archives: October-November, 2007

Friday, November 30, 2007

Islamic Zealots: Are We Really So Different?

I'm sure you've heard about the "Teddy Bear Teacher," imprisoned in the Sudan. Gillian Gibbons, a British woman teaching in Khartoum, has been convicted and jailed for allowing her seven-year-old students (Muslims, I believe) to choose to name a classroom teddy bear "Muhammad." This is considered by some to be an insult to the prophet Muhammad. (I've heard reports that the children actually named the bear after one of the students in the class, who is named Muhammad. Apparently naming people after the prophet is OK.)

It's easy for us to cry out, "How uncivilized! It was an innocent mistake. She didn't mean to insult anyone. How can they do that? Where's the tolerance?"

But are we so different?

Human beings have an amazing ability to have blind spots when it comes to themselves. We can so easily point out others' ridiculous behavior, all the while overlooking what we do ourselves. And while we may not necessarily jail people who violate our American sensibilities, we are quick to make them lose their jobs, or punish them in other ways.

You want some examples? Here's one: In Phoenix, a nine-year-old boy has been suspended from school for using the term "brown people." His mother says he was raised to be color blind, and it is only the school's attempts to educate him about "diversity" that has taught him to identify people by skin color. [That is exactly my own experience with my kids.] Is it a crime if he can't keep the current, politically-correct racial terms straight?

How about Don Imus? I'm not going to defend what he said, but it's a case of someone making a mistake, offending people, and having to pay. There was no chance for him to say, "I'm sorry, I made a mistake. I won't do it again." No, he had to be punished.

How about Senator Trent Lott? He put his foot in his mouth trying to say grandiose things in honor of a senile centenarian, and he had to forfeit his leadership post, didn't he?

The list goes on and on. Jimmy the Greek. Al Campanis. Earl Butz.

One difference you might point out is that in the U.S. examples, it's the court of public opinion that passes sentence, not necessarily a criminal court. But not all countries divide things that way. In an Islamic country, the court of public opinion, the religious court, and the criminal court may be virtually indistinguishable.

While we may not inflict lashes or cut off heads, as some in the Sudan would do to the Teddy Bear teacher, we do have our own sacred cows. In the Sudan, maybe they think punishing someone who says "brown people" is just as ridiculous.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sometimes, a Hug is Just a Hug

I know, I know, I should be more timely. But today I've got some thoughts spurred by a Leonard Pitts column from early October.

Pitts wrote about how schools are outlawing any sort of PDA -- "public display of affection." Now, I think we had such a term back in the Dark Ages when I attended high school, but as I recall, it meant "no making out in the hallway." As Pitts describes it, it now even means no hugs, because, let's face it, such behavior is a "gateway" to sexual harassment.

That got me to thinking about the irony of this. We're teaching young people that hugging is wrong, because it's really about sex. But for decades, we've been sexualizing teenagers, teaching them that sex is "normal" and "healthy," that we expect them to engage in it, that it isn't something that is "dirty" or needs to be a "secret."

Is it possible that modern attempts to bring sex out of the shadows and into the limelight have backfired? Have we so thoroughly sexualized teenagers -- and all the rest of us, for that matter -- that now EVERYTHING is about sex? Any and all touch is about sex?

Back in the Dark Ages, when sex was something that was kept hidden away somewhere, something we didn't talk about, a hug was just a hug. Now, when we see everything as sex, a hug is either foreplay or harassment.

Is that progress? Is that enlightenment?

Monday, November 26, 2007

She's Gonna Blow!

Scientists reported this month that Yellowstone National Park is swelling up, possibly because of molten rock accumulating beneath the surface. But they say there is "no evidence of an imminent volcanic eruption."

The scientists say that the massive volcano that we know as Yellowstone erupted 2 million, 1.3 million, and 642,000 years ago.

Let's see, 700,000 years between the first and second eruptions. Then 658,000 years before the next. Now it's been 642,000 years. I'm no volcanologist, but am I the only one who sees a trend here? Talk about "old faithful"!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Red and Green

Reader Walt Huemmer, responding to my previous remarks about how driving a hybrid implies that the driver subscribes to a lot of liberal political doctrine, notes that he has someone in his neighborhood who both drives a hybrid, and has sported a Bush campaign sign in his lawn.

Now there's a guy who doesn't share my insecurities. Good for him.

Walt also points out correctly that just because we might be political conservatives doesn't mean we can't try to conserve energy. He's absolutely right, of course. That highlights the problem we have with polarized political debate. Rather than debate the issue these days, it seems that we debate the messenger. The environment is identified as a "Democratic" issue, so Republicans automatically disagree with whatever the Democrats say. Likewise with "family values" issues. Remember how Dan Quayle was ridiculed for his "Murphy Brown" comments? Democrats just had to automatically say he was completely wrong.

It sure would be nice if when an issue is raised we could discuss the issue, rather than react to the person who raised it. For example, with "global warming," couldn't we all agree that we don't want to mess up the Earth, and then we could work out the reasonable details for how we will be good stewards? Instead, we have one camp that says, "The sky is falling and we're all going straight to Hell, which is going to be right here on Earth it's going to be so hot." And we have the other camp that says, "There's no such thing; you're making it all up. La-la-la-la I can't hear you."

I don't buy the oversold "global warming" fearcasts, but I think not polluting is always better than polluting. Reducing air pollution emissions certainly can't hurt. So let's discuss it reasonably, and make reasonable decisions.

Let's not be Al Gore (who reminds me more and more of Sen. Joe McCarthy and his Red Scare), crying that the sky is falling, then when his scare takes hold, joining in a venture capital firm that plans to make lots of money off of the scare. (He also reminds me of Professor Harold Hill. You know, trouble in River City? And all you had to do was give him your money?)

But Al Gore has some credibility issues, if you ask me. It's "Do as I say, not as I do."

Walt Huemmer also writes: "If I had a hybrid, I would have a bumper sticker that said, 'If Al Gore wasn't using up all the oil, I wouldn't have to drive a hybrid.'" Walt points out this interesting comparison of the "greenness" of Al Gore's home, versus George Bush's home.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thankful for Thanksgiving

We had a Thanksgiving service at church Wednesday evening. The pastor gave people a chance to say what they were thankful for. A very small girl said she was thankful for Thanksgiving.

That's cute, but it's more than that. We should follow her lead. She could be thankful simply for the day of thanks. Too often, it seems Thanksgiving should be renamed "I want" day. TV is full of ads for things you just have to buy for Christmas. The paper is stuffed with ads for things you must have. People spend the day planning the next day's shopping orgy.

We should all be thankful we have a day to give thanks. And then we should give thanks for what we already have, and stop thinking so much about what else we want.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Wanted: A Stealth Hybrid

The Ford Motor Company is running a TV ad that I really like. It shows a father and daughter getting into a smaller Ford SUV, and the daughter asking to be dropped off a couple of blocks from their destination. She doesn't want anyone to see her arriving in the family motor vehicle, because in that part of town, she explains, pretty much everyone is driving hybrids.

To which the dad replies that they are in fact riding in a hybrid. The surprised girl asks him why he didn't ever talk about that fact, and he replies, "I didn't think I needed to talk about it."

I take that as a dig at the people who drive hybrids just to be seen driving hybrids (and so they can feel superior).

I actually have a bias against buying a hybrid, because of all the baggage that it carries. So far, most of the people buying hybrids aren't doing so simply because they've crunched the numbers, weighed the costs versus benefits (some more tangible than others), and decided that a hybrid makes the most sense. They're buying a label. A fashion statement. And making a political statement.

