Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Mindless Musings From Mexico

(Random thoughts and observations from my recent journey south o' the border)

* After our plane landed in Houston from Minneapolis the steward welcomed us to 'Houston Intercontinental Airport'. Now I've flown into Houston a number of times and the proper name is 'George Bush Intercontinental Airport'. They've even got a statue of Papa Bush in the terminal. This was the first time I've ever heard the Bush name missing from the title and I gotta think it wasn't an accident.

* I brought two books along for my reading enjoyment. The Libertarian Reader is a collection of essays through the ages by the likes of Mills, Locke, Von Mises, and Hayek edited by David Boaz. It's an excellent read for traveling as the longest essay is only twelve pages in length. You can pick it up and put it down often without missing a beat.

The other book is what the movie Fargo (1996) could have and should have been. Fargo had its moments and played well to a national audience but I found it to be way over the top. The novel Death Rat by MST3K's Mike Nelson on the other hand delivers the goods with a very humorous yet subtle look at Minnesota. It's filled with references and character parodies that anyone familiar with the state will recognize and enjoy. Nelson passes over the obvious "ya sure ya betcha" clichés and mines Minnesota culture to produce gems like:

"Mr. Ryback," he said in the hostile but officious manner of Minnesota’s service industry, "there is a phone call for you."


"What do you want?" asked the bartender, a tall, pleasant-looking blonde in her mid-fifties wearing a sweatshirt whose front featured an embroidered loon.

Now that’s Minnesota.

* There's been a lot of talk about what a future Iraq will look like and what kind of country it will or should resemble. I've even heard mention of it becoming a "Switzerland of the Middle East". Let's be realistic about this and look a little closer to home. Ten years from now if Iraq could be where Mexico is now I think we'd be pretty happy. Mexico today is far from perfect. The last election was the fairest in Mexico's history but corruption in government is still a major problem and it's a hazy democracy at best. There's far too much poverty and lack of opportunity for those at the bottom rungs of society. But it's getting better, slowly but surely. Some people would claim that the flow of illegal drugs and immigration into the US threatens our security but it's not like Mexico is developing weapons of mass destruction to use against us or helping terrorists to kill our citizens. The drugs and immigration problems are issues because of the border we share with Mexico. And while Mexicans don't always agree with US policies (see war with Iraq) they don't hate us and most of them welcome better relations between our countries. Iraq as Switzerland is a pipe dream. Iraq as Mexico is possible.

* Many Americans have problems with the food and their digestive systems when they visit Mexico. I've been fortunate enough to avoid any such complications in the course of my many trips there. I pretty much eat and drink anything I want, possibly offsetting any potentially harmful bacteria by consuming generous amounts of alcohol in the evenings. In fact the only time I felt even slightly nauseous on my last trip was when I tried to relax by the hotel pool only to witness a half dozen, skinny, pasty white, Polish guys hanging out (literally) in Speedos that left little to the imagination. (shudder) Here's a quick reminder to 99.99% of all the guys out there, especially the Euros. You do not, repeat DO NOT, look good wearing a Speedo no matter how hard you try to convince yourself you do. Please cease and desist this practice immediately. Gracias.
Why Is He Still Around?

Have we reached a point in society when a person can no longer be discredited? I raise this question because last night I caught a couple of minutes of a debate on CNN between Frank Gaffney and Scott Ritter on whether the war with Iraq was justified. It wasn't really much of a debate as Gaffney shredded Ritter's arguments which centered around the fact that so far no WMD have been discovered in Iraq.

Even if you don't agree with Gaffney's opinions (he is one of the nefarious neo-cons after all) you have to admit that most of his predictions about the war have been accurate.

Meanwhile just about everything that has come out of Scott Ritter's mouth in the last couple of years has been proved wrong. He claimed that the Iraqis had developed new tactics that would inflict heavy losses on coalition forces. Wrong. How about those massive civilian casualties? Didn't happen. Ritter went so far as to predict that the US would lose the war! Nice call Scott.

And even his prognostication about about easy scoring with teenage girls didn't quite pan out either.

But CNN still feels like they can trot this multiple time loser out to offer analysis and "insight" alongside a legitimate commentator like Gaffney. When is enough enough?

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Supporters Continue Hogwash About Hawash

Today’s WSJ has a great piece about Maher “Mike” Hawash, an Intel consultant charged yesterday with conspiracy to levy war against the U.S. and conspiracy to provide support to al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The Portland area resident was arrested by FBI agents on March 20 and held as a material witness until yesterday’s charges were filed.

Hawash, a Muslim Palestinian, (shocking) had been living a normal life in the Portland area with his American wife (good decision) and three children. He was a well-respected software developer and even wrote a book on advanced video graphics.

Everything was fairly normal until the death of his father in 2001. At that time, Hawash started to reexamine his Muslim religion and began to take it much more seriously. According to the story in the WSJ, he stopped drinking alcohol, grew an Osama beard and made a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Oh, yeah and he also transferred title of his house to his wife, paid off the mortgage and headed to Western China to try to make it to Afghanistan and join the Taliban. That’s all. Him and the other Muslims in this ragtag collection Portland losers never actually were able to join the Taliban, but the little excursion was not lost on the U.S. government.

His wife claims that he went to China to “look for business opportunities”. But the FBI says he made no calls to China before his trip. It doesn’t say if he made any calls to the Mid East.

Most of Hawash’s ex-coworkers do not believe he would be capable of such crimes and have started a Free 'Mike' Hawash web site and fund. It’s really quite laughable. All the angry 60’s rhetoric of the radical left is on display: calling the defendants “The Portland 6”, paranoid delusions about the government rounding up Muslims willy-nilly, exhorting feeling people to do something.

What is amazing is the anti-Americanism that has to exist (if even latently) in the hearts of these supporters. They sincerely want us to believe that the U.S. government, always under the closest of scrutiny from every type of civil rights, human rights, animal rights, whatever group in the world is going to arrest some innocent, anonymous Muslim for the hell of it?

You can almost see the meetings in Ashcroft's office:

Ashcroft: We round up any them Pallystinyens this week?
FBI guy: Sure did. We done got us one out Portland way, some kinna computer guy or somethin'
Ashcroft: Good. Good
FBI guy: Yeah, we aint got nothin' to charge him with yet. Maybe you could think of somethin'?
Ashcroft: Oh I'll think of somethin'

In the original incarnation of the site, they asked that Hawash either be charged or set free. Now that he has been charged, they say that the case is weak and the idea that he would try to join the Taliban was absurd because “Mike's concerns were for his family in America, his family in Palestine, and for his faith.”

To which I say, exactly. His faith. The faith of peace and justice. The faith that convinced him that as a man, it was his duty to fight the invading satan in Afghanistan.

The WSJ piece ends with a great quote from a transcript of a conversation recorded by a confidential FBI source with one of the other defendants in the case, Jeffrey Leon Battle.

In it, Mr. Battle said a “Palestinian who was married to a white woman...left with us to go fight.”

That's probably just a coincidence don't you think?

More of Everything!

Yesterday I boarded the 737 for my flight from Houston to Minneapolis and assumed my position in coach among the unwashed masses. The flight was going to be full so I girded myself for two and a half hours of uncomfortable travel punctuated by moments of sheer hatred for my fellow passengers. (Is it possible to bring a bigger carry on next time ma'am? Do you really have to get up three times to go to the lavatory sir?).

I was on the aisle, sharing my row with a gentleman in the window seat and with our departure imminent I held out hope that the buffer middle seat betwixt us would remain unoccupied. It appeared that my hopes would be dashed when a fellow tapped me on the shoulder and informed me that he was the lucky occupant of the coveted middle seat. I unbuckled my seat belt and began to get up to allow him to be seated when he continued, "Unless you want to switch and take my First Class ticket."

I paused quite sure that I must have not heard him properly. He noted my lack of comprehension and explained, "You see I have a seat in first class but I would like to sit next to her", he gestured to another woman in the aisle who I guessed was his wife or girlfriend, "So if you wouldn't mind switching seats..."

Would I mind switching seats? Let's see. Spend an overcrowded flight in the cozy confines of coach listening to the teenager girls behind me smack their gums and hum along to an N'Sync song or stretch my legs in the opulent luxury of First Class? Hmmm....

In a flash I agreed to his proposal, snatched the ticket stub to paradise out of his hands, and was bounding down the aisle to the promised land. Shortly thereafter I was kicking back listening to some classic jazz on my MP3 player, sipping a gratis Scotch (All you have is Dewars? You call this First Class?), and thinking that sometimes life ain't so bad after all.

"More Scotch sir?"

"Yes, more Scotch. More of everything!"

Friday, April 25, 2003

Howard Zinn - Exposed as Elitist Fraud

During lunch I was listening to MPR. I tuned in hoping to get some tips on good beer specials for this weekend. But instead I heard a replay of Howard Zinn speaking to an audience of learned scholars and students at St. Thomas on Wednesday.

For those of you blissfully unaware, Zinn is a radical chic historian and author of "A People's History of the United States." I never read the book. But I once listened to excerpts of it on tape, with narration by none other than Matt Damon. Because for me, there's no better way to hear revisionist, socialist interpretations of American history than from an unrepentantly wealthy, yet still fellow traveling, member of the arts aristocracy.

