Monday, January 30, 2006

Moises Lopez

During my college years in the 80's at Iowa State University campus political life was mostly dominated by:

  • Cold War politics such as the Sandinistas/Contras in Nicaragua
  • and
  • Social causes/awareness campaigns

I had a flashback to these great college years last week after reading two short news clips provided by the Associated Press (AP). The great debate (from 1917 to 1991 essentially) was focused on which political economic model was best for mankind -- 1.) Marxist-Leninist Communism/planned economy or 2.) Capitalism/free markets/consumer marketplace economics. Fortunately, at a relatively minimal loss of human life during this Cold War, free market economics won the debate thus providing greater wealth and health for nearly a majority of today's world population.

The sad reality is that several nations had to endure communism first before moving to free markets such as Nicauragua under the mis-guided leadership of the Sandinistas' President Ortega. Based on the death of Moises Lopez last week at the very tender age of three (3) months old the Nicaraguan economy is still clearly in need of even greater labor market reforms. Sadly, Moises Lopez died in Managua, Nicaragua from "pneumonia and a lack of medical attention during a doctors' strike." (Source: AP) This strike was conducted by 2,000 public health doctors who refused to even provide emergency care in their quest for higher salaries. While I have always supported the right of workers to organize into trade unions this is a clear example of how such economic models can actually kill people such as Moises.

A better model for Nicaraguan politicians and medical professionals to consider is the free market solution (AP -- "Bono unveils AIDS effort") known as "RED", a brand name launched by U2's lead singer and foreign aid reformer, Bono, to raise funds to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa via the "Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria". Consumers simply need to continue pursuing their selfish interests via their American Express charge cards buying t-shirts, sport shoes, sunglasses, etc. bearing the "RED" brand name to have a percentage of the money spent sent to the Global Fund.

Moises Lopez will never get to hear the music of U2 due to the Nicaraguan public health doctors' strike so I hope Bono promotes "RED" via a U2 concert in Managua.

Via con dios Moises,


Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Supremes

Historically I have prided myself on winning trivia contests at the risk of being dubbed, "Cliff Claven" by my friends, but if someone asked me to name the members of The Supremes the only one I could name is Donna Summer ( What we tend to remember is how the band sounds as a group not the individual members although there are exceptions such as Beyonce of Destiny's Child :) The key factor is how the band blends the individual talents to create something impossible for any one band member to produce.

In his very educational book, "First Among Equals", Judge Kenneth Starr (please see my "Books in 2005" posting from December 31, 2005), explains the US Supreme Court's culture and operating structures which to me parallels a musical band such as The Supremes. Not all the musicians/justices have the same talent or personality but when the concert is completed (the decision is handed down) we tend to remember one collective voice that speaks for the group. As a political scientist and aspiring historian my hope is that Americans would want to know more regarding institutions such as the US Supreme Court but as the following survey sent to me by my girlfriend -- yes, sadly I have corrupted her thinking :) -- shows most Americans are not die hard members of the "US Supreme Court Fan Club" able to name all the justices that currently serve on the nation's highest court: Survey -- US Supreme Court -- 24 Jan 2006

The Supreme Court of the United States is the pinnacle of the U.S. justice system. Its nine Supreme Court justices have made historic decisions that strike the balance between government for the people and personal liberty. Yet, 57 percent of Americans cannot name a single sitting justice.

In a recent survey of 1,000 adults, only 43 percent could name at least one justice. The survey findings are especially significant given the even greater focus on the Supreme Court in the past year. From Sandra Day O'Connor's announced retirement in July 2005, the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist in September 2005 and Samuel Alito's confirmation hearings that began last week, the national press has been steeped in news involving the Supreme Court.

The 2005 national survey, conducted for by Ipsos Public Affairs, was featured on prime news networks worldwide.

From my perspective these survey results are both good and bad. Good in that our life-tenured justices are not featured on covers of People Magazine and are not being interviewed on Oprah (if either of these things have happened please notify me!!!) thus giving them rock star status in the public eye versus the "removed from and above" daily politics status I believe the Founding Fathers wanted justices to have to be able to render emotion-free decisions. However, such a limited knowledge of civics by Americans is also bad since it suggests a disregard of who determines what freedoms we are able to fully enjoy.

Checks and balances,


Hi Mom!!

This weekend is one of the darkest times in sports since it is a "football-free" weekend because all the college bowl games are completed and the Super Bowl won't be held until February 5, 2006. However, since I love nearly all sports (okay, I could NOT sit through an entire match of "net ball" which is played by women in many parts of the former British Empire) I attended a lacrosse match today to see our Minnesota Swarm,, lose by a score of 9 to 10 to the Rochester, NY Knighthawks, as a football substitute.

Perhaps I am biased but I believe that football players, more than all other atheletes, make the comment, "Hi Mom!!", when they are featured on TV. I am reminded of this phenomenon today since it is my dear mother's birthday. So beyond my best wishes to my mother on her special day I want to encourage my blog visitors to reach out to their parents more frequently if you haven't do so for quite some time. If you travel -- send them a post card from all the cities you visit.

Let me thank the mothers and mothers-to-be in the world for all you do. Our lives would truly be colorless without your encouragement and love along the way.

May you always be 29,


Thursday, January 26, 2006

University of North Florida -- basketball

Back in November 2005 I created a post entitled, "#334" , which discussed the computer rating system for American college basketball teams which listed the University of North Florida in Jacksonville as dead last at #334 in the pre-season poll published in USA Today.

As a fan of any underdog I declared my allegiance to the Ospreys (second only to my alma mater, Iowa State University Cyclones, of course) and contacted the coaching staff after I finalized my post. I must say that the coaching staff and other college employees I communicated with as I searched for Osprey clothing were extremely friendly so I am happy to promote their team.

Per my pledge in my original post I am providing the following status report on the Ospreys' basketball team. At this point in the season the University of North Florida Ospreys,, have 5 wins and 13 losses (as of January 26, 2006) having recently defeated cross-town rivals, Jacksonville University, before a crowd of just over 3,000 people enjoying the SUNTRUST RIVER CITY RUMBLE.

Now with a 5 and 13 record my Ospreys are 15 wins short of being eligible for the NCAA tournament known as "March Madness" so their chances for 2006 are fading. Please do what you can to promote the team and watch their progress. I am confident we will see them with a higher Sagarin Power Rating in the 2006 pre-season poll this fall.

Hopefully I can organize a combination scuba trip/basketball game to Jacksonville for next season so let me know if you have any dive tips for this part of Florida.

Take only pictures -- leave only bubbles,


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Shopping for an Office

While some politicians seek public office to simply satisfy their egos or personal ambitions we still often see average citizens seeking office after becoming famous for their civic involvement. Here in Minnesota a clear example of this latter example of a politician is Patty Wetterling, a children's safety advocate from St. Joseph, Minnesota who "transformed the 1989 abduction of her 11-year old son, Jacob, into a national crusade for child safety" (Source - Pioneer Press newspaper, January 25, 2006).

