Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Movin' On Up

The long awaited day of moving has finally arrived. We have one closing at 10am, the other at noon, and then we're clear to move into our new home. And begin the months and months of unpacking.

After having our house on the market for close to nine months, it's a great feeling to be moving forward again. It felt as if our life was on hold and the showings, open houses, and raised and dashed hopes made for a time of anxious drudgery. To finally be moving is liberating.

The worst part of the move is not the big things, although we did have some aggravations during various negotiations. It's the little things, the thousands of details that need to be worked out to make it happen. The forms that need to be signed. The data that needs to be supplied. The services that have to be scheduled. If you only had to do each once, it wouldn't be that bad. But it's usually the case where you provide A, they ask for B. You provide B, then they need C and on and on. The devil is in the details and during a move, he is always lurking nearby.

Instead of renting a truck and Shanghaiing friends and family to help us move, we elected to go with a couple of PODS portable storage containers. That way we avoided the panicked rush to try to get everything loaded and unloaded in one day. And with a couple of young kids, it's definitely a better way to go. Our PODS experience so far has been good, the only caveat I would provide to potential PODS users is that prices do change and change rapidly.

One eye-opening revelation from the process of packing up is how much we spend on diapers. When we decided that we were going to put our house on the market, my wife stated saving diaper boxes. As I brought diaper box after diaper box after diaper box out to the POD, I saw the dollar signs flashing before my eyes. Frankly, I don't even want to know much the total damage has been. All I know is that potty training has taken on an added sense of urgency.

We lived in our house for almost nine years and one of my first acts upon moving in was to find a bar for the basement. I ended up locating one for sale in a community newspaper. It was built by a shop teacher in Bloomington and while it wasn't the most stylish set up it was extremely solid and although not of immense stature, it was substantially built. Over the years, I enjoyed many a drink behind it and for the price I paid, it was perhaps the best investment I ever made.

It's still in excellent condition, but it will no longer be needed in the new home. I've decided that I really don't need a basement bar anymore.

Yeah, right.

This is why it will not be accompanying us on the move. My dreams of a built-in basement bar are going to be realized. We looked at a lot of homes during the last nine months and since we were looking at a lot of ramblers built in the Fifties and Sixties, a number had such a feature. There's actually a fascinating sociological story waiting to be told on the history, customs, artifacts, and traditions of the post-World War II basement bar phenomenon. I've kicked around the idea of putting something together on that subject for years and I think I will finally post some great pics I have of my uncle's bar soon.

Anyway, I can't wait until later today when the breaking in of the new bar begins. The hassles and headaches of moving will have been a small price to pay.

By the way, if you're interested in making your own move (it's a great time to buy), let me refer you to a couple of guys:

I met Tom Torkelson playing hockey years ago and he's helped us purchase two homes and sell one. He's got a low-key, straight-shooting approach to real estate that helps keep you sane and balanced even in the most unstable of markets.

A couple of years ago, when I initially told my wife that the "Crazy Uke" was going to help us with a refi/home equity deal, the idea was met with a greater than usual degree of skepticism. Now, after Andriy has once again helped us get the right mortgage for our new home (as he did for Saint Paul and his wife as well), there isn't much doubt in our minds that he is one of the finest predatory lenders (just ignore the dorsal fin) in the Twin Cities.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Last Chance Of The Season

The final Argument of the Month Club event of the season is just few weeks away:

"Why Catholics MUST ENGAGE In the Public Policy Debate!"
Tuesday May 13th

Speaker: Jeff Davis
Founder of www.minnesotamajority.org

Total cost: $12 at the door (No RSVP)

If the topic's not enough to get you in the door, consider the menu:

6:30pm Social Hour -Beverages and Appetizers- Grilled Asian beef, charcoal grilled, marinated in garlic and herbs, and seared with roasted sesame oil served with a sweet spicy Asian grilling sauce (home made of course)

7:00pm Dinner: Garlic and Herb Marinated Grilled Sirloin Smothered in a three cheese mushroom sauce covered in cheese

Dessert: Kent's version of Tiramisu

All that and an evening of debate and discussion? A bargain at a mere twelve bones.

The AOTM Club meets at:

Basement of St. Augustine Church in South St. Paul 3rd St N & 5th Ave N

Never Again

The only way I managed to get through a weekend spent packing and stacking in snowy thirty degree late-April in Minnesota weather was to repeat a simple three word mantra over and over:

"Never moving again. Never moving again. Never moving again."

Well, that chant and generous portions of Ibuprofen, beer, and whisky.

Cure For Pain

There's an old adage in economics that the cure for high prices is high prices. Another adage not heard enough these days is that at times the cure for economic pain is economic pain. In Friday's WSJ, Ronald McKinnon urged the Fed to recall the lessons of 19th century economist Walter Bagehot:

How does Bagehot's Rule apply to today's credit crunch? Bagehot was worried about gold losses to foreigners that would cause domestic credit markets to seize up even more and, worse, weaken the pound in the foreign exchanges. Now, foreigners are disinvesting from private U.S. financial assets, which itself worsens conditions in American markets. Additionally, foreign central banks, to stem the appreciations of their currencies against the dollar, are building up large dollar exchange reserves--much of which are invested in U.S. Treasury bonds.

But U.S. Treasurys are the prime collateral for borrowing and lending in the multitrillion dollar U.S. interbank markets. Thus there is a foreign "drain" of prime collateral from the already-impacted private U.S. markets. The depreciating dollar also greatly exacerbates inflation in the U.S.

Consequently, there is a strong case for raising the fed funds rate as much as is necessary to strengthen the dollar in the foreign exchanges--as Bagehot would have it--and to cooperate with foreign governments to halt and reverse the appreciations of their currencies against the dollar.

The Fed should quit pulling out stops to try to prevent the American economy was officially falling into a recession (if we're not already in one). There are worse things than a recession (especially if its relatively short and mild) and the continued weakening of the dollar is setting us down a path to just such a thing. It's time to bite the bullet and endure the pain.

The Fed can cut rates again and put some more morphine into the drip, but it's not going to help the long-term health of the economy. Mister, we could use a Fed Chairman like Paul Volker again.

By the way, when guys like this (WSJ-sub req) are worried, I'm worried:

Peter Bernstein has witnessed just about every financial crisis of the past century.

As a boy, he watched his father, a money manager, navigate the Depression. As a financial manager, consultant and financial historian, he personally dealt with the recession of 1958, the bear markets of the 1970s, the 1987 crash, the savings-and-loan crisis of the late 1980s and the 2000-2002 bear market that followed the tech-stock bubble.

Mr. Bernstein, whose books include "Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk," sees two culprits. One is the abuse of securitization -- the trend for banks to hold fewer loans on their books and instead turn them into securities that were sold to other investors. The other is simply years of overborrowing by financial institutions and consumers alike.

From the interview:

WSJ: How long do you think this whole process will take, before we get back to normal?

Mr. Bernstein: Longer than people think. The people who think we will have turned in 2009 are wrong. There has to be a respite along the way. Nothing goes in one direction forever. But it will take longer than people think. If that weren't the case, I would be talking entirely differently. I would be saying, "What an opportunity we have got." And I just can't believe that the opportunity is here yet. There is too much to unwind.

WSJ: Can you explain the reason you think it will take a long time?

Mr. Bernstein: We have to go back to a moment when people have the courage to borrow and lenders have the courage to lend. Until credit is going up instead of down, you can't have growth. Housing has got to be a very important part of that; it always has been. You have to reach a point where somebody says, "This house is cheap, I am going to buy it," or where some businessman says, "This is a great opportunity for us to expand our business. Everything is available to us."

If China goes into a recession, God knows. The Iraq war and the whole situation with terrorism, we really don't know where that is going to come out. There are so many things that have got to get buttoned down before you say that the future looks good enough to take a risk.

Friday, April 25, 2008

It's the Economy, Stupid

Recently, Hillary and Obama have been trying to gin up votes by trumpeting their superior understanding of the economy and plans for saving us from "the shambles" that is the US economy at the present time.

"John McCain admits he doesn't understand the economy -- and unfortunately he's proving it in this campaign," Clinton told the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO union group.

After seven disastrous years of George Bush and Dick Cheney, the stakes in this election couldn't be higher and the need to change course couldn't be more urgent. But John McCain is only offering more of the same," the New York senator said.

Obama, an Illinois senator, said all McCain offers "is four more years of the same
George W. Bush policies that have gotten us into this pickle."

He noted McCain's support for extending Bush's tax cuts, which Obama said would help the wealthy, and his support for trade agreements that Obama said do not protect U.S. workers.

With their weak qualifications in the realms of foreign policy, national defense, and general leadership, it is understandable that these two Democrats would attempt to make something else the decisive issue for this election. The current downturn/recession gives them an opportunity. And the typical Democrat platform of promising that the government will give the citizens more and more stuff for nothing can be a seductive pitch.

However, trouble may lie ahead for even this appeal. Thomas Barnett is a long-time Democrat. During his appearance on NARN last year he made known his fondness for the "centrism" of a Hillary Clinton. And even he has a problem with the economic rhetoric and schemes being peddled by the Democrats running for President.

Both Clinton and Obama, if elected, present the frightening spectacle of a pandering Democratic White House looking for easy wins with an angry citizenry on protectionism because getting such wins on Iraq will be almost impossible.

