Friday, July 31, 2009

Drinking Liberally

Is it possible for four men to look like they're having less fun than these gents appear to be? Seriously, I'd rather sit in at an Amish quilting circle than yesterday's "Beer Summit." This picture should be featured in the next public service campaign to discourage teen drinking. And you thought beer was fun? Think again.

Beer Of The Week (Vol XVII)

Another chapter in the Beer of the Week sage brought to you by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits in Minnetonka, your one-stop shop for the cause and solution to all of life's problems.

This week is a very special edition. The beer featured is a limited release and I'm not even sure if it's currently available or not. I recently received a bottle as a gift and figured anything that comes in such an ornate package deserves a review.

Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock is part of the brewer's series of "Extreme Beers," which claim to challenge the very definition of what beer is. That's a pretty bold claim for the Boston Beer folks to make. Does their Chocolate Bock deliver the goods?

The bottle is brown and large (25.4 ounces). The label is metallic, raised, and etched. It's a very refined look.

Beer Style: Bock

Alcohol by Volume: 5.5%

COLOR (0-2): Very dark brown almost black. 2

AROMA (0-2): Malty with subtle scents of vanilla and cocoa. 2

HEAD (0-2): Light brown. Fades pretty quickly with little lacing. 1

TASTE (0-5): Rich malt with chocolate and vanilla tones. Has some taste characteristics that make it seem more like a stout than a bock. Smooth finish. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Long lingering flavor. 2

OVERALL (0-6): A complex beer that challenges your taste buds. Not a beer for the light-hearted, this is a "dark beer" that lives up to the appearance. While you're not going to want to (or even been able to) put back too many Chocolate Bocks in a night, it would be a great beer to have at a dinner party paired with dessert. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 15

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ve Have Vays Of Making You Trim

Kathy e-mails to point out a telling quote from an article in Tuesday's WSJ that reports that the Cost of Treating Obesity Has Soared (sub req):

The numbers underscore the urgent need for deeper interventions in society and the environment that will make it easier for people to maintain normal weight, Thomas Frieden, the CDC's new director, told conference attendees.

When you hear a government official talking about the "urgent need for deeper interventions in society and the environment," you should be afraid. Very afraid. Onward.

While obesity rates among some population groups have shown signs of leveling off, that is of little comfort, he said: The average American is about 23 pounds overweight. Obesity is causing disabilities and exacerbating health disparities, he said. The average American consumes about 250 calories more a day now than two or three decades ago.

"Obesity and with it diabetes are the only major health problems that are getting worse in this country, and they're getting worse rapidly," he said.

Considering the terrible state that our health care system is supposedly in, you would have thought that ALL of our major health problems were worsening. Maybe things really aren't that bad after all...

Here's the payoff:

Change is needed on many fronts, he added. "Reversing obesity is not going to be done successfully with individual effort."

There you have it folks. Excess weight gain--which generally occurs as a result of a person taking in more calories than they use--is no longer something that individual Americans will be able to control on their own. No, now the benevolent state will help us ALL maintain our ideal weight as determined by government charts and tables. You may rashly think that you can manage to find the right combination of eating and exercise just fine by yourself, but those choices will no longer be yours alone to make. Nanny knows what's good for you. Nanny knows best.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Blue Dog, I Saw You Standing Alone

An editorial in today's WSJ explains that ObamaCare's provisions to contain costs will almost certainly lead to reduced benefits :

Now Democrats have decided that raiding Medicare and slashing benefits is fine if the larger goal is to nationalize health care. But instead of doing it honestly, they want to shunt off unpopular decisions to an obscure and unelected central committee that will convert medical decisions into five-year plans. The notion is fundamentally undemocratic, especially because its true purpose is to protect politicians when "MedPAC on steroids" inevitably reduces treatment options in order to save money after the costs of government care explode.

And CBO is almost certainly underestimating this future cost explosion. After only three years, the universal health-care experiment in Massachusetts is already breaking that state's budget and its own version of MedPAC is now recommending radical changes, including a "global" health-care budget.

Romney in 2012!

This means that state bureaucrats will decide what the "right" amount is to spend on medicine, and doctors and hospitals will be given some portion of the total and told to make it work for patients. This is supposed to be a kind of Occam's scalpel, forcing providers to cut unnecessary treatments. But under a global budget, payments are likely to be lower than economic costs, squeezing out some beneficial treatments.

There's more than a little poetic justice in a Democratic President telling Democrats in Congress that they can't be trusted to rationally manage their own programs. But if that's really what Mr. Obama thinks, he's crazy to be simultaneously demanding even larger government programs. Health care will always be distorted by politics if government is paying for it. As for the Blue Dogs, they ought to tell the President that ObamaCare is dead unless he goes back to the drawing board.

Ah yes, the Blue Dog Democrats. Those fiscally conservative watchdogs who safeguard the public purse strings by keeping their more liberal spending Democratic brethren at bay. You know, the House Democrats who vote against major increases in public spending and taxes. Democrats like Minnesota's own Collin Peterson.

Let's look at Peterson's recent record of dogged fiscal responsibility.

- The expansion of the SCHIP program to cover families up to 300% of the poverty level? Peterson votes Yes.

- The $787 billion economic stimulus plan? Peterson votes No.

- President Obama's 2010 budget which massively increases spending? Peterson votes Yes.

- The Cap and Trade energy bill? Liberal Dems throw Peterson a bone and he lays down to vote Yes.

So Peterson's voting average as a Blue Dog is .250. Plenty good enough to have him bat second in the Twins lineup, but not exactly what you'd expect from your watchdog.

Merrill Matthews also has a piece in today's WSJ in which he lays out how Blue Dog Democrats Could Make or Break Health-care Reform:

Republicans have long called themselves fiscal conservatives. But after their spending spree in the first six years of the Bush administration, they are widely perceived to have tarnished their brand.

Are the Blue Dogs tarnishing their brand, too? If 80% of them voted for the stimulus bill and nearly 75% voted for the 2010 federal budget, can the group rightfully claim to be fiscally conservative?

The health-care bill will be the final test. The House legislation will cost at least $1 trillion over 10 years, including around $550 billion to $600 billion in new taxes. That doesn't count the employer mandate that will force employers to provide coverage or pay a penalty.

If all House Republicans oppose the bill, which seems likely, the Blue Dogs have enough votes to make or break health care in the House. Blue Dog Mike Ross of Arkansas says the bill can't pass the House. He's right, but only if 40 Blue Dogs or other Democrats vote against the bill.

The Democratic leadership and the president will put enormous pressure on the Blue Dogs to support the legislation. Now we'll see if the Blue Dogs have bite to go along with their bark.

If Blue Dogs like Collin Peterson follow their recent voting pattern, they won't have the teeth to take a bite out of President's Obama's health care plans. In which case they should change the name of their group to something more fitting. Pelosi's Lap Dogs perhaps.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Elder Abuse

Just to make sure there's not any lingering confusion: I am not now nor ever have been in any way affiliated with this group. Thank you.

All In All

Yesterday's second reading at Mass was from Ephesians
Chapter 4 verses 1-6

Brothers and sisters:
I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace:
one body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all.

One sentence that manages to say it all.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Beer Of The Week (Vol XVI)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits in Minnetonka, your one-stop shop for the cause and solution to all of life's problems.

When it comes to the beers of summer my personal preference is for the German wheat style known as hefeweizen. It's not necessarily the beer you want to pound down right after mowing the grass. While they certainly are refreshing in their own right, hefeweizens also have more complex taste and flavor than most summer beers. They're perfect beers for kicking back and savoring the season, whether on the beach, in a hammock, at on outdoor restaurant, or while grilling in your backyard.

For me the gold standard for hefeweizen is Paulaner. The Bavarian brewery produces a classic beer that looks beautiful in the glass and tastes wonderful in the mouth. For some reason, very few American brewers seem to have mastered the style and with the notable exception of Widmer and Two Brother's, I've been generally been unimpressed with the American hefeweizens that I've tried.

So it was with modest expectations that I approached Flying Dog Brewery's In-Heat Wheat Hefeweizen. Flying Dog is based out of Denver, but I noticed that the six-pack I picked up said that the company brewed beer in Denver and "by special agreement" in Frederick, Maryland. Not that there's anything wrong with outsourcing some of your production to a contract brewer, especially if demands dictate it. (See UPDATE at end of post)

The simple brown bottle has a yellow/orange label featuring a crazed-looking dog and Gonzo font. Which is appropriate given the Hunter S. Thompson quote "Good people drink good beer" that also appears on the label.

Beer Style: Hefeweizen

Alcohol by Volume: 4.7%

COLOR (0-2): Nicely clouded yellow gold 2

AROMA (0-2): Banana and clove 2

HEAD (0-2): White and full. Good lacing in the glass 2

TASTE (0-5): Full flavored refreshing wheat with citrus edges. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Deep and lasting. 2

OVERALL (0-6): A great example of hefeweizen. Very close to the German style in all respects. One of the best--possibly the best--American hefewiezen I've had so far. While taste testing over the last week, I often followed up a Flying Dog with a Paulaner and the Dog Hefe did not suffer by comparison. Pretty high praise in my book.

