Thursday, April 23, 2015

It is around here someplace!

Whenever one of us can’t find something, we say, “It is around here someplace!”

This has not always been effective in retrieving a lost object.

The earliest loss I remember is my wedding ring, the winter of our first year of marriage.  When I noticed it missing after a trip to the super market, I was fairly certain we would never find it again.  My guess was that it had slipped off when I took a glove off to get my car keys.  The snow bank was at least three feet high.

The next memorable loss was in a watery hay stack: the Mississippi River.  We were part of a flotilla of the Minnesota Canoe Association.  Probably for the vanity of not having a white stripe on my wrist, I had set my high-school-graduation watch on the gunwale of the canoe.  One of the kids asked for Kool-Aid and as I reached for the jug, he or she moved.  Kerplash!  No way would I be able to determine exactly where that watch was.

Books are something that seem to disappear easily.  I remember leaving a copy of “Abbé de Tours” on an airplane.  I lent “Dieu rit en Alsace” (“God laughs in Alsace”) and the borrower denies having it.  I have a vivid memory of John McWhorter’s “Power of Babel” being on my wife’s night stand.  Even buying another copy didn’t make it turn up.

A “good” place to lose something is the Essentia Fitness Center.  I’ve left behind in the locker room an iPod, keys, earbuds, and other stuff.  In almost every case, somebody had turned the item in at the reception desk.  Sadly, others have not always been so fortunate.

This winter I lost my cabin keys in Brimson.  We looked in every building and in the car, but could not find them.  Fortunately we could make copies with my wife’s set.  Then the snow started melting and there was a “golden” carabiner next to the sauna door.  Although I am paranoid about making sure that the carabiner is securely hooked onto a belt loop, I wasn’t paranoid enough that one time.

A few days before my wife returned our granddaughter to Japan, she lost her cellphone.  She and I asked several times at every place she had been if anybody had turned it in.  I called her cell phone and all I got was my recorded voice.  I went to the provider’s web site and checked for unauthorized usage.  There was none but I suspended usage anyway.  After awhile I removed the suspension, but I kept checking for unauthorized usage.

We kept looking over and over in some of the same places, especially the kitchen counter where she often left her phone.  “It’s around here someplace.”

Halfway through my wife’s trip, I was about a day away from ordering a new phone from my provider or getting one on eBay.

As I do every few days, I was going to get some more groceries at the Whole Food Co-op.  It is important to mention the place because I had to determine how many and which of our bags to take.  Because we have so many floppy bags that are difficult to pack, I’m often tempted to use the Co-ops paper bags.  However, we do have two bags with rigid sides.  I selected on of these and then selected what smaller bags and jars I would need for the bulk items I intended to buy.

When I got to the co-op and was at the bin for my first purchase, I reached into the bag for a smaller bag.  There were no smaller bags!  Nothing!  Nada!  Ingenting!  How did I miss putting them in?  As if wishful thinking would put them in the bag, I peered into it intently.  I then noticed a red piece of cloth sticking out from the flap that forms a double bottom.

What is this?  A closer look and I was holding the embroidered zipper pouch that my wife keeps her phone in.  Unzip!  There was her phone!  Mirabile!  It didn’t even have enough power to show the low-power red line.  But, you guessed it, it was around here someplace.

Several hours later I had it fully charged, functional, and with all her data.

I emailed her that either she would never take it out of the house with it off or I would buy a Tile to attach to it. If she has it on and we have our computers set properly, we can use Find My iPhone to locate it within a few feet.

I am also guilty of not remembering carefully where I have put something.  We have a charger for AA batteries that I was sure had been on the kitchen counter.  In fact, I remember clearly that it had been plugged into an outlet above the counter.  As with the cell phone, I kept looking on the counter and in drawers, but I could never find it.

This past Saturday I looked in drawers at our cabin for kerchiefs to keep the sun off my neck.  I found a couple in the next to the bottom drawer, but I was sure there were more.  I opened the bottom drawer and there was… the battery charger.