Both Clinton and Obama now bash NAFTA, China and oppose the free trade pact proposed with Colombia, the rejection of which would constitute one big F.U. to Uribe and the magnificent effort he's put in despite our still foolish, supply-side-focus on the drug "war."

McCain would scare me on many levels, but a Dem prez plus strengthened Dem majorities in both houses? Yikes, that's got Smoot-Hawley written all over it, and that would be significantly more damaging to world stability than even nuking Iran--I kid you not.

The longer such nonsense gets pushed by the Dem candidates, the more presidential McCain looks--I kid you not.

McCain and the Republican party establishment will no doubt be making similar criticisms and arguments in the general election campaign to come. When they are shouted down as fear-mongering, lying, extremists, we'll have to remember to send Barnett a membership card for the Right Wing Noise Machine.

Something of Intellectual Substance

If you have any interest in the intersection of religion, politics, and public life (especially if you're of the Catholic persuasion), you really should consider subscribing to the magazine First Things. The issues are almost always chock full of insightful, thought-provoking, and intellectually challenging pieces. The first place I turn to upon receiving a new issue is Richard John Neuhaus' section called "The Public Square." Here's a sampling of Neuhaus nuggets from May (sub req):

Neuhaus writes on the return of the practice of ad ­orientem (facing the liturgical East of the rising sun, meaning the Rising Son) worship to the liturgy and quotes Father Jay Scott Newman's comments on the role of the priest:

"Both of these are true because the primary meaning of active participation in the liturgy is worshipping the living God in Spirit and truth, and that in turn is an interior disposition of faith, hope, and love which cannot be measured by the presence or absence of physical activity. But this confusion about the role of the laity in the Church's worship was not the only misconception to follow the liturgical reforms; similar mistakes were made about the part of the priest. Because of the mistaken idea that the whole congregation had to be 'in motion' during the liturgy to be truly participating, the priest was gradually changed in the popular imagination from the celebrant of the Sacred Mysteries of ­salvation into the coordinator of the liturgical ministries of others. And this false understanding of the ministerial priesthood produced the ever-expanding role of the 'priest presider,' whose primary task was to make the congregation feel welcome and constantly engage them with eye contact and the embrace of his warm personality. Once these falsehoods were accepted, then the service of the priest in the liturgy became grotesquely misshapen, and instead of a humble steward of the mysteries whose only task was to draw back the veil between God and man and then hide himself in the folds, the priest became a ring-master or entertainer whose task was thought of as making the congregation feel good about itself."

I immediately recognized the line that talked about "eye contact" and "embrace of his warm personality." Our priest (a known First Things reader himself) had referenced the same quote (and made a self-deprecating comment about his own warm personality) himself in his homily last Sunday.

The next Neuhaus nugget touches on the subject of homilies:

Catholics priests routinely claim that people today have a short attention span. Maybe they do--for the kind of preaching to which they're accustomed. They have a long enough attention span for many other things that interest them. I don't think we want to suggest that Protestants are genetically disposed to greater attentiveness. To preach interestingly does not mean to be theatrical but to provide something of intellectual substance. In my experience, people are intensely interested in what Christianity teaches, and why. Which is to say they are intensely interested in doctrine. I see from time to time Catholic homilies and homiletic aids on websites and elsewhere. I am sorry to say they are usually an embarrassment--moralistic tripe joined to vacuous uplift and a cute story. I do wish seminaries would stop teaching priests to lean on anecdotes and story illustrations. The really interesting stories, to be interestingly explicated, are in the biblical readings. Go read St. Augustine's homilies to see how that is done. Not everybody is going to be a great, or even a very good, preacher. Expectations are higher among Protestants. Catholics come to church chiefly for the Mass and, as often as not, put up with the homily. But priests should not take advantage of lower expectations by trying the patience and insulting the intelligence of their people.

We don't need the priests to entertain us during the homily. But they should not be afraid to make an effort to engage and challenge us to think.

Finally, Neuhaus on the notion--espoused in a recent Washington Post piece--that Americans have left the Church because its hierarchy has been too "authoritarian" and "overanxious":

There is not a wisp of self-criticism in this wearily familiar complaint of adolescence coming on its sunset years in unrelenting resentment that its "creativity" in destabilizing, confusing, obfuscating, and undercutting Catholic faith and life has not received uncritical parental approval. Just imagine what might have been accomplished were it not for that authoritarian hierarchy and mean father figure in Rome.

Don't be surprised to see "Mean churches suck" bumper stickers soon.

Separated At Birth?

[Disclaimer: The Following SAB is a bit conceptual in nature. Those with more pedestrian SAB tastes may not fully appreciate its subtleness.]

Strong-jawed, lunatic leftist host of MSNBC's "Countdown" Keith Olbemann and..

...strong-jawed, lunatic leftist host on Air America (and frequent guest on "Countdown") Rachel Maddow?

You really notice this when you see them side by side, although I actually think Maddow has a stronger jaw than Olbermann.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Take Your Disbelief Out Back & Put A Bullet In Its Head

I don't mean to turn this into all Hallmark Channel all the time blog (despite Atomizer's pleas), but this is just too good to pass up. Not only is the Hallmark Channel going to treat us to the world premier of "Shark Swarm" on Sunday, May 25th, they're now going to follow it up with what they're calling a "White Knuckle Marathon" on Memorial Day. After checking out this classic "so bad they're good" movie lineup, I doubt that I'll have white knuckles, but I'm sure I'll have quite a few chuckles.


When an international flight lands in Los Angeles carrying a dead passenger, the CDC dispatches Dr. Kayla Martin (Tiffani Thiessen, center), Dr. Carl Ratner (French Stewart, left) and FBI Agent Troy Whitlock (Vincent Spano, right) to identify the mysterious illness onboard before it spreads to the millions outside the plane. "Pandemic," a Hallmark Channel Original Movie Event, airs Monday, May 26 (8am/7c).

Tiffani Thiessen (where's the Amber?) as a doctor who's an infectious disease expert? Yeah, I can see that.


When early effects of an impending solar explosion wreak havoc on Earth, Dr. Christopher Richardson (Luke Perry) and National Intelligence Agent Lisa Delgado (Tia Carrere) find themselves caught in the middle of societal breakdown in "Supernova," a Hallmark Channel Original Movie Event, airing Monday, May 26 (11am/10c).

Believe it or not, I've actually watched "Supernova." I was in Russia last year and the Hallmark Channel was one of three English channels at the hotel. It's tough to say what was more implausible: the plot, having Luke Perry play a distinguished astronomer, or Tia Carrere in the role of "National Intelligence Agent."

Then, we get another look at the epic battle between green and mean:

Shark Swarm

In a California coastal town, fisherman Daniel Wilder (John Schneider) and his wife, Brooke (Daryl Hannah), discover the terrifying side-effects of an unscrupulous developer's (played by Armand Assante) attack on the environment: the environment is attacking back, as the local shark population is now traveling in unstoppable swarms with a terrifying, single-minded purpose. "Shark Swarm," a Hallmark Channel Original Movie Event, airs Monday, May 26 (5pm/4c).

The environment is attacking back? The more I read about "Shark Swarm" (and look at the ridiculous pictures) the more and more I fall in love with this movie. Move over "Road House." This is shaping up to be the single most entertaining movie of all time. I can't believe we have to wait another month to see it. Quit teasing us Hallmark Channel!

Finally, we end the day with...

Killer Wave

After massive tidal waves strike the East Coast, a team of scientists confers to discover the reason behind the devastating phenomenon, including nuclear arms expert John McAdams (played by Angus Macfadyen) who believes that the cataclysms are terrorist-triggered undersea missiles. Unbeknownst to him, billionaire industrialist Victor Bannister (Tom Skerritt) is working behind the scenes to thwart McAdams' investigation. The Cable Television Premiere of "Killer Wave" airs Monday, May 26 (8pm/7c) exclusively on Hallmark Channel.

Another evil businessman! Who would have thunk it?

I'll close with one cultural observation: is it any wonder that so many American women increasingly embrace the "safety" of the Nanny State when they take in a steady diet of "white knuckle" crap like this?

Pond's Good For You

2008 MPLS/St. Paul International Film Festival--Pond Hockey:




Director: Tommy Haines

Pond Hockey examines the changing culture of sports through insightful interviews with hockey stars, experts, journalists and local rink rats who are all searching the open ice for the true meaning of sport.

Satellite Of Love?

The cable versus satellite debate continues.

Tim from Colorado responds to concerns about the reception issues with the dish:

I just read your follow up post about SatTV. I don't know what the readers were doing wrong, but I've never had wind knock out my service, and on our first house I bought and installed all of our equipment myself. We get our share of wind too; we'll have many days in the spring and fall where winds approach 70 mph. I had a grill and a propane smoker blow off our deck one day. But I still had TV service.

The only way the wind could effect your reception is if your dish mount were not tight enough. And even at that, aligning a dish is not difficult provided you have relatively good access to it. With a compass and internet access you can determine the proper compass heading for your dish. The website will also tell you the approximate angle from the horizon, and the mount has a small protractor etched on the side. The box typically will have a screen with a signal strength meter. After setting the approximate heading and elevation on the dish, with you on a ladder with a cell phone and your buddy on his cell in the family room watching the TV screen, you could get the dish lined up in a few seconds.

