Thursday, June 30, 2011

Conservatives vs Liberals

Conservatives divide the world in terms of good and evil while liberals do it in terms of the rich and poor.
- Dennis Prager
Last night I chanced into a conversation about Conservatives. Someone had written, "Conservatives support the King and are opposed to freedom".  Huh, I replied? I was told this was part of a college paper about France just before the revolution. OK, that made more sense but I then tried to explain that Conservatives are not anti-freedom. Instead they are anti-change (usually) and particularly anti-anarchy.

Conservatives believe their world is good and things can only change for the worse.
Liberals believe the world is in bad shape and that things can only change for the better.

Both are half-right, half-wrong. Not everything is good, there is suffering and misery, but not all change is for the better. Conservatives need to do a better job of explaining why certain liberal ideas are dangerous (based upon history and experience) and do a better job addressing problems instead of living in the status quo.

This morning I came across a blog with a different comparison of Conservatives vs Liberals. It comes on the tail of the story about popular Democrat Anthony Weiner who was accused of sending a picture of his crotch (in shorts) to a girl via Tweet. At first he denied it and said he was hacked. Some left-leaning media blamed the right-leaning Andrew Breitbart for framing him or making it up. But then under mounting evidence and the account of several women, Weiner admitted it and apologized to Breitbart. So what was the Liberal media response to being wrong? Apologies? No. Instead they counter attack with "At least Weiner is not a hypocrite".

What does this mean, asks a blogger named Zombie.

How can this be? Why are conservatives hypocrites when they err but not liberals? Zombie expands his diagram to show the unspoken assumptions behind the argument.

"Remember, that’s not my characterization of liberalism — that’s liberals’ own characterization of themselves when they use this argument", says Zombie. In the extreme liberal world everything is tolerated and allowed, there is no "wrong", so there is no sin. The hypocrite defense claims that only people who believe in sin can be held accountable for sinning.

Bottom Line

Zombie comes to a close with a nice analogy:
Consider these two statements from two different potential husbands:
“I know I promised to stop drinking forever, honey, but I fell off the wagon again; please forgive me, and I’ll really really try to stay sober from now on, but no guarantees.”
“I’m a tertiary alcoholic, a stone-cold drunk; always have been, always will be. You’re not likely to ever see me sober. Take it or leave it.”
If you had to choose, which would you marry?

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Erasmus of Rotterdam

"When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes"
- Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466 – 1536)
The quote above has always been one of my favorites but I had no clue who Erasmus was. He wrote much and is much quoted, see

Other famous quotes include:
  • "In the country of the blind the one eyed man is king."
  • "Prevention is better than cure."
  • "To know nothing is the happiest life." (Ignorance is bliss)
  • "Women, can't live with them, can't live without them."
So who is this Erasmus of Rotterdam? He was in his day a hero and villain but now mostly forgotten. In his home town the University and High School have been named in his honor but in 2003, a poll showed that most Rotterdammers believed Erasmus to be the designer of the local "Erasmus Bridge".

Erasmus was a Dutch Renaissance humanist ("Prince of the Humanists"), Catholic priest, and a theologian. He was excellent at Greek and Latin and translated many works such as Saint Ambrose, Aristotle, Saint Augustine, Saint Basil, Saint John Chrysostom, Cicero and Saint Jerome. Ten columns of the catalogue of the British Library are taken up with the bare enumeration of Erasmus's works and their subsequent reprints. He corresponded with more than five hundred men in the worlds of politics and of thought.

Erasmus led a "normal" though busy life as a translator until 1514 when he decided to produce a new and definitive Latin translation of the New Testament (he despised the poor "Vulgate" Latin in use up to that time). He gathered all the Latin and Greek Bibles he could find and started comparing them. He "corrected" many mistranslations and to prove that he was right when challenged, published the Greek alongside the Latin for scholars to compare. He raised questions about some practices of the Catholic Church based upon mistranslations.

Martin Luther was inspired by Erasmus's translation and observations and a year later the Reformation began. Initially Erasmus was sympathetic to Luther's criticisms, describing him as "a mighty trumpet of gospel truth" and admitting that, "It is clear that many of the reforms for which Luther calls are urgently needed.” For this Erasmus was an early hero of the Reformation. BUT he never left the Catholic Church and never gave his full support to Luther. For this he was vilified by the Reformation after his death.

"We are dealing with this: Would a stable mind depart from the opinion handed down by so many men famous for holiness and miracles, depart from the decisions of the Church, and commit our souls to the faith of someone like you who has sprung up just now with a few followers, although the leading men of your flock do not agree either with you or among themselves – indeed though you do not even agree with yourself, since in this same Assertion you say one thing in the beginning and something else later on, recanting what you said before."
-Erasmus to Luther on why he remains Catholic
Likewise the Catholic Church praised Erasmus while he lived because he criticized Luther. Moderate Catholics appreciated that he had been a leading figure in attempts to reform the Church from within. But by 1560 the Pope blamed Erasmus for having "laid the egg that hatched the Reformation". All of his works were placed on the Index of Prohibited Books by Paul IV.

Bottom Line

During the Reformation Erasmus refused to takes sides. He wanted Reform but ony from within the Church. The Protestants would despise him for criticizing Luther. The Catholic Church would reject him for not criticizing Luther strongly enough. No one likes a fence-sitter.

