Archives April 2005

Saturday, April 30, 2005

And in the Third Year, He Will Rise Again!
From the Star Tribune, April 28, 2005:

Wellstone campaign fliers appear in mailboxes

Associated Press

April 28, 2005

MINNESOTA CITY, Minn. -- A Minnesota City woman is trying to figure out why she recently got a campaign flier for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone in her mailbox.

Christine Rinn wonders why she's getting the flier now, 2 1/2 years after Wellstone died in a plane crash.

Post office and Minnesota DFL officials are baffled after hearing that several people received the fliers. At least three Minnesota City residents received the mailings, which were paid for by the Minnesota DFL.

DFL spokeswoman Tonya Tennessen says they're assuming that something happened at the post office. But postal workers don't know what happened either.

The fliers tout Wellstone's commitment to farms and rural communities and urge people to "call Paul.''


I knew it was only a matter of time before the faithful begin to claim that he has risen from the dead. It's scary, the way that the late Senator -- a Jew who was a gifted orator, who championed the poor and shook up the establishment -- has become such a Christ-figure to his followers.

From the "What Would Wellstone Do?" bumper stickers (Instead of "What Would Jesus Do"), to the lawn signs (still?) draped in black mourning shrouds, the late Senator holds a god-like standing with some of his faithful.

They have the sacred relic -- the iconic green bus. There are disciples preaching the word. There's the book of Wellstone, and the youth camps. All the trappings of a religion, not just a political movement. It can't be long until we have "Wellstone!" the musical. (Or maybe "Paul Wellstone Superstar!")

Friday, April 29, 2005

More Proof of Media Bias: George "Robin Hood" Bush the Villain to Mainstream Media
It's easy to cry "liberal media bias!" It's another thing to prove it. Today's St. Paul Pioneer Press offers another example.

As I've said, liberal media bias is manifested in sometimes subtle ways -- what gets reported, how it's reported, the angle featured in the headlines. The top headline on today's front page illustrates my point. The headline on the story on President Bush's Social Security news conference reads:

"Bush backs benefits cuts"

Oh no! The sky is falling! Evil Republicans want to cut Granny's Social Security check, so now she'll have to start eating half-bowls of dog food.

But note the much smaller sub-head:

"President proposes changing Social Security to favor future low-income retirees"

The story here is that Bush wants to take from the rich.... and provide for the poor!

Here's the lead paragraph from the story, by Richard W. Stevenson and Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times:

"President Bush called on Thursday night for cutting Social Security benefits for future retirees to put the system on sound financial footing, and he proposed doing so in a way that would demand the most sacrifice from upper-income people while insulating low-income workers."

That's EXACTLY the sort of thing liberals advocate. But you'd never know it from the headline. They should be happy. They should sing praises to Bush.

But no, they won't do that. Because liberals don't really care about the poor. They just hate. They hate Republicans. American liberals are narrow-minded, hateful people. They judge people not by what they do or what they say, but by who they are -- based on a label they've been assigned.

Then they pat themselves on the back, feeling all self-righteous about how "caring" and "open-minded" they are.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. Rebounds Nicely
After taking exception to a Leonard Pitts Jr. column yesterday, I'm back on the bandwagon. Mr. Pitts's latest column takes a look at the "controversy" over Ja'eisha Scott, the 5-year-old who had to be handcuffed and removed from school.

Many have come to Ja'eisha's defense. But not Pitts. He refuses to give in to those who would make this about race, or about age, and he holds fast to the old-fashioned notion that this girl's parents have failed her, and if she isn't disciplined now, she can look forward to a lifetime of handcuffs.

He makes the case that this is just what she needed. For her own good.

Good show, Mr. Pitts.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Economics More Than Just Numbers
Edward Lotterman has an interesting column about the discipline of economics. What is the study of economics? Is it all about numbers? Rationality? That has been the focus of economists for more than a century. But built around a lecture by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, Lotterman writes that the discipline of economics is broadening, and that it needs to broaden more.

I agree. Economics is more than just numbers. Human psychology plays a huge role in economic decision-making. We don't always act rationally, not do we always act in our own best interests (either because we are being altruistic, or because we are being self-destructive).

Culture, history, even the actions of the media play a role in our economy. But those factors are too often overlooked by contemporary economists.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Despite Prescription for Controversy, Let's Not Dispense with Civility
You may have heard of the controversy over pharmacists who refuse to dispense prescriptions to which they personally take exception. Primarily, that would be the "morning after" birth control pill -- called the "abortion pill" by some -- and other contraceptives.

It's an interesting question, whether a pharmacist is obligated to dispense all prescribed medications, regardless of his or her personal beliefs. I don't think the answer is a clear, and it depends on many factors, such as whether the pharmacist in question owns the pharmacist, or is merely an employee.

One of my favorite syndicated newspaper columnists, Leonard Pitts, recently wrote on this topic. He sees the issue pretty clearly: If you want to be a pharmacist, then you have to dispense whatever the doctor orders.

Read his column and see what you think.

Pitts writes: "..by what right do these 'activist' pharmacists get to impose their morals on the rest of us? And by what logic do lawmakers legitimize their ability do so?

"There's no moral puzzler here, folks. In fact, the solution is real simple. You don't like what the job requires? Fine.

"Get another job."

Thank you, Mr. Pitts. But I don't think it is so clear.

I don't find the issue quite so cut and dried. If the pharmacist is someone else's employee, then it's pretty clear that he or she needs to dispense the items as prescribed. There doesn't seem much room for objection. As you say, the pharmacist should look for a different line of work.

But...if the pharmacist is the independent store owner, who are we to tell him what his business has to sell? Your column asked whether a convenience store clerk can refuse to sell cigarettes. Not if the store does as a matter of fact sell cigarettes. Then selling cigarettes is simply part of the job.

But...every drug store in Minnesota used to sell cigarettes. Over the past two decades, many pharmacists decided that selling cigarettes was incompatible with their role of caring for people's health. So they decided that they would not sell cigarettes -- a legal product -- anymore. Do you object to pharmacists imposing their values on their customers in that way?

And what of the pharmacies with magazine racks? Must they all carry Playboy? Or may they decide they don't want to provide another legal product to their customers?

And what about hardware stores and sporting goods stores? Some sell guns, some don't. If a store owner doesn't sell guns because she thinks guns are bad, isn't that her decision?

Likewise, a coffee shop that sells only organic or fair-trade coffee. Again, the proprietor is making decisions about what is good for the customer.

And must a restaurateur offer huge portions of fatty foods, just because that's what some people want?

So, it's not that simple. I agree that a pharmacist mustn't "play games" with the customers. If he or she won't dispense certain medications, he or she must be straightforward about that and give the customer the chance to go elsewhere.

But just whose store is it, anyway? It's not the government's store. It's not the customer's store. So why should they call the shots?

In all of these cases, including a pharmacy that doesn't dispense birth control, the owner of the business must weight the business consequences of his or her decision. But for better or for worse, it must remain the business owner's decision.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Social Darwinism and Racial Winners and Losers
Thomas Sowell's theory on Blacks and Whites and Rednecks got me thinking about one of my theories on why some racial groups/subgroups have fared better than others at achieving the American Dream. Here's how it goes. I came up with it while pondering the question, Why do some nations do so well economically, while others don't? Try not to read too much into it. It's a theory in the general sense; not my attempt to pass judgement on every individual. And it's really about economics. It's about race only peripherally.


I grew up in a part of Minnesota that had been heavily influenced by immigrant Swedish Baptists. With pretty strict notions about drinking, dancing and even those new-fangled moving pictures, their influence extended beyond their own families and into public policy. Results included a county that remained "dry" for a very long time. And even when my father was in high school (class of 1958), they had to have a "banquet" instead of a "prom," because the latter term implied that there would be dancing. My dad also relates that some people would not go into the local ice cream shop, because it was called the "Dairy Bar."

Some years ago, when I began reading of the much more libertine nature of present day Sweden, I thought I had discovered a sort of paradox. Why were the Swedes in Minnesota so reserved, I wondered, while the Swedes in Sweden were evidently much more accepting of what the preacher might call "the pleasures of the flesh"?

Well, one day I figured it out. Here's what must have happened back in the 1800s. The fun-loving Swedes must have gotten tired of the stick-in-the-muds spoiling all their fun, so they kicked out everyone who didn't like to party. Those who were kicked out came to Minnesota. To this day, the descendants have carried on in the traditions of their respective ancestors.

Fortunately for me, I was raised in the German Lutheran tradition, so I see beer and polka as gifts from God. But you are probably wondering what any of this has to do with economics.

It has to do with the difficulty in trying to explain why one country excels economically while another one doesn't. While my theory about the difference in the two groups of Swedes was my own little private joke, it may actually relate to the differing economic success of various nations.

What makes a nation an economic superstar? There are a variety of explanations, of course. Abundant natural resources doesn't hurt. But then again, it hasn't been enough to put Russia, Congo, or Brazil in a league with the U.S.

The right political and economic systems help. But again, they haven't proven sufficient in every case.

What about the people? Could there be differences in the people? I will theorize yes. Yes, differences in the people are at least a contributing factor in why nations achieve differing degrees of economic success.

In this nation of immigrants, I submit that an almost Darwinian natural selection has contributed to our success. For instance, let's go back to those Swedes. It's 1880, and Oskar stays in Sweden to try to eke out a living on 10 rocky acres, while Sven sells everything he owns to book passage to America, then makes his way to Dakota territory, where he lives in a hole in the ground for two winters just so he can claim 80 acres of his own.

Who's more likely to pass on the traits of fortitude, ambition and risk-taking to his descendants? Oskar or Sven?

But this was going on long before Oskar and Sven, when Jean-Pierre came to North America to trap and trade furs, while Jean-Claude was content to stay in the slums of Paris, eating the crumbs that fell from Marie Antoinette's cakes. Which Jean's genes were most likely to pass on a willingness to undertake hard work for self-advancement?

And so it went, with various immigrant groups. Which Chinese made the trip across the ocean to help build the transcontinental railroad? Not the lazy ones. And some groups have come to America as refugees -- Jews, Somalis, Southeast Asians. The ones who've made it here have what it takes to survive. And I might expect the same from the present-day Mexicans who risk so much for an illegal shot at the American Dream.

But not all groups have fared equally well, you say? That's right. And not everyone came here of their own free will, either. And there is a correlation there. But it won't be seen as politically correct.

It's no great revelation for me to say that African-Americans have not fared as well as other groups, both economically and socially. And many present day African-Americans are descended from people who did not want to come to America -- slaves. Additionally, those who were captured and sold into slavery would logically have come from the subgroup of Africans who were least powerful (physically, politically, economically) and least able to avoid capture.

According to what I have read in the papers in recent years, there is some tension between African-born recent immigrants and American-born African-Americans. It seems that the African-born people have come here seeking the American Dream, and have succeeded in achieving more economic and social equality and integration than the U.S.-born African-Americans. Interestingly, the recent immigrants from Africa are mostly self-selected immigrants.

Now I know my theory doesn't explain everything. And the effect will be watered down over the generations. But I think it explains more than just why European workers get so many more weeks of vacation than do their American counterparts.

Some may say I'm violating the standards of political correctness. Some may wish to shout at me about racism, eugenics, Hitler's final solution, Aryan supremacy, whatever.

But this idea isn't about race, as much as some people might want to accuse me of that. At it's heart, it's really not much different from saying that those who choose to go college (applying and being accepted as students, sacrificing and borrowing money for tuition) turn out to be more successful in business than those who don't, with the possible exception of those who were recruited to the college just to wrestle or play hockey.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Thomas Sowell Writes of "Black Rednecks"
I've just read a very interesting piece by Thomas Sowell. You'll have to register your email address with the Wall Street Journal to read it online, but I suggest you do.

Sowell addresses the question of what keeps the Black man down in America. He looks at race and culture, and concludes that the group of Blacks who continue to get ahead in the Land of Opportunity have been hamstrung by their adopting a non-Black culture -- a White Southern Redneck culture that originally came over from Britain.

A very interesting read. Here's an excerpt:

"The culture of the people who were called 'rednecks' and 'crackers' before they ever got on the boats to cross the Atlantic was a culture that produced far lower levels of intellectual and economic achievement, as well as far higher levels of violence and sexual promiscuity...

"The redneck culture proved to be a major handicap for both whites and blacks who absorbed it. Today, the last remnants of that culture can still be found in the worst of the black ghettos, whether in the North or the South, for the ghettos of the North were settled by blacks from the South. The counterproductive and self-destructive culture of black rednecks in today's ghettos is regarded by many as the only 'authentic' black culture--and, for that reason, something not to be tampered with. Their talk, their attitudes, and their behavior are regarded as sacrosanct."

Verrrrrrry interesting. Maybe tomorrow I will post my own controversial, Darwinian explanation for why different racial groups and subgroups have had different levels of success achieving the American Dream.

(Sowell's book "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" was published this week by Encounter Books.)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Silver Lining in Helicopter Shoot-Down
The recent downing of a Helicopter in Iraq was seized upon by the mainstream media as a "sign of an increasingly strong and bold insurgency."


Today, it was reported that the suspected perpetrators of this crime have been captured. How were they captured? That's the really good part of the story. They were captured after being TURNED IN BY LAW-ABIDING IRAQIS WHO DON'T SUPPORT THE INSURGENCY.

An insurgency that can't count on the general populace to shelter it is an insurgency that is doomed to failure. How bold are they going to be if they know that within 48 hours they'll be turned in?

All it takes to end the insurgency is for the Iraqi people to cry "Enough!" Increasingly, that's what they are shouting -- in their words and their actions. They've voted for a free Iraq, and now they want peace and prosperity. Let's hope these killers are getting the message -- they can't hide anymore.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

It's Not the Person, It's the Policy
Yesterday, I discussed how some would portray opponents of same-sex marriage as bullies who don't like gay people, and want to punish gays by not allowing them to marry.

But it's not the person; it's the policy.

It reminds me of the way some smokers say public smoking bans are an attempt to "punish" them, perpetrated by people who "don't like" smokers.

Again, it's not about the smoker, it's about the smoke. I don't mind a smoker sitting at the restaurant table next to mine. But I do mind having to breathe his smoke. That's an important distinction. You'll notice that none of the public smoking bans prohibit "smokers"; they only prohibit smoking.

