Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Trump doesn’t want to be president?

Stephanie Ciegelski, former communications of a Trump super-PAC, writes that Trump ran only to prove a point.  He didn’t expect to take the lead but to come in second.  When it comes down to it, Trump’s campaign is not about the disgruntled but about Trump.


Looking for mainstream climate skeptics

The Duluth News Tribune published a letter from Tom Harris of the International Climate Science Coalition

I searched for “International Climate Science Coalition” as well “Tom Harris” in the following newspapers:
New York Times
Chicago Tribune
Washington Post
Wall Street Journal
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Philadelphia Inquirer
Boston Globe
Toronto Star
Star Tribune (Twin Cities of Minnesota)
Los Angeles Times
Ottawa Citizen

I only found two references to these searches.  One was a letter from Tom Harris similar to the letter he submitted to the Duluth News Tribune; it was date 2015-05-01. The other was about a scientist connected to Harvard and the Smithsonian who wrote a paper skeptical of climate change.  He didn’t disclose that he received funds from the oil industry.  See

Thursday, March 24, 2016

STEM is only part of a plant

It needs roots, leaves, and flowers.

STEM refers to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  It is all the rage to ensure that a large number of public school students be grounded in STEM.  That’s “where all the jobs are.” 

But is that all our public schools should produce: “skills” that are “hot” today for large corporations?  What happens when large corporations want different “skills”?  How many FORTRAN or COBOL programmers are still working?  How many large corporations were willing to let them learn C on the job?  Or would the large corporations rather let them go and hire C programmers taught by a university?  Programmers who would be cheaper because they didn’t have seniority.  Or programmers who would be cheaper because they were H1-B hires?  The old programmers would be familiar with how the company functioned.  The new programmers would probably take longer to learn how the company functioned than the old programmers could upgrade their “skills”.

Tech innovation in and of itself is devoid of meaning.  We need the humanities and art to give meaning.  The humanities are the roots of a learning plant.  They feed the STEM with ideas of what has worked in the past and insight to what might work in the future.  The arts are the flowers of the STEM.  Without music, drawing, and theatre, STEM is only more and more gadgets which became ends in of themselves.  See Sherry Turkles’ “Alone Together” for how much are society has become tools of our gadgets rather than our gadgets being our tools.  The leaves are the parts that extract learning from whatever sources are available.

Even before STEM became a buzz-word, I had plenty of STEM training.

I had the science of Physics and Chemistry in high school and college.  I really haven’t used much Physics or Chemistry since then.  I do remember that speed equals the acceleration multiplied by the square of time.  I don’t know what use this has been to me except that I don’t think sky diving is a good idea.  I do remember that water is two-parts hydrogen and one part oxygen and the carbon dioxide is one part carbon and two parts oxygen.

In college I took the technology of AC Circuits and flunked it.   But all I really need to know today is that the wall sockets are AC circuits that when properly used can provide light as well as power for the computer I am typing this article on.

Oops, an aside.  From English I learned the last phrase should be “for the computer on which I am typing this article.”  And of course, from other reading I have learned that this is a forced construction based on the idea that English should follow Latin grammar.

In college I had “Engineering Tools and Processes”.  I don’t remember my grade (not an A), but as all the others did, my brazing of one piece to another exceeded the base line.  On the other hand, I never did get the hang of arc welding.  I always got the rod stuck to the work.

Now Math is something I really got immersed in: calculus, differential equations, complex variables, mathematical logic, and more: two years at a liberal arts college and two years in graduate schools.  But what do I use math for now: balancing my checkbook, doing my taxes, and guessing an appropriate tip.  I do remember that the squares of the sides of a right triangle equal the square of the hypotenuse.  But might I have learned this just doing some carpentry?  The 3-4-5 rule for making a right angle.  About the only other formula I remember is the integral of e to the x equals a function of u sub n.  I didn’t learn that in the class room!

With all that STEM, how did I learn so much about computers?  On the job training and my own curiosity.  I got a summer job between my junior and senior years to learn computing.  With a text book from the company library and the help of others, I successfully completed a program that was used after I left.

When I went to graduate school as a graduate assistant, we were given some manuals and pointed at the computer room.  It was the days of cards-in, cards-out but it was self-serve.  None of this priesthood behind locked doors that gave back your work when they damn-well decided to.