KJV Revelation 3:15-16 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Saving Gas when Driving

"Electric cars aren't pollution-free; they have to get their energy from somewhere."
-Alexandra Paul
Popular Mechanics has 6 ideas for saving gas this summer.
  1. Avoid hard braking at stops. Coast when you can.
  2. Get to cruising speed quickly. Cars are more efficient at higher gears so you waste gas if you slowly accelerate. On the other hand, this is not a drag race. 15 seconds to reach 50 mph is about right.
  3. On hot days at high speeds use the Air Conditioner. At 55 mph the A/C and open windows get similar gas mileage. At higher speeds the A/C wins. Below 55 the windows have the advantage.
  4. Speeds kills (MPG) - air resistance increases with speed. So going over the speed limit will save very little time and cost more money.
  5. Climb hills slowly - you gain some mpg (but not much) if you turn off cruise control on hills and allow the car to slow down a bit instead of accelerating to keep the same speed. Just beware of angry drivers!
  6. When coasting down hill, leave the car in gear. "Most fuel-injected engines today use computer-controlled Deceleration Fuel Cut Off: When you lift your foot from the gas while leaving the car in gear, injectors shut off automatically, so, the engine consumes no fuel at all while the vehicle is coasting downhill." A car in neutral gear will continue burning some fuel.  
Bottom Line

Read more: Driving Tips to Save Gas - Memorial Day Weekend - Popular Mechanics

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Monday, June 27, 2011

A Future for Fossil Fuels?

“Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil!”
- Golda Meir reports that "Everything you've heard about fossil fuels may be wrong". Yes we may be at or even past Peak Oil, but oil is just one of many fossil fuels.

Hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" is much disputed today as it is rumored to make groundwater flammable in some areas. And yet it has been highly successful with previously-unrecoverable “shale gas”.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, these advances mean there is at least six times as much recoverable natural gas today as there was a decade ago.
  • "Fracking also permits the extraction of previously-unrecoverable 'tight oil,' thereby postponing the day when the world runs out of petroleum."
  • "There is enough coal to produce energy for centuries."
  • Researchers are "studying ways to obtain energy from gas hydrates, which mix methane with ice in high-density formations under the seafloor. The potential energy in gas hydrates may equal that of all other fossils, including other forms of natural gas, combined."
And with oil at $100 a barrel, tar sands and shale oil have become economically viable and competitive.

Bottom Line
"Are we living at the beginning of the Age of Fossil Fuels, not its final decades?"

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Friday, June 24, 2011

The Ultimate Consumerist Guide To Fighting Back

A short post today as I point you to a long post for your consideration. The Consumerist has updated The Ultimate Consumerist Guide To Fighting Back which includes:


Step 1: Get things ready  (Write everything down)
Step 2: Educate yourself (What are your options?)
Step 3: Make the call

If the company will not fix the problem then,

Executive emails for major corporations


Bottom Line

It can take months of phone calls and emails to right a wrong done by a company. You MUST keep a paper trail of every step, what was promised and what happened. Keep your cool; don't get mad. If all else fails try humor and unusual acts of protest like writing a song for YouTube, buying a classified ad with your complaint, twitter, web page, face book, etc.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why don't people prepare?

A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold.
~Ogden Nash
My wife found an article (sorry I cannot locate the link) that lists several reasons why families are not prepared and set the reasons to the Acronym FAMILIES.

F (Fear) - It's just too much to think about. Or, what's the point, I'll be dead.
Solution: think of the positives - the peace of mind of knowing that you are ready should some misfortune happen.

A (Attention Span - lack thereof) I'll get around to it when I have the time. Or I'm just too busy.
Solution: preparedness can be done in little steps like buying extra cans of food when it is on sale, setting up an automatic deposit to emergency savings, etc. Lack of time can also mean that your life's priorities should be reexamined.

M (Media) The news, especially TV, creates a Boy Who Cried Wolf scenario where every storm is urgent, breaking news and then turns out to be minor. People burn out and stop believing the warnings. Just how bad can that hurricane be if the newsman is outside standing in the middle of it?
Solution: if you have food storage and water storage you can "weather" most storms. The exception will be when ordered to evacuate the neighborhood.

I (Ill-informed) I have a 72-hour kit so I'm prepared. Or - the only way to be prepared is to learn survivalist skills and move to a farm.
Solution: the truth is in the middle. A 72-kit is not enough but you can be prepared without moving to the country and learning to live without civilization.

L (Lifestyle) I don't want to change how I live, I'm comfortable and happy as-is.
Solution: It's great if you want to learn to make your own bread but you can be prepared in little steps as described above and modest changes like filling up the gas in your car more often so it never goes below a half.

I (Income) I can't afford it.
Solution: I'm not a big fan of spending thousands to buy a year's supply of freeze-dried food for the family. Stock up on items you use during sales and you'll save money in the long run.

E (Ego) I'll just call 9-1-1 and I'll be taken care of.
Solution: during an emergency thousands of others are calling 9-1-1 also? What makes you think that you're at the front of the queue?

S (Selflessness) I'm not worried about me; I want to take care of others.
Solution: if you're not prepared you'll be a burden on others who will need to feed you. Only if you have extra supplies will you be in a position to help others.

Bottom Line

Don't delay - prepare today!

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011


"I'll be back"
- Arnold Schwarzenegger, line from several movies

According to the Washingtion Times, a study based on 2009 salaries found that,
More than 77,000 federal government employees throughout the country — including computer operators, more than 5,000 air traffic controllers, 22 librarians and one interior designer — earned more than the governors of the states in which they work. ... Of those workers, 18,351 were doctors — the highest percentage. The second-highest total was for 5,170 air traffic controllers. ... In Maryland, 7,283 federal employees — about 7 percent of all full-time federal employees in the state — earned more than Gov. Martin O'Malley’s $150,000 salary. ... nationwide there were 122 park rangers, 271 environmental protection specialists, 14 chaplains and one prison guard who earned more than their governors.
The highest earning governor was California at $212,179 although Arnold Schwarzenegger did not accept the money. Still 703 federal workers in California earned more than that level of pay. Maine’s governor made the lowest salary at $70,000

Bottom Line

Is a governor's salary a reasonable cap for civil servant earnings? You decide. Are some governors underpaid or are we overpaying Federal employees?

