Tuesday, June 27, 2006
While watching yesterday's press conference by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates regarding Mr. Buffett's decision to give nearly $37 billion of his current $44 billion fortune to five private charities I was overwhelmed by optimism. Knowing that $37 billion was being donated to worthy private sector charities (Mr. Buffett's "market decision" made by spending his money just like consumers do when they choose which grocery store to shop in) versus the dark prospect of Mr. Buffett passing away leaving his fortune to be attacked by our nation's inheritance ("death") tax. This is simply AMAZING news since both Mr. Buffett and Mr. Bill Gates, Senior (Bill's dad) have been historic advocates of death taxes as noted here --
The bulk of Mr. Buffett's donation will go to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which is primarily focused on reforming schools and improving health care delivery systems and resources. I would much rather see such enlightened billionaires expending these massive cash resources versus ANY government program at any level of government.
Unfortunately I could not watch the entire press conference so if Mr. Buffett commented on the concept of "death taxes" I missed it but let me call on him to not only drop his support of death taxes but to come full circle by declaring his opposition to all income taxes. Why should a welfare recipient who starts a small business to better their life have to pay a portion of their wages -- probably earning $20,000 to $40,000 initially as they get started -- to the government? Why not let this entrepreneur choose to hire more employees to help others get off welfare or simply save their hard earned dollars for an earlier retirement?
Congratulations on your personal choice Mr. Buffett -- let's expand the range of choices for more citizens.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
When the US-led coalition invaded Iraq I was living in London, United Kingdom so I saw first hand the anti-war protesters (nearly 500,000 by some estimates) that marched to Hyde Park to have their voice heard. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean some Americans reacted to the lack of support from France for this invasion by boycotting French products which included the practice of "French fries" being re-named "Freedom fries" by food vendors. Personally I have never had any complaints against the French people other than the country's political/trade union/government culture which is clearly destroying their economy by locking people into a form of "entitlement slavery" manifested in the current welfare state but that clearly deserves a stand alone blog posting.
I was reminded of the "Freedom fries" controversy last week while reading my local newspaper, the Pioneer Press of June 15, 2006, which carried the article, "Students, staff bid teary farewell". This article focused on the closing of Parkway Elementary School in St. Paul, Minnesota which is being closed to "make way for the district's growing French-immersion magnet school, which will serve more than 400 students this fall."
Now since the State of Minnesota's motto is "L'toile du Nord" (French for Star of the North if you don't know AND the name of this magnet school) I should not be surprised by such a local interest in the French language given the impact French explorers had on this region. But the mere fact that a "French"-immersion school would see such substantial growth at all generates the observations noted below:
- Market decisions - while Minnesota does not have a wide open, school choice system there is indeed some amount of choice for parents and students. This French immersion school is booming because families chose it over other options. Tell me again why we need the US Department of Education with its multiple layers of bureaucrats to dictate what local school districts should do? If there is indeed some enlightened Education Department employee in Washington DC that saw the market interest in such a school and made it happen for students please tell me who this person is so I can congratulate them!!!
- Languages -- when I attended high school in the 1980's the only foreign language offered was "French" which seemed to really limit us given the rise of Spanish in the USA. I simply find it amazing that a French-immersion school would be successful in today's world given the decline of French globally and the rise of languages such as Chinese and Arabic in terms of geo-political importance and given the anti-French sentiment expressed via the "Freedom fries" protest.
It is developments such as this one that convinces me that even more school choice is needed so local citizens can create an even wider variety of magnet and immersion schools. Imagine a high school devoted to literature, welfare reform, or even cancer research -- the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota would be an ideal partner in such a venture devoted to cancer. For more on school choice please visit my friends at -- www.heartland.org or www.ij.org
Choices not czars,
Well, the world has truly come full circle indeed!!! Today's USA Today reports that Governor Corzine (Democrat-New Jersey) plans to sell "800 used vehicles from the state motor pool to save an estimated $2 million in annual costs to ease the state's financial woes............"