By no means would I write anything to undermine Mrs. Wetterling's civic work but I do want to offer her some political advice based on today's newspaper story entitled -- "Hatch makes offer" -- which focused on Minnesota Attorney General/Democratic candidate for Governor Mike Hatch's offer to Mrs. Wetterling to become his Lt. Governor running mate. This offer was made offer Mrs. Wetterling dropped out of the Democratic nomination process for the vacant US Senate seat in Minnesota (current Senator Mark Dayton is retiring) to endorse Amy Klobucher's candidacy for the Democratic nomination.

None of these developments are surprising but what concerns me is that according to this same newspaper article Mrs. Wetterling is considering several political offices along with some "interesting offers from the private sector." Personally I want my public offices to stay out of my life and my wallet but I also want them to have some passion and skills for the actual job duties of the public office they pursue. My concern (and editorial comments) about Mrs. Wetterling's wide range of political options is noted below:

US Senate -- This job comes with a fundamental need for an understanding of the national economy and foreign relatiions. She dropped out of the Democratic nomination process this week.

Lieutenant Governor -- Mike Hatch asked her to become his running mate seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty in November 2006. This job (around the country) is typically a VERY limited job in terms of authority and job duties unless the presiding governor grants the Lt. Governor some key job in state government.

US House of Representatives -- She is considering running again for the 6th District Congressional seat. Obviously this is not a state-wide job so perhaps a much more manageable political campaign for her to wage. Job duties are primarily "bringing home the pork" for constituents but she could potentially create a "Child Safety Caucus" should she win this seat to leverage his new House colleagues into action.

Secretary of State -- Duties include registering businesses to operate legally in Minnesota and managing our elections. Here is the key point -- given the HUGE difference between the job duties/range of issues that US Senators work on versus what a Secretary of State works on does anyone really think Mrs. Wetterling has the passion for such administrative duties given her past civic work and her aborted race for the US Senate?

Personally I want to see more people in the private sector versus in public office so I would encourage her to pursue her "interesting offers from the private sector" but if she insists she has heard a "calling to public service" let me suggest she run for her local school board where her child safety experience could be better utilized assuming she utilizes such a position to network with school board members nationally.

Act locally,


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Meet the new boss..........Same as the old boss

Years ago I saw The Who in concert with my friend Stephanie at RFJ Stadium in Washington DC. Given how much politics dominates life in Washington DC when Roger Daltry sang "Won't Get Fooled Again" the lyrics had special meaning for me.

Granted I complain daily (okay, hourly) about all levels of government in my home country -- the USA -- but yes sometimes I have to pause to count my blessings that I do not live in a truly repressive nation-state (for many of my libertarians friends the very term, "nation-state" is repressive) such as the recent list of countries, "The World's 10 Worst Dictators", compiled by David Wallechinsky, Contributing Editor at (January 22, 2006):


1.) Omar al-Bashir of Sudan
2.) Kim Jong-Il of North Korea
3.) Than Shwe of Burma
4.) Robert Mugagbe of Zimbabwe
5.) Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan
6.) Hu Jintao of China
7.) King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
8.) Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan
9.) Seyed Ali Khamane'i of Iran
10.) Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea

Mr. Wallechinsky went on to list the next ten "contenders" for the top 10 list so a quick tally count of these men (NOTE -- there are only men on this list, NO female "worst dictators" in the world today) organized by region of the world yields the following results:

Africa -- 7
Asia -- 6
Eurasia - 3
Middle East - 3
Latin America - 1

Several observations come to mind when I review this tally list such as:

  • The G-8, OECD, Nordic countries, Bono, etc. (the largest foreign aid advocates/donors) need to completely re-think foreign aid to African countries (7 nations listed in this top 20 list) . Why send funds and materials as foreign aid to keep dictators in power versus having the repressed masses throw off the yoke of dictatorship? Better to aid such revolutionaries (and entrepreneurs) versus central governments who perpetuate one-party rule. Resource --
  • Adding the Eurasian and Middle East dictators together (6 total) should concern US policy makers given our reliance on oil from these nations/regions. Coupled with this is the Asia region (with 6 nations in the top 20 list of worst dictators) since this represents the "demand side" of oil -- these dictators need the same oil the USA needs so that is the real economic and political threat not inexpensive tennis shoes from China.
  • Cuba (Fidel Castro) is the only dictator listed in the top 20 list which leads me to believe several things 1.) Mr. Wallechinsky overlooked President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, 2.) the "Monroe Doctrine" in USA foreign policy helped the Latin American region not withstanding the American para-imperialism it also created, and 3.) The USA should lift the trade embargo that exists against Cuba so we drive Castro out of power using market forces and consumer buying power -- much like I predict will happen in China once consumers start demanding more personal liberties once they have all the flat screen TVs that could possibly want to purchase :)

Perhaps for 2007 Mr. Wallechinsky or another author can produce a ranking of the "The World's 10 Best Heads of State/Government".

Ballots not bullets,


The Vapors

Years ago I read a very insightful book entitled, "Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power" by Joseph S. Nye, Jr, published in 1990. One excerpt on the dustjacket stated -- "In 1989, polls showed that half the American public believed the nation to be in decline, and that more than half saw the economic threat from our allies in Europe and Japan as more serious than the military threat from Gorbachev's Soviet Union." It is 17 years since this polling data was cited and instead of Japan (economic corpse) striking fear in Americans' hearts it is the rise of China that concerns us since "outsourcing" and "cheap textiles from China" dominate our news media.

My working theory from the 80's and 90's is that "Japan Inc." scared the hell out of Americans because they simply don't look like us (remember WW II racism -- the US government interned Japanese-Americans in prison camps but not German-Americans due to national security concerns) but today's source of the "Yellow Peril" ( is now China. In Mr. Nye's book he highlighted the statistic that the foreign country that owned the largest amount of assets (circa 1990) in the USA was in fact the United Kingdom NOT Japan as I always hear people respond when I pose the question to them when they express concern about China taking over the world.

Today's report from UNCTAD provides a great overview of "foreign direct investment" (FDI) trends in the world providing a great benchmark regarding investors' confidence in national economies:

UNCTAD: U.K. Tops World in Foreign Direct Investment London -- According to a new report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the U.K. received more than £124 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2005, a remarkable 182% year-on-year increase and the largest total ever recorded by a European country. In fact, the U.K. attracted more FDI last year than any other country in the world.

The U.S., which came in second place on UNCTAD's ranking, attracted less than half the U.K. total with £56 billion. China came in third place, attracting about £34 billion. UNCTAD said FDI in the 10 new EU member states increased by 36% to more than £21 billion.