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Energy and persistence conquer all things.
-Benjamin Franklin
When you think "big" technology perhaps your mind goes to the military with tanks, battleships, the Pentagon building (world's largest office building in floor space). But this is peanuts compared to civil engineering. Imagine the size of hydroelectric dams, skyscrapers, thousands of miles of roads through all types of terrain, etc. And then think of the equipment used to make these. Giant dump trucks with tires taller than a person. Cranes as large as a city block.

The Shell gas company is creating a new entry in the competition for "big". The Prelude Floating Liquefied Natural Gas (FLNG) facility will be nearly one-third of a mile long and tip the scales at up to 600,000 tons; that's six times heavier than America's largest aircraft carrier. FLNG will be a floating drilling rig and refrigerator used to extract, cool and offload liquefied natural gas into tanker ships. Starting in 2017 it will stay permanently moored at the Prelude gas field northwest of Australia for the next 25-plus years.

Bottom Line

Ann Pickard, chair of Shell in Australia, says that the Prelude FLNG facility will be a "game changer for the energy industry."

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Monday, June 20, 2011

My 36 World Changing Events

Last week I presented The World Was Never the Same: Events That Changed History by Professor J. Rufus Fears of the University of Oklahoma. In the first lecture the Professor admits that any list of 36 great events will be selective and reflect the biases of the person making the list. For example I find the list long on events in the liberal arts and short on science, mathematics and engineering. So as I've listened the lecture series I've been thinking about my own list of 36 events.

Rather than picking JFK's assassination, I'd use the launch of Sputnik for the birth of the Space Age (of which Kennedy played a role).

Dante and Michelangelo get pulled from the list - great poet and artist but world changing? No. Consider Newton instead. He was born in a world of superstition, ruled by mysterious unknown forces, but when he his works mathematically explained light, the tides, motion, gravity, and so much more.

Professor Fear's list is long on WWII but what about the Information Age?. What event captures the rise of computers and modern Internet for the masses?  How about the creation of Radio?

There is also much emphasis on Super Powers - Britain, America, Soviet Union, Communist China. I'd love to the last two under the birth of Communism but China is likely to play a large role in the future so it deserves to be recognized.

As much as I admire Dr. King and what he accomplished in America, I'd replace him with Henry Ford for the role that the assembly line, mass production, and unionization has changed the world. By adding Ford we can also recognize how the automobile has changed lives and landscapes.

So here is my modified list - biased by scientific events:
  1. Discovery of Agriculture (10,000 BC) - growing crops made civilization possible resulting in Egypt, China, Sumer, Babylon, etc.
  2. The Law of Moses (1220 BC) - the Hebrew people will persist for over 3000 years
  3. The Eightfold Path of Buddha (526 BC) - influencing billions
  4. The Teachings Confucius (553-479 BC) - guiding China for 2000 years
  5. Solon creates Democracy (594 BC) - Solon would also influence George Washington 2000 years later as a wise leader with absolute power who gave it up voluntarily. George could have been King of America but refused.
  6. The Greek Academy & the Death of Socrates (399 BC) - an example for the ages of refusing to bow to authorities and staying true to one's principles. The writings of Socrates's student Plato profoundly influenced Christian theology some 500 years later and up to the present. Plato's student Aristotle would teach Alexander the Great and shape scientific teachings for over a thousand years.  
  7. Caesar crosses the Rubicon (49 BC) - Democracy dies until resurrected 1800 years later in America.
  8. Galen of Pergamon studies medicine (129 – 217 AD) - not as well know as Hippocrates, the father of Medicine, but Galen preserved and advanced Hippocrates's teachings. It was Galen's writings that dominated Western medical science for nearly two millennia. His anatomical reports and dissections remained uncontested until 1543.
  9. Constantine Victorious  - and Rome converts to Christianity (312 AD)
  10. Byzantine Emperor Justinian I compiles a thousand years of Roman jurisprudence to create the Justinian Code of Roman Law. This was effective in the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire and also served as a basis for legal practice in the Catholic Church and Holy Roman Empire. It continues to influence the legal codes of continental Europe and former European colonies including all of Latin America.
  11. Muhammad moves to Median (622 AD) - birth of Islam
  12. Gutenberg prints the Bible (1452) - the printing press allows anyone to read the Bible, and gives birth to an explosion of knowledge propagation and mass influence.
  13. Fall of Constantinople (1453) - the final end of the Roman empire, control shifts to the Muslims who block the Silk route to China prompting Columbus to find a route by sea. Greek scholars flee the fall and restore the Greek language to Europe (which was dominated by Latin) accelerating a Renaissance of new scholarship.
  14. Columbus Discovers a New World (1492) - a new age of discovery and conquest
  15. The Protestant Reformation (1517) - The simmering conflict between the Holy Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church over worldly power explodes into schism and warfare over sparks lit by reformers like Erasmus & Martin Luther. Christianity is forever changed as it splints in to fragmented sects.
  16. The Defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588) - Britannia Rules the Waves and builds a global Empire on which the Sun Never Sets.
  17. The Battle of Vienna (1683) - the turning point where Islamic conquest of Europe is halted.
  18. Newton prints Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687) -  and science is never the same
  19. Boston Tea Party (1773) - No taxation without representation. An idea and a revolt that eventually gives rise to America. The Tea Party continues to inspire today with a new Tea Party political movement.
  20. James Watt makes a practical steam engine in 1763 - Thomas Newcomen invented the Steam Engine in 1712 but Watt made it fuel efficient which helped start the Industrial Revolution that changed almost every aspect of daily life in some way.
  21. Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (1804) - in a nod to liberal arts, I tried to think of someone who had a lasting impact on music. Beethoven was the transition from the Classical age to the Romance age of music. He broke many of the rigid restrictions of music composition and wrote and played with passion. Over time artists would continue to "break the rules" writing ever more abstract works in music and the arts.
  22. Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution (1831) - changes biology, theology, history, social science, economics, etc.
  23. Thomas A. Edison invents the phonograph (1877) - Before the phonograph we had only the written page to describe the delivery of a great speech or amazing musical performance. But now we can listen for themselves and those recorded can live on forever. I did not pick the invention of photography because painted portraits saved likenesses for history. Today we combine the audio and visual in film so that great performers like Charlie Chaplin will never die.
  24. Louis Pasteur and the Germ theory of medicine (1885) - ending thousands of years of Hipprocrates' and Galen's theory of humors.
  25. Marconi patents the Radio (1895) - it would take many more years for the radio to become a household item but this was the birth of long-distance mass communication. FDR would master this new technology with his fireside chats in delivering his messages to an entire nation during WWII. Radio would be "upgraded" to TV with images. The Internet is both a step forward and back -support for all media types but "wires" required. When wireless Internet becomes universal it will be the next true advance in mass communication.
  26. Sigmund Freud invents psychoanalysis (1899) - many may debunk him but his theory of unconscious urges changed forever how we look at ourselves.
  27. The Wright Brothers achieve Flight (1903)
  28. The Ford Model-T Assembly Line (1908) - before the 20th century, most manufactured products were made individually by hand. The assembly line began a new age of cheap mass production which changed the standard of living for the world.
  29. The death of an Archduke begins WWI (1914) and an age of Empires comes to an end as Woodrow Wilson make the world safe for Democracy.
  30. The Birth of the Soviet Union and Communism (1917)
  31. Einstein's Theory of Relativity (1905), Heisenberg's uncertainty principle (1927), and Gödel's incompleteness theorems (1931) each destroy a notion of Universal Absolutes established by Newton. Science "proves" that there is no absolute right or wrong. Everything is relative to one's point of view resulting perhaps in a world without moral absolutes?
  32. Einstein postulates that light itself consists of localized particles, quanta (1905). Einstein's quantum theory was nearly universally rejected by all physicists, including Max Planck and Niels Bohr. But he was right and atomic theory would change the world with bombs, power plants, and nuclear medicine. It was this discovery for which Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize.
  33. The Stock Market Crash (1929) - a Great Depression changes the world, giving rise to Hitler in Germany (1933) and Franklin Roosevelt in the US (1933) and eventually WWII.
  34. Mao Zedong and the birth of Communist China (1934)
  35. Sputnik launched (1957) - birth of the Space Age, with travel to the moon, weather satellites, spy satellites, GPS, etc.
  36. September 11, 2001 - Islam rises again to challenge the modern world
Bottom Line

