archives: February -- March 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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Friday, March 31, 2006

Heroes Amongst Us
I just got back from a funeral. My wife and I were in Center City, Minnesota, for the burial of her great-aunt, Ruby Nelson. Looking over the Chisago Lake Hillside Cemetery, I remembered that it was only about 18 months ago that we were there to bury Ruby's husband, Manfred. A color guard had been there that day to honor the veteran Manfred, and I recalled thanking those gentlemen for their service, both that day, and during their active military duty.

But today, I noticed something new. It was the gravestone for Manfred's brother, James, buried just last October. His stone noted that he had served as a Staff Sergeant in Gen. Patton's 6th Armored Division.

Wow, I thought, at my feet was a real connection to a famous name from textbook history. And it got me to thinking...

When Hitler dominated Europe, threatened freedom everywhere, and committed his atrocities, to whom did the world turn for its salvation? Did nobles and career soldiers and famous "heroes" ride to the rescue? I suppose they did, but they weren't nearly enough. When the fate of the world hung in the balance, it was up to the American "everyman" to set things right again.

Now here they lay, overlooking Pioneer Lake, interred in a small knob of land perhaps set aside for a cemetery because it was too gravelly to farm. But think where they had been. And where they had started.

Like millions of their American brethren who answered the call, they came from humble beginnings. Descended from immigrant stock and not so far removed from the boat themselves, while growing up they may have dreamed of little beyond someday having 80 acres of their own and a strong team of horses to farm it. They likely had never strayed far from home. But then, duty called, and they joined the millions who found themselves travelling to places they'd only heard of (and many they hadn't), crossing an ocean, and joining a battle half a world away. Many of the millions never came back. (For those obsessive/compulsive counters of American deaths in Iraq, count this: more than 400,000 American troops died in WWII.)

But most survived, and they came back home to little places like Center City, where they lived out a good several decades of civilian life, as unassuming, everyday people, and contributing members of society. So here lay Manfred and James, representing the millions -- world travelers, defeaters of Fascism, and once-and-forever small-town boys.

It's mind boggling and utterly humbling, standing in a little-known cemetery, surveying the small town and countryside around it, to realize that it was not politicians or generals, but little places like this -- thousands and thousands of little places like this -- that defeated evil.

We are forever in their debt.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Liberal Scolds and Bible Bangers
When liberals start to moralize, we're in for some laughs. And when they start to cite the Bible as the arbiter of right and wrong in politics ("wall of separation," anyone?), it's time to roll on the floor.

The paper one day last week contained a slew of letters to the editor defending Minnesota State Senate majority leader Dean Johnson, who got caught telling lies about imaginary conversations with Supreme Court justices. (If you don't know anything about the story, here's a recap.) The letter writers said that poor Johnson is a victim, and the real bad guy is the fellow minister who recorded Johnson's lies.

"Slimy," "Judas," "not Minnesota Nice," not "Christian" -- these are some of the ways the letter writers describe the pastor who made the tape recording.

And columnist Laura Billings wrote, "I guess I missed the part of the Bible where God says it's cool to secretly record fellow Christians. Like most things we argue about nowadays, it's probably in Leviticus."

That's a good one. Be careful, Laura, if you're prepared to start using the Bible as the authority on proper secular political behavior. If we can't do something unless it's specifically permitted in the Bible, you could be in for some disappointments. For instance, I think we all missed the part of the Bible where God says it's "cool" for women to vote. And that part about same-sex marriage definitely isn't in there. But I do know there's a part saying it's "uncool" to bear false witness against your neighbor.

I think I know where the pastor who recorded Johnson went wrong. Instead of making a genuine recording of the lies Johnson had been going around telling, he should have just forged a tape and turned it over to "60 Minutes." Then, it wouldn't have even mattered that the tape was a forgery, what would have mattered was the "seriousness of the charges," and that everyone knew it was true anyway, even if the tape was really a forgery.

At least that's the way the liberals reacted to the forged memos attacking President Bush. And notice they never seem concerned about the ethics of anyone -- journalist or otherwise -- who leaks information damaging to the Bush administration.

But that's the way it is these days. In some ways, we're not too far removed from the Sunnis and the Shiites. Everything your side does is wrong; everything my side does is right. I have no doubt that if this same tape recording issue had come up in a way damaging to a Republican on the opposite side of the marriage amendment issue, these same letter writers would not be bothered. They'd be busy explaining how the recording was entirely justified

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

An Interesting Quote from a Liberal Democrat...
A few months back, former Vice President (and former Minnesota Senator) Walter "Fritz" Mondale had this to say about Iraq:

I don't believe we can just walk out of there. But I do believe we have to have a plan for reducing the American presence in a way that will give the Iraqi government a decent chance to step up to the plate to do what they have to do to defend and govern themselves.

Some Iraqis want us to stay. But the fact that we are substituting for what a state and people should do for themselves is delaying the time when they should act on their own. I think it's time for Americans to reach a decent bargain with the Iraqi government that allows us to push more of this responsibility off onto the Iraqis. Give them time to do it, but tell them, "We're not just going to walk away and leave you alone, but this is something you increasingly have to do, and Americans will be around less and less to do it for you.''

That's an interesting choice of words coming from a liberal Democrat. Mondale seems to be saying that the Iraqis should be responsible for themselves, and that the U.S. is actually hampering the Iraqis' by doing things for them. That's how Mondale sees the War on Terror in Iraq.

But there's another war -- a 40 years and counting war -- where this is anything by position of liberal Democrats like Mondale. I speak, of course, of the "War on Poverty." The War on Poverty has created a permanent underclass, forever dependent on the U.S. government to take care of it. But what are the chances of Mondale looking at welfare programs and saying, "The fact that we are substituting for what...people should do for themselves is delaying the time when they should act on their own"? No, I'm sure Mondale wants more programs, more government spending. If ever a nation was "bogged down" in a "quagmire," it's the way the U.S. is caught in the self-perpetuating "War on Poverty."

Monday, March 27, 2006

Kill the Bastards
When people criticize the South Dakota legislature's ban on all abortions, they often complain -- in exasperation -- that the legislation bans abortion "even in cases of rape or incest!"

As horrible as rape and incest are, I've never understood why some people think those circumstances of conception change everything. After all, being pro-life is about protecting the innocent, unborn child, isn't it? What has an unborn child, conceived under these terrible circumstances, done to deserve death?

So I thought, If we are going to punish the child -- with death -- for the sins of the father, why stop with the unborn? Why not do the same with the born? For example, we don't have capital punishment here in Minnesota. But we could make exceptions. Maybe we could use capital punishment only on murderers who are themselves the products of rape or incest. That would seem to be consistent with making exceptions that would have allowed killing the very same people before they were born, before they became murderers. Now that they are murderers, do they deserve life more than an unborn child?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Titillate. (Giggle)
I heard someone use the word "titillate," and I thought to myself: "How odd, a word that serves as an example of itself."

Friday, March 24, 2006

Dumb Letter of the Day
If I ran the daily paper, I wouldn't have enough letters-to-the-editor to fill the page. That's because I wouldn't run any letter that was just plain stupid. (If I had to run some of them, I'd have to add commentary.) And boy, are some of them stupid.

Today's gem comes from one Chris Zann, who offers this brilliant "analogy" in response to South Dakota's abortion ban:

"It would seem appropriate that these male S.D. legislators who feel empowered to make determinations about a woman's body should enact legislation that would require any male in South Dakota responsible for an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy to have a vasectomy."

How is that analogous to an abortion ban? Let's work backwards, starting with there being no laws at all. Let's say Zann's idea becomes law: Any man participating in an "unwanted or dangerous pregnancy" must undergo a state-enforced vasectomy. What, then, would be the analogous treatment for women?

The analogous treatment for women would be for any woman with an "unwanted or dangerous pregnancy" to be similarly permanently, surgically sterilized.

Abortion doesn't enter into the analogy.

I'll tell you what would be analogous to a state prohibiting women from having abortions: The analogous law affecting men would be a law prohibiting men from killing their unborn children.

Oh, wait, that's already the existing law: Men already have no right to kill their unborn children.

Mr. Zann, your point was.....?

Until a man has the right to force an abortion on a woman carrying his baby, or at least can disavow himself of all responsibility for the child once it is born, don't talk to me about abortion laws being some sort of "discrimination" against women.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Easter Bunny Booted from City Hall; Giant Idol Remains
St. Paul, Minn., human rights director Tyrone "Taliban" Terrill has kicked the Easter Bunny out of city hall, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports in a front page story today.

The Minneapolis-based Star Tribune reports that Terrill, in an e-mail to city council president Marilyn Lantry, said that a secretary must remove a cloth Easter Bunny and colored plastic "Happy Easter" eggs from her work area, because the items "could be offensive to non-Christians."

This is ridiculous. Especially to anyone who has ever actually walked into the lobby of the city hall/courthouse building. Visitors are greeted by a giant statue of Indians smoking pipes. It's now (only since 1994) officially known as "Vision of Peace," but for decades before that, since its installation in 1936, it was commonly known as the Indian "God of Peace." (Actually, it's just some white guy's idea.) This thing is 36 feet tall, and sits in a place of honor on a revolving pedestal. You can read more about it on this city webpage.

I want to know, when is "Taliban" Terrill going to call the governor's office and demand that the National Guard send some tanks over to blow that thing up? Clearly, it "could be offensive" to adherents of any religion that embraces the 10 Commandments' prohibition of graven images. And I believe that would include Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

I'm tired of this two-track approach to "diversity" and "multi-culturalism." Over and over, we are told to "embrace" and "celebrate" new additions to our local culture. We are told to be "tolerant" of those who are different. But when someone doesn't observe the prevailing and historical culture, we are told it must be censored out of deference to "inclusiveness."

You can't celebrate the diversity of one person by suppressing another. You can't exchange one culture for another, and claim you are being "diverse." Addition by subtraction is no way to achieve "multi-culturalism." The motto of the diversity movement should be "The more the merrier," not "Stop being you; it offends me." (It reminds me of something I read when Dennis Green was coach of the Minnesota Vikings football team. A reporter said that Green's coaching staff was the "most diverse" in the league, because something like 10 out of 18 people were black. I wondered: If all 18 were black, would the staff then be 100 percent, or perfectly, diverse? But I digress.)

I live in a city where a public school consults an Imam to design an Islamic-approved elementary school art program, and the public school administration building proudly displays "Razanne the Muslim Doll." City Hall features a giant graven image.

Yet, the Easter Bunny is too "offensive" to inhabit the same building.

As could be a lot of things. Starting with the name of the city. And why is city hall closed on Easter, anyway? Isn't that an endorsement of religion? I think all the politicians and city employees -- starting with "Taliban" Terrill -- should be on the job that day, lest the citizenry get the mistaken idea that they are all "endorsing" a religion.

Here's another idea: The guards who inspect anyone entering city hall to make sure they don't have an evil pocket knife on them, should also order any head scarves or other religious clothing items to be removed by those entering the building. Or at the very least, the city employees mustn't be allowed to wear such items. A taxpayer coming in to conduct business might be offended, or infer that the city is endorsing a particular religion.

City council member Dave Thune tried to defend the Easter Bunny, saying, "I absolutely wonder how colored eggs and bunnies and chickens are Christian. I'm a little puzzled how people can be offended."

