Monday, June 30, 2003

Things Are Tough All Over

Imagine if you will, you’re a dense cloud of gas and dust (some of us will have to use more imagination here than others). You’re floating around the Carina Nebula. You're minding your own business and doing your job exactly as the immutable laws of the Universe dictate.

Then .... BAM! Through absolutely no fault of your own, you’re given two weeks notice (in Universal terms, a few million years) and you’re scheduled for elimination. All because you just happen to drift too close (8,000 light years) to some new stars, whose intense light is already in the process of undermining you completely.

How do you react? Hopefully with more dignity than the Disappearing Clouds of Carina. As captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, here’s an example of how not to assure yourself a good recommendation from your old employer.

Back On The Chain Gang

After an incredibly restful and relaxing week in Colorado, spent, believe it or not, with my in-laws, I'm back in the flatlands once again. From what I've heard it was quite an eventful week here at Fraters despite (or due to?) my absence. I understand that we've got a budding radio star on our hands with Saint Paul's appearance last week on the Hugh Hewitt show drawing rave reviews. Hugh now faces a tough dilemma. Does he bump Frank Gaffney or Claudia Rosset from their weekly segments to make way for the engaging new kid on the block?

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Conceal And Bury (The Truth)

Today's Strib had a banner headline on the front page proclaiming:


With a sub headline that read:

Waves of gun owners applying for permits

The story concerned the number of permit applications that have been processed since Minnesota recently modified the law on carrying concealed handguns in public. The headlines would lead you to believe that the number must be quite large. And the first portion of the story seems to confirm that:

The number of would-be gun-toters lining up for permits in 4 1/2 weeks equals a third of the total who were licensed in all of 2002 under a more restrictive system. Most of the increase is coming in the Twin Cities area's five biggest counties, where more than 3,000 permit applications have been filed and 1,283 permits have been issued.

In all of last year, authorities granted only 1,400 permits in those five counties: Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington.

By comparing the recent numbers to last year's numbers under more restrictive laws the story gives the impression that the number of permit applications is indeed a "wave" and plays to fears that the newly eased restrictions would result in thousands and thousands of new permit holders. In fact the opponents of conceal and carry claimed that the new law would lead to over 70,000 new permits being issued.

It's only when you read further into the story (on page A8) that you discover this little nugget:

A steady stream of applicants is expected for months to come, especially in the Twin Cities area, because required handgun training classes are full, sheriffs say. But overall the response appears to be falling short of a legislative projection that 50,000 permits would be issued in the law's first year.

So less people are applying for permits than expected? In fact far fewer than those opposed to conceal and carry had earlier argued? Might not that be the story? How about this for a headline:

Conceal and carry applications lower than expected ?

Nope. You see we're now a pistol packin' state according to the Star Tribune regardless of whether the facts support that label or not.

Time For The DC Lovers To Come Out Of The Closet

Looks like we have yet another Marvel comics fan on our hands. National Review's Jonah Goldberg has also declared himself a Marvel man and a few weeks ago I wondered who actually bought all those DC comics. I'm still waiting for an answer.

Christ, Country Music, And Fast Cars

Unlike JB Doubtless, I'm not a big fan of either country music or NASCAR. But if I keep reading snarky pieces like this one by Steve Berg published in Sunday's Star Tribune I might have to take them up just to properly fit the stereotype. Berg was writing about the influence of Strom Thurmond and managed to include what has become a fairly standard liberal portrayal of the growth of conservatism:

Thurmond's prophetic influence coincided with a larger cultural shift: explosive suburban growth in the Sunbelt, the wider influence of evangelical Christianity, country music, auto racing, ultrapatriotism, suspicion of big government, opposition to taxation, elevation of individual accountability. Thurmond did not invent these values but he articulated all of them at a time when the nation was becoming more Southern and more conservative.

Berg includes just about every term that smarmy urban liberals loathe. Suburbs. Christianity. Country music. Auto racing. Patriotism. Opposition to taxes and government. Individual responsibility.

Other than the country and the NASCAR they all sound quite appealing to me. Maybe I'll have to give the twangy guitars and the circle drivers another look.

Worst Movie Plug Ever?

Her's what Glenn Kenny from Premiere Magazine has to say about the flick 28 Days Later in a newspaper ad:

"Prepare to get seriously stressed."

Ummm... No. Thanks but what with work, family, the economy, terrorism, and all I think I have plenty enough stress in my life right now. When I go to a movie I'm looking for something more along the lines of relaxing, perhaps even being entertained.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

American Blog

When I first saw the documentary “American Movie” a few years ago at the Lagoon, I thought it was a put on. Not all of it, but I was sure some of the scenes were scripted and that the participants were intentionally playing it over the top in their portrayals of dead end, substance ravaged, Wisconsinite thirty-somethings with big dreams and no means.

In retrospect, this impression was cemented by the overly eager sold out crowd at the ‘Goon, who seemed to be in competition among themselves to “get” the jokes before any one else. This resulted in a continuous cycle of preemptive caustic laughter and sly snickering, which bludgeoned even the poignant scenes into apparent high farce.

But upon further review (thanks to IFC, I’ve further reviewed it about a dozen times in the friendly confines of my living room), I was wrong. The entire film, directed by Chris Smith, is genuine and it’s an amazing thing to watch the main characters, Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank, face the insurmountable barriers of bad genetic luck and poor life choices, yet still succeed (if only in their own minds).

By any objective measure their lives are in shambles, their goals utterly unrealistic, and their future prospects dismal. Yet through purity of vision and their own innocent absurdity, they make it all work and you get the feeling their dingy, forgotten corner of Milwaukee might not be such a bad place to be.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I recommend it highly. And if you have seen it, I’m happy to let you know the story doesn’t end with the rolling of the final credits. It continues, in the blogosphere of all places, with Mark Borchardt’s Journal.

Although I just ran across it this week, he’s been keeping it (at least semi-regularly) since 1999. So if you weren’t aware of it before, you now have almost 5 years of material to catch up with.

As in the movie, the every day aspects of life are on full display. There’s a lot about drinking Pabst, eating Red Baron frozen pizza, and watching ‘Cops’ on TV. (Which is eerily similar to a typical Lileks Bleat, with the slight adjustments for James Page and the unnamed take out pizza with extra sauce. But for both men, ‘Cops’ is ‘Cops.’)

But there’s also the occasional personal revelation, like this:

Another bizarre misconception is that I smoke dope and listen to heavy metal. That is insane. I don't cut my hair because I don't feel like it. I was born in 1966 and in those times you just didn't cut your hair. It's never left. Sure, when I'm drunk I'll listen to Ted Nugent, Head East and Black Sabbath. My era ends there. Other than that you may as well be talking Chinese.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say that piece heralds the triumphant return of Will the Thrill to blogging. But no, rest assured, it’s Mark Borchardt.

There’s also occasional updates on the strange, wonderful world of Mike Schank:

Got into San Francisco last night. This morning Mike was passively looking out the hotel window at the Golden Gate bridge and asked, “Is that supposed to be a famous bridge or something?”

And this:

Mike has arrived on the scene. At breakfast he immediately stood up, his face turned purple, his eyes bugged out and he coughed like he was going to die. Sarah stood up to prepare for the Heimlich maneuver, all the time wondering how she was going to get her arms around him because Mike is built like Santa Claus. When he finally coughed it out he got a round of applause from the other patrons. When the dust settled he claimed it was just a bad round of pineapple juice, sat back down as if nothing happened and said it’s time for a cigarette.

Mark continues to write scripts for horror movies, search for funding, and then produce and direct them. As an artist, he’s no stranger to the butcher’s bill demanded by the creative process:

A working (artist? - what other word could be used to avoid commotion and upheaval?) needs to be alone to do the work. Assosiating with people involves you in all their emotions and desires and you have to avoid that non-productive vortex. Love everyone but don't f*ck yourself over.

I don't see depression as romantic, it's just a waste of f*cking time and I don't like it. I don't like being put through it. I am happy though about my age, almost thirty-seven, I like that. Half the sh*t I want to write about gets forgotten before I get here. 'Scare Me' is reasonably good until page 51 and then it just falls apart into a vortex of cluttered nonsensical sh*t. So, I have to work on it bit by bit with no immediate answer apparent. The good part is, it will be done.

Indeed. A rather eloquent metaphor for life there, the kind that tends to slip out of the Borchart prose with some regularity. And the good part is, you need not worry about some some Uptown denizen stepping on it with a knowing cackle.

Friday, June 27, 2003

JB Cheers GB

With the imminent closing of First Avenue on everyone’s mind (laughter) I was interested to see this piece in this morning’s Strib about local rocker GB Leighton.

It seems the man actually makes a living playing music, and pays his band members a salary. It’s his only job--in other words, he doesn’t have to work at Java The Hut or something just to live in a crash pad on East Lake street.

Why do I mention this? Because he seems to have figured out how to successfully play the bars while still getting his original material heard.

Most local bands spend their entire existence in obscurity. They play their precious original music to a small, insular group of like-minded folk and seem to think that credibility (whatever the hell that is) is more important than actually winning an audience and entertaining them.

