Saturday, February 28, 2009

Baby Huey?

Happened to catch a bit of the original "All the King's Men" last night. Two scenes in particular caught my attention:

Loud cheers. Adam watches Anne. She applauds. Willie looks down at the crowd and continues his speech.

WILLIE: This much I swear to you. These things you shall have. I'm going to build a hospital. The biggest that money can buy... and it will belong to you.

That any man, woman, or child who is sick or in pain can go through those doors and know that everything will be done for them that man can do. To heal sickness. To ease pain. Free.

Not as a charity, but as a right.

And it is your right that every child shall have a complete education.

That any man who produces anything can take it to market without paying toll.

And no poor man's land or farm can be taxed or taken away from him.

And it is the right of the people that they will not be deprived of hope...


JACK: (voice over)
What if it was his bribe! He swept the old gang out of office. What if they hollered like stuck pigs? He jammed through bill after bill and the people got what they wanted.

Willie yelling at the legislators during a session.

WILLIE: I demand that this bill be passed. Nobody's going to tell me how to run this state.

Road excavation -- a bulldozer clears away dirt.

A huge crane maneuvers over a dam site. Men are seen working on the girders of a large power plant.

JACK: (voice over)
He started to build the roads, the schools, the power dams, to change the face of the state from one end to the other... His methods?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Yankee, Go Home! (and wait by the phone in case we need help)

George Walden looks at the illogic of European anti-Americanism and warns about the possible consequences of writing off America in a piece at Standpoint.Online:

The attempt to write off democracy in America, one of the greatest achievements of humankind (what other country is capable of mounting an election campaign like the one we have just witnessed?) as a self-evident failure, in contrast to the vibrant new protectionist Europe to come, and to obliterate American successes in science and technology, could be dismissed as so extreme as to be irrelevant to the debate.

But that would be to forget that, as the current crisis warps political sanity, we may be entering a phase where rationality could follow the global economy into recession.

For a sane view of the USA you have to look to Americans themselves, just as you look to them for the best science, the best orchestras, novelists, architects, art historians and (so I am told) classicists. The clearest statement of the facts about the US, its enemies and critics, is by Michael Mandelbaum, a foreign policy professor at Johns Hopkins University esteemed for the steely precision of his analyses.

Why is it, he asks in The Case for Goliath, that whereas states as strong as the US are historically subject to alliances to check them, no such anti-American alliance has formed or shows any sign of forming today? "The explanation for this gap is twofold. First, the charges most frequently levelled at America are false...second, far from menacing the rest of the world [the US] plays a uniquely positive global role. The governments of most other countries understand this, though they have powerful reasons not to say so explicitly."

There follows a highly contemporary message: that America's willingness to pursue the international activism we publicly deplore and privately welcome depends not so much on the rise of China but on the demands of Medicare and the social security budget. Three things about the US global involvement, he writes, may be safely predicted: that other countries "will not pay for it; they will continue to criticise it; and they will miss it when it is gone".

The only thing worse than a world with America playing the role of dominant super power is a world without it. When Europeans relish the apparent decline of America, they should consider just what the alternative would really look like if the US decided to pick up its ball and go home. Be careful what you wish for.

Drunkards & Bloggers Report

Lately, we've been fielding a lot of e-mail and phone calls here at Fraters Libertas Inc. world headquarters from people inquiring about the whereabouts of Atomizer. Sure, most are from collectors representing local watering holes looking for him to pony up for bar tabs that make Obama's budget seem fiscally responsibly, but a few are actually from concerned readers wondering what has become of the reclusive fourth Frater.

Firstly, we should clear up an ugly rumor making the rounds. The reports that Atomizer has given up his precious gin, converted to Islam, and journeyed to Somali to wage jihad are grossly exaggerated. C'mon people, this is Minnesota. Do you really think something so exotic could happen here?

No, Atomizer has been occupied for far more noble pursuits. He's been slaving away to help get the new outdoor Twins stadium ready for its grand opening in April of 2010. It's taken a lot of trial and error, but he's on the verge of perfecting his design for individual beer cup holders on each seat.

He'd like to thank the taxpayer's of Hennepin County for being happy to pay their share of the new stadium and keep him off the soup lines. Especially since he lives in Dakota County. And if the good people of Minnesota would see it in their hearts to open up their wallets to fund a new Vikings stadium (keeping him employed well past April 2010), he'd be much obliged. If that doesn't pan out, I may have a side gig for him designing the rink I plan on putting in my back yard next winter. If Joe Biden should ask, yes, it is shovel ready.

Meanwhile, we do expect to see Atomizer return to blogging soon. He's heading to Fort Myers, Florida next week to catch the Twins spring training action and should be able to sneak in a post or two on his thoughts on the squad's prospects this year (hint: you'd be surprised how many bars have wireless internet these days). Then, he'll be back in town, tan (at least from his elbows to hands), rested, and ready to blog like he's never blogged before. Which, come to think of it, isn't saying a lot. Can't accuse us of setting the bar too high.

Looks Like I Picked the Wrong Week to Quit Sniffing Glue

Yesterday at hockey someone mentioned that it must be easy doing the radio show these days with all the material that the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats were providing. As I explained to him that I recently decided to retire from the talk radio world, I realized that I had had an Artie Fufkin moment: I've got no timing, I've got no timing, I've got NO timing.

I wonder whatever will Brian and John be talking about on the NARN First Team show tomorrow. Not like anything much happened this week. Tune in to AM 1280 tomorrow from 11am-1pm as they swing for the fences. These days it's not even like taking batting practice. It's more like hitting off a tee.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Let Them Eat Cake

Andrew e-mails to hep us to article about kids who fear food and the parents who foster such madness:

SODIUM: that's what worries Greye Dunn. He thinks about calories, too, and whether he's getting enough vitamins. But it's the sodium that really scares him.

"Sodium makes your heart beat faster, so it can create something really serious," said Greye, who is 8 years old and lives in Mays Landing, New Jersey.

Greye's mother, Beth Dunn, the president of a multimedia company, is proud of her son's nutritional awareness and encourages it by serving organic food and helping Greye read labels on cereal boxes and cans.

"He wants to be healthy," she says.

"He" wants to be healthy? You mean, YOU have a warped obcession with him being healthy so you've installed baseless fears in his mind to make yourself feel better. Nice work mom. By the way, what the hell kind of name is "Greye" anyway? If this kid isn't getting his arse kicked on a regular basis on the playground I'd be shocked.

I'm forty and I don't give a rip about sodium, calories, or if I'm getting enough vitamins. Why? Because I've been blessed to be in good health, I eat in moderation, and squeeze in exercise when I can. The fact that an eight-year-old even knows why sodium is supposed to bad for him is sick, just sick.

Dunn is among the legions of parents who are vigilant about their children's consumption of sugar, processed foods and trans fats. Many try to stick to an organic diet. In general, their concern does not stem from a fear of obesity--although that may figure into the equation--but from a desire to protect their families from conditions like hyperactivity, diabetes and heart disease, which they believe can be avoided, or at least managed, by careful eating.

While scarcely any expert would criticize parents for paying attention to children's diets, many doctors, dietitians and eating disorder specialists worry that some parents are becoming overzealous, even obsessive, in efforts to engender good eating habits in children. With the best of intentions, these parents may be creating an unhealthy aura around food.

"We're seeing a lot of anxiety in these kids," said Cynthia Bulik, the director of the eating disorders program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "They go to birthday parties, and if it's not a granola cake they feel like they can't eat it. The culture has led both them and their parents to take the public health messages to an extreme."

For God's sake people. They're kids. They'll have plenty of time to be obcessive food freaks when they're older. For now, let them be kids. And let them eat birthday cake.

You're Good, You're Good

My wife and I often sprinkle pop culture references in our daily conversation. And like many of our generational cohort, these references are often from episodes of "The Simpsons" or even more frequently "Seinfeld." Again this is not an uncommon behavior as many of my friends do the same. In fact, --according to reliable reports--some years ago when Saint Paul, Atomizer, and JB took a junket to London, they managed to set a unofficial four-day record for making such references, leaving them spent and nearly speechless on the flight home (except for Atomizer who managed to summon up the intestinal fortitude to get well into his cups--again).

Therefore it probably shouldn't come as a surprise to discover that the acorn indeed doesn't fall from the tree. Our eldest has recently begun employing television refs in his regular banter. Naturally, they aren't sourced from "Seinfeld" or "The Simpsons." No, he's pulling his material from a program he knows all too well; Sir SpongeBob of the Square Pants.

Interestingly enough, in recent years my wife and I have found ourselves dropping SpongeBob lines on a increasingly regular basis. The little yellow square dude isn't approaching the Seinfeldian depths of seeming to have an appropriate riff for nearly everything you encounter in life, but you'd be surprised how often a nugget from the show proves usable. Now that our son has discovered the joys of the well-timed television reference, I expect we'll be going to that well even more often.

