Monday, February 28, 2005

When Being Bad Is So Very Good

Last night, my wife and I did not watch the over-hyped Oscars. Instead we found something vastly more entertaining to occupy our viewing time. Showgirls on VH-1. Laugh if you will, but understand that Showgirls is one of those rare movies that deserves the label "so bad that it's good."

Achieving such a status is not as simple as it may seem. Sure, it's easy to make a bad movie. Anyone can do that. But to make a move that's so bad it's good requires a special idiot savant-like talent. You need just the right combination of bad acting, clichéd plotlines, overwrought directing, and turgid writing.

Most importantly, you can't try to make a movie so bad that it's good. You have to be deluded enough to believe that you're putting out a real honest to goodness quality product. If a bad movie knows its bad and winks at the audience as a result, it's not the real deal. Sure some of those type of movies have camp value, but they're not the same as the authentic so bad they're good variety.

The best thing about SBIG flicks is that you can start watching at any point in the movie and be entertained. I've only watched the entire SBIG classic Road House three times (quit looking at me like that). But while channel surfing, I've probably happened across Road House and tuned in to watch a scene or two over twenty times. In fact the more you watch these movies, the more entertaining they become as you pick up the little details that set them apart.

In addition to Road House, I also recommend Tango & Cash from 1989, which features a priceless, cliché riddled opening scene with Sylvester Stallone. One of my favorite sleeper SBIG picks is 2001's Rock Star, which stars Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston and is on VH-1 about once a week. The bad hair alone makes it worth watching.

Let me close with a bit of choice bit of dialog from Showgirls. Our heroine, Noma Malone, blankly played by Elizabeth Berkley, enters the hotel suite of musician Andrew Carver in a slinky outfit in order to seduce and then beat the hell out of him in order to avenge a girlfriend.

Andrew Carver: I liked you better topless.

Noma Malone: Wait 'til you see me bottomless.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is entertainment.
Feeling The Need For Speed (to read)

In response to my post wondering about the merits of speed reading, I received a number of thoughtful responses (and one profanity laced e-mail from a John H. which advised, "You have to have an IQ over 50 to read a**hole. You don't qualify, you stupid s***") that featured a variety of opinions on the efficacy of speed reading.

Paul calls it a scam:

In high school my parents ponied up for a speed reading class. It really isn't reading. They tested me beforehand, and my comprehension at regular reading was fairly high, in the 95th or so percentile. My speed was above average for regular reading.

The class convinced me that the thing was a scam. When I finished, my speed had increased 5 -8 times as fast as I had been, but my comprehension fell into the 50's. They claimed that as I used it more I would get better, but I just quit as I didn't enjoy feeling dumber.

Craig says it works, but may not be worth the expense:

I took the old Evelyn Wood class back in my college years. Yes, it works. Yes, It's helpful. No, it's not worth the money -- if you like to read. You can master the basics in a couple of hours, it takes hours and and hours of practice to make use of the fine points and for very little additional benefit.

Basically, the course teaches you to read without subvocalizing the words. You start off by moving your finger at a steady pace under the lines of type (what you were told not to do in grade school). Keep your finger moving and you'll start to absorb words without "reading" them -- like you do when you see the 55 mph sign. Then you move you finger down the side of the column taking in whole paragraphs. Wizards make an x-shape across a page.

The classes also teach ways to prep reading. Before actually reading, read the first and last paragraphs of a piece, read the bold-faced heads. Read the first sentence of selected paragraphs. Then read the piece. With context, you can read faster and absorb more.

I still use the techniques to "read" research and the newspaper when I bother to sit at a table (required). You can't speed read with a martini in front of the fire. Most of the stuff I read, I love to mull over a good turn of phrase, so I don't use the skill -- and it is a "use it or lose it" skill.

Back when I was taking the classes I was reading almost 1,500 words per minute at 90 percent comprehension, which is about average for people taking the class. Normally I guess I read around 300 words per minute (based on what I did in high school and slow down for age). Most people read around 220-250.

Sean also took the Evelyn Wood course, but on someone else's dime:

I read your post asking about speed reading. Several years ago I took a speed reading course from my company's training department. I have always been a good reader but I was being asked to read an enormous volume of technical data and it seemed like it might be worth the try.

I found to my surprise that it actually worked. In a single day I was able to triple my reading speed, and my comprehension, as measured by simple tests, was improved. The course I took was the one from the Evelyn Woods school, which is one of the oldest around. It has been proven and improved over the years. To make a long story short, it was probably the single day of training that changed my life more than any other.

This course included tests of reading speed before and after the class. I started out reading 700 words per minute, which is pretty fast. They promise to double your speed, but I was reading at 2000 wpm after the class. What I found is that if you push yourself you can actually read an entire page of text at a glance. It is, however, quite exhausting. It requires a lot of focus, and I don't recommend it for pleasure reading. However, some of the skills that you learn do transfer to all reading, and you can certainly improve your speed and comprehension of all reading if you take one of these classes. As with anything, moderation is important. You can suck in lots of information if you force yourself, but there is a difference between comprehension (basically memorization) and reflection.

Steve claims that thanks to Evelyn Wood, "my reddin' has improvd 100 prcent":

Evelyn Woodhead was right (despite the classic SNL bit I parrot in the title of this note).

You practice and you get better at anything. I took a speed reading course in the late '70 when I was maybe 12 years old. My mother decided it would be good for the family to take the course together. My father opted out so it was me, my mother, sister and brother draggin' ass to the local community college every Tuesday night. I don't remember much about the course except we read excerpts from Leon Uris' Exodus. I wouldn't want my 12 year old to read that crap.

I don't remember anything from the course and don't consciously use any of the techniques. I still read dramatically faster than my much smarter wife. I haven't measured my reading speed since then but I can plow through books very quickly and made it through law school, while working full time, without too much pain.

I'll take that as an endorsement. I guess.

pkoberg is also sold:

I cannot help you with all of your questions, since the speed reading course I took was a part of the curriculum at the private school I attended 30 years ago.

But I can say that the course was effective in increasing the speed at which I read. At my peak, I could read about 850 words a minute. I'm not sure what it is now, but I read about 3 times faster than everyone else I know.

The class I took not only emphasized speed, but put a lot of focus on retention, too. That was the most important benefit to me. I tested out of that class reading 800 words a minute with an 85% retention rate.

If you have to read in volume and retention of what you have read is important, try to find a course where retention is a major emphasis. As far as reading purely for pleasure, I am able to slow down the rate of speed to a point where I still get a lot of pleasure just from what I am reading, but still read quickly enough to be able to read more than I would have been able to before the course.

Good luck.

As is Greg:

I am using the eyeQ program and have experienced a sustained improvement of about 38% in reading speed. I pop up over 100% and expect to continue improving as I work through the program. I use a single lesson for several weeks until I feel I plateau and then move to the next lesson. The program also tests speed against comprehension and these results are also significant. I have set a pretty high goal for the year and plan to use the program to get there. My reasons are similar to yours, much I want to read and too little time to get to it all.

I started with the online program but moved to the program on my laptop because I travel all the time. When I am diligent at using the program my improvement is consistent. The only drawback is you have to have the CD in your computer in order to run the program.

I would recommend this program and actually have purchased the 10 license version for my children to use.

Jo is just about ready to take the same plunge:

I saw your post regarding speed reading courses...

As I finally ordered the one Eye-Q system that Prager keeps plugging, you would think I would have some input on this.

I still need to take it out of its package. Damn, I'm surprised at my own laziness sometimes.

As soon as I get going on it, I'll let you know what I think.

Finally Jeff adds a new wrinkle to the discussion:

See if you get any comments on photoreading. Their headquarters is near Minneapolis. I've never figured out if it's for real or not and I'd be interested to see if anyone tells you anything useful about it. Especially anyone with sober experience with it. Part of their book is online here.

Sober experience eh? Sounds like a job for Atomizer.

Meanwhile, I'll have to take in all this feedback and see where it leads me. It seems pretty clear that there are advantages to speed reading, but questions remain about the best way to learn the skill and how to employ it. I definitely have some more research to do.
Pope Nihilist I

Like a vulture circling a man hopelessly lost in the desert, the Nihilist in Golf Pants is preparing to pick the bones of the ailing Pope John Paul II. NIGP has launched his campaign to become the next pope by listing the eleven actions that he will take upon being fitted with the funny hat. It's a good start, but I have a few items that need to be added to what should be known as, "Nihilist's Contract For Catholics":

- No shorts in church. I don't care how hot it is and how stuffy your church is, shorts in church is just plain wrong. Especially the baggy variety favored by today's youth. It's a church not a basketball court. Dress appropriately.

- The Lord's Prayer should be spoken not sung. There's enough singing in church the way it is and most it is bad. Sing the hymns, say the prayers. While we're on the subject, the hand holding during the Lord's Prayer has to stop. I've noticed that it's fallen out of favor with most people, but there are still a few holdouts. If you insist on holding hands with your family members fine. Just don't expect me to grab your clammy paw.

