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archives: April-May, 2007


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.


 

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Two-Faced Hosts

St. Paul and Minneapolis got together last year and made a pitch to host either the Democratic or Republican national convention. Three venues were offered, two in Minneapolis, and one in St. Paul. The Republicans took the bait, and picked the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

But St. Paul seems like a reluctant host. Rather than focusing on making the convention a good experience for the invited guests -- the convention delegates, party officials, the media -- the St. Paul city council is obsessed with making the convention a positive experience for protesters who come to town to try to steal the limelight.

Now, that's all well and good, as far as planning ahead for the presence of protesters, and figuring out how the police will deal with them, and making sure that the protesters' rights aren't violated. Fine.

But should the city be siding with the protesters? Should the city be aligning itself with the uninvited guests?

That's how it's looking to me, after the first meeting of a committee set up to make sure the protesters have a good stay in St. Paul. According to Tim Nelson's report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, at the top of the committee's agenda was a planned "Peace Park," which would serve as a gathering place and entertainment venue for protesters.

"I'm not personally ready to start advocating a location," said [city council member Dave] Thune, who represents the area where much of the activity is expected to take place. "Our hope is that someone will step up and say they'll take the lead on organizing this."

I'll take the lead, Mr. Thune. Let's use Irvine Park. Not only is it only a few blocks from the Xcel Center, but I happen to know that you live on this exclusive, quaint little Victorian quadrangle. The protesters can use your bathroom, and when they get the munchies, they can raid your fridge! And maybe they can help you fix the place up a little. You see, the only reason I know that Thune lives on Irvine Park is that his house appeared in a news story in the paper. It seems he had been cited for housing code violations and was ordered to make repairs.

More seriously, isn't giving the place the name "Peace Park" a sort of editorializing? Isn't it a case of the committee taking sides, and directing the agenda of the protesters? How does the committee know that the hypothetical protesters, more than a year from now, will be focused on "peace"?

Will there be a "Freedom Park" for Republicans?

Better yet, what if the Democrats were coming to St. Paul for their convention? Would the city be proposing a "Pro-Life Park" for demonstrators?

I think we know the answer to that.


Thursday, May 31, 2007

What's in a Name?

How odd is this? The president of Iraq is named Talabani. A candidate for the White House is named Obama. A couple of years from now, Obama and Talabani could be deciding the fate of the Middle East. Strange.


Thursday, May 31, 2007

Saddam: The Forgotten Man

Somehow, former president Jimmy Carter has gotten dragged into the rhetoric about the war in Iraq. Scratch that. What I should say is that he has barged his own way in, thanks to shooting off his mouth about President Bush. Now we've got letters to the editor where people are debating the merits of Carter vs. Bush. Here's an excerpt from a letter in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, from Andy Mosca of Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, who would like to trade Bush for Carter.

I propose a trade; please raise my mortgage rate to 18 percent and, in exchange, bring back to life those 3,438 U.S. troops, bring healing to the 25,378 wounded, and restore America's place as a nation that employs its power wisely and unleashes its military might as a last resort.

Notice anything missing? That's right, he forgot to say, "Bring back to life a genocidal maniac who has been executed for crimes against humanity, and place him back in power in Iraq, so that he can gas more of his own people."

Saddam is the forgotten man.

But you can't have it both ways. You can argue that not invading Iraq was the lesser of two evils -- better the devil you know than the devil you don't know -- but then you have to give your grudging approval to Saddam as the ruler of Iraq. You have to say that you can live with the gassing of helpless civilians, torture, rape, because that's better than the alternative. Are you OK with that?

It's a tough choice, isn't it? But you have to make a choice. You have to choose either Saddam or the invasion. You can't have it both ways.

Do you want to be the one to tell the Kurds that you wish Saddam was still gassing them? Do you want to tell the Kurds that you don't want them to have freedom? To prosper? Don't take my word for it, "60 Minutes" showed us how well the invasion has played out for the Kurdish region of Iraq. It's worked out just like it was supposed to work out for the entire country. It think that shows that President Bush's idea was sound, the Iraqi people wanted liberation and freedom. The problem is the terrorists won't let the Iraqi people reap the benefits.

The big question, if you want to imagine you can undo the invasion of Iraq, is, "What then?" The U.S. -- and the UN -- had already been playing games with Saddam for more than a decade. (Although it turned out the UN was playing different sorts of games.) Saddam doesn't go away by imagining the invasion hadn't happened.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I Wish I Had a Picture: Memorial Day 2007

The soldier stood ramrod straight, elbow cocked and right hand to brow in a perfect salute. He didn't move, he didn't even sway, as the buglers played Taps following the reading of the roll of the dead. When the horns fell silent, he returned to a familiar, well-earned slouch, and transferred his cane back to his right hand.

For just a moment, he had been 18 again.


I posted this last year after visiting a cemetery on Memorial Day. I'm reposting it today so you can be thinking about it while you visit cemeteries this Memorial Day weekend.

Originally posted in 2006

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.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Last Secret of the Universe

A woman has gotten eight years in prison for conspiring to sell Coca-Cola trade secrets to Pepsi.

I don't think it was the secret recipe itself that she was trying to sell, but it made me wonder, How is it, in the age of modern science, that the recipe for Coca-Cola remains a well-guarded secret?

Astrophysicists peer at celestial bodies light years away, and by analyzing the wavelengths of the light, they tell us what the atmosphere is like. Other scientist look at fossils, and tell us what flowers were blooming the morning a dinosaur died. Forensic scientists tell us amazing little details about murderers and their victims.

So why can't someone just buy a can of Coke, send it to a lab, and find out exactly what is in it?

Or is it not that a lab can't do it, but that a lab won't do it? Maybe it's a matter of not messing with a patented or otherwise legally-protected product. I don't know. Still, if there's money to be made, you have to think there would be someone unconcerned about what was legal.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Mainstream Media Beats the Drum for War

I saw something interesting -- and very strange -- earlier this week on PBS. It was "City at War," a recent program featuring anchorman emeritus Walter Cronkite, and explaining how the U.S. media -- radio, print, and newsreels in those days -- had been instrumental in changing Americans' opinions about what came to be known as World War II, and in bringing about American entry into the war.

Specifically, Cronkite focused on how reports from a besieged London had swayed opinions in the isolationist U.S. Most famous, of course, was CBS radio newsman Edward R. Murrow. Cronkite himself was a print reporter for United Press.

Cronkite was clearly very, very proud of the role he and others in the news media had played. I mean, he was beaming. He chest was swelled up with pride. He was proud that he had helped get the United States into a World War!

By 2007 standards, that is nothing but bizarre. One can't imagine today's mainstream media trying to persuade the government to go to war. Not only that, but today's news reporter often feels that he is beyond borders. Some reporters consider themselves "citizens of the world," and think they shouldn't "take sides" when reporting on a war -- even when their own nation is fighting!

But in 1940, it was a different story.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Peanut Gallery

Despite what former president Jimmy Carter may think, foreign policy isn't easy, nor is it simple.

This didn't get the big headlines, but over the weekend, three German soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. Let's see, that's Afghanistan, the war which even the Iraq war critics say they support, since that's where Osama bin Laden was. The Germans were part of a NATO force, which shows that this isn't the U.S. "going it alone." The Germans, it goes without saying, aren't Americans, so they haven't given the world reason to hate them with their "imperialism."

Still, suicide bombers killed them.

Even though the Germans didn't meet these three handy excuses some will make for terrorists who kill Americans, the terrorists killed them.

Could it be that there are simply bad people out there? People who want to kill the good people?

