archives: January-March, 2005

Friday, April 15, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 14, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 14, 2005

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

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 11, 2005

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

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

And we're complaining?

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

I agree.

Saturday, April 9, 2005

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

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

Revenge of the Papacy

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

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

March 30 Use Up Theirs First

March 31 Kids Need the Thrill of Risk-Taking

April 1 Stars Unite Behind New Auto

April 2 Not Discrimination

April 3 What Dog Are You?

April 4 We Think We've Got It So Rough

April 5 Bust-Up (Laughing)

April 6 Who's On First? Video Rental Version

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

April 8 Should Murder Be Legal?

That oughta about do it!

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Each of the other four leaders also spoke.

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

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

Monday, March 28, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 28, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 26, 2005

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

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

Or is it?

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

Dear Harlan:

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

(signed) Scamming Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's Harlan's response:

Dear Scamming Friend:

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

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

Friday, March 25, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here's a web page about Childers.

That web page links to another interesting obituary.

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

Friday, March 25, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 24, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It sure doesn't look like it to me.

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

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

Thursday, March 24, 2005

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 21, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 18, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 18, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 18, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 17, 2005

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

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

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

Thursday, March 17, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read my essay on the Power of Stigma.)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 17, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what can you do about it?

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

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

Simple? Yes. Easy? Not necessarily.

But I think it's the answer.

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Gambling on Replacing One Vice with Another

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

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

Democracy -- it ain't always pretty.

Monday, March 14, 2005

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

Now, on to the topic at hand:

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

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

Here's my response:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why should Laura Billings get to decide what offends me?

Sunday, March 13, 2005

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 12, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where would we put all of our garbage?

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

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

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

Friday, March 11, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope his wife was understanding.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

A parent should be, too.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why don't we save? Why should we?

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Happy Birthday to my friend Greg!

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

Resolved: Today's art is trash

From the JAS e-mail:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember: She said it!

Monday, March 7, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In comparison, sports stadiums might better serve the public.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 6, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 4, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 3, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he was ridiculed by the "experts."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 28, 2005

A Basement with a Vaulted Ceiling?
To borrow and mutilate a famous quotation: The comic strip house is different from yours and mine. It has a bigger basement.

It's a common scene in the funny papers, but depicting both the basement itself AND someone standing at the top of the basement stairs presents a challenge. (Just go down into your own basement and check out the sightlines.) That must be why comic strip basements are so unusual.

Look at this Feb. 19 "Rhymes with Orange" for an example. Notice the woman standing on the top step. Her feet are at the level of what, in a real house, would be the basement ceiling. But if this basement has a ceiling, it must be about 16 feet high! Also, why doesn't the basement extend under the part of the house on the other side of the door?

Her "basement" looks to be a high-ceilinged room next to the rest of her house, not under it.

If you pay attention, you'll see this special type of "basement" depicted in animated TV programs and movies, as well. You might even see this type of "basement" in the set of a live-action sit-com. (Of course, most of those soundstage "rooms" they use don't have ceilings, anyway.)

In an age when we expect everything to look "real" -- and when we've grown accustomed to computer-generated images that can make the unreal look real -- I find this lingering bit of stagecraft refreshing. It's a surviving bit of artifice from a time when people just assumed they would suspend disbelief while they watched a play, never questioning why they were able to peer right through the "fourth wall."

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Lessons of History
I've been watching a BBC series called "Battlefield Britain," which has been airing on my local PBS affiliate. The program recreates and analyzes pivotal military battles in British history, from a revolt against Roman rule, to the Norman Conquest, to the English Civil War, to fights with the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish, on up to WWII's Battle of Britain.

It's fascinating stuff. And I'd like to point out a couple of themes that seem to run through 2000 years of warfare:

A battle never goes as planned.

Intelligence is usually wrong.

Which is why I don't join in the hand wringing over "what went wrong in Iraq?" It's a war. What did you expect? History teaches us that things never go as planned.

Another point that stands out: History is full of turning points. What if...? What if...? There are many points in history where but for one man's decision, the results could have been completely different.

What would the world be like these days if Churchill had not stood up to Hitler? What if the RAF had not prevailed in the Battle of Britain? Would Germany still rule Europe? Without England as a staging ground, the U.S. couldn't have participated in the Normandy invasion. Would it have been up to Stalin alone to stop Hitler?

We're All Socialists
Conservatives often like to criticize liberals' proposals with, "That's socialism!"

Truth be told, we already have socialism. We've got social security, welfare, government-paid programs up the wazoo. The only argument remaining is how much socialism we are going to have.

Economist Edward Lotterman has a good take on this in his column today.

Give This Guy a Mirror
This cartoon started appearing in my daily paper a few months ago. There are two things wrong with it: It's seldom funny, and the cartoonist thinks his job is to repeatedly take stupid, cliched shots at President Bush.

And then he does this cartoon. Somebody give this guy a mirror!

Looks to me like a hack "cartoonist" getting paid to advance the Democratic Party agenda.

Click here for more samples of "Candorville."

Saturday, February 26, 2005

That's the Team Spirit!
News item:
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Kelly Campbell arrested on drug and weapons charges.

I knew someone would step up to fill Randy Moss' shoes. I just didn't know it would be so soon.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Mean-Spirited Liberals Love to Stereotype
I came across something interesting on Vox Day's blog today. The issue was the way that some liberals like to characterize conservatives as stupid. These elitist liberals see themselves as intellectually superior -- which, in their minds, equals morally-superior, as well.

Vox Day describes himself as a Christian libertarian and a member of Mensa. I'm glad to see that, because I get tired of feeling like I'm the only intellectual person who is a Christian and NOT a liberal. (For the record, I'm a former member of Mensa. I just didn't have time to be involved.)

Of course, it's never been the case that only dumb people are Christians, or that only dumb people are conservatives, but the stereotyping liberals and their cronies in the mainstream media have done a thorough job of presenting it that way.

I'd like to share with you a thought I've had regarding the relationship between intellect and religion. I've noticed how some people with high brain function seem to have decided that they are TOO SMART to believe in God. These tend to be people who are pretty full of themselves, confident that they know everything.

(But, of course, thinking that you know everything is a dead giveaway that you don't.)

I propose to you that the too-smart-for-their-own-good atheists I've described are at a dangerous mid-level of intellectualness. They've filled their larger-than-average minds with so much science that they have no room left for God. They rationalize this as meaning that there is no God. I think of Isaac Asimov as an example.

But it is a really large, high-level mind has room for both science and God. It's actually a more-developed brain that can handle and reconcile both science and God. I think of C.S. Lewis, who overcame his own internal resistance to reason his way to God.

A Penitentiary for Your Thoughts
Today I came across some thoughts on "hate crimes," courtesy of La Shawn Barber. I've always opposed the concept of a "hate crime," because it looks to me like punishment for a person's thoughts. And I thought as Americans we were free to think or believe as we wish -- even if we want to think in bigoted or unpopular ways.

Barber does a great job of presenting my objections to the whole "hate crime" concept. But I'll add one more thought of my own:

Under the "hate crimes" concept, you can punish someone MORE if they hurt the victim AND hated the victim, than if they had just hurt the victim. So the perpetrator might get 5 years for assault, and 5 years for "hate."

If we accept that, then doesn't it logically follow that we could give someone 5 years JUST FOR THE "HATE"?

How far are we from that? Better to lock someone up for the hate, before they get a chance to inflict the hurt. That sounds reasonable, doesn't it?

I'm sure some people think so.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Follow-up to Yesterday's PC Post
Regarding yesterday's post on Political Correctness, which included an anecdote about St. Paul City Council member Debbie Montgomery, I should add that I wrote a polite letter to Debbie Montgomery, expressing my concern about what she had said. She was apologetic, and I hope that I taught her to consider her words more carefully. I don't want to vilify her. But my point is, this is the sort of innocent, offhand comment that is apparently OK in one case, but possible grounds for firing in another.

Montgomery was the speaker at a program during African-American Parent Involvement Day. I was paying close attention, because at the same program a year earlier, I was shocked at the comments made by the speaker -- a U of M professor!

Here are some other links that relate to Political Correctness and Lawrence Summers. The first is an open letter from Chester Finn to Lawrence Summers, written in 2002. It foreshadows the present controversy wonderfully.

The second is an excerpt of some choice anti-PC words from Phyllis Schlafley quoted on La Shawn Barber's blog.

Good Reads on the Human Cost of War
Today I read two good columns on the human cost of war. One is from Joseph Galloway, who tells the story of soldier who didn't make it back alive. Sgt. 1st Class David J. Salie knew he might never see his family again, but he believed "The price is worth it."

The second is from economist Edward Lotterman, who draws upon his own experience as a Vietnam veteran as he writes about how hard it is to measure the human cost of war.

Lotterman also writes about the weight of responsibility on military commanders and national leaders who have to make the decisions that send men to their deaths. That reminds me of, of all things, an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

In one episode, the ship's counselor, Deanna Troi, had decided that she wanted to better herself by completing the training and becoming qualified to take a turn in command of the ship. She seemed to have hit a dead-end in her training, when a computer-simulated reactor malfunction repeatedly ended in the destruction of the Enterprise. She couldn't find a solution, until she asked engineer Geordie LaForge whether he could shut down the reactor from the inside. He answered, "Yes, but...," and someone else pointed out to Troi that entering the reactor would result in LaForge's certain death from radiation exposure.

Troi suddenly realized the point of the test. She ordered LaForge to shut down the reactor from the inside. The ship was saved. Troi had passed the test. But if it hadn't been a simulation, LaForge would have been dead. It made for an unusually poignant ending to the episode.

Sometimes, being in command must really suck.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Political Correctness Is All Around Us
In an editorial concerning sports teams using Indians as mascots, the St. Paul Pioneer Press opined, "No matter the original intent of these mascots, when someone tells you that you are offending him, a decent person would put a stop to the offense. To do otherwise is disrespectful and insensitive."

But is it really that simple? Anytime someone says he's offended, you're expected to stop doing what you're doing or saying what you're saying? What happened to free speech? Open-mindedness? A free exchange of ideas?

This is not a column about Indian mascots. I was slow to come around on that issue, but I agree now that we can get by just fine without Indian mascots. I repeat: This is not a column about Indian mascots.

But it is a column about Political Correctness.

And the sentiment expressed in that Pioneer Press editorial betrays Political Correctness.

Political Correctness is based not on consistent principles or fairness, but on the whims and favored causes of the PC practitioner. In this case, the editorialist expresses the supposed universal truth that if someone says he's offended, you have to stop what you're doing.

Well, then, what about the things that offend me? I'm offended by gratuitous sex and bad language on TV. Yet no one stops that. Instead, those who complain are called "intolerant" blue noses who want to impose their values on everyone else.

As a Christian, I find much to offend me. "Holiday" trees erected at Christmas. Mocking parodies of the Christian fish -- a symbol of Jesus -- on people's cars. "What Would Wellstone Do?" bumper stickers. (Instead of "What Would Jesus Do?") Hateful anti-Christian bumper stickers, the equivalent of which would not be tolerated if directed against another religious group. Non-believers exclaiming "Jesus Christ!" or "Oh my God!" in every-other sentence.

But....let a Christian complain, and we're told: "This isn't a theocracy. We have separation of church and state. Don't try to impose your religion on me."

Good grief. I said I was offended. Wouldn't a decent person put a stop to the things that offend me?

Of course not, because Political Correctness is all about a double standard. Like I said, despite the high-minded airs of PC practitioners, Political Correctness is not about principle. It's about picking and choosing who and what is worthy of respect and protection.

Here's another puzzle for you. Sometimes people say that the U.S. is a Christian nation, or they say we were founded on Judeo-Christian principles. But how do the critics respond? "This isn't a 'Christian nation.' Most people aren't Christian."

Is that right? Then that must make Christians a minority group. So why don't we get the same consideration and respect that the PC practitioners are so proud to extend to other minority groups?

Because there's a double standard.

By now, you've surely heard the story of embattled Harvard University president Lawrence Summers, taking heat over some remarks he supposedly made regarding the science abilities of women. (Read the transcript and decide for yourself.) Summers is being raked over the PC coals for supposedly suggesting that women may not be as capable at science as are men.

Meanwhile, what happens if it comes from the opposite direction? What if someone suggests that women are BETTER than men? This is a true story. I witnessed it myself. No members of the media were there to report it, but even there had been, I doubt they would have seen anything newsworthy.

It was at my children's St. Paul public elementary school a year ago. There was a general assembly, and the speaker was Debbie Montgomery, a new St. Paul council member and long-time police officer. Montgomery talked about police work, and encouraged girls to consider law enforcement as a career.

Nothing wrong with that.

But then, Montgomery went on to say that she thinks women are better suited to police work than are men, because women have better communication skills!

Of course, she may be right. But can you imagine the uproar if a male firefighter told the kids he thought men were better suited to his job, because men are stronger than women?

Actually, we don't have to imagine. We already know he can't get away with that. We know, because the city of St. Paul has been through a lawsuit over that very issue. And now, the city has been forced to modify the physical skills test given to firefighter candidates, to try to qualify more women for the department.

That's the double standard. That's Political Correctness.

(I should add that I wrote a polite letter to Debbie Montgomery, expressing my concern about what she had said. She was apologetic, and I hope that I taught her to consider her words more carefully. I don't want to vilify her. But my point is, this is the sort of innocent, offhand comment that is apparently OK in one case, but possible grounds for firing in another.)

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Unfinished Business
Regarding something I wrote about yesterday, it was the USA Today newspaper that recently had a story on the self-esteem backlash. You can find the story online.

Wisdom of the Ages
Despite all of our Blue Ribbon Panels and University Studies designed to solve our "modern" problems, I find over and over that most of the wisdom we really need has been around for ages. From King Solomon, to Plato, to Sun Tzu, to Machiavelli, to Ben Franklin, those who went before us have already done a pretty good job of analyzing human nature and the human condition.

For instance, yesterday, in discussing the self-esteem movement, I talked about the relevance of the Biblical "Spare the rod; spoil the child."

Today, blogger Craig Westover wrote about the folly of an on-again, off-again Minnesota state sales tax on cakes. Westover talks about how government should not act unless there is a clear need to. Tinkering in an attempt to produce some hoped-for minor improvement should be avoided, he writes, because it all too easily results in unintended negative results.

Seems to me that can be summed up in another familiar old saying, the medical adage, "First, do no harm."

And once again, we can see that those who have gone before us already figured this stuff out for us. Westover quotes Benjamin Constant, who voiced this idea -- that the best thing government usually can do is to do nothing -- 200 years ago.

"Whenever there is no absolute necessity, whenever legislation may fail to intervene without society being overthrown, whenever, finally it is a question merely of some hypothetical improvement, the law must abstain, leave things alone, and keep quiet."

