Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Land of 10,000 Ideas




Last week I attended the Annual Dinner of Minnesota's conservative think tank, Center of the American Experiment, ("Center") http://www.amexp.org, with General Tommy Franks who led the invasion of Iraq.

The event itself was probably deemed a success by most guests since the ballroom at the RiverCentre in St. Paul was nearly filled though I did spot some empty tables in the back of the room among my fellow groundlings :) and because General Franks served large helpings of "pro-Iraq War red meat" for this conservative crowd. For a guy that was dismissed from college for bad grades General Franks has accomplished more than most college graduates do in their lifetimes. From my perspective General Franks' speech was too dominated by defending Secretary of War (okay, "Defense", I am an aspiring historian) Donald Rumsfeld amid a downpour of Oklahoma/Texas local language phrases -- perhaps English really should be declared our official language!!! :)

Like any consumer when I write a check ($125.00 per ticket in this case) I do it with an expectation -- since this event was hosted by a MINNESOTA think tank I wanted to leave the event with some ideas on what we could do in the public policy and business community to better the State of Minnesota. According to most rankings Minnesota is the 4th highest taxed state in the USA so I really expect entities who declare themselves Minnesota-focused entities like the Center to advance some policy solutions such as the adoption of a flat income tax. I have enjoyed attending the Center's events over the years but after reviewing their literature table (their "Quarterly" publication looks just like academic journals found in universities which I assure you will NOT be made by the vast majority of politicians or media contacts the Center might want to influence) at this dinner I am convinced they need some re-engineering, re-focus, and re-branding as either the Minnesota-focused entity we need OR to tell the world they are a "conservative think tank based in Minnesota.........."

What is needed?

Minnesota needs a public policy think tank solely focused on reforming Minnesota's socialist thought process and restrictions on free markets -- perhaps called the "Minnesota Institute" -- to guide a future generation of decision makers.

The North Star is tarnished,

Todd

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Please Talk with Each Other




As a sports fan I have very mixed emotions regarding the construction of new sports stadiums when tax money is involved. Here in Minnesota the public debate has been dominated for years but the "need" for new stadiums to be built for the -- Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, and the University of Minnesota Gophers (the "U"). While I am not an alum of the "U" I do love college football and I love my adopted state of Minnesota so I would write a personal check to help the U build a new stadium just like I would for my beloved Iowa State University Cyclones -- their respective conferences are the "BIG" 10 and "BIG" 12 not the "SMALL 10 and 12". Football IS a big deal in these conferences especially with the University of Michigan regularly having over 100,000 fans attend their football games, fans that CHOOSE to attend the games by voting with their feet and wallets.

Now stadiums for our Vikings and Twins are a bit different scenario than for the Gophers. During the 2006 Minnesota legislative session legislators approved a bill to create a stadium authority responsible for building an outdoor/open air baseball stadium for the Twins. The Vikings made a last minute "me too" lobbying push to have an open air football stadium added to the Twins' legislation which ultimately failed so the Vikings must wait for the 2007 session.

The problem here of course is that years ago Minnesota's leaders created the "Metrodome" which I call the "city morgue" since it has all the aesthetic appeal of toe tags and big drawers :) From an economic development argument standpoint the "Dome" is a complete failure since the only economic growth in the area around the Dome is "Hubert's" , a local sports bar. The new Twins stadium in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis will primarily be built using a local option sales tax for residents of Hennepin County amounting to 3 cents on a $20 purchase. Now as a resident of Dakota County I can easily support such a funding mechanism from a selfish standpoint although I will pay my share when I utilize the stadium for a game or concert.

Since the Vikings' stadium dreams are still pending I want to offer some advice - SIT DOWN WITH THE MALL OF AMERICA TO CUT A DEAL!! It is a lost opportunity now but years ago the Vikings, Twins, Gophers, and the Wild (hockey) could have agreed to issue one Request for Proposal (RFP) calling for bids to build 4 stadiums together which clearly would have attracted the interest of major constructions companies since building 4 stadiums at the same time would have aggregated demand for steel, cement, etc. thus leading to a crazy economic concept known as -- VOLUME DISCOUNTS!!! Anyway, for 2007 the Mall of America's (MOA) Phase II expansion construction plan in Bloomington should be combined with the Vikings' quest for a new stadium. The MOA should drop their idea to build a hockey rink in Phase II and the Vikings should drop their plans to build the "Northern Lights" sports, entertainment, and retail complex in Anoka County to build a joint facility with the MOA.

