Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Keep It Sports Stupid

One of the annoyances of the modern mainstream media for conservatives is the unnecessary and unwelcome intrusion of politics into nearly every facet of life. We've come to expect to find political references (usually snide and almost always from a left-wing perspective) in music, movie, book, and art reviews and are no longer surprised to find a home and garden column with a snarky shot at conservative leaders or viewpoints. But nothing is quite as galling as when sports writers deign to impress us with their political wit and wisdom (again, almost exclusively from the left).

Our own Saint Paul has chronicled the distasteful insertion of politics in places in doesn't belong in his series of posts labeled You've Got Your Politics In My.... Sports writers have been the target of his ire in this area on more than one occasion. His thoughts are succinctly summarized in this 'graph from a May 2007 post:

If it's one thing I hate, it's sports guys popping off about politics. I read sports as a refuge from the constant conservative beat down that is the front page and most MSM political reporting. Plus sports guys typically don't know squat about anything besides sports. They're idiots, only feeling the need to talk about politics because they're bored with a job that typically takes them about 1 hour per day to finish up. And finally, they're always Democrats!

Jay Nordlinger weighs in on said matter in a piece in the current edition of National Review (sub req):

The spoiling of sports pages by politics is a flaming red sore point among conservatives of my acquaintance. (The liberals have less cause for soreness.) You'll often hear, "I always loved reading So-and-so"--Bill Simmons of, for example. "But finally I had to stop because he was constantly insulting my political views with little asides. Why do they have to do that? Why do they have to alienate half their audience, or at least some part of it?"

I could give you a thousand examples of safe-zone violations in sports writing. So as to leave room for other topics in this issue of National Review, I will provide a relative few. I promise that they are more representative than aberrational.

A columnist for the Boston Globe was writing about hockey, and he said, "Bigger nets will likely bring, at most, a teeny-weeny uptick in scoring. Focusing on bigger nets, in many ways, is hockey's version of cutting taxes--eye-catching, but ineffective." You see, he knows about economics. And has college football's Bowl Championship Series ever reminded you of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney? No? You're weird.

In 2007, the Washington Post's John Feinstein wrote, "The BCS Presidents are a lot like the current President of the United States. They think that if they keep repeating their lies and half-truths and remind people who they are enough times, people will buy into what they're selling. According to one poll, only 21 percent of the American people are buying what President Bush is selling, but it sure took a long time and lot of deaths to get there." The next year, Mike Celizic of wrote, "Is Dick Cheney a member of the BCS? That's got to be the explanation for the latest load of nonsense to come out of the outfit that runs the system by which college football does not choose a legitimate champion."

The question that Nordlinger poses is a great one. Why would sports writers go out of their way to include gratuitous political commentary that they know (or should know) will offend half of their readers? Nordlinger asks and now answers:

Why do sportswriters do it? Why do they bust out political? I have a theory, and it's an easy theory--maybe a too-easy one: Sports guys, some of them, may feel a touch embarrassed about being sportswriters. So they have to prove they're just as serious--just as liberal, virtuous, and "engaged" with the world--as their colleagues on the news and editorial desks. You can almost hear them saying, "I may cover the NFL, but hey! I hate Bush as much as you do, I swear."

Ding ding ding. That nails it. Most of today's journalists (at least the ones with a degree in the field) were taught and have to come to embrace the notion that part of their job duty is to "make a difference" and even "change the world for the better" through their work. You almost have to pity the poor sports writer who buys into this inflated sense of journalistic importance, but is stuck having to cover the non-difference making world of sports. Rather than being content to pursue their vocation by informing and entertaining readers through their writing about sports (as generations of sports writers before them did), they have to inject politics into the mix to prove that "Damnit, I AM making a difference too."

There's also likely an element of being in a bubble too as I'm sure some of the offending sports scribes would be surprised to learn that not every "normal" person believes that Republicans are inherently evil. But everyone in the newsroom thinks that way.

Nordlinger closes with a plea to keep 'em separated:

There are people who like walls of separation and those who don't. I like my sports, music, food, etc., politics-free. Others think that this is some sort of moral or civic negligence, or simply naivety. Laura Ingraham wrote a book about entertainers and politics called Shut Up & Sing. When I look at such publications as Sports Illustrated, I think of a variation: "Shut up and write about sports!"

A simple request unlikely to be granted.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Why They Play The Game

Yesterday's rainout in Detroit provides an opportunity for some last minute (the first game of today's twin bill starts in just over two hours) thoughts on the how the Central Division race will play out. There seems to be a fair amount of optimism among Twins loyalists about the squad's chances of catching or even passing the Tigers before the regular season comes to a close on Sunday. This is largely due to the improved play that the Twins have demonstrated down the stretch and the belief that the Tigers aren't that formidable an opponent.

While both of those sentiments have merit, I am not so sanguine about the Twins prospects. When you step back and look at the last seven games from the Tigers perspective, the situation is very favorable. They're essentially playing a seven game series at home and, as in a playoff series, need to win four games to avoid elimination. In fact, if they win any combination of four of their last seven games, the worst case scenario would be facing the Twins in a one game playoff to determine the division champion.

If they win three (or four) games against the Twins at home it's over.

If they win two against the Twins and two against the White Sox, they win the division.

Even if they only take one of four from the Twins, if they sweep the Sox the worst that could happen would be to tie the Twins (if the Twins swept the Royals).

So when you look at like that, you gotta like the Tigers chances. They have seven games at home. If they go 4-3 in those games, they likely win the division.

The Twins meanwhile have to win at least five of their last seven and really need to take three of four from Detroit to have any chance. They're fortunate enough to be able to face the Tigers head on so they at least have the opportunity to control their fate. But the odds are definitely stacked against them.

UPDATE: Twins squeeze (figuratively, not literally) out a win in game one 3-2. If they can find a way to beat Verlander tonight, they could turn the outlook for who wins the division on its head.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tell Us Something We Don't Know

Over the years, JB and I have had many a conversation on the frustrating inadequacies--sometimes bordering on maddening incompetence--of most television sports commentators. Across the sports world what you encounter more often than not with television commentary is obvious observations, irrelevant anecdotes, inane analysis, banal banter (with the play-by-play announcers), and a deluge of shopworn clichés particular to whatever sport you happen to be watching.

What's especially galling about the crummy level of commentary you usually get is there is a definite audience demand for informed, appropriate, and yes even entertaining television sports commentary. We're not at the game so we can't see everything that's going on. Most of us haven't played the sport at the highest level so we don't know all the intricacies of the game and what's really going on in the huddle, on the bench, or in the dugout. That's why the commentators are often former professional athletes who should be able to offer us a window into the world beyond what we can see taking place on our television screens.

Unfortunately, as Skip Rozin astutely observed in Saturday's WSJ, instead of meaningful insight we usually get drivel:

Don't misunderstand; I love good talk, talk that draws back the curtain separating fans from athletes and their games. Have you ever watched a baseball game and seen a batter hit a single and then visit with the first baseman? I want to know what they're discussing. Or in football, when receiver and safety lock up chasing a pass that barely eludes their outstretched hands, then jaw at each other as they trot back up field--what are they saying? When a manager blows up at the umpire, is he really angry or just supporting his player? These are the secrets from which fans are barred; that's the talk I'm eager to hear, not drivel.

Exactly. I don't want to hear a rehash of what just happened on the field. I saw it too. I want to hear a perspective from an angle that I can't see or wouldn't think about. Rozin continues:

Since television gives us all the action, commentators are most valuable when they provide information that fans cannot discern for themselves. We want more than a tedious dissection of the previous play, canned facts from press releases or trivia about an athlete's childhood.

Again spot on. We can easily access all the publicly available information we want about a team or a player. What we want is for you to go behind the facade a bit and enlighten us about aspects of the game that remain hidden.

Everyone can probably cite their own examples of the most egregious offenders when it comes to poor sports commentary on television. My personal bete noire in this area is Twins television commentator Bert Blyleven. There are a couple of factors that probably exacerbate my exasperation with Blyleven. One is simply the sheer number of baseball games televised over the course of the year. This translates into hundreds of hours for Bert to bore and annoy us with his insipid commentary. The other is that he's paired with Dick Bremer, a play-by-play announcer who combines casual arrogance with actual cluelessness. That fact that neither one of them has a real sense of humor or any discernable personality at all also contributes to the level of anguish one experiences when watching a game with the sound on.

Given Blyleven's twenty-three year major league baseball pitching career--which included All Star Game and World Series appearances--you would think that he would bring a lot to the table in terms of colorful stories, inside baseball insights, and understanding of what's really going. But you would be wrong. Instead of drawing on his past experiences in baseball and current contact with the team to enlighten and entertain the audience, Blyleven is content to stick with regurgitating the same clichés, well-worn references, and observations of the obvious that he's been throwing out for the last thirteen plus years as a color commentator.

