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archives: August--September, 2007


Friday, September 28, 2007

Principle versus Pocketbook

We hate getting "spam" in our e-mail. We sign up for the "do not call" list. We worry about our privacy -- President Bush or Dick Cheney might be listening in to our phone conversations!

So what are we to make of this?

California startup Pudding Media Inc. introduced a service Monday that monitors Internet phone calls and dishes up promotions based on what people say. Consumers place calls for free over their computer, talking into a microphone, and in exchange they agree to let Pudding eavesdrop and show on-screen ads based on the conversations. Advertisers select from tens of thousands of keywords, similar to how they buy ads linked to the text of Internet searches. The service may show links to movie trailers to people talking about films or send game statistics to sports fans, San Jose, Calif.-based Pudding said.

Do you think this will succeed? If it does, it just shows that people don't really care about their privacy. At least not more than they care about their pennies.

I know, maybe President Bush could announce his own "promotion": If you happen to say the magic word "jihad" while he happens to be listening in on your conversation, you'll earn an all-expenses-paid trip to an exclusive Caribbean getaway!


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Someone's Gotta Pay for It

I had lunch with former Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch today. OK, me and three dozen others, but he was at my table. Hatch came to our meeting of the Highland Business Association to speak on the subject of "The Future of Health Care."

Unfortunately, he didn't have any great revelations for us, or any magic solutions. I asked him if it was possible that our ability to invent and provide treatments and medications has simply exceeded our ability to pay.

He didn't seem to understand the question, and talked about how progress is a good thing, and he didn't think we should stop inventing things. (Which I had not suggested.)

Anyway, I think the "problem" may be that simple. We simply can't afford all of the health care options that are available. Just because someone invents a home theater system doesn't mean I can afford one. Just because we have free-range, fair-trade, organic, hand-plucked pheasant breasts for sale doesn't mean everyone can afford it. Just because someone invents private jets doesn't mean we can all have one. I might have to "settle" for 32-inch color TV, plain old chicken, and flying coach when I can afford to fly at all.

But wait! you say, Those are luxuries. Health care is a necessity. Maybe so, but how are you going to pay for an unlimited amount of it? You can't get something for nothing. Someone has to pay.

Everyone is looking for some magic "plan" that provides us all with all of the latest health care options at little cost. It ain't gonna happen.

What exactly is the "problem" with health care, anyway? I know it costs a lot. Believe me, I know. But why does it cost a lot? If we want to lower the cost we have to first figure out why it costs what it does.

Does the cost of health care rise steeply year after year because the cost of the same treatments is going up? Or is it because we are using more health care "products"? Or because new treatments cost more than the treatments they have replaced?

I don't know. But I do know that if I was in charge of trying to hold down health care costs, I'd be finding out.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Is Flirting a Crime?

Several aspects of the Sen. Larry Craig toe-tapping case puzzle me. For one thing, it almost seems like what he is "guilty" of is being gay. News accounts today report how he pleaded guilty to soliciting not "public sex," but "gay sex." I thought we were supposed to be beyond that. I thought his preference didn't matter. I thought it was all the same these days.

Where are all the diverse and tolerant Democrats? Why aren't they defending Craig?

And as others have pointed out, Craig didn't actually do anything that could be considered indecent. His "crime" is engaging in non-verbal behavior that is described by authorities as a come-on, with the assumption that it would lead to sexual behavior in a public restroom.

While the toe-tapping and other gestures didn't mean anything to me, what Craig did sounds an awfully lot like flirting. So are we going to start arresting men when they buy women drinks? And are we going to arrest women when they respond by smiling, looking away, and twirling a finger in their hair? Aren't those actions part of a courtship ritual that could lead to sex? And even in a public restroom, for all we know. You don't think there's ever been a heterosexual liaison in a public restroom?


Monday, September 24, 2007

All We Have to Fear Is That We Might Run Out of Fears

My brother Dan and I were talking out behind the barn this weekend, solving the world's problems, and he mentioned how some people (usually liberals and/or mainstream media journalists) just seem intent on always having something to be afraid of. There always has to be a fear. They seem to want that. And I said, if it's true as some would have us believe that if God didn't make man, then man would have to make God, because of some need deep within the human psyche, then all of these fears fill the bill, too. And the fear of GLOBAL WARMING has all the marks of a religion. There's the sin of harming the Earth, our condemnation as we destroy the planet, end times, but a chance for redemption and salvation through our works if only we repent and follow the teachings of Brother Algore.

I think Global Warming is only the latest in a long line of fears, many of which were going to kill us all. Witches, the coming ice age, reefer madness, the Red Scare, the population bomb, mass starvation. Those weren't so bad, were they? Yet they've all had their turn as the threat that's going to destroy us.

Here's a great example of how the liberal media loves to fear the worst. Sam Schulman, writing about trends and trend watchers for the Wall Street Journal, gives us this:

The tipping point for trend analysis was Mr. Naisbitt's publication of "Megatrends," which went on to sell nine million copies. What was the appeal? A New York Times reviewer denounced the book for--of all things--its cheerfulness. "What is striking about Mr. Naisbitt's forecast is its irrepressible optimism. If you are depressed by the recession or have nuclear nightmares, try 'Megatrends.' Everything is better than you think, and this chipperness . . . may explain the book's rise on the best-seller list." The book was a slap in the face to the Jimmy Carteresque malaise that the chattering classes of the time felt was proper even in the Reagan years.

Isn't that the truth? So, did that recession do us in? How about nuclear weapons? No, those were just the worries of the day for liberals in the 1980s. But soon enough, we had Bill Clinton's "new economy" and the "peace dividend." No wonder they had to invent Global Warming! They needed something to worry about!


Friday, September 21, 2007

In Need of Directions

Hmmmm... Why is it that after decades of insisting that they didn't need to stop for directions, men are so quick to snap up electronic devices that will tell them exactly where they are and exactly where to drive?


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mammoth Poop a Big Deal

Here's another thing to worry about: A Russian scientist says that as Siberia warms, thawed mammoth poop is decaying and releasing CO2 that contributes to GLOBAL WARMING.

Furthermore, the story reports that as the permafrost thaws, frozen river banks are collapsing into the water. Add this to stories that say within a few years all the glaciers will be gone, and a Northwest Passage will finally open through the Arctic ice, and I think we've got pretty good evidence that GLOBAL WARMING is... a mammoth bunch of hooey.

That's right, while these events might indicate that the Earth is warming, they contradict the theology of GLOBAL WARMING, which contends that it is entirely caused by humans. Consider, please, what we've been told about GLOBAL WARMING. We've been told that according to GLOBAL WARMING science, the average temperature of Earth would increase something like one degree over the next hundred years, but that would be enough to cause drastic changes. Therefore, we were told, we must act so as to not ruin the Earth for future generations.

But now what has happened? We're being told that the dreaded events of long-term projections are already upon us! But GLOBAL WARMING theology told us that this would take a century. Rather than prove their point, I think this shows that the Global Warmists don't know what they are talking about. Their "projections" are meaningless. They may be tracking a trend, but they don't have any idea what is really going on.

Cleary, the "science" of GLOBAL WARMING is not to be trusted. Something must be going on other than CO2 emissions from power plants and automobiles. Something bigger. Something that little old mankind can't control or influence.

I've said before that reducing pollution for the sake of reducing pollution is a worthy goal. But I don't have faith in GLOBAL WARMING theology. I think faith in GLOBAL WARMING is perhaps the ultimate in human hubris, believing that man is so powerful that he is bigger than nature. It reminds me of the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel, in which God ultimately punishes humanity for its hubris in thinking that it can build a monument to itself that reaches God's own Heaven.

