Thursday, February 25, 2016

Iconoclastic ideas (or mysteries)

 “I would love to talk to people, and say ‘Why do you need so much money?’ And why do people say it’s so admirable? I think the world has gone quite mad.” - John Cleese as reported by Lee Schafer, Star Tribune, 2016-02-17.

I haven’t yet gone back to “Dark Money”, the book I mentioned last week, but I keep wondering why so many exorbitantly rich have so much money to slosh around that they spend exorbitant sums to ensure that they get even more.  When one has hundreds of billions of dollars, what’s a hundred billion or two less?

What is galling is that many claim they earned it, every penny.  But how many people worked for a pittance or even a decent salary to create and implement the ideas to earn this money?  Often several thousand people showed up every day to bring in that money while the billionaire was jetting here and there on vacation or attending a conference to rail against taxes and government, the same taxes and the same government that subsidizes many of their enterprises.  For example, I’ve seen estimates that every Walmart store costs government entities one million dollars a year.

Many who want strict adherence to the Constitution seem to forget "Regulate commerce among states" and "establish a post office”.

The Republicans and their giant-corp backers are doing their best to nullify the EPA rule about emissions.  Are these polluters keeping their emissions in the state where they are produced?  If any of these emissions go to another state, then the President is right to regulate this commerce in emissions.

The Republicans seem to be bending over backwards to dis-establish the Post Office.  The latest gimmick was to impose far greater requirements on pension funding than many corporations get by with.  The last I looked my Unisys pension was funded at 77 percent.  I exaggerate, but it seems like the Republicans want the Postal Service to be fully-funded on pensions for employees who have not even been hired yet.

I really don’t know what a “fair share” of taxes is, but it is a mystery how many people want perfect infra-structure, immediate arrest of all criminals, and bombing of countries far, far away but do not want to pay any taxes for any of these.  Is there a correlation between complaints about government and complaints about burdensome taxes?

A good case in point is the following headline: “Wisconsin crackdown on repeat drunken drivers will cost taxpayers”, Mark Sommerhauser, Wisconsin State Journal, published in the Duluth News Tribune, 2016-02-19.  Duh!?  What is the cost to taxpayers of the death and destruction caused by drunken drivers?  I submit that it is quite a bit higher than the cost of the crackdown.  In other words, spend what seems too much to prevent something that costs even more.  Even that crackdown on fourth offenders may be too soft. Sweden had or maybe still has tough drunk driving laws: first offense was two years in jail, even for members of Parliament.

Why does Clinton have to be president so we finally have a woman president?  Amy Klobuchar or Elizabeth Warren are much better choices, but neither seems to be interested.

Why do we have reach out across (fill-in the blank) lines?  Can’t we just be nice to everybody.  I hold doors for others, they hold doors for me.  Rodney King said, “Can’t we all just get along.”

We do have to reform or at least neutralize people who judge people by factors which have nothing to do with a given situation.

Right now many established and respected media are giving misleading information.  Clinton “won” in Nevada and Trump “won” in South Carolina.  I posted a comment on a New York Times article; the article made no reference to the actual delegates gained. Sorry, I didn’t note the article.  Interestingly, my comment was not posted for all to see.  At least, as I write this hours later, I have not been emailed that my comment was posted.

Well, Trump did win in South Carolina because the South Carolina Republican primary is winner take-all.  He “won” with less than a third of the vote.  However, in Nevada, Clinton received 22 delegates and Sanders received 16 delegates.  Oops, another source gives 19-15, and yet another shows a spread of about 600 votes.  Sorry, I’m visiting so many sites to get to the truth that I have forgotten where I found which figures.  Clinton does have an advantage because of super-delegates, elected and party officials who are automatically delegates to the convention.  The super-delegates are overwhelmingly pro-Clinton.

One of these sources was “How many delegates do Trump, Clinton need to win? What's the delegate count for each candidate?” by Jonathan D. Salant at

Let's skip caucuses and primaries and even do away with political parties.  Even though the writers of the Constitution warned about factions, they soon split into them.  The most famous being the long feud between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

Let’s start at the local level.  Let each registered voter send in a nomination for each position by email or mail.  Rank the nominations by number of votes; those who are in the top half of the list go on to the next ballot.  Repeat as necessary until one is chosen. Named candidates can drop out at any time.

Some may say that this is too expensive and subject to fraud.  Isn’t the low turnout expensive to our society?  Supposedly we already have too much fraud if you believe those who demand onerous restrictions on voting.

The only vote that doesn’t count is the vote not cast.

