archives: March - December 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

New York Times Reporters Who Forget What the New York Times Has Reported in the Past Are Condemned...

It's Bush's fault. Everything. He's so powerful, he even causes hurricanes.

And his powers aren't limited to the U.S. Banks have collapsed in Iceland. European car makers appear headed for bailouts. My relatives in England refer to people being glad to have a job in their Christmas letter.

And it's all Bush's fault.

For some time, I've sensed that all this Bush-blaming hints at schoolyard bullying. As more people bully the unpopular kid, others see "everyone else is doing it" and join in. Even the popular kids are doing it -- and are becoming more popular. No one is getting into trouble. Everyone becomes very brave and picks on the unpopular kid. "Bush has cooties!" No, but everything is Bush's fault.

Now look at this from the New York Times. According to this story, Bush is responsible for the mortgage crisis. Why? Because his policies encouraged minorities to become homeowners. Here's an excerpt:

But the story of how we got here is partly one of Mr. Bush's own making, according to a review of his tenure that included interviews with dozens of current and former administration officials.

From his earliest days in office, Mr. Bush paired his belief that Americans do best when they own their own home with his conviction that markets do best when let alone.

He pushed hard to expand homeownership, especially among minorities, an initiative that dovetailed with his ambition to expand the Republican tent - and with the business interests of some of his biggest donors. But his housing policies and hands-off approach to regulation encouraged lax lending standards.

Got that? It's Bush's fault, because he wanted more diversity in home ownership. Now, consider this story, also from the New York Times, that ran September 30, 1999 -- during the Clinton administration. Here's an excerpt:

Fannie Mae, the nation's biggest underwriter of home mortgages, has been under increasing pressure from the Clinton Administration to expand mortgage loans among low and moderate income people and felt pressure from stock holders to maintain its phenomenal growth in profits.

In addition, banks, thrift institutions and mortgage companies have been pressing Fannie Mae to help them make more loans to so-called subprime borrowers. These borrowers whose incomes, credit ratings and savings are not good enough to qualify for conventional loans, can only get loans from finance companies that charge much higher interest rates -- anywhere from three to four percentage points higher than conventional loans.

''Fannie Mae has expanded home ownership for millions of families in the 1990's by reducing down payment requirements,'' said Franklin D. Raines, Fannie Mae's chairman and chief executive officer. ''Yet there remain too many borrowers whose credit is just a notch below what our underwriting has required who have been relegated to paying significantly higher mortgage rates in the so-called subprime market.''

Demographic information on these borrowers is sketchy. But at least one study indicates that 18 percent of the loans in the subprime market went to black borrowers, compared to 5 per cent of loans in the conventional loan market.

In moving, even tentatively, into this new area of lending, Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times. But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980's. ...

Would it be too much to expect New York Times reporters to at least know some of the background information that has appeared in their own paper? Claiming that Bush "started it" is ridiculous. Their own paper told us nine years ago that Clinton was "starting it" then!

Now, let's look at a cute little graph that accompanies the recent story. It shows, according to the Times, that home ownership rates "hit historic highs" during the Bush administration, before dropping to about where they were when he took office. But let's look at more than just 2001-2008. The upward slope of that line is remarkably consistent ever since it started moving upward in about 1994. No spike is apparent during the Bush years. What the graph shows is that during Bush's first term, the existing trend in increasing home ownership continued along the same path it had already been on for about six years.There's no sign that anything changed during the Bush years.

In fact, if a story about this had been written a few years ago, when increasing home ownership was still seen as a good thing, the New York Times' graph would have been used as evidence that Bush didn't deserve any credit. I have no doubt that these same Times reporters would have "interpreted" the graph to show that Clinton deserved the credit for getting the ball rolling, and Bush merely inherited Clinton's miraculous policies.

This is professional reporting? For a newspaper that considers itself the best of the best? This is either a hatchet job, or incompetence. This is not journalism.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Eating Ramen Noodles Off the Good China

Here in Minnesota last month the voters approved a constitutional amendment that creates a new sales tax, with the proceeds dedicated to funding the arts and the natural environment. I voted against it, because I think it's bad public policy. We elect legislators to make those funding decisions. If they don't vote "enough" for these programs, that's the decision they have made in light of the overall state budget. And we shouldn't lock ourselves into always spending a certain pool of money on certain programs, because we don't know what circumstances we might find ourselves in.

That's what has come about. Just weeks after the election, it was announced that the state of Minnesota is facing a big, big budget shortfall in the next biennium. Cuts will have to be made, and/or taxes raised.

Proponents of that just-passed amendment are getting defensive. "Don't touch 'our' money," they say. "This is dedicated for the arts and the environment."

Some people have suggested that with this new dedicated funding, it would be wise for the legislature to reduce some of the "regular" arts funding when figuring out how to balance the budget. That idea doesn't sit well with the amendment's proponents. Here's state senate majority leader Larry Pogemiller, quoted in a column by Pioneer Press theater critic Dominic P. Papatola:

"The best way to say it, is that if we need to cut the appropriation to the arts board, then we need to follow through on it. There could be separate legislation that might have money (from the amendment) going to the arts board, but that should not be for the same things that we just cut."

Let's think about that. Pogemiller is saying that, just because things are tight and we need to cut some of what the legislature had decided was important enough for them to fund -- the necessities -- that's no reason not to go ahead and instead buy some of the luxuries that were never deemed important enough for the legislature to fund.

I figure that's sort of like this: Imagine you just found out you've lost your job, and you've no money to buy food for your kids. But you get home and you find a birthday card from your rich aunt. She mailed it two days ago, and had no idea that you were in a bind. She's sent you $1,000 and has written that you should "buy yourself something nice" with it.

Do you use it to buy macaroni and cheese for the kids? Or do you go out and buy yourself that rare comic book you've always wanted?

We know which one Pogemiller would do.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pro-Life for Moose

I've spotted yet another example of parallel thinking/behavior on the left and the right. The first can be noted in a Kathleen Parker column in which the syndicated columnist says that people of faith need to use reason, not just religion, when promoting their ideas in the public policy arena.

That echoes what I have written previously. Saying, for example that if you attend an anti-abortion rally, about the worst thing you can do is wave your Bible in the air or carry a big sign with a Bible verse on it. Why is that bad? Because it plays right into the hands of your opponents, who can easily dismiss you, saying, "Keep your religion to yourself."

But here's where the "other side" does the same thing: On his radio show Tuesday, Joe Soucheray http://www.garagelogic.com talked about a news story that said the moose population is dropping in Minnesota. Soucheray noted that he was "pro moose," and he didn't want the moose herds to disappear, but he was skeptical about the report. Why? Because the decline in the moose population was being blamed on "climate change," and Soucheray is not a true believer in "global warming," "climate change," or any other doctrines of the church of St. Algore.

And that issue -- "climate change" or whatever they are calling it this month -- does often seem almost like a religion. So by raising it, the true believers immediately put the non-believers on the defensive. The religious aspects get in the way of an intelligent, reasoned discussion of the issue.

That's what Soucheray was struggling with, saying of course he was concerned about the moose, but did he have to swallow all the "climate change" stuff along with it?

It shouldn't have to be that way. We should be able to agree that we all like the moose, and that we want to prevent their demise. Helping the moose shouldn't be dependent on adherence to a political belief system.

Nor should protecting babies.

(Speaking of the unborn, here's an interesting story about how people are struggling to figure out what to do with unwanted frozen embryos. Just a "piece of tissue" or "a clump of cells"? People don't seem so sure after all.)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Prosperity Broadcasting

An idea I've explored several times is that however we try to divide people into two groups -- left or right, red or blue, liberal or conservative -- the two groups are very much the same. Members of both groups exhibit the same basic human tendencies. And for every action or belief about which group A says group B is "stupid" or "irrational" or "hypocritical," it seems there's some sort of counterpart action or belief about which group A can be accused of the same thing. (As much as I love Dr. Seuss, I'm not going to say it's as simple as which side of the bread people butter, but it's something like that.)

Anyway, here's a recent example of two groups doing the same thing in their own ways. I thought of this today when I looked at tonight's public television schedule and realized it must be pledge week(s). (All the usual programming -- which I watch regularly -- has been pulled in favor of specials designed to attract the aging Baby Boomer demographic, who are guilted into giving money so that PBS can "continue to offer programs like this." After which, the regular programming comes back, and a lot of those people who just pledged money stop watching.)

One of the special programs tonight is called "Stay Rich Forever & Ever with Ed Slott." I kid you not. I also know that during past pledge drives, other financial gurus such as Suzy Orman have been featured. I had an epiphany: This is like those mega-churches I read about that pack in the people by preaching the so-called "Prosperity Gospel" that promises earthly wealth to those who follow what the preacher says.

And in both cases, the sponsoring organizations -- the TV station or the church -- are hoping that this brings in the donations that enrich them, as well.


This goes well with another recent thought about human nature that I've been mulling over: Everyone wants to believe there is something bigger, more important, and more powerful than them; and everyone wants to feel righteous while being able to look down on the "sinners."

But again, this applies to "both sides." It's not just about people who are traditional religious believers in God. It also applies to those who think, for example, that the environment or a political movement is their own higher calling, and that someone who drives an SUV or doesn't adhere to the same beliefs is a "sinner."

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Has Thanksgiving Outlived Itself?

Why shouldn't someone die in a shopping stampede on "Black Friday"? That's what America is all about. We must have more stuff!

Really, I'm starting to hate Thanksgiving. No one seems to have time to give thanks. And then if they do, whom are they thanking? Their family and friends and so on. People have totally bastardized it.

And instead of taking a day off to feel thankful, it's eat like a pig, then start planning out the shopping orgy for 4AM the next day. Meanwhile, the TV is on, blasting ads telling us all the things we have to have.

It makes me sick. It really does.

Maybe we should get rid of Christmas, too. No one seems to remember what that is all about, either. For example, even this story in yesterday's Pioneer Press. The story is ostensibly about teaching kids that Christmas isn't all about getting stuff. It even says they need to learn the "reason for the season." But never once does it mention Jesus.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Global Islamic War

How can some still deny that's what is going on?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Buy Local -- When It Makes You Feel Good

One of the current trendy concepts of the "progressive" types among us is to "buy local." They are usually talking about food. They say that's a good idea, because it means less fossil fuel is being expended to get to food to the consumer. (Although when you add up all the gas burned to individually get all the consumers to the local farmers' market, there may be more fuel used per capita than if everyone bought produce delivered to the local grocery tore by a semi truck.)

That's fine with me if that's what people want to do. But don't expect much for produce to be available during a Minnesota winter. Our predecessors built root cellars to store, yes, root vegetables. That's what they had for the winter -- potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, parsnips. No avacadoes or grapes or bananas.

Another virtuous "buy local" concept I've read about was the "green" house with the floors and trim made from "local" walnut trees. Wouldn't you rather keep your local walnut trees alive? Get your walnut from somewhere else, or better yet, use some easily-replaced pine. Would nuclear power plants be "green" if we mined the plutonium locally and stored the waste locally?

Anyway, people are very selective about this "local" thing. Basically, it's just do what makes you feel good. People think it's fun and they feel virtuous when they buy local produce. But the odd thing is, these tend to be a lot of the same people who, for 30 years now, have been buying Japanese and European cars. What's wrong with the local vehicles? I walked the dog around the block this morning in my Al Franken-loving neighborhood. It being early Saturday morning, most people were still home and the street was full of cars. You know what? The majority were foreign makes.

Yet these are the same people who claim to stick up for union workers and "living wages." They complain about jobs leaving the country, and blame Republicans. Yet, they buy European and Japanese cars. (And among the American brands I saw, Saturn -- where the UAW is not as strong -- was well-represented.)

