Friday, April 04, 2014

A thought for November

....is that the GOP could do little better than to take populism back.  President "Aragula is so expensive at Whole Foods" Obama talks it well, at least with TOTUS' help, but let's be serious.  He's a man of the people in far less degree than are Warren Buffett or Bill Gates.  Can't the GOP make these arguments:

Please tell me why the poor and middle class should be subsidizing hybrid and electric cars for the rich--especially when they're not environmentally sound at all?

Please tell me why the poor and middle class should be subsidizing entertainment--PBS, NPR, the NEA, and the NEH--for the rich?

Please tell me why the poor and middle class should be subsidizing windmills owned by the rich, solar companies owned by the rich, and the like?  Again, especially when one considers that the environmental "benefits" of these are far exaggerated to nonexistent?

Please tell me why the poor and middle class ought to subsidize corn farmers who own tens of millions of dollars worth of land, and ethanol refiners whose use of water requires them to drill new wells for many of their neighbors?  (real example from Janesville, Minnesota, by the way)

Please tell me why the poor and middle class ought to be subsidizing college professors through the 50% of Pell Grants and student loans granted to students with no serious chance of graduating?  We're victimizing the poor twice this way--first by taxing them to pay for this, second by saddling their children with student loans.

One can go on and on, but you get the picture.  Many of the most egregious offenses in the federal budget fall, directly or indirectly, under the banner of "programs which tax the poor and middle class to benefit the rich."  If we can't get some of these programs killed, we more or less are giving up the republic.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A thought on the Ukraine

As far as I can tell, the battle to save the Crimea was lost a long time ago--when President Obama removed anti-ballistic missile systems from eastern Europe in 2009, really, and was made a lot worse as he telegraphed his decisions, more or less telling the world "you just sit back a while, you'll get what you want if you wait until after the U.S. withdraws."  And then there's that "we'll have more freedom once I get reelected" bit.  Afghanistan and Iraq are even now paying a bitter price for this, and now it's Kiev's turn.

But that said, the controversy of the Crimea is about a former Muslim Khanate--the Tatars that tormented the Czars--absorbed into Russia, filled mostly (but not fully) with Russians and Ukrainians (58% and 24% respectively), then granted to the Ukraine in an effort to make it difficult for Kiev to operate independently of "Mother Russia."  It's a controversy that is more or less designed to be a pain in the rear for everyone involved.

So the solution?  Well, if I'm understanding things correctly, shedding the Crimea and a couple of other majority-Russian counties could be a huge blessing to the Ukraine.  Immediately the number of votes for the Pro-Russian party drops by about two million votes, and if the remaining Tatars want to be a pain like Chechnya, that would belong to Russia.  It might even reduce the fuel bill--though that's unsure, as Crimea does produce some natural gas.

In other words, you use the Russian tendency towards empire to make Ukraine a viable nation while ensuring that Russia has yet another headache to deal with.  You might even get Russia to pay for the Ukrainian bases and infrastructure they're taking.

OK, probably a moot point now--"leading from behind" is no way to run a superpower--but if we had someone in the White House who actually understood Russia and Eastern Europe (hint; they're all paranoid about being invaded, since it's happened so often), we might have had a much better result.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Where everybody knows your name

Back when we lived in a small town, but with its own emergency room, we were a little bit chagrined when our fourth daughter got on a first name basis with all of the doctors in town--but then remembered that there were only four of them, so it wasn't that bad.  Fast forward to this week, when our son was greeted at St. Mary's in Rochester by a nurse saying "weren't you just here last week?".    Since St. Mary's (the hospital used by the Mayo brothers and the Clinic today) is THE "go-to" emergency room for most of southern Minnesota, northeast Iowa, and western Wisconsin, it takes serendipity or some seriously bad luck to be recognized there.

Thankfully it was serendipity, and he's going to be OK, and he's going to get a whittling lesson from Dad before he tries again.  And the arrows he was whittling look great.


The little guy hard at work watching Cars while waiting for 5 stitches!