Meanwhile, Carter called President George W. Bush "the worst in history" when it comes to international relations. This from the man whose "success" in international relations gave birth to a TV show -- "Nightline" -- which began with "America Held Hostage." Yes, 30 years ago, Carter the expert brought us lasting peace in the Middle East, and dealt with the rising threat of Iran, isn't that right? So today, Israel lives at peace with all its neighbors, and Iran is no threat to its neighbors, or to the U.S.

Isn't that right?

No, President Carter couldn't even pull off a mission involving a few helicopters, and American civilians remained hostages in Iran for more than a year. I don't know whether this has ever been proved one way or the other, but some people even think that one of the terrorists who held the Americans hostage is now the president of Iran, the man who is trying to subvert the UN and build nuclear weapons.

Yes, we are still being haunted by the international relations failures of the Carter presidency. But that doesn't stop Carter from shooting off his mouth.

What happened to the idea that former presidents kept their mouths shut about their successors? Maybe that was just Republican former presidents who did that. When you think about it, you'll realize that we haven't had a lot of former Democrat presidents around. FDR was president for 12 years, then died in office. That left us with Truman for a while. Then JFK died in office. Then there was LBJ, but not for long. Between the dominance of the GOP in the White House, and the deaths of Democrats in office, we haven't had a lot of experience with former Democrat presidents in recent decades.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Stick That on Your Bumper and Smoke It

I've written previously about how the late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone is a Christ figure to his faithful. From the "What Would Wellstone Do?" bumper stickers, to the sacred relics like the green bus, and the vacation activism schools (complete with green Kool-Aid?), the followers of Wellstone mimic the followers of another Jew who shook up the establishment and died before his time. I've even joked that some true believers reported seeing Wellstone alive three days after his plane crashed.

Well, it's not just a joke anymore. The other day I saw a bumper sticker that left no doubt. It read: "Wellstone Lives!"

Speaking of bumper stickers, have you seen those bumper stickers that have "ENDLESS WAR" in block letters, but then the "less" part is crossed out and "this" is written over it? So now it says "End This War." I understand that message, but I'm confused about the whole thing. Am I supposed to think that the owner of the vehicle has had a change of heart, previously wanting "endless war," and only now changing it to a different message? Because literally, that's what they've got on the bumper. That "editing" is the sort of thing you'd do to someone else's bumper sticker -- someone else who actually wanted endless war. (And aside from Osama bin Laden and a few others, I don't know who that would be. But I don't think ObL even has a bumper.)

Next time I see one of these bumper stickers, I should ask, "What made you change your mind?" and "Why did you want endless war in the first place?"

Another bumper sticker anecdote: Over the weekend I saw a car covered -- and I mean the entire car, not just the bumper -- covered in Dennis Kucinich bumper stickers, all neatly lined up to cover the entire car. And they say that right wingers are the ideological loonys, and left wingers are rational intellectuals. Yeah, right.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

e-Heresy

Maybe we ought to pay to send e-mail.

OK, if you're still with me, please, listen up. I know that's heresy, but let's think about it.

Why do we get so much spam? Because it's not costing the sender anything. It's that simple. More specifically, the spammer suffers nothing in marginal costs. Whether the spammer sends his message to 100 people or 100 million people, it doesn't really cost him any more. He doesn't care if 99.9 percent of the recipients instantly trash his message, he's concerned only with the 0.1 percent who don't.

Now, compare that to junk mail. Sure, we get a lot of junk mail that we chuck into the bin without reading, but direct mailers have an incentive to send their items only to people who really are potential customers. That's because each additional printed and mailed piece costs them money. So while a spammer advertising "enhancement" pills doesn't care if half the recipients are women, the direct mail advertiser wants to make sure only men are on his list. If he mailed to a random list, his costs would be roughly double what they need to be.

So what would you pay for "e-postage"? It wouldn't have to be a lot. What if it was one-tenth of a cent per message? That would cost me a penny or two per day. But the spammer sending out to 100,000 addresses would pay $100. Is that enough to discourage spam? Maybe a penny per message? That's still not going to cost us much.

Actually, it might save us money. How much time do you spend each day sorting through your e-mail? Some people talk about coming back from vacation and spending hours sorting through their email, and tossing most of it into the trash. What is that time worth? And how about the expense of software designed to block spam? That costs money, too.

Call me a heretic if you wish, but "e-postage" might be an idea that pays for itself.

It's kind of like free puppies. You should never advertise "free puppies." A lot of people will take anything that's free. But if you ask even a token $5 for a puppy, people are more likely to think about whether they really want a dog.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Mob Rule: No Rights for the Minority

Two big stories out of the Minnesota legislature last week were a state-wide smoking ban in public places, and a tax increase for those with the highest incomes. I think they have something in common: both let the majority take from a minority.

I suppose I should like these measures, since I don't smoke, and I won't come close to being hit by the new tax. But I don't. I think the measure of a good law should go beyond my personal selfish interests.

When we see how easy it is to pick on "those filthy smokers" and "greedy rich people," we can imagine how easy it would be -- and has been -- for a mob or legislature to pick on those "dirty" or "depraved" (fill in the blank).

We pat ourselves on the backs for being such an enlightened society. We're so tolerant. We celebrate diversity. Except when it comes to people we feel superior to or jealous of, like smokers or people with more money then us. Then it's time for that legislative lynching.

Regarding smoking, I think the lawmakers should put their convictions where there mouths are, and ban smoking outright. Otherwise, leave the smokers alone. But they won't do that. No, they're addicted to the cigarette taxes, which they use to fund all of their pet projects.


Monday, May 14, 2007

The Paranoid Anorexic

Remember this old T-shirt? "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're NOT out to get you."

Now we can add, "Just because you're anorexic doesn't mean you're NOT fat."

Via the Associated Press:

"Being thin doesn't automatically mean you're not fat," said Dr. Jimmy Bell, a professor of molecular imaging at Imperial College, London. Since 1994, Bell and his team have scanned nearly 800 people with MRI machines to create "fat maps" showing where people store fat.

According to the data, people who maintain their weight through diet rather than exercise are likely to have major deposits of internal fat, even if they are otherwise slim. "The whole concept of being fat needs to be redefined," said Bell, whose research is funded by Britain's Medical Research Council

News flash from Dave: We're all gonna die, regardless.


Friday, May 11, 2007

A Lesson in Wealth and Charity

John Nassef of St. Paul is a good, bipartisan example for everyone. Born dirt poor, he became extremely wealthy. Now, he gives away millions.

He's a good example for liberals and conservatives. For "tax the rich" liberals, he shows that anyone might become wealthy, if allowed to keep what they earn and profit from their own hard work. For country club Republicans, he shows how important it is to share your wealth with those less fortunate.

All in all, a good argument for smaller government. Let people keep their wealth, which they can use to help others. Not take away the wealth, and the government redistributes it.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Man Doesn't Die; Blames Hospital

John Brandrick from Newquay, England, wants the Royal Cornwall Hospital to pay!

Two years ago, doctors told Brandrick that he was dying of pancreatic cancer. He sold everything, and packed a lot of living into the next year.

"I was told certainly, by the doctor, that I had cancer and from that day I lived life in full.

"I was told I had limited time to live. I got rid of everything -- my car, my clothes, everything."

Then doctors gave him some "bad" news: He was going to live. Turned out he didn't have cancer, he only had pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas. Now he's broke and says he will have to sell his house.

I think Brandrick is going about this all wrong. He should adopt the attitude that he has "won" twice -- he's not dead, and he learned a lesson. He could say that facing his own death was the greatest gift he could have been given, because it helped him to appreciate life and learn to enjoy it. It taught him what's really important. If he did that, he might cash in by selling his story for a movie. More important, he'd be a lot happier.


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Curiosity Should Be at the Heart of News Gathering

I sometimes think that too many news reporters lack curiosity. That's really too bad, because you'd think curiosity would be the basis of reporting. But too often reporters simply repeat what they hear people saying, rather than dig in with questions that would satisfy their own curiosity.

