archives: June-July, 2007

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Red Menace Within

We used to worry about the Communist threat as an external, military concern. The Russians would attack and take us over. Well, that threat has ended. Now we just have to be careful that we don't impose Communism on ourselves.

As an example, I give you the debate over "The Bridges of St. Paul," a proposed development for the riverbank across from downtown St. Paul. In order to make it happen, developer Jerry Trooien needs various approvals, including a rezoning of some of the land involved. Last week, the St. Paul Planning Commission rejected that rezoning, by a vote of 16-3.

That may or may not be the right decision, but what caught my eye was the reason one Commissioner gave for rejecting the rezoning. As St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter Tim Nelson explained it:

Opponents such as Commissioner Stephen Gordon were concerned about the project's impact on the rest of the city. A major development on the West Side would threaten public investments on the north bank of the river, including the Xcel Energy Center and the Science Museum of Minnesota, he said.

Think about that. We're blocking private development, because it might compete with government-sponsored development! That really is a Communist, centrally-planned type of thinking. (Put this together with eminent domain run amuck, and... where does that end? Tell me that, comrade.)

Why does government "invest" in developments, anyway? I thought the idea was that government funds developments only because the market won't. Blocking private development as "competition" really misses the whole point. If there's "competition" between private and public development, then it's the public development that ought to get the axe. It's unnecessary.

Is Commissioner Gordon (Get me Batman!) alone in this sort of thinking? Consider this letter to the editor in the Pioneer Press, from Nathan G. Thompson, of St. Paul:

Recently, a letter writer spoke of the "civic" achievement he believed the Bridges of St. Paul would be ("Civic slumber" July 17). When I hear the word civic, I think of public engagement and public space, not a privately owned development.

If Jerry Trooien really wants to make St. Paul a better place, he could work with the community to make the Bridges a publicly owned, not-for-profit development that serves the many needs of our city.

Instead of chain restaurants, fancy museums and extravagant condos, the Bridges could be a center for social service agencies, locally run shops, public green spaces and affordable housing. Such a development would have a far greater positive impact on our city than the current Bridges proposal. In fact, such a place could reinvigorate the words "civic engagement," and serve as a model for cities across the country. That, I think, would truly be a gift.

Of course, the letter writer leaves out how that all would be paid for. Presumably from Trooien's pocket. It's a gift. Or maybe from the government (That's us.). From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs. Yes, this proposal is truly a Communist vision. No, it doesn't include the Red Army or Joseph Stalin's purges. It's not about tyranny or a despotic dictator. But it sounds to me like an example of Communism in its purest, most Utopian form.

We have met the enemy, and he is us.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

More on Sweden, Norway, and WWII

A disclaimer: I don't purport to know everything. This website exists so I can explore and write about issues that interest me. If you think I've gotten my facts wrong, or if you have more to add, you're encouraged to email me.

I don't write everything off the top of my head. A lot of times an idea for a post leads me into some quick research, where I often learn things I wasn't even looking for. Other times I do write off the top of my head, which is how I got started with these posts about the Saab airplanes/cars. It began as just a simple observation about a TV commercial, but now I've been doing some research post facto.

First, I erred in my use of "Quisling" in my original post. I was thinking that Quisling was a Swedish Nazi collaborator. That's not right. Vidkun Quisling was the Nazi puppet leader of Norway during the WWII occupation. After the war, he was executed for high treason.

Sweden was officially "neutral" during WWII, thus saving itself from Nazi occupation. However, there are some differences of opinion about whether Sweden was truly neutral, or instead too accommodating of the Nazis, selling iron ore to the Germany, for example. When Sweden promised the Allies that it would reduce ball bearing exports to Germany, the Swedes then instead exported ball bearing making machines and ball bearing-grade steel to Germany instead. To answer a question from the previous post, there is no information that Saab worked on behalf of the Nazis.

Now, my theory on why Norway put up a fight against the Nazis, and continued with a resistance movement even after occupied. I think the Norwegians valued their freedom more. That's because Norway had been ruled by Sweden for nearly 100 years, until it was given its independence in 1905. I can imagine the Norwegians saying "Never again!" or "Not without a fight!"

This less-than-cordial historical relationship between Norway and Sweden might shed some light on the ethnic pride and rivalry evident in Minnesotans of Scandinavian descent. I've observed that some Norwegian-Americans are very put-out by being mistaken for Swedes.

Somewhat oddly, then, being Swedish seems to be sort of the highest ethnic rank a person can hold in Minnesota. Sort of the Midwest equivalent of coming over on the Mayflower, or membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution. We hear a lot about this state being so Swedish, but that's a bit misleading. Without looking up the census figures, I think Swedish is maybe only the fourth most common ancestry cited by Minnesotans. I believe Norwegian is second. What's first? German. But we don't talk about it much. At times during the last century, being German-American was extremely political incorrect. So we've repressed out German heritage. Muslim Americans think they've got it tough? Show me the internment camps where we're putting them. Show me the midnight lynch mobs. That's what German-Americans dealt with during the World Wars.

For the record, my mother's side is all German. My father's side is English and, yes, Swedish. I've got all the bases covered in my ancestry.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Those Crazy Swedes

Just got back in town this afternoon after spending a couple of days at the family farm. I was greeted by a hot house and 98 degrees on my thermometer. A couple of hours later, a thunderstorm comes through and it's 74 degrees. They say more could be on the way. Wonder if I'll get my softball game in tonight? That's why I needed to come back today and left the kids at the farm. Just goes to show you never know what to expect.

A couple of posts ago I poked some fun at the Swedes, and said that the Saab automobiles "Born from Jets" TV ad just didn't work for me, because when I think of aircraft, Sweden and Saab don't come to mind. I wasn't suggesting that Saab doesn't make good cars or good airplanes, just that for an ad campaign, I'd be more impressed by an aircraft company that was well-known to people outside of aviation. You know, like a sports car from Lockheed, or maybe a.... really big... thing from Airbus.

But we're always interested in learning more at Downing World, so when reader Dave Hanson e-mailed to say that Saab started as an aircraft manufacturer, and pointed me to some information, I checked it out. I learned that Saab began in 1937 as an aircraft company (that must have been pre-jet, by my reckoning). The name "Saab" comes from "Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget," which translates as Swedish Aeroplane Limited.

Saab produced its first automobile in 1947. In the 1950s it went into the computer business, which meshed well with its aircraft business, because of the need for ever more sophisticated flight computers. Saab kept its flight computer business, but sold off its other computer operations to Sperry UNIVAC in 1975. (Sperry UNIVAC, you'll recall, had a large presence in Minnesota.)

Saab continues to make jet aircraft, military and civilian. The JAS 39 "Gripein" is in service with air forces in Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary, and has been ordered for use in South Africa.

That's all according to Wikipedia.

So, what did Saab do during the war? The Big One, WWII. That's when Sweden cooperated with Hitler, rather than fight. I'll try to find out. I also have a theory about why Sweden rolled over, while Norway fought, and then continued with a resistance movement after being occupied. Look for that tomorrow.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Marriage: It's Mostly About Me

A study from the Pew Research Center says that fewer Americans consider children a key part of a fulfilling marriage than 17 years ago. More people now indicate that adequate income, a nice house, and "sharing household chores" are keys.

I think this reflects changing notions about marriage in U.S. society.

There was a significant drop in those saying children were important, from 65 percent of respondents in 1990 to 41 percent in 2007. That goes along with what I see as less emphasis on children in general. Once upon a time children were assumed to be a part of marriage, but no more. And that's too bad. Not that I'm saying everyone must have children. But we've gone too far in separating the two. We have marriages without children, which is just fine, none of my business, but too many children without marriages, which creates social costs that are everyone's business.

In a review I read of the current Robin Williams movie "License to Wed," in which the comic plays a clergyman putting couples through premarital counseling, the reviewer wrote that the counseling veered off into a diversion about parenthood, "which is really a separate issue from marriage, anyway." Yes, and no. But I remember when it was considered much less separate.

Now we have too many people who see marriage as being about themselves -- individual fulfillment and happiness. Children for some have become just another achievement to show off. Good job? Check. Nice house? Check. BMW? Check. Hey! People at the club are having kids. We'd better have one, too!

It's also interesting that the percentage citing "sharing household chores" jumped from 47 percent to 62 percent. That likely reflects more and more two-income couples. Yet, in a way, it seems self-centered to me. It might also relate to children, because children are the most time-consuming "household chore" there is!

A survey like this helps show changing perceptions of marriage, and helps explain how the idea of same-sex marriage has gone from what was once a "ridiculous" idea to an idea that has very strong support. As we see here, procreation is no longer assumed to be a crucial part of a marriage -- even for different-sex couples. Instead, marriage is more and more about creature comforts, having nice things and having someone else to help do the work. It reflects a growing view of marriage not as "mom and dad plus baby," or "1 + 1 = 3," but more and more as two people each benefiting from the arrangement. More and more like a sort of a business arrangement. And in an age when people no longer have to be married to be together, maybe that's what it is.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Quibbling Over Quislings

Have you seen those TV ads for Saab cars, the ones that say something like "Born from Jets"? We're supposed to be impressed that somehow the people who started building Saab cars were aircraft engineers or something.

