archives: June -- July, 2005

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Feminism No Friend of American Mothers
Sometimes, I sure am glad that the good ol' US of A isn't just like those more "enlightened" and "progressive" nations of Europe. I just read a story about how the U.S. stands apart from the rest of the world in not granting generous, paid maternity leave.

Two things stood out. The first:

"Across the ocean, in Sweden, Magnus Larsson is looking forward to splitting 16 months of parental leave at 80 percent pay with his girlfriend. They are expecting their first baby in a week."

What? In Sweden, a guy knocks up his girlfriend, and he gets rewarded by getting paid not to work? What kind of deal is that?

Compare that to here. In the U.S., when a girl gets pregnant out of wedlock, we set her up in her own place and let her live off the government. But if the boyfriend moves in, they have to keep it a secret, or he'll be expected to pay the rent. Additionally, we hear of deadbeat dads who don't work, because if they do, their check just goes to support their children.

But at least we maintain the expectation that a man should work to support his children -- and their mother.

Not so in Sweden. There, some schmuck knocks a girl up and it's, Congratulations! You've won the lottery!

Here's the second thing that stood out: An unexpected shot at the American feminist movement. In explaining why America lags behind Europe in maternity leave, we're offered this:

"Jane Waldfogel, also a professor at Columbia, says another part of the puzzle is that the European and American feminist movements had differing goals.

"In Europe, feminists emphasized special treatment for mothers, including maternity leave and child care.

"'The American feminist movement didn't want to hear anything about mothers,' Waldfogel says. 'They wanted equal rights for women and didn't emphasize special treatment.'"

Isn't that interesting? I think what it's saying is this: European feminists wanted to help women, and that by definition meant helping mothers. But American feminists wanted women to be just like men; that meant pretending that women aren't mothers.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Bird Brains
I tell you, the people of the future are going to look back and think we were absolutely nuts. A story in the news this month around St. Paul involved an osprey nest on top of a light pole at a high school football field. At first, it was feared that Irondale High School would be unable to use its football field, because it's a federal crime to bother a nesting osprey (honest!).

Never mind that the field was there all along, and was being used this summer for things like marching band practice, and the bird didn't care. She put her nest right there despite the commotion.

Finally, it was determined that the nest was far enough from the field that the field could still be used. But that wasn't the end of it.

There's a story in the paper today about how the baby osprey were banded yesterday. Yes, while there was fear that noisy activity on the football field might scare off momma osprey so that she would abandon the nest, it was considered OK for someone to climb up to the nest, lower the baby birds to the ground, put metal bands around their legs, and put them back in the nest. Presumably, this won't bother momma bird at all.

But football practice would have?

Are these bird lovers bird brains?

Saturday, July 30, 2005

"Patriotism Lite"
I argued a couple of posts ago that the war in Iraq is not real to most Americans, that's why it's possible to have a fictionalized account of the war airing on TV (FX's "Over There") while the real war is still going on.

This story by Thom Shanker of the New York Times supports that point of view. Here's an excerpt:

"The Bush administration's rallying call that America is a nation at war is increasingly ringing hollow to men and women in uniform, who argue in frustration that America is not a nation at war, but a nation with only its military at war.

"From bases in Iraq and across the United States to the Pentagon and the military's war colleges, officers and enlisted personnel quietly raise a question for political leaders: If America is truly on a war footing, why is so little sacrifice asked of the nation at large?"

Friday, July 29, 2005

Pot Calls Kettle Black
Did you hear about this one? An 85-year-old grandmother is suing the company that makes the popular "Grand Theft Auto" video game. That game, previously rated for 17-and-older, was recently revealed to include concealed pornographic content, and war re-rated for adults only.

Granny wants Rockstar Games to line her pockets -- and the pockets of her lawyers -- because she bought the then-17-and-older game for her grandson. Her 14-YEAR-OLD grandson!

Now that's chutzpa. Does she feel no shame herself? No embarrassment? No sense of responsibility? Evidently not enough to get in the way of a big payday.

She claims she didn't know it was for 17-and-older when she bought it, and when she found out, she had it taken away from her grandson. Well, Rockstar claims they didn't know the concealed porno was in the final version of the game. If you can make a mistake, lady, can't they?

You can read MSNBC's version of the story, or, read this one, for a European take on America's love affair with violence and fear of sex.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

War: Just a TV Show
I don't pay for TV, so I couldn't check it out myself, but I understand that last night marked the debut of a new TV show on the FX network. Called "Over There," the show is a fictionalized accounting of the war in Iraq. The series is being billed as the first war-based TV show to air while the war is still going on.

Isn't that....surreal? Doesn't it seem like there is something wrong here? I'm trying to come up with a good analogy. It seems like broadcasting a tell-all bio on someone who's on his deathbed. "I'm not dead yet!"

What it really comes down to, is it shows just how UNREAL the real war is to people. The real war is just a show on TV, anyway, so why not another, fictionalized version of it? What's the difference? It won't be long before we'll hear someone making some argument about the war in Iraq -- either for or against -- and the moron will cite as supporting evidence something that happened in the TV show.

This shows how uninvolved most of us are. If we had rationing, for instance; or if we had blackouts at night; or if we all knew and loved someone who was in harm's way -- under those circumstances we'd never stand for this new TV show. We'd say that it was in poor taste.

But we aren't under those circumstances. For most of us, the real war is just a TV show, too. So what's the big deal?

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Do What You Can to Help
Do what you can to help. I think that's what columnist Jane Eisner is saying by paraphrasing what she calls an old Jewish teaching: "We are not required to complete the work, but neither may we desist from it."

I like that. I think it means that just because we can't feed ALL the hungry or solve ALL the world's problems, that's no excuse not to try to do what we can.

Eisner uses the saying while talking about genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. She writes that guilt may finally be motivating people in the U.S. to take notice of the slaughter in Sudan:

"I can attest: Guilt works. I heard this very message from my rabbi Saturday, and my conscience hasn't left me alone since. I can no longer pretend it's not in my job description to express outrage and demand action against what is being called the worst genocide since World War II.

"That historical analogy weighs heavily on Jewish people, and on Monday, they responded in kind. Just about every major religious and communal Jewish group in the nation signed a document calling upon President Bush to promote immediate and comprehensive international intervention in Darfur."

Well, that's settled then, right? Hardly. It's great that the signatories want "immediate and comprehensive international intervention," but they're nuts if they think it might actually happen. Well, at least it lets people assuage their newly-found guilt over Sudan. They showed they cared enough to do what they could -- demand that someone else do something. Better yet, they demanded that President Bush do something. That means that from now on, genocide in Sudan is Bush's fault. After all, they told him to do something. They've washed their own hands of the matter.

Do you suppose anyone who signed that document understood how it relates to Iraq?

President Bush is criticized for not getting more international approval and assistance for the invasion of Iraq. He tried. But not much of the international community would get on board. Would those who are newly concerned about Sudan want the U.S. to go it alone in Sudan, if that's what it takes? It's easy to say someone else should do something, but would they have Americans die alone to end this genocide? Do they care that much? Or would they just turn a blind eye again, like they do to Iraq?

I say that, because Iraq was also home to genocide. But with WMDs not found, critics say ending genocide in Iraq was not a good enough reason by itself to justify invading that country. They say that if we are going to justify the Iraq invasion based on mass graves and genocide, then we'll have to invade lots of other countries, too.

To which I say: Do what you can. We are not required to complete the work, but neither may we desist from it. Do what you can. That's a start.

It's illogical to say that because it is impractical to help in every country, we shouldn't help where we can. Otherwise, we'll have to extend the same logic to everything else we do, privately or via the government. I can't feed all the hungry, so I won't give anything to the food shelf. Government social programs don't solve every problem for everyone, so let's not have any at all.

Here's another saying that's relevant: Damned if you do; damned if you don't. Don't intervene in another nation, and after the killing's all done, you'll be blamed for not stopping it. Intervene, and you'll be criticized because you did.

Monday, July 25, 2005

It Just Don't Add Up
One of the great things about the blogosphere is that it allows any little "child" who believes his or her own eyes -- more than what "they" say -- to call out, "The emperor has no clothes!" There are a lot of things we've always been told that just don't bear up under observation by our own eyes. Blogging lets people point that out.

For instance, I've recently been making frequent trips to a not-so-good neighborhood in Minneapolis. It's the sort of neighborhood where a lot of people can be seen sitting around on the stoop, drinking from a paper bag, while they wait for their next government check.

What "they" have told us for decades, is that people live in poverty like this because there aren't good jobs available to them.

Here's where it doesn't add up: The reason I've been visiting that neighborhood is because it is also the site of a large hospital. The hospital is a huge economic engine, and it's scary to think how much worse the neighborhood might be if the hospital weren't there. The hospital is a huge employer.

Now, I don't expect all the residents of the neighborhood to apply for jobs as doctors. But the hospital also employs many people in unskilled, entry-level jobs -- cleaning, etc. My own observation, made while walking the halls of the hospital, reveals something very interesting about many -- perhaps most -- of these low-level employees:

They are immigrants.

Somehow, these folks have managed to cross an ocean and get a job at the hospital, despite their limited English skills.

Meanwhile, people living right there in the neighborhood, who could walk to work, who have the benefit of a free public education, who speak English as their primary language, sit on the stoop and drink.

Why? It ain't for lack of jobs, people. So stop blaming the government for not "creating good jobs" for these folks. Until they solve their other problems -- and let's provide them with help doing that -- they're not going to work, no matter how many jobs you put in front of them.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Marriage Takes Another Hit
Captain Ed comments today on another troubling trend in marriage. It seems some couples are rewriting their vows to remove the "unrealistic" pledge of "'til death do us part." Instead, they're setting their sites lower, going with something like "until our time together is over."

I promise to stay with you until I don't. Wow, that's really putting your heart on the line. If they're not willing to make a commitment, why should their guests? When shopping for wedding presents for the (temporarily) happy couple, forget the fine china; get 'em disposable paper plates instead.

You might also want to review some of my own marriage-related thoughts, including why the bride and groom should extinguish their individual candles after lighting the unity candle, on the Downing World marriage page.

Friday, July 22, 2005

What Else Could It Be?
The letters-to-the-editor page might seem like a strange place to try to prove or disprove the theory of evolution, what with the 200-word limit and all, but that hasn't kept some of the local great minds from rising to the challenge.

In the ongoing debate in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, one Tim Smith today defends the theory of evolution:

"There is ample evidence to support macroevolution of a species changing into another species. This evidence is found in the fossil records. At one time life existed only in the oceans and then over billions of years life evolved and eventually animals that live on the land became widespread. The geologic evidence indicates this enormous passage of time. If this change in the number of species and types of creatures living on the planet were not a result of evolution, then what was the driving force behind it?"

If it wasn't evolution, then what was it? He calls that scientific proof?

Sounds like Erich von Daniken reasoning: If it wasn't ancient astronauts, then what was it?

It reminds me of a friend who is prone to jumping to conclusions. One day I mentioned that I hadn't noticed his neighbor's very noticeable St. Bernard dog recently. He replied, "Someone shot it."

"That's terrible," I said. "Did they find it dead in the yard, or in the ditch somewhere? What happened?"

"I don't know," he explained, "It just disappeared one day."

"Then how do you know someone shot it?" I asked.

"What else could have happened?" was his response.

Hardly proof that someone had shot the dog.

Consider this analogy: Let's stack up all the years of Sears catalogs in sequence, with the oldest catalogs starting on the bottom. Then, let's dig down through the "strata" of pages. Near the top, we'll find microwave ovens. Further down, smooth-topped electric ranges. Then gas-burning stoves. Dig down far enough, and you'll find cast-iron, pot-bellied stoves.

That's proof that those stoves evolved. What else could it be?

Sure, the fossil record shows lots of critters that aren't around any more. But no one has any evidence of one species ever turning into another species.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Daylight Saving Time: Let's Split the Difference
Congress is again considering extending Daylight Saving Time. DST is already almost 7 months long. Doesn't that make DST, in truth, the "standard" time? Our Standard time is now a minority of the year.

I have a proposal: Let's split the difference. Let's do a one-time adjustment. We'll all set our clocks 30 minutes ahead of Standard time, then leave them there. Forever. No more twice-yearly adjustments.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Random Checks Won't Work
So, they're going to conduct "random searches" of backpacks on the New York City subway. But we're being "reassured" that there won't be any "profiling."

This is so stupid. What good will random checks do? Look, random drug testing or random tax audits may be effective, because people don't want to risk the consequences of getting caught. But what consequence does a suicide bomber have to fear? He's already decided he's going to blow himself up, why should he fear getting arrested? (Besides, he could rig his bomb so he could detonate it immediately if he gets randomly selected.) If the murderers know there are going to be only random searches, they know they'll still be able to get most of their killers through.

I'm not reassured knowing that there will be no profiling. Short of inspecting every backpack, profiling is the only thing that will work. How many Al-Qaeda bombings have been conducted by Norwegian Lutheran grandmothers? That's right, they've all been conducted by Muslim males, who've been almost exclusively non-European.

If you go hiking in the desert, do you avoid all snakes with rattles, or do you just randomly avoid a few snakes of any kind?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Eminent Domain: Officials not Bound by Good Intent of Predecessors
Today brings another news story that can be linked to the eminent domain issue. St. Paul is losing most of its Central Park, which I didn't even know existed. According to the story in the Pioneer Press, Central Park has existed for several decades as as group of grassy areas on several levels of a parking complex in the Capitol area.

Originally, Central Park was a traditional, formal Victorian park, in a ritzy neighborhood. But as the neighborhood changed, it deteriorated. In the 1960s, the state took the land for state use, building a parking garage on the site of the park. Green space was incorporated into the parking garage, to replace the former park.

But now, the state wants more parking spaces, and most of the green space in the complex is being turned into more parking spaces. Critics say they were promised decades ago that the green space would always be there, but present-day officials say they can find no legal requirement to do so.

Here's the link to eminent domain: Government officials are not bound by the good intentions of their predecessors. Keep that in mind when you consider the ramifications of the Kelo decision, which may open up the floodgates to property seizing by well-intentioned officials. Despite the good intentions of those who seize private property for some noble public greater good, once the property is seized by the government, its use can stray far beyond the original noble intentions.

We saw that in the Wyoming, Minn., case I wrote about recently. A city council seized a farm to use for a new wastewater treatment plant. But the plant wasn't built. New members replaced old members on the council. To the new members, the property wasn't "that land we had to take because we really needed it." It was merely a city-owned asset. So when the opportunity came up to sell the land at a big profit, the city jumped on it.

