Friday, January 30, 2009

Heartbreaker, Your Time Has Come

If you and your sweetie haven't yet made plans for Valentines Day aught-nine, you might want to consider stoppin' by Club Underground for the finest in Western-swing-traditional-blues-influenced rockabilly. Fraters own JB Doubtless will be on the stage laying down licks as one of the Hillbilly Swing Kings. This is a rare opportunity to see JB playing in the Twin Cities and promises to be an evening to remember.

All the little birds on J-Bird Street

Front page story in today's WSJ on how the GOP Is All Atwitter About the Internet:

Within days of the election, a technology consultant in Nashville, Tenn., started a Web site devoted to getting Republicans on Twitter, spotlighting which of the 168 RNC voting-members use the tool (last count: 20). A conservative strategist issued a 10-point action plan for rebuilding the party, declaring the No. 1 priority to be "winning the technology war with the Democrats."

Mike Duncan, the incumbent RNC chairman running for re-election, was pressed during a recent interview with conservative talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt about the perceived "tech gap" between the two parties.

After Mr. Duncan, 57, called the gap a "big myth," Mr. Hewitt pressed him.

"Are you on Twitter, by the way, Mike Duncan?" asked Mr. Hewitt, himself a heavy Twitterer.

"I do not Twitter," replied Mr. Duncan, who explained that he doesn't like to be distracted by Twitter while talking to people. Many like to use the tool during conferences or other events. "But we have the capability here in the building -- a lot of the guys here do it."

Duncan's response sounds a bit like a twelve-year-old boy's, "Well yeah, I could do that too...if I wanted to."

About a month ago, following the guidance of Mr. Hewitt (when Ralphie says shoot your eye out, we say, "Which one?"), I signed on to Twitter. Even though the words "social networking" usually make my skin crawl, I can see the value in such a tool, especially for needling colleagues and debating meaningless topics. It's like what you would do at a bar if you actually had a social life. But I'm still a little unclear as to how this going to help conservatives win elections. The "tech gap" is far from the biggest challenge facing the GOP:

Jon Henke, who advised former Tennessee Republican Sen. Fred Thompson on new-media efforts last year in his brief presidential run, agrees tech savviness is only a means to an end.

"The party right now is like someone seeing their neighbor buy a shiny new truck, and wanting one, too," says Mr. Henke, 34. "But then not realizing the neighbor has something to haul."

You don't need a nice truck to haul garbage. Hopefully, the resistance to the stimulus package is a sign that conservatives Republicans will have something more valuable to haul in the future.

Risky Business

I see Gov. Rod Blagojevich got bounced last night by the Illinois Senate, with a Kyoto protocol rejection-like margin of 59 - 0. It was unanimous! Forget Obama, Blagojevich is truly a man capable of bringing us all together.

Frankly, I am amazed to see not a single blindly partisan true believer stuck by their dear Governor, a man embraced by just about every craven Democratic politician from Illinois over the past few election cycles. I guess loyalty ends at the point the publicly disclosed irrefutable wiretaps of selling political favors begins.

I'm also amazed Blagojevich's closing argument from yesterday didn't sway a single vote. The Washington Post, among others, printed the transcript, and it is an amazing piece of rhetoric. Audacious, shameless, deceptive, off topic, long winded, and embarrassingly self serving? Yes.
But also, absolutely inspired and strangely effective, in an evil genius sort of way.

As an argument from a defense attorney in a lousy Hollywood court room drama (like the OJ Simpson trial), it would have gained an acquittal. As a campaign speech, it might have won an election. But, the audience here had an interest above what their emotions were telling them. Since they thought they might personally pay a price for giving in to their hearts, they slam dunked the man on the facts. Too bad for Rod.

Again, the transcript in full is worth a read. If for no other reason, to observe the perfect Democrat political animal operating under laboratory conditions. Selected highlights:

Take those four tapes as they are and you will, I believe, in fairness, recognize and acknowledge, those are conversations relating to the things all of us in politics do in order to run campaigns and try to win elections.

I remember when I was a legislator. I remember when I was a freshman in Congress and I got a chance to be on a conference committee, when you get to sit with the leaders of the different committees in the House and in the Senate, and what a thrill it was for me to be able to, as a freshman congressman, be in a room with legendary U.S. senators like John Glenn and Ted Kennedy and John McCain and John Warner, the senator from Virginia who, incidentally, had once been married to Elizabeth Taylor.

If you're impeaching me on providing safe and affordable prescription drugs by going to Canada and getting the same medicines made by the exact same companies, then the governor of Wisconsin ought to be impeached, the governor of Kansas ought to be impeached, the governor of Vermont ought to be impeached.

My background's humble, like most of yours. My dad was an immigrant who came here from a communist country, a Republican, co-warrior. Spent four years in a Nazi prisoner of war camp. And then instead of going back to his home after the war, he waited for three years in a refugee camp so that one day maybe he might have a chance to go to the United States.

And then I would say to all of you, think about the things we've been able to do together. Health care for all of our kids, first in the nation. Preschool for three and four year-olds, best in the nation. Record amount of money in education. All of our senior citizens riding public transportation for free. Holding the line on taxes. Think about all the good things we've been able to do for people. Give me a chance to stay here so we can roll up our sleeves and continue to do good things for people. Thank you very much.

This particular Blagojevich comment reminded me of another Illinois legend:

I didn't go to Harvard. Applied on a Monday, got my letter of rejection back on a Tuesday. I went to more modest type schools.

That would be Joel Goodson, of the North Shore:

I get the feeling Blagojevich is kicking himself for not thinking of Joel's method for getting into the Ivy League first.

BTW, Blagojevich wasn't forced to go as modest at the University of Illinois. Instead of Harvard, he got stuck with low rent degrees from Northwestern University and Pepperdine Law School.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fact and Fiction

Had a chance to get through two excellent (and related) books on my recent trip to the Netherlands. The first was Arthur Koestler's harrowing novel on the Soviet show trials of the late Thirties:

The second was Jonathan Brent's real life tale of his quest to reveal the secrets of the Soviet archives and what his experiences in Russia say about the country's future prospects:

Unfortunately, it seems as if Stalin still casts a long shadow over the Russian pysche and the country will see more darkness than light in the years ahead.

Free To Do What I Want

Grant e-mails to hep us to a poll on American's attitudes toward government inference in various areas of life:

With concern growing over the health implications of secondary smoke, 62% of adults say there should be a nationwide ban on smoking in all public places, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Thirty-three percent (33%) disagree, and five percent (5%) are not sure.

Just 38% of adults, however, support a complete ban on the use of cell phones while driving. Fifty-eight percent (58%) support the alternative of letting drivers use hands-free phones in their vehicles, and four percent (4%) are not sure which is the better option.

Seventy percent (70%) of Americans also oppose a national tax on all non-diet soft drinks. Eighteen percent (18%) like the idea of a so-called "obesity tax" like the one proposed by New York Governor David Paterson. Twelve percent (12%) are undecided.

While it is good to see that most Americans oppose a "fat tax" of non-diet soft drinks, the overall results are ultimately depressing. They show that most people have no core principals on what government's legitimate role in dictating personal behavior should be. Rather, they believe that government shouldn't tell THEM to stop doing things THEY like--drinking sugary soda or talking on their cell phone while driving--but when it come to the government telling OTHERS to stop doing things they don't like--smoking in public places--they have no problem with it. The danger with such an approach of course is that when the day comes when it's YOUR activity that that majority disapproves of and wants the government to ban, you won't have a leg to stand on to make an argument against it.

The Past As Prologue?

With crisis comes opportunity. And the current economic downturn is no exception. If you happened to have a pile of money right now (which I most certainly don't) where would the best opportunity to profit be?

Yes stocks are probably a value, but this could be a long bear market. Housing isn't a bad bet either as we seem to approaching the bottom, but you're probably going to have to settle for moderate gains.

What about oil futures? There are obviously huge risks to investing in futures in such a volatile commodity. But with those huge risks can come huge rewards.

For instance, say that you thought that the global economy would continue to struggle through 2009. And you thought that it wouldn't really start to turn around until mid 2010. And you also thought that with all the cutbacks that oil companies are making because of today's oil low prices, their ability to respond to the increased demand that said global economic turnaround will be will be extremely limited.

Then, you might look at the futures prices for a December 2010 barrel...

Light Sweet Crude Oil Futures,Dec-2010,60.72

...factor in the historical price swings and decide that now would be a good time to invest. Anybody got an extra $60,720 that I can borrow?

The Guard Can Die, But Can Not Yield

The GOP holds together in the House:

In contrast to the House, where Republicans complain that the $819 billion economic recovery package has been drafted without their input, the Senate is ramping up for a more open process. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed on Wednesday by a vote of 244 to 188, with no Republican support. Eight Democrats voted with 177 Republicans to oppose the bill.

I suppose it would too much to hope that Senate Republicans could also form a united front, especially when Obama appears so willing to work with them:

In response to Senate GOP concerns, the president urged cutting some of the more controversial provisions, including $200 million to resod the National Mall and increased payments for contraceptives in Medicare.

