archives: October-December, 2004

Friday, December 31, 2004

President Bush: On-Again, Off-Again "Leader of the Free World"
Yesterday we talked about how President Bush is being criticized by the Harrotes for not reacting properly (Exactly as the critics would have; they're anything buy diverse, tolerant or open-minded -- it's my way or the highway with them.) to the tsunami. Part of the complaint is that the American President is "leader of the free world" and he is in a unique position to speak out and take action.

Funny, when President Bush acted against international terrorism by taking out Saddam Hussein, as only the President of the United States -- and the leader of the free world -- could, most other nations said, "You're not the boss of me!" and American leftists sided with them.

Now, they apparently want Bush to unilaterally take action in the countries hit by the tsunami. Do they want us to send the Army and Navy and just invade them for their own good? Like we did in Iraq? These countries have governments. And despite their warts, we get along fairly well with them. Don't you think maybe we could act in response to what those governments request, rather than Bush coming up with a plan within 24 hours, and then impose it on sovereign nations? Wouldn't that be arrogant and imperialistic?

Gift Cards, Take 2
I also talked about gift cards yesterday. To follow up, there was also a story in yesterday's paper about how lawmakers are looking out for us, with some of them wanting to impose laws regulating gift cards. It seems some gift cards have service fees, expiration dates, or they lose their value gradually over a period of time.

I don't know that we need any more laws here. The best defense is not to buy gift cards that aren't a good deal. In fact, the story noted that the marketplace may be taking care of the problem itself, in that very way.

It seems ridiculous to spend, say, $50 on a gift card, and then the recipient gets only $40 out of it. I've always thought that gift certificates or gift cards should be sold at a discount. After all, stores and restaurants get the money NOW, and they know that more than 10 percent never get redeemed. Also, gift cards and gift certificates serve to bring in new customers, so stores should do what they can to encourage them.

I suppose that works better with some stores than others. If Target sold gift cards at a discount, for instance, people would just buy themselves gift cards to use the next day.

The strangest experience I ever had buying a gift certificate: I bought a $25 gift certificate at a restaurant, and was told it cost $26.75, with the sales tax. I said that was nuts; there wasn't sales tax on a gift certificate. The certificate would be used to pay the sales tax added onto the check at a later date. Did they not charge you sales tax if you paid with a gift certificate? If no, then they were charging sales tax twice on the same food sale. The cashier insisted there was sales tax on gift certificates. They finally relented, but acted as though they were just trying to appease an unhappy customer -- they wouldn't concede that I was right.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Extra: Second Post of the Day

StarTribune Editorial Board Just a Cage Full of Harrotes
There's one of the worst, stupidest, most-illogical, most hate-filled screeds I have ever seen in print in the newspaper today. It comes to us courtesy of the professional, non-partisan journalists of the StarTribune's editorial board.


Read this if you can stomach it. These wonderfully open-minded liberals reveal themselves to be Harrotes. A Harrote is a HATE-filled person who PARROTS stupid cliches about someone they hate. Harrotes can be liberals or conservatives, but the liberal Harrotes, like those at the StarTribune, have the most to answer for, since they so self-righteously call themselves open-minded and tolerant. They are anything but. They are hate-filled, closed-minded bigots.

I heard a caller to a radio show this morning, echoing what was in the Strib's typeset diarrhea. That's when I thought of the "Harrote" concept. Everything she said started from the fact that she hated President Bush. There was no thought or logic to anything she said. And she kept parroting these cliched charges that we've heard over and over. She even dragged up Halliburton! What does Halliburton have to do with anything? Nothing. It's just a hate-filled fighting word to her. She said Bush would care about Indonesia "if there was oil there."

Hey, moron, Indonesia is a member of OPEC. (Facts are irrelevant to Harrotes.)

Anyway, this Strib editorial is stupid in so many ways. For instance, they tie their criticism of the U.S. response to the tsunami to their criticism of the war in Iraq. They seem to think that we shouldn't have spent money on the war; then we could send more to help in Southeast Asia, where 100,000 people may be dead.

Hey, you morons in your ivory tower. Saddam Hussein killed many times that 100,000, while the nations that "hate" us for the war and think we should do more for the tsunami victims did nothing. Well, nothing except profit from helping Saddam sell his oil.

I hope now France, Kofi Annan and others will send their Iraqi oil wealth to Southeast Asia, but I'm not holding my breath.

Maybe if the critics had helped in Iraq, the U.S. would have more money available to send to Southeast Asia.

And their comparison to 9/11 is ridiculous. Yes, nations all said how sorry they were. Then they took our money and continued to fund and harbor terrorists who continue to plot against the U.S. Yeah, they're really morally superior because they went on TV and said how much they cared.

Finally, the Strib makes the comparison of (preliminary) U.S. aid pledges to spending on the upcoming presidential inauguration. They say the inauguration will cost $30-40 million, and suggest that the money could be better spent on foreign aid.

Perhaps. It might be a nice gesture if Bush said, "Skip the inauguration, I'll just have the family over for ribs in the backyard. Send the money overseas."

But here's what the critics don't tell you:

The $30-40 million is less than Clinton spent 8 years ago.

This is mostly private money, not government money.

And can you imagine if the inauguration was called off? Then we'd have the round of news stories about how Bush had ruined the lives of people counting on money from the inauguration. There'd be the caterer and her 16 kids, forced to live in their car because they lost the contract for the inauguration party. "Bush just doesn't care!" we'd hear.

Bush can't win in the media. He knows that. So THAT'S what he doesn't care about. He does what he thinks is right. Screw the StarTribune editorial board. If they want us to care what they think, let them get off their self-righteous pampered asses and actually do something to make the world a better place.

Yes, they've got me pissed off. But that just shows how much "I care."

Before I finish, my brother Dan pointed this out: The editorial talks about how Bush was "shamed" into doing things when he was criticized. Remember those campaign ads that said the worst thing about Bush was that he wouldn't admit when he was wrong? That he wouldn't change course? They should be glad if he is acting in response to their criticism. They should praise him for seeing his mistakes and "growing" as a leader.

But, no. They're just stupid Harrotes.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Gift Cards: A Double Whammy of Cynicism
Last week (Dec. 22, scroll down to read it.) I wrote about my dislike for gift cards -- as in the type that have increasingly replaced gift certificates. I said that the giving of a gift card too often shows that the gift giver doesn't care enough about the recipient to find something better.

A carefully chosen gift card can be a good gift.

But apparently, not everyone is choosing carefully. The latest Christmas-season complaint from spoiled Americans is that they aren't getting gift cards from the stores they really want!!!

Now I'm doubly cynical: about the giver and the recipient.

Gift cards, chosen so that the recipient can pick out whatever he or she wants -- avoiding exchanges and unused, unappreciated gifts -- but still being "not cash," still aren't good enough for some ungrateful recipients! They want to exchange gift cards, too!

A story in the paper today reports on a fast-growing new business: gift card swapping and brokering. Some Web sites serve as middlemen, collecting a fee for helping users exchange gift cards among themselves. Others will purchase your unwanted cards outright. At a discount from face value, of course.

How can I not be cynical? Someone doesn't care enough to find out what little Johnny really wants, and gives him a $50 gift card for Target. Little Johnny doesn't like Target, so he sells the card for $40. What a waste. And what a sad commentary on the current conditions.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Just Can't Wait
I wrote Dec. 20 about how people can't wait to start celebrating Christmas, and then by the time Christmas actually comes, they're sick of it. People are impatient.

Another example is anniversaries such as centennials. Minnesota is starting a year of observances leading up to the 100th birthday of our state capitol building. Then, once the building is actually 100 years old, we'll forget about it. I've seen that over and over with statehood centennials and the like. It seems strange to me. Like a 15-year-old spending a year celebrating that he's going to be old enough to get a driver's license, then turning 16 and saying, "Ah, who cares. I'm tired of driving already."

This month, impatient news organizations have been busy ranking the "top news stories" of 2004. Never mind that 2004 isn't over yet.

I guess that little ol' tsunami that has killed maybe more than 100,000 people doesn't make the list.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Actions Speak More Loudly Than Words
Just thinking out loud here, I wonder how much money and how many men Osama bin Laden has sent so far to help victims of the Southeast Asian tsunami? I believe Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country. I'm sure bin Laden will do all he can to help his fellow Muslims in distress, right? Or does his "helping" Muslims and "defending" the faith only come in the form of killing Americans, who, by the way, have already sent help and pledged millions of dollars?

And to think there are those in America who say President Bush and Osama bin Laden are moral equivalents.

Monday, December 27, 2004

TV People Say the Darnedest Things
Those TV news people are supposed to know what's going on, right? Aren't they smart and on top of things? Certainly smarter than we civilians, anyway, right?

Well, they aren't. So believe what you know, not what they tell you.

Dead White Men Can't Jump to Conclusions
The first example is something I saw Sunday morning. I don't usually see TV on Sunday morning, but Christmas travel had my schedule off. The "Second-Lady," Lynne Cheney was on a show with Chris Wallace. She was plugging her new children's book, which tells the story of Washington crossing the Delaware River to take the British army by surprise. She said it was a Christmas story, not just because the event took place on Christmas, but because Washington and the other Founding Fathers had given us a lasting Christmas present.

By his reactions, Wallace seemed to think this was a really strange idea for a children's book. Which caused me to wonder how the reaction would have been different had his guest been Hilary Clinton plugging a children's book based on a folk tale from a continent-other-than-Europe.

That probably would have been received as the greatest thing since the invention of sliced (but not white) bread.

Then, Wallace steered the conversation away from the book. He noted that one poll found that 22 percent of respondents said the most important factor influencing their recent vote was "moral values." He asked the Second Lady what she thought that meant.

Mrs. Cheney replied that she thought "moral values" was a broad response, including such factors as love of country and patriotism. She noted that the mainstream media often seem to show little regard for American history and the Founding Fathers (you know, those dead white guys). The connection to her book -- and Wallace's accompanying apparent dismissal of it -- was obvious.

Yet it sailed right over Wallace's head, thus proving her point.

Exit Polls Not the Same as the Vote
You know how the media have been criticized for releasing exit poll data while the polls are still open? The criticism is that they may influence whether or not those who have yet to vote bother to go to the polls.

Well, I think they just don't get it.

Last night, the telegenic talking head on channel 5 news was reporting on the election in Ukraine. She reported that exit polls showed challenger Viktor Yushchenko in the lead, but people were continuing to go to the polls and cast more votes, anyway. That's the way she said it, as though she expected people to stop voting when the exit polls showed someone leading. Kind of like a football team pulling the first string quarterback when they're up by six touchdowns.

Sorry, lady, that's not the way it works. Your beloved exit polls don't mean anything. It's only the actual vote that counts.

And it's the same here in the U.S.A.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas!

No Christmas for Iraqi Christians
Merry Christmas, everyone! Be glad you don't live in Iraq. Iraqi Christians have pretty much cancelled Christmas this year, out of fear for their lives. In a story buried (predictably) on the back page of the paper this week, Edmund Sanders (LA Times) reports:

"After a painful year of church bombings, death threats and assassinations, Iraq's 800,000 Christians have all but cancelled Christmas.

"'Officially, we are not celebrating this year,' Said Father Peter Haddad, head of the Virgin Mary Church in Baghdad.

"Fearing insurgent attacks in this predominantly Muslim country, bishops recently announced they would call off the usual Christmas festivals and celebrations. Some churches will also forgo Christmas Eve Mass, an unheard of step even during the Saddam Hussein regime."

And here in the "evil" USA, we're castigated just for being suspicious of Arab Muslims after 9/11. "Shame on you for profiling!" we're told. Better strip search that Swedish-American grandmother; let that young guy who can't speak English and wears a towel on his head pass. Don't want to look biased.

Iraqi Christians are targets because of their association with the American occupiers. So that's understandable, right? Sure, that justifies killing people. In that part of the world, anyway.

Meanwhile, we're supposed to be ashamed of ourselves if we cast a suspicious eye on non-citizen Arab Muslims living in this country. Doesn't the experience of 9/11 warrant that?

I think the U.S. wins the moral high ground in this comparison.

Sanders' story concludes:

"Christian leaders estimate as many as 50,000 Christians have fled the country since last year, mostly to Jordan and Syria."

Now compare that to the whiney Hollywood types threatening to leave the country just because Bush won. Sure makes them look petty.

Football vs. Christmas
The Vikings play the Packers at 2:00 pm this afternoon. A Friday. Christmas Eve.

I think the NFL ought to be ashamed of themselves. Sure, they've played on Christmas Day and Christmas Eve before. But in those instances, the holidays fell on Sunday, the NFL's regular day to play. What really stands out here is that the NFL NEVER plays games on Friday. This was deliberately set up as a Christmas Eve conflict. And rather than start at noon, so it would be over before people go to church and have dinner, they start it at 2:00 p.m. Again, the NFL NEVER starts games at 2:00 p.m. (Minnesota time).

Purportedly, an NFL executive has said, "Don't blame us, the TV networks insist on it."

Seems rather like a hooker saying, "Don't blame me, the customer insisted!"

Don't take their money if you don't want to do their bidding.

But...people who complain about this scheduling need to remember that YOU DON'T HAVE TO WATCH THE GAME! That may seem incomprehensible to some people, but it's true. It is possible for a game to by played and you not watch it.

And that, ultimately, is the answer. If people don't watch the game on TV; if there are empty seats, the NFL and the networks will see that they made a mistake. If we endorse their decision by tuning in, they'll be emboldened to push the envelope some more.

I can hear some of you: "But it's the Vikings against the Packers! I can't miss it!"

I know, and I'll respond: "But it's Christmas Eve!"

Christmas comes only once a year.

The Vikings play the Packers TWICE a year.

Shouldn't that put things into perspective? Don't skip Christmas for a football game.

Be Careful with that Type!
Finally, another of those things that struck me as funny. This ad has been running in the newspaper regularly, and every time I turn the page and see it in my peripheral vision I think: "Why does that woman have a Salvador Dali mustache?"

They should have been more careful putting that type over the photos.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

You're the One With the Problem, Mr. Grinch
I read a Jeffrey Zaslow story about Christmas letters this week. The story talked about how some people resent the letters that they get, sometimes because there's "too much information," so to speak, or sometimes because the letter writers are just too happy.

In the latter category, there's an account of a neighborhood in New Jersey, where people get together to badmouth a letter from former neighbors. The letter is "all about the husband's amazing career, the kids' achievements, the wife's terrific life." According to one of the neighbors, "The basic theme is 'We're so wonderful,'" said neighbor Lou Vaccaro, who in recent years has brought his wife to a neighbor's house for a theatrical reading of the "pompous" letters.

This guy should get a mirror. He's the one with the problem. Did you get that? He and his wife organize a performance to belittle their former neighbors. He intentionally acts in a hateful and mean way, and drags others into it, just because he thinks someone else is too happy with their lives.

Is that his idea of Christmas spirit?

Vaccaro is a jerk. An ass. A Grinch. Even worse, he's proud of it, as evidenced by his participation in this news story.

Someone else being thankful for what they have, and thus being happy, does not in any way diminish the amount of happiness available for you. Some losers like to go around complaining that "They think they're better than me." Usually, the problem is that the one complaining, in this case Vaccaro, is the one who thinks he's not as good as someone else. He's envious. He has low self-esteem. He can't see all the reasons he might have to be thankful and happy. All he can see is that someone else has something he wants. He's jealous.

Vaccaro should examine his own life, instead of being jealous of someone else and transferring that jealousy into envy, hate and ridicule.

Merry Christmas, everyone! Even you, Vaccaro. It sounds like you need it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Gift Cards Sometimes Show You DON'T Care
These days, retailers know that they need to offer gift certificates and gift cards. Gift cards make an easy cop-out gift if you don't know what to buy someone. (But if you know someone well enough to buy them a gift, shouldn't you also know them well enough to know what to buy?) Anyway, I think gift cards are too easily overused. They often seem to say, "I felt obligated to give you something, but I don't care enough about you to find out what you'd like."

Now, you have to use your own discretion here. I'm not saying gift cards can't ever be used. I'm just saying that they are easily abused. Particularly non-specific gift cards. Like a gift card to Target or Cub Foods. That's really just giving cash. Now, if you know the person is in dire straits -- or maybe is a college student -- then that might be a practical and appreciated gift. But if the person is not hard up for money, then you really ought to show you care enough to put some thought into it.

Remember, as I've said before, the connection between Christmas and gifts is this: Christmas is about GIVING gifts, not about GETTING gifts. Don't think that it's enough just to supply a gift, fulfilling your obligation. Put some work into the giving.

So, if you're going to give a gift certificate, be discriminating. Make it a restaurant you know the recipient enjoys, but doesn't go to very often. Better yet, make it a restaurant the recipient has never visited, but you love it, and you're sure the recipient will love it, too. That way, you're not giving just the cost of dinner, you're sharing something you love, and giving the recipient something new to love, too.

Or how about tickets to a play you know the recipient will enjoy? (If the recipient has kids, how about including an offer to babysit, too?) Or a museum? Some other sort of entertainment or recreation that you enjoy? Ask yourself, What do I enjoy, that I'd like (the recipient) to experience, too?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Less a Toy Does, the More a Kid Can Do with It
Speaking of getting bored with new toys, as I did in yesterday's post... (See, there's a theme here, eh?)

Have you ever noticed that the more a toy does, the less a kid can do with it?

What I mean is that if a toy is very complicated and specific, if it lays out a specific scenario for the kid and does all the steps for him, he'll be really impressed at first, then lose interest. For example, suppose a kid gets the Super Action Heroes Command Center with all the bells and whistles. Now, he can have his action figure come in the same door, sit at the same command post and do all the same, pre-arranged things a few times.... and then get bored with it.

On the other hand, if the kid has just the action figure, his playground can be the whole house and the whole yard. His action figure has no limits when it comes to adventures.

Think what a great toy a ball is. A simple ball. A kid can carry it around all day. He can bounce it by himself. He can play with a friend. He can play with several friends. He can play games with his friends, with the ball. The ball has no built-in limits. It doesn't do anything by itself, so you can do anything you want to with it.

What I'm saying isn't revolutionary. I think we all know it inside, even if we don't expressly say it. That's why we're always joking about the kid setting aside the toy and playing with the box.

It also seems like the more toys a kid has, the sooner he gets bored with a new toy. There more toys he has, the more toys he thinks he needs. There seems to be a diminishing return. If the toy isn't new, who wants it? My own kid says he wants to go to Target to get something. I ask him what. He says, "I don't know, just something new."

This "Buckets" cartoon shows what I mean.

And here's another one, for good measure.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Just Big Kids
I'm going to hit some Christmas themes this week. (A procrastinator, me? It's still not Christmas, you know.)

I've been noticing a lot of ways that people never really grow up. They get older, but they still act like kids. One of those ways is that people are impatient. That shows up in the way we act at Christmas time.

It seems people start observing the Christmas season earlier and earlier every year. People can't wait to get started with Christmas, but then before Christmas even comes, you'll hear people saying, "I can't wait until Christmas is over. I'm so tired of it all." Then, they toss out their Christmas tree on the 26th.

What happened to the idea that Christmas STARTED on Christmas Eve and went through New Years, until Epiphany Sunday? That's the traditional 12 days of Christmas. A Christmas tree grower, whose family has been in the business for generations, told me that Christmas Eve used to be the busiest day for selling trees. Now, he says, they close up shop days before the actual holiday.

A local radio station starts playing 24-hour Christmas music at Thanksgiving. Well, they did. Now they actually start around-the-clock Christmas music a week BEFORE Thanksgiving. But Dec. 26, they'll be back to the regular music.

I hear the TV news talking heads talk about the "procrastinators" out doing their Christmas shopping the weekend before Christmas. What's wrong with that? Why is it a badge of honor to be done shopping early? It's as though Christmas shopping is an unpleasant obligation you have to get out of the way. Why not wait until the spirit moves you and you feel Christmasy, then go shopping?

