Friday, August 30, 2002

A Healthier Environment Unless You Happen To Be A Business

Story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today about how a proposed smoking ban in the city of Eden Prairie may cause some companies to relocate. The insane thing is that the ban would eliminate smoking completely at private businesses including bars and restaurants and force hotels to have 75% of their rooms be smoke free.

The company featured in the article is a manufacturing company with a ventilated smoking room seperate from the rest of the facility so second hand smoke is not an issue but if the ban were passed not only would the smoking room have to be shut down but employees would not even be allowed to smoke outside of the building.

Unbelievable. Of course the ban only applies to Eden Prairie so workers who wish to continue to smoke may simply find jobs at companies in neighboring cities that aren't run by "we know what's good for you" leaders. Restaurant and bar patrons who want to enjoy a heater after a meal or with a drink will also simply bypass such businesses in Eden Prairie for friendlier climes. The net effect will be little or no reduction in smoking while a number of companies may bail out of the city taking their jobs and tax bases with em'. So why would the leaders of a city choose such a course of action? This excerpt and the quote from the mayor speaks volumes:

The City Council probably won't vote on the matter for several weeks and Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens said the proposal might change.

She will tour the Anagram plant and its designated smoking areas next week,adding that Ansolabehere's complaint has "some resonance." Still, she said, a broad-based smoking ban should be passed.

"It takes guts to deal with this issue," Tyra-Lukens said. "It's a known health hazard. How in good conscience do you not protect citizens from it?"

In expressing a very typical attitude for someone of her ilk the mayor doesn't really care whether the ban works or not or what the negative consequences might be. As long as SHE feels better then it's the right thing to do.

Ham Smothered in Gravitas

The closer we approach the one year anniversary of the atrocities of September 11, 2001, it becomes more and more clear that the popular culture and its icons simply don't know how to respond. It seems that almost since that fateful day itself, both prominent individuals and institutions have been making plans about how to properly commemorate what happened. Yet it's all still developing clumsily and piecemeal and most talking heads (particularly from the Left) still aren't sure what they're actually supposed to do or say, despite their often bold and always self-reverential comments to the contrary.

I get the sense that this stems from, in part, the modern generations' lack of experience with widespread tragedy. But I suspect it originates with how these generations have been conditioned to respond to episodes of tragedy or sadness or even mild discomfort. (and of course I blame the Liberal, therapeutic, egocentric culture for this). Typically anyone under 40 will respond to tragedy by: 1) being oblivious, because they're not paying attention; 2) laughing it off because they don't understand it or think that it must be somehow ironic; or 3) ruminating on how if affects them personally, followed by the drawing up of a list of grievances and reparations to be paid.

The events of 9/11/01 are of a scale that most aren't sure how to respond, in that their normal patterns of action don't quite fit anymore. You can't ignore it, you can't laugh it off, and there's no one to blame. (That is, besides the radical Islamicists. But since public schooling and a steady diet of cultural relativism don't equip one with critical thinking skills, and since they can't reasonably connect the Republican Party or Big Business to these events, the Left really has no worthy villains). So most blindly grope forward, trying to do what makes them personally feel good.

For example, TV news departments--instead of simply reporting on the facts of what occurred and what has transpired since, they're caught up in debating what video footage will be "appropriate" for the audience to see (that is, when they're not consumed by the decision of what earth tone Peter Jennings' suit should be so as to simultaneously communicate pathos as well as his fierce, Canadian resolve). The management of broadcast networks aren't sure whether or not they should be running advertisements at all. The MLPA (and its local mouthpiece, the proto-human Denny Hocking) consider their petty labor-management squabble as something that will be fighting for attention with our remembrances of this infamous day.

And now, for whatever reasons, Democratic and Republican candidates running for office around the country have agreed to stop campaigning for several days surrounding Sept. 11 - because it wouldn't be in the spirit of the day. Is it just me, or does this feel like some kind of admission that the reality of running for public office in 2002 is in itself offensive to American ideals. As if whatever they say in their ads and campaign appearances is necessarily disingenuous and crass and wince worthy during this small window of cultural sanity and sobriety.

And come to think of it, I think they may be right. Can you imagine, right after watching a replay of those gruesome fireballs rising above the Manhattan skyline, jumping into an ad featuring the simpering voice of Paul Wellstone complaining about American businesses not paying their fair share of taxes, or claiming that he'll pull us out of the "Bush recession" by raising your taxes? Yes, these ads would indeed be deceptive, patronizing, and vile.

But, I dare say, these ads would be deceptive, patronizing, and vile even if 19 murderous Arabic savages hadn't slaughtered 3,000 innocents a year ago. It's just that nobody would notice or nobody would care--least of all the politicians responsible for putting these ads out. Yes, they should be ashamed of those ads and their rhetoric--but equally so on September 12.

Reasonably speaking, the anniversary of 9/11/01 should be the ideal time for politicians to be speaking to the American people. They'll have our attention like never before. And our interest will be properly framed by the brutal results of an appeasing, morally relativistic foreign policy. In fact, forget the ads, its the perfect time for a debate. Sit Wellstone and Coleman down for a 2 hour conversation on foreign policy. The topics would be 1) What were the causes of 9/11 and 2) how do we proceed in making sure it never happens again.

Given the fact that Wellstone believes 1) it was our fault it happened and 2) we should do nothing but apologize, redistribute wealth, and hope it won't happen again - there's no chance he wins that debate. This is the reason politicians like him will be silent on this day--because they have nothing worthwhile to say, and for at least one day, they know it.

Thursday, August 29, 2002

You're A Clever Little Monkey Aren't You?

This morning after my weekly Thursday hockey session the banter in the "room" turned to the possibility of war with Iraq. A few comments were made about the difficulty of warfare in cities and the fighting ability or lack therefore of that the Iraqi Army possessed. Pretty much the standard water cooler kind of stuff. And then one of the younger players chirped in with, "The whole thing is just a game designed to justify a military buildup."

I literally went numb. My first instinct was to leap across the room, grab the punk by the scruff of his neck, and introduce his head to the cement wall behind him. Then I wanted to ask this insightful little sage whether the three thousand people who were slaughtered on September 11th were part of the "game"?