In other words, the exact type of bands that First Avenue and the Entry book. Should it be any wonder that they can’t make any money doing this?

I’ve never seen GB, but I might have to just for this one quote that tells me he understands the big picture of what the point of having bands in a bar is:

“Our job is to entertain people who are out to drink, have a good time and maybe meet someone.”

Entertainment. Not art.

There still might be time.

Are you listening First Avenue?

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Other Than That Mrs. Lincoln, How Was the Show?

Last night I made a brief cameo appearance on the Hugh Hewitt radio program (locally on the Patriot AM 1280 from 5-8 PM). It occurred around 6:45 Central. I graciously agreed to limit my segment to five minutes so they could have at least some time to squeeze in a discussion on Israeli-Palestinian relations with National Review’s Frank Gaffney and the search for weapons of mass destruction with The Hill’s Joshua Micah Marshall. Yes, it was a magnanimous gesture on my part. But gentlemen I need to warn you, next time I may need the full hour to fully dissect the nuances of people attempting to eat 4-1/2 pounds of meat in 60 minutes. Thanks for understanding.

Upon mentally reviewing my performance, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

1. When asked to explain your interest in the Frank Pastore sirloin inhaling episode, don‘t refer to the host of the program (Frank Pastore) as the “missing link.” (In my defense, that reference was in the context of his spanning my co-interests of steak and baseball, but I suspect something could have been lost in translation).

2. When being accused of having “Lileks envy,” don’t gleefully lobby to replace the irreplaceable James during his Monday afternoon spot with Hugh. Particularly avoid breezily characterizing James’s unthinkable absence as “when Lileks goes down.” (It sounds really bad, especially in the context of Lileks’s current mysterious troubles - which I swear I have nothing to do with. Believe me, everyone at Fraters lives by the motto “Up with Lileks.” In fact, we’re starting up a song and dance troupe by that name to spread the good news of The Bleat. All we need are 4 to 7 young women who can sing, dance, emote, and look good in skin tight white turtlenecks and plaid mini-skirts. Resumes and head shots can be sent directly to

3. When asked to name your comrades in the Northern Alliance, don’t forget what the Website address is for SCSU Scholars, don’t give the wrong address for Shot in the Dark, and don’t entirely forget to mention the guys at Powerline. (Big mistakes, especially that last one. I sincerely respect the work of and value our association with them all. But in my own defense, with all the slashes and dashes and extra words in their respective URLs, it’s hard to recall them precisely when you’re put on the spot. However, fear not boys, since I precisely spelled out the address for Fraters Libertas about a half dozen times. And of course our readers are your readers, so I'm sure you can expect an avalanche of hits via linking roll over soon. (Pssst - Atomizer, go ahead and start rapid fire hitting each of the above Web sites, I’d say 500 each by midnight tonight ought to do it)).

Other than that, it all went swell. Thanks to Frank Pastore and Generalissimo at the Hugh Hewitt show for being such hospitable hosts and good sports. (Also thanks to R.B. at Infinite Monkeys, as it was his frantic behind the scenes maneuvering that made it all possible.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Why We Blog

In the society at large, progressive cosmopolitan segments of the middle class continue to attack traditional values, including traditional family patterns, notions of achievement, ritualistic supports for the system, and religious values. In the meantime, an even smaller segment of the population, which remains loyal to such nativist values, feels increasingly threatened and hostile. Recent political trends indicate that some of these people are quite ready, should the opportunity arise, to engage in punitive countermeasures.

--Roots of Radicalism, 1982

A World Away

Snow capped Rocky Mountains. Brilliant sunshine. Crisp, clear air. Sharp blue skies. Trees swaying gently from the mountain breeze.

Beautiful expansive mountain home. Amazing views. Hot tub on the deck.

Hiking. Biking. Blading. Reading on the deck.

Steaks on the grill. Hand crafted beers. Wine. Whiskey.

No newspapers. No cable news. No talk radio. No phone calls.

No schedule. Timeless days that begin and end whenever you desire.


Not a conducive environment for blogging.

This Week in Gluttony

Frank Pastore’s brief tenure in Minnesota was not the stuff of dreams. Nor was it the stuff of nightmares. Instead, it was the stuff of a short, uneventful nap. The kind where you lay on the couch on a Saturday afternoon to watch golf and are slowly dragged over the edge of unconsciousness by the drowsy voice of Sean McDonough, then drawn back toward semi consciousness by a muffled gallery cheer inspired by a 12-foot Fred Funk putt, then lulled back to sleep by the soft leprechaun intonation of David Feherty, until finally you’re permanently roused by the frenzied barking of your neighbor’s Golden Retriever (who seems to have a major problem with the UPS guy). Then you get up and make a salami sandwich. That’s Frank Pastore’s career in a nutshell.

Perhaps some of you still don’t remember him. Or maybe some of you are confusing him with Juan Agosto, who had a similarly nap-like career in Minnesota (the only difference being when you’re finally awaken, you get up to make a microwave burrito).

In summary, Frank Pastore was a serviceable middle relief pitcher acquired by the Twins (from the Reds), right before the 1986 season. Before getting injured, he had decent, but unremarkable numbers (3-1, 2 saves, 4.01 ERA in 33 appearances), for a team that would finish last in its division. (All together now - yawn.)

For those of us who do remember him, it’s only because he was one of the warm bodies in the bullpen that helped convince management to finally banish Ron Davis, the tyranny that was his 9.08 ERA, and the ghost of Jamie Quirk once and for all. (And for that, he still has my eternal gratitude.) But since the entire Twins season of 1986 will forever languish in the shadows of a World Series championship won the very next year, nobody in Minnesota thinks about Frank Pastore anymore.

In fact, I’m sure I hadn’t thought about him since 1986. That is, until yesterday when I was sitting there minding my own business, reading an article from the Washington Post about people in a Texas restaurant attempting to eat a 4-1/2 pound, 5,200 calorie steak in under an hour, and who comes waddling back into my consciousness? Frank Pastore. A man who not only accomplished this feat, he holds the all-time speed record.

...more than 35,000 people have taken the Big Texan's challenge, but no more than 6,000 have succeeded. Past winners include a 69-year-old grandmother, an 11-year-old boy and Frank Pastore, a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds in the early '80s, who set a speed record by downing the whole meal, side dishes included, in 9-1/2 minutes.

Shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad, a dinner roll, and 72 ounces of grilled sirloin. In 9-1/2 minutes. In case you need a visual to better appreciate this feat, check out the Big Texan’s Web site. And if you feel you’re up to the challenge, you can order your own 72 ouncer, shipped right to your front door for a mere 72 dollars.

Say what you will about Frank Pastore’s baseball career, but these are staggering numbers, Hall of Fame worthy statistics. The baseball historians tend to agree. I’m happy to announce I’ve just completed successful negotiations with the fine folks over at the Baseball Almanac and they have agreed to include Frank Pastore’s eating statistics as the lead item on his biographical page.

In my continuing mission to preserve baseball history, my next assignment is to make sure the career of Ron Davis is properly memorialized. To the Baseball Almanac, I hereby propose the following quote from another guy who knew how to enjoy a steak. Calvin Griffith, upon learning Ron Davis won his arbitration hearing in 1983:

I’m so sick about Davis winning I feel like vomiting.

Bon appetit.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Le Punk Musique

As I sit licking my chops waiting in shadenfreudian joy for the long-overdue closing of First
Avenue, I came across this little ditty in this morning’s Journal about Iggy Pop being inducted an
Officer of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture.

Perfect, I thought.

To most normal Americans, Iggy is a deviant purveyor of unlistenable music and a weirdo. However, to a sizeable contingent of hipsters and otherwise culturally confused people he’s a god of sorts. The Grandfather of punk.

Well, punk fans, the French government agrees with you! Isn’t it nice to know how your tastes stack up
worldwide? Some of you punk fans may be saying that Americans are simply too stupid to fully "get"
the misunderstood genius of Iggy and his importance, well now a government body has
given you and yours the seal of cultural approval.

I’ll sit on this side of the pond with Nickel Creek and a ball cap. You can head to the other side with
your punk garbage and a beret.

Guilt by association? Absolutely.

The Fat Lady Hasn't Sung Yet

Here is a brief update on a previous post about the possibility of First Avenue in Minneapolis closing. The latest member newsletter reads:

Despite recent rumors in the papers, we are NOT closing in August, however, it is an understatement to say that we're having a bad year here. The economy is still down, music purchases are down, we've lost several small local venues, concert attendance is down all over the city and country, etc.... And as we look ahead to August (typically the slowest touring month) I can say that, yes, we're worried.

If you value having an active local music scene and an independently-operated concert venue with a 32-year local history, please consider one of the following options for helping DAMF/First Avenue stay alive.

-Become a DAMF Volunteer. We have lots of positions that range from 2-6 hours per week--and you can get unlimited free shows!

-Recruit 5 or 10 new DAMF Members and get a free 1-year Classic (5) or Platinum (10) Membership for yourself or a friend!

-Donate cash to DAMF directly--seriously, if you can add even an extra $5 to your Membership dues, every little bit helps.

-Convince your business or place of work to consider joining the Corporate Sponsorship or Employee Incentive programs or donating directly through the Corporate Giving program.