Ladies and gentlemen the era of bipartisanship love and understanding has finally arrived!

Sure, Obama wants to spend close to a trillion dollars on highly dubious stimulus projects--most of which are nothing more than sops to various Democratic constituencies--but he's willing to dig deep and give up some new grass and condoms. Who says compromise isn't possible?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Popularity Not Yet Capitalized Upon

Being Mr. Congeniality is enough to make you President of the United States. But that doesn't get you very far in Tehran. Iran responds to the Obama charm offensive mentioned yesterday:

"When they say policy would change, it means they would end America's military presence around the world," he said, referring to U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world.

"Those who say they want to make change, this is the change they should make: they should apologize to the Iranian nation and try to make up for their dark background and the crimes they have committed against the Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad said.

Back to you, President Obama. As he's already made his humble, concilliatory, non-beligerant face, I'm not sure what other arrows he has in the quiver. But he's got to have someting else, right?

A primary reason for to vote for Obama was this power he was supposed to have. Not to do what any garden variety Democrat candidate would do. Certainly not to do what former Presidents have done. But, due to his unique abilities and magnetism, he would end the intractable problems we face, and make everyone feel good about it at the same time.

Well, were waiting .......

Obviously he can't end the US military presence around the world and drop to his knees and beg forgivness of the Iranian mullahs, that would make many Americans feel bad. And, it seems, he won't be able to sweet talk the Iranians out of their nukes and their wishes to end Israel. But there's got to be a third way, right? Something George Bush or John McCain wouldn't have been able to do. Something not even Hillary and John Edwards could do.

No idea what that would be. Seems like it would have to be magic or divine intervention or something. Whatever it might be, I'm keeping hope alive that those campaign pledges are going to work out as promised.

Time To Put Down The Bottle

At the Atlantic, Jim Manzi writes that we're a nation of children, drowning in debt:

American consumers are awash in debt, drowning in it. This is the fundamental issue with the stimulus proposal. We're trying to borrow our way out of debt. Unfortunately, we need a recession. That is, consumption must decline because for some time we have been consuming more than we produce or have reasonable prospects of producing. Monetary policy has been used to inflate a series of bubbles to avoid the consequences of excess debt, and the more we try to hold it off, the worse it's going to be. Bourbon works as a hangover cure, but only for a while.

It's theoretically possible for an intelligently-designed stimulus action to help smooth this landing a bit, but we can't avoid a painful adjustment. Americans are going to live in smaller houses, drive older cars, vacation nearer to home and have less impressive digital camcorders than they expect.

Welcome to the sober new world. Financially speaking at least.

Stim Lit

The Wall Street Journal takes a hard look at the stimulus plan and finds little to like:

In selling the plan, President Obama has said this bill will make "dramatic investments to revive our flagging economy." Well, you be the judge. Some $30 billion, or less than 5% of the spending in the bill, is for fixing bridges or other highway projects. There's another $40 billion for broadband and electric grid development, airports and clean water projects that are arguably worthwhile priorities.

Add the roughly $20 billion for business tax cuts, and by our estimate only $90 billion out of $825 billion, or about 12 cents of every $1, is for something that can plausibly be considered a growth stimulus. And even many of these projects aren't likely to help the economy immediately. As Peter Orszag, the President's new budget director, told Congress a year ago, "even those [public works] that are 'on the shelf' generally cannot be undertaken quickly enough to provide timely stimulus to the economy."

The fact is that this plan is about as stimulating as watching a Joy Behar sex video. The term "litmus test" in politics has gotten a bad rap of late, but if individual Congressional Republicans don't have the intestinal fortitude to stand up, take off their Obama goggles, and reject this flaccid blob of waste then they might as well make it official and crawl into bed with the Democratic leadership. At least they should know who they're going to wake up with in the morning.

UPDATE: The Freedom Foundation of Minnesota has a Top Ten List of Least Stimulating Requests For Federal Ching Made By Minnesota Cities:

1. St. Cloud $750,000 Skateboarding Park

Ever since a local entrepreneur closed the doors of his skate park in 2006, enthusiasts in St. Cloud have tried to raise a quarter of a million dollars to start building a huge state-of-the-art skate park "plaza." The city even agreed to carry donors' debt for four years, but donations--to use skateboarding terminology--continue to "grind" along well short of their goal. So the city has done a "kick turn" and asked taxpayers to foot the bill for the entire project. Taxpayers need to become familiar with another skateboard term and "grab" their wallets.

Or simply tell the boarders to go "shove it."

Riff Trax LIVE

According to sources, the MST3K expatriates now employed at RiffTrax will be going LIVE tonight with some online commentary on a new movie:

On January 28th [at 8PM Central] Mike, Kevin and Bill will be riffing the classic short "Overcoming Fear" broadcast LIVE (and for FREE!) from RiffTrax HQ in San Diego and viewable right here, totally FREE of charge, and powered by our friends at Ustream.TV.

Stick around after the Short for a bit of Q&A with the guys. You feed 'em the Q's via the chat feature (which will appear on this page the day of the show), and they answer them LIVE online.

UStream TV, the same folks that bring you the video streaming glory that is NARN, the Headlighters Edition, each and every week. If you're like me, you spend your Saturday afternoons lobbing withering bon mots and devastating ripostes at your laptop screen in response to Mitch and Ed's commentary. Now is our chance to watch some professionals have at it.

A preview of the Rifftrax subject tonight, the movie short "Overcoming Fear":

Fear: Most of us rejected it in the mid-90s by wearing trendy t-shirts emblazoned with slogans such as "Second Place is the First Loser." This national "No Fear" campaign almost single-handedly eradicated Fear from our streets. Unfortunately, one day America woke up and realized just how gut-wrenchingly lame those t-shirts were. The shame quickly gave way to a much more powerful emotion: Fear.

Also of note, if you miss tonight's broadcast, you can buy it at their website for 99 cents (cheap), as well as a host of other previous, no doubt worthy, efforts.

Once again, Riff Trax LIVE, tonight at 8PM Central.

Double Dutch

I spent most of the last week in the Netherlands, getting back just in time for the US Pond Hockey Championships on Friday. This is my sixth, maybe seventh trip to that country in the last four years. A few quick observations:

- While I was sorely disappointed that my travels cause me to miss both the NFC and AFC Championship games, I have to admit that being out of the country for Obama's inauguration was something of a relief. I wasn't able to escape Obamamania entirely, as CNN International and the BBC did their best to fuel the hype.

And it was a bit of an eye-opener to realize just how much coverage the event received outside the country. On Tuesday night, a bartender--knowing we were Yanks--asked if we had a chance to watch it. We told him that we did not and he informed us that it had been broadcast live on three different Dutch television stations.

As Americans, we were asked early and often what are thoughts on Obama were. Sometimes the questioners were surprised by the response, especially at dinner one evening when another American explained to one of our hosts that Obama was far more popular in Europe than America. He related that while probably ninety percent of Europeans approve of Obama, opinion in America was more divided. He also reminded her that 46% of the country had voted against Obama, a fact quickly forgotten amidst the inaugural excitement.

It was also a good reminder of the place of America in the world. While it's easy these days to speak of American decline and loss of influence, the fact remains that there is really only one country in the world whose leader people in every country of the word care about. Do people in the Netherlands give a darn whether Brown or Cameron leads the U.K.? Probably not. Or which party boss is currently running China? No, because it doesn't really matter. But the President of the United States matters. Because the United States matters. Still.

- In my previous trips, whenever the topic of global warming came up, I found my Dutch colleagues to be earnest believers. They would often chalk up unseasonable warm temps or excess rains to man-made warming with little sign of doubt. But recently the country went through a cold patch that brought a little snow, ice on the roads, and for the first time in many years frozen canals. By the time I arrived, most of the canal ice had melted, but while it was around people had been able to break out their long blades and get some skating in. And when we discussed the weather on this trip, I noticed that when global warming was mentioned it was aired with a more skeptical voice. The sarcastic voice you often hear in Minnesota when people talk about global warming in January.

- One of the highlights of this trip was hitting a pub in Wageningen that offered a selection of over 300 beers. Now, I've been to a lot of bars in the U.S. that have a great selection of beer, but the cool thing about this place was that I was only familiar with maybe 15-20 of their offerings. The window into the world of European beer--especially Belgian--that we have in the U.S. is a very small one. It was nice to have an opportunity to explore the depth and complexity of that world if only for a short time. I particularly enjoyed a glass of Choufee N'ice, a winter beer with complex flavors that doesn't taste overpowering even with its 10.2% alcohol content. A little Googling has revealed that this beer is available in the States too. I'll keep on eye out for it locally.

- I did not have a chance to talk Dutch politics at all these time around. If I had, I would have liked to know what my Dutch colleagues think about this:

Washington, DC and Copenhagen, Denmark: A Dutch court yesterday ordered the criminal prosecution of Geert Wilders, Dutch parliamentarian and leader of the Freedom Party (PVV), for his statements--written, spoken and filmed -regarding Islam. The Amsterdam Court of Appeals has deemed such statements "insulting," declaring that they "substantially harm the religious esteem" of Muslims.

