archives: June -- July 2006

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


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Monday, July 31, 2006

Prince Albert? In the Can for 100 Years

Did you know that joke has been around for 100 years? A story about tin/steel cans in Sunday's Pioneer Press notes 1906 as the year Prince Albert first became available sealed in a tin can.

The story also notes that the tin can was invented in 1810.

I found this of interest, because one of the great things about capitalism and the modern free market is that when there is a need, someone will meet it by creating a product or service.

That's why I found this surprising: the story noted that 1870 brought the invention of "an easy-to-use can opener."

Sixty years! It took sixty years for someone to come up with a good can opener!

That's what you'd expect from the old Soviet Union. I think the tin can originated in Europe. I wonder who invented that first good can opener? Probably a Yank. Excuse me while I go a-Googlin'.

Here's some more info. The Brits invented the tin can. William Lyman invented the modern opener. (I learned that one reason for the delay was that the early cans were made of such heavy metal that they had to be hammered open. As the metal became thinner, a new type of opener was possible.) Here's some more info that says Lyman was indeed an American.

Anyway, the newspaper story about cans was interesting. I didn't know that Minnesota companies such as Hormel and Green Giant had such a big role in the birth of modern canned food.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Chicago City Council: Stop Giving Us Subsidies!

They might as well say that.

The Chicago City Council Wednesday passed an ordinance that would require "big-box" stores such as Target and Wal-Mart to pay a city-defined "living wage" to employees of Chicago stores.

Of course, Target or Wal-Mart doesn't have to build stores in Chicago if they don't want to. But city officials don't seem to understand that. Like typical "progressive" politicians, they think in a vacuum. They think that can impose whatever requirement they want on others, and the others will still do whatever they would have done prior to those new requirements.

Supporters of the "living wage" ordinance are confident that this won't affect Wal-Mart's or Target's plans to build stores in the city.

And that got me thinking.

You know, a "living wage" ordinance is a sort of "negative subsidy" to business. It has become common for governments to give money to businesses to entice them to locate in a certain place. But this is a case of the government making a business pay more to locate in a certain place.

So, if they think a "negative subsidy" won't discourage a business from locating in Chicago, then why do they think a subsidy would encourage a business to locate in Chicago?

I'm sure Chicago and the state of Illinois have used subsidies to try to entice businesses to locate there. They had better stop doing so, because by their own reasoning, it's a waste of money. And they'd sure better not be asking for any federal money for business subsidies.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Embracing the Chains of Diversity

The "progressive" (ultra left-wing liberal) forces in St. Paul hate "chain" stores and "big boxes." They've tried to keep the CVS pharmacy out of town, for various reasons, one being that they feel CVS is a threat to the independent pharmacists.

Now, I share their sentimental attachments to the locally-owned independent stores. (As a matter of fact, I shop at St. Paul Corner Drug, which still has a soda fountain and is owned by a pharmacist who lives in the neighborhood and whose kids even go to the same public school as mine.) But things inevitably change (Once upon a time, that was called "progress." Hmmmm.) And one of the changes these self-described "progressives" are always telling us about is that we are becoming more diverse.

That's where the irony comes in.

I recently heard a radio ad for the large Walgreens drug store chain. They said that at Walgreens, you can now get your prescription label in any of 14 languages! Furthermore, if there isn't a pharmacist in the store who speaks your native language, they will get a Walgreens pharmacist who speaks your language on the phone to talk to you!

That's pretty tough for an independent store to match.

So maybe there is some good that can come out of the larger resources of a chain, benefiting the diverse people of the modern day world.

A bit of a conundrum for the "progressives," don't you think?

Friday, July 28, 2006

What If Both Sides Like Fighting?

How can we expect the fighting to end if both sides want to fight?

No, I'm not talking about the Middle East here, but rather, about domestic situations.

I've formed a theory about domestic violence, which is the modern euphemism for wife beating. These cases vary, of course, but I've theorized that in SOME of these cases, the "poor, abused woman" is really a willing participant in an ongoing battle.

Men and women are different. Women often have better verbal skills, while men are stronger physically, and more prone to physical violence. The result can be a long-running battle, where the man and the woman fight with different weapons, but are at a stand-off nonetheless. What happens is that the woman plays from her strength, fighting with words and other actions, which exasperates the man, who resorts to physical violence. Then it becomes, "The poor woman! Her husband hits her!"

Now, I'm not saying "She had it coming" or "She deserved it." But in the cases (only SOME cases, remember) that I'm thinking about, I think it's fair to say that the hypothetical woman should have expected getting hit, yet willingly participated in a chain of events that brought it on. It's as though it's what she wanted.

Why do I mention this today? Because I observed something that supported this theory. And once again, it was my kids helping me understand adult behavior. I've written many times about examples where I've realized that adults are simply acting like kids. Here's another one.

My kids have that typical sibling love/hate relationship. They can't stay away from each other, but they're always getting into each other's faces, physically or with words, and that causes fights. But there's a difference between my 12-year-old daughter and my 10-year-old son. She taunts him with words, gestures, or by making faces or some such thing. When he can't take anymore, he hits her. Then she yells, "He hit me!" and I'm supposed to think she's an innocent victim.

Well, what did she expect? Frankly she's asking for it.

I realized while observing them today that they are playing out exactly the situation I've theorized about SOME domestic violence situations.

(Did I mention I'm talking about only SOME domestic violence situations, not all? I just want to make that clear. I'm talking about only SOME situations, the ones where the couple are locked into some sort of sick, violent relationship, and both parties are willing participants in a relationship based on fighting.)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Will I Have to Buy a New Radio? Twins Station Change Spurs Panic

If you want to see Minnesotans acting like a bunch of provincial rubes, check out the panic that resulted when it was reported that the Minnesota Twins could change radio stations next year. Now, I admit I also was taken aback when I first heard that the Twins might leave WCCO-AM, the station which has carried the team's games since the Twins came to Minnesota in 1961. But as these letters from the paper show, some people are taking their fear of change way too far.

The reason for the change would be money, pure and simple. The contract is up, and it's being reported that WCCO will not match the offer being made by KSTP-AM. Some fans seem to think that's not a good enough reason. The Twins should be "loyal" to WCCO, they say, and take less money.

That's ridiculous, especially when you consider that the taxpayers recently agreed to build the Twins a new stadium, so that the team can increase its revenues, and then, supposedly, afford a higher level of players.

But let the team pursue more revenue in a way that won't cost the taxpayers anything, and people think they shouldn't do it!

Read the letters and you'll see that "Jon" and "Jason" get it. But not everyone does. Worse yet, some of the letter writers don't seem to understand how baseball, broadcasting, or even their own radios work.

First of all, if you're not from Minnesota, you need to understand that WCCO-AM holds a special place in the hearts of many Minnesotans. For decades, it was basically the ONLY radio station, as far as many Minnesotans were concerned. I think the station once had a ratings share in excess of 50 percent! That was unmatched by any station in any other market.

But those days are gone. The station no longer dominates in that way (except with a certain, older demographic). And, the station is no longer locally-owned, or as locally-focused as it once was. CBS or Viacom or some such entity owns it now, I don't remember which it is. And there have been much-publicized changes in on-air talent and management that have not always been well-received by the local listeners. The station and its television sibling are no longer the community assets they once were. Now they are just more profit centers, expected to send ever-increasing profits back to New York.

KSTP-AM, on the other hand, is locally-owned and operated. It's still owned by the Hubbard family, broadcasting pioneers from way back. They brought the first television broadcast to the Twin Cities.

But I'm sure a lot of WCCO listeners don't understand that. And there's plenty else they don't understand.

Like the Twins Radio Network, for instance. "Dennis" writes in defense of a move, saying that KSTP has a network of outlying stations that broadcast some of its programs. I don't think that's relevant. The Twins are actually broadcast on many stations throughout Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, and I don't think that would change at all. That's between the Twins and those stations. So even if the Twin Cities "flagship" radio station were to change, a station in Elks Nose, Montana, that carries the games now could continue to carry the games.

Other people show a lack of business sense. "Bill" writes: "How many listeners will be lost by switching to KFAN or KSTP? Have they thought about that? Maybe the only thing they can see is dollar signs. The more potential listeners you have, the more fans you can have. It would be a very poor business decision to switch and poor public relations as well."

Why would it be a poor business decision to take more money? The number of "fans" is only significant in how it creates revenue. If Bill is sitting at home in Cumberland, Wisc., listening to the radio for free and not coming to the games, his only value to the Twins is in what they can get for a radio contract. And Bill says that's not what matters!

"Harold and Janet" worry what would happen to the game announcers. Nothing, really. I'm pretty sure they work for the team. They'd just be on a different frequency. A change wouldn't hurt them.

But the biggest fear seems to come about because people don't understand that a radio can receive more than one station, and one individual can even listen to more than one station during a lifetime. You can even switch around the dial during the day!

Harold and Janet write that if the Twins aren't "loyal" to WCCO and make the switch, "The fans just might not be as loyal, either." This shows the mentality that a person must choose one radio station and listen only to that one. Sort of like being a party-line voter, I guess. Are people really going to say, "Oh well, I guess I won't listen to Twins games anymore, if it means I'd have to lift a finger and change the radio dial"?

But some people may not understand that changing the dial is even possible. "Ray" writes: "The Twins should stay with WCCO-AM and the team's many devoted listening fans.... I think that should the Twins decide to part ways with the radio station, they will leave behind the loyalty and devotion of many listening fans!"

Ray seems to think that right now, only "WCCO people" listen to the Twins. He evidently listens to WCCO only, and must assume that anyone who listens to another station listens ONLY to that station, as well. He must think that if the Twins switch, then only "KSTP people" will listen to the Twins, and those who have been listening for the past 45 years will have to go without. He must think that radio is like garbage hauling -- you sign up for one and one only. He doesn't understand that people like me listen to KSTP (or others) most of the time, but also switch to WCCO for Twins games.

I wonder if some people even realize that their radio CAN get a station other than WCCO? I'm serious. Some may worry that a switch to KSTP would mean a need to buy a new radio. There are radios in this state that have had the dial on WCCO for 50-60 years without moving. If you've got a loved one in a nursing home, here's a Christmas gift idea: a new radio. Otherwise, come next baseball season, you may find that no amount of WD-40 is enough to get that dial unstuck.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Serious, or Putting Us On? No Matter How You Slice It...

Here's another letter from Monday's Pioneer Press THAT I CAN'T LINK TO! AAAARRRRGH! Is this a put-on, or is this guy really this confused? Here's David Brennhofer of St. Paul"

"When I first started driving 25 years ago, there were two kinds of gas. There was regular and unleaded. They phased out the regular and started selling unleaded more and more. Move forward to 2006. With oil and gasoline selling at record levels why did the oil industry decide to split a gallon of oil into 3 parts, unleaded, unleaded plus and super unleaded? Won't it make more sense to drop one of the unleadeds and make more of the unleaded that sells more so there is more of it and maybe the price would drop (I said maybe?) Just something to think about."