- No pre-Mass greetings. This annoying ritual crept into our church a few years back. It seems to have been stopped for the time being which is a welcome relief. I don't need to shake hands with my fellow church goers before Mass. There's this little thing called the "greeting of peace" that takes care of that. (Let's hope we never go back to the "kiss of peace.")

- Although I understand that it's traditional and for some people can be quite moving, The Responsorial Psalm does nothing for me. I'm not saying that Pope Nihilist should change the structure of the Mass just to suit my tastes, but shaking up the line up every once in a while isn't a bad idea.

- Insist that priests learn how to write and deliver good homilies. As I've mentioned before, I believe that the homily is the most important part of the Mass. The priest has your attention for ten to fifteen minutes and he needs to make it count. Those rote, recycled homilies that bore you to tears while saying nothing have to be stopped. Parishioners should have a chance to grade their priests on a variety of subjects in yearly surveys. Those failing to live up to expectations on homilies could be given extra training and advice on how to do it right. I'm fortunate in that the priest at my church delivers the goods in this area. But I've sat through enough crappy homilies to know that he is the exception rather than the rule.

UPDATE: Elizabeth e-mails to add to the list:

Priests should not subject their congregations to their own poetry. As a captive audience, there is not much that the congregation can do to escape. Vogons would all become priests if they attended my church.
No Smoke For You!

Mark e-mails with an update on the smoking ban:

The MN. State Commerce Committee is hearing the bill on Wednesday 3/2/05 at 12:30 p.m. in room 200 of the State Office Bldg.Â.

Hearings are open to the public, we encourage all against the ban to show up. Because the activists bring in busloads for the ban.

Busloads of activists descending on the Capital? Imagine that.
Fraters Libertas Endorses...

...Josh Duerkop for February's Gopher Hockey Fan of the Month. Vote early, vote often. I skate with Josh on Thursday mornings, and he's a good guy. I also expect him to bring some of those free pizza leftovers to the rink. Mmmm...cold pizza.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The I's Have It

Last year, when my wife and I traveled to Iceland, we wondered what was the secret to the apparent success of the Icelandic economy. An article in the Economist about Icelandic firms investing in Europe sheds some light:

All this from an island of only 300,000 people. Not all the money is Icelandic: SIF, for instance, paid for Labeyrie partly via a syndicated loan in London. Yet it raised $300m, mainly from local sources, in a later share issue; and this soon after a Kaupthing issue had raised $550m. What is the source of Iceland's financial muscle?

A broad answer is almost 14 years of deregulating and privatising government. Specifically, Iceland, like Luxembourg or Ireland, has become a friendly place for financiers and, like Switzerland, is not subject to EU tax-prying: Burdaras's biggest shareholder is Landsbanki's Luxembourg private bank. And corporate profits, taxed at 50% in 1991, and, after cuts, still at 30% in 2001, now pay 18%, the lowest tax-rate in the OECD after Ireland and Hungary.

Few as they are, Icelanders are also feeling richer. After a slide in 2001-02, the economy is back to 4-6% growth. And, with inflation and interest rates mostly low, house prices, bonds and equities have soared in recent years, encouraging a sharp rise in household borrowing. Some of this has gone, indirectly, into investment overseas.

Deregulation, privatization, and lower taxes? Imagine that.

The same issue of the Economist also describes in an interesting twist on outsourcing in India. It's no longer just the jobs that are moving over there:

It is a scene replicated in hundreds of huge offices across India: row upon row of young people behind flat-screen computer terminals talking to the other side of the world via their keyboards or telephone headsets. In the office of Tecnovate eSolutions in Delhi, the Swiss, Swedish, French, German and other flags give the d cor an original touch. Even more unusual are the blond heads and Swiss, Swedish, French, German and other faces. Instead of simply moving jobs to India, Tecnovate has taken the next step: it imports some of the workers, paying them Indian wages.

Surely the whole point of outsourcing is that labour in places such as India costs a fraction of the wages paid in rich countries? Tecnovate has spotted that, for many young Europeans, a year or so in India seems attractive and even exciting. One-tenth of its 950 workers are Europeans.
Houston, Red Ryder Has Landed

A report from Rocket Team Vatsaas:

Ralphie has made Blog History by being the first blog mascot to be hurled to an altitude of almost a mile high. It was a thing of beauty. Ralphie survived -- for the most part -- but based on the spiral flight trajectory either Ralphie skipped out on some of his pilot training or he was cavorting with the official Sommelier of California prior to launch. According the on board flight computer (yes, really!) Ralphie reached an altitude of 5100 feet above ground level, as well being punished by over 4 g's of acceleration. Max speed for the flight was 0.6 Mach (He has some ways to go before becoming the Chuck Yeager of dolls). Ralphie's rocket ship will also stuck a perfect 3 point landing. So all is well.

Photos of the flight were taken with a high speed digital 35 mm camera, instead of digital so there will be some delay before online pictures are available. We are hoping someone got video of the flight. If footage is submitted to us, we'll pass it on.

They Can't Seem To Face Up To The Facts

From The Wichita Eagle comes testimony that Dennis Rader, the prime suspect in the BTK serial killings, just might possibly be a somewhat unlikable sort:
He is arrogant, by-the-numbers, rude and confrontational...

During the '70s and '80s, Rader worked at ADT Security Services. Nobody who worked with Rader during his 15 years with the company could stand him, according to several former co-workers.

"I don't believe the gentleman was well liked at all," said Mike Tavares, a former co-worker at ADT, where Rader worked from 1974 to 1989, when most of BTK's victims were killed...

Tavares and others recalled Rader as blunt, by-the-book, egotistical, arrogant, rude and demanding.
How incredibly refreshing. I'm sick to death of people telling me that the homicidal maniac living next door to them is "really a nice guy" who sort of "keeps to himself". While the piece linked to above does, in fact, contain a lot of similar praise for the accused BTK killer, the negative feelings expressed by people who actually knew the guy are conspicuous due to their rarity.

Consider the following examples:

Gary Leon Ridgway, The Green Mountain Killer, was "basically a nice person". One neighbor recalled that Ridgway was "...a nice guy, I didn't notice anything weird. I just saw him out mowing his lawn, and we'd talk."

Ted Bundy was "intelligent, educated, personable, handsome, and charming..."

Columbine killer Eric Harris was "...just an odd, nice guy..." while his cohort Dylan Klebold was "...not the kind of person he is being portrayed as. He was a nice guy."

Hanna Rosin and David Plotz explore this issue and in this 1999 Slate article and postulate that:
Neighbors attribute decency to the killer next door because the standard of behavior required for being a good neighbor is so extremely low.
They also note that:
...not everyone fails to understand the killers in their midst. Those who genuinely knew America's mass murderers have supplied the insight the neighbors missed.
This is where the sheer laziness on the part of the media in this country enters the equation (Who did you think I was going to blame? This is a blog, after all). After the apprehension of a deranged lunatic like Rader or Dahmer, the media swarm to the home of the accused and interview all of the neighbors that care to comment. They get their five second sound bites and then punctuate their cursory reports with the ominous warning that if Mr. Nice Guy Killer can hide his deep dark secret in the little town of Cluelessville it can happen anywhere...even in YOUR town! This, of course, is followed by the inevitable teaser like "Stay tuned to Action7 news to see how you can identify the serial killer next door...after weather, sports and today's Wacky Pet Photo".

You're not going to get the real story on a guy from his neighbors. I could be living next to a serial rapist or a deranged cannibal or even a registered Democrat, for all I know. I see my neighbors for seconds at a time when I'm wheeling the garbage can to the curb or mowing the lawn or shooting small animals with my 22. We wave at each other, briefly mention the weather and then get on with our business.

You have to talk to the people who actually have meaningful contact with the accused nutjob, as this BTK case demonstrates. The neighbors may offer the usual trite comments about Rader, but his former co-workers found him to be a real jackass. Of course, all one really had to do regarding Rader is look to the fact that he was a city code compliance officer. Those guys are all deranged lunatics.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Beauty And The Beasts

State Senator Michele Bachmann dropped by the NARN studios today and was gracious enough to pose for a picture with the boys:

Front row: King, Senator Bachmann, Hindrocket, Chad The Elder
Back row: Mitch, Captain Ed, Saint Paul

Who says the right-wing daisy chain is just too icky to look at?

What's In A Name?

Fresh off Chad the Elder's awakening to the news that there may be more than one David Johnson in town, Paul Demko finds out the hard way that the Minneapolis white pages is full of white guys named Jeff Hanson and Dan Wilson as well.

The other night I stopped by the Turf Club to see Jeff Hanson, Dan Wilson, and Terry Walsh.