Hmmmm.... could these extremely rapid environmental changes now being reported be God's way of saying, "You think you can cause Global Warming? I'll show you Global Warming!"

But must we only focus on the downside of GLOBAL WARMING? Pete Du Pont writes for the Wall Street Journal on the upside of GLOBAL WARMING -- all the lives it would save -- based on Bjorn Lomborg's book, "Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming."


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Aaarrrrrrgh!

Today, September 19, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. I kid you not. There's a Website and everything.

For great pirate-themed books for the little landlubbers in your life, go to my Usborne Books site -- http://davethebookguy.com -- and search for the key word "pirates." There are lots of great titles. I particularly recommend the "Pirate Handbook," a humorous but informative primer in piratehood and pirate-tude, and "True Stories of Pirates," a chapter book containing, yes, true stories about pirates.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Bonus! Mommy and Daddy Are Getting Divorced

A few months back the Pioneer Press started running an "Ex-Etiquette" advice column, dealing with issues affecting divorced and/or remarried people and their children. I have a variety of feelings about this column. I'm sad that these issues are widespread enough to warrant such a column. I guess I'm glad that if it's needed, it's here. But I'm worried that its existence validates or gives a stamp of approval to adults who have children and then mess up their children's lives with their own personal affairs.

This strikes me as weird, too: The column is written by "Jann Blackstone-Ford and her husband's ex-wife, Sharyl Jupe." I guess I'm glad they get along. They are authors of "Ex-Etiquette for Parents" and founders of Bonus Families.

They're big on the whole "bonus" thing. I hadn't run into it previous to seeing their column, but they don't use "stepdaughter" or "stepmother." Instead, they write "bonus mom" or "bonus daughter," like it's a good thing when people tear apart their children's families. Boy, it makes it sound like everyone should get a divorce and remarry!

Just by eliminating the nasty-sounding "step" prefix and substituting the wonderful-sounding "bonus," they've entirely changed the nature of divorce. I wonder how else we could apply their problem-solving technique. I know, let's eliminate poverty! "Poor people" sounds so unpleasant. But if we take into account that poor people use less of the world's resources, we can turn that into a positive. No more "poor" people; bring on the "small environmental footprint" people!


Friday, September 14, 2007

Mandatory Pregnancy Tests?

Here's a good column by Paul Mulshine, a columnist for the Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersy. Mulshine discusses what universal (government) health care might be like, looking to Europe for guidance.

Mulshine points out that if filmmaker Michael Moore actually got the wonderful, European-style "free" health care that he wants, the tubby director might be hauled in a for a mandatory checkup and told to lose 100 pounds, or else he might lose his "right" to further health care.

Mulshine notes that presidential hopeful John "Pretty Boy" Edwards endorses a plan for government health care under which you would have no choice about going to the doctor for preventive exams. You would have to go.

That would include mandatory mammograms for women! But what about "privacy"? What about a woman's body being a matter of choice between her and her doctor, and not the government? What about Roe v. Wade?

It seems to me that under Edwards' thinking, we'd have to force all females (starting at about age 12) to submit to mandatory pregnancy tests every three months, so that we could make sure they were offered proper care in a timely manner, which would include encouraging a first-trimester abortion to limit the government's financial exposure. After all, abortion is just an extreme form of preventive care that saves money in the long run.

Mulshine describes how Edwards made his big bucks suing doctors for malpractice, and says that would not have been possible under a government-run system of health care. I got to thinking, if Edwards really cares about people getting good healthcare, why doesn't he donate those millions he "earned" toward healthcare for the poor, instead of building himself a "compound." Why should he benefit from others' suffering? His actions speak more loudly than his words.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

One Brain, Two Brain; Red Brain, Blue Brain

Here's another post dealing with the differences between the "liberal brain" and the "conservative brain." A news story this week told me that scientists have found that "political orientation is related to differences in how the brain processes information."

No surprise there, at least to my (conservative) mind. As the Los Angeles Times story reported: "Previous psychological studies have found that conservatives tend to be more structured and persistent in their judgments, whereas liberals are more open to new experiences." But you don't need a study to know that, do you? I think that description doesn't merely describe "liberals" vs. "conservatives," it is the very definition of the two types.

Read the story if you want the details of the research experiment.

I think it's interesting to analyze the news story itself. The reporter, Denise Gellene, leads off her story by telling us that "scientists have found that liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work."

Interestingly, I think she shows her own brain's biases by the way she presents the finding in terms of liberals' brains being not "different," but "better." (How would she have handled it if the tests showed some races' brains were "better" than others?) And the story concludes with this paragraph:

Lead author David Amodio, an assistant professor of psychology at NYU, cautioned that the study looked at a narrow range of human behavior and it would be a mistake to conclude that one political orientation was better than another. The tendency of conservatives to block distracting information could be a good thing depending on the situation, he said.

The very fact that such a statement needed to be made and reported reveals a bias in the brains of the researcher and the reporter! But that's OK; we all have our biases. But why did the same reporter who wrote that last paragraph still lead with a reference to liberal brains being "better"?!

I say, both the "liberal brain" and the "conservative brain" can have strengths and weaknesses. A "conservative brain" that blocks out distraction and sticks to the proven course can be an asset. A "liberal brain" that isn't afraid to consider and try new (and possibly better) ways can be as asset. But either can also be a hindrance, because just as the old way of doing things is not always the best possible way, neither is the new way always an improvement.

So the trick is to make good decisions about when to stick with the old, and when to try the new. Not being afraid to consider anything new, but not just embracing change for change's sake. As a counterpoint to the story from reporter Gellene's brain, let me offer some examples of how a "conservative brain" can be a plus, and a "liberal brain" can be a minus.

Consider the Berlin Wall. Ronald Reagan doggedly clung to the "outdated" notion that the communist regimes of Eastern Europe were a bad thing, and that the Soviet Union should give those nations their freedom. More "enlightened" liberal minds called Reagan names, and told us that the people behind the Iron Curtain were happy with their situation. Who was proven right?

Now consider the "Murphy Brown" flap of the Dan Quayle years. Vice President Quayle said that the TV character set a bad example by glorifying voluntary single-motherhood. He clung to traditional ideas of family. But the liberal minds tried to make a laughingstock of Quayle, saying that there was nothing wrong with creating new kinds of families.

Of course, eventually even Al Gore admitted that Dan Quayle was right; it was a mistake for liberals to embrace any sort of familial arrangement just because anything new is good.

An amusing aspect of always embracing the new is that sometimes the "liberal brain" goes in circles. As an example, I'll offer the choice of how to feed babies. I don't have any historical details on this, but I'd guess that when "modern science" brought us baby formula to replace mother's milk, "liberal minds" were quick to advocate the formula as "modern" and "progressive." Meanwhile, a "conservative mind" would have said, "I'm sticking with the way that God intended it."

But after a while, the new becomes the old. After a couple of decades the "new" thing became to go back to breastfeeding, and the "liberal minds" advocated it as a new sort of embrace of doing things the "natural" way.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Liberal Man-of-Action Demands that Someone Do Something

An item in last Friday's Wall Street Journal "Best of the Web Today" intrigued me. It told about Duke University women's studies professor Kathy Rudy and her "Organizing 101" class in which the teacher went AWOL. I think that Rudy's description of this episode illustrates the differing mindsets that help explain how people continue to divide into different political camps. Here's what I mean:

Ms. Rudy recalls that 1/3 of the students did nothing. They just continued to show up and accepted their fate. These people represent the "victim class" of people who may complain that life isn't fair, but take no action to improve their lot.

The other 2/3 did indeed take action, but what sort of action did they take? They decided that their version of doing something would be to "make demands that would get our needs met."

In other words, they expected someone else to solve the problem.