And it pays to patronize small business around here, too.  On one day, the gracious proprietress of "Ginny's Fine Fabrics" gave us some patterns for Civil War era dresses, and we got an invitation to the Wasioja Civil War Days ball from friends.  Just might have some sewing to do, and somehow I'm reminded of Famous Dave's.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Humor in fatherhood

I had a situation last night in a kids' program where I had to tell a child that I'd have to tell his mother about what he'd just done, and he begged me to give him the spanking instead of telling his mother.

When I mentioned this to my wife, her first response was that if any of our kids had been in the room, they'd have quickly told the poor soul that what he'd just said was a very, very bad idea.  None of them disagreed with Mrs. Bubba for some odd reason.

Worship Shul

I did a bit of Hebrew and Greek study of the words for "worship"--Hebrew "Schachah" (Strong's 7812) and Greek proskyneo and sebomai, and I learned a few things that might make a very strong point in the "worship wars" of whether hymns, meeting and revival songs, or modern praise music ought to be used in worship.

The verdict I come to--and failed to arrive at in these earlier posts about worship and music--is that none of these forms ought to be used in worship, properly speaking.  No, I'm not urging Bach's cantatas and toccatas, Gregorian chants or the Orthodox equivalent, or even the singing of the metric Psalms--though I would be quite happy with these in church services, assuming the lyrics are orthodox.

Rather, the point is that worship, strictly speaking, does not refer to music.   It refers to bowing down before one who is acknowledged as superior, more or less utter submission in its implications.  Sometimes--as when Abraham talks about going to Mt. Moriah to worship--it can quietly refer to sacrifice, but it does not refer to music in the Temple, in the synagogue, or at church. 

It is not always used with reference to the God of Abraham, but can be used with reference to pagan "deities."  About 3/4 of the time that "schachah" is used in reference to false gods, however, it is used this way--"to serve, and to worship"  It seems to imply that while one can simply fall down prostrate before God Almighty, some service must be rendered to the demons before one can submit to them.  One might suggest that it's a parallel of the Protestant doctrines of sola fide, sola gratia, and Solus Christus.  God did it all for us, therefore we can simply bow down before Him and worship

Moreover, I wonder if there is a great treasure to be gained if Bible believers would only regain the proper doctrine of worship.  We seem to "mess around" a lot with music, prayer, skits, preaching, dance, offerings....but none of these are, strictly speaking, worship.  What would God do in our times of singing, prayer, preaching, offerings, and the like if only....we got out of the way at the beginning of each church meeting for a time when we could bow down and worship? 

What if Protestant churches provided a way--yes, I'm thinking something akin to Catholic "kneelers" or the Pilgrim times of solemn humiliation--for the congregation to kneel and assume a posture of utter submission, a posture of worship?  What if we learned to walk into the auditorium with a hushed silence--yes those great old tall churches are wonderful for this--and assume an attitude of worship?

What would happen to the evangelical heresies of today--I am thinking specifically of evangelical feminism, among other heresies--if we understood worship as it truly is, as the pure and utter submission of the Church to Her Savior, of the Son to the Father.....and thus of a wife to her husband, a child to his father, and the like?  After all, Christ does not bow down to the Church, no?

So if you're asked about your position about the "worship wars", just let them know; worship isn't about music.  It's about our solemn humiliation and submission before God.  And once we get this down, then we might be able to think more clearly about lesser matters like music. 

Saturday, March 01, 2014

The death of project management?

Let's take a look at some recent debacles:

1.  The failure of the Lockheed-Martin designed speed skating suits at the Sochi Olympics.

2.  The debacle of the "Health Insurance Deform Act" portal at the federal level.

3.  The implosion, apparently, of up to 35 state exchanges for the Health Insurance Deform Act.

What do all of these have in common?  All admitted that they did not do significant testing prior to release, and as a result, all self-destructed.  In similar news, I've noted before that many of the "compact fluorescent" light bulbs I've bought--really anything but those producing about 500 to 800 lumens with the "corkscrew" configuration--are great candidates for getting a full refund because they simply don't last anywhere near the warranty period.  In other words, they didn't do reliability testing prior to release--and it would seem that the Department of Energy never called them on it, either.

