Wednesday, December 31, 2008

This Is What It Sounds Like When The Sponge Cries

In Fee Battle With Time Warner, Viacom Enlists Cartoons (WSJ-sub req):

Tapping emotional images such as a weeping Dora the Explorer and a distraught SpongeBob, Viacom Inc. is launching a marketing blitz Wednesday aimed at demonizing Time Warner Cable over a television-programming contract dispute.

Barring a last-minute settlement on fees, Viacom's cable channels -- including Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central -- will disappear from Time Warner Cable at midnight Wednesday. While programmers and operators often battle fiercely over contract renewals, Viacom's campaign is notable in its willingness to pull children into the debate.

One ad shows the cartoon Dora in tears with the words, "Why is Dora crying?" The ad goes on to explain: "Time Warner Cable has taken 19 of your favorite channels off the air!" and suggests viewers call a Time Warner Cable number to demand that the cable operator restore Nickelodeon and its siblings. That ad is paired with another suggesting that viewers can get Dora back by signing up to one of Time Warner Cable's rivals such as DirecTV or Verizon Communications. In another, the cartoon character SpongeBob is said to be "freaking out."

This morning, Nikelodeon has been running a continuous scroll warning of the channel's imminent disappearance for Time Warner customers and urging them to call their cable operator to avoid this horrible fate. It's a clever ploy by Nik to go after one of parent's critical pain points: the shows their children love to watch. All I have to say is thank God we have Comcast. Don't get a chance to say that too often.

Speaking of children's television, is there a creepier show on the air today than Playhouse Disney's The Doodlebops? It's disturbing on so many levels with that '70s Sid and Marty Kroft psychedelic stoner vibe. Thanks Canada.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Naming Names

Since I am somewhat involved in local Republican Party politics I receive letters from various groups within the party supporting various causes. Last Saturday, one such letter arrived in my mailbox from a group called Coalition for Reform of the Minnesota Republican Party Leadership (a.k.a. COROMREPAL). The letter was authored by one Joe Repya, a man well-known and respected in local conservative circle.

The letter called for a "re-structuring of the Minnesota GOP" and listed sixteen "critical reform steps" necessary for said change. Many are rather inside baseball and probably not meaningful for those not inside party circles. Some are excellent suggestions for much needed and overdue actions, such as #4 which talks about the need for the party to get up to speed on technology and the internet. Anyone who has toiled for any period of time at the grassroots level of the party knows just how desperate this need is. Others are of more dubious value, such as #15 which calls on the party to back all candidates throughout the state and force the DFL to defend the metropolitan seats where it typically gets upwards of 70% of the vote. In my opinion, precious resources are better used in races where they may actually influence the outcome, but it's a matter that's open to debate.

The one step that did catch my eye and raise questions was #14. It called for the party chair to "always (emphasis in the original) promote a positive message to Minnesota" and "not publicly criticize or pass judgment on fellow Republicans." It also said that "We must criticize our own in 'private' and praise in 'public.'" Not especially unusual, really just a restatement of Reagan's 11th commandment. Then came this:

"The days of turning "thug bloggers" loose on our own fellow GOP activists or office holders must stop!" (again emphasis in the original--underline not strikethrough)

The problem is that these "thug bloggers" were not named anywhere in the letter. I may be naive or simply ignorant, but I honestly have no idea who these alleged blogging bullies are. I think I've got a pretty good handle on most of the local bloggers on the right and I can't think of any where the label "thug" would be an apt descriptor. Nerd, geek, tightwad, goofball, Cheesehead, hairy-backed swamp developer, etc. come quickly to mind, but not "thug."

So I ask those who are pushing for reform, openness, and transparency to practice what they preach and let us know who these "thugs" in our midst are. If they prefer the private to the public route I would understand. But I don't understand or appreciate them tossing around these kind of accusations without providing more specific details.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Hello Cleveland?

Are the Browns really this desperate? At least they cold have a great rallying cry: Win one for Ralphie!

Under Siege

Reading the paper this morning I noticed an interesting similarity between the theory of a Russian academic of the imminent (2010) disintegration of the United States brought about by economic collapse and civil war:

He based the forecast on classified data supplied to him by FAPSI analysts, he says. He predicts that economic, financial and demographic trends will provoke a political and social crisis in the U.S. When the going gets tough, he says, wealthier states will withhold funds from the federal government and effectively secede from the union. Social unrest up to and including a civil war will follow. The U.S. will then split along ethnic lines, and foreign powers will move in.

California will form the nucleus of what he calls "The Californian Republic," and will be part of China or under Chinese influence. Texas will be the heart of "The Texas Republic," a cluster of states that will go to Mexico or fall under Mexican influence. Washington, D.C., and New York will be part of an "Atlantic America" that may join the European Union. Canada will grab a group of Northern states Prof. Panarin calls "The Central North American Republic." Hawaii, he suggests, will be a protectorate of Japan or China, and Alaska will be subsumed into Russia.

And the Milton Bradley board game Fortress America (released in 1986):

The game opens with the world divided into three major world powers outside of the US:

1) The Asian Peoples Alliance (yellow player)

2) The Central American Federation (blue player)

3) The Euro-Socialist Pact (red player)

These three powers have launched a surprise assault on the now-conventionally-weak United States: Asian invaders on the Pacific coast, Central American invaders along the Southwestern border with Mexico, and the Euro-Soviet invaders along the eastern seaboard. The United States Navy is brushed aside. The land and air forces, still capable of resistance, are nevertheless insufficient to halt the invasions.

Other than Canada jumping in to snatch a piece of the American pie, it's pretty much the same scenario. American readers will be relieved to note that in my somewhat limited (at least compared to "Axis and Allies") Fortress America gaming experiences of youth, the United States typically held off the foreign invaders.

Here's the map of how the US would look if the Russian's prediction came true:

A couple of points regarding the Central North America Republic come to mind:

1. With Minnesota and Michigan and in the Canadian sphere of influence, we would definitely be the hockey power.

2. While we would be self-sufficient in most areas, we'd need a strong navy to keep the Great Lakes trading route open.

3. We'd be a little weak at the corners with Ohio and Colorado, but they would probably just end up being much fought over border outposts anyway.

UPDATE A few further thoughts on the CNAR:

4. While there would be a temptation to locate the capitol in Chicago, St. Paul would make a better choice. It would allow for a defense in depth from potential invaders.

5. The only real military threat would come from the Texas Republic. Atlantic America would quickly splinter with West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North and South Carolina breaking off from the New England states to form their own independent country. The CNAR could probably form an alliance with this new country although we may have to cede portions of southern Ohio. No great loss there.

While there are a lot of military resources available in the California Republic, most of the states are sparsely populated. It's difficult to imagine the laid back sunshine softies of the current day state of California having the fortitude and gumption to mount a military operation across the Rockies. California supporting fifth columnists in Colorado could be a concern, but they could be rounded up and deported back to their native land once the CNAR was born.

I for one welcome our new Canadian overlords.

Sockin' The Suburbs

A few months back, I noted how excited I was to learn that with the release of "Revolutionary Road" Hollywood would finally be breaking a long held taboo and bravely critique the suffocating, stifling lives of suburban conformity. And in the Fifties no less, an era that has been heretofore immune from the cynical, post-modern withering gaze of the movie-making community. Bravo Sam Mendes for your pioneering effort in taking us behind the comfortable facade of suburban bliss and exposing the secret hell of lives of quiet desperation.

In one of the best pieces I've ever read on the subject, Lee Siegel asks Why Does Hollywood Hate the Suburbs? in Saturday's WSJ. He could have expanded the list of those who rage against the suburbs to include artists, writers, musicians, poets, thespians, urban intellectuals, almost everyone on the Left (getting redundant here), and anyone else who considers tragedy hip. The entire piece is excellent and well worth reading (best of all it's available to all on the Journal's site). Here are a couple of paragraphs with particular punch:

Still, the film's hostility toward the suburbs pales when compared with its source. Yates's novel, cherished by literary intellectuals and Paris Review interns to this day, expresses American suburban-phobia with crude explicitness. Describing the Wheelers' new neighborhood, Yates writes: "The Revolutionary Hill Estates had not been designed to accommodate a tragedy.... [The neighborhood] was invincibly cheerful, a toyland of white and pastel houses whose bright, uncurtained windows winked blandly through a dappling of green and yellow leaves.... A man running down these streets in desperate grief was indecently out of place."