Over the many months of this year's baseball season, there have been scores of examples of Blyleven's failings in this regard. One particular one that stuck in my craw was a few months ago. I can't recall all the details, but the Twins had a new pitcher who was making his first start of the season, at Texas I think. He managed to work into the fourth or fifth inning without too much trouble. Then, he allowed runners to reach first and second with no out. The next batter laid a bunt down the third baseline which the pitcher stumbled off the mound to field. He picked up the ball, spun, and underhanded it to third not realizing that the third baseman (a rare appearance by a healthy Crede I believe) was not on the bag. The ball went into leftfield, a run scored, and the other runners advanced an extra base.

A key turning point in both the kid's outing and the game. And what do we hear from Bert after seeing the replay? "He picked up the ball and threw it thinking someone was at third." Really? Wow, I would have never realized that's what had taken place without that stunning insight. Even worse, Blyleven added nothing more on it afterward. Nothing about how important it is for a pitcher to field his position. Nothing on how a pitcher can learn to become a better fielder (a skill that Blyleven is not shy bragging about himself). Nothing about what a team might work on with a new pitcher who just came out to the bigs to make sure he was prepared to handle various fielding scenarios. Nothing interesting for the fan that might help better understand and appreciate what I had just witnessed.

The key is to balance entertainment and information. Commentary should be interesting but also advance fans' understanding of the game or its players.

A combination that you rarely receive when listening to Blyleven. Another shortcoming of commentators that Rozin does not mention is one-sided homerism. There's not necessarily anything wrong with the broadcasters on a team's network being homers. But if they're going to side with fans they need to embrace the way fans truly feel about their team's performance. When you're winning, everything is great and your players are the best in the world. When you're losing, the sky is falling and they're a bunch of bums. A good homer announcer or commentator is one who's not afraid to admit that the team is playing poorly and point out players who aren't performing as they should.

Bad homer announcers and commentators like Bremer and Blyleven do a disservice to fans by pretending that the things that we're seeing aren't really happening. Errors by infielders are bad hops. Weak ground outs to second come at the end of a "good" at bat. Pitchers who are getting hammered are "just missing" hitting their spots. Managerial decisions are almost never questioned. And anyone who might even deign to argue against the wisdom being imparted by this enlightened pair by presenting statistics that show a contrary viewpoint are mocked as "geeks" who have never played the game.

One question that JB and I have never answered to our complete satisfaction is why? Why do some many commentators choose the route of bland generalities and rehashed drivel instead of drawing on their own experiences and knowledge to educate and entertain the audience? A few possible theories:

1. The commentators are simply ignorant of what passes for good. They think that what they're doing now is entertaining and educating and see no reason to change.

2. They believe that audience is too ignorant to understand anything more than the superficialities. They know a lot more about the game, but we're too stupid to understand it so they would just be wasting their time.

3. They're still trying to live up to some locker room "code" from their playing days. This means that they can't reveal too much about the secrets of the game or what happens off the field (or screen). This also impacts how honest they can be about individual players as they don't want to be appear to be disloyal to the group that they're retired from, but still active among.

In the case of Blyleven, I believe it's actually a combination of all three.

Rozin's close:

That's what commentary should do: Open the door to the secrets from which fans are usually barred. If it can't do more than tell me what's on the screen, shut it down and let me enjoy the pretty color pictures.

Shut down the sound. Advice that Twins fans would do well to heed as they closely follow this week's season ending stretch on television.

JB "The Rug Doctor" Adds:

And what makes it worse is both Bert and Dick have plugs! Guys, come on. It's obvious.

Going For A Cure?

$35 Billion Slated for Local Housing:

The Obama administration is close to committing as much as $35 billion to help beleaguered state and local housing agencies continue to provide mortgages to low- and moderate-income families, according to administration officials.

The move would further cement the government's role in propping up the housing market even as some lawmakers push to curb spending at a time of rising debt.

Can't possibly see anything that could go wrong with this plan. No conceivable downsides here, no siree.

Um...wasn't government intervention in the housing market to encourage more Americans to own homes part of the reason we ended up in the current economic mire?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Go Global Or Go Home

Not much to laugh at in David Goldman's Dave's (additional) 10 Reasons Why the Recession Will Last Forever, especially the conclusion:

There just isn't any way to square the circle within the US as such: households have lost too much wealth at the cusp of a gigantic retirement wave, so that demand for savings is virtually limitless. That's one reason why bond yields remain so low (another is that the cheap dollar makes them attractive to foreign investors). Americans are locked into a vicious cycle: as their wealth collapses, they must save more; that reduces sales and output, and leads to unemployment; unemployment causes more home foreclosures and keeps the housing market weak; wealth continues to fall; returns to prospective retirement assets decline, forcing households to save more; and so on, ad infinitum, or at least as far as the eye can see.

The only way to break out is globally, and Obama is getting colder rather than hotter.

Beer Of The Week (Vol XXV)

Last week, after waxing nost-alt-gically for a beer gone by, I stopped in at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits as I am wont to do on Friday afternoons on my way home from work. I wasn't looking for any particular beer to review, just wanted to check out the new arrivals and see if any of the existing inventory caught my eye.

The always affable Bill drew my attention to a brew from Vermont that recently has become available at Glen Lake. It's an interesting offering and will be the subject of next week's Beer of the Week.

After securing a six-pack of said beer, I spent some time perusing the rest of the Glen Lake beer stock. As I mentioned before, unlike most shopping experiences I view my time spent inside a liquor store as a pleasure not a chore. Even after I have completed my selections, I will often linger in the aisles taking in the rich varieties and choices that the wonderful world of booze has to offer.

My browsing paid off last week at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits when I made a most timely discovery. Hullo? What's this? An altbier, right here in front of me? Huzzah!

Of course I didn't say "huzzah!," but instead merely informed Bill that, "I think I'll try this one too." Recalling the glories of Summit's Alt last week had me all jazzed up to get my hands on that style of beer and now I had almost literally walked right into one.

This altbier comes courtesy of BluCreek Brewing, which bills itself as a "home of unique and all natural ales."

Based in Madison (in Wisconsin that is) while using facilities in pristine Black River area, BluCreek Brewing specializes in producing premium--yet unique, all natural hand-crafted beers that stand-out from the other beers crowding today market.

When you check out their selection of beers, the altbier is actually the most traditional style they offer. You're not going to find many brewers with Zen Green Tea IPA, Blueberry Ale, and Honey Herbal Ale in their lineup. They sound like beers that are good and good for you. "Honey, are you getting loaded AGAIN?" "Just trying to stay healthy dear." Several ounces of prevention...

Now, on to the beer.

Brown bottle. The label is in various shades of brown giving it an autumnal feel. It features a simple (very) rendition of a campsite next to a creek framed in barley. In the the background we see mountains which a camper--who appears to be clad in lederhosen--is hiking toward.

Beer Style: Altbier

Alcohol by Volume: 4.0%

COLOR (0-2): Dense medium brown. 2

AROMA (0-2): Malty and nutty. 2

HEAD (0-2): Thick pour, off-white color. Decent lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Some sweetness and roasted malt with nice hop flavor. Somewhat reminiscent of a brown ale. Medium body. 3

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

OVERALL (0-6): Good flavor and very drinkable as well. It may not quite compare, but it harkens back to good ol' days of Summit's Dusseldorfer Alt. A great fall beer alternative to the much more ubiquitous Oktoberfest Marzens.

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 14

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Born To Be Mild

The only man who seems to take more vacations--and therefore more time off from his radio duties--than shock jock Hugh Hewitt is our own Brian "Saint Paul" Ward. This Saturday, Saint Paul will once again be jetting off to some exotic locale to experience the lavish trappings of the indigenous culture and hobknob with the ruling elite(rumor has it his destination this time around is COL-O-RA-DO). Which means that he will be unable to fulfill his appointed duties behind the mike on the First Team of the Northern Alliance Radio Network on Saturday from 11am-1pm.

Ordinarily Saint Paul's absence would not cause for undue concern, but this week is different. Because this week the NARN will be doing a special remote broadcast to help support a very special cause. That cause or maybe more accurate causes are Tee it up for the Troops and the Patriot Guard Riders. And the location of Saturday's special remote broadcast is Cooper's Bar and Grill in Eagan. That's right, BAR and grill.

When asked if I could fill Saint Paul's deep vocal loafers this week, my reply was "You had me at bar." So this Saturday, I will rejoin John Hinderaker on the AM1280 The Patriot airwaves from 11am-1pm LIVE from Cooper's along with the rest of the NARN crew (and a couple of special guests) as part of the festivities involved in their Second Annual Bike Run.

