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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Saturday, December 30, 2006

My Brush with President Ford

Here's a past experience that came to mind due to a couple of current news items.

In 1988, I was returning to the Twin Cities from Portland, where I'd been on business. I was waiting to board a connecting flight in the Denver airport. It was about the first of March, but the weather was fine -- no two feet of snow then. While I was waiting for the boarding call, former President Ford and his escorts boarded my plane and were seated in first class.

The odd thing is, the way this plane was configured, the rest of us had to walk through first class and past the former president on the way to our own seats. I don't understand why they didn't board the former president after the rest of us were onboard. Then we wouldn't have even known he was there. Wouldn't that have been a more secure procedure?

Well, it's not much, but it's my brush with the former President. We flew together. And it involved the Denver airport.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Oil Not Worth Dying For? Then Get Out and Walk.

Here's something to ponder. Fairleigh Dickinson University professor Peter J. Woolley offers us his take on the "nonstory" of the year. Woolley wrote this for the Washington Post, and it appears on the St. Paul Pioneer Press opinion page today.

When all is said and done and the ball begins to drop on New Year's Eve, 44,000 people, give or take several hundred, will have died in auto accidents this year. To put that number in perspective, consider that:

· At the 2006 casualty rate of 800 soldiers per year, the United States would have to be in Iraq for more than 50 years to equal just one year of automobile deaths back home.

Woolley goes on to use several other comparisons, but I think the comparison to soldiers dying in Iraq is particularly thought provoking. Consider all the claims that this is a war for oil, and "Oil is not worth dying for." Now consider that if indeed this war is "about oil," America's oil addiction is primarily about automobiles.

So while the mainstream media are obsessed with counting every soldier's death in Iraq -- as they rub their hands gleefully, anticipating the day when they can celebrate a body count of 3,000 -- they ignore this "nonstory."

Linking the war and traffic deaths, we must then conclude that while many people think it is not acceptable for 800 people to die yearly to ensure our oil supply, it is perfectly acceptable for 44,000 to die yearly engaging in an activity that creates the demand for that oil.

If you think this war is "about oil," then I sure hope you're walking to the weekly anti-war protest on the Lake Street bridge. And no taking the bus, either. They burn fossil fuel, and they run people over, too. If you're not walking, then you're part of the problem you're protesting.

It's peculiar the way we humans assess risk. We're not logical about it, as Mr. Spock would be quick to point out. We fear some things that will likely never happen to us, yet we don't give a second thought to real dangers. Any time we leave the house, we could be going to our death. Woolley writes:

· According to the National Safety Council, your chance of dying in an automobile crash is one in 84 over your lifetime. But your chances of winning the Mega Millions lottery are just one in 175 million.

So... every day, people get into their cars and drive to the store to buy lottery tickets. Hmmmm....

It's funny the things we decide to be afraid of. Do you personally know anyone who has died from Radon gas in the house? I don't. Yet I've tested my basement air, as I've been instructed to do.

Do you personally know anyone who has died in a traffic accident? I do. I'll bet you do, too. But are we afraid to drive?

I think it would be fascinating to do a study looking for correlation between people who don't buy insurance or wear their seat belts because "it won't happen to me," but do buy lottery tickets because "somebody's got to win!"

Thursday, December 28, 2006

"Grocery Gap" the Latest "Social Justice" Issue

Radio host Joe Soucheray (AM1500 in the Twin Cities, 2-5 pm, www.garagelogic.com) uses the expression "getting windmilled" when someone's publicly-expressed convictions ironically -- and often hypocritically -- come around to bite them in the butt. It started when some members of the Kennedy clan -- great environmentalists that they were -- sang a different tune when some windpower generators were proposed for an exclusive area where the Kennedys spent their time. All of a sudden it was, "Not in my backyard!"

Have we got a case of windmilling today! And more proof that self-described "progressives" can't link. I refer to the "grocery gap" story in today's Pioneer Press.

The paper has "discovered" that people living in the core cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis have poorer options for grocery shopping than do their suburban counterparts.

Well, duh. That's not news. The real story here is how the people who claim to be the most concerned about this problem are the same people standing in the way of doing something about it.

This is full of irony. But the liberals or "progressives" who claim this is a "social justice" issue can't see it.

First off, I think they should be pleased with what they find in this story. It features a man who takes the bus down University Avenue to get his groceries. Isn't that what they want? They hate cars. They love transit. And just think: After a few more years and a billion dollars worth of light rail construction, he'll be able to take THE TRAIN instead!

Interestingly, Mr. Davis is going shopping at the Aldi store. If I recall correctly, the "progressives" didn't want that store built. It didn't fit their "vision" for "high-density transit-oriented development" in the University Avenue corridor.

So if we need grocery stores in the urban core, where are they supposed to be built? The "progressives" want only smaller, upscale store. They hate chains. They hate cars. They hate parking lots. They've really windmilled themselves.

When Target announced plans to use its own money to build a Super Target -- bringing another grocery option with wider selection and lower prices to the urban core -- the "progressives" fought it tooth and nail. They don't want auto-oriented development! But then in this story, we hear how hard it is to shop for groceries via bus. People without cars suffer. Will it be easier with THE TRAIN?

The "progressives" hate "big boxes." Just imagine if a Cub store were to be proposed for the Ford Plant site! Yet in this story we hear how good big, chain grocery stores are -- better selection, fresher food, lower prices. They can't link!

St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman recognizes that it's difficult to carry bags of groceries on the bus. We're told that lack of cars makes it hard to shop for groceries. Yet these "progressives" don't want anyone to use a car. Then how exactly are people in the city supposed to buy groceries? Do they expect to have a Cub Foods on every corner?

They hate the suburbs. They want "high-density" development, not a "big box" and a big parking lot. Then they bemoan the lack of shopping options. THEY CAN'T LINK!

Whatever the cause of this "grocery gap," the same people crying about it as a "social justice" issue are also standing in the way of doing something about it. Why are groceries more expensive in the city? Let's see, "living wage laws," politicians beholden to unions, resistance to development, endless development requirements.... can't they link?

In a sidebar, Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak says, "It makes no sense that people in cities, who are more transit-bound, with less income, are subject to the highest grocery prices." Actually, it makes perfect sense. It's basic economics. They have fewer options to take their money elsewhere, so they'll pay more. Just like you'll pay more for gasoline at a fishing resort at the end of the Gunflint Trail. Also, a small store can't sell milk and bread as loss leaders, the way a big store can. A "big box" store can advertise and sell staples cheaply to get people in the door, then make it up with good margins on those 65 kinds of vinegar, or expensive designer cheeses.

Notice also the quote from Angela Dawson, of the Northside Food Project: "Our food system is pretty broken." Where have we heard that before? Could nationalized, "single-payer" groceries be far away?

I agree wholeheartedly that people in the inner city would benefit from better grocery shopping options. But the powers that be are so incapable of linking, they can't see where they contribute to the problem and stand in the way of solving it. And it's not only groceries. Why do people in St. Paul have to travel to the suburbs to see most movies? Why do we have to travel to the suburbs for good prices on consumer electronics? Why do we have to travel to the suburbs to buy materials to fix up the city's aging housing stock? It makes absolutely no sense. Yet, proposals for a multiplex, a Best Buy, or a Lowe's at University and Snelling are rejected as not "transit-oriented." I've personally heard Mayor Coleman say that people aren't going to be getting on the train with a sheet of plywood. No, but they might get on the train with a new light fixture -- or some deadbolts for their doors.

