Sunday, January 31, 2010

Nice on Ice

ESPN's Paul Lukas came to town last week for a sports filled weekend that included pond hockey, curling, and watching the Vikings at Bunny's. He also got a generous dollop of Minnesota nice. The opening:

As it turned out, the weather did present some challenges, but not the ones I expected. And pond hockey was just the tip of my sports weekend iceberg. Here's how it went down:

Thursday, Jan. 21, 6 p.m.: I board a Minneapolis--bound flight out of LaGuardia and find myself sitting in the middle of two extremely sociable pond hockey teams. As I chat with them, two things become apparent: They really, really love hockey, and they really, really love beer. Not necessarily in that order.

"Pond hockey is, like, the essence of pure hockey," says Ryan Equale, sitting behind me. "We all started playing on ponds, we're all brothers out there, and at the end of the day everyone's together sharing a beer." I laugh and nod approvingly, not realizing I'll be hearing this sentiment repeated about 17 dozen times over the next two days.

The close:

Sunday, 9:25 p.m.: Garrett Hartley kicks the game-winning field goal for the Saints. I'm expecting some sort of a negative reaction, but there's no booing, no cursing, not even a collective groan. Instead, people quietly put on their jackets and shuffle out the door.

As I walk out, a woman gives me a glum smile and says, "What a bummer, eh?"

Minnesotans: the nicest people in the world, even in defeat. And even in late January.

Maybe next time he's in town Lukas should watch a game with Atomizer.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Beer of the Week (Vol. XL)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the shiny, happy people at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help you throw your love around and remember that there is no time to cry.

Cynic--Definition and More from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

Main Entry: cyn*ic
Pronunciation: \*si-nik\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle French or Latin, Middle French cynique, from Latin cynicus, from Greek kynikos, literally, like a dog, from kyn-, kyon dog-- more at hound
Date: 1542
1 capitalized : an adherent of an ancient Greek school of philosophers who held the view that virtue is the only good and that its essence lies in self-control and independence
2 : a faultfinding captious critic; especially : one who believes that human conduct is motivated wholly by self-interest

During some period of our misspent youth, I can clearly recall our mother expressing surprise at how cynical my brother and I already had become considering our tender age. At the time, we regarded the cynical labeling as a badge of pride. What else could we be but cynical?

Today, I don't consider myself cynical per the traditional definition. Rather, I'd say I'm what Chesterton termed a "happy pessimist." Pessimist about the nature of man and the prospects for this temporal world. Yet happy about the eternal salvation available to all mankind through God.

Not that there aren't plenty of things to be cynical about these days, especially in these parts. Following the local professional football squad certainly lends one to take on a more cynical worldview. In the depths of winter, with spring still nothing but a distant hope, it's hard to be anything but cynical about the weather. On a national level, watching this week's SOTU address with anything but a cynical gaze would have been foolhardy.

Leave it to the crew at Surly Brewing Company to come up with a beer bearing the name that captures that mood. This week's beer is Surly's Cynic Ale.

Light tan can with standard Surly graphics. You can see why the bottom half of the drinker ying/yang is cynical. Definitely the pint is empty kind of guy.

Beer Style: Saison

Alcohol by Volume: 6.7%

COLOR (0-2): Gold, slightly cloudy 2

AROMA (0-2): Malty, sweet and a bit peppery 2

HEAD (0-2): White, not much retention or lacing 1

TASTE (0-5): Mostly malty and sweet with spice and light citrus flavors and a touch of hops. Medium body and thinner mouth feel. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Dry finish and pleasant follow through 2

OVERALL (0-6): Although this is not one of my favorite varieties of beer--and one that I probably would enjoy more in warmer months--it's another solid effort from Surly. They don't hold back or play it safe with any of their offerings and if you are a fan of the saison/farmhouse ale style, this would be a great choice for you. It's very drinkable and after knocking back a couple you might just find yourself taking a slightly less cynical view of the world. At least the world of beer. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 14

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

This Too Shall Pass

Now that the finality of the Vikings season ending in New Orleans on Sunday has sunk in, it's possible to look back at what was and ahead to what be might (and stop obsessing about what might have been).

We have to start of course with Mr. Favre. Much of what I said about Favre when he signed proved to be almost completely wrong:

The other group of Viking fans are cool-headed and rational enough to realize that while Favre once WAS a great quarterback, his best days are long behind him. Now, he's nothing more than a washed-up, egomaniacal prima donna whose brain is writing checks that his arm can no longer cash.

Favre clearly proved me and the other skeptics wrong by having a great regular season and leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship game. I have no problem eating crow and admitting that I was wrong. I just wish I had been proven 100% incorrect:

The idea that he's going to calmly and carefully help quarterback the Vikings to the Super Bowl with deliberate style is absurd. Even if he wanted to take such a measured approach to the game, he couldn't. It's not in his nature. He's still Brett Favre and even if he manages to contain his urge to improvise for a good part of the season, you know that at some critical point in a key game he's going to try to do too much.

Say with nineteen seconds left in a tied NFC Championship game for example. But as awful as that throw was, I can't blame Favre for the loss. If his teammates hadn't fumbled away scoring opportunities and given them to the Saints and if the Vikings had a head coach who knew how to finish a game, he wouldn't have had to be in that position to begin with. Favre is Favre. You have to take the good (getting the Vikings to the brink of the Bowl) with the bad (making a bad decision in crunch time). If he decides to come back next year, I (and I imagine almost all Viking fans) would welcome him back with open arms. Next year, the Vikings just need to make sure not to let the game come down to one Favre gamble.

Next up, how do you solve a problem like Adrian? Having Adrian Peterson on your team is like having a beautiful girlfriend given to incurable bouts of explosive diarrhea. When she's strutting around looking smokin' hot, you couldn't imagine wanting anyone else. But when that diarrhea flares up, you want nothing to do with her. The question is do you stick with her and hope she figures out a way to control her problem or trade her in for a less hot but more regular gal? In the case of Peterson, that might mean the Vikes opt to try to make another run with Chester Taylor and see what they could get for Peterson in a trade. Personally, I think he's got too much talent to let him go and you rarely get back what you give up talent wise in NFL trades. Get somebody to work with him on holding on to the damn ball this offseason and see what happens next year.

Speaking of trading talent, assuming that Favre comes back and AP can hold on to the ball, the Vikings offense should once again be potent. But to make it even more so, the Vikings should discretely inquire whether the Patriots have had enough of Randy Moss. He's inked through next year with them, but after this year's shenanigans I wouldn't doubt if the Pats would be willing to move him. I have no idea what they would want or what the Vikings could give them, but the idea of Favre having Moss as a potential target is an intriguing prospect. Hell, it might even help convince Favre to come back.

Even if the Vikings don't get Moss back in purple, they appear to be positioned pretty well for next year. There are definitely positions that could be upgraded, but no glaring deficiencies. Among the players at least.

My number one concern continues to be the coaching. On the surface, Childress' record of success is hard to argue with. 6-10, 8-8, 10-6, 12-4 is an impressive four-year improvement and it seems that he played an instrumental part in getting Favre on the team. You can't deny him credit for that. But like Denny Green, I wonder if he's one of those coaches who doesn't know how to get it done in the clutch. Even before the inexcusable 12 men in the huddle fiasco, it didn't seem as if he had a clear plan for how they were going to win the game. As Vox Day has astutely noted, as soon as the Vikings got inside the Saints forty, Childress started to tighten up. I was watching the game with the NIGP and neither of us could understand why the Vikings called that first time out. And then to follow it up with two obvious running plays that gained nothing, another timeout, and then the penalty that will live in infamy call Childress' game management skills into serious question. I can't imagine other NFL coaches who have had success at the highest levels making those same series of mistakes.

Unfortunately, Childress had his contract extended this year so Vikings fans will have to hope that he learned something from Sunday night. Yes, the Vikings should be fine next year. As long as they can overcome Favre's nature, Peterson's dropsyness, and Chilly's command skills. No worries, right?

Finally, let me say that I am not one of those Vikings fans who's now wishing the Saints well in the Super Bowl. They had the NFC Championship game handed to them and they almost let it get away. While it's to their credit that they did win the game, they hardly looked impressive doing so. The Colts are not going to be nearly as generous as the Vikings were and if the Saints are going to become Super Bowl champs they're going to have to go out and win the game themselves. Frankly, I'm still not sold on the idea that Brees is a quarterback who can do that. We'll find out in a couple of weeks. Watching the Super Bowl as observers from the outside. A position that Viking fans are all too familiar with.

The Nihilist Chirps in: For me, the least favorite part of every Viking season is the week or so spent dissecting exactly where the team failed. The closer to the big game, the more unpleasant the exercise is. So I'm going to change the subject by informing readers that the AL Central Champion Minnesota Twins just signed slugger Jim Thome to an incentive-laden contract. He should see at least 80 games as DH, as well as providing valuable insurance in the event that Justin Morneau's back injury is still impacting him. It's time to look forward.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The In Crowd

Play at yesterday's National Pond Hockey Championship was sloppy and soggy. Rain made the ice soft and by early afternoon the rinks were covered with half an inch of water. Hardly ideal conditions.

