archives: July-September, 2004

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Gas Expensive? To the Contrary!
There's another good Ed Lotterman economics column in today's St. Paul Pioneer Press. In discussing the various impacts of rising oil prices, Lotterman points out that today's $50-barrel crude is much less expensive than 1981's $80-barrel (adjusted for inflation) oil.

I remember 1981 well. In May of 1981 I graduated from high school, bought my first car, and started my first job off the farm. I remember paying about $1.30 for a gallon of gas. In today's dollars, that would be $2.60 -- even higher than today's "high" prices. Meanwhile, I was being paid the princely sum of $3.35 an hour -- the minimum wage. If you think gas prices are high now...!

So why is it, with all the talk about raising the minimum wage, providing people with "living wages," not supporting offshore "sweatshops," and all of our other evident concerns that people be paid fairly, that we expect people -- including many people in other countries -- to provide us with cheap oil? Just as the minimum wage has gone up from the $3.35 paid to me in 1981, shouldn't the price of oil go up so that people who work in the oil business aren't "exploited" to provide us wealthy Westerners with cheap oil? Seems only fair.

Meanwhile, I'm reminded of my current strategy to try to avoid paying more than I have to for gasoline. With these rapid swings of up to 20 cents per gallon, no one wants to pass up a chance to fill up in the evening, only to find the price has shot up in the morning. So here's what I do: When I see the price has dropped, I fill up my tank. I don't wait to see how far it will drop. When I see that the price has spiked upward, I put off filling my tank. I don't rush to buy gas "before it goes even higher." Soon enough the price dips again, and I buy.

That seems simple enough, but people find it hard to follow that strategy. That's why so many individual stock pickers don't realize good investment returns. They buy when a stock is shooting up, hoping that it'll go up even more. They don't buy when a stock has gone down, because they fear it will go down even more. Everyone has heard, "Buy low, sell high." But in reality, human psychology suckers people into going along with the crowd. They "Buy high, sell low."

We see this same sort of self-defeating, join-the-crowd behavior in many other businesses. Property developers build too much office space during boom times, dooming themselves to a bust. Cattle ranchers fatten too many cattle when prices are good, ensuring that an oversupply will burst their profit bubble. Hog farmers farrow too many sows when feeder pig prices shoot through the roof, and soon those $60 piglets are selling for $11 (My dad likes to tell the story of a farmer -- not him -- who held out for the top of the market one week too long. This guy got stuck with $11.).

But a person is usually better off being a contrarian. Do the opposite of the crowd. Start feeding steers when the price is down. Buy the low-priced stocks that are out of fashion with the trendy stock market crowd.

I find a good rule of thumb is to NOT do what the guys on my softball team are talking about. You can apply this to your own personal focus group. For awhile, the guys on my team were convinced they should invest in a golf course. This was when golf courses were booming. Guess what? That didn't last. If they had built a course, they might have lost their shirts.

Then, they were all into e-trading tech stocks. You know how that ended.

Being a contrarian is good advice for many aspects of life. If everyone-who-is-anyone is standing is line at Krispy Kreme, go get yourself a bagel. Go to Krispy Kreme when the lines are gone. Vacation in the off season or mid-week; you'll avoid crowds and probably save money. If everyone wants to make a left turn and traffic is backed up, make a right and go around the block. Not only will you get where you're going more quickly, but you'll save your sanity, too.

So be a contrarian. Now, I have to offer one final caveat. If everyone starts being a contrarian, not doing what everyone else is doing, then you should do what everyone else is doing, because they aren't doing it anymore. (Apologies to Yogi Berra.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Spin, Bias and the Train
The new light rail train in Minneapolis has recently provided us with a couple of good examples of how we need to be careful when we read the news. We have to ask ourselves, "Whose spin are we getting?" "Whose bias is evident?"

In this election season, especially, we have to be aware that the same set of facts can be presented in entirely different ways, depending on who is doing the presenting.

For instance, it was announced this week that the final segment of the Hiawatha Line will open ahead of schedule. "We're 3-1/2 weeks ahead of schedule and very excited about it," said Met Council chairman Peter Bell, whose agency operates the train.

Ahead of schedule. Finished earlier than planned. That sounds good. Nothing wrong with that. But let's read more. According to the account in my St. Paul Pioneer Press: "The $715.3 million project had to be completed by Dec. 31 in order to comply with the terms of a $334 million funding agreement with the Federal Transit Administration."

Now wait a minute. It sounds like Dec. 31 was the absolute final deadline (I think that's doubly redundant!) before they'd lose big money from the feds. But if their "schedule" planned for them to finish right at the deadline, that wasn't very good planning, was it?

As an example of how a story can be spun in different ways, here's how a critic of the Met Council might spin it:

After years of planning and work, the Met Council expects to complete the Hiawatha Line with just weeks to spare before a deadline when they would lose millions of federal dollars.

A little less upbeat, wouldn't you say? I'm not trying to indict the Met Council, but this is a great example of how the same set of facts can be presented in different ways.

The second train-related example was found in a news story reporting the death of a man who drove his car onto the tracks in front of an oncoming train. The subheadline to the story reads: "87-year-old dies after driving onto track in 1st LRT crash."

When I read that, I asked myself, What is the significance of the "1st"?

At first I thought I was seeing a pro-train bias -- the newspaper was pointing out that, yes, the train killed someone, but it was only the first time in three months of operation. That's not too bad.

Then I thought, maybe this is anti-train bias -- the newspaper is pointing out that this is only the first death. There will be more.

Finally I thought, maybe "1st" simply means that this was the first. Maybe there's no other meaning being implied. I was inferring something. What, I couldn't be sure, because I could infer two conflicting messages. But the newspaper wasn't trying to imply anything. There was no "liberal media bias" to be found here. I was inferring something that wasn't there.

The lesson: Just as sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, sometimes a word is just a word. Don't rush to find bias in every headline.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Real Campaign Focuses on Voter Turn-Out
We hear a lot about how this presidential election hinges on who can win the votes of the small group of voters who are undecided. But that's only part of the story. Perhaps more important is the battle for voter turn out.

Polls show about half the people would vote for Kerry, and half would vote for Bush. I say "would," rather than "will," because half of those people won't vote at all! In the oh-so-close and oh-so-controversial 2000 presidential race, only 51.3% of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot.

So, candidates have come to see the best way of getting more votes is to encourage their alleged supporters to actually show up at the polls. Whichever candidate can do a better job of that is likely to be the winner. So they try to identify groups that are likely to vote for them, and reach out to that group.

For instance, this year we've been hearing that unmarried women are one group that heavily favors Kerry. So Kerry is putting energy into wooing the single gals (whether or not they are rich).

Meanwhile, President Bush comes to Minnesota and spends his time in Republican-friendly Rochester and St. Cloud. He's already favored in those locations. He's not there to change anyone's mind. He's there to inspire people to actually get off of their butts and go to the polls. Likewise, the Bush campaign has identified a pool of potential supporters in the Anoka County "Jesse Belt," that previously assumed DFL bastion which elected the maverick governor in 1998. That explains Bush's recent visit to what once was considered hostile territory. He's not trying to win them over. He's trying to get them to the polls.

So while it may seem like they're wasting their time "preaching to the choir," they know what they're doing. As any preacher knows, if your goal is to get some people to show up for Bible study, preaching to the choir is a lot more effective than preaching to strangers on the street corner.

In either case, politics or religion, the expedient strategy is not to win converts, it's to mobilize the converted. Expedient, but not necessarily right, at least in the long term.

Monday, September 27, 2004

If "W" Stands for "Wrong," What Does "F" Stand For?
Yes, I'm sure you know some choice "F" words. But that's not what I'm after. "F" stands for "flip," and "F" stands for "flop." Isn't that an interesting coincidence?

Apparently, "F" really stands for "Forbes," although the candidate doesn't flaunt it. I couldn't find that information anywhere on his official website. Maybe he fears a name like Forbes is just a little too off-putting to us commoners.

He likes to use the "F," though, in hopes of being the new JFK. As I've written before, he even got himself assigned to a patrol boat in Vietnam, ala the real JFK and PT-109. But in one way at least -- marriages -- Kerry seems to have more in common with Jackie O!

So Much for Free Speech
The Bush campaign sign in my front yard lasted little more than a week. It disappeared sometime in the last few days. I can't be sure exactly when. It's not like it was a Wellstone sign and I kneeled down to pray to it each day.

Must have been one of those peaceful, tolerant, free speech-loving Kerry supporters (kerrorists?). Of course, the array of Kerry signs along my block is still intact.

I made myself a new sign, out of scrap wood, and pounded it into the ground. We'll see if that stays. I could say, "Why bother?" But isn't that exactly the same as capitulating to terrorists? I also came up with a sign they can't steal. I mowed a giant "W" into the grass on the hillside that makes up most of my front yard. It barely shows, but we'll see what happens if the grass keeps growing.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Bush in Good Company in "Misuse" of Religion
Wednesday's St. Paul Pioneer Press carried an editorial by David Domke, a college professor who just happened to be in town trying to sell books. Domke's line is that President Bush is a dangerous religious fanatic -- no different from people who fly airplanes into buildings. "Fundamentalism in the White House is a difference in degree, not kind, from fundamentalism exercised in dark, damp caves." he writes.

To support his case, Domke notes that Bush used two key words 34 times in his Sept. 2 speech to the Republican National Convention. The words? "Freedom" and "liberty." Horrors!

As Exhibit A, Domke quotes the President: "I believe that America is called to lead the cause of freedom in a new century. I believe that millions in the Middle East plead in silence for their liberty. I believe that, given the chance, they will embrace the most honorable form of government ever devised by man. I believe all these things because freedom is not America's gift to the world, it is the almighty God's gift to every man and woman in this world."

This is Domke's evidence that Bush is destroying the country -- destroying democracy, even.

I wonder what Domke would think of these words:

"When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

You, of course, recognize these historic words as the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, the very basis of our nation, and a document that changed the world.

But to Domke, apparently, it's nothing more than dangerous religious fundamentalism.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Job? Career? Get a Life!
Today Dave plays Wise Man on the Moutaintop, and addresses Happiness and the Meaning of Life.

"Do you have a career? Or just a job?" That was the question posed by a radio ad for some sort of school. It got me to thinking about the difference between the two. Supposedly, a "career" brings some sort of satisfaction and completeness to a person.

But I also started thinking that there's nothing wrong with "just a job" if you've got a life to go with it. What's wrong with with having friends, family and fun, and being satisfied with a job that makes all of that -- a "life" -- possible?

I pity the person who has a career, but doesn't have a life.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Rather Will Keep His Job; He Learned from the Master
As soon as the story of Rathergate and the Petulant Papers broke, people began to predict that, should the papers turn out to be a fraud, Rather would be finished -- he'd either resign or be fired.

Now the papers have been exposed as forgeries. But there has been no indication that Rather's job is in jeopardy. I predict he'll keep his job. Here's why:

Rather studied at the feet of the Master.

No, not Walter Cronkite. Not Edward R. Murrow. The Master of whom I speak is the greatest escape artist of our time: Bill Clinton.

Rather has exhibited a true Clintonian defense -- deny, deny, deny. Then, when you can no longer deny, say "That's old news. Can't we move on?"

The general public has already tired of Rathergate, if they ever understood it at all. Rather will keep his job, and all will be forgotten.

This revelation of shared values helps explain why Rather kept letting Clinton get away scot-free.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Like Being "Engaged to be Engaged"?
I noticed a John Kerry lawn sign that reads: "Help is on the way."

I don't quite understand that. I mean, if a person believes that John Kerry brings "hope," then shouldn't the sign say something like "Hope is here"? Saying that hope is "on the way" seems to be suggest that if Kerry is elected, then we will have hope.

But Kerry's already on the ballot. If you believe he is what the country needs, then hasn't his nomination already given you hope? Shouldn't he represent "hope" now, and "help" at such time as he might be elected?

Makes no sense. But then, what would you expect?

Monday, September 20, 2004

Saddam Not Defeated Yet
I heard someone say, "We should just pull all of our troops out of Iraq. What's the worst that could happen?"

I'll tell you what could happen. I'll tell you what WILL happen:


His Baath Party loyalists are causing the trouble now (amongst others, perhaps). If the U.S. leaves, they will bust him out, restore him to power, he'll slaughter thousands (again), and...

The U.S., which now may be "hated" around the world, will become a LAUGHINGSTOCK, WITH ABSOLUTELY NO CREDIBILITY, IN EITHER THE WESTERN OR THE ISLAMIC WORLD!

I said when this war began: Saddam must die. As long as he is still alive, he and his followers continue to fight. He knew he couldn't resist our military, so he rolled over and played dead. That was his PLAN! It's an intentional military strategy. Now, he waits, while we fight amongst ourselves, with the Kerry supporters serving as useful idiots.

Every time some politician goes on TV fussing about more Americans killed, it sends the message to the terrorists that they should keep setting off their bombs and cutting off people's heads. It shows them their plan is working. If you want to save American lives, keep your mouths shut!

The real war is on now. Who has more resolve to win it? The American people? Or Saddam?

Friday, September 17, 2004

Rather, Rivera, and the Quest for the Grail
Dan Rather thought he finally had it. He had realized his quest for the Holy Grail of news. He had papers damning President Bush.

Alas, even CBS now has to admit that the papers are fakes. Poor Dan. But not so fast. Dan is down, but not out. He says it doesn't matter whether the papers are genuine, because they are based on fact.

Hmmm.... Holy Grail..... Forgeries..... I feel a daydream sequence coming on.....

(imagine harp music as we segue to my daydream)

"This is Geraldo Rivera, reporting live from an undisclosed location, where I, the greatest TV journalist in history, have made the greatest discovery in history. I have found the Holy Grail! Stay tuned, as I tell how I single-handedly found this sacred relic -- which once inspired crusades -- in Al Capone's vault!"

(A shadowy figure appears.)

"Not so fast, Geraldo."

Geraldo: "Who are you?"

Shadowy Figure: "I'm Dan Rather, defender of truth, bastion of journalistic integrity, and a totally impartial reporter. How do we know that Grail is authentic?"

Geraldo: "I have a preponderance of evidence. I'm fully satisfied as to its authenticity."

Dan: "Did you consult experts?"

Geraldo: "Yes, I called a few and described it to them. They said it sounded like a Grail."

Dan: "Let me see that Grail!"

Geraldo: "I can't show you the original, I only have a picture of it!"

Dan: "Liar. Either you have a Grail in your pocket, or...."

Geraldo: "Or maybe both, but let's not go there. OK, here it is. Here's the Grail. You'll see it's authentic."

Dan: "Wait a minute, what's this? Look at the bottom! It says 'Made in China'!"

Geraldo: "China's a very old country. They've been making things for a long time. Some people were trading with China even in Biblical times. It's quite possible that the Apostles could have gotten their Grail from China."

Dan: "Then how do you explain this? 'Manufactured for Sacramental Supply Company, Superior, Wisconsin'?"

Geraldo: "OK, you got me. This Grail is a forgery. But it doesn't matter."

Dan: "And why is that?"

Geraldo: "Because it's based on fact."

Dan: "Well, OK then."

Thursday, September 16, 2004

"I VOTE FOR" vs. "I AM"
I vote Republican. Or rather, I usually vote for Republicans. There's a difference. It's that nuance thing, again.

I've never felt comfortable saying "I am a Republican," even this year, when I got involved for the first time and ended up a delegate to the state convention. Saying "I am a Republican" suggests that my voting decision flows from that fact. It suggests that when I vote, I automatically vote for Republicans. And why? Because "I am" a Republican. That's sort of circular reasoning, in my view.

It's also using "deductive reasoning" in picking for whom you cast your vote. Starting with the general, "I am a Republican," the voter moves to the specific, "Therefore, I will vote for the Republican candidates."

Kind of locks a person in, doesn't it?

I prefer to use "inductive reasoning," thinking to myself, "I usually -- OK, always these days -- vote for Republicans, therefore, I must be a Republican." But with that thinking, I still reserve the right to pick each race as I see fit.

I think that's a very important distinction, but it seems to be lost on a lot of people. That's why you see things like the letter to the editor yesterday, chastising the St. Paul Pioneer Press editorial board for "supporting Republicans" while being "the only newspaper in a traditionally Democratic city."

Does the letter writer (who lives in Vadnais Heights, not St. Paul) want the editorial board to put some thought into each issue they choose to editorialize upon? Or does she want them to just go around, knuckles dragging, saying "Democrat good. Republican bad"?

Apparently, she prefers the latter.

This lack of thought is why people criticize Sen. Norm Coleman for "changing" and becoming a Republican. Coleman didn't change. He figured out that not only were his positions consistently at odds with the Democrats, but the Democratic Party wouldn't give him any support. So the light bulb finally went on and he said to himself, "I guess I must be a Republican!"

Another example: The Rathergate Papers, whose authenticity is being hotly debated. Notice how Kerry supporters all seem to "know" that the documents are authentic? While Bush supporters "know" they are forgeries? How do they all "know" anything? They haven't seen the papers in question. Neither have I. Even if I saw the papers, I wouldn't know whether or not they were forgeries. Yet we're suddenly inundated with armchair experts on typewriters and typography.

And then there's the issue of John Kerry-- War Hero. Who would have thought the Democrats would ever try to sell the nation a candidate based on his Vietnam War service? I thought Vietnam was political poison, as far as Democrats were concerned. But now that their guy has it on his resume, it's suddenly a badge of honor. Never mind that draft-dodger Bill Clinton was twice elected over genuine WWII heroes.

Once again, people knee-jerk in response to the messenger, not the message.

For all the "flip-flop" accusations made against politicians, I'd have to say nobody does it better than the electorate themselves. What's next? Will the Republicans some day run Sen. Norm Coleman for President, basing his campaign on his record as a long-haired anti-Vietnam War protester?

People, listen up. This is important. First, you must decide what you believe. Then, you must decide which party -- more specifically, which candidates -- are aligned with you. Don't just assume that you ARE somehow by birth a Democrat or a Republican, and therefore you think whatever that party says to think. That's backwards. You decide what you think.

Myself, I grew up with the impression that Democrats were "good" and Republicans were "bad." Somehow, I got that from the prevailing Minnesota political culture (Not from my parents, who, best as I can recall, didn't take sides.). But as a teen and a college student who looked at the issues and came to his own conclusions, I repeatedly saw that the Republicans represented my views better than the Democrats.

But because it was ingrained in me that Republicans were "bad," I had trouble coming to accept that.

Maybe it's why I still don't like to say, "I AM a Republican."

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Extra! Early Edition -- This One Can't Wait!

Homegrown Terrorism in Duluth Mirrors Iraq
As Joe Soucheray is fond of telling us on his Garage Logic radio show, "Euphorians can't link." Those on the Left also can't detect irony, as evidenced by a story that came out of Duluth on Tuesday.