Is this what passes for wisdom among the ignorantly cynical set these days? Are you going to start talking about the "military industrial complex" now oh witty one? I had thought that this cliched school of thought had been laid upon the ash heap of history with the end of the Cold War and the dramatic decrease in defense spending that accompanied it. Hmmmm. How does that work now? Oh yes, when there is a significant threat to the national security of the United States, be it Soviet expansionism during the Cold War or terrorist states and groups today, we spend more money on national defense. Quite a crazy concept isn't it?

Does this infantile seer of the real truth actually believe that the Bush administration is involved in a far ranging conspiracy to drum up a foreign threat (again-how much drumming is needed with three thousand dead bodies on our soil?) so that his buddies in the "military industrial complex" can profit from a 11% increase in military spending? There's gotta be an easier way to make a living.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

What Being a Conservative Really Means

No one has done more to explain the differences between the Left and the Right than David Horowitz. In a new piece at FrontPage he explains why true conservativism is not defined by racial or ethnic identities but rather by shared beliefs and values. It's a long read but well worth your time. Here's a choice excerpt:

To be a conservative in America, from my perspective, then, is to defend where possible and restore where necessary, the framework of values and philosophical understandings enshrined in the American Founding. This should not be taken to mean a strict constructionist attitude towards every clause of the documents that constitute the Founding. If the framers of the Constitution had presumed to see the future, or had wanted to rigidly preserve the past, they would not have included an amendment process in their document.

My brand of conservatism is based on a belief in the fundamental truth in the idea of individualism; in the idea of rights that are derived from "Nature's God" and therefore inalienable; in the conservative view of human nature and the philosophy of limited government that flows therefrom; and in the recognition that property rights are the proven foundation of all human liberties.

Taking it to the Street

Peter King of Sports Ilustrated whips up some high expectations regarding the Vikings potential--or at least the potential for Randy Moss to have a huge year. There's also an accounting of some of the more assinine antics from Moss last year. For example

"Last year, after the Vikings handed Moss the richest contract for a receiver in NFL history, Moss said he played only when he wanted to play, and no one could make him play when he didn't feel like it. Against Tennessee in December, he either jogged or walked off the line of scrimmage on 21 plays. That's 39 percent of the game the guy didn't try. A disgrace--to the game, to his team, to himself."

According to this article, it appears Tice is confronting this situation head on--using both a carrot and stick approach. But when Moss decides to act out this year, I'm dubious as to the abilty of a first year, unproven head coach to maintain credibility--especially when Moss is in self proclaimed "street person" mode.

Friday, August 23, 2002

We Can and We Will

Opponents of US military action against Iraq claim that such an operation would divert resources from the on-going war on terrorism and impair our abilities to eliminate the threat from Al Qaeda. While I appreciate the fact that our military is not as large as in the past and that battling Al Qaeda requires deploying forces in far flung regions of the globe, I find this a bit tough to swallow. Consider if you will what our country was able to do concurrently during the Second World War:

- Send thousands of troops to England to train and prepare for D-Day.

- Maintain an air force in England capable of carrying out daily strategic bombing of Germany.

- Send millions of tons of supplies across the Atlantic Ocean to England while fielding naval forces to battle and finally eliminate the German u-boat threat.

- Send millions of tons of supplies to the Soviet Union often with convoys through the North Sea fighting off German subs and air attacks on the way.

- While all of the above mentioned were going on to invade North Africa, Sicily, and finally Italy.

- Build an immense Navy to battle the Japanese in the Pacific.

- Carry out two separate offensive thrusts against Japanese held territory in the Pacific with Nimitz leading the island hopping campaign in the Central Pacific while Mac Arthur pushed towards the Philippines through the Solomons and New Guinea. These campaigns covered thousands of miles with fighting from the Aleutian islands near Alaska to Guadalcanal.

- Send millions of tons of supplies to China to aid their cause against the Japanese.

- Send troops to China and Burma to fight the Japanese.

- While all this was going on we were also able to supply and aid resistance groups fighting throughout Europe including Norway and Greece, and in Asia in Vietnam and the Philippines. We also supplied food and other critical supplies to civilians all over the globe.

These are just some of the actions that popped into my head while thinking about this. The point is that we were capable of carrying out military operations almost anywhere and everywhere in the world during that time and we did. As I said earlier, I realize that our military is now only a fraction of the size it was during World War II and our economy is obviously in no way on a war footing, BUT to say that we cannot take out a tin horn dictator like Saddam while at the same time dealing with Al Qaeda seems to be an awfully pessimistic view to hold bordering on defeatist. We are the United States of America for Chrissakes not some has been, self doubting, European country looking for reasons why we will fail. If we are indeed at war then we should have the ability to fight a war wherever and whenever we need to.

Let's Hope That GWB Reads VDH

Victor Davis Hanson lays the rhetorical framework for Bush to follow as we prepare for the next theater in the war in this article at National Review Online.

Americans have no belly for a moral crusade to change the world; but when murderers come over here to butcher our own, and when a nut stockpiles nightmarish weapons to further his past agenda of death, they are quite willing to defend their culture and values to the bitter end. But they need to be told first that it is not power, nor revenge, nor ego, nor bellicosity that prompts American action, but a unique sense of justice amid a world that talks just, but in self-interested inaction proves itself to be precisely the opposite.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Profiles in Discouragement

More stupefying comments from Denny Hocking (the Twins representative to the MLPA) showed up in an article in the Star Tribune today. Within just a few sentences he reveals the lack of courage he has in his convictions (or just his lack of convictions) and his lack of understanding of the economic issues surrounding the game. His quote, on receiving a letter from a Minnesota legislator regarding the deleterious affect a players' strike would have on the chances of the Twins securing public funding for a new stadium in 2003:

It seems like I'm being blamed here, I'm part of a union. If 29 guys vote one way and I vote the other, how does that make me look to my peers?"