Mr. Thune, don't feign ignorance. You're going down the wrong road. You're right that those decorative items aren't Christian, but they are associated with a Christian holiday. The point you should be making is that it doesn't matter. A lot of things may be associated with a particular holiday -- religious, secular, or both. That doesn't mean those items must be banned.

What's next? Will employees be prohibited from bringing turkey sandwiches in a bag lunch, because that turkey might be leftover from a Christmas dinner? I know that's a ridiculous example. That's my point. The whole thing is ridiculous.

"Taliban" Terrill should go. I've thought for years he's out of touch with the city of St. Paul. This is just the latest example. Ta ta, Tyrone.

(Top photo from City of St. Paul website. Other photos from Minnesota Historical Society website.)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Patience, Dave, Patience (Where Have I Heard That Before?)
Yesterday I wrote about Coach Froyen, and expressed my frustration that I had been unable to get his story any coverage in the dailies.

My timing was off.

Today, there's a great story by Rick Shefchik in the Pioneer Press. They saved it for the last minute, as the state tournament begins today. I had no inkling they were working on anything, as they had not given me any response to the info I had been sending them for more than two years.

As it turns out, this is a story that plays better after simmering for awhile. With Braham playing for championship number three this week, it's a better story than if it had been written two years ago. The danger was, Braham could have been eliminated and not reached the tournament this year, in which case this story would have likely seen the circular file, or its digital equivalent.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Coach Who Wouldn't Die?
For the past two-plus years, I've been trying to get someone at the daily papers interested in this story. But no one will take an interest, so I'll have to write it myself. It's a feel-good, yet bittersweet, sports story from my hometown.

My hometown is little Braham, Minnesota. If you're a basketball fan, you've heard of it, because the Braham boys basketball team has won the last two state titles in their class; last year went undefeated and was widely considered the best team of ANY size school in the state; this year got stopped just four games shy of tying Edina's state-record 69-game winning streak; and features the state's best and most-recruited player, Isaiah Dahlman, who is finally a senior.

They play at 8:00 pm Wednesday evening in pursuit of their third, consecutive, state title.

A lot of people in the state wouldn't recognize the name Braham if not for Isaiah Dahlman and the current run of basketball success. These three consecutive appearances are the ONLY appearances Braham has made in the state boys' tournament.

But if you were a basketball fan decades ago, you likely knew about Braham.

Braham had a successful basketball program for decades, under the direction of the legendary coach Len Froyen, who coached the hoops team for 37 seasons -- beginning in 1930 -- and compiled a career record of 402-176, winning many conference and district titles along the way. But he never made it to the state tournament.

(Coach Froyen's teams also won conference titles in football and golf. Ironically, the Canadian-born Froyen never coached hockey in Braham, and the school still doesn't have a hockey team.)

Len Froyen was inducted into the Minnesota Basketball Hall of Fame in 1967.

Although Coach Froyen retired from coaching and teaching, he didn't go away. He remained in Braham, and I had him as a substitute middle school gym teacher in the 1970s. A few years later when I was in high school, the new football field was named in his honor.

Coach Froyen lived to the ripe old age of 97. At the time of his death, Braham had still never appeared in the boys' state tournament.

Now, here's the hook to my story. Coach Froyen died September 26, 2003. Just a couple of months later, Braham began the first of three state-tournament seasons.

Coincidence? Or does Coach Froyen have some sort of other-worldly hand in this?

It's a great story. It's heartwarming to imagine the old coach providing some sort of guidance from beyond the grave. Yet, it's bittersweet, because he didn't live to see this.

At the time of Coach Froyen's death, I saw no mention in the sports sections of the Twin Cities dailies. (Even though I brought it to the attention of one of them, and sent them info.) But that was before Braham basketball became so well known again. I also think Coach Froyen's death didn't get the coverage it deserved because he outlived all the sportswriters who knew him. He was 97 years old! Anyone who recognized his name was dead, or at least retired.

But I don't understand why I haven't been able to generate any interest in the "Spirit of Coach Froyen" story angle. I've tried to make it easy for them. I've even suggested whom they could talk to to flesh out their stories. For example, there is former U of M and Minneapolis Lakers coach Johnny Kundla. Not only did he know Coach Froyen, but Kundla is the grandfather of Isaiah Dahlman. Now there's a tie-in for you!

Then there's legendary Minneapolis Washburn and U of M football coach George Wemier. Wemier crossed paths with Coach Froyen when he (Wemier) began his coaching career at Braham in the 1950s. He's still here in the Twin Cities, working part time as a college assistant coach. (I know because I met him last summer when he visited my dad in the hospital. My dad played football for the young coach, and has stayed in contact with him for 50 years now.)

I also offered them the name of my uncle, who is retired now, but who himself taught and coached in the Twin Cities for many years. He played under Coach Froyen in Braham, and can share stories about the coach's legacy. For instance, he told me that in college, while playing in a pickup basketball game, another student ID-ed him as a Braham grad, because of his mastery of Froyen-taught techniques.

I think this would make a great story angle -- Braham's success and the spirit of Len Froyen. I don't know why someone doesn't bite on it. I've done most of the work for them.

But you know what they say: If you want something done right, do it yourself.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Soup of the Day? Your Choice of Stone or Nail
I'm pretty tight with a penny, but I try not to be "cheap." I prefer "frugal." I think it's important to distinguish the difference between "frugal" and "cheap." In my mind, "frugal" is being wise with your money. "Cheap" is when your penny-pinching starts to hurt yourself or others. Here's an example to illustrate it: "Frugal" is going out to dinner on a 2-for-1 coupon, which was freely proffered by the restaurant. "Cheap" is tipping the waiter or waitress based on the cost of only one meal.

There's a column called "Everyday Cheapskate" that appears in my newspaper. In it, the author, Mary Hunt, offers her tips for saving money, as well as tips contributed by readers.

The column offers lots of tips for frugal living, but from time to time, a line gets crossed into the realm of cheap. Consider this example from a recent column:

Lemonade from water: I just read a reader's tip about ordering only water for her family at restaurants. I have one better. My aunt showed me this trick: Order water with lemon (ask for extra lemons), then squeeze the lemons into your water, add some sugar/sugar substitute packets that are usually on the table, and you've got lemonade! I thought it was odd - and really cheap - at first, but it's a great money saver, especially at some restaurants.

- Meredith C., New York

Has this person no shame? This may go beyond cheap -- it sounds almost criminal. The restaurant is supplying her with a glass of ice water, lemons, and sugar -- all the makings of lemonade. But because she stirs it herself, she has convinced herself that it's "free." And she's so proud of herself, she's telling everybody what she does!

That lemonade isn't "free," it's "stolen."

This must be the dumbest, cheapest idea since the guy with the system for getting half-price milk. Instead of buying 1% milk, he bragged that he bought 2%, then mixed it 50/50 with water! He reasoned that this gave him the equivalent of 1% milk, at half price! How dumb can you get? While he may indeed have ended up with the equivalent of 1% butterfat in his glass of milk, he now had only half the calcium and vitamins he should have been getting from his drink. That guy was so cheap, he was hurting himself.

Way, way back, I worked at a truck stop owned by a guy who was so cheap he hurt himself. He had a lucrative account with a trucking company that fueled at least one vehicle a day. But he wouldn't keep the diesel tanks full. So after I'd told the truckers several times in the middle of the night that our 24-hour truck stop was our of fuel, the trucking company took its business elsewhere. He had a similar problem with the convenience store. Rather than let the local vendor stock his freezer with ice cream, for instance, he thought he could save money by bringing in ice cream from his other stores, located more than an hour away. So he trucked the ice cream and other supplies from there -- in an unrefrigerated truck.

So we put the messy ice cream products in the freezer, so the melted, leaking part could refreeze between the box and the plastic overwrap, in a very unappealing manner.

Oh, and one more -- the truckers never understood why our truck stop didn't keep in stock the sort of oil that they wanted to add to their engines. Nor did I.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Missing Links
This year, the Minnesota state high school girls hockey tournament was played for the first time at the Excel Center in St. Paul, home of the NHL's Minnesota Wild, and the high school boys tournament. Previously, the girls' tournament was played at other, smaller venues, including most recently, the new Ridder Arena at the University of Minnesota. Ridder was built specifically for the U of M's women's team, the pinnacle of female-played hockey in the state.

But some parents of girl hockey players thought that wasn't right. The girls were being deprived of the "same experience" the boys were getting, they argued in their lawsuit. Never mind that the girls' tournament doesn't draw anywhere near enough fans to require an arena the size of the Excel Center.

So, this year we had "equality."

With that background, maybe you'll see why I think this next part is strange.

This weekend, the girls basketball tournament was played at the Target Center in Minneapolis. That's the home of the NBA Timberwolves, and the WNBA Lynx. The Timberwolves are in the midst of their season; the Lynx (women's team) play in the summer, so they are in their off-season.

Despite that, I noticed that the court at the Target Center was decorated with the markings of the Lynx, not the Timberwolves! Evidently, special effort had been made, and expense incurred, to switch the floor markings so that the girls played on the "Lynx court."

What happened to the "same experience"? This seems sort of patronizing to me. If the boys get to play on the "Timberwolves floor" -- as they will next weekend -- doesn't that mean that the girls are being deprived of the same experience as the boys? After all, if playing on the ice used by the highest level of women's hockey in the state was not good enough for the girls, why should basketball be any different? One can hardly argue with a straight face that the WNBA is the equivalent of the NBA in talent level, prestige, or media coverage. Is this some sort of "separate but equal" policy designed to keep the women folk in their place?

Am I the only one seeing this link? If not, then I smell another lawsuit in the making.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A Nation of Immigrants
I read a good St. Patrick's Day story in Friday's paper: Hmong students in St. Paul public schools are now being graduated from high school at the same rate as white students.

Why is that a good St. Patrick's Day story? Because it shows that success is still possible in this country, for new immigrant groups as well as the previous ones. When the Irish were flocking to these shores a century or more ago, they were subject to discrimination, looked down upon, and forced to claw their way up from the bottom. They suceeded, and they succeeded so well that now EVERYONE wants to be Irish at least one day a year!

But some people can't wait to make race an excuse for everything.

In a St. Paul Pioneer Press story about Ramsey County juvenile curfew enforcement, the race card is played:

Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, said monitoring when kids go home is not the job of the police.

And he criticized what he called the unequal enforcement of the curfew law.

Last year, blacks made up 74 percent of the 453 youths brought to the Curfew Center. Ninety-four percent of all the young people were arrested in St. Paul.

Blacks between the ages of 10 and 19 made up 15 percent of all St. Paul kids in that age group.

"This simply reflects what the ACLU has been concerned about for a long time," Samuelson said. "Minorities are typically over-policed."

Hey, Chuckles, no joke: The relevant number here isn't what percentage of young people are black, it's what percentage of young people out in public after curfew are black. Show me that most of the young people out loitering on the street after curfew are white, but they don't get dragged downtown, and then we'll talk. But I'm seeing no evidence of that.

The truth is, some kids just aren't getting the parental supervision they need. Take this example from the curfew story:

Eugene, the 12-year-old, did not say much as he slouched on one of the center's plastic chairs around 1 a.m. Saturday. He knew there was a curfew, he said, but didn't know what time it was.

His mother, who declined to give her name, was not short on words.

"Well, we got the whole crew here!" she said as she walked into the center and gazed at her son and his friends. "The whole crew. One o'clock in the morning."