The first guy to take the stage played "New Madrid" and some other covers and was joined by his father-in-law on banjo. It was pleasant enough. Apparently his name was Jeff Hanson, but it certainly wasn't the Jeff Hanson.

The next guy up seemed awful nervous. He hesitantly strummed out some not-particularly-memorable folk-rock songs on his guitar. Apparently his name was Dan Wilson, but it certainly wasn't the Dan Wilson.

Terry Walsh came on last. He played a swell set mostly devoid of Van Morrison songs.

Last week I saw the Turf Club ad with Dan Wilson mentioned and I too thought it might be the Trip Shakespeare/Semisonic sensation doing some slumming. It was not, but I have to say it's brilliant marketing by that bar. Throw up the name of one of the most prominent and popular musicians in Twin Cities history on the marquee, without clarification, and see who shows up. Sure, once the other Dan Wilson hits the stage and starts nervously plunking out not particularly memorable folk rock on his guitar, it doesn't do a lot for building customer loyalty and generating repeat business. But for a one-night little bump in the till, it could be a highly successful strategy. If the Turf Club can find a full-time plumber/part-time guitar noodler from Brooklyn Park, who also happens to be named Paul Westerberg, they might really start drawing some crowds.

Speaking of THE Dan Wilson, his Semisonic sideman, Jake Slichter, will be on the Northern Alliance Radio Network today. Jake, of course, is the drummer of Semisonic and author of the terrific "So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star." At least I think it's THAT Jake Slichter. I hope Chad verified that this isn't a life insurance salesman from New Brighton.

Also THE Michele Bachman will be on. And there's only one Michele Bachman, the outstanding state Senator from Stillwater and now candidate for US House of Reps from the 6th district. The NARN starts at noon, Bachman at 1PM, Slichter at 2 PM. Catch it all on AM1280 the Patriot and streaming always here.

Got Your Tape & It Changed My Mind

Today on the Northern Alliance Radio Network, Jake Slichter, drummer from Semisonic, one of my favorite bands, will be joining us in the third hour. Jake is also the author of an excellent book on the music business, So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star: How I Machine-Gunned a Roomful of Record Executives and Other True Tales from a Drummer's Life. Tune in at 2pm central time to catch all the fun.
Judge Not

It's Saturday, it's the Pioneer Press Letters to the Editor section, and that means only one thing: judgments on our immortal souls. Yes, it's Sainted and Tainted. The star of this week's show (with title by Yost, I believe):

Thanks for the Heimlich

Sainted: Some people are specially chosen to be at the right place at the right time.

On Feb. 12, my husband and I were having dinner with three other couples at a restaurant near Stillwater. During our meal, I began choking on a piece of meat.

A wonderful gentleman - Jess Maddox - came over and offered help. He used the Heimlich maneuver on me. Because of his quick action, I was able to breathe again.

Of course, we're all very happy that the meat was extricated and the letter writer was able to breathe again. But ....

... it brings up the great fallacy of the Pioneer Press's exercise in anointing the angels and demons in our midst. Does one really have to be a "saint" to get off their ass and save someone's life?  Furthermore, if Jess Maddox would have sat in his chair and pretended not to hear the gasping and wretching around him while he finished his blackened pork chop with chutney sauce, would he not have been a candidate for being "Tainted"?  Is there no middle ground anymore in society? Why is the Pioneer Press trying divide us?  Can't we all just get along - and let each other choke to death without being labeled?

Friday, February 25, 2005

Check ignition and may God's love be with you

Exclusive photos of Ralphie at the launch site at an undisclosed location in the Arizona desert have been obtained by Fraters Libertas.

Remember Dukakis in the tank? How about Ralphie in the rocket?

Be careful Ralphie, you'll poke your eye out.

Tomorrow is the big day and the papers will want to know whose pants he wears. Dockers of course.
Earth Below Him, Drifting, Falling, Floating Weightless...

Standing there alone
The ship is waiting
All systems are go
Are you sure?
Control is not convinced
But the computer
Has the evidence
"No need to abort"
The countdown starts

Watching in a trance
The crew is certain
Nothing left to chance
All is working
Trying to relax
Up in the capsule
"Send me up a drink"
Jokes Ralphie Doll
The count goes on


Will Ralphie boldly go where no bobble-head has gone before? This is the weekend that he's scheduled to prove that he has the right stuff. Check back at the Rocket Team Vatsaas command center for updates.

Students For Bachmann Blog Opens Shop

State Senator Michele Bachmann, of Stillwater, Monday announced her candidacy for the Republican endorsement for Congress from Minnesota's 6th Congressional District.

The 6th District will be an open seat in 2006 due to the announcement last Friday by incumbent Congressman Mark Kennedy that he will seek the United States Senate seat being vacated by Mark Dayton.

Check out the recently launched Students For Bachmann blog.

On Saturday, Senator Bachmann will be a guest on the Northern Alliance Radio Network. The shows airs from noon until 3pm. She will be on at 1pm.
Words of Wisdom

Patterico has some advice for mainstream media types who are feeling threatened by blogs:

I have a very simple suggestion for mainstream media types who feel in any way threatened by bloggers: whenever you hear the word "blogger," think: "reader."

After all, bloggers who aren't discussing your newspaper are irrelevant to you. And bloggers who are discussing your newspaper are simply part of your readership.

In other words, they're your customers. And, while the customer may not always be right, the customer deserves to have his complaints heard.

Sage advice indeed. Does anyone know any local members of the mainstream media who are threatened by blogs and might benefit from it? Anyone? Bueller?
Can't stop addicted to the shindig

It's been said many times before, but it bears repeating. If you live in (or near) the Twin Cities and have any interest in politics, media, blogging, engaging conversation, and just plain fun, then you belong at Keegan's Irish Pub for Thursday night trivia. Keegan's has become the nexus for an ever expanding gathering of local bloggers, hobby columnists, mainstream media types, radical tax protesters, and assorted fans, hangers-on, and groupies (Saint Paul's fan club).

Last night was no different, and the assembled crew ran the gamut from wonks to chicks to Dogs. Three rookies also made their debut at Keegan's last night, with representatives from EckerNet, Psycmeistr's Ice Palace, and The Night Writer all on hand.

The Fraters trivia squad (aided by Sisyphus, the real brains behind the Nihilist In Golf Pants operation) once again restored order in the universe by reclaiming our rightful position as champions (although LearnedFoot would be appalled that we missed an Iron Maiden question). As always, we were magnanimous in victory with Saint Paul even going so far as presenting the dethroned defending champions with a sympathy card. It was a thoughtful and heartfelt gesture, which shows once again why we are regarded as champions of the people. We know that you only boo because you love.

Speaking of negative crowd response, last night was also a special night for Keegan's general manager and Thursday night trivia announcer, Marty Newton, who celebrated his forty-seventh birthday. With his youthful goatee and boyish gleam in his eye, you would swear that he's not a day over forty-three.

The really big news regarding Thursday night trivia at Keegan's is that Thursday March 10th has been officially designated as Fraters Trivia Night. That's right, Terry Keegan is tossing us the keys to the trivia contest (which hopefully also unlock Keegan's liquor closet) and we will be getting the behind the wheel with style. All questions will be written by us. All questions will be read by us. All answers will be corrected by us. And all losers will be mocked by (in that regard it will be like most Thursday nights).

If you've been thinking about coming to Keegan's for Thursday night trivia, you're gonna wanna mark March 10th on your calendar and plan to show up that night. Trivia starts at 8pm. Twenty-five questions. Teams of up to four people.

It is THE place to be and you never know just who might show up.
Makin' Rain

King's going to use an e-mail I received from Tim in Colorado on public utility water pricing policies as a case study. Do I see a bottle of Armenian Brandy in my future? Mmmm...Armenian Brandy.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Aw... they're making faces at me cause I've had a couple of cafe lattes

Note to the uptight patrons at the Panera Bread in Eden Prairie who were giving me the disapproving eye because I lingered after lunch a bit too long for their tastes:

I paid for my freakin' lunch and I can sit in this freakin' booth drinking freakin' coffee and surfing the freakin' internet as long as I damn well please, thank you very much! In fact, I think I'm going to have to get another refill just to spite you passive-aggressive a-holes!

That is all.
We Could Always Use A Sergeant At Arms

Zero-Two-Mike Soldier has a roundup of the media coverage, as well as a couple of other good posts on the three Minnesota National Guard soldiers killed in Iraq on Monday. He's also the newest member of the Minnesota Organization of Bloggers.
The Gophers Future Is Not In Good Hands

The timing of this news could not be any worse:

Minnesota goaltender Kellen Briggs is out indefinitely with an unspecified hand injury, the school said today.

Briggs, a sophomore, has started 30 games this season, posting a 19-10-0 record with a 2.46 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. Briggs is 26-11-0 in his last 37 starts, dating to last season. In the WCHA, he is ranked fifth in GAA and save percentage, and sixth in winning percentage (.655).