In terms of the most trusted/respected professions in the economy -- "politician" and "used car salesman" are not typically ranked very high by citizens and now Governor Corzine has combined both professions into one :) All kidding aside let me congratulate Governor Corzine for his leadership to save taxpayers money by actually cutting expenses out of government. However, 800 used vehicles should only be a beginning. What buildings does the State of New Jersey own or lease that should be sold/terminated combined with the elimination of state government jobs? Even if the public employee trade unions don't allow Governor Corzine to eliminate jobs he should at least aggressively push to have the vast majority of state employees work from their homes via telecommuting. By utilizing telecommuting across state government Governor Corzine would reduce real estate costs, reduce traffic congestion, and theoretically would improve family life (perhaps juvenile crime?) by allowing parents to work from home.
Governor Corzine should now lead the nation by calling for the elimination of all telecommunications taxes within the State of New Jersey to further encourage telecommuting to not only reduce government costs and traffic congestion but to facilitate the development of start up businesses. Who knows, perhaps a few state government employees -- once removed from the collectivist environment of a public employee cubicle farm -- would be inspired to start their own small business once empowered by telecommuting tools thereby further reducing the government workforce.
Encouraging baby steps Governor Corzine,
Amazing that one full week has passed since I last posted here -- still love the "Dwarf Protest" posting so if you get a chance please consider reading it -- but finally back blogging after a busy week of social events with the girlfriend (JAN) and a business trip to Washington DC so my fingers are "content-rich" and ready for several postings today :)
During the past week the USA observed the "Fathers Day" holiday so I made my usual call to my father thanking him for raising me and giving me the right tools to succeed in life. I spent most of the day on a picnic with JAN's family in Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Minnesota which is truly a local treasure for those of us living "south of the river". The weather that day was beautiful and Holland Lake was busy with people fishing, canoeing, and kayaking.
Assets such as Lebanon Hills remind me to reflect on the vision and planning of the "founding fathers" (not sexist, just historically accurate in most cases) of our cities/counties. Having the vision to set aside nearly 700 acres in the middle of the Twin Cities' south metro area for a regional park is impressive. So as I enjoyed Fathers Day with JAN's family I thanked not only my father for teaching me to love the great outdoors but also the numerous founding fathers across our country who created a quality of life unknown in most countries in our world.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
"Even when laws have been written down, they ought not always to remain unaltered"
Aristotle, Greek philosopher and scientist (384 BC- 322 BC)
Upon my return from Northern Wisconsin this week I attended my friend Cecily's annual conference in Minneapolis -- http://www.pushthefuture.org -- which is focused on "futurist" (my term) themes, not just fads but exploring entirely new markets and ways of doing things.
What I most enjoy about attending a conference such as this one is that I get exposed to an entirely different set of speakers and perspectives from my normal routine. Cecily's contacts in the arts community really opens doors for her to secure some very creative thinkers. Following below are random quotes and observations made by the conference speakers:
"Gold Farmers" -- sometimes my ignorance amazes me!! Who knew that some people work full-time "harvesting" items of value found on online games (like a magic sword in some fantasy game) so they can sell them via services such as ebay. You can see more at -- http://www.chinesegoldfarmers.com , a documentary by Ge Jin
"the concept of 'play' in the 21st century will be what 'steam' was in the 19th century......." -- Julian Dibbell
"just knowing that Hubbell (the astronomer) started as a lawyer but became an astronomer gives me hope for humanity.........." :) Lawrence Krauss, Professor of Astronomy
"Dwarf Protest" -- sorry I did not catch the name of the online fantasy game that Katie Salen (online game designer) mentioned in her speech but I was really struck by her example of why companies should be prepared for customers altering and utilizing products in ways the original manufacturer never intended simply by working outside of the rules/regulations/laws. Ms. Salen's example is called the "Dwarf Protest" where a group of online gamers playing the role of dwarfs were upset with what they perceived as "inferior powers" in the online game. So what did the dwarfs do? They set a time and place for all dwarfs to "meet" in the game to jump up and down as a sign of protest and to demand more powers to play the game more effectively. The result? The computer servers hosting the game crashed due to the jumping dwarfs.