The "home improvement gap" is another "gap" that the mayors ought to be concerned about. I think it's more important than the "grocery gap." If the mayors want their cities to be desirable places to live, the housing stock needs to be maintained. How are low-income people without cars, in old, run-down houses, supposed to get affordable materials to fix up those houses, build equity, and improve their lot in life, if you don't let modern home-improvement stores into your cities?

As if to support my point, here's another story from today's Pioneer Press. It tells about how thieves are breaking into abandoned houses and stealing copper gas line, creating gas leaks and great danger to the people living nearby.

The burglaries highlight one of the problems with vacant buildings. The number standing vacant in St. Paul has more than doubled in the last five years, leading to concern about declining property values and neighborhood blight.

Crime? Vacant buildings? The quality of the city's housing stock? The "progressive" leaders and activists of St. Paul and Minneapolis don't have time to fiddle with things like that. They've got more important things to do. Like build trains with other people's money. And blame grocery stores if low income people are overweight.

We have people in St. Paul who have the means to live their own upscale urban lifestyle, but while they try to make themselves feel important and happy by implementing their "vision," they make it harder for the less well-off. Then, they turn around and want to be feel good about themselves because they "care" so much about the little people, and demand that the government do something. You know what it is? It's a sort of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. That's when someone makes someone else sick, so that the perpetrator can then take some sick satisfaction in serving as a caregiver.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Admit It: You're Biased

Back in college, I had only one journalism department class in basic reporting (I double majored in communication and poly-sci), but one thing I recall from that is being told by my professor that "admitted" is a loaded word, and we should use it sparingly because it implies wrongdoing.

Yet, I hear it all the time, from what are supposed to be the nation's foremost journalists. Frequently -- not a coincidence -- it's in stories that involve President Bush. Just yesterday, I heard ABC News anchor Charley Gibson -- doing the ABC Radio news -- report that the Bush administration had "admitted" that Polar Bears are endangered. Huh? Has W. (or Cheney, though his aim is suspect) been personally poaching them?

No, but Gibson was clearing trying to blame Bush for the bears' endangerment. Gibson went on to opine that while the Bush administration referred only to "climate change" and melting ice, clearly this was a recognition of "Global Warming."

No liberal bias in the mainstream media? We sure could use some climate change there.

Surprisingly, the New York Times did better. In a NYT story that appeared in my paper today, the Times writes that the Interior Secretary "acknowledged" that ice is melting, but didn't take a stand on the cause. The Times story reported that many experts say the cause is "global warming," but didn't give its own opinion the way that Gibson did.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

You Think You've Got a Tough Job?

How'd you like to be Baghdad's only Christmas tree salesman? http://www.twincities.com/mld/twincities/16308344.htm

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Is This Bush's Fault, Too?

The Christmas Day paper also brought news that Ethiopia is now openly waging war in Somalia. Ethiopia is fighting on the side of the UN-recognized Somali government, against Islamic militias that control most of the country. Majority-Christian Ethiopia feels itself threatened by the Islamists across the border.

A couple of things to point out here: One, the Islamists are trying to take control of Somalia away from the UN-recognized government. Ethiopia wants to prevent that. Where is the UN? If Somalia's government is backed by the UN, then doesn't it follow that the UN should back Ethiopia's efforts to defend that government?

Two, the story notes that the Islamofascists are calling on foreign Muslims to come join the "holy war," and hundreds -- or more -- have already done so.

Boy, doesn't this sound a lot like Iraq? And we're told repeatedly by U.S. liberal intellectuals that the ONLY reason these Islamofascist killers are killing people in Iraq is because the U.S. is there. Everything would be find if the U.S. just left and stopped attracting them to Iraq and riling them up.

Is the U.S. in Somalia?


Gosh, it still must be Bush's fault, isn't it? It couldn't be that there really is an evil movement of international Muslim fascist terrorism -- like Bush claims -- could it?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Merry Holiday

Here's another installment in the war between "Christmas" and "Holiday." The St. Paul Pioneer Press yesterday -- Christmas Day -- couldn't figure out what it wanted to do. The front page had a nice banner proclaiming "Merry Christmas." So it seemed that the paper was OK with the notion that December 25 is in fact a national holiday called "Christmas." I was glad to see that.

But inside, on the front page of the paper's "Daily Life" section, was a holiday activity for us. There was a maze, with the goal being to help Santa Claus get down the chimney to the stockings by the fireplace. And what headline was used here?

"Have an amazing holiday."

Why not an "amazing Christmas"? It's Santa. It's December 25. How is "Christmas" not appropriate? How is it, in fact, not a more precise -- and better -- choice? That is really bizarre.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Strange Bedfellows, Redux

More political correctness run amok...

Just two years ago, the city of Minneapolis appointed a new fire chief. Notable was that the new chief was a woman. I noticed from the new chief's picture in the paper that she looked quite "butch," and then there are those stereotypes about women firefighters... but I told myself not to think like that, and besides, what business was it of mine, anyway?

Well, it turned out that the new chief became a cause celebré, and the St. Paul Pioneer Press had a feature story about how the new chief was a lesbian, and how wonderful that was. I wrote about that at the time, asking who was more "open minded" and "tolerant," me -- who said it was none of my business and irrelevant -- or the mainstream media -- which insisted on making a BIG DEAL out of the new chief's sexual orientation?

Now two years have gone by, and fire chief Bonnie Bleskachek is in the news again. Actually, she's been in the news quite a bit, for quite a while. She has been accused repeatedly of improper conduct -- sexual and otherwise -- toward her subordinates. The most recent news is that she has "accepted" a demotion, but won't be fired. Read the story in the Pioneer Press, and you'll wonder how that can be. Any middle-aged, white, heterosexual male facing these sorts of charges would be fired, sued, and maybe neutered. But Minneapolis' boy mayor R.T. Rybak fears there might be a lawsuit if Bleskachek is fired, and he doesn't know if the city would win.

Among the many charges is that Bleskachek THREE TIMES was naked in a hot tub when department employees were present. Another time, she was seen "making out" with an employee on the floor of a fire station workout room.

This is amazing. She can't be fired? Is there a lower standard for lesbians? Apparently. This is totally ridiculous.

But what I also find interesting, is that while the Pioneer Press "celebrated" Bleskachek's sexual orientation when she got the job, the paper now seems to downplay it when reporting this story. Even though it is now an integral part of the story.

Political correctness can come back and bite you in the butt.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Strange Bedfellows

I've been told by a certain someone from Hopkins that this item isn't worthy of inclusion in his editorial realm. Harumph! He suggested it was more worthy of Downing World, which I think might be a put-down. Well, I found it amusing. So there.

My Saturday Pioneer Press had a photo of Donald Rumsfeld, looking dejected and rejected, under the headline "Parting thoughts." Immediately adjacent was a story headlined, "Bush supportive of Cheney Pregnancy."

I've always heard that politics makes strange bedfellows, but this looks like the strangest love triangle ever.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Workers Need to Follow the Work

I'd like to link a couple of things here today.

First, consider that we've all heard repeatedly that members of certain segments of society, living in certain areas, face grim prospects for their futures, because they can't afford to go to college, and there aren't any "good jobs," just "burger flipping" jobs available to them. As a result, apologists say, it's only natural that so many people turn to a life or crime or perpetual welfare dependence. The solution, they say, is more government spending on education, and government efforts to created jobs for people in these locations.