Senior netminder Justin Johnson is expected to start for the 12th-ranked Golden Gophers (20-12-1, 13-10-1 WCHA) this weekend in the home-and-home series against St. Cloud State. Freshman Brent Solei will likely serve as Johnson's backup.

Briggs had a great first half of the season, and, even though he (and the team) have struggled of late, strong play from him between the pipes was considered essential if the Gophers had any hopes of a postseason run. With the end of their regular season this weekend, the WCHA playoffs on March 12th-14th, and the WCHA Final Five the following weekend, hearing that your starting goalie is out "indefinitely" is not real encouraging for the Gopher faithful.
He Gets It! He Gets It! Hey Johnny!

The Latest Initiative in Congress--Blogging:

Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, has urged his colleagues to take advantage of blogging. At a West Virginia retreat for Congressional Republicans last month, Mr. Thune led a workshop on blogs that "generated a considerable amount of discussion," he said in an interview.

For the moment, however, he does not have his own blog. Mr. Thune said he was considering creating one, but would wait until he finished moving into his new Capitol Hill office to make a decision.

"It's a function of time," he said. "If you're going to keep it fresh, you have to be posting fairly regularly."

Spoken like a man who understands the game.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Makin' All That Noise 'Cause They Found New Toys

This disturbing news came out of Orange County, Florida today:
A 13-year-old student...was suspended for 10 days and could be banned from school over an alleged assault with a rubber band...

Robert Gomez, a seventh-grader at Liberty Middle School, said he picked up a rubber band at school and slipped it on his wrist.

Gomez said when his science teacher demanded the rubber band, the student said he tossed it on her desk.

After the incident, Gomez received a 10-day suspension for threatening his teacher with what administrators say was a weapon...

"They said if he would have aimed it a little more and he would have gotten it closer to her face he would have hit her in the eye," mother Jenette Rojas said.
The old "rubber band in the eye" maneuver, eh? This Gomez character is one truly devious little monster. It should come as no surprise, however. Schools throughout this country are literally teeming with similar weapons that could be considered even more life-threatening that the rubber band implicated in this specific attack...and most of them are provided to our nation's students at taxpayer expense.

Take, for example, a typical algebra book. In addition to the obvious bludgeoning opportunities available to those in possession of this particular weapon, a student could very easily tear out a single page, roll it into a tight cone and ram it into the eyeball of an unsuspecting victim destroying not only their vision but possibly piercing the brain itself leading to massive and irreparable trauma or even death. The graphic nature of such likely injuries makes these textbooks very dangerous weapons indeed.

What about your child's calculator? This seemingly innocuous device is truly one of the more sinister weapons available to young children today. The small batteries that power these killers can easily be surreptitiously dropped in an unsuspecting teacher's coffee cup and, when eventually ingested, can result in necrosis of the gastrointestinal tract and/or complete respiratory failure within minutes. Trace amounts of toxic materials present in these batteries make this weapon all the more frightening.

Does your child's school have a safety lock on every single pencil box? They certainly should. Equipped with some miniature woodworking tools and a jeweler's microscope the average student can whittle a typical Dixon Ticonderoga Number 2 into a finely honed pointed stick capable of piercing scores of their classmates' jugular veins even before the day's first bell rings.

Every one of these diabolical killing tools is currently in the hands of an alarmingly high percentage of both middle and high school students in your very own city. This growing crisis should therefore be a cause of great concern to all of you parents, teachers and school administrators out there. Don't wait until it's too late.

Yes siree...the folks down there in Orange County really have their hands full with this Gomez kid. I really hope they throw the book at him. It just had better not be an algebra book.
...Like A Ten Year Old Boy (True Recall Larry the cable guy says "I don't care who you are, that's funny")

We smart alecks on the right like to mock the childish arguments, behavior (see idolization of Hunter Thompson as an example) and logic of our precious little friends on the left. As the Elder and I discussed the other day, their insistence on hypocrisy as the greatest evil (even when it is non-existent) is so "Your not the boss of me!" teenage that it's just laughable when you hear it.

So I had to have a good laugh (followed by a long cry) at this pathetic piece that appeared on the front page (!) of today's Rochester Post-Bulletin (no, it isn't avail online):

"Ten Year Old Fights Intolerance"

As the youngest member of the Diversity Council in Rochester, ten year old Grant Eckhoff already is well versed in the value of creating an inclusive community where people are appreciated, not scorned, for their differences.

"Our town is growing, and we need to learn about diversity because it helps us understand that if you are one color of skin, treating a person of different color of skin badly is not right." Eckhoff said Tuesday during the kick-off of the Diversity Council's annual fund-raising campaign and membership drive.

What's amazing about hearing this child give his considered opinion on this subject is that the substance is no different than hearing some diversity consultant, HR director or Democratic member of the house say the same thing: "It's like, bad and stuff to like, not like someone because they are, you know, different."

To continue with the piece...

Grant and his dad Jon Eckhoff, who owns Venture Computer Systems are serving as co-chairmen of the campaign.

Co-chairmen, with a ten year old boy. How quaint. Perhaps the old man was thinking of ways to spend more time with his son. Being a small business owner and all, he must be very busy. So why not bond on white guilt? Hell, who needs Playstation and all that manufactured fun when you can go around hitting up other business owners for dough to assuage their Southeastern Minnesota guilt?

The goal is to raise $100k. The donations:

...will help the council stop racism and predujice faster and help the community become a better place, Grant said.

There was no mention of adding a decent strip club, a sushi restaurant or bar that can mix an acceptable martini in this town--in other words, real improvements that would make this a better, more tolerant place to live.

Grant's dad Jon is not what you might call a bashful, subtle or particularly humble individual:

Jon Eckhoff said he hopes his son lends a powerful voice to the campaign by being an example of what one person can do in fighting intolerance. "Grant gets it. He's just one of those kids understands the Golden Rule. He always has."

Always. What, since he was six, seven years old?

The self-aggrandizement evident in that comment is so appallingly annoying, so arrogant that I hardly have the words to express myself.

But being not terribly bashful, subtle or humble myself, I'll continue.

This guy (the father) is a straight-out wanker. Indoctrinating your child with leftist politics that he isn't even close to old enough to understand it is beyond the beyonds. And parading him as a trophy of his father's enlightened perspective at a public meeting of the community is downright sick. What does Jon expect us to do when we read this, say "Oh, isn't that cute! A dad who cares about, you know, those minorities...and he's even teaching it to his son!"

So we here at Fraters would like to raise a giant Cosmo (a drink we would never actually consume ourselves, but imagine the kindler, gentler souls like Jon enjoy daily) to Jon Eckhoff of Rochester, MN for taking the cake as the most self-absorbed and guilt-ridden New Age dad this side of Berkeley.

'Maid Men

Mark Dayton dropped out of the US Senate race, but the Dayton vs. Kennedy blog soldiers on. Their official new name is delayed, pending the capricious dictates of the DFL faithful to decide on a candidate. But that hasn't stopped the boys on that site from continuing to provide the best coverage anywhere on the race so far. That includes today's inclusion of DvK contributor the First Ringer on board Kennedy's caravan to Mounds View. Yes, it was Mark Kennedy LIVE at the Mermaid.

I dare say that place hasn't been so alive with electricity since the late 80's when DJ Mitch Berg was in the basement simultaneously knocking out the hits and knocking back watermelon kamikazes on Ladies Night.

Granted, today's Kennedy appearance at the 'Maid didn't provide a lot of news (unless you consider a picture of the Congressman adjusting the cup holder in his mini van news). But the inside access earned by these bloggers, and the truly superior talent assembled among this group to write about the race, it leads me to believe Dayton v. Kennedy (or whatever) will be a must read in the months to come.

The feelers of interest being extended, the jockeying for position, the promises, the begging, the pleading, the desperate groping for glory - it will all be documented. And that's just if the caravan comes back to the Mermaid for Ladies Night.

Trading Down?

Agent- Vikings trade Moss to Raiders:

The Vikings have agreed to trade Randy Moss to the Oakland Raiders for starting linebacker Napoleon Harris, the seventh overall pick in the upcoming draft and a 2005 late-round pick. Trades can be worked out although not announced until next month, and Moss' agent, Dante DiTrapano, told the Pioneer Press on Wednesday that the deal is done.

"Nothing is official until March 2," DiTrapano said. "But don't be surprised if Randy Moss is wearing the Silver and Black this upcoming season."

Vikings vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski would only say, "We've had some discussions with them (the Raiders), but there is nothing to announce."

If this is true, it's a bad move by the Vikes. Yes, Moss is a problem child extraordinaire. But he's also an incredibly gifted football player who has the rare ability to single-handedly influence the outcome of almost any game. He's a difference maker, the X factor, whatever cliche you want to throw out to describe that special type of player that comes along once in great while, Moss is all that and a bag of chips.