No literary critic that I know of has ever challenged Yates's puerile social perceptions. The reflexive reverence for "Revolutionary Road" is a testament to the degree to which antisuburban sentiment is one of the most unexamined attitudes in American culture. For what might a neighborhood that had been designed to accommodate a tragedy possibly look like? For a man running down the street in desperate grief to fit right into the landscape, he would have to be hurtling through a place where vampiric towers blocked out the sun and corpses hung from the lampposts.

Yates's rage against the suburbs had all the subtlety of adolescent rage against authority (this indiscriminate anger might account for the novel's fatal deficiency: Frank and April's total lack of talent or substance makes their ultimately thwarted attempt to leave the suburbs for Paris less the stuff of tragedy than irritating farce). Yet "Revolutionary Road" -- the name fatuously meant to imply that America's revolutionary promise withers and dies in the suburbs -- caught the reflexive attitudes of many readers. Postwar writers and intellectuals overlooked the book's flagrant shortcomings, lit up from within by their shared opposition to a single place. X might be a Stalinist, and Y a fellow traveler and Z a closet Republican, but they could all agree on one thing -- they'd rather perish in a nuclear holocaust than move to Westchester!

American antisuburban sentiment is often comically absurd. In his 1955 poem "Howl," Allen Ginsberg elevated suburb-phobia to the level of myth. He excoriates the "invisible suburbs" -- i.e. they are so spiritually dead that they are hidden from a living eye -- as one of the pernicious manifestations of Moloch, the destructive god of soulless materialism. Sylvia Plath added some spine-tingling details. In her 1963 autobiographical novel, "The Bell Jar," Plath's heroine steps off a train and has this infernal experience: "The motherly breath of the suburbs enfolded me. It smelt of lawn sprinklers and station wagons and dogs and babies. A summer calm laid its soothing hand over everything, like death." The pleasures of a station wagon's aroma are open to question, but summer calm, the smell of wet grass, the scent of dogs (if they're clean) and babies (clean or dirty) -- are, it could be argued, some of the least horrifying experiences in life.

To normal well-adjusted people they are in fact some of the most pleasurable. Which explains a lot about the real reasons for hating the suburbs.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Reading Off Into The Sunset

In yesterday's WSJ, Karl Rove addressed the trope of the incurious, illiterate President Bush:

It all started on New Year's Eve in 2005. President Bush asked what my New Year's resolutions were. I told him that as a regular reader who'd gotten out of the habit, my goal was to read a book a week in 2006. Three days later, we were in the Oval Office when he fixed me in his sights and said, "I'm on my second. Where are you?" Mr. Bush had turned my resolution into a contest.

By coincidence, we were both reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals." The president jumped to a slim early lead and remained ahead until March, when I moved decisively in front. The competition soon spun out of control. We kept track not just of books read, but also the number of pages and later the combined size of each book's pages -- its "Total Lateral Area."

"Team of Rivals," eh? You suppose that President Bush read this now much talked about work before Barack Obama? That would really mess up a few narratives out there.

There is a myth perpetuated by Bush critics that he would rather burn a book than read one. Like so many caricatures of the past eight years, this one is not only wrong, but also the opposite of the truth and evidence that bitterness can devour a small-minded critic. Mr. Bush loves books, learns from them, and is intellectually engaged by them.

For two terms in the White House, Mr. Bush has been in the arena, keeping America safe and facing down enormous challenges, all the while acting with dignity. And when on Jan. 20 he flies from Washington to Texas one last time, he will do so as he arrived -- with friends and a book nearby.

As I've said before reading alone or even reading the "right" books does not necessarily make one a good leader or president. But the idea that President Bush didn't read and that Barack Obama will bring reading back to the White House is a ridiculous falsehood that--like so many others regarding the Bush administration--seems to continue to live on despite all evidence to the contrary.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The paper holds their folded faces to the floor

Reminder that you still can vote for the 2008 NARN First Team Loon of the Year. Polls will close tomorrow during the NARN First Team show when we will announce the results LIVE on the air. We will be LIVE tomorrow from 11am-1pm looking back on the year in lunacy. Listen to us LIVE locally on AM1280 or LIVE on the internet stream.

A couple of years ago, I noted with some disdain that some transplanted cheeseheads allowed their son to wear a Packers jersey to Christmas Mass. This year's Mass was green and gold free as far as I could see, but there was another case on inappropriate clothing selection.

A cherub-faced youth of around twelve was sporting a t-shirt. Since it was all of eight degrees that evening it seemed like a poor choice from a weather standpoint. And it was not just any plain Jane t-shirt. Its front advertised one of the best selling rock albums of all time: Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. There are many venues where such a shirt would be perfectly in place. Church during Christmas Eve Mass is not one of them. You're supposed to be their parents not their friends people.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Comes Early

Yesterday, my wife took my advice and gave me a four-pack of Surly Furious as a Christmas present. Well, I actually picked it up and paid for it, but it's the thought that counts, right? In addition to the Surly I also brought home some Rush River Winter Warmer, Leinie's new 1888 Bock, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, and a winter variety pack of Summit.

We also received a shipment of coffee from our Utah connection. Two-and-a-half pounds of some of the finest beans that Starbucks offers plus a mug. Who says this whole blogging thing doesn't have benefits?

Snow on the ground. Ice on the rinks. Stocked up on beer and coffee (and whisky & wine). Shopping done. Not going back to work until January 5th. We're definitely ready for a very merry Christmas. Hope you have one too.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Magic of Mystery

One of the challenges that Christmas poses for Christian parents is to try to strike the right balance between the magical wonder of Santa Claus and the beautiful mystery of the birth of Jesus. You don't have to worry about your kids getting excited about Santa. They get bombarded with images, references, and stories of the jolly fat man. But you do sometimes worry that all this focus on Santa may diminish their understanding of the real meaning of Christmas. Does their faith in Santa interfere with their faith in God?

In Friday's WSJ, Tony Woodlief opined that it's not only acceptable, but understandable that for children the path to God can go through Santa Claus:

Perhaps a more responsible parent would confess, but I hesitate. For this I blame G.K. Chesterton, whose treatise Orthodoxy: The Classic Account of a Remarkable Christian Experience had its 100th anniversary this year. One of its themes is the violence that rationalistic modernism has worked on the valuable idea of a "mystical condition," which is to say the mystery inherent in a supernaturally created world. Writing of his path to faith in God, Chesterton says: "I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician."

Magic-talk gets under the skin of many, like renowned scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins. This is doubly so when it is what the Christ-figure Aslan, in C.S. Lewis's "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," calls "the deeper magic," an allusion to divinity. Mr. Dawkins is reportedly writing a book examining the pernicious tendency of fantasy tales to promote "anti-scientific" thinking among children. He suspects that such stories lay the groundwork for religious faith, the inculcation of which, he claims, is a worse form of child abuse than sexual molestation.

I suspect that fairy tales and Santa Claus do prepare us to embrace the ultimate Fairy Tale, the one Lewis believed was ingrained in our being. New research from the Université de Montréal and the University of Ottawa indicates that children aren't overly troubled upon learning that Santa is a myth. But the researchers remained puzzled because while children eventually abandon Santa, they keep believing in God. Lewis would say this is because God is real, but Mr. Dawkins fears it is the lasting damage of fairy tales. While Mr. Dawkins stands ironically alongside Puritans in his readiness to ban fairy tales, Christian apologists like Lewis and Chesterton embraced them, precisely because to embrace Christian dogma is to embrace the extrarational.

Today's Christian apologists, by contrast, seek to reason their way to God by means of archaeological finds, anthropological examinations and scientific argumentation. That's all well and good, but it seems to miss a fundamental point illuminated by Chesterton, which is that, ultimately, belief in God is belief in mystery.

I happen to be reading "Orthodoxy" right now and I can testify to its simply stated brilliance.

I can't recall the exact age when I realized that Santa was not the source of our Christmas booty. It probably was a gradual understanding that became clear over the course of a couple of years. I don't remember being especially traumatized by it nor do I think the revelation had any impact on my faith in God.