I actually wouldn't want to be seen driving a hybrid, because hybrid ownership seems to imply that I hate Bush, love Mother Earth, like hyphenated surnames, consider abortion a sacred right, pray to St. Paul Wellstone, all of that.

So if automakers ever want to sell me a hybrid, they are going to have to do two things: 1) Make a hybrid that makes economic sense; 2) Make it NOT look like a hybrid, and leave off the flashy, chrome emblem that brags "Hybrid."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Not Everything Is About Race

You probably heard the sound clip from last week, the one where a woman, referring to Hillary Clinton, asked John McCain, "How do we beat the bitch?"

I heard it on the radio, and during the pause that followed the question, I really was hoping that McCain would say something like, "Hold on now, there's no need to talk like that," or "I'm not going to dignify that question with a response."

But he didn't. Instead, he chuckled (nervously?) and gave a response.

Calling a presidential candidate a "bitch" isn't very presidential. But it's not about race.

Who wants to drag race into it? Columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr., does. In a column in which Pitts says lots of other good, sensible stuff, he gets hung up on playing the racial-equivalence game. He says that calling Hillary a "bitch" is like calling Obama a "coon" or Joe Lieberman a "Hebe."

One problem here: "female" is not a racial or ethnic group. If we're going to try to find an equivalent offensive slur, we shouldn't be looking at racial groups. We should be looking at the other gender group -- "male."

And unlike "coon" or "Hebe," which might be used (offensively) to refer on sight to any member of particular groups, "bitch" in this case is used not to refer to ANY woman or ALL women, but to a particular women that the speaker wants to insult.

So the question should be, What offensive term is used to describe a MAN that the speaker doesn't like and wants to insult? And one term comes to mind for me, one that is offensive, but in pretty regular usage (even if not in front of the microphone on the campaign trail).

And that word is "asshole."

We've all heard it over and over. Some guy is a real jerk? He's an asshole. Remember how even President Bush got into some trouble over referring to a New York Times reporter as an asshole?

So that's a common slur used against men, by other men. But my observation is that it isn't used so much against women, even by other women. The preferred slur against females is "bitch."

So race has nothing to do with it. "Bitch" is a slur that shouldn't be used in a high-level discussion, but it doesn't go any deeper than that. And it is not comparable to racial slurs, even though some people see everything through a racial lens.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Our Lessons for Today

Step outside your comfort zone. Even if it makes you uncomfortable. (?)

A really good example of this would be a year ago, when I went to the election night party for my local House candidate, Emory Dively. Who just happens to be deaf. The party was at the hall where the deaf community hangs out. I got a real taste of the shoe being on the other foot. (eew!) I was the one who needed a translator to communicate with most of the other people there. The TV was on, but no sound, just closed captioned. Why was the room so quiet? Very odd for me. And a real wakeup to what it must be like for deaf people trying to fit into the hearing world.

A less drastic example was this past Monday morning, when I went down to the Jewish Community Center for a Veterans Day program focusing on local Jewish WWII veterans. I guess I didn't think of it as a particularly "Jewish" event, but it was in some ways. There was a Jewish blessing, and traditional Jewish breakfast food served. Most of the people there were Jewish, and some that knew me and my non-Jewish friend who accompanied me wanted to know, "What are you doing here?"

Since I had read about the event in the general news media, I had just looked at it as something for anyone with an interest in WWII history. (Maybe that's part of my small town background. I assume that local events are for the whole community, not just subgroups. For instance, in a small town, when a church has a spaghetti supper fundraiser, it's assumed that lots of non-members will attend. Here in the big city, it seems that the same type of event is mostly aimed at getting money out of the members.)

I'm not suggesting that anyone thought I shouldn't have been there. Just the opposite. I think people were glad to see that this event was of interest not just to them, but to the wider community. For my part, I've devoured WWII history ever since I was in elementary school, but I don't recall ever reading anything specifically about the experience of Jewish veterans.What was it like to fight against the forces of the Holocaust? What was it like to fight for a country that didn't always welcome them, alongside fellow soldiers who might have been anti-Semites?

Four vets told stories of their war experiences, some of which are included in the recently published (yes, there was a tie-in) "Prairie Perspectives: Our Jewish Veterans Remember World War II," from the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest. I'd like to relate just a couple here. Maybe by putting them down here, they'll be recorded for other history buffs to find.

Leon Frankel was a decorated Navy bomber/torpedo pilot in the Pacific. He told of being on the scene of the sinking of the battleship Yamato. I believe he said he hit an escort cruiser with a torpedo from his plane.

(Update: One more thing about Mr. Frankel that I forgot to include. He was recruited to fly for Israel in the 1948 war for independence. He agreed, and flew Czech-made planes that didn't impress him much.)

But I want to relate another tidbit that might not be otherwise recorded. Mr. Frankel was asked what other duties he had when not flying. He said that he worked as a mail censor. All letters going home had to be read by a censor, and anything that might give away too much information had to be not just blacked out, but cut out with a scissors! Mr. Frankel said he remembered one letter where he had to keep cutting and cutting until there was almost nothing left. So he wrote at the bottom: "He still loves you, but he talks too much," then sent the letter on its way.

Joe Garelick was another panelist. He was a waist- and tail-gunner on a B-24, based in England. In another sort of story that doesn't often end up in the books, he told of the high-altitude difficulties with some of the simplest things. It's very cold at high altitude, of course, and until the B-29 came along, the U.S. didn't have warplanes with pressurized, heated cabins. So Mr. Garelick related that on their first combat mission, none of their machine guns would work. They had trained in the desert, but now they learned that in European combat situations, the oil in their guns got so thick that it froze up the moving parts. They learned that they had to wipe the metal parts dry to keep them from freezing up.

But here's another war story Mr. Garelick related: What do you do when you gotta go? He said there was a tube the airmen were supposed to use. Urinate into it, and the urine would go outside. Trouble was, the liquid would stream back along the fuselage and freeze on the tail gun bubble, so that the gunner couldn't see.

So they tried another idea. They peed into the bomb bay. Not such a good idea. That caused the bomb bay doors to freeze up. When they released their bombs, the heavy bombs crashed through and ruined the stuck doors. Next, they tried using a helmet as a bucket. When the contents froze, they kicked the chunk of yellow ice out through an opening. But that wasn't received well by the planes following behind them in formation.

Take a chance.

My companion, who drove us to the 9:00 am event, had neglected to mention that he had another meeting scheduled at 11:30 am. I told him to leave when he had to, and I would find my way home. I'm glad I did. That gave me a chance to see some exhibits on display at the JCC, and to talk to some veterans.

I met Joe Garelick for the first time, even though for about 15 years, I've been doing business with his son and nephew, who now run Garelick Manufacturing, the company that Joe and his brother Saul founded after the war. I asked him why he had flown so many missions, and I'd like to set the record straight on that, because I don't think the book gets it right.

During his talk, Mr. Garelick had said he had flown 51 missions. I commented that I thought they were required to fly only 25 (Only? No easy feat.) before they had fulfilled their obligations. He told me that it had started at 25, but then was raised to 35. Of his 51 missions, 17 were aborted for engine trouble or such, so those didn't count. That meant he flew on 34 missions that counted. In addition, I believe he said that his pilot flew a mission with another crew, and the entire crew got credited for that mission, so that made 35 official missions for him.

