Wisconsin Blog

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** Updates will resume March 6th. See Inteltrends’ homepage for details.

Last updated:  24 Feb 2011
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Local temperatures as of 5:15 a.m.:
Florence 25° (-4c), Niagara 22° (-6c), Eagle River 27° (-3c),
Land o’ Lakes 26° (-3c), Rhinelander 26#176; (-3c)
Forecast high today in the Northwoods:  36° (2c).
Partly cloudy.

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Welcome to Gov. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin
Where workers’ rights don’t mean squat

Wisconsin protests continue
World Socialist Web Site, 23 Feb
[Excerpt:] – Demonstrations continued in the state capital of Wisconsin Tuesday against Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-cutting proposal and attack on public employees. Protests inspired by the stand taken by Wisconsin workers also spread to other states across the country, including Indiana and Ohio.

AFL-CIO Polls Show Wisconsin Supports Protestors, Opposes Walker
Huffington Post, 22 Feb
[Excerpt:] – WASHINGTON – New polling conducted for the AFL-CIO and shared with The Huffington Post shows Wisconsin voters siding with the state workers, unions and protestors by large majorities and expressing net disapproval of Republican Governor Scott Walker

Exclusive:  Troopers would ‘absolutely’ use force on Wisc. protesters if ordered, police union president tells Raw Story
Raw Story, 21 Feb
[Excerpt:] – According to a Wisconsin police union president, whether the police agree or disagree with their governor’s politics, they would “absolutely” carry out any order given to them … even if that order included using force against their fellow Americans gathered in peaceful protest. That’s the message from Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association (WLEA) executive board president Tracy Fuller, who’s organization recently issued a statement condemning the governor’s attempt to strip public unions of their collective bargaining rights. Fuller is also a Wisconsin State Patrol inspector.

As Wisconsin protests continue, teachers union ends walkouts
World Socialist Web Site, 22 Feb
The Wisconsin struggle and “collective bargaining”
World Socialist Web Site, 22 Feb
The struggle of Wisconsin workers enters a new stage
World Socialist Web Site, 21 Feb
Huge protest march opposes Wisconsin cuts
World Socialist Web Site, 21 Feb
Wisconsin State Workers Feeling the Wrath of Their Governor
Veterans Today, 20 Feb
Police:  70,000 descend on Wis. Capitol for protest
Chicago Tribune (AP), 19 Feb

“These are dedicated public servants who work really hard at what they do. You can’t just take all that experience and flush it down the toilet.” — Wisconsin Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton)

Walker power grab threatens watchdog agency
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 09 Feb
[Editorial:] – Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to give himself review authority over all state agency rule-making is a power grab that should be rejected by the Legislature.

From progressive to regressive:  Wis. GOP declares war on workers
[Excerpt:] – Walker won’t round up labor leaders and have them jailed as Hitler did; he just wants them neutered. And there’s no comparison with Mussolini, who reportedly made the trains run on time. Walker hates trains; he lost us $810 million dollars and 5,500 jobs opposing high-speed rail. And where China requires even anti-union Wal-Mart to be unionized, Walker would never permit such an outrage.

WI Gov. Scott Walker Begs Illinoisans To ‘Escape To Wisconsin’ Where Taxes Are Actually Higher
Think Progress.org
[Excerpt:] – Wisconsin’s new Republican Governor Scott Walker has rushed to make hay out of the Illinois Assembly’s decision to raise individual and corporate tax rates, urging Illinois residents and businesses to move to Wisconsin. But, ironically, Illinois residents who move to Wisconsin should bank on paying higher taxes.

“The right to strike and engage in labor actions (with the exception of Emergency Services) is, like it or not, accorded to American workers to protect benefits and correct perceived injustices. Hiding behind the Wisconsin National Guard while trampling the rights of this state’s workers is the action of a coward. Welcome to Gov. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin.”
— Steve @ Inteltrends

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Some local, state and regional news…

Wisconsin:  Academy for struggling teens now accepting applications
Wis. Dept. of Military Affairs, 22 Feb
[Excerpt:] – A no-cost alternative program for “at-risk” youth, the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy is now accepting applications for its next class of cadets beginning July 21. Located at Fort McCoy, Wis., the Academy offers teens that are at risk of not graduating a chance to earn their High School Equivalency Diploma, learn essential job and life-coping skills and, most importantly, develop the strength of character to become responsible citizens.