In the few minutes I was able to listen today, I heard Zinn talking about the Constitution as a document that legitimized slavery. Then he mentioned that he was once read a Ronald Reagan essay on how wonderful a document the Constitution was (the crowd snickered). Then he said "I think it appeared in a scholarly journal - Parade magazine!" (the crowd guffawed).

One comment, Mr. "Champion of the Working People": As our Sunday newspaper supplement, we in the working class don't get the New York Times Magazine, or the Sunday Utne Reader, or The Chronicle of Wealth Redistribution and Class Hatred, or whatever it is you peruse with your morning coffee. We get Parade Magazine and we have for years. We in the working class were raised on the hard hitting celebrity reportage of Personality Parade, the sound wisdom and puckish logic games of Marilyn Vos Savant, the inspired lunacy of Howard Huge, and the nuanced biographical sketches and hanging prepositions of James Brady's "In Step With."

Believe it or not Professor Proletariat, Parade Magazine is what the working people read. Next time you attempt to write some "humorous" remarks, make sure to get an actual member of the working class to vet it for you first, so you don't blow your cover again. (And no, Matt Damon doesn't count).

What Is Your Quest? To Seek Lord Stanley's Cup

Mission: Find a bar in Chihuahua, Mexico to watch tonight's Wild-Canucks game. It's on the Deuce which probably won't help matters. Surprisingly enough there's not a ton of hockey fans in Northern Mexico. Somehow though it must be done. Last night I was able to catch the end of the five OT Stars-Ducks battle in my hotel room. The announcers were dubbed in Spanish but who needs their obvious "insights" anyway?

If tonight's game was starting a bit earlier I might just try to catch it at the hotel bar. From 6pm-7:30pm every night they have happy hour. Free beer and mixed drinks for the guests. A not the rail pour crap you usually get either. Some top shelf rums, vodkas, gins, and of course tequilas. Now that's what I call a happy hour. Viva Mexico!

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Corn Fed? Clearly. But Some Hand Spankin’ Is Still In Order

So did y’all watch the Dixie Chicks last night on Nightline? Natalie was looking decent, (thinner perhaps?) save for the excess mascara and of course the sisters Maguire were looking as good as they always do.

It was about what everyone expected. They kind of apologized, tears were shed, This Can Only Make Us Stronger comments were made. But the whole thing had a very contrived and staged feel. It felt like one big “Well, I’m sorry you feel that way”.

Natalie seemed to showing signs of extreme guilt throughout the interview. Guilt that she said something stupid and made a fool out of herself. Guilt that she put her “best friends” in a very uncomfortable position. Guilt that she cost the group as many as three million sales of their current album, a TV commercial and untold damage to their overall careers.

The telling scene was her ridiculous acting when Bin Laden’s name came up. This was clearly scripted by the Chick’s people in order for Nat to win some points with the Wal Mart crowd. Diane Sawyer asked her what she would like to do to Bin Laden and she said (after almost crying when before she said it)

I think everyone should give him a little bit of torture.

Give him a little bit of torture?

Doesn’t exactly make the average (as Mr. Burns might refer to them) Joe Lunchpail or Sally Housegoat get up and pump their fist in pride now does it? I wonder what the line was when it was written in their publicist’s office. And why would she start crying before she made a comment like that? That's supposed to be an angry comment, not a sad comment. Not something that would make you cry. Unless you are lying because nothing produces tears like guilt.

I had to laugh at some of the clips they played on the show. There was one priceless one from some talk radio show in the south:

I think they should take Natalie over to EYE-rack, strap her to a bomb and drop her over Baghdad.

As Natalie continued with her babbling guilt trip ("and I was like and he was like and they were like") the sisters made a few cogent points, although quoting Teddy Roosevelt was preachy and way over the top.

At one point, Diane Sawyer, a Southern Belle herself, said “I hear something not should I say this....whole-hearted.” That was the two-step they were attempting all night: to make it look like they were sorry, but then again to say that we have our free speech and isn’t this what America is about?

Natalie had one final chance to apologize to Bush right there on TV when Sawyer asked her if she had anything to say to him if he was watching.

There isn’t enough time in your show.

Which I took to mean she would go over a laundry list of her other fashionable grievances and not actually apologize.

It will be interesting to see what happens in a few weeks when the Chicks open their sold-out US tour in South Carolina. I'm pretty sure this will have blown over by then and they will be received warmly, but their long-term marketability has definitely taken a hit, especially with the core of the country market--the South.

Men, Markets and Morality By Dave Thompson

I am a defender of free market economics. In fact, I am a downright strident apologist for free market economics. I detest almost everything about planned economies, whether controlled by far right governments or leftist governments. Virtually every experiment with a planned economy has failed. Notable exceptions can be found in the Scandinavian countries, if one is willing to place low value on freedom, wealth creation and world influence.

That being said, intellectual honesty requires exploration of capitalism’s shortcomings, or more accurately shortcomings of those who fancy themselves capitalists. By now I suppose you expect a discussion of Enron, WorldCom, or some other company with former executives who can be found in one prison or another. No, I am going to discuss a company that is emblematic of a much larger problem.

Last week, following intense negotiations, American Airlines executives won significant concessions from its employees. Some employees accepted a 23% pay cut. Let us put this in context. In my home state of Minnesota, as with most states in the nation, we face a significant deficit due to excessive government spending. Some weeks ago, a few senators floated a proposal to freeze wages of state employees for two years. No cuts were proposed, just no raises. Employees and their public employee unions became apoplectic. The point I am making is that an agreement to take a 23% pay decrease is a huge sacrifice.

I have a source within American Airlines who tells me that during negotiations the leaders of the corporation talked a lot about concern for the airline and the need for shared sacrifice. You know, one for all and all for one; win one for the Gipper, all that stuff. On the same day the union signed a temporary agreement, the company approved massive retention bonuses for its executives. This bonus structure was not dependent upon performance of the individual executive or the company. Following an outcry from employees, union leaders and most likely others, the company reversed itself and retracted the bonus plan.

Unfortunately, the American Airlines example is not an aberration in corporate America. Northwest Airlines, based in Minneapolis / St. Paul, did much the same thing a few weeks earlier. If find it particularly egregious when airlines do this because they are operating partially on taxpayer money as a result of the post-September 11, 2001 government bailout.

Why am I more concerned about American and Northwest than I am about Enron and WorldCom? There are two reasons. First, the alleged criminal activity engaged in by Ken Lay and Bernie Ebbers is not broadly accepted by the culture. It is still recognized as a transgression of the law and a violation of moral principles. Second, those who break the law can be prosecuted and punished, if convicted.

So, what do we do about executives who misrepresent intentions during negotiations and line their own pockets while carefully making sure they don’t violate SEC regulations? Most would say, “We have to make a law against it.” However, it is impossible to legislate against all forms of indecency. Besides, often times when government is the cure, the cure ends up being worse than the disease.

The fact is that we cannot legislate our way to a moral society. While all laws are based upon moral precepts, not all moral precepts can be effectively legislated or litigated. Most of the great economic philosophers were also learned in ethics and religion. They recognized that no matter how effective the economic system, it cannot facilitate efficient distribution of scarce goods and services in the absence of moral restraint. Those devoid of moral restraint have abused every economic and political system known to man. The problem is not capitalism, the problem is capitalists. The fact is that America needs fewer executives that went to business school and a few more that went to Sunday school.

Editor's note: The Dave Thompson Show can be heard locally on KSTP-AM 1500, every Saturday and Sunday from noon until 3:00 PM

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

South Of The Border

Later today I'll be departing for Mexico on a bidness trip and won't be back in the US of A until next Tuesday. I'm considering a series of lengthy posts on the cultural implications in Mexican society of the growing US commercial influence, in particular the conflict between capitalism and the traditional values of the country. Or you might see a bitter rant, grousing about the rising prices of cream Tequila and the inability to procure beer after 10:00pm in the hotel I'm staying in. Either way I'll be in touch.

All They Do Is Win Playoff Series

You almost have to feel sorry for the Minnesota Timberwolves. On the same night that they defeat the LA Lakers and even their first round playoff series at 1-1 they're bounced off the front page by the improbable Game Seven OT victory by the upstart Wild over the Colorado Avalanche. Ever since the Wild started up three years ago the Wolves have lost the winter sports spotlight and it doesn't look like they're going to get it back anytime soon. Of course I might have a little more sympathy for the Wufs if they hadn't lost in the first round of the playoffs SIX years in a row and will likely bow out to the Lakers this year as well. The Wild meanwhile are 1-0 in playoff series and ready to take on the hated Vancouver Canucks next.

Best thing about the defeat of the Avalanche?

Not having to watch Peter Forsberg's weak ass attempts to draw penalties by whipping his head back everytime a Wild player breathed on him. Forsberg is an amazingly talented player but his theatrical antics have no place in Lord Stanley's playoffs.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Dave Thompson: The Formative Years

Explains a lot doesn't it?

Finding Common Ground

It's not every year that I come across an editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that I find myself applauding so it was refreshing this morning to pick up the paper and read this:

Editorial: Bar hours / Last call should move to 2 a.m.