Clearly, the effect of this Dutch court order is to set new limits to public debate in Dutch society, in this case about the highly controversial but nonetheless crucially important subject of Islam. This makes the prosecution of Geert Wilders an unacceptable breach of the sanctity of freedom of speech in Western society.

Having ordered a criminal prosecution for the opinions of a duly elected leader of a legitimate political party, Dutch authorities have dealt a devastating blow to political expression. While Dutch prosecutors prepare their indictment and Geert Wilders' future hangs in limbo, who in The Netherlands will dare discuss political and cultural matters related to Islam--Islamic law, Islamic integration, Islamic crime, Islamic policy--openly, freely and fearlessly? The chilling effect is instantaneous. If, indeed, Wilders is ultimately convicted, free speech will cease to exist in the heart of Europe.

You don't have to agree with what Geert Wilders says about Islam to agree that he has a right to say it. The Dutch government's craven caving to Muslim pressure groups does indeed bode ill for the possibility that the people of the Netherlands will ever be able to have an open and honest debate on the matter.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Charm Offensive: Next Mission

Last week, we heard President Obama's popularity alone just might be enough to make formerly opposed foreign countries agree to start taking the rabble from Guantanamo Bay off of our hands.

Still waiting on that to pay off. (tick tick tick tick tick) But I'm keeping hope alive.

Now, we have a story on Obama's recent interview on an Arabic TV network. He addressed, among other things, our country's rather contentious relationship with Iran. The purpose, according to Politico:

The interview with the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya Network was a dramatic piece of public diplomacy aimed at capitalizing on the new American president's international popularity
It would almost be worth having Obama as President if he could accomplish on the international scene, in pursuit of US interests, what his worshipful admirers in the Democratic party have been assuring us he can do, through the power of his presence alone.

Imagine, getting beyond the stale, intractable politics of the past and putting aside childish things (minor items like taking our diplomats hostage, killing our soldiers in Iraq, funding terrorism around the region, etc.), and getting Iran to drop its ambition of acquiring nuclear weapons, just because they like his face.

BTW, here's the face he chose for this particular charm offensive:

President Barack Obama presented a humble and conciliatory face of America to the Islamic world Monday in the first formal interview since he assumed office, stressing his own Muslim ties and hopes for a Palestinian state, and avoiding a belligerent tone -- even when asked if America could "live with" an Iranian nuclear weapon.
I can see why our avowed enemies might like that particular face.

Less clear is at what point that leads them to buckle in their decades long ambitions to do such things as wipe Israel off the face of the Earth.

I guess the theory, grossly simplified, is that Iran and company only want this because the US has been mean (belligerent) to them. If we are conciliatory and humble to them, they will behave likewise and we can talk out all of our disagreements.

Sounds great in a third grade dispute at recess sort of way. But before you schedule your summer vacation for Tehran, lets get a closer look at the second party we are attempting to engage in this foreign policy therapy session.

From today's Wall Street Journal, an article by Ze'ev Maghen on the nature of modern Iran:

Chanting "Death to America! Death to Israel!" has been the way Iranians applaud for over a quarter-century. When the soccer team from Isfahan scores a goal against the soccer team from Shiraz, its fans cheer wildly: "Death to America! Death to Israel!"

At the end of an exquisitely performed sitar solo, the genteel audience in a concert hall in Tabriz shows its appreciation by loudly heaping imprecations upon "International Arrogance" (the USA) and "its Bastard Offspring" (the Jewish state).

Even during the hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Iranian participants have replaced their traditionally pious ejaculations of "I am at your service, O Lord, there is none like unto you!" with responsive Persian cursing sessions aimed at the Hebrew- and English-speaking enemies of everything that is holy.

Like the daily "Two Minutes Hate" in George Orwell's "1984," this venom-spewing is the mantra upon which an entire generation of Iranians has been raised.

Yes, but what is 25 years of a culture being indoctrinated in venom and hatred toward the US, compared to the presence of Barack Obama?

On this one, I'm more than happy to join the enthusiasm of 53% of my fellow Americans and get behind the hope that only Barack Obama can bring. Get ready Iran, change is coming.

Any time now.

Faith, Works, & Image

Ross Douthat thinks the folks at the Vatican needs to work on their PR:

The problem, of course, is that by create this opening for those SSPX-ers who should be in full communion with the Catholic Church, the Vatican is temporarily empowering Bishop Richard Williamson, Holocaust denier and all-around charmer, who gives every evidence that he shouldn't be--and probably doesn't want to be--back in the fold, but who's instantly become the poster boy for the Pope's decision, and for the Traditionalist community more generally. This is a price worth paying, hopefully, for the sake of closing unnecessary divisions, but the price wouldn't be nearly so steep if the Vatican had a better sense of how to do public relations in a controversial case like this. The average reporter or commentator isn't going to understand the nuances of canon law, the history and background of the SSPX, the context of the excommunications, the status of these bishops post-excommunication, and so forth. What the average journalist does understand, though, is how to write this headline: "Pope Rehabilitates Holocaust-Denying Bishop." And while the potential for bad publicity shouldn't prevent the Vatican from showing mercy to excommunicants when appropriate, it should incentivize wrapping any such mercy in a forceful, detailed, "Catholicism and canon law for dummies" explanation of what such an action doesn't mean: In this case, an endorsement of poisonous anti-semitism and conspiracy theorizing.

And this is exactly what hasn't been forthcoming. Oh, the Papal spokesman said that Williamson's Holocaust-denying remarks were "completely indefensible," and L'Osservatore Romano had an editorial (not yet translated into English, of course) stating that the decision "should not be sullied with unacceptable revisionist opinions and attitudes with regard to the Jews." But in the contemporary media environment, that's not good enough. If the Pope de-excommunicates a Holocaust denier, the Vatican press office should be working around the clock, with press releases flying, to provide context and do damage control. What's more, if the Pope de-excommunicates a Holocaust denier, the Pope himself needs to say something about it, and not just obliquely nod to the decision in his latest homily. Yes, the Church's primary business is saving souls, not public relations--but in this day and age, public relations is part of the business of saving souls. And nobody in Rome, from Benedict on down, seems to have figured that out.

You can argue that the Catholic Church should only concern herself with the truth and not worry about how her actions are viewed. But Douthat is right. In today's world, where the actions of the church are more often than not misunderstood, misinterpreted, and distorted by the media, there is a need for the Vatican to be more upfront, unequivocal, and yes even aggressive in getting its message out. It's good to be right. It's better when people know why you're right.

Let Them Drink Fresca

Christian e-mails to hep us to a story of a protest with an echo from the past:

BINGHAMTON--With the thermometer at 15 degrees and a gusty northwest wind making it feel even colder, a handful of hearty protesters dumped sugary soda into the Susquehanna River on Saturday to draw attention to their outrage at Gov. David A. Paterson's proposed "obesity tax."

Also known to some people as the "Fat Act."

"We're past our line-in-the-sand. We cannot handle any more taxes," said Judy Monroe, of Windsor, as she toted an "anti-obesity tax" sign along the sidewalk at the Washington Street pedestrian bridge. "It's to give people an awareness of additional taxes."

After making their point for no new taxes, 18 protesters leaned over the cold metal railing at the bridge to dump non-diet soda and water from plastic soda bottles into the icy river.

The self-described "Binghamton Tea Party" was aimed at the additional 18 percent tax on non-diet soda, sweetened iced teas and other beverages proposed in Paterson's fiscal year 2009-10 budget.

The governor said the tax is aimed at fighting obesity; others call it a money grab from middle-class families.

"New York has been a tax-and-spend state for 40 years," said Trevor Leach, an organizer from the Binghamton Campaign for Liberty. "This got us into trouble. We must return to the principles of our founding fathers."

Now that's dissent that you can truly call patriotic. And smart. Part of Paterson's budget plans also call for increased taxes on beer. Dumping that into the river as a form of protest would not be prudent.

Real Politic

A couple of recent news items demonstrate once again that in spite of all the high flying rhetoric that Democrats and Republicans like to throw up, at its core politics is about two things: winning elections and implementing your policies.

Example numero uno is the Minnesota Senate contest. When Al Franken was trailing during the recount, the mantra of his campaign was "Count every vote!" while the Coleman campaign was content with the status quo. Now that Coleman is behind, he's the one talking about protecting the precious rights of every citizen to have their vote counted while Franken is trying to prevent any further votes from being tallied. The reality is that neither campaign ever cared about every vote being counted. They just wanted the right votes counted that would allow them to win. To pretend that one campaign's actions have been more noble or principled than the other's is naive. During all phases of the election, both campaigns have operated with one goal in mind: win the election. The one that appears to have been more effective at is the one that will likely be the winner.