I also spoke with veteran Lionel Greenberg, whom I had heard speak at another event about a year ago. Mr. Greenberg was a bomber crewman shot down over Europe and taken prisoner. The one thing I most remember from Mr. Greenberg's presentation is that he refused to deny his heritage or faith.

Jewish soldiers had an "H" on their dogtags to indicate their religion (I'm assuming it's "H" for "Hebrew.") They didn't have to have that, as they knew it could subject them to particularly harsh treatment should they be captured by the Nazis. They could have a symbol for "other." Nonetheless, it sounds like most Jewish soldiers opted for the "H."

As Mr. Greenberg tells the story, some of his German captors, when processing prisoner paperwork, asked him, in effect, "Are you sure you want me to list you as Jewish?" To which Mr. Greenberg always bravely replied in the affirmative. I find that very interesting, that some of the Germans were sensitive to the fact that a Jewish POW could be mistreated, and were willing to perhaps risk repercussions for themselves by "not noticing" that a captured American was Jewish.

Oh, and as for taking a chance? It was a small chance for me, compared to the chances Mr. Greenberg and others took. But it all worked out. I was surprised to learn that a bus ran right by the JCC and and then near my home, with no need to transfer. So I got home without any trouble.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

It Takes a Village... to Not Kill a Child

Some politicians like to tell us that "It takes a village to raise a child." They tell us this must be correct, because it is African wisdom. Of course, most of these same politicians are pro-abortion. That's interesting, because I read recently that most African nations outlaw abortion.

Maybe they wisely know that the first step in raising a child is not killing it.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Lot Like Sex

More evidence that Americans can't understand each other. A story in the paper today under the headline "Raising patriotic kids" by Gregory Ramey describes a scene at the San Francisco airport where a large crowd of people was observed welcoming home three uniformed military personnel. Some strangers even welcomed the servicemen and servicewoman.

But that represents one America. This represents another America:

The reaction at the airport was not uniformly positive. When a child asked what was going on, his dad's response was abrupt.

"That's not something you need to know about now - we'll talk when you get older," he said as he led his son away from the crowd waving American flags.

What the heck is his problem? What's wrong with a simple, "They've been gone far away for a long time, and their families are glad to have them come home"?

In this case, we know the soldiers were returning from Iraq, but in other cases, they might be coming home from some UN-sanctioned "peacekeeping" mission. I think that clueless dad should lighten up. His say-nothing response actually says a lot to his kid -- military bad.

It's a lot like sex, don't you think? A kid asks where babies come from, and the parent, all hung up on the private details of sex, says, "We'll talk about it when you're older." But all the kid needs to hear at the moment is that babies grow inside their mothers.

Friday, November 9, 2007

How Much Can't They Tell Us?

PBS's "Nova" science program this week had a show called "Sputnik Declassified," about the space race and the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth. The program gave a new take on the story of the Russians beating the U.S. into space, thanks to some newly available information.

At the time, President Eisenhower was criticized for being "asleep at the wheel" (or was it "switch"?) and letting the Russians beat us. The program showed a clip of an uncomfortable-looking Ike listening to reporters lambaste him with pointed questions about what was he going to do about this?

But it turns out Ike knew a lot that he wasn't telling us, even though doing so would have made him look better.

According to "Nova," the U.S. already had the technology to put a satellite into orbit, before the Russians did so. Ike himself had been pushing a space program because he wanted to be able to spy on the Russians from outer space. The problem was, there had been no precedent set for whether one nation could orbit a space device over another nation's airspace. Ike and the U.S. were waiting for an opportunity to set that precedent in a way that the Russians would go along with.

But when the Russians unexpectedly orbited Sputnik, they set the precedent. Soon, the U.S. was orbiting space cameras over the Soviet Union. As Ike told his advisers, the Russians had done us a favor.

Puts a whole different spin on the Russians "beating" the U.S., doesn't it?

Let's connect this to today. President Bush has been getting beat up by the media and public opinion for years, over the war in Iraq and the war against terrorists. Do you ever wonder how much information he can't tell us, even though it might make him personally look better?

Ike took his secrets to the grave. National security took precedence over his popularity or his legacy. Decades from now, what might we learn that would put the Bush years in a whole different light? (I'd have a hard time applying the same thinking to Bill Clinton, who has already been going around telling tales designed to make himself look better.)

The program "Sputnik Declassified" will air again in the Twin Cities on channel 2, Monday, Nov. 12, 11:00 pm.

Or, you are supposed to be able to see the program online at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sputnik/

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Liberals Don't Give Up the Ghost

Did you read about the poll that asked Americans questions to measure their degree of belief in ghosts, space aliens, and superstitions? What I found most interesting was that liberals and Democrats were more likely than conservatives or Republicans to report having seen a ghost, or to believe in superstitions such as four-leaf clovers or the danger of opening an umbrella indoors.

I thought liberals were supposed to be supposed to be enlightened, intellectual, scientific, rational and all of that. While Republicans are supposed to be knuckle-draggers who believe the Earth is flat and adhere to a bunch of "religious nonsense."

That's not what the survey says.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

If Wishes Were Horses...

We've lost a lot of the old-line, well-paid, unionized manufacturing jobs in this country. That's not news. But I it seems obvious to me that a lot of those jobs have disappeared because the workers who held them priced themselves right out of business.

As Exhibit A, I offer a story from yesterday's St. Paul Pioneer Press. The story reports that the Ford Motor Company assembly plant in St. Paul, scheduled for closure in 2008, now will stay open until 2009. The story says that UAW workers claim that Ford is now making money on each Ranger pickup assembled at the plant, "in part because of the lower-cost temporary workers at the plant."

You see, what has happened is that a large number of workers have already taken a buy-out offered by Ford. That left the plant short-handed. So temporary workers -- who earn much less in wages and benefits -- have been brought in. With lower-paid workers, the plant is profitable, and will remain open longer than expected.

To me, that really supports the contention that the workers were overpaid. I don't mean in some sort of moral sense or in a sense of 'justice," but simply from the measurable outcome that at the pay rate the UAW workers were accustomed to, the plant was not worth keeping open.

They could have their salaries and benefits, or they could have their jobs. They could no longer have both.

But I don't think they all get it. One former worker, who took the buy-out and is now training for a new career, is quoted saying, "I'm glad to hear about the extension. I wish I was still there earning that kind of money."

Does he not get it? If he was still there earning that kind of money, the plant wouldn't be staying open.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Fuel for Thought

I saw a bumper sticker saying something like, "This car's CO2 emissions balanced by..." some "carbon offset" scam. It seems like sort of a "get out of jail free" card. I wonder what other bumper stickers we could come up with to proclaim a driver's lack of responsibility? How about: "This car's failure to use turn signals forgiven by Jesus."

In a Ford TV ad, we are told that for a vehicle burning E85, "85 percent of the fuel comes from the Earth." That refers to the ethanol, made from corn. But what about the other 15 percent? Where does petroleum come from? Doesn't that come from the Earth? It comes out of the ground. They tell us it comes from prehistoric plants

I heard a radio ad for Citgo gasoline stations. I thought to myself, "No thanks, I'm not supporting that thug Hugo 'Boss' Chavez." Citgo is owned by the dictatorial Venezuelan government, and I thought, I bet they're glad that most people don't know that. But then the announcer pointed out that Citgo gas comes from Venezuelan oil! Do they think we're just glad to hear that it's not from the Middle East? But then, I'd guess plenty of people who hear that oil comes from Venezuela will just assume that Venezuela is in the Middle East.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Devil Drives a Prius

Just got done with eight straight days of pumpkin selling. And those are some long days. Couple of late-night trips back to the farm for more pumpkins, and right back again to St. Paul in the morning.

