Apr 172009

Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois has a lot to learn about democratic values. I heard some background buzz about tea parties the past few days but didn’t pay a lot of attention until I read this:

The “tea parties” being held today by groups of right-wing activists, and fueled by FOX News Channel, are an effort to mislead the public about the Obama economic plan that cuts taxes for 95 percent of Americans and creates 3.5 million jobs.”

It’s despicable that right-wing Republicans would attempt to cheapen a significant, honorable moment of American history with a shameful political stunt. Not a single American household or business will be taxed at a higher rate this year. Made to look like a grassroots uprising, this is an Obama bashing party promoted by corporate interests, as well as Republican lobbyists and politicians.”

Now I wish I had found a tea party to take part in myself.

Even if she doesn’t agree with the protestors, she should praise them for getting involved in the political process and for engaging in a national dialog. What’s despicable is for a national legislator to speak against the values enshrined in the First Amendment, which speaks of the right of citizens peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances.

And her statement that “not a single American household or business will be taxed at a higher rate this year” is hardly a rebutal to anything. I presume the protestors’ concern is over existing tax rates being an unsustainable way to support our government, and the fact that much of the stimulus package is intended to force state governments to continue higher rates of spending (and taxing) in exchange for receiving stimulus dollars. I would hope that the tax protesters are more forward-looking than Rep. Schakowsky with her one-year horizon.

As to the source of the protest, if she is going to make wild accusations about the source of the movement, maybe she should provide some evidence to back them up. Frankly, I don’t think she’s telling the truth.

Apr 162009

This is the comment I posted in response to an article at Front Porch Republic:

Your article and that photo remind me: Saint Ronald is my hero but one time I shuddered at what he said. It was when he said he wanted to take Gorbachev on a helicopter ride over the suburbs of Los Angeles to show him all the homes with swimming pools, and tell him those were the homes of the workers. (I don’t have the exact words.) It seemed to me kind of demeaning to our best national aspirations.

My favorite newspaper bothered me the same way when it claimed to be the Daily Diary of the American Dream.

Apr 122009

Reflections on blurbs on the front page of Friday’s WSJ:

Obama urged families to take advantage of low mortgage rates by refinancing.

Gee, if this president gig doesn’t work out, Obama could get himself a career in the real estate business. Or he could work as a used car salesman. (I think it was at a 1968 Republican election rally at my college’s gymnasium that a young man amused some of us by going out on the gym floor with a big photo of Nixon, demanding to know if we would buy a used car from that man. Little did we know that we would eventually have a president who actually would make a car sales pitch from his office.)

The government said it hasn’t made progress in lowering the rate of food poisoning in the last four years.

But in the actual article, there was nothing to tell us what that rate is, and nothing to inform us as to whether or not it’s reasonable to expect it to go lower.

The CIA banned interrogations by contractors, Panetta said, part of the dismantling of Bush-era agency policy.

It isn’t much in comparison to all the bad things being done by the current administration, but here the Obama administration has done something right. Policing, tax collecting, and war-making are government functions that should never be privatized. Education, on the other hand…

Apr 112009

Beer is a social drink. Bottled water is a drink for loners.

That’s my summary of Susan McWilliams’ article at Front Porch Republic, “Beer and Civic Life.” Here is a sample of the way she puts it herself:

Drinking beer emanates, albeit clumsily and with all the familiar risks, from essentially social impulses. Most people drink beer to lower social inhibitions, to make it easier to have conversations with other people, to assuage loneliness, to grease the wheels for engaging in what my students euphemistically call “relationships” – in other words, to give a form and excuse for social life. You don’t drink beer to improve your private, individual health.

By contrast, you don’t drink bottled water if you want to have an excuse to hang out with your friends. Drinking bottled water emanates from essentially private or individual concerns. It’s pretty straightforward, actually: you drink bottled water precisely because you do not want to drink common water; you literally do not want to sip from the public trough. The ascendance of bottled water in America is yet another signal of the ascendance of a culture that is individually oriented, almost pathologically obsessive about bodily health, and suspicious of the public sphere.

I think everyone would agree that wine, too, is a social drink. I might have a small glass in the evening by myself, but I’ll at least offer a glass to anyone else within hearing distance. To really enjoy it, though, you need to be with other people.

Coffee is different from all of the above in that it is an all-purpose drink. It’s good to enjoy together with others as an after dinner drink. Coffee is even worth talking about if you and your drinking companions are so inclined. Water, on the other hand — especially bottled water — provides nothing to talk about.

But coffee is also a good loner drink, e.g. when I’m alone with a newspaper or a book.