Oh Don't Sorrow, No Don't Weep

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and so I went to a church near work for my obligatory ashing. During his homily, the priest described Lent as a time when we should pause, step back, and focus on whether or not our lives are on the right path. That path is the one we begin when we were born and continue on through our lives as part of the journey home. Home to God.

Last night, while catching up on my back issues of First Things, I caught this at the end of Father Richard John Neuhaus' On The Public Square jottings in the February 2009 edition (sub req):

As of this writing, I am contending with a cancer, presently of unknown origin. I am, I am given to believe, under the expert medical care of the Sloan-Kettering clinic here in New York. I am grateful beyond measure for your prayers storming the gates of heaven. Be assured that I neither fear to die nor refuse to live.

If it is to die, all that has been is but a slight intimation of what is to be. If it is to live, there is much that I hope to do in the interim. After the last round with cancer fifteen years ago, I wrote a little book, As I Lay Dying (titled after William Faulkner after John Donne), in which I said much of what I had to say about the package deal that is mortality. I did not know that I had so much more to learn.

And yes, the question has occurred to me that, if I have but a little time to live, should I be spending it writing this column. I have heard it attributed to figures as various as Brother Lawrence and Martin Luther--when asked what they would do if they knew they were going to die tomorrow, they answered that they would plant a tree and say their prayers. (Luther is supposed to have added that he would quaff his favored beer.) Maybe I have, at least metaphorically, planted a few trees, and certainly I am saying my prayers.

Who knew that at this point in life I would be understanding, as if for the first time, the words of Paul, "When I am weak, then I am strong"? This is not a farewell. Please God, we will be pondering together the follies and splendors of the Church and the world for years to come. But maybe not.

In any event, when there is an unidentified agent in your body aggressively attacking the good things your body is intended to do, it does concentrate the mind. The entirety of our prayer is "Your will be done"--not as a note of resignation but of desire beyond expression. To that end, I commend myself to your intercession, and that of all the saints and angels who accompany us each step through time toward home.

Father Neuhaus did go home to God on January 8th of this year. As we begin this year's Lenten season, we realize just how wise he was in understanding the truth of the ultimate matters of life and death and just how much he will be missed in this world.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What's In It For Us?

Tim from Colorado e-mails to complain about the way the wealth is being redistributed:

I am just writing to congratulate you and your fellow Minnesotans for finishing fifteenth among all states and DC in terms of stimulus spending per capita, coming in at $1,789.62 per Minnesotan. That is a very good showing.

Yes! We're #15! In your face California!

We Coloradans are very disappointed at our showing, especially given the amount of nose-up-Obama's-butt-time that our Gov. Ritter has spent. We practically hand the keys to the whole friggin' state during the DNC, and then Ritter volunteers our SuperMax prison to the Feds to house Gitmo detainees, and then we lock down the city so Obama can sign the porkulus bill in all the pomp and circumstance it so richly deserved, and the thanks we get for that is a whopping $1,451 per person? Wyoming kicked our butts!!

What was I to expect with two freshman senators, I guess?

Of course, our state only has one sitting senator and we still came in fifteenth. Not to rub it in or anything.

At least we're not as bad off as Utah ($1,372).

Not the first or last time you'll hear that sentiment voiced.

When do we get our checks?

More importantly Tim is when do you get your bill.

The Bite of Reality

You often hear people bemoan the negative impacts of the globalized economy on America by claiming that "We don't make anything anymore." The truth is that we still make stuff. It's just not necessarily the same stuff we used to make and requires far fewer people to make it. To believe that we don't make anything anymore is to embrace the fallacy that manufacturing jobs and output are positively related. It would be like saying "We don't grow anything anymore" based on the number of workers involved in the agricultural sector today compared to the past.

Jim Manzi has an article in the latest edition of National Review called Factory Man (sub req) with a helpful graph to illustrate that while the percentage of the workforce in manufacturing in America has been declining for some time, manufacturing as a percentage of the total US economic output has remained relatively steady:

Manzi is a self-described "Factory Man" and he fondly recalls the hey days of American manufacturing. However, he recognizes that nostalgia for the past should not influence our perception of the realities of today nor our policies for the future:

This same dynamic has been playing out for manufacturing over the past 60 years. It has been exacerbated by international competition to a degree not seen in agriculture. Countries with much lower wages can produce goods cheaply and export them to the U.S. market, especially goods with labor-intensive manufacturing processes. Consequently--unlike the case with agriculture--the U.S. runs a consistent merchandise trade deficit. Those American manufacturing industries that are not in secular decline typically respond to this situation with one or more of the following strategies: (1) automate production to reduce the labor content, (2) manufacture overseas and become a research, design, and marketing company, (3) employ low-wage/low-skill manufacturing labor (very often illegal-immigrant labor with pre–New Deal economic protections), and (4) produce complex goods that require frequent manufacturing innovation and provide high-wage jobs. As Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric who probably did as much as any individual to drive manufacturing reform, put it in the 1980s: American factories must "automate, emigrate, or evaporate."

Most of these alternatives are bad for traditional-production workers, though some can work out well for manufacturing employees who can be flexible and develop advanced capabilities. As a result, while there is always a wage premium for those with better skills, manufacturing-sector jobs are increasingly re-segregating into high-skill/high-wage and low-skill/low-wage ghettos in a pattern very reminiscent of early-20th-century America. According to research by Claudia Goldin, an economic historian at Harvard, the ratio of pay for a starting engineer to that of the average production worker declined from about 1.4 in 1904 to about parity in 1956, at the peak of the post-war economic high tide. In 2007, the average starting industrial engineer made about $55,000 per year, or about 1.5 times the $37,000 that the average non-supervisory production worker made. And more broadly, wage inequality and the economy-wide skills premium have been rising in the U.S. for the past 30 years.

The days of getting out of high school, working in a factory, and having a middle-class life are pretty much gone, because the economic world of 1955 is gone. The jobs that provided this opportunity have been automated out of existence, and our international position no longer allows us to protect them at feasible cost. I take no joy in the need for restructuring the auto industry. I wish that old world still existed, but it does not.

I realize now that my attempts to resist this change were like William Jennings Bryan's attempts to resist the coming of the economic order that I was trying to preserve. I slowly came to understand through experience that my original vision of saving manufacturing would have destroyed it. Theories for how to revive American manufacturing abounded in the 1980s, and it's hard to exaggerate how difficult it is to understand which alternatives are feasible and which are not in the face of an economic transformation. It is almost impossible not to be guided by our sentiments in such a situation, and this happened to me. I fought the direction in which market price signals were pushing manufacturing, but in the end, they were the only reliable guide to what might work.

As a crude generalization, new economic sectors that rely on innovation are the ones that produce lots of high-wage jobs for an economy. It is often said that services are less productive than manufacturing, but in a certain way, this is the good thing about services: They provide jobs. Eventually, what we now call services will presumably go through the same transformation as farming and factories have, and we'll have to find a new sector to provide employment.

At each of these stages, we don't abandon the maturing industries. We still need food and manufactured goods, and it would be foolish to become completely dependent on foreign supplies for either. In the event of a real shooting war we couldn't book enough conference rooms to protect ourselves from a determined adversary. But, as we've seen, we are well able to feed ourselves, and we have an extremely robust manufacturing economy. In fact, had we tried to freeze in place either family farms or employee-intensive factories, we would probably have a far worse defense capability because we would have less domestic agricultural output and antiquated factories.

Which new sectors will actually be productive, and how they will ultimately develop, is highly unpredictable. This is why the free play of markets with limited intrusion by the government is so essential. Almost all industrial policy ends up protecting existing institutions: This is a function of human nature and is not fixable with clever program design. In practice, industrial policy normally means maintaining jobs that a ruthless market would eliminate, and subsidizing technological developments that can be exploited by existing large firms. But these are rarely the sources of new high-wage jobs. Ironically, these attempts to protect ourselves end up creating a sclerotic economy that in the long run puts everyone at greater risk. The painful reality of economic growth is creative destruction, and in a globalized economy, to lose out in this race is ultimately to put ourselves at the mercy of those who may or may not share our interests.

No one will deny that the transformation of manufacturing in American has been and continues to be painful. We do need to do a better job of recognizing and managing the changing world of manufacturing to ameliorate that pain.

But when people start talking about how we need the government to "fix it" or "protect it," you have to ask yourself whether the cure will be worse than the disease. As Manzi says, it ain't 1955 no more and we can't go back to the way the economy worked then. To pretend that we can is a false promise and to try to turn back the clock is likely to result in far worse consequences than any wrought by the change.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Dog Stays

It's been quite a while since an officially sanctioned Minnesota Organization of Bloggers event was held. The drought will be broken on Saturday March 7th at Keegan's Irish Pub in Nordeast Minneapolis. You'll have the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the best and brightest local bloggers (and the Nihilist in Golf Pants). For complete details check out this post at Shot in the Dark.

While we're talking MOB business, we should note that the latest member of the august organization is Chris Walden who has set up shop at The Rocket's Red Glare. It appears to be another fine addition to the local blogging scene.

