Monday, December 31, 2007

A Happy Medium

Just in time for New Year's Eve, Eric Felten offers some solid advice on cocktails to both drinkers and party hosts. It's from his column in Saturday's Journal on How to Get A Kick From Champagne (sub req):

No amount of sugar and bitters will redeem a lousy bottle of fizz: Use a cheap and nasty champagne, and you will have a cheap, nasty Champagne Cocktail. As in so many things, an Aristotelian mean between the extremes is the answer. Don't waste the best stuff by turning it into a mere ingredient; yet don't use as the backbone of a cocktail anything you wouldn't be willing to drink on its own. It is a principle broadly applicable in the science of liquid refreshment: It assures us palatable cocktails, and puts the lie to the hoary canard that mixed drinks are, by their nature, nothing but dishonest vehicles for delivering substandard liquor.

I can't stress how important those words of wisdom are people. Don't you dare--as a relative did at my Dad's retirement party a few years ago--ever mix Coke with a single malt Scotch. But don't think you're going to get off cheaply by mixing rot gut booze to hide its taste either. If you're going to bother to whip up a cocktail (or more importantly serve them to others), pony up an extra couple of bucks and invest in decent hooch. It doesn't have to be great, just good. Try the Felten Test (can you drink it on its own?) if you have any doubt.

The top shelf stuff stands on its own and should be consumed that way. When you're mixing cocktails, leave the bottom of the barrell swill to the college kids. You're an adult. You should be drinking (and serving) like one.

Development Arrested

Not to make light of what is a very serious matter for the father of long-time friend of Fraters Vox Day, but when you read some of the details in this Strib story on Robert B. Beale, it's hard not to think of the television series "Arrested Development":

Not so very long ago, he had a wife, a family and substantial wealth. He was a leader of his church and a successful business executive.

Then he decided he had the legal right to stop paying his taxes.

Now Beale wears the orange jumpsuit of a jail inmate, back in custody after 14 months as a fugitive.

This from his time on the lam:

"I rode my bicycle and I went jogging daily," he said. One weekend while riding his bike, he said, he stopped at a fruit stand, and a man at the stand sold him some watermelon and told Beale he was a full-time police officer. "I just decided to eat quickly and be gone," Beale said.

Around Christmas, he said, he moved to Orlando, Fla., rented a room under another name and continued to work on his computer. He obtained false identification, he said. He declined to say where he got money to live on.

During this period, he said, he made a couple of trips by plane -- one to attend a tax seminar in New York-- and also took a one-week cruise to the Bahamas, which he called "just a vacation."

Being a fugitive is hard work. You can understand the need for a vacation. And then there's how the run ended:

He said he made a "really dumb mistake" using the same cell phone for 11 months.

"I started calling my family," he says. "My ex-wife found out I was making these calls and she called the police. They subpoenaed the phone records from family... and found out where I was calling from."

He was arrested without incident in the parking lot of an Office Depot in Orlando on Nov. 1.

You can easily picture that happening to George Bluth Sr. The family business dynamic is also similar:

In the meantime, problems were multiplying at his company. In an affidavit filed in Hennepin County District Court in May, Bradford Beale, another of his four sons and vice president of Comtrol, said many company decisions couldn't be made because his father was a fugitive.

If I'm not mistaken, Vox fancies himself a magician as well. The parallels are truly uncanny.

Once this little writers strike thing gets settled, I imagine there will be a slew of pitches for a new comedy series based on the Robert Beale story. Imitation is after all the sincerest form of flattery. All we need is to come up with a catchy title and an appropriate actor to play the lead role.

All I Want For Christmas... some good whisky. Santa has been thoughtful enough to leave top shelf selections of whisky in my stocking the past few years and I hope to make this a regular Christmas tradition for years to come (hint, hint).

This year's gift was rather unique. A Welsh (yes, Welsh) whisky called Penderyn. I believe it is the only single malt distilled in Wales and it has a very interesting impact on the taste buds. The Penderyn web site describes it thusly:

At premium strength (46% vol) Penderyn has an exceptionally balanced taste with an aroma of cream toffee and fleetingly of fresh new heather. Then, as the initial sensations fade, the finishing notes of tropical fruits, raisings and vanilla emerge strongly and are long lasting.

I don't know about the cream toffee, heather, and vanilla. All I know is that it tastes good. It's hard to go wrong with the gift of whisky.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Gayest Year Ever

One of the only downsides to not subscribing to the Star Tribune is that you lose touch with the latest and greatest methods the paper has found to alienate sizable portions of their potential subscriber base. Case in point is a column in the Lifestyle section called "Withering Glance," which offers a couple of gay dudes (Rick Nelson & Claude Peck) the opportunity to vamp about the latest and greatest goings-on in the homosexual world. Here's a sample offering from today's paper:

RN: So, was this the gayest year ever, or what?

CP: It weren't no "Brokeback Mountain," peanut, but there were plenty of noteworthy GLBTish occurrences. Locally, Sen. Larry Craig and his wide stance goo-goo eyes turned our little flyoverland airport into a tourist hotspot. Who knew it would take a "straight" man to familiarize a mainstream audience with the notion of the tearoom tryst?

This is the Sunday edition of the major daily newspaper in the Twin Cities, mind you not an alternative weekly or the latest "Lavender." A paper that Twin Cities families might well be reading together late Sunday morning after church. Mommy, what's a tearoom tryst?

In addition to celebrating and promoting the gay lifestyle, the boys at "Withering Glance" aren't adverse to taking shots at religious leaders who dare teach morality that makes them uncomfortable:

CP: In other Twin Cities news, archbishop-in-waiting John Nienstedt decided to out-pope the pope in a published statement, that said, in part, "Those who actively encourage or promote homosexual acts or such activity with a homosexual lifestyle formally cooperate in grave evil and, if they do so knowingly and willingly, are guilty of mortal sin." This divisive ultra-orthodoxy does not appear to have played that well with anyone outside of Opus Dei.

Apparently Claude's definition of "ultra-orthodoxy" is anything that follows the actual teaching of the Church. Lest there be any doubt, here's what the Catechism says on homosexuality:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

Not a lot of wiggle room with that last sentence is there? Other than easily outraged gay activists, a few "progressive" parishes in the Twin Cities, and the local media, I actually think that Nienstedt's remarks have played just fine. Especially among most Catholics in the archdiocese, who after all are the ones his message was directed to in the first place.

I'm not sure where Claude gets his impressions on how they've gone over. Must be reading the Star Tribune a lot.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

2007 NARN Loon of the Year

Congratulations to Nick Coleman for a well-deserved award.

Lunacy By The Numbers

Later today on the First Team of the Northern Alliance Radio Network, we will announce the 2007 NARN Loon of the Year. As people around the globe wait in breathless anticipation for the result, I thought it would be a good time to take a closer look at the people who earned the distinction of being named NARN Loons of the Week in 2007. Here's how they breakdown.

- There were a total of forty-six LOTWs in 2007.

- Thirty (roughly 65%) were men and sixteen (35%) women.

- The only person to receive more than one LOTW honor was US Senator Amy Klobuchar who won twice. Despite this, she was not in the running as a finalist for Loon of the Year.

- There were five Loons in 2007 who were also honored in 2006:

Joy Behar, Chris Matthews, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Moyers, and Nancy Pelosi.

- Speaking of Behar (but not necessarily joy), she joined Rosie O'Donnell and Sherri Shepherd as members of The View who were dubbed LOTWs.

- The only former President to be chosen as a LOTW was that notoriously loose-lipped firebrand George HW Bush.

Kidding of course. No one should be surprised to learn that it was the mild-mannered Man From Plains, the Thirty-ninth President of the United States, Jimmy Carter.

- Hollywood was well represented with Jane Fonda, Paul Newman, Charlize Theron, Richard Gere, and James Brolin all checking in as LOTWs in 2007.

- The music industry also chipped in with appearances by Zach de la Rocha from Rage Against The Machine, The Fratellis, and Bonnie Raitt et al.

- For a dose of local flavor, 2007 featured Amy Klobuchar, Al Franken, Nick Coleman, Keith Nelson, and the intrepid explorers Bancraft and Arneson, whose quest to travel to the Arctic to publicize the impact of global warming was called off because... guessed it, the cold.

- Speaking of global warming, it is interesting to note that while a number of LOTWs were chosen because of their links to the issue (Bancraft & Arneson, Amy Klobuchar, The Fratellis) the man most associated with the cause was shut out in 2007. There's always next year Al.

Tune in to WWTC AM1280 today from 11am-1pm to hear our entire 2007 LOTW retrospective (and many of the clips referenced above). If you aren't fortunate enough to live in the Twin Cities, you can catch all the fun on the live internet stream. After the First Team kicks things off, be sure to stick around and listen to Mitch and Ed from 1pm-3pm and then King and Michael from 3pm-5pm as the NARN puts an exclamation point on the year that was 2007.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Blind Faith

From the brain trust who brought the magic of Teacher's Union Talk to the local airwaves, an exciting new, and progressive, weekend radio experience is coming soon:

Minnesota Atheists are taking their message to the air waves with a new radio program that will debut in January on the talk station Air America Minnesota.