What have I missed? The list is very Euro-centric.


Friday, June 17, 2011

36 Events that Changed the World

History is philosophy teaching by examples. 
~Thucydides (460 and 400 BC), The History of the Peloponnesian War
It's been awhile since I've talked about one of the lecture series that I listen to while commuting to work. Many fade in to oblivion. But the latest has been interesting: The World Was Never the Same: Events That Changed History by Professor J. Rufus Fears of the University of Oklahoma. He tells a good tale but I worry that it's more historical fiction than history. The dry facts of history are enlivened with speculative background details and colored with personal opinions and spin. He has selected 36 events that changed the world.
  1. He begins with Law and Civilization as represented by the the Law of Hammurabi (1750 BC)
  2. Then a second law code and birth of a new religion - the law of Moses (1220 BC)

    The "Axial Aga" where great teachers of religion and philosophy arose around the world:
  3. Buddha (526 BC)
  4. Confucius (553-479 BC)

  5. He mentions Socrates as one of the great teachers of the Axial Age but does not credit him with changing the world. Instead the honor goes to Solon of Athens for the birth of Democracy (594 BC) followed by
  6. The Battle of Marathon (490 BC) where Democracy is triumphant against the Persian Empire
  7. Still in Greece, the Oath of Hippocrates and the birth of scientific medicine
  8. Caesar crosses the Rubicon (49 BC) and Democracy dies until resurrected 1800 years later in America.

    New Religions
  9. Back to great religions again: The Trial of Jesus (36 AD)
  10. Constantine Victorious - and Rome converts to Christianity (312 AD)
  11. Muhammad moves to Median (622 AD)

    The Renaissance
  12. Jump 400 years to the first university in Bologna, Italy (1088) and the Age of Learning
  13. Dante's Divine Comedy & the birth of the Renaissance (1283)
  14. The Black Death (1348)
  15. Columbus Discovers a New World (1492)
  16. Michelangelo paints the Sistine Chapel (1508)  - world changing how? (have not reached this point yet)

    The Reformation
  17. Erasmus retranslates the Bible from Latin back to Greek (1516) paving the way for
  18. Luther and the Protestant Reformation (1517)

    Perhaps not so well known is that the Reformation led to centuries of vicious warfare over religion and over empire building once the domination of Rome was broken

    An Age of Empires
  19. The Defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588) - Britannia Rules the Waves
  20. The Battle of Vienna (1683) - I was not familiar with this one so I looked it up. The Islamic Ottoman Empire failed to capture Vienna in 1529; the first failure after almost a century of unchecked conquest throughout eastern and central Europe. For the next 150 years Europeans battled the Ottomans for control of Austria culminating in 1683 with victory at Vienna. This marked a turning point where Islam was halted and the start of the Great Turkish War to push the Ottomans out of all of Europe.
  21. The Battle of Lexington (1775) - Birth of America
  22. Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg (1863) - The US Civil War and how dedicated individuals are defeated by technology.