-You get tons of free shows with your Membership--consider BUYING a few concert tickets for yourself or friends rather than using comps.

Email for more info about any of these ideas.....

So, if you live in or near the Twin Cities, consider helping out to keep the music coming.

This Is Your Brain on Summer

It appears that the majority of the Fraters staff has survived this past weekend (the Elder is presumed alive, but contact with him has yet to be confirmed).

You have all read Saint Paul’s instructive piece illustrating the relentless assault on personal responsibility (scroll down if you haven’t). JB Doubtless has also chimed in with his take on creative campfire radio listening. I now feel that it is my duty to contribute something pithy and thought provoking.

Unfortunately, since my brain has yet to recover from the activities of last weekend at “The Lake”, I have little of substance to say. I’m sure there are some regular readers out there that would say that this is not unusual coming from me, but here are my thoughts regardless.

Summit Extra Pale Ale is God’s gift to outdoor fun. Always have a backup keg.

Croquet is more fun when you cheat.

Bocce ball should not be played on a hill without a golf cart. Gravity sucks.

Cheez Whiz is a marvelous substance. It binds ham to a bagel for a tasty breakfast treat and it just plain binds (no running water at “The Cabin”…think about it….).

Sleeping in a tent is a miserable experience. Whoever designed the nylon nightmare that I slept in for two days didn’t understand that a sure way to release trapped heat is to put a vent somewhere near the top, the troglodyte philistine!

Spending two days in northern Minnesota on the shores of a beautiful lake with fifteen friends and an endless supply of food and drink while enjoying absolutely gorgeous weather is my idea of heaven. Too bad winter is only four months away.

Monday, June 23, 2003

All Is Well, All Is Well (Just Keep Saying That)

The fellows over at Infinite Monkeys expand on the “Reason Gone Mad” premise I wrote about on Saturday. This time the topic isn’t lousy tenants and the property managers who love them. Rather, it’s those undergoing female to male sexual reassignment surgery. (No word yet on how their property managers feel about them).

Below is an excerpt. If you’re an adherent of Thomas C. Veatch’s theory of humor, remember, this is not funny:

Lecturing at a local private high school last month, Cruz, 24, tells the audience of teens that his religious parents nearly stopped talking to him when he came out as a lesbian.

It’s not funny because it’s true and apparently happening somewhere in California. So please reassign your parameters of normalcy and adjust your senses of humor accordingly.

FYI - our brothers in Blogger at Infinite Monkeys are having permalink problems. (As are we at Fraters Libertas.) So if your visiting them, you may have to scroll down to find the relevant post. But since they seem to regularly post entertaining material, it’ll be worth the trip.

If you’re trying to link to us, my deepest and sincerest apologies. Hopefully, upon the triumphant return of the Elder from Colorado next week, all will be resolved. I suppose I could try to contact him now to get him on the case. But since he’s probably filled to his gills on near beer and face down in a platter of mountain oysters (my God does he loves those things), I’d rather not ruin his good times (relatively speaking) with matters of mundane Web site maintenance. Let’s let the man have his fun.

Ed. note: the piece below is by JB Doubtless. The links don't work. Our leader (and the guy with the password to control
this stuff) is away on vacation. Excuses, excuses...just read the post and be grateful that we didn't post any "Nothing today, but tomorrow it will be a blorgy of posts" or something. Thanks.

One of the things I love to do when camping is to sit in front of a fire with my best
Radio Shack transistor and just slowly start at one end of the dial and just work through
the entire spectrum.

Once you get out of the major metro areas, the radio stations get infinitely more
Interesting and unusual. Play lists are deeper and more varied. Long syndicated, but
forgotten stars like Bruce Williams are on nightly. And missionary zeal is not hard
to find.

I particularly love the ”Unshackled” programs made by Pacific Grove Mission from Chicago—“The program that makes you face yourself and think”. (When you visit their website, you’ll find that they were kind enough to include a
link on How To Get To Heaven.)

When you first hear the program, you think it must be an old radio serial from the 40’s with
the dramatic organ music, the stilted acting and the overall earnest tenor. But after a few minutes
you learn that this is the true story of sinners, ridiculously outrageous sinners.

Each week features one reformed sinner’s life story. Abortions abound.
Alcohol and drugs are severely abused. Alternative lifestyles are experimented with. Evil is
embraced. God is forgotten. And then something happens to the person back on the right track.

When I heard this program for the first time, I’ll admit my take was a typical one of
post-modern irony and mockery. “This can’t be real,” I remember saying. After years of
being steeped in this ironic mindset, it’s hard to listen to something earnest and not laugh at it.

But that’s probably the thing that makes this program so compelling when you’re sitting
around a campfire. No invisible quotation marks, no nudge-nudge subtexts, just a good, if
somewhat exaggerated, story about someone’s life and all the bizarre things that can happen.

So next time you’re on a trip, start flipping through the dial (hopefully
out of range of the Ian Punnet Show) and see what you find. (It’s also on local station KTIS on
Saturdays at 4).

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Reason Gone Mad

Remember that episode of "The Simpsons" where Marge and Homer are accused of being negligent parents by the Springfield Child Protection Agency, based on a series of misunderstandings about the origins of Bart's head lice, Lisa's rotting teeth, and Maggie's drinking from the dog bowl (while under the supervision of Grandpa)?

The key scene was in the remedial parenting class Marge and Homer were compelled to attend. Amid a series of laughably obvious tips on how to take care of children, the earnest and impassioned instructor lectured "Put garbage in a garbage can people, I can't stress this enough!"

To which Marge responded with an eye roll and grumble and by saying "this is so embarrassing," and Homer responded by taking notes and saying "garbage in a garbage garbage can? Hmm ... makes sense."

A funny scene to be sure. Funny because, in the words of noted linguist and humor theorist Thomas C. Veatch of Stanford University, conditions conspired to create:

"...a subjective state of apparent emotional absurdity, where the perceived situation is seen as normal, and where, simultaneously, some affective commitment of the perceiver to the way something in the situation ought to be is violated."

...... and hilarity ensues! Actually, I'm sure nothing more than effusive nodding and thoughtful goatee stroking results every time Professor Veatch uncorks that one in the faculty lounge. For the rest of us, perhaps the same theory was best summarized decades earlier by another noted observer of humor, Groucho Marx:

Humor is reason gone mad.

Applying this theory to our "Simpsons" example, that scene is funny because Homer's stupidity in not innately knowing that garbage goes in a garbage can is unbelievable, given our understanding of the basic intelligence of humanity. Furthermore, the fact that fully grown adults would have to be sent to such a class violates our understanding of how even the most intellectually challenged among us use common sense to operate in the world.

The simultaneous holding of these two realities in our mind (first--our understanding of what is normal and second--our observation of Homer's absurd behavior in an ostensibly normal setting), creates a paradox, causing a moment of subconscious psychological pain.

..... and hilarity ensues! But before you yuk it up any longer, I have to interrupt to say one more thing. STOP LAUGHING, it's no longer funny.

According to Saturday's Star Tribune, your definition of normalcy in the world and your understanding of humanity's innate intelligence relative to household cleaning and maintenance has now been proven invalid.

In an article entitled (in the print edition), "Renters Get With the Program," it seems there are people throughout the Twin Cities who would do as Homer did and react to the news that garbage should be put in a garbage can with suprise.

The property management company DMW Properties of Brooklyn Park has developed a program for problem renters called the Housing Lifeskills Centre. (Notice the Anglicized juxtaposition of the "r" and "e" on Centre--just in case you thought this program had no class.)

The Housing Lifeskills Centre, taught by DMW Properties Vice President Linda McNew, is a six-week course that teaches people who risk eviction or are homeless how to find and keep housing.

As an example of the ideal candidate for this program, the tale of Takelah Perkins is presented for your consideration:

Takelah Perkins' townhouse at Silver Lake Commons, an apartment and townhouse complex in Mounds View, used to be a party spot for her friends and relatives. As many as 10 people lived in the four-bedroom house at one time. Many more went there to drink. The crowd caused several fights that led to complaints to the police. Just a few months ago, Perkins was on the brink of eviction. She failed the landlord's annual housing inspections. She didn't pay her rent on time. She did not get along with the neighbors.

Not exactly a candidate for the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. In fact she sounds like every landlord's (and neighbor's) worst nightmare. Not only does she run a party house, where drinking and brawling and transient house guests are common, she lets the place go to hell, AND doesn't pay her rent. Given the fact that she's probably responsible for driving down real estate prices for miles around, she sounds more like a candidate for a criminal charge on running a disorderly house than a prospective student at the Lifeskills Centre.

But that's where I'm wrong. Because it seems Ms. Perkins doesn't do these things out of a gross lack of consideration for others or refusal to take personal responsibility for her actions. Nope, according to the director of this program, it's because Ms. Perkins and her fellow students:

".... are typically not good renters," she said of the people in the program. "They don't know how."

A lot of the things we teach are things that you and I take for granted," McNew said.

So apparently the problem was that Ms. Perkins never had anyone tell her to occasionally clean her house, to pay her rent on time, and to not have parties degenerating into drunken brawls at her house every night. (To quote George Costanza--"was that wrong?")