I'll give you an example. When the Minnesota Wild were in the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring, they got themselves down three games to none against the Anaheim Ducks. Right away, all the reports were about how the series was over, because only twice in the history of the NHL had a team come back to win after losing the first three games of a playoff series.

Now, I wasn't kidding myself about the likelihood of the Wild actually winning that series, but I didn't like what I inferred as an assumption that it would end with game four. I wondered, how often has a team that was down three-games-to-none managed to win game number four? Furthermore, how often has such a team won two games before finally being eliminated? And for that matter, how many teams other than the two successful comeback examples had managed to win three in a row, and force a game seven, before they finally went down in defeat?

But nobody ever told me. Weren't any reporters curious about that? That would have given us fans more perspective on what we might have to look forward to, rather than just, that's it, it's over.

A second example is a recent story from Fox-9 TV news. It was presented as a sort of medical mystery. A man had almost lost his arm due to some sort of infection -- or something. But what had caused it? It began after he thought he pricked his arm on a pineapple while handling cases of fruit at the Mall of America restaurant where he worked. (I immediately said: An insect or spider bit him.) He went to various doctors, who couldn't help him, or figure out the cause of his swollen, decaying arm. Eventually, he went to a different hospital, where a doctor recognized it as a bite from a brown recluse spider, which must have stowed away in a shipment of fruit from Mexico. (Really, people, you could save a lot of time -- maybe arms, too -- if you'd just ask me in the first place.)

But here's where the lack of curiosity comes in. I never heard any mention of what became of the spider. Did they look for it? Catch it? Do they have information that these spiders live only two weeks, so it would be dead by now? Nothing.

So this viewer was left wondering whether a dangerous spider was on the prowl at one of the nation's top tourist attractions.


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A 'Coup' in St. Paul

We have a political scandal in St. Paul. According to the Pioneer Press, the Republicans have conducted a "coup" and gotten seven people elected to the Highland District Council. That's still not a majority of the 17-member board, but apparently it's shocking that any Republicans should hold office in St. Paul.

St. Paul's district councils are quasi-governmental bodies. The volunteers on their boards coordinate neighborhood activities, and try to bring a neighborhood voice to city planning and development issues. My perception and experience indicates that they are dominated not just by Democrats (After all, this is St. Paul, what else would we expect?), but by particularly liberal, activist, "progressive" Democrats. The district councils have often been sort of their own little playgrounds, in my perception.

That's why it's a hoot to see them reacting with such shock that some Republicans managed to get themselves elected. The news story says that "incumbents were shocked that partisan politics entered the fray..." I guess maybe no one had ever bothered to run as a Democrat. They had just assumed everyone was a Democrat, just like them. So much for being open-minded and valuing diversity. You know, I suppose elections in the old Soviet Union weren't partisan, either. You just voted for your only choice -- the Communist.

I think this sheds some light on why so many people are upset that the Republican National Convention is coming to St. Paul. They don't want "those people" in their city. They don't understand that there are already Republicans here. We live among them. We are their neighbors. I am not an animals!

But they don't seem to understand that. They must think that if they ever saw a Republican, they'd recognize him by his horns or something. So in public they talk about us like we aren't even there. Ironically, these are the same people who are very careful to use P.C. speech so as not to risk offending members of any number of identifiable groups. Yet as far as Republicans are concerned....


Monday, May 7, 2007

Reality Check

I was in a music store today while my son was having a guitar lesson. A young man came in and said he wanted to sell his drum set. Asked why he was selling his drums, he said he was joining the Marines.

My son is 11. I don't know how I'd feel if seven years from now he was going off to join the military. I'd be scared. But I think I'd also be proud. I'd support him. But really, I hope I never have to find out.

It really takes guts to enlist while we're at war in Iraq. Some people want to be soldiers, though. Just like some people compete for the privilege of running into burning buildings. But I can't help wondering if this young man knows what he's getting himself into. Heck, of course he doesn't.

I shook his hand, thanked him for serving, and said "God bless you and keep you safe." It was the least I could do. It was all I could do.


Monday, May 7, 2007

You Expect Me to Believe That?

I heard a news report today that gas stations are having to cut "8"s in half, so they have enough "3"s for their signs, now that gas is over $3 a gallon. C'mon, you expect me to believe that? Didn't they have enough "3"s for $1.33? Or for $2.33? As long as they don't go with $3.33, there can't be a problem. So if it gets that high, pick $3.32 or $3.34.

Cutting "8"s in half? Puh-leaze.


Monday, May 7, 2007

Lock Him Up; Throw Away the Key

There was a story in the paper yesterday about a man who broke into an apartment and attacked his former girlfriend. He had a very distinctive name -- Trynille Luvirt Antwaun Felder. I thought I had seen it before. Indeed I had.

A year ago, I wrote about how this loser had left a small child in a bathtub, then went out to the garage to smoke dope. In the meantime, the child drowned. I wrote about how that story got slight coverage in the paper, while a missing dog made the front page.

How could this child killer be free to attack someone? Turns out he got a small sentence for manslaughter and was already out on probation!

If someday this guy gets a gun and shoots someone, there will be plenty of people blaming the gun. But it will be the fault of the judicial system. This guy is a clear and present danger to humanity. He should be locked up permanently.


Monday, May 7, 2007

Global Warming? Who Knows? But Pollution is Bad

You know I'm skeptical about Global Warming. Not because I have any particular scientific expertise. And not because I don't believe that measurements show a rising temperature. No, my skepticism is based more on the idea that the best way to predict the future is to look at the past.

I remember just 35 years ago we were supposed to be scared of the coming Ice Age. What happened to that? We've been told that we will all starve due to overpopulation -- first by Malthus, more recently by "The Population Bomb." We had extreme heat and a Dust Bowl in the 1930s. If recent hot years are evidence of Global Warming, then how do we explain the Dust Bowl years?

Based on the experience of history, I fully expect that at some point in my lifetime the experts will suddenly say, "Wait, we didn't look at this factor before. Now we think the Ice Age is coming again."

But whether or not Global Warming is a real threat, reducing pollution is worth doing for its own sake. It may not cause Global Warming, but shouldn't we all be able to agree that pollution is bad? Look at it this way: Is there any benefit to pollution? No. So it would be best to err on the side of caution and limit pollution. That's the conservative thing to do, even if it doesn't match the contemporary conservative political platform. Even if it does turn out that Al Gore was simply a modern-day Chicken Little, we will benefit ourselves by limiting pollution.

But let's not cut off our nose to spite our face. Let's not eat all the seed corn. Let's not condemn our children to a lower standard of living because we overreacted. Let's be reasonable and sensible about it. That's the tricky part.

Like I said, we should all be able to agree that pollution is bad. The trouble is, under the current political climate, everything gets polarized. If the Left says pollution is bad, the Right says, "No it's not!" Can't we agree that it's bad, and move on from there?


Saturday, May 5, 2007

Al Gore: Fighting Against Global Warming; Fighting for Global Terrorism

"Extremist Islamic groups have come to value the Internet so much for its ability to spread their message that some militants have said the keyboard is as important as a Kalashnikov rifle, says a report prepared for a Senate committee by a panel of experts." -- Associated Press

Hey, if he's going to take credit for inventing the Internet, then he's going to have to take the bad with the good. The story goes on to explain how the Internet helps terrorists operate faster, cheaper, and more securely -- just like a Fortune 500 company! Let's just hope they don't learn about UPS. Who knows what Brown could do for them?


Thursday, May 3, 2007

Tidbits from TPT 2

Here are a couple of things I gleaned from some PBS programs I watched recently (Or maybe I should say "listened to." I don't have time to sit and watch these things in the evening, so I tape them and play them back while I'm doing other work. A benefit is that if I find myself saying, "What? What did they say?" I can back up the tape and find out for sure.)