FINALLY, a break from the 24-7 Christianist, theocratic propaganda heard on KQRS, WCCO, KDWB, MPR, KFAN, etc., etc. It sounds like a refreshing perspective we haven't heard before. At least we haven't heard it from the Minnesota Atheists (which I think would be a much more intimidating nickname for a hockey team than the Minnesota Wild). Just who are these people?

Until now, [spokesman August Berkshire] said the organization reached only a small and shrinking number of people who tuned into its public access cable TV show.

Which I think was a direct quote from their initial pitch to Air America management. Whaddya know, that's exactly what they were looking for! With radio instincts like this, I'm shocked these people aren't pulling down six figure salaries working for Minnesota Public Radio.

Ultimately, this is what won management's heart:

"We are a progressive talk station and we think this will be a nice addition to go with the variety of content we have on this station," Hansen said.

It's true, once this new show starts, the station will offer programming for both perspectives, atheists and agnostics.

Just don't dare question their religiosity or claim Republicans have more in common with Christian values voters.

Atheists and those who love them, mark down the following broadcast information:

The show will air Sundays from 9 to 10 a.m. on AM 950 starting Jan. 13

It is interesting to note, this is only going to be a one hour, once a week radio program. On a Sunday no less (I guess atheists have nothing better to do Sunday morning). And the monopoly newspaper in town devotes an article breathlessly promoting it, before it's aired a single broadcast. You can't buy that kind of advertising. If only there was a conservative or Christian radio program around that could have capitalized on this objective standard for media reporting!

The scheduled first show of Atheist Talk does have some potential:

. . . Oxford professor, evolutionary biologist and renowned atheist Richard Dawkins will be the featured guest.

Not for his tired musings, but for the potential of hearing that Vox from Milan is holding with a question on Line 1. He has offered to debate Dawkins before, including leaving this calling card. What better place for an open-minded exchange of ideas than on Air America?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Nature's Not The Only One Who Abhors 'Em

Walter Russell Mead writes in today's Journal on Why We're in the Gulf (sub req):

For the past few centuries, a global economic and political system has been slowly taking shape under first British and then American leadership. As a vital element of that system, the leading global power -- with help from allies and other parties -- maintains the security of world trade over the seas and air while also ensuring that international economic transactions take place in an orderly way. Thanks to the American umbrella, Germany, Japan, China, Korea and India do not need to maintain the military strength to project forces into the Middle East to defend their access to energy. Nor must each country's navy protect the supertankers carrying oil and liquefied national gas (LNG).

For this system to work, the Americans must prevent any power from dominating the Persian Gulf while retaining the ability to protect the safe passage of ships through its waters. The Soviets had to be kept out during the Cold War, and the security and independence of the oil sheikdoms had to be protected from ambitious Arab leaders like Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser and Iraq's Saddam Hussein. During the Cold War Americans forged alliances with Turkey, Israel and (until 1979) Iran, three non-Arab states that had their own reasons for opposing both the Soviets and any pan-Arab state.

When the fall of the shah of Iran turned a key regional ally into an implacable foe, the U.S. responded by tightening its relations with both Israel and Turkey -- while developing a deeper relationship with Egypt, which had given up on Nasser's goal of unifying all the Arabs under its flag.

Today the U.S. is building a coalition against Iran's drive for power in the Gulf. Israel, a country which has its own reasons for opposing Iran, remains an important component in the American strategy, but the U.S. must also manage the political costs of this relationship as it works with the Sunni Arab states. American opposition to Iran's nuclear program not only reflects concerns about Israeli security and the possibility that Iran might supply terrorist groups with nuclear materials. It also reflects the U.S. interest in protecting its ability to project conventional forces into the Gulf.

And what would happen if we left:

The end of America's ability to safeguard the Gulf and the trade routes around it would be enormously damaging -- and not just to us. Defense budgets would grow dramatically in every major power center, and Middle Eastern politics would be further destabilized, as every country sought political influence in Middle Eastern countries to ensure access to oil in the resulting free for all.

The potential for conflict and chaos is real. A world of insecure and suspicious great powers engaged in military competition over vital interests would not be a safe or happy place. Every ship that China builds to protect the increasing numbers of supertankers needed to bring oil from the Middle East to China in years ahead would also be a threat to Japan's oil security -- as well as to the oil security of India and Taiwan. European cooperation would likely be undermined as well, as countries sought to make their best deals with Russia, the Gulf states and other oil rich neighbors like Algeria.

As tempting as the idea of picking up our toys and coming home sounds, such a course would not make us more secure in the long run and it could be disastrous for the global economy. The reality is that a country (or some combination of them) is going to project power in the Gulf. While doing so is a significant burden for the US to bear, the alternative of leaving it to someone else would be far more costly.

You Want To? Okay, Good Luck Man.

Hilarious audio/video here of George Laraque asking his dancing partner if he wants to fight.

The Holiday Recipe

Sorry to let you down, but this is not another one of my masterful drink concoctions.

It is the recipe for my how my Christmas was spent. Ready?

1 x 63 year old, female
1 x 43 year old, female
1 x 37 year old, female
1 x 15 year old, female
1 x 12 year old, female
1 x 10 year old, female
1 x 20 month old, male
1 x 4 month old, male

So take all of these people (who as you can tell are predominantly of the feminine persuasion) and cram them into my relatively (pun! SMACK) small house. Add holiday stress, familial battles, hormones (my God the hormones!) and you get a small idea of how Christmas went for ol' JB this year.

As usual, my saving grace was sweet, sweet buze. I've somehow developed a taste for Brandy and it was my constant companion over the past week.

Oh and there is absolutely no food or toilet paper left in my house. None. It's all gone.

It's going to get really ugly when the younger ones get to drinking age.

Not Enough Buses To Deport Them All

Good article in yesterday's Journal and how some states are trying to reverse the flow of immigration (sub req):

South Dakota isn't for everyone. So when the state crafted a program to attract new workers, it targeted people already familiar with its freezing winters and open spaces: the thousands of South Dakotans who leave every year.

The result is "Dakota Roots," a year-old job-placement service that matches expatriate South Dakotans with companies that need workers.

Across the country, in an effort to repopulate declining work forces, several states are going after former residents. Last fall, North Dakota launched a program called "Experience ND" with an event in St. Paul, Minn. Vermont has "PursueVT." Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack organized and attended receptions around the country for Iowa college grads who moved away.

Notice a pattern here?

Many of these programs use college alumni lists to reach out to former residents. The Internet and social-networking sites like Facebook have made tracking down grads easier. In addition, expatriates tend not to stray far from their states of origin and are inclined to cluster together. People who leave the Great Plains states often go to Minneapolis.

Bingo. The only surprise is that Wisconsin wasn't mentioned. The Badger State has sent more than its share of economic refugees in search of a better life here as well.

While deporation would be the most desirable option, I understand that it's not feasible. However, programs such as this are to be applauded. Combined with a policy that secures our borders and encourages attrition within the existing immigrant community and I think we can finally get a handle on the immigration problem here in Minnesota.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

It's a Wonderful Life

One of the bright new lights of the local blogosphere is Melinda Jacobs, the socialite daughter of financier Irwin Jacobs. Yes, she is another elitist liberal in a town full of elitist liberals with a journalistic megaphone. But I must say its refreshing to see one who's earned her position the old fashioned way (by inheriting a fortune) instead of relying on a shadowy cabal of agenda pushing puppet masters to front her.

Plus I don't think we've ever had a local blogger able to deliver lines like this, at least with a straight face:

I just received this Holiday card from Quincy Jones, and it inspired me to reflect on the fun memories I have growing up knowing such an incredible man.

And this ....

Without having to go far, I ran into Ted Mondale, whose sister Eleanor is one of my closest friends, and who is also responsible for making downtown St. Louis Park look super-hip.

Wait a minute, I thought Chad the Elder was responsible for that. When he's spotted cruising the Hwy 7 strip for a nine piece McNuggets and a style job at Super Cuts, there's a celebrity buzz around town and it was that way long before Ted Mondale showed up.

But I don't want to quibble. I want to praise Melinda Jacobs for, among other things, giving us insights in to common problems that afflict us all, like this:

Every year I have the same dilemma: What do I get Carl Pohlad for Christmas?

He is the man who literally has everything. Including a $500 million gift from the taxpayer's of Hennepin County. Not bad for a guy who already happens to be a multi-billionaire. Just how does that happen, anyway? Ms. Jacobs give us some insight. Cue the Ghost of Christmas past to guide us through this flashback of how Carl honed his craft as a young man, selling cars:

As soon as a customer was even close to buying a car ... here is how Carl would seal the deal: He would tell the customer(s) that he had to run the offer by the owner. (What they didn't know was that HE was the owner.) So, he would excuse himself, telling the customer he would be back shortly, and he would go to a corner and talk to HIMSELF. Then he would return and tell the customer that HE really had to work over HIS boss and would probably take a loss on his commission, but if the price was a deal breaker, he was willing to forego his sales commission. Little did the customer know that even in those days Carl Pohlad had a brilliant poker face and was already in the green. :)

I love this story, because I just can't picture Mr. Pohlad selling cars. But as he told me... He was HIS number one car dealer, and repeat customers only wanted to work with Mr. Pohlad because HIS commission was not as important as HIS relationship with his customers!

