Wednesday, January 31, 2007
My local newspaper reported that none other than Barbra Streisand -- champion of big government and limousine liberal public policy solutions -- contributed $10,000 to a charter school - a baby step for consumer choice in education -- in St. Paul, Minnesota. Indeed, the Streisand Foundation provided this grant to the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists which serves students in the 9th through 12th grades.
If readers don't know a charter school is a form of school choice however in Minnesota it is half-pregnant reform since our charter schools are still run by the education establishment for the most part. I am happy to be "educated" by my readers if I mis-stated anything regarding charter schools. For more on school choice/reform issues please visit these entities:
www.heartland.org -- for their "School Reform News" newspaper
One final comment about Ms. Streisand's generosity is the fact that she held a concert in St. Paul's Xcel Center where she charged up to $450.00 per ticket. Now I understand why the big government types like her want governments to mandate "living wages" -- because if we had living wages it would allow those Americans living in poverty to afford Babs' concert tickets!!
A concerted effort for students,
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
"Established as a Belgian colony in 1908, the Republic of the Congo gained its independence in 1960, but its early years were marred by political and social instability. Col. Joseph MOBUTU seized power and declared himself president in a November 1965 coup. He subsequently changed his name - to MOBUTU Sese Seko - as well as that of the country - to Zaire."
This hospital is being built in memory of Mr. Mutombo's mother who "........died nine years ago when civil unrest and a curfew prevented her from getting to a hospital." (Source: Houston Chronicle) I hope readers would draw at least these important conclusions from this story:
1.) Compared to Congo the USA clearly does not have a "health care crises" which requires even MORE government intervention -- instead we need consumer choice not more regulatory agencies.
2.) "Curfews" are imposed by governments (failed governments that is) thus it is fair to say that Mrs. Mutombo's death was caused by the Congolese government.
3.) Granted, we don't all have Mr. Mutombo's financial resources and celebrity power to open other peoples' checkbooks but we can and should volunteer more than we do today.
4.) European post-colonialism -- Belgian in the case of Congo -- has still left several dysfunctional governments around the world. Given the wealth in Belgium today perhaps their citizens should build a few hospitals in Congo today to help compensate for their past imperialism.
Charity is alive and well,
Monday, January 29, 2007
My immediate reply was, "hey just think of all the candidates running for president as another version of 'American Idol' with the caucus/primary process a way for the contestants to be eliminated." As a native Iowan I can assure readers that the Iowa caucus process is a better experience than listening to Simon Cowell's belittling of contestants.
Currently -- unless threatened by other states' decisions to move up their primary election dates -- the Iowa caucuses are set for January 14, 2008 so there is now less than 50 weeks before the first-in-the nation presidential caucus happens followed by the New Hampshire primary so they race is on!! You can track the action at:
Enjoy our free elections,
Saturday, January 27, 2007
http://www.unitedvanlines.com -- under "Migration Study"
The 2006 results show that the following states enjoyed the most "in-bound migration" and which states suffered the most "out-bound migration" :
1.) North Carolina
2.) South Carolina
2.) New York
These migration trends show a clear shift of America's population from the "Rust Belt" of the central states to the "Bible Belt" of the southern states. In general terms I would note that people are fleeing high state income tax rates and high unemployment for the opportunities in pro-business states in the South.
Michigan is perhaps the best example since downtown Detroit with its "Hip Hop Mayor" is a complete disaster area with buildings still boarded up from the race riots in the 1960's while regions like the Research Triangle in North Carolina are booming.
The political, education, and business communities in Michigan should agree that major reforms are needed for generating economic growth so let me encourage them to utilize their local free market think tanks for public policy reform ideas:
Spreading the pain via higher taxes is not the answer.
Based on the CNN interview and the article I read here are my random observations on the subject of obesity in the USA:
- Jerry Anderson noted that truck drivers "live, on average, 15 years less than other adults due to their lifestyle which lacks exercise and results in obesity..........." (paraphrasing here). Given the constant labor shortage the trucking industry has for over the road drivers perhaps the various trucking companies/trade associations should launch a coordinated corporate wellness program since it would be less expensive to simply help truck drivers live/work longer versus spending the money to recruit and train new drivers.