The first is from a Nova program, "Saved by the Sun," about solar energy. Phil Reaves, Jr., is a homeowner in Somerville, Massachusetts. He has solar panels on his house. He's really happy with them, especially since the state paid half of the $24,000 cost. Anyway, part of this quote from Reaves jumped out at me:

"When I became a father, I really started to worry about the environment and the shape of the planet. With all the stuff in the news, I just felt, what is my son inheriting? We're just making a mess of all this."

What jumped out was the part about "With all the stuff in the news...."

We sometimes ask, do the news media merely report the news, or do they help make the news? Now, if what Mr. Reaves has heard is all correct, that we are destroying the environment and solar panels can help, then there's nothing wrong here. But I can't help but think that this does illustrate how the media can make the news. What if instead of environmental issues, the media had decided to focus on crime? We might then have ended up with story showing a homeowner with state-subsidized bars on his windows.

We see it over and over, the news media focus on the threat du jour, then they go out and commission a poll that proves how worried the public is about the issue.

(This just in: another example. As I'm finishing up this post, I'm playing a PBS program called "Hot Politics," about the politics of global warming and why the U.S. government hasn't acted to combat it. We are told that after Hurricane Katrina, a poll showed that a majority of the American people now thought global warming would have a direct impact on their lives. Never mind that hurricane experts repeatedly said that global warming had nothing to do with Katrina. The mainstream media repeated the mantra that Katrina was all about global warming, then reported a poll that "proved" it was so! It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.)

The second item is from a program about fat, about why people are overweight, and why it's so hard for most people to permanently lose weight. Afterward, there was a sort of panel discussion with a doctor from Harvard and others with prestigious credentials. At one point the moderator, identified as Nancy L. Snyderman, MD, of NBC News, asked if economics isn't a big issue in getting people to eat more healthfully, since it's so cheap to eat poorly. She stated that we all know that we can go out to a fast food restaurant and for $1.19 get a hamburger, french fries and a soft drink that will fill us up. We can't cook up a healthful meal at home for that low price, she said.

Yes, I rewound the tape. She said $1.19.

Now, I remember when McDonalds used to advertise change back from your dollar, but that was more than 30 years ago! I would have accepted $2.99 as a bargain meal price. But where did she come up with $1.19? Her point is a valid one, but clearly, this doctor and newsperson is totally out of touch with a key part of everyday life for the "common people."

And no one on the panel called her on it! They let it pass. Did they not know any better? Not even the panelist who dealt the most with the connection between obesity and poverty? Are all these experts that out-of-touch with the people they supposedly are trying to help?

That's terrible.


Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Right to Protest that You Have No Rights

Yesterday brought us another day of immigration rallies in the U.S. Yesterday was also May Day, which in the U.S. is best known as the international communist holiday, the day when the Cold War Soviets paraded their troops and missiles and threatened to bury us. So that made it a strange choice for a day to hold rallies intended to dispel the notion that immigrants -- legal or otherwise -- are a threat to the United States. Add to that the fact that rally attendees last year insisted on waving the flags of their homelands, and you had a real PR disaster. They looked like nothing so much as an angry, threatening, invading, communist-sympathizing, foreign mob.

Well, they learned something from that, and subsequently, they have taken to waving American flags instead. Good move. I would suggest dropping the May Day connection, too. What would be a better date for a rally where they could wave American flags and show that they are good, loyal Americans who love this country, too? Oh, I don't know. How about... Independence Day?

Yesterday's protesters said they were marching for "rights." I'd like to point out that if you are here legally, then you do have rights. But if you are here illegally, why should you have any rights? You shouldn't be here, period. I want to bang my head against the wall every time I hear a debate about whether it is acceptable to deny some government benefit to people "just because they are here illegally." Consider this analogy: A movie theater gives out free popcorn to customers. I sneak in under the velvet rope without a ticket. The usher catches me. Should I have a "right" to free popcorn? Or should I be booted out?

Nonetheless, illegals do seem to have rights. And they don't seem particularly threatened. They feel free to march in the streets protesting the government. I'd guess many wouldn't feel safe doing that in their home countries! And they don't even mind identifying themselves. I heard one man, identified as an illegal and by name on a radio newscast, say, "I'm here 20 years, and I want justice." Another illegal, not afraid to be identified as Abel Corona in a New York Times story, said he had come to the Los Angeles rally to "...make sure we get a just immigration reform law passed." Got that? He's here illegally, but he still has a sense of ownership of the government process! "We" -- illegals -- are going to change the law!

Here's another strange one from the immigration wars. There have been some immigration raids in Minnesota recently, and there have been charges that some of the raids were illegal. That could lead to this exchange at an immigration hearing:

Attorney for the deportee: "I object to the characterization of my client as 'illegal.' He is merely 'undocumented.' You must let him go free, because he was arrested as the result of an illegal search."

Prosecuting attorney: "I object to the characterization of the search as 'illegal.' The police were simply lacking a piece of paper -- a search warrant. This search was not 'illegal,' it was merely 'undocumented.'"

Wouldn't that be a hoot?

Now, after coming down hard on the side of the idea that we must respect and enforce the law, let me say that if we do not think the law is good policy, we may change it. If it would be a good policy to grant amnesty to illegals now here, or to enlarge immigration quotas, we can do so. But we shouldn't just ignore the law.

It's ridiculous to think that we can round up and deport all the illegals who are already here. Maybe granting amnesty is the way to go. And maybe we do need immigrant labor, so we should allow more people in legally. But the only way we can do either of those is if we simultaneously STOP the inflow of more illegals. Otherwise, what will we accomplish? We could let in more Mexicans legally, but we'd still have illegals coming -- those who didn't make the cut but still want to come and are willing to take the risks. Ultimately, where does it end? Open it up to everyone in Mexico? I wonder how many Mexicans wouldn't cross the border if they could do so legally?


Monday, April 30, 2007

Nothing New

I like to watch old movies, one of the reasons being that I like to see how things have changed -- or how they haven't. Often, I'm surprised to see objects or issues that I didn't think existed "back then."

The latest example came in "The Best Years of Our Lives," the 1947 Best Picture winner, which tells the story of three returning WWII vets trying to adjust to civilian life. One vet returns to the drugstore where he worked as a soda jerk prior to the war. He finds that the pharmacist who used to own the place is now working as an employee of the chain that bought him out. "They've been eyeing this location for a long time," he explains.

That's fascinating to me, because the same type of thing has been an issue in St. Paul in recent years, with the CVS chain, for example, opening up across the street from independent Bober Drug. The owner of Bober could read the writing on the wall, and sold out his client list to the chain. I think he also may have hired on with them.

There was much public hand-wringing and crying about this "new" development. Emotionally, I don't like to see it happen, either. Yet, 60 years ago, it was already enough of a trend to bear mention in this movie.

That doesn't make it good or right. It doesn't make me like it any more. I merely find it very interesting that this has already been going on for at least 60 years.

The best reason to see "The Best Years of Our Lives" is for the amazing Harold Russell, who won an Oscar for his supporting role. Russell played a Navy vet who had lost both hands, a role he was well-suited to, seeing as how he had lost both hands when a charge went off while he was conducting explosives training. Russell's ability with his "hook" hands is amazing, but the genuine emotion he brings to the part has to be seen. In particular, the scene where he releases his pent up angst about being seen as a freak stands out. But the topper is when he explains to his fiancee what life will be like if she still wants to marry him.

Another reason to see the movie is Teresa Wright, one of the prettiest actresses you'll ever see. Miss Wright is notable for earning Oscar nominations in her first three films -- "The Little Foxes," "Mrs. Miniver," and "Pride of the Yankees." She took home the hardware for playing Mrs. Lou Gehrig.

