The secret message of the American flag (5×8 – 7/11/11)

The Monday Morning Rouser….

I’m working a short week this week. Today. Then I’m heading to New England to paint my saintly mother’s house, returning in a few weeks. Others will fill-in while I’m gone but I don’t believe there are plans for 5x8s during this time.


You probably won’t be seeing a lot of American flags in campaign commercials for Democrat candidates. A University of Chicago study has found that when people see an American flag, their political belief shifts toward the GOP, the Discover blog reports.

Perhaps the volunteers moved towards the dominant party at the time? Carter thinks not. In the spring of 2010, with Obama a year in power, Carter recruited 70 people and asked them to look at four photographs. Half the people saw buildings with flags in front of them; the others saw photos where the flags had been digitally removed. Even though the two groups had the same spectrum of political beliefs beforehand, the flag group shifted towards a Republican worldview after seeing the photos. It doesn’t seem to matter who is sitting in the White House at the time.

We like to think that their political beliefs and choices are the result of thoughtful consideration and objective analysis. In truth, several studies have now shown that voting simply isn’t that rational. Our choices are affected by unconscious preferences, our reflexes, and even local sports results. We are so predictable that people can guess the victors of elections with a surprising degree of accuracy based only on fleeting glances. In this context, the idea that a powerful national symbol like a flag could affect political preferences is not unreasonable.


When used by politicians, Twitter has an amazing ability to distract otherwise intelligent people from the issues.

Sure, there’s plenty of hypocrisy involved in Michael Brodkorb’s — the long-time GOP attack man — tweeting on state time; he made a name for himself railing against such things when he operated the Minnesota Democrats Exposed website. But he’s the communications boss now for state Capitol Republicans and partisan communication is hardly limited to one side of this mess. As Tim Pugmire points out in his story today, both sides have taken to Twitter to push positions that enlighten or inform no one.

But this is the theatrical part of any political debate.

The reality of the Brodkorb and his opponents’ tweets is that they have virtually no impact on any aspect of the shutdown. Nobody on Twitter turns to Brodkorb — or any other partisan at the Capitol — for news at the Capitol. They do so for entertainment. Followers already have an opinion that’s firmly rooted on one side of the issue or the other, they’re usually insiders — other politicians, special interests, or the media. No tweet is going to change that.

In other shutdown “news,” we got an interesting comment yesterday from one of the state workers who didn’t get laid off:

I work for the State of MN and am currently working as my job was deemed critical. I’m fed up w/ the union types leading this story. Your story didn’t mention the amount of unemployment these “idled” employees will receive if the shut down continues much longer. We calculated it last week and would receive almost enough UC (unemployment compensation) to make up the net pay we receive. Where is that in your boo-hoo story? I worked during the last shut down as well. I worked for my income while the unions got back pay for those that didn’t — paid vacation without having to use vacation time. Why don’t you cover that? But I trust that MPR is only interested in furthering Dayton’s and the union’s agenda. By the way, I am not Dayton’s cook or house keeper, which, as you know, he requested be included in the list of essential employees — can you say “elitist?”

Elitist. I guess I can.

But back to the issues, MPR’s Elizabeth Dunbar has an excellent assessment of what the budget debate is all about.


It’s a series of “lasts” for the space shuttle Atlantis, the last manned space mission for the U.S. for a lifetime, for many of us. Over the weekend, it did the “backflip” so a photographer on the space station could check for damage.

The tech editor of ZDnet writes today that the sooner the shuttle is put out to pasture the better:

We don’t need no stinking re-useable components. Give us safe, simple systems that work, so we can get our people up there safely and more often, instead of the ridiculous turnaround time that it takes to refurbish and recycle launch systems.

Space trivia: Thirty-two years ago today, the abandoned United States space station Skylab burned up in the atmosphere, showring the Indian Ocean and Australia with debris. Only three Apollo crews went to Skylab before its fiery death. (Wired)


I took the advice of meteorologists a few years ago and bought one of those NOAA Radio/alarm clocks that goes off when there’s a weather warning. Over the last two nights, I haven’t been able to sleep, but I’ve been fully informed in knowing there was a line of severe thunderstorms extending from some small town I’ve never heard of to another small town I’ve never heard of.

Judging by the damage in my neighborhood this morning — overturned recycling bins — the sleep-to-risk ratio was out of whack. I heard the warnings, I ignored them. If I’d met a meteorological fate in my bed, at least I’d know why. But the technology is a flawed one, forcing us to be roused with alerts that might better be aimed for someone 10 or 20 miles away.

But this was all good news for teenager Trevor Cokley, a storm chaser, who caught the weather near New Albany yesterday…

Here’s his website.

On the side of my house this morning, incidentally, there are dozens of dead mosquitoes, smooshed against the siding. Is it possible that the wind was heavy enough to slam the poor critters to their demise?



Is this the Tour de France yesterday or rush hour in St. Paul?


