archives: April -- May 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.


Dave's Latest Thought....

May 31, 2006

Legends Aren't Supposed to Be Real People

Why do I not like to see Barry Bonds passing Babe Ruth on the homerun list? It's not because some people think Bonds is a jerk. And it has nothing to do with the color of anyone's skin. I delved into my psyche, and I think I figured it out: It bursts my bubble. It's like if someone had convinced you that there is no Santa Claus -- he's really your parents. It shatters the myth.

And that's the key: myth. Because he lived before my time, Babe Ruth is almost a mythological figure in my mind. Was he a real man? Was Paul Bunyan? Who knows! Both are the stuff of legend. It doesn't matter whether they were real men or not. Both have become superhuman figures.

But Barry Bonds? He's just some flesh and blood (and steroids) human being. I see him on TV and in the newspapers. He's just a man. How can he replace a legend?

What a let-down.

May 31, 2006

Every Immigrant a Wanted Immigrant

I've written before that we can draw some parallels between the abortion debate and the immigration debate, as well as share some terminology back and forth. For instance, I pointed out that a nation should have a "choice" about whether it becomes the "parent" to another immigrant. And I said that unborn babies should be referred to as "undocumented children," because they are merely lacking a piece of paper -- a birth certificate.

I've thought of some other examples. Instead of the bumper sticker reading, "Every child a wanted child," how about, "Every immigrant a wanted immigrant"? "Pro child, pro choice" could become "Pro immigrant, pro border control." And to borrow one going back the other way, "No person is 'illegal'" could become "No baby is 'unwanted.'"

MEMORIAL DAY, May 29, 2006

Before SUVs, Life Was a Crapshoot

The family visited a cemetery this morning, as we do every Memorial Day. It's a little, out-of-the-way country cemetery. Nothing fancy. No one famous is buried there. But it's interesting to walk around and study the gravestones. Some of them go back a ways.

If you study the dates and do some math, you'll note the Civil War veterans who couldn't have been more than 14 when they joined the fight. Or the family that lost several members in a few weeks' time, in what must have been some sort of epidemic. Or the mother and child who died on the same day -- the day the child was born.

This morning, my 10-year-old and I were studying a set of three small graves. They contained the earthly remains of three siblings:

Elof, 1896-1897

Adolf, 1898-1898

Edwin, 1899-1900

Can you imagine losing three infants in a span of 3-4 years? Life was tough a century ago.

I explained to my son that 100 years ago, it was common for babies and children to die, but now it's almost unheard of, thanks to amazing medical advances and vaccinations that prevent childhood disease. Sometimes the mother died in childbirth, too, I told him, but with modern medical care, that's now extremely rare.

And then, as I was noticing yet another young adult buried in what should have been the prime of life -- and not during a time of war, I should add -- I thought, Life was really a crapshoot just 100 years ago. Your first day on Earth might be your last. And if you made it through childhood, well, you could still go at anytime.

Think of how much better we've got it now.

Yet, there are those among us who insist these are the worst of times. We're destroying the planet! We don't have any time to waste! We're all doomed! Global warming, secondhand smoke, french fries -- there's always something to worry about.

But when you look at those tombstones... well, it sort of puts it all into perspective. When would you rather have your child be born? In 1896, before SUVs and global warming? Or in 2006?

Maybe we should be thankful we live in the modern world.

Friday, May 26, 2006

School Officials Reveal Ultimate Fear

News Best Taken with a Grain of Salt

A six-year-old in a St. Paul school opened his Scooby-Doo backpack this week and pulled out a bag of marijuana. (Scooby-Doo? How appropriate.)

That followed another recent incident in St. Paul, in which a 5-year-old took a gun to his Head Start pre-school.

Where will this trend end? Can it get any worse? In an exclusive, school officials have disclosed to Downing World what they see as a worst-case scenario:

If something isn't done quickly, they fear that sooner or later, a child will open up his backpack and pull out.... a Bible.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Target Case Hits Hypocrisy Bull's Eye

The St. Paul city council has finally given approval to Target Corporation to build a new store to replace its own existing store, on its own property, with its own money.

Why should that be so hard?

But as I pointed out before, certain forces both within and closely tied to city government had been holding up Target's plans, as they tried to use the new store -- and Target Corporation's money -- to implement their own liberal -- they would say "progressive" -- "vision" of how society should be.

Liberals like to talk about being "open-minded," "inclusive," "diverse," and "tolerant." But the Target fiasco shows them to be anything but. It was "my way or the highway" when it came to Target's plans for its own property and own money. They saw this an an opportunity to enforce their own beliefs on others. And they saw nothing wrong with this, because they are true believers in the righteousness of their cause.

But when people claim to be operating out of "principle," it's useful to try putting the shoe on the other foot. Hmmm... I wonder how it would work out if dominant forces in a city adhered to philosophies of a more conservative bent? Would the demands they made of a new store be considered just as valid?

What if conservative politicians and community groups demanded that Target conform to their particular "vision"? What if they demanded that the new store not be open on Sundays? What if they demanded that Target not offer benefits to unmarried partners? What if they demanded that the parking lot was striped with wider parking spots so as to better accommodate SUVs? What if they demanded that the store's sporting goods department sell guns, in support of the Second Amendment?

Now that would be news. And we know full well that those conservatives would be the subject of ridicule for "trying to force their beliefs on everyone else."

How is St. Paul's example really any different?

If only we could make a car that runs on hypocrisy. There would be no shortage of fuel then.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Follow-up on Dog/Boy Stories

It's time for some follow up on yesterday's post (second post down) about the placement of two stories in the Pioneer Press. One, about a missing dog, made the front page. The other, about a boy left to drown by a pot-smoking babysitter, was on page 3. I wondered why they were treated as they were.

First, I'd like to add a few things:

One, while the story appeared yesterday because charges had just been brought against the babysitter, I overlooked that the boy died March 3. That could make it less "timely" in the opinion of some, but I don't know that it matters to me. After all, I don't think the alleged outrageous conduct of the babysitter had been made public prior to the charges being filed. (I'm sure that if it were disclosed today that Elvis had shot JFK, it would make every front page tomorrow, despite being 43-year-old news. Come to think of it, I'd be surprised if it hasn't made some front page already, if we're counting the supermarket tabloids.)

Two, a reader informs me that the story about the drowned boy did appear on the front page in his edition of the Pioneer Press.

Three, if it sounded like I was attacking the newspaper, it was the result of some of my anger at the babysitter being misdirected.

Four, the story about the drowned boy was added to the paper's Website today, after I inquired about it. I was told it should have been there all along, but it hadn't been coded properly. So it was a mistake. A high-tech "typo," if you will.

Five, it's not so much that I thought the missing dog story was overplayed, as I thought the drowned boy story was underplayed. I understand that a successful paper needs to mix its stories to attract readers, and unimportant but compelling human interest stories (or canine interest stories) are part of that. A paper needs to use both vinegar and sugar to catch readers.

And that's part of what Thom Fladung told me. Mr. Fladung is the editor of the Pioneer Press. That's right, THE editor, as in, the top dog. And he graciously took the time to give a personal response to my inquiry about why these stories ended up placed as they were. You see, while it's easy enough just to rant and complain, I really do want answers to my questions, so I asked Mr. Fladung if he could help me understand the process that went into placing these stories.

Mr. Fladung said three issues come into play in deciding how to handle stories: Uniqueness, timeliness, and reader interest. In this case, he judged this particular missing dog story to be especially unusual, and he judged the dog story to be more timely, as it was ongoing, and the ultimate resolution was still a mystery. (I'll post his complete response at the end of this post.) He said it then often comes down to gut instinct in judging reader interest. In this case, he thought the missing dog story would grab readers' attention, and as it was the second-most read story online that day, it looks like he was right.

So that's how the thought process went in the newsroom. Ultimately, it's a judgement call, and I think we can be certain that different editors would make different choices. I might have handled it differently, but Mr. Fladung is able to make a case for his decision.

Some lessons from this:

We're fortunate to have in St. Paul an editor who will give a personal response to the concerns of someone as relatively unimportant as I am. Also, this illustrates that "the media" isn't some faceless, monolithic, all-knowing institution. It's made up of real people, who can make mistakes, and who make arbitrary judgements based on their own gut reactions or personal preferences -- just as the rest of us do. But rather than just complain, we must remember that we can speak up. In the process, we can learn something, and we have the opportunity to help "the media" do their job better.

Second, this illustrates how easy it is to jump to conclusions and make allegations, if that's your mindset. I didn't really think race had anything to do with the placement of these stories, or the fact that one couldn't be found on the Website. Rather, I was illustrating how easily such a charge can be made in the event of an innocent mistake. (Remember the flap over the U of M misspelling the name of former Gophers football great Sandy Stephens, and how quickly the usual suspects jumped in front of a microphone to claim it was because he was black?)

Finally, here's Mr. Fladung's response to my inquiry:

You raise a classic question. As you note, there's no question from anyone that a small child's death is more "important" than a missing dog. So why, then, did the dog story run more prominently than the drowned baby? Why, for that matter a story about the Valleyfair coaster breaking down or the story about people who collect art or virtually any of the stories that ran more prominently than a dead young child?

For argument's sake, I'll keep it to the dog vs. child debate your raised.

For me, you also have to factor in a couple of other key elements:

1. Unusual or unique aspects about the story.

2. Timeliness. When did the event happen? And what's happening now?

3. Reader interest -- particularly how readers can relate personally to a story and if there's something they can do about it.

Let's take them in that order:

1. Unfortunately, stories about child abuse or child deaths are not all that unusual. Certainly, nor are lost animals. So, in this case, the unusual aspects are the allegations about the adult smoking pot that led to the death. And, in the case of the dog, the owners' extraordinary efforts to get the dog back, which included cutting short a trip to Japan to return and search and offering a $2,000 reward. That is quite unusual.

2. The lost dog was happening right then. The child's drowning was in March, with the criminal charges being the current time hook.

3. Here's where gut instinct starts to come into play. Lots of people have pets and have had pets run away. It's not hard to imagine yourself in the place of the people who lost the dog and desperately want it back. I find it hard to imagine myself in the place of someone who had lost a child under the circumstances described. The dog story also has the urgency of something happening now -- and the remaining hope that this can turn out well. One of the most frequent -- and justified -- criticisms of newspapers is that we're filled with stories that provide no sense of hope or possibility. Just a depressing drumbeat of unsolvable problems. The child story, sadly, can leave a reader feeling hopeless and unable to imagine doing anything to help this situation.

Those are the specifics in this case. I also apply a broad set of measures to help decide what stories receive more prominence -- particularly front-page prominence. What is front-page news? Most often, I think, it is news that I didn't know about that affects those essential parts of my life: My family, my health, my community, my safety, my money. Information about fascinating people I would otherwise not meet often meets that test. Information about the unusual -- the weird, the wacky, the funny -- that gives me something to talk about also is a test. Pioneer Press news judgment also puts a premium on local news -- news from and about my community -- that cannot be found anywhere else.

Finally, again in the case of the dog story, we know a bit about reader interest -- at least on-line. On twincities.com that day, it was the second-most read story.

I think the dog story was played appropriately.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

What About the Toys I Already Bought You?

I took my kids to swimming lessons tonight, and by coincidence, there was a public hearing about light rail transit going on at the same time in the same building. I stopped by for a bit to hear what people had to say. I was told that more than 100 people had signed up to speak for or against a light rail line on University Avenue.

I'm in favor of mass transit. And I like trains, whether real, model, or toy. But I'm having a hard time getting onboard light rail. I don't think people are asking the right questions. It isn't really a question of whether or not a train would be a nice thing to have. It would be. But the real question is whether it is worth the $840 million it purportedly will cost. Is light rail the best use -- or even a good use -- of $840 million in public money that otherwise could be used for some other public good?

I really don't know the answer to that. Of course, no one does. The proof is in the pudding -- or in the riding, as the case may be.

But I'm not being convinced by many of the arguments being put forth by proponents. Beware someone trying to sell you something with "straw man" selling points. For instance, you wouldn't let a salesman talk you into buying a new bicycle just because the new bicycles have bells. You could just buy a bell for your existing bicycle. And you wouldn't buy a new house just to gain a dishwasher. You could have a dishwasher professionally installed in your current house for less than you'd pay in miscellaneous closing fees. Still, a spokesman for the Minnesota Twins said the other day that when the team's new (publically financed) stadium opens in 2010, fans will be able to enjoy "better food."

What, exactly, is preventing better food from being offered right now? Does it require hundreds of millions of dollars of concrete and steel just to offer "better food" to the fans?

But I feel like that's what some of the light rail proponents are doing. They talk about the benefits of mass transit in general. Or they talk about benefits of the train, but ignore that those same benefits could be achieved by making changes to the existing bus service. (Dedicated bus lanes, better wheelchair access, limited stop express service, etc.)

But what really makes me want to bang my head against the wall is when people say, "I don't ride the bus, but I would ride the train."

It reminds me of the way the kids always "need" a new toy, because they're already bored with the one they got last week. "I'm not going to buy you another new toy; you don't even play with the one I bought you last week," I tell them. "This is different," they reply, "We really will play with this one!"

Yeah, right.

I heard some comments tonight from people who say they won't ride the bus, but would ride the train. One fellow said he had lived in New York and Boston and hadn't owned a car until he moved to St. Paul. But he didn't ride the bus in New York or Boston, he said, only the trains. Here in the Twin Cities, he won't ride the bus, he added, but he would ride the train.

I wanted to shout out, "WHY won't you ride the bus?!"

Maybe we could find out why people won't ride the bus, and spend that $840 million to fix those problems. Heck, maybe we could use that $840 million to make bus rides FREE. Then watch ridership go up!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Missing Dog Trumps Dead Child

Sometimes, a person wonders how newspapers go about choosing how they will play the stories they encounter every day. Tuesday was such a day, as the St. Paul Pioneer Press carried two local "babysitter nightmare" stories of the kind that might make parents vow never to leave home again.

One story, inside on page 3, told of a two-year-old child -- Tyshawn Tyrone Tate -- who was placed in the bathtub by his babysitter, then drowned while the sitter was out in the garage smoking dope. The supposed babysitter -- Trynille Felder -- is a convicted felon. This story got about 20 column-inches of coverage. (I'd give you a link to read this story on the paper's website, but I can't find it there. I guess it isn't important enough to post.) I see no follow-up story in today's paper.