The "I'm giving up my personal commission to make this sale" line is a scam? I'm stunned. Disappointed. Confused.

True story, when I was in 10th grade I went shopping for basketball shoes at the Maplewood Mall with a friend. Looking over the beautiful new Air Jordan models for that year had us salivating. The triple digit price immediately burned off the drool, it far exceeded the budget our parents had provided.

But the guy in the fake referee's shirt trying to sell them would go easily into that good night. He slightly lowered the price. But was rebuffed. He then took it down another incremental notch. And was again rebuffed. (He had no idea how steely a negotiator a man with no money can be.)

Then with a hang dog expression, and anguish in his voice, he announced he really wanted us to have these shoes and, although he shouldn't do it, he was willing to forgo his personal commission, and drop the price a little more, to make the sale. It was still about $30 more than we had, so we again had to decline. We left the store, feeling lousy for both ourselves and true empathy for that salesman who did all he could for us, yet we couldn't come through for him.

And that salesman in the fake referee's shirt was . . . . Carl Pohlad. And now you know the rest of the story.

Actually, no. It was some punk kid not much older than us. But a sales prodigy, using those manipulative tricks at such a young age on such low potential marks as us. I'm sure he moved onward and upward to a series of more lucrative sales gigs. And now he's probably fighting off a series of lawsuits, indictments, and personal bankruptcy over his antics in the subprime mortgage lending market.

Or maybe he's a billionaire. These techniques can work over a lifetime. At one time Carl Pohlad was using them to hustle used cards. And approximately 94 years later he was doing it to hustle a transfer of tax money to his personal bank account. Remember back in 1997, when he launched one of his early drives for a new stadium, we were offered this deal:

The sharpest blow to Pohlad's public standing grew from the 1997 stadium plan. Officials initially said Pohlad would contribute $80 million of his own money, but it turned out that he had offered a loan, not a grant.

Former Republican governor Arne Carlson, a Pohlad supporter, spent considerable political capital unsuccessfully fighting for a stadium. "That $80 million that was really part of the deal all of the sudden became a loan that collapsed everything and it also collapsed the credibility, and from that time on it's become almost an impossible subject to deal with," Carlson said. The Pohlads say the whole thing was a misunderstanding; they didn't intend to mislead anyone.

Even the successful ballpark deal that was passed a year ago was pushed by the Twins and his media mouthpieces with the understanding of how much the Pohlad family had sacrificed for this community by owning the Twins and that he doesn't want anything for himself, it's really for the people.

For a lifetime of running this gambit, and including the taxpayer's in the latest variation, if Melinda Jacobs is still looking for that perfect Christmas gift for Carl, I'd suggest something like this.

Girls On Girls

In last week's Strib, Neil Justin noted an interesting television demographic:

Playboy, like chewing tobacco and the Three Stooges, has long been favored by the male of the species.

But E!'s 'The Girls Next Door,' which follows the misadventures of Hugh Hefner's three girlfriends, is turning that tradition on its ears.

About 70 percent of the reality series' audience is of the female persuasion, a startling number considering that a typical premise consists of the blondes trying to finagle their way into a magazine pictorial, not unlike Lucy's attempts to sneak onto Ricky's cabaret show -- although I don't recall Mrs. Ricardo ever having her bare ta-tas digitally erased from the screen.

My wife (yes, she likes watching the show) and I noticed this a while ago. Most of the commercials that aired during a typical broadcast were directed toward the fairer sex. But we wouldn't have imagined that 70% of the viewers were women.

Justin's article goes on to speculate that the reason that the show appeals to women is because they envy the lives of kept luxury "The Girls" are living. In my wife's case, I think she enjoys laughing at "The Girls" intellectual challenges and marvelling at their almost unbelievable, but apparently completely sincere naivitee regarding most aspects of life.

Me, I just like watching it for the articles.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Creatures Stirring

Went to Mass at 5pm. Cracked open some wine, had dinner, watched a little television, put the kids to bed. Then, my wife and I spent TWO HOURS assembling a PlayMobil pirate ship for the elder son. Admittedly, it's a pretty damn sweet toy and I expect to spend some quality time playing with it myself, but TWO HOURS on Christmas Eve? Not my idea of a silent or holy night.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good (and assembly free) night!

Pauling Privileges

Two more pieces of Ron Paul literature arrived in today's mail. One was on immigration (again) and the other national defense. The nation defense piece emphasized Paul's commitment to strengthen the military, secure the borders, and go after Al Qaeda. Nothing about Iraq, the folly of nation building, or avoiding "foreign entanglements." Clearly these pieces are tailored to a general GOP audience and as such they come across quite well. It will be interesting to see if Paul continues with this approach which seems designed to avoid some of the more contentious issues that separate Paul from the more mainstream elements in the Republican Party.

SP NOTES: I have yet to receive a single mailing from the Ron Paul organization. And Chad gets four in a couple of days!? Life resembels Seinfeld again. To quote George Costanza, after being ignored by the carpet cleaning cult, then finding out they got his boss, Mr. Wilhelm, instead:

Him you brainwashed! What's he got that I don't have?!

No Joy

After the early NFL games yesterday, I had a nice little post on the joys of Schadenball in the hopper (oh, I got a hopper--a big hopper). But after seeing the local eleven come out for the biggest game of the year and choke like mutts, it didn't seem quite as amusing. Okay, it's still kind of funny to imagine the Packer fans in the Twin Cities--who incessantly whine about not seeing Packer games on local TV--finally getting a chance to watch their beloved Pack and witnessing their utter destruction at the hands of their hated rivals, the Bears.

Maybe last night's Vikings embarrassment will quell some of the silly talk I've been hearing around town about possible scenarios where the Purple could reach the Super Bowl or speculating whether Childress should be considered for coach of the year (yes, I actually heard someone say something THAT stupid). The truth of the matter is--to borrow a line from Denny Green-- that the Vikings are who we thought they were. A flawed team with a good defense that's vulnerable to the pass and an offense that can run the ball lead by a quarterback who's clearly still not anywhere near ready for prime time (Why don't you try throwing off your back foot some more Tarvaris? It works so fuggin' well). The fives wins in a row--against mostly poor teams--was more of an aberration than a sign that this team was anything more than we previously thought.

If, as I expect, they go out to Mile High and lose to the Broncos nest week, they'll finish 8-8 which is an appropriate record for what is in reality a very average football team.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Book Talk

Thomas PM Barnett provides a partial list of books he read this past year and his thumbnail reviews. Granted he's no oasis of literacy like Dan Barreiro, not a single pulp romance or mystery appears on this list. But it is a very impressive list. Given my respect for Barnett's intelligence and discernment, I'm happy to say I considered reading no less than three of these. No doubt many of the remainder will make up the list of books I will have considered reading by the end of '08.

Not appearing on the list is something I ran across in the Pioneer Press the other day. Looks like former Gopher basketball player Walter Bond has gotten into the old writing game, with this destined to be classic:

Former Gophers and Timberwolves guard Walter Bond, 38, who has become a nationally sought motivational speaker, has sold nearly 7,000 copies of his new book, "All Buts Stink," which decries the use of excuses as alibis.

Chapter One, He Who Smelt It Dealt It - How To Stop Blaming Others.

Chapter Two, Pull Your Own Finger - Be an Agent of Change

OK, I could go on and on with embarrassing, sophomoric banter. And I just might offline (it will be more entertaining, and less scatological, than how the Vikings are playing right now). But I see someone else already has taken the case. TC Sportszone noticed this book seven months ago, took a look at the author's web site, and provides the definitive review.

Smart Development

I've long trumpeted that the WCHA is the best conference in college hockey. Now in Patrick Reusse's annual hockey column in today's Star Tribune, we have affirmation of that claim (and more) from Tom Kurvers:

Kurvers played four seasons for Minnesota Duluth. He was the Hobey Baker Award winner in 1984. He played 11 seasons as an NHL defenseman. Now, he sees hundreds of games per year.

"The best league in this country is the NHL, obviously, but do you know what's the second-best league?" Kurvers said. "It's the WCHA.

"There are more people in the arenas than you find anywhere except the NHL. There are only two games a week, and that makes the games more intense than in the American League.

"The WCHA is the second-greatest place to play hockey in the United States."

Kurvers also goes on to point out what players miss by leaving early:

Kurvers paused, then offered this example: "Look at Jack Skille. He scored the winning goal in the national championship game for Wisconsin. He still could be playing for the Badgers, twice a weekend in front of 11-, 12,000 cheering, fired-up fans in Kohl Center.

"Instead, he's 60 miles down the road in Rockford [Ill.] in the AHL, playing three times in four nights in front of a few thousand people ... all in the name of development."

