archives: December 2005 -- January 2006

dave ["at"] downingworld [.com] -- If you'd like to know what I think about a particular topic, drop me a line: I may use it for a future blurb. But remember: I'm not really a know-it-all; I just play one on the Web. Thanks for tuning in, from your host David W. Downing.


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Monday, January 30, 2006

Look Before You Leap? Not When It Comes to Conclusions
My silly little diversion of "explaining" Joe Soucheray's treasure hunt clues illustrated a serious issue: If they start with a conclusion, people are pretty good at rationalizing the evidence to fit what they already "know." (In homage to the rock band The Tubes, I'm going to call this the Conclusion Backward Principle.)

In the case of the treasure hunt, it seemed "obvious" to me that Highland Park was the real location of the medallion. The clues each day continued to fit, in my mind.

Meanwhile, I was facetiously making the case that it was in Como Park, and I was easily able to come up with links to that location, as well, even when I was just being silly.

Of course, the joke was on me in the end. The medallion was found in Battle Creek Park.

We need to remember that this human ability to jump to a conclusion -- and then see all the evidence as continuing to support our premature conclusion -- also applies to politics and current events.

For instance, if you opposed the war in Iraq, all the news from Iraq seems to prove you were right all along. But if you supported the war, somehow the same news doesn't mean that. It shows you, too, were right all along.

Generally, if you voted for Bush, then you're OK with whatever liberties he may have taken with surveillance. If you didn't vote for Bush, then you "know" he "broke the law" and should be impeached.

It was the same with Clinton.

It seems to be our human tendency to stake out our a position and then defend it from the evidence, by rationalizing and interpreting that evidence to agree with our pre-existing viewpoint. Of course, we don't see it that way. We all think we are being "logical" or "factual."

But are we?

Keep that in mind, and ask yourself, Do I really "know" what I think I "know"?

We all need to keep the Conclusion Backward Principle in mind. Maybe I'll see how I can apply it to some of my future pontifications.

Talk to ya later.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Marilyn Sellars Appears in Benefit Concert Friday
My church in St. Paul (Minn.) is hosting a benefit concert Friday evening, with the Christian Ministry band People of Hope, featuring an appearance by Marilyn Sellars, she of million-selling "One Day at a Time" fame. The concert begins at 7:00 pm, Friday, Jan. 27, 2006, at Calvary Lutheran, 341 Hamline Ave. So., St. Paul (about 1.5 miles south of I-94, or a few blocks north of Randolph Ave.). Admission is free; there will be an offering. (church phone: 651-698-6138 if you get lost)

The concert benefits Healing House, a new residential treatment facility for women AND their children. Healing House is unique in allowing women to keep their children with them while in residential treatment for chemical dependency or to escape other hurts.

An interesting angle on this story is "rebirth" or "up from the ashes." And I don't just mean for those going through treatment. It's a rebirth for a building, too. The facility which is being remodeled for Healing House is the former Concordia Care Center, a nursing home that lost its license after being in the news for housing sex offenders right alongside vulnerable seniors.

Attend, and you'll have a chance to meet yours truly. (Don't worry, I'm not singing. But I have been very busy with preparations, especially publicity.) Here's a news release I wrote with lots more info about the Healing House program, and Metro Hope Ministries, the organization which operates it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Chicken Dinner: Breasts and Legs in the News
An Oregon man was arrested after throwing both of his prosthetic legs at a highway patrolman. In an exclusive, Downing World has learned the rest of the story: Since they had been used as weapons, the man's legs were impounded as evidence. He tried to hire an attorney to sue to get the prostheses back, but no one would take the case. The lawyers all told him the same thing -- He didn't have a leg to stand on.

Actress/model/home video entrepreneur Pamela Anderson has failed in her attempt to have a bust of Colonel Sanders removed from display in the Kentucky state capitol. Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher says the image of the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken will stay. "Colonel Sanders remains a Kentucky icon," Fletcher said. "His business and legacy have been good for Kentucky."

Anderson and PETA have claimed that Sanders is a symbol of cruelty to animals.

While Anderson may have some experience when it comes to bust removals, there's an ironic, almost hypocritical aspect to this story: If what Anderson and other models/actresses do to their own bodies -- implants, nips/tucks, starvation -- was done to animals, it would be considered "cruelty."

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Why the Ford Plant Matters
You've probably heard that St. Paul's Ford plant was spared in the round of plant closings the automaker announced on Monday. That means, at least for now, St. Paul won't be losing 1,900 jobs.

But does it matter?

A story in Sunday's Pioneer Press looked at redevelopment possibilities for the site, and makes the claim that not only could redevelopment increase the now $1 million a year the site generates in property taxes, but it could even result in more jobs and a higher total payroll on the site.

That led to some talk on the radio yesterday questioning whether we should be concerned about the plant closing. Whether the governor should be working to keep it open, or if we'd be better off having the plant closed and the site redeveloped.

The answer is NO.

If the St. Paul Ford plant closes, life will go on, and there will be valuable redevelopment. But there is a huge economic difference between the Ford plant and a bunch of retail stores. and offices.

The Ford plant pays salaries mostly with money brought in from outside the immediate area. That is the key. The money paid out at the Ford plant comes from the people all over the country who buy Ranger pickups -- assembled only in St. Paul. Those salaries then get spent to buy houses and shop at stores in the Twin Cities and outlying areas. Think of those Ranger sales as "new" money, or "additional" money, being added to the regional economy.

If the plant is replaced with houses and stores the city might take in more property taxes, but the overall amount of money in the local economy will not increase. Money will go into new houses and be spent at new stores, but that is money that was already in the Twin Cities area, and would have just been spent on other houses or in different stores.

Again: A plant that sells its product around the nation brings in NEW money, or MORE money. A bunch of stores just reshuffles the money that was already here.

As for jobs, yes, there might be lots of new jobs on the redeveloped site, in stores and offices. But those jobs could have been -- would have been -- elsewhere in the immediate area. We could have had those jobs AND the Ford plant jobs.

But even if the St. Paul plant does close in the next round of cuts, life will go on in St. Paul. It will be toughest on the autoworkers, of course. But while 1,900 jobs sounds like a lot, it's really not much compared to the total labor market in the Twin Cities area. There are always new jobs being created.

The tough part is, laid off autoworkers may find it hard to find another job that pays them as well as assembling pickup trucks. I wonder, why might that be? Could it be because they've been overpaid? In the opinion of the market, yes. And their above-market pay and benefit packages are a big reason why Ford is now struggling and closing plants. They've participated in slitting their own throats, as the saying goes.

We always look at others from the benchmark of ourselves, and I suppose that's why I'm not as sympathetic toward plant-closing layoff victims as I maybe should be. On the national news yesterday, there was the predictable soundbite from a soon-to-be laid-off Ford worker in another city. He was offering the familiar lament, "Where will I find another job that pays as well?"

We heard that when the big breweries closed in St. Paul. My response is along the lines of, "Good question. Maybe you should have thought of that earlier."

But instead, people just go along collecting and spending wages they could never make anywhere else, with no advanced education and few transferable skills, with no thought as to, "I've got a good thing going here. But I should save some of this good pay and get an education while I'm at it, too. Because this is too good to last."

No, they never think like that. And then when the gravy train ends, they think someone owes them another job just as good. But I've never made autoworker wages, and I've got a college degree. Why should I feel sorry for them?

As I said, we look at others in comparison to themselves. According to a study I read about, people's happiness is relative to how they compare to others around them. If everyone in your community is rich, but you are slightly less rich than most, you will be unhappy. But if everyone in your community is poor, while you are a little less poor than most, you'll be happy.

The human mind is very interesting, isn't it?

That's why a professional athlete making "only" $3 million a year will be unhappy when he learns that one of his peers is making $3.5 million. To most of us, we can't see much difference. Either way, it's more money than a normal person could realistically spend. But to that athlete, it's all about comparing himself to other athletes.

I'm also not very sympathetic to the constant crying of "underpaid" teachers. The truth is, I've never made as much as a public school teacher -- either working for others or self-employed. And I've never gotten the summer off, either. (And I've got the same level of education as a school teacher.) Sure, teachers don't make as much as CEOs and pro athletes. And yes, teachers are important. But so are members of the clergy. And farmers. And they are important. But most of them aren't "fairly" compensated, either.

But I've no right to complain. I could have been a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer. If money is what I really care about, I could be some sort of high-pressure salesman. But that's not what I want to do with my life. That's my choice. Same for teachers. And as long as there are enough qualified people who want to be teachers, salaries will reflect that.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Safety First
A young dolphin at the Minnesota Zoo has died after fracturing its skull.

This tragedy could have been prevented. All we had to do was look to the logo of the Miami Dolphins football team.

I wonder if those circus bears that ride bicycles wear helmets?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Race(ist) to the Border
The Democrat mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis are intent on playing politics with the issue of immigration, by accusing Minnesota's Republican governor Tim Pawlenty of playing politics with immigration. (Hmmm. What was I saying in the previous post?)

First, Pawlenty made comments about enforcing immigration laws. They jumped all over him on that. Then, he came out with some comments about how the state should encourage and help LEGAL immigrants. That earned Pawlenty the newspaper headline: "Pawlenty shows a softer stance on immigration." Sort of a "Have you stopped beating your wife?" don't you think? Who says his previous comments were "hard"?

Pawlenty wasn't taking two different stands, he was merely talking about two different aspects of one bigger issue. He was making distinctions between ILLEGAL and LEGAL immigration. Why is that so hard for some liberals to understand?

Apparently, because they completely reject the notion of immigration law, borders, and national sovereignty. St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Laura Billings recently referred to "so-called 'illegals.'" What's the "so-called" part supposed to mean? What part of "illegal" doesn't she understand? Does she prefer "undocumented immigrant," as do many of her ilk?

"Undocumented immigrant." Right. What other liberal "newspeak" could we come up with? Maybe a burglar can become an "unexpected houseguest." A rapist will be an "unrequited lover." Serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer could be a "premature pathologist" who utilizes "non-traditional techniques."

The truth is, an "uninvited guest" is not a guest at all. He's an intruder. And he gets thrown out. Why do we have these "controversies" about whether people who are here illegally are entitled to government benefits? That's ridiculous, but we do it. If you sneak into the bar without paying the cover charge, should you be entitled to partake of the happy hour buffet? Of course not. If you get discovered, you'll be dealt with, not given a round on the house.

But some liberals seem to think that good intentions matter more than the law. With one very big exception, of course. If the president spies on Al Qaeda in order to save American lives, well, that's not good enough. Then, the rule of law is everything. Then, we must uphold the law at all costs. Then, it's a matter of principle.

But, back to playing politics.

Here's what Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak had to stay to Pawlenty's comments last week:

"It's important to humanize this issue because, frankly, this is an excellent political issue for someone on the other side,'' said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. "The tyranny of the majority is the most dangerous part of a democracy, and frankly, this is what this is all about. We are fighting for the values that are about America, and we can't afford to lose.''

Who, exactly, is trying to politicize this? And what's this sudden concern about "the tyranny of the majority"? How might your city's smoking ban relate to that, Mayor Rybak? In R.T.'s world of "values," foreigners who are here illegally have more rights than American citizens who want to use a legal product.

Next up, St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman:

"We will engage in this battle. You know what? One of the largest illegal immigrant groups in this country are Polish immigrants. But this is not (about them). This is about Latinos and Asians and people who look different from the governor or the president. This is just morally wrong.''

Good (politicizing) work, Mayor Coleman! You even managed to drag in President Bush -- and accuse him of being racist! Maybe now that you've won your race against President Bush-by-proxy Randy Kelly, you could just get back to being the mayor of St. Paul?

(They mayors played the race card so much that the Pioneer Press even felt the need to run an editorial saying that Pawlenty is not racist. I'm not sure the governor really appreciated that. Like they say, keeping quiet is often better than issuing a denial. A denial just plants the seed of thought that "maybe he did it, after all.")

Some say we should ignore the border, and not enforce immigration law, because our economy needs more workers. Maybe they are right. But ignoring the law and not protecting the border is not the way to do it. Enforcing the law, and the details of that law, or two different issues. If we want more (legal) immigrants from Mexico, then let's change the law to allow for more. But let's also enforce the law.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Honor the Diversity of People Just Like You
They're out there, bigoted hypocrites, driving their cars decorated with bumper stickers telling everyone else how to think and what to do.

I saw one in the Target parking lot one time. It had bumper stickers telling perfect strangers that we shouldn't wear fur, eat meat, cut down a tree, and so forth. But it was topped off with this:

"Keep your laws off my body."

Do as I say, not as I do.

Then there are all the "Keep It Local" bumper stickers exhorting us to buy locally-grown organic food. Of course, they're usually on the bumpers of foreign cars.

I recently stopped at a light on Snelling Avenue and got an eyeful from the car in front of me. Among the liberal-themed bumper stickers was this rather large one that caught my eye:

"Stop Hate Crimes: Honor Diversity"

But not diversity of thought, apparently. Considering the "He's Still Not My President" bumper sticker displayed on the car, I'd say that the owner doesn't honor the diversity of the electorate -- even when it's a majority.

Nor does the car's owner honor diversity of religion. Also featured on the car was one of those "Darwin fish" symbols, which targets and mocks Christians who display the Christian fish, a symbol of Jesus Christ. Can you imagine people driving around displaying a symbol that parodied and mocked a symbol important to Muslims, Jews, Blacks, American Indians, etc.? There's be an outcry. There'd be news coverage. It would be called a "hate crime."

But go after Christians, and it's merely "freedom of speech." In fact, if someone complains about the "Darwin fish," he or she will be accused of being the "intolerant" one. "This isn't a theocracy!" the anti-Christian bigot will cry.

My brother Dan says that people accuse others of what they themselves would do, if they were in that position. I've observed lots of examples that show he's right. These people who go around calling others "intolerant" don't seem to be able to refrain from intolerance themselves. As Pee-Wee Herman would say, "I know you are, but what am I?"

Keep that in mind regarding issues like the "scandal" over "domestic spying." Bush-haters say to Republicans, "Someday you won't be in power. Do you want the Democrats spying on you?"

Is that what comes to mind for Democrats? "Man, if we were in power, we could use this to spy on our political opponents." Is that what they're salivating about?

But Bush hasn't been spying on political opponents. And when a Democrat is in the White House, if she wants to spy on Al Qaeda, too, that's fine with me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Respect? Or Patronization?
My point with all these Indian references -- including my Jan. 12 post about the Indian casino radio ad that uses the three wise men to sell gambling -- is not to criticize Indians, but to illustrate the way that non-Indians on the left and in the media (same difference) exercise a politically-correct double-standard and show their bias in the way they treat Indians versus, for example, Christians.