It's mostly fun -- and a lot of tiring physical work -- selling pumpkins. When we get really busy, I've got smiling women shoving money at me left and right. It's the closest I'll ever come to knowing what it feels like to be a Chippendales dancer.

The busiest days for pumpkin selling are the last weekend before Halloween and October 30, whatever day of the week it might be. This year, we actually sold a little more on Oct. 30 than we did on the last Saturday. Buying pumpkins late is the norm, not the exception.

Most people are happy to be buying pumpkins, so that makes it fun. But there are always a few bad apples. There are a few who drive up, get out of the car -- always a big, expensive one, too -- and right away start trying to beat me down in price. Tuesday morning (the very busy 30th) I'd already had two customers tell me that all the stores were out of pumpkins, and they were so thankful to find me, when a guy drove up in his shiny new pickup, insulted my product, and told me he'd give me $3 a piece for two of my $5 pumpkins. I told him no deal. He drove off without any pumpkins. I wonder how long he drove around looking for pumpkins somewhere else.

The very next customer to drive up took two $4 pumpkins, gave me a $10 bill, and told me to keep the change. What a difference.

Another guy said he'd take some off my hands, since it was the day before Halloween. He'd give me $20 for four $8 pumpkins. "Why would I want to do that?" I asked him. "Because it's the day before Halloween," he said. "Yes, and that's a busy day," I told him. He drove off without buying anything.

If you want a "deal," don't come in like you're going to tell me what to do. And if you want a "volume discount," two pumpkins hardly qualifies. But there are all sorts of people out there. Some begin asking in the middle of October if pumpkins are half price, since it's "almost Halloween." They've been conditioned by the stores that put the Christmas decorations on clearance the day after Thanksgiving.

I do give people a "deal" when I feel like it. Like yesterday, a woman got out of her car and asked what she could get for five dollars. I asked whether she wanted one pumpkin or two. She said two would be nice. So I showed her two $3 pumpkins. She took those. I was only going to get $5 regardless, so I wanted to make the customer happy.

One of the most interesting examples of someone trying to get a "deal" must have happened five years ago. A customer with a car full of WELLSTONE! campaign signs tried to talk my wife out of a buck. To heck with the "little guy," this supporter of the populist Senator just votes his wallet when it comes down to it. Actions speak more loudly than words.

One final, unrelated pumpkin selling anecdote: A little red Prius drove up. A man in a Devil costume got out. I told him I was surprised to see Satan driving a hybrid. I thought he'd drive something that belched a lot of smoke and fire.

Friday, October 26, 2007

"First Baby Boomer" a Fraud?

I'm in the Pioneer Press today. Read my column.



No longer available online. Read below:

A Case of Mistaken Identity? "First Boomer" Was Born in a Bust

by David W. Downing

When I read the news last week, something didn't add up.

The nation's "First Baby Boomer" had filed for Social Security. Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, daughter of a Navy machinist, born in the Philadelphia Naval Hospital one second after midnight, on January 1, 1946, applied for her retirement benefit on Oct. 15. She will be eligible for her first retirement check when she turns 62 in January.

But does it make sense to call someone born in January of 1946 a "Boomer"? Yes, I know, we've been told over and over that the "Baby Boom" comprises those Americans born in the years 1946 through 1964. But remember, part of the explanation for and legend of the Baby Boom is that it was sparked by servicemen returning from the war, marrying their sweethearts, and siring two-point-five children.

The war didn't end until August. Even if large numbers of men were coming home and being discharged in September, it still takes at least nine months plus a few minutes to make a baby. That means the "boom" wouldn't show up until June, at the earliest.

Could it be that "First Boomer" Kathleen Casey-Kirschling isn't really a "Boomer" at all? Is she a fraud?

No, no, not a fraud. That's not fair. She didn't ask for the title of "First Boomer." Decades ago that crown was thrust upon her, and she has been exploited as a generational stereotype ever since.

Let's call it a case of mistaken identity. Or an example of how it's easier to just keep repeating a convenient cliche rather than delve into sometimes confusing details.

Was baby Kathleen really part of the surge in births that came to be known as the Baby Boom? Curious about just exactly when, in 1946, the Baby Boom might have begun, I delved into the archive of government statistics. What I found surprised me. The oft-repeated legend of the Baby Boom is only part of the story.

In each of the first three months of 1946, births were actually down when compared to the same month in 1945. That didn't change until April, when births were up by 2.6 percent. This may have been a result of victory in Europe in May, 1945, which had allowed some of the troops to begin coming home, and which had also given civilians the confidence to begin having more children. Still, it's not what I'd call a "boom."

In May the increase was five percent; in June nearly eight percent. But the maternity wards were just getting warmed up.

As I had anticipated, by mid-summer births were really taking off, with a 19 percent same-month increase in July. September brought a 35 percent increase over the same month one year earlier. By November, the same-month increase was a whopping 52 percent.

Now that's what I call a Baby Boom!

I was surprised to learn that the U.S. had already been experiencing a surge of births since 1940. As the economy improved following the Great Depression, the birth rate went up. Much of this economic turnaround can be attributed to the nation preparing for a war it still hoped to stay out of, and with the institution of a peacetime draft in October, 1940, more and more men were in uniform, receiving a steady paycheck from Uncle Sam. This fed the surging birthrate, and inspired the term "furlough babies."

The upward trend lasted through 1943, but then births were down in 1944, and down even more in 1945. The downward trend continued into 1946, hitting rock bottom with a six percent year-to-year drop in January -- the very month the anointed "First Baby Boomer" was born.

Talk about missing the mark. Our "First Boomer" could just as well be described as one of our final "busters." Kathleen Casey's class of 1964 wasn't the forefront of a wave that made classrooms bulge and sparked a school-building frenzy, but rather the final "small" class before the boom began.

Statistically and culturally she may be labeled a Baby Boomer, but she is not truly representative of the surging birth rate that we so conveniently label the Baby Boom.

It's like what you learned about sets back in math class: Some Boomers were born in 1946, but not everyone born in 1946 is a product of the boom. If I hit the links with Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods, and Jack Nicklaus, together we might be the greatest foursome in the history of golf. But I'd still be a duffer.

The lesson in all of this is that the parameters of the "Baby Boom" are arbitrary. We might even argue that the Boom began in 1940. Yes, there were drops in 1944 and 1945, but births also fell in 1948 before resuming their upward trend. And births actually began declining in 1962, a trend that continued until the late 1970s, when total births bottomed out at 1946 levels, before heading skyward again in the "echo boom" that made grandparents out of many Baby Boomers.

Sorry, Kathleen, it's nothing personal. As part of a statistical group you may be a Baby Boomer, but as an individual... maybe not. But look on the bright side: You've had to be on your best behavior for all these years. If you've grown tired of all the attention, just tell them you're not the person they think you are. We have more than enough Boomers, anyway. So go ahead and relax. You've earned it. And you can keep the crown.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

And Everyone Else Can Burn in Hell?

I like columnist Leonard Pitts Jr., but even he misses it sometimes. I refer to a recent column in which he goes after Ann Coulter for saying she want everyone to go to heaven.