In a story posted on the Duluth News Tribune website, Mark Stodghill reports that a Duluth family is being terrorized because of their support of President Bush. While their campaign signs had been vandalized before, the terrorism rose to a new level over the weekend. A swastika was painted on their sidewalk. The words "Nazi" and "Liar" were painted over Bush-Cheney signs. And two of the family's vehicles were attacked.

The "Liar" charge is usually leveled by those who say President Bush has lied about terrorism and Iraq. These critics say that Iraq never had anything to do with the War on Terror. They say the "Neocons" imagine terrorists under every bed. They say terrorists aren't evil, they're just misunderstood. They say we just need to learn to appreciate their concerns. The also like to criticize the U.S. for being unable to exercise complete control and maintain the peace in Iraq.

Then, in the case of the Duluth terrorists, they go and exhibit the same behavior as the Iraqi terrorists who are keeping that nation in turmoil. The irony is that the anti-Bush people who deny the existence of foreign terrorists, are themselves terrorists!

In both cases, people who oppose government policy are using violence to try to intimidate people and keep them from publicly supporting the government. In the U.S., that means not standing up for your candidate. If you do, your home will be attacked. In Iraq, that means not signing up to join the legitimate Iraqi police or security forces. If you do, you will be killed in a bomb blast, as happened Tuesday.

A suicide bomber who kills dozens in one blast may seem a long way from some green paint and damaged vehicles. Still, it wasn't long ago that even that lesser act was unthinkable here in America, the Land of the Free, where we can speak as we wish and vote as we wish, with no fear of reprisal. Or, at least, we used to be able to.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

World Go Round in Circles: AM the New "Alternative" Radio
You've no doubt noticed that things go around in circles, or cycles, if you prefer. Sure, everyone knows hemlines go up and down. Ties get wider, then narrower, then wider again. Hair gets longer, shorter, longer again. But it's more than just fashion that goes around in circles.

There's the stock market, of course: up, down, up, down, and so on, on a daily basis. Longer term stock market trends are part of what's called the business cycle, which includes all sorts of statistics like unemployment rates, productivity, housing starts, GDP and other numbers open to whatever interpretation meets your political purposes.

But there are other circular trends, often playing out over decades. For instance, think of how the ubiquitous "corner store" disappeared when the "supermarket" came into being. But then even the supermarket found itself under attack from the "big box" warehouse grocery store.

Meanwhile, people had begun to notice that those new supermarkets just weren't as convenient as the old corner store down the block. The need for a place where a person could make a quick stop for bread and milk gave rise to a new concept: the "convenience store," which looked and acted an awfully lot like the old corner store.

But, not satisfied selling bread and milk, the convenience store had to grow. Now, leading convenience stores include produce departments, fresh bakery departments, and delis. If you didn't know better, you might think they'd turned into supermarkets!

And so it goes.

But I uncovered another very interesting circle recently. The local PBS station ran a program called "Rock Jocks: The FM Revolution." The show tracked the rise of FM radio and its role in the "counter-cultural airwave revolution."

The program described how FM radio stations in the late 1960s and early 1970s not only played those not-heard-anywhere-else album tracks from Moby Grape and Jefferson Airplane, but also served as a source of news that politically left-leaning people weren't getting from the "mainstream" media. Remember that point.

Now track ahead through the years. FM goes mainstream and supplants AM as the preferred band for music of all genres. AM, seeking to reinvent itself and justify its continuing existence, turns to "talk radio," a format that finds success catering to politically right-leaning people who feel they aren't getting the whole story from the "mainstream" media.

AM is now "alternative"; its listeners the new "counter-culture." FM is now mainstream; the listeners who birthed the FM band are now the establishment.

OK, maybe that's not a true circle. It's more of a 180 degree turn. At least so far. But here's where things have come full circle. We hear a lot these days about how, with the proliferation of news sources, people seek out a news source that brings them the news that fits their preexisting mindset. This is being touted as a change from the norm, which supposedly had everyone getting their news from a few, "unbiased" news sources.

But was it really the norm, that period of time when American journalism was monopolized by three broadcast networks and one daily paper in each major city? Maybe not.

If we went back a century or more, we'd find major cities served by a plethora of competing newspapers, many unabashedly serving the political leanings of their publishers. Many even had "Democrat" or "Republican" in their masthead. (A few still do.) People sought out the paper that reported the news in a fashion that fit their preexisting worldview.

And that, my friends, brings us full circle.

Monday, September 13, 2004

What's Good for the Bush is Good for the Rather
I sure don't know what to make of the now infamous Killian memos, which CBS News is defending as authentic, despite charges that they are forgeries. But I do find it amusing what Dan Rather had to say.

"We decided there was a preponderance of evidence that they are what they purport to be," rather said.

I see. Well, President Bush decided there was a preponderance of evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. If these documents turn out to be forgeries, I hope CBS News and Dan Rather are cut just as much slack as they've cut the Bush administration -- very little.

I guess that means Dan Rather will have to apologize for "lying" to the American people and "misleading" them into a story that was all about ratings and Big TV hegemony.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Believe It or Not, Many Voters Too Young to Relive Vietnam -- Let's Move On
I think the press and politicians have greatly overestimated how much the electorate cares about who did what during the Vietnam War. Maybe that should be expected, as the Vietnam Generation, now in their 50s, control positions of power in both the media and government.

I was born in 1963. I remember hearing about the war as a child, and hoping it would be over before I came of draft age. Fortunately for me, it was. I was only about 10 when the draft ended. So I was a long way from serving in Vietnam.

I'm now 41, but I was much more aware of current events than most kids, so I'm guessing that most people younger than 45 or 46 really have no recollection of the Vietnam War years -- the war, the protests, the nation divided. Sure, they've heard about it over the years, as history, but "history" is the key word.

The Vietnam War is "ancient history" to voters younger than 45. It's not a defining moment in their lives.

And the Democrats think they're the party of the young. So why do they keep flogging the Vietnam War? Younger voters don't care very much about it.

Of course Bill Clinton didn't want to go to Vietnam. Of course George W. Bush took an out when it was offered to him. I wouldn't have wanted to go, either. Fortunately, I didn't have to. Now, let's worry about the current war.

That's how a lot of younger voters feel. And that bodes well for Bush.

The Left Now Considers Vietnam a "Good War"

Yes, stop the presses! After decades of protesting the Vietnam War, saying it was immoral, a mistake, and evidence of U.S. imperialism, the Left has changed its tune. Why do I say that? Actually, John Kerry said it.

"I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend this country as President."

In Vietnam, he "defended this country." That's a statement that the Vietnam War was about American self defense. If that's true, then we did he, and so many others, criticize the war? Haven't they been telling us for decades that Vietnam had nothing to do with defending the U.S.? That the "Domino Theory" was just the paranoia of right-wing warmongers?

I Thought We'd "Moved On" Past Vietnam

But aren't we done refighting the Vietnam War? Can't we "move on," as some like to say about other issues?

George W. Bush left the National Guard with an honorable discharge. John F. Kerry was awarded three Purple Hearts. That was more than 30 years ago! Can't we just leave it at that and judge the candidates on what they would do as President? To go back now and try to rewrite history is like, well, like wanting to award duplicate Gold Medals in Olympic Gymnastics, because you've reexamined the scores after the fact.

I thought we'd settled this back in 1992 and 1996, when draft-avoider Bill Clinton was elected in place of George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole, two genuine heroes of the "last good war." Democrats told us then that Vietnam was old news, irrelevant to who should be President. But now, a dozen years later, all of a sudden the Democrats are making Vietnam military service the the premier qualification to be President.

It seems like just yesterday that avoiding the draft was a badge of honor among good liberals.

But John Kerry volunteered to go. Why? Because he wanted to "defend this country," as he has described it? Maybe. But it seems more likely to me that he wanted it on his resume, to serve his political ambitions. He wanted to be a war hero like John F. Kennedy. Kerry even got himself on a patrol boat -- a la PT109! But it's reported that he served only four months in Vietnam, even though he brags about serving "two tours." And what's with those home movies from Vietnam? It seems an awful lot like his plan was to get in, document his heroism, rack up some awards, get out, and move on to better things.

To me, Kerry's volunteering for the war, then protesting the war, and now running as a war hero, reveals his true motivation. Kerry takes whatever position is most politically advantageous. When he thought military service would benefit him, he did that. Then he protested the war and painted himself as a war criminal (so much for "defending this country"), when he decided that was the thing a budding politician should do. But now, when the nation demands a strong war president, all of a sudden he's a war hero, again.

But I think Bush and Kerry both have something to hide. They've both painted some overly rosy pictures of their military service, as they've climbed the political ladder of success. Now that they're in the brightest spotlight of them all, their political spin "make up" is no longer covering all of their blemishes.

I think Kerry has oversold his own heroism. In that, he's not the first and he won't be the last. Bush likely used his family's influence to gain a highly-coveted National Guard assignment. And it sure sounds like he didn't take his Guard obligations as seriously as he should have. But again, we're told he wasn't the only one.

There's enough mud to cover both sides. Let's move on to something more important -- like the war we're fighting in defense of our country right now.

Thursday, September 9, 2004

You Say Invest, I Say Spend, Let's Call the Whole Thing a Euphemism
INVEST: 1. To commit (money or capital) in order to gain a financial return 2. To spend or devote for future advantage or benefit (American Heritage Dictionary)
A few years back, some politicians (particularly the free-spending ones) decided that it would sound nicer if they quit "spending" the taxpayers' money and started "investing" it. For example, they started referring to education spending as an "investment" in our future. There's logic to that, if you consider that educating future generations will (hopefully) pay off in producing responsible members of society and gainfully employed workers who pay taxes. That's an example of committing resources now to obtain a future benefit. Likewise, vaccinating children now so that they don't contract a disease and require more costly treatment in the future makes sense as an "investment." But is all spending really an "investment"?

This week I heard a soundbite from a John Kerry speech. He was stating the obvious, really, pointing out to voters that money the government spends on war in Iraq is money not available to spend on other objectives. He said the war money was money not "invested" in education, not "invested" in vaccinations, not "invested" in prescription drugs for senior citizens.

Now, hold on a minute. Is spending tax money on prescription drugs for senior citizens really an "investment"? Not in a financial sense. The return you're going to get is to keep people alive longer, so that you can continue to spend more money on more prescription drugs! Where's the financial return or benefit in that?

OK, I know, caring for our elders is an end in itself. We place value on taking care of people. That's fine. Don't go calling me a granny-basher. But my point is, this illustrates the fine line between clarity of language and euphemism. What began as a logically defensible attempt to put a better spin on some types of government spending, has now grown until it has crossed that fine line and obscured it altogether.

While it may be fair to describe some government spending as an "investment," not all government spending falls under that umbrella. So using the term for all spending, as Kerry did, only serves to remove any meaning at all from the word. It makes "invest" a synonym for "spend." Or, more accurately, a euphemism.
"Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself." -- Professor Dumbledore to Harry Potter, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Euphemisms are a linguistic disguise. They're intended to hide something. Users intend for the euphemism to be free of any negative connotations that accompanied the previously used word. The trouble is, it doesn't take long for the negative connotations to attach themselves to the euphemism, as well. That's because it's the thing that people don't like, not the word.

Another example in the news as kids go back to school is the switch to purple correction markers. Yes, some educators have determined that marking up papers with a red pen or marker makes kids feel bad. The kids see that red ink, and they think they've done something wrong. So, in their infinite wisdom, they educators have decided to use purple pens and markers instead of red.

Now, it might actually work, for a short time. But soon enough, the sight of purple ink will elicit the same response as red. That's because when a student sees 10 red checks on his or her test, he or she "feels bad" because he or she GOT 10 ANSWERS WRONG, not because red ink is inherently offensive.

In this case, purple is simply a visual euphemism substituting for red. Some day it, too, will have to be replaced by another, more "friendly," hue, as children come to react negatively to the sight of purple.

Putting all this together, we can come to only one conclusion: Now would not be a good time to "invest" in Barney the Dinosaur.

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

NAFTA and the "Two Americas"
Would-be vice president Sen. John Edwards was in St. Paul Monday, speaking at a Labor Day rally. According to St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter Bill Salisbury's story online at TwinCities.com Monday evening (likely to be found in Tuesday morning's paper), Kerry "was introduced by Wendy Meath, a machinist who worked for Home Products International in Eagan for 31 years before she was laid off in December, when the firm shifted 165 jobs to Mexico."

According to the story, Edwards also claimed that the previous 11 presidents "all created jobs -- until this president."

Well, hold on a minute. Someone whose job moved to Mexico is an interesting choice to use if the goal is to blame George W. Bush. Wasn't Democrat Bill Clinton the president who signed the controversial NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement)? And wasn't concern voiced at that time, more than a decade ago, that jobs would move to Mexico? (Ross Perot's "giant sucking sound.")

Yes, and yes. But it wasn't just Clinton who brought us NAFTA. His predecessor, President George H.W. Bush, laid the groundwork for the agreement. And I'm not going to try to pin the blame for Meath's job loss on anyone. It's just something that happened. To support that "insensitive" claim, I offer this quote:

"But I want to say to my fellow Americans, when you live in a time of change the only way to recover your security and to broaden your horizons is to adapt to the change, to embrace, to move forward. Nothing we do -- nothing we do in this great capital can change the fact that factories or information can flash across the world; that people can move money around in the blink of an eye.

"Nothing can change the fact that technology can be adopted once created by people all across the world, and then rapidly adapted in new and different ways by people who have a little different take on the way the technology works.

"For two decades, the winds of global competition have made these things clear to any American with eyes to see. The only way we can recover the fortunes of the middle class in this country so that people who work harder and smarter can at least prosper more, the only way we can pass on the American Dream of the last 40 years to our children and their children for the next 40 is to adapt to the changes which are occurring.

"In a fundamental sense, this debate about NAFTA is a debate about whether we will embrace these changes and create the jobs of tomorrow, or try to resist these changes, hoping we can preserve the economic structures of yesterday.

"I tell you, my fellow Americans, that if we learn anything from the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the governments in Eastern Europe, even a totally controlled society cannot resist the winds of change that economics and technology and information flow have imposed in this world of ours. That is not an option. Our only realistic option is to embrace these changes and create the jobs of tomorrow." (Applause.)

Who said that? Some evil Republican, advocating the "offshoring" of "high-paying manufacturing jobs"? Surprise, surprise! It was President Bill Clinton, in remarks given as he signed the final NAFTA documents. I happened upon the speech when I did a quick Google search to find verification that it was Clinton who signed NAFTA. (The entire text can be found at http://www.multied.com/Documents/Clinton/SigningNaFTA.html . It's very interesting to read with 2004 hindsight.)

Given what President Clinton had to say -- in 1993 -- Kerry's job preservation talk and Edwards' talk of "two Americas" make them seem like reactionary isolationist protectionists, in comparison. And Clinton's comments, in the context of campaign 2004, make him sound like the Republicans about whom Edwards would say, "not only don't have a plan, they don't have a clue."

But since when did politicians worry about being consistent?

Monday, September 6, 2004

DUH? There I Go Again: Twins Game Illustrates the Theory.
In the two months that I have been writing this online column, I've returned several times to my "Real Life Is Not Let's Make a Deal" theory. The theory, which says that unlike the old game show, the decisions presented to us in real life don't always have clear cut "right" and "wrong" answers, is becoming a real cornerstone of my writing. It will figure prominently in my list of Downingworld principles.

But it needs a shorter name. And why not name it after me, since this is my website? How about: the Downing Uncertainty Hyphothesis? DUH, for short.

There was a wonderful example of DUH in the Minnesota Twins baseball game Friday night. The game was still scoreless in the sixth inning when Twins center fielder Torii Hunter surprised the Kansas City Royals with a bunt. It was a good one, and the Royals player closest to the ball realized that he wouldn't have time to throw Hunter out at first base. So instead of picking up the ball, he let it keep rolling. The decision paid off. The ball eventually rolled foul, which meant that it counted as a strike, and Hunter was still at bat, not on base.

Announcer: "Good play by the Royals."

DUH: Well, it looks like it so far.

Two pitches later, Hunter smacked the ball into the left field seats for a home run. Score one for the DUH.

Announcer: "I bet the Royals wish they hadn't let that ball roll foul now!"

DUH: Yes, having Hunter on first base, instead of hitting a home run, does sound better for the Royals. But we'll never know how that would have worked out. Maybe the next batter would have hit into a double play, erasing Hunter from the base paths completely. That would be the best possible outcome for the Royals. On the other hand, the next batter could hit a homerun, scoring Hunter ahead of him.

And that's just what Justin Morneau did, driving an 0-1 pitch into the seats, making it 2-0 in favor of the Twins. The same score as if the Royals had allowed Hunter to reach first on his bunt.

DUH: Sometimes, you're just out of luck. There is no "right" choice. You're screwed no matter what.

Friday, September 3, 2004

You Can't Have It Both Ways. Well, Not All the Time. OK, We'll Compromise.
If you get the St. Paul Pioneer Press, make sure you read Edward Lotterman's "Real World Economics" column in the business section Thursdays and Sundays. I really look forward to Lotterman's columns, because when he writes about politically-sensitive topics, he does so without a pre-conceived conclusion or a personal agenda. If he says President Bush is wrong about something, it's not because Lotterman hates Bush, it's because he has looked at the facts and come to an intelligent conclusion.

Lotterman's Sept. 2 column was headlined "Bush can't have it both ways on economy." In his column, Lotterman writes that Bush and his economy managers are wrong to try to use aspects of both Keynesian economic theory and supply-side economic theory. The two theories are at odds, Lotterman says. You've got to pick one or the other.

He's right, of course. You've got to pick one strategy and stick with it. Either theory might work, or neither theory might work, but you'll never know if you don't stick with one or the other. (And if you mix the two and the economy goes where you wanted it to, anyway, it probably just proves that the government really has little effect on the economy, after all.)

So why do politicians insist on having it both ways? Because we insist that they do! The voters want everything, but they don't want to pay for it. So politicians tell us we can have it all. And... we don't have to pay for it! Woe the politician who admits otherwise! (How's it going, Mr. Mondale?)

But Lotterman's column helped some other thoughts gel in my mind. The way that President Bush's economic policy tries to have "a little of this, a little of that" reminded me of compromise. "Compromise" is one of those nice, warm and fuzzy words. Compromise is always nice, isn't it? Isn't compromise always the way to settle disagreements?

Not usually, at least when it comes to public affairs. Sure, if one side of the aisle wants a 4 percent budget increase, and the other side of the aisle wants a 6 percent budget increase, you can split the difference. But with so many issues, you have to choose one path or the other, and stick with it. Otherwise, whichever compromised path you choose, you doom yourself to failure.

For example, politicians argue about whether to spend our tax money on more buses or additional freeway lanes. In order to pass a bill, they end up compromising. They add some buses, but they also add some freeway lanes.

But that doesn't make sense. If your policy is going to be to encourage people to take mass transit, then why keep widening the road, which reduces congestion, giving people less incentive to ride the bus? If you want people to be able to drive their own cars without stop-and-go traffic, then add as many lanes as it will take; don't waste money on more buses which won't get ridden.