What really caught my attention when I saw these rankings is that the number one ranked country, United Kingdom, was the "birthplace of the Industrial Revolution" so clearly it has not lost its attractiveness as an investment choice due to emerging markets such as China nor has the USA since it is the second ranked country although I have to speculate that opposition to the war in Iraq affected some investment decisions given the management role many governments play in businesses around the world directly or indirectly.

Let me encourage you to think like an investor and a consumer versus thinking like a tribalist which historically has driven nations to war with each other. To lighten the mood a bit let me share the lyrics of "Turning Japanese" - performed by The Vapors. Nothing is better than some 80's music to cheer you up :)

Peace through trade,


How about 100%?

Late last week I read a very short story (2" by 4" to be exact!!) in the Pioneer Press (Minnesota newspaper) with the headline, "College Students Lack Key Skills", which was BURIED deep in the newspaper not on the front page. Now this story caught my attention because during my racquetball dinner the night before the table conversation was focused on how the USA is in trouble competing with China because they are "producing so many engineers........." while my own views on the need for greater school choice in the USA were dismissed at the table.

This article was based on a literacy study funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts which found that ( :

  • More than 50% of students at four year schools, and
  • More than 75% of students at two year schools

lacked the skills to "perform complex literacy tasks. That means they could not interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure or understand the arguments of newspaper editorials."

Given the obvious poor performance of our K-12 education system I did some research regarding education funding to discover:

  • The Minnesota Department of Education (for Fiscal Year 2004) had a budget of US$8.6 BILLION (includes state and federal funding sources)
  • State government budgets -- thanks to my friends at NCSL ( who told me that when all 50 state government budets are combined together K-12 education spending consumes 33.7% of ALL state government spending in the USA (includes data from 2004, 2005, 2006 fiscal years)

So why don't we call on our state legislators and governors to allocate 100% of state budgets to the current K-12 system since clearly we are NOT spending enough money? Such a solution is equivalent to having a teenage driver in the family who keeps getting in car accidents -- why not buy them a more expensive car after each accident?

Let me advocate some better solutions versus "throwing more money at the problem":

  • Change the mindset of teachers from one of being "trade union followers" to independent professionals like lawyers and doctors who "hang their shingle" and pursue clients. Wouldn't parents love to see 2 or 3 teachers competing to educate your children?
  • Encourage more school choice options -- -- please note their "School Reform News" newspaper or their "Education and Capitalism" book as resources.
  • Apply current "product liability" laws which punish the bad actors in our business community to our K-12 schools. Let's assume XYZ Corporation hires a recent high school graduate from Spring River Public Schools for a welding job but finds out the student can't read and write thus forcing XYZ to spend money on remedial education. XYZ should be able to sue the school that "produced" this graduate for the related costs since the school produced a "defective product." Don't you love the idea of trial lawyers filing class action lawsuits against schools on behalf of parents??
  • Cut income taxes, property taxes, estate taxes, sales taxes, etc. on parents so they can take their money to new, competitive educational institutions.

This drunk sailor that we call the K-12 system does not need another drink.



Friday, January 20, 2006

The Personal Trainer will see you now

Due to several factors I am evolving into a morning person so today I was up early to visit my local gym. The "New Years Resolutions crowd" is still visiting but the numbers should be back down to normal levels by March based on historic trends. While working my way around the weight lifting stations I had to alter my usual routine a few times due to rather overweight people "resting" between their sets. Some free gym advice -- good health requires you to MOVE your carcass!! Do not sit on the machine until your biceps have recovered from a set of curls so you can complete another set -- move yourself to the tricep extension machine right after you complete curls so you continue burning calories.

I am not being evil here just offering an observation to improve efficiency and health since this morning I was able to complete 4 different weight exercises BEFORE this rather obese woman moved from the leg press machine which I had wanted to use but she was "resting". Then while I was stretching (if your gym doesn't have a PreCor stretch bench - ask them to purchase one since it is a great piece of equipment) I watched two personal trainers talking which got me thinking about the health care industry, gyms, obesity statistics/lawsuits, etc.

Regardless of what doctor, hospital, or clinic I have visited over the years in the various cities I have lived in I have never seen (though I admit I was not actively looking at the time but look for yourself on your next visit) ANY focus on exercise -- what I am suggesting here is a fantastic free market health care reform. It seems that it would be ideal for the health care community and the fitness club industry to explore ways to work together in a very integrated manner. Following are some initial partnering ideas on this subject:

  • Fitness clubs and hospitals should co-locate in the same buildings. This seems like an ideal scenario for physical therapy needs.
  • Doctors should become marketing/sales agents for local health clubs working on a commission basis. The pharma industry sales representatives constantly take doctors' office staff out to lunch to show them new drug products but what are the health clubs doing with doctors?

Given rising health care costs and the aging population in the USA we need to generate revolutionary solutions that include the profit motive such as a fitness club co-locating in a building with a doctors' clinic/hospital to begin offering a more holistic approach to health care solutions.

Do some crunches,


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Sweet Sixteen

While pursuing membership in the ultra-secret society known as "MOB" (the Minnesota Organization of Bloggers) I was tagged with the task of creating a posting on my blog - "listing five weird habits you have or things that you do" to help the MOB members get to know me better.

Weird habits or things I do? Since I was at a complete loss for writing material I surveyed a select group of friends and family in search of just five (5) items but apparently I will be listing several more based on the survey responses plus my own additions although I believe my own observations/practices are merely logical not weird but then again I am young so I can wait for society to come around to my way of thinking :) Yes -- excessive EMOTICON use -- get used to it baby!!! Yes, excessive use of punctuation marks.


(Sources -- survey results of friends and family, high paid therapists, and myself)

1.) Squaring: Todd "squares" everything. Meaning, the way I figured out you had left me, eh em, a present on my desk whenever that was, was because I noticed that all four corners were square to my laptop corners. I noticed the next day that whenever Todd sits with something in front of you (folders, a book, newspapers, your sketchy computer bag, etc.) Todd constantly squares off the corners with whatever else it is on top of.

2.) Clothing: Todd refuses to wear jeans (Editor's Note -- this is not 100% true, it is just a rare event)

3.) Handwriting: Todd's "serial-killer-so-obviously-left-handed handwriting" (and let's make it worse by writing in red pen, no less)

4.) Time Limits: how Todd lets people know at the beginning of conversations exactly how long they have (and then you inevitably deny you gave a time limit), so that conversations go something like this:
Stacey: hi Todd, good day to you
Todd: hi, how are you?
Stacey: good, I was wondering what you think about X situation
Todd: well, I have a lunch meeting in 12 minutes, so what I think is X, Y, Z
Stacey: thanks for giving me a time limit, that makes me feel great
Todd: what are you talking about I didn't didn't give you a time limit?!?!