Number two is the curious case of Timothy Geithner. No liberal with a shred of intellectual honesty can pretend that if a man with his background and tax trouble had been nominated for Treasury Secretary by a Republican, they wouldn't have been at the ramparts in high dudgeon screaming at how outrageous it was that a man who had failed to pay his taxes would now be overseeing the IRS. Different rules for the "common man" and the elites and all sorts of other populist wailing would have been heard from every liberal blogger and pundit in the land. But since this the man that Obama wants, it must be the right thing to do. It shows once again that ethics are nice to talk about during a campaign, but once it comes to actually getting things done they take a back seat. It shouldn't be surprising since that's how politics has always worked. The message is different--"hope and change"--but the politics are the same.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Pond's Good For Me

For the fourth straight year I had the good fortune, along with over a thousand other puckheads, to participate in the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, which for the third straight year was held on Lake Nokomis in South Minneapolis. Once again, the squad I played on wasn't in the hunt for the vaunted Golden Shovel. Our goals are limited to having fun and winning a game or two if the opportunities present themselves.

This year we went 2-2, which easily met our modest expectations considering our team was composed of three guys well north of thirty, a goalie skating out, and a couple of talented younger guys. And we had a great deal of fun, especially in our last game where we faced No Defense Outdoors, a team featuring former Gopher Matt Koalska and a couple of other guys who played for SCSU. In fact, I think everyone on the team played junior hockey for the Twin City Vulcans.

Since both teams knew we weren't going anywhere, we played a loose, enjoyable game. They probably could have run it up on us a bit more if they really wanted to, but we managed to hang in and put out a respectable effort losing 13-10. No shame there.

While the tourney is very well organized and run, there are a couple of areas for improvement. Both come via one of my teammates:

1. Instead of one tent where players change, visitors warm up, and both purchase food and drink, they should have one tent set aside for the players to gear up and down in and one for beer, food, and visitors. Perhaps a hallway of sorts could connect them. As it is now, the mixing of everything in one places leads to a lot of chaos and confusion. And it's really not an attractive atmosphere for non-players to hang in.

2. One of the biggest pains in playing is just getting out to the rink. After you lace 'em up in the tent, you ease you way down the stairs, hit a small area of ice where you can skate, and then struggle through a thin layer of packed snow to reach one of twenty-four rinks. Why not lay down an ice path that connects all the rinks and allows players to skate out to the rinks?

3. While I'm a huge fan of Summit Brewing and much enjoy the Summit Extra Pale Ale that is served at the tourney, it would be good to offer up a little more variety, especially some lighter beer fare. You don't have to pour Miller Lite, but at least have a couple of taps of Summit Pilsener.

And while Lake Nokomis has proven a workable location, it would be nice to host it on a lake with better parking and closer to critical amenities such as bars and restaurants.

Small gripes no doubt, but you need to consider them if you want to make a good and growing event truly great.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Shirt That Made The Men

A sad passing was noted in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (sub req):

Elvis wasn't the only one wearing the wild-style shirts that signified everything from Hawaiian ethnicity to surfer cool to casual Friday. Frank Sinatra wore one in "From Here to Eternity," and Tom Selleck wore one in "Magnum PI." More recently, Hawaiian native President Barack Obama has been photographed in aloha shirts, and so has the Rev. Rick Warren, who gave the inaugural invocation.

As the dean of Hawaiian couture, Mr. Shaheen, who died Dec. 22 at age 86, not only dressed Hollywood stars and surfers in his aloha shirts (an island industry term for what the rest of the world calls Hawaiian shirts), he also was famed for his women's wear, sold at department-store boutiques nationwide.

Like much of Hawaiian culture, Mr. Shaheen was an import to the islands. Of Lebanese heritage, he grew up in New Jersey, where his family owned textile mills. He was a decorated fighter pilot in the European theater during World War II, and after the war followed his family to Hawaii, where they had relocated.

In 1948, he started manufacturing rayon Hawaiian shirts in a Quonset hut left over from the war, with four seamstresses taught by his mother. As the business expanded from shirts to dresses, Mr. Shaheen hired native and Japanese designers to create lush textile prints based on patterns from Hawaii, other islands and Japan. He often included a brochure with each garment describing where the fabric design came from.

"He wanted his designers to bring in ethnic images from around the world, because he saw Hawaii as a melting pot," says Linda B. Arthur, author of "The Art of the Aloha Shirt."

No word on what Mr. Shaheen will be wearing as he's laid to rest, but it's not hard to guess. Hawaiian shirt lovers everywhere (like Sisyphus) will no doubt be honoring his memory by donning their favorite version of the classic. The obit also notes that some credit the spread of the Hawaiian shirt to the mainland as the reason for casual Fridays in the workplace. R.I.P.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fresh Face

The contest for the Chair of the MN GOP promises to be an interesting one. At this point, I have no horse in the race, but I've heard a lot of good things about one Brandon Sawalich. The party definitely needs new blood at the top.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Let the Charm Offensive Begin

From the Politico, an article on the implications of Obama's plan to close Guantanamo Bay before he knows what he's going to do with the prisoners:
The Bush administration complained that it could not release many of the prisoners because it was unwilling to send them to U.S. facilities, and no other country would take them. Obama's greater popularity abroad might make foreign countries more receptive to such requests.
Perhaps an early test of the vaunted ability of Obama's personality alone to breech chasms of substantive, heretofore intractable disagreement. I see it going something like this:

OBAMA: I've closed Guantanamo and I need you to take this guy thought to be involved in killing 3,000 innocent civilians due to his religious beliefs. Hope. Change. [GRIN]

LEADER OF FOREIGN COUNTRY: You know, we're convinced that bringing back an irrational, blood thirsty savage with popular appeal among the radicalized segment of our population would have negative consequences for our society. But . . . . I can't say no to you! Put him on the next flight, we'll make room!

Unlikely. But you have to be sympathetic to the President for thinking this approach might work based on its previous success with 52% of the American people.

Like What We Did for Education, Wait Til You See What We Do for the Arts

Slate magazine brings us Quincy Jones's proposal for a new cabinet post in the Obama administration:

We're getting a petition together for a secretary of the arts with a real Cabinet membership and all, because America is the only country -- whose music is probably most imitated in any country in the world -- the only country without a minister of culture or a secretary of the arts.

Quincy's inability to see a cause and effect relationship here reminds me of such amusing New York Times headlines as:

"Crime Keeps on Falling, But Prisons Keep on Filling" (1997)
"Prison Population Growing Although Crime Rate Drops" (1998)
"Number in Prison Grows Despite Crime Reduction" (2000)
"More Inmates, Despite Slight Drop in Crime" (2003)

Mark my words, government oversight will be the worst thing to happen to the world wanting to imitate American music since "We Built This City" by Starship hit number one 1985.

To put it in another, more chilling, way, President Obama's influence in the distribution of American art will lead to a surplus of things like the poetry of Elizabeth Alexander.

You've been warned.

(Bonus material: Some random guy doing a passable impression of Elizabeth Alexander.)

The Last Hurrah

A while back my wife noted that passing of one of those bittersweet (more sweet than bitter) milestones of parenting. When our oldest son first attained the ability to speak, he developed a novel approach to voicing an affirmative indication. Asked if he wanted something--juice, milk, chicken nuggets, crackers, etc--he wouldn't say "Yes" or "Yup" of "Yeah" or "Okay." Instead he would respond with "Hurray." We weren't really sure where he came up with this, but it was undeniably cute and precious beyond belief.

Even more so when it wasn't expressed with the usual enthusiasm or excitement that one would expect to be associated with that word. If his first three-and-a-half years are any indication, our son is not a morning person. Most mornings he drags himself from bed, limps (often literally) into the living room, and plops down on the couch rubbing his eyes and looking like he's just come off a long weekend bender. At this point, we typically ask him if he'd like some juice to get the blood again. And he used to--in a strained, barely audible voice--croak out a "Hoo...ray." It never failed to bring a smile to our faces.

But like many things in life, this simple joy proved fleeting. And we never really appreciated how much we enjoyed it until it was gone. One day, my wife mentioned that he had stopped saying "Hooray." I hadn't noticed, but paid close attention when the next opportunity presented itself and discovered that she was right. Instead of "Hooray" he know says "Okay" or sometimes "Yes". I coaxed a "Hooray" out of him the other day for old times sake, but it seemed forced and just wasn't the same.

It was another lesson that reinforced the maxim that all parents know at heart, but find all too easy to forget in the moment: Enjoy the days while you can, because the years go by all too fast.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Time To Judge The Content

Even though I wasn't able to watch any of it, here are a few quick thoughts on the inauguration:

- Would people have kept their kids home from school and companies have allowed employees to watch the event during work if it was a black Republican president taking the oath of office? My wife posed that query yesterday and I'm not sure what the answer is. I gotta think the hype factor would be at least 40% lower.

- In some ways the unrelenting focus on Obama's race and the historic nature of the moment reminded me of the Bears-Colts Super Bowl of a few years ago when much of the pre-game chatter revolved around it being the first such NFL matchup of black coaches. At that time, I felt that it distracted the attention that should have been given to the accomplishments of Dungy and Smith as football coaches.