Then you just take out your sexton and astronomy charts, shoot a couple of azimuths and you're set. Easy.

When I hear the cable company pitch that their system is better because weather affects SatTV, I say pish. I lose service twice, maybe three times a year, and only for as long as it takes me to go outside and brush off the dish.

And the other readers are right: hockey in HD makes you wonder why you never lost your eyesight watching it on conventional TV.

Forget about hockey in HD, I want my "Shark Swarm" in full HD glory.

Justin says that if you have reception problems, it means you're gonna need a bigger dish:

I saw the list of people who generally liked Satellite but were not fans of the fading due to winds and bad weather.

One suggestion if you'd like to go this route: get a bigger dish. Finding a dish that is about 30" in size will seriously reduce rain/snow fade in comparison to those 18-24 inch dishes that companies give you. Yes, it's bigger and possibly an eyesore for some. However, taking a little bit to install on your own so you don't have to check the forecast before you watch a game is well worth the hassle. You can find them for about $50 or cheaper at some local satellite stores or online.

It would tempting to go all out and get a friggin' huge dish that makes your house look like an NSA listening post just to keep the neighbors wondering what you're really up to. Not sure if the wife would be real crazy about it though.

Rex advises staying old school:

I'm a cable bigot, an early adopter from 1978. There was only HBO and a handful of channels. No CNN. No ESPN. No hockey. No MTV. It was cool!

I have nothing against satellite but once you're used to 10+ mbps download internet speeds, DSL seems out of the question. Plus, we like On Demand.

The DSL versus cable internet speed factor is one that weighs heavily in my considerations.

JB says that no matter what, DVR is a must:

You have to get DVR.

It's the best Jerry, the best.

I go through movie channels and see what's on 3-4 days at a time in like 10 minutes. I "tape" anything that looks remotely interesting and then watch it at my convenience.

That sounds great in theory, but the last thing I need right now is another reason not to get enough sleep.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Rank Speculation

With gas prices again on the rise, Senate Democrats have an answer. More Congressional investigations. Democrats Demand Probe Of Oil-Market Speculation (WSJ-sub req):

"I think the quickest fix is for the president's fraud task force within the Department of Justice to initiate an oil and gas market fraud investigation," Sen. Cantwell said.

"I think that they should work with the Federal Trade Commission, they should work with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and others to get to the bottom of whether there is manipulation in the speculation of oil prices."

Sen. Klobuchar added, "we need to have the Justice Department investigate the entire state of the oil and gas industry."

I believe that the Congress has counducted several such investigations of the oil and gas industry in the last few years. Despite the fact that every single one revealed no collusion, "price gouging," or fraud occuring within the industry, this is the best (and only) answer Dems seem able to come up with. Unless you count this gem from Diane Feinsten which seems to suggest that the government should shut down the futures markets for oil and gas:

With Earth Day as a backdrop to the concern about use of fossil fuels, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D. Calif.), said that "until we build the replacements for gasoline...there ought to be a prohibition on market speculation."

Speculation meaning people betting that oil and gas prices will go higher and then realizing gains off their investments. Yeah, shutting down futures trading will surely fix the whole rising price problem. No need to talk about little things like supply and demand when you can just look to more government intervention to solve the problem.

Shiite Swarm

Another update has arrived from the Hallmark Channel on the much anticipated premier of "Shark Swarm," the THREE HOUR "mean vs. green" epic that we brought to your attention earlier. It answers some of the questions raised in the previous post:

Daryl Hannah stars as Brooke Wilder, whose husband (John Schneider) refuses to sell their land to a developer (Armand Assante) who is dumping toxic waste into the local waters in order to dry up the fishing trade. When the dumping causes frightening changes in the local shark population, Brooke and her family will need their courage more than ever.

Armand Assante stars as Hamilton Lux, a greedy developer who dumps toxic waste into a California bay in an attempt to get the locals to sell their land. But when his actions result in mutations to the bay's sharks, which begin attacking in organized, precise groups, there may not be a town left to buy!

Now we know the developer's motivation for dumping the toxic waste (other than being mean). But other questions now arise. Such as, would it possible to come up with more obvious names for characters?

As Atomizer noted in an e-mail, naming the villain Hamilton Lux is perfectly contrived pretentiousness. Just in case you didn't feel the mallet whacking you over the head, they name the heroic fishing family fighting the evil developer "The Wilders." Get it? Wild as in nature. They even throw in "Brooke" for good measure. I'm surprised that didn't name John Schneider's character "Oak Wilder" to leave absolutely no doubt as to the fact that he was on the side of the angels (it also would have been an accurate characterization of his acting skills).

JB chimed in via e-mail as well:

The Armand Assante character looks like a potential new hero for us!

They've taken the cliché all the way! He even has the cigar!

Indeed they have. This is the picture of Hamilton Lux that was included in the promotional e-mail. Looks like he's having a great time with cigar, G&T, and shades on an all-but-empty beach. He is the good guy, right?

JB has a few questions too:

This is going to be great.

Two questions:

Does Daryl Hannah use her status as a Mermaid to help?

And is Bo going to take out any of the sharks with them dynamite arrows like he did to Uncle Jessie's outhouse?

We can only hope. This is really going to be a can't miss event. And it's THREE HOURS long. Saint Paul notes:

It's THREE HOURS long?! The Godfather got out what it needed to say about 2.5. This clearly has more depth and nuance to unveil.

Indeed. And the potential for mockery at the laugh out loud absurdity of the movie is really limitless. We've been talking about having a viewing party at one of our houses, but now I'm thinking this could be bigger than that. We should get a bar to host and have a first ever Fraters Libertas movie screening event. Hey, if the guys at Power Line can do it, so can we.

If that doesn't work out, we can always do something for the premier of Sisyphus' debut screenwriting effort:

This will be awesome. I'll bet the developer kills some of Darryl's mermaid friends and makes this personal. The only downside is that this type of Hollywood movie never has a happy ending.

I am working on a screenplay where the crusading developer takes on evil environmentalists whom are bent on putting people out of work. It WILL have a happy ending.

Greenlight that baby!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Table The Cable And Wish On A Dish?

Whenever you have a big decision to make you always hope that gathering as much information as possible on the matter will make the proper course of action clear. Alas, in reality more information does not usually mean more clarity, as has been most recently demonstrated by the response to my request for advice on whether to stick with cable or switch to a satellite dish when we move next month.

Tim from Colorado starts us off with a common complaint:

You asked about satellite TV the other day; here's my two cents.

I hate cable TV companies.

Eleven years ago, we moved into a brand new house. I called the cable TV company for service and they said they wouldn't be able to get to me for three to four weeks, and that they would put my name on a waiting list and call me when it was my turn.

Eleven years have gone by and I still have never heard from anybody at Comcast.

We have DirecTV. Our monthly bill is $112. We have two HDTV's (one with DVR), one standard TV with DVR, and one standard TV with just a satellite box. Our service package is the middle package, with local channels (an extra $5 per month). When we moved into our new home in December, we bundled our phone service with our DirecTV and our internet package (DSL). I would tell you what we pay, but I'm not sure as my wife handles bills most of the time, and because she works out of our house, we don't have a standard phone package anyway (home line, business line, and dedicated fax line).

When we moved here we had a little bit of trouble with the different DirecTV technicians getting us hooked up. I think I regaled you with my story back in January. After five appointments and three service calls, we finally got service. Like any thing else, the company service is only as good as the guy providing it.

If you get a dish service, make sure they put it in a spot that you can easily access it with a ladder and broom; do not let them stick the dish on the peak of your roof. We get a couple wet-sticky snowstorms every year, and the wet-sticky snow on the dish wipes out our reception; a quick touch of the broom brings it back.

Paul, another Colorado resident, echoes that view:

We have a Direct TV/Qwest package that we like a lot. The payment sounds in the ballpark you are paying. Plus it's the only way to get NFL Sunday Ticket, worth every penny for a fantasy football freak.

Fantasy hockey freak Foot adds his two cents:

I've had Dish network since we moved to the current pad and I like it. Recently dumped the premium channels (The Sopranos e' fini) upgraded to the 250 channel package with a metric s***load of HD channels. Watching the Masters in HD was an erotic experience.

And *sigh* yes, hockey looks f***ing awesome in HD (I think Vs network. has an HD component. Also Food Network HD is highly recommended.)

Also there's like 100 channels of digital music including a whole bunch of Sirius channels up to and including the Nihilist's fave The All Elvis Channel.

And DVR on 2 TVs. All for about $80 a month. And worth every penny.

Of course, if you were ever to attend the PostMilF you could experience it (plus I got it hooked in to my bong rattling surround sound system.)

MilF? Hmmm...Never heard of it.

James from California also digs the hockey on the dish:

Can't really help you on package deal info. I have DirecTV and AT&T internet, but I do love Direct TV (in HD of course!)!!! Of course I spend way too much time watching hockey (The NHL Network is great. Hockey in HD is great. the DVR makes commercial-free goodness), but fortunately the Wild look like they are going to end my TV hockey addiction no later than Saturday.

I have got pretty good service from Direct TV. I had a couple glitches early on (my guess? me being stupid) and they were resolved very quickly.