Now that is an ideal partnership utilizing current public infrastructure.

Skol Vikings!

Todd

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Simple Pleasures





Let it be known that I listen to my blog readership which has encouraged me to write about some "lighter topics" beyond how evil governments are, how corrupt the United Nations is, and how bad the customer service can be in Europe :)

So today's posting is just fluff since it is merely a list of simple pleasures that I enjoy in my personal life. My list follows below but of course I would love to hear your own personal items:


  • Jogging with my iPod
  • Eating pizza with friends
  • Taking a nap on my couch
  • Sleeping with ear plugs and an eye shade
  • Watching "24" with my girlfriend
  • Breakfast on my patio during the "6 magical weeks of beautiful weather" in Minnesota
  • Eating my mother's "bing cherry bars"
  • Riding my bicycle to the gym to lift weights
  • Canoeing back to my campsite to read a book
  • Enjoying the silence and isolation provided by scuba diving
  • Posting on my blog/personal newspaper

Undoubtedly I have overlooked some simple pleasures but that is the beauty of free thought and the freedom to change one's life. Of course I must highlight the "common link" these simple pleasures share -- NONE OF THEM ARE CREATED BY OR ARE DEPENDENT ON GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS!!! -- although I am certain the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would love to analyze the fat content of my mother's bing cherry bars. Thus I am forced to eat the entire batch once she has baked them to avoid house-by-house inspections by FDA storm troopers.

So much for the "lighter topics" :-)

Enjoy your choices,

Todd

Monday, May 22, 2006

So they loaded up the truck and moved to...........




Based on my blog postings regular Space Beagle readers know that I am addicted to the various "rankings" produced by various organizations --- world's worst dictators, highest taxed states in the USA, etc. -- so you won't be surprised by today's posting which is based on Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine's newest ranking - "50 Smart Places to Live".

Kiplinger's, http://www.kiplinger.com/personalfinance, ranked US cities according to the following criteria:

-cost of living and housing
-quality health care
-low crime rate
-education
-quality of life
-cultural amenities
-economy
-transportation

Their Top Ten Cities included:

#1 Nashville, Tenn.Our top pick offers affordable homes, a mild climate and a phenomenal entertainment scene that goes far beyond country.

#2 Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.The Twin Cities offer a hip and progressive atmosphere with a midwestern sensibility, multiple cultural outlets, pro teams in all four major sports, a dozen universities and colleges, and a diverse economy.

#3 Albuquerque, N.M.This laid-back city offers resort-town ambience, a boomtown economy and cow-town prices.

#4 Atlanta, Ga.The capital of Georgia is a vibrant city with a rich history, good health care, a great cultural scene and genteel neighborhoods shaded by magnificent dogwood and magnolia trees.

#5 Austin, Tex.Home to the University of Texas, the state capitol, the Zachary Scott Theatre and the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, Austin is a sophisticated salsa of culture, history and politics.

#6 Kansas CityThis city split along state lines offers something for everyone: from stately houses to downtown lofts and world-class museums to barbecue.

#7 Asheville, N.C.A virtually franchise-free downtown, world-class cuisine, amazing crafts, live music venues and fine arts make this city tucked into the Blue Ridge mountain range one of a kind.

#8 Ithaca, N.Y.True, it's in the Finger Lakes boonies of central New York, but Ithaca is an Ivy League outpost with great food, beautiful scenery and Naderite politics.

#9 Pittsburgh, Pa.Currently undergoing a renaissance, this hidden gem has distinctive neighborhoods, tree-lined streets, glittering skyscrapers, upscale shops and a diversified economy.

#10 Iowa City, IowaAn oasis on the prairie, this wholesome middle-American city is bursting with creative and intellectual energy.