Isn't the Internet Movie Database wonderful?


Friday, April 27, 2007

Bluegrass & Gospel Concert Tonight in St. Paul

Like bluegrass and gospel music? There will be a concert by one of the Twin Cities' top bands tonight at my church in St. Paul. Singleton Street will perform at 7:00 pm at Calvary Lutheran, 341 Hamline Ave. South. There is no admission charge; an offering will benefit the Union Gospel Mission.

You can get complete information, including a map to the church, at http://www.calvarystpaul.org/concerts.html

You can hear a sample of Singleton Street's music at http://www.singletonstreet.com


Friday, April 27, 2007

Playground Politics

You'd like to be able to expect better from our supposed "best and brightest."

Senate majority Leader Harry "White Flag" Reid says the war is lost. He says President Bush is not in Michigan but "in denial." (Ho, ho ho!! Ho ho ho!!!)

In response, Reid is called "defeatist."

Reid responds to that by saying he's not going to get involved in name-calling. Specifically, name-calling with "the administration's top attack dog," referring to VP Cheney.

So much for no name-calling.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Al Jazeera to the Rescue of Macalester Students

Students at St. Paul's Macalester College have apparently depleted their supply of domestic anti-Americanism. How will they ever complete their well-rounded liberal education? (You know, they're educated to look at the world from all points of view -- liberal, progressive, socialist, communist, anarchist. That ought to cover it.)

Have no fear, someone is riding to their rescue. Hear those hoofbeats? If it doesn't sound like the cavalry, there's a reason. You're hearing camels, not horses. Yes, it's Al Jazeera to the rescue!

The English language version of Al Jazeera is being made available to all students on the Macalester campus. Now they can be even more "well-rounded," being educated in the Islamafascist perspective, too.

I wonder if the college makes sure Fox News is available to all students? I doubt it, at least not deliberatively. But maybe it comes standard along with some television package available on campus. (If so, it wouldn't surprise me if students demanded the ability to block the channel, in the name of tolerance and diversity and all that.)

This story from the Macalester student paper provides a good look at how reporters subtly weave their own opinions into their stories. Note this paragraph:

"In one sitting, the Al Jazeera News Hour may cover a sewage spill in Gaza, partisan fighting in Congo's capital, the rising death toll in Iraq, and a neo-Nazi demonstration in Germany."

Notice how there is simply "fighting" in Congo, but a "rising death toll" in Iraq? What does that tell you? Sure, it's accurate, but meaningless. There's a "rising death toll" everywhere -- even at Macalester College, unless they've figured out a way to bring people back to life over there.

Meanwhile, a sewage spill in Gaza is just a sewage spill, not "yet another deadly catastrophe occurring under the Hamas government." See how easy it is to dress something up to express an opinion?


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Better Late Than Never?

Last Tuesday, the Ramsey County Commissioners voted themselves a hefty pay raise. The day previously, I voiced my disapproval of the anticipated trough enlargement by sending the county this email message:

Increase in my property tax bill: 19%

Increase in county commissioners' salaries: 25%

Voting the bums out: PRICELESS

I received this response:

Thank you for your e-mail. Your message will be shared with the Commissioners.

I received that message on Friday -- three days after the vote. Sure, go ahead and share it with them. A lot of good that will do.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Ungrateful Children

Kids can be real ingrates. It's always, "Is that all?" or "Gimme more!" It would be nice to have a "thank you" mixed in there.

But it's not just kids. One of my pet peeves is when the recipients of my benevolence beg for more. I've given money to a charity, and then been hit up for an additional donation before the acknowledgment of the first donation even arrives in the mail. With public TV, they send acknowledgement of my donation, but include another form and envelope so I can send an additional donation. That puts me off, too.

I gave a few times to the Special Olympics, after being called on the phone. I considered it an annual donation to help them put on their games each year. But then they called again and I thought it hadn't been all that long since my last donation. I checked, and it was only six months. They were now calling me twice a year, hoping I wouldn't notice!

Last week, it was the politicians. When the Republican Party called, it was the last straw, I told the caller, "I don't have any money for you, just like I told the Norm Coleman people this morning, and the Governor Pawlenty people yesterday afternoon!"

Three of them in 24 hours.

I made the mistake(?) of giving a small donation to the Norm Coleman campaign in 2002, and now they think I'm made of money. They call regularly, starting out with a request for $150. Yeah, right. Do the Republicans believe what the Democrats say, that all Republicans are wealthy? What would be the Democratic Party counterpart? Do the Democrats call supporters and ask them to show up at a midday rally at the Capitol, because they assume they don't work for a living?

These experiences give me an excuse to never give to anyone, even just once. I know they'll just hound me for more. And they may not even remember to say "thank you."


Friday, April 20, 2007

Murder Is a Relative Term

I like to observe the similarities between the ideologues on the Left, and the ideologues on the right. People may like to think that they are completely different from their counterparts on the other side of the aisle, but that's not true. I often find examples of how people on both sides apply the same type of thinking, but to different issues.

For example, in the wake of the killings at Virginia Tech, there's talk about how can we keep demented murderers from getting guns. That's to be expected. I'm a supporter of the Second Amendment, but I'm not a supporter of murder. I would like to keep guns out of the hands of insane killers-in-waiting. But I support the right to bear arms.

Others, however, think a gruesome scene like Virginia Tech supports the idea that guns should be banned. Oh, the carnage! How many dead? Thirty-three at last count, I believe.

But let's turn the spotlight to another issue in the news this week. Now, the players largely switch sides.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, by a 5-4 vote, ruled that states may ban the procedure dubbed by critics as "partial-birth abortion." What exactly is that? Here's a description, not from some pro-life group, but from a Los Angeles Times news story:

Most abortions -- between 85 percent and 90 percent -- are done in the first three months of pregnancy. In those cases, the fetus is removed through a suction tube.

Later in a pregnancy, however, some form of surgery is required. At this stage, most doctors give the woman anesthesia and use instruments to remove the fetus in pieces. This procedure is known as a "dilation and evacuation," or DE, and it remains legal.

Some doctors who perform second-term abortions said it was safer and less risky to remove the fetus intact because that method is less likely to expose the woman to injury, bleeding or infection. Usually, doctors would crush the skull, or drain its content, to permit its removal. This method has been referred to as a "dilation and extraction," or DX.

Isn't that as grotesque as anything you've read about the shootings at Virginia Tech? Oh, but 33 people killed, you say. The carnage! How does that compare to "partial-birth" abortion?

Supporters of the procedure assure us that it is rarely used. Only a fraction of the 1.3 million abortions performed in the U.S. EVERY YEAR are of the "partial-birth" kind. But what is that "small fraction" in real numbers? Oh, only about 5,000 per year.

Who could support crushing 5,000 babies' skulls every years? The usual suspects. Syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman, for instance, who complains that women's rights have been curtailed by "wombless judges." (If she thinks this judgment should be left up to only judges who have wombs, maybe we could extend that reasoning. Judgments on how a man may treat -- or mistreat -- his wife should be made only by judges with wives, not by any "wifeless judges." If that means only men get to decide how woman may be treated, so be it. How's that sound, Ms. Goodman? Logical?)

Goodman is an example of those who will defend every aspect of abortion, viewing any reasonable regulations -- waiting periods, information, restriction of barbaric practices -- as a step down the slippery slope that must be avoided at all costs. She portrays this as a matter of principle, in defense of an inferred Constitutional right.

In that, she is similar to those who would oppose any reasonable regulation of guns -- opposing waiting periods, registrations, or restriction of machine guns -- as a step down the slippery slope that must be avoided at all costs. They portray it as a matter of principle, in defense of an explicit Constitutional right.