What's the difference? Local food is fashionable right now in the lefty crowd, just as foreign cars are. That pretty much sums it up. It's simply what's fashionable.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The World Needs Editing

(This is a column by me that appeared today on the opinion page of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Unfortunately, I can't find it on the paper's website.)

UPDATE: Here it is online: http://www.twincities.com/ci_11062892

Has it really been 16 years since Bruce Springsteen sang his lament about "57 channels and nothing on"?

How quaint! Only 57 channels. These days, that makes you some sort of technophobe. (And me -- relying on "free, wireless video" -- a certifiable Luddite.)

Not to go all Andy Rooney on you, but have you ever noticed that thanks to advancing technology, there's too much information out there? Well, I've identified the problem: The world needs editing.

For instance, I don't want someone to email me a link to 500 vacation photos. I'd rather receive a few photos the sender knows will appeal especially to me.

And can't we be satisfied with a movie as it ran in the theater, edited for length by the director? On the DVD, we restore the deleted scenes. And we're no longer content with the director's determined denouement; we include "alternate endings." If it fits, it's included.

Time and materials used to matter. It cost money to reprint photos for our friends, so we made them judiciously. Writing letters took time and postage, so we didn't write to everyone about everything. Now, it's easiest just to email everything to everybody, and let them sift through it themselves.

Then there's "spam." Whether the unsolicited email goes out to one hundred or one hundred million addresses, the cost to the spammer is basically the same. But direct mail advertisers must weigh the costs of printing and mailing their materials, and have an incentive to limit their mailing lists to legitimate prospects.

Maybe there ought to be a "postage" charge on email. If spammers had to pay even one-tenth of a cent for each piece of spam, they'd exercise some discretion.

Read a newspaper lately? Newspapers operate in the physical world. Paper costs money. So decisions have to be made about what goes into the paper each day. Editors choose content based on its necessity and usefulness. They try to cover a variety of subjects and present a variety of viewpoints.

But the virtual world of the Internet has room for more than just "all the news that fits" each day. And that can be a good thing. Trouble is, when we leave the editing to ourselves, we tend to seek out only those topics we already know about, and only those viewpoints that reinforce our existing world view.

The Internet, for all its wealth of information, lacks organization. Back in third grade they taught us about how the Dewey Decimal System had solved the problem of organizing books in the library. Maybe some day a system will be invented to bring order to the Internet. But as long as it's based on computerized search engines and not human editors, I have my doubts.

Search engines do make it easy for today's kids to do their homework. Just type in a few words and the answer comes right up on your screen. But is the information accurate? You can easily "verify" misinformation on the Internet. In contrast, library books have been vetted by human editors and librarians.

Ironically, the easier it becomes to create and distribute information, the less permanent it is. Stone tablets? Hard to carve, but they last for millennia. The hand-penned Dead Sea Scrolls? Still with us. Gutenberg's books? Hanging in there. That email message I received last year? Let's see...was that before or after my hard drive crashed?

The more information there is, the less precious it becomes. Are shared MP3 files given the same loving care shown to vinyl records? Does anyone tie up text messages and emails with a ribbon and tuck them away in a shoebox?

I wonder if future historians will curse us because for all of our information, we left so little behind. Millions of people may have blogs, but will future generations find them as accessible as paper journals and diaries? A century from now, will someone find historic digital photos tucked away in a drawer, the way old glass plate negatives have been discovered?

I have computer files I can no longer open and read, because they were created with obsolete software. Will historians someday need the cyber equivalent of the Rosetta Stone to decode the mysteries of our time?

If so, don't count on the files surviving in a readable condition. They don't call it software for nothing; those files aren't written in stone.

Internet replace print? I don't think so. Did radio replace newspapers? Did Hollywood render radio redundant? Did TV put Hollywood out of business? The Internet and related digital technologies are additional useful tools, but they can't, and won't, replace everything else.

I could go on and on. Or rather, I can't. I have an editor.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Organic" People?

I read a news story that said birth defects occur more often in children conceived through "assisted reproduction," meaning in vitro fertilization or something called intra-cytophlasmic sperm injection.

Should that be any surprise?

After all, those processes aren't "natural," and these days we know that natural is good, and something cooked up in a lab is bad.

At least it is when it comes to food.

That's the irony, here. This is another example of the disconnect in thinking that we can see in groups of people. When it comes to matters of assisted reproduction, it's typically been conservatives who sound the alarm about doing something that goes against the laws of nature (and God). Libs, meanwhile, say it is progress, and a good thing because it will help people who otherwise can't have children.

But then look at issues of food. It's the libs who are all excited about their food being organic and pure, about there not being any dangerous chemicals in baby bottles, etc. We should all eat "local" and "organic." It's a matter of faith that "natural" is always better. You want your food "the way nature intended." Modern agricultural practices with chemicals and synthetic fertilizer might make food cheap and abundant, so that the poor don't have to go without food, but too bad. They can afford their "safe" food, and that's all that counts.

Ironic, no?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Obama Bans Same-Sex Marriage

In his first accomplishment since becoming president-elect, Barack Obama has banned same-sex marriage in California.

OK, OK, that's not exactly true. But have you heard this? (And you might not have, because it isn't politically correct, so it isn't getting much coverage.) People have wondered why it is that so many people voted "liberal" for Barack Obama in California, but the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages also passed. The assumption is that an Obama vote was a "no" vote on the amendment.

So why the disconnect? Simple. Exit polls have shown that blacks overwhelmingly voted for the amendment to ban same-sex marriages, mostly on moral and religious grounds.

Now that's a king-sized irony biting the liberals on the butt. Let that be a lesson to the white liberal power brokers: the "little people" don't have to do everything you want them to do. You can lead a voter to the polls, but you can't make him vote the way you want him to.


Did you see Obama on "60 Minutes" Sunday night? I thought he was very impressive. The lack of BS was impressive. He came off as a real person talking straight, not a politician well-coached in the art of saying nothing. Maybe he's just so good at slinging the bull that he fooled me, but I think I'm a good judge of BS. It was 16 years ago on "60 Minutes" that I saw Bill Clinton for the first time. That was before the blogosphere and before I listened to talk radio. I didn't know anything about him at the time; he was just another guy wanting to be president. But there were "rumors" that he was a philanderer, and he and Hillary went on TV to defend themselves. And that was the appearance that "saved" the campaign and let him become a two-term president.

But that's not how I saw it at the time. I said to my wife, "He's done. I wouldn't buy a used car from that guy." I could tell that everything the guy said was a lie.

But I was wrong. Oh, I wasn't wrong that he was a liar, I was just wrong to not realize that almost 50 percent of the voters in this country are complete dupes.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Obama Mania

I didn't vote for Obama, but I'm willing to give him a chance to show that he can do the job. So I'm not going to bash him until he earns it. But what I am prepared to criticize is the Obama Mania that has taken over the world. People are nuts for Obama.

With friends like these... They say people in other countries love Obama. Here are some comments from Russia: "This choice will certainly be understood as indicative of the progress of the American society and democracy." (Ilya Utekhin, an anthropologist at the European University in St. Petersburg) "The choice of an African-American president in the United States overturns the whole idea of the stiff and conservative America. This means that America did wake up. This means that America is again open for free and democratic values." (Viktor Yerofeyev, a Russian novelist)

I don't know about you, but one thing I demand in my democracy is that it meets with the approval of Russians, who are known to be experts in the subject.

Art imitates life... Today's Pioneer Press carried a barrage of news coverage and paid advertising for an "American Girl" doll store opening at the Mall of America. That, coupled with all of the Obama-mania coverage, led me to this prediction: The next "American Girl" doll will be a black girl whose father is president.

Bush didn't lose... In the news coverage of the Obamas visiting the White House there seemed to be a suggestion that this was humiliating for President Bush, to have to meet and host the man who was "kicking him out" of the White House. But that's not the case. Do I need to remind them that Bush was not on the ballot? The Democrats seem to have succeeded in brainwashing everyone into thinking that this was Obama vs. Bush.

Bush already knew eight years ago that -- best case scenario -- he would be leaving the White House in January, 2009. He knew that he and his staff would begin helping to make a transition before then. McCain lost the election, not Bush. Bush wasn't "defeated" or "fired." He has served as long as a president can serve, and now he's "retiring," if you will. Where's the shame in meeting with his successor?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

You Can't Fire All the Players

My guy didn't win Tuesday. But I don't think that the end of the world. I'm not going to be saying "he's not my president" for the next four years. We go back and forth between parties; that's the way it works. In the big picture and in the long run, I think that's best.

And while I definitely think McCain is more "right" on the issues than is Obama, this country probably does need a change. I'd liken it to a sports team. A lot of times when things aren't going well for a team, they fire the coach. It may not really be the coach's fault. The players may not be playing hard. They may not be following the coach's instructions. But it's the coach who gets fired. Why? As the saying goes, "You can't fire the entire team."

So the scapegoat coach gets fired, and everyone acts like now that the "problem" is gone, everything will be better. Sometimes the team starts winning simply because the players start trying harder and listening to what the new coach tells them.

That's sort of like the situation in the country now. President Bush is like a coach who has lost control of the team. Deserved or not, the voters don't respect him and the media don't respect him. You can't fire all the citizens. You can't fire all of the news media. So a change is needed at the top. The Dems successfully painted McCain as "just like Bush," so that means a fresh start with the other party.

Here's hoping good things are ahead for the United States. Let's hope the "he's not my president" crowd now has an attitude adjustment and starts worrying about the good of the nation, not just whether or not they got their way. Because if this nation has been "divided," it's not the fault of Bush, it's the fault of people who refuse to play nice with their fellow citizens unless they get to make all the rules. That's something that bothered me in Obama's speech election night. He said he'd unite the nation, which brought a roar from the crowd. But those same people are the reason the nation has been divided -- they have refused to support a president they didn't vote for.

That talk of "uniting" is really disingenuous. What they really mean is this: "We're in charge now; Republicans will have to do what we say." Those are the same people who think that "bipartisan" means Republicans should stay out of the way and let Democrats do whatever they want.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

It's Not Logical

Boy, I just can't understand some of the "reasoning" being bandied about in the political campaigns. For example, a TV ad tells us that Michelle Bachmann "put party first" and sided with President Bush on an issue. But challenger Elwyn Tinklenberg, we are told, would work across party lines. But wait... wouldn't that then mean that Democrat Tinklenberg would... side with Republican President Bush?

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Biden tells us that we can expect some sort of serious incident -- a terrorist attack or such -- early in an Obama administration, as a test of the new President. Why would he say that? Isn't that a reason NOT to vote for Obama?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Oh, Brother, Don't Encourage the Enemy

1. Remember hearing about Barack Obama's brother living in poverty in a hut in Kenya? We were told that it was only his half-brother; that the two men merely shared a father, whom Barack never really knew, anyway. It was as though fathers didn't count for anything.

But on the other hand, we are constantly being reminded about how historic Obama's candidacy is, because he is black! It's as though his mother and the rest of his Caucasian relatives don't even exist. His Kenyan father -- whom Barack hardly knew -- is all that matters!

2. From a New York Times story by Edmund L. Andrews and Mark Landler:

Some experts said the delay in carrying out the Bush administration's $700 billion bailout plan has only hurt its prospects for success.

"Even if it was adequate before, it's not adequate now," said Frederic Mishkin, a professor of economics at Columbia University business school who stepped down as a Federal Reserve governor at the end of August. "If you delay and create uncertainty, the amount of money you have to put up goes up."

Why do I mention this? A couple of weeks ago I mentioned how strange it was that Congressional Democrats were blaming Republicans for not acting quickly enough to rubber stamp President Bush's plans in response to the Wall Street crisis. I thought that was bizarre, considering how much Democrats have based their 2008 campaigns on blaming Republicans for into war in Iraq at Bush's behest.

