Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fill Up The Tank, Let's Go For A Ride

This Saturday's NARN First Team broadcast will be a very special reunion show. Special because it's been over a month since our little radio trio got together in the studio at the same time.

We will also have a special guest at noon. After my post on Tuesday concerning Robert Bryce's book Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of Energy Independence, the author was kind enough to e-mail me. Most of the exchange that followed was about beer, but eventually one thing lead to another and Robert agreed to come on the show this Saturday at noon.

If you're not able to catch the fun locally on AM1280 The Patriot, listen to the live streaming at the Patriot web site. It all starts at 11AM with the First Team, includes the rich, meaty goodness of Mitch and Ed from 1pm-3pm, and doesn't end until Michael and King sign off with the day's Final Word at 5pm. Don't you dare miss it!

...A Mighty Lefty Tree Grows

Front page article on the front page of today's WSJ on the how the Democrats used the housing "rescue" bill to pay off a loyal ally (sub req):

The housing bill signed Wednesday by President George W. Bush will provide a stream of billions of dollars for distressed homeowners and communities and the nonprofit groups that serve them.

One of the biggest likely beneficiaries, despite Republican objections: Acorn, a housing advocacy group that also helps lead ambitious voter-registration efforts benefiting Democrats.

Acorn -- made up of several legally distinct groups under that name -- has become an important player in the Democrats' effort to win the White House. Its voter mobilization arm is co-managing a $15.9 million campaign with the group Project Vote to register 1.2 million low-income Hispanics and African-Americans, who are among those most likely to vote Democratic. Technically nonpartisan
(ha, ha, ha), the effort is one of the largest such voter-registration drives on record.

I already thought the housing bill was a complete clusterfarg. Learning about this is like being on the receiving end of an acorn in the eye. Just ask anyone who's been in a good ol' fashioned acorn fight what that feels like.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Summer Reading Two

Recently, I received two excellent coffee table books (not books about coffee tables) for my birthday. The first concerns the history of brewing in Minnesota:

The second is a pictorial history of the NHL team that I grew up, the Minnesota North Stars (autographed by Lou Nanne):

This post isn't a review of either book since I haven't had a chance to actually read either. However, I have perused them both quite a bit and the rich photographic snapshots of history contained within each ensure that I will be going back early and often.

Return to Normalcy?

Rick e-mails to hep us to a story about the comeback of beer in Baghdad:

BAGHDAD--Every evening at dusk, men gather on the Jadriyah Bridge spanning the Tigris River and turn it into an impromptu bar.

It's a sign of the improving times, the revival of an old habit that dates to the rule of Saddam Hussein, before the militias and extremists blew up the liquor stores and shuttered the bars as part of their effort to impose new forms of Islamic law on this once resolutely secular society.

Young men prop up the railings holding cans of beer and chat and smoke as if they were in a real bar. Old men pull up carts selling lablabi, a chick pea snack served in bars, back when there were bars. Sometimes there is dancing to the rhythmic sounds of Arabic music played on someone's car stereo, as the last of the evening's commuters whiz past and the sun sets over the green river swirling below.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Summer Reading One

(Since I'll be "on vacation" this week at a family reunion and Model T tour in Wisconsin , I thought I'd share some thoughts on recent books I've enjoyed. Not "at the beach" summer reading, more like at the airport, on airplanes, and in hotel room reading.)

Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of Energy Independence by Robert Bryce should be required reading for politicians, pundits, and everyone else who likes to pop off about energy prices (which means 99.97% of the public. Bryce lays out the cold, hard facts of America's energy realities without pulling any punches or partisan pandering. In fact, Bryce directs equal amounts of venom at both Democrats and Republicans for either not understanding these realities or willfully choosing to ignore them to further their own political agendas.

Among well-researched and documents realities that Bryce explores:

- Like it or not, we will be dependent on oil and gas for most of of energy needs for the next thirty to fifty years.

- Existing alternative energy sources are nowhere near capable of providing the amount of energy America needs today or in the future. Bryce is a little more positive about the possibilities of solar power, but has little faith in the ability of wind power to make any appreciable contribution.

- Without expanding nuclear power production, America will not be able to keep up with future growth in demand for electricity.

- The idea that America could ever become truly "energy independent" is not only a pipe dream, it's something that makes no sense in today's economically interdependent world.

- Oil, gas, and more and more other sources of energy are now traded in global markets. To pretend that America alone can control and direct these energy markets is foolish and short-sighted.

- Ethanol is essentially a scam designed to funnel money to farmers and producers. Ethanol is not the answer for America and the notion that is has been for Brazil is mostly a myth.

- Whether you believe in anthopogenic global warming or not (Bryce seems to be agnostic on the matter), the costs to restructure our economy to meet the daunting carbon reduction goals far outweigh whatever benefits we may achieve. Bryce suggests that we accept whatever global warming man is causing as a cost of the global economic growth that is improving the lives of millions of people and take steps to mitigate the impacts of it.

Finally, in some ways Bryce's suggestions for international energy policy remind me of Thomas P.M. Barnett's approach to diplomacy. He suggests that the US learn to live with the fact that we don't necessarily like many of the countries upon whom we rely on for energy. But we don't have to like them to do business with them. And the more business we do and the more interconnected we become and the more these nations become part of the global web of nations, it would be far less likely that they would want to do anything to disrupt or limit supply since that wouldn't be in anyone's interest. Not sure if I buy in to this completely, but it is a more realistic approach than many being touted today.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Rockin' The Suburbs

The WSJ interviews Harvard economist Edward Glaeser on the State of the City (sub req):

WSJ: What about looking to European cities, where more people walk and rely on mass transit, as a model for the U.S.?

MR. GLAESER: There's been a segment of urban developers who have been enthusiastic about the model in Europe for quite some time [because] it's much more environmentally sensitive. But there are bad aspects as well.

While there certainly seem to be some smart things done in Europe, it's a mistake to think they've got it right and we've got it wrong. There are many good things that came out of giving Americans the opportunity to live in big houses on the edge of urban areas.

If you think about the lifestyle of ordinary Americans living on the fringe of Houston or Dallas, for example, compared to what their lifestyle would be in an older European city -- living in a walk-up apartment there compared to a 2,500-square-foot house here they bought for $130,000 with a 24-minute commute -- it's extraordinary in the low-cost areas of this country what a $60,000 family income gets you.

There's a reason Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Phoenix are our four fastest-growing areas. They offer an astonishingly high standard of living for ordinary Americans.

New York City is a great place to be really rich and not a terrible place to be really poor, but it's a pretty hard place to live on $60,000 a year. You don't experience anywhere near the basic standard of living you would in Houston on the same income.

Asian Wrap

A few final thoughts on my recent trip to Asia:

- There are definitely things we can learn from the Chinese. One example was the traffic lights in Nanjing that countdown the green and red lights:

You know how much longer the light will be green when going through and more importantly you know how long you're going to have to wait at a red. It goes a long way to reducing your traffic anxiety and anything that makes driving (or riding) in a Chinese city easier is a most welcome development.

- There are of course many things that they can learn from us too. One important lesson is that attentive service is not necessarily good service. In hotels, shops, and restaurants you sometimes marvel at the seemingly endless number of people available to help you. They swarm to do things like open a door, pull back a chair, or push an elevator button. Which is all well and good, but too many times when the rubber meets the road and you need someone to solve or resolve a service problem for you, they don't prove up to that task. Less quantity and more quality of service is a waiting opportunity.

- I noticed more young girls on this trip than on previous visits. However, it still seemed like the overwhelming majority of children that I ran into in public. While talking about children with a Chinese colleague I was told that they are no longer allowed to learn the sex of babies in the womb from ultrasound tests because of the number of people who were opting for abortion if the baby was a girl. You have to wonder how this is all going to shake out fifteen to twenty years down the road. Mark Steyn's quote about "gay super-powers" comes to mind...

- Going from China to the Philippines provided an opportunity for compare and contrast. In China, when the government wants a public works project to happen, it usually does. In the big cities, highways, bridges, and airport terminals go up quickly and are often state of the art designs combining form in function. In Manila, a new international air terminal stands ready to open. From what a driver told me, the facility has been completed for some time, but politics have delayed its use. Apparently, the terminal has been ready since 2003, but has been caught up in the political infighting between President Gloria Arroyo and former President Joseph Estrada (who awarded the original construction contract). Now, it finally will be opened years past when it could have been and years since it was needed.

If the Chinese government continues to allow its citizens the sorts of economic freedom many now enjoy and is viewed as being able to get things done (like build and open new airport terminals), I wonder how strong the push for political freedom from the people will be. Political freedom is liberating, but it's also messy and often slow as the people of the Philippines know all too well.

- Finally, another thought on the Olympics in Beijing and their "One World One Dream" theme. I would actually welcome our one world government overlords if they could deliver my one dream for the world: teach people everywhere how to properly form a line.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Just A Kiss Of The Hops

We had a small social gathering at the abode last night. Muddled up a batch of Ten Thyme Smash and the reviews were quite good. I know I enjoyed the two glasses I had.

