Archives April -- May 2005
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Store Is It, Anyway? Part 2
I previously opined (April 28) about the issue of whether a pharmacist should be able to refuse to dispense medications that violate his or her personal (religious) beliefs. This concern mostly focuses on birth control/abortion issues.
Some say the pharmacist should have no discretion. If he or she is a pharmacist, then he or she must sell whatever prescription medications a customer wants.
But I realized recently that there is a retail precedent for not selling items that conflict with the proprietor's religious beliefs.
For instance, restaurants. Some types of restaurants would not be expected to serve beef, and some would not be expected to serve pork, because those meats are forbidden in the cultures/religions which form the basis of the menu.
Likewise, meat markets. Some meat markets cater to a particular religious clientele, selling meat that is prepared in accordance with religious laws. Such markets don't sell meat that is not permitted for members of that particular religion.
Where are the protesters there? Why don't they demand that the Indian restaurant serve beef? Or that the the Halal (Islamic) meat market sell pork?
Could it be that they really just don't like conservative Christians?
Friday, May 27, 2005
'Em an NEA Grant and Call It Art
This Quran-down-the-toilet story is really blown all out of proportion. I find it entirely plausible that someone, somewhere, could have down something like that. And they shouldn't have. But so what? When you have a lot of people involved in something, some will do things they shouldn't. If they are caught, deal with them, and let it be a lesson to everyone else. And that's it.
But the mainstream media are obsessed with this story because they see it as some sort of indictment of President Bush, and some sort of judgment on the entire war on terror. As though if it can be proved that someone disrespected the Quran, then that proves that all of Bush's policies are wrong, and maybe even justifies flying airplanes into buildings.
Do they really think that an organization as large as the U.S. military, and involved in the kind of work that it does, will never have anyone overstepping the boundaries? That has to be expected. Expected, but accepted. However, a few rule breakers-don't convict the entire organization.
But you wouldn't know it from the mainstream media. Here's a good quote from Captain Ed:
"Due to their [liberal media] efforts, the American military has been defined by a handful of miscreants at Abu Ghraib, instead of the tens of thousands that brought democracy to over 50 million people suffering under two of the worst tyrannies of the past generation."
And now they are doing the same with the alleged Quran "incident." The guilt of a few is somehow supposed to be shared by all who share an external characteristic -- in this case, a military uniform.
I thought enlightened people weren't supposed to judge people on external characteristics. For instance, in one day's newspaper, I read stories about a man who killed people in Atlanta, a man who killed someone in St. Paul, and a man who killed people in Winona, Minn. In all three cases, the killers shared an external characteristic -- their skin color.
Why didn't the mainstream media go on a jihad against everyone of that race?
Because, of course, that would be wrong.
But so is condemning an entire military, an entire administration, an entire foreign policy, because of the actions of a few.
You know what really ticks me off about the Quran story? I want to know, since when is the mainstream media so pious? Since when do they care about what someone does to a holy book? I thought desecrating holy objects was all about free speech. The mainstream media thinks it is. If you want to put a crucifix in a vial of urine and call it art, they're all for it. You should even get a government grant.
Why do they care so much about Islam, when they care so little about Christianity?
Truth be told, they don't care about either. And they don't care about the Quran. They just want to attack President Bush, and join their foreign fellow travelers in hating our country.
Friday, May 27, 2005
Season! Rabbit Season! Vikings Stadium Bid Also Employs Reverse Psychology
Apparently impressed by the Minnesota Twins' strategy for getting a new stadium, new Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf says he also wants a new stadium without a roof.
But while the Twins have played the passive-aggressive martyr -- "Oh, woe is us. We'll never get a stadium if we insist on a roof. So never mind. We don't need it. Don't worry about little old us." -- Wilf is going with a straight reverse-psychology strategy.
Wilf is acting as though a new stadium without a roof would be his preferred option. He has pointed out how the cold would be a good thing, restoring that legendary cold weather, home field advantage of the Vikings Super Bowl teams.
I think Zygi is counting on us collectively saying, "Hold on there a minute. Who says we don't want a roof? Don't try telling us what to do! If we build you a new stadium, it's darn well going to have a roof on it! Whether you like it or not!"
Thursday, May 26, 2005
We Go Again, Vikings Fans
Yesterday, Zygmunt Wilf was approved as the new owner of the Minnesota Vikings football team. "Ziggy" is a real estate developer from New Jersey. He replaces "Red," a used car salesman from Texas. But don't worry, Ziggy says he won't move the team. Which isn't very reassuring. Red said the same thing, then threatened to move to Los Angeles.
But what happened to Reggie and Denny? Last February, we were introduced to Arizona Reggie Fowler, supposedly the new owner of the Vikings. We were supposed to be all excited about Reggie, because he would be the first Black majority owner of a major pro sports team. And, we weren't supposed to worry about him not being from around here, because one of his partners was local auto magnate (and alleged sexual harasser) Denny Hecker.
Now, several months and revised resumes later, Reggie is merely a minor partner in the deal, and Denny is nowhere to be found. Apparently, Reggie couldn't ante up when Red said, "Show me the money!"
Now, I've read speculation that Reggie may sell his interest, purchased with a down payment of $30-50 million, to Ziggy at a nice profit.
How did all this happen? Reggie gets his foot in the door with the "first Black owner" play. Local guy Denny backs him up. But somehow, we end up with New Jersey Zig owning our team.
Was Reggie an unwitting pawn all along? Or did he freely trade on the color of his skin, opening the door for Zig, and making himself a tidy profit at the same time?
And was Denny a dupe?
Don't know. But I'm warning you that the Los Angeles Vikings of Minnesota is still a possibility.
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
Big Kids: Some Never Take Their Responsibility Seriously
I had another one of those experiences today, where observing the behavior of children gave me insight into the behavior of adults.
I have a child who serves as a school crossing guard. I've observed that not all of the crossing guards take their jobs seriously. They've been put in a position of great responsibility. It's up to them to keep other kids safe when crossing the street and walking to school.
But some of them don't seem to understand that being a crossing guard is about fulfilling a duty to OTHERS; it's not about "me."
Some seem to think being a crossing guard is just about having power, feeling important, telling others what to do, wielding your flag -- the symbol of your power -- like a weapon used to intimidate other kids.
How about that? Many adults are no different. When they are put into positions of responsibility -- maybe even elected to government office -- they focus on what's in it for them. Power, ego, perks. They lose sight of serving those who have entrusted them with the power.
Yes, once again we see that many adults are nothing more than big kids.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Tolkien Victim or Thief?
Perhaps I should be embarrassed to admit this, but I have never read Tolkien's classic trilogy. And only recently, when the women folk were away for the weekend on a Girl Scout outing, did I give in to my son's request to view the movies. We watched all nine hours that weekend, and we enjoyed the movies immensely.
But I was left with this puzzling question: Who "borrowed" more from LOTR? George Lucas? Or J.R. Rowling? I was spurred to write about this today, thanks to a post on Vox Day's blog.
There are a lot of similarities between these three great trilogies(+).
To start with, you've got Frodo/Luke/Harry, an innocent thrust into greatness, with the fate of the world in his hands.
Harry's friend Ron is Samwise all over again.
We've got the wise Gandalf/Obi-Wan/Dumbledore. Gandalf and Dumbledore both deliver messages about death not being the end, but just the beginning of another chapter of a great adventure. Obi-Wan, meanwhile, dies but continues to appear to Luke.
LOTR and HP both feature trolls. SW has sand people and all manner of dangerous creatures.
LOTR and HP both have trees that can move and attack people.
LOTR has giant elephant beasts used in warfare. SW has giant, elephant-like, four-legged "walkers."
Sure, a lot of this merely reflects common literary themes. It's not outright copying. And even when one author might have influenced another, it's not clear who's being influenced by whom. There can be a sort of time travel paradox involved.
LOTR came first. But when I ponder Peter Jackson's interpretation of those LOTR elephant-beasts, the ones that reminded me of the walkers from "The Empire Strikes Back," I have to wonder, was Jackson actually influenced by Lucas, who made his movie 20 years earlier? But were Lucas' walkers influenced by Tolkien?
But maybe what I really should be asking is this: How much did all of them "borrow" from "The Wizard of Oz"?
Let's see...enchanted trees, Munchkins (dwarves/Ewoks), scary flying creatures, a tin man (C3PIO), a shaggy lion (a Wookie), a brainless, clumsy scarecrow (Jar-Jar Binks).
Monday, May 23, 2005
How Stupid Is the Electorate?
Politicians of all stripes may think the voters aren't too smart, but Democrats absolutely depend on it.
Minnesota's version of the Democratic Party -- the DFL (originally for Democrat-Farmer-Labor, though the farmers and laborers were forgotten years ago, and now it's more like Democrat-Freak-Liberal) -- is running radio ads criticizing the Minnesota Republicans, and Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty. If you listen closely to exactly what is said in the ads, you'll realize that it's a lot of nonsense.
The ad starts with a claim that Gov. Pawlenty cut education spending. Then, the announcer tells us that Minnesota ranks 45th in INCREASING education. spending. (Although they emphasize "45th" rather than "increasing.") Clearly, what they are hoping will register in our brains is the idea that Minnesota ranks 45th in spending. But that's not true. Minnesota continues to rank near the top in education spending. But when it comes to INCREASING spending, of course the spending leaders are going to rank low. The states that spend less are going to find it much easier to INCREASE their level of spending. But complaining that Minnesota ranks 45th in INCREASING spending is like complaining that a team that wins the Super Bowl three years in a row isn't improving any from year to year.
Finally, the ad states that the Democrats want to increase education spending by a certain amount, which is twice the amount the Republicans want.
Wait a minute. That means the Republicans also are proposing an increase in education spending. What happened to Republicans cutting spending? Which is it?
Yes, they count on us being stupid. So the Dems had better be careful. Maybe they'll get what they want in the way of education funding, and future generations will be too smart to fall for their tricks!
And What Is Our Republican Governor Up To?
Governor Pawlenty pledged "no new taxes." Citing that campaign pledge, he vetoed a bill that included an increase in the gasoline tax. Never mind that an increase in the gas tax is just the sort tax increase Republicans should be able to support in good faith. After all, they're the ones always calling for more money for roads.
And the gas tax has to increase periodically, just to remain the same. That's because it is not a percentage, but a set amount. And it hasn't been increased since 1988. In the meantime, inflation has eaten into the road-building power of the 20 cents per gallon collected, while increases in fuel-efficiency mean more miles are being driven -- with more wear on the roads -- for each 20 cents collected.
So, it's only logical that the gas tax will need to be raised periodically, just to stay the same.
I'll note that that is in contrast to taxes such as income tax, which are based on a percentage. I've heard supposedly intelligent people say, "Of course we have to raise the income tax rate. Because of inflation and because the population has grown, the government needs more money."