Instead of the on-going rush toward "development" and always moving up to the next level, young hockey players should be advised to pause more often and enjoy where they're at. They're so busy chasing their dream, they may not realize that they're already living it.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Paul Paying

Political wags and wonks have been wondering just what Ron Paul would do with the impressive amounts of cash that he's recently raised. If today's mail is any indication, he's going to be hitting likely Republican voters across the country with a barrage of campaign material. I received not one, but two pieces of Paul literature today and they were both impressively put together. One covered taxes and the other immigration--two issues where Paul's positions have widespread appeal with the GOP base.

Considering that Minnesota is not going to play any sort of significant role in the GOP primary, I think this shows the reach that Paul's coffers now provide him. I also should add that this is TWO more pieces of literature than I've received from all of the other campaigns combined in the last month. Money does indeed talk.

Down To This

The votes have been counted, the results certified by a representative of DHE (Diebold Haliburton Enterprises), and we can now officially announce the four finalists for the 2007 NARN Loon of the Year. In no particular order we present:

Nancy Pelosi

Jimmy Carter

Bill Moyers

and last but certainly not least, for a dose of local flavor...

...Nick Coleman

Voting to determine THE 2007 Loon of the Year from among these finalists will begin tomorrow and run through next Saturday. The winner will be announced on the December 29th broadcast of the First Team of the Northern Alliance Radio Network from 11am-1pm.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Earth Is Flat

Last Saturday, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Williamson--owner of Flat Earth Brewing Company in Saint Paul--on the First Team of the Northern Alliance Radio Network. We chatted with Jeff about the state of the craft beer industry and sampled some of Flat Earth's tasty Belgian Pale Ale and delicious Cygnus X-1 Porter (yes Rush fans, that reference is what you think it is). It was another tough day in the lives of amateur radio hosts, but it was a sacrifice that we were willing to make.

You can listen to the entire interview here. You can pick up Flat Earth's excellent beer at a growing number of bars and liquor stores in the Twin Cities and throughout the state. Celebrate Christmas and New Year's the right way with some great local beer.

Atomizer Sez:
Having just polished off 22 ounces of Flat Earth's Belgian Pale Ale, allow me to do my best Rachel Ray imitation and say "Yum-o!" (no, I'm not gay...the lovely Atomizerette just happens to watch a lot of Food Network programming).

I heartily endorse this malted beverage product and encourage you all to try it. I also encourage you all to listen to Cygnus X-1 on the "A Farewell to Kings" release by Rush...very tasty as well.

Seeing The Huck As An Easy Pluck

Kimberley Strassel looks at Mike Huckabee's ethical record during his time at Little Rock in a piece at OpinionJournal (free for all) and finds a lot to like. For Democrats.

The GOP is still reeling from its financial scandals, which helped Democrats tag the party with a "culture of corruption" in last year's congressional races. A Huckabee nomination would also neutralize one of the biggest weapons against nominee Hillary Clinton--her own ethically tortured past. If the subject came up at all, it would be a race to the Arkansas bottom. A matchup with Barack Obama could be worse, since the "politics of hope" senator has so far avoided scandal and could bludgeon Mr. Huckabee on his past.

Democrats know it. Here's an interesting statistic: Since the beginning of 2007, the Democratic National Committee has released 102 direct attacks on Mitt Romney. Rudy Giuliani has warranted 78; John McCain 68; Fred Thompson 21. Mike Huckabee? Four. The most recent of these landed back in March. GOP voters may not have examined Mr. Huckabee's record, but the left has--and they love what they see.

Democrats love the smell of Huckabee's ethical lapses in the past. It smells like victory.

Sid The Kid Flips His Lid

Gordie Howe Hat Trick by Sidney Crosby.

You gotta love this stuff!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The five percent Nation of pay-per-view

What a game. Wild and Rangers. Shanahan, Drury, Gomez, and Jagr pay one of their rare visits to St. Paul to take on the streaking Wild. Up and down action. Great hits. A little scrap. And Marian Gaborik nets five, yes FIVE goals in a 6-3 Wild win. Incredible. I just hope JB enjoyed watching it as much as I did.

What's that? The game was on Channel 45 KSTC and they don't get that down Rochester way? What a shame.

What, The Huck?

As we draw ever nearer the Iowa caucus, two questions on the Republican field continue to vex me:

#1 Who are these conservative Republicans who are supporting Mike Huckabee? I feel a sense of bewilderment similar to the one attributed (probably falsely) to Pauline Kael after the 1972 election, how can Huckabee be doing so well when no one I know supports him? I know Romney supporters. I know Rudy supporters. I know Ron Paul supporters. I know McCain supporters. I even know a few Fred supporters (more on that). But to the best of my knowledge, I don't know anyone who supports Huckabee. Who are you people and what do you see in him?

#2 Why isn't Fred Thompson more popular? Across the board, I would say that he has the most consistently conservative views. He's the only candidate with a detailed plan for social security and he seems to have the "right" positions on taxes, abortion, the war, and immigration. Yet, according to the latest national polls (WSJ-sub req), he's languishing in fifth with a mere 11% of respondents supporting him.

This question is a personal one too because I can't figure out exactly why I'm not a Fred supporter either. It's not as if I've been wowed by any of the other candidates. It basically comes down to the one whose limitations I can best live with along with having a reasonable chance of winning the general election. I'm not sold on anyone right now, but for some reason Fred doesn't usually even figure as a possibility. Some might say it's because his campaign hasn't been energetic enough, but then whose has? Rudy, Romney, McCain, and Huckabee haven't exactly been blazing on the campaign trail either.

It's been an odd run so far and I expect it to get even odder before we settle on a nominee. More troubling questions are sure to come up before we're anywhere close to a final answer.

Times are hard for those hot rod hearts

Penis Photo Lands Mayo Clinic Surgeon In Hot Seat:

Phoenix, AZ (AHN) - A surgeon at a U.S. hospital faced a disciplinary hearing for allegedly photographing a patient's tattooed genitals, and showing the picture to fellow doctors. The photograph was taken while the surgeon was doing a gall bladder surgery on the patient,

Dr. Adam Hansen of the Mayo Clinic Hospital admitted to using his cell phone to take a picture of the genitals of Sean Dubowik, a strip club owner, whose penis brandished the phrase "Hot Rod."

Was that wrong? Should I have not done that? I tell you I gotta plead ingnorance on this thing because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing was frouned upon, you know, cause I've worked in a lot of hospitals and I tell you peope do that all the time.

Dubowik explained that the tattoo was something done on a bet, describing it as "the most horrible thing I ever went through in my life."

I'll take him at his word on that one. (Wince)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

No More Maroon But Plenty Of Gold

Okposo Departing Gopher Hockey Team to Sign With New York Islanders:

University of Minnesota sophomore Kyle Okposo has chosen to forgo the remainder of the 2007-08 season and his career with the Golden Gophers to sign a contract with the New York Islanders of the National Hockey League.

Okposo was the Islanders' first-round draft choice and the seventh player taken overall in the 2006 entry draft. He is the eighth Minnesota player to leave college early for the professional ranks since the end of the 2005-06 season. Okposo is departing today for the Czech Republic as a member of the United States' under-20 national team that is competing at the International Ice Hockey Federation world championships and will join the Islanders following the tournament.

"While I'm disappointed Kyle is leaving at this point of the season, his dream has been to play pro hockey," Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. "It is unfortunate that the Islanders put him in a very difficult position. I think our team has made strides the last few weeks and I'm looking forward to the second half of the season."

It's been a disappointing season so far for the Gophers and for Okposo in particular. It sounds like the Isles were concerned (with good reason) about his development and were pushing him to leave. He probably figures (with good reason) that the Gophers aren't going anywhere so he has little to lose by leaving early.

You never know how these things will work out, but at this point I don't think Okposo is ready for the NHL and could have used at least another half season of college hockey. He's also never going to get those carefree days of college life back either. Playing in the NHL is a job. It pays well, but comes with a lot of responsibility.

And Okposo will likely spend some time with the Islanders AHL affiliate in Bridgetport before he's up for a regular stint in New York. The grind of minor league hockey may cause him to regret his decision on more than a few occasions.

Good luck to Okposo. Let's hope he's another Vanek and not another ____ (fill in the blank with name of one of many college hockey players who left school early and failed to live up to expectations in the NHL).

Somebody should make sure Sisyphus isn't around any sharp objects tonight. A long year for the Gophers just got a little longer.

Honey, I Crashed The Sled

Andy e-mails to fess up:

I'm sorry to say this but... I think I can top Hugh's snowmobile incident.

By the way, we just celebrated the four year anniversary of Hugh's Big Snowmobile Adventure. Oh how the years go by.

Saturday, I drove up to northern Minnesota, bought a nice used snowmobile. A 1997 Yamaha Vmax 700sx for those who are interested. The transaction occurred around 3pm. I drove it over to a good friends garage where I met my brother. Both guys thought I made great purchase. Almost spotless sled with only 3700 miles.

Well, we went out that evening for a little trail ride. On the way back we decided to head over to one more lake. Long story short, I missed a turn on the way and ended the night with a bent up right front steering, broke the handle bars clean off and broke the windshield ($500-600 in damages probably). The best part of it all is that my wife doesn't know I bought the sled. She's just mad because I told her I have to pay to fix a sled that I crashed. I know I'll have to tell her some time, but not sure when. Probably after New Year's Day. Sorry I didn't get any picture of the crash scene to share. I do have a couple of pictures on my cell of the sled after the crash, but they don't look all that dramatic.