Still it was fun in a twisted sort of way and definitely will be remembered by all who experienced it. There's always a sense of camaraderie among the pond hockey players since we're all dealing with the same weather variables (bitter cold or rain and everything in between). I discovered a little extra camaraderie when I showed up yesterday wearing my Surly Brewing hat.

As I made my way through the maze of players in the warming tent, a guy popped up, pressed something into my hand, and whispered conspiratorially "Keep it down, man." I gazed downward to see that I was now holding a can of Surly Furious. He then informed me that he was part of the Surly team that was playing in the tourney and was glad to see me representing with my head wear. Since no outside alcoholic beverages were permitted in the tent, I quickly stuffed it in my bag and moved on. The circle of hockey players is relatively modest and tight. The circle of hockey players who love Surly is even smaller and tighter.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Town Without Pity

In yesterday's WSJ, Allen Barra--snugly ensconced in a myopic East Coast elitist bubble--penned a piece whining about all the suffering that Jets fans have had to endure through the years. To Mr. Barra and other Jets fans here's a message from the frigid north of fly-over country: cry us a freakin' river. You know nothing of suffering because of your football team.

Are we supposed to feel sorry for you because you've only won one Super Bowl and that was like forty years ago? Ain't happening brother. Your one Super Bowl may seem like a distant memory these days, but at least you got that on your shelf. We here in the Northland got nothin'. And we've been a heck of a lot closer than you have for most of the last forty years. That's what real pain is all about. So stifle your tears. You'll find no pity here.

A New Pulitzer Peer for the Star Tribune?

The nomination deadline for the 2009 Pulitzer Prizes is February 1. No word on whether the Star Tribune has nominated any of its work (nothing Pulitzer-worthy comes to mind, but then I don't read the Strib as closely as I used to). But even if they do come up with something, this could be a tough year to break out of their 19 year Pulitzer slump.

Barry Levine, the editor of the National Enquirer, told the Washington Post that he believes the Enquirer deserves a Pulitzer and he just may have a point. With John Edwards' admission that he is the father of Rielle Hunter's child, the National Enquirer has been vindicated on the story in which they scooped the entire media (including the Star Tribune and yes even Fraters Libertas).

If the Strib manages to stay ahead of the National Enquirer in the Pulitzer count, it will likely be due to a technicality: most of the Enquirer's Edwards stories were written in 2007 and 2008 and the Pulitzers for those years have already been awarded. But if I had to put money down on the Star Tribune winning a Pulitzer this year or the National Enquirer winning a Pulitzer this year, I would go Enquirer.

UPDATE: No Pulitzer for the National Enquirer. The administrator of the Pulitzer Prize board has pointed out that the National Enquirer describes itself as a magazine – and magazines are ineligible for Pulitzer Prizes. Hmmm … maybe the Star Tribune should drop a line to the Pulitzer board reminding them that they are NOT a magazine.

Beer of the Week (Vol. XXXIX)

Another glorious edition of Beer of the Week brought to you as always by the cheerful chaps at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help put the hop into your step.

The states of Minnesota and Michigan have developed a bit of a rivalry over the years. I suspect much of it is based on how much they actually have in common. They both share borders with Canada, Wisconsin, and a four letter state to the south that they never tire of mocking (Iowa and Ohio). They both are known for lakes, forests, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor pursuits. Along with Massachusetts, they produce the most hockey players in the United States.

When it comes to sports rivalries, both states have had their moments. Of late, the Twins have had an edge over the Tigers (game 163 anyone?). Even though they're having a down year, the Pistons have had far more success than the Wolves as have Michigan's two Big Ten basketball teams when compared to the Gophers. Football is a spilt. While the Vikings have dominated the Lions since...well, pretty much forever, Michigan's college teams have far outpaced Minnesota's (as have teams from just about every state in the union for that matter). Hockey's fairly even too. The Red Wings have an obvious advantage over the Wild, but the comparison between the two states' many college hockey teams is much closer.

But there's one area where I must say Michigan enjoys a clear edge. As much as it pains me to admit it, when it comes to craft brewing, Michigan bests Minnesota. Yes, we have Summit, Surly, Brau Brothers, Lift Bridge, Lake Superior, and Flat Earth (among others). And these brewers all make some damn fine beers. But objectively, they just don't stack up with the variety and quality that Michigan currently brews up.

Founder's, New Holland, Arcadia, Dark Horse, and Stoney Creek are among the top-notch Michigan brewers that come immediately to mind. And then there's Bell's. Bell's Pale Ale was one of the first craft beers that I really got into. It was hoppy, cloudy, and had chunks in it (unfiltered). And it was tasty. Since then, I've enjoyed many a variety of Bell's and have rarely failed to be impressed with their product.

So when Dan--owner/operator of Glen Lake Wine & Spirits--informed me that he had a shipment of Bell's Hopslam Ale coming in, my taste buds began tingling in anticipation. Hopslam Ale is not a beer for everyone. Firstly, it's expensive. Close to twice the price that you would pay for a normal craft six-pack. And it's in limited supply, only available in late-January and February. Stores only get so much and once it's gone, it's gone. Finally, as the name implies, it's hoppy. So if you're some sort of sicko who doesn't like hops this is not your beer.

Brown bottle. Off-green label with Bell's logo depicts a guy who literally has just been slammed by enormous hops. Not a bad way to go.

Beer Style: Double IPA

Alcohol by Volume: 10.0%

COLOR (0-2): Golden and cloudy. 2

AROMA (0-2): Strong, hoppy, tangy grapefruit. 2

HEAD (0-2): Full, white, and thick. Good lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): An explosion of hops. Powerful flavors of bitter hops and citrus overwhelm the taste buds (in a good way). Medium body and mouth feel. 5

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Great finish. Taste follows through and lingers nicely in the mouth. 2

OVERALL (0-6): Wow. In all the years of beer rating, I've never had a perfect score. In the past, I've held off in the hope that there's always something better out there. But it's hard for me to imagine that a better beer exists. Considering its 10% ABV, Hopslam is remarkably smooth and doesn't have much of a burn at all. Drinkable might not be the exact word for it, but I definitely could see putting down more than a few of these in a sitting. That could certainly catch up to you in a hurry. Hopslam would go great with a well-dressed burger or anything spicy or just about anything for that matter. Heck of a beer. 6

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 19

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Where will you be on January 22, 2010? If you share the same values as I do, which I hope is the case, you will be headed to a rally that is as important as any you will attend in your lifetime.

We all need to do our part tomorrow to try and reverse an injustice that has been forced down our throats by people with lofty titles and questionable morals. We have suffered under the indignity of bad judgment for too long, people, and now is the time to make your voice heard!!

Locally, this event will occur outside the McNamara Alumni Center on the University of Minnesota campus Friday evening. In the words of the organizer, we will:
...take to the city streets protesting NBC's choice to push Conan O'Brien out of the Tonight Show spot and back into Late Night Territory.
That's right, this syrupy morass of economic despair and global uncertainty we must all take up the cause of one poor unfortunate soul who was forced out of one of the easiest jobs in human history and given a severance payment of a paltry $40 million with the unconscionable penalty of not being allowed to work for one full year. It's too horrific to even think about. That is why we need you there to support poor Coco. He paid his dues, you know.

Oh, and if you have some free time earlier in the day, stop by the Minnesota State Capitol at noon and join another rally to commemorate the 50 million or so babies that have been killed in this country since the 1973 Roe v Wade decision. After all, Coco's a Catholic boy. Make him proud.

Don't Have To Admit It's Getting Better

Yesterday's WSJ contained a special section called State of the Nation:

A year into the Obama administration, we asked Americans how they're feeling about the president and politics. We found a lot of weariness, a few glimmers of optimism, and not much good news for Democrats.

The section was broken down into various areas such as the economy, health care, national security, etc. and polling data and opinion pieces germane to each area were presented. One area that was included was race relations. Now, you might think that the election of the country's first African-American president would be the latest sign of the progress that the United States has made in this area. But Marc Morial--president of the National Urban League--advises us that there is Still So Far To Go:

And when you factor in the seemingly never-ending cycle of racial incidents, like the arrest in his home of Prof. Henry Louis Gates, the refusal of a Louisiana justice of the peace to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple, and the expulsion of black kids from a Philadelphia swimming pool, it is clear that there is nothing postracial about America in the year 2010. For African-Americans, especially, these are both the best of times and the worst of times.

While I'm sure we all appreciate a Dickens reference when we read it, I have to question whether the one that Morial chooses is really appropriate for this situation. Does he honestly believe that 2010 is in any way the worst of times for African-Americans? Worse than Jim Crow era segregation laws? Worse than public lynchings? Worse than slavery? Please.

But the doors of opportunity and inclusion have yet to be fully opened to people of color. And with our economy currently in the grips of a great recession, new immigrants of color as well as African-Americans are facing increasing racial and ethnic hostility. Hate crimes and other incidents of discrimination are rising, as is hateful rhetoric on some conservative talk shows and town-hall meetings.

