Friday, May 29, 2009

Who Needs Radio?

Excellent podcasts I've enjoyed in the past 24 hours:

1) Humor: Adam Carolla interviewing David Alan Grier. Some collegial, insider banter about living the good life as big time Hollywood show biz successes.

2) Sports and Business: ESPN's Bill Simmons interviewing Dallas Maverick's owner Mark Cuban. Didn't know much about Cuban before this, but he's involved in all sorts of entrepreneurial endeavors, and what an innovative idea man he comes off as. Sounds like he would be fun to work with, or, for.

3) Paleo-Conservatism: John Derbyshire and his always enjoyable weekly NRO podcast.

4) Religion: Exorcism and the Catholic Church.   A fascinating and pleasantly surprising reverential treatment of the subject from our local Art Bell proxy, Darkness Radio. Check out hours 2 and 3 from the May 23 show.

5) Libertarian Coffee Talk: The Reason TV Talk show - archives here. Two Reason magazine editors and two disparate guests hawking books or other projects, thrown together to talk about everything. Seems to always start as a mess, but always comes together under common themes. Reason's Gillespie and Moynihan can be a bit smarmy at times, but it is a highly entertaining talk show.

Beer Of The Week (Vol X)

Once more we hit the beach with more beers of summer, brought to you as always by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine and Spirits. This week is a two-fer featuring a couple of surprising sources.

First up is a relatively new offering from Point Brewery in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Point has a long history in the beer business:

The Stevens Point Brewery is steeped in a history that has transcended the trials of the Civil War, the Great Depression and Prohibition. More than 150 years later, the Stevens Point Brewery continues to successfully brew quality beer, just as the brewery's founders, Frank Wahle and George Ruder, did in 1857. This undeniable endurance is a testament of why the Stevens Point Brewery, in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, is the 5th oldest continuously operating brewery remaining in the United States. Today, the Stevens Point Brewery is proud to be Wisconsin-owned and independently operated.

Some years ago, they also had one of my favorite beer advertising slogans "Score A Few Points Tonight." While it's pretty well known here in the Upper Midwest, Point didn't really have much of a national reach until recently when they've expanded into several new markets. In the past, it wasn't really known as a real craft brewer either. But they've expanded their offering of late and now feature a variety of beer styles.

Last year, they came out with Point Nude Beach Summer Wheat.

Pretty simple brown bottle. The red-bordered label features an artists rendition of a G rated nude beach scene. The colors are faded pastels that kind of give it a Seventies vibe (shudder).

Beer Style: Wheat Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 5.0%

COLOR (0-2): Beautiful cloudy, unfiltered gold. 2

AROMA (0-2): Decent but light. 1

HEAD (0-2): Good pour, but no staying power. 1

TASTE (0-5): Wheaty with sweet and citrus touches. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Fades away fast. 1

OVERALL (0-6): A better beer than I expected. It looks like a top-notch wheat beer in the glass, but falls a little short in the mouth. 3

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 11

Next up is attempt by brewing giant Anheuser-Busch (now owned by AmBev) to try to pry their way into the craft beer market, one of the few segments of the American beer industry that's still seeing growth. Most of AB's craft beer efforts have been managed through the Michelob brand as our featured beer Beach Bum Blonde Ale is. Now, while I'm not a fan of most of the product that AB puts out, I approached Beach Bum Blonde Ale with an open and objective mind. And I still have something of a warm spot in my heart for Michelob since it was a beer that I did enjoy at one point in my past. High school to be precise.

Plain brown bottle. The label looks like a City Pages cover story on Jeff Spicoli. The goofy font and way too bright colors give it a decidely amateurish look, which I imagine is all part of AB's "craft" beer strategy.

Beer Style: Blonde Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 5.4%

COLOR (0-2): Light gold. 1

AROMA (0-2): Mild. 1

HEAD (0-2): Full and white. 2

TASTE (0-5): Malty flavors but uneven. 2

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Not much there there. 1

OVERALL (0-6): Better than most AB products, but with all the quality summer beers out there I wouldn't waste my time with this one. 2

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 9

A Better, Vanished Time

In a piece in yesterday's WSJ called Obama vs. The Beach Boys, Daniel Henninger wrote about how President Obama's vision for American automobiles doesn't exactly jibe with our past cultural experiences especially when it comes to cars and songs. He lists several examples including the Beach Boys and Bruce Springsteen and then concludes with a look at what the future may hold:

Maybe they'll bolt. Maybe the car culture will revert to where it began, when the whiskey runners in the South ran from the revenuers. This time the cars themselves will be bootlegged -- fat, fast and gas-powered -- racing through the night on off-map roads while the National Green Corps -- enacted by Congress in the second Obama term -- looks for them from ethanolic choppers overhead. Reborn to run.

A remarkably similar idea of automotive rebellion was put to song by the band Rush years ago with Red Barchetta:

My uncle has a country place, that no one knows about
He says it used to be a farm, before the motor law
And on sundays I elude the eyes and hop the turbine freight
To far outside the wire, where my white-haired uncle waits.

Jump to the ground
As the turbo slows to cross the borderline
Run like the wind,
As excitement shivers up and down my spine
Down in his barn
My uncle preserved for me, an old machine ---
For fifty-odd years
To keep it as new has been his dearest dream

I strip away the old debris, that hides a shining car

A brilliant red barchetta, from a better, vanished time
I fire up the willing engine, responding with a roar
Tires spitting gravel, I commit my weekly crime...

Wind in my hair ---
Shifting and drifting ---
Mechanical music ---
Adrenalin surge ---

Well-weathered leather
Hot metal and oil
The scented country air
Sunlight on chrome
The blur of the landscape
Every nerve aware

Suddenly, ahead of me, across the mountainside
A gleaming alloy air-car shoots towards me, two lanes wide
I spin around with shrieking tires, to run the deadly race
Go screaming through the valley as another joins the chase

Drive like the wind
Straining the limits of machine and man
Laughing out loud
With fear and hope, I've got a desperate plan

At the one-lane bridge
I leave the giants stranded
At the riverside
Race back to the farm
To dream with my uncle
At the fireside...

If you're familiar with the background of the song, you know it's not a perfect model for what Henninger imagines, but for these purposes it's a pretty good fit for life possibly imitating art.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Once More Unto The Breach

Yesterday, I spent several hours at a local hospital while my father had a procedure to attempt to correct the atrial fibrillation that he's been experiencing for the last three months or so. As I observed the modern facility, kind-hearted nurses, dedicated doctors, state of the art equipment, and overall excellent level of care being delivered, I wondered why the country seems so intent on heading down the path to radical and quite likely irreversible changes to our health care system. I also wondered about what kind of care will be available for me when, God willing, I reach my father's age.

Now proponents of the government directed version of health care reform tell us not to worry. They'll still maintain the high level of care that we receive today, only it will cost less and be available for everyone. And every hospital will have free unicorn rides for the kids too.

Actually those who favor President Obama's health care reform plans are right about one thing. Most Americans likely won't see major changes in their own health care immediately if the plans come to fruition. Which is one of the reasons that resisting it will prove to be a significant challenge.

It's not easy to explain that however beneficial and limited today's health care reform proposals may sound, in the long run they will lead incrementally to a system that few American would recognize, and, I would imagine, few would truly want. The real end game of the supporters of government controlled health care has been cloaked in stealth this time around and the increasing scope of government control is subtle enough that I fear that many Americans don't yet recognize its expansionary nature.

To counter this conservatives (and anyone who believes that government managed health care will be disastrous for the country) must do three things:

1. Focus. There are far more battles to fight than resources to fight them these days: bailouts, spending, taxes, card check, Supreme Court nominees, Gitmo, cap and trade, immigration, etc. But to some extent, almost all of them are reversible. Once we take the next big step down the path toward government health care, it will difficult if not impossible to reverse course. Beating back the Democrats health care plan is right battle in the right place at the right time. It is the most crucial issue of the day and the one that we cannot afford to lose.

2. Understand what the true consequences of more government control of health care will be and be able to explain those consequences in a simple and straight forward manner. This isn't a battle that will be won on the floor of Congress or by raising money for advocacy advertising. This fight must be taken up by all of us in our daily lives. Traditionally, many conservatives have shied away from this kind of politics of the personal (I know I have). We like to keep a level of separation between our politics and our personal lives, often out of very valid concerns.

But this time the stakes are too high. We need to talk about health care with our friends, our relatives, our neighbors, and even our coworkers when appropriate. We don't need to be pushy. We don't need to be partisan. We do need to be persuasive and the more informed we are on the subject the more likely people are to be open to hearing our argument.

