Saturday, October 31, 2009

Democrat Party Girl

Reviewing the just released list of White House visitors will make any Minnesotan swell with pride. Our senator, Amy Klobuchar, called to visit the executive mansion not once, but twice. The listed "visitee" was no less than the "POTUS" and the "FLOTUS". (Looks like she wisely avoided the SCROTUS.)

Access to power! Influencing the big issues! Getting Minnesota's voice heard!

Well, maybe. That is, if Minnesota's voice could be heard above the blaring 60" plasma, the ukele strumming, and clinking of umbrella garnished drink glasses. The listed descriptions of the purpose of her two visits to the White House:


If she's not meeting with the President to hone legislation, maybe she can at least tell us what Nancy Pelosi looks like in a grass skirt.

Northern Alliance Radio Network

The Northern Alliance Radio Network is back LIVE for another exciting and highly significant broadcast day. It all starts at 11AM central.

Topics of discussion likely to include the effect of the swine flu on NARN members, races of note on election day next week, the impending health care bil in Congress, the depressing state of the economy, plus Loon of the Week, This Week in Gatekeeping, and more.

At noon we are pleased to have GOP gubernatorial candidate Pat Anderson. She's the former State Auditor, Mayor of Eagan, President of the Free Market Institute and private business owner. We'll get the run down on why she's running and what sets her apart from a crowded GOP pack.

Remember, The Northern Alliance Radio Network starts at 11AM Central, locally on AM1280 the Patriot. Streaming LIVE worldwide at their web site. You can join the conversation at 651-289-4488. Following us at 1 PM, Mitch Berg and Ed Morrissey. Also, don't forget at 9 AM King Banaian over at KYRC (Business 1570) and David Strom on the Patriot.

Don't you dare miss it!

The Right To Bare Butts

Boulder's Naked Halloween Streak May Be Coming to an End (sub req):

BOULDER, Colo. -- This city has always taken pride in its liberal-to-the-point-of-loony reputation. But this Halloween, one of its wackiest traditions is under siege: the Naked Pumpkin Run.

The event is exactly what its name implies. Scores of men and women pour into downtown streets for a late-night jog, wearing not a stitch between the jack-o'-lanterns on their heads and the sneakers on their feet.

For nearly a decade, naked pumpkin runners did their thing unmolested, stampeding through the frigid dark past crowds of admirers who hooted, hollered and tossed candy. But last year the run attracted more than 150 participants, and Police Chief Mark Beckner fears things are getting out of hand. "It's a free-for-all," he says.

So he intends to stop it.

He will station more than 40 officers on the traditional four-block route tonight, with two SWAT teams patrolling nearby. All have orders to arrest gourd-topped streakers as sex offenders.

Runners and their fans are outraged. This is not the free-spirited Boulder they know and love. "It kind of reminds me of what's happening in Tehran," says Andy Schmidt, a lawyer. "They're pre-emptively outlawing a gathering."

Yeah Andy, just like Tehran.

It's A Scary World After All

Halloween seems to be becoming increasingly popular around the world. I was a bit surprised to see public decorations (with pumpkins and scarecrows) in Manila:

And even more so in Nanjing:

Have a safe and happy Halloween 2009 wherever your tricks or treats take place.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Minnesota Democrats Explained

The spending behavior of Minnesota politicians such as Al Franken and Betty McCollum have been discussed here in the past. Things such as tens of millions of dollars for libraries in Africa and hundreds of millions of dollars to hire scores of new vocational guidance counselors forthe public schools in the US. All this while the economy is in steep decline and in the face of multiple trillions in budget deficits already incurred for existing spending programs.

When proposing these schemes, no mention is made of our ability to pay, other than comments such as:

There are people who say that the richest most powerful country on Earth cannot afford to provide health care for all of its citizens.

and ...

So what are we - the richest nation and other donor nations - doing to significantly reducing child and maternal mortality while investing in building sustainable health systems? Unfortunately, not enough in my opinion.

In short, they believe they can save the world and that the well of US tax dollars available to pay for their plans is inexhaustible. A toxic combination.

Depressingly, this belief system turns out to be all too common among our public servants. In today's Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan addresses this phenomenon and speculates on its source:

When I see those in government, both locally and in Washington, spend and tax and come up each day with new ways to spend and tax -- health care, cap and trade, etc. -- think: Why aren't they worried about the impact of what they're doing? Why do they think America is so strong it can take endless abuse?

I think I know part of the answer. It is that they've never seen things go dark. They came of age during the great abundance, circa 1980-2008 (or 1950-2008, take your pick), and they don't have the habit of worry. They talk about their "concerns" -- they're big on that word. But they're not really concerned. They think America is the goose that lays the golden egg. Why not? She laid it in their laps. She laid it in grandpa's lap.

They don't feel anxious, because they never had anything to be anxious about. They grew up in an America surrounded by phrases --"strongest nation in the world," "indispensable nation," "unipolar power," "highest standard of living" -- and are not bright enough, or serious enough, to imagine that they can damage that, hurt it, even fatally.

We are governed at all levels by America's luckiest children, sons and daughters of the abundance, and they call themselves optimists but they're not optimists -- they're unimaginative. They don't have faith, they've just never been foreclosed on. They are stupid and they are callous, and they don't mind it when people become disheartened. They don't even notice.

Peggy probably should avoid the implication that this generation of politicos has never faced economic adversity. You can't win the victimology arms race with liberals. And just about every American can point to examples of hard times, at least in their extended families. (Except, of course, for people like Mark Dayton, Jay Rockefeller, Ted Kennedy, Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, etc.). For example, multi-millionaire, pampered, private school educated Al Franken has made a political career out of his wife's upbringing and reliance on government subsidies, or what New York Magazine called her "Dickensian childhood." For other, slightly less hyperbolic, mentions of her situation by the candidate while using it as a reason for people to vote for him, check here, here, here, here, or here.

But, Noonan's overall theory of entitled, arrogant, economically illiterate dimwits running wild with the checkbook seems about right. And even among those who have a connection to economic hardship, the only lesson learned appears to be that there is plenty of money available to spend on whatever you want, as long as you can find a way to take it from others.

So they continue to merrily spend trillions of dollars beyond the trillions they already take in from your taxes every year. Or, in Noonan's words, they believe America is so strong, it can take endless abuse. That explains why this generation of politicians does what it does. Still unclear to me is why we continue let them.

Take Two Whiskies and Call Me In The Morning

David Harsanyi has a prescription for reading the House health care bill:

The King James version of the Bible runs more than 600 pages and is crammed with celestial regulations. Newton's Principia Mathematica distilled many of the rules of physics in a mere 974 pages.

Neither have anything on Nancy Pelosi's new fiendishly entertaining health-care opus, which tops 1,900 pages.

So curl up by a fire with a fifth of whiskey and just dive in.

But drink quickly. In the new world, your insurance choices will be tethered to decisions made by people with Orwellian titles ("1984" was only 268 pages!) like the "Health Choices Commissioner" or "Inspector General for the Health Choices Administration."

You will, of course, need to be plastered to buy Pelosi's fantastical proposition that 450,000 words of new regulations, rules, mandates, penalties, price controls, taxes and bureaucracy will have the transformative power to "provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans and reduce the growth in health care spending . . . ."

The true health care "option" for Americans if this bill comes to pass may well be: Drink whiskey and shut up.

Nixed In Nanjing

In my four previous trips to China I never had much of an issue accessing the internet. So I was surprised to discover that when I was in Nanjing this past week a number of sites were blocked at our hotel. The banned list included, but was likely not limited to:

You Tube

In addition, Google's search functionality was limited as the results for some words and phrases were blocked. Lovers of freedom everywhere will be happy to know that the bastion of freedom known as Fraters Libertas was still available to the Chinese masses yearning to breath free.

By the end of the week, I was able to come up with a work around to reach these dangerous and subversive threats to PRC hegemony, but for three or four days there my dissent was definitely being crushed.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I Want You, I Need You, But There Ain't No Way I'm Ever Gonna Fund You

Editor's note: the author is employed by a large for-profit health insurer. This post represents his personal opinion only and should not be construed as the position of his employer.

There is a saying in the health care industry:


Pick two of the above.

This saying is reflects the basic truth of economics. There is no such thing as unlimited supply of a scarce good. Therefore, favorability of one component of quality health care comes at the expense of one or more other components.

It is possible to offer wide physician/hospital networks. It is possible to deliver health care at low costs. It is possible to provide treatment quickly. However, while each of these ends are desirable, working for one constrains the others.