Shortly after I started writing this column in my head, I heard a woman on the radio say that the political parties have moved to the extremes, while "most Americans are right down the middle." We hear that a lot. Again, it sounds nice. It suggests that we can all hold hands, sing songs, drink that free Bubble-Up and eat that Rainbow Stew, if politicians will just compromise and meet in the middle, where most of the people are, already.

But are most Americans really right in the middle? Do most Americans want half a war in Iraq? Half of same-sex marriage? Half of legal abortion? Of course not. You've got to choose one or the other on those issues. You can't split the difference.

A lot of people -- people who aren't very involved in public affairs or the discussion of such -- may think they're "in the middle" only because they've never had to make a choice. They don't like either choice presented to them -- that's what's known as a dilemma -- so they pretend they favor some imaginary "middle ground."

Again, that sounds nice. Real warm and fuzzy. But where's the "middle ground" on Iraq? Either you go to war, or you don't. Most people know that, but they don't want to accept it, because neither option -- war or Saddam -- sounds very good. So they hem and they haw, and they demand that their leaders find some magic, "compromise" solution.

But since there is no magic compromise, leaders have to make a tough, polarized decision.

(Edward Lotterman's column can be found online on Thursdays and Sundays. Access the Pioneer Press online at www.twincities.com. Click the "business" section.)

Thursday, September 2, 2004

Sure, That's Logical
The streets outside the Republican Party Convention in New York City are filled with protesters this week. They've been tying up traffic, getting in the way of New Yorkers' daily lives, generally causing whatever trouble they can. I saw a TV reporter interview one of the protesters. The reporter asked the protester whether she thought it was OK to cause so much trouble for New Yorkers who were trying to go to work and go about their daily business.

The protester answered that since her cause is so important, yes, she is justified in harming the people of New York.

Isn't that exactly -- I mean exactly -- the logic employed by people who crash jetliners into buildings?

More "Nuances" Explained
The anti-Bush crowd likes to yell about "lies" and "mistakes." But they don't seem to know what those words mean. Once again (like yesterday's column), it's a case of nuance.

There's a difference between telling a "lie" and things not turning out as you think they will. President Bush said Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. He truly believed that. John Kerry truly believed that. Bill Clinton truly believed that. The UN truly believed that. Now it appears they were all wrong. However, that doesn't mean they all "lied."

It's like if you tell your child you'll take him to the baseball game on Saturday. Then Saturday comes, it rains all day, and the game is cancelled. Your child cries, "Dad, you lied to me!" But of course you didn't "lie" to him.

Likewise, just because things didn't work out the way you intended doesn't mean you made a "mistake." Let's use a sports example. Suppose you're a baseball pitcher. Barry Bonds is at the plate. The catcher calls for a curveball down and away, where it'll be hard for the slugger to hit it out of the park. But you think you know better. You throw a fastball down the middle. Bonds hits a home run.

You, my friend, have made a mistake.

But suppose you do throw the curve ball down and away. What if Bonds reaches out and hits the ball out of the park anyway? Have you made a mistake?

No. You haven't made a "mistake." Things just didn't work out the way you hoped they would. That's life. Things don't always work out the way you want. "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry," as the saying goes. It isn't just a matter of always making the right choices, having the right plan. Real life doesn't work like that. Sometimes you do everything right, but things still don't work out your way. (Once again, I refer readers to my July 29 column, "Real Life Is Not 'Let's Make a Deal.'" You might also want to check out July 27, "The Home Team Always Gets the Blame.")

I guess the people who keep screaming about "lies" and "mistakes" just don't understand the nuance.

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Journalists Don't Know Real Nuance When It Bites Them in the Butt
nuance: A subtle or slight degree of difference, as in meaning, feeling, or tone; a gradation. (American Heritage Dictionary)

After months of brushing off John Ferry's (sic: see August 28 entry) double-talk as "nuance" that simply proves how smart and sophisticated he is, the nation's journalists showed that they actually have no idea what the word means when they worked themselves into a tizzy over President Bush's supposed statement that we can't win the War on Terror.

Responding to Matt Lauer of NBC's "Today" show, who asked if the War on Terror is winnable in four years, or ever, Bush gave this reply:

"I don't think you can win it. I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world."

But the nuance was lost on journalists and nuance-deficient members of the Ferry camp, who seized upon Bush's "admission" that we were "losing" the war on terror. As a consequence, the President had to spend Tuesday explaining to journalists (without using too many big words) just what it was that he had said (which should have been obvious).

It isn't possible to "win" the war on terror at some certain date. There will be no surrender; no armistice signed. This isn't a conventional war of nation against nation. This war may never end. But it is our hope that at some point, our successful efforts will reduce the scope of the war. Still, we will have to remain vigilant.

Liberals should be able to relate. It's sort of like the "War on Poverty." We've been fighting that for 40 years. Have we "won" yet? No. And we never will. We'll always have poor people. That's inevitable. So should we abandon all social programs?

The War on Terror is also like fighting rats. Humans aren't ever going to "win" that battle, if "winning" means the rats surrender and agree to stay out of our buildings. But we eliminate as many as we can, try to keep them out of our buildings, and limit them to places where they can't hurt us.

As a historical comparison, fighting terrorism is like fighting piracy. There have been some periods in history when pirates sailed rampant on the world's oceans. They threatened shipping and national economies. In many ways, the pirates had an effect just like modern terrorists. But through concerted efforts of many nations, most pirates were eliminated or encouraged to find new lines of work, and piracy disappeared from the headlines.

So the war on piracy was "won," but that doesn't mean the pirates all signed a peace treaty and laid down their swords. No, some pirates remained. Probably as long as there has been shipping, there have been pirates. And they still exist today, although we don't hear much about them, because they know better than to threaten American ships.

So just because you can't "win" a war doesn't mean you can't accomplish your objective. Just because you can't "win" a war doesn't mean you're going to lose it.

The subtle differences in the possible meanings of "win" is a perfect example of nuance. Too bad our sophisticated press corps can't understand it.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Some Thoughts from Mount Olympus
Now that the Olympic Games have concluded, here are some thoughts, some deeper than others:

1. I've thought for some time that the players in the NBA (National Basketball Association) aren't really playing basketball. Sure, they play with a basketball, but it's not really basketball. They shoot the ball down, not up. They wave the ball around in one huge paw, the way normal-size people tease a dog with a tennis ball. With their huge strides to the basket, they don't need to dribble once they're within 10 feet of the hoop. And the referees let them get away with travelling, anyway. Passing? Who's got time for that?

Yes, I think America's premier professional hoops league is fast becoming the NBA (Not Basketball Association).

My suspicions that NBA players aren't playing basketball were confirmed by the struggles of the U.S. "Dream Team" in the Olympic Games. This group of ball hogs and playground thugs were out of their element when they had to actually play basketball -- and play it as team. They found it tough to beat unheralded players who played basketball as a team.

They women's game in the U.S. these days more closely resembles actual basketball. And guess what? The U.S. women won Olympic Gold! I wonder what would happen if the U.S. women's team and played the U.S. men's team?

2. For decades, the feminist movement has worked to have women recognized as more than sex objects. Part of that has been working to give girls and women the save athletic opportunities as men.

So now that woman athletes are everywhere in the Olympics, what do they do? They dress like sex objects! Maybe not all of them, but it goes beyond the much-televised beach volleyball competition. Some of the runners and other athletes dress just as revealingly.

But what's with that beach volleyball? Why it it that the men can play the same game in baggy shorts and tank tops, but the women apparently can't get a full range of motion unless they're enjoying a permanent wedgie?

The phenomenon of the female athletes flaunting their bodies is open to various interpretations. Perhaps it shows just how far women have come, that a new generation of women don't feel it necessary to conceal their sex appeal in order to be taken seriously.

3. Have you noticed how some types of athletics seem to suffer from medal inflation? In swimming for instance, they've got different strokes, different lengths, and relays. Many swimmers win several medals. But if you're a shot putter, for instance, you're given just one shot. (No pun intended.) You don't get to try for a medal in "underhand shot put" and "side arm shot put." You don't get to try for several medals with different weights of shot. There's no "4x shot put relay." And there's certainly no "synchronized shot put."

What's with these synchronized events? First there was "synchronized swimming," now there's "synchronized diving." You could take anything, have two or more people do it together, and have a new event. "Synchronized pole vault" or "synchronized archery." "Synchronized balance beam" or "synchronized fencing." Why not? I mean, it's no different than synchronized diving.

And why are there races using all those different swimming strokes? Why not just see who can swim the fastest, using his or her best stroke? If a shark is pursuing you, all that matters is how fast you can swim, not which stroke you use doing it. Same thing if a lion is chasing you. And they have just one 100 meter sprint. They don't have the "100 meters running sideways" or the "100 meters skipping."

Saturday, August 28, 2004

John Ferry
Might I suggest a new nickname for the Democratic presidential hopeful?

John Ferry.

Back and forth, back and forth. Always navigating the currents of popular opinion. Back and forth.

John Ferry.

Friday, August 27, 2004

It's All About Me
I went to the Minnesota State Fair on opening day and came home with two anecdotes to go under the "It's All About Me" banner.

The first involves Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch, a man who never met a higher office he wouldn't like. The Attorney General's Office had a booth in the Education Building, as did other government entities such as the Minnesota House and the Minnesota Senate.

Hatch has sometimes been accused of using his office to promote himself. No evidence to the contrary at the Fair. Instead of a simple "Minnesota Attorney General" sign, which the taxpayers could pay for once, and then use for years, the backdrop of the booth reads: OFFICE OF MINNESOTA ATTORNEY GENERAL MIKE HATCH, with his name in the same huge letters as everything else.

The second anecdote illustrates the saying, "Better to be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."

My family had just ducked into a building to find a route that at least temporarily got us out of the rain. We were inside and out of the rain, as were the people immediately behind us, when we had to pause and wait for a group of people in front of us.

A man behind me started yelling, "Get moving! It's raining outside! Morons!"

As the people in front of me removed their raincoat hoods, I saw that they appeared to be mentally-challenged adults. Oh, and another of their group was in a wheelchair.

But I don't think Mr. Smooth even noticed. He just went off in another direction complaining to himself. I think it was apparent who the real moron was.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Outsourcing and Offshoring by Any Other Name
Let's see if I can sort all of this out. The Democrats blame President Bush for the loss of jobs in America. Jobs have gone overseas via "outsourcing" or "offshoring," they say, and that's a bad thing.

Meanwhile, Democrats are in favor of letting Americans buy their prescription drugs from Canada, giving the business to Canadian pharmacies and pharmacists, and putting American pharmacists out of work. But they don't worry about that, because the Canadian pills will be cheaper.

In addition, President Bush proposes closing some foreign military bases and bringing those troops home to American soil. That will mean more jobs for American civilians in support positions, and more American tax dollars spent in America.

But Democrats say that's a bad idea. Not good for national security, they say, but besides that, they say it will would cost more money to base those same troops domestically.

So, saving money by using foreign pharmacists -- good. Saving money by using foreign military bases -- good. Saving money by using foreign data entry or tech support personnel -- bad.

Must be some of that famous John Kerry "nuance." ("nuance": a French word meaning "speaks out of both sides of mouth")

Anyway, didn't we hear after 9/11 that one of the reasons the world supposedly hates us is that we don't care about them? That we're rich and arrogant and don't share our wealth? If that's so, then isn't doing business with developing countries, paying their people to do good jobs that pay more than they've ever thought possible, isn't that going to help them join the "haves" and the developed world? Isn't it going to make them more friendly toward the U.S.? Isn't it going to make developing countries less likely to be breeding grounds for terrorists?

You can't have it both ways.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

School Supplies Offer Lesson in Value of Private Property
I never know where I will get an idea for a column. This column was inspired by a DVD my son checked out from the library.

When the library started stocking DVD movies in addition to VHS tapes, I thought it was a real advance. Theoretically, the DVDs wouldn't get all worn out and beat up the way tape does. That's the same thing I thought when the library started stocking audio CDs. I thought they wouldn't get all scratched and full of skips, the way overplayed vinyl records did.

I was wrong.

Take the DVD my son checked out last week. When he played it, it got to a point where it got "stuck." It just kept playing the same few frames over and over. I checked to see if it was dirty, but it was apparent that the problem ran deeper than that. The playing side was full of visible scratches. I should have known; I'd seen it before.

But how does that happen? How does a disk from the library come to suffer such abuse? Why do people take such poor care of it? I think the answer is clear. They don't take care of it, because it's not theirs.

"Greed is good," is a famous line from Gordon Gecko, the Wall Street raider and villain played by Michael Douglas in the movie "Wall Street." It's often cited to sum up selfishness and the "excess" of the 1980s. But maybe Gordon Gecko was right; maybe greed really is good.

Now, don't get too excited. It all depends on how you define greed. If greed means you want all the pie for yourself, and that means taking it away from everyone else so they can starve, then greed is bad. But if greed means you work to obtain plenty of pie for yourself and your family, and everyone else is free to earn as much pie as they can, as well, then greed is good. In that light, greed is merely self interest.

And self interest, paired with private property, gives us "ownership." Ownership makes things work. It's the basis of capitalism, the only modern economic system that has been proven to work.

A lack of ownership is why people abuse items they check out from the library. They don't care about them; they didn't buy them, and they aren't keeping them. They have no self interest in taking care of them. A lack of ownership is why the "Yellow Bike" program failed in the Twin Cities several years back. With a bunch of communally-owned bikes left lying around town -- there for the taking or abusing -- no individual had any incentive to take care of them.

A lack of ownership is why putting five male college students in a house results in a mess. (Trust me on this one.) Someone may want to keep an orderly house, but he soon finds that without cooperation from all his roommates, his time is wasted. He does all the work, but reaps only a small share of the benefits, if any at all.

A lack of ownership doomed agriculture in the Soviet Union. On the state-owned collective farms, no individual farmer had any incentive -- self interest -- to make the farm succeed. He didn't reap extra benefits if he worked hard. He could let others do all the work and still reap the benefits of their efforts. The farms were woeful failures. Why should anyone work late on the harvest to beat the approaching storm, when he received the same meager state payment regardless?

Which brings us to school supplies. It's time once again for my kids to shop for school supplies. Every year, their elementary school gives them a list of school supplies to purchase. Ah, yes, I remember that well -- choosing just the right notebooks, pocket folders, three-ring binders and markers that I wanted to use during the upcoming school year. Picking out cool school supplies was the only good thing about going back to school.

Except now there's a catch. My kids buy the specified supplies, but they don't keep them. Instead, they take them to school and add them to the communal pile. When they need a notebook, for example, they'll end up using one someone else picked out.

What's the significance? When my kids go shopping for school supplies, they lack any self interest. They have no ownership interest in the items they pick out. Hence, they lack an incentive to make good (or fun) choices. As parents paying for the items, my wife's and my self interest says just get the cheapest supplies available; don't worry about how good they are. Our kids aren't going to use them, anyway.

That sounds an awfully lot like the system that doomed the Soviet economy to failure.

Now, I know what this is really all about. School officials know that if they left it up to each family to supply their own kids, there'd be lots of kids with no supplies. That tempts me to think that maybe notebooks and pencils and all that should just be provided by the school. But then I catch myself, realizing that goes against my own philosophy that school shouldn't be expected to take the place of parents. We've already got the schools providing breakfast, for crying out loud. I guess pouring some cereal in a bowl is just more than we can expect from some parents.

As a conservative who believes in helping others through charity rather than government entitlement, here's what I'd prefer: I'd rather that the school send a list that says, "Buy this set of items for your child, then if you'd like to help, buy an additional set for a child who may need them."

In that way, my kids could have the fun, educational and satisfying experience of carefully choosing the best supplies for themselves, along with the fun, educational and satisfying experience of carefully choosing the best supplies for someone else. We do something similar every Christmas, picking out items to fill shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, and the kids really enjoy picking out items that they think some unknown child will love to get.

I suppose an objection to my plan is that we wouldn't want one kid pointing at another, saying, "I bought the supplies he's using!" But there are simple ways around that. Make sure the donors and recipients are in different rooms. Or don't donate as a "set" to any one kid. Pool the donated supplies and mix them up; just because one kid has the same folder another kid picked out doesn't mean he didn't get it himself. Or let the kids feel "big," that always goes over well. Let them pick out supplies for a different grade. Tell them, "Now that you've finished third grade and are going into fourth, you know what a third grader needs. Pick out some supplies that a third grader would like."

I'd rather do it that way. I'd be helping make sure all the kids are supplied, but my kids would still get the satisfaction that comes with a sense of ownership, making their own choices and living with them for the duration of the school year.

After all, aren't the schools always telling us choices are good for our kids? Aren't they always telling the kids they need to make good choices? Or is that only when it comes to picking out which color of free condoms to choose?

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Hamm Controversy Demonstrates "Let's Make a Deal" Theory
You've probably heard too much already about this controversy over the gymnastics scoring that gave American Paul Hamm the gold medal in the men's all-around competition. At first, it was being reported as though there was simply a math error made in the final tallies, and the South Korean had clearly won. But not so fast. As more details come out, it turns out that the controversy surrounds whether judges made the correct, arbitrary scoring decision on an event prior to the final round. It wasn't just a matter of adding up final points totals.

This is a wonderful example of what I talked about in my July 29 column, "Real Life Is Not 'Let's Make a Deal.'" You can't just go back into the middle of the competition, change one thing, and leave everything else the same. With a different result at that point, it's not certain that all subsequent events would have played out the same. Having different scores and different rankings, various competitors may have either taken more risks or performed more conservatively. Their mindsets may have been different, with different mental attitudes affecting their performances. They might have been more or less confident. If you haven't done so already, please read my July 29 column.

But, an awfully lot of people can't accept uncertainty, ambiguity, or the fact that not everything was done perfectly. They want a recount! And remember, this is the country where, less than four years ago, we learned that half of the electorate finds it perfectly reasonable that we "reinterpret" ballots, reassigning votes based on who we think people "meant" to vote for (Gore instead of Buchanan), thus changing who becomes the next Leader of the Free World. That's a lot bigger than some gold medal.

On the lighter side, here's an Olympics-related funny I'd like to share. It's a correction of a sports story from the July 13, 2004, St. Paul Pioneer Press:

Yes, well, other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play? They got nothing right, except the guy's name. It's almost like a parody correction that would run in Mad magazine.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Wal-Mart Rolls Back The Mystery
I saw something very interesting Friday night on "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer" on PBS. (Hey, it came on after "EastEnders." No, I'm not a soap opera addict; just a bit of an Anglophile.)

There was a lengthy story on Wal-Mart. Specifically, the focus was on how Wal-Mart uses efficiency to keep prices down. Featured parts of the mega-retailer's efficiency puzzle were a computerized, partially-automated warehouse, and computerized store inventory control.

Then they moved on to the workers. They showed how workers start each shift with a song/cheer to remind themselves that the customer comes first. Then -- in a move that clearly surprised the PBS news people -- the workers said how proud they were to work for the world's largest retailer. When you tell people you work for Wal-Mart, they said, everyone knows who that is.