Minnesota's current 1am bar closing is a dusty relic from another era that should have been done away with long ago. It's detrimental to the convention business and tourism and is downright embarrassing (even Iowa has a later closer time-Iowa!). Rather than limiting drinking it just condenses the drinking window and at 1am when the bars do close it looses a torrent of drunks onto the streets and highways. If you've ever been in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis at 1am on a weekend evening you know what I'm talking about. The streets are filled with groups of rowdy drunks just looking for a reason to get into a fight. It's a nightmare for the cops and is not an attractive face for the city to put on for out of town visitors. Ideally I'd like to see the closing time stretched to 2:30am or even 3am but I guess we'll take what we can get. 2am closing sounds reasonable and that's something that you can sell in Minnesota.

Seventh Heaven

Three count 'em three Game Sevens tonight in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Starting at 6pm CST with Toronto and Philly on ESPN, followed by the Wild (a local squad that cares-Yes this is a shot and the Wolves and Twins) again the 'Lanche at 9:00pm CST also on ESPN, joined at 9:30pm CST by the Canucks and Blues on ESPN2. This is what I consider must see TV.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Feeling Good On Easter Sunday? How Dare You

Easter Sunday is a day of celebration. For Christians it is a day to rejoice in Christ's victory over death. Non-Christians can enjoy the secular aspects of the Easter Bunny, Easter baskets, and Easter eggs. A day to be with your family and be happy.

But not so fast.

Usually the "holiday guilt" stories are reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas. You know the ones.

"While you're sitting in your cozy home enjoying your Thanksgiving feast you might want to pause and remember those not as fortunate...."

Apparently now Easter is fair game as well. Kate Stanley's piece in Sunday's Star Tribune on the closing of a homeless shelter brings out an oversized guilt hammer and swings it freely:

There were a few people missing from the late-night barbecue at the homeless shelter at 519 Portland Av. S. last Tuesday. As the local ne'er-do-wells munched on burgers to mark the closing of the only home they had, you couldn't help but wonder where the politicians were.

The hotshots who show up at hockey playoffs and grocery grand openings -- at conferences and community festivals -- were nowhere in sight.

But who can blame them? A farewell supper at Hennepin County's "Secure Waiting Overflow" facility -- a holding tank for the homeless in an old animal-testing lab -- isn't exactly a great photo-op. A chance for a one-on-one with society's drunks and drug addicts -- its psychotics, ex-cons and plain old poor folk -- isn't the sort of constituent contact elected officials crave.

The black hearted devils. They were probably in a smoke filled room trying to figure out how to slash more money from human services budgets and give it to their rich fat cat friends.

It already sounds like a terrible tragedy Kate but could you put a personal face on it for us?

Thus Minnesota's Important People didn't get a chance to hear Bob, who finished up a drug sentence at Stillwater seven months ago, muse over where he'd stay once 519 closed its doors Wednesday morning. "I'm not even gonna worry about it," he said. "Trying the other shelters will be hopeless. With this place closing, everything will be jammed."

Bob has a job dismantling old computers for $6.50 an hour -- a salary far too low to secure an apartment. Besides, his criminal record pretty much writes him off any landlord's list. He's resigned to being homeless -- with no gripes.

It could happen to any of us you know? Well maybe not the whole drug sentence and criminal record part but...

Neither did government leaders meet Mike, who wasn't at all concerned about 519's demise. He'd shown up mainly for the barbecue -- perhaps a little drunker than he'd meant to be -- and certainly wasn't counting on the old lab's steamy halls to shield him from the cold. "I can't stand this place," Mike said. "I got out of prison in '84, and I've been outside ever since."

Ah that ol' rascal Mike. Trying to be somewhat sober for the barbecue after all society's put him through. What a trooper.

Who's to blame for all this anyway?

This is part of the picture the politicians are missing: the palpable fear the homeless feel. Those grappling with mental illness are afraid of the drunks, and vice versa. Both are a bit on edge about sleeping alongside the ex-cons. And pretty much everyone's scared of the cops.

That's right. Those evil politicians and their heartless budget cutting. And the cops. They're not helping matters either.

Indeed, the nice thing about 519 Portland, rathole or no, was its sense of community. The stench may have been strong, but the guys felt safe.

The last sentence was a pretty accurate description of the house I lived in for two years in college. But how about some more personal stories Kate?

Dave takes methadone to keep him from returning to his longtime heroin habit. Despite 13 tries at alcoholism treatment, he still drinks every day.

"I think about quitting," he said. "I really do. But you know, the truth is, if you're homeless, you're drinking. It's the only way to forget."

Hmmm.... Thirteen times? As JB Doubtless astutely pointed out I think Dave has the whole cause and effect equation backward here. You drink then you're homeless. Not the other way around.

Kate then hammers her point home:

The people who didn't show up at the barbecue, of course, don't have to forget. They don't know what it's like to sleep in a windowless hellhole. They don't know what it's like to go to bed not knowing where you'll sleep tomorrow. Most can't imagine what it's like to be plagued by mental illness, to be dominated by addiction, to be shackled by poverty.

Were you at the barbecue? Then you should feel shame you uncaring bastards and your fancy Easter ham.

And when you don't know such things -- and don't bother to find out -- it's easy not to care. You needn't worry about what will happen when an extra hundred vagabonds join the 800 or so homeless people already living outside. You don't have to fret about the social cost of letting addicts and people with serious mental illness go untreated. You don't have to think about the fairness of sending such people to jail, or the sense of shuttling them in and out of state hospitals.

You don't care. But Kate does. I think she's building up to a big finish here.

You can shrug the whole thing off -- all the loneliness and sorrow and struggle -- and prattle on about "belt-tightening" and "sacrifice for all."

The payoff's coming. Wait for it. Wait for it.

If you don't show up at the barbecue, you may never notice that not everyone has a belt.

Bingo! Bring it home Kate. Heap that guilt on us with a clever closing. Us who didn't show up at the barbecue. Us selfish people. With our budget cuts and no new taxes pledges. Trying to ignore the beltless in our midst.

The most striking thing about this whole piece is how damn superior Kate feels. Because she showed up. She cares you see. Of course other than showing up she really didn't do anything. She didn't suggest any possible alternative solutions to the problems other than the implicit call for higher taxes. She didn't tell us how we might help these people through charity work or donations. Because in reality her goal is not to help these people or solve their problems. It's to make us feel guilty and to shame us into agreeing that government and higher taxes are the only answer. If we read this and feel bad then Kate feels good (about herself).
But What About The Norwegian Children?

Who are the real victims of the war with Iraq?

The innocent Iraqi civilians caught in the crossfire?

The families of coalition servicemen killed in Iraq?

How about the children of Norway?

On my second day in Trondheim, Norway, 10 days into our country's war against Iraq, my cousin Vibecka showed me a finger painting by her son, Ulrick. It depicted a family cowering after their home had been destroyed by a bomb.

In the painting, smoke poured up from the rubble where they had once lived.

"He is 6 years old," she said. "This is what he's drawing. I worry about how all of this affects him."

Yes that's high on my list of worries too. How will this conflict affect those poor Scandinavian kids?

In yesterday's Star Tribune Travel section writer Troy Melhus reassures us that in Northern Europe the people aren't anti-American, just anti-war :

To be sure, there were people willing to criticize our country (I did not encounter one European who expressed support for this war), but they seemed well-reasoned and could distinguish the actions of our country's government from its individual citizens. The mood was decidedly anti-war, but not anti-American traveler.

Europeans criticizing the United States and against the war? I'm stunned.

Europeans talk of war with a different perspective. Scars from Nazi occupation more than half a century ago still haunt their thoughts, blight their landscape.

And frighten them into pacifistic inaction I might add.

The idea of war in Iraq resonates differently in Europe. Unlike here, they still see the scars of war in their own back yards. Some remember how bombs don't discriminate good from bad.

They clearly, and firsthand, understood what the devastation of war means, and emphasized that casualties of war go beyond those of the invading troops. While people I encountered universally agreed Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator and a threat, their concern seemed to be about the victims, not the inevitable victors, of this war.

I always find this argument for Europe's opposition to war with with Iraq puzzling. Should not these European countries also understand the costs of allowing an evil ideology to triumph? Would not the Norwegians, the Belgians, the Dutch, and the French have been much better off if Hitler would have been stopped before being allowed to overrun their countries? How exactly was the scourge of Nazism defeated and their countries liberated? Through war. Through bombing, killing, and destruction. It wasn't pretty. But it was the price that was worth paying to be freed from totalitarian rule. Wasn't it?

Of course with his country at war Troy was glad to get back to his homeland.

In fact, it wasn't until my return that the reality of Gulf War II began to sink back in. Uniforms greeted me at the airport. Choruses of English headlines at airport kiosks blared updates on the U.S.-led war, with unabashed, nationalistic spin.

Welcome home.

Obviously these kiosks were not carrying the Star Tribune. Troy must have been referring to those jingoistic yellow newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post.

Welcome back Troy. Thank God those hearty Norwegians still like us.


This isn't your father's Pabst Blue Ribbon. Well, actually it is but now it's hip:

Perhaps it's a sign of the times, or a remembrance of the way it was, or a toast to blue-collar virtue. However you pour it, PBR is America's new beer for a simple reason: It is not new at all.