Note the Christian imagery (the three wise men) used to sell gambling. Where's the outcry? Note the way that if Indians consider something sacred and a gift of the Creator, the left falls all over themselves to be sensitive and multicultural. Meanwhile, if Christians think the same way, it's "separation of church and state!"

But have you noticed how sometimes, when a new road is being opened or something, the liberals get all excited about inviting a Native spiritual leader to perform a ceremony and burn some tobacco? The "progressive" liberals get all puffed up and proud at how they are showing their multicultural awareness. But what's up with that? What happened to "separation of church and state"? Why didn't they invite a Roman Catholic priest, for instance?

All I can figure, is that the liberals don't feel threatened by Native American religion, because they don't think it is REAL religion. It's OK, because it's just some nostalgic, feel-good thing for them. It's not real religion, it's just some quaint, "primitive" practice.

That being the case, inviting the medicine man to perform a ceremony is not a sign of respect. Quite the contrary. The Indians are being patronized.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Keep Your Laws Off My Paddy
[I'm working an Indian theme. Please don't perceive my commentaries as anti-Indian. My interest is in how the concerns of Indians are treated in the media and in public discussion, in comparison, perhaps, to how some other groups' concerns may be treated.]

Art Coulson, editorial page editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, offers us an interesting column on the desire to have a food labeling law to distinguish naturally-grown wild rice from paddy-grown wild rice. Coulson and others think this would be economically beneficial to Minnesota Indians who harvest and sell naturally-growing wild rice from Minnesota lakes, but who find it hard to compete with large, commercial "wild" rice growing operations in California.

I can't argue with Coulson's point, not do I mean to criticize him. But there's just something very interesting about this paragraph:

It's that research into rice genetics that most frightens Ojibwe ricers. They fear that genetically modified rice could infect their manoomin [wild rice] - a gift to them from the Creator - and forever end its bounty.

Interesting. Sounds an awfully lot like what some conservative Christians might say about abortion. Or embryonic stem cell research.

And we know how that's received in the media, and by liberals:

"Separation of church and state!" "Don't impose your religion on me!"

Now, we hear wild rice being defended as "sacred," and as a "gift from the Creator."

It will be interesting to see how well the "sacred" argument works from a non-Christian perspective.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Indian Mascots Again
Indian sports team mascots are in the news again.The state of Wisconsin is trying to get the remaining high schools with Indian-themed names to change. As I've written before, I don't think the issue is black and white. Some usages of Indian-themed mascots have clearly been disrespectful, but not all.

For example, in Osceola, Wisc., there's Osceola High School. The Chieftains.

Osceola is named after a real chief, Osceola of the Seminoles. Seems to me Chief Osceola is being honored. And what is offensive about "Chieftains"? Here in St. Paul, we have a Johnson High School, named after a former governor. The teams from Johnson are known as the "Governors." Is that offensive? St. Paul used to have a Washington High School. I think the teams were the "Presidents." Was that offensive?

Osceola High School has even had a new logo designed by an artist from the Creek Indian Council, to ensure that the depiction of Chief Osceola is accurate and respectful. Still, the school is under pressure to change.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Like Condoms for Cars
I read this Wall Street Journal commentary by Daniel Akst, about the "green" mansions being built by wealthy and wasteful "environmentalists," and it got me thinking. I thought about the connection to the hybrid car owners, who brag about how righteous they are with their expensive, gas-saving vehicles, but probably still use more gasoline than I do, because they choose to drive more than I. (It's a "lifestyle" choice, you know.)

And, I thought about condoms. I saw a connection.

They're alike in that, as long as you use a condom, drive the "hybrid" car, or use "green" building techniques, it excuses the overall behavior. It doesn't matter how big the house you build, how much you drive, or how much promiscuous sex you're having; the only thing that matters is that you're being "safe," "fuel-efficient," or "green."

Being reasonable about the square footage you need, cutting down on your miles driven, or controlling your urges is secondary. Or perhaps, irrelevant.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Showering with Marilyn
You never know what you'll read in the Sunday paper. In this past Sunday's Parade magazine, in the "Ask Marilyn" column, this question is put to Marilyn vos Savant, world-record IQ holder:

I am tired of being attacked by my shower curtain liner! Why does it always blow inward when I shower? -- Debbie Tuell, Fullerton, Calif.

Marilyn responds:

This pressing question was studied exhaustively by David Schmidt, an assistant engineering professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Using specially designed software, he simulated a room-temperature shower running for 30 seconds -- long enough for the curtain to envelop you in that unwanted embrace. He learned that the spray generates a vortex like a mini-tornado, with a center of low pressure that sucks the shower curtain toward that region. The buoyancy of warm air in the average shower adds to the effect.

Wow -- a tornado! Almost makes you scared to take another shower. And who knew someone would study this? (I wonder how much tax money that took?) But I'll offer this solution, learned through decades of regular attention to personal hygiene: Close the tub drain and let some water collect in the tub until it covers the bottom edge of the shower curtain. Not only will that hold the curtain in place, but it'll cut off that cold draft that comes under the curtain and chills your feet.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Rest of the Story
One of my criticisms of news reporting is that reporters all too often can't see the forest for the tree. Yes, the "tree," singular. What I mean, is that sometimes a news story will tell about one specific thing or event, without putting it into the surrounding context.

According to a story in my Sunday paper, you can now order M&M® candies imprinted with custom messages. (www.mms.com) They're a great idea for your Valentine.

That's all well and good, but check out this paragraph:

Remember you can squeeze more colorful language onto a tiny M&M's canvas if you just get inventive. [A company spokeswoman] notes more buyers are using text-message lingo to say more with less. For example, instead of writing "to you," you can simply use "2U."

How high-tech. How modern. How haven't-those-little-candy-Sweethearts-already-done-that-for-decades?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Happy Holiday!
Today is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. As I've written before. MLKJr. is the most important American ever. Based on what? Based on, he's the only American with a national holiday all to himself. Not even George Washington or Abraham Lincoln gets his name on his own holiday anymore -- it's Presidents Day. And Columbus was not an American.

What I don't like about the MLKJr. holiday, is that I don't like the emphasis on the man. I'd prefer a holiday that emphasized what he stood for, and the Constitution that guarantees those freedoms and rights. Instead, we have a Constitution Day in September, but it's not a national holiday, and it gets ignored.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Magnificent Seven and Iraq
Over the weekend I saw the movie "The Magnificent Seven." I'd never watched the 1960 classic before, though I knew about it and had seen some scenes.

I was struck by the parallels to the present situation in Iraq. In the movie, a village of farmers is oppressed by a strongman bandit and his henchmen, who steal their food. They are afraid to fight back. When one man tries, he is gunned down. Finally, outsiders come to "liberate" the village. At first, the villagers are grateful and celebrate their new freedom. But then they find out the strongman has not given up. There is still more fighting to go on. The villagers' resolve comes into question. Some think it better to just give the bad guy what he wants. Finally, the villagers betray their own liberators, and make a deal with the strongman. A villager explains that with freedom, they had to continue to fight, and there were "too many decisions." Better -- easier -- to just do what the thug tells them, they reasoned.

The liberators can't understand how people will not fight for their own freedom.

The parallels to Iraq -- with the villagers representing both the Iraqi people and some Americans -- were striking. If you get a chance to see "The Magnificent Seven," watch it with Iraq in mind.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Fun Obituary of the Day
I wrote previously about how interesting obituaries can be. Sometimes they're fun, too. Read the obit of "squirrel expert" Vagn Flyger if you think I'm wrong. This is his obit as it appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press today. (I'm posting it all here for your convenience.)

Vagn Flyger, 83, a retired wildlife biologist at the University of Maryland who became a leading authority on squirrels after documenting what was dubbed the "Great Squirrel Migration of 1968," died Monday at his home in Silver Spring, Md.

In the fall of 1968, thousands of gray squirrels were found across the Eastern Seaboard crushed on highways or washed up dead along riverbanks. Flyger explained it as an abundance of squirrels hunting for the best feeding ground.

He found that female and young squirrels comprised nearly all of the casualties, and that the squirrel frenzy probably resulted "from the successful reproductive season following the 1967 excellent crop of acorns."

As the squirrels sought out less-congested areas, they may have been confused by unfamiliar roadways and unable to cross streets safely. This probably caused their erratic zigzagging pattern that appeared suicidal, he said.

From his home, which bordered on a park, Flyger lured squirrels out by smearing trees with a mixture of peanut butter and Valium. He collected the rodents he found passed out and tagged them with radio transmitters for further observation.

Sometimes he kept squirrels as pets, and sometimes he just ate them.

Now that's good readin'.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Saddam and the Terrorists
Read this Wall Street Journal editorial about Saddam and his terrorist ties. The implications for the ongoing "insurgency" are huge, if in fact the "insurgents" are simply Saddam's trained terrorist troops, executing their role in the defense of his regime.

This sounds like what I've suspected all along: Saddam knew he couldn't defeat the U.S. military, so his pre-invasion plan was to roll over when the time came, then have his loyalists conduct this ongoing guerrilla war, until the U.S. gave up. Then, since Saddam wasn't able to avoid capture, they'll break him loose and he'll be in charge again.

That's why the U.S. has to present a united front. If we fight amongst ourselves, it encourages the terrorists to continue what they are doing. It tells them that it is working, and that they just have to be patient, it'll be over -- in their favor -- soon enough.

People say, Why can't we criticize the war? Why is that un-American? Aren't we allowed to question the President and the war?

My answer is, You're allowed to criticize as long as your criticism is about better ways to WIN the war. What about questioning the war itself, calling for the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq? That's OK, too. But do it in PRIVATE. Otherwise, we just make winning the war all the harder. And more Americans die. Congressmen, for example, can and should say whatever they think to the President. But when a Congressman seeks a microphone to announce to the world that he thinks we can't win in Iraq and should give up, that's un-American. What else can you call giving aid to our country's enemies?

Here's a very basic analogy:

Everyone knows that Mom and Dad must present a united front to the children. Mom and Dad may have different opinions about whether Junior should be allowed to stay out late tonight, or about what punishment to mete out when he misbehaves. That's fine, and it's to be expected.

But Mom and Dad have to work that out in private. Then, they have to face Junior with a united front. If both parents say, "Be home by midnight." Junior knows he must be home by midnight. But if one parent says to the other-- in front of Junior, "Maybe we're being too strict, Dear, do you think he really needs to be home by midnight? Maybe we should let him stay out later," then Junior knows he'll be able to push the envelope. He knows he can probably get away with something, and he knows that if he keeps asking to stay out past midnight, there's a good chance he'll eventually get his way.

It really is that simple.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Cough It Up: What's the Real Story?
Sometimes I read a news story and I just feel like it has missed the point entirely. This week there was a front page story reporting that over-the-counter cough syrup doesn't work. That's according to the American College of Chest Physicians.

"Cough syrups may suppress a cough a little bit. But they don't treat the underlying cause," said Dr. Michael Alberts, a Tampa pulmonologist who is president of the physician group. "They won't make you better any faster."

Was I supposed to think they would? When I use cough medicine, it is precisely to "suppress a cough a little bit," so I can get to sleep. I don't expect it to cure me of the virus that brought about the cough in the first place.

That cough you thought you knocked back in a few days with that $7 cough syrup? Coughs from colds go away in two or three days, anyway.

One of us clearly doesn't get it. Is it me? Or the reporter? I never expected anything other than temporary cough suppression out of a cough syrup. The doctors here seem to be saying "The emperor has no clothes," but the emperor in question is emperor of a nudist colony. Of course he has no clothes.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Turnabout Is Fair Play?
I heard a new radio ad yesterday. It started out something like this:

"You've heard of the three bears, the three little pigs, and the three wise men, now it's the three turtles."

Huh? The ad goes on to explain that the "three turtles" are the three Wisconsin casinos operated by the St. Croix Chippewa, including their flagship casino in Turtle Lake.

Here's my concern: I don't like it when religious references are used for advertising. Especially for advertising vices. Like gambling. Or alcohol.

Many years ago now, in the pre-Christmas season, I spotted a liquor store ad in the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper. The ad depicted three contemporary men carrying boxes of booze purchased from the advertised store. The headline read, "Three Wise Men."

I thought that insensitive to Christian sensibilities. And it seemed ironic, because the newspaper -- in a very public show of self-righteous sensitivity -- had recently announced that it would no longer print the names of sports teams that used Indian mascots.

I talked to the paper's readers' advocate, who told me he didn't see any problem. He thought it was one of the "better ads" he had seen recently. (Later, I realized that the advocate was Jewish. So what? I just thought it a little odd that he would be the one to decide what was offensive to Christians.)

This time, it's the Indians themselves using the image from the Christian Bible. To sell gambling, for crying out loud. And after all these years of educating non-Indians that it's not appropriate for them to exploit Indians, Indian themes, or Indian objects -- especially the sacred -- for their own purposes.

I guess it just proves that Indians -- and their ad agencies -- can be just as clueless as non-Indians.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Ask Not For Who the Bell Tolls; It Tolls for Them Guys
Spotted on a bumper sticker:

"Who would Jesus bomb?"

That's just plain wrong.

The real question is, "Whom would Jesus bomb?"

Get it right.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Everyone's A Star / Vote for "Pedro"
I heard one of those ads on the radio today. They were running before Christmas.They usually run them for Mother's Day. I don't know why it was running today. Maybe they're ramping up for Valentine's Day already.

I'm talking about those ads for an outfit that will, for a price, "name" a star after your loved one. I'm, shall we say, skeptical. No international scientific society is going to rename a star "Mertyl Schnicklehopper," or whatever your mom's name is. All this is, is the outfit that takes your money "names" a star after Ma. But they're not the people in charge of naming stars -- they're just a book-selling outfit!

(Here's a news story about one such star-naming business.)

In a radio ad I heard, potential star buyers are promised something to the effect that "their" star name "will be recorded in copyright form in the Library of Congress." But what does that mean? The Library of Congress does not record star names. (That responsibility belongs to the International Astronomical Union.) What it means, apparently, is that the company takes your money, prints your loved one's name in a book, and then the Library of Congress files a copy of the book -- as they do all books. The mere fact of being published grants "copyright" (which has nothing to do with stars).

But people are willing to pay for "honors." Here's another example: Back in high school, I received a solicitation to be listed in Who's Who Among American High School Students. I declined, because so many people at my school had gotten the same offer that I didn't think it was worth much. (Yeah, yeah, I know: I'm an elitist.)