Sure, the government needs more money because of those reasons. But, along with inflation, wages rise. And along with population growth, there are more wage earners. That means more tax money collected, even thought the RATE stays the same.
But now, Governor Pawlenty wants to increase the amount of money the government collects on the sale of a pack of cigarettes by 75 cents. Most people would call that a tax increase. He calls it a "fee."
Either this is just political gamesmanship, or Pawlenty thinks we're stupid, too.
"Star Wars" and the Price of Gas
We continue to hear how expensive gasoline is, and I continue to say, no, it's not. Adjusted for inflation, today's gasoline is just as affordable as in the "good old days" when you could drive around all night for a couple of bucks. (And don't forget the benefits of improved gas mileage, too.)
A recent "Star Wars" feature in the paper listed some data from each year in which a "Star Wars" movie was released. Here's the price of a gallon of gas, given for each year:
Yes, there was a big increase between the first and second movies, due to the second oil embargo. But note that in in 1999, the price was actually less than in 1980! Without any adjustment for inflation! 19 years later!
Yes, there's been a recent surge in prices, but that seems to be the way it works. Rather than adjusting yearly with most other prices, the price of gasoline seems to stay at one level for a number of years, then surge all at once. The psychological effect is that we're left complaining about the "high" gas prices, when we could just as well be saying, "Boy, can you believe we could buy gas for the same price for 20 years?"
Just allowing for inflation, today's "expensive" gasoline is actually selling at roughly the same price as the $0.62 gas of 1977.
Saturday, May 21, 2005
This 'n' That
Ever notice that the same people so worried about genetically-modified plants seem to be the same people in favor of genetically-modified people -- supporters of fetal stem cell research?
FDR & GWB
Last month, one of the cable channels ran a program about how FDR lied and kept the nation in the dark, in order to promote his war agenda, and protect the nation. FDR, the Left's greatest president ever. Lied to the people, got them into a war they didn't support, all in the name of national security.
So why is Bush such a villain for doing the same thing?
FDR said, "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself." Yeah! What a strong leader!
But when Bush did not jump up in a panic when told of the 9/11 attacks, he is criticized for keeping his cool.
Go figure. If you have eternity. Because you'll never arrive at a logical explanation.
"Home Team" Could be Anywhere
The Minnesota Twins baseball team is pushing a proposal for a new stadium. Again. One of the local sportswriters came out with the argument that we have to provide a new stadium even for the people who'll never go to it. You see, we need a new stadium to ensure that the team doesn't leave Minnesota. Because if the team left, then all the shut-ins and people in nursing homes wouldn't be able to hear the Twins on the radio, or see them on TV.
And I say, Why not?
Why, if the team left Minnesota, couldn't its games still be broadcast here? The ratings would go down some, but that would be offset by lower broadcast rights fees. The team would make the bulk of its broadcast money in its new home market; anything made in Minnesota would be gravy.
It's not a matter of technology. That part is easy. Just get a feed from the source. It goes that way now, anyway. Twins games are broadcast not just out of the Twin Cities, but also on other stations in Minnesota, and even in many Northern Plains states. If the Twins moved to -- oh, Las Vegas -- what difference would it make to a radio station in Billings, Montana?
Before the Vikings started playing NFL football, people in Minnesota followed the Green Bay Packers' games. So people can follow a team even if it isn't in their city or state.
When the Minnesota North Stars NHL hockey team left for Dallas in 1993(?) I wondered why they didn't just keep broadcasting the Dallas Stars games here in Minnesota. We already knew the players. There would have been plenty of interest. MOST fans only follow the team via broadcast, anyway, they don't attend the games. So what's the difference where "home" is?
(Is the concept of the "home team" a dinosaur? In sports, and in patriotism? Read "Free Agency for Players; Free Agency for Fans.")
Friday, May 20, 2005
Movie Is On First? George Lucas Creates Generation Gap
George Lucas has sparked a galactic generation gap in our household. When there's any discussion of the "Star Wars" movies, the conversation is likely to devolve into some sort of interstellar "Who's on First" routine. An example:
Older-than-dirt parent: "Luke did that in the first movie."
Know-it-all child: "No he didn't. He wasn't even born yet."
"No, not 'Episode I.' I'm talking about the first movie.
"But that is the first movie."
"I mean the first one they made."
"Which one is that?"
"Which 'Star Wars'?"
"The one called 'Star Wars'!"
"They're all 'Star Wars'!"
"I mean the one you call 'Episode IV.'"
"You mean 'A New Hope'?"
"Yes, but it wasn't called that. It was just 'Star Wars.'"
"Why didn't they call it 'Episode IV'?"
"Because it was the first one. That wouldn't have made any sense."
"Then why didn't they call it 'Episode I'?"
"Because they didn't know there would ever be another one."
"Because they didn't know if the movie would be successful enough to make another one."
"That's dumb. Why wouldn't it be? It's a 'Star Wars' movie!"
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Juxtaposition Cracks Me Up
I like to read columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. on the Miami Herald website. He's a good writer, and a smart thinker. Butt I got more than I bargained for when I checked out his latest column. The screen capture below shows an interesting juxtaposition: Check out the sentence I highlighted in yellow. Next to that ad, the words "I've seen the absolute bottom" take on a different meaning than Mr. Pitts had in mind!
An "Absolute bottom" sure beats a beer belly! (Intoxicating beverage pun)
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Out of Running for School Board
Well, the school board may their selections for the second round of interviews. They didn't pick me. Not that I expected them to. I don't know if I would have picked me. But I applied with the purpose of taking a message to the board. I hope they heard some of it and didn't just write me off as a crackpot. Imagine that! Someone wanting to serve on the school board, and he says more money isn't the answer?! I must be nuts!
They're going to interview two former board members, a former city council member, and two "civilians" with closer ties to school issues than I have. My money is on retired St. Paul police chief, and former school board member, Bill Finney to get the appointment.
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
in Pheromone Study
A Swedish study has found that the brains of gay men react more like the brains of straight women, rather than like the brains of straight men, when exposed to chemicals in male sweat.
A similar finding resulted when test subjects were exposed to wallpaper samples and fabric swatches.
Meanwhile, a Norwegian study found that the brains of lesbians react more like the brains of straight men, rather than like the brains of straight women, when exposed to chemicals used on golf courses.
OK, OK, the second and third paragraphs are jokes. But the first one is real. Peter Gorner of the Chicago Tribune reports:
"Powerful airborne chemicals emitted in male perspiration and associated with sexual reproduction trigger a heightened response in the brains of homosexual men similar to that seen in heterosexual women, researchers reported Monday.
"Heterosexual men did not share the brain response to the chemicals in male sweat, according to a team of brain imaging specialists from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.
"The debate over whether homosexuality is a matter of choice or is inborn makes such research extremely controversial, said team leader and neuroscientist Dr. Ivanka Savic of the institute's Center for Gender Related Medicine.
"'I want to be extremely cautious - this study does not tell us anything about whether sexual orientation is hardwired in the brain. It doesn't say anything about that,'" Savic said.
"'We're saying that we've detected measurable differences in the brains of homosexual men in regions that are known to mediate reproductive and sexual behavior."
Savic is right, this study doesn't prove sexual orientation is hardwired in the brain. Correlation does not prove causation. Remember Pavlov's dog? He salivated when he heard the dinner bell. There was nothing hardwired in the dog's brain to make him "aroused" in this way at the sound of a bell. He learned the response. The same could be true of the gay men and straight women in this study: they know they like men, so when they sense a man, they get excited. Associating pheromones with attraction to men could be a subconscious, learned response.
But I don't know why anyone should be surprised by these findings. I know there are those who don't want to accept that gays are simply made that way, but a lifetime of observing people would seem to indicate that is the case. After all, consider all the stereotyped secondary sexual characteristics we associate with gays and lesbians -- the effeminate man, the butch dyke. They're based on something. While some gays and lesbians may fit the stereotype perfectly, and others not at all, it seems obvious that there is some physiological explanation beneath the surface.
Of course, I can't generalize about all gay people. Everyone has his or her own story. And who am I to speak for their group? But as I've said, some gay people fit the stereotypes perfectly, some not at all. No doubt gay people cover a broad spectrum "internally," as well, when it comes to feelings of orientation and identification. No doubt some feel clearly and truly gay, while others may have internal conflicts. (Of course, there's no shortage of heterosexuals who've been less than sure, too.)
But I do hold out the likelihood that, while most homosexuals are simply made differently than heterosexuals, there may be a small subgroup of people who "learned" homosexual behavior. These may be people who suffered sexual abuse as children, which affected their sexuality as adults. This is similar to the way that heterosexual child abuse can result in victims who grow up to be especially promiscuous, or even abusers themselves.
The story also mentions a second study, taking place in Philadelphia. That study is finding a difference in body odors produced by gay and straight men. Very interesting. Maybe that explains how gaydar works?
But it would be fascinating to combine the studies, and see if the brains of gay men and straight women respond the same way to the sweat of ALL men, or whether it makes a difference if the sweaty guy is straight or gay.
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Walk for this. Walk for that. Every weekend we've got some walk to fight some disease. I wonder what that says about the collective psyche? There could be a good dissertation waiting to be written about the proliferation of walks for causes.
This past Sunday, here in the Twin Cities, we had the AIDS Walk. 10,000 people walking to fight/cure/treat/raise awareness of AIDS.
I know it's not politically correct to say so, but making all this effort about AIDS seems like a waste of time. We already know how to prevent the spread of the disease. In almost all cases, it is spread through the behavior of the person who contracts the disease. It's the same way with lung cancer, but where is the Lung Cancer Walk? Smokers aren't a politically correct group, so I guess no one cares about them. (BTW, I am not a smoker.) They're just getting what they deserve, right?
This would be a good time to read a piece I wrote about how the politics of AIDS has hampered the fight against the disease.
Monday, May 16, 2005
"He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep." (John 10:12-13)
I was assigned to read those two verses as we began Bible study before church yesterday. I thought, What a commentary on human nature; and what a way to sum up economics in a nutshell.
President Bush likes to talk about creating an "ownership society." The idea is that when people are "owners," they will put out more effort -- and act more responsibly -- because they themselves are the ones who reap the benefits, or suffer the consequences of bad decisions.
I agree. That's a basic principle of human nature. And we see that it was known to be true 2,000 years ago -- Jesus said so!
This is why owner-occupied dwellings are better-maintained than rental units. (And where do you think we got the expression: "Beat it like a rented mule?")
It also explains why capitalism works, and communism doesn't. Maybe you don't believe "Greed is good," as in the oft-quoted line from the movie "Wall Street," but self-interest most definitely is.
Saturday, May 14, 2005
I really do notice the strangest things. But that's the whole point of this website, isn't it? So I can share my strange observations with you.