Steve from Shakopee thinks the dish is a better value:

I was reading about your impeding move and thought I'd give you my cents about what we have. We have the bundle from Qwest. We have phone, DirecTV and DSL. I think we pay around $130 for the package. I have been very happy with my DirecTV and it's better than cable in my opinion. We get more channels for significantly less money than when we had cable. We've hardly had any disruptions in service. If your new house has a lot of trees around, that may be an issue, but I didn't have that much trouble with it when I lived in SLP.

Dan from Tennessee cut the cable and the landline:

Saw your post the other day on Fraters Libertas about your search for a new cable/phone/internet provider. I am a regular NARN podcast listener and frequently check your site as well.

First, here's an interesting columnwhich makes me think you might be getting a call from Comcast in the near future.

When I lived in Philly, I tolerated Comcast's ever-rising rates mainly because I associate them (in a good way) with Philly sports. Could a true Philly sports fan ever pull the plug on Comcast, I wondered...

But when we moved to Tennessee last year, we went with Charter (a unit/division/affiliate of Comcast) for a while, then switched to DirecTV. It's a little cheaper (even after intro rates expire), you get some more channels, and more HD options.

Never really considered the cable/internet/phone thing because we've been going without a home phone since we moved last year. Just doesn't seem necessary--our two cell phones do the trick. I guess if you got a package where it's not really an added cost, it makes sense, but otherwise my recommendation is to make sure you have the appropriate cell phone plan and then ditch the landline.

The only downside I can see to not having a landline is 911 response. A tradeoff I'm not yet prepared to make.

The Night Writer likes the dish too, but notes another tradeoff:

I've got the bundled plan through Qwest that offers MSN DSL, Direct TV HD and, uh, something else that I'm not sure of, perhaps basic phone. I think we're at $99 for the package on a 2-year contract that still has six months or so to go.

The DSL is fast enough for me even with downloading iTunes. Speed appears comparable to the T1 connection I have at work. Comcast Broadband may be faster (if you believe their advertising) but it hasn't hampered me.

The real issue is Direct TV, which I'm very satisfied with. The biggest drawback is that you can lose the signal in heavy winds which isn't an issue for the digital cable provider. There are plenty of channels including several dedicated HD and the sports thrown in the package are great: you get the NFL and Big 10 networks at no extra charge and Direct TV dedicated four HD channels to the Masters last week, again at no extra charge (you could watch the main broadcast, go to a highlights channel, or go to channels focusing on Amen Corner or the 16th hole).

The thing I hate about Comcast is the price. They always have the advertising come-on about their low, bundled rate...but wait for the disclaimer at the end when they say standard rates apply after the promotional period! My research shows that Comcast is significantly higher than DirectTV (or Dish Network). The occasional, short-term aggravation of a wind-blown loss of signal doesn't compare too badly to the monthly aggravation of paying more to Comcast.

Mike from Wyoming continues that theme:

I have had Direct TV for sometime. Excellent but with one caveat, when it rains or snows, hard say goodbye to signal. I would say any sat service would have this Achilles heal. Good luck.

Trent offers a cautionary tale that causes one to reconsider cable cutting:

My two cents on satellite vs. cable and my experience:

So, I'm watching the Wild in game 4 of the 2003 playoffs on my Dish Network satellite which I just purchased 3 weeks prior. I loved the high quality picture and sound, and remember thinking, "why didn't I do this sooner?" I had the perfect evening planned--the Wife was out of town for meetings, a twelve pack of Summit Extra Pale Ale was in the 'fridge with the first two bottles chilling in the freezer, and I was finishing preparing a plate of my world famous nachos.

Just as I'm taking a sip of my first Summit, the wind she starts a blowin' and the rain she starts a fallin'--accompanied by a message on my TV stating my signal had been lost. This occurred sporadically throughout the entire game, and became an ongoing problem with any weather other than clear conditions with no wind. Thank goodness it rarely rains and snows here! Additionally, Dish just launched a new HD satellite (their first new satellite since 2004) which failed to reach orbit and is believed to be a total loss.

I now have outrageously expensive, yet completely reliable cable.

Another Paul also finds another plus for cable:

We've got about the same Comcast package you now do. We've also got an RV with Dish TV so I've compared both. While the dish is just as "good" it can (and will) go out in bad weather--heavy rain and even wind has screwed it up. The down side is cable internet has DSL totally beat for computers. You may as well stick with hard wired cable if you want the internet.

The bottom line? Satellite TV is a better deal than cable, but cable is more reliable. Cable internet service is faster than DSL. Watching hockey in HD rocks.

So where does that leave me? Still undecided, but with a lot more to think about.

Time to taste the fruits and let the juices drip down my chin

At Infinite Monkeys, David declares The Summer of Gin:

A few years ago, Monkey Ben declared the Summer of Rum. Out of sheer laziness, and inebriation, every summer since has been the summer of rum. And it's been lovely.

But now I'm declaring Summer 2008 the Summer of Gin. A gin primer and recipes to follow, no doubt with the same results as Ben's rum posts...

For Atomizer, every summer is the Summer of Gin. Along with the Fall of Gin, the Winter of Gin, the Spring...

Atomizer Sez: What?! Alcohol has seasons now??!! Nonsense, I declare!!!! Drink what you like when you like...period.

Playing The Percentages

Ross Douthat is not impressed with the 95/10 plan:

You can read up on the 95/10 plan here, on the website of Democrats for Life. They describe it as "a comprehensive package of federal legislation and policy proposals that will reduce the number of abortions by 95% in the next 10 years." I would describe it as a grab-bag of modest proposals, some of them creditable, that might reduce the abortion rate by 10 percent over 95 years.

Or with the chances of Obama supporting it:

And while I would be delighted to see Obama endorse the plan, since it's always nice to have pro-choice politicians on the record suggesting that abortion is a bad thing and we ought to have less of it, I have a tough time seeing it happening. Unlike Hillary Clinton, whose gender and record and reputation offers her enough maneuvering room to occasionally play the "safe, legal and never" card, I suspect that Obama simply doesn't have enough feminist cred to even tiptoe off the liberal reservation on abortion. But I'd be happy to be proven wrong.

The problem for Democrats with abortion is that a sizable chunk of the hardcore party faithful not only believe that abortion should be legal, but that there isn't anything wrong with it. If a group of pro-life Republicans proposed a "comprehensive package of federal legislation and policy proposals that will reduce the number of abortions by 95% in the next 10 years," the feminist wing of the Democratic Party would be screaming bloody murder about how it was infringing on the "reproductive rights" on women.

Trail Blazer

Tim from Colorado heps us to this tale of David Wondridge confronting his fear of The Blue Blazer:

There are a few drinks that I love, lots that I like, and a great many that I despise. But there's only one that I fear--not because it's strong or because it tastes nasty. Nothing's stronger than Everclear, and I've done shots of that, and nothing's nastier than Thai centipede wine, and I've choked that down. No, I fear the blue blazer because to make it you have to pour a long stream of flaming Scotch whisky back and forth several times between a pair of metal mugs, all the while looking like this is the sort of thing you do every day.

Actually it sounds like a rather typical Saturday night in JB's basement.

Wondridge discovers that just because there's heat, it doesn't mean there's light.

Okay, so it turns out that when you're done mixing this example of Gold Rush-era recklessness, when the flames are out and the mugs are cooling, all you're really left with is a Scotch toddy--a fine drink, to be sure, for those who like hot Scotch with sugar and lemon, but hardly something to do handstands over. When you're mixing it, though...Let's just say that not an eye in the house--and there's no point in making blue blazers if nobody's watching--will be looking at anything else.

If you're interested, here's the recipe:

To Make Blue Blazers for 4


2 metal pint mugs with handles and flaring rims


1 bottle cask-strength single-malt Scotch, such as Laphroaig, the Glenlivet Nadurra, or the Macallan
4 tsp Demerara sugar or Sugar in the Raw
4 1-inch strips of thinly cut lemon peel

There's actually a fourteen step process to brew the cocktail. It seems like a lot of work (and a questionable usage of fine Scotch) for rather little reward.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Something for Nothing

Before there was Mark Steyn, before there was Lileks, there was PJ O'Rourke.

Great news just announced, this grand old man of conservative comedic commentary is coming to town Tuesday, April 29 for a FREE show at Northrup Auditorum. Our friends at the Taxpayer's League of Minnesota are co-sponsors (along with Collegians For A Constructive Tomorrow and a number of others) for what promises to be a highly entertaining and thought-provoking night.

And did I mention it was FREE? In what may be a nod to O'Rourke's freedom loving impulses there is no price for admission. In fact, there aren't even any tickets to be had. According to the promotional web site, getting in will be a matter of Social Darwinistic survival of the fittest:


No need to bring your tire irons and brass knuckles, I'm sure. These are conservatives, civilized people, we're talking about. Instead, best preparation probably means nodding to another O'Rourke impulse, alcohol. Visit Stub & Herb's, the Big 10, Keegan's or any of the other bars in the U of M area, get properly oiled and be at Northrup shortly before 7 PM. Don't you dare miss it.

The Thyme Of Our Lives

Saturday afforded my wife and I a rare opportunity for a night out sans children. Before taking in some Looney Tunes, we dined at the Bank Restaurant , located in the former lobby of the Farmers and Mechanics Bank downtown. We enjoyed excellent food and drink in a stylish atmosphere. The F&M building is a treat and it's great to see it being put to good use.