OK, now where were the batteries that I brought from Duluth to be charged.  Nowhere to be found.

When I got back to Duluth and put my laptop on my desk, there were the batteries: “around here someplace!”

Last time Mel looked, his head was still on his shoulders.

Also published in the Reader Weekly of Duluth, 2015-04-23 at

Monday, April 20, 2015

No harm to humans: where have we heard this before?

I just watched “The Clean Room” in “Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey” with Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

Clair Patterson, a graduate student then a professor, spent years trying to determine the age of the earth by the amount of lead, a product of uranium decay.  He kept running into far more lead in the environment than should occur naturally.  He concluded that the lead was coming from tetra-ethyl lead added to gasoline to improve anti-knock qualities.

However, lead is a known neuro-toxin, known even in Roman times.  Chemical industry representatives kept trying to show that leaded gasoline was not a problem.

We still have many people having neuro-toxin problems from leaded paint in older buildings.  But we try to show that their problems are caused by lack of initiative rather than environment.

Now we have the same scenario all over again with vested interests working overtime to “prove” that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not a problem.

When will we ever learn?  Those who live by profit are not to be trusted: Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Do we really have a five-party “system”?

Many commentators write about the “two-party system” as if it were enshrined in the Constitution.  Actually, the writers of the Constitution feared factionalism.  They thought their document would bring about a system of considered deliberation and reasoned arguments.

Unfortunately, factionalism reared its ugly head quite quickly.  John Adams, a signer of the Constitution, and Thomas Jefferson, a non-signer, soon fell into animosity about the direction of government.  They did reconcile their differences in their elder years, but their dispute lingered in the Whig and Democratic parties.

The Whig party went into decline when several Whigs formed the Republican Party, partly because of opposition to the extension of slavery and partly because of support of modernization.  Ironically, one of the Republican slogans was “Free Labor” as opposed to slave labor.

Over time, the parties’ basic tenets changed with changing times.  The Republicans essentially became the party of Big Business and the Democrats became the party of the People.  But these were not fixed ideologies.  The parties adjusted their ideas to the times.  Republicans put forth ideas that favored a “government for the people” and the Democrats put forward ideas that were corporate-friendly or status quo.  Many commentators referred to the two parties as “big tent” parties; that is, all were welcome if they held loosely to a few basic tenets.

Then somewhere in the eighties or maybe even earlier, the Republicans morphed into a hard-nosed, doctrinaire party.  The days of the RINO (Republican in Name Only) began.  Some very stellar Republican politicians who got things done for the greater good were no longer welcome.  The Republicans also drew in many evangelicals who knew exactly what God wanted; just the kind of religious influence that the signers of the Constitution worried about.  The signers were very aware of the differences among denominations and didn’t want to favor one over the other.

The result of all these changes have left many would-be voters, and even regular voters dismayed.  As the parties have hardened in their stances, many people see government as dysfunctional and more partisan than deliberative.  Remember that phrase describing the U.S. Senate as “the greatest deliberative body in the world”?  I’ll agree to the “deliberate” part, “deliberate” grandstanding for minor electoral advantage.

Back to the signers of the Constitution: I think they had in mind a constituency who knew the men they were electing, if not personally, at least by reputation.  Now we know our candidates by the slick literature they send out and the amount of TV exposure they get.  Unfortunately, third parties spend millions smearing the candidates based on private interest, not the public good that the candidates may promote.

My solution to all this mismatch of ideas and actions is either all candidates are independents selected on the merits they project or candidates are loosely organized into parties that reflect their own interest.

My choices for parties would be Libertarian, Business, Evangelical, Charity, and Common Good.

The Libertarian Party would be almost anti-government.  To them, the individual is primary, government just gets in the way of freedom.  Taxes are just stealing money.  Laws are for other people.