(This must have been a shock to the PBS-types, who would probably send their children to a public school before they'd let them take a job working for Wal-Mart.)

Well, they couldn't end the story with viewers thinking Wal-Mart was a good place to work, so they had to give us a different view. They talked to a group of former employees who are suing Wal-Mart. Now, maybe they have good reasons to sue, but if they do, they didn't talk about those reasons. Instead, they complained that Wal-Mart expects you to work hard. (The horror!) And, specifically, they didn't like the "10 foot rule," which says that whenever a customer comes within 10 feet of a store employee, that employee must smile, greet the customer, offer help, or in some pleasant way acknowledge the customer.

One disgruntled former employee complained that she couldn't be expected to do that. Sometimes she has other things on her mind, or she's just having a bad day, she said.

The disgruntled former employees all seemed rather, well, disgruntled. They seemed like pessimistic, gloomy people with chips on their shoulders. They didn't look like they even knew how to smile.

My mind must have been thinking on this while I slept, because the next morning I had a revelation. Wal-Mart is a Southern company. The proud employees they showed were at a store in the South. We've heard of Southern Hospitality. These workers thought it was perfectly natural to work hard and to be pleasant to customers (who are the reason they have a job).

But, I don't thing the disgruntled employees were Southerners. Could this be cultural -- a regional thing? Could it be that the Wal-Mart philosophy works at home in the South, but cynical Easterners, for example, have trouble buying into the concept?

Going even further, could this be an example of "Two Americas?" Does the Wal-Mart concept work in places where people are friendly, work hard, and take pride in their jobs, while it runs into trouble in places where the people have chips on their shoulders, don't think they should have to work hard, and think everybody owes them something?

Could it be that happy Wal-Mart employees are Bush voters (Red States), while disgruntled employees are Kerry voters (Blue States) -- who look to lawsuits (John Edwards) to get what they want?

Might the same regional, cultural, differences explain not only why different workers have such different views of Wal-Mart, but also why the electorate is so polarized, looking at the same candidates and seeing entirely different men?

Wal-Mart: Bringing an epiphany to Middle America.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Dave Goes to White Castle, Ramblin' in an AMC
Everyone knows the now-ubiquitous fast-food hamburger business started back in 1955, when Ray Kroc opened his first franchised McDonalds restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois. No? Then it must have gotten its start in 1940, when Mac and Dick McDonald opened the original McDonalds drive-in in San Bernardino, California.

No, that wasn't it, either.

While we may equate fast-food burgers with McDonalds, which now has about 13,000 restaurants in the U.S. alone, that company isn't the originator of the all-American burger concept. No that honor goes to lowly White Castle.

There's a fascinating story about White Castle in my St. Paul Pioneer Press today (Aug. 20, 2004). Unfortunately, it's hidden on page 2 of the food section, and I expect a lot of people will miss it. (Maybe they should have run it in sports, where the typical White Castle consumer would be more likely to see it. Or how about the business section?)

According to the New York Times News Service story by Paul Lukas, White Castle -- which opened its first restaurant in 1921 -- hasn't gotten credit where credit is due. The little restaurant that could has often been there, done that, way ahead of the pack.

For instance, this year brought a movie called "Super Size Me," in which the filmmaker Morgan Spurlock lived solely on McDonalds fare for a month. Already been done. Lukas reports that in a 1930 promotion, the chain arranged for a medical student to live for 13 weeks on nothing but White Castle burgers and water. According to the company, the student remained in good health, eating 20 to 24 hamburgers a day.

Lukas writes that White Castle was an early promoter of the take-out concept in the 1930s, with the slogan, "Buy 'em by the sack." Lukas also says White Castle was the first vertically-integrated restaurant operation, creating one subsidiary to build the restaurants, and another one to make the company's paper products.

Lukas gathered much of his information from David Gerard Hogan's book "Selling 'Em by the Sack" (New York University Press, 1997), a history of the burger chain.

According to Lukas' story, White Castle represents a triumph of marketing. That's because when the company began in 1921, "The Jungle," Upton Sinclair's expose of the meat packing industry, was still fresh in the public mind. Ground beef was seen as suspect -- a health risk. So a public relations campaign was needed to make the restaurant a success.

Lukas reports that the first step was the name: "White" to signify purity; "Castle" to signify strength. Founder Edgar Walter Ingram was fanatical about cleanliness and hygiene, going so far as to have the restaurants grind their own meat in full public view -- and from high-grade cuts of beef -- to demonstrate that it was fresh and clean. Lukas doesn't say so, but I'll bet that desire to demonstrate cleanliness also explains the white and stainless-steel decorating scheme in the restaurant interiors.

So why does White Castle seem to have such a down-scale reputation? Author Hogan explains, "Part of it is because White Castle began marketing to the urban working class. And their restaurants were located in areas that eventually became the urban underclass, which leads to a lowbrow profile."

Plus, Lukas reports, Ingram refused to take on debt or franchise the White Castle concept. That limited growth. So much so, that there are now only 392 White Castle restaurants, compared to McDonalds' 13,000.

In contrast, it seems to me that Ray Kroc took off with the car-oriented, drive-in McDonalds concept at just the right time -- just as the car culture, freeways, and the suburbs were exploding across the nation. Kroc took the company public and rode the aforementioned trends to success. Meanwhile, the slow-to-expand White Castle was left relying on its existing restaurants in older, pre-automobile-culture parts of town. The very parts of town that came to be seen as less desirable; a reputation that rubbed off on White Castle itself.

So, really, it seems to me, both White Castle and McDonalds are originators. White Castle may have been the first fast food burger chain, but McDonalds created the automobile-oriented fast food concept that we know today. Left to White Castle, it seems doubtful that the freeways and suburban thoroughfares would today be lined with fast food joints. We have Ray Kroc to thank -- or blame -- for that.

White Castle is like so many originators, in that they get poked fun at, while others reap the big profits. Apple Computer, for instance. Or American Motors Corporation (AMC).

Even though AMC has been gone for years, people are still cracking jokes about the "funny looking" cars AMC produced in the 1970s. As is so often the case with innovators, the innovator went bust, leaving behind others to reap the fruits of innovation. But while people have been laughing, the AMC legacy has quietly gotten its revenge.

AMC was ahead of its time with smaller cars that still provided ample interior space. For 20 years, automakers have been emulating those "funny looking" little AMC cars. I became vividly aware of this in the mid '80s, when I saw a then-new Ford Tempo parked next to an AMC Hornet (full disclosure: it was my AMC Hornet!). The two cars were almost identical in size, shape and proportion. Since then, the Hornet has proved to be the prototype for an endless stream of ubiquitous compact sedans, foreign and domestic. And the "funny looking" Hornet station wagon lives on in the guise of the compact Ford Escort station wagon, among other popular models.

Since then, the "funny looking" AMC Gremlin has proved to be the forerunner of innumerable popular compact hatchbacks. And even that ugly AMC Pacer lives on in today's rounded, large-windowed bubble cars. If you ever find yourself following a Chevy Caprice Classic station wagon, take a good look at the rear view of that car. The shape is unmistakably Pacer-esque. I like to think of the Caprice Classic wagon as a "stretched Pacer."

Ramble on...

Was He EVER Their Mayor?
About these people who wear "He's Not My Mayor" buttons, and and are starting a petition drive to recall St. Paul mayor Randy Kelly: Was he EVER their mayor? Remember, he was not the DFL's endorsed candidate, and he just barely beat the DFL faithful's preferred candidate -- council member Jay Benanav. I don't think these folks voted for Randy Kelly in the first place, so how could he have "betrayed" them by endorsing President Bush? And don't forget, Kelly himself was endorsed by Republican outgoing mayor Norm Coleman!

In a news story about the recall effort, a leader says that they have to stop Kelly from "using his nonpartisan office to further his political ambitions." Now wait just a minute. If his office is nonpartisan, than how come the DFLers are so appalled that he endorsed a Republican president? Shouldn't he be able to endorse whomever he thinks will be the best for St. Paul?

By the way, I saw Mayor Kelly at Highland Fest. When I walked by, I gave him a thumbs up and said, "Hang in there, Mayor!"

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Don't Expect Much, and You Won't Be Disappointed: Light Rail
Metro Transit, which operates the new light rail line in Minneapolis, keeps trying to sell us on what a success it is. First, the agency crowed that ridership exceeded projections in July, the first full month of operations.

Well, so what? Maybe they're just not very good at projections. Or maybe if you project low enough, you know you'll be able to claim success. (Sort of like the baseball player who didn't try very hard to reach ground balls, because if you never touched it, it wasn't an error.) My point is, whether or not they reached projected ridership is irrelevant. It doesn't mean anything.

Look, if I decided to build a for-profit light rail line, I'd have a business plan. That plan would include a projected ridership level. But before I could get financing and proceed with my light rail line, I would have to show that my projected ridership would be high enough TO PAY FOR THE BLASTED THING! In such a case, once the thing was built, if actual ridership exceeded projected ridership, there would be real reason to celebrate: my project would be a success, because it was PROFITABLE!

But there's none of that with the publicly-owned and highly-subsidized light rail line. Exceeding ridership projections doesn't really prove anything.

Now, they've moved on to bragging that passenger revenue has also exceeded expectations. So what? Again, if this was a for-profit endeavor, I would have had a business plan that included a projected level of passenger revenue, and that (realistic) projection would have had to be high enough to pay for the train. If my train was exceeding projected revenue, I would indeed have reason to celebrate. It would mean I was making even more money than I had planned to.

But here, big deal. They can set their expectations as low as they want to start with, and exceeding those expectations doesn't mean anything. It doesn't mean the thing is paying for itself. Just how much revenue did they take in in July? $360,000. They had projected $255,000. The more it takes in, the better, I agree. But it's still a money pit.

What did it cost to build it? $800 million? I think that's the last figure I heard. Let's break that down. What's the debt service on that? At 5%, that's $40 million a year in interest alone! Over $3 million a month! (And if the government didn't need to borrow the money, then there's the opportunity cost -- what else could have been done with the money instead.)

And remember, that's just the interest on the cost of building it. It doesn't include the $800 million itself, or the day-to-day operating costs. And they're all excited about taking in $360,000! I'll bet the monthly operating costs alone exceed that! Heck, they must be paying more than that just in salaries.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

I Admit It: I'm a Language Snob
One of my pet peeves, language division, is when reporters use "admitted." For example, "President X admitted that the plan has not gone as well as he had hoped." Or, "Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire admitted that his team is in a hitting slump." Recently, I heard that a Minnesota State Fair representative had admitted that there were trees on the fairgrounds suffering from Dutch elm disease.

What's to "admit"? "Admitted" suggests two things: 1) the person has done something bad, and 2) he has been trying to hide that fact. Is there any reason to think that the State Fair deliberately infected its own trees, and hoped to conceal the fact. When the Twins' bats are failing them, does anyone really think its because the manager had a sinister plan to put the team into a hitting slump?

Some things happen. That's a fact. What's to "admit"? No one has been accused of a crime. In most cases, the reporter could use "agreed," "acknowledged," or simply "said."

I had only one journalism course in college, but I recall the professor telling us not to use "admit" unless it was referring to a criminal confession.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The Topic That Won't Die
This topic of style-over-substance just doesn't want to go away. Check out the "Dilbert" cartoon that appears today, with Dilbert in the role of John Kerry:

Here's another thing that puzzles me: If President Bush's difficulties with the English language mean that he's stupid and unqualified to be President, then why do so many liberals bristle at the idea that all of our young people should learn to speak properly, even when it's Bill Cosby saying so? Don't they understand that potential employers -- and college admissions officers -- will make the same judgements, based on speaking ability, that they make about the President?

Obama/Edwards at Odds

I've written previously (July 31) that VP candidate John Edwards is an odd person to deliver the "Two Americas" message of haves and have-nots, who can't succeed without the government taking care of them. That's because he rose from humble beginnings, using education and his own talents to become both rich and powerful. If he can do it, why does he think others can't?

Now I see that the "Two America's" message would seem to be at odds with Barack Obama's well-received speech at the Democratic national convention. Obama said his father was a foreign student, "born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats, went to school in a tin-roof shack ... his father - my grandfather - was a cook, a domestic servant to the British.

"They imagined me going to the best schools in the land, even though they weren't rich, because in a generous America you don't have to be rich to achieve your potential," he said. "In no other country on earth is my story even possible."

Take that, John Edwards. This is still America, the land of opportunity. And the guy Kerry now wishes he had picked in your place knows it.

So why do Democrats cheer both messages? Because all they can see is style, not substance. If two men say conflicting things, but they both say them well, then they must both be right!

Good Words from Obama

Here are some other thoughts from the famous Obama speech. I know it's political talk, but we should all remember the truth at the heart of it.

Speaking of "the pundits" who "like to slice-and-dice our country into red states and blue states - red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats," Obama said, "But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and have gay friends in the red states. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people ... all of us defending the United States of America."

Now, if only his name didn't sound so much like "Osama." Tough break, fella.

Monday, August 16, 2004

And Here We Go Yet Again...
Sunday's paper arrived with yet another wonderful example of valuing style over substance (see previous 2 columns.), this time in the funny papers. The "Doonesbury" comic strip featured a collection of "Bushisms," quotes from the president in which he got tongue-tied or misspoke. That's something we all do, some more than others, but we don't have someone writing down and publishing all of our mistakes. Instead, the people we're talking to figure out what we meant to say, and just let it slide.

But no such luck if you're a Republican office holder.

Some of these purported "Bushisms" are pretty humorous. I can't deny that. However, it's clear to me what he was trying to say, and what really matters is that I agree with or don't object to the content of what he was saying.

In contrast, no matter how eloquently John Kerry says, "I'm going to raise your taxes," I'm not buying the message. No matter how suavely Bill Clinton says, "I have an opening for an intern. Do you have a daughter?" I'm not impressed.

It's what they say that counts; not how they say it.

Fair and Balanced? Not the Comics.

Since we've mentioned "Doonesbury," this is a good time to bring up another thought I've been keeping in the hopper. Garry Trudeau's strip a few weeks ago featured a fictitious conversation with the owner of Fox News. Trudeau's radio host character asks, "Mr. Murdoch, can a network that has five times more conservative guests than progressive, seriously call itself 'balanced'?"

That's a good one, coming as it does on the comics page. Let's inventory the comics pages in my newspaper and see how balanced they are. Let's see.....I've just counted seven daily comics that regularly take shots at conservative positions and/or Republicans. Now, let's count the other side...Well, "The Wizard of Id" occasionally takes an oblique shot at liberals. But that's it.

Fair and balanced? Liberals can't link. Nor do they seem to recognize irony.

The thing is, who's more tolerant and open-minded here? Garry Trudeau is miffed that one -- out of many -- news network might have a conservative bias. Meanwhile, I've never protested that my comics aren't "fair and balanced" enough. I just accept that as the way it is. Liberals seem to be more inclined to create comic strips, or at least they're more successful at it.

Unless there's some sort of left-wing comic strip conspiracy. Hmmmm....

Sunday, August 15, 2004

As I Was Saying.... Style Tops Substance
As I was saying in my previous column, we've got a lot of people who vote based on style, rather than substance. I wrote that Friday afternoon. As if to prove my point for me, Saturday morning's paper (St. Paul Pioneer Press) greeted me with this headline on a story about Sen. John Edwards' visit to the state:

"Vice presidential candidate John Edwards energizes a Rosemount crowd with Olympic metaphors and a magnetic speaking style."

It seems that even supposedly educated and objective journalists aren't capable of looking beneath the flash.

The Edwards groupies were clear on why they were there. Said one woman, "I just love him. I love the fact that he's so upbeat and outgoing. He makes you feel good."

Another woman said she thinks Edwards "has a great vision for America -- and I really like his personality."

(Sounds like their ideal candidate might be Barney the Dinosaur.)

A man said he had come to hear a unique orator. "I want to hear somebody who can speak well, and I want to hear what he has to say." (At least content got the silver medal with this guy.)

The triumph of style over substance was best summed up by yet another woman, who said of Edwards' speech: "It was energizing and very optimistic. And the ladies around me kept saying what a good looking guy he is."

Yeah, he's just dreamy. Isn't this the party of the feminist movement?

And to think, her vote counts just as much as mine.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Slick Not the Same as Smart
Our culture increasingly values style over substance. That's not so critical when it comes to art, movies, what cars people drive, what restaurants they frequent, or what products succeed in our consumer culture.

But it is important when it extends into public affairs. Increasingly, and maybe it's due to so many people knowing nothing except what they see on TV, people are judging other people on style, not substance.

I'm reminded of this by the emergence of Illinois politician Barack Obama on the national political scene. Obama has become a darling of the Democratic party and the media after giving a televised speech at the Democratic national convention. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Obama has no substance. I think he does. But I think he has quickly become a star just because he is a good speaker -- not because of WHAT he has to say, but because of HOW he says it.

This takes me back to January, 1992, and then-presidential nominee hopeful Bill Clinton. Bill and Hillary made an appearance on "60 Minutes" immediately following the Super Bowl. They were appearing to answer allegations that he was a philanderer.

Up until then, I couldn't have identified a photo of Bill Clinton. I knew nothing about him. I had had no chance to form an opinion of him. This was his one chance to form a first impression with me.

And when the Clintons' TV appearance was over, this was my reaction: "He's toast. His campaign is done. He sat there so smugly in front of the nation, lying and smirking, expecting us to believe his tall tales, and he still thinks he could be President? Give me a break! He's done. I wouldn't even buy a used car from that guy."

Remember, I had no preconceived notions about him up to that point. He was a blank slate to me.

But my B.S. detector must be more advanced than the average American's, because that "60 Minutes" TV appearance became known as the turning point that saved Clinton's campaign, eventually leading to his election -- and reelection -- to the White House.

Likewise with Red McCombs, the owner of the Minnesota Vikings football team. I haven't trusted that carpetbagging Texan -- who is literally a used car salesman -- ever since he flew in to buy the team. I feared immediately that he would try to move the team. But the team went 15-1 in Red's first year as owner, and everyone loved him. Since then, of course, he's been demanding a new stadium, and threatening to move the team. (Look out if he shortens the team name to Kings. Remember how Norm Green shortened the North Stars to the Stars before he took them south to Dallas? And funny how Red bought the team and immediately discovered he "needed" a new stadium built for him. Didn't he check it out before he bought it? He said he didn't realize how bad the stadium was. Sorry, Red, used football teams are sold "as is," just like used cars. I wonder if I bought a used car from him, then said I didn't realize how bad it was, would he give me a new car to replace it?)

But people seem to think that someone who is a fast talker is smart and honest. And someone who doesn't have all the answers, who has to stop and think, who stumbles over words -- he's stupid! That's why critics keeps saying President Bush is stupid. Because he isn't a smooth talker.