I was also able to enjoy what may very well be the best new cocktail that I've had in years. The Bank menu advertises the Ten Thyme Smash thusly:

refreshing and sophisticated-fresh
thyme, cucumber and lime shaked with
ultra premium tanqueray ten gin and
white cranberry-the perfect apertif

And indeed it was a perfect pre-dinner cocktail. Absolutely sublime and completely delicious. The waitress told us they made it with freshly squeezed limes and you could definitely tell. I tried to find the exact recipe online, but so far haven't had any luck. This is one drink that I need to know how to make.

The only rain that fell on what otherwise was a perfect evening was coming home to watch the end of the Wild game. Talk about lame. I would have been much better off heading back to the Bank and getting Smashed.

UPDATE-- James from Folsom e-mails to lament:

The menu looks like the kind of place that Barry O'Bama would eat. Arugula? Honestly. Who eats that? What is that? I can feel his pain though. If Arugula is running $8 in Minny, I can only imagine how much it is in Washington D.C. Maybe I'm just bitter.


A drink with cucumber?

Am I reading the right blog?

[Virtual head-patting]

I feel and understand your confusion and frustration James.

You go into these towns like Folsom and, like a lot of towns in the Sun Belt, the promise of hockey has been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced it. And it faded through the Ziegler Administration, and the Bettman Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna have hockey, and they have not.

And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to Chili's or Hot Pockets or antipathy to people who aren't like them, or anti-cucumber sentiment, or anti-arugula sentiment, as a way to explain their frustrations.

[/Virtual head-patting]

In order to salvage my populist cred, I should note that Saturday's dinner was not on my dime. One of the "service recognition" options at our company is having them pick up the tab at a nice restaurant for you and your spouse (or significant other, domestic associate, life partner, dog, etc.). An option that I exercised with great pleasure.

Navigating The Doldrums Of Youth

Figured that since the Pope was in country, I'd pull out this post that's been kicking around in the hopper. Oh, I got a hopper. A big hopper.

In a late-February article in the Wall Street Journal, Christine B. Whelan made note of a study showing that today's young Catholics are trying to marry tradition and modernity (sub req). Not surprisingly, the results are mixed at best.

The study, based on an online survey of more than 1,000 adult Catholics, "paints a mixed picture," said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, chairman of the Subcommittee on Marriage and Family Life of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which commissioned the report. Catholic youth may have a more conservative outlook on life than their parents' generation but also an individualized idea of who should set the rules, said Christian Smith, professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame. "Most younger Catholics have defined their inner self as the authority, and many freely distance themselves from church practices they don't believe in."

Even the concept of "Catholic guilt" seems to have disappeared for younger generations: Catholic youth report no feelings of guilt overall, or about premarital sex or pornography, according to Mr. Smith's forthcoming article in the Review of Religious Research.

The Georgetown study shows that some 69% of Catholics age 18 to 25 believe "marriage is whatever two people want it to be," while just over half of their parents' and grandparents' generation agreed with that statement. This comes as no surprise to researchers following American family trends. With looser social norms dictating appropriate behaviors for husbands and wives, each couple -- regardless of religious affiliation -- must settle on their own rules of conduct, argues Stephanie Coontz, author of "Marriage, a History." But when more issues must be negotiated, she notes, there are more points where negotiations can break down.

While research on other Christian denominations shows similar individualized attitudes about the role of faith in everyday life, the generational differences are more pronounced among Catholics. "Catholic teenagers are the most distanced from the church authorities," reports Mr. Smith, a fact he attributes to "largely ineffective" modern Catholic religious education.

Nail meet head. I don't know exactly when the decline of modern Catholic religious education began, but I do know that the several years of it that I had (fourth grade through high school) definitely meet the "largely ineffective" standard. The education itself was largely fine, it was just the Catholic part of it that fell short.

The tradition and history of the Church was for the most part ignored. We learned little of the intellectual, philosophical, and theological musings of the Church Fathers. We learned about Christianity in a general sense, but not much (or at least not enough) about the doctrine, dogma, and teachings of the Catholic Church. We learned about the rules and regulations, but not what their true purpose was and how they fit into the broader understanding of our faith.

From what I've read and heard from other Catholics, this sort of squishy, feel-good Catholic-lite teaching that I received was not the exception, but rather the rule in the confused, wayward post-Vatican II years. A couple of generations of Catholics had no real foundation of faith when they reached adulthood and were often poorly equipped to deal with the pressures, temptations, and appeal of the secular world.

To be sure, some caution is advisable when interpreting generational differences measured at different stages of life: The millennials are just at the beginning of adulthood, so their optimistic and individual-focused opinions may change with their circumstances. "Some of this is useful idealism and some of it is just inexperience," said Mark Regnerus, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Still, the cultural shift can't be ignored, Mr. Regnerus said. "We've been swamped by messages of romantic individualism. Those ideas can lead people to marry, but can lead you out of the marriage just as fast when things get tough."

It's not as if most young Catholics knowingly abandon their values and tradition and succumb to the secular culture. It's usually a much more gradual process where they don't even realize that they are drifting further and further from the roots of their faith. When you hear the same themes again and again in the popular culture, you being to see them as normal and eventually accept them as such. The only way to prevent this sort of values drift is to have a steady hand on the wheel and a good compass to keep you on course. Unfortunately, the Church is not doing a good job equipping her young people for the task.

In March, another article appeared in the WSJ that looked at The Changing Faiths of America (sub req)

The Pew survey found that the Roman Catholic Church, which estimates its U.S. membership at 67 million, has lost more adherents than any other denomination. While nearly 1 in 3 U.S. adults was raised in the Catholic Church, fewer than 1 in 4 now describes himself or herself as Catholic. The church's U.S. membership remains steady because half of all immigrants are Catholic, Pew says.

Christian Smith, a sociologist at the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic institution, says he believes many adult Catholics leave the church because a decline in the number of nuns and priests has resulted in poorer religious instruction of baby boomers and their children.

Bingo. Again one of the root causes of Catholics bailing has been inadequate religious teaching, this time connected to the dearth of vocations. However, the problem is not just that there aren't enough teachers. It's also with what has (or hasn't) been taught.

In the April 21st edition of National Review, Michael Novak wrote about the Pope's visit to America and had more on the state of the Church (sub req):

American Catholicism may be one of the two or three most vital national Catholic Churches in the world. Its network of more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities is unrivaled (Germany has only one), even though, over the last four decades, many have become visibly less “Catholic.” The level of practice among lay American Catholics is one of the highest anywhere, and their habits of giving among the most generous.

All the same, American Catholicism has sunk far below the vigor it showed just prior to the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). Then, religious orders of sisters, brothers, and priests were bursting at the seams and rushing to build new convents and seminaries of unprecedented size. Now most of these orders are in severe decline, and many of their seminaries have been forced to close or are only fractionally used for their original purposes.

The number of sisters has shrunk from about 180,000 to 63,000. Thousands of priests have abandoned their ministries. The average age of both priests and nuns is far too high, and the number of new vocations (except in the most orthodox and self-disciplined communities) is below replacement level.

Thus, the record of the Catholic Church in America since the Second Vatican Council is not altogether impressive. A notable laxity has crept in, along with a loss of self-confidence in being Catholic. Even at Catholic universities, it is surprising (in most places) how little graduates know about their faith and its intellectual traditions. Since 1965, secular culture has in many places choked off Catholic culture both in thought and in practice.

The Catholic Church faces many challenges in America. One of the most serious is how to keep young Catholics from drifting away in the early years of adulthood. Teaching them the real history of the Church--its theology, traditions, and leaders--and what it really means to be Catholic won't magically make the problem go away, but it would be a heck of a lot better than what we've been doing the last forty years.

The good news is that we appear to have a Pontiff who gets it. In Friday's WSJ, David Gibson wrote an article on how The Pope Was Working To Bring Back Catholic Culture:

Thus it should come as no surprise that Benedict has made recovering a distinctive Catholic culture a principal theme of his first visit to the U.S., which concludes this weekend in New York. The theme has been evident in the liturgies, which stress Latin in the prayers and Roman styling in the vestments. But it has also been underscored in Benedict's remarks, calling for stronger Catholic education from parishes to universities and for a more powerful Catholic presence in the public square as a way of "cultivating a mindset, an intellectual 'culture'," as he said at Thursday's Mass in Washington, "which is genuinely Catholic." When asked during a Wednesday encounter with the nation's bishops how to redress a "a certain quiet attrition" by Catholics who drift away from practice, Benedict lamented "the passing away of a religious culture, sometimes disparagingly referred to as a 'ghetto,' which reinforced participation and identification with the Church."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Watch Your Language

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity."

- George Orwell

My wife came across this seemingly innocent yet revealing abuse of language in a recent St. Louis Park City newsletter blurb on new fire stations:

Our departmental needs and equipment have outgrown the stations. When built more than 40 years ago, the city responded to fewer than 500 calls annually. In 2007, we responded to 4,300 calls. Our department now also includes gender diversity for which our stations are not equipped.

As my wife asked, "How much gender diversity is there anyway? There's only two, right? Why couldn't they just say they now have female firefighters too?"

Given a choice between clear, concise language and meaningless PC puffery, the modern bureaucrat is always going to go with the latter.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Play's The Thing

During the regular season, I didn't think the Wild television announcers were too bad. But after five playoff games, I don't know how much more of their cliché-riddled babbling I can take.

