Friday, August 31, 2007

Jay Larson Is Buttah!

Over the last five years there have been a lot of great spectacles at the Minnesota State Fair.

* JB Doubtless surrendering whatever slight amount of dignity he still had by wolfing down a Scotch Egg:

* Hugh Hewitt donning a hockey helmet:

* John Hinderaker getting busy with a corn dog:

* Mitch Berg laying an egg:

YouTube-The Lost Bird Tapes

* Hugh Hewitt's producer Duane Patterson milking a cow:

* And more sloppy Scotch Egg eating contests than any human should be forced to announce (thanks King):

YouTube-NARN eating contest at the MN State Fair

But nothing could have prepared us for what took place last Saturday as the first ever NARN Butter Carving Contest went down live over the radio airwaves. What made the event so very special was not just five contestants slaving over one-pound slabs of butter for fifteen minutes to demonstrate their artistic vision. No, it was the subject of their sculpting that made this a truly unforgettable moment in State Fair radio history.

For they were tasked with turning their rectangles of hard Minnesota-made butter into visages of Jay "Gravedigger" Larson. That's right, "Long-suffering" Jay Larson (as he's probably better known to the world as), long-time promotions manager at AM1280 The Patriot, long-time victim of merciless mocking by Hugh Hewitt and his producer Duane, now working with people who he can more easily keep up with (the dead), was the "model" for our would-be butter artists.

Needless to say this wasn't the first time that the words "butter" and "Jay Larson" were used in a sentence, but it definitely was the most interesting. You can listen to an audio clip of Jay Larson becoming butter here.

Carving anything in butter is not easy, but trying to capture the essence of Jay Larson proved to be an exceptional challenge.

Our five contestants worked feverishly to make their butter as lifelike as possible (or at least as lifelike as Jay).

Overall, they did a very impressive job. Cute as a button Erin took home the blue ribbon for the Under Six division with her rather frightening interpretation of Jay (not the first time that he's scared children.)

The adult entries were all skillfully crafted:

But none could match the detail, aesthetic sensibility, and beauty in butter of our winner, another Erin from St. Cloud:

She truly captured the soul of Jay Larson in rich, creamy butter.

Our only regret is that we were not able to preseve the sculptures themselves for posterity. We didn't have facilties on hand to store them so Jay voluteered to personally dispose of the art. In hindsight, it does seem a little suscpicious that he was licking his fingers the rest of the afternoon.

For more radio gold at the State Fair, tune in to the First Team of the Northern Alliance Radio Network tomorrow from 11am-1pm. In the first hour, Brian and John are going to find out who has been planting the political seed art that crops up every year at the Fair. In the second, they will host the traditional NARN Scotch Egg eating contest (with prizes) and get to the bottom of who this Sewer Man really is and why he's so interested in what happens in the privacy of people's bathrooms.

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I will be out of town and not be able to join the fun, but you had better believe that I will be listening live on the internet stream to all six hours of the Northern Alliance's final Fair broadcast of 2007. Don't you dare miss it.

Strong & Free?

True North? Sounds a little fishy (and Canadian) to me. Is this part of the planned North American Union that we've been hearing about? We'll see what their position on the NAFTA Super Highway is.

Hmmm...True North launches and Mexican trucks head for U.S. borders. Coincidence?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Marks Man

Paul e-mails with a a video link that shows why you don't want to play beer pong with pro skateboarder Billy Marks.

Mercy Killing

I want to extend a personal thank you to the Cleveland Indians for sweeping the Twins and finally shoveling the last bit of earth on a team that has actually long been dead and buried in a figurative sense. The Twins have been dead men walking for at least a month and it is with more a sense of relief than grief that I greet the official news of their demise.

The inability of the Tribe or the Tigers to put the Twins out of their misery (thus prolonging our suffering) was frustrating and dangerous. It gave rise to delusions among some Twins faithful that this pathetic collection of weak-hitting sad sacks actually had (or in any way deserved) a shot at making the playoffs. We suffer no more.

The way the last two games concluded were fitting ends to a Lost Season. Justin Morneau--one of the few legitimate major league batters in the lineup--resting the bat on his shoulder as he watched strike three sail by on with two outs and the tying run on second in the ninth on Tuesday night. Last night, with the Twins again trailing by a run in the ninth, Jason Tyner opens with a single. Nick Punto--vying to become the Mario Mendoza of the 21st Century--attempts to sacrifice Tyner over to second and pops up to the catcher. He can't hit and he can't bunt. Why is this man wearing a major league baseball uniform? One batter and one double play later and it was over. The game and the season.

Now, I can enjoy baseball once again.

It All Depends Whose Arse Is Really On The Line

Bob e-mails to hep us to an interesting tally:

I have been listening to NARN a lot these last few months and it is becoming one of my favorites. I came across this article about how the official military sites have been audited to have thousands of security violations in their content while mil blogs only have accounted for 30. Might be an interesting twist to your gatekeeper segment next weekend. Keep up the good work.

Here is the story he mentions:

The Army's greatest leak of sensitive information isn't through bloggers, it's the Department of Defense's own official web site. These findings came from a series of audits (PDF) performed by the Army Web Risk Assessment Cell (AWRAC), which were recently published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation as part of its lawsuit to obtain the documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

The 10-person AWRAC found that despite the Army's claims that "milblogs" posed a major potential security risk to the Department of Defense because of violations to the operational security policy (OPSEC), only 30 violations were found on 594 blogs monitored between January of 2006 and January of 2007. Comparatively, official military web sites contained 3,900 OPSEC violations.

Given the disparity in security violations, it can be argued that the military is making too much of military bloggers. Consider the month of September in 2006. The military examined more than 209,000 blog pages, but did not find a single violation. In the three months previous, a grand total of three violations were discovered. During that same four-month period, the military discovered 571 violations on official Army web sites.

It Ain't Munich...

...but it's better than nothing. Minneapolis Oktoberfest:

Enjoy Munich in Minneapolis complete with traditional German music, polka dancing and food and beer. The historic and quaint backdrop of Saint Anthony Main and the natural beauty of the Mississippi River bank make for the idyllic Oktoberfest setting. Admission and music will be free for all ages. I.Ds will be required to obtain a wristband for purchasing beer and wine.

Patrons will enjoy authentic German food from Kramarczuk East European Deli and an array of great imported beers in our Black Forest Inn Biergarten. In addition to the traditional foodbeverage and atmosphere, patrons attending Oktoberfest on the Riverfront will enjoy games such as the beer barrel roll and the Hammerschlagen (nail driving).

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

It's Pink And It's Oval

Last Saturday, we braved the teeming masses for our first NARN Minnesota State Fair broadcast. We kicked off in an appropriate fashion by interviewing Kevin Arnold (yes, that's his real name) from the Spam booth.

Spam of course is a Minnesota product and Kevin brought along samples of Spam burgers and--just for the State Fair--deep-fried Spam curds. Saint Paul described it as a feeding frenzy and the concensus from everyone who sampled the wares was that they were delicious.

You can now listen to our interview with Kevin and the live on-air taste testing here.

Separated at Birth?

The furtive looking man in Seattle wanted by the FBI for suspicious activities on the Washington state ferry …


Twins catcher Joe Mauer?

Despite a national search for bachelor #1 up there, no sign of him yet. I wonder, have they checked the Twins disabled list?

Nomen Est Omen

Needless to say I'm shocked at Sen. Larry Craig's recent troubles. When I heard that a Senator from Idaho was involved in an incident in a bathroom, I assumed it had to be this guy.

This juvenile humor moment brought to you by Depends. When you're in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport and need to relieve yourself, but are afraid a member of the US Senate may have preceded you into the rest room, take control of your situation. Remember, Depends.

The Two Sweetest Words In The English Language

Front page story in today's Wall Street Journal on how people are profiting from Beer Pong (sub req). That's right, a FRONT PAGE story on beer pong:

Rules vary by region and campus, but beer pong -- a game some call "Beirut" -- typically is played on a 6- to 8-foot-long table where partly filled cups of beer are arranged in triangles of six or 10 at each end. Two-person teams take turns trying to toss a ping-pong ball into one of their opponents' cups. When a ball lands in the suds, the opponents must chug the beer and remove the cup. The first team to eliminate all of the other team's cups is the winner.

The game has been gaining fans on campus for more than a decade. But only in the past few years have entrepreneurs begun zeroing in on devotees who spend freely on beer, cups, balls and tournaments. The market appears to be expanding as beer-pong fans go on playing the game after they get out of college.

Oh to be young and stupid again. As usual, the scolds are out in force to try to ruin the fun:

This week, Georgetown University joined at least a dozen colleges in banning alcohol paraphernalia, specifically including beer-pong tables. Henry Wechsler, director of College Alcohol Studies at the Harvard School of Public Health, says beer pong and other drinking games contribute to excessive drinking associated with drunk driving, sexual assault and other social problems.