Americans want to be free to choose their physicians. In the 1980's and early 1990's, HMOs used gatekeepers to lower costs. The gatekeeper system basically prevented choice. If you wanted to see a top orthopedic specialist for your bum knee, the gatekeeper often forced you to see a family practice doctor instead. Seeing a generalist as opposed to a specialist saved money. The practice was universally despised. Our market system essentially did away with gatekeepers a decade ago.

The American health care system has made health care universally available. No one is ever turned away at emergency rooms regardless of whether they are citizens or if they have insurance. Those with insurance don't face waits for treatments that don't involve organ transplants (and those wait times are dictated by scarcity of donors as opposed to systemic problems that socialized systems face such as availability of specialists). In socialist Europe and Canada patients wait months and even years for nonessential surgeries that vastly improve quality of life, such as hip replacements. Since no one has tried to take this aspect away from American consumers, it's hard to determine how much they value it.

The final option is price. Americans have benefited from choice and availability, so prices have increased as more people demand more health care. The result is that consumers spend more of their income on health insurance. This has driven many Americans out of the system. Unsurprisingly, many Americans think rising prices represent a crisis and they want government action to lower them.

So now our government is planning to "solve" our health care "crisis," which could be described as prices higher than many people would prefer. Conservatives suggest that this means there will be rationing of health care. Another way of stating that is that if many Americans have their price subsidized, then they will face new restrictions regarding their choice and availability of care. The insurance industry suggests that costs will actually rise as a result of government intervention. Another way of stating that is that some Americans price will be raised to subsidise other Americans (and possibly many Mexicans) and the net effect will be higher overall prices to the economy due to government inefficiency.

One thing is clear, there is no magic formula to maintain choice and availability and lower price. It would be nice if our legislators would honestly speak to which component of health care they would compromise.

Hoppy To Be Home

After spending most of the last two weeks on business travel in Asia (the Philippines and China), my plans for sustenance tonight contain the following key elements:

Pale ale and pizza.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Keep It Simple

Another mild-mannered, moderate opinion piece--this one on the price of oil--courtesy of Alex Magno in The Philippine Star:

In our case, the peso has recovered significant value against the dollar. But that is not enough to cancel out the rising dollar price of oil we import from the world market. Inevitably, we will have to pay more for the oil we use.

In our case, however, there tends to be a lot of obscurantist noise that accompanies price rises for the commodity. It is obscurantist noise generated by ideological groups trying to score political points or, in the case of some AM radio commentators, plain stupidity.

Sounds like the NARN First Team has a fan in Manila.

Even as the economic facts underpinning oil pricing are pretty clear, the politically hysterical amongst us prefer to embroider it with a lot of politicized fiction.

For instance, the same leftist groups that called for the decommissioning of the San Roque dam (therefore forcing a shift to more diesel generation plants) also call for the return to regulation of the oil industry. It is as if oil deregulation caused world prices of crude to rise. That is absolute stupidity.

Absolute stupidity is a premium grade above plain stupidity.

There is another absolutely stupid idea that politicians pandering to populism have inserted into the debate lately. This is the idea that the timing of oil price adjustments be limited to monthly cycles rather than weekly, as is now the practice.

That will simply introduce rigidity into the equation. It will only encourage oil players to pad prices in anticipation of future rises in crude oil pricing and delay downward adjustments when this becomes possible in episodes of price declines.

Again, it is the ideological groups and militants in Congress proposing this idea. They should be put on trial for sacrificing the well-being of consumers by inflicting delusional solutions to rising oil prices.

They ought to have fist-fights on the floor of Congress! Actually, knowing the Philippines they probably do.

Wrong Way Kang

ROK man heads north to DPRK:

A 30-year-old man from the Republic of Korea (ROK) defected on Monday to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) after crossing the eastern part of the Military Demarcation Line, the official news agency KCNA said Tuesday.

Kang Tong-rim, who lived in the southern province of Jolla, was pleased with his "accomplishment," the KCNA said.

Kang, from Polgyo township of Posong county, served in the ROK army from 2001 to 2003. During his service, he made several failed attempts to defect as he longed for the DPRK, the KCNA said.

He was now taken good care of by a relevant department of the DPRK, the KCNA added.

The man worked at Samsung Electronics' semiconductor unit and more recently at a pig farm and defected by walking across the heavily mined border.

Crossings are rare through the razor-wire and land-mined Demilitarized Zone buffer that divides the peninsula. But defections to the economically isolated North from the affluent South are even rarer, with the last one likely taking place about four years ago.

The rival Koreas remain technically at war because they never replaced the armistice ending their 1950-53 conflict with a peace treaty.

"He is beside himself with joy for having accomplished this heroic deed," KCNA said.

The ROK's military and spy agency could not immediately confirm the report.

"He is now under the warm care of a relevant organ," KCNA said.

I'm sure he is.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I Thought We Were Broke?

Just over a week ago the federal government officially announced an annual deficit for 2009 of $1.4 TRILLION dollars.

To be clear, that doesn't mean they are merely spending the preposterous, hyper gluttonous sum of $1.4 trillion in one year. If that were the case, we'd be in Fat City in terms of the ledger, since the government has arranged to take in $2.1 trillion in 2009. Nearly all of that from taxation of we the people. Unfortunately, that's not nearly enough for our elected representatives. They blew right past that inconceivable sum by an extra 68%, for a one year spending total of $3.52 trillion.

And it doesn't end there. The 2009 deficit of $1.4 trillion is but a morsel of the government's current plan to spend a total of $9 to $10 trillion more than it takes in over the next decade. (And that doesn't even include additional costs possible for health care reform or cap and trade).

An article in The Nation recently talked about the "oh, sh*t" moment liberals have when reading persuasive global warming propaganda:

They say that everyone who finally gets it about climate change has an "Oh, sh*t" moment--an instant when the full scientific implications become clear and they suddenly realize what a horrifically dangerous situation humanity has created for itself.

My question is, when do politicians have the "oh, sh*t" moment when it comes to the deficit? (Incidentally, a problem they happen to have complete control over. Unlike, say, regulating the temperature of the planet.) How many multiple trillions more than we produce do they have to spend before they suddenly realize what a horrifically dangerous situation they have created for the country?

I don't know at what point that is. But a sign to look out for is that they stop proposing brand new multi-million dollar spending initiatives and think about maybe cutting expenses and trying to run a surplus to pay the debt down.

Rep. Betty McCollum of St. Paul - not quite there yet. From her latest celebratory press release:
Congresswoman Betty McCollum (MN-04) has introduced H.R. 3701, the More Books for Africa Act of 2009. The bill establishes the More Books for Africa Program to facilitate the donation, processing, shipping, and distribution of text and library books to African schools, libraries, community centers, and other centers of learning in partnership with United States-based entities.

"Ensuring access to and availability of textbooks and library books in countries on the continent of Africa is a critical component of our nation's public diplomacy. The More Books for Africa Program will be a powerful cross cultural initiative to help create a more educated global community," Congresswoman McCollum said.

Conveniently not mentioned in her press release was the price tag. For that we have the Thomas Search Engine. From the text of HR 3701, The More Books for Africa Act:

Authorization of Appropriations - There is authorized to be appropriated to the Administrator of USAID $3,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2010 through 2014 for purposes of establishing and implementing the Program.

A cool $15 million of brand new spending. And who knows how much more once it becomes embedded as an entitlement and the lobbyists start working the problem in future Congresses.

As previously noted, Betty McCollum views herself less as St. Paul's representative in the Federal government than as the At Large Congresswoman for the Saving the World. This is just another example. I suppose it would be nice to supply an entire continent thousands of miles away with library and text books. (Although it would be even nicer to make sure our country was set in this regard first. Heck, just a few years ago right in St. Paul "our schools were burning!" due to a lack of books.) But in an atmosphere of already spending trillions of dollars more per year than we have, it is highly irresponsible.

These politicians see no need to set any priorities in spending, everything is critical, everything can be funded, nothing needs to be sacrificed, and they think there is no limit to the amount of your money they have available to fund it. That's how you get a $1.4 trillion one year deficit.

Tweaking the campaign slogan I proposed a couple of months ago:

We're out of money. She's out of control. This country cannot afford Betty McCollum any longer.

Feel free to customize that for just about any incumbent in the county.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

By The Numbers

President Obama declared the Swine (H1N1) flu epidemic a national emergency yesterday. Some relevant statistics on the US fatalities:

Iraq War: 4,351
9/11 Attacks: 2,976
Swine Flu: 1,000
Afghanistan War: 885

After passing Afghanistan casualties, I'd say it's a pretty likely event that this flu epidemic skyrockets to the top of this list.