Last fall I read a newspaper story about multiplying high school "honors," and whether they are of any value to high schoolers. Some of the outfits giving out the honors will also, for a fee, tell colleges that the student has been thus honored. But some admissions officers say that's counterproductive -- it merely tells the college that the student is gullible!

But does "earning" one of these honors really mean anything? According to the news story:

Students must have a 3.0 grade-point average and be nominated by an educator or service group to be included in the Who's Who annual book, which allows students to list their accomplishments for free. About 500,000 students are recognized each year, said Jefferey Fix, general manager of Educational Communications Inc., which runs the Who's Who program.

Really? Then how do you explain this: Last fall, shortly before I read that news story, Who's Who sent a letter to my house, addressed to my son "Pedro" (not his real name!), inviting him to be included in the next Who's Who. The letter begins:

Dear Parent:

It is with great pleasure that I write to inform you of [Pedro's] nomination to have an academic biography included in Who's Who Among American High School Students®, 2005/2006, based on last year's academic achievements. Only the highest-achieving students in high school are even considered for this honor.

What's the problem? The problem is, I have no son named "Pedro." Yes, I have a son. But he is in 4th grade. And his name is not "Pedro." So how is it possible that this "Pedro" Downing was "nominated" for an honor, based on last year's high school achievements?

Here's some more to the story: I do in fact have a nephew named "Pedro" Downing. And he is a high school student. Aha! you think. They just sent the letter to the wrong house. It was supposed to go to your brother's house. No big deal. It's just an address mix-up.

Not so fast. My nephew "Pedro" does not live in St. Paul, where I live. He does not attend St. Paul schools. He lives in another part of the state, in a different county, in a different area code. The Who's Who people have no way of connecting my address with the real "Pedro."

Except one.

When "Pedro" was small, my wife and I ordered some sort of gift or cereal box prize for him. Something with his name on it. Since then, we periodically have gotten mail referring to our "son," "Pedro." Obviously, that order we made got us and our "son" onto a marketing database, one that has been sold over-and-over to people wanting to sell things to households with children of a specific age.

Including, apparently, the Who's Who people.

What I'm saying, is that apparently, Who's Who selects at least some of their "nominees" by buying a mailing list.

Wow! What an "honor"!

Monday, January 9, 2006

Time to Bust the Boomer Bubble
Enough with the "Baby Boomers" already! (Yes, being born in 1963, I mathematically fall into this group, but I don't wish to participate or be identified that way.)

As others have observed, every time the Boomers move into a new stage of life, they act like they're the first people on earth to do it. Be that having children, looking toward retirement or whatever, it's all about them. The world should stop and pay attention to them.

Ten years ago the big news was THE FIRST BOOMERS ARE TURNING 50! Of course, that means that this year is the year THE FIRST BOOMERS ARE TURNING 60! Why do we hear so much about this? Because Boomers now are the establishment they once rebelled against.

But because the Boomers are special, everyone must pay attention as they turn 60. And because they are special, they can't be expected to turn 60 in the same way that people always have. No, they must turn 60 in a special way. Because they're not really turning 60, right? I mean, after all, they're the Boomers! They can't grow old.

With that in mind, Parade Magazine (under the direction of Boomers, no doubt) thinks we need a new term for people 60-80 years old. "Suddenly, traditional phrases like 'senior citizen' and 'old' seem outdated" the magazine writes. [Translation: "Now that we're 60..."] "What words should replace 'senior citizen' and 'elderly'?"

The magazine offers such suggestions as the "Age of Mastery" or the "Second Adulthood." ("First Adulthood" in Boomer-king Bill Clinton's case -- if Peter-Pan-in-Puberty ever grows up.)

Parade welcomes your suggestions on the magazine's Website.

I'm thinking, "The Autumn of Prescription Drugs" -- a little switch from "The Summer of Love."

Hey, don't get mad at me. Remember, I'm one of you, however reluctantly.

Boomers, I'll leave you with this thought: Don't be a hypocrite. If you refuse to become a "senior citizen," don't go asking for any discounts.

Friday, January 6, 2006

A Tough Business, Rarely Well Done
When one door-to-door meat seller has a beef with another, things can get car-broiled. I wouldn't buy a used T-bone from any of these guys.

Friday, January 6, 2006

Into the Fiery Furnace
NBC-TV debuts a new series tonight. "The Book of Daniel" centers around an Episcopal priest who has conversations with Jesus while driving. (That's what I've seen in the promos.) According to a story in my paper today, the new series is generating some predictable pre-debut controversy. Some Christian groups are outspokenly in opposition, even though they have yet to see the show. I think it's a good idea to actually see something before you criticize it, but I suspect the early critics are just being realists. Can we really expect this show to shine a good light on Christianity?

I'm most curious about exactly what kind of advice the star will be receiving from Jesus. Various people have asked, "What would Jesus do?" And invariably, the answer is, "He'd do exactly what I'm already doing!" I expect this Jesus will reflect the opinions of the liberal Hollywood establishment.

(Just the fact that Jesus is the passenger shows they're missing the boat. I once heard someone define his relationship with Jesus in terms of a car trip. He said, "I used to think that Jesus was riding along with me; now, I know that Jesus is driving." Also, isn't there a current hit country song called "Jesus Take the Wheel"? But I digress.)

My basic criticism of the entertainment industry and their depictions of Christianity is that non-Christians are repeatedly allowed to define Christians in an unflattering light. But then, the entertainment industry is "blue state"-based, and they just don't get the "red states." Being tolerant, loving diversity, and aware of the value of multiculturalism, blue state liberals react to these red staters they don't understand in the only way they know how -- by criticizing them and calling them stupid.

Hollywood (I'm including TV) doesn't know how to portray Christianity as a normal part of life. The characters they depict are either non-religious, or they are extremist caricatures. The message we get is that "normal" people don't have religion in their lives at all; people who do have religion are over-the-top fanatic nut cases. Think of the complaint we've heard about portrayals of black characters on TV show. We've heard complaints that any black character always appears as "the black guy," not just as a character who happens to be black. Being black is the reason for the character being there. It's exactly the same with the way Christians are portrayed. "Normal" characters have no religious beliefs. When there is a Christian character, it's because Christianity defines everything about that character, and it is his only reason for being in the script.

Last night I watched the NBC show "ER." (Note to readers in the UK: That doesn't stand for "Elizabeth Regina," it stands for "emergency room." I think that's what you call "casualty" at hospital.) One of the storylines was a 15 year old pregnant girl. Her parents were caricatures of empty-headed Christians. They wouldn't consider abortion, because it is against God's will. But beyond that, they were portrayed like some sort of mind-control victims, who almost seemed pleased with the pregnancy, because it's all God's plan.

This was very unrealistic. No matter how adamantly one opposes abortion, the rape-induced pregnancy of your 15-year-old daughter would cause lots of soul-searching and conflicting feelings. But not for these automatons.

Yes, the pregnancy was the result of a rape (the girl passed out at a party). That made a big difference to one of the female doctors, who was sure this girl should have an abortion. (And all of this was happening in the duration of one ER visit. No going home to think about it for a day or two.) Why do so many people apparently feel abortion is OK if there was a rape? It's tragic. It puts the young woman in even worse circumstances. It makes her a more sympathetic character. But if one believes that aborting a 7-week-old fetus -- whose heartbeat was observed on the ultrasounds -- is wrong, what difference does it make who the father is, or how he became the father? Should the child pay for the sins of the father? That sounds Biblical to me. (Oh, no. Serious abortionist logical meltdown ahead: "Abortion is Biblical. But I hate the Bible. I hate people who say the Bible prohibits abortion. I'm following the Bible. Does not compute. Error. Error.")

This situation was finally resolved when the Catholic doctor (who's allowed some slack by the writers, because he is Croatian, not an evil American Catholic) gave the girl something to stimulate a miscarriage. (With her permission, but without her parents' knowledge.) We're to see that he finally "saw the light" and "did the right thing."

I must give some credit that at least, at the end, the doctor and the girl were depicted with mixed feelings and inner conflict about the decision.

Friday, January 6, 2006

Bush Rescues Flood Victims
OK, that's a headline we'll never see. But as I was writing yesterday, the media like to "blame" President Bush when a unit of the federal government does something they don't approve of, saying "the Bush administration" did it, rather than, for example, "the Justice Department."

To be fair, then, they should be consistent. The Coast Guard is now part of the Department of Homeland Security -- created by the Bush administration. So whenever they showed Coast Guard helicopters and personnel rescuing Hurricane Katrina victims from rooftops, they should have said the people were rescued by "the Bush administration."

Thursday, January 5, 2006

Did We Re-write the Constitution?
Did we convert the U.S. to a parliamentary system of government while I wasn't looking? To a system where a party IS the government?

This is something I'll have to watch closely next time a Democrat is in the White House. (And, if the Dems ever regain control of Congress.) I've said many times that the primary manifestation of liberal media bias is the way the liberal media defines the terms of the debate. Yesterday, I heard an ABC Radio News report that the Supreme Court had ruled that "the Bush administration" could transfer suspected terrorist Jose Padilla to civilian custody.

Why "the Bush administration"? There can be only one reason: They intend to point a finger at President Bush. Why not say "the Justice Department," for instance? That would actually be MORE PRECISE, which I thought was supposed to be a good thing in journalism.

At least my newspaper got it right this morning. The Pioneer Press headline reads: "Court allows U.S. to transfer Padilla."

That's accurate, and non-political. The story leads with mention of "federal prosecutors" and the "Justice Department." It eventually mentions "the Bush administration," but by then it's apparent that we've moved on to consideration of the political subtext of the story.

I've been noticing the same type of reporting on Congress for years. If Congress does something that Democrats don't like, the reports come out this way: "House Republicans today passed a bill to...." No, it should be: "The House today passed a bill to...."

I don't remember, during the Democrats' 40-year stranglehold on Congress, any reporting like: "House Democrats today voted to raise taxes...." When the shoe is on the other foot, I'll be watching.

Thursday, January 5, 2006

Shoot the Messenger
There's a lot of wisdom in old sayings. Kind of like the way every complicated mechanical device can be reduced to one of the simple machines -- wheel, inclined plane, lever, etc. -- there seems to be an old saying that aptly describes every current event.

Just yesterday afternoon, I was driving on a St. Paul city street when a report on the radio said one of the suburban freeways was closed because a dog was on the road. And it was the beginning of rush hour. What a mess. All those cars, and little alternative but to sit there on the freeway. "Don't put all your eggs into one basket," is what I thought. That's the trouble with traveling on the suburban freeways. They're great when there are no problems, but when there's a problem -- you're out of luck. On the other hand, last week I was driving a St. Paul street when I encountered an unexpected barricade. A crew had closed the street for a block to administer last rites to a victim of Dutch elm disease. No problem. I drove over to the next street and went around.

The current disaster/fiasco combo in West Virginia brings to mind the old saying, "Don't shoot the messenger." People want to lash out at the media, mining company officials, anyone they can. But the botched reporting of the deaths is not the story. The story is an explosion which killed 12 people. What happened later is only a secondary story.

But since we can't do anything to reverse the explosion, we lash out where we can. That's a fact of human nature. It makes us feel better to blame someone, because we feel like that is "doing something." But creating a scapegoat doesn't help. Those 12 miners aren't dead because of what anyone did or didn't report correctly. They are dead because there was an explosion underground. If the reporting of their condition had been handled correctly, they'd still be just as dead.

We had a similar situation with Hurricane Katrina. Blame Bush. Blame the government's response.

What the government did after the hurricane may have been a story, but it was the secondary story. Whether Bush looked concerned enough as he looked out the window of Air Force One wasn't the reason the city flooded and people died. The city flooded and people died BECAUSE THERE WAS A GREAT BIG HURRICANE!

But you can't fire Mother Nature. You can't demand her head on a platter. So there has to be a scapegoat.

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

The God of Evolution
Another letter-to-the-editor on Intelligent Design sparked some more thoughts.

Tim Walker writes to the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

A letter writer argued on Dec. 27 that "Intelligent design is an opposing theory just as evolution is" ("Judge erred on intelligent design"). That's just plain wrong. Intelligent design is not a theory, because it cannot be proven false.

Instead, it assumes a creator and works backwards from there -- a prime example of circular reasoning.

(read the rest)

Did you catch that? "Intelligent design is not a theory, because it cannot be proven false." Well, can evolution be proven false? No. So evolution must not be a theory, either. You've got to wonder sometimes, do people even read their own letters before they send them?

When you get right down to it, evolution and creation both believe in a god who makes them possible. Creationists, faced with questions of trying to reconcile the Bible with geology, respond, "With God, all things are possible." End of discussion.

Likewise the evolutionists. Faced with questions of how life can come from nothing, and how one species can turn into another species, evolutionists reply, "With enough time, all things are possible." End of discussion.

The god of evolution is Chronos, the god of time. It's the old million-monkeys-on-a-million-typewriters eventually hammering out the complete works of William Shakespeare. You've got to have faith that it can happen. To the evolutionist, time has supernatural powers.

I agree that Intelligent Design is not science. (Note: I am not saying it's not true. It's just not good "science," which comes from our methodical observation of the observable world around us.) But then again, if ID can't be "science," maybe other accepted science isn't, either.

Didn't Einstein go to his grave searching for the "unifying theory" of the universe, thinking that there had to be something that explained it all and held everything together? Isn't there current theory about "dark matter," which scientists think must be part of the universe, but they can't find it? And how about black holes? No one can see them. We infer their existence. They must be there, we're told, in order to explain what we can observe.

Is theorizing the existence of some sort of Designing Intelligence really so different? Is saying "It must be there, it has to be" so different from the other examples? As we break down and explain our world scientifically, we find that it is not random. There are laws and processes that govern how it works. Is it such a stretch to posit that an orderly world could not have come about randomly?

Maybe someday we'll find that the "unifying theory" is... God. Maybe we'll find that "dark matter," said to constitute the "missing" mass of the universe, is really... God.

Keep an open mind, people. That's the scientific way.

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

What is "Racism"?
Mary Sanchez, an opinion columnist for the Kansas City Star, offers some interesting thoughts on what is "racism," and what isn't: (Please note: Just because it's not "racism" doesn't mean it's commendable.)

"You'll probably think I'm racist for asking this, but "

Countless e-mails begin this way. And most of the writers can assure themselves that no, they are not racists. Not by my definition. Not for just asking a question.

If ever a word has spun out of control, it is "racist." And yes, it is most often misused by the people who hurl it at others.

