Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Dot Iraq




No, "Dot Iraq" is not a village controlled by insurgents it is a reference to the "country level top level domain" name -- .iq -- recently launched via ICANN. Commenting on this launch was Fareed Yasseen in Iraq's Ministry of Foreign Affairs who stated, "Getting the .iq domain name has great symbolic meaning. That would be fitting representation for Iraq's presence on the Internet." (Source: Farah Stockman article for the Boston Globe)

After numerous set backs including a one year "turf war" by two Iraqi government agencies over which agency would administer the domain Iraq has finally taken its place in the cyberspace community of nations. This is another step forward in the march to a free, democratic, and open society in Iraq in terms of commerce, politics (think more websites for politicians!), more blogs, religion, and civil society overall.

While we need military forces to combat the insurgency currently harming Iraq we need to couple this effort with an entirely separate army of Internet experts, web designers, and electronic commerce consultants to assist Iraq's Internet culture and infrastructure.

I plan to do secure a .iq website when they become available to help facilitate the necessary networking between our two countries to drive free trade and the development of a civil society so if you are interested in joining this campaign here is the necessary background information:

Sponsoring Organization:
National Communications and Media Commission of IraqAl-Masbah Mahala 929Baghdad

Iraq Administrative Contact:
Administrative Role AccountNetwork Information Center of IraqAl-Masbah Mahala 929Baghdad IraqEmail: ncmc.role.account@gmail.com Voice: +964 7901427265Fax: +96417195839

Technical Contact:
Technical Role Account Network Information Center of IraqAl-Masbah Mahala 929Baghdad Iraq Email: ncmc.role.account@gmail.com Voice: +964 7901427265Fax: +964 17195839

Freedom is expanding,

Todd

Monday, November 28, 2005

Competition on and off the court




The Thanksgiving Day weekend this year included a fraternity brother's wedding so my congratulations to Pete and Mary. Due to the family gatherings, travel time, watching Iowa State University football and basketball games, and the wedding itself I missed four days of blog postings so I am catching up on several themes this week.

I have to admit that I am dealing with some mild depression after seeing my beloved Iowa State Cyclones - http://www.cyclones.com - football team lose to the Kansas Jayhawks on the afternoon of November 26th thus denying Iowa State a chance to play for the Big 12 conference championship against the University of Texas (currently ranked #2 in the country so a very difficult opponent). If the football loss wasn't enough the men's basketball team (ranked #23 in the country at the time) LOST to Iona so clearly a greater degree of mental discipline is needed since the Cyclones simply should not (can't in fact) lose to such teams if we want to play at the top levels in the country.

Prior to these two games I read a Des Moines Register article about Iowa State's new Athletic Director, Jamie Pollard, who made several interesting quotes that I both agree with and am very concerned with:

ON ISU'S PRESIDENT GREGORY GEOFFROY:

"He is not a cheerleader president or the kind of president who wants to be in the locker room after a win and is nowhere to be seen after a loss."

MY RESPONSE:

Personally I want a university president who IS a cheerleader. At the NCAA Division I level athletics are a huge aspect of university life and fundraising capacity. Additionally the players are STUDENT-athletes thus they deserve the visible presence of the university president. As a life member of the alumni association and donor to the National Cyclone Club I am concerned by the message I hear in Mr. Pollard's quote.

ISU VS. BIG 12 CONFERENCE MEMBERS:

"We are just catching up to where most of the other schools have been for 10 years."

MY RESPONSE:

Damn, if ISU won't devote the resources to the athletic programs required by benchmarking ourselves against the peers in the Big 12 Conference perhaps we should consider moving to another conference? I am not calling on the state government to provide additional funding here but I do want to see a greater emphasis on securing alumni, corporate, and other private sector funding for ISU Athletics.

This concern is made perfectly clear via the athletic department budgets for the members of the Big 12 Conference reported in the November 24, 2005 Des Moines Register which include:

Texas $74.4 million
Oklahoma $62.9 million
Texas A&M 57.4
Nebraska 55.8
Missouri 46.4
Texas Tech 45.6
Kansas 39.9
Colorado 36.6
Oklahoma State 35.9
Kansas State 33.5
Baylor 31.1
Iowa State 28.0

Even if ISU was able to DOUBLE its athletics spending it would only rank #4 in the Big 12 Conference. As a benchmarking exercise let me cite the University of New Mexico's athletic budget stands at $22 million just $6 million short of ISU and New Mexico is one of the poorest states in the USA -- http://golobos.collegesports.com/newmexico/ad.html. I love every visit to Jack Trice Stadium in Ames but it's 30 year anniversary this year is noticeable via the very out of date signage and the very limited food menu. I would encourage Mr. Pollard to research how the Georgia Dome in Atlanta transformed itself to generate massive amounts of new revenues - http://www.atlantafalcons.com/dome/article.jsp?id=5058

Ideally alums will step forward with their checks, credit cards, and any in kind contributions they can make to ISU athletics. For instance, perhaps the Greek system - http://www.greek.iastate.edu/ - can work with the university to pledge more athletes to the fraternity and sorority houses especially since this PRIVATE living environment is oftentimes less expensive than the university's residence halls.

Best wishes to the student-athletes on their seasons,

Todd

Zuzu's Petals




I need to devote an entire posting to "band names" some day since there are some very creative ones out there including "Zuzu's Petals" which is a girl band - http://www.aurealm.com/zuzus.htm - from the 90's. Another favorite band name is the "House of Large Sizes" taken from a clothing store in Ames, Iowa but I digress :)

So what reminded me of this band name? I spent the Thanksgiving Day holiday visiting my relatives in Western Iowa including the City of Denison. Denison's claim to fame is that it is the childhood home of Donna Reed who played George Bailey's (ah, ah, uh, uh Jimmy Stewart) in one of my favorite films, "It's a Wonderful Life". Throughout my childhood we would visit my great-grandmother in Denison, Iowa for Christmas Eve who lived in the upper level of a converted duplex/mansion which shared a common staircase with the lowel level residents -- Donna Reed's parents. Thus we talked with her parents briefly each Christmas Eve for several years so "It's a Wonderful Life" will always have a special connection for me.

Overall the Thanksgiving Day holiday was very enjoyable since I was able to see relatives I haven't seen for a few years including a recently born second counsin, plenty of food was served, and of course I was able to watch some football!!

As for Zuzu's Petals we did not listen to any of their music but let me inform you as to the origin of their name if you don't know. In the famous scene from "It's a Wonderful Life" the young Bailey daughter -- Zuzu -- says "Everytime a bell rings, an angel ("Clarence" in the film) gets its wings" . Zuzu had several rose petals that she gave to her father which he finds later in the film to remind him of what he risked leaving behind in the world of the living.

Happy holidays,

Todd

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Cultural Understanding




  1. While living in London, England in 2004 I attended a stand up comedy show where one comedian did his version of the old joke -- "Americans invade countries so they can figure out where they are located on a map................." It never ceases to amaze me how completely ignorant of the outside world so many foreign nationals believe Americans to be -- due in party by the fact that only 10% of us have passports -- yet somehow our nation found a way to get to the moon, created the infrastructure for the Internet (thanks to Al Gore?), and gave the world Chicago style deep dish pizza.