We can't wait for Christmas to get here, but by the time it actually does, we're like little kids already bored with our new toys.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Peanuts in Rice Park? What Could Be More Perfect?
Note: This commentary of mine appeared as the featured editorial in the Highland Villager newspaper that came out this past week.

I was a bit taken aback recently when I picked my Pioneer Press up off the porch and was hit with the news that a group of hard-working downtown boosters don't like the "Peanuts" statues in Rice Park.

The Ross Group, an 11-member women's organization that has worked to beautify downtown St. Paul for more than a decade, has asked the St. Paul city council to relocate the statues to a site they would consider more appropriate. They say that the statues are not in keeping with the historical character and nature of St. Paul's beloved crown jewel of a downtown park. In particular, the group says the comic strip characters clash with the park's statue of novelist and St. Paul native F. Scott Fitzgerald.

At first glance, the "Peanuts" statues might seem out of place. They are, as we Minnesotans say, "different." But I'm surprised that the women of the Ross Group aren't more open-minded. These well-intentioned community activists seem like the sort of progressive, urban sophisticates who would appreciate art in all its forms.

There seems to be some artistic elitism at work here. Ross Group leader Sally Ross told the Pioneer Press that the comic strip characters don't fit Rice Park. "Rice Park is very lovely and old. It's surrounded by the library, the Ordway, Landmark Center. ... The cartoons are out of place."

Yes, the Ordway, the Landmark Center and the Central Library are beautiful buildings and centers of culture. But I wonder if Ross has forgotten something: the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, just four years ago, staged a production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

How's that for irony? Charlie Brown and his friends are high-brow enough to grace the stage of the Ordway, but still considered by some not worthy of display in Rice Park.

Perhaps we just need to broaden our understanding of art and literature. I feel safe in saying that millions more Americans have enjoyed "Peanuts" in its various forms than have ever read a Fitzgerald novel. Likewise, countless more people have been inspired by the eternal message found in "A Charlie Brown Christmas," than have been shaped by Fitzgerald's masterpiece of social commentary, "The Great Gatsby."

Maybe some people wish that were not the case, but it's still the way it is.

Furthermore, the Rice Park statue of Fitzgerald is merely a representation of a dead man. The "Peanuts" characters, on the other hand, are art and literature brought to life. They are the St. Paul-inspired work of Charles Schulz -- which continues to touch millions of both children and adults -- in a hands-on form.

But the Ross Group women seem to think that "Peanuts" is just for kids. Sally Ross told the Pioneer Press that the statues should be moved to Como Park or Harriet Island, near facilities used more by children.

Don't children come to Rice Park? Let's see. What are those buildings that surround it, again? The ones that don't mesh well with the "Peanuts" statues? There's the newly-renovated Central Library, with its large children's section and programs for children. There's the Landmark Center, home to the youth-oriented SteppingStone Theatre, to which my own children have gone on field trips. And then there's the Ordway, also a destination of my children's field trips.

In addition, this coming summer the Ordway will present the fifth annual Flint Hills International Children's Festival, right there by Rice Park!

And as my own eight-year-old was astute enough to point out to me, Rice Park sits directly in a path between what may be downtown St. Paul's two biggest attractions for children: the Science Museum of Minnesota, and the Minnesota Children's Museum.

Rice Park and "Peanuts": What could be a better fit?

Saturday, December 18, 2004

A Shiny-Brite® Example of the Beauty of the Free Market
A story in my Saturday paper caught my eye. It was about Shiny-Brite® Christmas tree ornaments. They were popular in the '40s and '50s, and now they've been reintroduced. What caught my eye was the wonderful example of the power of the free market.

The Shiny-Brite story starts in late 1930s America. At that time, Americans were buying intricate, hand-painted glass ornaments from Germany and Poland. Max Eckardt made his living importing glass ornaments from Europe. Eckardt could see that war was imminent. He knew that would destroy his business. So he knew he needed to find a way to make ornaments in the U.S.

By 1937, he was in business with Corning glass in New York, making glass ornaments on machines that were designed to make light bulbs. By 1939, the mass-produced ornaments were for sale for 39 cents a box (one dozen) in Woolworths stores across the country. Shiny-Brites soon became the ubiquitous American Christmas tree ornament.

It's a great example of the power of the free market, and of what makes America great. One man, acting in his own self-interest -- not at government behest -- identified a need in advance, then found a way to fill it. The result? His business thrived, and American consumers got an affordable product they loved.

How would that have worked out in a centrally-planned economy? It wouldn't have, of course. In such a system, there would have been a shortage of ornaments until an inefficient government program could get up and running. And by that time, the demand may have lessened, and other new supplies may have already come on the market.

The Paradox of Communism
As the previous example showed, the free market holds the power to benefit all, not just the "evil" capitalist. As almost everyone in the world outside of the Democratic Party has figured out by now, communism just doesn't work.

But why not? It sounds like such a good idea, doesn't it?

Well, maybe. But it doesn't work because people aren't perfect. Communism requires people to work not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of others. They have to be altruistic, sharing, and more concerned about society than about themselves. But since people are selfish, lazy, and not particularly altruistic, the system breaks down. Everyone wants to take from the system; no one wants to contribute, since everyone gets the same whether they contribute or not.

The paradox of communism is this: Communism might work if people were perfect. But if people were perfect, there'd be no need for communist ideals, because everyone would take care of everyone else, anyway.

Should Have Tied Up the Tree
Shiny-Brites were re-introduced in recent years by modern-day entrepreneur Christopher Radko. Radko got into the ornament business after his family's tree, decorated with 2,000 mouth-blown European ornaments, tipped over, destroying almost every ornament.

Should have had that tree tied to the ceiling.

Radko traveled to Poland to replenish his ornament supply. When he returned to U.S., he ended up selling the European ornaments to friends when he returned to New York. Discovering a demand, Radko, like Max Eckardt before him, was in the glass ornament business. He even became a glass ornament designer.

Then, in the late 1990s, Radko bought the rights to the Shiny-Brite name (the ornaments had been out of production since the 1970s) and went into production. No WWII this time, but how's that for history repeating itself?

Friday, December 17, 2004

Name That Looney-Toon
Why do so many Hollywood celebrities feel the need to saddle their offspring with strange names? Don't they get enough attention already? Won't the kids have enough problems, already?

In a Nov. 30 story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, staff writer Ellen Tomson wrote about baby names and the newly-revised book "Beyond Jennifer & Jason, Madison & Montana: What to Name Your Baby Now," by Pamela Redmond Satran and Linda Rosenkrantz.

Tomson's story focused on trends in baby names, including, of course, some of the more unusual names that are becoming popular. According to the book authors, you really have to get "out there" these days if you want your child to have a cutting-edge name. "Post-virtue" names are hot, the authors say. "Post-virtue" names, they say, are word names "that set forth the values and ideals of our times." Names like Justice, True, Freedom, or Diversity.

But aside from gagging over some of the far-out baby names being offered, I was really interested in this sentence from the story:

"Names like Trinity and Genesis, reflecting religious influences and right-leaning politics [are] appearing more, too."

Not clear to me was whether that was reporter Tomson's interpretation, or the interpretation of the authors. I emailed Tomson to ask her, but received no reply. I wanted to know, if that assertion came from the authors, did they give any evidence to support it?

You see, it doesn't make sense to me. I'm a religious person with right-leaning politics, and I'd be about the last person to name my kid Trinity or Genesis. Not only would that be silly, it also seems somewhat sacrilegious. I'd think the person who'd name a kid Trinity might be some meth-cooking biker who thinks it sounds tough (like Clint Eastwood in a western, maybe?). And Genesis might be bestowed upon the child of a modern-day, new-age flower child.

At least that's what I'd expect. So I'm wondering how this conclusion was arrived at. Could it be just another case of a liberal newspaper reporter thinking she can speak for and read the minds of those stupid, conservative, religious people, based on her own liberally-biased stereotypes?

Don't know. She didn't respond. So we'll move on.

I would expect religious, right-leaning people to favor traditional, Biblical names. Old Testament names such as Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Joseph, Ethan, and Daniel. Or names of the Apostles, such as Matthew or Andrew. Or maybe names of Christian saints, such as Nicholas or Christopher.

Look at that! That's all 10 of the top 10 "mainstream" baby boy names for 2003, as reported in Tomson's story. How about that? That's interesting.

How about the top 10 baby girl names? Hannah, Sarah, and Abigail come from the Old Testament. The remainder of the top 10 -- Emily, Hailey, Emma, Madison, Brianna, Kaitlyn and Ashley -- are all traditional names of European origin.

A ray of hope, indeed.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Brits Rescue the French Yet Again
This strikes me as funny. Since it's my website, that's what counts. I don't know if someone was intentionally giving the French the needle here, but it sort of looks like it. The French have completed a new bridge, a triumph of both art and engineering. The French are quite proud of their new bridge. But note the quote I've highlighted:

The bridge will serve as a symbol of "a modern and conquering France," (French President Jacques Chirac) said.

Designed by British architect Norman Foster,.....

A symbol of "a modern and conquering France," but they had to get a Brit to figure it out for them! Doesn't sound like France is so modern and conquering after all.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

"Holiday" Update:
Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus. But There's No Christmas.
Merry Christmas!

How weird can it get? This morning, I heard a radio ad promoting holiday shopping at one of the local shopping malls (Burnsville Center). The ad starts out like this:

"Ho, Ho, Ho! What do you want for the holidays?"

It's unmistakably the voice of Santa Claus. Later, the ad even refers to Santa Claus by name. But as far as Burnsville Center is concerned, there is a Santa Claus, Virginia, but there is no Christmas. Just the "holidays."

I'm unaware that Santa has any connection to New Year's Day, Kwanzaa, Diwali, Ramadan, Eid or Hanukkah. Santa's origin, St. Nicholas, is a Christian saint. How can they use Santa, and forget about Christmas?

Neglecting Christmas a Two-Edged Sword
Many stores have decided to not mention Christmas because they don't want to "offend" the very small segment of their clientele that does not observe the holiday (even in a secular fashion). Target this year refused to allow Salvation Army bell ringers at its stores, because some customers were bothered.

This is a two-edged sword. Retailers need to be aware that they also run the risk of offending some members from the bulk of their client group, those who are indeed doing Christmas shopping. I do not advocate boycotts, as some have, against either those who use "Christmas" or those who don't use "Christmas." But it's simply a fact that these decisions regarding "Christmas" could be the factor -- just like rest room cleanliness, availability of sale merchandise, speed of checkout lines, or anything else -- that turns a customer into a former customer.

Here in Minnesota, Target's home and place of birth, the big red retailer's golden reputation has taken a hit.

The Kettle Conundrum
Target seemed to think that customers were bothered by having to pass a Salvation Army bell ringer on the way into the store. I can understand that. I used to be somewhat bothered, too. I was bothered by the stress of having to make a quick decision about what to do. Maybe I'd just given at another store. Should I give again? I didn't want to look cheap and uncaring.

So I found a solution. Here's what I do:

EVERY time I pass a kettle, I put something in.It might be a quarter, but I put something in. That solves the problem. There's no stress because there is no decision to be made. And since I always pitch in, I always feel good. It makes confronting a kettle a pleasurable opportunity, rather than an obligation and a source of stress.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The First Step: Know How to Cast a Ballot
Remember how, in the 2000 presidential election, Gore-backers said that most of the votes cast for Buchanan were really supposed to be cast for Gore, and that the ballot was just too confusing?

This year, there are still Kerry people complaining about Ohio ballots on which no presidential preference was indicated. They, of course, think those ballots should be counted for Kerry.

Yesterday, presidential electors gathered in the 50 state houses to cast their votes in the electoral college. Minnesota's 10 electors -- hand picked by the Democratic Party -- sat down to vote for Kerry, and turned in 9 votes for Kerry, 1 for John Edwards. But that wasn't some sort of protest vote. Afterwards, all claimed to have voted for Kerry. There must have been some sort of mistake, they said.

Are you detecting a pattern here? Maybe Democrats just don't know how to vote, let alone who to vote for. The electors can't even claim that they got off a line and marked the wrong box. They had to hand write in the name of the person they wanted.

Methinks Thou Protests Too Much
Check out this Non Sequitur cartoon by Wiley Miller. This guy really hates Republicans. And apparently, he really thinks he's being oppressed. Here, he says that the U.S. doesn't have an independent press that questions the government. Meanwhile, he is doing just that -- on the comics page, no less! We have such a free and questioning press that you can even criticize the government in the comics! What a country!

But he thinks he has it so rough. Maybe he should go live in Ukraine, then.

Miller has been complaining (in his cartoon) for some time about how you can't criticize the government, because then you will be called "unpatriotic." He thinks that's terrible. But here's what that is: it's the flip side of political correctness. Political correctness is when you can't criticize someone or something because you'll be called an "--ist." Racist, sexist, specist. Whatever. But political correctness from the left has never bothered Miller. Know, as long as he could gore someone else's ox, everything was fine. But when he starts getting it thrown back at him..... Poor baby.

Rich Democrat and kingmaker George Soros has the same mental shortcoming. He said that after Sept. 11, President Bush "managed to suppress all dissent" by declaring criticism "unpatriotic." He then went on to compare the clampdown on opposition to that of the Nazi-occupied Hungary of his youth.

George, old boy, how is it then that I can read these comments of yours right there in the daily newspaper? You are being suppressed. Your problem is that you were used to your side being the only one allowed to express a viewpoint. Now that there are two viewpoints being expressed, you cry foul.

That reminds me of how liberals define bi-partisan: you do what I want.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Central City Should Be a Magnet, Not a Hollow Core
Some good news for St. Paul recently. The HealthPartners HMO announced that it will more than double the previously announced size of a new medical facility already under construction in St. Paul. The new facility, just east of I-35E on the new Phalen Boulevard, will be a "specialty center," staffed with medical specialists.

I took particular note of this development, because it bucks what I've identified as a troubling trend: the central cities losing their role as the magnets that draw people from all around when they need medical specialists, have specialized shopping to do, or want top-notch entertainment.

That's the way it used to work. People might see their family doctor in a small town or suburb, but when they needed to see a specialist, they were sent to "the city," typically to see a doctor in a downtown medical office building. People came from all directions to see the specialists, who were centrally located.

But that has been changing. This hit me hard one day when I was referred to a specialist. I called his office, and was asked which clinic I preferred to see him at. My choices were something like: Woodbury, Wayzata, Burnsville, Roseville, or Eagan. What, no downtown option? I asked. Nope. St. Paulites like me were now expected to make an out-migration to the suburbs. St. Paul was no longer self-sufficient when it came to medical care.

That was a complete turn around.

And it's been happening with many other things. Retail, for example. It drives me nuts that I should have to leave the "big city" to go to the suburbs to shop. That's absolutely backwards. St. Paul has been without a full-line building supply store for a few years now. I'm glad that Menard's has decided to build at the old Knox site.

And how about movie theaters? St. Paul used to have both downtown and neighborhood movie theaters. Now, we are fortunate to still have the Highland and the Grandview, but four screens isn't quite enough for a city of 280,000 people. So St. Paulites travel to the new megaplexes in the 'burbs. Again, that's completely backward from how it used to be -- and how it should be. I'd like to see some smart developer build a new megaplex (as much as I hate them, I have to accept it's the current state of the industry) in the Midway area of St. Paul. How about at Snelling and 94, where the old bus garage was torn down? People from all over the metro area can find their way past there to go to the State Fair or the Saints games. They should be able to find it for a movie.

The danger, when doctors and businesses leave the central city and residents start doing a reverse commute to the suburbs, is that the central city will become a hollow core. I think it's a good thing that St. Paul isn't too big. It's small enough that a neglected, blighted, or underutilized parts of town can be turned around. I've seen a lot of good redevelopments in my nearly 19 years in St. Paul. Mayors Coleman and Kelly have done wonders by pushing economic development and promoting a "Yes, we can!" attitude. The mayor before them suffered from a "Woe is us" mentality. He seemed to see his job as mayor as whining and looking for someone else to solve St. Paul's problems (re: federal handouts). In contrast, Coleman's critics called him a "cheerleader." What's wrong with that? That's the mayor's job. Coleman said, St. Paul is a great city with great people; we can do great things. Some people on both sides of the river mocked him, but he followed through. (Go Wild!)

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Bah, Humbug! It's All About Me!
Back on Nov. 26, I wrote about how silly it is for someone to be offended to receive a holiday greeting for a holiday that the recipient doesn't observe. I wrote that it doesn't make sense for anyone to be "offended," because the seasonal greeting is an expression of goodwill. For instance, it's silly for a non-Christian to be offended if someone says, "Merry Christmas." The correct response, in this situation, is for the non-Christian to say "Merry Christmas to you," since he or she now knows for sure that the other person observes Christmas.

It occurs to me now that this "controversy" over holiday greetings shows just how self-centered we have become. It's all about ME! But the point isn't about getting people to say "Merry Christmas" to YOU. It's about saying "Merry Christmas" to OTHERS. The people who observe Christmas are observing their holiday by giving greetings of goodwill to others.

It's the same way with gift giving. Christmas is about GIVING gifts, not GETTING gifts. But we lost sight of that years ago. Because....

It's all about ME!

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Just How Many Presidents Does One Country Have? or Won't You Be My Neighbor?
I saw a new lawn sign in my neighborhood today. There's a large, hand-painted plywood sign in a front yard along Hamline Avenue, reading "BUSH IS NOT MY PRES." I didn't realize we had a selection from which to choose.

But it occurred to me, what if this guy's neighbor doesn't like this guy's sign? Might the neighbor put up his own sign, pointing next door and reading: "HE'S NOT MY NEIGHBOR"? To which the first guy might say, "Yes I am. live right next door." To which I'd say, "Who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.?"

That's right. And that makes him your president.

Remember, as Donald Rumsfeld might say, you go to work each day with the President you have; not the President you might want or wish you had.

Friday, December 10, 2004

It's Unethical for a Reporter to Create the News
There's been a lot of buzz on talk radio this week about an embedded reported who "planted" a question with soldiers, so they could ask it of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld when he visited Kuwait. The reporter, Edward Lee Pitts, needed to do that to get his question asked, because the event with Rumsfeld was designated not as a press conference, but as a chance for soldiers only to ask questions. In addition, Pitts talked to the officer in charge of the meeting, telling the officer to call on Pitts' guys.

There have been good points made both ways on this, that the reporter acted unethically or that he did not. It seems to depend on how you look at it.

For instance, wasn't the reporter actually creating the news by "seeding" the news conference with this question, which apparently would never have been asked if the reporter hadn't suggested it? So the big news story is that a soldier asked Rumsfeld this question; but that event would never have happened if the reporter had not intervened.

Exactly where do we draw the line in journalistic ethics? For example, suppose a news photographer went to cover an anti-war protest at a college. The photographer found a bunch of bored looking students sitting outside the dean's office. The photographer thinks this isn't very interesting, so he suggests to them that they go into the building, take over, and hang their protest banners out through the windows of the dean's office. Then he'll have a great photo op.

I think we'd all agree that the photographer has acted unethically, and has in fact, created the news.

Bottom line to me is, if the soldier would not have asked Rumsfeld that question, there would have been no "news" to report here. So the reporter created his own story. The story from this news conference should have been what questions the soldiers wanted to ask Rumsfeld. If they came up with that on their own, then fine. (And who knows what soldier's question there wasn't time for, since this one was asked?)

It can be tough to draw a line. Since this reporter was imbedded, he would have had plenty of interaction with the soldiers, exchanging ideas. So if one day, the soldiers had been asking where their armor was, and he had simply said, "Wouldn't you like to ask Rumsfeld?" that seems like an innocent exchange. But from the description of this, it sounds like the reporter tainted the story.

You know what it reminds me of? Some kid wants to see a fight, so he goes and tells the bully that little Billy said something bad about the bully. The bully confronts little Billy, who now genuinely gets peeved at the bully, and a fight ensues. Both say the other one is to fault. But it never would have happened at all if the first kid hadn't set it up.

And I think that was the intention here. Pitts wanted to see Rumsfeld in a fight, so he set him up.