    The Industrial Age
  23. Adam Smith (1776) versus Karl Marx (1867) - Capitalism vs Socialism
  24. Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution (1831)
  25. Louis Pasteur and the Germ theory of medicine (1885)
  26. The Wright Brothers achieve Flight (1903)

    The end of the Age of Empires?
  27. The death of an Archduke begins WWI (1914)
  28. The Birth of the Soviet Union and Communism (1917)

    Who will rule the 20th century?
  29. The Stock Market Crash (1929) - a Great Depression changes the world...
  30. ...Hitler Becomes Chancellor of Germany (1933)
  31. ...Franklin Roosevelt Becomes President (1933) - restoring hope in a disillusioned world
  32. ...Mao Zedong and Communist China (1934)
  33. The Atomic Bomb (1945)

    Dreams and Ideals
  34. John F. Kennedy Is Assassinated (1963) - end of American Innocence
  35. Dr. King Leads a March (1963) - I have a Dream
  36. September 11, 2001 - Islam vs the modern world
Bottom Line

Do you agree with these events? Which ones are missing? I'll present my list of 36 on Monday.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Most Dangerous Cities in America

According to 24/7 Wall St. the FBI reports that:
violent crime dropped 5.5% in 2010 while reported property crimes fell 2.8% during the depths of the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression. The news, though, is far from positive.
Though most regions of the U.S. saw declines, the Northeast saw an increase in murders (8.3%), forcible rapes (1.4%) and aggravated assaults (0.7%). ... Even when crime rates dropped, older urban areas still had more violent crime than other cities. Philadelphia, Cleveland, Buffalo and Hartford finished high on the FBI's list.
Using the FBI report, 24/7 Wall St. created a list of the ten most crime-plagued cities in the U.S. with populations of more than 100,000.
  1. Flint, MI  (22/1000 violent crime) - poverty and high unemployment
  2. Detroit, MI (18.9/1000) - ditto. The median income is just $26,098, 48% below the national average.
  3. St. Louis (17.5/1000) - 30% below the average income
  4. New Haven, Conn. (15.8/1000) - highest on the east coast. A stark mix of poverty and the elites of Yale University.
  5. Memphis, Tenn (15.4/1000) - what would Elvis do?
  6. Oakland, CA (15.3/1000) - income and employment are slightly above the national averages so why the violence. May be youth gangs.
  7. Little Rock, Ark. (15.2/1000) - one of the highest incidents of rape (no Clinton jokes please).
  8. Baltimore (14.6/1000) - only Detroit had more murders
  9. Rockford, Ill. (14.5/1000) - "unusually high violent crime rates for a city of its size".  Rockford receives traffic from the drug markets in Madison, Chicago, and Milwaukee.
  10. Stockton, CA (13.8) - "rated one of the most miserable cities to live in the country by Forbes in March, 2010"
Bottom Line

24/7 Wall St. concludes,
Unemployment will inevitably improve in these cities. The most hard-hit sections, however, may never completely recover. They failed to do so after the last economic upswing -- and the one before that. Some part of all the cities on this list will be home to high levels of violent crime permanently.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Gas Tanks Are Draining Family Budgets

"Finland has produced so many brilliant distance runners because back home it costs $2.50 a gallon for gas."
~Esa Tikkannen, 1979
[when $2.50 was expensive!]

From Gas Tanks Are Draining Family Budgets:

“Households spent an average of $369 on gas last month. In April 2009, they spent just $201. Families now spend more filling up than they spend on cars, clothes or recreation. Last year, they spent less on gasoline than each of those things. . . . Only twice before have Americans spent this much of their income on gas. In 1981, after the last oil crisis, Americans spent 8.8 percent of household income on gas. In July 2008, when oil price spiked, they spent 10.2 percent. Average hourly earnings, meanwhile, have risen just 1.9 percent in the past year. That’s only just enough to keep up with inflation.” And only if the measure of “inflation” doesn’t include gas prices.

Bottom Line

I never considered that the cost of the gas could exceed the cost of the car itself. But then I never imagined spending $40-50 every week to commute to work.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What is that fish you're eating?

All men are equal before fish.
-Herbert Hoover
There are times when you may not care that fish you're eating like generic "white" fish or fish sticks. But other times you pay good money for mahi-mahi or wild salmon. How do you know you're getting the fish you pay for?

Researchers from the non-profit group Oceana applied the forensic science of DNA analysis to confirm that as much as half of all seafood sold in the U.S. is mislabeled. Scientists checked over a thousand fish samples across the country and found "disturbingly widespread" fraud.
"We can track organic bananas back to packing stations on farms in Central and Latin America, yet consumers are given little to no information about one of the most popular foods in the United States - seafood," said Dr. Michael Hirshfield, senior vice president for North America and chief scientist for Oceana"
The report found that while 84 percent of the seafood eaten in the United States is imported, only two percent is currently inspected for freshness and less than 0.001 percent specifically inspected for fraud.

Bottom Line

I recall a story of a man who complained that the bacon in his Cobb salad was fake. The waitress talked to the chef who replied, "If he wanted real bacon, he should have told us when he ordered".

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Loud Commercials

Nigel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and...
Marty: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?
Nigel: Exactly.
Marty: Does that mean it's louder? Is it any louder?
Nigel: Well, it's one louder, isn't it? It's not ten.
- This is Spinal Tap
Do you find loud commercials annoying? Have you thought, there ought to be a law against that?

According to there is a law but it does not help. The FCC regulates the maximum volume that a show or ad may use. TV shows broadcast most of the time below this maximum; saving the max for gunshots, explosions, yelling, etc. (See graph above)  Many ads set the volume to max for the entire 10-30 seconds since they don't need to worry about a difference between normal and loud.