    In an effort to extend our diplomatic efforts and extend our knowledge of the broader world USA Today editorialized (Mini-Ambassadors on November 23,2005) on the subject of "overseas education" to support the conclusions of a bipartisan congressional panel focused on international study for university students. This panel's final report calls on the US Congress to spend "$125 million by 2011 on scholarships for overseas education to reach the goal of 1 million study abroad students a year by 2017."

    This editorial included the following statistics of where American students choose to study overseas:

    Europe -- 61%
    Latin America -- 15%
    Asia -- 7%
    Australia-NZ -- 7%
    Middle East -- 1%
    Multiple Regions 9%

    I was fortunate enough to study in both England and Costa Rica while I was a student so I see the value in this proposed scholarship program. However, such a program has to be discussed beyond monetary terms (ideally this $125 million would be raised via private sector sources not via tax revenues -- for example the Pew Center's vast sums would be better spent on these scholarships versus the "promotion of greater state control" projects, http://www.pewclimate.org/, that they support today.

    Beyond the money issue regarding these scholarships let me raise a serious of related issues, concerns, suggestions:

    1.) Foreign Languages, Cultures, and Geography -- Scholarships are ideal for college students but what commitment will the USA make to foreign language training (plus culture and geography) in the K-12 system? My school system only offered French as a foreign language so perhaps expanded school choice and reformed teacher compensation systems are needed for recruiting the necessary teacher talent to prepare students for our "flat world".

    2.) Diplomacy -- USA Today's editorial included a statement saying, "about 190,000 undergraduates go overseas each year, acting as effective mini-ambassadors for the USA." Of course not everyone (especially me) is an ideal diplomat but let me cite one extreme example from my undergraduate studies in London, England. A fellow student from California announced one day in class, "yea, nuke everyone but California.........." I was never certain he actually knew where the State of Iowa was located based on the conversations we had over the year. The cliche applies here in terms of diplomats -- "you get what you pay for......"

    3.) Foreign Exchange Students -- I completely agree that sending an American student to study in India is clearly of educational and diplomatic value. However, I see another educational opportunity here in terms of inviting "foreign exchange students" from New York City and Los Angeles to spend a year at rural schools in Iowa as not only a way to educate Americans about their own country but also as an economic development/tourism project for the State of Iowa by exposing young, creative minds on the quality of life in Iowa.

    4.) Free Trade Agreements -- beyond the NAFTA agreement (with Canada and Mexico) our nation has a rather limited set of trade agreements with other nations. It is vital from my perspective to secure more free trade agreements because "trading nations are NOT warring nations" -- does anyone out there fear war will break out between Canada and the USA besides Michael Moore in the film, Canadian Bacon.

    CURRENT USA TRADE AGREEMENTS WITH OTHER NATIONS AND REGIONS:
    Bilateral Trade Agreements
    Andean Free Trade Agreement
    Australia Free Trade Agreement
    Bahrain Free Trade Agreement
    Chile Free Trade Agreement
    Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement
    Israel Free Trade Agreement
    Jordan Free Trade Agreement
    Morocco Free Trade Agreement
    Oman Free Trade Agreement
    Panama Free Trade Agreement
    Singapore Free Trade Agreement
    Southern African Customs Union Free Trade Agreement

    Via my rough count of this list there are 24 nations that have bilateral/regional trade agreements with the USA yet there are nearly 190 member-nations in the United Nation's general assembly so our US Trade Representative still has nearly 170 more nations to reach agreements with to improve overall quality of life along with reductions in consumer prices.

    Study hard students,

    Todd

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Death Spiral or Venture Capital?




In 1955, Charlie Wilson, the chairman of General Motors, summed up GM's corporate philosophy during a US Senate hearing:

"What's good for General Motors is good for the rest of America."

Fifty years have passed since Mr. Wilson made this comment but today's news reports of "GM plans to cut 30,000 jobs" will no doubt cause many people to ask what exactly is good for America? I would answer that a dynamic, flexible economy is what is good for America since this is the formula that has proven overtime to generate the economic growth that gives us the high quality of life we have today. A minor example of this economic evolution is the very noble job of farmer -- both of my parents' families come from a long line of German farmers driven to the cheap and fertile land of Iowa so my comments are offered with respect for this profession. Today about 3% of America's workforce is listed as "farming" yet our country is a major exporter of food and based on obesity rates Americans aren't starving by any means!! The American economy simply reinvented itself many times from an agricultural to a manufacturing to a knowledge economy providing services thus yesterday's farmers are today's biotech researchers and computer systems integrators.

There are a host of reasons why GM has lost substantial market share -- the post-World War II recovery of other nations, trade union agreements, failed corporate restructurings (such as its "Project Olympia" for Europe), etc. -- but this posting will focus on today's "30,000 jobs to be cut" news. The headline itself reads like employees will be marched to the door with their cardboard boxes of personal items (I have had to escort such employees when I was in corporate life which is quite unpleasant) but the reality is that GM will eliminate these jobs through "early retirement and attrition" which translates as not a very drastic restructuring at all especially since the United Auto Workers union stated they "would do everything in its power to enforce" job security agreements (how many union bosses/shop stewards will be let go by the union itself??) .

The old corporate/union cabal mindset of -- company grows, union wins job protections, company and union grow together, economy has a down turn, jobs are eliminated in consultation with unions, and eventually the company goes bankrupt, but the union merges with another union or "organizes" a new industry/company -- must end today with some new thinking.

For a start please consult my "Northwest Airlines" blog posting of September 24, 2005 , which suggests an entirely new mindset for the individual trade union member to create their own small businesses. Using this line of thinking let me offer GM and the United Auto Workers (UAW) an alternative plan to the "early retirement and attrition" job cuts:

1.) Step One -- read the PanAmerican Airlines "death spiral" case study which I believe every MBA student in the USA has read or should be required to read.

2.) Step Two -- declare the GM model of several car companies under one roof as obsolete by declaring freedom for all divisions ( Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Holden, Hummer, Opel, Pontiac, Saturn, Saab and Vauxhall ) as tax free spin off operations to current shareholders available for purchase or merging with other companies or pursuing new business directions. For instance -- perhaps the Saturn division wants to merge with a Chinese company which would be much easier to do politically and economically versus GM offering itself for sale.

3.) Step Three -- concurrent with the GM division spin off process both GM and the UAW would announce a "new business start up" contest as a supplement to their old model of "early retirement and attrition" job reduction model. I envision this contest as offering venture capital to the best business plans for new ventures created by current GM employees whether the plan is developed by one or ten employees working cooperatively. The contest winners would own 51% of the company with the newly formed (as part of the GM division spin off process) "GM Ventures" company owning 49% of the new companies formed by these enterprising employees. Since GM Ventures would be owned by current GM shareholders they are offered a much better opportunity for future gains versus the current GM stock price "death spiral" that is expected by market analysts despite the 30,000 jobs being cut.

Now this new thinking should create hope for greater gains not the fear of losing a job someone thought "I was going to have for life" -- I have been unemployed before and will likely be unemployed again given the "destructive capitalism" model we all work in but preparing oneself for such a change is key versus giving CPR to a corpse.

What do you think Mr. Wilson?

Todd

Monday, November 21, 2005

Smoking gun





This weekend I escaped from the electricity-challenged city of Brussels (see my "Bedlam in Brussels" posting) for a two day conference of the Libertarian Alliance held at the National Liberal Club in London. I always joke with my friends that "I always think I am a libertarian until I attend their conferences..............." but for the most part I am a libertarian but clearly not an anarcho-capitalist.