Granted I am biased since I live in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area but I have to agree with Kiplinger on this Top Ten ranking for our metro area. Clearly we still have some transportation congestion problems and our housing market is flat now but overall this is an ideal area to work and live. One suggestion I would offer Kiplinger is to add one more factor to their criteria - "political participation, civil society, and corruption" - to round out their analysis since civil society is an essential element for overall quality of life.

See you at city hall,

Todd

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Walls of Waste




Throughout the centuries of human history enormous amounts of money and labor have been devoted to the construction of walls -- around castles, around city states, and even between nations. After reading today's newspaper headline, "Senate Votes to Put Fence on Border", regarding the US Senate's plan to create a 370 mile "triple barrier" fence along the US-Mexico border my first thought was of some of my favorite fences/walls in the world:

1.) Hadrian's Wall -- to keep the Scots out of the Roman Empire. Result -- Rome went out of business :)

2.) Great Wall of China -- to keep invaders out of China. Result -- today this one-party state has built a "wall" on the Internet to keep out bad thoughts like personal liberty.

3.) Berlin Wall -- to keep the Evil West out of the Workers' Paradise that was East Germany. Result -- West and East Germany re-united and the wall came down but was replaced by today's "wall" known as the European Social Model which is the world's largest producer of economic stagnation.

4.) Maginot Line -- built by the French to keep the German military out of France. Result - German paratroopers landed on the opposite side of the wall and shot the French since no guns were installed on the French side of the wall. Not only a waste of French francs but an incredible waste of human life.

5.) Israel -- In an effort to REALLY upset the Palestinians the Israeli government is extending its wall system to create a mind set of caged rats. Result -- more "holy" war but yet Nobel Peace Prizes are still awarded for anyone that "tries" to secure peace in the Middle East. Note to Nobel Committee -- why don't you try to award "success" one year versus "nice attempts"?!!

However, this article failed to mention the plan's monetary cost -- but who cares what the cost is for this exciting public works project right?? This will make us safe from terrorists and even worse...................... low cost hotel cleaning staff!!! I am counting on my friends at Citizens Against Government Waste, http://www.cagw.org, to convince Congress this new wall is a complete waste of money. This waste was highlighted on CNN this morning via a story they had regarding tunnels that have been created under the US-Mexico border used for smuggling drugs and humans apparently. So if Mexicans can't walk across the border or tunnel their way to the USA why not use the "Maginot option" by flying a plane over the US border to have Mexicans parachute into the US of A? Would our next move be the scrambling of F-18s to bring such planes down?

Okay, I hear you asking me -- "so what Space Beagle, it is easy to trash this wall idea but what would you propose we do to live in peace and harmony beyond drinking a Coca Cola together while singing?"

Well, here we go........................there are 535 Members in the US Congress and while I have not checked with all of them I feel rather confident that none of them have proposed the following piece of legislation which I call the "Space Beagle Wall"(SBW). The SBW's central theme is a crazy one -- it uses the power of the referendum to let voters determine their fates not public officials. I propose we secure an international treaty with the United Mexican States (Mexico's official name) which allows each of their 31 states to conduct a binding referendum watched by a group of international observers. These states include:

UNITED MEXICAN STATES:

Aguascalientes, Baja California, Baja California Sur, Campeche, Chiapas, Chihuahua, Coahuila de Zaragoza, Colima, Distrito Federal*, Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Mexico, Michoacan de Ocampo, Morelos, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, Oaxaca, Puebla, Queretaro de Arteaga, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tabasco, Tamaulipas, Tlaxcala, Veracruz-Llave, Yucatan, Zacatecas

The single referendum question would be whether or not the citizens of the respective state want to secede from Mexico to join the United States of America as "states of the Union" bound by the US Constitution and all respective laws while completely renouncing all ties to the United Mexican States -- a clean break and transfer from one nation-state to another if the voters choose via the ballot box not via military operations.

Now THAT is what I call immigration reform. We have accepted economic refugees from all around the world so if the Mexican economy is that poorly managed by the current government let us provide the opportunity to Mexicans to fully assimilate into Americans by casting their vote not jumping over a fence.