She told the center's staff that Eugene was not supposed to be on the East Side, where he was picked up.

"He knows better than this," she said.

But does SHE know better than this? My 12-year-old is home in bed long before 1:00 a.m. More important, my 12-year-old does not go out with friends, without parental supervision, period. But 12-year-old Eugene was out roaming strange parts of the city. How could any parent allow that?

But some do.

A number of years ago, I was working for the public agency that does wastewater treatment in the Twin Cities. We were in the process of some major construction projects, replacing major sewer lines. One project was taking place on the eastside of St. Paul, near a government housing project and subsidized apartments. The agency actually had to hire a 24-hour guard to stand watch over the construction trench area (despite it being fenced off), because small children were otherwise out there endangering themselves in the middle of the night. I'm talking 8-year-olds outside unsupervised at 2:00 a.m. Guess mommy didn't want to be disturbed while she was entertaining her boyfriend of the week.

Friday, March 17, 2006

By-products and Filler
Hot Dog! An NCAA basketball tournament game in San Diego yesterday was delayed 70 minutes when a bomb-sniffing dog detected something "suspicious" at an arena concession stand. Hmmm. What might sort of smell might have gotten a dog excited? What sort of smell might have seemed out of place at an arena concessions stand? I'm thinking the dog smelled something truly unexpected -- a real beef wiener!

Look Me in the Eye When You Say That. I joked a couple of weeks back about "supermodel" and TV talk show host Tyra Banks going undercover in a strip club. I wondered, how could someone who'd been on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue appear as a stripper without being recognized? Well, with the help of a skilled make-up artist, it might be possible. Here's a description (and photos) of the stunt from the model's TV show website. Maybe it was possible for her to pose as a stripper and not be recognized. But then, the guys weren't looking at her face, anyway.

Whose University Is It, Anyway? Here in St. Paul, a controversy has erupted at the University of St. Thomas, over the Roman Catholic institution's desire to have cohabiting professors book two hotel rooms when they escort a group of students on a school trip. (The school would pay for both rooms. No one has suggested that bed checks will be conducted.) It sounds reasonable to me, but then, I'm a reasonable person. Some people think the school is "discriminating," and want to add in the issue of a lesbian professor traveling with her partner. I have one question for those who think the school should give its blessing to the unmarried profs sharing a hotel room: Does that go for unmarried students, as well? Would they have the school pay for a hotel room for a male student to share with his girlfriend? After all, they're all over 18. Might do wonders for enrollment. Just so mommy and daddy don't find out where that tuition money is going.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Wall Street Journal Catches Up with DowningWorld
Downing's Law: The easier a medium of communication, the less permanent it is.

One of the reasons I started this website is that over the years, I've found I often have ideas that I'm not hearing expressed anywhere else. When I was younger, I figured that meant I just didn't know anything. If what I was thinking was of any value, someone "important" would be saying it for all to hear.

But as it turned out, I wasn't crazy, at least not all the time. Sometimes years would go by, and then all of a sudden the opinion leaders and media gatekeepers would be all abuzz with the idea I'd had years earlier.

I encountered an example of this earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal's online Opinion Journal. Douglas Gantenbein had a column about the death of film photography in the digital age. Referring to Mark Federman, who teaches at the University of Toronto's McLuhan Program, Gantenbein writes:

Mr. Federman, who thinks often about how societies "remember," sees digital photography as a disaster for historians. People delete pictures from their cameras' memory cards. Hard drives crash. PCs end up in the dump, photos still on board. And CDs full of pictures will become unreadable when their surfaces deteriorate (you heard that right--CDs are incredibly unstable). With all that, says Mr. Federman, we're on the verge of losing billions of pictures. "We will not have a record of the individual stories that are told by families from one generation to another through pictures," Mr. Federman says. "That is a wealth of human history that will simply be lost."

I concur. In fact, I concur so wholeheartedly that on July 15, 2004 -- in the first couple weeks of DowningWorld's existence -- I posted:

It seems in these days of digital cameras, web-based photo albums, e-mail and weblogs, people are taking pictures and writing more than ever. Yet, I can't help but wonder if years from now historians will curse us for leaving so little of permanence behind.

Yes, I extend the concept to written communication, as well. People send e-mail back and forth with greater frequency than they ever wrote paper letters. But what is the quality of those e-mail letters? And what is the permanence? Think of the shoebox full of letters in the attic, the letters from grandpa that grandma saved all her life. Think of the emotional and historical value of those letters, preserved through the decades. Thanks to e-mail, those days are history. And history is history.

We have stone tablets carved thousands of years ago, and still legible now. But last week's email may have been lost forever in a computer crash. Ironic, isn't it? It's a good thing the Egyptians didn't have e-mail back in 196 B.C., because I doubt the "Rosetta e-mail" would have lasted long enough to be discovered in 1799! Fortunately, they created the Rosetta Stone instead.

It's a general rule that the more you have of something, and the easier it is to come by, the less you value it. The same applies to communication. In the information age, we're overwhelmed with e-mail and photographs. Consequently, we take them for granted and value them little, especially on a piece-by-piece basis. Another e-mail or photograph is always coming along. Contrast that with the "old days," when a family might have one photograph of a departed loved one, purchased at great price from a photography study in the "big city." That photo is guarded and passed down from generation to generation as a precious treasure.

Which it is.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

"No" Means "No," But "Stop" Means "Go"
A judge has brought an end to Minneapolis' "photo cop" program, in which automated cameras take photos of cars running red lights, and then traffic tickets are mailed to the owners of the cars. The judge issued his ruling in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

But I'm not going to write about civil liberties.

If you've been visiting DowningWorld for some time, you'll know that I like to write about human nature. I'm going to write about the human nature aspect of traffic control.

Last night I heard a caller to a radio show say that if Minneapolis is truly interested in "traffic safety," rather than just collecting easy money from traffic fines, there is a better way. The caller said traffic signals could simply be reset so that as a light turns red, the light for the cross street also remains red for a few seconds. That would allow time for red light runners to clear the intersection before cross traffic started up.

And I thought to myself, Yeah, why aren't the lights set up that way?

Then I said to myself, But isn't that the purpose of the yellow light?

And it is, after all. Drivers are supposed to stop at a yellow light, unless they are too close to the intersection to do so. The yellow light is supposed to serve as the interval during which the intersection is cleared for safety, prior to the activation of the green light on the cross street.

In fact, the first traffic signals had no yellow light. They had only "stop" and "go." I'll bet the yellow light was created decades ago exactly for the purpose of solving the very traffic problem the "photo cop" is supposed to combat. (Learn more about the history of traffic signals.)

But what has happened? Too many drivers see yellow as no different from green. They just keep going on yellow, because they know the cross traffic is still stopped. If the lights were changed so that it was red both ways for several seconds, what do you suppose would happen? That's right, after a few years, drivers would run red lights even more than they do now, because they'd say "I've still got a few seconds" as they raced through.

Human nature being what it is, we could have five lights -- we could have 500 lights -- on the traffic signal, and drivers would disregard all but the final red.

Think about speed limits. Back when the freeways were 55 mph, people went 65, rationalizing that that was the "right speed," and 55 was unreasonable. Then speed limits (at least in Minnesota) went to 65, then 70 mph. Do people still go the "right speed" of 65? Some, perhaps, but it's not hard to find people going 75, 80, 85 mph.

It's human nature. People always want to get a way with a little more than they are supposed to. It's yet another way in which we never change from childhood.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Pioneer Press in the Balance: How Ownership Matters
My daily paper, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, is in limbo. Knight Ridder, which publishes the Pioneer Press, along with 31 other dailies, is being sold to McClatchy Co., publisher of the Twin Cities' other daily, the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune.

The fear is that McClatchy will shut down the Pioneer Press, so it can have the entire market to itself. McClatchy has said it will sell off the Pioneer Press. Some anti-trust experts say they will have to. Let's hope that is the case, and that the Pioneer Press continues to publish.

Losing the Pioneer Press would really hurt because it is the St. Paul paper. The Star Tribune bills itself "newspaper of the Twin Cities," but its origin is as the Minneapolis Tribune, and it continues to focus on downtown Minneapolis and the Minneapolis suburbs. St. Paul would be losing its newspaper. Maybe it's not my place to say, but I think it's a lot different from, say, Chicago or New York losing a daily, where each daily covers the same, singular city.

This newspaper deal shows how ownership matters. As I understand it, Knight Ridder has been up for sale because shareholders demanded it. They are unhappy with the returns they are getting on their investment. It's not that Knight Ridder isn't profitable, it's that Knight Ridder isn't profitable enough. The investors want to get out of the newspaper business and get into something that makes them even more money.

And that's their prerogative, I guess.

But the important thing to note is that these dissatisfied investors don't care whether Knight Ridder makes newspapers or knick-knacks. They just want to make money. As a result, they don't even care if the newspapers they own cease publishing.

Compare that to the way these newspapers started out. I've got to think that the individuals who started these papers long ago put ink to paper because they wanted to be newspapermen, not because they saw it as a way to make a good return on investment. To the contrary, I'll bet they did whatever it took to scrape by and keep publishing until their newspapers could support themselves.

In that way, they were like the farmers in my background. I'll tell you right out that no one decides to spend his life as a farmer because it's a good way to make a lot of money. A man (or woman) becomes a farmer because he wants to be a farmer. Then he tries to make a living at it.

Same for me, working as a freelancer. That's what I decided I wanted to do. Now, the trick is to pay the bills.

But the corporate beast has no career aspirations. No visions of civic service. No love of the land. The corporate beast has only an insatiable appetite for money.

And that's where ownership matters. We see it over and over. When founders of a company are long gone, and it becomes just a corporate entity, a way to make a return on investment for uninvolved investors, nothing else matters. Plants are closed in long-time company towns. Production goes overseas. Companies forgo their longtime purpose, and transform themselves from manufacturers into "financial services companies." The investors don't care, as long as they get their return on investment.

In another news media example, WCCO TV and radio used to be at the pinnacle of Twin Cities broadcasting. No one was more respected, or more trusted. Then, the company was sold to out-of-state investors. All they care about is the return on their investment. They demand higher profits. They order cuts. They make decisions that show no understanding of the market. It's a shame how far the once mighty WCCO has fallen. But the investors don't care. They don't care about their reputation. They don't care about their standing in the community. They just want their money.

Monday, March 13, 2006

No "Private" Life in the Information Age
Is this the legacy of the Clinton presidency?

I read a story that says college students may be damaging their career prospects by showing off their wild private lives on personal websites. A potential employer looking for information on the student may not be impressed when he or she encounters photos showing just how drunk the prospective employee can get. Here's an excerpt, concerning a student at, unfortunately, my alma mater, the University of Minnesota-Duluth:

To Ryan Schunk's point of view, what he does in his personal life is not an employer's business. He's not swayed by warnings from professors and isn't about to change what is posted on his Facebook page.

For one, Schunk's friend posted a picture of Schunk dancing on the stage at a bar after having too much to drink. While the University of Minnesota-Duluth junior admits that it's not a flattering photo, he's not about to be cowed by the specter of employers peeking in on his personal life.

"Whether or not they are going to or not, that's fine but I don't think it's any of their business," Schunk said. "You get to the point where, then you have to start watching what you are doing in your private life. It just seems ridiculous."

