Monday, October 31, 2005


While reading the Financial Times on a flight from Brussels to Minneapolis on October 19th I clipped a graphic entitled, "The World's Most Traded Stocks", for producing a future posting which I am finally completing today. The most traded stocks for 2005 - with their respective industry classifications added by me - included:

1. Google -- tech
2. Microsoft -- tech
3. Intel -- tech
4. Exxon Mobil - energy
5. Cisco Systems - tech
6. Apple Computer - tech
7. Valero Energy -- energy
8. BP - energy
9. ENI -- energy
10. Amgen -- pharma
11. Ebay -- tech
12. Citigroup -- financial
13. GE -- tech and financial
14. Total -- energy
15. Wal-Mart -- retail
16. Vodafone -- tech
17. Dell -- tech
18. Nokia -- tech
19. Telefonica -- tech
20. Pfizer -- pharma

Now by arranging these 20 stocks by "classification" the tally count becomes:

Tech -- 11
Energy - 5
Pharma - 2
Financial - 1
Retail - 1

In addition the Financial Times noted that 14 out of these 20 Stocks are AMERICAN and 2 of these stocks are British.

These statistics and trends in the hyper-dynamic American economy highlight for me the complete failure of the European Union's much-heralded "Lisbon Agenda" which is explained by the BBC as being:

"When European leaders met at a summit in Lisbon in March 2000 they set the European Union the goal of becoming 'the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world' by 2010." (Source:

This central planning by the European Union's (EU) leaders thus has five (5) years left to achieve its lofty goal of overtaking the US economy in terms of employment and economic growth. The current President of the European Commission (the EU's executive body) Jose Manual Barroso articulated the failure of the the EU's industrial policy process known as the Lisbon Agenda via the following statement:

"We are now half-way through the process and the results are not very satisfactory. The implementation of reform in Member States has been quite scarce. The reform package consists of 28 main objectives and 120 sub-objectives, with 117 different indicators. The reporting system for 25 Member States adds up to no fewer than 300 annual reports. Nobody reads of all of them." (Source:

The EU should replace its central planning exercises with tax cuts and regulatory relief to harness the dynamic power of "destructive capitalism" to produce new jobs for Europeans.

Bon chance,


Travel Warnings

Today I drove back from the Fargo/Moorhead, North Dakota/Minnesota metro area to the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Along the way I toured the rural communities around the St. Cloud, Minnesota/Stearns County area including Richmond and St. Martin. This area's topography of gentle hills, flat land, the chain of lakes, and stands of trees is very beautiful but the local asset that caught my attention is the Sauk River,, which looks like an ideal river for canoeing. My search is on for someone to join me for a day trip on this river once the Spring 2006 thaw is complete.

During one of my breaks from driving today I read in my local newspaper's Travel Section that the US State Department, ".........recommends Americans avoid travel to the following countries......":

Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bolivia, Burundi, Central African Republic, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire), Guyana, Haiti, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Kyrgystan, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Uzbekistan, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

My immediate observation from this list is that 15 of the 32 countries listed in this "Travel Warnings" wire story (equal to 47% of this entire list) are AFRICAN NATIONS. Granted the work of Bono and Bob Geldolf to bring the African Continent out of poverty is well-intentioned by this list suggests there are a full range of challenges beyond national debt relief these gentlemen overlook. Such massive, historical poverty in Africa requires VERY new and creative approaches so now is the time for world leaders to adopt global free trade especially with African nations. For more information on free market options for and news items from Africa please consider utilizing this website -- and/or attending the Africa Resource Bank being held in late November in Kenya --

Travel safely,


Ron's Best Friend

While I don't have a pet myself I do like animals especially my brother's two black labs -- Willie and Waylon -- who live in Iowa. Sadly, another favorite black lab died on October 26, 2005 named "Raven" who was Mr. Ron Schara's side kick on the television program "Minnesota Bound",, which focuses on introducing viewers to Minnesota's great outdoors. This program has been running since 1994 and airs on Sunday evenings on KARE-11 TV so it is a great way to end the weekend before the Monday morning routine kicks off another work week!

"Minnesota Bound" also appears on -- ESPN2 ("the deuce"), Outdoor Life Network, and Outdoors Channel so I hope you can watch it in the future to help plan future adventures.

Finally for my friends out there interested in canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in September 2006,, please let me know since I have to reserve with my outfitter in December 2005 to secure a discount on the trip.

Off to the woods,


Sunday, October 30, 2005

Lake Agassiz

Tonight I am posting from the very pleasant city of Fargo, North Dakota (the border partner, co-joined city of Moorhead, Minnesota) which I am touring with my friend, client, former colleague -- Heather. After a nearly 4 hour drive from Minneapolis we parked in Fargo, North Dakota although we thought we were still in Moorhead, Minnesota at the time since the two cities have completely grown together. So we made a short walk back to Moorhead so we could tour the "Hjemkomst Center", (Hjemkomst is Norwegian for "homecoming") which houses a replica Viking ship built by local teacher (now deceased) Robert Asp in Hawley, Minnesota. The ship was completed and sailed to Norway from Minnesota by Mr. Asp's family after his death complete with a crew they assembled including a Norwegian fishing boat captain.

I was impressed by the historic restoration and economic vitality present in the Fargo/Moorhead metro area which has made for an enjoyable visit. Following below are several venues we visited along the way:
  • Happerstad Church -- this is a replica Norwegian church which sits on the grounds of the Hjemkomst Center based on a 12th Century church in Vik, Norway. This was a very enjoyable and informative tour due to our volunteer guide.
  • Hotel Donaldson -- is located on Broadway Avenue and is known as "HoDo", This is a chic, restored hotel located in the heart of Fargo which features live jazz on most nights. The service was very attentive and the appetizers we had were excellent so their rating is a solid "4" (see "Eating vs. Dining" posting at this blog for background)
  • Monte's Downtown -- is also located on Broadway Avenue,, and was recommended by a waitress at HoDo. Heather and I shared a starter of bacon-wrapped scallops which were quite tasty. I then had their spinach/walnut/pear salad as a second starter which was simply excellent primarily due to the sauce. For my main I had their meatloaf but unfortunately it was just too bland -- they should have consulted with my mother for this dish!!! If you go the best seating for ambiance is in the back near the kitchen not in the front section near the door where we sat. For several reasons I have to rate them with a "3" ranking.
  • Fort Noks -- also located on Broadway Avenue in Fargo (clearly the best nightlife in the city) is your basic, corporate looking bar which reminded me of the bar Tom Cruise creates at the end of the film, Cocktail, which I don't recommend watching since I still have a "hangover" from the bad writing/Cruise's character. Fort Noks was created in the former "Bank of Fargo" but it really disappoints new patrons such as Heather and myself. Sadly there is NO evidence inside the building of its past life as a bank thus the chance for great ambiance is completely lost. I would have loved to see old teller windows utilized in the remodeling so the bar could be named Teller's Bar but apparently such restoration was not possible or the owner lacked such vision.
  • Lauerman's -- our final destination this evening and yet another bar on Broadway Avenue in Fargo. This is a "beer only" place with a clientele profile that is much more blue collar versus the yuppies/wanna be's at Fort Noks. As Heather and I were about to leave we heard a young gentleman (no idea if he actually served in the military) talking with two veterans sitting at the bar (confirmed earlier when they were talking about events at their American Legion hall). This young guy was babbling about the "gooks..........." and stated that ".........I have read several books about Vietnam.................." The soft racism is apparently alive and well despite the expanding trade relationship the US and Vietnam have today. Please focus on profits and consumer choice instead of racist comments showing hate for your fellow man!!!

The massive glacial lake produced by the last Ice Age -- Lake Agassiz - which covered most of the area I am visiting this weekend is gone today but its memory lives on at venues such as Agassiz Middle School and Lake Agassiz Fuel and Food. The ice is gone and the vast majority of people we have met here is warm and personable which makes the the Fargo/Moorhead an ideal venue for a future trip.

You betcha,


Flour Power

On Thursday night this week my friend, client, and former colleague - Heather - arrived in the Twin Cities (Minnesota) on her quest to see all 50 US States. So this Friday through Monday the two of us are touring Minnesota and North Dakota so she can reduce her list down to only 5 more states to visit.