Michigan governor proposes massive cuts to fund business tax cut
World Socialist Web Site, 22 Feb
[Excerpt:] – Michigan’s new Republican governor Rick Snyder announced a budget February 17 that attacks the elderly, schoolchildren, public employees, municipal services, and low- to middle-income earners. The $1.7 billion that the governor proposes to raise through a combination of budget cuts and tax increases for retirees and workers will be used to finance a $1.8 billion tax break for businesses.

Upper Michigan:  Witnessing history / Norway (Mich.) man in Egypt during government protests
Iron Mountain Daily News, 21 Feb
[Excerpt:] – NORWAY, Mich. – A Norway man’s recent visit to Egypt turned into a once-in-a-lifetime experience once the protests in Tahrir Square began. Joe Freiberg, 28, was staying in a Cairo hotel next to the square when the first major riot started on Friday, Jan. 28. From his balcony, he could see protesters marching into the square from a side street.

Protests take varied forms in schools, streets of Northwoods
Rhinelander Daily News, 19 Feb
[Excerpt:] – The protests of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill have generated a slew of activity across the state this past week. While most of that activity remains centered around Madison and the Capitol, there has still been plenty of protesting in the Northwoods. Schools in 13 area school districts were closed yesterday due to significant teacher absences. Protesters with signs gathered along the streets in Rhinelander and other areas several nights this past week.

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From global media…

Catholic church ordains married man
Reuters, 22 Feb
[Excerpt:] – BERLIN – Harm Klueting, a theologian and former Protestant pastor, will not have to adhere to the Church’s celibacy law for the duration of his marriage, the diocese of Cologne said. The case sheds light on a little-known 60-year-old Roman Catholic church law that allows ordained clergy from other Christian faiths to become priests.

Nun exiled for excessive Facebook use
NEWS.am, 21 Feb
[Excerpt:] – Spanish nun Maria Jesus Galan, 54, who was nicknamed “Sister Internet” by the other nuns, had nearly 600 friends on Facebook at the time of her “exile”.

Learn to Listen:  Advice for parents
Pravda, 19 Feb
[Excerpt:] – Parents should not pressure their children into a professional area or job, they should learn to listen. Guiding, facilitating and opening windows are the key words. Cajoling and steering are definitely out, according to the advice of the latest generation of professional and behavioural psychologists.

Countries where Facebook is not, yet, king
The Register, 18 Feb
[Excerpt:] – Facebook has conquered western Europe, Australia and the U.S., but it is not king of the castle everywhere.

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Blogmaster’s comments from Wisconsin’s Northwoods

12 Feb – Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is gettin’ on my nerves … Regular readers of Inteltrends’ Wisconsin Blog know that, aside from endorsing Mark Neumann in last year’s governor’s race, I pretty much leave state politics alone. In fact, I haven’t had anything to say about our new governor — good or bad — until now. (That’s him, grinning at the camera.)

I realize that Wisconsin’s budget needs downsizing and that Gov. Walker has vowed to do just that, but a state governor is not a South American or African dictator — there is a certain finesse involved in getting things done. One must be able to work with others towards a common objective while “ruffling as few feathers as possible” along the way.

Gov. Walker’s threat to use the Wisconsin National Guard to back up his pig-headed policies is a childish tactic. National guardsmen are part-time soldiers — they may wear uniforms but they’re not policemen or prison guards. They are not trained to do these jobs. Nor are they trained to efficiently fill most of the other positions he apparently intends to put them in.

Walker may find that, come next election, he needs the endorsement of the same unions that he is now threatening. His aggressive stance and readiness to call in the National Guard whenever something doesn’t go his way almost guarantees that he will be passed over for a federal appointment once his term as governor ends.

That, at least, is comforting to know.

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07 Feb – We have 96 rolls of toilet paper in our house … I’m all in favor of buying “extra” items that are on sale — especially if it’s an item that we use, but I admit my surprise at finding 96 rolls of Scott 1000/sheet toilet paper stacked in the basement.

Apparently this toilet paper is “on sale” at Walgreens in nearby Iron Mountain, Michigan, for $6.99 per 12 pack. (That’s a good deal, I think the standard price is around $11.) But do we really need eight 12-packs at one time?

My wife is always on the lookout for sales so I really can’t blame her for taking advantage of Walgreens’ toilet paper extravaganza, and, so far as I know, the sale is still ongoing — so there is no telling how many rolls we’ll end up with.