In the excerpt above, we see that those evil Republicans who did not want to act hastily in response to the economic are being blamed for "encouraging" the economic woes and making them worse. Compare that to the way that Democrats have said they are being "patriotic" by not presenting a united front against terrorism, and have denied that their actions have done anything to encourage the terrorists to keep up their fight.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Big State, Small World

Gov. Sarah Paliin has been laughed at for pointing out that Russia can be seen from Alaska.

I don't think it's a joke. I think it's food for thought.

When the elites on the East Coast talk about "international travel" and "foreign heads of state," you know what they are thinking about: Europe. They're in Washington D.C. or New York, with their eyes trained across the Atlantic on Europe. They forget that the United States is actually very, very close to (Asian) Russia!

Of course, that goes along with them not even giving any thought at all to Alaska.

But when you think about it, Alaska has a lot in common with a foreign country. It isn't even geographically connected to the rest of the U.S. It's waaaaay distant from Washington and New York. Alaska's neighbors aren't other states; they are Canada and Russia.

Considering all of that, who sounds better prepared to relate to foreign heads of state? The chief executive of Alaska? Or a senator from Deleware? I'll bet the governor of Alaska -- whomever he or she might be -- sometimes feels like a "foreigner" when dealing with Washington.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Enough, Already

I'm so sick of campaign ads. Used to be, ads were about the candidate who paid for them. Then, we "progressed" to where the ads were mostly about how awful the other guy was. Now, we've taken it a step further. I'm hearing ads that restate the bad things the other guy's ad said, and saying they aren't true.

That goes counter to the long-standing belief that repeating a lie, if only to deny it, only lends more credence to the lie.

We are so bombarded with accusations and denials that we don't know what's true and what's false. We can't even keep straight who said what. Did Al Franken say it about Norm Coleman? Or did Norm Coleman say that what Al Franken said isn't true?

And related to that, what's real and what's satire? Did Sarah Palin say it? Or did Tina Fey say it? Did a politician really say it? Or did a late-night comic say it? Do some man-on-the-street intertviews and you'll find out that the masses don't know the difference!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Well, Like, Duh!

A news report on what this "financial crisis" means says that:

"It seems certain that it will be harder for consumers to borrow money in the next year or two than it was earlier this decade."

Is that suppoded to be a bad thing? I thought the "crisis" was caused by it being too easy for people to borrow money.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Washington Through the Looking Glass

Which side of the looking glass are we on? Doesn't it seem that some of the same people (Democrats, even!) who blame President Bush for "exaggerating the threat" of terrorism and "blindly rushing" into Iraq are now the ones upset that not enough Congressman would follow Bush's direction and rush into a financial bailout bill with little discussion and little understood about the facts of the situation?

The Democrat strategy this fall seems to be to link all Republicans to Bush -- "He voted with Bush." or "He's just like Bush." Today, they are criticizing Republicans who don't vote with Bush, the way that the DEMOCRATS do!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Is Free Speech a 'Hate Crime'?

The local open-minded and tolerant liberals sure can be nasty when it comes to people who aren't like them. I refer to letters-to-the-editor and comments in news stories about the Republican National Convention that took place here in St. Paul earlier this month. People aren't shy about expressing their hatred for Republicans. They don't think "those people" should be allowed to come to St. Paul. (Because, after all, Republicans are some sort of horned aliens; there couldn't possibly actually be some living amongst the St. Paulites.)

I often think that this hateful anti-Republican rhetoric is pretty much the same as that which might be directed against other groups of people, except that if it was directed at, say, gays or a certain racial group that wanted to hold a convention in St. Paul, it would be "hate speech," and the liberals would condemn it.

So what's the difference? I think the explanation is that you mustn't criticize someone for the way they are born -- with a certain skin color or sexual orientation -- but being a Republican is a choice, so it's OK to criticize that.

But not so fast. According to researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, our political orientation is in our genes!

I find that plausible. But I question the reasoning of the researchers, who found that conservatives were more easily frightened. My observation is it's the liberals who are always worried that the sky is falling, and demand government programs to remove all risk and danger from life, and to make sure that no one can ever fail.

Maybe what the researchers found is that conservatives are better at recognizing things that are real dangers.

Anyway, the question is this: If someone is born with a certain political orientation, then isn't it hateful and intolerant to criticize him or her for it? Just as it is to criticize people for their sexual orientation?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What's in a Name?

When I first heard that this upstart named Barack Obama wanted to be president, I thought, "Tough break and poor timing. How can you ask people to vote for someone with an uncommon name that sounds like our nation's #1 enemy? That's like asking them to vote for Adolf Hipler."

Well, guess what? A lot of people apparently don't care. In fact, I think there's a large group backing Obama because of his unusual name.

But this is one for the "What are the odds...?" category.

Last night I saw some new campaign signs lined up in front yards in my neighborhood and I did a double take. "Why do they have 'Osama bin Laden' signs?" I wondered.

Then I realized what I was really seeing: signs that read "OBAMA" on the top line, and "BIDEN" on the second line.

This is too much. It wasn't enough that even some of his supporters slip up and call Obama "Osama." Now he's picked a running mate whose name is spelled with the first two -- and last three -- letters of "bin Laden." We recognize words partly by shape; that's why all caps is harder to read. When written in all caps, "BIDEN" looks a lot like "BINLADEN."

What are the odds?

And didn't anyone notice that when these signs were designed? I guess not.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Obama Sticks it to the Minority

I saw Obama on TV last week, saying that he plans to cut taxes for 90% of Americans, and raise taxes on the remaining 10%.

That sounds great. After all, this is a democracy, right? So if you benefit 90% of the people, it's got to be a good idea. Although there's something odd here... I just can't quite put my finger on it. Why does it seem we've already tried letting a majority benefit from the labors of a 10% minority group?


It's been reported that Obama says his qualification for the executive branch is that he has experience running a campaign that has raised a lot of money. If the qualification for the White House is that you can give good speeches and raise a lot of money from the masses, maybe we should elect a televangelist. Is Jim Bakker available?


Obama also reportedly said that he wasn't going to visit New Orleans as the hurricane approached, because his presence would be a "distraction." He's pretty full of himself, isn't he? He might have said he wouldn't visit because he couldn't do anything and would only get in the way. But that's not fitting of a "rock star," is it?

GO STRAIGHT TO PROTEST MARCH PHOTOS:www.downingworld.com/ProtestMarchPhotos.html

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Dave's Big Adventure at the RNC

Boy, did I have a busy day on Labor Day. I went to downtown St. Paul at 8:00 am for a breakfast forum that ended at 9:30 am, but I didn't leave until after 3:30 pm. I just found too much to keep my interest. (I'm not a guy who is easily bored.) I ended up staying through the big protest parade in the afternoon.

I started out with a breakfast forum sponsored by the Pioneer Press, Politico, and Yahoo, the first of four consecutive days of "Convention Conversations.". (The "continental breakfast" was quite elablorate, making me think that I should have also signed up for the days I have to work, then just popped in long enough to eat before heading over to the office!)

We were at a downtown hotel. While we ate, word went around that the First Lady had been spotted in the lobby.

On the panel were some big names, including Peggy Noonan and Arianna Huffington. I knew who they were, and despite not having pay TV, I recognized the name of MSNBC's Tucker Carlson. The other two panelists were Mark Halperin of "Time" magazine and Rick Klein of ABC.

Left to Right: Halperin, Huffington, Carlson, Klein, Noonan.

There wasn't too much to report from the discussion. Peggy Noonan described John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as "a Hail Mary pass" -- a desperate, last-ditch attempt. Noonan said that most Hail Mary passes don't work, but when they do, it's "A thing of beauty and a joy for everyone." Noonan said that Palin has real potential, if she can answer the challenges and can gain traction. "If I'm the Democrats," Noonan said, "I'd be saying, 'We gotta kill her and we gotta kill her quickly.'"

Huffington spoke of how the media need to pursue the truth, not just do "he said, she said" reporting. Sometimes, one side of an issue can be judged superior, and it should be reported that way, she said. I pretty much agree with that, but the trouble is, it depends on who is doing the judging. Huffington's comments led to an energetic exchange with Carlson, because Huffington thinks global warming is an example of this. She believes it's fact, and there is no room to question it, which Carlson would like to do. This led to her scolding him about arguing that "the Earth is flat."

Afterward, there were a lot of people getting automotous autographs. That's really not my style. I like to actually talk to people, and if I get an autograph, if should be just the starting point to a story that goes with it. I did get a chance to shake Noonan's hand and tell her that I enjoy her writing (she currently writes a column for the Wall Street Journal). I also told Carlson that just like Huffington would have us believe that "everyone" knows that global warming is fact, it wasn't so long ago that "everyone" knew Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. And now here we were a few years later, with Huffington taking shots at that very same mistake. He lit up when I told him that, as though he'd just had an epiphany. "Yes, it's exactly like that," he said. So if you see him on TV and he uses that, now you'll know where he got it from.

After the forum, I decided to walk around downtown a little and see what there was to see. As I walked toward the Xcel Center, I started to see lots of public safety personnel, including the Ramsey County SWAT team, and lots and lots of cops in full riot gear. But the coppers seemed pretty relaxed. I snapped this shot of some tourists having their photo taken with one of the cops in riot gear.

I was put-off by the tall fence creating a perimeter around the Xcel Center. Is this still America? It was creepy. People attending the convention had formed a block-long line and were having their credentials checked one-by-one at a gate. Here's a view down Fifth Street.

I walked over to W. 7th Street, and passed Mickey's Diner. This sign showed that despite all the fences, barricades, and restricted zones, this city still has its priorities straight.

I walked down W. 7th as close as we were allowed to get to the Xcel Center. That's where the Dorothy Day Center is, an organization that serves the homeless. The place has an outdoor area where the "guests" can hang out, and it's surrounded by a wrought iron fence. But I noticed the fenced was lined with a screen material that made it hard to see through. Whose idea was that, I wondered? What was its intended purpose? A Dorothy Day Center staff person was standing watch, so I asked him about it. Had Dick Cheney ordered this so that his rich buddies wouldn't have to look at "those people"? No, I was told, the Center had put it up in order to give a little privacy to their guests. They didn't want all the tourists gawking through the bars, as though they were at the zoo.

Moving back to St. Peter Street, I saw that the door was open at the Original Coney Island Tavern. The place has been closed for more than a decade, but the family that owns it has kept it up, maintaining all the licenses. From time to time, I'd read about rumors that it might open again, and recently it was reported that it would be open during the convention. The building dates to 1853. It is said to be the oldest commercial building in the city. I had to get a look inside.

What a neat place! It's a time capsule -- old metal ceiling, old wood booths, and the beautiful, looooooonnnnnng mahogany and walnut art deco bar!

It was only 11AM, and I may have been the first customer of the day. In fact, the staff was out on the sidewalk and had to follow me inside. What the heck, it was a holiday, right? So it wasn't too early. I ordered a Summit Extra Pale Ale.

I met Louis and Mary Ellen Arvanitis, whose parents made the Coney Island a St. Paul institution. Mary Ellen has a real charm to her, a rather old-fashioned charm. (Despite her youthful appearance.) I could imagine her as not a bar keeper but a "saloon" keeper. I also learned that she had been the editor of a local history book that features the Coney Island. So I bought a copy and had her autograph it. (Now I've got a story to go along with that autograph!)

After a while, several cops in riot gear came in to use the rest room.

Well, by this time I was thinking that maybe I should just stay downtown for the big protest march at 1:00 pm. So I headed for Mickey's Diner for some lunch. On the way, I passed by someone who -- behind his sunglasses -- looked like Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, walking all by himself and fiddling with his phone. He caught me looking at him. I think he could tell I was wondering, "Isn't that...?" and he said hello to me. Yes, I think that was him.