The Business Party would be all in support of large corporations with a bit of a sop to small businesses.  Taxes and regulations just get in the way of corporations “returning value” to their shareholders.

The Evangelical Party would be Bible-centric and would pass laws pushing for more religion in government and for how all should behave, both in public and private.

The Charity Party would take up the causes of those groups who they feel are disenfranchised by government or society.  This Party is difficult to criticize because there are many people with problems that they did not create.  On the other hand, many people in a given group have managed without the Charity Party’s help.

Finally, the Common Good Party is my party (if I were to cease being a Party of One).  This is the party that takes seriously “General Welfare” and “Common Defense” in the Constitution.  The Common Good Party is concerned with infrastructure, safety regulations, commercial laws, and many other laws and expenditures that help promote a prosperous society.

The Libertarian Party ignores how much it depends on government.  What if a libertarian had been defrauded.  Would that person depend on a tax-supported court to seek reparation?  Or would the Libertarian have it out with six-guns on the streets of Laredo?

The Business Party is similar to the Libertarian Party with the emphasis on large organizations rather than individuals.  But would a modern corporation survive without public schools to train a large number of people in increasingly complicated skills, without roads to move its goods around, without police and courts to seek redress for those who would harm the corporation?

The Evangelical Party seems to pick and choose what Bible verses to use.  Two that it seems to me that they ignore most are “Be not like the hypocrites who pray in public to be seen by men…” and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  One could also say the writers of the Constitution were all to familiar with the picking and choosing done by various sects; that’s why they wanted “no religious test”.

The Charity Party’s hearts are in the right place, but the number of problems is so large that many people can’t put their hearts and souls into all those the Charity Party thinks are important.  Government does need a few members of this party just to keep some of issues on the table.

We probably will never have a single Common Good Party because people never agree on the priorities.  This gets back to the Constitution which didn’t really define “General Welfare”.  We do need to have more people who run for office speak out for the common good rather than promote a private interest.

Mel keeps wishing for a majority government, but he keeps seeing a minority voting.

Monday, April 13, 2015

It’s around here someplace! Redux!

My wife’s iPhone “disappeared” before she went to Japan at the beginning of the month.  She retraced her steps and checked with many places.  No luck!  I asked again at some of those same places.  No luck!

I checked her account and there had been no usage we couldn’t account for.

I was just about ready to order a used iPhone from eBay, and transfer her number form Virgin Mobile to Consumer Cellular.

This morning I planned to go to the Essentia Fitness Center and then to Whole Foods Co-op for some groceries. I was being fussy about which bag I took; as an old grocery packer I don’t care for floppy bags.  I want semi-rigid sides.  I took the larger of the two of these we have, and I emptied it of all its jars and plastic bags.

When I got to the co-op I looked in the grocery bag for a produce bag.  There were none.  But I noticed a piece of red embroidered cloth underneath the bottom flap.  It was the cover that our daughter had given my wife for her phone.  The phone was in it, but its charge was depleted.

When I got home, I plugged her iPhone in and only got the little red bar.  After about an hour it was 1/3 charged.  Eventually it was fully charged and fully functional.  In fact, I sent her email from her iPhone to her iPad.

I read up on Find My iPhone, but this feature would not have been of any use.  My wife keeps her phone off unless she wants to make a call, check email, or do some other thing.  So calling the phone didn’t help us find it in the hallway where we keep the grocery bags.

She wrote me that she had checked the bags several time, but I think she didn’t find it because there were so many other smaller bags in that particular one.  Besides, how many of us would think to lift the flap at the bottom of the bag?

So, just in time I saved $100 to $400 on a replacement phone and the hassle of changing carriers.

Now if we could only find the AA/AAA battery charger that disappeared about the same time.

Laundry: how times have changed

As I folded the fourth load of laundry today of six loads, I pondered how laundry has changed over time from a energy-consuming chore to a time-consuming chore.