Which reminds me of a toilet paper story…

In the late 1980s my wife and I were heading to Hong Kong (when it was still British), on to Macau (when it was still Portuguese) and then over to mainland China for a day trip. A friend of mine from Korean Air said “Whatever you do, be sure to take a roll of toilet paper with you to China!” Remembering his advice at the last minute I told my wife to put half a roll in her purse before leaving Hong Kong.

Over on the mainland we stopped for lunch at a hotel in Dongguan — fancy enough in appearance and touted to be “modern”. The formal white table-cloth dining room served up a magnificent lunch of Peking Duck, seafood, noodles and the usual fare. But the “modernism” stopped at the washroom… welcome to a Turkish toilet (hole in the floor, with stencils of feet painted alongside to help you align yourself if you’re “squatting”).

Sure enough, no toilet paper.

I could hear the women laughing from the other washroom where my wife’s roll of toilet paper was manna from heaven. Jokingly I said later, “You know, you could have sold that toilet paper for a dollar a square.”

“Didn’t think about it,” she said, “we were having too much fun trying to line up with the hole.”

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01 Feb – I’ve been the victim of credit card fraud — Again! … This is becoming an annual thing with me. And it isn’t because I don’t take precautions when using my credit card. I have a pretty good idea where the fraud takes place — but proving it is a different story. Let me explain my most recent experience:

I received an automated message on my telephone from the Fraud Division of one of my VISA card issuers. The computerized voice said that a suspicious charge in the amount of $2.14 from an “unknown merchant” had appeared on my account: “If you recognize this charge as yours, please press 1. If not, please press 2.” Upon pressing “2” I was connected with a fraud investigator.

The small charge had been made ealier that day via the internet. I confirmed that I hadn’t made any recent online purchases and the investigator then said that a second charge, this one in the amount of $417 to a company in West Virginia, had also been made online that same day. I denied the second charge too. Other recent charges to my account, going back a week, were all legitimate charges made by me. Only the two mentioned charges were fraudulent.

The investigator said a new credit card would be mailed to me and that I should destroy the compromised card. I would not be held responsible for the unauthorized charges.

So, where did the “compromise” occur?

As I said, this is an annual occurrence with me (with the exception of 2008, just lucky I guess) and, because of the ‘regularity’ of these events, I have noted what I believe is the ‘weak link’ in my credit card security.

Yes, I do shop online — but only from trusted merchants with secure encriptions. However, I do not believe that my credit card details are obtained off the internet — BUT RATHER ‘IN PERSON’ BY SOMEONE EXAMINING THE PHYSICAL CARD ITSELF.

Case in point. I regularly make hotel reservations online (via secure connections on major hotel chains’ websites) but it is not unusual for hotel Front Desk staff to ask to see the credit card upon check-in. In most cases, the credit card disappears from my view while the staff member processes my reservation on the computer. I am then asked to sign the reservation paperwork and write down my vehicle’s license number and description. The credit card is then handed back to me along with the room key. There is nothing to prevent the desk staff (some of whom are less than reputable looking) from jotting down the 3-digit CVC code alongside the card’s details. And, before you ask, seedy clerks can be found working at major hotel chains, such as Holiday Inn, Comfort Inn, etc. — they’re not just confined to inexpensive budget motels.

Based on my experiences the fraudulent charges will start appearing 7 to 21 days after my hotel stay. The identity thief doesn’t want to risk “sending up any red flags” during my travels so he or she will wait until I’m back home, relaxed and off-guard. Fraudulent charges will be made from different areas of the country — indicating the card details were sold — and, as was the case this week, a small charge (one or two dollars) will be processed to confirm that the card is valid before the larger purchases are made.

There isn’t much that one can do to prevent this because many hotels, car rental companies and airlines, require presentation of the physical credit card that was used to make the reservation. This is supposedly to prevent fraud — by ensuring that the customer isn’t simply using a stolen number, but when a fraudster is doing the verification it actually makes a mockery of this.

Another weak link is placing one’s credit card on top of a restaurant check (a common practice at expensive restaurants) and trusting the waiter or waitress to process the charge (without copying the details down on the sly) before returning the card to you along with the receipt. Always take the card and the check to the register and swipe the card yourself.