In the same way, defining marriage as between a man and a woman doesn't prohibit people from being gay, it only prohibits the creation of so-called "gay marriage."

It's not personal, it's policy.

But crying "you hate me!" is an age-old rhetorical strategy. In fact, maybe we should say it's "age-young." Even little children do it when they don't like the rules their parents set for them.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Then Why Don't You Marry It?
An 18-year-old high school girl in Winona, Minnesota, has sparked a controversy at school by insisting on wearing a button reading "I [heart] My Vagina." She and a friend began wearing these buttons to school after seeing the play "The Vagina Monologues."

I heard the young woman interviewed at length on a radio program Thursday. She's very articulate, but I think she "just doesn't get it." And the reason why is her age.

Maybe an 18-year-old is too young to understand that the play in question was deliberately titled "The Vagina Monologues" for the shock value of it.

But this play has been around for a number of years. So, to an 18-year-old, what's the big deal? As far as she is concerned, as far as her awareness of the adult world, there has ALWAYS been a play called "The Vagina Monologues." So she has no sense of shock.

Instead, she wonders, what's everyone so upset about? After all, if it's in the title of a play, it must be OK, she reasons. She doesn't appreciate that the word was placed in the title of the play for the express purpose of provoking controversy and shocking people.

An analogy in my own experience might be the first time I was aware of some politician or some other public figure getting in trouble for referring to a young black man as a "boy." To me, the word seemed appropriate in the context in which it was used. I didn't see why it was offensive. But that was because I didn't understand the history of it -- how it had been used offensively before my time.

One more thought: Would this girl support the boys wearing buttons that read, "I [heart] Your Vagina, Too!"?

Friday, April 22, 2005

How Do You Ban It If It Doesn't Exist?
As I've pointed out before, a principal way in which the liberal media bias manifests itself is in defining the terms of the debate. The debate over same-sex marriages provides an example.

Here in Minnesota, we're repeatedly being told that there is an attempt underway to "ban" same-sex marriage. What's being referred to is the push for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as involving one man and one woman.

But that's not a "ban." It's merely clarification of the status quo. The state of Minnesota does not now recognize, nor has it ever recognized, marriages between people of the same gender.

But proponents of same-sex marriage, aided by the liberal mainstream media, keep talking about evil politicians who want to "ban" same-sex marriages, as though same-sex marriages have been the norm since time immemorial, and NOT allowing them would be a change.

Additionally, it's a misnomer to say that "gays" are not allowed to marry. No one is asked, on a marriage license application, "Are you gay?" No, the criteria in question is that the two applicants must be of opposite gender. If one or both are gay, it doesn't matter. They can get married anyway, as gays and lesbians have indeed done in the past.

My point is, this is not a case of "discrimination," as some would charge. The current marriage laws treat everyone equally regardless of sexual preference. True, some people may find they can't marry the person they would like to. But it isn't the government's job to give everyone what they want. It's the government's job to treat everyone equally.

Here's a somewhat analogous example: In Minnesota, automobiles may not be sold on Sundays. Generally, auto dealers like this law, because it gives them all a day off, and they know that being open on Sunday would not increase the total number of cars sold.

But a few years ago, this law was challenged by an auto dealer who is a Seventh Day Adventist. He observes Saturday as the Sabbath, and his business is closed then. This obviously put him at a competitive disadvantage. He sued, arguing that he should be able to be open on Sundays.

The court ruled against him, saying that he was not being discriminated against, since no one could sell cars on Sunday, and it was his own choice whether to be open on Saturdays. The law treated everyone the same.

The Blind Leading the Blind

But the liberal media don't suffer for followers. There was a rather bizarre guest column in my Thursday paper, a rather ignorant, self-righteous and -- dare I say it -- hateful diatribe from a good liberal intent on calling others ignorant, self-righteous and hateful.

One Craig H.Muntifering set out to dissect Minnesota State Senator Michele Bachmann, who is a leader of the push for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Muntifering doesn't make any sense, because he starts out with a totally wrong premise.

Muntifering seems to have analyzed Bachmann's motivation thusly: She thinks gays are sinners, therefore she wants to punish them, so she will take away their "right" to same-sex marriage.

Having established this false premise, Muntifering then writes:

"I find it quite hypocritical of her to use religious reasons for her justification. If she is using the Bible as a basis to uphold her position on gay rights, then why not fornication or adultery as justifiable cause to take away someone's right to marry? Who gave Bachmann, or her supporters, the right to pick and choose certain sayings out of the Bible to determine who has the right to marry? There are all sorts of statements in the Bible regarding adultery, yet Bachmann isn't suggesting any amendments to take away rights from those partaking of those offenses."

This is nuts. Bachmann's stance isn't to "penalize" homosexuality by taking away marriage rights, the way we might penalize drunken driving by taking away the right to drive.

Then Muntifering writes:

"There are popular shows that have demonstrated a tolerance for casual sex with their characters ('Cheers' and 'Friends'). No one seemed to raise any objections to those extremely popular shows. But yet, SpongeBob is seen holding hands, and social conservatives want to cancel the show. Yet, Sam ('Cheers') and Joey ('Friends') can participate in plenty of casual premarital sex on prime time in front of all age groups, and they're considered heroes by the general public."

No one raised any objections, you say? Have we forgotten all about Dan Quayle and "Murphy Brown"? Then the logical genius writes:

"So why wouldn't social conservatives like Bachmann want to take away rights from those who admire and follow that kind of activity? Does she feel it's OK to impose or restrict a gay person's rights as long as doing so makes her look pious in front of God (and voters)? And oh yes, of course, as long as there are no impositions on her or her supporters' lifestyles - no matter what offenses they commit."

This is ridiculous. Again, this is not about applying a "penalty" to someone. But then, I suppose it's easier to conduct a character assassination if you don't worry about grounding your accusations in any sort of fact or logic.

Muntifering concludes with a whopper of a non sequitur:

"I don't want Bachmann's religious views creating different classes of people. She should spend taxpayers' funds on investigating education and health care needs and addressing deficit spending rather than worrying about some invasion of an army of hand-holding SpongeBobs."

Yes, yes, that's it. Always point to some other issues that your opponent should worry about. And we could say the same thing to you. Why are you writing about this? You should be writing about AIDS or affordable housing.

But worst of all, Michele Bachmann hasn't made an issue of SpongeBob. Why does Muntifering keep throwing that at her? Why is he so obsessed with SpongeBob?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Right Species, Wrong Breed
The new Pope has been called a "Rottweiler." I heard a great line on the radio. A caller to Joe Soucheray's Garage Logic radio program said Pope Benedict XVI should be thought of as the Roman Catholic Church's "German Shepherd."

Great line.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Man's Best Friend? Or Man's Best Drinking Buddy?
Another story from my adventure in England.

It's been said that the British and the Americans are two peoples separated by a common language. I experienced some examples of that on my recent trip to England.

Here at home, the door to a store might bear a sign reading, "Service Dogs Only." We know what that means. We've seen it over and over. We don't have to pause to interpret it.

But in England, I spied the same sign, worded a little differently: "Enabling Dogs Only." That immediately brought to mind the image of a large St. Bernard, with the traditional wooden cask of brandy around his neck. "Go ahead, a little nip will do you good," his eyes seem to say.

(I saw no mention of co-dependent dogs.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Pope Doesn't Care About the Ratings Book
The mainstream media have been pretty tough on the new Pope. Right away, the radio and TV news experts began telling us how this new Pope is "too conservative."

I'm not a Roman Catholic, but of course I'm interested in the selection of the new Pope. The Pope is important as a religious leader, and as a world leader, extending even beyond the realm of theology.

But I don't see it as my place to say who should or shouldn't be Pope. It's not my club. Sure, I may have an opinion, but my opinion doesn't matter.

So why do these "news" people think it's their place to say? When there is a new leader of NOW or the NAACP, do they tell us that person is "too liberal"? (No, of course not. To the media elite, you can never be too rich, too [artificially] good-looking, or too liberal.) (The "can't be too rich" concept applies only to them -- the media. Other people -- if they're not liberals -- can still be "too rich.")

The media experts are telling us that sticking to conservative doctrine is going to cost the Roman Catholic church members. They say the Pope should give the people what they want -- pander to the masses -- so membership will grow.

It strikes me that of course media people would think that way. That's how they operate. They long ago abandoned any consideration of principle or quality in programming. It's gotten so bad, they don't even care if their "news" is true. Just ask Dan Rather about that.

All that matters is ratings.

But the Pope cares about inconvenient things like the Truth, and Right vs. Wrong. Concepts that have little meaning to media people anymore. He wants to lead the masses, not follow them.

Why should we expect the media to be able to understand that?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

"Moore's Law" Stands Test of 40 Years
If you're a computer user, you must be familiar with "Moore's Law," which says that computers will double in speed every two years, while they become less expensive. That law was laid out by Gordon Moore 40 years ago, when integrated circuit technology was in its infancy.

Moore went on to become a founder of Intel, and today, at age 76, he is one of the richest men in the world. Read about the rise of integrated circuits and "Moore's Law" in a story by Matthew Fordahl of the Associated Press.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

And She'd Never Say "Yo!"
Another story from my adventure in England:

OK, so I didn't really tell the man whose property I had so rudely barged into that I was Canadian, but that line always gets a laugh -- on either side of the Atlantic. However, I also discovered another, even better line that always left 'em laughing in England.

Upon arrival at London Gatwick airport, we were picked up by relatives who took us to see Windsor Castle. Windsor Castle was beautiful. The Queen was in residence, and the BBC was already making preparations for the Royal Wedding, hanging TV lights in St. George's Chapel.

Later that evening, after making the long drive across the country, we made it to our relatives' farm in Devon, in southwestern England. Some more relatives met us there. They asked how we liked Windsor Castle, and if the Queen was there. We replied that we liked it, and yes, the Queen was in residence.

Then I added, off-handedly, "The Queen says 'Hi!'"

Well, that had 'em laughing out loud. Apparently the idea that we might have actually talked to the Queen was so ridiculous that it was laugh-out-loud funny. I used the line a few more times with new audiences, with the same result.

But I eventually learned that I had misunderstood why the English found that line so funny. It wasn't just the idea that the Queen had talked to me. What was so funny was the thought that the Queen would ever say something as common as "Hi!" If I had instead said, "The Queen says 'Hello,' the line would not have had the same effect.

This story illustrates one of the differences between England and our monarch-less society. In the United States, it seems entirely believable that someone visiting the White House might actually see the President, and that the President, whoever he might be, might actually say, "Say 'hi' to the folks back home."

Not so when it comes to the Queen.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Putting Your Bling-Bling Where Your Mouth Is
No, I'm not calling for more oral piercings. Rather, I'm getting at the point that actions speak more loudly than words.

I see in the TV listings that last night's schedule included a concert to be broadcast on VH1, with the purpose of raising money for music programs in American public schools. Good. It's about time the people in the popular music business put their money where their mouths are.

I didn't see the Grammy Awards show this year, but in the past when I've watched it, I've had to suffer through a whiney speech about how the government should give more money to support the arts and music education, while a bunch of self-righteous millionaires -- some wearing enough jewelry around their necks to literally pay the salaries of two or more music teachers -- sit in the audience and applaud their approval. I've always thought that if they cared so much, maybe they should just pass the hat. Let them give something back to music, after music has enriched them so much.

But then, people who REALLY CARE about others have always found it easiest to demonstrate just how much they REALLY CARE by insisting that SOMEONE ELSE do something.

So, it's an improvement to see that some musicians were actually taking action to support their cause. Of course, I'm sure the program still had the requisite anti-Republican speechifying.


For an interesting take on the music business and race-- rappers in particular -- read Leonard Pitts' latest.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Pardon Me, eh?
A story from my adventure in England:

My great-grandfather Richard Downing came over from England in 1906, and one goal of my trip was to make a personal trans-Atlantic connection by learning about his childhood and his parents -- the last generation of that part of my lineage to be buried on the other side of the Atlantic.

We started by viewing the manor house on the Tregeare Estate in Cornwall. My great-great-grandparents met there, while employed by the estate. William Downing was a horseman, Maria Hawke was a household servant. Then we crossed the road to the church where they were married in 1876.

The church building was looking rather run-down, and it appeared that it was no longer an active place of worship. I spied a man and some children in the adjacent graveyard, and I figured they were also sightseeing, or maybe visiting deceased relatives.

As we walked around the old building, we saw a side door was wide open. I thought to myself, I didn't come all this way not to look inside, so in I went. I found that some of the pews had been removed, but otherwise, it still looked like a church inside.

When I re-emerged into the sunlight, I learned that my fellow "sightseer" I'd seen in the graveyard was in fact the new owner of the building. He was just beginning the process of converting it into housing. Oops! Not wanting to seem just another "ugly American" tourist, I quickly apologized for my intrusion, and told him we were Canadian. (OK, not really. But that line always gets a laugh.)

An addendum: I've discovered that the former church building at Tregeare, Cornwall, England, where my great-great-grandparents were married, and the site of my trespass offense, can be viewed on a real estate website. There's even a virtual tour. This is very, very weird. What a big, but small, world.


Addendum #2: Oh, the things you'll find on the Internet. It turns out there's also a book about the estate on which my great-great-grandparents worked and met, before getting married in aforementioned church.


Friday, April 15, 2005

Oh boy! Tax day! Time to file our tax returns and find out how much money the government is going to give us!

Income tax withholding is one of the greatest scams a government has ever perpetrated upon its people. Thanks to withholding, you can actually hear people say things like, "I didn't pay any taxes this year; I'm getting money back!"

Yes, your own money. That the government took from you. Even though you didn't owe it to them. If a store overcharges you, and you have to go back to get a refund -- just to get back the money that you never owed them in the first place -- are you happy about it?

As a self-employed person, I have to write out tax checks to the government several times a year. If everyone had to to that, I think we'd have another revolution. Things would have to change. We'd have a smaller government. People would realize how much money the government takes from them, and they'd demand a better accounting of how it's being used.

As it is, most people really have no idea how much of their hard-earned money they hand over to the government every year. People may know their annual gross salary. They may know the amount on their paycheck. But what they don't know is what that paycheck would have been if taxes hadn't been taken out. Thus, they also don't know how much was taken out.