Yeah, ban the beer-pong tables. That will stop the kids from binge drinking.

Wonky Tonk

While we welcome the new political site Wonkosphere to the game, we also want to advise them that any attempt to woo our core Fraters contributors away will not be looked upon kindly. We understand the temptation to recruit prized talent, but we really must insist that they keep their hands off Atomizer.

Minneapolis Is The Place I Want To Be

James e-mails from California:


What the hell is going on at MSP? First no booze in cabs, then the flying Imams, and now Larry "I'm Not Gay" Craig?

Dammit, I have to fly into MSP for vacation, so could you people get your house in order before hockey season starts!

Jeez. You're killing me.

James is one of eight people in the world who come to Minnesota on vacation in JANUARY.

Not to worry James, things usually seem to cool off at the airport in the winter. But I have to imagine that with the 2008 GOP convention only a little more than a year away, youre going to hear Minneapolis in the news early and often next summer. I don't think we've seen anything yet.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Checking The Boxes

Joel Kotkin--author of "The City: A Global History"--has an opinion piece (sub req) in today's WSJ that looks at the things that American cities have decided to prioritize instead of infrastructure:

Rather than deal with the expensive and difficult task of retrofitting the sinews of commerce and communication -- bridges, tunnels, roads, rail lines, ports, sewers, and drainage systems -- America's urban powers focus on the ephemeral and the glitzy. They emphasize not brick and mortar, but sports stadia, convention centers, arts palaces, dubiously effective new light-rail lines, hotels and condo projects.

So how does Minneapolis stack up when it comes to spending on the glitz over the grit?

Sports stadia? Check.

Convention centers? Check.

Arts palaces? Check.

Dubiously effective new light-rail lines? Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley.

Hotels and condo projects? Check and check (just one of many condo projects).

This is not to imply in any way that the City of Minneapolis is responsible for the 35W bridge collapse. But how many other infrastructure repairs/upgrades have been given short shrift because the City has elected to focus its resources on high profile projects with questionable economic payoffs and often abstract benefits for its citizens?

Breaking News As It Happens

KSTP Channel 5 scoops the competition with shocking news that the State Fair has become political:

The State Fair is a stop for candidates running for Congress, Senate, and even the President.

Its become a prime spot for picking up votes, shaking hands, and kissing babies.

Next thing you know they'll be reporting that people enjoy eating fried food on a stick at the Fair.

Kids Pan The Darndest Films

The other day, my five-year-old niece went to see Mr Bean's Holiday with her family. A half hour in, she turned to her mother and said, "Let's go mom and let the boys (her brother and dad) watch the movie."

Outside the theater, her mother asked her why she didn't like the film.

"It's idiotic," she replied.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Vocation Of Business

Ryan T. Anderson on The Call Of The Entrepreneur--a new film touting the moral and theological benefits of buisiness--at FIRST THINGS:

That we in the United States live in a commercial society is no reason to complain. In fact, it's a reason to be grateful, for commercial societies have increased the standard of living for more people, raising more out of poverty, than any other societies in history. In this way, business truly can be a vocation.

Of course, there are particular moral pitfalls that can beset businessmen. While it acknowledges these-and correctly notes that they are not unique to business; the world has greedy and corrupt lawyers, politicians, and doctors, too--the film doesn't do enough to stress the moral principles that should guide business.

It is not enough simply to create better products and meet new needs. The moral virtues that guide all the rest of life--justice, honesty, charity--must govern economic life as well. Truth in advertising, production of products that truly ennoble (even when products that entice our darker side may be more profitable), care for employees, and good stewardship of one's wealth in consumption and charitable giving could have been more thoroughly stressed in the movie.

Nonetheless, pastors and priests will benefit from viewing "The Call of the Entrepreneur" and inserting some of its themes into their sermons, for it provides the framework for a discussion of the challenges of business life.

UPDATE: For a different perspective on the real meaning of vocation and its decline in the modern age, you should check out The Listening Heart by A.J. Conyers. I'm currently reading the book and although it is a bit of a slog, its challenging and thought-provoking.

State Fair Juxtaposition

Real estate is in high demand and limited supply at the Minnesota State Fair. As a result, the booths and venues are usually placed as close together as possible. This proximity creates the opportunity for interesting images.

You can swing by the Minnesota Public Radio booth and get a glimpse of how the sausage is made or stop by Cynthia's for the real thing.

Which is the more frightening den of vipers: the US Senate or Bob's Snake Zoo?

Who really has the bigger hot dog?

The World's Greatest Deliberative Bowel?

Page thirty-one of Rowan Scarborough's interesting and infuriating book, Sabotage: America's Enemies Within the CIA, gives us a peek behind the scenes at the Senate Intelligence Committee in late 2003 as chairman Pat Roberts from Kansas and the top-ranking Democrat Jay Rockefeller lead an investigation into whether pre-war intelligence had been manipulated by the Bush administration:

Rockefeller would sometimes sink to locker-room chitchat, bringing up his bowel movements in closed committee meetings. "I just had the most magnificent shit," he remarked one day to Roberts as the session was about to begin.

Nice to know that even uber-wealthy elites like Rockefeller still take pride in their daily business.

Bizarro Separated At Birth?

Our own Saint Paul, obsequiously approaching Al Franken at the Minnesota State Fair on Saturday and returning with an autographed copy of Franken's manifesto for a better America (now framed and proudly hanging over the mantle place at Saint Paul's palatial Stillwater estate) and...

...Swiftee getting up in Franken's grill at the State Fair over Air America defrauding the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club (video and transcript available) and returning with a hunk of Franken's hide as a trophy?

Recovery or Relapse?

An editorial in today's Wall Street Journal praises Mitt Romney's recent embrace of free market health care reforms, but questions how steadfast his beliefs really are:

One key difference with Rudy Giuliani, who has also proposed similar changes to the tax code, is that the former New York Mayor would allow for interstate insurance and Mr. Romney would not. Mr. Romney says that the logistical difficulties would become a "camel's nose" for national insurance regulations. Maybe so, but that is always a risk with federalism. A far worse camel's nose is the "universal" plan Mr. Romney championed in Massachusetts. As Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards put it, "If universal health care was good enough for Massachusetts, why isn't it good enough for the rest of the country?"

It's not an unfair question. Mr. Romney's Bay State legacy is now praised by liberals as a prototype for national policy. That's done a great deal to set back the kind of tax reform that he now espouses. The issue for GOP primary voters to consider is why he went in such a different direction in Boston. Granted, a mere Governor couldn't restructure the federal tax code, and he was dealing with a far-left legislature. Yet his willingness to compromise in Massachusetts on core matters of principle, and then trumpet those statist policies as a "free-market" solution, raises questions about how far and easily he'd bend to a Democratic Congress.

Mr. Romney's conversion to free-market health-care thinking is nonetheless welcome -- assuming he believes it.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


In a post from August 15th on the great service you receive on the E-470 toll road, called Happy To Pay More For A Better Colorado, I incorrectly assumed that said toll road was not a public operation.

Usually the attendants ask if you want a receipt, which is nice when you're driving on your company's dime. I have to believe that these attendants are not state employees and if that is the case, they--and the E-470--make a powerful argument for further privatization of our highways and byways.

It turns out that the E-470 is in fact operated by a local government consortium:

E-470 is run by the E-470 Public Highway Authority, a consortium of the governments of the jurisdictions the highway passes through (except Denver).

We sincerely regret the error and thank Mitch Berg for
bringing it to our attention after he noticed a mention of it on some local lefty blog.

There really is no excuse for it other than utter and complete laziness. It would have been easy to Google up additional information on the E-470. I even received an e-mail after the post from a regular reader in Colorado which included a link to a site with everything one could ever want to know about the E-470 (and more).

But the real fault lies with the gatekeepers and editors here at Fraters Libertas who should have caught this inaccuracy before it ever saw the light of day. We take turns acting as official editor in chief and this month those duties fell to Atomizer who likely was passed out at the gate.

If there's one thing that my business experience in China has taught me is that those responsible for mistakes must pay an appropriate price. Accordingly, JB will be taking Atomizer on a short "fishing trip" later this week.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Subtlety Of Crop Art

One of my favorite places to visit at the Minnesota State Fair is the Crop Art exhibit in the Horticulture Building (conveniently located just steps from the AM1280-The Patriot booth).

Every year there is at least one entry that illustrates the seed and glue community's seething hatred of the evil and oppressive right, and this year is no exception:

I especially love the twisted little scowl that crop artist Teresa Anderson has applied to Dick's menacing visage.

One can only imagine the thoughts that must have run through Teresa's fragile little mind while she created this masterpiece, though I'm quite certain that the notion of hypocrisy didn't pop up even once during the time it took her to glue down all of the tiny little seeds making up the word "divisiveness".

No Answer, Eh?