Likewise with the Mounds View school district case I wrote about it the same post. The school district seized land for a school, but didn't build the school. Decades later, a school board made up of different people saw not the land they had no choice but to seize, but rather, just a greatly-appreciated asset they could sell for development.

So keep that in mind. Remember, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Not Even a Jew
Mexican President Vicente Fox got himself into how water with his "not even blacks" comment. He's not the only one. Get a load of this quote from Iraqi Suheil Abd Ali, responding to a recent round of terrorist explosions:

"The one who did this has no morality. This suicide bomber isn't an Arab or a Muslim or even a Jew. He's not human."

"Even a Jew"? That shows something about how these folks think. And yes, it shows again how big of a role religion plays in all of this.

I've got to wonder, though. Has the average Iraqi ever even met a Jew?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Better Off Dead
Yes, we'd be better off if Saddam were dead. I said that way before he was captured. I said that Saddam had to die. Unfortunately, he didn't. Now, I read that many Iraqis fear the Baathist insurgency will succeed, and Saddam will return to power. (With many U.S. political "leaders" calling for a timetable for retreat from Iraq, who can blame them?)

Let's hope that putting Saddam on trial will result in him becoming a non-factor (and permanently so).

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Still in Denial about Islamofascism
I've been writing recently about how our politically-correct denial that the war on terrorism is a religious war is hampering the battle. Here's another example: In a guest opinion column in the Pioneer Press, a young Muslim woman named Naheed Ali voices her concern that the latest round of Islamofascist attacks will create a backlash against all Muslims. Her concern is understandable. But she falls into the trap of denial. She writes, "I also hope that we can overcome the ill-conceived political motives that bring on such attacks..."

I'm telling you again, it's NOT POLITICS! It's religion. It may not be her religion. It may not be the religion of most Muslims. But it is the religion of the terrorists that is behind their actions.

I've been waiting for the majority of Muslims to strongly and publicly denounce the actions of Islamofascists. There has been some action on that front. Britain's largest Sunni Muslim group has issued a fatwa -- a binding religious edict -- condemning the July 7 London bombings.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Czech Please! And I'm Not Buying the Salad
I've always said that the traditional "melting pot" description of America -- in which different people become one -- is what makes us great. The more contemporary "salad bowl" analogy -- in which the U.S. is made up of diverse, separate peoples living within the same borders -- is a recipe for disaster.

Whenever people divide themselves into groups, instead of considering themselves one, we have trouble. Check our Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Iraq, the Indian subcontinent, and many other examples, if you don't know what I mean.

Now, Czech president Vaclav Klaus says that the West's embrace of multiculturalism has brought on terrorism. Read it in the Prague Daily Monitor.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Hooray for the Boy Scouts!
I spend the weekend at a Cub Scout camp with my son. We had BB guns and archery, boats and pocketknives, hats-off and grace before meals, and flag salutes and the Pledge of Allegiance. Scouting seems like the last bastion of traditional boyhood and traditional values. Support the Boy Scouts of America however you can, folks.

Friday, July 15, 2005

David Brooks on Supreme Court, Church & State
I received some good feedback on yesterday's post, regarding liberals and the "separation of church and state." Several people encouraged me to submit it to the Pioneer Press as a guest commentary. I think I will work on it a little more and then do just that.

A column by David Brooks is a good follow up. Brooks, writing about whom the President should pick for the Supreme Court, discusses what professor and judge Michael McConnell has written about the "separation" issue. I think McConnell says it really well. Here's an excerpt from Brooks:

"McConnell (whom I have never met) is an honest, judicious scholar. When writing about church and state matters, he begins with the frank admission that religion is a problem in a democracy. Religious people feel a loyalty to God and to the state, and sometimes those loyalties conflict.

"So he understands why people from Rousseau and Jefferson on down have believed there should be a wall of separation between church and state.

"The problem with the Separationist view, he has argued in essays and briefs, is that it's not practical. As government grows and becomes more involved in health, charity, education and culture issues, it begins pushing religion out of those spheres. The Separationist doctrine leads inevitably to discrimination against religion. The state ends up punishing people who are exercising a constitutional right.

"In one case, a public high school allowed students to write papers about reincarnation, but a student who wrote on 'The Life of Jesus Christ' was given a zero by her teacher. The courts sided with the teacher. In another case, a physiology professor at a public university was forbidden from delivering an optional after-class lecture at the university titled 'Evidences of God in Human Physiology,' even though other professors were free to profess any secular viewpoints they chose. Around the country, Marxists could meet in public buildings, but Bible study was impermissible.

"McConnell argued that government shouldn't be separated from religion, but, as Madison believed, should be neutral about religion. He pointed out that the fire services and the police don't just protect stores and offices, but churches and synagogues as well. In the same way, he declared in congressional testimony in 1995, 'When speech reflecting a secular viewpoint is permitted, then speech reflecting a religious viewpoint should be permitted on the same basis.' The public square shouldn't be walled off from religion, but open to a plurality of viewpoints, secular and religious. The state shouldn't allow school prayer, which privileges religion, but public money should go to religious and secular service agencies alike."

Amen, David Brooks (and Justice McConnell). Very well said.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Mr. Liberal, Tear Down that Wall!
Liberal thinkers have repeatedly instructed me in these two facts:

1. You can't legislate morality.

2. There is a wall of separation between church and state.

So imagine my surprise when I read a column by Pioneer Press opinion writer Deborah Locke today. Ms. Locke is pleased as punch at what she sees as the influence on this year's Minnesota budget by religious leaders who called for more spending on social services, and higher taxes.

Referring to comments from the Rev. Stephen Adrian, talking about a church-led anti-poverty campaign, Ms. Locke writes: "People had to wrestle with the fact that a state budget is more than bound pages of numbers in columns. It's also a moral document, he said."

A moral document? The state budget is about imposing religious morality on the people of the state? That's quite a reversal from the usual position of liberals. I thought that when it came to religion and morality -- in issues such as abortion or marriage, for instance -- we were supposed to respect that all-important "wall of separation." What happened to that principle?

(The answer, of course, is that liberals don't really have principles. They just know what they want, and whatever gets them what they want is OK.)

Ms. Locke writes that the Rev. Adrian has some complaints about the new budget: "He is especially incensed that no additional money was provided for a state child-care program, which was drastically cut with the last legislative session. Steep co-pays make it difficult for parents to buy quality child care. His parishioners who removed their children from the church's child-care program because of those increases will not be returning anytime soon."

Isn't that a bit of a conflict of interest? That his church stands to take in state money? The Rev. Adrian is unhappy that the state hasn't budgeted more money that will go to his church, and Ms. Locke seems sympathetic. Does this mean that she would also support a state budget that included vouchers that could be used at church-run schools?

I doubt it.

But here's perhaps the most scary part of Ms. Locke's column: She also writes about comments from Nancy Maeker, an ordained minister and bishop's associate for the St. Paul Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

According to Ms. Locke: "Maeker believes that more people should read the Bible for its message about people living in poverty. Don't be concerned with other issues in there, she said. See what God suggests about care for poor people and then get involved with the election process. Attend candidate forums. Become educated. Care."

Holy cow! Don't be concerned with other issues in the Bible, but get involved with the election process?

So, when pro-lifers focus only on parts of the Bible that support their cause, and then get involved in the election process, I guess we should expect liberals like Ms. Locke to say, "More power to them!"

Don't hold your breath on that one. Instead we hear, "Don't impose your religion on me!"

If we took these passages that I have excerpted from Ms. Locke's column, and just turned them around so that they were coming from conservative religious leaders, who wanted to implement their particular conservative religious/political agenda via the state government, Ms. Locke would be beside herself.

But apparently the "progressive" mind is much more "nuanced" than my knuckle-dragging conservative mind. Because it appears that I am being asked to consider it wonderful if church officials -- actual church officials -- direct government policy. Meanwhile, if lay people go to the polls and elect candidates who share their values and world view, that's creating a "theocracy."

Actually, I question Ms. Locke's assertion that the "people of faith" mentioned in her story are injecting their faith into public policy. While conservative people of faith may do that, my observation is that religious liberals do it the other way around -- they inject their politics into their faith. What I'm saying is that for many of these folks, they start with their political beliefs, then they try to use religion to prop up their pre-existing political beliefs. If that's not true, then how do you explain an ordained minister (Maeker) who says to ignore the rest of the Bible, and just read the parts that support a certain political agenda?

[Related posts: Everyone Loves Jesus (for Political Purposes) Which Came First? The Belief or the Church? Conservative Christians Must Learn to Speak "Secular"

Addendum: Maybe this is analogous -- religious liberals are about politics, not religion, the same way that the National Education Association is about politics, not education. Read this post from Captain's Quarters.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Karl Rove: Deep Throat II?
The liberals and the media have defended "Deep Throat," regardless of what laws he might have broken, with an ends-justifies-the-means defense. It doesn't matter what Mark Felt might have done; they're just glad he brought down Nixon.

Why don't they rush to the defense of Karl Rove in a similar fashion? Read "Karl Rove, Whistleblower" in the Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal, and you'll think maybe Ol' Karl oughta be referred to as Deep Throat II.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

It's Not Poverty, It's Islam
So, today I read that at least three of the London bombers are believed to have been British-born Muslims of Pakistani heritage. StarTribune editorial board, please note: They were not products of third-world poverty, what you call "the terrorist swamp" which must be drained. No, they were products of the first-world, except for one thing: they were Muslims.

Please note the unifying characteristic in the terrorist bombings around the globe: they are being perpetrated by Muslims.

Even though these bombers were born in Britain, lived in Britain, and were British citizens, they turned on their own country, in favor of their Islamic ideology and heritage. (Interesting, in light of the way we in the U.S. continue to criticize our nation's internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. Gosh, maybe some of those Japanese-Americans might have been as confused in their loyalties as these Pakistani-Brits.)

We're told that these killers represent only a small percentage of Muslims. If that's so, where's the outcry from the "Muslim Majority"? I heard Paul Harvey say today that many Muslims are afraid to speak out, because they don't want to be seen as supporting "the enemy" (the U.S.). If that's so, then I have to ask again, Which side are you on? Are you with us, or against us? If you think we're "the enemy" you don't want to side with, then you are with the terrorists. And you're against us.

Nations of the world and Muslims of the world, declare yourselves: Which side are you on?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Right and Left: Different Issues, Same Thought Process
Conservatives and liberals might find it easier to have a dialog if they realized how much they have in common. For example, both sides can be exasperated by the other side's "illogical" or "stupid" way of thinking. But I find that both sides often exhibit the same thought process, just about different issues. Maybe if we learned to see something of ourselves in the "other," we could understand each other better, and we could show each other some more respect.

For example, there are conservatives who react in a knee-jerk manner to any proposal to regulate any type of gun. Never mind that the regulation in question might seem perfectly reasonable to most people. Can't start down that slippery slope, or pretty soon our right to bear arms will be taken away, they say.

In the same way, there are liberals who react in a knee-jerk manner to any proposal to regulate abortion. Never mind that the regulation in question might seem perfectly reasonable to most people (like ending partial-birth abortion). Can't start down that slippery slope, or pretty soon a woman's "right to choose" will be taken away, they say.

I've been writing recently that many Americans are in denial about terrorism. We have liberals who think we should "wage peace," or just withdraw from Iraq and pretend everything is OK.

Yes, it would be nice if it were that simple. But it's not. People who think that way are being naive. They may be well-intentioned, but they aren't being realistic.

Well, surprise! Conservatives can engage in the same sort of unrealistic, wishful thinking. Here's an example: sex ed.

There are those who support "abstinence only" sex ed, because kids simply have no business having sex. I agree, kids shouldn't be having sex. And it would be nice if things were that simple. But that's being naive. Kids do have sex, just as surely as there are terrorists hell-bent on destroying us.

I read an interesting sentence from Newsday columnist Sheryl McCarthy: "While no one, including myself, wants to encourage sexual activity among teenagers, the abstinence-only policy is flawed because it chooses idealism over helping young people with the lives they actually lead."

Choosing idealism, instead of actuality -- I think that sums it up well.

We could rewrite McCarthy's sentence like this: While no one, including me, wants to encourage war and killing among the people of the world, the peace-only policy is flawed because it chooses idealism over defending people in the world in which they actually live.

Same sort of thinking, different issue.

[One other statement in McCarthy's column about sex ed begs comment: "Frankly, I'm less worried about the fact a 17-year-old girl has sex with her boyfriend than I am about whether she has thought the decision through carefully, has chosen a caring partner, and is using a dependable form of birth control." Lady, in my opinion, if a 17-year-old has sex with her boyfriend, she by definition HASN'T thought the decision through carefully, or she WOULDN'T be having sex at 17. Likewise, I have to question the "caring" of a partner who has sex with a 17-year-old. If he really "cares," he won't put her at risk that way. In other words, forget McCarthy's third question -- about birth control, they should simply be abstinent! (But...we know that's not being realistic.)]

Monday, July 11, 2005

Does "Public Use" Include Real Estate Speculation?
On the heels of the Kelo eminent domain case comes this story out of Wyoming, Minnesota. Several years ago, the city of Wyoming used the power of eminent domain to take the Salokar family's farm, with the express purpose of building a wastewater treatment plant. But the plant wasn't built. Instead, the city eventually sold the Salokar farm, along with adjoining acreage, to Polaris Industries -- at a profit of MILLIONS of dollars!

That follows another abuse-of-eminent-domain case in the Twin Cities. Way back in the 1960s, the Mounds View school district used eminent domain to take some land for an elementary school from an owner who intended to develop it. But the school was never built. More than 30 years passed, and the school district decided it would never need the land for a school. The district sold the land for millions. The former owner sued, arguing that the land had been taken from him unjustly, since a school was never built, and that he was entitled to profits from its sale. The courts ruled against him.

Both of these cases came even before the Kelo decision. What are we in for now? Will cities use their newly-affirmed powers to take desirable parcels of land and enter the real estate speculation game? Actually, since the city decides who builds what and where, there wouldn't be much speculation involved. A city with developable land can say to a prospective developer, "No, we can't approve your development on that land you own, but we've got a nice parcel we'll sell you at a price of our choosing."

What a racket.

I know someone who has a small farm right on the edge of a fast-growing small city north of the Twin Cities. Actually, the farm is within the city limits, but it is across the street from what you would consider the developed edge of the town. That makes this farm prime developable land. After Kelo, what's to keep that city council from saying, "We're taking your farm, because it's best for the public if we decide how it will be used in the future." They might do this without even having any immediate plans for the property.

So the city could buy it, then just wait. As development continues with the intensifying push north out of the Twin Cities, the value of that prime land will skyrocket. Finally, the city could look at offers from housing developers and decide it is time to sell, pocketing a windfall, at the expense of the previous owner.