Nowhere does Rudy appear to consider the possibility that the students could HELP THEMSELVES! Perhaps they could have organized themselves into a sort of group independent study, or invited guest lecturers from outside the University.

Sadly, helping themselves was not an option. That mindset practically defines modern-day liberals. Their only options are to complain about their lot in life and live a life of envy and hatred of those of whom they are jealous, or, demand that SOMEONE ELSE do something FOR THEM.

But organize in a matter to benefit yourself through your own efforts? That sounds too much like capitalism. They couldn't possibly do that.

You can see this helpless liberal mindset all around us. A letter to the editor in the St. Paul Pioneer Press this week decries the way that chain drug stores are putting independent pharmacies out of business. But the letter writer says there is something we as individuals can do.

"Fight back. Vote."

He says we can do "Something powerful and simple: Search now for candidates who can make a difference and vote for them."

That's a liberal's idea of "doing something."

How about this for "powerful and simple"? If you don't like chain stores putting independent stores out of business, then DON'T SHOP AT THEM!

Ah, but here's the problem, and it illustrates what drives much liberal-inspired public policy. An individual person can decide not to patronize chain stores, but he can't stop EVERYONE ELSE from patronizing chain stores. So he needs the government to impose his views on everyone else, and MAKE them do what HE wants!!!

We see this in those "Willing to Pay More for a Better Minnesota" yard signs advocating a tax increase. The Minnesota Department of Revenue will gladly accept any excess tax payments these warm-hearted people would like to make as donations, but that's not good enough. These people want the government to raise the tax rates to MAKE EVERYONE ELSE pay more, in order to fund their own pet projects.


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Figures Lie, Liars Figure

Numbers are really too dangerous for newspeople to try to handle. Bill Moyers offers us more proof of that. On one of his Bush-bashing PBS programs, he offered this "proof" that the war in Iraq is a mistake and a failure:

1. More soldiers have died in Iraq than in the 9/11 attacks.

2. We've been in Iraq longer than it took to defeat the Nazis in WWII.

And what, exactly, do any of those numbers have to do with each other?

If he wants to go down that road, I have some other examples that he could have used, except they don't support the "newsman"'s poltical agenda.

1. American troops killed in WWII were 176 times as many as were killed at Pearl Harbor.

2. More Americans were killed on 9/11 than at Pearl Harbor.

3. U.S. combat deaths in Iraq are less than 1% of those killed in WWII, even though this war has lasted longer.

4. The time that passed between the FIRST attack on the World Trade Center and the SECOND attack on 9/11 was twice as long as we have been in Iraq. Yet in all that time, the best Bill Clinton could manage was to blow up an aspirin factory and a Chinese embassy.

No, those four examples don't prove anything. That's the point. Moyers didn't prove anything, either.


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Neglected Infrastructure?

Following the collapse of the I-35W bridge, there's been a chorus of "we're neglecting our infrastructure." Looking around the Twin Cities, it doesn't necessarily appear that that is the case. For instance, news reports on the radio today are telling drivers that I-35W south of downtown Minneapolis will be closed this weekend due to an ongoing project replacing bridges over the freeway (which began well before the bridge collapse).

And on the St. Paul side of town, you might think that I-35E would take up some of the traffic that can't go through the Twin Cities on I-35W anymore. Yeah, good luck with that, because I-35E is already in the middle of a multi-year project to separate its commons area with I-694, and that has been causing traffic jams on I35E.

So the irony is, it's extra hard to compensate for the I-35W bridge collapse because of all the other freeway maintenance projects that were already underway. The I-35W bridge may have been neglected (and we still don't know that), but it's not like we're not doing anything with the roadways.


Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Old Double Standard

A Wisconsin man accused of killing his live-in girlfriend has come up with his defense: Peter Whyte says he killed his lover because he didn't want to have sex with her.

Now, guys, isn't it almost more embarrassing to admit to that than to being a murderer? He must have had one heck of a headache.

But, seriously, can you imagine a woman trying such a defense? That she killed her lover because she didn't want to have sex and he wouldn't take "no" for an answer? Wait, you don't have to imagine, that defense has been used successfully by women.

I doubt it will work for Whyte. Nor should it.


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Pontiff, Indulge Thyself / St. Algore's Special Treatment

It's been mentioned that this practice of buying "carbon offsets" is reminiscent of the Roman Catholic church's one-time practice of selling indulgences to absolve people of their sins.

Now, the Vatican is buying "offsets."

Included in a recent news roundup was an item about a Catholic youth conference coming up in Loreto, Italy. The conference will have an environmental focus, which is fine by me, but get this:

...trees will be planted in areas of southern Italy recently devastated by forest fires to make up for the carbon dioxide emissions generated by the festival, organizers said.

I've got to ask, Wouldn't trees be returning to those areas, anyway?

Forest fires are part of nature. They likely charred even more acreage before humans started trying to control and prevent them. After a fire, trees and other vegetation grow back. Sometimes much more intensely than prior to the fire. So unless I'm mistaken and burned-over areas turn into paved parking lots unless humans with guilty consciences plant trees, the Vatican isn't really accomplishing anything.

Meanwhile, closer to home, operators of a proposed Big Stone II power plant to be built near the Minnesota/South Dakota border have announced a plan to offset the plant's carbon emissions.

Those methods, some of which are still in the developmental stage, could range from burying carbon-dioxide emissions deep underground to buying carbon credits valued at $10-a-ton on a trading exchange. The exchanges could use the money to fund environmentally friendly projects such as tree planting to offset or neutralize the effects of utility greenhouse gases.

But environmentalists aren't pleased:

[Beth] Goodpaster, an attorney with the St. Paul-based nonprofit Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, said the agreement to offset carbon dioxide produced by the plant is meaningless. The utilities could charge themselves $10 for every ton of CO2 produced and pass along the cost to ratepayers without paying for an offsetting project, she said.

Wait a minute. This sounds like what St. Algore does to "offset" the energy used in his "compound." I guess what's good enough for St. Algore isn't good enough for 2.3 million "little people" who depend on power from the electric co-ops that plan to build Big Stone II.

All this gives me an idea for another way to fight GLOBAL WARMING. We know that without the sun, the Earth would be cold. So what if we could reduce the amount of sunshine hitting the Earth? Well, I've figured out how to do just that. All I ask of you is that you send me $29.95, and I will immediately start reducing the amount of the sunshine hitting us. You'll soon notice a little less sunshine every day.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Dave, daylight offsets are such a great idea that it might go too far. What if so many people send you money that the days get too short?"

I've got that covered. We'll try my daylight reduction program for three months. Then, if we think enough cooling has taken place, I'll start selling darkness offsets, and increase the length of the day. That will be December, so people could buy the darkness offsets as Christmas gifts. Why, I'd bet that by just a few days before Christmas, we could reverse the darkening trend.


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Woman Says There Is No War on Boys

Yesterday's post suggested that society might be exhibiting some bias against males. Not to worry, Ellen Goodman has set me straight. In a column telling the rest of us how boys should behave, the Boston Globe columnist refers to "assorted imaginary 'wars against boys.'"

Good of a woman like Ellen to set that straight for us stupid males.

Isn't that ridiculous? What would Ms. Goodman (there's an ironic name for a Pulitzer Prize winning man-hater!) think if I wrote a column about the "imaginary 'glass ceiling'"? What would she think if a white guy like me wrote a column about "so-called racial prejudice"?

I'd be told I didn't know anything about it. That I shouldn't comment, because I couldn't possibly understand what it was like because I wasn't a member of those groups.

But there seems to be no such constraint against females preaching on what it's like to be male.