Sports announcer line of the weekend (so far) uttered by one of the color commentators during today's US-Canada FIBA Americas tourney game:

"Canada just can't find an answer to stop the US offense."

The US Senior Men's roster?

15 Carmelo Anthony
4 Chauncey Billups
10 Kobe Bryant
14 Tyson Chandler
11 Dwight Howard
6 LeBron James
5 Jason Kidd
13 Mike Miller
9 Tayshaun Prince
8 Michael Redd
12 Amare Stoudemire
7 Deron Williams

Maybe they just need to try harder. Last time I checked the US was up by about fifty.

UPDATE-- Jonathan e-mails to add:

You highlight Carmelo Anthony over Deron Williams. Are you kidding me? Have you seen this kid play? He pretty much single-handedly carried the Jazz to the western conference finals. Where was Carmelo? Playing golf after the first round.

All's Fair

A reminder that the Northern Alliance Radio Network kicks off our 2007 State Fair broadcast schedule today. The First Team (sans John Hinderaker) will get things started at 11am. After we build an insurmountable lead, we'll give way to Mitch and Ed at 1pm. Finally, King and Michael will clean things up at 3pm, running up the score and padding their stats.

If you're out at the Fair, stop by the AM1280 The Patriot broadcast booth on Judson Ave next to the International Bazaar and across from the Horticulture Building (home of the best crop art this side of Topeka) and say hi. We'll be having our first ever Spam! eating contest shortly after 11am and at around 11:30am our first ever butter carving contest, where contestants will do their best to craft Jay Larson's likeness in rich creamy goodness. Fabulous prizes will be awarded.

If you can't make it make it out to the Fair be sure to tune in locally on AM1280 The Patriot WWTC or listen live on the internet stream from anywhere and everywhere. Six solid hours of live and local radio from the State Fair. It really don't get any better.

Brewin' Up At The Fair

Fair contest is one sign that state is home of brews:

While booths for the jammaking and knitting contests sat quiet, their neighbors from the fifth annual Minnesota State Fair Homebrewing Competition turned out at 9 a.m. on a Saturday to get down to business downing beers.

They had their work cut out for them: The number of entries in the contest has quadrupled since it began in 2003 to 346 beers this year.

Culminating today with a best-in-show ceremony, the competition reflects a trend that's brewing statewide.

Homebrewing is bubbling over in Minnesota. Two of the biggest homebrew supply stores in the country are based in the Twin Cities, and so are several national award-winning homebrewers.

Now, that's something worth stopping by when you're out at the Fair. Better than all that crap on a stick.

Friday, August 24, 2007

After The Beers of Summer Are Gone

The Beer Ratings have once again been updated. We're now up to over three-hundred and twelve brews from all over the world.

Recent additions include a number of of beers from Asia as well as some excellent beers for warm-weather imbibing including Summit Scandia, Surly Cynic, Bell's Lager of the Lakes, Capitol Brewing Bavarian Lager, New Belgium's Mothership Wit, Hoegaarden Witbier, and Victory Sunrise Weisbier.

And especially for Diana from St. Louis, Sprecher's Pub Ale. I'm happy to report that the Pub Ale is pretty decent. Good flavor and very quaffable. Drinking a four-pack was a small sacrifice to make in order to gain a regular reader.

Location. Location, Location

The ever-skeptical Bjorn Lomborg says that rising damage costs from hurricanes (and other storms) have little to do with global warming and much to do with where people are choosing to build (WSJ sub req):

The global cost of climate-related disasters has increased relentlessly over the past half century. Hurricane Dean has left behind many billions of dollars of damage. But when Mr. Gore links global warming to the spiraling increase in weather-related insurance costs, he misses the fundamental points.

It has become more popular than ever to reside in low-lying, coastal areas that are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather. In Florida, more people live in Dade and Broward counties today than lived in all 109 coastal counties from Texas through Virginia in 1930. It's obvious that more damage will occur when many more people with much more wealth live in harm's way.

No matter how you look at it, however, the prospect of $1 trillion of weather-related damage by 2040 is frightening. But it is just as frightening that we have developed a blinkered focus on reducing carbon emissions as a way to somehow stop the devastation of events like Hurricane Dean.

Presumably, our goal is to help humans and the planet. Cutting carbon is a very poor way of doing that. If coastal populations kept increasing but we managed to halt climate warming, then research shows that there would still be a 500% increase in hurricane damage in 50 years' time. On the other hand, if we let climate warming continue but stopped more people from moving into harm's way, the increase in hurricane damage would be less than 10%.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Our Freaks Are Better Than Your Freaks

The Pride of Bay Ridge, Mark Yost, writes in to let us know there's no freak shows like Brooklyn freak shows:

For an authentic freak show you have to go -- where else??? -- to Brooklyn. The Coney Island freak show to be exact.

This is the same side show where Houdini performed in the 1890s. I took my son George there two years ago and he loved it. A guy pounded nails into his head. A woman got into a box and then they shoved swords into it. George paid and extra dollar to walk up on stage and see how she contorted herself around the blades. Another guy swallowed fire and another laid down on a bed of nails and had a cinder block broken on his chest with a sledge hammer. The contortionist woman then cut up fruit with swords, then placed them blade-side up on a rack and climbed them barefoot, like a ladder. It was all big fun.

And there was no Lobster Boy.

Just further evidence of the Eden that God created on the western edge of Long Island.

I'm not sure if that was a freak show Mark was describing or just a typical afternoon on Bay Ridge Parkway. To paraphrase Yevgeny Yevtushenko (gesundheit!), he who is conceived in a freak show, years for the freak show.

BTW, the Minnesota State Fair will not be wholly without it's freaky charms. Making a return engagement in the Midway, the World of Wonders Palace of Illusions (pictures available here), including, pay attention Mr. Yost, a woman climbing a ladder made of swords barefoot. For twelve days, Minnesota will be just like Brooklyn.

Twelve Days Later

The 2007 Minnesota State Fair opens today under gray skies and rain. The Fair won't be quite the same without Hugh Hewitt and his trusty sidekick (we can only hope their ban will be lifted in time for next year's GOP convention), but it still will be the Great Minnesota Get Together.

Many different sources claim to cover the Fair. For my money, among the very best is The name says everything you need to know about the devotion and dedication of the proprietor. Check back early and often.

The Evolution of Freak Shows

According to the Star Tribune, James Lileks will be out at the Minnesota State Fair each and every blessed day, on display and blogging from the "back porch" of the Star Tribune booth. I knew bloggers were a bit of a curiosity in the world of normal human beings. But to see we're now on the level of Lobster Boy and The Wolf People, well it causes a tear to run down my cheek and across my cleft palate.

Although they had them back in the 70's and 80's, I never went to the freak shows at the MN State Fair in my youth. But I did once get caught up in the sales pitch for a side show attraction called Little Irvy. As you may recall, year after year, there was a semi parked just outside the Midway grounds with a tinny speaker broadcasting a taped message about a real whale being inside. The hook was that if it wasn't real, they'd give you the truck.

Even as a child, I was incredulous. There was no way they could have a living, breathing whale inside a truck. Yet there sat the truck, all day, every day. Maybe no one had the guts to challenge the claim and bring this bizarre charade to an end? Well one year, I was about 12, I had had enough (and I felt I needed a semi) so I convinced my parents to pony up the dollar, or whatever it was, for me to get in there and put a stop to this once and for all.

I think that was the day I learned, to quote another master of the sideshow swindle, to pay close attention to what the meaning of the word is is. There was a whale inside that truck. And I guess he was real. What he wasn't doing was breathing. From the looks of him, he hadn't for quite some time. Little Irvy, we hardly knew ye.

Upon exiting the truck and further reviewing the precisely and subtly worded sales pitch painted on the side of the truck and playing on the taped message, they had me. They were using what is known in some legal circles as the Old Frozen Whale Loophole.

According to this terrific Phoenix New Times article from 1995 profiling Little Irvy and his owner Tyrone Malone, I apparently wasn't the first rube to be suckered in:

Shaking his head, Malone tells of the angry customer who stormed out of the trailer, demanding to know why the word "FROZEN" didn't appear on Irvy's truck. Malone snorts derisively. "Well, for the same reason banks don't paint '21 PERCENT' on the front of their windows. Grow up! A guy gets a bad hamburger and he doesn't complain, but sell him a ticket to see a dead whale and he's got to tell the world.

Looking back now, my wounded pride finally healed, I guess seeing a frozen sperm whale is almost as cool as seeing a live one, especially for the measly price you paid. Even if it did look like this:

In spite of placards identifying the location of Irvy's blowhole, mouth, glass eye and other points of anatomical interest, the creature is not even immediately recognizable as a whale. His skin severely peeling (freezer burn set in less than six months after Malone entombed him in the refrigerated case), the aquatic mammal looks less like a whale than it does a gigantic semideflated tire that's lost its tread.