While on the Eurostar train to London I read the following front page banner headline, above the fold, in a British newspaper (Daily Telegraph) for Saturday, November 19th -

"Rookie WPC shot dead"

The story here is that two UNARMED women police officers responded to a "999 call" (911 in the USA) from a travel agency undergoing an armed robbery (Question - how much cash could be at a travel agent? Don't most trips get paid for via a credit card versus cash?) in Bradford, England. Nick Britten reported that the "raiders" (robbers) -- "......were confronted by the two unarmed officers and turned their guns on them before fleeing. It was unclear whether the officers were wearing protective clothing." The end result is that one of the officers was killed and her partner was wounded in the shoulder.

In a related article in the same newspaper, John Steele reported that -- "the majority (police officers) appears to prefer being unarmed, although the proportion who feel guns should be introduced has risen. Yesterday's murder is likely to increase the numbers in favour." Wow, quite a statement with no supporting statistics and any kind coupled with pure speculation -- where was the editor on this story??

Then on my return train from London to Brussels I read The Sunday Telegraph for November 20th (the very next day keep in mind!!) which has this headline --

"Clarke says law on tackling burglars should not change"

As an outsider looking in this was amazing timing for these two stories -- you have an unarmed police officer shot dead by thieves and the next day you have a statement from the UK Home Secretary (Americans -- think of the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security merged into one with overall police powers) , Charles Clarke, refusing to amend current British law which allows -- "property owners to use only 'reasonable' force against burglars".

The combination of the unarmed police officer story and Mr. Clarke's refusal to tilt the balance to home owners in the case of breaking and entering situations leaves me concerned for the safety of my British friends. To counter this apparent imbalance in the law the same newspaper I mentioned here launched a reader campaign called;

"The Right to Fight Back" -- sorry no website exists just a "snail mail" address at:

Right to Fight Back
Sunday Telegraph
1 Canada Square
Canary Wharf
London E14 5DT UK

This campaign was launched due to the death of Robert Symonds, a London teacher killed in HIS HOME by a burglar last October.

I have consistently argued against the expansion of the police state but since there are plenty of "bad people" out there shouldn't we some obvious questions be posed?

1.) If the UK's 999 system knew the Bradford travel agency robbery included armed bandits shouldn't the two unarmed officers stayed at a safe distance until some firepower arrived?

2.) If your home is your "castle" should you be required to be "reasonable" with intruders set on stealing your possessions and/or harming your family?

3.) Do you know of any American newspapers currently or willing to launch citizen campaigns such as the "Right to Fight Back" ?

4.) Since the UK is the number one destination for American ex-pat workers and students in the world (the last time I read statistics on this about a year ago) shouldn't the US Department of State apply some diplomatic advice to Mr. Clarke's office regarding his definition of "reasonable" ?

Defend but don't offend?

Todd

Dining in the Dark




When the electricity was dis-connected a week ago in my Brussels apartment (see my "Bedlam in Belgium" posting) the first night my flat mate (Oliver) and I ate dinner by candlelight in the kitchen (there is nothing romantic about bureaucrats - government or business - altering your lives) by consuming most of the groceries I had purchased that same day. I couldn't help but have a primordial connection to some distant cave man relative at the time especially since I was unable to post on my blog!!

Due to this "utility account transfer" process I have been visiting several restaurants in Brussels which I have reviewed below via my "1" to "5" ranking system:

Cuccagna -- on Rue du Champs de Mars, 7 near my local UGC Cinema (quick film reviews -- "Broken Flower" with Bill Murray seemed to lack something especially in the ending and "Match Point" by Woody Allen was much darker than I had assumed in my search for comedy) recently re-structured their menu and remodeled a bit. I failed to find out what music they were playing (distracted by reading the Financial Times) but it was perfect for a "ristorante-pizzeria" so the ambiance was bella and the wait staff was very good. My antipasto misto lacked the vegetables I have grown to love but Dr. Aitkins would have approved. I opted for the house specialty pizza which was an excellent thin crust style served by the chef himself which was a nice touch. They rank with a "4" for overall experience.

The Staff -- located at 42 rue de Treves directly across the street from the European Parliament is decorated very well and has excellent wait staff. I had a larger than normal lunch of beef medallions with roasted potatoes. This "resto bar" is too expensive and slow in nature for a quick lunch but it is an ideal setting for a business meeting. Another "4" ranking for this very promising (very new) restaurant.

Arthur's -- located 26 rue de Treves just blocks from The Staff across Place Luxembourg. This is what I call a "dining regret" in the sense that I have walked past this "tartinerie" for nearly 3 years but never dined there for whatever reason. Arthur's offers the perfect combination of -- decor, wait staff attitude/talent, quality of food, and overall "feel" . This is a great place to dine with a friend or alone. I started with a vegetable soup followed with a panini fermier sandwich with chicken. This is rare but I am in a good mood and am hungry for dinner so for Arthur's timing is everything with a "5" ranking for today's visit.

Time to roam the streets for food!!

Todd

Friday, November 18, 2005

New thinking for the United Nations





Today I heard - via the International Herald Tribune (Reuters story they published) and BBC World - of United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Kofi Annan's proposal for the complete renovation of the UN's New York City headquarters. This proposal would renovate their entire 38 story building over the next 9 years. The building itself is now 53 years old and apparently is "riddled with potentially dangerous asbestos". This is an amazing statement itself -- no, not that world government (thankfully it is completely dysfunctional yet somehow is confident it could manage Internet domain names better than ICANN) is over half a century old but that a media outlet labeled asbestos "potentially dangerous" since many US companies have gone bankrupt via trial lawyers' class action law suits focused on the use and manufacture of asbestos.

Let me focus this posting on my alternative plan for the UN building -- a very fresh idea coming from a tax slave such as myself not a UN bureaucrat who is not subject to oppressive incomes taxes.

FREE MARKET OPTION FOR THE UNITED NATIONS' HEADQUARTERS BUILDING

1.) Step One -- Mayor Bloomberg of NYC uses eminent domain powers (let's see how governments like the treatment private home owners have experienced -- see my friends here for background information -- http://www.propertyrightsalliance.org and http://www.ij.org ) to close the current UN headquarters building.

2.) Step Two -- Don Trump buys the property and razes it completely to build affordable housing (defined by willing private buyers writing personal checks at market value).

3.) Step Three -- the current UN staff would set up a temporary headquarters in either the European Union's Brussels, Belgium OR Strasbourg, France parliament buildings since the parliament rotates between the two buildings so surely the UN can lease one of these two empty buildings for a set period of time with the European Parliament sitting in just ONE of these TWO buildings for this same period of time. Is that too much to ask in order to save taxpayers' money??

4.) Step Four -- Concurrent with Steps 1 to 3 the UN would issue a Request for Proposal/Tender Offer using the Olympic Games host city bidding model, http://www.olympic.org/uk/news/media_centre/full_story_uk.asp?release=1328, -- the injection of free market principles that the UN leadership needs to experience. So any city in the world could step forward with a bid to become the new headquarters city for the United Nations. Why not have cities like Paris, London, Moscow, Havana, Toronto, Santiago, Tokyo, etc. spend their own money pursuing the UN like cities pursue the Olympic Games which of course require a substantial amount of local and national political/economic support to even assemble a credible bid?

