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No comfort in empty words

Afghanistan, Peace, Obama's speech

Listening to the President’s speech on sending more troops to Afghanistan last night, I found myself drifting off. So many words I’ve heard before in the rhetoric of war: they no longer stir me. Instead, they fill me with unease.

Then a line calls me away from the homework to which I’ve drifted, no longer held by the expectation of hearing truth or inspiration.

Now we must summon all of our might and moral suasion to meet the challenges of a new age.

All our might? 30,000 troops who are already tired and too much pressed into service are not all our might. They’re a little bit of it. Enough to keep the pot of constant war simmering, the businesses of security prospering.

Moral suasion: what is that? I’ve heard it many times before and assumed I understood. The application of fine explanations to enhance understanding of our moral beliefs, maybe. Persuasion in service of the good. I decide to look it up.  

It’s an economic term. The first definition that pops up on Google search is from Investopedia:

What Does Moral Suasion Mean?
A persuasion tactic used by an authority (i.e. Federal Reserve Board) to influence and pressure, but not force, banks into adhering to policy. Tactics used are closed-door meetings with bank directors, increased severity of inspections, appeals to community spirit, or vague threats. A good example of moral suasion is when the Fed Chairman speaks on the markets - his opinion on the overall economy can send financial markets falling or flying.

And here’s a disputed but intriguing explanation from Wikipedia:

During the mid to late 1960s, the Administration of American President Lyndon B. Johnson tried to deal with the mounting inflationary pressures by direct government influence. Wage-price guideposts were established, and the power of the Presidency was used to coerce big businesses and labor into going along with these guideposts. This approach came to be known as "jawboning" (sometimes known as "moral suasion") — an unofficial but usually quite effective technique of arm-twisting to prevent labor and businesses from getting big wage or price increases, which works essentially by the implicit threat of future Government "regulation" of their industry that would or could impair their profitability.

Not what I had in mind at all. But at least it offers a peek at what lies underneath: money.

This morning, Professor Juan Cole described the situation in Afghanistan on Wisconsin Public Radio.You can read more here.  Who we are fighting, he said, is a segment of the Pashtun. "There are no al Qaeda in Afghanistan." And yet Obama’s speech reiterated the dread words, al Qaeda, just as Bush invoked Iraq in summoning the troops in the wake of September 11, 2001.

The boogey man we fear continues to elude us, but it comforts us to think we are bringing him to his knees. Bringing anybody to their knees, it seems, will do.

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In transit, we all share a transitory existence


I saw Santa driving a bus today along Wisconsin Avenue. He was wearing a red hat and his white beard flowed out beyond his chin. The bus lights read "Holiday Wishes."

I see a lot of interesting people on the bus that takes me to and from work - people who make the ride interesting, if not predictable.

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Raincoat Anyone?

Healthcare, Parenting, Popular Culture, Public Policy, Strange But True, Tosa Curling

I'm a little achy tonight.

I curled over at the Tosa Curling Club last night and tonight and I'm finally feeling it.  Getting in my groove.

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The Secret of Christmas


Twas just days before Christmas when all through our house,
My Christmas spirit was waning. The same for my spouse.

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Little delivery elves and order takers downsized and outsourced?

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

As far as I can see, reports of economic recovery and easing of unemployment are greatly exaggerated.

I don't mean to alarm small children, but it looks like even St. Nick has downsized his operation. This year, he managed to deliver a dark chocolate orange to my younger daughter's shoe. She's 19, and St. Nick saves the bigger rewards for younger people, which is as it should be.

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Tunneling Under Tosa

Technology, Impressive Construction Projects, Just For Fun

A week or so before deer camp I was driving down Bluemound Road on the way to the day job when I spied a curious piece of machinery. It was a gigantic tubular thing that had an equally giant (but festively-painted) cutting head. 

I’m thinking - It’s certainly not part of a rocket booster or a carnival ride. It’s probably a tunneling machine. 

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The Christmas Tree Ship

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Books Make Great Gifts

Books always make great gifts.  The following books are recommended by the library staff and Little Read Book in Wauwatosa for the special people on your gift list.  All these books and more are on display in the library so you can take a look at them.  Happy holidays to you and yours!