Farfetched? Are you familiar with the Kelo decision? Did you already forget the Wyoming and Mounds View examples I've given you? I don't think it's farfetched.

Kelo Creates Odd Alliance

Opposition to the Kelo decision has created an odd alliance of conservatives and liberals. Conservatives object to this erosion of property rights, believing that property rights are the basis of liberty. Some liberals object to Kelo, because they think it will hurt the poor and minorities, and benefit the rich and white people.

Please note that conservatives object on PRINCIPLE. Liberals object because they don't like the particular outcome. If they saw Kelo as allowing the poor to seize the property of the rich, they'd be silent.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Fidel Defies the Odds
Who'd have thought, 45 years ago, that Fidel Castro would still rule Cuba in the year 2005? The Iron Curtain came down; the Soviet Union came apart; and even China has turned its back on Mao. But Fidel hangs on.


Now I read that the Cuban community in Miami is running out of steam in its anti-Castro campaign. Is it pragmatism? Fatigue? Regardless, it's worth noting.

I used to take a hard line on Cuba. No trade, shun Castro, etc. But in recent years, I've been rethinking that. I wonder now if the fastest way to bring down Fidel wouldn't in fact be to welcome him with open arms. Send American tourists. Trade with him. Smother him with freedom and capitalism.

Cracking open doors to the West turned out to be the downfall of the Soviet Bloc. An awkward embrace of capitalism is undoing decades of Communist indoctrination in China. Maybe that's the way to defeat Castro -- let him think we have given up, and that he has won!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Harvesting Flowers and Fetuses: Natural Selection at Work in Plants and Politics
Sometimes items come along just demanding to be linked. Recent items involving evolution and natural selection, flowers and abortion, votes and the Democratic Party, are just begging to be joined together.

First of all, let me say that I don't subscribe to the theory of evolution. As far as man developing from nothing, or one species evolving into another, I'm not buying it. I see that as distinct, however, from the Darwinian concept of natural selection, which holds that those most suited to survival will indeed survive and pass along their genes. To me, that's just common sense.

It's also not much different from selective breeding, guided by man. For instance, mankind selectively breeds dogs to produce new breeds. Yet, they are all still dogs. In agriculture, selective breeding has resulted in larger dairy cows that produce more milk, with a higher butterfat content. And selective breeding has produced leaner hogs which mature and get to market sooner. Yet, these are all still cattle and hogs. They haven't evolved into a different species.

It's the same with plants. Here's an interesting story, from Randolph E. Schmid, under the misleading headline, "Plant adapts by getting smaller after picking -- Lotus in areas not as popular haven't shrunk."

The story begins:

"When Charles Darwin explained evolution, the process he observed was natural selection. It turns out inadvertent human selection can also cause species to evolve.

"Take the case of the snow lotus, a rare plant that grows only at high levels in the Himalayas.

"Researchers have discovered that one species of the plant has been shrinking over time -- the one people like to pick.

"A snow lotus species called Saussurea laniceps is used in traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicine and is increasingly sought after by tourists. The largest plants are picked, and that occurs during their only flowering period.

"The result is that only smaller, unpicked plants go to seed."

Yes, and over time, the average height of the lotuses in this patch has decreased. Well, duh. But there's no evolution going on. (That's why I said the headline was misleading.) All that's going on, is that people are inadvertently cultivating this plant to make the specimens in this patch smaller. It's the same thing, in reverse, as if they were digging up the tallest plants and taking them to their greenhouses to propagate them there. That's the sort of thing botanists do all the time in order to produce the most desirable specimens.

But the reporter and headline writer try to make it sound as though the plants are somehow making themselves smaller as a defense (survival) mechanism, so that they won't get picked. That's not the case. The average height of the lotuses in the patch is decreasing merely because the short lotuses are the only ones left to reproduce.

(More evidence that reporters often have no understanding of what they are writing about.)

A related item comes from James Taranto, writing for the Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal. Taranto writes about how the Roe vs. Wade decision has eroded support for the Democratic Party, in a variety of ways. Among the many different political ramifications of Roe vs. Wade, Taranto points to its effect on the number of Democratic voters. Taranto writes:

"Compounding the GOP advantage is what I call the Roe effect. It is a statement of fact, not a moral judgment, to observe that every pregnancy aborted today results in one fewer eligible voter 18 years from now. More than 40 million legal abortions have occurred in the United States since 1973, and these are not randomly distributed across the population. Black women, for example, have a higher abortion ratio (percentage of pregnancies aborted) than Hispanic women, whose abortion ratio in turn is higher than that of non-Hispanic whites. Since blacks vote Democratic in far greater proportions than Hispanics, and whites are more Republican than Hispanics or blacks, ethnic disparities in abortion ratios would be sufficient to give the GOP a significant boost -- surely enough to account for George W. Bush's razor-thin Florida victory in 2000."

Very interesting. Not exactly "natural" selection perhaps, but it's an example of how human selection influences an overall population, just the same as those Himalayan lotuses.

Third item: Debate about the Roman Catholic church's stance on evolution. A cardinal is suggesting that belief in evolution is incompatible with Catholic faith. (This rather surprises me. I'm not Roman Catholic, and I'm surprised that, according to this story anyway, Rome embraces evolution theory.)

According to this story by New York Times writers Cornelia Dean and Laurie Goodstein, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, who is close to the Pope, is arguing that "Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense -- an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection -- is not."

OK, you sort of lost me there, Cardinal. And according to the argument I've put forth here, I don't believe "natural selection" violates either faith or common sense. So I'm not sure if we're quite on the same page or not. Anyway, the rest of you, read the story if you like.

Saturday, July 9, 2005

Quarter of U.S. Births to Immigrants: Ssshhh! It's Not PC to Notice!
This floors me. According to a story in Friday's paper, nearly a quarter of all births in the U.S. are to immigrant mothers. Now, get ready to be really floored. This is a record, higher than the peak reached during the previous great immigration wave in 1910!

Now, get ready for some more to think about. Of those immigrant-mother births, 42 percent are to women who are in the U.S. ILLEGALLY! That makes 10 percent of ALL CHILDREN BORN in the U.S. the offspring of illegals.

But....we mustn't talk about it. It's not politically correct. We don't want to be "racist."

We've heard a lot in recent years about how Europe is changing -- being Muslim-ized by legal immigrants and their numerous offspring. A similar type of situation is happening right here -- illegally -- and we won't even talk about it.

Children born in the U.S. are automatically U.S. citizens, even if their parents are here illegally. That means the children can't be deported, and the children may also be a factor used to keep the parents from being deported, too. Meanwhile, they're using up public money in health and social services.

The first sentence of the 14th Amendment reads: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

Maybe it's time for an amendment. Couldn't we add some language making it "born in the United States to mother who is in the country legally"? Or maybe, we don't need an amendment. If the Supreme Court can reinterpret the Constitution so readily, as they did in the Kelo case, maybe we just need the Supremes to act. The could rule that the Founding Fathers never foresaw the present situation, with a flood of illegal immigrants and babies living off the government. (Because, for one thing, they never foresaw anyone living off the government.) They could rule that the 14th Amendment assumed that the parents were in the country legally.

Surely, we need to talk about this. Ten percent of all births to illegal parents -- that's an awfully big elephant in the room that we are ignoring. Regardless of whether you think we should do something to reverse the trend, we should at least be able to agree that we need to talk about the issue, to plan for how it is changing our nation.

But that wouldn't be politically correct.

Saturday, July 9, 2005

StarTribune Still in Denial
In response to the London bombings, the empty heads at the StarTribune editorial board remain in denial, clinging to their belief that fighting terrorism is mostly a police matter:

"Fighting terrorism is going to be a long, hard slog, more like fighting crime than anything else. Sometimes it will indeed involve military action. But more often than not, it will involve quiet, determined law enforcement and intelligence work -- to discover the nooks and crannies where terrorists hide as they plot their next outrage -- and then destroy them before they act."

Before they act? Wouldn't that violate their civil rights?

And it's not their fault, anyway. The terrorists are merely victims of their own upbringing, right StarTribune?

"Giving hope and help to the world's poor will drain the terrorist swamp," the paper opines.

How they reconcile the terrorists-come-from-poverty argument with the fact that Islamic terrorism is well-funded with oodles of oil money, I don't know.

But I have to ask this: Did Hitler's Germany invade its neighbors and kill 6 million Jews because of the economic suffering post-WWI, or was it because of Nazi ideology? It was the ideology, of course, and to this day we don't hesitate to call Naziism evil. But when it comes to the evil of Islamofascism, we're too politically correct to call it what it is. It's evil. And a strain of Islam is what it is.

We're talking here about people who kidnap and kill a diplomat -- a fellow Muslim diplomat. They have no respect for law, no respect for civilization, no respect even for Islam, if it isn't their own perverted strain.

To these al-Qaida killers, Egyptian envoy (and fellow Muslim) Ihab al-Sherif was an "apostate," and the Egyptian government is the enemy because it is an ally of "Jews and Christians."

And we still pretend this has nothing to do with religion? Oh, no. We have to be politically correct. Even if it kills us.

Friday, July 8, 2005

History Will Tell of Our Denial ­ And Show Our Foolishness
I heard reference again today to "this war that Bush started." Did Churchill start WWII? Was there no war while Neville Chamberlain and American isolationists wallowed in their own denial? Of course there was.

But there seem to be plenty of people who imagine that the whole world was at peace, with everyone holding hands, singing "We Are the World,"* having oral-sex-that-isn't-really-sex, and spending the "peace dividend" on national health care, until President Bush -- totally out of the blue -- decided to start a war.

I'm reminded of this by reading today about the London attacks. There was a listing of previous Al Qaeda attacks, and it was starting to read like a history book. There have been attacks on London, Spain, New York (the same building twice -- 1993 and 2001), ships, embassies, nightclubs. A century from now, people will read history and marvel at what fools we were, that we could live (and die) in such denial, pretending that we were not at war.

Years ago already, I thought the same thing about political correctness. The people of the future will look back on us and think we were total idiots, because we were too politically correct to actually discuss and do something about the problems that faced us. Social problems related to race, broken families, behaviors detrimental to society -- these are all things we mustn't talk about because we might hurt someone's feelings. We ignore the elephant in the room. We pretend the emperor has clothes. Meanwhile, Rome burns.

Here's an example: Mexican President Vincente Fox said that his people are needed in the U.S. workforce to do the jobs that "not even" blacks will do. That was a really stupid thing to say. But how did people respond? Black "leaders" demanded he apologize for saying such a thing. They wanted his scalp (Oops! Is that expression offensive to American Indians?). Maybe I should say, they wanted a pound of flesh (Oops! Does that offend Jews? See how tough it can be to say anything if you must be politically correct?).

But here's my point: No one bothered to address why Fox might have said that. Do blacks get stuck with the crappy jobs? (Maybe.) Historically, have blacks gotten stuck with the crappy jobs? (Most definitely.) Is the unemployment rate higher for U.S. blacks than for other groups, even while unskilled illegal Mexican immigrants seem to have no trouble finding employment? (Yes.)

So, maybe if we actually asked and addressed those questions, we would learn and accomplish something that might actually help the cause of American blacks. But, no, we just demand an apology, and ignore the very real issue at the heart of the controversy.

The war against terror -- WWIII -- is hampered by the same sort of political correctness. Because of political correctness, we can't even define the war as what it really is: a war of radical Islamafascism against Western civilization. We won't even define our enemy; in our political correctness, we refuse to admit that this has anything to do with Islam. But it has everything to do with Islam. (Read this in the London Times. We're dealing with people who want us all dead or converted. And I don't think they really care which. [Thanks for the tip goes out to Gavin in England. Cheers, mate!])

We like to look back on those who came before us and think that we are so much smarter and more enlightened. We tsk-tsk at our forefathers who thought Africans were less than human. We smugly look down our noses at the Victorians who pretended that sex didn't even exist. We'll look just as dumb some day. The irony is that those who are the most politically correct now, are the same people who most haughtily look down their enlightened and sophisticated noses at those who came before.

*Musicians Mostly Hypocrites

Bob Geldof seems sincere, and in his defense (and no disrespect intended, either), he'd hardly be a household name if it weren't for his political/philanthropic ventures. But for the most part, I'm not impressed with these musicians who get to feel so special about singing at some Live 8 concert.

For the most part, they're hypocrites. They champion the poor, but they are decadently rich. They champion the environment, but in their pursuit of conspicuous consumption, they waste more than most people will ever have.

At some level, they probably feel guilty about their irresponsible lives. So an event like Live 8 gives them a chance to assuage their guilt, but at the same time, they also get to attend some more extravagant parties! Nice work, if you can get it. They get to feel important and feel like they are doing something, but they never have to actually change their own lives. And they get to put the blame on someone else.

It reminds me of the first verse of "Obvious Song," from Joe Jackson's 1991 album "Laughter and Lust."

There was a man in the jungle
Trying to make ends meet.
Found himself one day with an axe in his hand.
When a voice said "Buddy can you spare that tree,
We gotta save this world--starting with your land."
It was a rock 'n' roll millionaire from the USA
Doing 3 to a gallon in a big white car,
And he sang and he sang 'til he polluted the air,
And he blew a lot of smoke from a Cuban cigar.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

You're Either With Us, or Against Us
Despite what George Lucas (only the presence of Michael Jackson keeps him from earning the title of "Adult Most Living in a Child's Fantasy World." Skywalker Ranch? Sounds like a high-tech Neverland to me.) might think, that's what it comes down to. Which side are you on, people and nations of the world? Are you on the side of civilization? Or are you on the side of Osama bin Laden and Islamafascism?

This is World War III. It has been for several years. The nations of the world must stand up and declare which side they are on. There's no pretending you can ignore the problem and it will go away. The bad guys are coming after you. They hate Western civilization. They hate democracy. They hate Christendom. They are not some sort of "patriots" or "freedom fighters." They are murderous, fascist thugs. They are not the equivalent of our Founding Fathers. Did George Washington blow up women and children? Did John Hancock wear a mask and sign the Declaration of Independence with a fake name?

No, and no. These Al Qaeda thugs are cowards. They hide their identities. They blow themselves up. Being a suicide bomber is not bravery. Being a suicide bomber is cowardice. If you're so brave, if your cause is so just, then stick around and bear the consequences of your actions.

I was in London just a few months ago, and I rode the Tube and the double decker buses, so these attacks seem very real to me, even though I sit here in the American Midwest.

I'll tell you this: These attacks will only serve to steel the resolve of the British Bulldog. He won't roll over play dead like the Spanish (chihuahua?) did.