3. Understand the Republican alternative and be able to explain it:

Republican lawmakers stepped up their opposition to Democrats' plans for overhauling the nation's health-care system, introducing legislation on Wednesday that would give Americans tax credits to pay for health insurance.

The plan, backed by some Republicans in the House and Senate, offers a glimpse into how the GOP is mobilizing against Democrats' effort to create a public insurance plan and to require companies to provide or otherwise pay for health-insurance coverage for workers. Republican lawmakers say such measures would bureaucratize the nation's health system and stifle job creation.

Given the Democrats' control of Congress, the Republican plan has little chance of passage. But it reflects some Republican lawmakers' growing dissatisfaction with a bipartisan effort to fix the health-care system. Congressional leaders hope to pass a health-care overhaul this summer.

The government would run a health plan "with the compassion of the IRS, the efficiency of the post office, and the incompetence of Katrina," according to a summary of the Republicans' plan unveiled on Wednesday. Called the Patients' Choice Act, it would eliminate the tax break that employers receive for providing health-insurance benefits to their workers. Instead, it would give an annual tax credit of $2,300 to each individual and $5,700 to each family that they could use to offset the cost of their health insurance. Low-income families would get extra money to buy into private insurance plans.

That line about the IRS, post office, and Katrina is a good one to store away for future use. But saying no is not enough. There are some serious flaws in our current health care system and if we don't have a plan to address them, the Democrats will win the day by default. Unfortunately, the GOP alternative is complicated and not given to easy understanding. We need to do our homework, be ready to explain why the Democratic plan will cause much harm, and offer a solid rationale for the Republican proposal.

It's not going to be easy. It's not going to be comfortable. It's not going to be cheap (sorry Nihilist). But, to paraphrase Herb Brooks, if we lose this battle we very well may end up taking it to our f***ing graves. Literally.

Bark and Bite

Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson has launched the Hennepin County Taxpayer Watchdog blog today:

Welcome to the Hennepin County Taxpayer Watchdog--a blog dedicated to informing the taxpayers of one of America's largest counties how their money is really being spent.

I am a member of the 7-member Hennepin County Board of Commissioners myself. I was first elected to the Board last November and sworn in this January. In my first few months, I've been amazed at the reach of the $1.7 billion annual county budget (larger than several state budgets) and the sometimes curious (and sometimes outrageous) ways this money is spent. As Hennepin County government actions largely fly under the media radar screen--despite our tremendous impact on your individual and business property taxes--I felt it time to provide an insider perspective.

While state, city, and school district budgets usually receive a fair amount of scrunity, I would guess that most Hennepin County taxpayers have no idea how most of their county tax dollars are spent. Shining some light on this from Jeff's unique perspective will be most welcome. Now, if we just get a Met Council watchdog...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wrestling with a Pig

Karl Rove and James Carville are apparently on a mini debate tour around the country, speaking at Madison Square Garden last night and the Chicago Theater tonight. Don't see a broadcast outlet for these. Charlie Rose is the moderator, but his PBS program isn't scheduled to show it. Hopefully the entirety of these will see the light of day at some point. The insights of the political masterminds behind the last 16 years of Presidential administrations will be must see viewing.

Or at least it should be. So far, I can only find the 4 minute segment provided by CNN from the New York debate, shown below. Unfortunately, it indicates we'll be getting something less than the full intellectual potential. Rove is his normal self. Intelligent, civilized, engaging with ideas, bringing unique insights to the conversation. However, Carville is as you remember him from nearly every media appearance he makes. Loud, BS-laden, emotional, hyperbolic, interrupting, distracting, obfuscating. And, unfortunately, winning over the audience. Reminds me of the 1992 election.

It also reminds me of the the Michael Medved-Ed Schultz debate the Patriot and Air America hosted last year. You come prepared to enjoy your supremely qualified champion engage in the forum of ideas and debate. Then soon after it starts you realize the over matched opponent is dedicated to dragging it down into a confused cesspool of shouting, name-calling, insults, cliched one-liners, misdirection, and misinformation. All to the tittering and applause of the half-soused Daily Kos chat room rabble that lap up the inane "observations". (h/t Newman)


If the entire debate is played by these Carville rules of order, one thing is certain. Like the Medved-Schultz debate, there will no winners, only losers.

The Daddy Daughter Dance

JB heps us to an interesting survey from across the pond. Fathers of daughters become more left-wing, academics claim:

Economists claim to have found a correlation between the number of daughters and sons in a household and their father's political views.

By analysing data in the British Household Panel Survey, they found that 67 per cent of parents with three sons and no daughters voted for Labour or the Liberal Democrats.

Professor Andrew Oswald, from Warwick University, and Dr Nattavudh Powdthavee, of York University, wrote in an unpublished article that has been submitted to an economics journal: "This paper provides evidence that daughters make people more Left-wing, while having sons, by contrast, makes them more Right-wing."

Professor Oswald said that having daughters made men "gradually shift their political stance and become more sympathetic to the 'female' desire for a ... larger amount for the public good".

"They become more Left-wing. Similarly, a mother with sons becomes sympathetic to the 'male' case for lower taxes and a smaller supply of public goods," he said.

Whew. A lot to unload here and no time to do it. For now, let me just note that I have three sons and JB has two. And you thought we were right wing before...

UPDATE: I imagine that one exception to this rule would be the father's stringent belief in the right to keep and bear arms, especially in the presence of hormonal teenage boys.

Prog Con

A couple of weeks ago, we interviewed Claire Berlinski on the NARN First Team and discussed her book There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters. Since then, I've been working my way through the book and have found it to be quite a good read. Berlinski was able to interview many of the key players behind Thatcher's rise and reign (unfortunately Thatcher herself is no longer available for interviews) and their recollections are invaluable in explaining the impact that Thatcher had on Great Britain and the world. The book is a good primer for Americans who seek to better understand Thatcher and the pivotal events of the her era in the U.K. (the Falkland's War and the miners' strike in particular). Berlinski's insights and analysis are thought provoking and help provide a solid narrative structure.

Thatcher's legacy today in the Britain is far from clear. Despite "New" Labour's claims in the Nineties that "we're all Thatcherites now," when you look at the direction the country is moving under Gordon Brown it's easy to wonder if the pendulum has swung back toward a more statist approach. In the past, Conservative leader David Cameron hasn't exactly inspired confidence that his political vision offers a real alternative either.

However, the first part of a four-part series by Cameron that appeared in the The Guardian yesterday seems to provide cause for hope. The title "A new politics: We need a massive, radical redistribution of power" isn't one that you often would associate with conservative thought. Words like "massive," "radical," and "redistribution" are usually the province of the Left and more often that not would be met with a wary eye by conservatives. But in this case, they may be just the prescription for what ails Britain:

Our philosophy of progressive Conservatism--the pursuit of progressive goals through Conservative means--aims to reverse the collapse in personal responsibility that inevitably follows this leeching of control away from the individual and the community into the hands of political and bureaucratic elites. We can reverse our social atomisation by giving people the power to work collectively with their peers to solve common problems. We can reverse our society's infantilisation by inviting people to look to themselves, their communities and wider society for answers, instead of just the state. Above all, we can encourage people to behave responsibly if they know that doing the right thing and taking responsibility will be recognised and will make a difference.

While I'm not crazy about the label "progressive Conservatism," the idea of giving power and responsibility back to the individual definitely has appeal.

So I believe the central objective of the new politics we need should be a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power: from the state to citizens; from the government to parliament; from Whitehall to communities; from the EU to Britain; from judges to the people; from bureaucracy to democracy. Through decentralisation, transparency and accountability we must take power from the elite and hand it to the man and woman in the street. Yes, as many Guardian commentators in their contributions to A New Politics have argued, that means reforming parliament. But it means much more besides. The reform that's now required--this radical redistribution of power--must go through every public institution, not just parliament.

We should start by pushing political power down as far as possible. Politicians will have to change their attitude--big time. Politicians, and the senior civil servants and advisers who work for them, instinctively hoard power because they think that's the way to get things done. Well we're going to have to kill that instinct: and believe me, I know how hard that's going to be. It will require a serious culture change among ministers, among Whitehall officials--and beyond. With every decision government makes, it should ask a series of simple questions: does this give power to people, or take it away? Could we let individuals, neighbourhoods and communities take control? How far can we push power down?

The parallels aren't perfect, but this does have echoes of Reagan's philosophy of federalism.

It's by asking those questions that you arrive at our plans for school reform. Right now, parents just have to hope for the best and take the school place they're given. You sit there waiting for the letter from the local authority, hoping you get your first choice of school, or at least hoping you avoid the schools at the bottom of your list. One of the most important things in your life--the education of your children--is largely out of your hands. Our reforms will take the power over education out of the council's hands and put it directly in parents' hands, so they have control.