And to toss this aside (baggage and all) for a starting linebacker, a seventh pick in the draft, and a throwaway pick is foolish. I'm sure a lot of Vikings fans are quite pleased with the news today, but they will come to rue this decision. Especially when Moss helps the Raidas win a Super Bowl someday.

Here's another telling quote from Moss' agent:

"Randy's desire to win a Super Bowl is enhanced with a move to a team like the Raiders, because the Minnesota Vikings seem to be in a constant rebuilding mode."

Tell us about it.
Hitting Close To Home

Baghdad attack kills 3 state Guardsmen:

They were three young National Guardsmen from western Minnesota, all recently married and trying to help injured soldiers in Baghdad, Iraq, when the roadside bomb blew up.

Staff Sgt. David Day, 25, of Morris; Sgt. Jesse Lhotka, 24, of Appleton; and 1st Lt. Jason Timmerman, 24, of Cottonwood were killed Monday and eight other soldiers were wounded in the explosion, according to their families and friends.

Day, Lhotka and Timmerman were members of the 151st Field Artillery based in Montevideo and were deployed overseas for 12 to 18 months last fall. All three men grew up in rural western Minnesota.

One was a St. Louis Park cop, one a jokester-turned-businessman and the other a computer whiz and former schoolteacher. All married within the last two years.

Too close to home. R.I.P.

Beginning To See The Light?

Could the man who "knows stuff" be turning the corner on blogs? Just a few short months ago he was ridiculing and dismissing blogs in his column at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Today, on his local radio show, he had a guest on to discuss the Gannon/Guckert story (thus allowing him and his crummy little toady to throw in numerous gay sex innuendos and giggle like twelve year old boys). That guest was in fact a blogger. (Gasp!) A left wing blogger of course (whose name presently escapes me), but still a blogger nonetheless. Alert the media! Oh wait, he is part of the media.

Of course since he's a real journalist with an ear for baloney, he wasn't about to let this hobby hack blogger off lightly and so peppered him with a serious of hard hitting questions that included:

"Is the right-wing daisy chain just too icky to look at?"
The Case Of The Mistaken Johnson: Lessons Learned

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from Gregg Knorn, who is a student at the University of Minnesota. Gregg wished to bring to my attention a post on his blog The American View. The post concerned an e-mail that Gregg had received from a David W. Johnson on an article that Gregg had written for the Minnesota Daily. Mr. Johnson was using an account on the University's e-mail system, and, after what he now admits was a minimal amount of research, Gregg concluded that the author of the e-mail was Professor David W. Johnson.

The e-mail was quite nasty and condescending in tone, and I, mistakenly assuming that Gregg was correct and that the author of the e-mail was in fact Professor David W. Johnson, put up a post (now corrected) taking Professor Johnson to task and including a link to his bio page at the University.

Since then, I have learned that Professor David W. Johnson did not write the e-mail in question. I have pulled most of the original post, leaving in place a correction, an e-mail from Professor Johnson explaining that he was being unfairly blamed for the original e-mail, and an apology to him for the error. I also sent him a personal e-mail expressing my regret for any distress caused by the incident. Mea culpa. It should be noted that Gregg has also pulled his post at The American View and apologized to both Professor Johnson and "the gentlemen at Fraters Libertas" (he obviously does not know us very well).

In order to ensure that we mend our fences with Professor Johnson, we are going to be adding twenty copies of his book Joining Together: Group Theory and Group Skills (7th Edition) to the prestigious Fraters Library collection, as well as letting him use Atomizer as a Guinea Pig for a series of lab experiments related to his Psychology of Conflict Resolution class.

One of the sticky wickets of the every evolving standards of the blogosphere is when to use information that is posted on other blogs. Is there a duty to first confirm that the information is correct yourself or do you just assume that the other blogger has already taken care to verify it? The best answer is probably the word that you see tossed around quite a bit in these sorts of conversations: trust. If you know and trust the blogger in question, you can feel much better about going with what they are presenting without having to check it yourself. Otherwise you proceed at your own risk.

In this case, I didn't know Gregg from a hole in the wall. And while he seems like a decent enough kid, I should have held off on weighing in on this matter until it was clear that the facts were in order. Lesson learned.

While this is certainly an embarassing mixup, I still don't think it reaches the level of confusing conservative activitist David Horowitz with consumer activist David Horowitz, as Syl Jones did in a Star Tribune editorial a few years back. And, unlike the Star Tribune, we have been front and center about publicly correcting the error.

At the end of the day, I guess the moral of the story is this: if you're going slap around a Johnson, make sure you've got the right one.

P.S. I humbly accept the first of the 2005 BODies. Saint Paul likes me, Saint Paul really likes me!

This week brings the apex of the self-selected awards season with the Oscars being presented on Sunday night. Never one to allow the spotlight to linger long elsewhere, we might as well get a jump on the 2005 FL Blogs of Distinction Awards (the BODies).

And I'm proud to announce the More Chins than the Shanghai White Pages Award goes to ....

Chad the Elder .... for briefly forgetting there just might be more than one David Johnson in Minnesota sending emails to people.

Sorry about that. But we're all learning the rules of the road on this information super highway. One of them clearly is, don't take at face value anything you read on obscure, inflammatory, partisan Internet sites. Instead, when looking for blogging material, rely solely on highly prominent, inflammatory, partisan Internet sites. Like

Late comment on the Hinderaker email kerfuffle that was getting the extreme left all hot and bothered the past few days. It is absolutely absurd. Sure, John is a highly regarded professional and in his personal life a class act all the way. And his moment of rhetorical frustration might provide shameful glee to those who wish him ill. I understand that. Envy and wrath are as old as humanity itself.

But, substantively speaking, is anybody really saying we can't write profanity-laced emails to each other anymore? Come on, this is still America, right? According to Ellis Island records, the exact reason my ancestors came to this country was the freedom to write profanity-laced emails to people. If that right gets taken away, by legislation or the shunning by the pious, Puritanical readership of the Daily Kos, then my friends, the terrorists (or is it John Ashkkkroft?) really have won.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Those Who Can't...

UPDATE II: Apparently, Professor David W. Johnson is not the one who wrote the e-mail to Gregg Knorn. In the comments section at Gregg's blog The American View, Professor Johnson has indicated that he did not send the e-mail. And in an e-mail with Atomizier he elaborated:

I did not write the email. As a result of Gregg Knorn's blog and the subsequent article on the web site of

I am receiving a considerable number of abusive emails from many parts of the country.

To say the least, it is extremely distressing. I do not read the Daily, I do not know who Gregg Knorn is, and I have never read any of his articles.

I have no idea how to set the record straight.

I would like to sincerely apologize to Professor Johnson for any discomfort caused by this error. In light of this development, I am pulling the post. More later as time allows. Damned competitive pressures...
Stop The Madness

Iowahawk knocks it out of the park with his latest, Aid Pours in for Victims of Mommy Madness:

The effort has also expanded internationally. From Sudan to Indonesia, thousands of women across the globe have heeded the call for feminist sisterhood and lined up with offers of support and solidarity.

Typical is Ulaam Abdullah, 27, of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Ulaam was so moved by the plight of American Supermom victims that she organized a local charity as soon as she received permission from her husband.

"Here in the kingdom, we women don't have to worry about juggling career pressures and driver's licenses and voting, so it's easy for us to get complacent and spoiled," she says. "so I guess you could say it was a real wake-up call when I heard how these American women felt so many mixed signals and confusing choices."

Keep The Scent Subtle

St. Kate has some advice for the fellas when it comes to applying the smelly stuff:

A man with a light touch of cologne is sexy. A little, mind you. Nothing worse than some Valentino you can detect before he crosses the room. And not all colognes are good. I have been accosted at the mall by bottle-wielding Stepford wannabes who want me to sniff potions that should only be sold in the varnish aisle at the hardware store.

Keep that in mind next you break out the Ol' Spice there Captain. And knock off that annoying whistling.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Feeling The Need For Speed

If you listen to any amount of talk radio at all, you've probably noticed the number of self-improvement ads that you come across. They invite you to build your vocabulary, learn foreign languages, become financially independent, and earn that masters degree that you've always wanted. The one that I've noticed lately is a ad that promises to increase you ability to read, both in terms of speed and comprehension.

Companies hawking speed reading have been around for years and I've usually found little appeal in the product. I enjoy reading a great deal and am able to get through material at a decent pace. I've always regarded speed reading as an unnecessary shortcut that would make reading too workmanlike, thus robbing the endeavor of much of it's appeal .

But I'm now willing to reconsider. These days (actually for some time now) there seems to be so much that I want to read and so little time to do it. I'm always reading at least one book (usually two or three) but I never make much of a dent in my "to be read" backlog, to say nothing of my wish list of books waiting to be acquired. Throw in magazines and the Internet and my scarce time for reading is swamped with potential material. Unless there's a nuclear holocaust tomorrow and I'm the last man on earth suddenly blessed with all the time I need for reading (reason #156 that I'm glad I had that laser eye surgery ), I will never come anywhere near close to catching up.