In my Saturday paper, there's a feature called "Faith Notes." It's a listing of religion-related happenings in the coming week. I was paying particular attention to it today, because I was checking to see if some information I had submitted was included.
I noticed a listing for Friday that puzzled me: "Atheist Bible Study -- The Bible on Women and Gays."
Huh? An atheist event listed in "Faith Notes"?
Isn't this an anti-faith event? I'm thinking the point of this Bible study is to criticize the Bible and Judeo-Christianity. What is this doing in here? It's insulting.
Seems a little like listing Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances, and including a KKK meeting on "The Real MLK."
By the way, this Friday, May 20, 7:00 pm, my church is hosting a concert by the House of Mercy Band, playing American Gospel Music (bluegrass/traditional/country/Americana). There's no admission charge; an offering goes to support St. Paul's Union Gospel Mission. The event is at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church, 341 Hamline Avenue South, St. Paul.
Friday, May 13, 2005
The 50-year War
President Bush took some criticism recently for not excusing the Soviet Union's occupation of the Baltic countries following WWII. It underscores a point that I'd like to make: WWII lasted more than 50 years.
Conventional wisdom says that WWII ended in 1945. But really, while Germany and Japan surrendered in 1945, the war as a geopolitical event was far from over. The Soviets occupied and annexed the Baltic nations, and replaced the Germans as occupiers in eastern Europe. Germany was divided. Berlin remained divided and occupied. The Cold War was merely the next phase of WWII.
Yes, the Soviets were U.S. allies in WWII, but not always. They were on Hitler's side until he turned on them. They had no interest in helping the West. So when Hitler was defeated, they readily, and opportunistically, reverted to being our enemy, taking Hitler's place.
And it took the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dismantling of the Iron Curtain, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, until WWII was really over.
That makes WWII 50 years long.
Friday, May 13, 2005
Know History, Present Is Less Scary
I came across something very interesting in a Peggy Noonan column that appeared in the Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal. Noonan was writing about the evacuation of the Capitol and White House this past week, which took place when an unknown aircraft entered restricted airspace.
What really caught my attention was a bit at the end of the column:
"And I am thinking what the woman from the Hart Building told me about the young. It reminds me of Lesley Stahl. After 9/11, Lesley found that the young people in her office in New York were especially shook. Panic attacks, anthrax in the news, the fear that more death was coming.
"When a young person would confide his or her fears, Lesley started saying, 'Come sit next to me.' She would talk to them softly about how lucky they all were to have to concentrate on getting the news. They would sit with her at her desk and do their work next to her. Then after a while they'd leave, and if they got scared again an hour later, they would come and sit next to her again.
"The young are new to history. The job of the mature is to be mature. Here's to them."
Maybe that helps explain it. Maybe my own interest in -- and knowledge of -- history helps explain why I have often reacted to current events so differently than others my age.
When other college students quaked in fear of "The Day After," I didn't care. I didn't think nuclear war was among our genuine fears. When on 9/11, some said, "This changes everything!" I said, "No it doesn't; this is how the world was all along." When others decried (or celebrated, it seemed) 1,000 U.S. deaths in Iraq, I recognized it as 1,000 individual tragedies, but a small death toll for two years of war.
And as Noonan notes, it's because I know my history. Way back in grade school, I read every book in the library about WWII. I know that over 400,000 U.S. troops died in WWII. Taking Okinawa took more than 40,000 U.S. casualties. Many thousands of Allied troops died on D-Day -- one day!
Hitler killed 6 million Jews. Recent reports say 27 million people -- civilian and military -- died in the Soviet Union. More than 50 million estimated dead worldwide.
Because I know history, I know how terrible things can get. That doesn't mean I think it's OK for lots of people to be killed. But it means I have a more realistic view of the world. All along, I've been more mature.
Friday, May 13, 2005
There are some things we'd rather not know.
This morning's paper carries the headline: "Vick was drunk, police say"
That's referring to St. Paul police officer Gerald Vick, murdered while working undercover last Friday. The story in the paper this morning reports that Vick's blood alcohol content was 0.20 percent -- twice the legal limit at which a driver is considered legally drunk in Minnesota.
I'm not sure what to make of this. Clearly it's troubling. It muddies up the whole picture. While undercover officers are allowed to consume alcohol to blend in, this was clearly out of line with department policy. What will it do to the way we remember this episode in the city's history. I'll reserve further analysis until more is known.
This turn of events reminds me of when Minnesota Timberwolves basketball player Malik Sealy died in a car crash five years ago. Sealy's car was hit head-on by a drunk driver, who was travelling the wrong way on the freeway.
The story was played out clearly in the media: Sealy was an innocent victim, killed in the prime of life by an evil drunk.
Yet, the picture wasn't that clear. No one wanted to suggest that Sealy himself shared any responsibility for the crash, but the case could be made. The crash happened in the early morning hours when most people are in bed. Sealy was going home from a late night at a strip club. Most important: Sealy had been drinking himself. And while his blood alcohol content did not reach the 0.10 percent level at which a driver is considered legally drunk, it was high enough (0.08) to make him legally drunk in many states with a somewhat lower threshold. (In fact, Minnesota will be lowering it's own allowed blood alcohol content for drivers soon.)
If the exact same event were to happen this summer, Sealy wouldn't be an innocent victim; he would be the other drunk driver in the crash.
It's all a matter of definitions.
And that's another thing that bothers me: The ease with which news people refer to someone as "legally drunk" when his or her blood alcohol content is at 0.10 percent or higher. That's a legal definition for DRIVERS! If you're sitting in your living room with a blood alcohol content of 0.10 percent, you may or may not have had "too much to drink," but you're not "legally drunk."
Similarly, if you're walking through the public park, with a blood alcohol content of 0.10 percent, it's a non-factor unless you disturb the peace or commit some sort of crime. Then, you might be charged with "public intoxication," but you're not "legally drunk" based on blood alcohol level. In fact, you could be charged with "public intoxication," based on your behavior, with a blood alcohol content much lower than the 0.10 percent level established for drivers.
The truth is, whether someone is "drunk" or not can be hard to say. It depends on the individual. Some people have such a high tolerance for alcohol, they can run their blood alcohol level well past 0.10 percent and not appear intoxicated. Others may have just one drink and immediately be affected by the alcohol.
So, I find it plausible that some people may be perfectly capable drivers with a blood alcohol level above 0.10 percent, while others may be a threat to themselves and others with a legal blood alcohol level of just 0.05 percent.
The statutory level of 0.10 percent for drivers may seem like a convenient reference point, but we should be careful in referring to it beyond its specific legal purpose.
Thursday, May 12, 2005
Using Reverse Psychology in Stadium Quest?
The Minnesota Twins baseball team is pushing a plan to get them a new stadium, without the state of Minnesota having to appropriate any money. The team still needs approval from the Legislature, however, in authorizing Hennepin County to levy a special sales tax to help pay for the stadium.
One odd point of this plan: It provides for a stadium without a roof -- retractable or fixed. For years, it was assumed that if/when a new stadium was built for the Twins, it would have a roof, because the Minnesota weather is not compatible with early- and late-season games. Now, the Twins are pushing this plan, saying it's the best they can hope for.
Additionally, the Twins say they don't intend to try to add a roof in the future. In testimony before a Minnesota House committee this week, Jerry Bell of the Twins told legislators:
"We will not be back here looking for a roof."
Methinks thou protests too much.
This is reverse psychology. The Twins are taking the tack of, "Oh, woe is us. We'll be the martyrs whose stadium doesn't have a roof. But don't worry about little ol' us. At least we aren't asking you for anything."
They're just waiting for the legislature to say: "Hold on just a minute. Don't make any hasty decisions. As long as you're doing this, you might as well do it right. You haven't asked us for anything, so the least we can do is kick in for a roof."
Yep. It's reverse psychology. (Or should I say, it ISN'T reverse psychology? Would that work better to convince you?)
Thursday, May 12, 2005
Funeral Makes a Statement that the Bad Guys Have Not Won
St. Paul police officer Gerald Vick, murdered by a career criminal last Friday, was buried Wednesday. His funeral and the procession to the cemetery went on for hours and hours, with hundreds of police cars and maybe thousands of law enforcement personnel involved.
Some might ask, Why such a spectacle for one man? Is his life worth more than anyone else's life? He volunteered for a dangerous job. Cab drivers and convenience store clerks actually face a higher risk of dying on the job.
My answer is this: That spectacle yesterday was not really for Officer Vick; it was for all of us.
Yesterday's display shows the bad guys that they are not in charge. They may not shoot police officers and expect us to shrug it off. We all take it personally. The spectacle that is a police funeral makes the statement that killing police officers is not acceptable; it is crossing a line that may not be crossed.
It makes the statement that our community, our society, our civilization -- whatever you want to call it -- will not accept this behavior as ordinary or normal.
The Good Guys are still in charge.
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Not the Answer for Our Schools -- Dave Applies for School Board
I went through an interesting process yesterday. I was one of 15 people who offered ourselves to the St. Paul Public Schools Board of Education, for consideration for an appointment to an open seat on the board. The term would last only through the end of the year.
Previously, we all submitted resumes and letters of interest. Yesterday, we each had six minutes to give a little speech. We were supposed to address 1)Why we were interested in serving in this short appointment; 2)What relevant experience would we bring to the Board? 3)Explain how we would address an issue of immediate relevance to the St. Paul schools.
When I first heard of this opportunity, I was intrigued. I had no illusions about actually earning the appointment, but I thought it might be an interesting process to participate in.
But then, my thoughts coalesced, and I realized I had an issue to address. I had a message. And this could be a great way to try to get some discussion started.
Year after year, we hear that the schools need more money. Because they need more staff, more programs, to deal with more and more problems that kids bring to school with them.
But, as I've believed all along, more money for the schools won't fix these problems. The only real solution is to improve parents -- not try to replace parents with schools.
That's not new thinking. Plenty of you think the same thing.
But I had an epiphany: Who better to spread this message than....school boards!!!
School boards need to turn their thinking around. Instead of being willing recipients of whatever problems society dumps on them, they need to stand up and say: "Get your own house in order! Our job is educating kids, not raising them!"
Because as long as school boards silently accept their role as social service providers and parental substitutes, they will only be given more and more responsibilities, which rightly belong to the parents.
I thought I would bring that message before the Board. Because if not me, then who?
Here's what I told them:
Why do I want to serve on the Board for this short appointment? Quite simply, I saw this as a unique opportunity. I've long thought I would be interested in serving on the Board some day, but right now, I have neither the time nor the interest to run a campaign. But this short-term appointment presented a unique opportunity.
You also ask, What relevant experience would I bring to the Board? To begin with, I'm a St. Paul taxpayer, and my two children attend Expo Elementary. Additionally, I have the experience of running my own business for 16 years. I've served on the Boards of various professional and community organizations. And I currently serve on my church council, and I was president of the congregation for four years.