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

How Quickly a Year Goes By: Happy Birthday to DowningWorld!
I see my first-ever post was dated July 6, 2004. That means I've been at this for a whole year now. And I never run out of things to write about! I didn't know if that was possible, but so far it is.

So, I've been blogging for a year. Truth be told, I didn't start out a "blogger." I was just making a website where I could share my thoughts. I didn't know I'd write as much or as often as I do. Well, it turned out I'm a blogger.

My disappointment is that I really thought that if I kept at it this long, I'd have more readers by now. I need something drastic to give me my big break. Maybe if Tom Cruise jumped up and down on TV wearing a T-shirt with www.downingworld.com on it? Or maybe just if I mention Tom Cruise and Oprah and Lindsey Lohan (not sure if that's how to spell her name, and it's not important enough to find out) and Michael Jackson and Paris Hilton.... a few of the millions of celebrity-Googlers will find me by mistake!

And...How Quickly Technology Changes

I just read that Minnesota's own Imation is unveiling the world's smallest hard drive. (In this case, "smallest" refers to physical dimensions, not storage capacity.) I got a chuckle out of this excerpt in the newspaper story:

"At $159, though, it isn't cheap. Comparable 2-gigabyte drives from Hitachi, for instance, go for $25 to $35 less."

Two gigs for $159 "isn't cheap"? And we're quibbling over $25-35? How far things have come!

I remember when I bought my first "really big" hard drive. It was 200 mg -- just 1/10 the size of the new Imation drive. And it cost me $600! That's why I've got to chuckle that $159 "isn't cheap."

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Great White Hunters Strike Again?
As I noted in my June 28 post, we humans always like to think that we are more enlightened and more knowledgeable than our ignorant forebears.

For example, previous generations were so ignorant, so uncaring, that when they encountered the awe-inspiring beasts of the African plains and jungle... they shot them dead and hauled their hides and bones back to Europe.

When they encountered Sequoias and Redwoods that seemed to tough the sky... they cut them down and cut them up.

When they saw beautiful rock formations offering unmatched views... they quarried them for building stones.

But now, we know better; we have learned to explore and study our natural world without destroying it.

So when we enlightened humans of the year 2005 observe a comet and want to learn more about it, what do we do? We blast a big hole in it!!!

Do we really know for sure that this won't have any detrimental effects on the environment of space? Will future generations shake their heads at the memory of how the foolish, early space explorers left a path of destruction in their wake?

History repeats itself. Happens all the time. And we always think we know better than those who came before us.

Friday, July 1, 2005

Tax It Up, Tax It Up, Buddy Gonna Shut You Down
The Senate Democrats (raise taxes and increase spending a lot) and House Republicans (don't raise taxes, but still increase spending to a lesser degree) can't agree on a budget, so Minnesota has been plunged into a government shut-down today.

Both parties seem to think if they wait long enough, the other side will give in. Or maybe they just think the other side of the aisle will get more blame than they do. Actually, I think that's more likely the strategy of the Senate Democrats. They think that since the Republicans control 2/3 of the budget-passing stool (with Governor Tim Pawlenty), they can throw a wrench into the process and make the other guys take the blame.

With the exception of the physical violence part, it's really the exact same strategy as the terrorists now operating in Iraq. Over there, the terrorists cause as much killing and destruction as they can, including trying to upset daily life and make everyone miserable, hoping that in response, the people take out their anger on the U.S., instead. Same strategy here. By shutting down the government, the politicians hurt the people they are supposed to serve. But they don't care; they just want power for themselves.

Some people say that in the next election, we should vote out all the incumbents. Sounds good, except it has the same problem that comes to light when we think about term limits. In general, I don't like the idea of imposing term limits. After all, we can vote them out if they stay too long, right?

The trouble is, with the two-party system, voting out the incumbent means voting for the other party. And even if you think the guy from your party has overstayed his welcome, do you really want to install a guy from the opposing party instead?

Of course not. And that's the problem with voting out everybody. It would mean putting the "other" party in charge. And what' even worse than a shut-down? The "other guys" having a clear road to passing their own version of the budget.

Look, I don't want the Republicans to have to compromise, either. But that's the way the system works. If power is divided, then people will have to compromise. But the leaders, and too many voters, won't accept that. They want to win it all.

So, next election, we'll all go to the ballot box and vote for the same jokers who couldn't get the job done this time.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Target Succeeds Growing from Minnesota Roots
There's a story in the paper today saying that Wal-Mart is going after Target's market niche: "The shopper with more money who still likes a bargain."

According to the story, Wal-Mart's core group of customers have average household incomes of $40,000-$45,000. Target's core group averages $55,000-$60,000.

That should surprise no one. After all, Wal-Mart's base is small towns; the giant retailer only recently started entering the suburbs and central cities. But Target was born in and with the suburbs, and has grown with them. Target stores practically define the 'burbs, sprouting up wherever growth -- and money -- can be found.

Here in Minnesota, birthplace and home of Target, pretty much everyone shops there. I don't think Minnesotans even think of Target as a "discount store." To us, it's just a store where you can get pretty much anything. We joke about our favorite store, calling it "Tar-zhay," but no one sees any shame in shopping at the "discount store."

Part of that is because Target does such a good job of presenting an inviting shopping environment. The store has always been known for treating customers well. (In contrast, I gave up on K-Mart years ago, because it was dumpy, and the cashiers kept charging me full price on sale items.)

Another part is because we all like to think of ourselves as "middle class" -- even "the shopper with more money." Here, it's actually gauche to be upper class. People are apologetic about it. That's likely why upscale retailers like Neiman-Marcus have not thrived here.

Like I said, everyone wants to be "middle class." Growing up on the farm, I figured I was. We had enough to eat, clothes to wear, we weren't on any government programs, we paid full price for school lunches.

Then I went off to college and had my eyes opened. Those "middle class" kids from tony suburbs like Edina and Wayzata sure were a lot different from me!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Stable Families Needed
I recently compared honor students listed in the paper, who usually have two parents, with everyone sharing the same last name, to people who are in the paper for the wrong reasons. Those in the paper for the wrong reasons very often have confusing family structures.

Another example recently: A son has been arrested for beating his mother to death. He has one last name, she has another. Has she remarried? Don't know. Didn't seem to have a husband at the time of her death.

But I also picked up this tidbit (it was in the printed paper, but I can't find it in the online version of the story): Shortly before her death, the victim, who was 50 years old, had been celebrating the birth of her first great-grandchild. Good grief! A great-grandmother at age 50? How do you manage that? Do the math.

If she had a child at age 17, her child had a child at age 17, and her child's child had a child at age 16, that would make her a great-grandmother at age 50. That's quite a family tradition of early fertility.

Call me old-fashioned, call me judgmental, call me what you want. But I stand by my belief that traditional nuclear families, and traditional family values, are the backbone of a healthy society. When we deviate from that norm, we're on the road to nothing good.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Greatest American? Let's Check the Calendar
A cable TV channel recently completed their competition for the "greatest American." The winner turned out to be Ronald Reagan. As much as I admire Reagan, I found him a surprising choice. I thought one of the Founding Fathers would likely win the title.

But when I read in the paper that the criteria included who most "helped define what it means to be an American," Reagan did seem to fit the bill. He helped us remember who we were at a time when many had forgotten.

The choice of Reagan really has Pioneer Press columnist Laura Billings in a tizzy. (She's so consumed with her anti-Republican bigotry, she even attacked Abe Lincoln!) In her recent column, she complained of the "revisionist retelling of Ronald Reagan's time," and complained that during Reagan's funeral, "commentators claimed he had overthrown communism all on his own, with no credit given to 'the father of containment,' George Kennan, Mikhail Gorbachev or even Pope John Paul II."

How far the once mighty (in their own minds) have fallen. Now, Billings finds herself reduced to complaining that Reagan doesn't deserve ALL the credit for the fall of communism. But there was a time, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, when those of her ilk criticized Reagan for standing up against communism. They said Reagan was the bad guy -- the dangerous warmonger who threatened the world. They wanted us to be more like Eastern Europe. They thought communism was good -- Gorbachev was their hero.

And now they want Reagan to share the credit for something they opposed in the first place? I guess hypocrites have short memories. That's why they can't see their own hypocrisy. (Just like the terrorist-coddling liberals who now claim they have been offended by Karl Rove's accurate description of their previous actions.)

But, back to the Greatest American:

Who is the Greatest American? Well, you'd think it must be someone who has a national holiday in his honor. So let's go through the calendar and see what we've got. Here are the national holidays as I can recall them:

January -- New Year's Day. Then there's the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. That's one.

February -- Presidents' Day. Guess none of those guys is important enough for his own holiday.

March -- none

April -- none

May -- Drive Home After an Extra Day at the Lake Day (known in some circles as Memorial Day).

July -- Independence Day

September -- Labor Day

October -- Columbus Day! There you go, we have a contender....oh, you're right, he's not an American.

November -- Thanksgiving

December -- Christmas (or "Winter Holiday") Sorry, Jesus isn't an American, either.

So, that's makes it a battle between..... no battle at all. The Greatest American is obviously tRDMLKJr, the only American with a national holiday in his honor.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Imminent: Who's Got the Dough? Mainly, It's a Can of Worms
The Supreme Court's eminent domain ruling is really going to open up a can of worms. You've probably heard by now that a developer says he will ask to obtain Supreme Court Justice David Souter's home, via eminent domain, so that he can redevelop the site with a hotel.

I don't know how serious this proposal really is, but it has quickly illustrated the can of worms we've opened up. If the government of Weare, New Hampshire, refuses developer Logan Darrow Clements' proposal, they're opening themselves up to litigation.

The problem is the arbitrariness sure to be found in the way that eminent domain requests are granted. If Clements is turned down, he'll be able to argue that Weare is protecting Souter only because he is a big shot.

Now that the Supreme Court has made it so easy for government to take one person's property and give it to another, we're sure to see a huge amount of litigation. Previously, eminent domain litigation was about people trying to protect their property. Now, it will also be about people suing because they've been denied their request to take someone else's property. Local government are sure to play favorites in granting eminent domain requests, and that will lead to more litigation.

What a can of worms. As usual, when we abandon a traditional anchor of principle or morality, we create for ourselves a whole slew of new problems.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Bias Is In His Genes
According to an interesting story by Benedict Carey of the New York Times, your ideology may be hardwired into your genes.

According to researchers, while your political party allegiance may be more tied to environmental factors, your underlying beliefs and principles -- and where you line-up on the polarizing issues of the day -- are shaped by genetics.

(I'll buy the idea that the environment shapes your party allegiance. Here in Minnesota, where we've been brainwashed for years that Republicans are bad and Democrats are good, we've got no shortage of conservative-minded people who nonetheless call themselves Democrats (and vote for liberal Democrat candidates).

Interestingly, reporter Carey lets his own politics show through in the story. Yes, again, it's subtle, even unintentional. But that's what media bias is. If it were overt and intentional, it wouldn't be bias, it would be malice. Here are some examples:

Carey writes: "A child raised on peace protests and Bush-loathing generally tracks left as an adult, unless derailed by some powerful life experience. One reared on tax protests and a hatred of Kennedys usually lists to the right."

Great examples (not). Leftists love peace and "loathe" Bush -- an easy target these days. Meanwhile, those on the right "hate" America's royal family, and are greedy pigs who don't want to pay taxes.

Oh yeah, that's fair.

Second example: "Most of the twins had a mixture of conservative and progressive views."

"Progressive"? What happened to "liberal"? Only liberals refer to themselves as "progressive." Is there any doubt what's in this reporter's genes?

And they keep telling us there's no such thing as liberal media bias.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

War of the Words
We're at war, but we're fighting over words.

How could Durbin say that? He should apologize. How could Rove say that? He should apologize. Does Cheney really think the insurgency is in its "last throes"? He's lying to us.

The people of the United States are weak or stupid. Or maybe both. We need to concentrate on defeating the enemy. Instead, we fight amongst ourselves. There's an old saying, "Divide and conquer." People often misuse it. They think it means split up your forces and surround the enemy. That's not right. What it really means is divide the enemy, and then you'll be able to conquer him. That's what the Islamafacists -- with their willing allies the mainstream media and the Democrats -- are doing to us.

Does Cheney really believe that the insurgency (A misnomer, really. When the Allies landed at Normandy, were they resisted by Nazi "insurgents"? No, the "insurgents" were the French underground, fighting against the Nazis. The foreign "insurgents" in Iraq are no patriots.) is in its "last throes"? Maybe. Maybe not. But it's the kind of thing he needs to say. What else can he say? Should he wring his hands and say, "The insurgents are getting stronger. I don't know if we can beat them. If they keep it up, we'll have to withdraw and let them win"?

Of course not. There is a rhetoric that goes with conducting a war. If you hope to win, you have to act as though you are winning. If you despair, you will lose.

Did Churchill ever say, "We're doomed"? Of course not. It looked pretty bleak for Great Britain in 1940, but Churchill said Britain would win, and indeed she did.

Are we so stupid or so caught up in partisan bickering that we can't get with the program and go along with Cheney's rhetoric? Can't we show the bad guys that we are united, and that we intend to defeat them? If we can't show them that, then I don't know if we can succeed.

Think of a sports analogy. Before a game, a coach exhorts his team to win. He tells them they can beat the other team, even though they may be an underdog. And the team has to believe it, if they have any chance of pulling off the upset.

Meanwhile, we should be considered the overwhelming favorite in Iraq. But if we doubt ourselves, we can be beaten -- by ourselves.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

I Told You So
One reason I decided to start this website, is that for years I've held views and made observations that are contrary to or ignored by the media, only to eventually -- maybe after many years -- have some "expert" come out in the paper saying what I had been saying all along.

You've no doubt heard about the 11-year-old boy lost in the Utah woods, who successfully HID FROM his rescuers for four days, because he had been taught not to talk to strangers.

Now comes this news flash: "Hard and fast rules like, 'Don't talk to strangers' can actually cause more harm," said Teresa Jacobs of the St. Paul-based Jacob Wetterling Foundation, named for Minnesota's best-known missing child.

That's what I've been saying for years. The fact is, more kids are going to NEED the HELP of a strange adult at some point, than are ever going to be the target of a malevolent stranger. And, if a child is indeed in danger from a stranger, his or her best hope for help is likely to be some other strangers.

But if we teach the kids that all strangers are bad... they'll run away from help, just like the boy lost in Utah. And if the bad guys know that the kids won't run to other adults for help... well, aren't we just encouraging them?

This principle has other applications. For instance, we tell convenience store clerks: "If you're robbed, just hand over the money. It's not worth getting shot over." And that's true. But, because the crooks know the clerk will just hand over the money, we certainly have more convenience store robberies than we would if convenience stores weren't seen as such easy pickings. (Plus, now the bad guys take the money AND shoot the clerk afterward, anyway.)