Let's change the system. No tax withholding. Everyone gets every dollar that they earn. Then let us all write checks to the state and federal government, in the place of the money that was previously withheld.

Then watch it hit the fan. And watch the ranks of conservative voters grow.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Adam Smith Mania
I am stunned. I didn't think I'd live to see this. The editorial board of a major daily newspaper has invoked the name of Adam Smith and the "invisible hand" of the market -- and has done so in a positive light!

In an unsigned, "institutional" editorial (that means this is the official position of the paper, not just one of its writers), the St. Paul Pioneer Press today criticizes a state law that sets an artificial floor UNDER gas prices. The paper argues that we should let the market forces work. Here's a great excerpt:

"...that's not the way free markets work. Prices are set according to supply and demand, with Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' a much better arbiter than any state legislator."

Yes! A daily newspaper finally gets it! The socialists across the river at the Minneapolis Star Tribune must have fainted when they saw this.

Who's Adam Smith?
If you don't know, shame on you. OK, you're forgiven, but you must learn. Back in 1776, two watershed events of permanent consequence happened. One, of course, was the birth of not only a new nation, but a new concept in nationhood. The other was the publication of Adam Smith's "An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations." (Often referred to simply as "The Wealth of Nations.")

Over 200 years ago, Adam Smith -- part economist, part philosopher -- nailed it. He explained the free market forces that -- if we stay out of their way -- result in the growth of wealth. And not just wealth for some, but for all nations and all people.

As stated by the Adam Smith Institute: "This remarkable book was published in 1776, at a time when the power of free trade and competition as stimulants to innovation and progress was scarcely understood. Governments granted monopolies and gave subsidies to protect their own merchants, farmers and manufacturers against 'unfair' competition. The guilds operated stern local cartels: artisans of one town were prevented from travelling to another to find work. Local and national laws forbade the use of new, labour-saving machinery.

"And, not surprisingly to us today, poverty was accepted as the common, natural, and inevitable lot of most people.

"Adam Smith railed against this restrictive, regulated, 'mercantilist' system, and showed convincingly how the principles of free trade, competition, and choice would spur economic development, reduce poverty, and precipitate the social and moral improvement of humankind. To illustrate his concepts, he scoured the world for examples that remain just as vivid today: from the diamond mines of Golconda to the price of Chinese silver in Peru; from the fisheries of Holland to the plight of Irish prostitutes in London. And so persuasive were his arguments that they not only provided the world with a new understanding of the wealth-creating process; they laid the intellectual foundation for the great era of free trade and economic expansion that dominated the Nineteenth Century."

Yes, free market capitalism can be messy, and yes, Smith may have missed on some of the details, but the truth remains. And we'd do well in 2005 to follow Smith's advice.

In an amazing coincidence, just last Wednesday, on my one-and-only trip to London, I happened to walk by and notice the home of the Adam Smith Institute. (I had not heard of it until then.) Here's a photo of the rather inconspicuous sign by the door. It's amazing that I noticed it, but notice it I did. Maybe all the clear thinking going on inside created an environment where my brain was able to notice such a detail.

You're in luck, the Adam Smith Institute offers up the FULL TEXT(!) of "The Wealth of Nations" online. And that's really saying something, because it is a fat book (mine is in two volumes). But never fear, there's also an online chapter index, to help you browse the book.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Energy Taxes vs. Standards
More from economist Ed Lotterman today relating to gas and other energy prices, and how to encourage conservation. Lotterman argues that taxes on energy use -- and the accompanying invisible hand of the market -- will better result in smart energy use than will government-imposed energy-efficiency standards on products.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Give the People What They Want
There were some letters-to-the-editor in my paper today, which addressed the topic of gas prices. Complaining of the way that rising gas prices adversely affect our economy, one Kerry Johnson of Apple Valley wrote:

"What are President Bush and the U.S. auto industry doing about this? GM has produced very few high-mileage hybrid cars. Honda and Toyota have been leading the way, with long waits for their hybrid cars. Where is the American ingenuity we have always had in time of crisis?

"It will be interesting to see what the pain threshold of the American people will be before real action is taken. In the meantime, don't count on the president or the auto industry to do anything soon."

He's got it all wrong. It's not that GM has refused to make the hybrid cars that the American public wants. GM hasn't made hybrid cars because the American consumer hasn't wanted them. For thirty years, since the first OPEC oil embargo, we've heard big talk about switching to gas-sipping vehicles, but evidently we've never reached th "pain threshold," because the American consumer has continued to show a preference for gas-guzzlers.

And that's at least partly because the government HAS done something, acting to try to satisfy our demand that gas prices stay low. If the U.S. had instead adjusted to higher oil prices, as discussed in my previous post, we likely would now be driving more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The letter writer demands two conflicting results: that the government hold gas prices down, and that people drive more fuel-efficient vehicles. But those two demands conflict. It's like building more lanes on the freeway, but simultaneously building up the public transit system. If you want people to use that public transit, you have to let the roads get congested. And if you want people to choose more fuel-efficient vehicles, you have to let the price of fuel go up.

To summarize, if you want GM to make hybrids or other fuel-efficient vehicles, you have to start at the beginning of the chain. Let gas prices go up with the market. Then, more people will want to buy fuel-efficient cars. Then, GM will want to make more fuel-efficient cars. That's how market forces work. And market forces work well, if they're given the chance.

One more thing: despite the high cost of "petrol" in England, I didn't notice any hybrid cars.

Monday, April 11, 2005

And You Think Gasoline Is Expensive Here?
One thing I noted right away in England was the price of gasoline, or "petrol." On March 30, the day I left the U.S., the gas price in St. Paul had spiked to $2.25 a gallon. That's the highest price I'd ever seen. I'm told that shortly after I left, the price jumped again, to $2.35

Meanwhile, in England, petrol was going for 80-85 pence per liter. Sounds cheap to you? Let's do some math. Turn the liters into gallons. Then convert the Pounds into Dollars. That's about $6.50 per gallon!

And we're complaining?

Well, it's a timely topic, because Ed Lotterman had a good commentary on petroleum prices in his Sunday column. Lotterman says we'd be better off if we recognized that petroleum costs money, and adjust to that fact, instead of assuming that oil should be cheap and expecting the government to do something to keep the price down.

I agree.

Saturday, April 9, 2005

I'm Back!
Now it can be told. I've been to England to see the Queen. She says "Hi!" (That always cracks 'em up over there.) As a matter of fact, I did visit Windsor Castle my first day there, and the Queen was in residence.

Today, Prince Charles finally got married. But consider this:

Revenge of the Papacy

1532: Henry VIII, King of England, breaks with the Roman Catholic church, which won't grant him a divorce.

2005: Pope John Paul II dies, forcing Prince Charles of England to postpone his marriage to a divorcee.

As they say, revenge is a dish best served cold. But nearly 500 years?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Dinner's in the Freezer!
I'm embarking on a special mission that will keep me from adding new content for about a week and a half. But don't worry, I'm not going to let you starve. I've left you some food for thought, along with some desserts. Just click on the link for each day, and you can pace yourself while I'm away. Or, if you're a glutton, just read 'em all at once. Just don't forget to come back again! My adventure should provide plenty of ideas for future posts.

March 30 Use Up Theirs First

March 31 Kids Need the Thrill of Risk-Taking

April 1 Stars Unite Behind New Auto

April 2 Not Discrimination

April 3 What Dog Are You?

April 4 We Think We've Got It So Rough

April 5 Bust-Up (Laughing)

April 6 Who's On First? Video Rental Version

April 7 And the Bride Wore an European -American Dress!

April 8 Should Murder Be Legal?

That oughta about do it!

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Is That a Threat? Watch Your Back, Mark Yost
St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Mark Yost raised some hackles today, merely by pointing out the obvious: a unarmed security guard is of little use against a kid hellbent on shooting up his school and killing people.

Sure, maybe Yost got a little carried away, suggesting that not only the guards should be armed, but some teachers should be packing, too. But I thought he was just exaggerating to make his point. Here's my favorite paragraph from Yost:

The question we should be asking is: Why have school shooters been so successful at murdering our children? The simple answer is that often times no one else in school has a gun. This literally makes our kids sitting ducks.

That's a great point. If you want to shoot lots of people, what better place than somewhere where you know you're the only one with a gun? That's what's so ridiculous about the those "guns banned on these premises" signs that proliferated after Minnesota made it easier to get handgun carry permits. If you're a bad guy -- who doesn't care what the sign says -- what better place to rob and kill people than some establishment which makes law-abiding people leave their guns outside?

As I said, Yost raised some hackles. In a case of extraordinarily good (and bad) timing, I attended a St. Paul School Board meeting today. One of the board members was quite upset with Yost, and was heard to exclaim, "He's the one that should be shot!"

Well, I don't think it was meant literally. But who knows? No one thought Jeff Weise was being literal about his intentions to shoot up his school, either. People say things they don't really mean all the time. Probably even Mark Yost.

In fact, I'd bet that even way, way back when I was a teenager, kids who were having a bad day used to say things like they'd like to blow up the school. Maybe I even said such a thing myself. But of course, it wasn't meant literally.

So how do we tell? How do we tell when someone really means it? How do we find a middle ground between ignoring kids who say they're planning a shooting spree, and expelling kids who merely point a finger at someone and say "bang"?

(I say this is also bad timing, because just when I have a juicy bit like this to report, I'm about to take a break from writing to undertake a special project. Don't worry, I'm going to leave some goodies for you.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Liberal "Theocracy" Doubletalk
As I was pointing out yesterday, there are living among us those who think religious people should have to sit on the sidelines during public policy debates, UNLESS the religious people favor liberal policies.

Shortly after writing that post, I picked up a copy of the Metro Lutheran, a monthly paper published in the Twin Cities. A front page story carries the headline, "Mainline leaders call U.S. budget proposal unjust." (Liberals always seem to think we should heed the wishes of "mainline" churches; in contrast to the way they generally think we should refer to the wishes of minorities.)

Remember all those letters to the editor complaining about how President Bush wants to impose a "theocracy?" Well, get a load of this. Here's the Metro Lutheran story:

Leaders of five mainline denominations with a combined membership of over 20 million have called President George W. Bush's proposed 2006 budget "unjust."

Speaking together at a Washington, D.C., press conference on March 8, the elected leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church invoked Luke's Gospel story of a poor man named Lazarus. The New Testament story tells of him lying at the gate of a rich man who ignores his needs. When both die, the former goes to heaven, the latter to hell.

Said the leaders' joint statement, "The 2006 Federal Budget that President Bush has sent to Capitol Hill is unjust. It has much for the rich man and little for Lazarus."

The statement was signed by Bishop Mark Hanson (ELCA), Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick (Presbyterian), President John H. Thomas (UCC), General Secretary James Winkler (UMC) and Bishop Frank Griswold (Episcopal).

In a separate statement, ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson said, "We believe that the Administration's proposed federal budget priorities stand in contradiction to biblical tradition. If enacted, it will be truly devastating for people living in poverty -- in this country and around the world."

Each of the other four leaders also spoke.

OK, tell me again: Who wants to create a "theocracy"? Who is it that wants to base the government on their religious beliefs? Who wants to look to the Bible, not the Constitution, to run the country?

It's the liberals. I've just shown you. In their own words.

Monday, March 28, 2005

They're Out There: First Amendment in Jeopardy
There are some very confused people out there. In a letter to the editor in my Sunday St. Paul Pioneer Press, one Mark Hanlon of Eagan tries to explain his views regarding the First Amendment and establishment of religion. He concludes with:

"Continued efforts to change the Constitution (state and federal) to exclude gays and lesbians from the right to equal access to the law (guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment) do, in my view, violate the First Amendment because the impulse behind doing so is specifically religious."

Ay-yi-yi! This is dangerous ground, folks! (And forget that he mentioned gays and lesbians; it doesn't matter what specific topic we're talking about here.)

Mr. Hanlon suggests that if he judges your opinion in a public policy matter to be linked to your religious beliefs, then you should have no standing to take part in the debate.

How far is that from saying that people with religious beliefs -- or people with certain religious beliefs -- MAY NOT VOTE? Maybe only people who belong to the state church should be allowed to vote?

Isn't that EXACTLY what the First Amendment was created to prevent? Yes, it is. And this great thinker wants to use the First Amendment to bring about exactly what the First Amendment was created to prevent! He would disenfranchise you based on your religion. Based on his "interpretation" of the First Amendment, only atheists have a place at the table in our democracy.

If this doesn't demonstrate the bastardization of "freedom of religion" into "freedom FROM religion," I don't know what does.

I wonder just how consistent Mr. Hanlon would be with this great idea of his? Would he throw out the civil rights legislation of the 1960s? If he'll study up a little, he'll find there were churches pushing for an end to segregation in the South, and the passage of civil rights laws. A leader of the movement was even a Christian minister. Maybe Hanlon has heard of him. He's quite famous. He even has his own federal holiday.

Would Mr. Hanlon say it's unconstitutional for government to help the poor? There are plenty of religious groups who lobby for increased government aid to the poor and homeless. According to Mr. Hanlon's logic, that would mean helping the poor is unconstitutional.

Maybe you're saying, "But Dave, there are also other, non-religious reasons to help the poor and to treat all races fairly You can't disregard a good idea just because some religious beliefs support it, too." That's right. Just like there are non-religious reasons to oppose abortion or same-sex marriages, too. But when it comes to those issues, people who think like Mr. Hanlon tell us that any link to religious belief disqualifies those who disagree with them.

[Related post: Everyone Loves Jesus (For Political Purposes)]

Monday, March 28, 2005

Lotterman on Health Insurance
Some interesting thoughts about health insurance in Ed Lotterman's most recent column. Lotterman asks, if we put more responsibility for their own care into the hands of patients, "Can we trust people to know when to go to the doctor?" It's a classic example of the struggle between the desire to give people freedom to look out for themselves, and the urge to take care of them. (Related post: Meet the New Medical Insurance Plan; Same As the Old Medical Insurance Plan )

One school of thought says that if we give people more responsibility for paying for their own health care, they'll become more responsible consumers, and spend less in the long run. The competing school of thought says that if people pay out of pocket, they'll avoid preventive care that would pay off in lower costs in the long run.