I don't know about you, but I'd be a lot more impressed if we were talking about a country that was actually known for its airplanes. Quick, name a famous Swedish airplane. Even the not-so-tough French built a successful fighter jet called the Mirage.

Now, how about a car from the people who brought you the Supermarine Spitfire? Or the P-51 Lightning? Or even the Messerschmitt ME-109, or the Zero. We know the Germans and the Japanese know how to make cars. But Sweden? The guys who rolled over and cooperated with Hitler? Saabs might be great cars, but the "Born from Jets" campaign just isn't doing it for me.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

U.S. out of U.S.! Bring the Troops Home; Send the Police Abroad!

We've heard the claims that the war on terror is simply creating more terrorists. Now consider this, from an AP story:

Anti-gang legislation and police crackdowns are failing so badly that they are strengthening the criminal organizations and making U.S. cities more dangerous, according to a report being released today.

The report is from a group called the Justice Policy Institute. They sound like a bunch of mush-heads, the type who would think the solution to al Qaeda is to get to know them better.

The report says Los Angeles and Chicago are losing the war on gangs because they focus on law enforcement and are short on intervention.

Right, and we don't need a military solution in Iraq, we need a diplomatic solution, and living-wage jobs for murderous terrorists.

If the Democrats win the White House, this is the kind of thinking that will be running the country.

We'd better withdraw the police from LA and Chicago; they're just making things worse.

U.S. out of U.S.!!! Yankee coppers go abroad!!!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Problem of Their Own Making

You've probably heard the reports about copies of the new Harry Potter book getting leaked out early, and how that is causing much consternation for the publisher and the author. I'd like to point out the obvious -- that this is a problem of their own making. If they didn't make such a big deal out of hyping the book's release at midnight Friday/Saturday, there wouldn't really be much incentive for anyone to try to get an early peek. But now, it's forbidden fruit.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Would Troop Withdrawal Mean Troops Deaths?

Suppose Congress succeeded in giving President Bush an order to bring the troops home from Iraq. What would be the consequences? I'm thinking, increasing American deaths in Iraq. Why?

The terrorists would know it was open season on Americans. They'd have free reign to do as they pleased, and would try to kill as many Americans as they could. Troops that are under orders to leave the country can't very well be going out, pursuing the terrorists. That would be expanding operations, not ceasing operations. They have to pack up and leave.

But why would they increase their efforts to kill Americans, if they Americans are leaving? That means they got what they wanted. They won. There would be no military purpose in shooting retreating troops.

Ah, but they don't think that way. They don't think militarily. They think murderously. They just want to kill, kill, kill the infidel Americans. At the same time, what of our supposed Iraqi allies? Knowing they've chosen the wrong side, they'll urgently be trying to preserve their own hides by going over to the terrorist side. That could very well mean they'll start turning on Americans, too.

Finally, is there a link between Iraq and al Qaeda? Much ink has been wasted on that debate. But consider this link: 1) Osama bin Laden hates the U.S. for having a military presence in Saudi Arabia; 2) American troops were based in Saudi Arabia to protect that country from Saddam Hussein and Iraqi aggression. 3) That means Saddam is the reason for al Qaeda's attacks on the U.S.! So either Saddam had to go, or al Qaeda had to go. Now, Saddam is gone, but al Qaeda won't let the U.S. leave! If they just stayed out of it, the U.S. could have left Iraq. With a peaceful Iraq, U.S. troops could have eventually left Saudi Arabia. Everyone could have been happy!

But the al Qaeda thugs don't think like that. They just want to kill, kill, kill. They want power for themselves. They don't want peace or justice or prosperity.

How can diplomacy solve a problem like that?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Biting the Hand That Feeds You

I realized this morning that a link can be made between the newspaper business and the health care business.

Newspapers are hurting because of the Web. In particular, they've lost a lot of revenue from classified ads that now are going to the Web. In addition, more and more people get their news online, and think they don't need newspaper.

The problem with that is, online news sites get most of their news from newspapers. So if they put newspapers out of business, then what will they do?

Meanwhile, on the medical side, we've had Minnesotans making bus trips to Canada for less expensive drugs. Now, we're hearing more and more about "medical tourism," where Americans go to other countries for surgeries, either to save money on elective procedures their insurance doesn't cover, or for procedures that aren't approved for use in the U.S.

The link is, "cheap" pills and surgery in other countries depend on U.S. consumers paying to cover R&D costs, medical schools, research, and advancements. Without the "over priced" U.S. healthcare system, other countries wouldn't have doctors and modern medicine to offer at a "discount." If everyone in the U.S. started buying their pills in other countries, at a low, government-mandated price, drug companies would have no incentive to develop any new products. If surgery starts going offshore, the American medical establishment will atrophy, and innovation and education will suffer.

I have a prediction about "medical tourism." One reason surgical costs are lower in other countries is because they don't have the same high malpractice insurance costs that doctors face in the U.S. But when people start to find that they can't easily sue for millions when an offshore surgeon botches the procedure, the way that they can in the U.S, then U.S. taxpayers will be expected to compensate the victims.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Room with a View

A few quick observations for you:

One: Friday afternoon about 4:30 I drove past a long-time "gay bar" in St. Paul. For years when I've driven past, I've never noticed any activity outside the building. But this time, something was different. There were tables out on the sidewalk, where people were enjoying their refreshments in the light of day.

I mention this just because I found it interesting. At one time, I'm sure many patrons would have been ducking inside quickly, not wanting to be seen. Now, some of the clientele were seated out on the sidewalk, in full view of passers by. Things change.

Two: I heard a radio news report about the high cost of renting an apartment in New York City. The reporter concluded with, "Still, the vacancy rate is only one percent."

What did she mean by "still"? Here's another example of a reporter not understanding cause and effect, not connecting the dots. Rents are sky-high because there is much demand and little supply -- as evidenced by the low vacancy rate. If the vacancy rate was higher, the prices would be lower. It's the vacancy rate that drives the prices, not the other way around.

Three: Speaking of connecting the dots, remember how we heard so much about government officials "not connecting the dots" prior to 9/11? Now, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff says he has a "gut feeling" a terrorist attack could be imminent, and he is roundly criticized for that.

But what is a "gut feeling" other than simply an intuitive way of "connecting the dots"? Critics have said that prior to 9/11, people should have known something was going to happen, based on various clues. Well, I think that's what Chertoff is expressing. Based on various clues, he has "connected the dots" into a "gut feeling" that something is afoot.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Bombs Away!

If you're anywhere near the Twin Cities, get yourself to the St. Paul downtown airport this weekend. You can see a B17, a B24 and a B25 on display Saturday and Sunday, 9am-5pm. Also Monday morning 9:00 am to Noon.

Cost is $10 for adults, $5 for ages 12 and under. This is great for kids, because YOU GET TO GO INSIDE THE PLANES! And it's a pretty tight fit squeezing through, just the sort of thing kids like.

I think the B17 had a crew of 12. Isn't that something? All those guys moving around in there, and they could go from the nose to the tail. Now, a warplane has at most two crew members, and they are strapped into place throughout the flight. I think of these old bombers as sort of flying submarines -- a bunch of guys in a long tin can.

You can get some more info at http://www.cfdn.org

Friday, July 13, 2007

Are All Christians Hypocrites?

I'd like to share a fine piece of writing by a man named Andy Phillips. I don't know how to contact him, or I'd tell him that. Maybe sometime he'll Google himself and read this.

Mr. Phillips' comments appeared yesterday in the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal "Best of the Web." Mr. Phillips was commenting on a previous item about smut publisher Larry Flynt's attempts to expose conservative "hypocrites." The latest example being Republican Sen. Larry Vitter, who is accused of using the services of prostitutes.

Hypocrisy does not mean saying one thing and doing the opposite. It means saying something that one does not believe. Let's take the example of getting drunk. Let's say that I believe that getting drunk is immoral. Does it make me a hypocrite if I get drunk? No, it makes me weak. I could believe that it is immoral but still not be able to resist the temptation to get drunk. It doesn't make my belief any less true or my actions any worse.

Now let's say that Larry Flynt doesn't believe that getting drunk is immoral. What are his consequences of getting drunk? Your comment on his living up to his own low moral standards hits the nail on the head. Objectively, my getting drunk is no more or less immoral than Larry Flynt's.

If Larry Flynt attacked me for getting drunk, that would be hypocrisy, because he doesn't believe that getting drunk is immoral. It's hypocrisy for him to say that it's OK for him to get drunk but not OK for me to get drunk.

We saw the mainstream media's reaction to Rush Limbaugh's addiction to pain killers and Bill Bennett's gambling problem. These men were not hypocrites. I guarantee you that neither of these men wished for their own problems, and, after having gone through what they did, they most likely feel even more strongly about them than they did before. Again, weakness, not hypocrisy.

The Journal's James Taranto added: "By this reasoning, Larry Flynt--an antimoralist who exposes the moral weaknesses of moralists--is the ultimate hypocrite. And in a strange way, it is a case of vice paying tribute to virtue."