I just had a cup of Ethiopia Sidamo coffee all by myself, and like so many African coffees it was excellent — very smooth.

The package says “Gerbichu Lela – Sun Dried Ethiopia Sidamo — USDA Organic — Full City.” It has been a long time since I drank an Ethiopia coffee on a regular basis. I used to get Ethipian Sidamo beans from Upson Wine and Coffee in Kalamazoo. But Upson quit carrying it many years ago. I was one of only two customers who had been buying it, I was told. (Maybe it’s not a drink for crowds.) Upson is still my favorite place to get Sumatra and Costa Rica Terrazu beans, but it doesn’t have all the others I like.

A couple of weeks ago I wanted to order some more Tanzania Peaberry beans from Great Northern Roasting Company in Traverse City. That one has a wonderful minty flavor.

“Minty” is not in the official description. I’m not enough of a coffee snob to be able to detect all those flavors listed in the descriptions. But there is something in that Tanzania Peaberry that I don’t taste in any other coffee. But unfortunately, Jack called to tell me that he was all out, and it would be a few weeks before he had more.

He talked me into getting some of his Ethiopia Sidamo beans instead. I ordered two pounds, in addition to a couple of types of Mexico coffee that I’ve liked. It will take several weeks to drink that much coffee, and older coffee is not as good as fresh roasted. If money was no object I’d buy smaller amounts of coffee every week. But I try to save money on shipping and/or driving. And even after several weeks these coffees are still far better than any beans I can buy in the grocery stores, which are not all bad themselves.

After the first couple of cups I started to regret that I had bought so much of that Ethopia coffee. But then I realized it’s really good. Maybe I just had bad luck brewing the first two cups, or wasn’t paying careful enough attention. Now when I know I have time to sit back and enjoy it, either alone or with my wife, I go for the Ethiopia.

There is one factor that encourages at least a small level of sociability. I like making two cups, one for me and one for my wife or anyone else who cares for one. It tastes better when I make two at a time. It’s probably because the double amount of water holds the heat better in the French press.

So in summary, if you’re a sociable type, drink beer or wine. If you’re unsociable, drink bottled water. If you have multiple personality disorder, drink coffee — the drink for any level of sociability.

Apr 112009

The lead headline in the weekend WSJ says, “Jobs Maintains Grip at Apple.”

There are two problems with that headline:

1. It’s too metaphorical to be the product of hard-nosed, professional journalists.

2. It’s contradicted by the article itself. The only people it’s going to fool are those who read only the headline.

If you look inside the article, you learn that Steve Jobs “…remains closely involved in key aspects…has continued to work on the company’s most important strategies and products from home…is also involved in the development…”

Those are weasel words. Anyone who has ever read a job applicant’s resume is going to ask questions about the type of “involvement.” If, that is, the applicant is ever lucky enough to be granted an interview on the basis of such vague words. Any applicant who actually managed a project or played any key role at all is going to use better words than “involved” if s/he expects to actually get an interview.

Apr 092009

The article that inspired the name for the new blog, Front Porch Republic, tells of a 1975 essay titled “From Porch to Patio”. It explains how homes used to be built with front porches where people could interact with their neighbors. Now we more often have patios in back. They are more secluded and private–places to avoid interactions with neighbors.


I wasn’t looking at front porches in particular when I stopped to take a photo of this house. It was on a bike ride I did in April 2006, between Auburn and Tuskegee, Alabama. It looks like it has both a front porch facing the road and a back porch.


This Greek Revival house is in the northeast corner of Kalamazoo County of Michigan. I came across it on a bike ride last month. There is still a front porch that faces the road. But with the front door boarded up, the public space is not as connected to the private space, and is probably not so much used anymore. My impression of Front Porch Republic is that it is trying to re-open those connections, so to speak.

About the same day when I first encountered Front Porch Republic I also encountered yet another type of Front Porch. It’s one for which I don’t have a photo, unfortunately. It’s in Sergei Nikitich Khrushchev’s book about his father, “Nikita Khrushchev : and the creation of a superpower (2000)”. Early in the book he quotes from notes his mother had written about their move to Moscow in the mid 1930s. Nikita Sergeyevich’s parents came to live with them:

Grandmother Kseniya Ivanovna spent most of her time in her room or sitting on a stool on the street near our entrance. There were always people standing around her, and she would talk with them. N.S. didn’t approve of her sitting there, but his mother wouldn’t listen to him.