Here's something else to think about: Whether you cut the pizza into 8 pieces or 12 pieces, you still have the same amount of pizza. Is this guy for real?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Can't We "Move On"?

Columnist Laura Billings has her thong in a bunch and joins the throng upset because President Bush spoke with his mouth full! And he used a bad word to refer to murdering terrorists! And he grabbed the shoulders of German Chancellor Angela Merkel for all of 1.5 seconds! The horror!

And to think, these same people told us it didn't matter where Bill Clinton put his hands, or what he did when his intern's mouth was full.

Maybe Bush should have just stood in front of Merkel and unzipped. Then they'd be telling us we need to "move on"?

They say Bush is uncouth and doesn't know how to treat a woman. I guess when Bill Clinton liked to talk about "pussy" while golfing, as Vernon Jordan told "60 Minutes," that just proved the Molester in Chief was a regular guy. They say Bush is "immature" and a "frat boy," apparently unlike Bill Clinton, who talked about his underwear and smoking dope, and tried to be the rock star president.

How can anyone complain about Bush, after excusing all of Clinton's behavior?

Because they hate Bush, but they lusted after Clinton.

Supposedly diverse, tolerant, open-minded liberals hate President Bush, and they hate him for the way he looks! Isn't that something? They can't even put together good arguments about policy disagreements, so they resort to personal attacks about his appearance. I sure wish those Monday letters-to-the-editor from the Pioneer Press were available online, because they contained some good examples. I'll give you some excerpts, with the Bush-hater buzzwords highlighted. (Keep an eye out for these words; they use them over and over.)

Audrey Hardy of St. Paul wrote:

"The president, his eyes glazed with smugness, as he swaggered in for the attack. The predatory maneuver of a shoulder massage..."

Not much neutral language there.

"...Angela Merkel's expression of dismay frozen for all time as an act of arrogance violated her personal space."

Yes, as I said before, he should have just unzipped. That would have shown how well he understands women.

"Bush is not a frat boy; he is a 60-year-old man who flunked the lesson on how to treat women."

Maybe Clinton could mentor him?

And Don Ostertag wrote:

"Diplomacy may start at a summit meeting; but when one of the participants is more interested in behaving like a frat brother than a world leader..."

What is it with this "frat boy" obsession? What's wrong with fraternity members? These same people seemed to think that the "Animal House" presidency of Slick Willie was the greatest thing since sliced pot brownies.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Train Losing Steam?

I've been criticizing the proposed "Central Corridor" light rail project for its lack of direction. It doesn't seem to know what it wants to be, or whom it wants to serve. Is it a local or an express? "It's for everyone!" the supporters proclaim. Yet, as I've pointed out before, it doesn't measure up to existing bus service when compared to either local service or express service.

Now, the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners is questioning plans for the rail line -- specifically how it will service downtown St. Paul. Commissioner Tony Bennett said, "I think if you're going to build something, you build it right so it services people." The Board last week declined to reaffirm its support for a connection to the St. Paul Union Depot. Bennett said he prefers a downtown loop closer to the Excel Energy Center.

The resolution came up after Met Council chairman Peter Bell suggested that the line should stop short of the Depot, in order to cut costs.

If it is inevitable that a light rail line be built, then it must be built right, so that it isn't a complete waste of money. Ramsey County Commissioners are right to question the effectiveness of the line as it is being proposed. If the plan must be chopped up in order to afford to build the thing, then maybe it isn't worth building at all.

Do you know what a Christmas tree bill is? In a legislative body, that's a bill designed to ensure passage by including something for everybody. Maybe it's got something for farmers, something for sportsmen, something for city dwellers, something for senior citizens, something for big business -- everybody gets a present!

Light rail is sort of a Christmas tree project. In order to get it approved and funded, supporters promise something to everyone. It's a transit project that helps the poor. It appeals to the enviro-nazis who hate cars. It will help the disabled and elderly get around. It will spur economic development -- especially in diverse neighborhoods.

There's something for everyone. Everyone looks at their particular area of interest and thinks they're getting something, so they support the project. But taken as a whole, it's a boondoggle.

But who cares, right? We're not going to pay for it ourselves. We're going to spend that "free" federal money. Who cares if it makes any sense when someone else is paying for it?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

I'm Sure You Have More Important Things to Do...

... butI had a letter-to-the-editor in the St. Paul Pioneer Press yesterday. I was planning to give you a link so that you could click and go read it on the paper's website, but the letters don't seem to be there. So here it is:

Argue, don't dismiss

Yes, I know there are starving children. People dying of disease. Oppressed people being denied basic human rights. People without access to medical care.

But let's talk about letters to the editor.

I'm tired of writers who dismiss a previous letter by saying, "There are more important things to worry about."

That may be true. But by that logic, there must be only one topic important enough to write letters about.

And good luck getting everyone to agree on what that topic is.

So if you disagree, go ahead and explain why. State your case. But don't dismiss others' concerns by saying, "There are more important things to worry about."

Because, as Shakespeare might have put it, "The letter writer doth protest too much." If the subject isn't important enough for the first writer to write about it, why are you wasting your -- and our -- time writing about it yourself?

Monday, July 24, 2006

What's Good for the Teachers' Union...

Ruben Navarrette has a good column about teachers' unions standing in the way of good education. I've long been bothered by the way the teachers' unions pretend they are advocates for children, while they really are labor unions, looking out for the teachers. And that's what they SHOULD do, since they are in fact labor unions. Looking out for the pocketbooks of the teachers is their job. If they didn't look out for the teachers' interests first, they wouldn't be doing their job.

But let's be honest about that. They shouldn't hide behind the children.

It's like the Teamsters calling themselves the "Highway Safety Association."

The teachers' union would probably say that there is no difference. What's good for children is good for teachers; what's good for teachers is good for children. That sounds a lot like "what's good for GM is good for America." Or to update, "what's good for Big Oil is good for America." I wonder if the teachers' union would agree with that?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Super Mayor?

Fans of Joe Soucheray's "Garage Logic" radio show know that "The Mayor," as he is known, was absent today. I think he'll be gone tomorrow, too.

Now, I just figured he was off playing golf (what he euphemistically calls "diversity training"). But then I noticed something that might not be a coincidence. A new reality show debuts Thursday night on the Sci-Fi Channel. It's called "Who Wants to Be a Superhero?" and gives ordinary people a chance to create a superhero alter-ego, and become the subject of a comic book and a made-for-TV movie.

Given Joe's fascination with what he calls "failed superheros," might he be trying to live out his own fantasy? If so, what secret identity has he created for himself? Super Mayor? Garage Man? The Logician? The Pelican?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Here's a Tip for You

Here's a tip for you: begging for tips is really getting out of hand. (In the first place, no one should ever ASK for a tip. That's begging. Isn't it degrading to beg for money from other people? I guess the entitlement mentality has gotten so bad that begging has gone mainstream. Offering tips for good service is fine; asking for tips is not.) I was at a local community festival, and at the tent selling gyros there was a jar labeled "tips." Seven dollars for a gyro, AND I should leave a tip? And for what, exactly?

Charging "festival food" prices and expecting tips? You've got to be kidding.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Whaddis Youse Democrats Talkin' Aboot?

At the state Republican convention earlier this summer, Gov. Tim Pawlenty gave a speech in which he talked about "big spendin', tax raisin', abortion promotin', gay marriage embracin', more-welfare-without-accountability lovin', school-reform resistin', illegal-immigration supportin' Democrats."

Some local Dems took umbrage at that. One wrote a letter in which he concluded, "...we Democrats usually use the full suffix 'ing' when speaking or writing."

Good thing he put the word "usually" in there.

If you don't think Democrats talk like that, just listen to the TV ad for DFL-endorsed Senate candidate Amy Klobuchar. The candidate herself can be heard talkin' that way!

Aside from the irony and humor of that, this issue illustrates a schism that haunts Minnesota Democrats. The party has two key groups of supporters: The first group is well-educated, affluent, elitist urbanites. The second group are rural and from the Iron Range. They tend to be less affluent and less educated. But they are the salt of the Earth. They work hard and value their families.

The aforementioned urbanite letter writer illustrates for us how little respect the first group has for the second. They count on receiving their votes in order to implement their liberal agenda, but they don't respect them or really share their values. Rather than embrace unpolished speech as a characteristic of the "common man" Democrat, they must protest the characterization, in defense of their supposed intellectual superiority.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Westover Comments on Hill and Coleman

Like my fourth-grade teacher Oscar "The Magician" Peterson used to tell me when I had a good idea, "Great minds think alike."

Craig Westover had previously written about St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman's disrespect for the legacy of James J. Hill, a man who helped make St. Paul what it is. You can read Craig's thoughts here. He also offers some good information about the history of the Great Northern Railroad.

Yesterday I e-mailed Mayor Coleman's communications director, asking if the mayor cared to comment. I haven't heard back. If by chance I get any comment, I'll let you know. I also suggested to the Pioneer Press reporter who covers city hall that it would make a good story to ask Coleman to explain himself, but he didn't think there was any story there. Is it just my bias showing, or isn't this the type of thing that makes BIG NEWS if it involves ill-advised, off-the-cuff comments from Dan Quayle, George W. Bush, or any other Republican?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Boomers and The Little Red Hen

Maybe you've heard of a book by Leonard Steinhorn called "The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy." I haven't read it; I've only read of it (a review and some commentary about it), so I'm no expert on it. But Steinhorn is said to make a case that the Baby Boomers who rode the crest of a wave of social change are "greater" than their forebears who came of age during the Great Depression and won WWII. Here's an excerpt from the book, as quoted in a newspaper review:

"The Greatest Generation deserves every bit of credit for protecting democracy when it was threatened; but baby boomers deserve even more credit for enriching democracy and fulfilling its promise."

It makes me think of the story of the Little Red Hen, with an additional twist. After the Little Red Hen plants the wheat, hoes the wheat, reaps the wheat, threshes the wheat, grinds the wheat, makes the dough and makes the bread -- with no help -- the other animals demand that she share the bread. Then, the cat spikes the bread with pot, the animals get the munchies, and protest until the Little Red Hen meet their demand of serving them ice cream for dessert.

Afterward, the other animals want the credit for "enriching" the meal and "fulfilling its promise."

Yeah, that'll do.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Didn't Mother Coleman Teach Him: "If You Can't Say Anything Nice...."?

St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman needs to learn that a mayor must watch what he says. A mayor needs to be more, shall we say, diplomatic. A mayor never knows whose baby he'll be asked to kiss next, or who he'll have to glad-hand in a photo-op.

I've been thinking about that since reading in the Pioneer Press yesterday that St. Paul is poised to celebrate the 150th anniversary of James J. Hill's arrival in St. Paul. Sources quoted in Larry Millett's story note that Hill -- the "Empire Builder" who built the Great Northern Railroad among many other accomplishments, and became one of the richest men in American history, despite starting out with nothing -- was not a typical "robber baron," but a "builder" who left behind a legacy of business and philanthropy which still benefits St. Paul.