I like Phillips' assessment, because by Flynt's definition, all Christians are automatically hypocrites. I base that on two tenets of Christianity: 1) There are sins we should not commit; 2) We are in fact all sinners. If a Christian accepts those two beliefs, then we see that it is impossible for him or her to not be a "hypocrite" under Flynt's definition.

(Flynt reminds me of the baseball player who doesn't try too hard to reach the ball, because if you don't touch it, you can't be charged with an error. He reasons that he won't try not to sin, and then it's OK for him to do so.)

Still, there is something particularly troubling about someone who speaks on behalf of morality while engaging in ongoing sins of a certain nature. A man who once cheated on his wife may rail against adultery with the conviction of one who knows. A man who rails against adultery might one day cheat on his wife, proving that he is weak. But when a man who is engaged in ongoing, long-term cheating takes the pulpit or steps up to the microphone... well, you do have to wonder whether the man in that example really doesn't think that he has a personal exemption to the 10 Commandments. That's when the charge of "hypocrite" begins to ring true. Better that man get his own house and soul in order before he tries to minister to everyone else.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Milking the Publicity

I've been getting some press this week. Monday, my July 7 post (just scroll down a bit) on Al Gore's poor planetary science earned a link on the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal. Hopefully some people who first visited Downing World because of that are checking back for more. Welcome, and thanks for stopping by.

Today I got a large mention in Joe Soucheray's column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, based on an idea I gave him regarding a local story that had gone national. The story involved Wally, a steer that moos and bothers a neighbor, causing that neighbor to call the police. After a story appeared in the Pioneer Press, I heard Soucheray commenting on the radio that the story was too cutesy, and left a lot of questions unanswered. I thought I knew what the most important unasked question was, so I sent this email message to Soucheray:

The single most important unasked question in the "Wally the cow" story is this:

What are the owner's intentions regarding Wally?

Wally is not a cow, which is an adult female bovine, and which would be kept for milking and breeding. He is a steer -- a neutered male. Steers have only one purpose -- steak! At about 2 years of age they go to the butcher. Wally is reportedly 2 years old. Is he headed for slaughter? That's the big question. If so, then this will soon be a non-issue.

If Wally is being raised for eating, then I see this as a clash between a farmer and a city person who wants to live in the country without being "bothered" by the country. Then my sympathies lie with Wally's owner. (Where does that city slicker think that meat he grills for his guests comes from? The grocery store?)

But if she's keeping Wally indefinitely as some sort of pet, then it's a different story. Then we have what appears to be two city people, neither of whom seems to understand what the country is all about. If she thinks steers are pets, then this farm boy has no sympathy for her.

On his radio show Monday, Soucheray raised my question. He got Wally's owner on the phone, and asked her the question. You can find the answer in Soucheray's newspaper column today.

If you're an Opinion Journal reader, there's a good chance you'll like Soucheray's radio show, "Garage Logic." It airs Monday-Friday, 2:00-5:00 pm Central time. Wherever you are, you can listen live online, or listen to past shows via podcasts. Go to http://www.garagelogic.com

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hungry? Feast Your Eyes on This!

A couple of nice color photos in the St. Paul Pioneer Press today show an artist who is installing four large, stone mosaic murals on the walls of the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center for Community Building, on St. Paul's West Side. The murals tell "The History of the Neighborhood House." Neighborhood House is a non-profit organization that has served immigrants and low income people for decades.

A brief story explains what is going on, and reports that the murals are an $80,000 project.

My immediate thought was, Where did that $80,000 come from? That would buy a lot of fou-fou.

That's because just last month the Pioneer Press ran a story about how the food shelf at Neighborhood House was hurting for the sort of foods that immigrants want. They don't want Kraft mac and cheese or Hungry Man soup, it turns out; they want African staples such as fou-fou.

So why are they spending $80,000 on murals?

I e-mailed Pioneer Press reporter Matt Peiken, whose byline was on the story. He replied that the $80,000 was part of the original construction budget for the Wellstone shrine... er, community center, and was designated for "public art."

(Now, I can appreciate "public art," I really can. Too many public buildings these days are bland and boring, whereas a century or more ago we built public buildings that were works of art. But still, we have to be smart about it; it isn't enough just to budget money and hope that something good results.)

There's a special irony in that this is supposed to be honoring the Wellstones. You've got to wonder, if given the choice, what would the late Senator and his late wife want done with $80,000? Build a monument to them? Or help the hungry? Wouldn't helping the hungry actually serve to honor the memory of the Wellstones?

A comment-maker on the Pioneer Press website, responding to such suggestions, said that the $80,000 came from donors who gave it specifically for artwork, so it didn't take anything away from the organization's programs. But that misses the point. Donors could have given the money for the programs instead. It's like St. Algore and his wealthy disciples, who buy "offsets" for their energy-wasting ways. They could plant trees AND not go jet-setting around in private planes. Instead, they just go on "sinning" and buying their "indulgences" to ease their consciences.

The paper had two photos; one you can see on the Pioneer Press website, the other I scanned from the paper so you can see it here (I think that qualifies as fair use for commentary under the copyright law).

What strikes me here is how much this image of Senator Wellstone looks like religious iconography. Here it's Sen. Wellstone in the role of Jesus, and "Suffer the little children to come unto me." At my church, there's a piece of art on the wall of Jesus surrounded by children of various hues. "Jesus love the little children...." This reminds me of that.

But this is only the latest stage in the development of the Wellstonian religion. Wellstone as a Jesus substitute is not new. For years we've had "What Would Wellstone Do?" bumper stickers. Wellstonianism bears other hallmarks of a religion as well. There is the Green Bus -- the most sacred of holy relics. There's the evangelical call to "keep fighting." There are the summer instructional camps for young people. Some conspiracy theorists even suggest that Wellstone was betrayed and crucified!

It may be only a matter of time until someone claims to have seen him risen from the dead. Or maybe someone will claim that they prayed to him and he worked a miracle.

Jesus and Paul Wellstone: two outspoken Jews who befriended the poor and ticked off the establishment. For some true believers, Paul Wellstone is the Second Coming.

Monday, July 9, 2007

One Liberal Nation, Under God

I've noted several times over the years that often when liberals/conservatives criticize conservatives/liberals for thinking or acting a certain way, we can identify an analogous action or thought process associated with the other side, but concerning another issue. In other words, neither side has a monopoly on self-centeredness, clinging to fundamental beliefs, illogic, stubbornness, etc.

A new thought came to me just a bit ago. I was thinking about how upset many liberals get about the existence of Fox News or conservative talk radio. It's as though they think all the media must forever continue to play to their own biases, just as it had always done (my opinion, anyway). They don't care if that doesn't reflect everyone. It reflects them, so that's just the way it should be. There's no need to worry people who are different from them.

Trying to understand how liberals feel about having their world shook up by the advent of conservative media, I think I came up with an analogy many conservatives will be able to relate to.

Not so very long ago, Christianity was pervasive in American culture. This was, after all, a "Christian nation." We had prayers at public meetings and schools. Christmas decoration displays on public buildings. Christmas programs in public schools were taken for granted. We were "one nation, under God."

But then something changed. People with a different point of view began to point out that not everyone was in fact a Christian, and they began to chip away at many of the ways that Christianity had permeated our public culture. That didn't want to be left out. They didn't want it assumed that everyone was Christian. They wanted their say, too.

And many of us Christians, who thought the old order was just fine (having never really given it any thought), resented that change. Why did "those people" have to go and mess things up? Why couldn't they leave things how they were? What's their problem?

And I think that's something like how liberals feel about losing their taken-for-granted stranglehold on the media.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Do the Math: Al Gore is No Scientist

Today's the day St. Algore and his rich and famous friends jet around the globe and use enormous amounts of electricity (generated by burning fossil fuels or splitting atoms) to tell the rest of us -- the great unwashed -- to stop ruining the Earth by using so much energy.

They justify their behavior by saying they'll "offset" their own energy usage by purchasing green "indulgences" (I heard that one on Joe Soucheray's radio show) -- planting trees or investing in windmills. Yes, they are buying their way out of their sins. It all sounds a lot to me like saying it's OK to beat your wife as long as you send a check to the battered women's shelter.

Friday's Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal mentioned some claims from St. Algore that he voiced in an editorial in the July 1 New York Times. Here's an excerpt:

Consider this tale of two planets. Earth and Venus are almost exactly the same size, and have almost exactly the same amount of carbon. The difference is that most of the carbon on Earth is in the ground - having been deposited there by various forms of life over the last 600 million years - and most of the carbon on Venus is in the atmosphere.

As a result, while the average temperature on Earth is a pleasant 59 degrees, the average temperature on Venus is 867 degrees. True, Venus is closer to the Sun than we are, but the fault is not in our star; Venus is three times hotter on average than Mercury, which is right next to the Sun. It's the carbon dioxide.

I was struck by the words "three times hotter." How exactly is that determined? It looks like St. Algore is using Fahrenheit temperatures. Does he think that, for instance, that Planet A at 120 degrees F is "three times hotter" than Planet B at 40 degrees F? (If anything, it would be three times "as hot as," not "hotter than.") But there's a problem with that sort of measure. It all depends on which scale you use. On the Celsius scale, those same temperatures would be about 49 degrees and 4 degrees. Suddenly, Planet A has become "12 times hotter" than Planet B! And what are you going to do when one planet has an average temperature below zero, and another above zero? Will one be "infinitely" hotter than the other?