We spent the entire day on Friday touring the Twin Cities including visits to the following venues:

  • American Swedish Institute -, based in Minneapolis which is housed in the former mansion of a newspaper publisher. My favorite feature of the institute is the stained glass window which depicts a Danish king receiving tribute from conquered Swedes to prevent him from burning their village -- a sad story but a very beautiful window.
  • Mill City Museum -, located in downtown Minneapolis on the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls. I love touring this museum especially via the tower elevator which utilizes the voices of former workers at the flour mill to tell its history.
  • PUSH Institute, Inc. - Heather and I met with the founder/president - Cecily - of this think tank which hosts the annual PUSH the Future conference in Minneapolis, to discuss plans and opportunities for the June 2006 conference. If you want to "push the boundaries of your thinking" this is an ideal conference for you to attend.
  • Shop Girl - after meeting with Cecily, Heather and I, drove to the Uptown area of Minneapolis to see the new film, Shop Girl, based on Steve Martin's novella by the same name. I read the book about 10 years ago so really enjoyed seeing it reproduced as a film. Heather enjoyed the film but thought Steve Martin's character and Mirabelle's colleague's character at Saks 5th Avenue were not developed enough. We both agreed that the character -- Jeremy -- was the most interesting in terms of the maturation process he experienced. Mirabelle is the star who sells evening gloves at Saks 5th Avenue and is Martin's love interest. I am happy to recommend this film to others.
  • Campiello -- Heather and I had dinner at this Italian restaurant,, which is a short walk from the Uptown Theatre. We both agreed this was a very good restaurant especially my sorbet dessert of grapefruit and raspberry!! Overall rating is a "3.5" since they violated a pet peeve of mine by reciting descriptions of how specials were prepared -- not only boring but I could not remember what the hell the waiter said so why not just type everything for me to review myself? Please restauranteurs do NOT have wait staff memorize these things.

Explore your neighborhood,


Friday, October 28, 2005

Cannots for Congress

Earlier this week I was talking with a friend about doing some skiing in Minnesota (yes, we have some slopes) this winter which led to a conversation about a snow ball fight when I was at a Boy Scout paper recycling service project back in my home town of Ida Grove, Iowa ( After we were done loading the truck a friendly snow ball fight started which ended when I shattered a window in a building near the truck. My father was on site since he was a Scout leader and was very calm about the incident. Instead of yelling at me or simply writing a check to cover the repair expenses my father instructed me with these words, "......tomorrow you will go downtown to buy a piece of glass to replace this window and you will install it yourself................"

The lesson here?

People must take responsibility for their own actions. Had my father paid for this bill it would have created a potential "slippery slope" (a theme I often explore on this blog) where now at age 40 perhaps I would expect my parents to buy me a new vehicle -- that isn't going to happen!!

Since "personal responsibility" was a central theme for the Reverend Boetcker, a German born Presbyterian minister who emigrated to the USA, when he created his "Ten Cannots" I was reminded of this document this week which I want to share with my readers:

Ten Cannots

You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and independence.
You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

Footnote: the Reverend William John Henry Boetcker originally published his Ten Cannots in 1916 but 89 years later the majority of our political leaders and unfortunately part of civil society such as the "welfare rights" lobby ( have failed to consider the wisdom of his words.

Teach a man to fish,


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Take this Job and Rank it..........

In my "Scar of the North" posting I focused on Minnesota's dismal #47 ranking in the Small Business Survival Index for 2005 (Source: Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council) but today comes good news for our state regarding the perceived quality of life for workers in Minnesota. My thanks to Julie for making me realize I need to balance my postings with some of Minnesota's positive attributes which will be done in several future postings as I travel the state to enjoy our great natural assets. My local newspaper published a summary of a report just released by the Political Economy Research Institute in Massachusetts, (PERI). PERI's report concludes that "states with high quality work environments enjoy better economies as a result" and creates its state by state rankings utilizing criteria including -- average pay, employment opportunities, benefits, and other factors. When I read the newspaper account of PERI's work I speculated that this group focused on issues such as the apex of social engineering known as "living wages". Activist groups such as ACORN,, focus their efforts on lobbying government bodies to mandate what is known as a living wage which for argument sake let's say the hourly living wage is determined to be $15.00 in Anytown, Montana by the ACORN leadership (apparatchiks).

Why $15.00 per hour? Sure ACORN's website discusses their formula for calculating wages around the country but why should our political leaders and workers more importantly defer to ACORN to determine such economic matters? Perhaps I personally believe that $300,000 per year is a living wage since I want my home in Minnesota and a condo in the Caribbean so I can enjoy more scuba diving. Workers of the world should unite AGAINST the social engineers at ACORN out of personal pride. My first job for example paid me $1.20 per hour and the government still deducted money from my paycheck!!! Of course this early career experience encouraged me to avoid poverty by working and studying hard so I could progress up the economic ladder. I should have treated the ACORN agenda in a separate posting so let me return you to your regularly scheduled posting regarding the PERI study.

The rankings of the Best and Worst states (including Washington DC so 51 total entities studied) found in the PERI study included:


1.) Delaware
2.) New Hampshire
3.) Minnesota
4.) Vermont
5.) Iowa


46-48 tie.) Mississippi, South Carolina, and Utah (for Utah, check my posting titled "Geography of Death"
49.) Arkansas
50.) Texas
51.) Louisiana

Several observations jump out at me based on this ranking list which I highlight below with commentary:

1.) Delaware -- ranked #1, not only was this the "first state" of the USA to ratify the Constitution but Delaware is known today as THE ideal home for corporations to be headquartered due to their pro-business legal/judicial system. -- my thanks to American Incorporators, Ltd. for this background information:
Delaware, the second smallest state in the nation, is the home of nearly 60 percent of the companies listed on the New York and American Stock Exchanges and more than half of the Fortune 500 firms. Many international companies interested in doing business in the United States and in other jurisdictions worldwide choose Delaware because of its favorable corporate law structure, stability, and reputation as the "American Corporate State."

2.) Worst States --- of the six (6) states at the very bottom in terms of the PERI study at numbers 46 to 51 five (5) of these states are south of the famous Mason-Dixon line. The Reconstruction Period following the American Civil War lasted from 1865 to 1877 but it appears that this reconstruction left remnants of the slave culture in place since human capital does not appear to be valued and nurtured in this region.

3.) Louisiana -- as if the hurricane damage this year wasn't enough the State of Louisiana ranks at #51, even below Washington DC (for more information please check my postings -- "Scar of the North" and "Geography of Death"). New Orleans and Louisiana are rebuilding their economies and institutions so perhaps they could look north for advice without fear of the carpetbaggers controlling their governments.

Working for the weekend,


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Reggae Polka

Given my Germanic heritage (okay Danish heritage for centuries until the Germans decided the border should move north!) I have seen several live polka bands over the years. Bob Marley in lederhosen playing an accordian was never captured on film but do give some thought to the blending of musical genres such as reggae and polka. Perhaps this is such an extreme example it is laughable but what about combining country western music with rap music?

Yes, this is a new genre of music now known as -- "hick-hop" -- primarily due to artists like Cowboy Troy,, who is the opening act for country star Gretchen "I'm here for the party" Wilson. They are set to perform at the Xcel Center on November 27th in St. Paul, Minnesota which is an ideal opportunity for me to witness this new style of music.

The short newspaper article on Cowboy Troy in today's paper reminded me of an article I clipped for future reference in my "blog file" which explained the background of the "Music Genome Project" which I quote below;
On January 6, 2000 a group of musicians and music-loving technologists came together with the idea of creating the most comprehensive analysis of music ever. Together we set out to capture the essence of music at the most fundamental level. We ended up assembling literally hundreds of musical attributes or "genes" into a very large Music Genome. Taken together these genes capture the unique and magical musical identity of a song - everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony.

This is clearly an ambitious project given the range of music available in the world and the decentralized nature of musical technology which allows bands and single performers to record and market their music with great ease. Based on what I have read so far this genome project appears to be an ideal class project for high school and university students since it combines music, technology, and scientific study. The genome project offers us a promising model for creating new teaching methods especially for teaching courses such as -- history, geography, sociology, anthropology, and computer programming (given the database requirements of such a project) -- in a entirely new way utilizing the medium of music. School/university administrators and record company executives should consider working together on such an educational venture.