Well, my experience is just the opposite. When you're taking in sales pitches, it's the smooth-talking salesman who has all the answers that you've got to look out for. The one you can trust -- the one you'll be able to count on for follow-up after you've made the purchase -- is the one who says, "That's a good question. I don't know. Let me check on that." That's the guy you can trust.

After all, have you ever met a used car salesman who didn't have all the answers?

August 12, 2004

A Little Constitutional Knowledge Is a Dangerous Thing: 1st & 2nd Amendments
When I undertook this website columnist endeavor, I wondered if I'd be able to come up with something to write about every day. So far, that's been no problem. I've got a whole list of topics to cover, but every day seems to bring something new to the fore.

Today's thoughts were sparked by a particularly nasty letter to the editor in the Pioneer Press. I'm including it here for you to see. Hopefully this falls under "fair usage" for criticism under copyright law, and the Knight-Ridder attorneys won't have me hogtied. Give the letter a read first, then come back to my commentary.

OK, calm down. There's nothing wrong with you; you're not the idiot here.

This letter should serve to remind us of how fortunate we are that our Founding Fathers had the foresight to give us the First Amendment. The hate-filled letter writer, who says people should be able to celebrate their faith, but would "require them to do so in private," has a lot of company. Throughout history, people have had to keep their religious practices -- even their religious identities -- private, or risk persecution and even death. The Romans killed the early Christians in the Coliseum. Many of the European colonists, being of the "wrong" denomination of Christianity, came to these shores to escape persecution. In the last century, the regimes of Stalin, Mao and Hitler show what can happen to individuals who don't keep their religion a secret from the state. In parts of Africa right now, people are being rounded up and hacked to death with machetes because they dare to practice the "wrong" religion.

But the letter writer exhibits a glaring ignorance of our Constitution. The First Amendment gives him freedom FROM religion only in the sense that he can not be required to believe in or practice a religion unless he wishes to (I say "only," but in human history, that's no small development.) The government cannot compel him to attend the Luis Palau Festival, and the government certainly cannot compel him to espouse faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior. However, he has never been granted freedom FROM religion in the sense that he should be able to go through life without ever noticing anyone else practicing religion.

The Constitution, just like the Bible, is often quoted inaccurately or out of context, in order to justify all sorts of strange ideas. Here is what the U.S. Constitution says about freedom of religion. Please note, there is no mention of the oft-cited "separation of church and state."

Amendments, Article 1: Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Please notice, that refers specifically to Congress. So what does the Minnesota State Constitution have to say about religious freedom? Let's go to Article 1, the Bill of Rights.

Sec. 16. FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE; NO PREFERENCE TO BE GIVEN TO ANY RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENT OR MODE OF WORSHIP. The enumeration of rights in this constitution shall not deny or impair others retained by and inherent in the people. The right of every man to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience shall never be infringed; nor shall any man be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any religious or ecclesiastical ministry, against his consent; nor shall any control of or interference with the rights of conscience be permitted, or any preference be given by law to any religious establishment or mode of worship; but the liberty of conscience hereby secured shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness or justify practices inconsistent with the peace or safety of the state, nor shall any money be drawn from the treasury for the benefit of any religious societies or religious or theological seminaries.

Sec. 17. RELIGIOUS TESTS AND PROPERTY QUALIFICATIONS PROHIBITED. No religious test or amount of property shall be required as a qualification for any office of public trust in the state. No religious test or amount of property shall be required as a qualification of any voter at any election in this state; nor shall any person be rendered incompetent to give evidence in any court of law or equity in consequence of his opinion upon the subject of religion.

The First Amendment and the Minnesota Bill of Rights both protect religious thought and practice, but prohibit the government from funding religion or favoring one religion over another. In allowing the Luis Palau Festival on the Capitol grounds, the state is not establishing religion. Rather, the state is merely ensuring that there is no government discrimination against religion, which would be the case if a religious group's festival was not allowed to take place on the very same site that has hosted many other festivals and rallies. This site has hosted abortion rights rallies, pro-life rallies, peace rallies, a KKK rally, affordable housing rallies, gay rights rallies, student aid rallies, all sorts of protests, and even the Taste of Minnesota music festival (which evidently didn't make any noise).

There would be a problem if the state allowed the Roman Catholics to have a festival, but not the Lutherans. Or the Jews, but not the Muslims. That would not be in keeping with the intention of the two constitutions. But as long as all groups are treated equally, there is no problem.

The letter writer objects to religious activity on "public land," and says people should worship in private. I wonder if he objects to people driving to church on public roads? And what if they drive home again, singing the closing hymn in their cars? They'd better keep the windows up, so no other drivers are offended, I guess.

That same First Amendment that guarantees religious freedom guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. That gives the letter writer the assurance that he can express his views in the Pioneer Press without fear that either state police or church police will come knocking down his door in response.

We should all thank the Founding Fathers -- and God -- for the First Amendment.

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- the right to bear arms -- is also frequently misrepresented by those who don't like it. Here's what it says:

Amendments, Article 2: A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

One day, I heard a caller to a radio show explaining that the key part of this is the words "well-regulated." He said that meant there should be lots of laws limiting -- regulating -- gun ownership.

Whoa, Nellie! He clearly doesn't know what the term means. He thinks it means there should be lots of regulations -- laws. That might be the first thing that springs to mind for him in this age of government regulation, but that's not what the Founders had in mind. Let's go to the dictionary on this one. Here's what the American Heritage Dictionary has to say:

Regulate: 1. To control or direct according to rule, principle, or law. 2. To adjust to a particular specification or requirement: regulate temperature. 3. To adjust (a mechanism) for accurate and proper functioning. 4. To put or maintain in order: regulate one's eating habits.

Look closely at definitions 3 and 4, that's how the word is used in the Second Amendment. The key words are "proper functioning," and "to put or maintain in order." A "well-regulated" militia is like a "well-oiled" machine. That means it's in good shape. It works well. It functions properly.

And that's what the Second Amendment means. "Well-regulated" means it should be a good, strong militia, not a limited one.

August 11, 2004

Everyone's a Minority/One-Drop Rule in Reverse
Accompanying this entry you should see a graphic scanned from a St. Paul schools newspaper. It contains some student demographic information that I find very interesting. First of all, note the racial breakdown of St. Paul public school students. A very, very small plurality (not majority) is White, with nearly as large a percentage Asian and Black. Hispanics make up 11.8%, not an insignificant percentage.

So what? I just think it's interesting to keep these figures in mind whenever we hear talk about "minorities this" or "minorities that." Everyone's a minority group in the St. Paul schools.

But I question the figure for Asian students. I suspect most of the new Hmong refugees expected to settle in St. Paul will instead head for Owatonna, where State Senator Dick Day doesn't think the schools "suck."

But seriously, what someone like Day should look at here is the figures for limited-English speaking kids (33.5%), home language other than English (42%), and eligibility for free & reduced price lunch (65.5%). The case is not that St. Paul's school's "suck," Sen. Day. My kids are doing great. They're learning more than I learned at the same age, in a lily-white rural district. The case is that St. Paul's schools serve a disproportionate number of kids who are starting school with extra challenges. Sen. Day, you confuse cause and effect.

But this is also a good chance to talk about another of my pet peeves: how we obsess over race, and the terms we use. For instance, the school district here refers to "White Americans," "Asian American," and "African Americans." To be consistent, why not "European Americans"? If race is really what you're after, then why not "Caucasian", "Negroid," and "Oriental"? But those terms have gone out of use, the last two because they were considered offensive. But if the schools use a color -- "white" -- to describe one group, then why use geographic terms for the other groups? Why not "white," "black," and "yellow"? I realize none of those colors are really accurate, but at least it would linguistically consistent.

I find the whole thing confusing. The term "African American" is more of a travelogue than a racial identification. Is someone of Egyptian descent an "African American"? How about Teresa Heinz Kerry? She was born in Africa. Former Vikings kicker Gary Andersen, a white guy from South Africa -- how about him? How about a recent, dark-skinned immigrant whose ancestors lived for generations in the Caribbean, Canada, or Brazil -- is he now an "African American"?

Like I said, it's confusing. So I propose we just forget about defining everyone by race. We're all human, isn't that enough?

And geneticists studying the human genome now tell us that there is so little difference between the "races," that we really don't have any scientific basis for racial classification at all.

Yet, people are obsessed with race. Particularly the people who yell the most loudly for an end to racism. (Now that's ironic.)

In the old days in the American South, there was a "one drop" rule. If a person had even "one drop" of Black blood in his or her heritage, that person was considered Black, and was subject to discrimination. This was a bad thing. (Both the "one drop" rule, and the discrimination.)

Yet now, we seem to have a new version of the "one drop" rule. There are those who want to celebrate the "first Black this" and the "first Black that." But who's really Black, anyway? We've heard ad infinitum that Tiger Woods is the "first Black golfer" to do this or that. Yet, what is Tiger's heritage? His father is of mixed ancestry, less than fully African. His mother is from Thailand. I'm no geneticist, but my math skills are pretty good, and I can figure out that means that Tiger is less than half "Black," and the single biggest component of his racial make-up is Asian. Yet we never hear him called an "Asian" or "Asian American" golfer. Why is that? It makes no sense. Maybe we should just call him a golfer.

Minnesota's own artist-once-again-known-as Prince has one Black parent, one White parent. But he's always categorized as Black.

St. Paul city architect Clarence Wigington, who designed structures such as the Highland water tower, has been celebrated in recent years as the Minnesota's "first registered architect" or the nation's "first Black municipal architect." Yet, he was of mixed race.

Likewise, the actress Halle Berry, now starring in "Catwoman." There was a big fuss about her being the first Black to win the Academy Award for Best Actress, for her role in "Monster's Ball." But if what I've read is correct, she has one Black parent and one White parent. Maybe it should be noted that the first African-American Best Actress winner was really Charlize Theron, the fair-skinned, blonde-haired native of South Africa, who won this year for her role in "Monster." (What is it with African Americans having to be associated with "monsters" in order to win an award? I wonder what Chris Rock would have to say about that?")

And Illinois politician Barack Obama, the current darling of the Democratic Party. Again, if I remember correctly what I saw on "60 Minutes," he is also of mixed race. (Please correct me on any of these if I don't have my facts straight.)

It's like the "one drop" rule all over again, but this time used for opposite purposes.

Can't we just forget this racial obsession? After all, isn't there a word for categorizing, labeling and judging people by the color of their skin? And isn't that word....racism?

August 10, 2004

Boy Scout Camp Seems Like an Alternate Universe in 2004.....
And So Does Atheist Camp
My 8-year-old and I spent last weekend at Cub Scout camp, where my son:

--Attended a flag raising ceremony and said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning.

--Said grace before meals.

--Watched campfire skits that included make-believe weapons.

--Used a real hammer and a real saw to make a tool box.

--Learned to use a pocketknife to whittle.

--Learned to shoot a bow and arrow.

--Learned to shoot a BB gun.

--And was surrounded by teenage counselors who were polite, hard-working, responsible, yet fun-loving role models.

Thank you, Boy Scouts of America!

Now, compare that to what our kids get from the public schools, TV and the politically-correct culture. In the America of 2004, the Boys Scouts seem like some sort of alternate reality. If you prefer the Scout camp reality I've described to our "enlightened," politically-correct reality of 2004, I encourage you to support the Boy Scouts of America.

In an example of really good timing, I returned to a Monday Pioneer Press story about a camp for kids who are "atheists, humanists and free thinkers." Before I comment on that, let me get this out of the way:


Comparing the atheist camp to the scout camp, I felt sorry for the atheist kids. I don't think they had nearly as much fun. For instance, they had to sit through classes on evolution, critical thinking, game theory, overpopulation, and ethics.

Now let's think about that. That's an interesting mix of topics. And it seems to show some confused thinking. I've always wondered why, if you're an atheist, should you care about ethics? If we are all just accidents of evolution, which is still going on, then what do ethics have to do with anything? Critical thinking tells me that it is my evolutionary duty not to be ethical or moral. For instance, not killing a weaker neighbor and taking his wife in order to propagate my stronger genes is a crime against evolution. It's unethical to refrain from doing so.

And overpopulation isn't a problem. Nature has ways of dealing with overpopulation. If we try to control it ourselves, then we're "playing god" with the real god -- natural evolution. We should allow it to take care of itself, as game theory probably says it will. In short, if we aren't created by God, if we are just some random accident of the universe (which came from where, exactly?), then we have no obligation to our fellow man. Showing concern for people other than ourselves is an evolutionary weakness. The cheetah preys first on the weakest gazelle. Doing so strengthens the herd. That is the way of the great god evolution.

Evidently, atheists are just as capable of being hypocrites as are religious people. "We celebrate Hanukkah. My mom's Jewish," one kid said. "We don't, like, say prayers. We just give out presents."

Another atheist kid explained, "Most of the time I'm an atheist, but sometimes I'm an agnostic. Instead of Christmas, we celebrate winter solstice. We get gifts."

So it seems that even atheists long for some sort of religious practice. Atheist psychologists say that's because our brains have evolved to be wired to want some sort of god. Theologians say that's because God made us, so of course we long for Him. Anyway, the newspaper story reports:

"During a lecture designed to debunk astrology, the campers still were interested in how many stars the newspaper horoscope gave them that day."

The newspaper story says the kids are happy to have a camp where they can feel comfortable in their atheism. "It's better than Boy Scout camp," said one 16-year-old. "Whenever we ate, we had to do a prayer. It got rather annoying."

"Kids come here and they cry," said Edwin Kagan, the camp's founder. "They say it's the first time in their life that they're able to express that they don't believe in God."

Or maybe, just maybe, they cry because they realize what they've gotten themselves into. Up until this point, being an atheist may have been a way for them to rebel against the establishment. Now that they're surrounded by like thinkers, they realize what they've gotten themselves into. Sort of like the young person who gets a swastika tattoo to annoy his parents, then one day realizes all his friends are skinheads. "What have I gotten myself into?" he wonders.

But I don't know just how open-minded and tolerant these self-described "free thinkers" really are. Kagan said he founded the camp for atheists in response to the Boy Scouts' stand in favor of a Higher Power. "I was outraged when the Boy Scouts announced they would not take those dirty little atheist boys and they were kicking people out."

Well, it just so happens that belief in God is a tenet of the Boy Scouts. If you don't like that, then don't join. In the same way, disbelief in God is a tenet of the atheist camp. So believers will stay out of your organization.

But as is usually the case, these folks aren't really interested in freedom OF religion; they want freedom FROM religion. Said one camper: "I don't like it when kids come to school with a cross necklace. I think you have enough time in church to celebrate Jesus. I don't think you need to bring it into the classroom."

And especially not into evolution class, right?

Next he'll want to ban prayer caps on Jews and head scarves on Muslim women. Free thinkers? Yeah, right.

August 9, 2004

Willing to Make Others Pay More...
I mentioned in my August 5 column that we host a National Night Out ice cream social at our house. You see, I am a block leader. I took it upon myself to organize my neighbors and help them get to know each other. I think that's worth doing, and it makes for a better community. I freely and willingly spend my time -- and some of my money -- to do that. Each September, we have a block party. I send in my own money for the permit and the barricades to close the street. If some of the neighbors gather up money to give me, that's great, but some of them probably don't even realize that someone has to pay. It doesn't matter to me. I don't make a big deal out of asking others for money, because I think it's money well spent. I'm willing to pay more for a better neighborhood.

I don't like to even mention that, because I'm not looking for praise. But I want to make the point that actions speak more loudly than words.

If you've driven around in the Twin Cities, you've no doubt seen those "Willing to Pay More for a Better Minnesota" signs stuck self-righteously in some people's yards. Those signs are part of a campaign in favor of higher taxes in Minnesota. I detest those signs, which I find hypocritical and indicative of a "holier-than-thou" attitude.

To be honest, the signs ought to read: "Willing to Make You Pay More for What I Want."

Because there's nothing stopping that person who so nobly plants that sign in his or her yard from paying more. He or she can get out the checkbook and write a check. To the Minnesota Department of Revenue. To the Dorothy Day Center. To the Sierra Club. To whatever agency or cause that person wants to support. There's nothing to stop anyone from doing so! People always have a choice of spending more for a better Minnesota -- and they can even decide for themselves what use of the money will make things "better"!

But that's not what these hypocrites want. They don't want to pay more. They want others to pay more. By force. By raising taxes. Then, there is no choice. Everyone has to pay more, whether or not they even approve of the use the money goes to. There is no choice to pay less. That confuses me. Don't liberals love "choice"?

In addition, these signs seem to indicate a mindset that says the only reason anyone gives money for the civic good is because he is forced to through government confiscation. Maybe that's true for good liberals like Al Gore (remember his tax return and his paltry $200 of charitable giving?), but I certainly give to charitable causes -- of various types. (Talk about good timing. Just this morning, when this column was almost finalized, I was asked for money to support Special Olympics. And, yes, I gave. Without threat of government prosecution!)

Maybe it's not that they think I won't give, just that I won't give the way they want me to. They put more trust and faith in government bureaucracies than they place in their fellow man.

Whatever the explanation, the actions of the "willing to pay more" crowd speak more loudly than their words. I've tried to check their website, www.betterminnesota.org, but it doesn't seem to exist anymore. Evidently paying a few bucks a month to maintain a website was more than they were willing to pay to bring about their version of a better Minnesota.

August 6, 2004

No Dog In This Fight (again): The Suburban Hypocrisy
St. Paul Democrat Mayor Randy Kelly's unexpected endorsement of Republican President Bush has sparked a slew of letters-to-the-editor in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. No surprise there. But what really jumps out at me is the residences of the writers. Some are from St. Paul, but others have been from Minneapolis, Forest Lake, Inver Grove Heights, even from Nevis, for crying out loud! Nevis is almost 200 miles from St. Paul!

I would never write a letter to the Nevis paper, complaining about the mayor of Nevis. That's not my battle. That's for the people of Nevis. I don't have a dog in that fight. (see my July 26 column) Why did that gentleman want to make the effort to write about St. Paul's mayor?

But what really takes the cake is a brief letter in today's paper. Judi Feldhusen of White Bear Lake writes: "Another reason why living in the suburbs is better: Randy Kelly. Enough said!"

(Well, too much, but that's my opinion.)

This letter perfectly illustrates the hypocrisy of the suburban mentality. A lot of suburbanites want to have it both ways. They want to eat their cake and have it, too. They want to earn good wages in the city, avail themselves of city services and entertainment, then run off to their big suburban houses and low property taxes. They look down their noses at "those people" in the city, but feel no need to help solve problems in the city, since after all, "That's not my problem. I don't live there. That's St. Paul's problem."

But when it comes time to play politics, all of a sudden they're sticking their noses back in, experts on what the mayor of St. Paul should or shouldn't do.

I grew up in the country. The real country, on a real farm. Miles from the nearest town, which had fewer than 1,000 residents. Now I live in St. Paul, a large city. I see advantages to both. St. Paul isn't so much different than a small town. It's still a town; it's just bigger. And one thing I see in common is that in both the city and the small town/rural area, people are part of a community. Triumphs are shared triumphs. Problems are shared problems.