That's not exactly what she said, but that's the logical conclusion to be drawn.

Wrote Pitts:

Last week, Coulter said that in her perfect America, everyone would be a Christian. She said this to Donny Deutsch, who was hosting her on his CNBC program, The Big Idea. Deutsch, who is Jewish, expressed alarm. Whereupon Coulter told him that Jews simply needed to be ''perfected'' -- i.e., made to accept Jesus as savior. Which is, of course, one of the pillars (along with the slander of Christ's murder) supporting 2,000 years of pogroms, abuse and Holocaust.

So what should Coulter have said? What else can a Christian say? That is basic Christian doctrine -- Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, Jesus said he is the ONLY way to salvation, and he said to spread that message to all the world. How can someone profess to be a Christian and say, "But I don't care whether anyone else is"? Does a Christian say, "Everyone else can burn in Hell, for all I care"?

Isn't Coulter saying she wants everyone to be a Christian the same thing as a PETA member saying she wants everyone to refrain from wearing fur?

Does Al Gore say that he believes in being carbon neutral, but he wouldn't dream of imposing his beliefs on anyone else? (Or does he favor the government forcing his beliefs on everyone else?)

Wouldn't a Muslim say that in his perfect world everyone would be a Muslim? Wouldn't a Jew say that in his perfect world everyone would convert to Judaism? Or don't members of those religions care about the souls of all the diverse peoples of the world? If they believe their faith is correct, they should want everyone to come to that realization.

Regarding Ann Coulter: I don't know much about her. Her columns aren't in my daily paper, and I don't seek her out anywhere else. Mostly what I know about her is what I hear from people who dislike her.

I think Ann Coulter and Al Franken may have a lot in common. Both like to use their big mouths to hurt people and make themselves lots of money.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

With Friends Like These...

Okay, let's see if I've got this straight. President Bush's Democrat critics say he has turned the world against us, just when we need allies for the War on Terror.

One ally in the war in Iraq is Turkey. But Nancy Pelosi and her Democrat friends think now is the time to tick off Turkey by blaming them for the sins of the Ottoman Empire.

Meanwhile, President Bush is honoring the Dalai Lama, an icon of peace and human rights and a hero of the American Left. But Bush's Democrat critics are mad because this might tick off the Communist Chinese.

Does any of this make sense?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Tale for All Times

I was in Minneapolis checking out the 35W bridge site last night, close to where the University of Minnesota has some sort of physics lab where they conduct experiments in who-knows-what. You probably know where I mean. Anyway, I happened to notice a sheet of newspaper crumpled up and stuck in some brush. I probably wouldn't have even noticed it, as it was already starting to get dark, but it was as if the newspaper had a sort of glow to it that caught my attention.

I picked up what I thought was just another piece of litter, but my curiosity got the better of me, and I flattened it out to see just what I'd found. I was surprised by this headline:

"President Carter urges nation to button up to stay warm."

Now, you might think that's strange. But you ain't heard nothin' yet. The strangest part was the date on the newspaper: August 1, 2107.

Here's the story:

President Carter Urges Nation to Button Up to Stay Warm
Associated Press
Washington, D.C.

President Jamie Carter last night called upon Americans to put on their sweaters, as temperatures across the nation plunged to record lows not seen since her great-great-grandfather occupied the Oval Office. The President also promised that the federal government was doing all it could to help.

That brought an angry response from Diverse Community mayor Marianne Barry, who snorted, "They may have changed the name, but nothing else. Bad weather still hits the poor and minorities the hardest."

Meanwhile, city officials in Detroit continued to beg for help. The city has been bankrupt ever since the last American auto maker closed shop. Now, thousands are dying from the cold, as the nation's solar- and wind-based energy grid cannot keep up with the demand. As if the former Motor City did not have enough problems, residents are now afraid to leave their homes to scavenge for food and fuel, as a booming population of polar bears continues to migrate south. "It's enough to make you long for the days when we could own guns," said one resident, who withheld his name for fear he could be arrested for expressing such hate-thoughts. "Then at least we could defend ourselves."

Indeed, there are some reports that people are doing just that, with Chinese-made weapons being smuggled in from Canada, along with millions of undocumented immigrants -- derisively called "frost backs" -- escaping the oncoming glaciers.

The problem for residents of Detroit and other northern cities is that even if they have the means to leave, there is nowhere for them to go. Warmer states along the Gulf Coast and in much of the southern part of the United States suffer from a severe housing shortage, the result of decades-long building moratoriums, brought on by the belief that "Global Warming" would bring more frequent and more severe hurricanes.

In the past, a President might have sent the National Guard to help. Of course, that's no longer possible now that the the U.S. has disbanded its military. There had been a consensus that a standing army was no longer necessary, since permanent peace had been achieved through the anti-"Global Warming" efforts of former U.S. Vice President and prophet Al Gore, Jr. In addition, the United States had come to rely on the stability of a world with only one Superpower, an era that came to be known as the "Pax Beijing."

And China may be the one place the United States can turn for help. Many government officials believe that Beijing will not allow the U.S. to fail, as China's booming fossil-fuel based economy and high standard of living are dependent on cheap, American-made goods. U.S. and Chinese officials are meeting this week at the United Nations headquarters in Havana.

Many people are now beginning to openly criticize the legacy of the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Al Gore, Jr., but so far President Carter has remained mum on the subject, out of respect for her life partner, First Person Al Gore V.

Some fringe critics continue to call on the government to act in response to what they say is a coming Ice Age, but the consensus of the scientific community is that they are "flat Earthers" who still think that the Sun Goddess circles Mother Earth. Nonetheless, they cling to their belief system, which dates back to the 1970s. Although still outside the mainstream of the scientific community, their ranks have steadily grown since the mid-21st century, when it was discovered that so-called "Global Warming" was actually caused by Big-

continued on page 6

That was it. Unfortunately, I only had the front page, not the jump. "Big" what? Big oil? Big business? Big cars? Why is it capitalized? Why the hyphen? I guess we'll have to wait to find out.

There was a second story on the front page that you also might find interesting:

"Bridge Dedication Today"
by Nevaeh Michalski
Twin Cities Pioneer Press staff writer

Minneapolis mayor Hubert H. "Biff" Humphrey VII will be among dignitaries gathered this afternoon for the dedication of the George W. Bush Memorial Peace Bridge, exactly one hundred years to the day that its predecessor suddenly collapsed. Also expected on hand is the mayor of Minneapolis' long-time sister city, Falujah.

Construction of the bridge was slowed by lawsuits, political squabbling, and disagreement over whether to provide for a long-obsolete travel technology known as "light rail." The bridge as finally built instead provides lanes for hybrid flying cars, which futurists continue to say are just around the corner.

The collapse of the previous bridge on August 1, 2007, permanently changed the political landscape of Minnesota, as dozens of politicians and bureaucrats took the fall in the blame game. Those who had their careers ruined found little solace years later when it was determined that the bridge fell due to a localized rift in the space-time continuum. The rift caused the otherwise-sound bridge to instantaneously age 100 years, weakening it and causing its collapse.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Is a Piece of This Really Such a Prize?

Was it Groucho Marx who said, "I wouldn't want to join any club that would have me as a member"?

I think of that in relation to St. Algore receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. St. Algore joins such noted peace makers as international terrorist and murderer Yasser Arafat.

With members like that...

Democrats are quick to brag about how their man -- who really is the president in their minds -- won a Nobel Prize, while President Bush is blamed for a now-unpopular war that the American people used to be in favor of.