Far too often, simply posing honest questions generates this assault, questions that some have deemed too "sensitive" to ask. So receiving a real reply is impossible. And having an in-depth conversation also becomes out of the question.

How convenient for maintaining the status quo.

(read the rest)

Sanchez wisely avoids using the term "political correctness," but I think that's what she's talking about. As I've written, political correctness does no one any favors. Because while political correctness tells us we mustn't mention "Problem X" because to do so will offend "Group Y," how will we ever solve "Problem X" -- to the benefit of "Group Y" -- if we can't even talk about it?

I've been thinking recently that a lot of the issues described as "racial" are really better defined as "cultural." For instance, I live in an almost exclusively white neighborhood. What would I think if a black family moved in next door?

Well, tell me more about this hypothetical family. Are they employed people who take pride in maintaining the home they own? Do they provide proper supervision and parenting for their children? If the answer is "yes," then why would I care what color their skin is?

But I would be concerned if this family lived in the culture of the "hood." If dad's nowhere to be found, mom sits around all day drinking her government check, the kids are running around at 2:00 a.m. unsupervised, spray painting my walls and dealing drugs, well, then, yes, I've got a problem with my new neighbors.

But it has nothing to do with the color of their skin. I'd also be concerned if white people moved in with their twelve dogs and began filling the yard with junk cars and cooking meth. (As they have been known to do when they move into the rural area when I grew up.)

People of all races have to learn to separate behavior from race. People of all races should be able to agree that there is something wrong with the second family I described, whatever their race, and that none of us would want them for our neighbors. Unfortunately, too many people will rush to defend the BEHAVIOR of that family, saying any criticism of them is only racism.


Monday, January 2, 2006

Your Tax Dollars at Work
The Associated Press reports:

Boomers not fond of direct deposit

A new survey by the government found a surprising reluctance among baby boomers to participate in direct deposit programs.

The study, underwritten by the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve banks, found that 59 percent of baby boomers - those born between 1946 and 1964 - take advantage of direct deposit of paychecks and government checks, compared with 72 percent of those 65 and older.

The different attitudes could cost the Treasury a lot of money in coming years, said Dick Gregg, commissioner of the Treasury's financial management service.

"If the trend with pre-retires continues, the sheer size of the 77 million baby boomer population, coupled with impending postage increases, will drive up the government's costs to issue paper checks exponentially," Gregg said.

He added: "Taxpayers will bear the burden."

It now costs the government 83 cents to produce, mail and process a paper check, about 75 cents more than the 8.5 cents it costs to deal with a directly deposited sum.

I think that if we're worried about costing the U.S. Treasury money, we should stop paying for stupid studies. Look at the figures, the difference isn't that great: 59 percent for Boomers, versus 72 percent for their elders. That's a difference on only 13 percentage points. Now, consider the very, very obvious differences between those two groups, and how that affects the popularity of direct deposit of checks.

In the 65+ group, we're obviously dealing with many retired people, getting Social Security checks. Some travel a lot, some are snowbirds. On the other hand, some don't drive anymore, some find it hard to get out of the house to go to the bank, and a large number are physically unable to do so, some even being confined to health care facilities.

For all these reasons, people 65+ are going to find direct deposit of their Social Security checks -- which will continue for the rest of their lives -- a simple convenience.

But in the younger group, we've got people in all sorts of other circumstances. They're working, going to school, working part time, going from job to job, self-employed, between jobs. They're living under changing circumstances. And as a group, they don't find it as difficult to physically visit the bank every payday.

Gregg is quoted saying, "If the trend with pre-retires continues..." Well, that's just it. It won't. The key difference between the two survey groups isn't their AGES, it's whether or not they are RETIRED. As the Boomers become the 65+ crowd, retire, travel more, and become less able to drive and get out of the house, they'll also turn to direct deposit for their Social Security checks. They'll easily bridge that 13 percentage point gap.

We're talking about members of the computer generation, here. This is the electronic bill-pay crowd. I predict that as the Boomers retire, they'll sign up for direct deposit at rates even higher than today's seniors.

But, no, we had to go and waste money on a study, and then not even understand what it really means. That's just plain stupid.

Monday, January 2, 2006

Despite What We've Been Told...
After four months of hearing that President Bush's personally-created Hurricane Katrina mostly hurt the poor and minorities, comes this Knight Ridder news report (buried on page 8):

Four months after Hurricane Katrina, analyses of data suggest that some widely reported assumptions about the storm's victims were incorrect.

For example, a comparison of locations where 874 bodies were recovered with U.S. census data indicates that the victims weren't disproportionately poor. Another database, compiled by Knight Ridder of 486 Katrina victims from Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, suggests they also weren't disproportionately black.

Well, how about that? But the political damage has been done. It's the fault of that uncaring, racist, Republican president. Don't worry whether the charges are based on fact, just report 'em and let them do their damage. Eventually, the truth will come out. But in won't be in the headlines, it'll be buried on page 8.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Economics of Immigration
Long-time readers know that I'm a fan of economics columnist Edward Lotterman. Lotterman is sort of the Sgt. Joe Friday of newspaper columnists, taking a "just the facts" approach to economics that serves as a refreshing antidote to everything else out there, which always seems to be coming at the reader from a predetermined political agenda. Lotterman isn't afraid to say that both the Democrats and Republicans are full of it, if that be the case.

Lotterman today offers up the first of what sounds like a series of columns on the economics of immigration, titled "Immigration debate too simplistic." (Boy, that could be a lot of our debates.)

Lotterman writes that arguments on both sides of the immigration debate are "naive," and he explains why. I took note of this comment, regarding the argument that immigrants are needed to perform jobs no natives are willing to do:

Bush, Fox and many U.S. employers are right in that there are many jobs native-born people do not want at $6 or $8 per hour. But they conveniently ignore the fact the same people might be glad to have these jobs if they instead paid $10 or $12 an hour.

This leads to the touchy question of how immigration affects wage levels.

That leads to an ironic link. Immigration -- legal or not -- has something in common with Wal-Mart: both hold down consumer prices, but, critics would say, those lower prices come at the expense of low-paid workers.

The irony is that a lot of the people who vilify Wal-Mart are the same people who rush to the defense of immigrants, even the illegal ones. Meanwhile, those who would defend Wal-Mart are often the same ones who express the most concern about cracking down on immigration.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Fact or Theory?
In this media age, we're inundated with reports of one story after another. But not enough is done to put them into context, to link them together in meaningful ways. That's something I try to do. For instance, this week I read a news story about our solar system, and I'd like to link it to the current debate over Intelligent Design.

Let me start by asking you, when you were in school, did they teach you the fact that there are nine planets in our solar system? Or did they teach you the "nine-planets theory"?

I was taught it as a fact. A square has four sides, and the solar system has nine planets. End of story.

But now, astronomers are arguing over just how many planets there are. If Pluto qualifies as a planet, some say, then so do many other small, icy bodies at the extreme edge of the solar system. There may be as many as 17 planets, they say.

Others suggest going the other way. Stop counting Pluto as a full-blown planet, they say. That means there are only eight planets in the solar system.

But I was taught that there were nine planets, no more, no less. And that was a fact!

I know, I know, there's new information. We have the Hubble space telescope. We have spacecraft exploring the vastness of space. We're finding out new things all the time.

But that's just my point. My point is, we don't know how many planets are in our solar system. We've never known how many planets are in our solar system. Yet, we've acted like we do.

And it's the same when it comes to the origins of life. Evolutionists think they know. Sure, they think there may be some details to fill in, but the overall theory is accepted as fact. There's no room to consider anything else. No room for the possibility of some sort of design being involved.

And how is evolution taught? I submit that it is taught as fact. Sure, they may call it a "theory," but what does that really mean to high school students? I'll turn around the argument of a smug evolutionist whose letter-to-the-editor I read. He wrote something like, "If evolution is 'only' a theory, then gravity is 'only' a theory, too, so hang onto something so you don't fly off into space."

Students may be taught Newton's "theory" of gravity, but it's assumed as fact that gravity exists (and I'm not going to argue otherwise). So when they are taught the "theory" of evolution (and I wonder how often that word is even used), they accept it the same way they accept the "theory" of gravity: It's treated as fact. In this context, "theory" is taken to mean the "explanation" of a fact, rather than an admission that it may not actually be so.

I've written before about what I call The Arrogance of Science. "Modern" scientists always think they've finally got it all figured out. Sure, those dummies who came before us had it wrong -- disease caused by bad air, sun revolves around the earth, that kind of stuff -- but everything we "know" now is true.

If we can't even count the planets, how can we be so confident of evolution?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Oil Company Profits Benefit Consumers
From a newspaper report today:

After a year of record prices for oil and natural gas, the world's energy companies are stepping up spending on exploration and production. Flush with cash, they'll spend 2006 hunting for both oil and opportunities to expand their businesses.

That's good news for consumers. It means oil companies, private and state-owned, are hunting for supplies to replace what's consumed and to meet surging global demand for oil and natural gas. Global oil consumption is forecast to grow from 82 million barrels per day now to 111 million barrels per day over the next 20 years, so much more fuel must be found simply to keep prices from rising dramatically.

So, yes, it's good for the oil companies to make money. It gives them an incentive to find more oil. Just as the cure for high gas prices is high gas prices, the cure for oil shortages is oil shortages. When the price of oil goes up because it is in short supply, oil companies go out and find more oil, simply because it has become profitable to do so.

Did you know that the amount of oil on the planet directly depends on the price of oil? That's right, when you hear those figures on there being 10 years or 20 years of oil left, that figure is based on known reserves which are economical to extract at current prices.

What that means, quite simply, is that if the world price of crude goes up tomorrow, suddenly there is more oil! That's because when the price of crude goes up, some mothballed oil fields suddenly become worth pumping again. The same with some fields which have not yet been drilled. If the price of crude goes high enough, they will be drilled, because the oil company will be able to recoup the cost of drilling the new field. Same goes for some of the "alternative" petroleum sources, like shale oil or oil sands. If the price of crude warrants it, they will be put to use.

It's not so much that we are running out of oil, it's that we are running out of cheap and easy oil (the "low-hanging fruit," in popular business jargon). We had oil price shocks in the 1970s, and a lot of talk about alternative energy sources, and ending our dependence on oil. But the truth is, for the past two decades oil prices have been low. (Even figuring in the shocks of the 1970s, gas prices today have not kept up with inflation.) With prices low, oil companies have had little incentive to find new oil fields or develop alternative technologies. The result: a stagnant industry unable to deal with sudden hikes in demand. Hence, the oil "shortage" of 2005.

Higher oil prices are good for the domestic oil industry, too. There is oil in the U.S., it just can't compete economically with foreign oil. Few people realize that the last time petroleum prices peaked, there was an oil boom in western North Dakota, for instance. But then oil prices fell again (which we all thought was so good for the economy, right?), and the boom went bust in western North Dakota, wreaking havoc with the economy there.

Monday, December 26, 2005

We're From the Government (and Others), and We're Here to Help You
My paper today has some stories marking the anniversary of last year's devastating Asian tsunami. Here's an actual headline:

Relief causes its own troubles
Uneven distribution breeds resentment; some fear a 'begging culture'

Sounds like we've been pretty successful bringing them into the "modern," Westernized world, teaching materialism and a sense of entitlement, folded into a modern welfare state. After all, it worked so well right here at home "helping" our own needy that way; why not do the same around the globe?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas to all, whether you celebrate it or not. It's like the old joke where one kid asks, "Do they have a Fourth of July in England?" The second kid replies, "Of course not." To which the first kid says, "Then what day comes between the third and the fith?" Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, it's still Christmas, so have a good couple of days, whatever you're doing.

Tonight we Christians mark the birth of a truly great man. Not a man with a TV show, a huge ego, and a train of discarded wives, but a truly great man. Not a man who accumulated riches, but a man who gave everything away. Even his very life.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Apprentice Learns How to Shirk Responsibility
I'm not a fan of the TV show "The Apprentice," but of course I've heard lots about it, and I have seen snippets of it, so I know what it's about. But I took extra interest recently when I learned that one of the two finalists, Rebecca Jarvis, had grown up in St. Paul, and attended a private high school just down the street from me.

So that meant extra coverage in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, which of course I had to read.

Those of you who are fans of the show may be interested in a couple of stories that ran in the paper a week ago. One covers the resolution of the show, and how winner Randal Pinkett turned down a chance to have Jarvis join him as an unprecedented second apprentice. In it Pinkett reveals that along with a super-size ego, he already knows how to shirk responsibility like a big-time CEO, or even a politician. Read this excerpt:

Trump said he actually did plan to hire them both, but decided to ask for Pinkett's opinion first since he felt that he had been "a star on the show."

"I have mixed feelings," Trump said about the outcome. "I think most people would have said, 'OK, you could do that,' but Randal felt strongly that it shouldn't happen that way. Randal was very tough and didn't take the easy way out. I respect his decision. And once he said that, I was really in a position where I had to go along with that."

Did Pinkett think Trump put him in an awkward position? "That's a great question," Pinkett said, "but I now work for the man. But that's a great question."

Wow, those are two good blame-passers. Trump blames it on Pinkett, Pinkett blames it on Trump. And in their closed-loop mutual-blame pact, that ends the conversation right there. Masterful.

You may also be interested in a Q&A with Jarvis.

Personally, I wouldn't want to be Donald Trump's apprentice. I don't want to grow up to be like The Donald. He doesn't represent much of anything good, to my eye. He is rich. (At least on-and-off, remember the bankruptcy?) But if that's your measure of a man, I feel sorry for you.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Traffic Deaths and War Deaths
A letter in the Pioneer Press had asked why the media, so obsessed with tallying the deaths in Iraq, don't give us a front page total every time there is another traffic death. I think that's a good question. But it garnered this response in a letter-to-the-editor, in part:

I know this is a popular right wing spin tactic trying to lessen the impact of American casualties. However, doesn't the letter writer realize how he is cheapening the sacrifice our men and women are making?

No matter what your political stance, for goodness sakes give our troops the recognition they deserve at least in their deaths.

JIM R. MILLER -- Winona

"Cheapening the sacrifice"? I see it as just the opposite. By comparing the noble deaths of soldiers to the senseless and foolish deaths of people driving to Starbucks while talking on their cell phones, we highlight how much more reason there was for the soldiers to give their lives. We point out that they gave their lives for others. They were actually fighting for something worth dying for, not just out having a good time.

(Advice to letter writers: Stick to your point, and don't tip your ideological hand like this guy does, with the loaded words "right wing spin tactic." We know right away that this guy has a political axe to grind, and his views on this issue are knee-jerk, not reasoned. That tells me right away not to take him seriously.)