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 16

UPDATE-- An e-mail clarification from Josh (Creative Manager at Flying Dog):

Just making a clarification about your blog entry about our beer. We do 100% of our brewing in Frederick, Maryland at our Flying Dog Brewery facility. We don't contract brew any of our beer, but that verbiage on the label was something the Government had us put on there as we used to have two breweries.

Thanks for sampling our beer and thanks for blogging about it. We'll take a 16/19 any day!

UPDATE II-- Further clarification from Josh on Flying Dog's operations:

We did used to brew in Denver. We started in Aspen in 1990 as a small brewpub and it just blew up from there. We had two breweries for about 2 years, and the economics of brewing changed in that short time. We ended up having to shut a brewery down, and Denver got the ax. But our facility in Maryland is beautiful and much more efficient than our old warehouse-turned-brewery in Denver. Denver is still a main focus for us, and we have 10 employees here still (me included).

UPDATE III-- I neglected to add that while adding a lemon wedge to a hefeweizen is optional (Flying Dog thinks it the act of a poseur--I'm more open to the notion), properly pouring it is not. You should always drink hefeweizen from a glass and if at all possible one designed for the beer. I personally prefer the design of this Erdinger glass, but there are many acceptable variations. But even more critical than this glass is the pour.

Again, there are some variations on exactly how to pour a hefeweizen. The important thing to remember is to not empty the bottle on the initial pour. Keep about 1/4 of the beer in the bottle and swirl it around vigorously for ten seconds. Then add every last drop of it to the glass and watch the head and color of the beer grow richer. The swirling loosens the settled yeast and gives the beer the complex character and flavor that make hefeweizens so darn good.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Course Correction

The temptation to compare Presidents to their predecessors is one that seems to prove impossible for pundits to resist. Immediately after Barack Obama's election, many fawning media types sought to cast him as a historical figure by linking him to Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. of late, many on the right have tried to portray Obama as the second coming of Jimmy Carter (no Atomizer, that is not a good thing).

While it is still way too early in the game to say which presidency Obama's will most come to resemble, I think you can make a case for the possibility that it parallels that of Bill Clinton. Not that President Obama would approve of being grouped together with Clinton. It's quite clear that he wants an F.D.R. like legacy and is willing to use the L.B.J. like strategies to achieve it. But whether President Obama ends up being labeled as another F.D.R., Carter, or Clinton may have less to do what he wishes than with where political and economic realities push him.

How could Obama's presidency come to resemble Clinton's? Three ways.

Obama has decided that he needs to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the crisis environment and Democratic control of Congress to push his pet programs through as quickly as possible. He realizes that there probably won't be a better time to get what he wants done than the present and he's going to try to make hay while he can. The signature achievement that he most wants to be remembered for is health care reform. But in his haste to get a bill (any bill) passed, he's set himself up for a fall if his health care plans end up getting tripped up.

As Ramesh Ponnuru notes in the July 20th edition of National Review (sub req) losing the health care battle would likely force Obama to take in his sails and tack back to the center:

President Obama has not staked his presidency on health care as overtly as Clinton did in 1993. But no piece of legislation is more important to his claim to have inaugurated a new political era in which Clintonian compromise with conservatism is no longer necessary. If the Democrats cannot enact a liberal bill, Obama will have proven unable to deliver the change liberals have been waiting for. His presidency will, on its own terms, have failed. That does not mean that Obama cannot go on to have a successful presidency--but if he does it will be different, and less liberal, than the one he hopes to have.

It certainly would not be his "Waterloo" as some of Obama's foes have ill-advisedly claimed, but it would change the course of his presidency.

The economy may also have a lot to say about the path the Obama presidency takes. While it's impossible to predict exactly what the economy is going to like a year from now, it sure doesn't look like we're going to be in the midst of a robust recovery. We may be growing again, but that growth is likely to be painfully slow and anemic. And that growth is not going to be driving a significant resurgence in job creation.

Considering how big a factor the economy is in the outcome of elections, that does not bode well for the Democrats in 2010. It's unlikely that the Republicans could take back both the House and the Senate and they make not control either after 2010. But the Democratic majorities in both bodies are likely to reduced, perhaps greatly. This will force President Obama to actually practice some of the bipartisan consensus seeking that he preached during the campaign and move his policies back toward the center. Maybe not as much as Clinton was forced to after 1994, but far more than he would choose to on his own.

Unlike those of a more pessimistic bent, I believe that the U.S. economy will recover sometime. Despite the drags and unnecessary burdens that Obama and the Democrats will place on it, the economy is just to resilient not to bounce back. And while nothing is certain, it seems reasonable to imagine that the bounce will occur before 2012. Which could greatly enhance Obama's chance of reelection.

If the economy starts humming along nicely again sometime in 2011, it will probably be too soon for Congressional Republicans to take any credit for it. So as has usually been the case in the past, the President will reap the rewards whether he deserves to or not. Barring any major foreign blow ups or significant scandals, a good economy would likely be enough for voters to give President Obama a second term. Much as they did Bill Clinton in 1996.

A health care defeat that alters his course. A mid-term election result that forces him to move right. And a growing economy that helps get him reelected. You can see why Barack Obama could end following in Bill Clinton's footsteps. He might not be real happy about such a result, but it almost certainly would be a better one for the country.

Riff Wood

RiffTrax LIVE: Plan 9 from Outer Space:

Join the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 for the comedy event of the year!

Fathom Events presents RiffTrax LIVE: Plan 9 from Outer Space, an evening of LIVE riffing on the Worst Movie Ever Made beaming into movie theaters nationwide on Thursday, August 20th at 8PM ET/ 7PM CT/ 6PM MT/ Tape Delayed at 8PM PT.

Join Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo) and Bill Corbett (Crow T. Robot), now of, as they are reunited in HD for the first time ever on the big screen! This event will feature the world premiere of a brand new, never-before-seen short and non-stop hilarious riffing on a COLOR version of "Plan 9 from Outer Space"--a 1959 science fiction/horror film written, produced and directed by Edward D. Wood Jr.

You can a complete list of participating theaters in the Twin Cities here. I definitely plan to be at one of them.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

She'll Take Care Of It

Richard Sith has a provocative piece in the current issue of First Things in which he argues that contrary to claims that the availability of abortion "empowers" or "liberates" women, it actually worsens their position by shifting the responsibility to decide whether a child comes into this world squarely on their shoulders and letting men off the hook. Her Choice, Her Problem: How Abortion Empowers Men (sub req):

But once continuing a pregnancy to birth is the result neither of passion nor of luck but only of her deliberate choice, sympathy weakens. After all, the pregnant woman can avoid all her problems by choosing abortion. So if she decides to take those difficulties on, she must think she can handle them.

Birth itself may be followed by blame rather than support. Since only the mother has the right to decide whether to let the child be born, the father may easily conclude that she bears sole responsibility for caring for the child. The baby is her fault.

It may also seem unfair to him that she could escape motherhood (by being legally allowed to prevent birth), while he is denied any way to escape fatherhood (by still being legally required to pay child support). If consenting to sex does not entail consenting to act as a mother, why should it entail consenting to act as a father? Paternity support in this context appears unjust, and he may resist compliance with his legal duties.

Prior to the legalization of abortion in the United States, it was commonly understood that a man should offer a woman marriage in case of pregnancy, and many did so. But with the legalization of abortion, men started to feel that they were not responsible for the birth of children and consequently not under any obligation to marry. In gaining the option of abortion, many women have lost the option of marriage. Liberal abortion laws have thus considerably increased the number of families headed by a single mother, resulting in what some economists call the "feminization of poverty."

Alternative Care

One of President Obama's favorite tactics in trying to build support for his positions is to present a false choice between his plan and nothing. He made this disingenuous argument during the debate over the stimulus package and he's gone back to it again and again with regard to health care reform (as recently as yesterday).

The reality is there that are other choices between Obama's way and no way. The Republicans have put forward several proposals to address the most serious issues facing the U.S. health care system. Frankly, I think there have actually been too MANY Republican alternatives proposed which has tended to muddy the waters and enabled President Obama to be able to claim that the GOP doesn't have A plan. If Republicans could coalesce around one straightforward alternative prescription to Obamacare, it would help clarify where the battle lines have been drawn.

The latest Republican counter is offered up by Bobby Jindal in a piece in today's WSJ:

I served in the U.S. House with a majority of the current 435 representatives, and I am confident that if given the proper amount of legislative review, they will not accept the flawed Pelosi plan that is currently stuck in committee. Yet there is general agreement among Republicans and Democrats that we need health-care reform to bring costs down. This agreement can be the basis of a genuine, bipartisan reform, once the current over-reach by Mr. Obama and Mrs. Pelosi fails. Leaders of both parties can then come together behind health-care reform that stresses these seven principles:

* Consumer choice guided by transparency. We need a system where individuals choose an integrated plan that adopts the best disease-management practices, as opposed to fragmented care. Pricing and outcomes data for all tests, treatments and procedures should be posted on the Internet. Portable electronic health-care records can reduce paperwork, duplication and errors, while also empowering consumers to seek the provider that best meets their needs.