Now, it's been a while since I've had my bike out, but once I heard about this event I couldn't wait to get my three-speed Schwinn down from the garage rafters. I put some air in the tires, wiped off the sparkling blue banana seat, and even added some tassels to the end of the handlebars. Once I clothespin a card to the spokes, I'll be ready to ride baby.

What? You're saying it's not for that kind of bike run? Oh, now I see, it's that kind of bike run. Someone should make sure Mitch is clear about this to avoid any unnecessary wearing of spandex on Saturday.

I should also point out that any concerns about whether the crowd at Cooper's might be too tough for me are downright ridiculous. I'll have you know I stubbed my toe last week while watering my spice garden and I only cried for twenty minutes. Besides I'll have John riding shotgun with me. Nobody garners respect from a rough and tumble crowd like an Ivy League lawyer.

Hmmm...Maybe I will ask John not to wear his Dartmouth shirt on Saturday. And I'll make sure the Patriot technical crew has the mesh up.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pining For That What Never Was

With three youngins underfoot in our household we receive a fair number of catalogs featuring products for the younger set. Some are from clothing companies seeking to have our children outfitted in the latest styles from the Swedish countryside. Others are home furnishing companies who have specially tailored children's versions of their adult offerings (Pottery Barn Infants, Pottery Barn Toddlers, Pottery Barn Kids, etc.) Then there are the safety product catalogs which seek to prey upon your deepest parental fears to protect your kids from every possible calamity--nothing says "I Love You" like encasing your child in our exclusive "Baby Bubble," which prevents injury from common household accidents as well as defense against nuclear/chemical/biological agents and nearly every communicable disease known to man.

The only ones that I have much interest in perusing are the toy catalogs. No matter how mature you pretend to be, you can't deny that you still get a thrill checking out the toys. For a moment, you're transported back to a time when dreams of acquiring this or that special toy dominated your thoughts especially as you approached a birthday or Christmas.

Just the other day a catalog from Back To Basics Toys arrived at our home. They have an especially cool collection of toys including some classics from the past. When you page through it, you recognize many of these "oldies but goodies"--either as toys you had, toys that your friends had, or toys that you always wanted, but never were within your reach.

It's easy to fall into a spell of misty nostalgia when the memories of these old toys are rekindled. However, when I reflected a little deeper on the items in the catalog I realized that some of them really didn't merit such fond recollections. In fact, some of these "classic" toys were in reality quite lame.

Toys like Rock'em Sock'em Robots:

Still Rockin' and Sockin' after all these years! A classic since 1966. Remember the fun you had competing for the title? Two contenders control the plastic boxers every move until the winner knocks loose the other's spring-loaded head. Lots of action and competition. Will Red Rocker or Blue Bomber prevail?

This was a much sought after toy during my days of youth. The television commercials made it look like so much fun. My brother and I imagined the many hours we would spend trying to knock each other's blocks off (not in a literal sense for a change) and looked forward to the day when we too would be able to Rock and Sock 'em. Finally, our parents were able to get one for us (pretty sure it was from a garage sale). And after all that anticipation we discovered that the toy...

...pretty much sucked. It wasn't nearly as exciting as portrayed on TV. The robots barely moved, you couldn't really connect that well with a punch, and when you did the results were disappointing. I think we were bored with it within a matter of minutes and rarely went back to it again.

Or the Electric Football Game:

Classic Electric Football brings home 3-D football action. A classic game since 1947. Plug in the unit, set up your players, and the vibrating board does the rest. Features 22 players (including a full-action quarterback), working scoreboard, and magnetic first down marker.

Sounds exactly like the one I had. Metal field, plastic players, out of scale little foam footballs that you threw, kicked, or jammed under a running back's arm. Like a real football game, there was usually very little actual action going on. You spent most of time picking up the players, lining them up, and then trying to figure out how you would use the ball. At last, you'd flip the switch, the table would vibrate, players would topple, and ten seconds later the play would end. Then you'd turn it off and start all over again.

Considering what was available at the time I suppose it wasn't that bad of way to simulate football. But when you can play Madden in hi-def, why would anyone bother with Electric Football?

Another clunker was Shoot the Moon:

Defy gravity by moving the ball up the adjustable steel rods as far as possible for the highest score. A great skill game for children and adults. Made from solid hardwood. A classic since 1920.

This was usually what you ended up stuck with when you went over to visit your parents' friends who didn't have any kids. Say, you kids want to do something fun? Try this game. Five minutes later you were frustrated, fed-up, and wondering how it was possible for anyone to live in a place as boring as this.

Lastly, we have the Slinky:

Marine engineer Richard James invented the Slinky in 1943 when he accidentally knocked a metal spring off his desk. He was amazed at how the metal spring traveled end-over-end across the floor. After more than 60 years, Slinky is still traveling end-over-end across floors, down stairs and into children's hearts.

Who doesn't have fond memories of the Slinky with its simple design and catchy theme song (Slinky, Slinky, oh what a wonderful toy...)? But how much fun did you really have with it? My Slinky NEVER went down the stairs like the ones they showed on TV. While it was amusing for a time to move the Slinky back in forth between your hands, after a while that got old and before long your Slinky was kinked up and sitting at the bottom of a toy box collecting dust.

There were toys from our childhoods that did live up to expectations and provided untold hours of joy. And they deserve to be considered classics. But there were others that don't really hold up that well when you bring a little more focus to the hazy lenses of memory.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Company You Keep

Gary e-mails to note this story:

ST. PAUL, Minn.--Minnesota health experts head to Germany this week to examine a medical system where everyone has insurance and private health plans operate under government supervision.

The 13-member delegation includes state Human Services Commissioner Cal Ludeman, legislators and officials from the Mayo Clinic, University of Minnesota, Planned Parenthood and AARP.

The group will meet with German health care regulators and insurers.

They will also visit a for-profit hospital.

The trip runs Tuesday through Sunday. It's organized by the University of Minnesota's Center for German and European Studies.

Gary then asks:

Why is Planned Parenthood going on the trip?‏

Good question. I'm sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation and the fact that abortion providers are joining politicians and government officials on a state health care junket should in no way raise suspicions about the kind of procedures that taxpayers will end up funding if we move toward greater government control of our health care system.

We've tried nothin' & we're all out of ideas

A review (sub req) of Steven Hayward's The Age of Reagan by William Voegeli in the September 21st edition of National Review provides an insightful glimpse into the mind of a liberal during the early Eighties. And not just any liberal.

This unilateral political disarmament came at a time when Democrats had shown themselves to be deeply unserious about national security. The party, which formulated the containment doctrine as a resolute, sober alternative to "rolling back" Communism, had been traumatized by Vietnam into the belief that America was the reckless world power that most needed to be contained. Hayward reminds us of the stupidity that resulted from reducing statecraft to social work by quoting prominent Democrats extensively and accurately--which is to say, cruelly. No parents of a convicted felon ever sounded more broken-hearted and bewildered than Walter Mondale did after the USSR's delinquency in the 1970s had helped make him an ex-vice president in 1981: "I cannot understand--it just baffles me--why the Soviets these last few years have behaved as they have. Why did they have to build up all those arms? Why did they have to go into Afghanistan? Why can't they relax just a little bit about Eastern Europe? Why do they try every door to see if it is locked? Maybe we have made some mistakes with them."

You think? The level of naïveté that Mondale displays is simply astounding, even more so when you consider that he had just spent the last four years serving as vice president of the United States. So even though he had access to all the intelligence and analysis of the Soviet Union available to the government at the time, he had no clue as to what motivated Soviet leaders. Keep that in mind as Mondale is trotted out as an "elder statesman" these days to offer up his wisdom on world affairs supposedly acquired by his years of experience.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Character Flaws

In her WSJ television column about a month ago, Dorothy Rabinowitz perfectly captured the core of the series Mad Men (sub req):

There was no mistaking the ­resulting instant relief--and the energy--that came charging through every scene, every line of dialogue, as soon as the action shifted to that Madison Avenue office. The life force of this period series, it becomes ever clearer, is business--the advertising business, the business of the interconnecting lives of the Sterling ­Cooper staff, all inextricably fused to the job, the place and career concerns. For, despite the grand dimensions that have been attributed to it as a work of social commentary, the series is at heart the latest addition to an old and honored television genre--the workplace drama. A highly distinguished one, to be sure, and far darker and more complex than, say, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

That the office is the heart and soul of Mad Men has never been more apparent then when watching this season's episodes. Up until last night, the focus of most of the Season Three episodes had shifted from the office and as a result the pace felt sluggish and even slow-moving at times. Granted it was still good dramatic television, far better than most of what fills the small screen. But it was lacking some of the spark and vitality that had marked the series in the past.

However, in last night's Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency episode the show's flair and style were back with gusto. The office was again the center of action and there was plenty to enjoy. Without giving too much away, any time you can plausibly work a lawn mover accident into an office storyline you're doing something right. The reaction of the British executives in the hospital after their wunderkind account manager lost his foot was priceless. In explaining why he would never work again, one remarked, "He won't be able to walk with one foot." The other added with emphasis, "He very well won't be able to play golf." An account manager who can't golf? Inconceivable.