- I am a regular church attendee myself but am always concerned with the "church ghetto" crowd who attend 3 or 4 services/study groups at their church weekly. My bias would be for them to replace one of these services with doing some good works in their community. Perhaps they could spend some time in a gym since Pastor Reynolds noted that "40 percent of you (his congregation) need to lose weight." A cautionary note to offer to these church goers would be to avoid making the gym your "new church" which is what the gym is for many of the muscle heads I see at mine -- strive for a healthy balance of church and gym like the Greeks taught us via their "everything in moderation" philosophy.
- Sports - during my school years our athletic teams competed against several Catholic schools who regularly had very good teams. Since I have moved around a lot in my life I have belonged to a number of Lutheran churches but what I never saw was any focus placed on youth sports such as the Catholic basketball leagues. Not only does participating in sports teach children the benefits of good health but it also teaches sportsmanship and teamwork which are essential elements for good citizenship.
To your health,
Friday, January 26, 2007
My first thought when I read this article was, "hey Congressman Tancredo, I completely agree with you about the hypocrisy of these caucuses but instead of just calling for them to be dissolved -- highly unlikely -- why don't you ask the caucuses if you can become a member?" Then I researched this suggestion a bit only to find that "white" Members of Congress have tried to join the CBC in the past but have been denied:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congressional_Black_Caucus -- reportedly first attempted by Congressman Pete " a white man and a Democrat" Stark in 1975
Perhaps our current Affirmative Action laws should be applied to the CBC so they create a "white slot" for someone like Congressman Tancredo to become a member?
Keep hope alive,
The Financial Times (FT) reported this week that the Tribune Company appears headed for extinction since it has numerous bidders for its collection of assets including:
Chandler family and News Corp -- focused on the newspaper assets especially Newsday which News Corp would like to combine with the back office operations of its New York Post newspaper to reduce operating expenses.
Carlyle Group -- is interested in buying Tribune's television stations
David Geffen -- this co-founder of SKG Dreamworks wanted to buy Tribune's Los Angeles Times
No where in this FT article were the Tribune's Chicago Cubs mentioned -- one of my most storied baseball teams in America. An interesting side note is that News Corp once owned the Los Angeles Dodges which they ultimately sold for $430 million (http://www.newscorp.com/news/news_206.html) to a private owner. Ideally a break up of the Tribune would result in a baseball fan owning the Cubs.
So who will ultimately own my beloved Cubs? When will they ever win the World Series? Perhaps I missed it but why haven't the sports writers commented on this pending Tribune sale/break up?
See you at the Cubby Bear,
This religious intolerance remained the law of the land until then Governor Kit Bond (and future US Senator) pushed to officially eliminate the law from the state code in the 1970's. I found this historical footnote especially interesting since former Governor Mitt Romney (http://firstspouses2008.blogspot.com) , a clearly prominent Mormon, is running for President of the USA.
Prior to dinner I spent nearly two days working in Jefferson City, Missouri which coincided with Governor Matt Blunt's annual State of the State speech. His speech was dominated by talk of health care and education reforms but for me two items he mentioned regarding tax reform REALLY caught my attention:
1.) The Governor called for eliminating the application of Missouri's state income tax on Social Security benefits.
2.) The Governor called for exempting most businesses from the corporate franchise tax as long as they provided health insurance to their employees.
Congratulations to Governor Blunt on this tax reform leadership. Perhaps he could work with his father, US Congressman Roy Blunt, to drive substantial Social Security reform such as letting people keep this money to pay for health insurance instead -- simply give taxpayers a choice. Further, if the corporate franchise tax had never existed the business community would have had substantial funds that could have been spent on employee salaries or health care benefits instead of sending more tax dollars to Jefferson City.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
As I listened to the speech I read an op-ed by Mary Anastasia O'Grady which summarized the annual "2007 Index of Economic Freedom" which is co-published by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal. The full index can be reviewed at -- www.heritage.org/index
The two partner organizations use a set of economic criteria (regulations, taxes, labor unions, etc.) to rank a total of 157 countries in terms of their overall economic freedom. Readers can review the full index for themselves so let me focus on the "top 5" and the "bottom 5" countries in this year's index:
1. Hong Kong (note - China itself was ranked #119)
4. United States
5. New Zealand
157. North Korea
Now granted, perhaps I missed it since I was reading my mail so maybe President Bush mentioned this index in his speech but I doubt it. I feel strongly that utilizing such an index would have helped him illustrate to the US Congress and world leaders who will focus on the speech's content the need for greater free trade in the world and an overall reduction in the role governments play in macroeconomics.