"Architecture for Humanity" (AFH) -- Cameron Sinclair is the co-founder of this organization focused on sustainable building design that is specific for local, native populations and their environment. Yes, I am completely biased against government "assistance" so I was very excited to see Mr. Sinclair's Power Point presentation contrasting AFH's schools versus school built by a UNICEF program which were beyond laughable -- the UNICEF people in charge of these schools should be prosecuted for fraud!!!
Overall a very good use of two days of the work week. The 2007 theme for the PUSH conference is "SuperPower" so I encourage you to watch their website for the program details.
Enjoy your own future,
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Due to a mini-vacation over the past weekend followed a two-day conference in Minneapolis this week my ability to post comments here was severely restricted but I am back at my desk blogging away this afternoon so I hope you enjoy and perhaps even learn something new for your travels from my musings :)
Wow!! What a great weekend trip to the Apostle Islands area in Northern Wisconsin which is only a 4 hour drive from the Twin Cities of Minnesota. A group of fraternity brothers and their significant others/joy of their lives gathered to share a large cabin located on Madeline Island, the main island in the set of 22 islands in this national park area. The original explorers apparently could only identify 12 islands when they arrived thus the "Apostle" name as the legend goes.
We took the ferry boat from Bayfield, Wisconsin to Madeline Island where our cabin was located early Friday evening after traveling at a "velocity higher than local authorities would approve" :) so we could catch the 5 pm ferry. The evening was spent catching up with each others' lives and grilling buffalo burgers and steaks supplied by the one fraternity brother I had not seen for 6 years so the nostalgia was running high coupled with the beer consumption. On Saturday my girlfriend (JAN) and I completed a 6 mile run along a very quiet, tree lined road which was an ideal setting complete with the sounds of our iPods -- so much for the sounds of nature!!
The rest of Saturday was spent touring Bayfield after a ferry ride that convinced us that Lake Superior was too rough for us to charter a sail boat. JAN and I enjoyed a wonderful lunch sitting on lounger chairs on a sunny sidewalk followed by a walking tour of the city including two bed and breakfast establishments as we made plans for a return trip to the area. My overall observation was that while it was considered early in the tourist season for this area the Apostle Islands remain an undiscovered jewel by most tourists which is fine with me and that customer service in all the businesses we visited was top quality and very friendly.
Following another round of grilling and making smores on the camp fire (thanks to JAN for this great idea) on Saturday night our merry little band traveled the 3 miles down the road to a local institution, "Tom's Burned Down Cafe", which I last visited in 1998. Overall the place was still the same -- truly a burned down cafe with no walls or roof but sadly they have added a circus tent-like covering over a portion of the bar. As we entered the bar my fraternity brother Larry was asked by the door man if he wanted to pay the $4.00 cover charge (hey, live music buddy!) OR do 20 push ups so they could get in for free -- 20 push ups of course since $4 will get you a beer.
As we left Tom's that night I set my empty water bottle near the exit "door" so the door man said, "hey, what do you think this is , a recycling center.............." so I had to do 20 push ups to cover the recycling charge -- all was done with good humor of course so loosen up and leave your stress at home like I did that night. Okay, friends that know me well are probably laughing so hard they can't read beyond this paragraph but I am being honest.
Sunday was uneventful since our entire group simply packed up and went our separate ways to get home to friends and family.
The Apostle Islands remain on my short list of ideal vacation spots so I hope you have a chance to enjoy them but not when I am there so it doesn't get TOO crowded :)
Friday, June 09, 2006
“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” Groucho Marx
Over the years that I have lived in the Twin Cities of Minnesota I have belonged to the following private social clubs:
Decathlon Athletic Club
Calhoun Beach Club
Minneapolis Athletic Club
Today only two of these five clubs still exist as the traditional private members' clubs complete with oak paneled rooms and social events. While these clubs offered "reciprocal membership privileges" so that we could utilize other such clubs when we were in that area of the city this reciprocal process was tedious to say the least since it required a card of introduction, etc. The problem I would identify is that these clubs focused on retaining their "island" status refusing to move with the changing market conditions in terms of a more mobile population and families with young children looking for fun activities. I always believed that clubs like my beloved Decathlon Club could have survived against the big chain health clubs by essentially merging into one entity that allowed members to use clubs when and where you wanted. For instance, I could play racquetball at the Decathlon Club in Bloomington on a Monday then on Tuesday use the Minnesota Club in St. Paul for a lunch meeting with one seamless membership card and no "reciprocal" paperwork. Not only would such a "one entity" approach have added value for members it would have reduced overall operating costs for these private clubs by eliminating overlapping operations and by aggregating purchases for volume discounts.