When did the idea that you have to watch what you do in your private life -- especially when your idea of "private" includes anything public but outside of the workplace (and even posted on the Internet!) -- become "ridiculous"?

I recall now a remark I heard first-hand from another Minnesota-Duluth student, regarding the Minnesota Vikings' sex cruise escapades. He said it was no big deal, this sort of thing goes on all the time, the players' only mistake was getting caught.

Is this what we should expect from people who came of age during the Clinton years? People who grew up hearing that it didn't matter what you did, what kind of man you proved yourself to be, as long as your actions were outside your official capacity?

Sorry, Schunk-the-drunk, but it doesn't yet work that way in the real world. Potential employers will judge you on your character, or what they infer about your character. They'll judge you on your tattoos and piercings, too. Earlier generations found out the same thing about long hair. Maybe you don't like it, but that's the real world.

Potential employers may assume that new hires had a lot of fun in college -- they may have done so themselves -- but they want to hire people smart enough to understand the concept of discretion.

You may wonder how this applies to me. By expressing myself on this website, do I risk alienating clients or potential clients? Absolutely. For a long time, that thought kept me from writing letters to the editor or guest opinion columns for the daily paper. But two years ago, I came to the realization that the people I was regularly doing business with generally shared my views. As for potential clients, the odds seem greater that someone would hire me because of my work on this site, than that someone would not hire me because of it. If it ever gets to the point where I meet someone who says, "I'd never work with you! You're that kook with the website!" that will be a good thing. To have that sort of notoriety would mean that DowningWorld has become a real success!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Random Design? That's an Oxymoron
I went to the Science Museum of Minnesota today with a young one. Something caught my eye and got me thinking.

In a display demonstrating the concept of physical stress -- as in building trusses, or the human skeleton -- I read these sentences:

The femur is the largest, strongest bone in your body. It is designed to be the strongest where it bears the most weight.

Did you catch it? What was the word that caught my eye?

That's right -- "designed." The Science Museum of Minnesota says the human body has been "designed."

The museum doesn't say who or what "designed" the human body, mind you. But things don't design themselves. It something happens randomly, it's not designed. Do you suppose the museum is a proponent of "intelligent design?" After all, what other kind of design can there be?

This is where I think the debate over "intelligent design" is so silly. What are the opponents afraid of? Can't the evolutionists concede that maybe there is a design to evolution? When we look at atoms and molecules -- those orderly little building blocks -- it sure seems as though the world has some sort of design to it. Einstein identified laws of physics that explain how the universe works. That sure looks to me like there's some sort of design in place. In both cases, science shows us that matter and the universe are not random, but operate according to a system. That sounds like a design to me.

Whether or not you believe in the idea of God, you ought to be able to see that the universe has a design to it. If there is a design, there must be a designer. Whether people call that designer "God," "Mother Nature," "the Universe," "the Unknown Force," "Dark Matter," or "X," we at least ought to be able to agree that there is a design.

Thursday, March 9, 2006

He Who Pays the Piper...
I find that a lot of truth exists in those simple little sayings we've heard all our lives. In today's paper, economics columnist Ed Lotterman writes:

The adage that whoever pays the piper calls the tune is one of the oldest laws of economics.

Lotterman goes on to cite examples of foreign aid, farm subsidies, welfare payments, and institutions of higher education that, with the recent Supreme Court decision, can lose federal funding if they bar military recruiters from campus.

I'd like to comment on another example: The way that, increasingly, the federal government uses the threat of withholding money in order to make the states surrender their own sovereign powers, and do what Washington wants.

I've written before that we're losing sight of the basic fact that the U.S. federal government is a creature of the states, NOT the other way around. The states are not some sort of administrative districts created by Washington, the way that the states apportion counties. Far from it. This nation was created when 13 sovereign nation-states decided to form a constitutional federation, and gave certain, limited powers to a federal government.

Historians say that states remained paramount until the Civil War. That event was a turning point, and federalism has been increasing ever since. Now, we have people like the radio caller I heard last week, who blamed President Bush for the hurricane damage to New Orleans, because as he explained, the federal government "outranks" the states, so Bush should have pushed the mayor and governor aside, said "I'm in charge now," and forcibly evacuated everyone.

Yeah, right.

Back to the federal government calling the tune. States have the authority to make traffic and liquor laws. But in recent years, we've had Washington dictating speed limits, seat belt laws, drinking ages, and the legal blood alcohol content for drivers. How? By threatening to withhold federal highway money if the states do not pass laws to comply with Washington's wishes.

He who pays the piper...

These days, we pay most of our taxes to Washington, which then turns around and generously "gives" the states some of their own taxpayers' money back (And some more than others. I believe Minnesota gets back less than its taxpayers contribute.) Consequently, states have handed over a huge amount of their autonomy to the federal government.

It makes you wonder, what were the states thinking nearly 100 years ago, when they authorized the 16th Amendment, the amendment that gave the federal government the power to levy an income tax? I think they had no idea what sort of monster they were creating. It would be interesting to study the debate that went on at that time.

Hey! Why don't I do that?

Here's a website I found that expounds on the history of the 16th Amendment. I can't vouch for its accuracy, or whether the author has a hidden agenda. It seems pretty straightforward, and presents an interesting story, including the claim that the 16th Amendment was a political scheme introduced by the Republicans to trick the Democrats, but it backfired on the Republicans, who thought it would never go through!

Here's another history of taxation in the U.S., on the U.S. Treasury website.

It's important to note that at first, only the wealthiest of Americans -- less than one percent -- paid any federal income tax. And the tax began at only 1 percent, progressing to a whopping seven percent for the most wealthy.

I'll bet back when they were ratifying the 16th Amendment, the states had dollar signs in their eyes. Populist legislators were excited about the chance to "tax the rich" for the greater good. They had no idea how much of their own power they were giving up.

The "'piper principle" works on an individual basis, too. We hear a lot of calls these days for someone to do something about the cost of health care. Individuals want employers to pay, or the government to pay. But when the "deep-pocketed" payer starts to say what doctor you can see, or what treatments it will pay for..... oh, oh! That's the flip side of letting someone else pay.

He who pays the piper calls the tune. It's a fact.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Now That's Funny!
I encountered this in the funny pages Saturday. Not on the opinion page, mind you, but in the comics section. I didn't think it was very funny.

Nonetheless, I thought I'd offer up some "equally funny" alternate punch lines the man could deliver:

1. Actually, all the birds are Democrats. They think they're entitled to handouts. They think they should be able to just show up and someone will feed them. But the greedy ones are the union leaders and "advocates" for various "communities" who live high off of the "powerless" they claim to represent.

2. They're the females. Isn't that just like a woman?

3. Well, what do you expect from a bunch of colored birds?

Pretty funny stuff, don't you think? No, me neither, actually. Although they are about as funny as the one the cartoonist went with.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

High Praise Indeed
Regarding my essay on patience, which appeared in Sunday's Pioneer Press as a guest editorial, Walt H. of St. Paul writes:

Your column is a keeper; I put it on the refrigerator to remind myself that there are still people with some common sense out there.

Thanks, Walt, that's quite a compliment. This may be the first time in decades anyone has put my work up on the refrigerator!

Monday, March 6, 2006

Democrats Back Cheney for President
I was reading a letter to the editor that said "it's time to dump Bush." What does that mean, exactly? We're two-and-a-half years away from a presidential election, and Bush ain't even running! Did this fellow mean "impeach Bush!" like so many others write? Maybe.

But have the Bush haters thought this through? What would happen if President Bush were impeached and removed from office (two separate steps, by the way)? I've got news for the Bush haters: removing Bush would not make John Kerry president. No, if Bush were removed from office, the new president would be... Dick Cheney! Would they really prefer the "evil puppetmaster" instead of the puppet?

Monday, March 6, 2006

Hey! I Know That Guy!
I got a surprise late Sunday night when I was finally getting a look at the morning paper: I was in there!

Earlier in the week I had submitted an essay to be used as a guest column on the opinion page, but I hadn't gotten any response to my submission yet, so I didn't know whether it would be used. I was waiting patiently for a response, and there I was! You can read my column on "patience" on the St. Paul Pioneer Press website.

Friday, March 3, 2006

It's Good for the Goose, But Men Don't Want to Gander at the Ganders
I was hearing the Oscar talk today, and there was a lot of mentioning of the movie Brokeback Mountain (Which I have not seen, and will pass no judgement on. I have not seen most movies, by the way.) and it got me to thinking.

I've heard a lot of comments about men not wanting to see the movie because it makes them uncomfortable, threatens them, upsets them, disgusts them, or such. It's been suggested that women are more comfortable with the premise of the movie. The conclusion some would have us draw, is that therefore there is something wrong with men.

Well, you know what? Men and women are different. Why shouldn't they have different reactions? Women are allowed to be made uncomfortable by things that don't necessarily bother men. Let me give you an example.

We've all heard of women being traumatized by a flasher. I don't doubt that a women who has been confronted by an exhibitionist may genuinely feel frightened or violated. However, I can't really understand it. The typical guy would not consider a female flasher a threat; she'd be seen as either a treat or a laugh, depending on what she looked like. Either way, the experience would be seen as an amusement, something to tell everyone about.

But to women, the male flasher must represent a threat of something more. We accept that, and don't call women "flasherphobes" for being made uncomfortable by an exhibitionist. Isn't it reasonable to allow men to be made uncomfortable by something, as well?

It seems women are more comfortable with the idea of men being lovers. I remember way back in high school, one of my female classmates remarked, "Two guys I can see, but two girls? Ewwwww!" Of course, that's pretty much just the opposite of how the guys feel. And why wouldn't it be? I mean, since a heterosexual woman finds men attractive, she can see why a man might find a man attractive, as well. And heterosexual men, since they think women are attractive, can't blame women if they find women attractive, too. Hey, women are beautiful, right guys? Guys are dirty and hairy and ugly. Come to think of it, why would any woman be attracted to men?

But I digress.

Anyway, if Brokeback Mountain is selling tickets mostly to women, that shouldn't be a surprise. It sounds to me like the kind of movie women would prefer, even if its stars were one cowboy and one cowgirl. (Now, if it starred Angelina Jolie and Paris Hilton, you might see a few guys in the seats.) And consider, if you will, that the "groundbreaking" TV shows featuring gay male characters also tend to draw a female audience.

Straight guys aren't interested in watching a story about gay guys? So what?

Thursday, March 2, 2006

The Boob Tube
My daily paper, on its TV listings page, includes a rundown of who/what will be on the "talk shows" each day. Just reading the topics on some of the syndicated daytime shows can be entertaining, especially during sweeps time. You gotta laugh at topics like, "I married my transsexual exotic dancer mother-in-law, and now I'm having her baby!"

But Wednesday I saw one that really left me wondering. I wish I had seen it in time to catch the show. Here it is:

THE TYRA BANKS SHOW: Tyra goes under cover as a dancer in a topless club to find out why men go and what they do there; Tyra interviews a couple whose relationship was destroyed by his addiction to strip clubs; veteran dancers of strip clubs.

Now hold on minute. Tyra Banks is a "supermodel." She's been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. She's on TV five days a week. And she's going "undercover" as a topless dancer? She doesn't think anyone will recognize her? Exactly what kind of "cover" is available to a topless dancer, anyway? It's not like being a dog sled driver or a beekeeper, that's for sure. Is she planning to conceal her true identity with some really confusing earrings? False eyelashes? A bag over her head?