Ask yourself -- where would you rather open a business and/or raise a family? Australia (economically free) which has a high per capita income/quality of life or in Zimbabwe (economically oppressive) which must now rely on food aid to feed its citizens but was once a net exporter of food?
President Bush needs a TANGIBLE tool like this index to show when progress has been made in the march to freedom versus his current, intangible rhetoric about bringing democracy to Iraq.
Maybe next year,
Monday, January 22, 2007
1.) I bought a copy of "Rolling Stone" magazine at an airport which had a young blond singer on the cover and I had NO idea who she was -- turned out it was Britney Spears, and
2.) I was skiing in Colorado when I was run over by a young kid on what I soon learned was a "snow board"
No further comments on Britney Spears today but regarding the sport of "snow boarding" I want to draw an analogy to the sport of "fishing" which is seeing a very similar demographic challenge. I remember a ski resort owner quoted years ago that, "snow boarding saved the skiing industry, because it brought the children back on the slopes and their parents came with them on their skis............."
I mention this historic development because our Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issued a report stating that "fewer young Minnesotans are fishing these days and as a result , the state is losing a generation of conservation-minded anglers.........." as quoted by the Pioneer Press's Outdoors Editor, Chris Niskanen, in yesterday's newspaper. Mr. Niskanen is inviting readers to send in any and all comments, concerns, and suggestions regarding what can be done/or not done to get more youth involved in fishing for publication in the February 4th Outdoors Section.
Here are my observations:
1.) Snowboarding -- I don't have the perfect solution to offer the fishing industry but it needs to discover/invent its own version of "snow boarding" to get children involved again so they bring their parents out fishing with them.
2.) Sports -- the fishing/outdoors industry should work to get "outdoor sports" to be sanctioned sports in high schools.
3.) Restaurants -- the Minnesota restaurant industry should create a "wild game fish" program that would pay young children to catch and deliver freshly caught fish to restaurants in their home towns.
4.) Drivers Licenses -- Minnesota state law should be changed to allow for a "combination license" that would combine the ability to drive a vehicle legally with the authority to hunt and fish in Minnesota perhaps called the "M-Card" -- classic one stop shopping for citizens that would ultimately save taxpayer/fee revenues by streamlining the licensing process.
5.) Farm Bureau -- perhaps the state farm bureau should expand its outreach to promote aquaculture to get children interested in raising fish for stocking our lakes and streams.
6.) Boy Scouts of America (BSA)-- sadly I think the Girls Scouts of America have become obsessed with political correctness/left wing politics and my beloved BSA has been under attack for it perceived homophobia and even worse - belief in GOD!!!! The BSA has a "Fishing merit badge" , http://www.meritbadge.com/mb/052.htm, which could be a great resource for the outdoors/fishing industry. I would suggest that the outdoors industry's players -- rod/reel manufacturers, Cabela's , Gander Mountain, REI, etc. work with the BSA to host merit badge counselor training sessions and BSA-endorsed fishing tournaments to get boys interested in the sport again. Since the "Explorer" scout program of the BSA is co-ed they could take into the girl population using this same model.
Hopefully my readers have better ideas that I have presented here so if you do please send them to:
Pioneer Press - Outdoors Editor
345 Cedar Street
St. Paul, Minnesota 55101
Sunday, January 21, 2007
HCC Provost Ken Simberg announced this past week that due to his frustration with the "perennially dismal academic performance of the college's football players" he is recommending that the the school drop its football program for the 2007-2008 school year. Such a decision would make the world worse off for two reasons -- 1.) less football would be played and enjoyed and 2.) the 63 football players (nearly all of them have academic problems according to the Pioneer Press article I read, www.twincities.com) would be academic castaways since football is the only reason many of them are in college today.
Without the discipline and structure that comes from being a football player how can anyone expect these players to succeed academically? Granted they are doing poorly academically with the team grade point average over the last five years sitting at a 1.8 out of 4.0. However, of the 63 current players on the team only 3 are from Minnesota with a total of 34 players coming from Ohio and Florida.