Wait, let's add another category:

Annual US cancer deaths: 553,400

Maybe the President's priorities are out of place.

Why the Wild Things Aren't

Ben from Infinite Monkeys chimes in on the discussion of Where the WIld Things Are from earlier this week:

Everything you need to know about Where the Wild Things Are is summed up with the identity of the screenwriter: Dave Eggers, America's Top Self-Indulgent, Pretentious, Too Clever By Half Writer (since David Foster Wallace killed himself). Well, that, and the fact that some company is selling an adult version of Max's wolf costume for $610.

Anywhere is Better than Here

Minnesotans love the arts, but we are not willing to pay for the full cost of them directly. We prefer to have state government bureaucrats tax us and then distribute the proceeds to the artists the state deems most worthy.

The Minnesota State Arts Board's Artist Initiative grants for 2009 have now been announced. This year, the board has awarded 89 grants for a total of $505,000. This does not include grants made to organizations or schools and does not include the tsunami of cash that will hit next year as a result of the Legacy constitutional amendment).

This year's grants are in the area of Dance, Theater and Visual Arts and are for $2000 to $6000 each. True, this is not enough money for even a starving artist to live on a futon in an uptown crash pad. However, it is the perfect amount for a nice vacation. In fact, more than a quarter of the grants ($135,200) are dedicated, at least in part, to getting Minnesota artists out of town.

Not surprisingly, Europe is a favorite destination. If you are a flamenco dancer, hello sunny Spain!

Susana M. di Palma, Minneapolis (dance)
$4,200 - To attend the Festival del Flamenco in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.

(Susana also received an Artist Initiative grant in 2004 to attend "the Bienal in Sevilla, Spain, the most comprehensive and prestigious Flamenco Festival in the world". I hope that attending the Festival del Flamenco isn't too much of a letdown for her.)

Deborah Elias, Saint Paul (dance)
$6,000 - To travel to Spain for 23 days for intensive one-on-one study with flamenco artist Domingo Ortega in Jerez de la Frontera.

Not surprisingly, Scandinavia is also a popular destination for taxpayer-funded Minnesota artists:

David M. Stordahl, Eagan (visual arts)
$6,000 - To photograph houses that still stand from the time when his ancestry lived in Klokkarik, Norway. The photos will be reproduced as large color photogravures at artist Jan Pettersson's studio in Bergen, Norway

Nicholas A. Conbere, Minneapolis (visual arts)
$6,000 - For travel costs to Finland to examine local graphic arts approaches and to begin a new series of drawings and prints.

Some prefer the more exotic, like Hungary:

Christopher P. Baker, Minneapolis (visual arts)
$6,000 - To participate in a six-month artist residency in Budapest to collaboratively develop public installation art with a leading Hungarian architect and artist.

The mother-daughter team from the Ragamala Dance Theater, Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy are also off to exotic locales, although I think that Aparna could learn a thing or two from her mother destination-wise:

Aparna Ramaswamy, Minneapolis (dance)
$6,000 - To build on her roles as Principal Dancer and Soloist with Ragamala Music and Dance Theater, and to present full-length solo performances during the 2009 Dance and Music Festival in Chennai, India.

Ranee A. Ramaswamy, Minneapolis (dance)
$6,000 - For travel to Bali to work with I Dewa Putu Berata to plan and map the production of, Dvee.

Less popular is Africa. Only one grantee is off to the Congo. The Congo? I guess if you want to work with Jean Leopold ...

Jeanne E. Calvit, Minneapolis (theater)
$6,000 - To travel to Pointe Noire, Congo to the Theatre Festival (TECEJ) to research and develop a cross-cultural project, We Are All Africans, with leading African playwright, Jean Leopold.

Of course, Asia is not ignored:

Andy DuCett, Minneapolis (visual arts)
$6,000 - For creative research and travel to Tokyo for a pre-arranged meetings with gallery directors, and to attend the opening reception of his work at the Tinlark Gallery in Los Angeles, CA, in the fall of 2009.

Liz Bucheit, Lanesboro (visual arts)
$6,000 - For research and travel to observe the silver working villages of the Guizhou District in China in preparation for a new body of work.

The fourth continent that Minnesota taxpayers are sending an artist is South America.

Julia C. Kouneski, Minneapolis (visual arts)
$5,000 - For travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to research the work of Lygia Clark and Helio Oiticica, and to develop and create new participatory artworks/installations upon her return.

I hope that Ms. Kouneski is not planning on Rio performances of "Shared Breath" where she invites strangers to share their breath with her. At least not until after this H1N1 thing has passed.

Not flu-safe.

Among those staying in America, the Big Apple is the clear favorite:

Beth Barnes, Minneapolis (visual arts)
$6,000 - To procure and produce a solo show for the New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art, and to investigate another venue in New York City.

Bernadette S. Mahfood, Winona (visual arts)
$6,000 - To expand on a newly developed series of glass and fiber pieces, to relate them to her female ancestors, and to create more exhibition opportunities in the Twin Cities, New York City, and Sante Fe.

Andrew P. Wykes, Northfield (visual arts)
$6,000 - For framing and documentation costs for his upcoming show at Groveland Gallery, and for travel expenses to New York City to promote his work to galleries.

George M. Mahoney, Minneapolis (visual arts)
$6,000 - To exhibit his new design chair/lounge at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City in May 2009.

Sonja D. Peterson, Minneapolis (visual arts)
$6,000 - For installation expenses for an upcoming MAEP exhibition, documentation of the exhibition, portfolio materials, and for travel to Chicago and New York City to meet with gallery curators to pursue additional exhibitions.

Kenneth A. Steinbach, Shoreview (visual arts)
$6,000 - To purchase materials and studio time to complete a series of cast resin works, and fund two trips to New York to make connections with galleries with the goal of getting representation.

If you can't make it to New York, maybe you can make it to the City with Big Shoulders:

Laura Heit-Youngbird, Breckenridge (visual arts)
$6,000 - To hire a professional photographer and web designer to create digital images and a website of her work, for travel around Minnesota and Chicago to promote her work, and to set up an efficient work space with improved storage and organization.

And finally, there are those who don't specify their destination, but they are clearly off to somewhere better than here:

May Moua G. Lee-Yang, Saint Paul (theater)
$6,000 - To build name recognition as an artist by staging a full production of her play in Spring 2009, and for funds to attend strategic conferences to build networks that may lead to national bookings.

Georgia Mrázková, Minneapolis (visual arts)
$6,000 - To further her career by having funds for a computer, software, and for traveling and shipping expenses for upcoming local and national shows.

Aaron L. Anderson, Minneapolis (visual arts)
$6,000 - To more fully realize his work and to expand upon the growing narrative for Hardland/Heartland, by traveling, creating new collaborative relationships, and by increasing the scope and scale of his work.

Scott A. Stulen, Rochester (visual arts)
$6,000 - To support research, creative time, technology upgrades, and documentation to pursue exhibition opportunities outside the Midwest in the coming year.

Ann L. Wood, Saint Paul (visual arts)
$6,000 - To create a press packet with four to five new pieces to send out for opportunities outside our region.

Yes, I know these grants are a drop in the bucket to our state budget, but if we zeroed out any one of these and credit my state taxes, I could take a vacation with my own money! I would even be willing to go to Hawaii and study the Hula dance.

Northern Alliance Radio Network

The Northern Alliance Radio Network is back LIVE for another exciting and highly significant broadcast day. The First Team (John Hinderaker and I) start it all bright and early at 11AM central.

Topics of discussion likely to include the war on Fox news, the Flying Imams off into the wild blue yonder, Rage Against the Machine protesting over their music being used as torture at Gitmo (only they have the right to torture people with their music!), plus Loon of the Week, This Week in Gatekeeping, and more.

At noon we have John Derbyshire of National Review and author of the wildly entertaining new book We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism. To be sure, the topics addressed are depressing. Yet they're presented in such a humorous and satirical manner, you almost don't mind that we are actually doomed. The point of the book, of course, is for conservatives to start minding and stop surrending to the fashionable, utopian, and unscientific intellectual trends plaguing modern Western society. And Derbyshire will make that case at noon. Should be a fun conservation.

Remember, The Northern Alliance Radio Network starts at 11AM Central, locally on AM1280 the Patriot. Streaming LIVE worldwide at their web site. You can join the conversation at 651-289-4488. Following us at 1 PM, Mitch Berg and Ed Morrissey.