I put a load of similar laundry in the washer, drop bit of detergent in, twist a couple dials, flip a switch, and walk away.  When the washer beeps and I am good and ready, I come down, move the laundry from one machine to another, put in a drier sheet, twist a couple of dials, and push a button.  If I am so inclined, I will start another load in the washer.

After less than an hour, the clothes in the drier are ready for folding.  After putting those clothes in a basket, I’ll repeat some of the previous steps.  I’ll bring the dry clothes upstairs, fold them, and put them away.

Today I have six loads, including washing my chain saw chaps.  It’s only a bit more work than going downstairs for another snack.

When we were first married, it was a slightly different story.  We only had a wringer-washer.  After each load was washed and rinsed in the tub, we had to put each piece of clothing through the wringer.  (We was generally my wife and only occasionally me.)  Then we had to hang everything on a line in the back yard or in the basement.

But even that work was a “piece of cake” compared to what many, almost always women, suffered in the nineteenth century and even now.  In “Mina Drömmars Staden” (“City of my dreams”) by Wilhelm Möberg, one of the protagonists did laundry out on the ice.  I vaguely remember that she died doing laundry for others; if not died, it severely impacted her health.

Imagine taking every piece of clothing, getting it wet, soaping it up, beating it on a rock or the ice, rinsing it multiple times, and then finding a place to get it dry.  All on a subsistence wage, if that.

Unfortunately, there are still women all over the world that have to clean their families clothes this way.

I don’t think we should “count our blessings” as much we should appreciate that our complaints of how tough we have it are petty compared to others in other places and in other times.

The perfect test for “blasphemy”

A Saudi blogger has already suffered fifty lashes for "blasphemy" by asking for more discussion of religion in Saudi Arabia.  But can his accusers really know that he has committed "blasphemy" against Allah or that he is only disturbing their world view?

I propose the following test of blasphemy.

If a person is accused of blasphemy, he or she should be staked out just after sundown on a clear night in a field that is at least one hundred feet from any structure.  If the person has actually insulted Allah, then Allah will send a lightning bolt to kill or injure the "blasphemer".  After all, did not God send down fire to light Elijah's water-soaked offering?

If the accused is not harmed by a lightning bolt from Allah, then the accuser should undergo the following.  The accuser should be tied to a ten-meter metal pole on the night of prolonged thunderstorms.  If the accuser is killed during the night, then we can assume that it is Allah's will.  If the accuser survives the night, then the accused and the accuser should ask forgiveness of each other.

And forgiveness is the basic tenet of all religions, irregardless of how the "believers" ignore this bedrock principle.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Wild about wild animals

The people of the world seem to be going wild with various ideologies that are harmful to others, and I need a break from writing about these foibles.  So, why not write about wild animals I’ve encountered?

My first close encounter with a wild animal that I remember was on a Boy Scout camping trip.  I don’t remember if I was a junior or an adult leader at the time.  I was sharing a tent with one of the scouts when we heard scurry along a bottom edge of our tent.  I got out a flashlight and we saw a mouse running around.

Without thinking, I grabbed the mouse and stuck it in my shirt pocket; the shirt was on a hanger on a rope at the top of the tent.  Then I started worrying that the mouse might gnaw a hole in my shirt, but I did nothing.

In the morning, I found my shirt pocket intact, but with the mouse dead inside.  I don’t think I injured it when I captured it; I think it died of fright.  I felt sad, but I felt it was a territorial dispute.

A much later animal intrusion ended more happily.  A bat went down the chimney at our cabin and rustled all night trying to get out.  Lucky bat, it was not cool or cold weather when we would have had a fire below.  I managed to get it out with chimney cleaning rods and duct tape.  I gave the rods a couple of taps on the roof and the bat went gliding off.