     And Another Thing-- by Eoin Colfer
(6th installment of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)

Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne

Born to Run: a Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Ever Seen 
by Christopher McDougall

Christmas Blizzard by Garrison Keillor

  Dirt-Cheap Green Thumb: 400 Thrifty Tips for Saving Money, Time, and Resources as You Garden by Rhonda Massingham

Matchless: A Christmas Story: an Illumination of Hans Christian Andersen's Classic "The LIttle Match Girl" by Gregory Maguire 

1-2-3 Money Plan: the Three Most Important Steps to Saving and Spending Smart by Gregory Karp

Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones

     Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America by Jay Parini

NYT Practical Guide to Practically Everything

Two Coots in a Canoe: an Unusual Story of Friendship by David E. Morine

Uncommon History of Common Things by Bethanne Patrick

What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell

     When Everything Changed: the Amazing Journey of American Women, From 1960-To the Present by Gail Collins

Wisconsin Barns by Nancy Schumm-Burgess

Children's Books

     Beautiful Stories of Life: Six Greek Myths, Retold by Cynthia Rylant

Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, illustrated by Brett Helquist

Christmas Magic by Lauren Thompson

Emily Post's Table Manners for Kids by Peggy Post

     Goldilocks by Ruth Sanderson

Lego Star Wars: the Visual Dictionary by Simon Beecroft

Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

     Mama Says: a Book of Love for Mothers and Sons by Rob D. Walker

Mitten : a Ukrainian Folktale by Jan Brett (20th anniversary edition)

Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore, retold and illustrated by Rachel Isadora

Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis

What Bluebirds Do by Pamela F. Kirby

     When the World is Ready for Bed by Gillian Shields

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead


Internet Survey Scam

Internet Safety, Scam

Upon arrival at the office this afternoon I was alerted by a co-worker of a survey she began taking because of an invitation to participate was received via an email. This survey, supposedly hosted by Wal-Mart, promised $150 gift card upon completion. As she worked her way through the survey she found that it was asking for her Social Security Number and credit card information.The very astute co-worker did not supply that information, terminated the survey and advised me as soon as she could.

I contacted Wal-Mart corporate offices today and spoke with their representative who stated it is not their survey because Wal-Mart would never ask for that kind of information. Wal-Mart is asking that no one participate in this survey and does invite you to call if you find any other suspicious circumstances.

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Another grocery store: Aldi

Aldi, grocery stores, food

Tomorrow's the scheduled opening date for the Aldi store at 124th and Burleigh.

For reasons that aren't clear to me, Aldi stirs people's passions--not just here but in Europe. Some sputter darkly about declining neighborhoods and the kind of people who might want to shop there.

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Observations From the Big Fat Middle

Politics-Tosa, Strange But True, The Big Fat Middle

How many of you remember this fella?

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No, Mr. President: it's not a just war

War and peace, Obama

Dear President Obama,

Reading your Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Wauwatosa, I understood the restrained response of the audience in Oslo. It is a lawyerly speech, well-crafted. But it doesn’t really address peace. Instead, it addresses the ideology of never ending war and leaves us with a sobering view of a life of constant struggle:

Somewhere today, in the here and now, in the world as it is, a soldier sees he's outgunned, but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, scrapes together what few coins she has to send that child to school -- because she believes that a cruel world still has a place for that child's dreams.

Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of deprivation, and still strive for dignity. Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that -- for that is the story of human progress; that's the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.

This doesn’t exactly stir me, although it makes me grateful for the movements of history and accidents of fate that set me here in this place, in this position of relative safety and prosperity.

But I will follow your suggestion and look clear-eyed at what is. And Mr. President, this is not a just war. With clear eyes, I see that you have trimmed the definition of just war to suit the purposes of this war, limiting the list to “when certain conditions were met: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.”

Most of the long discussion about just war has come from Catholic theologians and philosophers. But I’ll use the clear-eyed, nonsectarian definitions of the BBC to point to the ways in which the war in Afghanistan cannot be called a just war:

Six conditions must be satisfied for a war to be considered just:
1.    The war must be for a just cause.
2.    The war must be lawfully declared by a lawful authority.
3.    The intention behind the war must be good.
4.    All other ways of resolving the problem should have been tried first.
5.    There must be a reasonable chance of success.
6.    The means used must be in proportion to the end that the war seeks to achieve.

Mr. President, when was there a lawful declaration of war against Afghanistan?

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Keeping the Green in Christmas

Conservation, Forestry, Economics

Yeah - you're thinking I'm going to rant about the commercialization of Christmas.

Only partly.