Also, don't forget the Sophie's Choice at 9:00 AM. King Banaian over at KYRC (Business 1570) and David Strom on the Patriot. Don't you dare miss it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Deep Dark Depression, Excessive Misery

Reading SP's review of Derbyshire's (it sounds like a ham or sausage of some kind, doesn't it?) book reminded me of this Hee Haw classic.

The Soggy Paper Boyz

Would it kill my WSJ carrier to attempt to throw the paper another ten feet onto my front step (a large, concrete target with two layers of landing space) instead of into a puddle in my driveway?

That cheap, POS plastic covering does not in any way keep it dry.

Atomizer Sez: My WSJ carrier (driver, to be more accurate) carefully placed my daily read on my covered stoop as he has done every day since I subscribed. The only difference today was that he placed it in not one but TWO plastic bags. I had better give him a nice Christmas tip this year. My Pioneer Press carrier, on the other hand, is getting a big lump of coal.

On Saturday, We Are Doomed

On this Saturday's NARN First Team broadcast we'll be interviewing John Derbyshire of National Review, about his new book, We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism.

Despite the impression the title might give, it's a highly entertaining read, infused with Derb's dry British wit, which only serves to support his scientific perspective and historical approach to analyzing the vexing cultural issues of our times.

A few excerpts to whet your whistles:

This book is addressed to American conservatives. Its argument is that things are bad and getting worse for our movement, for our nation, and for our civilization. A large part of the reason they have gotten so bad is that too many of us have fallen into foolishly utopian ways of thinking.

Those ways of thinking are false because they are too optimistic about human nature and human affairs. The proper outlook of conservatives, I shall argue, is a pessimistic one, at least so far as the things of this world are concerned. We have been misled, and the conservative movement has been derailed, by legions of fools and poseurs wearing smiley-face masks. I aim to unmask them.

I have both a diagnosis and a prognosis to offer. The diagnosis is that conservatism has been fatally weakened by yielding to infantile temptations: temptations to optimism, to wishful thinking, to happy talk, to cheerily preposterous theories about human beings and the human world.

Thus weakened, conservatism can no longer provide the backbone of cold realism that every organized society need. Hence my prognosis, hence my title. We are doomed.

By abandoning our properly pessimistic approach to the world, conservatives have helped bring about a state of affairs that thoughtful persons can only contemplate with pessimism. If we'd held on to the pessimistic outlook that's proper for our philosophy, the future might be brighter!

This looks like a paradox, but really isn't, as I'm using the word "pessimism" in two slightly different senses: to indicate low expectations of one's fellow men, and to name a belief about the probable future. If we expect too much of people, we'll be disappointed, and our schemes will fail. Heady optimism about human nature leads directly to disaster. To put it in the style of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress: the Road of Denial leads to the Precipice of Destruction. Didn't the great utopian experiments of the twentieth century teach us that? We've repeated those experiments — in a less brazen way, to be sure, but with the same inevitable result now coming upon us.

By embracing a proper conservative pessimism, we may yet rescue something from the coming ruin. At the very least, by returning to cold reality after our recent detour into sunny fantasy, we'll put ourselves in the right frame of mind for our new life in the wilderness.

The winning candidate in the 2008 presidential election promoted something called "the politics of hope." Ladies and gentlemen of conservative inclination, I call you to our true, our proper home. I call you to the politics of despair!

This from his chapter on the evidence available for the effect of diversity on a culture's social capital:
In September 2006 political scientist Robert Putnam was awarded the Johan Skytte prize, one of the most prestigious in his field. The prize is awarded in Uppsala, Sweden, by a Scandinavian scholarly association. (Skytte was a 17th-century Swedish grandee.)

As usual with such events in the academic world, Putnam presented a research paper to commemorate the event. The paper is titled "E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century," and can easily be found on the internet.

That paper has a very curious structure. After a brief (2 pages) introduction, there are three main sections, headed as follows:

  • The Prospects and Benefits of Immigration and Ethnic Diversity (three pages)
  • Immigration and Diversity Foster Social Isolation (nineteen pages)
  • Becoming Comfortable with Diversity (seven pages)

I've had some mild amusement here at my desk trying to think up imaginary research papers similarly structured. One for publication in a health journal, perhaps, with three sections titled:

  • Health benefits of drinking green tea
  • Green tea causes intestinal cancer
  • Making the switch to green tea

Social science research in our universities cries out for a modern Jonathan Swift to lampoon its absurdities.

And that's just a sample of the provocative and politically incorrect ideas he brings forward in We Are Doomed. Looking forward to talking with John Derbyshire about the book. The show starts at 11 AM, Derbyshire at noon, Saturday on AM1280 the Patriot.

Salamat Po

The Philippine Star is a newspaper published in a city of 12 million people (20 mil if you count the greater Manila area) yet it often reads like a community paper. That's not necessarily a bad thing as the fast, loose, and free-wheeling writing is often more interesting than more edited, sanitized, and staid scribbling that you find in American papers. The best examples of this are found on the opinion pages where writers regular cut loose with passionate rants of the day.

There was such a piece today by Cito Beltran on Gratitude and ignorance:

In other words, we don't have short memory. What we have is "constant low intensity guilt" about the choices or decisions we make. You know that you know, so you accept it's your fault but you will never admit it!

Just before "the great floods of 2009," a number of politicians wanted to kick out the US Forces doing training exercises in Mindanao when terrorists started to engage the American forces directly by using "IEDs" or improvised explosive devices. They obviously did not want our own version of Afghanistan.

But when the typhoons wreaked havoc and there were not enough logistics for rescue and relief, no one made a peep of protest when the US troops came in. Beggars, as they say, can't be choosers. Unfortunately Secretary Gilbert Teodoro seems to have been the only one who said, "thank you."

I realize now that just like the "squatters" and the evacuees, the staunch critics of the US forces now have the attitude that the world owes it to them that the United States sends troopers to help. So don't hold your breath waiting for any of them to say "thank you" like grateful people are supposed to.

Unfortunately, the Nationalists of Metro Manila would rather make peace with terrorists who want to impose their terroristic-gun point lifestyle, in an "Islamic State called Mindanao" instead of studying what the enemy is actually up to.

When Ambassador Kristie Kenney and members of the US forces were in southern Mindanao building schools and helping improve the local infrastructure, no one protested about it because of our "constant low intensity guilt" over the fact that Filipinos never gave a hoot for Sulu and Tawi-Tawi because it's "Moro country."

We never expressed special concern for our Muslim brothers, so if some foreigners want to help, let them. But when the IED bombing happened, the Americans got blamed for getting killed while on the way to help construct a school building.

Children of the Corn

Tim e-mails to hep us to Bourbon: 5 Things You Didn't Know:

Bourbon's definition, and how it differs from other whiskies, is the source of some confusion, so we'll start with the basics: Bourbon is a whiskey (not "whisky," which is the Scottish spelling--although Maker's Mark does spell its name "whisky" because it uses a process similar to that of Scotch) that is made with at least 51% corn. It must be aged in new white oak barrels that have never been used before, the insides of which get charred with a torch before being filled with the liquor for aging. In order for a drink to be called bourbon, it can't have any flavor or color additives: just corn, water, wheat or rye, malt, and the coloring effects of the inside of a charred oak barrel. Finally, bourbon has to be between 80 and 160 proof (although, very few clock in above 130).

Now that you have the basic definition down, here are five things you didn't know about bourbon.

Check your knowledge.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Killer Review

It's been a lousy year for movies. Many a weekend I've wanted to see something, anything, because I like movies in movie theaters. But reviewing the list of options and checking out some reviews from respected sources, there wasn't nothin' worth leaving the house for. A depressing state of affairs.

The current roster of Hollywood dreck doesn't hold a lot of promise. The one possibility is Where the Wild Things Are. Beloved childhood story, proven director who is a good fit for the subject matter, intriguing trailers. Hope kept alive with the Rotten Tomatoes freshness rating of 69% and Metacritic score of 71.

I was just about to commit to the idea of seeing it this weekend. Then I happened to read Katie McCollow's blog. Opening line from her latest post:
Just got back from Where the Dull, Whiny Bastards Are.
No, she didn't just get back from a taping of "This American Life" on NPR. Sadly, she was returning from the only chance I had for a movie this weekend. Excerpt from the rest of her highly entertaining, nail in the coffin review:

Max and the demons spend the next 5000 hours or so working through their issues of alienation, abandonment and disappointment. I know, it sounds super fun, but trust me, it wasn't. Like I said, the best children's stories take on deep issues, but they do it in an entertaining way. This movie, on the other hand, was like having front-row seats into some unhappy family's therapy session. If only Spike Jonz had remembered the wise words of Mary Poppins: "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." It was so stupefyingly dull, I was begging for someone to come out and shoot Bambi's mom.