Also in the Reader Weekly of Duluth on 2015-02-25 at

Thursday, February 18, 2016

“Conservative vs. Liberal” is a misleading view of politics

I saw “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires behind the Rise of the Radical Right” by Jane Mayer reviewed in the New York Times and decided to buy it.  Once I started reading it, I found it very depressing.  It just has too much about how the Koch brothers have inserted their pseudo-conservatism into our state and local governments.  Even the inside cover is depressing – hundreds of thousands and even millions given to dozens of organizations that support the Koch brothers views.

You can find a review at “Inside the List” by Gregory Cowles, New York Times, 2016-01-29, “Attack the Messenger”.

Every time I blow my nose or dry my hands at Essentia Health, I think how the Koch brothers benefit from the thousands and thousands of tentacles with which they have gripped our society.  Every box of tissue and every towel dispenser is labeled Georgia Pacific, a Koch brothers company.

I can’t help but wonder if the Koch brothers have the Benedictine values of Essentia Health. Essentia Health’s mission is “We are called to make a healthy difference in people’s lives.”  Its values are quality, hospitality, respect, justice, stewardship, and teamwork.

You decide.

“Conservative” and “right” are very misleading terms.  Some who call themselves “conservatives” are rather “liberal” with the idea of conservative.  For example, how can anyone who extracts resources without any consideration for the consequences be called “conservative”?  These extractors are being rather “liberal” with the resources.

Some who call themselves “liberal” are quite conservative in use of resources.  Except when they fly all over the world or drive hundreds of miles to attend conferences on being more “conservative” with resources.

Some who call themselves “conservatives” because they oppose abortion as murder of innocents seem to be quite “liberal” in supporting those who would wage war, which is almost always murder of innocents.

Some who call themselves “liberal” can be quite “conservative” with whom they will allow to speak in public ceremonies.  A real liberal would allow the invitee to speak and either stay away or sit quietly without applauding.

Sometimes I think the last great conservative was Edmund Burke (1729-1797), a British politician and author.  “He was a great political thinker.  Viewing English policies with something of the detachment of an alien [Burke was Irish], he was able to diagnose the situation with an imaginative insight beyond the range of those immersed in the business of the day and bound by traditional habits of mind.” The Age of Revolution, Winston Churchill.

Burke’s enemies accused him of being Catholic, a pejorative that presumed he was unfit for office.  Have we heard another religious “pejorative” used in our times?  Burke correctly predicted that the French Revolution with its chaos would lead to a military dictatorship.  He also supported the grievances of the American Colonies: “Again and again, revert to your old principles—seek peace and ensue it; leave America, if she has taxable matter in her, to tax herself.”

The whole idea of “right vs. left” is one-dimensional. I submit that political thought is four-dimensional.  Besides Conservative vs. Liberal, we also have Generous vs. Greedy, Rigid vs. Flexible, and Simplistic vs. Thoughtful.

Generous vs. Greedy

One can be generous by being willing to pay the taxes necessary for a civilized society.  That includes having enough food and shelter.

One can be greedy by working to get legislation that puts themselves at an advantage regardless of the cost to others.

Rigid vs. Flexible

We are seeing a lot of rigidity lately in that several candidates are trying to outdo one another in showing how well they promote “Conservative” orthodoxy, even at the cost of depriving others.  They also must regularly recite the Pledge of Allegiance and then work to deprive others of “liberty and justice”.

We don’t see much of flexible in politics nowadays.  It seems that so much political literature and writing contains “demand”.  No matter the party, it seems it wants us to demand something that is in their party orthodoxy.  One of the ironies is that the Coffee Party, which was founded as a civil alternative to the demands of the Tea Party, often demands some action.

Simplistic vs. Thoughtful

Simplistic always reminds me of the Tea Party member who said she could understand the Constitution by reading it.  The original Constitution is about 30 pages in an iBook version; the Federalist Papers to explain it are over 900 pages; and I don’t know how many thousands of pages Supreme Court Justices have written to interpret it.  Furthermore, the Supreme Court rarely has unanimous decisions, and what one Court rules could be overturned by a different Court.

As I thought about this article, I remember that years ago the Utne Reader had published a political map that had four axes: Liberal-Conservative, Freedom-Order, Decentralization-Centralization, and Equality-Liberty.  It was devised by Eric Selbin and Ron Steiner.  It has eighteen groups around the edges with representative literature, music, food, and personalities for each.  It was included in the November/December 1991 Utne Reader.  I was able to find an online copy at “Exploring the Dynamics of Polarization” by Tom Atlee at  If you would rather see the map in color, try the Duluth Public Library (or your own local library).