(Thomas Jefferson was of the same mind when he wrote: "That government which governs least, governs best.")

You can get a quick primer on Benjamin Constant online. He sounds like my kind of guy. His 200-year-old ideas are as sound today as they ever were, probably more so. Thanks, Craig, for tipping me off to Benjamin Constant.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Self-Esteem Takes a Beating
I'm not sure what news report or such got them started on this, but some of the voices on talk radio have recently been talking about how the "mainstream" has suddenly discovered something that they've been saying all along: All this worrying about children's self-esteem -- with no keeping score, no red marks on papers, no one ever failing, no one ever being "wrong" -- isn't doing the kids any favors. It's leaving them unprepared for higher education, the workplace, and the real world. When they finally reach a place where they are held accountable for their performance, they are blindsided. Their wide-but-shallow, unearned self-esteem and self-confidence are crushed.

I think a Biblical adage applies here: "Spare the rod; spoil the child." The "rod" in this case is not corporal punishment, but rather pointing it out to children that they aren't perfect and they make mistakes.

That's how they learn.

If your child falls overboard, would you rather that she feels good about her swimming abilities, or that she actually knows how to swim?

Here's an example from youth sports: I've seen how when kids first start playing organized basketball, they are given a lot of leeway as far as traveling goes. The thinking is that if the refs are constantly blowing the whistle for every traveling violation, the kids won't get to play.

It sounds reasonable, at first.

But.....I've been watching year and year, and now these kids are getting older and older, and some are still traveling! No one ever made them learn not to! Worse yet, some of the worst traveling offenders are the same kids who score all the points for their teams. They travel and score and think they're the greatest. But they're not. Their fundamentals are terrible. But they continue to receive positive reinforcement for their poor skills.

Someday, they'll advance to a level where refs actually blow their whistles. Then what will they do? My point is, we're not doing these kids any favors by going easy on them.

Spare the rod (whistle); spoil the child.

Baby Needs (Wants) a New Toy
I wrote yesterday about how observing my children's behavior helps give me insight into adult behavior. I saw another example today.

We were at an entertainment center with a video game arcade. Now, I like to put my money into games that actually take awhile to play. I figure that's the point, enjoying the playing of the game. But my son gravitated toward a different sort of game. (It's not really a game at all, in my opinion.) In this game, you put in your token, a dial starts spinning, then you hit a button and see where the spinner stops. Where the spinner stops determines how many tickets you win. The tickets can be redeemed for prizes (which aren't worth anything near the money you've spent on the games).

There's no skill. No actual competition involved. It's over in seconds. But my son wanted to do this because he was focused on the tickets. His greed was center stage in his mind. He wasn't interested in the satisfaction to be found in engaging in the contest itself, he just wanted the payoff.

And I thought, That's just like people and gambling. This "video game" was the equivalent of a slot machine. I thought of how people say that going to the casino isn't about gambling or money, it's about entertainment, it's recreation.

Yeah, right.

It's about greed.

Maybe for some people, the casino really is about fun and games. But I think for most, it's just about greed. They aren't really interested in DOING something; they want to GET something.

And that was so evident in the behavior of a child.

You know, gamblers saying it's not about the money might be like hunters saying it's not about the shooting. Some hunters say hunting isn't about firing guns and killing animals. They say it's about being out in nature. They say it's about the thrill of the hunt, the challenge of the pursuit.

Maybe so, but then why don't more of them use cameras instead of guns?

(Note: I am NOT anti-hunting. Go ahead and shoot all the deer you can eat. I make this comparison only in the interest of examining the human mind.)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Bio Hazards Can't Get Much Fouler
I'm updating my bio. What do you think of this?

--Served in the Minnesota House of Representatives during 1985-1987 term.

--Employed by the St Paul Pioneer Press. Columnist with world-wide distribution.

--Joined Met Council in special appointment.

--MBA, University of Wisconsin

Well, enough about me. You should read Bob Sansevere's column on Reggie Fowler, would-be Minnesota Vikings owner. Fowler has been a less than perfectly honest with his own bio. Still, he doesn't seem to recognize lying as a problem. Just rationalize it away. Maybe he's better suited for politics than sports mogulship. Try to wrap your logical mind around this Fowler quote:

"I believe the information in the bio can be taken either way, relative to 'Did I graduate from college?' yes, I did. Whether it was the college of business or the college of science, I graduated from college. So, I think there was a level of truth to everything in the bio. I think you can take it any direction you want to take it."

As for me, I'll be alright as long as you don't tell anyone that:

--I was on the staff of the Minnesota House for 10 and 1/2 months in 1986.

--I did ad layouts at the Pioneer Press for six months. 15 years later, I write this online column, available to anyone with Internet access.

--I worked a few months as a temporary employee in the communications department of the sewage treatment division of the Met Council.

--I never attended the U of Wisconsin, but I was accepted into the graduate school. For Political Science.

Hey, there's a level of truth to it all.

Darn Kids Make No Sense
As a parent, I experience some frustrating behavior by my children. (Payback time, right Mom?) For instance, there's "My tummy hurts and I should stay home from school." But insist on medicine or a trip to the doctor, and suddenly it's, "I'm feeling better now. Really!"

The really interesting thing is, I've noticed that these same illogical, childish behaviors that frustrate me so can also be found in adults. For instance, Social Security.

For years, those on the political left, including President Bill Clinton, told us that Social Security was in trouble. We had to do something so it didn't fail.

But what happens when President Bush proposes a little medicine?

"There's no crisis! The system isn't broken!"

Well, all better then. Off to school with you! And I don't want to hear any more whining.

You Get What You Pay For
Edward Lotterman had another good column in the Pioneer Press today. The economist is critical of federal farm programs. He says they aren't accomplishing their purpose -- helping farmers.

I agree. It's hard for me to come out against the programs, coming from a farming family and having relatives still trying to make a living on the farm. Lotterman has the same internal conflicts. But we both see that the programs, at least the way they are now, aren't working.

We hear a lot about preserving the family farm. Trouble is, the programs don't do that. They're based on production, so the biggest operators (not family farms) get the bulk of the money, whether they need it or not.

Keep in mind the saying that you get more of what you subsidize, less of what you tax. By subsidizing inefficient production, we just get more of it. Production stays up, prices stay down. Farmers are trapped in the system.

The whole thing reminds me all too much of another federal program: welfare. We've effectively subsidized poverty, entrapping generations in a poverty cycle. By subsidizing poverty, we've gotten more of it. Making it easier to be poor, means less incentive to not be poor.

Maybe that sounds dumb to you, but I think it makes sense. We often hear people complain, "It's harder for poor people to afford (fill in the blank)." Well, duh. Of course it's harder for poor people to afford things. It should be.

That's a disincentive to be poor.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Maybe It All Started with Light Beer
First, it was large-scale urban redevelopment projects that were going to be home to "light" industry.

Then, it was "light" rail, to bring the workers to the jobs.

Now, in a story about the search for a buyer and new use for the old Schmidt brewery in St. Paul, I read that a developer wants to use the property for housing and "light retail."

"Light" retail? What's that? Bedding stores that sell feather pillows? Party stores that sell helium balloons?

If anyone knows, please enlighten me.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Odds & Ends Day
When I started this thing, I didn't know if I'd have enough ideas to add regular posts. I needn't have worried. What I do need is more time to write. I've got an idea list that keeps growing and growing. Some ideas are quite complex, and I never feel I have the time to address them adequately. Other ideas are fairly simple, but they never seem quite important enough, and they keep getting aced out by other topics. Today, I'm going to take some of those "simple" items off my list.

Scientology: L. Ron Hubbard's Greatest Yarn
I saw a public TV program about the Piltdown Man hoax. "Piltdown Man" was a "missing link" based on some fossils found in England in the early 20th century. At that time, it was a matter of national pride to be considered the birthplace of mankind.

But Piltdown Man was a hoax. An obvious hoax, in retrospect. The program I watched asked the question, Who perpetrated the hoax?

One suspect was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle -- the creator of Sherlock Holmes. It was suggested that Conan Doyle had the opportunity, and as for motivation, it was pointed out that his novel "The Lost World" included a passage where a character talks about how easy it would be to perpetrate a hoax. Conan Doyle may have been trying to prove a point, or maybe he was just pulling a prank for the fun of it.

That suggestion, that an author had been trying to create a sort of real-life, three-dimensional work of fiction, reminded me very much my own theory regarding the Church of Scientology.

The Church of Scientology was founded -- invented -- by L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer. What better work of science fiction could a writer create -- and what more enduring legacy could he leave behind -- than to create a religion? It would show that he could spin such a good yarn that people wouldn't just read it, they would live it.

I'm suggesting the Hubbard didn't believe in any of the tenets of Scientology. The whole thing is a prank, designed to puff up his own ego.

Maybe that's not really the case, but it's interesting to think about.

A Wake-up Call: Let's Bring Back Mourning
This idea came up when a child was killed in a school bus collision this winter. The story died out, and I never found the right time to mention it.

The mother of the dead child, in her grief, made rather a fool of herself, first holding a news conference to lash out at those she held responsible, then getting into an on-air shouting match with a talk radio host who had been discussing the appropriateness of the news conference.

Maybe this is why people who had suffered a terrible loss used to go through a formal "period of mourning," in which they were pretty much out of contact with everyone -- to protect them from compounding their loss by their own actions. In this case, the woman should have holed up with her family and stayed away from the media. Everyone would have been better off.

And one more thing: the only reason the woman knew the radio host was talking about the matter was because a "friend" called and told her about it. What kind of friend is that? A real friend would try to make sure the grieving woman didn't hear her case being talked about, not call her and tell her, "Turn on your radio!"

Way to go, "friend." Way to hurt your grieving friend even further. That's no better than the child who runs back and forth on the playground, telling her "friends" the mean things someone else said about them. But those are just kids. What was this adult "friend's" excuse?

As my friend "Ace" might say, "She oughta be jackslapped!"

I bestow on the grieving mother's "friend" Downingworld's first Jackslap Award. Think of the Jackslap Award as both a reprimand and a wakeup call.

Yes, But Which is More Infinite?
Wrap your mind around this one, from a letter to the editor:

"It's true that, technically, evolution is a theory, but it's less of a theory than creation."

Huh? Either it's been proven, or it's a theory. I don't recognize "degrees" of theory.

I Know You Are, But What Am I?
In St. Paul, we have a decades-long controversy about whether to connect a roadway, Ayd Mill Road, to Interstates 35E and 94. One letter-to-the-editor writer, who lives near Ayd Mill Road and doesn't want it connected, had this to say about the hated suburbanites:

"If they want a shorter drive, then they should live nearer to where they work, like we do."

OK, lady, and if you want to not live next to a freeway, then you ought to not buy a house next to a freeway, like, perhaps, those suburbanites didn't.

Suburbanites: The New Access of Evil
It's in vogue to pick on the suburbs. There's the issue of freeway access to Ayd Mill Road: "Those awful suburbanites! They want to drive through my city!"

There's politics: "The suburbs hold the balance of power in the legislature!"

Why do so many people want to vilify the suburbs? Really, people. I share some of your concerns. I choose not to live in the suburbs, myself. But where are people going to live? There are more and more people in the Twin Cities, that means more and more houses. Do you want to tear down my house and build a high rise, so we can squeeze everyone into the city? I don't think so.

The jobs are in the city. People will travel to their jobs. It's not a new concept. Just the scale grows. In the 1920s, my "inner city" neighborhood was developed and was actually referred to as the "suburbs" -- I've seen it in print in old news stories. People commuted downtown on the streetcars, passing through other, older neighborhoods. So the suburbs aren't a new phenomena.

Yet, "suburbanites" are vilified. Enlightened urbanites don't want "those people" driving through their neighborhoods. What if we substituted "inner city-ites" in that complaint?

Ultimately, we need to spread out the jobs. Because the houses are going to spread out regardless.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Market Forces Help Reverse Urban Decay
I read an interesting story by Jennifer Bjorhus in Sunday's St. Paul Pioneer Press. The point of the story was that, while real estate values have been soaring everywhere in the Twin Cities, houses in some of the most "affordable" (run-down, undesirable) parts of town have appreciated the most.

I feared that this would be reported as a bad thing -- less "affordable housing" for low-income people. But Bjorhus did a good job of balancing the story. Yes, this makes it harder for low-income people to afford houses in these neighborhoods, but that's just part of the story. And I think the rest of the story is good news.

I see this as an example of how market forces, given the chance, can work to solve our problems. These neighborhoods were undesirable, so the houses sold for less. But that gave lower-income people an opportunity to buy their own homes. Once they became homeowners, they made improvements to their homes, they stabilized the neighborhoods, and they were rewarded with a rise in the value of their home. Their investments -- both cash and sweat equity -- have paid off. They have bought into the American Dream and are realizing success.

The homeowners have benefited. The neighborhoods have benefited. The cities have benefited. Everyone has benefited. This is good news.

According to Andrew Pitcher of SPARC, a community development group in St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood, "More and more people are saying, yes, this is a stable neighborhood. It's a neighborhood where I can put down roots and stay and invest my money and raise my family."

And that, my friends, is a very good thing. That means the neighborhood is ripe for commercial investment, business, jobs.

In St. Paul, many of the new homeowners in the previously low-valued neighborhoods are Hmong immigrants or Hmong-Americans. That continues a long-time St. Paul tradition of immigrant groups moving into and revitalizing parts of town that had fallen out of favor with long-time residents. (Or, in the fascinating case of St. Paul's Swede Hollow, home to a century-long wave of immigrants from various countries, moving into, but NOT revitalizing.)

The important thing to realize is that this is how market forces work. Through the simple forces of supply and demand, less-desirable houses find owners, and they become desirable houses again. With increased demand and a limited supply, their value increases. The capitalists (homeowners) who bought them when they were not in demand reap the benefits.

Government-funded home-improvements programs may have helped these homeowners turn the neighborhoods around, but it wasn't necessary for the government to knock everything down and start over. And too often over the past decades, that has indeed been the sole focus of urban renewal.

But what about the low-income people and new immigrants who are still looking to buy their first house? Aren't they hurt by this?

Only if they have their hearts set on living in Frogtown. But why have these Hmong homeowners settled into Frogtown? Is Frogtown the traditional home of the Hmong? No, of course not. They're in Frogtown because Frogtown represented their "land of opportunity."

With homes in Frogtown appreciating in value so much, the next wave of first-time homeowners will have to find their own "opportunity," in another neighborhood whose home values are lagging. That neighborhood might be in another part of the Twin Cities, or even in depressed rural parts of the state.

(For another take on this story -- and I don't disagree with him, he's just focusing on a different aspect of this -- read my favorite economics columnist, Ed Lotterman.)