There are some differences, however. One is that I think Goodman represents a pretty common viewpoint for her side. I think the extremist, "abortion unlimited" crowd is pretty much the mainstream for the pro-abortion side.

On the other issue, I think the extremist, "guns unlimited" crowd is a minority. Most of us who support the Second Amendment think there is room for background checks and waiting periods. And we really don't think we need a right to a machine gun or a rocket launcher. (Although if the intention of the Second Amendment is to keep the government in line, then we really should have a right to the same firepower the government's forces have, shouldn't we? Otherwise, what's the point?)

The other distinction is the big one. While many people support the explicit Constitutional Right to own guns, NO ONE is saying the Second Amendment gives anyone a right to MURDER. Even someone who might defend the insane Virginia Tech killer's right to buy guns won't say that he had a right to MURDER anyone with them!

But how about the abortion issue? That entire "right" is about murder! It's the whole point of it. None of us who oppose abortion say that a woman shouldn't have a right to decide whether or not to have sex, whether or not to use birth control, whether or not to go to a doctor. We don't question that doctor's right to own a scalpel. What we oppose is Goodman's cherished "right" to murder a baby with that scalpel!

People who would ban guns are opposing an inanimate object, one that can be used for good, or for bad. But people who would ban abortion are banning an action, one that takes the life of an innocent baby.

Hey! I think I know how to put people like Ellen Goodman into mental overload: What if the doctor performing the "partial-birth" abortion didn't use a scalpel to puncture the baby's head, but used a handgun instead! Would they suddenly become defenders of gun rights?


Thursday, April 19, 2007

"Why Bother?" TV

Remember when Thursday night was "Must See TV" on NBC? One of the shows that helped the Peacock earn that designation is "ER," the long-running show featuring doctors who lack a basic understanding of contraception. (I say that because they are always finding themselves involved in unplanned pregnancies. But maybe the writers figure that's no big deal, because they make sure they throw in a pro-abortion show on a regular basis.)

Anyway, NBC has been hyping the show for the spring ratings period by teasing us with the question of whether two featured characters will get married. I say, "What does it matter?" These two characters already have had a (surprise!) child together and live together. If they get married, how does that change anything?

I think this serves as a good example of our culture's changing perception of marriage. Now, many see marriage as some sort of optional icing on the cake. That seems to be the case with "ER." But it used to be, marriage CHANGED EVERYTHING. It was a BIG DEAL. A defining step. When people got married, they left one stage of life behind. Everything changed. They entered a new stage. They had a lifetime commitment to be honored. They now lived with someone of the opposite sex -- not just a roommate or family members. Children were likely to follow.

I repeat: getting married CHANGED EVERYTHING.

But now, on "ER," if these two doctors get married, what does it change? And I'm talking just from a dramatic perspective. How will it affect the show? It might pull in some more viewers who enjoy seeing a TV wedding, but then what?

In contrast, it used to be that a fictional TV wedding opened up wide new plot possibilities. The couple had to learn to live together. They might buy a house. Of course there would be children, and all the story line possibilities that created.

But if these two TV doctors get married? Boooooorrrrring!

I fear this reflects the way Americans are increasingly viewing marriage. It's not an event that CHANGES EVERYTHING anymore. It's just another "thing" on the list of things to be acquired. And it's not even very high on the list anymore, ranking somewhere behind "have a baby."

At least that's the way the Hollywood writers of "ER" see it, and they must think their audience sees it that way, too. I fear that increasingly, they are right.

--------

The Peacock Off Its Perch

What has become of the once proud Peacock network? I saw a list of the top-rated TV shows from last week, and not a one was to be found on NBC. Who led the list? Fox had three shows in the top 20: "American Idol" at number one and number two, and "House" at number four. ABC had five shows in the top 20. But CBS had 12.

Doesn't seem so long ago that CBS was the butt of all the ratings jokes. Now it's the once-proud Peacock.

And what about that "upstart," FOX? I think it was 20 years ago now that that network started up, and was itself the butt of the jokes. Now it's having the last laugh. As I recall, it began with just a few shows on the weekend. Most have been forgotten. But "Married with Children" ran for many years, and continues to run in syndication. The Tracey Ullman show may have been short-lived, but it spawned "The Simpsons," no small accomplishment. I also recall watching the "Ben Stiller Show." That didn't catch fire, but Ben Stiller has done well for himself since. (To me, Andy Dick will always be "that guy from the 'Ben Stiller Show.'")


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Did I Ever Mention My Supple Wrists?

I fancied myself a bit of a Pinball Wizard in my younger days, so one spot I made sure to hit while in Las Vegas was the Pinball Hall of Fame. I'd read about the place on the Web. It's an unassuming place in a strip mall, pretty convenient to the airport, if you're interested. The place serves a couple of purposes. 1) It gives Tim Arnold a place to display some of his collection of pinball machines and other arcade games -- from very old to new. 2) It raises money for the Salvation Army. Yes, all the money that goes into the machines is donated to the Salvation Army.

Arnold did well as the owner of a game arcade in the 1970s and 1980s. He sold out in 1990, and retired to Las Vegas. Now, he and his associate "Hippy" preside over about 200 games, seven days a week.

Here's a picture of Arnold and a news story. And here you can hear him talk about the history of pinball. Did you know that the earliest pinball games did NOT have flippers?! You just shot the ball up top and hoped it hit a lot of things on the way down. I even played one like that at the Hall of Fame. But just once. What was the point? I didn't get to do anything. It was sort of like putting my money in a slot machine and giving it one pull. But there was no chance of a pay out.

It's a pretty cool place. Check it out if you're going to Las Vegas. I particularly liked playing some of the really old machines. And those are just 25 cents per play -- with it all going to the Sal -- so you can afford to have a lot of fun.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Serving Our Troops & The Mouths of Babes

I felt privileged Sunday to serve as a volunteer at the Serving Our Troops dinner for families of Minnesota National Guard members serving in Iraq. You can look at the news story in the Pioneer Press today, and visit www.servingourtroops.com for more background information. I'll try to explain it briefly.

A few years ago, a group of individuals in St. Paul came up with the idea of serving a St. Paul-style steak dinner to Minnesota Guard men and women serving in Kosovo. City councilman Pat Harris was the point man, organizing the talents of city restaurateurs including Pat and John Mancini (Mancini's Char House), Dan O'Gara (O'Gara's), Dave Cossetta (Cossetta's) and Pete Skinner (Skinner's Pub & Pizza Factory). Almost unbelievably, they pulled it off, gathering donations and volunteers, and in 2004 they travelled to Kosovo to feed our Minnesota men and women in uniform.

Last year, the group activated again to feed Minnesota Guard troops at Camp Shelby in Mississippi, where they were in training before deployment to Iraq.

Yesterday's event was originally going to be a dinner celebrating those troops' return after a year in the sandbox. But a wrench was thrown into that plan. The Guard's deployment was extended.

So the Serving Our Troops people decided they needed to do something now, and they came up with the plan of simultaneously feeding the troops in Iraq, while their families members enjoyed a meal in St. Paul, with a satellite video link joining the family members who were a world apart.

So yesterday, steaks that had been shipped from St. Paul were served to 11,000 soldiers at Camp Adder in Tallil, Iraq. That included not just 2,600 Minnesota troops, but also the rest of the soldiers at the base. (As Pat Harris told me, "If you bring food to class, you have to share with everybody.") Meanwhile, several thousand of their family members were being fed in St. Paul at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium.