Also published in the Reader Weekly of Duluth, 2016-02-18 at

Thursday, February 11, 2016

General Ization’s power grows

Despite my warning in the Reader Weekly of 2007-04-26 (General Ization Battles Truth), people keep enlisting in his armies and misleading others.

The latest is the sweeping generalization that this or that candidate “won” in the Iowa primaries.  Figuring out the Iowa caucus results is a bit of a slog, but looking at the result summary in the New York Times (, you will see that one candidate “winning” and the others ‘losing” is a serious over-generalization.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton had 49.9% and was effectively awarded 23 delegates.  Bernie Sander had 49.6% and 21 delegates.  I would hardly call this a Clinton win, because Sanders received almost as many delegates as Clinton and who knows what will happen in the state convention when delegates are selected for the national convention?

On the Republican side, Ted Cruz had 27.6% of the vote and eight delegates, Donald Trump 24.3% and seven, and Marco Rubio 23.1% and seven.

These five candidates were all “winners” in the Iowa caucuses.  But how will these results translate into actual votes in November?  Iowa is a caucus state, not a primary state.  My guess is that a lot fewer people show up for caucuses than do for primaries, and a lot fewer show up for primaries than do for final elections.

The Iowa Secretary of State’s registered-voter list has 586,835 “active” Democratic voters and 615,763 “active” Republican voters.  But it lists 727,112 “No Party Active” voters.  The Republican caucus turnout was 186,874 or less than a third of the “active” Republican registered voters.

I would say that the biggest winner, based on the large number of “no-shows” in the Iowa caucuses was “None of the Above”, and that means the biggest loser is democracy.

“New Hampshire Embraces Trump’s New York Bombast” (New York Times Online 2016-02-07).  Really?  Did all the voters in New Hampshire really embrace Trumps bombast?  If we look at the figures of how many thousand New Hampshire voters actually turned up for Trump’s speeches, maybe the headline should read “New Hampshire Rejects Trump’s New York Bombast”.

Closer to home, the Duluth News Tribune has had headlines that imply all of Duluth is involved in something or other.

When a student died of exposure on Woodland Avenue, the News Tribune had a headline similar to “Duluth should be ashamed.”  Did each and every person in Duluth know she was outside freezing to death?  Was each and every driver passing by her house in any position to know that somebody was outside in need of help?  Were even any of the very few pedestrians in a position to see somebody huddled at a door?  Her death should never have happened, but only a few people were in any position to prevent this or come to her aid.

A recent headline was “Duluth feels ‘the Bern’”.  How many Duluthians showed up for Bernie Sanders’ rally in Duluth?  I think it was about 4,000.  That is a rather good turnout, but that also means that about 76,000 Duluth residents didn’t show up for Sanders’ rally.  How many would have liked to attend but didn’t for one reason or another?  How many didn’t even want to consider going?  We don’t know the numbers for either of these possibilities.  But considering that probably more than 4,000 Duluth voters would not vote for Sanders, we could also have the over-generalized headline: “Duluth rejects Sanders”.  If Sanders wins the Democratic endorsement, we will have to wait until November to find out if “Duluth rallies for Sanders” or if “Duluth rejects Sanders”.  Either headline will be a generalization because there will be a large number of people who voted for the Republican candidate.  These voters are also “Duluth”.

Since my previous column on General Ization, I’ve learned he would not have all this power without the able help of his lieutenants, Xavier Aggeration and Ms. Direction.  You can detect some of X. Aggeration’s contributions above.

Ms. Direction has been spreading the notion of “value voters” embracing the Republicans.  But don’t most voters have values?  Besides anti-abortion and Biblical literallism, aren’t there the values of peace and justice?  I find it strange that these “value voters” align themselves with supporters of “greedy corporations” who hold no values except “shareholder value”.

Ms. Direction, like her boss General Ization, doesn’t play favorites.  She spreads the idea of “greedy corporations” as if all corporations treat their workers as serfs and cheat their customers as often as they can.  There are many corporations that value their employees and often tell the regulators that something went wrong in the production of some product.  And we find many corporations that are changing their products to suit their customer’s wants.

Of course, they only know what some customers want.  Maybe other customers don’t want change, or if they want change, they want change back to products they could buy some years ago.  Hopefully, the customers that want certain changes are those who volunteered the information, not those who were coerced into agreeing to a desired response in a focus group.

This leads us into the worst generalization: “The People”.  It would be great if “The People” were a majority of all eligible voters.  Unfortunately, election after election it is a “majority” of those who actually show up to vote; this too often means that a minority of  eligible (and too often registered) voters “decided” the outcome.    I hope you, dear reader, are going to be one who shows up and shows General Ization, X. Aggeration, and Ms. Direction that they are wrong.