I was reminded of my thinking on these clubs this week when I read this article, "Wirth seeks high end hotel at site of Chicago social club", in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. Wirth Companies purchased the former Minneapolis Athletic Club (MAC) in 1998 for a mere $4.5 million then spent $50 million to convert it into today's Grand Hotel complete with a Lifetime Athletic Club (one of the nation's largest chain health clubs). The article was focused on Wirth's pursuit of the Chicago Athletic Association -- another piece of prime real estate -- for conversion into another high end hotel. The MAC is a perfect example of how the private members' clubs I love failed to successfully change with market forces since its ambiance started feeling like a nursing home for old, white men -- not a good place to meet women I can assure you :) versus a fun, energetic place to bring your family.
The demise of private members/athletic clubs in the USA is worthy of an MBA case study project to better understand -- changing market conditions/demograhics, marketing, and operational synergies.
Sadly I won't be seeing my friends at our annual gourmet dinner at Decathlon Club since it is gone having been replaced by a water park. Ah, but the memories are treasured!
Enjoy your own club,
Monday, June 05, 2006
Unfortunately I did not hear the entire interview but today Neil Cavuto of "Cavuto on Business" interviewed a gentlemen talking about how the US economy is dominated by entrepreneurial capital but yet "our government does not change/keep pace..........." which reminded me of a speech I heard former Speaker of the House/potential presidential candidate Newt Gingrich give several years ago in the 1990's about the use of cathode ray tubes in the US's air traffic control system!!! Imagine your iPod having more functionality than air traffic controllers having at their work stations -- that won't make you sleep any better on your next flight :)
Mr. Cavuto's guest stated that "today's banking center is in Charlotte so why not move the Department of Treasury there.............." which makes a hell of a lot of sense to me especially given my childhood in Iowa during the "Farm Crisis" when small towns literally died out, plus my years of working in rural economic development in the 1990's where local activists chased jobs, and today's debate/fear about US jobs being "outsourced" India and China.
So why not bring some urban renewal to Washington DC by "off shoring" federal government jobs around the country to smaller, less expensive cities in our country? I love the idea of the Department of Agriculture moving to VERY affordable Des Moines, Iowa which is home of the World Food Prize (thanks to John Ruan for his leadership) and how about moving the Department of State to Seattle to place more emphasis on the rise of Asia's economies.
Sure this might affect real estate prices in Washington DC but imagine how the parking would improve when you visit the Smithsonian. :)
On a more serious note such a decentralized government would be more secure, less expensive, and would be easy to manage assuming government utilizes today's modern tools -- email, videoconferencing, skype, Instant Messenger, etc.
Save money via geography,
This past weekend was filled with a range of entertainment and summer activities primarily built around celebrating my 6th month anniversary with my girlfriend (JAN). We started with dinner at "Azia" on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis on Friday night. Azia, ihttp://www.aziarestaurant.com/food/nouveau.htm, s a very nice pan-Asian restaurant where the owner walks around asking patrons about their meals. I loved their decor, quality of wait staff, the valet parking service, and of course the food. For an appetizer I shared the "cranberry puffs" with JAN but focused on my own platter of maki sushi which was excellent. My main dish with a combination of scallops, shrimp, and calamari with a "three star" hot sauce which was very tasty. For dessert we finished with the "Almond Joy" ice cream dish which was not only excellent but THE perfect "cool" dish after my spicy main course!! I would rate Azia with a "4.5" (out of 5) so give it a try if you find yourself in the area.
