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Death by a million cuts

The ancient Chinese torture of death by a thousand cuts, or slow-slicing, sounds like a terrible way to die, doesn’t it? Yet, each of those thousand cuts seems not significant or life-threatening. In exactly the same manner, the United States is being brought to its knees, but by far more than a thousand cuts. In exactly the same manner, each “cut” seems almost insignificant.

The “cuts” I refer to are the untold, relatively small amounts of “government money” most of us gleefully accept. We accept them, truly believing that it is free money… money from the government, blindly ignoring the fact that ALL money from the government comes from taxes extracted from all of us.

So-called government money, even at it’s absolute BEST, goes to support activities that are not possible otherwise. Those activities, if they were necessary and useful to others, WOULD be possible without tax money.

Any activity that cannot be successfully undertaken without forcibly taking money from the people, is an activity that should remain undone.

We can each of us play “Wouldn’t it be swell if…” and tack on thousands of wonderful ideas that would make life around us more pleasant or handsome. The traditional manner of dealing with such an idea is to adopt and entrepreneurial attitude… to build it and hope that enough others hold it as wonderful to make it self-supporting or even profitable. The standard for judging the merit of an idea is “are there enough other people willing to pay for it to make it happen?

“Government money” is precisely the opposite… it is money granted for a purpose that, almost by definition, cannot attract enough subscribers to be profitable on it’s own merits. It is money that is stolen from people who have nothing to say about it… money they would NOT have given willingly, so it is taken from them. Is that something to be proud of?

To receive government money is not always simple, unless you have an influential friend in government (and having one is not simple or easy either). Government grants usually require a complex grant application, written in a special language designed to impress without saying anything specific. Such language is expected, as a means of protecting the granter from criticism in case the grantee’s project amounts to little. Here is a sentence describing the aim of a particular set of grants:

“Funded projects support digitization and collections management plans, enhanced accessibility, environmental literacy, and much more.”

Is there anything about that you understand? Environmental literacy? Given those aims, could you write a grant application that made any sense?

Government money isn’t free, even to the recipient. Aside from the laborious task of writing and applying, grantees will be expected to perform, or at least SOUND like they’re performing, so the obfuscating language will continue.

The cost I hate most about “government money” is that it changes those who seek it; it changes the focus of the organization, from complete concentration on performing to attract users or customers, to performing for the granting body. Think of it as “chasing free money”. It takes time away from what might work best long-run to what will work to get the free money. Thus, chasing free money creates a dependency on free money, by reducing the entrepreneurial capability of the organization. Often, an organization will undertake a major project simply because government money is available for it… a project that otherwise was not important enough to be undertaken. Primary focuses get ignored in favor of chasing what money is available for, and soon the organization is less interested in paying customers than in funding sources.

There are millions of such examples, each representing a small cut in what made our nation great. Each cut seems insignificant, but the result is a nation that is trillions of dollars in debt, with a populace that is in the process of forgetting how to survive without stealing from each other.


August 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 3 Comments

World-class potholes

The city of Minneapolis has, for many decades, been determined to be what they refer to as a “world-class city”. Citizens have paid through the nose for such luxurious amenities as museums, stadiums, big shopping destinations, and light-rail transit lines. In the process of building magnificent edifices, Minneapolis has tossed out innumerable former residents, and they continue to form and promote such grandiose plans. I like the current mayor’s (R.T. Ryback) phrase to justify bold new construction projects, “weaving the tapestry of the community” or some such nonsense.

We all know that only a small percentage of city residents use any of these fabulous facilities, because most are too busy working and spending frugally in order to survive.

While Minneapolis continues to plan and build huge and expensive structures for show, what they seem to be completely unable to do is take care of the streets.

Last night, I drove through some of downtown Minneapolis. The the 7 or 8 blocks of busy streets I drove were probably in the worst shape I’ve ever encountered. Riddled with deep potholes that are impossible to avoid because some are gouged-out seams that run clear across lanes. If you’ve ever had to drive on such roads, you understand that they cost you money, in damage to tires and vehicle suspension.

Perhaps even worse for those who live in Minneapolis, the city has done a crappy job of clearing snow on most residential streets, so much so that the city has declared no parking on the even-numbered sides of the streets. Minneapolis doesn’t plow alleys either, so many citizens are having a very difficult time of finding a place to park.