At Mickey's, I spotted Tommy Mischke of KSTP-AM1500 talk radio. I was just about to order my food at 12:35pm (For those of you who are counting, I hadn't been in the bar for 90 minutes, I just left out some details.) when suddenly some marchers came down the street. Was this an early start to the show? No, just a small, unauthorized preview. I watched police putting on their gas masks.

I had the Cheeseburger Classic, which was a cheeseburger, hash browns, and a small bowl of Mulligan Stew. Odd combination. But when I see an odd combination, I try it. That's just the sort of guy that I am. While sitting at the counter, I chatted with a youngster on the one side of me, and a retired couple on the other side. The retired gent hadn't been to Mickey's in 44 years, since he had been in the Army Reserve putting in time at the St. Paul downtown airport. I asked him if he had put in any time on riot control back then. He said no, that duty fell to the National Guard, who are under state control.

After lunch, I went outside to wait for the show to start. There were lots of us curious tourists waiting with our cameras. Yellow-vested members of the "Peace Team" had advice, including what to do when we were gassed. Step away and breathe slowly, the man with the white mustache told us.

Saw some horses in battle dress. And something else you don't see every day -- bicycle cops wearing gas masks. Now that would be a tough one on a scavenger hunt list!

It looked like the show was about to start. Some marchers arrived on the scene. The leader, through his bullhorn, said that he and his were executing their Constitutional right to "petition the government for redress of grievances." Odd. The state government is based at the Capitol, which they had marched away from. The federal government is in Washington, D.C. The Xcel Center is hosting a meeting of a political party. In the U.S., at least, parties are not the same as the government. And hadn't he noticed that both houses of Congress are controlled by the Democrats, anyway?

He also said that thanks to evil Republicans, the damage to New Orleans from Gustav was going to be even worse than the damage from Katrina. He needs to keep up with current events. If he had just turned his head, he could have easily read the electronic news banner one block away at the Minnesota Public Radio building: "Category 2 hurricane delivers glancing blow to New Orleans."

Finally, it was show time! There were protesters, and a few-counter-protesters. Most of the protesters simply marched, waved their signs, and shouted slogans. Very, very few made any attempt to be rude to the police or any onlookers. This fellow is thanking the police for not being baited by some of his unruly colleagues.

I spotted Channel 2's Mary LaHammer, and StarTribune columnist Nick Coleman. I chatted with Nick a bit. He didn't know who I was, though I have met him a few times over the years. I should have asked him if he'd be stopping to buy a pumpkin from me again this year.

It was about this time that I realized the cops blocking the side streets weren't just containing the marchers, they were containing all of us. I couldn't leave if I wanted to! This was a bit worrisome. What if trouble broke out? I was stuck in the middle of it.

There were all kinds of things to see in the march, but I don't want to bog down this page with dozens of photos. So click here to see lots of my photos of the marchers.www.downingworld.com/ProtestMarchPhotos.html

After two hours, we finally were able to head down the side streets. I had to go only a block and I encountered a vandalized police car at 6th and Wabasha. The glass was broken all around, and a tire was flat. I was to learn later that while I was watching the peaceful march, masked thugs were creating pockets of havoc. What cowards. No John Hancock in that bunch. This gave me a new perspective on not being able to leave 7th St. The cops were actually protecting me and the peaceful marchers from mixing with the violent thugs.

At Wabash and 4th, I encountered these fruitcakes dancing in the street and blocking traffic. When a vehicle tried to veer around them, they ran right in front of it. After a while, they marched down 4th toward Lowertown.

It was time for me to go home.

If you haven't checked out the march photos yet: www.downingworld.com/ProtestMarchPhotos.html

Monday, September 1, 2008

How Many Others?

Just a quick thought about Gov. Sarah Palin's teenage daughter being pregnant: We have no idea how many other politicians' teenage daughters have been pregnant... but aborted the baby. It's only because of this family's consistent, put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is anti-abortion stance that we know about the pregnancy. Exceptions? Not for a Down Syndrome baby. Not for a teenage pregnancy. Even when it's your own family.

They deserve credit for that, don't they?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Nuance and Knuckle Dragging

I've said many times that Leonard Pitts Jr. is one of my favorite syndicated columnists, but even he lets me down sometimes. Recently, he wrote a column in which he claimed that Democrats are nuanced in their thought process and political positions, while Republicans are simply... simplistic.

Republicans, of course, don't have the burden Democrats do; by and large, they don't do nuance. On abortion (outlaw it), immigration (build a fence) and just about every other issue you can name, they are as clear and blunt as a punch in the nose. There is a stark simplicity to their positions that is undeniably appealing.

Pitts simply reflects his own biases here, which is basic human nature. We all like to think that we hold logical, well thought out positions, while "the other" are a bunch of illogical and/or overly emotional simpletons.

But I cannot agree that being "nuanced" is the exclusive domain of the Democrats. Pitts cites some examples that, from his personal perspective at least, support his way of thinking. But I can cite other examples where, from my personal perspective at least, Republicans are more "nuanced."

Gun control. Liberals say, "Guns are bad. Ban guns." Conservatives say, "Guns can be misused, but they are also useful in many ways, including personal protection. We think people should have the right to make choices about gun ownership, even if there are costs."

Health care. Liberals say, "This is a basic human right. We must provide it for everyone." Conservatives say, "We want people to have access to health care. But is turning it over to the government the best way to achieve that goal? When something is free, the demand can grow to become near infinite. How do we control that? Do we ration care? Who decides?"

Welfare programs. Liberals say, "It's bad to be poor. We must give people money." Conservatives say, "Are we really helping people by teaching them a sense of entitlement? What are the long-term consequences of building a welfare-dependent class? How do people learn if we don't let anyone suffer the consequences of poor behavior and choices? Is simply giving people money really the best way to help them?"

As I describe these issues, the Democrat view is very simple and absolute, while the Republican view is much more nuanced.

At least that's the way I see it.

But the truth is, most of us arrive at our positions not from thoughtful, logical, and nuanced thinking. We mostly arrive at our positions through emotion, gut reaction, or what we see as common sense. It's only in order to defend our positions that we start trying to analyze things, break things down, and then build defensible, "nuanced" arguments.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Price of Hope

Maybe Barack Obama really is a "rock star." He's got the merchandising thing down pat. In a guest opinion column in the Pioneer Press, Obama supporter Monte Bute reports that Obama is charging for lawn signs! A small sign runs $8, a larger sign is $19.99.

I wonder how much he'll be charging for concert T-shirts at his stadium show in Denver?

Diversity is Only Skin Deep

Minnesota's Democrats are really excited about the diversity of the delegation they are sending to Denver. Reports the Pioneer Press:

Forty-eight of the 109 members of the delegation will be from communities of color, including African-Americans, Latinos, American Indians and Asian/Pacific Islanders.

Another 20 delegates are members of what DFL leaders called other "historically under-represented communities" of disabled persons, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and young people.

"This is the true face of Minnesota," Sen. Mee Moua, DFL-St. Paul, said at a news conference Monday at the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center on St. Paul's West Side.

Only if you judge people only by what they look like. Please not, Sen. Moua, that your "true face of Minnesota" is made up entirely of political liberals.

But that's how liberals think. "Diversity" is all about what you look like. They are obsessed with labeling people based on the color of their skin (Isn't that defined as "racism"?). But they have no interest in any diversity of thought.

Democratic National Committeeman Rick Stafford said the [Minnesota Dems] would be a "stark contrast to what we will see here a week later." He predicted the Republican National Convention, running Sept. 1-4 in St. Paul, would be predominantly "white and well-to-do."

And we can't have that! White people are bad! Can you imagine if a GOP official were to characterize the delegates at the Democratic National Convention as predominantly "minority and working-class"? Can you imagine the scandal? Yet, that's how the Dems very proudly describe themselves!!!

This plays into the situation here in St. Paul, where much of the populace (and even elected officials) want to know why we are letting "those people" come to town for the GOP convention. They seem to think that people with different ideas are "bad," not even human, and shouldn't be allowed to have an assembly.

I often find liberals to be incredibly intolerant, narrow-minded, and hateful -- exactly what they call the people they don't like.

That reminds me of something my brother, Dan, told me once. If you want to know what a person is really like inside, listen to what he accuses other people of. People often suspect others of what they themselves are feeling or doing.

To the Moon -- Or at Least to the Podium

Isn't the success of the Chinese athletes in the Olympics amazing? My morning paper shows the U.S. with 79 total medals, just ahead of 76 for China. But China has a whopping 43 gold medals, exceeding the U.S.'s 26.

Chinese didn't use to be such a sports power. What happened? I think this shows what happens when a nation makes sports success a national goal. We used to see it with the Soviet Union and East Germany. It was a national goal. But this year, a combined Germany trails even France and Britain in the medal count, just ahead of the South Koreans. (Russia has 43 in this morning's paper. But add in the former Soviet Republics, and together they would be in first place. Of course, if they had to compete as one team, they would have sent far fewer total entrants, so they would likely have not won quite as many as they have separately.)

Should Americans worry about this? I don't think so. While we love sport, it's not a national priority, in terms of the federal government pushing it. We've shown that when we make something a national priority, we can accomplish it. After all, only one nation has ever fulfilled the goal of sending men to the moon, and bringing them safely back. If our nation decided winning Olympic medals was the most important thing we could do with our people and our money, we'd be leaving everyone else in the dust.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mining the Past for Fun and Profit

Last night the family attended the travelling "Star Wars" exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Part of our visit included sitting in a mock-up of the "Millenniun Falcon" for a pretend space flight. As we left Earth and rocketed to the far reaches of space, we left the "radio sphere," described as the distance into space that has so far been travelled by the earliest radio transmissions created on Earth.

That got me to thinking: If it were possible to travel so fast that we could get beyond those transmissions, then would it be possible to stop.... and listen to them!

It would be time travel of a sort. We'd be listening to live radio broadcasts from the early 20th century. Isn't that weird to think about? Eventually, we'd start to see TV shows, too.

Of course, we can't miss a chance to make a buck. Rocket fuel is expensive. So we could record those lost, historic shows and news events and sell them.

It's just science fiction now, but if such travel ever became possible, I'm feel quite certain that an attempt would be made to commercialize those old broadcasts.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

It Takes Gall to Tear Down a Wall

I think it really takes gall for Barack Obama to use the Berlin Wall as a political backdrop. Why? Because if Obama had been a public figure back when President Reagan said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" what do you think Obama would have said? I've got to think he would have said something like, "Reagan is a warmonger. We need to use diplomacy and get to know our communist friends better. We can learn from them. We mustn't arrogantly think that our way is better than their way."

That's the way Obama thinks now, in regard to, oh... Iran, for instance. And, of course, history shows that, in the case of the Iron Curtain, that way of thinking was very, very wrong.

So it seems odd that Obama would invite such comparisons by using the Berlin Wall as a backdrop. Is he that stupid? Or does he just think that we are?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Change is good. Wait, I mean bad. Or is it good?

Remember when the criticism of President Bush was that he wouldn't change his strategy for or assessment of the war? We were to believe that NOT changing one's position in response to new information is a character flaw.

But now that Barack Obama seems to have reassessed his own views on Iraq, he can't stress to us enough that he hasn't actually changed his position. It's as though now we are to believe that to change one's mind in response to new information is some sort of character flaw.

Which is it?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Presidential Race

One reason to be hopeful about a potential Obama presidency is that the man is saying some good things about race, things that only the "first African-American"* with a shot at the White House can say.

I think maybe Obama had his eyes opened a little when his relationship with the Rev. Wright blew up in his face. Obama may not have realized until then how other people react to someone who talks like Wright does. Maybe now Obama "gets it." And if he's got Jesse Jackson mad at him, well, he must be doing something right.

This week, Obama addressed the NAACP and actually talked about how blacks need to take responsibility and be accountable for themselves. Here's an excerpt from an AP story that ran in the Pioneer Press:

"If we're serious about reclaiming that dream, we have to do more in our own lives. There's nothing wrong with saying that," Obama told a crowd estimated at 3,000.