So what's the best scale for measuring relative "hotness"? I think degrees Kelvin would be best. That starts at Absolute Zero -- the total absence of heat. And we won't have to worry about negative numbers. How does our A-B comparison look in degrees Kelvin?

Now, Planet A is at 322 degrees Kelvin, Planet B is at 277 degrees Kelvin. As a ratio, Planet A is now only 1.16 times as warm as Planet B! That's a long way from "three times"!

Since I'm neither Al Gore nor Carl Sagan (two lifeless cosmologists), I thought I could use a little help. I wanted to find out how scientists measure the relative "hotness" of planets in our solar system. So I did a Web search to find some relevant sites.

The first thing I noted was that while I could easily enough find average temperatures for Earth and Venus, the same wasn't listed for Mercury. Why? Apparently, because Mercury's surface temperature takes such a wide swing from day to night that an "average" temperature is meaningless. The temperature on the planet nearest the Sun can reach 800 degrees F during the day, and fall to NEGATIVE 360 degrees F at night!

Why the unbelievable swings? Because Mercury has almost no atmosphere to hold any heat! It's small, so it has little gravity to hold an atmosphere in place. That let the solar winds blow away most of what little atmosphere it might have had.

Additionally, it takes Mercury about 59 Earth days to rotate on its axis. Yes, that means one "daytime" on Mercury is about 30 of our days spent cooking in the sun. And one "night" on Mercury is about 30 of our days of darkness, during which time all that built up heat -- with no atmosphere to hold it -- is lost into the icy blackness of space. So at any given time, one side of Mercury is going to be blazing hot, while the other is in the deep freeze.

(Venus, meanwhile, takes 243 Earth days to rotate on its axis. That means one Venusian "day" is the equivalent of eight Earth months! But since Venus takes 224 days to orbit the sun, I suspect the "day" length is actually more complicated to figure. Think of how we can never see the dark side of Earth's moon, because it rotates on its axis at the same rate that it orbits the Earth.)

With all of these differences -- in atmosphere (or lack of), day length, distance from the Sun -- it's impossible to draw any useful conclusions from a two-paragraph comparison of the Earth and Venus, or Venus and Mercury.

But that doesn't stop St. Algore from trying. And it doesn't stop the New York Times from printing the nonsense he comes up with. Think about it: The man many consider the true leader of the free world -- the man who will save the planet -- and the supposed newspaper of record for the Western world. This is what they give us. But little old me, all I have to do is search a few Web sites, and I can shoot the thing full of holes. The emperor has no clothes!

Now, for some more numbers. I did finally find a mean (average) temperature for the planet Mercury. And it's from NASA, so I don't think we can do better than that. And they list it in degrees Kelvin. That's the way the real planetary scientists do it. So let's see how NASA's numbers fit into the "three times hotter" universe St. Algore lives in.

Mercury: average surface temperature 452 degrees Kelvin (700K max / 100 K min.)

Venus: average surface temperature 726 degrees Kelvin

Earth: average surface temperature 281 degrees Kelvin

OK, so what does that tell us about the "as hot as" ratios of these planets?

Venus compared to Earth: 2.58 times as hot

Mercury compared to Venus: 1.6 times as hot

Whoa! What kind of math is St. Algore using? Some new kind he invented for his Internet?

According to NASA's figures, Venus is only 60% hotter than Mercury, on average. That's a far cry from the 300% hotter that St. Algore claimed, and that the New York Times didn't question.

St. Algore has fibbed by a factor of 5!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

(Carbon) Foot(print) on the Gas; Pedal to the Metal

The son of St. Algore was arrested on America's birthday for driving 100 mph. Sheriff's deputies smelled marijuana, and they found a little dope inside the car. They also found some marijuana (rimshot), and some often-abused prescription drugs.

This is hard to believe. Who knew a Toyota Prius could go 100 mph?!

But seriously, what does driving 100 mph do to your Prius' "carbon footprint"? Isn't that sort of like buying recycled paper, but then using only one side of it?

Looks like Al Gore III has learned some lessons in hypocrisy from his father, he of the private jets and castle of a home.

I'll tell you the scary part of this story: the photo I saw of Al Gore III reminded me of Woody Harrelson!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Worldly Thoughts

First, Do No Harm?

A radio news reporter was talking about how two doctors had been arrested in the UK in connection with the recent car bomb attacks. The reporter thought that was odd, because we don't usually have people of that level associated with terrorism.

Well, first of all, I don't know if that's right. Osama bin Laden is educated and wealthy. Aren't (or weren't) some of his lieutenants even physicians?

Second, I think the reporter said that because the truth didn't fit his mainstream media news template, which is that terrorists are created by U.S. foreign policy, poverty, and a lack of good career opportunities.

But instead, these latest arrests support the real truth: that Islamafascists are evil ideologues, hell-bent on killing the "infidels." They won't go away just because we change presidents or pay out more foreign aid.

Politically Correct Disease

I heard a claim the other day that malaria kills more people in Africa than AIDS does. If that's true, why is it we hear so much about AIDS but nothing about malaria?

I think it's simply because AIDS is the politically correct disease. The leftist entertainment industry people make it a cause because they don't think it's fair that a person should have to face consequences for his or her irresponsible actions, and because they like to blame evil Republicans for not spending more money on finding a cure.

But malaria is problematic. If they acknowledged malaria, they'd have to consider how to fight it. And we know how to do that. Drain the wetlands and spray the mosquitoes with chemicals. And those are not politically correct options! So malaria gets ignored.

Monday, July 2, 2007

So Much for Clean Living...

He drinks champagne. He rolls his own cigars. He gambles. He loves the ladies. He's a former gun runner. Now this 105-year-old from Cuba is a U.S. citizen.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Overselling the Story

The St. Paul Pioneer Press on Monday reported:

Man jumps from railroad bridge

That's an exciting headline. I had to read that.

A 71-year-old Wisconsin angler leapt from a railroad bridge to escape an oncoming train Saturday afternoon.

Wow! An old-timer. How far did he fall? Fifty feet?

Raymond Burgin of Sheboygan was walking westbound on the tracks about one mile south of Maiden Rock to get to a fishing spot, according to the Pierce County Sheriff's Department. As he crossed the bridge, an eastbound BNSF Railway train approached.

Oh no! Then what happened? Is he dead?

Burgin estimated he jumped about 4 feet to the ground and suffered only some bumps and scrapes. He said the train was probably about 100 yards away when he made the leap.

Four feet?! One hundred yards away?! What kind of story is that?

Reminds me of the time I almost won the lottery. Yeah, I almost won. Except I didn't buy a ticket.

(Sorry, couldn't find this on the paper's website, so I can't give you a link to it.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

It's Here: The United States of Mexico

I just happened to catch this on the news out of Chicago Sunday night, on cable station WGN. It seems there was a big soccer match at Soldier Field that afternoon. The United States was playing Mexico for something called the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The newsman noted that most of the large crowd had been cheering for Mexico.

I found that interesting. Who were these Mexican fans who packed the stadium? Had they come from Mexico for the weekend, and were flying back home after the game? Some, I suppose. But I've got to think most of the people were recent immigrants from Mexico -- legal or otherwise.

It reminded me of the immigration rallies on May Day (the international communist holiday!) of 2006, when the protesters filled the streets and waved the flags of their native countries. Afterward, it was pointed out to them that this might lead people to question their loyalty. At subsequent protests, they waved American flags, symbolizing that they were good, loyal Americans. I considered that an improvement.

Looking for some written confirmation of what I had heard from WGN, I found a story in the Miami Herald. Here are some excerpts:

The United States is 9-2-1 against Mexico since 2000, including 8-0-1 on U.S. soil.

They've won in cities where they truly were the home team, and places where they may as well have been the guests. Like Sunday, when almost the entire crowd of 60,000 at Soldier Field was wearing green.


After the final whistle, the Americans ran over to Sam's Army - really more of a platoon - to salute the small contingent of U.S. fans. Donovan tossed his shirt into the stands, then grabbed a U.S. flag that a fan tossed and wrapped it around his shoulders.

OK, so Americans didn't really care enough to show up in force. But what does it say when Mexican-Americans cheer for Mexico rather than the United States in a sporting match held in the United States? It it significant? It suggests to me that they are still Mexicans, living in the U.S. -- not Americans of Mexican heritage.

When the Olympics are held, I root for the U.S. athletes, not the athletes from the countries of my ancestors.

If people are unable to transfer their loyalties to their new country in something as relatively unimportant as a soccer match, then what about when the stakes are really high? Like when nations are at war? That's why the U.S. went so far as to intern German-Americans and Japanese-Americans during WWII. Where did their loyalties lie? With the U.S.? Or with their homelands -- and the family they left behind. Could they be loyal to Uncle Sam when Uncle Sam was shooting at Uncle Fritz or Uncle Takashi?

That was the question. In hindsight, we "modern" Americans decry the internments of WWII. I'm not excusing the practice, but we have to remember that they had their reasons. In the U.S., we see Mexican-Americans rooting for Mexico. In England, we see British-born sons of Pakistani immigrant parents plotting to blow things up in support of Islamic terrorism.