Since nearly 50% of these underachieving students -- despite the remedial education courses that HCC provides for these players -- are from two states let me call on the State of Minnesota to send an invoice to the governments of Ohio and Florida for the cost of this remedial education and related academic counseling the athletic department is probably providing. I am all for the concept of student-athletes and the diversity that such player recruitment provides but why should our state bail out the poorly-performing K-12 education systems in Ohio and Florida.
Let me close with a quote from Branden Bailey, a freshman football recruit from College Park, Georgia -- "I beg you, please don't take this away from us, where I come from you either sell drugs, or you do something academic-wise or athletics-wide to stay out of trouble. We might go home and do worse."
Let's help these young men and future graduates by sending a very public message by sending invoices to the high schools that "taught" these students to recover the cost of HCC educating them with a copy of the invoices released to the media. Clearly the "No Child Left Behind" federal legislation has failed these students. We need to decentralize education and inject competition into the system not federalize it with more bureaucrats checking test scores.
Competition is good for football programs and classrooms.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
"Money for Schools, strings attached"
Now this is clear media bias! I have to believe that most readers would view this headline as having a negative connotation wouldn't you? Based on a pie chart graphic I received from the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties for the 2006 elections I would note that just over 50% of the State of Minnesota's general budget goes to the K-12 education system today. I just have to ask -- how much is enough for the "children" in our education system? Perhaps we should give the schools 80 or even 90% of the state budget?
I realize it happens more than I want to admit but how many parents simply give money to their children when one of them says, "hey mom, give me $20.00..........." without asking something like, "so what do you plan to do with this $20 if I give it to you?"
Governor Pawlenty's speech noted that he is "willing to spend hundreds of millions of ADDITIONAL dollars on education over the next two years, but only if schools reform and meet performance standards." I agree with the Governor and most parents I know -- we aren't giving out more money without some performance expectations. One expectation the governor has is that students need to complete one year of college level courses while in high school for the school to be certified a "3R" school thereby qualifying for more funding.
Personally I would focus on increasing school choice, returning tax dollars to parents to spend on education options (such as hiring a private tutor for their child), and allowing school districts to compete with each other by giving them the autonomy to set their own school year calendar and perhaps to designate themselves as "English only curriculum" schools so they can standardize classes and save money.
The state government should not be viewed as a rich uncle handing out cash.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Mr. Bates now lives in Spain so his son, Prince Michael, is now the head of state. The Bates family is offering to sell Sealand for $975 million which some real estate developers have expressed an interest in developing.
What interests me is the Bates' family statement that Sealand was created to escape "oppressive laws" but sadly I could not find an overview of the Laws of Sealand on their website. Perhaps they don't have any laws but I wanted some understanding of how the principality is governed given efforts such as the "Free State Project" which seeks to move enough liberty-loving citizens to the State of New Hampshire so that individual freedoms could be further extended and government even more limited.
Unfortunately Sealand is located in the North Sea not the Caribbean Sea so I don't plan to move the family there anytime soon but the "concept" of Sealand does inspire me.
Create your own island,
Monday, January 15, 2007
As regular readers of this blog know I mentioned that my "dream job" in government would be to be appointed by my governor (or the president) to eliminate an entire department/agency. No I would not just give all employees card board boxes so they could empty their desks - instead I would help make them employable in the private sector or encourage them to start their own businesses.
My only concern with Commissioner Anderson's job assignment is how it was reported by Bill Salisbury in the Pioneer Press newspaper stating that "he (Governor Pawlenty) expects her (Anderson) to transfer the agency's functions to the Administration and Finance departments and other offices in about 18 months." The key word here of course is, "transfer" , versus my own pet phrase, "eliminate", because if this appointment of Commissioner Anderson simply results in moving things around, changing department letterhead, etc. versus actually CUTTING AND ELIMINATING government regulations and job functions then taxpayers and entrepreneurs are not gaining.
No where did I see in Salisbury's article an estimated "savings to taxpayers" amount but perhaps my friends at the Reason Foundation, www.reason.org or Citizens Against Government Waste, www.cagw.org, can get involved with Commissioner Anderson's work so we are able to see a reduction in the overall level of government in the Land of 10,000 Taxes.