Also published in the Reader Weekly of Duluth on 2016-02-11 at

See also

Sunday, February 07, 2016

General Ization battles truth

Originally published in
Reader Weekly
April 26, 2007

I meant to write about the General’s sister Globa L,. but several articles, including in the Reader Weekly, made writing about the General seem more timely.

Generalization is taking something specific and applying it to many other situations that might not have any relation to the original event or idea.  One of the worst examples is calling Jews “Christ killers” because a mob called upon Pilate to crucify Jesus.  But does a mob in one part of one city represent all the people of a country?  Is every child in that country responsible for the actions of a mob?  Should these children’s descendants be responsible for something they had no say in?

We certainly don’t like certain Muslims deciding all Americans should die because of the actions of governments that we can’t always control.

One of the most frequent generalizations is “the media is liberal”, seen most often in the letters to the editors of daily papers.  These letters are often written by someone who has a “conservative” agenda and doesn’t want to see anything published that contradicts his or her viewpoint.  Ironically, the publication of these letters proves the writers are correct; publishing many different viewpoints is a liberal action.

On the other hand, many so-called liberals complain that the media is conservative.  The Reader Weekly publishes the views of two columnists who often level this charge.  I long ago gave up on reading Norman Solomon because he derides “the media” for not covering news as he thinks it should.  Jim Hightower recently complained about media bashing Democrats for investigating the Justice Department using two publications as an example.  Then he uses a poll by USA Today to show popular support for continuing the investigation. (1)  The papers that I read, all called “liberal”, report that even Republicans are dissatisfied with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ testimony.

“Mallard Fillmore”, the conservative duck drawn by Bruce Tinsley, bashes liberals and government mercilessly.  One of his favorite targets is the U.S. Postal Service.  One of his recent strips was a reply to an “irate postal worker” asking when Mallard would stop bashing the Postal Service.  Mallard’s reply was “When they stop bashing my packages.”  My question is when is Mallard going to bash UPS or other package carriers for bashing his packages. (2)

I’ve probably received more damaged packages from UPS than I have from the Postal Service.  Does that mean UPS bashes packages more?  No, I have to take into account that I probably receive more packages from UPS than any other source.

Ad hominem arguments are a form of generalization, that is, an idea is not very good because a certain person said it.

I would suppose that the income tax is a bad idea because Marx and Engels called for it in “The Communist Manifesto”.  Oh, but conservatives in Britain imposed an income tax in 1799.  The British Government needed all the revenue it could get in its struggle against Napoleon’s France.  Despite income and property taxes going from 1.67 million pounds in 1799 to 14.6 million pounds in 1815, the British economy prospered. (3)  Napoleon had to rely on indirect taxes because the French were resistant to more direct taxes.  Guess who won the war.

Many conservatives seem to use ad hominem thinking to formulate their positions.  They see global warming as a liberal cause, and therefore they must oppose it.  Some of these global warming skeptics use generalizations to support their arguments.  Many letter writers say the cold weather in March proves there is no global warming, mixing up meteorology and climate (weather today and weather trends spanning decades and centuries).

Global warming skeptics also use “positive” ad hominem thinking.  If someone who seems to have some scientific stature supports his or her viewpoint, then that person must be correct.  (Like all those liberals who are praising Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, which I haven’t seen and don’t intend to.)  One of these global-warming skeptic documents was supposedly signed by 17,000 (or was it 20,000) scientists stating “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide … is causing, or will, … cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.” (4)

But who are these 17,000 scientists?  Are they all climatologists or chemists employed by oil companies?  Are there even 17,000 climatologists in the world?  It turns out that these scientists are anybody with a degree who signed a certain petition. (5)(6)  I think I would rather go with the opinion of people who regularly study weather and climate. (7)

If climate change is not happening, why is the corporation liberals love to hate, Wal-Mart, going green, saving itself and its customers money? (8)

Generalizations about conservative and liberals certainly don’t always work out as expected. Truth takes a bit more work.

P.S. Do your own search on "17,000 scientists" and "Marshall".  I did and found the "Global Warming Petition Project".  I looked for a unique name in the A section and found "David Acerni" and did a search for him.  There is only one "D Acerni" at  He lives in Kittaning PA.  According to a Department of Energy spreadsheet from 1999, he was the contact for the Rosebud Mining Co. of Kittaning PA.  I can find no current professional reference to him.