5) Step Five -- Once the UN announces its move to one of the European Parliament buildings all UN memorabilia would be concurrently sold on http://www.ebay.com to raise the necessary funds needed to pay for relocation of staff to Brussels or Strasbourg thus keeping this move cost-neutral. Since Ted Turner gave the UN Foundation US $1 billion perhaps he has some spare change so he can bid on several UN items. Perhaps he could buy a podium for a Model UN chapter at some university!!

Since Mr. Annan's term as Secretary-General will end before his 9 year UN building renovation plan would end (2015 assuming a 2006 start) let me offer myself as a candidate for Secretary-General if the General Assembly needs me to implement this relocation plan. My first word of advice to all UN staff as your new Secretary-General -- update your resumes/CVs because the restructuring begins when I am sworn into office.

Choices not chains,

Todd

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Customer (dis) Service





Since the work week continues without any electricity (see "Bedlam in Belgium" posting here) in my apartment in Brussels I am visiting several restaurants this week for obvious reasons. Due to the range of restaurants this posting will focus on reviews of the following establishments (for reference -- see my "Eating vs. Dining" post on this blog) :

Tout Bon -- http://www.toutbon.be , Located in Place Luxembourg near the European Parliament. Despite its "chain" ownership this was always a favorite meeting place of mine due to the good food and bakery motif but not anymore!! I stopped by there tonight to grab a sandwich before working at my undisclosed hotel location(Advice -- wear a suit and walk around like you "belong" wherever you are) but after the waitress brought me my VERY small bottle of water she stood in the open kitchen/wait staff area with her back to me (and other patrons) while she ate a full dinner and nearly one liter of Coca Cola!! I waited 15 minutes then rushed to pay my 2 euro bill in non-verbal protest but as several people cut in front of me to pay their own bills I lost my patience so the manager apologized and let me pay my bill. In my worst French I explained that I could not eat anything due to the wait staff and that his restaurant was "merde"!!! I will have to rate them with a "1" on my 1 to 5 scale only because I never allowed for "O" when I created the scale!! Extremely terrible customer service so I urge all readers to boycott them.

The Home Cooking -- no website that I know of. This is a relatively new restaurant around the corner from Place Luxembourg in Brussels. The decor is very basic, dominated by butcher block color wood. The customer service was lacking primarily due to the abundance of 4 person tables they had open in the middle of the restaurant but they insisted that the 2 of us take the 2 person table next to a table of 4 already seated so these 4 had to move to allow us to sit -- bad form to get started with new customers. I had their "Indian salad" with a hint of curry and very nice chicken pieces which you might guess -- "tasted like chicken" :) They need some work on customer service so only a "3" ranking for this establishment.

Le Nouvel Artiste - no website but they are located at Rue Caroly 35 in Brussels near the World Class Health Club. I have been here a few times and the food is ultimately very good BUT come prepared to wait for it to arrive. Amazing that they can have 30 people or 6 people dining there but it always seems very slow. I had their grilled salmon which was very tasty especially with the antipasto side dish but the salmon was dominated by two many bones since I try to avoid having to "work with" my food. They are holding steady at a "3" ranking.

Star of Asia -- http://www.starofasia.be, at Rue de Treves 8 in Brussels near Place Luxembourg served as my haven from the "merde storm" at Tout Bon this evening!!! This is a nice "stand by" Indian restaurant which reminds me very much of my 2 years living in London except for the French they speak. My dinner consisted of two appetizers (tapas like) of -- crab andeman and reshmi kabab which were both excellent. The wait staff was top knotch and friendly thus a 20% tip was the reward for a job well done. Given their steady food quality and customer service this will rank as a "4.5" on my scale.

Please note my "Bedlam in Belgium" posting earlier this week for a further overview of the lack of a customer service culture I have experienced in Brussels. Granted this requires much greater research but I have to wonder what incentives are lacking for wait staff and management to constantly focus on creating a pleasant consumer experience. My speculation is the rigid employment laws in Belgium -- why work hard and scramble for tips if you can slide by doing their minimum amount of work at a guaranteed wage????

"Quality is Dead" - Friedrich Nietzsche paraphrase and my apologies,

Todd

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Number 334




Winter isn't even here yet but we have more sports than we do seasons so the newspapers are already talking about the 2005 to 2006 university basketball season in the USA which is underway. The basketball season gets off to a slow start without the equivalent of baseball's "Opening Day" (which the NCAA plans to "fix" in due time via some new marketing plans) but the season ends via a grand finale known by sports fans nationwide as the "March Madness" tournament. For the newbies to basketball March Madness is the 64 team post-season championship which leads to a legitimate (unlike the mythical champion -- granted the Bowl Championship Series people would argue with me but face it, most bowl game match ups are made to drive ticket sales, etc. -- in college football) national champion.

As the basketball season opened earlier this month USA Today published the "Sagarin Division I Men's Basketball Preseason Ratings" which are computer ratings developed by Jeff Sagarin, a 1970 MIT mathematics graduate. Mr. Sagarin provides his ranking service for eight (8) different sports -- http://www.usatoday.com/sports/sagarin.htm - based on his mathematical models.

For the 2005-2006 men's basketball season Mr. Sagarin ranks the following teams as his "Top Ten" (credit to David Letterman if needed for the Top Ten phrase reference if his lawyers insist) of the total 334 teams in his overall ranking system:

1. Duke University
2. North Carolina
3. Illlinois
4. Kentucky
5. Oklahoma State
6. Kansas
7. Louisville
8. Connecticut
9. Wake Forest
10. Arizona

Historically (in my lifetime at least) all ten of these teams have produced very good teams with several "Final Four" appearances during March Madness but who might you ask was ranked dead last at number 334??

Since Americans love underdogs -- the Chicago Cubs and Rocky for example -- let me introduce you to the mutt of all underdogs according to Mr. Sagarin's ciphering (high level math term there!):

THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH FLORIDA
http://www.unf.edu/


The UNF has nearly 14,000 students and is located in Jacksonville, Florida. If you want to join me in wishing them good luck you can contact the team at:

BASKETBALL (Men)
Head Coach
Matt Kilcullen - mkilcull@unf.edu
Assistant Coach
Howard White - hwhite@unf.edu
Graduate Assistant
Josh Bowling - bowj0004@unf.edu


Go Ospreys!!!

Todd

Bedlam in Belgium




Years ago my home town friend, Daron, introduced me to the easy listening band :) AC/DC and was always singing the song -- "Bedlam in Belgium" -- which I was reminded of this week after arriving in Brussels on my regular monthly visit to promote economic freedom in the European Union.

So was AC/DC in concert in Parc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels? Well, that would have been ideal but instead the only "bedlam" was the broken country that is the Kingdom of Belgium in terms of customer service and economic vitality (see my earlier post titled "Customer Service" for the standard Belgians should strive for).

The first challenge with the Belgian bureaucracy this week began just after I had purchased a supply of groceries for the week (great timing!!) when upon my return to the flat I discovered we did not have electricity. The short version of this story is that the former owner did not transfer the electricity bill account to the new owner in 2004 and had apparently not paid the bill for one year. My flat mate and I were under the impression that all utilities were covered via the fee paid to the building management company (especially since we still have gas and water service this week!) but that is not the case. The most troubling news beyond the obvious paperwork/database mess is the response from the local electricity utility - SIBELGA - which informed my flat mate that a re-connection/account transfer usually takes three (3) weeks but they will make a special effort for us due to the circumstances (such as our rotting food) to have the account transferred and power restored in one (1) week!!