* Aligned consumer interests. Consumers should be financially invested in better health decisions through health-savings accounts, lower premiums and reduced cost sharing. If they seek care in cost-effective settings, comply with medical regimens, preventative care, and lifestyles that reduce the likelihood of chronic disease, they should share in the savings.

* Medical lawsuit reform. The practice of defensive medicine costs an estimated $100 billion-plus each year, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, which used a study by economists Daniel P. Kessler and Mark B. McClellan. No health reform is serious about reducing costs unless it reduces the costs of frivolous lawsuits.

* Insurance reform. Congress should establish simple guidelines to make policies more portable, with more coverage for pre-existing conditions. Reinsurance, high-risk pools, and other mechanisms can reduce the dangers of adverse risk selection and the incentive to avoid covering the sick. Individuals should also be able to keep insurance as they change jobs or states.

* Pooling for small businesses, the self-employed, and others. All consumers should have equal opportunity to buy the lowest-cost, highest-quality insurance available. Individuals should benefit from the economies of scale currently available to those working for large employers. They should be free to purchase their health coverage without tax penalty through their employer, church, union, etc.

* Pay for performance, not activity. Roughly 75% of health-care spending is for the care of chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes—and there is little coordination of this care. We can save money and improve outcomes by using integrated networks of care with rigorous, transparent outcome measures emphasizing prevention and disease management.

* Refundable tax credits. Low-income working Americans without health insurance should get help in buying private coverage through a refundable tax credit. This is preferable to building a separate, government-run health-care plan.

I don't know realistic it is to expect any measurable bipartisan support for this seven principle plan, but at least it offers a clear alternative to what President Obama and Democratic leaders are proposing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Welcome To The Jungle

Do you or anyone you know believe the following?

- That we had Saddam "in a box" and that if we had only continued with the United Nations weapons inspections programs and sanctions regime we could have contained his ambitions.

- That the United Nations is a place where countries and individuals come together to work for peace.

- That we should rely on the United Nations to competently and objectively implement and execute peace-keeping and humanitarian missions around the globe.

- That the United Nations acts in the best interests of the poor, persecuted, and repressed peoples of the world.

If you or anyone you answered "yes" to any of the following, you should read Michael Soussan's "Backstabbing For Beginners: My Crash Course In International Diplomacy" to get a much needed dose of reality.

Actually anyone interested in the inner workings of the U.N., the run-up to the Iraq War, and particularly in the culture of corruption that permeated the U.N.'s infamous "Oil For Food" program should read the book. It's a fascinating and infuriating account of a bright-eyed believer who enters the U.N. with dreams of "making a difference" and ends up leaving as a burned-out skeptic. His tales from inside the organization's bureaucratic and political meat-grinder are at times amusing and at times appalling. Luckily for him, he did manage to get out with his integrity intact--something that cannot be said for many of his colleagues.

One of his bosses whom he worked closely with went by the name "Pasha," better known to the world as Benon Sevan. During the time that Soussan worked for Sevan he was not aware that Sevan was as knee deep in kickbacks and payoffs as others who profited handsomely from a program ostensibly set up to help the Iraqi people under sanctions. In hindsight, a lot of what he didn't understand at the time suddenly made sense once he learned of Sevan's corruption.

By no means is Soussan a U.N. basher or a neocon schemer. He's more like an international idealist who was mugged by the reality of the United Nations.

There are many aspects of tragedy to this story: from the Iraqi people suffering while their leaders and others around the world grew rich to the way the U.N. wasted resources (both financial and human) that could have been put to much better use to the inept U.N. security in post-war Iraq that resulted in the needless loss of life. One of the sadder and more frustrating aspects is that it's hard to see that the U.N. has done much in the wake of the revelations of this scandalous activity to fundamentally change anything. Despite some happy talk about "reform," the U.N. today isn't really all that different from the U.N. where Soussan worked.

One final thought that Soussan shares near the end of the book is his view that the best blueprint for a healthy international organization was laid out by Immanuel Kant in Perpetual Peace. Kant foresaw a group of republics who would apply the laws and values of responsible and responsive domestic governance to international relations. The U.N. is a far cry from that ideal today and shows no sign of moving toward it in the future. Which is why we should expect to see more stories like Soussan's emerge from the dysfunctional world body.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Wacky Morning D.J. Says Democracy's A Joke

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the premier of the SpongeBob Squarepants show, Nickelodeon hosted the SpongeBob Squarepants Sponge Bash last weekend. It featured ten new episodes, ten celebrities' favorite episodes, and the top ten episodes of all time as voted by "fans."

Fans in this case apparently meant youngsters with underdeveloped brains full of mush or stoners with brains turned to slush (thanks Ben). How else to explain the results? Here is the list of top ten SpongeBob episodes that Nick aired on Saturday:

10. Suds
9. Patty Hype
8. Valentine's Day
7. The Paper
6. Help Wanted
5. SB 129
4. The Camping Episode
3. Ripped Pants
2. F.U.N.
1. Pizza Delivery

Now I'm as much of a believer in "power to the people" as the next fellow but really now, this is quite absurd. Here now, is the real list of the ten best SpongeBob episodes of all time.

10. Plankton's Army: Plankton harnesses the power of numbers, but learns that he can't handle the truth. We learn that his name is Sheldon.

9. Chocolate With Nuts: SB and Patrick try to make it big by selling chocolate door to door. Many hilarious encounters ensure, but none better than with Mary and her mother.

8. Ugh: A trip back in time B.C. (before comedy) with SpongeGar, Patar, and Squog. It takes a few viewings to appreciate how funny this episode really is.

7. Sailor's Mouth: SB and Patrick learn to use "sentence enhancers." I don't understand. The guy's talented, but he doesn't have to work blue.

6. Rock-A-Bye Bivalve: SB and Patrick play parents to help raise a baby clam and domestic tranquility does not ensue. Patrick coming home late from "work" with a lampshade on his head and being met at the door by a ticked off SB is one of the best scenes in the series history.

5. Krusty Krab Training Video: People Order Our Patties has to be the best corporate acronym of all time.

4. F.U.N.: SB decides that all Plankton needs is a friend. He learns a valuable lesson in the intractability of one's nature. Plankton's version of the F.U.N. song alone makes it worth watching. "N is for no survivors..."

3. The Camping Episode: The C-A-M-P-F-I-R-E-S-O-N-G and seabears both in the same episode? Squidward: What happened that time? SpongeBob: I don't know! I guess he just doesn't like you. Patrick: Pretend to be somebody else.

2. Jellyfish Jam: As the first episode I probably ever watched and definitely the first one I ever appreciated, this holds a special place for me. Plus my kids love to dance to it.

1. Band Geeks: From start to climatic finish, it's an absolute classic. Many memorable lines and a nod to Eighties metal make for great fun.

(Honorable mention: Pickles, Patrick Smartpants, Bubblestand, Ghost Host, Roller Cowards, No Weenies Allowed, Frankendoodle, Idiot Box, Graveyard Shift, Wet Painters)

Nothing Else Matters

The July 20th edition of National Review features a cover story on health care by Mark Steyn called Dependence Day (sub req). In the piece, Steyn once again aptly lays out the argument that this is the one battle that conservatives absolutely cannot afford to lose:

When health care is the government's responsibility, it becomes its principal responsibility. Because the minute you make government the provider of health care, you ensure that, come election time, the electorate will identify "health" as its number-one concern. Thus, in a democracy, the very fact of socialized medicine seduces the citizenry away from citizenship. Buying health care is no more onerous than buying a car or buying a house--which, pre-Barney Frank, most Americans seemed able to manage. Indeed, most of the complications are caused by existing government interventions. If you were attempting to devise a "system" from scratch, you might opt for insurance for catastrophic scenarios and, for PAP smears and colonoscopies and whatnot, something similar to the tax breaks for a Simplified Employee Pension: C'mon, how difficult can it be? Back in the day, your grampa managed to go to the doctor without routing the admin through Washington. Matter of fact, the doctor came to your grampa. That's how crazy it was.

But the acceptance of the principle that individual health is so complex its management can only be outsourced to the state is a concession no conservative should make. More than any other factor, it dramatically advances the statist logic for remorseless encroachments on self-determination. It's incompatible with a republic of self-governing citizens. The state cannot guarantee against every adversity and, if it attempts to, it can do so only at an enormous cost to liberty. A society in which you're free to choose your cable package, your iTunes downloads, and who ululates the best on American Idol but in which the government takes care of peripheral stuff like your body is a society no longer truly free.

President Obama's proposal for health care reform is the central front in the current ideological struggle and the outcome of that battle will shape the American political landscape for years to come. To borrow a phrase from the battle of Verdun, conservatives need to make the vow "Ils ne passeront pas" when it comes to the Democrats' health care plans.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Beer Of The Week (Vol XV)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits in Minnetonka, your one-stop booze shop.