Now computers have gotten both easier to use and harder to use.  But how many of those who get the full STEM treatment will get and hold jobs in industry.  Will a programmer be able to easily change jobs if he or she doesn’t have the right “skill set”?  Or will companies look for new grads from other countries on H1-B visas.  And after the visas expire just send them back home because the companies can get new grads with “up-to-date” “skill sets”.

This all reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Player Piano”.  Workers were spit out of the system because their jobs were replaced by computer systems.  Even managers were getting spit out.  Vonnegut saw this back in the bad-old-days of cards-in, cards-out.

But what I really learned in school and on my own that was of lasting importance was in the roots, flowers, and leaves.  What would my life be without all the literature I learned?  Would I have enjoyed and learned from Shakespeare and other great books without being exposed to them in school?  Would I have learned about government without civics and American history?  Would I have enjoyed a wide range of music without a class in music appreciation.  It is all of these that allowed me to enjoy life and contribute more than sitting in a cubicle designing “the next great thing.”

Also in the Reader Weekly of Duluth on 2016-03-24 at

Also "complex various" was corrected to "complex variables".

Thursday, March 17, 2016

I am American, not Irish!

 “On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish!”  Really?  Just what is Irish?  Is it the ruffian who flung his elbow in my face as he passed me in Killkenny?  Or is it the people named McGree who invited me to their home for dinner?  Is it the parish priest who let me look through church records?  Or is it the woman who smoked in the no-smoking car on the train back to Dublin.  Just like any other group, ethnic, religious, or skin hue, there are many different behaviors from the generous to the hateful.

One St. Patrick’s Day, my mother proclaimed that we were “Orange-Irish”.  I don’t think she had a clue.  If she knew the ancestry of my paternal grandfather, she certainly didn’t pass it on to me.  Neither did my German-born paternal grandmother.

From all the genealogical research I’ve done, it seems that the surname Magree, McGree, or MacGree comes from Ireland.  However, from all the genealogical research I’ve done, I have found no ancestor in my male line that was definitively born in Ireland.

The closest was my great grandfather, John J.R. Magree, who variously claimed to be born in Brooklyn or England.  In the last year or two I found that he was born in Liverpool of an American and a woman living in Liverpool.  Her name was Margaret Pope.  Her father was a customs officer, and so I assume she was not born in Ireland.

John James Richard Magree’s father was John Cornelius Magree, who generally went by John C. Magree.  I did find a record of his getting his seaman’s certificate in 1833 at the age of 15.  In the 1850 census he was listed first in a crew of a ship in New York or Brooklyn.   In 1851 he was the master of the ship Ivanhoe bringing about 400 immigrants from Liverpool to New York.  Most of the passengers were Irish.  I did not find a Margaret Pope or Margaret Magree in the passenger list.

I did link John C. Magree to his father twice.  John C.’s marriage document named his father as Vincent Magree.  The 1830 Census did list Vincent Magree’s household as containing a male about 12 years old.

With Ancestor,com, I can find no record other than these two of Vincent Magree.  I wonder if he (or others) anglicized his name from Vincenzo Magri to Vincent Magree.  I have found records where a Magri has also been named Magree.  It’s possible that my paternal line comes from Italy;  one relative told me that one of uncles looked “Spanish”.  I do know that I was one of the few “curly-haired” males in my family.

Just who are these “Irish” that the English of another time called a “race”?  We do know they were Celts who drove out another group.  Was this displaced group the “fairies”?  But then the Vikings came raping and pillaging.  After that another wave of Vikings came, but they were called Normans (Norse men).  But the Normans had settled in France, so are the Irish French?  Partly!  Names like Fitzpatrick come from the French Fils-Patrick, meaning son of Patrick.  Then the English came a-pillaging and taking land.  This invasion was so devastating that many Irish left for the Americas and Australia.

When the descendants of the Irish immigrants to Australia come to the United States, what do we call them?  Australians!

I do know that many grandchildren of people who immigrated to other countries are often labelled with their ancestry, but I don’t know if these labels persist for so many generations as they do in the U.S.  I enjoy springing the question “What nationality is the King of Sweden?”  By American reckoning he is French.  He is a descendant of one of Napoleon’s marshals: Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte!  Some often respond that Queen Elizabeth II is German.  She’s a descendant of Prince Albert of Saxony.