I was there as a volunteer with my son's Boy Scout troop. Our first duty there was to line the entry corridor on both sides, and pass out programs to the arriving family members. Several already had tears in their eyes, being moved by the support they were feeling. By the time they encountered the lines of uniformed Scouts, they had already been greeted by two fire trucks, ladders extended and a flag strung between them, forming a grand entrance arch; the St. Paul Police Department bagpipe and drum band; and numerous JROTC students, who stood at attention in full dress uniform, holding open the doors for the arriving guests. (And some others, who I think were Anaheim Ducks hockey players, arriving for a morning skate or meeting at the Xcel Center. They were all coming through in pairs, young, athletic-looking guys, all wearing suits but no ties. I suspect they were staying across Rice Park at the St. Paul Hotel.)

What really stands out to me about this event, and what I really want to stress, is how this event was made possible by individuals -- individuals who cared enough to make it happen. It wasn't a government program. It wasn't put on by some huge event planning company, paid for by soulless corporate donations. No, this was made possible because hundreds of people from St. Paul and the surrounding area cared enough to make it happen. Yes, hundreds. It was estimated that 300 volunteers showed up Sunday.

But let's get back to the main organizers. Again, this was a very personal, hands-on project. There was Pat Harris, along with his right hand man, aide John Marshall, who served as master of ceremonies. The men whose names are on the restaurants were there themselves -- Pat Mancini, Pete Skinner, Dave Cossetta -- working away. If I understood it correctly, Dan O'Gara and John Mancini were actually in Iraq with the steaks, making sure they were prepared properly.

This is a great example of how St. Paul is a real town. It's more than just one small part of the greater metro area, it's a town unto itself. I grew up on a farm, near a small town, about an hour north of the Twin Cities. We always thought of the metro area as "the Cities," not differentiating one part from the other. But now I try to explain to people that I live in St. Paul. That's my town. I don't live in "the Cities."

And just like in a small town like Braham, where I come from, people who care and aren't afraid of a little hard work can come together to get things done. Some people like to say that St. Paul is the world's biggest small town. They might be right.

Of course, an event in Braham wouldn't bring out as many politicians. We had Governor and Mrs. Pawlenty, who stood talking to military family members, probably for hours. (The Governor may not have been quite as popular as he looked; he was standing next to the free beer, which was attracting its own crowd. That beer, by the way, was donated by Schell's Brewing in New Ulm. That's personal, too. I understand that the Marti family which owns the brewery has a son serving in Iraq.)

Congresswoman Betty McCollum was there. And St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman. I saw him coming in in the morning, but didn't see him later. I was told he was busy doing real work behind the scenes. I've got to give him credit for that. That's what a mayor does in a small town.

We also had both U.S. Senators from Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar and Norm Coleman. Coleman was running around in an apron. I don't know whether he had been cooking, or just wanted to look like it. Regardless, he was instrumental in cutting through red tape and overcoming military objections so that this event could be pulled off.

In the spirit of the day, I wasn't going to mention that some politicians who grabbed the microphone yesterday gave speeches that seemed in contrast to the sort of things they say back in Washington. They talked about what a great and important job the troops were doing in Iraq, while back in Washington they like to talk about what a waste the mission is, and call for us to cut and run. Now, some people would say there's nothing wrong with that; they're just supporting the troops without supporting the war. And I shouldn't let my own biases intrude on the day. So I thought I wouldn't mention what I just mentioned. I had decided to just let it go.

Until we watched the evening news.

My family was watching the evening news on KSTP channel 5. (The station was a sponsor of the event, and provided the satellite link that was used.) There was a story on the Serving Our Troops event, and then a segue into an interview with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, in which Klobuchar was calling for the troops to be withdrawn from Iraq.

"That's not what she said there!" exclaimed my son, referring to the Serving Our Troops event. My son is all of 11 years old.

I swear, I had given him no prompting. So I asked him, What did she say? He told me. "She said just the opposite." With some more thought, he decided that maybe she hadn't exactly and literally said the opposite, but she was giving us the opposite impression.

Isn't that something? He's only 11, and he can see past the spin and B.S. of a politician talking to two different audiences. He could see when a politician was speaking out of both sides of her mouth.

If an 11-year-old can do that, why can't more people who are old enough to vote?

(It's not too late to help support our troops and their families. You can make a donation at www.servingourtroops.com )


Monday, April 16, 2007

Round-Up and Recommended Reads

The Military-Environmental Complex and the Coming "Warm War"

U.S. military leaders say we face a new national security threat: climate change!

This is bound to cause inner conflict for many American liberals, those who preach the doomsday of GLOBAL WARMING but despise the military. How will they reconcile the idea that GLOBAL WARMING may require a beefing up of the military?

Fortunately for them, they've come up with a plan. Downing World has learned that House Democrats today will introduce a spending bill to give a narrowly-directed $10 billion to the U.S. Army to begin addressing the looming threat. The money will go to the Toyota company, for the purpose of developing a hybrid diesel-electric tank.

Imus Thoughts: A.L. Brown on Blacks and Whites

Here's a great newspaper column by A.L. Brown, a St. Paul attorney and chair of the St. Paul Human Rights Commission. Brown asks, What next? We've silenced Don Imus, but now what? Brown writes that CBS execs may pat themselves on the back for canning Imus, but where does that leave them? What about the other components of the Viacom media empire?

For instance, BET is the home of "Rap City," where the No. 1 song features the following lyrics: "This is why I'm hot, catch me on the block. Every other day, another bitch another drop. 16 bars, 24 pop 44 songs, nigga gimme what you got."

Sunnis Drop Ties with al-Qaida

Could this be a glimmer of hope? Sunni militants in Iraq are dropping their ties to al-Qaida.

"They have realized that those people are not working for Iraq's interests," said Alaa Makki, a Sunni member of parliament with close ties to the insurgents. "They realized that their operations might destroy Iraq altogether."

It's about time they figure that out.

Khalid Awad, a commander of the Jamiat Brigades, another insurgent group in Anbar, said: "We must confess that if it was not for al-Qaida, neither Iraq nor Afghanistan would have been occupied. For al-Qaida has awakened the American ogre against the Islamic nation after the September 11th events, and it is still causing disasters."

Well, duh. We don't want to have to be in Iraq. The stupid irony is that if the people who want the U.S. to leave would just stop killing people -- Americans and Iraqis alike -- the Americans would leave! The Iraqis need to understand that they and the U.S. share a common enemy -- al Qaida.

I'd link this to a news story that I caught a glimpse of while on vacation. If I remember it correctly, it said that local officials in Iraq overwhelmingly want the U.S. to remain for now. They need the U.S. to protect them from the real bad guys. This is something I'd like to get a better handle on: Who wants the U.S. out of Iraq? The majority of Iraqis? Or primarily bad guys who want to rule the country themselves?

One problem we have is that it's too easy for the media to let the bad guys -- and their deadly actions -- speak for the Iraqi people. But do they represent them? It seems analogous to reporting on violence in North Minneapolis by interviewing gang members, who demand that the police force withdraw from their turf.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

No-Tell Ho-Tel: Don Imus and the Blonde Bimbos

I kind of missed out on the start of the Don Imus flap when I was on vacation. And when I did hear about it, all I was hearing at first was that he had said some awful things, but nobody was saying exactly what. Finally, I learned that he had said "nappy-headed hos." I didn't know what to think, exactly. Sounded like a very rude thing to say, but did it cross that magic line that made it "racist"? After all, Stevie Wonder -- who has never judged anyone by the color of their skin -- sang about being a "little nappy-headed boy" in his hit song "I Wish." And thanks to the wide acceptance of rap "culture," "ho" has become almost an everyday word. (Not to mention that Academy Award given to the song "It's Hard Out Here for A Pimp," which uses not just "ho" but some other words we don't use here in Downing World.)

I looked up "nappy" in the dictionary. It's a legitimate word. It means kinky or fizzy. It's just an adjective, which can be used to describe a certain type of hair. Why does it carry such a terrible connotation? (By the way, if you go to England, a "nappy" is a diaper, derived from "napkin." But don't ask for a napkin to wipe your face at the table. What you need there is the very French "serviette." A napkin is strictly a feminine product.)