One of pleasures of travel is getting to enjoy beer in a variety of countries and settings. That's why when I've been to the Netherlands for work over the years I've always taken advantage of the opportunity to sample some of the fine beers brewed in...

...nearby Belgium. No offense to the Dutch, but to be honest about it beer's not really their thing (nor is food for that matter). It was only a recent trip that I was able to find myself in a bar that offered up a widespread selection of Belgian offerings. But I have quaffed the more commonly available Belgian beers while in the Netherlands in past years. Beers like Leffe, Palm, and Hoegaarden.

On my first trip to Amsterdam some years ago, I savored the experience of sitting at an outdoor cafe sipping on a Hoegaarden on a summer day. But I only recently learned that the name is properly pronounced as hoo-garden and not as it looks (which is the answer to the question, "Where did Paris Hilton get those lovely tomatoes?").

Hoegaarden is usually served in distinctive six-sided tumbler glasses and if you're not getting it on tap, you'll want to be sure to swirl the bottle before finishing the pour to get all the unfiltered goodness out.

The 11.2 oz bottle is brown with a slight bulge in the neck. The label has a silver background with a medieval font (fitting for a label that also includes "Anno 1445") and shields of blue and gold.

Beer Style: Wit

Alcohol by Volume: 4.9%

COLOR (0-2): Cloudy white gold. 2

AROMA (0-2): Pronounced citrus with hints of spice. 2

HEAD (0-2): Strong bright white with good staying power. 2

TASTE (0-5): Very crisp and clear with flavors of wheat, lemon, and coriander. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Smooth, but a little light. 1

OVERALL (0-6): This is one of the milder Belgian beers when it comes to flavor. It's lighter and less complex than German wheat beers, but it still makes for a very refreshing and tasty summer beer. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 14

Feeding The Croc

Proving once again that the only politics that corporations care about is that which enriches their coffers, Wal-Mart goes from Democrat Demon to Darling (WSJ-sub req):

But as Wal-Mart proved it was serious-launching a high profile campaign to sell compact fluorescent bulbs, launching a solar power initiative in California -- some of its critics started to come around. Others claimed Wal-Mart was just picking low hanging fruit.

In a radical departure, Wal-Mart, which traditionally supported Republican political candidates, began donating money to Democrats as well. It formed a coalition with union leader Andy Stern, once one of Wal-Mart's harshest critics, to help explore solutions to the country's mounting health insurance crisis.

In the last month alone, Wal-Mart broke with business groups and a majority of other retailers in supporting a employer mandate for health insurance -- a centerpiece of President Barack Obama's health-care initiative.

Wal-Mart's not doing any of this out of a sudden and sincere concern for the fate of Gaia of course. And they didn't just wake up one day and say, "You know this Obama fellow might be on to something with his health care plans." No, it's all part of a carefully calculated decision that their bottom line is going to be better off with the company acting as allies rather than adversaries of the Democrats who now control the government. The problem with such an approach is trying to calibrate your compromises so as not to give up too much. Good luck with that Wal-Mart.

I also wonder whether companies like Wal-Mart who have embraced being "Green" in the interests of making green have gotten too far out in front of the public. For every consumer who falls for the "we're going Green" pitch, I have to think there's another (like me) who is increasingly turned off by the fool's Green that firms are so eager to tout.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Shape Of Things To Come?

What do the next one-hundred years hold in store for the United States? Another cold war with Russia? Being able to fulfill most of our energy needs from space? Dealing with the emergence of Mexico as a world power? A world war pitting the United States and Poland against Turkey and Japan???

Those are just some of what George Friedman sees when he dares gaze into a crystal ball in his book The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century. Lest you think his work the screed of a wide-eyed lunatic or more fictional than futurist, he asks that we imagine what the 20th century would look beginning in 1900:

Imagine that you were alive in the summer of 1900, living in London, then the capital of the world. Europe ruled the Eastern Hemisphere. There was hardly a place that, if not ruled directly, was not indirectly controlled from a European capital. Europe was at peace and enjoying unprecedented prosperity. Indeed, European interdependence due to trade and investment was so great that serious people were claiming that war had become impossible--and if not impossible, would end within weeks of beginning--because global financial markets couldn't withstand the strain. The future seemed fixed: a peaceful, prosperous Europe would rule the world.

Imagine yourself now in the summer of 1920. Europe had been torn apart by an agonizing war. The continent was in tatters. The Austro- Hun gar ian, Russian, German, and Ottoman empires were gone and millions had died in a war that lasted for years. The war ended when an American army of a million men intervened--an army that came and then just as quickly left. Communism dominated Russia, but it was not clear that it could survive. Countries that had been on the periphery of European power, like the United States and Japan, suddenly emerged as great powers. But one thing was certain--the peace treaty that had been imposed on Germany guaranteed that it would not soon reemerge.

Imagine the summer of 1940. Germany had not only reemerged but conquered France and dominated Europe. Communism had survived and the Soviet Union now was allied with Nazi Germany. Great Britain alone stood against Germany, and from the point of view of most reasonable people, the war was over. If there was not to be a thousand-year Reich, then certainly Europe's fate had been decided for a century. Germany would dominate Europe and inherit its empire.

Imagine now the summer of 1960. Germany had been crushed in the war, defeated less than five years later. Europe was occupied, split down the middle by the United States and the Soviet Union. The European empires were collapsing, and the United States and Soviet Union were competing over who would be their heir. The United States had the Soviet Union surrounded and, with an overwhelming arsenal of nuclear weapons, could annihilate it in hours. The United States had emerged as the global superpower. It dominated all of the world's oceans, and with its nuclear force could dictate terms to anyone in the world. Stalemate was the best the Soviets could hope for--unless the Soviets invaded Germany and conquered Europe. That was the war everyone was preparing for. And in the back of everyone's mind, the Maoist Chinese, seen as fanatical, were the other danger.

Now imagine the summer of 1980. The United States had been defeated in a seven-year war--not by the Soviet Union, but by communist North Vietnam. The nation was seen, and saw itself, as being in retreat. Expelled from Vietnam, it was then expelled from Iran as well, where the oil fields, which it no longer controlled, seemed about to fall into the hands of the Soviet Union. To contain the Soviet Union, the United States had formed an alliance with Maoist China--the American president and the Chinese chairman holding an amiable meeting in Beijing. Only this alliance seemed able to contain the powerful Soviet Union, which appeared to be surging.

Imagine now the summer of 2000. The Soviet Union had completely collapsed. China was still communist in name but had become capitalist in practice. NATO had advanced into Eastern Europe and even into the former Soviet Union. The world was prosperous and peaceful. Everyone knew that geopolitical considerations had become secondary to economic considerations, and the only problems were regional ones in basket cases like Haiti or Kosovo.

Then came September 11, 2001, and the world turned on its head again. At a certain level, when it comes to the future, the only thing one can be sure of is that common sense will be wrong. There is no magic twenty-year cycle; there is no simplistic force governing this pattern. It is simply that the things that appear to be so permanent and dominant at any given moment in history can change with stunning rapidity. Eras come and go. In international relations, the way the world looks right now is not at all how it will look in twenty years...or even less. The fall of the Soviet Union was hard to imagine, and that is exactly the point. Conventional political analysis suffers from a profound failure of imagination. It imagines passing clouds to be permanent and is blind to powerful, long-term shifts taking place in full view of the world.

Friedman's book suffers from no such failure of imagination. He refuses to let his thinking be bound by historical constraints and recognizes that geopolitical alignments always appear more stable and permanent at any given time than they prove to be in the long run.

Friedman's foresights are based on analysis that is largely free of passions or prejudice toward any particular country or political system. It isn't always easy for Americans to step back and take an objective view of the United States and its place in the world now or in the future. The clear-headed, dispassionate approach of Friedman reminds me in some ways of the work of Thomas P.M. Barnett.

And like Barnett, Friedman's view of the future is for the most part an optimistic one. He foresees another "golden age" for the United States in the mid twenty-first century similar to the one we experienced after the Second World War. While he recognizes the economic and societal consequences of coming technological changes will contain both positives and negatives, he generally sees more good than bad.

Two of his predictions that I found particularly interesting are:

- The struggle between the West and the Islamists is already winding down and will not have a significant influence on events the rest of the century. While this may seem a bit unlikely now, Friedman explains that since there aren't any Islamist states per se, it's unlikely that a loosely organized movement based on its beliefs can be sustained.

- Unlike many, he does not see China emerging as the next great power. In fact, he believes that China will actually begin to be riven with internal strife and fracture into disparate regions of power relatively soon (2020s).

Will everything that Friedman predicts come to pass? Of course not. But some likely will and thinking and arguing about which events might is one of the distinct pleasures of reading this book.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More Kindling On The Fire

Interesting article in Monday's WSJ on the on-going debate over pricing for e-books (sub req):

Publishers are concerned that so many successful new titles are sold for $9.99 or less on Inc.'s Kindle electronic book reader and Fictionwise, an e-book retailer owned by Barnes and Noble Inc. In contrast, new hardcover novels typically retail for $25 to $27.