Which is still better than it might have been. It seems dead whale exhibitions have a long, proud history in this country, even before the miracle of refrigeration:

... showman extraordinaire P.T. Barnum raked in a bundle displaying the iced corpse of a 12-foot black whale at his American Museum in New York City. "Years ago, there were guys who'd load a dead whale--unrefrigerated, mind you--onto a railroad flatcar," continues Malone. "Then they'd haul the thing around the country until the flies outnumbered the paying customers. When the whale started decomposing too badly, they'd just dump the thing along the side of the tracks and disappear in the night.

I haven't seen Little Irvy at the Fair for years. I would imagine its hard to earn a lot of repeat business when your sales pitch is based on deception. According to The Phoenix New Times:

But Little Irvy hasn't played the Arizona State Fair for a while--or very many other big venues, either. "That whale has been around forever," says Jim Simpson of the Michigan State Fair. "To get any longevity out of that kind of attraction, you can't bring it in year after year. How many times can you look at a dead whale? It just doesn't have the staying power that's going to draw people back time after time."

Perhaps something for James Lileks to remember. The blogging routine, like dead whales, probably can't remain viable State Fair attraction for more than 20 - 25 years. Enjoy it while you can.

Post Script: This sad note on the 1997 death of Tyrone Malone, the genius behind the whale, in a car accident. It looks like his plans for a permanent memorial for Little Irvy were prematurely ended as well. The ultimate fate of this State Fair legend is unknown.

The Elder Blows: My favorite State Fair freak show (pre-Lileks) had to be Lobster Boy, even though the murals on the outside of the trailer of him frolicking in the waves snapping up fish with his claws didn't quite live up to the reality inside. I also recall the Snake Woman (I think) trying to hit on a friend of mine (we were in college) one year. Had he been a little drunker, it would have made for an interesting morning after.

The Audacity of a Dope

You may have noticed that we recently started labeling our posts here at Fraters Libertas. Part of the reason was to make our scribbling easier to reference for our valued readers, but mostly it was driven by curiosity about how much we're really writing about topics like health care, hipster doofuses, and hockey.

Labeling posts as they are created is a fairly straight-forward, simple process. The real work comes in back-labeling the nearly fifty-seven-hundred posts that have been created over the last five-plus years (back-labeling not back-dating: our Fraters Inc. stock options are so far under water that even Alvin would have trouble reaching them).

It was in during this tedious back-labeling process that I came upon this gem in a post of mine from March 20th, 2002:

Before we start getting too far ahead of ourselves in the war on terrorism and prepare to move on Iraq, we should ensure that the situation in Afghanistan is much more stable than it is currently. If that means we have to take military action in Pakistan, either with or without the co-operation of the Paki government, then so be it. A replay of the situation in Vietnam with enemy "sanctuaries" in Cambodia and Laos that were off limits for most of the war must not be repeated.

Positively Obamaesque, ain't it? Maybe there is still hope for aught-eight after all...

A Mistake Anyone Could Make

This week's edition of the local "alternative" weekly City Pages includes a correction from their story last week on Who's to Blame? for the 35W bridge collapse. I can't find the correction on-line, but it boils down to the fact that they misidentified former US Senator Dave Durenberger as a Democrat rather than a Republican (if you search "Durenberger" on the City Pages web site you can find a link to the story that still contains the error even though the story itself has been corrected).

Considering some of the opinions expressed by Durenberger since he has left office, I think we can cut the gatekeepers and editors a little slack on this one.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Well, The Cars Have Muscle

Mark Yost writes about where America's automotive get up and go has got up and went in today's Wall Street Journal (sub req):

Many come to this leafy suburb outside Detroit every August for the Woodward Dream Cruise. It's one of the last places on Earth where low fuel economy, high octane and raw horsepower are still celebrated with a rare combination of exuberance and reverence.

Best described as the world's largest rolling muscle-car show, the Dream Cruise has been held on the third Saturday of August for decades. But locals know that it really begins as soon as the snow melts. That's when unabashed muscle-car enthusiasts open up the heated garage and take the tarp off of their 400-horsepower steel chariots. These cars are labors of love for many. They scour eBay and small-town auctions to find them. Viewed more broadly, the cars, with names like Chevelle, Mustang and Hemi 'Cuda, are reminders of the days when Detroit actually made cars with some sense of styling and git-up-and-go under the hood.

Woodward Avenue is the grand boulevard that runs the length of Detroit, from the bombed-out shell of the inner city to suburban Pontiac and beyond. But during the third week in August, the stretch from about Eight Mile Road northward becomes a scene straight out of "American Graffiti," George Lucas's 1973 homage to California's Car Culture and the muscle cars that defined it. There are other classic car shows, but this is the one where car owners come to cruise and be cruised.

Like most work by Mr. Yost, it's down to earth, interesting, and well-written. My only qualm comes with this bit:

And so it went. I walked about eight miles here, but could have gotten all the material I needed for this story in about a block and a half.

Walked eight miles? Not sure how he slipped that one by the levels of gatekeepers, fact-checkers, and editors.

JB Quips:

Weird. You mean these guys collect, like OLD cars? That's so weird. I mean, who would want an OLD car? I'm glad there is an intrepid East Coaster on the scene to make sense of these bizarre sociological activities. Like a modern day Margaret Mead, we someone to go to the native people's habitats to understand the motivations of this unusual pre-occupation and their "rare combination of exuberance and reverence" for these old cars.

And they like them fast? Again, so weird.

Home Sweet Home?

Holman Jenkins argues against the conventional wisdom of the universal good of home ownership in today's Wall Street Journal (sub req):

But a home financed by a mortgage is not just an asset. It's also a liability. We owe thanks to Carolina Katz Reid, then a graduate student at University of Washington, for a 2004 study of what she dubbed the "low income homeownership boom." She considered a simple question -- "whether or not low-income households benefit from owning a home." Her discoveries are bracing:

Of low-income households from a nationally representative sample who became homeowners between 1977 and 1993, fully 36% returned to renting in two years, and 53% in five years. Suggesting their sojourn among the homeowning was not a happy one, few returned to homeownership in later years.

Even among those who held on to their homes for 10 years, the average price-appreciation gain was 30% -- less than if their money had been invested in Treasury bills. This meager capital gain was about half that enjoyed by middle-income homeowners.

A typical low-income household might spend half the family income on mortgage costs, leaving less money for a rainy day or investing in education. Their less-marketable homes apparently also tended to tie them down, making them less likely to relocate for a job. Ms. Reid's counterintuitive discovery was that higher-income households were "twice as likely to move long distance if they're unemployed."

Almost needless to add, the great squarer of circles for middle-income homeowners, the mortgage-interest deduction, won't turn a house into a paying proposition for those with little income to shelter.

Bottom line: Homeownership likely has had an exceedingly poor payoff for millions of low-income purchasers, perhaps even blighting the prospects of what might otherwise be upwardly mobile families.

Might be time to rethink the notion that providing an easier path to home ownership for low-income people is a method to improve their circumstances.

Update: King has more on this matter.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lovely Spam! Wonderful Spam!

This Saturday, we kick off this year's first live NARN broadcast from the Minnesota State Fair. As in year's past, we'll be located on Judson across from the Horticulture Building and next to the International Bazaar (and Summit beer garden). You can check out a complete State Fair map here.

A big part (for some the only part) of any visit to the Fair is food. And this year we'll get the party started in true Fair style by beginning the show with a visit from the good folks at the new Spam booth. That's right, Spam burgers and Spam curds. Does it get any better or more Minnesotan?

If you're in the area, be sure to stop by at 11am to witness the first ever NARN Spam burger eating contest (with fabulous prizes of course). We'll follow up this inaugural event with our tradition laden fifty-eighth annual Scotch Egg eating contest on Saturday September 1st. You won't want to miss either one.

If you can't make it make it out to the Fair be sure to tune in locally on AM1280 The Patriot WWTC or listen live on the internet stream from anywhere and everywhere. The whole NARN crew will be out there from 11am-5pm and if past events are any indication, it's going to be more fun than a case of Spam. Now that's saying something.

UPDATE: We're still looking for a band to come out to the Fair and play in and out of (and during) breaks. If you're interested and available, drop us a line.

Bridge Falls, Bad Ideas Rise

State Representative Ryan Winkler (my rep) unveils a proposal to compensate the victims and investigate the causes of the 35W bridge in an opinion piece in today's Star Tribune:

First, the state should act to provide a prompt, fair compensation system for its citizens. Gov. Tim Pawlenty is already exploring this concept, and if the Legislature meets in special session, it should establish a bridge-collapse victims' compensation fund. A similar, much larger, fund was created by Congress shortly after 9/11. That fund was extremely successful -- 97 percent of the families of those killed in the World Trade Center chose to participate. In exchange for their agreement not to sue, the victims of the attack or their families received prompt, fair compensation. In Minnesota's case, the state and insurance companies representing the engineers and construction companies that worked on the bridge should split the contribution to this fund.