One love,


Court costs totaling $14.00

It has been nearly 25 years since I have been a passenger on an American school bus to attend school or field trips but I remember the experience very well. The objective for most students was to secure the back seats of the bus -- which provided little more than symbolic geographic separation from the "authorities" represented by the bus driver. No self-respecting "cool kid" would sit in the front of the bus. However, if you turn the clock back even further on this type of societal behavior to nearly 50 years ago the bus seats with social status were those located at the front of the bus designated "For Whites Only" with black people/African-Americans required to sit in the back of the bus.

This government-imposed American apartheid system -- perfected by the white power structure of Birmingham, Alabama -- was challenged at its core on December 1, 1955 when bus driver James Blake insisted four black passengers move to allow a white passenger to sit alone. While three of the black passengers complied, the fourth passenger refused to move to seats further back in the bus. This passenger was Rosa Parks who died on Monday, October 24, 2005. Due to her act of civil disobedience Ms. Parks was arrested and fined by the court system for a total of US$14.00.

These segregation laws regarding seating on buses were not only completely unjust they were completely inefficient as evidenced by the fact that black passengers had to enter the front door of the bus to pay their fare but they would have to exit via the same door to enter the rear door of the bus in order to sit in the back seats. Who in 2005 would welcome another 15 or 20 minutes added to your daily commute as you find yourself trapped behind a parked bus waiting for the black passengers to comply with this Klan-inspired fare paying/seat allocation system?

The pace of civil rights reform has been very slow in our ".............Land of the free......." as evidenced by these timeline points:

1776 -- Declaration of Independence states "ALL men are created equal"

1787 -- the Founding Fathers create Article I, Section 2 of the US Constitution which codifies an agreement between Free and Slave States known as the "3/5 compromise" which essentially considered a black person/slave to be equivalent to "3/5" of a free/white man.

1865 to 1870 -- the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments are added to the US Constitution seeking to ensure equal rights and prevent discrimination against all citizens of the USA

1948 -- US President Harry Truman integrated the "Negro troops" into the overall US Armed Services

1955 -- Rosa Parks arrested for sitting in a bus seat reserved for whites

1960's -- the primary timeframe for the American Civil Rights movement including women's rights

American society is hopefully getting more color blind but hard and soft racism is not dying out anytime soon so we must be vigilant and educate people where we can with tools such as this new book:

"The Interpreter"
by Alice Kaplan

No, this book was not the inspiration for the Nicole Kidman film by the same name but this book does focus on the racism and racial bias in the judicial process within the US Military. Ms. Kaplan's book is based on courts martial cases conducted by the US Army in occupied France during World Way II. The court cases discussed in this book show how black soldiers were discriminated again during he court proceedings.

Can't we all just get along,


Sunday, October 23, 2005

Rushing the Altar

Last night I returned from the Homecoming football (American style not soccer) game of Iowa State University (ISU) vs. Oklahoma State University which I am happy to report ISU won! I really enjoyed visiting my fraternity house which looked very good due to the recent remodeling projects. My congratulations to all the brothers who were involved.

After a long day of enjoying college football and the 3 hour drive home that night I simply went to bed to rise early for church service. It was after church that I was struck by the parallel between the church floor as the gridiron (football field) and the altar/crucifix as the goal posts. Why you might ask did I see this analogy? It was all timing -- I spent Saturday watching football and then on Sunday following church I was reading the local newspaper at my gym where this story caught my attention, "Student Dies after Goal Post Pulled Down." For my non-American readers let me educate you if needed -- a long tradition in the USA is for winning teams' fans to tear down/dismantle the goal posts after a football victory to carry off the pieces as souvenirs of the match.

This particular news story focused on the death of Richard Rose, a junior student/basketball player at the University of Minnesota-Morris (UMM) who apparently was killed from head injuries caused by the destruction of the goal posts following UMM's victory over Crown College. Now this is a tragic death that should clearly have been avoided by ending a tradition that I personally don't support at all. There is no reason to tear down goal posts to memorialize football victories for these reasons, which I hope you can add to:

  • Replacing goal posts for future games is a waste of money better spent on our athletes or even better, academic tutors for these student-athletes
  • Many pieces of goal posts undoubtedly end up being discarded at the end of the school year as students graduate or leave for summer jobs since having a section of your goal posts from college don't really add a professional touch to your cubicle in some multi-national corporation when you begin your first job.
  • Mob rule and herd mentality typically create very dangerous situations -- remember the consumers running to buy Cabbage Patch kids years ago where store windows were shattered and people were pushed to the floor? When I worked in a factory to pay my way through college people would run to the break room to get the best choice of donuts until one day when someone running to claim their donut (aka "piece of goal post") broke his leg which is a great way to contain rising health care costs!!! Amazing behavior.

My point earlier in this posting of the parallel of the football field to the church is simply that -- for many people sports is their religion (see "Friday Night Lights" book and film for reference if needed) and via my commentary I wanted the reader to envision a group of parishioners sitting in church listening a the best sermon they have heard in months. After the pastor ends his sermon with "Amen" a group of parishioners, perhaps pushing some children out of the way as they run to the altar to tear down the crucifix (cross) to break off pieces to carry home as a souvenir of the sermon.

Then again, some pastors might be encouraged by seeing such passion in their flock. Far be it for me to be judgmental :) -- a wink to my close friends since they know my personal nature.

Hail Mary,


Enjoying the Nightlife

This last week was filled with a series of meetings in Brussels ending with a flight back to my home in Minnesota at the end of the week. However, I was able to relax a little via some films and dining so here are my respective reviews for the week:


Crash - while in Brussels I left the office to see Broken Flowers starring Bill Murray but did not arrive in time so opted to see Crash instead with a star-studded cast including Sandra Bullock, Tony Danza (cameo role), Brandon Fraser among others. This film is set in Los Angeles, California with its central theme focused on racism and stereotypes. Overall, I was most impressed with how the writers were able to create a story showing how peoples' lives are completely linked to each other -- go with an open mind and think about the Golden Rule -- it will serve you well.

North Country -- upon my return to Apple Valley, Minnesota I was able to see the opening of this film which is set in the "Range", the Iron Range of Northern Minnesota. This film is based "on a true story" regarding the entry of women into the work force at an iron ore (taconite) mine in Northern Minnesota. North Country has it all!! Poverty, wife beating, rape, sexual harassment, trade union tribalism/macho behavior, job discrimination, and of course some hockey given its geographic setting. This is a pretty compelling film especially since I viewed it in a Minnesota audience which applauded at the end of the film so clearly it was well-received at least in the Twin Cities but I have no idea how the Virginia, Minnesota crowds will respond to its portrayol of the Iron Range history and culture.


Poivre et Sel -- this Brussels restaurant (Pepper and Salt from the French) serving French cuisine/Belgian local favorites is located just off Place Luxembourg near the European Parliament. I have dined here several times and the food has always been excellent but the service has been lacking due to a lack of staff but this week I had dinner with a European think tank leader and everything was very good -- food, ambience, customer service, etc. It was a very enjoyable evening complete with a starter of a mixed salad with balsamic dressing and sole fish for my main course. If you want to find them in Brussels go to Rue du Parnasse #2 or at - -- my "courtesy French" of about 7 words/phrases worked there so you should be able to eat well with limited French. I am awarding them a "5" for this particular evening but usually they are a "3.5" ranking.

El Azteca -- as you might guess this is a Mexican restaurant located near the junction of Foliage Avenue/County Road 42 in Apple Valley, Minnesota. Overall this is a nice dining venue with very attentive wait staff, nice ambience complete with many families, and very respectable meals such as the chicken enchiladas with poblano sauce which I enjoyed. They rank at a "3.5" primarily due to the nice overall dining experience.

Get out and live a little this week,


Saturday, October 22, 2005

Off line -- on the field

Sport England declared 21 October 2005 to be "E-mail Free Friday" encouraging staff and sports fans not to use email for one day opting instead to walk around the office to communicate with colleagues on a face to face basis. This was coincidental timing for me since I was on a flight from Brussels to Minneapolis so I had an "email free Friday" which allowed me to read five (5) newspapers and some reading materials for work.