Morial offers no evidence to back his assertions of increases in "racial and ethnic hostility," "hate crimes and other incidents of discrimination," and "hateful rhetoric on some conservative talk shows (gee thanks for the modifier) and town-hall meetings." He could be basing his claim that hate crimes are rising on the FBI's annual report even though those statistics have been shown to be useless for year to year comparisons. His definition of "hateful rhetoric" essentially boils down to anything said in opposition to President Obama.

You may wonder why a leader of a civil rights organization would choose to focus relentlessly on the negative during of time of unparalleled achievement by African-Americans in so many facets of American life.

It is clear that we and our partners in the civil rights movement are needed now more than ever. While it is true that we have a black president of extraordinary vision and talent, it is also true that some would still rather view him and all African-Americans through the outdated prism of assumed inferiority. And so, as much as he and we would like to announce the arrival of a postracial America, our work is not yet done.

When your livelihood depends on keeping the racial grievance pot boiling, your work will never be done.

No Mas on the Nova

In yesterday's WSJ editorial page, I read someone again making the point that Chevy's Nova did not sell well in Spanish speaking countries because no va means "No go" in Spanish.

Once and for all, it's a myth people. It didn't happen. Snopes lays out all of the salient points.

The whole idea is so damn stupid it's annoying. They are two different words entirely. One is a proper noun, the other a negated conjugation of the infinitive ir (to go).

Yup, them Spanish speakin' peoples were soooo DUMB that they couldn't tell the difference between Nova and no va and therefore didn't buy the Chevy.

What makes the repeating of this falsehood even worse is the fact that it is often used as an example of Stupid American Parochialism that we should all try to avoid.

Please immediately punch anyone you catch repeating this nonsense in the el estomago (little Spanish lingo for you) immediamente if not sooner.

Giving New Meaning To "Bombing On Opening Night"

Consumers of high brow culture like our own Saint Paul will want to mark their calendars for an important theatrical opening at the Bedlam Theatre in Minneapolis. Yes folks, it's finally here, but only for a limited engagement. February 18th through the 28th will likely be your only local opportunity to catch the explosive play I Heart Hamas:

With the current ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, the threat of global terrorism, and the never-ending negotiations and hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians, it's hard not to feel overwhelmed by all of the bad international news. That's exactly how Jennifer Jajeh feels. And to make matters worse, Jennifer is Palestinian. Well, Palestinian American. Or more precisely: a single, Christian, first generation, Palestinian American woman who chooses to return to her parents' hometown of Ramallah at the start of the Second Intifada.

Join her on American and Palestinian soil on auditions, bad dates, and across military checkpoints as she navigates the thorny terrain around Palestinian identity. Weaving together humor, slides, pop culture references and live theatre, Jajeh explores how she becomes Palestinian-ized, then politicized and eventually radicalized in a fresh, often funny, searingly honest way.

Radicalization is not something that we typically see being expressed in fresh, funny, and honest ways these days (although searing may be involved). Since Jaheh is a Christian we can engage in some rational profiling and assume that radicalization for her doesn't mean quite the same thing as it did in the recent cases of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab or Major Nidal Malik Hasan. Still, it seems hard to imagine that a play whose title expresses love for a terrorist organization and celebrates such "radicalization" in the Middle East is going to prove to be much of a draw for those not already sympathetic to such views. Although it does seem easy to imagine it drawing rave reviews from local theater critics.

SISYPHUS ADDS: I will consider going if she adds puppets.

On Sodden Pond?

2010 marks the five year anniversary of the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, which will be played on Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis this Friday-Sunday as they have for the last four years. I will once again be participating in the event, although this year I'll be on a team in the "over forty" instead of the "open" field. Aging typically doesn't offer one many advantages, but when an opportunity does arise it's prudent to seize it. Rather than fighting an unwinnable battle, it's better to accept age for what it is, especially if means you might get to skate against guys as old and slow as you (fingers crossed).

During the last few Pond Hockey Championships, the biggest struggle that players faced was how to keep warm. This year it might be how to keep dry. We play both our Friday games early so we should be okay tomorrow. However, on Saturday we play at 10:30am and 12:30pm. Based on the current weather forecast, that could mean trouble:

Saturday: Freezing rain and sleet before noon, then rain. High near 37. Breezy, with a east wind around 23 mph, with gusts as high as 31 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%.

Freezing rain, sleet, rain, and windy? Hardly ideal conditions for outdoor hockey. January rain in Minnesota is cruel. It pretty much ruins any winter activity you want to do outside, can play havoc on the roads, and generally depresses the hell out of everyone because you know it's not a sign of spring, but rather a mid-winter anomaly. Snow and cold we can handle, rain should not be part of the wintery mix.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Change to Stale Performance Review Answers We Can Believe In

By far the most painful question to answer during a performance review is:

"Can you tell me what your primary work-related weaknesses are?"

Painful because honesty is typically not an option. Telling the reviewer that you have a habit of undermining your coworkers and management through the spreading of malicious rumors or that you've figured out a way to work only 45 minutes out of every 8 hour work day without anyone noticing will tend to negatively affect your prospects for getting a raise or keeping your job. Telling the reviewer that you have figured out a way to steal enough pencils and staplers from the office to finance a lake cabin and your children's college fund may even get you arrested. No, the smart move is to avoid going into your personal fault inventory at all.

Unfortunately, you can't just clam up either. Responding by saying "no comment" is really suspicious and leads the interviewer to immediately assume you're hiding an increasingly voracious methamphetamine habit that will soon erode your attendance rate, production levels, and your ability to keep your teeth from falling out of your head during a sales call.

Sitting there motionless and keeping entirely silent is weird too. That is, unless you're using the deaf angle and you tell end up telling the reviewer that your main weakness is that you're losing your hearing. Not a bad play for sympathy reasons and for introducing the notion that firing you is discriminatory behavior with severe legal repercussions. But this gambit requires a high degree of commitment, forcing you to pretend to have a hearing problem for perhaps years or even decades to come. That's a lot of work in order to avoid one difficult question.

Ideally, the response to an inquiry of your primary job-related weaknesses must be both succinct and self-serving. As veterans of the job market have learned, there are only two acceptable options:

1) I work too hard.

2) I'm a perfectionist.

And these problems plague our society. According to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of human resources professionals on the primary problems facing business in America, 82% said their employees work too hard and 73% are overcapacity for perfectionists.

In other words, the jig may soon be up. These answers are getting stale. Before we know it employers will catch on. Then they'll start prefacing the dreaded question by saying "Besides the fact that you work too hard and/or are a perfectionist, what are you're greatest work-related weaknesses?" It's like when Wheel of Fortune started giving away the STRLN for the bonus round and then used harder phrases without those letters. We're doomed!

Fear not, America. Just when you thought all was lost and we were out of hope, in steps The One.

President Obama interviewed by ABC News on the subject of his performance during his first year in office:

The president said he made a mistake in assuming that if he focused on policy decisions, the American people would understand the reasoning behind them.

"That I do think is a mistake of mine," Obama said. "I think the assumption was if I just focus on policy, if I just focus on this provision or that law or if we're making a good rational decision here, then people will get it."

Instead, the president said the American people ended up with a "feeling of remoteness and detachment" from the policymakers in Washington who are making big decisions.

I didn't think I was possible, but we now have a third answer to that most painful of performance review questions.

3) I've been so busy making the big decisions for this company, so immersed in the complexities and technical details of my job, I haven't taken the time to come down to your level and explain what I'm doing. This has left you feeling remote and detached from the good things I'm doing every day. I need to do a better job of making sure you can understand what I'm doing and why.

If the workers of America can peddle that line of shinola with the same sincerity as Barack Obama, it's got to be good for at least a half a point off the unemployment numbers next quarter.

Emotions Running Hot and Cold

It was tough NFL divisional playoff weekend for the "do the opposite" pigskin prediction system. The only game that I got right was the Vikings over the Cowboys. I guess I can take solace in the fact that it was the only game I really wanted to get right, but it's become clear that the opposite system is not one you want to bank (or bet) on. However, even though the results have not been good and the premise has been stretched beyond all credibility, when you get to this point you gotta stick with what you got.

AFC Championship

The Jets-Colts game offers up all sorts of intriguing "who would you rather play in the Super Bowl?" scenarios for Vikings and Saints fans tuning in before their tilt. While it might seem insane for fans of either NFC squad to wish to face the Colts and Peyton Manning (who's well on his way to becoming the best NFL quarterback of ALL TIME statistically speaking), does anyone really want to play the brash, upstart Jets? The Jets, as personified by their coach, are like a delivery driver who shows up at a member's only country club cotillion and refuses to leave. They just won't get the message that they don't belong here among the NFL elite and the longer they hang around, the more confident they become that they're really the ones who own the joint.

They also present a paradox for those trying to prognosticate their games. After failing to predict their previous two playoff victories, they're a team that I should have learned not to pick against. But they're also a team that I still can't justify picking to win. We all know that the Jets "beat" the Colts 29-15 late in December to spoil the Colts perfect season. This time around, the real Colts will be on the field for sixty minutes and they will kick the Jets to the curb winning 25-9.