That makes me think of how former President Jimmy Carter has been awarded a Peace Prize, but not the man who defeated him, President Ronald Reagan. Of course, Reagan was a crazy warmonger, and he got us all blown up in a nuclear holocaust. Didn't you see that documentary "The Day After." Wait, that wasn't real. Now I remember, Reagan won -- and ENDED -- the Cold War without firing a shot. Shouldn't that be worthy of a Peace Prize? But, no, instead it went to Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the man who finally saw the handwriting on the wall, and basically waved the white flag.

And then what did we have? We had the "Peace Dividend," and Bill Clinton embarked on eight years of sex, drugs and rock and roll, neglecting the supposedly no-longer-needed military.

If we want to give a Peace Prize to a former Vice President, then how about Dan Quayle?

Why? Quayle, with his "Murphy Brown" comments, tried to get us to stop trivializing single parenthood, point out that children are not just toys for their parents to acquire, and recognize the importance of every child having two good parents.

If we had listened to Quayle, we might now have fewer feral youth going around shooting people, and a lot more peace. RIGHT NOW, not sometime off in some undefined future.

You see, we have a lot of different "environments." St. Algore and his ilk are concerned only with the natural environment, they don't seem interested in the cultural, social, or economic environments. Dan Quayle wanted us to take better care of our social environment, but the "progressive" types didn't want to hear it.

I think it's really ironic that we have these self-described "progressive" types who want us to get back to the Earth, back to basics, back to the tried-and-true wisdom of the ages, and really go back to doing things the way we used to. They like to talk about how we can learn things from ancient customs of native peoples, things like that.

But then when it comes to the social environment, they're all about throwing away centuries or millennia of wisdom and convention. Marriage? Outdated concept. Single mother? Why not? All families are equal.

But this is an area where we would really benefit by following the wisdom of our forebears. What would Grandma say? "He won't buy the cow if he can get the milk for free." But in pursuit of "equality," women have abandoned that sort of wisdom. And what happened? Now more than ever women find themselves paying the price for irresponsible men, with no husband, and raising children on their own.

But maybe I just don't understand modern motherhood. There's a story in the paper today about the "mommy makeover," a set of plastic surgery procedures to help women get back their pre-baby bodies. And why is that so important? I mean, if my wife's body has been affected by bearing children, that's OK, it's a reminder of those beautiful children she gave me. It just makes her more beautiful, right? Turns out I'm naive:

There is more pressure on mothers today to look young and sexy than on previous generations, [39-year-old mother Sharlotte Birkland] added. "I don't think it was an issue for my mother; your husband loved you no matter what," said Birkland, who recently remarried.

Oh, so that's it. Mom needs to look hot so she can hit the singles scene.

Beam me up, Scotty. No sign of intelligent life down here.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The New Triple Standard: What's Their Stance on Sen. Craig?

There's more news today of men being arrested in the Twin Cities for making gestures indicating that they want to have sex with other men in a public place. This time it's in a park in St. Paul, just a few miles from the Twin Cities International Airport where Sen. Larry Craig made his stand.

I'd like to point out that on Sept. 26, I wrote a post suggesting my puzzlement that Sen. Craig wasn't being portrayed as a victim of homophobia. And I also asked whether we were going to start arresting men who buy women drinks, and women who twirl their hair and coyly look away. My thought was that Sen. Craig was arrested for, basically, flirting.

That's why I was blown away by this portion of Mara Gottfried's story in today's St. Paul Pioneer Press:

Critics said the sting operations are unfair.

"We often downplay or pay little attention to indiscretions between males and females who engage in sexual encounters in public - be it in the back seat of a car, in the back of a bar, in a unisex restroom - and then sensationalize any cases that involve same-gender contact," said Lorraine Teel, executive director of the Minnesota AIDS Project.

Teel said there's a double standard and her perception is that law enforcement's attempt to crack down on men cruising for sex "waxes and wanes with public outrage."

But police said they are targeting the illegal behavior, not the sexuality of the people involved.

So where was Lorraine Teel on the Sen. Craig story? Why didn't she rush to his defense?

I think I know. It's obvious, really. There's not a double standard; there's at least a triple standard. No gay rights activists came to Sen. Craig's defense for the simple reason that he is a Republican. Let Rep. Barney Frank get arrested in an airport men's room, and we'd be overwhelmed with cries of "homophobia."

So I called reporter Gottfried and asked her: Did you seek out Teel for comment, or did she initiate making herself heard? And what I learned was enlightening.

Gottfried said that she had called Teel for comment on this story, as she had earlier done for a story she wrote about the Craig arrest, which ran in the paper on Aug. 31. Although Teel's comments did not end up in that story, Gottfried told me that Teel had expressed similar concerns about Sen. Craig and airport arrests. (Gottfried's story featured comments -- in defense of Craig -- from University of Minnesota law professor Dale Carpenter.)

So in this case, Teel has been consistent, and Gottfried has been consistent. Of course, the Sen. Craig story was largely a national media story. So now my question is, more narrowly, why didn't the national media coverage seem to include the sort of angle suggested by Lorraine Teel's comments? I still think that it would have been part of the story, if it had been Barney Frank that had been arrested.


Boy, I tell you, gay guys sure could use some better PR right now. We keep hearing about how they are looking for anonymous sex in public places. And then who comes to their defense? The AIDS project person. (I thought AIDS wasn't a "gay disease"?) So there we've got two stereotypes being perpetuated.

Actually, I question whether it's accurate to call some of these guys "gay." Like Sen. Craig, they are married and have kids. Are they really "gay"? Or are they basically heterosexual guys looking for some cheap sex thrills wherever they can find them? Calling them "gay" may be doing a disservice to men who truly are.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Brother, Can You Spare 49 Cents?

We've been hearing a lot about how food costs are going up. Farmers getting a fair price are being blamed for Mexican peasants starving, beer prices going up, just about anything you can think of. Here's an excerpt from a story by Lauren Villagran of the Associated Press:

This morning, your bowl of cereal and milk probably cost you 49 cents. Last year, it was 44 cents. By next year, it could be 56 cents. It's enough to make you cry in your cornflakes.

Well dry your eyes before you drive off to work, stopping for your morning $6 cup of coffee. Oh, and make sure it's "fair trade" coffee. We want Latin American farmers to get a fair price, even if we complain when American farmers do.

Forty-nine cents for breakfast? How's a person supposed to afford to eat!

While the prices of farm commodities have indeed risen greatly recently, it's hard to make a case that they are "too high." Here's something that should be required reading. This is from Scott Kilman of the Wall Street Journal:

...the declining real price of grain has long been one of the unsung forces behind the development of the global economy. Thanks to steadily improving seeds, synthetic fertilizer and more powerful farm equipment, the productivity of farmers in the West and Asia has stayed so far ahead of population growth that prices of corn and wheat, adjusted for inflation, had dropped 75 percent and 69 percent, respectively, since 1974. Among other things, falling grain prices made food more affordable for the world's poor, helping shrink the percentage of the world's population that is malnourished.

Sounds like America's farmers are owed the prices they are finally getting.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Good Intentions Yield Unwanted Fruit

The path to Hades might not be literally paved with good intentions, but there are enough of them there that they rise up behind you and bite you on the butt now and then.