Does This Fit the Profile?
I read something interesting on Michael Finley's site today. Mike's a St. Paul writer I know, and he was onto this Internet and Website thing before any of the rest of us. He writes about all sorts of things, from poetry to technology to politics.

On Wednesday (2/16/05), on his blog, he posted a piece on Dave Brown, a retired Federal Aviation Administration information officer. Mr. Brown has been trying in vain to get someone to listen to what he has to say, which is that the 9/11 attacks should have never happened. Mr. Brown claims that more than 30 years previous, the FAA had come up with a hijacker profiling system that could nab 87 percent of potential hijackers. But, for some inexplicable reason, the system was filed away into oblivion. If just 87 percent -- or less -- of the 9/11 hijackers had been nabbed, their plot would have been foiled, Brown argues.

Mr. Brown has self-published a book which states his case, and is trying to get someone to listen to his story. Check out what he has to say in Finley's report.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Just What the NHL Didn't Need: Another Tie!
Congratulations to the NHL players and the NHL owners. Neither side gave in. I guess that means they both won.

What a bunch of losers.

Could this debacle finally be enough to get cities and states to wake up and stop enabling the pro sports money addicts by building them new stadiums? Yeah, right.

When Schools Compete, We All Win
Yesterday I wrote about the differences I perceived in some schools that I had visited. One positive thing I'd like to point out is that the very fact that schools now compete for students has got to be good. My wife came home from another junior high open house last night with a colorful folder full of information singing the praises of Highland Park Junior High.

Now that students have choices, and aren't assigned to the public schools merely by geographic demarcation, the schools have to take a good look at themselves. They advertise in the local paper, which forces them to say, What do we have to offer? It makes them compare themselves to each other. It makes them more accountable.

Competition is a good thing. Vouchers could make it even better.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Resourcefulness Not in the School Curriculum
It's that time of year when parents of students in the St. Paul schools are making decisions about what school they want their child to attend next year. I have a fifth-grader, so the junior high decision is still a year away. Nonetheless, I thought it would be good to start thinking about it now, so I decided to attend some open houses.

In January, I attended an open house at Twin Cities Academy. This charter school is near my home, and I've heard good things about it. I came away very favorably impressed. I got the impression that this was a no-nonsense school, that it didn't make excuses, and that it was clear in its purpose -- educating children.

I noticed one thing in particular: when parents quizzed the principal on issues of money and staffing, her replies were consistent. The school knew how much money it had to work with. Yes, they'd like to have more. But they were able to figure out how to do everything they needed to do within the available budget. No, they did not have lots of full-time specialists on staff, but they covered those needs in other ways. No excuses, and no apologies.

I remarked to several people over the next few weeks how refreshing her perspective was. It was a real contrast to what we usually hear from public school officials. Typically, public school officials like to say things like, "Well, if we can get more funding..." or "With the budget cuts we can't..." or "Maybe next year, if we can get more funding..."

They're full of excuses. They like to deflect the blame to someone else. They seem focused on what they think they need, and they seem to think that they can't accomplish their goals unless someone else (deus ex machina) takes care of them.

As if to prove my point....

Last week I attended an open house at Ramsey Junior High School. A "traditional" public school of the St. Paul district. Upon entering the building, we were handed a piece of paper encouraging us to attend an upcoming education-funding rally at the state capitol. The principal also spoke to this subject, and said buses were being hired to take people to the rally (He did not say who was paying for the buses.).

As I was saying...

You know what the problem is here? Our traditional, bureaucratic public school systems don't understand what it means to be "resourceful." Rather than find a way to get the job done with the resources at hand, they get hung up on the idea that someone else needs to give them more resources.

(This is very closely related to the different ways that liberals and conservatives approach taxes and government spending. I wrote about that Oct. 5, 2004.)

I like to think that I am resourceful. I ask, What do I have to work with? rather than, What do I need? I'll give you an example. One morning last fall, while walking my kids to school, I discovered a spot on our route where the sidewalk was covered with broken glass. On the way back home, I saw the glass again and thought that I should return with a broom and dustpan from home, so I could clean up the glass and no kids would get hurt. But I didn't want to have to walk back to the spot again. So I was resourceful.

The glass-strewn spot was next to an apartment building parking lot. In the lot, there were recycling containers. I snooped around, and found a piece of cardboard for a dustpan, and a folded-up section of newspaper for a broom. And that worked just fine. Problem solved. No spending or government program required.

But such thinking seems foreign to the education bureaucracy. A couple of years back, I attended a special meeting at my kids' school. It was about gifted and talented programs. The school doesn't have any specific GT programs, although kids have opportunities to work with groups of kids of similar abilities.

Different curriculums or systems of GT education were discussed. But it seemed that administrators summed it all up with, "Of course, we don't know if we'll be able to get the funding to do anything."

So I spoke up. "Wait a minute," I said. "One of the GT methods that was mentioned was simply grouping kids in classrooms according to ability. We'd still have the same number of kids, the same number of classrooms, the same number of teachers -- how does that cost any more money?"

I received a deer-in-the-headlights stare from the administrators and the other parents. I could practically hear the crickets chirping.

Then we moved on.

So it seems that it's not only the school officials who've bought into the "money is everything" mindset, it's the parents, too. But then, why not? We don't hold parents accountable anymore, either. That's why the schools needs to raise the kids for them, even if it means feeding them breakfast.

A Glimmer of Hope
When it comes to being resourceful with public dollars, I have noticed at least one glimmer of hope. Last weekend I was at St. Paul's Dayton's Bluff Rec Center. It's a grand new building that is also connected to the Dayton's Bluff Elementary School.

Let's think about this for a minute. St. Paul's taxpayers for decades have been spending to build gyms at rec centers, and gyms at schools. The elementary school gyms are used only during the school day. The rec center gyms are used only after school and during the summer.

Notice that? Only one category of gym gets used at a time. When elementary school gyms are in use, rec center gyms aren't. When rec center gyms are in use, elementary school gyms sit empty. What a waste!

So creating a shared facility makes sense. But you know what? It's really not a new idea. Just new to the "big city" and its bureaucracy, I guess.

You see, I come from a small town. Small towns don't have "rec centers." Who's got money for that? In a small town, the school is the de facto "rec center." It's also the "community center" (along with the churches).

People in small towns see that nice school building sitting there -- that building that they paid for -- and they know it's only logical to put it to use. They look at what they have -- a school -- and they make use of it. They don't say, We need a rec center. Let's get someone to fund it.

They're simply being resourceful.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Valentine's Day Heart Warmer
This afternoon I was in the neighborhood grocery store (Korte's Supermarket), and I couldn't help but notice a group of teenagers - both boys and girls -- shopping for flowers and candy and Valentine's Day stuff. They had likely just gotten out of the nearby Cretin-Derham Hall High School.

I saw the teens again at the checkout. They were in good spirits and rather boisterous. A senior lady in the adjacent check-out line seemed drawn in by their good cheer, and started talking to them. I heard her remark to them that she had to buy her own candy, because she had no one to buy any for her. She said her husband had died recently. That put a bit of a damper on things, as the widow and the teens went through their respective checkouts and paid for their goods.

But the story doesn't end there. As the widow finished paying for her groceries and turned to leave, she found the teens waiting for her. They presented her with a rose. It was a touching moment.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Polar Opposites Don't Attract
In what sounds like a fake news story from the mind of Andy Borowitz, a German zoo is taking heat for trying to make its penguins fly straight.

The Humboldt penguins are an endangered species, and the zoo would like them to reproduce. One big problem: It turns out all of the zoo's penguins are male! But they'd been fooling zookeepers for years by pairing off and acting like male/female couples.

When zookeepers realized why these penguin pairs were unproductive, they announced plans to import some female penguins from Sweden, to teach the boys a thing or two.

Well, that plan laid an egg with gay rights groups, who appeared offended by the idea that there was any problem that needed correcting. One group said in a statement, "We deeply resent the attempts to interfere in the natural homosexual instincts of these penguins that are obviously happy in their same-sex partnerships. We urge any further attempts to break up these happy couples to be abandoned."

Hey, they're penguins. What do I know about the sexual urges of penguins? If they want to let their species die out, who am I to judge? But this story sparked my imagination, and I came up with a hypothetical situation.

Imagine one of those apocalyptic, post-WWIII scenarios. Humankind has been wiped out. Well, almost wiped out. A group of people gone for a year on a trans-Antarctic expedition (Sort of keeps with the penguin theme, dontcha think?) are the only survivors. A dozen men and a dozen women. Here's the twist: they're all gay.

My question: Do they overcome their natural inclinations and do what needs to be done in order to ensure the survival of the human race? Or do they stubbornly stick to their ideological principles, like the activists who are defending the gay penguins?

Don't know. But it sounds like the next mini-series on Fox.

From Gay Penguins to Gay Sponges
I read a great column from Cal Thomas this week. Please read it. Thomas, widely considered part of the "religious right" himself, takes conservative Christians to task for being so out of touch with the world that they can't compete in the battle of ideas.

I think I know where he's coming from.

I see Christians like that. Totally unaware of how the world works. Oh they think they know all about "the homosexual agenda" or "that awful rap music," but in truth, they're totally clueless. They only listen to "Christian" radio or read "Christian" publications.

They're so separated from the world, how do they hope to save it?

Jesus didn't cloister himself, in order to issue edicts of indictment. He went out amongst the people, so that he could win them over. (NOT so that he could become like them, as some would have it today.)

There's a lesson in there for us.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? The Bloggers!
Like an uninvited dinner guest who won't go away, bloggers are forcing the mainstream media to deal with their presence.

On his radio show Thursday, Joe Soucheray (3-6 pm CST, 1500 am in the Twin Cities, also maybe available streaming via the Web, but don't ask me how to do that) asked this question: In the age of the blog, when anyone can be a one-man news source, how do we determine who represents a "legitimate news organization"?

It's a very interesting question. For instance, is a small town weekly newspaper, that has been publishing out of a brick building on main street for 150 years, with a circulation of only 500, a "legitimate" news organization, based on the bricks, and the newsprint, and longevity? What if the publisher is a political partisan? What if the word "Democrat" or "Republican" actually appears in the name of the paper?

And what about me? I've been blogging for less than a year, and I'm not widely read (yet). I hardly consider myself worthy of a press pass to a presidential news conference. Yet, what about Matt Drudge? He now has millions of readers every day.

Some might say it depends on content -- "fact" vs. "opinion." But newspapers have always been full of both.

Meanwhile, Craig Westover, on his blog today, writes about how the St. Paul Pioneer Press -- a traditional daily newspaper -- is attempting to figure out how to incorporate blogs into the way their paper covers the news. Westover is in an unusual position, with a foot in both worlds. He is both a blogger and a weekly columnist in the Pioneer Press.

Westover writes that he and other members of the paper's editorial board recently met with Hugh Hewitt, in an informal discussion that asked the questions: "What is the best way to integrate the concept of blogs and blogging into the structure of the Pioneer Press? How might the Pioneer Press move forward to incorporate the 'new media' within its current business model? How can the Opinion Page today, take advantage of the talent and resources available in the Minnesota blogging community?"

I commend the Pioneer Press on their progressive thinking. Clearly, at least some people at the paper recognize that the blogosphere represents an information distribution breakthrough as revolutionary as movable type, wire services, and the web press.

But how can a daily paper incorporate blogging? My suggestion would be this: Treat blogs like news services. Every day, editors at daily papers skim through countless news stories that come their way through a variety of news services. Why not skim through blogs, as well? The papers could reprint interesting viewpoints expressed in blogs, and even create their own stories, after being tipped off by news mentioned in the blogs.

I think this really has potential for adding to the quality and diversity of content in our daily papers. One of the reasons I decided to start blogging was because for years and years I've had ideas that I don't read or hear expressed anywhere. You're thinking, That's because you have dumb ideas. When I was younger, I thought that must be the case. But as the years have gone by, I've seen too many instances where my "dumb" ideas come to the forefront months or years later, after being championed by someone "important" -- a political or media figure.

If someone had only asked my opinion...

Talk radio was a first step in helping me get my ideas out (Thanks, Mr. Mayor). Now comes the blogoshpere.

Of course, no one paper has the manpower to skim all the blogs that are out there. But they don't skim all the other news sources available to them, either. They pick their preferred sources. They'd have to do the same with blogs. But which blogs?

I suggest bloggers "apply" to the papers. Someone like me could say to the paper, "I am a local blogger. Please consider my site for inclusion in your stable of reviewed sites." Editorial board members -- of differing viewpoints -- would review my site. If they thought, "www.downingworld.com shows a consistent grasp of the issues; expressing new ideas and old ideas in fresh, new ways," they could adopt me. If they weren't impressed, they could say "Don't call us..."

I expect that's similar to the way the paper decides which syndicated columnists and features to use.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Saint A-paul-ling
The advertising piece shown below was delivered to my house this week, stuffed in a neighborhood newspaper. Some might find it amusing, I find it appalling. Is Saint Paul -- yes, THE Saint Paul -- nothing more than a comic figure to be used for advertising? Like Paul Bunyan or Santa Claus? (And why did they decide to depict him using a Rush Limbaugh look-alike?)

Am I supposed to think it's funny that Saint Paul encourages us to do a little sinnin'?

What do we do for a follow-up? The prophet Mohammed threatening to cut off heads if people don't visit St. Paul? Wouldn't that be a hoot! And maybe we could have Al Jolson in blackface, reminding us that Black folk are welcome, too!

(That would be about as well received as if last month we had been subjected to an MLK holiday car sale ad with an actor saying, "I have a dream that people will be able to buy a new car with no money down!")

Worst of all, apparently my tax dollars are paying for this. Sponsors of www.stpaulculture.com include the St. Paul Public Library and the Science Museum of Minnesota. Additionally, two organizations I voluntarily support are listed as sponsors (Twin City Public TV and Friends of the St. Paul Public Library).

So, we've got government funds going to make fun of Christianity. Doesn't that violate that "wall of separation" between church and state that secularists say prevents spending money on things like vouchers to send kids to private schools? Remember, the Constitution says Congress shall not "establish" or "prohibit" religion. If vouchers would "establish" religion, then by the same logic we might say that this "prohibits" religion. (In fact, neither is true, but if we are going to be illogical, let's at least be consistent about it.)

Anyone have any suggestions how to protest this? Check out the entire website (and its version of the letter to Minnesotans) if you want to be offended even more.

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

He Who Pays the Piper, Calls the Tune
Many is the parent who has declared, "As long as you live under my roof, you'll live by my rules." Many a college student has heard, "As long as I'm footing the bill, you'll do as I say."

When we expect someone to pay our bills for us, we shouldn't be surprised when the bill payer wants some control over our lives.