"But with providing the guidance our children need, turning off the TV set and putting away the video games, attending those parent-teacher conferences, helping our children with their homework, setting a good example. That's what everybody's got to do."

He added: "I know some say I've been too tough on folks talking about responsibility. NAACP, I'm here to report I'm not going to stop talking about it. Because as much I'm out there to fight to make sure that government's doing its job and the marketplace is doing its job, ... none of it will make a difference - at least not enough of a difference - if we also don't at the same time seize more responsibility in our own lives."

Amid building cheers, Obama declared: "When we are taking care of our own stuff, then a lot of other folks are going to be interested in joining up and working with us and taking care of America's stuff. We can lead by example, as we did in the civil rights movement. Because the problems that plague our community are not unique to us. We just have them a little worse, but they're not unique to us."

John McCain was scheduled to address the NAACP convention today. I haven't heard what he said, but here's what I'd like to have heard him say:

"My opponent is right. Listen to him. I know the way the game is played; I'm supposed to find fault with everything he says. But this is bigger than merely which party wins the White House. Obama is right on."

Of course, an endorsement like that just might turn the NAACP against Obama. Advantage: McCain. Politics is tricky business!

(*I just don't think the term "African-American" fits Barack Obama very well. His mother is a white woman from Kansas. He was not raised in the 'hood. In fact, he did some of his growing up overseas. His father -- whom he had little contact with -- was not African-American. His father was Kenyan. And Kenya is in east Africa, it's not in the west where slaves came from. So what are Obama's qualifications to be an "African-American"? Merely the tone of his skin color, apparently. So he's being judged by the color of his skin. Stereotyped. It's the "one-drop rule." As I've written before, why don't we call him a "Kenyan-American"? So it's ironic that while being "African-American" allows Obama to say things to the NAACP that a white man couldn't, it's maybe also true that not being a more traditional "African-American" is the reason Obama sees things a little differently than the Jesse Jackson-led black establishment.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Recycling Jobs

I heard some sort of ad on the radio that said we should recycle because recycling creates jobs. Well, first of all, "creating jobs" isn't really a good enough reason to do something. I could go around committing random acts of vandalism -- breaking windows, putting dents in cars, destroying people's lawn furniture -- and that would "create jobs," but it doesn't mean I should do it.

But beyond that, does recycling really "create jobs"? Sure, now there's a guy driving a recycling truck, but there are probably now fewer guys driving garbage trucks. (Probably more total drivers, more total trucks and more total fuel burned up, though, showing one way that recycling is inefficient.)

We've always been told that recycling is efficient, saves energy, and conserves resources. If that's the case, I'd expect it to actually take fewer workers when we recycle. I'd expect it to take fewer workers to turn old newspapers into new newsprint than it takes to cut down trees, haul them to a pulp mill, and create virgin newsprint. I'd expect it to take fewer workers to melt used aluminum cans and turn that aluminum into new cans, than it would take to mine new aluminum ore, smelt it, and make new cans.

If recycling means fewer jobs, that's good. It means it's a more efficient way of doing things, and it frees up money and workers for other purposes.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

What's Wrong with Being Middle Class?

Now that I'm working at the Pioneer Press, I'm a union member. That means I get the union publications with the union take on the world, and I gotta tell ya, I sometimes wonder if it's the same world I've been living in all these years. Judging by what I hear from the union, we're all helpless, oppressed victims. It raises the question I've always had about labor relations, which is, If you hate your employer so much -- if your view your employer as your enemy -- why don't you get a different job? (To which the response is usually, Where else would I find a job that pays this well?)

Anyway, the point I'm getting to is that I'm now exposed to viewpoints from a lot of people who see the world differently than I do. Here is a good example from the May 16 issue of "The Guild Reporter." Anne Feeney, apparently a musician and songwriter, and an official with the American Federation of Musicians, wrote a piece about the the importance of songs to working people. Here's an excerpt to think about:

"France has a fantastic labor movement even though its union density is lower than ours. But French workers have something that we do not have -- class consciousness. This is something that has been drilled out of us by corporate America.

"No matter who we are, we say we are 'middle class.' People on food stamps think they are middle class. People with six-figure paychecks and millions in assets consider themselves middle class. Can we really all be middle class? Who benefits from the perception?"

I have a simple answer: We all do.

I've made the same observation: That we all think we're "middle class." Growing up, that's how I thought of myself. After all, we had everything we needed. It was when I went to college and mixed with people who weren't from my small-town, rural area that I began to see this. A lot of people had a higher standard of living than I did, but they thought they were middle class, too. They could always point to someone else who had more. I remember someone from the cake-eater suburb of Edina telling me, "We're not rich, but you should see our neighbor's house." As long as someone else has more, you're not "wealthy," I guess.

But I don't think our lack of class consciousness is bad. It's what is great about this country. America has always been the land of opportunity. Here, neither native-borns nor immigrants are constrained by what class they are born into, the way it still is in some countries. And that's great. If you see yourself as "middle class" just like everyone else, you're free to succeed and improve your lot in life.

Feeney seems to want people to wallow in their victimhood, stuck in the "working class," singing "The Internationale," feeling sorry for themselves and accepting their lot in life.

I much prefer my way of looking at it. Where does Feeney get this idea that "corporate America" has "drilled" class-consciousness out of us? The lack of class consciousness is a long-time American tradition. It's part of what has made this nation great.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

No Greater Patriotism...

Barack Obama wants us to know that patriotism isn't about waving flags or serving in the military, it's about "loyalty to America's ideals."

Sure it is. But then the question becomes, just how far will a person go with his or her loyalty? Will he or she put his or her life on the line for her country? Or merely give a speech? It's about actions speaking more loudly than words.

As Jesus said in John 15:13, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

The same might be said of patriotism.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

All News Is Bad News

"For 2nd month, more troops die in Afghanistan than in Iraq"

That's the headline. Why wasn't it "Fewer troops die in Iraq than in Afghanistan"? The story even mentions that one reason for this is that deaths in Iraq are down.

I hope the critics don't start calling for a pull-out from Afghanistan. After all, they've been telling us that they aren't soft on terror. Of course they support the war in Afghanistan, they say, because that's where Al Qaida was. But with things looking better in Iraq, look for them to start blaming Bush for "his" "quagmire" in Afghanistan, even though it is an international effort, with Americans making up only about half of the 65,000 troops there.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Now I'm Telling the Truth...

Now Obama and Hillary are making nice, and we are told to believe that they didn't really mean the nasty things they said about each other; it was just politics.

But then why should voters believe the nasty things Obama and Hillary now say about John McCain?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I Told You So

The Twin Cites are having trouble getting enough volunteers to help with the Republican National Convention. Only 6,000 people have signed up; 4,000 more are needed. Should we be surprised? As I've told you before, many people in St. Paul -- including our elected officials -- have been acting like they are ashamed to be the host city. Some of our city council members have even said that they plan to spend the convention PROTESTING! With an example like that, why should we expect the citizenry to be enthused about volunteering?

A while back, local "progressives" decided that real-looking toy guns were a problem. Someone might (and had) point them at the cops, the cops wouldn't know they were toys, and the cops might shoot someone (as I believe they had). Now, a simple-minded person such as myself might think that the lesson there is don't point any gun -- toy or real -- at a cop. But I guess that's why I'm not a "progressive." The geniuses decided that we needed laws mandating that "replica" guns be painted colorfully, so they could be distinguished from real guns.

Well, I said at the time, "If I were a bad guy, I'd paint my real gun orange, so the cops wouldn't shoot me." Guess what? Story on the news last night, cops are now being confused by real guns painted to look like colorful fake guns. Once again, they don't know which are real and which are fake. But now, they have to assume that the real guns are fake, instead of assuming that the fake guns are real. Advantage: bad guys.

Final, lighter-side "I told you so." Several years ago, when gas was cheap, and auto manufacturers were rushing to see who could build the biggest land yacht, Ford introduced a giant SUV called the "Excursion." That made me think of a cruise ship. A great big boat. What I asked myself what could top that. What could be an even worse name for a land barge? How about, instead of naming the vehicle for just one ship, we name it for a whole fleet? How about, the "Armada"?

Ha, ha. I thought that was funny. But guess what? Yesterday I saw a Nissan Armada. A quick check reveals that the model has been around since 2004.

Maybe truth really is stranger.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fair or Foul? It Depends on How You Look at It

No, this isn't a post about whether Major League Baseball should use instant replay to resolve homerun disputes. Rather, it's about how we determine "fair" or "foul" in arenas of public policy or social issues.

In his Sunday "Real World Economics" column, Ed Lotterman wrote about that the issue of whether it is "fair" to extend unemployment benefits to 39 weeks during times of higher unemployment, while other out-of-workers had received only the standard 26 weeks of benefits.

Ed wrote that how you see the issue may depend on whether you value "horizontal equity" or "vertical equity." (Read Ed's column for his explanation.) That got me to thinking. And I realized that how we decide to come down on an issue may often depend on whether we look at it in a "micro" view or a "macro" view.

With the unemployment example, if we look at it as a matter of what's fair between Stanley, who received 26 weeks of benefits, and Oliver, who received 39 weeks, we may say, "That's not fair! Ollie is getting a much better deal than Stan! Stan is getting ripped off!"

But what if we look at it as a matter of what's good for the country as a whole? Then, we might say that it is bad for the nation to have large numbers of people out of work and without income, so it is a benefit to all 300 million of us to help the unemployed through a tougher-than-usual time to find work.

Who is it about? The individual or the larger society? Which you focus on may determine your stance on extending unemployment benefits to 39 weeks.

I think we can extend this to other, polarizing issues. Take immigration. Let's frame the issue like this:

12 million foreign nationals have entered our country illegally. We have no idea who they are, where they are, or what they are up to.

Let's be honest, everybody. If we put our focus on the macro, and phrase the issue thusly, doesn't that sound like a serious issue that any nation should be concerned about?

But let's try framing immigration this way:

Juan and Rosie entered the U.S. illegally 20 years ago. They are hard-working, law-abiding, tax-paying members of the middle class. They have four well-behaved children, who are U.S. citizens. The family attends church every Sunday. Juan is a Little League coach and Rosie is a Girl Scout leader.

Again, let's be honest. How hard does your heart have to be to want to send Juan and Rosie back to Mexico?

One more example, and this is the biggie: abortion. Let's frame it this way:

In the past 35 years, tens of millions of unborn babies have been killed in the United States.

Can anyone truly look at it that way without flinching?

But what happens when we reduce it to the individual level? What if we look at it as the story of "Jane," who is surprised to find herself pregnant at a very young age, has no support from the child's father, and can't afford to feed a child. Having a baby now may put "Jane" at a disadvantage from which she will never recover. It will change her whole life.

How can you not sympathize with Jane?

And that's why we find ourselves so often polarized, with both sides wondering how the other side can be so blind or so dumb. But it really is about how you look at it; about what aspects of the issue you focus on. And sometimes, all the difference in the world is found in whether we look at the forest, or merely at one tree.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

One Man's Bad Economic News Is Another Man's Opportunity

One thing about economic news, the media always thinks it's bad. Dollar down? That's bad. Imports cost more. Dollar up? That's bad, too. It hurts exports. Housing prices going up? Bad. People can't afford houses. Housing prices going down? Bad. People are losing equity.

But the truth is more complicated. In economics, there's give and take, action and reaction. Whether something is "good" or "bad" might depend on who you are. If you've never owned a house before, the current "housing crisis" has made this a great opportunity to buy.

What are some of the other "bad" economic stories we've been hearing? Let's see, there's all the "good manufacturing jobs are going overseas." There's oil prices are up. There's the dollar going down.