I can recall a period of time when I was wise to the ways of Santa while JB Doubtless was still a believer (I think he was about sixteen before the light bulb finally went off). It wasn't that hard to keep the illusion up and I actually enjoyed helping preserve his innocence a bit longer. He wasn't completely free of skepticism however and I can remember when he asked our Dad how the logistics of the whole Santa delivery operation were possible. Dad wisely explained that Santa had helpers who used Jeeps to cover the territory. Since JB was a Jeep fanatic this explanation suited his worldview perfectly and eased whatever doubts he may have had.

Another incident related to belief in Santa that I vividly remember took place at church. This too took place after I was in on the game. I don't think it was a Christmas Mass. But there were a lot of children in attendance and the expectation of Christmas near was definitely in the air. Probably the third of fourth Sunday of Advent.

Anyway during the homily the priest essentially came right out and said that Santa didn't exist. Now it's one thing for a kid on the playground to tell you there's no Santa. That same kid probably thought Spider Man was real and liked to eat yellow snow. It was easy to dismiss his claims. But when the priest--the guy one step down from God in kids' very hierarchal view of the world--said that Santa wasn't real it caught peoples' attention.

In this case, it also attracted the ire of my mother. Usually our parents tried to shield us from what they really thought of the clergy. They didn't want to poison our minds or introduce doubts in our fragile faith. After all, these were the men of God and as such they deserved a certain amount of respect and fealty. But this particular padre had crossed the line and I remember leaving church with her cursing his name (which I can't recall) for being such a jackass as to doing something so stupid around Christmas.

These many years later it still seems as if my mother's assessment of the priest's conduct was accurate. What's the harm with letting kids believe in the magic of Santa? It need not be detrimental, but in fact may help that appreciate the true wonder of the ultimate mystery of God.

Monday, December 22, 2008

THe Ghost of Uncle Joe

If you missed last Saturday's First Team interview with Jonathan Brent, author of "Inside The Stalin Archives," you can now listen to it commercial-free here.

Vsego khoroshego!

So Bitter & Surly

If you missed last Saturday's First Team interview with Omar Ansari from Surly Brewing Company, you can now listen to it commercial-free here. We went on a furious bender with Omar that cleared away the smoke and brought light to the darkness of even the most hardened beer cynic.

You Make The Change

The polls are open. Voting will continue until 12:30pm on Saturday when the winner will be announced live on the NARN First Team radio broadcast.
Who should be the 2008 NARN First Team Loon of the Year?
Joy Behar
Sandra Bernhard
Joe Biden
Bill Maher
Chris Matthews
Nancy Pelosi
Harry Reid
Ted Turner
Maxine Waters
Jeremiah Wright
Free polls from

You Raise The Blade

The polls in the second stage of the NARN First Team 2008 Loon of the Year runoff have closed. The top five vote getters were:

Keith Olbermann 18%

Nancy Pelosi 17%

Harry Reid 15%

Joe Biden 12%

Sandra Bernhard 9%

After the Loon of the Year canvassing board met in a secluded cabin in Northern Minnesota to certify the results, they ruled that Keith Olbermann is ineligible to advance to the LOTY Finals since he already has been crowned LOTY in 2006. While this ruling may disenfranchise some Olbermann voters, for the integrity of the process the board has decided that they must take this step.

With Olbermann out of the top ten finalists, LOTY election rules say that the candidate who received the next highest number of votes will take his place (#11 overall). In this case, that means that Ted Turner will be one of the finalists.

Joining Turner are Sandra Bernhard, Joe Biden, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Chris Matthews, Jeremiah Wright, Joy Behar, Bill Maher, and Maxine Waters. The final poll to select the 2008 NARN First Team Loon of the Year will open shortly.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Darkness at Noon

While most of the country (and world for that matter) will no doubt be tuning in Saturday afternoon for the drama, tradition, and pageantry of The Eagle Bank Bowl ( the countdown's on), the lineup for this week's NARN First Team show also holds promise for entertainment gold.

To fun will kick off at 11am when Omar Ansari from Surly Brewing Company joins us live in studio to talk beer. It's been nearly two years since we last had Omar on and we'll be getting the run down on the latest and greatest news from Surly, which has quickly grown to be one of the most popular micro breweries in the Twin Cities. Any beer fan would love to see a couple of four-packs of Surly under the tree this year (yes, I'm looking at you Santa).

At noon, we will interview Jonathan Brent author of Inside the Stalin Archives: Discovering the New Russia:

To most Americans, Russia remains as enigmatic today as it was during the Iron Curtain era. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country had an opportunity to face its tortured past. In Inside the Stalin Archives, Jonathan Brent asks, why didn't this happen? Why are the anti-Semitic Protocols of Zion sold openly in the lobby of the State Duma? Why are archivists under surveillance and phones still tapped? Why does Stalin, a man responsible for the deaths of millions of his own people, remain popular enough to appear on boxes of chocolate sold in Moscow's airport?

Brent draws on fifteen years of unprecedented access to high-level Soviet Archives to answer these questions. He shows us a Russia where, in 1992, used toothbrushes were sold on the sidewalks, while now shops are filled with luxury goods and the streets are jammed with Mercedes. Stalin's specter hovers throughout, and in the book's crescendo Brent takes us deep into the dictator's personal papers to glimpse the dark heart of the new Russia. Both cultural history and personal memoir, Inside the Stalin Archives is a deeply felt and vivid portrait of Russia in the twenty-first century.

We will attempt to unravel the riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma that is modern Russia with Jonathan Brent and try to understand why the shadow of Stalin still darkens the Russian psyche.

As always you can join the conversation by ringing us at 651-289-4488. If you have questions for Omar or Jonathan, we encourage you to call in.

Those of you who can't peel your eyeballs away from the epic Eagle Bank Bowl can always turn down the sound and listen to the show. In fact, you can tune in to eight hours of the best in local conservative talk radio this Saturday from 9am-5pm (David Strom and the NARN) at 1280 on the local AM dial or on the internet stream.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Buh Buh Buh Bernie And The Jews

Ronald Cass on how Madoff Exploited the Jews:

Steven Spielberg. Elie Wiesel. Mort Zuckerman. Frank Lautenberg. Yeshiva University. As I read the list of people and enterprises reportedly bilked to the tune of $50 billion by Bernard Madoff, I recalled a childhood in which my father received bad news by asking first, "Was it a Jew?" My father coupled sensitivity to anti-Semitism with special sympathy for other Jews. In contrast, Mr. Madoff, it seems, targeted other Jews, drawing them in at least in some measure because of a shared faith.

The Madoff tale is striking in part because it is like stealing from family. Yet frauds that prey on people who share bonds of religion or ethnicity, who travel in the same circles, are quite common. Two years ago the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a warning about "affinity fraud." The SEC ticked off a series of examples of schemes that were directed at members of a community: Armenian-Americans, Baptist Church members, Jehovah's Witnesses, African-American church groups, Korean-Americans. In each case, the perpetrator relied on the fact that being from the same community provided a reason to trust the sales pitch, to believe it was plausible that someone from the same background would give you a deal that, if offered by someone without such ties, would sound too good to be true.

The sense of common heritage, of community, also makes it less seemly to ask hard questions. Pressing a fellow parishioner or club member for hard information is like demanding receipts from your aunt -- it just doesn't feel right. Hucksters know that, they play on it, and they count on our trust to make their confidence games work.

The level of affinity and of trust may be especially high among Jews. The Holocaust and generations of anti-Semitic laws and practices around the world made reliance on other Jews, and care for them, a survival instinct. As a result, Jews are often an easy target both for fund-raising appeals and fraud. But affinity plays a role in many groups, making members more trusting of appeals within the group.

When this story first broke and it became clear the many of Madoff's victims were fellow Jews, I speculated that a possible explanation for why so many intelligent people could be so easily taken in was because they couldn't imagine that a fellow Jew would be capable of deceiving them in such a manner. Cass's piece seems to confirm that. It's a good reminder that while you should always be careful when dealing with strangers, the real threats often are from those that you think you know.

Cass also points out this is more a case of misplaced trust than lack of regulation:

In retrospect, the current Madoff story is about someone who was as perfectly suited to swindling as Horowitz was to playing piano. The violation of trust at the heart of that story -- of trust by those with the greatest reason to trust -- cries out for sympathy. It illustrates the limits of law, not the need for more of it.