(The story was a "must-read" for me. I love history and railroads, and I've lived in St. Paul for the past 20 years, so I know how important a figure Hill is. In addition, I learned a few years ago that I even have a family connection to the Hills. During the Great Depression, my maternal grandparents worked for the Hill family, both at the mansion and at the Hill experimental farm [what is now the exclusive suburb of North Oaks], where one of their jobs was manning the gatehouse at the entry to the farm from now-Highway 96.)

As part of St. Paul's observance of the anniversary this week, an actor portraying the "Empire Builder" will disembark from a riverboat Friday afternoon in downtown St. Paul, and will be greeted by mayor Coleman.

I wonder what kind of greeting the mayor will give him? I ask, because I remember the harsh words mayor Coleman had for Hill just a few months ago.

The Hasbro company was doing a publicity stunt for its Monopoly board game, asking people to vote for properties around the country that could be included on an updated version of the game board. Real estate candidates from the Twin Cities included the Mall of America, the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis (built by Hill for the Great Northern), and St. Paul's Summit Avenue, anchored by the Hill mansion, now a historic site.

Told that the monster mall was leading the voting, the Pioneer Press quoted mayor Coleman as saying, "Summit's getting its ass kicked in the contest, but there's no question that that should be the symbol. It's the symbol of monopoly. It was the home of J.J. Hill, one of the biggest robber barons of all time."

Mayor, where's the love?

Kind of stepped in it, didn't he? And he put his foot in his mouth. (Yuck! What a combination!)

It will be interesting to see what sort of nice things Coleman has to say about Hill at the event this Friday. What praise will he heap upon "one of the biggest robber barons of all time"?

This is a great opportunity for illustrating the current conditions in St. Paul. I think Coleman's "robber baron" comment reveals his true beliefs. He and his administration have an anti-business bias. Hill was successful and became wealthy. That's a bad thing to Democrats of Coleman's persuasion. Of course Coleman doesn't like Hill. Coleman probably thinks St. Paul would be better off if Hill had never come here, or had remained a poorly-paid clerk.

Maybe when Coleman greets the Hill stand-in this Friday, he'll say, "Get out of town. We don't want your kind here. Your plans aren't what we envision for the riverfront, and we don't like the scale of your developments." That would be in keeping with the brief track record of this administration. I don't think a modern-day "empire builder" would be welcome in St. Paul. (Just ask developer Jerry Trooien, or Target Corporation.)

Anyway, I've noticed that our new mayor gets too full of himself, and is too quick to make what he thinks are witty, biting remarks. He needs to learn to hold his tongue, instead of trying to get in a verbal jab whenever he can. That will come back to bite him in the butt, as this example did.

Coleman reminds me of President Bush in this regard. Bush has been criticized as "arrogant," and has been criticized and mocked for making bold comments such as "Bring it on!" Ironically, the Hill story ran in the Pioneer Press yesterday, the same day that news media were aghast that President Bush had used a "bad word" when referring to the activities of terrorists.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction

1. The president of Poland last week swore in his own identical twin brother as the nation's new prime minister.

I'm thinking: Just what every politician needs, an identical twin. Politicians love to deny things. Now they'll both be able to say, "I never said that. You must be thinking of my identical twin brother." If a videotape shows one of them accepting a bribe, they'll both say, "Prove it was me!" And how is this going to complicate security? What if the bodyguards get confused and they all start protecting the same leader, leaving the other unattended? I think they should have just secretly shared one job. Then they could have each gotten some time off when they needed it. Of course, how do we know that they weren't already doing that?

2. A four-year-old boy fell from an 11th story window, and survived after bouncing off a first-floor awning.

I'm thinking: Just like in the cartoons. (But don't try this at home. Especially with a metal awning.)

Friday, July 14, 2006

Evel Knievel Is No Moderate

In an interesting column that I first saw in the Pioneer Press, Jonah Goldberg writes:

"Leaping a canyon in one jump may or may not be stupidly extreme, but it's a hell of [a] lot smarter than the more moderate approach of trying to leap it in two jumps."

Goldberg uses this example in a discussion of why "extremism" is better than "moderation." Sometimes there may be more than one option -- more than one workable option, even -- but you have to decide on one and then implement it fully.

You don't want an indecisive doctor to give you half a dose of two different medicines, do you? Or remove half a tumor and try to irradiate the remainder. No, you don't. Would you advise an undecided recent college grad to go halfway through law school and halfway through medical school? No, you wouldn't. You want to decide on one course of action, then follow it through to success.

That's what I've long thought about the idea that politics is all about "compromise." Yes, there needs to be compromise on some things, but other times, one side has to win out, and all support has to be thrown behind it. Doing half of what one side wants and half of what the other side wants is usually a plan for failure.

For instance, transportation issues. In Minnesota, the legislature is always arguing about funding for highways versus mass transit. So we "compromise." We get some money for more freeway lanes, and we get some money for a commuter bus. Thanks to the new freeway lanes, traffic keeps moving, and nobody wants to ride the bus.

What's needed is a commitment to one or the other. Either decide to build enough roads to keep traffic moving, or say, "That's it, no more roads," and let the traffic jams stimulate transit use.

Another example may be the new Twins baseball stadium to be built in Minneapolis. Faced with a choice of don't use public money to build a facility for a private business, or build a great baseball park for the public to enjoy, we decided to compromise. We'll build a new stadium, but it won't have a roof.

Then there's the train proposed to run between downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis. As I've written before, it won't be an express -- it will take longer than existing freeway express bus service. And it won't be a local -- it will stop only every mile. What is it? Who's going to ride it? How is it an improvement over the existing bus service?

Keep your eyes open, and you'll be sure to spot other examples of how "moderation" or "compromise" doom public policy to failure.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Rec Center Closed? Let the Children Go Shopping!

More evidence today that, as Joe Soucheray would say, Euphorians can't link.

The front page headline in the Pioneer Press today reports that the St. Paul city council has acted to limit the size and type of businesses that can locate on trendy Grand Avenue. They want to keep out national chains. They want to keep property values and rents from continuing their upward trend, which is said to be pricing out some of the businesses the council members and other activists favor.

That follows yesterday's big story, which told us that the city of St. Paul is facing a huge budget deficit, and a tax hike is inevitable. Also, we heard the usual terroristic threat that if we don't pay more in taxes, the children will be held hostage -- we'll have to shut down rec centers and libraries.

What's wrong with this picture?

Shouldn't a city that needs more tax revenue be glad to see rising property values, which would pad the property tax coffers? Also, St. Paul has a city sales tax. The city stands to garner more sales tax money from businesses that sell more stuff -- which we could infer would be the sort of businesses willing to pay higher rents on Grand Avenue.

The people currently running the city call themselves "progressives." I think they are elitists. They want St. Paul to be their own little magic kingdom of coffee houses and used book stores. They apparently can afford to live in a city like that. They don't care about commerce, because they think all wealth flows from the government. And why shouldn't they think that? That's where most of them are accustomed to getting their paychecks.

They don't seem to understand that the "little people" need some commerce -- not to mention stores regular people can afford to shop in.

Actions speak more loudly than words. When it comes down to it, these "progressives" -- who like to do things "for the children" -- have shown us their choice. They're willing to take from the children -- shutting down rec centers -- as long as they can preserve the upscale, recreational Yuppie shopping experience they crave. They may not see it as a direct trade-off, but in the big picture, they two are definitely connected.

I picture these "progressives" as modern-day Marie Antoinettes: "The children have no rec centers? Let them go shopping!"

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

You Get What You're Willing to Pay For

Now we're hearing some people say that farmers shouldn't be allowed to turn their corn into ethanol, because at some point in the future there might not be enough corn left for food.

Seems to me that's sort of like saying we need to limit the number of people who become lawyers, because in the future we might run short of teachers or barbers.

Well, there's a simple solution to that. If you want people to become teachers and barbers instead of lawyers, then pay teachers and barbers more than you pay lawyers.

In the same way, if you want to make sure there's enough corn for your cornflakes, be prepared to pay more for cornflakes.

Why do you think farmers got into the ethanol business in the first place? It's because they weren't being paid well enough for producing FOOD. So, they looked for other ways to earn some income. Farmers' kids have to eat, too, you know.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Two Birds with One Stone? Made in Mexico

Here are two issues a lot of Americans are worried about:

1. Jobs are leaving the country. Our goods are being manufactured in Asia.

2. Mexicans are coming into the U.S. in large numbers -- illegally -- to find work.

Isn't there an obvious connection here?

If Mexico could become a manufacturing hotbed -- like China or other emerging Asian nations -- the Mexicans could stay home and work for Americans, by producing goods to be exported to the U.S.

That would benefit not just Mexican workers, but the entire country of Mexico.

Having our TV sets made in Mexico instead of made in China would seem like a no-brainer. Why are the Mexicans coming to the U.S., instead of the jobs going to Mexico? Is labor simply too expensive in Mexico? If so, why do so many Mexicans risk so much to come to the U.S. and work for so little?

Anyone got any ideas?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Hollywood: Don't Sacrifice, Just Go Shopping!

A couple of posts back, in "Nobody Walks in LA," I talked about actress Jessica Alba as an example of a limousine liberal who thinks the answers to our problems lie not in changing our behavior, but in going shopping. Speaking at an awards show, she had exhorted people to "Practice safe sex and drive hybrids if you can."

I've realized since that this is another great example of Hollywood Hypocrisy.

Consider one of the criticisms we've heard leveled at President Bush regarding the War on Terror: "He hasn't asked us to make any sacrifices. After 9/11, he told us to go shopping to keep the economy going!"

And what is Miss Alba's advice? Go shopping! Don't give anything up. Don't stop being a slut. Don't stop driving so much. No, just buy condoms and a pricey hybrid car.

Friday, July 7, 2006

Is Everything a Political Game?

It sure seems that for many politicians and many in the media, everything is a game of politics. Nothing is to be taken seriously. Not even national security issues. It's all about the politics.

For example, a recent court ruling regarding the prisoners at Guantanamo was reported as "a blow to the Bush administration." Forget the Bush administration. What are the ramifications for the country? What are the ramifications for national security? Shouldn't that be what's most important?

Terrorism is serious business. But to too many news people and politicians, it seems to be nothing more than part of a game of politics. The public needs to demand better.

Do the media think we are too dumb to understand the bigger issues? Is that why they treat what happens as just some sort of soap opera, with the President as a hero or villain?

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Nobody Walks in L.A.

Limousine liberals love to talk the talk, but they don't walk the walk. You've got your poor little rich kids like John Kerry, with his multiple mansions and SUVs. And silver-spoon-fed Al Gore, the charity skinflint who jets around telling us to stop burning fossil fuels.

But the Hollywood types really take the cake.