So is he saying that if it were left up to his own conscience he would vote against a strike? But because he doesn't want to look uncooperative in front of his "peers" (which I'm forced to conclude are 29 other slap-hitting, limited range utility infielders with pre-pubescent goatees)--he is compelled to simply go along with the crowd? Not exactly Henry Fonda/12 Angry Men-level courage here. In fact, it's overt cowardice. Yet he's presenting this as being justification for his actions--as if we'll all say "when you put it that way, of course you'd have to vote 'yes.'" And remember, this is just the vote authorizing a strike--not his personal decision to break a picket line or ignore the decisions of the union. This is a revelatory comment about the nature of this union--one in which absolutely no pubic dissent is accepted--lest anyone might be led to believe the players' themselves question the economic reality of someone like Denny Hocking making $1.1 million a year (it’s true). Let me remind you he’s currently hitting .249 with 2 home runs and 23 RBIs. And he has a team leading 9 errors--despite the fact he's only played in 2/3 of the team's total games.

But then again, reality is a subjective term for the players, as illustrated by Hocking's further comment:

Hocking said the Twins' survival depends on a new stadium. "It's apparent we can't survive in Major League Baseball because of the revenue we do not generate. Building a new stadium would generate that revenue," he said.

If that's his actual understanding of the situation--I weep for the future (said in the tone of the maitre d' in Ferris Buehler's Day Off). He's conveniently (or purposely, due to ignorance) leaving out a big part of this equation. Under the current system, the only way to generate all that revenue is to have someone else (the public) build you the stadium for hundreds of millions of dollars, and then you (that is, owners and players) get to reap all the profits from it, in perpetuity.

That is the only way to sustain the current economic model in baseball--and the only way that Hocking will earn $1.1 million. Grossly simplified, the owner's position is to change the model so as to limit expenses (salaries) and thus diminish (somewhat) the requirement of public subsidy. The player's stance is to refuse this change and to ensure tax dollars continue to subsidize their salaries. And that is why Hocking will vote to strike, despite his apparent raging bout of conscience.

Say the Right Thing

Dennis Prager mentioned this story on his radio show today and it is quite interesting. Spike Lee was in Wilmington, North Carolina and spoke about education:

One of the keys to success, he believes, is education.

"I was very fortunate when I was growing up the slave mentality wasn't
espoused in my house," he said. "Education was valued. It was expected that
I would go to college."

He also grew up when those who were smart and did well in school were

"Now many African-Americans are ridiculed if they speak correctly, go to
school and aren't on a corner drinking a 40," he said. "How is it that the
values that our parents taught us, our grandparents taught us, have been
turned around?"

"Parents, we have to be vigilant with our children, not let them watch
television without adult supervision," he said.

Mr. Lee said that music videos, with their images of liquor, expensive cars,
gyrating semi-nude women and "bling-bling" are a problem.

"BET does one of the biggest disservices to black people," he said of the
cable channel. "You have to think, 'What is the content? What is the

"That's worse than crack," he said.

The director also encouraged people to not support those who promote a
message that doesn't benefit black people

"You don't have to go to their movies. You don't have to buy their records. A
whole lot of black people don't want to say anything about R. Kelly," he said
about the entertainer who is being accused of child pornography. "Well, I've
got a daughter."

Full story

Can you imagine the reaction if a black conservative or a white person had made the same comments?

Monday, August 19, 2002

The Kane Mutiny

Last Friday night, in preparation for watching the Twins-Red Sox game on TV, I was channel surfing for a viable alternative to watch during the expected lulls during the game. Yes, the game promised to be a good one, featuring the pitching match up of Pedro Martinez and Joe Mays. But I knew that this alone wouldn't prevent me from searching for mental stimulus during segments of the game that were found lacking in this regard.

Included in this "lacking" category would be any time the Red Sox were batting. I'm not entirely sure what it is, but something about their lineup just strikes me as dreadfully dull and frankly, offensive. Maybe it's their names, letter confabulations such as "Daubach" and "Merlroni” and most egregious "Trot." Just the thought of these being shouted in the hoarse, whiskey soaked bark of a Southie is enough for me to withdraw my attention in disgust.

So in my search for a diversion, while blurring past all the important cable news celebrities (O'Reilly, Chung, Matthews, Brooke Burke) I came upon C-SPAN, which was broadcasting a panel discussion on slavery reparations. Discussions of this topic come up about once every couple of months on C-SPAN.

As I've watched many of the previous presentations, I figured this was going to be another exercise in revelatory hate mongering, logic high crimes, and grammatical misdemeanors, by some of the most inarticulate members of the Left. (Which given the competition, is not an insignificant accomplishment--it's like being the foulest smelling pile of viscera on the slaughterhouse floor).

But, much to my pleasant surprise, this panel was put together by the Heritage Foundation and consisted of minority group members who opposed the concept of slavery reparations. Of the four panel members, I recognized only Linda Chavez (who was typically brilliant). However, all four were good in both the presentation of their beliefs and in the comprehensive understanding of the issues on which they spoke. Their sense of isolation from the mainstream of minority opinion (or at least the opinions of the minority leadership) was obvious, and their stance of righteous dissent was impressive and well taken.

The most compelling rhetoric came from a columnist from the Baltimore Sun, named Gregory Kane. He nailed all of the more common points I've previously heard (well articulated by David Horowitz and George Will, among others). However he also spoke of his personal disdain for the notion of accepting a monetary gain based on the suffering of his forbearers. He acknowledged that race is still an issue in American life, and that it still affects him. But also that the situation had improved greatly since he was a child. And his childhood experience was better by several magnitudes compared to when his parents were children. And his parents' experiences couldn’t even come close the sufferings imposed upon the previous generations who were actually held in bondage. And, according to Kane, the thought of making a personal profit based on the wrong commited to previous generations, given the relatively benign conditions faced now, only served to cheapen their experiences and memories and was personally revolting to him.

He's exactly right of course, and these words seem to resonate with the black audience in the crowd, more so than the other more semantic and abstract arguments forwarded by the likes of Horowitz, et al. I’ve never seen or heard of Gregory Kane before, but upon reading his back columns from the Baltimore Sun archives, it appears he leans conservative (which takes guts given his status as a black columnist in a majority black city), and he's a voice that merits listening to.