That's the other side of the story.

I know, it's just a soccer game. But is this soccer crowd something we are going to be seeing more of? Are we creating "two Americas" -- Mexicans vs. Americans?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Monday Morning Quarterbacking

Last night PBS's "Frontline" had a program about the Iraq War. One solid hour detailing everything that hadn't worked, each failed strategy accompanied by an expert saying "I told you so."

Noticeably missing was anyone with a better idea. No one offered a plan that would have worked better. No one offered a plan that could work now.

It's easy to criticize others after the fact. It's a lot harder to solve the problem yourself.

The mistake may be in thinking that there is a "right plan" that would "solve" Iraq. As I've said many times, real life isn't "Let's Make a Deal," where if you choose a door that hides a booby prize, it means the grand prize is behind the door you didn't choose. Sometimes, there is no grand prize, only "zonks."

That may be the case in Iraq. It was never the U.S.' intention to occupy and run the country. The idea was to get rid of a genocidal dictator and give the people their freedom. That's a worthy goal, reflecting a world view that people of other races and religions are just as capable of living in peace and with freedom as are Americans.

But it appears to have been naive. Too many people in that region don't want peace. They don't want freedom. They want death and power. Can anything be done about that? I don't know that it can. They may have to settle things for themselves.

Would it have been better to not invade Iraq? Maybe. But it doesn't matter now. We don't have a time machine. We can't go back.

Many people say that Iraq under Saddam was better than Iraq under Bush. At least there was order under Saddam, they say. Saddam's way was better.

But that is very dangerous thinking. Again, we don't have a time machine, so we can't go back. And we can't put Saddam back in power, say, "Sorry about that. Send us a bill for the damages," and be on our way. Why not? Because Saddam is dead, executed for crimes against humanity!

So a restoration of Saddam is not an option. But if Saddam's way was truly better than Bush's way, then shouldn't we encourage Bush to act more like Saddam? Take some lessons from the Master Who Tamed Iraq. Critics complain about detainees at Git-Mo. Would Saddam be holding all those people at Git-Mo? Heck, no. He'd have long ago lined them up, machine gunned them down, and buried them in an unmarked mass grave. How about those prisoners at Abu Ghraib? Just the tip of the iceberg under the wise Saddam. He would have tortured and killed many, many more. That's how you keep order in Iraq.

So is that what Bush's critics want? Of course not. They criticize him for Git-Mo and Abu Ghraib.

But unless you're prepared to call for Bush to emulate Saddam, don't get all nostalgic for the Butcher of Baghdad. He wasn't the answer, either. If you think Saddam was a "good" option, you must be evil.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pure Genius

You have to be awed by the diabolical genius of the Chappaqua Hill-Billies.

The Democrats in 2008 face a choice between nominating the potential first female president, or the potential first half-African president. What to do?

With amazing foresight, the Chappaqua Hill-Billies have already thought of that! Remember how Bill claimed to be the "first black president"? So that has already been covered. Forget Obama; he's yesterday's news. It's time for the first woman president.

You've got to hand it to them. They are clever. They eliminated Hillary's stiffest competition before anyone even knew who he would be.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Don't Forget to Tip Your Greeter

Some people say they don't want to shop at Wal-Mart because they don't think the company pays its workers well enough. Trouble is, if enough people do boycott Wal-Mart, the result would be fewer people employed at Wal-Mart, and then those people would have to go back to the sort of jobs they left because they thought working at Wal-Mart was better. That wouldn't be helping them, would it now?

But I have come up with a solution.

Show Wal-Mart you don't want their low, low prices. Show them you want to pay more.

Instead of boycotting Wal-Mart, go shopping there. Then figure out how much money you have saved over shopping somewhere else, and give that sum in tips to the Wal-Mart workers. You will have effectively given the underpaid workers a raise.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Logic in the Letters

I see a lot of bad letters to the editor. A lot of people who don't have their "facts" straight, who can't reason, who can't use logic.

In Sunday's Pioneer Press I saw some letters like that. But I also saw an example of someone who could use logic. Mark A. Gleason responded to the "blame the gun" crowd by pointing out that by the same logic, we should blame the bottle. If we are going to ignore the Constitutional right to guns because some people use guns to kill people, then we should ignore the Constitutional repeal of prohibition and ban alcohol, because some people get drunk and kill people with their cars. (I'd wager a fair percentage of the people who kill people with guns have also had their judgment impaired by alcohol. Which do you think kills more Americans every year, directly or indirectly? I'm sure it would be alcohol.)

Another letter writer served as an example of a failure to exercise consistent logic. Complaining about guns, this person wrote: "Can't you be happy with the right to own rifles? Does it have to be handguns?"

I won't name that person, because I don't know what that person thinks about any other issues, and I hate it when people say, "People like her think...." But I'd wager that there are plenty of people who would ask "Can't you be happy with the right to own rifles?" who also support the whole gamut of abortion rights. To them, I'd like to say, "Can't you be happy with the right to birth control? Does it have to be abortion?"

Once upon a time states outlawed birth control. But that was eventually seen as a violation of a right to privacy. Ultimately, the Supreme Court then found a right to privacy in the Constitution that guaranteed a right to abortion.

When it comes to guns and abortion, the advocates have much in common. Neither will give an inch of ground, for fear that they will start down a slippery slope.

Seems to me that if you will give no ground when it comes to an implied Constitutional right, you shouldn't be asking others to give ground on an explicit Constitutional right.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Clipboard Mercenary: It's My Turn to Interrupt You

I sort of turned the tables on a door-to-door activist this week.

Chapter 1: Wednesday evening, it's getting dark. The doorbell rings. Young woman with clipboard. Has just enough of an "alternative" look to her that I know right away it's some leftist cause. She tells me she represents NARAL and is working for "reproductive rights." She shoves the clipboard at me, expecting me to sign her sheet pledging my support. After all, everyone likes "rights," just like we all like the "clean water" other clipboard-wielding warriors fight for.

But there's a flaw in her plan. I know that NARAL stands for "National Abortion Rights Action League," and I do not support her cause. (At least it used to stand for that. A visit to the group's website reveals that they don't use the long form of the name anymore. Are they ashamed of something? Do they have something to hide? Just like "KFC" -- the restaurant that wants people to forget that they fry the chicken.)

So I told her I wasn't interested. Actually, looking at the clipboard she was shoving at me, I said something like, "No, I don't want to have to tear that up for you."

So she left.

Chapter 2: I went outside to water some plants, thinking about what I should have said to the activist. Then I saw her. She must have completed my block, and she was on the sidewalk coming back my way. I called out to her, "Miss, do you read the paper?"

She tried to brush me off, saying she couldn't be talking to everyone she sees on the sidewalk.

"But you came to my door unannounced, interrupting me, expecting me to listen to your prepared speech, and when I have something to say to you, you won't listen to me?" I asked.

She brushed me off again and kept going. So I did something the neighbors don't see every day: I chased after her, telling her I thought it only fair that she let me talk to her, too. She told me it had been a long day, and she had to get back to her van in two minutes. (As opposed to the people whose homes she targets, none of whom have had a "long day," or are in a hurry to get something done.)

I told her I'd walk with her so she wouldn't be late, and say what I wanted to say.

So I calmly told her about the story in Tuesday's paper, the story about the sextuplets born at only 22 weeks gestation, well within the Supreme Court's "second trimester." "The newspaper story calls them 'babies,'" I told her, "not 'pieces of tissue' or 'choices' or even 'embryos.' Forget all your euphemisms; I want you to think about that."

She said she would. She just wanted to get rid of me. This wasn't the way it was supposed to work. No one was supposed to tell her anything. She was supposed to ride up unannounced on her high horse and tell me how it was. This wasn't in the script.

I told her to have a good evening and left her alone.

Chapter 3: I needed to take the dog out for a walk before it got completely dark. I was still thinking about the activist, and I remembered what she said about "my van." Wait a minute. Her van? What did that mean? Was she just like one of those college students selling magazines or miracle cleaner? Was she travelling around in a 12-passenger van, getting dropped off in a neighborhood with orders to report to the rendezvous point at the appointed hour?

Of course she hadn't read the paper. She wasn't even local. She wasn't out knocking on doors because of the strength of her convictions. She wasn't a volunteer. She was paid to do this!

While I mulled that over, I turned a corner and went down another street. A block down, I saw them. A group of college-age men and women, standing and sitting on the corner, talking and playing hacky sack. And there was "the van."

They were carrying on and having a good time. I found the sight surreal. I imagined they envisioned themselves some sort of modern-day children of the '60s, travelling in their "magic bus" and saving the world.

I saw them differently. I suddenly envisioned them as the equivalent of defense industry lobbyists, paid to keep the napalm and lead flowing into Southeast Asia. I wonder what they'd think of that? I wanted to ask them, "How are you going to spend your blood money?"

But I didn't.

But why shouldn't I have? Heck, here's another idea: I could have shown them the cute little dog I was walking ("11 pounds of deadly force"). After they all oohed and aahed and said, "Oh, she's so cute!" I could have asked, "Who wants to crush the dog's skull and suck its brains out?"