A story in yesterday's paper was headlined "Other causes replace AIDS as Hollywood's 'darling disease,'" and lamented the way that Hollywood-types aren't worshipping the AIDS ribbon as they once did. [Note to those who can't see the obvious: People have tired of wringing their hands about AIDS. We know what causes AIDS, we know how you catch it, we know how not to catch it, so if in 2006 people are still contracting AIDS, it's usually nobody's fault but their own.]

The story noted that the stars have adopted many other pet causes:

There are so many rallying calls that some stars have completely given up wearing any symbol for fear of offending one group or another. During her acceptance speech after winning an MTV award recently, actress Jessica Alba was judicious: "Practice safe sex and drive hybrids if you can."

That really brought it home for me.

Note her prescription: buy condoms, and buy a trendy new car.

Preferably on Rodeo Drive.

Note that she didn't suggest actually changing behavior. Actually giving up something. She didn't say, "Stop being a slut, and don't drive so much."

No, because why actually control your own behavior, when you can just shop your way to a guilt-free conscience?

There are lots of liberals who do walk the walk. They do use alternatives to driving, and put their money where their mouths are, so to speak, rather than just spending it on an expensive status symbol like a hybrid car.

But not the Hollywood types. Those Limousine liberals like to talk the talk, just as long as they don't have to walk.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

What Part of "Illegal" Don't You Understand?

The debate over immigration issues is truly bizarre. As I've said before, you can argue that immigration quotas should be raised, you can argue that immigration should be made easier, but everyone should be able to agree that a nation needs to control its borders and the flow of people across it.

But not everyone sees it that way.

So in today's St. Paul Pioneer Press, I read a very strange account of a counter-protest of an illegal immigration protest.

It seems a small group of motorcyclists participating in what they call the 21st Century Paul Revere Ride arrived in St. Paul yesterday, planning to conduct a protest of illegal immigration at the State Capitol. But other protesters were waiting for them, and drowned them out so that they couldn't excercise their free speech.

Again, What part of illegal don't you understand?

One counter-protester was quoted saying, "Who... are you to keep anyone out of this country?"

Clearly, some people don't recognize the concept of borders, citizenship and national sovereignty. That is frightening.

One counter-protester even said that he doesn't favor illegal immigration.

So what's the problem?

But this issue gets so messed up. And the terms we use contribute. The headline on the story reads, "Immigration protest ride gets bumpy."

But were they here to protest any immigration? Or illegal immigration? They claim the latter, but the distinction doesn't seem to be recognized.

So we have the irony of high-minded people claiming everyone should be entitled to be Americans, with no control whatsoever, and at the same time doing their best to deny the right of free speech to American citizens.

If they keep that up, they'll turn this into a country no one wants to get into!

The counter-protesters sounded pretty pleased with themselves for the way they had denied free speech rights to the members of the 21st Century Paul Revere Ride. I wonder how the would react if the situation were different? What if a bunch of counter-protesters had shown up to drown out advocates of same-sex marriage, for instance? I think the'y be singing a different song. We'd be hearing about "hate crimes" and "denial of civil rights."

But no matter how self-righteous they act, for most people, it's not about "principle," it's really only about what's good for them and their side.

Yet another fact about human nature.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

The "Good Old Days" Are Here -- for the First Time

This is interesting. A study of the past 100 years shows that we are living in the "Good Old Days" right now. Things are better than ever for Americans.

So don't let politicians tell you how bad things have gotten, and how "hard it is to make ends meet" these days.

For example, the study determined that in 1901, a family had to spend 79.9 percent of its income on food, clothing, and housing.

But in recent years -- when we are eating better than ever, in ever-bigger houses, and with extensive wardrobes -- the average American household spent only 50.1 percent of its income on those items.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Give Me Liberty, or Give Me... Nevermind. Just Don't Kill Me.

One of the things I find frustrating about the war in Iraq is it often seems as though Iraqis won't stand up en masse and demand an end to violence. That they won't stand up and demand a peaceful, free Iraq.

Aren't Iraqis willing to stand up and die for liberty and freedom? Sure, that's easy for me to say, sitting here at my keyboard, but I'm thinking of the heroes of our American Revolution, who left us with quotes like "Give me liberty or give me death!" and "I regret that I have only one life to give for my country."

It seems people in Iraq don't think any cause is worth dying for.

Well, that's not entirely true. Some people do think their cause is worth dying for. Trouble is, they're the bad guys.

But the good guys seem reluctant to take a stand. They seem easily intimidated. Supposed leaders and lawmakers, even, break under the threats of the terrorists. Self-preservation seems to be a stronger instinct that the yearning for liberty, freedom or justice.

It seems too many Iraqis are willing to join whichever side they think will best keep them alive.

Maybe history and culture have taught them that that's the thing to do. If so, how do we encourage them to overcome the self-preservation instinct, so that they will take a stand for the good of future generations of Iraqis?

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

I'm Confused

I'm confused today. Can't get it straight in my head what day of the week it is. I'm so used to Monday holidays, that I'm thinking it's Tuesday. Adding to the confusion is that while my wife had Monday off from her office job, my son still went to the day camp he began this week. So now it seems to me like today he's starting a second new week!

I think I've said before that I don't approve of the "always-on-a-Monday" holidays. They seem to take the focus off of the holiday itself -- and the reason for the holiday -- and merely provide a travel day so people can stay at the lake through Sunday. Memorial Day, for instance, then becomes just a day to spend in a traffic jam on the freeway, not a day of remembrance and appreciation.

But that's human nature. We always want more. (Yet another way that we never grow up.)

This year, Independence Day fell on a Tuesday. (They'd better never make the Fourth of July an "always-Monday" holiday.) A lot of people took or were given Monday off, as well. And there's nothing wrong with that. But I think it's interesting to note that we tend to see the glass as half empty. When it comes to the idea of NOT having Monday off, you'd hear, "I can't believe I have to work Monday!" or "There's no way I'm working Monday!" But how often did you hear anyone say, "Wow! I get Tuesday off!"? You probably never heard that. We always want more. We take for granted what we have, and always want more. '

That's human nature. It begins in childhood, and never changes.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Selective Milestones

It was reported this week that sometime in October, the population of the United States is expected to hit 300 million. What particularly stood out to me in the radio news report I heard, was that the reporter said something like, "Sometime in October, the 300 millionth person will be born or cross the border."


That really emphasized the issue of immigration. Particularly of the illegal variety. How many of us realize that immigration is not just a detail, but something now to be mentioned in the same breath as births?

And it must present a real conundrum to those liberals who embrace illegal immigrants, while at the same time worrying about overpopulation.

I wonder if this milestone will make them reconsider? Of course it won't. But they do love those milestones. They love to point out those Iraq war death tolls. They love to report every time another million abortions have been performed. (OK, maybe I imagined that part. The total is estimated at about 50 million since Roe v. Wade.)

Just the other day, I saw a car with an anti-war message written in the back window. "2513 dead in Iraq" it read. The rest of the message suggested that the driver didn't think the war was worth the cost.

But if he or she is into that sort of cost/benefit analysis, I ask, why was he/she driving a car? Since the War in iraq began three years ago, about 130,000 Americans have died on the roadways. That driver could kill himself or herself -- or even someone else!

Kind of puts that 2,513 number into perspective, doesn't it?

And for what benefit? If national security, fighting terrorism, and ending the reign of a genocidal dictator are not worth 2,513 lives, then is the $6 cup of coffee or latest Al Franken book that driver picked up at the strip mall he/she was leaving worth 130,000 lives? And what about the oil that car was consuming? Isn't that the same oil for which war critics complain our troops are dying?

Putting that message on the rear window of a car (where it only serves as another impediment to traffic safety -- perhaps a ticketable offense) seems rather hypocritical to me.

U.S. out of Iraq!? U.S. off of the roadways! It's too dangerous. Driving is not worth the cost!

Friday, June 30, 2006

Unintended Consequences: War on Terror / War on Poverty

A news story reports that experts say the U.S. is losing the war on terror, and not only that, but that the war in Iraq has actually benefited the terrorists.

That may be true. I believe the war was morally justified. The question has always been whether it was tactically the right thing to do. Would invading Iraq help us reach our goal of security against terrorism? Planners mistakenly thought that once Sadam was toppled, Iraq would carry on forward without him. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. Iraq went backward in many ways. Now the trick is to get it going forward again.

But would we be better off now if we had not invaded Iraq? We'll never know. As I've said many times before, life isn't a game show. It's not "Let's Make a Deal," where if you don't like what's behind the curtain, you know another choice held a good prize. In real life, sometimes none of the choices are "winners." But people like to think it works that way. They like to Monday morning quarterback things. So if the invasion of Iraq does not look like a great success, they figure it follows that NOT invading Iraq was the "right choice" and would have solved all of our problems.

If only real life were as simple as a TV game show.

But what I wanted to get at today is that this story, in which experts claim that the War on Terror has only served to create more terrorists, reminds me yet again about how the War on Terror reminds me of the War on Poverty. Critics of the Iraq war complain that it has gone on too long, and that it is taking up too much money.

But look at the 40-year War on Poverty. The same critics of the war insist that we must keep throwing more and more money at the Great Society's War on Poverty. They continue to think that eventually we'll win.

But I say that the War on Poverty seems to have served to institutionalize and perpetuate poverty, with a permanent, self-sustaining underclass.

Just as the experts in the news story claim that Iraq is now is a recruiting and training ground for terrorists, the War on Poverty has created breeding grounds for poverty and criminal behavior. Life is full of unintended consequences, and this is another one. Don't forget what they say about the road to Hell being paved with good intentions.

But shouldn't we have known better? I'm thinking in particular about one of the grand strategies of the War on Poverty: the building of vast public housing projects. What I call urban reservations.

It's as though some great thinkers said, "Look how well those reservations are working out for the Indians. Let's do the same for the poor black people!" So we segregated them in isolated communities, where they would have little hope for employment, and chemical dependency would be rampant.


(Here's an idea: Maybe those housing projects should be allowed to build casinos!)

It's as though we've created self-sustaining leper colonies. In the leper colonies of old, the lepers were banished, exiled to live together in the wilderness, so they wouldn't give their disease to others. But in these modern day "colonies," the poor residents are free to reproduce, and pass on their own criminal behavior and poverty to their children. The "colony" nurtures the "disease," rather than bringing it to an end.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

External vs. Internal Solutions

I've recently noticed a couple of examples that may represent a trend. They show how liberals often look for external solutions, while conservatives often look for internal solutions. I'll explain what I mean.

Liberals like to say how much they "care." That's a big word with them. And they like to show how much they care by...insisting that the government seize someone else's money to fix the problem. (So much for putting your money where your mouth is.) They like to say how much they "care," then demonstrate their sincere concern by pointing their fingers and insisting that someone else do something. They don't look inside themselves for a solution; they look for someone else to give them something.