Like most publishers, Sourcebooks Inc., an independent publisher based in Naperville, Ill., usually makes new books available as e-books upon print publication, but not this time. In an interview, Sourcebooks' chief executive said it will delay by at least half a year the e-book version of "Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse," a young-readers title in the vein of Harry Potter that goes on sale Sept. 9. While the book is a debut novel, the author, Kaleb Nation, has a following with his blog.

Sourcebooks is issuing 75,000 copies of "Bran Hambric," a sizable print run in this economy, and has arranged a substantial marketing campaign and book tour for Mr. Nation.

"It doesn't make sense for a new book to be valued at $9.99," said Dominique Raccah, CEO of Sourcebooks, which issues 250 to 300 new titles annually. "The argument is that the cheaper the book is, the more people will buy it. But hardcover books have an audience, and we shouldn't cannibalize it." An e-book for "Bran Hambric" will become available in the spring, she said.

This is the conundrum that the publishing industry will face as the popularity of e-books continues to grow. While I don't think that we'll see the end of the traditional print version of books anytime soon, we are in the beginning stages of a transition to e-books that will force publishers to rethink many aspects of the business, pricing in particular.

Of the top 15 fiction books on the July 19 New York Times best-seller list, only Catherine Coulter's novel "Knockout," which ranks No. 4, is unavailable in the Kindle format. Robert Gottlieb, chairman of Trident Media Group LLC and Ms. Coulter's literary agent, said he doesn't allow any of his authors' books to be published simultaneously as an e-book when he can prevent it.

"It's no different than releasing a DVD on the same day that a new movie is released in the movie theaters," he said. "Why would you do that?"

While I can appreciate the basis for Mr. Gottlieb's argument, his analogy is not an apt one. Going to a theater to watch a movie is an experience with significant differences between watching the same movie at home. The differences between reading a book in a print or Kindle format are nowhere near the same.

Music labels went through a similar pricing fight with Apple Inc., which for years set the price of all the digital music in its iTunes store at 99 cents. In April, Apple expanded to a tiered pricing system, offering songs for 69 cents, 99 cents and $1.29.

"Publishers are in denial about the economics of digital content," said Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps. "What we've seen in other industries and in the evolution of digital content is that consumers are not willing to pay as much for content that is separated from its physical medium."

At first blush, music does seem to offer a better comparison. However, it's not a perfect one either. If you download an e-book, you can't replicate the physical medium of the book. But it's quite easy to burn a CD after you download an album from iTunes. That's why the cost difference between purchasing a recently released album as a CD in a store or downloading the same album is relatively small. While consumers want to pay less for the electronic version of the music, they also recognize that there isn't that much cost in the CD itself. If a CD sells for $12 in a store, no one expects that they should be able to pay $4 for it on iTunes.

The problem for the publishers is trying to strike the right balance between the price they charge for a hard cover book and what they charge for the same e-book. If you look at music, the price of CDs has come down over the years while the price of digital music has remained relatively stable. Obviously, publishers have fixed and variable costs in printing hard cover books that far exceed those that music label do in making CDs.

The answer probably lies in trying to have more of the content costs (author advances, marketing, book tours, etc.) included in the price of the e-books and at the same time lowering the price of the hard cover books while still covering the costs of producing them. Which would lead to a situation where the price spread between the two versions would shrink to the point where publishers wouldn't have to worry about e-books cannibalizing their hard cover sales.

Nails Done

Ever wondered what happened to former Major League baseball player Lenny Dykstra? Steven Malanga says that Dykstra's post-baseball career is yet another story that was too good to be true:

Back in April Comeau predicted that Dykstra would file for bankruptcy because of the long market slide and because, "I've never met a rich person that tried so hard to look rich." And indeed, Dykstra's bankruptcy filing suggests that most of his outsized lifestyle was financed by debt, not big market profits. He declared just $50,000 in assets while claims against him amount to more than $30million. He's lost his $18.5 million home to foreclosure and had his Gulfstream jet taken back for failing to pay some $228,000 for remodelings. In an article in GQ, a former Players Club employee claimed Dykstra used his credit card number to wrack up some $14,000 in charges to rent a private plane after Dykstra's financial woes started. He similarly stiffed his mother for $23,000 after using her card.

He's also left a string of unpaid bills for his business excursions. Doubledown is asking for $350,000, while a Minneapolis design firm says it's owed $250,000. He owes two law firms nearly $2 million (not a great move if you are filing for bankruptcy), while a California doctor, Festus Dada, claims Nails owes him $500,000 because he tried to change the terms of a deal to sell Dada one of his California properties then, when Dada balked, Dykstra kept the half million down payment and walked away.

Along the route to this train wreck there were plenty of signs that Nails might have not be the best of investing partners. He occasionally responded to critics or questioners with profanity-laced tirades that might have once sounded charming directed at a home plate umpire, not when aimed at people with legitimate concerns about the cost of buying into Nails' ideas. And those he hired to work with him told tales of his strange work habits which included an often distracted lack of focus on the task at hand.

I hadn't heard anything about what Dykstra was up to after he left baseball. His rise and fall as a financial guru demonstrates the extent that greed and willful blindness drove people who should have known better to make irrational decisions during the heyday of the housing bubble.

Heal Thyself

In addition to scientists and engineers, another profession where individuals tend to believe their particular expertise in a field automatically translates into more widespread knowledge is medicine. Further evidence of this was provided by a letter to the editor in yesterday's WSJ:

Global warming, global food shortages and global diseases are all compounded because of the world-wide refusal to confront our single largest problem: uncontrolled overpopulation.

Somewhere, sometime, somehow we need to admit, confront and start to solve this problem or all else will be futile.

Arthur A. Fleisher II, M.D.
Northridge, Calif.

Paging Dr. Malthus and Dr. Erlich. Please report to the lobby for discharge as your theories have been thoroughly disproved.

It's surprising that anyone is still peddling the nonsense that overpopulation is the gravest threat to mankind.

UPDATE: Anyone except President Obama's "science czar" Dr. John Holdren:

It's not surprising. Holdren spent the '70s boogying down to the vibes of an imaginary population catastrophe and global cooling. He also participated in the famous wager between scientist Paul Ehrlich, the now-discredited "Population Bomb" theorist (and co-author of "Ecoscience), and economist Julian Simon, who believed human ingenuity would overcome demand.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Depth Does Not Imply Breadth

What Vox Day says about scientists...

Scientists not only know very little outside their professional fields, but they tend to be given to falsely assuming that their very specific expertise and education is somehow magically applicable to the broad spectrum of human knowledge as well.

...could easily be applied to engineers as well. I imagine other professions would also qualify.

Veining The Main Drain

[Yesterday evening]

5:10pm (all times approximate) Arrive home from work to grab coupon which guy at pizza store assured my wife I had to have when she called in order.

5:15pm Arrive at pizza store to pick up pie. No one asks for coupon.

5:20pm Arrive home. Wolf down a couple of pieces before having to take eldest boy to skating lesson.

5:30pm Go downstairs to get boy's skates and helmet and discover that the main drain is blocked and has backed up into laundry room and office/spare bedroom (where the cleanout is located). Curse silently.

5:35pm Go back upstairs to inform wife and hustle the boy out the door to skate.

6:45pm Arrive home from skating lesson. Do some quick cleanup and damage assessment in basement.

7:30pm Participate in conference call for work.

8:00pm Head back down to basement to start situational assessment/cleanup in earnest. Wish I had some sort of head-to-toe hazmat gear to wear instead of flip flops and garden gloves.

9:30pm After picking up carpet pieces and rugs, cleaning up waste, and conducting a variety of tests to determine extent of drain cloggage, reach the conclusion that we're looking at a pretty screwed up situation far beyond my ability to correct. Knowing that I have a critical 7am meeting at work the next day only serves to add to my angst.

9:35pm Remember that I know a guy who specializes in such situation who just happens to live nearby.

9:36pm Ring up Augie's Drain Cleaning expecting to leave a message and hopefully be able to get the situation resolved early the next day. Am surprised when John the owner answers the phone. Am even more surprised when after a preliminary reintroduction exchange, he says that he'll be over shortly.

9:40pm-10:05pm Try to make sure that the path is clear for John to do his work and even find myself picking up and straightening out the living room. Wouldn't want to think we have a messy house or anything. Pass the rest of the time by watching the conclusion of the staggeringly dull Home Run Derby. Wonder why on earth anyone would want to sit through the whole thing in person. The kids shagging balls in the outfield look like they're having the most fun.

10:06pm John arrives. After some further banter, he gets down to business. The root of the problem is quickly identified in the line just a short run from the house. After its removed, he clears the rest of the line to the street.

10:40pm John packs up his equipment and presents the bill. Much less than I expected especially considering the timing of the service.