Anyway, just thought about how I have something in common now with Hugh Hewitt.

Not something that I'd necessarily go around bragging about. Especially to your wife.

I do have a hunch that Santa is going to ber very generous to Andy's better half this Christmas. Just a hunch.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Broken Vows

I think we now know why Chad the Elder's blog production has been lacking in recent weeks:

St. Louis Park is dropping the contractor that was supposed to build the nation's first solar-powered citywide wireless Internet service. It will soon look for a new partner.

The City Council voted Monday to find Maryland-based Arinc in default of its contract with the city. It's the first step in dissolving the contract entirely.

Although the city has pledged to continue talks with the company, a fight is likely over who gets what and who owes whom. That battle could include a lawsuit.

A municipal government using expensive, untried technology in order to provide a service already offered by many private companies. Who could possibly have seen a problem with that?

Not the intrepid mayor and city council of St. Louis Park But it's good to see that they are finally starting to see the light. The Mayor himself brings us this heart warming lesson:

"As my father said before he ended his marriage: Never remain loyal to a bad idea," said Mayor Jeff Jacobs.

OK. So much for Mother's Day around the ol' Jacobs house.

But it may be good advice for voters to remember next time they get the chance to revisit the idea of having this clown in office for another term.

Devil without a cause...I'm going platinum

A coworker recently determined that he was on the verge of qualifying for Platinum Elite frequent flier status with Northwest. Those of us who have ever reached the rarefied air of Platinum Elite know the joys of easy upgrades and preferential service that come with it. We also know how painful it is to fall back to earth. When you go from Platinum to Silver (as I did a few years ago) it feels like you're back to traveling in steerage class.

Anyway, this guy only needed only two-hundred-and-thirty miles to reach Platinum Elite. He called Northwest and asked what he could do to get them, thinking he could buy his way to Platinum. No sale. The only way to get the miles is to fly 'em.

And so today he flew to Chicago, had dinner with a business acquittance, and flew back. That's two-thirty the hard way. But now he's Platinum baby.

Two Steps Back

The Vikings won their fifth in a row last night, but the jury is definitely still out on Tarvaris Jackson. His inability to make two or three critical throws and his incredibly boneheaded interception at the end of the first half were the difference between barely pulling out an ugly win and blowing out the Bears.

When the other team is as committed to shutting down the run as the Bears were last night, your quaterback doesn't have to be great to take advantage of the opportunities. He only has to be average. Last night, Jackson wasn't even that.

In Adrian Peterson, the Vikings clearly have a running back of the future. I'm very skeptical that they have the same at quarterback with Jackson.

Monday, December 17, 2007

But This Time There Really Is A Wolf

The Good News?

Hugh Hewitt's been doing yeoman's work of late revealing the real Mike Huckabee to Republican voters and demonstrating just what kind of clusterHuck the GOP will have on its hand in aught-eight if he is the nominee.

The Bad News?

Considering how early and enthusiastically Hugh was in the bag for Romney, I'm not sure how much credibility he has left on such matters. It would be easy for Huckabee supporters (and undecided Republican voters) to dismiss Hugh's criticisms--no matter how valid--as just the latest in his on-going efforts to help his man Mitt.

Wright e-mails to add:

I agree with your analysis. I don't read HH much anymore - because he has been such a Romney cheerleader, all his stuff on the election is suspect. It's the same reason I quit reading the Strib - you just can't trust what they say because you know they have an agenda and they are willing to sacrifice truth and objectivity to advance it.

You have to wonder how many readers and listeners Hugh has lost since he started his crusade for Romney. It probably didn't help that until fairly recently he tried to deny his obvious bias in favor of Mitt.

There's nothing wrong with pundits supporting the candidate they feel is best suited to be President. But when that support clouds their ability to offer an at least somewhat objective analysis of the political situation, you can't really blame people for looking elsewhere for their daily dose of wonkery.

New Loon Rising

Only five days left to vote for the finalists for the 2007 NARN Loon of the Year. The voting closes on Friday and on Saturday's NARN First Team radio broadcast we'll announce the final four. Vote early, vote often, vote looney. That's all folks.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Wi-Fi Laid Low

Wi-Fi firm faces legal action over delays in St. Louis Park:

St. Louis Park had set its sights on having the nation's first citywide wireless Internet service powered by the sun.

But those dreams have been clouded by reality.

The City Council will vote Monday on whether to find Arinc -- the Wi-Fi system's Maryland-based contractor -- in default of its contract, in part because the project is months behind schedule.

Last spring, the city told residents to expect service by June.

This summer, it told them to expect service by fall.

This fall, it said to expect service by Nov. 30.

Now, the city isn't even guessing.

Your government at work. Or in this case, my government. Who would ever have thought that the city's attempt to provide internet service might not be such a great idea?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Different Language, Same Great Game

A couple of weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a Russian Super League hockey game in Chelyabinsk. Hated Moscow Dynamo was in town to take on the hometown Traktor squad at the Sports Palace Yunost. Palace probably is not the best word to describe the 3500 seat Soviet era arena.

The scoreboard was straight out of the early '70s (other than the short-short wearing cheerleaders who danced underneath it--they're hard to see in this picture). The seats were really just long benches--with very little leg room--where upwards of sixty people squeezed in between the aisles (we were probably sitting in spaces #27-#32--smack dab in the middle). Ninety percent of the stands were on one side of the rink, the rafters were pretty low, and there was little in the way of amenities as far as food and drink went. The subterranean bathrooms smelled as if they hadn't been cleaned since the days of Brezhnev.

The very visible presence of well over a hundred policemen in the arena didn't enhance my feelings of security. These weren't the "emergency response life-saving" kind of cops. They were the "beat your ass with a club until you submit and sort it out later" variety. Their uniforms and headgear was more paramilitary than police and they arrived at the rink in canvas-topped, open-backed army trucks. You got the impression that if there was any trouble at all their approach would be to crack heads and ask questions later.

But the arena's shortcoming and daunting security were more than made up for by the passion of the fans and the quality of the hockey. When we walked through the parking lot before the game, we saw lots of fans partaking in the Russian version of tailgating: groups of three and four guys standing around the open trunks of their cars pounding beer and vodka in ten degree temps. It reminded me of high school. This pre-game imbibing proved necessary as alcohol was not served inside the arena.

The crowd reminded me somewhat of the SRO crowd at North Star playoff games at Met Center. Male, mostly blue collar, tuned up, hardcore hockey fans who weren't shy about letting people know how they felt. There definitely wasn't a "family friendly" section. When the Dynamo players took the ice, they were greeted with a torrent of boos and profanities (as translated by my Russian coworker). It was a nice way to build up the energy in the building and establish dramatic tension before the national anthem and opening faceoff.

When the puck dropped, EVERYONE was seated--their eyes intently focused on the game. And NO ONE got up during the entire first period of play. They were there to watch hockey and that's what they were going to do. It was a welcome departure from what you see at most professional sporting events in the US these days, where the action on the ice (or the field or court) is just a part of the overall entertainment package.

One thing that was a little distracting was the prevalence of advertising. From the boards and ice to the players jerseys (by the way, I picked up a very sweet away Traktor jersey the day after the game and it drew rave reviews at Thursday morning hockey this week) extending even to the referees, there were logos everywhere. It was a bit like NASCAR on ice. A hell of lot more exciting though.

There was no doubt that the fans were fully engaged in the game at hand. Even though there were only 3500 on hand (a sellout), they were quite loud. Constant chants would spontaneously break out (unprompted by the scoreboard). I couldn't understand most of them, but usually they evolved into some form of "Trak-tor Chel-ya-binsk! Trak-tor Chel-ya-binsk!" or just "Trak-tor! Trak-tor! Trak-tor!" The quality in this very short video clip isn't great (cell phone), but it gives you an idea what it was like.

Judging by their reaction to close plays at the blue-line and appreciation for quality play in all three zones, the crowd was also very knowledgeable about hockey. They were also quite proud of the Russian style of play. After a Traktor player scored a nifty wrap around goal, a nearby fan (who obviously knew I wasn't Russian) tapped me on the shoulder, gave me a thumbs, smiled broadly, and exclaimed, "This Russian hockey. Good hockey!"

I couldn't disagree with him. The style of play was notably less physical than the NHL, but the skating, stick handling, and passing was a joy to behold. Rather than just pounding the puck at the goal and crashing the net, the Russians really look for the pretty passing play. Make no mistake, they can still shoot, but the focus didn't seem to be on the booming slap shot as much as you see in the NHL.

The play was up and down the ice. No one was playing a trap and usually they only resorted to dumping the puck when nothing else was available rather than as part of a system. It made for a crisp and relatively fast game (just over two hours total). The fact that they didn't wait for television commercials also helped keep things moving and keep your interest on the ice.