So, is "just hand over the money" really enhancing safety? Or are we encouraging robbers and killers to do more robbing and killing?

Concealed-carry of handguns is a similar issue. Opponents have said that the more people carrying (permitted) handguns, the more danger there will be. They say we'd be safer with no carry permits being issued.

But the bad guys don't care whether they have permits. They carry guns anyway. And when they are in a public place, they know that they are almost certainly the only one with a gun. So, by preventing the law-abiding people from having guns, are we promoting public safety, or just encouraging the bad guys to use their guns?

In this case, I think keeping guns away from the law-abiding majority is another example where, in Jacobs' words: "Hard and fast rules can actually cause more harm."

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

"This War We Started"
I saw an editorial in a weekly paper with a headline reading "It's Time for the Truth about this War We Started."

What's next for that newspaper? Maybe a headline reading: "Has the Mayor stopped beating his wife yet?"

Talk about a loaded headline. If the writer starts by feeding us the premise that "we started" the war in Iraq, it's obvious where she is going to end up. A central issue dividing people's opinions about the war in Iraq is the very question of "Who started it?"

Those who think the war was necessary tend to think that the other guys started it, and we put off joining in until we no longer had any choice. Many of those who oppose the war, on the other hand, delude themselves into thinking the whole world was getting along fabulously until "we started it."

Meanwhile, a poll shows 40% of the country thinks we should withdraw from Iraq. Then what? Iraq would be in chaos. You think a lot of people are dying now? The number pales next to how many would die if we left. (Or, next to how many were dying before we deposed Saddam.)

It's tempting to wish that we had never invaded Iraq. I try to imagine what the situation would be if we hadn't invaded. Well, you know what folks? If we hadn't invaded, it's not as though everything would be roses instead. If we hadn't invaded in 2003, we'd still be sitting around now debating what to do about Saddam and the threat he presented.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

No, Really, This Time We're Sure
A recent Newsweek magazine cover touted a story about the "truth" about dinosaurs. I guess this story will tell us the new "truth" about dinosaurs that trumps the previous "truth" about dinosaurs.

This is an example of what I call the arrogance of science. They always think this time they've got it all figured out. Sure, our predecessors were idiots, but now we've got THE TRUTH.

Never mind that the next round of research and theories will probably say that the geniuses of 2005 had it wrong, too.

Why can't science say "We don't know"? Yes, science does discover many solid laws of nature, but there are also many theories alternately embraced and then thrown out along the way. But while each generation of scientists laugh at those ignoramuses who came before them (Bad air causes disease. Yes, we're sure of it. And maggots spontaneously generate in rotten meat.), they appear absolutely certain of their own theories. Guess what? Some day they'll be someone else's "ignoramuses."

Monday, June 27, 2005

U.S. Out of Big Apple!
I heard some encouraging news out of New York City today. The murder rate is down! Yes, for the first time since 1961, the Big Apple is on track to record fewer than 500 homicides!

That means for more than 40 years, more than 500 people have been murdered annually in New York City. Sometimes, probably a lot more. (Let's check, going to the Internet......according to this story, it went as high as 2,245! Another story says that was in 1990.)

Think about that folks. For more than four decades, people in New York have been dying violent deaths at a rate higher than we are losing troops in Iraq. In a peak year, more people were murdered in New York City than U.S. troops have been killed -- in total -- in Iraq.

And for what? Nothing! They aren't dying for some greater good. They aren't dying to liberate someone else. They aren't dying for principles bigger than themselves. They aren't dying to make the world a safer place. They're just dying.

Yet we accept that. Where's the outrage? Why aren't there demands for a timetable for a withdrawal from New York City?

People's minds are really strange. We accept some risks, but get hysterical about others. People don't buy insurance, because "Nothing's going to happen to me." But they go out and buy lottery tickets because "Someone's gotta win it!"

We got something like 30,000+ dead in New York City, but it's no big deal? And 1,700 dead fighting evil, and it's time to throw in the towel?

Go figure.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Robin Hood and His Monetary Men
Sort of a fun economics column from Ed Lotterman today. He postulates that, in some cases, crime DOES pay. For society, that is. Lotterman writes: "Occasionally, theft is economically efficient, leaving society better off than if it had not occurred."

An interesting premise.

Lotterman offers the example of a Bulgarian welder, who stole equipment from the government-owned shop where he worked, so that he could weld on his own time -- and for his own dime. "...the stolen assets produced substantially more for society than if they had stayed in government hands. Society had more goods and services because of the theft than if it had not taken place."

Probably true. But that got me to wondering: If you believe as I do that, generally, a dollar does more good in the the hands of a private individual than it does in the hands of the government, then is cheating on your taxes good for society?

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Stereotypes on Parade
From an actual Associated Press news story in the paper today:

"Wells Fargo hopes the crowds attending San Francisco's gay pride parade get a good look at its employees singing show tunes atop the stagecoach-themed float the bank entered in its hometown event on Sunday."

What would they do on an MLK Day parade float? Eat watermelon and fried chicken?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Suburbs to City: Give Yourself Up; We've Got You Surrounded
The Twin Cities metro area is a mess. There are the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis (St. Paul is NOT a suburb of Minneapolis, for those of you who get that impression from the national media. St. Paul is older than Minneapolis, and it is the state capital.), but then there are more than 100 separate municipalities in several rings of suburbs around the central cities.

That leads to some conflicts.

Most recently, some Ramsey County suburbs (ringing St. Paul) object to a new plan for a shared 911 call center. They say that under the new, property-tax based plan, the suburbs will pay more than they have under the old plan, and they call that "subsidizing" St. Paul.

I grew up not in the city, or the suburbs, or even in a town. I grew up on a farm in the country, so maybe I have more of an outsider's perspective on this. I live in St. Paul, and one of the things I find strange is the suburbs. The distinction between the "city" and the suburbs is artificial. Someone can live on the other side of the river, or the other side of a street marking the city boundary, and then they say, "Don't bother me with St. Paul's problems. I live in Maplewood."

Meanwhile, that person has the benefit of working a well-paid job in downtown St. Paul, visiting St. Paul's parks and cultural amenities, and knowing that in the event of a real public safety emergency, St. Paul's full-time, professional public safety forces will come to the aid of his volunteer fire department.

But ask him to pay for something that supports St. Paul, and he acts like he lives 100 miles away. Meanwhile, the suburbs build community centers and water parks, and say, "These are for our residents only," or "If you don't live here, you'll pay more to use it."

But they're all too happy to enjoy St. Paul's Como Zoo -- free of charge.

If we can chop things up like this, then why not do it with St. Paul's neighborhoods, too? There are fewer 911 calls to my neighborhood than to other parts of St. Paul. Why should I pay as much as the people who live in those neighborhoods? Maybe my relatively well-off neighborhood should secede from St. Paul and tell the run-down neighborhoods to go solve their own problems.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Nice Business Youse Got Here....
There's been a lawsuit filed against Visa and MasterCard, and against several of the nation's major banks. Retail businesses are unhappy with the fees they pay with every credit card transaction.

Of course, ultimately it's the consumer who pays. If the store didn't have all those fees, prices could be lower. But for reasons of convenience -- as well as "points" and rebates -- we're increasingly using plastic to pay. It has become the norm at many businesses, which see little cash come into the till.

Retailers feel trapped. The reality of the marketplace is that they have to accept credit cards to be competitive. From their perspective, it's almost a protection racket run by the credit card companies: "Nice little business youse got here, Pally. Be a shame if no one bought anything from you. Sign up for our credit card program, and we'll see that nothing bad happens to you."

Meanwhile, it's the consumers who ultimately pay the price, enriching huge banks in the process.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Flag Burning and "Hate Crimes" Share Link
As it does regularly, a proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw flag burning has re-entered the public debate. I think burning the flag is a terrible thing.

But I also think outlawing flag burning has a lot in common with "hate crime." What "hate crimes" are to the Left, flag burning seems to be to the Right.

I've written before that I oppose the idea of "hate crime," because "hate crime" really means that we are punishing someone for his thoughts. And as Americans, we have the right to think whatever we want -- however unpopular.

So, if you beat someone up, that's assault. It's a crime. But it doesn't matter whether you beat the person up just because you're mean, or you did it because you "hate" the color of his skin. In my mind, the crime you have committed is the same. Now, if it comes out in your trial that you are a bigot who would beat someone up because of the color of his skin, then I will think you are not just mean, but total scum. You have shown the world what you really are. However, the government does not get to increase your sentence just because you are racist.

Americans have a right to be racist thinkers. We just don't have a right to beat people up.

I think to be consistent, I have to apply the same reasoning to flag burning. If you burn the flag, I'm free to think that you are scum. In my mind, you have exposed yourself for what you really are -- a hater of America and everything it stands for.

But if it's your own flag, that's your choice. By burning your flag, you'll show everyone that you hate America; but the government can't lock you up for those thoughts.

Of course, you still can't burn MY flag. And you can't burn a flag in a crowded theater. But if you do those things, the government should not be able to punish you more than if the flag you burned was the flag of a chess club.

I talked about being consistent. Note that we do presently have "hate crime" laws. Those are backed by Liberals, who generally oppose attempts to ban flag burning (no consistency there). So if our nation is going to be consistent, we need to either ban flag burning also, or do away with "hate crimes" (my preference). Conservatives aren't particularly consistent on this, either.

Finally, let me be clear about this: While flag burning and "hate" should not be ILLEGAL, that does not mean they should ever be ACCEPTABLE. But let the America-haters and the race-haters reveal themselves for who they are, so we can keep an eye on the scum.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

"Hour Car" the New "Yellow Bike"?
Several years ago, we in St. Paul were blessed with the Yellow Bike program. Dozens of old bikes were fixed up and painted yellow, then left around town for anyone to use as needed. It was a nice, warm fuzzy idea.... that anyone with a brain knew would fail. And it did. Before the summer was over, most of the bikes had disappeared or were ruined, taking with them the funding dollars and efforts that could have been used in a much more productive way.

Now, St. Paul has the "HourCar." The story is in the St. Paul Pioneer Press today, but not the whole story (more on that later). HourCar is a car-sharing program. People sign up and pay a monthly membership fee, then they can reserve a car and use it, paying for hours of use and mileage. HourCar is being touted as a way for people to have the use of a car, without being burdened with ownership and maintenance costs.

That does sound like a good deal. I mean, people rent other things that they use only occasionally, right? Like garden tillers or concrete tools. Trailers or party tents.

Ah, but this is different. HourCar isn't a service being offered by a privately-owned, for-profit rental company. No, HourCar is a program of the Neighborhood Energy Consortium (NEC), a St. Paul non-profit.

And since the program is run by a non-profit, you know what that means. That's right, it doesn't pay for itself. It depends on someone else's money. Whose? Well, yours and mine, of course.

This is the part that the fawning Pioneer Press story somehow overlooked: The NEC has raised $415,000 to launch the program. That's according to a story in the May 25 Highland Villager, a St. Paul neighborhood newspaper (sorry, not available online). The Villager story also reports that the money came mostly from federal grants, Hennepin County, and the state of Minnesota.

So, when Michele Quaranto (who "feels like she is improving the environment and building a community as well," in the words of the Pioneer Press) smugly says that HourCar suits her frugal lifestyle ("'I like to not have too much debt,' said Quaranto, who considers personal cars a luxury."), what she maybe should be saying is, "Thanks for paying for my car for me, suckers!"

Quaranto says she plans to use HourCar 15 to 20 hours a month. That sounds like more than occasional use to me.

As I said, car-sharing is a great idea -- if it supports itself. But this is a car subsidy. And it's driven by ideology. That's why, of course, the HourCars are Toyota Prius hybrids. The NEC is a real bunch of tree-huggers, to start with. Funny, but when the liberals spend $415,000 of other people's money on something like this, they never stop to ask how many children could be vaccinated with that money instead.

And I see big problems with the program. For one thing, the cars must be picked up and returned to just a few places. Which means the user must first find a way to get to the car. And there are going to be peak demand times to use the cars. What happens when there's a big sale at Granola Warehouse in the suburbs, and everyone wants a car at the same time (right -- carpool!)?

And of course, the NEC will keep coming back to the well for more money to keep subsidizing this.

But remember, they answer to a higher power. They are doing Mother Earth's work. They can't be bothered by little details like how much of OTHER PEOPLE'S money they are wasting.

Because HourCar is driven by ideology, the backers make grand claims. But they also contradict themselves. (Why should logic get in the way of their religious fervor?) For instance, here are some claims of the NEC, as reported in the Villager:

"A study of the car-sharing program in Philadelphia showed that each shared car took 23 cars off the road."

I suspect what that means, is that they have 24 times as many people signed up as they have cars to share. That's ridiculous thinking. Do they really think that if all 24 people owned their own cars, they would all be driving at the same time, each driving 24 times as much as they do with the shared car?

"A researcher in Berkeley, California, noted that car-sharers drive fewer miles, consume less gasoline, and cause less pollution than car owners."

Well, duh. Obviously these car-sharers aren't going to drive as much as car owners. But on the other hand, car-sharers drive MORE than people who don't own cars at all.

And that's where this idea really breaks down. The car-sharers profiled in both the Pioneer Press story and the Villager story are NOT people who have sold their car in order to use HourCar instead. Rather, they are people who did not have a car, but instead relied on buses, walking, biking, etc. That means that HourCar is really putting MORE CARS ON THE ROAD!

When Michele Quaranto drives the HourCar, instead of riding the bus or biking, like she used to, she's adding to traffic!

According to HourCar program manager Kurt Fischer, quoted in the Villager, when the NEC setup the program, "We looked for neighborhoods where a lot of folks are already taking transit or walking to work."

What!!!!! Let's find people who don't drive, and put them into a car? How is that going to save Mother Earth???!!!!

These people are nuts. Like I said, this is an ideological program for earth worshippers -- paid for by all of us.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Tax Ruling Reporting Reveals Media Bias
Imagine, if you will, that a high court has just issued a ruling upholding abortion rights. (OK, you don't really have to imagine that.) Now, imagine this headline in a mainstream daily newspaper:

"Death toll goes higher"

and this subhead:

"Court-allowed killing of unborn could cost millions of lives"

You'd never see that (and I'm not saying that you should).