As is the custom on such occasions, we also offered up a wide variety of beer for our guest's consumption: Labatt Blue, Amstel Light, Surly (Furious & Cynic), Summit (Pale Ale, Pilsner, & Hefeweizen), and a number of other summer offerings from such brewers as Boulevard, Big Sky, and Paulaner. So with all of this proliferation of fine brews on hand which was the most popular, at least based on what we ran out of first and what people kept asking if we had more of? Schlitz.

That's right baby, the beer that made Milwaukee famous is back with a classic bottle and taste to match. A taste that apparently is quite pleasing to the beer drinking palate. That's gusto worth going for.

Friday, July 25, 2008

"Garbage in garbage can"...hmm, makes sense

Ex-Viking Darrion Scott fined $200, sent to parenting classes:

A former Minnesota Vikings player received a $200 fine Thursday for putting a plastic dry cleaning bag over his 2-year-old son.

Darrion Scott, 26, quietly accepted the sentence after waiting nearly an hour outside the courtroom by himself.

He also received a two-year stayed sentence, and could face jail time if he has contact with his son or wife unless it's approved by family court or if he is found taking illegal or non-prescribed drugs.

He was also ordered to attend parenting classes.

"I think you need that more than anything else," Nord told Scott.

From The Simpson's episode "Home Sweet Home-Diddily-Dum-Doodily":

Goodman: Now, who knows how the Skinners could have resolved this

[everyone puts their hands up]

Without resorting to violence.

[all hands but one descend]

Or childish name-calling.

[the last hand comes down] Anybody? [nope] OK. That's OK,
because making a happy home isn't like flipping on a light

Cletus: Duh, light switch?

Goodman: There are a lot of little tricks to it, things you should have
learned a long time ago. Such as, if you leave milk out, it
can go sour. Put it in the refrigerator, or, failing that, a
cool wet sack.

[much later]

And put your garbage in a garbage can, people. I can't stress
that enough. Don't just throw it out the window.

Marge: This is so humiliating.

Homer: [writing furiously] "Garbage in garbage can"...hmm, makes

Thursday, July 24, 2008

This Man Doesn't Know What the Hell He's Talking About

Senior Editor of MSP Magazine Adam Platt departs his official beat of urban affairs and restaurant coverage to engage in a little media criticism:

Listening to KSTP before noon is risky business. Though the station hosts Tommy Mischke and Joe Soucheray, two wonderful radio talents, it also is home to some of the intellectually weakest bombast on the radio. From Willie and Jay to [Bob Davis] to Dave Thompson, it's just big bags of opinions unmoored from any coherent intellectual philosophy. Sure it's shtick as well, but do the people who lean on its every word get that?

For now, we'll let slide the gratuitous shot at the talented and entertaining Bob Davis

Instead we turn to another of his targets, Dave Thompson. Let the record show that Dave Thompson does the radio show following Twins games on week nights. According the immutable laws of the universe, this cannot take place before noon.

Furthermore, anyone who's ever spent more than 30 seconds listening to the Dave Thompson Show would never use the word "bombast" to describe his presentation, let alone intellectually weak. If Dave Thompson can be criticized, it is for having too thoughtful of an approach and being overly dependent on the cold, logical construction of his arguments and on philosophic consistency.

Either Platt never listened to Dave Thompson before publicly sliming him or he doesn't know the meaning of the terms "intellectually weak" and "bombast." If it is the latter, allow me to help out by providing some examples of the form.

There's this:

.... cravenly rubber stamping the agenda of a President who has gone a long way to destroying our country's security and economic vitality is actually more offensive than a joke about sex with robots.

And this:

Amtrak has been bashed by idiot Republicans and transportation-ignorant types for decades, but the Midwest can only dream of the dense network of fast, frequent Amtrak trains that knit together the Eastern Seaboard.

And this:

I know most conservatives hate environmentalists and anything that portends organized efforts of obligatory social responsibility (I don't deny that many conservatives act responsibly on an independent basis), but the willful stupidity of looking at today's weather and making statements about climate change is simply too dumb to countenance.

If you would like to read more intellectually weak bombast, these, and many more examples, can be found in the archives of the Adam Platt blog.

The Straw Man Strikes Back

For the record, us frat boys have never "hated on" the Scottish indie band The Fratellis on the basis of their politics. Nor have we have we ever criticized their music based upon their perceived political leanings. For that would be the behavior of one of "those" conservatives. You know, close-minded, uptight, old, angry, hairy-backed, swamp developing, etc.

As a matter of fact my review of the only song by the Fratellis I have ever heard was a veritable rave:

Global warming hysteria hypocrisy aside, not bad. For a bunch of Scottish wankers.

It is true, the Fratellis earned a Loon of the Week Award the week of July 7, 2007. That was for their idiotic promotion of ways for people to alleviate global warming. Idiotic ideas given while they were spokesman for the cause, no less.

Generally speaking, idiocy doesn't work in the realm of public policy advocacy. (Preceding sentence subject to future editing based on result of 2008 MN Senate race featuring Al Franken). But often times it is an asset in the realm of popular music, especially for music targeted at adolescents. I recognize that and would never transfer the higher expectations of politics to rock and/or roll.

So, Bogus Doug:

'Yah, I know the Frat Boys hate the Fratellis on the basis of politics. Not too helpful. Most of the best artists of our (probably any) generation endorse sucky politics.

The thing is, the first Fratelli album was freaking awesome! It was all punky yet dancy and introspective, yet only to the extent it made it even better. It was pretty much the perfect album for its genre and its age. Infectious. A bevy of hit singles to choose from. Hitting the right notes for the time.

and Mitch Berg:

What Doug said. If I had to reject all music that didn't agree with me politically, I'd be pretty much down to Ted Nugent, Johnny Ramone (who, drat the luck, never did a solo album), Five for Fighting (if only on foreign policy), maybe Franky Perez, and country-western.

But dammit, I like to rock. And it doesn't bother me that some of my favorite artists--Springsteen, Pete Townsend) have some of the dumbest politics--because I'll care about what musicians think about politics about the time I care what John Kline or Michele Bachmann think about music; interesting trivia, perhaps, but not why I hired any of them.

And so--I loved the first Fratellis album. It was fun. I enjoyed it.

.... you'll be happy to hear, I agree with you. While the type of music played by the Fratellis doesn't interest me in the least, I stand by the principle of not allowing doctrinaire political beliefs to determine one's appreciation of music. Do you think I could be rocking the Ray Conniff Singers every night in my den if I worried about their no doubt radical, destabilizing beliefs?

Now, I know both Doug and Mitch to be uniquely open-minded, hip, quirky, still in touch with the kids, fresh, and exciting conservatives. They're just going to have to find a way besides love of the Fratellis to differentiate themselves from the rest of us.

You've Come A Long Way Baby?

In the entire history of the WNBA, I've probably not watched more than a combined total of forty seconds of its teams in "action." And that was solely because I couldn't find the remote and change the channel fast enough.

So it was a highly serendipitous occurrence on Tuesday night when I happened to catch the most exciting event in league history; the badly misnamed "brawl" between the LA Sparks and Detroit Shock. First off, it wasn't a "brawl" in any meaningful way. It was some pushing and shoving between a few players and coaches. It didn't enough qualify for "catfight" status. 'Reer.

Secondly, I have to wonder if this is the sort of thing women really had in mind when they began pushing for "equality" with men. What was so shocking about Tuesday's night's spectacle wasn't seeing women fighting. After all, history has been full of hair pulling, scratching women grabbing and clawing at each other (and men watching in case they might somehow kiss). What was sad to see was how much their actions resembled the testosterone-driven, territory-protecting conflict behavior which men have engaged in since time immemorial.

Yes, some day your daughter can grow up and be a trash talkin', struttin', no disrepect takin', gittin' up in your grill thug just like a man. Dream the dream baby.

Gee, our old LaSalle ran great

Usually I'm not one to complain about the "throw away" products that result from our consumption driven market society. But allow my to wax curmudgeonly for a moment here about something I encountered yesterday.

A few years ago, I purchased a Black and Decker cordless lawn trimmer. It's powered by a 12v battery and came with a plug-in charger. It's been a nice little tool for yard work and I've been quite satisfied with its performance.

However, during our recent household relocation the charger cord was severed due to improper packing (my bad). So far, the trimmer has had enough stored juice to keep working, but at some point soon, it will need to be charged.

After failing to find a replacement charger at local stores, I went online. It didn't take long to find a couple of different sites that offered it for sale. For $32. I also discovered the same model lawn trimmer for sale. I could purchase the entire trimmer, brand new with charger for $50. That just doesn't seem right.