So, as I've said, I'm willing to take a new look at the whole speed reading concept. What I'd like to know from our readers is this: Has anyone tried one of these speed reading programs? Was it effective? Were you happy with the results? Was it worth the investment? And perhaps most importantly of all, did it have any impact on the pleasure you derived from reading?

Any input would be greatly appreciated.
Everything That You Wanted To Know About King Banian...

...but were afraid to ask is covered by Doug in this interview with the proprietor of SCSUScholars.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

MOB Rules: Addendum

After Saturday's NARN show, I got together with a couple of the other family heads from the Minnesota Organization of Bloggers (MOB) to discuss MOB business (since such conversation is not allowed at the dinner table). A couple of additional rules regarding MOB membership arose as a result of these summit talks:

- If you attend a Thursday night trivia contest at Keegan's Irish Pub and introduce yourself to one of the Northern Alliance reps, you are automatically admitted to the MOB.

- All other requests for membership must be submitted by the blogger who wishes to be admitted. We've been a little lax in this area in the past, but from now on we will not accept third party applications.

- If you submit an application for membership to one of the Northern Alliance blogs via e-mail and are accepted into the MOB, you MUST attend a future MOB event to maintain your status. In other words, being accepted into the MOB is contingent on attendance at an upcoming MOB event.

There is going to a huge MOB blowout this summer. Before then we'll also have a smaller event as well. Details will be forthcoming. If you've just joined the MOB, plan on hitting at least one of these affairs.

We realize that these MOB events have been rather Twin City-centric, which poses challenges for some of the out-state MOBsters. We're looking into the possibility of having King host a satellite MOB event in St. Cloud to make the logistics a bit easier.
The Weekend At The College Didn't Turn Out Like You Planned

I've just polished off Michael Medved's great new memoir Right Turns. As would be expected from a man of such wit, there are several laugh-out loud moments. My personal favorite stems from when Medved was invited to interview for a faculty position at the University of Wisconsin?


In less-than-exciting Menomonie, Wisconsin--about an hour and a half East of the Twin Cities. Circa 1975.

To set the stage a little, Medved was living in "Beserk-ley" California at the time and wanted to get away from the "Dreary, decadent, dysfunctional, drug-infested demimonde." He figured a scenic small town in the upper Midwest offered just the change of pace he was looking for.

He was invited to interview with the entire liberal arts faculty. They even agreed to pay for his trip, under the stipulation that if offered the job, he would accept. If he was offered the job and did not accept, he would have to pay his own way.

After flying into the Twin Cities and renting a car, he made the drive to the house of the dean:

I arrived in snowy Menomonie several hours later than expected and followed the directions to the home of the dean, who had hospitably suggested I come for lunch. As I got out of the car, the stabbing cold represented the first shock and I recoiled, physically, at a horrifying sight on the front steps of the house.

Blocking the path to the door were the bloodied, frozen carcasses of five furry animals. As a newcomer to the Midwest, I knew nothing about the appropriate etiquette of entering homes by jumping past orderly displays of dead creatures.

To call the Yale-educated, California-living Orthodox Jew a fish out of water in Wisconsin is a bit of an understatement.

Upon entering the house, he soon realized his ordeal was just beginning.

I walked into the warmth of his neat little ranch home, where the aroma of ham overwhelmed me. I hadn't eaten since the peanuts on the plane, but I'd been keeping kosher long enough to feel queasy over the sweet, pungent odor of fresh-cooked pig flesh.

After suffering through the meal (and skipping the ham) he was escorted to the a dormitory that had been arranged as his overnight accommodation.

Even in the late afternoon, the noisy brawling that echoed through the hallway reminded me of some Hollywood prison movie in which the frightened new inmate quickly realizes the danger of his situation. Despite my determined attempts to ignore the ruckus, I couldn't shut out the noise of snapping towels and smacking flesh in the Sunday evening showers, or the shouted arguments about the relative size and fragrance of the defecations that the eager students had produced.

Later that night--after a disgusting meal of baked perch at placed called the Bolo Inn (named after a dead dog) he retired to the dorms once again to find:

In general, the natives had progressed from towel fights in the shower and disputes over their bodily functions to drunken revelry complete with the noise of shattered glass and enthusiastic vomiting.

He decided that night that he had to do everything in his power to avoid moving to Menomonie. The problem was that if he were offered the job and did not accept it, he would be out 600 bucks, an amount he describes as a large sum for him at the time.

So he decided to take bag the interview.

When I crawled out of bed after a restless night, I began planning to present myself in a manner so obnoxious, so disturbing, so utterly distasteful that any self-respecting faculty committee must feel forced to reject me.

I courageously resolved on a course of minor self-mutilation: while shaving, I sliced a long, nasty gash along my chin, then blotted the blood onto my shirt. Growing gleeful at the appalling results, I grabbed a first aid kit and used iodine, a gauze pad, and adhesive tape to make my self-inflicted wound look incalculably worse than it was.

Blinking at the horrifying reflection in the mirror, I felt proud and satisfied: I looked like a homeless psychotic. No university could possibly hire me.

After showing up ten minutes late to the interview, he was warmly greeted by a dozen faculty members. One asked what happened to him. "I cut myself shaving. For some reason it happens to me a lot."

Ignoring his oddball personal grooming habits, the chairman of the committee began the interview by asking Medved to provide a one-word answer of want he most wanted to bring to the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

I paused for a moment, hoping to come up with a single pronouncement that could instantly erase my already dwindling chances. I finally burst into a broad smile as I came up with the ideal response. "If you want one word, if it has to be one word, then I'd have to say that word would be...drugs."


"That's right--recreational drugs. Marijuana, hashish, cocaine, maybe a little bit of LSD. You see, I've been struck since I've been here with how behind the times, how conservative this place seems to be. Remember, I'm from Berkeley, which is probably the opposite extreme. So if you want your students to begin to catch up with trends in academia, you're going to need much more of a drug culture here on campus. I have a friend back in Berkeley who made a film about a bunch of kids who do laughing gas together, then have a big orgy. Anyone know a dentist in town who can help us get the gas?"

They greeted my little discourse with a long, pained silence, and glared back at me with open mouths. I went on in a similar vein (with a bloody shirt as my visual aid) for the rest of the interview, talking about the need for more political activism and student dissent, for more sexual experimentation, for more of the countercultural values that had taken hold everywhere else to begin sweeping away the traditionalism of Menomonie. I actually enjoyed the role playing, as I gave insipid, even sickening explanations for advancing ideas I actually hated.

Feeling his ridiculous performance had guaranteed him a denial of the position and the attendant humiliations that living in Wisconsin would bring, he retired to an adjoining room to wait for the dean.

After about fifteen minutes, the dean emerged from the boardroom with a big smile and an extended hand. "Well Michael," he beamed. "I think congratulations are in order. You got the job. Now we can start talking about trying to help you move."

I tried hard to hide my shock and horror. "I got the job? I was afraid that some people might react poorly to some of what I had to say in there."

"Oh you were controversial all right. But we think we need some controversy. This can be a pretty stodgy place. We're trying hard to send out a message that we're not just about industrial arts. Some of your ideas--about politics, the sexual revolution, all the rest of it--would really start to shake things up. Michael, you'll be a breath of fresh air.

Out 600 samolians, Medved returned to Berkeley to consider other career opportunities.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Paw Me

Cool cars, intelligent radio, and free 'za. Does it get any better? Head over to the White Bear Lake Superstore today to catch the Northern Alliance Radio Network live from noon 'til 3pm. You'll find great deals on cars and trucks, prize giveaways, and free Green Mill pizza. You'll also have a chance to meet the man behind the voice that's been electrifying Patriot listeners for years.

That's right folks, WBLSS's President Paul Rubin will be on hand to share some of the magic that's made him a legend among radio advertisers in the Twin Cities. All the women want to talk with him; all the men want to talk like him.

White Bear Lake Super Store is located on Highway 61, north of 694. Look for the big bear paw.
Union Jacked

In theory, I suppose trade unions have a legitimate place in a free economic system. And, according to bumper sticker lore, they brought us the weekend, or the eight hour work day, or the seven habits of highly successful people, or the three martini lunch, or something. Full disclosure, I've been never had to deal with a union in regard to my employment. And my informed opinion is, I never want to. Sure, divorcing my job security from the quality of my output would be great (hello shovel leaning!). But the chronic burden associated with collectivizing my personal efforts and potential, not to put too fine a point on it, but that just seems like a destructive influence on my development as a human being.

When you get really get into a union's activities and see what they offer you, the net result seems to be nothing more than seething resentments and suspicions, rigorous formalization and abstraction of human relations, mountainous molehill complaint resolution, enforced (and faith-based) class conflict, and ultimately, loss of self-reliance and self-respect. None of which, by the way, are good for business. (Conducting business - remember that? The reason why someone hired you in the first place.)