That's what the member-owners of the Wedge natural foods cooperative in Minneapolis are learning. They thought they had arrived at a win-win deal. At first glance, it sure looks like it. The co-op had reached an agreement to buy a 97-acre organic farm south of Minneapolis in Farmington. The owners of the farm are wanting to retire, and this move will keep the land an organic farm, and provide a convenient source of produce for the co-op.

It sounds like a great idea. Except for one thing. The deal appears to be illegal.

Yes, state officials say that the proposed deal runs afoul of state law against "corporate farms." And, yes, that's what the co-op is, it's a corporation, even though it may be a non-profit. Same would be true for the Minnesota-based cooperative and agribusiness giant Cenex-Harvest States (CHS), if it tried to buy up farmland on behalf of its farmer-members. Or publicly-owned Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) if it tried to buy up Minnesota farmland to grow corn to feed its ethanol plants. Or privately-owned Minnesota behemoth Cargill.

"But wait!" Wedge members will cry, "We just want to preserve the farm and grow healthy food. Those evil corporations just want to... make money!"

But it's awfully tough to try to legislate based on that distinction, which may really be a very subjective, personal judgement. The farmer-members of CHS would ask why you want to deprive them of bettering their families' lives. Little old ladies who own stock in ADM would ask what you've got against them. And the wealthy Cargill and MacMilllan families... well, to heck with them, they've got enough money. (But that's just the populist in me talking. More on that later.)

The intent of Minnesota's law seems to be to prevent insurance companies and other large companies from investing in Minnesota farmland, driving up prices, and turning the state's family farmers into tenant farmers. I appreciate the sentiment.

But how is the Wedge's proposed purchase really so different? My point is, the members of the Wedge also see buying this farmland as a good investment, even if the return is not being looked at as cash gains. (Which still might be realized later.)

I believe that some principles of physics also apply in economics. Just like with Newton's second law, in economics for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, economic activity doesn't happen in a vacuum. And although at first blush this may look like a win-win proposition for everyone involved, some people are still likely to be hurt.

Whom? Perhaps the same family farmers intended to be protected by the anti-corporate farming legislation.

How are they supposed to compete with the 1,300 members of the Wedge, who earn big-city salaries, and now want to take over production of their own organic food?

Here's what I'm talking about: The farm in question is located in an area where fields are fast turning into houses. The natural progression of things would suggest that this farm will be turned into housing. That's sad, yes, but it seems to be the natural progression.

But at the same time, that opens up opportunities for other farmers. Suppose there are some other farmers, a little farther out than Farmington -- let's say my hometown, Braham -- who have been following trends and thinking, "The city is really sprawling out. Pretty soon that big organic farm in Farmington will become housing. We could get our farm certified organic and exploit that growing market ourselves."

So that farm family in Braham might have begun to invest time and money into becoming a certified organic farm. But now what happened? A bunch of investors from the big city have bought that farm in Farmington, and cut the family farmers from Braham out of the loop.

Is that consistent with the ideals of the Wedge?

And what about down the road? Will the farm in Farmington really remain in cultivation for 100 years? Or will rising real estate prices spur a sale? What if 10 years from now the Wedge is offered $10 million for the 97 acres for which they paid $1.5 million. Will they be able to turn that down? Or will it make sense for them take the money and establish a new organic farm on lower-valued land a little farther out from the city?

Are we to believe they wouldn't do that with their store in the city? What if they were offered $4 million for their store, by someone who wanted to develop their block, and they could build a brand new, 100 percent "green" store a block away for $2 million. Wouldn't they be fools not to take the money? They could spend the excess $2 million to feed the poor if they so desired.


I think we can link this story to the cut-price prescription drugs being offered by Wal-Mart and Target. The mega-retailers are offering many common prescription drugs for only $4. But not in Minnesota. You see, we have some old laws against selling products for less than cost. The intent was to protect small retailers from large retailers that might use temporary below-cost prices to put their smaller competitors out of business. But the result is, Minnesotans end up spending more for health care than they would otherwise have to, and, they are actually forced to give more money to Wal-Mart and Target than they would otherwise have to!

Now that's counter-productive!

These laws are an outgrowth of Minnesotans' "prairie populism.*" We like to think that we look out for the little guy whenever possible. The irony is, do the minimum pricing laws -- and anti-corporate farm law -- really do that? Not in all case, it would seem.

(Some might argue that what we call "prairie populism" is simply what other people call "socialism.")

Monday, October 8, 2007

Accident or Design? Appendix Has a Purpose After All

I've always heard that the appendix serves no purpose. Scientists told us that it was some sort of leftover product of evolution.

But now, scientists say the appendix does have a purpose after all. It serves as a repository for good bacteria that are needed in the digestive system.

I think this is another illustration of what I've previously called the Arrogance of Science. Scientists like to assume that they finally have it all figured out. Sure, the scientists who came before them have been proven wrong time and time again, but we've finally got it all figured out. How did they know that the appendix had no purpose? Because they didn't know what the purpose was. And if they didn't know what the purpose was, then there must not be one at all.

Now that's arrogance.

It's also interesting to note that the appendix has been held up as some sort of evidence of evolution theory. It's said to be something left over from earlier in the evolutionary chain.

But now, if we know that the appendix has a very important, potentially life-saving function, doesn't it seem instead like evidence of some very good -- very intelligent --. design? Design so good, so intelligent, that we couldn't understand it until now. I suspect that are many more such discoveries waiting out there for us. If only we have the humility to admit how much we don't know.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Irony, or Chutzpah?

Elwyn Tinklenberg announced last week that he will seek the DFL endorsement for Minnesota's 6th congressional district, so that he might challenge incumbent Michele Bachmann. What I find very interesting is a statement that Tinklenberg made last week, and which was played over and over as a sound bite on the radio.

Tinklenberg said that the 6th needed new leadership, citing three specific reasons: the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, and the 35W bridge collapse. Let's think about that.

Bachmann is in her first term. She took office in January, 2007 -- this year! Let's see, the Iraq War has been going on since 2003, Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 -- I'd say Michele Bachmann is new leadership since then! (And what does the 6th district congressman from Minnesota have to do with Hurricane Katrina, anyway?)

But the most interesting aspect of this is the 35W bridge, which, incidentally, is not in the 6th district.

I think it's the most interesting aspect, because do you know why Elwyn Tinklenberg's name sounds familiar to Minnesotans? No, not because he sounds like a character from Mr. Roger's "Neighborhood of Make-Believe," but because he was Minnesota's Commissioner of Transportation from 1999-2002!

Sounds to me like he already had a chance to exhibit his leadership when it comes to bridges. But he didn't prevent the collapse.

Now is that Chutzpah, or what?

Monday, October 8, 2007

Italian Tacos and Mexican Spaghetti

Today is Columbus Day, the day when we remember Christopher Columbus, who had no idea where he was going, still didn't know where he was when he got there, but gets credit for "discovering" people who didn't know they were lost.

Anyway, ol' C.C. was Italian, but his voyage was funded by the Spanish crown. That led to the Spanish colonization of much of the Western Hemisphere, and to this day, most of the nations from Mexico south speak Spanish. (The language of Brazil is Portuguese.) It also set us upon the path that now has many, many Spanish-speaking people legally or illegally coming into the United States, reshaping our own nation.

So I wonder, what if Columbus had gotten his backing from his own people? What if he had sailed under the Italian flag? Would Mexicans eat spaghetti instead of tacos?

Here's another Columbus Day oddity: It's a federal holiday, but not a state or local holiday in Minnesota. That means federal offices and banks are closed, but most people are at work, and state, county, city offices are open. That seems rather odd, because a federal holiday should mean everyone observes it, shouldn't it?