The NHL is moving toward more of a blend between the North American and European (including Russian) styles. I wouldn't want the League to lose the physical side of the game (or the fighting), but putting a bigger premium on the sort of speed and skill you see in the Russian Super League will only make the NHL better and more enjoyable to watch.

Because I certainly enjoyed watching the hockey in Chelyabinsk. It probably helped that when the buzzer sounded and it was time for the post-game handshake, the hometown squad had gutted out a 3-2 victory. The players and the fans were able to celebrate before heading out into the cold Chelyabinsk night.

Unnerving To Watch

Dorothy Rabinowitz explain the appeal of "The View" in today's Wall Street Journal:

Ms. Shepherd's answer -- not in my house -- remained firm, but the tone was now more agitated. The best thing now, clearly, would be a change of subject -- something that never comes easily. Once these conversations start on their inexorable drive toward hell, the only way out is the commercial break, which finally arrived -- though evidently not soon enough for Ms. Goldberg, the show's otherwise unflinching new moderator. It had been an exchange both riveting and unnerving to watch -- the kind that gives the show, now in its 11th season, its life force and also its notoriety.

The show's strength owes something to the length of its colloquies, the argumentation that can run on and on, exposing raw nerves and deeply held attitudes. Which isn't to underestimate its celebrity obsession and show-business side, its parade of famous or famous-enough guest stars, its gossip mode. Wednesday's "View" began with a story about a McDonald's in London that required customers to depart the premises as soon as they finished eating, then moved on to the matter of George Bush's decision to quit drinking years ago and Ms. Behar's confident assertion that the president was once an alcoholic and must still consider himself one. A view that unmistakably irritated the rest of the panel, as well as the guest star, country singer Sara Evans. On from there to Britney Spears, who, they alleged, was addicted to Frappuccinos. "If you drank five Frappuccinos a day, you'd drop your baby, too," Ms. Shepherd opined.

I still don't get it. Maybe it's a chromosome issue.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I See Red When I See You

I've done a lot of traveling this past year (twenty three round trip flights from Minneapolis to Kansas City, to be exact) and even though I haven't banked nearly as many frequent flyer miles as our friend The Elder has, I do think I qualify as an experienced traveller. Unfortunately, being an experienced traveller comes with the painfully heavy burden of becoming quickly and easily annoyed by the hordes of inexperienced travellers out there.

I ran across one of them at 6:00 this morning as I was attempting to pass through the security checkpoint. An unwashed 20-something chucklehead in front of me (let's call him Tad) did almost everything on my list of pet peeves in the security line. We had spent close to ten minutes waiting in that line and this little puke waited until he was at the very front to empty his pockets of metal and carefully place them in his coat pockets one by one. Then Tad takes his coat off, folds it very neatly and places it in the bucket.

On to the shoes he goes...bend over, unlace one, slip it off, stand up and into the bucket. Bend over, unlace the other, slip it off, stand up and into the bucket...all the while oblivious to the growing logjam behind him and the empty scanner machine in front of him.

A curtain of bright red rage was beginning to cloud my vision when, before even bothering to shove his crap into the gaping maw of the empty scanner, Tad pulls his ID out of his front pocket, pulls his wallet out of his back pocket, puts the ID into the wallet and puts the wallet back into his pocket. The word rage cannot explain the level I was on at that moment.

After finally finding his way through the metal detector (if that thing had gone off, I swear I would have tackled that filthy bastard) Tad proceeds to do his little philistine polka all over again but in reverse. I somehow managed to wedge myself in enough to quickly grab my laptop, bags and shoes and then I headed to the nearest chair (far enough away from the congested security checkpoint SO I WOULDN'T BE AN OBSTACLE TO THOSE BEHIND ME!) to re-shoe myself and, more importantly, to calm down.

Seriously, the only thing that prevented me from putting a boot in Tad's ass (I was wearing steel toes, too) was the fact that we were in an airport. If Tad, or any of his lazy slacker buddies, ever pull this sort of crap in a line I'm in that is not being monitored by armed federal agents I'm going to be cleaning bloody entrails off the toes of my boots...and dirty boots make me angry.

The Elder Amens: Airport security lines are but one public area of modern life where a sizable portion of the population seems to lack what I would call "situational awareness." It's the ability to understand what's going on around you and how your actions impact others. It's really about paying attention to what you're doing and--more importantly--what you are going to do, planning, and then acting appropriately. You often encounter people with poor situational awareness on the roads, in checkout lines, and of course at the airport.

There's really no excuse for not being prepared to go through a security checkpoint. You should have nothing to do while waiting your turn except watch what's happening in front of you. If everyone is taking their shoes off, you will too. If everyone is taking their laptops out, you will too. If everyone is taking their coats off, so will you. Its' not exactly rocket science. And yet, it almost never fails that someone in front of you will reach the metal detector completely unprepared for it.

All that is required is just taking a couple of minutes to analyze the situation, plan, and act. Before I even get in the security line, I make sure I have nothing metal in my pockets, my laptop is easily accessible, my coat is off, and that I have my boarding pass and passport ready. It's just common sense and common courtesy towards your fellow travelers. You know, we're living in a society.

I Want A New Drug

Twins fans can hardly be blamed for being surprised to learn that Rondell White ever did anything to enhance his performance:

The 311-page report, along with page after page of copies of canceled checks, also cited current and former players such as Chuck Knoblauch, Lenny Dykstra, Mo Vaughn, Paul Lo Duca, David Segui, Rondell White, Eric Gagne, Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds, the career home-run leader who was indicted on charges of obstructing justice when he denied using steroids before a U.S. Grand Jury.

Say It Ain't So, Rondell

The Mitchell Report on steroid use in Major League Baseball has been posted. Some interesting reading, lots of big names alleged to have been users, many of whom seem to be connected in some manner with the Orioles or Yankees.

Of local interest, guys connected with the Minnesota Twins who appear in the report are: Rondell White, Chuck Knoblach, Denny Neagle, Chad Allen, and Dan Naulty. Although most of the allegations concern activity when they were no longer with the local nine.

My skim reading so far reveals these Twins stories to be largely pathetic. Players on the downsides of their careers, or not ever good enough to begin with, doing anything, including the illegal and unethical, to stay competitive with major league standards.

Human weakness on display, I suppose. Baseball players aren't immune. Still I wonder if I'll ever be able to wolf down 9-10 hot dogs on Dollar Hot Dog Night at the Dome with the same innocent, carefree gusto again.

That's Gonna Leave A Mark

Lots of torture talk this week with the revelations of a former CIA interrogator:

It wasn't up to individual interrogators to decide, 'Well, I'm gonna slap him,' or, 'I'm going to shake him,' or, 'I'm gonna make him stay up for 48 hours'," one retired CIA interrogator named John Kiriakou told ABC News. "Each one of these steps, even though they're minor steps - like the intention shake, or the open-handed belly slap--each one of these had to have the approval of the deputy director for operations."

Not to make light of a serious subject (therefore giving myself license to do just that), but when I heard that the CIA was employing the "open-handed belly slap" as a method to get Al Qaeda operatives to start talking, I had to smile. The best open-handed belly slap that I've ever seen administered was from my well-spent days of youth.

A couple of brothers lived one street over from us and we ended up spending a lot of our time playing with them. The older one had a year on me and the younger was born just a couple of weeks after I was--even though he was in a grade lower. They were separated by two grades in school just like we were. So when we played sports, the older brother Eric would team up with JB while I would "get" to have Kirk on my side. I say "get" because unlike his older sibling, he wasn't exactly a great athlete, carrying a few extra pounds pretty much from the day he was born. He wasn't what you describe as "svelte."

We played two-on-two football, street hockey, baseball, war, you name it, we played it, usually with the same team set-up. Not only did I have to put up with being stuck with the less athletically gifted of the two neighborhood brothers, I also had to deal with JB's constant cheap-shots, rule bending breaking, and general unsportsmanlike conduct. We all have our crosses to bear.

Anyway, one hot summer day we were playing basketball at their house. I believe we were operating under what was known to us at the time as "jungle rules" which meant that pretty much anything went. You had to observe the rules of the game on scoring, dribbling, travelling, etc. but there was no such thing as a foul.

That day, Kirk was wearing some sort of mesh tank-top. Not very flattering for a full-figured fellow as I'm sure you can imagine. As he went in for a lay-up, he left the ground (barely) and raised both hands above his head to direct the ball. His tank top lifted with his hands, revealing his bulging white belly to the world.

This target was too tempting for his brother to resist and he laid out an open-handed belly slap unlike any I've seen before or since. The sound of the slap echoed throughout the neighborhood, followed immediately by an anguished howl of pain from Kirk. JB and I watched awestruck at the extent of fraternal cruelty that we had just witnessed. And then we laughed.

After Kirk stopped crying and vowing to kill his brother, he settled down enough to lift up his tank-top and show us the extent of the damage. Among the pale white folds you could see an almost perfect scarlet red imprint of Eric's hand. Now that was an open-handed belly slap.

No word on what Eric is up to these days.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Baby, It's Back!

For a while, the crew at First Things went away from a standard blog to a more "article of the day" type feature. We're happy to report that the First Things blog is back and better than ever. And the daily On the Square feature remains. Tidings of good cheer all around.