But economics has a way of balancing things out. It's like a balloon. You squeeze one end, the air has to push out somewhere else. And one day, you see this headline:

Factories slowing shipment of jobs overseas
Some work returning to U.S. amid soaring transportation costs

Yes, thanks to higher shipping costs (due to oil prices) and the devalued dollar, the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs is being slowed, or maybe in some cases even reversed.

The cost of doing business in China in particular has grown steadily as workers there demand higher wages and the government enforces tougher environmental and other controls. China's currency also has appreciated against the dollar - though not as much as some critics contend it should - increasing the cost of its products in the U.S.

For many manufacturers, though, oil prices that have hurtled past $130 a barrel have been the tipping point.

Emerson, the St. Louis-based maker of electrical equipment, recently shifted some production of items such as appliance motors from Asia to Mexico and the U.S., in part to off-set rising transportation costs by being closer to customers in North America.

The world economy is not static. What comes around goes around.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Digging Your Own Grave with a Shovel Purchased on Credit

David Brooks of the New York Times had a good column that ran in the Pioneer Press today. He writes about what's wrong with this country -- that we've lost our sense of thrift, hard work, frugality. He also mentions state lotteries. Gambling is a moral hazard. Whether or not it should be legal is a separate question. But for the government to sponsor and encourage gambling seems to be to be nothing sort of immoral.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Barack & Hillary; Al & Hugh

Now that Obama has earned the nomination, here's what we are told it means: "This country is not ready for a woman president." Of course, if Hillary had won, that would have "proven" that: "This country is not ready for a black president."

Don't they realize that only one of them could win?

John Edwards dropped out ages ago. Does that mean the country isn't ready for a white male president?


If we are to continue to be told that what Al Franken has done for decades as a "satirist" has nothing to do with his aspiration to be a U.S. Senator, then on what basis are we being asked to judge him qualified for the job of Senator? Norm Coleman may have once been a long-haired rock-n-roll roadie, but he doesn't ask us to vote for him based on that. He asks us to vote for him based on his career in public service. If Franken's career as a "satirist" is not relevant, then we have to judge him totally inexperienced.

And is he a "Satirist"? I'd say he's made a career out of vulgar jokes and insult "humor." Would Jonathan Swift have written a book called "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot?" But Franken wants us to think that his Playboy piece is "satire" amongst the "art photos."

Come to think of it, Franken is playing the "satirist card." You can't criticize him for what he says, because he's a "satirist." I guess he thinks he can get away with anything. Sort of like the Rev. Wright. He has a built-in excuse.

Here's another interesting twist. Several years ago there was a proposal for a LeRoy Neiman museum, to be right here in St. Paul, the artist's hometown. But the idea was derailed by some women who objected because Neiman has done work for Playboy. They thought that made Neiman unworthy of a museum in his hometown.

I wonder if some of those same "progressive" types are now defending Al Franken, the "satirist."

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Not Such Considerate Hosts

First, the mayors of St. Paul and Minneaolis worked together to try to get a national political convention to come to the Twin Cities. Success! The Republicans will be in St. Paul in September.

Now, Barack Obama decides that he will come to St. Paul tonight, to the Xcel Energy Center, which will host the GOP convention, and declare himself the victor in the battle for the Democratic nomaination. This is widely seen as a poke-in-the-eye to the Republicans.

And how do they Twin Cities' two Democrat mayors respond? They're ecstatic, of course. (St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman less publicly so, since he backs Hillary Clinton.)

Isn't there something sort of... tacky... about that? Shouldn't they show some a little more courtesy toward their invited guests, the ones they worked so hard to lure to town?

But what should we expect? After all, the Twin Cities' political leaders worked to bring either political convention to town, but they thought all along that they'd get the Democrats. They've been very diasappointed that they'll have to tolerate Republicans -- those people -- coming to town.

Here's a little essay I wrote last fall on that topic:

Congratulations, it's a Republican!

The words "It's a girl!" took me by surprise. As anyone in the family would tell you, "Downings always have boys," and recent generations of the family tree proved that to be mostly true. So I had just assumed my first child was going to be a boy.

But while I was surprised,I was not disappointed.

We can't say as much for the St. Paul city fathers, who are awkwardly trying to embrace the reality that they have been delivered the 2008 Republican National Convention. Like expectant parents who say "We don't care, just as long as it has 10 fingers and 10 toes," the city fathers conceived of twin pitches for both major parties' 2008 conventions, saying, "We don't care which one, as long as it brings in 10's of thousands of people and 10's of millions of dollars."

But clearly they had assumed their efforts would give birth to a Democratic Party convention, and now they are disappointed. With the nursery already painted blue, they're in no mood to paint the town red.

Faced with such a disappointment, a person -- or a city -- must resort to coping mechanisms. If we put the city on the analyst's couch, we can see how it is trying to compensate for the way its "child" has disappointed it.

For instance, like a parent who gives a child a non-gender-specific name, the city has played down the "Republican" aspect of the convention. In June (07), the city released its first "National Convention Planning Newsletter," with a headline reading, "Welcome to Saint Paul's First Convention Planning Newsletter." Which convention would that be, exactly?

And like a parent who tries to redirect the interests of a child of the "wrong" gender, in an attempt to remake the child in his or her own image, the city fathers seem intent on reshaping the convention into something it is not. Dissatisfied with the convention they've gotten, they are shifting their focus away from the invited Republican guests and onto the anticipated political protesters. Accommodating protesters seems to have become the first order of business for some city council members, including Dave Thune, who has proposed that protesters be provided with a "Peace Park" (Irvine Park, anyone?) where anti-war protesters can hang out and organize their demonstrations.(I wonder, if the Democrats were holding their convention in St. Paul, would anyone at city hall be proposing a "Life Park" for anti-abortion protesters?)

It's as though the city is writing this unwanted child out of its will and adopting a substitute heir. In fact, every time I hear city officials talking about the convention, they begin by apologizing for the birth of their progeny.

That's how it unfolded at a public meeting I attended last March (07). Councilman Thune gave an odd little speech, sounding apologetic and telling people that the convention really was a good thing for the city, even if it was the Republicans. He pointed out that not everyone coming to St. Paul would actually be a Republican. There would be people working on the sound and lights for the convention, for example. And even union members driving bus loads of people to town. You know, normal people.

As people spoke and asked questions, they talked as though Republicans were people on another planet, assuming there weren't any in the room. A woman in the crowd claimed that other cities that have played host to Republican conventions have regretted the decision. She went on to say that while she knew local Republicans, she worked with local Republicans, and she even liked local Republicans, we don't want anything to do with those "national Republicans," because, essentially, "you know what they're like."

Now try substituting in some other group that represents a minority of St. Paulites, and see how welcoming and tolerant her words sound.

At a business luncheon I attended in May (07), city marketing director Erin Dady gave the same sort of apologetic explanation for why it is okay that the Republicans are coming to town. She offered that it was nice that she was finally getting a chance to meet some local Republicans, as though we usually keep them locked up in the attic when company is coming.

An attendee asked why we even wanted to have the Republican convention in St. Paul, considering that most people in the city aren't Republicans. Again, try substituting another group that doesn't hold a majority in St. Paul. Up against that litmus test, St. Paul wouldn't even be able to host another convention of the Ancient Order of Hibernians!

So if you're wondering why the city fathers haven't been handing out celebratory cigars, it's not just the passing of the smoking ban -- or even the passing of the "smoke-filled room." But if they don't stop acting like they are ashamed of this convention and don't stop treating it like some sort of red-headed stepchild, the whole St. Paul family risks becoming a national laughingstock.

Diabetes and Polar Bears

We've all known for years that being overweight is a common cause of diabetes, right? Everyone knows that.

But not so fast.

Now, researchers have discovered that when overweight diabetics undergo stomache stapling surgery in order to lose weight, their diabetes goes away. Right away. Not eventually, after a certain amount of weight has been lost, but right after the surgery.

So it appears that the truth is more complicated. It's not the weight that caused the diabetes. Rather, it appears that the weight gain and the diabetes may have been two separate effects, both caused by what the people had been eating. When the stomach stapling forced them to stop eating like they had been, their diabetes went away -- even before the weight did.

My purpose here is to issue a reminder of the danger in confusing correlation with causation. Just because we see two things going together doesn't mean one causes the other. So it may be with much of the anecdotal evidence given as "proof" of Global Warming.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Having It Both Ways?

Reading the news coverage of the California Supreme Court decision which said it is unconstitutional for that state to prohibit same-gender marriages, I can't help but think that, if there is any logical consistency amongst the judiciary, then there is no way the state can prohibit polygamy, either.

"An individual's sexual orientation -- like a person's radce or gender -- does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights," wrote Chief Justice Ronald George.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "But, Dave, this ruling only says that everyone is entitled to one spouse. If everyone is denied the 'right' to more than one spouse at a time, then there is no discrimination."

Not so fast. Let's look at the bigger picture.

First of all, as I've written before, I'd like us to stop using the term "gay marriage," and stop talking about how gay people have not been allowed to marry. That's simply not true. There has been no requirement that people applying for a marriage license prove that they are not gay. Gay people have indeed been getting married, probably just as long as there has been marriage. The thing is, they've had to get married to someone of the opposite sex. EXACTLY THE SAME as people who are not gay.

So, my point is, everyone has been treated exactly the same.

However, the argument that has carried the day with the court is that there has been de facto discrimination, because gays have been prevented from marrying the people they really want to marry.

So then what about a person whose sexual orientation is bisexual? I'm not trying to speak for others, here, but it sure seems to me that the heart's desire of such a person might be to have both a wife and a husband. Isn't forcing a bisexual person to choose one or the other another example of de facto discrimination?

As San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom has written, "...all Californians, regardless of sexual orientation, have the right to marry." If that means the right to marry in a way that fulfills any individual's particular orientation, then how can California deny multiple spouses to a bisexual person?

And I won't even get into polysexuals...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Food for Thought

We've been hearing a lot about "skyrocketing" food prices. This is a good example of journalists' predictable tendency to use cliches. If a price is going up, it's "skyrocketing." What is that supposed to mean? A report I just read says that overall food prices will go up 4-5% this year. Is that "skyrocketing"?

It's popular to blame corn being made into ethanol for food price increases. Some people have called for an end to ethanol production, thinking that will bring down food prices. Is that reasonable? Take away a market to reduce demand, and thus price? Is that fair to farmers? If we think that way, then let's expand the idea. Let's ban suburban and exurban development. That will hold down the price of farmland, with it no longer being bought up for development. And by keeping people from becoming commuters, we can reduce petroleum usage. That would help hold down the price of petroleum products, and big expense for farmers.

Yes, I'd like to say some things in defense of farmers. I grew up on a farm. I have two brothers who continue to farm. Farming is very, very important in a state like Minnesota. But we seem to have lost sight of that. While we wring our hands about the fate of Northwest Airlines, whether jobs will be lost, whether we will remain a hub, we don't seem to give a hoot about the strength of the state's ag economy. Studies have shown that being an airline hub means people in Minnesota pay more for air travel than they would otherwise, but we don't care. We want our airline here. We say we need the jobs. But agriculture? All we care about is bitching that the price of milk or bread has gone up.

But it's good for the state of Minnesota when the farmers do well.

While a shrinking percentage of us may live and work on farms, Minnesota remains very much a farm state -- the nation's sixth largest agricultural producer in 2006, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Furthermore, agriculture is the second-largest industry in the state, trailing only manufacturing, and surpassing other important sectors such as services; wholesale and retail trade; finance, insurance and real estate; construction, transportation, communications and public utilities; and mining.

The state Ag Department also reports that agriculture is the second largest employer in Minnesota. Agricultural employment accounts for 24 percent of all jobs in rural Minnesota, and 13 percent of all jobs in metropolitan areas.