Excuse my naiveté, but are there really people out there who don't comprehend that living in this manner is slightly problematic? There are full grown adults that don't have a natural sense of right and wrong when it comes to disorderliness, property damage, and nonpayment of bills? There are people who still don't get it, even after numerous visits by the police and angry confrontations with their neighbors and landlords?

Since this article appeared in the Star Tribune, I'll have to assume that all facts are correct and comprehensively presented and that these people do exist (at least in Mounds View).

Of course, an interesting follow-up question to ask would be how these people come to be? What set of circumstances and/or life decisions lead one to this profoundly retarded worldview? How does one develop this sense of egoistic entitlement, where there's no connection made between your actions and, say, your income or housing status? What causes one to assume someone else is going take care of all your problems for you, no matter how much destruction you visit on yourself and your neighbors?

What, Star Tribune, what?

Strangely, they offer no further insight. Perhaps they didn't want anything to get in the way of their happy ending. Because, you know what? The Lifeskills Centre is a smashing success. Don't believe me? Well then ask the director of the program:

"Once they get it, they got it," she said. "They'll be good renters. And they're proud to be renters."

Or ask Ms. Perkins:

Perkins said she no longer has other people living in her home. The parties have stopped. She said she cleans the house almost everyday and pays her rent on time.

She also has a bigger goal for herself, being a good mother and providing a good home for them. Perkins received an opportunity to fulfill that goal last week -- three of her her children were returned to her after being placed with child protection a year earlier. Her four children range from ages 13 to 18.

So, according to the Star Tribune, all it takes to solve these ingrained societal problems is a class where an instructor can say, without a hint of irony, variations on "put garbage in a garbage can, people I can’t stress this enough."

With the paradox between reality and Homer's reaction now resolved, in theory, that "Simpsons" episode is no longer funny. Thanks Star Tribune, for killing the laughs again.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Support The Cause

The halls of the sprawling Fraters complex will be nearly deserted for the next few days. JB Doubtless has embarked on a camping trip in the north woods of Wisconsin. Saint Paul is heading to Milwaukee to witness the magic that is interleague play. Meanwhile the Atomizer has an appointment with a bottle of Bombay Sapphire and a corn field (don't ask) on his agenda this weekend. I will be departing tomorrow for a week in Colorado myself.

Unless Dave Thompson can pull himself away from his radio show hosting duties for a few moments to contribute a post or two it will be a very quiet weekend indeed.

But it will be a perfect time to get off your duffs and make a pledge to help battle Multiple Sclerosis. I know that pledge drives are all the rage in the blogsphere these days what with Andy Sullivan and NRO's The Corner clanking their cups loudly but this one is all about charity and nothing else. The MS75 skate is a mere three weeks away and I'll be doing some high altitude training in Colorado as part of my preparations. You can do your part by hitting the Pay Pal button and throwing a couple of bucks into the kitty. If you prefer the old school method simply scribble out a check to the MS Society and send it to:

2003 MS75
2808 Alabama Ave So
St. Louis Park, MN 55416

As I've mentioned before all donations are 100% tax deductible. We greatly appreciate your support.
Cautiously Optimistic On Iran

Here are some comments from a gentleman that I play hockey with who was born in Iran but fled with his family after the 1979 Islamic revolution:

It's been exciting seeing what's happening in Iran the last few weeks. One of my uncles is still living there and I have a few close friends that keep me posted by e-mail. I have Persian satellite TV, so I've been catching most of the action that way. It would be nice if this transition to democracy could occur more gracefully (like eastern Europe), but I'm afraid the Mullahs will not give up the power that easily and they'll shed blood without giving it a second thought. (You've gotta remember these people have been milking an oil rich nation for 24 years and have gotten filthy rich as a result) Incidentally, back in 1979 the Shah ordered the military not to open fire on the people, which in effect allowed that revolution to move forward.

I just wonder if the students will have enough staying power to withstand all the punishment they'll get from the hardliners. I've heard reports that many of the hardliners goons are not even Persian, but have been imported from the other fanatic Arab groups, to control the students/protestors - since they wouldn't feel any sympathy for the protestors.

As much as I'd want this transition to be legitimate and by the people for the people, I don't think they have the basic tools to accomplish this, which is why I wouldn't mind perhaps a push from the US or International community to help achieve this end. Hell it wouldn't be the first time the US has gotten involved in other countries, except this time the majority of the people would actually welcome it.

Into The Lions Den

Acting on a tip from OxBlog of a "quagmire in Iraq" sighting at the lefty blog Daily Kos I spent a couple of days reading the various (and numerous) comments made on the latest U.S. casualties in Iraq before jumping in and commenting on this post. You have to scroll way down in the comments section to find my original remarks (#151 out of over 200) which I posted yesterday afternoon. The tolerant lefties who read Daily Kos then took the opportunity to accuse me of all sorts of untoward things and did their best to refute my arguments. Which led to a response from me that I posted this morning. I believe it's now comment #201. I forgot how much fun it can be to get into a good scrap once in a while.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Welcome To The World Of Mike Hatch: Check Your Wallet At The Door

I know when Mitch Berg puts his mind on something, he comes up huge. Therefore I'm anxiously awaiting his promised article on Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch and the Star Tribune. According to Mitch he's been doing numerous personal interviews, reading hundreds of pages into the Minnesota Legislative record, and spending dozens of hours refining his prose.

This promises to be a spectacular effort of investigative journalism, something rare for the blogosphere - which means this could be a groundbreaking event in the history of the medium. According to Mitch it's coming very, very soon. We're standing by with our links.

But until then we'll have to be content with Hatch's editorial in Wednesday's Star Tribune which blamed budget cuts in the state's Gang Strike Force on our unwillingness to raise taxes:

By cutting the budget of the Gang Strike Force from $7 million in 1997 to only $140,000 in 2003, an amount that barely pays the rent and keeps the lights on. Such actions have given criminals an edge, and in fact, according to news reports, informants told Strike Force members they are relieved about the cuts and are making plans.

This is a direct result of the political expedience inherent in an unyielding "no new tax" pledge. This pledge and its effect on the Minnesota Gang Strike Force directly affects everyone's personal safety.

The very core of government is its responsibility to protect its citizens. There is no question that taxes must be kept in line, but when government leaders convert a "No new tax" pledge into an unyielding policy without regard to the consequences for the citizens they were elected to serve, their actions become irresponsible.

You see in Hatch's world there is only one way to explain budget cuts: "We didn't raise taxes". He doesn't even consider the possibility that perhaps, just perhaps the $7 mil could have been cut from another portion of the budget. I support the Minnesota Gang Strike Force and would like to see it properly funded. But to claim that the only reason it won't be is that we didn't raise taxes is simplistic. I guess in Mike's world it is simple. Need money? Raise taxes.

Here's a suggestion for you Mike. Instead of spending $730 million (at last estimate) on a light rail line that will do little more than making it easier for gang members to commute to the Mall of America maybe we could have funded the Gang Strike Force. And for that matter a hell of lot of other law enforcement initiatives to make the state safer.

And maybe, just maybe if the Attorney General would direct some of his office's resources towards addressing the state's gang problem instead of investigating whether non-profit health insurance companies ordered extra toppings on pizzas for their employees the streets might be safer as well. That's how you protect the citizens.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Keen On Dean

Following the lead of our Northern Alliance tsar Hugh Hewitt we would like to encourage everyone to head on over to and register for their upcoming online primary and vote for Howard Dean. Dean in '04 helps GW's reelection chances soar.

Me No Read Book. Me Conservative.

(The following was originally submitted to the Minneapolis Star Tribune as a letter to the editor but since it now appears to have about as much chance of seeing the light of day there as Howard Dean quoting Friedrich Hayeck in a stump speech I figured I'd post it here)

Sunday's Star Tribune letters to the editor included the seemingly obligatory derisive swipe at Republicans, this one a "joke" about Republicans not patronizing bookstores.

I was really amused by the June 12 letter about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's new book. A Republican in a bookstore? Good one!

Get it? Hardly a day goes by where I don't read something about how Republicans or conservatives are uneducated, unread, selfish, racist, sexist, greedy, and fanatic Neanderthals ready to trash the Constitution, throw the poor and elderly out on the streets, and oppress women and minorities. The attacks are often directed against President Bush and his administration (in particular John Ashcroft) but also occur at the local level.

An editorial last week labeled us as "mean party boys" :

Because it feels as if the Mean Party Boys from high school suddenly took over the state.

If you survived adolescence, you may remember this type. These are the guys with lots of hair, good teeth and a creepy sort of mean streak. MPBs are rarely the best or the brightest. But in the weird, twisted culture of high school (or politics), they can zoom to the top and seize social control.

Then and now, many people wonder, how did these guys suddenly become so popular? What's it based on? Because they're not particularly nice and they don't really care about anyone but their own little clique and concerns. In high school, these concerns included about being Mr. Football, driving nice cars, throwing huge keggers and mocking all the uncool people while owning the school hallways.