(no surprise, really; the DOE has never, ever helped to develop an energy source that can compete in markets without subsidies.  It's not like they're interested in affordable energy or anything, after all)

Now it's particularly telling that these omissions were made, because the standard tools for risk management--FMEA, accelerated reliability testing, and the like--were by and large invented and promoted by none less than....the government.  And yet government officials allowed these programs to go live.

In other words, in government circles, the basics of program management are being ignored because the political realities loom greater for government officials than the impact on citizens.  Yes, be very, very afraid of the consequences, which shall be dire.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Well, there goes that theory

I've been of the view that the collapse of the American family is in great part due to the disaster called the Great Society and LBJ's "War on the Poor", sometimes mis-labeled the "War on Poverty."  While this may be true, it interestingly does not fit some of the data, specifically the proportion of American adults living in wedlock.  Take a look:

H/T Sunshine Mary

Now take a look; all ethnic groups show a decline starting not in 1964, when LBJ started the War on the Poor, but rather around 1950, when he was a junior Senator.  Particularly interesting is the plunge in black marriage rates at this time.  It doesn't correspond to the Great Society or even the Civil Rights movement--those were still in the future--but it does correspond well to both the second Great Migration and the graduation of the first soldiers studying under the G.I. Bill--soldiers who had served with all races in Italy and elsewhere with the 92nd Infantry and other units, and who had been welcomed as liberators there.

Of course, getting away from "Jim Crow" is a good thing, even if northerners were not altogether hospitable at all times(to put it mildly), but one thing that is likely here is that as blacks became a distinct minority in their new homes, they didn't have the clear support of institutions like family and church (those they'd left back in the South), and they also had to wait to establish themselves in homes before marrying and starting families.  And, of course, being lonely and far from home, I'm guessing some did what lonely people of all races do....with or without a marriage license, and their families and churches weren't there to give them a nudge towards marriage.

And so perhaps, just as the great migrations of whites to the West resulted in a culture (excepting the Mormons of course) with less regard for traditional mores, marriage, and the like, perhaps the migrations of blacks to the north and west did the same thing....and the question, then, is how to fix the problem after decades of hurt.

A parallel note; the rise in crime rates in the inner city started soon after this....again, exactly what you'd expect from lonely people of any race, and it is worth noting as well that the race riots of the sixties all occurred in the north and west.  Now granted, fear of "Bull Connor and company" may have suppressed things in the South, but Richard Daley was no slouch during the Democratic Convention of 1968, either.

The moral of the story, I think, is to welcome your new neighbors.  It'll do them, and you, a lot of good, and it's in the Bible, too.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Book Review: "Overdressed"

My wife and I recently read "Overdressed; the Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion," by Elizabeth Cline, and we can recommend it with some reservations.  First the excellent; with what seems to be pretty keen instincts for reporters these days, Ms. Cline details the collapse of the U.S. clothing industry and some fairly shocking conditions and realities at clothing manufacturers and clothing retailers.  Those who wonder how "fashion" houses with little to add like Abercrombie and Fitch, Gap, and Old Navy manage to survive will marvel at the marketing acumen used by these stores.

The book also details a process I commend; Ms. Cline's transformation from an addict of cheap fashions to a careful selector of better quality clothing--often vintage clothing.  This is something I can heartily commend, as I am wearing a 25 year old sweater right now.  (gift from my mom, Irish lambs-wool)  Apparently, she want from over 350 garments (pants, skirts, shorts, shirts, jackets, everything but undergarments) to a bit less than 100, and I can only say "well done."

While Ms. Cline has demonstrated quite well how to reform her own life, however, it's my opinion that she short-changes the reader in terms of the real costs suffered by those who are in a way "addicted" to the latest thing from their favorite store. 