[UPDATE 5/25: The story is now online. I'm told it hadn't been coded properly, and it should have been there all along.]

The second "babysitter nightmare" story made the front page of the same "local news" section. It told of a couple who had gone on a trip to Japan and left their little one in the charge of a sitter. But the little one had run off and gone missing during an outing with the sitter. This story received about 27 column-inches of coverage, beginning on the front page and jumping inside.

Today there is a follow-up story, reporting that the little one has been found. The story is on page 8, but it is promoted by a photo on the front page. Together, they give about 22 column inches to this story.

Oh, did I mention that the "little one" is a dog?

How does a missing dog get so much more attention than a dead child? A dead child killed by the actions of the drug-using felon who was supposed to be caring for him? Isn't that A STORY!? Not as much as a missing dog, evidently.

I'm usually the last one to go down this road, but you have to wonder what role it plays that the dog is owned by a prominent local attorney, while the dead child was a "nobody," and I'm guessing, not caucasian.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Childless "Freeloaders"

Who's going to care for you in your old age? That's the question that's at the heart of both one of my own "crackpot" theories, and a recent business column by the Pioneer Press' Dave Beal.

Beal's column is built around a presentation given in the Twin Cities recently by Jeremy Siegel, a highly-regarded finance professor from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. It points out that Siegel continues to preach the supremacy of the stock market as an investment tool, but also asks, as the demographic-bulging Baby Boomers begin selling their stock in retirement, will there be enough buyers? Or will stock prices collapse as all that stock floods the market?

This relates to my own theory that people who don't have children are economic "freeloaders." I'll try to explain:

I came up with this concept in reaction to those letters to the editor from people who say "I shouldn't be taxed for schools, because I don't have any kids," or "There shouldn't be any tax breaks for children; if you can't afford to have children, don't have any."

These folks can get pretty sanctimonious with their sense of superiority because they don't have children. But they got me thinking: The world needs children! If you don't have any, you should be glad someone else does.

At it's most basic, we can say that children are needed so that a society will continue. That should be obvious. And we can say that others helped send you to school; now it's your turn to pay it back. But maybe Mr. Childless says he doesn't give a hoot whether society continues. What then? Then I'd ask him, Who's going to take care of you in your old age?

Traditionally, people depended on their children to care for them in their old age. (Both financially, and in terms of the actual physical care.) Mr. Childless may think he has the answer for that: "I've invested my money; I don't need anyone to care for me." OK, you're planning ahead, good. But who's going to change your diaper, if it comes to that? "I've got long-term care insurance. That will pay for people to take care of me."

Sounds like he's got it all figured out.

But we're back to that question of, If people aren't having children at the rate they once did, who's going to buy his stock? And there's a second question: Who's going to work in the nursing home? If we take it to the extreme, and imagine that everyone in an entire generation in the entire U.S. of A. decides not to have any children, we can see that this plan is doomed to failure. We'll all end up lying around unattended in nursing homes, trying to diaper ourselves in worthless stock certificates.

Somebody, somewhere, had better be having children.

And what it comes down to, as Siegel points out, is somewhere. While there may not be enough U.S. stock buyers to absorb the Boomer sell-off, Siegel says that people from China, India, and other developing nations will.

And the nursing home workers? Well, I think the current immigration debate illustrates where they will come from. That means both the stock buyers and the workers will need to come from other countries.

Now, I don't mean to be critical of those who don't have children. No one should have children if they don't want children. And I realize that some people want children but can't have them. They have nothing to apologize for.

I'm just pointing out that those who don't have children shouldn't act superior, and claim that they are "subsidizing" those who do. The fact is, as a nation, as a society, as a world, we need children. Someone had better have them. If you don't want any, be glad someone else does.

Monday, May 22, 2006

A Quick 'What If?'

Here's a quick one for you to think about: Consider the current public debate over "The DaVinci Code," and then ask yourself, How might the debate be different if instead of attacking the Roman Catholic church, someone had written a best-selling work of FICTION depicting icons of another institution -- let's say the civil rights movement -- as conspirators, liars and traitors?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Target Opponents Completely Off the Board

The retro-gressive, anti-development forces opposing Target Corporation's redevelopment of its existing store site in St. Paul's Midway neighborhood are driving me nuts. Yesterday was supposed to be the day that the St. Paul City Council finally approved Target's plan -- a plan for Target to replace its existing Target store with a more modern SuperTarget store, on land that Target owns, and without public subsidy. This plan has been revised over-and-over again to please opponents, who don't want a successful company to be allowed to invest its own money on its own land. Rather, they want to enforce and bring about their own Utopian vision, using other people's money.

And at yesterday's council meeting, they succeeded once again. They brought up more demands and objections, and a decision was put off for yet another week.

I think it's great that Target wants to invest in the central city, and keep its store here on par with those in the suburbs. Many central cities would love to be in this position.

So why the opposition? Let's look at who is leading it.

First, there are left-wing fundamentalists who hate big stores and automobiles with a passion. They have a religious passion for "transit-oriented development." They insist that every development must be done in a way designed to support a light-rail line which might be built someday. These people would ban cars and big stores completely if they could. That's their real agenda. They talk about "the community" and "investment" and such, but that's just a smoke screen. They are anti-car and anti-corporation. They will cling to any excuse they can in order to try to bring about their ultimate goal: elimination of private cars and big stores. (Similar to the way I've noted that anti-gun people push "public safety" measures and anti-abortion people try to "protect women's health." We know what their real goals are.)

Read this piece by Target opponent Brian McMahon, which appeared in yesterday's Pioneer Press. It drips with elitism, condescension, and we-know-what's-best-for-you. (It was paired with a counterpoint by a Target executive.)

Then, there's the labor union. Target is a non-union store. SuperTarget includes a grocery store along with the conventional Target discount store. That irks the union that represents grocery workers in other big-box grocery stores in the neighborhood. The union worries that if people buy their groceries at SuperTarget, that will cut business at the other grocers, and will result in job losses at the union stores.

Let's think about that. Why would people switch to buying groceries at SuperTarget? Somewhat for convenience, but most likely, because the prices would be lower. So, what this comes down to is, the union wants low-income people in the Midway to continue to pay higher prices for groceries, in order to line the pockets of union members.

I thought unions were supposed to be for the "little guy."

(Interestingly, today's paper shows a photo of union leader Bernie Hesse, of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 789, at a demonstration outside of Target corporate headquarters. Hesse is joined by someone who appears to be a clergyman, in dark suit and white collar. What happened to "separation of church and state"? I guess it doesn't apply if you can use the church to push a liberal agenda.)

A complaint about Target's plan is that it isn't a "high density" development, because it leaves too much parking space. But why does the store need a large parking lot? Because it is a large, successful store, and it hosts a lot of customers. Target is a HIGH DENSITY development. It's busy with customers from early in the morning until late at night. Money is spent there in a HIGH DENSITY manner. Maybe opponents need to be more inclusive in their understanding of what "high density" means.

Another complaint is that the new store will be too far from University Avenue, and it will be hard (and unsafe) for bus riders to walk to the store. Here's an easy fix for that: have the bus loop pass the front door to the Target store. I've seen buses leave the street to service senior citizen high rises or shopping centers. That would be nothing new.

That brings us to the complaint about Target not being "transit-oriented development" that fits in with the vision for light rail transit. Consider this: the Target site is one-half mile from the nearest planned stop for the proposed light rail line. Whatever is built there, it's not going to be very convenient for train riders.

This Target redevelopment is great for St. Paul. Let's get it done.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Just Like Everyone Else, or Not?

This may be another slide down the slippery slope, or it may just be something that makes no sense.

A bill is working its way through the California legislature, which would require the state's public schools to teach the sexual orientation of historical figures. Advocates say this is to give gays and lesbians their due, and so that the children will know that gays and lesbians are contributing members of society. Social science courses would include "an age-appropriate study" of the "role and contributions" that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have made to the "economic political and social development" of California and the United States.

But is this progress? Or a step backward?

I thought the message we had been getting was that gays and lesbians are no different from anyone else, except for one little, personal detail, and that doesn't matter. But now, supposed "gay advocates" would have people who have made important contributions to society defined by their sexual orientation, rather than be known for the strength of their accomplishments, regardless of their sexual preference.

I ask again, Is that progress? Does an inventor who merits mention for her invention -- and also happens to be a lesbian -- really want her sexual life to become part of the history book, too? And who will make the decision regarding whom to "out" in the text books? If everyone "knows" so-and-so is gay, will the textbook say so, even if he has never publicly mentioned his sexuality?

And what about figures from the past? It seem there's always someone trying to "out" Abe Lincoln or other figures for present-day political purposes. Who's going to decide which historical figures should be brought out of the closet in the new textbooks?

I know there have been efforts to bring Blacks and women into the history books, but that's because their femaleness or race actually had prevented them from getting due credit (either as a group, or in cases where white, male colleagues took all the credit). I'm not aware that sexual orientation has prevented people from claiming their place in history if they earned it through their accomplishments.

The bill's author says an example of its effect is that a teacher talking about poet Langston Hughes would mention that he was not just a black poet, but a gay poet, as well.

So what? Has being gay ever prevented a poet from getting recognized? I didn't know that Langston Hughes was gay, and I don't care. What's the big deal?

Here's an idea: Let's treat everyone as a person, not as a member of a victims' group. Let's just write about people for what they have done to make themselves noteworthy, and let's leave out the other stuff, unless it's crucial to the story. For example, a woman being the first to succeed in a male-dominated field, a black man who overcomes overt racism to succeed, or a heterosexual man who wins a Tony Award. Otherwise, let's just treat people as people.

Because if we don't, then where does this end? We could require textbooks to point out that someone is/was fat, anorexic, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, tall, short, bald or just about anything, if we wanted children to learn that members of each group are contributing members of society.

The LA Times story notes that California "schools are already required to teach the historical and social roles of blacks, women, Native Americans, Latinos, Asians and other ethnic groups."

But how about Christians? Isn't a big part of the story of the European settlement of North America and the ultimate creation of the U.S. linked to Christian groups escaping persecution and forming colonies? Are California textbooks allowed to ignore that? I'm guessing, yes.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in St. Paul?

The long-struggling U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame has closed in Eveleth, Minnesota, and its future is uncertain. A move to St. Paul would seem to make sense, and some city leaders are getting on the bandwagon.

Having the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in St. Paul sounds like a natural. But let's make sure it gets done right.

One councilman is talking about putting the Hall on the Eastside, home of Gold Medal Olympic Coach the late Herb Brooks. The Eastside sounds like a sentimental favorite. But sentiment can't be allowed to dictate a location. Remember, Eveleth -- once the epicenter of Minnesota hockey -- was a sentimental favorite. How'd that work out?

I think the Hall needs to be adjacent to the Xcel Energy Center, home of the NHL Minnesota Wild, so that people will go there on their way to, or after, the Wild games. There's an empty patch of land right across the street from the "X." How to best use it has been a subject of debate for many years. How about that?

A new building across from the "X" would be awesome. The Hall could feature special events and speakers that would bring fans in before the game. The story in today's paper says the Hall has been getting only 10,000 visitors a year. If each Wild season ticket holder went just once a year before or after a game, that would be more than 10,000 right there.

The Wild would want to be a big part of this. Along with season tickets, they could promote Hockey Hall of Fame memberships, so their season ticket holders could attend repeatedly without having to pay admission each time, and perhaps get admittance to special events at the Hall not open to everyone (meeting Hall of Famers, etc.).

This could be a great opportunity for St. Paul, but it has to be done right. We need to put the Hall some place where it will naturally be filled with hockey fans. Don't put it somewhere people will consider "out of the way" or "inconvenient." (Whether that assessment is fair or not.) Put it where hockey fans are, and they will come.

In addition, locating the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in St. Paul offers plenty of partnering opportunities. The college hockey WCHA regularly holds its post-season tournament at the "X." A section in the Hall devoted to the WCHA is a natural. Also, the Minnesota state high school hockey tournament is held every year at the "X." This would be a great opportunity for the Hall to work with the High School League to offer a first-rate exhibit on the high school tournament. That would bring a crowd into the Hall every spring.

The Hall should also serve as Hockey Central: This should be the place for hockey events: banquets, awards ceremonies, etc.

A new Hall could be part of a larger development, including a coffee place and maybe a restaurant, to generate more traffic and attract interest. This could serve hockey fans as well as downtown workers. (And those attending any other events at the X.) Get people in off the street, and they'll be tempted to tour the Hall.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Whose "Community"?

My fellow Twin Cities writer Craig Westover has joined in questioning the "vision" the powers-that-be have for the development of St. Paul. In a column that appeared in Sunday's Pioneer Press and can be found on Craig's blog, he questions the notion that "the community" can plan St. Paul's future:

Unfortunately, as philosopher/novelist Ayn Rand noted, there is no such entity as "the community." Every community is merely an aggregate of individuals. So, when collective benefits happen to conflict with individual interests, the latter must be sacrificed to wishes of those in power. It cannot be any other way. Notwithstanding, the effort is made to convince us otherwise by promoting the illusion of a common community vision.

I agree that there is not a "community" vision. There are individuals, and there are groups. And there are certain groups that like to think of themselves as "the community" and toss that word about, but the truth is they represent only one (usually pretty extreme) end of the political spectrum. I've heard some of them say that they like St. Paul's new mayor because he is "inclusive." But that's not the word for it. What they really mean is they like that he appears ready to take orders from the liberal wing of the city's Democrats and listen to the Greens, while returning to the longstanding St. Paul policy of ignoring conservatives and business interests. For the past 12 years, St. Paul operated under mayors who were not puppets of the liberal Democrats. That greatly offended the liberals, who think it is their birthright to have all the power to themselves. Inclusive? They are anything but.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

You Can't Make It Up Fast Enough

OK, I was joking about the homestead-in-Russia scheme. But at the Russian music concert at church last night, I was informed by someone in the know that Chinese people are already moving to Russia so they can have more than the one child the Chinese communist government allows.

Who knew?!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Concert Tonight -- and It's Russian!