Thursday, December 9, 2004

The "Sacrifice" of Accepting a Lower Salary
The Minnesota Twins were overjoyed late Tuesday night when the baseball team was able to reach a last minute agreement on a new contract with star pitcher Brad Radke. The team will pay Radke $18 million over the next two years.

It is generally acknowledged that Radke could have made several million more by signing with a team in a different city, but he preferred to stay with the Twins, so he made the financial "sacrifice." It's implied that he was doing us Minnesotans a favor.

Meanwhile, Minnesota's Department of Employment and Economic Development Wednesday issued a report on the wages of Minnesota workers. The report also compared Minnesota workers' pay to others in the same jobs nationwide, with some interesting findings.

Some jobs pay better than average in Minnesota. A Minnesota drywall installer, for example, averages $52,537 per year. That's 38.4% better than the national average for that job, $37,967. However, an anesthesiologist in Minnesota averages only $138,952 per year, 25.1% less than the national average of $185,467.

My newspaper today listed half a dozen jobs each that pay significantly more or less in Minnesota than the national average. Even more information can be found at http://www.deed.state.mn.us/lmi/tools/oes/

My point is it's not unusual for jobs to pay better in one place than another. It's not a problem unique to professional athletes. So why don't all the anesthesiologists leave Minnesota for elsewhere? Why don't all the drywall hangers move to Minnesota? There are various reasons, of course. Chief among them is the idea of "home." Most people like to stay near their roots, their families, the part of the country that is familiar to them. If they can earn a living there doing something they like, that's success. It's immaterial whether they could make more money doing the same thing halfway across the continent. They don't want to live halfway across the continent.

While I believe the free market smoothes things out over time, there will always be the sort of disparities shown in this report. Market forces don't work instantly. If Minnesota can't attract enough anesthesiologists, wages will have to rise. And all the drywall hangers in the country can't come to Minnesota to work, there wouldn't be jobs for them all. But if some do, that will also even out salaries in the long run.

Why a baseball player is worth less in Minnesota is unclear. Maybe it's the "small market," maybe it's the stadium, maybe it's just the owner. Regardless, it appears that other factors make Minnesota an appealing enough place to work that a player such as Radke will work here for less money.

Apparently, it's the same for anesthesiologists. If the typical Minnesota anesthesiologist tells his or her boss, "They'll pay me 25.1% more somewhere else; match it or I'll leave," the boss says, "See ya."

Maybe you're saying, "Yeah, but Radke is missing out on MILLIONS!" So what? Isn't $18 million enough to feed his family -- forever? In comparison, an extra $14,570 a year would mean a lot more to an average drywall worker. It might make enough difference that he could send his kids to college so they could become anesthesiologists!

I'm reminded of former Twin Kent Hrbek. When his contract with the Twins expired, Hrbek tested the market to see what it would bear. He had an offer from the Detroit Tigers that would have paid him a few million dollars more than the many millions he could get from the Twins. He turned down the Tigers and resigned with the Twins. People talked about how great that was, that he had turned down all that money to stay with the Twins.

But to me, it made perfect sense. Hrbek was a Minnesota native. He grew up going to Twins games. He loves to hunt and fish in Minnesota. He loves to bowl with friends in a league. For Hrbek, it was a choice of staying in Minnesota, where he had everything he wanted and needed, plus more money than he could spend, or moving to Detroit, where he would have more money than he could spend, plus a little more, but would have to live in Detroit.

To Hrbek, I think that was a no-brainer.

So why don't more professional athletes follow Hrbek's example? Why do so many jump ship for the highest bidder, while anesthesiologists and drywall hangers don't? For one thing, it's easier for the athletes to do so; people come looking for them. But also, it's something else (besides money) that a lot of pro athletes have too much of -- ego. They want the top dollar so they can have bragging rights and can satisfy their egos, whether or not they end up playing where they really want to.

Wednesday, December 8, 2004

No Need to Be a Smart Shopper When Someone Else Foots the Bill
I find that column ideas are everywhere. (Finding time to sit and write them down is the hard part.) Last week I accompanied my third-grader on a field trip to the Mill City Museum on the Minneapolis riverfront at St. Anthony Falls. The trip was good for at least two columns.

My first observation concerns lunch. Some kids had brought their own lunches from home. Most of the kids, who usually have hot lunch at school, were given bag lunches provided by school food service.

What a waste! There was so much uneaten, unwanted food thrown out. It was terrible! Every kid was given a bag with the same assortment of food, and being the picky eaters that they are, most kids found at least one item that they didn't want to eat. Most of that ended up in the garbage. (I hadn't brought a lunch, so I managed to put a couple of unwanted apples to good use.)

Now, I've observed before where the school does try to prevent too much waste. I've seen the kids encouraged to put items they don't want into a box to go back to school. But being kids, it doesn't work that smoothly. Many items are opened up and rejected, or just one bite is taken. Those can't be saved.

I know it's unrealistic to expect school employees to micro-manage the lunch of every student. But there's someone else who can, someone who has mostly absolved him/herself of the responsibility -- the parents. My kids usually bring lunch from home. My wife and I have been frustrated by them not eating the food we send with them. We want them to eat, and of course we don't like throwing money away. So what did we do? We adjusted. We learned what they will eat, and how much of it. It's gotten to the point now where they seldom waste any of their lunches, because we've put the effort into being responsible with our resources.

But when the lunch responsibility is turned over to the school, the parents no longer are involved. And frankly, they don't care if food is wasted. Because they aren't paying for it. (OK, sure they are, through their taxes, but they don't see the direct connection, so they don't do anything about it.) And the school staff aren't paying for it, either. It comes out of the school budget, not out of their pockets. They lack the economic self-interest to change things.

That's the way it is when someone else foots the bill. The consumer no longer feels compelled to be a smart shopper. Higher costs and waste are the inevitable result.

And if you think that amounts to a lot of wasted money in school lunches, just take a look at our health care system.

Monday, December 6, 2004

Signs Show Some People Have "Issues"
Very interesting story by Bill Salisbury in Monday's St. Paul Pioneer Press. Salisbury reports that most political lawn signs came down soon after the election (see my own thoughts on leaving lawn signs up, in my Nov. 23 post farther down the page), but some are still up, mostly in Minneapolis and St. Paul. And almost all of those are Kerry signs, Salisbury says. (Of course, most of the signs that were up before the election in St. Paul and Minneapolis were Kerry signs.)

Salisbury reports on four Kerry boosters, and boy oh boy, three of them really "have issues," as the saying goes. Another common thread is that it sounds like none of the three has what you might call a "real job." One is a pet nanny, another a film maker, and the third a peace activist. (The fourth one, the one who seems more grounded, is a computer programmer.)

Pet nanny Kay Olson Roskaft has President Bush all figured out in her own little world. "He thinks he's the Messiah, and he only listens to the Christian right, not to reasonable Christians. I think he's leading the country down the path to doom."

The Messiah, you say? I don't remember hearing that claim. At least he doesn't think he's the first Black president, like his predecessor did.

Film maker Marilyn Wall Jelinek said she still has her Kerry sign up because "I'm unwilling to drop it. It doesn't feel like it's over or it's time to put it away." She will leave the sign up while she decides "where to go from here."

I'd suggest you go back to your pre-election life. There will be another election soon enough.

Jelinek also worries that Bush and his conservative Christian supporters have "changed American politics to the point where it's beginning to fell like a theocracy, rather than a democracy."

You know, if Kerry had won and people went around complaining about how Kerry's Black supporters or gay supporters or some other group that overwhelmingly backed him were ruining the country, those people would be labeled bigots. But I guess it's OK to hate conservative Christians.

Finally, peace activist Judy Miller says her Kerry sign will stay up "forever. I'm so mad that Kerry isn't our president and Bush is back in."

The way these folks refuse to accept the outcome of the election, they seem like a left-wing version of those right-wing kooks who hide out in "compounds" in Montana.

Miller also is upset that she and her children worked so hard on the Kerry campaign "and we have nothing to show for it." But she's absolutely wrong. She helped Kerry win Minnesota. She did her part. She's not responsible for the rest of the country.

I, on the other hand, accomplished nothing with my Bush sign. He still lost Minnesota. Bush may have been re-elected, but I had no part in it.

Who's Obsessed with Morals and Values?

Right after the election, we started hearing about how Bush was re-elected by people voting for "moral values." But who was it saying that? It was the liberal Kerry supporters putting words into the mouths of the Bush voters.

Once again, the liberals and the media defined the terms of the discussion. The liberals said people voted for Bush because of abortion, gay marriage, etc. Then they started in with, "So you think you're more moral than I am, do you?" No, actually, you're the one who brought it up.

Syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman wrote, "The Ayatollah wing of the Republican Party has insisted that their opposition to issues like same-sex marriage and abortion put the president back in office. That's their story and they're sticking to it."

Actually, Ellen, I think that's YOUR story, and you and your comrades are sticking to it and repeating it so that it becomes as good as fact. That's the Big Lie. As I recall, the Bush campaign was about national security, lower taxes and economic recovery. If people judged Bush a leader more in tune with their values, then so be it. That's nothing to apologize for. But it wasn't the focus of the campaign.

Bush and Wellstone, Strange Bedfellows

To me, the one great redeeming quality of the Sen. Paul Wellstone story is that he was a grass roots candidate. He wasn't created by the party machinery or backed by big business interests. His power came from the people.

It seems to me that George W. Bush is also a grass-roots candidate. Sure, he may have had the traditional party and big-business support (At least as the incumbent -- but Wellstone garnered all the traditional Democrat power-bloc backings once he was an incumbent, too.), but what are we hearing about why he won re-election? We keep hearing about "morals" and "values." But were any of the traditional king-makers preaching to us about morals? I don't think so. I think the people -- the regular everyday people of those "red states" -- could see for themselves the differences that made George W. Bush the better choice.

I think that's how Wellstone got elected -- people ignored all the "experts" and decided that he was an upstanding guy that they wanted to put into a leadership position. The same with Bush.

Bush and Wellstone. Now those are strange bedfellows.

Saturday, December 4, 2004

Da Train! Da Train!
The final segment of the Hiawatha light rail line opened today. Now people can ride the rails from downtown Minneapolis all the way to the airport and the Mall of America. I hope that thing works out. Almost a billion dollars to build it and ongoing operating subsidies -- yikes! Yet, the Met Council, the non-elected regional governmental body that operates it, is getting good PR mileage out of touting ridership levels that exceed "projections."

Big deal. They can project whatever they want. I'd be impressed if ridership levels exceeded what was projected to make the thing pay for itself, but that's not the case. (see my Aug. 19 column for more on this)

But most taxpayers are less discerning. A couple days ago I had on a music station in the morning, with the typical "happy talk" morning show hosts. When the train was mentioned in their very brief newscast, the hosts answered with, "I hear that's a big success! Yes, twice as many riders as they expected!"

It's scary to think that for many people, uninformed happy talk like that will make up the sum of their knowledge on the issue.

Here's one way to look at the impact of the train. Now, when a downtown Minneapolis company wants to send one of their employees out of town, they can send him or her off to the airport with a taxpayer-subsidized train ride. The company can save some money. Meanwhile, the cab driver who used to carry that business traveler and earn a fare to help support his family is out of luck.

Government using our tax money to provide business with a service they previously were perfectly willing to pay for? Sounds like a scheme from those big business-loving Republicans. There's some irony for you, because the train is definitely the liberals' baby.

Friday, December 3, 2004

Merry Christmas! Pioneer Press Editorial Garners Feedback
On Thanksgiving Day, I was honored to have an essay of mine appear as a guest opinion column on the editorial page of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The topic of the essay: the use of the euphemism "holiday" to avoid mentioning specific holidays by name. Click here to read my essay.

I received quite a bit of feedback -- almost all positive. Here's some of what my readers had to say:

Beverly of St. Paul reported that she wears a button that tells the world: "I'm Christian. Please say 'Merry Christmas.'"

Former St. Paulite Jeanette, now living in Jax Beach, Florida, reported that she is attempting to do her Christmas shopping at stores that actually mention Christmas in their Christmas shopping ads. She said so far she had found only one: Michael's Crafts. Jeanette, you might check if there's a Watson's store near you. I think it's a Southern company. The seller of hot tubs, pool tables and all things rec room has been running ads here in the Twin Cities that not only mention Christmas shopping, they close with the pitchman saying "Merry Christmas from Watson's!"

E.R. of Oklahoma City reported that my column had been forwarded in email to him or her. I guess these days you never know how far your ideas might travel.

Garland stated that we need to put Christ back into Christmas, that the holiday is about more than Santa and shopping. I agree. But one thing at a time. Christians need to stress this among themselves, but my point was merely that government and secular society shouldn't pretend that Christmas doesn't exist. If we demand that they include Jesus, too, they'll drop the holiday like a hot potato.

Finally, Robin of Rosemount introduced a new twist. Robin, a Druid, said that since Druids and Pagans use an evergreen tree in celebration of the winter solstice, calling the downtown evergreen trees "holiday" trees should be seen as being inclusive of more people than just Christians, rather than as a slight to Christians, as I had interpreted it. Interesting. I hadn't thought of it that way. But I doubt that's what the city had in mind, either.

Thursday, December 2, 2004

Downingworld News Network

Butter Plant Fire a Blessing to Some
While the German-Americans in New Ulm may consider last night's butter plant fire a disaster, some Minnesotans are counting their blessings.

Proving once again that our strength is in our diversity, thousands of Scandinavian-Americans living in Minneapolis are looking forward to Saturday morning, when the butter-enriched flow of the Minnesota River is expected to reach the Twin Cities. Petersons, Johnsons, Olsons, Andersons and their Nordic brethren are expected to descend en masse to the river to try their luck at catching that seasonal Scandinavian delicacy, butter-dipped fish.

Told that the Minnesota River is heavily polluted, and any fish he catches might smell bad and be unfit for eating, Nels Swenson, who has lived in the Lyn-Lake neighborhood for 43 years with his wife Dorothy, quipped, "You's never tried lutefisk, has ya?"

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

AIDS Battle Hampered by Mixed Messages
Today is WORLD AIDS DAY. I noted that when I looked at today's paper, so I decided this would be a good time to share some of my thoughts on AIDS.

The battle against AIDS has been hamstrung by mixed messages since the beginning. The culprit? Our old nemesis political correctness.

I'm dating myself here, but I remember AIDS before it was AIDS. (Heck, I remember when STDs were known as VD.) It would have been late 1982 or early 1983. I was a college sophomore, and I read a lengthy story in Rollingstone magazine detailing a new health threat. The disease was being called GRID -- Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. It was being treated as a disease affecting only gay men.

Well, that wasn't politically correct. So soon it was known as AIDS, and we were being told that it wasn't just a "gay" disease, anyone could get it.

That got people's attention. But it also caused a sort of backlash. People feared they might catch it if they associated with gay men. Gay men became social pariahs (not that they didn't have enough problems already).

So then the message pendulum swung back the other way. You can't catch AIDS from casual contact, we were told. You won't get it from shaking hands, sharing a drinking glass, or even kissing someone who carries the virus.

Oh, OK, most people thought, then I don't really need to worry about it.

So then people weren't as concerned, and the virus started to spread more among heterosexuals, many of whom now felt reassured that it really was just a gay disease.

Meanwhile, AIDS went on to become an epidemic in Africa, and now is doing the same in Asia.

That's where Jay Lee comes in. Lee wrote an opinion column that appears in today's St. Paul Pioneer Press. Lee is working in India, doing AIDS-related research. He reports terrible situations that result as men visit prostitutes, become infected, then infect their wives, who may pass the virus on to their children. It's a terrible, terrible scenario.

Still, I bristle somewhat at this excerpt from Lee's column:

"Studying AIDS just a year ago at Duke University, it seemed to me that we might win the war on AIDS. The stigma was breaking and the devastation in sub-Saharan Africa was so severe that the world seemed jolted into resolve that we would fight back. Once the tide was stemmed in Africa, we thought, AIDS would be at the beginning of an end."

What I take exception to is the idea that "WE might win the war" and that "WE would fight back."

To me, AIDS prevention is a do-it-yourself project. It's very simple. Don't do drugs, don't have sex with anyone but your spouse, and you've held your part of the line.

But how am I supposed to keep others from contracting the virus, if I'm not allowed to impose my own sense of morality on others? It's up to each individual to conduct himself or herself so as not to contract or spread the virus. I can't do it for anyone else.

Lee may be right that in other parts of the world especially, there is need for education and support to help people overcome cultural factors that facilitate the spread of the AIDS virus. But right here in the U.S., I think it's mostly a case of people not wanting to be responsible for themselves. They want someone else to protect them.

That's why, on World AIDS Day, you'll find people ignoring personal responsibility and protesting that the government should do more to prevent the spread of AIDS. Find a cure! Pass out more free condoms!

Now compare that to the messages we hear on the annual anti-smoking day. Do we have protesters in the streets, blaming the government for not spending enough to find a cure for lung cancer? Do we hear people demanding the government distribute low-tar cigarettes?

No. The message is clear: Don't smoke. It'll kill you. Why can't we give the same message about the causes of AIDS transmission?

Monday, November 29, 2004

Liberals Can't Seem to Keep Their Politics Out of Anything
Some liberals like to go on and on about how "divisive" President Bush and the voters who re-elected him are. (I think their definition of "divisive" is "anyone who disagrees with me," just like they define "bipartisanship" as "you do what I want.")

Maybe the country wouldn't seem so divided to them if they didn't have to interject their own politics into EVERYTHING. Especially if they work as journalists at major daily newspapers. Yes, it's time once again to visit the topic of liberal media bias.

To me, liberal bias in the mainstream news media is a given. It's obviously there. But it's not some sort of conspiracy. There's not some master plan, wherein everyone says "Let's report the news wrong, so that we can advance our liberal agenda." It's just that the overwhelming majority of news people are liberals. Surveys bear that out. And try as they might, they can't set their personal views completely aside.

Their personal views affect their choices regarding what to report and how to report it. Their personal views affect whether they think something is a "big deal," and report it thusly. Their own personal views affect what terms are used and how an issue is framed for discussion. There is really nothing that can be done about this. All people see the world through their own eyes and minds, so a liberal reporter will see the news through a liberal's eyes. Sort of like if I was hired to work on the staff of a rap music magazine. You don't think that my pre-existing view that rap is missing one thing -- the "c" in front of it -- would affect my album reviews?

But that's the sort of bias that can't really be helped. It's unintentional. It's due to us all having opinions. The only way to combat it is to get more conservatives into the news business, to help balance things out. But journalism seems to be a calling that mostly attracts liberals.

Way too often, though, the liberals also interject overt bias into the "news." For instance, the Pioneer Press used to drive me nuts with some of its non-political columnists. Former columnist Jim Walsh, who used to write (well) about popular music, couldn't resist occasionally throwing in a jab at Republicans, totally unrelated to the music topic at hand. Religion columnist the Rev. Clark Morphew (who has since been promoted to a heavenly byline) sometimes did the same.

But the worst of the lot was Brian Lambert, who may still be with the paper, but no longer writes his broadcast media column. I enjoyed Lambert's take on radio and TV goings-on, but I was extremely annoyed that he couldn't write about something as banal as the new fall TV shows without interjecting a slam at Christians and Republicans.

As I noted, those three instances are all part of the past, but I have a couple of recent examples to add.

I recently emailed an editorial page writer at one of the major Twin Cities dailies, in response to a non-political column she had written. The topic was light-hearted and dealt with a slice-of-life issue. NOT politics. My email to her built on the topic, also in a light-hearted manner.

So I was very surprised when she answered my email with a message that included a slam at "the entire Bush cabinet." Where did that come from? Out of left field, I guess. Why would she do that? Did she assume that I was also a Bush hater, since she probably thinks that only illiterates voted for the President? Did she recognize my name and know from my writings (I'm probably giving myself too much credit) that I'm a Bush supporter? If so, then isn't she being "divisive" trying to pick a fight like that? Why would she respond that way to my civil correspondence? Or, did she not know and not care what my political views are, and she just decided to take a shot at Bush anyway? Again, there's the divisiveness for you. That may be the most unforgivable scenario of the three.