Like the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention costs less than a pound of cure. But strangely, it seems that the emphasis on fully-covered preventive care has coincided with run-away health care costs.

And to some people, the notion that spending more for health care now will save money in the long run is as strange as other people find the idea that cutting tax rates now will increase total tax revenues in the future.

One problem I have with the "ounce of prevention" school of thought is this: When someone else will pay for the "pound of cure," anyway, where's the incentive to take the "ounce of prevention," even if it doesn't cost you anything out of pocket?

An analogy: A new car comes with free oil changes. But it also comes with a lifetime warranty on the engine -- regardless of whether you bother to get the oil changed.

Where's the incentive to change the oil? Just let it go until the engine blows up. Someone else will pay to fix it then.

You can clearly see, in that analogy, that the owner of the car needs to bear some responsibility, if costs are going to be controlled. I think it's the same with paying for health care. If the consumer doesn't bear some responsibility, we'll never get costs under control.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

You Know You're Getting Old --"Friends with Benefits"
There are lots of signs that a guy is getting old. There's the first time you realize a beer would really taste good, but you don't want the alcohol. There's when you see a pretty young thing and her mother, and it's the mother your eyes are drawn to. There's shaking your head because the popular teenagers are wearing fashions that used to get someone labeled as the biggest geek in school. There's hearing a promo for "Saturday Night Live," and realizing that you've never heard of the guest host. Or the musical guest.

But perhaps the surest sign that you're crossing into the realm of the old and crotchety is when you start talking about the proverbial "What's wrong with kids these days."

Or is it?

Read this, which appeared in Harlan Cohen's syndicated advice column:

Dear Harlan:

I've got a neighbor with whom I'm "friends with benefits." My roommate knows nothing about this situation, and I do not want to tell her because she has been trying to enjoy our neighbor's "benefits." She'd be very angry if she found out. Lately, my neighbor has been hitting on my roommate and making some not-so-subtle suggestions that they should be involved in some hanky-panky of their own. It grosses me out and angers me to think that he wants to have those types of relations with both of us. He does not understand why this bothers me. I do not want a serious love relationship with him, because he is a MAJOR player and I do not want to get hurt. I would like to continue the "friends with benefits" thing, but only if he stays away from my roommate. He can be with other people, just not someone so close to home. Should I end it, or tell my roommate and let him face her wrath?

(signed) Scamming Friend

I've been hearing about this concept of "friends with benefits" for several years now. I'm not sure how long it's been around, but it's developed since I was in college, almost 20 years ago. Back then, people had "one night stands" -- no more admirable, of course, but less complicated -- after which they felt some shame or embarrassment, and that was the end to it.

But this "friends with benefits" concept looks like an attempt to turn the "one night stand" into an open-ended run.

I must say, the "friends with benefits" concept is a triumph of marketing. Friends are good, right? And "plus benefits" -- that's got to be even better! This product would have been a tough sell with a more accurate name, say, "Girlfriend (or wife) with No Commitment."

And "friends with benefits" sounds so much better than what we used to call these people. For instance, the letter writer used to be known as a tramp, a slut, a skank, a whore -- you know, judgmental, old-fashioned terms like that.

And I'm not going to let the guy off easy, either. He's a cad, a heel, a jerk, a user, a potential two-term president of the United States. This guy is doing what some guys have always done -- if they could find willing partners (victims).

So, the difference is, while young men may have wanted to play the game this way for a long time, young women used to refuse. They demanded something more. What happened?

Is this the fruit of feminism? Empowering young women to be just as disgusting as young men?

We can see that the letter writer is confused. She says she doesn't want a serious relationship, yet she doesn't want to share the guy. She calls the guy "a MAJOR player," recognizing that HIS promiscuousness warrants a label, yet I wonder if she ever looks in the mirror and sees a "slut"? I think she's hoped all along that she could "change him."

You know what this girl needs? She needs to have some boundaries established for her.

They say kids need and want boundaries. Kids need and want parents to set limits and say no. Why do we think that changes when a person turns 18?

What this woman really needs is a society that tells her this "relationship" is not acceptable. A society that tells her she should drop the guy, and never get into such a situation ever again. A society that tells her the guy is doing something wrong, AND SO IS SHE. Better yet, she needed a society that told her all of this before she got into this situation. She needed a society that told her she needed to get into the guy's heart BEFORE she got into his bed.

I'm guessing she knew this situation was a loser from the start. All she needed was someone to back up her own conscience.

But because our society has "advanced" beyond the need to render judgments, we've allowed this young women to get herself into this situation.

We've failed her. Just as we'll continue to fail countless others -- our own children, even -- if we don't wise up.

(OK, OK, you're probably wondering how Harlan responded. Not as well as I wish he had. He told her to get out of this situation, but he didn't admonish her and tell her to never let it happen again.)

Here's Harlan's response:

Dear Scamming Friend:

He doesn't understand that you're bothered, because he has probably never listened to you. And he doesn't have any reason to; you're just another girl to have sex with.

Tell your roommate what's happening - not because he'll face her wrath (you might face some of it, too), but because he's treating you like a piece of meat and using you. Then, tell this guy that you are finished. He's no great prize. One last thing: There is a very real risk that your player could have left you some sexual souvenirs from the field. Herpes, HPV (human papillomavirus, the virus that causes genital warts), chlamydia, HIV and others can all spread without the person spreading it ever even knowing. Get checked.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Indians with Guns
While the nation is obsessed with what an Indian with a gun did at Red Lake High School, we may be overlooking the passing of another Indian famous for what he did with a gun.

(Please Note: Jeff Weise was a disturbed kid who just happened to be Indian, just as the Columbine shooters were disturbed kids who just happened to be white. There is no causal relationship.)

WWII veteran Ernest Childers died March 17 at the age of 87. Childers, a Creek Indian born in Oklahoma, received the Medal of Honor -- the highest military award for valor -- for his actions in Italy in 1943.

As a soldier, Childers was brave, tough, and crafty. He led a mission to rescue his men, and persevered despite a broken ankle. Relying on his wits, he tricked German machine gunners by throwing rocks at them, and captured another German soldier even after running out of ammunition.

Here's an excerpt from the obituary I read in the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

"I crawled back and told my men to lay down a base of fire over me," he told an interviewer. "You see, I had to crawl because of my broken ankle.... I couldn't tell that as I was crawling, I was crawling up a slope of a hill. I came up behind one of the German machine gun nests that had us pinned down."

As the Germans were turning their machine guns toward Childers, he shot them dead.

From his position, he saw a second nest and pitched in rocks to frighten the men manning it. "I assume they thought it was a hand grenade, because nobody throws rocks," he said.

When the Germans leapt out, he shot the first. Another U.S. soldier killed the second man.

According to his Medal of Honor citation, Childers single-handedly captured an enemy mortar observer at a house farther up the hill. He later wrote a fuller description of what happened:

"The German must have been watching the action, because when he came out toward me, I was on my knees training my 30-caliber carbine on him. I was yelling to one of my men, 'Take him prisoner!' My sergeant yelled back, 'Shoot the bastard!' I yelled, 'I can't. I'm out of ammunition.' "

"My body," he added, "was wet with sweat since the German was fully armed, and I was holding an empty rifle on him. That German was the only surviving German in the entire action of that day."

It's a great story. Read the full obituary. (You'll have to scroll down to it.)

And here's a web page about Childers.

That web page links to another interesting obituary.

Did you know FIVE Americans of Indian heritage were awarded the Medal of Honor for service during the past century? Three in WWII, and two in Korea. Read about them, too.

Friday, March 25, 2005

My Privileged Upbringing
Did you know I had a privileged upbringing? I was privileged to have two (married) parents, who showed me that education and hard work are important. My family didn't have a lot of money, but I didn't even realize it at the time. We had what we needed. It was only when I went off to college that I found out some people "needed" a lot more than we did.

I mention this to build upon yesterday's comments. While our "War on Poverty" and "Great Society" programs have thrown money at people, they haven't succeeded, because family is more important than money. And unfortunately, it looks like our well-intentioned government programs have only facilitated the deterioration in families.

Likewise with schools. We keep hearing that schools need more money, more money, more money. What they really need is kids who come to school without being screwed up by dysfunctional families. But rather than demand more from ourselves, we'd rather blame someone else -- the school isn't doing enough to raise my kid!

Expecting the schools to repair the damage of a screwed-up society is a waste of time and money. The schools can't do it. We have to stop the rot before the kids get to school. But, wait We can't be judgmental! We can't impose our values on someone else!

There's a simple formula for success in this country: Finish school; get a job; get married; then, and only then, have children. Following this plan almost guarantees that you -- and your children -- can succeed.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Reservations and Projects
I'm writing from Minnesota, but I don't have any special insights for you into the Red Lake school shooting. The Red Lake reservation being in the news, however, reminds me of one of my observations regarding how the U.S. has dealt with people whose race is "different."

The U.S. has been remarkably consistent in dealing with non-whites. We solved the "Indian problem" by shunting the natives off onto reservations, effectively saying, "Don't say we never gave you nothin'. Now, we never want to see you again."

So, the original Americans languished on reservations, living in poverty, with no good job prospects, suffering from rampant substance abuse, and trapped in a circle of failure.

When the Great White Father saw how well that turned out, he expanded the program. He built high-rise urban "reservations" for the black folks, and told them, "Don't say we never gave you nothin'. Now, we never want to see you again."

So, the black Americans languished in "the projects," living in poverty, with no good job prospects, suffering from rampant substance abuse, and trapped in a circle of failure.

Any volunteers to be next? How about it? Jews? Asians? Anyone?

What I'm saying is, we haven't been doing folks any favors.

As a middle-class white guy, I'm really reaching beyond my own experience and expertise here, but what the heck. Like they say, on the Internet, no one knows you're a dog. So I'll give it a try.

In many ways, it looks to me like black Americans were better off decades ago, before we implemented all these helpful social programs.

Sure, SOME blacks have risen to heights not possible before, and we've gone a long way toward eliminating official and de facto discrimination. I don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water. But when I look at, for example, the history of the black community here in St. Paul, Minnesota, I see a lot of progress that is anything but.

For instance, it looks to me like decades ago, while blacks undeniably had less money than whites, often had less desirable jobs than whites, and lived in less posh parts of town than whites, the simple fact was that black people and white people didn't live so differently (It was a difference of degree, if you will.). It was pretty much the norm for people with any color skin to have a home, a family, a job. People with any color skin owned businesses, though they might be in different parts of town. Children with any color skin had fathers to raise them, and the fathers were married to the mothers.

So what went wrong? Why -- after all the money spent, all the urban renewal conducted, all the legislation passed, and all the social programs created -- do MOST black children find themselves born to single mothers, who often are also too young, unemployed, and dependent on the government? Why is it that so many young blacks can find no prospects for gainful employment? Why are so many young black men in prison? Why? Why? Why?

Critics of the war in Iraq say it's a failure, and we should stop spending good money after bad. What about the four-decade long "war on poverty?" Are we getting a good return on that investment?

It sure doesn't look like it to me.

I say, let's figure out what will ACTUALLY HELP minorities, and do that. Enough politically correct speeches and pandering to voting blocs. Let's spend my tax money to HELP PEOPLE, not to enslave them on the government plantation.

But what do I know? For a (conservative) black American's interesting perspective on black culture, read Cobb at http://www.mdcbowen.org/cobb/archives/003631.html

Thursday, March 24, 2005

I haven't written anything about Terri Schiavo. Others are doing plenty of that. But I'd just like to share with you an observation from my recent personal experience.

In January, we had our 16-year-old cat, Bruno, put to sleep. The X-rays indicated he likely was full of cancer. He had stopped eating, and he was seriously dehydrated and starving.

The vet said we had to do something; it would be inhumane to let him die like that.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

No Border, No Nation
When did it become a controversial idea that a nation should know and control who is crossing over its borders?

The very definition of a nation is that it has borders. Since the very beginning, nations have protected themselves by identifying those who are and those who aren't that nation's citizens. Those who aren't, are automatically suspect. It behooves a nation to identify those who aren't, and to know what the outsiders are up to.

However, some in this country think that idea is outdated. They think it's "mean-spirited" or "racist" to protect our own borders against unauthorized intruders.

But if a nation fails to control its borders, how long before it fails to be a nation?

I'm not saying we shouldn't allow any immigration. There are two separate issues here. The first is that a nation control its own borders, so it knows whenever anyone enters the country. Once that is done, a nation then can address the issue of how much immigration to allow. But our current policy seems to be, well, anarchy. Anyone who can, is allowed to cross the border. Then we even talk about how, since they're here already, we might as well let them stay. Oh, and while we're at it, let's get them signed up for government benefit programs. Get them good and entrenched.

Here's a story, by Tom Hundley of the Chicago Tribune, that should be a lesson to the United States and the rest of the world. The Dutch have long had a very liberal immigration program. Now they're having regrets. Their welcoming policy toward immigrants has brought them a Trojan Horse of Muslim immigration. While the diverse, tolerant, and open-minded Dutch were supporting these newcomers with government handouts, the newcomers were busy recreating the Middle East in the Netherlands. Now, the chickens have come home to roost.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Saying Men/Women Different OK, As Long As Women Are "Superior"
Am I the only one who can see this link? As I wrote last Friday, while the faculty at Harvard were busy calling for the resignation of Harvard president Lawrence Summers -- who had the audacity to wonder whether there might be differences between men and women -- the science journal "Nature" was publishing a report that said men and women were even more different than we had previously imagined.

Geneticists studying the X chromosome came to the conclusion that men and women are so different from one another, that we should talk of two human genomes, rather than one. In addition, they said that men are actually closer to chimpanzees, genetically speaking, than we are to women.

But I have yet to hear anyone link this to Summers.

Today, I finally see someone taking notice of this genetic study. But it's New York Times columnist and faithful liberal Maureen Dowd, who seized upon the findings of the study not to say that, yes, men and women are different, and we should cut Lawrence Summers some slack, but rather, to point out how women are SUPERIOR (yes, that word is used) to men! Dowd says these genetic differences explain men's shortcomings.

How condescending! Can you imagine the uproar if a man wrote an equivalent column about how genetics explains what he sees as women's shortcomings?