I've lived in St. Paul for 19 years. First on the Eastside; now in Mac-Groveland. I'm not a native St. Paulite, but I think that outsiders have a lot to offer. I know that's true in my hometown, little Braham, Minnesota. New people bring new ideas, new enthusiasm, new dreams and new possibilities. They can look at what's great about a place, and bring ideas about how to make it even better. I believe it works the same way when people move to St. Paul. For instance, I love my St. Paul neighborhood, but I found it strange that people can live so close to each another, without knowing one another. So I volunteered to become a Block Leader, and I've helped bring people together. In the same way, as a member of the Board, my small-town upbringing could bring a fresh perspective of what is possible and expected in our schools.
So far, I've talked about opportunity and ability. If this were a detective story, at this point you might be asking, does this suspect have a motive?
Yes. My motivation comes in the issue I would like to address.
I think that our schools have fallen into a trap. A well-intentioned trap, no doubt, but a trap, nonetheless. We've been distracted from our real mission -- educating children -- and redirected to a new mission -- raising children.
And that mission is doomed to failure. Schools, even good schools, can't replace good parents.
I think we can all agree on that.
But for too long, our society has been dumping its problems on the schoolhouse steps -- expecting the schools to deal with them. Too many children come to school without the upbringing or support they need to succeed. Society passes the buck to the public schools. Teachers, School Boards, and Administrators try to help these children, but all too often, it's already too late.
Frustrated at being made scapegoats for the social pathologies that our society refuses to face head-on, our schools are reduced to annually begging for more money, to fund more and more social "band-aids" -- more staff, more specialists, more programs.
Yes, it's true that today's schools face challenges unknown to previous generations -- Children from broken homes. Shuttled between parents. Moving repeatedly during the school year. Living in poverty. Undernourished. Under-nurtured. Under-loved. And I applaud educators for trying their hardest to help children overcome these obstacles. But I'm here today to say that despite the best efforts of dedicated educators, more money is not the answer. More money, will not solve these problems. And as long as the schools willingly accept their role as social service agencies and parental substitutes, nothing will change. It will only get worse.
The only real solution is to improve the home environments in which children are raised.
And the first step is for someone to stand up and state the obvious. Like the little child who dared to say that the emperor had no clothes, someone needs to stand up and say, "Enough! This can not continue! This is not acceptable! Parents have to act like parents -- like adults -- and provide proper care for their children."
And I submit to you that that someone should be school boards. In fact, it has to be school boards, because no one else is going to demand a change, not as long as our public schools continue to let society dump its problems at the schoolhouse door.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if your jobs as school board members could be totally about educating kids, instead of having to deal with all the social work aspects? Wouldn't you like to be able to focus all your attention and all our city's resources on producing Nobel Prize winners, future teachers and doctors, and graduates with the skills to succeed and contribute to society?
But it won't happen unless someone has the courage to take a stand.
Because once the schools take on a new responsibility, once the schools get into the business of providing some social service, they can never get out of it. They're trapped. It becomes permanently THE SCHOOLS' JOB. And when everything doesn't turn out perfectly, guess what? It's THE SCHOOLS' FAULT! The schools -- and school boards -- are put into a situation where they can't win, but they're conveniently there to take the blame.
Let me give you an example of how schools get trapped by responsibilities that distract from the mission of educating our children.
I think it is disgraceful that our society has deteriorated to the point where it is has become necessary for the schools to feed breakfast to children.
But should we really be throwing in the towel, saying we think it's too much to expect of adults, that they be able to pour their own children a simple bowl of cereal?
Because if our expectations really are that low, we're guaranteeing that that is what we will continue to get.
Because the children who grow up eating breakfast at school, for example, won't expect to feed breakfast to their own children someday. No, they are learning that that job belongs to the school.
But breakfast is just an example. My point is that as long as the schools just go along, taking on more and more work that rightly should be done by parents, we'll continue to have schools doing more and more work, needing more and more money.
Please don't misunderstand, I'm not suggesting that we stop everything cold turkey.
But unless we aren't afraid to think big -- to dream of what should and can be -- we're simply dooming ourselves to continue on the same path.
I'm not so naïve as to think that effecting social change is as simple as shouting "Enough!" But the first step is recognizing what the real problem is. The real problem is not money, it's not unfunded mandates. The real problem is social. That's where the battle must be fought, if there's any hope of winning it.
And I think it's up to School Boards to be the ones to say so. Because everyone else is perfectly happy letting you take the heat. They won't stand up and demand a change -- or look in the mirror -- as long they have the schools to blame.
I'm calling on school boards to be leaders, to help galvanize public opinion. To help start directing responsibility for raising children back where it belongs -- the parents. And as a member of the Saint Paul Public Schools Board of Education, I'd be able to do just that.
Here are some more comments that I had to leave out, for time constraints:
Before we take on a new responsibility such as feeding children breakfast, I think we need to ask whether we have an exit strategy. Will this program fix a problem, so that we will be able to discontinue it? Or are we getting into an eternal obligation?
Even my own children have asked, "Why can't we eat breakfast at school?" I tell them, "Because you don't NEED to." But they don't understand my concern. They just see being fed by the school as a natural thing.
Now that the schools have gotten into the breakfast business, how will they get out of the breakfast business?
Some people will be called back for another round, in which they will have to answer two new questions, with no advance knowledge of what those questions are.
I'll keep you posted.
Monday, May 9, 2005
Ain't So, Craig!
A letter-to-the-editor in the St. Paul Pioneer Press today attacks blogger and part-time Pioneer Press opinion columnist Craig Westover by labeling Westover a "neocon," lumping him into a faceless group called "neocons," and proceeding to tell us "neocons this" and "neocons that."
Can anyone even tell me what a "neocon" is? It seems to be used only as a disparaging term directed at one's political opponent. I don't think I've ever heard anyone describe himself as a "neocon."
More important, is Craig Westover really a closet "neocon"?
Paul Bartlett wrote his letter in objection to Westover's recent, positive column about David Strom, head of the Minnesota Taxpayers League. Under a (newspaper-penned) headline of "Westover and Strom peas in a neocon pod," Bartlett writes:
"Craig Westover's May 4 column was a feeble attempt to polish David Strom's tainted image. Westover and Strom reside in the same neocon camp where truth-twisting is standard operating procedure. Westover's real purpose: Clean up the messenger and maybe the message won't have quite the stink.
"The neocons have been very successful at redefining our language....."
(At this point, I'm thinking: Right. Just like liberals redefine the language by calling others "neocons," while they call themselves "progressives.")
"... Westover deceitfully described Strom as a "populist." Strom may be a lot of things, but he is certainly not a populist. In fact, Strom represents the very privileged elite that the populists and progressives have opposed over the years. Populists and progressives support more and better public services; Strom's group would love to privatize and eliminate what's left of our public sector."
Can you believe that? Is that irony, hubris, or just plain old stupidity? He goes on and on labeling others "neocons," preaches from some sort of pulpit of purity of parlance, then hides his own liberal identity behind the label "progressive." How's that for wanting to have it both ways?
But on to the the most important question: Is Craig Westover guilty as charged? Is he really a "neocon"? I thought I'd go right to the source, so I e-mailed Craig this message:
Is it true? Are you a "neocon"?. How about it Craig? Do you have anything to say in your defense?
Here's his reply:
"Other than I really don't know what a neocon is?
"What was ironic about the letter is that 'neocon' is usually applied to foreign policy issues, and the Strom interview dealt with social issues, the social impact of economic issues and political philosophy.
Thanks, Craig. Our minds are at ease again.
Just as Craig notes, my own observation is that "neocon" has usually been used in reference to foreign policy issues. Specifically, my limited understanding was that it referred to people who are fairly recent converts to the type of foreign policy being pursued in Iraq.
But as this letter-to-the-editor illustrates, it has quickly become just another pejorative term, used to denigrate anyone on the political right. It's name-calling, practiced by people who in turn say, "Don't call me a liberal! I'm a progressive!"
Whatever you say, you godless communist, I mean, liberal, er, progressive.
Friday, May 6, 2005
of a Cop an Attack on Us All
I awoke this morning to learn that one of our St. Paul police officers had been shot and killed while on duty overnight. Officer Jerry Vick, 41, leaves behind a wife and two children.
I learned of the officer's death when I turned on a talk radio station this morning. Most of the callers to the Bob Davis Show on KSTP-AM1500 were rightly mad, and they were concerned about the rest of the police department, and about Officer Vick's family.
But I couldn't believe what some of the callers had to say. The St. Paul Police Department was out in force this morning -- every available officer searching for the suspects and for evidence. In response to the television images of a neighborhood overrun by cops, a couple of callers asked, "Why don't the police turn out in such numbers and make this much effort when a civilian is killed?"
Another caller criticized St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly, for saying there's nothing worse than a police officer being killed.
"How about a 5-year-old being run over by a school bus?" the caller asked. "Isn't that worse?"
I don't understand their complaints. After all, this isn't a zero-sum game. Concern over a murdered cop doesn't take away from any other tragedy.
But most of all, I don't understand their complaints, because the killing of a cop really is a special case.
First of all, most murders are "personal." There's some connection between the murderer and the victim. A murder over a bag of drugs or a domestic dispute doesn't usually put an entire neighborhood at risk. The murderer had his reasons for killing his victim; he's not looking to kill anyone else.
Second, a person who murders a cop is someone who clearly does not recognize the rules we live by. There are many thieves, but rare is the criminal who will cross the line to killing a cop. Those who do are particularly dangerous.
And once someone has shot a cop, he really doesn't care who else he shoots. He's already going away for life, so if shooting more people gives him a sliver of a chance to escape, he's got nothing to lose. St. Paul last lost an officer in the line of duty in 1994. Officer Ron Ryan stopped to check on a man sleeping in a car. He was shot to death. In the ensuing manhunt, which stretched widely over St. Paul's eastside, Officer Tim Jones was also shot to death. Two in one day. By the same killer.
Third, the police, the "Thin Blue Line," represent us. When a cop takes a bullet, he takes it for us. Symbolically, it isn't just an attack on one man; it's an attack on our community, on our society, on civilization.
When a cop takes a bullet, he takes it for me. And for you.
Two suspects have been arrested. Both have extensive criminal records: one has been arrested at least 22 times; the other has been arrested at least 25 times. Let's hope this is the final arrest for both. (Yes, yes, assuming they are the killers. I know they're only ALLEGED killers for now.) They've already had way too many second chances.
Friday, May 6, 2005
Like Natural Environment, a Force Beyond Man's Control
Ed Lotterman writes about the error of Keynesianism.
Disciples of John Maynard Keynes believe that a government can micromanage the economy -- employment, growth, inflation. It's just a matter of tweaking it exactly the right amount at exactly the right time.