The final example I have for you was found in yesterday's Pioneer Press. It involves Beth Gauper, who writes on travel and outdoor recreation. Gauper wrote a piece on the importance of public spending to preserve natural spaces and create good outdoor recreation opportunities for the public. Gauper made a good argument. We should appreciate the outdoors and recognize that protecting nature is of long term value.

Here are two well-written, almost-lead paragraphs from her story. They make her case well:

"Everywhere I go, I see what public money has bought us: A superb collection of parks and forests. Clean lakes and rivers lined with recreational trails, fishing piers and public boat launches. Well-maintained highways. The best bicycle-touring trails in the nation.

"You know that glad-to-be-alive feeling you get walking through a hushed forest in fall or along the gorge of a North Shore river? I've never gotten that by saving a few bucks on my taxes."

She could have had me eating out of the palm of her hand, had she led with those two paragraphs. But she couldn't restrain herself. She had to interject her own politics. Regardless of the facts. Those two compelling paragraphs came immediately after this loaded lead:

"I'm always amazed, traveling around this beautiful region, to hear that some people don't want to pay taxes."

That's a liberal cliche, and it's wrong. The debate in our political system -- and at the polls -- is not about paying taxes versus not paying taxes. We have agreement that we should and will pay taxes. The debate is merely over the exact RATE of taxation. The rate of taxation is completely arbitrary. There is no scientific law that dictates the "right" tax rate. Furthermore, the two sides in the debate aren't even very far apart in what tax rate they would recommend. But I repeat, there is no one pushing for NO taxes.

Evidently, Gauper thinks our taxes should be higher so we can spend more on public amenities. She's entitled to her opinion, and maybe she's right. But she exhibits a narrow-minded lack of respect for other opinions. Writing about paying taxes as a way of "giving back" for what you've received, she states:

"That's a foreign concept to the Taxpayers League, who have hearts two sizes too small and wallets two sizes too big."

Who appointed her God? If someone has a different opinion, she can judge them rich and greedy? I wouldn't presume to make such judgements about another group or its members. But maybe that's just me -- not narrow-minded and full of envy?

After a side trip into railing on behalf of increased spending on the public schools (Where did that come from?), Gauper got back on track, singing the praises of volunteers, wilderness areas, philanthropists, and trails. Good. Good. She even worked in American Indians, and how non-Indian Minnesotans should thank the state's original inhabitants.

But she couldn't leave well enough alone. She had to work in a parting shot.

"Now it's 2004, and yet another Minnesota politician is trying to bleed the Indians, demanding that they pay $350 million for the right to continue operating casinos."

Wrong! She apparently refers to Gov. Pawlenty's (misguided, in my opinion) attempt to get some "revenue sharing" directed to the state from the Indian casinos. There is no demand of payment in order to continue operating the casinos. The state has no power to shut down the casinos. If they don't accede to Pawlenty's proposal, they are free to go on operating as before. They already have the right to continue operating INDEFINITELY. That fact lies at the heart of Pawlenty's (misguided) attempt to share a piece of the action.

But, why let a silly thing like facts get in the way when you've got an axe to grind -- I mean, when you're an objective journalist -- right?

What's really a shame here is that most of what Gauper wrote is very good. I'm reminded of the old saying, "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." If she had stifled her urges to pontificate politically, she would have actually been more effective. I could have read her piece and been reminded of the importance of pooling our money to protect the natural environment we share. Instead, she chose to go on the offensive, which immediately causes conservatives like me to get our backs up in defense. And I'm afraid that means that her message was likely lost on the very people she most wanted -- and needed -- to reach.

(One more thing: Anyone "willing to pay more for a better Minnesota" [see my August 9 post] is free to do so. Just write your check to the state or a private organization of YOUR choosing. Choice is good, right?)

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Human Nature: We're Never Satisfied
We're never satisfied, are we? Take me, for instance. We added a dishwasher to our kitchen last winter. I'd always been responsible for washing the dishes by hand. So I should be thrilled, right? I should be thinking of how easy I've got it. But no, it's that human nature. It didn't take me long to catch myself thinking, "Rats! I've got to unload the clean dishes before I can put these dirty ones in!" Silly isn't it? But that's the way we are.

I've had that observation on my topic list for some time, and on Thanksgiving Day it all came together. Economics columnist Edward Lotterman, writing in the St. Paul Pioneer Press that day, talked about how well off present day Americans are. But he noted that people still complain about the challenges of modern life. However, given the chance, few of us would switch places with our grandparents or parents, because we know we really do have it better.

Still, Lotterman writes: "While such comparisons may be consolation to some, it is not to many others. Economist long argued that while human needs are finite, human wants are not. Even as consumption levels rise, people still want more. Few achieve true serenity and acceptance of what we have."

Lotterman notes that people's sense of fulfillment and satisfaction varies only slightly with their level of absolute consumption: "The proportions of people expressing satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their level of living are not very different in New York City compared to a village in the Peruvian sierra, even though the absolute level of use of goods and services may be 50 times greater in Manhattan than in an Andean village."

Once again, it seems that human psychology trumps straight economics. Human nature explains why so many see the Thanksgiving holiday not as a day to appreciate what they have, but as an excuse to accumulate more. (See the previous two days' entries, if you haven't done so already.)

The third part of this that helped bring it all together was this "The Buckets" cartoon that also appeared in the Thanksgiving Day paper:

Fair Trade Begins at Home
I've been hearing more and more about "fair trade" coffee. This is coffee that is certified to have come from a South American coffee farmer who was paid a fair price for his beans.

I'm all for fair pay. But I think there's something odd about the growing interest in making sure a farmer in another country is being paid fairly, while right here at home we're calling for an end to "subsidies" that bring "fair" prices to American farmers who produce our milk, bread, cornflakes, sugar and meat.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Vast Prosperity Day
Today is Vast Prosperity Day. What better epitomizes the vast prosperity of our nation better than the shopping orgy that occurs on the Friday after Thanksgiving? We have both the prosperity to give most people a day off with pay, and the prosperity for people to spend their day off in conspicuous consumption. (Fun fact: the phrase "conspicuous consumption" was coined more than a century ago by Minnesota economist Thorsten Veblen, in his "Theory of the Leisure Class.")

Which Holiday Is It?
Yesterday, I was honored to have an essay of mine appear as a guest opinion column on the editorial page of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The topic of the essay: the use of the euphemism "holiday" to avoid mentioning specific holidays by name. Click here to read my essay.

"Merry Christmas" To All
I'd like to follow up today with another "Christmas" topic: the idea that we can't say "Merry Christmas" to one another, for fear that the person we are saying it to might not celebrate Christmas.

Hogwash, I say. Look, if you KNOW that the other person doesn't celebrate Christmas, then you can restrain yourself. And try to be aware that not everyone does celebrate Christmas. That's just showing consideration for your neighbors. But if I say "Merry Christmas" to someone, and that person doesn't observe Christmas, what is the harm? I've merely offered an expression of goodwill. Why should that "offend" someone? Likewise, if someone wishes me a "Happy Hanukkah," I've no reason to be offended. I'll say "Thank you. And Happy Hanukkah to you!" That would go for any religious holiday greeting I might receive. (Well, with the possible exception of a holiday greeting from a Satanist. But then, a Satanist wouldn't engage in well-wishing, would he?)

But since we don't wear religious labels on our foreheads, we don't necessarily know the religion of the people. And don't try to guess. That's pretty iffy. For example, while many of the recent arrivals to the American shores may be non-Christians, don't assume that to be a fact. Many recent arrivals are Christians who have escaped persecution for their faith (in particular, many from the African continent). Does that sound familiar to anyone? Class? Anyone? Anyone remember American history? The Pilgrims and all that?

The same goes for other religious holiday practices -- don't take offense when none is intended. A few years back, I recall reading one of the advice twins (Ann or Abby), who was asked a Christmas gift giving question. A girl wrote to say that every year she made Christmas gifts and gave them to her friends. This year, she had a new friend, who was Jewish. She asked whether she should give a Christmas gift to her new friend.

The advice she received was this: Ask your friend whether you should give her a gift.

That's nuts. It misses the point entirely. Christmas is about GIVING gifts, not RECEIVING gifts. By accepting the Christmas gift, the Jewish girl would merely be recognizing the friendship and helping her friend observe her holiday. Besides, isn't a teenager who is the only one of the group not to get a gift going to feel slighted?

But this works the same way for anyone. Suppose my neighbor is a Semaphorian (a worshipper of stoplights). And suppose one of his religious practices is that every April 1, he helps his neighbor cross the street, as an expression of goodwill. Who am I to refuse him? It would be rude and downright unneighborly of me to refuse his well-intended gesture.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Thanksgiving is Not About Shopping
Doesn't anyone remember the point of Thanksgiving? It's not even enough just to spend the day planning Friday's shopping orgy, now the stores are open all day on Thanksgiving, for a "One Day Sale."

Here's a piece I wrote last year for the St. Paul Pioneer Press' Bulletin Board feature:

Here it is, Thanksgiving time again. The day when we count our blessings and give thanks for all the bounty bestowed upon us. Then retire to the sofa to watch football games loaded down with commercials advertising all the things we just have to have in order to make our miserable lives complete. Meanwhile, we'll be reviewing the two-inch thick stack of ads that was in the Thanksgiving Day paper (having already memorized the one-inch thick stack that was in Wednesday's paper) in preparation for Friday's day-long buying/hording spree.

This year, couldn't we all take the time for just a little sincerity on Thanksgiving Day? Before the holiday is completely transformed from a day of thanks into a celebration of consumerism?

It seems as though most of us have it so good, we can't even see how good we've got it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Stop the Presses! I Agree with Bill Clinton and Ellen Goodman!
Hard as it may to believe, I recently found myself agreeing with former president Bill Clinton and wacky newspaper columnist Ellen Goodman on the very same day!

Reading about the opening of Clinton's presidential library, I read that the former president reminded the audience that blended elements of the country's major political philosophies.

"America has two great dominant strands of political thought ... conservatism, which at it's very best draws lines that should not be crossed, and progressivism, which at its very best breaks down barriers that are no longer needed or should never have been erected in the first place," he said.

That's a really good way of summing it up. (Except for the "progressivism" euphemism; just call it liberalism.) Our political system functions on a sort of back-and-forth, give-and-take, adversarial process. And we need both sides. A government of ONLY conservatives might be almost as dangerous as a government of ONLY liberals. As Clinton points out, the liberals are constantly looking for change and new things, while the conservatives try to keep the nation anchored to a tried and true foundation.

We need both perspectives. By hearing all the information, all the views, we hope to arrive at the best solutions. That's why I took the take I did on the former Senator Paul Wellstone. It was very rare that I could agree with the late senator policy-wise, but I thought a deliberative body like the Senate was better for having him in it. He couldn't impose his vision of America all by himself, but he could make sure some different views were aired. He certainly wasn't a typical politician, and that I respected about him.

But note that Clinton said "at its very best" about both philosophies. That still leaves room for a lot of filler.

Meanwhile, in Ellen Goodman's column, she referred to "the impossibly misnomered partial-birth abortion." For once, I have to agree. That's not a very good name for a procedure where a baby is delivered feet-first until just the head remains inside the mother, at which point the baby's brain is suctioned out. Partial-birth abortion? Puh-leaze! How about we call it infanticide?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Election Is Over; Take Down Those Signs
Check out this cartoon that appeared in the funny pages (not on the editorial page) November 22. The cartoonist must be having trouble accepting the election outcome. But it helps illustrate an issue I'd like to talk about.

Here's my two-cents worth: When the election is over, take down the campaign signs. Whether your guy won or lost, nothing good can come of leaving them up. I took mine down the morning after the election. I even thought of taking them down at 8:00 pm election night -- poll closing time -- but it was cold, dark, raining and I thought it might be hard to dislodge the Bush sign that I had hammered into the ground, to prevent it from being stolen like the first one I put up.

But like I said, you can't win leaving the signs up. If your guy won, then neighbors who came out on the losing end may feel that you are gloating, or rubbing it in, like the cartoonist feels. (In my case, that would be 75 percent of my neighbors, according to the St. Paul returns.) If your guy lost, then you look like you're refusing to accept the election outcome, and disrespecting the duly-elected winner.

I think the cartoonist is too quick to judge someone else's motivation. Especially for a liberal. I thought liberals were tolerant, non-judgmental, open-minded, all that stuff. But he evidently has no reservations about judging a Bush supporter's motivation, and assigning malice to the action.

If we're allowed to read other people's minds and pass judgement like that, then what might we say about someone who still has a Kerry sign up? Is that person advocating overthrow of the government? Maybe we should charge him with sedition. But no, I won't go that far. I guess I'm just more open-minded and tolerant of free speech than the cartoonist is.

There's also an example here of how people see what they want to see. And what they want to see, unfortunately, is all too often something to get upset about. I've heard people complain that it's only the Kerry signs that are still up, while at the same time other people are claiming that it's only the Bush signs that are still up. There are some of each, of course. But too many people, the cartoonist, for example, only see what they want to see -- something to take offense from. It was the same way with the lawn sign theft stories. "Only the Kerry signs are being stolen!" one group cried. "Only the Bush signs are being stolen!" the other group cried.

Do me a favor. If you've still got a campaign sign up, take it down. Especially if the guy is no longer alive.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Happy Birthday to my brother Dan!

Going to the Movies Not What It Used to Be
I don't get out to the movies very often, so when I do go, it's not just about seeing a particular picture, it's about GOING TO THE MOVIES. I want that movie-going experience. Sadly, that movie-going experience is getting harder and harder to come by. And anyone younger than I am probably doesn't even have a clue what I mean.

It used to be about more than the movie. People went to the movies because it was exciting. The theater was a fancy, exciting place. There were bright lights. Well-dressed people. You'd likely see someone you knew. But these days, it seems like the only reason to go to the movie theater is because you don't want to wait for it to come out on video. The movie-going experience is gone. Heck, they don't even put real butter on the popcorn anymore.

Over the years, as each theater has been subdivided into more auditoriums, the screens have gotten smaller and smaller. Meanwhile, people's TVs -- or home theaters, if you will -- have gotten larger and larger. For many people, going to the movie theater may be a come-down from their own basement or living room. I'm not the only to think of that. Check out this Bizarro cartoon.

And another thing that's different: movie-going used to be more of a communal experience. You'd line up and buy your tickets, and maybe see some people you knew, going to the same show. Afterwards, you'd see other people you knew on your way out. When you saw those people again at work or school on Monday -- or maybe at church on Sunday -- you could talk about the movie.

But now, people arrive at the multiplex all day long, they disperse into various auditoriums, and they have no contact with each other. If they do see each other, they may have seen different movies, and they've nothing in common to talk about.

I know, I'm living in the past again. But that's why I like to go to the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis. Built in 1948, the Riverview isn't retro, it just hasn't changed since it was last remodeled in the 1950s. It has one big screen, and an auditorium that seats 750. Tickets are $2-$3.

And here's the most important part: REAL BUTTER ON THE POPCORN!!!!!

Check out www.riverviewtheater.com for more information, including an online tour of the theater.

Friday, November 19, 2004

The Darnedest Things
Thursday evening, 6:10 p.m. I stop at the light at Randolph and Cleveland. I notice a bumper sticker on the car in front of me: "The only Bush I trust is my own."

Well, that's interesting. (It's not as good as "Lesbians for Bush," but as we say here in Minnesota, it's different.)

But I also noticed something even more unusual. The car in front of me is sporting two license plates on the back. With two different numbers. One is in the usual spot on the rear bumper. The other is displayed in the rear window. My inquisitive mind demands an explanation.

So I look more closely. The plate on the bumper is sporting expired tabs -- August 04. So here's what must be going on. The woman (if I understand the bumper sticker correctly) who owns this car was due for new plates. But rather than make the effort to replace the plate -- or get someone else to do it for her, if she had difficulty -- she just used a rolled up blanket to prop up the new plate in the back window!

And she thinks she's qualified to pick the leader of the free world?

I wonder what the front of her car looked like?

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Whose America Is the "Real" One
You probably have heard liberals saying that Republicans are turning this country into an America that they don't recognize anymore. From my perspective, that's pretty scary. Them saying that, I mean. They think their socialist vision is the real America.

From my perspective, it's the liberals who have been turning this great country into something different, for 30-40 years now. Conservative Republicans are merely trying to do what they can to stem the liberal tide that has been changing us away from the real America.

It's not the conservatives who are changing the nation. Heck, by definition, if they were changing the country, they wouldn't be conservatives. Conservative means you want to keep things the same.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Peace (Prize)
The day after Yasser Arafat died, my newspaper ran the photos of seven candidates to replace him as Palestinian leader. I noticed three of the seven had second names. They were "also known as."

What sort of people are known by more than one name? Not law-abiding people, that's what I've observed. Say there's a news report that the police are looking for a murder suspect. The suspect may also have several aliases. That's the sort of guy who uses more than one name.

But you never hear, "The Nobel Prize for physics goes to John Peterson, also known as Bill Miller." You don't, do you? Because upstanding people don't need to hide from their real identity.

I think it's a good rule to say, Never trust anyone known by more than one name. Let's make that Downingworld Law #1. As time goes by, we'll compile a list here on the website.

Speaking of Arafat, he was Exhibit A of why we have terrorism. Because it works. He was nobody without terrorism. The Palestinian cause was nothing without terrorism. Terrorism succeeded in making them what they are now -- big-time players in global politics, with no shortage of global sympathizers. And all because they kill a lot of people.

Back in high school, I had a personal revelation of why people resort to terrorism. My senior year, the students had some serious grievances with the changes imposed by a new administration. Acting out succeeded in gaining some attention for our complaints.

But then I personally met one-on-one with the superintendent, and explained to him why we were so upset. He thanked me for handling it in such a mature manner. But I soon realized that what he meant was, "Thank you for just talking to me instead of breaking things; now I can just ignore your grievances."

So I saw why people turn to terrorism. When working through peaceful channels is fruitless, they can get more success through terrorism. Of course, there's a little snag in the plan: killing people is still wrong. So maybe a group that doesn't get its way has to realize that they are in the minority and their side lost out. Accept it. But since they won't.....bang bang.

Back to Arafat, strange thing is, he was such a successful terrorist --he killed so many people -- that he was actually awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Ironically, he was known by more than one name. He was born Mohammed Yasser Abdul-Ra'ouf Qudwa Al-Husseini.

Go figure. But it just proves my point: Never trust anyone known by more than one name.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Chew on This
I wrote this for submission to the St. Paul Pioneer Press' Bulletin Board feature, but it was not used. Perhaps Bulletin Board feared getting hit with a Gucci handbag? I meant it all in fun. Don't take it too seriously.

Write what you know.

That's good advice. Yet from time to time, even proficient writers stretch the bounds of their expertise. And they do so at their own peril.

Take columnist Laura Billings, for example. In a column last week, the Pioneer Press' resident Uptown Girl took it upon herself to explain to hunters the difference between a deer and a llama. "The deer," the urbanite columnist explained, "is a ruminant with a four-chambered stomach of the family Cervidae... Llamas, on the other hand, are cud-chewers from the camel family...."

I see. One's a ruminant; the other's a cud-chewer. Well, guess what? I did a little research, too. (Apparently a little more than Ms. Billings.) Both deer and llamas are ruminants. And since chewing of the cud is a defining characteristic of ruminants, both are cud-chewers. This is a way that they are the same, Ms. Billings, not a way to tell them apart.

Please, Ms. Billings, stick to commenting on "Sex and the City," coffee houses, and other things urban or urbane. Leave the livestock issues to someone else. And if you ever decide to go deer hunting... well, just don't.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Conservative Christians Must Learn to Speak "Secular"
My past two columns dealt with how people on both sides of the aisle put their faith into the political arena. But while it seems like the liberal "social justice" Christians pull it off without objection, when the conservative Christians try to advance their agenda, they're met with the old cry "Separation of church and state!"