And to think that Summers got in trouble just for wondering if there might be differences!

Monday, March 21, 2005

Braham Bombers Win Back-to-Back Titles
They did it! My hometown high school -- the Braham Bombers -- won their second consecutive class AA (second largest of four) basketball title over the weekend. The team finished the season 33-0, and with an ongoing 58-game winning streak. It's the sort of thing that, as a high schooler myself, I could dream about, but I could never really expect to happen.

But now that it has happened, I have to say that it isn't everything I imagined. And the reason is clear. It's because the tournament has been so watered down.

The high school league went to four separate classes, with the idea that more kids would get the chance to participate in the state tournament. The trouble is, more kids get the "state tournament experience," but the "experience" is less than it used to be.

As an alumnus and a fan who now lives in the "big city," here's my personal disappointment: My hometown won the state championship, but nobody knows it! Used to be, the whole state knew who was the basketball champ. Now, there are so many classes, people can't keep track of it. A championship doesn't mean what it used to.

Plus, the media -- and the high school league itself -- act as though the biggest-school class is the "real" state tournament; the smaller-school classes are minor leagues, or opening acts.

Wasn't always the case. People still talk about 1960, when tiny school Edgerton won it all in the single class tournament. But no more.

One thing non-small town people may not understand is how much a successful high school team means to the identity of a small town. Even it you or your kids didn't attend the school, it's still your team. That's how everyone knows who you are -- that your town even exists! So to win a state title and feel like it gets lost in the clutter of multiple classes, it's a disappointment.

Apparently it's not the same in the Twin Cities metro area. People don't have the same attachment to town and school. Coincidentally, at Braham's championship game win I was seated next to a graduate of Richfield High School -- a first-ring suburb. Richfield was playing for the AAA title that evening. I asked if he'd be back for that game. No, he said, high school wasn't such a great experience. He didn't care what Richfield was doing now.

In contrast, Braham's team attracted a huge crowd to the tournament. People who live in Braham. People who grew up there and now live in the city (like me). I even saw some former teachers from my day, who had quit teaching and moved away from Braham, but came to see the Bombers play.

Now, all eyes turn toward next season. Twelve more wins to a state record!

But what I'd really like is a chance for Braham to play biggest-school class champ Hopkins, to determine the real state champ. Win or lose, I'd love to see that.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Baseball Players: Latest Example of Overgrown Kids
Today I saw yet another example of how children are helping me to see adult behavior for what it is. I'm going to have to make a list of these and put them on their own page.

This morning, I was trying to get my two children and some others from the neighborhood safely walked to school. Some of them took off in the wrong direction -- away from school -- to try to see what some firetrucks were up to. I told one of them to get to school, and his predictable, childish response was to argue, point to some of the kids who were out of my reach and say, "Why don't they have to?"

They did have to. But I had to start with someone. And that someone was the person closest to me.

Just because someone else is doing something wrong doesn't mean it's OK for you to do it, too. Isn't that a lesson we teach children?

So it hit me like a performance-enhanced fastball when I picked up the sports section later and read about the baseball players who appeared before Congress on Thursday. The story said baseball players are complaining that they are being singled out, when other team sports -- such as football -- and even professional wrestling are also steroid enhanced.

Sorry, gentlemen, I'm not buying it. Didn't you learn as children that just because everyone's doing it, that doesn't make it right?

Friday, March 18, 2005

Minnesota Culture is Anti-Bus
I wrote yesterday about the trouble in trying to make the bus system succeed in the Twin Cities. One challenge facing the bus here is a culture that looks down its nose at public transportation. Overwhelmingly, public transit here is seen as something for poor people, or for people who "have to" take the bus.

(The one advantage of light-rail is that it's sexier. It's sold as being high-tech and trendy. Some people who would never use the bus are excited to ride the train. Still, $1 billion is a lot to spend just to overcome transportation bigotry.)

In some cities, using public transportation is seen as a normal, good thing to do, even for people who don't "have to" do it. But not here. The cultural difference is well-illustrated with a quote in a news story about plans to cut bus routes in the Twin Cities.

"'I'm from New York, and that's why I don't drive,' said Debra Sullivan of Minneapolis. She rides two buses from her home to reach the hub in Roseville, where she then takes the Route 225 circulator the rest of the way to work.

"'This is a good transit system,' she said, 'but if they make more cuts, people may not want to move here.'"

Debra, maybe it's possible that some people wouldn't want to move here because the bus system isn't good enough. You'd know that better than I. But the typical Twin Cities resident, given his or her attitude toward bus riding and bus riders, would respond: "Good. We don't want those people moving here, anyway."

Friday, March 18, 2005

Study: Men and Women Are VERY Different
While the great minds of Harvard are busy tarring and feathering Harvard president Lawrence Summers, because he merely asked whether it was possible that differences between men and women might help explain why more men than women study and work in the sciences, a study published this week in the journal Nature says that men and women are EVEN MORE DIFFERENT THAN WE'D EVEN IMAGINED. I read about this in a Los Angeles Times story, which was reprinted in my local daily, the St. Paul Pioneer Press -- but buried on page 8!

Genetic research found large differences not just between men and women, but large differences from one woman to another. Read these excerpts from the news report:

"Females can differ from each other almost as much as they do from males in the behavior of many genes at the heart of sexual identity, researchers said."

"The analysis also found that the obsessively debated differences between men and women were, at least on the genetic level, even greater than previously thought."

"All told, men and women may differ by as much as 2% of their entire genetic inheritance, greater than the hereditary gap between humankind and its closest relative - the chimpanzee."

"'In essence,' [Duke University genetics expert Huntingon] Willard said, 'there is not one human genome, but two - male and female.'"

Maybe we aren't from two different planets, but according to this, we're almost two different species!

The study also bears out something else that we've known all along: Women are complicated.

"Though there is dramatic variation in the activation of genes on the X chromosomes that women inherit, there is none among those in men, the researchers reported.

"Researchers have yet to understand the effect of so many different patterns of gene activation among women or determine what controls them, but all the evidence suggests that they are not random.

"'What had looked like a simple yes or no has turned into a thousand shades of gray,' said molecular biologist David Page, an expert on sex evolution at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass."

Thursday, March 17, 2005

St. Paddy's Confusion: I'll Stick with Being an American
St. Patrick's Day has gotten complicated for me. I used to think that with a surname that's not only English, but closely linked to the English government ("10 Downing Street" being the English equivalent of "The White House"), maybe I shouldn't even leave the house on March 17.

But then, a relative pointed out that the family came from Cornwall. And the Cornish aren't really English, they are Celts, like the Irish. And, historically, the Cornish hate the English, too!

I think I'll just stick with being an American.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Adults Need to Be the Adults
We hear a lot of complaints about the behavior of young people. What we forget is that we have the power to do something about it. We adults have to exercise that power. The kids need someone to remind them when they cross the line. Sometimes, it's as simple as that.

I went to the state basketball tournament today. After watching my hometown win a tough battle, the wife and kids and I stuck around to watch the next game. We found ourselves surrounded by fans from one of the schools playing in the second game. As the game began, I heard foul language coming from the teenage boys seated behind us. They worked their way through the alphabet and increased their volume, and soon I'd had enough. So I turned around and told them, in an authoritative manner:

"Boys, your language reflects on your entire town and your school. Please watch what you say."

They responded with sheepish looks and heads nodding in agreement. That was the end of the problem. I heard no more profanity for the rest of the game.

I felt very powerful. I didn't realize it was that easy. I was glad to see that teenagers will still straighten up their act when told to by an adult. Even an adult they don't know.

And in this case, it was important that I TOLD THEM to stop; I didn't ask them. I didn't say, "Your language might bother some people, OK? So if you don't mind, could you watch it a little, OK?" No, I let them know, in no uncertain terms, that their behavior was unacceptable.

(It probably didn't hurt, either, that for all they knew, I was from their town, and I might know their parents. That's one of the differences between a small town and the Big City. Here in the Big City, kids assume they are protected by their anonymity.)

I wonder if we could bring about other needed changes, just by letting people know their behavior is unacceptable? I think we could. Call me old-fashioned (really, please do, I don't consider it an insult), but I think the best thing we could do to fight the plagues confronting our children -- divorce, out-of-wedlock births, single-parent (or serial-father) households, poor parenting -- is to simply say, "This is not acceptable." But we don't want to be "judgmental" anymore. No, we have to be accepting of different "lifestyles." Well, B.S., there's bad, and there's good. And we shouldn't hesitate to point out the difference.

(Read my essay on the Power of Stigma.)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Bus. Stop. We're Going the Wrong Way
I think I'll just put up a permanent link on Thursdays and Sundays, saying, "Read Ed Lotterman."

Today, my favorite economics columnist gives us his take on the economics of bus systems. Here in the Twin Cities, our local bus agency is about to implement yet another round of service cuts and fare increases. They have to do this to cut costs, because ridership is down and the agency is losing too much money.

The trouble is, cutting routes and raising fares is certain to result in further ridership declines. And guess what that will mean? Yep, you got it. Another round of service cuts and fare increases in the future.

My brother Dan the farmer once gave me his prediction on this. He said that eventually, the bus system will be reduced to one bus, with one customer, an eccentric millionaire who will pay whatever it costs to ride the bus.

(Wouldn't it be ironic if that wealthy rider was billionaire banker and Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad, who is often vilified for destroying the Twin Cities beloved streetcar system?)

Farmer Dan also suggested that, if the bus -- and people using the bus -- serves a public good, we shouldn't charge a fare at all. Make it free, he said, like the library or the park. That would encourage more people to use it. That's what we want, right?

Dan makes a lot of sense, and he lives a long way from a bus line. Now, how about a system of free tractors...?

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Bill Cosby, Leonard Pitts Jr., and Me
Leonard Pitts, Jr. is one of my favorite newspaper columnists. He writes for the Miami Herald, but I see his columns occasionally in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. I don't know how many of you are familiar with his work, but he should be no secret. He won the 2004 Pulitzer for commentary.

Like another one of my favorite columnists, economist Edward Lotterman, what I like about Pitts is that he tells it like it is. He doesn't approach each column from the perspective of defending an established political position. He really thinks about a subject, and then he shares his findings.

That's important, because Pitts is black, and he frequently writes on topics related to race. But unlike most black writers I read in the paper, he isn't afraid to tell black people to look in the mirror instead of pointing a finger. At the same time, he isn't afraid to tell white people that they bear responsibility for black people's problems, too.

As a white guy, I feel that I can trust Pitts to give me the straight dope. I like that his thoughts about racial matters often validate my own. Yet, other times, he challenges me to examine myself, and he teaches me something in the process. When he says I should look in the mirror instead of pointing a finger, I take it to heart, because I know he's given it some thought. I can't dismiss it, the way I dismiss the rants of less thoughtful writers.

Recently, Pitts wrote a column about Bill Cosby and his current "legal problem." Pitts related it all to hypocrisy, racism, and the need for blacks to take charge of their own uplift. I really liked what Pitts had to say. Here's an excerpt:

"I will put the obligatory disclaimer here. Racism exists. Racism oppresses. But after you acknowledge that, after you commit yourself to sounding the alarm and resisting it wherever it is found, what do you do next? Must black progress await the day racism no longer exists and oppresses? If so, it will wait a very long time.

"Cosby's achievement was to get black folks talking 'publicly' about our role in our own uplift, to encourage us to see ourselves not as passive victims of what white people do to us, but rather, as men and women capable of taking our fate in our own hands. The debate he sparked was difficult, healthy and 'needed.'"

Right on. That's the way I, a white guy, see it. But if the message is going to get out and take hold, it's going to have to come from a black guy. Like Pitts.

Despite the handicap of my skin color, I'd like to add my two cents. Here's what I'd say to black people, if they wanted the advice of a white guy who grew up on a farm in Minnesota and knows not what it's like to be black in America.

I'd say: The problems facing black America in 2005 come from two directions. One is racism. That can't be denied. The other is social dysfunction within the black community, and within black families. That can't be denied, either.

These two problems feed upon one another. Racism keeps black people down, pushing them toward self-destructive practices.At the same time, these self-destructive practices add fuel to racist thought. It's a vicious circle.

So, what can you do about it?

You can't change someone else. You can only change yourself. So pick yourself up. Improve yourself. Show those racists they are wrong. With each step in the right direction you can make for yourself, you'll be starving the fires of racism. As the power of racism is lessened, you'll find it easier to take bigger steps for yourself. With bigger steps, racism will be dealt bigger blows.

Instead of the vicious circle of racism and failure, we'll have an uplifting circle of success.

Simple? Yes. Easy? Not necessarily.

But I think it's the answer.

(You can find more Leonard Pitts, Jr. columns on the Miami Herald website, You may have to register. I did, because I'm going to start reading all of his columns, not just the ones reprinted in my paper.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Revolving Door: Liberal Politicians, Local Government and Non-Profits
We hear a lot about the "revolving door" of Washington insiders. People go back and forth between government, and getting paid to lobby government. We hear complaints about politicians and their sweet deals in big business -- like Vice President Dick Cheney and Halliburton.

There's something similar going on here in St. Paul, Minnesota, only it involves (liberal) polticians, local government, and the non-profit sector. I'm not alleging any sort of grand conspiracy, but there's an interesting pattern that can't be denied.

Yesterday there was a special election to replace Ramsey Country commissioner Susan Haigh, who resigned after 10 years on the board. Haigh left her $60,000 a year, part-time commissioner gig to become head of the Twin Cities chapter of Habitat for Humanity. (Prior to election to the county board, Haigh worked as an attorney for the Met Council [a creature of regional government], a staff attorney in the Dakota County Attorney's office, and chief deputy in the Ramsey County Attorney's office.)

Winner of the special election was Toni Carter. Carter is a St. Paul public school teacher. In addition, she is a member of the St. Paul school board. She will have to resign that post, as school board members are not allowed to also hold another elected office. Before her current teaching job, Carter managed the Arts-Us program at Concordia University, operated her own marketing and communications firm, and worked 15 years for IBM.

Losing to Carter was Anne Harris, executive director of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Minnesota. Harris previously was director of the Dorothy Day Center (which serves the homeless) in downtown St. Paul, was executive director of the St. Paul-Ramsey County Children's initiative, and as a lobbyist and consultant for Catholic Charities. Harris is also a former aide to Haigh while she was on the county board.