I read about Sport England's declaration in the Daily Telegraph so I reviewed their website for an overview of their work,, which is focused on encouraging people to "Skip the Telly" (quit watching TV for those of you that don't speak British English) and to get active. Granted this is a government supported organization but I do like the approach where people are encouraged to get active via sports versus government mandated menus and obesity taxes.

Sports are an essential part of society with benefits not limited to the following:

  • Develops both our competitive and cooperative instincts via team work and "win/loss" outcomes
  • Teaches children sportsmanship which is an extension of civil society
  • Generates a full range of economic activity including: ticket sales, sales of Hummers and related bling bling, sports equipment and clothing sales, creation of youth sports teams, fantasy sports teams, television programming and films, and gambling (of course this is good and bad since it can corrupt sports)
  • Helps reduce health care costs
  • Balanced against tribalism of course sports team do create a greater sense of community

Speaking of sports I must leave now for some old fashioned American football in Ames, Iowa where I am attending Homecoming at my alma mater, Iowa State University, . We are playing Oklahoma State University and we really need a win today to have any chance of a post-season bowl game and to generate checks from alumni such as myself!! That is another issue -- alumni relations -- I plan to address in the future in terms of what my British friends need to adopt to enhance their university system.

Live strong,


Thursday, October 20, 2005

Cabaret des Assassins

In 1993 comedian and medieval barber, Steve Martin, wrote the very humorous play entitled, Picasso at the Lapin Agile. It wasn't until 1998 that I was able to see this production by the Arizona Theatre Company when I lived in Phoenix -- those were the pre-blog years so I did not prepare a review but let me give you my highest recommendation to see this play.

The overall theme of this play explores the improbable -- the artist, Pablo Picasso, meeting the scientist, Albert Einstein, in a bar in Paris. I have not interviewed Mr. Martin on this point but have to speculate his use of this "art vs. science worlds" theme was inspired by C.D. Snow's book, The Two Cultures, with its focus on how the world of literature and the world of science are unable to communicate.

I was reminded of this play recently after I read several book reviews focused on the "Year of Einstein: 1905 to 2005" designed to celebrate his scientific theories which required every school child to memorize: E = mc2. The books were biographical of course, semi-scientific, and sociological in nature as the authors sought to portray how Einstein revolutionized our world view and scientific knowledge.

Einstein himself is worth an entirely separate posting so I plan to celebrate his year later this with an overview of his career. For now I want to focus this posting on Steve Martin's play. It is well worth seeing although an individual's sense of what is funny is "relative" of course. I plan to see this play again once I find where it is currently on stage.

See you in the stalls assuming we are on the same space/time continuum,


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Mall Rats Invade Homes

Do you remember your first exposure to electronic commerce? For me it has to be when my brother purchased software for his paramedic course via my now ancient AOL email account when he was living with me in Minnesota. Now those were the horse and buggy days of online shopping but it was only 10 years ago. As reported today (October 19, 2005 International Herald Tribune) via a study from ACNielsen Europe nearly ten percent (10%) of the world's population (about 627 million people) have shopped online at least once.

The demographic results of this survey are what most interested me such as the Top Ten things people buy online (percentages are what portion of shoppers purchased the item):

Books 34%
Videos, DVDs, games 22%
Airline tickets 21%
Clothing, shoes 20%
Music 18%
Electronic Equipment 17%
Computer hardware 16%
Tours, hotels 14%
Computer software 13%
Event Tickets 12%

An obvious observation here is that 7 out of these 10 items were no doubt created via some form of Intellectual Property (IP) protection whether via a copyright or patent. Given the nature of online commerce today and the legal and financial incentives provided by IP protection for someone to actually create what we consumers want to purchase please think before you download some "free" software or music this week.

For more on IP issues I encourage you to visit and/or read the book I am reading Hot Property by Pat Choate. If you have a different economic model please explain to me how it creates new wealth versus simply redistributing wealth stolen from the creative class via some "online socialism" (interesting -- class warfare migrates to cyber space -- how Lenin is smiling through his embalmed lips!!)

The last demographic from this study that I will highlight is that the countries with the highest incidence of shopping online included:

United Kingdom

My home country, the United Shoppers of Affluence (USA), ranked a mere #11 in this survey of online consumers which was explained by the study's researchers as, "Mall culture in the USA may explain why online shopping has not reached European levels. The retailing environment in Europe makes it more difficult to purchase things." Yes, that is true of the European retailing environment as I have noticed in my travels -- retail convenience is king in the USA but is a mere prince in Europe.

My blog may have to offer items for purchase in the future since as a bound copy of my best postings as ranked by my blog readers.

Shop 'til you drop,


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

You spin me 'round

Dead or Alive, no not the song by Bon Jovi (more later) but another musical act from the 80's -- "Dead or Alive" -- with their song, "You spin me 'round like a record (like a record)" , , was always a favorite of mine back when I actually danced in the university dance clubs after consuming some "confidence" brought to us by Trappist Monks.

Despite my efforts to promote this song at nearly every party at my fraternity it never appeared on the music rating charts around the world -- sad I know. I was reminded of this song while reviewing the "Top Ten Selling Albums" feature in the International Herard Tribune this week which covered the following markets:

Britain, France, Spain, United States, and "Top British Music Downloads" from roughly October 1 through 9th

What I want to highlight for my readers are the musical acts which appeared on at least two of these five (5) rating markets charts thus exhibiting diverse consumer market penetration. The top acts included:

Franz Ferdinand
Kanye West
The Corrs
Bon Jovi -- yea, keep the 80's alive baby!!!
Sean Paul

I have to note that no single performer achieved a #1 rating on more than one chart so here are the five (5) #1 chart leaders from this time period:

Franz Ferdinand -- Britain
Julien Clerc -- France
Operacion Triunto -- Spain
Gretchen Wilson -- U.S.A.
Sugarbabes -- British music downloads

An interesting collection of talent here with several I have not been exposed to yet so hopefully I will post some reviews in the future. The other issue raised here is intellectual property protection for music downloads and some explanation of how the download quantities were calculated which the IHT chart does not explain at all which presents another issue to explain for future postings -- your insights are welcome.

Like a cowboy I ride,


Monday, October 17, 2005

The Olympics of Starvation

While the health fascists of the US of A pursue mandates on school lunch programs to combat the latest "crisis" in America -- OBESITY -- another country faces a real crisis since 40 percent of its children suffer from stunted growth (due to malnutrition), according to the United Nations. Yes, this is the same U.N. which managed the corrupt and completely ineffective "Oil for Food Program" which would have been an ideal program to help feed this country. Undoubtedly the country I am referring to here is the Republic of Iraq you might guess since President George Bush removed the benevolent dictator, Saddam Hussein, from power but you would be wrong!!!
The actual President that has stunted the growth of 40 percent of his own country's children is that sushi loving, jump suit wearing, lady killer {yes - double meaning here, you are getting my writing style now!! :) } General Kim Jong Il (KJI) of North Korea. Well, can you blame him? They need all the rice they have (mixed with bark sometimes) to feed the 100,000 schoolchildren and military cadets "recruited" to perform in the annual "Mass Games" consisting of numerous gymnastics events performed six (6) days a week -- I am guessing that on the 7th day they have "free time" to harvest rice to help avoid starvation -- to thank KJI for his leadership and to help this self-sufficient, workers paradise attract tourism dollars.

Amazing isn't it!! Why not restore a southern plantation in Birmingham, Alabama and "recruit" black schoolchildren to perform song and dance routines for tourists from New York City and Los Angeles? Clearly that would help reduce obesity in the nation's schools of course. The health fascists in the USA can be inspired by KJI's quote regarding the Mass Games in 1987:

"Mass gymnastics foster particularly healthy and strong physiques, a high degree of organization, discipline, and collectivism in schoolchildren. The schoolchildren, conscious that a single slip in their action may spoil their mass gymnastic performance, make every effort to subordinate all their thoughts and actions to the collective." (Source: International Herald Tribune, October 11, 2005)

Let me close with the inspiring words of Comrade Kang Man Gil, a North Korean official who is quoted saying, "If South Korea had the food problems we had, there would have been 1,000 riots, but there was none in our republic because our people have a strong sense of collectivism and pride."

