Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Wouldn't true Christians be soft-hearted rather than hard-nosed?

The title of this entry is what came to my mind on reading David Brooks "The Next Culture War", New York Times, 2015-06-30, http://nyti.ms/1JmVd1w.

"Social conservatives are poised to heal broken pieces of society: they should do so rather than continuing to fight battles that are already over."

Rather than give emphasis to the tribal mentality of the Old Testament, wouldn't true Christians follow the "second greatest commandment", to love thy neighbor?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Biting off more than my chipper can chew

A few years ago a logger friend suggested clear cutting some of the aspen on our Brimson property.  I was hoping he would take some of the balsam, but he said there is no market for it. About two years ago, he and his partner cruised the property to assess how much they would cut.  I thought they would be working that winter.  They never did because “It was too damn cold!”

Last fall some people expressed interest in buying the property.  My wife was eager to sell and I went along reluctantly.  I called my logger friend to tell him not to cut because of the possible sale.  Well, the buyers couldn’t get a loan unless there was a working well.  Our dug well hadn’t produced much water in probably ten years.  We sure didn’t feel like spending the money to have a drilled well.  End of sale.

I called my logger friend back and said he could start when ready.

I assumed he would be cutting in an area of about two football fields, and so I said I would pick up the slash.  I would use it for chips or firewood.

We walked the area in which they were cutting and discovered a clump of five large birch trees, each probably at least fifteen inches in diameter at the base.  One was already rotted, and my wife and I cut that down and salvaged the bark for fire starter.  We thought we would cut the other four down after the loggers were through.  But they offered to cut them down for us, and they even dragged them to the landing area (the place where they put cut logs on a truck to take the chip-board company).

Meanwhile, they kept working across the property until they had cut double what I thought they would.  And then they cut three times what I thought they would.  Then the spring road restrictions went into force and they stopped.  They want to come back next year to take even more!

Before I go on, let me say a few words about clear cutting.  Aspen (popple or poplar) is a weed! It is a large plant whose root system extends over several acres and keeps putting up shoots wherever conditions are right.  When we bought the property, an area had been clear-cut a few years before.  In fact, we have an aerial photo that was taken after the clear cut – “desolation” for acres and acres.  When we bought the property, that area was covered with thousands of trees one to two inches in diameter and eight to ten feet tall.  A few years later, I was taking out trees for firewood that had fallen over; they were three to five inches in diameter or larger.

Also, a DNR forester who did a stewardship plan for us, said, “If you want moose, clear cut!” We did see a few moose tracks about that time, but we haven’t seen any for years.  It may be wishful thinking, but I think I saw a single moose track on one of our trails a week or two ago.

And, many of the smaller trees that were not knocked over by the heavy machinery are six to eight feet tall and greening nicely.  Oh, about ten years ago, the Forest Service put out a contract for clear cutting on the property that runs behind ours.  The only way we know it was clear-cut is that there are no really big trees.

One of our disappointments in our first few years owning the property was all of the dying or dead birch.  They were so far gone that only their bark was useful, and we haven’t even collected all of that yet.  Birch is a tree that grows out of old stumps, and we now have hundreds of newer birch trees.  I made up a rule of thumb that if I couldn’t put my thumbs together and reach my forefingers around the birch, it was a candidate for firewood.

Those trees are safe for awhile.  I finally got the four big birches cut into rounds for splitting and am awaiting the loan of a splitter.  We may have three to four years worth for our cabin. our sauna, and our fireplace in Duluth.

Meanwhile, I am working through a jumbled pile of “slash” that must have been thirty feet long, ten feet wide, and six feet high.  The majority of it is four to fifteen inches in diameter and from four to sixteen feet long.  These were either too small or two crooked to take to the chip mill.  I think I have the pile down to about a sixth of what it was.  And the pile of rounds of aspen is probably three times the size of the stacked birch.

Meanwhile the pile of stuff too small for firewood keeps growing.  For a change of pace I do put that through my chipper and pave the paths with the result.