I’ve encountered bears many times, and my first Reader submission was a compilation of bear stories.  Black bears are more likely to turn and run when encountering humans, but don’t count on it.  My latest encounter was a bear in our cabin yard.  I stepped outside to take its picture, but I made the mistake of clicking my tongue to catch its attention.  I got its attention, but it chose to run the other way from that eight-foot tall animal standing to the top step.

We’ve seen moose tracks around our cabin, but these have all but disappeared as the trees have grown bigger.  A DNR forester told us that if we want moose we should clear cut.  The moose like to munch on young aspen.  Maybe we’ll have more moose as our recent clear cut fills in.

The most moose I’ve seen was on the Kawishiwi River in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  My son and I must have seen fourteen moose in one day.  We were at least three canoe lengths from one grazing the water plants.  I wonder if I’ll ever find those pictures in my jumbled archives.

Among the most skittish animals are woodpeckers.  Even if they are twenty feet up in a tree, they often will fly away.  I did manage once to get some pictures of a pileated woodpecker a lot closer than that.  Within a block of our house one was battering away, and I took several pictures almost level with it.

I did sneak up on a sapsucker drumming on the aluminum vent stack of our outhouse.  I guess it was so lovelorn that it didn’t notice me sneaking up on it to within eight feet.

Probably the least shy animals are wild turkeys.  Or is it most dumb?  A few years ago I saw one strutting around on the shoulder of Hwy. 44.  I stopped and took several pictures of it.  It would walk toward me and then back off.  I almost thought it was a domestic turkey.

But this past weekend I missed a flock of turkeys.  I saw a single turkey on the opposite side of the road.  I decided not to stop.  Then I looked to my right and saw about a dozen turkeys on my side.  Thank goodness they were on the shoulder and not on the pavement.  I slowed down but didn’t stop.  I was too tired from cutting up firewood.

One animal that I had to stop for was a huge snapping turtle.  Its shell must have been two feet or more front to back.  I stopped and took several pictures as it made its slow way across the road.  I doubt that anybody would have hit it; the damage to their car would have been considerable.

I do wish that I had stopped for another turtle crossing the road.  I was staying with my sister-in-law in a small town while I attended a conference several miles away.  As I drove to the conference I saw a turtle crossing the road.  I thought of stopping and carrying it across but didn’t.  When I came back in the evening, there was a broken shell only a quarter way across the road.

Another amphibian that fared better was a green toad that got caught in our rain gauge.  I tried shaking it out, but its sticky feet held tight.  I laid the gauge down on the ground, but it still didn’t leave its “shelter”.  I stomped or banged the ground behind it, and it darted out so fast that I almost couldn’t see it.

Deer are both curious and skittish.  I have taken pictures of them as little as thirty feet away looking right at me.  Other times I only have to wave a hand while I’m in the cabin and they will bolt.

I rarely see wolves, but we hear them or see their kills.  We came across a deer carcass on one of our trails. The next time we passed the spot, the carcass was almost gone except for an organ and some hair.

I did get a great “video” of a wolf howl.  You can listen to it on YouTube; look for “Wolves Howling in Brimson”.

You can also find some of my animal photos at

Some year Mel will be organized and find all of his notes and pictures.

This version has a few corrections from the original article at

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The myths of fighting terrorism

President George W. Bush used “War on Terrorism” over and over again, and, like many before and after him, thought that military might from air or ground could stop the terrorism.  But these actions only foment more terrorism.  In fact, these actions in and of themselves are terrorism.

Just what is terrorism?  Governments generally define it as lethal attacks on civilians or governments, often perpetrated by a small number of people.  Terrorism really is any act by any group, government or not, meant to reinforce an agenda.  Torture by any government is terrorism.  Invasion of one country by another that leads to the deaths or injuries to the unarmed civilians is terrorism. Pilots deliberately crashing airplanes is terrorism.  Gunmen shooting people on buses or in theaters is terrorism.  People blowing up mosques, churches, or temples are terrorists.  Governments dropping bombs on civilian populations is terrorism.