It's The Final Count Downs

Are you paralyzed with anxiety over the possibility that you might miss the opening kick off for this year's Eagle Bank Bowl?

Consumed with dread that the pageantry and majesty that is a December 20 bowl match up between the fifth best team in the ACC and a service academy that somehow managed to lose to Notre Dame might pass you by?

If so, please start taking your medication again, you are a danger to yourself and others.

Or, optionally, you can temporarily ease your pain and silence those hectoring voices (you're going to miss the game, you never do anything right, you're a loser! L-O-S-E-R!) by following this link to:

The Eagle Bank Bowl Countdown!

Yes, you can know down to the millisecond how long it is before the start of the Eagle Bank Bowl and plan your life accordingly.

I've been casually monitoring it for the past 17 hours 43 minutes, 23.465 seconds or so and I must say it does provide a certain level of reassurance.

On the other hand, there is the issue of watching your life race by at the millisecond interval that is marginally horrifying. It's like someone put a fast forward on your own mortality and you realize how much time has been wasted. What else should I have done with my life? How many more Eagle Bank Bowls will I get the opportunity to view before this fragile candle glow be doth snuffed?

For those haunted by similar questions, I would recommend this link instead.

The Eagle Bank Bowl Countdown to Game Time

This one will allows you to monitor the progress this space-time continuum is making toward kick off of the Eagle Bank Bowl, yet at the languid pace of Days, Hours, and Minutes. Literally dozens of seconds go by before anything happens at all on this countdown. So as you watch this one, kick back and relax for the next 44 hours and change.

Of course, there is the worry that something may go wrong with this countdown in the 60 seconds between updates. What if it seizes up, experiences delays, distorts to the truth on when exactly the Eagle Bank Bowl really starts. I could be late or miss the whole thing and then where will I be!?!?

For those with similar concerns, Fraters Libertas is happy to provide as a public service, the following Countdown to Eagle Bank Bowl Countdown Countdown. This tells you exactly at what point the various Eagle Bank Bowl Countdowns should be counting down to zero.

As always, we've got your back Eagle Bank Bowl Countdown fans. Now let's get ready for some Eagle Bank sponsored football.

UPDATE: KAR takes note and documents for history this momentous FL event.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Good Life

If you're looking for a last minute Christmas gift (I believe Amazon can still deliver in time) for someone trying to climb their way up the leadership ladder whether it be in politics, sports, or business, you should consider Alexandre Havard's Virtuous Leadership: An Agenda for Personal Excellence. It's not about winning friends and influencing people. Or effective habits or fromage rearranging or whatever the latest and greatest leadership fad of 2008 is. Instead, Havard harkens back to the traditional virtues that he believes are essential to leadership and personal development:

Virtuous Leadership defines each of the classical human virtues most essential to leadership magnanimity, humility, prudence, courage, self-control and justice. It demonstrates how these virtues promote personal transformation and the attainment of self-fulfillment. It also considers the Christian supernatural virtues of faith, hope and charity without which no study of leadership can be complete. The book's final section, "Towards Victory", offers a methodology for the achievement of interior growth tailored to the needs of busy, professional people intent on imbuing their lives with a transcendent purpose. Thus, the aim of Virtuous Leadership is ultimately practical. It is meant to be your guidebook in the quest for moral excellence.

Even if you're not aiming for anything higher than life than simply being a good person of moral integrity, Virtuous Leadership is worth a read. Havard sites examples throughout history of people who have lived lives that exemplified such leadership. It's not everyday that you come across a book that is meaningful for your work, religious, and personal lives and Virtuous Leadership is just such a rare gem.

Highway Robbery

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Goldilocks Oil?

The next time you're filling up your tank and chortling about how great it is to pay $1.57 for a gallon of gas again, you should keep in mind what the long term consequences of falling oil prices are (WSJ-sub req):

As oil and gas prices fall, drilling activity in the U.S. is slowing more than expected, battering shares of drilling companies, hurting economies in energy-producing states and sowing the seeds for supply shortages when the economy recovers.

In its weekly accounting, Baker Hughes Inc. reported Friday that the number of drilling rigs working in the U.S. had fallen to 1,790, down 12% from the September peak and down 2% from the same time last year. It was just the second time the weekly report reflected a year-over-year decline in the past five years.

Most industry analysts now expect hundreds more rigs to fall idle by the middle of next year. Some industry experts suggest a drop of as many as 1,000 rigs, which would represent a 50% decline from the peak set in September. That would leave fewer rigs running than at any time since 2003.

Big deal, right? So a few oil towns and oil companies go bust. They lived high on the hog the last few years and now they're facing tough times. Why should I care?

Because the economy will eventually recover. And with the recovery will come rising demands for oil and gas. Demands that will outstrip the supply which is currently being cut back.

Industry executives, however, warn that restoring production takes longer than cutting it. That means the drop-off in drilling activity could lead to supply shortages -- and rapidly rising prices -- when the economy recovers.

"This sets up, I kind of think, the mother of all price recoveries," Chesapeake's Mr. McClendon said.

And the mother of all pain at the pump. During the last boom in demand for oil we reached a peak of around $4 for a gallon of gas. The next boom will likely result in an even bigger swing and we could easily see $6 or $7 a gallon.

I don't pretend to have a clue what the answers are, but it's once again becoming clear that stability in oil prices would be better than the current boom/bust cycles that are being repeated in ever shorter time periods.

UPDATE-- Dave e-mails with a question:

Your post about the shuttering of so many oil rigs popped a question in my head? Since working on an oil rig is a skill and training intensive job, will the Dem Congress set up a job bank to keep those workers on the payroll until they can be put back to work?

Call me crazy, but I have a hunch that the Dems won't be putting together a bailout for "Big Oil" anytime soon. For some reason the legions of well-paying jobs generated by the oil and gas industry don't sound as sexy to Democrats as the millions of "green jobs" they promise to create by spending billions of taxpayer dollars. The only real specific "green job" that I've yet heard mentioned is light bulb changer at government buildings. Get your apps in now.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Rest of the Story?

I see somebody woke up the Star Tribune long enough for them to confirm that Keith Ellison went to Mecca on the hajj this year (as previously reported on NARN and Power Line). A perfunctory, celebratory article appears today. Excerpt:
"For our relations with the Muslim world, it can only help to see an American congressman going on Hajj and mingling with the millions of Muslims from all parts of the world in Mecca," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "And from a domestic perspective, it sends a really positive message of religious diversity and inclusion in our society."
Speaking of inclusion and diversity, one of the primary events of the hajj is the address by Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti. As reported in the Financial Times, the highlights from this year's speech included:
Saudi Arabia's top cleric has used his annual sermon to Muslim pilgrims assembling for hajj to urge Muslim countries to renounce capitalism and form an Islamic economic bloc that adopts interest-free finance.

Grand Mufti Abdelaziz Al al-Sheikh told worshippers assembling on the plain of Mount Arafat that global economies now caught in crisis were suffering the result of using interest as a bedrock of their financial systems. Under Islamic law, or sharia, paying or receiving interest is forbidden.
Obvious questions left untouched by the monopoly newspaper covering Keith Ellison's district:

Did Keith Ellison attend the Grand Mufti's address? What did he think of it? Is capitalism a good idea for Muslim countries? If not, is capitalism a good idea for any countries?

How about interest-based finance, is it something Muslims should engage in, particularly those in the US?

Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but I say embracing hard news stories of this nature and public service reporting helping us to get to know our elected officials might be the key to reversing this trend. Go to it Star Tribune!

The Laid-Off Know Only One Thing: It's Better To Be Employed

Ready for the latest tale from the newest group of victims of the misery and woe wrought by the economic downturn? Who it this time you might ask? People who lost their homes? People who lost their jobs? People who lost their retirement savings? Try people who survived layoffs:

Organizational psychologists call it "layoff survivor syndrome," the collection of emotional, psychological and physical reactions long documented in workers who remain on the job. Being left behind, they say, can sometimes be as distressing as being let go.

Now I've been pretty lucky to have only been through a couple of layoffs during my career. However, one of them was quite serious as a number of co-workers received news that their days were numbered. The atmosphere at work on the day of the layoff was black and for some time afterward remained quite gloomy.

