Saturday, July 31, 2010

End of Month Special: Lasagna Sandwich

"I'm not going to try it"
"Let's ask Mikey!"
"Yeah. He won't eat it - he hates everything."
"He likes it! Hey Mikey!"
- Life Cereal commercial, 1972

If the 100 layer lasagna is too much for you,
consider the Lasagna Sandwich from England. Or not. Who puts mayo on lasagna?

Ingredients: two thick slices of bread and a filling of diced beef in a tomato and herb sauce layered with cooked pasta sheets and a creamy cheddar, ricotta and mayonnaise dressing.

Bottom Line

This reminds me of a joke.

In Heaven, the wealthy live in a house with a French chef, Russian security, Italian party planner, and an English butler.

In Hell you get a house with an English cook, Italian security, Russian party planner and French butler.

(every culture has its strengths and weaknesses)

Bonus History

As today is July 31, did you ever notice that the two months named after real people both have 31 days?

July = Julius Caesar
Aug = Augustus Caesar (born Gaius Octavius Thurinus)

No puny months for these famous Romans!

Bonus Trivia

In non-leap years, no other month starts on the same day of the week as August.

The Roman Senate wanted to change September to "Tiberius" to honor the next emporer but Tiberius hated flattery of any kind. He refused the honor and ended the tradition of renaming the months.

For early Romans the year started in March.

Martius (31 days) = Mar's month (honoring the God of War)
Aprilis (30 days) = named for flowers "opening up" (aperire)?
Maius (31 days) = named for the Greek goddess of fertility, Maia?
Iunius (30 days) = named for Juno, wife of Jupiter
Quintilis (31 days) = means 5th month in Latin, now July
Sextilis (30 days) = 6th month, now August
September (30 days) = 7th month
October (31 days) = 8th month
November (30 days) = 9th month
December (30 days) = 10 month

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Who's reading your email?

“Relying on the government to protect your privacy is like asking a peeping tom to install your window blinds.”
- John Perry Barlow

When you use the Internet, you can NEVER assume any privacy. Consider email for example. Your text is moving in the clear between many servers and can be easily intercepted. It is stored on a server at the email company where police and others can request to see it with a court warrant. Any employee at the email company with access to the server could read the email (though it may violate company/corporate privacy regulations.) Don't think this could happen? There are many examples of Civil employees caught reading the DMV records or tax records of celebrities, friends and enemies.

Another technology that puts privacy at risk is Chat. It's not uncommon for employees within a company to chat with other. But if the chat is run by an outside company, then confidential conversations can compromised. At my last job, the IT department came to fear this and required that everyone only use a new Chat service that was run within the company.

One problem today is that we have little clue who owns or operates services on the Internet. Your favorite site or service could be running in China with a history of disregard for privacy. Recently one of the pioneering chat companies, ICQ, was sold to a Russian company where the Russian "secret service" is entitled by law to any information it wants.

Bottom Line

Anything you put on the Internet may be leaked or become public. Don't assume privacy. I'm often annoyed by sites where I register and then they email back a welcome letter with my password printed out in clear text.

I read yesterday of a case in Europe where a brother privately boasted of a murder on Facebook to his sister. She turned the message over to the police.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Clever Icons

Win one for the Gipper!
- Ronald Regan in Knute Rockne: All American
I love good art design and wish I had the imagination for it. My brain is hardwired for seeing "what is" as opposed to wild envisioning. I can copy design tricks and use them but admire people who can create from scratch.
So I enjoyed the web posting, 23 Brilliant Logos With Hidden Messages, by a design artist blogger. The first logo in particular caught my eye. Here's why...
Last weekend my wife and I visited my Freshman roommate from college and his family in State College, PA to see the annual Art Fair. Thanks Mark & Margaret! We had a great time.
State College is home to Penn State, a Land Grant school, and like any good ag school it has an excellent dairy. Mark took us to the college ice cream shop and while there I noticed the flags for all the Big Ten schools including my Alma mater. (As a Michigan State alum it was funny to see "State" logos everywhere and have it mean something quite different than MSU.) I also noticed that there were 11 flags! I don't follow college sports so I was surprised to learn there are 11 schools in the Big Ten! It was aptly 10 back in my day. Penn State joined as #11 in 1990.

Bottom Line

My mathematical mind shudders at 11 schools in the Big Ten but I have to give credit for the clever logo incorporating the number 11. I guess they'll need a new logo next year when the University of Nebraska-Lincoln joins the league.