Reduce don't Recycle,
Friday, January 12, 2007
Most people reading this story would probably say, "well that is bad, nearly 1 million people are homeless, so what is the government going to do about it?" By contrast, my first thought was a reminder of "homeless advocate" Mitch Snyder's claims in the 1980's that "millions of people are homeless so if a homeless advocacy group like NAEH claims only 744,000 homeless today then clearly we have made progress!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Even at 1 million out of a population of 280 million in the USA that is not too bad since that is around 0.3 %! No I am not heartless, I don't want people to be homeless which is why I have been a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, www.habitat.org but clearly homelessness in America is not a "crisis" in statistical terms.
So why don't we end homelessness simply by using the new Massachusetts health care model which REQUIRES people to purchase health insurance? We could simply mandate that homeless people need to purchase homes!!! :-) Not only would we end homelessness we would help clear the market of the excess homes for sale today.
Wow, public policy is so easy -- no government hearings are needed -- we simply need to mandate everything which will save consumers time deciding how to spend their money.
Utopia is closer,
Thursday, January 11, 2007
I especially love underdogs and football teams that utilize "trickeration" to win games so this past season provided the perfect team for me to root for in Boise State University, http://www.boisestate.edu/, home of the famous "smurf turf" blue football field which apparently really bothers visiting teams. Boise State used plays like the "hook and ladder" and the "statue of liberty" to win the Fiesta Bowl over #8 ranked (at the time) Oklahoma University -- excellent use of trickeration Broncos!!!
Now that another underdog team -- University of Florida with a season record of 13 wins and 1 loss -- has officially been declared the national champion after destroying Ohio State University by a score of 41 to 14 in the BCS championship game the final AP and Coaches' Top 25 polling results have been issued. These final rankings list Boise State at #5 in the AP and #6 in the Coaches' poll. Congratulations on a fine season Boise State with your 13 wins and 0 losses -- you are the ONLY undefeated team in the Top 25 rankings.
As has been noted by most sports show personalities the BCS system is broken when the nation's only undefeated team in the Top 25 is not given any chance of playing for the national championship. Had Boise State been allowed to play one more game against Florida after Florida defeated Ohio State then college football would have had it best chance in its history essentially of having a true national champion with Boise State's final record at 14 wins and 0 losses assuming they defeated Florida of course.
Whether you hate football or love the current BCS system ("cartel") you have to admit that a Boise-Florida game played for all the marbles would have been damn exciting. No that game did not happen but some excitement is happening on the Boise State campus since the Idaho Board of Education has approved a $36 million project to improve Bronco Stadium that will give them a capacity of 32,000 seats.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Here is an idea --- why doesn't the State of Iowa quit publishing its legislative directory since the IBA clearly has built a better mouse trap? Clearly an opportunity here to save the taxpayers of Iowa some money. For more on government waste issues please see my friends at -- www.cagw.org
Less is more,
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
I didn't give his sermon much thought again until two nights ago when I was getting dressed at my gym when I heard a father tell his very young son -- "here let me do that since you suck at it.......... -- referring to tying his swimming suit waist string. Well, so much for the power of positive thinking!! No wonder we have underachieving students in the USA given parents like this father.
Personally, I think it is fair to say that there was a national feeling that the late, former President Gerald Ford was a "father figure" to most of the nation based on the funeral coverage I heard on television. I was reminded of President Ford's character tonight after reading an op-ed by Cliff Kincaid at Accuracy in Media entitled, "Gerald Ford: A Boy Scout President" , in which Kincaid noted that Ford was the only US President to have attained the highest rank the Boy Scouts of America offers -- Eagle Scout.
Kincaid goes on to cite the example of a "negative title" given in Tom Clancy's book, A Clear and Present Danger, where a dishonest White House aide chides the book's CIA official, Jack Ryan's honesty (played by Harrison Ford), by saying, "You're such a Boy Scout", in a very contemptuous tone. As an Eagle Scout myself I am even prouder of President Ford's term in office now that I know he was our only Eagle Scout President. Pastor Ray's message is a good one -- a message that I need to work on daily so I don't attach negative titles to the people around me.