Laying The Foundation

The Heritage Foundation is coming to town:

The Minneapolis/St. Paul Committee for Heritage cordially invites you to attend a reception for young professionals at:

825 Hennepin Avenue
Minneapolis, Minnesota

There is no charge for this event. Complimentary wine, drinks and hors d'oeuvres will be provided. Complimentary parking available in LaSalle Parking Garage located beneath the restaurant.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

7:00 - 9:00 p.m. Reception
7:45 p.m. Remarks on Conservatism and American Leadership in Global Politics featuring:

Rob Bluey
Director, Online Strategy, The Heritage Foundation

Sally McNamara
Senior Policy Analyst, European Affairs, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, The Heritage Foundation

You can register for the event here. For most people, the lure of free drinks and snacks would be enough. For our own Saint Paul, I'm sure the lure of FREE PARKING will prove impossible to resist. In case you're wondering the Heritage Foundation defines "young" as under forty-five, yet another reason to come out to support this fine conservative organization.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Imagination Emergency

President Obama is gathering a couple hundred of the best and brightest for today's Fiscal Responsibility Summit:

The White House "Fiscal Responsibility Summit" gets under way today for a marathon session on long-term budget-busters such as Social Security, Medicare, federal purchasing and tax policy.

The session, our colleagues Ceci Connolly and Lori Montgomery report, is intended in part to counter Republican criticism that the new administration's costly response to the economic crisis is needlessly pushing the country deeper into debt.

The bipartisan meeting features five topic-specific breakout sessions, and will include lawmakers, economists and a range of special interest leaders. A full list of the attendees and breakout group moderator follows.

Breakout Groups:

Social Security
Moderators: Chair of the National Economic Council Larry Summers and Gene Sperling of the Treasury Department

Moderators: OMB Director Peter Orszag and Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes

Tax Reform
Moderators: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Council of Economic Advisers Chair Christina Romer

Budget Process
Moderators: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Deputy OMB Director Rob Nabors

Moderators: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew, and Rahm Emanuel

You think there will be Post It notes? You know there will be Post It notes. How about weighted multivoting?

My Post It note would read: CUT SPENDING and it would get all my votes.

The list of attendees is pretty interesting. While it is truly a bipartisan crowd, what really stands out is just how far the adminstration felt they had to reach out to get the correct amount of diversity.

Dr. Ho Tran, Asian Pacific Islanders American Health Forum (APIAHF)

Eleanor Hinton Hoytt, Black Women's Health Imperative

Marty Ford, Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities

Ellie Smeal, Feminist Majority

Heidi Hartmann, Institute for Women's Policy

Jackie Johnson Pata, National Congress of American Indians

Janet Murguia, National Council of La Raza

Because God knows you're not going to get anywhere on trying to cut the deficit without input from these groups. You know I was starting to worry about the increasing size of the deficit and national debt. But knowing that these folks are on the watch, I can put my mind at ease.

Finally, my favorite attendee has to be Peter G. Peterson from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. I guess when your name is on the foundation's letterhead, there's not much discussion about who gets to go to the White House.

Deeper Into The Tunnel

Those expecting the economy to turn around any time soon may want to reconsider their optimistic outlook. The views on 2009 of a number of economists have become increasingly dismal:

The U.S. recession will be the worst in more than three decades as job losses mount and consumers and companies retrench, a survey of business economists showed.

The world's largest economy will shrink by 1.9 percent this year and a total of 2.8 percent in the current downturn, the most since the 1973-75 slump, according to the median estimate in a poll taken by the National Association for Business Economics. Another 3.2 million Americans will be cut from payrolls in 2009, pushing unemployment to 9 percent by year-end, NABE said.

Among the other gloomy statistical predictions:

* Eight out of 10 economists projected the stimulus plan signed into law last week by President Barack Obama would contribute at most a 1 percentage-point boost to gross domestic product this year.

* The federal budget deficit will swell to a record $1.5 trillion in the fiscal year ending in September, from $455 billion in the previous 12 months, the survey showed. The gap will probably be $1.1 trillion next year, NABE economists said.

* Consumer spending, which accounts for more than 70 percent of the economy, is projected to decline 1.3 percent this year, compared with a 0.2 percent drop forecast in the November survey.

* Economists cut 2009 projections for auto sales to 10.9 million from the 12.5 million projected in November.

* Builders will break ground on 630,000 homes this year, the fewest in 50 years of record-keeping and less than the 870,000 starts projected in the November poll. Still, participants predicted home sales would reach a trough by the middle of the year.

There are a few glimmers of good news:

The cost of living will decline 0.8 percent in 2009 as the benefit of lower raw-material expenses is passed through to consumers, the NABE report indicated.

At least good news if you're not worried about deflation. Which I'm not, considering that the way we're spending and printing money right now will likely lead us to an opposite problem soon enough.

The other good news from the poll is that most economists expect the US to lead the global turn around:

Even as the outlook worsened for 2009, economists in the poll projected the U.S. would be the first to emerge from the global recession, followed by China and Canada.

Obviously there will be a recovery at some point. It just doesn't appear likely to be any time soon.

Another indication of the depth and breadth of the downturn is how companies that weren't part of the original financial crisis are now being pounded on Wall Street:

While eyes have been locked on the steep descent of Citigroup and Bank of America, financial stocks are no longer the main culprits in pulling the stock market toward 11-year lows.

Instead, manufacturers and even makers of basic consumer goods are now the biggest drags, a shift that has some investors worried.

Although the current bear market began as a housing and banking crisis, the damage has spread. Financial stocks have shrunk so much in value that their continuing declines, while still large in percentage terms, are too small in dollar terms to move the indexes as much.

A more diverse group is leading the declines today. A look at the Dow Jones Industrial Average this year shows declines in stocks like 3M and Procter & Gamble have had more of an impact than the drop in Citigroup or American Express.

"What started as a subprime mortgage crisis became a U.S. credit crisis, then a U.S. recession, and now we are in a full-fledged, globally synchronous recession of historic proportions," says Leo Grohowski, chief investment officer BNY Mellon Wealth Management in New York. "There are very few areas that have been insulated from the decline in earnings and in stock-price performance."

It's only February and 2009 already seems like a long year. Unfortunately, it's only going to get longer and harder from here.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Everything I Needed To Know About Cocktails...

...I learned from watching cartoons. So says Eric Felten in today's Wall Street Journal (sub req):

Having grown up in a dry household, my first introduction to the concept of the cocktail came, as so much essential cultural knowledge does, by way of Looney Tunes. Saturday mornings in front of the tube, I learned the basic cartoon conventions -- such as the understanding that gravity kicks in not when Wile E. Coyote goes off the edge of a cliff, but only when he looks down and realizes it. Also among the animated verities: Mixed drinks are outrageously potent, and their debilitating effects kick in (like gravity) only after a comic pause.

The instance I remember best comes from a 1951 cartoon, "Drip-Along Daffy," in which the duck and his sidekick, Porky Pig, try to whip a lawless Western town into shape. Sheriff Daffy steps up to the bar and orders a bracer, only to find himself challenged by outlaw Nasty Canasta to join him in his "usual," a mix of cobra fang juice, hydrogen bitters, and Old Panther. ("Panther-sweat" -- and other panther-related fluids -- was Prohibition slang for rot-gut whiskey.)

The bartender dons a welding mask and asbestos gloves, and grips the bottles with iron tongs. He assembles the red, yellow and purple concoction, which fizzes and pops with atomic instability. Canasta glugs his down with no worse effects than a little flip of his cowboy hat. Daffy fobs his off on Porky Pig, who enjoys the drink, at which point Daffy demands another and tosses it back. Comic pause. Daffy and Porky, now glassy-eyed, both burble nursery rhymes.

I happened to catch said cartoon about a month ago and that scene is a classic. Felten goes on to describe another cartoon cocktail, although he refuses to endorse it:

Not that such limitations stop the series' production company from doing its best to control the cocktails its characters have contrived, such as Ned Flanders's version of the classic Planters Punch. To get permission to use an image of neighborino Ned pouring Homer a Flanders Planters Punch, the "Simpsons" rights shop required that we print the drink recipe exactly the way Ned describes it to Homer -- "three shots of rum, a jigger of bourbon, and just a little daberoo of crème de cassis for flavor." Alas, the drink just isn't that good according to the original Flanders specifications. Also, as a lampshade-crowned Homer discovers, the pour is dangerously over-generous. I couldn't in good conscience recommend it.

Fanders Planters Punch

3 shots of rum
1 jigger of bourbon
a little daberoo of crème de cassis for flavor

Combine with ice in a tumbler.

Sound like a JB concoction. And a pretty darn goodily-oodily one to me.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Reason Is Calling

In the on-going discussions about the Obama mortgage rescue package (rescue package, comin' to the rescue!), I keep hearing that opposing it would pose political risk for Republicans because, "Everybody personally knows somebody who's struggling to avoid foreclosure and save their home." Really? I don't.

Maybe I just run with a more responsible crowd, but as far as I know I can't think of a friend, relative, co-worker, or neighbor who faces the imminent loss of their home. Is this unusual?