Would that be too disgusting? Why? They don't object to doing that to a cute little human. That might have given them something to think about.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Peace Group Longs for Safety of Mutually-Assured Destruction

According to an AP report: http://www.philly.com/philly/news/nation_world/7951597.html

The world's top military powers are gradually dismantling their stockpiles of nuclear arms, but all are developing new missiles and warheads with smaller yields that could increase the risk of atomic warfare, a Swedish research institute said yesterday.

In its annual report on military forces around the globe, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute also said the rising number of nations with nuclear weapons was raising the risk that such arms could be used.

"The concern is that countries are starting to see these weapons as usable, whereas during the Cold War, they were seen as a deterrent," said Ian Anthony, a nuclear expert at the institute.

So you're saying MAD -- mutually-assured destruction -- was a good thing after all? And not some bizarre idea straight out of "Dr. Strangelove"? You're saying that missiles really could be "peacekeepers"? You're saying that Ronald Reagan was not a war-monger, but a man of peace who kept us safe? You're saying that the much-hyped TV movie "The Day After" was a bunch of B.S.?

Where were you "peace experts" 25 years ago?

Fly 'em if you've got 'em! Flag Day today.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Minneapolis Could Kill Two Birds with One Stone (If They Believed in Killing Birds)

The mayor and city council of Minneapolis have received some criticism (but not from the people who continue to vote them into office) for not being serious leaders. They concern themselves with recreating Paris on skid row and banning the circus to protect the animals. But innocent people being shot in the head in Uptown or North? I seeee nuthiiiink!

But I've come up with a great idea for how Minneapolis' leaders can continue to address the hobby problems they like to play with, while not forgetting the real problems the haunt their city.

They can build an officials Mayor's Residence.

A Mayor's Residence? Yes. It could have a green roof. And rain barrels made from recycled materials. It could be super-insulated. Put solar panels on the roof. Don't let the tradesmen who build it wear leather work boots. Hemp sandals are more humane. Build a new bike path from there to downtown. Make sure all the workers are paid "living wages" and belong to unions -- but don't check whether they are in the country legally or not. Money is no object.

You must be saying, "Dave, are you nuts! How is this going to help?" I'll tell you. There's one more detail.

Build it in the worst neighborhood of North Minneapolis.

Every day, when Mayor R.T. Rybak dons his bike helmet -- and his bulletproof vest -- for his trek to the office, he'll be reminded of what he really needs to do that day.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Immigrant Beggars Can Be Choosers

Let me begin by saying:



But that doesn't mean you can't discuss how you go about doing so.

A front page story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press today reports that local food shelves have a problem. Not enough food? Not exactly, though I'm sure they can always use more. No, the problem is not enough of the food that their "customers" want.

Mac and cheese? SPAM? Chunky soup? Not good enough.

No, now we're supposed to donate fufu, basmati rice, halal meat, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

"The vast majority of our participants do not speak English as a first language. They're immigrants and refugees," said Renae Oswald-Anderson, vice president of community building at Neighborhood House, a St. Paul community center that operates a food shelf.

As countless mothers have said about picky eaters: They'll eat it when they get hungry enough.

But seriously, while I understand the point that is being made, I wonder if this publicity might have a negative effect. Could there be a backlash?

As someone who always tries to fill up a grocery bag when the Boy Scouts or church or the letter carriers or whomever is having a food drive, I don't like hearing that my donations aren't good enough. Might people start saying, "Forget it, they don't really want this stuff that I buy, anyway"?

And how about the immigrant and refugee angle? I think food shelves have long been sold to us with the idea that we are feeding our neighbors -- maybe even our friends and relatives -- and that we're all only one missed paycheck away from needing the food shelf ourselves. How do people feel about being asked to fund some sort of international refugee camp?

And why is that the responsibility of the residents of St. Paul? If the federal government is going to let people who can't feed themselves into the country, then shouldn't the federal government take some responsibility for them?

But what should we expect in St. Paul? When all the protester accommodations are in place for the GOP convention next year, I'm sure there will be multi-lingual signs directing the protesters to the "Peace Park," multi-sex toilets, free coffee, e-mail stations and everything else. After all, just because you don't speak English doesn't mean you don't have a right to try to disrupt a gathering of the evil Republicans.

And there is a precedent. The local Democrats -- I think it was the Fourth Congressional District -- were quite proud that in a recent election cycle they provided delegates with multi-lingual ballots. I read about it in the paper. But the reporter failed to ask three questions: Don't you have to be a qualified voter to participate? Don't you have to be a citizen to be a voter? Don't you have to demonstrate some command of English to be a citizen?

Citizenship? We don't need no stinkin' citizenship!

All I can say is, if you want to help the hungry recent arrivals, then give cash to the food shelves so they can buy what they know they need. I'm not going to go driving around to stores I don't frequent just so I can buy things I can't identify. But what's up with the meat and produce request? Canned and dry products were supposed to be good enough for native-born hungry people.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Editorializing Beyond the Editorial Page

I can't really complain about this cartoon. After all, it is an editorial cartoon. And I spied it on the editorial page of the St. Paul Pioneer Press today. But it caught my attention because it also demonstrates how supposedly non-editorial reporters regularly adopt the same techniques used by this cartoonist.

I've noted before that media bias comes through in the decisions about what to report, and what terms to use. The media define the terms of the news. In this case, note how the cartoonist has chosen the terms "gun control" and "abortion rights," both of which are supposed to register as "good things" with those on the left. I think those choices of terminology indicate to us what the cartoonist thinks are the right positions. Similarly, "Iraq War" is supposed to register as a "bad thing."

Try imagining the cartoon if the choice of terms was different. What if Giuliani's issue was defined as "The Second Amendment" or "The Right to Bear Arms"? What if Romney's issue was "Protecting Unborn Babies"?* What if Hillary's issue was "War on Terror"?

It would be a different cartoon, wouldn't it? We'd know where the cartoonist came down on the issues.

It's the same when reporters choose the terms that they use to define the issues they cover.

*There's a story in the paper today about living sextuplets born at only 22 weeks of gestation -- that's within the second trimester. Interestingly, they are referred to as "babies." But if the mother had instead decided to exercise her legal right and abort them, they would have been "fetuses," just "pieces of tissue," and not human life, according to many people.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"Tear Down This Wall!"

Today is the 20-year anniversary of President Ronald Reagan standing before the Berlin Wall and declaring, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" John Fund writes about it for the Wall Street Journal.

Remember how some people were aghast that Reagan could say such a thing? They claimed Reagan was the threat to world peace, which they thought was represented by the evil wall that kept oppression in and freedom out. They told us that the people of communist Europe were happy and with and well-served by their Communist masters. The status quo was just honky-dory, they said.

Keep in mind that tends to be the same group of people who tell us how Iraq was better with Saddam in charge.

History will tell.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me!

It's my birthday today, so you'll have to indulge me as my mind flits from here to there.

Memorials Are Substitutes for Memories

You might be driving down the road and see a historic marker saying something like, "On this site in 1843, Ole Knarvelquist built a sod house, becoming the first white settler in Lefse County." You might see that. But you wouldn't expect to see a marker reading, "On this site in 1952, Acme Builders erected 800 tract houses, which are still here." No, you wouldn't expect to see that. That sign would be unnecessary, wouldn't it?

Like I said, you'll have to indulge me.

Saturday was a big day at the Minnesota State Capitol Mall, as the new WWII memorial was dedicated. Some people have asked why it took so long to erect a WWII memorial, when there were already Vietnam War and Korean War memorials. They ask as though there has been a conspiracy, or some sort of slight or oversight.

That's not the case at all, and I think I can explain why a WWII memorial had not been erected until now.

First, why is it that we build memorials? I'd say it is so that we don't forget. Don't forget whom? Someone else. That's the key.

We erected a Korean War memorial in remembrance of those who served in the "forgotten war." The Korean War isn't much in the American consciousness. If it weren't for the "MASH" TV show, most Americans might not even know there ever was such a thing. (Then again, most Americans might not know there was such a thing, even with the TV show.)

So we built a memorial. So they wouldn't be forgotten.

Then there was Vietnam. Not forgotten, but not popular. After some time went by, our collective guilt about the way we treated those who served and died in Vietnam got the better of us, and we built a memorial.

But what about WWII? I think it differs in two significant ways. First, when the war ended, there was no way anyone was going to forget it. It remained that way for decades. Now, the memories are fading. Second, when it came to WWII, who was going to put up a memorial for whom? WWII pretty much involved everybody. Whether in uniform or civilian, people were affected by the war. They participated in one way or another. Who puts up a memorial for themselves? It is only now that those who were not part of the war are in a position to honor those who were. (Remember, Bill Clinton was our first non-WWII era president. Since Herbert Hoover, anyway. But that was before the war.)

Does St. Algore Invest in China's Dams?

Remember when we used to hear about how China was ruining Mother Earth by damming the rivers to build hydroelectric plants? I hadn't heard about that in a while, until I heard today that China has begun generating electric power at one such giant dam.

I think I know what happened.