The second challenge this week is the new office space where I am to work while in Brussels. The lease to this office started on November 1st but the Internet service won't be operational until perhaps the end of November/early December. The one bright spot here is that I do not have to personally deal with the Internet provider/telephone company but I did have to make alternative plans especially since I don't have any lights at home!! I am posting from my temporary office in an undisclosed Brussels hotel lobby since they sell wireless Internet access cards which I purchased in about 2 minutes this afternoon!!! If those of you who hate a dynamic, competitive, "destructive capitalism" economy can not see the consumer benefits which come from competitive choice and technological advance I have to encourage you to continue living in your Malthusian cave dwelling.

Clearly, the Lisbon Agenda (the European Union/EU plan to "overtake the USA" in terms of economic competitiveness) should be declared dead and given a proper Christian burial assuming the EU remains a "Christian Club" by denying Turkey full membership. Lord knows we wouldn't want another wave of upstart entrepreneurs spilling into Europe to drive new and improved customer service offerings.

Would the last person in Brussels please turn out the lights,

Todd

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Customer Service




Yesterday I traveled to Ames, Iowa with my racquetball buddy (dare I say coach?) Tom, to see my alma mater, Iowa State University Cyclones, http://www.cyclones.com, play football (American) against the University of Colorado Buffalos.

If you missed Sportscenter let me inform you that the Cyclones won by a score of 30 to 16 over the Number 22 ranked Buffalos to secure a 7 and 3 record thus providing greater opportunities for a nice post-season bowl game.

Beyond this exciting game was the trip itself to Ames from the Twin Cities of Minnesota since Tom and I actually drove through the path of three tornados on the way to Ames and on the return trip but we did not have any concerns -- Iowa State's mascot name of "cyclones" was very appropriate given the weather we encountered.

One highlight of the game was the pre-game meal at Cy's Clubhouse where we met Karla who was responsible for ISU Dining Services. Despite the tornado warnings Karla and her team had returned the food to the tables. Their overall attitude was great and helped assure me that great customer service still exists in the world!!

Go Cyclones,

Todd

Friday, November 11, 2005





Today is November 11, 2005 -- "Veterans' Day" in the USA -- a day we should focus on giving thanks to the millions of military veterans who served this country to protect us from "all enemies, foreign and domestic." Veterans' Day was created by an Act of the US Congress in 1954 but this day of remembrance had its origins in "Armistice Day" when the German government signed the agreement ending the First World War on November 11, 1918.

Today's posting focuses on three (3) themes related to Veterans' Day:

  • Offering my thanks
  • Minorities
  • Archiving history

I often talk and write about "freedom" on this blog but like many fellow Americans I fail to completely appreciate the sacrifices our veterans have made over the generations which allow me to openly criticize my own government and live a life enriched by the economic, political, and religious freedoms I take for granted. Let me offer my sincere THANK YOU to the veterans living and dead in the USA and in our allied countries for their defense of democracy. We can never repay the debt you are owed in full. Specifically let me thank my grandfather, John, my uncles, and numerous fraternity brothers (with special mention to Jeff and Brian who are on active duty today so I can sleep in peace tonight). May God bless you and your families.

While the USA has mobilized millions of citizens and expended billions of dollars defending and promoting democracy we have failed at times to extend freedom at home especially for women and African-Americans as evidenced via the treatment of the WASPs and the Buffalo Soldiers.

WASPs -- the Women Airforce Service Pilots, http://www.afa.org/magazine/valor/1195valor.asp, was a US military program created in 1942 to help meet the shortage of qualified pilots by training women to play non-combatant roles. In today's Pioneer Press newspaper (St. Paul, Minnesota) the front page quote from Betty Strohfus of Faribault, Minnesota regarding Veterans' Day was, "They didn't recognize the WASPs as military veterans until 25 years after the war. But that's OK. I've attended some sort of Veterans' Day observance every year. It's for the living -- and, you know, I like the living." Twenty five years later brings us to 1970 when the WASPs were finally recognized as veterans which of course coincided with the American womens' rights movement -- thank you ladies and sorry for the delay!!!

Buffalo Soldiers -- these were "all black" military units (with "white" officers) formed by the US Congress in 1866, http://www.imh.org/imh/buf/buf1.html, following their service in the American Civil War. These units served with distinction on the American Frontier via the "separate but equal" ("unequal" in reality) concept which was finally ruled unconstitutional in 1954 in the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision by the US Supreme Court -- nearly 100 years after these military units were formed. Gentlemen -- thank you for your honorable service despite the apartheid system we created for you!!

Let me close with a favorite subject -- "history" -- by promoting the very noble project known as the "Legacy Project" -- http://www.warletters.com/

MISSION STATEMENT:

"Launched on November 11, 1998, the Legacy Project is a national, all-volunteer effort that encourages Americans to honor and remember those who have served or are currently serving this nation in wartime by seeking out and preserving their letters and e-mails home. We believe personal correspondences offer unique insight into warfare and the thoughts and perspectives of those who have experienced it firsthand. "

Please join me in thanking all veterans for their service by sharing the following poem with your loved ones:

JUST A COMMON SOLDIER
(A Soldier Died Today)
by A. Lawrence Vaincourt


He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past.
Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.
And tho' sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke,
All his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.
But we'll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away,
And the world's a little poorer, for a soldier died today.
He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife,
For he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life.
Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way,
And the world won't note his passing, though a soldier died today.
When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young,
But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.
Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land
A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?
A politician's stipend and the style in which he lives
Are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives.
While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.
It's so easy to forget them for it was so long ago,
That the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know
It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys.
Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand,
Would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?
Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend
His home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?
He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us we may need his like again.
For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier's part
Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.
If we cannot do him honor while he's here to hear the praise,
Then at least let's give him homage at the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say,
Our Country is in mourning, for a soldier died today.

Pax Orbem,

Todd

Thursday, November 10, 2005

minority rule




Well Tuesday, November 8th, was one of my favorite dates in the USA since it was "Election Day" with the biggest prizes being the Office of Governor in the states of New Jersey and Virginia in addition to the Office of Mayor of New York. While I could offer several observations on the outcome of these elections this posting will focus on the local elections (e.g. school boards, city councils, and ballot referendum for various causes) we had in my home city of Apple Valley, Minnesota.

Odd year elections such as 2005 are sometimes called "off, off year elections" as opposed to 2006 which will be our "off year election" (aka "non-presidential"). The challenge of course in such elections is voter turnout. The most watched race in Minnesota was no doubt for Mayor of St. Paul where the incumbent Democrat Farmer Labor Party ("DFL" -- their official name in Minnesota, not just "Democratic Party") Mayor Randy Kelly was defeated by fellow DFL'er Chris Coleman primarily because Mayor Kelly endorsed President Bush in 2004 thus turning his political base against him and to the DFL party-endorsed candidate (Chris Coleman) who won in a complete landslide but with a very low voter turnout of only 27%.

In my city our only elections were to elect 3 local school board members for District 196 schools and to seek voter approval on 3 tax levies to supply added funding to the schools in District 196 (although I thought the new Minnesota "health impact fee" approved earlier in 2005 was going to be applied to added education funding??? Follow the money is "rule one" so more postings on this fee later this year I hope).