In a similar manner, I think Obama's achievements as a politician have been overshadowed because of the emphasis on his being the first black president. While it's necessary and good to acknowledge the historic nature of this event, we should be able to move beyond that now and be able to focus on Obama as a man and leader of the country rather than a symbol of the progress of African Americans. Then, we will now that real progress has been made.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Something's Happenin' Somewhere

Is there something going on today? I keep having this feeling that somewhere something big is happening. Something important, historic even. And this date, January 20th, 2009 has some kind of special meaning. I know I've seen it mentioned somewhere before. Hmmm...It's right there on the edge of my brain, but I just can't seem to recall the particulars. Don't you just hate that?

Anyway, if you've got the scoop on just what this event that I can't seem to remember is, drop me a note. I'd really hate to miss out on something important.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Steel Diaspora

In Saturday's WSJ, Jerry Bowyer wrote that Sports Mania Is a Poor Substitute for Economic Success:

In some ways, the sports mania in these towns is a substitute for genuine economic achievement. Sure the middle class is disappearing. But, hey, how 'bout them Steelers? Football triumphalism is a kind of civic cocaine, creating a sense of accomplishment where the reality is otherwise. (Maybe that's what's behind Western Europe's soccer fanaticism.)

When the Steelers were in the Super Bowl in 2006 I was the host of a radio show in Pittsburgh. I argued that the franchise was an exercise in leadership excellence in a city whose politicians were anything but. Numerous callers hammered me. They said there are a lot of "Steelers" bars across the country, and that proved the city still had some national respect. Indeed, there are hundreds of watering holes dispersed across America loaded with fanatical devotes of the Pittsburgh Steelers. "Where are the Seahawks bars?" the callers asked.

In Seattle, of course. That city has gained population while Pittsburgh lost it. Steelers bars are the visible cultural artifact of a kind of economic diaspora. People in those bars are the refugees who looked at high taxes, union dominance and lousy schools and voted with their feet. They can still root for their favorite team -- from Raleigh, North Carolina. You go South or West to get your bread. The circuses can be watched on cable.

Congratulations to the Steelers. Pittsburgh residents can savor the success of the team for the next couple of weeks and will likely be able to celebrate another Super Bowl championship. Then it will be back to reality.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Transition Game

Robert Ferrigno conjures up a whimsical look at the passing of Presidential Wisdom at NRO:

"Next week, while you're still trying to find your way around the place, call up the CEO of Exxon-Mobil and invite him over to watch a movie. Something with soldiers. A war movie where we're actually the good guys. You may have to use Netflix, because there's nothing like that at Blockbuster and I'm not loaning out my copy of Sands of Iwo Jima. Serve Mr. Big Oil a big bowl of buttered popcorn. Better yet, have one of your flunkies from Greenpeace or the trial-lawyers association there, too, and have them serve the popcorn. Teach that puppy to heel." W. swigged down the last of the orange Nehi. "And the president of Exxon, he's not a bad guy to know, if you get my drift."

Obama nodded. "It would be nice to be my own man. To show them, show them just once."

W. stared at the condensation on his Nehi. "You want to be your own man, the trick is to pick one thing and stick with it no matter what anybody says. With me, after 9/11, it was all about the war against the jihadis. You pick one thing and hold fast to it, you're going to be hated worse than you can imagine."

"This one thing," said Obama. "You have to be right about it, though. Otherwise..."

"Clinton, he didn't have any focus," continued W. "Billy walks down the cafeteria line and needs a half dozen trays to hold it all, not just because of his appetite, but because he can't stand to let a choice pass. He wants every entree, every vegetable. He wants the Jell-O mold and the pecan pie and the devil's food cake, too. Nice thing about being him, though, you don't get hated much, and those that do hate you, after a while they forget why. Me, they're people on their deathbed made sure they voted absentee against me."

"What if you're wrong about that one thing?" persisted Obama.

"The big things, the important decisions, you may not ever know if you were right," said W., "but you have to do what you think best, anyway."

Obama squirmed on the La-Z-Boy, getting a whiff of what was ahead of him.

On a serious note, we all should hope that Obama gets his "one thing" right.

Bring Out Your Dead

Vox Day on the Star Tribune going on life support:

That's not why I have long disliked the paper, though. Its unique combination of clueless arrogance, incompetent economics coverage, and mindless cheerleading of all things Left was astonishing for a product of the Midwest. It was a paper produced by people who wanted to be living in either New York City or San Francisco, and it showed. The Red Star actually had a MORE annoying collection of Democratic columnists than the New York Times has ever managed to assemble.

This is, of course, tremendously amusing in light of all those people who used to try to give me a hard time for electing to write for an Internet site... which just happens to have a readership that is not only larger than the Star Tribune, but has continued to grow since I began writing there in 2001. I guess after the last newspaper dies, there won't be any real opinion writers anymore, we'll all just be bloggers posting away in our pajamas.

The Wench Who Stole Christmas

[Christmas 2009]

Little Cindy Lou: Daddy, why didn't Sandy Claus leave us any presents this year? I've been a good little girl.

Daddy: Well Cindy Lou, times are tough at the North Pole and Santa couldn't afford to build any of the big name, brand new toys this year. He did have a sack full of hand-crafted and second-hand toys and books to give out to all the good little girls and boys but then...

Little Cindy Lou: But what Daddy?

Daddy: But then the Wench came along.

Little Cindy Lou: The Wench?

Daddy: Yes Cindy Lou, the Wench who stole Christmas.

Remember last year when we kept hearing those news stories about "unsafe toys"? You know, those toys that those heartless multi-national conglomerates, in their mindless pursuit of profit, were bringing in from China. Yes, those toys that were endangering the health of our children and threatening our very way of life.

Well, once the media stoked up the outrage and the people gathered up their torches and pitchforks and marched on Washington screaming "What about the children? Think of the children!" our brave public servants gathered in the hallowed halls of Congress and acted to protect us from the horrors of tainted toys. Finally our elected representatives heard the voice of the people and did something positive for a change. Who says the good guys never win?

An editorial in Wednesday's WSJ looked at the unintended consequences that this "victory" has wrought:

In the tale of "The Velveteen Rabbit," a child's stuffed toy can only become "real" once all its fur has been loved off, and it's missing a button or two. If only. Under a new law set to go into effect February 10, unsold toys, along with bikes, books and even children's clothing are destined for the scrap heap due to an overzealous law to increase toy safety.

The damage comes from new rules governing lead in children's products. After last year's scare over contaminated toys made in China, Congress leapt in to require all products aimed at children under 12 years old to be certified as safe and virtually lead-free by independent testing. The burden may be manageable for big manufacturers and retailers that can absorb the costs of discarded inventory and afford to hire more lawyers. Less likely to survive are hundreds of small businesses and craftspeople getting hit with new costs in a down economy.

Because the new rules apply retroactively, toys and clothes already on the shelf will have to be thrown out if they aren't certified as safe. When Congress passed the legislation in August, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi boasted that "With this legislation, we will not only be recalling, we will be removing those products from the shelves." Yeehaw. While large retailers may ask manufacturers to take back uncertified products, independent stores may be stuck with inventory that is suddenly illegal to sell. One Web site,, is cataloging the costs faced by small businesses.

Small batch toymakers, many of whom make old-fashioned wood and sustainable products, say the testing requirements -- which can cost thousands of dollars -- are unaffordable. At, a Web site where entrepreneurs can sell their handmade items, many expect the new law to put them out of business. Also ensnared are companies that make products like bikes or childrens books. Because they aren't toy companies, many were caught by surprise when it became clear the law would apply to them. The only lead that can be found on childrens bikes is on the tire, where it poses no risk to a child not in the daily habit of licking the wheels. And while childrens books may contain no more noxious materials than paper and ink, under the new rules they would still need a test to prove it.

So let's recap. The Democratic Congress, acting to protect the children and the little guy, passed a law that will likely result in small, American-based toymakers going out of business and second-hand stores no longer accepting or selling used toys. Which will mean that more of the new toys will be made in China and sold by big corporate retailers and that economically challenged families will be able to afford fewer toys for their children than in years past. Well done Speaker Pelosi.

Every Prol
Down in Prol-ville
Liked Freedom a lot...

But the Wench,
Who lived just Left of Prol-ville,
Did NOT!

The Wench hated Freedom! The whole Freedom from laws!
Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the real cause.
It could be the color that her hair was dyed.
It could be, perhaps, that her eyes were too wide.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that her brain was two sizes too small.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Pretense of Reading

Last month, I took issue with the notion that reading is always an unalloyed good:

There's an assumption that reading is always good and anyone who reads is smarter and therefore better than those who don't. The truth is that it's not that you read, but what you read. I run across a lot of people who like to talk about how much they read. But when you ask them they read, it's usually Stephen King, John Grisham, Grafton, Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, or the latest dysfunctional family offering from the Oprah book club. Nothing wrong with the products those folks turn out. There definitely is a place for them. However, if that's all you read, you're hardly lifting yourself up to a higher intellectual plane.

In yesterday's Denver Post, David Harsanyi uses a release from the National Endowment for the Arts on the increase in "literary reading" in America to make a similar argument:

Reading, in and of itself, holds no extraordinary significance--or, rather, no more than watching a smart television show (and there seem to be many of them around these days) or surfing the Internet. In fact, one could argue that by picking up a heartbreaking work of staggering garbage like the "Da Vinci Code," you can effectively knock 20 points off of your IQ.