Here's one cliché that they (and certain Wild fans) should try: players make plays. It doesn't matter how many shots on goal you get. It doesn't matter if you "completely dominate" a period. If doesn't matter that you're "not getting any breaks." If you don't make plays, none of it matters.

Last night, Jose Theodore made plays. Niklas Backstrom didn't. Yeah, I know. None of the goals were his fault blah blah blah. The bottom line is that Theodore made plays that saved what looked like sure goals, Backstrom did not.

Andrew Brunette made a play. Yes, it was a bit of a lucky bounce. But he still finished it. As did Stastny. Gaborik didn't. Fedoruk didn't. You can continue through the Wild lineup ad nauseum (literally).

If the Wild show up and make plays on Saturday, they can win and force a game seven. If they don't, their season is over. It's really very simple and doesn't require employing every clichéd excuse in the book.

Selective Snarking

David Harsanyi says enough Catholic bashing, already:

Talk show host Bill Maher last week accused Pope Benedict XVI of being a "Nazi" in his youth and heading up a "child-abusing religious cult"--or more precisely, "the Bear Stearns of organized pedophilia."

Now, undoubtedly, there is a treasure trove of amusement to be unearthed at the expense of fallen holy men. But Catholic bashing has gotten so obvious, so tedious, it seems only TV writers find it humorous anymore.

But hey, it's a free country, of course, so feel free to ridicule any group you desire. * See disclaimer below.

The thing is, the derision aimed at the Catholic Church, often using half-truths and over-the-top invective, unmasks a double standard.

The hysterical critics of the Catholic Church are many of the same folks who lecture us endlessly about the need to "build bridges" and develop mutual "understanding" with theocrats and tyrants.

They are the same folks who bristle at the very notion of labeling a nation "evil"--even if a nation happens to starve its people, threaten holy war, or allow death cults (like Hamas) to open embassies in their capitals.

The Catholic Church, apparently, is so wicked that the pope is cut less slack than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Well, maybe if the Pope wasn't such an "old-fashioned" guy and wore some trendier clothes, the media would be a little friendlier.

Harsayni's disclaimer is worth noting:

* Except Scientologists. Muslims. And Jews. (Don't make us drag your name through the mud for 3,000 years.) Actually, to be safe, avoid mocking all religions other than Catholicism. Or any ethnic minority (other than the Irish, of course). Also, the gravitationally challenged, the elderly, polar bears, the underserved, Fidel Castro, etc...

You also wonder how much of the Catholic bashing is driven by the fact that the "brave" critics know that there will be no consequences for their derisive actions. No one is going to get thrown off the air or have their head cut off for mocking the Pope.

On the threshold to the magical world of sensual delights

The London Daily Mail asks and answers:

This is the kind of question Mrs Merton might ask:

'So, Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, what do you see in a 24-year-old, sensationally beautiful gymnast with a penchant for posing semi-naked that you don't see in your lovely, middle-aged, matronly wife Ludmilla.

It is also the kind of question that hardly needs answering for the millions who have tuned in to the YouTube film of Alina Kabaeva performing a decidedly provocative gymnastic routine.

This sudden, frenzied interest in a woman who, until yesterday, was frankly a rather obscure Russian athlete, comes after a Moscow newspaper reported that Mr Putin recently split with Ludmilla and is preparing to marry the young and very pretty Miss Kabaeva.

Seinfeld--The Gymnast:

KRAMER: Oh yeah. Oh yeah, that's her. (feminine grunts and sighs can be heard as they watch the tape) Look at the height, Jerry, the extension! Now watch the tuck. Handstand, half-turn, giant into a straddle, back into another handstand. Nice kip. Reverse hecht. Oh, nice leg extension, good form! Now, here comes the big dismount. Look at the rotation, full in, double back, and she sticks the landing! (gets up to leave as George and Jerry continue to watch, mouths agape) Perhaps you'd like to keep the tape? (silence) Well, I'll take that as a yes.

Hopefully, Vlad has better results than Jerry did.

JERRY: Well...Frankly, I thought, you know, I was gonna kinda' be like the apparatus.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Inside the Bubble

Kerri Miller of tax subsidized, objective, and non-ideological Minnesota Public Radio, asking Desmond Tutu about the upcoming Presidential election in the United States:

The US presidential candidates look very different this year with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as democratic contenders. Do you think we Americans can put the past behind us and support an African-American or a woman president?

In other words, are we going to elect the Democrat candidate for president or are Americans still a bunch of racists/misogynists?

Look for this characterization of the choice we have in this election to launch into high gear once the Democrats finally decide on their identity candidate of choice. Is America good enough to elect Hillary/Obama? That will be the siren song given to impressionable voters from the commercial broadcast outlets. It's all the more galling coming from the government broadcast entity supported by money forcibly removed from our paychecks.

Any chance that Americans won't support this particular African-American or woman because they happen to be lousy candidates? Because their opponent is a far better option? Because, despite its flaws, Americans can proudly embrace their political heritage and need not run from it or seek redemption by voting for a person based solely on their race or gender?

Assuming these notions never entered the mind of this MPR reporter, I take this as an example of the cultural bias which exists in the media, described by former CBS News reporter Bernard Goldberg as:

These people live in a bubble, they live in a bubble with like-minded people who think the same way they do about all the big important social issues of our time. Not talking about politics, I'm talking about feminism, gay rights, race, you know, affirmative action, abortion. All the big issues of our time. And because they're in this bubble, it would be incredible if they didn't come out as biased as they are. *****

Here's what happens: They don't think that their positions on the most controversial issues of our time are liberal positions. They think they're mainstream positions, because all their friends in the bubble think the same way as they do. They think everything to the right of center is conservative. Correct. And everything to the left of center is moderate and mainstream. That's how crazy it is.

And that's why you can go up to these people and say, 'Well, there's a liberal bias.' And they'll say, 'No there isn't. And anybody who says there is, is a conservative ideologue and that's the only reason they're saying it.' They don't look at themselves because it's as if you asked a fish what it's like to be wet all day. And the fish says, 'What do you mean wet? What's wet?' The fish has no concept of wet because he has no other frame of reference. Well, these people live in the same type of environment. And that's why--that's why fixing the problem themselves is so incredibly difficult.

I can think of one way to start fixing the problem. Stop giving our tax dollars to a culturally (and politically) biased news organization.

BTW, getting back to Miller's mindset, have "we Americans" ever been given a chance to show we have "put the past behind us"? There has never been an endorsed major party candidate for President with the Kerri Miller approved demographic characteristics to test this hypothesis. Maybe we Americans put the past behind us in say 2004? 1996? In 1968? In 1868 (OK, unlikely!)?

How would we know? Those apparently racist/misogynist activists picking candidates for the Democrat party all these years never saw fit to let the true nature of we Americans shine through!

It's A Silent Flight For A Satelllite

One of the few benefits of moving is that it gives you an opportunity to reconsider some of your home service options. Currently, we pay about one ten a month for our cable and high speed internet access from Comcast. The cable package is essentially basic-plus (called "standard cable"), no premium sports or movie channels like high-enders such as JB and Atomizer receive.

Now that we're on the verge of relocating, I've been looking at other options. Ideally, it would be a package deal that includes television, internet, and phone service. Comcast offers such a package and signing up for it would give us a small net monthly savings. But Comcast is Comcast. I like their internet service and their cable offering meets our basic needs. But since their prices don't seem to have a problem staying well ahead of inflation I'm willing to explore other options.

The Dish Network? Direct TV? If you've had experience with either--especially if you're in on a TV/phone/internet deal--I'd love to hear from you.


Good, bad, and ugly experiences (and advice) welcomed.

Makin' their way, The only way they know how

Ever since Atomizer upgraded to the Hallmark "Sweetheart Package" (all seven Hallmark Channels in HD!), we've been getting bombarded with press releases promoting their new programs. The latest and greatest arrived in my e-mail box yesterday:

In Hallmark Channel's Memorial Day Weekend film "Shark Swarm," when a greedy developer kills off the fish population by dumping toxic waste into the waters off a coastal California town, the residents find themselves tormented by packs of sharks that are suddenly and aggressively hunting anything that moves. Although the plot makes for an exciting story, the film's stars--Daryl Hannah, John Schneider & Armand Assante--took the 'Green Vs Mean' message to heart, and with Earth Day 2008 (April 22) rapidly approaching, are using the opportunity to get the word out about key issues affecting the world we live in.

Actors taking advantage of their "fame" (I use the term lightly here) to try to promote a cause? Imagine that.

Daryl Hannah, who plays Brooke Wilder, wife of John Schneider's character, has long been an outspoken advocate for Bio-Fuels and environmentally sustainable lifestyles. "I believe we're at a crisis point," says the actress, whose eco-friendly home has been 'off the grid' for many years. "It's encouraging to recognize that these issues are no longer partisan matters. Every choice we make has an effect on the world around us. If you think about the decisions you make on a daily basis--what to eat or buy, how to get around town, and so on--each of those choices can have positive or negative ramifications.

Choices have ramifications? Pretty vacuous stuff, but standard fare for the thespian community. However, Hannah's remarks look positively Aristotelian when compared to those of her costar (who I believe did his best work in Dream House):

John Schneider, Hannah's costar and onscreen husband, agrees. "This isn't a new problem," the actor says. "There are ancient records of major port cities in Europe that literally disappeared because all of the city's waste was tossed into the bay. Over time, the water receded and the entire bay was a landfill, all the wildlife was gone, and a center of commerce was lost. This could easily happen today."