NFC Championship

We all know the set up. A team lead by its high-powered, big play offense and opportunistic defense is the NFC's top seed. After crushing the Arizona Cardinals in the divisional playoffs, they're hosting the NFC Championship inside their domed stadium filled with rabid fans hungry for a Super Bowl title. They face the #2 seed, a team that also plays in a dome lead by a veteran quarterback, a top running back, and an explosive rookie kick returner that's coming off a win in the divisional playoffs against one of the iconic franchises in the NFL.

We're talking Saints-Vikings this week, right? Try Vikings-Falcons in 1999. Yes, as painful as it might be for Vikings fans to dredge up those memories, this Sunday's NFC Championship in New Orleans gives the Purple the chance to reverse roles and play spoilers to the Saint's Super Bowl plans much the same way the Falcons did to the Vikes in 1999.

With the NFL's two most prolific offenses squaring off, many expect a high-scoring affair. I think it will be more of a defensive struggle with an unexpected hero emerging to make the difference. How about the pride of Luling, Louisiana--a man with a mom named Katrina and sporting a Cajun-flavored surname--Darius Reynaud housing a punt return late to give the visiting Vikings a 27-20 win? It would be a phenomenon, but stranger things have happened. When a Republican wins Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts, you know we're in a time when anything goes.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Taking The First Step

One Two (stupid Gregorian calendar) weeks from today on February 2nd, the Minnesota GOP and DFL will hold their precinct caucuses. For those who haven't been overly active in politics, the caucus process can seem a little intimidating. Visions of party insiders getting together in smoke-filled rooms and following mysterious rituals combining Robert's Rules of Order and a Free Mason initiation come to mind. In reality, the caucuses aren't nearly as complicated or closed off as they might appear. They are in fact a genuine if imperfect example of American participatory democracy in action. If you show up.

When you do, you'll get together with like-minded neighbors to help determine the course of the party in the year ahead. Usually you'll break down into smaller groups based on the wards and precincts where you vote so it's a good chance to have open discussions and interactions. If you don't like the course that your party of preference is taking, this is your chance to change it.

I've attended and helped run GOP caucuses for at least a dozen years. Throughout the state, there are some variations in the way the caucuses are managed and the process that follows them can also differ. This following is the way the caucus process has worked in my experiences.

You'll elect local precinct officers and delegates to the local BPOU (basic political operating unit) convention. It's at those conventions when delegates and alternatives for the state and Congressional district conventions are chosen. The delegates at the state convention are the ones who will choose the party's nominee for governor (and other statewide offices). My involvement at caucuses in the past had lead to me being a delegate at the state convention a number of times. Again, it's a great place to get started if you want to be more involved in the party.

There will also likely be a straw poll for governor so you get a chance to vote for that. And you can also bring forward any changes/additions to the party platform in the form of resolutions. You submit a resolution that night and it gets voted up or down by the group. If it is approved, it will be passed on to the local BPOU convention where again it will be voted on. If it passes there, it will go on the state convention where delegates will again vote on it. If approved at that point, it becomes part of the party's platform.You can find the current Minnesota GOP platform here.

The bottom line is that politics is all about who shows up. You can help make the party and its candidates more like you wish they were by coming out to your precinct caucus. The truth is that in most years turnout at the caucuses is fairly light, so it doesn't take too many people showing up to make a difference. However, this year could be different with the heightened interest in politics both locally and nationally.

There was a great turnout at the caucuses in 2008, which wasn't a huge surprise given that both parties had contested presidential nomination contests. This year, we have the same situation playing out with the Minnesota governor's race as well as all the angst and "I'm mad as hell and not going take it anymore!" anger over health care, bailouts, budget deficits, etc. I wouldn't be shocked to see a lot of new faces at the caucuses on February 2nd.

If you want to be one of them at the Minnesota GOP caucuses, you can find the location of your caucus meeting here. If you're a Democrat, there's breaking news to report that your caucus date has been rescheduled to Tuesday, February 30th. Please plan accordingly. (KIDDING!)

If you do show up--and at this point why wouldn't you--please be patient and respectful of those conducting the meetings. They aren't paid party hacks who devote their lives to this stuff. They're people just like you and me who have volunteered their time and energy to help make a difference. And if you think some of the caucus processes can be a bit baffling from a participant point of you, believe you me that it isn't a picnic for the organizers either. The virtues of patience, prudence, and compromise will definitely be called for. Most important though is simply showing up.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Still Making It

When people discuss America's present economic woes or the prospects for the future, one of the most common laments is "We just don't make anything anymore." While sometimes it does seem that everything you pick up has "Made in China" stamped on it, the truth of the matter is that America still does make things. They might not be the same things we used to make and there are definitely fewer people involved in making them, but the fears about our "not making anything anymore" are overblown.

This week, Menards--a chain of home improvement stores headquartered in Eau Claire, Wisconsin--is having a "Made in the U.S.A." sale. All of the products featured in the sixteen pages of this week's flier are made in the United States. That's a lot of stuff for a country that doesn't make anything anymore.

Let's start with the basics. You want an American flag? Made in Milwaukee.

How about a toilet seat cover? Bellmawr, New Jersey.

A storm door to keep out the cold? Brookings, South Dakota.

A new kitchen sink? Russton, Louisiana.

Some Berber carpet? Dalton, Georgia.

Hardwood flooring? Johnson City, Tennessee.

Need to fill some holes with spackling? Pryor, Oklahoma.

Electric outlets? Concord, North Carolina.

A heavy-duty adhesive? Temple, Texas.

Pre-charged well tanks? West Warwick, Rhode Island.

How about a high performance toilet? I don't know about you, but when I think of toilets, I always think about Perrysville, Ohio.

Garbage bags? Rogers, Arkansas.

Power stripper (for paint not poles)? Lessage, West Virginia.

Fluorescent light bulbs? Versailles, Kentucky (where the famous treaty was signed, right?)

Tongue and groove pliers? Meadville, Pennsylvania.

A 6-way screwdriver? Shelton, Connecticut.

Foil insulation? Markelville, Indiana.

Hardwood plywood? Medford, Oregon.

Aviation snips? Sturgis, Michigan.

Sand texture paint? Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

20oz hammer? Bushnell, Illinois.

Underlayment? Norfolk, Nebraska.

Plastic containers to hold crap? Poway, California (at least until the company moves for tax reasons).

Plastic knives, forks, spoons, and sporks? Wilton, Maine.

Doggie treats? Hiawatha, Kansas.

Hippie treats (yogurt pretzels)? New Hope, Minnesota.

Finally, after JB visits and uses your high performance toilet, you'll likely need an all purpose plunger made in St. Louis, Missouri.

These items may not be the kind of things that come to mind when people think about American manufacturing. But they are good examples that show we're not quite dead yet when it comes to being a country that makes stuff.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

What Can Brown Do For You?

In an attempt to mock the Minneapolis StarTribune's lack of resources or will to cover real news stories, I have travelled to the scene of the monumental Senate election that will take place on Tuesday, January 19. Big spending, soft on crime Martha Coakley takes on mushy moderate Scott Brown and the nation is riveted, at least the part of the nation that isn't obsessing over Brett Favre's Vikings playoff debut.

Since Boston is your average ultra-liberal city, I chose the small town of Northampton in the western end of the state as my base for reporting. The state is in a frenzy with advertising. While listening to the Alice Cooper radio show out of Springfield, every commercial break featured a Martha Coakley ad. Cooper's radio show isn't what one would expect. He plays some good old tunes from the likes of Harry Nilsson, but mixes in wussy rock stylings of Foreigner, but I digress.

The biggest surprise to this reporter was the relatively even-handed coverage of the election. The Daily Hampshire Gazette (maybe Sisyphus can check to see if they are a Pulitzer Peer of the Strib) ran two articles on the race in their weekend edition of the paper published this morning. One article featured a horse-race style recap: Coakley was expected to win easily but stumbled and is now trailing in some polls.

A second article details the fact that the Democrats are throwing the kitchen sink into a last ditch campaign effort, with visits from President Clinton yesterday, President Obama today and Vice President Biden making accusations about Brown. The article paints the administration as desperate and panicked:

What changed from earlier in the week when the White House announced that the president wouldn't travel to Massachusetts? 'He got invited,' said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. That invitation, Gibbs said, came Friday, one day after a Suffolk University survey signaled a possible death knell for the 60-vote Senate supermajority the president has been relying upon to pass his health-care bill and other initiatives through Congress before November's midterm elections.

The article goes on to suggest that the Democrats will attempt to delay Brown's certification as long as possible, in the event he wins.

The one thing missing from the coverage has been a description of the antics that Acorn and SEIU are preparing to ensure that Coakley wins. My analysis is that most of the shenanigans will need to be imported, since Massachusetts isn't used to close Senate elections. I'm keeping my eyes out for Al Franken's advisors.

Purple Pride Payoff?

Front page piece in today's WSJ on economists who tried to put a price on what the Vikings are worth to Minnesotans:

MINNEAPOLIS--Christopher Slinde, a lifetime Minnesota Vikings fan who has endured decades of heartbreak and lots of overpriced beer in supporting his team, believes Vikings fandom is priceless. According to economists, it's worth $530.65.