Update Aug 3
Here's a new list of clever logos

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Common Scams

“I sincerely believe that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies, and that the principles of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale” - Thomas Jefferson

Here are the top 10 International Scams according to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission).

1. Asking for money to be wired
This is a scam red flag! Wiring money is like sending cash: there is NO protections against fraud and no way to know who received the money.

2. Money requests from "friends", persons in need, businesses you did not order from.
Don't send money to strangers or unsolicited businesses.

3. Asking for info by phone, text, or email.
Never give personal information to someone contacting you. They could be lying about who they represent. Never use links supplied by email.

4. You won a foreign lottery!
Playing in foreign lotteries is illegal.

5. Please deposit this check and wire me some money back immediately.
Famous scam. The check may take many days to clear before bouncing and you will be fined for the bad check. Meanwhile the money wired is gone forever. (see #1)

6. Unauthorized charges
Always check your credit card statements and bills for "Extras" that may have been added without your permission.

7. Donating to a "fake" charity
After a natural disaster, stick to established charities like the Red Cross. Don't trust just anyone offering to collect your money.

8. Miracle Health Product!
Buy drugs only from licensed U.S. pharmacies. Otherwise, you could end up with products that are fake, expired, mislabeled, or dangerous.

9. There is no such thing as a sure thing
Stay away from anyone promising a low-risk, high-return investment opportunity. This is a contradiction of the financial market. The only true "low-risk" is FDIC insured bank accounts with terrible rates. Higher returns ALWAYS require higher risk and a chance of losing money.

10. Dealing with a fake business.
With VoIP and P.O. Boxes it is easy to create fake companies that disappear with your money with no way to find out who has it. Only deal with reputable companies with real addresses.

Bottom Line

If a deal sounds too good to be true, it is!

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Power Outage

“I have the body of an eighteen year old. I keep it in the fridge.”
- humorist Spike Milligan

When the power goes out, a refrigerator will keep food safely cold for about 4 hours if UNOPENED. A full freezer will hold the temperature for up to two days if the door remains CLOSED (24 hours if the freezer is only half full).

More than 250 diseases can be caused by bacteria found in contaminated food. After a long outage, you can NOT rely on appearance or odor for food safety. Never taste food to determine if it’s safe use a food thermometer instead. Discard all perishable foods (meat, milk, soft cheeses, cooked leftovers) that have been above 40°F for 2 hours. Discard items that have come into contact with raw meat juices. If frozen food still contains ice crystals or is below 40 °F, it is safe to refreeze; otherwise toss it.

You can help preserve your food by moving any item you must use (like milk or soda for the children) into a cooler with ice. Then wrap tape or rope around your fridge and freezer to keep it closed from prying young fingers.

Bottom Line

For a list of foods and which are "safe" or not when warm, check out

Another good site is

If you don't have a food thermometer, then keep two ice cubes in a bag on a freezer shelf. If the ice has completely melted when the power returns, you can be pretty sure the food is not safe to keep.

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Monday, July 26, 2010


Darkness falls across the land.
The midnight hour is close at hand.
Creatures crawl in search of blood.
To terrorize y'alls neighborhood.
-lyrics from Michael Jackson's Thriller

Here's an odd but true story via

A car full of people dressed as zombies crashed on Interstate 84 near downtown Portland, Oregon, on Friday, causing initial confusion by people who witnessed the crash.

...Sgt. Greg Stewart said people who witnessed the crash initially thought the victims' injuries were much more serious, because of the zombie costumes.

"We're glad that everyone is alive, despite being 'undead'," Sgt. Stewart said, referring to the costumes.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Distant planets observed

Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.-Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

It seems not so very long ago that astronomers were only able to deduce the existence of planets around other stars by observing wobbles in the star's motion. But telescope technology has improved and we are now starting to see extra-solar planets. Here is the first photo of a distant planet, 500 light-years away, photographed in 2008 but only recently confirmed.

The star pictured is similar in size to the sun but a million times younger, just a few million years old instead of Sol's 5 billion. The planet (upper-left) is about 8 times the size of Jupiter and still glowing hot from creation.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dick Whittington's Cat

“Cats were put into the world to disprove the dogma that all things were created to serve man.”-Paul Gray

If you've ever watched the musical, Cats, you may remember a line by Gus the Theater Cat who says, "I once understudied Dick Whittington's Cat". For years I had no clue what this meant until my newest commuting lecture, "London : a short history of the greatest city in the Western world." explained the story.