Terror has been a part of our country from the beginning.  During the Revolution, mobs of “Tories” or “Patriots” would tar and feather and ride out on a rail those they suspected of supporting the other group. The tar was very hot and the rails were triangular; the victims were probably made to sit with the triangle facing up.

Slaves knew the terror of being whipped by a ruthless owner or overseer for the slightest infraction.  If that weren’t enough, many owners justified the whippings with verses from the Bible.

The end of slavery didn’t end the terror for former slaves or their descendants.  The Ku Klux Klan hung those they disagreed without any benefit of trial.  Others were “lucky” to “only” have crosses burned in front of their houses.  The Klan made “Christianity” just another example of a violent religion.

The Klan and its ilk have not been eradicated, but their influence has been greatly diminished by  a more just civil society.

Unfortunately, civil society has been under attack since the writing of the Constitution.  Slavery was permitted in the Constitution with the onerous counting of slaves as three-fifths of persons.  Slavery was further strengthened by the Second Amendment, “the right of the People to keep and bear Arms”.  For many, the purpose of this was to protect slave owners if the Federal government threatened to take away their slaves.  Civil society is also under attack by those who want to consider corporations as “persons”.

Terror by “civil society” continued after the abolition of slavery with the forced relocation or slaughter of aboriginal peoples.  The U.S. Army wiped out several villages including women and children.  The Cherokee and others, successful farmers who dressed the same as their neighbors, were forced off their land and told to move to Oklahoma.  Many did not survive the trip.

I could go on with several other instances of the U.S. being involved in violence against the populations of other countries, but I don’t have space to examine the pros and cons of these interventions.  But, there are many people who remember these interventions and still hold grudges about them.

Let’s examine one chain of events that got us to the messes of today.

The Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan to protect the Communist-led government.  Afghanistan, being the tribal country it is, had many who attacked the Soviet occupiers.  The United States, being engaged with its own battle with “godless Communism”, aided and abetted the resistance.  One of the most deadly weapons the U.S. arsenal was Stinger missile.  The U.S. supplied Stingers to the mujahedeen fighting Soviet helicopters, the deadly Hinds.  The new weapons turned the battle around and the Soviet Union eventually left.  But many of the Stingers did not return to the United States.

Then the United States decided to take on Saddam Hussein when the latter invaded Kuwait.  As part of the military arrangements, Saudi Arabia allowed the U.S. to base troops in their country.  A big mistake to make.  Many Muslims consider Saudi Arabia a holy place that should not be “overrun” by an infidel army.  One of these objectors was an Arab who had been very active in helping the mujahedeen repel the Soviet invaders: Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden decided to make a big theatrical demonstration of his displeasure, the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York after some practices in the Gulf of Aden and other places.  George W. Bush fell into bin Laden’s trap and escalated the conflict, invading both Afghanistan and Iraq, bringing “freedom and democracy” to both countries.  Both countries may have “elected” officials, but the fighting still goes on and has brought in a third party: the Islamic State in Syria.  ISIS or ISIL or IS has thousands of Muslims, traditional or new converts rushing to join their cause.

The United States, under a President who wanted to wind down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is sending jets to attack ISIS in Iraq. Do you not think there are a few Muslims who are thinking of ways to attack the U.S. for its “attack on Islam”?  On top of this, thousands of those fighting to expel ISIS from Tikrit have withdrawn because of the U.S. attacks.  Can the jets occupy Tikrit?  I think it is Sunnis who have withdrawn; Tikrit is a predominantly Sunni city.

What frosts me is that the U.S. gives billions of aid each year to both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but neither has put much effort in expelling ISIS from Iraq.  Saudi Arabia has probably put more effort into Yemen than it has into Iraq.

And now we have a Congress that wants to spend even more money on the “defense” of its world view while protecting the “rights” of our home-grown terrorists.

Pete Seeger’s lament is still relevant: “When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?”

Also published in the Reader Weekly at