Friday, April 30, 2010

MN GOP Convention

Been down at the Minneapolis Convention Center for a couple of hours now. Already heard from Kline, Paulson, Bachmann, and a host of candidates for other Congressional races. Pawelenty speaking right now and has crowd in rapt attention. His skills as a speaker are underrated.

Rather than trying to live-blog today's activities, I'm going to be providing update via Twitter. Follow me at:

Out for now.

Beer of the Week (Vol. LIII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the wheelers and dealers at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits.

With the 2010 Minnesota Republican State Convention taking place today in Minneapolis, it only seems appropriate to spotlight a beer with a local connection. The original Grain Belt Brewery was in Northeast Minneapolis. Today, the August Schell Brewery in New Ulm brews and bottles the Grain Belt line of beers. Earlier this month they introduced Grain Belt Nordeast:

Named after the hardworking neighborhood where the original Grain Belt Brewery established its roots back in 1893. ‘Nordeast’ is an endearing term which comes from the Northern and Eastern European immigrants and their language which helped shape Northeast Minneapolis. This amber American Lager is our way of honoring the storied past of Grain Belt and the people who helped to make it legendary! Cheers!

A beer named after a rough and tumble neighborhood seems to fit the bill for what could be a rough and tumble GOP convention.

Clear bottle. Label has a definite retro look with classic Grain Belt logo and bottle cap with Nordeast name in font with European look in front of a green background with gold lines.

Beer Style: American Amber Lager

Alcohol by Volume: 4.7%

COLOR (0-2): Very clear amber 2

AROMA (0-2): Malty with some breadiness too. 1

HEAD (0-2): Off-white color. Not much volume and fades quickly. 1

TASTE (0-5): Mostly malt and sweet with light bitterness at the finish. Surprisingly smooth . Light-bodied, very think mouthfeel, and definitely drinkable. 2

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Crisp, but empty. 1

OVERALL (0-6): Don't expect too much from this beer and you won't be let down. I was actually prepared to be disappointed, but wasn't. Grain Belt Nordeast is not a great beer mind you. However, it ain't half bad either. If you're not a fan of Grain Belt Premium you might find this less sweet alternative more to your liking. 2

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 9

Thursday, April 29, 2010

GOP Nomination or World Extreme Cagefighting Title Bout?

The Minnesota Republican state convention begins tomorrow in Minneapolis. The Star Tribune has released its preview of what we can expect. Never heard of the reporter, Brad Helgelson. (What is that, Dutch?). Maybe he's new to the political beat. And maybe he'll be the next inductee into the pantheon of great Star Tribune political writers. People like …… well, give me a few hours and I'll think of someone.

But for now, I have to say he seems miscast as a political writer. Assigned to do a standard profile of two respected, accomplished, mainstream politicians as they attempt to get endorsed by a convention for the highest office in the State, he turns in copy that would have done Verne Gagne's promotions department proud. You want violent thrills and chills? Carnage? Scary villains? Brutal combat? Extreme positions? Apparently the Minneapolis Convention Center is the place to be this weekend.

Republicans as raging, scary extremists is the template in which reporters commonly mold the facts for articles of this nature. But, from the picture of Tom Emmer used in the article to the volume of the black-and-blue-and-purple prose, this maybe a new record for the Star Tribune in terms of template abuse.

To illustrate the ridiculous tone used, I've picked out some of the key emotion-laden terms and phrases used in the article "GOP Race Pits Outsider vs. Insider." For comparison purposes, I've also picked out some of the key emotion-laden terms and phrases from the article "Savages of the Year" on a recent mixed martial arts featherweight bout between Leonard "Bad Boy" Garcia and "The Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung. (Via The Bloody Elbow, aka The Star Tribune of World Extreme Cagefighting coverage).

Can you guess which terms came from which article?

Mystery Article 1

hand-to-hand combat
duke it out
taking jabs
lean and bald
thick-necked, with a pudgy face

Mystery Article 2

chaotic struggle
dog fight
trench war
unending assault
relentless hit-and-run campaign

Which is which? Doesn't seem to make much of a difference.

The Star Tribune coverage of Republicans or The Bloody Elbow coverage of cage matches, six of one, one half dozen of the other.

Party 'Til We're Purple

The 2010 Minnesota GOP State Convention kicks off this evening at the Minneapolis Convention Center. While I won't be attending the festivities tonight--despite all the potential drama inherent in the endorsement for State Auditor--I will be heading downtown tomorrow for Friday's frivolities. The fun starts at 9am and could continue well into the night depending on how quickly the gubernatorial endorsement contest is decided. I'll be providing updates here and on Twitter as events warrant. If you want to have an inside breakdown on the most important aspects of the GOP convention--like the best place to sneak out and grab a beer during the day's inevitable snooze sessions--this will be the place to turn.

This will mark the sixth MN GOP State Convention that I've attended as either as either an alternate or delegate, but only the second time that I get to witness the conclusion of a pitched battle for a major endorsement. In 2002, I was around until the bitter end of the hotly contested Pawlenty-Sullivan race. I was a Pawlenty man pretty much from the start that year. While I admired Sullivan for his successful business career and respected his consistent conservative principles, I didn't believe that he would be able to win in November. While conservatives tend to think that a self-made man who built a business from scratch into a multi-million dollar enterprise is the quintessential American success story, there are a fair number of Minnesotans with a strong populist streak that often spills over into class (and particularly wealth) envy. These sentiments would have been stoked by a media more than ready, willing, and able to caricature Sullivan as the epitome of the rich Republican who cares nothing for the woes of "the people" (imagine a Sack cartoon with monocle and top hat) Would this portrayal have been grossly inaccurate and completely unfair? Of course, but it also likely would have been highly effective.

Don't underestimate how much Pawlenty's down home "aw shucks" folksy manner has helped him win elections. While it remains to be seen how effectively this will play on the national scene, the nice guy next door style that he's able to comfortably exude has definitely worked to win over voters who aren't all that partisan in nature. It aided him in 2002 and was one of the reasons that he was able to win reelection in 2006 in a brutal year for Republicans. Politics isn't only about policies and positions. Personality matters as well. If it didn't, Mike Hatch would be governor right now.

So the choice in 2002 as I saw it was between a conservative candidate who could not win the general election and a slightly less conservative candidate who could. Prudence and pragmatism dictated that I support Pawlenty. And while not all conservatives have been enamored with Governor Pawlenty's two terms in office, it's a decision that I have never regretted. Well, expect for those times when Pawlenty shamelessly panders to Hugh Hewitt by awarding him meaningless titles and distinctions. As governor, Brian Sullivan never would have consorted with the likes of the silver-haired, fork-tongued shock jock from California.

For a time it seemed like we might be facing a similar situation this time around. Tom Emmer is a conservative's conservative with a strong message and a clear voice. Marty Seifert has a more establishment background and with a slightly less conservative record. Both men are excellent candidates and either would make a good governor. Going into the race, Seifert had advantages in name recognition and fundraising. He was the favorite in most minds and it probably was his race to lose. Which he seems to be on the verge of doing.

Despite having an edge out of the gate, Seifert has managed to squander his lead (admittedly hard to measure) and a fair amount of good will in the process. He's been out-organized, out-maneuvered, and out-hustled by Emmer at almost every turn. Other than raising money and getting a few key endorsements, his campaign has been a flop. Once it was clear that Emmer had overtaken Seifert in terms of delegate support (again as best as can be determined), his campaign became increasingly negative. Now there's nothing wrong with negative campaigning per se. Pointing out your opponent's voting record or previous statements on critical issues is all part of the game. But a couple of the angles of attack from the Seifert camp stretched the bounds of credulity and gave an impression that the campaign was become increasingly desperate.

These are not the words of an Emmer supporter. I voted for Seifert at the precinct caucuses. In fact, one of the best examples of how Emmer's organization ran rings around Seifert's was what transpired between caucus night and our senate district convention. Seifert won the straw poll among caucus attendees in our district rather handily. But at our district convention the tables were turned and I believe that of the 22 delegates going to the state convention, 21 are backing Emmer. That's all about hard work, networking, and organization.

And that's why I'm fairly confident that Emmer will win the GOP endorsement sometime tomorrow night, probably sooner than most would have expected just a month ago. As is typically before the convention begins, there are all sorts of rumors and speculation going around right now about things that supposedly could tip the balance one way or another. But I don't think any of them are significant enough to turn the Emmer tide. Which does give me some reason for concern. For as much as I like Tom Emmer and his views, I'm still not sold on the idea that he will be able to appeal to enough voters to win the general election.

Again, I will be more than happy to support either Seifert or Emmer and I expect Minnesota Republicans to rally around the endorsed candidate as we usually do. And I'm not saying that Emmer supporters are wrong to suppose that he is the best candidate to win come November. I just hope and pray that they're right.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

We Should Have Fistfights on the Floors of Congress!

In some places the politicians actually do mix it up with more than their mouths. The rough and tumble world of Ukrainian politics on display.