In the 14th century a poor country orphan walked to the great city of London to seek his fortune. Once there, cold and tired, Dick Whittington fell asleep in front of the great house of Mr. Fitzwarren, a rich but kindly merchant, who took Dick into his house and employed him as a scullery boy. Dick was happy except for the rats that infested his bedroom. So he earned a penny shining a gentleman's shoes, and with this penny bought a cat, a proficient mouser who drove off the rats.

One day, Mr. Fitzwarren asked his servants if they wished to add something to his ship's cargo to sell in a far off port. Reluctantly Dick sent his cat as his only possession. As time passed, in Mr. Fitzwarren's absence, his cook treated Dick cruelly. Dick ran away but as he was leaving the city, he heard the Bow Bells ring out saying, "Turn again Whittington, thrice Lord Mayor of London". Dick retraced his steps and found that Mr. Fitzwarren's ship had returned. The cat had been sold for a great fortune to the King of Barbary, whose palace was overrun with mice. Dick became a rich man, joined Mr. Fitzwarren in his business, and married his daughter Alice. In time he became the Lord Mayor of London three times, just as the bells had predicted.

Bottom Line

Dick Wittington really was Mayor of London three times but he came from a wealthy family and there is no historical proof that a cat changed his life. Never-the-less, when Newgate Prison was rebuilt according to the terms of Whittington's will, a cat was carved over one of the gates. In 1572, a chariot with a carved cat was presented by Whittington's heirs to the merchant's guild. Today, on Highgate Hill in front of the Whittington Hospital, there is a statue in honor of Whittington's legendary cat (pictured above).

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Head Cold

“Envy is as persistent as memory, as intractable as a head cold.”-Harry Stein

I’ve had a CPAP machine for sleep apnea for two weeks now and am experiencing my first head cold with the machine. The congestion quickly went into my ear canals and I’m hoping it won’t develop into a full scale sinus infection.

Opinion on the internet is mixed regarding CPAP and head colds. The American Sleep Apnea Association says CPAP should be discontinued during a sinus infection. But how does one know when the line is crossed from normal congestion to sinus infection? Some apnea patients stop using the machine during colds but admit that their sleep suffers and lack of sleep weakens the body that needs to heal. Others switch to a full face mask just for colds and crank up the humidifier on the machine to loosen up the mucus. For some this works miracles.

I slept without the machine last night - my wife noticed the snoring had returned. I think I’ll try the full mask tonight if my ears feel less blocked by then.

Bottom Line

The National Institutes of Health, and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has a list to help distinguish a common cold, from the flu and from a sinus infection…

Cold Symptoms
Slow onset.
No prostration.
Fever Headache is rare.
Runny nose, Sneezing.
Mild Fatigue.
Cough, chest discomfort.
Sore Throat.

Flu Symptoms
Swift, severe onset.
Prominent Prostration.
Flushed, hot moist skin.
102-104 degree temp.
Chills, body aches.
Extreme fatigue,
can last 2-3 weeks.
Cough, sore throat.

Sinus Infection Symptoms
Facial pains.
Tenderness of the sinus areas.
Nasal drainage that is thick and colored.
Cough (may be itchy).
Postnasal drip.
Bad breath.
Upper jaw pain.
Sore throat.
Eyes are sensitive to light.
General fatigue.
Eye lids swell.


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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Smarter than the average bear

"I'm smarter than the average bear." - Yogi Bear

For you summertime travelers, here's a question I'm sure you've been worried about; if I travel to a National Park, what type of car is a bear most likely to break into? Well worry no more! The Journal of Mammalogy studied bear attacks in Yosemite Park published the following...

From 2001 to 2007, bears broke into 908 vehicles at the following rates: minivan (26.0%), sport–utility vehicle (22.5%), small car (17.1%), sedan (13.7%), truck (11.9%), van (4.2%), sports car (1.7%), coupe (1.7%), and station wagon (1.4%). Only use of minivans (29%) during 2004–2005 was significantly higher than expected (7%).

Bottom Line

Today it is rare to see a bear at a US National Park. My grandparents have photos of bears checking out cars when whey visited Yellowstone in the 40's. But I never saw one at Yellowstone in recent decades. Today any bear that gets near people is drugged by rangers and transported far away. Bears may be cute but they are dangerous; they can easily rip open cars and trailers to get to food inside. Do not encourage bears by feeding them.