Given the national and local results my observations follow below:

  • Campaign Spending -- there was a LOT of money spent on these 2005 elections especially since 2 millionaires were the candidates in New Jersey and a billionaire for Mayor of New York. Before there is a rush at the state and national levels for more "campaign finance reform" let me stress that one reason for the amount of spending was the simple fact that there were so few offices involved in this election so dollars could be gathered from around the country as the two major parties focused on winning handily to show positive momentum for the 2006 elections. In the 2006 and 2008 elections money will be spread around a lot more obviously since nearly all Members of Congress will be up for re-election, numerous governors will be up for re-election, and there will be a wide open presidential race.
  • Apple Valley, Minnesota -- voter turnout in my town was only 21% so clearly "those that showed up made the rules"
  • Incumbents -- all 3 incumbent members of the District 196 school board were re-elected with almost the same percentages in the "vote for 3 candidates maximum" format. I chose to write in a fraternity brother as a sound choice for the board.
  • Voter Mobilization -- I was a little shocked by the lack of telemarketing calls, no direct mail to my home, and no evidence of candidate brochures in my neighborhood. Overall it was quiet, TOO quiet :) I did not witness even ONE form of voter contact for this election.
  • Tax Levies -- my District 196 school system succeeded by having all 3 of the tax levies it sought approved by voters in the range of 54% to nearly 60% approval rates so taxes are going to go up here but will student performance improve?

The Minnesota Legislature should move our local elections to even-numbered years to not only save tax dollars needed for organizing the elections but to also capture voters' limited attention spans. In addition such a coordination of elections would remove power from the "education establishment" which essentially dictates these "off, off year" elections via the very low voter turnout so that only the "vested interests" are motivated enough to vote.

Stepping off my soap box,

Todd

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

NY NY




Hello from the Big Apple where I attended the Atlas Foundation’s (http://www.atlasusa.org/) annual Freedom Dinner which was held at the Palace Hotel.

This evening’s keynote speaker was Dr. Mart Laar, former Prime Minister of Estonia. Dr. Laar’s speech was well received and focused on his experience growing up in and reforming the Soviet Union’s negative effects on his native Estonia. One key aspect of his government reform efforts was the implementation of a flat income tax. For more information on tax reform efforts please consult these sources:

http://www.atr.org/

http://www.ntu.org/

http://www.taxfoundation.org/

http://www.eftr.org/

Between this dinner and related meetings in New York City today I visited three (3) different restaurants which are reviewed below:

Heartland Brewery – http://www.heartlandbrewery.com/ looks like a local brew pub but as I discovered once I was eating there they actually have three locations in NYC. I had lunch at the Times Square location which was “loud” in a good, active way. The buffalo burger (sorry BLT4ME – no bacon add on was available) was tasty and was joined by a side of steamed spinach. Overall this was a nice dining experience despite my waiter’s failure to follow up with enough drink refills and the requisite question of “how is everything?” so I can only rate them with a “3” rating.
Mad 28 – http://www.mad28ny.com/ is an Italian restaurant actually located at 72 Madison Avenue. Now this is my kind of restaurant complete with: an eclectic d├ęcor dominated by a mixed collection of sofas, great wait staff, and atmosphere enhancing background music. I only had a mixed salad so I can give an extensive review but the varied pizza menu looked well worth another visit. Given the overall experience Mad 28 earns a “4” rating on my chart. A future visit is a must for me.
Famiglia Pizzeria – no website but they do have classic “pizza by the slice” so I can report that their “pepperoni and black olive” is very tasty. They market themselves as the “Official Pizza of the New York Yankees!!” so Red Sox fans should seek other venues. Famiglia is located at Broadway and 50th Street near Times Square.

So concludes another great trip to NYC. I am not staying there this time but I can highly recommend staying at the “SoHo Hotel” for a unique lodging experience which mirrors an industrial complex.

Time to sleep in the city that doesn’t sleep,

Todd

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

parlez vous Tex-Mex?




During the 1930 to 1936 timeframe France constructed its "Maginot Line" fortifications (http://europeanhistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa070601d.htm) to defend its territory from potential German and Italian invasions. This fortress mentality (which today is represented by France's resistance to engage in free trade in agriculture) was obsolete in military terms as the walls were being constructed given the dynamic nature of the German war machine. Once the Nazis were prepared they simply bypassed these fortifications via its blitzkrieg attack plans which included dropping paratroopers behind the Maginot Line. This practice was especially effective since the "French side" of the Maginot Line apparently did not contain weapons.

It has been nearly 70 years since the Maginot Line was completed in France but the "Fortress France" mentality lives on today via a set of "mini-Maginots" that are called "Paris suburbs" in news reports regarding the civil unrest in the (as reported by the media) highly unemployed, disaffected, angry, majority Muslim populations. The rioting and vandalism which began in the Paris suburbs has reportedly spread to Germany and Belgium. Since I live in Brussels, Belgium on a part-time basis I have witnessed this "demographic profile" of the young, militant, disaffected gangs of mostly males in the February 2004 timeframe. I was standing in line with friends at the Havana Club in Brussels when a small gang of teenagers starting attacking us with snow balls (today it is Molotov cocktails, not snow balls, in France so I count my blessings).

I could produce hundreds of words on the reasons for this violence from religious, economic, social, and political viewpoints but for now I will reserve those thoughts for potential future postings. Today I am going to focus on one basic theme -- how a nation-state "processes and integrates" immigrants/minority populations.

One option of course is for the USA to offer the French some "foreign aid" based on our experience with race relations in the form of:

-diversity training courses
-affirmative action guidelines
-trial lawyers
-Jesse Jackson
-LBJ's Great Society
-electronic commerce via the Internet (a truly color blind society)

However, the USA is no perfect model for race relations/minority integration regardless of what every American school child was taught -- at least when I was a student -- about the USA being a great "melting pot" where all cultures merge into one "American culture" and we all get along well. Of course for the "melting" to occur there is always plenty of "heat" (social tension and even violence) to finalize the process.

In one sense the French and American cultures are very similar in terms of their respective ruling elites and "red neck" populations' distaste for new immigrants and minorities that do not fully match the mental image of what an "American or Frenchman" should look like. In my own country this mindset is probably best represented by Pat Buchanan of "CNN Crossfire" fame and author of Right from the Beginning who as a presidential candidate advocated the creation of a long, tall fence (the American version of the Maginot Line?) across the Southwest USA as a tool for keeping Mexicans in Mexico. Granted Mr. Buchanan is much better read than I however I am confident enough to highlight that he has overlooked one aspect of American history especially important given his Irish Catholic (mostly German) roots. This one aspect is the harassment and discrimination the Irish immigrants faced in the USA ( http://www.city-journal.org/html/eon_1_14_03ws.html) until their population became mainstreamed culminating with the election of President Kennedy in 1960. Given the Irish historical experience in terms of discrimination and blatant racism in the USA it is accurate to call today's Mexican immigrants the "modern day Irish" as our nation works to integrate and mainstream our most recent immigrants.

Closed minds and closed borders prevent the development of free trade which historically has led to military conflict between nations. The extension of free trade to the Muslim world and the requisite economic restructuring and democratization that are the byproducts of frictionless markets offer greater potential for racial harmony versus the mobilization of police and military units.

Liberte,

Todd

Monday, November 07, 2005

Running of the pit Bulls




Were Ernest Hemingway alive today what topics might he write on? In today's modern, globalized world what is indeed "exotic" anymore such as the Running of the Bulls which Hemingway introduced to the world? This question of what is exotic led me to wonder about a more basic theme -- what is truly unnecessary as a social custom?