(1) “NYPD’s ‘intelligence’”, section titled “Why media companies get no respect”, Jim Hightower, Reader Weekly, April 12, 2007

(2) “Mallard Fillmore”, Bruce Tinsley, Star Tribune, April 13, 2007

(3) The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Paul Kennedy, p. 130

(4) “Gore causes lobal warming in area middle school brains”, Budgeteer News, April 15, 2007

(5) “What the skeptics don’t tell you”, Woods Hole Research Center

(6) “The denial industry”, George Monbiot, The Guardian, September 18, 2006

(7) Climate Change: An information statement of the American Meteorological Society, Feb. 1, 2007,

(8) “The Power of Green”, Thomas Friedman, New York Times Magazine, April 15, 2007

See also "General Ization's power grows".

©2007 Melvyn D. Magree

Friday, February 05, 2016

TRUTH or truth?

TRUTH is what some assert with certainty but with no coherent justification.  TRUTH cannot be challenged.

Truth is what people strive for with questions and tests; truth may never be fully achieved but enough has been discovered to offer a guide to life or improvement of lives.

One TRUTH is that the Bible is the inerrant word of God.  The truth is that the Bible offers many moral teachings even though it contains descriptions of many impossible events or even justifies bad deeds.

Did God on the sixth day create “man in his own image, … male and female created he them”?  Or did he create only Adam and then when Adam grew lonely, he created Eve from Adam’s rib.  I would think it would take more than a few days for Adam to grow lonely for a companion.

Is the “Great Flood” a recounting of some catastrophic flood in the Tigris-Euphrates valley in which some few had the foresight to build boats for their family and cattle, or was it a great flood to destroy all the “wickedness”, including babies?  Considering that the depth of the waters was 15 cubits (22-1/2 feet), it was probably the former.  Flood stages of over 20 feet are all too common even now.  The truth is that it is important to be just and that it is important to prepare for disaster.

Is it TRUTH that God let Satan bring many calamities upon Job, or is it truth that bad things happen to good people?  Certainly a just God would not let so many innocent people be killed to test one man, especially if God knows everything?

Is it TRUTH that heretics should be burned at the stake?  It is truth that the Bible only mentions “heretic” once.  “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject” (Epistle to Titus, 3:10).  I don’t think “reject” meant to kill, but rather it meant to shun.

Is it TRUTH that Islam is a militant religion set on converting all to Islam?  It is truth that Mohammed and his followers had to defend themselves against the polytheists of Mecca who considered the Muslims a threat.  It is also truth that many Muslim-dominant cultures had a mix of Muslims, Christians, and Jews.

“Those who believe, and those who are Jewish, and the Christians, and the Sabeans - any who believe in God and the Last Day, and act righteously will have their reward with their Lord; they have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.” - Talal Itani. “Quran In English. Modern English Translation. Clear and Easy to Understand”.

The Sabeans were a culture in South Arabia; this is supposedly where the Queen of Sheba came from, she who visited King Solomon. 

You can get many versions of the Qur’an from the iBook store and other sources.  However, like the Bible, it takes much reading to understand what is meant.

Consider “simple” documents like the “Declaration of Independence” and the “Constitution”.

Is it TRUTH that they are clear and unambiguous?  It is truth that people are still arguing over them over two hundred years later.  It is truth that what one Supreme Court decides may be overturned by another Supreme Court? For example, “Separate but Equal” was overturned by “Brown vs. Board of Education”.

Is it TRUTH that the United States is a Christian nation blessed by God?  It is truth that many of the signers of the “Declaration of Independence” or the “Constitution of the United States” attended Christian Churches.  It is truth that the “Declaration of Independence” mentions “Nature’s God” and the “Protection of Divine Providence”.  But it is also truth that the “Constitution” uses no words or phrases involving any deity.  It is truth that the United States took land from Christian Cherokees and others because white men wanted the gold that was found in Georgia.  So much for the “Protection of Divine Providence” for these Christians.

Is it TRUTH that Adam Smith advocated totally free markets?  It is truth that he used “free market” once and only once in “Wealth of Nations”.  But it is also truth that the heavily regulated market was brought about by the woolen manufacturers.  They asked for and received from Parliament many regulations that would keep the price of wool down so that their costs would be down and their profits up.  It is also truth that even today “Free Marketers” lobby for laws that are beneficial to them and detrimental to others.

Is it TRUTH that voters “decided”?  By the time you read this, the Iowa caucuses will have been held.  It is truth that many voters cast their votes for whoever “won”, but many other voters chose somebody else.  It is truth that better headlines would be that “a plurality of voters” or “a majority of voters” supported the “winner”.

It is also truth that no matter who is doing the reporting, they have a limited amount of time or space.

It is also truth that this column should end before you fall asleep.

Also published in Reader Weekly of Duluth, 2016-02-04 at