I don't want a new trimmer. I don't need a new trimmer. But yet it seems stupid for me to shell out thirty-two bones for the charger alone when I can get an entire brand new trimmer for only eighteen more. Just another example of the cognitive dissonance that the modern consumer occasionally encounters.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hey, We Got Beer Too

Bob takes a pause from gloating about the Red Wings to e-mail to hep us to map showing How West Virginians See America. Kinda makes you glad you're not from Ohio, doesn't it?

This assumes of course that West Virginians know how to read a map. Or read at all for that matter.

UPDATE-- Chris from A Sour Apple Tree drops an e-mail:

Thanks for the link to my map on how West Virginians see America.

I'll grant you the part about readin' "words," but I can assure you that WVians, by and large, are quite skilled at cartography. There is all sorts of stuff up in them hills that we could draw a map to if we wanted.

Better to keep your still sites in your head lest one o' them dam-blasted revenuers get a hold o' it.

To The Wind

When Atomizer landed his gig helping design the new Twins stadium (getting the proper slope on those urinal troughs is critical you know), we thought he had found his dream job.

Now, Paul heps to a new show that Atomizer would love to host:

Can you say "I'm buying" in 12 languages? Embark on this international drinking tour with comedian Zane Lamprey who takes you around the world to master the local drinking customs.

Nice work if you can get it. And it's in HD. Which I don't have, but understand is quite nice.

Twenty-Three Skidoo

Today is the third birthday of our eldest son. At times it seems like only yesterday he was but a bald, bowling-ball headed baby, squealing and kicking like mad as we bathed his little body. Where did this talking, walking running, curly-haired boy wonder in our house come from anyway?

At others, it seems impossible to imagine a time when he wasn't part of the picture. Those BK (before kids) days seem part of a long ago hazy-memoried past. It's hard to believe that it was only three years ago.

These time paradoxes are common for parents, as someone once told me that raising children is all about long days and short years. We try to savor the days (even the really LONG ones) and not think too much about the years. So far, they've all been great ones. Happy birthday.

Muddling Through

About three months ago, I wrote about a delightful cocktail called the "Ten Thyme Smash" that I had enjoyed at a local fine dining establishment. Seeking to emulate the experience at home I tried to find a recipe for the drink without success.

Now, thanks to the hard work and dedication of Ben from Infinite Monkeys, the secrets of the Ten Thyme Smash have been revealed:

With the help of Monkey David and Dr. Zaius, last week I successfully mixed the Ten Thyme Smash. And Chad is right: It's a great drink. Perfect for the Summer of Gin.

The Bank in Minneapolis describes the Ten Thyme Smash as "refreshing and sophisticated -- fresh thyme, cucumber and lime shaked with ultra premium tanqueray ten gin and white cranberry -- the perfect apertif."

Sounds easy enough. And it is! I used the raspberry-thyme smash as my baseline. Instead of raspberries, it's a simple matter of muddling thyme with cucumber. I found that adding the lime juice expedited the process nicely. Fresh ingredients are vital. So is a muddler. Tanqueray Ten, however, is optional. I call the variation a "Tanq Thyme Smash." Here's the recipe.

* 2 fresh thyme sprigs
* 2 cucumber slices
* 1 oz. fresh lime juice
* 2 oz. Tanqueray Ten gin (or any decent gin)
* 3 oz. white cranberry juice

Strip leaves from the thyme sprigs. Place leaves in a shaker with two thickish slices of cucumber. Add the lime juice and muddle. Fill shaker with ice and add gin and white cranberry juice. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass (pictured) or ice-filled highball glass. Garnish with a cucumber slice.

As Ben notes, it is a perfect drink for the Summer of Gin. And this weekend, sounds like a perfect thyme to get smashed.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

One Nanny State Supreme To Go, Hold The Freedom

In yesterday's post on the attempts by leftists to employ global warming in their latest crusade to herd Americans into diverse, sustainable, concentrated urban centers, I noted that the same Mandarin class that feels fit to decide where you should live also wishes to determine what you should eat (among other things). Today's WSJ provides the latest evidence of this attempt to control your diet with a story on how planners in Los Angeles want to ban fast food (sub req):

Despite its health-crazy reputation, parts of Los Angeles are plagued by obesity rates that rival any city in America. Now, the city may join a growing roster of local governments aiming to put their residents on diets by cracking down on the fast-food industry.

Jan Perry, a Los Angeles city-council member, is spearheading legislation that would ban new fast-food restaurants like McDonald's and KFC from opening in a 32-square-mile chunk of the city, including her district. The targeted area is already home to some 400 fast-food restaurants, she says, possibly contributing to high obesity rates there -- 30% of adults, compared with about 21% in the rest of the city.

Possibly contributing? Before you start using the full force and power of the government to impose draconian bans on private business, shouldn't you be a little more certain that you actions will actually address the problem? Again, as with global warming, the results really don't matter. It's all about control.

While some cities have bans on new fast-food establishments, they typically are for aesthetic reasons or to protect local businesses. Ms. Perry's initiative seems to be a rare instance in which a major city brings health issues into restaurant zoning. The fast-food ban would last a year, although Ms. Perry hopes to make it permanent. On Tuesday, a committee will make a recommendation on the measure before sending it on to the full city council for a vote.

A permanent ban on new fast food restaurants in Los Angeles? Unbelievable. Whatever happened to quaint notions like personal responsibility and freedom to choose? And if you think this governmental overreach is just limited to the loopy left coast, think again.

Government officials say they must attack all causes of obesity. In New York, city officials have said the new information on menus will save people from obesity and diabetes. The ordinance pending in Los Angeles appears particularly tough, because it would halt the opening of any fast-food restaurant in a large part of the city. But it might not be the last such measure. The Los Angeles planning department says it has had calls from several cities asking for copies of the pending ordinance. Already, "the influence is there," says Faisal Roble, the city planner who drafted the ordinance.

Coming soon to a city near you.

The comments from a few of these noble planners who know best how we should live should send a shiver down the spine of any freedom loving American.

Councilman Ed Reyes, part of whose district would be affected by the ban, says he expects many complaints from fast-food owners about their right to do business in the neighborhood. He is prepared with counterarguments. "Health and social issues are the overriding issues, in my mind," he says. "It's not too different to how we regulate liquor stores."

So, as long as our personal freedoms don't conflict with what Councilman Reyes vaguely defines as "health and social issues," he will respect them. Otherwise, they're subject to override at the whim of whatever happens to be in his mind at the time. Gosh, I feel reassured now.

Meanwhile, the gal behind this blatant abuse of government authority channels Bobby Brown to justify this latest affront to personal liberty:

Ms. Perry, the council member leading the legislation, says she sees the measure as just one part of a multipronged effort to fight obesity, including building parks to encourage exercise, encouraging more grocery stores to come into the neighborhood, boosting nutrition education and improving health care. Reining in fast food "is just one factor, but as an elected official, it's my prerogative" to work on all fronts, she says.

It's your prerogative to ban legal private businesses and restrict the freedom of your constituents to decide for themselves what they should eat because you think they're getting too fat? Exactly what part of your job desription as "public servant" grants you that power anyway?

Postscript: Recently, noted junk food junkie Hugh Hewitt has been making noises about leaving California for more friendly climes. This ban may be the last straw that drives Hugh and his french fry grease-stained Dockers from Los Angeles for good.

Monday, July 21, 2008

In between the bright lights and the far unlight unknown

Since the beginning of their existence liberals have yearned to destroy the suburbs. The idea of people freely choosing to live in safe, spacey neighborhoods in homes with trees, yards, and (gulp) driveways is an affront to much of what they hold dear.

For the most part, they haven't been able to come out and say this directly of course. Instead, they've couched their plans in seemingly innocent terms like "smart growth" and "sustainability." But no matter what the wording, the end goal has always been to limit people's freedoms to decide for themselves what kind of community they would like to live in. Much better to have the "experts" in planning and government decide for them where they should reside.

Now, as Joel Kotkin related in Saturday's WSJ, in California the planner class--in the form of Attorney General Jerry Brown-- has latched onto global warming as the latest excuse to drive this suburb destroying agenda forward:

In the meantime, Mr. Brown is taking aim at the suburbs, concerned about the alleged environmental damage they cause. He sees suburban houses as inefficient users of energy. He sees suburban commuters clogging the roads as wasting precious fossil fuel. And, mostly, he sees wisdom in an intricately thought-out plan to compel residents to move to city centers or, at least, to high-density developments clustered near mass transit lines.

Mr. Brown is not above using coercion to create the demographic patterns he wants. In recent months, he has threatened to file suit against municipalities that shun high-density housing in favor of building new suburban singe-family homes, on the grounds that they will pollute the environment. He is also backing controversial legislation -- Senate bill 375 -- moving through the state legislature that would restrict state highway funds to communities that refuse to adopt "smart growth" development plans. "We have to get the people from the suburbs to start coming back" to the cities, Mr. Brown told planning experts in March.