And so it is with health care. Americans have decided that "someone else" -- employers -- should pay for their health care. And now those chickens are coming home to roost.

There's a story in the paper today about a Michigan company that has fired employers for smoking -- in their own homes! Weyco Inc., of Okemos, Mich., gave its employees a choice: stop smoking completely -- not just at work -- or stop working.

Many chose to quit smoking, with company-sponsored assistance over the past 15 months. But four others, who either couldn't quit or wouldn't quit, found themselves out of work come Jan. 1.

Apparently this is legal, at least in Michigan. But how far can, and should, employers go in discriminating against workers based on health care issues?

Could an employer fire anyone who drives a compact car, because it offers less protection in a crash?

Could an employer hire only married people -- and fire them if they are unfaithful -- in an effort to hold down costs for treating STDs?

Could an employer refuse to hire gay men, fearing the costs of treating AIDS?

Studies show some racial and ethnic groups are more likely to suffer from maladies such as heart disease and diabetes. Could an employer refuse to hire Black men or Hispanic women on this basis?

Here's what I think: I think we need to separate health care from employment. Make people responsible for paying their own bills, and let them decide for themselves how much they are willing to pay for the choices they make.

Know Your Worth

When I started freelancing 15 years ago, someone told me, "Know what you're worth, and don't be afraid to ask for it."

Note the headline in this ad for Highland Park Junior High. If being "free" is the best selling point the school could come up with, what does that say?

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Nature Knows Best, but Breast-Feeding Remains a Political Hot Potato
Whether you believe the world was created by God, or that it evolved all by itself, one thing should be apparent: Nature knows what's best for us.

Think of some of our very basic foodstuffs. For instance, whole grain flour is better for us than industrially-processed white flour. Consider eggs, milk, butter. Modern science first told us they were bad for us. Bad for our cholesterol levels and fattening. But hold the phone, now the tune has changed. Butter, which can be handmade from milk, is better than factory-produced margarine. Eggs aren't really so bad after all. And a study now shows that drinking milk can actually help you lose weight.

So should it be any surprise that new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) say breast-feeding -- up to three years of age -- is best for baby?

"Breast-feeding ensures the best possible health as well as the best development and psychological outcomes for the infant," the guidelines state.

Indeed, the AAP concluded that breast-feeding reduces a baby's risk of acquiring a whole list of maladies, including diabetes, obesity and asthma. Odd, aren't those the very afflictions said to be plaguing today's youth at "epidemic" levels?

Maybe, just maybe, science doesn't know better than nature...and thousands (or millions) of years of custom and practice.

The news story I read stated that breast-feeding reached an all-time low in the mid-1970s, at just 25 percent, "because commercial formula was inexpensive, easy to use and perceived by the public to be 'more scientific' and superior to mother's milk."

Looks like we've been blinded by science.

According to the news story, the AAP study also challenges society to support breast-feeding through legislation and workplace practices. Because after all, it's not very convenient for a woman to breast-feed her child after she returns to work.

Ah, here's where things get too hot to handle.

I submit to you that formula-vs.-breast-feeding isn't just about science. It's about sexual politics.

It's about denying women's role as mothers, so that they can leave their children and enter the workplace instead. It's about saying, "we know better" than all the generations that preceded us, freeing women to guiltlessly abandon the traditional role of caregiver, because it's "best for the kids" if mommy is happy and feeling fulfilled by her career.

It's about the feminist movement telling women that child-rearing is menial and something to be ashamed of. It's about feminism telling women to deny their gifts -- the ability to bear and nourish life -- in order to be more like men. (Feminist thought seems to say that women are inferior to men unless they try to become like men. Isn't that sexist?)

And so, I'm sure there will be some resistance to these recommendations, because they seem to suggest that there might be a good reason why women have traditionally stayed in the home and cared for the children. The liberals don't want to consider that possibility.

Now, I'm not trying to say "keep them barefoot and pregnant," (although if Ellen Goodman or someone wants to accuse me of that, it would be good for my readership) but I do think we need to be honest with ourselves. That means not ignoring what's really best for our children. And liberals who want to do everything "for the children" because "the children are our future" ought to be able to put politics aside for the sake of the children.

But I'm not counting on it.

A few years back there was a study on traffic congestion in the Twin Cities. The aim of the study was to figure out why the roads were crowded, in the hope of learning how to reduce congestion.

The study determined that the reason the roads were crowded during rush hour was that the workforce had doubled over the past 20 years. But then, the study got into trouble when it tried to explain why the workforce had increased so much:

Because it had become common for women to work outside the home.

Oh boy! Was that a political hot potato!

"You're blaming women for traffic jams!" was the cry.

Of course, there was no "blame" involved. The study just reported the facts of what had happened in a changing society. But the damage was done. The traffic study was forgotten.

It will be interesting to see whether the AAP's breast-feeding recommendations fare any better.

Monday, February 7, 2005

You Just Can't Win
It must be tough being a public official. You're always wrong. No matter what you do -- even if you give the people what they say they want -- you'll be wrong.

For instance, after 9/11, we heard the cry, "Why didn't the government warn us?!"

So, a terror alert system was instituted. Only to be mocked into irrelevance. "Why'd they raise the terror level? Nothing happened!"

Remember when one of the complaints about drug prices was that, "The government is too slow to approve safe new drugs. That drives up the cost and prevents the new drugs from being used to save lives"?

Now we've had several approved drugs pulled off the market. Turned out they weren't so safe. Now the cry is, "How could the government let this happen? There should have been more testing!"

Which brings us to Social Security. President Clinton said it was doomed if we didn't act to save it. Al Gore wanted to put the money in a "lockbox."

Now, President Bush wants to save the program, and his critics (Clinton and Gore supporters) cry out, "Social Security is fine! There's no crisis!"

I think people just like to complain and cast blame. They're never satisfied.

(Soon, I'll write my thoughts on what to do about Social Security.)

Friday, February 4, 2005

Whose Mail Is It, Anyway? Let's Cancel This Idea
Today, I noticed that a letter I received in my mail had an odd design in the postmark/cancellation stamp. I had seen it once before, and didn't know what it meant. That time, it was on a letter that came to my kid from another kid, so I thought it might have been something that the kid had stamped on the envelope.

But that wasn't the case this time. This was a business letter, addressed to me, supposedly a responsible adult. I had to find out what this was all about. Here's what I saw:

It appeared to read "Greetings from Rodney and Fender." What could that mean? I turned to Al Gore -- I mean, the Internet. I Googled "Rodney + Fender," and here's what I learned: These are characters from an upcoming movie called "Robots." (See, there is an Al Gore connection, after all.)

Apparently, the U.S. Postal Service is now selling postmarks to the highest bidder -- for use as advertising! Maybe this has been going on for a long time, but this is the first I've noticed.

At first, I thought, Good for them! They're figuring out how to take in money where they can, so they can keep the cost of stamps down.

But then I asked myself, Just whose mail is it, anyway?

Seems to me, the letter belongs to the sender, who is paying the USPS to deliver it. AS IS! (Or maybe, once it is in the hands of the USPS, it now belongs to the addressee. Either way, it doesn't belong to the USPS.) What gives the USPS the right to sell advertising on someone else's property?

Suppose I were a newspaper deliverer. Could I take money from a third party, and stamp their ad on the front page of my employer's newspapers before I delivered them? I don't think so. I think I'd have an unhappy newspaper subscriber, and I'd be out of a job. It's not my paper; I have no right to sell advertising on it.

When I go to a ballgame, can I sell ads and then hang up a sign advertising "Eat at Joe's"? Of course not. It's not my stadium; I have no right to sell ads there.

So should the USPS be selling ads on their customers' letters?

Sure, it seems innocuous enough. But what if I don't want ads on my letters? Or what if I just don't want certain ads on my letters?

For example, what if I were a movie studio, sending out a big mailing promoting my blockbuster movie, slated to open the same weekend as "Robots"? I sure wouldn't want Rodney and Fender on there.

Or if I were sending out a big mailing to diabetics, I sure wouldn't want a candy ad stamped on there.

It looks like the USPS is experiencing a dangerous change in thinking. Remember "We deliver for you"? They don't. Because this selling-the-postmark represents a change in thinking, away from a focus on the sender as a customer, and toward looking at the recipient as a target.

New slogan? "We deliver TO you." One problem: the person being delivered TO isn't the person paying the freight.

Be careful, Postal Service. Businesses that forget who their customers are -- who pays their bills -- aren't long for this world.

Thursday, February 3, 2005

Time is What You Make It
Another very interesting column from Edward Lotterman today. Lotterman wrote about how the U.S. used a centrally-planned economy during WWII to do big things in a little period of time. Lotterman notes that the time from the attack on Pearl Harbor until the surrender of Germany was only 41 months -- the same interval as from Sept. 11, 2001 until now! (Defeating Japan took another three months.)

Time is a funny thing. By scientific measure, it's inflexible and easily quantifiable. Yet, our perception of time can make it seem just the opposite.

It amazes me to think that in just three months, our "war on terror" will have already lasted as long as U.S. participation in WWII. I always think of WWII as something that went on "forever" for the people who lived through it. It took up half of an entire decade, right? Not quite, when you really break it down. And fighting from D-Day to German surrender was just less than a year. That's amazing. Of course Americans were dying all during the war, but less memorably. As I recall, the Pacific campaign to defeat the Japanese started pretty much immediately after Pearl Harbor (immediately, if you were a soldier already stationed in the Phillipines), and there was the North African campaign, and the invasion of southern Europe. But those campaigns aren't remembered as well as the push through northern Europe that began June 6, 1944, and finally defeated the Nazi war machine.

It's important to note -- and I'm not suggesting that Lotterman disagrees -- that while central planning may work to accomplish a specific goal during a short period of time, free market forces win out over the long run.

That's why the Soviet Union could produce what it took to drive back Hitler's forces on the eastern front, but could never keep up economically in peace time (or during the Cold War, if you prefer). One of the downfalls of Soviet industry was that, while it might produce a lot, it wasn't very good at producing what people wanted and needed, when they wanted and needed it. The system produced both waste and shortages. They had no bread in the stores, but grain left in the fields. Bolt factories met their tonnage quotas, but no one wanted the sizes of bolts they produced.

I do take exception to the way Lotterman concludes his column. Based on everything I had read up to that point, I thought he was going to say that operating in a market economy, rather than a command economy, made it more difficult for Donald Rumsfeld to acquisition war materiel. It sounded like he was going to give Rumsfeld the benefit of the doubt. But instead of that, he seemed to conclude by saying that Rumsfeld shouldn't be making excuses.

Nonetheless, an interesting column. Read it carefully and ponder some of those numbers.

Look for Lotterman's columns Thursdays and Sundays in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Prenatal Preschool?
I saw a story about the need for preschool programs to prepare children for kindergarten.

Hello? Anybody home? I thought kindergarten was instituted for the purpose of preparing children for school. If we need to prepare children for kindergarten, where does it end? We'll next have to have pre-preschool, to prepare 3-year-olds for preschool, where they'll be prepared for kindergarten, which will prepare them for school.

That's not a joke. It's as reasonable as needing to prepare kids for kindergarten.

I feel like a throwback sometimes. Really out of touch. Here's my kindergarten experience: 6 weeks in the summer. I went to six weeks of kindergarten in the summer, prior to starting first grade.

No half-days, no every-other day, no full days for the length of a school year. No, just six weeks in the summer.

It was at a two-room schoolhouse. I think it could have been a one-room schoolhouse, if the divider in the middle had been opened up, but to be fair, there were two teachers. One for grades 1-3, one for grades 4-6. I attended first grade there, and prepared for it by attending six weeks of summer kindergarten.

And I'm only 41 years old. Things sure can change in a hurry.

But this trend toward more and more school, starting earlier and earlier -- it's just more of the total control by the government, cradle to grave. We don't expect parents to do their job, so they don't. But that's OK, the government school can take over for the parents. Now, it's even becoming the school's job to give the kids breakfast.

How hard -- or expensive -- is it to pour a bowl of cereal for your own flesh and blood?

In the schools, they say that kids will live up to the expectations you have for them. That's why they don't say, "You're a bad boy!" They say, "You made a bad choice." It sounds sort of silly, but the idea is to not convince the kid at an early age that he is "bad," and therefore destined to be antisocial.

If it works for the kids, why not the parents? Why do we have such low expectations of the parents? Why do we need the government to get kids ready for kindergarten? Where will it end?

Can't we expect parents to do that much?

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Americans Could Learn from Iraqi Voters
One thing was apparent in the Iraqi election: Iraqis value voting more than Americans do.

They turned out at a rate higher than our elections, even though many feared for their lives in doing so. "Give me liberty or give me death!" In America, it's a saying in a history book. In Iraq, it's a reality.

Iraqis did whatever it took to get to the polls. The handicapped were carried or brought in makeshift wheelchairs. The able-bodied walked long distances.

And some critics had the gall to say, "Maybe they don't want democracy."

Here, we need "Get out the vote" efforts. We have to offer people rides. We complain that the ballot was "confusing" or that we were "disenfranchised" because we had to wait in line.

We (some of us, anyway) ought to be ashamed of ourselves.

How Many Yellow Pages Do We Need?
I stepped out the front door yesterday and found a yellow pages phone directory on the porch. It was one of the "new" yellow pages. I picked it up and carried it directly to the garage and the recycling bin.

How many yellow pages directories do I need? I'm all for competition and the free market, but as a practical matter, one directory is what I want.

I want one yellow pages, with everyone in it. Isn't that the whole point of the book? Convenience? I don't want to have to page through several books in order to see all my choices when I need to hire a widget cleaner.

So I just want the book that's going to have everyone in it.

And advertisers don't want to pay to be in multiple directories.

Of course, that pretty much means a monopoly for someone.

The free market will sort it out, but in the meantime, I'm tossing someone's investment right into the bin.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Let Freedom Ring FOR ALL!
This is an amazing time for freedom and liberty.

It reminds me of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unraveling of the Eastern Bloc. The quotes from the voting Iraqis are moving. They want freedom. They want liberty. They want democracy. And they are willing to risk their lives for it.

That's despite the critics from the left, who told us that not everyone wants or is ready for democracy. What elitist, racist claptrap.

Keep in mind, by and large, the people who would have us cut and run in Iraq, abandoning these freedom-hungry people to tyranny, are the same people who wanted us to make peace with the Iron Curtain, and told us how happy everyone was living under communism. "Oh, they don't want democracy!" we were told. "They're perfectly happy with communism. It's the only system they know."

That was a bunch of BS.

But Ronald Reagan wasn't fooled. He knew the truth, and he wasn't afraid to say it.