It's easy to watch the 1963 workplace setting and marvel about how different things are from today. The smoking, the drinking, the dress code, the treatment of women, etc. But what really makes the Mad Men office world tick are the things that aren't that different. The details are not the same, but the office politics and personal relationships depicted are easily recognized by those who work in similar situations today.

Last night's episode featured a visit from the home office. The hopes and fears of the staff anticipating an organization shakeup were very familiar as was the individual reaction when the reorganization was rather hurriedly and awkwardly announced. While everyone's public face is all about the good of the company, privately each and every one asks, "What does this mean to me?"

I had to chuckle when the reorg was presented via an overhead projector with a transparency slide. No laptops and Power Point in 1963. Then, I realized that it wasn't that long ago (ten years) when I was still using an overhead projector with transparencies. Those were the days.

If you weren't nervous enough about presenting to a room full of people, you had to stand next to a projector that was emitting far more heat than light (flop sweats anyone?). Then you had to pick up each slide individually (stop shaking) and remember to place it properly on the projector so it showed up right on the screen. Chances that you screwed up the first slide no matter how many times you had done it in the past? About 90%.

That was if you were lucky enough to have the slides ready in the first place. I can vividly recall impatiently waiting to head into a meeting as the printer slowly pushed out transparencies. If it was a really important meeting, you could just about guarantee that it would run out of transparencies or jam two minutes before you were supposed to start. You can complain all you want about the overuse and abuse of Power Point these days, but I for one embrace the progress that's been made on this front.

One last point on Mad Men. While I generally enjoy the show, there are several nits to pick. The biggest for me is Don Draper's character. He's the handsome, cool, and unflappable creative director at Sterling Cooper with a mysterious past. He's a stud both in business and love and fits the bill "the men want to be him, the women want to be with him" to a tee. He's a hard-working career climber and can be a demanding boss. But he's also got a heart to go with his brain. He's a family man with a beautiful wife and three kids. And he sleeps with a string of women on the side from clients to stewardesses.

Wherein lies my problem. Does he have to be a lecherous adulterer? Isn't the very idea of the hard-boozing, easy-banging businessman who leads a double life--family man and pleasure seeking hedonist--itself one of the hoariest of entertainment clichés? You could still retain his secret history, but would not his character have been even more compelling, more interesting, and more appealing if he actually lived up to his commitments as a loving father and a faithful husband? We can live with flawed and imperfect heroes. But they don't have to all share the same detrimental character traits.

RiffTrax Redux

If you missed the original RiffTrax Plan 9 From Outer Space Live Event last month, you can now catch a special encore performance on Thursday, October 8th:

Who knew that the worst movie ever made would be so popular! The original evening of live riffing captured on August 20th will be rebroadcast to movie theaters nationwide for one night only. Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo) and Bill Corbett (Crow T. Robot), now of, are even better on the big screen!

This encore event will feature the new short, Flying Stewardess, 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. Don't miss your last chance for an exciting evening of riffing, zombies, aliens, cheesy performances, wisecracks, laughable special effects and more!

Acclaimed critics of comedy (and Sisyphus) hailed the original event as "hilarious" and agreed that it featured more laugh out loud moments than they've experienced in a movie theater in years (at least since seeing Ben Affleck in "Pearl Harbor"). If you like your wit sharp and smart, this is a must-see event.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Northern Alliance Radio Network

Join us beginning at 11AM today for another LIVE episode of the First Team of the Northern Alliance Radio Network. An a very touching reunion show is scheduled, with both John Hinderaker and me scheduled to appear.

Flu-like symptoms knocked me out of the box for the past couple of shows, but the coughing, sneezing and gagging has abated enough for me to believe I'm no longer a threat to myself. A threat to others? Well, we'll have to see about that. Tune in, if for no other reason, than to hear John Hinderaker broadcast while talking through a facemask and respirator.

As always, we'll be featuring 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.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Beer Of The Week (Vol XXIV)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the clean and articulate people at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who believe that alcohol is the best medicine. That's a health care proposal that I think we can all get behind.

The Who - Substitute Lyrics:

Substitute me for him
Substitute my coke for gin
Substitute you for my mum
At least I'll get my washing done

The role of a substitute is almost never an easy one whether as in the classroom, on a Broadway stage, on the television screen, or in a cup of coffee. You have to live up to the often unrealistic expectations that have developed about the one you're replacing and live with the inevitable comparisons.

Sometimes the substitute proves to be superior to the original as in the case of Mike Nelson replacing Joel Hodgson on MST3K. Sometimes the change proves to be a miserable failure as when Coy and Vance replaced Bo and Luke on The Dukes of Hazzard.

My favorite fall seasonal beer used to be Summit's Dusseldorfer Alt. It was a good example of the unique and relatively uncommon (at least outside of Germany) beer style:

Altbier (often abbreviated to Alt) is the name given to a form of German top-fermenting beer that originated in Westphalia and spread to parts of the Rhineland later.

The name Altbier, which literally means old [style] beer, refers to the pre-lager brewing method of using a warm top-fermenting yeast like British pale ales. Over time the Alt yeast adjusted to lower temperatures, and the Alt brewers would store or lager the beer after fermentation, leading to a cleaner, crisper beer than is the norm for an ale.

So I was shocked and saddened some years ago when Summit pulled their Alt from the fall lineup and replaced it with an Oktoberfest Marzen. Now, Summit's Oktoberfest (this week's Beer of the Week if you haven't already figured it out) is a perfectly capable fall offering and I happen to find it quite good. But there's a lot of Oktoberfests out there and not so many Alts. So every September, when the beers of fall come around I found myself pining for the original Summit seasonal and wondering what might have been. Sigh.

Anyway, on to the review.

Standard Summit stout brown bottle. Brown Summit label with logo and beer title in classic font set against orange background.

Beer Style: Oktoberfest Marzen

Alcohol by Volume: 7.4%

COLOR (0-2): Very clear, light copper brown. 2

AROMA (0-2): Malt with light caramel. 1

HEAD (0-2): Off white in color. Thick with good lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Malt flavors with more noticeable hops than most Marzens. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Long-lasting, but a little harsh. 1

OVERALL (0-6): A nice, well-rounded Oktoberfest beer. Good, strong flavor that packs a punch. It may not be a perfect replacement for the Dusseldorfer Alt, but as substitutes go this isn't too shabby a one. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 13

By the way, if you get a chance to snag some Summit Kolsch while it's still available in stores, I'd strongly encourage you to do so. Good stuff.

Civil Servants

David Harsanyi says Civility is overrated:

If you've been paying attention lately, you may be under the impression that the United States was spiraling into mass incivility.

The evidence keeps mounting: Congressman Joe Wilson yelling. Serena Williams yelling. Kanye West...whatever. All of these uncouth characters have been strung together by critics to establish, indisputably, that there is a societal explosion of boorish and coarse behavior.

On the political front, columnist Kathleen Parker calls this "a political era of uninhibited belligerence." House speaker Nancy Pelosi, lamenting an imaginary climate of violence, wishes "we would all, again, curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements that are made."

Such a preposterous statement should be actionable. Pelosi, who only recently compared her political opponents to Nazis, isn't exactly a paragon of civil discourse. American politics has always been unsightly. Most of the time, in fact, far worse than today.

Have we transformed into so brittle a citizenry that we are unable to handle a raucous debate over the future of the country? If things were quiet, subdued and "civil" in America today, as Pelosi surely wishes, it would only be proof that democracy wasn't working.

It's no accident, either, that those in power are generally the ones choking up about the lack of decorum. The truth is, we could use far less bogus civility in Washington.

More Salt Anyone?

In Wednesday's WSJ, Allen Barra wrote about a new Showtime history series on the AFL called Full Color Football:

The AFL's and Stram's greatest triumph was the league's last game. On Jan. 11, 1970, in the fourth and final meeting between the two leagues' champions and the second game to officially use the name "Super Bowl," Stram's Kansas City Chiefs, a 16-point underdog, thrashed the Minnesota Vikings 23-7. "It's a triumph that most fans don't remember today," says "Full Color Football" co-producer David Plaut, "even though it might have been a greater victory than the Jets over the Colts the year before. A lot of people still thought the Jets' victory was an aberration and that the NFL dominance would reassert itself. But the Chiefs absolutely dazzled them with tactics and plays no NFL team would have used, like the unbalanced defensive line and the end around. The Vikings had their great defensive line, 'The Purple Eaters,' but they were never in that game. Kansas City beat them physically, mentally and emotionally." The fifth episode in "Full Color Football" brings that game to life for a new generation of fans, with the kinetic Stram striding up and down his team's sideline shouting "pump it up, baby—pump it up! Keep matriculatin' that ball!"