5.) Punctuation: Todd's overuse of the exclamation point, question mark, and dot, dot, dot are weird, although totally consistent, and I enjoy them.

6.) Discussing "politics" at my parents' home (Editor's Note -- I blame this on my father who took me to city council meetings when I was a child!!)

7.) "Todd is a 'networking Nazi' " (Editor's Note -- not true but I am happy to introduce my readers via email to my buddy Steve who provided this comment :)

8.) Todd organizes/re-arranges things at friends' homes in "logical order" :)

9.) Todd often ends sentences with the smiley emoticon

10.) Todd mixes quotes of Nietzsche and Homer Simpson in a Dennis Miller-esque manner

11.) Todd frequently has Autobahn flashbacks on Interstate 35 and practices "irregular traffic lane changes"

12.) Todd continues to attempt to convert elephants and asses into rational people "of Principle"
13.) Todd "posts on his blog regularly" -- Editor's Note -- I don't play video games, I blog instead plus my venture capital providers want my blog traffic to increase ;)

14.) Todd writes haiku poetry (Editor's Note -- clearly this contributor needs a haiku to consider. Also, I write in "choka" style - with the 5-7-5 structure -- if you want to try it yourself)

Haiku is high art
Piglet was Pooh's friend not dunch
Eat more bananas

15.) I create my own vocabulary words such as "dunch"

16.) I collect the lint from my clothes dryer for use as campfire kindling when I go camping but of course that is not weird -- it is frugal, pro-environment (it reduces our need for more landfills) , and the ultimate Boy Scout trick!!!

I think this list will be closed at a "Sweet Sixteen" because I sense many people will be converted to my way of thinking eventually thus what is "weird today" will be common practice in the future.

I have a dream,


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

"You Stink"

January 17, 2006 is the 300th birthday of Benjamin Franklin often called the "First American" or "America's da Vinci" due to his scientific discoveries and inventions.

Years ago I read "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin" which is a very entertaining and historic book providing great insights on the founding period of the USA. Mr. Franklin was the shining example of the Renaissance Man given his interest in -- science, medicine, diplomacy, journalism, civil society, and government. Beyond the book let me also suggest you see the film, "National Treasure", starring Nicholas Cage in which Mr. Franklin is featured prominently.

Mr. Franklin's interests and accomplishments are being celebrated in several places around the world so please consider this website as a reference point -- -- however one key element from my perspective missing on this website is Mr. Franklin's greatest invention for civil society. Mr. Franklin created a "debate club, salon for mutual improvement" in 1727 with 12 of his Philadelphia friends known as the Junto --

What intrigues me the most about the Junto (pronounced "who-n-toe") was this forum's ability to develop worthy ideas designed to improve Philadelphia society such as a volunteer fire department or the subscription library concept. The Junto was essentially a grasstops think tank of community leaders who would develop ideas then go back to their stations in society to promote and bring the ideas into existence. One idea I have never seen attributed to Mr. Franklin was indoor plumbing/daily bathing which was clearly not a priority at times (perhaps he was too busy inventing or writing) given that his eventual wife, Deborah Read, is quoted as having said, "You stink", when they first met outside her father's home in 1723.

We owe a great deal of gratitude to Mr. Franklin for not only his inventions, his international diplomacy successes with the French, and his elder statesman role at the Constitutional Convention but also for the inspiration he offers to future generations of Americans.

Happy Birthday Mr. Franklin,


Monday, January 16, 2006

For The Children

The day before my trip to Argentina I served as a volunteer for "YMCA Youth in Government Day" (YIGD) at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul via the trade association I belong to called the Minnesota Government Relations Council (MGRC). MGRC was asked to provide a group of volunteer lobbyists to have lunch with the high school students serving as lobbyists during YIGD so we could explain the role of lobbyists in the government process.

After spending nearly three (3) hours talking with these students, answering their questions, and learning more about the YIGD program I was left with the following conclusions/questions:
  • Don't these students' teachers discuss ANY appropriate current events during class? I wondered about this since not one of the students at my table had never heard of the name "Jack Abramoff" -- -- the super-lobbyist who is involved in a current national news story regarding the triangle of lobbying, gifts/dollars, and corruption that existed/did not exist between Abramoff and several Members of Congress.
  • Today's students are either shy or are simply not well-prepared for such events as YIGD since the students I talked with did not have any prepared questions. It was a challenge for most of this event to get them engaged in a conversation beyond short sentences but at times they engaged such as when they talked about their student councils at their home schools (one was impressed with their council's "power" and another thought their council was a waste of time).
  • Books -- I mentioned several books that I consider essential, basic texts for students of government but the students clearly had not been exposed to any of these books given their blank stares back to me. I will admit -- I failed to ask them what exactly they do in class and what books they have read to date -- next time I will do that!!

Every time I hear a public official, regulator, etc. declare at a press conference that the new "XYZ Program" they plan to create is "for the children" I get nauseous. It is a simple equation; if you want to do something for the children -- cut the income, payroll, property, sales, inheritance, capital gains, etc. TAXES that their parents have to pay.

Let's assume politicians took my advice -- what might parents do with all this extra disposible income? Assuming the parents want to improve their childrens' educational opportunities I suggest they help their local schools hire people such as --

1.) Bob Plunkett -- see my "Bob Plunkett" posting from September 2005 regarding a very high quality teacher I had in my high school


2.) Coach Larry McKenzie -- Patrick Henry High School mens' basketball team of Minneapolis, Minnesota

Since I have written extensively on Bob Plunkett let me focus on Coach McKenzie. My younger brother, Troy, mentioned the coach's "A+ Program" (see weblink mentioned earlier) to me because our hometown team in Iowa was playing Patrick Henry High School in a basketball game. The program stands for "Academics and Athletics" which stresses the need for his players to be genuine student athletes including requirements such as his players having to "sit in the front three rows of their classrooms." Overall it sounds like a very positive program especially since a very small proportion of high school athletes go on to play college sports and an even smaller proportion have professional sports careers so it is essential that these athletes focus on academics.

One additional bullet point I would suggest for Coach McKenzie's "A+" program is to have him work with the school's faculty to develop curriculum for his athletes. For starters I would offer the following classroom ideas:

  • Develop a reading program of biographies (not autobiographies given their inherent bias and show biz slant) of famous athletes. I might suggest reading one on Pete Rose since he completely ruined his chances of entering the Baseball Hall of Fame due to his gambling addiction -- Michael Jordan might have benefited from a better understanding of the Rose experience.
  • Work with science and math teachers to develop physics work examples based on sports such as velocity calculations of a baseball bat hitting a ball.
  • Research -- have the students perform a statistics research project that analyzes college and professional athletes' careers using variables such as; crimes committed, life expectancy (I heard on the "Polichicks" radio program in Minneapolis, Minnesota on January 15th that professional football players live 10 years less on average compared to men overall), and the post-sports career jobs athletes have pursued.