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Monday, July 19, 2010


"The miracle of the seed and the soil is not available by affirmation; it is only available by labor."-Jim Rohn

If you garden but are disappointed with the results, check out article "A Checklist for Beginning Gardeners" on It includes this tip on how to analyze your soil,

Take a quart canning jar with a lid that will screw on tight enough that no water will escape during the test. Then, take about a pint of soil from where you plan on growing your garden. Clear out any plant matter and rocks, pummel the soil until it's as fine as you can make it, put it in the jar, make a line or similar mark to show where the top of your sample is inside the jar (we used masking tape and a permanent marker), fill it up with water to about an inch from the top, add 1 teaspoon dish detergent to help break up the soil, screw on the lid, and shake vigorously for five to ten minutes. Older kids and a spouse come in real handy during this process.

What you're trying to do is break the soil up as completely as possible. Once your soil is looking uniformly finely ground, set down the jar in a sunny window or some other well-lit place and time two minutes from the moment you set the jar down. While you wait, get a flashlight since you may need it for the next part as well as a marker and possibly some tape. We found masking tape worked well. At exactly two minutes, you'll see that some of the soil has accumulated on the bottom. We didn't have any difficulty seeing it because of the nature of our soil, but some might, so shine the flashlight on the jar to help find the top part of that accumulation. Make a mark.

That first mark is the amount of sand in your soil. We have extremely sandy topsoil; that's why ours was easy to see. At two hours, make another mark to show where the accumulation is at that point. That's your silt level. If you really want to be thorough with this test, wait until the water turns clear to get your clay level. It could happen within a day. Ours took several days. It looks like we have very fine clay in our soil.

... Once you have all these marks, calculate the percentage of each. Divide the height of that original mark into the other marks you made after the shake-up.

Here is a quick field-test for your clay-silt-sand mixture. Squeeze a handful of damp soil into a ball in your hand. If you poke the ball lightly with your finger and it breaks apart, it is probably sand. If a bit more pressure breaks it, you’re dealing with silt. If it sits there despite your poking, you have mostly clay.

Bottom Line

The reason these tests are so important is because they let you know how much water your soil will hold, if any. Water flows through sand but is absorbed and held by clay. I checked several web sites but could not find a recommendation for the "best" sand/clay ratio. You want a mix of both to achieve a "crumbly" soil but the ratio will depend on the plant. Plants with large root systems will need more sand since hard clay is difficult to grow through.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

The 50 Fattiest Foods in the States

“No diet will remove all the fat from your body because the brain is entirely fat. Without a brain, you might look good, but all you could do is run for public office.”-George Bernard Shaw

If you're weary of dieting and eager to splurge on something "not doctor approved", then check out the The 50 Fattiest Foods in the States. Many of the items listed are fried, like catfish, chicken fried steak, corn dog, cheese curds (my favorite), empanadas, fried pastry, and frybread. Or are giant-sized portions like the 10-pound hamburger, Quadruple Bypass Burger, 7-pound burrito, 2-foot long hot dog, and the Ben & Jerry's Vermonster.

Some of the 50 items are over the top like a BLT with over a pound of bacon, pictured above, with 20+ strips! Some items on the list are puzzling like Virginia Ham. Fatty, yes, but is a slice of ham really in the same league as a 2-foot hot dog or the monster BLT?

Bottom Line
Always consider the sauces used in a dish. The Crab Louis Salad from Washington state looks healthy but has a heavy mayo dressing that pushes the dish to a day's worth of fat. In other dishes watch out for cream, butter and/or cheese as in New England Clam Chowder.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hurricane Season

"It is better to meet danger than to wait for it. He that is on a lee shore, and foresees a hurricane, stands out to sea and encounters a storm to avoid a shipwreck."-Charles Caleb Colton

Today I'll let someone else do all the talking. Check out Hurricane Readiness at It covers what to do before, during and after a hurricane and ends with a supply list.

Bottom Line

A hurricane is not something you can prepare for last minute. Check out the article and prepare now if you live in a hurricane zone.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Not fit for a dog!

“Every dog has his day - but the nights are reserved for cats”

Dogs may think they are part of your human pack but there are many foods that people enjoy that are poisonous to dogs.