We'll end the state monopoly in state education, so that any suitably qualified organisation can set up a new school, and any parent who isn't happy with the education their child is receiving can send their child to a new school--backed by state money, including a new extra payment for children from the poorest families. This is the kind of redistribution of power that will be the starting point for a Conservative government: transferring power and control directly to individuals.

This is a more radical proposal for educational reform than anything that I can recall Republican leaders supporting in the United States. Perhaps there are still strains of Thatcherite thought in today's Tory Party after all. And perhaps, like some of Thatcher's ideas, those strains will stretch across the Atlantic.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

We're As Low and Despicable As Rob Reiner

Back in the day, I was a regular viewer of "South Park." The show was funny and often quite topical. Although it did mock some of the same individuals, groups, and institutions that our mainstream pop culture has decided are deserving of ridicule, it also went after others who typically have been given a pass from withering satire. "South Park" also evidenced a feisty streak of supporting independence, freedom, and personal responsibility. While some have viewed this as conservative (as I did early in the show's run), it's really more of a neo-libertarian attitude that isn't commonly found in the entertainment world.

Over the years, I've fallen away from the show. Cynical mockery done right can be very humorous, but it only takes you so far. There's only so many subjects that you can skewer, so many storylines you can create, and so much depth to your characters that you can develop before it all begins to wear a bit thin and seem repetitive. And once you have children, the idea of watching an animated show with the adult language often featured on "South Park" loses much of its appeal.

It's not that I've repudiated the show entirely. On those rare occasions when I do catch an episode these days I usually find myself moved to laughter frequently, far more frequently than any current network sitcom I can think of. But it's no longer part of my regular television viewing in the way that say "SpongeBob Squarepants" is.

While "South Park" may not hold as much appeal for me today as it used it, the show's cultural relevance shows no signs of abating. The latest evidence is today's WSJ column by Bret Stephens called Obama and the South Park Gnomes

Consider the 1998 "Gnomes" episode -- possibly surpassing Milton Friedman's "Free to Choose" as the classic defense of capitalism -- in which the children of South Park, Colo., get a lesson in how not to run an enterprise from mysterious little men who go about stealing undergarments from the unsuspecting and collecting them in a huge underground storehouse.
What's the big idea? The gnomes explain:

"Phase One: Collect underpants.

"Phase Two: ?

"Phase Three: Profit."

Lest you think there's a step missing here, that's the whole point. ("What about Phase Two?" asks one of the kids. "Well," answers a gnome, "Phase Three is profits!") This more or less sums up Mr. Obama's speech last week on Guantanamo, in which the president explained how he intended to dispose of the remaining detainees after both houses of Congress voted overwhelmingly against bringing them to the U.S.

The president's plan can briefly be described as follows. Phase One: Order Guantanamo closed. Phase Two: ? Phase Three: Close Gitmo!

I wonder how many readers (like me) instantly recognized and understood Stephens' reference? When a plot from animated television show is being used as the basis for an op/ed piece, you know that show has cemented its place in the popular culture.

The episode that Stephens cites in indeed one of "South Park's" best, taking on the mindless opposition to corporations and the misguided belief that local and small is always better. This is a plot summary that I wrote up years ago:

Harbucks Coffee (a corporate conglomerate) wants to buy out the local coffee shop in South Park but the owner refuses to sell. Harbucks then sets up a shop in town to compete with the local man. So he helps the boys prepare a report for school on the evils of corporate takeovers. The boys' report causes the town to consider a proposition (Prop 10) to ban Harbucks from opening their store. The underpants gnomes (don't ask) teach the boys the truth about corporations and they speak to the town before the vote on Prop 10 and convince the townspeople that economic competition is what America is all about.

Great quote from the episode:

"Without big corporations we wouldn't have cars, computers, or any of the other things that make life great."

Not a message you often hear in today's pop culture. I don't know if its defense of capitalism is actually superior to Friedman's work, but it definitely reached an audience who likely didn't have "Free To Choose" on the nightstand.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Eternal Father, Strong to Save

A Day To Remember

Here's a list of 2009 Memorial Day events in the Twin Cities. For some reason it doesn't mention this event in St. Louis Park:

Join the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion in honoring those who have served our country. The service begins at 11 a.m., and the flag will be raised at noon.

Monday, May 25, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Veterans' Memorial Amphitheater in Wolfe Park
3700 Monterey Drive

We have attended this particular event for the past several years and are always moved by the music, readings, and salutes to veterans. Such events help you (and your children) remember what Memorial Day is really all about. I'd encourage you to take a little time out of your day today to show up at one near you.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

That's Entertainment!

Before our Grinch-like governor slashed spending and cut vital services for the poor, elderly, sick, and puppies to the bone, Minnesota used to be a state that "invested" in projects that improved the quality of life for all Minnesotans. You know, important vital works like the latest and greatest version of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

This weekend, we get to see the payoff from that investment with a world premiere at the Guthrie:

Now retired and bored to the point of translating Latin during his empty days, Gus reasons suicide is a mere formality. His three children demur, and in that conflict Tony Kushner searches for his play, "The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures," which had its world premiere Friday at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

Director Michael Greif has given Kushner a good look at what he's written. The lines sound great in the actors' mouths, their performances are excellent and Greif dances this show across the Guthrie stage with humor and muscular strokes -- fighting the script's occasional exhausted ennui. Now the playwright can set his hands to clarifying his irresolute intentions, for Kushner has not yet discovered his own purpose in writing this play.

It is a very American work -- a dense rush of ideas and diatribes about the working man, wealth, spiritual unease and meaningful purpose. Gus finds his exaltation in union wages and justice rather than sales commissions, but he lives only a subway ride away from Willy Loman.

The similarity, however, points up an important distinction. Arthur Miller and his American realist cohorts -- Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill for example -- used dialogue as a scalpel to cut their characters open. Kushner's strength always has been proclamation -- bold and at times preachy in its ambition, epic in its spectacle and sprawl. In this milieu, his operatic cacophony at times skates precipitously close to the razor's edge of incoherence. The wash of recitative becomes more of an irritant than a revelatory acid.

Honey, what do you want to do tonight?

Oh, I don't know. Maybe find something with ennui and operatic cacophony that borders on irritating incoherence. Any ideas?

No, but could we get some familial dysfunction too?

Kushner dresses the three children in various costumes of dysfunction. Linda Emond's Maria Teresa (M.T.), a labor lawyer and Gus' middle child, provides whatever heart exists. She has her issues -- such as a tryst with her ex-husband (Mark Benninghofen), who is living in the brownstone's basement, while her lesbian partner, Maeve (Charity Jones), is pregnant. The father is M.T.'s brother, Vito (Ron Menzel), a bristling and volcanic font of testosterone-infused anger.

The third child is Pill (Stephen Spinella), who borrowed $30,000 from M.T., spent it on a prostitute (Michael Esper) and now wants his husband, Paul (Michael Potts), to consider a three-way arrangement. Pill seems a vestige of "Angels in America," a confused lover who, if we wish to be generous, is adrift in life. More soberly, his dissolute self-pity wrecks the lives around him.

Perhaps the father's suicide shouldn't be off the table after all...

Definitely a family that anyone can relate to. And one that those attending the play should get to know quite well as the performance clocks in at an arse and mind numbing THREE-AND-A-HALF HOURS. The show's Guthrie run ends June 28th so you'll want to be sure to get there soon and reap the rich rewards from a time when Minnesota "worked."

Friday, May 22, 2009

Northern Alliance Radio Network

Join us tomorrow beginning at 11AM for another episode of the Northern Alliance Radio Network.

John Hinderaker and I are eshewing (gusendheit) our typical holiday weekend sabbatical and will be LIVE in studio for a special Memorial Day weekend broadcast. 

A show densely packed with entertainment is planned.  The highlight promises to be our special guest in the noon hour.  One of the finest movie reviewers in the business today, John Nolte, joins us.  Formerly known as Dirty Harry while posting for web sites such as Libertas (sans Fraters) and his own Dirty Harry's Place, he now the editor at Big Hollywood

His work includes film reviews as well as other musings on the culture, from that rarest of breeds, a savvy entertainment biz insider with a conservative point of view.  We'll be talking about his experience as this variety of endangered species and also about the summer movie offerings.

Plus Loon of the Week, This Week in Gate Keeping, our new feature the White House Employee Morning Briefing, and much, much more

It all starts at 11AM Central, locally on AM1280 the Patriot. Streaming LIVE worldwide at the 
web site.  YOU can join the conversation at 651-289-4488.