But at the end of the day whatever mental anguish us "survivors" went through was minimal compared with that suffered by those who actually lost their jobs. It's a bummer when the guy in the adjacent cube gets laid off. It's a trauma when you're the one suddenly out in the street.

"In fact, the survivors are also victims," said Harold G. Kaufman, a professor of management and director of the organizational behavior program at the Polytechnic University of New York.

Like people who escape harm when others are hurt in a natural disaster or terrible accident, employees who keep their jobs in downturn often feel guilty, said Mitchell Marks, an associate professor of management at the San Francisco State University College of business.

"It's exactly as when you lose a good friend or a sibling," he said. "You feel responsible in some way."

One of your co-workers loses their job and a good friend dies. Yeah, pretty much the same emotional impact there professor.

There are enough real victims of the recession out there who are actually really suffering the consequences. Can we stop inventing new ones?

UPDATE-- Tom e-mails with an explanation:

This reminds me of those reports that only in the U.S. are there such high rates of ADHD and Restless Leg Syndrome. We are becoming a nation of victims just aching for our chance to make our victimhood known. House payment to big? Victim. Can't fit in your airline seat? Victim. Can't get the fair trade coffee you prefer? Victim.

It is likely that the professor who claimed that having a fellow employee laid off is the same as losing a friend or sibling has neither lost a friend or sibling himself or for that matter been around a business during a layoff. How many times have you heard about a university having a layoff? Birth rates rise and fall, but the universities keep on chugging along and keep getting bigger with yet more larger facilities, dorm's and student centers.

Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs

Voting for Part Two of the NARN First Team Loon of the Year begins now. Again, we will seek to narrow the field down to five more finalists who will join Chris Matthews, Bill Maher, Jeremiah Wright, Joy Behar, and Maxine Waters as the final ten contenders for the crown.

This second grouping is an interesting one. It includes the people who will be in charge of all three branches of our federal government after January 20th. All hail democracy. It also includes numerous multiple winners in the period including Nancy Pelosi (2x), Harry Reid (2x) and Joe Biden, who in an unprecedented run of lunacy managed to win Loon of the Week honors three times in a seven week period from September 7th to October 18th. Who knows what might have happened if the Dems hadn't locked him in a closet for the last three weeks of the campaign?

The multiple winners are only listed once on the ballot. And since Jeremiah Wright has already reached the finals, his name will not be included in this round of voting despite his his second LOTW award just this past week.

From the world of entertainment we have Sandra Bernhard and Eric Bogosian. For local flavor Arne Carlson and Mark Ritchie are part of the mix although in hindsight it does seem odd that Al Franken managed to avoid being included as a Loon for all of 2008.

Polls close Sunday. Voting for the Loon of the Year among the ten finalists begins Monday, December 19th.
Who should be the Five Finalists for the NARN Loon of the Year from this group(#2)? (vote for up to five)
Sandra Bernhard
Eric Bogosian
Joe Biden
Arne Carlson
Steven Cohen
James Clyburn
Bill Delahunt
Maurice Hinchey
Timothy Kaine
Barack Obama
Nancy Pelosi
Keith Olbermann
Harry Reid
Mark Ritchie
Rick Sanchez
Free polls from

And every day the paper boy brings more

The polls for the first portion of the NARN First Team Loon of the Year voting have officially closed. Typically when you have an election that seeks to winnow the field (in this case from nineteen to five), you expect to have a close contest for the final spot.

But looking at the results of the vote you can see that was not the case this time around. In fact, from the very beginning five candidates pulled away from the field and never were seriously challenged. They garnered an amazing 68% of all votes cast.

The top vote getter was Chris Matthews (16%), followed by Bill Maher and Jeremiah Wright tied for second (14%). Joy Behar finished a few votes behind them (13%) and Maxine Waters grabbed the fifth spot and a ticket to the LOTY finals (11%). It was a little surprising that the gap (really a chasm) between her and the sixth place position was forty-five votes.

It was also a little disappointing that the person she beat out was Ted Turner (6%). I would have thought that his prediction of widespread cannibalism within ten years because of global warming would have guaranteed him a place among the year's most looney. It says something about the caliber of looniness that we're dealing with this year.

The second half of the first round of LOTY voting will commence later today. Vote early, vote looney.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Christmas Boot

I've been subjected to an inordinate amount of time listening to the Christmas Music Super Station in the Twin Cities this season. As such, today's story of President Bush getting shoes thrown at him during a press conference made me think of only one thing.

The Christmas Shoes (in Iraq)

It was almost Christmas time
There I stood in a press line
Trying to get that last Bush quote or two
Not really in the Christmas mood

Standing right in front of me
an Iraqi reporter waiting anxiously
Pacing around like reporters do
And in his hands he held
A pair of shoes

And his mood was dark and cold
He was a reporter from head to toe
And when it came his time to inveigh
I couldn't believe what I heard him say

"This is a gift from the Iraqis. This is the farewell kiss, you dog"
And from his hands flew the initial dirty clog.
Bush ducked it fine
But the reporter had one more
You see, he'd been pissed for quite a while
And he knew these shoes would make liberals smile
and he wanted Bush to look foolish,
on Count Down and Hardball tonight

And ........ that's all I could complete.

I know, it really deserves a full rendering. But the original lyrics have like 8 more stanzas, with no discernible rhyme scheme or verse-chorus progression. You thought it was torture listening to the song, try to do a parody of it!

You gluttons for holiday punishment out there who think you want more, I give you this instead. The video for The Christmas Shoes starring ....... Rob Lowe.

Friday, December 12, 2008

'Tis The Season

Just in time for the holidays, the Beer Ratings Page has been updated. Fourteen new beers have been added, bringing the total to three-hundred and fifty-two judged so far.

I've also added a new category to each beer by using my best judgment on the seasonality. Some beers are made to be quaffed anytime. Others are a better fit for certain times of the year. Some of these calls are easy to make as the beer is obviously a seasonal selection like Summit Winter. Others are more debatable. While I prefer to drink porters in the colder months, there is no reason that you can't have one in July. On the other hand, cracking open a Corona in January in Minnesota is just plain wrong.

Before I get gloating e-mails from folks in California, Arizona, or Hawaii saying that they drink wheat beer year round 'cause it's always warm there, let me point out that this beer seasonality is based on the weather here in the Northern climes. And if you're on vacation in a warm weather locale, you go with the flow and drink what the weather there dictates.

I also took a few liberties by relating certain styles of beer with a particular season. For example, bock beers are not all brewed for the Spring. However, when I think of drinking bock I think Spring and hence the link.

My favorite newly rated beers of this batch were Bitch's Creek ESB from the Grand Teton Brewing Co. and Lost Arrow Porter from the Rush River Brewing Co.. Back in the glory days of Sherlock's Home, my favorite beer was a hand-pulled pint of Bishop's Bitter. Since it closed, I have yet to be able to find another brewpub bitter of its caliber and finding a top-notch bitter in a bottle can also be difficult. Summit, Sierra Nevada, and Full Sail produce good ESBs and you can now add Grand Teton to that mix. In fact, I might even give Bitch's Creek the nod for best bottled bitter that I have yet come across.

Like Surly, Rush River is a relative newcomer on the local brewing scene who seems to brew consistently excellent beers. Their Unforgiven Amber Ale is one of the best new beers that I've had in recent years and their Bubblejack IPA does that hoppy beer variety proud. Lost Arrow Porter is a rich, smooth, and hearty beer that is perfect this time of the year for curling up in front of a fire and keeping the cold at bay.

Speaking of that, Leinenkugel's Fireside Nut Brown is a nice addition to the Winter beer category. It too is very smooth and has a creamy (as in cream soda) flavor that I really enjoyed. I should also mention Surly's Fest as another new beer of note. I'm not a big fan of the Oktoberfest style of beers and ever since Summit stopped brewing their Düsseldorfer Alt, the beers of Fall haven't done much to excite me. Fest is definitely the best Fall varietal to come around in years.