Monday, September 3, 2007

Discrimination OK Against the Largest Minority

What minority group is it OK to stereotype and discriminate against? Men, according to a story by Jeffrey Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal. Zaslow addresses whether we are teaching children to be afraid of all men as potential sexual predators, and whether adults are making that judgment themselves.

Proponents of gender profiling say they're just playing the numbers when they try to put children in the proximity of women rather than men. Explains John Walsh of "America's Most Wanted Fame":

"It's not a witch hunt," he says. "It's all about minimizing risks. What dog is more likely to bite and hurt you? A Doberman, not a poodle. Who's more likely to molest a child? A male."

Well, that is logical. I can't really argue with the practical application here. It does raise an interesting question, though. Let's do a little hypothetical thinking for a moment. Suppose, just suppose, that statistics showed that members of any certain racial group were disproportionately committing violent crimes in a city. Now, suppose you were walking down a sidewalk one night a saw a member of that racial group approaching from the other direction. If you decide to cross the street to the other side, are you "minimizing risks," or are you just being prejudiced?

Hmmmm.....


Friday, August 31, 2007

My Family's Poor Enough, Dysfunctional Enough, and Doggone It, People Should Vote for Me!

America has always been an egalitarian country. We've never really looked to "the rich" for leadership, the way an aristocracy runs. We should remember, though, that many of the Founding Fathers were wealthy men. The distinction was that they were often self-made men, not the old-money aristocrats who ran things in Europe. Somewhere along the line, we've lost the respect we used to have for self-made men, and too often, what we have now is envy and dislike. Rather than look to the successful for their leadership, we look to "losers" like ourselves. Does that make any sense?

In the modern era, politicians like to stress how "common" they are -- even if they themselves are extremely wealthy. (John Edwards, John Kerry, it's a long list.) Democrats especially like to do this, and so if they are in fact wealthy, they like to talk about how they come from such a poor background. Sometimes, they like to brag about how dysfunctional their families were, or what failures their fathers were. Isn't that shameful, to do that to your own family?

Al Franken has taken to running down the old man in hopes of being elected U.S. Senator from Minnesota. On a "baseball card" being handed out at the Minnesota State Fair, Franken explains that his loser father "never graduated high school and never had a career as such...," then tells about his father's failed business venture. Why should that make us want to vote for Al? Because we hope he'll be a flop, like his father?

I'd like to point out a couple of things on the card. Remember, Al and his pals would have us believe that they are the intellectuals. They aren't like those knuckle-dragging Republicans. Al went to Harvard, you know. (Wait. I thought he was one of the little people. What's up with Harvard?)

So why doesn't Al do a better job with grammar on this card? For instance, note the '08 in the top left corner of the backside. That's not an apostrophe, that's a single, open quote mark. Aren't Al's union printers (note the obligatory union bug, lower right) up to the task?

Second, Al says that his father "never graduated high school." That's grammatically incorrect. He could have been graduated by a high school, he could have graduated from a high school, but "graduated high school" is incorrect. What would that mean? That you went and put measuring hash marks on the corner of the building, like on the bow of a ship?

I guess a Harvard education isn't what it used to be. (Or in Al's case, 35 years ago it wasn't what it was supposed to be.)

I point these things out as an example of a double standard. If President Bush says "nook-you-lar," we are told that shows he is stupid. But let a Democrat talk like that (or say "graduate high school") and it just means he's "one of us," a "regular guy" who understands "the little people."

Even when it's a Democrat who graduated from Harvard.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

You Can't Get Something for Nothing

Went to the Minnesota State Fair yesterday. In one building, the whole theme was saving the Earth. Alternative energy was big. Wind power. Hydrogen fuel cells. Hybrid vehicles. Gotta reduce those carbon emissions, dontcha know. It was a hoppin' place, filled with enthusiastic presenters. They were evangelical in their zeal for their version of the way to environmental salvation.

Meanwhile, over in another building, there was a display for Xcel Energy's Monticello nuclear power plant. Didn't seem to be much interest from the crowd. There was a booth staffer standing there, leaning against a counter, like some sort of Maytag repairman. I went over and commiserated with him. I mentioned the contradiction. It's like no one even wants to discuss the possibility of using nuclear power for more of our energy needs. You know, nuclear power, which doesn't emit carbon dioxide, and doesn't cause acid rain. (Remember acid rain? That was going to destroy the Earth once upon a time. We don't hear about it anymore.) He told me we haven't put a new nuclear plant online in this country in 30 years.

Nuclear power was going to bring us into the perfect future just a few decades ago. Clean. Unlimited. Modern. But then we started thinking about the downside. Radiation.

There's a downside to everything. What will be the downside to solar power? Wind power? Fuel cells? There will be something, you can count on it. Thirty years ago ethanol was going to save us. Back then no one was concerned about depleting the ground water or running up corn prices so that Mexican peasants can't afford tortillas.

I asked the wind power guy what will happen when there are so many wind turbines that they start to affect weather patterns. He chuckled like I was joking. I told him I wasn't. Wind turbines work by taking energy from moving air. Thus, the air must be slowed down. That's a simple matter of the principle of Conservation of Energy. You don't get something for nothing. He replied that, well, that would take an awfully lot of wind turbines. How many? I asked. He didn't know.

Has anyone bothered to calculate it?

I told him that the first person to harpoon a whale for lamp oil never dreamed that the whales would face extinction. The first people to strike oil thought it would never run out. Loggers once thought we'd never run out of virgin stands of White Pine.

What are the consequences of using these new technologies on a large scale? No one is bothering to asked that question. It's full speed ahead. Progress. They are different, so they must be better, right? Just like margarine -- artificially produced in a factory -- was once thought better for us than butter?

Mankind likes to think he's so much smarter than his predecessors. We shake our heads at the ignorant people who came before us. We are so much more enlightened. Why, our forebears, when they wanted to study animals, shot and killed them first! I thought of that when space scientists crashed a probe into a passing comet, so that they could study the fragments that were created by the collision. Kill the comet so we can study it! What if there was some sort of life on that comet?


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I'm in the Paper Again

Sorry, I'm a little behind. I had another column in the Pioneer Press yesterday. If you didn't catch it, the PBS program I refer to is scheduled to run again tonight in the Twin Cities on channel 17, at 9:00 pm.

Please note, I wrote the column prior to the program airing. I think my own observations were supported by the program, which I enjoyed.

UPDATE: The column seems to no longer be available online, so here it is in its entirety:

Immigration Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

by David W. Downing

"Why does Europe hate us?" That's the question the PBS program "America at a Crossroads/The Anti-Americans (A Hate/Love Relationship)" promises to address tonight.

According to my Twin Cities Public Television program guide: "This program not only explores this pointed query with disarming humor, but also provides powerful insight, told from the 'other' point of view. This special is a whimsical yet serious look at the estrangement between Europeans and Americans..."

"Whimsical yet serious," eh? I'm thinking, two can play that game. I'm thinking... Yogi Berra.

Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, asserting that a particular restaurant was no longer popular, once famously explained, "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded."

It's easy to tell whether people hate a restaurant. If they do, they stay away. But if people love a restaurant, they fill the place up. They make reservations months in advance. They pay bribes or tell lies to get in. They line up at the door. They vote with their feet.

We could judge the popularity of a nation in the same way.

When people around the globe vote with their feet, they vote for the United States of America. People really want to get a seat at the American table. Some will do anything to get through the door. They put their names on years-long lists. They pay large sums of money -- legally or not. They tell lies. And a few -- estimated at 12 million -- even sneak in under the rope when no one is looking. They continue to come for the same centuries-old reasons -- liberty, economic opportunity, religious freedom, adventure.

It's easy to note the immigrants among us. Immigrants live in our neighborhoods. They work with us. They worship with us. But whom do you know who has left the U.S. to live in another country?