As the focus went to Global Warming -- with its emphasis on carbon emissions from places such as coal-burning power plants -- hydroelectric power suddenly began to look like a good thing. How could the activists complain about both coal-fired plants and hydroelectric plants? It was too confusing. In fact, the hydroelectric plants might be seen as "offsets" for the "carbon footprints" of coal-fired plants!

Hmmm. I wonder if Al Gore has invested some of his inherited riches in a Chinese dam?

The Papal States of America

Over the weekend President Bush got into some "trouble" with his critics (i.e. "reporters") when he addressed the Pope as "Sir" instead of "Your Holiness." And he didn't sit properly, either, they say.


I wonder what terms those critics use to refer to the Pope? Nothing as nice as "sir," I'll bet. Of course, they'd call him "Your Holiness" to his face, then turn around and call the conservative Benedict awful things.

I don't mind at all if Bush does call the Pope "Your Holiness." That's fine by me. But remember that Bush is not a Roman Catholic; he has no personal obligation to respect the Pope in any particular way. As president, he should act properly in such meetings, but are we really going to insist that he act as though he United States is subservient to the Roman church?

What's really silly, is I can see the same critics complaining about President Bush being too deferential to the Pope. "Separation of church and state!" They'd scream.

And what about "diversity"? Is Bush supposed to suddenly become a rpacticing Catholic? Would the critics expect a Muslim to come to the U.S. and know how to properly sit and talk around, say, a Southern Baptist minister? On the contrary, they'd say the Baptists must accommodate the Muslim -- "diversity," you know. Reminds me of when Queen Elizabeth II visited the United States and a woman hugged her. Shocking! Except this was a black woman, so we were supposed to cut her some slack -- diversity, and appreciating cultural differences and all that. We couldn't expect an African-American woman to know that you mustn't touch the British monarch. She was just acting in a way that was appropriate in her own culture.

Couldn't we cut the protestant American Bush some slack? I know it's "When in Rome do as the Romans do," but c'mon. I mean, when people come (illegally) into this country, we don't even expect them to have to learn the language.

Crucible Conundrum

You know how in the movies, you'll see the good guys trapped in some big industrial plant with crucibles of molten metal moving through the air? Well, why doesn't the molten metal melt the crucible? What do they make the crucibles out of? Presumably, some metal that melts at a higher temperature than the molten metal it holds. But then what did they use to make the crucible that held the melted metal to make the first crucible? And so on, and so on.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Check Out My Column in the Pioneer Press

I have a guest column on the Pioneer Press opinion page today. It's about St. Paul's historic relationship with the Mississippi River, which is best characterized as an abusive relationship. Can we change and live happily ever after?

Friday, June 8, 2007

History Often Trumps Science, "Intelligence"

If you're a regular Downing World reader, then you know that I'm skeptical of the claims of Global Warming alarmists. But my skepticism isn't based on any particular climatological expertise. Rather, I'm skeptical because this seems like just another Big Scare, like the Coming Ice Age was 30 years ago. Overpopulation, Y2K -- it's just one scare after another. People seem to like to be scared, and the media and activists find it serves their purposes to scare us. (Nonetheless, I'm already on record saying that reducing pollution is a good thing, whether or not Global Warming is real.)

Likewise, looking to history, it's easy to say that invading Iraq was not a good idea. Even without getting into the "Iraq is just like Vietnam" cliche, history provides plenty of examples of how foreign adventures turn out badly. But the "experts" told us it would be a piece of cake, right? Just like the experts tell us that we're causing Global Warming. History shows experts can be wrong.

Ed Lotterman had another thoughtful column yesterday. The headline writer titled it "Bush has missed lessons of history," but it wasn't simply an "Iraq = Vietnam" column, as casual readers might guess. No, I expect more from Lotterman, and I wasn't disappointed. He worked in Karl Marx, Adam Smith, and Alexander Hamilton, in showing how President Bush is missing the lessons of history when it comes to paying for a war. I especially liked his reference to seminal English economist Adam Smith:

Even as the Revolutionary War was brewing, economist Adam Smith described the quandary governments face during war. They are unwilling to "increase their revenues in proportion to their expense ... for fear of offending their people, who by ... an increase of taxes, would be disgusted with the war."

Ah, Adam Smith. Pretty much anything you need to know about economics (and human nature), he figured it out and wrote it down more than two centuries ago. I think the Nobel Committee should just give the next Nobel Prize for Economics to Adam Smith, and then retire the award. There's really nothing more to left to say.

Getting back to Iraq, yes, history warned us to be careful what we wish for. But I have a question for those who say Iraq = Vietnam and we should pull out: If you think Vietnam should have taught us not to invade Iraq, then don't you also think we should take some lessons from Vietnam about how not to pull out of a country?

PBS's "American Experience" program recently had a show about what happened in South Vietnam after the U.S. pulled out in 1973. We don't talk much about that. We like to talk about how it was a mistake to get involved in a war in Vietnam, and then pretend that it was all over when U.S. troops left. But it wasn't. Not for the South Vietnamese.

The U.S. essentially sold out the South Vietnamese. The U.S. left, the communists predictably broke their word and attacked the South, and the U.S. left their former allies hanging in the wind. First, the communists blew some things up and conducted some probing attacks, to test if the U.S. would respond. When Uncle Sam turned a blind eye, they knew they had the green light to take over the South.

In Iraq, terrorists continue to blow things up, seeing if we will fight, or run. So far, I'd say the pendulum is swinging toward running. Their plan is working.

Now, we are faced with a Congress threatening to cut off funding for an unpopular war. Then, members of Congress visited South Vietnam, then returned and cut off aid funding for the South, signing our allies' death warrant.

When the U.S. left Vietnam, did that end the violence? Did everyone live happily ever after? Hardly. Thirty-one thousand South Vietnamese troops died in 1974. After the communist triumph in 1975, untold civilians were added to that total. Cambodia fell to the communists. Laos fell to the communists. Genocides followed.

If Vietnam should hold lessons for us, then let's not forget the lessons about how not to withdraw from a conflict. Iraq has presented us with no easy choices. For a dozen years, American presidents struggled with how to handle Saddam. Finally, one decided that invading was better than the status quo. Now that we've seen the result, we're not so sure. But let's not delude ourselves that withdrawing will mean turning back to the clock to how things were four years ago. There's no going back. Withdrawing will have its own unanticipated and undesired consequences. Are we sure they'll be better than what has now become the status quo?

But here's one more question: What about Afghanistan? I've heard plenty of people who say they opposed invading Iraq, but they back the mission in Afghanistan. That's where Osama bin Laden was, so it made sense, they say, in what seems to me to often be an attempt to have it both ways: be tough on terror in Afghanistan, but attack Bush over Iraq.

But what would history teach us about adventures in Afghanistan? If there's anywhere history would say to stay out of, it's got to be Afghanistan! For centuries, the place has been known as untamable. Even the Soviets couldn't handle it!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Live! in Concert: Albert Einstein at the Speed of Light

I just read a description of Albert Einstein as "the first physicist in history to achieve rock star status."

That's interesting, considering that Einstein died in 1955, the year after Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock," and just a couple of years after Alan Freed coined the phrase "rock and roll."

Einstein was a "rock star" before there was such a thing. He may have been the first rock star, period!

Old Al, he always was ahead of his time (relatively speaking).

Isaac Newton (previous post) and Albert Einstein had two amazing minds. They could see or imagine what no one else had seen or imagined. Newton seems more of a practical physicist, observing the natural world. Einstein was the great theoretical physicist, conducting his experiments in his mind, when there may have been no way to test his theories in a physical manner. Einstein came up with some wild theories, but so far history has proved them sound. Reportedly, even he found one of his theories about the universe so strange that he had trouble believing it could be true. Only recently have modern scientists confirmed that he was right all along.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007 (D-Day + 23,010)

Open Mind, Insert Foot

I never know where I'll find something of interest. A news story about how Starbucks puts quotes from a wide variety of people on its coffee cups contained a couple of revealing quotes.

Let me preface this by saying that I tire of hearing how political liberals are so "open-minded," "tolerant," and "intellectual." They're as open-minded as suits their purposes, same as anyone else, as evidenced by these examples from the Starbucks story.

First example: Starbucks reportedly puts a variety of quotes on their cups, often offering opposing views. There might be a quote knocking evolution theory on one cup, and a quote supporting evolution theory on another. That's fine with me. It doesn't hurt me to read a variety of opinions. But some people are not as open-minded as I am. For instance:

"My first reaction was, 'Eew, is Starbucks trying to cram creationism down my throat along with my Americano?"' said Berkeley journalist Susan Kuchinskas.

Got that? She's a journalist. She's from Berkeley, for crying out loud. How much more liberal and "open-minded" could a stereotype get? Yet, she doesn't want to hear something that doesn't fit her own biases or beliefs.

As a (got to be) liberal, Berkeley journalist, shouldn't she say things like, "Everyone's entitled to say their piece," and "The answer to bad information is more information"? But no, I guess that's not good enough for some. They want only one side to be presented. Says Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation:

"What are they going to do next, run quotes challenging the theory of gravity, then run a separate one by Galileo saying, 'Oh, no, it's true'? No wonder this country is going downhill scientifically."

Or, it could be people who think Galileo* (died 1642) would be a good spokesman for the theory of gravity (published by Sir Isaac Newton in 1687).