Last but not least, I must acknowledge New Holland Brewing Company's Full Circle kolsch beer. Kolsch is one of my favorite styles of beer (especially in the Summer), but one that very few brewers attempt. Other than Lake Superior Brewing Co. in Duluth with their Kayak Kolsch and a handful of others there just aren't many kolsch beers around. Full Circle is a tasty and refreshing beer that is best enjoyed on a warm Summer's day (at least in my opinion).

Sigh. Only six more months of winter, right? Good thing we've got the beers to get us by.

Light Goes Out

America: The National Catholic Weekly has the sad news that Avery Cardinal Dulles has passed on:

This morning, we received this announcement from the New York Province of the Society of Jesus:

"This is to inform you that Avery Cardinal Dulles died this morning at about 6:30 at Murray-Weigel Hall. Funeral arrangements will be announced shortly. May he rest in peace." [Murray-Weigel Hall is the Jesuit infirmary, located at Fordham University, in Bronx, New York.]

Cardinal Dulles, the first American Jesuit ever to be named a cardinal, was widely considered to be the dean of American Catholic theologians. An archive of articles by, and an interview with Cardinal Dulles, a longtime and beloved contributor to America magazine, for the past 40 years is here.

Dulles was a leading light in the Catholic Church in America and he and his writings (which I'm most familiar with from the pages of First Things) will be greatly missed. R.I.P.

UPDATE-- David Gibson has more on Dulles at beliefnet:

Dulles' own journey to the church was remarkable: a scion of the great WASP Dulles dynasty, his father was John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower's Secretary of State, and his uncle was Allen Dulles, director of the CIA, also during the 1950s.

Avery Dulles moved from the Presbyterian Church of his youth to agnosticism and then to a conversion to Catholicism--a very intellectual progression, as he always said, but one that clearly, and progressively, transformed him. He became a Jesuit, and he was a prolific writer, a popularizer with depth, one might say. (And he is one of the rare Jesuits to accept a red hat, though he refused to be made a bishop--God bless him!)

Running To Stand Still

Even though it's probably been four years (and three children) since I've actually made it to a theater to see a movie, I still keep an eye on the latest releases. And even though 98% of all sci-fi movies made in the last ten years are complete and utter crap, I still find myself drawn in by the lure of an out-of-this-world story with smashing special effects. The ten-year old inner boy still holds out hope that an escapist movie will be able to thrill and entertain the man of today as they used to in the distant past.

So when I saw a couple of trailers to the latest version of "The Day The Earth Stood Still," I felt that faint glimmer of excitement at the possibility that--despite the presence of Keanu Reeves--this could one of those all too rare sci-fi pearls. Peter Sunderman's review at Culture11 thoroughly and completely dashed that hope:

The movie's environmentalism is as wretched as its script is dumb, essentially positing that humanity might deserve to be wiped out for failing, in some totally unexplained way, to take care of the planet. It's a dismal message in a dismal movie, and only Reeves's trance-like, deadpan turn as Klaatu provides any fun. Everyone else involved ought to be embarrassed at both the story and the message, which isn't just pro-environment, but anti-human--which may explain why only an evolved being like Reeves survives unscathed.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fine Art of Self Destruction

In case you're in need of a few more stocking stuffers this Christmas, the Star Tribune's has a recommendation. An art book called "Tolerance" by former Replacement's drummer Chris Mars. Let's jump to the end for the summary:

"Tolerance" is a gorgeous book. The colors alone are rich with pleasure, and an eye could wander through his phantasmagoria for hours.
Perfect! I never know what to get my great Uncle Louie, and he likes bright, shiny objects. Should I look up that "ph" word before purchasing, just in case? N'ah it sounds French, so it has to be good. Off to Amazon for the purchase.

[5 minute pause]

There, done. It feels good to get that out of the way. Now to read more about it so I can speak intelligently of its merits after he opens it:

For those brave enough to peek behind the cover of his book -- a portrait of a dagger-wielding corpse, ashen skin peeling away from its face -- a parade of torture and misery awaits.

Well, at least it's gorgeous and pleasure inducing torture and misery.

Mars isn't requesting sympathy for the wretched victims in his paintings. He's demanding it at knifepoint.
Coincidentally, that's the same method he's utilizing for in store book sales.

His blend of aching beauty and stomach-churning gore sends a cocktail of guilt and revulsion straight to the gut. Full of festering sores, smashed teeth and bruising alienation, Mars' creep-show aesthetic haunts and horrifies.
Sure, that sounds good. But I'm already getting these sensations from my recent 401(k) statements.

By trafficking in extreme ugliness, he elevates suffering to a religious experience.
That is, if you happen to belong to a cult of blind, novice chainsaw jugglers.

Paging through the book is like sitting through a somber Catholic rite.
Either this is an unsettling revelation of the quality of the author's wedding ceremony or he doesn't know much about Catholic rites.

An artist statement, printed about a third of the way into the book, makes it clear that [Mars] has an ax to grind: "From my hands, my mission. To free the oppressed, to champion the persecuted and the submissive, to liberate through revelation the actualized Self in those proposed by some to have no self at all."
Ew-kay. I'm guessing that will be good enough for a five figure government subsidy once the multi-billion dollar arts funding tax comes on line. Now I'm getting that torture and misery vibe he was talking about.

Ride 'Em In, Count 'Em Out

The folks at join the "count every vote" chorus as evidenced by this e-mail:

Dear MoveOn member,

We've just heard from Al Franken's campaign that their internal analysis, assuming that all the challenges will be overruled by the State Canvassing Board, shows Franken with a narrow lead in the Senate race.

Over the past few days, it has become clear that hundreds--perhaps thousands--of Minnesotans haven't had their votes counted. They voted absentee, but their ballots were improperly rejected. Unfortunately, Norm Coleman, like George Bush in Florida in 2000, is trying to disenfranchise voters.

And now the dreaded "D" word. This is getting uglier by the day.

Check Her Out

One of life's enduring mysteries crossed my mind today as I did my part to stimulate the economy by buying socks and shoe laces (they make great stocking stuffers) over the lunch hour:

If women are so good at shopping, why are they so bad at checking out?

Seriously ladies, most of you like to shop and have years and years of shopping experience under your belt. So why is it that when you reach the transactional point of the shopping experience, many of you act as if it's a brand new process?

I stewed in quiet desperation while in line today as every woman in front of me had some issue or another while checking out. There was a problem with a return. There was a problem finding the coupon. Finally, there was a situation where a woman was trying to use a 15% coupon along with another coupon that entitled her to an additional discount if she spent more than $50.

I knew that trouble was brewing when she commented to the clerk that she wasn't sure if had $50 worth of goods because it was "too hard" to keep track. She had four maybe five items. I know that Barbie thinks that "math is hard", but c'mon we're trying to have a society here.

Damned if her total wasn't forty-seven dollars and some odd cents. Which meant more confusion, more indecision, and more silent exasperation on my part (just do something!) until the cashier figured out a way that she could get rung up twice and still get the desired discounts.

If you have a choice this holiday season between a checkout line with six men and one with three women, take the longer queue. It's guaranteed to go faster.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

That's Entertainment!

Death of singer 24 tied to stage stunt:

Near the end of the show at Boston University on Thursday night, the 24-year-old Worcester resident performed his signature move [ed note: how about developing something a little more innocuous like the 'stop short' instead?]- howling into his microphone as he coiled the wire tighter and tighter around his neck.

But this time, the edgy flourish proved deadly. The pressure caused a clot in his jugular vein, later cutting off the flow of oxygen to his brain, according to his mother, band members, and friends. Mallary, an Emerson College graduate who counseled the homeless, died Friday afternoon at Boston Medical Center.

Hey homeless! Yes you there in the rags. Ol' JB will give you a little counseling: don't wrap wires around your neck and choke yourself! Granted, it may earn you a rep as an edgy flourisherer, but, you know, it can kill ya, so...

Senior Drill Instructor: Choke yourself Private Pyle! With my hand you numbnuts!

At least Michael Hutchence had a REASON for choking himself. I can admire that a lot more that some punk with a death wish making a post-modern spectacle of himself on stage.


The Elder Chokes One Off:

I almost feel bad mocking a man's death, but since JB got the ball rolling...

"He put everything he had into every single performance," said Patrick Murphy, drummer in Mallary's band, Last Lights, and a close friend. "There aren't enough words to do him justice."

Somehow I think there are plenty.