Yes and North Korea is also spending its limited resources constructing nuclear missiles and satisfying KJI's numerous vices versus simply allowing its citizens to pursue their own personal needs (and food!!) via economic freedom. I would prefer to have a few fat kids in our nation's schools over the KJI nightmare any day.

Sorry I have to run now since the pizza delivery guy (another oppressed worker!!) is here!!


From Jack Boots to Fashion Boots

In February 1966 Nancy Sinatra not only had a Number One song but her music video transformed long boots into a fashion statement for women. Nearly 40 years later as I walked the streets of Vilnius, Lithuania this past weekend I noticed that nearly every woman (okay women under age 50 perhaps) was wearing long boots which apparently require very tight blue jeans as an accessory but I was never an expert on women's fashion.

This posting is my final installment from my trip to Lithuania since I have now returned to Brussels. This trip included two days of attendance at a free market think tank conference where I heard Dr. Jose Pinera, former Minister of Labor and Social Security for Chile speak. Today Dr. Pinera serves as the Founder and President of the International Center for Pension Reform,, which offers a reform model for the USA's Social Ponzi Scheme Security system. Among many things one of Dr. Pinera's claims to fame is having been a participant in a 4 plus hour meeting with Russian President Putin discussing free market economic reforms. While this was a very interesting story the two quotes that caught my attention include:

Quote from Chilean politicians to Dr. Pinera regarding pension/Social Security benefits -- "Jose, the only way to win elections is to offer voters artificial benefits........"


Quote by Dr. Pinera -- "Americans can choose from probably 80 different versions of cappucinos but are mandated to use only one Social Security system..........."

As I toured the City of Vilnius "center" and "old town" areas on foot I noticed several items to highlight for you:

1.) Cathedral -- the city's central cathedral I learned was to be transformed into a tractor factory by the Soviet rulers of Lithuania but when they realized that would not work they converted it into an art gallery. Paintings of Lenin replaced those of Jesus Christ while Christian brotherhood was replaced with totalitarian compliance -- indeed, what a "workers paradise" was created (my jack boot of sarcasm is kicking Lenin's corpse right now).

2.) Museum of Genocide Victims -- is the central downtown prison where the full spectrum of political prisoners were tortured and murdered by the jack-booted KGB thugs to satisfy the Soviet regime's goals. This is a rather limited museum at the present time but additional work is progressing to expand displays. Today it consists of the various prisoner cells and KGB offices in the basement and one main floor with display cases and photograph boards. The museum needs a few years and more funding to fully develop so if you are interested in touring an exceptional facility depicting such atrocities I suggest you visit the "Terror Museum" (originally known as the "House of Loyalty") in Budapest, Hungary.

3.) Advertisements -- essentially wherever I walked or when I jogged along the river path I was bombarded with billboard advertisements for a.) sumo wrestling and b.) Phil Collins' farewell tour. Now had Mr. Collins hired me to promote his concert I of course would have mocked up posters and brochures depicting him as a sumo wrestler :)

While the Soviet Union has thankfully disappeared from Mother Earth the "hangover effect" can still be seen, providing lessons for future generations I must hope.

Heels to you,


Saturday, October 15, 2005

Scar of the North

My adopted State of Minnesota is known as "L'Etoile du Nord" which apparently is French for "start your business here and pray to God you can continue making a profit and add jobs.........." but I haven't studied French since high school so my translation might be inaccurate. Since I incorporated my firm in Minnesota the work of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council), whom I have known for years in Washington DC, has taken on even greater personal importance for me. I invite you to educate yourself via the report mentioned below then stop by to help me pack up my belongings so I can move to South Dakota where they actually want jobs to be created (okay, I admit it I won't leave Minnesota but it is clear to me that my local activism will have to increase -- watch for future postings on this subject).

On October 12, 2005, SBE Council released its tenth annual rankings of the states according to their respective public policy climates for small business and entrepreneurship in the ‘Small Business Survival Index 2005. The ‘Small Business Survival Index’ for 2005 has been revised and expanded, including the addition of four measures of health care regulation. The entire report is available at

In terms of their policy environments, the most entrepreneur-friendly states under the ‘Small Business Survival Index 2005’ are: 1) South Dakota, 2) Nevada, 3) Wyoming, 4) Washington, 5) Michigan, 6) Florida, 7) Mississippi, 8) Alabama, 9) Indiana, 10) Colorado, 11) Texas, 12) South Carolina, 13) Virginia, 14) Pennsylvania, and 15) Tennessee.

In contrast, the most anti-entrepreneur policy environments are offered by the following: 37) Oregon, 38) Montana, 39) North Carolina, 40) Ohio, 41) Iowa, 42) Massachusetts, 43) Vermont, 44) New York, 45) New Jersey, 46) Hawaii, 47) Minnesota, 48) Rhode Island, 49) Maine, 50) California and 51) District of Columbia (for more on DC -- please review my "Geography of Death" posting, why the hell does anyone live in this city!!!???) .

To review your own state the complete rankings are found at:

See you at the capitol,


Friday, October 14, 2005

Belgian waffles on human rights

Ah, the taste of a Belgian waffle from a street vendor in Brussels is still a special treat but nothing could surpass the satisfaction I experienced earlier this spring when I attended the film, Hotel Rwanda, in Brussels simply because the theatre was primarily filled with native Belgians (based on my observation of their pre-film conversations). These film-goers generated enough nervous tension that I could feel the unease (perhaps remorse ???) in the room as the film's opening scene blamed their nation's colonial activity in Rwanda for the resulting genocide.

This film shows the human race at its worst --- colonialism and Malthusian thought dominate the film -- with the primary cause of this modern day genocide being the racist, imperial policies of Rwanda's former colonial master, the Kingdom of Belgium, which is explained in the film review below:


The movie Hotel Rwanda depicts the real-life story of hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina and his efforts to save more than a thousand countrymen during the slaying of close to a million ethnic minority Tutsis. I hope you find the time to see this film and lecture if you are near Ames, Iowa this week since my alma mater, Iowa State University is hosting this special event:
  • The movie will be shown at 7 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 16 in the Sun Room, Memorial Union Building
  • Mr. Rusesabagina will present a live lecture at 8 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 26 in the Great Hall, Memorial Union, to recount his first-hand experiences. Born in Rwanda in 1954, Rusesabagina entered missionary school at the age of 8 and later entered the hotel and catering industry. He was manager of the Milles Collines hotel at the start of the Rwanda crises.
In 1962, the Belgians, after a long colonial presence, exited the country, giving Rwanda it's independence. The Belgian masters separated the Rwandans according to ethnicity. Using the following methodology:
  • measuring of forehead size
  • class system - if you had more than ten cows, you were Tutsi, if not, Hutu
  • Tutsis, although in the minority, were the favored race under Belgian rule
  • Before the Belgians exited the country they inflamed the situation by maneuvering power into the hands of a Hutu party, which quickly institutionalized racism against the Tutsi.

Fight the power,


Thursday, October 13, 2005

(cruci) Fixing a Speeding Ticket

As I near 40 years old I realize how much "road trips" have changed. Gone are the days of road trips with friends to Lake Okoboji with a few "travelers" (my Canadian friends know what I mean here) along for the ride. Today my road trip was in a very safe, clean, and modern VOLVO with my Lithuanian tour guides Marcus and Elena (she is Russian actually) in the front seat and a client in the back seat with me.

Elena ( fluent in English, Lithuanian, and Russian) had lived in the USA for almost two years primarily in the Kansas City area. She did all the talking since Marcus was there to drive and make sure we paid for the trip I guess :) As we drove to our destination I had flashbacks to my time on the German autobahn in the Hamburg area -- the difference in Lithuania though is that there ARE posted speed limits and the police are not paid well. So Elena explained to us that the system for processing speeding tickets for most drivers is to simply negotiate a price to pay the police if you are stopped because the fines for speeding, both monetarily and via the classic "point system" which leads to your license being revoked, are so large and the police are so poorly paid drivers are better off (and the police!!) simply paying the police cash. Small bills are best since the police don't have change makers attached to their belts.