May your glass be half full,
Saturday, January 06, 2007
Two government entities-- Norway's High Court and the USA's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) -- issued decisions recently (Norway in late November/early December and the FDA on January 5th that I found to be both entertaining and thought provoking.
The Norwegian ruling concluded that strip clubs will no longer have to pay the country's 25% Value Added Tax (VAT) because the court believes "striptease was an art form and therefore exempt from the tax." (Source - The Week magazine).
As for the FDA, they announced their approval of Slentrol which is a prescription drug designed to combat obesity levels in America's pet population. (Source - Pioneer Press newspaper).
Personally these two government decisions generate several questions for me including:
1.) What is "art" and can supporting the arts reduce even more taxes?
2.) Will supply side economics be proven true via an increase in lap dances in Norway?
3.) If there is a consumer demand for products to fight pet obesity what is next, nursing homes for pets?
4.) Does the FDA really need to spend its limited resources on such issues as pet obesity?
5.) If Norway joins the European Union will strippers continue to be exempt from the 25% VAT ? Wow, I am a complete policy geek with that one!!
6.) Will airlines start charging passengers for the extra fuel costs driven by obese pets on flights?
What a world,
Friday, January 05, 2007
As part of the news coverage of the swearing in of the new Congress one of our local newspapers provided a statistical analysis of the new Congress of 535 total Members. I have noted a few of their key findings below which in same cases I have converted to percentages for ease of discussion purposes:
- About 17% of the current Members of Congress are women
- About 25% of the current Members of Congress served in the military
When you look at the demographics of Congress this way it shows how substantial Grandma Pelosi's climb to power really is given the gender gap. Secondly, nearly 75% of Members of Congress have never served in the military which clearly shows that our country's military is truly civilian-controlled but on the flip side only 131 of the 535 Members have first hand knowledge of the lives of our military men and women. Given the likelihood that even more troops will be sent to Iraq I have to believe more military veterans will be elected with the 2008 elections.
I can't help but ponder the question -- "how would American foreign policy be affected?" -- if 50% or even 75% of the Members of Congress were military veterans. Would we enter more wars or less given their real world experience on the battlefield?
Boots on the ground wins elections,
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
The original idea of this documentary was to show how the wetlands of Louisiana have been changed thus creating environmental concerns. Filming began three months before Hurricane Katrina hit so the documentary expanded its range a bit by including an overview of hurricanes and the devastation brought to New Orleans.
Overall I enjoyed this film as it was entertaining and educational but the one key point that stayed with me is Mr. Benoit's explanation -- two primary man-made factors to be exact - regarding why caused the destruction of the wetlands that have been lost so far:
1.) Levees -- built by "well meaning engineers in the 1930's" (quoting Mr. Benoit here) to shield us against hurricanes the levees actually altered the natural flow of soil deposits and water flow which ultimately killed parts of the mangrove forests. No doubt these engineers were part of President Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal" to spend our way out of the Great Depression.
2.) Canals -- built to aid navigation/shipping from the Port of New Orleans to the sea. These canals created the opportunity for salt water from the sea to infiltrate the fresh water homes of the mangrove trees thus killing entire forests.
So what do levees and canals have in common?? Both of these projects were GOVERNMENT PROJECTS. If you don't believe me spend some time reading about the Erie Canal or the Dismal Swamp Company -- yesterday's canals seem very similar to today's light rail train networks.
Government harms us with our own money.
Move to higher ground and vote for less government programs,
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
After I posted the list of books I read in 2005 on this blog last year complete with my mini-reviews I was honored by the interest blog readers expressed in my list including one reader that purchased a book based on my description.
So here is my list of “Books Read in 2006” (actually more books than I read in 2005 which is an annual personal objective – NOT a resolution). This blog posting will also be cross-posted on my new blog devoted to books, http://erasmusbookclub.blogspot.com.
May 2007 be a great chapter in your book of life,
“Rashomon” by Fay and Michael Kanin -- A relatively short book from Japan that my old book club read coupled with watching the film the night we reviewed this book. The story is a bit slow but it does provide a lesson on “perspective/perception” since the three primary characters each described the story in completely different ways. From my perspective this is not a book worth reading nor would I recommend it to friends given the better choices that follow.