"He was a Renaissance man," said his older sister, Elaine, who said a book of poems by John Merriman rested on his bedside table.

Galileo, Newton, da Vinci and now this guy who wrapped a microphone chord around his neck.

In the lyrics to "Love + Rent," posted on the band's MySpace page, Mallary wrote:

"There must be something human still left in this being/the lack of meaning is also a meaning/the lack of feeling is also a feeling/but don't press my face to the floor and call it a ceiling."

Berlin, Gershwin, Porter, and now Mallary. Another chapter added to the American songbook.

Government Motors

Two sound pieces on the auto bailout in today's WSJ opinion section.

The first, not surprisingly, is from Holman W. Jenkins who asks why the government that helped create the current crisis should be expected to correct it:

Under a law of politics, such truths were unmentionable in last week's televised circus because legislators are unwilling to do anything about them. They won't repeal CAFE because they fear the greens. They won't repeal CAFE's "two fleets" rule (which effectively requires the Big Three to make small cars in domestic factories) because they fear the UAW. They won't hike gas prices because they fear voters.

And make no mistake: An even more massive auto wreck lies ahead when a soon-to-be taxpayer-financed and taxpayer-owned auto industry confronts a California rulemaking that, in a silly gesture against global warming, would render most of its auto designs, profit centers and tooling unsalvageable.

We hate to admit it, but the only good idea from the bailout debate is the proposal for a new "auto czar." Along with disposing of Chrysler and downsizing Ford and GM, his job should be to confront Congress with its own policy cowardice and failure. If saving gasoline and Detroit are both worthy goals, let's ditch CAFE and institute a gasoline tax to make consumers value the cars government is forcing auto makers to build. If Congress doesn't have the tummy for that, at least ditch the "two fleets" rule so Detroit can import small cars to meet the mandate.

Under CAFE, the government is trying to control the supply of fuel efficient cars that Detroit can make available to consumers. Under a gas tax, the government would be seeking to stimulate demand for such vehicles from consumers. If you have to choose between the two, the latter is a much better alternative for the auto industry as well as consumers.

The second piece is more a surprise. It's written by one of the incoming members of Congress and urges a capital gains tax cut on auto investments:

Our United States Congress of lawyers, doctors, diplomats, retired military officers and career politicians -- along with their staffs of intelligent young political science majors and MBAs -- now finds itself poring over "business plans" submitted this week by Ford, GM and Chrysler. People who have never before in their lives seen -- no less implemented -- a business plan are now trying to decide if these companies will succeed by means of a "capital infusion" with various imposed preconditions and negotiate what we taxpayers (investors) should be getting for our money. Something is wrong with this picture.

If we as a society place a public premium on "saving" the automobile industry from its default reorganization under Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 bankruptcy -- which has been good enough for the steel and airline industries, among others -- then a better manner in which to express that premium might be to establish special tax consideration for those who are willing to take on the risk. One way of doing that is to provide an exemption from capital-gains taxation on all debt or equity instruments used in the next six months to invest in the troubled auto makers.

By waiving the future capital-gains tax on all investments in the automobile industry, we enhance the projected return models and therefore the likely occurrence of a privately funded "bailout." There are turnaround firms and funds, and they are experts at what needs to be done. Tax exemption for gains would certainly get their attention. It also wouldn't cost taxpayers anything because it only forgoes future government revenues that wouldn't exist absent this incentive.

It's not every day that you see a member of Congress fessing up to the body's lack of business acumen and proposing a solution based on solid economic principles that doesn't just throw more money at the problem. It's even rarer when that Congressman is a Democrat. Kudos to the author of the piece, Congressman Jared Polis from Colorado. Let's hope that he continues to demonstrate such pragmatic thinking once he's ensconced in the halls of Congress. Past experience has shown that such an outcome would be the exception rather than the rule.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Defund Thomas Frank

Over the years most of the staff here at Fraters Libertas have developed chronic cases of "Coleman Fatigue" often leading to full-blown outbreaks of "Coleman Affective Disorder" or CAD. These ailments are not treatable through any known medical means and the only way to avoid symptoms is to maintain a strict quarantine by not reading any of Nick Coleman's Star Tribune columns. Sometimes merely hearing about the content of a particularly egregious Coleman column is enough to lead to a temporary relapse.

But there's something to be said for having a regular target like Coleman to take shots at. A man making a strong bid to become such a target is the Wall Street Journal's Thomas Frank, who is probably best known as the author of "What's The Deal With Those Ignorant Gun-Totting Rubes In Kansas Anyway?" Frank writes a weekly column for the Journal called "The Tilting Yard."

I've already had one post comparing the work of Frank and Coleman and laid out some of the ground rules they both follow:

1. Distort and remove all context from your opponent's position until it's nothing more than a flimsy straw man

2. Interview one person who agrees with your position and present them as holding the consensus opinion

3. Throw out baseless assertions in a smug manner with the attitude that every rational American has to come the same conclusion as you and that those who don't are either idiots or part of the neo-con conspiracy.

Since then I've had a couple of additional posts on Mr. Frank and I'm now prepared to amend my Coleman-Frank rules. Consider these to be subsets to the original:

1b. Demagogue your opponents by casting aspersions on their methods and motivation.

2b. Include a quote that supports your view from an "expert" source while downplaying or not acknowledging their bias.

3b. Throw out assertion after assertion not backed up by any evidence, but presented in a manner that assumes their veracity and validity.

The latest and greatest example of the zest and best of Franks came in last Wednesday's WSJ. Frank wrote a column called Health-Care Reform Could Kill the GOP and in it he spun a tale of noble liberals whose only interest was in helping their fellow man with no regard for the political consequences, while Machiavellian conservatives operate without principals in a heartless quest for absolute power. He also included this observation:

For decades Republicans have made policy with a higher purpose in mind: to solidify the GOP base or to damage the institutions and movements aligned with the other side. One of their fondest slogans is "Defund the Left," and under that banner they have attacked labor unions and trial lawyers and tried to sever the links between the lobbying industry and the Democratic Party. Consider as well their long-cherished dreams of privatizing Social Security, which would make Wall Street, instead of Washington, the protector of our beloved seniors. Or their larger effort to demonstrate, by means of egregious misrule, that government is incapable of delivering the most basic services.

Now, as a conservative Republican I should instantly have recognized one of our "fondest slogans," shouldn't I? Why the way Frank makes it sound "Defund the Left" is one of our key rallying cries. Evidence of its use by conservatives must be everywhere.

Let's start with a Google Search for defund the left.

77,900 results. Which sounds impressive until you consider that the worlds "Al Franken genius" give you 84,700. Most of the top ten results for "defund the left" are from left wing sites writing about how this is part of the nefarious conservative plan. There is one link to National Review Online for a post about getting free Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Sinister.

There are also links to Thomas Frank's latest book The Wrecking Crew:

Despite all the badges and bumper stickers it has adorned, I doubt that " defund the left" ever had much popular appeal.

"All the badges and bumper stickers it has adorned" eh? Let's do a Google Image Search with the words "defund the left." Again, lots of left wing sites pop up, but not one badge or bumper sticker in sight. Add badge after the phrase and you get a bunch of left-wing agit prop. Add bumper sticker and you get more of the same, although the number one result may surprise you.

Further research on the phrase "defund the left" reveals that according to the left wing SourceWatch, the latest example of conservatives using this term is from February 2001. Considering that Frank claims that this is (not was) one of our "fondest slogans" it doesn't seem like we've been using it much lately.

Finally, in the six-plus year history of Fraters Libertas (six-thousand seven-hundred and forty-five posts at last count--at least until the sleeping Atomizer giant awakens), the phrase has appeared exactly one time and that was four years ago. I'm going to have to get on the staff to start using that slogan more often. After all, it is one of our favorites.

UPDATE: Frank not Franks. I regret the error.

UPDATE II: At NRO, Jonah Goldberg captures the essence of some of the problems with Frank in comments on his most recent column about surrogate motherhood (which actually wasn't nearly as bad as usual):

Thomas Frank has an almost-interesting column today. It would have been really interesting if he could have gotten past square one and not spent almost the entire column bitching and moaning about the cultural obsession with the hyper-rich. I think there's some merit to his complaints. But they are so unbelievably familiar and trite at this point that if I knew he was never really going to get past that stuff I probably wouldn't have read it.