After nearly a 3 hour drive where we learned about Lithuanian history, Soviet occupation, and insights such as "Religion/attending church has become a fashion, social statement in Russia" we arrived at the rather remote, "Hill of the Crosses", where Pope John Paul II addressed an audience in 1993. The story of this hill; that has an estimated 100,000 plus crucifixes/crosses, Virgin Mary statues, etc., begins with the rural tradition in Lithuania where poor villages unable to afford building a church simply erected a large cross on the edge of town so local residents knew where to gather for worship. Apparently this tradition expanded into the current Hill of Crosses after some Soviet officials toppled this local village's cross which was repeatedly replaced by the local residents with additional crosses being added each time until the hill and now the flat land surrounding the hill evolved into the pilgrimage destination that it is today. Helpful hint -- the "Hill of Crosses" is NOT the same as the "Hill of Three Crosses" which is near the Cathedral in downtown Vilnius NOT the three hour ride our pilgrimage took today. The trip was well worth the money and time -- just over $125.00 per person.

On the return trip our merry band - if only I had developed our characters like Chaucer :) - enjoyed a very Lithuanian lunch at "Gubernijos alus" which is part of a local country retreat, recreational complex at; , where my starter was a black/red pepper beef (sorry vegans!!) soup which Marcus the native Lithuanian started tearing up from eating his bowl but I survived. For my main I went with the "pickled beef with fries/chips, peas, and coleslaw" backed up with one VERY heavy potato pancake my client could not eat as a precautionary measure against slipping into a "food coma" -- you better like potatoes if you plan a vacation here!!

The restaurant itself was designed like a Bavarian hunting lodge with numerous trophies mounted on the walls (sorry again vegans!!) as reminders of several successful hunting trips. The staff was very friendly and attentive but the "Lithuanian techno/disco music" in the background seemed mis-placed in our little hunting lodge but overall I have to give them a "4" rating for being a great overall experience (okay, the very tasty vanilla ice cream cone pushed them to a "3.5" and rounding got them to a "4").

After lunch Elena took us to a former 19th Century farming village museum complete with a set of restored, authentic homes and barns. I hope the statists out there don't get upset but this farm was privately owned by some greedy capitalists!!! We gladly paid the nominal entrance fee and thoroughly enjoyed the educational tour.

Overall a day well spent touring Lithuania's heritage where tourism is just developing since most tourist dollars went to Estonia first, then Latvia after the fall (thank God!!) of the Soviet Union so now is a great time to visit.



Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Technology used for "Intensive Care"

After spending nearly three years living in London, England I was exposed to several musicians who do not have a major market presence in the USA such as the Sugar Babes and Robbie Williams. As a cheerleader for international trade I tried to export Robbie to the USA via a Christmas gift in 2003 to my little brother, Troy, but to completely fabricate a quote from him he stated, "He is not a British version of Willie Nelson................" (hey, you know I like Willie's "Beer for my horses" song !) . Alas, Robbie isn't going to dominate "fly over" country (see the posting on this blog - "Our Revenues we Prize and our Tax Rates we will Maintain") anytime soon.

News reports this week regarding Robbie's new album release -- "Intensive Care" -- caught my attention not just because I like his music but primarily because of the method he used for the launch. Newspapers reported that Williams:

"beamed his 90 minute performance into 27 cinemas and nightclub venues via HDTV with surround sound in 11 countries. More than 100,000 mobile phone users also watched a live stream of the concert for the first time."

I do not follow the music industry on a daily basis - although I can should someone want to pay my consulting fees -- but I have to believe Robbie's "high-tech launch" of this album was a historic first. This is interesting from two different perspectives:

1.) Free downloading/file sharing software continues to proliferate and the entertainment industry increases its litigation activities to protect Intellectual Property. Perhaps Robbie offers a new model for both parties to consider?


2.) Robbie's use of technology offers some interesting lessons to the political campaign business. This combined use of "public venues" and "personal mobile phones/Blackberries perhaps" to reach pre-occupied voters who are not willing to attend the traditional campaign rally down at the city square.

I plan to study these potential applications more but first I have to buy Robbie's new album since Intellectual Property must be respected.

Let me entertain you.....................


Bunking in the Baltics

Greetings from Vilnius, Lithuania where I am attending yet another free market think tank conference focused on Europe. Given the static national economies controlled by regulatory restrictions and militant trade unions in Europe we certainly need more of these think tanks so if you can lend your support in any fashion please visit this website -

Today was spent in several meetings so I have several reviews to offer below:

1.) Hotel -- I am staying at the "Reval Hotel Lietuva" which is located across the river from the Old Town area. The Reval was constructed in 1983 but was completely refurbished around 2003 to rid the structure of its lifeless Soviet-style motif. Today it is a very comfortable hotel with a fitness center better than most I have seen in Europe and an extremely helpful staff. You can find them at -- . This hotel comes recommended with my "4" rating (1 to 5).

2.) Lunch -- A native of Vilnius met me for lunch today so of course we went for sushi!!! Apparently the Lithuanian diet is primarily dominated by meat and potatoes (easy vegans!!) so he wanted to go Japanese. We ate lunch at "Miyako Susis-Sasimas" which is across the street from the Reval Hotel in a shopping center. My starter was a sushi combination followed by a main of duck and both dishes were very good. I most enjoyed the ambiance given the overdose of feng shui in the restaurant plus the waitress apparently was a supermodel working a part time job :) Note to the "tax and spend" big government types on my blog -- the V.A.T. was 18% which is lower than some European nations but is still clearly a form of theft via dining.

3.) Happy Hour -- met with a client in the top floor bar/night club of the Reval Hotel (22nd floor and they have a 13th floor on the elevators!!), "Sky Bar" , which offers an excellent view of the city. Since they were kind enough to allow me to "borrow" their drinks menu I can report they use a "solar system" theme for their specialty drinks using names like -- "Earth" for the brandy, orange liqueur, lemon juice drink and "Mercury" for the rum, orange liqueur, coconut syrup, cream drink. But I could not help but notice their list of these planet drinks was out of order from top to bottom (okay I am rather anal about such things) as -- Earth, Mars, Saturn, Venus, Jupiter, Neptune, Pluto, Uranus, and Mercury with drink prices ranging from 11 to 20 litas (about 4 to 7 US dollars). Correct order of course would have been -- Mercury, Venus, Earth................

4.) Dinner -- After wandering through the Old Town area my client and I opted to eat at one of the traditional, former coal cellars on Pilies Street called "I Sveikata" which basically translates to "cheese, bon appetit..........." My starter was the "Surprise Salad" which was dominated by shredded carrots and a wonderful, unknown dressing and my main was "Zeppelins" which are basically meat-filled (dare I say bacon-like???) boiled potatoes. We both had a "hot chocolate" which was not anything like grandma made for us back in the US of A since this was as black as crude oil and was coupled with a handful of hazel nuts. I am still dizzy from drinking it so it will probably affect my typing.

Good night for now.

Labai achiu,


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Geography of Death

While leading his people on their migration west from Illinois to Utah, Mr. Brigham Young announced on 24 July 1847, upon seeing the Great Salt Lake Valley of Utah: "It is enough, this is the right place, drive on."

Granted the Mormans left Illinois due to violence caused by intolerance of their religious beliefs but nearly 160 years later I have to believe the Mormans would leave Illinois for a completely different reason -- ILLINOIS IS THE WORST STATE IN THE USA FOR SOMEONE TO DIE.

In a Special Report for Forbes Magazine Matthew Herper and Aude Lagorce,, all 50 US States and Washington D.C. based on the following criteria to determine the best place for someone to die in terms of financial impact:

  • health care quality
  • hospice care
  • legal protection
  • estate taxes
  • other factors
The Top Ten Places to Die (in the USA):

1 Utah
2 Oregon
3 Delaware
4 Colorado
5 Hawaii
6 New Hampshire
7 Iowa
8 North Dakota
9 Vermont
10 Montana
#50 Illinois -- so can you blame the Mormans for leaving!!!??
#51 Washington DC

Indeed I spent a few years in DC myself and having seen this report I better understand why so many people in the area choose to live in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. For those politicians and career bureaucrats in DC you might find my Minnesota friend's (Vince Flynn at book, Term Limits, an interesting read :)

Let me close with lyrics from George Strait -- ".........I ain't never seen a hearse with a luggage rack.................."