In keeping with the Russian theme, tonight is the night for the Balalaika concert at my church in St. Paul. It starts at 7:00 pm, at Calvary Lutheran Church, 341 Hamline Ave. So. Church phone is 651-698-6138. Admission is free; your donations support the Christian Center in Petrozavodsk, Russia.

Get complete concert info, and view a map to the church, at http://www.calvarystpaul.org/concerts.html

Friday, May 12, 2006

Better than the United Nations

I was discussing my Mexicans-to-Russia idea with my learned associate Professor Theo this morning, and we decided that Putin could extend his offer to Chinese families who want to have multiple children. (China is worried about overpopulation, and allows only one child per family.) Maybe these modern-day homesteaders could be offered 80 hectares of land.

This idea would help four nations at once: Russia gets more population; Chinese people get to have multiple children, but they don't add to overpopulation in China; Mexicans get new opportunities in a new land; and the U.S. gets some relief from illegal immigration.

With this one idea, we've helped more countries than the United Nations has in 60 years.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Russia, the Land of Opportunity

According to a New York Times report by C.J. Chivers, Russia is desperate to reverse its population decline: (Sorry, doesn't seem to be an online link available. The New York Times has become very protective in that way.)

President Vladimir Putin directed parliament on Wednesday to adopt a 10-year program to stop the sharp decline in Russia's population, principally by offering financial incentives and subsidies to encourage women to have children.

Hmmm. You know, when a growing United States needed people to drive its growth, railroads, land companies, and steamship companies advertised in Europe, looking to attract downtrodden people looking for a land of opportunity where they could start a new, better life.

I'm thinking, maybe Russia should take out some ads in Mexico. The Bear could offer Mexicans a place to immigrate legally.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Slippery Slope

I saw an interesting juxtaposition of newspaper stories recently. Sunday's Pioneer Press had a story about the impact of same-sex marriage on our neighbors to the north. Canada has offered same-sex marriages for more than a year.

The story said that same-sex marriage in Canada generally had had little impact on broader society. In pointing out that the change had done no harm, the story a couple of times dismissively reported that some people claim that with same-sex marriage legal, schools will soon be required to teach kids about homosexuality.

That was very interesting, because the same newspaper, one day earlier, had run this story, about a Massachusetts school that sends a book about a gay family home with kindergartners in a "diversity book bag." That had drawn the ire of some parents, who contend that it is their job to teach their children about such things.

But in Massachusetts, the only state where same-sex marriage exists, officials say that same-sex marriage is a part of everyday life, so they need to teach about it.

"It strengthens the argument that we need to teach about gay marriage because it's more of a reality for our kids," said Lexington school superintendent Paul Ash.

Sounds to me like the fears so readily dismissed in the Manitoba story are already a reality in Massachusetts.

This issue illustrates two things. First, the "slippery slope" is a reality, and people know it. It's human nature that people are never satisfied with getting a little of what they want. And in the political arena, people are usually after more than what they initially are able to get. And this applies to both the left and the right. Abortion restrictions aren't really about protecting women's health; they're about ultimately banning abortion. Gun restrictions aren't really about public safety; they're about ultimately banning guns. And you must be high if you believe that all the advocates of medical marijuana are really concerned about relieving Grandma's pain; some are just after legal dope for themselves.

In the case of same-sex marriage, we see that the marriage itself isn't the ultimate goal. What advocates are pursuing is official recognition and approval of homosexuality. One way of gaining that is by having the government schools educate the young ones about the right way to think.

Second, we see here how once something is made a "right," the next move is to insist that the government has an obligation to provide that "right" to people. The argument in Massachusetts seems to be that since same-sex marriage is legal, the government now has an obligation to promote it.

In the current Minnesota legislative session, our elected representatives are debating whether to change a state law that says since abortion is a "right," the state must pay for it when a woman can't pay herself. That law is really strange, because the Constitution clearly gives us the right to own guns, for instance, but no one ever suggests that the government has an obligation to buy guns for the poor. And the Constitution gives us the explicit right to freedom of the press, but there's no government program to publish political tracts by low-income agitators.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Lies, Damn Lies, and Newspaper Comics

This is an example of what I usually see on the comics page of the daily newspaper: direct, not at all subtle attacks on Republicans. Now, this guy is entitled to his opinion about the proper size of government and the efficacy of cutting taxes to spur efficiency and the elimination of waste. But he shouldn't lie.

That was followed the next day by:

It is absolutely a lie to portray the idea of "starving the beast" as an attempt to make government agencies unable to "function properly" so that they can't help people. That's nonsense. Government bureaucracies naturally grow fat during times of easy funding, becoming inherently wasteful and bloated. If the bureaucracy never faces "lean times," it never has an incentive to take a look at itself in a mirror and rethink its spending habits. It won't go on a diet if it doesn't have to.

So the idea of "starving the beast" is to make the bureaucracy take a good look at itself, and cut out the fat. In the past couple of years, we've had some good examples of how effective that can be here in Minnesota. Cuts in state funding to local governments have forced cities to find better ways of doing things. For example, faced with the prospect of paying for it themselves after years of counting on money from the state, two St. Paul suburbs decided they didn't really need the luxury of each having their own paid fire departments, and decided to combine forces, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I wonder what this cartoonist would think of a cartoon like this:

1966: The Democrats in Congress and the White House are creating an entire system of "Great Society" programs -- making the poor and minorities perpetually dependent on the government by institutionalizing poverty, segregating minorities on government-owned urban "reservations," and letting the government take the traditional role of the father in black families, destroying them so that soon most black children will be born out of wedlock and grow up without a father.

Pretty funny, eh?

The point is, that's a lie, too. While it's my opinion that I've accurately described the result of these programs, it's not fair to say that this was what their backers intended them to do.

(However, it might be fair to say that, with 40 years of evidence, anyone who continues to think we can "solve" social ills by throwing even more money into the same failed programs either really must want this result, or is really, really stupid.)

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Lost in Translation

I've criticized our current crop of journalists for doing too much he says/she says reporting, and not doing enough of finding the facts and sharing them with us, so it's nice to see when a reporter goes beyond just repeating what the two sides have to say on a story, and gathers some information on his own.

David Goldstein did that with this story, spurred by the fuss over the new, Spanish-language version of the "Star Spangled Banner." Critics have said it is outrageous, but Goldstein found that a Spanish language version has has already been available on the Library of Congress website for the past two years. And get this, it was produced by the U.S. Bureau of Education. Way back in 1918.

Goldstein notes that the Library of Congress also offers versions in Polish, French, Italian, Portugese, and Armenian, among others.

Verrrrrry interesting.

So that settles it then, right? There's no reason to be bothered by this new Spanish version.

Not so fast.

I see a difference between a translation, officially offered by the government, and intended as a learning tool to help those who wish to become new Americans, and a "replacement" version -- which seems to have its own agenda -- created by the newcomers themselves, for their own purposes.

That's really the key -- who decides to do the translating. The anthem belongs to the nation, so the nation should have the say on authorizing variations on the standard English-language version. When it appears that the anthem tampering is being done by or on the behalf of non-citizens, and even illegal aliens, it seems like someone is out of line.

It's the job of the government -- the government by and for the citizens -- to make those decisions.

Monday, May 8, 2006

Someone's Always the "un-American" New Guy

Friday morning I saw some sombrero-topped kids pouring out of one of the local Catholic elementary schools, and I remembered that it was Cinco de Mayo. I doubt that any of those kids were of Mexican heritage, so the school must have taken it upon itself to observe the day and educate the kids about it.

And that's fine. Just fine. Can we get that out of the way up front? It's just fine that they did that.

But, it got me thinking, as just about everything does.

It's fine that non-Mexicans celebrate Cinco de Mayor. You don't have to be Irish to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. (Although I'm sure you can't in a public school; separation of church and state, and all of that. And the Italian-Americans' beloved Columbus Day is now ignored, as it has been judged politically-incorrect.)

But while the non-Irish may celebrate St. Patrick's Day just because it's an excuse for a party, it feels to me as though Anglo-Americans are under pressure to observe Cinco de Mayor as a sort of obligation -- an obligation due to white guilt and the political correctness of "diversity."


It's as though the schools and press feel we are required to make sure that no group goes unnoticed. Because it would be a terrible thing for any minority group to lose its identity, right? These days we talk about the American "salad bowl" instead of the "melting pot."

And sending Indian children to Anglo schools, forcing them to speak English, and giving them English names, that was wrong, right? And interring all those Japanese-Americans during WWII -- how could we have done that?

It would be terrible to be stripped of your heritage, and to be singled out and picked on because of your ethnic heritage. I have to remember that, because as a generic "white" person, I don't know what it's like.


One thing we never seem to talk about is German-American history. In Minnesota, we're always talking (bragging?) about our Scandinavian heritage. (And Swedish seems to be the most prestigious. Saying "I'm 100% Swedish" is equivalent to East Coast bluebloods saying "My family came over on the Mayflower." Never mind that the Swedes oppressed the Norwegians until 100 years ago, and then collaborated with the Nazis. But I digress.)

But according to the census, German is the heritage claimed by the highest percentage of Minnesotans. So why don't we hear more about our German heritage?

It's very simple. WWI and WWII. In the 20th century, being German became very politically incorrect. German-Americans were accused of being un-American, so they tried to distance themselves from their heritage. Some changed their names to something that didn't sound so German. Some businesses changed their German-sounding names. Even towns settled by German Immigrants changed their German names to something sounding more patriotic.

Despite all of this, some German-Americans were interred in camps during WWII, just like the Japanese-Americans were. Yet we don't hear about this. Under WWI-era sedition laws, German-Americans who dared speak in opposition to the war were sent to prison. If they were lucky. Others were terrorized or kidnapped and lynched by vigilante gangs. Yet we don't hear about that. (Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer recently pardoned 78 men imprisoned for WWI-era sedition. Read about their "crimes" here. Boy, when those modern-day war opponents say that their free speech has been taken away, Bush is fascist, and all dissent has been suppressed, they don't know what they are talking about.)

Once upon a time, German culture permeated America. According to a program I saw on PBS -- yes, PBS -- prior to WWI there was a major German-American holiday that was widely celebrated in the U.S. -- much as St. Patrick's Day is now -- but it was dropped like a mustard gas shell during WWI. (I don't recall the name of it, but it may have been "Mai Fest," celebrated on the first weekend of May.)

Here's a newspaper story I've been meaning to get to for several months. I finally found a tie-in. It tells about the WWII internment of German-Americans, and about the TRACES museum in St. Paul, which tells the story of this overlooked wartime atrocity. Here's a tantalizing excerpt from Alex Friedrich's story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

Law enforcement officials in the Twin Cities helped the U.S. government arrest 11,000 German-Americans and nationals during World War II, held many without trial for years in internment camps and deported some to fend for themselves in wartime Germany, a new St. Paul museum exhibit shows.

Hidden on the second floor of the Landmark Center -- itself the site of a number of the interrogations -- the four-month-old TRACES Center for History and Culture tells how wartime hysteria almost destroyed some American lives. Under government orders, families were split up, breadwinners lost their jobs and homeowners lost their houses.

It's a little-known story. So far it has largely gone unacknowledged by Congress, which has apologized for the wartime internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans and nationals.

Why isn't this more widely known? I think it's because there has been no strong German-American lobby demanding victim status. There has been no long line of German-Americans with their hands out, wanting victim status and demanding something from the government. German-Americans haven't blamed "discrimination" against their ancestors for their present-day problems. They've been getting on with their lives, with most unaware that they are "victims."

And that includes me. My mother's side is 100% German-American. That makes me half German. (And 1/4 English, 1/4 Swedish, if you're counting.)


But my point is that I don't demand to be considered a victim. Because I'm not. The unfair treatment my German-American ancestors or some other German-Americans may have received is not a handicap in my life.

So are the sins of the past really such a handicap for members of other groups who play the victim today?

Can't we leave the grudges of the past behind and get on with the future?


We must constantly remind ourselves that there is little new in the world. At present, we hear a lot of concern that the influx of Mexican immigrants will "change" America, so that it isn't America anymore. Some interesting German-American histories I found on the Web show that the same sort of thing was said about German immigrants. And I'll bet it was said about the Irish, and the Italians, too.

And the Germans did change America. One lasting way, is that they gave us the Christmas customs we still practice. They gave us the Christmas tree, and many of our other common decorating and celebrating customs, which have been adopted by all sorts of hyphenated-Americans.

Other groups brought and shared their customs. And we should be glad. Would you want to live in an America without Pizza and Chinese food? Would you want to live in an America without Christmas trees? (And, no, you wouldn't have a "holiday" tree, either.)

Saturday, May 6, 2006

Ted Kennedy's Dog No Joke

I've just learned that Sen. Edward Kennedy has a dog named "Splash." That's the Sen. Kennedy who infamously drove off a bridge and then left Mary Jo Kopechne to drown in the river. That's pretty creepy.

I've got to wonder what would happen if President Bush got a cat and named it Katrina. I'll bet he'd be pilloried for his "insensitivity." And contrary to what many Bush-haters would have you believe, he didn't even drive that storm into New Orleans.

Friday, May 5, 2006

Stop Digging, You Fool!

It's my belief that many of the Great Society social programs of the last 40 years have not solved the problems they were created to solve, but instead have worsened and institutionalized those social problems. But liberals continue to see the solution as spending even more money on more of the same discredited policies.

That has led me to come up with a new definition for a liberal:

A liberal is someone who finds himself at the bottom of a hole, and demands that the government buy him an even bigger shovel.


Happy Cinco de Mayo. I've got something to write about that, but no time to get it done today. It'll have to wait until tomorrow.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Light Rail a Case of the Tail Wagging the Dog

I like trains -- both real ones and model ones. And I believe in mass transit. (I used to take the bus when I worked downtown -- it made sense.) But I continue to fear that a light rail system in the Twin Cities is just a huge waste of money.

Supporters like to point to the first leg of the proposed system, and say it is a great success. They like to brag that ridership is up 50 percent over what was expected, and then just let people make the mistaken inference that this means the thing is profitable. But far from it. The initial projected ridership didn't represent a "break even" point, which a for-profit business would have to think it could reach before it went ahead with the project. It was just a number that proponents thought was attainable, but still sounded big enough to impress the people doling out the money.