Following us at 1 PM, 
Mitch Berg and Capt. Ed Morrissey, then at 3PM it's King Banaian and the Final Word. Also, don't forget David Strom preceding us all at 9 AM.

Don't you dare miss it!

Beer Of The Week (Vol IX)

[ Volume Nine in the recently expanded beer tasting series. Once again, today's post is made possible by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine and Spirits. That establishment has generously agreed to provide beer for weekly reviews and every brew featured here is available at Glen Lake Wine and Spirits. These reviews will be an expansion of the beer rating that I've been doing for years and will be more in-depth look at particular beers using the same rating criteria. And in addition to the just the beer itself, I'll be examining the whole aesthetic package; the bottle, the label, the name. ]

There's certainly a lot to like about summer; sunny skies, warm breezes, refreshing waters, green grasses, sandy beaches, backyard barbeques, imploding bullpens, etc. And of course summer beers. While I do so love the hearty brews of winter, there's something about summer beer that's especially dear to my heart. When you start seeing them on the store shelves you know that at long last summer has arrived. It's time to put away the shovel for the season, throw on the shorts, fire up the grill, and enjoy the beers especially suited for the long, languid days of summer.

This week we continue the beers of summer with an offering from Big Sky Brewing out of Missoula, Montana (Only beers and steers come from Montana. And you don't look much like a steer to me so that kinda narrows it down.) Big Sky is probably best known for their Moose Drool Brown Ale, which aside from having a great name is a pretty darn good beer. Pretty darn good in fact is a label that could be applied to most of Big Sky's beers. I rated six of them over the years and each has scored either a thirteen or fourteen. Which makes them above average, but not great.

The first time I rated Big Sky's Summer Honey Seasonal Ale, I gave it a fourteen. Will it hold up?

The beer comes in a plain brown bottle. The colorful label has a retro looking font and features an outdoor scene with a blue sky, majestic mountains, imposing bear, and bee hive. It definitely says "Big Sky Country."

Beer Style: Blonde Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 4.7%

COLOR (0-2): Pale gold. 1

AROMA (0-2): Fruity and floral. 2

HEAD (0-2): Good volume. 2

TASTE (0-5): Mild wheat flavor with a touch of sweetness makes it easy to drink. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): A little empty. 1

OVERALL (0-6): A solid summer beer. Not going to knock your socks, but not going to disappoint either. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 13

BREAKING NEWS: Glen Lake Wine and Spirits now has Surly beer in stock. Mmmmmm...Surly...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Housing Hustlers

In the grand tradition of civil rights shakedown artists and poverty pimps come the "housing activists" who definitely are not letting the current crisis go to waste. Yesterday's WSJ profiled one such activist named Bruce Marks and cataloged some of his group's outrageous behavior:

Mr. Marks's nonprofit organization, Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America, has emerged as one of the loudest scourges of the banking industry in the post-bubble economy. It salts its Web site with photos of executives it accuses of standing in the way of helping homeowners -- emblazoning "Predator" across their photos, picturing their homes and sometimes including home phone numbers. In February, NACA, as it's called, protested at the home of a mortgage investor by scattering furniture on his lawn, to give him a taste of what it feels like to be evicted.

In the 1990s, Mr. Marks leaked details of a banker's divorce to the press and organized a protest at the school of another banker's child. He says he would use such tactics again. "We have to terrorize these bankers," Mr. Marks says.

This is truly despicable. What's even more shocking than the behavior itself is that no one seems willing to call out Marks on it.

Though some bankers privately deplore his tactics, Mr. Marks is a growing influence in the lending industry and the effort to curb foreclosures. NACA has signed agreements with the four largest U.S. mortgage lenders -- Bank of America, Wells Fargo & Co., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. -- in which they agree to work with his counselors on a regular basis to try to arrange lower payments for struggling borrowers. NACA has made powerful political friends, such as House majority whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, and it receives federal money to counsel homeowners.

So the federal government--in other words you, me and everyone else who pays taxes--is subsidizing an organization whose leader views "terrorizing bankers" as a legitimate tactic to "help" homeowners?

Lest you think Marks' efforts will only damage the much vilified "bankers" consider what his goals are:

"We have the opportunity to change how lending gets done in this country," says Mr. Marks, whose group is itself a mortgage broker and has 40 offices staffed with housing counselors. He favors a return to more traditional standards, with full documentation of income and the same fixed interest rate for everyone.

Instead of relying on credit scores, he thinks lenders should look into the reasons for any late payments in prospective borrowers' past and prepare renters for the responsibilities of home ownership. Then, if people are given a loan they can afford, they shouldn't be required to make a down payment, he argues.

Sounds great doesn't it? The same interest rate for everyone. No down payments. What could be wrong with that?

Critics doubt some of these changes would be helpful. Having to use a single interest rate for all would make banks less likely to lend to people with blemished credit records, says Richard Riese, an executive at the American Bankers Association.

A single rate also could lead to higher rates for everyone, adds John Courson, chief executive of another trade group, the Mortgage Bankers Association.

So many of the people that Marx Marks claims to be helping wouldn't get loans and many others would have to pay more? Sign me up.

For now, NACA's main focus is fighting foreclosure, and the 53-year-old Mr. Marks pursues it relentlessly. NACA holds mass "Save the Dream" gatherings, flying in hundreds of counselors to work with borrowers who hope to restructure their mortgages.

At one in Columbia, S.C., in March, a line of homeowners stretched around an arena waiting to meet counselors in canary-yellow T-shirts reading "Financial Predators Beware." Mr. Marks, dressed in black and wearing a NACA cap, circled the arena with a bullhorn. "We're gonna get it done!" he bellowed.

Erick Exum, a NACA official, told those present: "What happened is not your fault. The mortgage crisis is the result of abuses and exploitation by Wall Street." Even so, he said, they might have to make sacrifices: "If you have a car payment and a boat payment, the boat may not make sense."

Terrorize the bankers, skin the Wall Street fat cats, and make irresponsible borrowers give up ONE of their goodies. Sounds like a shared sacrifice.

Mr. Marks grew up in affluent Scarsdale, N.Y., and Greenwich, Conn. He says a childhood stuttering problem gave him sympathy for underdogs, which evolved into a career as an activist. He studied business to "know the enemy," earning an M.B.A. and working briefly for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. A later job for a labor union stirred his interest in reviving poor neighborhoods and helping people afford homes.

Boy have we seen that blueprint for social activism before.

What's really depressing is that most of the bankers--like the companies that Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH targeted--find it far less painful to pay the tribute than to fight back:

In 1988 he launched NACA. It soon began arranging loans for Boston-area banks that were eager to show they were serving poor neighborhoods, in compliance with the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act.

The organization has been allocated $34.5 million from a new federal program to counsel distressed mortgage borrowers, to be paid to groups such as NACA little by little as they provide counseling. NACA's slice is nearly 10% of the program's funds; the rest goes to more than 100 other nonprofits and state agencies. Besides these grants, most income to cover NACA's roughly $40 million annual budget comes from the fees lenders pay it for arranging new mortgages, typically $2,500 per loan.

So what the government doesn't cover gets picked up by lenders afraid of facing NACA's terror tactics. Nice racket if you can get it.

Another NACA event is the "predator's tour." In February, it sent hundreds of protesters to the homes of bankers and investors in posh New York suburbs such as Rye, N.Y., and Greenwich. One stop was the home of William Frey of Greenwich Financial Services, a broker-dealer specializing in mortgage-backed securities. He was a target because he resisted some aspects of a settlement that called for modifying loans.

State attorneys general had accused Countrywide Financial Corp. of predatory lending, and Countrywide's new owner, Bank of America, settled the suit last year by agreeing to modify many mortgages. A fund Mr. Frey controls then sued the bank. The suit didn't take issue with the settlement but complained that the bank had passed on most of the cost of it to buyers of securities backed by Countrywide's loans.

Mr. Frey was the target of the protest in which NACA dumped furniture on the lawn. "They had hundreds of people trespassing on my property," he says.

"I have a difference with Bank of America. I have a substantial amount of assets with them," Mr. Frey says. "We take them to court. This is how we do it in this country....It's a civilized society." The response from NACA, he adds, "is a mob showing up at someone's house to intimidate them to drop this suit. At what point do people say, 'This is starting to be uncomfortable'?"

"It should be uncomfortable," says Mr. Marks. "You win a campaign by being relentless. Everybody has a breaking point....At some point they say, 'How do I get these crazies off my back?' "

Poor Mr. Frey. He actually believes in such quaint notions as the rule of law, property rights, and civilized society. He doesn't understand that for a committed activist in pursuit of a noble goal, there are no limits. Well, almost no limits.