I live in Richfield, just south of Minneapolis, and our streets are in far better condition. Richfield plows have been out early and often, plowing fast enough to keep the streets clear as wide as possible. No parking restrictions here, even though Richfield is an older blue-collar suburb.

Simply put, Minneapolis has lots of fancy frills, but performs basic services poorly. In other words, it concentrates on luxury while shortchanging most of the tax-paying citizenry.

World-class city? For people visiting the city, it might seem that way, but for those living here and paying for it, it sucks. Well, at least the potholes are indeed world-class.

February 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 3 Comments

It’s Deja Vu all over again

Some things, unfortunately, just don’t change. In the news, these repeat performances appear:

Nationally, following the domination of one political party in the last election, the other party is picking up steam and garnering more support. That is a direct result of having just two dominant parties, with few people satisfied with either. It’s the gnawing old “lesser of two evils” bugaboo. The majority party, regardless of which one happens to hold the majority, is increasingly viewed with disgust, and voters begin shifting to the other. With only two choices, and with neither producing anything worthwhile when in the majority, the pendulum simply shifts back and forth from one to the other.

University of Minnesota athletes are again causing a scandal. As usual, there is little comfort in knowing that these bad-boy players were recruited from other states, not the home of “Minnesota Nice”. As long as college sports are defined as what makes a college important, athletes will continue to be treated as pampered, glorified “stars”, regardless of their other attributes… many will continue to think that they are so important that they can get away with any behavior.

NBA referees continue to call fouls in favor of star players, especially in game-critical circumstances. Last night, the call was a jump ball rather than a foul on a reach-in by Kevin Garnett, now starring for the Celtics. If the players involved had been in opposite positions, I have no doubt that the call would have been a foul instead. It’s been going on for years, and will no doubt continue… that star players consistently get favorable calls that win games.

Oh, and the Yankees won another World Series, their 27th. Big surprise, with a line-up that reads like an All-Star roster. Money wins again.

Yet another case of a registered sex offender being able to commit many more crimes, literally under the nose of law enforcement, for years, without detection. Yes… these same cops who can spot an expired license from 100 feet, but, in this case, don’t notice perhaps 11 murders in the house of an Ohio convicted sex offender. Missing person reports and a putrid smell in the neighborhood weren’t enough to clue in the local cops. Oh yeah… Serve and Protect, for sure.

There was even good news that also isn’t new, but around here, in a state that seems to believe that government can fix problems, it was treated as news. In the midst of a depression, private companies are finding ways to increase productivity… by themselves and without government help. They’ve been doing that as long as there have been businesses… belt-tightening, and laying off all but truly needed workers. In the business world, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. In politics, when the going gets tough, leaders just spend us into more debt, to pretend that they’re fixing something. Let’s watch the administration find a way to pretend that they caused the increased productivity.

Some things never seem to change.

November 6, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Iowa sports… a lot more than luck

I grew up in the Iowa City area. I attended the University of Iowa. At one time both my parents and I worked for the U of Iowa. Most of my relatives still reside in that area.

Despite all that, there is only one college team I root AGAINST… the University of Iowa. Why would that be?

Over many years, I have watched as Iowa teams, especially playing at home, have had the benefit of officiating in their favor.  In many cases, such as today, in football, against Indiana, the favoritism has been obvious and grievous.

College sports are typically played with high emotions. Very often, penalties can make a real emotional shift in games.  That is the worst effect of biased calls, especially if they occur on key plays. The result can be a terrible and obvious discouragement on the losing team.

Today’s football game was a near-perfect example. In the 3rd quarter, when Iowa could do nothing right, officials managed to keep the game within Iowa’s reach and depress the attitude of Indiana. Two touchdowns by Indiana were obliterated by officials, with challenged results that made no sense to those of us viewing slow-motion on TV.

I don’t know how Iowa manages to have control of officiating, but it’s clear to me that they do have control. As long as that seems to continue, I will root AGAINST my alma mater.

November 1, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama avoids taxpayer protest with a political rally

While tens of thousands of citizens trekked to Washington DC to protest ObamaCare and continued monstrous government spending, President Obama was off in Minneapolis, evangelizing to a guaranteed-favorable crowd. Or, put a little differently… while a huge crowd spent their own money to travel to Washington to protest excessive government spending, the President chose to avoid them by incurring a HUGE additional taxpayer expense.