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

No Fair! I Want Candy, Too!
I was writing recently about the way children illustrate human nature so well, using the example of the kindergartners who demand that the candy be taken away from the only child in the class who has any That principle came into play quickly, in an unexpected place.

I read a story about the contemporary Christian band Third Day, which was in the Twin Cities this past weekend. (Sorry, no Web link available, but it was in the St. Paul Pioneer Press entertainment section Feb. 23.) The story caught my eye because the headline alluded to the band having a sponsorship deal with Chevrolet.

Having a corporate sponsor for a Christian band could be controversial, and indeed, it has been so for Third Day, to some extent. After all, when a band signs on to take a sponsor's money, the band is opening itself up to having to do the bidding of the sponsor. So I can immediately see where the band would have concerns about hitching its wagon to a corporate sponsor.

But there's more "controversy." It seems someone else wants a piece of candy, too.

"I think Chevrolet is sending a message to other Americans who might not share that particular religious belief that the company is favoring one religious group over another, and that's very divisive," said Rabbi James Rudin, a senior interfaith adviser to the New York-based American Jewish Committee. "I mean, under that premise, then they should be sponsoring concerts for Jewish people. They should be sponsoring shows that feature Islamic music or doing something for Roman Catholic youth days. [Dave asks: Aren't Roman Catholics already included under the "Christian" banner?] I think this is a slippery slope, because it opens up Chevrolet, and General Motors in particular, [Dave here again. Shouldn't that be "General Motors, and Chevrolet in particular..."?] to criticism that they favor one religious group over another."

Poor Rabbi Rudin. He didn't get a piece of candy.

Isn't that ridiculous? The Rabbi is jealous. You can also tell that he's a Democrat, because he thinks that if someone succeeds or has good fortune, it should be taken away from him. Because it's not fair. I, on the other hand, have a simple, but opposite perspective. I think that if Rabbi Rudin wants a corporate sponsor for a Jewish concert, he should go out a get one. More power to him. But it doesn't have to be Chevrolet. Chevrolet is interested in selling vehicles, and maybe New York Jews aren't their target market, the way that, say, rural Christians who fancy pickup trucks might be. But another company may be interested in sponsoring a Jewish event. However, it's not Third Day's responsibility to make that happen.

Chevrolet should be free to treat a Christian band the same as any other band. And a Christian band should be free to operate in the same ways as any other band. As should a Jewish band, or a Muslim band. That's equality. Equality of opportunity and equality of treatment. But the good Rabbi thinks equality means equality of results. He's all about politics, and he's obviously a lefty. "Divisive"? "Divisive" is separating everyone into competing groups, envying the others, and demanding that their gains be taken away from them.

And following Rabbi Rudin's reasoning, how can Chevrolet sponsor anyone?

If Chevrolet sponsors a secular band, isn't that still "favoring" one group's religious views over another? What about if the band members are atheists? What if they are drug users? Alcoholics? Misogynists? Homosexuals? Rain forest savers? Third World debt forgivers? World hunger enders? Literacy campaigners? America lovers? America haters? Republicans? Democrats? Does that mean Chevrolet is favoring one lifestyle or belief over another?

Apparently, if you agree with Rabbi Rudin.

Isn't my way better than Rabbi Rudin's way? I say Chevrolet is free is sponsor any group. It's a business decision, not an ideological or spiritual endorsement. Rabbi Rudin seems to be saying to the members of Third Day, for whom the band is their business and the means by which they support their families, "Because you are Christians, you are not allowed to conduct business as are non-Christians." He's saying to Chevrolet, "Because they are Christians, you mustn't do business with them." That's pretty scary, when you look at it that way. Even Rabbi Rudin -- especially Rabbi Rudin -- should be able to see that.

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Liberals, Your Racism is Showing
The liberals and the Mainstream Media got pretty excited this week. They were convinced "full-blown civil war" was now inevitable in Iraq. Much to their disappointment, such has not yet become the case.

We know why they want civil war in Iraq -- anything to make President Bush look bad -- but why were they so sure their wish was about to come true? Why are they so sure Iraqis will resort to civil war? Could it be because they think those people can't do it any other way? Do they think that's just the way those people are? Do they think when it comes to wanting peace and valuing the safety future of their children, those people are somehow less civilized than we are? Are those people inferior and incapable of ruling themselves peacefully?

And this crazy ports issue. Why all this concern about letting "foreigners" run U.S. ports? "Foreigners" have been running these same ports. Yes, Great Britain is a U.S. ally. So is the United Arab Emirates. It's just that, well, you know, those people shouldn't be running our ports.

The Wall Street Journal says it's not racism, but protectionism. They're probably right. The Journal notes that the Democrats yelling the loudest about "security" concerns just happen to be recipients of contributions from the longshoreman's union.

Coincidence? There are no coincidences in politics. That's why they say, Follow the money.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Supply & Demand
Economics columnist Ed Lotterman uses a study revealing the "high" cost of day care in Minnesota as an opportunity to talk about the basic law of supply and demand. Why do people pay more for day care in Minnesota? Lotterman says that in part, it's simply because they are willing to.

People like to talk about the "right" price or "fair" price for something. What would that be, exactly? People complain that their cable TV bills are "too high." Congress wastes their time and our tax dollars to "investigate" and try to "help" us with the "problem." But all you have to do, if cable TV costs too much, is cancel it. The cable company charges what they do BECAUSE THEY CAN! People pay it, so they charge it. But if more people said "no thanks" to pay TV (like we do in our household), you can bet the cable and satellite companies would get the message and find ways to lower their prices.

We complain that gasoline costs "too much." But few of us make a serious effort to use significantly less. Why does it cost so much? Because we're willing to pay it. We continue to create a high demand, and the price reflects that.

Why does medical care cost so much? Because we're willing to pay for it, one way or another. (Usually indirectly so we can kid ourselves that someone else is really paying for it.)

I come from the farm. Farmers have always complained that they don't receive a fair price for their products. They're right. Yet, they continue to produce away, even though most have skills and a work ethic that would land them a good job working for someone else. If they're willing to continue to operate under unfair conditions, why should they expect anything to change? Willing to grow corn for low prices? Then you will. It's supply and demand.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Lloyd Marcus Wins!
The city of Deltona, Florida, has relented, and the "controversial" paintings by Lloyd Marcus have been reinstated at city hall's Black History Month display.

I wrote about the issue in a Feb. 10 post.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Give or Take 100 Million Years
OK, this time they're sure.

I've written before of what I call The Arrogance of Science. That's what I see as the tendency of science to always think that "This time we've finally got it all figured out! Sure, we're always revising the findings of those idiot scientists who came before us, but now we've finally got it all right."

I mention this because the discovery of the fossilized remains of a beaver-like creature now has scientists pushing back their timeline on the emergence of aquatic mammals by more than 100 million years. Scientists now "know" that 164 million years ago this mammal was swimming away merrily. Not 50 or 60 million years ago, as previously thought. That's quite a margin of error.

The previously assumed early mammal of that period was a tiny shrew-like creature that scurried through the underbrush.

Matthew Carrano, dinosaur curator at the Smithsonian, said, "It hints early mammals were not just these shadowy creatures at the time of dinosaurs" but were having their own evolution.

It's a reminder of just how much we don't know. Still, when the subject of Intelligent Design comes up, we're always told authoritatively that evolution is a "proven fact."

It would be refreshing to hear a scientist come clean and say, "No, we really don't know much yet about the origin of species, but isn't it interesting to study it?" That would be so much better than, "This time we've got it right!"

Friday, February 24, 2006

Is Murder Just a Joke?
Is murder now a laughing matter? I ask that in response to the response to VP Cheney's hunting accident. We hear a lot of jokes from Jay Leno and political commentators and the like, based on the idea that Cheney intentionally shot his friend Whittington, and -- look out -- he might shoot you next!

What about this cartoon? Is this funny?

It's interesting to note how quickly critics of the present administration point to this hunting accident as an illustration of everything they think is wrong with Cheney and Bush. They'd like us to think it's symbolic.

Contrast that with the way the same people reacted to President Clinton's "problems." They said having sex with an intern in the Oval Office was just a "private matter," and it didn't reflect on his job as president. They said it didn't reflect on his ability to keep an oath, to tell the truth, or to not exploit his own power for personal gain.


If anything, Cheney's hunting accident is more of a "private matter" than Clinton's sex in the Oval Office. Cheney's accident occurred on his own time, outside of his job duties, on private property outside of Washington D.C. Clinton was committing what would be described as sexual harassment if he were the CEO of Enron, and he was doing it right there in the People's House. I don't believe he called a timely news conference to tell the press all about it, either.

But then, that was "just sex." Cheney was involved in attempted murder, the way they talk about it.

But it wasn't attempted murder, of course, it was a hunting accident. So is it funny to make jokes accusing someone of being a murderer?

Would it have been funny, in the (battleship sized) wake of Monica Lewinsky, if people had made jokes about, "Look out! Clinton's going to rape you, too!" (Yes, I know there were no allegations that he "raped" Lewinsky. Just as there are no reasons to assert that Cheney tried to murder Whittington.)

Murder is a serious charge. It's not something to joke about. Especially when we're talking about someone who represents our nation.

David Brooks put it very well in his New York Times column:

On a personal level, the Cheney-Whittington accident was a sad but unremarkable event. Two men go hunting. Both are sloppy, and one friend shoots another. The victim is suffering but gracious. The shooter is anguished in his guilt....

In normal life, people would look at this event and see two men caught in a twist of fate. They would feel concern for the victim and sympathy for the man who fired the gun. But we in Washington are able to rise above the normal human reaction. We have our jobs. We have our roles.

So in the days after the Cheney-Whittington accident, liberal pundits had to live up to their responsibility to manufacture a series of unsubstantiated allegations...

Brooks describes it like I see it: There was an accident, and both men have been victimized. I myself, who has hunted very little, was once dangerously nearby when a hunting companion's gun went off unexpectedly. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Bad things can happen. It's easy to say that they shouldn't, but they still do.

So is Cheney to be beaten up on? Should we make jokes about him? I think he needs our sympathy, too. Accidently shooting your friend would be a terrible thing to do. We've all heard the story of a parent who accidentally kills his own child, backing over the kid in the driveway, for instance. That's a terrible, terrible tragedy, for all involved. We don't make jokes about it.

I continue to think that this story illustrates how out of touch the national media are with the real America. They have no concept of hunting as a legitimate activity. And they certainly have no concept of the use of guns for anything other than shooting people. As a result, they can't even report accurately. I've heard about "buckshot" and Cheney's "rifle." OK, try hunting quail with either of those.

(I'd like to be able to provide you with a link to that David Brooks column, but I'm not able to. As I understand it, the New York Times has decided to circle the wagons and try to protect their product but not making it available to the unwashed masses. If you want to access the "elite" columnists of the Times, you'll have to pay for a subscription. I read Brooks' column in the Feb. 19 St. Paul Pioneer Press. But the column did not appear on that paper's website, either. I'll be surprised if the Times' use of the "Betamax" marketing strategy works better than it did for its inventor, Sony. It didn't do much for Apple computer, either, resulting in a single-digit market share for an undeniably superior computer.)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Tangled Web of "Why They Hate Us"
My, oh my. This port story sure is getting interesting. I sort of foretold this in the previous post.