Lastly, I have a great deal of respect for the investigators who monitor customers’ credit card purchases in an effort to stem fraudulent card use. You guys and gals are nothing short of awesome in my book.

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22 Jan – Nazook — Life doesn’t get much better than this … My wife returned from a trip to California and was thoughtful enough to stop by my favorite Middle Eastern bakery to buy me a package of Nazook. I admit that I have no will-power to stop eating this pastry once I start — and it arrived in Wisconsin in her carry-on bag just as fresh as if it came out of the oven.

The ingredients in Nazook are simple:  Flour, Butter, Eggs, Sugar, Milk, Yeast, and Vanilla. But finding a “recipe” to make it properly is next to impossible!

Many Arab and Persian markets in California sell Nazook (made by various bakeries in the state) but the “best of the best” is from Sunrise Bakery, 1561 Geer Road, Turlock. (209) 632-9400.

If you pass through Central Calif. when this bakery is open for business, getting off the freeway (Hwy 99) and navigating the maze of local streets to find Sunrise Bakery is worth the effort — for the Nazook, naturally.

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15 Jan – “EcoSmart” Fluorescent lightbulbs for Outdoor security … The back of my house faces the woods and subsequently that portion of my property is very dark at night. I’ve had the occasional “prowler” (fortunately not too often) but the darkness affords almost complete concealment. Although my house has a “porch light” in back this is far from adequate — it’s not bright enough, or I forget to turn it on, or the bulb seems to burn out every other week –thereby necessitating replacement by standing on a step-stool in the snow. What to do? I found the perfect solution.

I was in Home Depot last Fall and took a shortcut through the Lighting department where a 2-pack of “EcoSmart” Compact Fluorescent bulbs caught my attention. (Specifically, the package pictured above.)

·  75 watt equivalent (uses 19w)
·  1100 light output in lumens
·  10,000 hours of burn life
·  Lasts 9 years
·  “Save up to $134” ($67 in energy costs per bulb)

Let me just say that this is an AWESOME light bulb. It lights up my entire back yard and into the woods. Also, this is a SMALL fluorescent — smaller than an indoor lamp incandescent. I’ve experimented with fluorescent bulbs in the past but nothing comes close to this one.

During previous use of fluorescent bulbs “outdoors” my experience is that these can crack if the temperature drops well below zero (fahrenheit, or -18c). Here in the Northwoods this temperature is a regular feature of winter. Even the “EcoSmart” package says “enclosed fixture required for outdoor use” — but this isn’t always sufficient. My suggestion: The bulbs are so economical to use, and have such a long life, that I leave mine “on” 24/7. The bulb generates enough heat within the fixture to keep it operating optimally all the time, even in the coldest temperatures.

The price of a 2-pack at Home Depot:  $4.97

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07 Jan – Region-free DVD players … If you purchase a DVD player from a retail store in the USA or Canada then you will likely see a small image of a globe with the number “1” on the box. This means that the machine will only play DVDs purchased within Region 1: North America. The same symbol also appears on the back of DVD movie cases. The encoding on the disc must be compatible with the player. If, for example, you were to order a DVD from Japan (Region 3) then it will be unplayable on this machine. This isn’t a problem for the majority of consumers who buy DVD movies locally, but what about folks like me who “shop the world”? Well, in my case nothing short of an unrestricted “region free” DVD player will do the job.

Supposedly (at least from what I’m told) DVD players and discs are region-encoded to protect regional consumer markets. While it’s true that some DVD movies are “Region 0” (plays anywhere) these are uncommon.

Why buy a Region-free DVD player?

Unless you purchase discs overseas then you don’t need one. But you should be aware that some DVD TV series and movies are not released in all regions. Take, for example, the British TV series “HEX” that aired for two seasons. Season One was released in North America (Region 1) and Europe (Region 2). However, Season Two was only released in Europe. You could order it from Amazon UK (or similar retailer) but the discs won’t play in North American DVD players. A “region-free” player is the solution.

Region-free DVD players can be purchased in the United States — just Google “region free DVD player” and you’ll find pages of American retailers. Brands and prices vary; I suggest choosing a familiar brand like Phillips, for example. Portable players (self contained with a built-in TV screen) are my personal choice as you can also connect these to a big screen TV for regular viewing.

Surprisingly, many Region-free DVD players are no more expensive than buying a local (Region 1 restricted) player from your neighborhood retailer. [Be sure to check out the warranty and features before ordering.]