Now, consider last week's immigration raids on meat packing plants. According to this story in the Pioneer Press, the raids could be crippling for the Swift plant in Worthington, Minn., because the plant depends so heavily on immigrant workers. The story reports that the plant has difficulty finding workers, as it is in an area of low unemployment.

We've all heard the stereotype that cheap, immigrant labor is being exploited by greedy American capitalists, who pay minimum wage -- or even less! Is that the case in Worthington? Are the greedy Swift Co. executives exploiting their immigrant workers? Are they relying on immigrants so that they don't have to pay reasonable wages?

It doesn't look like it to me. The news story says that these packing plant employees -- hired unskilled and without advanced education -- make $9 to $12 an hour. That sounds like good pay for unskilled work to me. No wonder people are willing to make such efforts to enter the U.S. and take such work.

So my question is, Why don't people in "disadvantaged," bullet-riddled locations such as North Minneapolis simply move to Worthington and take on honest work? The cost of living is lower outside the Twin Cities, too.

Sure, there are barriers to relocating. Relocating may cost money. People have to know about the jobs. Extended family may have to be left behind. But if people in another country -- people who can't even speak English -- can learn about such jobs and find their way to Worthington, why can't someone who has been born in this country, speaks English, and has benefited from the American education system?

I think if you can identify an honest answer to that question, you'll have the first step toward actually helping people trapped in a culture of poverty and crime.

When did we decide that people are entitled to have jobs brought to them? People used to go where the work was. Indeed, most of us, if we haven't ourselves relocated to follow the work (as I did, though only about 60 miles), live where we do because an ancestor was seeking work or business opportunities there. That includes those of us Minnesotans of European ancestry, whose forebears came here to farm, or work in the iron mines or flour mills.

Now we see a new wave of immigrants -- both legal and otherwise -- making their way to places like Worthington (population 11,000) in search of honest work. It's the same old story. Meanwhile, the descendants of the original iron ore miners, for instance, demand that the government bring their region some new jobs when the mines shut down.

The perils of immigration seem to make immigrants a self-selecting group of hard-working, ambitious people, willing to do whatever it takes. But once here, the ease of American life makes their descendants soft.

Friday, December 15, 2006

We Need a Vice Senator

No, not that kind of vice. We've got plenty of those already. What I'm thinking is that we need someone to step in when a U.S. Senator is incapacitated.

This thought is brought on, of course, by the current speculation over the future of South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson. Johnson, in case you've been living under a rock, is critically ill after surgery to treat bleeding in his brain. If he were removed from office or died, South Dakota's Republican governor could appoint a Republican to replace the Democrat Johnson, putting the Senate split at 50/50, and giving Republicans the deciding vote (for two years, anyway) from Vice President Dick Cheney. But according to what I've been reading, only the Senate can unseat a member. The voters or governor can't do it. And the Senate is loathe to do so. There are several examples of Senators "serving" in name only after becoming incapacitated. Of course, with all of their staff, I'm sure they can cover a lot of their responsibilities even if physically unable to be in the building very often.

What bothers me the most is the idea that the seat "belongs" to the Senator. It doesn't. It belongs to the voters. So if a Senator can't serve, he should resign. But according to associate Senate historian Don Ritchie, "The Senate is a family, as well as a club. There's a real sense of sticking together."

Ouch! If that doesn't show something wrong in our government, what does? Senators owe their allegiance to their states' voters, not to each other. It's not difficult to be cynical about Ritchie's quote.

So, if a Senator is incapacitated, the concern shouldn't be about whether he loses "his" seat. Our concern should be that his state's voters are still being represented. And politics shouldn't get in the way. We don't need to pretend that someone in a coma is still "serving" just to prevent the other party from gaining political advantage.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Sky Is Always Falling

I've been thinking about how some people always must have something to worry about. Some people seem to always have to worry about some apocalyptic scenario which will bring about the end of the world as we know it. And I'm not talking about something from the Book of Revelation.

Currently, it's GLOBAL WARMING. That apocalyptic fear is accompanied by Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," along with other works of fiction depicting polar ice caps melting, rising sea levels, and other disasters, all produced by wealthy Hollywood liberals who jet around in private planes burning huge amounts of fossil fuels.

The fear of an environmental apocalypse seems to have replaced the fear of nuclear annihilation. Back in 1983, we had the made-for-TV movie "The Day After" to help convince us of that danger. Oddly, we're still here.

Before that, we had the Malthusian fears of Paul Ehrlich's "Population Bomb," first published in 1968. (This was also the era when we feared the "coming ice age.") Of course, since then, the Earth's population has doubled, and there's enough food to go around, it's just a matter of distribution and paying for it. Famine world wide has been reduced; it hasn't soared as Ehrlich predicted.

What was the fear before that? I think it was the original nuclear scare. The Russians were going to get us with their H-bombs, so school kids were trained to hide beneath their desks.

You know what I'm noticing here? All of these apocalyptic scares seem to peak while Republicans are in the White House! It's as though some people are so upset when their guy is not in charge, they have to get themselves all worked up about something they can blame the Republican for!

So just wait. If a Democrat wins the White House in 2008, global warming will fall off of the radar. All we'll hear about it is how the incumbent Democrat has fixed it, and happy days are here again. It'll be the new economy, sex, and rock and roll again.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Pot and the Kettle

The world is appalled that crackpots and Iranians are gathered in Tehran to deny that the Holocaust happened. This includes American KKK member and politician David Duke. (I guess birds of a sheet flock together. Think about it.)

Meanwhile, there's no shortage of people -- including UN head Kofi Annan -- willing to deny the genocide of Saddam Hussein, in order to blame President Bush for making Iraqis worse off.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Joe Biden and the Hood

Some of you may believe that there is something called "liberal media bias." I used to think that, too, before I was set straight. Only conservatives think there is such a thing. Liberals say there is not, as does the mainstream media. So there you have it, the returns are in. By a 2-1 margin, it has been ruled that there is no such creature as liberal media bias. You can't argue with a mandate like that, can you?

Nonetheless, let's speak hypothetically for a bit. If liberal media bias did indeed exist, this might be an example of it:

Syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker last week wrote a column about how Sen. Joe Biden is embarrassing himself by "playing redneck" and trying to woo Southern votes in pursuit of the White House. Parker notes that Biden has been invoking the spectre of slavery to try to win political points.

His first reference came during an interview last summer with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. Wallace asked Biden how a "Northeastern liberal" could compete in conservative Southern states against someone like former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner -- at the time a possible contender.

Biden replied: "My state was a slave state. My state is a border state. My state has the eighth-largest black population in the country." Well, yee-haw!

Example number two:

Biden's second testimonial as a born-again Southerner came last week while he was visiting South Carolina. Speaking before Columbia's mostly Republican Rotary Club, Biden reminded his audience of his slave-state heritage and hinted that Delaware's alliance with the North was merely an accident of geography.

Delaware was a "slave state that fought beside the North," he said. "That's only because we couldn't figure out how to get to the South. There were a couple of states in the way."

Are we to infer that Biden is pro-slavery? Parker notes:

Of course no one seriously thinks that Biden was touting slavery. More likely he was trying to say something friendly to his audience, as in: "I may be from a state north of here, but I love South Carolina, and I'll say any fool thing to get your vote."

I agree. We shouldn't infer that Biden is stumping for slavery. Rather, he's sucking up to his audience,the way politicians do. Pile it higher and deeper; it's just political B.S.