Today, the news out of the UAE was that people there are angry at the U.S. for opposing this port-operations sale. They say we are anti-Arab. They don't understand why we would treat them with such suspicion, when they've been a loyal ally in the War on Terror, including helping inside Iraq.

It looks like opponents of the deal are breeding anti-American sentiment in that part of the Middle East.

And just who are the opponents? Just about everyone but President Bush and his administration. In a very unusual case, both Republicans and Democrats are opposing the president on this.

Ironically, those would be some of the same Democrats who suggested that we brought 9/11 upon ourselves by "making them hate us." And how did we "make them hate us"? Why, with our policies, of course. And by "our" policies, what they really mean is the policies of George W. Bush, who had less than eight months in office to piss off an entire region. (Never mind the 9/11 plan had been in the works long before he took office.)

Now, most Democrats and Republicans alike are taking the knee-jerk "Arabs! We don't need no stinkin' Arabs!" approach. So much for "winning the hearts and minds" of the "Arab street."

I suggest we step back and actually bother to learn something about this deal, about ports, and about the United Arab Emirates and the U.S.'s relationship with that nation. Maybe if we take the time to study this matter, we'll see that the president was right all along.

And the Democrats especially will have egg on their faces. There will be plenty left over for the Republicans, too, but at least they aren't being hypocritical.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Trouble Off the Port -- and Starboard -- Side
Like almost everyone else outside of the Oval Office, I was shocked to hear that control of U.S. Ports was going to be turned over to, essentially, the government of the United Arab Emirates.

But what I want to know is, why didn't anyone point out until now that our ports are already being run by foreigners? Yes, it's a British firm, and the Brits are our allies in the War on Terror. But Great Britain is hardly free of Islamic terrorism. Remember Richard Reid the shoe bomber?

Here's my other question. Right now, President Bush finds himself in the unenviable position of being opposed by both Republicans and Democrats. But what if this issue had come to our attention because it had been announced that the Bush Administration was BLOCKING this sale to the United Arab Emirates?

I think the Republicans would then support him. But what about the Democrats?

My sincere guess is that, if the President had blocked this sale, the Democrats would then be criticizing him for that. They would be saying things like, "You can't blame an entire country for the actions of a few!" "You're anti-Muslim!" "That's racist!" "You let a British firm run the ports, and England has its share of Islamic terrorists, too! You clearly are discriminating against Arabs!"

Sadly, that's the state of politics these days. Politics first, national security second.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Everything I Need to Know About People, I Learned in Kindergarten
Several years back, a fellow sold a ton of books based on the idea that all he really needed to know he learned in kindergarten. I would add, everything you need to know ABOUT PEOPLE, you can learn in kindergarten.

I've written from time to time about how having children has helped me study human nature. With my own children for reference, I often notice how adults behave in just as ridiculously illogical, selfish, and short-sighted ways as children. (Maybe more so.) It's as though some people never grow up, they just get better at disguising and rationalizing their childish behavior.

Anyway, I'm getting around to relating this to my previous post, in which I explained that Christians may not be as sympathetic as they might be to Muslims offended by the Mohammed cartoons, because the Christians themselves have been offended in the past and no one cared about them, and so now they envy the Muslims' victim status.

I'm not justifying it, mind you, just trying to explain it. Two wrongs don't make a right (you may have heard that back in kindergarten). But there's a principle of human nature at work. People want others to share their own misery. "Misery loves company" is the saying. (It's not just a rejected tourism slogan for the Show-Me State.) Let's use an example from a kindergarten class to illustrate it.

Suppose you walk into a kindergarten classroom of 30 kids and give all but one child a piece of candy. What will happen? The left-out child will demand a piece of candy, too. The remaining 29 may demand you be "fair," or they may not give a hoot, since they got theirs. Hard to say.

Now imagine a different scenario. You give just one child candy. You hear an outcry to give candy to the rest, but you refuse. Now what happens? The 29 candyless kids will demand that the candy be taken from the one lucky kid.

The 29 don't benefit from the one's misfortune, but they don't care. They feel "better" knowing that no one else has it better than them.

Now imagine a third scenario. (You have to imagine it's the "good old days.") You go around the room and give 29 kids a disciplinary smack. When you get to the last child, you decide to spare the rod. What happens now? Will the 29 be glad that at least one kid has been spared?

I don't think so. I'm guessing the mob will demand that you be "fair" and smack the 30th child, too!

Smacking the 30th doesn't help the 29. But somehow, they think it does. If they had to suffer, they want everyone to suffer. No "special treatment" for number 30, they'll say.

In a sense, that explains the way many Christians have reacted to the Muhammed cartoons. I know it applies to me, anyway. As a Christian, I've been offended plenty of times. But I've been told that's the way it is. Others have the right to offend me. So when Muslims complain, rather than rush to their defense, I say, "Welcome to the party. Why should you get 'special treatment'?"

Is that right? Not necessarily. But it's the way it is.

And as for me, I'm now offended that Muslims are killing Christians all over the world, with some stupid cartoons as "justification." (As thought the cartoons were some sort of official "Christian" undertaking.) This is just the latest reason, by the way. They've been killing Christians in the Sudan all along, just for being Christians.)

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Some Religions Welcome in Public Schools
The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that one St. Paul public school has changed its art curriculum to accommodate the beliefs of some Muslim students. About 70 percent of Higher Ground Academy's students are Muslim immigrants from eastern Africa. The problem is that many Muslims adhere to Islamic teaching that prohibits the production of images of people or animals.

That's great, I suppose, and it's interesting to read about how the school dealt with trying to teach art without relying on the reliable staples of human and animal forms.

But I have to wonder, isn't this a change in direction? For decades, Christians have been told "love it or leave it" when it comes to complaints that the public school curriculum is an affront to Christianity. And large numbers have, indeed, left, dropping out of the public school system in favor of home schooling, or private schools that do not offend Christian beliefs about the origin of God's creation, or human sexuality, for example.

When Christians have complained, the response has been "separation of church and state!" It's been said that Christian's views can't even merely be respected by the government schools, because that would result in an "establishment of religion."

Now, Muslims complain about an infringement on their beliefs, and a public school bends over backwards to accommodate them. The school even consulted with an Islamic clergyman, who helped plan the curriculum.

Look, here's the deal: I'm not "against" accommodating the beliefs of Muslim students. I'm not arguing that two wrongs make a right. I'm asking, Why can't Christians be treated as respectfully? Why do Christians have to take a hike when the public school offends their beliefs?

(And what happens if Muslims object to the teaching of evolution, and demand mention of divine creation? Or complain about nonjudgmental teaching of sexual behaviors? What then?)

This story is strongly linked to what is the biggest story in the world right now -- Muslims murdering Westerners and Christians around the world, because an independent newspaper in Denmark did something that they don't like. (Think about that: If protesters burned the newspaper office, it would be wrong, but we could see the connection. But breaking stuff and killing people all around the world, just because they are Westerners or Christians? Aren't the protester-terrorists simply validating those cartoons?)

But...the mainstream journalism business has trouble seeing the big picture. They can't link stories worth a darn. So this story about the school is presented as a feel-good, stand alone feature.

But it has so much in common with the story of the Mohammed cartoons.

I think one reason some Christians haven't been as sympathetic as they could be to Muslim concerns about the Mohammed cartoons, is that they have been told over and over that that's just the way it is: Christians' religious beliefs are fair game for artists of all types, including editorial cartoonists. We've had the "Piss Christ" -- Jesus in a beaker of urine. We've had the elephant-dung Virgin Mary. Offended Christians have been told, "Tough!"

So P.O.-ed Christians, rather than supporting the P.O.-ed Muslims, are envious of all the media attention the P.O.-ed Muslims are getting. That has led Christians to transfer some of their own anger at the media and secular culture onto the protesting Muslims. And the senseless violence of the protests -- what often looks like violence for violence's sake -- serves to justify that anger after the fact. It's a vicious cycle that is now feeding upon itself.

But two or three wrongs don't make a right.

What I'd like to come out of these neverending Muslim protests, is for us all to take a good look at how we show our respect and tolerance for ALL religions, and that we have some equity. We can't respect and "tolerate" only those religions which are the politically-correct flavor of the day.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Olympic Rings and the Melting Pot
The Olympic Games sure shine a light on the American Melting Pot. Look at the athletes' faces, and look at their names. What does an American look like? What is an American name? There is no answer, is there? Americans have skin in all colors, and names originating on all continents (OK, maybe not Antarctica.). Even in just in one event -- men's speed skating -- the U.S. has competitors showing the skins of Asia, Africa, and Europe.

And the names. With many athletes, just hearing their names gives you a pretty darn good guess what country, or at least what region, they come from. Not so for the U.S. team. We've got some pretty "ethnic" sounding names ourselves.

Who is an American? The Olympics make a pretty good case that anyone can be.


Did you see the new sport of snowboardcross? I'll tell you, any sport where someone can crash through a fence, drag herself back onto the track, and still win a bronze medal, is all right with me.

About the only way they could improve this, is to put the women in skimpy outfits, put them on roller skates so they can do it year round, and..... oh, you're right. Never mind. That's been done already.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Size Doesn't Matter
Watching the opening ceremony for the Olympics, I was struck by the disparity in size among the nations of the world. Austria, for example, has a population of only 8 million. My state, Minnesota, has 5 million people by itself. The U.S. now has about 300 million people. Yet, in some events, small nations such as Austria are very competitive. And Norway -- with only 4.5 million people -- leads all nations in total medals won!

With 300 million, the U.S. seems like a giant. But it's all relative. China and India both have more than one BILLION people -- or several times the population of the U.S. Amazing.

The smallest nation represented at the Olympic Games? I believe that is San Marino, population 28,000.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A: Foreign Policy, the Economy, Irony / Q: Name Three Things Jimmy Carter Doesn't Understand
So, at the funeral for Coretta Scott King, former president Jimmy Carter saw fit to take a dig at President Bush, by referring to how Coretta Scott King and husband the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been the subjects of wiretaps.

That's ironic.

Who wiretapped MLK? The Democrats: JFK and LBJ, as I understand it. And why? For purposes of national security? Or for their own domestic political security? The latter, of course.

Why does he think he can stick it to President Bush by mentioning what should be an embarrassment for the Democrats? (The answer is obvious: He knows the liberal media will never ask that obvious question.)

My brother Dan likes to say that people accuse others of doing what they themselves would be tempted to do in a given situation. In the case of wiretaps, the Democrats try to paint a picture of Bush listening in on his political adversaries. Not only does that suggest that that is what Democrats would do, they've already done it!

I've written before that while Bush is accused of lying to get us into war in Iraq, that Democrat icon FDR used lies and subversion to involve the U.S. in a war that an isolationist Congress and public wanted to pretend didn't affect them. Now that the history of WWII has been written, we should be glad FDR did what needed to be done.

Bush is criticized for invading Iraq, because "Iraq didn't fly those planes into those buildings." Well, what did the FDR-led U.S. do after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor? We declared war on... Germany!

Germany, Japan, it was all part of the same fascist war against freedom. Same thing now.

But people being how we are these days, we can't simply look at the issues and see how things compare over the years, regardless of who is in the White House. No, it's mostly, if it's your guy, he's a great leader; if it's not your guy, he's overstepping his authority.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Violence Is Effective
Maybe violence never solved anything, but it sure gets people's attention.