We understand that all books are not created equal. There are, in fact, books that peddle completely nonsensical and sometimes dangerous ideas. Take, if you will, one of the best-selling books of all time, "Little Red Book" by Mao, or anything ever written by Michael Moore or Patrick Buchanan.

That's not to say that there aren't countless top-notch historical tomes, literary masterpieces and engaging biographies on the market right now. It's merely to say that "we" don't bother to read them very often.

"Here's the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice," by Maureen McCormick--to not-so-indiscriminately pick a book--debuted at the No. 4 position on The New York Times Best Seller List last year and I still see stacks of it at my local library.

Having been raised on the common-sense wisdom and idealistic energy of "The Brady Bunch," Marcia's uplifting story of surviving in a callous, post-Brady era was quite the read. But, inarguably, I could have gleaned more educational information scanning the back of my cereal box.

One of my pet peeves with the strident anti-television folks is that they often operate under the assumption that anything you read is automatically better (and better for you intellectually) than anything you could watch on TV. As Harsanyi notes, this is utter balderdash. It's not "that" you read, it's "what" you read. Likewise, it's not "that" you watch TV, it's "what" you watch that matters.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Tightening

Last week, we had a "belt tightening" meeting at work. Travel restrictions, a hiring freeze, warnings of lower pay raises and profit sharing pay-outs, training cuts, and possible elimination of employee recognition events were all mentioned. And we were all encouraged to watch ever expense. A tough message to hear no doubt, but much better than the alternative which at this point in time would mean layoffs.

All of these measures are a prudent response to the current economic conditions. And the economic impact from our company taking these steps is not significant. But when you consider that thousands of other businesses across the country--world in fact--are doing the exact same thing you can see that the consequences for airlines, hotels, restaurants, service providers, etc. can be quite drastic indeed. And for the broader economy the fact that companies are no longer hiring is having a huge impact.

Because with some firms laying workers off and most others not adding to their payrolls, the individual consumer is pulling back as well. Paying off credit card debt, saving more from each paycheck, putting off planned purchases, and learning to live without some of life's little luxuries are some examples of this. Again, these are prudent responses given the current conditions. But like the business belt tightening, these cutbacks by millions of consumers have a cascading impact on the economy.

It's difficult to see how any government stimulus--even with tax cuts--is going to break either of these downward cycles, especially consumer spending. No company or individual is going to start spending and investing again until there is some restoration of confidence. Counting on government spending to be the springboard to bring that back seems like a pretty slim hope.

UPDATE-- Philip Levy is skeptical of the economic impact of stimulus spending:

Our government announced one plan and implemented the other. When it added this uncertainty to the unpredictability of the broader economic environment, it was hardly a recipe for encouraging private activity. An $800 billion tax-and-spending package would likely rework incentives in many parts of the economy.

In other words, there is very little science behind arguments that an additional $800 billion stimulus should do the trick.

A pragmatist might contend that this is no time to quibble about economic theories. We need measures that get proven results. If so, the record of discretionary fiscal spending -- the stimulus spending beyond the deficits we naturally get in a falling economy -- is pretty weak.

Despite all the recent cries of "Shovels at the ready!" it is very difficult to agree on and disburse emergency spending quickly and effectively. Fiscal stimulus is among the weakest tools available to counteract a contraction. Japan's failed attempt to spend itself out of recession in the 1990s and the U.S.'s futile stimulus of last year underscore the point.

Atomizer Sez: There's no belt tightening going on here at the southeast field office of Fraters Libertas. In the past two weeks we've purchased a new car, a new washer and dryer and have booked a trip to Florida see a few Twins spring training games. Consume like hell... that's our motto.

The Elder Applauds: Atomizer, I don't use the word "hero" very often, but you are the greatest hero in American history. Keep on a consumin' baby. And maybe try to throw a post together every month or so.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

All In A Day's Work

Joe Carter names the three most influential conservative media sources--a book, a magazine, and a radio show--over the last forty years. His choices may surprise you:

- Paul Harvey News and Comment

- Readers Digest

- The Boy Scout Handbook

I was pretty skeptical about his argument until I realized that I had in fact been influenced by all three of these sources while growing up. My parents were avid radio listeners so we got a healthy dose of Harvey. They also subscribed to RD, which I often read. And yes, I was a Boy Scout so I was quite familiar with the Handbook.

While none of them would necessarily be considered overtly conservative, they no doubt had an impact on the formation of conservative views. I doubt that there are any three conservative media sources today that you could say are nearly as influential.

A Man of Letters

One of the things that distinguishes the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal is that in addition to the quality of the editorials and opinion pieces, the letters to the editor generally are well-written and relevant. Here's an excellent example from today's paper on health care:

Dr. Fred W. Frick ("Health-Care Rationing Is Inevitable, So Get Over It" Letters, Jan. 6) asks why it's OK for a health-insurance executive to deny coverage, but not for a Washington committee. The consumer has choices and options in dealing with the private sector, but not with government. She can switch to the competition at renewal time. She can obtain legal recourse and make the insurance company honor its contract. Fear of the latter, by itself, should be a motivating factor for the private sector to do it right. Meanwhile, the government board member is only accountable to his political and bureaucratic bosses, not to the consumer.

Those who complain about the lack of access to health care have ignored the government mandates to cover more and more. They also ignore government tax incentives for employee-paid insurance, which have deprived health care of the consumer-driven market discipline that has worked remarkably well in other areas, such as auto insurance. These are the main reasons for the horrendous price increases. Small wonder that health care is out of reach for millions.

By the way, how can one place health care as a higher need than others, such as food and shelter, and make it an entitlement? We know what happens when a society labels all these needs as entitlements. When the private sector is crowded out by the enormous power and resources of the government, people have fewer choices. They become dependent on the government program. They become vote banks. They vote for politicians who resist any meaningful change until it's too late.

Those of us who ran away from such central planning know this movie plot too well. We are all running out of places to run to. One by one, the shining cities on the hill are disappearing.

Rayasam V. Prasad, M.D.
Stockbridge, Ga.

This letter was written in response to four letters to the editor from doctors who were themselves responding to a piece by Sally Pipes called "Barack Obama Will Ration Your Health Care." It shows that there is obviously not much of a consensus within the medical community about whether the government should play a larger role in health care.

But what's really remarkable about the letter is that it's a far better, more concise, and meaningful argument against further government control of health care than anything that John McCain or any other notable Republican candidate made during the campaign. That says a great deal about the quality of letters the WSJ receives as well as the GOP's pathetic inability to formulate a coherent message on health care.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Square Falls Silent II

For more on the passing of Father Richard John Neuhaus, I suggest reading pieces by Ross Douthat at his Atlantic blog and Raymond Arroyo in last Friday's WSJ:

As was his wont, Father Neuhaus was capable of delivering impromptu corrections with an eloquence and precision that would elude the best of us. When I learned of his passing yesterday at the age of 72, his words echoed in my memory. He was not only a great intellectual and an exemplary man of letters but, as his remark to me illustrates, he was a man who put his mind and his literary skill at the service of his church and the truths it protected. He was first and last a man animated by his faith.

They do a wonderful job capturing the spirit of Neuhaus and the impact he had through his work in reviving the intellectual activism of the Catholic Church in America. What always impressed me about him was his unflagging and unflinching defense of the truth, whether it was popular or accepted at the time or not. He also did much to help us understand what it means (and what it doesn't) to be Catholic in America. I hope that he was able to complete enough of the book on that subject ("American Babylon") that he was working on to have it published posthumously.

While I never had the pleasure of meeting Father Neuhaus in person, I did have the opportunity to interview him on the radio a few years ago on his book "Catholic Matters." Not surprisingly, he was erudite, thoughtful, and insightful in his observations on the church in America, its place in the public square, and the recent rise of "aggressive atheism." In fact, his calmly delivered comment on "how astonishingly juvenile and ignorant all three of these people are" (in reference to Dennett, Dawkins, and Harris not the hosts) is still heard in the opener to the NARN First Team show. The interview definitely was one of the highlights of my stint in amateur talk radio and I am thankful that I had the opportunity to converse with a man of Neuhaus' stature. Again, he will be greatly missed.

UPDATE: More from Anthony Sacramone.

How Low Can They Go?

Brian e-mails on my post asking what's the matter with Belgium?:

Great post on what's wrong with Belgium! I have spent much time in-country (mostly Brussels and Mons) and can tell you that geez, I'd be depressed too -- not over a skirt though. Here are some better reasons to be depressed: the most popular name for new-borns in Brussels is Mohammed and the country has a perpetual self-identity crisis -- are we Flems, Walloons, or Belgians?? Can you imagine living in a country where they are too depressed to even replace themselves??? And what about those-few-and-far between days when you can actually see the sun? Tell you what though; to chase those blues away doesn't require the purchase of a hot car ... their Trappist Ales always make the glass look half full....even after its empty.