10:45pm-11:05pm John helps enlighten me on the ways of sewers, in particular some potential problems to be on guard for with ours (damn silver maples). Then, he brings me up to speed on the political situation in the Valley, an area that he has much experience in.

11:06pm John leaves and I do some further clean up. Crack a beer to unwind and drift off to slumber close to the midnight hour. Although my sleep is short it is sound knowing that I'll have full use of the important facilities when I wake for work the next day.

Monday, July 13, 2009

State of the Church

Earlier this year, Archbishop Nienstedt began a Planning Process for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A Strategic Task Force for Parish and School Planning was created:

Its purpose is to listen, study, evaluate, discuss, and only then propose, how the Archdiocese can best serve the spiritual and community life of its people and the faith and educational development needs of its children now and in the future. The planning process will focus on both parishes and schools, seeking to build a sustainable way of organizing to effectively do the mission of the Church.

Although that's worded a bit awkwardly (do the mission of the Church?), essentially what the Archbishop is looking for is a strategic plan for how the Archdiocese is going to realize its mission in the coming years. Too often in the past, the Church has neglected to engage in such strategic and forward looking thinking. Usually to its detriment. I applaud Archbishop Nienstedt's action in this area and look forward to seeing the results that the task force comes up with.

Progress in this planning process has been communicated through a series of parish bulletin articles. The latest included a wealth of data on the demographic makeup of the Archdiocese, the financial situation at parishes and schools, and the state of Catholic education. Here are a few highlights that caught my eye:

* The total number of Catholics registered at parishes is estimated to be 650,000. The historical growth rate for registered Catholics is approximately 7.0%. By 2016 the number of Catholics registered at parishes will be approximately 695,000.

For a state known for its Scandinavian Lutheran roots, the Catholic population in the Twin Cities is impressive.

* Current Mass attendance is reported to be estimated on Saturday evening and Sundays to average a total of 223,275 people in this Archdiocese. This represents 34% of registered Catholics. This Archdiocese is aligned with the national estimate.

While that figure is not surprising, it is still distressing. Only one-third of registered Catholics attend Mass weekly?

* There is one Korean parish, two Vietnamese parishes, one Hmong parish and Mass is offered in French each Sunday for West African parishioners. Two priests serve approximately 10,000 Filipino Catholics spread across the Archdiocese.

I had no idea there were that many Filipinos in the Twin Cities.

* The growing diversity of the Catholic population is creating an increasing number of parishioners who do not register at a parish, but who regularly attend Mass in their parish of choice.

* Parish membership is less defined by geography than in the past. The average number of zip codes represented in a parish of this Archdiocese is 36.

* Destination parishes defined by personal preference, a specific pastor or by convenience are becoming more common.

The fact that many Catholics no longer choose to follow the traditional practice of attending Mass and registering at their "neighborhood" parish is not a surprise. However, the average number of zip codes in a parish figure is higher than I would have thought.

The issue of "destination parishes" is one that the Church is going to have to address in the planning process. While I believe the official position is still that Catholics should attend their local church, the reality is that people are going to flock to those parishes that are meeting their spiritual needs and many will tend to shun those that don't. It's a thorny matter to be sure. On the one hand, the tradition that Catholics support their local parish helps build community and helps keep resources more evenly distributed throughout the Archdiocese. On the other hand, should parishioners have to put up with pastors and parishes who are ineffective or who stray from the Church's teaching just because they happen to live nearby?

* There are currently 217 parishes in the Archdiocese

* The Archdiocese now has ten less parishes than it had ten years ago.

* There are currently 182 priests eligible to be pastor and there will be a total of 163 priests eligible to be pastors in ten years time: a drop of 19 pastors.

Looking to the future, a key challenge will be how the Archdiocese copes with more parishioners (and hopefully more attending Mass) with fewer priests and almost certainly fewer parishes. Consolidation is not a question of "if" but of "how."

* In FY 2009 there are 55 parishes being monitored by the Archdiocese because of debt and operational budget issues. In 2003, there were 33 parishes being monitored.

* The financial condition of the Archdiocese as described existed prior to the current general economic downturn. The downturn exacerbated and exposed the existing problem.

So even before the economy tanked, more than a quarter of all the parishes were facing financial difficulties. That is a worrisome statistic.

* According to baptismal records, there were 82,948 infants baptized between 1993 through 1999. In 2004-05 most of these children should have been enrolled in Kindergarten through Grace 6 programs. Roughly 38% of those baptized between 1993 and 1999 are not served by any religious education program or Catholic school in the Archdiocese during this year of 2008-09.

* In 2008-09 most of these same (baptized 1993-1999) children should have been enrolled in Grades 4 through 10. Roughly 41% of the same group was not served by any religious education program in the Archdiocese during this year.

Another unfortunate trend that I only see continuing to go the wrong way.

* In 2003-04 enrollment in Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese was 38,186. In 2008-09 enrollment was only 5% less, at 35,335. This is consistent with changes in public school district enrollment change, and accurately reflects changes to the age structure of the population in the Twin Cities area.

From on overall perspective, that doesn't sound too bad.

* In the last five years 60 elementary schools lost 5% or more of their enrollment.

* In the last five years 32 elementary schools lost 20% or more of their enrollment.

* Growth in enrollment has been in new Catholic schools, schools targeted at niche populations and in suburban areas where there is significant population growth.

Building new schools in fast growing areas is obviously necessary and it's good to see the demand. However, you have to wonder about the sustainability of the schools that have lost more than 20% of their enrollment and whether a Catholic education option will be available in the future in those areas.

* 2.4% of school personnel are priests or religious.

* 97.6% of school personnel are lay people (not priests or religious).

That's a distribution that's definitely changed over the years. In grade school, I'd guess that close to half the teachers I had were nuns. The figures were lower in high school, but there were still a fair number of brothers and sisters in the classroom.

Tuition has increased 36% since 2003-04. The average tuition has gone from $2,251 in 2003 to $3,063 in 2008 for the first child in parish sponsored Catholic elementary schools.

That's a tough nut to make, especially for parents of larger families (which still seems to be at least somewhat correlated to Catholicism). Vouchers? Tax credits? Something needs to be done here.

Again, I've just touched on a few of the facts and figures contained in the article. There's a lot more to chew on and consider, which I'm sure is what thoughtful Catholics in the Archdiocese will be doing in the months ahead.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Northern Alliance Radio Network

Join us beginning at 11AM tomorrow for another episode of the Northern Alliance Radio Network. A deluxe edition of the First Team show is planned, highlighted by our guest line up.

Sitting in for the entire two hours will be the award winning blogger, the Nihilist in Golf Pants.
Why all the darkness and psychotic imagery? Does golf relieve his rage and angst? We'll find out the whole story.

Also joining us at noon will be state Rep. Marty Seifert. He's the former Republican leader in the state House and now a candidate for the GOP nomination for Governor. A smart, bold, and unapologetic conservative with a good sense of humor may be just what this state needs. We've had him on a few times in the past and it's always been a lot of fun.

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 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.

Beer Of The Week (Vol XIV)

Another Friday dawns and with it another Beer of the Week brought to you as always by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits in Minnetonka. This week we step away from the beers of summer and cross over to the dark side.

Many beer drinkers--especially many American beer drinkers--harbor an unnatural fear of the dark. They label anything with more taste and color than your average mass-produced American lager as "dark." They assume that every "dark" beer is heavy, bitter, and strong in alcohol and caloric content while beers on the other side of the color spectrum are wispy, refreshing, and light. Dark beers are like ogres and giants while light beers are like fairy princesses and handsome princes.

The reality of course is quite different:

For some beer drinkers, there are only two types of beer--light and dark--and never the twain shall meet in their gustatory experiences. Forget all that nonsense the beer experts, writers, critics and snobs say about beer being classified as either ales or lagers. What's that got to do with anything? Beer is light (good) or dark (bad). Period. End of discussion. Now pour me another (light) one.

Some years ago I was at a watering hole in Chihuahua, Mexico that literally offered you two choices of tap beer. One handle poured light, the other dark. No styles or even brands mentioned at all. You want light or dark amigo?

Is all this true? Well, yes, but only to an extent.

Yes, beers are correctly classified as ales and lagers. And you know what? There are both light and dark ales and lagers. And you know what else? Dark beers aren't all heavy, bitter, fattening and strong. Some are weak, wussy and watery, with just a touch of color to make them appear exotic.

You should never judge a beer by its color, but rather the content of its character.

My first experiences on the dark side came near the end of my college daze. Whitey's in East Grand Forks used to have some sort of weeknight special where you got to throw three darts at the board when you first came in. It you scored a bull's-eye on any of your tosses, you'd win a pint of Stroh's Dark. Usually followed up by many more throughout the night. We'd also quaff schooners of Pabst Dark at Bonzer's in Grand Forks.

Now, neither one of those beers would in any way be considered a craft beer. And neither had that much more flavor that the lighter counterparts that we were used to drinking. But they both served an informative role in my on-going beer education. Maybe these dark beers aren't so bad after all.

Today we look at a beer from a historic Minnesota brewery that's made something of a comeback of late. That beer is Schell's Dark.