* Alcohol
* Avocados
* Chocolate
* Coffee grounds
* Grapes and raisins
* Gum or candy with xylitol
* Human vitamin supplements
* Macadamia nuts
* Mushrooms
* Onions and garlic (raw, cooked, powder)
* Salt
* Tea
* Tobacco
* Yeast dough

I once had a dog who loved anything made of bread. One night after breading some chicken I offered the dog the remaining flour which he lapped up. BIG MISTAKE. The next day he started bloating and we took him to an emergency vet. The flour had turned to a thick dough and formed a plug in his intestine. The vet had to operate to remove the blockage.

Bottom Line

If you think your pet has eaten something poisonous, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center hotline (888-426-4435; a consultation fee may apply).

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Conservative Viewpoint

"In physics, a conservation law states that a particular measurable property of an isolated physical system does not change as the system evolves."

I started a new commuting lecture series today called "The Conservative Tradition" by Patrick N. Allitt of Emory University and I'm really enjoying the first lecture covering the basics of what conservatives believe. The basic premise of conservatism is this: Human nature changes very slowly (if at all) so societal change should be evolutionary, not revolutionary.

This has several interesting corollaries for conservatives:

1. Human history is filled with war - it's peace that is temporary and unnatural. So when a liberal wants to disarm during a period a peace, a conservative says, "Are you nuts!", you're just making us weaker for the next inevitable war. Why believe that for the first time in history, human nature will change and that peace will last forever?

2. Human motivations from greed, love, sadness, etc., don't change. So we can still learn from the ancient Greek/Roman classics and from Dead White European Males. (I've never understood the liberal opposition to the classics. Now if makes sense if you believe that mankind has changed or can be changed through Orwellian methods of controlling what people learn.)

3. Respect your Elders. Conservatives believe that (for the most part) the laws and mores and traditions of our ancestors still apply today. Law must respond to changes in technology but people are still people. Liberals believe that everything today is different and that the old ways don't apply and must be replaced with a new way of thinking. Remember the Internet .COM boom - "this time it's different!"

4. Human nature won't permanently change through "reeducation". Look at the extreme lengths that China and Russia when through to change the people to a socialist mindset. Or consider Moses in the desert for 40 years. An entire generation had to die so that a more godly people could resettle Israel but they quickly fall from grace in the book of Joshua.

By no means can it be said that conservatives are always right; just because something has been a tradition for generations does not make it right. Interestingly differing traditions in the US and England have led to different conservative doctrines:
US: Guns are good, UK: Guns are bad
US: Separation of church and state, UK: Union of church and state.

Bottom Line

"If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain."-Winston Churchill

There is nothing wrong with wanting the world to be better. To hope that real and permanent change is possible is natural youthful optimism. But when optimists come into power they quickly learn that the real world doesn't want sudden change and they end up using force when idealism fails. Planned societies are very unstable and require isolation and a police state to prevent change back to the old ways.

Is real change possible? Yes, but it takes a long time with many conflicts along the way. Consider slavery and racism in America. Quakers opposed slavery as early as 1688. Vermont became the first state to outlaw slavery in 1772. It took a civil war in 1860 end slavery but it did not end inequality. A century later Martin Luther King Jr helped to end the Separate but Equal doctrine. In the 21st century we have a black president. We've come a long ways in 300+ years but politicians still cry racism at the drop of hat so we've not at the end of the road yet.

South Pacific has a song about racism that goes, "You must be carefully taught before it's too late. Before you are six, or seven or eight. To hate all the people your relatives hate." This raises an interesting question - which is the natural human state - to accept everyone as equal or to oppress those who are different? How do young children respond to people who are different? Do they have to be taught to hate or to tolerate? Are we overcoming an evil meme that has enthralled human culture for millennium or are we slowly teaching people to overcome an inborn instinct?

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Monday, July 12, 2010


Anytime a large, emergency spending bill makes its way through Congress, the potential for mischief is great.-Chris Chocola (Indiana Congressman, 2003-2007)

I've just finished listening to the lecture series, The medieval world. II, Society, economy, and culture. I've enjoyed the series during my commute and today's lecture on the origins of representative democracy and parliaments struck a chord.

The professor began by pointing out that true Democracies are very rare; the common example is Athens in ancient Greece where any of the 5000 free men in the city could propose law and vote on it. The US is actually not a democracy; its a Republic where we elect those who represent us and conduct government. Republics are also uncommon in world history with Rome as the classic example. The Roman Republic lasted for several hundred years until the 1st century AD. Then over a thousand years passed before a representative government reappeared with the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215.