Heavy Hitter

Not sure how I missed out hearing about this legendary tale previously. Yesterday, I heard a couple of local sports talk yokels discussing it and was surprised that I hadn't come across it before. Today, I found more information on it and confirmation that it deserves proper recognition:

When one thinks of heroism, several attributes come to mind. Bravery. Courage. Strength. A kick-ass beard. The ability to drink 764 ounces of beer in a seven-hour span. Wade Boggs exemplifies these characteristics and more, and is our choice as our first American Hero.

Okay, let's get it out of the way: The dude could drink. A lot. According to numerous credible sources (namely, urban legends), Boggs would go out on the town and regularly drink anywhere between 30 and 70 Miller Lites. In one of the most widely circulated Boggs tales, Wade drank 64 Miller Lites on a cross-country flight (either New York to Seattle, or Boston to LA, depending on the report)

The post goes on to note that Boggs himself denies that he drank sixty-four beers on his cross country bender and reports from other sources on the exact number of beers consumed are mixed. But even if he only drank say forty-six beers, it would still be a prodigious feat of consumption. Perhaps even more impressive than Boggs' ability to hold liquor was his ability to control his bladder. That's a lot of water to take in.

These days my drinking pursuit are far more focused on quality rather than quantity. But even back in the heyday of my indulging in copious amounts of rotgut booze and swill labeled as beer, I never was very concerned with my stats. If asked how many beers I had last night, I would have likely answered "Enough to get the job done." And on many nights, I would frankly have had no idea exactly how many beers or drinks passed my lips. It's notoriously difficult to track your intake when at a keg party or sharing a pitcher at a bar. Your cup or glass would never ever fully get empty before being refilled.

If I had to cite a particular number as my personal high water mark, it would be twenty-one beers in one evening. This is solely based on simple deductions. I bought a case (24 cans) of beer to drink. The next day, I had three cans remaining. Ergo I drank twenty-one beers. This doesn't take into account partially drunk cans that were misplaced during the evening's festivities (anyone who's ever cleaned up after a party can confirm how frequently that occurs) or the possibility that one of my roommates may have poached a beer or two. But in the absence of any hard evidence to the contrary, I'll stick with my mark of twenty-one beers downed. Not bad, but in Wade Boggs' big league drinking world, I'd be playing single A at best.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Role Model

Rare is the occasion when you hear someone describe a positive experience when dealing with the government. But it's only fair that we point out the good while we complain about the bad. While the former may not be as commonplace as the latter when it comes to government, we should acknowledge those instances when government does indeed work.

My experience renewing my passport today was one of those instances. There was no waiting when I arrived at one of the Hennepin County service centers near my workplace. The gent who processed my request was professional and courteous. He explained the steps in the process, answered my questions, and ensured that I left as a satisfied customer. And I don't think the entire interaction took more than five minutes.

Despite the lamentations that emanate from the left, conservatives really don't want to "burn government down" or "privatize" everything. We just want government to stick to those things that it should and can do best. Renewing my passport is one of those things, managing my health care is not.

The Only Constant

You may notice some changes to the look and feel (get your hands off the screen Atomizer!) of ye olde web site. These changes were not made of our own volition, but rather imposed from above (sound familiar?). Well, not exactly from above, but from Blogger which no longer supports FTP publishing as of this Saturday.

This change was announced some time ago, but given our proclivity to avoid undue work (who says you can't go through life fat, drunk, and stupid?) we waited until this week to take action. I'm actually rather proud that we've already well into the transition process instead of waiting until the very last minute, which would have been Friday afternoon.

Anyway, with crisis comes opportunity and this change does give us a chance to tinker around with things a bit. We're still having an issue getting the blog to access all the photos and logos that are hosted for us by a company other than Google. Once that's straightened out we should all systems go again and readers will be free to move around our content. Until then, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Remember the Avalanche!

The next time you hear me complaining about the Minnesota Wild broadcasters (either radio or television), please gently but firmly remind me to "Remember the Avalanche." I spent three days out in Colorado last week and was able to catch a couple of the first round playoff games between the Avs and the Sharks on local radio and TV outlets (San Jose won the series 4-2 on Saturday night). Whatever qualms I have had with various Wild announcers in the past seem petty compared to what I heard from the Avalanche crew.

It started when I listened to Game Four on the radio as I drove my rental SUV from the Denver Airport. I never caught the guy's name doing the game, but he was an amazing puker. Seriously amazingly. Usually pukers are DJ's or talk radio hosts and I don't think I've ever heard one doing hockey play-by-play, certainly not in the league of this chap. Perhaps even worse than his puking though was his tendency to try to make every play the most exciting thing ever! Routine dump-ins would be hysterically described as if he was channelling the spirit of Sam Kennison. Lyles with the puck! Oh! He avoids the hit! Oh! Throws it into the Shark's zone! Oh! Nabokov comes out to play it...Oh! he's pressured by Stasny! Oh!!!

At first, I thought the game actually was that exciting, until I realized that was the way the guy talked all the time. He also employed cutesy little nicknames for the all the Av players which he used all too often. It took me a while to figure out who the hell he was talking about. To his credit, he was doing the game solo and calling an entire hockey game by yourself is not an easy task. Few have the verbal mastery to pull it off like the legendary North Star announcer Al Shaver. I listened to Al Shaver and this guy in Colorado is no Al Shaver.

The Avs television crew wasn't as pukey or cutesy, but I still found their performance sub-par. It's difficult to describe it exactly. The best explanation is that it sounded like they were calling the game for an audience of non-hockey fans. Everything was dumbed down. Way dumbed down. I mean even more dumbed than the hockey telecasts that NBC does. We're talking Fox's glowing puck level of dumbness. And rather than focus on the intricacies of the game (line combos, forechecking strategies, match-ups, etc.) they focused on the hits and any hint of a scrum. Yes, hits and mixing it up are part of the game. A part of the game that I happen to relish. But there's so much more to it than that yet that's about the only thing that these announcers seemed to want to talk about. I would expect something like that in non-hockey areas like Nashville of Columbus, but not in Colorado.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Intellectual Betters?

Interesting paragraph from Richard Posner's book Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline that I caught from a reference in Paul Hollander's The End of Commitment: Intellectuals, Revolutionaries, and Political Morality in the Twentieth Century:

A proclivity for taking extreme positions, a taste for universals and abstractions, a desire for moral purity, a lack of worldliness, and intellectual arrogance work together to induce in many academic public intellectuals selective empathy, a selective sense of justice, an insensitivity to impatience with prudence and sobriety, a lack of realism and excessive self-confidence.

Sound like anyone you know?

Selling Green

Dave e-mails to report that SpongeBob SquarePants wasn't the only kid's show going green on Earth Day:

I had the same thought yesterday morning. My 6 year old daughter got to learn about the importance of turning off appliances in your house and your neighbor's house on Handy Manny and how wind power makes the earth happy on the Imagination Movers. When the 'next up' commercial told me how Phineas and Ferb were going to discover the importance of doing something for the earth, I decided to get in the spirit of Earth Day. I told my daughter to turn the TV off and play with Lego's instead.

Now that's a true conservationist approach. I was spared being lectured at by cartoon characters on Earth Day this year, but I hope that Phineas and Ferb don't start taking themselves too seriously. With the decline of SpongeBob, Phineas and Ferb has become my favorite show that my kids watch.

In Saturday's WSJ, Jonathan Last noted the mixed message inherent in another well-known children's television character's crusade to get kids to think and act green:

Fior the most part, "Bob the Builder" is about normal kids' stuff: teamwork, conflict resolution, taking turns and the like. The show isn't overtly political--Bob's catchphrase, "Yes we can!" predates the Obama campaign. Instead, it peddles a slightly hectoring brand of environmentalism. Ever since Bob discovered his inner environmental conscience, he's been teaching kids about believing in recycling and being kind to Mother Gaia. "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" has become another one of the show's catchphrases. That's fine so far as it goes--aside from those evil Republicans, who doesn't love the planet?

But it's a little rich having Bob indoctrinate children about "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" while simultaneously prompting these children to beg their parents for plastic Bob the Builder trucks, and latex Bob the Builder balls, and plush Bob the Builder dolls. All of which are manufactured in far-away lands and shipped to our fair shores by the carbon-gobbling container-shipful. Bob the Builder is like one of those evangelists who lectures on the virtues of living green before hopping onto a private jet and flying back to his mansion in Nashville.

Think he's talking about anyone in particular?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Third Rail of Satire

David Harsanyi looks at what's Next on Cowardly Central:

"South Park" is the program that featured an image of Jesus Christ defecating on President George W. Bush and the American flag. It's the program that featured the Virgin Mary gushing blood while undergoing menstruation and Pope Benedict XVI inspecting her in a truly distasteful manner.

"That's where we kind of agree with some of the people who've criticized our show," Stone once admitted to "ABC News." "Because it really is open season on Jesus. We can do whatever we want to Jesus, and we have. We've had him say bad words. We've had him shoot a gun. We've had him kill people. We can do whatever we want. But Muhammad, we couldn't just show a simple image."

For those who bellyache about the impending Christian theocracy, it might behoove them to be a little more irritated at the thought of a television network censoring any depictions of a religious figure over some implicit threats.