Perhaps Mr. Scott Sword of Cary, Illinois will help drive this debate given the Associated Press (A.P. - November 7, 2005) story he was responsible for -- "Escaped pit bulls attack six people" -- which focused on Mr. Sword's three (3) pit bull dogs which escaped from his home to ultimately attack a 10 year old boy who now lies in critical condition.

Unfortunately the main stream media sources such as the A.P. don't offer a lot of background information with such stories so we don't know much about Mr. Sword -- perhaps he needed THREE pit bulls for some reason although given their reputation (rightly or wrongly) for savage attacks I have to believe that one potential attack dog (aka "law suit") would suffice.

This story intrigued me for a number of reasons especially since my heart goes out to the 10 year old boy who faces a long, painful recovery assuming he survives but beyond this obvious point let's consider these elements:

1.) The search term "pit bull" on Google provides nearly 6 million found items and the term "pit bull attack" on Google provides just over 2 million results.

2.) The negative reputation of pit bulls has inspired at least one website to "promote a positive image" of this dog breed -- http://www.realpitbull.com/

3.) Governments at various levels are taking action to ban pit bull ownership, mandate the sterilization of pit bulls, etc. -- http://www.dispatch.com/pets/pets.php?story=dispatch/pets/pitbulls.html -- which is noted in these examples; City officials in Denver have rounded up hundreds of pit bulls and euthanized about 350 in the past three months as part of a citywide ban on the dogs. Responding to pit bull attacks in the San Francisco Bay area, California lawmakers approved a measure that would allow cities to mandate sterilization of pit bulls and potentially dangerous dog breeds. In Canada, the government of Ontario has begun to phase in a provincewide restriction on owning pit bulls, making it the largest governmental unit in North America to regulate the animals.


4.) Gun control -- how many of Mr. Sword's neighbors own guns I have to wonder because the AP story noted that six (6) people total were attacked by the 3 pit bulls until the local police "shot and killed" the dogs. No where in this story did it mention anyone in the neighborhood utilizing any kind of weapon in this incident. I am not at all comfortable waiting around for the police to appear (they are probably busy in some cases distributing gasoline reward coupons (see the posting here, "Petrol Police" -- http://spacebeaglenotes.blogspot.com/2005/11/petrol-police.html - which delays their response time when pit bulls attack).

CENTRAL QUESTION: Of course I am not going to advocate the creation of some government-managed "dangerous pets" registry but isn't such a concept really an extension of our current sex offender registries which allow you to search your neighborhood so you know where sex offenders live? It seems to be an easy database operation to add pets deemed "a menace to society" to such a registry system.

What I do advocate though is the creation of home owner associations/neighborhood associations so neighbors get to know each other better and can pursue mutually agreed, non-government solutions and peer pressure/guilt if needed such as --- "hey Fred, I have 2 young children and you own 6 pit bulls, if you don't mind may I offer to buy muzzles for them to wear so I have a better sense of security for my children when they are riding their bikes in the neighborhood.............?"

5.) Village of Cary, Illinois' policy on dogs -- http://www.caryillinois.com/ where Mr. Sword's dogs attacked the 10 year old boy this week. Dog Licenses All dogs must have rabies shots and tags. Effective January 1, 2004 Village residents will no longer be selling dog tags. State Regulations now require that veterinarians issue these licenses. Residents may purchase a McHenry County dog license from a local veterinarian.The number for McHenry County Animal Control is 815-338-7040. The McHenry County Animal Control is the agency in this County responsible for lost pets.

Beyond that let me encourage readers to exercise their Second Amendment rights by purchasing a shot gun (also, be sure to attend the "ATF Party" in Colorado in June 2006 to celebrate liberty at http://www.i2i.org) and if that is too much for you let me introduce you to "cattle prods" for those of you that have never been on a farm which should be useful for "encouraging" attacking animals to leave the area via several thousand volts of old-fashioned electricity :)

The Lord loves those who help themselves,

Todd

Land Between Two Rivers




Forgive me Father for I have sinned, it has been four (4) days since my last posting :) Due to a combined football/family gathering in Iowa this past weekend I am now back online after a brief absence (sorry Golden Boy in Birmingham!!!) with several postings planned for this week.

I attended the Iowa State University (my alma mater) vs. Kansas State University football (that's American football not soccer my Euro-friends) game this past Saturday in Ames, Iowa - http://www.cyclones.com -- which resulted in a "W" for my Cyclones thus pushing them to a 6 and 3 record for the season with two game remaining. The Cyclones are now "bowl-eligible" so hopefully we will be selected for a post-season bowl game which would make for a nice break from winter for my fellow Iowans in addition to the probable cash payment to the team of $500,000 to nearly $700,000 I have to guess based on past bowl appearances.

Beyond the time I spent in Ames, Iowa I visited my home town where my mother is recovering from some medical challenges -- all is good for her now so thank God for faith and modern medical technology!! Perhaps some advice for my economic development and politician friends who love to "chase smokestacks" and cut ribbons --- do NOT over complicate the world. The free enterprise system thrives best with limited government that empowers people so please consider this very simple formula for quality of life:

1.) Keep taxes low and regulation to a minimum
2.) Focus government on VERY few functions and ensure government does these VERY well
3.) Government should NOT hinder the creation of infrastructure such as the creation of regional hospitals like the "jewel" in my home town which I am happy to promote to the outside world -- http://www.hornmemorialhospital.org/. Key lesson here -- do not create higher tax brackets/wealth taxes on people like doctors which would make it even more difficult to keep qualified people in rural Iowa.


My take away from this "weekend of football and family" -- get out and enjoy life while you can.

Happy trails,

Todd

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Petrol Police




While reading today's Washington Post I was reminded of Sheriff Don Gebers who was the long serving sheriff of my home county, Ida County, in Iowa. Sadly, Sheriff Gebers passed away several years ago but I retain fond memories of his community outreach efforts based on the essential functions (more on this later) of his office. It was Sheriff Gebers and his deputies who taught me the science of fingerprinting and the Iowa Hunter Safety Course (oh no! Guns!!) which were natural extensions of their law and order duties for the county.

For me Sheriff Gebers' management style reflected my world view of the proper role of government which I summarize as:

"I want governments to have EXTREMELY few functions and I want them to perform these few functions EXTREMELY well."

However, sometimes -- due to power grabs, good intentions gone bad, or simply the Fall of Man :) -- government entities simply stray far, far from their appointed rounds. The best example I have seen this week of government overextending into an area they should not be nor should society want them to be active in is the Alexandria, Virginia Police Department (APD) which is partnered with Ford Motor Company via the following project:

http://www.theautochannel.com/news/2005/10/31/147041.html
WHAT: The Alexandria Police Department is teaming up with the "Ford Hybrid Patrol" to pull over fuel-efficient drivers at random in a customized Mercury Mariner Hybrid patrol SUV (complete with flashers and bullhorn). Drivers will be rewarded free gas cards.

The article at this website goes on to say that, "the department's 2006 fiscal year fuel budget is projected to reach $1.5 million, a possible increase of more than $500,000 from last year."