In the state version, it's about being Mr. Talk-Radio and/or governor; driving Hummers because who cares about mileage when they look so cool!; throwing fiscal versions of a kegger by creating huge bonding debts instead of the old-tax-and-pay-as-you-go plan; and mocking all the uncool liberals while passing the Conceal and Carry bill. (Which proved without a shadow of a doubt who really owned the capital hallways.)

Clearly this woman has never attended a Republican Party function here in Minnesota.

But apparently she didn't go far enough for one letter writer who preferred the term "mean bully boys".

Lynnell Mickelsen's June 10 Commentary comparing Republican legislators to the "Mean Party Boys" of her high school days was a great read, but it credits the Republicans with too much maturity.

With their attacks on the poor and disabled, the Republicans acted more like middle-school bullies stealing lunch money from a crippled classmate, confident that their rich parents would get them out of trouble.

Tell me again where the hate and stereotypes are coming from?

I don't hate liberals or believe they are stupid or have evil designs. I believe that most of them genuinely want to make the world a better place but that they are misguided and in some cases naive.

But I do scoff at the notion that liberals are better read and educated than conservatives. While liberals might have read plenty of Chomsky or Sontag and know all about the latest Barbara Kingsolver novel which blames the CIA for everything wrong in the Third World, I have come across very few with a solid understanding of history (particularly the foundations of Western Civilization) , political philosophy, and economics.

As conservatives we have no choice but to be better read than liberals. To be a liberal you must feel. To be a conservative you must think.

It Pays to Have A Friend in Mark Dayton

An affectionate tribute to Mark Dayton disguised as a news article appeared on the front page of the Star Tribune on Monday. Entitled: “With Republicans in charge, Dayton relishes the small wins” the tenor of the article is set immediately: despite the Republican stranglehold on the Senate, Mark Dayton is still able to do some good things. (Or “small wins’ as they say, meaning, I suppose, the ‘big wins’ could only happen with a Democrat controlled Congress.)

The article text starts with the tale of a handicapped child, denied medical coverage for apparently illegitimate reasons. That is, until Mark Dayton rides to the rescue on his white stallion.

Luke Stadelman, 2, of Burnsville was born deaf and deemed a good candidate for a cochlear implant, a medical device intended to help him hear. When his parents discovered that their insurance wouldn't cover the surgery, a doctor suggested they contact Sen. Mark Dayton. The boy ended up getting the surgery seven weeks ago after the Minnesota Democrat intervened.

(Notice how the author, Rob Hotakainen, casually works in the Senator’s party affiliation within the same sentence that establishes his heroic actions. Very subtle, Rob.)

I have to assume the basic facts of the case as reported by Hotakainen are correct. (Even though my standing policy of never, ever trusting a Finn has served me well over the years, I’ll waive it this time.)

And I’m glad the little boy got the expenses of his operation picked up by all those in his insurance risk pool (and hopefully these fine folks won’t see their health insurance rates rise too high because of extra-contractual benefits being provided to those who have US Senators intervening on their behalf).

But taken as a whole, this story sounds like a fairly routine case of constituent service. To be fair, it may not be routine, but it is the kind of thing every elected politician engages in, to some extent. Yes Star Tribune - even Republicans do it. Responses to personal requests such as this are an inherent feature of a democratic system. Politicians are motivated to act, at least in part, because it plays well with the folks at home.

It plays especially well when the dominant newspaper in the marketplace decides to shamelessly promote it for you. Which the Star Tribune has now done for Dayton. As I wait for a similarly over-the-top article about Norm Coleman, I’ll just have to laugh at the comment later in the article:

[Dayton] said he's frustrated by how difficult it's been to keep people in Minnesota aware of his activities. "If you do something here that's scandalous, you can be assured of a major story," he said. "But if you do things here that are constructive but don't have some great drama to them, it's more difficult."

Slightly less difficult if you have Rob Hotakainen’s number in your Rolodex (and his political philosophy in alignment with your own).

So, helping out the average stiff in your state is a well established and widely performed service among politicians. But the question arises, were the Stadelmans really average stiffs? More to the point, is their doctor just an average stiff?

The part that makes me wonder is the comment “a doctor suggested they call Sen. Mark Dayton.” How often does that happen in a typical doctor-patient conversation?. A rare and expensive, elective medical procedure is established as not covered by your employer-sponsored insurance plan and your doctor just happens to recommend you ask a United States Senator to intervene on your behalf, to change the contract.

According to my experience, that never happens. Although my doctor may be a bad example, as I suspect his reaction to an onset of deafness in me would be a comment like ‘you know, I’ve always felt that sound is way overrated.’

Just who was this unnamed doctor who made the suggestion to the Stadelmans (and why was he unnamed in the article)? More to the point, what is his relationship to Mark Dayton?

I of course can’t verify it one way or another, but is it possible that this doctor has some connection with the good Senator’s office and thus could grease the skids for a timely and diligent response? Connections - that’s usually how things like this take place, especially in the world of multi-millionaires like Mark Dayton. Nothing unethical about that. But the high connections that could have enabled all this to happen would cast a new light on the motivations of everyone involved. Motivations which were described in the article as nothing more than:

"It was as if they were the moms and dads and took off with this cause," [Mary Stadelman] said, referring to Dayton's staff.

All warm fuzzies aside, perhaps we should be glad if connections do prove to be the motivating factor here. Can you imagine the cost of healthcare insurance if Senator Dayton really did take up the cause of intimidating private employers into changing their policies every time a constituent wanted to arbitrarily expand the benefits provided in their contracts?

My God if that were to happen, you’d actually have to have a trust fund the size of Mark Dayton’s to afford health insurance. (FYI - That would be $4.2 to $17.8 million, according to recent disclosures.)

Not content to merely lionize Senator Dayton’s actions, this article also goes out of its way to show the supposed devious and uncaring nature of the Republican Party, with some contextual sleight of hand. I quote:

Dayton is relishing the small wins, and his behind-the-scenes work is paying off: Since 2001, Dayton and his staff say they've helped more than 800 people do battle with insurance companies and HMOs, recovering hundreds of thousands of dollars for Minnesotans. But most of his work is done in obscurity, doing little to raise his profile. As Dayton prepares to run for a second term in 2006, Republicans see an opening: They're criticizing the state's senior senator as an invisible liberal who has achieved little of substance in Washington.

Utterly shameless. First, Hotakainen matter-of-factly sets up the premise that Dayton is tirelessly working on behalf of Minnesotans, in a humble and non-self-aggrandizing way. Then he states the Republican characterization of Dayton as “an invisible liberal who has achieved little of substance” as them “seeing an opening.” Just how does one interpret that, other than as the Republicans intentionally trying to deceive the electorate because the voters don’t know the real truth and therefore can be manipulated?

"Boy, we sure don't see much of him," said State Republican Party Chairman Ron Eibensteiner. "I think you could ask 10 people on the street to name one thing that Mark Dayton has done since he's become senator, and I think nine of them would say they couldn't come up with one thing."

A brutally harsh commentary from Mr. Eibensteiner. Right after he hears about Dayton’s work on behalf of handicapped children, he has the gaul to say that? I guess Republicans really are uncaring advocates of the super rich.

Unless of course Mr. Eibensteiner’s comments were taken out of context and he wasn’t directly reacting to the facts the article implies. Or if Eibensteiner was simply asked to to make an honest appraisal of Dayton’s legislative accomplishments and he wasn‘t commenting on the man’s constituent service activities (and certainly not with regard to the Stadelman case).

Perhaps the most shocking part of this article is the fact that Mark Dayton isn’t running for re-election until 2006. And yet they’ve already started the process of getting people to ignore his record and instead focus on his perceived advocacy of the “little guy.”

Granted, this media-fueled sentimentality is from the same playbook that worked to elect Paul Wellstone twice. But he was a fiery little bully with at least tenuous connections to the working class. Can it work for a distracted trust fund millionaire dilettante who has trouble coherently stringing three sentences together in public? We shall see, because believe me, they’re going to try.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

They Say These Cubes Are Going Boys, And They Ain't Coming Back

Instapundit linked to this piece at on the white collar unemployment situation which shows no signs of improving. And it might be related to larger trends not necessarily connected to the current economic down turn. Which means that even when the economy recovers the job market for white collar employees might not. The article mentions a couple of factors that are contributing to the weak white collar job market but the one that caught both Glenn's and my eye was that firms are increasingly "offshoring" white collar positions in countries like India and the Philippines. What began with companies moving call centers to these "low cost" countries has now expanded to include jobs in the financial services industry, IT, and even health care.

In principle I support the idea of free trade and resist government imposed restrictions designed to "save" jobs and "protect" industries. These efforts have usually proven fruitless in the long run and only served to hamper competitiveness and efficiency in markets. But I have to admit that I consider the future potential future ramifications of this trend towards "offshoring" to be very disturbing and somewhat frightening.

I work for a manufacturing company that is very focused on costs. We have already relocated one of our plants to Mexico in order to lower labor costs. The only reason we still have manufacturing operations in the United States is that the size is small enough to make any move out of the US economically unfeasible (the cost of the move would be greater than the savings from lower labor costs). We purchase our electronics from Asia to minimize costs and are constantly searching for new vendors in low cost countries. There have also been talks of establishing a multidivisional call center in the Philippines for our customer service needs. At this point we still design all our products in the US but there have been discussions about using engineering resources in India on a limited basis on some projects. I expect that we will continue to expand our efforts in these areas.