Some lenders have refused to sign contracts to work with NACA, among them HSBC Holdings, Barclays and Credit Suisse Group. All declined to comment. Mr. Marks says some banks that won't sign agreements do negotiate individual cases with NACA. Even so, NACA sometimes pictures their executives and the executives' homes on its Web site.

It recently added a photo of William Gross of Pacific Investment Management Co., the big bond house known as Pimco, along with pictures of his home and other information. Mr. Marks says his contacts in banking and government tell him Pimco doesn't support the administration's push to modify mortgages. "We're exposing them," Mr. Marks says. A spokesman for Pimco said neither it nor Mr. Gross would comment.

Mr. Marks says financial executives should be held personally responsible for actions that affect people's lives, and "if they interpret that as intimidation, so be it." He says that "we're not talking about violence. We don't do violence."

Nice to know where Marks draws the line. His group will terrorize, intimidate, and drive bankers to the breaking point, but they won't actually commit physical violence. Yet.

Oh by the way, Marks--who enthusiastically endorses exposing the privacy, homes, faces, and children of bankers to the public--is suddenly very secretive when it comes to disclosing information about the activities of his own group:

Despite receiving taxpayer money, NACA doesn't provide public reports on either its loan-brokerage business or its campaign to modify mortgages. Jim Campen, an economics professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, says he tried in the 1990s to analyze the performance of loans arranged by NACA, but Mr. Marks refused to provide data.

Mr. Marks says he feared the data would be used by another nonprofit to discredit his group. NACA does provide information to lenders that work with it, he says, but sees no duty to disclose it to the public.

"He's been very effective in shaking money out of the banks," says Mr. Campen, but "he's not one to open up his records to public scrutiny."

Getting government funds to help shake down corporations while refusing to disclose your own financial information? We definitely have seen that playbook used before.

There's No Disputing Matters of Taste

A couple of interesting crossovers between beer and other areas of life.

First off, Margaret e-mails to make us aware of the Catholic Beer Review:

CBR was formed by a few guys who share a love of great beer and started comparing tasting notes.

Beer may seem a mundane topic to those who don't venture far beyond the "tinted waters"--as the late Michael Davies (RIP) referred to the Budweisers and Miller Lites of the world. But in fact this drink is endlessly fascinating. Ostensibly it contains just malt, water, yeast, and hops. But the permutations that exist within just those basic ingredients are legion.

Beer also holds a venerable place in our Catholic history, with some of the greatest breweries in the world being founded and run by Catholic monks.

What's the appropriate cliché that sports announcers would use in this situation? Thanks JB. This is indeed right in my wheelhouse.

Also on matters of faith and beer, Ben Bouwman writes that beer needs no justification:

Christians should not drink beer that is of poor quality. The sinful phenomenon of excessive consumption is often found in tandem with beer that tastes awful. These types of beer do not contribute to aesthetic wonder, because they provide little at which to wonder. Their tastes range from facile to revolting, they are made cheaply with poor quality ingredients, and therefore, they must enlist the help of cheap advertising tricks such as images of scantily clad women or the "Lowest Legal Price" to lure young men like me to buy their beer. I pray that God gives us strength to resist these temptations.

Finally, Laura e-mails to note an intersection of conservative politics and beer. It seems that Phyllis Schlafly's nephew owns a brewpub in St. Louis that carries on the family name by offering a choice in beer, not an echo.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Too Good To Check

Long-time Fraters reader and good ol' boy Scott notices an interesting locale on the site's live traffic map:

You really think it could be....

Just the thought that Levi Johnston might be reading our humble little blog is almost too much to handle.

The Beer You Drink

Increased alcohol and beer taxes are being proposed at the Federal level and in many states. Even in such beer friendly climes as Wisconsin:

Brewers large and small joined together Monday to object to a proposed quintupling of Wisconsin's beer tax, the first increase in 40 years.

MillerCoors joined with smaller craft brewers, the Wisconsin Grocers Association, the Tavern League and others to argue that raising the tax in a recession was a bad move that would hurt the industry.

"You don't raise a tax just because it hasn't been raised in a while," said Rob Swearingen, president of the Tavern League.

Simple words of wisdom from a beer man. Great Wisconsin name too. Seems like the kind of guy you'd like to sit down in a tavern with and have a few.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Counter The Culture

Yesterday at NRO's The Corner, Ramesh Ponnuru speculated on the fallout from Notre Dame honoring President Obama:

Many other commentators have pointed out that most Catholics approved of Notre Dame's invitation and, indeed, voted for Obama. This seems to me an awfully short-sighted view of the fallout. Notre Dame's invitation was valuable to Obama because of its status among American Catholics. Does anyone think that status is now higher than it was before the invitation? In helping Obama, Notre Dame diminished itself. And the same polls that showed that most Catholics approved of the invitation showed that a plurality of weekly churchgoers do not. Which group do we expect to have more influence over the future of Catholicism in America: self-described Catholics who attend Mass weekly or those who don't? I'm not saying that the traditionalists have the upper hand here, only that a quick look at the polls may not be a reliable guide to the long-run consequences of this episode.

Those who believe that this is just another controversy of the day that will soon blow over and become yesterday's news fail to appreciate the depth and breadth of the reaction that this event has generated among traditional Catholics.

In the June issue of FIRST THINGS, Joseph Bottum has a lengthy and insightful article on the matter. He notes that this is hardly the first battle between the Catholic Church and Catholic universities and it certainly won't be the last. He recounts the behavior of Notre Dame's president Fr. Jenkins in the controversy (which he describes as "execrable"), the political implications of story, and most interestingly, points out that Notre Dame's decision was as much (if not more) a rebuke to American Catholic culture as it was to the Church. Fortunately, his piece called "At The Gates Of Notre Dame" is already available for all at the FIRST THINGS web site:

It is a horrifying fact, in many ways, that Roe v. Wade has done more to provide Catholic identity than any other event of the last fifty years. Still, for American Catholics, the Church is a refuge and bulwark against an ambient culture that erodes morality and undermines families. Catholic culture is their counterculture, their means of upholding the dignity of the human person and the integrity of family--and, in that context, the centrality of abortion for American Catholic culture seems much less arbitrary than it first appeared.

This is what the leaders of Notre Dame need to grasp, along with those at Georgetown, Xavier, Sacred Heart, and all the rest. They do not necessarily have bad theology--although the bishops have argued that they do--when they equate the life issues with other concerns. They do not have bad faith just because they see the war and capital punishment as matters of equal weight with the million babies killed every year in this country by abortion. But they lack the cultural marker that would make them distinctively Catholic in the minds of other Catholics. Abortion is not the only life issue, but it is the one that bears most directly on the lives of ordinary Catholics as they fight against the current to preserve family life. And until Catholic universities get this, they will not be Catholic--in a very real, existentially important sense.

This is why this incident will not be soon forgotten by traditional Catholics. As watered down and diluted as American Catholic culture has become over the years, it still has importance and meaning for millions who remain faithful to the Church's teachings. And--as Bottum notes--as they fight against the current to preserve family life, they will be looking for Catholic leaders and institutions to stand beside them in battle. Those that choose not to will likely forfeit their support and may no longer be considered part of their shared culture.

No Children, No Growth

A lot has been written in recent years about what current demographic trends portend for the future of the West. Most of that commentary has focused on the cultural, political, and religious impacts of declining birthrates. When the economic consequences are discussed, it's usually on how declining demographics will affect Social Security, Medicare, and other unsupportable entitlement programs.

In the May issue of FIRST THINGS, David P. Goldman looked at how our demographics have contributed to the current U.S. economic crisis and how they will limit future economic growth. The stark piece is called Demographics and Depression (sub req):

Unless we restore the traditional family to a central position in American life, we cannot expect to return to the kind of wealth accumulation that characterized the 1980s and 1990s. Theoretically, we might recruit immigrants to replace the children we did not rear, or we might invest capital overseas with the children of other countries. From the standpoint of economic policy, neither of those possibilities can be dismissed. But the contributions of immigration or capital export will be marginal at best compared to the central issue of whether the demographics of America reverts to health.

Life is sacred for its own sake. It is not an instrument to provide us with fatter IRAs or better real-estate values. But it is fair to point out that wealth depends ultimately on the natural order of human life. Failing to rear a new generation in sufficient numbers to replace the present one violates that order, and it has consequences for wealth, among many other things. Americans who rejected the mild yoke of family responsibility in pursuit of atavistic enjoyment will find at last that this is not to be theirs, either.