The story behind the Magna Carta is revealing. King John of England was also Duke of Normandy in France which did not please the French King who fought long and hard to seize John's french lands. This constituted an "Emergency" for King John which allowed him to raise new taxes and fees on his top noblemen, the Barons, in order to pay for the long war. Apparently the Barons did not mind the taxes so much when John's brother, Richard the Lion Hearted, asked for it because Richard won his battles and could reward the Barons for their generosity. John however was terrible at war and kept losing his battles and had nothing to show or give away for the money spent. [I'm reminded of Obama and the Stimulus plan but I won't go there.]

Eventually the Barons had had enough and "forced" King John to sign the Magna Carta which required kings to "ask" the Barons for money by pleading the case before them. Barons now had the right to say no if the "emergency" was unjustified in their eyes. This led to a new dynamic of quid-pro-quo where the King with hat in hand would have to listen to the Baron's requests and make deals in order to receive the money to run his wars. There was greater fiscal responsibility because no Baron wanted to give up his money without good cause. It was their money!

The English Kings hated dealing with this new "parliament" of nobles and called it only as a last resort. But with the Hundred Year War the need for funds was great and so reluctantly Parliaments were called again and again and each time the Parliament attached more power to itself as it bargained with kings. As towns became wealthy the British king added town leaders to Parliament as additional sources of funding (and perhaps to influence the vote?). Hence Parliament became more representative.

Now interestingly, Royalty was right to fear Parliament. When in session they were a royal pain making demands. When not in session they got mad over being ignored. One cause of the English Civil War (1642–1651) was King Charles I's refusal to invoke a radically Protestant Parliament which was opposed to the king's Catholic wife. Parliament went to war against the King and won in 1651. Charles I was killed, his son, Charles II, exiled and the country ruled by Parliament as the Commonwealth of England (1649–53), and then as a Protectorate (1653–59), under Oliver Cromwell's personal rule. During this period Parliament was extremely puritanical and outlawed Christmas as well as Opera, Plays and just about any element of fun. At Cromwell's death the Parliament restored Charles II as King and there was much rejoicing.

The French Kings managed not to call a Parliament for centuries but when a funding crisis occurred in 1789, King Louis XVI invoked an Estates-General (i.e. parliament) as a last resort. The Estates-General used this rare opportunity to pass new laws, seize power, imprison and eventually kill the King, and begin the French Revolution.

The founding fathers of America established a constitution to balance Parliament (Congress) and King (President) against one another as history had shown the dangers of either side obtaining total power. However after learning about the history of Parliament I realized that we are lacking a key ingredient from parliamentary history. Our modern Congressmen and Senators have no skin in the game, it's NOT their personal money that they are managing. It's bad enough that they have an enormous slush fund from taxes, and fees, and social security to spend as they will. But they can also pass bills that are completely unfunded. When expenses exceed revenues (as they typically do), congress borrows money or raises taxes and fees.

Instead of sharing the pain of expenses, congressmen today try to grab all the Federal Pork they can for themselves and the folks back home. So let's make it personal. What if we replaced all federal tax with higher state taxes and Congressmen would have to fund the federal government out of the funds of their own states? Now each bill has a cost that is felt back home as there is less to spend on the state level. The nature of Pork might change - instead of "free money for us" from the slush fund, state residents might realize that their representative is taking their money and spending it on his supporters and friends.

Bottom Line

The federal budget is a disaster in every country today with a Representative Democracy. There is no incentive for fiscal responsibility, no reward for saving money, no recognition for running a lean government with fewer workers. Instead people re-elect leaders who bring in the most Pork for local projects and businesses. Representatives can raise more funds by offering government jobs as rewards to friends. And they raise salary and benefits sky-high for government workers to win the union vote.

We need to change the system to encourage fiscal prudence over fiscal largess.

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Fire Hydrants

“Some people change their ways when they see the light; others when they feel the heat”-Caroline Schoeder

In New York it's hot, hot, hot. We are breaking heat records with 100 F days so it comes as no suprise that people are looking for relief. The following news item was sent out by New York City:

Opening fire hydrants without spray caps is illegal, wasteful and dangerous. Illegally opened hydrants can lower water pressure, which can put lives at risk at hospitals and hinder fire-fighting by reducing the flow of water to hoses and pumps. The powerful force of an open hydrant without a spray cap can push children into oncoming traffic. New Yorkers should call 311 to report open hydrants.

Hydrants can be opened legally if equipped with a City-approved spray cap [pictured above]. One illegally opened hydrant wastes up to 1,000 gallons of water per minute, while a hydrant with a spray cap only puts out around 25 gallons per minute. Spray caps can be obtained by someone 18 or over, free of charge at local firehouses.