There's a simple and obvious solution to the problem. Catholics need to start driving airplanes into buildings, cutting off people's heads, and sticking knives into the chests of anyone who produces any work of art that in any way offends Catholic sensibilities, real or imagined. Such a zero tolerance policy seems like it's worked wonders for reducing the mockery of Islam.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Beer of the Week (Vol. LII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the stout-hearted men and women of Glen Lake Wine & Spirits.

When you think of Stillwater, Minnesota beer is not the first thing that comes to mind. Book stores, coffee shops, antique stores, bed and breakfasts, and neutered metrosexuals carrying their wife's purse about town do. Oh, did I mention that our own Brian "Saint Paul" Ward is also a proud resident of Stillwater?

But there are still a few manly men in the greater Stillwater area including the founders of the Lift Bridge Brewery. They've been on the local beer scene for a few years and the reach of their distribution and breadth of their offering continue to grow. One of their year round beers that's becoming more and more available throughout the Twin Cities is Crosscut Pale Ale.

Brown bottle with light brown label featuring a nostalgic photo from the days when the men of Stillwater were really men.

Beer Style: American Pale Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 5.5%

COLOR (0-2): Golden amber. Slightly cloudy. 2

AROMA (0-2): Light hops with hints of grapefruit. 2

HEAD (0-2): White shallow head with decent lacing. 1

TASTE (0-5): Hops and caramel malt flavors are pretty well balanced out of the gate. More bitter and citrus flavors as it unfolds. Medium bodied with a thinner mouthfeel. Very drinkable. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Lingering bitterness. 2

OVERALL (0-6): Doesn't fit the usual American pale ale profile. More amber in color and more of the hoppy grapefuit taste you would expect from an IPA. Different is good in this case and Crosscut Pale Ale is an above average beer. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 14

Thursday, April 22, 2010

SpongeBob Jumps The Driving Instructor

Over the last four-plus years, I've watched many an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants with my kids (and sometimes without them). While the show has brought no small amount of amusement into our world, there has been a noticeable decline in the quality of the episodes produced over the last couple of years, especially the "specials." Now, it seems almost certain that the show has passed the tipping point on its spiral into mediocrity :

SpongeBob SquarePants isn't trying to be greener than Al Gore, but he may have an advantage in reaching out to kids.

"He's funnier," jokes Steven Banks, the show's head writer.

In "SpongeBob's Last Stand," a special Earth Day episode airing Thursday (8/7c on Nickelodeon), SpongeBob and his friend Patrick learn that a superhighway is planned for Bikini Bottom--and that it's going to cut right through Jellyfish Fields. They start a campaign to stop it, even though everyone else seems to be apathetic or pro-highway.

The special, which follows two hours of nature-themed SpongeBob SquarePants episodes, features two musical numbers, including "Give Jellyfish Fields a Chance," a salute to '60s protest songs.

"Sort of Bob Dylan meets John Lennon," Banks tells

Sort of extremely lame meets excruciatingly insipid. When televisions shows are no longer satisfied with merely entertaining us their best days are definitely behind them.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Appallingly Ignorant Diatribe

The May edition of First Things rocks. Well, as much as any periodical devoted to serious discussions of religion, culture, and public life can.

Mary Ann Glendon looks at God and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Timothy Reichert examines how widespread contraception has been a Bitter Pill for women and children.

Joseph Bottum describes the Bad Medicine Americans will be swallowing after the passage of ObamaCare.

And I haven't even read George Weigel's piece called Truths Still Held?:

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of John Courtney Murray's We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition--arguably, the most important such reflection composed in our time.

But my favorite article has to be David B. Hart's lament on the decline of respectable atheism:

The principal source of my melancholy, however, is my firm conviction that today's most obstreperous infidels lack the courage, moral intelligence, and thoughtfulness of their forefathers in faithlessness. What I find chiefly offensive about them is not that they are skeptics or atheists; rather, it is that they are not skeptics at all and have purchased their atheism cheaply, with the sort of boorish arrogance that might make a man believe himself a great strategist because his tanks overwhelmed a town of unarmed peasants, or a great lover because he can afford the price of admission to a brothel. So long as one can choose one's conquests in advance, taking always the paths of least resistance, one can always imagine oneself a Napoleon or a Casanova (and even better: the one without a Waterloo, the other without the clap).

But how long can any soul delight in victories of that sort? And how long should we waste our time with the sheer banality of the New Atheists--with, that is, their childishly Manichean view of history, their lack of any tragic sense, their indifference to the cultural contingency of moral "truths," their wanton incuriosity, their vague babblings about "religion" in the abstract, and their absurd optimism regarding the future they long for?

I am not--honestly, I am not--simply being dismissive here. The utter inconsequentiality of contemporary atheism is a social and spiritual catastrophe. Something splendid and irreplaceable has taken leave of our culture--some great moral and intellectual capacity that once inspired the more heroic expressions of belief and unbelief alike. Skepticism and atheism are, at least in their highest manifestations, noble, precious, and even necessary traditions, and even the most fervent of believers should acknowledge that both are often inspired by a profound moral alarm at evil and suffering, at the corruption of religious institutions, at psychological terrorism, at injustices either prompted or abetted by religious doctrines, at arid dogmatisms and inane fideisms, and at worldly power wielded in the name of otherworldly goods. In the best kinds of unbelief, there is something of the moral grandeur of the prophets--a deep and admirable abhorrence of those vicious idolatries that enslave minds and justify our worst cruelties.

But a true skeptic is also someone who understands that an attitude of critical suspicion is quite different from the glib abandonment of one vision of absolute truth for another--say, fundamentalist Christianity for fundamentalist materialism or something vaguely and inaccurately called "humanism." Hume, for instance, never traded one dogmatism for another, or one facile certitude for another. He understood how radical were the implications of the skepticism he recommended, and how they struck at the foundations not only of unthinking faith, but of proud rationality as well.

A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection. Among the New Atheists, there is no one of whom this can be said, and the movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe.

The entire article is a must read. As is the entire issue.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What Color Is Your Petard?

You may recall that during the 2004 presidential campaign there was a lot of discussion about the economy. Despite the fact that nearly all economic indicators were trending positive, the Democrats--lead by John Kerry--continuously harped on the theme that it was a "jobless recovery" and that as president George W. Bush had lost more jobs than Herbert Hoover. And it was indeed true that the job market markedly lagged the rest of the economy in rebounding from the 2000-01 recession. Eventually, jobs did come back, enough so that by the time the 2004 election actually took place, the Democrats could no longer get much play out of the issue. (In June 2003, the unemployment rate topped out at 6.3%, by November of 2004, it was at 5.4%)

So it's somewhat ironic--in a delicious way--to think that Democrats may be faced to make the opposite side of the jobless recovery argument this time around. By most indications, it's becoming increasingly clear that some sort of economic recovery is afoot. The strength and eventual staying power of said recovery is open to debate, but even the dismalist of the dismal scientists have to admit it's getting better.

But this recovery also appears to be one wherein job creation doesn't really begin until significantly after the recovery is well underway. In fact this time around, it may take even longer to make a dent in the unemployment numbers. While companies are beginning to see the light, most are still playing it safe and waiting to add to their payrolls. And while some industries can bring workers back fairly quickly once they decide to begin hiring, in many others the cycle time from a firm's leaders giving the thumbs up to adding headcount to a new worker actually starting a job can be lengthy.

From an anecdotal perspective, the company that I toil for is seeing a nice bounce back in sales, especially in Asia and the United States. It's actually come sooner than we had expected and the outlook for the rest of the year is far more positive than most would have imagined just six months ago. However, there's no rush to bring bodies back in to the organization just yet. The stresses on our the leaner and meaner work force are apparent, but the hiring spigot is going to be opened slowly and with careful calibration. I would imagine this is also what is happening in other companies throughout America.

So even if the economic recovery continues, it's probably not going to happen soon or be strong enough to really turn the tables before November when it comes to jobs. And when it comes to jobs, perception is reality. Even if the unemployment rate drops significantly between now and November, if people don't feel like there's a boom in jobs, they won't believe it. If their unemployed friends still can't jobs and if their relatives who just graduated from college can't find meaningful work, they will have a negative impression of the state of the economy. It's going to be fun to watch Democrats tout GDP numbers as proof of the strong economic recovery, while they dismissed the exact same figures as meaningless in the lives of "real" people back in 2004.