Probably don't really need to catch that one.

Hop On Pop

Emily e-mails to report that the efforts to tax sugary soda (or pop for those of us here in the Upper Midwest) are not dead yet:

1) It's clear this is just about money. One of the scientists pushing for the tax concedes that it would have just a "modest effect" on consumption, but could generate "billions of dollars."

2) This would be a super high tax! The penny-per-ounce tax they're proposing would be a 50% tax on 2-liter bottles, and a 45% tax on 12-packs.

This isn't about being overweight, this is about money and control. The government and their merry band of 'experts' just want to find new ways to tax and take control of our lives.

The full story from the New York Times is available here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Marching For Life Onward To Victory

Last spring, Catholics debated the University of Notre Dame's presenting President Obama with an honorary degree and inviting him to to speak at commencement. My position on the issue was that the university was in the wrong by openly defying the American bishop's 2004 statement "Catholics in Political Life," that required Catholic institutions refrain from honoring pro-abortion politicians. Essentially, my position is that an educational institution could allow such a politician to speak, but could not bestow an honor on him. An honorary degree is, by name, an honor.

That argument is over. The powers that be at Notre Dame made their decision and it is done. However, there was another aspect of the debate that was overlooked. In a sense, it is more important than the question of a one-day visit. That is the issue of what is Notre Dame doing to further the pro-life position in America today and every day?

Notre Dame's President, Father John Jenkins, announced an answer to this question this week. In a letter to alumni and friends of the University he stated:

Coming out of the vigorous discussions surrounding President Obama's visit last spring, I said we would look for ways to engage the Notre Dame community with the issues raised in a prayerful and meaningful way. As our nation continues to struggle with the morality and legality of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and related issues, we must seek steps to witness to the sanctity of life. I write to you today about some initiatives that we are undertaking.

Each year on January 22, the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, the March for Life is held in Washington D.C. to call on the nation to defend the right to life. I plan to participate in that march. I invite other members of the Notre Dame Family to join me and I hope we can gather for a Mass for Life at that event. We will announce details as that date approaches.

On campus, I have recently formed the Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life. It will be co-chaired by Professor Margaret Brinig, the Fritz Duda Family Chair in Law and Associate Dean for the Law School, and by Professor John Cavadini, the Chair of the Department of Theology and the McGrath-Cavadini Director of the Institute for Church Life. My charge to the Task Force is to consider and recommend to me ways in which the University, informed by Catholic teaching, can support the sanctity of life. Possibilities the Task Force has begun to discuss include fostering serious and specific discussion about a reasonable conscience clause; the most effective ways to support pregnant women, especially the most vulnerable; and the best policies for facilitating adoptions. Such initiatives are in addition to the dedication, hard work and leadership shown by so many in the Notre Dame Family, both on the campus and beyond, and the Task Force may also be able to recommend ways we can support some of this work.

I also call to your attention the heroic and effective work of centers that provide care and support for women with unintended pregnancies. The Women's Care Center, the nation's largest Catholic-based pregnancy resource center, on whose Foundation Board I serve, is run by a Notre Dame graduate, Ann Murphy Manion ('77). The center has proven successful in offering professional, non-judgmental concern to women with unintended pregnancies, helping those women through their pregnancy and supporting them after the birth of their child. The Women's Care Center and similar centers in other cities deserve the support of Notre Dame clubs and individuals.

Our Commencement last spring generated passionate discussion and also caused some divisions in the Notre Dame community. Regardless of what you think about that event, I hope that we can overcome divisions to foster constructive dialogue and work together for a cause that is at the heart of Notre Dame's mission. We will keep you informed of our work, and we ask for your support, assistance and prayers. May Our Lady, Notre Dame, watch over our efforts.

For those of us who were disappointed in Notre Dame's decision this spring, this is a positive step.

The Elder Adds: True, but it will get a fraction of the attention that Notre Dame's original decision to honor President Obama did. It will take many more such steps to make up for the damage caused by that unfortunate act.

I also find it ironic that while the Nihilist is staunchly pro-life, he favors the immediate imposition of the death penalty in the case of Charlie Weis.

Maxine on the Mississippi

The Hill reports that notoriously erratic US Congressperson Maxine Waters was spouting off again, this time about the attendees at recent rallies protesting the Obama health care reforms and government spending:

"I want those people talked to; I want them interviewed," Waters told the liberal Bill Press Radio show in a podcast. "I want journalists to be all over those rallies and the marches with the birthers and the teabaggers."
A government official summoning the media to investigate her political opponents? To, dare I say, put them on the hot seat?

If that call to arms sounds familiar, it should. Our own distinguished Representative from St. Paul was alleged to be doing the same thing by a radio show host from KFAI:

I got a call today from Representative McCollum's office in St. Paul. Tomorrow the so-called tea party guys are supposed to show up at 11 AM tomorrow. And they're trying to get the media to come in and put these guys on the hot seat.
Here's another remarkable similarity, in that same statement by Waters, going out of her way to mock the protestors with the crude sexual innuendo of "teabagger" and this recent statement by Rep. McCollum:

"[Joe Wilson] crossed a line of protocol and decency that may be acceptable for angry 'tea baggers' at a rally, but is completely unacceptable for a Member of Congress in the House Chambers."

Striking coincidences wouldn't you say? Either this is a case of great progressive minds thinking alike or these two are reading out of the same play book.

Any chance the local media will cover the fact McCollum is wading knee-deep into these disturbed Waters?

N'ah. It's not like they've shown any interest in trying to make a member of our House contingent look crazy or anything.

Welcome To The Kitchen Mr. Obama

A lot of talk lately about "civility" or lack therefore of in American politics. Apparently, all the town hall attendees, tea party protesters, and talk radio shock jocks have crossed a line of decorum that has previously been rigorously observed in our political realm. If we could only return to the glory days of discourse when political opponents respected the boundaries of civilized conversation and operated under a sort of Marquess of Queensberry rules of rhetoric, our society would be so much better off.

When I hear these lamentations about the "loss of civility" that supposedly mars our political process these days, I wonder when this era of good feelings and political civility that we've allegedly now lost is imagined to have occurred. For when I look back on the last forty-plus years of presidential politics, I'm hard pressed to recognize it.

How civilized was it when protesters outside the White House taunted Lyndon Johnson with "Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids have you killed today"?

Does anyone think opponents of Richard Nixon--who were hardly shy about expressing their seething hatred--accorded him any measure of civility?

I'm too young to remember myself, but when it comes to Gerald Ford his opposition may indeed have behaved in a civil manner. Of course, since the country was already laughing at his antics and pratfalls on a regular basis, they probably didn't feel the need to attack him much anyway. A president who goes around encouraging people to wear Whip Inflation Now buttons is really his own worst enemy.

By the time his administration mercifully came to an end, Jimmy Carter was ridiculed as an impotent, ineffectual bumpkin.

When Ronald Reagan was not being portrayed by his opponents as an affable jelly-bean eating dunce literally asleep at the switch, he was being demonized as a bloodthirsty warmonger who wanted to toss orphans out in the streets and make the elderly subsist on dog food before he unleashed nuclear Armageddon on the planet.

If you've ever watched the excellent documentary "The War Room" you know the manner in which George H.W. Bush was vilified by the Clinton crew.

Who of course had their own turn as targets of incivility over Whitewater, Vince Foster, and of course that woman, Ms. Lewinsky. According to his critics, a blue dress was the least of the stains left by President Clinton.

It's arguable that no president in modern history was more maligned by his opponents than George W. Bush. The examples of incivility directed his way are far too numerous to even begin to list here (although you can see good examples here).

But the absence of civility in politics is hardly a recent trend. You won't find a great deal of civility in the way opponents treated Truman or Roosevelt. Prior to America's entry into the Second World War, many Republicans regarded FDR as a greater threat to the country than any foreign enemy.

The Founding Fathers were hardly exempt from crude and rude political attacks. The claims made about and charges leveled at Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and yes even George Washington (gasp!) were far outside the boundaries of what one would now consider civil discourse.

So should Joe Wilson get a pass for his outburst during President Obama's speech? No. His behavior was inappropriate and out of line. But let's not pretend that the tenor and tone of the opposition to President Obama that we're seeing today is especially unusual or ahistorical. It's the way that politics has been played at the presidential level pretty much from the get go. You could say that it comes with the Oval Office.

Finally, let's stop equating opposition to or even incivility towards President Obama with racism. You may note that the skin color of the previous occupants of the White House hardly made them immune from experiencing it as well.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I Thought We Were Broke?

Recent forecasts from the Congressional Budget Office include a record $1.8 TRILLION federal budget deficit for this year alone, an additional $9.3 TRILLION accumulating in deficits through 2019, and a long-term (75 year) shortfall in funding for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid at an additional $43 TRILLION.