But even with this "huge" ridership, the thing doesn't come close to supporting itself. It doesn't pay its own operating expenses, and never will. There was never any expectation that it would. And don't forget the nearly $1 billion spent just to build the thing. (You'll notice they talk a lot about ridership numbers, but not revenue. Maybe that's because riders are basically on the honor system when it comes to paying.)

Now, the push is on for the next leg of the system, a track down University Avenue from downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis. Here's where the train seems like a case of the tail wagging the dog.

St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman has said that nothing will get built on University Avenue unless it is "transit friendly." That seems to mean everything must be built right up to the street -- parking lots are bad, because then people might be encouraged to drive -- and must employ or house people in great density. The idea seems to be to force University Avenue to become the sort of place that "needs" light rail, thus making the case that it must be built, and ensuring its "success" when eventually built. At the same time, the light rail line is being billed as a tool to bring about the revival of University Avenue. It's a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

It's also a case of the tail wagging the dog, trying to force development that will bring about a rail line to serve it. If we'd just let the Avenue develop the way it wants to, we might find out that there's no need for the light rail line, and we could save a billion dollars.

And University Avenue is already going through a revival, without light rail. Developers continue to bring proposals for new retail projects, but city and community forces oppose them, because they aren't "transit friendly." Never mind that they are just the sort of developments that the market will support and St. Paul consumers need.

It seems some people don't care if University needs their help or not, they are so intent on being heroes riding to the rescue on their white train. "Stop succeeding! You need me! Stay downtrodden so I can rescue you!"

And there seems to be a lot of train envy going on, or some keeping-up-with-the-Denvers. Mayor Coleman specifically mentions that the Twin Cities is falling behind Denver in building light rail lines. So what? If they need them, let them build them. I didn't realize we were in competition with Denver, except maybe via our hockey teams. It reminds me of the "Simpsons" episode where the city of Springfield comes into money, then is enticed by a Prof. Harold Hill-type to build a useless monorail, just to keep up with rival city Shelbyville.

Here's something relevant and interesting I've just come across. It's from a Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal column . (You may need to register) The subject is urban planning, and the legacy of author and urban theorist Jane Jacobs, who recently passed away. Here's an excerpt that jumped out at me as spot-on regarding St. Paul's University Avenue plans:

Given urban planners' almost universal reverence for Jacobs, it is ironic that many have largely ignored or misinterpreted the central lesson of [Jacobs' book] "Death and Life" -- that cities are vibrant living systems, not the product of grand, utopian schemes concocted by overzealous planners.

Modern planners have contorted Jacobs's beliefs in hopes of imposing their static, end-state vision of a city. They use a set of highly prescriptive policy tools -- like urban growth boundaries, smart growth, and high-density development built around light-rail transit systems -- to design the city they envision. They try to "create" livable cities from the ground up and micromanage urban form through regulation. We've seen these tools at work in Portland, Ore., for more than three decades. But the results have been dismal and dramatic. The city's "smart growth" policies effectively created a land shortage, constricting the housing supply and artificially inflating prices. By 1999, Portland had become one of the 10 least affordable housing markets in the nation, and its homeownership rate lagged behind the national average. It has also seen one of the nation's largest increases in traffic congestion and boasts a costly, heavily subsidized light-rail system that accounts for just 1% of the city's total travel. Not exactly how they planned it.

That's because these planning trends run completely counter to Jacobs's vision of cities as dynamic economic engines that thrive on private initiative, trial and error, incremental change, and human and economic diversity. Jacobs believed the most organic and healthy communities are diverse, messy and arise out of spontaneous order, not from a scheme that tries to dictate how people should live and how neighborhoods should look.

She felt it was foolish to focus on how cities look rather than how they function as economic laboratories. "The main responsibility of city planning and design should be to develop--insofar as public policy and action can do so--cities that are congenial places for [a] great range of unofficial plans, ideas and opportunities to flourish," Jacobs wrote.

St. Paul, pay attention. They're talking about you.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Latin American Echoes of the Middle East

As you know, I thought this "May Day Without (Illegal) Immigrants" celebration had anti-American overtones to it. Well, we can add some new concerns. Buried in the extensive coverage in the May 2 newspaper was a report on sympathetic anti-American protests held the same day throughout Latin America.

In Mexico, Monday was dubbed "A Day without Gringos." And no, I'm not making that up. Mexicans were encouraged to boycott U.S.-owned stores and U.S. products. Similar protests were held elsewhere in Central America.

Seems backwards to me. They think their people should be able to work illegally in the U.S., but they don't want U.S. businesses to legally do business in their countries. Wouldn't emphasizing how they welcome the U.S. in their countries better make the point that the U.S. should welcome them the same way?

And what are we to make of Bolivia? President Evo Morales picked May 1 to send his army into the natural gas fields and seize them for the government, taking them away from the "Gringo" companies that had legally been operating there. So much for a world without borders. Yankees go home! And we'll follow you there! Then you'll grant us rights! Is it just a coincidence that Morales picked the high holy day of communism to nationalize Bolivia's natural gas industry? We'll see.

Meanwhile, back in Mexico, we had this:

Masked Zapatista rebel leader Subcomandante Marcos told a rally of about 2,000 supporters outside the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City that immigrants in the United States are "fighting in the belly of the beast."

"As Zapatistas, we support the boycott of all the U.S. products that have proliferated in Mexico," he said, vowing to "expel from our land all the rich and powerful including, of course, U.S. capitalists."

Nothing to worry about? Just rhetoric? Don't forget, that's what people were still saying about Osama bin Laden on Sept. 10, 2001, if they had even heard of him at all. (Though I continue to wonder why we call 9/11 a "wake up call" when the Islamofascists had tried to bring down the same World Trade Center with a bomb in the parking garage eight years earlier. Shouldn't that have been enough to wake us up?)

Nothing would raise Marcos' profile like executing a terrorist attack in the U.S., and it would be sure to earn him points with other U.S. haters like Cuba's Castro and Venezuela's Chavez. Considering what could be plotted and pulled off from caves in the Middle East, how tough could it be to stage a major attack from Mexico, when people and contraband are already crossing over on a daily basis?

Someone competent better be keeping a close eye on this guy.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Now That's Funny!

It seems almost a daily occurrence now, the anti-Republican, anti-Bush cartoons in the funny pages. Not the editorial page, but the comics page. That's why this Monty cartoon was such a nice change of pace, a glimmer of hope, a breath of fresh air. And it caught me by surprise, because I'm not used to seeing political content in this strip.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

The Snobbery of Retail Development -- St. Paul Suffers

There was a very interesting story in the Pioneer Press this week about the snobbery of retail development. Writer Bob Shaw described how cities -- whether suburban or central cities -- want to attract high-status businesses and discourage low-status businesses, but often settle for mid-status businesses. This story relates directly to what I've previously written about St. Paul's resistance to so many proposed new retail projects.

Low-status businesses are thought to make a neighborhood less desirable and create lower property values. These include pawnshops, bail bondsmen, check-cashing stores, thrift stores, and auto parts stores.

High-status businesses, which connote wealth and leisure, include cheese and wine shops, spas and salons, coffee shops, upscale restaurants, and expensive grocery stores. These businesses are thought to increase surrounding property values.

But what I found fascinating was the idea of mid-status businesses. These include lots of "big boxes" and chain stores: big discount groceries such as CUB, big home improvement stores such as Home Depot, and chain fast-food and sit-down restaurants. These businesses are thought to be neutral as far as surrounding home values go, but they are exactly the types of businesses finding themselves unwelcome in St. Paul.

And what I find particularly significant, is that these mid-status businesses seem to be the sort of businesses at which ordinary, middle-class people conduct most of their daily business. I personally, have little or no use for the stores in the low-status group. (Auto parts stores are quite useful. I'm surprised to see they are considered undesirables.) And I lack the money or interest to frequent the high-status stores. (Even if money were no object, they don't have what I need.)

The three "classes" of stores seem to correlate pretty well to three classes of people that will frequent them: upper-class, middle-class, and lower-class. And that illustrates the problem for St. Paul.

They say the strength of a country or city lies in having a strong middle class. But what do we offer shoppers in St. Paul? We've got the low-status businesses, spread around most of the city. Too many, some would say, as is usually the case in a central city. And we've got the high-status businesses, though mostly concentrated in certain neighborhoods, such as Grand Avenue or Highland.

What we are lacking is the mid-status businesses, the meat-and-potatoes stores frequented by the middle class. So St. Paul residents drive to the suburbs to spend their money at these businesses. But when these businesses want to locate in St. Paul, they are given the cold shoulder. (If they're lucky. For some, it's more like knocking on the door, then having it answered by someone wielding a shotgun.)

We've got to do more to make St. Paul a suitable home for the middle class. Otherwise, we continue to broaden the gap between rich and poor -- something the "progressives" blocking retail development are always complaining about. Large parts of the city have become poor parts of town full of low-status businesses, while smaller sections of the city become more and more upscale.

What about the rest of us? The middle class needs places to shop. And the lower class would benefit from the mid-status stores, as well.

But powerful -- or at least loud -- forces in St. Paul don't care. We seem to be under the control of a well-to-do, self-described "progressive" elite who want to preserve St. Paul as their own private little retreat from the hustle and bustle of modern urban life. Someone needs to explain to them that they're about 150 years too late for that.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Boy Genius Dead at 81

Once again, I find that obituaries provide some fascinating history. Today, the Pioneer Press carried the obit of Stanley Hiller Jr., a boy genius, entrepreneur, and helicopter innovator. While still a teenager, Hiller avoided the draft in 1944 by demonstrating his helicopter design for the Navy, which insisted he get a deferment so he could continue to work on his invention.

Hiller didn't invent the helicopter, but his innovations helped make it a practical tool for the military. For decades after the war, he continued to come up with new advances. That shouldn't have come as a surprise, because he had been inventing and manufacturing successful products since childhood.

Here's a more extensive obit/bio for you. I encourage you to read through it all. It's fascinating.

And here's a page from the "Helicopter History Site" that shows a photo of Hiller's 1944 helicopter.

Take the time to read up on this guy. He was something else.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Happy Loyalty Day

Well, how about this? After writing earlier today that May 1 means a communist holiday to me, I learn that May 1 is also Loyalty Day in the U.S. -- a day to fly the flag and reaffirm our allegiance to the nation. Coincidence? Hardly.

It seems that during the height of the Cold War, the May Day link to international communism bothered the Veterans of Foreign Wars and enough members of Congress that a new, American holiday was created for May 1. The first Loyalty Day was in 1959.

But it doesn't seem to have caught on. I was born after 1959, and I still associate May 1 with communism. And I don't recall ever before hearing of Loyalty Day. Also, it's not on any calendar I have.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Oil and Gas Price Thoughts

We keep hearing about RECORD PROFITS for BIG OIL COMPANIES. But Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren of the Cato Institute put it in perspective, arguing that the oil companies, by virtue of their huge size, will of course amass huge profits, when measured in terms of total dollars. But when measured as a percentage of profit on sales, the oil companies pale in comparison to companies in many other industries. If a 10.7 percent profit at ExxonMobil is "too much," then what are we to make of Yahoo (a 45.5 percent profit margin), Citigroup (33.4 percent), Intel (24 percent) or Apple (22.7 percent)?

Meanwhile, I found this gas price information in a Wall Street Journal online editorial. It's interesting to note how much more the Europeans are paying because of very high gasoline taxes. But strip away the tax, and the prices don't vary as much, falling into a range from $2.10 to $2.61.

But somewhat surprisingly, the U.S. is a close second at $2.60. We've long heard that we shouldn't complain, because U.S. gas is cheap compared to what they pay in Europe. Turns out, that's only the case because of the taxes that are added to it. Gasoline in the U.S. is NOT cheaper, we just don't tax it as highly. The way we add on taxes and don't distinguish between what we're paying to the oil company and we're paying to the government disguises the true cost of the fuel, and the true level of the tax.

Monday, May 1, 2006

People Are Dying to Get In

St. Paul was shocked over the weekend when a dead body was found in a cemetery.

OK, it was a big deal because he was found above ground, and he appeared to have been murdered.

But it reminds me of the newspaper headline I saw years ago:

"Beach closed after shells found."

Well, yeah, it's the beach, you'll find shells there.

Oh. Artillery shells? Never mind.

Monday, May 1, 2006

But What If It Had Been the Republican Coleman?

St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman had a little excitement over the weekend. He usually has a police department driver to chauffeur him about town in an unmarked police car. But Saturday, he was driving the sedan himself when he was clipped by another, out-of-control vehicle.

This became particularly newsworthy when Coleman switched on the car's police flashers to get the driver of the other vehicle to stop.

It seems there is a question of whether or not it was legal for Coleman to engage the police lights.

I don't think this is any big deal. Coleman acted impulsively in a stressful situation. No harm was done. Maybe some good was done. I don't care whether or not this was legal. If it wasn't, then that should be pointed out. But there is no scandal here.

Nonetheless, turning on the lights was probably not a good move. The mayor could have endangered himself (and his young son, who was with him) by provoking a confrontation with a potentially dangerous individual. He should be advised not to take the law into his own hands in the future.

But that leads to my question: Would this story play out the same way if it involved a Republican government official? I don't think so. Suppose, for instance, that the politician involved had been U.S. Senator Norm Coleman. I'm sure we'd be hearing all the usual stupid rhetoric from the Left:

"This is just what you'd expect from one of Bush's lapdogs. It represents the unchecked and overreaching police power they've created in what used to be a democracy. Now, law-abiding citizens won't even be able to drive, without fear that their every move is being watched by fascist Republicans, just like Bush is listening in to all of our phone calls."

I can just imagine all the letters to the editor making that claim.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Happy May Day, Comrades!

These immigration protesters really need better PR advice. First it was the Mexican flags, then the Spanish-language "anthem." Backlash? Duh. You think?

If they want to assure native-born Americans that they are not a threat, that they just want to become Americans, too, they have a strange way of showing it.

Now, it's a May Day protest! Stories in the paper refer to May 1 as "an international workers' day." But in my mind, it will forever be the International Communist Holiday. I haven't forgotten those televised images of the Soviet troops on parade, joined by menacing truck-borne missiles, in a display designed to intimidate the West and convince us that they would "bury us."

May Day to me triggers thoughts of "anti-American." It's a very poor choice for this protest.