I would not be surprised if some politician proposes the creation of day care centers in hospitals for new born babies so the government gets them "when they are young" -- now that I think about it this might offer a way to get the "abortion without any restrictions" crowd to oppose late term (such as in the 8th month of pregnancy) abortions so they can get more children into government day care centers :)

Please read to a child this week,


One more in the name of love

Thanks to friends in Atlanta and Birmingham I have toured key sites in the history of the civil rights movement in the USA. I was reminded of these travel experiences today since it is Reverend Martin L. King, Jr. Day (national holiday) in the USA. Reverend King's namesake "Martin Luther" was of course an even greater reformer of the Catholic Church but as a think tank associate of mine reminded me "Father Luther" (we say Pastor Luther in the Lutheran Church) never actually left the Catholic Church when he launched the Reformation. I raise this historical point to note that Reverend King never "left" American society but he reformed it from within via passive resistance techniques (e.g. economic boycotts, sit ins, etc.) inspired by Mahatma Ghandi's resistance to British imperial rule in India.

Luther, Ghandi, King -- these were all reformers who transformed their societies (with global impact) to provide greater individual empowerment, economic opportunity (think "religious litmus tests" for example"), and ultimately a reduction in violence caused by the police state created by the incumbent authorities (the Pope, the British Empire, and the WASP establishment).


"Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude." Alexis de Tocqueville

During my flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina last week I was reminded of yet another "reformer" (but here I mean "mass murderer" not reformer in the tradition of the leaders mentioned earlier) who died on December 23, 2005. This person was -- Yao Wenyuan -- the final survivor of the Gang of Four in Red China whose obituary was published by the Dallas Morning News on January 7, 2006 which I read on my flight through Dallas. If you don't know already here is a quick reminder that the Gang of Four were the people that led China's "Cultural Revolution" from 1966 to 1976 with Chinese leader -- Mao Zedong's -- blessing. The Cultural Revolution can be summarized as the "purging of moderate (Communist) party officials and intellectuals in Chinese society........" via imprisonment, harassment, or simply via state executions/assassinations which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Chinese simply because they did not agree with, or were deemed not loyal enough to, the party manifesto.

Yae Wenyuan was quoted during his trial after Mao Zedong's death (when the Gang of Four lost their political power) as saying -- "Why can't we shoot a few counterrevolutionary elements? After all, dictatorship is not like embroidering flowers." Given today's American fear of "outsourcing all of our jobs to China........ (hey, wasn't it Japan that scared the hell out of us in the 1980's but somehow we survived!!) this 10 year period of Chinese history is worth studying to better understand the need to promote an open dialogue with China based on free trade.

Remembering Reverend King today is an appropriate reminder of the American civil rights movement. As I sit here working today on this national holiday I can't help but think that while such holidays are sometimes little more than another vacation day for our overpaid local, state, and federal bureaucrats but let me offer a "glass is half full" observation. Perhaps I should celebrate the fact that such national holidays offer greater personal freedom than other days of the year simply because the bureaucrats are NOT working to generate more rules and regulations to tax away our incomes and freedoms ever more.

My tribute to Dr. King pales in comparison to the band U2's tribute so let me offer their words for your consideration:

Pride (In The Name Of Love)
by U2
One man come in the name of love
One man come and go.
One man come he to justify
One man to overthrow.

In the name of love What more in the name of love.In the name of loveWhat more in the name of love.

One man caught on a barbed wire fence
One man he resist
One man washed up on an empty beach
One man betrayed with a kiss.

In the name of loveWhat more in the name of love.In the name of loveWhat more in the name of love.

Early morning, April four
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky.
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride.

In the name of loveWhat more in the name of love.In the name of loveWhat more in the name of love. In the name of loveWhat more in the name of love.In the name of loveWhat more in the name of love.

March for freedom,


Thursday, January 12, 2006

Mas yerba gringo??

Following class in Buenos Aires today I walked the Retiro neighborhood around my hotel to the port area which is dominated by shipping operations and naval facilities based on the section that I walked through. My basic rule is walk until some security guard points you in a new direction which happened today although the guard (Argentine Navy it appeared) was very friendly especially after my first words of reply to his "Hola, Senor" (to get my attention) was "My Spanish is very bad........." :)

I was surprised to see an entertainment/dinner cruise ship by the name of "Mississippi River" at one of the docks which made me think twice regarding what city I was actually in -- Buenos Aires or my home area of Iowa, USA (for more on the Mississippi River see my posting - "Poor Man's Salmon" -- October 2005). I worked my way up from the port to the Capital area where I shopped on Avenida Florida which is the major shopping district in the city it appears. After having too much time consumed by the salespeople in some leather shops I retreated to enjoy "dunch" (see my posting -- "Art-gentina") at a friendly little restaurant called, "Puerto del Carmen", on Avenida Cordoba. I had the house special pizza, a pleasant atmosphere (except for the couple arguing two tables in front of my table -- actually she was arguing, he was staying off into space or at the TV so clearly they had some communications challenges). Overall I would rate "Carmen" with a "3" -- not exceptional but surely worth the US$6.00 I spent!!

My next stop after dunch was visiting several small shops in the area for souvenirs for friends and loved ones. I must say that I thoroughly enjoy using my rudimentary Spanish with the locals here -- it is MUCH better than sitting in my classroom!! I lost track but I was in 5 or 6 stores this afternoon and EVERYONE without exception was friendly and instructive on how to improve my Spanish. Mental note -- immerse yourself in the culture.

One final note -- the most interesting discovery today -- I went into a shop which used to be a library. The crazy thing that I noticed immediately is that it is an open two story structure with loft. But the lower level is a bar/restaurant and the upper level is a BARBER SHOP!!! Think of it -- loose hairs falling over the ledge into the bar/restaurant area :)



Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Happy 2006

Since it is already January 11, 2006 I am compelled to summarize my New Year's Eve activities before they become too dated. Overall I don't need to have a calendar to tell me when it is a new year since I am reminded every year by the huge influx of new/returning members to every health club I have ever belong to over the years. The year 2006 is no exception in fact I am reminded of being at the gym just after New Year's Eve. I was warming up on one of the bikes and noticed a VERY large example of steroid use and protein power overdose ( a man) riding the bicycle next to me reading his copy of People magazine -- now that is not a site I see everyday :)

Historically I have not been a big celebrant of New Year's Eve activities but this year was very active for me and my girlfriend with five (5) different events on our social calendar:

1.) BoDeans -- we enjoyed seeing this very fun rock/house band that we both like. The BoDeans are out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and were playing at the Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis. The BoDeans have a core group of fans and every time I hear them I am reminded of how much I loved the 80's and university/fraternity life!! Advice -- if you have a stressful day at work go buy a BoDeans CD or dowload a song to your Ipod.