For example, they like to decry the state of public education, and insist that the government must give more money to the schools to fix the "problems." Where will this money come from? Why, from taxing "the rich," of course.

But conservatives know that money isn't the answer when it comes to education. The problems are social and moral. Our schools are forced to deal with kids from bad homes. They don't have stable families. They don't have responsible parents. They often don't have two parents. Some don't have even one parent. (They have a "guardian" or "care giver.") This is due to social and moral corruption. Children having children. Children born out of wedlock. Divorce. A breakdown of traditional family values.

Conservatives know that these are the real problems. These problems must be dealt with at the root, and then the schools won't "need" more money to try to deal with them remedially.

But these problems demand that people examine themselves and change their own behavior. Liberals don't like that. It's too "judgmental." Better to just blame the government for not giving enough money to the schools, and "the rich" for being greedy.

Another example would be the full-page newspaper ad purchased by a group of Twin Cities liberals last week. In their $20,000 ad, they called upon the state of Minnesota to raise their taxes. They are "willing to pay more for a better Minnesota," as the lawn signs say. Governor Tim Pawlenty quickly called their bluff, pointing out that there is nothing stopping anyone from writing out a check to make an additional donation to the state treasury. He even offered to personally accept such donations from the group.

But, of course, that's not what they really want. They want the state to seize more money from OTHER PEOPLE, in order to implement their own objectives. Yes, they "care" so much that they want to use the force of government to impose their sense of morality on everyone else.

Now, it's good for all of us to give what we can to help others. And you don't have to be "the rich" to do so. We should all give what we can. (Which for most people, is probably a lot more than they are giving now. Take Al Gore, for instance. Remember when the poor little rich boy Vice President reported about $200 of charitable giving on his tax return? Yet he's the darling of the liberals, jetting around the country telling us to stop burning fossil fuels.)

Again, we need to look at ourselves, and give what we can. Just like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, only in smaller sums. Notice how those two rich men are giving their money to causes they believe in. You know that money is going to do more good than if the government had seized it from them or their estates.

Liberals tell us that they are "pro choice." "Choice" is good, they say. Why don't they believe in giving people choice about what to do with their own money?

I think part of the problem is that the liberal philosophy sees people as helpless victims. They can't help themselves, and they can't even help each other. No, government is our only hope for salvation. They seem to think that people lack free will, and must be dictated to and manipulated by the government.

This "internal" vs. "external" idea isn't always so clear. Liberals who wouldn't dare be "judgmental" about children having children nonetheless tell us that "we have to change our driving habits" to conserve oil. Yet, look more closely. What they really are after is government mandates to impose their idea of "moral" driving on everyone else.

And what about abortion? Pro-life conservatives want the government to ban abortion, while pro-abortion liberals say there should be a "choice." This comes closer to the conservatives looking for the "external" solution while the liberals choose the "internal" solution. The "pro-choice" people say they want abortion to be "safe, legal, and rare."

That's always struck me as a bizarre statement. If there's nothing wrong with abortion, why do you care whether or not it is rare? And if there is something wrong with it, why do you want it kept legal?

Can you imagine someone saying, "I want wife-beating to remain safe, legal, and rare"? Or "I want slavery to remain safe, legal, but rare"?

Of course not.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Who Taught These Guys to Negotiate?

So, Iraqi insurgent groups are offering to cease their attacks if the U.S. will agree to withdraw all troops within two years.

What kind of morons are these people?

The U.S. plan all along has been to leave as soon as possible, which has meant as soon as insurgents are under control and the country is reasonably peaceful. The U.S. could have left by now if they would have simply ceased their attacks two years ago.

But their strategy seems to have been to force the U.S. out by conducting a terror campaign, which is the very thing that has kept U.S. troops in Iraq for three years now. It's as though the insurgents struck the Tar Baby. If they had behaved themselves, they would have gotten what they wanted.

But who ever thought we were dealing with rational people who could reason? (Well, who except for American liberals?)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Women Have Always Worked

OK, as I was saying a few posts ago, women have always worked.

You'll often hear people say, "These days, it takes two incomes to get by." If that's true, it's only the two INCOMES part that's new. It's always taken two workers (unless you were quite wealthy) to support a family.

The difference is the idea that married women work for wages. Women had always worked, on the farm or in the home. They cleaned by hand, washed clothing by hand, made clothing, prepared food, grew food, canned food, spun wool, wove fabric, the list goes on and on. Surely you haven't forgotten the old saying, "A woman's work is never done"?

These days, much of what was traditionally "women's work" is being purchased with cash, instead of being done by the woman of the house. Thus, the need for a second income. Families spend increasing amounts of money on prepared foods and convenience foods. They pay cleaners to come into their homes. They pay more to have someone clean their clothes instead of doing it themselves.

And let's not forget the most important -- and most expensive -- aspect of traditional "women's work," raising children!

There was a brief period in American history -- let's call it the "Leave It to Beaver" Days -- when we let ourselves think that women didn't have to work. Machines would do all the housework, and housewives could play bridge all day! Yeah, right.

I think history shows that adults need to work to earn their keep on Earth. If there was a brief period when that didn't seem to be the case, it was an anomaly. Now we're just catching up to reality again.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Researcher Says Sisters Are Irrelevant

There, now I got your attention. You know by now that I like teaser headlines. And if my own sister is reading, I was able to give her the needle!

I located Dr. Anthony Bogaert, mentioned in the previous post, and asked him the question I raised there. Dr. Bogaert reported that his study found that whether or not a man had older sisters was unrelated to whether he was gay. I figured he had considered that, but there was always the tantalizing chance that he would say, "Hmmmmm... good question."

Isn't the Information Age amazing? I just did a search for Brock University, went to the school's Website, then entered Bogaert's name in the site search function, and I quickly found him and his e-mail address. He quickly went from someone far, far away, whom I had read about in a Los Angeles Times story reprinted in my local daily, to someone I can talk to via e-mail. Amazing!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Fat and Gay: What's the Link?

None, actually. But there's a link to be found in two stories I read in yesterday's paper. One gives a "Top 10" list of reasons for rampant obesity in the U.S. The other reports a study that shows the more older brothers a man has, the more likely he is to be gay.

The link is that these stories show another example of how liberals and conservatives can act the same. (The people in question don't declare their political ideology, but I think it's a pretty safe assumption.)

In the "gay" story, researchers say that the more older brothers a man has, the more likely he is to be gay. They can't identify why that should be so, but they think there is some sort of biological explanation -- something to do with antibodies that build up in a woman's body when she carries a son. The story carries this "opposing view" from a cynic:

Tim Dailey, of the conservative Center for Marriage and Family Studies, disagreed.

"We don't believe that there's any biological basis for homosexuality," Dailey said. "We feel the causes are complex but are deeply rooted in early childhood development."

There have been a number of attempts to establish a physical basis "and in every case the alleged findings have been severely challenged and questioned," he said.

In the "obesity" story, scientists attempt to explain some of the reasons why so many Americans are now obese. They point to changing societal and technological factors, such as inadequate sleep, climate-controlled home and work environments, less smoking, and population changes. This story also has the requisite "opposing view":

However, some critics say the researchers' "Top 10" list of explanations reads more like material for a David Letterman routine than a scientific study.

"I'd put this in the category of 'calorie distracters' -- 'Let's just do anything to get people to stop worrying about having to eat less and move more,' " said Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University and frequent food industry critic. " 'And let's not say a word to food companies about misleading and manipulative marketing practices, especially those directed toward children.' "

Anyone think she might have an agenda?

And that's where the link is. In both cases, the critics have an agenda. They've made up their minds, and they don't care what the research shows. They don't care what the facts might be. They've made up their mind who the bad guys are, and don't you dare try to tell them anything different.

Liberal or conservative, it doesn't matter. That's how people are.


Mommy's little girl?

I wonder if the sexual orientation study looked at how sisters fit into the mix? Was there a difference when a man had a lot of older brothers but also one or more sisters?

What I'm thinking of is the old idea -- which may be entirely without merit for all I know -- that all mothers want a little girl to raise. And so if there is no little girl, a mother may raise her son(s) in a more feminine way than if she had a girl to direct those impulses toward. It would seem, then, that if there is such a tendency, it would grow stronger and stronger the more sons a woman has. The result would be that a woman with many sons but no daughter might lavish large amounts of feminine upbringing upon the youngest.

I'm going to see if I can find some contact information for the primary researcher, psychologist Anthony Bogaert of Brock University in Ontario. If he answers that question for me, I'll share it with you.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Civic Clubs Victims of Two-Career Households

On his Garage Logic radio show yesterday, Joe Soucheray was talking about fraternal civic clubs (Moose, Elk, Eagles, etc.) and the way that they appear to be less prominent in society than they used to be. (Even if their membership levels have remained stable, if we consider rising population, the percentage of people active in such clubs has surely declined.)

I think there is a simple explanation: women in the workforce.

(Please note, I said "explanation," not "blame." So don't get after me for bashing women.)

Here's what I'm thinking: In the heyday of these clubs, a man went off to work, and his wife kept house. When he came home from work, supper was on the table. He could eat, kiss the wife and kids, and head out to a lodge meeting.

He had time for the club. (And he may have welcomed an excuse to get out of the house once a week, breaking out of the pipe, slippers and newspaper rut.) At the same time, women had time for women's organizations, which generally held their meetings during the day, when the husbands were at work and the kids were at school.

Now, we've got two people away from home and at work all day. After work, they've got to do the shopping, make dinner, and do all the other tasks that a full-time homemaker used to do during the day.

Now add to that the explosion in children's activities -- mostly taking place in the evening. Not only are there more organized youth sports than ever, but now they are almost exclusively taking place in the evening. Why? Because both parents (assuming there even are two parents) are away at work all day. When women stayed home with the children, these youth activities were more likely to take place immediately after school, or in summer, during the day.

I'd say that's the biggest factor -- two-career families.

No doubt there are other factors, as well. Let's face it, things change. Clubs have more competition these days. Entertainment options abound. The pipe, slippers and newspaper rut is now 400 channels and a remote control.

Additionally, I think people are less connected than they used to be. Especially in larger cities. Men would be more likely to join a club if many of their co-workers were already members, or many of their neighbors, or many of the guys they knew from church. They'd be getting a personal invitation and a "guide" to show them their way into the club. Club membership probably works with a sort of "snowball" effect. They more people in a community join, the more other people are encouraged to join. There would be peer pressure at work.

But these days relationships are so fragmented. People work with people who live all over the place. If your co-worker belongs to a lodge in his hometown that sounds fun, but you're both commuters and you live two hours apart from each other, you're not about to join him. Even if that lodge has a chapter where you live, you're not likely to join if you don't already have a friend who is a member. I doubt that few prospective members walk in off of the street "cold."

Finally, here's one more change that may have hurt membership: allowing women into the clubs (sometimes by government edict).

OK, I know, here I go "blaming" women again.