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

I wish Ronald Reagan were alive to see this.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Downingworld News Network -- News Best Taken with a Block of Salt
Pie Capital Goes Dark
by David W. Downing, BHS class of 1981

Braham, Minnesota

The "Pie Capital of Minnesota" was suddenly plunged into darkness Saturday night, when an unexplained spike in electric demand overloaded the local power grid.

The blackout couldn't have come at a worse time, said Rick Adams, manager of the Braham Farmers Electric Company. "If the power had gone out earlier in the day, no one would have hardly noticed," Adams told a reporter. "Pretty much the whole town was in the Cities at the basketball game."

The powerhouse Braham Bombers basketball team had played Saturday at the Target Center in Minneapolis, in the Gatorade-Timberwolves Shootout. The undefeated Bombers downed Compton (Cal.) Centennial by a score of 64-52.

"But as it turned out," said Rick Adams, "the blackout occurred just as everyone was getting home from the game and turning on their TVs so they could click through the channels to see how many had the Bombers on the news. I think the over-under was three."

Police officer Colin Alkarz, a crusty veteran of everything from bank robberies to tornadoes, said public safety would not be an issue, and traffic was flowing smoothly. "Sometimes they make fun of us because we don't have a stoplight. But who's laughing now?" Alkarz asked. The officer conceded one traffic-related problem: people returning from the game had planned on filling up their tanks, but with no power, the pumps at the local gas station were out of service.

Over at the Pie Pan-oply, proprietor Barry Straw said everything was under control. "The emergency generators kicked in immediately, just like they're supposed to," he said. "You can tell everyone not to worry; the coolers are working and the pies are safe." As an afterthought, Straw added, "The freezers are a different story, but ice cream can be replaced."

The cause of the surge remains under investigation. "We'll try to figure out what caused it," said Rick Adams, "but I know one thing: It won't be a piece of cake."

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Gambling/Stadium Politics Show a Sea Change
One of the strangest parts of the politics of stadiums and casinos (see yesterday's post) is that the players seem to have switched sides. We have a Republican governor pushing for casinos and stadiums, with opposition from the Democrats. Used to be, Republicans opposed gambling on moral grounds, and supposedly were frugal with the public purse, seeing a more limited role for government. It was the Democrats who were more "open-minded" about vice, and who favored large, publicly-funded building projects that created lots of union jobs.

Now, the Democrats oppose the state entering the casino business, one reason being they are beholden to the Indian tribes. And they're the ones concerned about guarding the public purse against pilfering by billionaire sports team owners. They don't seem to have any interest in construction jobs.

And the Republicans, or some at least, seem to have abandoned their long standing devotion to virtue and thrift.

It seems all out of whack to me.

Midway Addendum
Yesterday I also wrote about a group that wants to redevelop the Midway shopping district. One very important question that I should have asked was, "Does the Midway shopping district want to be redeveloped?"

Last night I shopped at the shopping center they discussed. It doesn't have any apparent vacancies. There were shoppers all around. It appears to be supporting itself.

Apparently, these busy bodies just don't like the looks of it. So they want to knock it down. What business is it of theirs? None.

They don't like cars, and they don't like shopping malls, so they want to eliminate it. They're prejudiced, that's what they are.

It's like someone driving through a residential neighborhood, saying, "I don't like the looks of this. Too many (insert group of people). Let's redevelop it."

Incredible Movie Recommendation
I wrote not so long ago (Jan. 16) about how Hollywood no longer makes movies that are suitable for the whole family, the type that work on more than one level, with something for the kids, and something more for the adults.

I was wrong.

They may be rare, but I found one. "The Incredibles." I finally saw it yesterday. I highly recommend it. It's much more than a cartoony "kids' movie." It's much deeper than that.

Unfortunately, because of the "kids' movie" stereotype that I wrote about previously, people probably don't recognize it as that. If it's animated, it's a "kids' movie." But I'd encourage everyone to see it, whether you have kids to take with or not. (And the place to see it, of course, is the Riverview Theater.)

Friday, January 28, 2005

The Free Market Knows Best
I had an item to write about today, but then another one showed up. I thought I'd have to write about two different items, until I realized how well linked they are. The both come under the heading of The Free Market Knows Best.

How About a Business that Might Actually Succeed?
There's a story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press today about a discussion of how to improve the Midway shopping area, along University Avenue in St. Paul. At the heart of it is a group called University United. This group doesn't live in the real world. They have a Utopian Urbanist vision of what they want the city to be like. I can appreciate the sentiments behind their vision. Really, I can. And one of their ideas -- a movie house -- has already been put forth on this page (Dec. 13 post). But they are totally unrealistic. They have to respect the wisdom of the free market.

For example, they don't like the "suburban style" stores along the avenue. "If it's starting to look like any other suburban mall, why would anybody go there?" said David Unowsky, former owner of Ruminator bookstore.

I'll take a crack at answering that, Mr. Unowsky. BECAUSE PEOPLE LIKE SUBURBAN MALLS!!! In fact, the same story contains the University United claim that people who don't like the Midway are instead shopping in Roseville -- SUBURBAN MALL-FILLED Roseville. Which is it, folks? If they're skipping the Midway in favor of Roseville, it can't be because they don't like suburban malls.

And why should we take advice from Unowsky? He garnered good publicity for years, for running an independent bookstore that bucked the big-box, suburban, chain store trend. And what happened to him? He went bankrupt. And now we should take his advice, which is essentially, "Give the people what they don't want"?

And how about Brian McMahon, executive director of University United? He says that he will fight against a drive-through at a proposed bank. These people are just nuts. They hate cars, that's part of their deal. So this guy doesn't want the bank to have a drive-through. He thinks someone should build a new bank building, in 2005, and not have a drive-up window.

These people are totally out of touch with reality.

That's why I suspect that when they and I talk about a movie theater, we don't actually share common ground. If it was left up to the University United folks, it would be some sort of "art house," dependent on public subsidy, not a modern mega-plex that would actually be able to support itself.

The Absurdity of Stadiums and Casinos
In a great column on "monopolies" this week, Edward Lotterman did a clever job of linking health care, casinos, and stadiums. He really exposed the absurdity of the current political-economic climate, in which government looks to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build stadiums for monopolistic and profitable sports teams, while looking to gambling monopolies as a source of revenue.

Personally, I think the government has no business being in the gambling business. This includes the current state lottery. I know of no constitutional or historic basis that suggests operating gambling is a function of government. To the contrary, I thought it was generally understood that government is charged with protecting the "general welfare" of the populace. Pushing gambling on the populace hardly seems to be in sync with that government role.

And these stadiums -- it's absurd! You and I are supposed to fork over our money, so that owners can benefit to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while players benefit to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. How can we justify that?

Why don't we tell these teams "Don't let the screen door hit you..."? Lotterman points out the "prisoners' dilemma" that cities find themselves in. Damned if they do; damned if they don't, I guess. But it seems like those high school wrestlers who cut weight to compete in a lighter weight class...against another wrestler who cut weight to get into that class. No one gains anything, despite all the cost. It's like that with the teams. Cities and states give them more and more, but in the end, there are still about 30 teams. The teams -- and players -- are just a lot richer.

I think there was a time when publicly-built stadiums made sense. But that was a totally different business model. For instance, a county built a stadium. They collected rent from a baseball team. And a football team. And from concerts, and whatever other events were scheduled. The county got money from parking and concessions. All those rents and incomes together PAID for the stadium. The teams were happy with this arrangement, because they didn't have to pay the entire cost of a stadium that they would use only part of the year (Only 10 days a year, in the case of football teams!).

Sharing. That's what this was all about. The public owned the facility, but it was paid for by a multitude of users.

Now, however, it's totally different. Teams want a stadium built and GIVEN TO THEM! They don't want to pay rent. They want the parking and concessions revenue. And if there's a concert, they want that money, too. And they certainly don't want to share the stadium with a different sport, either.

They don't want help. They don't want the government to act in an enabling way that benefits the public. No, they just want something GIVEN to them.

That's ridiculous. We shouldn't be giving them money. Let the market decide how much teams are worth. Let the market decide what players are worth. Let the market decide how much a stadium is worth.

Unless, of course, the state wants to build a Twins stadium in St. Paul. That would be good for St. Paul. And I live in St. Paul. So if the whole state wants to pay for it.....

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Death is a Funny Thing
I mean funny strange, not funny ha-ha. More accurately, I should say that the way people think about death is a strange thing. (Imagine that, humans thinking strangely. Who'da thunk it?) I've had several death-related thoughts lately. I'll try to relate them in a coherent way.

The first involves news this week that two suspected al-Qaida members were arrested in Germany, on the belief that they were involved in a suicide attack. One was to be the suicide bomber, the other was a "recruiter" of suicide bombers.

The "recruiter" and primary suspect, 29-year-old Iraqi Ibrahim Mohamed K., reportedly had once been an aspiring suicide bomber himself, but top-ranking terrorist leaders had "convinced him not to seek the original aspiration of martyrdom as a suicide attacker, but rather to recruit suicide attackers in Europe," prosecutors said.

There's a real case of "do as I say, not as I do."

I wonder what his recruiting pitch is? "Have I got a deal for you! How'd you like to die? What? Why don't I do it myself? Well, sure, I'd like to. But that would be selfish of me. Instead, I'm dedicating myself to helping others die."

What a selfless act. He's forgoing the 77 virgins for himself so he can help others. What a swell guy.

Sounds like those guys who go around the country selling get-rich-quick-in-real-estate seminars. If they're so smart, why aren't they getting rich in real estate, instead of putting on seminars?

The willingness of some people to blow themselves up shows that not everyone looks at death the way Americans do. Death seems to be more of an accepted fact of life in the Arab world.

And death is a fact of life. Death is a part of life. With every life, there will be a death.

But we Americans shelter ourselves from death as much as we can. We live in denial. Part of that is because medical advances have allowed us to cheat death in advancing age, and have all but eliminated fatal childhood diseases. That helps explain why I've heard young adults cry, "I've never had anyone close to me die before!"

But it's also because we think we have to "protect" our children, by hiding death from them. For example, the parents who tell their children that the squirrel in the middle of the road is "just resting." Or the parents who don't want to tell their children that the family pet has died, so they say that the turtle "ran away." (OK, maybe not the turtle. But I've heard of people telling their children that the dog ran away, because they don't want the kids to know that it died. I think that's sick.)

I grew up on a farm, so I probably had more experience with death than a typical American kid. I knew that dogs and cats died, cattle and pigs died. It wasn't pleasant, but I accepted it. I knew that death was a fact of life. And I think knowing about death also helped me understand the value of life.

But apparently, not every kid grows up knowing that. Which might explain our obsession with "grief counselors."

The latest grief counselor example is very strange. An arsonist set fire to a Minnesota dairy sheep farm, and many of the surviving sheep had to be put down because of their injuries. Veterinary medicine students from the University of Minnesota came to help with the sheep.

Grief counselors are being offered to the vet students.

These students presumably already have undergrad degrees. They're not 18-year-olds. They're training for a job that will include euthanizing animals. And what do they think ultimately happens to beef cattle, anyway?

They need grief counselors? I think they might want to look for a new line of work.

Coincidentally, we "lost" our cat this week. Actually, we had him euthanized due to failing health. He was 16 years old.

It was very sad. Yes, despite all my brave talk, I was sad. So was the rest of the family. But we didn't need grief counselors.

What was difficult for me was not the thought of our pet being gone. I could deal with that. He'd had a good 16 years. If one morning I found he had died in his sleep, I would have been relieved. But what I found so difficult was the responsibility of deciding for him when his time was up.

Death gets more difficult when you have to get involved in it. It's easier when you keep it at arm's length. Trouble is, if it's easier, then you have less incentive to avoid it. Here's an essay I wrote some years ago, inspired by the death of another cat.

I wrote this way back in 1990, and submitted it to the newspaper, but it has never been published in print.

War Is Hell. As It Should Be.

by David W. Downing, copyright 1990`

I killed someone's pet last night.

Whose, I don't know. The beautiful white cat had no tags, no collar, and no chance as it ran across the street. But someone lost a friend under my wheels.

Pulling to the side of the street, I found myself hoping the cat would be dead by the time I walked back to check on it. I think growing up on a farm, as I did, gives a person a greater appreciation of life, as well as a better understanding of its temporary nature. But death is still an ugly sight to me.

And it was a sight I would have to see this time. As I stroked its long, soft fur, the cat struggled to hold on to its life. It fought hard, but after a few minutes it was all over.

Thinking about it afterwards, I realized that I could accept the death of the cat. What really bothered me - the worst part of the entire experience - was watching the cat die, as it lay there by the curb, mouthing silent cries of pain.

It also occurred to me that the way I felt about the death of the cat illustrates the way mankind feels about the death of his brethren, and his wars.

The present Persian Gulf situation illustrates this. Like most Americans, I recognize that, throughout history, there have been times when war has been unavoidable. So, also like most Americans, I can support the use of military force when necessary.

But that support for warfare in the abstract sense weakens when applied to a specific situation. Like most people, I don't get too worked up at the thought of a nice, simple little war that doesn't affect me. But the prospect of seeing the destruction on television, seeing the bodies come home, and perhaps even losing a friend, puts the whole thing in a different light.

Adding to this, of course, is the fear that chemical weapons might be used.

I don't know why, exactly, but we seem to think that not all deaths are created equal. We prefer quick, "clean" deaths, like I hoped for in the case of the cat. We don't want to be bothered by the sight of pain and suffering.

In particular, we reserve a special abhorrence for death by poison gas, biological agents, or even nuclear fission. Consequently, we sign treaties promising not to use these "uncivilized" means of killing. "War is hell" already, as the saying goes, without the addition of these demons.

Therein lies the irony. For war should be hell. If it's not, why avoid it? If we persist in limiting our means of warfare, confining the death and destruction to methods and levels we find acceptable, will we ever outgrow our need for it?

I'm reminded of an episode of the original "Star Trek" television series - the program which week after week wrapped a morality play in futuristic action and adventure. In this episode, Capt. Kirk, Mr. Spock and the rest of the Starship Enterprise crew encounter two planets which have been warring for centuries.

What's odd is that this war is conducted totally as a computer simulation. Totally, that is, except for the planets' inhabitants, who obediently flock like sheep to a quick, painless, government-administered death when the computer lists them as casualties.

It seems these two civilizations decided somewhere along the line that this system would be cleaner and less disruptive than continuing to fire real missiles at each other. So they signed a treaty to institutionalize the system, and proceeded to spend centuries killing their own people. The societies had so sanitized the war that it became completely acceptable to them. Consequently, they had no incentive to end it.

The lesson to 20th century humans, then, is that we must never allow ourselves to grow accustomed to war, or allow our sensibilities to be deadened to the point where we find its destruction "acceptable." If we didn't work to outlaw the use of poison gas, neutron bombs, and other "uncivilized" means of killing, would we be less quick to go to war when diplomacy stalls? Perhaps not, but the irony of it all is something to consider.