Regarding numbers of deaths, why don't we look at some numbers. With U.S. deaths in Iraq topping 2,100, soldiers have died at a rate of about 750 a year. How does that compare to traffic deaths? I'm going to the Internet.....

Wow, I'm floored. What would you guess? I just got done looking at a Webpage from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation. They say traffic deaths in the U.S. exceed.... 42,000 a year! That includes almost 5,000 pedestrian deaths!

Compared to that, does 750 brave soldiers dying to liberate a nation and end genocide seem like such a high price to pay? (Here's a stat I'd like to see: How many traffic deaths of people going to or from anti-war activities? That could be ironic.)

On my wall I have a useful chart I snipped from the paper one day. It lists U.S. war deaths, beginning with the Revolutionary War. Some of the numbers are surprising, some are stunning. For example:

Vietnam War: 58,200

Korean War: 36,576

What about the big ones?

Civil War: 364,511 (And that's counting Union forces only; Confederate deaths are estimated at about 160,000, making this the deadliest war for Americans.)

World War I: 116,516

World War II: 405,399

Wow. Look at the WWII figure again. How many troops have we had in Iraq at one time? 150,000? And then look at the DEAD from WWII. On the beaches of Normandy, June 6, 1944 -- ONE DAY! -- 10,000 allied troops died. (About 6,000 Americans.) American deaths required to take Okinawa: 18,900.

Those are some stunners; here are some that may surprise you:

Persian Gulf War: 382

Mexican War: 13,283 (I'm surprised it's that many.)

Spanish-American War: 2,446

War of 1812: 2,260

And the one that really surprises me:

Revolutionary War: 4,435 (estimated)

I'm amazed it isn't higher than that. Didn't fighting go on for six years? Keep in mind, though, that's out of a total population estimated at (be right back.......) 2.5 million. Our population now is more than 100 times that. So relatively, it's like losing half a million people in 2005. (Makes you re-think those huge numbers from the Civil War, too. Estimated U.S. Population in 1860: only 31 million. So today, it would be like 5 million dead!)

All those numbers ought to give you something to think about.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Dumb Letter to the Editor
An actual letter-to-the-editor in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Dec. 21, 2005:

Your Dec. 19 front-page headline, "Bush: 'We are winning the war,'" will be enough to cancel my auto-renewed subscription to your newspaper!

It is enough that Bush put his stupid message out there in prime-time TV, but for a newspaper to strengthen his viewpoint is beyond belief. Winning the war will not be accomplished for many, many years. And the war will be decided by religious factions, not by Bush and certainly not by the United States of America.


So let me see if I understand this. She is saying that if the president says something she doesn't agree with, it should not be reported? Sounds like she wants the media to practice deliberate, explicit liberal bias.

And how does quoting the president "strengthen his viewpoint"? Isn't that simply reporting? I suppose if she ran the paper, political stories would include all of the Democrats' allegations against Republicans, but no response from Republicans, since that would only "strengthen their viewpoint."

Why didn't she cancel her subscription way back when the papers printed Clinton's quote: "I did not have sex with that woman"?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Poll Says Most Americans Tired of Polls
In a poll of me, myself and I, 100 percent of Americans said the media conduct too many meaningless polls. Here's the latest poll drivel:

Forty-nine percent said Bush has the constitutional power to intercept international communications without the approval of a federal judge, while 45 percent said he didn't, according to a Zogby International poll done Tuesday and Wednesday.

And here I thought the Supreme Court decided Constitutional issues.

This is ridiculous. The people answering the poll aren't Constitutional scholars or members of the Supreme Court. What they think about the "constitutionality" of Bush's actions is irrelevant. Whether we approve of Bush's actions would be a better question, but until the public hears more information regarding the legality of those actions, it's too early for us to judge that, either.

And that's what the media should be concentrating on: gathering facts and information, so the American people can make some informed judgements. Instead, the media simply engages in "she said, he said" journalism, repeating opposing political charges, and then asking us what we think, as though we are some sort of slumber party jury passing judgment based on gossip.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Some FDR Readings for You
After shooting off my mouth about FDR in my previous post, I thought maybe I'd better check the facts. (Something wrong there.... oh yeah, it's supposed to be check the facts first, then write!)

Well, the facts bear me out. And there's even more to the FDR story than I realized. He helped not just the Brits, but the Chinese and Soviets, as well. He had secret correspondence and made secret plans. He authorized naval engagements and mobilized troops. All this secretly, and against the express wishes of Congress and the American people. And, as I said, we are now damn glad that he did. Here are some websites to read:



And then there was that "secret map" of Nazi plans that FDR claimed to have in his possession, but which may have never existed, or may have been a forgery by British intelligence. Pat Buchanan offers his two cents worth.

As always when it comes to websites, I can't guarantee the veracity of it all. But even Democrats should have a hard time arguing with PBS!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I Spy: Don't Forget FDR
I don't know yet what to make of the charges of "illegal" spying on the part of the Bush administration. They say they had the authority. I don't know enough about it to judge yet. So far it pretty much breaks down like this: if you voted for Bush, it's OK; if you voted for Kerry, Bush is a regular Fidel Castro. No, wait. They LIKE Fidel Castro. Oh, you know what I mean.

One talk radio caller pointed out that Republicans should be careful, because some day a Democrat will return to the White House (what day do they conduct tours?), and they don't want a Democrat doing the same thing.

To which I say, "What's 'the same thing'? Spying on al Qaeda?" Because as long as the "illegal" spying is confined to terror suspects, I don't think most people are going to get really worked up about this. I mean, it's not as though Bush has been accused of spying on the Kerry campaign.

Vice President Cheney has been making comments in his defense, asking whether or not we want to be serious about the war on terror, and pointing out that there hasn't been another domestic attack since 9/11. True. Maybe the "illegal" spying prevented some attacks, but they can't talk about it. We don't know. I wish we did.

I'm reminded of FDR, often held up as the Democrats' greatest president. FDR went against the express wishes of Congress and the isolationist American public, to surreptitiously do what he could to help England hold out in the war against the Nazis. Finally, the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor and America officially entered the war. If FDR wouldn't have "illegally" done what he did, it might have already been too late to save Europe. FDR knew that, so he did what he had to do. And for that, he's now considered a hero and a great leader -- even by Democrats.

Monday, December 19, 2005

History in the Obits
I like to read the obits. I learn a lot. I don't mean the local paid obits. I scan those, too, but I'm talking about the news obits in the paper -- people who died after giving us a reason to make note of their passing.

I learn a lot about history by reading about the lives of people I've never heard of. One day it was the creator of the reclining chair. Who ever stopped to think that one person specifically invented that? Not me. But someone did. One day there was no such thing, the next there was a chair that would become ubiquitous in living room coast-to-coast. Then there was the inventor of the single handle mixing faucet (Mr. Kohler, I think.). Until his invention, you had to turn your hot water and your cold water on and off separately. More recently, I read about the inventor of the WWII-era "Mae West" life vest.

Now, I've learned of the passing of 104k-year-old Sydney Leff. Never heard of him. But I read about him, anyway. Leff, according to the obit in the Pioneer Press, (scroll down) was "almost certainly the last surviving illustrator of sheet music from the golden age of Tin Pan Alley."

Reading the obit, I got a glimpse into a bygone era before radio, before records. The obit reports:

In the MP3 era, with consumers awash in sound, it is hard to remember that through the first half of the 20th century, new songs typically met the world as sheet music. Nearly every middle-class home had a parlor, and nearly every parlor had a piano. Before radios and record players became ubiquitous, families gathered round the piano to sing the latest numbers, available in any dime store. The music's illustrated cover was meant to sell the song.

Leff reportedly drew the covers for over 2,000 songs. The Washington Post obit has additional information.

If you have time, check out "Perfessor Bill's" website of old sheet music covers. Scroll down and there is a section of Sydney Leff covers.

Monday, December 19, 2005

"Holiday" vs. "Christmas": Some Examples
As I've said, there's nothing wrong with the words "Happy Holidays" themselves; it's when they specifically take the place of "Christmas," as though that was some dirty word, that I get upset. The context makes all the difference. I have a couple of examples from this weekend.

The first: I visited a toy store where I heard the busy clerks saying "Happy Holidays" at the conclusion of each transaction. That's fine. The clerks don't know the shoppers well, and this part of town especially has a significant number of Hanukkah shoppers. A generic expression makes sense.

The second: During the NFL game on TV, I saw an NBC "Happy Holidays" promo. That would not be a problem, except for the "stars" of the spot. They were Rudolph and the Snowman from the classic "Rudolph" TV special. You know, the one with Yukon Cornelius, the Abominable Snowman, and the Island of Misfit Toys. That show is all about CHRISTMAS. In it, the characters are always talking about CHRISTMAS. Rudolph saves CHRISTMAS. It's undeniably a CHRISTMAS story, not just a generic "holiday" story. By my judgment, erasing that and turning the characters into "holiday" spokesmen is disrespectful.

Monday, December 19, 2005

A Stool-Drivin' Man
Need a laugh? Read Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten's account of his plumbing problems. An excerpt:

Steve strode to the foul hole in the ground and commanded me to turn on both spigots in the sink, run the shower and activate the toilet, again and again, flushing like the wind! Over the hole he stood like a human colossus, and, with an ordinary plumber's helper, began to plunge that drain for all he was worth. I flushed and Steve pumped, his body a machine, a piston, becoming a modern-day John Henry, a stool-drivin' man. Soon, there came a huge sucking sound, like a rhino dropped from a helicopter, swallowed by a swamp.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

When Easter Falls on Sunday...
Have you heard that some churches will not be having services on SUNDAY, Dec. 25? Apparently, they figure that since it's CHRISTMAS DAY no one will want to go to church anyway.

How nutty is that? Typically, some churches have services Christmas Day, and some don't. I'm not complaining about that. The church I belong to has a tradition of an 11:00 pm Christmas Eve Service, but no service Christmas Day. Except this year, because we always have a service on Sunday. We're a Christian church, so that's what we do. With a Sunday being Christmas, too, that should be all the more reason to have church that morning.

What message is a church sending, saying that Sunday service will be cancelled, because people are too busy to come to church that day? Looking ahead, how about New Year's Day? That's Sunday this year, too. You know, people will be out late on New Year's Eve, and there's a lot of football to watch on New Year's Day. Mabye they should cancel Sunday worship then, too.

Good grief! What will they do when Easter falls on a Sunday?!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Yet Another Attack on Christmas, Christians
The Wisconsin State Journal reports from Madison:

Chavez Elementary School canceled a third-grade field trip to raise money for the Salvation Army after a parent objected to having public school students help the religious-based charitable organization.

The district received a phone call from a parent who was "concerned about promoting religious organizations through the Salvation kettle point collection," district spokesman Ken Syke said.

School officials said the trip, in which the students were to serve as bell-ringers at the Salvation Army's red kettle collection points, was an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state and told teachers to stop sending permission slips to students' families.

The First Amendment reads, "Congress [no mention of school districts] shall make no law respecting an ESTABLISHMENT of religion, or PROHIBITING the free exercise thereof." If someone argues that the students participating in Salvation Army bell ringing is somehow an establishment of religion, at least as good of an argument can be made that not allowing it is a government prohibition against religion. In participating in bell ringing, the kids weren't getting any real religious message, but in not allowing the students to ring bells, the school is sending a pretty strong message that religion is taboo. As Salvation Army worker Donald Haar said:

"What really bothers me is what canceling the field trip does to the kids. It says that having a religion is a bad thing, that believing is a bad thing, and that is not the message our country should be sending right now. It should instead be encouraging our kids to volunteer."

I wonder if, come January, the school will refuse to observe the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Did you catch that? The "Reverend" King? Yes, the slain civil rights leader was a Christian minister. That's no secret. Yet, he has a federal holiday* in his honor, and schools recognize the day with special programs. [Please note: I am not complaining about that. I offer this as comparison to show how silly the Salvation Army objection is.]

People will say, "But we don't recognize Dr. King for his religious work; we recognize him for his civil rights work." True, just as the kids from Chavez Elementary were planning to participate in the Salvation Army's charitable work, not in religious work.

The Chavez Elementary case is yet another "church-state" issue that has nothing to do with Constitutional issues. It's anti-Christian bigotry, plain and simple.

(*What usually gets left out of the Christmas-or-not debate is the fact that Christmas is an official federal holiday. That means it is in fact a holiday -- if just a secular one -- for all Americans, whether they do anything to observe it or not.)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Putting the X Back in XMAS
There are plenty of liberals out there ready to tell us that Christmas is not under attack, and then use that as an excuse to write a column dissing Christmas and bashing Christians.

Here's another one, by Rhonda Chriss Lokeman of the Kansas City Star. Name-calling, condescension, more name-calling -- she pulls out all the stops to show her moral superiority, how much more caring she is.

But the final joke's on Lokeman. In a parting shot, she takes a jab at the defenders of Christmas, writing, "Guess we'll just wish them a Merry Xmas!"

Good one. "X" instead of "Christ." Yeah, you told them.

Except for one little detail.

The "X" in "Xmas" doesn't replace "Christ," it IS Christ!

"Xmas" owes its origin to Greek. The Greek word for "Christ" is "Xristos." During the 16th Century, European Christians began using the "X" from "Xristos" in place of "Christ," as an abbreviated form of the holiday's name. It was understood that "X" meant "Christ." Since then, that understanding has been lost, and most Christians now probably assume -- as does Lokeman -- that "Xmas" is a disrespectful and intentional attempt to take Christ out of Christmas.

Related Topic: I've said many times that one of the ways media bias manifests itself is in the way the mainstream media frames the discussion and defines the terms. They decide, for instance, that people who defend the lives of unborn babies are actually "opponents of reproductive rights."

They're doing it with the "Christmas" debate, too. I heard an ABC Radio News report in which Vic Ratner reported that Congress was in debate about "irritation over the phrase 'Happy Holidays.'"

"Happy Holidays" is not the problem. Those two words are themselves not offensive. Rather, it's the intentional, Stalin-esque airbrushing removal of "Christmas" from the culture that is the problem. But they just don't get it, do they?

Or maybe they do. But by misdirecting the issue, by making it sound like some weirdos are just obsessed with banning the words "Happy Holidays," they can ignore the real issue.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Libs Wrong About Eastern Europe, Too
Listening to the positive reports coming in from the most recent Iraqi election -- the one that American liberals (again) told us would be a disaster -- I'm reminded again about how the situation resembles Eastern Europe and the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Right up until the Iron Curtain fell, American liberals were trying to convince us that people in the East didn't want democracy. They were happy living under communist dictatorships. That was all they knew. We shouldn't try to impose our ways on them. "Those people" weren't ready for it. And Ronald Reagan? He was the danger, he was the warmonger, he made the communists hate us. He made the world a more dangerous place.