But what's even more likely is that the economy will not be the X factor in the 2010 elections. While economic health is often what tips the political balance for or against the party in power, it doesn't always hold trump. In November of 1994, the economy was booming and unemployment was at 5.6%. That didn't prevent the Gingrich Revolution. In November 2006, the economy was in great shape with unemployment at 4.5%, but voter frustration with the war in Iraq and the perceived Culture of Corruption in Congress didn't save the GOP. 2010 seem likely to be another year where it isn't the economy, stupid.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Born To Be Dumb

Penn Jillette thinks owning a Hummer is stupid. But he understands that one of the keys to freedom is the freedom to be stupid. Which is why he penned his Homage to Hummer in Saturday's WSJ:

Hummers are stupid and wasteful and if they go away because no one wants to buy one, that'll be just a little sad. It's always a little sad to lose some stupid. I love people doing stupid things that I'd never do--different stupid things than all the stupid things I do. It reminds me that although all over the world we humans have so much in common, so much love, and need, and desire, and compassion and loneliness, some of us still want to do things that the rest of us think are bug-nutty. Some of us want to drive a Hummer, some of us want to eat sheep's heart, liver and lungs simmered in an animal's stomach for three hours, some us want to play poker with professionals and some of us want a Broadway musical based on the music of ABBA. I love people doing things I can't understand. It's heartbreaking to me when people stop doing things that I can't see any reason for them to be doing in the first place. I like people watching curling while eating pork rinds.

But if any part of the Hummer going belly-up are those government rules we're putting in on miles per gallon, or us taking over of GM, then I'm not just sad, I'm also angry. Lack of freedom can be measured directly by lack of stupid. Freedom means freedom to be stupid. We never need freedom to do the smart thing. You don't need any freedom to go with majority opinion. There was no freedom required to drive a Prius before the recall. We don't need freedom to recycle, reuse and reduce. We don't need freedom to listen to classic rock, classic classical, classic anything or Terry Gross. We exercise our freedom to its fullest when we are at our stupidest.

When it comes to religious matters, Penn is a prominent Triple Aer (aggressive, atheist arsehole) so he might not appreciate me weighing with an "Amen brother," but that's the response that he's getting anyway. He's right that the freedom to be stupid is a core American value. We all do things that others think are stupid; watch reality television, collect commemorative plates, ride recumbent bicycles, eat at White Castle while sober, but the beauty of America is that we all get to partake in our own particular style of stupid. When the government starts deciding that more and more things are too stupid for our own good, we move down a dangerous path of losing part of our core freedoms.

As Penn mentions, driving a Hummer may indeed be stupid. But so is not working out or eating too many donuts or skydiving or living in a 20,000 square foot house. The question is who should decide what's stupid or not. I'm a strong proponent of individual liberty and the individual stupidity that inevitably comes along with it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Beer of the Week (Vol. LI)

Another edition of Beer of the Week, brought to you as always by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can remove the fear and loathing from your liquor buying experiences.

Along with the beer itself, every Beer of the Week review also includes a look at the package that it comes in. The color, shape, and design on the bottle or can is part of the overall experience of enjoying a beer. Often, those brewers that devote the time and care to what's on the outside, also produce a quality product on the inside.

When it comes to the label itself, few can compete with the Maryland's Flying Dog Brewery. Every Flying Dog beer has a unique and attention grabbing label. If you think you've seen that look before, you probably have:

The rebel artist that creates all of Flying Dog's beer labels was introduced to Flying Dog owner George Stranahan by his long-time friend Hunter S. Thompson.

Ralph Steadman is the man who brings that "Gonzo" look and attitude to Flying Dog's labels. While it's difficult to describe, you definitely know it when you see it. And that we get an extra helping of that Gonzo look with Flying Dog's Snake Dog India Pale Ale.

The label has a reddish-orange label and features a bizarre, psychedelic snake-dog figure who looks like it would be right at home in one of Thompson's drug-induced hallucinations.

Beer Style: India Pale Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 7.1%

COLOR (0-2): Golden copper, mostly clear. 2

AROMA (0-2): Hoppy citrus. 2

HEAD (0-2): Off-white color. Good lacing and retention. 2

TASTE (0-5): Strong hops with marked bitterness. Lighter fruit and pine as well. Thinner-bodied which is a little unusual with the strong flavor profile. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Somewhat light and hollow. 1

OVERALL (0-6): A solid if unexceptional IPA. Workmanlike in that it covers the basics for the style, but doesn't really wow you in any way. Like most IPAs, it does make for a good beer to pair with most foods. 3

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 13

Nowhere To Hide

Eric Felton has a piece in today's WSJ on how difficult it's becoming to avoid video screens in public:

If you have traipsed through a hotel lobby lately; tramped on a health-club treadmill; guzzled a beer at a bar; or nervously anticipated your turn in the dentist's chair, you likely found your eyes wandering to a video screen. The business of "captive TV," as it is called, is booming. According to Nielsen, the television audience-measurement people, we collectively viewed a quarter-billion video advertisements in the last four months of 2009. Whatever the exact number, we don't need Nielsen to tell us that it is getting harder and harder to find a public space free from the tireless and tiresome electronic beckonings of "location-based video."

The business has grown by boasting several advantages for advertisers. A crowd of people with nowhere to go and nothing to do will look at the screens--plus the ads--grateful for anything to "help pass the time," as one of the services says in its promotional material. Doctors' offices, airports and the DMV get to turn the inconvenience of their clients into a revenue stream. The place-based systems also promise to deliver narrowly defined audiences that can be given tailored pitches. How better to market to drinkers than with ads in bars? Then there are the screens in bathrooms, which provide ads that one media company crows are, "perfectly gender segmented." Perhaps most attractive to marketers in the age of digital video recorders: The passive public viewers don't have access to a remote control. There's no fast-forwarding through the advertisements.

Unless you have tremendous discipline and willpower, there's no ignoring them either. The many companies specializing in television for public places brag that their "content is optimized to be visual." TV screens are insistent to begin with, but the ones placed in public spaces are trebly so, pulsing and flashing and glaring and flickering and otherwise creating the inescapable casino aesthetic that has invaded every corner of the public square.

I have to admit that these screens tend to draw my attention like a moth to a flame (so much for discipline and willpower). Especially if I'm in a bar or restaurant and there's a sporting event (almost any kind of sporting event) on the ubiquitous televisions. I know that's it's rude to allow your gaze to be distracted in such a manner when you're in the company of others, but I usually find myself succumbing to the temptation at some point. Hmmm...that tractor pull over there looks interesting...

But even worse than the multiple screens that never seem to be turned off--even when nothing is on--at restaurants and bars are the airport televisions. You truly are a captive audience when you're at the gate waiting for your plane to depart and the manner in which these audio/visual screens assault your senses violate several sections of the Geneva Accords. They're almost universally loud. So loud that there's really no place in the seating areas at most airports that you can escape the blare. I often like to read (and occasionally write) when playing such a waiting game, but the booming noise makes that all but impossible unless you elect to throw on the 'phones and listen to your own music. Even worse, these televisions are almost always tuned to CNN. I've lost count of how many times I've seen Wolf Blitzer's mug peering down as I tried to figure out where best to sit or heard Jack Cafferty's annoying ranting as I'm trying to collect my thoughts. I'd rather be bombarded with a steady stream of commercials--even infomercials--than be force-fed CNN's stale gruel.

UPDATE: My better half e-mails to add:

Granted we choose to do a lot of this as well, we are programming ourselves and the next generation to NEED tv. MP3 players can't be just music anymore, you have to download tv shows, movies, as well. Let's try to make it MORE convenient to watch the mindnumbing show you missed because you had to talk to real live people that were over at your house, you can watch it anytime you please....And let's not forget that automobiles needs screens as well. And phones....

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Back to Basics

Like many Republicans in Minnesota, I believe that the current MN GOP Party Platform is desperately in need of a major overhaul. We're not talking about a little pruning here and there either. We're talking about taking a chainsaw to it and getting rid of as much of the dead wood as possible (upwards of 90% of its current form).

If you share this sentiment, you should check out Mitchell Berg's post at Shot in the Dark. Mitch has gotten together with some of the best and brightest activists on the local conservative political scene to come up with a proposed alternative.

I still think their effort is too lengthy and in need of a little nip and tuck, but it's a heck of a lot better than the unwieldy beast that we're stuck with today. See what you think and drop your feedback into the comments section at the post.

Location, Location, Location

One last Ford Field Frozen Four riptose from James:

Someone posted the attached photo from the Frozen Four over at Gopher Puck Live. It's obviously taken from the "risers" behind the BC bench. Probably considered a "premium" seat too ($197). I suppose it is possible to have worse seats at a hockey game than the first six or so rows depicted here, but I cannot imagine it.

Nice view of the equipment manager's arse though.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Special Teams

Article in USA Hockey Magazine on A Team For The Ages:

If special can be measured by degrees, one team photo would stand out above the rest. It features the Shattuck-St. Mary's squad that captured the 2003 USA Hockey Tier I 17 & Under National Championship in Laurel, Md.

A closer look at the names under the photo would make any hockey coach drool.

There's the baby-faced Ryan Duncan, the 2007 Hobey Baker Award winner, stretched out in the front row. Huddled around the USA Hockey championship banner to the right is Matt Smaby, the hulking defenseman who is in his third year with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Over his shoulder is Buffalo Sabres standout forward Drew Stafford. Jack Johnson, most recently of the silver-medal winning U.S. Olympic Team, crouches nearby, smiling from ear to ear.

Sandwiched in the tangled web of smiles and index fingers thrust in the air are Brian Salcido and Matt Ford, who are currently playing in the American Hockey League.