Friday, August 16, 2002

Who Falls Next?

St. Paul raised some good points below in his latest post on that nature of the Al Qaeda threat and the proper response to it. I think the only difference between those of us who are calling for immediate action against Iraq and those who wish to tackle Al Qaeda first (St. Paul, Brent Scowcroft, and Lee Harris) is just a matter of timing.

I've been in favor on taking out Saddam long before 9/11 when I first heard that he could have nukes by 2005. I certainly wish to continue the pursuit and elimination of Al Qaeda forces around the world but I don't think a major US military effort is required for it. To use Special Forces and air power in small regional actions should not limit our ability to take on Iraq at the same time. I too agree that the Saudi house needs to be cleaned out but I question whether that can be done while Saddam is still in power.

After a regime change in Baghdad and access to all that sweet Iraqi crude it would be much easier to turn up the heat on the Saudis or actually throw some heat their way if the need be. Our difference is over which domino we want to knock over first.

Hello World, Goodbye Clausewitz

Excellent editorial appearing in Opinion Journal (via Policy Review) this week by Lee Harris providing a differing interpretation of the motives of Al Queda and radical Islam in general. The strength of the essay is in pointing out how our culture (and all cultures throughout history) tend to analyze the actions and motivations of foreign cultures assuming they have the same base motivations and rational approach to situations as we do. The problem is that cultural context alone can lead to widely divergent motivations and strategies of action. This is especially true when a particular culture has developed in a manner inconsistent with reality.

Harris's comparison of Montezuma's reaction to the arrival of Cortez to our reaction to Arab terrorism is apt. Whereas the Aztec culture conditioned Montezuma to interpret the arrival of exotic, white skinned strangers as fulfillment of religious prophecy, our western, rationalist, Clausewitzian culture conditions us to interpret the hostile acts of another culture as their use of force to achieve a political end. This naturally leads us to attempt to figure out what this political end is (which culminates in the pathetic question asked by the Left and the media--"Why do they hate us?" and it's implied follow-up, "What should we do to change?")

I won't try to summarize the entirety of the Harris editorial (even though it's a long read, it's time well spent). But his point about the proponents of radical Islam is that they're not trying to achieve any political end via the use of force. Rather, their culture has developed a sense of historical victimhood which has led to the creation of a "fantasy ideology." As Harris says:

"There must first be a pre-existing collective need for this fantasy; this need comes from a conflict between a set of collective aspirations and desires on one hand, and the stern dictates of brutal reality on the other--a conflict in which lack of realism is gradually transformed into a penchant for fantasy."

In other words, the relative decline of Islamic culture compared to the West, and the inability of Arab cultures to match Western culture in terms of political, scientific, and material achievement does not match the aspirations of the "Arab street" (and it hasn't for centuries). But rather than rationally analyze the causes of this inequity and change behavior accordingly, they choose to create and live within a fantasy reality, whereby they consider themselves the only true believers and the West as inherently evil, temporarily prospering only because of its deceit and wickedness.

Furthermore, the acts of terrorism are not intended to change our behavior--or even to create terror among the victims. Instead, the act of committing suicide while in the act of fighting evil is the point, and end to itself. We and our buildings are merely props within their internal drama. More broadly, while it is inconceivable that a campaign of terrorism (no matter how heinous) could actually bring an end to Western culture, their fantasy ideology propels them to continue, with the thought that their god's will is supreme and if they are acting in that spirit, anything is possible (despite all empirical evidence to the contrary).

Harris posits that the remedy to a threat posed by a fantasy ideology is to treat it as a disease. I quote "You try to outwit them, to vanquish them, to kill them. You behave with them in the same manner that you would deal with a fatal epidemic--you try to wipe it out."

Given this, a strike at Iraq in the initial stages of a war on terrorism does seem preemptory. If Harris is right, and the current threat to our interests is not due to the political aspirations of another political entity, Iraq can wait. Saddam is fundamentally a secularist (his war time rhetoric not withstanding). His behavior and aspirations are dangerous and remedial action should be considered. But in terms of priority, the source of this disease of radical Islam seems to be those that preach and fund the preaching of this fantasy ideology. That of course included the Taliban (may they rest in peace from their personal fantasies rude interruption). But the prime carrier and spreader of this disease is a certain corrupt and brutal kingdom just South of Iraq. The real patient zero, the Saudis, should be target number one. And hell, it's on the way to Iraq anyway, as long we're in the neighborhood.

The Fantasy World of NPR

It's been at least a month or two since I've had cause to pound my dashboard and utter a string of obscenities while listening to some bit of insulting pap on NPR but last night my driving serenity was once again disturbed by a piece on Religious Fundamentalism. The intro went something along the lines of,

"Since September 11th the danger of religious fundamentalism has become apparent for all to see. We will examine the history of this phenomena and interview three men who once described themselves as fundamentalists but have since renounced their views. One is a Muslim, one a Christian, and one a Jew."

Stop the freakin' madness!

I might have missed it but I don't seem to recall Christian fundamentalists driving airplanes into buildings in Cairo or Jewish fundamentalists strapping on bombs and blowing up university cafeterias in Riyadh. Why is it not possible for relativists like NPR to admit that it wasn't Christian or Jewish fanatics who killed 3000 people on September 11th( and continue to kill innocents almost daily in Israel) in the name of their religion, it was MUSLIM fanatics? This does not mean that every Muslim is evil nor does it mean that the religion itself is bad but it is an indication that something is definitely wrong with the way that Islam is being taught and interpreted by these Islamist groups. To try to equate the fundamentalist movements in all three religions with each other and present each as posing the same level of threat to modern society is dishonest and a bizarre form of wishful thinking. Just because you say it don't make it so.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

If Not Us Then Who? Another Option To Consider

One of the arguments cited by opponents of US military action against Iraq is that such action would destabilize the region. If we were to act unilaterally without support from a broad coalition of countries we would run the risk of alienating our "allies" in the Middle East and further antagonizing countries that already dislike us. Or so the logic goes.