Not so in the suburbs. We've created all these artificial boundaries within one metropolitan area. There are well over 100 different municipalities that now make up the "Twin Cities," and more than three-quarters of Twin Cities residents live outside of Minneapolis and St. Paul. They're able sit on their decks in Woodbury, for instance, glancing westward and tsk-tsking at old St. Paul and all her troubles. "Not my problem," they say, "I live in Woodbury. Don't tax me to help those people in St. Paul." Then in the morning they're back on I-94, headed downtown to earn a good paycheck.

If I sound like some liberal with a head full of mush, so be it. I call it like I see it. The suburbs too often seem like a loophole for people who want the benefits of living in the city, but don't want to help pay for the upkeep. People make their own little town, and then try to keep the real world out. They enjoy the good times during the boom years, while the suburb grows and prospers. But just wait until that suburb matures. All the houses become "too old" and "too small." The school enrollment drops. That fancy community center with the water park gets too expensive to maintain. Then the shoe is other the other foot. They come crawling to St. Paul, hat in hand, looking for help. It's already happening in the first ring suburbs.

August 5, 2004

"All Politics Is Local," but Divisive Politics Is Distant
As we have done for a decade, our household marked National Night Out on Tuesday by hosting the neighbors for ice cream in our backyard. Yes, that's right, a conservative like me actually stopped starving children and oppressing minorities long enough to show that he is indeed willing to (voluntarily) pay (and do) more for a better Minnesota. This neighborhood gathering reminded me again of my observation that, while the saying is "all politics is local," it seems the polarizing political issues that most divide us are, in fact, "distant."

For example, one of my neighbors was talking about his concern that attempts to redevelop the run-down parts of Minneapolis or St. Paul have negative consequences for some of the people who live there, as they lose "affordable housing" and have to leave the neighborhood. It's a bit of a dilemma, I told him, as we don't want to preserve slums, yet everyone needs a place to call home. (The only way to really solve this problem is to address it at the core -- getting people to the point where they are capable of earning enough money to afford a nice home. We need to bring the people up, not hold the housing down.) But while people in my backyard may have had differing opinions on this topic, and some might have been passionate about it, it did not directly affect any of us in our nice neighborhood. It was about "someone else."

I first came to this realization several years ago after having a lengthy, peaceful and pleasant discussion with a neighbor from the far left end of the political spectrum. He and I seem to be in disagreement on all the issues that divide our society. Our lawn signs cancel each other out. Yet the issues that divide us don't really seem to directly involve us or our neighborhood. For example, we may disagree on abortion, yet neither of us men would ever have an abortion. We may disagree on welfare policies, yet neither of us has ever been on or expects to ever be on welfare. We may disagree on same-sex marriage, yet neither of us is a candidate for same-sex nuptials. We may disagree on foreign policy, yet neither of us is being asked to pick up arms in Iraq. We may disagree on guns, yet neither of us is packing heat. We may disagree on what to do with St. Paul's Ayd Mill Road, yet we don't live on the controversial roadway.

It seems that all the things we could argue about are sort of "out there," affecting "someone else," in "somewhere else." They aren't really hitting us close to home.

Meanwhile, I thought, just think of all the things that we actually agree on. We want our streets plowed and the potholes filled. We want a good school nearby for our children. We want our children to be safe when they walk to school or play outside. We want our homes to be safe from intruders.We don't want cars speeding down our street. We don't want a crack house on the block. The list of things we agree on -- and take for granted -- seems endless. But these issues are all close to home, as in the old saying, "all politics is local."

So why do we forget that? Why do we overlook all these areas of agreement? Why do we say, instead, that the country is divided? I say it's because we have it so good that we have the LUXURY of disagreeing over issues that really don't affect our daily lives. If we were struggling for food and shelter, we wouldn't have time to disagree about gun permits or same-sex marriage, for instance. But because we've got it so good, we have to go looking for issues to argue about -- someone else's issues, if that's what it takes.

All politics is local? Don't be so sure.

August 4, 2004

Did Kerry Cause Bank Robberies?
Did you hear that there were three bank robberies in Davenport, Iowa, on Wednesday when both Bush and Kerry made campaign appearances? I guess the robbers figured the police would be too busy protecting politicians to catch bank robbers.

Well, there's a certain Democrat way of thinking that says terrorists attacks are caused not by bad guys (terrorists), but by the U.S. conducting a war on terror.

Using the same logic, we could say that the 3 bank robberies in Davenport were caused not by bad guys (thieves), but by Bush and Kerry visiting the city and spurring the criminals into action.

Any chance Kerry will take responsiblity for those robberies? (I don't ask the same about Bush, because he knows that bad guys are responsible for their own crimes.)

Not Even Good at Being Bad
"The timing of the announcement, three days after the end of the Democratic National Convention, prompted speculation that the decision to raise the threat level was in part politically motivated." -- from a news story in my Pioneer Press, Aug. 4, 2004

It's been suggested that the Bush administration has issued this week's terror alert "for political purposes." (In a classic "good cop/bad cop" ploy, Howard Dean makes the charge and gets it into the headlines, while John Kerry gets to "take the high road," refusing to join in.)

But in making this charge, a person is suggesting not only that the present administration is evil, but also that it is incompetent. I mean, why do it three days after the convention? That's not very good timing. If you want to take attention away from Kerry, issue your "false" alert the same day he gives his convention speech. Then you'll take the next day's headlines away from him.

That's what a "genius" president would do if, hypothetically, he was under investigation and the star witness was scheduled to testify against him. He'd bomb an aspirin factory the same day as the testimony. He wouldn't wait until three days later.

August 3, 2004

Bush Should Call Kerry's Bluff
Yesterday, the Frenchurian Candidate, Senator John Kerry, referring to anti-terrorism efforts, said, "If we're at war, and it's so urgent," then President Bush shouldn't wait to act, he should call a special session of Congress now to deal with the war on terror and findings of the 9/11 Commission.

Maybe the President should call Kerry's bluff. Kerry would have to decide whether national security was important enough to drag him away from raising money from his rich friends and actually show up in Congress.

More Thoughts on Mayor Randy Kelly
I'm reading some nasty quotes from Randy Kelly's fellow DFLers in today's paper. Kelly's endorsement of Republican president Bush is really unusual for a politician. Usually, they operate under the philosophy of "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." In that case, a politician's silence about a party-mate usually speaks volumes in itself.

Kelly does share one characteristic with his predecessor, DFLer-turned-Republican Norm Coleman. Both have been called "turncoats" and have been said to have "left the party," by DFLers. But remember, neither one was the DFL's endorsed candidate for mayor. Both bucked the endorsement process to win in the general election. So if it was up to the DFL party, they wouldn't have become mayor at all. The DFL had already rejected them before they became "turncoats."

To use a sports analogy, as I do frequently, it's sort of like a second-string player who decided to leave for a starting spot on another team. For instance, a few years ago Chauncey Billups left the Minnesota Timberwolves basketball team and signed with the Detroit Pistons. The T-Wolves wanted him to stay, but they wouldn't make him a starter. So he read the writing on the wall and left. What happened? Just months ago, he starred while leading the Pistons to an unexpected NBA title. Should the T-Wolves and their fans whine about the "turncoat" who left them? Why? They didn't think he was good enough to play for them, so why did he owe them anything?

Likewise, if a party shows a politician that he or she is not valued, don't be surprised if he or she gets tired of playing "happy camper."

August 2, 2004

Maybe Randy Kelly Simply "Grew Up"
I'm not quite sure what to make of St. Paul mayor Randy Kelly's endorsement of President Bush yesterday. But, as usual, I was able to find some humor in it. The story in today's paper quotes some of Kelly's unhappy DFL comrades. One was interviewed while "standing across the street from Kelly's house." Another was interviewed "also standing outside Kelly's home."

The reporter didn't mention whether he saw a bucket of tar or a sack of feathers, but sounds like they were putting together a mob. I'm laughing inside imagining the torches and pitchforks.

There was discussion on the radio about why, if Kelly is endorsing Bush, he doesn't just declare himself a Republican. I'll give you a good reason -- doing so wouldn't help Bush. If Kelly said, "I'm endorsing President Bush, and I'm becoming a Republican," well, then the Democrat faithful would say, "Turncoat! I knew he was no good!" and still vote for Kerry.

But by saying, "I endorse President Bush, but I'm still a Democrat," he's telling so-inclined Dems that it's OK to vote for President Bush. He's giving them permission. He's validating their own choice, which they've been struggling with. He's letting them know that they can still be "good Democrats" and vote the way their head tells them to.

An explanation for Kelly's endorsement of Bush might be that he's finally "grown up." By that, I mean that being in a position of responsibility as a chief executive, making the tough decisions, has a tendency to bring a person around to a Republican way of thinking. It's easy, when you're part of a large legislative caucus, to go around asking for everything and promising everyone everything, but when you're "the man," you realize it's not so simple. Someone has to act responsibly. Someone has to be the grown-up. And in politics, that's usually a Republican.

Let me explain what I mean. I'll go back to 1986, when I got my first "real job" out of college. I worked for the Republican caucus in the Minnesota House. However, my political beliefs weren't so solidly formed back then. In fact, I had applied for a similar job with the Democrats. But when I went to work on the "inside" of the process, I soon noticed something very important. And it explained why Democrats were so much better at getting elected in Minnesota.

What I noticed was that Democrats acted like your grandparents, and Republicans acted like your parents. Democrats like to say, "You can have whatever you want, dear. Don't worry, I'll pay for it. Stay up as late as you want. Sure, have some more candy."

Republicans make the mistake of saying things like, "No, that's not good for you. Act civilized -- don't behave that way. If you want something, you'll have to work for it. Do your schoolwork, I'm not going to do it for you. Someday you'll thank me for this."

Well, who's more popular with a little kid? Mean old mom, who says "no," or grandma, who gives you whatever you want? Exactly. And that's why the Democrats can always count on being popular.

Where There's No Smoke...There's No Stadium
More evidence that opinion leaders and media gatekeepers should be reading this site daily: Once again, I hate to say 'I told you so," but...... OK, I don't hate to say it, but I was on top of this ALMOST THREE MONTHS before this became a news story.

In my July 31 paper was a story about how the St. Paul hospitality industry is threatening to pull their support for a St. Paul Twins stadium if a smoking ban is enacted. This website did not exist yet, so I wasn't able to foretell it here, but WAY BACK ON MAY 7, a well-known radio talk show host was wondering what St. Paul council member and smoking ban sponsor Dave Thune was really up to. In an email to the radio host, I wrote:

"I have an idea what Thune may be up to. He's trying to undermine the ballpark plan. You'll remember he opposes a ballpark. Part of the ballpark plan seems to be a bar and restaurant tax. He wants to get the bars and restaurants all worked up about the smoking ban so they'll say, 'No! Not a tax, too! The smoking ban is going to put us out of business, and now you're trying to stick us with that.'

"Remember, there would likely be a referendum on a stadium/tax.

"All the voters will be wondering, 'How can a bar and restaurant tax pay for a stadium if all the bars and restaurants are suffering because of the smoking ban? I'd better vote against the stadium, so I don't get stuck paying for it on my property taxes.'

"The ballpark will be defeated. Thune will win. That's what he's after."

Pretty prescient of me, tying the smoking ban to the defeat of a stadium, don't you think? And I said that almost three months before it made the paper. If this website had existed then, my insight would have been here for all the world to see. So keep tuning in to Downingworld.com.

August 1, 2004

We Just Don't Talk About It... (And That Doesn't Solve Anything)
When I began this website just a month ago, I picked out a variety of my past writings to include. I highlighted examples of various types of writings on the home page, so people would get a sampling of what's going to be on this site. One of those pieces I highlighted is an essay called Same-Sex Marriage -- How We Got Here.

I was proud of that essay, because I thought I had done a good job of writing about our society and how it has arrived at its present -- divided -- stand on the issue. I voiced no opinion on whether or not we should have same-sex marriages. Rather, I attempted to explain how we have arrived at where we are at, with same-sex marriage an acceptable idea to a significant segment of the populace, and even a legal reality in select jurisdictions.

Trying not to take a side, I counted myself among those surprised that this issue had suddenly exploded onto the scene in the winter/spring of 2004. I didn't know that the idea of same-sex marriage had so much popular support. That certainly hasn't always been the case. So I tried to explain how our society has changed its thinking about marriage, and how that change in thinking has made same-sex marriage more of a social and political reality.

My point is that our society has changed its thinking about marriage. That is a fact. People no longer feel as compelled to get married in order to act married. That is a fact. People no longer feel as compelled to stay married. That is a fact. "Living in sin" and "no fault divorce" were once scandalous ideas; now they are commonplace. That is a fact. Same-sex marriage was once a scandalous idea: now... who knows? It's up for grabs.

But I've been told that my essay is offensive to gay people. That in illustrating a continuum of societal values shifting away from "traditional" marriage ideas, which explains how we got to the present debate -- showing that it didn't come out of the blue -- I am somehow saying mean things about gay people.

Well, I've re-read it myself several times. It's not an essay about gay people, nor was it intended to be. By saying that we have not respected marriage, I actually voice some agreement with same-sex proponents who say, "With rampant divorce already, how can people say same-sex marriage is a 'threat' to traditional marriage?" I agree that people can be hypocritical when they are selective about which "threats" they worry about. I'd like people to get the message that they should get their own house in order before they start pointing their finger at someone else. (Matthew 7:5 -- "You hypocrite, first, take the log out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.")

If there's anyone I meant to "offend" with my essay -- or maybe I should say the people I wanted to "see themselves" in the essay -- it would be opposite-sex couples who have rejected marriage. Heck, the thrust of the essay wasn't even really about same-sex marriage. But tying it to the same-sex marriage debate made it timely.

Maybe if I didn't mention same-sex marriage in the title, people would read the essay differently. Maybe some people, seeing the title, are all primed to be offended. And with a careful re-reading, I do see a few instances where by simply choosing a different word or a slightly different phrasing, I could have made it harder for people to make inferences that would offend them. I can see some places where someone might object to what I said. Maybe I should have written it a little differently. However, I'm not going to edit it now. I won't pretend that isn't what I wrote. That wouldn't be honest to my readers.

Over the years I've seen there is a tendency for people to infer things that will offend them. Sometimes I've even seen letters to the editor from both "sides" of an issue, with both taking exception to the same opinion piece! So maybe that is what a person should strive for, eh? Offend everyone. I've heard said that if you offend everyone, then you've done a good job. Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

But maybe it's just more evidence that a person can't write about a divisive issue at all without offending someone. Writers have always had to deal with the difference between what they mean to say, and what people infer. I don't want to offend people. But how can a person really write opinions if he's always saying to himself, "I'd better not write that, someone might not like it"? That wouldn't work, would it? I couldn't write about hardly anything, and readers couldn't trust me to be honest with them.

So... I may have offended gay people. I should have offended opposite-sex couples who have rejected marriage. By saying that we have not respected marriage, I actually voice some agreement with same-sex proponents who say marriage is already threatened. And, in the end, I never do declare myself either "for" or "against" the idea of same-sex marriage.

That's something for everyone -- to like or dislike. So maybe I just have to stand by my observations and realize that I can't please everyone. Maybe offending so many people is evidence of a job well done.

But how can we ever resolve the issues that divide us, if we can't even talk about them without someone taking offense? For example, anything to do with race. It is a fact that America faces social problems closely tied to racial issues. It would seem that all Americans should be able to agree that we have issues, revolving around race, that need tending to. But sometimes it seems that we can't even talk about them, because if a white person even mentions race, up goes the cry of "RACIST!" As a result, many people have decided they just won't talk about racial issues at all, because one "wrong" word and they'll be branded racist.

But how can we solve our problems if we can't even acknowledge they exist?

(What do I think about the same-sex marriage issue? I'll write about that some day, but first I have to get it all sorted out in my own mind. What I'll have to say probably won't fully please anyone. But -- and this may be heresy for an opinion columnist -- not everything is either/or, black or white. Some things are complicated, uncertain and ambiguous.)

July 31, 2004

Something for Nothing
JFK, American, 1960, fighting the Cold War: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

JFK, World Citizen, 2004, fighting the War on Terror: "Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what other countries can do for your country."

No, that's not a direct quote from John Kerry, but that's what he's saying. America should look to others to fight our wars for us. We can't be expected to take care of ourselves. Here's what he said in his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention:

"I know what we have to do in Iraq. We need a president who has the credibility to bring our allies to our side and share the burden, reduce the cost to American taxpayers, reduce the risk to American soldiers. That's the right way to get the job done and bring our troops home."

He's saying we should get others to fight our war for us. America is the greatest, richest, most powerful nation on Earth. We're attacked, and we should leave it up to others to defend us?! They should pay? They should die for us? ("reduce the risk to American soldiers") I suppose the life of a foreign soldier isn't as valuable as the life of an American soldier, is that the case Senator Kerry? How can we expect our allies to die for us, if we aren't willing to pay the price ourselves?

He's tying his campaign to being a Vietnam War hero. "I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend it as president," he said. If he's so proud to have defended his country in Vietnam -- without the UN and when the U.S. wasn't even under attack -- why doesn't he think it's worth defending ourselves now?

Whether it's domestic policy or foreign policy, the Kerry Way -- the Democrat Way -- is consistent: someone else should pay the bill. We can have SOMETHING FOR NOTHING!


John 2 (Edwards) says there are "two Americas": The rich, and the peasants. John 1 (Kerry) was seen over and over in a TV ad where he says this is a rich country and people should have things provided for them. Where have we heard this rhetoric before? It's the sales pitch of a communist revolutionary.

Seriously, folks. The message is: "A few people have all the wealth. Those rich people exploit us. It's not fair. We are poor. We must unite to rise up and take from the wealthy what is rightfully ours! Then we'll all sit around drinking that free Bubble Up, and eating that Rainbow Stew." SOMETHING FOR NOTHING!

That's the message of a communist revolution. But in America, in 2004, it's just being a Democrat.

And the John/John ticket are a really strange team to be trying to sell this message. They ARE the rich. Kerry by birth AND marriage (politicians have always been good at double dipping). What does he know about working people? Heck, what does he know about REAL people?

And Edwards, he came from humble beginnings, then made his millions. So how's he end up with this "Two Americas" message of his? He should be telling people, "Quit whining and get off your butts. I made something of myself, and you can, too." Doesn't he think other people are capable of success? Does he think he's better than everyone else?

The John Edwards story should serve as an example that people CAN make it in America: He was born to humble means and now is filthy rich and running for Vice President. Yet his message is: "You're all losers and can't make it without the government providing for you." It's not: "I made it, and you can, too."

Does that make him an elitist?


Accepting the nomination, Kerry said, "As president, I will restore trust and credibility to the White House." Isn't that pretty much what George W. Bush had to say, in the wake of the Clinton presidency? Except rather than "trust," it was decency or honor or something. I hope this isn't the way it will be from now on, every four years someone pledging to "restore" the White House. America deserves better.