It seems to me that the liberals are much more skilled at advancing their causes in a secular manner. Conservatives need to learn how to do the same.

Charles H. Darrell put it very well in an opinion column that appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Nov. 11: "In our pluralistic society, people of faith must make every attempt to translate Biblical truth into secular arguments."

This is where Christian conservatives often fail. For example, I cringe every time I see pictures from an anti-abortion rally and people are waving Bibles, or placards bearing Bible verses or religious sentiments. They seem to be making it so easy for others to dismiss them, saying "Keep your religion to yourself. Don't impose it on me." They'd be more productive if they focused on secular arguments against abortion.

But Don't Count on Equal Treatment

Still, religious conservatives shouldn't ever expect to be treated equally. Just look at what's going on now. We're being told that the "blame" for Bush's reelection rests on those awful "evangelicals" and their "morals." Shame, shame, you awful religious people!

Yet, we're engaged in an international war with Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, in which the same Christian-bashing dominant media voices keep telling us that "We're not at war with Islam. It's not about religion."

To which I reply, "Has anyone told them that?"

So you can bash conservative American Christians for exercising their right to vote, but when it comes to fundamentalist Muslims who fly airplanes into buildings and cut off people's heads, why, we just need to be more tolerant and understanding.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Which Came First: The Belief or the Church?
Building upon yesterday's column, about how liberal religious beliefs seem to be acceptable in the political arena, while conservative religious beliefs are somehow "ineligible" for inclusion, I'd like to point out that this is another occasion when we need to ask: Which Came First?

Which came first? The genuine, heartfelt belief? Or the church membership? I think people often get this backwards.

For instance, I belong to a church that opposes abortion. But do I oppose abortion because I belong to that church and I've been told to oppose abortion? No. In fact, it's the other way around. Let me explain.

I'll bet I was 13 or 14 years old when I learned about abortion, by reading the newspaper. This would have been just a few short years after Roe v. Wade. I was appalled. I hadn't ever heard abortion discussed. My natural reaction, uncoached by parents or church, was that this was wrong. It was self-evident to a 13-year-old. How could so many people feel otherwise, I wondered?

So I was relieved to find out that my parents and my church felt likewise.

Now fast forward about 17 years. My wife and I had bought a house in St. Paul and our first child was on the way. We were looking for a church to join. We ended up agreeing on a church that is of a different Lutheran group than either of us grew up in. But a deciding factor was that this church also opposes abortion.

So, you see, I already opposed abortion, and I picked a church that agreed with me. It's not a case of the church telling me what to think.

And I think it's that way with the liberal "social justice" Christians I mentioned yesterday, too. They've also chosen to belong to churches that back up their own pre-existing political and social beliefs.

Liberals think it's wonderful that John Kerry claims to be a good Roman Catholic, while he disagrees with the church on abortion. So why can't they acknowledge that a religious person can hold conservative views independent of church doctrine? Instead, they say that conservative Christians are just mindless automatons who shouldn't be allowed a voice in the debate.

(An interesting afterthought: The Dems think it's wonderful that Kerry can have it both ways -- being a good religious person, but not imposing his beliefs on others. I wonder how they would react if they found out that Bush belonged to a whites-only country club? Would it satisfy them if he said, "I'm proud to be a member of the Aryan Nation Country Club, but I don't think it's right for me to impose my own personal beliefs on others"? Of course not. They'd scream bloody murder. They'd say that his membership disqualified him. In the same way, the party of abortion should disqualify any Roman Catholic candidate. But wait. Roman Catholics are a big part of the Democratic Party base. There's a big disconnect there.)

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Everyone Loves Jesus (for Political Purposes)
We've been hearing since the election the "explanation" that Bush won because of knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing "fundamentalists" and "evangelicals." (They never define either, and for the life of me, I don't know whether or not I am one.)

But liberals have always been glad to embrace Jesus, when they can exploit him for their purposes. Remember the "What Would Jesus Drive?" debate? The liberals told us He would drive a little speck of a car that didn't use much gasoline. (Frankly, I don't know why that would be necessary; if he can turn water into wine, he can certainly turn water into gasoline.)

Recently, I saw a bumper sticker that read: "Jesus Was a Liberal."

Without getting into a debate about Jesus' politics (I think Jesus transcends politics), I'd like to point out that there is something wrong with that bumper sticker. At the risk of having Bill Clinton chime in with his own special parsing of the word, the problem is "was."

A Christian believes that Jesus "is"! Jesus lives. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus right now reigns in Heaven. That is the core of Christianity. Anyone who uses "was" in regard to Jesus is not a Christian. So why is that person trying to lay claim to Jesus? He or she has no standing to use Jesus for his or her political purposes.

In the wake of the election, I read a newspaper story about how voters put "moral values" first in making their selections. But liberals from the Christian community have a different take on it. Here's an excerpt from the St. Paul Pioneer Press story by Tom Webb:

It looks different to Brian Rusche of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, a social justice group of Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims.

"I bristle at the fact that wedge issues like abortion and gay marriage carry the term 'moral issues,' when we do not apply that same label to the war and to poverty and to the budget deficit," he said. "To me, 'moral' simply means is it in concert with God's intentions and whether we're building a good community."

Here's another excerpt:

Yet the popularity of Christian voter's guides -- what proponents view as moral education -- looks a bit different in other eyes. The Rev. Peg Chemberlin is executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches, and she suspects what changed between May and November wasn't the issues, but the way partisans framed and pushed them.

"Somebody drew a circle and said, 'These issues are the moral issues.' I think there's a problem with the way the circle is drawn, and I think there are a lot of other people who consider themselves moral who say, that is just not a broad enough circle. Just from a Christian perspective, Jesus talks about economics a lot more than personal morality; concern for the poor is found throughout his public ministry."

OK, I'm confused. Jesus is an economist? Yes, he preached concern for the poor. But in stressing that economics and concern for the poor are at the heart of Christianity, the "social justice" liberal Christians are getting themselves into a trap.

When someone says we shouldn't have same-sex marriage or abortion, because those are counter to the Bible, the liberals yell, "Separation of church and state! You can't legislate morality! Don't impose your religion on me!"

Yet, when "social justice" liberal Christians say that the Bible calls for welfare programs, "affordable" housing, or a higher minimum wage, they come to the conclusion that therefore, the government should implement their agenda!

If they were intellectually honest, the liberals would say, "Caring for the poor is part of my religious belief system. I can't impose that on everyone else. The government shouldn't be in the business of taking care of the poor. People shouldn't be taxed to carry out my religious agenda. That is properly the role of my religion. My church should feed the poor and provide affordable housing."

Fat chance of that happening. No, they say (rightly) that caring for the less fortunate is not just a religious issue, it's also the right thing to do in a civilized, secular society.

But will they extend that same logic to, say, protecting unborn babies?

No, of course not. That's different. Only liberal issues may be advanced in the public arena by religious groups. Churches were instrumental in the civil rights movement. That imposition of Christian morality was acceptable. (Notice how often they drop the "Reverend" title from Dr. King, though?) Now we have Christian groups imposing their morality regarding guns, "affordable" housing, welfare -- and they're embraced by the media and the Democratic Party.

But let a conservative Christian voice an opinion and it's, "Sorry, you're disqualified. Keep your religion to yourself."

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Whose Mind Is Really More Open?
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak this week nominated his choice to be the city's new fire chief. I saw the story on the TV news Monday night, where they reported that, if confirmed by the city council, Bonnie Bleskachek will be the city's first female fire chief.

That's newsworthy. But I also couldn't help noticing that the first female fire chief looked really "butch." While I couldn't help noticing her appearance, my brain also told me that her appearance didn't mean anything (after all, short hair is probably a good idea for a firefighter), and besides, her personal life wasn't any of my concern.

I didn't go around saying, "Did you see the new Minneapolis fire chief? I wonder if she's a lesbian?" The story was over, as far as I was concerned.

So this morning (Wednesday), I'm greeted by a story in my St. Paul Pioneer Press. It's all about how Bleskachek has "broken barriers," and how she will be one of the "few openly gay fire chiefs in the country."

The newspaper saw fit to make a BIG DEAL out of Bleskachek's sexuality. I had been content to treat her like anyone else.

So who's more "liberal" here? Who's more "open-minded"?

Newspaper reporters obsessed with someone's sexuality? Or me, the evil conservative, who doesn't care and doesn't need to make someone else's private life my business?

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Which Came First? Conservatism or Success?
In my Friday post, I discussed the book "What's the Matter with Kansas" and liberals' puzzlement over "Why do people who aren't wealthy vote Republican?"

What I might have added then, but will do now, is that there is an assumption of cause and effect at work here. But is that assumption justified? Just which is the cause and which is the effect? Which came first, the Republicanism or the wealth?

The puzzled liberals assume that wealthy people will vote Republican. They think being wealthy makes you a conservative who votes Republican for selfish reasons -- because Republicans will help you get richer and keep more of your riches for yourself.

That's why they can't understand why people who AREN'T wealthy would still vote Republican.

Well, I submit that the puzzled liberals have it backward. Attaining wealth doesn't make you a Republican; being a Republican makes you wealthy.

That's why non-wealthy people vote Republican -- because they hold to conservative principles. Principles like believing in strong, traditional families, God and the value of hard work. Those conservative principles help people succeed.

And even most of those Kansas Republicans who aren't "wealthy" by Massachusetts standards probably consider themselves successful. They successfully support themselves and their families. They see that through patience, education and hard work, they can raise their standard of living. And they aren't obsessed with whether the neighbors have a new BMW and they don't.

Republicans see that the key to success and wealth is subscribing to traditional, conservative values. Stay in school. Work hard. Wait until you're married to have children. Stay married. Avoid vices like booze, drugs and gambling.

Follow that plan, and you can achieve success -- even wealth -- in America. It's pretty simple.

But the liberals just don't get it.

Monday, November 8, 2004

Al Franken's Secret Plan
Downing News Network -- News Best Taken with a Block of Salt

The Downing News Network has learned that liberal talk radio host Al Franken will soon step down from his soapbox in order to launch a stand-up comedy tour. Following a well-received run of unpublicized appearances in the Northeast, Franken will soon announce an extensive six-month tour of the West Coast.

Franken is reportedly using all-new material, while still relying on his far-left political leanings. DNN sources who have seen Franken's new show passed on these samples of his new material:

"If you think the internal combustion engine is a GOOD thing...you might be in a red state.

"If you think a pocketknife is a tool, not a weapon...you might be in a red state.

"If you think coffee comes from a can, not an espresso machine...you might be in a red state.

"If you go hunting wearing a dirty old coat and clean the game yourself...you might live in a red state.

"If you think guns don't kill people, people kill people...you might be in a red state.

"If you think you can spend your own money better than the government can...you might be in a red state.

"If you think we should kill terrorists over there, before they come here and kill us...you might be in a red state."

If the tour goes well in the Northeast, sources say Franken plans to add dates in Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. There are no plans to extend the tour to the South or the Great Plains, a Franken spokesperson said, because those parts of the country lack the "intellectual sophistication" necessary to "appreciate" Franken's humor.

That means most of the country -- 31 states -- will be bypassed by the Franken tour.

And for that, they are grateful.

Friday, November 5, 2004

Kerry Garnered the Wealthy Vote
Much has been made of the Red States and Blue States map of the election. Geographically, Kerry carried only the Northeast, the Great Lakes, and the West Coast. Most of the land mass is red, for Bush. Likewise, a map of the state of Minnesota shows that Kerry took primarily the Twin Cities, and the Iron Range. Most of the land mass of Minnesota is red.

There are a lot of ways of analyzing that. One is that people who live in high-density (urban) areas voted for Kerry. So maybe living too close together makes people goofy.

But here's another way. Looking at either the U.S. map or the Minnesota map, we see that Kerry won the areas with the most prosperity. It's true. Bush won Appalachia, the South, the Great Plains -- the less-prosperous parts of the country. In Minnesota, Bush won the rural vote, but not the Twin Cities, which is where all the money is.

Sure, if you break down the Twin Cities precinct by precinct, you'll find more Bush voters in the wealthy suburbs and more Kerry voters in the less well off areas. And I'm sure you'd find the same in New York or California. But when looked at as regions, there's only one conclusion:

The money voted for Kerry. The working man voted for Bush.

Democrats Obsessed with Money

There's a book out called "What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America." The author, Thomas Frank, attempts to explain why real people in America's heartland vote for Republicans, contrary to his assumption that only rich people should be Republicans.

I haven't read the book, but I read an interesting review of it. Reviewer Steve Greenlee of the Boston Globe (Hmmmm...Kerry's state) shares Frank's puzzlement. Greenlee writes: "It is the question that frustrates liberals most: Why do people who aren't wealthy vote Republican?"

In what I consider a very biased, stereotyping and condescending review, Frank can't understand why people don't vote solely based on who might enrich them the most.

I think the Dems and liberals like Frank "just don't get it" (as they like to say about Republicans). They think all anyone cares about is money. So they don't understand it when everyday Americans don't consider themselves victims, and don't demand to be handed other people's money.

One of the great myths perpetrated by the Dems, with the help of the media, is that Republicans are greedy and care only about their own wallets, while Democrats care about others. Many everyday, conservative Americans don't care if someone else has more money than they do, because they aren't obsessed with money. It's the liberal Dems who are obsessed with the notion that someone else has more money than they do.

Sure, everyday-American Republicans aspire to have more money for their families. But they think the way to acquire more money is to earn it. They like to think that through hard work and education, someday they too can join the ranks of the wealthy. They want the government to leave them alone to earn their own success. And when they do, they don't want to be punished for it.

But liberal Democrats see someone else with more money, and they scream "Unfair!" They demand that the government take away that person's money. It isn't necessarily that they want that person's money given to them; they just are happier knowing that the person with more money has been brought down.

In a way, they're like a group of kids on the playground. If one kid has a piece of candy, the liberal Democrats cry: "No fair! He has candy and I don't! Take it away from him!"

In contrast, the conservative Republican kid asks, "Where did you get the candy, and how can I earn some for myself?"

But, Republicans are called "greedy" when they want lower taxes, which is merely being allowed to keep more of their own money -- not taking someone else's money for themselves. Meanwhile, liberal Dems call themselves "caring" because they want the government to confiscate money from a second party and give it either to them or to a third party. Yes, it's really easy to be generous with other people's money.

But just look at the liberal Dem base: labor unions (including teachers and other public employees), retirees, welfare dependents -- they're all voting based on putting more money in their own pockets! Why aren't they called "greedy"?

In summary, you're considered "greedy" if you want to keep your own money, but not if you want to forcibly take someone else's money for yourself.

How's that work out?

Thursday, November 4, 2004

Wrong Direction for Decades
I've heard a few great thinkers who are puzzled as to how the nation can re-elect an incumbent president, when polls show so many people think the country is headed in the wrong direction. Most recently, Laura Billings, in her St. Paul Pioneer Press column today, says she is still scratching her head "at how a country described as 'pretty seriously off on the wrong track' by 55 percent of the voters could still go for the incumbent."

On the surface, that sounds like a logical question. But it assumes that you have a short-term view of things. I'll try to explain.

I think the country is headed in the wrong direction. But I voted for Bush. Why? Because I don't think it's Bush's doing that we're headed in the wrong direction. We were headed in the wrong direction before Bush became president.

In fact, we've been headed in the wrong direction for at least four decades. During that time, we've been abandoning the values that made our nation great. We've been giving up on marriage, hard work, God, and patriotism. We've been embracing victimhood, entitlement, and irresponsibility.

Bush was the only choice to turn that ship around. A president Kerry would just go full steam ahead.

Non-Concession Concession

They non-apology apology has become standard with public figures. You know, rather than apologize for doing something wrong, the offender says, "I apologize if anyone was offended."

Now add to that the non-concession concession. I heard both Edwards and Kerry give "concession" speeches yesterday, but there didn't seem to be much of any conceding going on. Both pledged to continue to "fight." Then Kerry called on President Bush to work to "unify" the "divided" nation. Funny, but George W. Bush is the first president since 1988 to get more than 50% of the total vote. Even Clinton, who had such a "mandate" that she tried to impose nationalized health care, couldn't garner half the vote. Yet the Democrats never talked about how "divided" we were during the eight-year frat party that was the Clinton administration.

But Kerry has the gall to lecture President Bush on how Bush must "unify" the country. If unifying is in anyone's lap, it's Kerry's. But he says he'll continue to "fight." What is he going to "fight"? Why, the Bush administration and its policies, of course.

If he wants unity, maybe he should stop "fighting," because the war is over. And he lost.

Did Your Guy Win? Are You Sure?

After the 2000 election, you'd think Americans would have realized that we elect the president through the electoral college. This year sure should have brought it home, with the possibility that this time Bush could have gotten more total votes, but lost the election. The emphasis on the Ohio outcome should remind people how the system works: When we go into the booth, we aren't really voting for Bush or Kerry; we are voting for a slate of electors to represent our state in the electoral college.

So, while I voted for Bush here in Minnesota, my guy lost! My slate of electors did not win. In effect, my vote was pointless. I did nothing to help Bush win the election. I could have stayed home.

Conversely, if you voted for Kerry in Minnesota, you won! Your slate of electors will cast their ballots for Kerry on your behalf.

All any of us can do is vote for our state's electors. We don't actually vote for the president. All those millions of "popular votes" are just a curiosity. They don't count for anything.

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

I'm Putting My Hope in John Kerry
I'm very concerned about the direction this country is going, and I think it's up to John Kerry to set things right.

No, you haven't tuned in to the wrong website. I'm not voting for Kerry. It's too late for that, anyway. I'm writing this Wednesday morning.

What I mean is, John Kerry needs to do the right thing and concede that he has lost. And as I write this at 10:00 am, I have just heard a report that he plans to do so in two hours. Let's hope so.

We used to say one of the great things about our country was that we held peaceful elections, and whoever won, the result was accepted and the nation went on with its business. No one took up arms to contest the result.

A Dangerous Precedent

But the year 2000 set a dangerous precedent. The election dragged on in court, as Al Gore's camp refused to accept defeat. Adding to that was the perceived "injustice" that, in a rare but not not unprecedented turn of events, Gore had actually received more total votes nationwide.

We've had four years of "He's not my president," and "He's not really president." As a nation, we can't afford to continue this. This time, George W. Bush has indeed won the so-called (but mythical) "popular vote," with more than 50% (did you remember that the "beloved" and "legitimate" President Clinton, elected twice, never received as much as 50% of the vote?) Let's not drag this out. Let's accept the result and, as the liberals like to say, move on.

Tolerance Is a One-Way Street

The liberals like to point out that "the children are our future." But what are they teaching them?

At my children's elementary school this morning, I overheard students making these comments: "Bush is evil" and "Either they'll impeach him, or at least he'll be gone in four years."

What are they learning at home? Hate, evidently. Ironically, not so long ago at least one of these children would have been a social undesirable and maybe required to go to a different school, for reasons we now consider superficial. But for all the tolerance and diversity in the world, I guess that doesn't extend to political viewpoints. If someone doesn't think just like you, then hate them.

And my children have to go to school in that environment. My third-grader reported that his class of 30 voted, and only he and one other child voted for Bush. It must be very intimidating for him. And this is a school that's all about diversity and tolerance. It even has its own song, that goes "piece by peace we build our community." They'd never allow any "hate speech" directed at skin color or sexual preference, for example, but evidently attacking people for their political views is just free speech.

What's next? Now that we don't accept election results, and we consider the other side "evil," are we just going to divide ourselves up and start killing each other, like in Northern Ireland or the graveyard-formerly-known-as-Yugoslavia?

Unthinkable? So was what happened just four years ago.

Nation Founded on Diversity and Tolerance -- Of Thought and Belief

Our nation actually was founded on tolerance and diversity. We believed that people could live together peaceably, free to express their diverse political opinions, while tolerating each other's varying religious beliefs.