Monday, October 10, 2005

"Our Revenues we Prize and our Tax Rates we will Maintain"

My home state of Iowa is located in the middle of what is known as "fly over country" , the portion of the USA that the coastal elites in New York City and Los Angeles fly over on their way to events, meetings, and vacations. This reality is a double edged sword of course since an influx of tourism dollars would help the American Midwest/Plains States but of course such development would alter the pastoral character of this region.

As a native Iowan I completed the state's required "History of Iowa" semester course during middle school thus I still remember the state motto of "Our Liberties we prize and our Rights we will Maintain" which I have altered to use as the title for today's posting to stress how entrenched the special interests-government bureaucracy cabal is in terms of blocking fundamental tax reform.

Today's posting was inspired by a newspaper article published in the October 9, 2005 edition of The Gazette. The article's title was, "GOP Hopefuls Trade Criticisms; Nussle, Vander Plaats talk about tax reform", which focused on the Republican Party candidates for Governor of Iowa -- US Congressman Jim Nussle,, and Bob Vander Plaats, -- since their primary election is set for June 2006. The item in this article of most interest to me was Mr. Vander Plaats statement of the need to "simplify Iowa's income tax system with a flat 5 percent rate that eliminates virtually all deductions."

Now this is very welcome news to hear a gubernatorial candidate call for a flat tax since this is very daring against the tide of prairie populism which is inherent in fly over country. I trust that given Congressman Nussle's experience in Washington DC as chairman of the House Budget Committee he will have an equally exciting tax reform proposal for Iowans to consider in June 2006.

A complicated tax system only benefits one entity -- the government itself -- since the system forces all taxpayers to expend hours of labor and dollars to avoid non-compliance penalties and potential prison time. If you do not believe government has enough of our money please, please consult with my friends at Citizens Against Government Waste,, since they have identified billions of tax dollars being wasted around the country.

Flat tax systems have been advocated for decades but finally we are seeing progress , ironically in the "workers' paradise" of the former Soviet Union, specifically in Russia and Estonia, which have adopted flat rate income taxes. These tax reform measures have actually INCREASED tax receipts to the central government since they offer what economists might call a "known cost of doing business" versus thousands of pages of tax code where two different tax preparers can arrive at two completely different tax liability calculations -- clearly the current system is not a rational model for a business owner trying to create jobs.

The leader of the flat tax revolution in Estonia was then 32 year old Prime Minister Mart Laar whom I have met at a few think tank conferences in the USA and Europe. You can see the results of his reforms via this article (April 2005):


Inflation dropped from more than 1,000 per cent to just 2.5 per cent, in line with western Europe. Unemployment fell from 30 per cent to six per cent and growth has soared to six per cent, a rate that Gordon Brown (NOTE: the United Kingdom's Finance Minister/Prime Minister in waiting) would envy. Investment poured in and the initial 26 per cent tax rate has been cut to 23 per cent. Next year, it will be cut again to 20 per cent.

Hopefully we can finally bury the "class warfare corpse" that our current tax system has become in a deep, unmarked grave away from future generations by adopting flat tax systems around the world. The next step of course is to reduce the actual flat tax rates periodically as government programs are eliminated, government services become more efficient, and as citizens exercise more personal responsibility such as directly paying for their health care costs (the topic of a future posting perhaps!).

Yours in tax slavery,


Sunday, October 09, 2005

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

With all due credit to German Protestant Pastor Martin Niemoller (and my thanks to my friend Renee for buying me a copy) here is his poem from 1946 reflecting on his personal experience with the “slippery slope” (please note the “Tinder for Fascists” posting for reference) concept that I often mention in my postings:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

Of course Pastor Niemoller was referring to the Nazis in Germany who marched millions off to their concentration camps. With eerie managerial precision the Nazis catalogued their prisoners via symbols sewn to prisoners’ garments. Some examples of the color-coded symbols used by the Nazis as cited with Pastor Niemoller’s poem included:

Yellow on Yellow (Star of David) – Jews
Pink Triangle – Homosexuals
Brown – Gypsies
Purple – Jehovah’s Witnesses
Red – German Political Prisoners, Communists, Socialists
Black – Vagrants and Lesbians
Green – Habitual Criminals
Blue – Emigrants (my German/Danish ancestors immigrated to the USA around 1880 which is a blessing)

There were numerous other symbols used to designate prisoner classifications so perhaps they had a sign set aside for you?

Yours for freedom,


Poor Man's Salmon

My hometown of Ida Grove, Iowa is located at the confluence of two rivers known as the Maple River and Odebolt Creek which provided ample opportunity to be a “river rat” throughout my childhood as I explored the area with my friends and younger brother. Nearly twenty years later I find myself (October 8, 2005) on a family vacation on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River at the Holiday Shores Motel on Business Highway 18 (Iowa) in McGregor, Iowa. Our family shares a love of the waterways and boats especially canoeing given our several trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA),, in the Northwoods of Minnesota but the BWCA will be the subject of a future posting.

McGregor, Iowa’s origins date back to 1837 when Alexander Mac Gregor (note the Mac vs. Mc variance) began his ferry boat operation on the vary bank where I am residing in Room #19 overlooking Old Man River. McGregor’s other historical connection is that it was the original home of the Ringling Brothers Circus who performed their “penny shows” for the locals. McGregor, Iowa’s close proximity to the Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois borders allows it to benefit from numerous “weekenders” armed with disposable income and appetites! Today McGregor has transformed from a historically busy regional transportation hub of 5,500 population at its height into a more sedate, picturesque river town of some 800 residents complete with an abundance of: antique shops, ice cream shops, casino events, restored historical buildings, and a full calendar of events like today’s arts and crafts festival which stand ready to consume tourists’ dollars.

Speaking of appetites I dined (or simply “ate” for those of you involved in the debate on my previous “Dining vs. Eating” posting. NOTE: please review this posting to see my philosophy on restaurants and to understand the ranking system but for now a “1” is bad and a “5” is best) at two local establishments which are reviewed below:

“River View Café” – is a combination “mom and pop/greasy spoon, sports bar/family restaurant/bar”. It is located a very short walk from the Holiday Shores Motel and is home to the “CrocoBurger” (great menu choice) which is a ½ pound burger complete with enough vegetables to even please a vegan!! The toasted bun was a very nice touch but the wait staff service was spotty at best so they receive a “3” ranking.
“McGregors’ Marina with Mr. McGregors’ Beer and Bratz Garden” - due to snacking while walking through today’s arts and crafts festival my father and I stopped here just for ice cream, not dinner, so I can personally recommend their butter scotch malt. Granted this is a very limited knowledge of the restaurant (just a “malt”) but based on ambience, friendliness of staff, and the location directly on the river bank I will rate them with a “3”. The marina shares a parking lot with the Holiday Shores Motel and is located at Mile Marker 633.5 if you are traveling by boat. Finally, if you want to dine on the river itself you can simply rent a pontoon boat at McGregors’ Marina and order a take away lunch for dining with Mother Nature.

Of course no discussion of McGregor and its restaurants would be complete without a review of the local fishing industry. Thanks to my father’s lack of shyness he introduced me to a local commercial fisherman – John and his wife Joyce, now in the 80’s but still very lively -- so I could “interview” them for my blog. My father has known John and Joyce for years since my family has been vacationing at Holiday Shores Motel for several years, which has given my father ample opportunities to go “hoop net fishing” with John.

John and Joyce are gracious hosts who live just across the railroad tracks from the Holiday Shores Motel. They opened our conversation with photographs showing the “mud flood” they suffered in 2004 after a nominal 3 inches of rain overwhelmed the City of McGregor’s storm sewer system. Joyce told me that this was the first time in 68 years they have experienced such a “mud flood” which ended up filling their basement. John and Joyce clearly indicated that this personal disaster was caused by the city government’s inaction to clean out the storm water system. John and Joyce feel that the city government simply wants to acquire their property so the city can redevelop the area since the home is now surrounded by business properties not other homes. Now this is a very Machiavellian form of eminent domain which, if accurate, should concern all of you which cherish private property rights. If you are facing your own eminent domain abuses by your respective governments please contact my friends at the Institute for Justice, in Washington DC. They are NOT with the government so they can indeed be there to HELP.