Lotterman says this is wrong:
"With monetary policy, much experience and theory show that all a central bank can do is maintain stable prices. That is, it can control the money supply to avoid either inflation or deflation.
"But a central bank cannot change either unemployment or economic growth in anything except the very short term. Attempts to do so are not just ineffective, but often harmful. That is precisely what brought us to the stagflation of the late 1970s."
I agree. I think the economy is a lot like our natural environment: a powerful force that operates on rules of its own. It may go through changes and cycles, but left alone, it takes care of itself over time.
Man can try to control the environment and the economy, but it's not possible. However, in both cases, man's efforts are capable of creating great harm. The best thing to do is stay out of the way.
But, politicians are always going to want to take credit and place blame for what the economy does. I remember President Clinton, in about March, 1993, announcing that the latest economic figures showed a turnaround in the economy. "Already, our policies are working!" he crowed.
Those figures were for the fourth quarter of 1992. When George H.W. Bush was still president.
Friday, May 6, 2005
Government on a Diet
The really good thing about tax cuts and budget cuts is they put government on a diet. They force a re-evaluation of the way things are done. As long as the money keeps flowing out of the spigot, agencies don't tend to watch their spending very carefully.
But cut off the easy money, and they'll finally do what they should have done long ago.
Here in Minnesota, I've just read about three cities (adjacent suburbs) that are consolidating their police forces, after years of discussion. The decision finally came about after cuts in state aid.
"...by sticking together, city officials said they can save about one-third of the cost of operating individual police departments.
"A growing number of cities appear to be coming to a similar conclusion: Cooperation can improve service and slash costs. Since state Auditor Pat Anderson issued a report encouraging those partnerships in December, she said interest in mergers is increasing.
"'It's been amazing,' said Anderson. 'We have had more requests for extra copies of this report than any others.'
"Anderson said service-sharing partnerships, involving anything from police to recycling services, typically cut costs by a third to a half. And savings can be far higher - officials with the joint ambulance services in Apple Valley, Farmington and Lakeville said they've reduced expenses by 85 percent."
Sometimes you've just got to take away the training wheels, and force the kids to learn to ride.
Thursday, May 5, 2005
I read a story about the backlash against "self-service." It's by Stevenson Swanson of the Chicago Tribune.
"From the gas that people pump themselves to such brave new frontiers of do-it-yourself-land as the self-serve checkout kiosks at Wal-Mart and Home Depot stores, American consumers are shouldering an ever-growing chunk of the work involved in everyday transactions.
"The explosion in self-serve options is generating a backlash. Communications experts say people are more isolated than they used to be in the days of face-to-face service, and other observers question how much time people are really saving if they must constantly adjust to new machines, absorb new instructions and deal with the inevitable snags."
It's an interesting story, but it misses one really big self-serve headache: "self-serve" phone calls.
I refer to those calls where you reach not a real person, but the dreaded phone menu. "For no help at all, press 1." "To waste some more time, press 2." That sort of thing. I sometimes get so far removed from anything that sounds remotely like what I'm after, that I hang up and try a fresh start.
Instead of reaching a real person, who might be able to answer my question in 10 seconds, I have to spend 10 minutes trying to figure out if any of the options even remotely apply to the reason for my call. I end up wasting my time, and never getting any help.
How is that a "improvement" or a "convenience"?
I tried renewing my license tabs on-line one time. I thought I should get with the program, join the 21st century, and save the 37 cents a stamp costs (I usually mail in a check). Well, after spending way too much time navigating the Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services website, I finally got to the "checkout," where I found that they were going to charge me EXTRA for doing it online! For my "convenience," dontcha know. Here I was saving them from having a human handle my envelope and check, spending more of my own time in the process, and they were going to charge me extra! So I cancelled, and sent in my renewal via mail, after all.
And here's a thought on self-service gasoline: Whenever gas prices take a jump, we inevitably hear about the increased "drive-offs" that are plaguing gas stations. You know, there's an easy way to keep people from driving off without paying -- have an attendant AT THE PUMP! That's the way it used to be done. But the gas sellers want it both ways: They don't want to have to pay someone to be responsible for supervising the gas pumps, then they cry when people take advantage of that.
Of course, another solution is the "pre-pay only" policy. It's not a factor for me anymore; now I just pay at the pump. But before pumps that read credit cards were common, I used to avoid any place that required me to pay before I pumped my gas. To start with, they're calling me a crook. They don't know if they can trust me to pay? Well, how do I know that I can trust them to not have put water in the gas? There has to be a certain level of trust if we are going to do business with one another.
But also, they were making the process more difficult for me. Since I like to fill the tank, I don't know how much it will take. That means I have to go in once, leave money or a credit card (bad idea) with them, then go in again to settle up.
That's no way to treat a customer. Not when the customer has options.
A Veritable Smorgasbord!
In the past couple of days I've been presented with an appetizing buffet of news items just waiting for my comment. I'll be a pig, and try to cover as many as possible. Fortunately, the virtual "plate" of the Web is big enough to let me just keep heaping it on. (Or, keep piling it deeper, depending on your perspective.)
Boys Against Girls, part 1
The Hennepin County Board has voted 4-3 to approve a county-wide sales tax for the purpose of building a new stadium for the Minnesota Twins baseball team.
Interestingly, the 4 "yes" votes came from the four men on the board, while the 3 "no" votes came from the three women on the board.
What's the significance? Perhaps nothing. But imagine this: a similar vote comes up regarding a facility for the Minnesota Lynx women's pro basketball team, or maybe for one of the U of M's women's teams. The body making the vote divides on gender lines -- all the men against; all the women for.
You don't think there'd be a feminist uproar?
Boys Against Girls, part 2
Everyone knows that girls are disadvantaged when it comes to education, right? They don't go into math or science. They're all being told that they are empty-headed Barbie dolls and baby factories, right?
That flies in the face of the facts. A news story in yesterday's St. Paul Pioneer Press reports on the current gender divide in Minnesota higher-education. Last year, the story says, out of the degrees awarded by Minnesota's post-secondary institutions, the following percentage went to females:
65% of master's degrees
59% of associate's degrees
58% of bachelor's degrees
53% of doctoral degrees
Looks like the girls are more than holding there own.
I especially liked this excerpt:
"Erin Marasco, a Ph.D. student in biochemistry at the University of Minnesota, said she was encouraged to take science and math as a high school student in Michigan. 'I've always been curious. It's a very interactive kind of job. That appealed to me,' she said. 'I've never had the experience where someone has told me, "Oh, you're a woman, you shouldn't study science."'"
Things can and do change over time. I'll give you an example. I sometimes visit the Veterinary school at the U of Minnesota, with my own aspiring junior veterinarian. There is a hallway hung with photos of the school's graduating classes. Go back to the 1950s, and you'll see a bunch of similar mugshots: a couple hundred guys sporting crew cuts and tuxes. But move along into the 1960s, and female faces begin to appear. Keep going down the hallway, and the mix becomes more and more equal. Finally, look at the most recent photos. Men are barely represented; veterinarian has become a woman's job.
British Election More Civil? In Some Ways
Laura Billings has weighed in with a light-hearted take on the British election. She says elections in the U.K. are more "civilized" than in the U.S.
I agree there's much in the British election system that looks better than what we've been doing. Especially the way that there's a more limited, defined campaign period. The key is, they never know for sure when the election will be called, so no one starts campaigning 2-3 (4 in the case of John "if at first you don't succeed..." Kerry?) years beforehand, the way they do here.
In some ways the British election may be more "civil," but not always. I had the good timing to be in England when the election was called. I saw that the politicians are less restrained there in what they say about their opponents. Here, politicians intimate that their opponents are liars. There, I was surprised to hear one of the politicians on TV saying outright "So-and-so is a liar!"
Ugly Kids Get Less Care
That's the conclusion reached by Canadian researchers: Parents take better care of pretty children than they do ugly ones.
Researchers from the University of Alberta observed parents and children at supermarkets to make their assessments.
I wouldn't put too much stock in this story, because I don't see evidence that the researchers really controlled the experiment very well. A real test of their theory would be seeing how the same parent treats his or her own children of different attractiveness. But it appears that the comparison was made between different families, so I'm not convinced that tells us a lot.
I mention this story because it's another example of how people confuse correlation with causation, and sometimes also confuse cause and effect. Read this excerpt:
"Dr. Robert Sternberg, a professor of psychology and education at Yale University, said he saw problems in Harrell's method and conclusions - for example, not considering socioeconomic status.
'Wealthier parents can feed, clothe and take care of their children better due to greater resources,' Sternberg said, possibly making them more attractive."
Yes, greater wealth likely makes it easier for people to spruce up their children. But what I object to here is Dr. Sternberg's apparent belief that a person's level of wealth is just some sort of accident, which comes first, and then that wealth bestows advantages on people.
Not necessarily. I will posit that people who are more capable of basic life skills -- like taking good care of their children -- are also more likely to become wealthy. So, I agree with Dr. Sternberg that there is likely a CORRELATION, but we disagree on which is the cause, and which is the effect.
Wednesday, May 4, 2005
Wage, but Maximum Change
Here in Minnesota, the legislature is working on raising the minimum wage. It looks like the new minimum wage will be $6.15, a jump of a whole dollar from the level of $5.15 established back in 1997.
Now, I don't want to get into an argument about whether there should be a minimum wage, or what that minimum wage should be. In a lot of ways, the minimum wage is a non-factor. The sky won't fall either way -- whether we raise it or leave it as is.
But let me say this about the way we implement the minimum wage: If it's a given that we will have a minimum wage, then it also seems a given that the minimum wage will have to rise over time, along with inflation, so that it remains at the "right" or "fair" level.
But employers don't like the shock of having to dole out $1 an hour raises all at once. Who can blame them? And workers don't like having to wait eight years to get a bump in pay. Who can blame them?
So why do we do it this way? Why do we raise the minimum wage in a big bump all at once, after going eight years with no change? Why don't we do it gradually?
What if back in 1997, we had increased the minimum wage, and, additionally, specified that it would continue to rise 10 cents a year, until otherwise legislated? Or 5 cents a year? Either way, we could have left open the possibility to further increase the wage by passing new legislation.
So why don't we do something like that now? Go ahead, raise it to $6.15 if that's what we are going to do. But then also mandate that it will go up another 10 cents next year, and so on. That kind of system should please those who want the minimum wage to keep increasing, while also going easier on employers' payrolls and staffing decisions. We always hear opponents of a minimum wage increase claiming that it will result in fewer jobs. That prediction is much less likely to come true if minimum wage increases are implemented gradually.
There are those who were pushing for two increases: one this July, then up again to $7 next July. My proposal is a lot easier to swallow than that, yet it still does ensure additional increases. It sounds to me like such a good compromise idea that.......no one will ever go along with it.
(For more on my philosophy of the minimum wage, see my March 15, 2005 post, "Minimum Wage is Supposed to be Minimal.")