The problem with all this wood cutting and splitting is that I don’t have time or energy to keep all the paths mowed or cleared of brush.  I haven’t even taken the time to go around “The Path”, a triangle that is about three-quarter of a mile in length.  And there are two other loops that I have neglected over the years.

My wife insists, and I agree, that the loggers should clean up the slash of next year’s cutting, and even clean up what I haven’t removed of this year’s slash.  After all, as that same DNR forester said, “Don’t make it a sweat farm!”

Monday, June 22, 2015

Who does “snail mail”?

For almost three decades it has been “cool” to refer to postal mail as snail mail.  I’ve always thought that this was unfair, because in most cases the U.S. Postal Service was getting mail in 1-3 days between any two points in the United States and less than a week to foreign countries.

Today I had a case where “snail mail” beat email.  I ordered some merchandise last Thursday.  It was shipped Friday.  I received it about nine this morning.  I received an email after three this afternoon with the tracking number.  The message was sent by a “fourth party” on the request of the shipper.

Even the supposed “instantaneous” email is not so swift.  I often receive a notice of sent email five or even fifteen minutes after it was sent.

But the worst case is an auto dealer that sends needed service notices after I have the service done.  Almost two weeks ago I took my car in for an oil change.  After noon today I received an email that I was due for an oil change!  Come on!  I didn’t drive 3,000 miles in two weeks.  What’s this about corporate efficiency over government inefficiency?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

From my clippings file

Every so often, I email an article to myself for future reference, often with the idea of writing a blog entry.  Most likely I don’t get around to it.  So, since I don’t have a hot topic in my head this week, I thought I’d muse about some of these clippings.  Don’t worry, I won’t write about all 59, just enough to fill a Reader Weekly page.

One apropos to the attempts to take some auditing work from the State Auditor was a letter to the Duluth News Tribune by Paul and Susan Schurke of Ely.  They praise Rebecca Otto for pointing out that nobody knows what the potential cost to taxpayers of new mines will be.  Is it any wonder that the corporate-lovers in the Minnesota legislators want reduce Otto’s authority?  Strange that this same crowd complains about taxes.

“Otto’s common sense mining position can unite us all.”  Duluth News Tribune, 2013-12-09.

Pete Seeger wrote long ago that we have the best politicians: “We elect them again and again.”  One of the reasons we elect them again and again is that a plutocracy finances too many elections.  Plutocracy is government by the rich.  “Capitalism vs. Democracy” by Thomas B. Edsall (http://nyti.ms/Msy71t) asks “Is deepening inequality inevitable?  The case for a global wealth tax.” - New York Times, 2014-01-28.  It is a review of Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”.  Edsall quotes Piketty’s assertion “when pay setters set their own pay, there’s no limit”.

A reverse on a wealth tax is offered by D. J. Tice in “There’s no pot of gold for the working poor”, Star Tribune, 2014-02-09.  His first suggestion is “to stop raising their taxes.”  He also suggests expanding both the State and Federal Earned Income Tax Credit.  He also writes that any hike in the minimum wage will probably result in fewer workers over the long term.  Think of how you once bought an ice cream cone.  Somebody bent over the freezer and scooped your choice into a cone.  Now you can go to Chilly Billy’s and fill your own cup with your choice of frozen yogurt.

My answer to when pay setters won’t set their pay is when the sun sets in the East.  Joe Nocera wrote about all the gimmicks that CEOs and their boards use to keep raising the CEOs pay to ridiculous levels.  See “CEO Pay Goes Up, Up, and Away”, New York Times, 2014-04-14 (http://nyti.ms/1erLn2H).  Shareholders can vote against boards that grant obscene pay, but they will probably be outvoted by institutional investors who exercise “fiduciary responsibility” by voting in management’s favor.  Even if that responsibility were directed at reducing executive pay, current law says that “Say on Pay” is only an advisory; management doesn’t have to honor the shareholders vote.

Have you considered that the wealthy wield much more power than kings of old?  Except they don’t need armies of soldiers to stay in power, just armies of lawyers and lobbyists.