Second, the Legislature should appoint a special counsel for its joint committee to investigate the bridge collapse. The mission of the joint committees is to seek the truth and to establish who had any responsibility for the collapse, regardless of political party, branch of government or limits of liability insurance. To deliver on this mission, the joint committee will need a special counsel to perform the investigation in a way that only a prosecutor knows how to do, and the committee must stand ready with the Legislature's subpoena power to back up that investigation.

At initial glance, the first idea is the least egregious of the two. We should have learned by now that finding the truth is not what special counsels do best. Politicizing matters, expanding the scope of the inquiry far beyond its original intent, chasing ancillary, barely-connected events and people down rabbit holes, dragging the investigation out for years, and wasting millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars seem to be the core competencies of most of these appointed "special" counsels. This is not what Minnesota needs.

The problem that I have with the victim's compensation fund is that it significantly broadens the definition of "special" events. A terrorist attack on the United States clearly was such an occurrence. But there's a lot of difference between a bridge collapse in Minneapolis and a 9/11 like event. Where do we now draw the line?

What about the fires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards, and other disasters that kill and injure people across the country every year? Governments, whether at the local, state, or federal level, are almost always involved in such events to some extent and the it's easy to argue--as Winkler does here--that those victims deserve prompt and certain compensation too. Should we set up "special" compensation funds for them too?

UPDATE: Speed Gibson isn't a fan of Winkler's proposal either.

Robbing Peter To "Help" Paul

Rep. Oberstar labeled 'Porker of the Month':

WASHINGTON--A citizens watchdog committee has named U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., "Porker of the Month" for August because of his proposal for a 5-cent gas tax increase to raise $25 billion within three years for a new bridge trust fund.

Oberstar's proposal comes in the wake of the I-35W bridge collapse over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis that killed 13.

In a news release, The Citizens Against Government Waste alluded back to the 2005 transportation bill and said that Oberstar was part of the "earmark melee" where "nearly 6,500 pork barrel projects worth more than $24 billion" were added to the final bill. Meanwhile, a push to increase funds from $2 billion to $3 billion for bridge reconstruction was considered but not approved.

An Oberstar aide fired back at the group.

"What they are arguing against is a congressman being responsive to projects all brought to him by constituents to help provide jobs and economic development. The congressman won't apologize for helping his district, and that's the bottom line," said John Schadl, Oberstar communications director, in a telephone interview from Washington last week.

Bringing home the bacon has been Oberstar's bottom line since he arrived in Washington over thirty years ago.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Let's Not Bicker And Argue About Who's Killing Who

Robert T. Miller looks at The Name of God at FIRST THINGS:

Tiny Muskens, the Roman Catholic bishop of Breda in the Netherlands, says that Dutch Catholics ought to pray using the word Allah rather than God or its synonyms in Dutch. Muskens argues that it makes no inherent theological difference in which language one prays, and he notes that in countries where the word Allah is in common usage as a name for God, Christians already often use the word in their prayers. Adopting the word Allah, Muskens thinks, will eliminate "discussions and bickerings" between Muslims and Christians and so improve relations between the religions.

Muskens is right that, from a Catholic point of view, there is nothing inherently wrong in saying "Allah" for "God," just as there would be nothing inherently wrong in saying "Miny Tuskens" or "Tuny Miskens" for "Tiny Muskens." The problem, of course, is Tiny Muskens' name is Tiny Muskens, and anyone who called Tiny Tuny or Muskens Miskens would be making fun of him. So, too, in theology; despite the conventionality by which strings of phonemes get their meaning, once names have been established, people who change them are doing so for a reason, and the nature of that reason counts in determining whether the change is reasonable or unreasonable, advisable or inadvisable.

In this case, even from a Catholic point of view, the name of God is not a pure triviality. When at the burning bush Moses asked God for his name, the Lord gave a very particular answer. "God said to Moses, I am who am. This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations" (Exod. 3:14-15). Many devout Jews treat this name, especially in Hebrew, with such reverence that they will not speak it aloud. And when Christ appropriated this name to himself (John 8:58), everyone understood that he was proclaiming his own divinity.

On the other hand, some Muslims believe that the phonetic string "Allah" is an especially appropriate name for God, in part because, in their understanding, "Allah" has no feminine or plural forms. Thus, even many non-Arabic-speaking Muslims refer to God as "Allah" and do so for reasons of theological importance in Islam. Hence, it's unclear what might be at stake theologically in the unlikely event that anyone were to take Muskens' proposal seriously.

But debating the merits of Muskens' suggestion misses the larger point here. Muskens makes it sound as if the problems in Muslim-Catholic relations were merely silly arguments about semantics that distract from the truly important things on which we all agree. In fact, there is a serious, substantive problem dominating Christian-Muslim relations at the moment, the same problem that dominates Muslim-Jewish, Muslim-Buddhist, Muslim-Hindu, and Muslim-Orthodox relations, and that problem is that Muslim fanatics keep murdering innocents of all faiths, including their own, in terror attacks.

The name is not the problem. What's being done in the name is.

Meetings I'd Like To Facilitate

Our listening posts have been picking up a lot of chatter lately regarding some sort of event being planned and carried out by a locally based cell. At this time, we don't have enough reliable information to confirm the rumors and so the overall threat level will remain unchanged. However, we would encourage you to continue to exercise caution and remain vigilant, especially residents in the south east metro area.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

For The Last Time: It's Not The Taxes, Stupid

The Wall Street Journal editorializes on Bridges and Taxes (sub req):

Minnesota's transportation auditors warned as long ago as 1990 that there was a "backlog of bridges that are classified as having structural deficiencies." In 1999 engineers declared that cracks found in the bridge that collapsed were "a major concern." Bike paths were deemed a higher priority by Congress, however, including its powerful Minnesota Representatives.

As recently as July 25, Mr. Oberstar sent out a press release boasting that he had "secured more than $12 million in funding" for his state in a recent federal transportation and housing bill. But $10 million of that was dedicated to a commuter rail line, $250,000 for the "Isanti Bike/Walk Trail," $200,000 to bus services in Duluth, and $150,000 for the Mesabi Academy of Kidspeace in Buhl. None of it went for bridge repair.

Minnesota's state budget is also hardly short of tax revenue. The state spends $25 billion a year, twice what it did 10 years ago. The Tax Foundation reports that Minnesota has the seventh highest personal income tax rates among all states, the third highest corporate tax rates, and the 10th highest taxes on workers.

The Legislature started the year with a record $2 billion budget surplus, and the economy threw off another $149 million of unexpected revenue. Where did all that money go? Not to roads and bridges. The Taxpayers League of Minnesota says the politicians chose to pour those tax dollars into more spending for health care, art centers, sports stadiums and welfare benefits.

Even transportation dollars aren't scarce. Minnesota spends $1.6 billion a year on transportation -- enough to build a new bridge over the Mississippi River every four months. But nearly $1 billion of that has been diverted from road and bridge repair to the state's light rail network that has a negligible impact on traffic congestion. Last year part of a sales tax revenue stream that is supposed to be dedicated for road and bridge construction was re-routed to mass transit. The Minnesota Department of Economic Development reports that only 2.8% of the state's commuters ride buses or rail to get to work, but these projects get up to 25% of the funding.

Americans aren't selfish or stingy, and they can see for themselves that many of our roads need repair. Minnesota in particular is a state that has long prided itself on its "progressive" politics and a willingness to pay higher taxes for good government. Minnesotans already pay twice as much in taxes per capita than residents in New Hampshire and Texas -- states that haven't had a major bridge collapse.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Like Rain On Your Wedding Day

All over the Twin Cities, single women are rending their clothes, gnashing their teeth, and breaking out the sackcloth and ashes. Yes ladies, one of the the area's most eligible of bachelors--our own Saint Paul--is tying the knot and beginning a life of wedded bliss on this very day. He status as a free agent officially ends this afternoon when he signs a lifetime contract.

To avoid the media glare and crush of paparazzi, the ceremony and reception are being held in undisclosed and highly secure locations. Word is that Captain Ed has received exclusive rights to live blog the events so check in at Captain's Quarters throughout the day for updates and breaking news as it happens.

Friday, August 17, 2007

It Works On So Many Levels

These days anyone who has an e-mail account and is not a complete social cipher likely receives scores of forwarded e-mails from friends, relatives, acquaintances, and coworkers with funny stories, jokes, pictures of cute animals, appeals to join various causes, and an array of other bizarre and unusual items of interest. The speed at which information passes through these networks is staggering and instead of six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon, everyone in the networked world is now linked at some point to everyone else by a chain of e-mail.

It's not often that you get to see this process unfold from the genesis. However, I was recently fortunate enough to get an inside view of the way information spreads (whether it was intended to or not) and is interpreted (and often distorted) in the cyber space age.