Show Some Commitment

Boycott backers say that skipping work today will show the country how much it needs (illegal) immigrants. If that's the case, then let's see some commitment on their part. Protesters shouldn't just skip one day of work. They should leave the U.S. completely, then wait to be begged to come back, this time with papers.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

No "Choice" for Uncle Sam?

I've thought of another link between abortion and immigration. Shouldn't a nation have a "choice" about whether or not it wants to become the "parent" to millions more? Shouldn't a nation have control over its own borders, the way a woman wants control over her own body? "Undocumented children" (unborn babies) are people too, you know. They're just looking for a better life with more opportunities in a new place.

Some people say that if we hadn't aborted millions of potential American citizens over the last 33 years, we wouldn't need workers from other countries. I don't know if the economics of it is that simple, but it's interesting to think about.

Too Late to Send Them Back

I agree on principle with those who say all 11-12 million illegal aliens should be rounded up and deported. But I don't think it's practical. I think it's too late. We've already lost the battle. All we can do now is "surrender" and ask for terms -- some sort of mandatory registration and pursuit of citizenship. Otherwise, what would we do, build concentration camps for millions of people while we "process" them? Let's not start down that road.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Undocumented Children

I've noted that one way the Mainstream Media plays into the hands of the Liberal Left is by adopting its terms. For example, people who used to be quite accurately and legally described as "illegal aliens" are now being written about as "undocumented immigrants," as thought there was just some sort of "mix-up in the paperwork."

And of course, long ago, killing unborn babies became just an issue of "reproductive rights."

So, I put the two thoughts together and came up with an idea. Why don't we stop calling the unborn baby a fetus, and instead, refer to the little one as an "undocumented child."

After all, it's just missing a birth certificate. That's just an inconsequential piece of paper. You know, like a visa, or a green card, or a work permit or such.

I know, you're buying the "undocumented" part, but you're hung up on the "child" part. You say it isn't a "child" until it's born. But I ask you, is it any more of a stretch than calling an uninvited and illegal invader, who crosses the border surreptitiously, an "immigrant"?

You may say that an "alien" can become an "immigrant" by going through the proper channels. Same with a fetus becoming a child. But instead of the "proper" channel, it's the birth channel (canal) the child must go through.

If you want to become an American, you have to go through the proper channels. There's no such thing as a "caesarean immigration," as much as some might wish that there were.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Screw the Bill of Rights, I've Got a Right to Screw!

People surely can be selective in their "principles." Pioneer Press columnist Laura Billings got her thong in a bunch again recently over the issue of pharmacists who don't want to sell what they see as an abortion pill. I've got rights, some women yell, so you have to stock and sell me whatever I want.

Nevermind that most independent pharmacists in Minnesota quit selling cigarettes years ago, seeing tobacco as incompatible with their mission of promoting health and life. Nevermind that most pharmacies don't sell "Playboy" on their magazine racks, in keeping with the wishes of feminists. No, those decisions comply with the beliefs of the Left, so those restrictions of customers' "rights" are seen as "the right thing to do."

Then we've got coffee shops that use only "fair trade" coffee. And vegetarian restaurants that don't serve meat. It's a matter of principle. And they are cheered by the Left.

When Wal-Mart announced recently that it would stop selling guns at many of its stores, there was no concern expressed by the Left, worried that people would be deprived of a convenient, affordable way to exercise their Second Amendment rights. No, this decision was celebrated by the Left.

Women have fought for the right to vote, the right to an education, the right to work in the same jobs as men. It's sad that now the main concern of feminism seems to be ensuring that women can have sex as irresponsibly as men have been able to, and not suffer the consequences. And they demand that "choice" even after conception. That's a "choice" that men have never had. Historically, a man's only "choice" at that point was child support or a shotgun wedding.

But women demand "choice"...

It Doesn't Matter What You Choose, Just That You Have a Choice

At least that's some people's thinking, in this age when consumer or lifestyle "choice" is worshiped. (Unless you want to choose to smoke in a St. Paul or Minneapolis bar, of course. Then, the "progressives" know what's best for you. And no, I don't smoke.)

These days of course, "choice" is held up as a virtue of abortion. It's interesting then to learn of a new concept called the "choice mom." These are described as women as who intentionally become single parents by "choice," rather than through an unintended pregnancy, or as the result of divorce. I first encountered the term in a newspaper column otherwise unrelated to such issues. But the subject of that column turned out to be the author of a book about intentional single motherhood, so that got worked in.

How do these "choice moms" become pregnant? The column explains:

About half of the choice moms go to a sperm bank (though some of these facilities won't work with single women), and about a quarter of them adopt, Morrissette says. The rest are conceived with the help of a "known donor" - an ex-boyfriend, gay friend, other acquaintance.

That was the case for Morrissette. Both of her children were conceived with help from a friend she's known for many years. The children know him, but they rarely see him, she says.

I think it's interesting, with all the feminist complaining about issues of sex and reproduction being "unfair" to the females of the species, that we see illustrated here how women actually have more "choice" than men. A woman can decide she wants to have a child to raise by herself, then find herself a sperm donor -- whether anonymous, unwitting, or willing -- and there you go! Of course, in some of those scenarios, the unwitting father can then be saddled with 18 years of child support.

I can't imagine a similar scenario for prospective "choice fathers." Seems a man trying to accomplish this is going to end up in prison. Isn't that "unfair" to men?

Here's a new flash for some people: Men and women are different. And, life is unfair. And sex can lead to unintended consequences. And issues of reproduction can get complicated.

Maybe that's why society was for so long "uptight" and "repressed" about such matters, to hear our liberal friends tell it. Maybe that's why society expected a certain level of restraint and personal responsibility from us all.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when we try to separate sex from "conceive."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Fool Me Once...

I just read one of those claims that same-sex marriage is not a "threat" to marriage (Do opponents of same-sex marriage ever use the word "threat"?), because with a 50 percent divorce rate marriage is already "threatened" by mixed-sex marriages. And it is, of course. But that seems like "two wrongs make a right" reasoning.

I think what bothers me so much about that argument is that the people making it are the same bunch that led us into the 50 percent divorce rate, with their other "modern" and "progressive" ideas for mixed-sex marriage. You know, not being "judgmental," and the overall acceptance of divorce; making men and women the same, so that they don't need each other to make a whole; the idea that an individual must fulfill his or her own happiness at the expense of anyone else, including the children; the idea that two parents aren't necessary. You know, all those wonderful, new ideas that flew in the face of centuries or millennia of practice.

They don't have a very good track record. Why should we follow their advice this time?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Gas and Gasbags

I'm tired of hearing about "high gas prices" and "what is the government going to do about it?" Why do national news broadcasts have to start with the "high gas prices!" story day after day?

Of course I don't like paying more for gas. No one does. But where do we get the idea that the role of the President and the Congress is to monitor the price of a specific consumer product?

It's human nature to want to blame someone when we don't like what happens. Politicians and "big oil companies" are easy targets. The politicians know this, so they quickly point their own fingers at the oil companies.

There are two themes I keep hearing over and over, and they are at odds with each other. Still, that doesn't keep the same people from whining about both of them.

1) Gas prices are "too high," and the government should do something about it.

2) It's been more than 30 years since the first gas price shock caused by the first OPEC oil embargo, yet this country has done little or nothing to wean itself from gasoline and reliance on foreign oil.

Let's look at that. Why haven't we done more to move away from gas and oil? Could it be because gasoline has remained dirt cheap for decades? Of course it is. We've given lip service to the idea, but we've had little incentive to find substitutes for gasoline because until the past couple of years it has been cheap, cheap, cheap. And it's still not out of line with past prices, if we allow for inflation.

According to an Associated Press report, gas was going for $1.41 a gallon in March 1981, in the aftermath of the Iran hostage crisis. (And we know that the price went down from there.) The AP says that with inflation, that $1.41 gas would now be $3.12. Suddenly, that $2.84 gas down at the corner doesn't sound so bad.

If you want us to find alternatives to gasoline, or at least use less of it, then let the price remain "high." For 30+ years we've been hearing about new energy technologies that work, but cost more than that old-reliable petroleum. Let gas cost $3 a gallon, and we'll see those technologies, along with conservation measures and transportation alternatives, start to become mainstream.

Also, with high crude oil prices and "record profits" for oil companies, the companies now have both the means and the incentive to invest more in finding new sources of oil, and better ways of extracting it. Conversely, while prices were low, oil companies had neither the means nor the incentive to seek out new supplies.

We're also hearing the recurring charge that the "big oil companies" conspire to fix prices artificially high. I find that hard to believe. If they have that power, why hasn't gas been $3 a gallon all along? Gas prices go up, but they've also gone down. There have been times in the last decade when gas was under $1 a gallon. If it was in their power, why would the "big oil companies" allow that to happen? I bought a new vehicle in February, 2002, and my record book shows that the first time I filled the tank, I payed $1.03 per gallon. And that was even after 9/11.

No one wants to pay $3 a gallon for gasoline. But I believe that the cure for high prices is high prices. If the price is "too high," people will have to figure out how to use less gasoline. And there's little the government can do about it, in the short run, at least. Ed Lotterman writes on that today.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Stereotyping OK Sometimes, Ink-Stained Wretches Say

Here's another thing I found interesting, just because that's the way my mind works. Since it's my Website, I'll write about it. It also raised a serious question in my mind.

Last week, a marijuana festival was planned for St. Paul's Macalester College. (The administration cancelled it after it made the paper.) The St. Paul Pioneer Press previewed the festival with a story headlined "It's, like, a pot fest, dude." The story contained lots of pot smoking cliches and stereotypes. It referenced munchies, laziness, lack of organization, stoner language, stuff like that. All in good fun, I guess.

But consider... What if the paper covered other festivals in a way that made light of the stereotypical way that its stereotypical participants were purported to speak? Would a story about Rondo Days -- a celebration of St. Paul's African-American community -- be headlined? "Homies Be Rockin' the Hood"? Would the story be written in "ebonics"? Would the story point out that the planned parade would not be too long, because this particular group doesn't like to work too hard? Would the story express amazement that this group of people was even able to be organized enough to put a festival together? Would the story point out that there would be plenty of fried chicken and watermelon available? That's how the story about pot smokers was written.

You might say there's a big difference between who people are, and what activity they do. And you'd be right. But where, exactly, do we draw the line? How do we decide which groups we can make fun of, and which groups must be treated with respect? Sometimes it gets hard to separate race/actions/lifestyles.

Would it be politically-correct to do a "humorous" send-up like this about clog dancing fans? I don't know. NASCAR fans? I think so. Country music fans? Yes. "Fundamentalist" Christians? Probably. "Fundamentalist" Muslims? No way! Gays? Of course not.

Hmmmm.... Maybe the Pioneer Press needs to be more diverse and tolerant. In this politically-correct day and age, does the Pioneer Press owe the Macalester College pot smoking community an apology?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Pet Adoption Irony

I just read a news story about how high standards by pet adoption agencies can make it very difficult for a prospective pet adopter to gain approval. Some say these standards are necessary to ensure that every pet who gets a home gets a loving home for life. Others say that with tens of thousands of unwanted companion animals euthanized every year, any home is better than no home.

That's ironic, because the qualifications for adoption of humans have been broadened in recent years, under that same theory -- any home is better than no home. Marital status and sexual orientation, for instance, are no longer the factors they once were for potential adoptive parents.

Evidently, to some people at least, animals must be more important than people.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Unintended Consequences

I was listening to a talk radio discussion of gas prices and energy conservation, when I heard a caller say that we should go to a four-day work week. That would save energy, he said, and give people more family time.

I had to chuckle.

Thanks to the Law of Unintended Consequences, I could see all those three-day weekends with more family time turning into more long driving trips "up north" to the lake or other destinations. We might burn more gas then ever!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Forget What "They" Say; What Do You See with Your Own Eyes?

Don't let yourself be worn down by the constant revisionist history of the Anti-Bush Liberal Left (ABLL); look at the evidence and draw your own conclusions. A new tape has come from Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, and even the Washington Post story on it supports suggests that President Bush is right -- and has been right all along -- when it comes to the Global War on Terror (GWT).

Exhibit A: A tenet of ABLL "thinking" and propaganda is that the global conflict between the West and the Islamic world is all a figment of Bush's imagination. Somebody should tell bin Laden. He thinks he's at war with the West. From the news story:

Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden urged his followers to prepare for a drawn-out conflict with the Western world in a new audiotape broadcast Sunday, blaming what he called "a Crusader-Zionist war" for a long list of attacks on Islam in places from Darfur to Denmark.

Exhibit B: ABLL doctrine says that if President Bush really cared about things like human rights and ending genocide, he'd send the military into Sudan to end the slaughter there. There are bigger problems than some guy hiding in a cave. There was no real international terrorism problem until Bush created it with his "imperialistic, preemptive war." From the story:

The United States and other Western countries are supporting a plan to send U.N. peacekeepers to Darfur, where an Arab militia backed by the Sudanese government is fighting rebel groups. Both sides are Muslim. Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict, and 2 million have been displaced from their homes.

And what is bin Laden's response. Once again, to the story:

[bin Laden] urged jihadists to go to the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan to fight international peacekeepers...

So, Bush is the bad guy and bin Laden is the good guy? Doesn't look like it, if we look at the facts.

Exhibit C: ABLL doctrine says that President Bush, Dick Cheney, and their friends from "Big Oil" are just after Iraq's oil. Interesting they'd say that. What is bin Laden's explanation for UN intervention in Sudan? Let's check the news story:

[bin Laden said] their real mission was "to occupy the region and steal its oil under the cover of maintaining security there."

Sounds like those on the ABLL think just like bin Laden. Or, bin Laden is making use of the useful idiots of the ABLL by adopting their own language.

Exhibit D: ABLL doctrine says, sure, the war in Afghanistan was OK, we just needed to crush the Taliban and capture bin Laden, but Bush couldn't even complete that job. But there's no need to pursue the war anywhere else. There's no GWT. One last time, let's check the news story:

Counterterrorism analysts said bin Laden was trying to portray himself as a champion for oppressed Muslims worldwide...

Once again, if there is no GWT, if Islamofascism is not at war with the West, would someone please tell them that?

Monday, April 24, 2006

It's a Small World After All

Enough of the ultra-right wing, hate-filled screeds for now. Here's something a little lighter:

While sitting at my computer in my St. Paul office Saturday, I heard my name mentioned on the radio. That's not so amazing. Except that the radio station was in England. Let me explain.