Lest we forget, POWER is the main goal of unions. At least it is for our example from yesterday, the Minnesota Newspaper Guild Typographical Union. And the desire for power acquisition doesn't seem to stop at the board room doors. For not only does the Union want power over those that own a company. They also want power over those who work for a company. Actually, they DEMAND such power, because without it, they'd have no reason to exist.

The current contracts for the Newspaper Guild with the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press are posted online. Near the top of each are rather strongly worded provisions regarding the union membership requirements for any aspiring practitioner of the journalistic arts and sciences. You want to see an exercise of power? Here comes the pain:

SECTION 5. Guild membership in good standing shall be required as a condition of employment for:

a) All present members in all departments;

(b) All employees who become members;

(c) All employees hired after the effective date of this contract except in advertising and editorial departments, where at least four out of every five persons hired shall become members.

SECTION 6. Employment of persons referred to in Section 5 shall be terminated by the Publisher within 30 days upon notice by the Guild of suspension or expulsion of such member for non-payment of Guild dues.

Don't pay your union dues and you get the axe! Shouldn't somebody be writing protest songs or fasting until this oppression is ended? Free Ruben Rosario!

If joining the union were such a beneficial thing, why does membership have to enforced at the point of a pink slip? Perhaps because acquisition of POWER is at fundamental odds with dissent. If history teaches us anything, it is to beware any institution dedicated to acquiring POWER which also has a distaste for individual free will. Unfortunately, these two dispositions usually go hand in hand.

If you've got some extra time, and extra patience, browse through these contracts and see what kind of power gets yielded once the union is set loose on the workers. Here's an example of the critical protection deemed necessary for the the Star Tribune employees:

4) Seniority (service with the Publisher) will ordinarily determine the distribution of open parking spaces and changes in parking assignments except that, legitimate safety considerations will take precedence over seniority in making such decisions. The seniority and safety criteria will apply to all Star Tribune employees.

d) An ongoing parking committee with Guild participation (pursuant to agreement on worker participation/employee involvement) will recommend future parking rates, consistent with the method used for determining rates; i.e., maintaining revenues sufficient to cover operating expenses and real estate taxes. The ongoing parking committee will continue to address all issues as they relate to parking.

Ongoing parking committees. Now that sounds like a productive use of time. Can someone do the publisher of the Star Tribune a favor and get him the number of a good out sourcing broker? Or better yet, bring on the machines. You can program them to "know stuff" right? And they rarely demand to set up and participate in ongoing parking committees.

Here's another example of the environment necessary for the functioning of the modern newspaper employee, this time from the Pioneer Press contract:

1) No writer shall be required to serve as a photographer, and no photographer shall be required to serve as a writer as a condition of employment subject to the following understandings:

2) Reporters may take pictures and photographers may write stories, but a reporter's competence shall in no instance be judged by his work with a camera and a photographer's work shall in no instance be judged by his work with a typewriter.

Isn't that an excerpt from a Dr. Seuss story? Something about Star Bellied Sneetches or Harp-Twanging Snarps?

These contracts are full of such ridiculous provisions, things entrepreneurs (aka job creators) or conscientious employees would never think of having to negotiate, formalize, and hammer out as contractual obligations. Regular, honest people, with abilities, and a sense of self-respect and self-reliance don't need to get a battery of lawyers or a Union to hammer out details on the procedures for administering parking spots. Much like all of life itself, with the details, you need to trust enough in yourself to work it out. And if you can't do that, you've got bigger problems than finding a place to park at work.

I wonder if employees of these newspapers ever have moments of clarity and wonder what they're getting for their union dues. (How much are they paying? Inside sources, email me, let me know). Perhaps, for some, job security is enough to dispell such heretical thoughts. The protectionist nature of these contracts restrict job growth and artificially inflate wages (to the detriment of those not lucky or well connected enough to get hired and therefore to the larger economy as a whole). That buys a lot loyalty, I'm sure, even from these truth to power speaking journalists. But I wonder if there still aren't some prisoners of conscience there who realize the true nature of these entities. I suspect the union boss who negotiated in the compulsory membership clauses wondered the same thing.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Smoke Gets In My Eyes

Marcus Aurelius over at The Attic writes about this study of the nicotine levels at several bars and restaurants in St. Louis Park, MN. See if you can guess which bar on that list I frequent. Go ahead...
Union Blues

Earlier this week Julie Moos on Poynter Online addressed the potential for newspapers to better utilize blogs as a way to provide more depth of knowledge to their readers and a greater degree of ideological diversity in their coverage. Excerpt:

Are there people of a particular faith (Jewish, Baptist, Catholic, other) who feel ignored? What if media organizations gave them blogs and let them reflect religious life in the community, under your banner? Are there people who believe your news report is too liberal? What if you gave them a blog and let them reflect conservative life in the community? Are there environmental groups upset that you don't spend enough time addressing a particular issue of importance to them? Same solution.

As hard as the media tries to be inclusive, we cannot be all things to all people. So why not invite people to be all things to each other?

To which Hugh Hewitt commented:

... it will be taken only very slowly because of the guild mentality among old media journalists, the sort of guild think that animated the Wall Street Journal's attack on amateurs working on the Eason Jordan story. Letting a thousand bloggers bloom is an admission that their skills are equal to the task of informing the public.

I believe Hugh was using metaphor to describe the mentality of many professional journalists, the "guild think" that ascribes credibility to only those passing their self-selected, self-propagating barriers to entry. And he's right about that. But let's not forget, newspaper folks are also literally a guild.

Locally, they're known as the Minnesota Newspaper Guild Typographical Union. And in this setting, all pretensions of being a profession are cast aside and the members behave exactly like a union. That is, first and foremost and always protecting their own self interests. To the exclusion of anything else, like the overall health of the enterprise employing them or the customers they're hired to serve.

To put it more bluntly yet, their mission, as quoted from the union web site:

The union exists for one reason: Power. We've achieved it through the work and dedication of Twin Cities Guild members over the past six decades. With the addition of the Typo Union 30, the first craft union organized in the state (in 1850), we have increased that power.

That doesn't exactly inspire one to risk their money and effort investing in a newspaper, does it? At least not one with a unionized workforce. But, if your belief is that labor should own and control the means of production, then I suppose that mission statement fits just fine.

Getting back to the Julie Moos question - why don't newspapers invite bloggers to help inform and guide their coverage of news - here's one possible answer: the Guild won't stand for it.

This scenario presented itself while I was reviewing the back catalog of Twins Geek. It seems his one year (now terminated) tenure of hosting his terrific baseball blog on the Star Tribune Web site is still provoking protest from the Union bosses. This from the lead item in their Shop Talk newsletter (which also includes a protest against WCOO weather man Paul Douglas - and, believe it or not, it's not due to his use of the term "snizzle"):

The first of what could be several cases taken to arbitration was heard Jan. 20-21. That case centers on the union's challenge of the company's assignment of meteorologist Paul Douglas to write routine front page weather stories, a violation of the union's jurisdiction.

Close on the heels of the Douglas arbitration is a similar jurisdictional case involving the Star Tribune's contracting with a third party to write a daily web log,, for the paper's web site.

It's not clear exactly what the nature of these union challenges are, but I suspect it has something to do with neither Douglas nor Twins Geek being members of the Guild and them having the unmitigated temerity of being talented enough writers to be chosen by management to be featured in the newspaper anyway. Those with Power might feel entitled to interevene in this arrangement, so as not to lose any of that Power. The end product be damned.

John Bonnes, the Twins Geek, is in the dark on this one himself, as evidenced by his February 3rd reaction (no permalink available) to a reader's email informing him that he's a party to this action:

I am? How can I be the last person to know about this? And why do I suddenly have this vision of Paul Douglas and I, with a hand clenched in defiance, racing in a convertible over a cliff?

I'm not sure a lesbian suicide pact is in order just yet. But if you'd like to read more about this sorry tale of the hopeful new and resentful old media worlds colliding, check out Bonnes's final Star Tribune Twins Geek column and this analysis from baseball blogger Aaron Gleeman.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

MOB Rules

It has come to our attention that there is some confusion regarding the Minnesota Organization of Bloggers (MOB). While the MOB is indeed a loosely affiliated group, it is not completely devoid of structure and order. After all, we're trying to have a civilization here.

The most common question regarding the MOB is how one becomes a member. There are two avenues to gain entry:

1. Attend an official MOB event. So far there have been three such affairs (yes, I'm counting the State Fair beer garden gathering) and more will be planed in the future. If you have show up at one of these events, membership status is automatically conferred.