2.) Buca -- for New Year's Eve we had dinner at this great Italian restaurant in St. Paul with a group of my girlfriend's friends. Our group had the kitchen/chef's table so the staff stopped by to talk with us throughout the evening.

3.) Sports Tournament -- following dinner our group met with another group of friends at their home near White Bear Lake, Minnesota. The format for the evening was the creation of boy/girl teams created by lottery to compete for a trophy based on the tournament of -- foosball, darts, and ping pong. As the only non-drinker in the room I clearly should have been the score keeper since somehow my team ended up in 3rd place. For 2007 I plan to train for this event to win at all costs!!!!!!!! :)

4.) Brunch -- then on New Year's Day we had brunch at "Chez Girlfriend" with family and friends to celebrate the birthday of my girlfriend's mother. Overall a very fun crowd with several young, active children which added a nice energy to the room. While it was not an official restaurant I would have to rate the meal with a "5" of course especially since I did not cook any of it :)

5.) Lobster -- as a conclusion to the New Year's weekend we attended a "lobster boil" hosted by our French-Canadien neighbors. While I did not need it I did eat two lobsters but more importantly I had some escargot for the first time. I will have to admit it was much better than I would have ever guessed so go try something new this week to get your year started on a fresh note!!

Given the friends, family, activities, and the girlfriend I have 2006 has great potential for me personally. I wish you good health and great opportunities for the year.

Enjoy everyday not just new year's,


Art --gentina

Well another rainy day in Buenos Aires but it was actually refreshing since today's temperature was lower. Following my Spanish class I joined a student from the Netherlands and one from Ireland with a tour guide who took us to the "Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes" via the "Collectivo" (the local bus system) which costs 80 centavos (100 centavos in one peso so less than US$0.30) per passenger for one ride.

The museum/museo is a very beautiful building complete with several sections focused on different types of art. Our little group toured the "Art of Argentina" and the "Art of Pre-Columbian America" sections. Granted I did not understand everything the tour guide said in Spanish but I did comprehend that the color "red" is highly important and symbolic in Argentine art especially in expressing political thought/power. I also noticed how the paintings evolved over the numerous decades with the earliest Argentine painters focused on portraits of -- wealthy people, military events, and landscapes while the more contemporary paintings are a bit more "democratized and expressive" via abstract portraits and geometric patterns. This observation made me realize this is the case with nearly all the art galleries I have toured during my world travels so far but I need to explore this art trend in more detail to reach a sound conclusion.

One post office observation (the "Correro Argentina" - see the posting -- "Now Serving Prisoner #33") I can offer from today is two fold: 1.) Instructors at my school told me that the post office used to be privately owned by the government took it over again but the service was bad before and is still bad so clearly there are much bigger internal problems that go beyond who owns it, and 2.) While waiting for my tour to begin I sat outside a Correro Argentina office reading my copy of "The Lion's Game" by Nelson DeMille. When I stood up I looked in the window and noticed that one corner of the office had an art/picture framing operation!!! Damn, these people need to focus on their core business OR they were sub-leasing space to a private business. I didn't ask opting instead to walk around in shock :)

Following my tour I had a late lunch (which I have always called "dunch" - a term my fellow students from German now use after I told them) on "Avenida Maipu" next to my hotel at a small restaurant called, "Fussion." After a nice dunch of grilled chicken and a small chef salad they created just for me since they had a limited menu since they were nearing closing time the owner talked with me for quite awhile in Spanish which was a challenge for me but he was patient and more importantly he spoke slowly!! Apparently the "tornados" we have in the American Midwest were of great interest to him.

My view of the Argentine people only improves.

Hasta luego,


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Now Serving Prisoner #33

After my Spanish class ended in Buenos Aires today I walked back to my hotel but stopped for a quick lunch at "Confiteria La Union" , a sandwich shop on Avenida Belgrano which I would rate with a "2" as a comfortable clean place for lunch but nothing outstanding. I swear no matter which sandwich I order they so far have looked the same despite the different names but I probably need to learn the language better :)

The high(low actually) light of the day was my quest for postcard stamps. Last night the hotel staff (who are extremely courteous and helpful so hats off to Sheraton!) informed me that the hotel does not sell stamps since only the Post Office does that but that wouldn't be a problem for me since there was a "Correro Argentina",, across the street from the hotel.

So after lunch I visited the post office substation by my hotel which gave me the economic insight that the recent Argentine peso/economic crisis was actually caused by the complete inefficiency of the postal system!!!!!!! I swear I thought I had walked into a small Caribbean island airport when I walked into the Correro Argentina today. The clues that warned me that this would be a bad customer service experience were as follows:

  • There was a "Take a Number" dispenser (I was #33 and the machine was on #92 so I had 41 peole in front of me since it started over at 100)
  • NO customers were smiling or laughing with each other
  • At least 2 customers I saw were sleeping as they waited to be called -- THIS CAN NEVER BE GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH OR YOUR ECONOMY!!!!
  • There were NO vending machines for a simple purchase like stamps.
  • Some business people in suits were waiting so clearly there were no other options they were willing/able to pay for to avoid the Correo Argentina.

I did have to laugh though when a rather heavy set Argentine female customer asked me (the most gringo/English-speaking person in the room!!) in Spanish for insights on the speed of the customer line. I am still laughing at that experience!!

So after 45 minutes I successfully purchased my post cards stamps so now I just have to pray that someone will actually deliver the cards to my loved ones. I have not researched it to any degree as to the status of the post office in terms of privatization/government management but I can safely observe that they are not utilizing technology enough (job protection??) and that they are performing functions but left to other (private sector) providers such as banking functions (based on the huge amounts of cash I saw people handling) and recharging peoples' cell phones!!! I just want some damn stamps por favor :(

New business idea = selling spots in post office lines to impatient customers!!


Monday, January 09, 2006

mas Argentina

Today was my first day of class in Buenos Aires , at the Academia Buenos Aires, which started off very quickly with "hola" and an oral exam to place me in the appropriate class level. Nothing like the immersion process!! It appears I am in the "we know some Spanish" class with a German couple (boyfriend/girlfriend) who are studying in Argentina for 6 months compared to my 2 weeks so clearly the European Social Model offers some flexibility :) Overall it is a nice class room setting which reminds me very much of the Forester Institute in San Jose, Costa Rica where I studied for 1 month in 1997.

After an intense 5 hours of instruction I was a bit drained so I walked around towards my hotel. One great aspect of summer (verano) in Argentina is that there are numerous street vendors selling fresh squeezed orange juice with a large glass (known as a "grande" and a small glass is known as a "chica") costing less than one US dollar. Following some shopping for some nice leather shoes I grabbed a taxi back to my hotel. My cabbie had coke bottle glasses on with one of the bows/sides broken off and he was driving slower than anyone around us. I wasn't too concerned until I saw him perform the "sign of the Cross" while he was driving -- this my friends is typically not a good sign but clearly God was his co-pilot since I made it to my hotel unharmed :)

My Spanish homework is calling me so I will report more in future postings.