The number of native-born Americans who emigrate is so inconsequential that I had difficulty finding data. Wikipedia, despite its lengthy entry for "Immigration to the United States," lacks a corresponding entry for "Emigration from the United States." And in the Internet Age, if it's not in Wikipedia, it's irrelevant.

I did learn that according to the Census Bureau, while about 1.3 million people legally immigrate to the U.S. every year, only about 48,000 U.S.-born citizens emigrate to another country. (And with 39 percent age 14 or younger, it's likely many are children born here to foreign nationals.)

Hate America? The numbers don't support it. I'd sum it up with a Yogi-like malapropism: Immigration is the Sincerest Form of Flattery.

So if "they" don't really hate us, then what are we to make of this sometimes awkward relationship between Europe and the United States? If it's not "hate," then what is it? I'd call it envy.

Why does everyone outside the Bronx "hate" Yogi's New York Yankees -- those "Damn Yankees"? Because we envy their success. In a classic case of Aesop's "sour grapes," we tell ourselves that those too-successful Yankees are a bunch of arrogant jerks. It's not fair. We "hate" them.

In the same way, Europeans resent Americans for their success. After the "American Century" in which the Yanks repeatedly saved Europeans from despots and tyrants, the Europeans now face the rise of the Asian giants -- including their former colonies -- and see themselves slipping into no better than third place in the global pecking order.

But it goes deeper. Much of the story of America is the story of people who left Europe, so there's a lingering sense of sibling rivalry. But while Pierre came to North America to trade furs and seek his fortune, Jean-Claude was content to remain in the slums of Paris, eating the crumbs that fell from Marie Antoinette's cakes. While Oskar and Ingrid tried to eke out a living on a rocky Scandinavian hillside, Karl and Hulda sold everything they owned, booked passage to America, made their way to the Dakota territory, and lived in a hole in the ground for two winters so they could claim a fertile farm of their own.

So in this nation of immigrants, an almost Darwinian process of natural selection has contributed to our success. Which immigrants were more likely to pass on the traits of fortitude, ambition and risk-taking -- the traits of success -- to their descendants? Those who came to America? Or those who stayed behind?

And so it is with all immigrants, legal or otherwise. You don't get to America by being lazy. You don't get here without ambition. You don't get here and succeed without being willing to work and take risks. Those who make it here have what it takes to survive -- and thrive.

For centuries, immigrants to America have pursued a better life for themselves and their descendants, and the decision has paid off for them. If those who stayed behind are suffering from a case of sour grapes, too bad.

"Whimsical yet serious"? What's la sauce pour l'oie is sauce for the gander.

###


Thursday, August 23, 2007

This Is the Nation's Newspaper?

The New York Times likes to imagine itself the nation's number one newspaper. Only the best. Yet, look at this example of crappy reporting. This is what happens when a reporter decides what the story is, then goes out and gets a quote to "support" it.

The story is that since the Iraq war began, fewer African-Americans are enlisting in the Army and the Marine Corps. That's easily measurable, and can be reported as a fact, if the numbers support it. Of course, the New York Times isn't content with that, but instead reports it as a fact that the enlistments are down BECAUSE of the war. That may very well be the case, but should a lowly amateur blogger like me have to remind a New York Times reporter that correlation does not prove causation?

Well, reporter Sarah Abruzzese decided that was her story, so she went out to get the supporting quote. Here's an excerpt:

In the Bronx, Adeyefa Finch says he simply walks past the recruiters who, seeking out minority members along Fordham Road, make the case that the military can help with college financing and job placement after service is completed. "I'm not really into going overseas with guns and fighting other people's wars," said Finch, 18, who is headed to college this fall to study accounting.

And from that, Abruzzese concludes:

That kind of rejection of military service as an option by young blacks throughout the country has resulted in a sharp drop in black recruitment figures since the war began. Defense Department reports show that the share of blacks among active-duty recruits declined to 13 percent in 2006 from 20 percent in 2001, the last year before the invasion of Iraq began to seem inevitable.

What does she mean, "that kind of rejection"? This sounds to me like a young man who never had any intention of enlisting in the military. He obviously has a plan to pay for college, and he wants to be an accountant. War or no war, young Mr. Finch was not going to enlist. He makes no statement that he would have if not for the war. His case doesn't support the claim that the war is deterring enlistments. What kind of journalism -- what kind of reasoning -- is that?

It reminds me of what happened to my family two years ago, at the Minnesota State Fair. A TV reporter had come out intent on reporter that attendance was down because people couldn't afford to come to the Fair more than once, and that they were selecting discount days to come. She interviewed us, but we gave her answers that did not fit that premise. Nonetheless, the story aired that evening, edited so that our sound bites were used to support her errant premise! Read about it here.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

You Can't Always Get What You Deserve, But You Get What You Need

I don't much care for the TV show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." My kids like to watch it, but I think it's... sort of creepy?

I think it's that they overdo it. They don't just give people what they need, they give them extravagant mansions. And the worst part of it was when I saw one of the hosts showing a family through their new home, saying, "You deserve this," over and over.

It's not about "deserving" something because you've endured hardship. It should be about getting what you need.

I think the families helped by the show are also being exploited. The rest of us are supposed to go out and buy the sponsors' products, because we "deserve" them, too.

I also think that sometimes the families need more than a larger house. They need to learn some life skills. Their existing houses are not just small, but poorly maintained dumps. How do they expect to take care of an even bigger house?

I mention this because the show is in the Twin Cities this week to build a new house in the Minneapolis suburb of Minnetonka. The family being helped can use it. They've got three kids of their own, one on the way, and they've recently taken in four orphaned relatives. So they can sure can use the help. It's not my intent to attack this family. But the event does present an opportunity to make some observations about our evolving "needs" and what we think we "deserve."

I live in a house built in 1925. Typical for its neighborhood, it had two bedrooms and one bathroom. Yet, many very large families were raised in the neighborhood. The family we bought it from bought the place in 1947. They had four children. So in 1961 they added on two more bedrooms and another bathroom. But to hear from people who grew up in the neighborhood, many families had more kids in smaller houses.

We have two kids, so was the house plenty big for us? No. With our modern expectations, we wanted more. So we added on, too. Still, even with two additions, it's only about 1,500 square feet.

The Minnetonka house being demolished as "too small" is 2,300 square feet, with 2 and a half bathrooms. The mother of the house says it "is fine for a family of four or five." I wonder what the mothers who raised large broods in the small houses in my neighborhood would think of that!

Another problem in the Minnetonka house is that the dishwasher can't keep up with the family! As a result, they use a lot of disposable dinnerware. Again, what would those old time moms think of that? They didn't have dishwashers at all. I'm guessing the kids did the dishes.

I think "back in the day" when large families were the norm, there was more expectation that the kids would pitch in with more of the work. You even hear people say that "the older ones raised the younger ones," because mom couldn't do everything.

The new Minnetonka house will be 5,600 square feet, with seven bedrooms and five bathrooms. Nice. And I know the children are small, but I'm wondering, if there's no time to do the dishes, who's going to find time to clean five bathrooms?!


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Bridge Too Far?

I'm NOT saying that terrorists had anything to do with the I35W bridge collapse. I'm NOT saying that.

But the aftermath of the bridge collapse has made me realize what a great strategy it would be for al Qaida to sabotage bridges in the United States, but NOT take credit for it. (Which is the opposite of typical terrorism, which takes credit for its destruction, and seeks to terrorize us that more destruction is coming.)

Look at the reaction we're hearing to the bridge collapse: "We have to take care of our infrastructure! If we weren't wasting our money in Iraq, this bridge wouldn't have fallen down! We have to bring the troops home and fix our bridges!"