Now it's Iraq, and the same crowd is telling us that Iraqis don't want democracy. They were better off and happier under a ruthless, genocidal dictator. They can't handle democracy. "Those people" aren't ready for it. And Bush? It's his fault. He makes people hate us. He causes the violence. He makes the world a more dangerous place.

They were wrong then. Why do so many people listen to them now?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

It Takes One To Know One (or Several): Three Things I Find Strange
Just for the heck of it, here are three things I find strange:

A newspaper food section printing the complete recipe for "Original Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies."

Why do I think this is strange? Because the key, defining ingredient in this receipt is Nestle's chocolate chips ("semisweet chocolate morsels"). And what's printed on every bag of Nestle's chocolate chips? The recipe for these cookies. The newspaper could have saved itself a lot of ink by simply printing: "Buy a bag of chocolate chips and follow the recipe printed thereon."

Restoring "native habitat" for pheasants.

Members of Pheasants Forever, a hunting/conservation organization, are restoring native prairie grass for pheasant habitat on former farmland in southwestern Minnesota. Why do I think this is strange? Because the ring-necked pheasant itself is not native to the prairie. Heck, it's not even native to North America! This Asian bird was introduced to the prairie only about 100 years ago. Restoring native vegetation to benefit a non-native species seems ironic to me. Usually, when we talk about environmental restoration, we're talking about trying to put everything back into balance the way it was before mankind interfered. In this case, that would include eliminating all the pheasants, not helping them!

A Video Game Version of Paintball

Why do I find this strange? Because I thought the point of paintball was that real, live people could shoot at each other without killing each other. In a video game, the virtual contestants can shoot each other with bazookas, and no one actually gets hurt. What's the point of video game players shooting each other with "safe" weapons?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Schools: Always Enough Money for Liberal Causes
The public schools say they don't have enough money. Yet, there's always enough money for liberal activism and proselytizing, as this story shows.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Nuclear Family Is Nucleus of Civilization
The "modern and progressive" types among us are quick to pooh-pooh traditional family values and traditional family structures as outmoded and unnecessary. Anything is a family, they say, and all families are equal.

Yet, when talk turns away from political agendas and focuses on the realities around us, we may hear otherwise. For instance, I recently watched a PBS program called "Voyage of the Courtesans." It's about a shipload of woman sent from England to join the men at the Botany Bay penal colony in the new (to Europeans) land of Australia. According to the narrator:

"Within a few years, the women helped turn the colony around. Though they would still be outnumbered by men for over a century, the proportion of female colonists began to climb. With the women came families, and with families came civilization."

Hmmmm. How...traditional.

I found another gem in a recent news story about the recovery in New Orleans. In a story titled "Floods recede; sea of men returns" we are told of the dearth of women in New Orleans. The story contains this plum:

Sociologist Carl Bankston III said the skew toward a male population was probably temporary -- but the faster it changed, the better for the city.

"If people don't set up households, they're not setting up families, which means you don't have a permanent population or a permanent tax base," said Bankston, a professor at Tulane University. "There's lots of construction going on, (and) theme park activities going on downtown. Neither of them are a stable basis for establishing a long-term community. That's a matter of some concern."

[By the way, do you know why the British began sending convicts to Australia? They needed a new place to dump them after they lost their old dumping ground -- the 13 American colonies. That's right, they used to dump them here!]

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Decorated Tree by Any Other Name...
A Christmas tree is a Christmas tree. Seems simple to me. But maybe I'm just too simple-minded. Molly G. Altorfer, director of communications and community security (is she packing heat?) for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, offers a different view in a guest column in Tuesday's St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Showing a different point of view than I expressed in my previous post, Altorfer wrote,

"...whether it is officially a 'holiday' tree is irrelevant -- all 'holiday' trees are really Christmas trees..."

That's ridiculous. Would she suggest, for instance, that whether or not a group of people are officially "colored" people is irrelevant, because all "colored" people are really African-Americans? Would she suggest that whether indigenous American are officially "Indians" is irrelevant, because all "Indians" are really Native Americans? Would she suggest that what non-Jews call Jews is irrelevant?

In these situations, we've become sensitive to the idea that a group of people should be referred to by the term they prefer for themselves. Doesn't it also seem reasonable that a holiday symbol of a certain religious group should be referred to by the name that is used by the people who actually observe that holiday?

Maybe Molly Altorfer doesn't care, but it sounds like Christmas isn't her holiday. Why is she trying to speak for those of us who celebrate Christmas?

Altorfer also illustrates another point I made in my post. I said that we've got it backward if we think that a holiday greeting is all about the person receiving the greeting. Altorfer wrote,

"Many customers would be offended to be wished a 'Merry Christmas,' simply because something is being assumed about them; in this case, that they are Christian and that they celebrate Christmas."

I would simply assume that the person saying "Merry Christmas" celebrates Christmas.

No wonder we have such trouble agreeing on things. When people debate issues, we often aren't even talking about the same issues. Both sides start with assumptions that they don't share. That makes it impossible to ever find agreement.

Another observation: The more I read and hear about the issue of whether or not Christians are being treated fairly and respectfully in this country, the more I hear echoes of the past. Non-Christians are smug and dismissive of Christians' concerns. They are condescending. They take it upon themselves to judge whether or not Christians should be offended. A lot of the rhetoric I hear reminds me of the way the good old white boys of the South dismissed any notion that Blacks weren't being treated fairly.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Merry Christmas
Went to a church-run Christmas tree lot tonight and bought a Christmas tree. After taking our money, the men wished us "Merry Christmas!" How did they know we celebrate Christmas? How did they know we weren't buying a "Holiday Tree"?

Yes, the battle is heating up again over "Happy Holidays" versus "Merry Christmas."

A year ago, I wrote a column in defense of "Christmas," which was published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. But I think that now some people are getting a little carried away.

We do too much either/or thinking. My way versus your way. It's absolute. I'm always right; you're always wrong. We like to argue. But the truth is, there are times when "Merry Christmas" makes sense. And there are times when "Happy Holidays" makes sense. My point is, don't avoid "Christmas" when it is absolutely accurate and appropriate. Don't call a Christmas tree a "holiday tree." Don't use Santa Claus to sell "holiday gifts."

But there are times when "Happy Holidays" makes sense, too. President Bush is getting criticism for his "Happy Holidays" card. But he sends his card to millions of people, some of whom I'll bet he doesn't even know very well. It has to be very generic. (I wonder, could he have sent a card that read: "Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays"?)

But the bigger issue here is that with greetings, as with presents, we've turned everything around. We're selfish. It's gotta be about me. But is saying "Merry Christmas" about the person saying it, or about the person receiving the greeting? I maintain that it's about the person saying it. The person says it as a way of observing HIS holiday. He's expressing a message of good will toward those around him. The greeting is not something that he owes to the recipient, based on the recipient's holiday. So if someone wishes me a "Blessed Ramadan" or "Happy Hanukkah," am I offended? Of course not. Surprised, yes, offended, no.

But some want to turn it around to make it all about the recipient, the same way we've turned around the significance of Christmas gifts. The connection between Christmas and presents is GIVING. But we're making it about GETTING. (That's why, increasingly, people talk about buying THEMSELVES Christmas presents.) A few years ago, I read where a teenager asked an advice columnist if it would be OK to give a Christmas present to her new Jewish friend, the same as she does every year for all her other friends. The advice columnist said, "Ask your new friend if she exchanges Christmas presents."

Why? What does that matter? It's not about whether it's the recipient's custom to receive gifts. What's important is that the giver observes her holiday by giving gifts to people she cares about. Why should anyone be offended at being shown such affection?

If my neighbor worships the fire hydrant in front of his house, and he observes his religion by giving pies to his favorite people every March 22nd, why should I be offended when a banana cream shows up at my door?

Similarly, I imagine a "what if." What if I lived in Saudi Arabia, for instance? Would I be offended to have people wishing me a "Blessed Ramadan"? No. They'd merely be treating me with the same courtesy they extended to everyone else. That's no reason to be offended. I'd return the greeting. It wouldn't matter whether I observed Ramadan. I'd merely be expressing my sincere good wishes to them.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

C.S. Lewis on Intelligent Design
(I might have titled this Great Minds Think Alike, but I dared not be so bold.)

Earlier today I was again pondering my observation that those who put their faith in science don't necessarily know anything about science. For example, in the discussion of Intelligent Design versus evolution, I'm always reading these condescendingly snide comments dismissing Intelligent Design, and claiming that science proves evolution to be true.

But I'll bet most of those writers don't know the first thing about actual evolutionary science. They could not provide an adequate explanation of evolutionary theory, nor could they conduct a defense of it.

What they do know, is that modern, "intelligent" people are SUPPOSED to believe in evolution. Therefore, they believe in evolution. It's FASHIONABLE. They don't want to be like THOSE PEOPLE who are so stupid they believe in God. It's really not much different from the popular girls snickering at the girls who are still wearing last year's fashions.

Of course, history is full of "science" that it was once fashionable for the modern and "intelligent" people to believe -- Sun revolves around the Earth, that sort of thing.

But what does this have to do with C.S. Lewis? Just a bit ago, I was helping my daughter look up some biographical information on J.R.R. Tolkien. Well, you know how the Web works, you look up one thing, click on another, and so on, and so on, and pretty soon I was reading up on Tolkien's friend C.S. Lewis. (Yes, the authors of "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" were buddies even before they achieved fame. How's that for a meeting of the minds?)

I soon found myself reading the first few pages of Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters," which I had never read. The book begins with one of satan's minions writing to another with advice about how to keep humans away from God. On page number 4, "Uncle Screwtape" writes:

"...the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is 'the result of modern investigation.'"

Wow! Sixty-three years ago, the great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis looked at the world around him and came to the same conclusion as I. That's more encouragement to write what I believe -- what I see with my own eyes and reason with my own mind -- whether it be popular and "generally accepted" or not.

Monday, December 12, 2005

What About Capital Punishment?
With everyone else writing about Tookie Williams (I usually prefer to avoid issues that "everyone else" is covering, and about which I really don't have any special insight.), maybe I'll weigh in with some thoughts on capital punishment in general.

I've had evolving thoughts on capital punishment. I started out a supporter on principle; I thought it was just and beneficial to society. I moved on to ambivalance -- I didn't oppose capital punishment, but I didn't think it really had any benefit, either. Now, I'm finally at the point where I can say I think we should just do away with it.

I don't "oppose" capital punishment on principle. I believe it is within the authority of the state to execute murderers. I don't believe it violates God's law, either.

But I don't know that it accomplishes anything. I don't know if there's any deterrent effect. I suspect there really isn't. And I increasingly see that many of the proponents of capital punishment seem motivated by the wrong reason -- revenge. Additionally, as we see with Tookie Williams, a death sentence distracts our attention from the real issues, and makes a martyr out of a murderer.

Lastly, the biggest reason to end capital punishment is that the state makes mistakes. Mistakes that, in this case, can't be undone. We've heard of many death row inmates released after new DNA tests showed they were falsely accused. It makes you wonder, how many others were executed before DNA testing gave them a second chance?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Satire or Not? The Envelope, Please...
The ruling is in on the Minnesota Daily opinion column that railed against "Support Our Troops" appearing on the Williams Arena marquee. (Scroll down three posts.) Joe Soucheray talked about it on his Garage Logic radio show today. Joe said he would bet $5 it was satire. It just seemed too perfect to be real, hitting all the wacky liberal flash points and using all the wacky liberal buzz words.

But... the Garage Logic crew gathered some information on the author, Adam Bahner, and found some of his other writings out there on the Web, and it became apparent that Bahner was likely entirely capable of writing this column and really meaning it.

That lead Soucheray to point out this irony: Bahner concludes his column by calling for "a marquee that respects the diversity of views that leads to academic excellence." That, after calling for the banishment of views that he himself doesn't agree with!

Regarding the Mike Shelton cartoon that baffled me, I think I've got that figured out, too. I looked up other Mike Shelton cartoons, and I see that he likes to stick it to the Democrats! Based on past experience, I just assume every cartoonist is out to get Bush. Not in this case. He's drawn some great cartoons. You can see recent ones here and here. I think if I bookmark this URL I'll be able to check on his future cartoons on a regular basis.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Dream, or Reality?
Wouldn't it be great to open up your daily paper and read this news coming out of Iraq?

Saddam Hussein loyalists who violently opposed January elections have made an about-face as Thursday's polls near, urging fellow Sunni Arabs to vote and warning al Qaeda militants not to attack.

In a move unthinkable in the bloody run-up to the last election, guerrillas in the western insurgent heartland of Anbar province say they are even prepared to protect voting stations from fighters loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.

If only it were so, is what you're thinking.

Well, I'm here to tell you the problem isn't "if only it were so," the issue is "if only they would print it."

The two paragraphs above are the lead to an actual Reuters news story posted yesterday!

THIS IS GREAT NEWS! Why aren't we hearing this?

UPDATE: In comparison, consider this Star Tribune interview with local Iraqi expatriate Abbas Mehdi. A quote from Mehdi:

"The war was a terrible mistake by the United States. Look at how Iraq has changed since March of 2003 (the month the war started.) Before that, you have Saddam, a terrible dictator, a criminal, torturing and abusing Iraqis. But people are safe in the streets."

Sure, at least until they're arrested and tortured and/or killed.

I'll bet Saddam made the trains run on time, too, a la that great fascist hero Mussolini.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I'm Still Confused
This one has me confused, too. Take a look at the cartoon and see what you think the cartoonist is trying to say.

Is he saying that the economy is "bullish," but it's going so fast that W isn't able to get his "brand" on it, meaning he's not getting any credit? Or, is he suggesting that the President is supposed to control the economy, but is unable to?

Is it pro-Bush? Or anti-Bush? I can't tell what Mike Shelton had in mind.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Is This Satire?
Is this college student on the level? Or is this satire? Thursday's News Council hearing was at the University of Minnesota Journalism School, and while there, I noticed a stack of the student newspaper, the Minnesota Daily. Perusing the paper later, I came across a guest editorial by Adam Bahner, titled "Eliminate the 'Support the Troops' marquee." Here's an excerpt:

I love my country. I have family serving in Iraq. Because of this, when I saw "Support the Troops" scroll by on the marquee outside Williams [athletic] Arena on Tuesday night, I knew silence would be unpatriotic. ...