Melissa Brown, a 28-year-old New York artist, recently served PBR at the opening of her art show at the Bellwether Gallery, located in the fashionable and hip Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg. She explains her choice by saying that "it's time to get back to the basics." Others seem to agree. The owner of the gallery says that requests for PBR have become so common it's now "the official gallery beer."

In Washington, the manager of Chief Ike's Mambo Room in Adams Morgan wasn't finding success with sub-premium beers such as Schlitz and Tecate. "We switched to Pabst a few months ago and it's going like hotcakes," he says. At Whitey's in Arlington, suited-up young Republicans, faux cowboys and dead-serious blue-collar drinkers line up faithfully for a weekly PBR special. On a recent Thursday they exhausted the supply by 10 p.m.

In Park City, Utah, a group of professional and semi-professional snowboarders -- the trendsetting type popular with fans and revered by marketing agents -- have discovered Pabst. For the past few years, they've congregated on Super Bowl Sunday and played their own game of tackle football in PBR hats and jackets. They call it the Pabst Bowl.

Nationwide, grocery store sales of Pabst Blue Ribbon climbed 12 percent in the 52-week period ending in late November. Total sales have increased five percent over the past year. "For us that's a really big deal," says Pabst brand manager Neal Stewart. "That's one of the best increases we've had since 1978."

It's always nice to see an old brand like Pabst enjoy a resurgence which ensures its survival but for an anti-hipster like JB Doubtless it presents a bit of a dilemma. He was on the Pabst bandwagon three or four years ago, long before the art crowd and snow boarders discovered it. Now he's going to have to find a "new" beer. Any bars serving Olympia around here?

Saturday, April 19, 2003

Bad News, Good News

Bad news: The Timberwolves play the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.

Despite playing above expectations all season, setting a franchise records for wins, drawing the 4th seed in the Western Conference, and securing home court advantage - they draw the Kobe and Shaq-fueled juggernaut that is the resurgent, three time defending NBA champion Lakers. In terms of personnel match-ups, this is the worst possible opponent for the Wolves. Thus, they seemed destined to extend their NBA record for first round playoff losses to a spirit killing SEVEN years in a row.

This could have drastic implications for the future of the team, with bored fans staying away in droves next year and a frustrated superstar (Kevin Garnett) resigning himself to finding greener pastures elsewhere after his current contract expires. After that, expect years of recurrent front office management purges and the chronic rebuilding of the on court talent (except Joe Smith - whose 8 points and 6 rebounds a game are locked up for the next decade or so).

Attendance will fall to record low numbers and with the Target Center already being characterized as falling apart and hopelessly obsolete, a push for a new revenue enhancing arena will commence. After facing determined resistance from the state legislature, who by that time will already have allocated many, many billions for two football stadiums and one roof retracting ball yard, the Wolves will begin to court various outside investors with an eye on moving them to a city offering a more hospitable fiscal environment. Commissioner David Stern, feeling spurned by the Twin Cities’ continued failure to sustain the team, despite his repeated efforts to intervene on their behalf, allows them to go.

In short, the Wolves bad luck in drawing the Lakers in round 1 of the playoffs probably means the end of professional basketball in Minnesota forever.

Good news: Tony Pierce is a Lakers fan and promises extensive coverage of this series.

All things considered, I think it’s a fair trade off.

(By the way, I recommend his “lakers girls” photo essay, for the latest coverage of developments in the world of satin shorts, Seal, and the highest use of the MGD logo I've ever seen.)

Galled (and Liking It) may have found Cathy Wurzer’s older sister, Diane Rehm. Ms. Rehm is another elitely biased, icily beautiful, politely intolerant, and nasally clogged publc radio employee, working for an NPR affiliate in Washington DC.

Is it possible the NPR network is stocked with women like this at the local level? If so, it does make the knowledge that my tax dollars subsidize these broadcasts slightly less galling. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still galled, but getting galled by Wurzer and Wurzer clones has a certain appeal to it.

Saint Paul & JB Doubtless Triumphant Again At A Recent Fraters Outing

Friday, April 18, 2003

Do We Really Need Another Hackneyed Top Ten List?

Of course not. But that's never stopped us before so let's go.

The Top Ten most overrated aspects of the war with Iraq (so far):

10. The Republican Guard

9. The Special Republican Guard. Apparently the motto of the SRG was "we're excellent drivers" given the haste in which they fled advancing US forces.

8. The need for a "Second" (actually more like an 18th) UN resolution. If only we had that second resolution then... Then what?

7. Tied to #8 the vulnerability of Tony Blair. Once the war started the British public came on board and if anything the outcome has made Blair stronger.

6. The weather in Iraq. Other than a couple of days of dust storms which slowed US operations, the weather was essentially a non-factor. As they had already shown in Afghanistan the US military has the capability to fight anywhere under any conditions. Wearing the NBC suits might have been uncomfortable in ninety plus degree heat but it didn't have much of an impact on the ability of the troops to achieve their mission.

5. The Agonist.

4. The effectiveness of Aaron Brown's toupee.

3. The "rejuvenated" peace movement. Despite their claims to the contrary I don't think the anti-war protesters had any impact on the preparations for or the conduct of the war. Once their bankrupt rhetoric (How many times did you hear the phrase, "I know Saddam is a bad man but..." followed by reasons for not going to war but never with realistic and effective alternative courses of action?), juvenile tactics (Blocking traffic accomplishes what exactly?), and true motivations (More anti-Bush than anti-war), were exposed to the public their support melted away faster than the Republican Guard. The movement is now effectively marginalized.

2. France.

1. The vaunted "Arab Street". A bunch of drunk college students celebrating their school's hockey championship showed more passion and caused more damage in one night than the "Arab Street" has in the last month. Isn't it time we put this bogeyman to bed?

Thursday, April 17, 2003

The Only Thing We Have To Fear....

Is the Star Tribune editorial board.

In a gravely concerned, cowering editorial today the paper frets about the "season of fear" we're now supposedly experiencing:

A Minneapolis 11-year-old we know had an unexpectedly tepid reaction to last Wednesday's news that Americans were in charge in Baghdad. She allowed that she was pleased, but still worried. "We're just as likely to be hit by terrorists as we were before," she said.

Fear has a lock on Minnesota hearts young and old this season. It's visible in drawn faces, audible in casual conversation. Talk turns easily to war, terrorism, layoffs, earnings loss, government budget cuts, downsized plans, diminished dreams.

The U.S.-led coalition's easy victories buoyed spirits last week. But the news was soon discouraging once more. Chaos seemed countrywide in Iraq, where dark secrets remain suspected, but undiscovered -- and where too many Minnesota sons and daughters are still in harm's way. Unemployment claims made a big jump. The stock market wobbled when it was supposed to soar. Unflappable state economist Tom Stinson said flatly, "We're worried."

Now you can't expect an eleven year old to understand the state of the world and to a youngster's mind the threat of terrorism still may loom as large as ever. But for the rest of who reside in the adult world it should be fairly obvious that the victory in Iraq has indeed reduced our risk of terrorism. Just as the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan deprived terrorists of a base of support and a refuge so does the defeat of Saddam's regime. Already we have accomplished the following:

- A radical Islamic group, Ansar Al-Islam, with ties to Al Qaeda has been crushed in northern Iraq by the Kurds assisted by US Special Forces

-A major training facility, apparently jointly operated by the Iraqis and Palestinians, has been found by U.S. Marines near Baghdad

- Salman Pak, where the Iraqis are alleged to have trained terrorists using a commercial airplane for practice, has been put out of business

- Terrorist residing in Iraq like Abu Abbas have been captured, killed, or are running for their lives

- The chances of terrorists acquiring WMD are much lower now without the help of a sponsor state like Iraq

The threat is still there and we should continue to be vigilant. The war on terror is by no means won. But we've made a great deal of progress and I for one feel a hell of lot better than I did a year and a half ago.

And while the economy is certainly not performing at the levels we would all like we're hardly living through another Great Depression here as the Strib editorial suggests. Diminished dreams? I know a few people out of work (most of them bloggers oddly enough) and while their lives would certainly be brighter if the economy picked up and companies started hiring again I don't think any of them of sitting around contemplating taking a couple of hits off the gas pipe because they no longer have dreams.

Worry is one thing. Fear quite another.

I remember the night of 9/11 trying to fall asleep and instead of the usual steady drone of commercial airliners, hearing the sound of F-16's flying combat air patrols over Minneapolis. Now THAT is fear. The heart palpating, forehead sweating, rats gnawing at your intestines kind of fear that burrows into your soul and shakes you to the core.

Today I still worry but I no longer fear.

"Like Soldiers Fighting Some Kind of Insane War”

Last week, myself and a few friends got together to watch the Gopher hockey team route New Hampshire at a local tavern. After many rounds of Summits, we did as we usually do; argue about meaningless nonsense and attempt to expose weaknesses in each other’s tastes and preferences.

Several of those in attendance are fans of Punk Rock Music and scornful of pop. I am from the opposite camp who thinks that punk is irrelevant and annoying and am frankly sick to death of the entire genre and the exalted place it inhabits amongst critics.

We also spoke of Quincy and how he lived on a boat and seemed to score with young hot chicks and generally how ridiculous the entire show was, in a fun way.