Would we really pay any attention to complaints about the Mohammed cartoons if not for the violence? The truth is, people get frustrated doing things "the right way" and going through "the right channels," only to see no results. That's a big reason why people resort to terrorism. That's not an excuse or an apology, just a reality. People have a grievance. They state it over and over. The people in power listen, but don't do anything. The people with the grievance turn to violence, and suddenly, everyone's listening.

Terrorism works.

In response to complaints about political comments made at the funeral for Coretta Scott King -- that this wasn't the right time or place -- one of the participants said something like, "That's what they told us in Birmingham."

His point is well taken. The powers-that-be are content to tell others, "Not now, not here." They're happy to maintain the status quo and string along those who demand change. Left up to the powers-that-be, the right time and place will never come.

I have a similar experience in my own background. When I began my senior year in high school, my classmates and I were shocked to discover that the rules had changed. We had looked forward to our turn as kings of the hill, and we weren't going to get it. There was a new principal, lots of new rules and procedures, and longstanding senior privileges had been eliminated. We were very unhappy.

So, we made our objections known, through the proper channels. We sent representatives to the school board meeting. We called a public meeting to voice our concerns. I personally met with the superintendent, who told me how pleased he was that we were working through the "proper channels" and handling things "the right way."

Of course, we didn't gain anything.

Looking back, I can see that the powers-that-be were elated that we didn't start breaking things, so to speak They must have been terribly worried that we would. But as long as we didn't, they would just patiently listen to us... and do nothing.

Looking back, it's easy to see how once an aggrieved people figure that out, they will turn to violence. We never did. But there was that one prank...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

More Thoughts
Violent Criminal on the Loose?

I continue to think that the media reaction to the hunting accident involving Vice President Dick Cheney illustrates the "Red State/Blue State" divide, and how detached the mainstream media are from much of the real America.

I heard the audio from a White House news conference. One of the reporters starts out with, "The Vice President shoots a man and..."

I don't see it as a case of Cheney "shooting a man," so to speak. Yes, I suppose that's what happened. Maybe it's accurate in terms of denotation. But the connotation is all wrong. I think of it in terms of two men involved in a hunting accident. To me, there's a difference. Maybe you don't see the difference. Maybe you think I'm goofy. If so, that proves my point. We're divided by distinct ways of seeing the world.

And the way the media see it, there's little distinction between a hunting accident, and a drive-by shooting.

Why Not Just Give the Obvious Answer?

As part of that news conference, the White House spokesman was asked whether VP Cheney was following proper hunting safety rules. The spokesman dodged the question, saying he didn't know.

Why not just give the obvious answer? He should have said. "Apparently not."

(Note: Just because I define this as an "accident" doesn't mean there can't be any blame assessed.)

Loving the Olympics to Death

I think the media coverage of the Olympic Games is goofy. Olympic broadcast network NBC is intent on getting us all the details about the U.S. medal favorites. They want to hype us up to watch them win medals. Trouble is, they don't always win. Then all the pre-event hype seems pointless. Meanwhile, we know little about the real winners, who become almost an afterthought to the story of "Why didn't the American favorite win?"

And the news coverage falls into the same trap. Today I heard an ABC Radio News report which led with the news that U.S. favorite Bode Miller had failed to wind in the downhill combined competition. It was all about how he got disqualified for missing a gate, and how this was such a big disappointment. Then thrown in as an afterthought was that the gold medal in the event was actually won by American Ted Ligety, a darkhorse who had never won a major event, and who most of us had never heard of, because NBC and the rest chose to hype Bode, Bode, Bode.

Even this print story falls into the Bode trap. It focuses on Bode's failure, and doesn't even mention the name of gold medalist Ligety until the ninth -- the NINTH! -- paragraph. That's nuts!

In my opinion, the greatest Olympic stories are stories about underdogs and unknowns who rise to Olympic fame. But the media don't seem interested in those stories anymore. It's as though they're afraid to wait for such stories to present themselves, so they decide before the Games begin who and what the stories are, and stick with them. Maybe there's so much broadcast and advertising money at stake that they think they can't risk actually waiting for the stories to develop, so they'll try to make the stories ahead of time.

Another complaint I have is about all those pre-packaged features about the athletes. Sure, they're of interest, but once the Games actually begin, I want to see the competition. Maybe NBC could run the canned features in primetime in the days leading up the start of the actual Games. Wouldn't that serve their promotional purposes, too?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Dick, Ted & Aaron
Dick Cheney may be the first sitting Vice President in 200 years to shoot a man. VP Aaron Burr shot and killed former treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton in a duel on July 11, 1804.

The press sure are upset about this hunting accident. That's what it was -- a hunting accident. They act like the Veep has been involved in a criminal act. Some have even asked if he is going to resign. Ted Kennedy's "traffic accident" decades ago killed a woman, and he's still in office. The press let that go like water under the bridge.

It brings to light once again how remote the national media are from the real America. They know nothing about hunting, NASCAR, Wal-Mart, going to church -- any of those things important to people in the so-called "Red States." When they encounter people different from them in the "Red States," rather than exhibit tolerance and celebrate the "diversity" of America, they look down their noses. They don't know anything about guns, and I don't think they know the difference between a hunting party and a street gang. All they know is that guns are involved. And guns are evil. (Well, they would be evil, but there is no such thing as "evil" in the modern, progressive world. Guns are "inappropriate.")

Some reports referred to "buckshot." That's completely opposite, as I understand it. They were hunting small birds, which calls for very small shot. Buckshot is very large shot. The "intellectuals" of the media would probably say, "What's the difference? A gun's a gun." But let Dan Quayle or President Bush make the same mistake, and it would be repeated over and over as evidence of how "dumb" he was.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Islam: Religion? Culture? Both?
Leonard Pitts Jr. offers us a great take on violence in the Islamic world, explaining that it is a matter of culture, not religion.

We need to keep that in mind. In the ways that the Islamic world makes the news, however, there seems to be little difference. Muslims who don't practice a culture of violence don't make the news.

Pitts writes:

The argument is not about religion, but culture. Note that American Muslims -- surely as offended by the cartoons as Muslims elsewhere -- have felt no need to riot. They are writing letters to editors and holding peaceful rallies while their co-religionists are burning embassies down.

No, the argument is about what happens when any culture anywhere is so bereft and so closed that its people have no way of comprehending or even imagining lives and beliefs beyond their own.

The people we see rioting in the streets -- the majority of people of Islamic culture -- are ignorant.

Is that harsh? I'm not saying they're stupid, incapable of learning, or genetically inferior. They're ignorant. As Pitts writes so well, they have no knowledge of the "outside" world. If they had that knowledge, they'd no longer be ignorant.

But how do we bring that about? How do you educate the people of Iran, for instance, when the official position of the state/church is a position of hate and ignorance?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

My Two Cents
My two cents worth on some things I saw in the Sunday paper:

Iran Blames "Zionists' for Cartoons

The president of Iran says "Zionists" are behind the Mohammed cartoons. This is the man who says the Holocaust is a myth -- it never happened -- and that Israel should be "wiped off the map."

Let me see if I understand this. He says the Holocaust never happened. Apparently, the idea that some madman would want to destroy an entire race is too ludicrous to be true. He can't believe such a thing possible. Then, in the next breath, he calls for the annihilation of Israel. Someone get this guy a mirror.

MSM Says: Rules Be Damned; We're at War!

We've been told by the Left and their Mainstream Media stooges (Hmmm, I'm sounding a little like the president of Iran.) that war or national security are no excuse: rules are rules and the law is the law and President Bush has no business conducting his "domestic spying" program. (You can tell whose side the MSM are on by the way they have adopted "domestic spying" as the term to be used. I've written many times that liberal bias in the media is manifested in the terms that are used and how the debate is framed.)

So I found it ironic today to read a Los Angeles Times report that criticizes the Pentagon for not being speedy enough in getting a brand-new roadside bomb-busting vehicle into production and into Iraq.

To many in the military, the delay in deploying the vehicles, which resemble souped-up, armor-plated golf carts, is a case study of the Pentagon's inability to cast aside more cumbersome peacetime procedures to meet the urgent demands of troops in the field.

What? Just because we're at war we're supposed to cast off our peacetime procedures? I'm confused.

Connecting the Dots

Sometimes I'll read a letter to the editor, and I think that the writer is off to a good start, but failed to connect all the dots. He or she didn't take it far enough. There are a couple of examples today.

Tari Johnson complains that her daughter couldn't get into her desired math class because there aren't enough math teachers. Johnson concludes with this paragraph:

Many studies show strong correlation between the amount of math taken and future income. But there are not enough math teachers.

Here's the rest of it: Let's accept that those who take more math earn more money. Who takes a lot of math? Math teachers, for one. Do they earn a lot of money? Not unless they leave teaching and put their math skills to use somewhere else. Might that be why there aren't enough math teachers? Because they are tempted to leave teaching? Sounds like the answer to Johnson's problem might be found in her letter: Pay math teachers more money!

Why They Hate Us

In defense of President Bush, Nick Norman writes:

Those who believe that the president's foreign policy incites Islamic rage have been shown that a simple Danish cartoon can have the same effect.

That's a good point. It also should serve to remind us of the real reason they hate the West. It's no secret; they've told us repeatedly. They hate the West for its moral decadence. (The President likes to say that they "hate freedom." He knows the MSM would Murphy Brown him if he said they hate our immorality.)

The truth is, they hate "Brokeback Mountain." (I have not seen the movie and will render no personal judgment on it.) They hate more than that specific movie, of course, but it serves as a timely example. Yet while the Liberal Left blame President Bush for making Muslims hate us, they simultaneously laud "Brokeback Mountain" and other "groundbreaking" or "progressive" fare as high-points of Western Civilization.

The terrorists have repeatedly and specifically told us that they want to destroy us and what they see as our decadence. Why don't we acknowledge it?

(Addendum: A friend of mine went to see "Brokeback Mountain." He thought it was about a guy who ended up a quadriplegic after a skiing accident. Boy, was he surprised!)

(Addendum #2: Yes, I just made that up. Had you going, though.)

Friday, February 10, 2006

Black History Month: God Is History
Forget what you were taught in school about the historic significance of Negro spirituals, the ties between the church and the abolitionist movement, or the roles churches and clergy of all skin tones played in the American civil rights movement. When it comes to Black History Month, God doesn't exist.

At least that's the official position of the city of Deltona, Florida, where city manager Roland Blossom ordered three paintings by black artist Lloyd Marcus removed from a city hall Black History Month display. The banned paintings were from a series which drew upon Marcus' childhood as the son of a storefront preacher in Baltimore. The inclusion of a Bible and the name of Jesus in the background details of the paintings were too much for Blossom. Quoted in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Blossom said,

"I saw the word 'Jesus' and the Holy Bible just sort of thrown in the painting," Blossom said. "What that forces anybody to do because this display is in a government building, they think this government is advocating in favor of one religion over another."

Well, if that's the case, I sure hope there's no mention or depiction of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. included in Deltona's Black History Month display. That might be perceived the same way. And I sure hope Blossom's office wasn't closed on January 16, in recognition of the federal holiday that officially honors the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. If it was, people might get the idea that the city of Deltona is advocating in favor of one religion over another.