Oh, you're wondering what happened on "Star Trek"? Well, Capt. Kirk prevented one planet from carrying out the required execution of its own people, breaking the treaty, and setting the stage for the second planet to launch real missiles in retaliation. It looked like serious destruction was imminent. Or was it? Would the stark reality of a genuine, painful war staring them in the face be enough to make these people seek peace, putting an end to this nonsense once and for all?

Let's just say it was a good day to be a diplomat.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

"Animal Farm" vs. "1984"
George Orwell is no doubt best known for his 1948 book "1984." But Orwell's less well-known work "Animal Farm" is one of my all-time favorite books. I prefer it to "1984."

I was wondering why it is that "1984" gets all the press, when it became obvious to me.

I think it's all due to the left-wing bias of the mainstream media.

"1984" and "Big Brother is watching you" get dragged up repeatedly in criticism of conservative policies. Post 9-11 homeland security policies were criticized under the guise of "Orwellian" violations of civil liberties.

In short, "1984" is used to criticize conservatives, so it stays in play. Even people who have never read the book think they know what it's about.

But what about "Animal Farm"? This satirical send-up of communism/socialism is not obsolete. While it may be a brilliant parody of the old Soviet Union, it can be applied -- should be applied -- to the liberal agenda being espoused in the present-day United States.

And that's why people don't hear about it. Do you expect the mainstream media to criticize liberalism?

I encourage everyone to read "Animal Farm." If you've previously read it, read it again.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Bloggers Represent the New Counterculture
Thanks to "Captain Fishsticks" for the heads-up on the blogger gathering Saturday evening at Keegan's Irish Pub in Nordeast Minneapolis. I'll share a couple of thoughts on that.

First, is that it's hard to get a word in edgewise in a room full of people who all think everyone else needs to hear what they have to say. That would seem to be an inherent problem in any blogger gathering. Maybe "blogger discussion" goes in the Big Book of Oxymorons along with "anarchists' convention."

Second, and more seriously, I was a bit surprised at the relative youth of the crowd. There were a lot of young people there. ("Young people": people my age or younger.) That supported my previous observation that talk radio -- and I'll now add the blogosphere -- represents the counterculture, in the same way that the rise of FM radio fueled the liberal counterculture decades ago. (Sept. 14, 2004 in my archives. You may have to scroll to get exactly to Sept. 14.)

Dam Plan Could Backfire
If you read the St. Paul Pioneer Press, you may be aware that the paper's editorial board has gotten into a spat with the city council over whether St. Paul should spend money toward expanding the downtown levee system so that it will also protect the downtown airport. A majority on the council would rather have city funds spent elsewhere. The paper has come out in favor of protecting the airport as a valuable asset that attracts business to the city.

The irony here is that protecting the airport with a levee could ultimately doom the airport. Here's how:

One of the reasons that the airport has remained an airport all these years is because occasional flooding makes this large plot of land unsuitable for anything else. When flooding occurs, the runways are temporarily underwater, but they aren't ruined. Meanwhile, other airport buildings are protected by sandbagging.

Occasional -- but certain -- flooding means it's impossible to develop this land with either housing or industry. Flooding would cause too much damage. So as of right now, this airport land is unsuitable for other use.

But what happens if a levee is built, and the threat of flooding is gone? I predict that under those circumstances, we will start to hear a call for redeveloping the land for "higher use." After all, the airport is already being called a noisy nuisance. Many of those opposing the levee would really like to see the airport eliminated altogether.

And think of the tax base! Redeveloping this area as private property would be good for the tax rolls. Business! Jobs! Although of course, the levee opponents would probably prefer "affordable" (re: subsidized) housing.

So, Pioneer Press, be careful what you wish for. It might not turn out the way you want it to.

A Different Sort of Home-coming, or, Ignorance Is Bliss
A former student found making his home at Apple Valley High School turned into a national story. I found the situation rather amusing, as long as he hadn't done any real harm. What it shows me is that our schools are too large, since it took the staff so long to figure out that he didn't belong there.

Francisco Serrano's story reminds me of a book I read as a kid. In E.L. Konigsburg's "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler," two siblings run away from home and live inside a museum.

As it should, Serrano's story raised concerns among parents, who wondered if the schools were doing enough to keep their children safe from intruders. But here's what I don't get, according to my newspaper, "[Serrano] apologized to parents, students and school staff for the security concerns he caused."

Huh? Why should he apologize for raising security concerns? If anything, they should thank him for exposing shortcomings in school security. Does Apple Valley prefer to live under the motto of "Ignorance is Bliss"? Would they be better off if they discovered the security shortcomings only after there was a mass murder? I don't think so.

Serrano should apologize for trespassing, but I don't think he needs to apologize for "the security concerns he caused."

It's sort of in line with the current non-apology apology, so popular with politicians. You know, the "I'm sorry if anyone was offended," rather than "I'm sorry for what I did."

Friday, January 21, 2005

What About Iraq?
Critics say it will be impossible to hold credible elections in Iraq. Too many insecure areas, they say. Not all the voters will be able to get to the polls, they say. But still, surveys are reporting that two-thirds of eligible Iraqi voters plan to vote.

Ironically, that's a far better turnout than in the last U.S. election.

Still, it's clear that the operation in Iraq has not gone nearly as smoothly as we were told it would.

So why can't the President concede that point? Why does he continue to pretend that everything is going smoothly?

I think it's because in our present political culture, we allow no room for error. Suppose Bush were to say to his critics, "You're right. This isn't working out how I'd planned. It's a lot tougher than I thought." Rather than that serving as a starting point of agreement, from which there could be a dialog regarding how to proceed from here, Bush's critics -- and the press -- would go into a feeding frenzy. They would start piling on, seeing a "chink in the armor" and an opportunity to attack.

They wouldn't say, "Good. Now let's solve this problem together." No, they'd say, "Now we've got him where we want him! He's on the defensive! Attack!"

It's like this: It's hard to apologize to someone if you know that person will respond to your apology by saying, "You should be sorry! It's all your fault! I told you not to...."

In addition, if the President doesn't point out what is working in Iraq, no one will. The press and critics harp on anything that doesn't go right. They make no mention of the good that is being done. And even if the President tried to "balance" his comments by mentioning one bad thing along with every 10 good things, the only thing reported by the press -- ad nauseam -- would be the one bad thing that the President had "admitted."

No Time Machine
So, what to do about Iraq? It's tempting to play the "what if" game, and wonder if it would have been better not to invade Iraq. It's easy to see a rosy picture of how much better things would be now.

But were things "good" before the U.S. invaded Iraq? No. And if Iraq hadn't been invaded in 2003, then we would have spent the past two years fretting about what to do about Saddam. And we'd still be fretting to this very day.

Besides, there's no time machine. We can't go back and redo it. Replaying the war is pointless. We have to focus on what to do next.

And what we have to do is win this war. We can't let the operation fail. If it does, Saddam wins.

Saddam Not Yet Defeated
As I've pointed out before, Saddam is not yet defeated. He's biding his time, waiting for the Americans to lose interest and leave. Has he cooperated in the interest of the Iraqi people, helping to end the killing and improve living conditions? No. He continues to call himself the ruler. He does not speak out against the insurgents.

That's because the so-called insurgents are his people. If the U.S. leaves and the insurgents prevail, as they almost certainly would, they'll spring Saddam from prison and he'll be back in business. And he'll be even more fearless than he was before. He will have beaten the United States on his own soil (Again, in his mind. He sees the first Gulf War as his victory, because he remained in power.)

In addition, he'll be strongly aligned with the foreign terrorists who are helping his loyalists fight against the U.S. and Iraqi government forces. He'll owe those terrorists big time for helping him regain power. If Saddam wasn't a force in international terrorism before, he will be after regaining power. He'll help them plan their attacks on the U.S., and he'll fear no reprisal. What could we do to him? He'd have already survived our best shot, after we proved that we didn't have the spine to finish the job.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Emperor Zero Diddled While New York Burned
Critics say we shouldn't have an inaugural celebration, "since we're at war."

We were already at war with Islamic terrorism when Clinton was inaugurated in 1997. The World Trade Center had been bombed in 1993. But Clinton didn't act to defend the nation. No, Emperor Zero preferred to diddle (the intern) while New York burned.

It's important that we mark an inauguration with ceremony. Especially for a second term. Yes, especially for a second term. Why do I say that? Because it highlights the fact that the President, be it George W. Bush or any of his predecessors, does not own the office. He was entrusted with it for only four years. There was an end date all along. In order to continue, he had to earn it. He had to be elected to a brand new term.

Inauguration Day Protests Are Un-American
All this talk of Presidential inauguration "protest" is ridiculous. That's not how we do things in this country. It's downright un-American. For more than 200 years (OK, at least since the Civil War ended), we've bragged of the way we accept the outcome of the election every four years, and that no one takes up arms in the streets.

How far away are we from that? The news is full of stories about anti-inauguration protests, anti-inauguration parties, never-ending election challenges, and people saying, "He's not my President!"

Are we going to become like those Third World countries where elections don't settle the issue, guns do?

As someone who voted for Bush in the past two elections, I was fully prepared to accept a Kerry win if the Senator won more electoral votes, but lost the so-called "popular vote." (Which doesn't actually exist; can you find it in the Constitution?) Four years ago, when Bush won in that very fashion, I said to the Gore voters, "Too bad. That's the way the system works." And if it worked against my candidate this time, I would still support the result. That's not only fair, but intellectually honest.

But now, with Bush winning both the electoral vote and the "popular vote," Democrats still won't accept the outcome.

I'm glad they don't own guns.

What's really ticking me off about all of this inauguration criticism is the inconsistency. Where was the criticism of Clinton's inauguration? Either one of them? Did Republicans organize protests? If they did, the press didn't hype it for them.

Where Was Clinton's Mandate?
As President Bush tries to lay out his plan for Social Security, we hear, "He won by just a slim margin. He has no mandate to change an important program like this."

Where was Clinton's mandate? Bill Clinton was elected twice -- and neither time did he garner even half of the total vote. He won with a plurality each time. Yet, what was his first big plan? National health care! Where was his mandate?

All these criticisms of President Bush ring hollow, since they were never applied to his Democrat predecessor.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A Really Thirsty Horse Will Find His Own Water
You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.

A really thirsty horse will find his own water. ......Downing, 2005

It's good to help people. It really is. I believe that. But before you help someone, it can be a really good idea to ascertain whether he wants your help, and, if he'll make use of your help.

Yesterday I heard the suggestion that one way we in the West can help the Third World is by providing people with a "$5 bed net" for protection from mosquitoes that spread malaria. This is an example of static thinking, in that it assumes that whatever you do will not affect what anyone else does. But, inconveniently for the well-intentioned, other people can act in unexpected ways.

For example, these well-intentioned helpers assume that the person being "helped" values having a bed net as much as the helper values him having a bed net. The assumption is that, but for a lack of money, the person being helped would already have and use a bed net.

But maybe he just doesn't care if he has a bed net. Or maybe he'd like a bed net, but he wants other things more. In that case, if we give him the $5 bed net, he may just turn around and sell it for money to buy food.

Closer to home, there is a proposal before the St. Paul city council for the city to provide broadband Internet access to all of its residents. Some people are concerned that there is a "digital divide" between lower-income households and higher-income households, with the lower-income households less likely to have Internet access. (Wouldn't lower-income households be less likely to have just about any consumer item?)

Maybe this would qualify as a "public good," maybe it wouldn't. Read Edward Lotterman's column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press for more on that.

But one thing standing in the way of it being a real public good is the old saw: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." I'd also suggest a corollary: "A really thirsty horse will find his own water." What I'm getting at, is that access to, and productive use of the Internet, is not in direct relationship to something as simple as household income. Here's what I wrote to Pioneer Press columnist Laura Billings after she wrote an amusing column that mentioned the proposal. She seemed to be too readily falling for the public broadband proposal, because it fit into her pre-existing socio-economic-political agenda.

----You mentioned the "digital divide" between higher-income families and lower-income families. We have to be careful in assuming a simple cause-and-effect relationship. It's not just about who can AFFORD Internet access, it's also sometimes about who VALUES Internet access.

Certainly, some lower-income families could utilize the Internet, but can't afford it; while some higher-income families have it because they can afford it, even though they don't make productive use of it. This is where helping people get access would be good -- when that Internet access helps people to better themselves.

But part of the "digital divide" is likely caused by people's choices. Some of the lower-income people are lower-income people because they are people who don't value learning, technology, or working and spending money to better themselves, with delayed gratification.

Meanwhile, some of the higher-income people are higher-income people because they value learning, technology, and working and spending money to better themselves, with delayed gratification.

What I'm trying to explain is that it's not merely having money that determines whether people have Internet access; whether they value Internet access can also be a predictor of whether they have much money. You can give Internet access to some of the lower-income people, and they'll do nothing productive with it. You could take money away from some of the higher-income people, and they'd still find room in their budget for Internet access, because it allows them to be more productive, and they recognize the long-term value in that.

Please note, I'm not "blaming" the poor. I've said "some" over and over. Certainly, there are people who can't afford Internet access, but would use it productively to help themselves earn more money, and help their kids do better in school, ultimately helping the kids earn more money. Helping those people helps us all.-----

And when helping people helps us all, that does make it a "public good."

The trouble is, giving Internet access to people who would have it anyway is pointless, while giving Internet access to people who won't make use of it is a waste. The trick is in channeling help to people who both need, and will utilize, the help being given.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

"Lutheran" is Not a Religion
The nation's largest Lutheran denomination -- the ELCA -- last week released its new study and policies on homosexuals and the clergy.

I am not going to comment on that study.

Instead, I'm inspired by a sidebar story in the newspaper. The sidebar was headlined: "How other religions see the issue." That sidebar mentioned Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. Those are indeed "other religions." But mostly, the "other religions" sidebar focused on Roman Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians and other Christian denominations, including other Lutheran groups.

I submit to you that these are not "other religions." Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Methodists, etc., are all members of the same religion -- they are Christians. The distinctions they make among themselves are earthly, not heaven-sent. They are the result of differing traditions and differing opinions on how best to practice Christianity. But all are the same religion -- Christian.

It's not surprising that a newspaper report would have trouble handling that issue. After all, Christians themselves have been confused about it, too. Indeed, think of all the bloodshed in not-so-ancient European history that stemmed from different groups of Christians being unable to get along. (Or, in the case of Northern Ireland, STILL being unable to get along.)

Indeed, we all learned in American history class that one of the reason Europeans came to settle what is now the United States was to escape religious persecution. And when the United States adopted its enduring Constitution in 1787, free exercise of religion was included as a right.