But there seems to be a double standard here. The only place I've heard about Biden's comments is in this column, and the columnist isn't even calling Biden racist, just foolish. I've seen no other news coverage of Biden's comments.

But remember Trent Lott? Just four years ago, the then-Senate minority leader got into political hot water while speaking at a tribute to Sen. Strom Thurmond. Using very poorly-chosen words, Lott said that the country would have been better off if Thurmond had been elected president back in 1948.

Immediately, there were cries of outrage. Lott was endorsing segregation, his critics claimed, because at the time Thurmond had represented segregationist forces.

I think that's reading too much into it. Lott never intended to imply that. He was simply piling it higher and deeper, adding to the already considerable pile of political B.S. and praise being heaped upon the elderly Senator, who was being feted upon his 100th birthday, and in honor of his overdue retirement.

This "scandal" resulted in continuous news coverage until Lott resigned his leadership post.

But Biden? I guess if he says something stupid, it's OK. He can just go right on campaigning for the presidency.

You have to wonder, what if a Republican had said exactly the same things Biden said?

Friday, December 8, 2006

It's Elementary: Presidential Election Disputed

We've got another presidential election brouhaha. This time, it's over the student council presidency in a St. Paul suburb.

Roseville sixth-grader Jasmine White won the election, but her opponent cried foul. Jasmine had passed out custom fortune cookies containing her campaign message, and the parents of her opponent lodged a protest about her buying the election. Jasmine had gotten pre-approval of her campaign tactic from the student council adviser, but the principal decided to overrule that decision after the election had taken place.

For all I care, the school could rule her the legitimate winner, or it could disqualify her. I don't give a rip. But what really riles me is the way the school "solved" this problem: They left it up to all the candidates in the race, who declared the two candidates "co-presidents." According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Central Park Elementary Principal Florence Odegard explained it thusly:

"The kids learned that things are not perfect," Odegard said, and that when problems arise the challenge is to "come together and find a solution that's not going to divide us."

I beg to differ. That's not what they learned. They learned that no one ever loses. They learned that you should expect to be able to make everything perfect. What they didn't learn was that sometimes things don't go your way, sometimes there are controversies, someone wins, someone loses, you take you lumps and accept it. You need to establish the rules and stick to them. That's a "life lesson" they could have learned from this.

I fear we're not far from this mentality when it comes to elections that mean something. In the past two presidential elections, the losing side refused to accept defeat, and the media played right into their hands, treating the losing candidate like some sort of "co-president" for some time afterward. (Maybe still.)

If the 2000 election is replayed in the near future, I can imagine the Democrats, as a last resort, proposing a "co-presidency." I really can.

OK, maybe not. They'd never recognize a Republican "co-president." But what about in a different race, one with two self-described "progressives" or "greens"? What if two of these neo-comms were in a disputed race for say, Minneapolis city council? I can imagine the other leftists on the council "solving" the problem by seating both candidates.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

65 Years Ago Today: Attack on Pearl Harbor. Don't Forget.

Make the Minimum Wage $1,000, and We'll All Be Rich

Ed Lotterman had a good column today about the lunacy of minimum price laws. The topic was spurred by the current controversy over whether Wal-Mart and Target can sell prescription drugs here in Minnesota for $4, or if that violates state laws against retailers selling below their cost.

It's a good column. Give it a read.

But I want to write about an idea I had while reading the column. An idea about the BIG PICTURE.

I think this is an example of the evolution of what I'm going to call "free market socialism."

We don't really want to take care of ourselves. For a long time, people have demanded that government or our employers provide for us. Government provides because we are its citizens. Employers provide because we are their employees.

But here's a new development. In an area -- providing cheap prescription drugs -- where many people have not been satisfied with what either the government or employers have been doing, there is a new player. Big retailers have decided to step in and provide for us because we are their CUSTOMERS.

Citizens. Employees. Customers. All people needing to be taken care of.

What exactly is Target's motivation? How altruistic is Wal-Mart being? I don't know. But does it matter?

The giant retailers, on their own, have decided they will act to solve a problem their customers are having. They don't need to make money on the drugs, they probably figure, just as long as people keep coming into their stores and buying other goods. I'm sure they're hoping they'll gain new customers, too.

In a way, it's like socialism. These businesses are so large that pretty much everyone spends money at them. So they are earning money from all of us -- some more than others, just like taxes -- and then returning a benefit to everyone -- again, not necessarily in proportion to what has been paid in.

It's sort of a redistribution of wealth, performed under the capitalist system. Isn't that an interesting way to look at it?

Of course, while consumers benefit, there are losers. Those would be the independent druggists who have to make money on prescriptions, because they don't sell lawn mowers and bicycles and socks and TVs. This move by Target and Wal-Mart is another blow against them.

But you can't have it both ways. Target and Wal-Mart can very efficiently distribute drugs as a loss leader. If we value inexpensive prescription drugs, then we will have to embrace developments such as this.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Four Legs Good, Two Legs... Ahh, Who Cares

Syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker has a very interesting column this week about "the elephant and the embryo." The timing is good, because it goes well with something I recently heard on the radio.

Parker writes about a soon-to-be-released national Geographic documentary called "In the womb: Animals." The film uses 3-D, computer-enhanced ultrasound scans to show mammal embryos in the womb, acting, Parker writes, much like baby animals act outside of the womb.

Parker suggests that this could be the best PR yet for the anti-abortion movement. Why? Because while people can make themselves pretend that a human fetus is not really human, people can't resist baby animals.

(It's true. Here in St. Paul this year there was a big fuss about some no-good jerk who killed some puppies in a parking lot and threw them into a trash bin. He was brought up on charges. I thought it would have been a really great story had he thrown them into the bin behind the abortion clinic. Maybe some of the staff who worked there would have seen it, and they could have been quoted telling us how "barbaric" the perpetrator was. Oh well, that much irony is too much to expect. But I can dream.)

The second part of this is that I recently heard a radio spot on behalf of doing medical research on animals. I don't know whether it was a paid ad or a public service announcement, but it sought to convince us of the value of using animals for medical testing by telling the story of a patient whose life had been saved by such research. The twist was that the patient was not a man or a woman, but a racehorse.

So, we were told, animal research doesn't just save human lives, it saves animals lives, too.

Good grief! That they would make that spot tells us one thing: They think there are people out there who won't be swayed by the idea of saving human lives, but will be swayed by the prospect of saving animal lives.

Sure supports what Parker has to say.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

U.S. Could Learn from Saddam?

Saw something interesting Monday night on ABC's "Nightline." The reporter was visiting with a former Iraqi government official. The reporter had met this official, who served as his "handler," years ago when he visited Iraq. As I understood it, the official said at that time that he hated Saddam, but of course he couldn't say that publicly.

They showed video of a conversation with the same official when Saddam was defeated more than three years ago. In that video, the official expressed his joy that Saddam had been removed from power, and expressed his gratefulness to the U.S. for doing so.

Now, let's go ahead to today. How does he feel now?

He'd like to see Saddam back in power.

That's how bad it is in Iraq right now. They can't stop themselves from killing each other, so apparently they'd rather have Saddam stopping them by doing the killing himself.

The former official said that a strong leader was needed to control the country. Logically, then, the U.S. should help Iraq by acting more like Saddam acted. You know, just round some people up and shoot them. Maybe that will get the message out. Yet when U.S. soldiers "go too far" and embarrass people at a prison by putting hoods on their heads and such, the world acts as though it's genocide.