And right in the middle of it all is a bright-eyed Sidney Crosby, who won a USA Hockey National Championship long before he captured a World Junior Championship title, captained the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup or raised his hero status to new heights by scoring the golden goal for Canada in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

Duncan, Stafford, Johnson AND Crosby? Yeah, that's a pretty decent little squad there alright. All playing together at a prep school in Farribault, Minnesota. JB and I actually were lucky enough to see this team in action in January of aught-three as they dismantled our high school alma mater. We knew that we were watching something special with Crosby. Little did we know about the other talent on the team.

Speaking of hockey, the NHL playoffs finally start tonight. Since the Wild players are working more on their back-swing than back-hand these days, I'm forced to adopt other teams to pull for. In the West, I'd love to see the Hawks reach the Finals. They've got some great young players and play an exciting style of puck. In the East, it's gotta be the Caps simply because Ovechkin is so damn fun to watch. Top seeds usually don't fare well as well in the NHL playoffs as they do in other sports, but I think with the experience they gained last year, the Caps should be able to get over the hump and get past the Pens this time around. No matter how they turn out, the playoffs are always must see television. It would just be nice if they could get 'em wrapped up before the end of May.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

No Roof For Rubes

They say that a story is only as good as its sources. Which means that a piece in today's WSJ on Target Field by Mark Yost called If They Build It You Will Pay should be journalistic gold:

For the past six months, I've had a friendly online debate with some blogger friends in Minnesota: Would the Twins get snowed out when they opened their new outdoor stadium?

Actually a good part of our debate consisted of Mark speculating how funny it would be to see Twins fans in parkas when it was forty-five degrees on opening day and us explaining to him that when it's forty-five in the spring, Minnesotans wear shorts. On to the impeccable sources:

"The question is would the Twins have paid Mauer $184 million if the taxpayers hadn't paid for the stadium?" asks King Banaian, chairman of the St. Cloud State University economics department and a candidate for the Minnesota Statehouse. "I don't think they would have."

Prof. Banaian is absolutely right. Target Field cost $545 million, according to the Twins. The Hennepin County taxpayers are on the hook for $350 million of it. Since money is fungible, it's fair to argue that the taxpayers are paying Mr. Mauer.

So not only are us hard working taxpayers in Hennepin County paying for the stadium that Twins fans from across the metro area, state, and region get to enjoy, we're also the ones responsible for ensuring that Joe Mauer remains a Twin? The least you non-Hennepin County free riders could do is buy us a beer or two. Preferably at a Hennepin County watering hole of course.

Then there's the issue of a roof. While the Metrodome was a horrible place to watch baseball, it would have been wise to put a retractable roof on Target Field, as the Milwaukee Brewers did at Miller Park. A dome allows smaller-market teams to draw from a larger geographic area. That's because a family in, say, Fargo, N.D., is more confident buying tickets to a Twins game four hours away when a dome guarantees it won't be rained out.

"As a taxpayer, I don't want to pay for a roof so a family from Fargo can be guaranteed to see a game," said Chad Doughty, a lifelong Twins fan who blogs at Fraters Libertas.

There was local pressure to get the team itself to pay for a roof. It would have cost the team $200 million, a rounding error compared with the Pohlads' estimated net worth of $3.6 billion. Instead, they opted for heat lamps on the concourses.

If there's anything worse as a Hennepin County resident and baseball fan than being forced to pay for a stadium that Twins fans everywhere benefit from, it's hearing this silly bellyaching about how we should have also ponied up for a retractable roof so that people who come from out of town can be assured that they see a game. Guess what? There are no guarantees in baseball or life. You want to come down to "the Cities" to see a Twins game? Fine. But no one here's going to guarantee you that the game won't be rained out (although rainouts at the old Met were rather infrequent so the odds are in your favor). Make alternative plans. Go to a museum. See a play. Get your hair cut. Gawk at the tall buildings. Better yet, go to the Mall of America and buy a bunch of stuff to help us pay for the stadium. Just quit yer whining.

In the interests of accuracy, I should also point out that my actual quote about the roof was: "As a taxpayer, I don't want to pay for a roof so that some rube from Fargo can be guaranteed to see a game." Obviously, Mark though that changing this to "a family" would better serve to portray me as some sort of outside the mainstream, wide-eyed, anti-tax extremist (why do you hate families from Fargo, Chad?). Mission accomplished.

And like all good journalists, Mark knows how to close it out:

So if the false economics of stadiums are so well known, why do city councils and county boards continue to finance them? And why aren't taxpayers more outraged?

I think Jim Styczinski, a lifelong Twins fan who blogs as "Sisyphus" at The Nihilist in Golf Pants, gave me the answer. "Fundamentally, I was against the stadium," he said as we shared a beer after the game. "But I'm glad I lost this argument."

This is disturbing on two levels. Firstly, as someone who does not live in Hennepin County, the price that Sisyphus will have to pay for losing the argument is minimal. Secondly (and most importantly), for contributing a quote to Mark's piece and being portrayed as a voice of reason in the debate, Sisyphus received liquid remuneration courtesy of a WSJ expense account. Me? I got nuthin' for being presented as the cold-hearted bastage who wants to leave North Dakota children out in the rain. Who says no one is outraged?

SISYPHUS ADDS: I don't know what the Elder is complaining about. He received a free 2010 Twins Media Guide courtesy of the Wall Street Journal. We were even sure to give him the guide that happened to absorb some of the spilled liquid remuneration he missed out on. More than someone who hates families from Fargo probably deserves.

Anyway, thanks to Chad and the Nihilist in Golf Pants for paying Atomizer to build me a nice ballpark.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Not The Way God Intended

Cheers to the Boston College Eagles for crushing the hated Badgers of Wisconsin 5-0 on Saturday night to win the NCAA Hockey Championship. Jerry York (pronounced "Yawk") has created quite the hockey powerhouse at BC and their recent record of success in the NCAA playoffs is remarkable.

Jeers to the NCAA for ever allowing a Frozen Four to be played on a football field. As much as it pains me to admit it, announcer Gary Thorne nailed it during the game when he expressed utter dismay that a championship hockey game would ever be played under the conditions that we saw at Ford Field on Saturday night. The ice looked to be terrible shape, both from the way it appeared on TV and its suitability for play. The entire setting was visually dismal with a huge curtain on one end, gaps between the boards and the stands, and an overall atmosphere that was entirely unconducive to the game of hockey.

When you take that stage and then consider the two semi-final blowouts and a championship game that for the most part lacked for drama, it was probably the worst Frozen Four in years, at least since the debacle in Cincinnati in 1996. Having an occasional regular season game in a unique setting such as a baseball or football field is fine. But when you're playing for the NCAA Championship, you gotta play on a real rink. Next year, with the Frozen Four set to return to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, the atmospherics and ice conditions will almost certainly not be a problem. But in making plans for the future, the NCAA should take a valuable lesson from this year's fiasco at Ford Field: never again.

UPDATE-- James from California--a man who's seen more than a few Frozen Fours in his day--writes in with more about the Ford Field clusterfarg:

Don't be to hasty in assuming that the NCAA may have learned a lesson. At the Frozen Four they made quite the big deal about the "record setting" attendance figures (approx 36,000 each night). The money grubbing bastards are probably salivating over those kind of numbers being achieved every year.

While Ford Field looks like a great place for a football game (it being a football field and all), it was terrible as a venue for the Frozen Four. From what I heard there and could see from my seats, the people in maybe the first ten or so rows of the risers on the sides could not see the entire ice. I was at the end behind one of the goals and could not see any of the goals scored in that net (and I was 14 rows up). And of course the fact that the place was half empty made any display of spirit by the fans just seem sad.

Glad BC won. Did not want to see the Badgers win another won. I'd already sat through that once.

Damn BC is a fast team.

Hockey aside, I did take in the Detroit Tigers Opening Day (and the three games after that) at Comerica, across the street from Ford. What a great ballpark. Fortunately for the Tigers they got to open against Hugh Hewitt's Hapless Cleveland Indians.

Will Work For Beer

Article in Saturday's WSJ on workers in Denmark organizing to fight for one of their most basic rights (sub req):

Michael Christiansen, a truck driver turned union representative, is fighting hard to preserve one of the last, best perks of the beer industry: the right to drink on the job.

Mr. Christiansen's union brethren are wort boilers, bottlers, packers and drivers at Carlsberg A/S, Denmark's largest brewer. For a century, they've had the right to cool off during a hard day's work with a crisp lager.

But on April 1, the refrigerators were idled and daily beer spoils were capped at three pint-sized plastic cups from a dining hall during lunch hour.

"This is a right workers have had for 100 years," Mr. Christiansen says. "Carlsberg has taken it away without any negotiating at all."

This week, Mr. Christiansen led a strike of 260 Carlsberg employees at a distribution center in this Copenhagen suburb. On Wednesday, 500 workers at Carlsberg's Fredericia brewery in southern Denmark joined in. On Friday afternoon, Mr. Christiansen sent his men back to work temporarily after management agreed to renegotiate workers' right to free beer in coming weeks.

