MB for $2.50 and tops out at 2.5GB for $30.

My plan is for January is $81.39 for 600 minutes of talk, 1GB of data, a wireless home base at our cabin, and $25/month for my iPhone 5s.  The hard part is calculating all the surcharges and taxes; for some reason these vary every month, no matter the provider.  If I had a paid iPhone and didn’t have the home base, my bill would be about $46/month.  Even less if I didn’t use my iPhone for a hotspot when we’re at our cabin.

Oh, yes, Consumer Cellular uses the AT&T network.  At our cabin I can get from 10Mbps to 23Mbps.

Bottom line: Consumer Cellular is a case in what the free market in phone service should be.  The buyers have all the information they need to make a decision.

Junk mail and the fine print

I keep hoping that some internet provider will offer 30Mbps service at $30/month with no other conditions, like phone or TV.  So I keep opening the envelopes and it is always the same old offer.  For example Charter Spectrum offers up to 30Mbps internet at $29.99 per month when bundled with TV at $29.99 and phone at $29.99.  The fine print also reads “for 12 mos”.  The print is so fine that I can’t even determine if there is an abbreviation period after “mos”.

Well, the really fine print with all the conditions includes: “To reduce Charter direct mail, visit”

I filled out the form without concern because it did not ask for any information that Charter didn’t already have, that is my name and address.  It didn’t even ask why I wanted to drop out.  Charter probably doesn’t want to read what I wrote above.

But maybe thousands of us could make a difference.  If you think so, please pass on the link to this blog entry.  If you pass the link to this entry, I'll see how well the campaign worked. Thanks!