As Glenn says in his post no job is safe. I work in materials management but is there any reason that in the future a qualified replacement could not be found for me in India? With many of our suppliers already outside of our local geographic area proximity is not necessary. Today I help manage the inventory at our plant in Mexico from thousands of miles away. With e-mail and linked information systems the need for personal contact can be minimized and in those situations that require it, video conferences can be substituted. I can see the day when most of the work performed by those in materials/supply chain management could be "offshored".

What of other departments? Accounting is already being done in India and other than perhaps retaining a CFO for critical decision making why couldn't most accounting resources be moved as well? Engineering would be more difficult as there is so much specific knowledge that each engineer possesses that would be tough to easily pass on. But companies are increasingly seeking out ways to share this in house wealth of information and improvements in knowledge sharing software are making it easier. At first you could likely only shift the "grunt work" that is typically done by the lower level engineers (the new guys). But as time went by and the group overseas expanded its knowledge you could hand off increasingly more complex projects slowly weeding out the numbers of your US engineering group until you were left with a small core of senior engineers to handle the most challenging projects. In time they too could prove disposable.

With far fewer employees you wouldn't need to have much of an HR department. Not much need for quality, safety, or facilities folks either. Sadly, depending where your markets are, the one group that might survive somewhat unscathed would be marketing. Like the cockroaches they are you just can't seem to get rid of them. Although if all the work on manuals, literature, brochures, etc. were transferred overseas you might be able to squash one or two of them.

You could end up with a sort of skeleton corporation still operating in the US with leaders of the all the departments around to pow wow and make strategic decisions about the future direction of the company with little or no staff reporting to them. This scenario would be the ultimate culmination of "offshoring" and would be a head count wet dream for certain executives that I've come across. Just thinking about it causes me to have nightmares.

Big Ballsy Sound

Is it just me or does not the White Stripes single 'Seven Nation Army', particularly the opening, bring to mind the AC/DC classic 'Big Balls'?

Monday, June 16, 2003

Dials To Be Tweaked

Jonah Goldberg provides one of the best (and clearest) definitions of conservatism that I have come across in some time today at NRO:

The world is not divided solely between the narrowly defined, profit-driven free market and The State. There are countless other institutions that have a voice in a free society — in our shorthand, we call this "the culture." There was a time when churches, guilds, associations, communities, universities, schools, journalists, and just-plain decent people were given a bit more space to police and regulate society. It seems to me that a conservative — as opposed to a libertarian or a liberal — should not have an inordinate fear of the state or an inordinate love of the unregulated free market. This requires conservatives to prefer nuance and balance over On-Off-switch arguments. There are dials to be tweaked. A little more government here. A lot less there. An increased role for the culture everywhere.

Brit Hume on Media Bias

Imprimis is a monthly publication put out by Hillsdale College. (For some reason I ‘ve received it for over 10 years, despite never signing up for it or ever indicating I want to continue to receive it.)

As a publication it isn’t much, really nothing more than a pamphlet, featuring a single editorial. But they seem to attract the A list of conservative commentators and intellectuals and other public personalities that don’t typically editorialize on matters of a partisan political nature. The latter of which is on display in the June issue, which features Brit Hume of Fox News.

In an article entitled “The American Media in Wartime,” he provides some pointed observations on media bias as it pertained to the war Iraq. His examples and analysis don’t necessarily shed any new light on the issue, these criticisms have appeared elsewhere already. But delivered from his position as a veteran member of the mainstream media, he does lend additional credence to the argument.

Hume’s willingness to name names and cite specific examples of poor reporting and suspect motives is refreshingly candid (including brickbats thrown at both Peter Jennings and Ted Koppel, his former colleagues at ABC). And his overall summation of the war reporting is withering:

They didn’t get it just a little wrong. They got it completely wrong. And many of these same people had gotten it wrong in much the same way a year-and-a-half earlier, portraying U.S. forces in Afghanistan as facing the most inhospitable kind of terrain imaginable, not to mention the most dug-in and difficult-to-find enemy ever confronted.

Hume never comes straight out and says that the media bias is politically motivated. Rather, he ascribes it to a general institutionalized suspicion of the military, stemming from the experience of the Vietnam War.

I think about this phenomenon a lot. I worry and wonder about the fact that so many people can get things so wrong, so badly, so often, so consistently and so repeatedly. And I think that there are ideas lurking under the surface that help to explain why this happens. In brief, when it comes to the exercise of American power in the world, particularly military power, there seems to be a suspicion among those in the media – indeed, a suspicion bordering on a presumption – of illegitimacy, incompetence and ineffectiveness.

If you go back and look at American military operations beginning with the Grenada invasion and including Panama, the Gulf War, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, and you study what U.S. military spokesmen said about how those conflicts were going at each stage, you’ll see that they were right, and that they told the truth, by and large. No doubt they made some mistakes, but there was nothing like the large deceptions and misrepresentations that made so many journalistic careers in Vietnam. The military learned its lesson in Vietnam, and it has not behaved that way since. You’d think journalists would have noticed. They haven’t.

Hume also comments on what he thinks makes Fox News different than all of its competitors in the mainstream media.

There is a balance to be struck in journalism. I know that some people would argue that FOX News was cheerleading on the war, and in some instances, perhaps, those criticisms are justified. What we didn’t do was to announce early on and repeatedly that all was lost, that nothing could be done, and that the whole thing was an illegitimate enterprise bound for failure. Others did, and the beat goes on.

Crystal Balls Or Clausewitz?

Gary Larson (not the cartoonist or Hennepin County judge as he often reminds us) takes another crack at Robert Scheer and Scheer's claims that the rescue of Private Lynch was staged:

Scheer presumes a God-like clairvoyance among our GIs. Like police who fire on the unknown “unarmed,” they are expected to Know--intuitively?--bad guys’ weaponry and intent. Would that a clear crystal ball be issued to street cops and military? Ouija boards, anyone? Alas, dark reality is not so kind or generous.

Do war critics prefer death and injury among our military going in timidly to do an extraction? Would they deny Clausewitz’s sage advice to obtain “superiority at the decisive point” to fetch the badly-injured Pfc. Lynch?

Corporate Stooges

Lately, I have noticed that a lot of really good songs have been co-opted by various companies for use on television ads. AT&T Wireless is using the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop”. The latest Royal Caribbean Cruise ad features Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”. Then there’s the crappy cover version of the Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” in the new Sheraton ads. When I saw the Kohl’s ad with The Modern Lovers’ “Ice Cream Man”, I damn near dropped my drink again (this time it was Bombay Sapphire straight up with a jalapeno stuffed olive...yummy).

My initial reaction to this, being somewhat of a music purist, was disgust. How could these artists that I love stoop so low as to become corporate shills? Iggy and the Ramones selling vacation cruises and cell phones?!?! Punk music was supposed to be the antithesis of corporate America. Screw the man, bollocks to the Queen, up yours to the nine to five workaday world and all that.

As I thought about it, however, I realized that I’d rather hear a good song in an ad rather than a piece of utter dreck (e.g. Celine Dion selling Chryslers). This feeling was solidified when I saw a Target ad that featured a new version of “Complicated Fun”, a great tune by Minneapolis punkers The Suicide Commandos. The Target version even features John Freeman from another local great, The Magnolias. How cool is that? The Commandos and the Mags are probably two of the most underrated bands that hail from the Twin Cities. While bands like Husker Du, The Replacements and Soul Asylum got all of the national notice, the Commandos put out a couple brilliant high powered releases and the Magnolias remain one of the best bands that I have ever seen live. The fact that I can hear even thirty seconds of new sounds from these guys makes me positively giddy (I’ve used the words yummy and giddy in the same post...sorry).

I consider myself quite adept at TV surfing. When it’s commercial break time, I instinctively reach for the remote and click to any channel that doesn’t subject me to mother and daughter discussions about those “not so fresh” feelings, Carrot Top and Alf extolling the virtues of 1-800-Collect or Rafael Palmeiro hitting a home run with Viagra and return to the show I was watching without missing a second of action. Now, I find myself lingering just a few seconds after the screen turns black on the off chance that I’ll catch that Target ad. I couldn’t care less about Target, I just want to hear the tune.

I guess what disturbs me most about these ads is the lack of creativity in today’s advertising firms. There once was a time when advertisements featured original songs, slogans and jingles. Alka-Seltzer had “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz oh what a relief it is”. Burger King promised us that we could have it our way, McDonald’s told us that we deserve a break today and Clara Peller put Wendy’s on the map (and Walter Mondull, thankfully, out of the White House) with the phrase “Where’s the beef?”.

As an architect, a similarly creative field, it irritates me that these guys can just take an existing piece of music and make it their own. Where’s the effort in that? You never saw Darrin Stevens pitching “These Boots are Made for Walkin’” to Larry Tate as an idea for the Thompson Shoe account. Get off your butts and do something original. But if you have to steal, let me hear the Sex Pistols’ “Holidays in the Sun” on the next Royal Caribbean Cruise ad. My clicking finger could use a break.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Summa Cum Laude

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner provided a link to the Conan O’Brien Harvard 2000 commencement speech, and it is outstanding.