What are people who immigrate to the U.S. or their descendants called when they go back the “Old Country”?  Americans!   I read one Swedish novel where a man worked in Chicago for several years, came back to his home town, and was labelled as “American”.  I read another where a second-generation woman came back, could hardly speak Swedish, and was called “American”.

I was an “Ugly American” in Europe for six years.  If you read “The Ugly American” you know that he was the good guy in the local view and the “bad guy” in the expatriate community.  “The Ugly American” learned the language and customs of the host country, and he didn’t spend all of his time in the “country club” American community.

I worked on learning the languages of the countries I visited and used them both in speaking and reading.  A few others didn’t even make an attempt and were miserable.  In fact, one European colleague called me a “Northern European” because I worked at blending in.

But I can’t resist being the other kind of “Ugly American” in this country.  When someone says they are Swedish or Italian, I ask “Talar du svenska?” or “Parlai italiano?”  “Do you speak Swedish?” or “Do you speak Italian?”  Generally the response is either befuddlement or a negative reply.

So, this assumed descendant of some Irish immigrant won’t be drinking green beer on St. Patrick’s Day.  As much as he likes Guinness or Smithwick, he will probably be drinking a couple of glasses of Italian wine.  Sláinte or cin-cin!

Also printed in the Reader Weekly of Duluth, 2016-03-17 at

P.S. About green beer and other "Irish" fare, see

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Much alarm about nothing

One of the current online ads is one about you can get over $4,000 more in Social Security every month.  Sounds like an offer you can’t refuse!

Supposedly Congress has removed a Social Security Benefit and Obama has approved it.  It will be removed on May 16, 2016.

The advertisers make it look like this benefit was removed by a clause snuck in by some anti-Social Security member of Congress.

Actually, it is a loophole that allowed a spouse to defer his or her Social Security while the other collected his or her Social Security.  At some later date the deferrer could have a much higher Social Security benefit.

To get $4,000/month more, the person would have had to have a rather high income.  I can’t imagine the average worker getting such a benefit.

But these are probably just the people the ads target.  Either these “marks” will have to pay an upfront fee or buy a book to find out that they cannot get such a benefit.

I tried checking the Social Security website for “2016 changes”.  I got eight hits, but that’s all I could see.  No text, no further links.  I sent an email, but my guess is that it will be a long time before I get an answer:  too many people are asking the same question and overloading the system.

Fortunately, Vanguard published an article written by Jacklin Youssef that explains the changes.  See

Essentially, by using your spouse’s Social Security benefits and deferring your own until age 70, you can collect 34% more per month.  Let’s see, to get $4,000/month more in Social Security, you would have to have deferred a benefit of $11,764.71/month

So, you retire at 67 but defer your benefit until age 70.  You would pass up $423,529 dollars to get that extra benefit.  It would be over 100 months until you recouped the $423,529 you passed up.  You would be over 78 when you broke even on your delay.  Are you sure you will live to 78?

It’s late and I don’t want to figure out the interest you would have earned if you had saved that $11,764.71 a month.

However, how many people do you know that receive $11,764.71/month in Social Security?  These are not the people who are going to respond to these ads.  They probably already have financial smarts or advisors to get the best deal for themselves.

P.S. If you see an ad about this change, I had nothing to do with selecting the ad.  It's done automagically based on the content of an entry.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

How to protest successfully

Many people are showing up at Trump rallies to show their opposition.  However, their actions often just rile up the Trump supporters.  A much more effective tactic would be to show up and do nothing.  A quiet audience is the worst possible insult to the likes of Donald Trump.

By wearing anti-Trump T-shirts or carrying anti-Trump signs, protesters just energize the Trump supporters.  But if a large part of his audience never applauded, never jeered, but just remained quiet, Trump wouldn’t know what to do, nor would many of his supporters.

Passive resistance like this can defuse many situations and make those who are the targets of the resistance feel very uncomfortable and unsure of their own positions.

I was very disappointed when Occupy Wall Street changed from lots of people carrying signs to a few people camping out in public spaces.  These squatters generated more antipathy than sympathy.

When somebody is shot, whether by police or by a bad guy shooting a cop, riots or demonstrations are not the answer.  Riots reduce the sympathy for the victim, and even distract from getting justice.  The best possible response is flowers at the site of the shooting.