From what I've been hearing on a purely anecdotal basis, I don't think so. Granted, you could probably find polling data that shows that most Americans favor lending a helping hand to those homeowners who are in over there heads, but what I'm hearing and seeing more and more is a rising backlash against the whole bailout business, whether it be for banks, auto makers, or underwater homeowners. The overriding impression seems to be that those who acted responsibly are now being asked to bail out those who did not and a lot of ordinary Americans are ready to say, "No mas."

Again, this is purely based on anecdotal observations and it could very well be true that if Republicans oppose the latest and greatest mortgage fixin' plan, they will pay a political price. However, sometimes it's better to be right than popular. And this is one of those times.

If previous patterns hold true, a year from now many of those homeowners who supposedly were given a lifeline by the government will again be about to go under for the third time and lose their homes. At that point, Republicans can justly ask what exactly was accomplished by the $75 billion dollar mortgage bailout. It's worth taking some heat now to be able to take advantage of that opportunity in the future.

Love in An Elevator

A few weeks ago I wrote about the emotion of "elevation" and how many in the secular world interprets its origin as, well, secular in nature. Whereas the more religiously inclined credit a higher power. The Night Writer picks up the theme in this excellent analysis, and provides a little elevation of his own:
Yes, I've felt and enjoyed "elevation" in watching certain movies or reading certain books or hearing certain speakers, but I've also felt it most profoundly when infused by a Trinity that's anything but pop. How ironic, it appears to me, that the learned experts can walk right up to the edge of revelation and stop themselves just short, as if it were a cliff they dare not let themselves go over.

Amazon's editorial synopsis of Keltner's book includes the following description (emphasis mine):

"A new examination of the surprising origins of human goodness. In Born to Be Good, Dacher Keltner demonstrates that humans are not hardwired to lead lives that are 'nasty, brutish, and short'— we are in fact born to be good. He investigates an old mystery of human evolution: why have we evolved positive emotions like gratitude, amusement, awe, and compassion that promote ethical action and are the fabric of cooperative societies?"

Evolved? Could, perhaps, those emotions have been implanted in us by God? Could they even be the essence of what "being created in the likeness and image of" means? That is, not so much a physical likeness but a spiritual harmonic that resonates in the presence of goodness? I have been suddenly "elevated" while singing praises to God, or in the midst of praying for someone, or when a revelation crystallizes suddenly in my half-alert mind. It doesn't happen every time I do these things; in fact it usually happens when I'm not expecting it to. In the middle of a song that we've sung dozens of times, for example, or in half-way through praying for someone when — whoosh elevation! (Actually, in our circles, we call it "anointing") It seems to wait for that split-second when I stop thinking about myself to manifest itself and I know that I've made a different kind of connection, or been a conduit for one.

It's not a self-congratulatory wave of emotion from taking pride in my doing something "good", either; in fact, that kind of thought quenches the feeling immediately. It's another demonstration of what St. Paul (the apostle, not Brian) wrote when he urged us not to be "conformed" to the world and all of its selfishness, but to be "transformed" by the "renewing of our minds" when we ever-so-briefly touch something larger than ourselves.
(Note, the title to this post was so bad, it had to be used).

Pay Your Taxes-Keep 'Em Buying

David Harsanyi says it's time to stop complaining, be patriotic, and pay up:

Given that most of you will be paying your neighbors' mortgages soon, it only seems prudent that we start thinking in bolder terms. And by "thinking in bolder terms," I mean "thinking about me."

Why, for instance, should I be on the hook to pay those grating high-interest credit cards I signed up for? Or those detestable car payments?

For you folks who are less than ecstatic about straightening out my fiscal affairs, I have two things to say: 1) Don't be selfish. 2) Forget everything you ever have heard about the American Revolution.

Taxes, extreme government spending and wealth redistribution are patriotic. You're going to see so much patriotism that your kids will be pigtailed uber-nationalists by the time they hit kindergarten.

This week, Barack Obama heroically signed away $787,000,000,000 for so-called stimulus. He reportedly praised a Republican supporter for her patriotism in supporting the bill — which, by logical extension, means that those who voted "no" are unpatriotic toads.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Agreeing To Agree

It's not every day that you can find common cause with those on the other side of the ideological divide. But this being the Age of Obama--a time of universal unity, post-partisanship, peace, love, and understanding--I suppose it should not be all that surprising that we should find ourselves holding hands and singing Kumbaya around the campfire with our comrades at the local alternative newspaper City Pages:

City Council members are discussing options to ban happy hour and other drinking specials at bars to help prevent binge drinking. They are also looking at ways to ban drinking games in bars (think beer pong and flip cup). Because, you know, young people can't play those games at home if they are so inclined.

Minneapolis is forming a task force to take a closer look at the recommendations on limiting drinking in bars to decide if the regulations should be considered by the City Council.

These recommendations are ridiculous. Businesses should be allowed to price their drinks how they choose. Particularly in a tough economy, bars have to find creative ways to get customers into their establishments.

Amen sister. You really have to read that second paragraph slowly to grasp the utter stupidity of the Minneapolis City Council:

Minneapolis is forming a task force to take a closer look at the recommendations on limiting drinking... bars...

What's next up for the Nanny State naybobs on the Council; limiting eating in restaurants? How about limiting shopping in malls? Limiting reading in libraries?

When you consider all the challenges facing the City of Minneapolis today, to learn that its "leaders" are spending their time on something so frivolous, so foolish, so far from what should be the legitimate scope of their power it almost makes you want to cry. And if I was a resident of Minneapolis, I probably would. And then I would pack my bags and get the hell out. Which is something that more and more businesses (especially bars) are probably seriously considering right about now.

For if there's anything that the Minneapolis City Council has a proven track record of limiting it's innovation, growth, and entrepreneurship within the city's boundaries.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Nobody Told Me There Would Be Bacon

I'm generally tired of reading people on the Internet obsessing about bacon, but this sad news from today's Pioneer Press bears mentioning:
No more free bacon in downtown Stillwater. After 2 1/2 years, Stone's Restaurant and Lounge -- which became known for serving free bacon strips at the bar -- has closed.
I've eaten at Stone's numerous times in the last 2 years, enjoyed it every time, yet NEVER had any inclination free bacon was being served. Who knows how many additional times I, and similarly ignorant Stillwaterian carnivores, would have shown up for drinks/dinner had we known.  It might have been enough to save the joint.  Tragic really.

Advertising, people, advertising.

A Failure To Communicate

Nancy Pelosi visits the Vatican:

The Pope received Nancy Pelosi and her entourage briefly today after the general audience, reported a Vatican communiqué.

What the Pope said to Pelosi:

He "took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church's consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death," the Vatican reported afterward.

The Pontiff added that these teachings "enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development."

Seems pretty straight-forward, doesn't it?

Pelosi to the Pope:

In a statement today from Pelosi's office, she said that in the meeting she lauded "the Church's leadership in fighting poverty, hunger and global warming, as well as the Holy Father's dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel."

I'm sorry, did you say something about human life your Holiness? I really wasn't listening. Now, about this global warming thing...

Corruption? Absolutely!

More and more I'm coming to believe that abdicating power to the Democrats in the '06 and '08 elections was the best thing that Republicans could do to improve their party's long term fortunes. Giving the Dems absolute power now looks like a brilliant bit of political strategery. The most surprising aspect is how quickly it's borne fruit.

Not even a full month into the Age of Obama and not a week goes by without a new report of a member of the administration (or two) failing to live up to Joe Biden's definition of patriotism. One wonders if he is questioning their patriotism? Must make for some interesting cabinet meetings (assuming loose talking Joe is even invited).

And of course the always changing saga of the Illinois Senate seat that was put up for sale by the Democratic governor before finally being filled by a Democratic politician who never had any contact with the governor about the seat or did anything to try to secure. Well, upon further review maybe he did:

Let's see if we have it right: Burris had zero contact with any of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's cronies about his interest in the Senate seat being vacated by President Barack Obama--unless you count that conversation with former chief of staff Lon Monk, and, on further reflection, the ones with insiders John Harris, Doug Scofield and John Wyma and, oh yeah, the governor's brother and fundraising chief, Robert Blagojevich. But Burris didn't raise a single dollar for the now ex-governor as a result of those contacts because that could be construed as a quid pro quo and besides, everyone he asked refused to donate.

Now, we have today's Wall Street Journal with a front page story on the latest wealthy financier accused of defrauding investors (sub req):

The Securities and Exchange Commission charged Texas financier R. Allen Stanford with an $8 billion fraud, alleging in a civil complaint that he lured investors with promises of high returns on certificates of deposit but poured their money into a "black box" of hard-to-trade assets.

The second huge alleged fraud to emerge in three months -- following Ponzi-scheme charges against Bernard L. Madoff -- reverberated around the world, given Mr. Stanford's status as an international cricket sponsor, Washington political donor and private banker to Latin America's wealthy. Federal agents searched the Houston buildings that are home to his Stanford Financial Group, and customers lined up to withdraw money from a bank he owns in Antigua, the Caribbean island nation where Mr. Stanford's offshore banking operations are based.