So...imagine my surprise when I found out (via the cockeyed absurdist’s blog) that there was an entire episode of Quincy dealing with Punk Rock Music (I love calling it that, it sounds so stilted and buttoned up).

I found this synopsis from someone who has spent considerable time thinking about this (I know, pot and kettle and all that....)

Here's the premise: A kid named Zach gets stabbed in a punk-rock club called Ground Zero, and Quincy is called in to investigate. The main suspects are Zach's girlfriend Abigail (the nice girl who somehow went terribly wrong) her truly evil punk friend Molly, and Molly's seemingly mute boyfriend who's name we never know but he wears a headband under his poofy blonde hair and sports Adam Ant-type streaks on his cheeks. Then there's Quincy's girlfriend, Emily, a psychologist doubling as a Tipper Gore-style moralist who coincidentally has counseled Abigail and her mother.

The Cockeyed absurdist referred to the episode as “One of the more bizarre cultural misinterpretations of all time”. To which I say, what exactly did they misinterpret?

From the snippets I’ve watched, the writers nailed the genre pretty well. Listen to the song. All the elements of a typical Punk Rock number are there: it’s atonal, plodding, groove less, unstructured and loaded with teenage sneer. The only problem was that the actor portraying the Punk musician had way too much meat on his bones. Disaffection from society usually meant disaffection from conventional bourgeois mores too, like eating.

Against my better judgment, I did a little googling and found that this episode of Quincy is infamous amongst the hipnoscenti and those that actually think Punk Rock Music is something worth defending. They point out cultural flaws in the costumes “Head bands, why punks didn’t wear head bands!” And perceived flaws in the way the Punks apartments are decorated (beads! one site sniffed). The overall take is one of ironic bemusement at how square the squares “take” on punk was.

Again, aside from some small costume details, what exactly did the writers get wrong? Note this exchange between Sam and Quincy at the autopsy:

"Someone carved 'X's in his arm," notes Sam, Quincy's famous assistant as he discovers the etching in Zach's skin. "Probably self-inflicted," answers Quincy. "Why would anyone want to do that?" asks Sam. "Why would anyone want to pretend everyday is Halloween?" answers Quincy.

To those in the know, this exchange was patently absurd, as if asking why a normal person would intentionally maim their own body and walk around with goofy clothes was a preposterous thing to ponder. I say it’s a good question, one not answered by any of the defenders of this dark genre.

There is another scene where Quincy and his gal, Dr. Emily Hanover, appear on a talk show to discuss Punk and what it means. The host wants to know what separates this youth subculture from the various ones that had preceded it. She answers “relentless negativity,” as accurate a description of Punk and it’s adherents as I’ve heard.

The episode wraps up beautifully with Quincy dancing cheek-to-cheek with Dr. Hanover to the sounds of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra

Swaying to “In The Mood”, Quincy asks Dr. Emily Hanover why anyone would "want to listen to music that makes you hate, when you can listen to music that makes you love."

Good question, that.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

The Congressional Wishing Well

The 'Tapped' posting about the Serrano bill (referenced below) also links to an interesting Web site sponsored by the Library of Congress. It’s named "Thomas" (after Jefferson, not Freidman), and it has a search engine which allows you to input the bill number of pending legislation, or key words, and the text of the bill, and its status, comes up for your review. It's all fascinating stuff, especially for those of you who are well-schooled on how a bill becomes a law (and for those of you who aren't well-schooled, click here for a quick tutorial).

The quixotic Serrano bill on repealing the 22nd Amendment got me curious about what else might be lurking beneath the veneer of importance and sober responsibility which surrounds the process of creating law (a veneer that can also stripped away in watching 10 minutes of CSPAN).

Some of my favorites, taken only from the list of the 45 House Joint Resolutions proposed this year. (Note--you can punch the codes underlined below into the Thomas search engine to read the text of the legislation.)

HJ 25 - Another proposal to repeal the 22nd Amendment. This one receiving bipartisan support, as evidenced by it's co-sponsorship by the likes of Henry Hyde (R-IL) and our own Martini Olive Sabo (D-MN).

I see even former House impeachment manager James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) among the co-sponsors of this bill. Which either means that the movement to end term limits on the Presidency has nothing to do with getting Bill Clinton back in office, or it means House Republicans would like another shot at impeaching him.

HJ 12 and HJ 27--competing bills commending those serving in the US armed services, the former being the Democratic bill, the latter the Republican bill. They both include similar "whereas"-fronted platitudes. But the Democrats throw in a couple of extra commendations that help us understand exactly where they stand.

Whereas members of the United States Armed Forces continue to further peace and stability in many regions of the world through contributions to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United Nations

Yes, thank goodness we're allowed to contribute to UN and NATO efforts abroad. We'd hate to have those fine organizations running off and creating all that peace and stability without us (see pre US-intervention Kosovo and the current Palestinian West Bank for details on what that looks like).

Whereas members of the Armed Forces even now are serving, in the Persian Gulf, on the Korean peninsula, and elsewhere, as a deterrent to those who might repudiate diplomacy and fail to honor their international commitments

That really was Saddam Hussein's great failure wasn't it--repudiating diplomacy? If only he was willing to attend more meetings with us and talk civilly and reassuringly, we would have let him torture, rape, and kill his own people as much as he wanted. Listen up Syria--the Democrats have spoken on the lesson you need to learn, in case they're calling the shots come 2004.

HJ 20--speaking of appeasement, a now obsolete bill from the Democrats who tried to repeal the President's Congressional authorization on using military force on Iraq. The usual suspects of the radical left are listed as co-sponsors of this bill, including Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Barney Frank (D-MA), and our old friend Jose Serrano (D-NY). Oh yes, one more sponsor among this pack of closet communists and admitted socialists, Jim Oberstar (D-MN).

Do the good, patriotic people of Minnesota's 8th district really want their elected representative to be consorting with these types of people? (Consorting hell, try locking arms with them and marching off together toward the shining red sunrise.) I'm not sure about that, but I am sure about one thing. The troops in Iraq can faithfully tell the former child prisoners of Basra that their liberation was not done in Jim Oberstar's name and he did everything possible to prolong their sentences. In 2004, the people of the 8th District can decide what we should tell the Iraqi children about their own complicity in this moral blindness.

HJ 29 through HJ 35--Seven separate bills from Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), who seems to be vying to become the James Madison of the 21st century by revising our entire set of founding principles. His modest proposals for Constitutional amendments and a new class of civil rights:

the right of convicted felons to vote
the right for all citizens to an education of equal high quality
the right for all citizens to health care of equal high quality
the right for abortion on demand
the right to housing
the right to a clean, safe, sustainable environment
the right to full employment
the right to equal pay for equal work
the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for themselves and their family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

It seems Mr. Jackson is motivated not by the Founding Fathers or by the ideas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Rather, Messrs. Marx and Lenin seem to be his guiding lights. But not even they conceived of a government mandate dictating enforcement of essentially contestable concepts such a "clean, safe, sustainable environment" and "an existence worthy of human dignity."

My God, if those were our civil rights, I think I'd be the first one in line at the courthouse. Because looking around at my apartment and reviewing the sorry state of my personal and professional life, I got to tell you, I'm getting screwed! And according to Jesse Jackson Jr.--it's all YOUR fault. Hang on to your pocketbooks people, as their ain't a jury in the country that's going to save you now.

Don't Dream It's Over

The American Prospect's blog, Tapped, alerts us to a bill emanating from the US House of Representatives, sponsored by the Congressman from the South Bronx, Jose Serrano. It proposes a repeal of the 22nd Amendment of the Constitution, which limits a President to two terms.

Since Mr. Serrano is described in the Almanac of American Politics as "Fidel Castro's greatest champion in the House" who has sought repeal of economic sanctions and overturn of the four decade embargo of Cuba, the thought of him tinkering with the sacred document of American liberty is a little disconcerting.

The thought that there's a group of Americans willing to elect this man SIX times in a row is more than a little disconcerting. But I'll just have to get used to being disconcerted since Serrano received an appalling 92% of the vote in 2002 in his district (NY-16). Since it appears Castro operates in a healthier democratic environment than what the Democratic Party choke hold allows in the South Bronx, I don't expect to see Serrano at the other end of a voters' revolt anytime soon.

Continuing the stream of disconcertion this morning, consider this - "Tapped" suggests that this proposal to repeal the 22nd Amendment is an attempt to enable the political comeback of none other than Harlem's own ...... Bill Clinton.

Now that you've no doubt spat coffee all over your monitor, I'll ease your anxiety a little by saying that I think "Tapped" was suggesting this motive facetiously.

But since Serrano probably isn't trying to ensure a third Bush presidency in 2012 (by which time we ought to be down to the South Bronx as the last remaining pocket of totalitarian tyranny on Earth), I don't know if we can dismiss a Clinton comeback movement as completely out of the question.

If the Democratic nominee in 2004 gets waxed by a Bush juggernaut, especially if the Democratic nominee is from the dovish extreme Left, I think the cry will go up among their party faithful to nominate a proven winner. Assuming JFK and FDR are still dead at that time, Bill Clinton may be all they have left. (This also assumes Jose Serrano doesn't get an amendment passed allowing a corpse to run for office. Such an amendment would also greatly revive the electoral chances for Al Gore).