Following dinner we traveled to Acme Comedy Club in Minneapolis for some stand up comedy featuring Tom Simmons who has played on Comedy Central. Clearly Mr. Simmons is no fan of President Bush based on his joke selection. Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the evening was watching the woman in the FRONT row who talked louder than the comedians did when she ordered drinks -- Simmons made fun of her but she had no clue she was the butt of the joke. Finally I would point out that each guest was given a promotional DVD of "Lucky Louie" which is a new comedy on HBO apparently. I appreciated the marketing effort but had HBO hired me as a consultant (resume ready if needed) I would have arranged for the club to play a short video clip of the DVD on their pre-show screen which was playing some comedy clips anyway along with having drinks served in plastic tumblers with the HBO logo printed on them -- my fraternity party training has paid off :)
On Saturday JAN and I ran in a 5K run in Burnsville to support the "Tender Hearts Foundation" to raise funds to help homeless children. I can only reflect on how positive and upbeat the event atmosphere was with DJ music, a pancake breakfast, and hundreds of runners working hard for a souvenir t-shirt. Contrast this charity fundraising event with any visit to a government office such as the Department of Motor Vehicles. Instead of government "helping" people in need it should leave us with our assets so we can support the creation of more charity organizations.
Later on Saturday JAN, her mum, and I enjoyed seeing the "Da Vinci Code" which I am happy to rate with a "4" and commend Ron Howard (loved him as Opie and Richie) as the film's director. I enjoyed the book and the film. Again, if the Catholic Church wants to hire me as a consultant my resume is available :) The Church's (I am Lutheran, more Reformationist actually since I avoid cult of personality as much as I can -- for full disclosure) attack on this book helped Dan Brown sell millions of copies. Instead I would have loved to see the Church give an advance to a Believer/talented writer to have him/her write a work of fiction telling the story of Jesus from the Church perspective to reach the masses the way Dan Brown has done.
After the film JAN and I hosted our friends Rich and Alison for some classic summer grilling. The weather was perfect and the food was excellent especially the dessert which was "flavour burst" butter pecan ice cream from "Kalli's Popcorn Shop" in Apple Valley which is owned by our neighbors - Bob and Kathy. Kalli's is my kind of small business serving pop corn, ice cream, and gift tins so my rating is a "5" in terms of customer service, quality, and atmosphere for similar shops.
Enjoy the summer,
Friday, June 02, 2006
This week I made a short trip to Holland Lake in Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan, Minnesota to watch Governor Tim Pawlenty and Lt. Governor Carol Molnau, http://www.timpawlenty.com/, announce their quest for re-election to serve as Minnesota's executives.
When I was a lobbyist years ago I knew both of these people when they served in the Minnesota House of Representatives although I knew Lt. Governor Molnau better. It is very easy for me to state that of all the candidates running for Governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty is by far our best choice. While I would like to see him be much more aggressive on cutting government spending his overall political ideology, his personality, and love of all things Minnesotan leave me confident in his ability to be our CEO for four more years.
Today though I want to focus on Lt. Governor Molnau since I regret not asking the following question at the Holland Lake event since the media dominated the event -- hey, shouldn't bloggers qualify for some form of "credentialed media" status? :
"Governor Pawlenty, let me applaud our decision years ago to appoint Lt. Governor Molnau as Commissioner of the MN Department of Transportation. Not only did this appointment serve taxpayers well by having Ms. Molnau "wear two hats" since the Office of Lt. Governor's job duties are rather limited this appointment also gave Ms. Molnau an opportunity to exhibit her management abilities. So the question is -- "given her performance record what department would you appoint Ms. Molnau as Commissioner when you two are re-elected, perhaps the MN Department of Human Services?"
I have not looked at this issue for years but I believe that something like 43 out of our 50 states have the office of Lieutenant Governor so if the job duties are limited to "wait around in case the governor is incapacitated or dies............." for any of these 42 other Lieutenant Governors then let their respective Governors appoint them to manage some arm of the state government to better serve taxpayers.
Minnesota's primary election is in September and the general election of course is in November so get out on the campaign trail to support your favorite candidates.