About a year ago, I made a trip to England, and visited Cornwall, the area in the southwest from which my great-grandfather emigrated in 1906. Recently, I learned I could listen in to BBC Radio Cornwall, live, over a Webstream. I listen in sometimes, and it's fun to hear what's going on across the ocean, in an area I've visited. When they talk about certain towns or a traffic jam on a certain highway, I may recognize it as a place I've been.

(You have to remember, there's a six-hour time difference. So if I'm listening in the late morning, I hear the afternoon drive time. But here's a really good one: I was listening late one Saturday night, and it was early Sunday morning in England. But they were carrying a live broadcast of a Formula One auto race from... Australia! Where it was Sunday afternoon. That was surreal.)

Anyway, on Saturday, the "presenter," as the announcers are known across the pond, read a trivia question, and gave listeners a variety of ways to give the answer and be entered in a drawing. One method he gave out was his email address, so I dashed off an email to him, telling him where I was, and about my own connection to Cornwall.

It couldn't have been more than 10 minutes later, and there he was reading my email over the air, giving my name, my location, and my family connection to Cornwall!

What a small world it can be.

In comparison, I think of my great-grandfather and some of his brothers leaving Cornwall a century ago for the U.S., Canada, and Australia. It must have been months before they could get word back to England that they had arrived safely.

I have another "small world" story from the Swedish part of my heritage. Read about how I taught a modern-day Swede -- in Sweden -- an old Swedish word that has survived in my American family!

Monday, April 24, 2006

St. Wellstone

I've written before that the late Senator Paul Wellstone has become a Christ figure to his disciples. I even joked that I expected there to be reports that he had been seen alive on the third day after his fatal plane crash.

But yesterday I spied this actual bumper sticker: "Wellstone Lives."

You just can't make this kind of stuff up.

Maybe the owner of this car is a friend of the person down the street with the "Jesus is a Liberal" bumper stickers. (Yes, seriously.) You know, for all the rhetoric about conservatives and "ultra right wing religious fundamentalists" trying to "create a theocracy" and "mixing politics and religion," I've yet to see a bumper sticker reading "Jesus is a Conservative." Meanwhile, we've got the "Jesus is a Liberal" sticker and the "What Would Wellstone Do?" sticker.

Who's mixing politics and religion? The truth is, for many on the Left, there can be no separation. Because politics is their religion.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Attention Kmart Shoppers: Overstock Sale on Lawyers

Some people say there are too many lawyers. This might support that claim.

In Sunday's "Parade" magazine, I saw a notice about a class action lawsuit against discount store Kmart for not providing proper access to people who use wheelchairs or scooters. The ad encourages people to join the suit as claimants, and says they are eligible if:

"...you use a wheelchair or scooter and shopped at Kmart, will shop at Kmart, or would have shopped at Kmart but for access problems, between May 6, 2003 and the end of the settlement term (approximately 2014)...."

Let me get this straight. They're giving you eight years in which to shop at Kmart and claim your victimhood, even if you've never shopped at Kmart before and maybe had no intention of ever shopping at Kmart? Does that make any sense? If there was a lawsuit over, say, exploding coffee makers, would we be given eight years to go out and buy one so we could cash in?

It seems bizarre to me. Here's the website if you want to study it for yourself: http://www.kmartaccesssettlement.com

Monday, April 24, 2006

The World In Black and White

I've been thinking about the similarities between the Duke University lacrosse players accused of rape, and the Minnesota Vikings "love boat" sex cruise. Both involve athletes behaving badly in a sexual manner. Both were much-hyped and described in outrageous terms in original reports, but seem to have lost steam as they proceeded into the actual legal process.

Both have racial aspects.

But note that in that regard, they are mirror images of one another. Or perhaps I should say, one is a photographic negative of the other. What is black in one is white in the other, and vice versa.

In the Vikings case, the accused are black, and claim they are the victims of a racist prosecution. In the Duke case, the accused players are white, the accuser black, and many people aren't hesitant to express the view that, essentially, the players must be guilty, because they are white.

Isn't that racist?

The Duke case is truly a case where race matters.

But if the races of the accuser and the accused were reversed, I have no doubt that the story would be played completely differently. It would still be about race, but like with the Vikings, the lacrosse players would be claiming that they were being victimized because they were black. They'd be seen as victims because their season had been cancelled, without due process. There would be complaints that DNA samples were taken from every team member except the one white guy. Yes, if it were a basketball team with one white guy, the story would be played entirely differently.

I don't know what happened at Duke. I don't argue for anyone's guilt or innocence. But I know that race is indeed a factor. I also know that whatever side Whitey is on, Whitey will be portrayed as a bad guy. We hear a lot about how the white lacrosse players are a bunch of rich kids, "dripping with privilege," who think raping a woman is their "entitlement." Evidently, some pundits can get right inside the heads of people they've never met. Or they think they don't have to, because they know what "those people" are like. Can you imagine, if we turned it around, hearing a bunch of black basketball players described as gang bangers from the 'hood who can't be expected to treat a woman any differently? If someone did that, that claim then would become the focus of the story, surpassing the rape charges that started it all.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Always Bush's Fault, Chinese Division

You probably heard that during Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to the White House Thursday, a woman protester created a disturbance, calling for an end to persecution of Falun Gong adherents in China. What I found really interesting was the way I heard the incident reported on the radio. It was reported as yet another embarrassment for President Bush, and it was noted with much gravity that the President apologized to his Chinese counterpart.

What's funny, is that the U.S. media has made a heroine out of Cindy Sheehan, who has done everything she can to embarrass President Bush and create disturbances around him. When she created a disturbance at the State of the Union address and was removed from the chambers, she was portrayed as a victim.

I guess it's always Bush's fault.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Saddam in 2008!

Some in this country claim that "Bush is the Terrorist" and Iraq was better off with Saddam in power. Do they sincerely believe that? If so, then I ask them:

Do you support using the full force and might of the U.S. military to undo our "mistake," spring Saddam from jail, and restore him to power? Would you support the U.S. military propping up Saddam until he can get his own despotic, genocidal and tyrannical house back in order?

If not, why? Wouldn't that be better for the Iraqi people?

Friday, April 21, 2006

An Offer I Can Refuse

I received a first-of-its-kind offer today. Via email, I was offered two tickets to a play in Minneapolis, provided that I would "agree to blog about the performance."

Hmmmm. I think not.

I can't go along with that, because I can't promise them anything. Though to be fair, they haven't said I have to promise to say nice things about the play. But I can't have you start wondering why I'm writing about what I choose to write about; wondering if I'm allowing myself to be manipulated to try to sell you something.

Still, where do I draw the line? If I simply received a pair of tickets in the mail, with no request made of me, would I object to that? That doesn't seem objectionable. Hey, free samples are nothing new, right? I think it's the explicit "chit-for-chat" nature of the proposition that bothers me. If they instead would have offered me a "free sample," in hopes that the quality of their product would earn a mention from me, that seems different. But is it really?

What do you think? Let me know if you have some thoughts on this. Perhaps if I query a theater critic, I'll find that this is essentially the way plays get reviewed. Or maybe I'll be told that the critic always pays his own way and arrives unannounced. I'll let you know if I learn anything.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Republican by Any Other Name... Would Be Just as Hated

I was talking to someone recently, saying I still don't know exactly who or what a "neocon" is supposed to be. Strangely, I noted, I never hear people describe themselves as "neocons." The term seems to be used primarily as a form of name-calling.

So this line from a recent letters-to-the-editor page in the Pioneer Press served as a timely example. One John Sipe of Cottage Grove referred to "every neoconservative ultra-right-wing religious 'weirdo' in the state."

Just another hate-filled term to tack onto the list, I guess. It doesn't really mean anything to the person that used it. It's just another hateful word to use against his "enemies."

But it doesn't make any sense, because from what understanding I do have of the term, it seems to me that "neocons" would be a group distinct from the "ultra-right-wing" or the "religious weirdos."

But not to Mr. Sipe. He hates 'em all so much, he doesn't even care to learn who it is he hates.

But a good letter makes a logical point.

In that same day's batch, there was a good letter that pointed out the illogic used by some of those who oppose a marriage amendment (this relates to my Monday post, "Words have meanings..."). Marv Drake of Woodbury wrote:

We didn't get a chance to vote on the constitutional amendment. I am amazed at the thought process of those who were against letting us vote on this. Some of them say, "We don't need an amendment because we're already protected by a law." Every profession has mostly good people and some bad ones -- even the judicial system. It only takes one of those judges to rule that our "law" is unconstitutional. It has happened in several states. It is a matter of "when," not "if" it will happen here.

Others say that the amendment would be "unfair and discriminatory." If that is true, then the current law must also be "unfair and discriminatory." Does that mean that they want our law rescinded -- you know -- the one that we don't need an amendment for?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

If You Say So

This week the Mainstream Media is asking: "Has Donald Rumsfeld become a distraction?"

The answer to that is, "If you say so."

If they keep asking the question, then they make it so. If they don't ask the question, then he's not a "distraction." This is another case of the MSM helping to make the news, or creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, in that the act of observation itself changes that which is being observed. Like when a TV news shows scares us all week with reports of rising crime rates, then commissions a poll that confirms that crime is our number one worry.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Words Have Meaning, But People Use Them to Obfuscate

I don't like a lot of the politically-correct euphemisms that get tossed about thoughtlessly these days. For instance, there's "homeless." "Homeless" seems to describe only a symptom; it doesn't tell us anything about a person's real problems. Then there's "affordable housing." What they really mean is either "subsidized housing" or "poor quality housing," because there isn't some magic way to create good housing on the cheap. Then we have "good jobs" or "living wage." But what exactly does that mean? What all of these have in common is that they deflect the focus away from the PEOPLE who have problems that need solving. They put the focus on outside factors -- the symptoms of people's real problems. Why doesn't someone have a home? Why can't someone hold down a job that pays enough to afford a home? Those are the real questions. If you really want to help a person, you have to address that person's problems. If we can eliminate people's problems like chemical abuse, poor work habits, lack of education and skills, etc., then we can get people into those "good jobs" that pay "living wages" so that they can find housing they can afford.

It needs to be about curing the illness, not just treating the symptoms. But the words we use actually get in the way. They make it harder to help people.

Another politically-correct word I'm tired of is "tolerance." People like to boast about how "tolerant" they are, but are they really? Think about it, and you'll see that you can only "tolerate" something that you don't like or approve of. If you think something is just fine, then you aren't being "tolerant," you simply approve of it. "Tolerating" something implies that you don't think it's right, but you'll put up with it. It suggests a sort of superiority over the one being "tolerated," because the "tolerant" individual holds the power to grant "tolerance" to those whose tastes or morals are not as refined as his own.

For example, if you have a neighbor with a loud motorcycle, and the noise bothers you, you can be tolerant by putting up with the noise out of neighborliness. But if you yourself enjoy listening to loud motorcycles, then you aren't tolerant, you just don't mind.

This would also apply to the current public debate over same-sex marriages. Someone might say that we should be "tolerant" of everyone's individuality, and allow same-sex marriage. But ask that person who preaches "tolerance" whether he personally disapproves of same-sex marriage. If he says "no," then he's not being "tolerant," he's just calling for everyone else to defer to his belief. (Maybe we could say he's being intolerant, because he thinks everyone should go along with him!)

Here in Minnesota, we're currently having debate over whether a constitutional amendment should be placed on the ballot, preventing marriage from being extended to same-sex couples. (Opponents say this would "ban" such marriages. I say that the word "ban" makes no sense, since you can't ban something that doesn't yet exist, and same-sex marriages don't currently exist. But the opponents like to try to set up the debate as though the amendment would "discriminate" and take something away from people. Of course, as we've discussed before, the mainstream media adopt terms such as "ban" because they are used by those on the Left. When those on the right use a term such as "protect" marriage, they are mocked, not parroted.)

In the debate over same-sex marriage, you'll hear people say, "We don't need a constitutional amendment, because we already have state law defining marriage as one man and one woman." That argument sounds good, but try pressing the person making it. Ask, "And do you think that the status quo is good? Do you want marriage to REMAIN defined as one man and one woman?" Chances are, he'll say, "No. I want that law overturned." That shows he's being insincere in arguing why we don't need an amendment. The truth is, he disagrees with the amendment, but isn't sincere enough to come out and say it. That's sort of like the people who want everyone else to "tolerate" what they themselves actually approve of.

Another term I don't like is "gay marriage." I prefer to use "same-sex marriage," because that's more accurate. If the law were changed and two men went to apply for a marriage license, would they have to prove that they were gay? I don't think so. I wasn't asked to sign an affidavit attesting to my heterosexuality before I could wed.

The fact is, gay people have been getting legally married all along -- just not to someone of the same sex. So let's call the proposed change "same-sex marriage," because that's really the specifics of it.

What do I think of the proposed Constitutional amendment? I don't think I can support it. It goes too far, in attempting to block non-marriage legal concessions to same-sex couples. And I think it's only reasonable and decent that we make some legal changes to better meet some of the needs of people who are making a life together. There are complications with home ownership, and health care decision making, for instance, where we could make it easier for people to legally designate a "partner" for such matters. And that doesn't even necessarily have anything to do with sexual orientation. It could benefit mixed-sex couples or "platonic" couples as well.

(Yes, I do think that mixed-sex couples should just get married. That's my personal belief, but I recognize that it has become increasingly common for couples to forego marriage. So you know what? I'm being tolerant!)

Friday, April 14, 2006

Judas Gospel Changes Nothing

The media were making a big fuss last week about the announcement of the long-lost "Gospel of Judas," which reportedly paints a picture of Judas as Jesus' favorite and closest disciple, who was not a betrayer, but a loyal follower fulfilling his Master's orders. It seemed to me as though some reporters/commentators were pretty excited that this discovery represented a sort of contradiction of Christianity. And that pleased them.

But I immediately thought of the children's book "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs," by Jon Scieszka. In that book, the "villainous" Big Bad Wolf tells the story from his perspective, and according to him, he's not a villain at all.

How do we know that the "Gospel of Judas" isn't just a similar spoof of the traditional version of events? Can you imagine if 1,700 years from now, someone discovered a copy of the long-forgotten "Last Temptation of Christ" or "DaVinci Code"? How would they react? Would they think that their new discovery had changed everything?