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31 Dec – The new Lillix CD “Tigerlily” … I spent a couple of days this week in Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario, and happened across the new CD by Canadian pop-rock duo Liliix. The original band consisted of four high school girls from British Columbia — whose music was so good they were signed by Maverick Records soon afterwards. Their first album (Falling Uphill) was released in Canada, the USA and Japan in 2003. The band received two nominations at the 2004 Junos (Canadian music awards). Lillix followed up with a second album (Inside the Hollow) which was released in Canada and Japan in 2006. Both albums met with good reviews.

Currently only two of the original four girls are still with the band (sisters Lacey-Lee and Tasha Ray Evin) but they have shown via their latest album “Tigerlily” that they can still get the job done — admirably. The CD was released in Canada in August 2010 and is scheduled to be released in Japan (but not the U.S.).

It was a pleasant surprise to come across Lillix’ new album while browsing at HMV as I’ve been a fan for years. (Alas, I didn’t even know the CD was out. Shame on me.)

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24 Dec – The price of gold is too high … I’ve dabbled in the gold market since I was teenager. As a young coin collector my interest was peaked when I inherited an 1890s U.S. gold coin from my grandfather. Although I started off collecting ‘numismatic’ gold coins (those priced on rarity and historic value, rather than weight) I soon moved on to ‘bullion’: mostly Krugerrands. I got in before gold’s meteoric rise to $900 in April 1980 — and made a very nice profit when I sold off my stash. I later repurchased the same quantity of gold after the price “corrected” and dropped way down around $300 in 1985. My point is that I have monitored the gold market for 30+ years — and I am very uncomfortable with today’s high price.

Gold is priced worldwide in U.S. dollars per ounce. Much of the current high price is due to a belief that this country’s deficit spending and runaway military escapades will result in devaluation of our currency — thus requiring more and more dollars to purchase the same ounce of gold. It’s a valid position, and years from now I can visualize the gold price higher than it is today. But my uneasiness is based on today’s price of $1,380/oz (as of yesterday’s close) and I feel that the price may be as much as 20% too high for this point in time.

In support of my premise, I received an email from a contact of mine in India. He’s the manager of a large jewelry manufacturing company. India is, of course, one of the largest consumers of gold bullion — bracelets, rings, necklaces, bangles etc. are sold primarily by weight. According to my source his factory has laid off much of its workforce; it’s pretty much shut down because gold is now priced beyond what many consumers are willing to pay. His factory is sitting on a stockpile of unsold jewelry (wholesale, which is sold to retailers — who aren’t buying because their existing inventories are not moving like they used to), which means his factory is no longer purchasing raw bullion to make more jewelry, etc.

Speculators and gold-based investment funds are largely responsible for the current high price of the commodity. However, speculators and fund managers cannot fuel a market forever — at some point they will pull back, sit on the sidelines, and wait to see what happens next. When this occurs — get ready for a price correction.

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15 Dec – What to do if you encounter a wolf … The following information is from the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR):

While seeing a wolf is a memorable experience, like any other wild animal, you should use caution when they are close. Keep the following things in mind while you are viewing them:

·  Do not feed wolves
·  Do not entice wolves to come closer
·  Do not approach wolves
·  Leave room for a wolf to escape
·  Do not allow a wolf to approach any closer than 300 feet.

If a wolf acts aggressively (growls or snarls) or fearlessly approaches humans at a close distance without fear, take the following actions:

·  Raise your arms and wave them in the air to make yourself look bigger
·  Back away slowly; do not turn your back on the wolf
·  Make noise and throw objects at the wolf

To report fearless or aggressive wolves, contact:
Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources
715-762-1363 or 715-762-1362

(Source: DNR, via Florence Mining News)

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15 Dec – Remember when the U.S. was moving towards the Metric System? … It was during President Jimmy Carter’s administration that America started inching towards the Metric System — that’s when canned goods (for example) were required to list both U.S. and metric measurements on the labels. They still do. And some gas stations started pricing fuel in liters. (What a pain that was!) I also recall seeing some official highway signs in California that listed the distances to cities in both miles and kilometers. But I haven’t seen one of those in decades.

We can thank President Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan, for putting a stop to this un-American metric nonsense. Reagan could never figure out the metric system, didn’t trust it, and so the global effort to subvert our American way of life by altering our units of measurement pretty much died a quiet death.