But something happened to turn everything around. These days, when tolerance and diversity are preached and worshiped, as in the schools, it seems to be all about skin color and sexual preference. Meanwhile, in the schools, your can be harassed for your political views, and simply naming Christian holidays on the school calendar is taboo.

Now He's Got a Good Job
Some people sure have a good thing going. Take Wiley Miller, who draws the "Non Sequitur" cartoon. He gets paid to repeatedly make stupid political commentary under the guise of a comic strip. Look at today's comic:


That's just dumb. How stupid do you have to be to actually keep going when you come to the cliff? But what happens if you don't stay the course? What if Christopher Columbus had not stayed the course? What if he had said, "No land yet, let's try a different route," and started drifting -- John Kerry-like -- with the changing winds?He would have made circles in the mid Atlantic until his entire crew died of starvation. And what if the infamous Donner Party had doggedly stayed the course, instead of taking a break and getting snowed in? They would have made it to California alive, without eating each other.

Here's my rebuttal cartoon, showing what would happen if John Kerry was the wagonmaster, leading the wagon train across the desert:

Kirk vs. Spock Update

In my October 15 column, I talked about how the differences between Bush and Kerry were similar to the differences between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, of the original "Star Trek" TV series. These cartoons above are an example of those different leadership styles, with the exception that Mr. Spock would use his intellect to know that the only way out of the desert is to keep going to the other side. He would know that wandering aimlessly wouldn't do it.

My Nov. 1 newspaper had a good front page piece by John F. Harris of the Washington Post, that explained how the choice between Kerry and Bush is a matter of leadership styles or personalities.

It was essentially my Kirk vs. Spock analogy, without ever using that term.

David Gergen is quoted, and he really described it well:

"The choice, (Gergen) said, is 'between fact-based versus intuition-based policies.' Confronted with a policy decision, Gergen believes, Kerry's instinct is to study and seek to master the complexities of his choice; Bush's instinct is to act quickly, in the belief that a leader is better off to drive events and circumstances rather than be driven by them."

That's a great description of the difference between Kirk and Spock. I think Kirk vs. Spock is a great analogy (metaphor, whatever), because really, you can't say one is right and one is wrong. In the TV series, they complemented each other.

But we get only one or the other. And I think when it comes to a president, we want a Kirk. He can surround himself with all the Spocks he needs.

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

Been awfully busy flogging pumpkins. Time to catch up on a few thoughts before we end the presidential preliminaries and enter the courtroom for the final months of the campaign.

The Man in the Mirror
Minnesota's former governor, Jesse Ventura, was back in the news last week, throwing his weight behind Senator John Kerry. Ventura voiced his concerns about President Bush's religious convictions, saying, "I believe that a president has to have an extremely clear, clear vision of the separation of church and state. ... It doesn't mean that you can't have religious beliefs. You certainly can. But you must be able to distinguish and separate your beliefs from your job. That to me is where President Bush falls short."

There's some irony for you. Jesse should look in the mirror. If there's ever been an office holder who couldn't separate his personal self from his "job," it was Ventura. We knew he was a big shot entertainer when we (well, some Minnesotans) elected him, he said, so we shouldn't be surprised if he's making $2 million hanging out with Mr. Ass.

Ventura's description of the presidency as a "job" is typical. As governor, he said he should be able to do whatever he wanted on his "own time," as though being governor was a 40-hour-a-week position. That was news to most people, who had thought that being governor -- just like being president -- was a 24-hour-a-day "job."

Which Party Really Has the Religious Zealots?

While selling pumpkins over the weekend, I saw an awfully lot of people sporting Kerry buttons. But not Bush buttons. While running errands Monday, I saw a lot of people waving Kerry signs at intersections. But no Bush signs being waved.

Why is that? Yes, there are more Kerry voters than Bush voters in St. Paul, but not everyone!

I think Kerry voters are just more zealous about their politics. They are true believers. For many of them, politics is what religion is to many conservatives. And they wear their politics "on their sleeves," the way John Kerry says he doesn't wear his religion.

I'd say for many zealous liberals, the government is their god. They put their faith in the government to protect and deliver them. And the (Democratic) party plays the Christ-like intercessor role, bringing them into a state of grace with the god-government.

Scary? Yes. But I think understanding this can help conservatives better understand the liberal mind.

Osama Joins Jesse in Endorsing Kerry

There's been much talk about how the latest Osama bin Laden video might affect our election. Somewhat surprisingly to me, the experts quoted in the paper seemed to think that it would benefit Bush by reminding people of the threat of terrorism.

Maybe. But that's not what it's intended to do. People ask why the tape was released now, after not hearing from bin Laden for so long. I think the answer is obvious. It's supposed to help Kerry win the election.

Kerry has been on Bush's case for not catching bin Laden. But we've not really known whether bin Laden was still alive. There was the possibility that his remains were lying buried in a cave somewhere. Maybe Bush did get him.

So this video is an attempt to say: "Kerry is right. Bush blew it. He didn't get me." Add to that the fact that bin Laden's rhetoric sounds like it came straight out of the Democratic talking points, and it's clear that bin Laden's sudden appearance is being made on behalf of Kerry.

Whether the voters react in the manner the dirt bag intended is still to be determined. Let's hope the American votes aren't as dumb as bin Laden thinks (or as cowardly as the Spanish voters, who overthrew their government at Al Qaada's request).

Friday, October 29, 2004

Can't Anyone Link? Plus, the UN Connection
Can't anyone link two thoughts together and see the contradictions? Sen. Kerry continues to blather on and on, contradicting himself, and then putting on that Snidely Whiplash sneer as he revels in his own evil genius in getting away with it.

For example, he's running TV ads that brag, "I defended this country as a young man." Senator, if you were defending this country with your service in Vietnam, then why did you return home and protest the war, saying it was wrong?

Was it wrong to defend America? Or was the Vietnam War NOT wrong, after all? If that's the case, Senator, then why don't you apologize for your baby-killer protester histrionics?

Another example of people who can't link. Last night I had our local KSTP-TV 10:00 pm newscast on. The station has some footage of explosives that their reporters shot in Iraq "at or near" the Al-Qaqaa munitions depot. No one knows for sure whether this was Al-Qaqaa, or just what sorts of explosives are being shown in the video. But they're playing it for all they can.

As she stretched out the story, the anchorwoman told us that the Al-Qaqaa depot was the place Sadamm would have gone to get supplies to build a nuclear weapon. Now, she said, the fear is that materials from Al-Qaqaa may enable terrorists -- or Iran -- to build a nuclear bomb.

Hold on! The media have spent the past year telling us that Sadamm had no intent to build a nuclear device, had no means to build a nuclear device, and did not have materials to build a nuclear device. We've been told that there were no weapons of mass destruction. Bush lied. The war was unwarranted.

Now, they're all upset that Bush's "incompetence" is letting terrorists get WMDs! But you told us there aren't any WMDs!

Which is it?

The truth is, it doesn't matter. If they can scare us and hurt the President, they count that as a good day's work.

The UN Connection

This tempest in a teapot started with the UN. Could there be a UN link to the presidential campaign? Does anyone remember my column of July 8? I'll reprint it here:

First published online July 8, 2004

A UN Plant in the White House? Call Out the Black Helicopters! Has it occurred to anyone else that if the John-John ticket wins in November, we'll have a foreign-born First Lady? So what? Well, the Constitution requires that the President be not only a citizen, but a natural-born citizen. So it just seems a little strange that a First Lady might be foreign born. Sounds sort of like one of those European arranged royal marriages of convenience.

According to the johnkerry.com website, she was born in Mozambique, educated in South Africa and Switzerland, and then came to the U.S. to WORK FOR THE UNITED NATIONS! That ought to give pause to those who are concerned that the UN is trying to take over our country!

It's said that the "native-born" requirement is in the Constitution to make sure no foreign power "plants" someone here to become our President. What if a UN "plant" became First Lady?! That ought to keep the Black Helicopter crowd busy!

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Kerry Says Shoot First, Ask Questions Later
Senator John Kerry continues to say whatever he thinks will help him at the moment. One of the more amazing statements that Kerry isn't being questioned on is running over and over in a TV ad. He says, "We're gonna hunt down the terrorists. We'll kill them."

Pretty strong words for the liberal candidate. He doesn't say, "I'll keep America safe from terrorists" or "We'll bring terrorists to justice." No, he's going to hunt them down and kill them. No arrest, no trial. Shoot first, ask questions later. Isn't that the sort of action that Bush is criticized for?

I wonder what Kerry's views are on capital punishment? I'm guessing he tries to have it both ways. I'm going to check his website.

Not much help there. Some mention that he supports the death penalty for terrorists who have "declared war on America." No mention of what constitutes such a "declaration."

But no mention at all about capital punishment.

We mere mortals might think that this is just more of Kerry's vague, flip-flopping doubletalk. But people smarter than us -- people who will vote for Kerry -- know he's just being "nuanced."

Now, Kerry and his friends in the media are all upset about "missing" explosives in Iraq. Maybe the "missing" explosives are wherever the WMDs are. Critics say that if you can't find WMDs, then they never existed. But if you can't find these explosives, it's because Bush personally lost them. Maybe they never existed, either.

Meanwhile, Kerry says, "We went over there to prevent weapons of any means of destruction from falling into the hands of terrorists."

Then why all the fuss about not finding WMDs? They keep saying it was all about WMDs, and since stockpiles of WMDs haven't been found, Bush "lied," and the war was unjustified.

Now Kerry says it was about all types of weapons, not just so-called WMDs.

Which is it? And why doesn't someone ask Kerry? A truth seeker like Dan Rather or Michael Moore, perhaps?

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Criminals Have Broken the "Criminal Social Contract": 9/11, C-Store Link
Increasingly, thugs who used to simply take money from convenience stores are now taking the money AND shooting the clerk, too.

There's a link to 9/11.

In both cases, the bad guys are not holding up their end of the bargain. I'll try to explain. You see, it used to be that in a store robbery or a highjacking, there was a "deal" struck between the victims and perpetrators. There was a transaction that took place, and each party got something out of it. The bad guy got money or an air transit; the victims got to keep their lives.

"Do as I say, and no one will get hurt." That used to be the terms of the deal.

But now, the bad guys don't hold up their end of the bargain. And that ruins it for everyone. The bad guys had a good thing going, in a sense. All they had to do was ask for the money or the airplane, and they got it. The victims handed it over, in exchange for their lives.

But now that the bad guys don't "pay up" by sparing the victims, there's no incentive for the victims to "accept" the transaction. Airplane passengers know they're better off resisting. Clerks know if they comply with the robber's demands, they'll die anyway. So they might as well fight back.

Now the robbers don't get their money, the clerks die, everyone loses.

In a way, it's another example of how appeasement doesn't work. For years we heard, "Just give the robber the money. It's not worth getting killed over it." On a case by case basis, that makes sense. Why should I get killed to save my boss $200?

But...that policy only served to encourage more and more convenience store robbers, who treated convenience stores as their personal cash machines. Who hasn't heard of a convenience store referred to as a Stop 'n' Rob?

If we had "just said no" to convenience store robbers years ago, maybe some clerks would have been shot then. But it's also possible that murderous, thieving thugs would have stopped viewing convenience stores as easy pickings years ago, before they became emboldened as they are now.

Monday, October 25, 2004

2000 Taught Them Nothing (Or Did It?)
We keep hearing about presidential election polls: Bush is up 2 points; Kerry is up 3 points, No, wait, they're even.

Didn't our wonderful news media learn anything from 2000? Remember? Al Gore garnered more votes than George W. Bush, yet Bush is president because he won in the electoral college. The electoral college is how a president is chosen. These polls of the "popular vote" are worthless. The Constitution never mentions a "popular vote."

What is going to matter is who wins the so-called "swing states" (which this year include Minnesota). So who is up by a few points in a nationwide poll is irrelevant. All that matters is who is winning the vote in those key states.

But try telling that to our enlightened, intellectual news media.

I suppose if I were cynical, I might suggest that the news people are fully aware of this. They just want to set up another "controversy" if Bush wins the presidency despite Kerry getting more total votes. "How can this happen!" they'll exclaim. "Bush is an illegitimate president!" they'll cry.

As if it had never happened before.

(And no, 2000 was not the first time, either.)

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Kerry Bashes Bosox?
It seems whatever President Bush says, Senator Kerry disagrees. Put that together with the Senator's predilection for pessimism, and I wonder what would happen if Bush were to make a statement complimenting Kerry's beloved Boston Red Sox?

Bush: "The Red Sox are a great team. They've really turned the corner, and this is the year they will finally win the World Series."

Kerry: "The President should pull his head out of the sand. Just because he says the Red Sox will win, doesn't make it so. This is the worst Red Sox team since the Great Depression! Wakefield starts with "W," and that stands for "wrong"! He's the wrong pitcher, in the wrong game, in the wrong stadium."

Bush: "Senator Kerry says he's a Red Sox fan, but now that they're in the World Series, he says he's not."

Kerry: "I actually cheered for the Red Sox, before I cheered against them."

Ridiculous? Of course. Do you think the real political rhetoric isn't?

Saturday, October 23, 2004 My sister Michele's Birthday. Happy Birthday!

Woodchuck Comes Out for Bush
This just in: In the wake of Senator John Kerry bragging about his hunting prowess (crawling on his belly to sneak up on deer; plunking woodchucks), Punxsutawney Phil today came out in favor of President George W. Bush.

Taking his cue from the celebrities who have threatened to leave the country if Bush is elected, the Pennsylvania woodchuck and media darling, famous for his spring weather prediction every Groundhog Day, said that if Kerry is elected, he will NOT be leaving his hole for the next four years.

"If they think I'm going to stick my neck out for Kerry, they're nuts," Phil said through a spokesperson. "Of course, that'll mean six more weeks of winter."

Told of Phil's remarks, a Kerry spokesman replied, "As we've been saying all along, John Kerry will do something about global warming."

Reached in a designer duck blind on the campaign trail, Senator Kerry said, "W stands for woodchuck. W stands for warming. W stands for wrong. So woodchucks are wrong."

Meanwhile, President Bush issued this statement: "How much wood would a woody, chuck, charles, woodrow, would wilson, pickett....... we won't get fooled again."

Friday, October 22, 2004

Quality and Quantity Cost More: Why Should Health Care Be Different?
Building on yesterday's topic, you might ask: So why does health care cost a lot?

Well, why shouldn't it? First of all, we use more and more of it. If you want a higher quantity of something, it's going to cost you more. Second, it's always getting more and more advanced. In a way, it's like our automobiles. Why do cars cost so much more than they used to? Inflation aside, they cost more because we get more. Cars are loaded with standard features that were once considered options. They're also loaded with new features -- like airbags and anti-lock brakes -- that are designed to keep us alive. Just like with health care, if we want new technologies that keep us alive longer, we have to pay for them.

But people expect to get something for nothing. They want to pay $10 and get $1000 worth of health care. That can't work. Someone is paying. It's either your employer or the government. But in either case, you're still paying. If your employer "gives" you health care coverage, it's in lieu of cash wages that could have been given to you. If your government "gives" you health care coverage, it's funded by taxes that are taken from you. There are no freebies.

Another problem is that despite all this talk about health "insurance," most of us don't have health insurance. Instead, we have pre-paid healthcare. Insurance is when you have coverage for large expenses that you can't pay out of pocket. Like if your house burns down. You don't expect your homeowner's insurance to pay to paint your house. But that's the way we use our health care coverage. We expect someone else to pay for ordinary, regular health care. Consequently, we have little incentive to be smart shoppers. When in doubt, go to the doctor. It might cost you a $15 co-pay, but someone else will pay the remainder of the $160 charge.

So if we use more and more, it's going to cost more and more. Where's the mystery in that?

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Political TV Ads Are Aimed at Stupid People
I've come to the conclusion that broadcast political ads are aimed at stupid people. If you have a brain, don't pay attention to any of the TV ads. For any of the candidates. Distortions, half-truths, outright lies. That's what they are. Full of unkeepable promises and ridiculous charges aimed at the opposition.

For instance, let's look at some presidential campaign ads that focus on health care. There's an ad for Bush that tries to scare us into thinking that John Kerry will turn all health care over to the government, and bureaucrats, not our doctors, will decide how to treat us. That's not true. Kerry hasn't proposed the all-encompassing plan Bush's ad threatens us with.

Meanwhile, in a Kerry ad, the dour Senator himself stares into the camera and claims that high health care costs are the fault of the Bush administration, for not letting everyone re-import drugs from Canada. Come on, as if that's the cause. Do you really think that's the whole problem, Senator? How will that help with the high cost of X-rays, surgeries, MRI's?

Maybe the debates are aimed at stupid people, too. After all, they're on TV. I heard just a few minutes of the third debate on the radio. It was the part where the President and the Senator were asked to explain the high cost of health care.

Bush said it's because of ambulance chasing trial lawyers (John Edwards) and the high cost of malpractice insurance. Please, give us some credit. While there is much to criticize in that regard, malpractice insurance is still only a very small percentage of the cost of health care. Just over 1 percent, according to what I read.

Then Kerry had his turn. He said something like, "One man stands between the American people and lower health care costs: George Bush, who won't let you get lower-priced prescription drugs from Canada."

So the Senator wants us to believe that George W. Bush is the reason health care is expensive? But he's been President only 4 years. So then why is it that 12 years ago, even before she was elected President, Hillary Clinton was promising us a government-run health care program because costs were too high? Costs were too high then, we had 8 years of Clintonion genius in which to solve the problem, and now Kerry expects us to believe that the problem is George W. Bush's fault? Because his administration doesn't remove restrictions on the re-importation of prescription drugs?

Canadian Drug Re-imports: A Fallacy of Composition

The whole get-your-pills-cheaper-from-Canada idea is nonsense, anyway. It can't work. Logically, it's a fallacy of composition -- that what works for one will work for the whole group. For instance, if one person stands to get a better view at a rock concert, then if everyone stands, they'll all have a better view. Real life experience tells us all that is not the case. No one ends up any better off, and now everyone has to stand. Likewise, a driver who sneaks through on a red light may get where he's going sooner. But if everyone sneaks through on the red, it just delays the traffic which now has the green, and overall, traffic moves no faster. (More slowly, probably, since people learn that they can't go as soon as the light turns green. They have to wait in case someone is still coming through on red.)

Likewise, if a few people get drugs re-imported from Canada, they may save money. But if everyone tries to do it, it won't work. The drug companies won't allow it. They'll stop selling pills to the relatively small Canadian market completely, before they allow their huge U.S. market to be supplied through Canada. Let the government declare that Canadian re-imports are the way to go, and watch what happens. Already, pharmaceutical companies are grousing and threatening to put an end to this.

That's because it's not a question of why do prescription drugs cost more in the U.S., the question is why do the prescription drugs cost less in Canada?

Because Americans are subsidizing Canadians.

Canadians pay less because their government demands it. They pay less than the true cost. In the U.S., we pay a price that allows the pharmaceutical companies to recoup their research costs and make a profit.

But the Canadian government mandates artificially low prices. If those were the prices everywhere, the pharmaceutical companies wouldn't have developed the drugs in the first place. It wouldn't have been worth their while. But the pharmaceutical companies still sell their wares in Canada, because the Canadian market is relatively small, and the marginal costs of producing more pills for Canada are still less than the government-mandated price they are paid.

And we in the U.S. pay the whole cost of research and development. If Canadians paid the market rate, then the market rate for everyone -- including Americans -- could be lower! If the Canadians would stop standing up, we could all see better!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Front Porches Offer Glimpse Into "Vast Prosperity"
One recent morning, while walking around the other side of my block, I noticed three houses on which work was being performed on the front porch. Three front porches, one block, the same morning! One house was having the porch insulated, a second house was having the existing porch torn off and rebuilt, and a third house was having footings dug to build a front porch where one had not previously existed. (Also on the block that morning, a new garage was being painted.)

This was strong evidence of what Joe Soucheray would call VAST PROSPERITY. For decades, porches in St. Paul suffered from neglect. Many had even been removed by owners who didn't think they were worth spending money to fix.