Yes, while the Flemoonians don't have much going for them, they do have some excellent beer to help them ease the existential pain. One of the things that I've noticed from several trips to the Netherlands is that no matter how difficult things get for the Dutch, they can always fall back on one thing: at least they don't live in Belgium.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I Don't See Your America

At times, Peggy Noonan write some of the most insightful and astute political commentary of our times. At others, she writes things like this:

In terms of public support, Mr. Obama shouldn't get too abstract. He should be thinking hardhats. People want to make their country strong--literally, concretely, because the things they fear (terrorism, global collapse) are so huge and amorphous. Lately I think the biggest thing Americans fear, deep dow--the thing they'd say if you could put the whole nation on the couch and say, "Just free associate, tell me what you fear?--is, "I am afraid we will run out of food. And none of us have gardens, and we haven't taught our children how to grow things. Everything is bought in a store. What if the store closes? What if the choke points through which the great trucks travel from farmland to city get cut off? I have two months of canned goods. I'm afraid."

I'm afraid not Peggy. If you want to talk about the biggest thing that I fear deep down, it ain't whether or not my kids know how to grow corn. No, it probably would have something to do with a mushroom cloud billowing out from downtown Minneapolis.

I have at least two weeks of bottled beer. I'm not afraid.

Friday, January 09, 2009

What's The Matter With Belgium?

Front page article in today's WSJ looked at the problems that Belgium is having with workers taking time off for sick leave:

Belgians, like many Europeans, are entitled to extensive or even unlimited sick leave -- and they tend to stretch the definition of the word. One study showed government employees in droves were calling in sick to pack before vacations and to sleep off holiday hangovers. Some government departments were averaging 35 days of paid sick leave per employee each year, more than twice the national rate and seven times the U.S. average.

This story is priceless:

Mr. Lombard's method found a recent subject in Fabrice Vandervelpen, a 36-year-old manager at a frozen-vegetable packing plant in southern Belgium. In September, he called in sick. His girlfriend of six months had just left him, he says. A psychiatrist diagnosed him with depression and certified him for medical leave.

"I stopped by his house that evening," says Jean Dubuission, human-resources director at Hesbaye Frost SA, Mr. Vanderpleven's employer. Mr. Dubuission had recently listened to Mr. Lombard's presentation. He advised the younger man to "get out, play sports, meet other people."

Mr. Vandervelpen says he spent his first two weeks off writing poetry at his parents' home, where he lives. His mother, Marie-Jane, often took him shopping for new clothes, she says. He played soccer again with his local club, FC Burdinne, and volunteered as club treasurer. He visited a Catholic shrine in Banneux, Belgium, where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in 1933.

In November, Mr. Vandervelpen bought a bright red Alfa Romeo MiTo for $30,000. Zipping through the hills and sugar-beet fields in his new car made him feel better, he says. He visited his ex-girlfriend and went to parties. Mr. Dubuission visited a dozen times.

If the law didn't mandate paid sick leave, he would have gone back to work sooner, says Mr. Vandervelpen. Hesbaye Frost paid his full salary for the first month he was off. After that, a government-backed insurance company picked up 80% of his salary, which the law guarantees indefinitely. "The government keeps €1,000 [about $1,357] a month in taxes off me, so why shouldn't I get help when I don't feel well?" he asks. He makes €2,500 before taxes.

On Dec. 22, Mr. Vandervelpen did return to work. The visits of Mr. Dubuission and other bosses had impressed him. "They've showed they care," he says. He asked for a new, higher-ranking job -- and less interaction with workers -- at the same pay, in order to cut down on the stress. The company says it is considering the request.

Dude gets dumped by his girlfriend so he takes two months off from work (paid) to recover. During that time we writes poetry, get his parents to buy him clothes, buys a new car, and hits parties. Then, he returns to work and asks for a promotion (at the same pay) because he can't handle the stress. Hmmm...I wonder why international companies are reluctant to invest resources in Western Europe?

Couldn't have anything to do with this attitude, could it?

In the pension data-entry department where she works, "when you need a day off to see your kids or something, you call in sick," says Alessandro Scalzo, a colleague. "When I wake up tired, I usually take a sick day," says Evelyne Boux, another co-worker.

Yawn. I'm a little beat today too. I wonder how calling in "tired" would go over with my boss?

The Square Falls Silent

Richard John Neuhaus, 1936-2009:

Our great, good friend is gone.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus slipped away today, January 8, shortly before 10 o'clock, at the age of seventy-two. He never recovered from the weakness that sent him to the hospital the day after Christmas, caused by a series of side effects from the cancer he was suffering. He lost consciousness Tuesday evening after a collapse in his heart rate, and soon after, in the company of friends, he died.

My tears are not for him--for he knew, all his life, that his Redeemer lives, and he has now been gathered by the Lord in whom he trusted.

I weep, rather for all the rest of us. As a priest, as a writer, as a public leader in so many struggles, and as a friend, no one can take his place. The fabric of life has been torn by his death, and it will not be repaired, for those of us who knew him, until that time when everything is mended and all our tears are wiped away.

Joseph Bottum is correct: no one will be able to take the place of Father Neuhaus. For me and many other readers of First Things, his "On the Public Square" jottings were the first place we went upon receiving a new issue and his wit and wisdom never disappointed us. I hope to have more on Father Neuhaus' passing later. For now, let me just reiterate how much he will be missed. R.I.P.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Hit The Ice

Monday night was the eldest son's first skating lesson. And it marked the first real foray into organizied sports activities with our children (other than "swimming lessons" he took a couple of years ago which were really more like "hold your baby in the water and sing songs lessons"). I'm sure it won't be the last.

It went about as well as could be expected. All the kids in his group (3 to 4 year old beginners) really did was practice trying to stand from a sitting position and stand on their skates using their arms for balance. The days of chairs or other devices to help stablize beginner skaters are over. They learn to stand and fall (often) on their own right from the get go.

One of the more amusing scenes occurred when the kids first took the ice. Instructors helped ferry them to the boards, where they placed their hands on top of the side walls and told them to hang on. And hang on for dear life they did. It looked like a bunch of non-swimmers clinging to the side of a pool. One by one they dropped off and fell to the ice where most of them remained laying or sitting until the actual class began.

It made me think back to the days when I learned to skate and realizing that I recall nothing of the experience at all. Since neither of our parents skated, JB and I just went to the rink by ourselves, strapped on the blades, and through a process of trial and error (a lot of the latter) figured out how to make it work. No one ever told us what to do or not to do. It was all learning by experience, hard experience.

You can see the pros and cons of that method and the way kids learn most things today. I'm not sure which is better. I just my son enjoys the stride as much as I did (and still do).

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Minnesota Meltdown

The fallout from Franken's apparent victory continues as Ed Anger calls on his readers to BOYCOTT COMMIE-SOTA:

I'm madder than Jesse Ventura with a busted microphone about that idiot Al Franken. It's bad enough America picked a commie President with a crazy name, but now Minnesota went and made some potty mouth "comedian" a senator.

Our Founding Fathers didn't die at the Boston Tea Party just so a four-eyed squirt like Franken could get himself elected. If George Washington were alive today, he'd slap every idiot in Minnesota with a cold slab of dried out fish, except they'd probably like it! Those people eat deep fried Snickers bars and build statues out of butter to win prizes.

As much as it stings, that butter charge is hard to deny. I imagine that Ed would really have his dander up if he saw this:

That's right ladies and gentlemen. Our future United States Senator in butter. I think I'll just go hit myself with a dried out fish and get it over with.

[Tuuk tip to Kathy Shaidle.]

Squandered Not Stolen

Scott Johnson has an excellent post at Power Line that seeks to clear up some of growing misconceptions about the Senate recount:

The portrayal of Senator Coleman as a victim akin to Dino Rossi in the Washington recount fiasco is misleading. Friends of ours who have observed the process up close and who know the players managing it on behalf of Senator Coleman share our misgivings regarding this portrayal. Senator Coleman has acted a bit like an NFL team sitting on a two-point lead in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter and playing zone defense. He could have been much more aggressive in protecting his position in the days since November 5.

One overlooked aspect of the process is the different approaches the two campaigns took once the recount began. From the outset of the recount process, the Coleman campaign has been remarkably passive in its approach. They have improvised strategy from day to day and spent too much time "spinning" the Franken campaign's activities, while expecting their lawyers to protect them. They have not appeared to me to have a handle on what was happening or on what was likely to happen.

Franken's campaign recognized immediately the opportunity to "find" more votes with the "improperly rejected" absentee ballots. The Coleman campaign may have erred at the outset when it failed to initiate its own efforts or craft a countervailing strategy.

It was probably natural for the two campaigns to act in the way they did. With Coleman ahead, the attitude on his side was to try to hold the lead and prevent the Franken campaign from picking up additional votes to narrow the gap. On the other side, the Franken crew knew that to overcome Coleman's lead they would have to scratch and claw for every additional vote they could. Some of these efforts were rebuffed, but enough came to fruition to allow them to catch and pass Coleman. Meanwhile, by not taking the same attitude toward looking under every rock and exploring every possibility for every additional vote, it seems like the Coleman campaign missed an opportunity to increase their vote total, especially in regard to the rejected absentee ballots. Now, it may be too late to go back and hope to pick additional votes through the contest process.