If Iraq "needs" ruthlessness, but the U.S. can't do hardly anything, then what chance is there for success?

Americans aren't supposed to be dying so that Iraqis can kill each other. If that's what they want, let them do that without our help. The idea was that we would release the Iraqi people from the oppression of Saddam, and they could live happily ever after in peace. But there's a fatal flaw in the plan. They don't seem to want to live in peace.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Help the Sal / Book Show Runs Through Sunday

Don't miss your chance to shop for great children's books online, and support the Salvation Army at the same time. Did I mention I'll kick back in my commission, too, making even more free books we can deliver to the Sal? Click here for more info and to get shopping! THIS OPPORTUNITY LASTS THROUGH Sunday, Dec. 10.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Peace? Them's Fighting Words!

It came home from the elementary school, a "certificate of appreciation" thanking us for contributing to the "Fall Fun Raiser" ($$$). (Interesting how they are perfectly willing to make money off of Halloween, but they won't use the name. Just like all the merchants banking on making money off of Christmas shopping, but they won't say "Christmas. We are truly a society dedicated to having things both ways.)

The certificate is decorated with various little symbols and phrases. "Theaters of learning." "Caring." "Multiple intelligences." "Do your personal best."

But it's this one that rubs me the wrong way: "Peace."

That has bugged me for a long time, the way "peace" gets thrown about at the school. Why? Am I in favor of war and violence and mayhem? Of course not. So why does it bug me so? Why was I put-off by the "peace garden" and the school song about "piece by peace we build our community"?

Part of it is that my kids were already at peace with everyone else when they started at the school. It was only the school, telling them they should all live in peace even if they have different colored skin, for example, that gave them the idea that people might not be expected to live in peace in the first place, and would have to work at it.

That's part of it. But I think the main reason "peace" bugs me so much is that it is really code for so much more. It's a code word that represents an entire left-wing political agenda.

Don't believe me? Imagine if I went to one of these liberal-dominated parent/teacher organization meetings and told them I objected to "peace." They'd think I was a nut. Or at least some sort of evil, mean-spirited right-wing fanatic. Worse yet, maybe even a Republican. How could anyone be "against" peace.

So how could I explain why their use of "peace" bothered me? Was there a similar word or phrase to which they would object in the same way? I thought about it, and I think I found it:

Family values.

How would the liberals like to have "family values" in the school song, or in multiple languages on a "family values" pole in a "family values garden"?

They wouldn't like it at all. But why? Are they opposed to family values? Don't they like parents and children and families?

They wouldn't like it because they would say that "family values" is political code for a right-wing agenda. And they'd be right. To a large extent, it has become exactly that. In the same way, "peace" represents a left-wing political agenda.

But notice how only one of these agendas gets supported by our tax money.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Neo Con

Do you know anyone who describes himself as a "neo-con"? Me neither.

The term seems to be used only by people who wish to describe others, and in a negative way.

It seems to be merely an insult.

The Pioneer Press letters section yesterday contained two "neo-con"-bashing letters. I found one (the last one, "Don't blame liberals") particularly interesting, as it blamed Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and the state's other "neo-cons" for legislation affirming a citizen's Second Amendment right to bear arms. Is Pawlenty a "neo-con"? Are gun-carry permits a "neo-con" issue?

In response, I penned this:

What is a "neo-con"? Who are the "neo-cons"? I don't know.

I thought the term was coined to refer to adherents of a certain foreign policy philosophy. But it quickly seems to have become just another derogatory term Democrats use to refer to all Republicans. A recent letter writer blames "neo-cons" for state legislation designed to shore-up citizens' Second Amendment rights. I'd associate that position with "classical liberals."

Are "neo-cons" merely "classical liberals"?

I don't know.

Is Governor Pawlenty a "neo-con," as the letter writer asserts? Is President Bush a "neo-con"? Is Nancy Pelosi a "neo-con"? The Pope? Santa Claus?

Am I a "neo-con"? Who knows? I don't.

Decades ago, the right called those with different ideas "communists," and we had the "Red Scare." Now that the Democrats are back on top in Congress, will we have a "Neo-con Scare"? What color is a "neo-con"?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Meet "Dave the Book Guy"

It's about time I tell you about my new business venture. Now that pumpkin season has passed and I'm done being the pumpkin guy until next fall, I'm revving up my new identity as "Dave the Book Guy." Read on to learn about my new venture, and how you can help benefit the Salvation Army while you do your holiday shopping.

This fall I signed up as an independent sales rep for Usborne Books. Usborne is a children's book publisher based in London. It was started about 30 years ago by Peter Usborne, who at the time had been publishing a British humor and satire magazine, but decided with the impending birth of his first child that there could be no higher calling than to publish quality books for children.

Being an Anglophile and a fan of British humor, I thought this must be the company for me.

I first learned about the opportunity this fall at the Minnesota State Fair. My 10-year-old son and I were attracted to a booth displaying children's books. He became engrossed in books about gladiators and warriors. I was pleasantly surprised to see many books dealing with stories of adventure, heroes and World War II.

Those sorts of books struck me as politically incorrect in the present day, zero-tolerance environment of the public schools. Of course, they were also the sort of books that kids -- boys, especially -- would actually want to read!

So I started asking questions about the publisher, and I learned about Usborne. The company has had a U.S. division for about 20 years. Books are sold by independent sales reps through a variety of channels. There are home book parties, where the host invites friends and earns free books for herself or himself. There are school and library sales. There are school book fairs and reading incentive programs, that earn books and/or money for schools. There is a 50% grant matching program for donated books. And there are sales directly through the web.

I did my research and decided to sign on. I thought it might be fun, and it would be another venture to add to my eclectic workload.

So I'm kicking things off with an extra incentive to get you to look at my Usborne website as part of your holiday shopping. I've set up an "e-show" for the next two weeks. (This is a way for someone to earn free books by encouraging their friends to order online. And I can set one up for YOU, so that you can earn free books, too.) But I'm making the Salvation Army the "host" of the show, so that your purchases will earn free books that I will deliver to the Salvation Army here in St. Paul. I hope to be able to earn free books equal to about 30% of your purchases. But in order to make the percentage that high, I'll have to close the show Sunday, Dec. 10, before my introductory incentive period expires. But that's OK, because any orders placed by then will easily be delivered prior to Christmas. (And they should be delivered in time for Hanukkah, too. Shipping takes only a few days.) Each order will be shipped directly to you at the time of your order, so the earlier you place your order, the earlier you will get your books.

To participate in the "e-show" and earn free books for the Salvation Army, make sure you are ordering specifically through that "e-show." To do that, use this URL-- http://www.ubah.com/HOS75161

So won't you check out my site? I haven't counted them all, but I'm told there are more than 1,300 books and related products to be found there. (Check out the "Kid Kits," which are books packaged with materials for a related activity.) And no, they aren't all about guys with swords or guns, that's just what caught my eye. There are plenty of books about princesses and fairies, too. Most are non-fiction, and some are thorough enough to be used as textbooks.

So just click here to start browsing and shopping. And get those orders in by Dec. 10. I'll try to keep you posted as orders come in, letting you know how many dollars worth of books have been earned for the Sal.