Maybe you're not impressed with my point. After all, Harris didn't win. Carter has private sector experience.

Yet, I'm struck with the idea that the three people involved here are making careers out of spending other people's money -- whether in government, the schools, or non-profits. It's a pattern we see all too often. I'd like our leaders to know more about the real world -- not just government and non-profits. Yes, we need government. Yes, non-profits are valuable.

But neither can exist without funding from the "real world" -- for-profit, free-market commerce. I want government leaders to know that money isn't just something given to you; you have to earn it. Or, if someone does give it to you, they had to earn it first.

Now, I'd just like to know how much this is costing the taxpayers for special elections. If people want an office badly enough to campaign for it, is it too much to ask that they serve out their terms before looking for greener pastures?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Minimum Wage Is Supposed to be Minimal
In an editorial backing an increase in the minimum wage, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes:

"People who go to work every day should be able to live on what they earn. No family can subsist on $5.15 an hour."

There's a really big assumption being made there -- that the minimum wage should be able to support a family. But who says that's the intent? Should we really set the minimum wage high enough to support a family of four? If we do, any teenager with a minimum wage job is going to be living pretty high on the hog.

How about this: Before you become responsible for supporting a family, get a job that pays more than minimum wage. Minimum wage is a starting point. Education, experience, hard work -- all of these are ways to "graduate" to higher paying jobs.

If we want the minimum wage to be able to support a family, what we're saying is we don't want people to have an incentive to stay in school, to better themselves through hard work, to earn promotions and higher pay rates. No, we're saying, Go ahead, drop out of school and get a job flipping burgers. You weren't planning on having more than two kids anyway, right? Don't worry, you'll be fine.

Hardly the recipe for a growing economy that raises everyone's standard of living.

If you haven't done so previously, read Edward Lotterman's take on the minimum wage. Ed's my favorite St. Paul Pioneer Press economics columnist (ha, ha). I like his columns because he says it like it is; he doesn't approach everything from the perspective of defending a certain political ideology. He has identified himself as a Democrat, but on economics, he seems like a classical liberal to me.

Those Who for the Bell, Toil
In another story dealing with wages, Taco Bell has agreed to spend an additional $100,000 a year on tomatoes, so that the farm workers who plant and harvest the tomatoes (not the farm owner; the hired workers) can be paid a little more money.

The $100,000 will go to about 1,000 farm workers. What? That's only $100 per person. Spread over the course of a year, that's a measly 5 cents an hour! But these folks must not work full time, because the story says they earn only about $7,500 a year. Even at minimum wage, they'd be making more than $10,000 if they worked full time.

So here's the $100,000 question: Why doesn't Taco Bell just hire these farm workers to work at Taco Bell? The workers would make more money that way. Second question: Why don't the farm workers tell the farm owner, "Adios, I'm off to work at (anywhere else)"?

Buyer, and Worker Beware
I really think that workers and consumers have to take responsibility for looking out for themselves. We don't need the government to "protect" us from everything, if we just use our free will and common sense to look out for ourselves more. (Read
Edward Lotterman's column on mercantilism -- the petty regulation of commerce.)

Many of today's successful stores obviously aren't basing their formula on what I want, but they succeed nonetheless. I'm hardly a typical consumer. But that's just my point. If more people were like me -- refusing to accept what we're offered, holding out for what we want -- we'd be better served.

I'll give you an example. Recently, I had occasion to rent a movie. I seldom do that, because I know a secret -- the library loans them out for free! But after my son and I had seen the first two "Lord of the Rings" movies -- courtesy of my library card -- we were eager to see the finale, and the library didn't have it.

So we stopped at a highly-regarded, locally-owned video rental store, which was on the way to another errand we had to do. They had the movie, but I didn't get it. Rental was $4.50 (less if I paid for a membership), which I thought was high. Then I found out that there was a $3 fee to set up an account for first time customers. What? Don't they want to encourage new customers? If I ran the store, I'd offer "first rental free" to new customers.

But this was the straw that broke the camel's back: The clerk told me that first-time customers must pay with check, credit card or debit card. Evidently, they want a financial trail, so they can try to charge me again if I don't return the movie. I know, they have their security concerns. And they can run their business as they see fit. But I also have choices.

So I told the clerk, "I just came in to rent a movie. I don't want to take out a mortgage." And I left.

Next, we tried a nationally-known chain, which just happened to have a store right next to our other errand. A movie rental was $4, but first I had to fill out an application. The form asked for a credit card number. I thought, Do I want to give these people my credit card number for their computer, when I may never rent a movie here again? And once again, I walked out without the movie.

Finally, we went where we should have gone in the first place, a store where I had rented a few times before, but probably not for over a year. We found the movie near the door, gave the clerk our phone number so she could find us in the computer, paid $3 cash money, and we were on our way.

Is there any doubt where I'll go first next time?

My point is, consumers -- and employees -- have choices. For example, if you don't like expiration dates on gift cards, don't buy gift cards with expiration dates. We don't need legislators to protect us from expiring gift cards.

Don't be a sheep. You don't have to buy what they're selling. If you refuse to buy, they'll get the message. If they don't, someone else -- who does get it -- will take their place. That's how the free market works.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Gambling on Replacing One Vice with Another

Here in Minnesota, lawmakers at various levels are working furiously to ban smoking in all bars and restaurants. Advocates often focus on this as a workplace safety issue, saying employees of bars and restaurants should be able to breathe clean air while they work.

Meanwhile, some enterprising state legislators have now introduced a bill that would allow slot machines to be placed in bars. So, while we are worried about protecting bar employees from one hazard -- smoke -- which they knew about when they took the job, we are also considering subjecting them to another danger -- gambling addiction -- which they had no reasonable expectation of when they started working in the business.

Democracy -- it ain't always pretty.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Logic Should Be Part of a Liberal Education
Finally! My letter to the editor was published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press today. I've been waiting for publication of the letter to use as a springboard to further comment here on my Website. The editorial I was responding to ran 10 days ago. Newspapers really need to move faster if they want to compete with -- or forge a symbiotic relationship with -- the Blogosphere. You know, this might be a good example of how newspapers could incorporate the Blogosphere. How about if instead of me writing a conventional letter to the editor, and having it end there, they could have instead used my thoughts in brief, but directed readers to my blog for more? Hmmm...

Now, on to the topic at hand:

Writing in opposition to a bill intended to protect college students from the left-wing politics of their professors, the Pioneer Press opined: "We presume that both [sponsoring] legislators graduated from college. If this 'indoctrination' were really effective, surely the left-wing mind machine would have sucked both into progressive collegial groupthink long ago. And kept them there."

("We presume"? There's no "presume" in journalism. A few minutes on the Web was all it took for me to confirm that both legislators have degrees. Bachmann, in fact, has a law degree.)

Here's my response:

The Pioneer Press editorial board says we don't need a law to protect college students from the left-wing views of their professors. I agree. Such legislation risks creating more problems than it solves.

Nonetheless, I do agree with state Sen. Michele Bachmann and Rep. Ray Vandeveer that the halls of academia are rife with left-wingers. However, I think we can serve our young people better by simply acknowledging that fact and by telling students that their professors are merely humans with their own individual opinions and biases (and it's OK to disagree with them).

Professors aren't all-knowing. Neither do they have a monopoly on the truth. They can be wrong.

I have to ask, however, whether the Pioneer Press intends to maintain logical consistency. The paper points to Republicans and college graduates Bachmann and Vandeveer as proof that left-wing indoctrination is not a problem. I wonder, would the paper cite the existence of a couple of successful women or people of color as proof that there are no glass ceiling and no racial barriers?

In hindsight, I wish that instead of referring to the generic "couple of successful women or people of color" I had simply said "Oprah."

Nevertheless, I think I made my point. If you're going to dismiss the complaints of conservatives so lightly, then do the same with other interest groups with a grievance.

That would be consistent. That would be logical. Unfortunately, human beings being what they are -- even human beings who write for major daily newspapers -- consistency and logic can be hard to find.

Maybe what we need is an academic bill of rights that demands a right to learn how to think logically and critically.

Because there is a real shortage of logical consistency on this issue. Liberals, who complain that people are poorly served if a police force isn't racially diverse, or that students aren't properly educated if a teaching staff isn't racially diverse, have no sympathy for conservatives making a similar sort of complaint.

Meanwhile, conservatives, many of whom pooh-pooh complaints about the 10 Commandments on public property, or the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, want to use the force of law to protect themselves from views other than their own.

It's knee-jerk, line-up on pre-determined sides, don't even think about the issue. If the "other side" suggested it, it must be wrong.

I tried to give it some thought. Yes, I agree, most professors are liberals. Yes, I agree, that can make for some uncomfortable situations for conservative students. I think it's good we acknowledge the fact that the halls of academia are a liberal environment. But it doesn't necessarily follow that a law is required. That conservative college students might hear liberal thoughts that conflict with their own opinions is a fact I can live with. Isn't college all about ideas -- including new and different ones? (Well, unless you're Lawrence Summers, offending feminists, or Jada Pinkett Smith, offending gays. At Harvard, evidently, liberals feel they should be shielded from "offensive" opinions.)

The Pioneer Press ran my letter today in a bloc of letters on the subject. (That's one reason it took so long to be published; they're going with themes on the letters page these day. It's a good idea, but it sacrifices timeliness.) If you read the rest of the letters, you'll see an appalling shortage of reasoned thought. Instead, some letter writers rely on name-calling and cliches. (And I still haven't figured out what Republicans "taking the homes of the elderly" has to do with anything.)

And Then There's Laura
And then there's Pioneer Press columnist Laura Billings. Billings took on Bachmann's bill in a column, and almost persuaded me -- almost persuaded me to DISAGREE with her!

Yes, Laura and I both oppose the bill, but not for the same reasons.

Billings showed an almost total lack of logic in her column. To start with, she simply denies that liberals dominate college campuses. Sorry, but it's true. Just like white males dominate the boards of Fortune 500 companies. Facts are facts, even if they don't advance your political agenda, Laura.

Then, as evidence that there is no liberal bias from professors, she offers this:

"Since 1999, membership in the College Republican National Committee has tripled. The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, which has tracked the attitudes of college freshmen since the mid-1960s, has noted a rising conservative sentiment among students, reflected in significant drops in campus support for legal abortion, gun laws and the idea that wealthy people should pay a larger share of taxes."

Laura, that doesn't prove that professors aren't overwhelmingly liberal. No, what it indicates is just how wide the gap between liberal professors and the student body really is. And if membership in the College Republicans is rising, that may in fact indicate a growing backlash against left-wing indoctrination.

But the most ridiculous part of her column is the very idea that Laura Billings considers herself qualified to decide whether or not conservatives have a beef. If a group of women, or a particular ethnic or racial group, says they are being "offended" or suffer from a "hostile environment," sympathetic old Laura will usually be the first in line to call for more sensitivity, tolerance and diversity. But let the conservatives complain and...well, they have nothing to complain about. End of story.

How is liberal Laura Billings qualified to decide what offends conservatives? As a White male, I'm not allowed to decide what offends women, gays, Blacks or Indians... or even what offends liberals. I'm supposed to take THEIR word for it.

Why should Laura Billings get to decide what offends me?

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Meet the New Medical Insurance Plan; Same As the Old Medical Insurance Plan
Here's a story about a "new" concept in medical insurance. It's referred to here are "Do it yourself insurance." (Perish the thought! Someone taking care of himself?) You pay your own expenses up to a certain limit, but you also buy insurance that will kick in if expenses really get out of hand. Strange, looks to me an awfully lot like the way people paid their medical bills 25 years ago, before we got the funny idea that we could conjure up a system where everyone got unlimited medical care, but no one ever had to pay for anything.

Now, the pendulum may be swinging back the other way, as we look for ways to contain escalating medical costs. Ironically, critics of the new-old system are quoted saying that it will discourage people from seeking preventive and minor care, which will increase costs in the long run when people need major care down the line (you know, an ounce of prevention...).

Funny thing is, the escalation in health care costs that everyone is so concerned about has coincided with an emphasis in preventive care. Reminds me of the way we are told that we have to fund ("make investments in") ever-growing social programs now, so that we don't have to pay more for crime and prisons down the line. You'd think after 40 years of the Great Society we'd have no problems left. No such luck. We just keep getting asked for more money for more social programs.

(Read my thoughts on how things go 'round in circles.)

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Just A Big Kid
As I've noted before, the trials of parenthood have also given me new insights into adult behavior. I had a couple of cases here in the last two days where I tried to impress upon my son that the really serious problem wasn't what he had initially done, but what he had done afterward -- not telling the truth, or trying to sneak off when I was talking to him.

It occurs to me that the real problem with Vikings football coach Mike Tice is similar. Maybe we don't really care if he scalped his Super Bowl tickets. That's not such a big surprise.

What's really maddening about Mike Tice's behavior is that he lied. He knew the rules. He promised not to scalp the tickets when the league sold them to him. Yet he went ahead and did it, anyway. Then, when confronted with his crime, he lied again, denying his actions.

Of course, he's in "good" company. The names Nixon and Clinton spring to mind.

And His Vote Counts Just As Much As Mine?
"When we consider inflation, Social Security is a bargain, because the premiums we pay in withholding have increased only about six times from 2 percent to 12.4 percent in about 65 years. In the same time, new car prices and new home prices have increased more than 33 times or more. Minimum wages have increased more than 24 times."

From a letter to the editor, in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 12, 2005.

What an idiot! (It's not unkind if it's true.) Why does the newspaper even print something this wrong, wrong, wrong?!

If the Social Security withholding RATE has increased by a factor of six, it's more accurate to say that Social Security withholding has increased at SIX TIMES the rate of inflation. Since withholding is a PERCENTAGE of wages, while the percentage stays the same, the actual dollar amount of withholding will increase as wages increase (in sync with inflation).

This guy must also be one of those boobs who says, "Of course we need to raise taxes. Everything costs more because of inflation, and the population is going up, so more people need government services."

Must I point out that, as wages go up with inflation, actual tax dollars collected (at a static percentage rate) also go up? And must I point out that as the population goes up, so does the number of people paying taxes?

There's no need to increase the RATE in order to maintain the status quo.