We humans aren't really very good at logical consistency. A couple of letters in my daily paper illustrate what I mean. One dismisses criticism of Teresa Heinz Kerry, saying that it's not the candidate's spouse that we vote for. I hope that letter writer isn't one of the people who voted for Bill Clinton because she was so enamored of Hillary!

Another plays the Norm Coleman is a flip-flopper game. He says that Coleman's avoidance of service in Vietnam shows his true nature. I thought burning draft cards, running to Canada, whatever it took to avoid Vietnam used to be a badge of honor for modern Democrats. But all of a sudden, they've got a war hero candidate, and the liberals are hawks! Now that's what I call a flip-flop!

Too bad we can't first determine our principles, then judge the candidates according to them, rather than pick our guy, then decide whatever he does is right, whatever the other guy does is wrong. But I guess that's not human nature.

July 30, 2004

A Tale of Two War Heroes
The John Kerry campaign seems to be making JOHN KERRY -- WAR HERO the focus of the campaign. This is really bizarre, given that he himself condemned the Vietnam War and pretty much declared himself one of the "baby killers."

But what really gets me is how this compares to the way our last war hero candidate for president was treated. Remember? As far as my recollection, that would be Sen. Bob Dole, in 1996. Sen. Dole was a real war hero, but he didn't brag about his Purple Heart, and it wasn't part of his campaign. Remember how Sen. Dole was always seen carrying that pen in his clenched right hand? He carried that pen as a prop in his clenched hand because his right arm was disabled.

You see, Sen. Bob Dole had served in "the last just war" -- World War II. He was hit by enemy fire while saving the life of a fellow soldier in combat in Italy. He spent years in rehabilitation after the war, but his right arm never recovered. And he never bragged about it, nor did he play the victim.

So how was this war hero candidate for president treated? As the butt of jokes. His bum arm and ever-present pen were the subject of jokes on TV shows such as Saturday Night Live. Being a war hero -- even in a "good" war -- didn't earn him any respect.

July 29, 2004

Real Life Is Not "Let's Make a Deal"
Just as The Home Team Always Gets the Blame (July 27 blurb), in the world of sports Hindsight is Always 20/20. That's an old saying we've all heard. But hindsight isn't 20/20, because we can never really know how an alternate scenario would have played out. Perhaps it would be more accurate to combine a couple of sayings, and say that hindsight is always through rose-colored glasses, because the road not taken always looks so good. That's why I say, Life Is Not "Let's Make A Deal."

People don't like uncertainty. They want life to be like the TV game show "Let's Make a Deal," where getting the grand prize and not the "zonk" is just a matter of picking the right door. On the TV show, contestants can be certain that one of the doors always hides a desirable outcome.

But in real life, sometimes all the "doors" (choices) hide a zonk. Or sometimes what first appeared to be the grand prize turns into the zonk over time. Or maybe an apparent zonk turns into a grand prize. Seldom do all the doors hide a grand prize; sometimes they all hold a zonk -- you're out of luck no matter what you choose.

For example, in a football game, armchair quarterbacks love to criticize the head coach's decisions. A coach may have to decide whether to attempt to kick a field goal, or to "go for it" on fourth down, trying to keep the drive alive and eventually score a touchdown.

If the coach goes for it on 4th and 1, and the team doesn't make it, all the armchair experts know he should have called for the field goal attempt. "At least we would have had three points instead of nothing," they moan. "And if we missed, we still would have turned it over at the same spot on the field. It wouldn't have hurt us any."

But we don't know that. No one ever knows what would have been the result of an option not chosen. We don't have a time machine to go back and try again. Life doesn't have a "do over" button. In this case, the option not chosen could have been even worse. The field goal attempt might have been blocked and returned for a touchdown. That would have been even worse than turning the ball over near midfield. (And yes, this does happen. Bobby Bryant even scored a touchdown for the Vikings this way in the playoffs.)

And what if the team had indeed made the first down? Would that prove that going for it was the right choice? But what if they kept marching downfield, only to have the star quarterback break his leg trying to sneak into the end zone? You just never know.

People ask me, "Was going to war in Iraq the right decision?" I can't answer that. We're there, and there's no point second-guessing. We have to proceed from where we are.

In the case of Iraq, it's easy to look at the present situation, be dissatisfied with it, and suffer from invader's remorse. But if we hadn't invaded, we'd still be in a less than ideal situation. We'd still be sitting around, wringing our hands, wondering "What should we do? What should we do?"

Of course, there's no way of ever knowing what the present situation would be had we not invaded Iraq. There is no "do over." I remember telling someone before the invasion that if we didn't do anything about Sadam, sure, he could get run over by a camel and be gone in a week. You never know. But then again, when JFK declined to help oust Castro, I'm sure he never dreamed that the Cuban dictator would still be standing 40 years later.

It comes down to my Let's Make a Deal theory. People like to think that's there is always a right answer and a wrong answer. If you choose door number 2 and get the zonk, then the Big Prize must have been behind door number 1. But that only works in game shows. In real life, sometimes there is no Big Prize at all, just various zonks. Sometimes, you're screwed no matter what.

July 28, 2004

Not Proud to be a Boomer
OK, you'll have to wait for "Life is not Let's Make a Deal," but something else came up.

Just Monday, I was relating to someone that one of the reasons I've started this website is because over the years I've come up with a lot of ideas that no one else is talking about. At first, I thought that was because my ideas were no good. But as the years have gone by, I've found that periodically my old "bad" ideas pop up in the media as someone else's "new" ideas. I've found that, at least sometimes, I was just ahead of the curve.

Such an example popped up in Tuesday's paper. The St. Paul Pioneer Press carried a story, by Jeffrey Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal, that talked about how younger "Baby Boomers" don't like being lumped in with older Baby Boomers. (The U.S. "Baby Boom" encompasses those born from 1946-1964.)

I'll second that emotion. Over the years, I've bristled at reports of the Baby Boomers-this and the Baby Boomers-that. It always seems to be about those older than I (I was born in 1963.), usually those who came of age in the 1960s. The Woodstock Generation. Hippies. And I don't feel like part of that. I've grown tired of being lumped together as one "generation" that includes people old enough to be my parents. (For the record my parents were born in 1940 and 1942. No fancy title for their "generation," I guess.)

Here's what I wrote on the topic, way back in March, 2001:

Are the 50-somethings all screwed up? Plenty of them are. I'll be 38 this year, and demographically that makes me a tail end Baby Boomer. But I've always hated being included in that group, because to me, Baby Boomers are epitomized by the Chief Boomer Bill Clinton.

In my opinion, the Greatest Generation has been succeeded by the Worst Generation -- the most spoiled, selfish, self-centered, responsibility-shirking group ever. But of course, they've got themselves convinced about how much they care -- they've got that social conscience, you know.

Yes, they are now in all the institutional power positions. That explains why the military-industrial complex they rebelled against has been replaced by the welfare-educational complex.

Harsh words, perhaps, but I've left it as I wrote it three years ago. I don't recall what exactly I was responding to at the time, but something had me all fired up.

Here's where you can find the Zaslow piece: http://www.twincities.com/mld/twincities/living/9248130.htm

Now, if I could just get Tom Brokaw to share his royalties from his book "The Greatest Generation." That was one of my ideas, too. (But what did I do with it? Nothing.)

July 27, 2004

The Home Team Always Gets the Blame (9/11 Corollary)
The home team always gets the blame. The credit, too. Here's what I mean:

Just before the All Star break, the Minnesota Twins baseball team shut out the Kansas City Royals three games in a row. The Royals didn't score at all in the three-game series. It was an unprecedented performance by Twins pitchers -- three complete game shut-outs in a row -- and that's how it was presented in the local media. The home team got all the credit. The Royals not scoring was credited completely to the good work of Twins pitchers.

But in Kansas City, it was a different story. I checked the web site for the Kansas City Star newspaper, and found this headline: "Royals set futility mark in blanking by Twins." In Kansas City, the lack of scoring was fully the fault of inept Royals batters. In Kansas City, the home team got all the blame.

After the All Star break, the Royals won three-out-of-four in a series against the Twins. Did Minnesotans say, "Hey! Those Royals sure improved themselves!"? No, they said, "What's wrong with the stupid Twins now?"

In the same way, if the Minnesota Vikings football team beats the hated Green Bay Packers 49-48, fans of both teams will say, "Our offense had a great game, but our defense was lousy." No one ever says, "Our offense had a great game, and so did theirs." No, all blame and credit go to your own team. It's as though there were no other participants, and the result is totally the consequence of the home team's efforts

This type of thinking extends beyond the realm of sports. Last week the 9/11 Commission released its final report. The media seemed to think it was all about blame. Yes, that specific word kept coming up in radio news reports and in newspaper headlines. Who's to blame? Who's to blame? Was it Bush? Clinton? The CIA?

How about 19 evil hijackers and all their helpers? Aren't we forgetting that they were also "on the field"? That's whom I blame. (In the sports analogy, they would deserve the "credit.") Maybe "our team" put in a good effort, but the other guys still ran a successful play. Isn't that possible? But no, it's all about who on "our team". is to blame.

A lot of people (media) seem to think that the whole point of the 9/11 commission was to find someone to blame. As though once we have a scapegoat, we can put it all behind us. I think the only reason for the 9/11 Commission is to find out how to prevent future catastrophes. Finding someone to blame doesn't save any lives.

[tomorrow: Life is not "Let's Make a Deal"]

July 26, 2004

No Dog In This Fight: Linking Norm Coleman and Phyllis Kahn
Two years ago, I gave $50 to the Norm Coleman for Senate campaign. I kind of wish I hadn't. No, not because I wish he hadn't been elected, but because just like public TV, the children's hospital, or any number of other charitable causes, a donation earns the giver one "thank you," followed by (or even accompanied by) endless "gimme more"s.

Just like my kids, it's never enough. "Yeah, but what have you done for us lately?" they seem to be thinking. And Norm isn't even up for reelection until 2008!

But recently I received a Norm Coleman solicitation with a twist: He doesn't want me to send him money; he wants me to send money to South Dakota, to help John Thune defeat incumbent SD Senator Tom Daschle!

While I have visited South Dakota once, I do not now and I never have lived there. To my thinking, the South Dakota Senate race does not involve me. I do not have a dog in that fight. Even though I may not care for Sen. Daschle, and I tire of hearing sound bites featuring his Mr. Rogers-gone-over-to-the-dark-side speaking manner, why should I interfere? The good people of South Dakota are capable of electing their own Senator, whose job it is to represent the great state of South Dakota -- not me -- in Washington, D.C.

But I guess that's old fashioned thinking. Now it's about "winning" the Senate (or the House) for "our" side. In that way, I'm supposed to want to do whatever I can to help ensure at least 51 Senators are Republicans come next January. That's why rich coastal celebs like Barbra Streisand throw money around in Flyover Land races to elect Democrats in states they'll never even visit. Likewise, prior to the caucuses last winter, Iowa was overrun with outsiders, come to promote their favored candidates. What arrogance is that, that people from New York, California, or even Minnesota, think it's their place to help feeble-minded Iowans decide who they want for president?

It's all part of the increasing federalization of our nation. Once a united group of separate, independent states, people now see the U.S. more and more as one nation first, with the states just some sort of way of organizing it. But it wasn't always that way. Historians say that at the time of the Civil War, people saw themselves first as "Minnesotans" or "Virginians," rather than as Americans. In fact, that type of identity thinking was probably necessary for there to be a war between the states at all. If people had seen themselves as first and foremost "Americans," how could they have ever considered splitting up? But as individual states, tied together only as long as it served their purposes, "divorcing" was an option. (Hmmm. Makes me think of my "They didn't blow out the candle" essay on the "marriage" page on this site.)

But we also have a recent example of this poking-your-nose-into-other-people's-campaigns on a local level, as well. Minneapolis legislator-for-life Phyllis Kahn was apprehended by the New Hope police last week while campaigning for a DFL challenger in that city. Kahn wasn't content to simply stick Sandra Peterson's campaign literature in doors, she was caught removing campaign literature for the incumbent, Republican Lynne Osterman.

Why was Kahn in New Hope at all? She represents a district in Minneapolis. The voters of New Hope aren't her concern. But that's not the way the game is played. Kahn wants her side -- the DFL -- to regain the majority in the Minnesota House, so she's out trying to influence the race in other districts. She doesn't care about the people of New Hope. She just wants to use them to empower herself.

In a way, it reminds me of a parliamentary system, where the party that can win a majority (or build a majority coalition) in the legislative body also controls the the executive branch and the government offices. In such a system, it's all about a party winning the majority. But the purist in me says that's not the American way. The Constitution doesn't provide for political parties, let alone majorities and minorities. If it does, it must be in the section that mentions "the popular vote." I've never found that, either.

July 25, 2004

Heroes Regardless
Now there's a flap about what the 9/11 Commission Report had to say about United Airlines Flight 93, which went down in Pennsylvania. The report says that, contrary to popular belief, the plane did not go down because the passengers overpowered the hijackers in the cockpit. Rather, the reports says that the hijackers intentionally crashed the plane before the passengers, who were fighting back, could break into the cockpit. This is causing some hard feelings, because people want to imagine the brave passengers in deadly hand-to-hand combat in the cockpit of the doomed jetliner. They think that the 9/11 Commission's findings somehow detract from the memories of the brave passengers.

Hogwash. The details of the plane's final moments don't matter. The passengers are heroes regardless of exactly what happened. What's the difference, whether they removed the hijackers from the controls, or whether their bravery caused the hijackers to abort their flight by crashing it in a field? The result is the same. The bravery is the same.

This is similar to a controversy surrounding the sinking of the famed German WWII battleship Bismarck. The Royal Navy disabled and surrounded the Bismarck, but did they sink it? That is the controversy. Some say that the skipper of the greatest battleship the world had ever seen scuttled the boat so that it wouldn't fall into English hands. This angered some of the Brits, who wanted the credit for sinking it.

Again, I say, it doesn't matter. There's no difference. In either case, the bravery and skill of Royal Navy sailors and pilots caused the demise of the Bismarck. If the skipper scuttled it, it's defeat already a fait accompli, then that scuttling was forced by the Brits. Good show, old chaps!

July 24, 2004

Watch Those Sightlines!
Due to another part of this St. Paul strip mall protruding into the foreground, shoppers looking from just the right angle may get the wrong idea abou this furniture store! (It's actually: "National liquidators of hotel furniture.")

July 24, 2004

Buy Low, Sell High
Yesterday was a down day for the stock market. A radio report said there had been a big "sell-off." But for every seller, isn't there also a buyer? Maybe there was a "buying spree." Doesn't that sound better? After all, we're always hearing about the need for more "affordable housing," so what's wrong with more "affordable stocks"? I guess the pessimistic slant is just more newsworthy. (See yesterday's blurb.)

Look for some deeper thoughts next week. I'll be writing them up this weekend.

July 23, 2004

All News Is Bad News
If you're in showbiz, they say all publicity is good. I guess if you're an economics reporter, all news is bad. I remember 20+ years ago how the (bad) news of the day was always "the dollar is falling, the dollar is falling." The value of the dollar, relative to world currencies, was falling, and that was always reported as bad, because it made it harder for the U.S. to afford foreign products.

Then one day it all changed. I remember it well. I was driving my '74 AMC Hornet, listening to the AM radio (probably WEBC), and the newscast was reporting that the dollar was strengthening. Great! I thought. After all these years of a weakening dollar, we're finally going the other way. But the reporter didn't see it that way. No, even though a weakening dollar had been reported as bad news for years, a strengthening dollar was also bad. A stronger dollar would make it harder for other countries to buy American exports, the reporter said.

Good grief! Talk about always looking on the dark side.

More recently, there's been a lot of hand wringing about the trade deficit. America imports more than it exports. The net effect is that we gain products, but lose currency. So we want to export more stuff, right? So when I read that the U.S. is exporting lots of steel scrap -- old car bodies, appliances, etc. -- to other countries, I thought that was great. We buy new TVs and cameras, they buy our...junk! What a deal!

But, alas, not everyone is happy. As reported in my Pioneer Press: "So much U.S. scrap is leaving the country that the Emergency Steel Scrap Coalition [Who knew! I wonder if they have a clubhouse?], a Washington, D.C. group that includes several large steel producers and several thousand steel consuming companies, on Monday announced plans to petition the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security [again, who knew?] to call for temporary restrictions on U.S. steel exports."

What's the problem? It seems the strong export market is driving up the price these companies have to pay for scrap.

Yes, all news is bad news.

July 22, 2004

Voter Confusion Set to Return
Minnesota's fourth congressional district, where I reside, is considered a "safe" district for incumbent Democrats. Actually, "safe" may not do it justice. What's more than "safe"? How about the power to raise the dead? Okay,not really. But there's something interesting brewing. I'm really surprised I haven't heard any buzz about it yet. All I know about it comes from one paragraph in the newspaper.

Peter Vento, son the late fourth district congressman Bruce Vento, has filed for his father's old job. But that's a dog-bites-man story. The twist here is that there is already an incumbent Democrat (Betty McCollum) running for reelection. Peter Vento has filed to run as an Independence Party candidate!

Ralph Nader taking votes from Gore or Kerry could be nothing compared to the votes a Vento could take from McCollum! I can see some of the more experienced voters checking "Vento" out of habit. They've done it a dozen times before; they'll think "McCollum" sounds familiar, but they'll check "Vento" thinking it must still be the same guy.

July 21, 2004

From Wing Nuts to Donuts
With all the hype about the Ikea store opening in the Twin Cities last week, I heard a radio host compare it to the hype for Krispy Kreme donuts. It was nothin', he said. Don't these people know we've had furniture stores and donut shops all along?

A listener called in to defend Krispy Kreme's honor. The fellow said Krispy Kreme donuts are way better than any other. In fact, he said, once you've had Krispy Kreme, the next time you taste a (large gas station chain's maternal-themed baked product) donut, "you'll want to vomit."

That's when I had an epiphany. This poor guy's benchmark for donut quality was a gas station donut! Maybe that was all he'd ever known. Of course he was going to be impressed with a donut from an actual donut shop. (For one thing, it's bound to be fresher. I've seen the next morning's "fresh" donuts being delivered to this chain's stations at supper time. And who knows how many hours they've already been in the truck by then.)

As a former farm boy, my transformation to a city dweller has presented me with some interesting ironies. One irony is that in the big city -- where you would go to shop for all the latest, most expensive, highest quality, most exotic products -- people often settle for subpar goods on a daily basis. They're missing out on the everyday simple pleasures that small town people take for granted. And I think this is especially true in the 'burbs.

For instance, the donuts. When it comes to donuts, the poor fellow on the radio thinks of gas stations. In small towns, you get your donuts at the bakery. Nice, big, fresh donuts that are only a few hours old, and were made only a few feet away from where you buy them. Where I live in St. Paul, I have two bakeries within walking distance of my house, but I'll bet it's hard to find a traditional, stand-alone bakery in Woodbury.