These are the kind of stories that stoke populist fires. Another fat cat living high off the land by cheating the system.

And just who were these politicians that Mr. Stanford was donating to? An accompanying article in the WSJ described how Stanford Sought Influence in Corridors of Capitol (sub req):

Among the recipients of Mr. Stanford's largesse is House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.), who has long advocated lenient tax policies toward Virgin Islands residents and in 2007 introduced a bill to enforce a statute of limitations on IRS scrutiny of islanders' old tax returns. That year, Mr. Rangel traveled to Antigua for a development conference partly sponsored by Mr. Stanford, who also donated $28,300 to Mr. Rangel in 2008.

"I met Stanford a couple of times," Mr. Rangel said. "He has never discussed any legislative issue with me nor has anyone to my knowledge representing him ever discussed any legislation."

Maybe they talked about tax preparation:

U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel, who still faces an ethics inquiry into a host of tax problems, plans to put his face on a new program Tuesday meant to assist taxpayers in filing their 2008 returns.

Yes Alanis, the fact that the Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means committee--who faces an ethics inquiry for avoiding paying THOUSANDS of dollars in taxes--is the face of a campaign to assist taxpayers in preparing their returns is indeed ironic. And quite deliciously so.

Back to following Stanford's political money trail:

Mr. Stanford wrote two $250,000 checks to the Democratic Party in 2002.

He also was a big supporter of New York Democrat Gregory Meeks, a member of a House Financial Services subcommittee dealing with offshore banks that received an estimated $17,600 from a Stanford fund-raiser held in the Virgin Islands in July. Mr. Meeks's campaign later reimbursed the organizers of the event $3,591 for the cost of food and beverages, according to the campaign's financial disclosures.

From 2003 to 2006, Mr. Meeks and his wife traveled to the Caribbean every January on trips paid for by the Inter-American Economic Council, a group backed by Mr. Stanford, federal records show. The first trip was for "fact finding" and subsequent trips were for a "business roundtable," often including hotel and meal charges of over $2,000. On at least one occasion, the trip was taken on Mr. Stanford's jet.

In fact, Meeks released a detailed report after every trip on the facts that he found:

* The beaches are nice.

* The water is warm.

* The rum is good.

* Private jets are the only way to fly.

* Being in the Caribbean in January beats the hell out of New York City.

Another familiar name in Stanford's political payoff ledger:

Influential Democratic lobbyist and fund-raiser Ben Barnes of Texas is among Mr. Stanford's roster of advocates, lobbying records show, with $1.125 million in fees over the past two years. In his lobby filings for Stanford Financial Group, Mr. Barnes states that he works on "economic development in the Caribbean, specifically the Virgin Islands." The tax law on which Mr. Sanford is lobbying, which allows Virgin Islands residents to pay an effective rate of 3.5%, is construed by the territories as an economic-development measure.

And here I thought paying higher taxes was patriotic. None dare call it treason! At least not when the Dems do it.

In the interests of fairness and in a nod to bipartisanship, it should be noted that there is one Republican pol named in the story:

Other top recipients of the Stanford employees' political giving are Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), who received $43,000, and Rep. Pete Sessions (R., Texas), who received $39,000. Mr. Nelson said Tuesday that he would donate the money to charity. On the state level, the largest recipient of Mr. Stanford's help was former California Gov. Gray Davis.

One Republican and two more Democrats.

There was an alliterative phrase that was floated a couple of years ago that describes this type of pervasive political rot. Dome of Dishonesty? Veil of Venality? Umbrella of Unethicalness (is that even a word?)? It's right on the tip of my tongue. Don't worry it'll come to me. As it has to the Democrats.

UPDATE: Since the left loved playing the "guilt by association" game every time anyone whom Bush ever crossed paths with ever got in trouble, enjoy this photo from the WSJ story showing Sir Stanford and then candidate Obama in happier times:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Times That Try Men's Souls

It's not easy being a hockey fan in Minnesota these days. The inconsistent Wild are struggling for the eighth and final playoff spot in the wild Western Conference. Their scoring is spotty and their defensive effort--usually a hallmark of a Lemaire club--is sporadic; at times stout, at times sieve-like. Even all star goalie Niklas Backstrom has looked shaky at times lately. Meanwhile, the once high-flying Gophers are still mired in a second-half of the season swoon (3-6-1 in conference play in '09). They too have trouble scoring and their defense too often plays soft and looks worn out. And goaltender Alex Kangas, who was the foundation of the team's first half success, has been ordinary so far in 2009. You know things are bad when taking three of four points from Alaska-Anchorage at home is hopefully viewed as a turnaround.

To add insult to injury for local pucksters, last week's rain and above average temps did a number on the outdoor ice rinks and pretty much ended the season in most communities. While there's still a lot of winter to endure, playing hockey outside is no longer an option to help make it more bearable.

If all of the above wasn't bad enough, we must also endure the bizarre machinations of the hockey scheduling wizards. It seems like the Wild have played more back to back games on consecutive days than ever before. And they're almost always a home-road or road-home combo. Nothing wrong with that in principle. But then we also have the inexplicable gaps in games to deal with. For example, on Saturday night the Wild coughed up a 3-0 lead and kicked away a game to the Senators at home. The next time they take the ice? Thursday against Calgary. At home.

So right in the thick of the season, with 27 games left and the team fighting for a playoff spot, fans have to wait four days between games? Inexplicable. How are you supposed to stay interested and engaged when you have gaps like this? Gaps that often alternate with flurries of back-to back games. You either have nothing or a deluge. There's got to be a better way to schedule than this.

But don't look to college hockey for the answer. One of the nice things about following WCHA puck is you don't (or at least shouldn't) have to worry about the vagaries of the schedule. With a few exceptions, your squad plays on Friday and Saturday nights. After a long week of work, you know that when you get home on Friday night you can crack a beer, flip on the tele, and catch a game. Or at least you used to.

This year it seems like there have been more "off" weekends for the Gophers than in recent memory. The long December-January break is bad enough to go through (who do these guys think they are anyway? students?), but this year the Gophers came back from said break to play the Dodge Holiday Cupcake Classic, played North Dakota one weekend, SCSU the next, and then were off. Why? There are ten WCHA teams so there should not be a need for byes.

This schedule plays havoc with the rhythm of the season and also complicates the standings at a critical juncture of the season. With three weeks left in the WCHA, this should be a time of high drama with teams fighting for the conference title, home playoff seeds, and favorable matchups. But when you look at the standings, you can't just worry about points, you also have to consider the dreaded "games in hand."

Right now, four teams have played 24 conference games, two have played 23, and four have played 22. Considering that nine points separate the first place team from the ninth place team, there is still a lot of movement possible within the standings. The Gophers for example are one point behind SCSU and CC for fourth and fifth place (and a home playoff seed). And they've also got one game in hand against CC and two against SCSU. So of those three teams who's really in the best position? Who knows? You can't just look at who they play the rest of the way, you also have to work the schedule differences.

Life is already complicated and chaotic enough already. Is it too much to ask for a little order and symmetry in our hockey?

Hillbilly Swing Kings: Concert Review

The local music scene is still buzzing from the jammed packed, incendiary performance of the Hillbilly Swing Kings in Minneapolis last Saturday night. One of the finest young music writers in the Twin Cities, the Nihilist in Golf Pants, sends in this review:


It seemed every other pierced punker standing in line outside Club Underground in the Saturday evening darkness was decked in an Against Me! or Dead Kennedys t-shirt, though neither band was on the bill.

The sun had long set behind the upstairs bar-length window as politi-punk psycho-billy country rockers The Hillbilly Swing Kings took the stage. When lithe front man Todd Owen -- looking like a chunky Joe Strummer -- launched into a crunchy opener, the crowd boiled over into a swirling circle mosh, more than a few fluorescent 18-inch Mohawks waving urgently to-and-fro like sails of Dimetrodons engaged in a feeding frenzy.

In town for an angst packed Valentines Day appearance, the Rochester trio laid thick the machinegun power chord riffage, the high-pitched Whoa-ohhs! and, of course, the heavy-handed jeremiads that have made the band a staple among the vegan/leftist/anarchist set.

"My friends, January 20 was not that long ago," shouted guitarist/vocalist JB Doubtless to the charged capacity crowd. "That was the last day we had to endure Bush! We celebrate the removal of that m**********r from our lives. But now, the struggle begins! Barak Obama is not progressive enough for us and we need to push to bring back every soldier from Iraq!"

Apparently, the Swing kings drummer couldn't make it. His replacement also missed the show so the band went with a true punk spirit, playing without a beat.

The 15-song set, which they chugged through in less than an hour, was heavy on newer stuff including menacing anti-Big Media mantras and folksy f**k-Bush anthems, mostly original material that they hope to ironically record under -- gasp! -- a mega-label records company. But they threw some cover favorites in for good measure, most notably for the encore as the band reemerged to kick out a methodically urgent Clash tune "Brand New Cadillac," whose chorus the audience ferociously belted out with a fiendish mix of anger and pride.