Fences are for domestic animals,

Todd

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Creative Indeed




Last night my girlfriend hosted me at Cirque du Soleil's (CDS) "Delirium" show at the Xcel Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. This show is described as focused on:

THE MUSIC OF DELIRIUM
When the idea of a show centered upon Cirque du Soleil music came to Guy Lalibert√É©, he immediately thought 'urban tribal beat'. Those three words have inspired each member of the creative team. 'Urban' reflects the society in which we live: modern, chaotic and everevolving.

This was my first experience with a CDS show despite the fact that a fraternity brother worked for them for several years in Las Vegas. Overall Delirium was a fantastic show which combined music, costumes, acrobatics, and high level visual effects into a very entertaining package. I was most impressed by the malegymnastss who presented a clear argument for the importance of Physical Education classes in the American school system -- really some incredible athletes. However, equally entertaining was the pre-show warm up singer known as "Nitza". She has a very powerful voice coupled with a solid stage presence.

One visual effect I nearly missed was the projected "velvet stage curtain" (like you would see in front of a theatre's stage) that created the image of an opened, dark red curtain on the platform Delirium's performers were on.

Based on the crowd's reaction this show was very well received and clearly showed why Delirium is the number one concert in the USA today.

Watch the balloon,

Todd

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Exchange Program




As I complete my week of working in Brussels here is a front page headline from today's International Herald Tribune (IHT) newspaper -- "Antwerp on edge after killing prompts racial hate worries" -- which is a story regarding the murder of a black woman and a white child she was caring for apparently murdered by a "black-clad teenager with with a shaven skull and a new weapon.............." Timing is everything!! I am doing a day trip to Antwerp today -- typically known as the diamond capital of the world -- but it appears the city's production of skin heads is increasing as evidenced by the rise of the Flemish Interest political party which has an "anti-foreigner program." Unfortunately the IHT did not elaborate what the elements of this program are but we could see the results in October 2006 when municipal elections are scheduled. I should note though that the Flemish Interest party did "condemn Thursday's murder."

Clearly a perfect example of cultures clashing in a Europe that prides itself on its ability to blend diverse cultures, languages, and political systems into the bureaucratic utopia known as the European Union. Another example of cultural friction also noted in today's IHT via an editorial is the decision made by 80 members of the Nukak tribe in Colombia to "renounce their ancestral ways" of living in the Colombian jungle to join the "modern world" in the nearby village of San Jose del Guaviare -- no metropolitan area by any means but clearly a different world for the Nukak.

What struck me most was this (numerous adjectives could be inserted here - "elitist, , pessimistic") statement in IHT's editorial:

"The Nukak have every right to make this decision for themselves. But it's hard to escape the feeling that their self-sustaining existence - which went almost entirely unnoticed by the rest of the world - was holding something open for us, something that has now been lost."

Hey, come on IHT (published by the New York Times, NYT) staff!!! Why don't you save what you fear being "lost" by leaving your modern world, along with some of Hollywood's finest social engineers/policy experts commonly known as actors and actresses, by moving to the Colombian jungle to learn the way of the Nukak culture. I suggest we send 40 staff from the IHT/NYT and 40 of Hollywood's brightest :) stars to the Nukaks' homeland to replace the 80 Nukaks who left the jungle for the local village in an exchange program to benefit Mother Earth.

See you at the village elders' meeting,

Todd

Friday, May 12, 2006

Springtime in Brussels




This week I have been working in Brussels which is experiencing very beautiful spring-like weather. The trees in the park are filled with leaves which makes my jogging in the park very pleasant. Sadly, these trees are in danger -- not from evil capitalists wanting to clear cut city parks -- but instead the danger comes from the European Union's bureaucratic machine which last year produced 1,900 TONS of written materials including reports, press releases, etc. according to a recently completed report published in the Financial Times' Observer column (May 11, 2006).