But what kind of stability can be expected if no action is taken? According to German intelligence sources Iraq will have the ability to produce nuclear weapons by 2005. Does anyone honestly believe that Israel will sit idly by while a neighboring dictator who has promised the destruction of the Jewish state acquires such devastating weapons?

In 1982 the Israelis were able to set the Iraqi nuclear program back a number of years with a precise air strike against an Iraqi reactor about to come on line. This time around the job would not be quite so easy. Iraqi nuclear facilities are camouflaged and scattered around the country. An Israeli attempt to eliminate the Iraqi nuclear capability may take several days before they feel secure that the threat is neutralized. It may even require the Israelis to deploy tactical nuclear weapons of their own against Iraq. The fallout from such attacks would dramatically increase the likelihood of a much wider war breaking out. US "allies" in the region including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan would feel immense pressure from the Arab world and their own peoples to aid the Iraqis and countries with regimes traditionally hostile to Israel such as Syria and Iran may take the opportunity to join Iraq.

The US would then be in the difficult position of having to support Israel(the only true ally in the region) while trying to avoid a complete estrangement with our erstwhile Arab "allies". The damages done to our relationships with Arab countries and our image in the region would be nearly irreparable and a wider conflict could devastate the Middle East killing many thousands and shattering it economically.

If we don't go in Israel will. Which option has the better chance of bringing real stability to the region?

Wisdom Through the Ages

I came across this passage from C.S. Lewis last night and found it remarkably applicable to the anti-smoking, anti-drinking, anti-fast food, pro-helmet wearing, "but what about the children?," safety zealots of today.

Of all the tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of the victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a hell of earth.

Monday, August 12, 2002

Suicide Kings and Welfare Queens

Breaking news from yesterday, the Major League Players Association (MLPA) has magnanimously announced that they will not set a strike date at this time. According to senior executive board member Tom Glavine, they feel they owe it to baseball fans to do "everything possible" to avoid a work stoppage. In my mind that would simply mean accepting your $2 million per man average salary and DON'T STOP WORKING until the collective bargaining agreement actually ends (after the season). However, in the distorted, pampered logic of the jockocracy, "everything possible" means they'll delay any such announcement by ... four entire days. That's right, the next announcment is due on Friday.

I have trouble getting a good fix on my feelings toward major league baseball. I love the sport. I love to watch the games and read box scores. And I simply like to sit and ruminate on its history, both locally and nationally. Yet now I find myself hating everyone involved with the current incarnation of the sport, the owners, players, and obviously, the Umps.

The owners are beneath contempt. They hide behind the tenets of capitalism when its suits them and then use "the special nature of America's past time" to bludgeon any critic pointing out the violations of the free market on which they base their baseball related profit margins. An editorial by Charles Euchner recently highlighted some of the anit-competitve practies ownership endorses.

Even given all of this, I think I hate the players more. Why? Perhaps because I can identify with them more, as they are still in a position of selling their labor for wages. Yet they consistently treat the public, who directly subsidize their salaries, with absolute disdain. And I just don't mean by dating more women and more beautiful women than I do - even though that's probably at the heart of my discontent. No, no, there are numerous examples, of both individual and collective behavior, of flagrantly arrogant and destructive actions by our heroes in sanitary socks. But the most galling comments recently have come from the local nine.

For example, Doug Mientkiewicz - he takes every opportunity he can to condemn the Metrodome as a terrible place to play and to state how the players need a new stadium to play in. Now, on the fist account he's right, BUT he's in no position to say so. That monstrosity, which was a product of a previous blackmail effort, was built by a tax on the public. Regardless of its aesthetic appeal, it is responsible for the current, exhorbanant salary Dougie makes for hitting .251 with 6 homeruns as the starting 1st baseman - in the middle of August!!! (He's well earning his nickname of Mr. Last May.) Furthermore, the fact that the stadium is lousy is only an issue for those who have to pay to go sit inside it - which he is not, he is an employee and a guest. Granted, Doug is a truly stupid man and likely the dimmest bulb on the Twins roster. (At least the dimmest one that can speak English - who knows the true intelligence of the Spanish-only speaking Twins' Latin contingent. But given the fact most of them have been living and working in the US for years and still can't speak the native language coherently, I think Doug might have some competition.) But it doesn't take intelligence to have a mature perspective on life and that's something Doug (and most modern professional athletes) simply don't have.

And just the other day Denny Hocking took pains to publicly assure his brethren in the MLPA that the Twins will definitely vote to strike if, God forbid, they are forced to do so. Apparently there were rumors that the Twins players would vote 'no' because some didn't feel it was appropriate to vote for a strike in the midst of a season where they were not only in competion for the post season for the first time in 11 years, but also in the midst blackmailing their host city for hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidy. But according to Denny Hocking, that's crazy talk, and they will vote in the interest of continuing the status quo of using the tax money of poor people in St. Paul (me) to pay an absolute mediocrity (Hocking) $1.1 million per year.

Any work stoppage that occurs this year will be based on one factor - the proportion of the public subsidy each side feels they are entitled too. The negotiations assume the existence of the subsidy as a given. Hundreds of millions of dollars of your money and mine will be available, the only question is, who get's more of it. And both sides are willing to crash the entire enterprise in order to get their fair share. Welfare rights anyone?

Saved by a Hobbit?

Let me just start by acknowledging that I don't get out to see too many movies in theaters anymore, so this discussion may seem a bit dated. For some reason I have found it preferable to sit in my basement watching DVDs on my schedule while enjoying a beer or Scotch or both rather than trudging off to the local thirty-six screen megaplex to mingle with the unwashed masses. As of late I have been on a bad run with my film selections have endured the awful 'The Time Machine' and the sickeningly PC 'Hart's War' in the space of a few weeks. I had begun to lose faith in the ability of Hollywood to tell a story when a classic like 'The Time Machine' is so poorly done and a classic setting like a WWII POW camp is so misused.

Fortunatley the long but never dull 'Lord of the Rings' has restored my hope that a good story can still be told. I am not some kind of Tolkein freak and in fact have not even read any of his works, although I am now inclined to take them up, so I approached the film with no expectations other than to be entertained.