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Operation Identification

Crime Prevention


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Wauwatosa united

So often, Wauwatosa seems a community divided.

We're evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.  East and West High Schools have a historic and sometimes heated rivalry.  Wauwatosans come in all races and colors, and we're often divided along religious lines.  We argue about how to spend our money.

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Little boxes -- and bigger ones


I’m not talking about the pretty ones under the Christmas tree.

Driving around in a car with a dead radio and CD player has raised my awareness of the world around me. Seeing the winter wonderland is nice, as long as the roads are clear and the deer stay hidden along Underwood Creek.

But I’m also noticing those ugly steel utility boxes that proliferated in yards everywhere over the last year or so. I think they are called Video-Ready Access Devices, or V-RADs. We know them as cable and AT&T U-verse boxes. And I call ‘em ugly.

A small cable box popped up in my neighbor’s front yard one morning last summer. When I got home in the afternoon, it had crossed the border into mine. Neighbor Ellen had sweet-talked the installers into moving the unsightly thing. So now it stands, vaguely green and slightly askew, in front of the forsythia that will never grow big enough to hide it. We have walnut trees that stunt the growth of any living thing around them. I wish they’d do the same with The Steel Box Thing.

I guess I should be grateful I didn’t get one of the big honkers that goes 4-6 feet as some people have.

A little research shows that it’s possible to install the boxes on utility poles and in hidden places. At least one community got AT & T to commit to paying for $1500 worth of landscaping around each of the beasts.

Apparently, it’s also possible to put them underground, which is really where they belong. Buried. Competitors (Verizon FiOS) run fiber optic technology right up to each house, not just to the middle of a neighborhood. So it’s possible these jarringly unattractive thingies will soon become obsolete.

How did we let this happen in our pretty community? Why didn’t we at least insist that they be placed in rear yards? And what, I wonder in my holiday bah humbug-y mood, is next?

If it weren’t so cold and I so lazy, I’d start a stealth campaign to wrap the damn things as presents for the holidays.

Instead, I’ll just ask you what you think. Shouldn’t Tosa have some higher standards about what gets built and placed here? Or are you okay with anything goes?

Oh, and if you want talk about the good things, about which there are so very many (not including the big and little steel boxes but including how much better a driver you can be without audio distraction), why not send your stories to Project Resolve?

Checkout Charity, Parking Protection and the Write Stuff

Tosa Business, Restaurants, Community

A few years ago, we had lots of solicitors at our front door – religious groups, kids selling candy, grown men looking for donations, people with petitions. Not a week went by when someone didn’t ring our doorbell for a cause. I wasn’t a fan of these unannounced visitors. My solution was a “no soliciting” sticker that I found at Puhl’s Hardware Store. I put it on my front door and we’ve been blissfully “solicitation-free” for quite a while.

This holiday season, I’ve noticed a trend toward retail charity. It’s hard to find a store where you won’t be asked whether or not you want to make a donation. Thus far, I’ve been asked to contribute to the MACC Fund, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, the USO, and several others.

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ALDI aisles a trip down memory (of cheap food) lane


I waxed poetic about the new Goodwill in Tosa last month.. now it's ALDI's turn.

Both of these stores opened within months of one another. Was this by design? Whatever stars were aligned to make this happen, I don't care. All I know is that my food bill just went down by half.

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Sucked into last-minute shopping at the mall

mall, shopping, holidays, Christmas

I told myself I wouldn't go to Mayfair, not two days before Christmas. I won't, I won't... but I did. I wasn't done shopping for the Big Day yet, believe it or not.

I have never seen so many people in one place. I don't know how the clerks can handle it... also us hot, cranky, impatient shoppers asking questions like this one I pulled out of my sleeve:

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Disposal of Electronics Boxes

Crime Prevention

When you are unpacking those great electronic gifts you received for Christmas, do not leave the boxes at the curb. Doing so only advertises what kind of really cool new goodies are in your house. The “Bad guys” do drive around and “Shop”, making note of where the flat screens and laptops are based on the boxes at the curb. Then they will actually “Case” the homes where the boxes of the desired items were observed.

So please, break down all your boxes and take them yourselves to proper recycling facilities such as the cardboard dumpsters at the City dump located just east of the Police Station; the Police Station is 1700 N 116th St and the dump is 11100 W Walnut St. The dumps hours of operation are Tue – Sat 7:30AM – 4:30PM except holidays. There is a $10 annual dump permit fee.

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