"This is deep," said Mr. Slinde, a 33-year-old X-ray technician, outside the Park Tavern near Minneapolis on Sunday. He had been handed a recent economics paper that is tattooed with equations and attempts to value, in dollars, the joy and pain Minnesotans get from the Vikings.

"Don't economists spend their time on more serious stuff?" he asked, after thumbing through the paper in the cold.

First off, this dude is thirty-three, so while he's endured his share of Vikings heartbreak, he also missed out on some of the worst of it.

Secondly, when it comes to putting a value on the "joy and pain" that the Vikings bring to their followers, I would think any rational economic analysis would have the fans coming out in the red.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Northern Alliance Radio Network

The Northern Alliance Radio Network is back broadcasting LIVE on Saturday morning. In fact, this week will be more life-like than ever, in that we're appearing LIVE at the Minnesota Sportsmen's Show at the St. Paul RiverCenter. If any of you bitter gun (and religion) clingers are coming down to check on the latest outdoors equipment, products, and services, make sure to stop on by to say hi.

John Hinderaker is away on assignment. In his stead, joining me will be my good friend and valued colleague Brad Carlson. He's done some radio in the past, but it's his first time on NARN. We thought he'd be the ideal candidate for some sub-hosting because of his light skin color for a white man (in fact he's nearly translucent). Also his complete lack of a Norwegian dialect. Unless he chooses to use one for pandering purposes - and the NARN broadcast may be the perfect place for that. Tune in to find out!

As always, we'll review the week in politics. The Coakley-Brown Senatorial race in Massachusetts, developments in the MN Gubernatorial race, and the UK Telegraph's recent list of Top 100 US Conservatives are prime suspects for our editorial vivisection.

Special guest at noon is our old friend and noted sports author Ross Bernstein. We'll be talking about his new effort I Love Brett Favre/I Hate Brett Favre. It's an investigation into the polarizing nature of the man among Minnesotans and Wisconsinites, and a perfect way to start your weekend prep for Sunday's big game against the Cowboys.

Also scheduled to appear, Twiggy the Waterskiing Squirrel, members of the Bikini Ice Fishing Team, and live reports from the trout fishing pond located in the RiverCenter itself.
Plus, Loon of the Week and This Week in Gatekeeping.

Following us at 1 PM also live from the Sportsmen's Show, Mitch Berg and Ed Morrissey. And, don't forget at 9 AM, The King Banaian Show over at our sister station, KYRC (Business 1570).

Remember, The Northern Alliance Radio Network starts Saturday at 11AM Central, locally on AM1280 the Patriot. Streaming LIVE worldwide at the web site. You can join the conversation at 651-289-4488. Don't you dare miss it!

Sorrow, Stone, and Snow

Article in Thursday's WSJ explained that the way the Vikings have built much of their current team defies NFL conventions:

The Minnesota Vikings have never won a Super Bowl. They play in a drafty old dome in a sensible Midwestern city where the average low temperature in January is four degrees.

But in each of the past four seasons, the Vikings have used a combination of charm, shoe leather, a private jet, clever legal maneuvers and gobs of cash to craft a roster that's full of the kinds of gifted free agents who almost never become free. While most NFL teams have very few imported stars, half of the Vikings' current starters—from quarterback Brett Favre and guard Steve Hutchinson to Pro-Bowl defensive end Jared Allen—were drafted or signed by other teams.

"Scratch, claw, all the things they've had to do to get these guys," says Ken Harris, an agent who represents Mr. Allen, "the Minnesota Vikings are a phenomenal story."

Despite this "phenomenal" story and the fact that the Vikings are hosting this Sunday's divisional playoffs in the Metrodome (where they're 8-0 this year), I don't get the impression that many true Vikings fans are all that confident that their squad will beat the Cowboys. Sure you hear a lot of false bravado on local talk radio stations and some of the younger cadre of Purple fans may honestly believe their team is Miami bound. But deep down the fans who have been around for a while, the ones who can all too clearly still recall the playoff and Super Bowl losses, know that when it comes to the Vikings letting us down it's not a matter of if but when. The Vikes very well might defeat Dallas this week. All that will do is postpone the inevitable letdown.

What best describes this attitude? Some might say cynicism, others fatalism. I would say it's more of a stoicism, taking the definition of the word commonly used today rather than the philosophy itself. We accept our destiny but continue to carry on anyway, impassive in the face of eventual defeat. It's almost as if Viking fans have taken on the persona of Bud Grant, a man well-versed in hiding the pain of crushing losses. Vox Day was the first one I recall to make that connection:

People occasionally ask me how I can persevere so stoically in the face of constant scorn, derision, mockery and ridicule. They marvel at my ability to shrug off the most scathing attacks with little more than a sardonic smile, and they wonder how I remain so blithely unmoved by criticism, dislike and hate.

I find it hard to understand the question. I am a Vikings fan. There is nothing you can throw at me that could make me feel any worse than I have felt before. I sobbed in 1974. I raged with burning fury in 1975. I cried in 1976. I felt sick in 1987. By 1998, there was nothing left inside but a frozen hollow. In 2000 and 2003, I barely blinked. That which did not break me has made me stronger and harder than you can possibly imagine.

We are cold and bleak, we men of the North. We are made of sorrow, snow and stone.

We are all Bud Grant.

And there have been plenty of crushing losses over the years. The Nihilist in Golf Pants has long argued that Viking fans have suffered more almost any other followers of professional teams. With a couple of World Series under their belts, Red Sox nation is no longer in the mix. While Cubs and Indians fans bemoan their long World Series droughts, the truth is that both teams have rarely really had a shot at the ultimate prize. In the last forty years, the Cubs have had what three good teams? The Indians may have had a few more than that, but they too have only been knocking on the door a few times.

In the NFL, those who follows the Saints, Browns, and Lions have also been long suffering. But again, how many good teams have these three franchises had in recent history (this year's Saints being an obvious outlier)? The Vikings had more good teams in the Seventies alone than these three franchises have had COMBINED over the last forty years.

While having a bad team is certainly not a lot of fun, it doesn't compare to the pain for fans when good teams fail. Being a Lions fan is like having a dull muscle ache. After a while you get used to it and almost don't even notice it's there anymore. Being a Vikings fans means getting a knife in the gut on a fairly regular basis. And then having it twisted and ripped out. You don't easily recover from having your insides torn apart.

The Vikings kicked off the Seventies by losing Super Bowl IV 23-7 to the Chiefs despite being heavily favored. They went on to lose three more Super Bowls during the decade. Only the Buffalo Bills can match that record of futility, but again other than their run in the early Nineties the Bills haven't put many good teams on the field over the years.

The Eighties were mostly a down decade for the Purple. But in the strike shortened 1987 season, a team with better talent than their record would indicate made a playoff run that ended when they lost the NFC Championship game to the Redskins 17-10. The Vikings had the ball at the Redskin six yard line with a minute left, but when a fourth down pass fell incomplete the season and hopes of reaching the Super Bowl died.

The Nineties require no further elaboration. The mere mention of "1998" causes Vikes fans to experience an involuntary twinge of pain. That was the last time that we suspended our disbelief and allowed ourselves to truly believe that this was the team of destiny that could not fail to deliver us our Super Bowl. Let us mention it no more.

The Vikings started the Aughts in 2000 by going 11-5 and reaching the 2001 NFC Championship game against the Giants. Even though the game was in New York, the Vikes were actually favored to beat the Giants and reach the Super Bowl. Instead they went out and suffered the worst loss in franchise history getting utterly destroyed 41-0. It wasn't nearly as painful as the 1999 NFC Championship game, but it was disappointing to see them mail in such a pathetic performance.

Here we are again in 2010. A 12-4 team with a good deal of talent on both sides of the ball. Could this be the Vikings team that finally breaks through, wins the Super Bowl, and ends the suffering that Viking fans have endured for so long? It certainly could be. Do Viking fans believe in their heart of hearts that it actually is? Certainly not.

As Vox Day explained in another post:

Fortunately, Vikings fans have no need of faith. We have no expectations, we have no heart, we simply watch in numbed catalepsy and hope for the best.

So on Sunday we'll put on our grim game faces, utter a stern "Skol!," and await our fate.

Beer of the Week (Vol. XXXVIII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week once again brought to you by the bon amis at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help bring joie to your vivre.

Anyone with the least bit of familiarity with modern European history no doubt recognizes the name Alsace-Lorraine. The region is nestled between France, Germany, and a little bit of Belgium and while it's now part of France, ownership of the area has been much contested. By 1798, it had officially become part of the French Republic. After the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, the German Empire annexed the region. It reverted to French control after the German defeat in World War One. In 1940, the Germans once again goose-stepped their way into Alsace-Lorraine and it became part of the Third Reich. Five years later, the Nazis were defeated and it once again became part of France and remains so to this day. At least until the Germans get feisty again.