Easily. One day people just start throwing their trash in the water, pretty soon--before anyone notices--the entire bay is a landfill. Are you listening Boston? San Francisco? It could happen to you. Easily.

"Shark Swarm," a three-hour Hallmark Channel Original Movie Event, premieres Sunday, May 25 (8/7c). We know Atomizer will be glued, rooting for green to truimph over mean.

UPDATE-- Bobby from LA e-mails to query:

I just have to ask regarding this:

"when a greedy developer kills off the fish population by dumping toxic waste into the waters off a coastal California town, the residents find themselves tormented by packs of sharks that are suddenly and aggressively hunting anything that moves."

Wouldn't the toxic waste kill (or seriously impair) the sharks as well?

Well, I'm certainly no John Schneider when it comes to these matters, but it does seem a little fishy doesn't it? I'm also not quite clear on what a developer would be doing with toxic waste or why he would want to dump it into the ocean (other than to be mean). I guess we'll have to tune in on May 25th to answer these burning (and itching) questions. This movie sounds like it's ready made for MST3K-like mockery. Paging Mike Nelson...

Don't Have Much Philosophy

An editorial in yesterday's Wall Street Journal looks at John McCain's economics speech (some good, some bad) and highlights one of the major problems that I've long had with McCain:

John McCain gave his big economic speech in Pittsburgh Tuesday, and many of the policies he proposed are laudable--the highlight being an optional flat tax for individuals. The weakness--especially heading into a general election amid a struggling economy--is that his pudding still has no theme.

Being able to provide a guiding economic narrative is not just a matter of having a catchy soundbite, a la the "ownership society." It's essential for two reasons. First, it offers voters an explanation of how we got to the current moment, which means why the economy is struggling. The two Democrats already have their story: The 1990s were a golden age for the middle class that has been ruined by Republican tax cuts that rewarded only rich lenders and speculators. Mr. McCain needs a different policy narrative.

Second, a guiding philosophy shows voters that future decisions will be made according to a set of principles they can understand. Example: A month ago, Mr. McCain gave a speech saying it wasn't the government's obligation to rescue those who took out loans they couldn't afford. Then last week he, ahem, supplemented that view by supporting an FHA-guaranteed loan-restructuring program in what looked to be a bid to compete with Democrats in the housing bailout auction.

Without some guiding principles, voters are left to wonder whether Mr. McCain's next lurch will be to the populist left, where his instincts sometimes run, or to the fiscally conservative right, where he is also sometimes found.

McCain has ideas--some good (a stronger military, pro-life), some bad (campaign finance reform, immigration reform)--but doesn't appear to have any underlying political philosophy that guides his decision making on various issues. As the editorial points out, McCain's past words and actions aren't a much of guide to how he will approach future issues.

Now in fairness to McCain, after nearly eight years in office I don't know if anyone could articulate what Georg W. Bush's underlying political philosophy is either. But with the Democrats already enjoying many advantages heading into this election and with both of their candidates' philosophy pretty clear to voters--government is the answer--McCain needs to set forth a philosophical foundation that offers voters both an alternative to the Dems and a vision of what a future McCain presidency would offer.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

No Timing

The first Twin Cities speciality beer store is slated to open soon (May 24th). In St. Louis Park. Just down the road from the house where we've lived for almost nine years.

And are moving out of at the end of this month. Oh cruel fate, why do you mock me?

Mission Statement

At First Things, Mary Rose Rybak asks Who Will Save Catholic Schools?. She also wonders if the real mission of Catholic schools has been lost:

But it's worth noting that the men and women, religious and lay, who built America's Catholic schools did so not to educate the poor but to educate Catholics. Catholic schools were formed as a means of passing down the faith to Catholic children and were a self-conscious attempt in the early to mid-1900s to wall off children from a mainstream culture that was considered hostile to Catholics. Given this fact--and given that, contrary to Fordham's hopes, religious charter schools are not likely to become a reality anytime soon--perhaps it's not too ungenerous to ask whether it is entirely fair to ask Catholics to shoulder the burden of educating the urban poor?

True, educating the poor has long been a part of the Church mission; but so too, and arguably stronger, does the Church have a mission to spread the truth to its own members. As evidenced by a New York Times poll from 1994 showing 70 percent of polled Catholics between the ages of 18 and 44 considered the consecrated host a mere "symbolic reminder" of Jesus, there's reason to believe Catholic schools could benefit from a return to the starting focus of educating Catholic children in the faith.

The reformers at the Fordham Foundation see Catholic schools as one answer to the problem of urban education because they are good schools. But it is worth asking a few questions: To what extent are these schools excellent because they are Catholic, in the sense that they express a commonly held worldview, center a religious community, and participate in a shared faith life? And what effect will it have on their excellence if they cease to be Catholic, in the sense of primarily educating Catholics as Catholics? Will these schools still retain their excellence? Perhaps because they think of these schools first as good and only secondarily as Catholic, the Fordham Foundation hopefully assumes so and welcomes generous Catholics to do the same. But, especially on the occasion of Pope Benedict XVI's visit this week, it's worth considering his words from an address to the Congregation for Catholic Education this past January on the importance of keeping the Catholic identity in Catholic schools: "Schools should...question themselves on the role they must fulfill in the contemporary social context, marked by an evident educational crisis. The Catholic school...cannot fail to propose its own educational, human and Christian perspective."

The focus of the Catholic schools that I attended in the Seventies and Eighties was not educating children in the faith. It was mostly about getting an education with some wishy-washy, feel-good, watered-down post-Vatican II Catholicism thrown in (especially in high school). It wasn't the fault of any individual teachers, administrators, or priests. It was more a result of the state of the Church in America at the time, when people seemed eager to move away from the two-thousand-year traditions and teachings of the Church, removing many of the distinctions and values that made one Catholic.

Is it any wonder that so many Americans have left the Church, either because their faith has lapsed or they've found a more meaningful religious experience elsewhere? Some have found their way back later in life, but many--too many--have been lost along the way. The future of the Church in America depends a large part on the strength of Catholic schools. Catholic schools that understand their real mission.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Beyond Amateur

Earlier today, I took a run at Mark Kiszla's ridiculous piece on the Wild-Avs series that appeared in today's Denver Post. Now, Matt delivers the knockout blow in a letter he sent to Kiszla:

I know you didn't write that article - it had to be written by a 5th grader who's emotionally torn up over the home team's loss. I know a professional columnist couldn't possibly write such an ignorant article devoid of facts. It's also clear the author has never played hockey--on this point, I'm not sure if that fits your description or not.

Both the Wild and Avalanche are more finesse than tough. Most teams get their nastiness from the blueline. Looking at the two teams defensive units, it's pretty clear Colorado has the more stout blueline as evidenced by its average penalty minutes per games played. I wouldn't be surprised if the Wild had the lowest penalized group of defensemen in the league. This wouldn't support your case though, so I can understand how you wouldn't do any research to see if your emotional tirade checked out with the actual facts.

You're going to say, but it's Minnesota's forwards (Simon, Boogaard, Fedoruk and Voros) that are the problem. You're making some ground up here, but taking a closer look at the two teams and one will find Colorado has 3 guys with more than 100 PIMs and the Wild with 2 (if you threw Salei into this mix [98 PIMs], the Avalanche would have 4 guys with more than 100 PIMs). If you were to exclude the goaltenders and look both rosters and its PIMs and GP, one would find the Avalanche average .72 PIMs/GP versus the Wild at .77 PIMs/GP over the course of the regular season. At this rate, the difference is almost statistically insignificant. Furthermore, I would argue that the regular season is more heavily refereed and so if the Wild were truly a "goon it up bunch" as you refer to them as, it would flow threw the numbers over 82 games.

Additionally, don't lie to yourself - Simon didn't play the first two games of the playoffs and logged exactly 5 minutes and 50 seconds last night. Boogaard logged 3 minutes and 43 seconds last night and has averaged just over 6 minutes per game in these playoffs. Translation: these guys are never on the ice. Voros wasn't dressed in game one, played 7 minutes in game two and was then used much more in game 3 (+14 minutes) as a result of Parrish and Radivojevic going down with injuries. These guys don't get hurt - Voros doesn't play this series. So now we're talking the Wild have Todd Fedoruk to try and neutralize Cody McLeod and the idiot that is Ian Laperriere. You see, when you actually look at what's going on - Lemaire is dressing Boogaard and Simon only to serve as reminders for the opponent to be careful. Call it mental warfare if you will.

Finally, over the 82 game regular season, your 'free-flowing-offensive-minded' Avalanche scored 227 goals - exactly 7 more than the 'goon-it-up-clutch-and-grab-defensive-minded' Wild. More unbelievable, you try and justify your tale because Minnesota is located in the upper-Midwest with cold winters and that the Wild uniforms are ugly. This is as bad as journalism gets - it's beyond amateur. I think you probably have a job only because your readership doesn't actually understand than game quite like Minnesotans (of which I'm not) - which of course allows you to write whatever nonsense you choose...

And the linesmen are stepping in to stop the beating.