What would this guy have us do, at some time in the future, when prices are at a level 50 times what they were when Social Security began? Would he think 100 percent Social Security withholding on wages would then be "the same" as the 2 percent when the program started?

Consumer Products In, Garbage Out
Not so long ago, the sky was falling over what to do with our garbage. The landfills are filling! The landfills are filling!

Where would we put all of our garbage?

Now, there's a new problem. It seems we're selling "too much" of our waste paper to other countries!

In particular, China, which has few forests left, is hungry for American waste paper, to be made into new paper products. They're paying us for our garbage. They even pay to haul it halfway around the globe. What's wrong with that?

Put another way: We send them our garbage, they send us TVs. If you ask me, that's one heckuva deal!

Friday, March 11, 2005

That's the Ticket
As you've heard by now, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Tice is at the center of a ticket scalping controversy. Why does someone who makes that kind of money ($750,000, plus endorsements, TV show, etc.) risk his good name and trouble with the IRS for a few grand more?

Another thing I find astonishing: that a player or coach making a ton of money, presumably a guy with a busy schedule, then uses his available free time to appear in some TV commercial, or, worse yet, to hang out at some auto dealership, signing autographs.

How much money is enough for these guys? Evidently, they always want more.

With regard to scalping NFL tickets, I think it's another way that the overpaid, immature athletes and coaches are showing disrespect for the fans. A Super Bowl ticket is hard enough to come by for Joe Q. Footballfan. Now, Joe Q. finds out that players and coaches are snapping up many of the tickets to resell to scalpers, with no intention of going to the game. That makes it even more difficult for Joe Q. to get a ticket, unless he pays a scalper big bucks.

Some people think there's nothing wrong with ticket scalping. They say, let the market decide who ends up with the ticket. Let the person who values it the most get it. Reward a person who is resourceful enough to get his hands on a ticket, and who provides the service of getting it to a person who really, really ($$$) wants it.

There's some logic to that. But if that's the way to distribute tickets, then let's do it that way from the start. Let the guy who really, really wants the ticket -- instead of spending $2,000 to get a Super Bowl ticket from a scalper -- bid $2,000 to buy the ticket directly from the NFL.

That's right, let event promoters sell tickets to the highest bidders. Many times at a farm auction, things will be sold as "high bidder gets choice." For example, there might be a pile of various tools. The high bidder bids $10. The auctioneer asks, "How many do you want?" The high bidder then can take all the tools, at $10 each, or take as many as he thinks are worth $10. After the high bidder has had his pick, the auctioneer will re-bid the pile, or ask "Who'll give me $9?" The price will go down until everything is sold.

The NFL or a concert promoter might try something similar. The NFL could say, "We've got 60,000 Super Bowl tickets here, what'll you give us for them?" The top bidder then could either take all 60,000, or only as many as he wanted to use, or thought he could sell at a profit.

The top bidder likely wouldn't want them all, because anyone who wanted them all would have to get them at a low enough price to make reselling them profitable. The top bidder would likely be someone who wanted only a few, and needed to make darn sure he got them.

Interestingly, the bid prices wouldn't necessarily only go down as the tickets were snapped up. As fewer and fewer tickets remained up for bid, some prospective bidders, who had been waiting on the sidelines until the price dropped, might be forced, in desperation, to bid higher and higher to ensure that they didn't get shut out.

I saw something similar happen at a farm auction. There were about a dozen piles of firewood for sale. I was interested in the wood, but not for myself. I wanted to resell it. So I measured each pile, and wrote down how much I was willing to pay for it, based on what I could sell it for. I bought some piles, and passed on others. (Each pile was sold individually, as they were different sizes.)

There was one guy who was interested, but never bid. I overheard that his wife had told him he either had to buy some firewood, or go out and cut some himself. He kept sitting out the bidding, probably waiting for a bargain. Finally, there was one lot left. He had no choice but to bid. I didn't. By my measure, that ended up as the most expensive wood of the day!

I hope his wife was understanding.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

What's Best "For the Children"?
A good column today from Kathleen Parker, who asks Why can't we admit that it's good for a child to have both a mother and a father? The problem seems to be that stating that fact offends same-sex couples and single parents. Parker does a great job on the issue.

Parker suggests that it should be about what's best for kids, not about the feelings and political agendas of adults. I agree.

Kids have to come first. But I think it was in the 1970s that we started forgetting that. We started worrying about adults "finding" themselves. Now, the same people who want us to do everything "for the children" also tell us that "kids do best when mom is happy."

If that means mom works 60 hours a week, then leaves the kids home with a baby sitter while she goes to the gym, it's all for the best. Mom's gotta be happy.

And how about dad? Sure, he brought these kids into the world, but now he'd rather be spending his time with his new, younger girlfriend. Goodbye, mom and kids. It'll be best for you if dad is happy.


When you have children, you're committed. Finish the job. It's not about you; it's about them. The most important thing you'll ever do in life is raise your kids successfully. That's more important than making partner, toning your abs, or forgetting about your receding hairline by boffing your secretary. Once you start with kids, you've got to follow through.

Suppose you're an airline pilot, guiding a plane across the ocean. But you're unhappy. You've decided you'd rather be a lion tamer. So you tell the passengers, "I'm not happy piloting this plane. And that's not good for you, either. So I'm going to jump out now. You'll be better off if I'm happy."

That's ridiculous. A pilot is committed to finishing the trip.

A parent should be, too.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Let the Wealthy Tax Themselves?
We're beginning a new chapter in traffic management here in the Twin Cities, with a new system that will allow drivers to pay for access to what was previously a carpool-only lane. This development is befuddling a lot of people, because they can't figure out the politics of it.

For instance, some knee-jerk and cry out: "Elitist! This only benefits those wealthy enough to pay extra." Yet, on the other hand, that means only the "wealthy" will be paying this voluntary highway tax, the same critics believe in "tax the rich," and if the system works, everyone will benefit. By getting more cars into the paid lane, we reduce congestion on the other lanes. Those who drive in the regular lanes, and aren't paying any extra, should reap a benefit, courtesy of "the rich."

This seems like a good idea to me. And it's not just about "the wealthy." The cost isn't exorbitant; it will vary from 25 cents to $8 per trip, depending on time of day and congestion. Let people decide for themselves how much the convenience is worth to them.

For those populists worried about the "inequity" of this system, I'd compare it to private golf courses. Some people voluntarily spend their money to use private golf courses. They could use the public courses, like a regular Joe, but they spend money for the benefits of using a private course. By doing so, they leave the public courses alone, making more room there for you and me.

My favorite newspaper economist, Edward Lotterman, offers an economist's-eye view on congestion pricing.

Jesus Saves; Why Don't We?
In another recent column, Lotterman addresses the question of Why don't Americans save more? and debunks the notion that it's because we're taxed too much. I agree. (Not necessarily that we're not taxed too much, but that taxes aren't the reason we don't save.) Similarly, I don't buy the notion that families have to have two incomes because of high taxes. The two issues are linked.

The reasons we don't save more are cultural. Specifically, we want things, and we want them now. That's also why many families think they "need" two incomes. We like stuff. We want a high standard of living.

We love credit. We run up credit card balances, Governments borrow more money. Governments rely on gambling money. We want, we want, we want.... but we don't want to pay for it.

And our culture lets us get away with it. That's the messages we get. In so many situations, there are no consequences to not saving or not doing the right thing. Some examples:

When I was in college, I saw how a student who worked or saved "too much" was punished by having other student aid taken away. Lesson: Don't make the effort yourself; let the government do it.

I've seen it in farm programs. Over the years, many farmers voluntarily adopted practices to promote soil conservation. Some didn't, choosing to go for the short-term profit. After awhile, government programs offered money to these laggards if they would adopt the conservation practices. Lesson: You'll be rewarded for doing the wrong thing.

If someone goes into a nursing home, his savings can be consumed quickly, but then the government pays. But if someone has no savings, the government will just pay from the get-go. Lesson: Why save for yourself? Better to spend it at the casino while you're still healthy.

And then there's Social Security. This program has helped ingrain the message that it's the government's job to take care of you in your old age. Lesson: Don't worry about saving for your retirement, social security will take care of you.

Why don't we save? Why should we?

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Happy Birthday to my friend Greg!

If There Are No Rules, How Do You Know If You're Any Good at It?
Thanks to a tip from blogger Craig Westover, I recently learned about the John Adams Society. The JAS is, I gather, a debating society of sorts. I'm now on their e-mail list, and I recently was notified of their upcoming March 16 meeting, the subject of which will be:

Resolved: Today's art is trash

From the JAS e-mail:

In galleries across the Western world there has been an increasing problem with the janitorial staff. They mistake the art for trash and throw it out. In 2001, a cleaner at a London's Eyestorm Gallery cleared away an installation by artist Damien Hirst, having mistaken it for a pile of rubbish. (The collection of beer bottles, coffee cups and overflowing ashtrays was said to represent the chaos of an artist's studio.) And in the 1980s the work of Joseph Beuys, which featured a very dirty bath, was scrubbed clean by a gallery worker in Germany.

The janitors are to be forgiven. Like the little boy in Anderson's the Emperor's New Clothes, only they see (or are willing to admit) today's art for what it is: sometimes literally, but almost always figuratively, garbage. From "The Gates" in Central Park to the atonal discord called modern orchestral "music'' (not to mention popular music), we must admit we live in a wasteland.

On the other hand, complaints about "today's art'' are timeless. Monet, Renoir, and Degas were barred from the Salon in Paris for violating the artistic norms of the time. Puccini's La Boheme was savaged for its focus on the ordinary. As a prophet has honor save in his own town, an artist is appreciated save in his own time. Wait fifty years and today's trash becomes tomorrow's treasure.

Tempting, but I won't be able to attend. I'll be rushing from swimming lessons to the Pinewood Derby that evening. (I've got a long list of things I'm gonna do when the kids become more independent.) But I thought I'd share some of my thoughts here.

Some would say, "If I can do it, it's not art." There's a lot of truth to that, although sometimes the real "art" of the piece is the inspiration behind it. Nonetheless, I wasn't impressed with the much publicized "gates" in New York recently. That seemed more like a handyman project than a piece of art.

A common thread you'll notice in many "modern" art forms is a total lack of rules. We've told ourselves that we want to be free to express ourselves, we don't want to be limited by some old rules. We don't want any restrictions. We don't judge ourselves on the art of the past.

But could it be we're just too lazy to practice and learn and develop actual talent?

Consider, if you will, various art forms. We now have abstract paintings that don't look like anything. Does that take more skill and training, or less skill and training, than painting a recognizable picture? We have modern, free-form dancing. Does that take less practice, or more practice, than dancing that follows specific steps? We have modern free-form poetry, with no rhyme and no meter. Does that take more work and creativity, or less work and creativity, than poetry that rhymes and has rhythm? We have rap music, which doesn't even require singing. Is that harder, or easier, than singing a song with actual notes and melody?

My point is, in all of these, our "modern" art form seems suspiciously like just taking the easy way out. Kind of like when I try to teach my kid how to properly hold a baseball bat, and he says, "No, it works better for me when I hold it like this." Sorry, but that's wrong. If you want to learn to do it properly, you'll have to learn to do it according to the established rules.

And that's the problem with all of these "modern" art forms. With no rules, no standards, anyone can do it! I shake my butt anyway I want to, and I'm a dancer. I splash some paint haphazardly on canvas, and I'm a painter. I string together some random words, and I'm a poet. I bark some words, and I'm a musician.

Is that all it takes to be an "artist"?

Next thing you know, any old blowhard will post his opinions on a website and call himself a journalist.

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Black Culture: She Said It, Not Me!
She's Black, Female, and Conservative -- the mainstream media's worst nightmare. LaShawn Barber offers a very interesting take on what it means to be a Black conservative.

She also points to contemporary Black culture, rather than discrimination, as the primary source of the problems plaguing American Blacks today.

I can't find anything to disagree with, and I'm really glad to hear her say what she did, because as a White guy, I can't say it. But I agree. Cultural pathologies within contemporary Black culture are the source of problems that continue to entrap each new generation.

Please note, I'm saying "contemporary Black culture." I do not suggest that Black people are racially incapable of a healthy culture. Far from it. But too many of today's Black Americans are the product of an unhealthy culture that dooms them to failure.

So again, just like when I wrote about the schools being expected to solve social problems, the answer lies in fixing the problems at the source -- with what the liberals dismiss as "judgmental" and "old-fashioned" conservative family values.

Yes, contemporary Black culture has been shaped in part by past discrimination -- as well as by the high-minded and well-intentioned, but often counter-productive, "Great Society" programs of the 1960s. But we have to get past that, and address the present situation if we are going to solve the present problems. What matters to an infant coming home from the hospital to a lawless and God-forsaken public housing project, with his 15-year-old soon-to-be drop-out mother, no father to be found, and no prospect for a safe, happy childhood, is not that eight generations ago his ancestor was a slave. Or even that three generations ago his ancestor had to sit in the back of the bus.

No, what matters to that infant is that litany of problems he faces in 2005.

Remember: She said it!

Monday, March 7, 2005

Good Money After Bad?
I see a theme developing in recent news stories.

It seems not enough people want to go to the Minnesota Zoo. So the Zoo says it needs more money from the state, in order to build new exhibits, to attract more visitors, to earn more money.

The Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth also suffers from low attendance. So the aquarium wants more public money, to build new exhibits, to attract more visitors, to earn more money.

Then there's the new light-rail line in Minneapolis. We've already been warned that this is just the first link in a bigger light-rail system. After all, we have to keep adding new attractions to a railroad, too.

It all starts the same way: some well-meaning soul really wants these things; they think they'll be good for us. Culture. Quality of life. World-class city. All that stuff.

But..the attendance never lives up to the projections. The project bleeds money. We hear, "Of course it's struggling. We have to keep adding to it to make people interested. What we've done so far was just a start."

Then we're stuck. We either cut our losses (highly unlikely, based on past experience), or we keep throwing more money at it. It starts to seem like we're throwing good money after bad.

Yes, there's room for public works and facilities, but we have to be realistic. Too many pipe dreams have been sold to the taxpayers. If we are going to spend the taxpayers' money to build the taxpayers something, let's give them something they'll use. Apparently, there isn't enough interest in aquariums and zoos to justify what it costs.