And I certainly was. The beauty of the film is that it completely allows you to wrap yourself up in it and forget the time and place you live in. Other than one humerous aside that references dwarf tossing there isn't some not so subtle modern day message that the film makers try to pound into your head other than the one that Tolkein originally intended. The story is the center of the film as it should be. While that doesn't seem like a lot to ask these days it can be hard to find.

Friday, August 09, 2002

Why We Must Choose War

While I agree with the Minneapolis Star Tribune's August 3rd editorial that a debate on the issue is healthy and warranted, I disagree with those who oppose the use of military force against Iraq. In my opinion the justification for war with Iraq is demonstrated by answering five critical questions:

1. Does Iraq currently possess or will it shortly possess weapons that could threaten the United States or our allies?

In addition to their current stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons it has been estimated that Iraq will have a nuclear weapons capability by 2005. While these weapons may not be used directly against the United States they certainly pose a threat to US forces and our allies, in particular Israel, in the Middle East. And even if the Iraqis do not directly employ these weapons against us their support of various terrorist groups in the past makes the possibility of them supplying such a group with chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons a very real threat. The incineration of three thousand Americans on September 11th leaves little doubt as to whether terrorist groups would choose to use such weapons against us.

2. Is there a link between Iraq and September 11th?

Even though a direct link between the Iraqi regime and the attacks of September 11th has not been established yet (Mohammed Atta did meet with Iraqi intelligence in the summer of 2001) it seems clear that the Iraqis have had contacts with Al Qaeda providing them with supplies and weapons in Afghanistan and possibly training Al Qaeda operatives inside Iraq. Should we wait for another attack which may kill 50,000-100,000 or even more and then go after Iraq or should we take action today that may save thousands of lives?

3. Will an attack on Iraq cause Hussein to unleash his chemical/biological/nuclear weapons as a last resort?

While I acknowledge there is some risk of this occurring I prefer to force Saddam's hand rather than sitting back and allowing him to choose the time and place for such an attack. The use of chemical and biological weapons is difficult under the best of circumstances. I would take my chances that the Iraqis will find nearly impossible to adequately coordinate chemical/biological strikes while they themselves are under intense aerial attack. Obviously any known Iraqi chemical/biological/nuclear facilities would be targeted early in any US attack and Special Forces could be employed to locate Scud missile sites and pinpoint air strikes against them. Patriot missiles could be once again sent to Israel and the Israeli population prepared to deal with possible retaliation (gas masks, inoculations, etc,). I would rather have properly equipped US forces dealing with such attacks in Iraq on our timetable than have a large US civilian population exposed to the threat on Saddam's terms.

4. Would the Iraqi people be better off with a new government?

The opponents of military action against Iraq often profess their concern for the suffering of the Iraqi people and claim a war would hurt them the most. While it is true that in the short run a war would cause civilian casualties and deprivations in the long run the Iraqi people would be much better off in an Iraq free of Saddam's dictatorship. Instead of the vast oil resources of the country being devoted to developing weapons and building palaces the income from oil sales (no longer restricted in a post-Saddam Iraq) could be used for rebuilding the infrastructure, educating the children, and creating an environment where a free market economy could flourish thus laying the foundation for a free and democratic Iraq. Japan and Germany are two excellent examples of such post war reconstruction.

5. Can there peace in the Middle East with the current Iraqi regime?

One of the best hopes for a lasting peace in the Middle East may be for a regime change in Iraq. Currently Hussein aids the Palestinian terror groups and rewards the families of suicide bombers with cash payments. He calls for all Arabs to unite in a war to destroy Israel and the last thing he wants is a peaceful settlement. His removal would eliminate one obstacle to peace while at the same time sending a message to other countries in the region particularly Iran and Syria. With Saddam in power there is little possibility of peace in the Middle East. Without him there is at least hope.

War is a terrible thing and should never be entered into lightly. However, sometimes the alternative can be much worse. Our failure to act now to eliminate the threat from Iraq may come back to haunt us later in thousands of civilian deaths in the Middle East and here in the United States. As Aleksander Solzhenitsyn said "The price of cowardice will only be evil."

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Unilateralism Is Not A Dirty Word

Wonderfully telling editorial in today's Minneapolis Star Tribune decrying what it describes as the United State's "go it alone" attitude. One paragraph in particular caught my attention:

That's the problem in a nutshell, and no amount of PR can polish it away. The rising outcry about U.S. unilateralism -- its refusal to heed any law but its own -- isn't born of foreign confusion about what America stands for. It's an expression of dismay about what America is doing. In dozens of ways over dozens of years, onlookers say, the United States has defended its own interests at global expense. As Sachs puts it, "The world thinks we're fighting for ourselves. What people say is, 'You're so rich and powerful, you don't even think about us -- unless you need something.' "

If you actually believe that a nation should not act in its own self interest but rather for the greater good of the world than you are either incredibly naive or a supporter of some type of world government organization that would supercede national sovereignty. I'm not a black helicpoter believer and don't think the UN is plotting to invade any time soon, but beliefs such as these seem to invariably lead to a one world governing body. The United States is not just another country among the many of the world and to subject ourselves to their rule would be absurd. We have been and still are the leader and defender of freedom and liberty in the world and we must continue to act in that role.

The day that the United States of America stops defending its own interests and instead heeds the call of the "global community" is the day that we might as well hang her up and call it quits as a country. The United States was founded to be unlike any nation that had come before her and has always followed its own path in international relations.

I have always thought that to truly be a leader you must not "go along to get along" but rather be willing to fight for your values and beliefs even if your opinions were not shared by all. During the Cold War the US was often criticized for its actions in building nuclear weapons, stationing troops around the world, and aiding countries fighting Communism, but our persistent efforts lead to the downfall of the Soviet Union and freedom for millions in Eastern Europe. It took courage to win the Cold War but we felt that we were right and history proved it.

Today, if the United States believes that Iraq must be neutralizied for both our security and the security of the world then we must act accordingly with or without the support of the rest of the world.