I imagine many of you have already seen these images of a young child with a fork implanted in his nose. If you Google "fork in nose" the first nine results link to it and if you Google "kid fork in nose" at least sixteen of the first twenty results do as well. Here are just a couple of the variety of sites that have mentioned it.

In this case, the kid in question happens to be the son of a long-time friend of mine. Back in July, shortly after the incident took place, he sent me (and others obviously) an e-mail with the pictures. I forwarded it to my wife and JB. Both assure me that our particular chain stopped there.

A week later, JB sent me an e-mail that he had received at work with the pics. The person who sent it to him had no connection to my friend. Clearly it had gone viral.

This week, I received an e-mail from a coworker with the pics. Again no connection to my friend or to the chain that JB was part of. I e-mailed my friend to advise him that his son was making the rounds and he replied:

It has been a surreal experience to watch this unfold. It was pretty funny reading the commentary at some of these websites. My two favorites are the one about my son having Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (I am pretty sure that is not the case as my wife really cut back on the hard stuff). The second was a comment on my classy nature, demonstrated by my decision to take a picture before treating my son's injury.

I am not sure what to think of this. On one hand, I am a little bummed out it got out, on the other hand, I would find the pictures pretty damn funny if someone sent them to me. Overall, it has been interesting to see how far the Internet spreads, how fast, and how inaccurately.

Just to be clear, these pictures are not fake, although it's easy to see why conspiracy theories are so popular when you read some of the comments. It you don't believe me, the good folks at Snopes have verified it.

And while my friend is many things, he is not an uncaring jerk. The picture was taken while they were waiting for medical attention.

Remember, don't believe everything you read on the Internet.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Who Says You Can't Fight City Hall?

St. Louis Park Activities:

Movie: The Great Global Warming Swindle - 3731

Westwood Hills Nature Center will continue its conversation with the community about global warming this fall by presenting the film, "The Great Global Warming Swindle." The film shows an alternate viewpoint to the one presented in the showing of "An Inconvenient Truth" earlier this year. The city hopes the films will foster a balanced community dialogue on the topic of global warming. This documentary was produced by Martin Durkin and argues against the scientific opinion that human activity is the main cause of global warming. The movie is 90 minutes long with a discussion to follow the movie.

Ages: 12 Yrs. and over

It's a small victory, but a victory none the less. Crackpots everywhere are smiling in their basements.

By the way, Chad Doughty is now officially "cool" (once again). Should I call Tim Sherno for an update?

Wise Men Say Only Fools Rush In

Another day, another news story about municipal Wi-Fi networks running behind schedule and over cost. This one comes courtesy of the Wall Street Journal and is titled Wireless--With Strings Attached (sub req). Interestingly enough, my post from last Friday on our city's wireless boondoggle was called No Wires, But Plenty Of Strings. Great minds and whatnot.

From today's WSJ:

In recent years, dozens of U.S. cities and towns have announced plans to build Wi-Fi networks that would give their citizens a cheap and convenient way to access the high-speed Internet and provide new competition to phone and cable companies.

Now some of those projects are running into hurdles. Constructing networks that can provide Internet access to homes and office buildings and withstand challenges from nature that interfere with wireless signals -- such as hills or rainstorms -- is proving more costly than anticipated. Some Wi-Fi projects, such as Philadelphia's, are running 30% or more over budget. Many cities are discovering the true costs of the initiatives only as they begin to roll out infrastructure and test the networks. Consumer demand for the services, meanwhile, has been soft in the early going.

Companies such as EarthLink Inc. and MetroFi Inc. have been increasingly taking the lead on building and operating these networks for cities. But as the economics of the industry get tougher, the companies are asking cities to bear more of the financial burden, either by contributing cash toward construction or by agreeing to purchase Wi-Fi services for government workers.

No one over promises and under delivers better than government. It turns out that the idea that city sponsored WiFi would be much cheaper than the available commercial alternatives is not matching up with reality:

The Wi-Fi companies envisioned being able to offer subscription service to consumers at rates that were significantly cheaper than phone and cable broadband. But the unexpectedly high costs of building Wi-Fi networks -- the price tag can easily run into the tens of millions for a big city -- coupled with lower prices for broadband from some phone companies, has made it tougher for consumer Wi-Fi to be competitive. For example, EarthLink offers Wi-Fi for about $20 a month, a price that is on par with the lower-end Internet services now offered by AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc.

At the end of the second quarter, EarthLink had only about 4,000 subscribers from its rollouts in Philadelphia, Anaheim, Calif. and Corpus Christi.

The combined population of these three cities is over 2.1 million. Nice market penetration there.

The company, which is operating under new leadership after the death of former Chief Executive Garry Betty early this year, said in late July it would pull back on further investments in Wi-Fi until it negotiates better deals with cities. In particular, the company wants a commitment by cities to become a significant customer, or "anchor tenant," and thereby guarantee EarthLink a steady revenue stream. "The Wi-Fi business, as currently constituted, will not provide an acceptable return" for EarthLink shareholders, said newly installed Chief Executive Rolla Huff on a recent conference call with analysts.

Cities pitched WiFi networks based on low cost to their residents and minimal investment from city coffers. Now, the low costs aren't there and the cities (read all us poor taxpaying slobs) are expected to step in and pick up a much larger share of the tab than originally envisioned.

Esme Vos, who runs the MuniWireless site, says the pressure on cities to use the networks for government services is healthy. "It forces the cities to sit down and think about what they want to do with the networks," she says. "They actually have to come up with a business plan."

What a novel idea. It might have been nice if the cities had actually come up with a business plan BEFORE they rolled said networks out.

"The cities that didn't join the rush last year are taking it slower and are being much more thorough in their analysis," Mr. Settles said.

This is another example of why gridlock is actually good and divided government is usually desirable. In all but emergency situations, governments work best that work slowest.

Stuck In The Middle Kingdom With You

Jason Lee Steorts recently spent a month traveling in China and has recounted his experiences in a fascinating series at National Review Online:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

If you have any interest in China, its people, or its future, you should read all five pieces.

In Part One, he offers a possible explanation for the general political apathy that you often find among Chinese:

The economic reforms begun under Deng Xiaoping, meanwhile, produced a system which the party has quaintly christened "socialism with Chinese characteristics." In practice this means capitalism within a vexing regulatory framework (you can, thankfully, bribe your way around it), and imperfect but improving property rights. Owing to these reforms, significant social mobility is now possible for the first time in Chinese history. The twenty- and thirtysomething crowd on China's eastern seaboard lives essentially as most young New Yorkers do, even if at a slightly lower material standard. They work hard, party on weekends, drink too much, sleep around, and try to get rich. The Communist party plays no part in their thoughts and lives; certainly it does not and cannot hold that absolute dominion over the private realm which characterizes totalitarian states (cf. Mao Tse-tung, Cultural Revolution, related psychotics and psychoses). In this light, it is easy to understand, if not excuse, the political complacency of most Chinese: Had you lived through Mao, or grown up hearing stories about his China, you too might conclude that the situation today was pretty damn good.

In Part Four, he visits Shanghai:

Shanghai is sleazy, sleazy, sleazy. If you are a single white man walking along the Bund or Canton Road by night, you will be propositioned roughly every ten steps. (I offer this as a literal truth.) Most often you are approached by a pimp, who offers "beautiful girl sexy massage." (They say this in English, of a sort.) Sometimes the aforementioned beauty makes the approach herself. Not infrequently, you will receive phone calls late at night from your hotel's "massage center." (This is true all over China, not just in Shanghai.)

I've been to Shanghai three times. On at least one occasion I have walked along the Bund at night alone. And the only propositioning I've ever experienced is for DVDs, watches, shoes, and cheap souvenirs. I feel a bit like George on Seinfeld when the Sunshine Carpet Cleaners didn't attempt to lure him into their crazy religious cult.

GEORGE: (incredulity) Him you brainwashed! (angry shout) What's he got that I don't have?!

What kind of a snobby, stuck-up, prostitution is this?!

There's also an excellent overview of China from Part Four:

Every time I visit China, I find myself thinking that, in its modern guise, it is a marriage of the worst in Western and Eastern cultures. From the East, it retains structures of political and moral thought in which the individual plays no part, his welfare being entirely subordinated to that of society. The concept of a right has no place in Chinese history, and little place in China today. Moreover, the agnosticism of Chinese philosophy (including Confucianism, which is called a religion only by abusing that word) has left a great many modern Chinese with no belief in, or even longing for, transcendent meaning.