Instead, you'd see something such as this:

"Court upholds women's rights"

Keeping that in mind, take a look at the way the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports today on a state Supreme Court ruling that allows Minnesota businesses to continue to take advantage of an existing provision in Minnesota tax law. Here's the front page headline on today's paper:

"Budget hole gets deeper"

"Court-allowed corporate tax breaks could cost state up to $300 million"

The paper reveals bias here in the choices that its personnel have made. They have chosen to play this as a "bad news" story, and they decided to define the issue as "corporate tax breaks." They had other choices available to them. For instance, keeping the hypothetical abortion ruling in mind, they could have played the story this way:

"Court upholds taxpayers' rights"

But they didn't, did they? No, they chose the easy, predicable angle of playing this as the evil corporations costing the state money. Which will, in turn, make it harder on (dramatic pause) the children, because the state is already short of the amount of money that Democrats would like to spend on public education and other entitlement programs.

But isn't this really a story of a victory for taxpayers? A story of the court protecting the rights of taxpayers? Even if the taxpayers in question are corporations, not some more politically-correct category of taxpayers?

Look, I'm not necessarily defending the tax law as written, which allows firms to avoid much of their state income tax by setting up Foreign Operating Corporations. But if that is the law, then it is the law. That's the same as with abortion issues. If the right to abortion exists in the law, then it can't be abrogated just because someone doesn't agree with it. It's the same with tax laws. If you don't like them, then you have to change them. You can't just deny some taxpayer his rights.

Laws are essentially a contract -- a contract between the government and the governed. Laws let each side know what is required of them -- what they may and may not do. This is especially so when it comes to tax law. And it's silly for the government to argue that it is being taken advantage of, because the government unilaterally writes the terms of the contract.

So, let's celebrate this ruling as a victory for the rights of the ruled. Then, if we don't like the results, let's change the law.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Finally Saw "Star Wars" / Studios Put All Their Eggs into Opening Weekend Basket
I "finally" saw the new "Star Wars" movie over the weekend. I say "finally," because the film hasn't been out that long, has it? About a month, I think. Yet, for this supposed "summer blockbuster," the theater was almost empty -- days before summer actually begins! I guess pretty much everyone has seen it already.

Personally, I can wait to see a movie. If you have to wait three years for the next George Lucas fantasy, why can't you wait another three months? I generally don't see movies until they come to the Riverview Theater in south Minneapolis. Not only do I get the real movie-going experience in a theater built before the TV age, but I get REAL BUTTER on my popcorn, and tickets are only $2 ($3 prime time).

And that's the way I grew up with the movies, anyway. We waited until a movie came to one of the towns in our rural area, then we saw it. But these days, people seem to want to be able to see any movie they want, whenever and wherever they want. No one wants to wait for the movie to come around to their neighborhood anymore.

And that goes hand-in-hand with Hollywood's current strategy of going for all or nothing on opening weekend. Instead of releasing a movie and letting good reviews and good word of mouth sell tickets over an extended release, the studios advertise like crazy to try to get a huge opening weekend crowd. A cynic might say they want to ensure that everyone sees it before they hear that it stinks. That reflects a lack of confidence in the quality of the product they are selling.

(A fairly recent exception was "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." That un-hyped release really had legs, based on -- imagine this -- good reviews and good word of mouth, not advertising hype.)

Here are a couple of links for you: An interesting Edward Jay Epstein story in Slate about the changing economics of the movie business, and how the studios spend more money advertising their films than they can ever hope to take in at the box office. And a Pioneer Press guest column by Bill Kraft, who argues that moviemakers have abandoned stories in favor of hype and technology.

Kraft does a great job of putting into words many of my own thoughts. Here's an excerpt:

"Summer fare in recent years has brought us the likes of 'Pearl Harbor.' It arrived in 2001 with enough hyperbole to give even the most rabid carnival barker a good run for his money. The studio behind 'Pearl Harbor' staged a promotional extravaganza in the grand Hollywood tradition - in Hawaii.

"Such extravaganzas are the preliminary to one of Hollywood's favorite marketing strategies: the pre-emptive strike. The pre-emptive strike posits the rationale that a film opening simultaneously on several thousand screens will make a quick killing before negative word-of-mouth jeopardizes its box office clout. In Hollywood parlance, a film has 'legs' when it demonstrates the kind of stamina that ensures a lengthy run. Too many summer releases pull up lame and limp toward the finish line. 'Pearl Harbor,' after bolting from the starting gate, stumbled badly down the homestretch like a winded nag.

"But does it really matter? The film fleeced enough unsuspecting rubes during premiere week to ensure its status as a commercial hit, largely because of another marketing dynamic: herd instinct. Herd instinct, like some sort of mass hypnosis, grips the public consciousness and makes a film the 'must see' event of the week. So pervasive is its pull that the attendant profits to be made from the sale of action figures and related collectibles become a subsidiary source of revenue for the studios. The film itself becomes an adjunct to its promotion. When the film turns out to be all hype and no substance, the public feels like the prizefighter who gets sucker-punched in the ring."

So, what did I think of "Revenge of the Sith," after prying $21 out of my rusted wallet so my family could see it without waiting any longer?

It was entertaining. And there sure was plenty of action. But it was a let-down, in a way. I think because by now, we all knew what was going to happen. There weren't any surprises left. As Kraft argues, there wasn't any story for us; the movie is all about something to look at, rather than something to think about. I like movies to give me surprises and something to think about. "Sith" fails in that regard.

How about the political messages in the movie? Well, if Lucas intended to make some points regarding current political events, he wasn't very subtle about it. The alleged political dialog in the movie seemed awkward and heavy-handed, in a cheesey "Reefer Madness" sort of way. It was as though the movie had been briefly interrupted for a "democracy" message from the sponsors. If those moments were intentionally designed to make a statement relevant to 2005, then Lucas wasn't very smooth about it. As Yoda might say, "The equal of Johnathan Swift, he is not."

Monday, June 20, 2005

Straight Talk on Social Security
John Tierney of the New York Times offers some straight talk on Social Security. Tierney points out that Americans are living longer, but want to retire earlier.

"The problem isn't that Americans have gotten intrinsically lazier. They're just responding to a wonderfully intentioned system that in practice promotes greed and sloth. Social Security is widely thought of as a kumbaya program that unites Americans in caring for the elderly, but it actually creates ugly political battles among generations.

"With the help of groups like AARP, the elderly have learned to fight for the right to retire earlier and get bigger benefits than the previous generation - all financed by making succeeding generations pay higher taxes than they ever did themselves.

"The result is a system that burdens the young and creates perverse incentives for the people to retire when they're still middle-aged. Once you've worked 35 years, more work often yields only a tiny increase in your benefits (sometimes none at all), but you still have to keep paying the onerous Social Security tax, which has doubled over the last half century."

There was a time when "retirement" meant you were too old to work. Now, we like to look forward to a "retirement" that is in reality a life of leisure, filled with fun and travel. We used to have a name for people who lived like that. We called them the "idle rich." Now, we seem to think we're all entitled to that lifestyle once we hit age 55.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that, if you work hard and save up your money so you can quit working and live like that. More power to you, if you can accomplish it. But what I object to is the idea that that is somehow "normal" or a "right."

And it reminds me that one of the reasons we feel that life is so expensive is that we now expect everyone to have his or her own household, whether they work or not.

There was a time when people lived with their parents until they were married and started their own households. Now, young, single people expect to have their own place (There's the issue of "boomerang" children, but that's another story.).

More relevant to the Social Security issue, is that people now expect to quit working and maintain their own households for decades. It used to be more common for several generations to live under one roof. Grandma and Grandpa might move in with their children. Think of the "Waltons" TV show.

Now, we tend to see such a scenario as "poor Grandma HAS to move in with her kids." But we should consider grandparents, in such a circumstance, are not just sponges living off their children. The grandparents contribute to the household. They can help with housework, and -- most importantly -- they can provide assistance with raising the children.

It's somewhat ironic, then, that multi-generational households have gone out of fashion at the same time we've seen the rise of both the single-parent household and the double-income household.

Both types of households could certainly use another adult or two to help with the kids, even if it just means someone being there when the kids come home after school.

Monday, June 20, 2005

One Drop and You're Black?
Why is it that the same people so strident about telling us that we mustn't stereotype people based on their race, telling us that we shouldn't judge people by the color of their skin, but by what they are like on the inside, why is it they seem to also be the people obsessed with slapping a label on everyone?

Here's an actual headline from last week's paper: "Ten years after Tiger Woods' rise, he continues to be the only African-American player on the PGA Tour."

Tiger Woods: poster child and token black on the PGA Tour.

But just how "black" is he? It's a simple question of mathematics. His mother is from Thailand. That makes his heritage 50 percent Asian. His father's lineage, reportedly, is African, Caucasian, and American Indian. That means the African part is less than 50 percent.

Why isn't Tiger known as, if not the only Thai golfer on the tour, then at least the most famous Thai golfer ever?

It's silliness.

If he and his Swedish wife have some offspring, what label are we going to slap on them? Are they going to be labeled "African-American," too?

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Gravel Dispute Illustrates Economic/Human Principles
Edward Lotterman offers us an interesting take on a dispute over gravel mining in Dakota County.

The crux of the dispute: a landowner wants to mine the gravel from his property. Surrounding homeowners don't want him to. They don't want the dust, noise and truck traffic that will accompany a mining operation.

But we all need gravel. It's used in construction of roads and buildings (in concrete). If we can't mine the gravel that is near us, then we'll have to bring it in from farther away. And that will raise the costs of everything that we build.

So, while many will benefit a little from this mining operation, it's the few who will bear the most inconvenience who dominate the debate. Lotterman refers to Mancur Olson, who explored this situation in his 1965 book "The Logic of Collective Action."

Lotterman writes: "Olsen argued that society as a whole will suffer when the costs and benefits of some activity affect different groups asymmetrically. A small group that is hurt in a substantial way has large incentives to sue or lobby to stop the activity. A much larger group of people, each of whom benefits from the activity in a small way, does not act to keep the activity. The benefit to any one individual is not great enough to warrant making the effort. This is true even when the sum of small benefits to many, many people far outweigh the sum of costs to an affected few.

"This is probably true in the Dakota County gravel-mining case. Relatively few will benefit from driving mining farther out in the country. But those few will each benefit quite a bit. Millions will be hurt, but each only in a very small way. Few, if any, of those hurt will react."

(Maybe people would care more if we could quantify how much more a new baseball stadium will cost if the gravel has to come from outside the metro area?)

Neither Olsen nor Lotterman uses the term, but what is really going on here is now commonly known as NIMBY, or "not in my backyard." People may want gravel, waste disposal sites, power lines, factories, etc., but they always think they should be "somewhere else." As long as the undesired thing is proposed for "somewhere else," they remain silent. But let there be a proposal for the undesired thing to be built near them, and they're up in arms.

Once upon a time, I worked for the agency that treats wastewater (sewage) in the Twin Cities. There was a study underway to determine how to dispose of "sludge" removed from the wastewater during treatment. Some of the possible options could affect people, primarily through the introduction of odors to their neighborhoods. As part of the study process, a series of public meetings was held, to explain the study and receive public input.

At one meeting, in Hastings, the room was full of people. However, it turned out that NOT ONE of them was there as a private citizen. Everyone was there representing some government body or consulting company involved in the study. It seemed ridiculous for me to put on my "public" presentation when no members of the "public" were even there.

Why was no one there? The situation was at that point too vague. There was a study, to consider all options, which might affect someone somewhere. Who cared? But I can guarantee you, if it had been a meeting about building an incinerator at a certain location, the neighbors would have been out in force to protest.

But sometimes these things are a matter of taste. St. Paul struggled for years with "the nation's first urban ethanol plant." Neighbors complained about odors. I'm farther away, but when I smelled the plant, I didn't object. I thought it smelled like a bakery. What's the problem?

Then, a new coffee shop opened a block from my home. One day, I backed the car out of the garage and thought, What's that awful burning rubber smell? I shut off the car and looked under the hood. I didn't see any problem.

Well, it turned out the new coffee shop was roasting coffee beans. Which I think stinks to high heaven. But other neighbors love it, so go figure.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Thank You for Your Support (the check's in the mail)
I received some encouraging feedback from a reader recently. Just when I was starting to wonder whether anybody really cares what I have to say, I received this compliment:

"I am a daily reader of your blog and find it to be the most interesting, honest and logical blog out there."

Wow. That's a lot to live up to. I'll keep trying. (And I'm sure that my mom wouldn't know how to fake an email return address, so no, it wasn't from her.)

I try to be myself, and not just parrot some of the more partisan, predictable, sharp-tongued, nasty sort of blogs that are out there. They may be more popular, but I'm just trying to be myself. That was the point when I started this in July, 2004 -- to tell the world what I think. So I think I'll keep at it. I'm glad to hear someone appreciates it.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Randy Moss vs. Rush Limbaugh
Did you hear what Randy Moss had to say about comparing his new quarterback to his old quarterback? The former Minnesota Vikings receiver said that his old QB, Daunte Culpepper, is more athletic, but his new quarterback, Kerry Collins, is -- essentially -- smarter.

Yep. The black guy's more athletic, but the white guy's smarter. There's a stereotype for you.

What if Rush Limbaugh had said that?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Racist Comments Could End a Political Career
Oh boy, is President Bush going to be in trouble. He has said about his political opponents, who pretty much all have dark skin, "they all behave the same, and they all look the same." He added, "They never made an honest living in their lives."

What racism! What stereotyping! What a thing for......Howard Dean to say.

That's right, Bush didn't say any of that. Dean did. With one exception. He was talking about people with white skin, not dark skin.

People with a certain skin color all look and act the same. And they don't work.

Didn't statements like that used to be enough to end a political career?

For more on Grand Wizard Dean, read Myriam Marquez's column.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Ellen Goodman is an Idiot
Ellen Goodman is a very talented writer. If she could only think, she might be a good opinion columnist.

In a recent attack on frozen embryos (keep in mind, this is all about defending abortion), Goodman writes:

"When people claim to believe a frozen embryo is the moral equal of a child, ethicists like to pose this question: If a clinic is on fire and you could save either a 2-year-old or a vial full of embryos, which would you pick?"

First of all, that might be the sort of question a philosopher would ask. But it's not really a question for an ethicist. By attributing the question to an ethicist, Goodman wants to suggest that saving the child is officially the "right" answer (as defined by liberal academic types).

In the scenario she describes, I think saving the 2-year-old is indeed the preferred course of action. But not because there is no reason to save the embryos. It's really more a matter of triage. The most effective use of effort is likely to be saving the 2-year-old. Saving the vial of embryos might prove to be wasted effort, as we don't know that they will ever be allowed to resume growing (or that they will succeed in doing so).

That's similar to battlefield triage, in which tough choices must be made. Some may be allowed to perish, because limited resources can be used more successfully to save others.