Most of those 300,000+ jobs are off-farm, in processing, distribution, supply and service fields, and many are in the Twin Cities, home to such well-known, ag-related companies as farmer-owned Land O'Lakes and CHS, privately-held Cargill, and publicly-traded General Mills. They are joined in the Twin Cities by other, less-visible businesses, including several large ag-oriented advertising and public relations firms, and ag-focused publishing companies.

Look, none of us likes to pay higher prices at the store, for groceries or for anything else. But keep in mind that a large percentage of the money Minnesotans spend at the grocery store stays right here in Minnesota, recirculating in the state's economy. Unlike, for instance, the extra money you spend on ever-more-expensive petroleum products, which leaves the state -- and most likely the nation -- never to return.

And in a case of turnabout-is-fair-play, it gets better. Minnesota's farm commodities and processed food products are sold to other states and exported to other countries ($2.98 billion in exports in 2006), so strong demand and higher prices mean more money flowing into the state. That's "new" money that otherwise would not be part of the state's economy.

Just like strong oil prices are good for Alaska, a rising citrus fruit market benefits Florida, or strong demand for lobsters enriches Maine, a strong farm economy is good news for the state of Minnesota.

We applaud good times for local medical device companies, but don't worry about the price of pacemakers. We cheer when taconite mines reopen thanks to rising global demand and prices for steel, but don't see headlines about what that means for the price of refrigerators and automobiles.

So why don't we recognize how good it is to have the state's farm economy back on its feet? Why does news coverage seem to ignore the positive, and focus only on the affect on consumer prices?

Could it be because we have lost our connection to the farm? A generation ago it still seemed pretty much everyone had relatives on the farm. Maybe that time has passed.

(Ironically, a recent "good news" story reported that at Plymouth-based Mosaic, the world's second-largest agricultural fertilizer maker, the stock price has quadrupled and profits are up 12-fold in the last year, as the price the company receives for the fertilizer used by farmers has nearly doubled.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

One Wright Makes It Wrong

Barack Obama is now clearly trying to distance himself from his outspoken and controversial pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But why does it seem like he just got done making excuses for him? Oh, because he did.

What's important to point out here is that the Rev. Wright has not changed. All that has changed is that the rest of the country has seen who he is. Obama has known the truth about Wright the entire time. And apparently, Obama was comfortable with the real Wright.

That makes this an "I'm sorry I got caught." Obama was happy to align himself with Rev. Wright as long as he could keep him in the closet, so to speak. Now that we all know the real Rev. Wright, Obama will throw him under the campaign bus.

Obama a different sort of politician? Doesn't look like it. He's just as self-serving and duplicitous as anyone else.

And another thing: I don't like the way Obama tries to get himself off the hook by referring to Wright as his "former" pastor. Obama didn't turn his back on him; the guy recently retired.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Change Is a Two-Way Street

The headline caught my eye:

Theme of change doesn't play in Indiana

'We want it like it used to be,' says one typical voter

It seems not everyone is excited about Obama's call for "change." Some people in Indiana, for instance. The New York Times quotes an Indiana resident:

"We hold onto a lot of traditional values," said Brian L. Thomas, 39, as he bought a cup of coffee along the courthouse square here on Wednesday. "Saying you're ready to change is probably not the best or only thing you would want to say around these parts. Frankly, we want it to be like it used to be."

But that would be change, too, wouldn't it?

This story makes me think of those polls that report that a lot of people, maybe a majority, aren't "happy with the direction the country is headed in." I'd respond the same way if asked. It's only natural. Most of us think there's something wrong that needs fixing.

But the mistake the pollsters, and the people who report on the polls, seem to make is that they think the poll results mean that the voters are prepared to "throw the bums out." They think these polls mean that the party that controls the White House or Congress is going to get voted out.

But that's not looking at the big picture. I can think that the country is headed in the wrong direction, but still think that the party controlling the White House offers the best chance of reversing that trend. That's because I don't think that the "direction" of the country changes every four years. I happen to think that the country has been headed in the wrong direction for several decades. I'm looking for someone who, if he can't reverse that, can at least try to slow it down.

So if I don't like where we're headed, that does mean I want "change." I just don't want Obama's version of change. His change will make things worse. To me, his change is the equivalent of throwing more grease on the slippery slope. I want someone who will put down an anchor.

I'm like those people in Indiana. I do want a change. But my idea of change is to undo the unwise changes we've already made.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Coming soon to the New York Times: For a good time, call...

A journalism practice that really irks me is quoting people whose names aren't given because they aren't "authorized to speak to the media" about the subject. I question this practice for two main reasons: 1) How trustworthy is information from someone who has shown he or she isn't trustworthy when it comes to following the boss' orders? 2) A person not authorized to talk about the subject might be a person without full knowledge of the situation.

I'm much more persuaded by comments from people who will actually attach their names to what they allege.

On the Web, people seem to think they can pontificate in comments on blogs or news sites, call other people names, and then hide behind some "handle." I've had opinion columns printed in the daily paper -- complete with my real name, my photo, and email address -- and then seen how some brave souls anonymously endeavor to tear me apart on the paper's Website. But why should I give two seconds to the comments of someone who lacks enough conviction to even give his real name?

Would John Hancock, he of the most famous signature in American history, be as famous if he had signed the Declaration of Independence with "want2Bfree"?

But it would seem my standards are too high for the New York Times, which is supposedly this nation's leading newspaper. In a story about the recent Clinton/Obama debate, the Times included this paragraph:

"Congratulations for taking journalism to a new low (who even knew that was still possible)," said one person who posted to the ABC News Web site, and identified himself or herself as a college professor who had assigned the debate as homework. "I almost felt like I needed to apologize for suggesting that they watch the debate, but instead we used your sorry display as a way of talking about how the media covers politics today."

Got that? The Times isn't merely protecting the source's identity here, the Times actually has NO IDEA WHO THE SOURCE IS!

And that's a problem, at least in my world. Look, I have no reason to think that supposed college professor isn't really a college professor, isn't really sincere in his or her remarks, or has some ulterior motive, but how do we really know? What's to prevent political operatives from posting "comments" designed to help one side or hurt the other?

Nothing, as far as I can tell.

Write a letter to the editor, and a newspaper will require you to give your real name and address. Prior to publication, you may even get a phone call to confirm that you really wrote the letter.

But on the Web? Who cares?!

And if you're the New York Times, you figure, "Hey, it's on the Web; it must be true," and you put it in print.

What's next for the Times, "quoting" graffiti found on rest room walls?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Liberals and Conservatives Think Differently

Liberals and Conservatives Think Differently. Well, no surprise there. But I'm not talking about merely having different opinions, I'm talking about different ways of thinking, that help lead the two groups toward different conclusions, and thus, different opinions.

I've recently read a few things that speak to this difference. You might enjoy reading them, too.

"The central conservative truth," Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, "is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself."

That's how Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News began a column this month. I agree with the sentiment expressed by the late Democratic Senator from New York. That's why liberals act as though the answer can be found in new laws and new government programs. Meanwhile, conservatives -- sometimes labeled "reactionaries" --- point toward a need to adhere to tried-and-true values. Dreher eplores this idea in relation to current economic conditions.

In another column, Dreher writes about how liberals tend to have a view that everything is always wrong, but believe that achieving perfection is only a matter of passing the right laws. Conservative, on the other hand, believe that the world is imperfect, but that centuries of human experience have put us at a place that's about a good as it can get. Abandoning long-standing cultural norms can only lead to trouble, conservatives believe.

In my experience, liberals are more likely to have what another news story, by Shankar Vedantam of the Washington Post, calls an "action bias, or the desire to do something rather than nothing" when things aren't going the way you want them to. Trouble is, the story says, this is the same human reaction that causes people to buy high and sell low.

But liberals seem more likely to assume that "doing something" or "changing course" will always give a better result than the unacceptable current condition. Whether it's what's going on in Iraq or the economy, if the current situation isn't perfect, they insist we must do something. That flies counter to the conservative way of thinking, which acknowledges that the world is imperfect, but believes that adhering to time-tested practices is the best way to weather a storm.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Keep It Simple So People Will Listen

Sven and Ole had just finished painting a sign along the side of the road:

"Save yourself! Turn back before it's too late! Death awaits you unless you change your way!"

A man sped by in his convertible, shaking his head. "Crazy Bible-bangers," he muttered.

Sven turned to Ole and said, "Do you think we should have just written, 'Bridge out ahead'?"

There's a lesson in there that we can tie to my previous post. Whether you're a Christian evangelist or Al Gore, be careful that your message doesn't seem too extreme. No matter how passionate you might be about your cause, if you overwhelm people with too much talk of certain death and fire and brimstone -- whether Earthly or other-worldly -- you run the risk of people dismissing you as a crackpot and shutting out your message entirely.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Global Warming As Religion

I'm not the only one to have observed that Global Warming seems eerily like a religion. Listen to the true believers; even they know it in their hearts. You'll hear them say that heretics who doubt them "don't believe in Global Warming." In doing so, even they admit that it's a "belief" system!

But just because you don't believe in the divine or supernatural aspects of a particular religion doesn't mean that you cannot find value in some of the tenets of that religion. A Christian such as myself, for example, can find wisdom in the teachings of the Buddha. An atheist can agree that not killing and not stealing are worthy goals to work toward, along with loving your neighbor as yourself.

It's just that the atheist doesn't believe that if he does steal, he will be sentenced to eternal damnation in the fires of hell. And he doesn't believe that he needs to perform certain rituals and rigidly adhere to a specific lifestyle in order to save himself, the way some members of some religions do.

That's sort of like my perspective on the Global Warmists, who want to save not my soul, but my Earthly body from the Earthly fires of their version of an Earthly hell. I think some of them are nuts, competing to be greener-than-thou with their carbon credit indulgences and their sudden lifestyle conversions.

But that doesn't mean they aren't right when they say we should use energy wisely. And not pollute. I can't argue with those ideas. It just gets to be a matter of defining who's a sinner and who isn't. Sort of like trying to define what it means to "remember the sabbath." There are religious denomination that interpret that to mean you can't even turn on a light switch, or you'll be working on the sabbath.

In the same way, what constitutes being a "sinner" on the road? The good Global Warmists, of course, drive the Toyota Pious. I mean, Prius. That's a good outward show of how holy one is. But how much do they drive? Do they drive when they don't need to? What about that? Owning a Prius doesn't mean you're holier than your neighbor, any more than showing up in church every Sunday does. The more important thing is, what are you doing the rest of the week, when everyone isn't looking?

My point is, just like members of other religions, Global Warmists may have something useful to say. Just don't ask me to bow down to Al Gore, who seems more and more like a cult leader.

Speaking of Al, the Wall Street Journal reports this as an excerpt from his autobiography, "An Assault on Reason":

When I was a boy growing up on our family farm in the summers, I learned how to hypnotize chickens. You hold the chicken down and then circle your finger around its head, making sure that its eyes trace your hand movement. After a sufficient number of circles, the chicken will become entranced and completely immobile....

It turns out that the immobility response in animals is an area that has received some scholarly attention, and here is one thing the scientists have found: The immobility response is strongly influenced by fear. A fear stimulus causes the chicken's amygdala to signal the release of neurochemicals, and controlled experiments show that they make immobility much more likely.

No, I'm not saying that television viewers are like hypnotized chickens. But there may be some lessons for us larger-brained humans in the experiences of barnyard hens.

Immobilizing with fear? Might Al have finally found a use for the lessons he learned from hynotizing chickens?

Anyone else think Global Warmists might simply be Al Gore's chickens?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Doctor of All Trades

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I admire the work of Dr. Seuss. The way he conjured up ideas, pictures and words was just amazing. (And if he went a little left-wing whacko in his latter years, I'll give him that.)

But while the Good Doctor is best known for his hugely-successful children's books, he was already a big success before he began writing for kids. He had already made a name for himself as humor/editorial cartoonist, and that led to some very succesful advertising work.