Like France itself, when you think about the Alsace-Lorraine region and drinking, beer is not the first thing that comes to mind. But France is more than just wine, champagne, and cognac. This week's beer of the week is the second in the series to hail from the land of the Franks. It's Fischer Amber Ale which is now brewed in Schiltigheim, which despite its German-sounding name is indeed in France and is in fact a suburb of Strasbourg.

The bottle is brown, squarish, and weighty with the beer name and brewery etched on it. It has a nice hefty, old-style feel to it. There's really not much to the yellow label which wraps around the neck other than a church steeple and coat of arms.

Beer Style: Amber Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 6.0%

COLOR (0-2): Amber, very clear. 2

AROMA (0-2): Skunky in a good way. 2

HEAD (0-2): Light volume, off-white color, not much retention or lacing. 1

TASTE (0-5): Bitter but not overly sharp with slight hop flavor and some sweetness. Light body and thin mouth feel. 2

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Crisp, but a bit hollow. 1

OVERALL (0-6): This is a decent beer. Probably wouldn't pair that great with most food, but would make for a good party beer (especially at 6% ABV). Very drinkable and quite refreshing it goes down easy yet also satisfies the palate just enough to make you want to have another. 3

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 11

Next week's Beer of the Week will feature a very special, limited release brew that already has me drooling in anticipation.

Increasingly Surly

Just got that the good word that Glen Lake Wine and Spirits now carries four varieties of Surly beer. In addition to Furious and Bender--which previously had appeared on the shelves--they now also have Cynic and Coffee Bender (our beer of the week from a few weeks back). It's a good time to stock up now for this weekend's NFL divisional playoff games and you can never have too much Surly on hand. Vikings fans in particular will want to have some Cynic nearby.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I'll Take Manhattan

A couple of e-mails in response to the post yesterday on the bitter crisis. First up is Ben from Endless Apes:

I hadn't heard about the Angostura crisis. I use it once in awhile, but I prefer other, better products--including Peychaud's. But you really need to hunt down a bottle of Fee Brother's Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters. It isn't cheap, but, oh my, is it ever good. Fee Bros. has raised its game in the past few years. also sells a bunch of interesting bitters, including everything in the Fees line--except--the Whiskey Barrel Aged, I'm afraid.

Next is Dave from Minnesota:

I defer to the Fraters knowledge of fine alcohol, but when I graduated from the Minnesota School of Bartending, bitters were not part of a Manhattan. The only drink they taught that included Angostura bitters was the made from scratch Old Fashioned. The recipes provided:

1 1/2 shots whiskey
1/2 shot sweet vermouth
decorate with cherry

or a perfect Manhattan-
1 1/2 shots whiskey
1/4 shot dry vermouth
1/4 shot sweet vermouth
decorate with olive

Only the Old Fashioned has bitters-
1 pack sugar
2 dashes Angostura bitters
add ice cubes
1 shot whiskey
fill with charge water

What is your experience with a Manhattan?

I appreciate the fact that Dave defers to our knowledge in this arena. And with good reason in this case. I am sure that the five mixing guides I have behind my bar all include bitters in a traditional Manhattan. Wikipedia describes a Manhattan thusly:

A Manhattan is a cocktail made with whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters. Commonly used whiskeys include rye (the traditional choice), Canadian whisky, bourbon, blended whiskey and Tennessee whiskey. Proportions of whiskey to vermouth vary, from a very sweet 1:1 ratio to a much drier 4:1 ratio, some people even enjoy a 10:1. The cocktail is often stirred with ice and strained into a cocktail glass, where it is garnished with a Maraschino cherry with a stem. A Manhattan is also frequently served on the rocks in an old-fashioned glass (lowball glass).

The Manhattan is one of six basic drinks listed in David A. Embury's classic The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. It has been called a drinking man's cocktail--strong, urbane, and simple. It has also been called the "king of cocktails."

In my mind the closet thing to a living "king of cocktails" today is the WSJ's Eric Felten, a man who I happily defer to in such matters:

And in the winter it is whiskey, in the form of an Old Fashioned (rye, bitters, sugar, lemon peel, orange slice and cherry) or a Manhattan (rye, sweet vermouth bitters), that I find most fitting.

In my experience and from all available information, bitters are an essential ingredient in any proper Manhattan. The fact that the Minnesota School of Bartending teaches something different may go a long ways in explaining why it's often difficult to get a decent cocktail in this town. Sigh. We really need to get back to the basics in education.

UPDATE-- Learned Foot e-mails to question the Minnesota School of Bartender's credentials on another classic cocktail:

Your MSOB correspondent flunked Old Fashioneds. As martinis are to Bond, the Old Fashioned is to me.

Insert your own joke here.

Making an Old Fashioned is more about technique than it is to ingredients. In fact, the default Old Fashioned booze in many parts of the country is brandy, not whisky. In other places, it's specifically bourbon whiskey. I prefer Irish, but to each his own. To make the One True Old Fashioned, the mixer must follow these steps in this order:

1. place an orange slice at the bottom of the glass.

2. One tsp sugar (more or less to drinker's taste) on top of orange

3. 2 or so dashes of -yes - Agnostura bitters into the sugar.

4. 1 Marichino cherry on top of sugar and orange.

5. Here's the important step: muddle the cherry and sugar into the orange, mashing up the cherry pretty good without totally pulverizing it.

6. Ice.

7. Pour in your booze and club soda. Stir.

8. Enjoy.

9. Repeat.

Great Scott

If you think hockey fights are fake or that the players don't get hurt, watch this classic clock cleaning by John Scott in last night's Wild game:

SISYPHUS ADDS: Oh, this is a hockey fight. For awhile there I thought it was a Martha Coakley press conference.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

There is a bar they call The Bitter Sea

Manhattan cocktail faces bitter end

It's getting tough to get a Manhattan in Manhattan.

The classic cocktail has gotten harder to find as a worldwide shortage of one of its key ingredients, Angostura bitters, has left Big Apple bartenders and barflies hoarding what little is left of the pungent brew.

"People should drink the Manhattans while they can still get them," said William Tigertt, owner of the Lower East Side haunt Freemans Restaurant. "All the distributors are still out and are rationing bottles."

The cocktail crisis begins right at the source the Angostura bottling plant in Trinidad.

Officials with the House of Angostura, whose parent company, CL Financial Group, has battled liquidity problems, say the trouble stems from a dispute with the company that supplies their bottles.

"We couldn't get the bottles from our usual distributor, so we had to switch to a Chinese distributor, and that took a bit more time to get our shipments, which backed up our orders," said company spokeswoman Giselle Laronde-West.

The production shortfall hit late last year, and couldn't have come at a worse time, as a year-end surge in orders from England and Eastern Europe, where bitters-based beverages like pink gin and champagne cocktails are popular during the holidays, created an even deeper backlog, said Laronde-West.

You think the headline to this story was just a tad overstated?

While there are other bitters out there that are actually better than Angostura, it is indeed a crisis when the most widely available bitter is in short supply. Another reminder of why it's ALWAYS good to have a well-stocked bar in your home so as not to be left to the mercies of disruptions in global supply chains.

You'll Cry and Cry and Try To Sleep

While I got off to a rough NFL Wild Card Weekend start, by the time it was over my "do the opposite" system of picking games ended up at 2-2, a respectable showing considering the circumstances. Respectable enough that I will employ it again in seeking to divine the divisional playoff winners. Since there won't be three games that replicate the pairings from the week before it will require a little more creativity this time around.

Baltimore Ravens at Indianapolis Colts

In Week 11 of this season, the Colts came to Baltimore and silenced the Ravens 17-15. Baltimore returns the favor this Saturday by going to Indy and beating the team that used to represent their city 25-17.

Arizona Cardinals at New Orleans Saints

Applying opposite principles was tough here as the two teams did not meet in the regular season and neither has what you would call a storied playoff history. So I'll fall back to the last time they met which was in December of 2007. The Saints won that game at home 31-24. This time I'll take the Cards 34-21.

New York Jets at San Diego Chargers

On January 8th, 2005, the Jets defeated the Chargers in 20-17 in overtime in a Wild Card playoff game in San Diego. The Chargers will reverse field this Sunday and down the Jets 17-10.

Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings

The Cowboys and Vikings have met six times previously in the playoffs (seven if you count the 1969 Playoff Bowl). Yet it was quite easy to pick the one game to apply the opposite system to. On December 28th, 1975 the 12-2 Vikings faced off against the 10-4 Cowboys on the frozen tundra of Metropolitan Stadium. The Vikings lead 14-10, but with 24 seconds left in the game, Drew Pearson committed second degree assault against Vikings cornerback Nate Wright allowing Pearson to get open and catch Roger Staubach's desperation 50 yard pass for a TD. That blatant violation of the rules, to say nothing of human decency, handed the Cowboys a much undeserved 17-14 win. It lead one irate Viking fan to drill official Armin Terzian in the head with a whiskey bottle, an act that was deplorable for its intent while admirable for its accuracy.