Sunday, January 08, 2006

Hola de Argentina

In yet another attempt to learn a foreign language (French in high school, Spanish in college and graduate school) I landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina today (January 8th) to study Spanish for two weeks. I am no linguist with my old joke being -- "I speak two languages; British and American............" due to the nearly three years I spent living in London.

This is my first trip to South America and so far I like it very much. I was having some flashbacks to my 1997 trip to Costa Rica when I studied Spanish in San Jose. Surprisingly some Spanish is returning to my little brain which is encouraging since I am about to begin this intensive course for 10 days!

After a US$20 cab ride from the airport I arrived at the Sheraton Liberador Hotel, my home base for the next two weeks. I had a nice lunch of a salad and a mini-pizza at the "Forest Hills" wine bar/pizza cafe near my hotel. The pizza was very good especially since it reminded me of the "white crust pizza" at Davanni's , a local Minnesota favorite. I will rank Forest Hills with a "3" since its location did not provide the warm, homey feel such a restaurant needs. Less picture glass windows and add a fireplace to help the decor I say but it is 95 degrees F here so a fireplace is moot!!

Following lunch I had a nice 3 hour siesta followed by a walk around the neighborhood and a trip to the hotel gym which offers an excellent view of the city from the top floor of the hotel (22nd floor). While walking around the city after my post-gym shower I couldn't help but notice that signs of the recent Argentine peso crisis/economic crisis still exist with several people sorting through garbage bags for cans to recyle it appears.

One very interesting note of the free enterprise system working but I have to get this confirmed -- the city street signs appear to be sponsored by "Personal" the wireless communications network my Blackberry is working on currently. "Personal" has a little sign/logo at the top of each street sign such as "Personal , Avenida Cordoba" where my hotel is located. If this is the case I like the idea of government services paid for this this greedy capitalist interest trying to expand its market share via some creative advertising :)

I plan to post daily reports as I get to know the city better so I hope you stayed tuned.

Hasta luego,


Friday, January 06, 2006

Fred the Baker

Occasionally I scan the obituaries in the various newspapers I read to get a sense of history and a bit of education on the lives people led. One passing I completely missed at the end of 2005 was the death of Michael Vale on December 24th at age 83 which two friends highlighted for me this week. In a tribute to Mr. Vale's trademark, "It's time to make the donuts", catchphrase I am completing this posting early in the morning :)

The character of "Fred the Baker" at Dunkin' Donuts played by Mr. Vale from 1982 to 1997 was created by advertising executive Ron Berger and has to be deemed a huge success since Dunkin' Donuts went from 1,200 locations to 4,700 locations during the lifetime of this $300 million advertising campaign. The media coverage of Mr. Vale's passing focused on the "Fred the Baker" ad campaign's ability to "connect with the average, hard working person who gets up everyday to do the necessary things........" such as turning on the FRYOLATOR (love that name!!) as one Dunkin' Donuts franchise owner stated.

For me "Fred the Baker" represents a work ethic that is essential for children to learn. If you remember the Dunkin' donuts commercials Fred would wake in a zombie-like state with eyes half-closed starting his day of making the donuts but at the end of the commercial he was serving fresh donuts to customers with a big smile on his face. That is the great message here -- do your job well, serve your customer well, and walk away from the experience with job satisfaction. Welfare reform via former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) and former Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) is now ancient history since the TANF (AFDC reform legislation) legislation was enacted in 1996 but in these last 10 years this single government reform has moved millions of people from being welfare recipients collecting checks to contributors to society (NOTE -- "According to the Census Bureau, 3.5 million fewer people live in poverty today than in 1995" - with a new found work ethic that tells them that it is "Time to make the donuts" regardless of their job duties.

Unfortunately the welfare mindset is still alive and well via the obesity law suits against food and beverage companies pursued by the alliance of trial lawyers and the "victim class." We need to remind others that personal choice comes with personal responsibility as evidenced by my choice to go to the gym this morning versus having a donut to reflect on Fred the Baker's passing.

Bon appetit,


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Homer Hickam

While I was living in Washington DC several years ago I took a long weekend retreat to a spa in West Virginia to relax, read books, and exercise in a beautiful wooded setting - - which is clearly an element of the West Virginia economy not featured in this week's news coverage of the Sago coal mine tragedy. Initial reports of surviving miners were completely wrong as we discovered this morning when it was finally reported that 12 out of the 13 trapped coal miners were found dead.

Of all the media reporting that I surveyed (print and TV) the most intriguing interview I heard was CNN's interview of author Homer Hickam - - who wrote his autobiographical "Rocket Boys" book based on his life in Coalwood, West Virginia. This book was the foundation of the very excellent film, "October Sky", released in 1999 which focused Mr. Hickam's childhood passion of becoming a rocket scientist versus defaulting to family tradition to become another coal miner. Assuming the film was true to Mr. Hickam's book/life experience the sad reality is that the culture of Coalwood, West Virginia discouraged students like Homer, his classmates, and his teacher from dreaming the impossible, trying new things, and striving to leave the coal mines for other career opportunities. (for more on school choice options please see my friends at --

Now I don't want to minimize the tragic loss of life in Sago, West Virginia today and my heartfelt best wishes go to the loved ones of the 12 dead miners but I have to speculate that Coalwood and Sago share some cultural traits. West Virginia needs more entrepreneurs, dreamers, and revolutionaries to -- 1.) market their spa economy/alternatives professions, and 2.) to educate the next generation of "rocket scientists" of all kinds -- to help diversify their economy. Unfortunately it appears very likely that West Virginia voters will be re-electing US Senator Robert Byrd to another 6 year term in 2006. Let me be VERY clear on my beliefs here -- Robert Byrd is part of the problem NOT the solution -- West Virginia should demand new political leadership for their state starting with the retirement of Senator Byrd.

Senator Byrd, who prides himself on being a patriot and penultimate defender of the US Constitution but as you can read for yourself via Wikipedia he never served in World War II even though he apparently was capable of service since he was an active welder at the time and he is no champion of the liberties guaranteed in the US Constitution given his (past) active membership in the Ku Klux Klan ( has served in the US Congress (House and Senate chambers) since January 3, 1953 which was exactly 53 years ago yesterday!!! Please, Senator Byrd, retire already and live off your Social Security benefits -- I will gladly keep working to help keep Social Security solvent for you since I would save tax dollars by getting you out of the the US Congress. It is essential for readers to know that Senator Byrd is one of the biggest spenders in the Congress via his pork barrel legislation designed to transfer both wealth and federal government agency jobs from Washington DC to his poor state (see my friends at for reference).