UPDATE-- For the Evening Commute: David Goldman:

First Things associate editor David Goldman will be talking about his article "Demographics & Depression" with Tom Keene this evening on Bloomberg Radio from 6-7. For those in the New York area, Bloomberg radio is found at 1130 am.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The President's Dictionary

  • common ground


    a theoretical place where conservatives agree to accept the outcome of arguments over a particular issue and liberals agree to consider moderating the impact: finding a common ground on abortion

Neat Freak

In this past weekend's WSJ, Eric Felten examines the all too common American practice of putting the taste of good Scotch on ice (sub req):

Richard Paterson -- renowned whisky blender with Scotland's Whyte & Mackay Ltd., home of such single malts as the Dalmore and Isle of Jura -- has come to dread ordering whisky in America: "Ask for Scotch in the U.S. and before you know it you hear that horrible clink, clink, clink of ice going in the glass," he says in a voice that's two parts exasperation and one part burr. "As far as I'm concerned," says Mr. Paterson, "if you've got a nice 12-year-old Scotch whisky, there's nothing more ridiculous than putting ice in it."

Amen. I used to be among those who preferred my Scotch with ice (just a single cube). Then, I realized just how much that mellowed the richness of the taste experience. I now like to infusion my Scotch with just a touch of water.

The problem is that at many places you just about have to beg the server to hold the ice. The worst is on airplanes where my pleas to flight attendants to not cram the cup with eleven ice cubes have been made with a mixture of confusion and contempt. Often the best I can hope for is to convince them to limit the ice to one solitary cube, which they reluctantly do while giving you a derisive look that says "What kind of freak are you, anyway?"

You know you're in good Scotch bar when you receive a small jug of water with your dram. And no ice.

The purists' complaint is that whereas a small splash of spring water seems to open up a whisky, releasing its full bouquet and flavor, ice tends to do the opposite. The tongue is anesthetized by the cold, and the whisky itself acquires a smoothness that glosses over the deeper complexities of the dram.

The mindless pursuit of "smoothness" in drinks is something that JB and I have discussed of late. While there certainly are drinks where "smooth" is a complimentary description, Scotch--and in fact all whisky (or whiskey)--is not one of them. What smooth really means for whisky is lack of texture, flavor, and character. While it might be easier to drink a "smooth" whisky, it certainly is not enjoyable. If you want something that's easy to drink and smooth to the point of being tasteless, stick to high-end vodka whose penultimate distillation goal seems to creating a spirit as bland and indistinguishable as possible.

Not that a whisky necessarily has to be rough, harsh, or sharp to be good. One of my favorites that I came across last year is Tomintoul, which is billed as "The Gentle Dram." And there is nothing wrong with a whisky that has a smooth finish. The problem is that seeking "smoothness" often means sacrificing the very things that you drink whisky to experience in the first place.

If you're still not convinced that keeping your Scotch neat and tidy is the way to go, you might want to conduct a side-by-side taste test as Felten did:

Still, I think the ice-dependent drinkers among us will find it illuminating to do their own side-by-side tasting. Take a good, straightforward single malt (any of the standard drams represented by the partisans I consulted -- Macallan, Glenfiddich, Bruichladdich, or Dalmore -- will do admirably). Pour two glasses: one without ice, and another embellished with a large cube or two of ice made from spring water. Take a taste of the tepid malt. It will seem at first sip rather fiery. Then taste the iced whisky. It will seem soothing, a respite from the spirit's alcohol burn. But then go back to the neat Scotch. You'll find that it blossoms with flavor in your mouth. If you keep going back and forth, I suspect you will perceive the taste of the Scotch on the rocks as narrower and perhaps even thinner with each sip.

And definitely smoother.

Keep 'Em Talking

Usually I'm not a big fan of media pledge drives where the goal seems to be cajoling, annoying, and guilting listeners/viewers to open their wallets. However, in the case of Relevant Radio's appeal to "Answer The Call," I'm more than prepared to make an exception. Because the mission is critical, now more than ever:

Relevant Radio exists to assist the Church in the New Evangelization by providing relevant programming through a media platform to help people bridge the gap between faith and everyday life.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What's Brewing?

Part Two of Rachel Hutton's series on Minnesota's Beer Renaissance is out in this week's City Pages. This time she focuses on three new kids on the block.

Brau Brothers:

Brau Brothers' offering--they make five year-round beers, plus several seasonals--are rather eclectic, likely because of Dustin's brewpub background, which encourages a small-batch, experimental approach. While beer has only four basic ingredients--water, grain, hops, and yeast--its various formulations can create seemingly infinite flavor profiles. Dustin credits Surly Brewing for helping spur the local thirst to taste as many of them as possible. "Surly pushed the limits and made other beers more mainstream," he says, noting that even the most conservative drinkers were encouraged to at least trade their mass-market lager for a more interesting Summit or Schell.

I just happened to have quaffed a Sheep Head Ale from Brau Brothers' this evening and it was a hoppy taste treat.

Flat Earth:

Flat Earth's beers tend to be flavorful but not as outrageous as their conspiracy-theory-referencing names, such as Black Helicopter Coffee Stout; Bermuda Triangle, a high-alcohol Belgian, or tripel, beer; and Element 115, a California-style beer that originated during the Gold Rush but is rarely brewed anymore. The Williamsons named their Cygnus X-1 Porter after a song by their favorite band, Rush, and made it with malt rye--a grain that's as closely associated with Canada as its most famous band--which adds a slight whiskey-like dryness. Although Flat Earth's brewers have infused their porters with raspberry, peppercorn, peppermint, and hazelnut, and even oak-aged them by adding wood chips to the beer, their most unusually flavored brew is probably their Rode Haring Flanders Ale, which is the only sour ale being commercially bottled in Minnesota, as far as I know. It's tart and funky, with plenty of pucker, and it may be the local beer most likely to win over diehard wine drinkers.

And Stillwater's own Lift Bridge:

So far, Lift Bridge has produced two year-round beers. One is the Farm Girl saison, a French/Belgian beer that Lifter Dan Schwarz describes as a refreshing spring beer for farm workers. The beer had to have a high enough alcohol content to keep through the summer, he says, but not be so strong that it kept the workers from coming back after lunch. Farm Girl has a golden glow, a slight sweetness, and a hint of orange-peel bitterness on the finish. ("We see a lot of women like to drink our beer," Schwarz notes.) Farm Girl's sibling, Kimono Girl, is the same saison infused with lemongrass and loganberry to add fruitier, floral notes. While the Lifters have experimented with infusions of hibiscus, rose petals, and even roasted garlic, they want their main beers to be easy drinkers. "A lot of craft brewers tend to go toward the edge or extreme," Schwarz says. "We're trying to make something a little more balanced." (For events such as the Craft Brewer's Guild's Winterfest, though, they reserve the right to serve beers like the Facemeltör, a high-alcohol aged barley wine. "It would warm your whole face," says Schwarz. "It was a fun beer to do--but it's not good to have so much access to it.")

Banned in Belgium

Last week on NARN 1 we stumbled into an attempt to get banned in Belgium. Pending last minute word from the Belgian embassy, that attempt was unsuccessful.

Lest anyone think Belgium is a tolerant, libertine paradise where free thinking, free speech, and free commerce are embraced, I present to you a list of things that actually are banned in Belgium.

Sikh Religious Symbols

On September 4, 2005 The Tribune reported, "After imposition of a ban by France on wearing turbans in schools, Belgium too has followed suit and banned the religious symbols of the Sikhs in their educational institutes.

Agitated Belgium Sikhs of the Guru Nanak Sikh Society told The Tribune that while France enacted a law, imposing ban on religious symbols in schools, the
Belgium schools had also imposed the ban.

The Madonna song "Frozen"

Madonna fans in Belgium will no longer be able to hear her hit "Frozen" on the radio or watch the video on television. That's because Madonna recently lost a plagiarism case in that country. reports that Belgian songwriter Salvatore Acquaviva filed a suit against Madonna, claiming she plagiarized parts of his song "Ma Vie Fout L'camp (My Life's Getting Nowhere)," for her hit single "Frozen."

Urine stream controlled video games

Belgian police have cracked down on this Galileo of the gaming age, banning a version of the game entitled Place To Pee from the GamePower Expo in Gent, Belgium. It seems the Flemish flatfoots consider the game, which allows players to control the direction of their on-screen cars by aiming their streams of liquid waste at a censor placed in a urinal, an "indecency offense."

Pantless floating Saddam Hussein sculptures

A sculpture of a tied-up Saddam Hussein floating in a water tank has been banned by a Belgian mayor because it was deemed too controversial, says an official. "This work could shock people, not only from around here but tourists and potentially people of another faith, in particular Muslims," he told AFP.