Monday, August 05, 2002

Go Ahead, Throw Your Vote Away (please)

One significant event emerged from the Minnesota Gubernatorial debate Tuesday night. No, I'm not talking about Eric Eskola's new scarf (OK make it two significant events). Rather, I'm speaking of the solidification of a potentially permanent four party system here in Minnesota. Unlike the complex and difficult to achieve federal system, Minnesota law, for good and for evil, simply defines a "major" party as any that achieves 5% or more of the vote in any statewide election. This recognition allows for automatic ballot access and access to publicly funded campaign financing. In addition, the local media has adopted this standard for how they treat candidates, therefore anyone nominated by a major party has been given equal space in newspaper profiles and has been allowed to participate in the media presented debates.

Such was the case with Tuesday night's debate, which featured the DFL candidate Roger Moe, Republican Tim Pawlenty, Tim Penny of the Independence Party and Green Ken Pentel (or as Joe McCarthy would call him, Pink Ken Pentel). All four of them, sitting on a modular couch, being asked the same inane questions by the same inane moderators (one of them wearing a scarf).

What eventually occurred to me, amid the rote recitation of standard answers and half hearted attempts at mudslinging (and I'm describing what was going on in my living room) is that proximity and presence does matter in one's valuation of a candidate as legitimate--even to the exclusion of what they're actually saying. Just the fact that Ken Pentel was sitting in a suit next to the Senate Majority leader, and uttering big words, using correct syntax and grammar, gave him instant credibility as a candidate. It didn't matter that he happened to be advocating the use of human feces as an environmentally-friendly tub and tile grout, gosh darnit, he looked like he belonged there!

This is an accomplishment that cannot be reached through the other means available to non-major party candidates. No matter how many pamphlets you publish on 40% post consumer waste recycled paper or how many times Doug Grow trumpets you as a "caring voice from the chorus of the people," the average a-hole in Hopkins is going to hear you're a member of the "Green Party" and he's still going to think you're a freak and a loser. Sadly, this is one of the few times the good people of Hopkins get to be right on an issue, and now it's gone. The power of the televised image alone is enough to overcome this initial hurdle of recognition and impress an aura of credibility, no matter the intelligence of the observer.

Understand, I'm not claiming that the Greens have any chance of winning this year. The Independence Party certainly does, and at this point, I'd have to say Penny is the favorite. He'll draw the percentage of the population that believes voting for him is an act of intellectual superiority, affirming their independence from the crass party paradigm ("Honey, he's doesn't call himself a Democrat--he only acts like one, this is great!"). As this group is about 36% of the entire population--that's enough to put Penny over the top.

However, the Greens will certainly get 5% of the vote this time, maybe more due to the mass exposure provided by the TV. That means they get to hang around again, throughout the next election cycle, further giving the appearance that they have something substantive to say. The longer they are allowed to sniff around the electorate, the more they will be able to nibble away at the slightly less extreme extremists (commonly known as social moderates). And with 4 apparently credible entities claiming their share of the vote, you can forget about a majority deciding anything. It's going to be a plurality, and a weak one at that. It's plausible that it will only take 28% - 30% to win an election for Governor. And I do believe the Greens have it within their power to gain this much of a vote in Minnesota. That is, as long as they don't nominate some bizarre clown as their candidate, like Fancy Ray McCloney or John Marty.

So is it a good thing, this easy access to major party status? Unless your a raving fan of modern Italian electoral politics, the answer is no. When you consider the potential results of such a system--a Green in the Executive Mansion--the answer is resoundingly no. But I'm afraid we're stuck with it.

At least until a 5th party snares 5% of some vote, but this time the party is from the right or libertarian ranks. At that point I predict the media will come to the opinion that adding another voice to the discussion will be too chaotic so their procedures for inclusion in the debates must change. And the legislature will begin to question the legitimacy of a winning candidate who might only get 22% of the vote, because that simply isn't a mandate, so the laws about major party recognition will need some tweaking.

Friday, August 02, 2002

The Best Hockey Player in Ecuador

Earlier this week I found myself watching the first gubernatorial debate on TPT. That is, I was watching the debate when there wasn't a wide shot of the entire assembled panel, because then I was watching Cathy Wurzer's legs slinking out from beneath a shortish yet still professional looking skirt. Holy smokes--yes, she's showing some age of late, she's married to a rumpled bag of used laundry, and her left leaning political preference is obvious and superficial and dull, but ... the woman's got magnetism. Call me shallow my ownself, but when I'm watching the boob tube, I'd rather see Ms. Wurzer chew up air time than sit through a session with her more journalistically able, yet terminally mousy counterpart Mary LaHammer.

Needless to say it was rather jarring to go from those beautiful stems to a smash cut showing the smug mug of Roger Moe or the conspicuously casual choreography of Tim Penny. But, believe it or not, I did catch a little of the substance of the arguments. And frankly, they left me inspired. Inspired to never vote again.

I wish it weren't so, I wish I could get caught up in the fever of one of these candidate's drive to achieve their dreams for Minnesota. But I can't, and I'm blaming them (at least publicly). Only Penny came off as something remotely close to a real human being (but only barely, and only by Waseca standards). Moe and Pawlenty were in half-arsed professional politician mode, pausing ever so briefly before every answer to calculate how it will be perceived by the key swing voter demographics (which apparently consists of the 18-35 year old male population of Hopkins and Blaine who still live with their parents and think professional wrestling is "funny"). Their other answers consisted of arcane references to obscure legislation they've supported in the past which were intended to "solve" some problem. Neither came off as greasy, slick types, rather they both seemed to be trying to live up to some image of politicians they've seen on TV, while simultaneously staying on message. For Moe the message was--"I'm not as old as I look" and for Penny it was "my parents were members of the lumpen proletariat". Ken Pentel, the Green, was just typically weird and flakey and whiney.

To be honest, I'd never consider voting for Penny, Moe or Pentel, no matter how they presented themselves . My understanding of the world is quite well formed and what they're advocating is contratry to this view. And I'm not going to change based on their promising me a bigger slice of cheese (even though Walter Williams would call that behavior rational--once theft is legalized and democratized, it only makes sense that people will vote to get as much of the take as they can--thus the continued success of the Democratic party in elections).