No doubt taxpayers will benefit if the department saves money on fuel costs but using police officers to focus the public on "fuel economy" sounds like the APD has clearly strayed from its core duties. This story should make us all raise serious, critical questions regarding the proper role of our civil servants:

QUESTIONS:

1.) Is Alexandria, Virginia so free of crime that its police officers have free time to seek out and detain drivers with hybrid vehicles?

2.) What is the fully loaded cost of having officers perform this "MPG surveillance" function? Can we safely assume this cost exceeds the $2,500 which Ford donated to the Alexandria Police Youth Camp, Inc. which is cited in the article noted above? Would not taxpayers and the APD be better off if Ford simply donated several hybrid vehicles for the department to use versus the "soft harassment" of drivers program?

3.) Will "excessive petrol use" become a crime in the future especially since the police state has the tools for detaining gasoline guzzlers while rewarding hybrid owners with gift cards?

4.) What if an officer stopped the driver of a Toyota Prius hybrid to reward them with a gift card for efficient fuel use only to discover that the driver was in possession of drugs and alcohol in the automobile? Is "rewarding fuel economy with gift cards" considered "probable cause" thus allowing the officer to arrest the driver in this situation?

Bottom line for me regarding the APD/Ford partnership is multi-faceted:

1.) I can't see how taxpayers are saving any money today -- maybe in the future but the article doesn't explain that well.

2.) We should be concerned that a police department is essentially passing judgment on our personal driving choices.

3.) Government needs to focus not expand into new functions.

See you at the pump my fellow cellmates,

Todd

kosher hate speech

NOTE: photo courtesy of a Google search for the term "frat boy"


November 3, 2005

Dear Washington Post Editors -- letters@washpost.com

The "Washington Sketch" column by Dana Milbank, "The Life of the Party?", of November 3, 2005 contained the rather offensive, borderline hate speech phrase:

"And President Bush, a frat boy himself................."

As a proud member of a Greek letter society/social fraternity I am offended by the use of the term "frat boy" given its negative connotation which for me personally this phrase is equivalent to the "N word" which is not to be used in polite society. So in the interest of celebrating diversity and respect for minorities (Greek letter society members ARE a minority on college campuses) would you please encourage all Post writers to utilize alternative, positive phrases when referring to Greek membership such as -- fraternity brother, fraternity member, social fraternity alumni, Greek letter society member, or any combination of these words you find appropriate?

Should you need background information on the Greek system and its alumni involvement please utilize this website as a resource -- http://www.fraternalcaucus.org/index.html

Your respect for our minority group is appreciated.

Fraternally yours,

Todd

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Don't play it again Sam.........




This just in from Los Angeles --------------- Sylvester Stallone is back!!! This week I read a wire story entitled, "Stallone to revive 'Rambo' franchise," but not only will the film "Rambo IV" be appearing soon there is another "Rocky" installment being completed by Stallone entitled "Rocky Balboa." Shooting (ha, ha) for both films will begin in 2006.

Now I admit I remain a fan of the very first "Rocky" film due to its raw energy and classic American story line of "underdog succeeds against all odds......." but when I read this news clip I had to wonder -- when has a story line run its course so that the producers declare success and move on to other projects?

Like my fellow film lovers I too have been seduced by the drug known on the street as -- "sequel" -- but as is the case with most drugs there is high potential for harming your health. So I have compiled a list (based on my own experience and surveying people during my travels this week) of "Sequels that should NOT have been created due to their negative impact on society or just myself :) " for your review and commentary especially if I have overlooked some real raspberries in the dark underworld of sequels:

WHAT DID WE DO TO DESERVE THESE SEQUELS? -- MASTER LIST:

Caddyshack II
Look who's talking too
Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason
Legally Blonde II
Godfather III
Exorcist II and III
Police Academy II, III, IV, V, and VI -- did I get them all or list too many??? :)
Nightmare on Elm Street II and III
Jaws 3-D
Dumb and DumberER
Grease II
Crocodile Dundee II

Well, should any of these films be deleted from the Hall of Shame, should others be added that I have overlooked?

Off to the box office,

Todd

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Labor Pains




While eating lunch and reading a newspaper in one of my favorite Washington DC cafes today -- Casey's Coffee on L Street, NW -- I was sitting at one of the bar stools overlooking the sidewalk. The scene in front of me was interesting since there was a homeless gentleman (yes an assumption but it is based on my world travel experience -- but let's call him "Tony") who was having a difficult time getting his bicycle operational. As I watched Tony work on his bicycle a professional bicycle courier (another assumption based on my knowledge of the clothing such couriers tend to wear in cities -- let's call him "Fred") stopped by to lend his expertise regarding bicycle repair. After about 10 minutes Fred completed the repair job on Tony's bike so Tony was on his way.

This Good Samaritan scene combined with the Associated Press (A.P.) article I was reading in the paper entitled, "Wal-Mart Deal Assailed", really got me thinking about options for reforming the modern labor market. The A.P. article focused on Wal-Mart's recent legal agreement developed with the US Department of Labor regarding "child labor law violations"

The article went on to explain current US laws and Wal-Mart quotes regarding child labor including:


  • "We don't employ anyone under the age of 16" - WalMart
  • Child labor laws prohibit anyone under 18 from operating hazardous equipment

Two immediate thoughts come to mind given what I saw and read today regarding our labor markets:

  • Apprentice/Indentured Servant programs are worth society's consideration in the USA
  • "Child labor" is NOT always the evil monster the "equal justice community" proclaims it to be

Now before you label me some heartless defender of raw capitalism pursuing profits regardless of societal impact hear me out. First, the homeless man/bicycle courier (Tony and Fred) bike repair scene seemed like an ideal partnering of a person who needs a job/skill set (Tony) with someone who needs an apprentice/dare I say - "indentured servant" not slave of course -- to learn the trade so that the current professional bicycle courier (Fred) gets an understudy working for them so they can build a business as an entrepreneur. Secondly, most humans work their entire life so why should the government impose arbitrary age parameters (such as Social Security retirement ages -- just let us keep our money and retire when we want!!!) regarding WHEN we can begin working?

This is personally important to me since my first "real job" was at age 13 when I secured a dishwashing job at the Tip Top Cafe in my hometown of Ida Grove, Iowa. I will never forget that I was paid US$1.20 per hour AND the US federal government still deducted money for Social Security. For evidence of this confiscatory tax I have the personal benefits/future earnings statement sent to me by the Social Security Administration (SSA). The statement says that the first year I paid into the SSA system was in 1978 and since I was born in 1965 it confirms my "age 13" comment made earlier.

No I was not some "victim" of family poverty or some profit-crazed capitalist who owned the Tip Top Cafe. I was the recipient of an very important life lesson because I was learning how to earn money to achieve what I wanted to accomplish (versus just begging for a handout from m parents or government assistance program) which back in 1978 was attending Boy Scouts of America summer camp. At the time, my father stated that if I wanted to attend summer camp I had to pay for it myself so I simply went out and secured a job, attended summer camp, and eventually achieved a number of honors in the Scouts.

Today after nearly 27 years of part-time/full-time work experience and three (3 ) university degrees I earn an hourly rate well beyond my modest US$1.20 per hour starting wage in 1978 due to the loving guidance of my parents who taught me the importance of a solid work ethic. America's future workers don't need government "help", instead workers need supportive parents and a modern version of "masters" who taught apprentices/indentured servants a skilled profession to enhance both parties' (worker and capitalist) earning capacities.

My sincere thanks to my parents for raising me the way they did.

It's Miller Time,

Todd