Here’s the link. Below is an excerpt. Enjoy.

It's particularly sweet for me to be here today because when I graduated, I wanted very badly to be a Class Day Speaker. Unfortunately, my speech was rejected. So, if you'll indulge me, I'd like to read a portion of that speech from fifteen years ago: "Fellow students, as we sit here today listening to that classic Ah-ha tune which will definitely stand the test of time, I would like to make several predictions about what the future will hold: "I believe that one day a simple Governor from a small Southern state will rise to the highest office in the land. He will lack political skill, but will lead on the sheer strength of his moral authority." "I believe that Justice will prevail and, one day, the Berlin Wall will crumble, uniting East and West Berlin forever under Communist rule." "I believe that one day, a high speed network of interconnected computers will spring up world-wide, so enriching people that they will lose their interest in idle chit chat and pornography." "And finally, I believe that one day I will have a television show on a major network, seen by millions of people a night, which I will use to re-enact crimes and help catch at-large criminals." And then there's some stuff about the death of Wall Street which I don't think we need to get into...

The point is that, although you see me as a celebrity, a member of the cultural elite, a kind of demigod, I was actually a student here once much like you. I came here in the fall of 1981 and lived in Holworthy. I was, without exaggeration, the ugliest picture in the Freshman Face book. When Harvard asked me for a picture the previous summer, I thought it was just for their records, so I literally jogged in the August heat to a passport photo office and sat for a morgue photo. To make matters worse, when the Face Book came out they put my picture next to Catherine Oxenberg, a stunning blonde actress who was accepted to the class of '85 but decided to defer admission so she could join the cast of "Dynasty." My photo would have looked bad on any page, but next to Catherine Oxenberg, I looked like a mackerel that had been in a car accident. You see, in those days I was six feet four inches tall and I weighed 150 pounds. Recently, I had some structural engineers run those numbers into a computer model and, according to the computer, I collapsed in 1987, killing hundreds in Taiwan.

Talk Show Hosting 101

In his column earlier this week, George Will eulogized his old colleague from ABC, David Brinkley. Brinkley's dignity and gentility of presentation was emphasized, which according to Will is sorely missed among today's generation of broadcasters. Here are few of the darts he throws in what has to be in the direction of Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and whoever is on Crossfire these days:

Long before high-decibel, low-brow cable shout-a-thons made the phrase "gentleman broadcaster" seem oxymoronic, Brinkley made it his business to demonstrate the compatibility of toughness and civility in journalism.

How anachronistic the maxim "mind your manners" seems in the harsh light cast by much of today's television. How serene, even proud, Brinkley was about becoming somewhat of an anachronism.

Like the Founders of this fortunate Republic, Brinkley set standards of performance in his profession that still are both aspirations and reproaches to subsequent practitioners.

I hope Jesse Ventura is heeding this advice, since he seems to be having great trouble finding a unique niche from which to present his upcoming talk show on MSNBC, and since he's been known to engage in some high volume, low brow shout-a-thons (until recently, known here in Minnesota as Gubernatorial press conferences).

Jesse should also remember this wise observation from George Will:

[Brinkley] understood a fundamental truth about television talk shows: what one does on them one does in strangers' living rooms. So mind your manners; do not make a scene.

Very true, because when it comes to someone shouting "I'm a Navy SEAL, let's get it on and see what you're going to do about it!" my living room has a capacity of one (and that's me).

One more piece of advice for Ventura via George Will, if you're considering chomping on a big stogie during your broadcast, forget about it, it's already been done.

In 1949 John Cameron Swayze's "Camel News Caravan," for which young Brinkley, who had joined NBC in 1943, was a reporter, was carried for 15 minutes five nights a week. The sponsor required Swayze, who always wore a carnation in his lapel, to have a lit cigarette constantly in view.

Friday, June 13, 2003

Time To Let 'Em Go

I do not intend in anyway make light of the deadly seriousness of the Israeli/Palestinian situation and I am not a believer in the idea that both sides are conducting themselves in equally legitimate manners. Intentionally sending someone on to a bus with the idea of killing and maiming as many civilians as possible with an explosive hail of nails is not the same as accidentally killing innocent bystanders in a strike against leaders calling for and planning the destruction of your people.

But for the last few years the Israelis and Palestinian militants have been like a couple of hockey players throwing elbows, slashing, spearing, giving face washes, and even occasionally delivering a butt end (for you non-hockey folks out there that's when you choke down on your stick slightly, exposing the top end which you then jab into a vulnerable area of your opponent's body, often the head) to each other.

Whenever the tempers have flared out of control the referees (the U.N. and U.S.) have stepped in to break up the impending melee and momentarily halted the conflict. And in the past the U.S. has often acted like an inexperienced official and restrained one player (Israel) unfairly allowing the other to get in a free shot or two. The time has come for the refs to step back and let 'em go. The Israelis are clearly itching to throw down with Hamas:

The government-owned Israel Radio said the army had been ordered to "completely wipe out" the Hamas movement after the bus bombing in Jerusalem. The radio report said every Hamas militant was now considered a target, "from the lowliest member to Sheik Ahmed Yassin," the group's founder and spiritual guide.

Israel says it is moving against Hamas because the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, has proved unable or unwilling to rein in militants since he assumed office six weeks ago.

Of course the Palestinians have a slightly different view:

But Palestinians said the Israeli actions had badly undercut Mr. Abbas and had made it impossible for him to resume cease-fire talks with Palestinian militants. Mr. Abbas has so far ruled out using force against the militants.

Ziad Abu Amr, the Palestinian minister of culture, who was in charge of the cease-fire talks until they broke down, said that "I don't think at this time we can talk about a truce" with the Palestinian factions.

Who's undercutting who here? If the PA is going to continue to blame the Israelis and accuse them of undercutting Abbas without acknowledging that the Hamas bombings have undercut him just as badly if not worse, especially among the Palestinian people, there is little reason to hope that this most recent road map will lead anywhere.

The time has come for the referees to let the players settle matters among themselves.

Reject Rock

I’m about fed up with the eternal praising of misfit music, or, as I have taken to calling it, Reject Rock. What is it? Open your free urban weekly and read who is being praised as being “brave,” “original,” “disturbing” or “bleak”.

This music is made by and for misfits. Those that society has said thanks but no thanks, due to any number of peculiarities in personality, upbringing or personal grooming habits. Lileks once referred to them as those that had been “rejected by the cul-de-sac style council”.

They are the deep thinkers among us. Those that feel things just a little more strongly. Who are keen to what’s really happening, man.

Usually, one can ignore the juvenile rantings of the press regarding these bands by simply not picking up the hipster doofus papers and stopping anyone mid sentence who brings up “The Stooges”. However, upon perusal of yesterday’s WSJ, I found that a misfit has made his way in and he’s reviewing another misfit, one Mark Oliver Everett of the band Eels.

The misfit writer, Jim Fusilli, starts his piece by telling us that E, as he’s known, is “baring his soul again” with his “customary awkward eloquence” in a recording that may even top his seminal “Beautiful Freak” album of a few years ago.

The writer assumes that you, the reader, have been properly schooled in the ways of punk and post punk, where baring one’s soul is seen as the Ultimate Musical Statement. Screw melody, song structure, beauty or technical competence, some hipster is showing us his soul!

Which then makes me ask, who the hell wants to see your or anyone else’s soul for the love of God? Perhaps if we could get a view into the soul of an unusually good person, like the Pope, it may be of interest. But the soul of a malnourished, weight-of-the-world 40-year-old with poor mental health? I’ll pass.

And awkward eloquence? Why would anyone with an ounce of discernment want to hear someone with awkward eloquence when there is plenty of music with confident eloquence? I guess you have to be a misfit to understand.

The piece goes on and on saying how Everett’s “Thin reedy voice” is joined by what sounds like a “toy piano”. Yeah, isn’t it just shocking how more people don’t like this?

As good as this is, the writer admits that it may not be as good as his 1998 release Electro-Shock Blues, “written after his sister committed suicide and his mother succumbed to cancer.” It is a “stark, compelling examination of their deaths (including the track Elizabeth On the Bathroom Floor).”

Now perhaps it’s me, but does that sound like something you want rattling around in your melon when you are trying to relax with a cocktail? How many have succumbed to their own depression and ended it all after listening to this dark dreck?

Releasing an album like this may make Mark Oliver Everett feel better--like Lennon’s Primal Scream nonsense of the 70’s--but to paraphrase Steve Martin from Planes Trains and Automobiles, when you put out an album how about including something for the LISTENER?

Morning Injury

8:46:03 am: turn on 107, preparing to hear Lileks

8:46:04-8:58:17 suffer through Punnett explaining how the Redhead used to read Oprah's email

8:58:18 learn that Lileks would not be appearing this morning

8:58:19 pull groin sprinting across kitchen to turn radio to anything else

Thursday, June 12, 2003

The Era Of Big Government Is Over?