In retrospect, my donut epiphany was the culmination of a pattern I've seen over 20 years time. It goes back to when I was in college in Duluth. Parents would come from the Twin Cities to visit on weekends, and it seemed almost mandatory that they stop at Tobies in Hinckley and pick up some caramel rolls. Boy, did those city folk love their Tobies caramel rolls. But I didn't know what all the fuss was about. They weren't any better than the caramel rolls you'd get at the bakery in Pine City or any other small town between the Cities and Duluth. But the city folk didn't know that; it took a tourist trap like Tobies to get them to stop.

A few years later, now in the workforce, I traveled to Kansas City for a conference. In the evening, a colleague and I were out on the town,and we passed by an outlet of a cinnamon roll chain, which as of that time had not yet reached the Twin Cities. My colleague, Bob, was excited. He just had to have a cinnamon roll. What's the big deal, I asked him? They're just cinnamon rolls. Oh, but they're fresh, and so big, Bob replied. I remained unimpressed. Just like at any small town bakery, I told him.

Hmmm... I'm writing this at bedtime. I wonder what goodies they'll be baking up at the Rosemark and P.J. Murphy's while I sleep?

July 20, 2004

Is Your Dog Limping?
What a strange ad in my Sunday paper. "Is Your Dog Limping?" it asks. No, but for $200 and free dog food, he's willing to learn! Makes me wonder how many pooches "accidentally" had their paws stepped on on Sunday. Or maybe they were taken for walks through glass-strewn parking lots. I wonder what this one's all about.

July 19, 2004

Was It Over When the Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor?
I'm reminded of that line from the movie Animal House by a recent letter to the editor in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Criticizing the decision to invade Iraq as part of the response to 9-11, the writer, one Walt DeYoung of Oakdale, states: "George Bush has equated the unilateral war in Iraq with World II. Has he gone completely mad? We were attacked by Japan but we didn't turn around and attack Mexico!"

Well, no, of course not. That would have been silly. However, Congress did declare war on .... Germany..... Italy.... and of course, Japan.

As the movie's Dean Wermer might have said, "Oblivious to history is no way to go through life, young man."

July 17, 2004

YOU can't legislate morality (that's my job)
"Have you ever taken your 8-year-old to _____ and there was someone ____ ? Kids are looking up to these adults."

These words were spoken by:

a. That stupid Dan Quayle, regarding unmarried women having babies.

b. A venomous, mean-spirited conservative U.S. Senator, speaking on behalf of a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriages.

c. A right-wing, fundamentalist Christian trying to impose her personal values on Hollywood, demanding that they enforce some morality in their movies.

If you guessed any of the above, you're wrong. In fact, this quote comes from St. Paul Parks and Recreation Commission chairwoman Carrie Wasley, in defense of her commission's proposal to ban smoking in all city parks. The full quote, as reported in the St. Paul Pioneer Press (July 16, 2004): "Have you ever taken your 8-year-old to an an outdoor baseball game and there was someone smoking a cigarette, or worse yet, a cigar? Kids are looking up to these adults."

I'm not a smoker. Never have been. And I think there are plenty of good reasons to regulate smoking. Heck, if lawn darts and fireworks are too dangerous to entrust to the citizenry, why is tobacco allowed? Even if cigarettes didn't cause cancer, just consider how many fatal fires are started every year by careless (i.e. passed out drunk) smokers. Yet our various levels of government, which spend our money telling us not to smoke because it will kill us, continue to not only allow the sale of tobacco, but materially participate in the racket in the form of cigarette taxes. (That's quite a conflict of interest there. I'm waiting for the first anti-tobacco class action suit naming the government as a defendant.) So I'm not defending smoking. I'd much prefer that no one ever smoke near me.

But commissioner Wasley isn't talking about banning smoking because the smoke in the park is making someone -- either the smoker or even a secondhand smoke breather -- ill. She says she doesn't want to allow smoking in the park because a child might see it. She doesn't want her child to smoke, and she's afraid that if he sees someone smoking, that sight might be enough to push him into the grip of the demon leaf.

Now that's what I call a slippery slope -- banning a legal activity because it sets a bad example for her child. Well, it just so happens there are a lot of things I don't want my own children to do. So of course I don't want them to see anyone else do those things, either. How about we extend that park ban to include: no tatoos; no baggy pants worn with the waist at mid-thigh; no thongs showing above the waistline; no bad language (either crude or ungrammatical); no unwed mothers pushing strollers; no hair in shades of blue, green or purple; no T-shirts with crude messages or drug humor. I could go on and on.

But then I'd be imposing my values on others, right? Isn't that what they'd tell me? Why is it that if those on the conservative side of the aisle want others to behave properly, they are called "intolerant"? "You can't legislate morality!" we're told. Yet liberals then turn around and try to impose their own values, telling everyone else how to live: recycle; go vegan; don't wear fur; drive a hybrid; play soccer (but don't keep score). And that list could go on and on.

So if you're a liberal on a city government board, it's OK to try to impose your personal values through city ordinance, since your cause is just? But if you're a conservative -- even Vice President of the United States, like Dan Quayle -- you're "intolerant" and "imposing your morals on others" if you suggest that we take a serious look at a serious social problem.

I'm sure chairwoman Wasley would never be so narrow-minded. But while acknowledging that a smoking ban in the parks would be tough to enforce, she said she thought "no smoking" signs would help. "It's going to be more of a moral persuasion," she said.

I think I get it now. It's "YOU can't legislate morality"; not "I can't legislate morality."

July 16, 2004

The Minnesota Twins Would Make Lousy Drug Pushers
The Minnesota Twins baseball team just isn't drawing the crowds. Despite winning division titles the past two seasons, and trading first place with the White Sox through the first half of this season, the Twins continue to have trouble putting fans in the seats.

What's up? In a Tom Powers column (St. Paul Pioneer Press, July 14, 2004), Twins President Dave St. Peter points out that while attendance lags, TV ratings are near an all-time high. "There has been a disconnect," he said. "So many people are watching on TV, and that says there is a lot of interest. But they aren't coming to the ballpark. It's our job to figure out why."

A "disconnect"? Hellooooo! Knock-knock, anyone home? How about a "connect"? Has it occurred to them that maybe, just maybe, people don't come to the ballpark precisely because they can watch the game on TV instead? And why should we expect people to spend tens of dollars to see one game in person, when the Twins' Victory Sports cable channel fiasco showed that most people don't want to spend even a few bucks a month to watch all the games on TV.

They say that in the early days of radio, teams were reluctant to let their games be broadcast. People might stop coming in person, they worried. But they took the radio broadcast money, and baseball went on. Then came TV. And there were the same fears. Even more so. So until very recently, only road games were on TV in a team's home market. People weren't expected to follow their team on the road and buy tickets anyway, so that TV money from away games was all gravy to the team. (Nowadays, they'd call it a new "revenue stream.")

And so it went. In 1988, the year after their improbable World Series win, the Twins set a league attendance record of more than 3 million fans. That season, most road games were on broadcast TV for all to see, but not the home games. Fans, myself included, would have the TV on each night of a road trip. Six, nine, 12 games would go by, then the broadcasters would say, "That's the last TV game for awhile, folks. The Twins return home tomorrow night for a nine game homestand. You'll have to come on out to the park so you can see them play." The fans, hooked on seeing the Twins every night, now needed to buy tickets so they didn't suffer the symptoms of baseball withdrawal.

And so it went. The televised roads games whet fans' appetites to buy tickets for the home games. And fans clearly knew when the Twins were on a homestand -- they weren't on TV.

But now, the baseball teams have really gotten greedy. They want to have it both ways. They want the money from pay TV, which brings almost every game into the homes of cable and satellite subscribers, but they still want people to come out in person. But why should they? Heck, with every game on TV, the fans don't even realize when the team is at home. If the Twins are always on TV, there's no baseball withdrawal. There's an old show biz axiom: Always leave them wanting more. And everyone in marketing knows that scarcity breeds demand. Well, everyone but baseball teams.

In the other extreme, I don't have pay TV in my house. The only Twins games I see are Friday nights on channel 45. That, actually, makes it special. My family makes a point of watching those Friday night games. But the Friday game is on TV home or away, so again, it doesn't reinforce in my mind any idea of whether the team is on the road or in a homestand. And since I've gotten used to being a radio fan, who almost never sees the Twins on TV or in person, the idea of buying a ticket to see a game doesn't even occur to me anymore. If I can get by without seeing the road games, I can get by without seeing the home games.

The Twins wouldn't make very good drug pushers, that's for sure. In their greed to court new "revenue streams" from pay TV, the Twins have forgotten about courting real, human fans -- the baseball "users." The result: They've divided baseball fans into two groups. For one group -- those with pay TV -- the Twins provide a ticket substitute in the form of televised games. No need for them to buy tickets anymore. Meanwhile, the Twins have successfully weaned the other group -- those without pay TV -- from the need to see baseball games (use the product) at all. And they wonder why people aren't coming out to the park and buying tickets? The Twins are putting themselves out of business.

July 15, 2004

Curse You, You Ancient Peoples of 2004!
It seems in these days of digital cameras, web-based photo albums, e-mail and weblogs, people are taking pictures and writing more than ever. Yet, I can't help but wonder if years from now historians will curse us for leaving so little of permanence behind.

I'm reminded of that thought by an Express section cover story in yesterday's (July 14, 2004) St. Paul Pioneer Press. According to the story by Molly Millett, baby books and wallet photos are out; baby websites and baby blogs are in.

Referring to her baby's personal website, one new mother says, "I think it's the new baby book."

Says another new mom, "I haven't written in [baby's] paper journal for months and months and months, but I'm on the computer all the time, checking my e-mail, making a note about our day (on her online journal), taking a break to see what the 2-year-old in New Jersey is up to."

Yes, some parents not only document their own child, they spend lots of time getting to "know" other people's children in an online "community." That's all well and good, I guess, and they can share parenting tips and offer emotional support and all that touchy-feely stuff, but they can get carried away. About someone else's child he may never actually meet, one man says, "In the 'It takes a Village to Raise a Child' theme, I feel like part of the village."

Yes, except that he'll never be there to grab her before she runs in front of a car. Or to tell her parents that he's seen her hanging out with the wrong crowd. Or to provide a shoulder to cry on when she's a teenager at war with her own parents. So you don't actually have to do anything as part of the cyber "village," you just get to feel good about yourself.

But I digress. This was supposed to be about historians cussing at us while they flit about on their fusion-powered jetpacks.

You see, it seems that with each new stage in the information revolution we get more information, but it becomes less permanent. The easier it is to make a recording -- be it words or pictures -- the less durable that recording is.

Think of ancient stone tablets. That took some work. You wouldn't just scribble a "blog" on a stone tablet. Yet some still exist today, helping us understand civilizations from thousands of years ago. There have been parchments, scrolls, engravings, oil paintings -- all pretty durable. But then came the printing revolution. Gutenberg and the printing press. More and more things printed. Cheaper and cheaper paper. Less and less durability.

Instead of a bust or an oil painting of a great leader, we advanced to photography. Early processes were costly and time-consuming, but they produced negatives and photos that lasted. As cameras and film became cheaper and more accessible to the masses, more photos were taken, but they became less durable. Don't leave those modern color photo prints near sunlight if you want your grandchildren to see them someday.

Now we've opened up a whole new can of worms, introducing the computer into our record keeping. We've got websites and email and digital photos all over the place. But 100 years from now, will they still be there for anyone to study? And even if the discs are still there, will anyone be able to read and view them? In not much more than a decade, I've gone through floppy disks, Syquest disks, optical disks, DAT tape -- all pretty much obsolete now. In order to keep my old work available, I've had to copy from those old formats to new. Right now CDs are the way to go. Will that last? Who knows? I don't.

But while I make an effort to keep usable backups of everything because I'm in business, how about all those parents with a hard drive full of digital photos of baby? What if their machine crashes? Do they have a backup? Do they have enough of them printed? Will the prints last through the years? When they upgrade to a new computer, will the baby photos be forgotten on the old one?

Nowadays, historians rejoice over finding a pioneer's diary in the wall cavity of a house, or in the discovery of a collection of old glass negatives on a Mississippi River dredging barge. Will the historians of the future ever know such joy?

July 14, 2004

The World of Marketing
We Americans sure know how to market products. I've recently seen an ad headlined: "Try A Crescent Dog! 40% Fewer Carbs." Rather than a conventional old hot dog bun, the ad says, wrap your weenie in a refrigerated crescent roll and cut your carbs. But what's the rest of the story? Check the fine print. The crescent dog has 13g carbs, compared to 23g carbs in the conventional dog. But the crescent dog has 26g fat, compared to only 22g fat in the conventional dog. And total calories? The crescent dog has a slight edge, at 330 calories to the conventional dog's 340. So fat be damned; it's carbs that count.

But remember when fat was all that mattered ? It wasn't so long ago. That led to such ridiculous marketing ploys as the chocolate syrup that bragged it was "fat free!" Never mind all the sugar. But the worst I ever saw, one day in a convenience store, was a foil package crying out "100% fat free!" Yes, but....I thought to myself. Turning the package around, I read the ingredients. There were only two: sugar, and red dye. The product -- cotton candy -- was pure sugar. But it must be good for you. It's fat free!

July 13, 2004

A Church by Any Other Name
My Sunday (July 11, 2004) St. Paul Pioneer Press included a special advertising section heralding the upcoming grand opening of the Celebration of Life Center. A new kind of health club? Hardly. A new take on what used to be known as a funeral home, the Celebration of Life Center carries significant social significance. It must be thoughtfully commented upon.

The COLC was built by Bradshaw, a company that already operates six other Twin Cities funeral homes. Here's what they say about their new COLC:

"It is, quite possibly, the most innovative and trend-setting funeral home in the country. In fact, is is so much more than a funeral home, that it truly is a 'Celebration of Life.'

"Located close to a busy intersection in Stillwater (Highways 5 and 36), the Bradshaw Celebration of Life Center is surprisingly secluded. Sheltered by trees, ponds and gentle land forms, the 14,000-square-foot facility offers a contemplative sanctuary from the outside world.

"Every conceivable effort has been taken to keep the building and the gardens in harmony with the environment. More than eight years of planning went into this project before the first shovel even broke the earth. The end result is a facility that is destined to help future generations celebrate the lives of loved ones well into the next century -- and beyond!"

Now let me describe some of the revolutionary features of this next-generation funeral home, and let's see if you arrive at the same conclusion as I did.

--The COLC includes a "community room" and kitchen, for hosting a post-funeral luncheon.

--The COLC isn't just for funerals: It "has been designed as a multi-use facility. Several community groups have already had meetings there. Bradshaw hopes more will take advantage of the available space. (Non-profit community groups can hold their meetings there at no charge.)"

--When it comes to landmark life events, the COLC is not limited to funerals: They've already held a wedding there.

--The grounds of the COLC includes a place for interment of remains (although only for ashes, not caskets).

--Also planned for the grounds: a "meditative labyrinth."

Let's review. They host weddings and funerals, with meals afterward. Serve as a community meeting place. Provide a final resting place. And plan to have a "meditative labyrinth."

Sounds like a church to me. You would never have a wedding in a funeral home, but a church can host a funeral on Friday and a wedding on Saturday, and no one gives it a second thought. This is a church for people who don't have a church!

Bradshaw recognizes that. "Half the public these days does not belong to a church," according to Jim Bradshaw, a funeral director for 43 years.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not knocking Bradshaw. They're in the funeral home business, not the church business. And they're trying to meet what they see as the needs of their clientele. But as a church-going person, I think it's sad that this need exists. Churches have always had inactive members who haven't set foot in the building for years, but who can be counted on to make at least one more visit, bringing their mourning family members back with them. Pastors note that funerals can be a good time to reach the living with the message of the Gospel.

But now, there's no need for that final visit to church. The same place that handles embalming or cremating can also handle the funeral, the luncheon, and the interment. I'm sure many of the funerals there (maybe most) will have clergy as officiants, but still.... It's not the same.

It seems to me that the Celebration of Life Center is a fee-for-service church. No need to be a member. No need to spend a lifetime contributing to a religious community. When you need a church, just pay your fee and the COLC is at your service. And when you use the Church of the Celebration of Life, whether or not you include God is entirely up to you.

I think it's sad that it has come to this. And I'll bet at some level the Bradshaw family feels that way, too.

[The open house is scheduled for Saturday, July 17, 2004, 7 am to 11 pm.]

July 10, 2004

Today in short order I saw the same bumper sticker twice. It read: "BUCK FUSH." It didn't take me too long to figure out the point of it. I'm supposed to switch the initial letters between the two words. As Charlie Brown might say, "Good Grief!"

Is that the level of discourse we can expect these days? Hey, you can think our current President is not doing a good job if you want to, but is that any way to talk about him? This sort of bumper sticker really says something about the person who owns the bumper. Maybe he should have a companion bumper sticker: "Crude Morons for Kerry."

And if you really feel that strongly about the issue, why the game playing? Why not just put on a bumper sticker with the letters in the right place to begin with? If that's really how you feel, then be a man about it. Put that message on your bumper for all the world to see. If you think you're right, don't hide behind type tricks.

July 9, 2004
I saw a moving truck. The company name was on the side: "Two men and a truck." But parked right next to that truck was another one exactly like it. Hmmmm. There might be only two men, but that part about "a" truck just isn't working for 'em anymore.

July 8, 2004

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

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

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

July 7, 2004

The Illogic of "Balancing" the Ticket
We hear a lot about the need to "balance" a presidential ticket. If the candidate for President is from the North, he should choose a Vice Presidential running mate from the South. If he's seen as very liberal, he should choose a VP who is less liberal. If he's seen as very conservative, he should choose a running mate who is less conservative. If he's too old...choose someone younger. Too fat...someone slimmer. Maybe the ideal ticket would be Laurel and Hardy, or Abbott and Costello.

But seriously, the thinking is that this is the best way to garner votes. Voters who aren't so crazy about the Presidential candidate might vote for him if they like the VP candidate better.

But let's think about this. The Vice President can break ties in the Senate. He does have that going for him. But really, the only purpose of the office is to have someone ready to immediately take over if the President dies or is unable to perform his duties. That means the Vice President should be just like the President. Otherwise, you're electing someone who will deviate from the course you've elected the other guy to guide you on. How logical is that?

So really, the two people on the ticket should be very similar. That's not to say they both have to be from the same part of the country, but ideologically they should be twins. Otherwise, you're casting your vote saying, "This is the right vote, provided Candidate Smith doesn't die in office." And if you voted for the ticket even though you didn't care so much for the Presidential candidate, but you really liked the VP candidate, does that mean you're HOPING the President will keel over dead so the preferred man can take over?

You see where this is going, don't you? What it comes down to is this: The perfect VP would be a clone of the President. And some day, it just might happen.

July 6, 2004
Why is it: If you're a conspiracy-obsessed right-wing kook, you might get a midnight radio program. But if you're a conspiracy-obsessed left-wing kook (Michael Moore, Oliver Stone), you get to make major motion pictures?


contents copyright 2004, David W. Downing

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