Granted, the group's knee jerk screeds and hyper-P.C. ethos are best taken in small doses. And, yeah, the paradoxical mix of individualism and collectivism they espouse (let's hear it for nonconformist unity!) is hard to logically reconcile. But so what? Certainly there are more malevolent forces out there vying for Valentine's Day revelers political consciousnesses. Like, for instance, those the Swing Kings rail against. What is it when a mob of would-be teenagers flails euphorically in righteous fury, all idealism and no cynicism?

As The Hillbilly Swing Kings themselves sing on occasion: "That's youth. That's all."


CORRECTION: Upon further editorial review, it has become apparent that this review was cribbed largely from a concert review of the band Anti-Flag from City Pages.

Furthermore, The Nihilist has confirmed he was not actually in attendance at the Hillbilly Swing King's performance. He claims he was unable to make it due to :"a full day of Valentine's Day related activities." According to sources close to the situation, this consisted of him driving his wife around to restaurants in the western suburbs all evening, looking for the best two-for-one special.

However, the Nihilist claims that the Atomizer was in attendance at the Hillbilly Swing Kings performance and swears the facts in the review are largely true. As such, Fraters Libertas stands behind the story.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Don't Panic

For those of you experiencing chest pains from reviewing your recent retirement account statements, here's a little reminder of why we all liked capitalism so much in the first place. The calm and grace of Louis Rukeyser and Wall Street Week, from the broadcast immediately following the 1987 crash.

Excerpt from his opening monolog:

Ok let's start with what's really important tonight. It's just your money, not your life. Everybody who really loved you a week ago, still loves you tonight. And that's a heck of a lot more important than the numbers on a brokerage statement. The robins will sing, the crocuses will bloom, babies will gurgle, and puppies will curl up in your lap and fall happily asleep, even when the stock market goes temporarily insane. And now that's all fully in perspective, let me say -ouch! And eek! And medic!

Taking It On The Street

The old saying is that in every crisis there's an opportunity. In that's definitely true for companies in down economic times. While some fight for their very survival, others are able to use the tough times to increase their market share and gain long term competitive advantages which pay rich rewards when the inevitable recovery takes place. This is what savvy firms are doing right now. If they are able to.

Thinking about just this sort of opportunity the other day, I realized how constrained most publicly held companies are in down times. When your overriding concern is about what Wall Street analysts think about your company's actions today, it can be difficult to envision, much less implement, strategies that are more focused on the long term. This is a challenge that public held firms must always face, but in tough economic times it becomes even more daunting.

While there might be a glowing opportunity to invest in new resources and enter new markets right now, it's going to be a tough sell for a public company to make. Wall Street wants to know what you're doing to cut costs, trim inventories, and cling to profits. They're not much interested in what could be a brilliant strategic move today that would allow you to dominate your markets in three to five years. So you see most of the publicly held companies making the same moves; across the board layoffs and cost-cutting, cutbacks in marketing campaigns, abandoning markets with potential but yet unrealized profits, shelving expansion and investment plans, and pulling back from acquisitions. These actions are easy to defend as necessary survival steps and they are what the Street is expecting companies to do.

Given those circumstances, I would imagine that the real opportunity to make hay during these down times lies with privately held firms. Assuming that they have the money (or financing) to suffer a couple of years of losses, this would seem like a chance for them to act more aggressively while their publicly held competitors are hunkering down. Introduce new products and services. Expand the scope and depth of your market penetration efforts. Hire the best and brightest talent out there (including plucking key people from your competitors). Make strategic acquisitions when the price is low.

These are just some the actions that could be taken today that could change the competitive dynamics for years to come. Actions that truly well-run companies are at least considering. Especially those that don't have to dance to the tune of the Street.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Northern Alliance Radio Network

The post-Chad era (PCE) of NARN 1 kicks off this morning. Now that the carefully caliberated chemistry of the show has been rent assunder, John Hinderaker and I are going to be trying out a new format. Excerpt from the forthcoming press release:

The First Team of the Northern Alliance Radio Network offers an odd look at life from a pair unlike anything else on the radio today. Brian Ward and John Hinderaker have been called the modern day Bickersons. The show's unmarried protagonists spend nearly all their time together in relentless verbal war. Brash, dangerously opinionated, wildly refreshing, Ward and Hinderaker can be heard Saturdays from 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM on AM1280 the Patriot.

Actually, the relentless verbal war will have to wait, I'm out this week. So John will be forced to carry on the relentless verbal war with some of the voices in his head. I'm guessing it will sound like Steve Cannon-Ma Linger circa 1983.

Alternately, he can take the relentless verbal war he normally wages against our producer Jon Osburn during the breaks directly on air. Either way, it will be must hear radio.

Joining John in the second hour will be screenwriter Roger Simon, talking about his new book Blacklisting Myself: Memoir of a Hollywood Apostate in the Age of Terror.

Even without my input, that sounds wildly refreshing to me.

Check it out today, locally on AM 1280 and worldwide streaming here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Falling Off The Wagon (again)

In general, I tend to keep on the brighter side of life. Not that I have any illusions about the true nature of man or the limits to progress in this fallen world. In that regard, I belong to the camp that Chesterton described as "happy pessimists." While my outlook on matters of eternal truth is still quite positive, I find myself rather depressed about future prospects for the secular realm.

Looking at the mammoth millstone that has just been hung around the neck of the American taxpayer, it's hard to be sanguine about America's future, economically or politically. When the depths of the financial crisis first were becoming apparent, I hoped (obviously naively) that it serve as a wake up call for the country. I thought that maybe this time we would finally face up to the seriousness of the situation, buckle down, and make the hard choices required to get us through. Everyone would have to cut back and be more frugal. Everyone would have to feel some of the pain and make sacrifices. This would include government. While they might have to spend more on certain programs to provide support for those hardest hit by the crisis, they would have to cut back on others. In short, we would as a country finally accept the necessity of acting fiscally responsibly.

We had an opportunity to do this after the tech bubble burst and 9/11. Instead we elected to create another bubble through easy money from the Fed, governmental sanction of the idea that "everyone should own" a home, and no small measure of greed by lenders, traders, investors, consumers, and yes many homeowners themselves. Why grow up when you've just found another credit card in your dad's wallet?

So we were off on another binge. And while it lasted, the party was rocking. But eventually the music dies down, the crowds thin out, and the withering rays of the rising sun expose you to unflattering reality. And the hangover is a doozy.

Like a self-deluded drunk, we reexamine our situation in the harsh light of sobriety and claim, "Man, I am never going to do that again." For emphasis we add, "And this time I mean it."

But of course we are going to do it again. And this time we're going to hit it harder, stronger, and longer than we ever have before. In fact, with the stimulus package we really are taking it to the next level:

Perhaps you recall the deficit wails from the Reagan years, but the peak deficit was only 6% of GDP in 1983. In the Clinton years we were told taxes had to rise to reduce a deficit of merely 3.9% of GDP. CBO estimates the 2009 deficit will reach 8.3% of the economy, not including the stimulus or bank bailout cash. Toss in those, and analysts at the Strategas Group estimate the deficit could hit nearly $2 trillion, or 13.5% of the U.S. economy.

By the way, notice how people have stopped talking about the entitlement iceberg looming ever closer? Instead of trying to figure out how the hell we're ever going to pay for the Medicare and Social Security liabilities that we've signed up for, we're adding another TRILLION to our existing debt. Put it on the card.

We had a tech stock bubble. We had a housing bubble. Now, we're going to have a government bubble that dwarfs anything we're ever seen before. And when this one bursts--when there simply aren't enough taxes to collect, enough bonds to sell, enough money to print to keep this governmental bubble afloat--the financial, political, and social impacts on the country are going to be far more severe than anything we've yet gone through.

The Power To Raise Awareness

Matthew e-mails to report a rare glimmer of good news. Paterson Admits Obesity Tax Plan Has Failed:

New York Gov. David Paterson admitted Thursday one of his most talked-about tax proposals, an obesity tax on sugary drinks, is fizzling.

But he said it popped the right question.

In meeting with college students over his budget, Paterson told the young New Yorkers not worry about his soda tax because the Legislature won't go for it. But he said it has served its purpose of raising awareness of childhood obesity.

Traditionally it's been understood that taxation (or the threat of) has four main purposes: Revenue, Redistribution, Repricing, and Representation. Now, we can add a fifth "R" to the mix courtesy of David Paterson: Raising Awareness.

It's nice to know that he has such a judicious approach to invoking the full weight and power of government to confiscate property from the citizens of his state.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lights Going Out All Over the Free World

The departure of Chad the Elder from NARN 1 deals a serious blow to freedom loving citizens all across the area reached by the Patriot's 5,000 watt directional antenna signal. His commentaries on the issues of the week were a powerful ally for those wishing to advance a conservative philosophy in American society. He was also responsible for booking and conducting most of the interviews of authors and other conservative intellectuals. Lest the show devolve into 2 hours of amateur punditry and Loon/Gatekeeper mocking, I need to step up and meet the high standards of guest interviews established by Chad. (BTW, tune in this week when we interview a local man who says he has proof of the existence of Gay Sasquatch.)