It also lead one impressionable seven-and-half-year-old boy to learn an unforgettable life lesson. We were watching the game in Wisconsin, either at the home of my grandparents or one of my uncles. While I--almost undoubtedly clad in the ragged #10 Fran Tarkenton shirt that I would have worn every day of my life if allowed--fought to hold back the tears of frustration and anger welling up at the travesty that had just befallen my beloved Vikings, I noticed that my uncles were not similarly distraught. In fact, they appeared downright ecstatic with the result, laughing and chortling as my heart was breaking. With a wide-eyed, Cindy Lou Who-like level of innocence I asked my father, why? Why are they happy that the Vikings lost? Why?

His response was seared into my memory that day, "Because they're Packer fans."

Packer fans. Part of me was forever changed that day. I now could see things as they really were. The enemy of my enemy was my friend. Bad news for my enemy was good news for me. If my enemy was up, I was down and vice versa. Most of all, I was able to identify the enemy clearly. That enemy was the Green Bay Packers. So when Arizona's Michael Adams stripped Aaron Rodgers of the ball and Karlos Dansby ran it into the end zone for a game winning touchdown in OT on Sunday, my inner seven-and-half-year-old was screaming with joy. Actually, my outer self was pretty damn excited too. You get the point.

Anyway, back to this Sunday's game between the Cowboys and Vikings. It will again be a close, hard fought battle just like in '75. But this time, it will be Sydney Rice making incidental contact with a Dallas defender before hauling in a late touchdown pass from Bret Favre to give the Vikings a 24-17 victory and Viking fans just the slightest bit of redemption.

Excuse me now while I go dash off a couple of quick e-mails to my uncles in Wisconsin. The needling never gets old and the whirlwind must be reaped.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Contemporary Comedy Service

Over at First Things, Patrick Rostrum has an on-going series of what he calls "Sermon Reviews." In these reviews he looks at different aspects of the church and the service that he attends. He rates the following areas on a scale from 1-10:

- Physical Aesthetics of the Church
- Precision, Reverence, and Aesthetics of the Service
- Precision, Reverence, and Rhetoric of the Sermon
- Music

These reviews have generated some controversy, especially over whether it's really appropriate to rate such things as sermons on a numeric scale. The latest sermon review of St. Ignatius Loyala in NYC lead to this comment from Commander Craig:

It's well worth arguing the relative merits of church architecture and rubrical adherence, and it's certainly worth calling attention to the homiletic purveyors of heretical Christology. However, a liturgical Michelin Guide, which would attempt to shoehorn the irreducible experience of the Mass into a ratings system, is a questionable project.

What's next, hiring the guys from Mystery Science Theater 3000 to do silhouetted running commentary?

While I'm sure all us of have sat through our share of sermons where an appearance by the MST3K crew would be a most welcome addition, it probably would prove to be too much of a distraction from the solemnity of the sacred proceedings to have them riffing during Mass. You'll have to content yourself with bad movies guys. We'll have to endure the pain of bad homilies laugh free.

Mind If We Watch?

Last month, I noted that the CEO of the company that I work for was becoming more and more publicly outspoken about the dangers in the looming health care reform bill. Today, he has another op-ed that appeared on our internal website and I imagine will soon be published in the St. Louis Business Journal. Here's an excerpt:

Simply, the changes being proposed will have the negative effect of discouraging U.S. employers from hiring as the economy recovers, and will force them to pass on increased costs to employees and/or drop their health insurance benefits to let employees shop elsewhere or move to a government-based plan.

We have an opportunity to create real healthcare reform and make a difference now with smart, targeted, incremental programs, such as: giving small businesses and individuals access to interstate insurance pools; implementing medical malpractice reforms; requiring medical price transparency; and supporting community-based health centers that serve the uninsured, to name several.

Healthcare reform is a complex issue and there is room for honest disagreement on the best way it can be achieved. However, the Senate bill and the House companion fail to solve problems and instead increase government debt, decrease U.S. competitiveness and create one more reason for investment from around the world, as well as jobs, to go elsewhere. This is not the legacy any of us want for our nation.

I must add that equally as troubling is that Congressional leaders now want to slam the door on open debate at this critical point in the process of considering legislation that completely changes the nature of U.S. national health care policy. We can only hope that the Senate and House will do what Americans expect of them, and thats play by the same rules of fairness and openness they set for others and that are established by law. Negotiations and discussions to resolve issues going forward should be conducted in a transparent manner in Conference Committee. I completely agree with Senator Claire McCaskills position stated so clearly last week on this: let the C-Span cameras in.

Saint Paul may have just found a new business hero.

Are You Still Decomposing?

From the Seinfeld episode The Summer of George:

[Doctor comes.]

Doctor: Mr. Costanza...your legs have sustained extensive trauma. Apparently your body was in the state of advanced atrophy, due to a period of extreme inactivity.

But with a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, I think there's a good chance you may, one day, walk again.

[Doctor leaves.]

From an article in today's WSJ called Watching TV Linked To Higher Risk of Death:

In a provocative look at the impact of sedentary behavior on health, a new study links time watching television to an increased risk of death.

The results are supported by an emerging field of research that shows how prolonged periods of inactivity can affect the body's processing of fats and other substances that contribute to heart risk.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Thin Ice

Just because you don't see these words strung together nearly enough, we want to note that the Bikini Ice Fishing Team--yes, that's right BIKINI ICE FISHING TEAM!--will be appearing this week at the 2010 Minnesota Sportsmen's Show in St. Paul. Exact dates and times don't seem to be available as yet, but if there is any justice in the world at all, one of their appearances will overlap with the NARN First Team remote broadcast from the Sportsmen's Show on Saturday from 11am-1pm.

Listening to Brian "St. Paul" Ward interview a couple of the gals (or even the entire team as a group) and discuss augers, drilling, tip-ups, dead sticks, slammers, and the dreaded chew and screw would be a radio experience for the ages.

SP NOTES: Good news, we are in negotiations now to have them on. I just hope they don't get bumped, what with the 50 minute interview we already have scheduled with Twiggy the Waterskiing Squirrel:

Ask Not

In Friday's WSJ, Eric Felten wrote about how uncomfortable it can be when charity is Feeling Imposed Upon You:

If you shopped at any number of stores participating in the hospital's campaign--including Williams-Sonoma, Kmart, CVS drug stores, and others--you also were asked to contribute. Chances are, like me, you dutifully added to the kitty. But I wonder how many, like me, came away with a bad taste from the experience, an unpleasant sense of having been imposed upon.

I asked Leslie Lenkowsky, who is director of graduate programs at Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy. He acknowledges that the practice involves some arm-twisting--"You get to feel badly if you refuse to donate"--but he thinks that the register pitch is not only effective but morally superior to indirect methods (such as when a store contributes on customers' behalf a small percentage of its revenues). "From the charity's point of view, this will be viewed as more ethical," he says, "since the donor has to make an affirmative decision to give." And if you are a customer/donor, he adds, "you get the product and the warm fuzzy glow."

Well, I'm not glowing. It's more like a slow burn. If I answer yes to the pitch, I don't feel the least bit generous; I'm left with the nagging sensation of having been made to cry "uncle." I never feel as though the offhand donation amounts to much—what, only a $5 donation when spending $100 on yourself?!—which leaves me feeling rather like a skinflint. And yet, if I don't pony up at all, there's the reflexive twinge of shame. Are these the emotions businesses want to produce in their customers?

Perhaps my reaction is unrepresentative. Retailers plumping for a little beneficence are confident that "the ask" helps them build a more intimate, involved and satisfying relationship with their customers. Emilie Antonetti, managing director of Brooks Brothers' charitable arm, the Golden Fleece Foundation, says that the company's clients have "embraced tremendously" the campaign as "an opportunity for us to come together and do something impactful." And in talking to a number of retailers, I was assured time and again that customers like being solicited for donations and that no one ever complains about being asked to give.

Yet I'm not so sure that a lack of complaints, or even robust levels of participation by customers, means that people like getting hit up for donations while they're shopping. Could it be that people made uncomfortable by being asked for a donation while their wallets are open and they're standing in front of a crowd at the register are just the sort of people discomfited even more by the thought of complaining about being asked to help children with cancer?

Now, I'm a big believer in charity and have no problem supporting worthy causes. Why just this last Christmas I made significant donations to the Human Fund on behalf of my fellow Fraters contributors. But I join Felten in decrying the rise in cash register charity pitches. There's something unseemly about putting people on the spot in such a public fashion and forcing them to say no to kids with cancer if they don't feel like making a contribution. I haven't experienced this pinch much here in the Twin Cities, but when I was on vacation in Miami every time I went to the local grocery store to pick up beer and potato chips I was asked if I wanted to donate to some charitable endeavor or another. It wasn't easy to summon up the will to say no, although I was able to resist the pressure play every time.

There are a couple of objections that I have to such aggressive asking. Chief among them comes from Matthew 6:1-4:

"Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 "Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

When you're publicly being asked to give, you're not only opened up to feeling shame for not giving, you also put in a position to blow your own trumpet if you do donate. Why of course I'll give a dollar to help that children's hospital. After all, I am a good person and that's what good people do. My giving is providing that public approval of my goodness.

The other is the way that charitable giving continues to move into areas where I don't feel its appropriate. I've written before on how I dislike the organized efforts to get you to agree to donate to charity at work, usually accompanied by plenty of implicit peer pressure. Now, I don't mind that companies provide their employees an opportunity to give. But at many companies, such charitable campaigns have almost become "opt outs" rather than "opt ins" and that isn't right.