Tuesday, May 3, 2005
Your Money's Safe? Don't Bank on It
Think once you put your money in the bank it'll be there until you take it out? Don't count on it. In a story today by the St. Paul Pioneer Press' "Watch Dog" (Debra O'Connor), we learn of Phyllis Rydeen, who buried her husband, and soon found that the U.S. government had raided her bank account.
I suggest you read the story yourself, but in brief, here's the deal: For some reason, the Social Security Administration thought that Lester Rydeen had died in January of 2004, rather than 2005. So, the SSA decided it shouldn't have issued the final 12 months of checks it had sent to Mr. Rydeen.
So, the U.S. Treasury Department, on the behalf of the SSA, contacted the Rydeens' bank, behemoth Wells Fargo. Treasury said, "Give us $12,000 from that nice old lady's account." Wells Fargo said, "Duh, OK," and forked over $12,000.
But no one bothered to inform Mrs. Rydeen. There was no warning to her. SSA didn't bother to question her to verify that it really had overpaid. The bank didn't even tell her anything. The first she learned that anything had happened was when she started bouncing checks all over town.
So much for due process.
The situation is finally getting straightened out, but it raises some questions in my mind. The first concerns the ease with which the government could access the money in Mrs. Rydeen's account.
We live in an age of information technology and convenient, electronic banking. But information is a double-edged sword. When we give someone access to our financial accounts, for the purpose of direct deposits, are we also making it easy for that same entity to withdraw money from our accounts, as well?
What if the Rydeens had simply cashed their checks and buried the money in Mason jars in the cowyard? Mrs. Rydeen wouldn't have gone through all this nonsense, that's what. We've laughed at those old-timers (not many left) who lived through the Great Depression and didn't trust the banks. Maybe they weren't so paranoid, after all. If your bank could one day just give your money to someone else.... I'd like to think a person's bank wouldn't just "give up" the depositor to the feds like that, like some sort of criminal. I thought the bank was supposed to be on the side of the depositor. The bank shouldn't just roll over like that.
I once had money seized from someone's bank account. I won a case in small claims court, and to get payment, I had the Hennepin County Sheriff's Department seize money from the defendant's account. But he had the opportunity to pay, and there was a lengthy process involved.
But in order to collect, I had to be able to tell the Sheriff's Department where this guy had an account. Fortunately, he had paid me once previously, and my credit union was able to look at the microfilm they make of all deposited checks, and tell me what bank his account was at. (I learned from that to photocopy all checks before depositing them!) But if this guy had closed that account, I would have been out of luck. (As I would have been if his account didn't contain enough money to pay me. Or, if he had all his money in cash buried in the garden.)
Be Careful What You Wish For
The idea that technology giveth, and technology taketh away, reminds me of another thought. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, I heard someone suggest that maybe TVs and radios should be equipped so that the government could turn them on in the event of an emergency, to give the public terrorism warnings or public safety information.
Sounds good, right? Sounds reasonable.
Not so fast. If the government has the power to turn our TVs and radios ON, then it follows that the government will also have the power to turn our TVs and radios OFF.
Do we want that?
Monday, May 2, 2005
I just got home from the United Nations. Oh, did I say United Nations? I mean, I just got home from renewing my driver's license.
I tell you, people are coming to Minnesota from all over. I'll bet there were people there born on five different continents. There were people from East Africa, Southeast Asia, some likely from South and Central America, and I even overheard two women talking (I think) Russian! (And with me, there was at least one person born in North America.)
It makes me wonder what their stories are. How did they get here? Why did they come to St. Paul, of all places?
And they all want to drive. Why are people coming from all over the world to drive in Minnesota? I don't know. Could it be they heard how good our roads are?
Sunday, May 1, 2005
From a letter to the editor, in today's St. Paul Pioneer Press, by Elizabeth Nelson, of St. Paul:
"The U.S. Constitution clearly states there is a separation of church and state. When a rally is held at the state Capitol and religious leaders speak to the group, that separation is gone."
Holy cow! (Oops, there I go, mixing church and dairy state.)
First of all, as most of us know, the First Amendment does not "clearly" say that there is a "separation of church and state." That wording is NOT part of the Constitution. Here's what the First Amendment says about religion:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
In truth, the First Amendment exists to protect people of faith from those like Ms. Nelson, who think the right to free speech -- and the right to participate in public affairs -- can be made dependent on a person's religious beliefs, or lack thereof.
It's just the opposite. The First Amendment says we have rights, whether we are believers, or whether we aren't.
She couldn't be more wrong.
Sunday, May 1, 2005
I saw the new TIME magazine today. The cover features the new Pope, and asks "How conservative will he be?"
What's implied, it seems to me, is the idea that being conservative is bad, and the real question is "Will he be too conservative?"
Maybe I'm just too sensitive here, but it looks like still more evidence of the mainstream media's liberal bias. I can't imagine a TIME cover featuring a liberal religious leader or politician, and asking the question, "How liberal will he be?"
Saturday, April 30, 2005
the Third Year, He Will Rise Again!
From the Star Tribune, April 28, 2005:
Wellstone campaign fliers appear in mailboxes
April 28, 2005
MINNESOTA CITY, Minn. -- A Minnesota City woman is trying to figure out why she recently got a campaign flier for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone in her mailbox.
Christine Rinn wonders why she's getting the flier now, 2 1/2 years after Wellstone died in a plane crash.
Post office and Minnesota DFL officials are baffled after hearing that several people received the fliers. At least three Minnesota City residents received the mailings, which were paid for by the Minnesota DFL.
DFL spokeswoman Tonya Tennessen says they're assuming that something happened at the post office. But postal workers don't know what happened either.
The fliers tout Wellstone's commitment to farms and rural communities and urge people to "call Paul.''
I knew it was only a matter of time before the faithful begin to claim that he has risen from the dead. It's scary, the way that the late Senator -- a Jew who was a gifted orator, who championed the poor and shook up the establishment -- has become such a Christ-figure to his followers.
From the "What Would Wellstone Do?" bumper stickers (Instead of "What Would Jesus Do"), to the lawn signs (still?) draped in black mourning shrouds, the late Senator holds a god-like standing with some of his faithful.
They have the sacred relic -- the iconic green bus. There are disciples preaching the word. There's the book of Wellstone, and the youth camps. All the trappings of a religion, not just a political movement. It can't be long until we have "Wellstone!" the musical. (Or maybe "Paul Wellstone Superstar!")
Friday, April 29, 2005
Proof of Media Bias: George "Robin Hood" Bush the Villain to Mainstream
It's easy to cry "liberal media bias!" It's another thing to prove it. Today's St. Paul Pioneer Press offers another example.
As I've said, liberal media bias is manifested in sometimes subtle ways -- what gets reported, how it's reported, the angle featured in the headlines. The top headline on today's front page illustrates my point. The headline on the story on President Bush's Social Security news conference reads:
"Bush backs benefits cuts"
Oh no! The sky is falling! Evil Republicans want to cut Granny's Social Security check, so now she'll have to start eating half-bowls of dog food.
But note the much smaller sub-head:
"President proposes changing Social Security to favor future low-income retirees"
The story here is that Bush wants to take from the rich.... and provide for the poor!
Here's the lead paragraph from the story, by Richard W. Stevenson and Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times:
"President Bush called on Thursday night for cutting Social Security benefits for future retirees to put the system on sound financial footing, and he proposed doing so in a way that would demand the most sacrifice from upper-income people while insulating low-income workers."
That's EXACTLY the sort of thing liberals advocate. But you'd never know it from the headline. They should be happy. They should sing praises to Bush.
But no, they won't do that. Because liberals don't really care about the poor. They just hate. They hate Republicans. American liberals are narrow-minded, hateful people. They judge people not by what they do or what they say, but by who they are -- based on a label they've been assigned.
Then they pat themselves on the back, feeling all self-righteous about how "caring" and "open-minded" they are.
Leonard Pitts Jr. Rebounds Nicely
After taking exception to a Leonard Pitts Jr. column yesterday, I'm back on the bandwagon. Mr. Pitts's latest column takes a look at the "controversy" over Ja'eisha Scott, the 5-year-old who had to be handcuffed and removed from school.
Many have come to Ja'eisha's defense. But not Pitts. He refuses to give in to those who would make this about race, or about age, and he holds fast to the old-fashioned notion that this girl's parents have failed her, and if she isn't disciplined now, she can look forward to a lifetime of handcuffs.
He makes the case that this is just what she needed. For her own good.
Good show, Mr. Pitts.
More Than Just Numbers
Edward Lotterman has an interesting column about the discipline of economics. What is the study of economics? Is it all about numbers? Rationality? That has been the focus of economists for more than a century. But built around a lecture by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, Lotterman writes that the discipline of economics is broadening, and that it needs to broaden more.
I agree. Economics is more than just numbers. Human psychology plays a huge role in economic decision-making. We don't always act rationally, not do we always act in our own best interests (either because we are being altruistic, or because we are being self-destructive).
Culture, history, even the actions of the media play a role in our economy. But those factors are too often overlooked by contemporary economists.
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Prescription for Controversy, Let's Not Dispense with Civility
You may have heard of the controversy over pharmacists who refuse to dispense prescriptions to which they personally take exception. Primarily, that would be the "morning after" birth control pill -- called the "abortion pill" by some -- and other contraceptives.
It's an interesting question, whether a pharmacist is obligated to dispense all prescribed medications, regardless of his or her personal beliefs. I don't think the answer is a clear, and it depends on many factors, such as whether the pharmacist in question owns the pharmacist, or is merely an employee.
One of my favorite syndicated newspaper columnists, Leonard Pitts, recently wrote on this topic. He sees the issue pretty clearly: If you want to be a pharmacist, then you have to dispense whatever the doctor orders.
Read his column and see what you think.
Pitts writes: "..by what right do these 'activist' pharmacists get to impose their morals on the rest of us? And by what logic do lawmakers legitimize their ability do so?
"There's no moral puzzler here, folks. In fact, the solution is real simple. You don't like what the job requires? Fine.
"Get another job."
Thank you, Mr. Pitts. But I don't think it is so clear.
I don't find the issue quite so cut and dried. If the pharmacist is someone else's employee, then it's pretty clear that he or she needs to dispense the items as prescribed. There doesn't seem much room for objection. As you say, the pharmacist should look for a different line of work.
But...if the pharmacist is the independent store owner, who are we to tell him what his business has to sell? Your column asked whether a convenience store clerk can refuse to sell cigarettes. Not if the store does as a matter of fact sell cigarettes. Then selling cigarettes is simply part of the job.
But...every drug store in Minnesota used to sell cigarettes. Over the past two decades, many pharmacists decided that selling cigarettes was incompatible with their role of caring for people's health. So they decided that they would not sell cigarettes -- a legal product -- anymore. Do you object to pharmacists imposing their values on their customers in that way?