Therefore we may all have to get used to the idea of a Clinton heading up the Democratic ticket in 2008. The only silver lining is that the first name might not be 'Hillary'.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Thieving Las Vegas

Interesting piece in this morning’s WSJ about the scarcity of land in Las Vegas and the effect that is predicted upon the local economy. Considering there is nothing but desert for hundreds of miles on either side of the city, you might think there would be plenty of land for development. Right. In a free market, perhaps.

One of the fastest-growing cities in America, Las Vegas embodies a problem cropping up across the country. The nation has seen a rapid increase in demand for new housing in recent years, fed by fast population growth, new immigration and easier credit. But the land available for home building has grown increasingly scarce. Builders eager to capitalize on a historic building boom have already gobbled up many of the most desirable parcels and bid up the prices of remaining land close to urban areas.

A backlash against builders by city councils and neighborhood groups, fed by worries about the effects of rapid development, has further restricted builders’ options.

And that’s without even mentioning the wacked-out environmentalists and what they do to hose the market:

Elsewhere, environmental regulators, city planning boards and land trusts have put up new roadblocks. They are setting aside land for conservation or wildlife protection, or extending the amount of time it takes to get permits...Dozens of cities have enacted or considered moratoriums on residential construction in recent years.

What seems to be happening is that an unholy alliance has been formed between 1. environmentalists, who have an agenda of No Growth and use trumped-up environmental concerns to further the agenda 2. The NIMBY crowd, who got while the getting was good in the prior decades and now don’t want anyone else to develop land in the areas they live in and 3. Local pols, who, without a basic understanding of the importance of the free market, listen to the aforementioned groups and enact draconian legislation on their behalf.

So those already with land do fine, because by restricting development the price of the existing houses is artificially raised and the enviros get their way by limiting the natural growth of the economy (their true goal). It’s everyone else that’s taking it in the keister, by having to live in more crowded urban areas, in smaller houses and more like a European:

As local politicians move further to rein in development, the resulting land constraints are upsetting the fundamental economics of the U.S. housing system, forcing families in many areas to devote unusually large percentages of their incomes to housing, much as they already do in New York, San Francisco and European cities.

Over time, that could make the U.S. look more like those places, with denser neighborhoods, smaller living spaces and higher prices.

Isn’t it nice to know that your hard work and savings could one day get you an expensive, crappy little house in the city? Isn’t that the American dream?

Monday, April 14, 2003

Sleeping With The Enemy

Carl (the) Zinsmeister was on Medved today regaling us with his tales of being an “embed” with the 82nd Airborne Division (Rico Suave Geraldo tried to get into this division but was turned down.) I have to say, it was quite interesting. A perfect companion to shoot hoops by out in the glorious 80 degree weather that we experienced today.

Conventional wisdom would have us believe that he would be glad to be out of harm’s way. Happy to be away from a situation that could cost him his life. Thrilled to be back in a world of hot food and showers, cool beds and well, peace. Instead he referred to the past six weeks as the best time of his life. I can understand why. To be at the epicenter of history as it is happening. To be able to see first hand the glory and terrible beauty that is the US military in full-on mode. Can you think of anywhere you would rather be?

In fact, (the) Zinsmeister said that the biggest complaint he heard from soldiers was that they were afraid they were going to miss out on the action. Not that they would be killed, or hideously maimed, or that they would have to kill others. They were scared they would miss out on the chance of a lifetime.

He also spoke about the rest of the “embeds” whom he refers to (in a companion piece in the latest National Review, not available on line) in this quote:

Most of the media embeds are typical reporters — that is, left-wing, cynical, wise-guy, Ivy League types, many with a high prima donna quotient. There are numerous studies showing that the major media are now nearly as liberal, politically and culturally, as university professors. And those are the journalists I've been seeing in a month spent in Iraq and Kuwait with the 82nd Airborne.

I have not met a single journalist here who supports the war. In the first days of battle, the only thing that got the sustained respect and attention of my fellow reporters was the rumored death of four journalists on March 22. At a lower level, there was astonished pique that the writers traveling with the Marines in the initial ground offensive had not been given an opportunity to sleep for two full days! Of course, the Marines who were doing the fighting were not sleeping either, and a lot more than four servicemen have been killed. But that's different.

“Left-wing, cynical, wise-guy, Ivy League types” an apt description for the average national reporter/reporterette if ever there was one. The site of Ted Koppel, his scrawny haunches clearly uncomfortable with his army-issued flak jacket, trying not to look like a boy playing soldier was one of the great visual delights of this conflict.

Most of the rest of them looked like fancy boys who never got dirt under their fingernails. Can you imagine if these were the men who had to protect us? (the) Zinsmeister describes them thusly:

The journalists I’ve crossed paths with are fish out of water here, and show their discomfort clearly as they hide together in the press tents, fantasizing about expensive restaurants at home and plush hotels in Kuwait City, fondling keyboards and satellite phones with pale fingers, clinging to their old world of offices and tattle where they feel less ineffective, less testosterone-deficient, more influential.

It had to be exquisitely painful for these Walter Mittys to have to literally stand right next to real men of the world, doing things that real men do: digging foxholes, driving large trucks, killing people.

Will it change their world view? Doubtful. But shining a light on the passive-aggressive, cushy little whitewashed world of the average reporter is something that should happen every few years.
A WILD Week Ahead

For a glimpse of what passes for higher education these days check out the list of activities that will be taking place as part of WILD (World Issues/Local Dimensions) week at St. Cloud State University. My personal favorites:

Media Violence: How Are You Being Entertained? Wrestling with Manhood shows how the World Wrestling Federation encourages violence, sexism, homophobia, and sexual assault.

Don't they know it's all fake? And isn't the title "wrestling with your manhood" a bit euphemistic?

Global Feminism: An International Women's Panel 4-5:30 Little Theatre

Join us as we explore race, class, gender and national origin from multiple cultural perspectives!

Now that sounds exciting! These groups can't get enough of the exclamation points. In fact the motto of WILD Week is "Peace, Justice, and the Earth!" Another seminar to get excited about is:

Cruelty Free Grill Out: Do You LOVE Animals? Then Don’t Eat Them! 11-1 MALL
Come taste a free veggie burger and learn about the inhumane practices on factory farms!

I suppose it would be considered poor taste to stop by with a bag of White Castle sliders and a box of nails. "Me? I'm here for that Cruelty Free Grill Out thing. You don't mind if I eat my lunch? Cool."


H2O= How 2 Organize Change Locally for Water 2-3:15 Atwood Mall 3:30-5 Atwood Kiosk
Panel: Brooke Johnson, Jill Polasek, Shawn Stafford, Nate Neil, Kay Bagley
Less than 1% of fresh water is left on the earth and it is being polluted and wasted more each day. Come learn what you can do.

Apparently none of these folks are English majors. Actually the whole topic is a bit confusing to me. While it is true that over 99% of the earth's water is unusable for humans (oceans, seas, ice, and atmosphere) it's been that way pretty much since the beginning of time so it's not as if our extravagant toilet flushing and lawn watering are the culprits. And while Brooke, Jill, Shawn, Nate, and Kay may consider a daily shower a waste of fresh water I think I'm going stick to my routine thank you very much.

Thanks to the crew at the SCSU Scholars blog for bringing this enlightening material to our attention.

When Slick Comes to Town

Something wasn't right in my neighborhood Sunday afternoon. My Spidey sense was tingling. There was an imbalance in the Force. I felt a Bart like shiver and wondered if I had the gift of The Shinning. What could it be that was causing such unease in my very soul?

In Twin Cities, Clinton has advice for Bush

That's it. Bill was in town. Not just in town mind you but in my 'hood just a hop, skip, and jump (over HWY 100) from my abode. In fact my wife and I had walked right past the venue that Clinton was to appear at earlier in the day and had noticed a significant police presence in the area. We had just assumed that Al Franken or Aaron Brown was making a homecoming visit.

In a wide-ranging talk at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, Clinton was more philosophical than political. The test of every public policy in the early 21st century should be whether it creates a more cooperative world based on shared values, benefits and responsibilities, he said.

Whether or not such policies actually are in the best interests of the United States is apparently not a factor for Bill.

Clinton placed the threats of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction at the top of his list of problems the United States must solve. He had few criticisms of Bush's policies so far. He hailed the November U.N. resolution that revived weapons inspections in Iraq, backed by a threat of military action if Saddam Hussein failed to cooperate. And he criticized the countries that later refused to authorize force because their stance "convinced Saddam Hussein that he could shuck and jive for a few more years."

Call me crazy but it might have been nice if Clinton has decided to address those problems during his terms as President. As to his criticism of the countries that allowed Saddam to "shuck and jive for a few more years" would not that be an accurate description of his administration's actions (or inactions) towards Iraq from, oh say 1993 to 2000?

He slammed the Bush administration for rejecting or withdrawing from several multilateral initiatives, such as the Kyoto Accords on global warming, the creation of an International Criminal Court, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

"If you only join something when you got your way all the time, there would be no marriages," he said, "and there would be no synagogues."