Leo Coulier, secretary of the Middelkerke town hall, described the scupture as "controversial" and "potentially explosive". The sculpture, named "Shark", depicts Saddam Hussein in underpants with his hands tied behind his back in a shark-like pose.

Now that we are fully informed on how to get banned in Belgium, we'll give it another shot this week.

Throughout the program, all hosts will be festooned with Sikh religious symbols and turban. Then, sometime in Hour 1, John Hinderaker will sing an acapella version of "Frozen" by Madonna. In Hour 2, we'll bring in the hosts of NARN 2 to compete in a spirited round of "Place to Pee" and we'll call all the action. Finally, at the end of the show, Chad the Elder will cap off his return NARN appearance by recreating the sculpture "Shark" live on air (pending our acquisition of a 10,000 gallon fish tank).

You thought you could keep letting us in Belgium? Think again!

It all starts at 11AM Central, locally on AM1280 the Patriot. Streaming LIVE worldwide at the web site. You can join the conversation at 651-289-4488.

Following us at 1 PM, Mitch Berg and Capt. Ed Morrissey, then at 3PM it's King Banaian and the Final Word. Also, don't forget David Strom preceding us all at 9 AM.

Don't you dare miss it!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Back To The Front

Join us tomorrow at 11AM today for another episode of the Northern Alliance Radio Network. That's right "us."

God willing, I plan to make my return to the catacombs of the Patriot studio and rejoin my compadres Brian "Saint Paul" Ward and John Hinderaker for a very special reunion show. And what a show in should be.

After catching up on another breath-taking, heart-breaking week in news, we'll be joined at noon by Claire Berlinski live from Turkey (we invited her to join us in the studio, but that was as close as she would agree to get). Some background:

I'm an American novelist, freelance journalist, travel writer and biographer who lives amid a menagerie of adopted stray animals in Istanbul. I've recently published There is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters. I'm also the author of Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's crisis is America's, Too, and two spy novels: Loose Lips and Lion Eyes.

We'll be primarily focusing on her latest book on Margaret Thatcher, but are sure to cover a variety of topics with Ms. Berlinski. Mister, we could use a woman like Margaret Thatcher again.

Plus Loon of the Week, This Week in Gate Keeping, and much, much more.

It all starts at 11AM Central, locally on AM1280 the Patriot. Streaming LIVE worldwide at the web site. You can join the conversation at 651-289-4488.

Following us at 1 PM, Mitch Berg and Capt. Ed Morrissey, then at 3PM it's King Banaian and the Final Word. Also, don't forget David Strom preceding us all at 9 AM.

Don't you dare miss it!

Beer Of The Week (Vol VIII)

[ Volume Ocho in the recently expanded beer tasting series. Once again, today's post is made possible by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine and Spirits. That establishment has generously agreed to provide beer for weekly reviews and every brew featured here is available at Glen Lake Wine and Spirits. These reviews will be an expansion of the beer rating that I've been doing for years and will be more in-depth look at particular beers using the same rating criteria. And in addition to the just the beer itself, I'll be examining the whole aesthetic package; the bottle, the label, the name. ]

I enjoying razing the state of Michigan as much as the next guy. For their overrated hockey teams, their pathetic NFL team, and the bizarre culture and language of the strange creatures who inhabit the Upper Peninsula (better known as Upers). But I have to give Michigan credit where it's due: the state is home to what is perhaps the finest craft brewery in America. I speak of course of Bell's in Kalamazoo.

While I had already begin to appreciate the virtues of beer with taste some years ago, Bell's Pale Ale was the beer that really opened my eyes to the joys that the world of craft brewing could hold. The unfiltered beer with the monk ringing the bell was an unapologetic offering of intense taste and smell. It was a beer that you didn't just drink, you savored every sip. If you held it up to the light, you could see chunks floating in it. And that was good.

Since then, many a Bell's has passed my lips and almost without exception they have been better than your average beer (Hey, Boo-Boo!). In fact, I've rated fourteen of Larry Bell's offerings over the years from Amber Ale to Winter Wheat Ale.

This week, I'm going to back to review a beer that I've already previously rated. Last time around, Bell's Oberon Ale came in with a thirteen. This time, I was even more impressed.

Here comes the sunThe bottle is brown and non-descript. The label has a splashy, colorful image of the sun against an orange background.

Beer Style: Wheat Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 5.8%

COLOR (0-2): Cloudy and golden 2

AROMA (0-2): Fruity with overtones of sweetness 2

HEAD (0-2): Rich and full 2

TASTE (0-5): Refreshing wheat flavor with citrus hints. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Lingering pleasure. 2

OVERALL (0-6): A truly sublime summer offering that combines the best flavors of a wheat with the mellow hops of an easy drinking ale. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 16 Like summer itself, you're advised to enjoy this beer while you can because it will be gone before you know it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sod Off

You know it's bad enough that a Colorado news station is rubbing our face in the turf because we have to outsource our grass supply from the Rocky Mountain state, but at least they could have gotten their facts straight:

In recent years, the family-owned sod farm that opened in 1979 has provided the sod for Coors Field, Invesco Field at Mile High, Wrigley Field, and Busch Stadium. Its location near the South Platte River and sand composition gives its grass an opportunity to drain much faster than other turf. Target Field is set to have a retractable roof and will have heat cables to potentially melt snow making drainage essential.

According to a well-placed source who is very familiar with the Twins stadium project (and gin), Target Field is not in fact set to have a retractable roof. We regret their error.

Enjoying Freedom, Not Fighting For It

If you haven't yet, I strongly encourage you to read Mark Steyn's "Live Free Or Die" piece from the latest issue of Hillsdale College's Imprimis:

That's Stage Two of societal enervation--when the state as guarantor of all your basic needs becomes increasingly comfortable with regulating your behavior. Free peoples who were once willing to give their lives for liberty can be persuaded very quickly to relinquish their liberties for a quiet life. When President Bush talked about promoting democracy in the Middle East, there was a phrase he liked to use: "Freedom is the desire of every human heart." Really? It's unclear whether that's really the case in Gaza and the Pakistani tribal lands. But it's absolutely certain that it's not the case in Berlin and Paris, Stockholm and London, New Orleans and Buffalo. The story of the Western world since 1945 is that, invited to choose between freedom and government "security," large numbers of people vote to dump freedom every time--the freedom to make your own decisions about health care, education, property rights, and a ton of other stuff. It's ridiculous for grown men and women to say: I want to be able to choose from hundreds of cereals at the supermarket, thousands of movies from Netflix, millions of songs to play on my iPod--but I want the government to choose for me when it comes to my health care. A nation that demands the government take care of all the grown-up stuff is a nation turning into the world's wrinkliest adolescent, free only to choose its record collection.

Steyn goes on to note that even that adolescent version of freedom is at risk in Stages Three and Four.

Separated At Birth?

Bill e-mails to submit a hockey playoff special SAB:

Hockey Central on Versus host Bill Patrick and...

...Neil Flynn as the Janitor on Scrubs?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mr. Bad Example

Stu Kreisman is an Emmy award winning writer-producer. It says so right in the byline of his blog at the Huffington Post. Impressive credits too: SCTV, Saturday Night Live, Night Court, Cheers, Newhart. He's also written for Homeboys in Outer Space.

His work at the HuffPo reveals the man's dynamic range as well. He puts aside the comedy entirely and adopts the very convincing persona of an indignant, uncompromising, seething, retribution seeking zealot in this post about the unforgivable sins of David Feherty. Excerpts:
David Feherty insulted every person who puts on a uniform to fight for the United States. He cast them all as hate mongers willing to assassinate members of the government that Feherty and his pals don't care for. And for that he must be punished.

There is no way I can watch Feherty on a CBS golf telecast ever again without thinking of how much he disrespects the political process of his adopted country and slanders the troops. Others have been fired for less. Failure to terminate Feherty's contract will just tar everyone involved in professional golf and at CBS. This was not a slip of the tongue. It was a threat.

Well, he's certainly entitled to his opinion. And I see it is not an entirely subjective one. For Stu Kreisman doesn't just go around making judgments on other people's actions based on abstract concepts of proper behavior. No, Stu Kreisman bases his judgments on the examples of civilized behavior, morality and rhetorical restraint of others. In particular, this paragon of virtue:
[Feherty] has defended himself by saying that he supports the troops, made a trip to the Mideast and visits them in hospitals. Well good for him but guess what? Thousands of other people do the same thing without any publicity. I highly doubt any of them engage in a conversation that would cause a soldier to threaten a member of congress. Al Franken has been doing USO shows for years with minimal publicity, but Franken is probably not the type of patriot Feherty or his friends at the PGA cotton to. Visiting the troops does not give you a free pass to smear them.
I'm sensing Kreisman may not be a daily Fraters Libertas reader. To get him up-to-date, from yesterday's post, the words of Al Franken while on national TV self-promoting his work with the USO in Iraq:
I actually had an officer who - I obviously won't say who he was - who said to me, listen, George W. Bush is my commander in chief. I have to respect him. But if I got Rumsfeld in my sights, I would not hesitate to squeeze off a couple rounds.