So where does that leave America today? Well, the good ol’ USA is one of ONLY THREE COUNTRIES in the world that’s not on the metric system: the other two are Burma and Liberia. (See map.)

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18 Nov – Are days numbered for video rental stores? … Even up here along the Wisconsin-Michigan border we are seeing more and more “Redbox DVD rental kiosks” springing up in front of stores. For those readers unfamiliar with Redbox, these are automated “vending machine” video dispensers — no employees required. Persons desiring to rent a dvd insert their credit card in the slot and select the movie from a display screen. The machine dispenses the dvd, bills the renter’s credit card for $1, then retains the credit card information — if the dvd is not returned then the renter’s card is automatically charged for the cost.

Three of these Redbox kiosks have been placed along Stephenson Avenue in nearby Iron Mountain, Michigan this year alone. All are located within 3 minutes of each other. And people are using them. I don’t expect the local Family Video store to go out of business because of them, simply because Redbox has a limited selection of movies (verses hundreds at Family Video), but in conjunction with online rental sites such as Netflix the “overkill” of Redbox locations will surely be felt.

I am concerned about the impact that “automated vending kiosks” will have on jobs. While up in Canada last August, I came across a “hot meal” vending machine. One can purchase soup, a hamburger, hotdog, etc. — all dispensed piping hot! This particular machine was located inside a shopping mall — an ideal venue to replace a fastfood outlet staffed with real people. Clearly this is the trend for the future.

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09 Nov – Fluoride:  Is your water safe? This was a feature on local (Upper Michigan) channel WLUC-TV6. (Image added by Inteltrends.) Dateline: Iron Mountain, MI, the station’s website version includes the following:

Several U.P. communities like Norway and Escanaba have been adding fluoride to their water.

So what’s the problem? A growing number of studies are questioning the effectiveness and safety of fluoride including whether it is an ethical issue.

Iron Mountain has never added fluoride to its water.

The issue has been raised several times in the past and most recently in 1989 when voters rejected fluoridating the water supply in the city charter.

When I still lived in California I became concerned about water fluoridation. I’d never given it any thought until one of the local markets pulled all their fluoridated bottled water off the shelves and informed customers they would no longer stock it due to “health issues”.

At that time I lived in a city of 45,000. I telephoned the local water company to inquire whether our city’s water supply was fluoridated or not. My call was transferred to one of the water engineers. I remember the conversation well:

ME:  “I have some concerns about the safety of fluoridated water. Can you tell me if our city’s water contains fluoride?”

ENGINEER:  “Fluoride occurs naturally in water – but in small amounts that don’t pose a health risk. If you’re asking if we [the city] add fluoride to our water then the answer is no.”

ME:  “Thanks. So fluoridated water is safe to drink?”

ENGINEER:  “Off the record?”

ME:  “Sure.”

ENGINEER:  “Fluoride is toxic. I mean ‘big time’ toxic. Large cities add it to their water supply because it kills the germs and bacteria in their tanks. I won’t drink fluoridated water myself.”

ME:  “What about dental benefits?”

ENGINEER:  “Let me just say that fluoride is SO toxic that drinking fluoridated water probably kills all the bacteria in your mouth – so you might have fewer cavities, I don’t know. But I think the claim that fluoride somehow strengthens your teeth is a load of bullsh*t.”

Ah, an honest water official.

In the words of Woody from “Toy Story”… “Somebody’s poisoned the water hole!”

‘nuf said.

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05 Nov – I’m going to miss Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI)… who was defeated in this week’s election by Wisconsin businessman Ron Johnson, a Republican.

Why will I miss Russ?

Well, it certainly isn’t because he’s a tool of the Israeli lobby… um, not that accepting $52,000 from the Pro-Israel PAC this year means anything. (Source: Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, pdf).

But I’m going to miss him because he never lost touch with his constituency. In fact, EACH YEAR he travelled to all 72 Wisconsin counties and met the folks he represented – allowing them an opportunity to voice their concerns directly to him. Sen. Feingold, although based in the nation’s capital, was a real figure to many of us in Wisconsin. He wasn’t some political opportunist hiding in the halls of Washington, D.C. – you know the kind I’m talking about: the one’s who only show their faces around election time when they’re seeking votes or money.

Will newly elected senator Ron Johnson visit us each year? That remains to be seen. As far as I know he has made no such public commitment to do so. I’m not holding my breath.