Chad's departure compounds the disappointment felt in another announcement made earlier this week by irascible libertarian Fred Reed. His internet column, Fred on Everything, is kaput. Like Chad, he cities the economic model of free market amateur editorializing as a contributing cause:
The reasons for this disappearance are several. One is that writing the thing is a lot of work for no remuneration. I don't say this in complaint. Nobody asked me to write FOE, and I have enjoyed doing it. However, the economy being what it is, any writing I do in future will be for money. Crass commercialism has its uses.
Chad and Fred get extinguished, while the likes of MPR and the Minnesota Independent burn on. Strikes me as fundamentally, oh I don't know . . . . unfair.

If only we controlled the government, and had the will to manipulate it for our personal benefit, maybe we could come up with some sort of doctrine that would force our ideological competitors to fund us or shut down themselves. Just a dream, I know. Alternately, we conservatives could use a man like George Soros today.

Fred cites a more substantial reason for wrapping things up, also related to the nature of our society and government today:

My reasons for [starting Fred on Everything] were, first, to see whether a web column could work and, second, to get away from the strangling grasp of political correctness. A third reason, common I suppose to most columnists, was the hope that, however minor my voice might be, in combination with thousands of others it might engender pressure for slowing the rush into the high-tech medieval twilight that the culture has undertaken.

This by now is clearly quixotic. The civilizational changes we now see are both irremediable and beyond control. The peasantrification and empty glitter of society, pervasive hostility to careful thought, onrushing authoritarianism, and distaste for cultivation are now endemic. I do not know where these lead, but we are assuredly going to get there. Fuming buys nothing.
Fred was as likely to blame Republicans as Democrats for the negative civilizational changes we are experiencing, But, I think the feelings of "onrushing authoritarianism" and the "peasantification" of society are especially foreboding in the age of Obama.

Craig Westover is, thankfully, not hanging things up yet. He's been writing in the Pioneer Press and at the Minnesota Free Market Institute about the implications of Obama-nomics. Some of the local left have been predictably throwing brickbats at him over his excellent commentary. This resulted in a fascinating exchange between Westover and local lefty blogger Dave Mindeman, most of it is captured at the MFMI blog.

The exchange is also depressing, in that Mindeman, I suspect, represents the dominant mindset of the people we've now put in power of federal government during a time of economic crisis. And it may represent the mindset of the growing majority of our fellow Americans in 2009.

Westover summarizes, with echoes of what Freed Reed said earlier. Excerpts:

The exchange nonetheless has value. It highlights a fundamental shift in the political battle lines for the future. Political differences between right and left, conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat have lost their relevance. A far more fundamental division is coming to the fore -- the classical liberal position with its focus on individual freedom and the progressive vision of a collectivist utopia.

Read between the lines of my exchange with Mr. Mindeman, and you will see the future. My position is argued from the fundamental principles of the primacy of individual sovereignty, the sanctity of private property and the necessity of consistent application of the rule of law. Mr. Mindeman's position necessitates that the collective good takes precedence over the sovereignty of the individual, that private property is subject to the needs of the collective, and the rule of law is subject to the will of the majority.

This is the choice we face in America today: Do we opt for freedom and manage the consequences of imperfection, or do we opt for submission to the collective and punish those that wander off the path to perfection? There is no Kumbaya position. As must come to every generation, we now face our "time to choose."

UPDATE: For more on the reasons behind Chad the Elder's departure, check out the Nihilist in Golf Pants.

Something's Got To Give

[Rather than conduct a tear-filled, navel-gazing, self-serving news conference, Chad the Elder has issued the following tear-filled, navel-gazing, self-serving statement.]

Next month marks the five year anniversary of the debut of the Northern Alliance Radio Network on AM1280 The Patriot. Those years have featured a vast array of characters (on both sides of the studio glass), on air moments ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, and enough behind the scenes absurdity to provide plentiful material for a comedic novel. In all seriousness, we have often said that a gifted comedy writer could easily keep his muse busy reworking the NARN experiences in amateur radio into a book or perhaps more suitably a sitcom. One that would probably come across better on Showtime or HBO given the nature of some of the material.

It has been an enjoyable ride and I feel fortunate to have been a part of it. For most of my adult life I've been an avid listener of talk radio and to get the opportunity to go behind the mike as a host is a privilege I would have never imagined I would enjoy. And enjoy it I did. From chatting with the author of Why Mommy Is A Democrat to debating the merits of women's basketball to singing our very special version of the Wellstone School Song to interviewing a mime, laughter has never been in short supply (unlike coffee in the break room).

Doing broadcasts from various events was a definite highlight. They included two state GOP conventions, election night coverage in '06, one anticlimactic day at the '08 RNC (how's that fundraising for the victims of Hurricane Gustav going?), the WWII Memorial dedication at the State Capitol, and a couple of Patriot picnics. But the big daddy event of every year was the Minnesota State Fair. Broadcasting from the Fair in various locations under various weather and technical conditions was always interesting. The guests, the contests, and the listener interactions at the Fair were unique and while they sometimes presented particular challenges for radio, they were never boring.

Being part of the NARN also gave the chance to get to know the other hosts and it's been fun to spend time with John, Ed, Mitch, King and yes even Michael. Saint Paul and I were already close personal friends prior to the show, but it's been a pleasure sharing a mike with him and with JB Doubtless for a short period of time back in the early NARN days (I blinked and missed Atomizer's radio career).

There was also the opportunity to become better acquainted with the likes of Scott Johnson, James Lileks, and yes even Jay Larson. It allowed me to further my friendly rivalry with Hugh Hewitt (the godfather of the NARN) and his producer and loyal sidekick Generalissimo Duane and to get to exchange pleasantries with Michael Medved and Dennis Prager, two other Salem Radio hosts that I avidly listen to. We even got to fill Hugh's size thirteen loafers a couple of times as guest hosts on his show.

Interviewing some of the best and brightest minds of the day was another perk. The complete list would be extensive to detail here. I recall the first real radio interview I did was with Myrna Blyth author of "Spin Sisters." It was something of a surprise to realize that people whose books I would want to buy and read anyway would be willing to send me books for free and come on the air to talk about them. And that I would be able to converse with people whose work I had long admired--people like Mike Nelson from MST3K, Jake Slichter from Semisonic, and most significantly the late Richard John Neuhaus. The power of radio indeed.

Some of my favorite interviews include:

- The local beer guys. Mark Stutrud from Summit, Omar Ansari from Surly, and Jeff Williamson from Flat Earth.

- The Modern Drunkard, Frank Kelly Rich.

- Local politicians: Michele Bachmann, Marty Seifert.

- Climate change realists: Dennis Avery, Stephen Milloy, and Dr. Roy W. Spencer.

- Pundits: Mark Steyn, Michael Barone, Dinesh D'Souza, Ramesh Ponnuru, Vox Day, Joe Carter.

- Military men: Lt. Col. John A. Nagl, Marcus Lutrell, Maj. Steven A.Givler.

- Authors: Robert Ferrigno, Ross Bernstein, David Harsanyi, Robert Bryce, Eric Burns, John O'Neil, Craig Shirley, Steven Vincent (RIP).

- Historians: Mark Moyar, Michael Burleigh, Jonathan Brent.

Again, it was my great pleasure to have the opportunity to pick the brains of these fine folks. And while it times that involved some work, it was always a labor of love.

The problem such activities is that when you labor for love, you usually labor for free. That's the whole meaning of the word "amateur" as wisely explained by Terry Teachout in a WSJ piece on amateurs in the arts (sub req):

You'll notice that I used the word "amateur" pejoratively. To call a performance "amateurish" is one of the biggest bombs in a critic's arsenal. Yet the word itself descends from amator, which is Latin for "lover," and throughout much of its history it has also been used to refer to people who engage in an activity for love rather than money. The world of art is full of such passionate and admirable creatures, some of whom share their passions with the public. If you've ever heard a concert by the Doctors Orchestral Society of New York or seen a play performed at one of the innumerable community theaters that dot the American landscape, you know how useful a role the serious amateur can play in the life of a culture. Anyone who seeks to make art rather than merely receiving it passively is on the side of the angels -- so long as he doesn't succumb to delusions of grandeur.

I would hope that most of the time we've played the role of serious amateurs on the NARN. I doubt if there's been much temptation to succumb to delusions of grandeur since doing a Saturday radio show from the catacombs of the Patriot studio in Eagan hardly lends itself to thoughts of grandeur (although when the septic system backed up people did get a bit delusional).

We're all familiar with the phrase "time is money" (not mime Saint Paul). And one of the challenges facing all amateurs is just how much time you can devote to an activity that you don't get paid for. Back when the NARN started five years ago, I was relatively footloose and fancy-free. Sure, as a gainfully employed, married homeowner I had my share of responsibilities. And while at times those responsibilities came into conflict with activities like doing an amateur radio show, the situation was usually manageable (thanks in large part to the understanding nature of my lovely wife).