(A staggeringly effective way to envision the scale of just one trillion is provided here.)

If you chose to believe them, the only conclusion is that we're totally screwed. Or, as budget deficit expert Barack Obama puts it, our current deficit spending is "unsustainable."

We are tapped out. To resolve this situation, our only options are massive cuts in spending and/or raising taxes to economic growth crippling levels. You can choose your poison there. What is obvious to anyone paying attention is that we cannot continue business as usual and take on every new discretionary spending obligation that tickles a legislator's fancy. That's what got us into this problem and has driven us to the edge of fiscal catastrophe.

You know who must not believe the Congressional Budget Office figures? Our newest member of Congress, Sen. Al Franken. Certainly the CBO figures have been made available to him. Yet among the first things he does when he gets into office is this little initiative:

U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has co-sponsored legislation to train, place, and retain school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists in school districts that need them.

Minnesota ranks 49th in the country in counselor to student ratios, with one counselor for every 800 students. Considering the critical shortage of these professionals throughout the state, Minnesota in particular stands to benefit from this initiative.

Filling the strategic vocational counselor gap, that's why I voted for him.

"Minnesota students deserve personal attention from school counselors," said Sen. Franken. "On everything from choosing the right college to dealing with social issues affecting their performance, our kids need a professional to talk to within their school. This legislation will help to give them that opportunity. We should never be behind the rest of the country when it comes to providing for the well-being of our students. Minnesota students deserve better."

Now if he could guarantee that never again will a high school student be allowed to pursue stand-up comedy as the path to becoming a US Senator, I could get behind this.

Whether or not public schools actually need more counselors is debatable. Whether or not the alleged problems cited will be cured by Franken's legislation is questionable. Whether or not the Federal government needs to step in and start paying for the employees that school districts or states should be taking care of is highly doubtful.

What is not in question is the propriety of this discretionary pending in the context of the federal deficits outlined above. It is irresponsible to propose new spending obligations for items that in no way can be considered a priority above what we already owe trillions more than we can pay for.

And how many more of your future dollars is Franken looking to throw on top of the mountain of debt his Senate colleagues have already accumulated? From the appropriations section of the bill, the so called Increased Student Achievement through Increased Student Support Act (S.538):

There is authorized to be appropriated to carry out this section $30,000,000 for each of the fiscal years 2010 to 2020.

$300 million of brand new spending. For school counselors. Any current school counselors worth their salt better be advising their students to consider a career in the lucrative field of school counseling.

Yes, I'm sure that amount is considered a mere drop in the bucket for members of the US Senate. But back here on planet Earth, it is a massive infusion of money. Money we simply don't have. All for a feel good, pork barrel, pet project, luxury item.

Franken sees our tax dollars as a shiny new toy to play with and he's going to use it in the same manner his fellow legislators have for decades, all the way to tens of trillions (and counting) in debt for the American taxpayer.

As we've seen over and over again, with the likes of Betty McCollum and others, even with the dire information provided from the CBO, these politicians see no need to set any priorities in spending, everything can be funded, nothing needs to be sacrificed, they think they can create utopia, and they think there is no limit to the amount of your money they have available to fund it.

Until these types are voted out of Washington once and for all, there will no hope or change on the horizon.

Let's Truly Become Flexible

During the presidential campaign last year, a good deal of time and energy was spent talking about what could be done to help America's "struggling" middle class. Now, with all the hubbub over health care reform, cap n' trade, and skyrocketing deficits most of that talk seems to have been pushed to the back burner. Other than the oddly titled Making Work Pay Tax Credit (which amounts to $400 a year for singles/$800 for marrieds--or $20/$40 on your bi-weekly paycheck), it's hard to point to concrete steps that the Obama administration has taken to help middle class Americans and their families. It's time for some new ideas.

Like many others, the company I work for offers Flexible Spending Accounts:

A flexible spending arrangement (FSA), or Flexible Spending Account, as they are commonly called, is one of a number of tax-advantaged financial accounts that can be set up through a cafeteria plan of an employer in the United States. An FSA allows an employee to set aside a portion of his or her earnings to pay for qualified expenses as established in the cafeteria plan, most commonly for medical expenses but often for dependent care or other expenses. Money deducted from an employee's pay into an FSA is not subject to payroll taxes, resulting in a substantial payroll tax savings.

We have both medical expense and dependent care FSAs available. The medical FSA is a good way to cover any medical expenses not picked up your insurance coverage. It also encourages you to monitor your health care spending more closely than you might otherwise. Having a little skin in the game motivates you to compare costs and plan for elective care procedures (like Lasik). The one downside is that you can't roll over money in the account from one year to the next, but that's a minor complaint. While there are some restrictions on what medical FSAs will pay for and limits on how much you can set aside in any given year, in general they provide a good deal of freedom for individuals to decide how their health care dollars are spent.

Dependent care FSAs meanwhile are more restrictive. Mainly they are used to cover day care costs for your children (also for older parents who live with you) up to a limit of $5000 a year. They are also only available for single parent families or families where both spouses work. If you're in a family where both of you work it's a good way to help save money on your day care costs (for some--others would be better off taking a child tax credit instead). So in effect, the government is subsidizing part of a family's annual day care costs thereby making it easier for both parents to choose to work. You might even say the government is encouraging such a choice.

Granted, it's not a huge encouragement from a financial perspective and probably is not a factor in most people's decisions whether they should both work or not. But it is a benefit that the government is only making available to working parents and it's not necessarily based on any actual need. Consider the following:

A two parent working family that makes $200K a year and sends their kids to day care could utilize the dependent care FSA to avoid payroll taxes on $5K of income.

A two parent family where only one works that makes $50K a year and pays tuition to send their kid to pre-kindergarten could not utilize the dependent care FSA at all.

Seems fair, right? Now, I'm not going to get into a debate about whether the government should be helping parents pay for their kids day care. Let's allow dependent care FSAs to cover day care as they currently do. But why not expand the scope? Instead of just day care, dependent care FSAs should be available for two parent families where only one parent works and they should cover educational care for dependent children. That could be school supplies, tuition, and any other educational expenses your children incur up to the age of eighteen.

And yes, that would include tuition for private schools. Again as with medical expenses, it would encourage parents to plan for their educational costs and shop around. If you decide to send your kids to public schools you could still use the FSA for expenses like fees, outside tutoring, supplies, etc. (I know there are some tax deductions for these already but they seem overly limited). If you send your kids to private school, you get some savings from being able to use tax free money for tuition (at least up to $5K). It's a start.

One of the reasons that the middle class is reportedly so stressed and struggling is that we're worried about our children's education. Expanding the dependent care FSA to cover educational expenses would at least begin to help alleviate some of that stress. And it would allow people at least a little more freedom in making educational choices.

How to make up for the lost tax revenue you ask? The glib answer would be "who cares?" as we're already so far under fiscal water that whatever revenue shortfall this created would be like a drop in the ocean. But if you insist on pay-as-you-go planning, I'd take it straight outta the Department of Education's budget. Who knows better than parents how to spend money on their children's education?

Ratings Game

The complete list of Fraters Libertas Beer Ratings has once again been brought up to date. It now includes ratings on over three-hundred-and-eighty-five beers from around the world (and the states) and links to all of the Beers of the Week. Notable additions that were not beers of the week include:

* Farm Girl Saison from Lift Bridge Brewing (14)

* Torpedo IPA from Sierra Nevada (14)

* Scurvy IPA (Arrr!) from Tyranena Brewing (14)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Mother of All Tea Parties

Thursday is Constitution Day, established to celebrate that mythological document which at one time was said to do such things as limit the scope of activity of the Federal government in our daily lives.

There are those who still believe in this precept and many of the best and brightest among them are gathering to celebrate it and remind our elected officials that they once swore an oath to protect and defend this very belief.

This Thursday, September 17, on the State Capitol steps in St. Paul, from 5:00 - 7:00 PM, it is the Constitution Day Tea Party, sponsored by AM1280 The Patriot. A partial list of the scheduled speakers include these members of the local talk radio glitterati:

*David Strom - charismatic host of the David Strom Show on AM1280 the Patriot and former President of the Minnesota Tax Payer's League.

*Mitch Berg - legendary blogger and host of the Headliner edition of the Northern Alliance Radio Network on AM1280 the Patriot.

*Chris Baker - host of the highly entertaining Christ Baker Show, mornings on KTLK-FM.

*Sue Jeffers - former owner of Stub & Herbs, former gubernatorial candidate, and current weekend radio host on KTLK-FM.

*Bradlee Dean - Christian rap-core drummer for Junkyard Prophet and host of The School of Hard Knocks on KKMS.

That's right, three different talk radio stations will be represented. The hosts have promised to check their egos at the door for one night only and come together for this very special cause.