Garages had been neglected, too. But for some time now St. Paul has been seeing a boom in garage building. Evidently the condition of St. Paul's garages has now improved to the point that we can move on to porch repair.

Vast prosperity. It's a good thing. I'm in favor of prosperity. I'm in favor of porches. I'm in favor of garages. I'm in favor of a St. Paul filled with houses and garages in great condition.

Vast prosperity. Yes!

My part of St. Paul is rife with home improvements, including many large home additions. But there's some sort of disconnect. My part of St. Paul is also riddled with Kerry campaign signs. The Kerry-ites insist that we don't have any prosperity. They talk like we're in the midst of the Great Depression. Meanwhile, they're adding on to their houses.

Very strange.

As for me, my humble home has been graced by both a new garage, and an addition that included a new porch. Life is good. I'm thankful for all that I have. Yet, somehow my wife and I have managed to do this while earning incomes that lag behind union workers, public employees, and public school teachers, three "beleaguered" groups that put their "hope" in John Kerry.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

A Profit Is Without Honor in My Own Country
On a radio news broadcast recently I heard a report that a box a flu vaccine had been stolen from a clinic. The reporter said that apparently someone stole the vaccine in order to "sell it at a profit."

Well, duh. If you steal something and then sell it, you're making a profit. No matter what price you sell it for. After all, you stole it.

But the bigger issue here is the idea, all too prevalent in America today, that selling something "at a profit" is bad. Keep your ears open for that. You'll hear people complaining that someone sold something "at a profit." It's like "profit" is a bad thing -- greedy, unfair, dishonest, or a way of cheating people.

How is a merchant supposed to stay in business if he doesn't sell at a profit? It's just more evidence that most people have jobs that keep them too far removed from the economy. They get a paycheck, but they see no connection between commerce and the paycheck being there. The paycheck is just something they are entitled to for showing up.

We'd be a stronger nation if more people were self-employed or worked on commission. Then they'd realize you have to produce in order to get paid.

Meanwhile, people who work for wages need to realize that they are selling their labor at a "profit" to their employer. Do they work for just what it costs them to eat each day? Of course not. The part of your paycheck that exceeds absolute minimum living expenses (your "cost") is "profit."

Monday, October 18, 2004

Stupidity on Display
I'm often amazed by the letters-to-the-editor that make it into print. Evidently, the newspaper doesn't consider making sense or having your "facts" straight to be necessary requirement for publishing a letter. Nonetheless, I bet many a stupid letter writer has seen his stupid letter in print and thought, See, they think I'm right.

Last Thursday's St. Paul Pioneer Press had a doozy of a leap of logic. A Bush critic, one Paul Bartlett of Eagan, went on and on with what he considered President Bush's false rationales for invading Iraq (Never mind whether Bush actually made those specific claims.). Then he concluded with this bizarre paragraph:

"And now for the whopper: According to the just released Duelfer Report, as reported in the Pioneer Press, Iraq was cheating in the U.N. oil-for-food program. What? Bush has repeatedly mocked and ridiculed the U.N. and now he is concerned with that U.N.-administered program? His justification for invading Iraq is now linked to the international organization that he has held in contempt?"

What is this guy's point? It sounds like he is trying to say that, since Bush has not been a big fan of the U.N. in the past, he now has no right to criticize the organization when it is implicated in an international criminal scandal. Huh? How does that work? Only fervent supporters may criticize an organization? But evidently, they can do it only once, because once they've criticized, they're no longer supporters. So it's like the U.N. becomes "vaccinated" against repeated criticism. Sort of the Clinton defense: What? That again? Can't we move on?

I hope this guy was a Bush supporter until he wrote this letter, otherwise, according to his "logic," he has no standing to criticize.

The truth is, the invasion of Iraq has always been linked to the U.N., and the way it had overtly or covertly propped up Saddam's regime.

The U.N. is a Joke
The United Nations is a joke. Really. Why was it created? The United Nations exists to keep the powers of the world from warring with each other. That was the goal of the failed League of Nations following World War I. After the globe went through World War II, the U.N. was created to, basically, tell Germany, "For the last time! Stop invading France!"

OK, I'm having fun there. But the reason for the U.N. was to keep the U.S., the Soviet Union, France, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Italy and primarily other European nations from fighting with each other, as they had done for centuries. The way things turned out, though, the Cold War and the division of the world into two camps -- West and East -- made the U.N. largely irrelevant. The Cold War was a stabilizing factor that kept most of the world out of war. Ironic? Yes. But it's true.

Meanwhile, the U.N. has turned into an organization that tries to redistribute wealth, and lets banana republics led by tin-horn tyrants think they can tell the civilized powers what to do. Amazingly, many of the civilized powers have bought into this. President Bush doesn't. If that's a reason for the rest of the world to "hate" us, too bad for them.

Friday, October 15, 2004

President Spock? Not Everyone's Cut Out to be Captain
Yesterday, I talked about different ways of looking at the job of President: Who do you want? A Section 2 guy, or a Section 3 guy?

Today, I offer another perspective. Who do you want as your leader? Captain Kirk? or Mr. Spock?

Fans of the original Star Trek series should be able to relate. There was often a tension between the decisive, headstrong Captain Kirk, and the analytical, cerebral (dare I say "nuanced"?) Vulcan Mr. Spock.

Space cowboy Captain Kirk always did what he thought was right, often over the objections of his chief advisor, his first officer Mr. Spock. Since he was so much smarter than a mere human, the tall, long-faced Mr. Spock was always pointing out everything that could go wrong -- and everything that he thought the Captain had done wrong.

I often thought I'd make a better Spock than Kirk. Smart, knowledgeable, able to see all sides of the issue, wary of the consequences of his actions, always finding something else to consider. That's Mr. Spock. But he was too reliant on data, facts, probability.

Captain Kirk, meanwhile, was the human counterpoint to the logical Vulcan. He was decisive and strong in his conviction that doing the right thing was the right thing, even if there were high risks and high costs. At times he may have been overly impulsive, but Captain Kirk always valued justice and freedom above data and probabilities.

I don't think I would make a good Kirk. It's too hard for me to make those tough, command decisions. I'm more of a Mr. Spock. Lots of information. But just because I know a lot doesn't make me a good leader. I couldn't be President. I'd always be second-guessing myself. I'd be afraid to act, because I might be wrong. I'd always be finding something else to consider.

Who do you think would make a better President? Kirk or Spock?

Keep that in mind when you vote November 2.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Is "Who Won" a Valid Question?
Another debate last night, and the inevitable question: Who won? But is that a valid question?

In a competitive, academic debate, it is my understanding that either the "pro" side or the "con" side can win, based on who does a better job of presenting their arguments. A team that wins by arguing "pro" one week may win again the next while arguing "con." Winning isn't based on the relative "truth" or "justice" of a position, but on how well it is presented.

But a presidential debate is a different sort of critter. It's not really a debate at all. Rather, it's a chance for the candidates to state their positions and, hopefully, make a good impression on the voters. But since most voters already know the differences in the candidates' positions, and have formed their impressions of the men's character, the "debate" mostly just reinforces the pre-existing preferences of the voters.

Realistically, do you expect someone to say, "I agree with Bush on the issues, but Kerry has his facts better organized and he makes his case more eloquently. I'll vote for him"? Of course not.

That's why the "winner" is whoever you already planned to vote for. The guy repeated the things that made you want to vote for him before the debate, so in your mind, he's the winner.

What's the President's Job Description, Anyway?

Forget red states vs. blue states. The real question is: Are you a Section 2 Voter or a Section 3 Voter?

If you're going to hire someone, you need to know what it is that you want the hired person to do. If you want to hire a maintenance man, you want someone who knows plumbing, carpentry, electrical, and has janitorial skills. He or she doesn't have to have an MBA from Harvard, but he or she does need those other skills.

If you want to hire a CEO, maybe you want that MBA. Certainly, you want your new CEO to have management skills, planning skills, leadership skills. But you don't care whether he or she knows how to properly maintain the shine on the marble floor in the lobby.

Yeah, yeah, that's all obvious. What's my point?

My point is, when we are deciding which presidential candidate to "hire" as the chief executive of our nation, we should be asking ourselves, Just what is the president's job? But where can we look to find out? I mean, it's not like there's some sort of job description written down somewhere, is there?

Of course there is. It's in the U.S. Constitution.

Article II describes the office of the president. Section 1 describes how the president is to be elected and the terms of office. (Note: The words "popular vote" are nowhere to be found.) Section 2 describes the president's duties. Here are the president's constitutional duties, in the order they appear: 1) The President is Commander in Chief of the armed forces. 2) The President may make treaties with foreign powers and appoint ambassadors. 3) The President may fill vacancies in the Senate (since voided by the 17th Amendment).

Clearly, the primary intended Constitutional duties of the President were national defense and foreign relations.

But let's go on to Article II, Section 3: "He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient..."

It appears that in 2004, for much of the electorate, the focus of the President's job can be found in the vague phrase "...recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient..."

Look at the political ads. From the Kerry camp we hear: "Health care costs have risen." "Good jobs have been lost." "Gas prices are high." "College costs are too high."

These issues aren't mentioned in the Constitution.

Kerry's campaign and support seem to be built upon an expansion of the vague "recommend" sentence in Section 3.

But from the Bush camp we hear: "Strong on defense." "Protect our borders." "Fight terrorism." "Oppose evil tyrants."

Bush's campaign and support are focused on Section 2, the primary duties of the President.

It seems clear to me that supporters of Bush want to hire a guy to do the job as laid out in the job description, as intended by the Founding Fathers. But what do Kerry supporters want? They seem to want a guy who will take care of them -- give them good jobs, make sure they don't have to pay "too much" for life saving medical care, and keep gasoline cheap (While we also wean ourselves from foreign oil? How's that going to work?).

Kerry supporters want socialism. Yes, it's that simple. They want the government to provide them with high-paying jobs, but keep the cost of living low by providing them with the things they want. How will they do this? By taxing the rich. Make someone else pay for it.

That's socialism, in my book.

But the Siren Song of the Socialist Is Hard to Resist

And it appeals to people. It really does. The truth is, we've all gotten pretty good at demanding something for nothing. And both Republicans and Democrats are all to willing to give it to us. As Edward Lotterman writes in discussing the national debt in today's (10/14/2004) St. Paul Pioneer Press:

"This dilemma -- that one can expect the candidates of both major parties to increase the national debt -- says much about the American public. We apparently are unwilling to demand change. Deficits reduce national savings along with investment in new plants, equipment and technology. Deficits raise interest rates. A larger national debt means that a higher proportion of our children's taxes will go toward paying interest.

"All of these are bad outcomes, yet the choices that lead to such bad results have bipartisan support. As cartoonist Walt Kelly's Pogo once said, 'We have met the enemy and he is us.'"

Yes, the annual budget deficit and the compounding national debt are our own doing. Once upon a time, Republicans railed against debt. They demanded a balanced budget. But then a funny thing happened. They rose to power in Congress, and they found out that when you're in charge of the purse strings -- and you want to stay there -- it's hard to be frugal. Now, strangely enough, it's Democrats who rail against deficits. But they'll change their tune again as soon as they regain the majority.

I've done some checking, and I trust someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but it appears that our annual federal budget deficit right now is over $400 billion. Meanwhile, we are paying out over $300 billion in interest on our previous deficits -- the accumulated debt. That means most of the amount we're "short" is being eaten up by interest on our previous purchases. Gosh, it wouldn't be so hard to have a balanced budget, if we'd simply done so all along. That's exactly the same way people get themselves into a hole with credit card debt.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

She Was Asking for It! Laura Billings Blames the Victim
St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Laura Billings really sent me for a loop with her Tuesday column. The liberal, feminist Ms. Billings analyzed the problem of lawn sign theft and vandalism, and arrived at the conclusion that it's the victim's fault! She wrote:

"Yet as painful as all of this may be, the fact is, you brought this on yourself. Having a political sign in your front yard is like choosing to wear a 'kick me' sign through the hallway of a junior high school. It is not advertising; it is an invitation to an argument, and you'd better expect to endure a few swipes."

You go, girl! And the next time some co-ed alleges that she was raped by a football player at a keg party (or some hotel clerk alleges assault by some basketball player), you make sure you let the little slut have it. What did she expect? Wearing that tight sweater and that short skirt? The girl was asking for it, isn't that right, Ms. Billings?

Just like someone who gets a beating (or worse) while hanging out in Loring Park; he's just getting what he's got coming to him. And suppose some woman goes to work in a traditionally male field. She's got no business complaining about so-called "sexual harassment." After all, what did she expect, parading her pretty young self in front of all those good old boys?

You say that's different? Those people are having their Constitutional rights violated? I guess you're right. I have no Constitutional right to free political speech, do I?

Hey, Laura, maybe Sid Hartman over at the StarTribune will introduce you to his close personal friend Bobby Knight ("If rape is inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it!"). You three great minds can sit down over your butterknife steaks and solve all of the world's problems.

More Saddam Atrocities Revealed
More reports today of mass graves being found in Iraq. More of Saddam's victims. Women. Children. Women bearing children. And yet we have people in this country who say Iraq and the world were better off with Saddam in power.

Yeah, and Mussollini made the trains run on time.

There are people who say that nothing we find in Iraq, other than WMDs, can justify the war. They say you can't find new justifications after the fact. There's a logic to that, but it can break down when applied to the real world. Let me make an analogy.

Suppose a doctor thinks you have a cancerous tumor, and you should have surgery. You undergo the surgery and guess what? No cancer is found! That doctor was wrong! He misled you into risky surgery!

But suppose that, in the process -- the surgery or pre-op or post-op exams -- it is discovered that you face another serious medical threat. A threat that would likely have killed you before it was discovered. Maybe it's an aneurysm or blocked arteries (I don't know, I'm no doctor.) You'd be pretty darn glad you were misled into that unnecessary surgery, wouldn't you?

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Whose Seat Is It, Anyway?
Yesterday, I heard the question asked: Is it proper to refer to Bush and Kerry as the "two candidates," or are they "the candidate" and "the incumbent"? It's a good question. I had a similar question myself recently, when I heard a radio news reporter talking about what "candidate Bush" was up to that day.

"Candidate Bush"? What did that mean? Was it meant as disrespect, not recognizing that he is the President? I decided not. Rather, the reporter was pointing out that the activities being reported on were Bush's campaign activities, rather than his official job activities. I decided that in this case, referring to the President as a "candidate" actually served a purpose in conveying precise information.

And an incumbent office holder seeking reelection really is a "candidate." We may have an "incumbent" and a "challenger," but both are "candidates." It's important that we note that, as it goes to the very heart of our political system.

They key point to remember is that we elect politicians to set terms. There are end dates. President Bush's term is up in January. Win, lose, or not run again on November 2, George W. Bush is President until January 20, 2005. No more, no less. Right now, he is running as a candidate for a new term, to begin January 20, 2005. His currently being the President gives him no claim on that new term. He has to win it. He's not like some sort of heavyweight champion boxer, who "owns" the title until he is dethroned. The term of the President is four years. No more, no less.

He doesn't "own" the office -- the people do. That's the heart of our system of government. We don't have a king. All power comes from the people.

That's why it really bugs me when I hear about someone running for so-and-so's "seat." Let's use Minnesota's 8th Congressional District as an example. Democrat Jim Oberstar has represented that district since "rap music" meant tapping out "shave-and-a-haircut" when you knocked on someone's door. But it's not Oberstar's seat. He has been repeatedly elected to two-year terms, but the seat belongs to the voters. They can place Oberstar in it over and over, but it's still not his. He's not a king who needs to be deposed. His term is always scheduled to end in two years. He cannot continue in the position unless he gets elected to a brand new term.

But you'll hear things like, "Republican Joe Blow is running for Oberstar's seat." It ain't his! It's up for grabs each election. Yes, as a practical matter, incumbents usually win reelection. But still, it's not Oberstar's seat. He doesn't own it. If he continues for another term, it's only because the voters saw fit to place him in the seat for another two years. Still, some day Oberstar will decide he's had enough. Then we'll have to listen to things like, "Democrat John Doe and Republican Joe Blow are vying for Oberstar's seat." Oberstar won't even be involved in the election, and they'll still call it his seat!

What's the big deal? Well, this sort of thinking reflects a problem in our political system. The longer a politician is in an office, the more likely it is that he will start to think the office is his, rather than the people's. Us calling it his office only reinforces that idea in his brain. And then he won't ever leave. He won't step aside for someone else. And we end up with lifetime politicians.

Would term limits help? I oppose term limits on principle. We have term limits in the form of elections. As I've pointed out, incumbents must be reelected over and over. Their terms do end. We can decide enough is enough.

The trouble is putting that into practice. Let's use Oberstar as an example, again. He easily wins reelection every two years, as his district votes overwhelmingly for Democrats. So what do you do if you are an 8th District Democrat who thinks Oberstar has overstayed his welcome? Vote for the Republican challenger? That wouldn't make any sense. Better the same old guy who votes the way you want, rather than a fresh face who doesn't vote the way you want.

To remedy that, you'd have to remove the incumbent at the party endorsement level. But I don't see that happening. The parties aren't about to turn their backs on proven winners.

Monday, October 11, 2004

CC & MLK: The Two Greatest Americans
Today is Columbus Day. It's a federal holiday, but it's largely a non-holiday for most Minnesotans. I understand that the day is a bigger deal in some parts of the country (New York) with large Italian-American populations.

Have you ever noticed that Columbus Day and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day are the only two national holidays that honor an individual? George Washington and Abe Lincoln no longer are honored on their birthdays. Now they just share the generic Presidents Day with all the other former heads of state. Even Jesus has had his birthday turned into the "winter holiday."

Since they are the only two men with a national holiday, I have to conclude that old CC and MLK are the two most important figures in our nation's history.

But not so fast. Old CC is under attack these days. He's not politically correct. And he wasn't even an American! So MLK is the most important American ever. Take that, George Washington, Father of His Country!

Here's a question for you. If it's OK for states like Minnesota to ignore Columbus Day, a holiday of importance to Italian-American Roman Catholics (CC's a saint, after all, isn't he?), if people can judge CC by the standards of the 21st century and find him wanting, if people can ignore his holiday because they decide he doesn't deserve one, then why is it "racism" if all states and all ethnic groups don't recognize or celebrate the MLK holiday?

Kerry's Permit Defense

Apparently, Sen. John Kerry has now said that he doesn't plan to win the War on Terror, he just wants to reduce terrorism to acceptable levels.

In the world of football, this strategy is sarcastically known as the "permit defense."

Funny, the liberals don't talk about reducing racism to acceptable levels. They don't talk about reducing child poverty to acceptable levels. They don't talk about reducing pollution to acceptable levels. No, they plan to eliminate all of these problems. And in some cases, they've been planning for decades. But despite decades of Great Society programs, they keep asking us to re-elect them, so they can solve the same old problems, which they tell us are worse than ever.

Maybe they should apply this "permit defense" philosophy to domestic social problems, too. Let's just accept these problems. Treat them as law enforcement issues. We'll save more than the $200 billion Kerry keeps talking about.

(And why is it that when Kerry says we can't eliminate terror, we can only manage it, he isn't raked over the media coals the way President Bush was when he said it might not be possible to "win" the war on terror in the conventional sense? -- see my Sept. 1 column below )

Saturday, October 9, 2004

Free Agency for Players, Free Agency for Fans: What Happened to Loyalty to the Home Team?
Today was the first day of pumpkin selling season. Also this afternoon, the Minnesota Twins were going to play the New York Yankees in a playoff game. Shortly before game time, a man stopped to buy a pumpkin. I noticed he was wearing a Yankees hat. But he wasn't a New Yorker in town for the game. He wore a shirt indicating he was a worker at the St. Paul Ford plant. His Minnesota-licensed car wasn't a rental; it was an older model. Clearly he was a Minnesotan. Why the Yankees hat? Where's his loyalty? (Come to think of it, the Ford worker was driving a GM car, too!)