“The Lion’s Game” by Nelson De Mille -- One of the few fiction books I read this year (goal for 2007 is to read more fiction) thanks to my wife who bought it for me. The main character is a completely ruthless, cold-blooded killer but I also noticed the very selfish qualities he possessed which for me summarized the terrorist mind-set. I really enjoyed the story telling and look forward to reading more De Mille in 2007.
“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien – O’Brien is a Minnesota native who served in the Vietnam war (“conflict” – depending on how you were taught) so this book is essentially a collection of “fact-fiction” stories (my own term) based on O’Brien’s experiences there which seemed to symbolize the confusion that was the Vietnam experience for many Americans. The format of the book is rather dis-jointed but worth reading for insights on America’s folly in Vietnam.
“Why Europe will run the 21st Century” by Mark Leonard – this book is focused on explaining how the European Union (EU) uses its “soft power” via diplomacy, foreign aid, and historical colonial ties in contrast to the USA’s “hard power” via military force to guide world events. Having studied/worked in Europe for nearly 4 years of my life I can safely say that the EU will NOT run the 21st Century. Sure, the EU will have influence but they have major problems the book does not address such as major employment problems that exist including one friend of mine – a very intelligent young professional type that the EU needs as a future leader - who was educated at one of the best universities in the United Kingdom who told me that “my country is a complete wreck, I would move to the USA if I had the opportunity………..”
“The Iranians: Persia, Islam, and the Soul of a Nation” by Sandra Mackey – A great overview of the history and culture of Iran which will really help any reader better understand the current nuclear weapons program conflict Iran has with the United Nations.
“Overthrow” by Stephen Kinzer – An excellent historical review of American foreign policy complete with military and economic coups ranging from Hawaii, Iran (see number 5 above), and most of Latin America. I was reminded of the old maxim regarding the USA’s relationships with foreign dictators -- “…….sure he is a bastard but he is our bastard.”
“Water for Sale” by Fredrik Segerfeldt - I know Fredrik from his work at the Swedish free market (no, this is not a typo!!!) think tank, www.timbro.se , TIMBRO. I happened to be in Washington DC when Fredrik was on a panel discussion discussing this book. He advocates for the use of property rights and the sale of water to better allocate this essential resource -- I agree and hope you read this book.
“Greatness – Reagan, Churchill, and the Making of Extraordinary Leaders” by Steven F. Hayward – An interesting read but I definitely prefer single subject biographies versus a book format like this one that seeks to draw parallels in the personal histories and styles of these two world leaders.
“One Billion Customers” by James McGregor – I heard Mr. McGregor speak at a lunch event in Minneapolis where each attendee was given a copy of his book which focuses on his years of experience in China coupled with insights on how to do business with the Chinese. McGregor confirms that China is indeed the most exciting economy in the world today – perhaps it is time for the US federal government to take a cue from China by adopting some free market capitalism so Americans can enjoy 10% annual economic growth rates!!!
“Mere Christianity” by CS Lewis” – Without a doubt Mr. Lewis is a great writer but this book’s format is rather disjointed since it is based on a collection talk radio episodes from a program he hosted during World War II where his comments to callers seemed to be overly focused on sex and sports analogies. I much prefer his Narnia books which I read in junior high school -- http://books.narnia.com – which I hope to share with all my godchildren one day.
“Reclaiming Africa” by various authors but edited by James Shikwati - I know James from his think tank work in Kenya so I gladly purchased a copy of this book at James’ book signing event at a conference. Overall I am not a fan of these types of books where several authors write long essays that are edited together as separate chapters within an overall book. But the real value here is that the authors are AFRICANS writing about Africa from their local perspective – they are not United Nations bureaucrats or Greenpeace do-gooders writing from their “white man’s burden” perspective regarding what the continent of Africa needs to improve quality of life.
“Left to Tell” by Immaculee Ilibagiza – I was fortunate enough to hear this woman from war torn Rwanda speak at a conference hosted by the American Legislative Exchange Council ( www.alec.org ). This book explained how she and several other women survived the genocide between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda by hiding in a bathroom for 3 months. Read a story like this and you can’t help but hate the United Nations and former colonial masters (France in this case) who stood by while the genocide progressed – government is bad enough but if governments must exist that must at least maintain law and order since it is the primary function of government.