One thing none of the reports have been perfectly clear on is whether the "Judas Gospel" represents the discovery of an heretofore unknown document, or whether scholars knew the document had existed, but the last known copy disappeared 1,700 years ago. That figure of 1,700 years is used, but it might refer only to how long this specific manuscript is believed to have been buried, rather than that the information it contains was last seen 1,700 years ago.

But then, there's nothing new about incomplete or unclear reporting. (They may just be following my rule: If you're unsure of the details, be ambiguous.) I noticed a couple of good ones in the reporting of this story. One print report referred to this event as the discovery of the "last surviving copy" of the "Judas Gospel." How do we know it's the last surviving copy? Before it was found, there we no surviving copies, as far as anyone knew. How do we know there aren't many other copies hidden away somewhere? If a member of a new species of monkey is discovered in the jungle, do we say the specimen is the "last surviving" member of its species? Or do we reason that there are likely more, and this is merely the "first discovered" one?

The second example comes from Ray Suarez, a reporter on PBS's "News Hour." (He's the guy with the haircut that makes it look like he's wearing a prayer cap. Not that there would be anything wrong with him wearing a prayer cap, but a person's haircut should not look like one.) Suarez reported that "for more than 2,000 years" Christians have considered Judas a villain.

Not so fast. Something don't add up. Scholars say Jesus was born about 3 B.C., going by our current calendar. It's now the year 2006 -- 2009 years later. Was Jesus a child when he was crucified? No, he's said to have been about 33 years old.

But the most important point I'd like to make is that "blaming" Judas is pointless. He merely carried out his role in a divinely-directed plan. The crucifixion and resurrection were prophesied hundreds of years before they happened, and must have been known to God always. It doesn't matter whether Judas acted in conscious response to the explicit, direct orders of Jesus, or if he had no free will and merely acted under divine direction. Judas did what was pre-ordained and needed to be done. What he did was the will and plan of God. He could not have done otherwise.

Likewise, it's ridiculous to "blame the Jews" for the crucifixion. Again, this was all God's plan. Would some Christians prefer that Jesus had not been crucified in our place? Would they prefer that we had not had our sins washed away by Jesus' blood?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

St. Paul Needs to Grow Up and Get a Job

While I've been complaining about St. Paul's resistance to modern retail development, I want you to know that I understand the feelings of those who don't like to see chains and "big boxes" moving in and replacing smaller operators in St. Paul. I, too, have a sort of distaste for the chains. But the fact is, they represent the modern retail reality. If St. Paul rejects them, St. Paul is condemning itself to being a second-rate city economically. The city has a responsibility to meet the modern retailing needs of its residents -- residents who otherwise are driving to Roseville, Woodbuy, Eagan, Bloomington to spend their money.

(One of the ironies here is that St. Paul is just one of a few cities that have been granted the special privilege of collecting a city sales tax. Then, the city does its best to make its residents leave the city and shop elsewhere!)

I'm sure many residents of Roseville complain about the proliferation of chain stores there, too. But that city reaps the benefits. Meanwhile, St. Paul refuses to play the game, living in a state of denial, convinced that it can keep us in the 1920s retail-wise. And when St. Paul's economy and tax collection can't keep pace with the surrounding suburbs, city leaders whine for more handouts, from metro-area revenue sharing, state aid, or federal grants.

St. Paul acts like a spoiled child who refuses to grow up and get a job. Instead, St. Paul wants to sponge off of others, and spend all of its time hanging out in cute little bookstores and coffee shops.

How long before the suburbs -- who are paying the bills -- say "Grow up and get a job, or I'm kicking you out on your own!"

Believe it or not, there's an odd link here to same-sex marriage. The same people who would support same-sex marriage, saying it's modern and progressive and gives people choices about how to live their lives as they see fit, want to use the power of the government to effectively ban others from exercising shopping choices that fit their own lifestyles, and prevent them from obtaining the benefits of such stores. The "progressive" leftists want to use the government to make sure everyone lives just like them! They seem determined that chain stores and "big boxes" are a "threat" to the old order, and will destroy traditional retailing, to which we must cling. But as they would say regarding marriage, it's already too late to worry about that. Marriage -- and retailing -- as we used to know it, are already things of the past.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Enablers? Co-dependents? Munchausen's System by Proxy?

I think the American Left may suffer from a sort of public policy version of Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy. As you know, Munchausen's Syndrome is a condition where a patient fakes or causes his own illnesses, because he or she seems to derive some satisfaction from all the medical attention that results. Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy is when one person -- typically a parent -- causes someone else's medical problems, because of some sort of perverse pleasure derived from playing the caretaker role.

In the public policy realm, the Left seems to enjoy telling us how terribly everything is going -- the war, the economy, global warming, and so on -- and says that we should elect them to fix things. Yet, when they do take their turn in power, they don't fix anything, they just engage in policies that perpetuate the "illness" they have diagnosed. (How's that 40-year-old "War on Poverty" working out?) Then, they argue that we need to keep them in power so that they can continue "caring" for us.

Locally, the Leftists in St. Paul seem determined to do everything they can to undermine St. Paul's economic health -- opposing the airport levy, fighting chain stores that want to build in the city, banning smoking in bars, salivating over non-productive uses of the doomed Ford Plant land. Then, they can continue whining about how bad off poor little old St. Paul is, and they can blame the evil Republican governor and president for not giving them even larger handouts.

We're talking about people who would rather curse the darkness than light a candle. If they simply lit the candle, figuratively speaking, we wouldn't need them any more. They can't have that. They have to keep us down, so they can continue to promise to "save" us.

Hmmm. Isn't that just like the way Democrats and the poverty pimps have been "helping" minorities for decades?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Clean, But Sad, Limerick

Last night I attended a meeting of the Antient and Honourable John Adams Society. This is a group that gets together monthly to debate a resolution. Some of the debate is taken more seriously than other parts, but it does seem to reveal some interesting lines of thought and generate some good questions, while also being good fun.

Last night's question was "It's my life, and I'll die if I want to." That's pretty broad, and it allowed individuals to focus on particular aspects of the "right to die," whether that be suicide or extreme medical care.

The secretary kicked off the meeting by reading the minutes of last month's meeting, written in the form of rhyme. That inspired me to jot down this little poem, on the proverbial cocktail napkin:

There once was a man from Nantucket,
Whose life went to hell in a bucket.
But rather than mend it,
He thought he would end it.
And so in despair he did shuck it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Made the Paper Today

Downing World made the paper today. Pioneer Press business beat columnist Dave Beal quoted from my Monday post about St. Paul's resistance to modern retailing, which was spurred by his Sunday column about suburban Roseville's relative retail dominance. (I had e-mailed a copy of the post to Mr. Beal.)

If you missed that post, it's several comments down, under the headline "Don't Build It, and They Will Leave." Along the way, you'll want to read the follow-up post "Reactionaries and Retro-gressives."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Those Who Don't Remember the Past, or I Told You So

We're constantly reminded here in St. Paul about how the building of Interstate 94 through the heart of the city's Rondo neighborhood in the 1960s fragmented and severely damaged the city's black community. That freeway project was done, of course, in the name of "progress" and urban renewal.

Now, self-described "progressives" are hell-bent on building a light rail line parallel to I-94 and just a few blocks over, down University Avenue. They tell us this is key to urban renewal.

But University Avenue is both important to the city's black community, and the heart of a burgeoning Asian community. What effects would a rail line have on these minority communities? The white "progressives" pushing this don't want to address that issue.

I've been pointing out the Rondo comparison to city leaders for years, but they don't seem concerned. I once brought it up to former mayor Randy Kelly in a public meeting, but he and others in attendance just looked at me like I was a nut job, like I'd said that the Federal Reserve was unconstitutional and St. Paul should issue its own currency.

But now, someone's taking notice. Sunday's Pioneer Press carried this front page headline: "Rondo haunts light-rail debate."

It's about time. I told them so. Years ago.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Last WWII Flying Ace Dies; Preceded by Cat Co-Pilot
American's last surviving WWII flying ace, Col. Fred J. Christensen, has died at age 84. His co-pilot Sinbad, a stray black cat who brought him good luck, died years ago. I continue to believe that the obits provide some of the most interesting reading in the papers. Read this one.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Reactionaries and Retro-gressives
I continue to make observations on the theme that liberals and conservatives have much in common. They engage in the same kind of thinking and actions, but in regard to different issues. Then, they criticize each other for it. The latest example I've noticed relates to the theme of retail development in St. Paul -- or the lack thereof -- which I mentioned a couple of posts back.

First, the conservatives. When conservatives argue that we can build a better future by returning to what worked in the past, liberals label them "reactionaries." The cry goes up, "And I suppose you want all the women to be barefoot and pregnant, and the colored people should ride in the back of the bus, too!"

But look at what's going on in St. Paul, where people who call themselves "progressives" work to keep "big box" retailers and national chains out of the city. These "progressives" want us to go back to a time of corner stores and the streetcars. That's the other big component of their thinking -- transit -- by which they mean light rail, the modern streetcar.

So while conservatives have been accused of wanting to return to the "Leave It to Beaver" days of the 1950s, self-described "progressives" seem to want to take us back to the 1920s!

But these liberals don't see themselves as old-fashioned. Rather, they see their yearning for the old days as the latest, modern thing. I suppose it's like any other fashion: the old stuff can be brought back as the latest thing, if you just call it "retro." So I've got a name for these "progressives" and liberals who pine for a Norman Rockwell world. "Retro-gressives," that's what I'll call them.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Immigrants Send Mixed Messages
The front page of my paper today reports on 30,000 people marching on the Minnesota state capitol grounds yesterday to demand changes in immigration. There's a big photo of a sea of people, many waving flags.

But I'm getting mixed messages. For example, here's Juan Carlos Anaya:

"If we are coming here, it is because we're looking for better lives," said Anaya of St. Paul, who came to the rally with his wife, Norma, and their three children. "We're peaceful people. We're honest people. And we're helping the economy grow."

OK, sounds like he has the right attitude. But later in the story he's quoted saying this:

"We're Latino, but we're Americans, too -- Central America. The American people are all one."

Wrong answer, pal. You can become an American. There is a legal process for that. But you're not already an American anymore than was any other legal immigrant coming here from any other continent. The American entitlement mentality had gotten so bad that even non-citizens -- even people who aren't legally supposed to be here -- come here and think this country owes them something.

But the biggest mixed message is in the front page photo. Amongst the U.S. flags are many, many flags from Mexico and other nations. This really confuses me. If the protesters want to reassure everyone that they are not a threat, that they just want to be Americans like every other American, why are they waving the flag of another country? To me, those flags symbolize an invasion by foreign forces, not new Americans. If they were in the uniform of a foreign army, would that still be OK?

Unfortunately, the answer you'd get from a lot of Americans is "yes." The "imperial" U.S. shouldn't be in Iraq, they'll tell you, but it's OK for foreign nationals to enter this country at will and move about with impunity, waving the flags of their homelands. Are some people crazy, or just plain stupid?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Don't Build It, and They Will Leave
No, this isn't a sports stadium rant. It's more important than that.

Business columnist Dave Beal had an interesting column in yesterday's Pioneer Press. He wrote about the retailing success of Roseville, a St. Paul suburb. Roseville is a big shopping destination for St. Paulites. As are other suburbs, such as Woodbury, Maplewood, and Eagan. And that's completely backward, as I've been telling city officials for years. People should flow into the central city to shop, not the other way around.

Beal notes that retail spending in Roseville was $1.37 billion in 2002, compared with $1.99 billion in St. Paul. Of course, St. Paul is a much larger city. Adjusting for population, Roseville's per capita retail spending in 2002 was $39,000. In St. Paul, it was a measly $7,000. That represents a lot of money leaving the capital city.

"By far, Roseville is St. Paul's downtown for retailing," Beal quotes Dave Brennan, the co-director of the Institute for Retailing Excellence at the University of St. Thomas. That's disgraceful: a central city -- a capital city! -- that relies on a suburb for its shopping "downtown." What an embarrassment!

Beal didn't compare Roseville's success to what's been going on in St. Paul. While St. Paulites flock to Roseville and other suburbs to spend their money in popular, modern stores, forces within St. Paul work to thwart the development of "evil" chain stores and "big box" retailers -- the very stores that St. Paulites flock to in the suburbs.

Beal cites the success of the SuperTarget in Roseville. The giant retailer wants to spend millions to similarly upgrade its store in St. Paul's mediocre Midway district into a SuperTarget. The city should be thrilled that it is getting the same interest and investment as the suburbs. But no. Groups in the capital city complain about Target's plans. They want an unprecedented two-story SuperTarget. They want the building closer to the street. They want it more "transit friendly."

On once run-down Grand Avenue, interest groups and sympathetic city politicians try to block successful national chains from moving in. Also in the Midway a few years back, a proposed Home Depot development project was abandoned after local voices cried out for "affordable housing" instead. Anyone wanting to improve their existing "affordable" (re: old) housing was left driving to the suburbs for building materials. (How "transit friendly" is that?)

Beal also highlighted a new 14-screen multiplex cinema being built in Roseville. When it is complete, an older 11-screen complex will be converted to other retail uses. St. Paul's movie theater screens total four. FOUR! In two pre-war, single screen buildings where the balconies have been converted into separate auditoriums.

Meanwhile, politicians in central-city St. Paul complain that they need more state aid, and more redistribution of metropolitan area wealth, because their city is too old and run down to compete with the booming economies of the suburbs that surround it.

Am I the only one who can see the connection?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Wedding Planner Wins Jackslap Award
I haven't given out the Jackslap Award lately, but Isaac the Wedding Planner has earned it.

Isaac writes to syndicated advice columnist Harriette Cole:

I read your column routinely, and you're usually on target. Not this time, though. Your response to Jean in Seattle, regarding wedding gifts, was totally inappropriate: ' give a small check with a heartfelt card.' This is not proper etiquette for a wedding.

I was a wedding planner for more than 10 years, working in some of the nicest hotels in the New York area. In 2006, common etiquette requires guests to "cover their plate." Weddings can be extremely expensive. Even moderate weddings are expensive, averaging more than $100 per plate for a "no frills" ceremony.