As we talked about how the river, city, and the fishing industry have changed over the years the one comment that resonated with me the most is when John stated that the McGregor section of the Mississippi River is known as “Pool #10” due to the system of locks and dams on the river defined by the parlance of the US Army Corps of Engineers. My concern here is that clinical, bureaucratic phrases like “Pool #10” rob local areas of the romance that is Mark Twain’s Mississippi River. I just can’t see Huck Finn steering his raft through “Pool #10” but then again I am clearly a traditionalist. Regardless of the terms used for the river, fishing is still an active industry. John told me that the range of fish he caught over his career include -- catfish, buffalo head, channel cat, mud cat, carp, perch, and bass (but you throw those back to avoid any trouble with the Department of Natural Resources). One local culinary delight (insert cautionary doubt here please) that apparently was created during the Great Depression based on John’s history lesson for me is --- Poor Man’s Salmon. Poor Man’s Salmon is essentially made by dicing whatever fish are harvested and placing these varied pieces together in one jar with a touch of brine. Once this combination has “become one, fermented together” you then have Poor Man’s Salmon. As my father and I discovered today when John opened a jar of this treat it is best served on soda crackers with black pepper. While I would not seek this dish out on any restaurant menu I can state that it was much tastier than I ever imagined it could be which helped me understand why John’s family and friends did not starve during the Great Depression. Based on what I heard here today it was Poor Man’s Salmon not President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “alphabet soup” of federal bureaucracies which kept people fed in McGregor, Iowa.

See you on the river,


Thursday, October 06, 2005

Tinder for Fascists

"Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings." (German: "Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.")—Heinrich Heine, from his play Almansor (1821)

Herr Heine's quote from 1821 proved to be incredibly accurate about 120 years later given the rise of the Nazis in Germany and their "Final Solution", the Holocaust. While visiting Krakow, Poland in 2002 I toured the concentration camps of Auschwitz – Birkenau, the site of human cremation just as Herr Heine's quote predicted.

While walking through the prisoners' barracks and the museum I experienced a full range of emotions and reactions with the primary one being complete confusion as I tried to comprehend how a segment of the human race could blindly travel along a classic "slippery slope" (e.g. relocation of Jews, gays, etc. to ghettos within their home cities, followed by deportation to concentration camps, and ending with mass executions) to the point that human life has zero value beyond the gold in your teeth.

My focus today is to encourage all of us to avoid traveling on other slippery slopes such as "censorship" which we are often told is needed for the public good. Throughout history censorship has taken the form of banning and even burning books thus I gladly celebrate "Banned Books Week" to highlight the importance and value of the American constitutional right of "freedom of speech and press" so that we all remain advocates of free thinking.

This year's "Banned Books Week" was held from September 24 to October 1st which I celebrated by reading two different books that I freely chose to read -- I hope you were able to do some reading yourself especially to young children because they can never read enough. For reference I have copied the following roster of "challenged, banned" books in the recent past. Do you see any of your favorite titles or authors listed here???

The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000:

Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
Forever by Judy Blume
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Giver by Lois Lowry
It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Sex by Madonna
Earth’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard
The Witches by Roald Dahl
The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein
Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry
The Goats by Brock Cole
Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
Blubber by Judy Blume
Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
Final Exit by Derek Humphry
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
Deenie by Judy Blume
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
Cujo by Stephen King
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
Ordinary People by Judith Guest
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
Fade by Robert Cormier
Guess What? by Mem Fox
The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Native Son by Richard Wright
Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies by Nancy Friday
Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
Jack by A.M. Homes
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
Carrie by Stephen King
Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
Family Secrets by Norma Klein
Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
The Dead Zone by Stephen King
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
Private Parts by Howard Stern
Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
Sex Education by Jenny Davis
The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

Open minds and open books are essential for freedom,

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Katrina and the Waves

At this time of year in Minnesota I should be enjoying Indian Summer, that magical time of year when summer evolves into our "fifth season" before Fall/pre-Winter but unfortunately it is cold, rainy, and six inches of snow are expected this weekend in the Dakotas to the west of us. Clearly I am not "Walking on Sunshine" at present but the cup is half full since I own snow shoes.

Speaking of sunshine and the 1980's (okay, okay I am still stuck on the "Chapstick in Belarus" theme) one casualty of the Cold War was the band, Katrina and the Waves ( which formed in 1981 but disbanded in 1999 -- 1999? that reminds me of another 80's icon, the Purple One himself , "Prince", but I digress.

Hopefully this year's "Katrina" will be another one hit wonder so that our Gulf Coast citizens avoid being hit with another devastating hurricane. Based on what I have read it appears most Gulf Coast citizens have the basics of food, water, and clothing primarily due to the efforts of "greedy capitalists" like Wal-Mart not due to the government bureaucrats at all levels. Now that basic human needs have been met the "second wave of assistance" is arriving in the Gulf Coast due to the kindness of strangers.

One such kind stranger is Kailey Becker, a member of her school's marching band in Lakeville, Minnesota who has organized a charity drive for donated musical instruments to send to the residents of New Orleans. In launching her project Kailey stated, "I hope it will bring lots of joy and bring back the soul of New Orleans."

If you are interested in donating an instrument or just sending words of encouragement and related advice please contact:

Kailey Becker -- the organization working with Kailey

Oh when the saints going marching in, oh when the saints go marching in..................


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Chapstick for Belarus

Granted my friend Renee would ridicule this personal disclosure but I happily admit it -- I am a proud child of the 80's!! What a decade for -- clothing, music, fraternity life, sports, parties, and the Reagan military build up :) I witnessed the Cold War first hand via a 15 day tour of Moscow, Leningrad (now "St. Petersburg"), and Puskin where I attended underground rock concerts, drank the only safe "water" (vodka) in the CCCP/USSR at the "hard currency bars", and actively traded on the black market.

When the Soviet citizens asked me to trade my boxer shorts on the black market in exchange for the military paraphernalia they offered I was convinced that the Cold War was over which I confidently stated upon my return to university classes in January 1987. Of course in 1991 Boris Yeltsin climbed on a tank and the CCCP/USSR was officially dead to be replaced by Russia and the former Soviet republics. One of these former satellites, Belarus, unfortunately did not hear the news reports in 1991 it appears. I would speculate that the country's one TV was in need of a new vacuum tube thus they did not hear CNN's report because today President Alexander Lukashenko runs Belarus based on the Soviet totalitarian model including his continued use of the KGB.

Today, fourteen years after the collapse of the Soviet/central government planning world view, Belarus remains as "Europe's last dictatorship" (Tom Hundley, International Herald Tribune, October 3, 2005) now facing the prospect of another people power revolution ( think -- Georgia and Ukraine) with the political opposition group in Belarus known as "Zubr" named for the bison which roam the nation's forests.

The clear lesson from 1991 which Belarus fails to recognize (which China has clearly recognized) is that market decisions by consumers provide the best economic performance results versus the old Soviet model of -- "this year Factory 435 will produce shoes and next year you will produce watches in your role within the glorious workers' revolution, blah, blah, blah..........."

From history we know that Emperor Napoleon of France,, was unsuccessful in his quest to conquer Russia as the Russian winter killed most of his army as they retreated to France -- no doubt many of them died in present day Belarus. But let me offer another, modern-day Napoleon, a product of the free market and individual innovation NOT government central planning -- of course I am speaking of "Napoleon Dynamite",, the hit film created in 2004 for a reported US$400,000. At present this film has grossed nearly US$50 million at the box office and another US$104 million in DVD sales plus there are licensing agreements being finalized for related products including -- bed linens, backpacks, tote bags, Velcro wallets, calendars, lamps, lunch boxes, flip flops, and playing cards.

Now someone please show me a government program which has generated similar economic gains to this film created by entrepreneurs utilizing their basic right of free speech/expression -- a right Belarussians don't enjoy today. When I think of government-led economic development (whether in the former Soviet Union or in state government departments in the USA today) and government's desire to "pick winners and losers (aka "national champions" in France)" in the economy the product which immediately comes to mind is the environmental hazard and much-maligned automobile designed by the former East German government - the "Trabant" which I personally saw on a trip to Budapest, Hungary. Believe me Mother Nature is cleaner today ( because of the environmental activist who put the Soviet Union in its much-deserved grave -- President Ronald Reagan (in partnership with Lady Thatcher and Pope John Paul II but that is a story for a future posting).

May the Zubr succeed in their quest for freedom in Belarus,