What better way to divert a nation from foreign affairs than to give it a domestic crisis to tend to?


Monday, August 20, 2007

Ruining Old What's-His-Name's Good Name

Last week there was talk of Don Imus getting a new radio gig, which brought up talk about how that was good for him, but how were those Rutgers basketball players he besmirched going to recover? How were they going to bounce back from having their reputations ruined?

To that, I ask you this: Can you name any of the Rutgers women about whom Imus made his crude remarks? I can't. So how can their reputations be ruined, if we don't even know their names? Are they going to spend the rest of their lives wearing signs that read, "Don Imus was Talking About Me"? As for the people who do know their names and know them, those people know that obviously Don Imus is an idiot who was talking nonsense, so no reputations have been ruined in their eyes, either.

They only reputation that has suffered is Imus'.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Willie Sutton's Not Sounding So Dumb Now, Is He?

Actual headline from the Pioneer Press:

"Man tries to rob penniless nun"

He should have remembered what the notorious Willie Sutton said, when asked why he robbed banks: "Because that's where the money is."


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Has Anyone Checked on David Crosby?

Actual headline from the Anchorage Daily News:

Headless walruses littering Northwest Alaska beaches

Well, what do you expect? They can't see the recycling bins.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bill Clinton's Legacy?

Who said this?

"This is not a Romeo-and-Juliet deal. The law criminalizes sexual conduct ... between a young person and a much older person who is in authority. That is done for a reason. It's to protect young people from exploitation and the long-term damage that can result."

Did you guess Ken Starr, back in 1998, at the time the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal was coming to a head? If you did, you were wrong.

That was Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner yesterday, talking about a 28-year-old St. Paul public school teacher who got himself into trouble by having sex with a 17-year-old student.

Band teacher Joseph Arne Tucker had already pleaded guilty to having illegal sexual contact with the teenager, and was free while awaiting sentencing next month. He was subject to a no-contact order regarding the girl, but he violated that Sunday night when he used a ladder to climb through the girl's bedroom window!

Now, I personally think this guy is a dangerous creep. He should be locked up. He's a threat to teenagers, and his wife and kids are better off without him. But that's just me, applying my outdated, intolerant, right-wing religious conservative biases.

When I apply the enlightened standards of our modern, tolerant society, I'm conflicted. I remember the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Remember what the progressive thinkers told us then? "It's just sex," or "It's not really sex." They said it was none of our business what went on behind closed doors. They said Ken Starr was the sick one, for being "obsessed with sex."

But let's consider the similarities. The relationship between the teacher and the student is said to have been consensual (And even when he came through her bedroom window, she does not appear to have objected; her father heard noises coming from the bedroom and called police.) Also, reports are that the relationship between the teacher and the student was "just" oral sex. Again, the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal taught us that that's not really sex. (And let's not forget Paula Jones, etc...)

Bill Clinton was certainly in a position of authority over the intern Lewinsky. He was the President of the United States! That put him in a position of authority over everyone, don't you think? But he was also the "CEO" of the White House, making him the ultimate "big boss" over Lewinsky. A Fortune 500 CEO caught playing hide-the-cigar with a mailroom intern would not be dismissed as "just sex."

Clinton was about age 50 when he blew smoke with Lewinsky, about age 22. Yes, old enough to be her father. The perverted teacher, in comparison, is only 11 years older than his victim. But one is "sick" and illegal, the other none of our business?

Yes, I know, the girl is only 17, not yet legally an adult. But I'm not sure that would make a difference, legally. I think it's a crime for a teacher to have sex with a student even if she is 18.

And if someone says the key moral difference is that the girl is only 17, not 18, then I want to ask that person this: Are you saying that 17-year-olds aren't supposed to have sex?

Because if you're saying that, then I'll listen to you. If you say, "A 17-year-old is a child, and has no business having sex, period, with any partner, of any age," then I'll agree with you. I'll concede that age is a factor distinguishing these two cases.

But my point is, kids are not getting that message. ESPECIALLY in the public schools, where they are given condoms, along with the implied message that adults EXPECT them to have sex. Abstinence education is ridiculed by the same people who dismiss Bill Clinton's indiscretions.

So if our society gives the message that a 50-year-old president having "just" oral sex (which "isn't really sex") with a 22-year-old intern is "no big deal," why should we be surprised that a 17-year-old girl engages in the same behavior with a 28-year-old teacher? How can we expect her to see that what she is doing is -- to use "old-fashioned" and "judgmental" terms -- wrong, perverted, sick?

Nine years ago, when Slick Willie's behaviors were ultimately dismissed with a wink and a nod, I wondered what would be the lasting effect on society. What would be the effect on the next generation, now that it had been decided by the culture that such behavior was acceptable?

That is Bill Clinton's legacy.

This post is long enough already, but it might be a good time to inject another comment about the messages we give kids about sex. The predominant message kids get these days is not to wait until marriage. It's not even to wait until they are 18, or some other age. The secular message from the "experts" can be described thusly:

"Wait until you're ready."

What is that supposed to mean? And how many pregnant 14-year-olds didn't think they were "ready"?

Kids always think they are "ready" for adult things. That's why they sneak beer, booze and cigarettes while they are still under age. It's the job of adults to tell them that they are not "ready."

That's why we have legally-prescribed ages at which a person may use alcohol or tobacco. But with sex?

"Wait until you're ready."

Can you imagine if that was our policy for alcohol and tobacco? "Hey, kids, don't drink until you're ready." Yeah, that would work.

So why not this message for our youth? Setting aside personal beliefs and religious convictions, why can't our secular society -- which would include the public schools -- give children this message:

"You have no business having sex until you're at least 18. Until then, you are a minor, and it is our job as adults to look out for your best interests. Until you are legally an adult and responsible for your own life and the consequences of your actions, you should not have sex. Period. It's not good for you, and it's not good for the broader society."

Yes, of course some will continue to have sex. Just like some teens continue to smoke, despite being told not to, and despite it violating the law. But does that mean we stop telling them they shouldn't smoke?

Why can't we simply give the message that children -- that's what teenagers are -- should not be having sex?


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Principles? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Principles. We Just Say Whatever's Convenient at the Time

We humans are remarkably skilled at deluding ourselves. We easily convince ourselves that whatever fits our purposes at the moment must be right. (Just as we so easily convince ourselves that whatever we experience is "proof" that we were right all along.)

St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman last week announced a neighborhood revitalization program, and at the same time took a shot at a housing program favored by his predecessor, Randy Kelly. Kelly's program was criticized for creating new housing, rather than rehabilitating existing housing stock. Said Coleman:

"You don't build a community by attracting other people into it and displacing people that are already there."

That sounds reasonable, I guess, depending on whether or not the people who are "already there" are people you want living in your city. (In some cases, you might prefer to see them leave. For Minneapolis, maybe.)

But it also sounds at odds with another strategy favored by Mayor Coleman -- the Central Corridor light rail transit project. That project, we are told, will revitalize University Avenue, including spurring the development of lots of "high-density" housing -- condos and apartments -- filled with new residents who will flock to the area to ride the train.

Meanwhile, the people who are living and working in the area face the prospect of being displaced, or priced out of a gentrified neighborhood.

How does Mayor Coleman reconcile this with his quote from last week?

For another example of inconsistent thinking in St. Paul development issues, let's look at the controversy over "The Bridges of St. Paul," a huge development proposed for the riverfront across from downtown.

Here's an excerpt from a news story last month:

During public testimony, Tom Fisher, who chairs the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation's Design Center and is dean of the University of Minnesota's College of Design, objected to the massive scale of the project.