Tim Pawlenty was my only hope, and upon further review, I'm giving him a resounding perhaps. He seems to believe some of the right things, he mouths some of the right words. But he also says (and hints) at all sorts of wrong things. He's not against light rail--he's only against where they chose to build it? A commuter rail system to St. Cloud might make sense? (Both of these comments he made Tuesday night). And doesn't he have a record of voting (years ago--when he wasnt running for governor) to raise taxes when faced with so called "deficits"? (My source is the Jason Lewis show on this one.) I'll need to do some research on that last issue, but deep in my heart, I'm not sure he's extremely right.

I get the sense that if elected, he wouldn't aggresively advocate for any of the important issues of the day--that is, reducing and eventually elminating the state government's role in education, and greatly reducing income and property taxes (via the elimination of government programs--across the board). Rather, I suspect he'd preside over a continued expansion of government and taxes, but he just wouldn't be happy about it. Come to think of it, that's kind of the platform Penny is running on-- and its the working definition of a fiscal conversative/social moderate. I wouldn't label Pawlenty with that particular smear, but at the end of a Pawlenty administration, I suspect that's exactly what he'd look like.

If only my political choices were similarly motivated as my tastes in TV viewership, I'd have no problem voting for Pawlenty, as I suspect his rhetoric is the equivalent of Cathy Wurzer's legs--eye (ear) candy wrapped around a gaping void of substance.

Through the HR Looking Glass

We can all probably recall an occasion when we were kids when we got the raw end of the deal. We would complain and whine that "It isn't fair" to which the standard response from parents/relatives/teachers was "Life's not fair." And as much as we didn't want to hear that answer most of us came to accept the reality of it as we matured and grew older.

But two groups of people were unwilling (or possible unable) to grasp this simple bit of truth and cling stubbornly to the notion that life can be fair if only we are willing to make it so. These two groups are socialists and HR people. Obviously they are not mutually exclusive and crossover between them is probably quite common.

My problem with socialists is well documented and it's not necessary to rehash all the particulars here, but lately I have become acutely aware of the pollyannaish approach to life that seems to affect so many who choose the HR lifestyle, particularly in corporate environments large enough to have their own distinct HR functions. There is striking dichotomy at play between the competitive business world where winning sales and coming out on top against your competitors is required to stay alive and thrive, and the HR worldview which often seems focused on equality of outcomes regardless of the company's business or economic requirements. Let me just offer a few examples that I have encountered:

Our company has a stated policy of not matching offers made by other firms to lure away talent. I once asked an HR representative why this so was in light of the significant costs involved in recruiting and training a new employee to take the place of one who leaves for greener pastures to say nothing of the detrimental impact on morale that such exits create. Might it not be easier and cheaper to pay the current employee a bit more more in order to avoid such costs? "But that wouldn't be fair to all the other employees who aren't out looking for jobs." Of course it wouldn't. It would require you to make a judgment that an individual has abilities above and beyond those of the other employees and recognize this individual has discovered a market for his talents that you must now compete against. But I guess competition isn't really fair to all so God forbid that we would engage it it.

Our group wanted to purchase a small refrigerator out of our own budget to use for lunch, beverages, etc. since the company does not make one available to us. My boss, who is kind of a weenie, refused to approve such a request until he checked with HR because he thought they might find it unfair to other groups. How did the HR departments acquire such power that a relatively simple decision must be passed by them for their consideration? My reaction was if the groups want a refrigerator tell them to go buy one on their own just as we had done. Instead of rewarding a bit of creative thinking and initiative the HR bureaucracy seeks to stifle it to ensure that all of us are equally deprived. It's like working for a corporate version of East Germany. Of course me and another manager subverted our boss and avoided the HR Stasi and we now have our refrigerator. A small step towards tearing down the wall.

Thursday, August 01, 2002

Release the Hounds (On whoever created this list)

This week the much talked about TV Guide's 50 greatest cartoon characters of all time list was published. I could go into great detail on the problems that I have with the list but I'll limit my comments to just a few irritations:

* Mr. Burns is undoubtedly the best cartoon character of all time. End of discussion. To not include him is a disgrace.

* Who the bleep are Angelica Pickles and Gerald McBoing-Boing? How about Arthur? And who is Bill? Bill the Cat? Mr. Bill (not really a cartoon at all is it)?

* Way too many characters from recent shows. How about proving yourself over the long haul? Clearly the Simpson's has already cemented its place in history but Daria, SpongeBob, the Powerpuff Girls, Pikachu, and even maybe Bobby Hill? I don't see em' having the staying power.

* To list Charlie Brown and Snoopy together is absurd. They are both uniquely individual characters and actually don't even appear together all that often. Same with Bart and Lisa. Bart is a great character but Lisa would not make my list. Other duos like Beavis & Butthead and the Road Runner and Coyote do make sense but if you go with Charlie Brown and Snoopy then why not Scooby Doo and Shaggy?

* Daffy Duck is way too low on the list. Throw out the weak latter years of Daffy and I'd take the Daffy of the 30's and 40's against nearly anyone.

* Having a chipmunk on the list is just plain wrong.

Tanks versus Talk

Good read on the European versus the American view on how to secure peace by Jonah Goldberg on National Review Online. I happened to catch the Bill Moyers special that he references and it was a fascinating discussion during which Krauthammer was able to demonstrate once again why he's one of the sharpest minds in the game.

Rising to the task

Picked up the new Springsteen disk yesterday and after only listening to the first eight songs I am already able to say that this is top notch material. If wankers like U2 or Paul McCartney (yes, I know he was a Beatle that doesn't mean he's not a complete embarrassment these days) had put out an album reflecting on September 11th I would have been nauseated. But there's just something so quintessentially American about Bruce Springsteen that makes him the perfect choice for such an undertaking.. It also helps that he doesn't hammer you over the head with the theme but rather subtly touches on loss and grief in a genuine way without pretensions. It's hardly a perfect album and a couple of the songs seem jarringly out of place but overall it works and achieves it's aims. What could be more American than that?