Here's another doozy from Goodman:

"Embryos are not human beings. Nor are they hangnails. They carry the potential for human life that deserves moral attention and respect. It's not disrespectful to donate embryos to the search for a curing diseases. Nor is it respectful to keep embryos in a freezer until they're eligible for Social Security."

Sounds like something Adolf Hitler might have come up with:

Jews are not human beings. Nor are they hangnails. It's not disrespectful to donate them to research to improve the Master Race. Nor is it respectful to keep them in camps until they die a natural death. So we'll kill them now.

Ellen, you're in good company.

But if embryos aren't human beings.... well, what else can they be? Sure, they are different from the human beings who walk and talk. But an infant is different from an adult. And an adolescent is different from a senior citizen.

That embryo is a human being in his or her very early stage. From embryo-hood on, there's just growth. Nothing is added. That's why conception is the defining moment: Things change at conception. It all begins. Two separate entities come together to form a new entity, combining their DNA. That's a defining moment.

Goodman is right about one thing: That people don't give much thought to what they are going to do with all these embryos they are creating. I think we should stop creating all these embryos. Is that too complicated?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

It's "Reasonable Doubt," not "Reasonably Doubt"
I don't know whether Michael Jackson should have been found guilty, but I'm not letting my kids visit him. He seems like a first-rate perv to me. But I wasn't on the jury, and I didn't hear the testimony.

Nonetheless, this is a good time to discuss the concept of "reasonable doubt."

I just heard someone on the radio saying that no one can be convicted if there is "any doubt," that he must be "proven guilty without a doubt." Wrong, wrong, wrong. It is not "guilty beyond a doubt," it is "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." "Reasonable" is a modifier to the word "doubt." It specifically points out that we may convict someone even though there are doubts, if those doubts are judged not reasonable.

I think people get confused by the phrase "reasonable doubt." There are at least two ways to understand that term, and I think people often get it wrong.

The first way, is to ask yourself, "Can I reasonably doubt this person's guilt?" Well, sure. There's always some doubt. He could have been framed. Maybe he has an identical, evil twin. Maybe space aliens did it. We don't have proof that there aren't space aliens, after all.

Looking at it that way, there's always doubt. Therefore, we can't convict anybody. As I heard someone say today, about Jackson, "I think he's guilty, but I'm not 100 percent certain, so he can't be convicted."

That's not true at all. There's NEVER 100 percent certainty. A trial isn't a mathematical proof or a controlled science experiment. But we still convict people. We have to.

I think "reasonable doubt" needs to be understood differently. I think the intent of the phrase is to take into account that there is ALWAYS doubt. Of course there is. That is a given. The question is: Is that doubt reasonable? Is it reasonable to think that he was framed? Is it reasonable to think that he has an evil twin? Is it reasonable to think that space aliens did it?

Yes, we can reasonably consider those as possibilities, but then judge that they are not worthy of being considered reasonable possibilities.

That's the difference. It's not, "Can you reasonably doubt his guilt?" There are always doubts. It's "Are the doubts about his guilt reasonable?"

I also think sometimes jurors think way too much. They try so hard to be "smart" about their verdict, that they talk themselves right out of what they know to be true. They've seen too many TV shows where some noble juror holds out, and then discovers some key piece of evidence, which turns the decision completely around.

Well, that's TV, and it's not a juror's job to discover evidence.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Lotterman Busts Social Security Myths
Another good column from economist Ed Lotterman, who busts some myths bout Social Security. Concern over Social Security is nothing new, Lotterman says, noting that a 1958 study predicted that the system would hit insolvency in 2032, not far from current projections.

Lotterman writes:

"Two misconceptions are confusing current discussions about Social Security. The first is that the program has never been changed since its inception in 1935. The second is that until recently, the problems of funding baby boomer retirements were unanticipated and ignored.

"Both ideas are wrong. Social Security today is substantially different from the program that was enacted 70 years ago. Moreover, tax and retirement experts have been discussing the implications of aging baby boomers for 50 years."

Give it a read.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Still Cheaper than Paying a Pump Jockey
Another story in the paper about gas station drive-offs. Beginning Aug. 1, Minnesota will join many other states in suspending the driver's license of people who drive off without paying for their gas.

The story says that Minnesota's gas stations lose an average of $750 per year to drive-offs. Nationwide, the average is said to be $2,141 per station.

That's real money. Yet, it's a lot less than paying a pump jockey, isn't it? They could go back to having attendants at the pumps, but think what that would cost. Looks like drive-offs are just a cost of doing business the self-service way.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Whose White House?
A newspaper headline reads: "14 states gave Viagra to known sex offenders."

The subhead reads: "1998 White House letter said Medicaid had to cover prescription."

Notice anything there? If that letter had come out of the White House sometime since 2001, you know darn well that subhead wouldn't say, "White House letter." It would say, "Bush administration letter."

Media bias is in the details.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Researchers Grow Brain Cells in Lab
I heard Paul Harvey today reporting that a scientist has succeeded in growing brain cells in the lab. This could be a huge breakthrough in the treatment of neurological problems.

But for once, Paul didn't tell us The Rest of the Story.

It seems that in the celebration that ensued, some beer was spilled. Most of the brain cells were killed. Those that survived were awarded college degrees.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

"Lucky" (and how!) Lindy Made His Share of Wham-Bam-Slam Dunks
With the revelations that aviation hero Charles Lindbergh fathered 7 children with 3 mistresses, in addition to the children he sired by his wife, it appears that he wasn't just the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic, he was also the first NBA player!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Let's Try Suicide First, Then Murder
We had one of those "murder-suicide" cases in St. Paul this weekend. I wish such a tragedy would be reported as a "suicide-murder." Maybe then these idiots who perpetrate such crimes would get confused, and shoot themselves first.

Monday, June 13, 2005

As Famous as Tenzing Norgay
Self-taught (! What's next? Do-it-yourself surgery?) heart surgeon Hamilton Naki has died. Who was he? I never heard of him either, but according to his obituary, he was Dr. Christiann Barnard's assistant on the first human heart transplant, which took place in South Africa in 1967.

According to news reports, Naki's contributions were kept secret for decades because he was a black man in South Africa. It was only after apartheid ended in 1991 that Naki's work was acknowledged.

Meanwhile, the white Dr. Barnard became a household name.

[Tenzing Norgay? He was Sir Edmund Hillary's Sherpa guide on the first successful ascent of Mt. Everest in 1953. Of course, the white man Hillary got all the accolades. But for all we know, Tenzing Norgay really got their first, and then gave Sir Edmund a hand up!]

Monday, June 13, 2005

Where's Dad?
A St. Paul 17-year-old is dead after getting punched in the face at a schools's out party at St Paul's Como Park.

Last Thursday, I pointed out how the top students seem to have two parents -- no more, no less -- and usually everyone shares the same last name. Meanwhile, kids who are in the news for the wrong reasons seem to come from families with a diversity of surnames. The dead boy is Derrick New. But I noticed right away in a photo caption that his mother is Kathy Kane.

Sure enough, when I read the whole story, I found out that Derrick's parents divorced when he was only 3, and he has divided his time between two homes.

That's not a good recipe for child raising. But it's the situation too many children are in.

Oh, of course we're hearing how Derrick was such a good kid. How could something like this happen to him?

He died in a fight over a pot pipe. I've gotta think there were some warning signs there.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

It's My Birthday!
Plus, I'm off to the State Central Committee meeting of the Republican Party of Minnesota. Then, a couple of graduation open houses to try to squeeze in. Busy day. You can check out these:

Church Bell Stolen; No Mention of Hate Crime

A 600-lb. bell has been stolen from a Ukrainian Orthodox church in Minneapolis, and the tires on the caretaker's car were slashed. Nowhere in the newspaper story does it mention the magic words "hate crime." Funny, I think we'd be hearing that if the same thing had happened, but the place of worship was of a different faith, or maybe even a different denomination.

Of course, I think the whole "hate crime" concept is nonsense. Say you're a bad person who does bad things, and you get five years for your action, and another five years because it was a "hate crime." That means, quite simply and clearly, that you have been sentenced to five years in prison for your thoughts. Aren't Americans supposed to be free to think what they want? Even if their thoughts aren't popular?

If you can get five EXTRA years for your thoughts, then it's a small step to getting the five years JUST for your thoughts, before you even act on them. That's scary.

American Experiment Publishes Essays on "Ownership Society."

The Center of the American Experiment, the Minneapolis-based conservative think tank, has published a collection of essays on the idea of the "ownership society." It's some good reading. This link is to a PDF file you should be able to view in your browser. I especially liked the contribution of Paul D. Allick, which begins at the bottom of page 2. Allick writes:

"Although he only made it through the eighth grade, my father has imparted a treasure of wisdom to me through the years. This wisdom has to do with the value of things. I recall his observations about public housing on the reservation where we lived: 'The way people tear those houses up, huh? Well, they don't own them so whey would they care?'

"This addendum would follow, 'Whatever is yours, you take care of it. My mom had a dirt floor and she raked it every morning. It doesn't matter what you have, you should take care of it.'"

Ownership and taking care of what is yours -- because it's in your own self-interest -- is why capitalism works, and communism doesn't.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Howard Dean Would Say They Must be Republicans (and He Might be Right)
I saw an example of the worst of the ugly American consumerism lifestyle last night. Passing by on the way home after my softball game, my daughter and I stopped at the Dairy Queen in Edina (Minnesota's version of 90210), near 50th & France (Minnesota's version of Rodeo Drive).

There were 8-10 vehicles lined up in the drive-through. I thought, Isn't that just the stereotypical American consumer? Having the money to spend on over-priced ice cream treats, getting fat eating the ice cream, and too lazy to even get out of the car to get the ice cream!

I didn't want to sit in that line, and I prefer to go inside to order, anyway. On the way into the building, I saw that the woman in the car at the drive-up window was holding a clipboard. She was signing a credit card receipt!

That made it even worse -- she was lazily getting fattening ice cream that she can't even afford! And holding up the line in the process.

What a stereotypical image of the worst of how Americans can be! Maybe some of our critics around the globe aren't so far off the mark.

To conclude, we went inside, and found the line at the counter much shorter than the line at the drive-through. In fact, there was no line, just two clerks waiting to take our order. We had to make them wait while we decided. Then off we went, while others still waited in their cars.

Friday, June 10, 2005

My Candidate Can Beat Up Your Honor Student
Pioneer Press columnist Laura Billings had an interesting column this week. She started out writing about the way that some high schools are doing away with valedictorians and salutatorians, a practice that I have previously opposed. She was defending it, writing that obsessing over GPA can adversely affect the courses that students choose to make.

I suppose that's true. I went to a small school, and there weren't so many choices. The top students pretty much took the same courses. But today, and in bigger schools, there seem to be so many choices. Kids take college classes while in high school. They even take honors courses that let some get grades higher than 4.0 on a 4.0 scale. So maybe the old way of measuring grades doesn't make the grade anymore. She made a reasonable argument that determining one or two top students was so inexact as to be meaningless.

But then, she took a turn. She decided to attack the value of getting good grades at all. She began to argue that good grades are overrated; your high school transcript is meaningless.

Then, why she was going down this road became clear. She wrote:

"Consider the case of Sen. John Kerry, the salutatorian of last year's presidential race. This week, the transcripts of his Navy career were made public, and while the Navy's account of his experience in Vietnam seems consistent with his own remarks, it turns out his reputation as a pointy-headed grade-grubber was a little off. In fact, he got four D's his freshman year at Yale, leaving him with a cumulative grade average one point below the guy he lost to, George W. Bush."

[Great headline we'll never see: "Transcripts show Kerry even dumber than Bush"]

Billings continues: "Let these records be a lesson to this week's valedictorians, and a consolation to the world's C students. Missing out on that A-plus might not be the end of the world.

"It may be the start of much bigger things."

So that's what she was up to! She was defending her hero, the "intellectual" John Kerry! Plus, she was trying to resolve her own cognitive dissonance. Sort of like a KKK member who finds out his great-grandmother was black, she was trying to come to terms with the fact that her hero was in fact one of "those people" -- "stupid" people like President Bush.

She's right, though, that academic scores aren't of much importance later in life. And maybe that's a key to understanding the last presidential election. Dems acted as though scholarship was a big deal, and they played up the angle of the "intellectual" Kerry versus the "stupid" Bush.

But the voters saw through that, leaving the Dems to wonder, What's wrong with those "stupid" voters in the Red States? Maybe those "stupid" voters knew then what Billings is arguing now: that grades don't mean much. The voters saw Bush as a better leader, no matter if he wasn't as smooth as Kerry.

As a valedictorian myself, I'll give Billings this: That honor don't mean nothin' once the ceremony is over.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Mayor Eaton Being Returned to Private Life, Worn and In Need of Cleaning
Albert Lea mayor Jean Eaton, she of the return-used-merchandise-for-fun-and-profit department store scam, is resigning under pressure from the city council.

Thursday, June 9, 2005

The Truth? No Consequences
Albert Lea, Minnesota, mayor Jean Eaton is in the news again this week. She's worked a deal that will prevent her from being convicted of felony theft. As a felon, she would have been forced from office. She intends to remain mayor.

Many have asked, Where's her sense of shame? Why doesn't she resign out of embarrassment?

Those days have passed. All sense of shame and embarrassment disappeared from political life during the Clinton administration. Clinton refused to act in response to shame or embarrassment, and it turned out there was nothing we could do about it. He got to stick around. This mayor is following the master's game plan.

Clinton knew there would be no consequences. That's in keeping with our no-consequences society. Consider:

Women get pregnant. But they don't think that means they should have to have a baby. They can just have an abortion instead!

People get married and have children. But they don't think that means they should have to work at building a healthy family unit. No, they can just get divorced instead!

People run up huge bills living beyond their means. But they don't think that means they have to pay up. They can just declare bankruptcy instead!

Children play a game. But they don't think that means someone should have to lose. They can just declare everyone a winner instead!

Students work for good grades. But they don't think that means someone should be the "best." So they just get rid of valedictorians instead!

What will be the consequences of our no-consequences society? Just look at Mayor Eaton. We're seeing them already.

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Constitution Going Up In Smoke: Supremes Take a Potshot at Founding Document
The Supreme Court's decision saying federal law prohibiting pot supersedes state law legalizing medicinal marijuana use is a blow to the Constitution. Never mind what you think about marijuana; that's not what this is about. This is about the Constitution and the very nature of our nation.

Since the Civil War, we've greatly changed the nature of the relationship between the states and the federal government -- despite operating under the same Constitution. The United States of America was created by 13 independent states. The federal government is a creature of the states. The states created the federal government; it exists to serve them. They gave it certain, LIMITED powers. The 10th Amendment is very specific about the limited powers of the federal government:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Where in the Constitution, I ask, does it mention that the federal government may regulate marijuana?