Questions for Mr. Kreisman.

Stu, bubie, if you had known about his comments in 2005, would you have called for the firing of Al Franken from his Air America radio show?

Now that you know about them, how about Al Franken's assuming a position in the US Senate? Should he withdraw from the election contest? Should he concede the seat to Norm Coleman?

By the Kreisman standard, Franken has insulted every person who puts on a uniform to fight for the United States, cast them as hate mongers who would assassinate members of the government Franken and his pals don't care for. Failure to terminate him will tar every Minnesotan. Tar every member of the US Senate (and I didn't think that was possible any more). Visiting the troops does not give Franken a pass to smear them!

This is an opportunity for a bipartisan profile in courage. The stridently liberal Kreisman has set an objective standard for abhorrent behavior and now he gets a chance to demonstrate that it is not mere political gamesmanship. Be a profile in courage, start the Dump Franken movement at Huff Po now!

Failure to do so can be interpreted as his Feherty post being in the tradition of most of his work, comedy. Not quite as funny as Homeboys in Outer Space. Then again, his blog doesn't have a laugh track to tell us where the jokes are.

Hat Trick Part Two

Three good pieces on post-surge Iraq:

1. Surging and Awakening--TNR by Dexter Filkens:

President Obama's pronouncements on the war must therefore be read carefully. He has never said that America will leave Iraq by 2010. He has said only that American combat troops will leave. What is a combat troop? Well, you can bet it is not a military adviser, or a trainer, or a police mentor, or a special forces soldier, or a CIA paramilitary. Even under the best of circumstances, the Iraqi state will need many years to cohere again. Until that day, it seems unlikely that American soldiers will not be there by the tens of thousands, whoever the American president is. For this reason, the president may be a little divided against himself. His rhetoric of winding-down may be politically welcome, but may not be the best way to ready the American people for what will likely be a very long commitment.

2. The Future of Iraq, Part I by Michael J. Totten:

"The insurgency now is more criminal than anything else," Colonel Hort said. “The Al Qaeda threat isn't down to that point yet, but Shia insurgents are becoming more and more criminal than anything else. We're working closely now with Iraqi judges, as well as Iraqi Security Forces, to ensure that when we identify a guy we're getting a warrant and arresting the guy that way. It's a significant change for us that we now need a warrant to make an arrest like we do in the States."

Some American officers I met are worried that more terrorists and insurgents will remain at large now that warrants are needed for their arrest, but others are convinced this is wonderful news. It is, at least for the time being, just barely possible to wage a counterinsurgency using law enforcement methods instead of war-fighting methods. There is such a thing as an acceptable level of violence, and Iraq is nearer to that point than it has been in years. Baghdad is no longer the war zone it was.

3. Toll Rises as Iraq Slows

The U.S. military has passed off the responsibility for Awakening forces, which have numbered more than 100,000 fighters across Iraq, but Baghdad hasn't paid them in full. Since the government took over Mr. Karim's group in January, it has provided just one month's pay.

Iraq's government says it has addressed bureaucratic snags in the program's transition and that the fighters will be paid. Even so, the budget for Awakening salaries runs out at year's end.

U.S. commanders worry that if Baghdad doesn't foot the bill, group members could become a threat again. The U.S. military believes that recent car bombings in Baghdad were hatched somewhere in this belt of rugged farming villages.

After all the sacrifice in blood and treasure that the US has made in Iraq, it would shameful if we were to let it all slip away because the Iraqi government can't afford to continue to support the successful tactics of the surge. If we're going to commit foreign aid to any effort, this is it.

Hat Trick Part One

Three good pieces on health care:

1. Pajamas Media--Health Care Reform vs. Universal Health Care by Paul Hsieh:

According to a recent CNN poll, 8 out of 10 Americans are generally happy with their current health care. But they are legitimately concerned about rising costs. Furthermore, the constant media drumbeat about our health care "crisis" is making most Americans think that everybody else is having a rough time with health care (even if they themselves are doing relatively well). This fuels the false perception that we need drastic change in the form of government-managed "universal health care." In fact, the opposite is true. If Americans are satisfied with their health care quality but unhappy with rising costs, then the proper course is free-market reforms that lower costs, preserve quality, and respect individual rights.

2. How ObamaCare Will Affect Your Doctor-- by Scott Gottlieb:

There are also measures available that could fix structural flaws in our delivery system and make coverage more affordable without top-down controls set in Washington. The surest way to intensify flaws in the delivery of health care is to extend a Medicare-like "public option" into more corners of the private market. More government control of doctors and their reimbursement schemes will only create more problems.

3. 45 Centrist Democrats Protest Secrecy of Health Care

Centrist Democrats said they fully endorsed President Obama's goal of guaranteeing access to health insurance and health care for all. But, they said, they are concerned about the cost of the legislation, which could easily top $1 trillion over 10 years. And they want to be sure that the role of any new government-sponsored insurance program, expected to be a centerpiece of the bill, is carefully delineated.

Many Blue Dogs come from usually Republican districts or swing districts and see their stance on health care as vital to their political survival. By contrast, the committee chairmen writing the House bill have safe Democratic seats.

Runnin' Dew

If you've ever seen an old bottle of Mountain Dew, you know the beverage has a most interesting history:

Originally the name Mountain Dew was another euphemism for moonshine. In the early 40s, the first batch of Dew was made as a lemon-flavored soda to to be used as a mixer for 'shine that was too potent.

The battles between the back country folk making moonshine and the hated Federal revenuers are legendary. Now, if Nanny Statists and their Congressional allies have their way, it won't only be moonshine that the Feds are trying to tax, but the soda mixer:

Proponents of the tax cite research showing that consuming sugar-sweetened drinks can lead to obesity, diabetes and other ailments. They say the tax would lower consumption, reduce health problems and save medical costs. At least a dozen states already have some type of taxes on sugary beverages, said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

"Soda is clearly one of the most harmful products in the food supply, and it's something government should discourage the consumption of," Mr. Jacobson said.

Sanctimonious BS is clearly one of the most harmful attitudes in our society, and it's something everyone should discourage the acceptance of.

In case you're one of those "I don't drink soda, so why should I care?" folks, realize that like attempts to ban, tax, and demonize smoking, this is just the beginning:

Health advocates are floating other so-called sin tax proposals and food regulations as part of the government's health-care overhaul. Mr. Jacobson also plans to propose Tuesday that the government sharply raise taxes on alcohol, move to largely eliminate artificial trans fat from food and move to reduce the sodium content in packaged and restaurant food.

So in the guise of the "public interest," Nanny Statists like Jacobson want to impose additional costs on the MILLIONS of healthy Americans who drink alcohol and like food that tastes good (even if it is a little fatty and salty)? We can manage our eating and drinking choices just fine on our own, thank you very much. I think it would be in the "public interest" if these busy-body do-gooders would just mind their own fargin' business for a change.

As usual in matters of our increasingly nannified state, David Harsanyi wisely weighs in:

Beyond the health issues, you may want to ask yourself if it's appropriate for government to use taxes as a tool for strategic social engineering.

Isn't it counterproductive to pass one-size- fits-all punitive taxes that target the recreational ginger ale drinker along with the depraved Coca Cola abuser?

Or is it government's job to provide transparency, allowing consumers to make smart decisions, or not, about what they ingest?

Giving people the freedom to choose? How quaint.

UPDATE-- My better half e-mails to ask:

When it's voting season, politicians have the notion that people should vote for who they want and it's a persons right to vote (voters are smart). However, when in office, many tend to think they need to pass laws to regulate a persons everyday lives because they are too stupid i.e. bad food taxing.

On that note: maybe the gov't should ration our food. We stand in line for our food items on a daily basis and they decide what we eat....doesn't this sound like another gov't system that collapsed???

And Simon e-mails to connect some dots:

So Democrats are going to raise taxes on soda, snacks, cigarettes and alcohol to pay for socialized medicine.

But here is candidate Obama promising that families making less than $250,000 a year will not see ANY of their taxes raised.

I guess it's acceptable to tax us non-wealthy people when it's for our own good.

Exactly. After all, they do know what's best for the "public interest."