Right Diagnosis, Wrong Cure

An editorial in today's Wall Street Journal suggests that if we really are interested in staving off a recession, we should stop cutting interest rates and start cutting taxes:

Even if you expect a recession, relying on the Fed as savior is a mistake. Monetary policy is only one economic policy lever, and it has to be used with care. The other, better tool is fiscal policy -- specifically a tax cut. On present Washington course, we are falling back into the 1970s' policy mix of easy money amid tax increases. Whenever the economy slowed in the 1970s, everyone clamored for the Fed to ease. The result was ever shorter recoveries amid steadily rising prices.

The better policy mix is the one implemented by Ronald Reagan and Paul Volcker that broke stagflation in the 1980s. The Fed restored dollar credibility and avoided asset bubbles, while tax cuts spurred incentives to work and invest. Even on Keynesian grounds, a tax cut now makes sense if you're worried that the housing recession will slow consumer spending. An across the board tax cut on marginal personal and corporate income tax rates would also attract capital from around the world, increase the demand for dollars, and thus make the Fed's job easier.

We realize it's heresy to suggest a tax cut in today's Beltway, but we were outliers in the 1970s too. Sooner or later, investors and Wall Street will both rediscover that easy money has its limitations. The smart Presidential candidate will be the one who starts talking about a tax cut before everyone else.

With the weakness of the economy increasingly becoming a significant concern for voters, this is an issue begging for a strong voice to emerge from the contenders for the White House in 2008. It seems like an opportune time for Romney to call for tax cuts now and cap off the trifecta (his speech last week and yesterday's National Review endorsement).

Click Take A Pic!

A few photos from my recent trip to Russia.

The inviting airport at Chelyabinsk.

Book your vacations now!

A Christmas tree in Chelyabinsk.

A campaign billboard in Chelyabinsk.

They won by the way.

A building near Red Square at night.

[At this point of the trip, I had drained the battery in my digital camera (mostly by taking a lot of pictures at the hockey game in Chelyabinsk--post on that forthcoming) and didn't have my recharger with me. The rest of the pictures were taken with my cell phone.]

The eternal flame near Red Square honoring the fallen from WWII.

A Christmas tree on Red Square.

A skating rink on Red Square.

When I saw the rink in such an incredible location, I desperately wanted to lace 'em up and do a couple of laps just to be able to say that I skated on Red Square. Unfortunately, the rink's schedule and our travel plans didn't quite mesh and my dream was denied. Next time.

And of course, the iconic Saint Basil's Cathedral, which presents a plethora of amazing views depending on your vantage point, the weather, and the time of day and year.

You could spend hours walking around soaking in its magnificence. Well, if it wasn't December you could.

Wheel of Misfortune

You have to applaud the consistency of the E! Network, extending their trademark sensitivity and tact to even celebrity medical updates. Headline yesterday:

Alex Trebek Jeopardized By Heart Attack

If the E! headline writers can't release their natural punning instincts on game show hosts with grave medical conditions, who can they do it to?

With that in mind, keep you eyes out for the following headlines on E! in the years to come (unless of course any of these people already happen to be dead).

Pat Sajak's Vital Signs Land on Bankrupt

Dick Clark's Heart Doesn't Have a Good Beat and You Can't Dance to It

Bob Barker's Pulse Comes on Down!

Richard Dawson: Can We See Cirrhosis!?

Wink Martindale: Tic Tac Dead!

Jack Barry: Joker!, Joker! Oooooh Things that Give You Cancer

UPDATE: Sisyphus sends in a few more:

Regis Philbin Gives Final Answer

Gene Rayburn Is As Dead As a Blank

No Deal For Howie Mandel

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mormon

Actually, I don't love Mitt Romney.  And I probably wouldn't vote for him in a GOP primary election. (Theoretical scenario, we don't have one of those in MN and for the sixth presidential election in a row, I'm quite sure I ain't caucusing.) 

But Fr. John Neuhaus reminds us Catholics why Romney's religious beliefs shouldn't be as much of a barrier as it might be for some others:

Few Catholics believe that a candidate is disqualified by being a Mormon.  The reason is obvious: Catholics are accustomed to having heretics in the White House.  Jews likewise are not offended that the president is not one of their own.  This is and always has been a dominantly Protestant country.  With the exception of JFK, who, sad to say, was not much of a Catholic, Catholics are accustomed to having presidents who are, in their view, religiously wrongheaded. Evangelicals, by way of contrast, are accustomed to thinking of America as a Christian nation, meaning a Protestant nation.   For many who lack a fully developed ecclesiology, America is something very much like their church.  You don’t want a heretic as the head of your church.

It's true, we've had to put up with leaders espousing beliefs in various rebellious and schismatic interpretations of the Faith forever.   Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists.   Egad, even some Unitarians, a Quaker and a Jehovah's Witness!   A Mormon seems to fit right in with this crowd.  I guess we should just be glad he isn't a Lutheran.

The Elder Chides: For less-jaded residents of Minnesota with a sense of civic responsibility who are able to forgo watching a rerun of "Boston Legal" while eating a block of cheese in their underwear for ONE NIGHT (unlike Saint Paul), I would encourage you to turn out on February 5th, 2008 and attend your precinct caucus. Here's a handy guide with all the relevant details. It's easy, it's interesting, and your participation is a part of fulfilling your civic duty to this little democratic society we're trying to run here.

By the way, my alternative title for this post would be "Saint Paul Thinks Romney's The Bomb."

National Review For Romney

Hugh's right. This is huge. The Editors on National Review Online:

Many conservatives are finding it difficult to pick a presidential candidate. Each of the men running for the Republican nomination has strengths, and none has everything--all the traits, all the positions--we are looking for. Equally conservative analysts can reach, and have reached, different judgments in this matter. There are fine conservatives supporting each of these Republicans.

Our guiding principle has always been to select the most conservative viable candidate. In our judgment, that candidate is Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. Unlike some other candidates in the race, Romney is a full-spectrum conservative: a supporter of free-market economics and limited government, moral causes such as the right to life and the preservation of marriage, and a foreign policy based on the national interest. While he has not talked much about the importance of resisting ethnic balkanization--none of the major candidates has--he supports enforcing the immigration laws and opposes amnesty. Those are important steps in the right direction.

The Haunting Call Of The Loon

As we prepare for another Zodiac to roll around, it's good to look back at the year that was and recall its finest moments of pure...

...lunacy. That's right, it's time to crown the 2007 NARN Loon of the Year. Keith Olbermann was awarded the inaugural Loon of the Year title in 2006 and I'm sure that we'll have a worthy successor this year.

The process is simple. We've selected twenty of our favorite Loons of the Week from this year. We'll narrow that field down to four finalists by virtue of your votes. If you've forgotten why we named our Loons of the Week, check the links on the right side bar.

The first round of voting will end on December 21st. Then, we'll announce the four finalists on the December 22nd NARN First Team broadcast. After another week of voting, we'll officially crown the 2007 NARN Loon of the Year during the December 29th show.

Vote early. Vote often. Vote looney.

What's God Got To Do With It?

Tim from Colorado e-mails on the coverage of the shootings in Colorado Springs:

Here's a link to the press conference that introduced the security guard, Jeanne Assam, who single-handedly stopped the gshooter, Matthew Murray, during the attack on the New Life Church in Colorado Springs. While this is not a transcript, you can see she credits God several times during the press conference.

Contrast this local television station KMGH's report with that of last night's NBC News broadcast. NBC edited out every reference Jeanne Assam made to God during her press conference (I cannot access the NBC website here from work to provide you a full transcript of their report). In NBC's report there were several spots where the audio portion was dropped when she mentioned God; it was almost as if she was swearing and NBC was bleeping her out.

If I was the winner in a duel going against a guy armed with a semi-automatic rifle, two pistols and 1,000 rounds of ammunition, I would give God all of the credit, too. What's up with NBC? What are they afraid of by allowing her to credit God for guidance and strength?

I'm not particularly religious, but I don't have any problems with this women crediting God, nor do I have a problem in believing that God was watching out for her and those students at that moment. Jeanne Assam is truly a hero. If you think about it, it reminds me of David vs. Goliath.

On another subject, I will bet you a deep-fried Twinkie right now that the press and the Democrats jump on this opportunity to shove some form of a Brady Bill down our throats, all the while ignoring the fact that a single person armed with a pistol, revolver or semi-auto I don't know and don't care, stopped a bad person from wreaking havoc on innocent people. Contrast that with the mall shootings in Omaha where it was posted that guns were not allowed inside the mall.

People don't stop insane gunmen. People with guns do.

Moscow Slugger?

One tidbit from my time in Moscow last week was when our host was dropping us off at the airport. As we retrieved our luggage from the back of his Lexus SUV (actually his wife's company car--she works for Gazprom), I noticed that he had an old-school, solid-wood baseball bat stashed there. Pretty sure he's not stopping by the Moscow batting cages on the way home from work.

Speaking of Gazprom:

President Vladimir Putin said Monday that he backed Dmitry Medvedev, his soft-spoken first deputy prime minister, as the next president, signaling an end to an era of escalating international tensions over an increasingly hawkish Kremlin.