By the way, the comments on Kiszla's article (378 at last count) are also priceless and almost uniformally dismissive:

Could the Post please send Kiszla back to covering the latest in ladies handbags, and Major League Soccer's Colorado Rapids and let someone who knows something about hockey fill up space on the page. If you're looking for someone, there are thousands of 12 year old girls in Minnesota who would be much better suited for the job.

Sycophantic Separated At Birth?

Lisa Simpson to Montgomery Burns at a staged campaign event at the Simpson household:

"Mr. Burns: your campaign seems to have the momentum of a runaway freight train. Why are you so popular?'' and...

...Dean Singleton, current president of the AP, to Barak Obama at the AP's annual luncheon yesterday in Washington:

Senator Obama, today's event is sold out. Thank you. You have been drawing large crowds wherever you travel. What's your take on the sense of excitement around your candidacy?

It should be noted that Lisa Simpson was forced to pander to Mr. Burns, while Dean Singleton apparently was acting on his own volition.

John Hinderaker has more on how the cynical, skeptical, hard-boiled media types at the AP greeted Senator Obama yesterday. He really walked into a den of kittens there.

In fairness, Dana Milbank actually thinks that Obama was treated harsher than John McCain at the AP events, which doesn't speak well of the bite of our media "watchdogs."

Rich Somerville has a more nuanced perspective and notes that the size and makeup of the crowds make comparisons tricky:

Since I was able to snag a front-row seat for that session, I had dibs on the same seat for McCain. There was no security check, either for me or the people who arrived following the panel session to hear McCain. The room was packed, for sure, but by Washington Convention Center standards it wasn't that huge of a room.

By contrast, the AP luncheon where Obama spoke was held in the cavernous main ballroom, and even with "by invitation only" tickets costing $75 each (for rubbery chicken), the event was sold out--for the first time in AP's 162-year history, according to the current president of AP, who happens to be Dean Singleton.

I am no good at crowd estimates, but my guess is that at least three times as many people attended the lunch featuring Obama. Not only that, but everyone at the lunch had to go through airport-type security, including random wanding. I can only surmise that it's because Obama has had Secret Service protection for a while (no doubt because of threats), while McCain so far has refused it, although he reluctantly has said that he would have discussions this week about accepting protection.

I will note, by the way, that those at the Obama luncheon were not all editors and publishers. I saw many tables set aside for AP employees, and because the newspaper trade show--NEXPO--is being held at the same time, there were many vendors and their spouses there.

Cool Blue Reason

If you missed last Saturday's NARN First Team broadcast, you can now listen to the two interviews we conducted in their entirety commericial-free.

In the first hour, we were joined in studio by Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (MN-6th) and discussed taxes, energy policy, and yes, lightbulbs. Listen to it here (25:18).

In the second hour, we interviewed Dr. Roy W. Spencer on his book, Climate Confusion: How Global Warming Hysteria Leads to Bad Science, Pandering Politicians and Misguided Policies that Hurt the Poor. Dr. Spencer was a great guest and we took a number of calls with informative questions from listeners. Hear it here (40:11).

As always, you can also podcast all the NARN shows at Townhall.com.

Rocky Mountain High

Up to this point, I've been holding back from writing anything on the Wild-Avs series. I thought it better to let the action on the ice speak for itself. So far we've had three hard-fought contests, all going into overtime, and all being decided by 3-2 scores. Solid Stanley Cup playoff hockey.

But then Mark Kiszla at the Denver Post decided to get a head start on "recreating '68" by consuming vast quantities of psychotropic drugs before writing this column on the series. How else to explain his complete detachment from reality?

Let the mugging begin.

It's the only way the Minnesota Wild can win.

To advance in the NHL playoffs, the Avalanche must embrace the darkness. When playing this goon-it- up Wild bunch, hockey is a no-holds- barred battle of attrition, not skill.

The only good thing that can be said about Minnesota's 3-2 overtime victory against Colorado was the game lasted so deep into the night that it ended past the bedtime of most kids who could be frightened by the way the Wild mauls all the beauty from the sport.

Those who actually understand hockey saw a completely different game last night. Except for a few stretches (including too many power plays) when the Avs put pressure in the Wild end, the Wild for the most part controlled the game. They completely dominated the overtime and were clearly the better team.

Minnesota, the land of 10,000 dead car batteries, has an inferiority about this hockey team. The Wild's style of play is as ugly and obnoxious as the uniforms, which look as if designed by a toddler who randomly pulled two crayons from the box of 64 and began scribbling.

Here's a quick compare and contrast: Wild home and Avs home jerseys. Case closed.

This hard truth makes the Wild faithful grumpier than they are after waking up to yet another subzero morning. But why deny what makes the team so successful?

It figures. On a play that could have ended on an icing call, a weird, lucky bounce instead allowed the winning goal to be scored by Minnesota's Pierre-Marc Bouchard almost 12 minutes deep into the extra period. The Wild likes overtime, because it gives these grunts more time to knock the spirit from you with every cheap shot.

Yes, it could have ended on an icing call if Brian Rolston (skill) hadn't hustled down the ice and beaten Jeff Finger (former SCSU Husky) to the puck and fed it to Pierre-Marc Bouchard (all skill). If you look at the three Wild goals last night, they all involved nice passing plays to guys who can finish. The play that Demitra made on the shorty was an unbelievable example of the finest of hockey skills.

I missed the first Avs goal, but the second one--where Sakic knocked a weak backhander past Backstrom after an Avs player had fallen on top of him--was hardly a thing of beauty. By the way, how many times have the "skilled" Avs run the Wild goalie so far anyway? I know that the one last night was not intentional, but plenty more have been.

At this point, Kislza's trip enters another dimension:

When Avs forward Peter Forsberg turns his back, even for a second, he will get jumped and roughed up, in true back-alley fashion, by some Minnesota mugger.

Or did you miss the assault on Forsberg during the second period by Wild defenseman Sean Hill, who owns the dubious distinction of being the first NHL player suspended from the league for steroids?

Sniff, sniff. Are the big bad Wild being mean to sweet innocent little Peter Forsberg? The same Forsberg who has dished out more than his fair share of cheap shots over his career (ask Brendan Shanahan)? The same Peter Forsberg who Marty McSorely described playing against in The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL thusly?

For instance, whenever I played against Peter Forsberg I knew that I was going to get slashed and whacked and chopped.

The same Peter Forsberg whose diving skills were lauded in the The Code with this comparison?

He has made embellishing almost an art form.

Yes, Peter Forsberg is a skilled hockey player. He's also a skilled agitator, diver, and all around pain in the arse. He's the clichéd "guy you love when he's on your team and hate when he's on the other side." Weep not for Peter Forsberg.

And speaking of cheap shots, Kislza's steriod snipe was real classy.

Kislza continues to trip:

The dark hockey arts are practiced by every member of the Wild. Even a player as remarkably talented as Minnesota center Mikko Koivu is not adverse to hacking and tripping when Colorado's Ryan Smyth is carrying the puck on goal.

Clearly he's referring to the penalty called on Koivu last night when he had good defensive position on Smyth, who then dove toward the Wild goal over Koivu's legs and stick and got a cheap penalty call out of it. Apparently Kislza suffers from the same inability to distinguish legitimate penalties that the crowd at Pepsi Center exhibited last night when they booed every penalty called on the Avs and whined for a call every time the shadow of a Wild player crossed one of the beloved Nordiques Avs.

It's really too bad that a muddle-headed stoner like Kislza had to pen such an astonishingly ignorant piece and tarnish a series that was shaping up to be a classic. In the future, he should stick to a sport that he and his Colorado readers actually understand. The pow is really phat, dude--let's shred this half-pipe and then head in for a bipe and a dugan.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Prices Falling, Not The Sky

A headline at MSNBC's website today reads Poll: Growing majority avoid buying homes with a scare sub-header of "Americans' pessimism over housing crisis seen growing." The story goes to detail the drastic impact the housing "crisis" is having on ordinary Americans:

"This is a great time to buy, but not necessarily to sell," said Robert Jackson, who lives in a two-bedroom house in Ferguson, Mo., with his wife and four young children. He said he would love to purchase a larger home, but can't because even if he found a buyer, he would probably lose thousands on his house, which he bought less than two years ago.

"We're just going to have to slap a Band-Aid on it and stay here until the market gets a little bit better," Jackson, 30, said in a follow-up interview.

Yes, it's sounding more and more like the Great Depression all over again.

In the fifth 'graph, we learn exactly what "growing majority" really means:

Sixty percent said they definitely won't buy a home in the next two years, up from 53 percent who said so in an AP-AOL poll in September 2006. At the same time, just 11 percent are certain or very likely to buy soon, down from 15 percent two years ago.

Maybe it's just my natural optimism, but is this really such devastating news? After all the wheeling, dealing, and moving about that transpired in the last ten years is it really that surprising that fewer Americans are considering a move now that housing prices are falling? Isn't that a natural and prudent reaction to market conditions? I'm actually surprised that 40% aren't ruling out buying a house in what is really a pretty short time horizon.

Housing prices rise and fall. At times the market favors the buyer, at others the seller. Since many moves involve both selling and buying a home, the net impact isn't that much different if the market is weak or strong. You either get more and pay more or visa versa.

Having had recent experience with both ends of the equation, I am encouraged by the fact that most of the poll respondents appreciate the opportunity current market conditions provide:

Fifty-nine percent think now is a good time to buy.

A very good time indeed.