But when it comes to parking meters, the city of St. Paul is treating this as a holiday, and meters aren't being enforced! I guess that means that all the public employees who work downtown can park free on the street all day today, hogging all the meters, and those members of the general public who have to go downtown to deal with the bureaucracy will have to pay to park in a ramp.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Brain-eating Amoeba No Joke

A killer amoeba that lives in lakes, enters the body through the nose, and eats the brain has killed six swimmers in the U.S. this year.

You can read the story yourself.

What I'd like to call your attention to is this quote from Michael Beach of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

This is a heat-loving amoeba. As water temperatures go up, it does better. In future decades, as temperatures rise, we'd expect to see more cases.

Does EVERYTHING have to be linked to global warming?

Already, every report of a summer heat wave and deaths of the elderly is filled with predictions that this tragedy will grow with global warming. But does it work both ways? How about a blizzard or a cold snap? Have you ever seen a news report that said, "If not for global warming, even more old people would have frozen to death"?

No, you haven't. And you won't.

Some people claim the changes brought about by rising global temperatures will actually do more good than bad. More people will benefit than be harmed.

I don't know whether that is true, but I do know the mainstream media aren't going to be giving us both sides of the story. Even if rising temperatures might mean more brain-eating amoebas, but fewer people falling through the ice.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Hurry, the Garbage Is Going Fast

The Pioneer Press yesterday had a story about trash hauling, how different cities handle it, and how people get upset if a change is proposed. Some cities, such as Minneapolis, make trash hauling a city function, performed by city employees. Other cities geographically apportion their city among haulers. Some may award the entire city to one hauler. And in St. Paul, anything goes -- all residents and businesses are free to contract individually with any hauler they choose.

It would seem that St. Paul's "anything goes" system is inherently inefficient. Trucks from many different companies travel down the same alleys each week. Wouldn't it be more efficient if there was only one hauler? It sure would seem that way. But consider this: Did the price of phone service go up, or down, when Ma Bell's "efficient" monopoly was broken up?

I happen to think that competition is good. It inspires all the competitors to do their best. Those that can't keep up drop out of the race.

The story mentions how one St. Paulite has taken the initiative to organize most of the households on his block to sign up with the same hauler, and cut down on how many trucks cruise through their alley. That meets with my approval, because it is the result of individual choice and the free market. The garbage hauler -- Ken Berquist & Sons -- agreed to give the neighbors a group discount. This makes a win-win for all involved: Fewer trucks, lower fees, and more (and more efficient) business for Berquist!

Yes, I think competition within the free market is what gets us good service and fair prices. Let me share a little anecdote with you.

My trash is picked up about noon, and a few weeks ago I was out checking on my garden at that time when I heard the distinctive sound of a garbage truck approaching. But I was surprised when, before the truck arrived, one of the workers from the truck came running up, grabbed my trash can, took off the cover, and then dumped it into the truck as soon as it caught up to him. The truck then took off, and the runner took off running again to catch up with the truck.

Boy, those guys know how to work. (Berquist, by the way.)

But a couple of days later, I saw something completely different. Watching out the window, I saw the truck arrive to pick up my recyclables. This truck belongs to a business that has a contract with the government to pick up recyclable materials in exchange for my tax dollars. It's a very impressive truck. It's huge -- so huge that we now have to put the stuff out in front of the house, so that it takes two passes by the Earth-saving, bio-diesel burning truck with the cute name to service one block, rather than the old way, in which one pass through the alley could service both sides.

So, nice, expensive, impressive truck. But how about the guy who got out to pick up my recyclables? I've never seen anyone work so slowly! He sauntered over, picked up some stuff, took it to the truck. Slowly walked back to get some more. A milk jug fell out as he picked up the bin by one end, but he just left it. Then he made an extra, super-slow trip back just to pick up that jug.

Hourly worker, for an employer with a monopoly, and paid by our tax dollars. Should we be surprised?

But that slow worker wasn't an isolated case. Later in the day I observed another one of the company's trucks, with a different operator. Not only did she also move like molasses, but she exposed the slowness of the entire process. She pulled up in front of a house, but before she put those recyclables into her truck, she had to pull a lever and wait while a bin on the side was hydraulically hoisted to the top of the truck, where it dumped its contents inside. Then she waited for the bin to return to her, slowly -- oh, so slowly -- loaded some more material into it, and then waited again while she raised the bin and dumped it again. I couldn't believe how long she spent servicing just one house.

Contrast that with the hustling guys working for the family-owned business.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Hate Crimes and Terrorism (Wait a minute -- terrorism is a hate crime!)

What do hate crimes have to do with terrorism? Plenty, it turns out. And if you are an advocate of the idea of designated "hate crimes," you'd better be the biggest hawk in town when it comes to the war on terror.

The U.S. Senate last week passed an amendment to federal "hate crime" statutes, despite a threatened veto by President Bush. The legislation would extend "hate crime" protection to people based on gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability. Proponents hope that they will be able to avoid a veto, because they have attached the legislation to a high-priority defense bill President Bush wants passed.

Now, those of you who have been reading here for some time know that I oppose the concept of "hate crimes," because they are really "thought crimes." If you assault or murder someone, you have committed a crime and should do the time. Whether you had a "bigoted" or "tolerant" state of mind at the time -- as decided by someone else -- doesn't matter. And this is a very dangerous concept, because if the government can punish you more severely for assaulting a member of a group of which you don't approve, then it follows that you also might be punished less severely -- or not at all -- for committing crimes against members of a group of which the government doesn't approve. (No, Adolph, that doesn't sound like a good idea.)

According to a news story from Shailagh Murray of the Washington Post:

[Senate Republicans] were furious earlier this week when Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced he would force a vote on an expanded hate-crimes statute, with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, calling Reid's maneuver a "shameful" attempt to "hijack" essential defense legislation.

Democrats argued that the amendment addresses terror of a different form. "The defense authorization is about dealing with the challenges of terrorism overseas," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. "This is about terrorism in our neighborhood."

Wait a minute. If Sen. Kennedy (a philandering alcoholic, born into a life of wealth and privilege, the result of his family illegally trafficking in controlled substances, and who left his secretary to drown after he drove her off a bridge -- can you imagine the mainstream media letting a Republican get away with a record like that?) says that "hate crimes" are terrorism, then is terrorism a "hate crime"?

Well, of course it is! If anything is a "hate crime," terrorism is. The terrorists even say as much. They say they want to kill us all because they hate us. They hate us because we are different from them. They hate Christians and Jews. They even hate homosexuals.

That's why they blow up trains and buildings, and fly airplanes into buildings.

That being the case, shouldn't liberal "hate crime" advocates such as Sen. Kennedy insist that the war on terror be prosecuted with extra zeal, since it's the response to a "hate crime"?

Why do they instead blame the victim and say, "We have to ask ourselves what we did to make them hate us so"?

This legislation expanding "hate crime" statutes is said to be written in honor of Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was beaten, tied to a fence and left to die near Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998. Can you imagine anyone saying, "Matthew Shepard's family should ask themselves what he did to make people hate him so much"?

dave ["at" ] downingworld [.com] -- If you'd like to know what I think about a particular topic, drop me a line: I may use it for a future blurb. But remember: I'm not really a know-it-all; I just play one on the Web. Thanks for tuning in, from your host David W. Downing.


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