You gotta love that. Carlsberg is not stripping workers of their right to free beer during work entirely, they're limiting it to only three pints over the lunch hour. Cry Oppression!

Mr. Christiansen, a tall man with a salt-and-pepper goatee, argues the right to tip a cold one at work is as sacred as other rights enjoyed by Copenhagen-based Carlsberg workers, such as a year's sick leave at full pay, an average annual salary of $59,000 and two free crates of beer monthly.

At 2 p.m. here Friday, about 100 workers congregated in a parking lot full of empty beer crates and forklifts and agreed to temporarily end their strike.

"We need to keep our beer," said employee Juseif Izaivi, 32 years old. "I need a beer when I take a cigarette break."

Easy to sympathize with that guy's plight. What's a cigarette break without a beer?
The article goes on to explain that while almost all brewers once rewarded their workers with free beer at work, today very few retain that perk. Here's hoping that the Carlsberg workers win their fight to keep their beer benefit. The fact that there's still an oasis or two out there where you can enjoy a beer at work (in moderation of course) provides the rest of us with a chance to dream of what could be.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Beer of the Week (Vol. L)

Son: Wow dad, you must have reviewed like fifty beers of the week by now.

Dad: Nothing to be proud of son...

[pauses as son walks away]

Dad: [proudly]...Fifty beers...

Yes, believe it or not, this is the fiftieth installment in our Beer of the Week series. When Dan, the owner/operator of Glen Lake Wine & Spirits first suggested the idea of a weekly beer review, I doubt if either of us would have imagined that it would continue this long. But we're still going strong and with new beers coming onto the market almost every week, I don't see why it won't continue for the foreseeable future.

While I know that a lot of our readers don't live anywhere near the store, I would encourage those in the area to stop by Glen Lake Wine & Spirits when you get a chance. For a small, independent businessman like Dan there isn't going to be any government bailout to help him get through these tough economic times. In fact, with the increasing burden of regulation and the prospect of higher taxes right around the corner, it's probably tougher than ever to run a small business. His livelihood is solely based on the patronage of thirsty customers like you and he wants to do whatever he can to earn your loyalty.

Now, I'm not saying you have to do all your booze buying from your friendly neighborhood liquor store. I occasionally patronize some of the local chains (with the notable exception of one with an acronym name whose data collection polices have caused me to boycott their stores entirely for the last seven, eight years) and there are times when filling your liquor needs really is all about location, location, location. But one thing you should never do is shop at the municipal or "muni" liquor stores. What business the government has in being in the booze selling business in the first place is beyond me. But what's really appalling about munis is that they don't have to operate under the same regulations (many that are relics left over from the immediate post-Prohibition era) that privately owned liquor stores do. Government monopolies competing against private business on an unlevel playing field? Pretty easy call to make on whom you should support.

Okay, enough with the preamble. Let's get down to the business at hand. This week's beer is a newcomer to the Twin Cities market. Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon has been cranking out quality craft beers since 1988. But it was only of late (as in the last few weeks or so) that any of their product could be found on local shelves. We welcome Mirror Pond Pale Ale to Minnesota and hope it's a prelude of more to come.

Brown 22oz bomber bottle. Label has a tan background with oval picture depicting a glass-surfaced pond in the foreground and snow-capped mountains in the background.

Beer Style: American Pale Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 5.0%

COLOR (0-2): Dark gold and clear. 2

AROMA (0-2): Pleasant floral hops. 2

HEAD (0-2): Bright white and full. Good lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Nice combination of moderately bitter hops with sweetly mellowed malt flavors. Light to medium-bodied with a slightly oily mouthfeel. Very drinkable. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Smooth yet tasty. 2

OVERALL (0-6): A very good example of an American Pale Ale. The flavors are subtle, but well balanced and rounded. Even though it came from a bottle, it had something of the taste and feel of a draft to it. The drinkability and smoothness make it a great summer ale option. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 15

She's Still Standing

Still some buzz about town following Wednesday's Republican rally at the Minneapolis Convention Center. More than ten thousand folks apparently turned out to see Sarah Palin join a host of local GOP leaders including Governor Pawlenty, Congressman Kline, and Congressman Paulson. But the real co-star of the event--if anyone can ever really share top billing with Palin--was Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. The sight of Bachmann on stage with Palin during the rally and afterward on Fox's Sean Hannity was just the latest example of the ascendancy of her star on the conservative political scene. She has become a nationally known figure and has attracted a following far outside the bounds of Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District. She's one of the leading voices of the conservative effort to push back against President Obama's initiatives and is regularly featured on national media outlets.

It's interesting (and amusing) to think about all the energy and effort put forth in recent years by her opponents to try to stop her rise and realize how amazingly futile it's all been. I can't think of another Minnesota politician who's been as oft pilloried by local media, be it the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, City Pages, MPR, TPT, local television and radio stations (just yesterday I heard a host on one of the sports talks stations--the "new" one--going off on how often Bachmann lied and distorted facts). Local left-wing web sites and blogs have made her their bĂȘte noir. The level of invective and outright hatred directed against her has been amazing. One particular blog called "Dump Bachmann" started up in 2004--two years BEFORE she was elected to Congress--and has done nothing but launch unrelenting attacks on everything about her ever since. How's that working out for you guys? Rarely in the course of human events has so much time been invested for so minimal a result.

Seriously. These people have spent a good part of their last six years of their lives stalking Bachmann's every move and deconstructing her every utterance and what have they got to show for it? Nothing! Oh, I'm sure if you asked them they would detail all the ways they've "exposed" her to the world and "unmasked" her real motives and "evil" intentions. But what has the result been? She was elected to the House in 2006, reelected in 2008, and--barring significant unforeseen circumstances--she's going to be reelected in 2010.

I know the hordes of Bachmann haters out there are all excited about Tarryl Clark's chances of beating her this year, but c'mon get real. By all indications this is going to be a Republican year. And there's a good chance it could be a very big Republican year. Do you really think that a GOP candidate who won in awful years for Republicans (2006 & 2008) is going to lose in a good year? Unlikely. And while the Democrats are going to raise a bunch of money both locally and nationally to retire that "crazy" Michele Bachmann, that campaign cash is going to probably be matched or even exceeded by what Bachmann will be able to pull in given her national prominence. And don't forget Bachmann's track record when it comes to winning elections both for the state legislature and Congress. She's pretty much had everything--including the kitchen sink--thrown at during those campaigns and has always emerged victorious.

It almost seems as if the old Nietzsche maxim "What does not destroy me, makes me stronger" applies in spades when it comes to Michele Bachmann's political career. Her enemies have not only epically failed in their efforts to destroy her, these efforts actually seem to have helped propel her forward.

The Ghost Of Health Care Yet To Come

The state of Massachusetts has a health care system similar to what Obama's gang is imposing on the entire country and things are getting rather interesting in the Bay State. An editorial in today's Wall Street Journal gives us the frightening vision of what health care will be like nationwide if we don't turn things around.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has effectively imposed a premium cap on the state's insurers by rejecting 90% of the premium increases they have requested. Several top insurers suffered operating losses last year and in order to avoid huge additional losses, and possible insolvency, they filed suit in Boston superior court and simply stopped offering quotes.

What was the state's response, you ask? As if you didn't know. The state of Massachusetts is now demanding that these insurers immediately resume selling new policies, at year old base premiums no less, or face fines and penalties.

So just to sum it up. The government is forcing private companies to sell health insurance at a loss, or face fines and penalties, which can only result in these companies going out of business. The government is also requiring all citizens to purchase health insurance, or face fines and penalties, and since there will now no longer be any private insurers left they will be forced into the welcoming arms of their loving government.

How can this be, one could ask? President Obama promised that Americans would be able to keep their current insurance and that the government would never be taking over the insurance industry.

Well, I guess the President technically didn't lie. You could keep your current insurance but the evil insurance company you had your policy with is no longer in business...and good riddance because they died trying to raise your premiums. And the government didn't directly take over the insurance industry. They had no choice because all of those evil insurance companies are no longer in business...and good riddance because they died trying to raise your premiums.

I gotta hand it to Obama. That's a pretty slick way of getting what he wanted after promising the exact opposite. It's also incredibly sleazy and dishonest, but it's pretty slick.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Coming and Going

A few years ago, a couple of the major airlines started charging passengers for checked luggage, ostensibly to help offset higher fuel prices. Now, nearly all airlines--with the notable exception of Southwest--have followed suit with an array of fees and surcharges that apply to almost all checked luggage. Despite the fact that fuel prices have fallen from their 2008 highs and since stabilized, it seems unlikely that the airlines are going to roll back these charges and give up this new found revenue streams any time soon.

Since airline passengers are at least a semi-rational lot, many have reacted to these checked baggage fees by taking steps to avoid paying them. The most commonly employed tactic is to pack smaller bags that can be carried on. This allows passengers to not only save a little lucre by not checking a bag, but also allows them to avoid having to wait for the checked luggage after deplaning. Can you really blame passengers for behaving in such a logical manner?