If a guest came to a wedding bringing their mate and gave only a $50 or $75 check, this would be a total insult. My advice is, at the very least, cover your plate, and if you can't afford that, graciously decline the generous invitation.

Incidentally, it would be fine to send the "small check" only if the guest does not attend. I do not mean to sound harsh, but this is not a charity dinner.

No, a wedding is not a charity dinner. But it is also not a fundraiser. If the happy couple don't want their guests simply for their presence, rather than their presents, then they shouldn't invite them in the first place! I'm so sick of greedy people, thinking someone owes them something. Isaac (I wonder if he pronounces it Isaaaaaaac, like Fraaaanck in "Father of the Bride"?) says that if people can't afford to "cover their plate," they should not accept the "generous invitation."

I think I missed the "generous" part. What exactly is "generous" about inviting people to something that you expect them to pay for? I have an idea for you, Isaac. Maybe people would find it easier to "cover their plate" if the weddings didn't cost so much in the first place. And I think a good place to start the cost-cutting would be by not hiring a wedding planner.

That about covers it, don't you think, Isaac?

Saturday, April 8, 2006

Minneapolis to St. Paul: Prepare to be Assimilated
The assimilation of St. Paul is gaining speed. Yesterday, St. Paul's new mayor Chris Coleman met with Minneapolis mayor R.T. "Archie" Rybak to pledge his fealty to his west metro lord and master. Oh, did I write that out loud?! I meant to say, the two mayors met to pledge a new era of cooperation between the Twin Cities. Said Rybak, "The Berlin Wall has fallen."

(Rybak shows a lot of gall, using a metaphor like the Berlin Wall. It was liberals of Rybak's ilk who told us the people of Eastern Europe were happy living in their workers' paradise, and that President Reagan was going to get us all killed in a nuclear holocaust, making outrageous statements such as, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!" They didn't seem to think there was anything wrong with the Berlin Wall back then.)

In the news story, St. Paul city council president Marilyn Lantry offers as a benefit of this new era of cooperation that St. Paul will be able to "piggyback" on Minneapolis' "311" telephone information system.

Great. Might as well. After all, their daily newspaper has already bought ours, and now St. Paul faces the prospect of losing its paper entirely. No problem, we can just "piggyback" on Minneapolis' newspaper. We'll just be another suburb of Minneapolis.

Cooperation can be good. So can competition. (Read my thoughts on how competition is itself a form of cooperation.) But St. Paul needs to be careful. Partnerships work best when the partners are true equals. When one partner sees itself as bigger, more powerful, or more important, as Minneapolis always has, the "partnership" lasts only as long as it serves the interests of the more powerful partner. (Think of Hitler's alliance with Stalin. It kept the Soviets out of Hitler's way until he was ready to turn on them himself. Hey, don't get on my case for dragging Hitler into this. Rybak started it. There would have been no Berlin Wall if not for Hitler choosing to turn against his one-time ally, the Soviets.)

Seriously, there are lots of ways that the two cities can cooperate. They have much in common, being two older, central cities, surrounded by post-war suburbs. They can and should work together to address the needs and concerns of the central cities, which are all too easy for the rest of the state to ignore. But the cities have always worked together in those ways.

One area where the boy mayors agree is that they both like to play with trains. They're all aboard and full steam ahead for light rail down University Avenue. Coleman complained that other cities, such as Denver, are way ahead of us when it comes to building light rail lines. So what? Is he afraid that all the low-income, transit-dependent people living in the University Avenue corridor are going to up and move to Denver? Come to think of it, that might be a good thing. Trains only work with high densities of people wanting to ride them. Let's have all the people who want/need to ride trains move to the cities that have them, and we can save the billions and billions of dollars we're planning to spend to build trains in the remaining cities. But I digress.

My concern is that St. Paul is going to find that this "partnership" is anything but equal. The Capital City is likely to find itself settling for scraps from the master's table, "sucking hind teat" like the runt of the litter. The mayors mention not bidding against each other with escalating subsidy offers to businesses that play one city against the other. That sounds like an idea with which I can get on board, but St. Paul better watch out. I can imagine "Archie" telling Chris, "Let us have this one, and we'll make it up to you down the road."

Ironically, this love fest took place at the studios of Minnesota Public Radio, in downtown St. Paul. As I recall, the city not long ago gave subsidies to MPR so that the broadcaster would not leave St. Paul for greener ($$$) pastures, going so far as to vacate a street so that MPR could build out over it.

Friday, April 7, 2006

Lotterman Aces Immigration Issue
Ed Lotterman has written a great column about immigration. Please read this one. He does a great job of balancing the facts of the matter, without getting bogged down in the political rhetoric.

Lotterman talks about not getting caught in a "false dichotomy" -- either/or thinking that insists one side is completely right and another side is completely wrong. On complex issues, both sides can be right, Lotterman says.

And I agree, especially in the case of immigration. Because the "immigration issue" is really two (at least) separate issues.

The first issue is whether a nation should be in control of its own borders, whether it should know and control who is entering from elsewhere. I don't see how the answer can be anything other than "yes."

How can that be controversial? The first order of business for any nation is to define and control its borders. After all, enforced borders are the very definition of what makes a nation. Otherwise what do you have, some sort of "virtual country," whose citizens live around the world? Like a "virtual corporation" whose workers are all tele-commuters?

Is it really OK for a nation to be illegally infiltrated by an unknown number of foreigners? And should those foreigners really be entitled to the same benefits as the nation's citizens?

Amazingly, a large number of Americans would answer, "Yes." And they'd say anyone who doesn't agree with them is racist, and doesn't want to allow any immigration.

But control of the immigration process and the number of immigrants allowed are two separate issues. I say we need to have control of who is entering our country. But I'm entirely willing to consider that we also need to allow a greater number of LEGAL immigrants.

People who say we shouldn't enforce existing laws because we need lots of immigrants to keep the economy humming miss the point. We can do BOTH! We can enforce our laws, but also change our laws if they limit the immigrant population too much.

Enforcing immigration law is rather like protecting a trademark. We've all heard the stories of the "evil, greedy, big corporation" that files suit against a small operator for trademark infringement. People say, "Oh, leave him alone. He's no threat to you." But the problem is, if a trademark owner doesn't defend its trademark consistently, the day comes when a legitimate threat of a competitor infringes on it. Finally, the trademark owner files suit to defend itself, and the judge says, "It's too late now. You've never defended it before. Obviously it was no big deal to you. I'm ruling your trademark has become a common, everyday usage, and your suit is dismissed."

In a way, immigration is similar. If we turn a blind eye, if we pretend it doesn't matter whether someone is in the country legally or not, whether someone is a citizen or not, pretty soon it really won't matter. Pretty soon there will be no distinction between who is an American and who isn't. If you are standing on American soil, you'll be an American. There will be no distinction between citizen and non-citizen. Is that where we want to go?

Taken to an extreme, we'll cease to be "America," the nation. We'll lose our national identity, just as a company loses its trademark. We'll just be a geographic spot on the globe.

Yes, this nation has always been unusual in that it is made up of people who came from all over the globe. But past immigrants were expected to enter the country legally, and then become Americans. What really scares me isn't vast numbers of immigrants, it's natural-born citizen Americans who think it doesn't matter who's entering the country, or why.

Friday, April 7, 2006

Two Sides to Every Argument; But Media Play Favorites
Who hasn't said to a parent (or at least thought it), regarding a sibling: "You always did like him (or her) better than me!"

My children have provided me with yet another insight about adult behavior. Time and time again, I realize that my frustrations with "childish" behavior mirror similar frustrations with adult behavior. Increasingly, I'm becoming convinced that most people never actually grow up.

The other day my kids came in from playing outside -- one in tears, the other mad. Their simple game of catch had ended badly. Interestingly, neither would take any responsibility for doing anything wrong. Both said it was entirely the other child's fault. I heard two completely different versions of the same event.

It occurred to me that this is pretty much the same way it works with supposedly adult disagreements of a political nature. You talk to two sides, and you get two completely different stories. Just as you wonder whether the two kids were actually playing the same game, you wonder whether the opposing sides are actually talking about the same issue.

But here's the most important part. I can link this to liberal bias in the media. When we have two sides and two different stories, the mainstream media consistently report the story through the eyes of only one side -- the liberal or Democratic Party side. They adopt the terms and framework laid out by the liberals, thus skewing the discussion in their favor.

For example, let's look at abortion. One side talks about protecting unborn babies from being killed. The other talks about "reproductive rights" and "women's health." Whose side does the mainstream media take? It's obvious from the terms they use when reporting on the issue.

Then there's the current debate about "domestic spying." Why is it called "domestic spying"? Because that's the terminology used by Democrats. Defenders of the Bush administration can talk about "fighting terrorism," but the mainstream media isn't using that terminology.

MSM, you always did like them better than us! (For some reason I've just thought of Katie Couric. Why is her new job supposed to represent such an advance for women? It's not like she got the job because of her mind.)

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

President Bush Prevents Flooding
I just heard a news report on the radio, in which residents of the Red River Valley towns of Minnesota and North Dakota are crediting the levees for saving them from severe spring flooding.

But there was no mention of thanking President Bush.

I don't get it: If Bush is to blame when levees fail, shouldn't he get the credit when they work?

But then, no one blamed President Clinton when Grand Forks was devastated by first flooding, and then fire, in 1997. Clinton had had his entire first term to make sure Grand Forks was adequately protected by the federal government. Why didn't he?

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Parlez Vous "Get a Job"?
I heard on a news broadcast that as many as a million Frenchmen may have been in the streets protesting today.

You might ask them, Why aren't you at work? Don't you have a job? But I don't think they'd see the irony.

They're protesting legislation that would make it easier for employers to dump unneeded or no-good employees. Proponents say this will encourage employers to actually hire some more workers, reducing France's high unemployment rate.

Evidently they'd rather protest than work.

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

The Two Easters
One of the ironies of the great St. Paul City Hall Easter Bunny Banishment is the way Christians have come to the defense of the Holiday Hare, while at the same time distancing themselves from him, saying, "He's not a Christian symbol anyway."

Some Christians would just as soon do away with the Easter Bunny, to preserve the religious integrity of their faith. In that sense, the city government is acting to further the cause of Christianity. Nevertheless, Christians have mostly defended the Easter Bunny in this case, perceiving -- accurately, I believe -- that he is being attacked as a surrogate for them.

But what gets lost in all this is the fact that there are two Easters: the Christian holiday, and the secular observance of the springtime. Just look at this ad for French's Onions (from last Sunday's newspaper coupon insert) and you'll see proof of that distinction. The ad features the Easter Bunny, and the word "Easter," but it has nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity.

But some people just don't get it. Like a recent letter writer to the Pioneer Press. Philip Jacobs wrote:

The "Easter" Bunny has nothing to do with Easter? Does that mean that the "Michelin Man" has nothing to do with Michelin tires or that the Jolly Green Giant has nothing to do with canned vegetables? Maybe the "American" flag has nothing to do with America?

It's fine to have a discussion about diversity and the display of holiday symbols in government offices, but get real. Next they will be saying that Santa Claus has nothing to do with Christmas.

A lot of letter writers can't reason. They offer conclusions that don't follow their premises. Jacobs at least offers a conclusion that follows from his premise. The trouble is, his premise totally misses the point.

No one has argued that the Easter Bunny has nothing to do with Easter. The premise Jacobs should be addressing is whether the Easter Bunny has anything to do with Christianity, and the Christian Easter.

You know, I think in the past the City Parks and Rec Department has done some events in observance of Midsummer -- the summer solstice. Some might say that's just a good excuse to get the kids out in the fresh air on a the longest day of the year. But I associate that with Pagans and Wiccans. I'll be watching; they'd better not try it this year.

Saturday, April 1, 2006

Coming Soon, to a Bumper Near You...
Thanks to reader Walter Huemmer, for the idea for this Downingworld original cartoon.

Saturday, April 1, 2006

God Save the Super
We've got a new superintendent of schools in St. Paul. All that's left to do is finalize a contract -- figure out which luxury car she gets, when she can declare herself a free agent, all of that. All this is accompanied by great pomp and rejoicing over our new "savior."

It occurs to me that we treat these school superintendents like royalty. I mean, what exactly does the St. Paul School Superintendent actually DO? It seems like she's almost a symbolic figurehead. People fawn over her, and evidently she's supposed to help us feel good about being St. Paulites. But what does she actually DO? When a large district is "between Supers" -- the throne is vacant -- things go on as always on a day-to-day basis. Any "void" seems to be more emotional than practical. It's as though we are being told that we should feel "lost" without our leader.

The job of superintendent seems to be mostly to go from place to place, shaking hands and telling people they're doing a great job, hang in there, more help is on the way. The job seems mostly ceremonial.

When you think about it, being the Superintendent of St. Paul Public Schools is rather like being the Queen of England.

Saturday, April 1, 2006

My Tax Dollars at Work
St. Paul is giving the heave-ho to a city logo adopted just two years ago, and reverting to the "old" logo. That's two years too late, in my opinion. We could have saved a lot of trouble -- and $20,000 -- if we'd just stuck with the old logo in the first place. The old logo -- with its capital dome -- actually represents the city. The "new and improved" logo -- "St. Paul" in a semi-circle -- is a generic piece of nothing that could be used by just about any city. Hey, maybe we could sell it second-hand to someone!

But city officials prefer to look on the bright side. According to St. Paul marketing director Erin Dady:

"Overwhelmingly, we got positive feedback about dropping this logo."

Oh, it's a good thing, then! Reminds me of the guy who kept hitting himself on the head, because it felt so good when he stopped. Let's make lots more mistakes, then we can feel good about fixing them!

And the logo mistake doesn't represent a waste of $20,000 of taxpayers' money, plus unspecified private donations. Oh, no. Dady added:

"The process of getting that logo was quite good, we think. The materials involved are still quite valuable. The only unsuccessful part of the process was the end result."

The only unsuccessful part of the process was the end result?! By what standards does the City of St. Paul measure success? Would City Hall tell us that a war was a great success, even though we lost, because we learned some new patriotic tunes and the combat meals were really good for us? Would they tell us that an oil exploration project was a great success, even though we didn't find any oil, because we made lots of new friends along the way?

Reminds me of the old joke: Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

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


dave ["at"] downingworld [.com]


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