And what of the pharmacies with magazine racks? Must they all carry Playboy? Or may they decide they don't want to provide another legal product to their customers?
And what about hardware stores and sporting goods stores? Some sell guns, some don't. If a store owner doesn't sell guns because she thinks guns are bad, isn't that her decision?
Likewise, a coffee shop that sells only organic or fair-trade coffee. Again, the proprietor is making decisions about what is good for the customer.
And must a restaurateur offer huge portions of fatty foods, just because that's what some people want?
So, it's not that simple. I agree that a pharmacist mustn't "play games" with the customers. If he or she won't dispense certain medications, he or she must be straightforward about that and give the customer the chance to go elsewhere.
But just whose store is it, anyway? It's not the government's store. It's not the customer's store. So why should they call the shots?
In all of these cases, including a pharmacy that doesn't dispense birth control, the owner of the business must weight the business consequences of his or her decision. But for better or for worse, it must remain the business owner's decision.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Darwinism and Racial Winners and Losers
Thomas Sowell's theory on Blacks and Whites and Rednecks got me thinking about one of my theories on why some racial groups/subgroups have fared better than others at achieving the American Dream. Here's how it goes. I came up with it while pondering the question, Why do some nations do so well economically, while others don't? Try not to read too much into it. It's a theory in the general sense; not my attempt to pass judgement on every individual. And it's really about economics. It's about race only peripherally.
I grew up in a part of Minnesota that had been heavily influenced by immigrant Swedish Baptists. With pretty strict notions about drinking, dancing and even those new-fangled moving pictures, their influence extended beyond their own families and into public policy. Results included a county that remained "dry" for a very long time. And even when my father was in high school (class of 1958), they had to have a "banquet" instead of a "prom," because the latter term implied that there would be dancing. My dad also relates that some people would not go into the local ice cream shop, because it was called the "Dairy Bar."
Some years ago, when I began reading of the much more libertine nature of present day Sweden, I thought I had discovered a sort of paradox. Why were the Swedes in Minnesota so reserved, I wondered, while the Swedes in Sweden were evidently much more accepting of what the preacher might call "the pleasures of the flesh"?
Well, one day I figured it out. Here's what must have happened back in the 1800s. The fun-loving Swedes must have gotten tired of the stick-in-the-muds spoiling all their fun, so they kicked out everyone who didn't like to party. Those who were kicked out came to Minnesota. To this day, the descendants have carried on in the traditions of their respective ancestors.
Fortunately for me, I was raised in the German Lutheran tradition, so I see beer and polka as gifts from God. But you are probably wondering what any of this has to do with economics.
It has to do with the difficulty in trying to explain why one country excels economically while another one doesn't. While my theory about the difference in the two groups of Swedes was my own little private joke, it may actually relate to the differing economic success of various nations.
What makes a nation an economic superstar? There are a variety of explanations, of course. Abundant natural resources doesn't hurt. But then again, it hasn't been enough to put Russia, Congo, or Brazil in a league with the U.S.
The right political and economic systems help. But again, they haven't proven sufficient in every case.
What about the people? Could there be differences in the people? I will theorize yes. Yes, differences in the people are at least a contributing factor in why nations achieve differing degrees of economic success.
In this nation of immigrants, I submit that an almost Darwinian natural selection has contributed to our success. For instance, let's go back to those Swedes. It's 1880, and Oskar stays in Sweden to try to eke out a living on 10 rocky acres, while Sven sells everything he owns to book passage to America, then makes his way to Dakota territory, where he lives in a hole in the ground for two winters just so he can claim 80 acres of his own.
Who's more likely to pass on the traits of fortitude, ambition and risk-taking to his descendants? Oskar or Sven?
But this was going on long before Oskar and Sven, when Jean-Pierre came to North America to trap and trade furs, while Jean-Claude was content to stay in the slums of Paris, eating the crumbs that fell from Marie Antoinette's cakes. Which Jean's genes were most likely to pass on a willingness to undertake hard work for self-advancement?
And so it went, with various immigrant groups. Which Chinese made the trip across the ocean to help build the transcontinental railroad? Not the lazy ones. And some groups have come to America as refugees -- Jews, Somalis, Southeast Asians. The ones who've made it here have what it takes to survive. And I might expect the same from the present-day Mexicans who risk so much for an illegal shot at the American Dream.
But not all groups have fared equally well, you say? That's right. And not everyone came here of their own free will, either. And there is a correlation there. But it won't be seen as politically correct.
It's no great revelation for me to say that African-Americans have not fared as well as other groups, both economically and socially. And many present day African-Americans are descended from people who did not want to come to America -- slaves. Additionally, those who were captured and sold into slavery would logically have come from the subgroup of Africans who were least powerful (physically, politically, economically) and least able to avoid capture.
According to what I have read in the papers in recent years, there is some tension between African-born recent immigrants and American-born African-Americans. It seems that the African-born people have come here seeking the American Dream, and have succeeded in achieving more economic and social equality and integration than the U.S.-born African-Americans. Interestingly, the recent immigrants from Africa are mostly self-selected immigrants.
Now I know my theory doesn't explain everything. And the effect will be watered down over the generations. But I think it explains more than just why European workers get so many more weeks of vacation than do their American counterparts.
Some may say I'm violating the standards of political correctness. Some may wish to shout at me about racism, eugenics, Hitler's final solution, Aryan supremacy, whatever.
But this idea isn't about race, as much as some people might want to accuse me of that. At it's heart, it's really not much different from saying that those who choose to go college (applying and being accepted as students, sacrificing and borrowing money for tuition) turn out to be more successful in business than those who don't, with the possible exception of those who were recruited to the college just to wrestle or play hockey.
Sowell Writes of "Black Rednecks"
I've just read a very interesting piece by Thomas Sowell. You'll have to register your email address with the Wall Street Journal to read it online, but I suggest you do.
Sowell addresses the question of what keeps the Black man down in America. He looks at race and culture, and concludes that the group of Blacks who continue to get ahead in the Land of Opportunity have been hamstrung by their adopting a non-Black culture -- a White Southern Redneck culture that originally came over from Britain.
A very interesting read. Here's an excerpt:
"The culture of the people who were called 'rednecks' and 'crackers' before they ever got on the boats to cross the Atlantic was a culture that produced far lower levels of intellectual and economic achievement, as well as far higher levels of violence and sexual promiscuity...
"The redneck culture proved to be a major handicap for both whites and blacks who absorbed it. Today, the last remnants of that culture can still be found in the worst of the black ghettos, whether in the North or the South, for the ghettos of the North were settled by blacks from the South. The counterproductive and self-destructive culture of black rednecks in today's ghettos is regarded by many as the only 'authentic' black culture--and, for that reason, something not to be tampered with. Their talk, their attitudes, and their behavior are regarded as sacrosanct."
Verrrrrrry interesting. Maybe tomorrow I will post my own controversial, Darwinian explanation for why different racial groups and subgroups have had different levels of success achieving the American Dream.
(Sowell's book "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" was published this week by Encounter Books.)
Lining in Helicopter Shoot-Down
The recent downing of a Helicopter in Iraq was seized upon by the mainstream media as a "sign of an increasingly strong and bold insurgency."
Today, it was reported that the suspected perpetrators of this crime have been captured. How were they captured? That's the really good part of the story. They were captured after being TURNED IN BY LAW-ABIDING IRAQIS WHO DON'T SUPPORT THE INSURGENCY.
An insurgency that can't count on the general populace to shelter it is an insurgency that is doomed to failure. How bold are they going to be if they know that within 48 hours they'll be turned in?
All it takes to end the insurgency is for the Iraqi people to cry "Enough!" Increasingly, that's what they are shouting -- in their words and their actions. They've voted for a free Iraq, and now they want peace and prosperity. Let's hope these killers are getting the message -- they can't hide anymore.
Not the Person, It's the Policy
Yesterday, I discussed how some would portray opponents of same-sex marriage as bullies who don't like gay people, and want to punish gays by not allowing them to marry.
But it's not the person; it's the policy.
It reminds me of the way some smokers say public smoking bans are an attempt to "punish" them, perpetrated by people who "don't like" smokers.
Again, it's not about the smoker, it's about the smoke. I don't mind a smoker sitting at the restaurant table next to mine. But I do mind having to breathe his smoke. That's an important distinction. You'll notice that none of the public smoking bans prohibit "smokers"; they only prohibit smoking.
In the same way, defining marriage as between a man and a woman doesn't prohibit people from being gay, it only prohibits the creation of so-called "gay marriage."
It's not personal, it's policy.
But crying "you hate me!" is an age-old rhetorical strategy. In fact, maybe we should say it's "age-young." Even little children do it when they don't like the rules their parents set for them.
Why Don't You Marry It?
An 18-year-old high school girl in Winona, Minnesota, has sparked a controversy at school by insisting on wearing a button reading "I [heart] My Vagina." She and a friend began wearing these buttons to school after seeing the play "The Vagina Monologues."
I heard the young woman interviewed at length on a radio program Thursday. She's very articulate, but I think she "just doesn't get it." And the reason why is her age.
Maybe an 18-year-old is too young to understand that the play in question was deliberately titled "The Vagina Monologues" for the shock value of it.
But this play has been around for a number of years. So, to an 18-year-old, what's the big deal? As far as she is concerned, as far as her awareness of the adult world, there has ALWAYS been a play called "The Vagina Monologues." So she has no sense of shock.
Instead, she wonders, what's everyone so upset about? After all, if it's in the title of a play, it must be OK, she reasons. She doesn't appreciate that the word was placed in the title of the play for the express purpose of provoking controversy and shocking people.
An analogy in my own experience might be the first time I was aware of some politician or some other public figure getting in trouble for referring to a young black man as a "boy." To me, the word seemed appropriate in the context in which it was used. I didn't see why it was offensive. But that was because I didn't understand the history of it -- how it had been used offensively before my time.
One more thought: Would this girl support the boys wearing buttons that read, "I [heart] Your Vagina, Too!"?
You Ban It If It Doesn't Exist?
As I've pointed out before, a principal way in which the liberal media bias manifests itself is in defining the terms of the debate. The debate over same-sex marriages provides an example.
Here in Minnesota, we're repeatedly being told that there is an attempt underway to "ban" same-sex marriage. What's being referred to is the push for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as involving one man and one woman.
But that's not a "ban." It's merely clarification of the status quo. The state of Minnesota does not now recognize, nor has it ever recognized, marriages between people of the same gender.
But proponents of same-sex marriage, aided by the liberal mainstream media, keep talking about evil politicians who want to "ban" same-sex marriages, as though same-sex marriages have been the norm since time immemorial, and NOT allowing them would be a change.