The announcement, made at a Kremlin meeting attended by Medvedev and leaders from four Putin-friendly parties, should also end years of speculation over who will succeed Putin. Given Putin's enormous popularity, his preferred successor is likely to win the presidential election on March 2.

Medvedev's candidacy was welcomed by foreign investors, who see him as the most liberal person in Putin's inner circle. But opposition politicians scorned Medvedev as a weak figure who would allow Putin to continue to hold the reins.

By endorsing Medvedev--a 42-year-old lawyer with a strong academic background and the chairman of Gazprom--Putin is seeking to pass the torch to a younger generation that does not have ties to the siloviki, the Soviet-era military and intelligence officials whose hawkish stance has inflamed tensions with the West over the past eight years, political analysts said.

And you thought Hallibuton's stock was a good investment.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Defining Coolness Down

Does anyone else find it, I don't know if "ironic" is quite the right word, no I think it is--ironic that the cool guy in the Alltel ads is named....CHAD?

The Elder Calmly Responds: Ironic? No, actually I think it's perfectly apt. Hanging with Chads has always been cool going all the way back to Chad Everett. You can't tell me that this ain't cool.

Let's Bail

The recent sub-prime mortgage bailout plan proposed by the Bush administration touches free-market conservative nerves for a number of reasons. It's an unneeded government intervention in the marketplace with dubious benefits for a select few that shifts responsibility and likely will have adverse long term impacts. Other than that, it's a great plan. In Saturday's Wall Street Journal, there were no less than six letters to the editor decrying the idea.

In today's paper, Alan Reynolds dissects the Bailout Plan (sub req) and finds its underlying premises wanting:

The political excuse for getting the government involved in helping a few politically-favored borrowers is based on false assumptions that subprime mortgages were usually used to buy a house, that a huge percentage of subprime loans face foreclosure, and that the main reason for foreclosure is rising interest rates.

All three conventional assumptions were undone by a new study from the Boston Fed. Its research shows that "most subprime loans are refinances of a previous mortgage." It estimates that "about 18% of people who finance home purchases with subprime mortgages will eventually experience foreclosure" within a 12-year period.

Most importantly, the Boston Fed economists found that most foreclosures do not result from adjustable rates going up, but from local house prices going down.They "attribute most of the dramatic rise in foreclosures in 2006 and 2007 in Massachusetts to the decline in house prices that began in the summer of 2005. Subprime lending played a role but that role was in creating a class of homeowners who were particularly sensitive to declining house price appreciation, rather than, as is commonly believed, by placing people in inherently problematic mortgages."

If you owe more money on a house than the house is worth, foreclosure can be a perfectly rational choice. Suppose Mr. Smith bought a house for $300,000 with no money down, but the value of that house has now fallen to $270,000. If he refinances or sells the house, he would still owe the mortgage servicer an extra $30,000. Falling home prices in many areas provide a powerful incentive to default on the loan, live rent-free for many months, and then hand the keys to the bank.

Those who bought homes with no money down have nothing to lose by walking away if they can't resell their homes at a profit. Perhaps that explains why only those with substandard credit ratings are singled out for special treatment under the Bush administration's plan. The "hope now" behind this plan is that people who have good reasons to default will keep paying anyway, even if the value of their houses keeps falling.

Again, other than that, it's a great plan. Reynolds also destroys the notion that there's anything "free-market" about it:

Some in the news industry have described all this heavy-handed political intervention as the Bush administration's "free-market approach" to the threat of nonperforming mortgages. On the contrary, honoring contracts and property rights is absolutely essential to the proper functioning of a free society and free economy. A mortgage is a binding contract between consenting adults. A mortgage-backed security is private property. It is the antithesis of a free market for the government to fix prices, pressure mortgage service companies into renegotiating contracts, and thereby expropriate property rights of those stuck holding mortgage-backed securities.

I'm waiting for the day when a politician proposes a bailout plan for those of us who make sound decisions to buy homes that we can afford based on realistic financial expectations and an understanding of the contracts that we VOLUNTARILY enter into. The plan would be simple: no more bailing for us. Call me a dreamer.

Courting Those All Important "Values Voters"

Caught a couple minutes of the Stephanie Miller show today on Air America. Not usually part of my morning routine, but my dial was locked on 950 after listening to Saturday night's Gopher hockey game. Miller and her male sidekicks were mocking the theological beliefs of Mormonism and playing some goofy background music--just in case you didn't catch their tone. Of course, this wasn't really about Mormonism per se, it was an attack on Mitt Romney.

Now I'll be the first guy to admit that some of the tenets of the Mormon faith provide fertile ground for ridicule (see South Park's hilarious episode on it for example). But there's still something unseemly about using it as an avenue to attack a candidate for president. I don't have a problem with people who are troubled by Romney's religion and want to take that into consideration when deciding whether he should be the next president. But openly ridiculing his faith (and that of his fellow Mormons) as part of politics seems a bit beyond the pale.

I also think it reveals what Miller and many of her ideological bent really believe about religion in general. At the end of the segment--after laughing off the Mormon views of heaven--they summarized their take on Mormonism as "not all that more wacky than Catholicism." Nice outreach to the religious voters there.

A couple of other points to consider:

- Is Miller aware that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a Mormon? Or maybe she doesn't believe that he's a "real" Mormon sorta like how John Kerry isn't a "real" Catholic.

- How many segments has Miller spent mocking the precepts of Islam on her show? Don't answer Atomizer. That's one of them rhetorical type questions

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Restoring Order

Interesting homily today at church. Our priest--not known for bombastic rhetoric--weighed in on the recent controversies involving Archbishop Nienstedt. Although he didn't get into the specific details, his message seems to be that we're heading toward a showdown of some sort and that it likely will not be pretty. He mentioned that most priests don't like to get publicly involved in such intra-Church disputes, but intimated that the time was coming when sides would have to be chosen. There isn't much doubt which side he is coming down on.

One of his most telling comments was that if you go to some of the various Catholic churches in the Twin Cities, you would scarcely be able to recognize them as the same religion. That state of affairs is not tenable. He also decried the media circus that's been going on for the last six months on this matter and appeared visibly upset about it. There appears to be a day of reckoning coming for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. And not everyone is going to be happy about what that reckoning will be.

Is It Real Or Is It...

Iowahawk? He nicely captures the objective, down the middle analysis of Hugh Hewitt:

And now: Mitt Romney's magnificent, soaring, Olympian speech yesterday at the Bush Library.

Without question, The Speech is destined to enter the pantheon of the defining moments of our time; for in it, we lucky mortals were witness to what was inarguably the finest distillation of passion and and brains and square-jawed herculean glory of this or any other age; an achievement of such blinding white TelePromted perfection that, in 15 heart-pounding minutes, eclipsed every previous achievement of the human race, combined, and those who cannot admit this simple axiomatic truth are clearly soulless and/or deranged.

Perhaps in retrospect, it's a bit understated. It's not easy to capture that level of obsequiousness.

Friday, December 07, 2007

A Day Which Shall Live in Infamy

Willie Plett showing what he thought of Hockeytown.

Won't You Take Me To...


After concluding that Detroit, with poor attendance at Red Wings games, no longer deserves the moniker "Hockeytown U.S.A.," Sports Illustrated's Michael Farber analyzed three cities, Buffalo, Philadelphia, and St. Paul, to find a city deserving of the title. The decision to go with St. Paul should hardly be a surprise, but Farber notes that St. Paul is Hockeytown for much more than simply its devotion to the Wild:

The Wild has sold every ticket to every game since it entered the NHL as an expansion team in 2000, but it has never tried to bigfoot hockey in a city that was home to America's iconic coach, Herb Brooks; the No. 2 U.S.-born career NHL scorer, South St. Paul's Phil Housley; the only cartoonist to draw a Zamboni-driving bird, Charles Schulz; and the leading state high school tournament in the nation.

This is the unwritten hockey schedule in the Twin Cities: boys' hockey Tuesday night, girls' hockey Thursday night, the University of Minnesota Friday and Saturday nights. Boys and girls also play on Saturday afternoon. It is no coincidence that the Wild often plays on Wednesday and Sunday. This is a franchise respectful of the game, aware of its niche and almost obsequious in its treatment of fans.

About frickin' time. Detroit's claim to "Hockeytown" was always a joke. A bunch of bandwagon jumpin' Red Wing fans does not Hockeytown make. I can recall the good ol' days of the Norris Division when the Wings were not good and their attendance was pitiful. The title is now where it has always rightfully belonged. As the capitol city of the State Of Hockey, St. Paul is Hockeytown.

Stillwater Crime Watch

News from the mean streets of Stillwater:

Shortly after 7 p.m., police received a report that someone had assaulted a Salvation Army bell ringer stationed outside the Walgreens store at 6061 Osgood Ave. According to a store manager, the 43-year-old St. Anthony man might have been drunk and fallen to the ground rather than assaulted.

I think its admirable for Atomizer to get involved with charitable activities during this Advent season. If he could only wait on the spiked eggnog until after his shift is over.