This is the problem with the ask at the cash register. It forces you to say no. Having a jar where you can donate spare change is different. You initiate that action at your discretion. If you want to give, you give. If not, no one likely notices or is involved in the matter.

The ask also brings charitable giving into what is supposed to be a commercial transaction. I give you money that I've acquired through the sweat of my labor, you give me beer and potato chips. We both want to ensure that we're getting fair value in the exchange and so there's bottom line considerations about costs, price, and value that go into it (even if we don't always think about it that way). Now, when the transaction is almost complete, a third party is brought into the picture. The consumer no longer is merely dealing with bottom line financial concerns. There's the emotional appeal of helping sick children and the guilt that will come if you elect not to. A whole new range of feelings comes into play with no chance to really analyze the costs and benefits. In such an ambiguous situation, the easiest thing to do is say yes, part with your money, and move on. The dissonance is resolved and you probably even momentarily feel a little better about yourself as a person.

Until later, when you might start to wonder if you really want to shop a place that puts you in such an inappropriate situation in the first place. I know that I don't.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Better With Age?

Forty years ago on this date, our own JB Doubtless entered the world and it's never been the same place since. Happy birfday brother.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

What Price Freedom?

Yesterday's WSJ had a 2010 book preview that included Jonathan Franzen's forthcoming "Freedom":

"Freedom," due out in September, is a multi-generational epic that follows an idealistic young couple that settles in a rough neighborhood of St. Paul, Minn. Mr. Franzen's editors at Farrar, Straus & Giroux can hardly contain their excitement.

"It's a very powerful, amazing book about the disillusion of marriage. It's about the challenges and costs of personal freedom, and the burdens of it and the opportunities of it. It's about ecology, personal politics and general issues; it's about Iraq," said Jonathan Galassi, Mr. Franzen's editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

As if they weren't going to be treated to enough angst and agony with "the disillusion of marriage," ecology, and personal politics, readers will also be dragged into the quagmire of Franzen's views on Iraq. Hmmm...I wonder how he'll come down on the war in the book? I think I'd get more enjoyment out of reading the phone book.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Northern Alliance Radio Network

The Northern Alliance Radio Network is back LIVE on Saturday morning for our first real show of 2010. It all starts at 11AM (central) with John Hinderaker and me running down the week's highlights.

First, we'll talk about the weather. I'll start by asking "cold enough for you, John?" This will be followed by many anecdotes about how difficult it was for us to star our cars, how the dog doesn't dawdle anymore when being let out to urinate, and how John's full length beard is continually plastered with his own mucus.

Oops, sorry that was the script for the first show of 2009. We fired the radio consultant who suggested that topic area, so lots of fresh material is planned. Potentially this will include the Detroit bomber and our first hand reports of enhanced security techniques at the airport. Also resigning Democratic Senators and surging Republic prospects around the country.

Special guest at noon, John Altschuler, executive producer of the Comedy Central show, The Goode Family. This is the latest Mike Judge animated comedy, formerly on ABC. It's found a new home on Comedy Central, broadcasting on Monday nights at 9PM Central. A comedy the likes of which we haven't seen before, a satire on the modern, politically-correct American family.

The Goodes - Gerald, Helen, Ubuntu and Bliss - do their darndest to be the best for society and the planet by doing such things as forcing their dog into veganism, looking down on plastic bags and adopting an African baby who turns out to be white. Who cares if they're hypocritical? At least they're Goode.

Kind of sounds like a documentary on Mac-Grove or Highland Park.

John Altschuler formerly was previously a writer/producer on the Mike Judge classic "King of the Hill" as well as co-writer of the Will Ferrell movie "Blades of Glory". A very funny guy and it should be fun discussing the new show.

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

Following us at 1 PM, Mitch Berg and Ed Morrissey. Also, don't forget at 9 AM, The King Banaian Show over at our sister station, KYRC (Business 1570).

Remember, The Northern Alliance Radio Network starts Saturday at 11AM Central, locally on AM1280 the Patriot. Streaming LIVE worldwide at the web site. You can join the conversation at 651-289-4488. Don't you dare miss it!

Beer of the Week (Vol. XXXVII)

This already long winter of our discontent edition of Beer of the Week brought to you as always by Glen Lake Wine & Spirits, where all the spirits are strong, all the displays are good-looking, and the service is above average. By the way, if you stopped by the store looking for Surly Coffee Bender (last week's featured beer) and were disappointed not to find it available, fear not. The Surly distributor hasn't been by of late, but the next time he swings in he will be tasked with ensuring that Coffee Bender is on the shelves.

From the SpongeBob SquarePants episode Not Normal:

TV: Then join me as I take you on a "Journey into Normality."

SpongeBob:(transfixed) Normaaaality.

TV: The life of a normal person is rather simple. (door opens with a fish smiling and dressed professionally for work) Here is your typical average Joe on his way to work. See how he is dressed. (hair is combed neatly) Even his hair is boring. (zoom in on the dimples) Notice his features, nice and smooth without a crater or freckle to be seen.

SpongeBob: (rubs his face) Craters and freckles?

TV: In his office space, Mr. Normal, at least that's what it says on his name tag works at a steady and monotonous pace just as all the other normals do. Take note of how they communicate with each other.

Other Mr. Normal: Hi, how are you?

TV: At the end of the day Mr. Normal packs his things and goes home to merrily start the cycle again in the morning.

SpongeBob: Yeah...

This week's beer is a seasonal product from the Blue Moon Brewing Company (owned by Coors) in Colorado called Full Moon Winter Ale.

Brown bottle. The label has a white background with a massive bluish-white winter moon that dominates a winter setting with flakes in the sky and a snow-covered cabin. The wavy lined graphics are similar to other Blue Moon brand designs.

Beer Style: Abbey Dubbel

Alcohol by Volume: 5.6%

COLOR (0-2): Dark amber, very clear 2

AROMA (0-2): Malty, faint 1

HEAD (0-2): Off-white color, light volume, not much retention 1

TASTE (0-5): Mostly malty, somewhat sweet. Light mouth-feel and thin body. 2

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Thin and wispy 1

OVERALL (0-6): Words like pedestrian, milquetoast, and inoffensive are not ones you want to use when describing a winter beer, but that's exactly what comes to mind with Full Moon Winter Ale. It's not a bad beer mind you (quite drinkable in fact), it's just missing the hearty, full-bodied flavors that you look for in a winter offering. It's very ordinary, average, and normal. You could also say it's hollow in a way. While it looks pretty good on the outside, there's just not much there at its core. So as you prepare to settle in for a wintery Wild Card Weekend, I would suggest you imbibe one of the many other winter beers that stands out from the crowd. 2

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 9

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Cold Comfort

Tonight in Minnesota we head into another dark abyss of below zero temperatures and falling snow. For those of you for whom this already feels like a long and cold winter, I offer this to warm your hearts. From October 15, a word from your government and the monopoly newspaper in town on what you had to look forward to this winter. Headlines:

Winter may be on the warm side, NOAA says

Warm side? Don't tell me the government weather experts blew the call and our newspaper printed it. Couldn't be. Maybe they meant warm side, like the warm side of Pluto or something.

If you've had trouble dealing with the abnormally cold October so far, you might like the coming winter better.

No! They were wrong. My faith in science and journalism has been shaken. But thanks for reminding us that October was abnormally cold too. I forgot we were working on three monts months of negative global warming now.

This winter in Minnesota could be warmer than normal, according to a long-range outlook released Thursday by the U.S. Climate Prediction Center.

Well, there's the problem. As global warming fundamentalists keep shouting at us, weather isn't climate. According to that rule of thumb, the US Climate Prediction Center has no business telling us how warm the winter will be. Climate prediction is all about the hazy, unspecified future. A time line at least some time after the economy shattering legislation has been passed and signed into law.

The outlook for the months of December, January and February was noncommittal on rain and snow, though, meaning chances are about the same for anything from a brown Christmas to snowmobile bliss.

Nobody can say they blew that one! As a government agency, that's how you do a prediction. The Star Tribune could learn something from this, as this speculation passed-off as news attests:
High supplies and lower demand -- results of the recession, more aggressive conservation and now a key seasonal weather forecast -- mean that natural gas bills should be 15 percent lower this winter than last, said Becca Virden, spokeswoman for CenterPoint Energy. That means a decline in the average monthly bill from $137 to $110.

Hope you didn't already spend that $27, Star Tribune subscribers.

The Prediction Center began long-range seasonal forecasting in the mid-'90s, meaning the process is "in its infancy," said Deputy Director Mike Halpert. Its temperature forecasts have been accurate more than half the time, and
precipitation forecasts "somewhat less than that. "

[University of Minnesota Extension climatologist Mark] Seeley said he's inclined to trust the Prediction Center's outlook. Somewhat.

"If it's between their suggestion and a coin flip, I'll take their suggestion," he said.

When reached for comment, officials from the US Coin Flip Weather Prediction Center responded: Ha ha!