I'm reminded of the harpsichords vs the piano. Bach (1685 – 1750) was a master of the harpsichords but it had a serious limitation - all notes had the same loudness. Around 1700, Italian instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori created a new instrument where the loudness of the note matched the force with which you hit the key. He called the "quiet-loud" in Italian, PianoForte. It was very difficult to make, very expensive, and smaller than the modern Piano with just 5 octaves of keys. Bach disliked the early models but by mid-century the quality had improved and it was the instrument of choice for Mozart(1756 – 1791). Beethoven (1770–1827) pushed the instrument beyonds its limits in dynamic range and was famous for breaking the PianoFortes. From 1790-1860 the instrument was strengthened and improved to become the modern Piano.

So TV shows are like Pianos. Played at a modest level of with occasional fortissimo of loudness for effect. Ads are like harpsichords - played a one level only - loud.

Bottom Line

If you really hate loud commercials, write to your congressman asking for a better law that regulates the average loudness as well as the maximum.

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Friday, June 10, 2011


‘Never invest in a business you cannot understand.’
-Warren Buffett
If your company offers a 401k, use it. This is a great tax deferred investment tool made even better if your company matches your investment. Still there are things to watch out for says

1. How much is the employer really matching?
Some companies require a vesting period of 3-5 years and won't match a penny until you've worked for them that long. They may show matching dollars in the quarterly statements but they reserve the right to take it back if you leave the company too soon. Also find out if there is a maximum your company will match or if the matching ratio is not 1-1.

2. You may borrow against your 401k BUT...
If you quit, are laid off or fired, you may be required to pay back the 401k immediately. Not what you want to hear when unemployed.
And if you can not pay it back? Then the IRS counts the loan as an early withdrawal with taxes and 10% penalty.

3. If you 401k is less then $5000 when you leave the company...
the company has the option to cash out the plan instead of holding on to it or rolling it over to a new 401k for you. If cashed out you have 60 days to find a new 401k or IRA or the IRS will impose tax penalties for early withdrawal.

4. Your 401k funds might charge a load
If your company is small, the investment house managing the 401 might charge a front-end load, often 4%, for every investment.  This is not acceptable - especially since the same company will also be charging administrative fees to your account. I try never to buy a load fund. Lobby your employer to move to Fidelity or Vanguard or similar 401k provider which do not charge loads.

5. Avoid tax-advantaged investments in a 401k
A 401k is already tax deferred. There's no reason to use it to buy a fund whose goal is to minimize taxes. The goal should be to make the most money you can in the 401k and pay the taxes on it at a lower tax bracket when you've retired.

Bottom Line

Watch out for the hidden fees and gotchas when investing. Read and understand what you're buying.

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Scrap Metal Theft

“He that steals an egg will steal an ox”
A year ago I wrote about Appliance Fires in England caused by a power surge when thieves broke into an electrical substation and stole £20 worth of copper switching parts to sell on the black market. Likewise I recall a story during the Iraq war that power outages resulted when thieves stole remote power lines in the desert to sell as scrap metal.

The Consumerist reports a similar story here in the US. In 2009 the mayor of Pittsburgh purchased 250 trash receptacles printed with his name for $1,010 apiece. Critics objected to the high price (and to his name on the cans). Other cities had spent less to stash the trash - Cincinnati ($500), Philadelphia ($118) and Minneapolis ($323). The mayor replied that a lower price was just not possible,

"I would challenge somebody that suggests that it is (possible) to prove where that can happen — and what is the quality and the durability and the maintenance factor of those garbage cans?"
Three years later the durability and maintenance are a problem. I'm sure the cans are in fine condition when you can find one - but it seems that 50 cans have gone missing. Some detective work revealed that the $1000 cans are being sold to scrap dealers for about $40. Maybe the city should have bolted the pricey cans to the concrete?

My wife and I have similar concerns about buying a lawn ornament. We love the look of bears carved from a tree log but wonder how long it would last in the front yard before someone stole it (or vandalized it). So instead we purchased a glass table supported by a carved bear that we use in the living room where it will be safe.

Bottom Line

Is the economy making theft worse? Here are some headlines from

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

New Rules for Pork

(Lisa) “I’m going to become a vegetarian”
(Homer) “Does that mean you’re not going to eat any pork?”
“Yes Dad”
“Dad all those meats come from the same animal”
“Right Lisa, some wonderful, magical animal!”
- The Simpsons
I love a juicy pork chop but I've given up ordering chops at restaurants. They come out dry as leather almost every time. The reason for this is trichinosis, a parasitic disease caused by eating roundworm larvae in undercooked meat. This used to be quite common and some hypothesize that it's the reason behind the Jewish Kosher law forbidding pork. But today Trichinosis is no longer a problem in commercially grown pork and hasn't been for years. So the USDA has issued new guidelines saying that it's OK to eat pork that is still pink and it's OK to cook it to 145 F instead of 160 F as previously recommended.
"We found it was perfectly acceptable and that 160 was probably overkill," says Elisabeth Hagen, USDA's undersecretary for food safety.
The new guidelines focus on killing Salmonella which, sadly, is far too common in foods today like eggs and spinach. Cook meat to "145 for all whole cuts of red meat, 160 for ground red meat and 165 for poultry". When your whole cut of meat reaches 145 degrees, let it sit for three minutes the USDA recommends. The external temperature will be higher and will continue to cook the center for added safety without overcooking.

The 160 F is needed to kill bacteria like Salmonella that reside on the outside of the meat. Usually an internal temperature of 145 indicates that the outside has reached 160. When meat is ground, like hamburger, the bacteria can get mixed into the center and so every part of the meat must reach 160 (or 165 for chicken since Salmonella is more prevalent in poultry).

Bottom Line

Old habits can be hard to kick but I'm looking forward to juicer pork roast and chops.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What's that smell?