Specifically, my 100 or so garments (not doing as well as Ms. Cline in this, sad to say) fill the top three drawers in a dresser and about four feet of closet space--including about two feet of shelves partially shared with blanket storage--take approximately 20 square feet of storage space.  Now if I triple that, my clothes would require about 60-80 square feet of storage space.  With a "cost to build or buy" of about $100/square foot, a "primo" A&F or Old Navy wardrobe for myself would cost me somewhere between $4000 and $6000--enough to buy a custom suit from a bespoke tailor, my wife reminds me.  Multiply that cost by my family size of eight, and it's enough to buy a brand new SUV.   Which, by the way, we recently did--one could argue our family's thrift in clothing has a very real benefit to us.

(we heartily recommend the GMC Acadia, by the way....solid all the way through)

Along the same lines, there is a cost in comfort.  Our family's mostly "natural fiber" wardrobe simply performs better in cold weather and hot, allowing us to keep the house a bit cool (65) in winter and a bit warm (78) in summer, saving us a good chunk of money on utilities--and my employer on space heaters that I do not use.  (there is that gift from my mom again)  The linen shirt my wife made me is cooler than a bare chest in the sun. 

This leads to a third major savings with good clothing; while other families are gathered around the TV in winter and summer to take advantage of climate control while they wear their poly-cotton blends and polyester stretch knits, my family is out skating, skiing, bicycling, and the like.  So just as a $10,000 bicycle has a pretty decent ROI (return on investment) when you consider the medical benefits of physical activity, so does decent clothing.  Just take a look at Lileks' pictures of men waiting for the trolley fifty years ago; think about doing that in poly blends and shiver.  Consider where people are at the church picnic in the summer--think that some people in the shelter might do well to consider real cotton?  I think so.

Two other places where I disagreed with the author were about her position on unions, and her position on natural fibers.  With regards to unions, her consistent refrain assumes that if only the workers in Bangladesh were unionized, things would be better--but the reality is that when the Maersk Line is ordering ten ships that dwarf the Emma Maersk, a union in Bangladesh will only result in production moving to Pakistan, India, or other developing countries.  Unions work well with capital-bound industries, but not so well with industries that can move as easily as clothing production.

Regarding fiber, is often claimed that there are not enough natural fibers to clothe the world, and just for kicks, I looked it up.  Between cotton, wool, linen, and hemp, there are about 27 million tons of natural fibers produced worldwide each year--about 8-9 lbs. per person, or about (assuming average of 6 oz. fabric) about 23 yards per person.  It takes about two yards of fabric to make a shirt or pair of pants for a large adult--so if you're keeping your wool shirts for 20 years, cotton shirts for 3-5 years, and your slacks for a decade (as I do), you're going to have little problem getting most of your clothing in natural fibers.  This is especially the case when you consider leather for clothing as well.

Plus, you'll be more likely to be able to afford that nice new SUV and the high end bicycle to ride when  you're not in the SUV.  Your doctor will be happy to wait for the business, I hope, and maybe it'll help prevent further debacles like the collapse in a clothing factory in Bangladesh last year that took over 1000 lives.

Well done, Ms. Cline, and may your reporting grow to understand the nuts and bolts of corporate governance, and may your wardrobe grow ever more delightful.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Thoughts on a blizzardy day in Minnesota

You might wonder what Minnesotans do when it's 15 degrees out with winds over 30mph.....well, in our family, we ski into town to get ice cream, and then when we find (boo hoo) the ice cream shop is closed, we get donuts. 

We had a wonderful time at a youth concert yesterday, and when tempted to complain, we can remember people like Bob, Tom, and Todd.  Bob is about 60, and lost his eyesight and his eyes 30 years back to diabetes.  Many would have been content to just take Social Security disability checks, but not Bob.  Through four transplants (three kidneys and a pancreas), he's also gotten a master's degree and worked for 25 years.  He just retired, just had heart difficulty, but you'd never know he'd had difficulty from his attitude.