Once again, it all goes down Thursday, starting at 5PM on the state capitol steps. The organizers are encouraging attendees to: "Put on your best patriot attire, bring your signs and cameras, we are about to make history once again!

If the atmosphere is anything like the what we've been seeing at the recent rallies in Washington DC and around the country it figures to be a lot of fun (regardless whether a local version of the Boob Czar makes an appearance or not). You'll definitely want to be on site if you can. But if you can't make it, the Patriot will be broadcasting LIVE from the event. (Yet another bonus, getting to preempt the Hugh Hewitt Show.)

Once again, it is this Thursday at the Minnesota State Capitol, at 5PM. Don't you dare miss it!

Diplomacy For Dummies

After eight years of wavering and inconsistent foreign policy under President Bush (quasi-isolationist to neoconservative to realist) and nine months of a "one world, one dream" hand-holding and Kumbaya-singing approach to diplomacy under President Obama, the United States desperately needs to get back to statecraft basics. At least that's the clearly delivered and well-articulated argument put forward by Angelo Codevilla in his book Advice to War Presidents: A Remedial Course in Statecraft.

The book is a primer for statesmen and especially presidents to follow in order to return the country to a more pragmatic approach to foreign affairs. Codevilla doesn't propose a specific label to cover what he proposes, but it might be called "common sense statecraft." To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, Codevilla wants the United States to "speak clearly, carry a big stick, and don't be afraid to swing it hard when you must" when dealing with other countries.

He lays out a withering critique on the three schools of statecraft (Liberal Internationalist, Neoconservative, and Realist) that he believes have--in various forms and combinations--usually guided American foreign policy over the last eighty years or so. He contrasts and compares them unfavorably with the relative simple and straightforward approach to diplomacy envisioned by the Founders.

It isn't a prescription for Buchananite isolationism. Codevilla asks that America understand her international interests, clearly state them, and be prepared to go to war (if necessary) to protect them. He also asks that our leaders understand other countries' motivations, recognize that they don't share the same interests as we do, and grasp our limitations in changing either through talk.

In the opening chapters, he discusses how important it is that we use clear and precise language in diplomacy. The old "say what you mean and mean what you say" adage. Using weasel words and crafting ambiguous compromises that leave both side free to interpret as they choose may help politicians spin their policies, but it does nothing to advance U.S. interests.

He loathes half-measures. If you want to use economics sanctions to influence a country's behavior, then they should be implemented as completely, severely, and hopefully shortly as possible. Call it the Sherman approach. For economics sanctions are akin to war and like war they should only be undertaken if you are committed to victory from the start.

Codevilla has a excellent chapter on the proper role of intelligence and recognizes the importance of the home front. He knocks the notion that the country can be protected from terrorism through the auspices of Homeland Security. He says that if we are serious about being at war we need to clearly declare who are enemies are and aggressively go about defeating them.

So it is self-evident--to those who understand the meaning of the terms--that freedom and internal security will take care of themselves to the extent that war on foreign enemies is taken seriously.

He laments that too often, America's foreign policies aren't aligned with the common sense values of the American people.

The only bones in America's body politic that yearn to shape mankind belong to those Americans who fancy themselves the world's leaders--who like Woodrow Wilson feel more comfortable among the foreign potentates they imagine to be their peers, pretending that their agendas represent their countrymen's commitment, than they do at home dealing with their equals' concerns, which they deem parochial and low.

All in all "Advice to War Presidents" is a thoughtful, engaging work that one fervently hopes would somehow find its way into the hands intended in the title. Alas, that flight of fancy is not likely to come to pass. Codevilla's ideas simply make too much sense.

Painting The Map Purple

The WSJ reports that judging by jersey sales, Favre fever has reached pandemic stage:

Sorry, Favre-haters. From April 2009 to the end of the NFL preseason, the best-selling jersey for any NFL player belonged to Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, whose jersey was the top seller in 19 states. Mr. Favre is one of just eight NFL players whose jersey was the top seller in more than one state. Below is a popularity map for these eight players, based on exclusive data from Reebok.

Interesting to note that one of those nineteen states was Wisconsin. Sorry Aaron Rodgers. While it's allegedly "all about the Packers" in Wisconsin, apparently a large number of Cheeseheads still have a lingering man-crush on number four.

It should be noted that as an outspoken Favre skeptic (I reject Sisyphus' label of "Favre denier") I am not celebrating the spreading number four purple jersey pandemic. I just find it amusing that the lemming-like laundry wearing is not limited to Minnesota.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Never Let The Facts Get In The Way Of A Good Story

In order to persuade people to support his health care reform plans, President Obama has sought to portray insurance companies in the role of the villain. A compelling story usually has good guys and bad guys and by fixating on insurance companies as the cause of the woes in our health care system, the president is setting up a dragon to be slayed by the progressive knight. While it makes for good (and easy) drama, the reality of health care is far more complicated than that.

In today's WSJ, Scott Harrington says that many of the president's assertions on the abuses of insurance companies dropping coverage are more based on fiction than fact:

These two cases are presumably among the most egregious identified by Congressional staffers' analysis of 116,000 pages of documents from three large health insurers, which identified a total of about 20,000 rescissions from millions of policies issued by the insurers over a five-year period. Company representatives testified that less than one half of one percent of policies were rescinded (less than 0.1% for one of the companies).

If existing laws and litigation governing rescission are inadequate, there clearly are a variety of ways that the states or federal government could target abuses without adopting the president's agenda for federal control of health insurance, or the creation of a government health insurer.

Like many of the other rationales that the president uses to justify the need for his reform plans, the problems with companies dropping coverage are exaggerated to foster fear and the false choice is presented that the only options to address the problems are the president's way or doing nothing.

One of the surest signs of the decline of political discourse in America in recent years is the rise of rhetoric by anecdote ("Let me tell you the story of..."). It's an emotionally manipulative and powerful tool and President Obama is a master at using it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Untouchables

Scene from the Obama health care rally in Minneapolis today:

A man in a wheelchair shouted at those headed inside: "Look at all of you - socialists! Shame on you guys!"

An Obama supporter, also in a wheelchair and with a missing arm, yelled back. "Who bought your wheelchair?"

They bring a guy in a wheelchair, you bring a guy in a wheelchair missing an arm. That's the Chicago way!

For some reason this exchange also reminds me of an NHL bench clearing brawl where the two goalies end up squaring off. Unlikely combatants, not something you see every day.

For more on what you might have heard inside the Obama rally, check out this post at the Nihilist in Golf Pants.

A Night To Remember

Last night, we attended the Linden Hills 911 Tribute at the Lake Harriet Band Shell in Minneapolis. The weather was fine, the crowd strong, the music moving, and the 9/11 remembrances were very well done. We've been at this event several times in the past and this clearly was the best one yet.

The sixty-four piece orchestra was conducted by Manny Laureano and they performed extraordinarily well, particularly on the 1812 Overture. The entire event was also unapologetically patriotic from the Pledge of Allegiance at the opening to the rousing close with God Bless America. In between, we were also treated to the Armed Forces Salute and a parade of flag-waving kids (including two of ours) stepping lively to Sousa's Washington Post March.

The tribute definitely achieved its goal of remembering and honoring those who lost their lives on 9/11. The "Flashback" featuring a reading of news reports from the 9/11/01 while banners listing the names of the victims were unfurled was an especially effective way to remember the powerful emotions of the day.

It was also refreshing to not have to hear from a single politician. A few years ago, a portion of the 9/11 Tribute was spent with Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak recognizing the first responders from the Minneapolis bridge collapse. There's a time and a place for that. This event is not it.

The event was not shy about religion either with an invocation at the opening and a lump-in-the-throat inducing rendition of Amazing Grace (a world premier of this particular arrangement) during the candlelight vigil at the end. The pipes get to you every time on that one.

Finally, the wonderful evening was capped off by a brief and unexpected fireworks display. While some might not consider it an appropriate way to remember 9/11, I thought it a perfect statement that while our country was deeply hurt by the attacks that day we are still the United States of America--the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Searing Memories

The Common Cents Blog has collected some good videos that bring back the sense of horror and shock that we felt eight years ago today.

Beer Of The Week (Vol XXIII)

This week's Beer of the Week brought to you as always by Glen Lake Wine & Spirits. Their motto is "happiness is a full bottle."

Last week, I mentioned that it has been my experiences that American efforts to imitate Germany's Oktoberfest generally fall flat. There are usually a decent number of Oktoberfest events here in the Upper Midwest every year. One of if not the largest takes place in La Crosse, Wisconsin and is billed as "Oktoberfest USA."