Because he knows better and he's not above using the full force of the government to make it happen. Whether the people want to or not isn't his concern.

The problem is, that's not what Californians want. For two generations, residents have been moving to the suburbs. They are attracted to the prospect, although not always the reality, of good schools, low crime rates and the chance to buy a home. A 2002 Public Policy Institute of California poll found that 80% of Californians prefer single-family homes over apartment living. And, even as the state's traffic jams are legendary, it is not always true that residents clog roads to commute to jobs in downtown Los Angeles or other cities.

Neither is whether these plans would actually help reduce global warming.

Ali Modarres, associate director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University Los Angeles, believes the density-first approach is ill-suited for areas like L.A. County, where most residents and jobs are dispersed among subregional "nodes." Research by Mr. Modarres, co-author of the powerful book "City and Environment," demonstrates that people living in nodes -- Pasadena, Torrance, Burbank and Irvine -- often enjoy considerably shorter average commutes than do a lot of inner-city residents. Many of these people commute through tangled traffic to get to jobs on the periphery.

"I have no problem trying to find solutions on global warming," Mr. Modarres told me, "but I doubt these kinds of solutions are going to do anything. The whole notion that through physical planning you can get a lot of people to abandon their cars is pretty iffy."

Mr. Modarres also points out that forcing developers to build near transit lines, a strategy favored by "smart-growth advocates," does not mean residents will actually take the train or bus. A survey conducted last year by the Los Angeles Times of "transit oriented development" found that "only a small fraction of residents shunned their cars during rush hour."

There is also little punch behind the science used to justify the drive to resettling the cities -- and plenty of power behind the argument that suburbs are better for Mother Earth. Several prominent scholars -- including University of Maryland atmospheric scientist Konstanin Vinnikov, University of Georgia meterologist J. Marshall Shepard and Brookings Institution research analyst Andrea Sarzynski -- have found there is little evidence linking suburbanization to global warming, pointing out that density itself can produce increased auto congestion and pollution.

The antisuburbanites also ignore evidence that packing people together in cities produces "heat islands." Temperatures in downtown Los Angeles sometimes reach as much as three degrees centigrade higher than outlying areas. Recent studies in Australia have shown that multistoried housing generates higher carbon emissions than either townhomes or single-family residences because of the energy consumed by common areas, elevators and parking structures, as well as the lack of tree cover.

None of this matters because the real goal of all this has little or nothing to do with global warming. It's about telling you where you can and can't live. What you can and can't drive (if you're allowed to drive at all). What you can and can't eat and drink. Where you can and can't smoke (pretty much everywhere now). How much you can heat and cool your home. Etc, etc.

Oh and by the way, these rules only apply to the people not the planners.

A report by the Los Angeles Weekly's Dave Zahniser -- entitled "Do as We Say, Not as We Do" -- found that a lot of prominent "smart growth" advocates in Los Angeles live in large single-family homes, some of them long hikes from mass transit. Mr. Brown himself, not long ago, moved from a loft in crime-ridden downtown Oakland to a bucolic setting in the Oakland Hills.

What, you don't expect HIM to live in the city do you?

One World One Dream

A few notes and pictures from China.

- Although you read quite a bit about the growth of religion in today's China, you still see few outward signs of it. Sure, you can find the odd church here and there like this one in Shanghai.

But the Chinese seem to treat them as more curiosities than anything else. Since the government isn't all that keen on religion, most of the supposed "boom" has occurred in underground, non-government approved churches which may explain why the short term visitor doesn't encounter visible evidence of it.

- One does see a lot of evidence of China's desire for unity.

And much of that is linked to the Olympics and the motto of "One World, One Dream." You see that slogan everywhere from a wall in Shanghai.

To a tourist trap temple in Nanjing.

The Olympic rings and the mascots (who frankly kind of creep me out) are also ubiquitous as seen in this park in Nanjing.

Are the Chinese people themselves excited about hosting the games? I guess so, although I question how much of that is genuine excitement and how much is being artificially ginned up because they're being told (literally) that they should be excited.

- One of the hardest things for a good ol' Midwestern boy like yours truly to adjust to when visiting Chinese cities is the crowds. It seems that wherever you go at any time of day, there is a crowd. At times it can be crushing.

For trips of relatively short distances I prefer travel by train over airplane. It's usually not as much of a hassle to get on, the atmosphere on board is much more laid back and carefree, and you can enjoy the view of the countryside on your journey. In the case of my trip from Shanghai to Nanjing, said view was of mostly smoke bellowing industries, but it still was interesting.

Train travel in China however--like every other activity--involves crowds. Crowds at the station before you leave.

And crowds once you arrive at your destination.

The train trip itself was pleasant. The pre and post portions were a bit too busy for my tastes.

- Let's close with a few final pictures.

The old and new in Shanghai, home to some of the world's most diverse and interesting architecture.

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign. In this case in Nanjing.

Leaving Shanghai:

Through a window lightly in a temple/market in Nanjing:

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Indoctrinate Your Children Well

Matt e-mails to pass on a tempting invite:

The Will Steger Foundation is hosting its third annual Summer Institute for Climate Change Education!

The Institute will take place August 11-13 at the Science Museum of Minnesota and is a great opportunity to enhance your own understanding of climate change. Dr. James Hansen, renowned NASA climate scientist, will be the keynote speaker to discuss the latest on climate science in addition to Andrew Revkin (NY Times Science Reporter) and WCCO-TV anchor Don Shelby.

Institute participants will receive a resource binder with new climate change curricula, expedition supplements and action resources. The theme of the Institute is "Changing School Culture" with a focus on reducing a school's carbon footprint, from classroom to community. Learn more and download the application at

Hansen, Shelby, AND resource binders? Right here in our back yard? This is too good to be true. Get your application in today!!!

Friday, July 18, 2008

It's The Corruption Stupid

Another example of what Saint Paul likes to call "Catholics being Catholic" from today's Philippine Star (whose masthead reads "Truth Shall Prevail"):

As poverty in this country worsens, some politicians mostly in Congress always seize the opportunity to single out the alleged overpopulation as its main cause, in order to mightily push for the forced reduction of population growth through certain bills now more attractively and euphemistically called "Reproductive Health and Population Management Bills".

Their problem however is that more and more people are now realizing that our country remains poor and is getting poorer because of their own extravagance and corruption in the performance of their job. If they can just give up their pork barrels and forego with their expensive junkets abroad, our country will have saved billions of pesos enough to help improve our economy. Our country remains poor because of corruption in government that started on a large scale during the Marcos regime and continues up to the present on an even larger scale, and not because of the alleged overpopulation and the rapid population growth.

The grand deception becomes more sinister because the bills' sponsors and their supporters who cutely style themselves as "pro quality of life" as well as some misinformed media people continue to insist that these bills do not promote abortion. They even unfairly criticized some bishops, more specifically Ozamiz Archbishop Jesus A. Dosado CM for allegedly spreading disinformation on the bills because he is courageous enough to come out against them with a firm Pastoral statement that politicians who do not promote the sanctity of human life in his territory should be denied communion because "you cannot call yourself Catholic in good standing and at the same time publicly hold views that are contradictory to the Catholic Faith and if you are legislators in my territory then I have the right to refuse you Holy Communion".

At first blush, one might say that the proposed bills are nothing more than an effort to make contraception more widely available in the Philippines. However, if one considers the history of the path that such "reproductive rights" have taken in other countries, it's not surprising that the Catholic Church is resisting the slide down what has proven to be a very slippery slope indeed.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Few Of My Favorite Things

Wednesday's Financial Times offered up a trifecta of much interest for our own Saint Paul.

First, a review of a concert by Saint's favorite Scottish rockers The Fratellis:

Presumably the ham-fisted heraldry was supposed to underline The Fratellis' pride at being a people's band. Unfashionable but hugely popular--their first album sold 1.5m copies--the Scottish trio bash out unreconstructed bloke rock, all football terrace choruses and beer-spraying guitar solos. The singer Jon Lawler has a passing resemblance to Marc Bolan with his tumbling curls of hair but otherwise they're archetypal lads next door, dressed in dark jeans and casual tops and possessing not one ounce of charisma.

They opened with "Mistress Mabel" from their new album Here We Stand. Pub rock piano and rhymes from Noel Gallagher's reject pile ("Mistress Mabel, you're seriously wrong/Clears my table, bang, and then she's gone") clattered from the stage. The words "Nae Dance" were spray-painted on a speaker stack. Beery men lurching around in the audience did their best to obey the injunction.

The evening's course had been set. The songs were plodding and derivative: sub-Beatles melodies, unglittery glam rock (more Slade than T-Rex), rabble-rousing punk rock in the dubious mould of The Libertines. Lawler's vocals aped Liam Gallagher's growl and the Arctic Monkeys' phrasing. Britpop's life flashed before my eyes.