Try this little exercise the next time you hear someone complain about "drastic cuts" and the "shrinking size of government". I was moved to undertake it after the whining from my local city officials about budget cuts became unbearable. What I did was start at the local level and work my way up determining how much money each layer of government was spending and how that broke down on a per person basis. I realize that it's far from perfect as I'm "double dipping" in some cases as funds often trickle down from one level of government to the next. Where it was possible I attempted to exclude this type of funding (for example my local school district budget estimate does not include state or federal grants or aid). I also only included the main players for sake of simplicity. If you really wanted to get into it you could probably include the local watershed and soil conservation districts and who knows how many other governmental entities that grab a piece of the pie. All the information I am including was gathered from city, state, and federal web sites (although often the information was very difficult to find) and I wasn't always able to match up the data year for year but the differences are for the most part minimal and don't have much impact on the overall picture. It's quite possible that I have made an error or two along the way so be gentle in your critiques. I mean we're not exactly the New York Times here.

My local city spends $41m a year with a population of 44,126 which breaks down to $929.16 a head.

My local school district spends $33m (not including city, state, and federal funds) with the same population of 44,126 which equals $747.86 a person.

My county spends $1.72b to cover 1,116,200 people another $1543.48 per individual.

We have something here in the Twin Cities called the Metropolitan Council which handles transportation and growth issues. It has a budget of $571m and its sprawl of control includes 2.6m people which means $219.61 a head.

Next up the State of Minnesota will drop around $44b in the next biennium (the figure of $28b that you read about is the general fund-the complete state budget for the 02-03' biennium was $43.11b-I tacked on either billion for 04-05') so I'll use half that figure and say $22b a year for the state's 5m people. That's $4400 for every man, woman, and child in the state.

And last but certainly not least Uncle Sam will spend around $2.23T (trillion needs a big t) for its 281m citizens. That's a cozy $7933.90 per American.

Add it all up and I figure my various government entities are laying out about $15,774 just for l'il old me.

Not that I'm complaining. I mean heck I like to use the roads just as much as the next guy. Speaking of that just how much do you think actually gets spent on the roads? Those in favor of big guvamint and against tax cuts always play the old "Well who do you think is going to build the roads you drive on?" card so it's worth a look. Near as I can tell my city spends around $4.14m, my county $70m, the state of Minnesota $1.9b, and the Feds throw in another $30b or so for the local, intrastate, and interstate roads. If you break it down again per person and total it you get $643.32 spent on me for roads.

Now I'm not some sort of neo-libertarian (former conservatives who have naively adopted the label in the hope of getting laid) who thinks we should privatize all the roads and be done with it. In fact building roads is one use of my tax dollars that I can wholeheartedly support. Just don't try to pretend that's where the real ching is going. It ain't.

So what's my point? We've got a lot of government spending going on out there and it ain't getting any smaller. Sure you hear about declines or flatness in government outlays as a percentage of GDP (interesting note that usually the same people -paging the Star Tribune editorial board- who use that argument don't apply the same measuring stick to the Bush administration's budget deficits labeling them "the largest in history" which while correct when looking at raw numbers is not correct when taken as a percentage of GDP) but the bottom line continues to be a government that looks at the taxpayer like Grandpa Simpson looked at Social Security, "Gimme, gimme, gimme. More, more, more."

And it is by no means solely the responsibility of big spending liberals. While Governor Tim Pawlenty has done an admirable job here in Minnesota holding the line on spending and tax increases, on the national level the GOP Congress and GW (especially) have proven to be more than happy to open the government coffers. Mark Levin has a good post on Bush's spendthrift ways at NRO's the Corner today. The words "massive new government spending" certainly have a frightening ring to them.

That's why I have a hard time getting all worked up about the ceaseless chatter on the the impact of the "cuts" in the Minnesota State budget. Last Thursday the Strib had a piece in the bidness section that claimed that although the economic impact will be hard to measure it could be significant. In other words, we don't know and we can't predict so we'll lay out some possibilities that can neither be proved or disproved.

Keeping in mind the fact that the state will increase spending by around $1 billion in the next biennium consider this quote:

"The path that we're headed on is for a much smaller governmental presence, which may be fine or may not be," Minnesota state economist Tom Stinson said. "But it's something people need to be aware of.

If only it were true Tom. If only it were true.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Not Yet Has-Beens

For some reason, Rush Limbaugh’s online editorial yesterday about the Clintons featured a picture of Dan “Grizzly Adams” Haggerty and Annie Hall’s mousier little sister hanging out in Cambridge in the early 1970’s.

Must have been a still shot from the Battle of the Network Stars - Harvard Edition. Continuing this theme, Rush’s upcoming editorial on the Bush tax cut is rumored to feature a few shots of Denver Pyle cavorting around Harvard Yard with his mule. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

In the Blogosphere, No One Can Hear You Scream (Except Other Bloggers)

During lunch today I had the car radio on and heard Rush Limbaugh referring to David Frum, who was writing about J. Bradford DeLong, who had been blogging about Hillary Clinton.

(When you good people pass along word of my post to your friends, please tell them you read Saint Paul blogging about Rush Limbaugh, referring to David Frum, writing about J. Bradford DeLong, blogging about Hillary Clinton. Yes, that puts me fourth in line in passing along a rather standard critical analysis of the former First Lady’s performance as an administrator (in short, Hillary – bad), but given the august company in this informational string, to paraphrase Steve Martin in 'The Jerk,' I’d just like to be in there somewhere.)

Above and beyond the original Delong editorial that started this parade of citations, the significance of this event is that I heard Rush use a couple of words I’ve never heard him utter before: “blog” and “blogosphere.” I dare say these were the first time he’s ever used the terms, since he mouthed them both in a deliberate, halting, slightly mispronounced way, as if he’d just read about them and never heard them pronounced out loud before. Kind of like the way certain local radio talk show hosts pronounce “Frah ...tears ....”. (Although I’m not complaining, because in the blogosphere, any publicity is good publicity just as long as they spell your internet address right, which Mr. Thompson always does.).

Rush’s description of the blog world also left something to be desired. He started out by saying “blogs are written by people who can’t......” then he halted for some reason and began a new sentence. I suspect this was due to either an in studio distraction or because he wanted to start a new approach to a definition that was inadvertently coming off too negatively. I got the sense he was going to say “people who can’t get published elsewhere.” Which may sound rude, but it’s true for the most part, guys like Lileks notwithstanding. (However, what’s also true is that most bloggers aren’t trying to get published elsewhere, and don’t even think about it. Blogging is an avocation and an end to itself, which I suppose is a win-win situation since the mainstream media marketplace would largely reject them anyway).

Rush then boiled it all down for the people by saying something to effect that ‘blogs give people the opportunity to write editorials and opinion and they’re mostly read by other people doing these things - blogs.’ Then he said something like ‘I guess some of these blogs are considered more influential than others.’ Meaning I suppose, he doesn’t consider any of them influential, since he’s not reading them.

I wouldn’t call Rush’s characterization of the blog world as necessarily negative, in fact I’d have to agree with what he said on a factual basis (yes, I admit it, Andrew Sullivan is considered slightly more influential than Fraters Libertas). But I would guess his seemingly skeptical and slightly dismissive tone stems from the fact he probably devotes the majority of his waking hours to digesting the elite of the mainstream media (multiple newspapers, magazines, TV, news radio) and therefore it’s hard for him to understand how blogs can contribute anything else.

Meaning, to his detriment, Rush hasn’t been reading Instapundit, where the potential for blogging as a fact checking, collective intelligence gathering, alternate opinion creating engine of truth and insight has been in discussion (and on display) for quite some time.

But Rush is a smart guy, I’m sure he’ll catch on eventually. At which time he'll only be a couple of years behind Hugh Hewitt in this regard.

Man About Town

In a post last Friday I mentioned that I was pleasantly surprised to find a piece by James Lileks on the editorial page of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. At that time the Lileks article was not available online from either the Strib or Newhouse News Service whom Lileks also contributes to. Today I happened upon the piece in question at Jewish World Review.

Let's see he now has his Daily Bleat, the thrice weekly Backfence column in the Strib, a weekly political column at Newhouse News Service, two weekly guest appearances on talk radio shows (Hugh Hewitt and Ian Punnent), and now Jewish World Review is picking up his stuff as well. Let the Lileks media saturation campaign begin!

El Diablo

Best thing about the Stanley Cup Finals wrapping up last night with the Devils taking Lord Stanley's prize with a 3-0 victory? No more listening to Chris Berman prattle on between periods and demonstrate his complete lack of knowledge about the sport of hockey. Stick to football, baseball, and the oh so cute nicknames "Boomer" and leave the hockey commentary to the pros like Darren Pang.

On the subject of hockey announcers I heard a disturbing rumor Saturday that ESPN's Gary Thorne might be in line for the Wilds television play by play gig next year. Say it ain't so! Thorne is perhaps the most overrated hockey announcer in history. He often misses key elements of the play even with the benefit of reply and hypes the obvious. Insight is not a word in his vocabulary.

Finally unless the Ducks make a major off season move, such as the rumored reacquisition of Selanne, I can easily see them following the same path as the Carolina Hurricanes did last year and go from a Stanley Cup Finalist Cinderella story to failing to qualify for the playoffs the next year.

By the way Jean-Sebastien, there's no crying in hockey.