But men are men and women are women. Both sexes enjoy being separated at times. When some of these traditionally men's clubs went "co-ed," it had to have changed the social dynamic within them. Maybe it made the clubs more attractive to young singles looking to meet the opposite sex, but it had to have had the opposite effect on married men looking to escape the domestic scene for the evening and spend some fun time with the guys.

(While the "dual-income" or "two-career" household may be a new development, women have always worked. I'll address that in another post.)

Monday, June 26, 2006

Government as Guardian Angel

Ed Lotterman had another great column in the Pioneer Press on Sunday. Lotterman used the recent fire in a code-deficient St. Paul apartment-house as a starting point for a discussion of the competing theories regarding government safety regulations.

One economic theory, Lotterman explains, holds that allowing people to decide for themselves what risks to accept -- and at what cost -- is ultimately the best both for the individual and for the greater society. If someone wants to live in a small, poorly-maintained, cheap apartment and spend their money for education or transportation to a job, that may ultimately be better for that person.

The competing theory argues that consumers often don't have enough reliable information available to allow them to make wise decisions. An example would be restaurant inspections by the public health department. It's not practical to expect a potential diner to personally inspect each establishment in which he might eat.

But as Lotterman points out, this isn't just an economic argument. It's also a moral and philosophical argument.

Philosophically, I tend to favor a system in which people use information to make their own decisions, at least whenever it is reasonable to expect people to be able to have that information. But then the problem becomes determining what is reasonable. (More on that later.)

And what are we to make of cases where people do have good information, yet they still make dangerous choices? Smoking would be one such example. You'd have to be older than 50 at least to be able to claim with a straight face that you lit up that first cigarette not knowing it was bad for you.

The government has been giving people that information for decades. It's worked somewhat, but about one-of-four people still smoke. Should government instead ban tobacco altogether?

And when exactly is it "not reasonable" to expect someone to have the information they need? We've been lowering that bar for quite some time. I think we're now past the point of no return. Personal responsibility? A thing of the past.

What I'm thinking of here is the way we've grown to expect the Nanny State to protect us from everything -- including our own foolishness. How often have you heard someone say, "THEY wouldn't let them sell it if it wasn't safe," or "THEY wouldn't let you do it if it wasn't safe"? And I'm talking about supposedly "responsible" adults!

We expect any product on the shelf to be safe. We expect that it will impossible to use it in a dangerous, unintended way. We expect fences and locks to keeps us out of places we don't belong, such as trespassing through a construction site for a short-cut. "THEY would put a better fence around it if THEY didn't want us to go through."

Yes, we've grown accustomed to expecting THEM to look out for us. It's not clear exactly who THEY are, but THEY seem to be some sort of government guardian angels.

And because we can no longer be expected to exercise our own common sense in pursuit of self-preservation, we've got those ridiculous "lawyer labels" on everything, telling us obvious things such as, "Do not store this gasoline can near an open flame."

But this "warning" thing sort of feeds upon itself. The more you do it, the more you need to do it. If there isn't a sticker explicitly saying NOT to do something stupid, then people figure it must be OK. Sort of like the way that if there is not a "NO PARKING" sign on the block, then people assume it's safe to park there.

Unfortunately, as the apartment fire shows, the consequences can be much more serious than a traffic ticket.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Light Rail Suffers from Identity Crisis

Minneapolis and St. Paul and being railroaded with Light Rail Transit. You know how the Bush-haters complain that the decision to invade Iraq was made well in advance, and consideration of other options was a sham? That's how it is here with THE TRAIN. Officially, we've been going through study and public comment and such to decide which would be better, a train, or dedicated rapid busways. But all the liberal powers-that-be decided long ago that we will have a train. After all, Denver is 10 years ahead of us, as St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman likes to point out. And while his administration has ushered in a new era of cooperation with Twin City Minneapolis, our new rival is apparently the Mile High City.

Meanwhile, cost estimates for the line between downtowns St. Paul and Minneapolis continue to rise (as they did throughout construction of the now-completed Hiawatha Line through south Minneapolis). We're now talking about $930 million, instead of "only" $840 million. But don't worry, we don't really have to pay for it, because we're depending on that free federal money!

I think the biggest threat to the success of our inevitable University Avenue train is an uncertainty of purpose. If it tries to be everything to everybody, it's going to fail. So who is it intended to serve? People wanting to go quickly between the downtowns? Or people making stops along the Avenue? When I ask dedicated train supporters who are involved in the process, they all tell me "It will serve all different types of riders."

But I think that mindset is the kiss of death.

I think a lot of people assumed that the purpose of the train was to get people quickly from one downtown to the other. That's why it will have limited stops along University Avenue -- one mile apart. If there are a lot of stops, it will take too long to get from one downtown to the other. But when it was pointed out in the newspaper that a downtown-to-downtown trip on the train would actually take LONGER than the same trip on the existing freeway express bus service, the song and dance changed. Now we're being told that most people won't be going downtown-to-downtown. They'll be getting on and getting off somewhere in between the downtowns. And people in a hurry can still use the express bus (never mind that bus service is expected to be reduced once the train is running).

But if the train is for people to use along University Avenue between the downtowns, then doesn't it need to stop more frequently than just once per mile? Someone expected to use the train in that way would be better off using the existing bus service on University Avenue, so they could be picked up and dropped off closer to where they are going. (But, of course, the plan is to reduce that bus service once the train is going.)

What' the point of this train? Who is it supposed to serve? Let's figure it out. Is it a local or an express? If we are hell-bent on having this billion-dollar train, we'd better decide what it is that we want it to do, and then design it to do that in the best way possible.

Otherwise, the train as planned is sounding like a compromise that will serve no one well. If we're going to spend the billion dollars, let's at least have something that will be truly useful to someone.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Nothing New Under the Sun

I like to point it out when I observe examples of how some things are the same throughout the centuries, throughout millennia, even. This applies very often to human behavior, but I also observe ways that new technologies share much with old technologies.

For example, I was recently reading in the paper about how simply deleting files from your computer's hard drive doesn't necessarily remove the data from the disk. Someone can come along and retrieve your old files quite easily.

New technology, new problem, right?

Not really.

PBS recently ran a "Nova" program about the lost manuscript of Archimedes. The ancient mathematician wrote this book more than 2,000 years ago, and some copies were made by hand over the centuries. But eventually all copies were lost. Until it was discovered about 100 years ago that beneath the words of a medieval manuscript lay the words of the lost Archimedes volume! With modern technology, the words and diagrams of Archimedes are now being rediscovered.

How can this be? It was not uncommon in olden days for a scribe to wash the ink off of the pages of a unvalued book in order to reuse the parchment to make a copy of another book. That is what had happened in the case of the Archimedes manuscript. There is even a name for such a document, it is called a "palimpsest."

Recovery of Archimedes' writings has shown that the mathematical genius invented calculus, 2,000 years before the world discovered it again! What a mind he must have had.

I have another example of "nothing new," one where human nature and technology intersect. I heard a discussion on the radio yesterday about robots, as in the humanoid kind. There was much snickering about whether such machines might eventually be used in "service" to humans in a very personal way.

Off course they will be, if such robots ever become a reality.

Sex and technology have long been intertwined. The printing press led to pornography. The motion picture led to stag films. The telephone led to 976 numbers. The computer led to sex-themed Websites (one of the few successful money-makers on the Web).

The simple fact is, sex sells. There's money in sex. And people like sex. It's that simple. So it's inevitable that if it's possible to make money through applying a new technology to sex, it will be done.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What Doesn't Kill Me, Makes Me Stronger

Fire hardens steel. Battle hardens troops. Hard work builds muscle -- and calluses. "Spare the rod, spoil the child."

We hear of many examples of stresses building strengths. Should this news item surprise us?

Gritty rats and mice living in sewers and farms seem to have healthier immune systems than their squeaky clean cousins that frolic in cushy antiseptic labs, two studies indicate.

The lesson for humans: Clean living may make us sick.

Are we turning into a bunch of hothouse flowers?

I've heard this theory expressed before, in regard to why the U.S. has an escalating rate of childhood asthma. Some people have claimed that children living in the garbage dumps of Mexico, for example, seem healthier than U.S. kids, and have postulated that a clean environment in the U.S. may be to blame. Indeed, the news story continues:

The studies give more weight to a 17-year-old theory that the sanitized Western world may be partly to blame for soaring rates of human allergy and asthma cases and some autoimmune diseases, such as Type I diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. The theory figures that people's immune systems aren't being challenged by disease and dirt early in life, so the body's natural defenses overreact to small irritants such as pollen.

But can we extend this theory beyond the physical? By providing too much of a clean and comfortable environment for our children in other ways, are we making them emotionally and intellectually weak?

Consider, if you will, the way that we've stopped keeping score in children's games. No one ever loses; everyone gets a medal just for showing up. In school, we've moved away from grades. A bad grade might hurt some kid's self-esteem, don't you know. When grades are given, almost everyone gets an "A."

Are we bringing up "sickly" kids who will have no "immunity" to what life will throw at them? What will they do when they grow up and find out that life isn't "fair"? That bad things happen? That you don't always get what you want? That the you don't always win? That the boss won't be satisfied just because you "tried your personal best"? That the police won't merely point out that you made some "bad choices," then pat you on the head and send you on your way?

Then there are the layers of welfare programs that continue to protect people from the consequences of their own actions, even in adulthood.... You've got to wonder, are we really doing what's best for people when we try so hard to be "nice" and "caring"?

Maybe "This is for your own good..." and "Someday you'll thank me for this..." are the honest truth!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

I don't know what to make of this. I guess I'm the wrong color to understand it. But I know this latest racial brouhaha doesn't portend well for the future of issues of a racial nature. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Sunday:

It seemed like the kind of project everyone could love. The University of Minnesota and its partners would bring a family mental-health center, small-business development and other ventures to an empty corner of north Minneapolis.

Sounds good, doesn't it?

Then came the pushback. Why a mental-health center? Fliers posted in the community asked, "Do you want our black families and babies to be tested on like black guinea pigs again?

The University Northside Partnership is now tangled in issues of race, mistrust and control, and it has opened the dam to a flood of long-held grievances against the university.

I know there are historical factors that feed into the suspicion and fear, but is it reasonable? I don't think so, but apparently some blacks do.

How can we break out of this racial rut? It seems that when it comes to dealing with "the black community," you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. If the University had planned their project for a suburb populated mostly by white people, we'd be hearing, "How come you don't spend all that money in a neighborhood where black people live?" But try to do just that, and...

I think we're getting to the point where a lot of people would just as soon say, "Why bother? You can't win, anyway. Just forget about them."

Monday, June 19, 2006

Liberals Love the Money

If you want to know what people are like, listen to what they accuse others of. They often seem to be describing themselves. Liberals love to complain about how much those "rich Republicans" love money. Yet, it seems to me that many liberals are obsessed with money, wanting more, and always comparing themselves to others. They are envious, and jealous of those who have more than they do.