Once you get done chortling over the concept that Bill Clinton is now lecturing on the make up of marriages and religious institutions consider that he had no intention of ever agreeing to the Kyoto Accords (voted down unanimously in the Senate) and had serious reservations about the ICC which lead to foot dragging and stalling during negotiations by his administration to ensure that the final decision would be passed on to the next administration. Now of course he likes to portray himself as the good guy mutilateralist in contrast to the "go it alone" unilateralism of the Bush administration.

Clinton's harshest criticism of his successor was over budgetary policy, especially what he called the "insane tax cut" Bush is pushing through Congress. Clinton said it would create huge deficits and require Draconian cuts in domestic spending.

The tax cut would make it impossible to fund Bush's "leave no child behind" education programs, which Clinton said would have to be renamed "leave all the money behind."

I guess to Clinton any action that would "leave more money in the wallets of taxpayers" rather than in the hands of the government is insane.

Speaking of money how much did Bill haul down for this little gig?

Clinton has given more than 200 speeches in more than 30 countries since leaving office in January 2001. He generally charges about $125,000 for a domestic address and more than $200,000 for foreign speeches.

If you figure that at least 30 of those speeches were foreign at $200k a pop and the other 170 domestic at $125k he's banked over $27 mil in just over two years time. I think those legal bills can finally be paid off.

Tickets ranging from $25 to $5,000 sold out well in advance of his Beth El appearance. The audience of 1,600 interrupted him several times with applause. About 200, who paid at least $1,000 per couple, dined with Clinton before the speech.

Dropping five large to hear Bill? I know it's a hoary cliché but can you say "limousine liberals"?

The Thrill is Gone

Final results of the NCAA college hockey picks show Will the Thrill posted a respectable 14-5 mark overall while I came through with an impressive 16-3 finish, my only errors being the WCHA and National championship games (never pick the team you're rooting for) and the BC-Cornell regional final. Unbeknownst to most this was a "loser leaves town" showdown and so Will is packing his bags as we speak to catch the next Greyhound to Grand Forks.

All kidding aside Will has elected to leave the Fraters staff (Will, you will receive your last check after turning in your badge and keys-especially the one to the liquor cabinet) to pursue outside interests and perhaps even take a short sabbatical from writing. We wish him the best in his future endeavors and remind him that the Fraters legal team will be monitoring his coming activities carefully for any violations of his iron clad non-compete clause.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

A Quick Spin Through The Sunday Strib

How about a tour of today's edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune to give you an idea of what us lucky readers here in Minnesota get to enjoy on a typical Sunday?

Let's start with the front page and the bold-faced banner headline on the war in Iraq:


Hmmm....Something seems to missing here. Oh yes, People Liberated.

Next let's check out the always interesting Op/Ed section. Lets' see a piece by Al Franken attacking Norm Coleman which proves once again why Franken will never be the "liberal Rush Limbaugh".

A. He's not particularly funny

B. He's not that smart either demonstrated by the fact that he tries to claim that Paul Wellstone was a humble man. Sorry Al, small was an appropriate word to describe certain things about Wellstone but not his ego.

Next a piece by Richard Broderick founder of Minnesota Poets Against War With Iraq explaining, "Why it's still worth protesting this war":

the war in Iraq is just one front in a much larger war being carried out by the Bush administration and its ideological kin across the United States -- a war whose other fronts include attacks on the rights of women, gays and lesbians, minorities, the poor, immigrants and, yes, middle-class Americans.

Yup first it's the Iraqis. Then the women, the gays, the minorities, etc. eventually ending with the destruction of rights for middle class Americans. That's the plan. We'll start building the camps any day now right Richard?

Moving on we find...

Wait. What the hell is this? An article by Victor Davis Hanson in the Star Tribune? Was this supposed to go in the April Fools edition? Didn't the Strib editors get the word that Maureen Dowd doesn't like "Mr. Davis"? Heads must roll for this slip up.

Finally let's end our journey with a look at the lighthearted Variety section. Nothing to get too riled up about here right?

Here's an article about Margaret Atwood's book 'Handmaid's Tale' that begins thusly:

Margaret Atwood has enjoyed many successes, but her 1985 bestseller about a repressive society, "The Handmaid's Tale," now seems more prescient than pessimistic.

Interesting. I wonder what Atwood had so accurately predicted way back in '85?

In 1985, a novel called "The Handmaid's Tale" vaulted to the top of U.S. bestseller lists within weeks of publication. The story, set in the not so distant future, offers a grim view of life in the United States after religious zealots overthrow the government.

In the dystopic Republic of Gilead, the regime spins news of war and terrorism to its advantage. Civil rights have been extinguished, books have been banned and culture has been terminated with extreme prejudice. Women are forbidden to hold jobs, property or money. Pollution and disease have decimated fertility rates -- birth control and homosexuality are now crimes punishable by death. The few remaining fertile women, called handmaids, are used as brood mares for regime officials and their barren wives.

Wow. That's uncanny. I mean she nailed it. The terrorism. The war. That religious zealot President Bush believing in God and (gasp) praying in public. Ashcroft taking away civil rights (see Richard Broderick's piece above). Any day now I expect we'll learn of the handmaids that Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Karl Rove have hidden away in order to propagate their lineage.

That's all for today folks. I hope you enjoyed your ride through the looking glass of the "newspaper of the Twin Cities".

Vanek Fiddles (with UNH's defense) While Dinkytown Burns

Freshman Thomas Vanek proved yet again to be the definition of clutch as his patient, masterful third period goal broke a 1-1 tie and propelled the Gophers to a 5-1 win and their second straight NCAA hockey championship last night in Buffalo.

And despite assurances that there wouldn't be a repeat of last year's riot, students in Dinkytown (a neighborhood in Minneapolis near the university) flooded the streets after the Gophers victory and, as drunk young people are inclined to do, got out of control, starting fires and damaging street signs.

Yet another example that often times with victory comes a little chaos.

Saturday, April 12, 2003

About The Only Thing That Could Get JB Doubtless Up From His TV

The Case For Syria

Once again I had the pleasure of catching James Lileks on the radio yesterday during his weekly appearance on the Ian Punnett show on FM 107. Lileks was even able to deliver a well deserved "I told you so" (after being prodded repeatedly by Punnert to do so) on his pre-war predictions of the outcome of the struggle. Punnett then began challenging Lileks on reports that after Iraq the US might next turn its sights on Syria for regime change. Now Ian is usually an intelligent and reasonable man, but he seemed completely ignorant about why the US would want to go after the Syrians and tried to claim that Bush had never indicated that the US had any intentions for military action in the region beyond Iraq. Lileks patiently argued that Bush had rather clearly laid out the blueprint for the war on terror in his 2002 State of the Union speech, including taking on countries that supported and harbored terrorists. And as Lileks explained it, the Axis of Evil was not necessarily limited to Iraq, Iran, and North Korea and if a country's actions merited inclusion the US would certainly allow them to join the club.

I wasn't able to listen to whole segment with Lileks but afterwards I came up with a few reasons of my own that dictate possible action against Syria. And as Lileks said it's not as if we're talking about marching on Damascus next week or anything. I would imagine a few sternly delivered diplomatic warnings to the Syrians to cease and desist and to heed the lessons of Iraq would be a good place to start. Anyway here's a list of my potential causi belli:

* At a minimum Syria has allowed and possibly encouraged foreign jihadists to enter Iraq from Syria during the current war. Now in a way I guess we should be thankful for the opportunity to deal with these folks in Iraq instead of somewhere else but assisting our enemy combatants during wartime is not something we're going to look highly on. I believe that the Syrians now have finally sealed their border with Iraq but only after thousands have already entered the country.

* Sent arms and equipment to Iraq after the start of the war.

* Syria has probably allowed Iraqi leaders sanctuary there and possibly hidden Iraqi WMD as well.

* Has occupied Lebanon for years, installed a puppet regime, and still has over 20,000 troops there.

* Syria has long been a sponsor including supporting such groups as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, among others. These groups have carried out numerous attacks against Israel and also against the US particularly in Lebanon in the 80's. In fact more American troops died in the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut than have been killed up to this point in the war with Iraq. Syria was possibly actively involved in the attack or at least had knowledge of it beforehand.

* Other than the Palestinians, the Syrians are probably the biggest stumbling block to peace in the Middle East with their support of terrorism against Israel and refusal to negotiate meaningfully with the Israelis.

* The Syrian government is Baathist and in many ways cut from the same cloth as Saddam's regime. It is repressive, autocratic, and has carried out many abuses against its own people.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Game Theory

This morning there was absolutely nothing interesting happening on the ten radio stations I monitor during my commute in to work. Let the record show that I haven’t considered Cities 97 playing Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” or Bob Yates reading celebrity birthdays as “interesting” for almost a decade. Sure, there was a period in my life when that combination was morning magic. But back then I also thought Michael Moore was an important social critic and Mark Dayton was a principled advocate of the common man. And I was suffering from a massive head injury (or at least that's my cover story). Thankfully, I’ve recovered nicely since then.

So, this morning, in a final attempt to distract myself from having to prematurely think about what faced me in the rapidly onrushing start of the work day, I reluctantly turned to my eleventh option. Minnesota Public Radio. Which, if nothing else, allows me to hear the voice of Cathy Wurzer.