I don't think this story has hit the mainstream press yet, and maybe it won't. But it sure should. Meanwhile, you can read about it in the Daytona Beach News-Journal and on the World Net Daily site. Read Marcus' own account, and view the banned paintings, on Marcus' website.

You have to wonder -- especially this week -- what would be the response if Blossom had banned the paintings because they depicted a Koran? I'm guessing Blossom wouldn't have dared ban such paintings. Or forget religion. What if some paintings were banned because they depicted the childhood of an artist who was raised by two daddies or two mommies? We know that "scandal" would be all over the mainstream media -- and we also know who would be portrayed as the victim, and who would be portrayed as the bad guy.

The important thing to remember is that Marcus' art is a depiction of his own genuine experience of black history. It is fact. It is truth. It is history. The irony is that we now have an entire month dedicated to the importance of black history, but we still have someone telling black artists what part of their history is worth preserving and displaying. The second irony is that Bible-banner Blossom is himself black.

Thursday, February 9, 2006

Keeping Religion Out of Valentine's Day
Pioneer Press columnist Laura Billings has her thong in a knot today over an attempt by the Liberty Counsel to "rebrand" Feb. 14 as a national "Day of Purity," a day for teens to observe and celebrate being "sexually pure, in mind and action."

Billings doesn't see the irony in her characterization that the Liberty Counsel is conducting a "rebranding" of Valentine's Day, and trying to hijack it for "the religious right." It should be noted that Feb. 14 is actually SAINT Valentine's Day. St. Valentine is a Christian Saint, and he epitomizes love. But not the kind of love at the forefront of Billings' mind. Rather, St. Valentine showed his love in the greatest way possible, by giving up his life for others. As Jesus said: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:16)

But with Billings, it's always about sex. I think she's a frustrated sex columnist. (Or just frustrated, perhaps.) That must be it. She's watched too many episodes of "Sex and the City." She imagines herself as Carrie Bradshaw.

To be fair, Billings isn't completely out in left field in her column, but I don't care for the way she instinctively knee-jerks her opposition to anything proposed by a conservative religious group. I think she's biased. If someone else automatically reacted that way to anything on the agenda of a group representing the (fill-in-the-blank) "community," she'd likely call that person a bigot.

Anyway, this topic reminds me of something I've said before: We could prevent much of our current social problems -- social problems that liberals demand government spend money to treat -- if people quit having sex with people they shouldn't have sex with.

Consider what would happen if people only had sex with their spouses:

STDs would be greatly reduced. AIDS transmissions would be greatly reduced. There would be only a fraction of the number of children in single parent homes. There would be only a fraction of the number of children and women living in poverty. Children would be much better off.

These are all problems that liberals demand we spend more and more money to "fix." But they could be easily prevented. But we won't speak the truth. We don't want to be "judgmental."

We tell people not to litter. We tell them not to smoke. We say don't waste energy. We say reduce, reuse, recycle. We tell people they should modify their behavior in all sorts of ways, for the greater good of the Earth and our society. But practice responsible sexuality? That's too much to ask for.

Some people say we should tell teens not to have sex until they decide they are "ready." That's about the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Of course THEY think they're "ready." If I told my 10-year-old son he couldn't drive the car until he is "ready," it would take about 90 seconds and he'd be trying to get it started. I'd ask if he needed any help and he'd say, "No, I know how." But of course he doesn't. That's why it's my job to tell him no, he's not ready to drive the car.

I think the question people of any age should ask themselves, to decide if they are "ready," is this: Am I prepared to be raising a baby with this person 9 months from now? If the answer is "no," keep your pants on.

Is my standard unrealistically high? Of course it is. But it's what we should aim for. Do we really expect every can to be recycled? Do we really expect no one to smoke? Do we really expect no one to ever tell a racist joke? Of course not, but that's the standard we ask for. That's what we aim for. Because the closer we get to that goal, the better. But you won't even get close if you don't start out with a lofty goal.

(*OK, my "test question" might not apply so well to everyone. But I'll just have to trust people past their child-bearing years to be old enough to make their own decisions.)

Thursday, February 9, 2006

G-d Help Us, It's Another Double Standard
Earlier this week, I heard an editor from the St. Paul Pioneer Press on the radio explaining that his paper hadn't reprinted the controversial Mohammed cartoons because they could tell the story without doing so.

But then on Wednesday, for something as relatively unimportant as a story about NBA player LeBron James, the paper was unable to tell the story without prominently featuring this quote from fellow NBA star Kevin Garnett on the front page of the sports section: (In the printed paper, the quote is pulled out of the story and featured next to the headline.)

"It's going to be damn near Jesus Christ the next person to come and do the things he's been doing."

I ask you, is that really necessary?

In all seriousness, seeing that does offend me somewhat. There are certainly things that would offend me more. It's not the end of my world, but I do find it offensive.

But that's hardly the first thing in the newspaper to offend me, and I don't expect the paper to apologize. And I certainly don't expect the paper to withhold Garnett's comments out of fear they might offend me. (Of course, they don't fear getting their building firebombed for offending Christians.)

This isn't perfectly analogous to the Mohammed cartoons. I understand that there is a total prohibition against depicting Mohammed, so the degree of the "offense" stands out more. But I did think of another situation that is more analogous.

Some Jews believe it is wrong to write the name of God. So they write "G-d" instead. (I respect their beliefs, but won't try to explain them, as I'd likely only misrepresent them.) This seems very analogous to the prohibition on depicting the image of Mohammed. (Question: how does anyone know the cartoons depict Mohammed, anyway, if there are no previous images of him? Maybe they depict a cartoon actor playing the part of Mohammed.)

But I've never seen where a newspaper refused to print "God" because it would offend Jews. And here we're talking about the Almighty himself, not just one of his servants!

Maybe that has been done only when the story was about a Jewish group that writes "G-d," or when it included a quote from a Rabbi from a denomination that writes "G-d." But if that is the policy, then to be consistent, the paper should refuse to print a depiction of Mohammed only when the cartoon was drawn by a Muslim.

(OK, my curiosity got the better of me. Here's a website that tells why some Jews write "G-d." I thought it had to do with the word being a sort of "graven image," but that's not the case. It's because "it is forbidden to deface or desecrate the Name of G-d in any way, or to cause any possibility thereof. Some Rabbis are of the opinion that this applies to the word 'G-d' in any language. Many therefore do not write the Name of G-d where someone might throw it out.")

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Don't Call Me a Bully, or I'll Beat You Up
A report out of Philadelphia, where Muslims have picketed the Philadelphia Inquirer for reprinting a cartoon depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammed:

According to Islamic tradition, any pictures or images of Muhammad are considered sacrilegious. But the Danish cartoon is particularly insensitive, the local protesters contend, because it perpetuates a stereotype of Islam as a militant religion.

"It's disrespectful to us as a people," said Asim Abdur-Rashid, an imam with the Majlis Ash'Shura, an umbrella group for mosques in the Delaware Valley. "It's disrespectful to our prophet to imply that he's a prophet of violence."

Now, why would anyone think that?

Yes, the Philadelphia protesters are peaceful, but Muslims as a whole aren't exactly "turning the other cheek" in response to what they see as an offense against them, are they?

Atter 9/11, some (leftist) Americans said, "We have to look at ourselves and ask, 'What have we done to make them hate us so?'" Maybe it's time for Muslims to ask, "What have we done to make them see us this way?"


What I'm looking for is the response of the American Liberal Left.

Will they say that in the name of "diversity" and "tolerance" we must voluntarily ignore our own Bill of Rights and defer to Islamic law?

Remember, these are the same people who have defended a crucifix in a beaker of urine as "art" and "free speech." These are the same people who feel threatened by the display of the 10 Commandments in a courthouse. These are the same people who tell us to say "Happy Holidays" because "Merry Christmas" might offend someone.

When Christians have complained about being offended by the aforementioned examples, the Left has reminded us that "we don't live in a theocracy." But when it comes to Islam, will they forget their so-called "principles" and voluntarily defer to religious law?

Maybe if Christians took to the streets with guns, then the Left would adopt Christians as oppressed victims, too. But when a newspaper displays a front-page banner reading "Happy Holidays" on Dec. 25, or refers to a photo of the city's "holiday" tree, do we see any violent mobs?


Here's another thing: Isn't it ironic that the response to being offended by a mere cartoon depiction of Mohammed is to burn another country's flag? Aren't they worried that the flag burning might be culturally-insensitive to Danes, for instance?


Why do some people respond with violence to everything? Maybe because they know that's the most effective way to get what they want. They know too many Americans take the attitude of, "Give them what they want; it's just not worth it." But like a parent in the grocery store who gives in at the first sign of a tantrum and throws the sugar-laden cereal into the cart, we'll eventually see that we should have made a stand. But by then, will it be too late?

Monday, February 6, 2006

"Divide and Conquer" & Other Old Sayings
"Divide and conquer". How many people understand what that means? I often hear it used to mean, "Let's divide our forces and conquer the enemy by surrounding him." But that's not right at all.

"Divide and conquer" refers to dividing the enemy, not your own forces. The division can be literal -- physically dividing enemy troops into small groups -- or figurative -- breaking a people's unity of purpose, and setting them upon each other, while their real enemy surrounds them. Another old saying that applies in the latter sense is "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

That's what I'm talking about in the previous post. By arguing amongst ourselves and showing a lack of unified commitment to stick it out and win the war we're engaged in, we encourage the enemy and discourage ourselves. We are playing right into their hands. We are succumbing to the enemy's strategy to divide and conquer us.

We may have doubts and disagreements, but we have to deal with those amongst ourselves, not in the world equivalent of the public square. We have to present a unified front to the enemy. There's an old saying about that, too. "Don't air your dirty linen in public."

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Second-guessing Is Not a Strategy
Something really jumped out at me in the State of the Union address last night. Regarding the war in Iraq, President Bush said:

...there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure.

Hindsight alone is not wisdom. And second-guessing is not a strategy.

That says it so well. Critics of the President ask, "Aren't we allowed to question the war? Aren't we allowed to criticize?"

Of course you are. But I see very little real, genuine and sincere constructive criticism. Mostly, so-called "criticism" of war strategy is really just political attacks on the President.

Real constructive criticism would be designed and intended to increase success, and bring about victory sooner. We can use that. But what we get from the President's political opponents is a self-fulfilling defeatism that makes it harder to succeed and encourages the terrorists to continue killing Americans.

Some of the President's opponents would have been right at home in the Politburo, with their "party first, country second" way of thinking.

Of course not everything has gone according to plan in Iraq. Did anyone really expect it to? There is no "right" plan for an operation like this. It's not a video game, with a pre-programmed path to victory. But political opponents and the mainstream media like to continually point out how the Bush administration has made the "wrong" decisions about the war. "Wrong" based on what? Do they have the teacher's guide, with the "right" answers?

I've written before about "Let's Make a Deal" thinking. People fall into the trap of thinking life is like a game show. If you didn't get a perfect result, you must have made the "wrong" decision. But in real life, there is no guarantee that a fabulous prize awaits behind any door. Sometimes, all the doors/decisions lead to less-than-desirable outcomes. How do we know that if the President and his administration had made different choices, the result wouldn't have been worse?

But some people like to think that it's as simple as making the "right" decisions and soon we'll all be holding hands, singing Kumbaya, and drinking that free Bubble-Up and eating that rainbow stew.

Real life don't work that way.

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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