It costs big bucks when the President travels anywhere. Security costs alone are enormous, with both federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies pressed into service to assure total safety for one man. Air Force One, the President’s aiplane (actually airplaneS) are technolocally extravagant and serviced by a full-time Air Force unit. Typically, traffic is fouled up around a Presidential visit. This visit came on a choice day, shortly before a Minnesota Twins home game just down the street, and a signal football game a few hours late opening the brand-new University of Minnesota stadium to a sold-out crowd.

Despite all the expense and inconvenience, this visit to Minneapolis served no purpose but a sure-thing photo-op love-fest. Minnesota is a thoroughly liberal (read socialist) state, and he brought our 2 Democratic Senators along with him on from Washington.

At a time when unemployment is high and people are worried about their personal finances, you might think that a concerned President might actually make some effort to economize. It’s obvious just how concerned Obama is about taxpayers; not in the slightest.

September 13, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

70 years ago…

was a very significant year. It was the year of the World’s Fair in New York City.
Lou Gehrig retired from baseball with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known since then as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Nuclear fission was first accomplished.
Hewlett Packard was formed.
The first Minneapolis Aquatennial occured.
Gandhi began his famous fast.

Hitler invaded Poland, beginning World War II in Europe. The St. Louis, a ship carrying a cargo of 907 Jewish refugees, is denied permission to land in Florida after already having been turned away from Cuba. Forced to return to Europe, many of its passengers later die in Nazi death camps during the Holocaust.

Siam became Thailand.
La Guardia airport opened in New York City.
CBS television began transmitting.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame opened in Cooperstown, NY

A lot of well-known people were born in 1939:
Bobby Hull, Sal Mineo, Phil Everly, Ray Stevens, Mike Farrell, Paula Prentiss, Neil Sedaka, Marvin Gaye, Francis Ford Coppola, David Frost, Lee Majors, Judy Collins, Dixie Carter, Al Unser, Jackie Stewart, Carl Yastrzemski, Frankie Avalon, Melinda Dillon, Lee Harvey Oswald, Ralph Lauren, John Cleese, Grace Slick, Russell Means, Yaphet Kotto, Tina Turner, John Amos… oh… and me.

1939 is considered THE big year for movies… the list is rather astonishing:
Gone with the Wind
Wizard of Oz
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Four Feathers
Wuthering Heights
Bachelor Mother
Destry Rides Again
Gunga Din
Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Women
Beau Geste
The Young Mr. Lincoln
Of Mice and Men
Only Angels Have Wings
Love Affair
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Another Thin Man
Babes in Arms
Drums Along the Mohawk
Each Dawn I Die
Golden Boy
Jessie James
The Little Princess
Love Affair

Aside from all those famous movies (now classics)…
Batman and Captain Marvel (SHAZAM) were created. A hell of a year!

June 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mighty masonry

Despite the annoying inconvenience of living amidst a 4-year construction zone, and my belief that the resulting “major improvement” will only ease 35W traffic for a short time, I have found it fascinating to watch the construction.

I live alongside the infamous 35W/Crosstown highway, a problem area almost since it was built. The east/west Crosstown came first, built as a means to enable traffic to the stockyards in St. Paul. The stockyards is gone, but the trouble began when Interstate 35W was planned, coming into Minneapolis from the south. Freeways cross all the time, but a poor decision was made way back when… to use part of the Crosstown as part of the new 35W. The reason was to qualify for more government money. The result was a stretch of maybe half a mile of jams and confusion as one highway merged into the other and then quickly out again. It also meant that 35W had two big curves… to merge into and out of the Crosstown section. The simplest routes, just staying on 35W or just staying on the Crosstown, both became tricky merges. It became “the bottleneck”.

There were other choices back then, but, gradually, those choices have disappeared as people built around it. Solving the problem has since been proposed and abandoned several times,also complicated by it involving Minneapolis, Richfield, the county, the state, the feds, and many other related groups. Nevertheless, a grand new plan IS being implemented, over 4 years, and I live in the heart of it. The building next to mine was taken, and the new freeway wall is at the end of our lawn now. Traffic is raised far off the ground through here, because of a couple of major streets and railroad tracks.

The freeway right here is built up on earth (as it was before), blocking all north/south traffic except for the two major streets, but the area east of Nicollet Avenue is where the construction gets interesting. The new solution doesn’t take up much more space than the old, but it separates the two freeways better, allowing through traffic to flow without merging together.