Personally, I can handle reading a quote from someone who thinks differently than I do. But that's just me, a narrow-minded, knuckle-dragging conservative.

*OK, Galileo did conduct experiments concerning the effects of gravity, but it was Newton who identified the concept. Isaac Newton was an amazing man. Not content to be remembered solely for "discovering" gravity, here are some of his other achievements: 1) Discovered the properties of light; 2) Invented the reflecting telescope, still in use today; 3) Invented calculus. (Which had previously been discovered by the Greek mind of Archimedes, then lost. Only recently has Archimedes' book on calculus been rediscovered, with modern scientific methods that have allowed researchers to read the writing washed off of a medieval manuscript, so that it could be re-used.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Comrade Klingon

It's interesting to view the original "Star Trek" series through 21st-century eyes. Of course, that series was viewing the future through the eyes of the 1960s -- civil unrest, hippies, race relations, anti-war sentiments and all. Those themes made their way into the show in pretty obvious ways.

But did you ever think about how the Cold War shaped the series? I never did, not for a long time. Then one day, I realized that the Star Trek universe is very much shaped by Cold War sensibilities.

For instance, what of those warlike, militaristic Klingons? They were the chief rivals of the Federation. It seems obvious to me now that they represented the Soviets. And how about the Romulans? They were introduced as a mysterious, isolated race who had been out of contact with the Federation for a long period of time. It was stated that they had been dealing with internal problems, but now they were back, and they were ready to challenge for their place in the new universe order.

Doesn't that sound like the Chinese of that era? Closed to the West following their internal revolutionary conflict, they were only then beginning to open up.

And what of the Vulcans? This is less clear-cut, but maybe they are the Japanese. Playing to stereotypes, the Vulcans are logical and unemotional. They're not afraid to die for the greater good of the greater number -- regular kamikazes. Add to that, the Vulcans and the Klingons are said to be related, but they developed a history of enmity between them. They both have those distinctive pointed ears. Again playing to the stereotype, that reminds me of the way that Americans can't ever figure out how to keep the Japanese and the Chinese separate. After all, they both have those slanty eyes.

Movies and TV shows are products of their own time, even when they try to depict the future -- or even the past. Keep that in mind when you watch old programs, and you'll have fun spotting the signs of the times.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Now This is Getting Serious

As the nation makes more and more ethanol, the price of corn has gone up. That led to claims not too far back that Mexican peasants were having trouble affording their corn tortillas. There's probably some economic linkage there, though it's not direct, since different types of corn are involved.

But now things are getting really serious. I recently read a report that said German farmers are growing less barely, and more of crops that can be made into biofuels. The result? The price of beer is going up!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Can't We Just Move On?

A St. Paul high school band teacher has been arrested for having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student. Some people are bothered by this, but I'm thinking, What's the big deal?

I mean, it's just sex, right? So that's really none of our business. And maybe it's not even sex. It reportedly was just oral sex, and that's not really sex, anyway, right? Haven't we, as a nation, already established that?

And she's 17. It's not like we don't expect 17-year-olds to be having sex. That's why we educate them in school and give them condoms, because we know they're going to be doing it anyway. And the teacher is only 28. He's only 11 years older than her. And, yes, he's in a position of authority over her, but who are we to judge?

It's not like he's a chief executive preying on an intern less than half his age.

Oh, wait. That would be OK.

That would be Bill Clinton.

By now, I hope you know I'm putting you on. If the allegations are true, this teacher is scum. He's a sexual predator, preying on a juvenile he is paid to protect.

But really, what should we expect in these post-Lewinsky years? And I'm not "blaming" Bill Clinton, here, I'm blaming our culture, which was too willing to dismiss Clinton's behavior as "just sex." Today's 17-year-old was only eight when that story broke. This girl has grown up knowing nothing other than the Clinton/Lewinsky version of what's proper behavior.

I said at the time that the Clinton/Lewinsky affair -- and especially the way it was treated as a joke rather than something shameful -- set a bad example for young people. I said at the time, They'll grow up thinking this is normal behavior. That's what happens when we refuse to draw the line or be "judgmental."

It's the same with the "Murphy Brown" comments that made Vice President Dan Quayle a laughingstock. But he was right. Even St. Algore has conceded that fact. I'd bet you can find plenty of 17-year-old girls who don't think a father -- never mind a husband -- has anything to do with having a baby.

Friday, June 1, 2007

D'oh! Town Suffers from Lack of Imagination

One of this summer's most-anticipated movies is "The Simpsons Movie," due out July 27. If you watch the TV show, you know that the Simpsons live in the city of Springfield, but one of the running jokes is that the creators never let on which state this Springfield is supposed to be in.

So as part of the pre-opening hype for the movie, 20th Century Fox is giving the various Springfields around the nation a chance to compete to be the "true" Springfield, and also to host the premiere of the movie on July 26. Competitors are being asked to make a three- to five-minute video that shows how their town captures the "Simpsons" spirit.

But at least one town wants no part of it. Springfield, Minn., population 2,200, doesn't want to be associated with the animated, differently-functional family. Here's an excerpt from Chris Hewitt's story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

"We couldn't find any interest in town that would spearhead the project," said City Manager Mac Tilberg, who chatted with the City Council and asked around town before declining Hollywood's invitation.

That should be no problem, if you just ask the right people. I've got to think there must be some students at Springfield High School who would love to take on this project.

"It sounded like a chamber of commerce-type deal that could make some noise for your town, but quite a bit of the input I got was that we are obviously not the Springfield on the show," Tilberg said. "We don't have a nuclear waste plant or a garbage dump or a lot of the other things."

That's right. And that's the beauty of it. Play off of that. Find some creative stand-ins for the things you don't have. No nuclear power plant? No problem. Find a hog barn and put some cartoony hazardous waste signs on it. Those big-city Hollywood types would eat that up.

"Everything the fictitious Springfield is, we're not. We're a clean, close-knit community. There's no pollution, no waste dumps, nobody misbehaving all the time. And we don't want to be made a parody of," Tilberg said.

I think he's missing something. They aren't going to parody you; it's up to you to make the film. Show yourself off by highlighting how you aren't the Simpsons' Springfield. One of the fixtures of "The Simpsons" is humorous signs -- including on the sign at the church the Simpsons attend. I'd bet Springfield, Minn., has several churches. Put them ALL in the film, each one with a humorous message on the sign. Nothing sacrilegious. You can get some off one of those church bulletin typo lists that makes the e-mail rounds.

But Jan Erickson said an "Andy Griffith" movie would be more her town's speed.

"I can see why the city said, 'No,' " Erickson said. "I don't think it's a wholesome show. I hate the show, and if I heard Springfield would support something like that, I would think it's a sign of what's wrong with America."

Let's see, they're a small town, and they think they would be well-represented by an "Andy Griffith" movie. Talk about making a parody out of yourself!

Springfield, Minn., was afraid that participating in this promotion would make them look foolish. Looks to me like they've taken care of that themselves!

This is really a missed opportunity for Springfield, Minn. I feel sorry for the young people who won't get a chance to participate. It's indicative of small-town thinking -- a lack of imagination, and a failure to answer the door when opportunity knocks.

And I think Springfield, Minn., would have had a good chance to win. The whole point of the contest is to generate publicity for the movie. What's a better national story? "Simpsons" movie premiere in Springfield, Mass., or "Simpsons" movie premiere in a hayfield in Springfield, Minn.?

I say in a hayfield, because Springfield, Minn., has no movie theater in which to hold a world premiere! Again, that's no problem, if you just have a little imagination. Put up a temporary drive-in theater screen in a hayfield. Or find a white barn with a nice, broad side. Again, all of these things would only add to the publicity.

"World Premiere in Springfield, Minnesota." It's a great concept. Too bad they wouldn't give it the green light.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Hold You're Applause

I didn't catch where this supposedly happened, but I heard a report on the radio yesterday that some high school grads received unsigned diplomas because their friends and families applauded as the graduates walked across the stage, instead of waiting until after all the graduates had been announced, as they had been instructed to do.

Now, I don't know if the school should go that far, but this inability to hold applause until all parties have been recognized seems to be a growing problem. I've experienced it myself in recent years. Most recently at a small town high school graduation this spring. (I won't name the town, but I will say it wasn't my hometown.) We were instructed to hold our applause until after all 130 names had been called. Most people could handle that, but maybe half a dozen graduates were met with applause. Actually, not so much applause as hootin' and hollerin'.

Finally, the last graduate strolled across the stage. The crowd burst into applause.

Well, most of the crowd. Not me.

That's because I knew we were supposed to wait for the magic words. Everyone should have understood that. Especially since the program listed "Presentation of the class of 2007" as the next step.

As the applause subsided somewhat, a woman at the microphone tried to announce, "Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Class of 2007!"

At which point people began applauding again, though less enthusiastically. So much for a big, dramatic moment.

But it's not just ceremony that people don't understand, it's also grammar. I noticed one family was so proud of their graduate that they had made and donned special T-shirts for the occasion. (Formality, where have you gone?) Special T-shirts reading:

"Congratulations! Your #1!"

I'll close with this thought: If the superintendent signed your high school diploma with an "X"... you might be a redneck.

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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