You can know that things are out of control when a “conservative” columnist calls attention to the inequalities.  My favorite “conservative” columnist, Ross Douthat, wrote  “College, the Great Unequalizer”, New York Times, 2014-05-03 (http://nyti.ms/1kzuuRQ).  He says that the Party Scene at many colleges benefits the well-heeled student and sucks in the “lower-status” student.  The well-heeled can rescue those who practice an excess of vices, but the less-well-off can’t.  The well-heeled will go on to social or economic success regardless of their performance.  Others will rarely join that social class.

And the upper-class is finding many ways to get their way no matter the cost to the rest of society.  It is well-known, to those who care, that the Koch Brothers through their American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are writing our laws in cahoots with Republican legislators.  One of the current examples is “right-to-work” laws.  Many of the laws are almost identical to what ALEC proposed.  “Wisconsin’s law was a virtual copy of the 1995 model bill promoted by” ALEC.  See “Scott Walker and the Fate of the Union”, New York Times, Dan Kaufman, 2015-06-12.

The article points out how the upper-class minions don’t care about much more than keeping their masters happy.  The accident rate among workers is higher in right-to-work states.  Scott Walker promised the president of the state-wide union of heavy machine operators that the “right-to-work bill” would not make it to his desk.  Walker got his contribution and the labor guy lost Walker’s commitment.

How the Republican Party has changed!  The 1956 Republican Party platform included “The protection of the right of workers to organize into unions and to bargain collectively is the firm and permanent policy of the Eisenhower administration.”

And it even gets worse.  See “Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Attorneys General”, Eric Lipton, New York Times, 2014-12-06.  The attorneys general are sending letters of complaint about air pollution to the Environmental Protection Agency that are almost duplicates of letters written by the lawyers of energy companies.  These attorneys general are getting huge campaign contributions from energy companies.  Thanks to these contributions, 27 of the states’ attorneys general are Republicans.  Who was it that wrote, “We have the best government money can buy”?

Or to blaspheme Abraham Lincoln, “A government of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations shall not perish from the earth.”  Or should it be “shall destroy the earth”?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Freedom to do what?

Many people and corporations complain that their freedoms are being taken away by this law or that law which restricts certain behavior.  Are these smoke screens or do they have a point? Let’s look at a few cases.

Vermont has passed a law that GMO foods should be labelled as such.  Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association filed suit that this was a violation of their right of free speech.  Is their right of free speech being taken away by requiring a list of ingredients?  If you were on a limited salt diet, wouldn’t you want to compare products for their salt content?  If you had had cancer and should avoid soy lecithin, wouldn’t you want to seek products without soy lecithin?

Admittedly, the First Amendment contains “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the freedom of speech…”; that phrase has no qualifier like “persons” or “people”.  But the Constitution also includes Congress has the power “to regulate Commerce…among the several States…”

I wouldn’t be surprised if these companies also used the “free market” argument.  But “free market” doesn’t mean sellers get to do what they please; it also means that the buyers have all the information they need to make an informed decision.  Jews and Muslims want to know if products contain pork; shouldn’t those who have an aversion to other ingredients also know if products contain those ingredients?

In other words, if food manufacturers are free to deceive us then don’t they take away our freedom to know what we eat?

The First Amendment also contains “people have the right to peaceably assemble”.  Does that give them the right block other people’s right to move about?  I’m sure that meant that people could meet in some hall and discuss whatever was on their minds.  Maybe it also meant that people could assemble at the entrance of a government building, but only if they left room for others to go in and out of the building.  I doubt that the writers of the Bill of Rights considered peaceably assembling as filling the streets for whatever cause.

The gun manufacturers have been working for decades to erode the Second Amendment from the “right of the people to bear arms” (meaning in militias) to the “right of persons to bear arms”.  As late as 1939, a conservative Supreme Court Justice wrote the majority opinion that an individual did not have the right to carry a rifle in a parade, only those in a state-sanctioned militia.

But what is lost in many of the arguments for the individual right to bear arms is where is the argument for the right to not be shot?