I was also curious about the context of Imus' comments. As usual, all we were getting was the easy pickin's sound bite: "Imus said -- gasp! -- 'nappy-headed hos.'" I heard that he was doing a bit, emulating the way that others would talk, not talking as himself. Wouldn't you know it, I just went to YouTube, and there was the clip of Imus. And he was doing a schtick, which I thought put his comments in a better context. Until I got a surprise. Imus had said something more, something that wasn't being repeated in the news. He called the Rutgers women "jigaboos." Now that's nasty. But he was referencing a Spike Lee movie, too, so again, I'm unsure what context to put that into.

(An example of things too strange to make up: If you were going to a Rutgers women's basketball home game, one of the major streets you might use to get there is called Hoes Lane.)

Another question I have about the Imus flap, is whether it wouldn't have been best to just ignore him. It's not as thought everyone heard him. I heard the Rutgers basketball players talking about how he had ruined their season. I'd bet not a single one of them was listening to his show. So how did they find out? How did they have their season ruined? Someone told them. It reminds me of little kids on the playground. Sally runs up to Jane and says, "Mary called you a poopy head!" People say mean things all the time. But it may be best to just ignore them. Doesn't the person who says, "Did you hear what so-and-so said about you..."? bear some responsibility for carrying the message?

Think about this if you would: What if Imus had been talking about the Swedish women's basketball team, and he called them "blonde bimbos"? Let's examine that. "Blonde" is a description of the appearance of their hair. But in this context, it also has a negative connotation. It implies that they are empty-headed. What about "bimbo"? My dictionary says that's "Offensive Slang. A woman, especially one who is perceived as vacuous or as having an exaggerated interest in sexuality."

So let's compare "nappy-headed ho" and "blonde bimbo." Both combine an accurate description of the appearance of hair -- albeit with a negative connotation -- with a term disparaging a woman's sexual mores. They seem like pretty much the same thing.

But it's always different when it comes to black people. And that's a problem. If blacks are always "different," then how will we ever all be the same? We get too hung up on words. Picking fights about words only distracts us from real problems.

Then there's Al Sharpton. He made lots of racial hay out of Imus' comments. But then last I heard, he said he was also going to work to stop black people -- rappers, especially -- from using that kind of language. Good for him.

But wait a minute. The "artists" say the same standards shouldn't apply to them. They are merely using their poetic license to interpret what they observe in the world around them when they say "ho," they say in their defense.

Hogwash. If that's an excuse, then what did Imus do wrong? What was Imus doing, except commenting on and interpreting what he was observing in the world around him? He was observing the way the Rutgers players present themselves, and commenting on it within the context of the gangster rapper culture that influences young people to adopt that look.

So then, what did Imus do wrong?

Finally, here's a pay-off for those of you who have slogged through all of these thoughts. When I was in Las Vegas recently, I observed a casino-hotel that was getting a makeover. I think it was the Aladdin, being turned into the Planet Hollywood casino. But work seems to have been interrupted. Note the new sign being installed on top of the building. Is this a publicity stunt, or is it just chance that work stopped with three letters yet to go?


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Don't Bring Them Home, Send Them to Afghanistan

I've written before about people -- politicians and others -- who want to have it both ways, saying the war in Iraq is a mistake, but wanting to prove that they are tough on terrorism by saying, "Of course I support the war in Afghanistan, that made sense."

Now let's see them put their money where their mouths are.

Reports are that the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating. The Taliban is making a comeback. There simply aren't enough Western forces there to control the situation. We need more boots on the ground, the same as the critics have said about Iraq (At least they said that BEFORE President Bush decided to put more boots on the ground; now they oppose the idea.)

So here's an idea for our brave politicians: When you are demanding surrender... I mean, withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, don't demand that we "bring them home." Demand that they be redeployed to Afghanistan, so we can win that war. You know, the war you say you wholeheartedly support.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Biden is calling for the U.S. military to go to Darfur!

WASHINGTON - Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a Democratic presidential candidate, called Wednesday for the use of military force to end the suffering in Darfur. "I would use American force now," Biden said at a hearing before his committee. "I think it's not only time not to take force off the table. I think it's time to put force on the table and use it." In advocating use of military force, Biden said senior U.S. military officials in Europe told him that 2,500 U.S. troops could "radically change the situation on the ground now." "Let's stop the bleeding," Biden said. "I think it's a moral imperative."

Damned if you do, damned if you don't. If President Bush uses the military, he shouldn't, but if he doesn't, then he should.

And it will be such a piece of cake, too! Biden says it will take only 2,500 troops. No problem.

Reminds me of the rosy forecast for how the invasion of Iraq would work out.

If President Bush had sent troops to Darfur, I'd guess that Biden and his fellow Democrat Senators would now be complaining about that, calling it a "quagmire."

It's easy being a Senator, you just criticize the President for what he either does or doesn't do. A regular backseat driver. It's tougher being the "decider."


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Partyin' in Vegas

Yes, I've been to Las Vegas (and surrounding area); that's why Downing World has been idle.

What did I do there? Well....remember Dr. Lonnie Hammargren, the Las Vegas brain surgeon who was hosting his own funeral party? (See two posts back.) By an amazing coincidence, my family and I were planning a visit to Las Vegas that coincided with that party. We were going to visit my aunt who lives there. She had called Dr. Hammargren to see if we could swing by and view his collection, so he extended an invitation to the party at his home.

As I told you previously, Dr. Hammargren hails from Rush City, Minnesota, same as my mother, who once upon a time worked in the insurance office of Dr. Hammargren's father. But it's my aunt on my father's side who now lives in Las Vegas. She met Dr. Hammargren when she toured his home during his yearly open house. She hadn't known that he was from Rush City, and was surprised to see some of her (and my) own relatives on display in materials Dr. Hammargren had from a church in Rush City.

It was an interesting event. There's a regular stage in the compound, backed by the sign from the old Showboat casino, and entertainers were making use of it. Lots to eat. And drinks, being served in a genuine Las Vegas bar that has been disassembled and reassembled in the Hammargren home (but with the craps table hanging upside down from the ceiling).

There sure were a lot of interesting things to see. A round bed surrounded by carousel horses. The roller coaster that used to be atop the Stratosphere. A sequined piano used by Liberace. Robby Knievel's motorcycle, autographed, "Don't try to jump the fountains, Doc, or I'll have to operate on you!"

Here are some photos for you. That's Dr. Hammargren in the top hat and purple jacket. You'll note that some of his guests came from a long time ago and far, far away.


Monday, April 9, 2007

What Happens In Vegas....

Ends up on the Internet. I've been on a little trip. More stories and photos to come.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Eccentric? It's Not Brain Surgery

When I think of the word "eccentric," I usually think of some Englishman, living off of old family wealth. But don't sell America short. We can develop our own self-made eccentrics.

Exhibit "A" is Dr. Lonnie Hammargren, a wealthy Las Vegas brain surgeon who has planned his own funeral for this Saturday. The twist is, he's still alive. Afterwards, there will be a party at his compound/museum of a home, filled -- inside and out -- with amazing artifacts large and small. Most noticeably large. Here are some photos from his home.

And here's a story about his yard sale last summer.

Now, here's another twist: There's a Minnesota connection! Dr. Hammargren hails from Rush City, Minn., my mom's home town. In fact, before she was married my mom did office work for Dr. Hammargren's father Carl, an insurance agent in Rush City. I don't recall Carl, but I remember Dr. Hammargren's mother, Ruby. She was also eccentric -- and flamboyant, known for her big hats, feather boas, and brightly painted house.


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

 

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