Today, I'm still a gainfully employed, married homeowner. Who has been lucky enough to be blessed with the arrival of three wonderful boys in the last four years. Those familial circumstances have obviously altered the whole time-responsibilities-activities equation. And it became apparent that something had to give.

That something is my regular participation on the NARN First Team show. Spending close to four hours on Saturday morning and afternoon on the show to say nothing of the extensive show prep (insert joke here) without compensation is simply no longer feasible. As much as I have enjoyed being part of the radio show and recognize what a rare opportunity it was, there's no longer room on my plate for it.

After we did the end of year show in late December, I decided to take January off and see if something could be worked out. But nothing has changed since then so I figured I should make official. I may on rare occasion still return to the studio under special circumstances. Perhaps a five-year anniversary show would meet that criteria.

Of course I'll still be listening to the NARN First Team each and every week (and the entire NARN broadcast when possible for that matter) and will likely call in a time or two (and maybe even not under an alias). After all, old amateur radio hosts never die; they just fade away...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Laggard Indicators

With the economy more often than not the topic de jour and with ordinary people actually interested in what they have to say about it for a change, you would think this would be a good time to be an economist. But a story in today's WSJ notes that not all is golden as the Job Market for Economists Turns ... Dismal (sub req):

Among newly minted economics Ph.D.s, jobs at top-ranked universities and business schools are the most sought after. Economists have also traditionally found more lucrative jobs outside of academia: at government agencies, at nongovernmental organizations, like the International Monetary Fund, and in the private sector. But with the financial crisis, economist jobs at hedge funds and Wall Street firms have dried up, leaving schools with more candidates to choose from.

The rollback comes at a historic time, as economists struggle to explain the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The crisis, which few economists saw coming, revealed deep gaps in many of the standard ways that economics approaches the economy, driving home the need for fresh thinking and talent.

Fresh talent that may find it tough going as they seek a job in the field. Perhaps the recently passed stimulus package will help their cause. How many economists does it take to pave a frontage road anyway?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Let's Agree That You Shouldn't Disagree

With time and increased exposure what may seem like insignificant personal characteristics can go from being mild irritants to catalysts for driving people to the edge of madness (and beyond). Consider the now infamous smirk of George W. Bush. At the beginning of his presidency, few probably took much notice of it and those who did likely didn't think much of it. By the end of his eight years in office, the mere sight of the smirking Bush would send liberals into a vein-bursting red-faced state of rage.

Watching and listening to President Obama last night, I once again detected a personal trait of his that hasn't been much remarked upon yet, but may cause his opponents to foam like rabid dogs after being exposed to it for the next four (maybe eight?) years.

For all his talk of unity, compromise, and bipartisanship, Barack Obama is a man who doesn't suffer opposition gladly. He's like the boss who has an "open door policy," but is visibly annoyed if anyone actually dares cross his threshold with a problem.

When Obama starts to speak specifically about said opposition, as he did last night, you can notice subtle changes in his demeanor. His tone becomes edgier. His speech becomes more chopped. His neck and facial muscles become tighter. It would be an exaggeration to say that he's outright snippy, but he's it's apparent that he's irritated that people don't agree with his grand proposals and he ain't at all happy about it.

I first picked up on this a couple of times during the campaign, but never made much of it. Seeing it on display again last night made me realize that this little behavior quirk is fairly annoying to anyone who hasn't bought into the "better living through hope and change" program. I predict that Obama's impatience with opposition will only become more pronounced as the days and years go on and those of us on the receiving end of his glaring irritation will only become more angered by it.

[ Before you dismiss this as nothing more thab the delusional rantings of a deranged wingnut consider that my emminetly sensible wife has observed the same behavior in our Commander in Chief.]

Defining Success Down

This week, liberal radio talk show host Bill Press wrote an editorial in the Washington Post calling for the Federal government to intervene and save, coincidentally, liberal radio talk shows. Here he is at the height of his paranoia:
There is no free market in talk radio today, only an exclusive, tightly held, conservative media conspiracy. The few holders of broadcast licenses have made it clear they will not, on their own, serve the general public. Maybe it's time to bring back the Fairness Doctrine -- and bring competition back to talk radio in Washington and elsewhere.
I don't believe Bill Press actually believes in such a conspiracy. He's a shameless idealouge and huckster. Which is probably why he's particularly chagrined that he can't succeed where the likes of Sean Hannity have prospered.

But if there is indeed a conservative media conspiracy choking out the voices of liberalism so fervently demanded by the marketplace, all I can say is that in the Twin Cities, we are getting SCREWED. Regularly heard in this market are numerous voices of the Left, on stations such as WCCO, KSTP, KFAN, 107.1, and of course the government funded news leviathan itself, Minnesota Public Radio. The conservative media conspiracy is by far the shoddiest executed conspiracy we've had since Cheney and Halliburton arranged the Iraq invasion in order to profit from those high oil prices.

Press does depart from the world of fantasy to offer some real world case studies of successful liberal radio stations that should be emulated across the country. This example caught my attention:
Station owners complain they can't get good ratings or make any money with progressive talk, but that's nonsense. In Minnesota, independent owner Janet Robert has operated KTNF (950 AM) profitably for five years.
Note how his first sentence about good ratings and making money loses half of its focus on the KTNF example. We'll have to take his word that the local Air America outlet is being "run profitably".  As far as their unnamed ratings go, let's just say they're low enough for them to be envious of AM1280 the Patriot's numbers.

But, far be it from me to dissuade liberal entrepreneurs from around the country from taking Press's advice and adopting the KTNF model. If they want to invest their precious savings and time in this effort, endorsed by Press as a winner, more power to them. In fact, I'll even help by passing along some of their best practices, as outlined by their most prominent former employees.

From former morning drive host Nick Coleman, an itemized list of how things are done the KTNF way:
1) Station management increasingly demanded control over "topics, tone and guests" and ordered certain hot button topics off limits, such as guns, gays and abortion.

2) Station management repeatedly disrupted program development by making mercurial staffing changes without my knowledge or consent.

3) The station, despite its on-air support for the "dignity of workers," mistreats its own employees (who have no union protections).

4) I do not like wingnuts, of any stripe.

Now here's a question to mull: can "liberal" or "progressive" talk radio prosper under an ownership that is neither?
According to Bill Press, YES THEY CAN!!!

Also, let's not forget the primary three factors in the success of any business: location, location, location. Tips on the KTNF way from former afternoon drive host Wendy Wilde:
The studios are located in a mold-infested basement, and management had a construction crew tear out the moldy basement walls and carpet, but that actually threw mold spores into the air and the mold dust is everywhere. Hepa filters helped some but I continue to get sick.
There you go, the keys to success in liberal radio in America. If others would only adopt these strategies around the country, the insatiable market demand for liberal radio will be satisfied without us having to resurrect that pesky Fairness Doctrine.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Fighting Words

February's Argument of the Month sounds like a doozy:

The next forum on February 10th will be centered around the issue of WAR! Can a good Catholic believe in a just war or is that a thing of the past?

Many have taken this position and many more do not believe you can be pro life and believe in a just war. We will hear from Dr. David Pence, (alias Dr. Intense) a former pacifist radical of the 60s. He has converted and become a radical for the "Just War Argument" ( and all things manly). His proposed debate opponent (a pacifist of course) is the head of the Justice and Peace department of the university of St. Thomas. He has not formally accepted the debate but we will keep you posted.

If you have never heard Dr. Intense he is very, well, "intense." The AOTM believes, whether you love him or hate him, he will give you a informative debate that will be full of humor and passion. Which is a great recipe for a very entertaining and informative evening.

As on the second Tuesday of most months, you can find the faith, food, and fellowship of the AOTM in the basement of St. Augustine's Catholic Church in South St. Paul.

408 3rd St N.
South St Paul, MN 55075

The Stained Glass Wall of Love That I Cannot See Through

Five days until Valentine's Day and you still have no idea what you're going to do? Gulp. Good look getting a reservation at a decent restaurant at this point. What about a movie? While you might want to see "The International" or "Defiance," you know that you'll end up sitting through "Bride Wars" or "Confessions of a Shopaholic."

Instead, you might want to consider stoppin' by Club Underground and dancing the night away to some of the finest in local adult urban contemporary rockabilly.

Fraters own JB Doubtless will be on the stage pickin' and grinnin' as one of the Hillbilly Swing Kings. Rumor has it that a sizable contingent of Fraters faithful will be on hand to enjoy the festivities. You won't be disappointed if your Valentine's Day plans include joining them.

SP ADDS: According to sources, JB will also be sitting in with the headline act, Lazy Ike and the Daredevils. No word on whether that requires him to wear the standard helmet and spandex flight suit. But that does mean you need not concern yourself with arriving late and missing JB. He'll be pickin' and grinnin' until they shut the joint down.