Well, if you're an airline you certainly can. On a recent Delta flight from Denver to Minneapolis, I found it amusing (and a little irritating) to listen to flight attendants haranguing passengers about the quantity and size of carry-on luggage. During boarding, the chief attendant made a couple of scowling, snippy announcements along the lines of:

"Since we have a lot of passengers carrying on luggage today," (eyes rolling) "'re going to have to make sure your bag is stowed properly in the overhead bin." ( Bitter sigh) "And if you have two bags, only one can go in the overhead bin. You'll have to place the other bag under the seat in front of you."

"You stupid f***ing people and your stupid f***ing carry-on bags can all just go to hell!"

Okay, the last line is bit of an exaggeration, but that was definitely the vibe that we were getting from Delta's representatives. I was tempted to stand up and scream:

"Quit yer bitchin'! You don't like us carrying our bags on? Then tell your airline to quit gouging us for checking bags. This ain't rocket science here lady. Your airline created the problem, now shut up and deal with it."

But discretion and even more fear that my outburst would be labeled as terrorism and I'd get a one-way ticket to Gitmo (still open, eh?) or be placed on President Obama's Predator Drone Hit List of American Citizens lead me to keep my peace.

The solution to the problem of too many bags being carried on because of fees to check luggage? If you're in the airline business it's obvious: charge fees to carry-on:

One solution to paying fees for checked baggage -- carrying your baggage onto the flight -- is on its way out. Privately-held Spirit Airlines announced today it's going to start charging as much as $45 for carry-on luggage that's put in an overhead bin. The airline said anything stuffed under the seat in front of passengers will still be free, which should add a new headache to the boarding process.

"Bring less; pay less. It's simple," Spirit's Chief Operating Officer Ken McKenzie said in a statement.

So far no other airlines have followed suit. "I personally think that would spark a major customer backlash," Standard & Poor's analyst Jim Corridore told Reuters. "The general public is sick and tired of fees. They pay them because they have to."

Is that true? Does the paying public have to? Or do they just consider exercising what little power they have as consumers (not flying) a less appealing alternative to paying airline fees?. Airlines charge fees because customers will pay them.

We've close to reaching a level of absurdity where airlines are trying to game it so that whatever option you choose involves a fee of some sort. Oh, you want to wear pants on the flight? That'll be an extra thirty dollars. A shirt? Twenty dollars. Wear less; pay less. It's simple.

Filling King's Coffers

If you had problems with the PayPal link to donate to King Banaian's campaign that I posted yesterday, try this one. It seems to be working and I've gone back and updated the link in the original post as well. Thanks for your support.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Government Issue Gruel

David Harsanyi on the government's latest efforts to take on parental responsibility:

And if Washington can't dictate calorie counts in school vending machines, or tax soda pops, or force elementary schools in Topeka to stock their cupboards with USDA-approved nutritional fare, then, really, why do we have a federal government in the first place?

As we speak, legislation is wiggling through Congress that would ban candy and sugary beverages in local schools--bake sales, a la carte lunches, Halloween goodies, birthday cupcakes--and stipulate that suitable chow be offered. It's legislation that can't be stopped. It's for the children.

Michelle Obama--no doubt driven by the best of intentions--went on to take food manufacturers to task, asking them to "rethink the products" they produce because business, apparently, should be a clearinghouse for ethically sound groceries rather than a place that manufactures frozen pizza.

The passage of health care reform will only speed this process along. After all, if the government is now responsible for your children's health care, then they have a stake in ensuring that your kids do everything they can to stay healthy. That includes, but is not limited to eating right and exercising. Today, concerned parents will sometimes elect to send their kids to "fat camps" to try to help them lose weight. Tomorrow, it may be the government who decides that your children are in need of nutritional reeducation.

UPDATE: Okay, nutritional reeducation camps may have been a bit over the top, but do we really want the government dictating what kind of food our kids can eat and telling producers what they can and cannot sell based on whether it's deemed to be "good for them"? As a parent this concerns me on two levels.

The first is that the government is seeking to usurp what has traditionally been a parental responsibility. The second is that my kids are already pretty picky eaters the way it is. The last thing we need is the government telling a food producer that they can no longer sell the only kind of chicken nuggets my kids will eat because they're not "healthy" enough. Our family is still trying to recover from a fire at an Eggo plant last year that lead to the Great French Toast Drought of Aught-Nine. The last thing we need right now is Uncle Sam mucking about and making this situation even worse.

Ching For King

The burning question being asked all over Minnesota House District 15B these days is:

"Mr. Banaian: your campaign seems to have the momentum of a runaway freight train. Why are you so popular?"

Indeed the King Banaian for House campaign has officially left the station and is picking up steam as it rolls toward the November election. In order to keep that locomotion going, fuel is required. And when it comes to political campaigns, that fuel is money. Money for advertising, money for lawn signs, money for literature, and money to purchase Armenian Brandy for bloggers who've been on board the campaign train from the start. Okay, maybe not that last one so much, but the reality of politics today is that cash is king. And King needs cash.

You can make now make a donation to help King quest to represent in the House through Pay Pal (LINK UPDATED 4/8) or by dropping a check in the mail to:

King Banaian for House
P.O. Box 1572,
St. Cloud, MN 56302

Sorry Atomizer, but donations are capped at $500 a person. But seriously, local races like King's are where a little cash can go a long way. Ideally, we'd like people to give as much as they can, but we know that everyone is feeling a little strapped these days. So instead of asking you to give 'til it hurts, how about simply asking you to throw twenty bones in? Twenty dollars might not seem like much, but if we can get 500 folks to chip in twenty clams each, King could raise ten grand, which in a local House race is a nice little war chest to help fight the good fight.

I dropped my twenty at Pay Pal a short time ago. Four-hundred-ninety-nine small donors to go to keep the train moving.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Does The Press Wear A Funny Hat?

The recent efforts by "truth-seeking" journalists to leave no rock unturned in hopes of finding any thread that remotely connects Pope Benedict XVI to "cover-ups" of sexual abuse by Church authorities has demonstrated once again that the only thing that matches the levels of their invective against the Catholic Church is their ignorance of the Church and its workings. They frame the unfolding "scandal" with the same familiar narrative structure that they have so often employed with politicians. The problem with this approach--one of many--is the Pope is not a politician and serving as an effective Pope is not a popularity contest best measured by approval ratings. They've also been quick to pounce on anything that reinforces the story they want to tell and reluctant to report facts that contradict the conclusions they're all too eager to reach.

In today's WSJ, William McGurn has a piece on this shoddy journalism called The Pope and the New York Times:

A few years later, when the CDF assumed authority over all abuse cases, Cardinal Ratzinger implemented changes that allowed for direct administrative action instead of trials that often took years. Roughly 60% of priests accused of sexual abuse were handled this way. The man who is now pope reopened cases that had been closed; did more than anyone to process cases and hold abusers accountable; and became the first pope to meet with victims. Isn't the more reasonable interpretation of all these events that Cardinal Ratzinger's experience with cases like Murphy's helped lead him to promote reforms that gave the church more effective tools for handling priestly abuse?

That's not to say that the press should be shy, even about Pope Benedict XVI's decisions as archbishop and cardinal. The Murphy case raises hard questions: why it took the archbishops of Milwaukee nearly two decades to suspend Murphy from his ministry; why innocent people whose lives had been shattered by men they are supposed to view as icons of Christ found so little justice; how bishops should deal with an accused clergyman when criminal investigations are inconclusive; how to balance the demands of justice with the Catholic imperative that sins can be forgiven. Oh, yes, maybe some context, and a bit of journalistic skepticism about the narrative of a plaintiffs attorney making millions off these cases.

That's still a story worth pursuing.

The Shape of Fears to Come

Now that global warming seems to cooling off as our environmental panic du jour, the WSJ's Bret Stephens opens it up to his readers to speculate on what sky will be the next to be claimed to be falling:

Given the inescapability of weather, it's no wonder global warming gripped the public mind as long as it did. And there's always some extreme-weather event happening somewhere to be offered as further evidence of impending catastrophe. But even weather gets boring, and so do the people who natter about it incessantly. What this decade requires is a new and better panic.

Herewith, then, I propose a readers' contest to invent the next panic. It must involve something ubiquitous, invisible to the naked eye, and preferably mass-produced. And the solution must require taxes, regulation, and other changes to civilization as we know it. The winner gets a beer and a burger, on me, at the 47th street Pig N' Whistle in New York City. (Nachos for vegetarians.) Happy panicking!

At first blush, this may seem like an invitation to take candy from a baby (although usually getting beer from a journalist is more like blood from a turnip). After all, a good part of the public seems increasingly willing to buy into whatever environmental catastrophe is being peddled at the time.