"Cities grow incrementally," Fisher said. "Having so much investment in one place has proven, in other cities, to be a disaster."

Really? So that's a tried-and-true principle of development that we should learn from? Then what about Central Corridor LRT? That's all about development on a large scale, and the opposite of incrementalism. In fact, even before the train has been approved, it is shaping University Avenue. Private business is trying its hardest to make University Avenue develop "incrementally," but plans for new stores -- Home Depot, Walgreens, a new Target building, even a new building for an existing, independent liquor store -- come under attack from central planners who want to make-over the entire University Avenue in conformance with their "transit-oriented," "high-density" vision.

They also ignore the contributions made "incrementally" over the past 20 years by mostly independent, small businesses, many operated by members of St. Paul's Asian-American community. I came to St. Paul in 1986 for a job in the Capitol complex. With a few exceptions, the east end of University Avenue near the Capitol was an absolute armpit. One notorious restaurant was really just a front for illegal operations. Twenty-one years later, the change is amazing. There has been a real rennaisance.

But now all of that incrementalism is just supposed to be thrown out, for large-scale, central planning?

How about a little consistency? I'd bet you dollars to donuts that "incrementalist" Fisher thinks the Central Corridor LRT plan is just about the greatest thing since the Politburo.

(For more commentary on the U of M's Fisher -- whose salary we pay, ostensibly to educate, not indoctrinate, our young people -- read this post from the past.)


Thursday, August 9, 2007

Too Stupid to be President?

I saw some clips from a recent Democratic presidential candidates debate before some labor groups. Barack Obama, who says the invasion of Iraq is the worst foreign policy blunder of our time, but who nonetheless advocates an unilateral invasion of our ally Pakistan, referred to the "president" of Canada. But our neighbor to the north doesn't have a "president." The Great White North has a parliamentary system, and the chief executive is the "prime minister."

So what? We know what he meant. It's no big deal. Except for the double standard. What if President Bush (or a Republican hopeful) referred to the "president" of Canada? Have you any doubt we'd be treated to endless jokes, commentaries and political cartoons telling us this proved how stupid Bush is?


Thursday, August 9, 2007

Don't Melt on Me

You've probably heard about the animated snowman that was selected to ask a question of Democratic presidential hopefuls during a CNN/YouTube debate last month. I did not see it, but learned about it afterwards, mostly in the context of commentators complaining about it as a sign of the impending apocalypse, or at least a sign that we don't take anything seriously enough.

Based on those commentaries, that was pretty much my reaction, too. But then I read a newspaper story about the young men who created the animated snowman, and I had a different reaction. It turns out brothers Greg and Nathan Hamel are from Minneapolis, and even though, yes, they still live with their parents, they sound like talented and ambitious individuals. (This Wall Street Journal story ran in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, with additional content added by local reporter Frederick Melo.)

What changed my mindset was this brief description of the video, in which the snowman asks the candidates: "As president, what will you do to ensure that my son will live a full and happy life?" while gesturing to a mini snowman at his feet.

You know what that sounds like? It sounds exactly like a political cartoon, a form of commentary with an important place in American history, dating back to before the Revolutionary War.

It sounds to me that use of the animated snowman is not flippancy or disrespect, but a way of strongly making a point, using both words and a simple, but powerful image. I say, "Bravo!" I may not be on the Global Warming bandwagon, but it sounds to me like the Hamels did a great job of getting their point across.

Maybe it's time I take a look at that video clip, to see if I still think so. Go get yourself a cup of coffee while I hit the Google.

It's about time you got back! What did you do? Plant the beans yourself?

I checked out the video.

OK, maybe it was a little more silly and a little less powerful than I had hoped. Still, if political cartoons are a respected part of our tradition of political discourse, why not animated snowmen?


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Joke? Reality? It's All the Same

An old joke about newspapers tells about how God finally got fed up and decided to pull the plug. He called a news conference to announce that the world would end in 24 hours. Here are the next day's headlines:

USA Today: "We're Doomed! More of Us Are Planning to Die Today"

Washington Post: "World to End Today; Congress to Hold Hearings Next Week"

Wall Street Journal: "God Says World Will End Today; Markets to Close Early"

New York Times: "World to End Today; Women and Minorities Hardest Hit"

Like I said, that's just an old joke. But this is the lead paragraph to an actual New York Times story this week:

"Among the hardest hit in the bridge collapse last week was a group that had survived war and strife in their homeland, Somalia, and a move across the world to settle here."

You just can't make this stuff up.


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Senator Klobuchar, Have You Ever Lived in Minnesota?

"One woman talked about how when she was little, ice sheets would cover the area she lived all winter, and now they're planting potatoes." --- U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, discussing what she learned on her late-July trip to Greenland, where she went to seek proof of "global warming."

Senator Klobuchar, have you ever lived in Minnesota? Last winter, snow and ice covered my backyard. Now I'm planting potatoes. In a few months, I expect the snow and ice to return. But I'll grow potatoes again next summer. That's the difference between winter and summer in a northern clime.

Maybe the climate in Greenland really has changed during that woman's lifetime, but Sen. Klobuchar's quote doesn't prove anything. She doesn't give us anything for reference. Now, if Klobuchar went to Greenland in January and saw people in the act of planting potatoes... But she didn't; she went to Greenland in the middle of summer.

That's a big problem with the global alarmists. They like to cite sensational anecdotes, without giving us any logical, scientific context. Another example: I couldn't find this in print, but the reason I got started on this post is that I heard a radio report about Klobuchar's Greenland trip in which she talked about how the melt water was coming off of a glacier like a "faucet." Evidently, seeing water running off of a glacier is supposed to prove that the climate is warming.

But does it?

Is it unusual for that glacier to be shedding melt water in late July? Or does that happen every summer? Does Klobuchar know? Klobuchar didn't say. The reporter didn't say. Again, Klobuchar could visit Minnesota in April and see melt water pouring into the street gutters and the rivers. That wouldn't prove "climate change," only "season change."

Greenland's (short-term) climate might truly be changing. But the "facts" that Sen. Klobuchar "found" don't prove it.

It reminds me of the scams that unscrupulous auto mechanics use to rip-off gullible customers. They show off some "bad stuff" in the oil pan, or demonstrate some play in the front end when the car is up on the hoist, and scare people into expensive repairs. Even though some "bad stuff" in the pan or play in the ball joints is normal.

Here's another observation for you: According to the Minnesota Monitor newsblog story I read, Klobuchar was part of a "bipartisan," 10-member Senate panel.

How do they define "bipartisan"? This way: seven Democrats, two Republicans, one Independent.

(Wait a minute, shouldn't that be "tripartisan"?)

Let's keep that in mind the next time someone complains, for instance, that a committee of seven white people, two African-Americans and person from Mexico isn't suitably diverse. Hey, they're not ALL white people! It must be diverse.


Friday, August 3, 2007

The Honeymoon Is Over

OK, so the "honeymoon" didn't last long. About 14 hours, I'd say, or until the politicians all made it into their offices Thursday morning. Bush is to blame. Congress is to blame. Point those fingers.

I'd like to think that we would learn something from a disaster like this. Oh, I'm so naive. About all that anyone seems to "learn" is that they were right all along. People who want to build light rail trains "learned" that this proves we need more trains. People who don't want to build trains "learned" that this proves we need to put the money into bridges.


Thursday, August 2, 2007

Bridges, Baseball and Basketball

By now, you've all heard about the horrific freeway bridge collapse in Minneapolis. (If you want good local coverage, check out the KSTP-TV website)

I first heard about it just after 7:00 pm, when I got in my truck and expected to hear the Twins game on the radio. Instead, there were news people talking about some bridge. What bridge? They didn't say. Was it local? They mentioned MN-DOT; it must be. (It reminded me of the day Sen. Wellstone died in the plane crash. That day, I had turned on the radio in my truck and heard an ongoing discussion about someone important dying in a plane crash. But whom? Some clues made me think it might have been Sen. Ted Kennedy. Another tragic Kennedy death! But no, eventually they said it was Wellstone.)