Additionally, it's a misnomer to say that "gays" are not allowed to marry. No one is asked, on a marriage license application, "Are you gay?" No, the criteria in question is that the two applicants must be of opposite gender. If one or both are gay, it doesn't matter. They can get married anyway, as gays and lesbians have indeed done in the past.
My point is, this is not a case of "discrimination," as some would charge. The current marriage laws treat everyone equally regardless of sexual preference. True, some people may find they can't marry the person they would like to. But it isn't the government's job to give everyone what they want. It's the government's job to treat everyone equally.
Here's a somewhat analogous example: In Minnesota, automobiles may not be sold on Sundays. Generally, auto dealers like this law, because it gives them all a day off, and they know that being open on Sunday would not increase the total number of cars sold.
But a few years ago, this law was challenged by an auto dealer who is a Seventh Day Adventist. He observes Saturday as the Sabbath, and his business is closed then. This obviously put him at a competitive disadvantage. He sued, arguing that he should be able to be open on Sundays.
The court ruled against him, saying that he was not being discriminated against, since no one could sell cars on Sunday, and it was his own choice whether to be open on Saturdays. The law treated everyone the same.
The Blind Leading the Blind
But the liberal media don't suffer for followers. There was a rather bizarre guest column in my Thursday paper, a rather ignorant, self-righteous and -- dare I say it -- hateful diatribe from a good liberal intent on calling others ignorant, self-righteous and hateful.
One Craig H.Muntifering set out to dissect Minnesota State Senator Michele Bachmann, who is a leader of the push for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Muntifering doesn't make any sense, because he starts out with a totally wrong premise.
Muntifering seems to have analyzed Bachmann's motivation thusly: She thinks gays are sinners, therefore she wants to punish them, so she will take away their "right" to same-sex marriage.
Having established this false premise, Muntifering then writes:
"I find it quite hypocritical of her to use religious reasons for her justification. If she is using the Bible as a basis to uphold her position on gay rights, then why not fornication or adultery as justifiable cause to take away someone's right to marry? Who gave Bachmann, or her supporters, the right to pick and choose certain sayings out of the Bible to determine who has the right to marry? There are all sorts of statements in the Bible regarding adultery, yet Bachmann isn't suggesting any amendments to take away rights from those partaking of those offenses."
This is nuts. Bachmann's stance isn't to "penalize" homosexuality by taking away marriage rights, the way we might penalize drunken driving by taking away the right to drive.
Then Muntifering writes:
"There are popular shows that have demonstrated a tolerance for casual sex with their characters ('Cheers' and 'Friends'). No one seemed to raise any objections to those extremely popular shows. But yet, SpongeBob is seen holding hands, and social conservatives want to cancel the show. Yet, Sam ('Cheers') and Joey ('Friends') can participate in plenty of casual premarital sex on prime time in front of all age groups, and they're considered heroes by the general public."
No one raised any objections, you say? Have we forgotten all about Dan Quayle and "Murphy Brown"? Then the logical genius writes:
"So why wouldn't social conservatives like Bachmann want to take away rights from those who admire and follow that kind of activity? Does she feel it's OK to impose or restrict a gay person's rights as long as doing so makes her look pious in front of God (and voters)? And oh yes, of course, as long as there are no impositions on her or her supporters' lifestyles - no matter what offenses they commit."
This is ridiculous. Again, this is not about applying a "penalty" to someone. But then, I suppose it's easier to conduct a character assassination if you don't worry about grounding your accusations in any sort of fact or logic.
Muntifering concludes with a whopper of a non sequitur:
"I don't want Bachmann's religious views creating different classes of people. She should spend taxpayers' funds on investigating education and health care needs and addressing deficit spending rather than worrying about some invasion of an army of hand-holding SpongeBobs."
Yes, yes, that's it. Always point to some other issues that your opponent should worry about. And we could say the same thing to you. Why are you writing about this? You should be writing about AIDS or affordable housing.
But worst of all, Michele Bachmann hasn't made an issue of SpongeBob. Why does Muntifering keep throwing that at her? Why is he so obsessed with SpongeBob?
Species, Wrong Breed
The new Pope has been called a "Rottweiler." I heard a great line on the radio. A caller to Joe Soucheray's Garage Logic radio program said Pope Benedict XVI should be thought of as the Roman Catholic Church's "German Shepherd."
Best Friend? Or Man's Best Drinking Buddy?
Another story from my adventure in England.
It's been said that the British and the Americans are two peoples separated by a common language. I experienced some examples of that on my recent trip to England.
Here at home, the door to a store might bear a sign reading, "Service Dogs Only." We know what that means. We've seen it over and over. We don't have to pause to interpret it.
But in England, I spied the same sign, worded a little differently: "Enabling Dogs Only." That immediately brought to mind the image of a large St. Bernard, with the traditional wooden cask of brandy around his neck. "Go ahead, a little nip will do you good," his eyes seem to say.
(I saw no mention of co-dependent dogs.)
Doesn't Care About the Ratings Book
The mainstream media have been pretty tough on the new Pope. Right away, the radio and TV news experts began telling us how this new Pope is "too conservative."
I'm not a Roman Catholic, but of course I'm interested in the selection of the new Pope. The Pope is important as a religious leader, and as a world leader, extending even beyond the realm of theology.
But I don't see it as my place to say who should or shouldn't be Pope. It's not my club. Sure, I may have an opinion, but my opinion doesn't matter.
So why do these "news" people think it's their place to say? When there is a new leader of NOW or the NAACP, do they tell us that person is "too liberal"? (No, of course not. To the media elite, you can never be too rich, too [artificially] good-looking, or too liberal.) (The "can't be too rich" concept applies only to them -- the media. Other people -- if they're not liberals -- can still be "too rich.")
The media experts are telling us that sticking to conservative doctrine is going to cost the Roman Catholic church members. They say the Pope should give the people what they want -- pander to the masses -- so membership will grow.
It strikes me that of course media people would think that way. That's how they operate. They long ago abandoned any consideration of principle or quality in programming. It's gotten so bad, they don't even care if their "news" is true. Just ask Dan Rather about that.
All that matters is ratings.
But the Pope cares about inconvenient things like the Truth, and Right vs. Wrong. Concepts that have little meaning to media people anymore. He wants to lead the masses, not follow them.
Why should we expect the media to be able to understand that?
Law" Stands Test of 40 Years
If you're a computer user, you must be familiar with "Moore's Law," which says that computers will double in speed every two years, while they become less expensive. That law was laid out by Gordon Moore 40 years ago, when integrated circuit technology was in its infancy.
Moore went on to become a founder of Intel, and today, at age 76, he is one of the richest men in the world. Read about the rise of integrated circuits and "Moore's Law" in a story by Matthew Fordahl of the Associated Press.
Never Say "Yo!"
Another story from my adventure in England:
OK, so I didn't really tell the man whose property I had so rudely barged into that I was Canadian, but that line always gets a laugh -- on either side of the Atlantic. However, I also discovered another, even better line that always left 'em laughing in England.
Upon arrival at London Gatwick airport, we were picked up by relatives who took us to see Windsor Castle. Windsor Castle was beautiful. The Queen was in residence, and the BBC was already making preparations for the Royal Wedding, hanging TV lights in St. George's Chapel.
Later that evening, after making the long drive across the country, we made it to our relatives' farm in Devon, in southwestern England. Some more relatives met us there. They asked how we liked Windsor Castle, and if the Queen was there. We replied that we liked it, and yes, the Queen was in residence.
Then I added, off-handedly, "The Queen says 'Hi!'"
Well, that had 'em laughing out loud. Apparently the idea that we might have actually talked to the Queen was so ridiculous that it was laugh-out-loud funny. I used the line a few more times with new audiences, with the same result.
But I eventually learned that I had misunderstood why the English found that line so funny. It wasn't just the idea that the Queen had talked to me. What was so funny was the thought that the Queen would ever say something as common as "Hi!" If I had instead said, "The Queen says 'Hello,' the line would not have had the same effect.
This story illustrates one of the differences between England and our monarch-less society. In the United States, it seems entirely believable that someone visiting the White House might actually see the President, and that the President, whoever he might be, might actually say, "Say 'hi' to the folks back home."
Not so when it comes to the Queen.
Your Bling-Bling Where Your Mouth Is
No, I'm not calling for more oral piercings. Rather, I'm getting at the point that actions speak more loudly than words.
I see in the TV listings that last night's schedule included a concert to be broadcast on VH1, with the purpose of raising money for music programs in American public schools. Good. It's about time the people in the popular music business put their money where their mouths are.
I didn't see the Grammy Awards show this year, but in the past when I've watched it, I've had to suffer through a whiney speech about how the government should give more money to support the arts and music education, while a bunch of self-righteous millionaires -- some wearing enough jewelry around their necks to literally pay the salaries of two or more music teachers -- sit in the audience and applaud their approval. I've always thought that if they cared so much, maybe they should just pass the hat. Let them give something back to music, after music has enriched them so much.
But then, people who REALLY CARE about others have always found it easiest to demonstrate just how much they REALLY CARE by insisting that SOMEONE ELSE do something.
So, it's an improvement to see that some musicians were actually taking action to support their cause. Of course, I'm sure the program still had the requisite anti-Republican speechifying.
For an interesting take on the music business and race-- rappers in particular -- read Leonard Pitts' latest.
A story from my adventure in England:
My great-grandfather Richard Downing came over from England in 1906, and one goal of my trip was to make a personal trans-Atlantic connection by learning about his childhood and his parents -- the last generation of that part of my lineage to be buried on the other side of the Atlantic.
We started by viewing the manor house on the Tregeare Estate in Cornwall. My great-great-grandparents met there, while employed by the estate. William Downing was a horseman, Maria Hawke was a household servant. Then we crossed the road to the church where they were married in 1876.
The church building was looking rather run-down, and it appeared that it was no longer an active place of worship. I spied a man and some children in the adjacent graveyard, and I figured they were also sightseeing, or maybe visiting deceased relatives.
As we walked around the old building, we saw a side door was wide open. I thought to myself, I didn't come all this way not to look inside, so in I went. I found that some of the pews had been removed, but otherwise, it still looked like a church inside.
When I re-emerged into the sunlight, I learned that my fellow "sightseer" I'd seen in the graveyard was in fact the new owner of the building. He was just beginning the process of converting it into housing. Oops! Not wanting to seem just another "ugly American" tourist, I quickly apologized for my intrusion, and told him we were Canadian. (OK, not really. But that line always gets a laugh.)
An addendum: I've discovered that the former church building at Tregeare, Cornwall, England, where my great-great-grandparents were married, and the site of my trespass offense, can be viewed on a real estate website. There's even a virtual tour. This is very, very weird. What a big, but small, world.
Addendum #2: Oh, the things you'll find on the Internet. It turns out there's also a book about the estate on which my great-great-grandparents worked and met, before getting married in aforementioned church.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Saturday, April 9, 2005
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!