Call me a tree hugger if you want but I would much prefer more trees in the world instead of more multi-colored brochures explaining who's who in the European Commission. "Save a tree, fire a bureaucrat" -- I believe Henry David Thoreau stated when he was wandering about his pond :)

No, everything in Brussels is not bad. Here are some nice experiences I had during the week:
  • "Inside Man" -- I must say this is the first Spike Lee joint (film) that I have enjoyed throughly which I saw at UGC's Toison d'or location in Brussels. This is a well written story based on a banker's dark past and a group of bank "robbers" who apparently work at the Justice League fighting evil. Jodie Foster plays a very interesting "facilitator" who essentially blackmails her clients, one against the other, to help them achieve what they want while she gets paid very well for these services. The extra entertainment value for me is watching an American film with a foreign audience especially when you hear a line in the movie like, "Albania, Armenia, what's the difference?" to which an theatre audience member burst out with, "oh, my God....." in disbelief of Americans' lack of geographic knowledge (see my posting - "Watch More Dora" for background) . I will award Mr. Lee with a "3.5" rating.
  • "Men's Place" by Guido De Nutte -- NO, this is not a strip club this is a upscale barber with reasonable rates. This is probably THE best haircut/customer service I have received in my adult life. Were this a restaurant review I would award Men's Place with a "5" -- outstanding. Visit them at - 9A rue de l'industrie just off rue Belliard.

Bon soir,

Todd

Thursday, May 11, 2006

We Know What You Are Thinking




Due to the nature of my work I travel extensively which like all things has its positives and negatives. One thing I always enjoy when traveling is reading the local newspaper wherever I am staying -- please don't be like the woman Jimmy Buffett mentioned in his book, "A Pirate Looks at Fifty", who Buffett overheard say to her husband while she was sitting in an open air cafe somewhere in the Caribbean, "Henry, they don't even have a New York Times here!!!" Now that is no way to live - travel to a foreign destination and expects its culture to be exactly like your home area.

Now that is the lighter side of this posting since the topic I am covering today is the "death penalty" concept. What inspired this was an editorial in the Rocky Moutain News newspaper (April 22, 2006 I believe) which read - "A life sentence, not death: A proper fate for Moussaoui" which of course referred to the jury decision for Zacarias Moussaoui, the "19th hijacker" from the September 11th attacks who apparently majored in Hate Studies at university.

As I read the editorial I was reminded of some TV reporting on this case where someone posed the question -- "the decision for the jury is whether or not to apply the death penalty for a crime that Moussaoui PLANNED to commit."

The key word there is PLANNED in case you missed it. If you have ever seen the film, "Minority Report" (yes a Tom Cruise film I watched to the end unlike the incredibly poor "War of the Worlds but I digress.......) you know the concept presented by the film. Essentially the future world is a utopia where crimes have been eliminated because the "justice" system has three people floating in water telling (forecasting) the special police agents like Mr. Cruise which citizens PLAN to commit crimes and when by looking into the future via a telepathic power apparently unknown in our current, primitive society.

http://www.usfca.edu/pj/minorityreport_bergman.htm -- "Minority Report"

By NO means would I ever defend Moussaoui's role in the September 11th attacks or his hate-filled speeches but I remain extremely concerned that an American jury was on the brink of applying the death penalty - which is rather final I think you will agree ;) - to a human being who PLANNED to harm others. Busting rocks in the Big House is clearly a better option.

I could say more but the Pre-Cogs already know what I want to say,

Todd

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Sweet Charity



When I started my first job at age 11 washing dishes at a local restaurant I learned a few important lessons that shaped my thinking today:


  • Getting educated to earn more money is much better than the "false charity" of mandated increases in minimum wages
  • Government likes to tax everyone -- even though I was making $1.20 per hour at the time
  • I much prefer to decide which charities I want to support with my personal funds versus the practice of governments taxing us and then offering "grants" to their favorite non-government entities. Yes, this includes my opposition to President Bush's faith-based initiative -- I much prefer putting my cash directly into the collection plate after the sermon at my church -- now that is transparency!!!