Taking What They're Giving

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has an excellent piece in the current edition of First Thing on the current threat to Catholic charities and the historical relationship between the Church and state in America:

As a result, the original links between freedom and truth, and between individual rights and moral duties, are disappearing in the United States. In the name of advancing the rights of the individual, other basic rights--the rights of religious believers, communities, and institutions--and key truths about the human person, are denied.

In squeezing the Church and other mediating institutions out of the public square, government naturally assumes more power over the nation's economic and social life. Civil society becomes subordinated to the state. And the state then increasingly sees itself as the primary shared identity of its citizens. But this is utterly alien to--and in fact, an exact contradiction of--what America's founders intended.

America's original vision conforms closely with subsidiarity, a core principle of Catholic social teaching. Through mediating institutions like the Church, America has always sought to meet people's needs at a local and even personal level, thereby keeping the state properly limited. As civil authorities intrude on the daily work of mediating institutions, they also substitute themselves for the role of the Church and other similar groups. These tendencies are reinforced by a strong secularist spirit among America's knowledge classes. In education, scientific circles, and the mass media, religion is often seen as a backward social force, a source of division and violence. The language of pluralism and diversity is misused to advance the antidemocratic goal of marginalizing believers and religious communities from the national conversation.

Today's distaste for religion among America's leadership classes has created disarray in our civic philosophy. The American proposition, while nonsectarian in nature, has always been marked by a belief in God’s sovereignty over human affairs and the importance of religion in personal and public life. The secularization of America's political and intellectual life has weakened these tenets that shaped our common identity. Without God, without the natural-law and the natural-rights tradition, we no longer have any broadly shared moral consensus in which to ground our politics, and from which to draw a common purpose.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

No Atheists in Radio Talk Shows

How do you know when you're really getting to an atheist? When you force him to cry out to an ostensibly imaginary supreme being for help.

Hugh Hewitt accomplished just that in his interview/debate with anti-christ Superstar Richard Dawkins yesterday:

RD: There's massive archaeological evidence [of ancient Roman history], there's massive evidence of all kinds. It's just not comparable. No ... if you talk to any ancient historian of the period, they will agree that [the Bible] is not good historical evidence.

HH: Oh, that's simply not true. Dr. Mark Roberts, double PhD in undergraduate at Harvard has written a very persuasive book upon this. I mean, that's an astounding statement. Are you unfamiliar with him?

RD: All right, then there may be some, but a very large number of ancient historians would say…

HH: Well, you just said there were none. So there are some that you are choosing not to confront.

RD: You sound like a lawyer.

HH: I am a lawyer.

RD: Oh, for God's sake. Are you?

We can all relate to the surprise and disgust Dawkins feels upon realizing he's talking to a lawyer. Maybe he can get a pass for that little theistic slip. But what comes later in the transcript, there can be no Earthly explanation:

RD: You cannot seriously be saying that the case for the existence of the Roman Empire is as weak as for Jesus.

HH: That's not what I'm saying at all. I didn't say that. I said that your argument, by analogy, to a Latin teacher being harried by people who deny certain things, but especially your idea of a detective using evidence at a crime scene, that it doesn't comport with your dismissal of the evidence for Christianity and the historical Jesus.

RD: Okay, do you believe Jesus turned water into wine?

HH: Yes.

RD: You seriously do?

HH: Yes.

RD: You actually think that Jesus got water, and made all those molecules turn into wine?

HH: Yes.

RD: My God. I've realized the kind of person I'm dealing with now.

Again, with the plea for divine intervention! From one of the foremost divinity deniers on the planet. It's the miracle on AM1280 the Patriot. Our buddy HH gets one more of these and he's on his way to canonization.

Actually, I doubt Dawkins was having a conversion experience. He was using a common phrase for expressing shock. Apparently, Dawkins was stunned, gobsmacked, that the guy he was debating, the guy who was defending the religious perspective and Christianity (the dominant view in the culture), would actually believe one of the miracles noted in the Gospels. Shocked, shocked was he that Hugh was one of "those kind of people." My God, indeed!

Dawkins is an Oxford professor, a media fixture, a culturally aware guy. The idea that a conservative American commentator like Hugh Hewitt believes in the Gospels would be stunning to him is less plausible than turning water into wine.

Instead, it seems to be Dawkins trying to marginalize the expression of mainstream Christian beliefs. Perhaps that's a feature of the New Atheism, something we all have to look forward to seeing more of in the future. No chance of him backing down Hugh though and his response was well played:

HH: Yes. My God, actually, not yours.

UPDATE: Associate professor of biology at UM-Morris, PZ Myers, chimes in with his scholarly opinion on Harvard man, law professor Hugh Hewitt:

Hewitt is a ridiculous puffed-up blowhard of very little brain, and a remarkably calm, polite discussion while he ducks and dodges and blows a dog-whistle for his crazy listeners doesn't work very well.

Ah, the evidence-based, dispassionate analysis of a scientist!

Just So We Don't Forget...

Libs (Libertarians, that is) are happy with the Administration for deciding to lax Federal enforcement of the country's marijuana laws.

In the goofy states that have decided to allow "medical marijuana" (snickers) there was always a chance that the Federal laws could be enforced, and they sometimes were.

So now the dopers will have an easier time to further push the boundaries of getting marijuana fully legalized, so that we have even more stoned citizens.

But, just so we don't forget (little dope joke there) the effects of marijuana use, let's go to an un-biased source to hear some facts. Note that the author lists all of her sources in parens. In other words, these facts are not the product of a scare job by a government entity or authoritarian-leaning think tanks.

There almost seems to be a consensus that weed is perfectly harmless, when we know that is far from the truth.

Cannabis consists of the dried leaves, stems, and seeds of the hemp plant and has been used for religious and medicinal purposes for more than 1,000 years. It is ingested via multiple routes but is most commonly smoked. Cannabis cigarettes are also called joints, nails, and reefers; pipes for smoking are also known as bongs and bowls (Neuspiel, 2007). Cannabis may also be incorporated into food items or brewed as tea. A powerful resin of cannabis (hashish) is usually smoked in pipes or in cigarette form; its potency may vary due to its cultivation. Cannabis's active ingredient is THC (delta- 9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and due to creative agriculture, the THC content of cannabis has more than quadrupled from 0.5% to 2.0% in the 1970s to 6% to 10% in 2000 (Neuspiel, 2007).

Use of cannabis is widespread, with increasing rates of use as adolescents approach adulthood. Admitted lifetime use among 10th and 12th graders was 34.1% and 44.8%, respectively; daily use of cannabis was 3.1% and 5%, respectively (Johnston, O'Malley, Bachman, & Schulenberg, 2009). When smoked, THC passes quickly from the respiratory tract to the bloodstream and finds its way to the brain, binding to cannabinoid receptors. Within minutes, the active component of the drug changes brain chemistry and peaks 15 to 30 minutes later. The effect lasts 2 to 3 hours (Grotenhermen, 2003). THC is lipid soluble with a serum halflife of approximately 19 hours (Neuspiel, 2007).

Physiological Effects
The inhalation of cannabis smoke carries significant health risks. In the pulmonary system, cannabis use is more harmful than tobacco use. Cannabis smoke delivers 50% to 70% more carcinogenic hydrocarbons as compared with tobacco smoke, and the effects of these agents are magnified by deeper and longer inhalations (Neuspiel, 2007). People who smoke cannabis regularly often experience similar consequences as tobacco smokers, such as frequent cough, respiratory infections, higher rates of asthma, as well as increased risk of lung cancer (Neuspiel, 2007). Chronic bronchitis, reduced lung density, and lung cysts have also been linked to cannabis use in a dosage-dependent manner (Reece, 2009).

Other physiological effects of inhaling cannabis smoke are also harmful:
* Blood pressure variability, which may be accompanied by orthostatic changes (Grotenhermen, 2007).
* Decreased immune function (Massi, Vaccani, & Parolaro, 2006).
* Higher rates of cardiac arrhythmias (Reece, 2009).
* Reduced sperm count and irregular ovulation (Neuspiel, 2007).
An especially serious risk associated with acute cannabis use is cerebellar infarction. Geller, Loftis, and Brink (2004) described three male adolescents who experienced ischemic cerebellar strokes after cannabis use. All three experienced headache, fluctuating levels of consciousness, lethargy, ataxia, and visual disturbances; within days, all had developed cerebellar infarctions that were not attributable to other causes (Geller et al., 2004). Cerebellar and cerebral edema caused deaths in two of the boys. The third young man survived and ultimately recovered but was left with mild, right-sided dysdiadochokinesia (inability to perform rapid, alternating movements) (Geller et al., 2004).