At the same time, China has partaken of the West's most bitter fruits. Marxism is Exhibit A, but today the West manifests itself mainly in capitalistic flavor. Though I am a devoted free-marketeer, it seems obvious to me that the highest ends in life are not material. I do not even mean this claim religiously: I say only that such things as love, beauty, intellectual inquiry, and breadth of experience matter more to me (and to most people I know) than does wealth. I suspect most young, urban Chinese would say they agree; and yet such ends seem to exert little influence on their actions. I have probably never encountered a more materialistic group of people than Chinese middle-class youths; and I have never seen a place where the pursuit of wealth was less mitigated by nonmaterial values than in urban China.

After my second visit to China, I realized that while the Chinese aren't really Godless Commies anymore, they for the most part are still quite Godless.

In the last installment, Steorts notes a contradiction between the macro and micro:

Such experiences are among the great joys of traveling in China. Of course, they only complicate my feelings toward the Middle Kingdom: for while almost every Chinese person I have met has given me powerful reasons to like him, I recoil from the chauvinism of the Chinese taken collectively. Perhaps this contradiction between the people and the persons shows that their chauvinism is broad but shallow, my own biases too, and both tend to dissolve upon contact with human beings.

And a wish for a more honest future:

What I should most like to see in China, and for China, is a day of reckoning. I should like to see a day for the telling of truth.

I should like to see China's leaders publicly reverse (or more) Deng's assessment of Mao as having been 30 percent bad and 70 percent good. I should like to visit Id Kah Square in Kashgar and find a plaque which tells me not only when the city's mosque was placed on China's cultural registry, but when it was trashed by the Red Guards. I should like to see the ruins of Jyekundo Monastery rebuilt with government funds.

China's political and economic journey since the death of Mao has been something approximating a miracle. And yet its latter-day mandarins perpetuate a ludicrous salvation myth about themselves in order to obscure their endless sins. It is this dishonesty--or, more precisely, this highly selective truth-telling--that most infuriates me every time I go to China. It infuriates me all the more because I love China. I do not know when a day for the telling of truth will come. But when it does, if it does, the Chinese Communist party will not long survive.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Breaking Interview News

Lunch time conservatives, at 12:10 PM (Central) Karl Rove being interviewed by Rush Limbaugh right now. Streaming here.

UPDATE: It's over! Not bad, but no new insights provided. All things considered my cheese and honey mustard sandwich was equally as compelling. Streaming here.

Little One-dollar Folded Paper Emotional Prostitutes

Bob e-mails to relate an incident which demonstrates the importance of context. It begins with his e-mail to customer service:

Dear Customer Relations at American Greetings,

This probably falls into the category of "here we are trying our best to do some good, and along comes some guy to nitpick..." I recently purchased one of your greeting cards to give to my wife. Here is some info from the back of the card that may assist you in identifying the product. The numbers on the back of the card are USA 259 3729323, and CANADA 339 ARM59915-DOW; the number under the barcode is 6152663037.

Anyway, I was looking for something romantic with a scripture verse on it, and I thought I had found the perfect card. On the front of the card is a picture of a couple walking along the beach with the following words inscribed on the front:
...let's enjoy ourselves with love!
Proverbs 7:18

I decided to look up the verse in my bible (I'm always interested in context!) and was surprised at what I found. I'll admit that I did get a good chuckle out of this exercise. The words in Proverbs 7:18 belong to those of a "loose woman" that speaks with "smooth words" and is "dressed as a harlot, wily of heart." She says to her target of seduction "for my husband is not at home." Below, I have pasted the entire Proverbs Chapter Seven for your perusal. You'll see that the words are that of an unscrupulous woman attempting to seduce a man and commit adultery. The verse appears to be King Solomon admonishing a protégé to resist temptation and remain chaste, and in turn avoid damnation.

Needless to say, after reporting the findings of my exegesis, my wife was no longer in the mood. My recommendation would be for you to scrap this product, and to pass this feedback on to the appropriate department. Thank you.

P.S. I took the Scripture below from the Revised Standard Version (RSV), as that is the only translation widely accepted by both protestants and Catholics.

And the response:

We are sorry to hear about the inconvenience you experienced with our greeting card. I will pass along your comments along with the product numbers for our design teams. In the meantime, could we get your mailing address? This would allow us to send out a manufacturer's coupon so you can get a replacement card to give to her.

Robert Consumer Relations American Greetings Corporation

No word if the new card struck the proper chord of sentimentality.

I Wanna Be Inundated? (not really)

I've been loving the ESPN mini series The Bronx is Burning.

(Although I was kind of upset that the program doesn't show any actual burning of any parts of the city that has been crammed down our collective throats by the establishment media as the greatest, most interesting place evar! for decades...Case in point: Phil Rizutto. Great ballplayer, won, what, seven World Series? Great. But ESPN was acting like the entire country had some special love for this man when it's really more of a Baby Boomer New York thing--I mean, how did this affect Billy Crystal?)

So, while the BIB has been quite good there is one glaring problem--the music. For reasons of hipness and musical correctness, the makers of this series have decided to use all Ramones songs. Talk about a band that has been crammed down our collective throats by critics and understanders of what is "important" in entertainment! They killed bloated classic rock man! They brought the DIY ethos to making Genuine Music! Yes, we know. We've been told this for a long time now.

What bothers me about the inclusion of the Ramones music is not simply the fact that I personally cannot stomach the crap (with all the affected, fake English-accent singing--OY!). What's worse is the fact that only a relatively small number of people living in New York were actually listening to the Ramones in 1977--while the rest of the series works hard to make every other detail period-correct.

It strikes me as more than a little precious that the producers decided to make a hipnoscenti band representative of What Was Happening in New York at the time when most people in the city were listening to Donna Summer, the Eagles or Earth, Wind and Fire.

SP ADDS: Bill Simmons cited The Bronx Is Burning as one of the few sports highlights this summer, in particular this separated at birth:

... the enjoyable moments have been few and far between. Basically, it's been Joey Chestnut's toppling Kobayashi, Stephon Marbury's surreal Mike'd Up appearance and the actor who played Reggie Jackson in The Bronx Is Burning's inadvertently looking like C. Thomas Howell in Soul Man.

THE ELDER CHIMES: TBIB is not only the best sports drama on television and the best thing ESPN has ever done (although I did enjoy "Playmakers" too), it's the best drama on television right now period. Yes, better than "24", "CSI Shreveport", "House", "Lost", and the other overrated dreck that people waste their time on. And no, I don't have premium cable so don't e-mail and tell me that _____ on HBO is the apex of television history.

Happy To Pay More For A Nicer Colorado

On my recent two-day bidness jaunt to Boulder, I once again had the distinct pleasure of cruising along the E-470 Public Highway. After I picked up my rental car and got out of Denver International Airport, I cranked up the iPod radio transmitter, kicked back, and enjoyed the wide-open, hassle free ride.

It's a toll road, but one that you don't mind paying for at all. The speed limit is seventy-five, the roadway is new, and you share the road with very few cars. Six bucks to get from DIA to Boulder (the last $2 on another toll way) is a bargain by any measure.

I've now hit the E-470 four or five times and the one thing that has always floors me is the toll way operators. Without exception, they've been friendly, polite, and seem genuinely happy to be doing their jobs. Not exactly what one would expect in such a occupation, but it is what they ask for:

The Toll Service Attendant represents the E-470 Public Highway Authority in dealing with patrons in a courteous, professional and helpful manner. Provides drivers with available information concerning routes and area attractions. Registers toll transactions and collects toll amount from persons traveling on toll road. Makes proper change and issues receipts to patrons.

Usually the attendants ask if you want a receipt, which is nice when you're driving on your company's dime. I have to believe that these attendants are not state employees and if that is the case, they--and the E-470--make a powerful argument for further privatization of our highways and byways.

UPDATE: The E-470 is actually operated by a group of local governments.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Rest of the Story?

Lost in the news coverage devoted to the bridge collapse two weeks ago was another local story with far reaching implications. A Minneapolis man (by way of a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan) gets convicted in Federal court:

A federal jury on Friday convicted Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi of possessing fraudulent immigration documents, the U.S. attorney's office said.

Elzahabi, 44, was arrested three years ago as part of a terrorism investigation and has admitted ties to Al-Qaida. But he was prosecuted on immigration charges as prosecutors alleged he used fraud to stay in the United States.

Prosecutors alleged that Elzahabi's 1984 marriage to an exotic dancer in Houston was a business deal to obtain a green card, with Elzahabi paying her to be his wife so he could become a legal permanent resident.

Three perfunctory paragraphs cribbed from the AP is all the Star Tribune deemed necessary for this story. If you were to accept the facts reported here as comprehensive, maybe that's all it deserves. Just an immigration case, a byproduct of an unproductive investigation into terrorism. Probably a case of discrimination anyway. Of all the millions of undocumented workers in this country, why did they target this poor guy? Because he was an Arab! (Sorry, I had a brief flashback to my Star Tribune trained mindset).