"Zee stripe! It is gone! She is not a skunk at all!"
- Pepe Le Pew
We sometimes refer to our cats as skunks in reverse. They have black bodies with white bellies instead of a white strip on the back. But recently one of our inverted skunks met the real thing. Taz came in with massive quantities of drool coming from his mouth. My first thought was rabies but then the smell hit me - skunk! He was been hit in the face and was pitiful sight. Fortunately my wife knew what to do.

1. We quickly removed our outer clothes so as not to ruin them.
2. She had me remove rugs and towels from the bathroom while she grabbed the cat.
3. Then she and the cat were locked in the bathroom for a bath.
4. We could not find tomato juice or V8. This has worked well for us though some websites claim it does not work.
5. So my wife suggested Listerine which did remove the smell.
6. Skunks aim for the face and cleaning the face is not easy. We poured cups of water over the eyes to flush them clean. The force of warm water directly out of the faucet was too strong.
7. We dried the cat with a very old towel.
8. And gave him a brushing once he had settled down.

We offered the cat water to rinse his mouth but he was not interested. Fortunately the drooling stopped shortly after the bath. Be sure to wipe up the drool since this contains a bit of the skunk oil and will spread on feet, shoes, etc.

First Aid
If the cat if bitten or scratched, get them to a vet. Skunks may carry rabies. Also call the vet if your cat's eye are red or watering.

Bottom Line

Many sites now recommend a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda to breakup the skunk smell.

* 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide (unopened)

* ¼ cup baking soda
* 1 teaspoon of strong liquid soap such as dish washing detergent.

Mix the ingredients in an open bucket or bowl. The mixture should fizz if the hydrogen peroxide is fresh. Be sure to keep the mixture out of the pet's eyes, nose and mouth. If it is necessary to apply it to the face, very carefully use a washcloth or a sponge. After applying the mixture, rinse thoroughly.

This mixture creates pressure as it fizzes - never store in a closed container, do not cover the container in any way. Always discard unused solution. Do not get the mixture into the pet's eyes, nose or mouth.

Web Resources

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Turning the Tables

“Reporters whining about Palin are like kids who can’t reach the cookie jar because she keeps moving it.”
- blogger Doug Powers
I don't watch TV news anymore. I grew up with it every night as a kid with my dad but today I find it biased and more entertainment than news. There are exceptions like BBC news that report real events around the world as opposed to covering celebrities, politicians, sports stars, and natural disasters. Last Monday, Memorial Day, I was at home at 6:30 pm and CBS news came on - let's watch it, I said, to see how the new anchor, Katie Couric's replacement, is. He was OK but the story that caught my attention was Sarah Palin's bus tour.

A CBS reporter whined about how Palin was stealing attention from declared candidates like Mitt Romney. Absurd! She has no control over what CBS decides to report. They could just ignore her until she declares her candidacy. CBS is complaining that Palin is "newsworthy" and they must cover her.

An editorial in the LA Times says it best, "There is nothing the U.S. media wants more than something it thinks it can't have." Palin is not playing by the rulebook. She won't declare yes or no. She won't publish her travel itinerary. She is not courting the press to cover her. Only Fox News is invited on her bus. CBS News producer, Ryan Corsaro, claimed that the lack of travel information was endangering the dozen competing media vans trailing behind the bus. Corsaro asked a member of Palin's team if he thought it was dangerous to have reporters forced to chase her from stop to stop. "You're the ones that are trailing us," he replied. How dare Palin “make them follow” her!, quips Michelle Malkin in a clever article titled Chasing Sarah: The Boys Behind the Bus.

CBS News also claims that,
Palin's team isn't just ignoring the press; it's actively trying to misdirect reporters. Tuesday morning, for example, Palin's bus was running out in front of the hotel where she had stayed, prompting a gaggle of media to dutifully gather outside. Palin had already slipped out a side door early in the morning for a visit to the Gettysburg visitor center and battlefield.
Oh, the horror!

Bottom Line

What is Palin's response to maltreating the poor Main Stream Media who has been vicious in attacking her and her children over the years? “I don’t think I owe anything to the mainstream media."


Here's an example of ridiculous and petty reporting that counts as news today. Describing a Pizza Summit between Palin and Trump at a restaurant, "Palin ate her pizza with her hands, the billionaire used a fork, it appears, in photos snapped by NBC."

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Creative Destruction

"Economic progress, in capitalist society, means turmoil."
Joseph A. Schumpeter
Yesterday I used the words "creative destruction". I did not realize that this phrase originated with Karl Marx when he claimed that economic development arises out of the destruction of some prior economic order. I was introduced to the term via the work of economist Joseph Schumpeter who adapted the phrase and popularized it as a theory of economic innovation whereby progress is limited unless new products replace (destroy) old products and services. For example, if your new car lasted 20 years, there would be far fewer car sales and a much smaller automotive industry. We've gotten used to the idea of cars wearing out frequently. One car ad said the average person buys 12 cars in their lifetime.

Industries and companies are also subject to being obsoleted and replaced. (Hence I object to the very dangerous concept of "too big to fail". Don't try to block progress by saving companies who are unable to adapt with the times.)

What is being "destroyed" and replaced now-a-days?

1. The Post Office
There will always (?) be packages for Fed Ex, and UPS to ship but when was the last time you wrote a letter? My wife has embraced online bill paying and we send eCards to relatives so very little goes into our mailbox anymore.

2. The Personal Check
It costs the financial system billions of dollars a year to process checks. Plastic cards and online transactions will lead to the eventual demise of the check.

3. The Newspaper
Some "papers" have moved online and stopped publishing a paper copy. I expect this trend will continue, especially as iPad, Kindles, etc become more common for reading during the morning commute.