Nearly 700 million people use Facebook, but many of them complain about some of its features. Now Google has launched Google Plus as an alternative social network site. Today’s Question: What part of your social network experience would you like to change?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: The “war on drugs,” officially declared by President Nixon in 1971, has largely been viewed as a failure. 40 years later, we look back at what has been achieved and what changes need to be made in US drug policy.

Second hour: Live coverage of President Obama’s news conference.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Former finance commissioners John Gunyou and Jay Kiedrowski explain the budget and tax options available to lawmakers and the governor.

Second hour: From the Aspen Ideas Festival, two speakers address the question, “Are the girls beating the boys?

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: The bottom line on the debt ceiling,

Second hour: The challenges facing the world’s newest country, South Sudan.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Keeping prisoners locked up remains a core government function during the shutdown, but the Department of Corrections is minimally staffed and only performing critical functions. For inmates, that means no visits from family or volunteers, and no indoor recreation time. MPR’s Sasha Aslanian checks in with the guards, inmates, families and volunteers about the impact during shutdown.

Meg Talbot, the author of “The Princess Diaries,” has migrated to vampires. She’ll talk vampires, summer reads and how she was copied. MPR’s Euan Kerr will have the story.

  • Bonnie

    Enjoy your time back east, I hope you are one of those that enjoys painting…if not,well, I hope it goes quickly. Maybe the gov’t will beat you back to work.

  • Mike

    Bob –

    Have a great trip out east. I, like Bonnie, hope you enjoy painting. I actually do enjoy that type of work – say, need any help? I’ve got some free (read state-shutdown imposed) time available.

    Changing subjects to the unemployment compensation comment. That’s actually interesting…and I should do my own back-of-the-napkin calculating to see if it adds up. It’s very important to note the comment talks NET pay. There are obviously lots of decuctions – like employee-paid insurance that comes out of our gross pay. It should be noted that when/if we return to work, we’ll be responsible for repaying our employer for this. There’s more to comparing unemployment compensation to previous net pay than the comment lets on to.

    Safe travels, and thanks for the shout out to my Unemployment Line blog back on the 4th. Never would have imagined this shutdown would have lasted this long.

  • Bob Collins

    Plus, isn’t unemployment taxable?

    And yes, I *do* need help. I’m calculating if I work 13-hour days, I *might* get it finished.

    See you there.

  • Snyder

    Yes, Bob. Unemployment is taxable. When I applied, one of the steps is to indicate whether you want taxes taken out before you receive your benefits or if you prefer to be liable for them down the road.

    I don’t know what kind of job that “critical” state employee is doing, but I sure hope it isn’t something with accounting.

    I won’t be getting anything close to what I normally make when I’m allowed to work. My UI benefits work out to $559 per week before taxes compared to $1140 per week before taxes if I were working.

  • Jeb Rach

    Re: #4

    Do you have a weather radio that has the SAME technology built-in? That could help tremendously with the warnings for areas not close to you (as you program in the counties you want alerts for.)

  • Tim

    Yeah, that state employee’s math is a bit off regarding unemployment. When I received it in the past, it was about 55-60% or so of what I received when I had been employed, and as has been pointed out, it does get taxed too.

  • Nathan

    The employee from #2’s math isn’t too far off, it’s their logic that’s the problem. While the amount from UI might be reasonably close to the NEt pay while fully employed, there will still be costs from the UI payment to figure in, like if people still want/need to contribute to insurance premiums (i.e. they’re not on a spouses plan), taxes, other optional benefits. So yeah, no one on unemployment is living the high life. That kind of thinking is what upsets me. It is and always has been meant to soften the blow of losing one’s job, seriously, how worse off would people be if they lost all their income immediately. The economic disaster of the last 4 years would have been immeasurably worse.

  • John P.

    Let’s not forget that unemployment is unemplyment insurance. Your employer pays for this insurance with what could otherwise be compensation to you. It is not charity, it a payout on insurance your employer has been paying for just like your medical insurance.

    Complaining about other people getting their regular salary when on unemployment insurance is like complaining that your neighbor gets the full value of his house from his insurance company when his house burns down.

  • Nathan

    @John P. You’re making an assumption that employers would provide what’s paid into the UI fund back to their employees if that tax didn’t exist, a real big assumption in my opinion.

  • Jamie

    // “…commercials for Democrat candidates…”//


    It’s true! I had hoped it wasn’t! But Bob is a Republican! Only Republicans (and careless Democrats and others) use “Democrat” as an adjective.

  • Jamie

    // “…I am not Dayton’s cook or house keeper…”//

    I’d like to see someone look into the details of this. I’m sure that Dayton didn’t request the cook and the housekeeper for himself personally. The cook prepares meals for official meetings and events at the gov’s residence, and I imagine the housekeeper is there NOT for Dayton personally either, but because the residence is used for official stuff. There are some Dept. of Administration maintenance staff working at the Dept. of Agriculture and other departments where there are critical staff working because buildings have to be maintained where people are working.

  • Rich

    “Democrat” used in that context is a pejorative.

  • Jamie

    I know. That’s why Republicans use it that way!