Thanks to my girlfriend's own charity I am now addicted to reading "Men's Health" ("health" widely defined to include physical, mental, and financial) magazine so this posting is focused on their April 2006 article - "How Charitable is Your City?" which ranked 100 US cities' residents in terms of supporting charities/non-profits via cash donations and volunteering their time. I won't reconstruct the entire list but here is an overview for your consideration:

1. Atlanta, Georgia

2. Washington DC

3. Wilmington, Delaware

4. San Francisco, California

5. St. Paul, Minnesota

6. Minneapolis, Minnesota

7. Oakland, California

8. Birmingham, Alabama

9. Richmond, Virginia

10. Charlotte, North Carolina

A few observations on this Top Ten list -- 4 out of the 10 are Southern cities (a cultural element at work here perhaps?) , 2 are in California, and 2 are in Minnesota which I am proud of as a resident of Minnesota but also shocked since our state is the 4th highest taxed state in the USA yet we still support charities in a substantial way.

And coming is last at #100 is -- Manchester, New Hamphire -- in the "Live Free or Die" state which is a creed I subscribe to so I can't believe Manchesterians (a word?) are heartless. Such a ranking deserves further consideration by my free market think tank friends who belong to this organization -- http://www.spn.org

Write a check before Uncle Sam takes it,

Todd

Taxatives



While the USA's tax filing day (April 17) was nearly a month ago the following statistics are disturbing enough that they are worth reading through anytime during the year (Source: Wall Street Journal, April 15-16, 2006):

  • Tax receipts -- for all levels of government as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product include -- Sweden 50.6%, France 43.4%, UK 35.6%, Germany 35.5%, USA 25.6%, Japan 25.3%, and Mexico 19.1%
  • Tax Audits -- the Internal Revenue Service focused most of its tax audit resources in 2004 on two income tax brackets; $100k to $200k (at 1.41% of all returns being audited) and less than $25,000 (at 1.48%). I think we can safely conclude that if you are among the poorest of America's poor the IRS is watching you very closely -- for what I have no idea, perhaps fearing you will work your way out of poverty!!!???
  • Tax preparers -- the USA has 1.2 million professional tax preparers but only 836,000 doctors. Now this is completely wrong since I clearly need a doctor after I process my paperwork for sending on to my tax preparer.
  • Returns to States -- New Mexico does the best at capturing US federal tax dollars since it gets $2 in federal spending for every dollar paid by New Mexico's residents while New Jersey is dead last since it receives only 55 cents for every $1 in federal taxes paid by its residents. So has this wealth redistribution made New Mexico a wealthy state today? No, it remains one of nation's poorest states.

Dr. Steve Forbes please report to surgery,

Todd

Menu for Child Abuse




My adopted state of Minnesota prides itself on being ranked as the #1 healthiest state in the country nearly annually so this recent story really caught my attention since the people involved are natives of St. Paul, Minnesota. Coincidentally, across the river Mayor Rybak of Minneapolis was recently named one of "fittest mayors in the USA" (http://www.minneapolis.org/athletic/)

The story I am talking about is a 4 year old girl who recently appeared on the "Maury Povich" TV show -- no I did not watch the show but read about it while reading a newspaper on an EXERCISE bike. Briana Gayden is a 120 pound, 4 year old --- by contrast I am a male who weighed 135 pounds when I was 15 years old. Briana appeared on the show because he aunt wants Briana's mother -- Daisy Gayden -- to take Briana's obesity seriously by managing what she eats but Daisy simply replied, "mind your own business".

To put this form of child abuse (freedom without common sense and a moral foundation simply leads us to other forms of slavery in my book) in proper context I have re-typed Briana's daily diet according to the Maury show:

10 am -- Briana wakes up and eats: leftovers including ribs, macaroni and cheese, and one pizza

11 am -- Briana eats "breakfast": 2 bowls of sugary cereal, 2 sausages, and 3 eggs

1 pm -- Briana has lunch: bowl of noodles and 6 cookies

3 pm -- Briana has a "snack": cheeseburgers (quantity not listed), french fries, and ice cream

4 pm -- Briana has "dunch" (my word) : large bowl of potato chips

6 pm -- Briana has dinner: 4 pieces of chicken (probably not skinless!!) with macaroni and cheese