Take Ellen Goodman (please!) for example. The columnist gives us her take on the inheritance tax, and how upset she is that some people inherit money, while others have to work for it. Life isn't fair! she cries.

Goodman uses hotel heiress and famous-for-being-famous celebrity Paris Hilton as her example of a typical, undeserving heir. Not a very sympathetic character there. Goodman asks: "Why exactly should the money handed down to super-rich heirs be tax-free while the money earned by your children be taxable income?"

I'll tell you why, Ellen. Because that inheritance money was already taxed once as income when it was earned by the deceased! Why should it be taxed a second time?

But such logic means nothing when you're green with envy. (Is it just coincidence that we say "green" -- the color of money -- with envy?)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Will That Be Borders or Non-Borders?

I read a David Brooks column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press today. Unfortunately, there's no Web link for it, since the New York Times, for which Brooks writes, has restricted free Web access to its material. (I think it ran in the Times June 15.)

Brooks wrote about how he thinks American politics could be divided into two camps, which he calls "populist nationalists" and "progressive globalists." That got me thinking, and it occurred to me that we might instead define America's two political camps as "patriotic nationalists" and "one-worlders." The "patriotic nationalists" believe that America is a great, unique country founded on ideals. The "one-worlders," on the other hand, believe their ideas transcend -- and supercede -- borders.

This is why the "one-worlders" don't see anything wrong with foreigners streaming uncontrolled across the border into the U.S. Why should little details like citizenship or national borders get in the way of everyone realizing their socialist Utopian ideals? The "patriotic nationalists," meanwhile, see a distinction between "us" -- the U.S. -- and them, and want to maintain the distinction.

The current World Cup soccer tournament offers another example. The "patriotic nationalists" recognize that soccer is not the national pastime. It's not America's thing. But the "one-worlders" see soccer as "the world's game," and therefore, it must be our game, too. They don't wish to recognize any distinction between the U.S. and the rest of the world. They insist that we SHOULD care about soccer, and if we don't, means there's something wrong with America, because it isn't just like the rest of the world.

Scarily, the "one-worlders" share something with Al-Qaeda and the Islamo-fascists: they both put their ideology above national borders. Both wish to bring about their own version of a trans-national paradise, based on their own ideology.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Blacks Better Than Whites; Women Better Than Men

According to a study, black people can hear better than white people, and women can hear better than men.

That's interesting. But what's even more interesting to me, is that this is played as a simple matter-of-fact news story, on page 8 of the newspaper, with no mention of "bias" or "discrimination." Compare that to the automatic uproar whenever anyone suggests that males or whites might be superior at something.

Right here in St. Paul in recent years, we had a battle about getting more woman into the fire department. Part of the debate concerned whether women are physically strong enough for the demands of the job. But such a politically incorrect question was a political hot potato. There was pressure to change the requirements of the physical skills test if not enough women could pass. It was politically unacceptable to acknowledge that men (as a group) were more suited to this job than were women (as a group).

But just a couple of years ago, I was at an assembly at my kids' St. Paul elementary school, and heard an address from a city councilwoman and former policewoman, who encouraged girls to go into law enforcement, because she thought women had qualities that made them even better at police work than men!

The good news is, after I pointed out to her that she might not like it if a male firefighter had encouraged the boys to go into firefighting because they were better at it than women, she agreed that I had a point.

I do think that FOR SOME ASPECTS of police work, women probably are better suited than men. Men and women are different. They do have different strengths. But remember, that's as a group. Not all women are the same, just as not all men are the same.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Stereotyping? or Educated Guess?

I was in the backyard the other day and I heard some loud music blasting somewhere nearby. It sounded like some Mexican music, and then I heard a Spanish-speaking voice. It sounded like a Spanish language radio station. I said to myself, Is someone getting a new roof?

Oh, the horror! What a terrible person I am, doing such stereotyping! Thinking that all roofers are Mexicans, or all Mexicans are roofers, or whatever such awful thing I was thinking!

So I walked around front and peered down the street.

Yep, new roof half a block down.

Irish Coffee Sales Expected to Soar

According to a news story:

In a new study of more than 125,000 people, one cup of coffee per day cut the risk of alcoholic cirrhosis by 20 percent. Four cups per day reduced the risk by 80 percent. The coffee effect held true for women and men of various ethnic backgrounds.

Well, I want to know: Do five cups a day cut the risk by 100 percent?

Go, Figure!

It takes me too long to read the daily paper. I'm always reading stuff that doesn't even apply to me. Like the other day, when for some reason I started reading the shopping/fashion columnist. Someone had written to Pioneer Press columnist Allison Kaplan with a shopping problem. She said she had trouble finding swimsuits to fit her "average-petite frame" and 38DD bust. (Oh, I may have figured out what caught my eye.)

Kaplan wrote: "The narrow swimsuit selection at department stores can make you feel like an oddity -- which you're not."

Speaking as a man with eyes, I beg to differ. If petite women with 38DD chests were common, I would have noticed by now.

Spread the Destruction?

From the Associated Press:

HONG KONG - The survival of the human race depends on its ability to find new homes elsewhere in the universe because there's an increasing risk that a disaster will destroy Earth, world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking said Tuesday.

Hawking said that if humans can avoid killing themselves in the next 100 years, they should have space settlements that can continue without support from Earth.

"It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species," Hawking said. "Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of."

That doesn't make sense. If you're of the mindset that humans are destroying the Earth, do you really think we should spread ourselves around the galaxy so we can destroy other planets, too? Maybe we'd be doing the universe a favor by "quarantining" ourselves here!

June 13, 2006

End of an Era: Baseball Can't Escape Technology (or $$$)

I read some sad news about major league baseball today. Hallowed Wrigley Field is set to be the first big-league stadium to "go wireless," as the traditional bullpen phone will be supplanted by a private-channel cell phone system. Now, when Cubs manager Dusty Baker wants to make the call to the 'pen, he'll simply flip open his phone and call bullpen coach Juan Lopez, who'll grab his phone from his belt and receive his instructions.

I supppose if he wants to, Baker will now be able to call the bullpen right from the pitcher's mound. Maybe that will speed up the game a little.

I think this is sad, because fans will be losing the drama of watching for the manager to "reach for the phone." Instead, it'll be just two more guys yakking on their cell phones in public. Where's the drama in that?

But then, with first cordless phones and now cell phones, anyone younger than, oh, 30 for sure, doesn't even understand the concept of the hard-wired phone. They don't remember when making a phone call meant standing in the kitchen within a few feet of the phone on the wall.

But wait. What did baseball do before hard-wired phones were installed in ballparks? The installation of those phones must have marked the end of another era. Was there a complex system of hand signals in use? Were bat boys or bench players used as messengers? If there had been blogs back then, I'm sure someone would have lamented the demise of that system, as well.

So, I suppose change is inevitable. These new wireless phones should work well, just as long as Dusty Baker remembers not to cover the sponsor's logo with his hand.

That's right, it's all about the money. The story notes:

Besides providing faster access to the bullpen, [Cubs official John] McDonough said, the new system provides the league with new revenue opportunities from fees that Motorola and other phone companies will pay to have teams use their branded phones.

Now we're getting somewhere.

Do you watch NFL football? If you do, then you know that the head coaches wear headsets that allow them to communicate with assistant coaches watching from the pressbox. They've used these for years, and years ago the headsets used to be large and cumbersome. But like other electronic devices, they've gotten smaller and sleeker over the years. (Think of singers who wear a microphone headset so small you hardly notice it.)

At least, the NFL headsets were getting smaller and sleeker. In recent years, I've noticed they've gotten bulky again. It didn't make sense. The technology shouldn't have required it. And as for aesthetics, well, the new headsets have almost a retro look. They don't even look like a product of contemporary industrial design.

Now I'm convinced my theory was right: The NFL headsets got bigger just so there was more room to make the sponsor's logo larger.

Oh, well. What are you gonna do? It's all about the money.

The baseball story also notes that this could be just the beginning:

Besides pursuing similar systems for other ballclubs, [Motorola official Tom Crawford] said, Motorola might be able to take advantage of Bluetooth technology and wearable communications for other off-the-field innovations in the future -- such as enabling Baker to communicate through a device embedded in his trademark wristbands, or coaches through their caps.

I've got to draw the line somewhere. When Joe Mauer starts text-messaging "fstbll" to Johan Santana, I'm becoming a soccer fan.

June 12, 2006

Ask Not What You Can Do for Your Country, Just Blame Bush

From a news story:

"There are an estimated 275 billion tons of recoverable coal reserves in the United States, or about one-fourth of the world's total. The energy content of U.S. coal reserves is four times greater than the recoverable oil of Saudi Arabia and exceeds that of all the world's known recoverable oil reserves."

EXCEEDS ALL the WORLD'S recoverable oil reserves? And we have an "energy crisis"?

Maybe we're just too foolish to help ourselves.

The excerpt above is from a sidebar that accompanied this AP story about how the demand for coal is straining the ability of railroads to ship it. Unfortunately, the sidebar isn't included in the web posting. (The figures are said to have come from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.)

This sounds like good news, doesn't it? We should be able to lessen our dependence on foreign oil by turning to domestic coal.

Then why are we in St. Paul all excited because we're about to tear down the local coal-burning power plant and replace it with one that burns natural gas (which we are importing more and more of)?

"Progressive" forces that control the city are all excited because they say there will be less air pollution with the natural gas-burning plant (a good thing), but they are also looking forward to eliminating the plant's smokestack (the tallest structure in St. Paul, and a city landmark), the accompanying coal piles (which I find interesting), and the trains that deliver the coal (again, something I enjoy seeing whenever I pass by).

All this comes at the cost of knocking down one plant and building a completely new one, which will generate electricity using more expensive -- and largely imported -- natural gas. Ultimately, we'll all pay the cost in higher electricity rates.

This is "progressive"? It is, at least to those bothered by things like piles of coal, which get in the way of their "vision" for St. Paul to be an exclusive urban retreat away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

Meanwhile, Minnesota enters into this story in yet another way. The story notes:

"And the first major rail expansion in the United States in about a century is in the works. The South Dakota-based Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad is seeking $2.5 billion in federal loans to extend and rebuild rail lines so it can haul Wyoming coal to the Midwest and Great Lakes regions. Its loan application is pending before the Federal Railroad Administration."

That sounds good, too, doesn't it? But not to everyone. In Rochester, Minn., especially, there is strong opposition to having an existing rail line upgraded to handle more trains. The trains might bother people there. They don't want more trains passing through town.

We have a lot of not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) going on here. People don't want to be "bothered" by anything, even if it might mean making real progress toward energy independence. Don't ask them to accept anything they don't like just for the good of their country.

No, they'd rather just blame President Bush for not having an "energy policy" that will solve the problem without making any demands on them. (Just on other people -- you know, legislate what types of cars other people can drive, that sort of thing.)