Sergei Nikitich explains:

Grandmother Kseniya Ivanovna was totally unable to adapt to city life and didn’t want to change her habits. In the village she was used to sitting onside on a zavalinka [mound of earth around peasant homes–Trans.] and spending hours chatting with neighbors, and she continued this in Moscow. But Moscow was not Kalinovka, and in the 1930s a heart-to-heart talk could cost you your life. That was why Father worried.

I get the impression that Front Porch Republic would approve of Kseniya Ivanovna’s behavior, and would like to keep our country from becoming a place where heart-to-heart talks on the front porch could cost you your life. But maybe there is a cost that will have to be borne anyway when we leave our private patios to enter public forums; otherwise we wouldn’t have secluded ourselves in back patios or under anonymous pseudonyms on the internet.

[I’ve posted this under both pseudonyms: The Reticulator and The Spokesrider]

Apr 092009

Tonight there was a report on BBC about emigration from New Zealand. It seems the best and brightest of the young people are leaving for greener pastures, and the government is looking for ways to keep them from leaving or to get them to return home after a short time abroad.

I looked for information about this on the web and found a couple of references (here and here). Most of what I found is about immigration, though. There is a lot of information about how to immigrate into New Zealand.

It got me to wondering whether this could happen in our own country, if Bush-Obama continue to run the economy into the ground. So here is a Q&A.

Q. New Zealand seems to be attempting to convince people to stay. What could President Obama do to convince young people to stay in the U.S.?

A. President Obama is not really into allowing Americans to choose. He prefers to use force to compel them to do what they don’t want to do.

Q. Example, please?

A. He is proposing to rescind the abortion conscience rule.

Q. Some New Zealanders say the weight of government needs to be reduced so young people will stay. Would President Obama be willing to reduce the size of government to accomplish something like that?

A. No.

Q. Well, what would he do.

A. He might close the borders — not to immigrants, but to emigrants.

Q. But that would make us like the old Soviet Union, wouldn’t it?

A. Yes, it would. As does his takeover of the automobile industry.

Q. But what about the Constitution?

A. What about it?

Q. Wouldn’t Americans object to something like that?

A. Maybe, maybe not. If they made too much of a fuss, he could do it gradually, by creating a universal system of compulsory volunteer service. Once people get used to the idea that they are obligated to the nation in exchange for bailout dollars (aka subsidized student loans), the next step would be easier.

Q. So you’re saying that the government takeover of GM, and the forcing of Rick Wagoner out of his job, could be a precedent for a closed border system?

A. Yes.

Q. What are the chances of this happening?

A. Hard to say. He has a lot of invasions of other instiutions on his plate right now. He might not want to get into a war of conquest on yet another front during his term in office.

Apr 082009

I continue be amazed at people who have so little sense of self-preservation as not to understand the implications of bank bailouts and manufacturing bailouts for health-care bailouts. But it was heartening to see in today’s WSJ that at least one person besides myself does understand. It was Bruce Anderson, a letter writer:

As a staunch conservative, I say hooray for President Obama and his plan to pick up GM’s warranty obligations. When people get a taste of standing in a post office-quality line to argue with a government clerk over whether their dead transmission was caused by wear and tear and, thus, is not covered by Mr. GoodGovernmentWrench, then they might get an inkling of what government-run health care is going to look like. Better to learn this lesson fighting over brake pads than over a kidney.

Apr 062009

“GM’s fate, government response will determine if job-letting is over.” That’s the headline on yet another opinion piece in Sunday’s Kalamazoo Gazette, this one by Peter Luke.

Here’s the online version. It’s headlined somewhat differently: “As GM, Chrysler downsizing looms, White House must find ways to keep Michigan employed.”

Like Rick Haglund and indeed like most newspaper people, Luke’s outlook is more government-centric than people-centric. An example is the closing paragraphs of his article:

The president’s overseer for the recovery of auto communities, former MSU economist Ed Montgomery, visited Michigan last week to say Obama is “committed to having a strong, viable auto industry” and to helping us “deal with the situation.”

GM’s downsizing is inevitable. But any reorganization — even a structured bankruptcy — designed to build a stronger, viable company should at least mitigate further job losses. Otherwise, Montgomery’s recovery efforts will be that much more expensive.

The economic stimulus, responding to a national recession that is 15 months old, does not do the whole job. Michigan’s downturn started nine years ago and has shredded the economic fabric of whole regions of the state.

Montgomery said he “gets” Michigan’s situation. Which is: If Detroit, Pontiac, Flint and Saginaw don’t get the federal help they need to rebuild, the state will continue to bleed income, population and, to borrow a word from Obama, hope.