Regardless of the viewer's politics, the statement is unambiguously understood to support the war, support present foreign policy and support the current administration. Unlike other traditions, the meaning of this statement is specific, immediate and political. That it was considered appropriate at all shows a troubling lapse of judgment. ...

Is this guy for real? I can't tell. Read the whole column and judge for yourself.

We've been told all along that even opponents of the war and opponents of "the current administration" do in fact support the troops. I'm very confused.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Making My Own News, Part 2
There's been some more press coverage of my complaint against WCCO-TV being upheld. (And that's good, because unless it gets publicized, it doesn't help spread the word that we can and should stand up for better journalism.) Today there's an item in the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune.

(An aside: Each Twin Cities daily has run a story based on the Minnesota News Council's press release. No one has called me for further comment. Do you suppose they're afraid of me?!)

But more exciting is that I appeared on-air with Joe Soucheray on his "Garage Logic" radio program Friday afternoon, on KSTP-AM1500. I had emailed Joe with the details of the story, and he thought it fit in with his theme of the day, concerning how we have to believe our own eyes and ears, and not just be herded along by what the mainstream media wants us to believe.

I talked about my experiences, both with the TV news report itself, and with the News Council complaint process. Something that I found fun about the experience was the way that Joe got pretty worked up about it himself, while I tried to just stick to the facts of the case, and let the facts speak for themselves.

Garage Logic is the Twin Cities' highest-rated afternoon drive time show, so I've heard from lots of people who heard me on the air.

Friday, December 9, 2005

Making My Own News: My Complaint Upheld
I didn't post anything yesterday. Instead, I was busy making my own news.

I had a hearing before the Minnesota News Council, regarding my complaint against WCCO-TV. The complaint stemmed from the way my family was portrayed in a news story shot at the Minnesota State Fair on Labor Day. In short, my complaint was that the reporter asked leading questions looking for certain answers from us, we didn't give them, but when the story was put together, she edited our quotes to make us fit her preconceived storyline. In doing so, I charged, she portrayed us as unable to afford to attend the Fair more than one day, and it had to be "bargain day" at that.

(You can read my original, complete account in the Downing World archives, as well as the unsatisfactory response I received from WCCO's news director.)

The Minnesota News Council describes itself as an independent, nonprofit agency whose mission is to promote fair, vigorous and trusted journalism. The Council, which is funded by both media and non-media members, entertains complaints about media misconduct, bad, unfair or sensationalized reporting.

Yesterday's hearing was held before 12 members of the News Council. (WCCO declined to participate, which was a disappointment. I'd really like to hear what they have to say.) First, we viewed a videotape of the news story in which my family appeared. (The members of the Council had also had opportunity to see the video in advance, and had also seen my written complaint, and copies of my correspondence with WCCO, as well.) Then, I was given 10 minutes to explain my complaint. Following that, the Council members asked me questions. Then, they began to deliberate amongst themselves, making statements and raising questions with each other. They also asked me some more questions.

For instance, I was asked what I wanted from WCCO. Did I want an on-air retraction? I replied no, that would probably only make things worse, but I wanted WCCO to acknowledge that I had a valid complaint, acknowledge that their reporter had done a bad job, and agree with me that the viewing public should be able to expect better.

I was asked if we would be sitting here today if WCCO had taken the time to actually talk to me about my complaint. I said no, probably not. (And who knows, maybe I would have better understood WCCO's position, like the recent time when I talked to an editor at the Pioneer Press about what I saw as biased reporting.)

I had said it seemed that the reporter was looking for us to give her certain answers, which we weren't giving her. So one Council member asked whether I told the reporter that maybe she should talk to someone else. I replied that I didn't think that was necessary. After all, isn't the reporter supposed to gather the facts -- what people actually say -- and figure out the story based on that? I also said that I was surprised that the reporter wanted to interview us on camera, after we didn't give her the answers she seemed to be looking for, and I was curious about how the situation was going to play out.

But that's a very interesting question. Think about it. What if it worked that way? Take it to the extreme, and you'd have the White House Press Office saying, "Call the DNC, they'll tell you what you want to hear." Reporters would "shop" for quotes even more so than they do now.

I was glad that there were no "hostile" questions. None of the Council members seemed as though they were skeptical of my complaint. Indeed, it appeared there was an immediate consensus that I had a solid complaint, that my family had been misrepresented, and that WCCO-TV was guilty of terrible journalism.

But then we appeared to encounter a stumbling block.

The Council members were being asked to vote yes or no on this specific complaint:

"WCCO-TV misrepresented the Downing family as being unable to afford attendance at the State Fair except on a Bargain Day."

Some News Council members began to question the exact wording of the complaint, parsing it in a legalistic way. While they indicated they felt my family had been wronged, they raised some reasonable questions about whether the exact wording of the complaint applied well enough for them to uphold the complaint.

I feared I might lose on a technicality.

But as discussion continued, other Council members pointed out specific instances that supported the wording of the complaint on the ballot. For instance, it was pointed out that the reporter's exact words were "one day is all the Downings could do," after which the story immediately cut to me commenting on prices going up year after year (Which I had never given as a reason affecting our attendance; rather, I was responding to her asking whether I noticed prices increasing. Anyone who attends the Fair regularly would have to say yes to that.)

Another Council member pointed out that the reporter had said "...more are choosing to spend their money more wisely like the Downings -- on days when they can find bargains," then cut to my wife acknowledging another leading question, saying that we noticed reduced-price rides for the kids. Yet, we had told the reporter that the reason we were there on "bargain day" was not for the bargains, but because it was the only day we could take time to attend.

Finally, the Council voted. The vote was 11-1 to uphold my complaint. Then, Council members took it upon themselves to vote on a resolution expressing their displeasure with the way WCCO had handled my complaint. After some discussion of the exact wording, the Council voted, 10-2, to state its view that the television station's response to my complaint was "inadequate and unprofessional."

I'm glad I went through with this process. It was very interesting, and of course I was happy that the result went my way. I also learned that it is not necessary for someone to be "an aggrieved party" or "have standing" to file a complaint. You don't need to be party to a news story to complain about it. So, if you're sitting in your easy chair reading the paper or watching TV, and you encounter reporting so bad that you think someone oughta do something about it -- that someone could be you! You can even file a complaint online at the News Council's website. Of course, I'm not encouraging anyone to file frivolous complaints. Make sure it's a really good one. And try to discuss it first with the "offending" news organization. Maybe after doing so, you'll see it differently.

One other piece of advice: If you file a complaint, be sure you think really hard about the exact wording of the complaint that the Council members will be asked to vote on. I didn't realize how important that would be. When News Council staff showed me the complaint as they had summarized it, I didn't give it as much thought as I should have. I thought it was just a summary, and didn't realize it was going to be so technically important. In retrospect, the wording of the complaint made it more narrow than it needed to be.

A report on my complaint appears in the St. Paul Pioneer Press today (scroll down).

Following is the full text of the news release put out by the Minnesota News Council following the hearing:


December 8, 2005


News Council finds WCCO-TV misrepresented St. Paul family in story on State Fair attendance

The Minnesota News Council voted 11-1 today to uphold a complaint against WCCO-TV by a St. Paul family who said the station misrepresented them as unable to afford to attend the Minnesota State Fair except on a Bargain Day.

David Downing, a graphic designer and writer, said he and his wife told the WCCO reporter before they were videotaped that they were attending the fair only one day last summer because that was all the time they had and not because they could not afford to go more than once. He said the reporter ignored his remarks and then on camera asked leading questions about finances and edited the answers to support the premise that money-strapped fairgoers had no option besides a Bargain Day.

The News Council also voted, 10-2, to state its view that the television station's response to the family's complaint was inadequate and unprofessional. The only responses Downing received, he said, were one e-mail from the reporter saying, "I'm sorry you feel I misrepresented you and your family," and another from the news director saying, "I appreciate you writing WCCO-TV. I have thoroughly reviewed your concern. I am confident that our story was accurate and did not misrepresent anything you or your wife said to us."

Downing told the News Council that he was disappointed that the news director did not invite him to meet at the station to acknowledge his concerns and discuss the editing so that, if the discussion established that the story did misrepresent the family, the station would make itself accountable and take steps to avoid such a mistake in the future.

"It makes a person wonder how many other stories are inaccurate," Downing said.

Council member Benno Groeneveld, a freelance journalist, said the WCCO story was not the result of reporting, but of the work of someone who goes into an assignment with a story already in mind and then finds victims to flesh it out.

Council member Nancy Conner, former reader advocate of the Pioneer Press, said: "This is the kind of thing that chips away at the credibility of the news media and the trust people have in them."

WCCO-TV did not participate in the hearing. Participation is voluntary, and the News Council does not permit the fact that a news outlet chooses not to attend to affect the determination on the merits of the complaint and response.

Half the complaints heard since 1971 have been upheld and half denied. The News Council is an independent nonprofit agency whose mission is to promote fair, vigorous and trusted journalism.


Friday, December 9, 2005

Beatles Bigger Than History
John Lennon once caused a furor by saying the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. (Note: He did not say they should be more popular than Jesus; he was commenting on how carried away Beatlemania had gotten.)

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon. As you noticed, there was a great deal of attention given to the day. Now contrast that to the attention given to the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack the day before.

Maybe the Beatles are bigger than WWII, too.

Another interesting link: The Lennon remembrances included a lot of talk about "peace," some of it directed toward current events. But Pearl Harbor should remind us of what eventually happens when the "peace at any cost" movement -- in those days, the isolationists -- gets its way.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Pilgrims' Progress Followed End of Communalism
According to this Wall Street Journal item, the Pilgrims didn't have much to be thankful for until they abandoned communalism. Their experiment with communal agriculture in 1621 and 1622 was a disaster. After they assumed responsibility for their own crops, they prospered. Here's an excerpt from the writings of the colony's governor, William Bradford:

At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular.... And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number....

This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could us... and gave far better content.

(Click the WSJ link above for more of Bradford's writing.)

At Thanksgiving time, there is no shortage of those who want us to feel guilty, rather than thankful, because some have more and some have less. It is good to be concerned about others, and to share with the less fortunate. But the truth is, if not for our "inequitable" system of free enterprise, private property and capitalism, there would be no surplus to share with the needy. Equal misery is not a goal to strive for. Like I said recently, capitalism really does result in the greatest good for the greatest number.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

He Sure Told Me!
I'm still expecting the letters to the editor going off on a tangent and taking me to task for what I said -- or what they think I said -- in my AIDS Day column that ran in the daily paper last Thursday. But I wasn't expecting to get the treatment for one simple quote of mine that Mark Yost used in a follow-up column about the economics of the NFL.

You may remember that Yost's initial column, about how NFL teams have attempted to use premium seating to get around the league's revenue sharing and earn more for themselves, prompted me to write that this was an example of the benefits of self-interest and capitalism. In a post, I wrote that most teams are now doing this, and eventually all will, so no one really gains a comparative advantage. But if they had had to share this revenue, no team would have been the first to take the initiative. Therefore, thanks to self-interest, all teams will eventually end up better off. Yost quoted these thoughts of mine:

"Acting independently, in their own self-interest, all the teams end up better off than where they started," wrote David Downing, a blogger who often writes about economics. "But if they had had to share the rewards, well, no one would have bothered. That's a great example of why it is in fact capitalism that results in the greatest benefit to the greatest number."

Well, someone took exception to that. Read this letter to the editor that appeared today:

NFL isn't a free market

Mark Yost quotes a "blogger who often writes on economics" (sterling credentials, there) thus: "Acting independently all the teams end up better off. That's a great example of why it is capitalism results in the greatest benefit for the greatest number."

The only problem is that the NFL is not a free market. If Yost thinks it is, I invite him to build a stadium, start a professional football team and see if any of the 32 NFL teams schedule a game against his newcomers.

Ideologues like Yost and his blogger want to see Adam Smith's "unseen hand" everywhere, but markets are very rarely free. The NFL's great success is directly because of the revenue sharing that Yost, his blogger friend and a few greedy owners want to evade, not to the glories of free-market capitalism.


What, exactly, is this guy getting at? Does he advocate socialism? Central planning? Monopolies?

(And did you catch his "credentials"? Me neither.)

I agree with him that markets are not perfectly free, thanks in no small part to regulation and taxes. But this guy has a strange idea of what constitutes a free market. He doesn't understand that you are also free to fail. Sure, he can start a competing league. Some have tried. They've failed. But not all. The AFL merged into the NFL. But just because there is a free market doesn't mean anyone else must do business with you. You must earn that. But I smell the entitlement mentality in this letter. They guy thinks that if he starts a business, others should have to do business with him. Strange.

This is what is so frustrating about having an opinion appear in print. Someone else gets to have the "last word," going off on a tangent about things I didn't say. I didn't mention Adam Smith, I didn't use "free market." I said this was a specific example of something, and the letter writer does nothing to refute that. Instead, he "refutes" things I didn't even say. I guess that proves I was right.

But the NFL is truly a strange animal. Is it one business with several owners? Or is it several businesses conspiring in a monopoly? I don't think it's ever really been established. The owners play it both ways, to suit their immediate purposes. (The same way they say that sports is "a business" when they threaten to move or cut a favorite player, but it's an "integral part of the community" when they want a new stadium built for them.)

Yes, revenue sharing has helped the league as a whole prosper. But interestingly, the letter writer calls the owners "greedy." Well, pick one, would you? Are they "greedy" free market capitalists, or are they revenue-sharing socialists?

I'd like to ask the letter writer, How's that revenue sharing working out for them in the Soviet Union? Oh, yeah, that's right. Ash heap of history, and all that. The Soviet economy was a flop because individuals didn't reap the benefits of their efforts. Agriculture was an example. For example, the truck drivers didn't care if they got the grain out of the field before the rain came, they got paid the same regardless.

But interestingly, as the Soviet Union opened up some, the black market -- where people profited for their efforts -- increasingly thrived, and finally, when the communist regime fell, people were free to make a better life for themselves through their own labors. Yes, some found the new system harder for them, but overall, it's much better for the nation as a whole.

In the case of the NFL, yes, revenue sharing has helped the league succeed. But self-interest is also raising everyone's boat. Both concepts are at work. My mind is big enough to entertain both notions at once. We have a big problem that people tend to think everything is an either/or situation. It's not. But I hardly think that the NFL benefitting from revenue sharing disproves the power of self-interest. The owners' self-interest has been served very well by their voluntary revenue-sharing agreement. Revenue sharing in the NFL is not some sort of high-minded communalism, nor some sort of share-the-wealth "social justice" experiment imposed by the government. No, it's more like cartel members allocating the spoils in a manner that holds the cartel together.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

I read an interesting news story about how some of the men who started the Crips and other parts of the modern gang culture now want to help undo the damage they started. But here's something that jumped out at me for other reasons:

In Los Angeles, there were about 750 gang-related murders last year.... The number of gang members nationwide has grown to more than 650,000, the bulk of them in Los Angeles, though Crips and their self-professed offshoots have been implicated in murders from Washington state to Missouri to North Carolina.