But other than that, how was the show?

Then we have Gideon Rachman comparing American and British journalism and the use of Saint Paul's favorite tool of the trade; the anonymous source:

American journalists, I realised, regard themselves as members of a respectable profession--like lawyers or bankers. Their British counterparts generally prefer the idea that they are outsiders. They like to quote the adage of the late Nicholas Tomalin that: "The only qualities essential for real success in journalism are rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability."

The British sometimes argue that because American journalists have joined the establishment they are easily duped by "senior sources". The US press's supine role in the run-up to the Iraq war is cited as evidence.

Maybe so. On the other hand, it was painstaking and daring American journalism that uncovered the Watergate scandal.

Certainly, after a while in Washington I began to develop a grudging respect for my neighbours at the Tribune. I admired the fact that their investigative team would work for months on a single article. On the British paper I then worked for, an "investigation" was something we started on Tuesday and published on Sunday. I was also sure that when American papers used the phrase "sources say", there really were some sources. I was not always so confident when that phrase appeared in my own newspaper.

Later in my career, I found myself defending a British colleague in Thailand--who was being roundly criticised by some Americans for using quotes from the Bangkok Post, without attribution. I coldly informed my American colleagues that they were box-tickers, making a fuss about nothing. When the Americans left, my British colleague thanked me and then added casually: "Mind you, you might have struggled to find those quotes in the Bangkok Post." He had made them up.

Finally, a look at Saint Paul's favorite Asian cooking instrument, the "hot wok." Okay, it's really more of look at China's "war on nature" and the spectre of rising Chinese nationalism by Niall Ferguson, who is one of Saint's favorite writers:

China on the eve of next month's Olympic Games is like a "hot wok" of aiguozhuyi - national pride--according to Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese writer. The question is how far the Chinese government risks overcooking the popular mood. Wherever you go, there is no escaping the official slogan of Beijing 2008: "One World, One Dream". The five cutesy Olympic mascots known as Fuwa are equally ubiquitous, chirruping away on screens large and small, from Beijing's striking new international airport terminal to the humblest local railway carriage.


The trouble with a semi-planned economy, as soon becomes clear to the visitor to Chongqing, is twofold. First, in the absence of rule of law and meaningful private property rights, there are no real limits to the "negative externalities" of economic development. The air in Chongqing is as thick with pollutants as the local food is thick with hot chili peppers, frequently turning the city's natural mists into dense pea-soup fogs. Second, the semi-planned economy allocates resources to infrastructure investment but does nothing to mitigate social inequality. The economic gulf between insiders (officials and entrepreneurs) and outsiders (construction workers and the rest) is now huge. If this is the "harmonious society" of which China's leaders boast, then São Paulo is an egalitarian paradise.


Yet the new forms of electronic communication may just as easily act as channels for popular nationalism as for political dissent. "We Have Nothing to Fear", an unofficial video posted on the internet shortly after the unrest in Tibet, is almost hysterically critical of the western media.* With its ultra-nationalist imagery, its strident music and its defiant slogans--"China's sovereignty is sacred and inviolable"; "We have an obligation to safeguard the community's prosperity and stability"; "Do not provoke us!"--it perfectly captures the moment when Chinese nationalism met YouTube.

On the eve of the Olympics, there is indeed something of the "hot wok" about the mood in China. But it is China's hot websites, burning with a new generation's nationalism, that should make the rest of the world feel uneasy.

Separated At Birth?

Larry e-mails with the following SAB:

Crazed criminal from the movie "Cape Fear" Max Cady and...

...crazed criminal from the streets of Riverside Andy Dick?

(No JB, for the last time I do not think that Andy Dick looks like Atomizer, especially without the glasses.)

Rising Star

One of the genuine pleasures of returning to Manila is waking up to the Philippine Star on my doorstep (or more accurately outside my hotel room) each morning. The Star is one of my favorite newspapers because the writers feel no compuction to hold anything back. It's all over the top scribbling all the time.

Here's an example from today's newspaper of how to open an article:

There is something crushing about city life. Our daily toil, traffic that gives us a spectacular preview of Armageddon, and the plagues of heat, flash floods, occasional coup attempts, pigs in suits in government, and a spate of metro handsome posters in shocking pink. Heck, we all need a drink.

And that's a piece from the Lifestyle section about the best bars in town. Now, that is interesting writing.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

You know this whole air travel thing wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for one thing...

..the waiting. Not the waiting at the gate to board or the waiting on the plane to takeoff (under normal circumstances of course). It's the waiting in line--sometimes one intermit table, never-ending line after another--that saps your energy, crushes your spirit, and drains whatever sense of adventure and pleasure that modern air travel still possesses.

Today was a perfect example for me. I waited in line for the quarantine check crew to arrive in Nanjing this morning so that we could pass through their inspection. Then, I waited for the ticket agents to show up so we could check in. Then, I waited in the immigration/security line. Three lines. So far.

In Hong Kong, I had to wait in a transfer line to get a boarding pass for my Philippine Airlines flight to Manila. The line itself wasn't particularly long, but it moved at a snail's pace. Every transaction going down in front of me apparently required two or three phone calls by the agent, a half dozen puzzled expressions, and several thousand keystrokes before a boarding pass could be printed. A frickin' boarding pass. Then, it was another wait in yet another security checkpoint line.

Lest you think that all my accounts of air travel are nothing but self-indulgent whining about what doesn't work (yes, I got your e-mail Atomizer), let me share a few positive experiences. On my Philippine Air flight from Hong Kong, the Airbus 320 had a video camera installed somewhere near the front wheel. As the plane taxied to take off we were treated to a live shot from said camera on the cabin video monitors. After takeoff, the camera was aimed down so we could see the runway and then sea grow increasingly distant as the aircraft took flight. Very cool.

And on my Dragonair flight from Nanjing to Hong Kong, I told the flight attendant that my son liked dragons and asked if there was anything she could give me with the company's logo on it. A deck of cards perhaps. She returned with a goodie bag with three Dragonair postcards, two in-flight entertainment (distraction) kits for kids, and two decks of cards. Now THAT was was service above and beyond the call.

By the way, when I arrived in Manila and passed through immigration, I was the first one in line. No waiting.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Too Much Perspective

Starting your day off with a tour of a memorial dedicated to the victims of a mass slaughter is not exactly a day brightener, but a Sunday visit to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial was an educational and--while very somber--a very worthwhile experience. The memorial and museum are built on the site of a mass grave (10,000 some remains) that was uncovered in the 1980s.

Its main aim is tell the horrific tale of six weeks in 1937 when the Japanese Imperial Army captured Nanjing and went a bloodthirsty rampage of looting, arson, rape, and murder. In total, some 300,000 Chinese civilians and captured soldiers were killed during that time by the Japanese. A story also recounted by Iris Chang in the book The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II.

There's also sections on the history of Sino-Japanese conflict, the post-war justice meted out to those who lead the Japanese atrocities, and stories of foreigners in Nanjing who tried to limit the carnage and save the lives of Chinese civilians. That brave group included American missionaries, Red Cross workers, and diplomats among others.

In an interesting irony of history, some of the most forthright defenders of the citizens of Nanjing were German officials and businessmen. There are many pictures of refugees being escorted to safety under the protection of the Nazi flag. There is also a letter of commendation to John Rabe--one such German savior and leader of the local branch of the Nazi party to boot--from Herr Adolph Hitler himself on display.

Upon leaving the memorial, one feels a mixture of sadness at the horror just witnessed and relief. For in that particular environment, I was glad that I was not Japanese. You can understand why some of the locals are a bit hesitant about buying a Toyota.

Monday, July 14, 2008

An Exclusive Club

One of the side benefits of business travel in Asia is that you usually get to stay in much nicer hotels than you would elsewhere. In Nanjing, I'm holed up in a place called the Frasier Suites. My suite includes a full kitchen, a living room with a sectional couch and large flat-panel television screen, an office, a bedroom with another large flat-panel television, a balcony, and two full bathrooms; one with a washer/dryer. Pretty sweet digs (pun intended) for a slob like me. So far, the stay has been enjoyable.

Except for the food. The service in the restaurant has been slow and the food subpar. Earlier, we calculated that of five meals that we have had there so far, three have been disappointing to the palate.

But as often occurs, hope overcame experience on Sunday night as I looked to the house restaurant to come through with a room service standby: the venerable Club Sandwich. The Club is a simple sandwich in principal. Yet all the elements must be executed properly to pull it off.

The bread must be of good quality and toasted properly. The bacon needs to be crisp, but not overly crunchy. The lettuce needs to be crisp as well, the tomatoes ripe. The chicken should be plump and juicy and the mayonnaise judiciously applied. And, if said Club includes a fried egg--and my past favorites have--the egg should be done, but not overdone. When carried out just right, such a simple sandwich can be sublime.