Anyway, that's a good lead in to give you this little essay, which I wrote about a year ago:



A major link hit me square in the forehead this morning as I was delivering my children to the local public elementary school. There was a boy wearing a Minnesota Wild jersey, and another kid with a Minnesota Vikings jersey. They were coming under fire from other kids, who were saying "the Vikings suck" and "the Wild suck." The anti-Wild kid was saying that "the Stars are better," (even though he's not old enough to remember the North Stars) while the anti-Vikings kid, under my questioning, stated that "his" team is the Eagles. I asked if he was from Philadelphia. He said no, he just likes the Eagles better.

Now, this allegiance to non-hometown teams isn't brand new. I've noticed it for at least a decade. But I don't understand it. When I was their age 30 years ago, a kid who said the hometown team "sucked" and pledged his allegiance to another team would have been in for a pretty rough day on the playground, if you know what I mean. It just didn't happen.

That's when the light bulb lit up over my head. Loyalty has become nothing more than just another consumer product. People feel free to buy (root for) whatever product (team) is in fashion (popular or successful at the moment), or whichever one catches their eye.

It's the same as the way that people used to buy their hometown beer simply because it was "their" beer. But somewhere along the line, people were seduced by the allure of the big national brands, and they decided that old Grain Belt, Hamms and Schmidt just weren't good enough for them. There's almost no "hometown loyalty" in the beer business anymore, and sports loyalties may be headed the same way.

Now here's the big LINK: People are starting to view loyalty to country the same way. I can't find any reason to refuse to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance other than on sincere religious grounds or because a person is a citizen of another country (And even then, he should stand out of respect for his host country). But evidently we have some people in this country who think that when it comes to loyalty to country, they are free to shop around and decide which, if any country, they will buy into.

It seems we have some people who don't want to say the Pledge because their man is not in the White House. That's nonsense. It's not a Pledge of Allegiance to a man or a political party. It's a Pledge of Allegiance to OUR country. If you're not loyal to it, why are you here?

That doesn't mean you can't say the Pledge and still disagree with the policies of the government. Of course you can. But some people seem to be taking the view that since their man did not get elected, it's not their country anymore. They think it's Bush's country, and they don't want to pledge their allegiance to Bush.

But that's nonsense. To use a sports analogy, disagreeing with the President used to be more like disagreeing with the coach over who he should start at quarterback. You might think he's wrong, you might think he's not a very good coach, but it's still YOUR TEAM.

Or at least, it used to be that way. Now I guess you just find a different team to root for.

What's a common thread in all of these changes? Television. National advertising of beer bred consumer demand for the big brands. The proliferation of sports coverage -- and endorsements, video games, etc. -- makes nationwide stars out of athletes and teams. In the same way, television -- through news and entertainment -- not only constantly questions and ridicules our President, but it also gives us a previously unavailable view into other nations. That includes seeing how they "don't like us," and hearing about how so many things are so much better in all of these other, more enlightened nations. The result is a kid who can sit in an American classroom, getting a free education (and maybe free breakfast and lunch, too), while having the freedom to not participate in the Pledge of Allegiance, and still wish he or she were French.

Friday, October 8, 2004

The Trouble with Michael Moore's Visit to "U"
As of this writing, the latest information I have is that liberal filmmaker Michael Moore will be speaking at the University of Minnesota tonight (Friday, Oct. 8). His possible appearance at the "U" created a great deal of controversy when it was initially reported that he would receive $40,000 to speak. Campus Republicans rightly objected to the University paying out money for an anti-Bush campaign rally.

Now, the University claims it is not paying for the event, which will be sponsored by a liberal interest group. That group says they will pay Moore's expenses, but not a speaking fee. Hopefully they will also reimburse the university for indirect costs like security and use of Williams Arena. If that's the case, then we taxpayers shouldn't be up in arms. Let the fool speak.

But I'd like to talk about the initial reaction to the announcement that the U would be paying Moore to speak. Why did that bother people -- myself included -- so much? It was pointed out that the U has a long tradition of bringing in all sorts of speakers, many of whom are controversial. That's been seen as part of the mission of providing a liberal (small "l") education.

Why so much opposition to Moore?

I think there are several ways in which Moore's appearance differs from most speakers at the U. For one thing, Moore is associated not just with a certain philosophy or way of thinking, but with a specific political agenda. He directly attacks a particular candidate. He's more of a political operative than a thinker. He's clearly working to influence the election. And that election is now only three and a half weeks away.

In addition, there was the $40,000 figure. That struck people as a lot of money, especially to pay to someone whose appearances help him to sell more books and movies. Moore's appearance isn't about exposing students to a variety of ideas. It's about benefiting Moore: by earning him more money, and by influencing the election in the way Moore wants it to go.

Why should the taxpayers be party to that? If the U wants to bring in Moore for the intellectual value, wait until after the election.

Thursday, October 7, 2004

The Challenger As Co-President
Maybe you've heard about the school teacher who was forced to take the picture of President Bush off her classroom wall. But then again, maybe you haven't, because the story doesn't seem to be showing up in the daily paper. I heard about it on (evil, talk) radio Monday, and was waiting for more about it to come out in the paper. But that hasn't happened. So I used the (evil, conservative) Drudge Report website to find a link to the story on the website of the TV station that first reported it. You can find the story at http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/news/WABC_100304_middleschoolteacher.html

As reported by ABC7 TV news, a Monmouth Junction, New Jersey, middle school teacher had pictures of the U.S. presidents on a classroom bulletin board. Three parents confronted her and insisted that she either add John Kerry's photo to the display, or remove the photo of President Bush. She refused.

I'm guessing that she saw this as one of those "teachable moments," and informed the parents that Senator John Kerry is not now, nor has he ever been, President of the United States.

But, that was not good enough. She was told by school administrators that her "inflammatory politics" had disrupted the school, she was required to remove the display of presidents, and she was told to leave the building.

"There was no political intent, nor was there any political content in that photograph nor on the bulletin board," said the teacher, Shiba Pillai-Diaz. The English teacher said she is a Bush supporter, but she keeps politics out of her classroom. Whether or not she had been fired was not immediately clear.

Is it not a fact that George W. Bush is the 43rd President of the United States? How can merely recognizing that historical fact be considered some sort of not allowed partisan activism?

Meanwhile, I'm writing this after returning from accompanying my child's elementary school class on a field trip. Another parent on the trip was wearing both a Kerry campaign button on her shirt and a Kerry campaign sticker on her backpack. It didn't seem to me that I needed to complain about that.

And four years ago, my then-first grader came home and announced that we should vote for Gore because Bush would destroy the Alaskan wilderness. I asked where she got that idea, and she said, "My teacher said so."

But a picture of the sitting President on the classroom bulletin board? Controversial! Take it down.

Yes, by nature of being the incumbent and doing his job, the President will be in the public eye. That may include having school children see his photograph. But incumbency always has benefits, for any political office. Members of Congress benefit not only from publicity, but they use the Franking Privilege for free postage to inundate voters with "official business" mailings extolling their virtues.

But the fact that the President, just doing his job, ends up in the news seems to bother the news people. They seem to think they need to give equal time to the challenger. Yes, it can be hard to separate "just doing his job" from campaign activity, but the media take it too far. It sometimes seems as though they anoint the challenger as some sort of co-president.

If Bush does something newsworthy, they have to give equal coverage to whatever Kerry did that day. Or they give him a chance to say what Bush did is wrong. (It doesn't matter what Bush does, Kerry just says it's wrong. Maybe Bush could trick him, a la Bugs Bunny: WMDs. No WMDs. WMDs. No WMDs. No WMDs. WMDs! OK, have it your way.)

This is one of those things I'm going to have to pay closer attention to when the political tides turn and Democrats conquer Washington again. (Yes, it will happen sometime. I just don't know whether it will be sooner or later.) The next time an incumbent Democrat President is up for reelection, will the media treat his Republican challenger as a "co-president"? I'll have to watch for that.

And another thing I'm going to have to watch for is the way they like to say "House Republicans today passed a bill..." whenever there's controversial legislation. Or how they say "The Bush administration today..." every time anyone in the executive branch does anything that might not be popular. I thought they used to just say "The House passed a bill..." or "The Labor Department announced..." It seems like they take any opportunity to make Republicans look bad. But maybe they've always done it that way. Like I said, I'll have to watch when the tide turns.

Day-early post for Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Rockers In Mid-Life Crisis -- It's Never Enough
I already wrote about the "Vote for Change" Democratic concert tour Oct. 4, but I've got some additional thoughts to share as the tour hits St. Paul.

I wonder if a big part of this, from the musicians' perspective, is sort of a mid-life crisis. Look who's heading up this show, at least in St. Paul. Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M., John Fogerty. These guys have been around awhile. Maybe they're looking back on their lives and saying, Sure, I'm rich, I'm famous, I've partied my butt off, but what have I really done? Plus, the bloom has gone off their roses, so to speak. They're not the young stars they once were.

But their mid-life crisis is a little different from yours or mine. They've already had the red convertible. They've already had the young mistress (or several). They don't wonder if there's still time for that second career as a lounge singer.

So they're looking to make their mark on the world in some more grown-up way.

I guess no matter who you are or what you do, you always want more. Donald Trump was rich; now he's a rich TV celebrity. Notice how the other rich guys are jealous. They don't want to be left out. So now Mark Cuban and Richard Branson have their own TV shows. The money isn't enough, they want to be big TV stars, too.

People always want more. As a wise man once wrote:

"Poor man wanna be rich,
rich man wanna be king,
And a king ain't satisfied,
till he rules everything."

Wait. That was Bruce Springsteen, in his song "Badlands."

Maybe old Bruce is pretty smart after all. He just needs to listen to himself.

Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Report on Tax Cuts Illustrates Different Perspectives, and Media Bias
A recent news story about Congress' wrangling over tax cuts provides us with a "teachable moment." The story illustrates three points: 1) Differences of opinion are frequently the result of looking at the same situation from different perspectives. 2) Which perspective you have determines what terminology you use to define the debate. 3) When the media pick which terminology they will use, "media bias" results.

Here's the lead paragraph from a story by Edmund L. Andrews of the New York Times. It was top-of-the-front-page in my Sept. 23 St. Paul Pioneer Press:

"Putting aside efforts to control the federal deficit before the elections, Republican and Democratic leaders agreed Wednesday to extend $145 billion worth of tax cuts sought by President Bush without trying to pay for them."

I emphasize the last six words because they are key. The idea that we must "pay for" a tax cut reflects a certain type of thinking. A type of thinking that regards tax cuts as some sort of government benefit being paid out to people. That sort of thinking comes about if you assume that there is some "right" level of taxation, and any deviation is an unnatural abnormality that must be "paid for." Taken to the extreme, this line of thought believes that ALL money belongs to the government, and any money that the government does not take from you is actually money that the government is giving to you. People with this perspective are usually called liberals.

But tax rates are, of course, arbitrary. They can be set as high or low as we want to make them. People who recognize this look at tax cuts differently. They start with the premise that the money is theirs, not the government's. We usually call these people conservatives.

Also at the heart of these differing perspectives is the question of which came first: the taxing? or the spending?

Liberals seem to put the spending first. They look at all the things they want to do with tax money, see how much tax money that will take, then they set the tax rate accordingly. They see expenditures as fixed and tax rates as flexible, so the tax rate must adjust to accommodate spending. This is what is going on now in St. Paul, as a new city council majority wants to raise property taxes.

Conservatives are more likely to first determine the desired tax rate, then see how much money will be available, and make spending decisions accordingly. They see tax rates as fixed and expenditures as flexible, so expenditures must adjust to accommodate tax revenues. This is the position of St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly, who vetoed the council's proposed property tax hike.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Dave, if the tax rate is lowered, then planned expenditures will have to be cut. That's what they mean by 'pay for.'"

I understand that. But remember what I said about terminology defining the debate. This story is reported from what I have described as the liberal perspective. The reporter shows his bias -- however unintentional -- by looking at tax cuts as a departure from the "correct" rate, and a benefit that the government is paying out to people. He seems to assume that the government already has the money, and now is paying some of it back to people. That's why he reports a tax cut as something to "pay for." He sees the spending as coming first. A conservative perspective might instead refer to the need to adjust spending in order to balance the new budget, which is based upon the lower tax rates.

Unfortunately, my point would be more clear if we weren't talking about the federal government. You see, our federal government doesn't balance its budget. We have a deficit year after year. So when Congress passes tax cuts and then fails to -- take your pick -- either "pay for" them or "adjust spending," it just adds to the deficit. If we were talking about the city of St. Paul, which must balance its budget, we'd actually have a better example. But with deficit spending, Congress isn't forced to recognize the relationship between taxing and spending. Thus they can get away with cutting taxes -- at least in the short term -- without making any tough decisions on the spending end of the equation.

So what should the tax rate be? Is there some magic number? Beats me. In the absence of scientific proof of the "best" tax rate, we instead have a system built on a tug-of-war between two philosophies: conservatives, who think a tax cut is good in and of itself; and liberals, who think a tax increase is good, because it allows increased government spending on worthy causes.

Either, or both, may be right -- in the short term. But consider what would happen if one philosophy won out. If we raised taxes year after year after year, eventually we'd approach 100% taxation. Obviously, that wouldn't work. If we cut taxes year after year after year, eventually we'd approach 0% taxation. Obviously, that wouldn't work, either.

So in the long run, maybe this adversarial, two-party, tug-of-war isn't so dumb after all.

Monday, October 4, 2004

Can't We Keep Art, Business and Politics Separate?
Tuesday brings the much publicized "Vote for Change" concert to St. Paul. Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M. headline a show to benefit America Coming Together, a group that hopes to "derail the right-wing Republican agenda by defeating George W. Bush and electing Democrats up and down the ticket."

There's been a lot of discussion about whether a person who likes the music, but disagrees with the musicians' politics, should go to the concert. I say no. Because it's no longer a concert. It's a campaign event -- a direct fundraiser with music. A person must judge it as that.

I never had a problem with musicians and actors being liberals. That's the nature of the beast. Like businessmen being conservatives. If I paid to partake of someone's art, I figured the artist could do as he or she wished with my money. If he wanted to make contributions to candidates I do not support, that's his right. If she wants to speak her mind, so be it.

But there was a separation between the artist's work and the artist's personal politics. I could buy the record, but I didn't have to buy the rhetoric. But now, it's as if the artists are saying, You're either with us or you're against us. The music belongs only to the true believers.

People used to say, Don't talk about politics or religion. That was good advice if you wanted to keep a civil relationship with your neighbors, many of whom you knew had views that differed from your own. Suppose you were a Republican, and you regularly got your hair cut at Charley's corner barbershop. But Charley was a Democrat. No problem. When you came in for a haircut, Charley made sure he talked to you about sports, not politics.

But now, we've got situations like my neighborhood coffee shop, which greets customers with an anti-Bush sign on the front door. Don't they want money from Republican coffee drinkers? Apparently not. Maybe they think "those people" don't live in the neighborhood. Or if they do, there aren't many of them. Not enough to care about.

It reflects that Minnesota liberal arrogance. All the normal people are like me, the liberal thinks. Republicans are just something you read about in the papers. Republicans aren't real people I might know or come into contact with in my neighborhood.

So they send the message: We don't care about you. You're less than human. We don't want your kind in here. We don't want your money.

Remind you of anything? Any time or place in our history?

Are we destined to backslide into segregation based on politics? Doing business and socializing only with those whose views mirror our own?

Friday, October 1, 2004

The Real Debate: Who Won?
Here's what I learned from Thursday's presidential debate: I can't lose! I'm supporting Bush, so if he wins, I win. But if Kerry wins, I win, too. Because all our problems will be solved. You see, he has "plans"! We'll all be drinkin' that free Bubble-Up and eatin' that rainbow stew, and someone else will pay for it. And not only that, but someone else will be dying for us in Iraq!

Who won the debate? Your answer to that likely depends on who you wanted to win. Some true believers were so sure their man had won, that they began voting in his favor in the StarTribune online poll hours before the debate began!

In terms of who came off as more polished and articulate, Kerry won. Bush is not smooth. Listening to him speak can be painful sometimes. If a person knew nothing about either man before the debate, and they were trying to sell us widgets, Kerry would have won the account. He probably gained votes from undecided (uninformed, is more like it) voters who were impressed with his regal demeanor.

But despite the obsession with style over substance (read my columns from Aug. 13-17), substance matters. And when you examine what Kerry had to say, he's a loser.

Bush continued to state where he stands. You may not agree with him, but you know where he stands. If you disagree, then don't vote for him.

But Kerry continues this charade of claiming he has maintained one, consistent position on Iraq. He obscures his political wind-blown flip-flops by relying on his past record, in which he simultaneously has taken no position and every position. He has so many qualifiers and "nuances" in everything he says that he's always parsing himself in order to find an out.

Listening to him "explain" his flip-flops is like listening to excuses from children. It's like when you tell your kid, "I thought I told you no video games tonight," and he replies, "I wasn't playing video games. I was playing computer games."

Or when you say, "Don't play with that, it'll break," then hear a crash as soon as you turn around. "I told you not to play with that!" you say. And your kid replies, "I wasn't playing with it. I was looking at it." (Very Clintonian.)

Kerry's most ridiculous doubletalk appeared early in the debate. In one response, he complained that the U.S. is paying 90% of the cost and doing 90% of the dying in Iraq. Our allies should share in those costs, he said. Then, the very next time he spoke, he blamed Bush for not catching Osama Bin Laden. "We had him surrounded. But we didn't use American forces, the best trained in the world, to go kill him. The president relied on Afghan warlords that he outsourced the job to."

Isn't that what you said you wanted? Let our allies die in our place?

Then, on his very next turn, he again talked about the need to have our allies share in the cost, returning to his statistic that the U.S. is bearing 90% of the cost in money and lives.

Senator Kerry, do you really want to entrust the capture of the bad guys to the French? You yourself just said there is no one as qualified as American troops.

Then, when talk turned to North Korea, he criticized Bush's six-way talks that include China, the one nation that North Korea listens to. Kerry said we should negotiate directly with North Korea, and the other nations be damned. Kerry wants us to act on North Korea unilaterally!

Kerry also complained the our troops in Iraq don't have the equipment they need. Yet he complains that the $200 billion spent in Iraq could have been spent better at home. During 20 years in the Senate, he has consistently voted against providing the proper equipment to our military. And he blames Bush for not providing for our troops?

At another point, Kerry tried to link himself to Ronald Reagan. Yet while he said the greatest threat we face is nuclear weapons in the hands of our enemies, he also said that if elected, he would discontinue work on a nuclear bunker-buster missle. Ronald Reagan believed in peace through strength, and won the cold war by refusing to disarm. I was hoping Bush would say, "Senator Kerry, I knew Ronald Reagan, and you're no Ronald Reagan."

Still, he knows he can get away with it. The "mainstream" press won't call him on his doubletalk. Yet remember what happened when Bush spoke with real nuance, saying the war on terror may not be a war that we can "win"? The press went nuts, claiming Bush said we were losing the war. (Scroll down to see my September 1 column.)

I don't think Kerry believes in anything, except that he wants to be president. He will say whatever he thinks is politically beneficial on any given day. And he thinks we're all dumb enough to let him get away with it. After all, he's better than us commoners, isn't he?

Just look at his history. He went to Vietnam when he thought that would look good on his political resume. Then war-hero John came home, saw how much the political winds had shifted, realized a war hero was going nowhere in politics, and he became anti-war John. But when the war on terror came along, all of a sudden he was war-hero John again. He "defended America as a young man." (A claim he repeated last night.) But I thought he and his anti-war friends had been telling us for decades that Vietnam had nothing to do with defending America. Which is it?

This guy's only position is that whatever Bush does is wrong. He's like a Monday morning armchair quarterback. After the fact, he claims he knew better than the guy who had to make the decisions in Sunday's game. Funny thing is, in this case, Kerry was in the huddle agreeing with the calls on Sunday.

contents copyright 2004, David W. Downing

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