Usborne has books for kids from babies to teens. If you search keywords like "dinosaurs" or "trains," you'll find something of special interest to the young ones you are shopping for. If you'd like some help, here are some suggestions:

"The Complete Book of Farmyard Tales" #509029 This is adorable. It's a hardbound volume of 20 of the separate "Farmyard Tales" books, complete with a CD of an Englishman reading them out loud! The child can follow along with the CD, read it by himself or herself, or have it read to them. These stories feature Usborne's "dual reading level," with the story told both in simpler "headlines," and in more detail at the bottom of each page. This is a good way for beginning readers to share the task with an adult. And every page features Stephen Cartwright's famous little yellow duck, hidden somewhere in the scene for the child to find. All this, and it's only $24.95.

In a similar vein, "The Complete Book of Bible Stories" #041454 also includes a read-along CD and dual-reading level. Sorry, no yellow duck. Just stories from both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Also just $24.95.

Recommended for ages 3 and up is "There's a Mouse About the House!" #101540 This is Usborne's number one seller! The hands-on book lets the child move a cardboard mouse through a slot on each page, which moves the mouse's adventure along into the next room of the house. Many flaps to lift and reveal surprises, too. $10.95.

For ages eight and up, check out "The Usborne Official Knight's Handbook," #511368 or "Princess Handbook." #513298 Along with plenty of good humor, a child can learn what it takes to achieve knighthood or how to act like a proper princess. These hardcover books are $12.99, and bear the seal of British Heritage, the agency that protects oversees British historical affairs.

For older kids (or yourself), check out the True Adventure series of chapbooks. For example: "True Stories of D-Day," "True Stories of Gangsters," "True Spy Stories," "True Stories of Pirates," "True Escape Stories," "True Stories of the Second World War." Got your interest yet? $4.99 in paperback.

Thanks for sticking with me this long. Remember, use this URL http://www.ubah.com/HOS75161 so that the Salvation Army earns free books with your order. Click the "enter bookstore" button, and you should see this at the top of the page:

If you have any questions or difficulties, email me.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Gift Cards Show Difference Between Left and Right

A story this week offers a good illustration of the difference in political philosophies between the left and the right. A group of Democrat Minnesota legislators on Wednesday held a press conference to announce that they will introduce legislation to protect consumers from "ripoff" gift cards.

I agree wholeheartedly with the lawmakers that some store gift cards carry conditions that make them not such a good deal for the consumer. For instance, why should a gift card lose value as the months go by? Why should it expire? The gift card is in essence an interest-free loan made to the merchant, from the purchaser. What do they care how long it takes someone to redeem it? The longer the better, as far as they are concerned.

As an analogy, consider what would happen if you took out a (no-interest) loan from the bank, and managed to sneak it by the bank that the longer you went without paying the loan, the less of it you would have to pay back. Furthermore, if you waited long enough, you wouldn't have to pay it back at all. What would happen? The bank would call that loan and demand repayment at once. The bank would also make sure it didn't happen again.

And that's just what consumers should do. If you get a gift card that loses value over time, then use it up before then. And if you don't like those terms, then don't be a buyer of such gift cards.

My point is that I don't need the government to "protect" me from gift cards. I learned years ago -- from reading gift card fine print as well as from news stories -- that it's "buyer beware" when purchasing and using gift cards. I don't need the government to protect me from myself.

So I don't want to see my tax dollars being used up in an effort to do for me something that I can do for myself. Build me a road. Protect the borders. Improve the schools. If you can't find something productive to do with the taxes I pay, then let me keep more of my own money! But I don't need the government to protect me from gift cards.

Friday, November 24, 2006

What About Saddam's Scorecard?

The media this week are all excited to report that, according to the UN, the last month in Iraq has been the most deadly for civilians since the U.S. invasion.

They love to keep score. Every soldier killed. Every civilian killed.

Where were they while Saddam was in power? The UN and the American Mainstream Media didn't seem very concerned with keeping count of everyone Saddam killed. Did we ever hear of a monthly civilian death toll under Saddam's regime? Where do you think those mass graves came from?

Come to think of it, why don't the media keep a running total of people killed by Al-Qaeda? When a bomb goes of somewhere, they never say, "This brings to (however many thousands) the total civilian deaths since the inception of Al-Qaeda."

While the media want to imply that the U.S. is somehow killing Iraqi civilians, you must remember it's Al-Qaeda and their ilk causing death in Iraq.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Diversity Group Says, "Your Kind Not Welcome Here."

Twin Cities Diversity in Practice, a group formed by Twin Cities law firms in an effort to lure more minority attorneys to the state, has excluded a firm that handled two U.S. Supreme Court cases challenging affirmative action. The Pioneer Press reported Thursday:

The group's leaders said letting the Minneapolis law firm of Maslon, Edelman, Borman & Brand join the effort would hamper its mission: to make the bar more racially diverse.

"Would this law firm participating in our effort help or hinder us to do what we are trying to do?" said B. Todd Jones, the group's co-chairman and a former U.S. attorney. "We already have a challenge getting people to come to the Great White North."

Ironically, MEB&B was started about 50 years ago by four Jewish lawyers who found they couldn't get hired at other firms. (Minneapolis is known for a history of anti-Semitism. Now they've elected radical Muslim Keith Ellison to represent them in Congress. Hmmm.)

(Since this brouhaha is about race, I think it's relevant to tell you that from the photos that appear with the print version of the story, B. Todd Jones -- the excluder -- appears to be black. Kirk Kolbo -- the excluded -- appears to be white.)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

American Taliban Communists (That About Sums It Up)

We have some people in St. Paul who really oppose development. Private development, at least. And they seem to have trouble understanding the concept of private property.

The Ford Motor Company plant in St. Paul is scheduled for closure. The "community activists" are lining up to fight over what they think we should do to redevelop the site. They seem to forget that Ford Motor Company might have plans of its own.

Regarding the Ford Plant, today's St. Paul Pioneer Press opinion page features a scary anti-capitalism column about redeveloping the site. Is this still America? Or have we let the Taliban take over? Read it to see what I mean.

The authors are really concerned that someone -- Ford even -- might make money off of the site. The horror! Note how they explain to us simpletons that Ford or another developer doesn't DESERVE to reap profits from the land, because the value of the land is created by the "community."

Oh, and here I thought Ford built a plant with its own money in what was previously undeveloped land, and brought good jobs and property tax payments to St. Paul for 80 years. Now the company is down on its luck, and hopes to make the best of a bad situation by recouping some of its investment. Turns out I was wrong. Ford was just a bloodsucking leech, exploiting the proletariat.

Yes, these two are basically communists, when you get right down to it. They think the wealth should belong to the "community," not to the evil capitalists, who shouldn't be allowed to make "windfall" profits, as arbitrarily measured by these two. And they want the government to essentially seize the wealth of the evil corporation, and give it to the "community." Isn't that communism?

Here's an excerpt:

The value of land is created not by individuals, but by the growth in population and wealth of the surrounding community and by the community's investments in public services and infrastructure. Land value taxation recaptures community-created value for the needs of the community while providing an incentive to put sites to their highest and best use.

Oh, I forgot to mention the Central Planning. I can see the May Day parade now.

And note who the authors represent: a group of 80 churches! What ever happened to the separation of church and state? It doesn't apply to left-wingers, I guess. And they are specifically calling for laws to be passed! I wonder what they would think if someone proposed limiting "windfall" donations that churches receive, by eliminating the tax deduction for donations to churches. That would provide more money for the "community," which could be served by more tax revenue and more government spending. Wouldn't they like that?

I don't think so. They'd squeal pretty loudly if someone proposed that. And what would they squeal? "Separation of church and state!"