7 pm -- Briana has "dessert": big bowl of ice cream

Late night -- if Briana wakes up "hungry" (my emphasis) she gets to eat a pizza

After typing this roster of daily feeding I have a small stomach ache but thankfully we have health care reform on the way such as the State of Massachusetts which now REQUIRES every resident to have health insurance via a system of tax incentives and penalties. Now I am not a heartless bastard that wants the government's social services storm troopers to take Briana away from Daisy but perhaps I can stir some peer pressure for the people around Daisy (no Twiggy herself) and Brianna to host an "intervention" like we do for drug addicts and alcoholics to have Briana go "clean and sober" from her diet that will surely send her to an early grave.

Having reflected on this issue I now wish I had seen the Maury show so I could have heard if Daisy's family is on food stamps -- if they are in this program it is clearly time for Congress to reform this system.

Bon appetit,

Todd

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Watch More Dora


Since I am an ubersexual (as defined by Men’s Heath magazine) I am confident enough to admit it – yes I enjoy watching Dora the Explorer with my nieces! There I said it and having said it I am fully convinced that more Americans need to watch this TV program.

Dora is not only entertaining but very educational since it teaches children to explore their world using a crazy tool known as a “map.” Apparently a map is indeed a crazy concept to Americans ages 8 to 24 since a full 63% of them are unable to find Iraq on a world map despite the billions of American tax dollars be spent there – I don’t know which is a bigger waste of money – the war in Iraq or our public school system??

This survey was conducted by the National Geographic society (a special thank you to my parents for subscribing to this publication throughout my childhood) via their new five year geographic literacy campaign which is found at - http://www.mywonderfulworld.org/

Results like this simply reinforce the American stereotypes I experience in my world travels such as the stand up comedian I heard when I was living in London, UK in 2004 who posed the eternal question --

Q: Why do Americans go to war?

A: So they have a reason to find countries on a map!

Time for school choice,

Todd

Biased (against the) Media



While traveling in Austin, Texas last week I tried to post this commentary but my very poor wireless access at the Radisson Hotel dropped my connection so those initial, brilliant :-)comments were lost so here is my reconstruction attempt.

May 3, 2006 was World Press Freedom Day which was highlighted via a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) which is based in New York City. CPJ’s report named the countries that are home to the “world’s most censored media”. As a great defender of the First Amendment to the US Constitution (which includes our right to lobby governments for relief) this “Hall of Shame” country list caught my attention.

TEN MOST CENSURED MEDIA MARKETS IN THE WORLD

North Korea
Burma
Turkmenistan
Equatorial Guinea
Libya
Eritrea
Cuba
Uzbekistan
Syria
Belarus

Perhaps some interesting observations based on this list:

-Four of these ten countries are former satellites of the former (thank God!!) Soviet Union

-Three of these countries are in Africa so a great topic for my friends at the Africa Resource Bank, http://www.africaresourcebank.org/ , to discuss at their annual conference

-Ted Turner was quoted on TV (Source: http://www.mrc.org/ ) as saying that when he visited North Korea he (paraphrasing here), “saw some thin people but I didn’t see any sign of abuse………” An amazing quote from the founder of the United Nations Foundation which has not done one thing to promote human rights in North Korea – if they have I am VERY happy to be corrected by any of my readers.

Buy your child a newspaper,

Todd

Austin - we have a problem



Sadly I have not posted anything for one week which is partly to blame on extensive travel over the last week but primarily due to the very poor Internet access I had at the Radisson Hotel in Austin, Texas. After spending two hours talking with six different staff people and moving to three different rooms trying to see where high speed Internet access would work I was resigned to using a low quality wireless service in the hotel lobby.

Why is this significant beyond the fact that they wasted a lot of my time and deprived my loyal readers of exciting conversation :) ? It is significant because Austin was the host city for the World Congress on Information Technology, http://www.wcit2006.org, (WCIT) for 2006 so I think my expectations for modern day Internet access were appropriate. I was discouraged to hear from the Radisson staff that they kept a list of rooms at the front desk detailing which guest rooms did not have properly functioning Internet access.