In a departure from the other Schell's products, Dark comes in a clear bottle. With that bottle and the beer's brown color, the look is somewhat reminiscent of Newcastle Brown Ale. The label features the classic Schell's font with a sunset, forest, and imposing deer head.

Beer Style: American dark lager

Alcohol by Volume: 5.1%

COLOR (0-2): Copper brown color. 2

AROMA (0-2): Faint malt odor. 1

HEAD (0-2): Tan head that fades a bit fast. 1

TASTE (0-5): Malty, smooth, and simple. 2

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Pleasant but light follow through. 1

OVERALL (0-6): Not much here for the real beer enthusiast to get excited about, but an offering that could serve as a good entry point into the wider world of beer for those who previously had been afraid of the dark. 3

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 10

Separated At Birth?

Long time Fraters reader Haps e-mails to offer up the following SAB:

Stocky baseball manager whose teddy-bear appearance belies his willingness to mix it up with major league umpires Ron Gardenhire and...

...stocky sapient biped whose teddy-bear appearance belies its willingness to mix it up with imperial storm troopers an Ewok?

In fairness to the Ewoks they're probably better at putting together a starting lineup than Gardenhire is these days.

It should also be noted that this is not the first time that someone has remarked that Gardenhire resembles the creatures of Endor.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Who's Laughing Now?

"I confess I enjoy democracy immensely. It is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing."
-H.L. Mencken

You'll have to forgive us if we've been lax in commenting on Al Franken officially becoming a United States Senator representing our fair state. I thought that I had already worked my way through the five stages of grief back in January when it was obvious that it would only be a matter of time before Franken took his place in the world's greatest deliberative body. But last week, when I heard the title Senator Al Franken being used and when Franken actually was seated this week, I realized that I had reverted from acceptance back to stage one:

You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.

Or even years. Because that's how long we've already been dealing with the prospect of Al Franken becoming a Senator from Minnesota. As part of the healing process I thought it would interesting to go back and review our views on Franken's candidacy over those years.

But before we go there, I want to make a couple of points about Franken's election which haven't been fully appreciated, especially on the national level.

Firstly, Franken's victory was hardly a ringing endorsement from the people of Minnesota on his candidacy. It was more of a referendum on Norm Coleman and the GOP. Given the dissatisfaction with Bush and Republicans in general and the Democratic resurgence in Minnesota, Coleman was going to be in trouble no matter who his opponent was. Had the Democrats put almost anyone else on the ticket, they likely would have beat Coleman by at least four or five points (Obama won the state by eight) and the whole recount would have been avoided. Franken comes into office as the victor, but his public support has little depth or breadth.

Secondly, Franken's victory would have not been possible without relentless (and usually baseless) attacks against Norm Coleman's integrity and character. His campaign employed the strategy of throwing enough crap up on the wall that eventually some of it stuck and created a public perception of Coleman as a sleazy and possibly corrupt politician. And it was crap too. Just one example was the campaign commercials suggesting that Coleman was in the pocket of the oil industry and other interest groups without offering any evidence to substantiate the charges. Since the campaign ended, we've learned that (surprise, surprise) nearly every one of the accusations against Coleman was without merit and politically motivated. But that doesn't matter now. Enough damage was done to Coleman's character to push enough Minnesotans (just enough) to vote for a man uniquely unqualified for the office. This is a strategy that I expect the DFL to repeat in coming election cycles and it's one that Minnesota Republicans are going to have do a better job countering if they hope to win statewide elections in the future.

Finally, people need to quit carping that the election was "stolen." As I noted way back in January, it wasn't stolen as much as squandered. In that post I used the analogy of an NFL team complaining that a late ticky-tacky pass interference call caused them to lose a game to the Lions. For a seasonal update, you could compare it the Yankees complaining that the way the umpire called balls and strikes cost them a game against the Twins. The old cliché is that good teams beat the teams they're supposed to beat and don't let the referees or umpires decide the outcome. The same goes for good candidates.

Despite all the political headwinds that I referenced in my first point, there is no doubt in my mind that Norm Coleman could and should have defeated Al Franken by a wide enough margin to ensure that a recount was unnecessary. The reason that Al Franken is a U.S. Senator is not because of the Minnesota Supreme Court, Mark Ritchie, or ACORN. It's because Norm Coleman's campaign didn't put him away when it could have. (It also didn't help that Franken's post-election team outworked and outsmarted Coleman's at almost every turn.) To paraphrase another sports cliché, when you've got the clown down, you need to step on his throat.

In hindsight, Coleman's decision to suspend negative campaign ads and go all "Minnesota Nice" late in the campaign was a terrible one. Spare me this pabulum about how voters don't like negative ads or that negative campaigning doesn't work in Minnesota. People may tell you that they don't like negative ads, but the reality is those ads are effective. Negative ads helped Franken chip away at Coleman's public image over the course of the campaign and had an impact at the polls. Coleman should have ignored the media's tut-tutting and gone after Franken hard right up until the eve of the election. Not about all the silly and stupid things Franken said and did in the past. Instead, Coleman should have zeroed in on the fact that nothing in Franken's background, experience, or temperament qualified him to serve in the U.S. Senate. He should have been relentless in attacking Franken on this and never have allowed him breathing room on it.

This election was not as much won by Al Franken or stolen by ACORN as it was lost by Norm Coleman. And that's a shame. A crying shame.

But they tell us that laughter is the best way through the tears. So let's look back at the good ol' days when the idea of Al Franken being a Senator was something to laugh about.

* November 2003 The first mention that I can find is Saint Paul catching Franken himself waffling on his qualifications for higher office:

But that's beside the point. Not 60 days ago Franken said he wouldn't be a serious candidate and that it would be a "sin" for him to run for office, IMPLYING that he's engaged in some deep introspection over the question and presumably arrived at a thoughtful conclusion (i.e., he would be "terrible"). And after saying all of that, he's now telling the press he's considering a run for office?

* November 2003 Later that month, Saint Paul concludes that Franken won't run:

I don't honestly believe Al Franken will run for the Senate. Yes, his massive ego and psychological need for vengeance over those who aborted the Wellstone legacy will compel him to give it serious consideration. But I suspect even Franken has enough sense to understand he'd be a laughingstock as a candidate (and not in a good way). Furthermore, given the petrified political culture of the DFL, it's unlikely he'd ever make it out of a primary election.

* May 2004 I weigh in with a sense of foreboding:

First Paul Wellstone, now Mark Dayton, and in the future Al Franken? How much can one state bear?

* July 2004 Saint Paul begs the Democrats to give us Franken:

Democrats, please, please nominate Al Franken for Senate in '08. There hasn't been a good butt joke in Minnesota politics since Roger Moe retired.

* September 2004 We get to catch Franken in action at the State Fair and are not impressed:

Uninspiring, unfunny, and unprepared. As Saint Paul noted, "I did more prep work for today's show than Franken did for his speech." Now that's saying something.

Before Franken was introduced, Matt Entenza (House DFL minority leader) called Franken and Mike Erlandson (State DFL Chairman) the "twin towers of the Democratic Party in Minnesota". Besides being a bit inappropriate, the remark demonstrates the sorry state of the DFL today. If Franken is one of your towers, you've got a lot of rebuilding to do. And if anyone thinks that this putz can stand on the same stage as Norm Coleman and not get his head handed to him, they're delusional. When it comes to Al Franken running for the Senate, I say, "Bring him on."

* February 2005 Saint Paul says that if Franken were to run it would be the Stupidiest Campaign Ever.

* February 2005 We think the idea of Franken running for the Senate is so appealing that we have a contest to help him come up with campaign material.

* February 2005 Saint Paul greets the announcement that Franken is running with much mirth making

Good times, good times. We could continue with example after example of our dismissive attitude towards Franken's chances in the past. But in the interests of time let's skip ahead to June of 2008 when a couple of local yokels all but guaranteed that Coleman would win when asked about the election by Kathy Shaidle for a piece on Franken that appeared in FrontPage Magazine:

FrontPage asked two well-known Minnesota political bloggers if they thought Franken had any chance of winning the election, given these recent developments. Via email, Ed Morrissey of was blunt: "...he has next to no chance at all. Only a Coleman withdrawal would give Franken the seat. He may not even survive his primary challenge at this rate."

Chad Doughty of Frater Libertas has been blogging about Franken since 2003, when rumors first surfaced that the comedian might challenge Coleman. Doughty says state Democrats are worried that Franken's candidacy might even negatively affect Barack Obama's run for president.

Doughty told FrontPage via email:

Six months ago, [Franken] was probably an even shot to unseat Coleman. Now, he's a long shot despite all the headwinds against Republicans that Coleman has to weather. His ads are becoming increasingly negative and vicious and there's more than a whiff of desperation coming from his campaign. (...) Franken is becoming a national embarrassment for the Dems.