We've turned things so upside down that most people today have no idea that the federal government is supposed to be taking its marching orders from the states, who created it. They just assume that the states are subservient to the federal government.

But it's not the federal government that created the states, the way that the states create counties for administrative purposes. The states pre-date the federal government. (OK, in the case of the "subsequent 37" states this is less clear than it is with the "original 13," but the principle is still there.)

FDR accelerated federalism. And the federal government taxing us and then giving states the money back only if they do as they're told (seat belts, speed limits, drinking age, etc.) has been an effective blackmail tool used to increase federal power.

Now, the Supreme Court has effectively told the states, "The federal government outranks you. Do as you are told."

This is not what the Founding Fathers agreed to. It's not what the Constitution says. It's simply wrong.

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Top Students Have Two Parents: Coincidence? I Think Not
My daily paper published the names of top high school students yesterday. You know, valedictorians and salutatorians, although some schools have done away with that in favor of "top ten" lists or some other measure.

One thing I noticed again this year: The top students overwhelmingly list two parents -- no more, no less -- usually with the same last name.

Coincidence? I think not. The traditional family structure continues to be the best for children.

For comparison, read a news story about a young criminal. Watch for how many different last names show up in his family circle -- the perp will be Smith, his mother Jones, his father(?) Wilson and his brother something else. How does all that come about? And watch for all the "step" this or "step" that.

Not a coincidence, I tell you.

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Muslim Teaching Tool Featured in Public School Offices
I came across this when I was down at the St. Paul Public Schools offices, trying to get myself appointed to a vacant spot on the Board of Education. I didn't want to muddy things up at the time by writing about this, but now that I didn't get the job, there's no reason (other than procrastination) not to tell this story.

Down at the school districts offices, where the superintendent and the assistant superintendents and all the layers of bureaucracy hang their hats, I noticed a glass case with a "diversity" display. Inside were various items highlighting the diversity of St. Paul Public Schools students. There were books about the Hmong and Somalis, for instance, and displays of art and clothing.

Nothing wrong so far.

But I also noticed something else. A doll of the fashion-doll type. In a box. And on the box were these messages:

"Razanne the Muslim doll"

"Razanne builds character"

Let's see if I have this straight. The public school district is displaying a specifically Muslim doll, which has as its stated purpose building character.

Can you imagine, even if you try really, really hard, that in the year 2005 the public school would display something like:

"Mary the Christian doll"

"Mary builds character"

Of course you can't. Remember, this is a school district that doesn't even have "Christmas vacation" anymore, never mind that Christmas is a legal holiday. No, instead we have a "winter break." Wouldn't want to offend someone who doesn't celebrate Christmas.

But display a Muslim figure, along with the suggestion that Islam will build character in our children? Sure, why not?

Some might say that there's a difference here. Razanne is an example of ethnic diversity, she's not a religious figure.

Oh yeah? I'll remind you, she is "Razanne the Muslim doll." Not "Razanne the Arab-American doll," or "Razanne the Somali-American doll."

If you want to argue that "Muslim" is cultural, not just religious, then I will remind you that "Christian" can be cultural, as well. And in that sense, the U.S. is in fact a "Christian nation." So then why can't we have Christmas vacation, Easter vacation, B.C or A.D. anymore?

The real proof that Razanne is a religious figure is this: She comes in different ethnicities. Go to http://islamicbookstore.com/razmusdol.html and you'll see that she comes in your choice of "fair, olive or black complexion." You can get a Caucasian Razanne. You can get an African-American Razanne. Razanne isn't an ethnic doll. Her ethnicity varies. The one common element: she is a Muslim.

This is a religious teaching tool. And it's on display in the public school district's central office!

But I'm not going to call for Razanne's removal. Her display doesn't bother me. It's fine, in the name of education and "diversity," to display Razanne. As long as we give equal respect to all things Christian. Which we don't.

Actually, it's getting silly, all this "diversity" education about "minorities" in the schools. Yes, there is diversity. But EVERYONE is a minority in the St. Paul Public Schools. In the 2003-2004 school year, student demographics broke down like this: 29% white; 29% Asian; 28% black; 12% Hispanic; 2% American Indian.

Show me the "majority" in that.

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

While Military Must Respect Quran, They're Expected to Suppress the Bible
All these Quran-flushing stories are getting more and more ridiculous. (And that must be some toilet! What kind of toilet would flush a book? I'll bet it's not a Mother Earth-friendly, water-saving model. There's the real scandal for the left-wing media -- "Military Destroying Mother Earth!")

Now I read that some soldier took a leak outside a building, and some of his urine was sucked into a ventilation fan, which dispersed a spray inside, with some liquid hitting a Quran. Not exactly a high-level conspiracy, is it? And you've got to wonder, there must have been at least one Quran inside the World Trade Towers on Sept. 11. And there were toilets in the building. When it all went to hell.....there must have been some intermingling of molecules.

Meanwhile, the same day's newspaper contains another story damning the U.S. military; this one is about "misconduct" at the Air Force Academy. Under the headline "Leader admits bigotry at Air Force Academy," we learn of the terrible goings-on in Colorado. It seems there have been complaints of some Christian cadets overzealously sharing their faith.

We can't have that! No American citizen should feel free to exercise his rights to free speech and freedom of religion! What were they thinking!

The Academy's No. 2 commander, Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida, has been "admonished" for sending an e-mail promoting the National Day of Prayer. (Or, as the AP calls it, "National Prayer Day." Isn't that typical: They fall all over themselves trying to decide the proper spelling of Quran-Koran-Q'ran-whatever, but when there's an event observed by Christians nationwide, they can't be bothered to get the name right.)

I wonder, what if Brig. Gen. Weida were a Muslim, and he had sent out an email in recognition of an Islamic holiday or event?

We know what would happen: He would be praised, while any Christian airman who complained would be labeled "intolerant." THAT would be the story, then -- "Intolerant" airmen who opposed the Islamic message. But since the message was Christian in nature, it's reported totally the other way.

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Watergate Under the Bridge
I haven't weighed in on "Deep Throat" yet. I don't think I have much unique to add.

What I really don't like is the way everyone is so eager to take sides politically. If you're a Republican, then Mark Felt is a criminal. If you're a Democrat, then he's a hero.

There are arguments to be made either way, but can't we have that discussion first before we just reflexively line up on partisan sides?

Instead, Republicans attack Felt, presumably feeling they are defending themselves in the process (It's too late to defend Nixon's honor.). Democrats praise Felt, and hope to tarnish present-day Republicans with some of Nixon's dirt.

As for me, I say this is old news -- Watergate was 30 years ago, for crying out loud! Present-day Republicans deserve no more blame for Nixon's deeds than they deserve credit for Lincoln's emancipating the slaves, or Teddy Roosevelt's conservation agenda.

Jack Rice offers an interesting take on some politicians' refusal to face the facts regarding Watergate.

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

There's No Dancing in Baseball!
In a post last Thursday, I gave my blessing to girls being both athletes and cheerleaders. I specifically referred to softball players who give cheers from the bench while teammates bat.

But at a game last night, they took it too far. My daughter's opponents unveiled a new twist: When they were in the field, and they recorded an out, they did a little cheer for themselves, concluding with a synchronized dance step!

That's a little too much.

As Tom Hanks' character might have said in "A League of Their Own": "There's no dancing in baseball!"

Monday, June 6, 2005

61 Years Ago Today...
June 6, 1944. D-Day. Thousands -- yes, THOUSANDS -- of Allied troops died on one day, giving their lives to successfully begin the invasion of France, culminating in the defeat of Hitler 11 months later.

Americans, Brits, Canadians. Joined by the free French, Poles who had escaped the Nazis. They were men of many nations who died together to defeat fascism.

Thank you.

Monday, June 6, 2005

American Liberals On the Wrong Side of History
Reader Dave Shimp alerted me to this column by David Brooks of the New York Times. (Note: It would seem obvious to provide you a link to the New York Times website, but whenever possible I prefer to provide a link which I know will not require you to register. The exception: I link regularly to the St. Paul Pioneer Press website, as that is the daily paper I read. But if you register once at http://www.twincities.com you'll be good to go for subsequent links.)

Brooks makes the case that the "progressive" European policies the American Left would have us emulate aren't doing Europe any good. Hard to argue with that. Still, America's left-wing fundamentalists cling to their faith in socialism.

Can't they see what's going on in the rest of the world? The REAL world, not the utopian socialist one they imagine?

China is becoming capitalistic. The country is full of entrepreneurs, for crying out loud! In the former Soviet republics, people now have private property. They want to protect their property, so they clamor for the right to own guns! They want to be like us!

Meanwhile, the American Left is going along humming Pete Seeger songs and working toward the day when we can be like China and the Soviet Union USED TO BE!

I previously wrote a post about my Darwinian theory of immigration, which included the idea that the more-ambitious Europeans came to the U.S. and made it great, while their risk-averse, less ambitious countrymen stayed behind. I argued that that may play a role in explaining present-day economic differences between Europe and the U.S.

Now, in a turnaround, a stagnating Europe is being inundated by immigrants, many from the Middle East. Could it be that these immigrants share the qualities -- ambition and risk taking -- that previous generations of Europeans brought to America? If so, maybe they'll soon dominate economically, leaving the native Europeans in their dust.

Monday, June 6, 2005

How Far Should Religious Accommodation Go?
I heard recently of a firefighter who was fighting his department's policy forbidding facial hair. He is a Muslim, and he says facial hair is part of his religion.

But the argument from the other side is that all firefighters have to be clean-shaven so that their air masks will form tight seals to their faces, ensuring that they will be able to do their jobs in burning buildings.

How far should accommodation of religion go? A person still has to be able to do the job. What if a Muslim woman was a firefighter, and she argued that she should be able to wear a veil?

Better yet, let's take the question to an extreme. What about a woman -- of any religion -- who signed on for a job as a stripper, then told her boss that her religion forbade her to take her clothes off?

Ridiculous? Yes, but the principle is the same. If your religion prevents you from doing a job properly, then you'll have to find another job.

Saturday, June 4, 2005

Media Bias Is in the Details
As I've pointed out before, the liberal bias in the mainstream media manifests itself in subtle ways. Usually, the perpetrators have no idea they are being biased; they are just reflecting the world the way they see it.

Another example revealed itself yesterday. A one-paragraph story buried in a news round-up reported that the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History has withdrawn its support for a film about intelligent design, or, as the paper reports it, "intelligent design." The film was produced by a group that takes a skeptical view of the theory of "evolution," or, as the paper reports it, evolution.

See the problem? Someone has decided that "intelligent design" requires quotation marks, a way of showing us that this is some made-up term (and idea) that the paper doesn't recognize as legitimate. Meanwhile, "evolution" gets to stand on its own, no quotation mark qualifiers required. Never mind that evolution is also an unproven (and unproveable) theory.

Abortion is another topic that demonstrates this bias. Watch how abortion politics is reported. If one group describes themselves as pro-life, the paper is likely to write it as "pro-life," with quotes to show that the paper doesn't recognize that term as legitimate. Left to its own devices, the paper will call this group people opposed to abortion rights.

And, of course, the mainstream media never calls anyone pro-abortion. No, that side is always called pro-choice, or supporters of abortion rights. Doesn't that sound nicer?

And so it goes, as they gently guide the public consciousness in the direction they want it to go.

(I know, some would say, "But I'm not 'pro-abortion,' I just think people should have the right to choose for themselves." I think that's a cowardly cop-out. It's like saying you'd never beat your wife yourself, but you want others to have the right to choose -- because it's a decision best made by a man and his lawyer.)

Friday, June 3, 2005

Social Security Number: Why Not Just Tattoo It On Our Foreheads?
We're always being told to protect our Social Security numbers, to prevent identity theft. That's such a joke. Our SSNs are all over the place. And the government is the worst offender. Last week I bought a Minnesota fishing license. I had to give the store clerk my SSN to get a fishing license!

Yesterday, I wrote an estimated taxes check to the IRS. Their instructions say to write my SSN on the check! Good, now anyone in the check processing system can have my SSN, to go along with my checking account number and my address!

And if anyone has, and has a reason to have, my SSN, it's the IRS. Why do I have to give it to them over and over and over? It's on the payment coupon that accompanied the check. If the check gets separated, they'll just have to look up my name and address in their computer, which I'm sure also has my SSN.

Thursday, June 2, 2005

Three Cheers for Gender Differences
Used to be, the boys played the game, and the girls cheered them on.

Then, we began to encourage (or let) the girls play, too. That was good.

But we also began to denigrate cheerleading, telling girls that being a cheerleader made them "less" than an athlete. That was bad. If girls want to be cheerleaders instead of, or in addition to, soccer players, why shouldn't they be?

Last night I realized something interesting at my daughter's softball game. These are girls of 11-12, and I've noticed in the past that some of the teams like to cheer themselves on. While one girl is batting, those on the bench engage in chants and cheers of encouragement.

Last night's opposing team was particularly vocal. It seemed they'd never be quiet. But they helped me realize something:

Maybe girls just like to cheer!

I'm not aware of boys' teams behaving in this manner.

So maybe, just maybe, there's something about girls that naturally makes them LIKE cheering. And if so, then what's wrong with that?

Maybe girls like cheering, the same way they tend to like dolls, while little boys like trucks.

It's very interesting. Girls are told they should be athletes INSTEAD of cheerleaders, but they end up being both.

More power to 'em.

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Memorial Day Thoughts
Has Memorial Day always been treated as a "patriotic" holiday? Wave the flag and wear red-white-and-blue?

Honoring the dead who defended this country is at least indirectly a patriotic occasion, I suppose. But it seems more and more in recent years that Memorial Day is beginning to seem an awfully lot like the Fourth of July.

And what's with the concept of the Memorial Day Sale, anyway? "Hey! People died defending your freedoms! Come on down and buy some carpet!" Exploiting Memorial Day in order to sell stuff is inherently disrespectful.

One more thing: Isn't Memorial Day about honoring those who served in the armed forces? And especially those who died in battle? It seems that the day is increasingly seen as a day to remember anyone who has died. Maybe there's nothing wrong with that, but it seems to be missing the original point.

Finally, say hello to the fishing champs. Team Greg and Dave's 9 largemouth beat Team Dan and Jim's 5, winning a Minnesota bass opener grudge match Saturday at Fish Lake. Yours truly also took honors with the largest fish.

Thanks to my friend Greg for his hospitality, for getting me out of bed and onto the lake at sunrise, and for guiding me to the hot spots.

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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