So different groups of Christians have gotten along within the United States, but they still thought of themselves as different. They identified by their specific denomination, because it was just assumed that everyone was Christian. (Yes, I know that was never the case. But it was a pretty safe assumption under most circumstances.) So if you asked people to tell you their religion, they didn't say "Christian," they said "Lutheran," or "Baptist," or "Catholic." They just assumed that you had assumed that they were Christian.

Those days are past. America's Christians need to recognize that.

We now have more Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists -- you name it. We have Jewish immigrants from Russia. (Joining other Jews who have been coming to America since 1654.) But most important, we have more and more people whose religion is -- nothing. We have people with names like John Peterson, whose grandparents went to church every Sunday, who identify with no religion at all.

A generation ago, you would have assumed that John Peterson was a Christian. The only question was, which denomination?

No more.

And what that means for America's Christians is this: We have to stop dividing ourselves, and unite as Christians. We have to think of ourselves as Christians first and foremost. No, I don't mean we have to eliminate all denominations. What I'm saying is that we have to recognize that it's not about the Lutherans "competing" against the Catholics anymore. In the battle to put butts in the pews, all Christian groups face a common enemy -- apathy.

History shows divergent groups can be united by the battle against a common foe. They set aside their differences in deference to a common need -- self preservation. Think of the Allies of WWII -- Stalin became the buddy of the U.S. and Britain only because we all hated Hitler.

In business, it works the same way. Take the newspaper business, for example. Back in the time when it was assumed everyone bought the daily paper, various dailies competed against each other. Now, with fewer and fewer people buying any paper at all, the remaining dailies begin to see that they share a common purpose -- convincing people to read at all.

Compared to getting along with Stalin, recognizing our joint purpose should be a piece of cake for America's Christians. And the first step is identifying ourselves as "Christian" first, and by our denominations second.

Monday, January 17, 2005

What Would Dr. King Think of His Holiday?
Today is the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. The holiday, the third Monday of January, marks the January 15 birthday of the slain civil rights leader.

What's interesting about this holiday is that, as far as I can figure, Dr. King is the only American honored with his own holiday. Christopher Columbus is the only other historical figure with a national holiday named for him, but of course, he wasn't even an American. (And his holiday is politically incorrect, anyhow, so it's now pretty much ignored.)

George Washington and Abraham Lincoln don't have their own holidays. Instead, they share a generic "Presidents Day" with all the other chief executives. George Washington -- the Father of Our Country! Abraham Lincoln -- who saved the Union and freed the slaves! I wonder what Dr. King would think about that?

Even Jesus Christ has had his birthday turned into a "winter holiday." (Sure, CHRISTmas is still a national holiday; just make sure you don't mention Christ.) I wonder what the Rev. King would think about that?

Using the holiday designations as a measure, I'm forced to conclude that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been deemed the most important figure in American history. I wonder what he'd think about that?

I'm guessing he wouldn't like having a holiday named for him. He'd say, "It's not about me! It's about the message!" Sure, MLK Day observances do try to focus on the message, not just the man. That's true. But I'd bet Dr. King wouldn't want himself lionized in this way.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

"G" Rating Used to Mean Everyone, Not Just Kids
I told you I had one more movie topic to write on, and I mean to keep my word. Actually, it's good that I got delayed, because now I have another example to use.

The local public TV station often shows old movies on Saturday night. Last night, they broadcast that 1963 madcap caper with the all-star cast: "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." I wanted the whole family to watch it, but that didn't work out, so we taped it to watch later. But my 9-year-old son watched the first half of the movie, and he really enjoyed it.

According to the TV listing, the movie earned a "G" rating.

Another time, we all sat and watched when they broadcast the 1944 version of "Meet Me in St. Louis," starring Judy Garland. The whole family enjoyed it. That film preceded the present rating system, but I'm confident it also would earn a "G" rating.

Here's what I'd like to point out: While nowadays we seem to think that a "G" rating means a film is targeted at children, that hasn't always been the case. "G" stands for "general audience," and that's who these two films were made for -- anybody and everybody, adults and kids.

But now we seem to think that "G" means, "This is a movie for kids only; adults should come only if they have to drive the kids." That's a big change from the original meaning of, "There's no reason you can't bring the kids with you when you come to see it."

The movie-going public, with help from the studios, now seems to think that we have two kinds of movies: "kids' movies" -- which teens and adults would have no interest in seeing, and the "regular" movies -- to which you can't take a kid, because of what is said and depicted in the film.

Part of the problem is that Hollywood no longer produces many movies suitable for all audiences. They take the easy way out -- simple stories for the kids; sex and violence for the adults. Writing a good movie both suitable for, and enjoyable by, all ages takes talent and work. The two films I've cited are good examples. The comedy of "Mad World," like a classic "Bugs Bunny" cartoon, works on more than one level. There are sight gags for the kids, and more sophisticated humor for the adults. "St. Louis" invites interest from all ages by including characters of all ages, from the kids on up through Grandpa. Some scenes feature the children, while in other scenes, children in the audience are able to relate to the family dynamics depicted onscreen through the eyes of the fictional children.

But as I said, writing a story like that takes talent and hard work. Hollywood prefers the easy way out.

Meanwhile, we -- as movie-goers -- kid ourselves, thinking we are too "sophisticated" for those "kids' movies." But the opposite is true. We show less sophistication, and a coarsening of culture, by favoring cheap sex and violence over storytelling.

The public's understanding of the ratings system has come to this: If you CAN take the kids to it, then it's not worth seeing -- it's just a "kids' movie."

For example, I heard two guys talking on the radio. One said his wife wanted him to go see "some kids' movie." He was referring to "Two Brothers," a PG-rated, live-action story about two tiger cubs. The other fellow asked him, "What was the last 'kids' movie' you saw?" The first guy replied, "That must have been 'ET.'"

Holy cow! "ET" came out way back in 1982. And it was rated PG. But to him, that's a "kids' movie." Hasn't he seen anything rated "G" or "PG" over the last 22 years?

Unless a film is animated and clearly aimed at children, these days they say a "G" or even a "PG" rating is the kiss of death for a movie. We movie going "sophisticates" don't take such films seriously. That's sad. It doesn't speak well of contemporary American culture.

So the studios sometimes have to "punch up" a film to get a more "adult" rating. Some movies could easily earn a "G," except for some gratuitous "s-word" thrown in just to earn a "PG."

But even "PG" isn't always good enough. Some teenagers -- the bread-and-butter of the movie business -- think they're too mature to attend anything that hasn't earned an "R" rating (even if they supposedly aren't old enough to get into an "R" movie without their parents). That means the movie makers have an incentive to throw in enough unwarranted sex, violence and profanity to get that coveted "R."

Last summer (June 29, 2004), the St. Paul Pioneer Press ran a front page story about teenagers sneaking in to see the R-rated "Fahrenheit 9/11."

One 16-year-old said that the movie ratings system helps her know which movies to see. But not in the way that was intended. "You can kind of tell what's going to be in the movie by the rating," she said. Well, yes, that's the idea. But another 16 year old further explained what they meant:

"'G' is just going to be a kids' movie. If it's 'G,' basically, you need to pay me to see it. And if it's 'PG,' it will be corny. 'PG-13' is where it gets better."

Seems to me there's a vicious circle and a self-fulfilling prophecy going on. If that's how movie goers think, then that's what Hollywood will do -- "roughing up" a movie even when there is no reason for it, because they know it's the way to sell tickets.

But even worse, what do these statements say about these young people? Are their brains really so week that they can not wrap their minds around anything other than sex, violence and profanity?

It's a sad, sad, sad, sad world.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Dave Gives Jeff Foxworthy the Night Off
If someone mentions "fine dining," and you immediately think of the casino...you might be a redneck.

If your favorite restaurant features "catch of the day," but it's a mammal...you might be a redneck.

Next time, hopefully, one more movie-related entry. (No time today.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Lights! Camera! Passports!
A major motion picture is expected to start production soon on Minnesota's Iron Range. With stars including Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Charlize Theron, Sissy Spacek and Jeremy Renner, the currently untitled feature is a fictionalized account of a 1970s sexual discrimination battle at an Iron Range mine.

I'm glad they decided to shoot in Minnesota. They considered going to Canada. Cheaper, you know. People work for less. More money left over for the rich actors and studio bosses.

Wait a minute.... isn't that what they call "offshoring"? I know Canada isn't technically "offshore" relative to the U.S., but that's what they call it when a company decides to increase profits by having work done in another country. And the American movie business has gotten pretty good at it. For years, they've been making movies in Toronto, British Columbia, New Zealand -- lower costs mean bigger profits.

Personally, I don't object. I just find it strange that the American movie people are so eager to engage in this practice -- which deprives American union workers of jobs -- when in the recent presidential election they loudly joined in the chorus criticizing President Bush for letting good jobs go overseas.

Seems, shall we say...hypocritical?

Actually, only 48 percent of the mining movie is going to be shot in Minnesota. The remaining 52 percent will be shot in New Mexico, which provided a cash incentive of $1.5 million to film the majority of the movie there. Money well spent, as movie production will leave several times that behind in New Mexico.

Minnesota used to have a program that offered money to encourage movie production here, but that program has ended. I think that's too bad, because of all the schemes that have ever attempted to redistribute state tax money in the name of economic development, I think bribing movie makers is about the best.

I propose that when we evaluate economic development subsidies, we ask ourselves, from where does the subsidized business draw its revenues? In the case of professional baseball, for example, the Twins draw most of their revenues from right here in the state, from ticket sales and local television broadcast rights. If that money wasn't going to the Twins, it would still be spent somewhere in the state. So spending state money to keep the team in Minnesota offers no net gain to the state. (The football Vikings may be a better "investment." NFL teams share revenues from national TV contracts.)

But when a Minnesota company makes a product and sells it to people in other states -- other countries, even -- then money is being drawn into the state. Money that otherwise would never have come here.

Making a movie is like making a product for export. The production company will spend millions in Minnesota while shooting the movie. How will they get that money back? From ticket sales, broadcast rights, and DVD sales. Most of those dollars -- and Euros, Yen, etc. -- will come from outside the state. So shooting the movie in Minnesota creates a transfer of money into the state from around the world.

Sounds like a hit to me!

Now, if we could just get the movie stars to stop buying all those foreign cars.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Movies: It's All About Cashing In Right Now
I'm going to stick to a theme and write a couple more entries about the movies. When I started this website last summer, I never intended that I would write so heavily on partisan political issues. With the election past, I'm going to try to cover a broader spectrum of life.

I've been thinking about how home video has changed the business end of the movie world. Used to be, a movie was released, it played until interest ran out, then it went back into the vault. It might show up on broadcast TV at some point, but opportunities to see the movie were limited after it had completed its initial theatrical release. Some movies, such as the Disney classics, were re-released to the theaters at regular intervals, so they could be seen by a new generation of movie goers. Others mostly just sat in the studios' vaults.

But the movies, even sitting in the vaults, were considered valuable assets. The studios controlled them, and no one could see them without forking over some dough.

Think how that has changed. Now, movies are released for home video 24 hours after their theatrical run ends. (Some even before their theatrical run ends. In other cases, I suspect that movies are actually pulled from theaters before they've run their course, because the studio planned a big push for the home video release well in advance.)

My point is, the studios are going for the all the money they can get now. They sell a ton of DVDs and videocassettes, at fairly affordable prices. They're working the volume angle.

But what does that do to the value of the film in the vault? Seems to me, that film's not worth much anymore. If the studio decides to re-release it in 10 years, everyone is going to say, "Who cares? I own it in two formats and I've seen it 100 times." And with high-def DVDs and home theater set-ups approaching the size of ever-shrinking movie theater screens, people won't go for the "see it on the big screen in all its technicolor glory" spiel, they way they once did.

Bottom line, I'm sure the movie studios know what they're doing. They're taking in way more money this way. But the nature of the business has changed. Movies are almost a disposable product, to be milked for all they're worth before the market is saturated. They're no longer a long-term asset for the studio.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Today's Kids Don't Know What It Means to Go to the Movies
We took one of my son's friends with when we went to the movies last weekend. We went to our usual theater, the Riverview in Minneapolis. In addition to the cheap tickets and the real butter on the popcorn, I love the Riverview because it still seems like I'm going to the movies. It's a single-screen, neighborhood movie house, unchanged since a remodeling in the 1950s.

To me, the Riverview is what a movie theater is supposed to be. But to our little friend, it was a new experience.

"Is this the right one?" he asked on the way into the auditorium. He had to be told that it was the only one. Upon seeing the 750 seat auditorium, he remarked, "It's big!"

The poor kid had no idea what he was missing.

I previously wrote about the blurring of the line between home theaters and movie theaters. You can scroll down to my Nov. 22 post for that. I won't repeat myself too much here. But it seems that we've cheapened the whole movie-going experience. At one time, going to the theater was an end in itself, regardless of the movie that was showing. It was an event. People dressed up and went to the exciting movie palace. Now, the market feeds the demand for more utilitarian movie-going: Lots of tiny auditoriums, so you can see whatever movie you want, whenever you want, wherever you want.

Oddly enough, this runs counter to the trend in sports venues. New ballparks and arenas are designed to appeal to people who don't even watch the game. Visiting the "sports palace" has now become an end in itself -- just as visiting the movie palace once was.

Finally, why don't more people sit still for the credits? It seems that most people can't wait to leave. Never mind that the movie is sometimes not quite over. Haven't they learned that yet? (Of course not, they always leave right away. How would they know that there may still be some good parts stuck in at the end?)

I like to sit through the credits. You never know what you might see, and what's the rush? I paid my money to escape the reality of the outside world. I like to sit there, relaxing, decompressing, thinking about what I've just seen. Who was that guy? What really happened? What did they mean by that?

But most people can't wait to leave. It's as though -- slam! -- they shut their brain on the movie, and now they need to rush out and find some other stimulus.

Sunday, January 9, 2005

Go Figure
Go Figure #1:
I have an American-made, 2002 pickup truck. The manufacturer issued a recall. It seems the cables that support the end gate, when it is in the down position, have been known to get rusty, and when someone sits or stands on the end gate, they can snap, resulting in injury.

So after the dealership replaced the cables, I took a gander at the new, "better and safer" cables. I noticed little white tags. Upon closer inspection, the tags read: "Made in China." Go figure.

Go Figure #2: The "Blue States" voted Democrat. Democrats want to "tax the rich." But it turns out the people in the "Blue States" have higher incomes than the people in the "Red States." The Democrats are "the rich." Go figure!

Saturday, January 8, 2005

Whose Ball Is It, Anyway? Players Are Going to Start Sewing Pockets Into Uniforms.
By now you may have heard that former Minnesota Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz has gotten himself into hot water in Boston. He has the ball in use at the conclusion of the Red Sox's World Series-clinching game four win, and the Red Sox want it back.