Unfortunately, the Frasier continued with its poor culinary performance and delivered to my room a sub-standard Club that failed miserably to live up to its reputation. Starting with the soggy bread, continuing with the scraggly chicken and wilty lettuce, and ending with an egg fried beyond recognition, it was easily the worst room service Club Sandwich I have ever had the displeasure of trying to choke down. It was a major letdown and, in my opinion, the final nail in the restaurant's coffin. If you can't nail The Club, why should I have confidence in anything coming out of your kitchen?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

No Oil Resource Not Left Behind

In casually perusing the Almanac of American Politics last night, going through the biographies on the Michigan delegation, I came across one of those conservative democrats we keep hearing about. Bob Stupak represents the Michigan 1st district, which comprises the Upper Penninsula and other parts north.

He is a former police officer and Michigan state trooper, a Catholic, and vocal opponent of such things as abortion and expanded government funding of embryonic stem cell research. As summarized in his Michael Barone penned description:

Stupak's voting record has been toward the center for House Democrats, though he is more conservative than most of them on social issues.

Good so far. But it seems no modern Democrat is immune from suffering a severe case of misplaced priorities. From Stupak's list of legislative achievements:

In the House, Stupak has paid great attention to local issues. He claims to be the first elected official to oppose drilling for oil and gas under the Great Lakes and worked hard on the successful bill to permanently kill it in 2005. He was a leading Democratic proponent of a September 2005 measure to crack down on oil-price gouging.

ANWAR, off shore, on the continental shelf, oil shale reserves, these arbitrary government bans I knew of. But I didn't even know people suspected there was oil and/or gas below the Great Lakes. It sounds like most in Congress didn't either. But just in case, they went out of their way to pre-emptively kill any chance it would benefit American consumers and tax payers.

Among thevital reasons to institute a government ban:

Ban supporters appealed to environmental concerns, but mostly to the ugliness of oil rigs. [Rep. David Bonior (D)] said, "Families come to Michigan to fish, to use our beautiful beaches, to swim in our lakes and enjoy our sand dunes. They do not come to Michigan to look at oil wells or oil derricks. We are passionate about protecting the Great Lakes.

It's amazing that only three years ago this was thought to be feel-good, safe politics. Restricting the ability of America to access its own resources of a vital commodity, in order to preserve the mythical views for tourists in Michigan.

I suppose we should just be happy we didn't have men of this caliber in office at the turn of the 20th century. We'd never have been able to despoil the pristine beauty and environmental heritage of the Oklahoma and West Texas scrub for something as crass as drilling for oil.

Even in 2005, we did have some leaders willing to use their common sense to promote the common good. Check out the prescience of then Representive Tom Delay of Texas, said during a time when gas was half as much as it sells for today:

"The Democrat leadership is at war with our ability to produce an adequate and dependable energy supply. They oppose safe oil exploration. They oppose expanded nuclear power. They oppose clean coal. They oppose ANWR. They oppose tapping the natural gas trapped beneath public lands. They oppose drilling In the Gulf of Mexico. And now they oppose slant drilling in Michigan." Delay said that "this environmental extremism, this radical environmentalism, is entirely unwarranted. Today, slant drilling technology allows us to safely withdraw oil and gas beneath bodies of water from the shore. Environmentally safe. We do not have to trade environmental safety for energy security."

A person could win an electon with that kind of platform, especially versus an opponent more concerned about a one degree rise in global temperature over a century. McCain, Coleman are you listening?

We Will Bury You...With Low Prices

Last night, I had an experience sure to warm the cockles of JB's hardened heart. The place to be for the still pretty godless not so much Communist Chinese people on a Saturday night in downtown Nanjing? Wal-Mart.

Judging by the frenzied throngs we encountered at Wal-Mart between roughly 8:30pm and 10:00pm, the retail giant is not only surviving in China but thriving. The store is located smack in the middle of the downtown entertainment district. It's a four story monstrosity offering all the usual Wal-Mart goodies plus an impressive selection of groceries. It was a little surreal to see such huge (and pretty happy looking) crowds in a place like Wal-Mart at what isn't usually considered a prime shopping time, but in today's Chinese cities crowds and shopping at all hours of the day are the norm rather than the exception.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

This Giant Doesn't Sleep

11:45pm Friday night in Nanjing

Standing on the balcony of my hotel, I'm enjoying a lovely cool breeze. After a day of intermittent rain--sometimes quite heavy--the humidity has broken a bit and the air is realtively fresh.

Across the street, a construction site buzzes with activity. Spotlights glare as excavators, cranes, and dump trucks work the night away even though the nearby streets are calm. In the US, such late-night action would indicate a critical deadline having to be met, driven by a pressing public need or perhaps a fast-closing construction season window. Here in Nanjing, it's just another apartment complex going up and round the clock construction is business as usual.

Friday, July 11, 2008

I Stumble Into Town Like A Sacred Cow

Late Tuesday night I arrived in Shanghai. Yesterday, I traveled by train to Nanjing. Despite the fact that this is my fourth visit to China, there are still a number of lessons that I've learned (or relearned) in the last few days:

- Always have RMB available if you take a cab. When we left the office in a taxi with a Chinese co-worker who was getting dropped off first at a different hotel, we failed to appreciate just how important this was. Even though though the tab was only 11 RMB (less than $2), our attempts to settle up with a credit card or US dollars were rebuffed with extreme prejudice. While my colleague ran inside our hotel for an emergency currency conversion, I tried my best universal sign and body language to explain the situation and apologize for the inconvenience the crabby cabbie to no avail. Note to self: learn how to say "I'm sorry" in Chinese.

- Never schedule an important business meeting for the afternoon of the day after you've just traversed a dozen time zones. You can drink as much coffee as you like, but at some point in the mid to late afternoon that jet lag is going to kick in and its going to kick your arse from a mental standpoint. Having your brain start powering down right when you need it most is not a pleasant experience. The only upside is that you're too damn tired to really care.

- If you're asked if you want your beer "ice" at dinner, say yes otherwise you're going to end up with a room temperature bottle. And room temp (to say nothing of humidity) in China in July is going to mean you're swilling an awfully warm Tsingtao.

- Abandon all previously held concepts of body space, queue etiquette, and general public politeness immediately after arriving. Otherwise, you're never going to get anywhere and you're going to be very irritated about it. Go with the flow (or lack thereof) and embrace the chaos.

- You can never start too low when you begin the bartering banter with street vendors. In hindsight, when the gentlemen offering to sell me a pair of genuine, officially licensed Oakley sunglasses (what, you think they ain't?) led off with 55 RMB, I should have come in with a much lower counter-offer than the 30 RMB price which he quickly (too quickly) agreed to.

More lessons learned will be passed on as needed. Meanwhile, I'm hearing rumors of some sort of big event unfolding in China in the next month or so. And I think it involves athletics. I'm going to do some more digging and if I'm able to confirm and clarify these rumors, you'll be the first to know.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Stop Oil Stupidity Now

Got an e-mail today from Northwest Airlines signed by a number of other airline presidents and CEOs urging me to visit a site called Stop Oil Speculation Now:

The oil price bubble is unfairly taxing American families and restricting our nation's economic potential. While everyone is aware that supply and demand constraints contribute to price increases, there's another force at work that, like gravity, is invisible yet powerful. This force is rampant speculation.

Every time you buy products such as food or gas, you are impacted by unregulated, secretive and often foreign commodities futures markets. Speculators in these markets are increasingly buying and selling commodities such as oil even though they have no intention of using the product. As unregulated speculators pocket billions of dollars at your expense, the price of commodities has increased out of proportion to marketplace demands.

Yes, those bastions of the free market who run our airlines are crying for the clumsy hand of government to step in and help them once again. One obvious question is how the UNITED STATES CONGRESS plans to "act" to do something about these "foreign" commodities futures markets. The arrogance and ignorance that leads these bozos to believe that global oil markets will bow to the whims of Congress is rather astounding.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Ya know when that shark bites, with his teeth, babe

A couple of e-mails on my Mac battery problem.

Jack offers some solace:

I squeaked in just under the wire. My MacBook battery died just before the one-year anniversary. So I got a new one for free.

I only waited about five minutes at the Genius Bar. The replacement battery has not died yet. Is this evidence that Packer fans are God's chosen people and Vikings fans are cursed, Godless heathen? That's a tough one. I'm going to recuse myself.

At least you're using the right computer. The battery may die. But that laptop will last you five good years before you think about retiring it. The Genius guy recommended against putting the computer to sleep for long periods of time. So now I shut down the computer and start it back up a lot more.

Even after two years this computer boots up in less than a minute and shuts down in about 15 seconds. If you buy any additional chargers, get the 85 watt MacBook Pro charger. It charges your battery much quicker with no adverse effects.

While Mike channels JB by twisting the knife:

My MacBook Pro battery did the same thing after about 1.5 years. Would never fully charge and the machine would just shut down without warning. I mentioned this to a freelancer in our office who uses a Mac and she said she had the same problem. The guys at the Genius Bar gave her a free replacement.