Complaining about the election being "stolen" during the recount process is also a little like a NFL team complaining about a bad call late in a loss to the Lions (assuming that the Lions ever win another game). The sad truth is that the Coleman campaign should never have been in this position in the first place. If you can't secure a wide enough margin in the election to defeat Al frickin' Franken, then you probably don't deserve to win anyway.

One last point. What Scott Johnson demonstrated in his post was something called intellectual honesty. A concept that local lefty bloggers who are carping about how Coleman should do the right thing and accept the results are completely unfamiliar with. There is no doubt that if the roles were reversed and Franken had contested the election after being down 225 votes, the very same choir would be singing in unison about how "every vote should be counted" and that Coleman had no right to claim victory.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

We Like It Here?

Living in Minnesota is not easy. The winters are nasty, brutish, and long. Summer days are a rare commodity and summer nights are oft spoiled by ravenous mosquitoes.

With the exception of the Twins and Gopher hockey team, the championship trophy cases for our sports teams are pretty barren. There's been far more agony than ecstasy in that realm over the years.

We have to live with the cultural stigma wrought by "Fargo," Garrison Keillor, hot dish, and Sven and Ole jokes. Despite the fact that Minnesotans are among the best educated and well-read people in the country, we're often collectively viewed as ice-fishing rubes running around in our galoshes spouting "Ya sure, you betcha."

Even though some progress was made in early parts of this decade, we're still among the high end of states as far as tax burdens go and companies continue to face competitive disadvantages in our business climate. With the DFL in control of the state legislature and the a four-plus billion dollar budget deficit, it's hard to imagine that this situation won't get worse in the years ahead.

But despite all this, we could always find ample reasons to prefer the state to others. One of those reasons was that the people of Minnesota were considered down to earth, common sense folk. We weren't prone to undue excitement or rash acts based on emotion. We would calmly and carefully analyze our options and make prudent decisions based on what we thought best.

In politics this sometimes meant going against the perceived grain. Rather than always voting along straight party lines, Minnesotans would consider the character and experience of the individual candidate. And if there was a flaw in that character or just a gut instinct that this person might not be the best one for the job, some Minnesotans (often enough to make the difference) would vote against what might otherwise have been there party preference.

Of course in 1998, enough Minnesota voters strayed from this common sense approach to elect Jesse Ventura as governor. But that was a non-serious time. The big issues of the day really weren't that big. If there ever was a time for the people of Minnesota to let our hair down and take a flyer, that was it.

2008 was a serious time. A very serious time. A time when more than ever than our common sense, best man for the job inclination would come to the forefront and lead the people of Minnesota to make prudent and proper decisions when they went to their polling places. I was so confident that my fellow Minnesotans would do the right thing that I never seriously considered the possibility that Al Franken would be elected to the U.S. Senate. This was Minnesota after all. While we might be predominantly liberal, there were still enough rational, independent-minded voters out there who would realize that Franken was unfit for the office, unfit to represent the people of Minnesota in such an important position.

Now, with Franken joining the exclusive Senate club no longer a question of "if" but "when," I have to look around and wonder just what the hell has happened to my fellow inhabitants of the North Star state. Our weather is still cold. Our sports teams are still losing. Our image as lutefisk eating "uff da" doofuses still lingers. Our taxes are still high. But something has changed.

Al Franken is going to represent us in the U.S. Senate. And I can't be the only one asking, "What's the matter with Minnesota?"

Fighting 21st Century Battles With A 20th Century Party

Mitch Berg has a good post and interesting comment thread on What The Hell Is Wrong With The Minnesota GOP?:

The GOP, nationwide and in Minnesota, needs to learn from its mistakes, to decentralize its thinking, and most of all get better at doing its job.

It needs to reward initiative; it needs to seek out, reward, cultivate and channel ideas and energy that come from outside the party's bureaucracy, rather than getting paranoid about them.

Being this state's genuine big tent party, it needs to come up with a way to get its message out, without turning on and eating carriers of other messages. It needs to focus on the parts the party agrees on, rather than ripping itself to shreds over the things it doesn't.

If the MN GOP hopes to compete in 2010 and beyond, the time for reform and reorganization is now. New ideas and new leaders are needed to attract new faces to the party now so that we can hope to turn out new GOP voters in future elections.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Love the Sinner, Justify The Sin

In Friday's WSJ, Anne Hendershott wrote about the possible appointment of another strong advocate of abortion to the US Senate. Another abortion advocate who also happens to be a Kennedy and a Catholic. She traces the history of the Kennedy clan's position on the issue and provides details on how Catholic leaders helped ease the path for the Kennedy's to abandon the pro-life cause:

But that all changed in the early '70s, when Democratic politicians first figured out that the powerful abortion lobby could fill their campaign coffers (and attract new liberal voters). Politicians also began to realize that, despite the Catholic Church's teachings to the contrary, its bishops and priests had ended their public role of responding negatively to those who promoted a pro-choice agenda.

In some cases, church leaders actually started providing "cover" for Catholic pro-choice politicians who wanted to vote in favor of abortion rights. At a meeting at the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, Mass., on a hot summer day in 1964, the Kennedy family and its advisers and allies were coached by leading theologians and Catholic college professors on how to accept and promote abortion with a "clear conscience."

The former Jesuit priest Albert Jonsen, emeritus professor of ethics at the University of Washington, recalls the meeting in his book "The Birth of Bioethics" (Oxford, 2003). He writes about how he joined with the Rev. Joseph Fuchs, a Catholic moral theologian; the Rev. Robert Drinan, then dean of Boston College Law School; and three academic theologians, the Revs. Giles Milhaven, Richard McCormick and Charles Curran, to enable the Kennedy family to redefine support for abortion.

Mr. Jonsen writes that the Hyannisport colloquium was influenced by the position of another Jesuit, the Rev. John Courtney Murray, a position that "distinguished between the moral aspects of an issue and the feasibility of enacting legislation about that issue." It was the consensus at the Hyannisport conclave that Catholic politicians "might tolerate legislation that would permit abortion under certain circumstances if political efforts to repress this moral error led to greater perils to social peace and order."

Father Milhaven later recalled the Hyannisport meeting during a 1984 breakfast briefing of Catholics for a Free Choice: "The theologians worked for a day and a half among ourselves at a nearby hotel. In the evening we answered questions from the Kennedys and the Shrivers. Though the theologians disagreed on many a point, they all concurred on certain basics . . . and that was that a Catholic politician could in good conscience vote in favor of abortion."

We often hear about the Catholic Church's culpability--usually grossly overstated--in the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the sexual abuse scandals of recent years (among others). Rarely do we hear anyone talk about the responsibility that the Catholic Church in America, through what its leaders have done or more often failed to do, bears for allowing and in some cases even aiding and abetting Catholic politicians in developing this "cover" that has resulted in millions of abortions being performed over the last thirty-five years.

The role of Catholic priests, bishops, theologians, and other leaders should not be to help Catholics justify supporting something that the Church has deemed inherently wrong. The participation of so many leaders of the Church in this deceitful blurring of what should be a clear moral line is a shameful stain on what should be the Church's strong and unequivocal record on supporting life.

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Purple Paradox

Vox Day nicely summarizes how Vikings fans approach the playoffs:

Fortunately, Vikings fans have no need of faith. We have no expectations, we have no heart, we simply watch in numbed catalepsy and hope for the best. An NFC North championship and a 10-6 record is more than we'd dreamed possible this year. Sure, there are those poor souls who shriek "Super Bowl" every time we win two games in a row, but that's just the Post-Traumatic Staubach Disorder talking. Or, in the case of younger fans, 38 Wide Syndrome. Just nod, speak softly to them, and leave them to their haunted dreams of victories that never were.

Can we beat the Eagles? Absolutely. Can we lose to them? Definitely. Either way, we porphyrogeniti will watch, all purple-clad, and hope Sons of Bud Grant will give us cause to sound the horn and wave the sword.

At a New Year's Eve party, Atomizer opined that he wished the Vikings had lost last Sunday and the Bears won so he could be spared the inevitable playoff disappointment that awaits. As Vox notes, it's almost impossible to predict how the Vikings will play on Sunday. Nothing would be surprising, from the Vikings collapsing completely to them running up a big number on the Eagles.

The only thing that Vikings fans know for certain is that at some point, the agony of defeat is guaranteed. If not this Sunday, then the next, or possibly even the one after. The longer it goes on, the more difficult it is to swallow. That's why the more fatalistic fans subconsciously hope and will not be all that disappointed if the Vikings go belly up early on Sunday afternoon and get the suffering out of the way.

And yet, as Vox also notes, we will be tuning in on Sunday and following every snap. We know the Viking ship is going down at some point, but we feel a duty to stay on board until the bitter end. It's our birthright as Vikings fans and a fate that we have no choice but to embrace. Skol!