Mientkiewicz had entered the game as a late-inning defensive replacement. When he caught the ball to record the final out -- ending THE CURSE and giving the Red Sox their first World Series win in 86 years -- he kept it in his glove. As Dan Shaughnessy reports in the Boston Globe, Mientkiewicz took the ball back to the locker room, then passed it on to his wife. He had it "authenticated" by Major League Baseball the next day, and now it resides in Mientkiewicz's safe deposit box.

But the Red Sox want it back. They say it belongs to them.

Legally speaking, to whom the ball belongs is less than crystal clear. It's firmly established that once a ball leaves the field of play, it's up for grabs (literally). Whatever fan comes up with it owns it -- and the the right to sell it for $1 million, if he can get it. Or maybe I should say, whoever successfully gets the ball home with him and wins any subsequent court decisions, because with so much at stake, unsuccessful suitors have been reluctant to concede defeat -- physically or legally.

But what about a ball that's still on the field? That is less clear. Shaughnessy notes examples where team officials or players have sold balls that they took from the field.

But that doesn't seem right. If a player wants a historic ball, he should earn it. It should be given to him as a game ball in recognition of his contribution to the team, or it should be a ball that he himself used to record a personal achievement.

Mientkiewicz falls short by either measure.

Strange though, that a baseball official authenticated the ball the next day, and no one questioned Mientkiewicz's possession of it.

But if we establish that the ball belongs to any player who can keep possession of it, what's next?

Joe Dimaggio's 56 game hitting streak is often considered baseball's most unbreakable record. What if someday someone breaks it? Wouldn't that ball be worth a buck or two? But what if the center fielder, after picking up the ball from the record-breaking hit and time had been called, said, "You ain't gettin' this back. My kids gotta eat, too."

I hear you thinking. You're thinking, "But Dave, the game isn't over. That's different. The umpire will ask for the ball, and then give it to the batter. Mientkiewicz took the ball only after the game was over."

Then try this one on. The umpire cries "Strike three!" as the catcher squeezes the ball. It's the final out of the World Series. It's also the 27th strikeout of a perfect game. The pitcher wants the ball. The team wants the ball. The Hall of Fame wants the ball.

The catcher, a little-known journeyman who entered the game only after the starter was lifted for a pinch runner in the top of the inning, says, "No way. It's mine. This is my retirement fund."

I'm guessing he's going to need all that protective gear he's wearing.

But on the other hand, maybe Mientkiewicz did the Red Sox a favor. If he hadn't safeguarded the ball, maybe it would have been lost. Maybe some even less deserving person -- a rent-a-cop, for example -- would have picked it up and sold it on e-Bay.

And here's an interesting thought: What if Mientkiewicz, in celebration, had tossed that ball into the stands? Would the Red Sox be suing him for throwing away their $1 million ball?

Friday, January 7, 2005

Coping with Being Out of Touch
If you're interested in words and language, as I am, you may have watched Robert MacNeil's "Do You Speak American"? which aired on PBS this week.

I was somewhat disappointed with the program, which was overly long -- 3 hours -- and still not particularly informative.

However, I write not to bury MacNeil; just to needle him.

MacNeil showed that he's out of touch with the real people of the country. Maybe he's been too ensconced in his PBS ivory tower in the Northeast. He continually acted amazed by these "new" slang terms he wasn't familiar with, in contrast to most of the people of the U.S., who have been hearing some of those slang usages for decades.

But the most interesting example was a "slang" term that caught his attention, even though it's not slang! He was focusing on skateboarders, as a subculture that produces new word usages. That's true. But one of the "slang" terms he highlighted was "coping." "Coping" is what the boarders call the top edge of their ramp/wall, and also a verb to describe riding along that edge.

Funny thing is. "Coping" is not a slang term at all. I thought it sounded familiar, so I looked it up. Here's what I found in the American Heritage Dictionary:

Coping -- n. The top layer or course of a masonry wall, usually having a slanting upper surface to shed water. v. To provide with coping: cope a wall.

[ Middle English "cope" from Old English cap, Medieval Latin capa, and Late Latin cappa. ]

So, "coping" means the top of a wall. Which is how the skateboarders use it, just with a new type of wall. I don't think that qualifies as slang at all! The boarders are using "coping" in a conventional sense, but in a new setting.

Wednesday, January 5, 2005

(with a nod to humorist Andy Borowitz, http://www.borowitzreport.com)

Downingworld News Network -- News Best Taken with a Block of Salt

Vikings Shocker: Team Announces Name Change
Stymied in his efforts to physically move the team to the West Coast, Minnesota Vikings owner Red McCombs announced today that he has changed the name of his NFL franchise.

Effectively immediately, the football team will be known as the Los Angeles Vikings of Minnesota.

McCombs was inspired by Southern California's American League baseball team, which this week announced it is changing its name to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The Angels say the change is intended to help the team market itself to more of Southern California, attracting more advertising sponsors and broadcast revenues. "We believe that the appeal in the marketplace will be broader," Angels spokesman Tim Mead said.

Ever the shrewd businessman, Vikings owner McCombs said he is already in negotiations to sell broadcast rights and sponsorships in the Los Angeles area (which includes Anaheim). To help sell the idea that the Vikings are now Los Angeles' team, McCombs said the Vikings from now on will wear their white, road jerseys when they play at home in the Metrodome, and "maybe those California people will just think we're on a long road trip."

Additionally, season ticket holders will be asked to dress in the visiting team's colors, to make the illusion complete. "When you think about it," McCombs said, "It's really no different than when the Packers come to town."

Asked whether people might see through the charade, and whether his plan might backfire on him, McCombs replied, "If they're so dumb they don't know that Anaheim is no more'n a Texas ranch away from LA, I've got nothing to worry about. I'm not squattin' on my spurs, here. You gotta smell a horse before you light a fire."

Asked to explain his boss' comments, McCombs' new press spokesman, Dan Rather, replied, "What's to explain? I thought he made himself as clear as a prickly pear at a chili cookoff."

In related news, the Associated Press announced that they will from here on refer to the Angels baseball team as "The Baseball Team Formerly Known as the Anaheim Angels, But Previously Known as the California Angels, and Originally Known as the Los Angeles Angels, Which Made Sense, If You Think About It, Since Los Angeles is 'The City of Angels,' Unlike Los Angeles Lakers, Which Doesn't Make Sense, Because There Aren't Any Lakes in Los Angeles."

Meanwhile, the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune announced that they will refer to the team as "The Los Angeles baseball team of Anaheim," because the word "Angels" might appear as an endorsement of religion.

In contrast, the New York Times, that last bastion of 19th-century journalism, said the Angels' name change will have no effect on their longstanding policy of referring to the team as "Mr. Angels."

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Drug Legalization: Still a Bad Idea
There's a school of thought that says we'll never win the "war on drugs," so it would be better to legalize drugs and regulate them, instead. Without all the drug arrests, we'd need fewer prisons, it is argued. And with drugs legal, we'd eliminate the lucrative market exploited by dealers and traffickers, and the accompanying drug business-related violence.

The situation is often likened to America's prohibition of alcohol, with its accompanying rise of organized criminal activity.

This position is advanced in a recent column by Neal Pierce. The argument has a certain logic to it. However, whenever I've considered the idea, I've remained opposed to legalization of now-illegal drugs. I have two primary reasons.

The first reason is that drug use is not a sustainable lifestyle -- no matter the price of drugs. While most people can use alcohol or tobacco and hold down a job, the story is different with many other drugs. People who get hooked on heroin or cocaine can't hold down a job long-term. How will they support their habit without turning to crime? Regardless of whether legal heroin costs less than illegal heroin, a person still has to hold down a job to support himself and his habit. I think legalized drugs inevitably lead to more drug addicts, whose lives are wrecked.

(Maybe there are lots of marijuana users who can hold down a job and support themselves. But in the case of marijuana, I'd say it's already so readily available that to legalize it would indeed make little difference.....except for reason number two.)

The second reason involves the young. People who propose legalizing drugs always say that, like tobacco and alcohol, drugs wouldn't be sold to minors. That's all well and good. Except, can you tell me with a straight face that tobacco and alcohol aren't obtained by teenagers who want them?

And -- this is the key -- why do teenagers want alcohol and tobacco? Because they are told they "aren't old enough"! Come on, you were a teenager once. Did you accept that you "weren't old enough"? Being told that made you want something really badly. Teenagers want to be grown-ups. That's why they drink and smoke, despite being told not to, and it being illegal for them to do so.

They are told "You're not old enough yet," to which they say, "Yes I am!" They use alcohol and tobacco because they want to feel grown up.

Contrast that to illegal drugs. Teenagers are told not to use cocaine and heroin because they are illegal for EVERYONE, and they are bad news. They turn you into a junkie. The typical teenager does not think that using them is the "grown up" thing to do. Illegal drugs aren't used by "grown-ups," they are used by "druggies."

So what happens if we legalize these drugs? Now, teenagers are being told, "You can use these drugs when you are 18 or 21." Will they accept that? Some will. Some won't. My prediction is that some teens will say, "I'm grown up enough to use those things (just like mom and dad)." Some will obtain and use the drugs to impress other teens.

The result will be more teens entering into the world of drug use, abuse, and junkiehood. They'll be lifetime addicts before they reach legal age -- before they are considered capable of making their own decisions. Whose fault will that be? We actual grown-ups are supposed to protect them.

Everyone has known for 40 years that cigarettes will kill you. Yet people continue to take up smoking. Most of them started before it was legal for them to do so. And now they can't quit.

Why does anyone still start smoking, knowing what we know? I blame it on the mixed messages we give young people: "Do as I say, not as I do." If we legalize drugs, we'll be giving that same mixed message about cocaine, heroin, you name it.

So while legalizing drugs may seem like an easy way to eliminate or reduce some of the problems we now have, it would also introduce new problems -- and who knows to what extent.

As the saying goes, Better the devil you know than the devil you don't know.

Monday, January 3, 2005

Same-Sex Marriage is Killing Iraqis -- Thanks to American Liberals
As I've noted previously, the left-wing bias in the mainstream media (MSM) can be subtle. It's in which stories they report, and in what they emphasize. While some of the MSM's most faithful left-wingers (such as the StarTribune editorial board -- see my Dec. 30 post) are distracted by their hate for President Bush, and obsessed with a need to blame him for the tsunami, items like this are sneaking in under the radar. This ran Dec. 31 in my St. Paul Pioneer Press, page 3A -- not the font page, of course. It's from Nick Wadhams of the AP.


The story describes how insurgents are threatening Iraqis, warning them not to vote or participate in the upcoming election. The story says that all 700 employees of the Mosul electoral commission resigned after being threatened.

The insurgents say that democracy is un-Islamic:

"The radical Ansar al-Sunnah Army and two other insurgent groups issued a statement Thursday warning that democracy was un-Islamic. Democracy could lead to passing un-Islamic laws, such as permitting homosexual marriage, if the majority of people agreed to it, the statement said."

Can you believe that? American liberals have been telling us that we brought this Islamic terrorism on ourselves, by making the world hate us. Well, listen up. What do the terrorists fear? Gay marriage! And how did that become an issue? Because of the American left!!!!

The same-sex marriage agenda pushed by American liberals has inspired these fascist thugs to kill people.

Do you think we'll see that on the front page? Of course not. Will it get significant play in the MSM? No. Or attention from the StarTribune politburo? Ha! Will the liberals accept the blame for these killings? Will they fall to their knees, saying, "We're sorry we have offended you, Islamic World, with our liberal hegemony and lack of respect for the diversity of Islam"? Yeah, right.

But here it is in black and white. Not alleged by some blogger, but in an AP dispatch.

The Islamic terrorist thugs are killing people because American liberals have filled them with the fear of gay marriage!

In other words, if the liberals want to stop terrorism, they should side with Bush, who opposes same-sex marriage. Oh, the irony!

And then there are the liberals who say Bush is "shredding" their freedoms, and imposing some sort of "theocracy." What would they think of this terrorists' statement, from the AP story, if the MSM played it up so that they heard it?

" 'Democracy is a Greek word meaning the rule of the people, which means that the people do what they see fit,' said the statement. 'This concept is considered apostasy and defies the belief in one God ­ Muslims' doctrine.' "

Bush is fighting the people who hate democracy -- the people who hate democracy because they think their religion should be their system of government. Yet the liberals side with these theocratic killers, and bash Bush!

Here's a quote I came across today on a left-wing blog site, http://norwegianity.com/

"Right now, much as it pains me to say this, the Iraqi resistance more closely resembles a patriotic movement than it does any kind of 'terrorist' organization. Regardless of intent, regardless of good motives and good people, we are acting like the bad guys."

To an American liberal, anti-democratic, theo-fascist killers are "patriots"!

We've been told over and over that we are not engaged in a war of East vs. West, Islam vs. Christendom, the 21st Century vs. the 6th Century. Even President Bush has told us that. No doubt he's saying the politically correct thing, but hasn't convinced himself.

I'm not convinced, either.

And the real question is: Which side are America's liberals on?

When Will They "Finally" Admit Bias? or, Have You Stopped Beating Your Wife Yet?
Here's another example of the MSM's bias, this time manifested in a subjective, "loaded" word. It's in a story by Robert D. McFadden of the New York Times, which appeared in the paper Sunday. Here's the lead paragraph:

"Substantial aid finally began reaching desperate refugees in devastated areas of northern Sumatra on Saturday as U.S. warships arrived offshore and a fleet of helicopters airlifted critical supplies to stricken towns in Aceh province."

Did you catch the loaded word? It's "finally." "Finally" plays into the notion that President didn't respond quickly enough. Why didn't the reporter say "already" aid is arriving? Do journalism schools teach some sort of standard of how quickly aid "should" arrive after a tsunami that kills over 100,000 people? I'm guessing that this is the largest and fastest aid response ever, following a tragedy such as this. But since a Republican is President, well, he's not acting fast enough. In fact, the whole thing is his fault.

I Stand Corrected
Finally, if I make a mistake in a matter of fact, I want to know about it. I want to set the record straight. So email me if you catch one.

I caught one myself. December 29 I wrote about how people just can't wait. I used the example of the centennial celebration of the Minnesota capitol building. While it was a timely example, it was not an accurate one. The Minnesota capitol has its 100th birthday this week, and the celebration will be ongoing. That's as I suggested these things should be.

A better example would be the centennial celebrations of several Great Plains and Pacific Northwest states in the late 1980s. I wrote a news story about that at the time, and that's when I noticed the "can't wait" phenomenon. These states were devoting a year or more to the obligatory wagon trains and beard-growing contests, then shutting it down cold after the fireworks on the day the state actually turned 100.

contents copyright 2004, David W. Downing

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