It boils down to this: The authors advocate the idea that decisions about the use of private property should be made by the government, at the behest of religious groups.

Is this America? Or an Islamafascist country? It's getting harder and harder to tell.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Safety In Numbers

Here's an interesting story from the Sunday Pioneer Press, about a celebrated security expert who lives right here in the Twin Cities. Bruce Schneier knows about computer security and airline security, but what really hit home with me was what he said about keeping kids safe from "strangers":

"A lot of what I do is (analyze) risk," he said. "And risk is math."

Consider, for example, the risk faced by a lost child. Schneier says the safest strategy is for the child to pick out the nearest nice-looking stranger and ask for help.

That's the math part. By making the kid choose the stranger, and not the other way around, Schneier says the odds are that the child will pick someone who will help him. If he waits for an adult to help him, he's increased the odds that the adult is a predator who has targeted him.

"When was the last time you talked to a stranger and got mugged by him?" he asked rhetorically. "People are basically good. If that were not true, society would have fallen apart a long time ago."

I agree. That jibes with something I've long said, that by teaching children to be afraid of everyone, we're depriving them of people who can help them. By removing all the "good" strangers, we're reducing the equation to just the child and the "bad stranger." We're leaving the child on his or her own to fend off the danger. That doesn't make sense.

Now, why don't I have Schneier's millions? It must be a math thing.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

You Can't Have It Both Ways

People need to be told that over and over. But it doesn't sink in. They think the rules should change so that they always get what they want.

That's what I thought of when I read this story in the paper today. Some "educational assistants" and "teaching aides" have lost their jobs with the St. Paul schools because they can't meet certain standards specified under the federal No Child Left Behind Law.

"They're being shut out of their employment now because they don't fit into the little slot that says you have to pass this test to work with these kids," said Terri Ellisen, business agent for the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, which represents educational assistants. "What they bring can't be measured in a test."

That may be. But then let's be consistent. Let's apply that thinking to teachers, as well. Why should someone have to fit into the "little slot" of being a licensed, union teacher to teach in the public schools? Why can't we hire experienced, knowledgeable people from the community to teach certain classes, maybe part time and at a savings to the district? The teachers union isn't going to go for that, is it? They want it both ways: Be all for standards when they protect the jobs of union members; dismiss the importance of standards when they threaten the jobs of union members.

Yep, that's human nature.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Stupid Life

My daily paper includes a "LIFE" magazine supplement on Fridays. It doesn't try to be much. It's a real journalistic lightweight. Lots of celebrity news and the sort. Still, it's really sad that something like this pretends to be the once-proud "LIFE" magazine of the past. Maybe they should have renamed it. Say... "CORPSE" or "ZOMBIE."

Be that as it may, it doesn't excuse them from at least getting their lightweight facts rights. Today's edition has a cover story about childhood homes. Included are some sidebar "factoids" about houses. This one supports my contention that news people should not be allowed to work with numbers:

"Median home prices seem to have soared: from $7,400 (1950) to $62,000 (1980) to $219,000 (2005). But since 1968, those gains equal less than 2 percent a year, after inflation."

Oh, is that right? Only 2 percent a year, huh? For what? Fifty-five years? Fifty-five years, times two percent a year... that's 110 percent! And that doesn't even allow for compounding. So in real dollars, the median house has more than doubled in price!

And they report that it only seems like the price has increased significantly!

(They also report that over the same time period, the "average" house increased in size from 1,100 square feet to 2,434 square feet. So the average house size more than doubled, keeping in sync with the median house price, right? Actually, we don't know that, because "average" and "median" are not comparable terms.)

Here's a second example, from a few weeks back (Oct. 17). The cover story was an interview with three female celebrities. Maybe I should be ashamed to admit to you that I browsed over it, but I did. And I found this interesting exchange with actress Sarah Jessica Parker:

LIFE: So how, with everything that you have, do you give your children a social consciousness -- teach them to be good citizens of the world?

SJP: "Two things in our house that I think about daily: Number one, lead by example. When your kids see you read the newspaper they think, Wow, my parents read. Reading is fun. It's a way to learn stuff. Number two, we talk. We talk about the world, we talk about Katrina, we talk about Bush. We talk about stuff because that's what my parents did. For all the mistakes my parents, I'm sure, are certain they made, they made me think about the world."

Did you catch that? They "talk about Bush." Not, "We talk about the role of the President within our Constitutional system," or "We talk about the United States' place in the world, and how our current President is leading us." No, it's personal. They "talk about Bush." (Not even "President Bush.") And when they talk about Hurricane Katrina, what do you suppose is the focus of that talk? Me to. I'm guessing it's about how it's "Bush's" fault.

She's not teaching her kids how to learn, or how to think for themselves. She's not making her kids "think about the world," as she says her own parents do. She's indoctrinating them with her own hate and biases. Yet I'll bet she would describe herself as "progressive," "tolerant," and "open-minded."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Dirty Dancing Redux

School administrators in the Twin Cities are concerned about dirty dancing at school dances. The irony is, the dances that would meet with administrators' approval are probably the same dances that previous generations tried to ban.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Dems Maintain Status Quo, Trumpet It as a Victory

If it's true anywhere that "perception is reality," it would be in politics. A headline writer for the Pioneer Press fell into the trap recently with the headline "DFL itches to take out Coleman next." It suggests that DFL Senate winner Amy Klobuchar bumped a Republican from office, and helped the Democrats form a majority in the U.S. Senate.

That seems to be the way the Dems are spinning the story. And a lot of people are repeating it. But that's just not how it happened.

Just who did Klobuchar "take out"?

Klobuchar defeated Republican candidate Mark Kennedy -- a member of the U.S. House, not a sitting Republican Senator. (And the Republicans retained Kennedy's seat with a win by Michelle Bachmann.) With her victory, she takes over for the forgotten man -- incumbent Mark Dayton, another DFLer.

So simply put, Klobuchar's victory did not contribute to the change in Senate control, it merely maintained the status quo in Minnesota's Senate representation.

Only time will tell, but the change from Dayton to Klobuchar might even be a gain for Republicans. Dayton has become known as a liberal looney. Klobuchar, so far, is just a liberal.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The World Needs Editing

Here's a story for you to read. I know, you're pressed for time, your email inbox is overflowing, you've got a stack of stuff to read, and your voice mail is full. Just what you need, right, some blog linking to something more to take up your time.

I know where you're coming from. And so does the author of the linked story. The story is about information overload.

I thought this was a good opportunity to write about an idea that's been on my list for a couple of years. I've meant to flesh it out into some sort of essay, but haven't gotten around to it yet. My idea is that the world needs editing.

Thanks to technology, we're getting too much information. There used to be practical limits on how much information was given to us. Now, it's becoming almost unlimited.

In a newspaper, the editors have to decide what stories will fit, and how much about each story. But on its website, the newspaper can put more and more and more..... everything the reporter could come up with, along with background from the archives. Sure, it's useful if you're doing research, but you don't have time to read it all every day.

There's email. Send a message to one friend or 100, it's the same amount of work. Will so-and-so want to get this? Maybe. Might as well send it to everyone. Used to be, a person had to make multiple copies of a letter or make multiple phone calls, so there was an incentive to pare the list down to just the essential people. (That's why there is so much spam. Consider traditional direct mail advertising. Every piece that is mailed out has a cost, both in printing and postage. So the advertiser doesn't want to send out 100 million postcards if only one thousand people are potential customers. But the spammer has no such consideration limiting his reach. One thousand or 100 million junk emails -- it's all the same to him. It doesn't really cost any more.