So, I say to Sen. Russ Feingold: “Thanks for visiting us regularly up here in the Northwoods. Good luck with whatever the future has in store for you. And I mean that sincerely.”

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27 Oct – What about those of us who don’t use Facebook?… There has been a severe rain and wind storm here in the Northwoods the past two days — complete with power outages and trees falling across roads. So this morning I decided to check for school closures by visiting the local radio station’s website which has (for years) dedicated a specific webpage for school interruptions caused by snow, ice storms, power outages, etc.
So what do I find? Well, the website has been CLOSED DOWN — apparently this radio station no longer has a website. I turned on the radio and the announcer quickly recites a list of local schools that are cancelled or delayed and then says “Be sure to check out our Facebook page for additional school updates.” Continuous music follows.
What about those of us who don’t have Facebook? It seems to me that more people have internet connections (in general) than have Facebook accounts. Is there some reason the radio station can’t have BOTH a website AND a Facebook page?
This is going to be an interesting school year when winter sets in as households without Facebook send their children out to wait for the bus in the snow and sub-zero temperatures because they’re not aware that school has been cancelled or delayed. Personally I don’t mind listening to the radio station itself for this information — provided that one has the extra time to listen to 15 or 20 minutes of rock music in the hope of catching the announcer reading the school update list.
The radio station’s website (R.I.P.) will be dearly missed.

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18 Oct – What do you do when your president is too short? … Clearly embarrassed by diminutive Russian president Dmitry Medvedev’s height when photographed alongside California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last week, Russian media wizards “shortened” Schwarzenegger before releasing the official handshake photo.

Medvedev, who is 5’4″, was (literally) dwarfed by the 6’2″ governor. Rather than have the Russian head of state stand on a box, it was decided to shorten Gov. Arnie’s legs using photo enhancement and rebuild him to 5’6″.

The amusing result shows a disproportionate Arnie almost looking Medvedev eye-to-eye.

(We’d have done a better job PhotoShopping this pic here in the States.)

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12 Oct – How one of our local coffee drive-thru’s stays in business continues to amaze me… I enjoy a good cup of coffee. In fact, I’ve enjoyed drinking coffee in 12 countries. Some was fair to good, some was excellent – but one of our local drive-thru spots in nearby Iron Mountain, Michigan, has now (once again) received my “Worst Cup of Coffee – Anywhere in the World” award. I say “once again” because this newer business received this same award from me last year.

The sad fact is that this “northside” drive-thru [that’s a hint for my local readers – without mentioning the name] started off with the ‘best coffee imaginable’ when it opened last year. Their “brewed dark roast” was SO GOOD that I would actually drive 10 miles from Wisconsin just to get a cup “to go”. Regrettably, the owner must have decided to try to squeeze a few extra pennies of profit from each cup sold by buying cheaper coffee from a different distributor. After months of avoiding the place I gave it another try last week. The coffee was SO BAD that I pulled over to the side of U.S.-2 (interstate highway) as I crossed back into Wisconsin and poured it out. I didn’t even want to be in the same car with it.

But this is typical of business owners up here. The owner of this particular drive-thru isn’t a keen coffee drinker. In fact he told me that he “doesn’t really care for coffee.” If that’s the case he shouldn’t be in the coffee business.

So, just how does he STAY in business?

The answer is simple. Like most coffee drive-thru’s the number of customers buying a “basic cup of coffee” are a small minority. The real money is in the “mixed specialty drinks” — the lattes, the flavored blended mochas, etc. You can “hide” bad coffee by smothering it with flavors and spices (like cinnamon), with milk and sugar and artificial sweeteners. But when coffee is consumed “black and unsweetened”, well, that’s when you can tell a quality product from bunk.

However, there is one local place with excellent drive-thru coffee: Coffee Caboose (Carpenter Road, Kingsford, Michigan). A cup of black coffee there tastes like it’s supposed to: strong and flavorful. Unfortunately I’m seldom on that side of town.

The solution? For me, I’ve gone back to making great coffee at home. (And I’m saving a bundle of money too.)


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Wisconsin, more scenic than a postcard.

02 Oct – Fall colors in the Northwoods… The season is changing nicely here in the far north. I usually equate the “peak” of the colors with October 8 (which is somewhat earlier than what the media predicts) but it looks like it may even be a few days earlier this year. (Photo: View from my driveway, looking north.)

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