Despite Ms. Wurzer’s obvious elite media biases and her occasional failings as a broadcaster, I’m still crazy about her. Of course I’m an admirer of her looks, a tantalizingly inaccessible ice queen beauty. But I also like her attitude which is professional and polite, yet with a subtext of bitchy intolerance. And she conveys it with a voice that’s warm and throaty yet slightly nasal, which always makes her sound as if she’s just getting over a head cold. She is, in a word, perfect. (Inaccessible ice queen beauty, sublimated bitchy intolerance, and a head cold - a uniquely Minnesota concept of eroticism).

However, when I tuned in this morning, Cathy wasn’t on. It was some woman from NPR, reporting from Iraq. And within two minutes of listening I was promptly cast into the depths of anxiety and despair. She was in Baghdad, commenting on various “serious setbacks” to US efforts in securing the peace, and of the “growing crisis” represented by the looting of public buildings, and of the “profoundly disturbing” certainty of private homes being ransacked in the future as Baghdad spirals down into a permanent state of lawlessness.

Two minutes of listing to NPR and I started sweating, my head started hurting, my heart started thumping and my guts started rumbling (and yes, I do blame NPR for this, and not that speedball I like to sprinkle over my Cheerios on Friday mornings).

Since I like to reserve feelings of panic and hopelessness for my work hours alone, my typical reaction to listening to an NPR report such as this is a quick channel change. After going through a short ordeal of tax-subsidized gloom and doomism, Amy Grant’s “Baby Baby” playing on KS95 suddenly seems like a refreshingly candid appraisal of reality. But this time, just as I was reaching up to punch another button on the radio, I had an involuntary body reaction.

Relax, I’m not referring to some juvenile, scatological outburst masquerading as editorial comment. (I save such outbursts for suggestions made by the Elder at meetings of the Fraters Libertas editorial staff.). This time I’m referring to something deeper, dare I say primordial. Their discouraging words, their bleak forecasts, their sense of helplessness and resignation, it all came together inside me to trigger .... a moan.

A deep, loud, low prolonged moan, withering with sadness and misery. The kind heard from actors in Danish melodramas about the meaninglessness of life in a small, rural town (otherwise known as “A Prairie Home Companion”). The kind of moan heard from audience members watching a Whoopie Goldberg movie. Sure I’ve heard these moans before, but it’s the first time I created one. And to my surprise, with it came .... relief.

All the darkness inspired inside of me by the government broadcasting agency was gone. I resumed feeling calm. But NPR was still on the radio, so the darkness came back again. The reporter continued to drone on about the impossibility of success in Iraq and the impossibility of even defining what “success” is. But this time, before the chest pains and existential dread were able to overtake me, I let loose with a preemptive heavy sigh. A sigh as world-weary and miserable as I imagine the NPR reporter was herself. And with it again, sweet relief.

Coming to enjoy this emotional roller coaster, I continued this game all the way into the office:

They say the US military’s inability to find weapons of mass destruction in three weeks, while simultaneously fighting a war, calls into question the legitimacy of the whole operation (dread) - I wrung my hands with worry (calm).

They say Bush administration officials deny that securing lucrative contracts for their oil industry associates was a prime motivator in starting this war (bleak void), I righteously scoffed (sunlight).

They say that George Bush seems to be following his father’s path of winning an easy war while grotesquely mismanaging the domestic economy (demons appear), I knowingly nodded my head and said in a bitterly resigned fashion “that’s so true” (demons recede).

With this morning’s experience, I do believe I’ve cracked the code on how to listen to NPR. All you need to do is divorce yourself from reason and allow yourself to experience the emotions consistent with the reporters’ viewpoint. It becomes so much easier, even enjoyable.

I just wish some of my liberal NPR-listening friends would have clued me in sooner. Since I see them moaning, heavily sighing, wringing their hands, scoffing, and bitterly nodding their heads all the time while listening to NPR, it seems they have been playing this game for years.

The Distaste of Some Americans for America

Today's column by George Will nails a paradox of the American left:

Americans who are apt to argue that U.S. foreign policy needs constant infusions of legitimacy from the approbation of European governments are also apt to deplore, in the domestic culture wars, Eurocentrism in academic curricula. Such Americans resist the cultural products of Europe's centuries of vitality, but defer to the politics of Europe in its decadence.

Why? Perhaps because yesterday's European culture helped make America what it is, and today's European politics expresses resentment and distrust of what America is. Both sensibilities arise from the distaste of some Americans for America.

European opinions of today are important but European culture of the past is not?


A great day for hockey in Minnesota yesterday with the Gophers rallying to defeat Michigan in OT and the Wild downing Colorado in their first ever playoff game. Probably not the best day to spend six hours in a dark, smoky bar watching the action but sometimes that's the price you have to pay. We'll see you Saturday.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Keep On The Sunny Side, Always On The Sunny Side

Today a lot is being written about how wrong so many people were about the war in Iraq. While I agree that these doom and gloom prognostications should be called into account I'd prefer to focus on the positives. A city has just been freed from a brutal dictatorship . It's a sunny and balmy sixty six degrees here in Minnesota. And tonight I'll be enjoying a hockey double header with the University of Minnesota facing Michigan at 5:00pm CST in the NCAA semifinals followed by the playoff debut of the Wild versus the Avalanche at 8:00pm CST. It is a beautiful day.

So let's concentrate on the good. How about remembering someone who was right about the battle of Baghdad?

Speaking of positives here's an NCAA hockey semifinal update: New Hampshire 3 Cornell 2

I wonder if there was anyone out there who nailed that score?

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Note to ESPN: No Close-ups During the Action

I won second place in the annual hoops pool I participate in. Looks like I may also place in the top two in this contest against the Elder - I love consistency. The first semifinal game starts at 11:00 a.m. ... how does coffee go with college hockey?

First Semifinal) Cornell vs. New Hampshire - I like to think that my pooh-poohing of Cornell and the ECAC last time around resulted in the Big Red team posting the Fraters blog up on the bulletin board in their locker room. Especially when you throw in that the Elder also picked against Cornell. Glad we could provide some inspiration, fellas. I keep going back and forth on this game. UNH is fast and has great defense and goaltending. Cornell is slower and more physical, but also has solid defense and goaltending. My first instinct was to pick Cornell and with the Cats having their top scorer out, I'm going to stick with it. Cornell wins 2-1.

Second Semifinal) Minnesota vs. Michigan - I think this Gopher team is once again peaking at the right time. Sure, they won a Frozen Four berth by playing on home ice, but I think they would have won those games anywhere - even against tougher opponents. Michigan is good and will give the Gophers a tough game, but Minnesota wins this one 4-2.

Final) Nobody has repeated as national champion in Division I hockey in over thirty years. But a repeat has to happen at some point and why not this team? Being a North Dakota Sioux fan, it's in my blood to hate the Gophers. But I can't help but admire them and will be cheering for the WCHA in these games. Minnesota wins the final 3-2.

And the over/under on the number of students arrested post-game in Dinkytown is seven.

The Canaries Are Dead

Fast moving events have overtaken your organization. Everything you believed in and stood for has been proven wrong. Your resistance has been proved futile and you can no longer stem the tides of history that are changing your world forever. You are dispirited and aimless, unsure of what the future holds in store. Even the name of your group has now been rendered irrelevant and useless.

A Baath party member?


One of the Saddam Youth?


Try being the founder of Minnesota Poets Against War in Iraq today.

Poet and editor Richard Broderick asked and answered that question Sunday night at an event held by Minnesota Poets Against War in Iraq, a group he founded in February. The reading was held at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in south Minneapolis.

"In the past year and a half, we Americans have witnessed a concerted assault in this country on language itself," he said. It's an assault, he said, in which "words have been violently sundered from their normal meanings and assigned new definitions."

So "disarmament" comes to mean "killing the leadership of another country" and "liberation" means an "illegal war of aggression," he said.

"In this poisoned verbal atmosphere, poets are the canaries in the coal mine," he said. "Language is the raw material of our art."

Let's hope they didn't order too much stationary.

A Round Of Crow Please

Was it really only two weeks that certain elements of the media were hyperventilating about "another Vietnam" and "a quagmire"? John Hawkins at Right Wing News performs an admirable service in chronicling some of the most egregious examples. Who would have thought that Eleanor Clift could have been so wrong?

It Smells Like...

I don't want to get carried away with events or appear over confident but V-I day is fast approaching. And I want it declared as such and celebrated as it should be. Of course we will have to get on with the tough task of winning the peace but what's wrong with taking a moment or two to savor our victory?

Update 9:40am CST: If you're at work like me and you want to watch a live feed of the toppling a huge statute of Saddam in Baghdad check this out.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

What Did You Do Today?

While listening to the Hugh Hewitt tonight (buy his book and maybe he'll stop talking about it) I was fortunate enough to hear Hugh discussing the war with the incomparable military historian Victor Davis Hanson. Near the end of the all too brief segment with Hanson, Hugh asked him what he had been up to lately. Hanson explained that the Pentagon had invited him to deliver a lecture to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and have lunch with them today. Lunch with the Joint Chiefs? These guys have a war on the their hands and yet they make time for VDH. You think he might have a couple of ideas worth hearing about?