That's far more insurgents than are said to be in Iraq. The murder rate is about equivalent to the rate at which U.S. soldiers are being lost in Iraq.

Yet we say Iraq is too dangerous? Iraq is out of control?

U.S. out of Los Angeles!

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Leonard Pitts, Jr. laments that great works of literature will soon be available in text messaging versions.

You know, something occurred to me when I was reading Pitts' column. It's not a new concept to communicate with someone over great distances by typing out a message, letter by letter. That used to be called the telegraph. But in any old telegraph message I've ever seen, reproduced in a book, or framed and hanging on a wall, every word is spelled out, and, there's proper punctuation!

Of course, they had to pay for every word, so they learned to be concise.

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Too Bad He's Not Dead
When the war in Iraq started, I said that Saddam needed to die. If he didn't, he'd hang over the future of Iraq, giving hope to those who would have him return to power. Unfortunately, that is just what has happened.

Saddam admits to nothing; he concedes nothing. He says he is still the ruler of Iraq. He thinks he is tougher than us, and he thinks he can still win. He may be right. If U.S. forces leave, Saddam could be busted out of prison and back in power the next day. That possibility has got to make Iraqis nervous about helping the U.S., even though it's been 2-and-a-half years since Saddam was toppled.

I can't help thinking of Napoleon. He was exiled to Elba, but came back to France and took control once again. I'm not an expert on Napoleon, so I've wondered how he did it. This excerpt from the PBS Website explains just how easy it was:

During the last months of 1814, Napoleon grew bored playing at Emperor of Elba. He never took his eye off France, where the Allies had made the mistake of restoring an eager but weak Bourbon king to the throne. King Louis XVIII had neither Napoleon's charm nor his charisma. France had a constitutional monarchy now, but with royalists threatening to abolish the gains of the revolution, and the economy floundering, the King soon became unpopular.

For ten months, Napoleon watched and waited. Then, on February 26, 1815, he slipped off of Elba with a handful of soldiers and eluded the British fleet. "After making a mistake or suffering a misfortune," he said, "the man of genius always gets back on his feet."

Once ashore, only the King's army would stand between Napoleon and Paris. Six days after landing in France, he confronted a regiment of infantry ordered to bar his way. Napoleon advanced alone to meet them: "Soldiers," he cried, "if there is one among you who wants to kill his general, his Emperor, here I am." Suddenly, the soldiers began cheering wildly, "Long live the Emperor. Long live the Emperor."

[The soldiers welcomed him as a god. "The glory is going to start again. We're going to fight again. We're going to be happy."]

"In ten days, Napoleon said, "we will be in Paris The eagle will fly from steeple to steeple until it reaches the towers of Notre Dame." Two weeks later, Napoleon was in the French capital, and Louis XVIII had fled. The news hit Europe like a bombshell. "The Devil," his enemies said, "has been unchained."

Amazing. It's not so hard to imagine a similar scenario in Iraq.

Monday, December 5, 2005

War in Iraq: It's All in Your Head
Are we winning or losing the war in Iraq? It's all in your head. We were winning the war in Iraq, but now it looks like we're losing. Why? Because people decided that to be so. It's as simple as a collective changing of the mind. Public opinion now seems to be that we are losing, and we should pull out. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we start to think that we are losing, we want to give up. Then we lose.

The terrorists know this. They've stated it in writing. Osama bin Laden himself has said it. Vietnam and Somalia taught Al Qaeda that you just have to hit America in a way that influences public opinion, and you can win the war. According to the way that public opinion is going, many Americans appear intent on proving Osama bin Laden right. And the more we publicly express our doubts, the more we encourage the terrorists to make more attacks. We're letting them know that their strategy is working, and they should continue, because it's only a matter of time before we give up and they win.

(But we have to keep the terrorist attacks in Iraq in perspective. The media play them up as the only thing happening in Iraq. People think the whole country is one big explosion. That's not true. But people get that idea, and say we should just leave. It reminds me of the way people hear of an assault or murder in downtown Minneapolis and then refuse to ever go downtown. Clearly, there's more going on in downtown Minneapolis than an occasional assault, but try telling some people that.)

Conversely, if we take the position that we are winning, that can also be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It tells the terrorists that they are failing, and they should be the ones to give up, because their plan isn't working, and we aren't going to back down.

As I wrote last summer, that's what was behind Vice President Cheney's much-maligned comment that the insurgency was in its "last throes." If we say that, and act as though we believe it to be true, we can help make it a reality by breaking the resolve of the terrorists.

But... instead, Cheney's statement was ridiculed by Americans -- especially the mainstream media -- which only served to encourage the terrorists.

I figure it's like when a child has big hurt. Mom says, "Try not to think about it and go to sleep. It'll feel better in the morning." The child calms down and stops crying. Then Dad chimes in with, "Are you kidding? That sucker's gonna hurt for days!"


Saturday, December 3, 2005

Church-State Issue at Minnesota High School
Reported by Maricella Miranda in the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

An international Christian organization is threatening to sue the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school district in federal court if the district does not allow the group to distribute fliers about its religious after-school program.

The nonprofit group Child Evangelism Fellowship of Burnsville requested that District 191 hand out information earlier in the school year about its Good News Club, a religious program for children ages 5 to 12. Superintendent Benjamin Kanninen said they refused because the group didn't meet the district's criteria. The policy only allows the district to give students information about itself and local, community-based groups the district works with, such as the YMCA.

"We distribute literature for groups that contribute significantly to the instructional program and the community," Kanninen said. "This particular group didn't qualify under our policy, so their request to distribute was denied."

(click for full story)

So they distribute material for the YMCA. Does anyone still know what the "C" stands for? That's right, "C" is for "Christian." If someone pointed that out to them, would they disown the "Y," too? (Maybe worse yet, the "M" is for "men," that's not politically correct, either.)

Too soon to know how this one will shake out. But it looks like this is an illustration of just the sort of thing our First Amendment seeks to prevent -- government choosing between religious groups.

But should a school have to distribute every piece of literature from every group? Is that practical? Eventually, I suppose the solution is simply a policy against any "outside" literature being distributed. Trouble is, the kids will suffer from that policy, too.

Saturday, December 3, 2005

Why Whitey Can't Read
Columnist Leonard Pitts Jr., writes that a new twist on "white flight" is taking place. Where once whites left their neighborhoods to get away from "inferior" blacks who were moving into their neighborhoods and schools, white people in northern California are now fleeing because of an influx of Asians. And the white kids are finding it too hard to keep up with the Asian kids in school!

I am not making this up. It seems those thoughtless Asian kids are interested in subjects like math and science, and they actually study!

No word yet on whether whites are complaining that tests are culturally biased against them, but I can just imagine it: "All these questions about math and science are confusing to my little Johnny. There should be more questions reflecting the culture he grew up with. Where are all the questions about 'The O.C.'?"

Friday, December 2, 2005

AIDS Day Feedback: Don't Stick Things Where They Don't Belong
I received some nice feedback to my AIDS Day column, which was both yesterday's post and a guest column in the St Paul Pioneer Press.

D.K. wrote: "I'm doing my part."

That's good to know. Not that I was planning on asking everyone.

E.L. wrote: "Excellent op-ed in the paper this morning! It always bugged me when they were using the slogan 'anyone can get AIDS.' My reaction is that there are millions of people who are not taking intravenous drugs, who are not having sex in anything except a monogamous relationship and who did not have a chance in a million of getting AIDS. Plenty of people get AIDS through no fault of their own, particularly from partners they do not know are unfaithful. But the activists who make it sound like it is some sort of random event obscure the most important part of dealing with the problem."

Which really gets to the point: In the interest of treating everyone the same, we do a disservice to those most at risk of catching the disease.

G.H. wrote: "Good column on personal responsibility in light of World AIDS Day. Kind of breaks it down to its simplest formula."

Thank you. That was my intention, to cut through all the rhetoric and politics and get to the point.

N.W. wrote: "When I read the piece, it reminded me of the unfortunate reality of rampant armchair activism. So often, the voice of reason gets lost in the cacophony of B.S. created by those who make issues such as this one far more complicated than they need to be."

Well said.

W.H. wrote: "Interesting that your column ran right along side of Amy Klobuchar's column which could've made some attempt of personal responsibility regarding environmental and conservation issues. Unfortunately she seems to fall into the same trap of waiting for someone else to take responsibility for our needs. I've already taken steps myself in conserving gas and making my house a lot more fuel efficient."

Good observation. In so many issues, government mandates try to push us along. But real change usually relies on individual decisions and actions, personal responsibility, self interest, and market forces, which pull us along in their flow.

W.H. also wrote: "I'm afraid some people will see you as insensitive and call you names, but I guess that goes with the territory."

That's what I've been telling myself, as I was somewhat hesitant to tackle this subject so publicly. I'm sure there will soon be letters to the editor, taking exception to what I said -- and what they think I said. If so, that will pretty much prove my point: political correctness and fear of "offending" someone prevent us from frankly discussing issues like AIDS (and race), which inhibits our ability to solve our problems.

I don't want anyone to think that the message of my column is that most of us shouldn't care about AIDS, just because most of us aren't really at risk. Not at all. We should care. But how do we show our care? Engaging in politically correct double talk that obscures the facts doesn't help anyone, and it seems like a strange way to show how much you care.

So, care and treatment for those infected are important. Education is important. Learning to treat those who are infected not as pariahs, but as human beings, is important. But if we really care, we'll send out a clear message, so that ultimately there will be fewer victims who need our care.

And the AIDS prevention message, in a nutshell, is this:

Don't stick things where they don't belong.

Simple, isn't it? But it sums it up. Whether we're talking flesh or surgical steel, don't go sticking things where they don't belong. That covers intravenous drug use, homosexuals, heterosexuals, bisexuals, asexuals, whomever. And that takes care of most cases of HIV transmission.

We should be clear about the message that, in most cases, people become infected with HIV through their own actions. That being the case, each individual has the power to protect him or herself. Saying that people become infected through their own actions is not saying "they're getting what they deserve." No one "deserves" to die of AIDS. (Fellow Christians, remember, we all "deserve" death.)

Yes, there are those who become infected in other ways. But those are a small fraction of all cases. If we control the primary methods of transmission, we'll also control the spread through needle sticks, blood and tissue donations, unfaithful partners, and any other methods.

I care enough to tell it like it is, and risk being branded a "gay basher" or whatever else they call me. But unless others join me, I fear we'll never see an end to AIDS, in the U.S. or around the world.

Thursday, December 1, 2005

Dave's column appears in today's St. Paul Pioneer Press!
(link to column below on Pioneer Press Website)

AIDS Battle Hampered by Political Correctness, Mixed Messages
Today is World AIDS Day, a day to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS, support those who are infected, promote prevention, and work toward a cure. It comes just two weeks after the Great American Smokeout, another day dedicated to preventing unnecessary deaths.

But while the fight against AIDS and the fight against lung cancer would seem to have much in common, there is a key difference. With tobacco, we've heard a consistent message for decades: Smoking kills; just say "no" to tobacco.

Meanwhile, the battle against AIDS has been hamstrung by mixed messages since the disease first appeared.

I remember AIDS before it was AIDS. As a college student more than 20 years ago, I read a lengthy story in Rollingstone magazine describing a new disease called "GRID" -- Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. It was seen as a disease infecting only gay men.

Well, that wasn't politically correct. Nor was it true. So soon GRID was known as AIDS, and we were being told that it wasn't just a "gay disease"; anyone could get it.

But while that got everyone's attention, it also caused a backlash. People feared they would catch AIDS if they associated with gay men, providing yet another excuse to treat gay men as outcasts.

In defense, the message pendulum swung back the other way. You can't catch AIDS from casual contact, we were told. You won't get it from shaking hands, sharing a drinking glass, or even kissing someone who carries the virus. And that was true.

But that message had a side effect. OK, most people thought, then I don't need to worry about AIDS, after all.

As people became less concerned, the virus spread more widely among heterosexuals, with many falsely reassuring themselves that AIDS was hard to catch, and just a "gay disease" after all.

Meanwhile, AIDS became an epidemic in Africa, and now Asia.

That's where Jay Lee comes in. Lee wrote a World AIDS Day opinion column that appeared in the Pioneer Press last year. Lee, working in India, doing AIDS-related research, vividly described the terrible toll AIDS is taking on whole families there.

Still, I bristled somewhat at this excerpt from Lee's column:

"Studying AIDS just a year ago at Duke University, it seemed to me that we might win the war on AIDS. The stigma was breaking and the devastation in sub-Saharan Africa was so severe that the world seemed jolted into resolve that we would fight back. Once the tide was stemmed in Africa, we thought, AIDS would be at the beginning of an end."

What I take exception to is the idea that "WE might win the war" and that "WE would fight back."

To me, AIDS prevention is a do-it-yourself project. It's very simple: Don't do drugs, have sex with only one partner (who is not having sex with anyone else), and you've held your part of the line.

But how am I supposed to keep others from contracting the virus, if I'm not allowed to impose my moral standards on others? It's up to each individual to conduct himself or herself so as not to contract or spread the virus. I can't do it for anyone else.

Lee may be right that in other parts of the world, especially, there is need for education and support to help people overcome cultural factors that facilitate the spread of the AIDS virus. But here at home, it's mostly a case of people refusing to be responsible for themselves. They want someone else to protect them.

That's why, on World AIDS Day, you'll find people ignoring personal responsibility and protesting that the government should do more to prevent the spread of AIDS. Find a cure! Pass out more free condoms!

Now compare that to the messages we hear the day of the Great American Smokeout. Do we have protesters in the streets, blaming the government for not spending enough to find a cure for lung cancer? Do we hear people demanding that the government distribute "safe" cigarettes?

No. Instead, the message is clear: Don't smoke; it'll kill you. Why can't we give such a clear message when it comes to AIDS?

If you'd like to know what I think about a particular topic, drop me a line: dave ["at"] downingworld [.com]. I may use it for a future blurb. But remember: I'm not really a know-it-all; I just play one on the Web. Thanks for tuning in, from your host David W. Downing.


dave ["at"] downingworld [.com]


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