However, when you think about all the scares that have already been foisted on us, you realize there aren't that many options still out there. In addition to the weather, we've also been told to worry about rain (acid), the sun (harmful UV rays), the sky (ozone depletion), the air (polluted), the water (contaminated), and the ground (radon gases). And then there's the unseen dangers posed by power lines, cell phones, TV/radio antennas, and microwaves that have been a boon for Big Tinfoil. Fertilizer, genetically modified crops, carbon dioxide, pesticides, lead paint, DDT, artificial sweeteners, irradiated meat, charcoal grills, and pretty much every chemical ever identified? Bad, bad, bad! We've also been regularly told that we're on the verge of running out of oil, water, land, trees, food, and minerals. Because we've got too many people and the population of the earth in ___ (insert year) will become unsustainable for humanity.

Given all that we've been told to fear already, what else is there for environmental scare-mongers to throw at us next? Nothing immediately comes to mind, but the lure of a burger and beer on Bret Stephens should provide some powerful motivation.

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Way God Intended

The last outdoor major league baseball game I attended in Minnesota was on September 30th, 1981 at Metropolitan Stadium. It was also the last Twins game at the Met. After the contest ended, I joined the mob that clambered on to the field in search of souvenirs. Somewhere in my sport memorabilia archives, I have a jar that still contains some infield dirt that I scooped up that day and a ripped piece of the canvas that covered the outfield wall.

I also had the "privilege" of attending the first regular season Twins game at the Metrodome the following spring. Between then and now I've suffered through all the indignities of indoor baseball. At times, I grudgingly put up with these artificial conditions as the price to be paid for seeing the local nine in action. At other times--especially on those all too few splendid days of summer--I chose not to spend my time indoors watching baseball as it most certainly was not meant to be played.

It's been a long drought, one that I am happy to say came to end last Saturday. Thanks to Atomizer and his well-placed connections, my eldest son and I were able to attend the exhibition game against the Cardinals at Target Field. Saint Paul and his lovely bride were also the beneficiaries of Atomizer's privileged position as one of the architects of the ballpark and they shared the view from seats next to ours:

Okay maybe they were a little close to the Bob Uecker section, but under the blue skies and warm sunshine at Target Field, there truly ain't a bad seat in the house. With temps in the fifties and bit of a brisk wind, being in the sun definitely made a difference. And our vantage point of downtown was better than in other areas of the ballpark.

The only downsides were that our view of the big scoreboard was skewed:

And the left fielders would disappear from view on well-hit balls. Which at times might be a blessing when Delmon Young is fielding the position for the Twins. It also probably was better not to be within actual earshot when Atomizer and the other members of the "Mortenson Construction Choir" belted out the National Anthem before the game:

The park itself is a beauty. Good aesthetics and attention to detail create a pleasant visual atmosphere. It's not a cookie cutter stadium and definitely has character. Most of all it's built for baseball, which means not only that the dimensions of the field flow seamlessly into the stands, but that the seats are actually set up to watch the game. From a practical standpoint, the open concourses, comfortable seats, good variety of food at plenty of concession stands, and easily accessible bathrooms make for a enjoyable fan experience.

It was my son's first ball game ever and he seemed to have a great time, even if he really didn't know what was going on down on the field most of the time. Four-year-olds aren't exactly renowned for their attention spans and the fact that he last through seven full innings without getting too antsy is a testament to the ballpark's appeal. Rumors that he chucked an empty water bottle in the deck below us are greatly exaggerated. If anyone in our section would be capable of such loutish behavior, past history would tend to point to Saint Paul as the prime suspect.

There's been some whining about the parking situation, but we found it more than manageable with just a modicum of planning. After consulting a map of downtown parking options, I chose the ramp on 11th and Harmon. Yes, it's a bit of a hike, but on a nice day what's wrong with walking downtown? You get a bit of exercise, have an easier exit after the game, and save a spot of change. We paid just $4 to park as opposed to the thirteen clams that Saint Paul shelled out to park in one of the ramps near Target Center. I also saw surface lots charging $5 and then $10 and $15 as you get closer to field. Now, this was a Saturday and I imagine it will be dicier on weekdays, especially for day games. But still, if you do your homework and come up with a couple of parking options beforehand, it should not be a big deal.

My only complaint from Saturday--other than the limited selection of good beers--is that you run into some "can't get there from here" frustration at Target Field. Once you're safely inside the turnstiles, it's fairly easy to move about the ballpark. But before you gain admittance, it can be challenging to get from point A to point B or in our case on Saturday from Gate 34 to Gate 6. Some of this comes with the territory of having a ballpark built on a small footprint in an urban area. It's not going to be as easy to get around the outside as the Dome was. But again, with a bit of planning and forethought, this shouldn't be a big deal to work around.

And work around it I will. After twenty-seven years inside, Twins fans can finally enjoy baseball outside in all the natural elements again. Saturday afternoon reminded me once more just how much fun that can be.

UPDATE: Yes, we did boo the legislators before the first pitch. On a bipartisan bias too, we didn't hold back for the Republicans. Sadly, we seemed to be among the few fans who cared about the legislators one way or another. I suppose when you're in a beautiful ballpark anticipating an afternoon of baseball, abject apathy to politicans is only natural.

Separated at Birth?

From "The Office," geeky paper salesman Andrew Bernard and...

...from Fox News, geeky political salesman Glenn Beck?

Saturday, April 03, 2010

To Boo or Not to Boo?

I see from Chad's post that today's festive Twins exhibition game at the sparkly new Target Field will be turned into a bona fide boopportunity.

1:02 p.m. -- Ceremonial first pitches by legislators who contributed to the
creation of Target Field

Far be it from me to interject negativity into what should be a grand day at the ball park, rain or shine. But I didn't invite these ego tripping politicians into what should be an entirely non-political event.

The legislators responsible for funneling hundreds of millions in tax dollars to subsidize the Twins are now being given a once in a lifetime honor and special access to the game by the Twins. This is what people with common sense call "the appearance of impropriety". Even if you like the idea of public money going to professional sports stadiums, the spectacle of those who made it happen personally benefitting from their decisions is malodorous. For a politician to gleefully accept this offer, this flaunting of ethics in front of tens of thousands of the public, tells you how much they think the voters care about what happens to the public's money.

It also remains to be seen who the "legislators who contributed to the creation of Target Field" are specifically. The greatest credit has to go to the four members of the Hennepin County Board of Supervisors who provided the barest 4-3 majority to let the countywide sales tax to kick in. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to: Peter McLaughlin, Mike Opat, Randy Johnson, and Mark Stenglein.

As they're not technically legislators, maybe they're saving their rapturous curtain calls for a World Series game or something.

The Minnesota state legislature did provide a key vote in approving this funding source. The results from the House of Representatives are listed here. The results from the Senate here.

Among the noteworthy names voting yes, please give a hardy Minnesota cheer to current gubernatorial candidates: Matt Entenza, Margaret Anderson Keliher, and Tom Rukavina.

Note that two other gubernatorial candidates will not be invited by the Twins to take bows and receive special favors. They voted "no" and are relegated to watching from the stands along with the hoi polloi: Tom Emmer and Marty Seifert.

Also of note to 6th District voters, voting yes for the government to take hundreds of millions of dollars from the public and channel it to a preferred special interest, DFL endorsed candidate Tarryl Clark. Voting no, let the people keep their money and spend it on the entertainment they chose: Michele Bachmann.

That's not to say that support for Twins funding was a purely partisan affair. Among the "yes" votes, and potentially taking their bows Saturday afternoon, are Republicans like Laura Brod, Dave Senjem, and Steve Sviggum. In terms of booing options, there's something for everybody.

Will the people boo or just sit on their hands, or even applaud these legislators, while the political class stinks up this place of honor takes their bows and throws out the first pitch? Knowing Minnesotans as I do, I predict the latter.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Beer of the Week (Vol. XLIX)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the faithful folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help bring some life into your Easter Weekend.

Some may think it a tad sacrilegious to continue the Beer of the Week series on a day as holy as Good Friday. But there's no reason that beer and Christianity can't be compatible. From the Patron Saints of Beer to the monks who used strong beer to see them through their Lenten fast, Christians and beer have a long history together.

If the monks were looking for a hearty Lenten beer today, they might find this week's beer to be a good fit. From Big Sky Brewing in Missoula, Montana we have Bobo's Robust Porter.

Plain brown bottle. Label is has the standard big Sky look with a less than robust looking scrawny mutt in front of snow capped mountains and big blue sky.

Beer Style: Porter

Alcohol by Volume: 6.2%

COLOR (0-2): Deep black. How much more black could it be? None more black. 2

AROMA (0-2): Roasted malt with some chocolate and coffee. 2

HEAD (0-2): Voluminous, foamy brown. Good lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Similar to the smell with roasted malt flavor followed by chocolate and coffee. Some light hop bitterness as well. Medium bodied with a creamy mouthfeel. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Silky smooth and dry. 2

OVERALL (0-6): Porter is one of my favorite styles and this is definitely a good one. Sometimes porters--like a good dessert--can be too rich to the point where they almost leave a sour finish. They might taste good after the first sip, but by the time you reach the bottom of the glass, you've had more than enough. That's not the case with Big Sky's Robust Porter. It's well-balanced and combines fairly strong flavors with a nice smooth finish. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 16

May all of you enjoy a blessed Easter. And if you gave up beer for Lent this year, may you especially enjoy the end of your long fast.