Unless there is a seismic shift on the Senate race battleground between now and November, Norm Coleman should be re-elected relatively easily.
Then again, Minnesota is the same state that elected a shoot-from-the-hip former pro wrestler, Jesse Ventura, to the position of Governor. So presumably anything could happen.

And indeed it did.

Finally, we should note that way back in May of 2004 one pundit read the tea leaves correctly by noting that the idea of Franken winning a Senate seat in Minnesota was not as far-fetched as it seemed at the time:

I'd like to luxuriate in the joys of what Jonah Goldberg calls Frankenfreude as Air America loses executives and misses payrolls. But that's not possible now that Alice is bruiting about the idea of running for the Senate. In any other state, that might be laughable, but not in Minnesota. It's the one state where he could actually win. Do the words "Gov. Jesse Ventura" ring a bell?

First, Minnesota is one of the most reliably leftist states in the country. Second, the Star & Sickle, otherwise known as the Star Tribune, already loves Alice to distraction. Third, never underestimate the desperate Minneapolitan appetite for celebrity. You can't appreciate the meaning of trying too hard until you've read a local columnist hyperventilating over Minneapolis being compared to Des Moines instead of Paris. Fourth, Paul Wellstone. It could happen.

Congratulations to Vox Day for not underestimating the unpredictable nature of the Minnesota electorate. Perhaps he could gaze once again into his crystal ball and tell us what he thinks about Franken's reelection chances in...

...2014. Sigh. There aren't going to be a lot of laughs over the next five-and-a-half years, are there?

Safety In Numbers

David Harsanyi meets DOT Secretary Ray LaHood and isn't impressed with his plans to make airline travel safer:

When I asked LaHood if there was an outbreak of gruesome airline calamities that had somehow escaped my attention, he suggested I ask the relatives of those who died in a recent commuter jet accident about safety. Americans, he declared, were demanding more regulation. And he ended with a sarcastic quip, "I'm happy you feel safe."

Oh, I do. Why wouldn't I? There wasn't a single U.S. airline passenger death due to an accident in 2007 and 2008, years in which commercial airliners carried 1.5 billion passengers. If you are a skateboarder, skier, pedestrian or train rider, your chances of dying are far higher.

In both 2007 and 2008, around 700 bicyclists reportedly died on U.S. roads. This doesn't count the immense cost of other cyclist-related injuries and the unseemly sight of those preposterously kaleidoscopic tights the rest of us are exposed to.

If journalists transposed LaHood's fears about flying to cycling, newspapers would be impelled to run "blood on the streets" series weekly.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Tip of the Top

It's widely acknowledged that Pixar routinely cranks out the best in animated movies. Every one of their releases has been commercially successful and usually critically acclaimed. Now that the number of releases has reached double digits, I thought it would be a good time to rank the catalog of Pixar films. Here's my list from bottom to top:

10. Toy Story 2 (1999): One of the chief appeals of the Pixar stories is how original and creative they are. Therefore a sequel almost by default will place last.

9. Cars (2006): Didn't like this as much as many did. The story and characters were good, but not great. And unlike most of the Pixar collection, repeated viewings did not increase my affinity for the movie or reveal more than originally met the eye.

8. Finding Nemo (2003): Nemo is ninety minutes of pure entertainment joy. Unfortunately, it's a 100 minute movie and the ten minutes that should have been left on the cutting room floor put place the film in the bottom half of Pixar's top ten.

7. Toy Story (1995): You always have a special place in your heart for your first love. And most of us were smitten when Toy Story appeared on the screen. But like a first crush who in hindsight was more cute than beautiful, it doesn't compare with what was to come.

6. A Bug's Life (1998): A movie that I feel is too often overlooked in the Pixar oeuvre. The visuals, the cast of characters, and the plot are all uniquely appealing. The only reason it doesn't rank higher is that the other films are just so danged good.

5. UP* (2009): The asterisk indicates that unlike all of the other movies, I've only viewed UP once. I expect this to change after it becomes available on DVD. The movie has a bit more heart and soul than previous Pixar productions along with the usual top notch comedy, characters, and plot.

4. Monsters Inc. (2001): For some reason this movie doesn't get the recognition it deserves. Of all the Pixar stories, it's the tops in terms of pure creative genius. The characters are tremendous and the world they inhabit a work of wonder. Good music too.

3. WALL-E (2008): Yes, it carries an environmental message about as subtle as a two-by-four to the head, but who cares? It packs a visually stunning, imaginative, and even emotional punch that's hard to match.

2. Ratatouille (2007): Another visual masterpiece largely seen from the viewpoint of a rat. Only Pixar could pull off something like this and they do it amazingly well. Well-developed characters, a highly original storyline, and rich scenery where the tastes and smells of a Parisian restarant just about waft off the screen make Ratatouille an absolute delight.

1. The Incredibles (2004): The penultimate (thanks Lars) peak of the Pixar production pyramid. The look, the feel of perfection. For the kids and I suspect even more for adults. I don't know how many times I've seen this movie already, but I'd be willing to watch it again (and again) at the drop of a hat. The story is intriguing, the characters complex, the writing is witty and sharp, and the settings spectacular. It's got this great early to mid-Sixties sort of visual and audio vibe going that's irresistible. Buddy's island lair is the kind of place James Bond villains could only dream about being wickedly cool enough to construct. And the Incredibles' family abode is a modern dream house. Throw in few suitably subtle messages on family and personal excellence over equality of outcomes and you have one of the best movies that any studio has produced in the last twenty years. It will be tough for Pixar to ever top The Incredibles. But I can't wait to watch them try.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

They Took The Bar...The Whole F'n Bar!!

Al's Bar, a veritable landmark on the suburban side of the St. Louis Park-Minneapolis border for the past 83 years, has a date with the wrecking ball. The city of St. Louis Park has decided that the Minneapolis metropolitan area would be better served by yet another new urbanist mixed-use utopia. By this, of course, I mean a couple hundred over-priced and empty condos situated above 10,000 square feet or so of empty retail and office space.

Oh sure, maybe a brand new Champps will fling open its doors on the corner of Excelsior and France when The Ellipse has its ribbon cutting ceremony in 2010. But then, a few years later when that novelty has worn off, an Applebee's will take its place followed by a TGIFriday's and a Chili's and so on down the chain. All perfectly fine establishments in their own right, but I can guaran-damn-tee you that none of them will still be on that corner in 2092 and none of them will be as steeped in history as Al's Bar is.

Consider that Al's opened while our nation was still in the throes of Prohibition when, according to the St. Louis Park historical society:

...Al J. Lovass and Mary Vlavianous obtained a license to sell soft drinks and operate a restaurant. Others remember it as a grocery store or a confectionary. Whatever was going on upstairs, bootlegger Al and his wife supplied their customers with more than pop in their basement "party room"/speakeasy that featured a large fieldstone fireplace. Al's friendship with the Sheriff ensured that he and his card playing, drinking customers were safe from prosecution.

The drinking moved upstairs after The Scourge was repealed in 1933. A liquor store was added, the bar was expanded and the property changed hands a few times in the ensuing years but Al's Bar remained a popular neighborhood watering hole:

Al's ("home of the giant double") was an especially popular place when there was an election in Minneapolis and the Minneapolis bars were closed, since Al's was the first bar across the city line.

Al's never closed because of inclement weather. During the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940, people walked on top of cars to find refuge at Al's, where they partied for 3-4 days.
My own history of drinking at Al's began 23 years ago as a newly legal 19 year old who was bored with guzzling beer with my buddies in my room. When we decided to try the mysterious little corner bar we had all heard so much about we had no idea it would become the touchstone of our bar drinking lives.

I've spent an obscene number of Monday nights at Al's. What started as a gathering of friends to watch Monday Night Football became an event that if anyone were to be absent from, for good reason or not, he would be roundly chastised by the group the following week. I can even say, somewhat embarrassingly, that missing a Monday night would sometimes elicit in me feelings of guilt for letting the other guys down. The number of regulars has dwindled quite a bit over the years but the tradition has survived.

Last night was the last Al's Bar Monday I'll ever attend. As we were reminiscing around our little square table strewn with oversalted popcorn, discarded peanut shells and pools of Summit beer, a buddy reminded me of that first night 23 years ago. When we sat down at that table for the very first time we noticed a large banner tacked to the wall telling us that Al's would be closing for good in a few months. It's almost a quarter century later and, despite that banner and a handful of other false alarms, the building still stands. Come next Thursday night, I won't be able to say that.

The Elder Adds: I was wondering what it was going to take to awaken Atomizer from his posting slumber. I should have known that it would have to be something as momentous as the shuttering of his favorite watering hole.

It does seem like a curious time for yet another condo/retail/office combo to be going up in St. Louis Park as the market--particularly in that part of the city--seems more than saturated. Although I was not an Al's regular like Atomizer, I have darkened its door on several occasion over the years. As one of the last "neighborhood" bars still standing in the Western 'burbs, news of its demise, although not unexpected, is most unwelcome.

By the way, bidding is now open for all drinking establishments who would like to become the new host for Atomizer's Monday night crew. You're not likely going to find more consistent business and loyal customers.