The WCIT happens every two years and the 2006 version was attended by nearly 4,000 techies, venture capitalists, etc. from around the world. Sometimes it felt like an infomercial as various tech companies CEOs gave keynote speeches but two panel discussions really stood out for me:

1.) Youth -- a panel focused on how today's "Net Generation" uses technology with the speakers ranging in age from 16 to 23. Little did I know email is considered to be very formal and out of date by today's youth.

and

2.) Health care -- a video dramatization showing a hospital situation without and then with technology tools. It was actually scary to see how out of date ("analog") today's healthcare system is in reality. My immediate thought was - "my grocery store uses bar codes on everything but (most) hospitals don't even use bar codes on patient ID tags thus relying on staff to copy records. Given my poor handwriting quality I would no doubt endanger any patients I was watching were I working in healthcare!!

Austin itself is a lovely city especially its trail system along the Town Lake where I went jogging. Since the WCIT conference dominated my time I can only offer two restaurant reviews:

1.) Louie's 106 -- an Italian restaurant on 6th Street in Austin. I had a very nice beef carpaccio and spinach salad. Overall the food was very good and the ambiance was nice but the service was lacking since management assigned my waiter to a "big party on the second floor" thus as a single diner I was overlooked. I will have to rate them with a "3" on my 5 point scale.

2.) Manuel's Downtown -- This is a Mexican restaurant on Congress Avenue near the Radisson hotel. I did not really care for the huge open space in the middle of the restaurant and it had too many "after work, loud drunks" at the table next to me but the service staff was excellent and the food was very good especially the "cactus salad" I had as a starter. This is the first time I have eaten cactus so I am now confident I would survive if I am ever stranded in a dessert. I want to give them a "4" rating but the ambiance reduces them to a "3.5".

From Austin I traveled through Atlanta on my way to think tank conference in Ottawa but that is another story since I did not make it due to some challenges at Delta Airlines but that is another posting perhaps if I care to revisit that bad customer service experience.

Happy trails,

Todd

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Buy More Oil!!!




As the US Congress debates oil prices, windfall profits taxes, and energy conservation I can't help but advocate my own recommendation -- use as much oil as you can!!

Now this might sound like crazy public policy but it is built on a more solid foundation than most press releases coming out of Washington DC -- that foundation is the concept known as "scarcity". A basic economic concept that I hope you consider here because for at least since the US Oil Crisis of the 1970's we have been told the world is running out of oil yet Americans have not made any substantial gains on conserving oil or converting to alternatives so the solution I propose is to harness Economics 101 thinking by making oil truly scarce thus incentivizing inventors and investment capital into the search for alternatives. Personally I love the idea I read as a child in a "Popular Science" magazine which had a plan for automobiles made of aluminum bodies with ceramic engines thus reducing the weight of automobiles dramatically which of course would require less gasoline. Perhaps you have your own ideas you want to promote by posting a comment on this blog?

Since I don't see us using up all the world's oil anytime soon so here is an idea designed to reduce American oil consumption while benefitting taxpayers:

REQUIRE GOVERNMENTS TO SELL ALL VEHICLES EXCEPT FOR POLICE AND FIRE VEHICLES AND HAVE GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES USE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

When I drive in downtown Minneapolis I often see the "City of Lakes" cars being driven by the city bureaucrats but why is this necessary? Let them utilize the city's bus systems or the precious light rail train then they can walk the rest of the way to where they need to go which will help in the "war on obesity" this nation's seems intent on waging.

The US federal government sells at least 35,000 vehicles each year via the General Services Administration (GSA - see below) so why not create a federal moratorium on government purchases/leases of vehicles? Why doesn't Congress enact such legislation versus the $100 tax rebate for oil prices recently considered?

http://www.autoauctions.gsa.gov/
How many vehicles does GSA Fleet sell, and when? GSA Fleet will sell approximately 35,000 vehicles this coming year. Most vehicles will be available between April–September, when a majority of our leases expire, but we conduct sales throughout the entire year.

Time to fill my tank,

Todd