It has been a few years since I attended La Crosse's Oktoberfest, but when I was last there in 2003 I found very little that resembled the real thing. All it really was exactly what you might expect to see on any given weekend in Wisconsin writ large. Well-fed Wisconsinites downing copious amounts of Miller Lite and stuffing their maws with brats is not exactly my idea of Oktoberfest. As I noted at the time:

In Munich, you have good beer served in one liter glasses, accompanied by roasted chicken, with traditional German music in the background.

In La Crosse, you have Miller Lite served in plastic cups, accompanied by brats, with crappy rock and roll in the background.

There are some American versions of Oktoberfest that do come much closer to capturing the original spirit. Usually they are not the big fair-like events, but rather smaller celebrations at places like Gasthof zur Gemutlichkeit in Nordeast Minneapolis. Although the venue is much smaller, the beer, music, and food at the Gasthof makes for a more genuine Oktoberfest atmosphere.

But if you can't get to Munich or even a night out in Minneapolis, you can still have your own Oktoberfest celebration. All you really need is the beer. This week we have two more Oktoberfest selections. I was able to review them concurrently (at the same time JB), which provided an opportunity for a side by side compare and contrast. While both beers are Marzens and share some similarities, there were a few notable differences as well.

First up is August Schell's Octoberfest from New Ulm, Minnesota.

Brown bottle. Attractive label featuring beer girl with flowers in her hair and big steins. With Bavarian flags set against the Schell's brewery in the background.

Beer Style: Octoberfest Marzen

Alcohol by Volume: 5.5%

COLOR (0-2): Light brownish red. 2

AROMA (0-2): Malt with hints of hop. 1

HEAD (0-2): Off-white color. Full with good lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Malt with light hops. Decent flavor, but not much there. 2

AFTERTASTE (0-2): A bit light. 1

OVERALL (0-6): Looks great in the glass, but comes up short in the mouth. Very drinkable, just not a lot of flavor. 3

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 11

Next up is Samuel Adams Octoberfest from Boston.

Brown bottle with a simple standard Sam Adams label with orange border and fall leafs.

Beer Style: Octoberfest Marzen

Alcohol by Volume: 5.7%

COLOR (0-2): Clear copper. 2

AROMA (0-2): Malty but faint. 1

HEAD (0-2): Light tan color. Little lacing and fades fast. 1

TASTE (0-5): Malt with caramel with a creamy texture. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Smooth finish. 2

OVERALL (0-6): Good flavor and body. It's a little more interesting than many Marzens and although I'm not a huge fan of the style I liked this beer. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 13

On Dissent Crushing

Rep. Betty McCollum, taking a breather from spending billions of US tax dollars on "empowering the ignored and alienated in every corner of our planet", briefly turns her attention to domestic issues:

The Minnesota Democrat, taking aim at instantly-famous Republican Joe Wilson, said his outburst "crossed a line of protocol and decency that may be acceptable for angry 'tea baggers' at a rally, but is completely unacceptable for a member of Congress."

Her personal political action committee (Betty PAC) is also giving $1,000 of its hard-earned donations to whoever is running against Wilson.

McCollum's stated motivation, of grave concern about the decorum required during political speeches, is absurd. As we've been told by them repeatedly, the Democrat party is in the business of dissent, speaking truth to power, getting in people's faces, etc. The difference with this situation is that these very same tactics were directed at the One who shall not be criticized and that will not be tolerated.

Her belief in this is so strong that she's willing to give a grand of her precious political donations to see this critic lose his job and be silenced (at least from speaking in an official capacity). And by the way, you citizens in Betty McCollum's district who attended protest rallies opposing Obama health care reform, you're not off the hook either. In case you didn't notice, you have been officially smeared by your Representative, using crude sexual innuendo against you. I guess the "lines of protocol and decency" don't extend to the common people. Remember that next time you think you have the right to speak out against what the government is planning for you.

UPDATE: According to Open Secrets, the Betty PAC has raised over $27,000 for the 2010 election cycle, already over twice as much as for the entire 2008 cycle. I don't know why that would be.

Biggest donors are: The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ($5,000), The Teamsters ($2,500), and, incongruously in this company, 3M ($1,000).

UPDATE: Speaking of crossing lines of protocol and decency, McCollum claims Joe Wilson did it by calling the President a liar. Those lines must have been redrawn since 2008, when Rep. McCollum said from that same House chamber regarding a different President:
"At a time when America is facing tremendous challenges at home and around the world, this is the best budget that the worst President in American history will agree to."
The protocol! The decency! Oh, the humanity!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Down the (Communist) Rabitt Hole

I've been waiting.

Ever since I read the news early Sunday morning (late Saturday night if you're in Santa Monica) that the beloved founder of Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement was no longer working at the White House. The victim of vicious smears, he resigned.

A tough environment for jobs, coming home to roost.

Nobody, no where, no how, has had the temerity to raise the issue of "Communists in the White House!" So passe is the notion of revolutionary Marxist-Leninist "intellectuals" in the academy, in the arts, in the unions and in the Democrat Party, that they no longer merit attention.

The notion of "smearing" someone with the label (of self-professed Communist) has lost it's cachet along with the long forgotten epithet of "McCarthyism". Today's thirty-second attention span generation can't be bothered to waste time texting or tweeting such terms, much less understanding their historical context or factual foundation, emanating from the "witch-hunts" of yore.

Let's be honest. The communist "threat" died with the glorious experiment formerly known as the Soviet Union. A moribund ideology, left on the scrap heap of history. (Hat-tip Ronaldus Maximus) And so it is. Except.

Except Communist China. Except Communist North Korea. Except Communist South Africa. Except Communist Zimbabwe. Except Communist Venezuela.

Except SEIU. Except ACORN. Except Code Pink. Except Move-On.Org. Except Bill Ayers.

And except Van Jones. The highly valued, highly regarded, widely respected (?) and highly sought-after (former) Special Assistant to the President of the United States of America.

"Sure, sure" say the sceptics and nay-sayers, groaning and rolling their eyes. "Thin gruel that, Crazy Uke. Hardly anyone noticed, and even less people care." Maybe.

Maybe professing allegiance to an ideology that consumed EIGHTY-FIVE TO ONE HUNDRED MILLION LIVES during a sixty to seventy year slice of the twentieth century no longer causes concern, or for that matter a raised eyebrow. (The Black Book of Communism)Most of this genocidal madness occurring during peace-time, and was committed against a compliant and cowering citizenry by it's own dictatorial rulers. How are these ancient historical events and long-forgotten tragedies meaningful today?

The reality of the situation is this. The President of the United States of America, Barack Hussein Obama, has for his entire life has been surrounded, influenced, shaped, guided, advised and assisted by those who professed allegiance and swore fealty to that ideology. It is readily apparent that this unsettling phenomenon continues to this day.

No one, including your aghast interlocutor, suggests or intimates that devastation, destruction or death camps are imminent, resulting from the above noted current state of affairs. It is passing curious however, that no one (NY Times, CBS, MSNBC, finds the situation disturbing on it's face.

Two more thoughts, for your individual consideration, before I leave.

The appeal and root core of the Communist creed is the notion of the perfectibility of man, by virtue of a perfected ideological understanding. Unfortunately the true-believers who are charged with delivering and administering our promised salvation, inevitably fall prey to human failings and human conceit. Leading to the devaluing of all other human thought, belief, ideology and faith. In fact, to the very devaluing of human life itself.

With predictable results.

And so it seems, in the face of odles and boodles of crisises hither and yon, the enlightened elite hasten us, the polity, towards urgent solutions, unavoidable actions and decisive decisions based on what THEY KNOW is best for US.

And those who question or oppose? Enemies, obstuctionsists, fear-mongers and worse.

Why hurry to pass legislation to solve a health-care "crisis" when the cure won't take effect for years?

Why hurry to pass legislation to stimulate (?) growth in the face of an economic "crisis", when that "stimulus" won't be spent for years?

Why hurry to pass legislation to shackle economic and industrial growth to solve a climate-change "crisis" when that policy won't be implemented for years? (A crisis whose central premise continues to disapate in the face of honest scepticism and true science.)

Because Van Jones says so, and he's a member of the elitist cadre that's been appointed (selected not elected!) to lead us to the Promised Land. He and his fellow travlers.

Understand also, that this cursed ideology is antithetical to the system of governance we enjoy, and to the philosophical underpinings that engendered it. Personal property. Personal liberty. Personal responsibility. Political, religious and philosophical pluralism.

Take Honduras for example. Is it inconceivable and unconscionable that the world's oldest democratic republic would reject the will of the Honduran people as evidenced by a free and fair election.

And yet this stands as the current foreign policy of our elected government. Cleary a position based on the enlighted understanding and superior intellect of the perfected ideologues currently steering our ship of state. And not so much the citizens of Honduras.


There are Socialists, Communists, Marxist-Leninists and revolutionaries imbeded in our government apparat. And what if you don't personally fear their ideology, or share concern over their beliefs?

Be aware.

They are striving mightly to impose their enlightenment on you.