For Frank and much of his left wing ilk, it's all about class (or race or sexuality) all the time. That obsession clouds their thinking and distracts them from being able to make what otherwise could have been legitimate arguments.

Separated At Birth?

Bill e-mails to hep us to SAB:

Hard-nosed scruffy nemesis of NFL linebackers Jim Kleinsasser and...

...hard-nosed scruffy nemesis of Popeye Brutus

JB Fires Up His Rhetorical Bong

Adding to the Elder's piece on drugs legalisation (as the Brits put it) I always chuckle when I hear that we aren't "winning" the War On Drugs.

What would winning look like? I'd like to hear how winning could be defined since all we hear is that we are losing.

It reminds me of the left's take on the Ho Chi Minh Trail: we can't stop them, so why try?

Without interdictive bombing on the trail, South Vietnam would have fallen years earlier. Yet, the bombing has gone down in history as a failure.

It seems that with drugs--like the trail--without evidence of 100% eradication the entire policy has somehow failed. If 50 trucks head down the trail and we took out 25, I consider that a success.

So the answer is not to cease bombing, it's to increase it and to bomb places that have been havens before. Insert Cambodia metaphor here.

In Closer Accord With His Manner of Life

Stephan Arkadyevitch took in and read a liberal newspaper, not an extreme one, but one advocating the views held by the majority. And in spite of the fact that science, art and politics had no special interest to him, he firmly held those views on all subjects which were held by the majority and by his paper, and he only changed them when the majority changed them--or, more strictly speaking, he did not change them, but they impercetively changed of themselves within him.

Stephan Arkadyevitch had not chosen his political opinions or his views; these political opinions and views had come to him of themselves, just as he did not choose the shapes of his hats or coats, but simply took those that were being worn. And for him, living in a certain society--owing to the need, ordinarily developed at years of discretion, for some degree of mental activity--to have views was just as indispensable as to have a hat. If there was a reason for his preferring liberal to conservative views, which were held also by many of his circle, it arose not from his considering liberalism more rational, but its being in closer accord with his manner of life...And so liberalism had become a habit of Stephan Aakadyevitch's, and he liked his newspaper, as he did his cigar after dinner, for the slight fog it diffused in his brain.

--Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Monday, December 08, 2008

Got To Keep The Loonies On The Path

With only about three weeks left in the year of our Lord two-thousand and eight, it's time to start thinking about who most deserves to be the NARN First Team Loon of the Year. This year's Loon will follow in the webbed footsteps of our 2006 winner Keith Olbermann and last year's winner Nick Coleman.

There have been thirty-eight Loons of the Week so far and in order to pare down the list for final voting purposes, we'll have two rounds of voting. We'll take the first nineteen Loons and vote on the top five finalists and then do the same for the second nineteen. Then our ten finalists will compete to be crowned 2008 Loon of the Year. The winner will be announced at the end of the December 27th First Team broadcast.

Let the voting begin. If you need a refresher on why these individuals were selected, clips are available for most of the LOTW on the right side of the blog.
Who should be the Five Finalists for the NARN Loon of the Year from this group? (vote for up to five)
Joy Behar
Hillary Clinton
Bill Maher
Amy Klobuchar
Charles Barkley
Chris Matthews
Ed Schultz
Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer
Jeremiah Wright
Madeleine Albright
Martin Sheen
Maxine Waters
Mindy Greiling
Robert Wexler
Samantha Power
Ted Kennedy
Ted Turner
Walter Mondale
Willie Nelson
Free polls from
Poll closes on Sunday.

Making It Legal Still Doesn't Make It Right

One of the arguments made by those who favor legalization of drugs and prostitution is that doing so would eliminate the criminal element that tends to run said activities when they are banned. Last Saturday, Mitch and Ed spent the second hour of their NARN Headliner show making this very argument.

The problem with such an approach however is that if you look at places where it has been tried, the results are often not what had been predicted.

Amsterdam to close many brothels, marijuana cafes:

Amsterdam unveiled plans Saturday to close brothels, sex shops and marijuana cafes in its ancient city center as part of a major effort to drive organized crime out of the tourist haven.

The city is targeting businesses that "generate criminality," including gambling parlors, and the so-called "coffee shops" where marijuana is sold openly. Also targeted are peep shows, massage parlors and souvenir shops used by drug dealers for money-laundering.

"I think that the new reality will be more in line with our image as a tolerant and crazy place, rather than a free zone for criminals" said Lodewijk Asscher, a city council member and one of the main proponents of the plan.

Coffee Shops, Bordellos to Close in Amsterdam Crackdown:

Prostitution was legalized in the Netherlands in 2000. The consumption and possession of less than five grams of cannabis were decriminalized in 1976, although its cultivation remains illegal.

While liberal-minded Dutch have tolerated this contradictory system of cannabis being grown and dealt illegally to legal vendors, the planned Amsterdam closures -- and a spate of other measures taken by smaller town councils around the Netherlands to close all cannabis coffee shops -- mark a growing concern that the system is breeding crime.

"Money laundering, extortion and human trafficking are things you do not see on the surface but they are hurting people and the city. We want to fight this," Amsterdam deputy mayor Lodewijk Asscher told news agency Reuters on Saturday, Dec. 6.

The "soft" approach to drug enforcement--including giving heroin users a place to shoot up--also hasn't exactly been a roaring success in Vancouver either:

Simply put, Robertson doesn't get it. The Downtown Eastside requires a cultural revolution, not more government enabling. The seven years since Owen ushered in his Four Pillars strategy have been a disaster. By all accounts, things get worse every day. The open drug market thrives. Chinatown is under siege. Homelessness has doubled, a trend owed not only to a lack of housing but to the Downtown Eastside's courtship of drug users.

Which leads back to Insite. Most Insite users typically shoot up elsewhere at some point during the day. And Insite accounts for less than five per cent of all injections in the neighbourhood. Still, proponents claim Insite reduces overdoses, needle sharing and public injections. But they don't consider the cultural consequences.

Why do people come to the Downtown Eastside? Because that's where the drugs are. Insite removes yet another impediment for drug abuse and surrenders the moral ground to drug dealers. Insite perpetuates a culture of drugs and excess--the two staples of addiction. And as with B.C.'s reckless methadone maintenance program, Insite offers no mandatory treatment. For every heroin addict Insite "helps," countless others are spawned in the dreary environment Insite helps create.

Having had some personal experience with Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, I can say that the neighborhood's squalor, indigence, and decay is hardly a convincing argument for more lax drug laws. Fear, anxiety, and hopelessness hung heavy in the air as we walked the streets and it was among the most depressing and foreboding environments I've ever experienced. And we were there in the middle of the day.

The War in Drugs may not be winnable and some of its policies probably should be reexamined. But before we start down the road toward legalization, we would do well to consider what the results have been when it's been tried elsewhere. Legalizing drugs or prostitution often doesn't eliminate crime as much as encourage it.

As the writer on Vancouver notes, once the government loses the moral ground by implicit endorsement of drug use through legalization, it's very difficult to get the genie back in the bottle. Look what's happened with the expansion of gambling with government involvement in lotteries. Is our society better off because of it? I would argue no.

Despite what the sophistic arguments against "legislating morality" say, the reality is that our laws do exactly that. There are legitimate societal concerns with legalizing drugs, prostitution, and gambling and government should weigh them carefully before choosing the all too easy path towards liberalization.

RSVP'd Off

We got an invite today (via email) to attend a New Year's Celebration.

The pertient facts:

1. It is being held in someone's GARAGE!

2. We have to bring our own buze

3. We have to bring our own food "A dish to share" (eye roll)

4. One of the hosts mentioned they would be retiring at midnight--a not so subtle way of saying "You people are out of here at 12:01

Sounds like a great time, now don't it?

To cap it off, there was even a passing mention of "If you want to stay to clean up..." which serves as a warning that this will be like one of those parent-approved parties you went to when you were 15 and there would be a big bowl of bean dip on a table in the basement. Bean dip always meant the party would suck and you'd be uncomfortable the whole time.

The Elder Turns That Mother Out: Perhaps JB is just a touch bitter because he was asked to keep an eye on the aquarium and make sure nobody taps on the glass at the party.