Concerning “freedom of religion”, one has to be careful reading some of the stories concerning people’s or corporation’s “freedom of religion”.  Some of these stories have been blown out of proportion; others show that one person’s “freedom of religion” is impinging on another person’s freedom of religion.

If a Christian-owned company required that female Muslim employees not wear head scarves, then does a Muslim-owned company have a right to have all female employees wear head scarves?

In the context of the times of the writing of the Constitution, I think the “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion was more meant if you want to go to a Baptist Church fine, if you want to go to a Methodist Church fine.  I doubt that they would countenance those who believed in virgin sacrifice having free exercise.

If for security reasons banks ask that customers not wear hoods or sunglasses, then should not they ask that women not have their faces covered?  Many a man has escaped from other men by wearing a burqa.  Are the banks violating some customers “freedom of religion” or are they protecting their right not to be robbed?

The Congress that has been so adamant about Second Amendment rights seems equally adamant about walking all over Fourth Amendment rights.  “The right of be people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects…”  What is the “probable cause” of gathering information on who calls whom?  Isn’t a phone call by extension a “paper”?  Thanks, Ron Paul, for your efforts.

Many individuals claim a right to do what pleases them without any consideration on how those actions impinge on other people’s rights.

If there is a right to smoke, isn’t there also a right to breathe clean air?  Although smoking has declined dramatically, there are still too many people that smoke very close to signs “No smoking within 15 feet”.  If someone were to ask them to move away, it is more likely they will get angry rather than apologize and move away.

If there is a right to listen to music, isn’t there also a right to have quiet?  Many people have their car radios turned up so loud that other drivers can barely hear the music on their own radios.  Many people have their earphones turned up so loud that others can’t hear the music on their own earphones.  If you have the right to blast hip-hop up to twenty feet away, do I also have a right to blast Beethoven’s Ninth up to twenty feet away?

I think the thought attributed to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. that “Your right to move your fist ends where my nose begins” is apt for almost all of the above cases.  A manufacturer’s “right” to withhold information ends where people’s health begins.  A person’s right to bear arms ends where other people’s safety begins.  A person’s right to freedom of religion ends where it restricts other people’s freedom of religion.  A person’s freedom of assembly ends where it impedes other people’s freedom of movement.

What is lost in all the talk about freedoms is that the basic freedom is the freedom to govern ourselves and not be governed by some foreign power.  And to govern ourselves we elect people to make rules to make society work.  You do vote in every election, don’t you?

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Up in the air about being up in the air

I am not sure when I was first in an airplane, but I am sure when I was last in an airplane.  Some of the trips I’ve long forgotten; other I find it hard to forget.

I think my first airplane trip was in a Capitol Airlines DC-3 when I was between nine and twelve.  It was out of Cleveland to either Chicago or Detroit.  Probably Chicago because my father’s parents lived in Maywood.  But I remember more taking the train there once or twice.

My second flight was in a Ford Trimotor from Put-in-Bay in Lake Erie.  The Scoutmaster was good at picking sites for a week-long summer camp, and Put-in-Bay was high on his list.  I don’t know if I had a flight back to the mainland or just a tourist loop.  That airline ceased operations in 1985, but there are still some Trimotors flying, including one in the Port Clinton OH museum.

I don’t remember any flights until the summer between my junior and senior years of college.  I had a summer job at Ohio Oil (Marathon).  They were considering upgrading their IBM 650 with a Burroughs among others.  For some reason the group visiting Burroughs took me along, but this was no ordinary trip.

Ohio Oil had one of the largest private air fleets in the world.  We would not be driving or flying commercial from Findlay OH to Detroit.  We would be flying in a company DC-3.  But we couldn’t leave the ground until we had clearance to land in Detroit.  That was over 45 minutes on the runway in the summer in an airplane without air-conditioning.  By the time we got into the limos at Detroit, I was very glad to sit in the front with the air-conditioning going full-blast in my face.  I think I managed to keep everything down.