Vote don't bitch,
Thursday, June 01, 2006
On May 30th my girlfriend and I attended the Humphrey Institute's 2006 Public Leadership Awards dinner, http://www.hhh.umn.edu, on the University of Minnesota campus. We sat at a table organized by my friends, Tom and Karen, so we really enjoyed the conversation regardless of the official program. The program itself was interesting since it honored "individuals, organizations, or projects that have made demonstrated contributions to the common good through public leadership and service." The 2006 award recipients included:
former US Senator George Mitchell
former Minnesota Supreme Court chief Justice Kathleen Blatz
Gary Cunningham, CEO of Northpoint Health and Wellness Center
Geri Joseph, former US Ambassador and community leader
All four speakers are clearly leaders in their own right. I must say that I do not share Senator Mitchell's political views but I did find his speech entertaining and since he is no longer serving in the US Senate perhaps I had a sense of comfort that he could not raise my taxes anymore :) But overall I would say that Gary Cunningham is a future leader worth watching so I hope my free market friends are nurturing his thinking to leverage his talent for improving the lives of our fellow citizens.
Now this dinner event was held on May 30th just a day after Memorial Day so upon reflection I can't help but think this would have been an ideal opportunity to recognize the contributions, public service, and sacrifices of the nation's veterans who guard our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness -- freedoms that allow us to enjoy public assemblies such as the Humphrey Institute's dinner event.
My grandfather, three uncles, and several fraternity brothers have served in the US Armed Forces so let me thank all of them for their service in what is unfortunately a necessary role of government given the tribal mentality of most nation-states as they compete for power, markets, and resources. Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (USA) and 138 years later we are still producing military veterans so we have work left to be done.
Merci, gracias, mange tak, grazie, danke to all veterans,
To take advantage of the long Memorial Day weekend I gave the entire Space Beagle staff some time off so I could enjoy some scuba diving in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with my girlfriend ("JAN") who is a very natural diver and the ultimate dive buddy!! There are of course better dive locations than Fort Lauderdale but the city amenities such as restaurants, airport, beach walk, and shops combined with the diving offer a great vacation value.
For probably the fourth time now I went diving with Pro Dive which is on Seabreeze Drive next to the International Swimming Hall of Fame. This is a well run operation despite the large dive boats in their fleet known as "cattle cars" but I was happy and relaxed to be diving. Due to the thunderstorms the water visibility was limited to less than 30 feet but we did see a variety of wildlife including -- lobsters, manta ray, nurse shark, and healthy corals.
After diving in the ocean I love to dive into some food so here are my reviews of local restaurants we patronized:
Angelo's Pizza and Pasta - located in a strip mall known as Harbor Shops this was a very pleasant discovery complete with great staff. Let me assure you that their "X-Large" pizza is indeed large but I was happen to meet their challenge -- nothing better than cold pizza for breakfast!! This is a restaurant where the "small" house salad can easily be shared by two people. Since "Elements" in Phoenix, Arizona is the ultimate "5" rating I can't give Angelo's anything higher than a "3" rating but this is an ideal place to bring your family.
Joe Picasso's Pottery Painting Studio and Cafe - located on one of my favorite avenues, "Las Olas Boulevard" , is an ideal oasis from the Florida heat. This is an ice cream parlor, coffee shop, and art gallery all round into one -- imagine the banker who had to review that business plan!! I enjoyed an Italian soda and the very comfortable furniture which I trust you will find very nice should you visit. An easy "3" rating for being a cool place to relax.
Mark's on Las Olas - saving the best location for last is one of my favorite restaurants so let me say up front they get a "4" rating which would have been a "4.5" had the hostess been pleasant when I asked to borrow an umbrella when I left to retrieve our car after dinner. My starter was scallops followed by a beef filet that essentially crumbled in my mouth since it was so tender it did not require chewing :) JAN and I shared two chocolate desserts including a triple mousse selection and a hazelnut cake which were excellent. Our waitress was first class and should clearly be promoted to serve as Mark's chief hostess.
Following dinner at Mark's we shopped in a little boutique shop known as "Elements on Las Olas" (not to be confused with the Phoenix restaurant) where we bought a few gifts for family members. Elements was having their "50% off summer clearance sale" and the two owners could not have been better shop owners. My only suggestion to elements is for them to offer a complimentary glass of wine in the evening as people browse - no doubt that would encourage sales since you need some time to review their unique inventory of housewares/interior decorating items.
Keep your feet in the sand,