Her husband, who works for Apple said the problem is fairly common and they should have done a recall. I took mine in after spending probably 20+ hours trying various things to charge it, downloading several patches and updates and visiting chat rooms trying to find a solution. I told the Genius that I know someone who works for Apple who told me its common and they should have done a recall. He replaced it, well after the warranty expired, no questions asked and no charge.

Learning the Elder shelled out 99 big ones for something he could have received free had he been armed with this knowledge--priceless.

No one mentioned any of this when I was debating whether to get a Mac last year and now you're all screwin' me!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

They Didn't Raise This Bar

AK e-mails with the good news that Barack Obama was not one of those people who was "tricked" into buying a house he couldn't afford.

Just thought I'd give you my take as a mortgage banker on the Washington Post article about Mr. Obama's mortgage.

Leave alone for the moment the actual purchase of Barak "Barry" H. Obama's personal mansion, a $2.3 million dollar property he purchased for $1.65 million assisted by financier Tony Rezko, now a convicted felon. Forget even the unique financial circumstances under which Mrs. Rezko "qualified" to finance the purchase of the adjacent $625k vacant dirt lot on a salary of thirty-seven grand a year.

Rather, I am fascinated by the "in depth and detailed" story printed by the Washington Post (A3), regarding how the shrewd and astute Mr. B.H. Obama was in securing below market interest rate financing on his mortgage.

To me it appears that the "reporter" simply regurgitated the official position of the Obama campaign's "(Spare) Change You Can Believe In!" press release. I don't know what was actually researched, but my analysis raises several distinct issues.

After almost thirty years in the mortgage business, it's not the answers the client gives that matter, it's the questions those answers raise. With the proviso that current market conditions are skewed and severely distorted by the on-going credit-crisis/credit-crunch, here are some of the issues.

1. May, June and July of 2005 average Conforming (not Jumbo) mortgage rates ranged from 5.625%-5.875%. These rates ASSUME a 1.0% "origination fee" included in revenue stream. Eliminating (i.e. waiving) that revenue or fee, would result in at least a .25% higher rate.

2. Jumbo interest rates traditionally run about .25%-.375% above conforming rates. That would mean a 30yr fixed Jumbo from as low as 5.875%, and up to 6.25%. Again, this supposes origination fee revenue. Waiving 1% in fees would result in a rate between 6.125% and 6.375%. The expert(s) cited in the article claim 5.93-6.0% as comparable rates in that time-frame. No indication if those rates were available without origination fees, but the range is consistent with my hypothesis.

3. Jumbo and Super-Jumbo and Super-Super-Jumbo are names for categories of loan risk. Generally speaking, the higher the risk, the higher the price, or greater the down-payment, or a combination of both. Sen. Obama made a twenty-percent down-payment and borrowed 80%. More typical and appropriate down-payments would have been twenty-five to thirty percent, with 75% to 70% maximum loan-to-value. Even with the requisite larger down-payments, loans in excess of $1,000,000 will typically carry additional cost either in the form of discount points or slightly increased yield, suggesting a rate between 6.25% and 6.50%.

4. The standard 1% Origination fee is income to the lender, and a closing cost for the consumer. Under current tax code, origination fee is considered a finance charge and is 100% deductable on the purchase of your principal residence. Senator Barak appears to have passed on that $13,200.00 opportunity, preferring apparently to keep the extra cash in his pocket, in combination with a significantly reduced interest rate.

In summation: the Honorable Barak Hussein Obama - junior Senator from Illinois, using his God-given talents and negotiating skills secured mortgage financing at least one-half percent below, and maybe as much as seven-eights below market-rate. That's not $300 per month, that's up to $30,000+ during his first six-year term. Moreover, permanently "buying-down" an interest rate 1/2% would typically cost about 1.5-2.0% discount points (also tax deductible. 1 point = 1 percent of loan).

At 5.625% on a super-jumbo, 80% loan-to-value loan with no points and no origination fees, Illinois'' fiscally conservative representative saved somewhere between $13,200 and $39,600 on lender charges, another $100,000-$200,000 in cash up-front on reduced down-payment requirements, and $422 each and every month on his mortgage payment. Anyway you slice it, that's up to $250,000 "savings" for the up and coming Senator.

Now none of this proves wrong-doing, or favoritism. It is perfectly legal for a lender to originate a loan for no income, or even at a loss depending on the circumstances of the loan or the characteristics of the borrower and property. That would be a straight forward business decision to deliver a higher level of customer service and client benefit in the interests of a future business opportunity or future relationship.

One thing is for sure. He did get one hell of a deal! It's not the type of deal you or I could get, unless you had ACORN and Barney Frank on your side. And it directly contradicts Senator Barak's cover story about "competing offers". Nobody in my business competes to lose money, or pay to fund a loan. That's what appears to have happened in this instance, and the beneficiary appears to be the Democrat nominee for President of the United States.

Freedom Of The Skies

In yesterday's WSJ, Philippe Reins shows that when it comes to air travel, good plans can bridge the partisan divide:

After logging nearly 150 flights on every major domestic airline, and racking up almost 100,000 miles over and between dozens of states, I have a few suggestions for Gerard Arpey, chief executive of American Airlines. Mr. Arpey introduced the latest fad of charging passengers $15 per checked bag, and recently said: "If we are going to have an airline business, our customers must ultimately compensate us for the cost of flying them around the country."

But why stop at checked bags, Mr. Arpey? Here are some more ways to make a few extra dollars:

- You could charge an extra $1.99 for the option of boarding the plane from the middle or back doors, rather than parading coach passengers through first class, only to be sneered at by people sipping Mimosas.

- When the plane is on the ground, the lights work, the brakes work, the TVs work – but not the air conditioning. The plane costs some $100 million and includes some of the most sophisticated technology known to man--surely the engineers at Boeing can devise a way to cool the plane at sea level. I'd shell out an extra $9.99 for that amenity alone.

- I'd happily throw in 99 cents for someone to explain to me what the refrain "1L 1R . . . 2L 2R" signals and why it has to be done via the PA.

Flight crew prepare for cross-check and all-call...

- Passengers don't want to hear how we're going to be delayed "a bit" because the starboard engine is a "little broken," or told at 8 a.m. Saturday that the "pilots haven't shown up yet" from wherever they were Friday night. Or how there are "Fifty ways to leave your lover, but only 10 to get off this aircraft." I'll cough up another $4.99 if we keep the cabin communications professional, concise and mundane.

- I like kids, I swear. But I'd pay almost anything not to sit in close proximity to one who is misbehaving. I will fork over 15 cents for every year of age over 10 for each passenger sitting directly next to me, in front of me, and behind me. So if I'm in a window seat, and the three passengers closest to me are each 50 years old for a combined 150 years, that's an extra $18. And I'd tack on another $5 to have my row and the rows in front and behind me completely child-free. That's another $23 right there.

- C'mon. My BlackBerry is not going to bring the plane down. I don't know of a single documented case of a consumer electronic device interfering with a plane's avionics. If they did, al Qaeda would just fly around with iPods. Since we don't fear an iBomber, why not just let me use my BlackBerry as much as I want, whenever I want. (I do anyway.) This one would be free, because it would be offset by negating the need for the flight attendant to expend energy cruising the aisle before takeoff searching for perps, like a prison guard working the tiers of Sing Sing.

This last complaint has long been a major point of contention with me. How is it possible that whether my iPod is on when we takeoff and land is a concern for the flight crew? I once raised the ire of one of Northwest's attendants when I dared to break out my iPod while the plane was boarding. "You can't use that now," she hissed, "If you want to listen to music, you can listen to the music we play for you." Yeah, can't get enough of that repetitive wuss jazz loop or Vivaldi's Four Seasons, the only musical selections that Northwest has offered in bidness class for the last five years.

My sharp-as-a-tack six-year old niece recently flew from Miami to Minneapolis. I asked her how the flight was and she said good, expect she couldn't figure out why she couldn't use their portable DVD player until about half an hour after takeoff. I half-heartedly tried to explain that it could possibly interfere with the navigation or communications systems on the aircraft, but judging by the incredulous look she gave me it was pretty clear that she wasn't buying it either.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Smashing through the boundaries, lunacy has found me

If there's one thing that TV has taught us it's that Macs are cool.

Having your MacBook battery refuse to take a charge after it gets run down? Not cool.

Not being able to solve the problem online and having to take your MacBook in for service? Not cool.

Having to make an appointment for said service at the "Genius Bar" at the Apple store? Not cool.

Having to wait forty-five minutes for a "Genius" while eighteen other Apple associates wander around aimlessly and your wife tries to keep the kids from destroying said store? Not cool.

After finally being called forward by a long-haired "Genius," being told that the battery in your machine--not much over a year old--needs to be replaced? Not cool.