The design is spaghetti-like, with many long ramps. In spite of the grand design, it will undoubtedly still result in slowdowns for both freeways… any curve does. To the extent that it makes traffic somewhat faster, it will become a choice for even more drivers, and will inevitably again become “the bottleneck”.

All that negativity aside, the construction project is impressive. Coordinating the placement of workmen, heavy equipment, and resources coming in from subcontractors has to be a mammoth task. Many very large cranes are deployed and redeployed as needed. My favorite part of the complexity is the construction of the elevated roadways. These are built of pre-cast cross-sections, each section making up about 8 to 10 feet of 2-lane roadway. If you haven’t seen such construction before, the photos below will make it understandable.

The long elevated sections of roadway are supported by large vertical columns, placed a considerable distance apart. One at a time, a cross-sectional piece is added atop a column… first on one side, then on the other, etc. Each new piece is pulled tight against the previous ones, under what must be enormous tension. They continue to add pieces to either side, seemingly balanced on the columns, until about a dozen are hanging out on either side, where they, amazingly, meet with the roadway stretching out from the next column.

Most impressive to me is that these elevated sections curve, often in elevation, direction, and banking, which means that each cross-section is built precisely and uniquely for its location.

You can click on the photos to see large versions.

Here are several cross-section pieces waiting to be placed over
Nicollet Avenue. These were placed at night because the crane
blocked the street.

This shows a bare column and another with the
first couple of cross-sections in place.

Here is a closeup of two sections about to meet.

Two long ramps coming together over Nicollet Avenue, from
the north and from the east.

Shows the complex curve of the roadway.

When I look at these constructions, I get the same feeling as when I see an airliner flying over… it doesn’t look like it should be able to do that, but it obviously can.

June 5, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

as I’ve been saying for years…

A new study shows that cigarette smoke can prevent allergies by decreasing the reaction of immune cells to allergens.

I’ve smoked for 54 years and have never found anything I was allergic to, while almost everyone around me has become allergic to more and more substances. I’ve asked many smokers about their allergies, and found out that it isn’t just me. My assumption has been that smokers have stronger immune systems, so are less affected by alien substances.

I think it is more than just not-smoking that has led to increased allergic reaction. Modern humans have become fearful of so many things that could be harmful. Although scientists know better, other organizations seeking political power and/or donations have pushed the idea that if a substance is harmful at some dosage level, then it is harmful at any dosage level. Thus, because extreme exposure to sun can occasionally cause skin cancer, then any exposure should be avoided. Many people now believe that laying outside to tan (or even in a tanning bed) is a foolish flirtation with cancer. If trans-fat isn’t good for you, then you should avoid it completely. The list goes on and on.

I recall that, a few years ago, new homes were being built tightly, to conserve energy, resulting in no fresh air, and making residents sick until they starting piping in fresh air to their cooling systems. Even pets have become sicklier, as their owners have eliminated one pollutant after another.

In the U.S. we are extreme about what we fear. All of our food products are now freshness-dated, and many people simply throw food away when it passes the date… even when it still looks and smells fine. Guess whose idea that was? Follow the money.

Pseudo-science has turned Americans into frightened pansies who are losing their natural resistance to alien substances. The human body can develop resistance to almost anything harmful, if it has to, but when we artificially isolate ourselves from the natural world, we become weaker and more vulnerable.

Doesn’t it also seem likely that, if you develop an allergy, and medicate to lessen the symptoms, that you have made yourself even more dependent on the medication… and more vulnerable to the allergic reaction?

School teachers are a good example of immunity. In a typical elementary classroom, one or more children have a cold almost every day, so teachers are exposed continuously. Given the normal fear of most people, teachers should be sick continuously… but they’re not. Over time, they develop an immunity to the constant barrage of germs.

There are lessons to be learned from these examples. Americans used to be tough folks, working in dirty jobs, living in less clean environments, and over half the population smoked cigarettes… unfiltered ones. Now the air is cleaner, our home environments are far cleaner, only about 20% of us smoke and almost never indoors, yet we have become a sickly, overweight population.

We used to eat anything that tasted good or was cheap. We didn’t much know or care what was in it or how it was processed. Are we healthier now? Hell no, we’re not.

Health care costs have skyrocketed, a higher percentage of us are suffering from dementia, childhood asthma is rampant, and clinics and hospitals are constantly hiring.

When are we going to question the advice that has been pushed on us?

May 22, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What a bunch of losers!