Bottom Line

Pundits are calling NYC the "Baked" apple. To escape the heat NYC opens up public cooling centers, such as Department for the Aging (DFTA) senior centers and New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and Salvation Army community centers where air conditioning is available. To find the cooling center closest to you, call 311 (TTY: 212-504-4115) or log on to

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Crazy Foods

There seems to be a contest for the most unhealthy sandwich at a restaurant. The first entry was KFC's new Double Down which has bacon, cheese and a mystery sauce between two slices of fried chicken breast. ("There's so much chicken there was no room for bread.") The official menu claims this is only 500 calories but that's not believable.

Now Friendly's has introduced the new Grilled Cheese BurgerMelt which is a hamburger with two cheese sandwiches as bun. This monster clocks in at 1500 calories and 2090 mg of Sodium which I can well believe. That's all your salt and most of your day's calories in one sandwich; hold the Fries?

Bottom Line

I love eating out and I don't choose from the health menu. Few do. But you've got to draw a line at some point and say enough. One meal should not exceed the daily limits for calories and salt.

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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Throat Exercises for Sleep Apnea

“Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.”- Anthony Burgess
Last week I received a CPAP machine for Sleep Apnea. I think it’s helping but I’m still adjusting to the mask and won’t know for sure for several more days. However a CPAP machine does not cure Sleep Apnea – it just prevents it while you use the machine. So now I’m dependent on this machine for life. It even came in a nice looking carrying case so I can take it with me on vacations and other overnight trips.
Personally I prefer a cure. There is some evidence that throat exercise can reduce Sleep Apnea by making the throat stronger and more resistant to closing while sleeping. The most effective way to strengthen the throat is to exercise it like a professional singer. Here are some throat exercises I found on the Web:
1. Say La-La-La-La five times over. Hold each “La” for three seconds and focus on working your throat and neck muscles. Then say Ka-Ka-Ka-Ka five times with three seconds on each syllable. The ‘K’ uses different muscles. Finish with the same routine saying Ma-Ma-Ma-Ma. Try these exercises twice a day.
2. Sing through the vowel sounds (A-E-I-O-U) as loudly as you can (or dare). Songs like ‘Old McDonald Had a Farm’ are also good.
3. Push your tongue firmly against the back of your front teeth and slide it to the back of your mouth. Repeat for three minutes.
4. Purse your mouth firmly as if playing a trumpet or blowing into a bottle and hold for thirty seconds.
5. Act like a bullfrog and contract the muscles of the back of the throat for another thirty seconds.
6. Force your lower jaw to the left for thirty seconds. Now back to the right for thirty seconds.
Bottom Line
These same exercises can also reduce snoring.
Web Resources

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Public sector jobs - not just a US problem

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Instead of two cities the Dicken's quote now applies to a tale of two working classes - a state sector awash with taxpayers' cash while the rest of the economy struggles to stay afloat. A recent study by centre-Right think tank Policy Exchange shows that Public employees in the UK work nine years less than their private sector counterparts AND are paid 30 per cent more.

Those in the private sector work 23 per cent longer - equivalent to an extra nine years and ten weeks - than public sector employees. This is thanks to a combination of shorter hours, more time off and earlier retirement for public workers. Now it used to be that these public benefits compensated for lower pay. You had to offer something to encourage talent to give up high paying private jobs and work for the state instead. But today the public sector has better benefits AND better pay. The report says that on an hourly basis, the typical public sector worker is 30 per cent better paid than their private sector counterpart.

And the retirement pensions are quite generous for public workers. Ironically when 63% of the private sector workers retire without any pension at all, they will still be taxed and paying for a comfortable retirement for civil servants.

Bottom Line

In many countries the fox is in charge of the hen house. The government pays itself well and when the money runs out it will raise taxes or just print more money. In the US I expect the problem to continue until we reach the status of Greece and Spain where public sector expenses bankrupt the nation.

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Monday, July 5, 2010

Dangers of Time Traveling

Marty McFly: Wait a minute, Doc. Ah... Are you telling me that you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?
Dr. Emmett Brown: The way I see it, if you're gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?
- Back to the Future offers 6 Time Travel Realities Doc Brown Didn't Warn Us About.

1. You'll age faster.
Say you travel in time for a year and then return home the exact moment you left. You're now a year older than friends and family who did not time travel.