In graduate school and at Univac I took many air trips over the next seven years.  At Univac, several of us did our best to schedule trips on Caravelles; they were all first class.  An incident that stands out was on the approach to Minneapolis-St. Paul the plane (model forgotten) suddenly began climbing.  The pilot announced that another plane didn’t get off the runway on time.  My wife had a more scary time.  She was waiting for me and saw the airplane suddenly swoop up.

Then I spent six years with many trips all over western Europe.  One time I went to the wrong airport in Milan and had to take an overnight train instead.  One time in Paris Orly was socked in by fog.  The airline didn’t keep passengers up-to-date.  Finally, they let us send a free telegram.  I sent one to my wife in Rome.  Later, I think they let us make a phone call.  Later yet, they bussed us into Paris to stay in a hotel.  The next day I was back in Rome eating lunch with my family when my telegram about my delay arrived.

One memorable sight in Rome was standing on the ground watching a 747 overhead.  Would I really want to fly on such a humongous plane?

When we lived in Stockholm we took some vacation flights, mostly in ski season.  A warmer flight was to the island of Rhodes.  I flew direct to Rhodes, but my wife had gone to Athens with her mother.  When they were in the air leaving Athens, Black September attacked the airport, killing at least three.

When we came back to the States, I continued flying wherever for Univac.  Sometimes willingly, sometimes unwillingly, and sometimes by my own design.  I somehow managed to go to most Univac user conferences and several professional association conferences.  I even got a trip back to Europe to give a presentation in Madrid and used vacation time to visit Ireland.  Yep, lots of Magrees/McGrees in Kilkenny, but none provably related to me.

When I started my own company, I managed to scrape together money to fly to conferences or to take a few ski trips.  Sometimes I took my early Macintosh with me.  That now big bulky thing was designed to fit under a airline seat.  And it did, and then it did not; signs of coming changes.

Our first flight to Japan was to visit our son who was teaching there.  In coach we were almost treated as royalty, on an American plane!  Seating was something like 2-3-2 or 2-4-2.  We had seats by an emergency door and had plenty of leg room.

Our second flight was out of Chicago with Japan Air.  We didn’t have as much leg room but we did have excellent service.  The worst part was all the hubbub at Narita Airport to find the right place to checkin and all the restaurants that had prices posted in Japanese numbers.

Our third and my hoped for last flight was a multiple leg trip without much legroom - Minneapolis to Toronto to pick up my mother-in-law.  To Chicago to pick up a U.S. airline.  To Tokyo for a wonderful time for all.  Reverse all that for the return.  With the 3-5-3 seating I had it with flying.  And I said so.

Then we get a Christmas present to fly to Las Vegas and drive on to Heavenly Valley.  OK, daughter, I’ll accept.  We had good time, but that was the last time I flew.

Since then, my wife has flown to Japan three times and expects to do so several more times.  Whenever I think about it, I get a squeezed feeling in my shoulders and restless leg syndrome.

When Mel wrote this he was sitting at home while his wife flew off to visit her sisters.

Also in Reader Weekly, 2015-06-04 at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2015/06/03/5391_up_in_the_air_about_being_up_in_the_air

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Counter example to “tech staff shortage”

If there is a “tech staff shortage”, why aren’t laid-off Disney Epcot tech employees finding jobs?  See “Last Task After Layoff at Disney: Train Foreign Replacements”, New York Times, 2015-06-03, Julia Preston.

Disney has laid off 250 employees who keep the Epcot systems running, but in order to receive full termination benefits they have to train their H1-B replacements from companies in India.  Many of them with a wide range of skills cannot find new jobs.

On the other hand, many companies won’t hire employees who don’t have the “right skill set”, meaning a checklist of knowledge supposedly needed by the company.  Never mind any track record of knowing how to learn.

This article puts lie to the “tech staff shortage” as no more than a ploy to keep employee pay low and executive pay high.  Congress keeps buying into it and keeps the H1-B quotas high.

For more of this long-standing problem, see “Is There a Tech Staff Shortage?”.