Go back in time, and the harder and more expensive it was to record or pass on some information, the more selective people would be about what they recorded or passed on. When printing was a BIG DEAL and a major expense, people would be selective about what was printed. Now, everyone sits at their desks and doesn't just type memos to their co-workers, they "publish" everything and send it to everyone.

How about photos? When photography was in its infancy, it was expensive and time consuming. People were selective about what was photographed, and what photos were printed. Having additional prints made was expensive. Now, thanks to digital photography, people go on vacation, click off photo after photo, and then post ALL the shots on a web page and email ALL their friends telling them to take a look at ALL the photos. Sure, that can be great, but now there's no practical ($$$) limit giving people an incentive to edit their photo selections. Some people may want to look at all those photos -- and have time to do so -- but others might prefer if the photographer selected just a few photos of particular interest to share.

In music, you no longer have to decide which album you want to listen to on your Walkman. Now, you can load every song you've got onto your iPod. (And if you're downloading the songs for free, you don't even have to decide which ones you like enough to actually spend money on.)

How about movies? Movies have always been edited for length. Plenty of stuff ends up on the cutting room floor. But now, the movie comes out on DVD with "extras" and "restored deleted scenes." Sometimes, there are "alternate endings." The director now doesn't even really have to decide how the movie will end any more!

Finally, computers. We've got hard drives that are so huge, we can just download, copy and save EVERYTHING!

So that's why we've got information overload. The technology has eliminated the incentive, need,and sometimes even the opportunity to edit the information under which we are being buried.

Yes, the world needs editing.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Saddam Lesser of Two Evils?

I wrote Monday that saying the invasion of Iraq was a mistake is saying that you think that a genocidal maniac who has been sentenced to death for crimes against humanity should still be in charge there.

Either way, Iraq is a terrible place where lots of people die.

Does it come down to that? Is it really a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils?

Sometimes, that's the way it is in real life. I've written before about what I call my "Let's make a deal theory," which holds that no matter how much people would like it to be so, real life is not a game show. If you find the "zonk" behind door number 1, that doesn't mean that if you had chosen door number 2, you would have won a new car. In real life, there sometimes is no "winning" choice.

I think that's the way it is with Iraq. You can look at invading Iraq as a sin of commission, whereas not invading Iraq would have been a sin of omission. "At least we tried," the Bush administration can say, in contrast to the previous administration, which diddled while Rome burned.

I ask the question, "What if we had not invaded Iraq? What then?" Iraq had been an ongoing problem for a dozen years. George Bush didn't invent it. If we hadn't invaded three and a half years ago, what would we be doing now? My guess is, we'd still be fretting about what to do about Iraq, and blaming Bush for not doing something.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Maybe that's why Bill Clinton's strategies were "What, me worry?" and "Don't worry, be happy." Why deal with it today if you can put it off for another administration to get the blame?

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Take Down Those Signs

I took down the campaign signs in my yard at poll closing time Tuesday night. I think everyone should do that. When the voting is done, get rid of the signs. They've been there long enough.

As usual, none of my candidates won. I was 0-4. But I got to thinking about the options available to those who display signs, and what messages others might infer.

I figure there are four scenarios -- two if your guy wins and two if your guy loses. If your guy loses, as in my case, taking the signs down immediately may be interpreted by others as meaning I am ashamed that my guys lost, and don't want anyone to know that I backed them. I don't want people to think that. But on the other hand, if I leave the signs up, I may look like one of those people who refuses to accept the outcome of the election. (Like those people in St. Paul who still have WELLSTONE! signs up, FOUR YEARS after he died!)

If your guy wins and you leave the signs up, you risk looking like you are gloating and trying to rub the other guys' faces in it. So you risk sending the wrong message there, too.

The only safe option comes about if your guy wins and you take the signs down right away. That looks like humility. I hope some day I'll get a chance to be humble.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Voting Holiday? or Holiday from Voting?

I heard some people suggesting this week that election day should be a holiday. They seemed to think that some people aren't able to get to the polls on a Tuesday, and if the day were a holiday, more people would vote.

I think that's backwards, at least here in Minnesota.

If election day were a holiday, the first thing that would happen is there would be a push to move it to a Monday. Why? So we could have a three-day weekend, of course. If that didn't happen, we'd see lots of people taking four-day weekends, the way they do when Independence Day falls on a Tuesday. (If anyone ever suggests moving the Fourth of July to the first Monday in July.... the only thing worse would be moving Easter Sunday to a Monday!)

So, with Minnesotans going "up north" for one last fall weekend (the deer hunting opening weekend, too, coincidentally), we'd actually find fewer people home to make it to the polls. Yes, they could vote absentee. But can't someone who finds the present set-up inconvenient do that now?

In Minnesota, at least, the Monday Labor Day and Memorial Day holidays are travel days -- a day to drive home from the weekend "up north." For people who didn't go "up north," those Monday holidays are increasingly becoming days to shop the "holiday" sales. (What Memorial Day has to do with shopping, I don't know. And why should we expect all of those store clerks to have to work on Labor Day? Isn't that missing the point?)

Here's an example in support of what I'm saying. Traditionally, holidays have been big days for going to baseball games. Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and all that. But not in Minnesota. Not in 2006, anyway. The Minnesota Twins are loathe to schedule a home game on a holiday. They make sure they are on the road if at all possible. Why? Because they know that on a holiday they will draw a smaller crowd than normal, not the other way around. Minnesotans are too busy going somewhere or doing something to spend a few hours at a ball game on a holiday.

I think it would be the same way when it comes to voting.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Europe: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

With the election tomorrow, I'd better get to this. A while back, John Bendix wrote:

"I can see that you have opinions on all sorts of things, so here's a question for you: what role do you think Europe and Europeans play in the consciousness of American voters, particularly in light of the upcoming congressional elections?"

Thanks for the question. I didn't answer sooner, because I couldn't come up with anything profound. I guess in answering what role Europeans play in the American consciousness, I'd have to say "none."

Americans not only don't really care what Europeans think, the truth is we really don't know what Europeans think. But Americans will drag Europe into it if they think it will benefit their particular cause. They'll say "This is how they do it in Europe," for instance, if they want to spend billions on light rail trains. Or they'll claim that Europe doesn't approve of something the President wants to do, without even knowing whether or not that is true.

Europe is merely a marketing tool, whether for politics, fashion, or toasters. Thinking that Europe has a role in the American election is giving Europe -- and American voters -- too much credit.

Monday, November 6, 2006

He's Baaaack!

OK, I'm back, too. But I actually had someone else in mind.

For quite some time, it's seemed to me that someone has been missing from the debate about Iraq -- Saddam Hussein.

It's been as though he never existed. To go by the revisionist history, the story seems to be that Iraq was some sort of peaceful paradise before George W. Bush came in and started killing people.

But now, Saddam is back in the news. He has been sentenced to death for crimes against humanity.

So think about this: When someone says that it was a mistake to invade Iraq, he or she is really saying that Saddam should still be in power.

A vote against "Bush's war" is a vote FOR SADDAM!

It really is that simple. So if you think the U.S. should not have invaded Iraq, then I ask you, Would you like to see Saddam put back in power? Because it's one or the other. It's either Saddam, or the war you think was a mistake. If you had a magic wand, would you put Saddam back in power, so he could kill more hundreds of thousands of people? Yes? or No? "No, but..." is not an answer.

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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