Gandhi and King led the way on non-violent protest.  We dishonor them by even unduly disruptive behavior.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Raucous Caucus and Other Ruckuses

The Party of One held its caucus in front of my fireplace.  Mysteriously, it issued the following results:  None of the above, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton.  The Party of One caucus called on all of its members to not vote for any Republican except Arne Carlson or Bill Frenzel.  Unfortunately, Bill Frenzel died two years ago, but Arne Carlson is alive and writing.  See for what he thinks of Trump, Fox, and MSNBC.

Trump's plurality is not the lock on the nomination that so many news stories imply.  Cruz and Rubio could unite as President/VP and have the majority of delegates.  Either of the two could run as President but Rubio running as President may have a benefit.  This choice defuses the issue of Cruz's birthplace.  But if such a duo is finalized, Cruz will more than likely be the Presidential candidate because as of this writing he has more delegates than Rubio.  Do you think the same “birthers” that tried to make an issue of Obama’s birth will make an issue of Cruz’s birth?

There is a campaign by Credo Action to get CBS to stop giving so much coverage to Donald Trump.  An email from Credo Action quotes CBS CEO Les Moonves: Trump’s campaign “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”  The email also quotes CBS’s diversity and tolerance policy: “CBS Corporation, and its divisions are committed to building an environment that values diversity throughout the corporation and in its business practices.”

Personally, I think watching televised debates or even TV news is a waste of time.

I last watched Presidential debates in 2004.  I got so sick of John Kerry repeating “in my plan” that I almost didn’t vote for him.  I only voted for him because he was better than the alternative.  Bush was an angel compared to the angry clowns trying to outdo each other in shouting matches.  And Bush as a former governor and a sitting president had far more credibility and experience than an erratic businessman who has made a career of putting people down.  Remember “You’re fired!”

Watching TV news is unproductive time.  I can read more news items in a half-hour in a newspaper than I can get in a half-hour TV news broadcast.  Plus, I can skip ads in the newspaper but it’s hard to skip the twelve minutes of ads in a TV newscast.

My Party of One caucus was a lot less crowded than my wife’s DFL caucus.  She spent a lot of time driving around looking for a parking place, then she had to stand in line to even enter the building, and then she couldn’t get into the room for her precinct.  The best she could do was write her choice for president on a little slip of paper.  She had wanted to submit a couple of resolutions.  This is democracy?

I keep wondering why so many states have partisan primaries or caucuses that are open to the public.  I think it was Robert La Follette of Wisconsin over a century ago who thought that primaries would make elections more democratic.  I think it has had two downsides.  People who don’t give time or a dime to a party get to decide its candidates.  Second, it makes for much longer campaigns.

Many point to Canada and Britain as examples of “six-week campaigns”, but both of these are parliamentary systems.  My deadline precludes doing further research on this, but I think two factors are at work here.

First, elections are not held on a regular cycle.  Often, a prime minister may decide to call elections to try to get more support for his positions.  These irregular elections have to take place in a relatively short time.  If a government does sit for its whole term, people are just in the habit of holding elections in a short period of time.

Second, even though voting for a member of parliament may be a proxy for the prime minister, the members are possibly only willing to campaign for a short period of time.  Few are the times that we have two-year-long all-out campaigns for local and state governments.

I do wish our so-called “debates” were debates in the classical sense: rather than moderators posing questions to each of the “debaters”, one of the candidates would speak for a certain amount of time on whatever topic he or she chose.  The other candidate (or candidates) could either rebut the first candidate’s remarks or go on to another subject.  Assuming only two candidates, the first would have a shorter period of time to rebut the second.  This is more or less how the Lincoln-Douglas debates were held.  Unfortunately, few people today would be willing to stand the hour-plus time of a single debate, or even sit that long.

It is ironic that the party that thought the federal government should work to abolish slavery is now the party that promotes segregation.  “Because we think it a wrong, we propose a course of policy that shall deal with it as a wrong.”  - Abraham Lincoln, Quincy, Illinois, 13 October 1858.

Whatever your choices are in November, be sure to vote.  Your vote always counts.  You only throw your vote away if you stay away.

Also posted in the Reader Weekly of 2016-03-10 at

Friday, March 04, 2016

A lot has happened since you last read this column!

Have you gotten tired of Facebook or Classmates sending you email like this?