Mood and Cognitive Effects
In addition to euphoria, behavioral changes attributed to cannabis may include:
* Exacerbation of the symptoms of depression and anxiety, including panic attacks (Grotenhermen, 2003).
* An amotivational syndrome that affects cognition, interpersonal skills, and employment.
* Memory problems that may persist for up to a month after last use (Neuspiel, 2007).
Chronic use is associated with higher risk for psychosis and dependence (Grotenhermen, 2007).
Ongoing research focusing on the chronic, heavy use of cannabis and the developing adolescent brain reveals some interesting findings. One study of heavy cannabis use during adolescence found (via functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI]) that neurodevelopment may be altered in adolescents who have a history of heavy cannabis use (Schweinsburg, Nagel, et al., 2008). A group of 15 adolescents who had used cannabis weekly for 4 years were compared with a group of 17 demographically similar adolescents who did not use cannabis. At the beginning of the study, both groups performed similarly on a test of spatial working memory, but adolescents using cannabis demonstrated lower activity in the prefrontal and occipital cortices, as well as higher levels of depressive symptoms and anxiety. After 1 month of abstinence from cannabis, both groups were retested and again performed similarly. However, the diminished brain activity noted by the fMRI persisted in cannabis users, even after 1 month of abstinence. Several important anatomical brain changes for chronic cannabis users have also been noted by other researchers: grey and white matter density changes (Matochik, Eldreth, Cadet, & Bolla, 2005), reduction of 12% of volume of the hippocampus (integral to memory and spatial navigation) (Yücel, Lubman, Solowij, & Brewer, 2007), and 7% decrease in size of the amygdala (fundamental to memory of emotional reactions) (Yücel et al., 2007)

In a review of cannabis and its overall impact on cognition, Schweinsburg, Brown, and Tapert (2008) concluded that individuals who use cannabis heavily during adolescence may experience persistent neurocognitive abnormalities, which could have significant negative implications for cognitive abilities during adulthood. In addition, Schweinsburg, Brown, et al. (2008) reported that adults who had used cannabis in early adolescence showed greater cognitive difficulties than those who began use later; they concluded that adolescents are more vulnerable than adults with respect to neurocognitive abnormalities associated with heavy cannabis use.
Perhaps the most alarming issue for psychiatric nurses is that cannabis is associated with the onset of symptoms of schizophrenia. Cannabis abuse is a risk factor for psychosis in genetically predisposed people and may lead to a worse outcome of schizophrenia (Fergusson, Poulton, Smith, & Boden, 2006). The epidemiological evidence is strong. The association was first noticed in a prospective study of 45,000 Swedish military recruits that began in 1969; 15 years later, those who had used cannabis were significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with schizophrenia (Andréasson, Allebeck, Engström, & Rydberg, 1987). Other cohorts have also been studied in several countries, and all studies found that cannabis use is associated with subsequent diagnoses of psychotic disorders (Fergusson et al., 2006). Perhaps the underlying mechanism is the higher density of cannabinoid receptors present in the brains of people with schizophrenia; using cannabis may dysregulate the receptors in such a way that neurotransmitters are affected, producing psychotic symptoms (Fernandez-Espejo, Viveros, Núñez, Ellenbroek, & Rodriguez de Fonseca, 2009).

Teena M McGuinness
Author Affiliation:
Teena M. McGuinness, PhD, PMH-NP, BCDr. McGuinness is Professor, University of Alabama at Birmingham, School of Nursing, Birmingham, Alabama.The author discloses that she has no significant financial interests in any product or class of products discussed directly or indirectly in this activity, including research support.Address correspondence to Teena M. McGuinness, PhD, PMH-NP, BC, Professor, University of Alabama at Birmingham, School of Nursing, NB 205, 1530 3rd Avenue South, Birmingham, AL 35294-1210; e-mail:

Alpine Redoubt

Last week, there was some wild speculation about the possible meanings of a dream that I had that featured an appearance by noted libertarian blogger Vox Day. While the theories offered were interesting and even entertaining, there's likely a very simple explanation. Vox has a new book coming out soon called The Return of the Great Depression. He had sent me an advance preview of the book and asked for my comments on it. While I finished the book a few weeks ago, I haven't had a chance to collect my thoughts on it yet. With its October 29th (that dates seems familiar...) release looming, it's been moving up on my priority list of things that do. Therefore the dream was likely nothing more than subconscious reminder to take care of business and scribble a review. Sometimes a dream is just a dream and requires no further interpretation. Now, that dream where I'm lying in bed and Vox comes flying through the window...

Let me start my passing on a shocking piece of information: Vox Day is not an economist. That may lead some to discount his views on matters economic, but in this case it proves to be beneficial. He approaches the subject as an outsider and is not wedded to any particular school of economic theory from his background. This allows him to be rather dispassionate in his analysis and also forces him to be more vigorous in his research since he doesn't come into it with a great deal of experience.

It also makes "The Return of the Great Depression" a more understandable and entertaining read than your average economic tome. That's not to say its been dumbed down or overly simplified. Vox takes on some rather weighty and complicated economic topics. But, as he previously did in "The Irrational Atheist," he does so in his own unique voice (Vox's vox?). Even while explaining the inner workings of the money supply or the components that make up GDP, he maintains his straight-shooting style infused with the mix of cynicism and sarcastic humor that readers of his blog have come to expect. Its also one of the few economic texts that you're going to find sprinkled with gaming references. I was a little disappointed that he didn't find a way to work the Vikings in somewhere along the way.

"The Return of the Great Depression" covers a lot of ground in its relatively short (less than 250 pages) length. Vox begins by looking back at what happened to Japan's economy in the 1990s, why the attempts made to turn things around were bound to fail, and what lessons we can draw from that experience today. He then tries to explain how we got into the mess we're in today. One of my favorite chapters was "No One Knows Anything" where Vox casts a skeptical eye toward the economic data that we've come to rely on for guidance and decision making. For all the progress that the dismal science has made over the years there's still a frightening amount of uncertainty when it comes to knowing what's really going on with the economy and even more so with what will happen next.

One of the strengths of the arguments that Vox puts forth is his willingness to understand where the other side is coming from. He demonstrated this ably in "The Irrational Atheist" and does so again in "The Return of the Great Depression." For while he's firmly in the camp of the Austrian school of economic theory, he's obviously spent a lot of time studying the Monetarists and Keynesians. In fact, at times he seems to understand the underlying theories of Keynes better than some of his modern day adherents. After he details why he believes the Austrians offer the best (although far from perfect) explanations for how economic cycles work, he gives us a critique of the Austrian Theory from a Keynesian perspective. When you've taken the time to not only tear down your opponent's arguments, but also show that you can argue the case from their point of view, it demonstrates the thoroughness of your approach and understanding.

The book close with Vox presenting six possible scenarios for what might happen next to the global economy. They range the gamut from boom to gloom. The title of the book tells you what Vox thinks will happen next and he makes a strong case for it. I'm not quite as pessimistic as he is. While happy days aren't and won't be here again for some time, I don't believe that we're on the verge of Great Depression 2.0. We'll muddle through a period of prolonged stagnation and maybe even experience a double dip recession. No thanks to any conceivable government action. Vox also lists ten things that should be done to prevent things from getting any worse. The chance of any of those practical steps actually taking place is quite remote.

One possible criticism of the book is that it reflects Vox's style. Some might be put off by the at different times strident, arrogant, and flippant tone. But that's just Vox being Vox. It's definitely not for everyone. But if you want to read an informative, thoughtful, and even sometimes entertaining book on the current economic situation, you can't go wrong with "The Return of the Great Depression." Personally, I think that any book on economics with a chapter titled "The Whore, The False Prophet, and The Beast From The Sea" merits a look.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fly Away

More than two years ago, the Flying Imams case was dismissed by the local monopoly newspaper as unworthy of further investigation. The story included elements of vital issues such as terrorism, religious intolerance, transportation security, witness intimidation, government entities getting sued for big bucks. And the essential facts of the case were still in dispute by the parties involved (the imams, the airlines, and the police/airports commission). Yet, in the considered editorial judgment of the Star Tribune, the story was a total snoozer. From the editor then running the show:

I don't think the paper dropped this story, but I do think it had run its course. I would like to have seen a story delving into who these folks were, a good suggestion, but I don't think it's timely at this point. I think this is one of those stories that runs for a couple of days, then subsides.