2. Petition one of the Northern Alliance blogs to grant you membership. Our own Saint Paul is credited with coming up with the original concept of the MOB. It has since been picked up and promoted by the Northern Alliance of Blogs. Thus, the various Northern Alliance blogs have become the custodians of the MOB (Mitch usually ends up mopping up). Drop any of the Northern Alliance members a note expressing your interest in joining the MOB. After a thorough vetting process, involving criminal background checks, retinal scans, and psychological screening, they will either confirm or deny your request.

Simple, isn't it?

Another question that has arisen is over the official MOB blogroll. Andy from Echo Zoe put together a MOB blogroll, which he has graciously turned over to us (I believe Atomizer made him an offer that he couldn't refuse).

So the official MOB blogroll is now maintained here. Go here for the code needed to display the MOB blogroll on your site.

Please send any requests for changes/additions/deletions to the MOB blogroll to Saint Paul. Remember, this is the one true MOB.

Finally, Derek from Freedom Dogs has designed an official MOB logo, which can be found here. Feel free to use if appropriate.
The Blogchurian Candidate

The natural evolution of the blogosphere continues. The next link in the chain, from writing withering and anonymous social commentary in our underwear to running for office and serving in high level government positions ... in our underwear. Actually, I'm not sure about that last part (although it's one hell of a campaign promise and if you've got the legs for it, it seems like guaranteed electoral magic). But blogger/physician extraordinaire Babs, from Girl in Right, has officially thrown her hat into the ring. She's running for the City Council of Golden, CO and promises to make it an Internet friendly (that is, voyeuristic) experience:

Never did I imagine that the power of the right wing blogosphere, the same that took down Dan Rather and Eason Jordan, not to mention the impact on Chad The Elder's choice of skating costumes, would sweep me into the land of no-turning-back. If I get clobbered now, I get clobbered in your basements and bedrooms, all for your entertainment while you sip the drink of your choice, surf the web, and ignite static electricity sparks while rubbing your fuzzy slippers against your shag carpet. So much for private humiliation.

We of course heartily endorse the candidacy of Girl in Right. Smart, funny, professional conservatives are exactly the type of folks we need in government. It just so happens these kind of people are disproportionately represented in the blogosphere. And we hope MSM prejudices don't lead to any backlash towards Babs. But, in case of any McCarthyite investigations into her past associations, if Babs needs plausible deniability about ever being associated with Fraters Libertas as the "Golden Girl" we'll claim that was just the Atomizer, exploring his more feminine, and strangely also more athletic, side (the girl does have 2 NCAA rings). As recompense, we ask only to never have to worry about parking tickets in Golden, CO again. Run, Girl in Right, Run!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

a self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes...

The crew at The Volokh Conspiracy got the Prof of the Vines going about whether group blogs could be considered general partnerships (in a very real and legally binding sense). Soon others had entered the fray, bringing up matters such as profit sharing, tax and legal liability, and dissolution. Whew. All the legal chatter from these law talking guys (and gal) is a bit overwhelming to the humble bloggers here at Fraters Libertas.

Thankfully, all this partnership talk doesn't apply to us. Although Atomizer still thinks that we're an autonomous collective, the reality is that we're an anarcho-syndicalist commune. Does anyone know which IRS form covers that designation?
There's Somethin' Happenin' Here

The momentum for change in Iran appears to be gathering steam as support for the referendum movement grows. For the latest on this front, including a coming blogosphere campaign to promote the referendum, and all other developments in Iran, check out Regime Change Iran.
Just What The Doctor Ordered

Michael e-mails with a slightly different prescription for my recent illness:

As a doctor of the malt, I must say that all the doses you took, while palliative, are not truly medicinal. The true elixir in these circumstances is Laphroaig - 10 year, unless you are the type who needs a more sweetness. Then the 15 will do, but its power is waning.

I trust that you shall follow doctor's orders - take two and call me in the morning.

Doctor of the malt? Now that's a title worth pursuing.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

I Aged A Month Today, Oh Boy: A Play In Two Acts

Apparently, I'm a little bit older today than I think I am.

Yesterday I got an e-mail notifying me that my 2004 Federal tax return was rejected because the date of birth I provided did not match the information currently available on the very ominous sounding "IRS Masterfile". This Masterfile is purportedly based on information provided by the Social Security Administration as I was strongly advised to take the matter up with them.

Being very eager to see my somewhat substantial tax refund returned to me as soon as physically possible I immediately phoned the nearest Social Security office. That phone conversation went something like this:

Overpaid Government Worker #1: (in broken English) Social Security Administration.
Me: Yes, your records have my birth date incorrect and I'd like to get that cleared up.
OGW 1: Okay, what you need to do is apply for a new Social Security card.
Me: do I go about doing that?
OGW 1: Well, you need to fill out an SS-5 form and either mail it to us or bring it in with two forms of identification with your new birth date on them.
Me:'s not really a new birth date. It's the same one that I've had for quite some time now. I just need you guys to correct it in your files.
OGW 1: You still need to fill out the form.
Me: Okay. What forms of ID will you accept?
OGW 1: We'd prefer an original birth certificate.
Me: And if I don't have one?
OGW 1: Then just bring in two forms of identification with your new birth date on them.
Me: (Patiently ignoring repeated generality and semantic error) Such as....?
OGW1: Drivers license, employee ID card, health insurance card, life insurance policy...
Me: (Interrupting) Passport?
OGW 1: Yes, passport is good.
Me: Okay. So if I bring my drivers license and my passport in to the office you guys can correct this?
OGW 1: If they have your new birth date on them.
Me: It's NOT a new...never mind. Thanks for your help.

So, today I head down to the Social Security office with my completed SS-5, drivers license and passport in hand. The conversation there went something like this:

Overpaid Government Worker #2: What can I do for you?
Me: My birth date is wrong in your records and I'd like to get it corrected.
OGW 2: Your Social Security number?
Me: ###-##-####
OGW 2: Birth date?
Me: July 31, 1967.
OGW 2: I have June 30, 1967.
Me: Yeah...I know. That's why I'm here.
OGW 2: You have to get that corrected.
Me: (Audible sigh)
OGW 2: Identification?
Me: (With confidence) I have my passport and my drivers license.
OGW 2: Ohhh...I don't think we can accept a passport.
Me: (Audible groan)
OGW 2: Let me check. Selma! Can we accept passports for changing a birth date?
Overpaid Government Worker #3: (Shaking her head) Birth certificate.
OGW 2: You need a birth certificate.
Me: But I was told on the phone that a passport would work.
OGW 2: (Suddenly blessed with the gift of omnipotence) If it were just a typo we could correct it, but our system says your birth date is June 30 so we need a birth certificate to change it.
(Prolonged silence)
Me: But, you see, it IS just a typo! My birthday is July 31 and it has been for 37 years! My passport verifies this and I needed a birth certificate to get that, you know.
OGW 2: We need a certified birth certificate.
Me: But I have a passport! It was issued by the U.S. Government!! It's a valid form of identification all over the world!!! I used one to cross into East Germany when I was 20 years old!!!! Those border guards were heavily armed and looking for a reason to send my ass back across the border fer cryin' out loud!!!!! You're just an overpaid pencil pushing bureaucrat whose job, nay, entire existence is a colossal waste of everyone's time!!!!!! I HAVE A PASSPORT, DAMMIT!!!!!!! (Portions of the previous statements may not have been verbally expressed)
OGW 2: Next!

The Iowa Department of Human Services said that it may take as long as two months for a certified copy of my birth certificate to reach me (yeah, I was born in got a problem with that?). This is pushing the limits of the tax filing deadline as it is and I haven't even taken into account the amount of time the SSA will take to process the information that they should have processed correctly 37 years ago.

So, in the interest of speeding up my refund, I may have to simply refile my return using my "new" birth date. It's not like you can get into any trouble by lying to the IRS...right?

THE ELDER ADDS: Sounds like Atomizer has signed up for Strom's Posse as a radical tax protester. Although he isn't obviously violent, the final result is just as dangerous.
'Cause He's Bloggin' For A Livin'

From the

ROBERT SCOBLE, known in the blogosphere as "the Scobleizer", is a phenomenon not just because he has had an unusually strange career of late, but because his example might mark the beginning of the end of "corporate communications" as we know it. Mr Scoble is, first, a blogger--ie, somebody who keeps an online journal (called a "web log" or "blog") to which he posts thoughts and web links several times a day. But Mr Scoble is also an employee of Microsoft, the world's largest software company, where he holds the official title of "technical evangelist". Those two roles are intertwined. It was his blogging prowess that led to his job, and much of the job consists of blogging.

Mr Scoble seems to be worth his salary. He has become a minor celebrity among geeks worldwide, who read his blog religiously. Impressively, he has also succeeded where small armies of more conventional public-relations types have been failing abjectly for years: he has made Microsoft, with its history of monopolistic bullying, appear marginally but noticeably less evil to the outside world, and especially to the independent software developers that are his core audience. Bosses and PR people at other companies are taking note.

Sounds like a pretty good gig if you can get it. Here's Scoble's blog.