In comparison, sports stadiums might better serve the public.

Are Zoos Dinosaurs?
Maybe zoos just aren't practical anymore. With the modern zoo concept, it's an expensive proposition. Modern zoos take a lot of land, a lot of high-priced animal care, and extensive man-made "habitats." How are you going to pay for that? You can't do it with admission fees.

Once upon a time, zoos were compact exhibitions of exotic animals. People bought tickets, and the zoo owner made money. With little concern for keeping the animals in "natural" environments, costs were low.

But now that we've made zoos about animals, instead of about people, the costs are much higher. Maybe zoos just don't make sense anymore. Maybe we just can't afford zoos anymore, if we want modern zoos, not old-fashioned row-of-caged-animals zoos. (Besides, people liked the old zoos -- you could actually see the animals!)

The evolution of zoos may be an example of what I call B-to-C thinking. Because of reason "A," we do response "B." But over time, we forget about the original reason, "A." We start to take for granted that we do "B" just for the sake of doing "B."

Then we get into trouble. We say, Hey, instead of doing "B," wouldn't it be great if we did "C" instead? But we don't ever ask if "C" addresses "A," which was the reason we did "B" in the first place.

In the case of zoos, "A" was that people wanted to see exotic animals. So "B" was the creation of row-of-caged-animal zoos, which allowed people to see the animals, while the zoo owner made a profit, or a public entity could afford to maintain the zoo. But after decades of "B," people started to lose sight of the "A." They forgot that zoos were created so people could see the animals. They started to assume that zoos existed for the animals. So they said, Let's do "C," that will be so much better for the animals.

Well, maybe we can't do "C." Maybe it's not practical. Maybe it's not affordable. Maybe it doesn't even satisfy "A," which is the reason we had zoos to start with.

If people don't want zoos badly enough to support them financially, maybe we shouldn't have zoos at all. The market helped create zoos; maybe the market is telling us zoos are a product whose time has come and gone.

Sunday, March 6, 2005

Coincidence? I Think Not!
During the TV broadcast of the Minnesota state hockey tournament, I repeatedly saw the names and faces of students from around the state who have won the ExCEL Award. This is given to students who excel not just in athletics, but also in academics and the arts, as leaders, and as model citizens.

Here's something I noticed (And I noticed the same thing last year, too.): Almost every one of the award-winners noted, in a brief bio, that he or she was active in church. (Only one doesn't specify it, but she does attend a Catholic school.) And of the 24 award winners, not even one has a hyphenated last name.

In a related observation, I've also noticed that when lists of top students are published in the spring, valedictorians and salutatorians rarely have more than the old-fashioned one set of parents.

This ties in well with the observations I made March 2, about how we don't need more and more money so schools can fix social problems being manifested in our children, we need to hold people to a higher standard, and stop those social problems before they start -- right at home.

Maybe there's something to be said for my old-fashioned conservative values, huh?

Parents and Grandparents Both Care About the Child
That same day, I also made some observations about how Republicans and Democrats both care about the poor, even though they may differ in how they think the poor should be helped.

Look at it this way: Parents and grandparents may treat a child very differently, but both care about that child. The grandparents give the child everything he wants. They don't ask him for anything in return. They don't hold him accountable if he breaks something. They spoil him rotten.

And that's fine, as a treat, or a "vacation" from the parents. But it's no way to raise a child.

And that's the problem with the liberal way of helping the poor. They "help" and "help," but in the end, they haven't helped at all. People are still poor, and don't learn what it takes to better themselves.

You know the old saying: Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he'll eat every day.

(Of course, here in Minnesota it's: Teach a man to fish, and he'll spend all the grocery money on bait and tackle.)

Friday, March 4, 2005

When Everyone Is #1, No One Is
It's state tournament time in Minnesota. We're in a flurry of activity as high school athletes compete to be named the state's best.

Or may I should say, to be named ONE OF the state's best. I say that because we've now got so many different classes, based mostly on school enrollment size, that we never really find out who is the best. For example, four different boys basketball teams and four different girls basketball teams will each get to call themselves "state champion."

This weekend it's the hockey tournament. We finally have a two-class tournament now, so there are no more David vs. Goliath match ups. I really miss that. This year especially. Tiny northern school Warroad is undefeated this season, and has now advanced to the small-school championship game. They've beaten or tied many large schools during the season, including a 1-1 tie with Moorhead, considered by many the favorite to win the big-school class.

I'd love a chance to see Warroad competing for the overall state title. Alas, it can no longer be.

In basketball, my hometown, little Braham, has what is generally considered the best boys basketball team in the entire state, regardless of school size. Braham won the state title in its class last year, and the entire team returned for another go at it. Braham plays in the second largest of the four classes, but has beaten several large school basketball powerhouses this year. If we had a single-class tournament, the talk of the state would be little Braham, trying to win it all. Everyone would know about Braham.

But that's not the way it works anymore. Now there are so many champions, you can win a title, but no one knows. The smaller schools don't get to play on prime-time television, and their game stories end up in the back of the sports section.

As if to prove my point, I went in for a haircut yesterday. I was discussing these tournament issues with Schmidty the barber, and guess what? He didn't know anything about Braham. I told him that with a single class tournament, barber shops across the state would be abuzz with talk about Braham. That's the way it used to be.

My other tournament complaint is that in too many cases, those little, rural schools that are supposed to benefit from multiple classes, find their way to the "small-school" state tournament blocked by private schools from the Twin Cities. Some of these private schools may have small enrollments, but they draw athletes from the entire giant pool of the Twin Cities. Some are veritable sports academies, nothing at all like the rural schools in the small-school classes.

Out of eight schools in the small-school hockey tourney, three are private schools. In the big-school class, only one is a private school. That school, Holy Angels, would qualify for the small-school class, but recognizes that they don't belong there. So they play "up" with the big schools. That's the way it should be done.

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Something We Can Agree On
I wrote yesterday about how a liberal Democrat friend and I were discussing views on city elections, Republicans and Democrats, and caring for the poor. My friend also mentioned to me that the late Senator, Vice President, and Democrat Hubert Humphrey had stated that one of his goals was to turn as many Democrats into Republicans as possible. That is, he wanted to help them acquire enough good things in life to want to protect it.

That's a good way of looking at it. It's similar to something that former (Republican) Senator Rudy Boschwitz said. Comparing himself to the late Sen. Wellstone, who put social programs at the forefront, Boschwitz said he preferred to measure success by how many people he could help get OFF welfare, not by how many people he could sign up for welfare.

Similarly, President Bush talks about an "ownership society." He wants to encourage home ownership, personal retirement accounts, all those things that give people a stake in their own -- and the country's -- future.

So, you see, maybe there is something we can all agree on.

Minimum Wage Much Ado About Nothing
Edward Lotterman offers his take on the minimum wage today. In short, he says it's largely irrelevant.

Seems to me the minimum wage is a tempest in a teapot. It's one of those things that is entirely arbitrary, yet people treat it like some moral absolute. "If you won't raise the minimum wage 50 cents, you don't care about people!" Well, the person who wants to raise it $1 could say the same thing about the person who wants to raise it only 50 cents.

Same with things like speed limits, tax rates, or education funding. It's all arbitrary, yet we treat it like there is some great moral divide at some point.

In general, I like to let market forces work on these things (minimum wage, that is, not speed limits), but that requires that people take some responsibility for themselves. They need to refuse to work for people who won't pay more than minimum wage, instead of complain and leave it up the government.

The same applies to this "gift card" issue at the legislature. If gift cards come with unacceptable terms, then don't buy them. The merchants will get the message. But our legislators are busy working to protect us from ourselves.

Let's Face It: You're a Hypocrite
A recent anti-Bush letter to the editor says, "Only 1,427 more days to go and we will finally be rid of that offensive, arrogant smirk."

How childish is that? Criticizing someone for what his face looks like? Some liberals have a really bad case of "do as I say, not as I do." (Also known as being a hypocrite.) They say don't judge someone by what they look like. We're all the same under our skin.

But then they act like this. I can't figure out why Clinton had such admirers. Apparently, a lot of people don't mind being lied to, as long as the guy doing the lying looks charming while he does it. Some of our supposedly open-minded, intellectual liberals are in reality shallow...superficial...dare I say, stupid?

Did Republicans write letters to the editor criticizing former Senator Dopey-Grin for his face? Not that I recall. They criticized his votes and his positions, but not what he looked like. That would be small-minded and mean-spirited. We'll leave that to the liberals.

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Rah! Rah! / Can You Spare a Dime?
I like to write about local issues, not just what's in the national headlines. I figure there are enough bloggers harping on the size of Hillary's ankles. I don't need to do that every day.

But that doesn't mean if you're "not from around here" (St. Paul, Minnesota) you shouldn't pay attention. When I write about a local issue, I'll try to use it as an example to illustrate a larger point.

St. Paul will be electing or re-electing a mayor in November. City council members have been lining up to throw their support behind mayoral candidates. Most aren't supporting incumbent mayor Randy Kelly, the Democrat who endorsed President Bush last fall.

A quote from one of the most liberal members of the council, announcing his support for a challenger to the incumbent Kelly, is instructive is illustrating a key difference in political philosophy between liberals and conservatives. When we ask how the electorate can be so divided, how we the voters can see things so differently, you need only look to an example like this.

In endorsing challenger Rafael Ortega, council member Lee Helgen said, "We need somebody who's going to stand up and fight for St. Paul. Someone who will fight the cuts from Governor Pawlenty and President Bush."

There we see Helgen's mindset: The job of the mayor is to beg for handouts. The success of the city depends on someone else taking care of us.

That was the also the mindset of a previous mayor, Jim Schiebel. He seemed to think that his job was to go to Washington and lobby for more federal money to feed the homeless in St. Paul. Now, feeding the homeless is a worthy and noble cause, but it shouldn't be the top concern of a mayor. If you're intent on making your city a good place for the homeless, all you're going to get is....more homeless people in your city!

But then came Norm Coleman, now U.S. Senator Norm Coleman. For two terms, critics derided Coleman as a "cheerleader," because of his positive, can-do approach to the mayor's office. Coleman didn't focus externally, looking for someone to give St. Paul a handout. Coleman said, This is a great city. The capital city of a great state. We can make it even better. We can do whatever we put our minds to.

And he was ridiculed by the "experts."

But during Coleman's eight years in the mayor's office, a funny thing happened. Coleman's ambitious ideas panned out. The NHL came to town. New housing was built. The riverfront was reclaimed. All the while, property taxes were held steady. Most important, the entire image of St. Paul changed. People from the trendy west side of the metro area, who used to make jokes about St. Paul, started crossing the river. And they started buying houses here. And they moved their businesses here.

The impossible happened: St. Paul became the "in" place to be!

I think being a cheerleader is exactly the job of a mayor. A mayor is a leader, a motivator. It's his job to help the citizenry rise to their full potential. He shouldn't be telling his subjects that their city is a crappy place that depends on handouts.

Republicans Attracting Immigrants
As I mentioned previously, we had political caucuses in St. Paul this week. In discussing the upcoming caucuses with a friend from the other side of the political aisle, I mentioned that for Republicans, city elections usually present a sort of Hobson's choice: we can have whomever we want, as long as he's a Democrat. City elections are officially non-partisan, but after the primary we're usually left with a choice between the endorsed Democrat and a challenging Democrat.

The good thing about that situation, though, is that it forces the voters, whether they be Democrats or Republicans, to really examine the candidates as individuals, and not just vote for them based on their party.

My friend commented that one of the reasons St. Paul is a Democratic stronghold is that the central cities attract immigrants, who tend to vote for Democrats (here's hoping they earn their citizenship first). That may be true, but I think it's a mistake to assume that the Democrats offer the best representation to immigrants. It seems to me that immigrants who come to pursue the American Dream should be in sync with Republican principles of freedom, family values, free enterprise and such.

And indeed, many immigrants have figured that out. The Republican caucus this week was attended by many people from the immigrant Eritrean and Laotion communities.

But many people assume it's all about money. If you have a lot of money, you're a Republican; if you don't, you're a Democrat. I don't think it's that simple.

And I don't buy the idea that Democrats care more about the poor, just because they are more eager to give handouts (using not their own money, given charitably, but money seized from others through taxation).

I, too, want to help the poor. But here's the way I see it: The best way to help the poor is by insisting that they adhere to traditional, conventional American values -- now often seen as Republican values. Stay in school and get an education. Get a job. Get married and be employed before you have children. Obey the law. Work for what you want. Practice delayed gratification.

These are the real keys to success; not a government check.

We Need to Hold Ourselves to a Higher Standard
Yet, people are attracted to the easy way out -- let the government do it. We see this in education. More money. More money. More money. Why do the schools need so much money? Because the schools are now expected to fix our social problems. The real problem in the schools isn't the training of the teachers, how many books are in the library, or how new the computers are. The real problem is that kids are messed up because they come from bad homes.

And the problems -- broken homes, neglected kids, lack of personal responsibility -- are pervasive in all social strata and skin colors.

But as a society, we refuse to demand better from the parents. We have to start saying, This is not acceptable. This is not the way to live your lives and raise your children. But we don't want to be "judgmental," and adults don't want any blame or responsibility, so instead we expect the schools to fix the kids. And when the schools can't do it, the schools get the blame. That way, we don't have to look at ourselves.

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Straight from the (Former) Donkey's Mouth
I've been saying for some time that Democrats are not what they claim to be. Tonight, I heard the same thing -- straight from a self-described lifelong Democrat.

We had political caucuses tonight in St. Paul. These are open, in that you don't have to be a registered party member to attend and participate. I attended the Republican caucus. First there was a general assembly of city-wide Republicans. With speakers and information, this took about an hour. Then we split up into separate meetings by ward.

In my ward meeting, we had a surprise newcomer. He/she (not that I couldn't tell, I'm just guarding his/her privacy) said that he/she was a lifelong Democrat and a Democratic precinct captain. He/she had gone to the Democratic caucus that evening, but walked out and came to see what the Republicans had to offer, because he/she was so disgusted with the hateful, intolerant political rhetoric at the Democratic caucus.

He/she was fed up that a supposed "party of free thinking people who endorse independent thought is so narrow-minded."

Wow. I couldn't have said it better myself.

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