Our family has also known Todd and Tom for years--twin brothers born with a congenital muscle disease that also entitles them to lifelong disability checks, they have both gotten degrees and--this is remarkable in this economy--both have found work in their area.  They are wheelchair bound for life and need special assistance in many areas, but you will no sooner hear them complaining then you'll see them wearing a dress.  My hat is off to them, at least.....when I'm inside. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

A question of the philosophers

Women are evidently routinely mocked because of wearing ill-fitting "Mom Jeans".  Now given that I, and most of my (male) colleagues wear loosely fitting denim as well, why are men not mocked for wearing "dad jeans"?

I blame the patriarchy!  We have met the enemy, and he is us!

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Our political problems, illustrated by bridge construction

Now I have no idea whether Governor Christie actually intended the partial shutdown of the George Washington Bridge to be political retribution against political rivals--given he won in a landslide last year, he'd have been insane to do so--but there is a reality that very often, local politics is the dirtiest.

That, in turn, is a difficulty for those who would hope to clean up the system, because we find that even Presidents are often drawn from the ranks of community organizers who manage to persuade the courts to unseal divorce records of their opponents.  So if we wonder why we have a President who, after literally thousands (perhaps *billions, really) of felonies committed by the NSA and other departments, still has yet to even bother to fire anyone, let alone indict the perpetrators, we have only ourselves to blame.

We did not, after all, turn out the city council member or county commissioner who used his position the same way in our hometown, or home county, did we?  He might have been a member of our church, or a "respected businessman", and we didn't call him on it.  And now we might call him Congressman, or Governor, or even Mr. President, and we're all wondering why he's doing exactly the same things we let him get away with when he was an alderman, a county commissioner, or a state representative.

Well, duh.

*Yes, billions and perhaps even trillions; each lawless search of private records by the NSA is a count of that felony.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Thoughts on the Health Insurance Deform Act

It occurred to me that if my insurance agent knowingly lied to me in such a way that I lost my insurance, he would be liable to civil and criminal penalties.  Well, what about the guy who lied in such a way that up to 75 million Americans will lose insurance?

Brilliance from the Democratic Party

Fox reports that the Democratic Party is doing fund-raising for the 2014 elections (sigh) based on the premiss that if the GOP does well, they will remove Mr. Obama from office.  Now of course the paleo-conservative/libertarian in me would love to see Mr. Obama's public housing change from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to, say, Littleton, Colorado with his buddy Rod Blagojevich.  It's the tradition for Illinois politicians, and I have to say that with his blatantly illegal executive orders, obstruction of justice in the IRS case, and other issues, it's clearly the place for him.

However, the reality of the matter is that the Democrats currently control 55 seats in the Senate, and only 21 of them are up for election.  So even if they lost 100% of their seats this year, they would still hold 34 seats, enough to prevent the rightful removal of Mr. Barry Soetoro. 

Democrats; the party that cannot do basic math.  Remember that in the coming year as you contemplate the fact that a 1% increase in the cost of borrowing would cost your family over $1000 annually. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

It boggles the mind

If anyone has the idea that government can do things well, the funeral for Nelson Mandela ought to cure us of that view.  The host was of course the South African government and Mr. Jacob Zuma, a man who is not only clearly implicated in rape and corruption charges, but who also (here's your racial reconciliation here) charmingly sang a song "Shoot the Boer" at the centennial celebration of the African National Congress. 

Add to that world leaders who apparently think flirting and taking "selfie" pictures is appropriate at a funeral (because obviously no one would EVER take a picture of world leaders together) and a "sign language interpreter" who not only did not know sign language, but was also mentally ill and had an extensive criminal history including murder allegations, and I think you've got to conclude that if you think government will do things well....

.....well, you're hallucinating just as certainly as Thamsanqa Jantjie.

Beyond doubt, the Obama administration has been a time of great suffering for the nation, but if it helps voters dispel the notion that government can do something right, it could be useful after all.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

You might be a redneck....

......if you view a state funeral as a chance to hit on the Prime Minister of Denmark.