The cartoons that follow were taken from the book "The Suess, the Whole Seuss and Nothing but the Seuss: A visual biography of Theodor Seuss Geisel" by Charles D. Cohen, 2004, Random House Childrens Books. Look for it in your library or favorite book store. This is a great coffee table book for adults.

It's ironic, given Seuss' environmental sensibilities later in his career, that he made so much money advertising bug sprays and petroleum products.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Change: Good for Whom?

Saw this headline today: "Home sales rise as prices tumble."

What else would anyone expect? That's the market at work. Declining house values are bad for some people, good for others. If you're a first-time home buyer, depressed prices and a market flooded with houses for sale are great!

And wasn't it not so long ago that we kept reading and hearing about how awful it was that not everyone could afford a house, because prices were soaring? And didn't we used to hear about how unfair it was that some people were denied mortgages?

But everything is always bad, isn't it? Strong dollar? No one can afford to buy our exports! Weak dollar? Imports are more expensive! Whatever change takes place, it's bad.

We've been going through some changes at the Pioneer Press, where I'm now employed. Of course, that has led to some complaints. Today I overheard someone on the phone saying, "Well, people don't like change." And I thought, "Don't tell that to Obama."

Obama has been winning converts with his mantra of "change." But he never defines it. And that's been working out great for him so far. Because people really LOVE change -- in the abstract. When the change isn't defined, everyone is free to imagine his or her own version of a change for the better. The problems come when you have to define the change. That's when you find out who's coming out a winner, and whose ox is getting gored.

Same thing with "reform." We're always going to have "tax reform." And everyone thinks that means they will personally pay a smaller, more "fair" share, and "the rich" will pay more. Trouble there is, we can't agree on who "the rich" are. Or maybe we can: it's anyone with more money than us.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Horton's Choice

I really admire the work of the late Dr. Seuss, so the opening of a new movie based on one of his classics brings the fear that what he wrote and illustrated so perfectly will be butchered by Hollywood. Not to worry, says Chris Hewitt in a review in the Pioneer Press (Full disclosure: where I now am employed in classified advertising.), the film does the book proud.

But my mind kind of got off on a tangent after reading this paragraph of Hewitt's review:

There are any number of ways to interpret "Horton," which was probably Seuss' intent. Obviously, there's a saving-the-environment message that takes on new urgency in the age of global warming. The mayor's political rival (Dan Fogler, his voice dripping evil) suggests the arrogance of one nation thinking it knows what's best for the rest of the world. And there are jabs at the teaching of intelligent design in here, too, if you're looking for them ("Our community has standards, Horton!" Burnett insists).

I've observed before that we tend to see what we want to see, and mostly that means we see whatever supports our existing world view. That's probably what's at work here. Hewitt saw three messages that I think we could describe as jabs at President Bush/Republicans/Conservatives.

When I get a chance to see the movie, I'll have to see what I see in it. Will I see those messages, too? And if so, will it be because those messages were intended by Dr. Seuss? Or because those are the political views of the film makers, through which they have interpreted Seuss' original story?

It just so happens that I see another message in the book. One that actually seems pretty obvious when you consider these lines from the book/movie, which Hewitt quotes in his review:

"If you can't see, fell or hear something, it doesn't exist." (Uttered by the villains who would destroy the Whos.)

"A person's a person no matter how small."

Don't those lines sound like part of an anti-abortion story?

I got to wondering if anyone else had ever thought about that, so I went to what our President refers to as "The Google" to find out. And by searching for "Horton + Seuss + abortion" I found out quite a bit.

It seems that others indeed have seen that message in the book. But an attempt by a pro-life group to co-opt Horton's words was reportedly met with the threat of lawsuit from Dr. Seuss! So it seems unlikely that Dr. Seuss intended his story to be about abortion when he wrote it. Way back in 1954.

It's also worth noting that this was Dr. Seuss' second book featuring the elephant Horton. In the first, "Horton Hatches the Egg," our big-eared hero tends to a bird's egg through thick and thin, when the mother decides she can't be bothered with the responsibility that goes with her egg. In effect, Horton adopts the unhatched child of the irresponsible mother.

Now, doesn't that sound like a story calling for adoption instead of abortion?

For a guy who wasn't trying to write pro-life books, Dr. Seuss sure was good at it.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

More Notes On The News

News Item: Geraldine Ferraro says Obama wouldn't be where he is if he weren't black

Obviously. That's not to say Obama isn't a talented politician, but his meteoric rise to become possibly the next president has been helped along by the "novelty" of the color of his skin. And Ferraro is right, too, that she would never have been tapped as Mondale's running mate in 1984 if she were a man.

(Honesty 24 years after the fact. And when it's politically expedient. What else would you expect from a politician?)

But it's true, and I don't intend that to take anything away from Obama. Consider, if you will, Jackie Robinson. He was a very good baseball player. But his number 42 would not have been retired by every major league team if he had been just another white guy.

News Item: Immigrants from Liberia serving with Minnesota National Guard in Iraq become citizens

The West-African nation of Liberia was founded by freed slaves from the American South. That their descendants can now choose to voluntarily return to the U.S. to seek a better life and become citizens speaks to how much some things have changed for the better.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Notes On The News

News Item: "Saturday Night Live" criticized for portraying Barack Obama with non-black cast member.

I Say: Here we go again. I thought that Obama "transcends" race, so what's the big deal? This really is silliness. Fred Armisen, the SNL cast member who portrays Obama, is said to be of Caucasian and Asian heritage. Obama is of Caucasian and African heritage. So you've got a guy who is half Caucasian portraying another guy who is half Caucasian. That sounds appropriate to me. If you portrayed Obama with a totally African-heritaged performer, would that somehow be more accurate? What about Obama's mother's side? The white people from Kansas? Are we supposed to just pretend they don't exist? Hide them in the attic like some deep, pale, family secret?

I remember a similar flap several years ago, about the Broadway musical "Miss Saigon." I've never seen the show, but as I recall a central character is the product of a U.S. serviceman's liaison with a Vietnamese woman -- an "Amerasian." The controversy was that the role was being played by someone who was not Asian. I thought the tempest in a teapot was summed up best by an actor who said, "That's what actors do. We play people we aren't."

News Item: Scientists surprised to find snow forms around bacteria

It's good for scientists to be surprised sometimes. They tend to think they have everything all figured out, and they spend too much time pursuing research designed to support what they already believe is right.

But as Donald Rumsfeld would say, We don't know what we don't know.

That's the exciting thing to me, that there are things out there yet that no scientist has even thought to look for. What's the fun in knowing everything? Discovery is where the excitement is. But too often scientists don't want to learn or discover;,they just want to be prove that they are right. What can I say? Scientists are human, too.

I've seen several examples of stubborn, narrow-minded scientists on PBS science programs. These guys have made up their minds about something, and they don't care what new evidence you present them with. It's either meaningless, or it proves their point. For example, there have been competing theories of how the Easter Island statues were erected, competing theories of how animal flight developed, competing theories of how to build a pyramid or raise a giant Egyptian obelisk.

It might make for good television, but I don't' think it's very good science. Rather than have these guys compete to see whose theory is "right" -- criticizing and mocking each other like children -- I'd like to see them approach the subject with open minds, knowing that very likely neither one of them is right, or maybe they are both partially right.

But that would be science. Being stubborn and competitive is being human.

As The Amazing Randi said, scientists are just like the rest of us. They have an amazing ability to find and see just what they want to see.

News Item: War in Iraq is "second longest" for U.S.

Only the Vietnam War lasted longer, they say. But is that really true? When there is no declaration of war and no surrender, how do we know how long a war lasts? Some have said that the "war" in Iraq was short and went very well. It's the peace that is giving us all the trouble.

Do we measure the length of a war by how long our troops are on foreign soil? If so, then once again we're forgetting "The Forgotten War." We still have heavily-armed forces in Korea, staring across a demilitarized zone a the enemy. That war has been going on for nearly 60 years now. And don't we still have troops in Germany? And Japan?

News Item: Computers Have Trouble with "Foreign" Surnames

If your name is O'Dowd or D'Angelo you might be disrespected by computers, which often don't know how to handle a name with punctuation in it. But let's not get carried away saying that some people have "surrendered to technology." An Associated Press story told of "Iraqi immigrant Lina Alathari [who was] once known as Lina Al-Athari, but dropped the hyphen in America. 'There is no pronunciation difference, so I'm fine with it,' she said."

Two points here: One, "Americanizing" your name when you become an American is nothing new. People from many continents have been doing that for centuries. Two, when she was in Iraq, wasn't her name written in Arabic? So it wouldn't have ever really been "Al-Athari."

Monday, March 10, 2008

I Told You So

One of the reasons I decided to get serious about putting my opinions into writing a few years back is that I was tired of politicians and reporters "discovering" things that I had been saying years earlier -- when everyone just acted like I was nutty for saying those things. Twenty years ago, I thought maybe I just didn't know any better. But as the years passed, I saw over and over again that I was right all along. I just had to wait for everyone else to catch up to me.

Here's a recent example. The front page of today's Pioneer Press has a story about the planned light rail line down University Avenue. A headline declares, "With the rail route fixed, attention now is on the streetscape, and historians and neighborhood activists all chorus: 'Don't treat it like Rondo.'"

Rondo was the African-American neighborhood in St. Paul that was destroyed by the construction of I-94 in the 1960s. We're often reminded of that, and the effect the freeway had on the neighborhood even gets blamed for present-day problems in St. Paul's black community.

University Avenue is just a few blocks over and parallel to I-94. It's central to the city's African-American and, increasingly, Asian-American communities. How will they be affected by having this train rammed down their throats?

Are we in danger of repeating the mistakes that caused the destruction of Rondo? I've been asking that for years. I've tried to raise the issue with anyone involved with the project -- city officials, transit activists, paid lobbyists, what have you. I even asked the question directly of the mayor of St. Paul, four or five years ago, in a public forum.

What was the response? Everyone just looked around as though they were thinking, "Who let this nut in here?" Then they moved on to another question.

But now, now all of a sudden all of the "experts" are asking the same question.

The powers-that-be tell us that the rail line will be a good thing for everyone. It will bring development and jobs. I bet that's what they said about the freeway back in the 1960s, when "progress" was the word of the day. (Now we have "progressives" who hate freeways and want to build trains.)

Ironically, there's a big patch of prime real estate right next to I-94 that has never been developed in the 40 years since the freeway went in. Home Depot has proposed building a store there, but the train advocates oppose it. It doesn't fit their "vision" for life in the new age of the train.

Come to think of it, they also promised us that lots of great developments would spring up around the Metrodome, one of the train's stops in Minneapolis. But in 26 years, that development has amounted to about one sports bar. And now, a new stadium is being built for the Twins, and the Vikings want a new stadium, too. The Metrodome may have outlived its usefulness without ever spurring development.

But somehow they're sure that this time, all sorts of wonderful, "transit-oriented" development will occur thanks to this latest planned addition to the transportation infrastructure. I've got to wonder, how many blighted or vacant properties along University Avenue will still be blighted or vacant in two, three, four decades, when the "progressives" among us grow tired of light rail, and become infatuated with the new latest thing? (I don't know what that will be, but I'm sure Portland will already have it.)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

America Is All About Hope

Barack Obama has been getting good mileage out of his contention that we are all in depspair and he can offer us "hope." ("There's trouble, right here in River City. And that starts with 'T' which rhymes with 'D' and that stands for despair." But not to worry, he'll teach us all to feel happy with the "hope method" -- if you just "hope" it, it'll come true.)

But the recently-departed William F. Buckley knew better. He knew that there is no need for despair in America. Here's a quote from a collection published by the Wall Street Journal:

Despair is inappropriate for a culture as buoyant as our own.

-- Address at the Yale Political Union, 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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