West Virginia broke away from Virginia to become a separate state in 1863 so today's residents should call on that same revolutionary spirit to separate themselves from mis-guided politicians and cultural barriers to diversification of their economy.

Fire in the hole,


Monday, January 02, 2006

books in 2005

"When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes." ---Erasmus

With 2005 now drawn to a close one aspect of my personal enrichment that I like to reflect on is how many and what kind of books I read over the last year. Overall I must say that the most beneficial resource for me this year in terms of books was my joining the book club at my graduate alma mater -- the University of St. Thomas (sorry, the one in Minnesota not in the US Virgin Islands) -- because the club exposed me to books I would have never purchased for my own use. If you want my advice I would encourage you to join or form a book club in 2006 -- it will give you something positive to focus on (distract you?) since you have resolved to quit smoking, stop overeating, etc. :)

So with 2005 now in the history books here is my reading list for 2005 to help inspire myself for 2006 to exceed my nineteen (19) completed books:

1.) "First Among Equals" -- by Kenneth Starr. A short but very comprehensive book about the US Supreme Court. This book was educational and gave me fond memories of past law courses I have taken but this book devoted a bit too much time to Judge Starr's impeachment investigation of President Bill Clinton.

2.) "Our Historic Boundary Waters" -- by Dr. Duane Lund. A very short history primer of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area,, in Northern Minnesota but still interesting especially for the descriptions of the "voyageours" (French-Canadian canoe paddlers) who portaged goods through this area.

3.) "War in the Woods" -- by Dr. Mart Laar. Dr. Laar is the former Prime Minister of Estonia whom I have met several times. His book focuses on the "Forest Brothers" resistance fighters' campaign against both the Nazis and the Soviets. Read this book and count your blessings we have never been invaded.

4.) "The Broker" -- by John Grisham. Years ago my buddy, Kent, told me to "read more ficition books just for fun instead of just your academic stuff......." so thankfully my brother Troy lent me his copy of this Grisham thriller set in Italy. Bella!!! After reading this book I wanted to travel to Italy again to enjoy the food and sights. While this book felt like a planned junket for Mr. Grisham to spend time "researching" in Italy it was a very fun read.

5.) "Blink" -- by Malcolm Gladwell. An interesting read regarding our ability to make split second decisions/insights based on our store of knowledge. If you haven't read Gladwell's "The Tipping Point" book let me save you time and money by suggesting you focus on "Tipping Point" to help you in your career and personal interests.

6.) "For Smokers Only" -- by Dr. Brad Rodu. I have worked with Dr. Rodu on several projects promoting his "converting smokers to smokeless tobacco products" research. If you or a loved one has resolved to quit smoking in 2006 I highly suggest this book to you.

7.) "The Battle for God" -- by Karen Armstrong. One of my book club selections focused on religious fundamentalists in the Christian and Muslim communities. This is a very timely book to read given today's "war on terrorism" but perhaps more people just need to live by the "Golden Rule", my libertarian mantra :)

8.) "Hard Times" -- by Charles Dickens. Another of my book club selections this year. This is not Dickens at his finest primarily because he wrote it in a newspaper serial format. I much prefer "Oliver Twist" and of course "Great Expectations" -- we can all be inspired by Pip.

9.) "Reading Lolita in Tehran" -- by Azar Nafisi. Written by an Iranian professor of Western Literature who hosts an illegal/covert book club for a group of female students. Overall an important read to encourage people to revolt against the book burners/book banners in our world.

10.) "His Excellency" -- by Joseph J. Ellis. A very excellent biograpy of our Founding Father, President George Washington. Our public officials need to read this book to better understand what public service is all about set by Washington's example.

11.) "God and the Gun" -- by Martin Dillon. Another book club section which I thought this was an informative history of "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland between the Catholic and Protestant communities. Clearly, "thou shalt not kill" is a bit misunderstood in this region :) One shocking item in the book was the "young boy gay sex ring" discussed which reminded me of the "homosexual blackmail" discussed in the great book -- "Spycatcher" -- which was actually banned in the U.K. since it discusses how national security was compromised by MI-6 spys such as Kim Philby in the U.K. since he was "in the closet." Transparency in our lives would improve things.

12.) "The Passion of Artemisia" -- by Susan Vreeland. Another book club selection which I would not even considered buying on my own but I LOVED this book. This is a great book gift for any special woman in your life if you want to help empower them to be strong, independent women. The first chapter is a bit crude given its "anatomical" description during the court room scene but after that it should make for enjoyable reading for any young lady you want to educate on how to make her way in the world.

13.) "Barefoot Gen" - by Keiji Nakazawn. Another book club section but this one is in "Japanese graphic cartoon" style focused on the nuclear bombing of the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. This was not one of my favorite books but I did see value in seeing the story from a native Japanese perspective.

14.) "Flat Tax Revolution" -- by Steve Forbes. Thanks go to my buddy Stephen for this gift from Eagle Publishing in Washington DC. This is a very reader friendly primer on what a flat income tax policy not only makes economic sense but why it is indeed "fair" to counter the big government advocates. For reference -- see former Prime Minister Dr. Mart Laar's implementation of the flat tax in Lithuania or for tax reform overall try these sources -- ,,, or

15.) "A Walk in the Woods" -- by Bill Bryson. A gift from my college politics and canoeing buddy, Jeff. This is a very comical book focused on Bryson's hiking of the Appalachian Trail with his very overweight, high maintenance buddy from Des Moines, Iowa. Well worth reading if you like to travel.

16.) "The Sacred Romance" -- by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge. I read this on the recommendation of my friend, Stacey, who is a bit more devout than I am. I can fully appreciate this book has helped millions of people but I sadly found it to be a bit heavy on the author's marital and other personal problems. Instead of offering me advice they should get some for themselves :)

17.) "Ethan Frome" -- by Edith Wharton. Another book club selection set in 19th Century New England. This is a classic love triangle complete with the hypochondric wife, the attractive servant/relative, and the rather awkward husband struggling between duty and his perceived path to happiness. There are better books out there so steer clear of this one.

18.) "The Mystery of Capital" -- by Hernando de Soto. To counter the "socialistic bias" in my book club I secured copies of this book for us to read. This is an essential book for you to read if you want to work on reforming foreign aid, want to better understand how "property rights" drove the USA's economic growth, or just want to better understand basic economics. The story about the "barking dogs" marking property lines is priceless!!!

19.) "The Voyage of the Space Beagle" by AE van Vogt. The inspiration for this blog and a fun book to re-read nearly 25 years after my little brother, Troy, introduced me to this science fiction classic. Enjoy your explorations this year!!

2005 has been educational and productive especially now that I have my library completed in my new home.

Read to a child this year,