On NARN a few months ago, we interviewed terrorism expert Steven Emerson. As a part of our discussion regarding his book Jihad Incorporated, A Guide To Militant Islam in the US, I asked him to comment on the various Minneapolis connections he identified. (This played out as me throwing Arabic names at him and asking him to remember their significance, an exercise Emerson referred to as Jihadi Jeopardy.) Elzahabi was one of the main suspects in this drama. Excerpt from Jihad Incorporated:

Mohammad Kamal Elzahabi is a Lebanese national who entered the United States in 1984 on a student visa. He paid a woman in Houston, Texas to marry him and help him obtain legal permanent resident alien status. Elzahabi divorced her in 1988, after he obtained a green card.

This incident is what he was ultimately convicted of and may lead to his deportation. The facts of his marriage was a point of dispute by Elzahabi's legal counsel. According to the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Defence lawyer Paul Engh gave an impassioned defence of his client, characterizing Mr. Elzahabi as a chivalrous Muslim who had paid a dowry for his bride. "His intentions were pure. Without a doubt, his intentions were pure," the lawyer said.

It's nice to see Elzahabi had his lawyer convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, it looks like the jury needed some actual evidence, which the prosecution brought, according to Fox News:

[Assistant U.S. Attorney W. Anders Folk] said Elzahabi came to the United States in May 1984 on a student visa, with plans to learn English as a second language at the University of Houston. He was introduced to Kathy Ann Glant, a waitress and dancer at the Pink Pussy Cat club, and he promised to pay her $5,000 to marry him. In August, just months after he came to the U.S., Elzahabi and Glant were married. Folk said the couple never lived together, never exchanged rings or went on a honeymoon. Their contact was minimal, consisting mostly of phone calls Glant made to Elzahabi to collect money, or time spent filling out immigration paperwork. Folk said Glant went to Elzahabi's apartment once, when he thought immigration officials were coming to investigate. They had a sexual encounter on that day, Folk said, and Glant got paid for it.

Folk said that during interviews with the FBI in 2004, Elzahabi was recorded as saying the marriage was strictly business. "He couldn't even remember her name," Folk told the jury.

Chivalrous Muslim comes to America to learn English by attending college (?), meets a stripper, falls in love, marries her, then pays her for sex, but doesn't bother to learn her name. It's the classic American love story.

As romantic as this may be, the real story is what happened in the 20 years between his wedding day and his setting up shop in Minneapolis. His evolution into a jihadist began innocently enough:

[Court documents] say he decided to go to Afghanistan after attending a Islamic conference held in the Midwest in 1988.

No word on where that was held or what was said. But I must assume everything was wholesome enough. We just had one of those religious conferences last fall in Minneapolis, attended by none other than the distinguished Representative of the 5th district, and nobody made much of a fuss. I mean, beyond those 6 imams alleged to be re-enacting scenes from United 93 and now suing our local government for discrimination because people objected.

Maybe those Islamic conferences back in the 80s were slightly more action oriented, since it drove Elzahabi into a new career, according to Emerson:

In 1988, he fought in Afghanistan and met with key jihadi figures Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Raec Hijazi, and Bassam Kanj. He again traveled to Afghanistan in 1991 and remained there for approximately four years. During this time, he was a sniper in combat and served as an instructor in small arms and sniper skills for other jihadists attending the Khalden training camp in Afghanistan. Elzahabi admitted that while he was in Afghanistan, he personally knew al Qaeda training camp aficionado Abu Zubaydah and knew of Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

Elzahabi returned to New York City in April 1994 where he ran an axle-repair business. He used this business to help ship to Pakistan portable field radios, which US troops later found in Afghanistan.

From 1997 to 1998 Elzahabi lived in Boston. He worked as a cabdriver and associated with Raed Hijazi, whom he aided in obtaining a Massachusetts driver's license in 1997. Hijazi was later convicted in Jordan for masterminding the failed millennium bombing plot that had targeted American and Israeli tourists in that country. While in Boston, he lived with Bassam Kenj, who helped Hijazi lease a taxi that officials believe was used to fund the Jordan plan.

Elzahabi also traveled to Lebanon, where he provided small arms training to a group of fighters that Bassam Kenj had formed to overthrow the government of Lebanon. Elzahabi stated that he served as a sniper, fighting under the command of Ibn al-Khattab in Chechnya from late 1999 to 2000.

Chechnya, where, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail, Elzahabi engaged in some behavior the Russian authorities are still interested in:

Yesterday's immigration-fraud verdict in a U.S. federal court may smooth the way for the suspect's eventual deportation to Russia -- a country where, according to court records, he said he once fatally shot a bulldozer driver while fighting with Chechen rebels.

But, after all of this, I'm sure Elzahabi was happy to hear, you can go home again. And thanks to that marriage with the exotic dancer, that was the good old USA. According to the Star Tribune (via their online archivists, Power Line):

Elzahabi said he reentered the United States in mid-August 2001 and came to Minneapolis. He had been living in a house near the University of Minnesota that is also home to a mosque.

Once he got here, he started to pursue a new career. According to Emerson, in his section about egregious errors made by the US before 9/11 took place:

Before the 9/11 attacks, the FBI identified Mohammad Kamal Elzahabi as a suspected terrorist. Despite this, in early 2002, Elzahabi received a commercial driver's license to operate a school bus and transport hazardous materials. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Division of Driver Vehicle and Licensing, the FBI "ran his name through a database and cleared him."

He just didn't receive those licenses, he used them. If your kids were in the Minneapolis public school system in the early part of this decade, you just might have had gruff but lovable Mohammad transporting them to school. According to the trade magazine School Transportation News:

Elzahabi spent four months as a First Student school bus driver in late 2001, transporting students for the Minneapolis Public Schools. The company fired him in January of 2002 after he failed to report to work, said Jeff Pearson, region vice president with First Student, Inc.

After fighting in Chechnya from late 1999 through 2000, the FBI said, Elzahabi re-entered the United States and settled in the Minneapolis area. Pearson said Elzahabi applied with First Student on Sept. 11, 2001, the same day terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. At the time, Elzahabi held a valid Massachusetts driver's license and school bus CDL, including hazmat clearance. Pearson said, a check of Minnesota DPS records confirms, that Elzahabi received his Minnesota CDL certification prior to his hire date. As a result, Pearson said First Student does not have on file the name of the school where Elzahabi became certified.

First Student terminated Elzahabi in early January of 2002, after he failed to report back to work for "a number of days" following the winter break, Pearson said, adding that, up until then, First Student documented no problems in his employee file.

Now THAT'S a story. I dare say one that may be of interest to even readers outside of the circulation of School Transportation News.

The Star Tribune has been sleepy to comatose on these stories. They don't seem to meet their standards for what they feel the people of Minnesota need to know about their community. But its not too late. In the interest of helping out our hometown monopoly earn that Pulitzer they've been denied for nearly two decades, here are some questions that need answering:

1) Where was that Midwest Islamic conference in 1988 that radicalized Elzahabi? What was said and by whom? Any of those rabble rousers still working the recruitment circuit in the USA?

2) What were the connections that lead Elzahabi from jihad in Chechnya directly to Minneapolis? Why is a local mosque harboring a jihadist? What's going on at that mosque these days?

3) Why is a guy with a background in terrorism suddenly interested in getting licenses to drive school buses and transport hazardous materials in Minneapolis? How do parents of Minneapolis school children feel about their government's oversight of who they hire?

I can't guarantee a Pulitzer would result from this story. But let's just say occasionally devoting resources to a story of high interest to the readers, one that shows the local paper is actually on their side on issues such as this, wouldn't increase the rate of their circulation dropping any further.

Mash Note

Tom e-mails on my post on orphan booze brands:

In a previous position with the company I work for, I spent some time visiting various distilleries in the Commonwealth of Kentucky (among many other things, our company makes components for bottling, packaging and conveying machinery). Before thinking that a visit to a distillery must be heaven on earth, I have to tell you that the average distillery smells like a fraternity house basement on the Sunday morning after the football team upsets the schools biggest rival (or after the Fraters annual meeting?).

The mashing process is particularly odiferous and the stale alcohol spilled on the floor is well, I hope you get the picture. Anyway, one of the things I found interesting are the number of different brands the average distillery bottles. Many are brands that I've never seen in a liquor store and my contacts at the time said that many were brands distributed overseas. In some cases the booze was top shelf stuff that was bottled under a different brand name for reasons that weren't explained adequately to "move the goods".

At one time I had a little bit of knowledge about what brands were top shelf but bottled under a different brand, but all the testing to see if it was the truth has effected my memory. I understand that Maker's Mark was a brand that had fallen on hard times until the son or grandson of some wheel in the world of Bourbon whisky bought the rights to the name and started making it again like the Sheep Dip brand discussed in your post. Anyway, just as their are tours of wineries in Napa, there are also tours of the distilleries - complete with free tastings throughout the Bourbon country of central KY. I don't know what kind of experience that might offer, but I would certainly recommend a designated driver.