I dropped Facebook long ago because what generally happened was a half-sister posted yet another picture of her yard.  I ignore Classmates because the great news is that someone who I didn’t know posted something or other.

Well, you may or may not be interested in the “lot” that happened to me last week.  If not, go on to something else,  If you are curious, I hope to reward you with a few chuckles.

At least twice last week, I woke up with some stupendous ideas for this column, mostly about politics and billionaires.  I should have gotten up and written them down, but I preferred trying to go back to sleep.  I would remember these great ideas in the morning.  Of course, they faded with the rising sun.

Well, a few annoyances happened and they are hard to forget.

My printer started producing broken letters.  I twice tried the nozzle cleaning procedure, but the test papers came out even worse.  I even replaced the one ink cartridge that was low.

The warranty was about six weeks shy of running out.  Oh, well, for a few dollars, it’s hardly worth making a claim.

I looked up a few printers on Best Buy, and of course my model was no longer sold.  And of course, none of the current printers used the ink jet cartridges of my model.   I selected a model that was similar in functions, took my old printer to be recycled, and at the last minute took the receipt for the old printer.

When I got to Best Buy, I took in the tray that accepted envelopes.  I hoped I could use it in the new printer so that I didn’t have to change the paper in a tray.

I looked over the model I had selected and it looked like a good replacement.  As I really knew, the old tray wouldn’t fit.  I asked a clerk a few questions including how to recycle the old printer.  He said to bring it in a cart.

I went to check out, paid for my new printer and some ink cartridges.  I couldn’t find my Rewards card but the cashier looked it up. I took my purchases out to the car and brought in my old printer for recycling.  I gave the clerk at customer service the old printer and my story.  When I gave him the receipt for the old printer, he said that I had a replacement warranty!  I could have paid for the new printer with the old printer.

I still couldn’t find my Rewards card, and so he gave me an in-store card for future purchases.  I had no idea what I would be using it for in the near future, but as you will read, I soon found a use for some of the credit.

I took the printer home and started to set it up according to the instructions.  Things went smoothly except for setting up wi-fi on my modem and on my computers.

Then I tried printing some business cards.  The printer broke the card stock apart and jammed.  Check instructions.  Open back panel.  Pull out pieces of card stock, broken along the perforations and crumbled.  Also pull out pieces from the front.  Put back panel back, but it won’t fit.  Just which way does this thing go in?   I think it took me ten minutes to do it right.

Print a sheet of business cards and leave for a meeting, finally.  This was Thursday.

On Friday, we headed to the Twin Cities.  As I often do on trips of an hour or more, I use my iPhone and a low-power FM gadget to play podcasts through the car radio.  Except the gadget didn’t work!  The power light was on, but the radio frequency lights wouldn’t come on.  Nothing I tried would change the situation.

So, we spent two hours barely hearing “To the Best of Our Knowledge” (  I had the iPhone between the seats and we could barely hear the speaker above the road noise.  At least we learned more about the operations of Coca Cola than we had known before.

When we got to the Twin Cities, we headed first to the Roseville Best Buy store.

We couldn’t find the same make of FM gadget, but we did find one that was considerably less expensive and automatically found the most open station.

I paid for it with my rewards card and the in-store credit card.  I still couldn’t find my rewards card, but I could use the email message on my phone about the rewards credit I received for the printer purchase.

We next stopped at a grocery store.  While my wife shopped, I installed the FM gadget.  It gave me 88.1 as the frequency and I could hear the podcast scratchily.  I reread and reread the instructions, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t get a clear signal.

Because the reception changed as we changed direction, we figured that we were getting interference from the humongous antennas in Shoreview.

Before we left the Twin Cities, we tried again in a Caribou parking lot.  We reread the directions and tried again.  We were able to listen to a podcast with a minimum of static.  We were still within sight of the Shoreview towers.

Oh, I also found my Best Buy Rewards card.  It was in my wallet all along.  It is silver-gray, not blue and yellow!

We have three lessons here that we constantly forget.  One, read the directions first and understand them.  Two, when looking for something in your wallet, make sure you see the face of every card.  Will I forget the next time?  Does the sun rise every morning?  Three, I found one of the lost middle-of-the-night notes.   It was in a folder I didn’t check.  Sorry, it’s more about billionaires.

Thursday, March 03, 2016