2. Don't Drink the Water
Traveling in time is just like traveling to a foreign country. The local microbes will be different than your stomache is used to. And if you travel in the past, there won't be any health codes ensuring the safety of the food or drink you consume.

3. Say What?
How well to you read Shakespeare? (400 years old and considered "modern" English!) How about Middle English like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales? (700 years ago). Beowulf and Old English? (-1100 years, Hwæt! wē Gār-Dena in geār-dagum). Travel to Rome and hopefully you learned some Latin. Expect language to change in the future also, "Our brief govoreet through the letter-hole was not, shall we say, satisfactory, yes?" - from a Clockwork Orange.

4. May I see your license please?
You have no one and nothing to vouch for you when you time travel beyond your lifespan. No ID papers, no local references, no friends. You are alone and undocumented should you ever be detained by authority.

5. How will you be paying for that?
Modern coins and paper money will have you arrested for forgery if you try to spend them in the past. You'll need to buy some coins at an antique story or bring a commodity like gold. When traveling to the future, your money may be valid but after inflation it could have a higher antique value than face value. Recall that ten cents could buy a decent meal in the Great Depression. Try eating on 10 cents today!

6. Predicting the Future
A history book can give you a clue of what to expect in the past. But nothing can prepare you for what you might encounter in the future. A planet of apes? Conquest by terminator robots? Global plague? World war?

Bottom Line
Time travel at your own risk!


Friday, July 2, 2010


“The other day when I was walking through the woods, I saw a rabbit standing in front of a candle making shadows of people on a tree.”-Stephen Wright

My latest commuting lecture series has been Power Over People: Classical and Modern Political Theory by Dennis Dalton of Columbia University. It was interesting with lots of contrasting viewpoints between pessimistic theorists like Machiavelli who think men are evil at heart and optimists like Plato who think men can be taught to live a perfect life. The final CD was about Gandhi (a truly great man) and I was reminded of a clever story pun...

Gandhi was a small, frail man often of ill health and bad breath. But he had an inner strength that allowed him to walk long distances in protest marches on his bare feet. He became known as the "Super Calloused, Fragile Mystic, hexed by halitosis".

My father is a punster; once when picking berries as a family I "gave him the raspberry". He responded with "respect your Elderberries." As a teen I loved collecting story puns such as this one...

A man wanted to kill his wife so he went to the town drunk named Arthur. "Artie", he says, "will you kill my wife for a dollar?"
"Sure", the drunk replies. He then follows the wife to a grocery store and strangles her in a shopping aisle. Another shopper is a witness so she too is strangled. Naturally this was all caught on a store security camera and Arthur is arrested. The headline in the newspaper is
"Artie chokes two for a dollar at Safeway".

Bottom Line

“A joke is a very serious thing”-Winston Churchill

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Tire Pressure

"A suburban mother's role is to deliver children obstetrically once, and by car forever after."~Peter De Vries

Last night as I was driving home I thought, “I should really check my tire pressure.” My wife’s car is newer and the dashboard has a warning light for low tire pressure. My car is not so smart and it’s been awhile since the pressure was checked.

Next to the brakes, the tires are the most important safety devices on a car. Incorrect tire pressure will compromise cornering, braking and stability, and lead to tire failure (i.e. a blow-out). Incorrect tire pressure also will affect your comfort, fuel economy and tire life.

If tire pressure is too high, then less of the tire touches the ground and your car will have more road bounce, have less traction and a longer stopping distance. If tire pressure is too low, then too much of the tire touches the ground, which increases friction, lowers your gas mileage, wears tires prematurely, and overheats tires leading to tread separation.

Tire pressure should be checked at least monthly (some say weekly). It’s not unusual to lose 1 psi per month. Even if there is no leak, the pressure will change with air temperature. Tire pressure decreases by about 1 pound per square inch (psi) for every 10-degree drop in outside air temperature. If your tire was just right in July at 80 degrees outside, it could be dangerously 10 pounds under inflated in January at minus 20 degrees.

The psi number listed on the tire itself is the maximum allowable air pressure. Don’t use this! Instead look on the edge of the driver’s door for the recommended pressure for your car. If there’s no sticker on the door, you can usually find the specs in the owner’s manual. Most passenger cars will recommend 32 to 35 psi.

Bottom Line

Check your tire pressure monthly. Check all four tires and your spare while the tires are cool, that means after driving only a few miles to reach a gas station, not after hours of driving.

Web Resources

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