4. Paper Books
Why carry a heavy book (and fill book shelves) when it can be stored on your Kindle? I used to collect reference books but now turn to the Internet for current facts.

5. The Land Line Telephone
We keep ours for emergency preparedness and Internet. The telephones that plug into the wall often work during emergencies when cell towers are down or overwhelmed. But there may come a time when landlines are discontinued.

6. Music CDs
Too many people get fixated on the medium instead of the content. Music has existed and been sold on phonograph rolls, LPs of various sizes, 8-track tapes, cassette tapes,etc. The CD is just the latest and perhaps the last of the physical means of buying music. iTunes has shown that music can exist profitably in pure digital format on the Internet.

7. Television and Cable TV
Why pay someone to watch content when there are free alternatives online?

8. Camera Film
I have not used film in years.

9. Travel Agents
I do all my travel arrangements online.

Bottom Line

What other goods or services do you think will be replaced?

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Is Progress Slowing Down?

“When Moses was alive, these pyramids were a thousand years old. Here began the history of architecture. Here people learned to measure time by a calendar, to plot the stars by astronomy and chart the earth by geometry. And here they developed that most awesome of all ideas - the idea of eternity.”
-Walter Cronkite
An editorial by Matt Patterson at asks if the times are a'changing.
In his penetrating new book The Great Stagnation, economist Tyler Cowen ... calls the period from roughly the early 19th to the mid-20th centuries the era of “low hanging fruit.” According to Cowen, technological advances in this period were relatively easy to produce and exploit, resulting in a staggering explosion of living standards.
But by around 1970, most of this low hanging fruit had been plucked and growth rates began to slow. Indeed, growth rates are “lower today than before 1973, no matter what exact numbers you settle on for the absolute living standard.”
There are at least two reasons for this.

1. The age of cheap resources is ending. Many companies relied on cheap water, electricity, iron, etc for production. We've used up the easily accessible resources ("low hanging fruit") so what remains costs more to process and there is now global competition to use it as China and India industrialize and extend middle class comforts to billions of people.

2. The complexity of manufacturing keeps increasing. Compare the engine of a car from 1950 to today. Robots help with the assembly but there are more moving parts and of greater sophistication. Consider the clean room requirements and requirements of perfection on a small scale to create computer microchips.
Complexity makes it harder to create and produce new products.

There is an interesting flip side to the second point. This is the Information Age and while computer software also increases in complexity, well built software hides the complexity to produce "tools" that are easy to use and promote the creation of more information products. Anyone now can create publication ready books, art works, web services, etc on computers. So complexity enables information products and hinders physical products.

You may think, no problem, we'll just transition to an information society where the majority of workers are information workers. In the past the “creative destruction” of progress might end one industry like horse buggy making but resulted in an even bigger automotive industry. However software advances don't do that. Advances in software tend to decrease or eliminate jobs like travel agents. McDonald’s plans to eliminate cashiers in many of its European restaurants, replacing them with touch-screen ordering systems.

Internet companies can be worth more than old fashion manufacturing and reach hundreds of millions of customers and yet employ very few.
[Economist Tyler] Cowen notes that Google employs a mere 20,000; the increasingly ubiquitous Twitter only 300. Facebook has millions of users, but only about 1,700 workers.
For comparison, General Motors employs 209,000 people around the world.

Bottom Line

Again from Matt Patterson,
Unfortunately, politicians in the “low hanging fruit” period made policy decisions based on the assumption that the growth rates of that era — and their corresponding tax revenues — would continue indefinitely. And the American public, seeing successive generations do better than prior ones, came to expect this was the natural order of things. Both governments and individuals borrowed against a future they assumed would be richer and more technologically wondrous than the present.
Patterson observes from history that no civilization lasts forever.The ancient Greeks created the myth of the Cyclops to explain even more ancient fortresses with walls of giant stones that no one knew how to move. It must have been built by giants. In reality it was the Greeks own ancestors several hundred years before.  "The Great Pyramid of Cheops was the largest building in the world until well into the modern era, and still stands after nearly five millennia". And yet a few centuries after its making, Egypt fell and the world forgot how to make them.

Bubbles result when people say, "This time it's different". But the Internet bubble burst, the housing bubble burst (many times) when expectations exceed reality. Have we been living in a technology bubble of 200 years?

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Radiant Story

“Incidentally, disturbance from cosmic background radiation is something we have all experienced. Tune your television to any channel it doesn't receive, and about 1 percent of the dancing static you see is accounted for by this ancient remnant of the Big Bang. The next time you complain that there is nothing on, remember that you can always watch the birth of the universe.”
-Bill Bryson has a interesting story and graph about radiation. An  executive at a Silicon Valley tech firm (San Francisco) traveled to Japan for business.  One of his destinations was 50 miles from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that generated much frantic news after the big earthquake.
"As a precaution, a colleague gave him a Geiger Counter so he could make sure it wasn’t getting dangerous as he approached the plant."
Instead of only running the Geiger Counter near the site of the nuclear meltdown, the executive left it on the entire trip with fascinating results below. The tiny bump near hour 144 is the exposure from the damaged nuclear power plant. The much larger spikes occured while flying. San Francisco to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Singapore, Singapore to Tokyo, and Tokyo back to San Francisco. This is completely normal - a plane a mile or two up has less atmosphere to block in comming radiation from the sun and from space. The last trip has an extra tall spike because the flight went near the North Pole which blocks even less radiation than other parts of the globe.

Bottom Line

It helps to put things in perspective. Yes the radiation at the plant is bad and a meltdown did occur - BUT the effect is very local and dimishes rapidly. Persons living nearby (50 miles or so) need to be concerned about long-term accumulative risk. Visitors and tourists get greater exposure from the flight to Japan than from the damaged nuclear plant.

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