“Last of the Mohicans” by James Fenimore Cooper – I read this book as a child but re-read it this year since I received a copy as a gift. The book itself provides a great commentary regarding personal character, courage, and friendship but sadly is a rather slow read compared to our modern day story tellers such as Nelson De Mille.
“Step-Parent’s Survival Guide by Hilary Bond – Since the author of this book is British I understood the cultural/societal references since I lived in London for two years so non-British readers might not understand some of the references. Historically I have not read such self-help books but did gain some worthy advice from this book since I am new to being a step father.
“Shadow Divers” by Robert Kurson – If you love scuba diving like I do you will love this book which is focused on New Jersey divers who are trying to identify a German U-boat wreck. A great story that I mailed to a fraternity brother/dive buddy once I finished it.
“Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men” by Eric Foner- A history of the Republican Party of the USA prior to the Civil War. Having read this book I have no idea why any black/African American would vote for a Democratic Party candidate. Personally, I would love to see the “Free Soil Party” revived as a modern day party focused on “tax slavery” given our confiscatory income tax rates.
“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini- Another one of the few fiction books I read in 2006. This is a great tale focused on Taliban-controlled Afghanistan but beyond this geography the focus is on how power corrupts people making it a great tribute to Lord Acton’s sage observation (“power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”).
“The Eagle and the Raven” by James Michener – Yet another fiction book for 2006 which I happened to purchase after a canoe trip in Ely, Minnesota from a local book shop where the owner told me that the North American Free Trade Agreement was bad for America. I did not stay to educate her especially since I swear I saw her talking to her cats J This story focuses on the battles between General Sam Houston of Texas and General Santa Ana of Mexico. Overall, a fun and quick read.
“The Sea Wolf” by Jack London – Coincidentally I was reading this book as I traveled to a convention held in San Francisco last summer. The coincidence of course is that London set his story in San Francisco so I made certain to visit the earthquake/fire storm museum in San Francisco which included a display of London’s work. As for the book itself if you want to curl up on the couch to do some deep thinking on the nature of a man’s soul and place in this world this is the book to read since the character, Captain Wolf Larson, will force you to think.
“America: The Last Best Hope - Volume I” by Bill Bennett – After years of hearing Mr. Bennett preach about the need for personal responsibility only to have it disclosed that he had/has a gambling addiction I wrote him off as a social policy commentator. But then my wife purchased this book for me which I will say with surprise – “this is the best book I read in 2006” -- I am waiting with great anticipation for Volume II scheduled for publication in 2007. Perhaps another gift for me?
“Dirty Work” by Nigel Cox- While on our honeymoon in New Zealand I purchased this book from The Little Ferret book shop in the Cuba Street pedestrian mall area of Wellington which is a great area to spend some time if you get the chance. Apparently this book (it is fiction) is based on the economic reforms New Zealand implemented which shook up some workers as competition increased. I wanted to read a book by a native New Zealander so I could get their perspective on the world but the “hotel for the down and out” model that Mr. Cox used as the setting for the book is a universal theme since this sub-culture of people seems to exist in most countries I have visited.
“Three Weeks with my Brother” by Nicolas Sparks and Micah Sparks – this is part travel memoir , part human nature observation, and part family history written as a result of a world tour that the Sparks brothers made together. Since I have one brother myself this book really resonated with me on a personal level and the travel involved made me want to dust off my well-worn passport. Sadly this is the first Nicholas Sparks book I have read but I hope to read more of his work. At one point Sparks notes that he “continued reading 100 books per year” which really made me think about my own personal reading. Overall – this is the second best book I read in 2006.
“Golden Memories” by Ray Chistensen with Stew Thornley – Due to my in-laws I have a personally signed copy of this book which tracks Mr. Christensen’s radio personality career which was dominated by Minnesota sports (professional and university) broadcasting. However, the book also covered his experience in the arts community and radio theatre which I found very interesting since I really identified with the author on this aspect. I am the kind of guy who could attend a Minnesota Vikings football game on a Sunday afternoon followed by a black tie reception to see the Minnesota Orchestra -- good living!
QUESTION - Let me close by asking readers to share any recommended books with me and also to ask all of you (I have at least 4 readers out there I know) – how many books do you read each year??