So in other words, according to Luke, the fate of our economy depends on the feds spending money. But if he was a better-informed reporter, he might realize there are other ideas out there as to how economic growth takes place. That may be a little much to ask, but he could start small and think about what happens when the federal government spends money.

His current thinking is much like that of the old industrialists. For example, there was the idea that “the solution to pollution is dilution.” Or that the way to improve sanitary conditions in cities is to dump the sewage into the nearest river. At one time it was acceptable to think that getting rid of the problem locally was good enough. Now we know better than to just solve our local environmental problems at the expense of the global ecosystem. If only reporters like Peter Luke would apply the now-commonly-known principles of ecology to economics, and keep in mind how everything is connected.

For example, take those federal stimulus dollars. They have to come from somewhere. Mitigating job loss in Michigan through stimulus dollars is going to mean people in other parts of the country losing their jobs to pay for them. Or maybe we can borrow the money and do it through inflation, taking jobs away from the next generation to save those of our own. It’s not right to think we can solve our local problem without paying any attention to the problems the solution might cause for those in other times and places, or even in other sectors of the local economy.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for federal action in dealing with our economic crisis. There might even be a place for federal spending. But the beginning of wisdom is to quit taking such a narrow view of the problem, and realize that there are more interconnected parts than the federal government and the Michigan auto industry. It’s ironic that on the facing page to Luke’s column there is an editorial titled, “How much do you really know about the media?” In it there is this paragraph:

Yahoo and Google don’t generate news, newspapers do: Yahoo and Google use Associated Press or local news organizations’ news reports, create a headline and a link and make it look as though they have news on their pages. This is called “aggregation.” The truth is that without newspaper staffs reporting the news in print and online, there would be precious little credible local news available anywhere on the Internet to aggregate or blog about.

Ignore for a moment the unfortunate wording that suggests that newspapers invent or manufacture news. The writers probably meant something like “report” rather than “generate.” At least I hope so.

But if newspapers want to give themselves credit for reporting local news, they ought to start by encouraging people like Peter Luke to broaden their horizons and truly cover the local news. Perhaps pay less attention to government people like Ed Montgomery, and more to all the interconnected people and businesses that constitute the economy. We do get lots of news stories about people who are affected when government program X is cut, but there is a lot more to the economy than government spending on individuals and on industry.

Apr 052009

Rick Haglund writes a column that appears in the Business/Jobs section of the Sunday Kalamazoo Gazette. But it’s almost always a lot more about government than business.

His article in today’s print section is headlined: “Wagoner exit will force automakers to fix problems fast.” The online version is headlined: “Obama lays out capitalistic path for General Motors, Chrysler.”

Both headlines reflect the content of Haglund’s article. (This is not always the case in the Gazette). And both are wrong.

Those who believe President Barack Obama is a socialist are now convinced of it after he sacked General Motors Corp. Chairman Rick Wagoner and told Chrysler LLC to finish its deal with Fiat SpA in 30 days, or else.

Nonsense. What Obama did may have little precedent in U.S. corporate history. But someone needed to force GM and Chrysler to get real about fixing their problems–and fast.

Personally, I think it’s stupid to get hung up on the socialist label. But it’s simply not true that forcing GM and Chrysler to fix their problems fast says one thing or another about whether Obama is socialist.

And if Haglund really wanted the companies to fix their problems fast, he would have opposed Bush’s bailout back when Bush was president. At the time, opponents of the move were pointing out that the bailout would only delay the inevitable. Now the inevitable is making its agonizing approach, and people are justifying the Bush-Obama behavior by saying the companies need to act faster. The markets would already have forced fast behavior changes if only the Rick Haglunds of the world would have been willing to allow markets to work.

Back at the time of the first bailouts, the opponents were saying that there is always bankruptcy to deal with these things. Bush and the Democrats were opposed. So we got the bailouts and we got a new Putin-like precedent for takeover of corporations, and now Obama is threatening GM and Chrysler with bankruptcy to make them change faster. We already had that threat without the new and dangerous precedents, if only Bush-Obama had been willing to let it take the course they are now forcing on GM and Chrysler.

And to add error to injury, Haglund says Obama is acting like a capitalist.

But in pushing a gold, risky restructuring plan, Obama is acting more like a capitalist than the capitalists who would like the government to keep them in business for as long as it takes.

This of course is nonsense. The capitalist approach is what Bush and Obama have hindered. They were the ones trying to keep the businesses alive, and they said so at the time. It is simply not true that capitalists are the ones who insist that the government keep them in business. GM’s capitalists, perhaps, but not capitalists in general.

I presume the Gazette doesn’t have a fact-checking department, or this last paragraph of Haglund’s would never have been allowed to stand.