Shortly thereafter, the Star Tribune editorial page looked forward to finally getting to the bottom of this case. Not through their own reporting, mind you. No, they were happy to complacently outsource the reporting to another entity, the US District Court.

The lawsuit that six Muslim clerics filed against US Airways on Monday is likely to prove as divisive as the incident which prompted it -- welcomed by those who see the episode as a case of religious discrimination, derided by those who believe US Airways responded prudently to suspicious passenger behavior. But the trial could prove useful to the larger public if it finally clears up what actually happened at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Nov. 20 -- the facts are still much disputed -- and if the judge sets out some guidance on what's appropriate behavior when cultures clash.

As I said at the time:

Yes, thank goodness the court system will be there figure out this "divisive" situation for us. Lord knows we don't have any other institutions in town with the resources and expertise to investigate facts and report them.

This just in, bad news for the Star Tribune staff patiently waiting around for the past 30 months for the court to finally clear up what happened.

A settlement has been reached in the "Flying Imams" federal lawsuit that was filed by six Muslim men who claim they were falsely arrested on a US Airways jet in the Twin Cities three years ago because of their religious and ethnic backgrounds.

One of the imams, Marwan Sadeddin of Phoenix, told the Associated Press that the settlement does not include an apology but he considers it an acknowledgment that a mistake was made. He said he couldn't divulge the terms because both sides had agreed not to discuss them publicly.

I guess we'll never know the facts now. And that's the final straw! I'm cancelling my subscription to the US District Court.

As far as the Star Tribune goes, I guess you have to admire their efficiency. They agreed not to discuss the case publicly years before the plaintiffs and defendants did.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Sent from my iPod"

I got an email earlier and at the bottom it said "Sent from my iPod".

Is it there for status reasons or to excuse the crappy typing typical of such a device?

I am tempted to add a tag to my emails "Sent from a non-Mac, dowdy, boring ol' PC".

SISYPHUS ADDS FROM HIS iPHONE: My iPhone adds a "Sent from my iPhone" tag. I occasionally delete it if I think the recipient of my e-mail may be threatened by my uber-hipness. Usually though, I leave it so my correspondents will know that they are dealing with someone who is hip, savvy, and rich enough to sport the latest and greatest in technology. (And who just may have a shot at Drew Barrymore.)

In summary, I have an iPhone and JB does not.

Elder Care

So I wonder how our beloved Elder fared in his trip to the Orient?

If memory serves, it was about 39 hours total flight time, one way, all in coach.


He's a tender little guy too (Uncle Rico: Poor kid. I've been takin' care of him while his grandma's in the hospital. He still wets the bed and everything. Ilene: You're kidding. Uncle Rico: Yeah, he's a tender little guy. He still gets beat up and what-not. Uncle Rico: Anyway uh... so we still feelin' pretty good about this, uh, 32-piece set here...) so it probably felt more like like 80 hours. I was telling him that it was especially brutal that he had to make the journey on a Saturday because God forbid they let him leave on a Friday and not squeeze another 8 hours out of him.

Saturdays are mine. I don't consider them to be good travel days at all. It might even seem like it's better if the flight is later in the afternoon, but then you have it hanging over your head all day and most of your time is spent preparing for the trip.

So attention corporate muckitees: don't make us travel on Saturdays or Sundays, dig?

Presidential Portrait?

Our four-year-old son was looking through a book of Pablo Picasso paintings. When he came to this particular work...

...he shouted "That's Barack Obama!"

We were surprised because we weren't sure that he even knew who President Obama was (we we're not big into political indoctrination at this age) and that he knew what he looked like enough to find such a similarity with a Picasso self-portrait. If you take a close look you can see that the boy is on to something here. He may just have an eye for separated at births. That's my boy.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Too Much Protein

From restaurant reviewer Kathy Jenkins at the Pioneer Press, something to look out for in your next dinner out:
You've got to hand it to D'Amico and Partners. Their DNA seems to be in practically everything we're eating these days.
Either the kitchen staff at D'Amico needs to start washing their hands better or Kathy Jenkins needs to stop running the black light over her linguine and clam sauce.

It does provide for a modern update of a classic delicatessen related joke:

Customer: (indignantly) Waiter, what's this DNA doing in my soup!?

Waiter: (peering into the soup bowl) Looks like replicating.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Northern Alliance Radio Network

The Northern Alliance Radio Network is back LIVE tomorrow for another exciting broadcast day. The First Team (John Hinderaker and I) start it all bright and early at 11AM central. Highlights promise to be the two guests we have scheduled to appear.

At 11:30 we have Pete Hegseth, Executive Director of Vets for Freedom and contributor to National Review Online. Pete is an Iraq veteran from the 101st Airborne Division, Princeton grad, and Minnesota native. Back before the surge in Iraq, when the Congress and Democrats were going wobbly, he played an important public advocacy role in articulating the need to stay and win the fight. Now, as the situation in Afghanistan appears to deteriorate, he may need to play a similar role again. We'll ask Pete where we stand and what's the best plan going forward.

At 12 noon, we'll be joined by singer/songwriter John Ondrasik from one of our favorite bands, Five for Fighting. He's already got a couple of platinum records on his resume and just released a terrific new album this week, Slice. I've been listening to it all day, Lots of thought-provoking lyrics and beautiful melodies. We'll ask John about the songs and about his career, which memorably included this featured performance at the Concert for New York City right after 9/11.

Plus Loon of the Week, This Week in Gatekeeping, and more

Remember, The Northern Alliance Radio Network starts at 11AM Central, locally on AM1280 the Patriot. Streaming LIVE worldwide at their 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 ..... NOT King Banaian.

The King is dead, at least on the Patriot. But he's still in the building as they say, just moving across the hall to the Patriot's sister station KYCR (AM 1570). He'll have a new business-focused program from 9 - 11AM. That does put him up against David Strom, who as always will be on the Patriot LIVE at 9 AM. Who to listen to? I can't choose between them! I guess that's why God invented podcasts.

Beer Of The Week (Vol XXVIII)

This edition of the Beer of the Week brought to you as always by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits. They can help put the treat back into your tricks.

Ah fall, 'tis the season when a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of...

...pumpkins. Yes, pumpkins. Pumpkins play an integral role in the season from autumnal decorations to Halloween jack-o-lanterns to the pie that often accompanies the Thanksgiving feast. Even Saint Paul's favorite (and to my knowledge only) Halloween howler is an homage to the gourd-like squash:

How do hillbillies celebrate Halloween?

They pump kin.

That one never gets old.

While I admire pumpkins and their place in the season as much as the next redneck, that admiration is limited entirely to their visual appeal. When it comes to eating or drinking, I prefer to steer clear. Pumpkin pie? Nah. Pumpkins seeds? Meh. Any sort of potable that somehow makes use of a pumpkin? Not for me.

So it was with no small degree of trepidation that I approached this week's beer Blue Moon Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale, which is supposedly "made with the flavor of vine-ripened pumpkin." Um...we are still talking beer here, right?

Shorter brown bottle. Orange label with a Van Goghish rendition of a large harvest moon over a field of pumpkins.

Beer Style: Pumpkin Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 5.7%

COLOR (0-2): Clear amber. 2

AROMA (0-2): Mostly malt with faint hints of spice. 1

HEAD (0-2): Off-white color. Good pour. Not much lacing. 1

TASTE (0-5): Again, mostly malt with a little hoppiness. Surprisingly little spice or noticeable pumpkin flavor. Medium to heavy-bodied. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Hollow and lacking in follow through. 1

OVERALL (0-6): Better than I expected. The lack of spice and pumpkin flavor is a good thing. It's also heavier than I would have expected and does go down a little slow. A very average and inoffensive fall offering.

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 11

Dialing It Up

When the Northern Alliance Radio Network first hit the airwaves back in aught-four, it featured an enormous cast of characters. At one point I think there were thirty-seven separate voices clamoring for air time, sometimes in the same hour.

Through the years and tears, one by one most of these voices have fallen silent and left the NARN fold. Now, another one of the founders and NARN mainstays is moving on.

King Banaian has uttered his final words as part of the NARN and will be moving on up the dial to 1570 KYCR beginning this Saturday. He's got a new time slot (9am-11am) and it sounds like a slightly different format with more emphasis on business and economics. Gone from the NARN, but certainly not forgotten with his new gig.