The truth is, politicians can't solve the problem with some "policy." We all have to change -- and accept change. And that might mean learning to live with trains and piles of coal. Not to mention more power plants. Of course, no one ever wants a new one of those built near them, either. But turning from oil to coal likely means more reliance on coal-generated electricity. (Meanwhile, let's continue to work on ways of burning coal more cleanly, to further reduce air pollution.)

June 12, 2006

Sen. Mark Dayton First Cites the Bible, Then Says He Doesn't Care What Jesus Says

If you don't think liberals can be as self-righteous, narrow-minded, intolerant and hateful as anyone else, just read Sen. Mark Dayton's thoughts on why he opposes a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The kooky Minnesota Democrat attacks anyone who doesn't think just like him in (very) lengthy comments reprinted in the Pioneer Press yesterday. (Doggone it, can't find it on the paper's website. Here we go, on a government page, his comments to the Senate, which were printed in the paper. Go to this page. Dayton's comments start about half way down. Do a "find" for "Dayton," and you'll be there. At least it worked for me.)

The strangest part of Sen. Dayton's diatribe was when he decided to use the Bible to support his case, while pointing out that he doesn't like it when politicians use the Bible for political purposes. (I guess he thinks he's special and can have it both ways.) Here's that part:

In addition to being un-American, this amendment is also Un-Christian. I hesitate to bring religion into this debate. I am highly skeptical of politicians who do so. Giving a Bible to a politician is akin to giving a blowtorch to a pyromaniac. However, I reread the New Testament in preparation for this debate. I cannot find a single instance in any of the four gospels in which my saviour Jesus Christ speaks a single word against same-sex marriages or even same-sex relationships. He intones 6 times against divorce and 12 times against adultery. Yet I am not aware of any proposed constitutional amendments to ban either of them, nor would I support them. What I also know is that he preached for love and acceptance and against hatred and discrimination. He said the great commandment was to love God and the second was like unto it, to love thy neighbor as thyself, not just your family member, not just your friend, but to love your neighbor, whoever happens to be living beside you, as you would yourself.

There is no love in this constitutional amendment. There is discrimination, and underneath discrimination lies judgment and hatred. Jesus said also to beware of false prophets and charlatans, the fake good doers. He said the way to tell the difference is that the true believers practice love, while the false prophets preach hate. That is why this amendment is un-Christian.

I'm confused. Or, actually, I think Sen. Dayton is confused. First, he says that since Jesus did not speak against same-sex marriage, he (Sen. Dayton) will not oppose same-sex marriage. But then, he says that even though Jesus did speak against divorce and adultery, he, Dayton, would not support a ban on those.

The Senator shows a lack of consistent logic. He first says we should legislate according to Jesus -- when it comes to same-sex marriage -- but then says he doesn't care what Jesus said when it comes to divorce and adultery.

Which is it, Sen. Dayton? Should we do what Jesus says or not?

Sen. Dayton seems to be saying that he really doesn't care what Jesus said. If Sen. Dayton had found 12 times when Jesus specifically spoke against same-sex unions, I can only assume that Sen. Dayton would still not favor this proposed amendment. So why should he be able to use a lack of comments to support his position?

Why did Sen. Dayton bring up the Bible in the first place? What's his point?

There are reasons to oppose a marriage amendment. Sen. Dayton's theological "argument" is hardly one of them.

Brotherly Love

Sen. Dayton tries to make the point that, if this amendment passed, aspiring same-sex marriage partners would apparently be the only people in the country facing any sort of "discrimination." Is he unaware that we have marriage laws prohibiting other unions, such as those between siblings or cousins?

Now, you'll say that those restrictions are a "public health" matter, that the government has an interest in trying to prevent birth defects that might result from close relatives procreating together. That particular concern is not relevant to a union of two men or two women.

Fair enough.

But it's also not relevant to a union between two first cousins -- or even two siblings -- of the same gender. Should two brothers or two sisters be allowed to marry each other? After all, they won't be able to have children. (At least not yet. Modern medicine might yet make that possible.) The same sort of civil rights arguments applied in favor of same-sex marriage would seem to apply to two brothers who wished to wed.

This gets to one of the scenarios I imagine in a world without boundaries on marriage. Say you've got two bachelor farmers, both getting up in years. Let's say one has military benefits, or some other sort of benefits his brother lacks. Could the brothers get married just so the second brother could share in the first brother's benefits?

(This should not be confused with two brothers who marry two sisters. One of my sets of grandparents was the result of two brothers who married two sisters. This confused me, because my grandmother's married name was the same as her sister's married name, so I figured they were sisters-in-law. Which they were, I guess, but they were sisters first and foremost. Another interesting tidbit: As the result of this I have some second-cousins who are second cousins via two family trees. I think that makes those second cousins as genetically close to me as first cousins.)

June 9, 2006

These Days, Even Common Sense is "Controversial"

I just read a great column by Ann Coulter. (It's from April; you may have seen it already.)

What she writes here should be classified as common sense -- common sense we should all be able to agree about. But I'm sure there are plenty among us who would read this and reject it all. Mainly just because of who wrote it.

That we can't all agree -- that we don't seem to even want to be able to all agree -- shows what this country is up against.

June 7, 2006

Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others

That headline comes, of course, from George Orwell's "Animal Farm," and refers to the way selfish actions can speak more loudly than high-minded words. If you're up for a little reading, here are a couple of interesting pieces that should be linked.

The first, by blogger Ace of Spades, explains how liberals like to think of themselves as intellectuals, which they think makes them superior to conservatives. And since they are intellectuals, of course their opinions are superior, they reason. But Ace of Spades explains that liberals think they are intellectuals merely because they accept the liberal party line. There seems to be some circular reasoning going on. (Not very intellectual, that.) And it seems like almost a matter of a religious belief. (Like someone deciding he is superior because he accepts certain religious beliefs, and then since he is superior, he self-righteously determines that his opinions must be right. As I've said before, people on the left and the right often demonstrate the same illogic.)

Ace of Spades does a great job putting into words what I have observed for myself. (Tip of the hat to Peg at whatif?)

The second is a news story about what's bothering the organic food community. It seems organic foods are getting more and more popular, and some of the true believers are bothered by this. It seems they've enjoyed having their own little counter-culture thing going on, and it's going to ruin it if the masses want to join in. Especially if the industry gets "corporate," which they hate. They've got too much political ideology woven into their menu planning.

The link here is elitism. Leftist elitism. We have on exhibit people who like to think they are superior to the masses. And they don't want to share their superiority, because they like to be better than everyone else.

Shouldn't the organic food disciples want the whole world to adopt their beliefs? Wouldn't that be a good thing? Even if it means changes in the organic food industry? Instead, it makes me think of Jesus' disciples saying, "This isn't good. Too many people are joining us. If this keeps up, we'll have to stop meeting under a shade tree and start meeting in a big building or something. Then we'd have to get all "corporate" and organized and everything. It just wouldn't be the same. So let's keep the Good News to ourselves from now on."

June 6, 2006

You're Having Your Tonsils Out, Now Settle Down and Pay Attention

These days we seem to have an explosion of cases of kids diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. I don't know if they even had a name for it when I was a kid.

In comparison, when I was a kid, it was common to have your tonsils taken out. These days, I understand that is rare.

Interestingly, a study published in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics found that when ADHD children had their tonsils out, half of them no longer had ADHD when checked a year later.

Hmmmmm. Coincidence? Or something more?

June 6, 2006

It's a Man's World, and I'll Drink to That

Sorry, ladies, but a study published in the medical journal BMJ reports that while men may lower their risk of heart disease by imbibing in one alcoholic drink every day, ladies need only one drink a WEEK for the same benefit.

June 5, 2006

Two Fruits of the Same Vine

The Pioneer Press on Sunday had a feature on how St. Paul public elementary schools are meeting the challenges that come with having a large percentage of low income students. While it's true that there is a connection between low income and low achievement, I think it's a mistake the way that people talk about this as a causal relationship, that is, students do poorly because they come from low income families.

Maybe that's true in some cases, but I think it's more common that low income and poor school performance are both symptoms of the same dysfunctions within the students' families.

What I'm saying is that poverty and poor school performance are two fruits of the same vine. The same unhealthy vine. Our education establishment, however, operates on the premise that poverty is the vine, and poor school performance is the fruit. They think that the key is spending more money to "fertilize" the poverty-stricken vine.

I say dig out the root. Address the dysfunctions at the root of both problems if you want to really help children and break the cycle of poverty and failure.

Relating to that, I came across an interesting quote regarding poverty, from the mind of Ben Franklin. Franklin wrote: "I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it." [On the Price of Corn and Management of the Poor (November 29, 1766)]

I heartily believe that. But if someone could point that out more than 200 years ago, why do we still insist on doing just the opposite?

June 2, 2006

The Knee-Jerk Defense

It's time to delve into my own psyche again. I'm wondering, Why do I feel an urge to come to the defense of the soldiers accused of killing Iraqi civilians, or to downplay the incident?

If true, this is a terrible event that is indefensible. Why would I want to defend it?

I think it's a political thing.

I think it's because I know there are those out there who want to use this one terrible event as an indictment of the entire war, the military in general, President Bush, and the entire Republican party. Because of that, I instinctively go into a defensive mode.

I'm succumbing to the urge to do what I criticize others for doing sometimes. Like the union that defends a union member who doesn't deserve defending, or the spokesman for some "community" who defends a "community" member who doesn't deserve defending.

But what happens to my opinion of that union or "community" spokesman in such an event? It doesn't do it any good when I see that person defending a criminal. I always think that we should all be able to agree that what the individual did was wrong, and that it's not an indictment of the entire union or "community."

It should be the same in this case. We should all be able to agree that soldiers intentionally killing civilians is indefensible; it shouldn't be a partisan matter. (With the exception, of course, of those Americans who have said, "Well, you can understand why Iraqis would want to kill Americans." I'm sure they will be understanding that these soldiers felt like shooting up some civilians after seeing their comrade killed by a roadside bomb. Or, maybe they won't.)

It relates to another question I've been meaning to write about: Why is it so hard for politicians to admit their mistakes?

And the answer again is because everything is politicized. If a politician admits a mistake, the opposition doesn't say, "Well, OK then, let's move on with the people's business." No, in politics, it's "Kick 'em when they're down!" If politicians see weakness, they start piling on. If somewhat admits a mistake, the opposition will move in for the kill. Politicians tend to be cowards that way. (Note how now that Bush's approval ratings are way down, other politicians from both parties are criticizing him more and more. Where were these brave statesmen when Bush's approval ratings where high? Standing right behind him, hoping to ride his coattails, of course.)

So, if President Bush comes out and says, "I made a bunch of mistakes," the response won't be, "Let's learn from those mistakes and move forward." Rather, it will be, "Even HE admits he was wrong! Impeach him!"

It's like being able to say "I'm sorry." If you say "I'm sorry," and your spouse always responds with, "Well, you should be! It was all your fault!" how often are you going to say "I'm sorry"?

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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