Finally, they named the bridge. It was the bridge my wife would be riding her bike under, on a path along the riverbank, on her way home from work. Was she alright? I got home in a few minutes. She had called. She knew about the bridge. She was OK.

She had ridden up to the spot about 20 minutes after the collapse, before the site became a media circus. She had to find another way to cross I-35, then doubled back a bit and took some photos. Then she came home. Safely.

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People immediately said this bridge collapse reminded them of 9-11, which I think is apt, in that both events were totally unforeseen, terribly shocking, changed the landscape, and will affect many people's daily lives for years.

Here's another way I think this will resemble 9-11: Right now we are in the "honeymoon" phase of the disaster. The politicians are talking about how brave the civilians and emergency personnel are, about how everyone is pulling together and helping out. About how we'll get through this.

But before long, the honeymoon will be over. It will be time to affix the blame. Whose fault is this? Who should have "connected the dots" to prevent this? The finger-pointing phase will be here soon enough.

Just like 9-11.

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It was immediately reported that there was no indication this was an act of terrorism. I hadn't suspected that it was. That we have to report that it is not shows that the terrorists are winning. They have us terrified of them. That's there goal. Even when they don't do anything, they affect us.

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Here is a bizarre chain of news events: In Wednesday's Pioneer Press I had a column about Central Corridor LRT, and that day's paper also had a story about the Washington Avenue bridge not being strong enough for Central Corridor LRT. Then later that day the I-35 bridge collapsed. In today's (Thursday) paper, Ed Lotterman had a column about the economics of disasters -- a column written prior to the I-35 bridge collapse. Cue "Twilight Zone" theme.

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Talk about putting things into perspective: While Thursday's paper is loaded with bridge collapse news, the sports section has lots of news about how Minnesota Twins players are upset that their general manager hasn't added any players to the team to help them try to make the playoffs. Instead, he's traded away Luis Castillo, the starting second baseman. I understand their frustration. But you know what I'd like to hear them say sometime? I'd like to hear them say which of their teammates they want cut or demoted, in order to make room for the "new guy" they want added!

Center fielder Torii Hunter had a doozy of a quote in the paper this week. "To us, this is a sport, it's a game. To them, it's a business. We're just a piece of meat."

Yeah, right. How many times has a player reminded us "this is a business" as he left town in pursuit of more money? That will likely include Hunter after this season concludes.

Their whining looks pretty silly surrounded by all the real news.

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Meanwhile, just as the bridge collapsed, the Minnesota Timberwolves were preparing for a major press conference and media event in downtown Minneapolis to introduce the five players they just obtained from Boston in the blockbuster Kevin Garnett trade. But all the media people left when the bridge collapse story broke, and the news conference was cancelled.

That franchise is truly cursed.


Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Check Out My Column in the Pioneer Press

I have a guest column on the Pioneer Press opinion page today. It's about a proposed light rail line, and how we mustn't repeat the mistakes that were made when Interstate 94 tore its way through the same neighborhoods nearly 50 years ago. Will the minority communities, victims of "highway robbery," now get "railroaded" by LRT? Let's hope not.

Read it on the Pioneer Press website.

UPDATE: No longer available on Web. I'm printing it in its entirety below:

With Light Rail, Let's Not Repeat the Mistakes That Killed Rondo

"Rondo me once, shame on you. Rondo me twice, shame on me."

Maybe that should be the rallying cry of the University Avenue Community Coalition, a neighborhood group that doesn't want history to repeat itself. Specifically, they don't want the proposed Central Corridor light rail transit project to destroy St. Paul's Frogtown and Summit-University neighborhoods the way the construction of I-94 destroyed the predominantly African-American Rondo neighborhood 50 years ago.

Like I-94, the Central Corridor LRT project is being pushed through by people from outside the community, without adequate thought about the effect on the people who live there. In the case of Rondo, it was St. Paul's black community that took the hit. With Central Corridor, the effects will be felt most directly by the residents of what remains of Old Rondo, but maybe even more so by members of the city's burgeoning Asian-American community, which has contributed greatly to the renaissance of University Avenue.

Once again, neighborhoods with heavy minority presences -- both business and residential -- find themselves in the crosshairs of those who want to ram through a paradigm-shifting transportation corridor to fulfill their own vision and serve the convenience of outsiders.

Light rail is the latest thing. It's cool, it's sexy. But I'm conflicted. I like trains -- real trains, model trains, antique toy trains. I love that St. Paul remains alive with railroad history, from the top of Summit Avenue and the James J. Hill house, to the shadows of Swede Hollow and the landmark helicoidal, stone-arch tunnels through which the old Northern Pacific steam engines chugged up the steep grade on their way out of the Mississippi River valley. And I'm a fan of public transportation. I used to take the bus every day when I worked downtown. It made sense. But with its $1 billion price tag, I'm not sure that this train makes sense.

With that in mind, I stopped by University Avenue Community Coalition's display at Rondo Days, wanting to learn more about the group's concerns. And to be clear, they don't want to stop the train, they just want the train to stop. For them.

For light rail to work, it "has to be about moving people within a community as much as through a community," as Vic Rosenthal, co-chair of the University Avenue Community Coalition, explained in a Pioneer Press story. Toward that end, Rosenthal said more stops are needed in Frogtown/Summit-University, so that residents can make use of the train.

But that's not the plan. The plan calls for a distance of a full mile between stations on St. Paul's University Avenue, in part to try to meet federal guidelines for travel time from one end of the line to the other, and thus qualify for federal funds.

And that brings us to the real Achilles' heel of the Central Corridor train: Like a creature built by an overly-compromising committee, which tries to be all things to all people, it may be incapable of doing any one thing well.

It doesn't know what its purpose is.

Is it supposed to get people quickly from downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis? No. Even proponents concede that the train will make that trip more slowly than the current express bus service via I-94, and that bus service is expected to continue even after the train begins operation.

Is it supposed to shuttle neighborhood residents along University Avenue as they do their errands? With stations a mile apart, obviously not. For that, residents will have to continue to use the existing bus service.

So if the train doesn't replace the buses, and it isn't more useful than the buses, what purpose does it serve? What clientele does it serve? These questions need to be answered.

Some proponents say the primary benefit of light rail is not transportation, but economic development. (I wonder if planners told Rondo residents the same thing about I-94?) They cite examples of great economic success in Denver. I remain skeptical, and I'd feel a lot better if they would cite examples of economic development on our own Hiawatha line between downtown Minneapolis and the airport.

The University Avenue Community Coalition, on the other hand, does think LRT will bring benefits. Their concern is that their neighborhood share in those benefits, including good jobs and affordable housing. They don't want to be displaced. They don't want their neighborhood destroyed. And they want to be able to ride the train, not just watch it glide by.

And I'm with them. If this LRT line is going to be built -- and I think that metaphorical train has already left the station -- then let's not repeat the mistakes that destroyed Rondo. Interstate highways were built in the name of "progress"; LRT is touted as "progressive." Let's make sure that today's version of progress means progress for everyone, especially for the too-easily-overlooked minority communities.

I hope LRT turns out to be the greatest thing since the streetcar. But can this rail fan ask just one little favor? Have you heard that Hiawatha line train? Can we at least get a train with a real bell and a real whistle? One that doesn't sound like a musical greeting card with a weak battery? Casey Jones and the Empire Builder must be spinning in their graves.


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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