Being told by said "Genius" that since the battery only has a one year warranty, you will have to shell out NINETY-NINE NINETY-NINE for a new one? Not in any way shape or form cool.

But hey it still looks cool, right?

UPDATE-- Stephen from Brooklyn e-mails:

Only $99.99? I'm used to paying about $20 more. Mac batteries last about a year in full-time service. It's just part of the deal...

I was not aware of that "deal."

Saturday, July 05, 2008

You're Either For False Reporting Or You're Against It

Pet peeve: Ignorant and/or drama queen liberals in the media misrepresenting George Bush's words to reinforce their delusions of his evilness and their own righteous victimhood.

Case study: Former Star Tribune editorial writer Steve Berg, now employed at the liberal web site MinnPost. He included this observation in his musings on patriotism for July 4:

[George W. Bush] picked up the theme in 2002-03 by suggesting that if you were against attacking and occupying Iraq you weren't a very good American. Either you're for us or you're against us, he said, which led to the idea that someone not wearing a flag lapel pin or not displaying a "Support the Troops" bumper sticker was suspect.

This notion that George Bush questioned the patriotism of those opposing the invasion of Iraq by saying "either you're for us or you're against" has been floating around in the cesspools of righteous dissent for quite some time. In fact, when it was brandished by Ted Turner at a National Press Club Speech it earned him the honor of Loon of the Week for October 15, 2006.

Even that stinging rebuke wasn't enough to stop the use of this false assertion in the popular media.

Editors of the world, please take note, the historical record shows that George Bush used such terminology in only one context. It was a warning to other nations that they would be held accountable for providing material support or sanctuary (active or passive) for terrorist organizations threatening America with acts of mass destruction. It was a necessary statement that this new enemy operating outside the norms of the nation-state would not be immune from the standards of deterrence and retaliation. There would be no safe haven based on the plausible deniability of their hosts alone.

Now those magic words, in their appropriate context. From George Bush's address to Congress on September 20, 2001:

And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. (Applause.) From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

Another example, during the Q&A portion of a joint press conference with French President Jacques Chirac on November 6, 2001:

Q. Mr. President, you said this morning that you wanted more than sympathy or words from other countries. What nations were you specifically talking about, and what do you want from them?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I am going to the United Nations to give a speech on Saturday. And I am going to praise those nations who have joined our coalition. But a coalition partner must do more than just express sympathy; a coalition partner must perform. And our coalition partner here has performed; we work together.

And that means different things for different nations. Some nations don't want to contribute troops, and we understand that. Other nations can contribute intelligence-sharing, and for that we're grateful. But all nations, if they want to fight terror, must do something. It is time for action. And that's going to be the message of my speech at the United Nations.

I have no specific nation in mind, at least as I stand here now. Everybody ought to be given the benefit of the doubt. But over time, it's going to be important for nations to know they will be held accountable for inactivity. You are either with us or you are against us in the fight against terror. And that's going to be part of my speech at the United Nations.

Contrary to Berg's assertions, there is no record of anything George Bush said approximating: "if you were against attacking and occupying Iraq you weren't a very good American. Either you're for us or you're against us, he said"

As far as I can discern, there are zero news reports testifying to this. Even the other leftist blogs and web sites take the MiinnPost style and just use it as a paraphrase of common knowledge.

On the other hand, you can find George Bush saying things like this about Iraq war critics:

One of the hallmarks of a free society and what makes our country strong is that our political leaders can discuss their differences openly, even in times of war. When I made the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, Congress approved it with strong bipartisan support. I also recognize that some of our fellow citizens and elected officials didn't support the liberation of Iraq. And that is their right, and I respect it.

Liberals of MinnPost and elsewhere, please remove this canard from your reasons to hate George Bush. Go back to using the other canards until they are removed, as opportunities warrant.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Jumping Jack Flash

If just isn't the Fourth without fireworks or a post about them.

JB and I had more than our fair share of experience with fireworks growing up. Our father used to regale us with tales of the various explosives that he and his siblings put to use on their farm in Northern Wisconsin. They had access to just about anything you could imagine up to and including certain pieces of US Army ordinance. These stories sparked an interest in fireworks that we itched to ignite.

However, since fireworks were strictly banned in Minnesota during our childhood years, we could only wistfully dream of what it might be like to get our hands on any and had to be content to amuse ourselves instead with rolls of caps.

Yeah, right. We quickly learned that although fireworks were illegal in Minnesota, they were not restricted in certain neighboring states. God bless federalism.

Every year, we would find a connection who was making a trip to one of the Dakotas and gather up every nickel and dime we could squeeze together for our fix. Our wish list usually included a variety of items: Black Cats, bottle rockets (whistling and regular), Saturn missile batteries, Roman candles, larger payload rockets, smoke bombs, etc.

One other thing we always got as well was Jumping Jacks. They didn't make much noise or explode, but their unpredictable movements and last second flame out made them a lot of fun (especially in water.)

Because they were not particularly loud, we often used them quite openly without fear of attracting much attention. One pre-July Fourth summer day, we were doing just that in the woods behind our house with our neighbor. The woods weren't particularly thick or deep, but they did provide a nice area for us to romp around in.

Our neighbor used to drag his leaves back into the woods every fall, so it was quite thick with them. It must have been a drier than usual summer. After tossing Jumping Jacks into the woods for some time, we suddenly noticed that the last gasp from one (or maybe more) of the 'works had ignited a blaze. Not a small one either.

We tried to stamp it out without success. It was spreading and spreading fast. We were out of the reach of hoses from our homes, so we sprinted off and returned with shovels. We cleared a fire line around the inferno and eventually threw enough dirt to extinguish it. But it was a close call. Too close. There was a decent sized area with blackened, smoldering remains.

In order to cover our tracks and avoid the wrath of our parents, we covered everything with dirt and then, when we were satisfied that no spark remained, we brought in more leaves to give no hint of what had just transpired. It was far from the perfect crime and I don't think we ever took the humble Jumping Jack for granted after that.

Have a happy (and fire-free) Fourth of July.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Keep Blood Between Brothers (redux)

One of the many interesting aspects of having kids is watching their growth and development play out in everyday life. It's like your own little human lab experiment unfolding in your living room. Nature versus nurture, genetic dispositions, birth order, gender differences, etc. it's all happening right in front of your eyes. If only my wife was more open to my idea of raising the next one in a box...

Anyway, after recent close observation of my particular subjects interacting in said environment, I've been able to confirm a theory that I first postulated more than thirty years ago:

Little brothers are annoying.

It would actually be more accurate to say, little brothers are incredibly annoying. Given all the frustration and pain they cause their older siblings, it's a wonder that they survive long enough to reach adulthood. From the moment they first achieve mobility, they're into everything and anything of their brother's. Their time, their space, their food, their drink, and most egregiously of all, their toys.

The older brother had become accustomed to a world of order and routine. Now, in the form of his younger sibling, utter chaos has entered it. His understandable reaction is to resist this intrusion, but he quickly discovers that his ability to effectively respond is limited by the parameters of allowable physical contact imposed by his parents. He also learns--much to his dismay--that despite his relative inexperience, the younger brother has a cunning appreciation of said limits which he plays to his maximum advantage. A mere inadvertent touch on the arm will cause his brother to flail about wildly before crashing to the ground in order to feign injury in a dramatic performance most reminiscent of an Italian soccer player (only with less crying).

So he has little choice but to come to recognize his brother's right to not only exist but also to annoy. It really doesn't seem fair. Then or now

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Chicken Little Religion For The Sick Soul

In today's WSJ, Bret Stephens looks at the three motives for belief in global warming:

The first is as a vehicle of ideological convenience. Socialism may have failed as an economic theory, but global warming alarmism, with its dire warnings about the consequences of industry and consumerism, is equally a rebuke to capitalism. Take just about any other discredited leftist nostrum of yore--population control, higher taxes, a vast new regulatory regime, global economic redistribution, an enhanced role for the United Nations--and global warming provides a justification.


A second explanation is theological. Surely it is no accident that the principal catastrophe predicted by global warming alarmists is diluvian in nature. Surely it is not a coincidence that modern-day environmentalists are awfully biblical in their critique of the depredations of modern society: "And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart." That's Genesis, but it sounds like Jim Hansen.


Finally, there is a psychological explanation. Listen carefully to the global warming alarmists, and the main theme that emerges is that what the developed world needs is a large dose of penance. What's remarkable is the extent to which penance sells among a mostly secular audience. What is there to be penitent about?

As it turns out, a lot, at least if you're inclined to believe that our successes are undeserved and that prosperity is morally suspect. In this view, global warming is nature's great comeuppance, affirming as nothing else our guilty conscience for our worldly success.

In "The Varieties of Religious Experience," William James distinguishes between healthy, life-affirming religion and the monastically inclined, "morbid-minded" religion of the sick-souled. Global warming is sick-souled religion.