Meanwhile, rumor has it that based on recommendations from a talk radio consultant, the NARN is going to undergo a makeover. Look for the relaunch as the "Fathers of Freedom" this Saturday from 11am-3pm complete with powdered wigs on all four remaining hosts (a nice perk for Mitch and Ed). You don't want to start the revolution without listening to them.

The "N" Word

David Harsanyi says that instead of seeing it as a stigma, Republicans should embarce being the party of NO:

Now, as unlikely as it is, history also offers Republicans an unexpected opportunity to remake their party, to find an ideological center, to use politics to thwart a movement that is antithetical to every tenet they've been rhetorically peddling since Ronald Reagan.

Of course, Republicans will increasingly be accused of being ideologues. If only.

Is ideology something to be dismissed as a barrier to progress? Isn't ideology a framework of ideas that politicians should be using to inform their decisions?

Mavericks dismiss ideology because it would bind them to consistent and principled votes. John McCain, for example, often displays the muddled and mercurial thinking of a person with no political, intellectual or economic philosophy.

There is plenty of room for dissent in political parties. But when it comes to health care reform, Republicans--powerless to stop meatloaf from being served in the Senate mess, much less a bill--do have a chance to embrace the ideals they've been pretending to champion for a decade with one straightforward, graceful and honorable word: "no."

They have no moral or civic or political obligation to embrace bipartisanship. History might even be telling them not to.

The Voice of a New Generation?

Saw a billboard this morning for local lefty talk radio station AM 950 touting their new tag line:

"The Voice of the Obama Generation"

I found it unusual that a radio station (or any media outlet for that matter) would tether themselves so concretely to a particular political figure. It would have been impossible to imagine a right-wing station like AM1280 The Patriot linking themselves in such a way to President Bush, even at the height of his popularity.

Despite claims that conservative media are "mouthpieces of the Republican Party" they've almost always been more about conservative political philosophy than Republican Party politics. Sometimes there is more overlap between those two areas than others, but there's also plenty of tension which has usually been pretty evident in conservative media.

Alternative motto which would also be appropriate for AM 950:

"The Voice of the Obama Administration"

Thursday, October 15, 2009


New term that I heard from a work colleague who spent some years in China as an ex-pat and ended up marrying a Chinese woman:

"Golden Rice Bowl"

It describes a situation where a modern Chinese couple has hit life's trifecta. One spouse works for a Western company ($$$), one spouse works for the government (insurance & other side benefits), and they have a son.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


At a recent company meeting about change, I was asked to follow the following Rod Serling like instructions: Imagine if you will, a powerful and prosperous country; truly a world leader. Consider the following facts about this country:

- It is a large, representative democracy.
- It has the world's largest economy, with the highest per capita GDP of any nation
- It's currency is the world's reserve currency
- It's largest city is the center of the financial world
- It's sphere of influence extends to all continents (except Antarctica)
- It's military was the most powerful in the world, thanks mainly to superior technology as opposed to overwhelming manpower
- It is engaged in the occupation of a large country in southern Asia

What would the future hold for such a nation? Let's ask the British in 1900.

A Choice Not An Echo

Too often local school board races are a matter of trying to find the least objectionable candidate to vote for. If you come across someone whose calls for increased spending are 10% less than other candidates and is only in lockstep with the teachers' union 80% of the time, you consider yourself lucky and pull the lever for the slighter lesser of the many evils.

Which is why it's such a breathe of fresh air to see someone like Andrew Richter running for school board. Even better, he's running in District 281 so I get a chance to vote for him.

He gets off to a good start with My Pledges to You from his website:

I will not vote to spend one penny of your money on consultants, studies, or search firms. There is no reason for the Board to contract out their job.

I will press our legislature to end the unfunded mandates as well as the Choice Is Yours Program.

I will not come to the taxpayers for a referendum unless is the absolute last resort. The citizens of this district are not an ATM machine.

I will work to end the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program. This program pushes a certain world point of view and is run by world elites who are not accountable to our district.

Our AYP test scores are unacceptable. Fourteen out of sixteen schools failing the test is a joke. Board members need to be outraged at this and demand better, rather than make pathetic excuses.

Even better are some of the bits from a school board candidate profile that appeared in the local community newspaper (and for some inexplicable reason is not available online):

The board should represent everyone, not just the parents or yes voters. a non-parent I think I'll bring the perspective of the common citizen to the board. I also have a great ability to say the word "no," which seems to be a problem in government. I also bring an independent voice, since I am not endorsed by an group or union.

You had me at "no."

I don't look at the area I've lived my whole life in and see groups, victims, race, or national origin. The best thing we can do for every student is to offer equal opportunity; we can't guarantee equal outcome. We need parents and community members to be our partners in this, but the schools are not daycare centers, baby-sitters, parents, or the Cub Scouts.


I worry about the curriculum. We need to teach more American history and eliminate indoctrination programs like IB.

More American history, less indoctrination in the public schools? Is this guy for real?

Alas, I fear that Richter's outspoken positions--while eminently sensible and reasonable--will likely result in him not being elected. Unfortunately it seems that the people with the most interest in school board elections are those with a vested and usually economic interest in the outcome. They aren't the kind of folks who take kindly to the word "No."

But at least this time around I'll be able to cast my ballot for a candidate whose views I actually agree with and not simply the least worst choice.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dream Police

Yesterday Chad the Elder shared the details of his bizarre dream, aimlessly driving around in the woods with Vox Day until they hydroplaned into a lake and presumably drowned.

It was quite a mix of symbolism and revealed subconscious needs and anxieties. What could it all mean? Based on some undergraduate psychology courses, years of watching the old Bob Newhart show, and decades of observing Chad interact with society, my initial diagnosis was obvious: latent homosexuality.

Before offering medication and treatment options, I did what any good Internet psychotherapist does and sought a second opinion. For that there is nothing better than the number one Internet site for dream analysis (at least it comes up first on Google), Dream Moods.

Using their Dream Dictonary, let's break down Chad's dream piece by piece:

Last night, I dreamt that I was riding in a car being driven by Vox Day.

To dream that someone else is driving you, represents your dependence on the driver. You are not in control of your life and following the goals of others instead of your own.

Not sure exactly where we were going or why, but there was a vague sense that we were late for a meeting of some sort.

To dream that you are late or miss a meeting, signifies anxieties that you are not measuring when it comes to your professional life and toward achieving your goals. You may feel unprepared in some situation or challenge in your waking life.

We turned down a dirt road ...

Dirt is representative of situations where you have been less than honorable and may have acted in a devious manner.

... into a wooded area ...

To see the woods in your dream, represents life, fertility, rejuvenation, and spring. Alternatively, it symbolizes the unknown and unconscious. You may be discovering your instinctual nature.

... when suddenly we drove into a lake. I don't mean we stuck the nose of the car in either. We literally drove out into the lake, although for a time we managed to keep going--almost like a snowmobile skipping over the surface--before the car started sinking beneath the waves.

To dream that you are underwater, suggests that you are feeling overcome with emotions and are in need of greater control in your life. You may be in over your head regarding some situation.

Well that clears up that up! Clearly Chad feels his work hear at Fraters Libertas is not measuring up. He wishes he were as prolific and provocative as Vox Day. Yet he fears following that path may be dishonor his family. Yet, at the same time, it would represent a rejuvenation of his instinctual nature. However, a rebirth that would lead into an uncontrollable downward spiral that ends with him joining the Greater Carver County Snowmobile Watercross Racing Series.

Either that or Chad had some bad clams for lunch. As Freud once said, sometimes a car ride with Vox Day into a lake is just a car ride with Vox Day into a lake.

Now if someone could just help me with the dream I had last night.

I was heading down Snelling Avenue, riding on the shoulders of Medusa, swinging a row boat paddle, and singing "Oh Canada". We were headed into a kosher pickle cannery when I suddenly remembered that I was late for my final chemistry exam across town! A class I hadn't attended all semester!

I quickly jumped into a pink taxi cab and noticed it was driven by Woodrow Wilson. However it turns out he was blind and he didn't speak English, so I couldn't tell him where to go! We kept driving around and around until it got dark out, with my panic increasing all the while. Just then I saw the building I needed to go to. There might be time to take the test! At which point Woodrow floored it and we sailed into a gigantic chasm. The last words I heard him screaming were "you're all wee-wee'd up Jim" and then I woke up.

My guess is that this has something to do with the Twins getting swept by the Yankees.