The Minnesota legislature is controlled by the local Democrats, called DFLers. After years of trying, they finally passed a medical marijuana bill, but, at the last minute, watered it down to include only TERMINALLY-ILL patients.

They will undoubtedly claim that they wanted something that our lame GOP governor wouldn’t veto… something is better than nothing, ya know? They’re right in that claim… he intends to veto even that pathetic bill, but does that justify what they did? Hell no, it doesn’t… they took him largely off the hook by chickening out in advance.

Marijuana can help terminally-ill patients, but they are, after all, by definition, going to die. The real value of medicinal marijuana is for thousands of patients who are going to live… and marijuana can often be the difference between dying and living for them. All those people were sacrificed by one late and cowardly amendment to the bill.

While they were caring not for sick people, they also declared not wearing a seat-belt to be an offense for which cops can now stop you… and charge you.

Our liberal legislators seem to be totally incapable or unwilling to keep their damned noses out of every aspect of our business. They think they know what is best for every one of us, regardless of our individual situations, and they’re willing to FORCE us to comply for our own good.


May 20, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A day at Art-A-Whirl and back in time

There are few things I enjoy doing more than stepping back into history, and yesterday was all about that. I used the annual Art-A-Whirl in NE Minneapolis as the impetus and focal point to revisit a couple of places. Sometimes things happen to coincide in a way that produces rather spooky results.

In the 70’s I visited the Northwestern Casket Company briefly on insurance business, and was delighted to find a company that had been in business, in the same place, since Civil War days. I recall a 100-year-old clock in the office, still working, and office furniture that might have been as old.

In 2005, I was visiting an old friend in that part of town and sensed that the place I had visited 20 years earlier was nearby. I drove around until I found the old building, and took a couple of photos of it. It looked to me as if the casket company was gone, and I posted the photos and my regrets at the demise of the company on my website.

Not long after, I got an email from someone at the Casket Company insisting that they were NOT gone, and that they would prove it if I wanted to take a tour. A tour of a company well over 100 years old? There are few things I could want more.

I called a couple of friends I knew would be interested in joining me, plus the friend who lived near NWCC. He fixed lunch for us and we went over to the massive old brick building with the huge name painted on the bricks.

We were given a tour by the company president David Koll, and it was marvelous. Although the company was by that time small and less active by comparison with it’s earlier days, the building added great interest.

Oh, to have seen the company operation at it’s peak… hauling logs in by rail to their own sawmill and dry kiln, and watching craftsmen build caskets of all kinds, followed by the custom interiors created by the ladies on the 3rd floor. Putting interiors on purchased metal caskets had become the bulk of the company’s business.

This day, I was with another friend, and drove by my old friend Ed Contoski’s house, and saw him outside, so we stopped for a few minutes to find out Ed’s latest activities (Ed should be a whole other blog). From Ed’s, we drove up by the St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral you can see from Ed’s dining room. It’s an impressive old church from the outside, with a huge central dome and other smaller ones. I was surprised to see that the church was an Art-A-Whirl stop too, so we parked and went in. There was a service just finishing as we got there, and we were directed to the church’s tea room for some great tea, pleasantly sweetened with a dab of Huber’s jam.

When the service ended we entered the church proper and stood surprised at what we saw… a truly magnificent room under the huge dome, with an incredible iconostasis in the front and paintings all around. Additionally, there was an exhibit of more recent, smaller icons. Words cannot do justice to the interior of this cathedral, but they have a website with lots of photos.

From St. Mary’s, we drove to the nearby casket company building. Yes, the casket company was indeed gone, but the huge building, plus the carriage house, were filled with people touring the artist’s studios. There were many remaining vestiges of the building’s prior appearance, but I had hoped for a small historical “shrine” to the company that built the building in 1855 and occupied it for 150 years. The story of that company reveals much about the ways in which our nation has changed over that time.

It’s a little ironic that a building that was built to produce fine hand-crafted caskets now displays hand-crafted art. Another small twist of fate… one of the people I invited on that 2005 tour of the casket company was Joan Nygren, who, for several years, has done the massive Design and Production of the Art-A_Whirl catalog.

I hope someone is recording the story of Northwestern Casket Company for posterity. It’s possible that the company itself is still in business in a different location. I think I’ll try to find out. With a great deal of luck, perhaps I’ll be the one to put at least some more of their long history online to share.

May 18, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment