Friday, February 26, 2010

Beer of the Week (Vol. XLIV)

This special end of the Winter Olympics edition of Beer of the Week brought to you Glen Lake Wine & Spirits, a venue that can help you own the podium in your life.

Since Canada is the host country for the 2010 Winter Games, I thought we should feature a Canadian beer as the games come to a close. And since Vancouver is the host city, a beer from British Columbia would make be an appropriate selection. Which leads us to Kokanee Glacier Beer brewed by the Columbia Brewery which is owned by Labatt Brewing which turn is now part of the Anheuser-Busch InBev global beer conglomerate. Which is a pretty good foreshadowing about what kind of beer to expect.

Brown bottle. Blue and silver label features an imposing snow covered mountain peak that's breaking outside the label boundary.

Beer Style: Lager

Alcohol by Volume: 5.0%

COLOR (0-2): Very light gold & almost completely clear. 0

AROMA (0-2): Faint odors of sweet malt. Not much to work with. 1

HEAD (0-2): Bright white. Not much volume with no lacing. 0

TASTE (0-5): Crisp with light malt and slight corn flavors. A lot of carbonation with a light body. Very drinkable. 2

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Clean with a light finish. 1

OVERALL (0-6): This is a technically classified as an "American adjunct lager" a.k.a. a macro brew. For what it is, it's not bad. Pretty bland, but inoffensive. I'd prefer it over a Bud, Miller, or Coors, but if I'm going to have to pay for a Canadian macro I'd rather go with a Labatt's or even better a Moosehead. No medals here. 2

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 6

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Off Key

The National Catholic Educational Association is holding their annual Convention and Expo in the Twin Cities from April 6th to the 8th. And when a national Catholic organization comes to town who would they want to deliver the keynote address but the thrice married, Episcopalian (currently) public radio funny man Garrison Keillor?

It's a curious choice for a number of reasons. While Keillor is best known for being the soft spoken, mild-mannered host of "A Prairie Home Companion" when it comes to politics he's one of the more divisive, inflammatory, and mean-spirited voices out there. Examples of Keillor's demagogic political rhetoric abound. There's this classic screed against Republicans:

The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong's moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us, Newt's evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk. Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of the world thinks we're deaf, dumb and dangerous.

I for one am still waiting for Keillor to apologize to the hirsute marsh improvers he so recklessly defamed.

Then there's Keillor's call to literally pull the plug on the GOP:

...if Republicans should be cut out of the health-care system entirely and simply provided with aspirin and hand sanitizer. Thirty-two percent of the population identifies with the GOP, and if we cut off health care to them, we could probably pay off the deficit in short order.

Nothing like bringing in a keynote speaker who's quite open about the fact that he despises half the country (especially those darn tea baggers). In the same piece where he fondly dreamed of death panelling the GOP, Keillor also offered us this:

The so-called cultural wars over abortion and prayer in the schools and pornography and gays, most of it instigated by shrieking ninnies and pompous blowhards, did nothing about anything, except elect dullards to office who brought a certain nihilistic approach to governance.

Last time I checked the Catholic Church had a rather vested interest in these so-called cultural wars. In fact, you could argue that the Church was often the one "instigating" them with its vocal opposition to abortion and gay marriage. Perhaps someone at the NCEA convention could ask Keillor is he considers the Pope a shrieking ninny or a pompous blowhard.

This is another reason why the decision to have Keillor keynote the convention is raising eye brows. His views on abortion and gay marriage--while not as extreme as those of many on the left--don't exactly fit well with those of the Catholic Church. And even if he personally favors private schools for his own kids, you have to wonder about what Keillor really thinks about Catholic education given some of his past comments, especially on vouchers:

"The American public school, how remarkable it will seem someday. With the introduction of school vouchers, you got to send your kids to schools where they learned the TRUTH-- your truth--Our Lady of Sorrows, Foursquare Millennial Gospel, Moon Goddess, Malcolm X, the Open School of Whatever, the Academy of Hairy-Legged Individualism, the School of the Green Striped Tie, you name it, and who could argue with the idea of free choice? --until you stop and think about the old idea of the public school, a place where you went to find out who inhabits this society other than people like you."

-- Garrison Keillor (talking about other people's kids), "The Future of Nostalgia," New York Times Magazine, 29 September 1996

But as a Minnesotan of the Catholic persuasion, what really irks me most about having Keillor keynote a Catholic education convention in the Twin Cities is that no one probably has done more to propagate the illusion that the people of Minnesota are all Lutherans of Scandinavian descent than him. After all, this is a convention about Catholic education. Why not have, you know, someone from Minnesota who's actually Catholic be the keynote speaker?

If you're outraged about this decision (and if you've been paying attention how can you not be?) you can let the NCEA know how you feel by dropping a note to:

Dr. Karen M. Ristau, Ed.D.
President, National Catholic Educational Association
1005 North Glebe Road
Arlington, VA 22201

Or you can e-mail Dr. Ristau at

Be courteous and respectful, but be sure to express your view that Keillor is a below average choice for keynote speaker.

Blame Canada

While I was disappointed that last night's Russia-Canada game wasn't more competitive, I was happy with the result. I'd rather see our neighbors to the North advance than the Russkies. When it comes down to it, you gotta want the North American game to prevail. At least I do.

As evidenced by this e-mail from a long time reader who shall remain anonymous, that sentiment is not necessarily shared by other American hockey fans:

F*** Canada. After watching the 1st period of their game vs. Russia, f*** Canada. F*** 'em. F*** those f***in' hosers. F***in' get a nuclear
weapon. Who's on your currency? June Cleaver? Don Sutton? F*** your pathetic neon-wearing 15 years behind the time fashion-clueless f***heads.

Niedermeyer? Dead. F***ers. ....just gettin' ready for the gold medal matchup.

Sounds like there could be something personal there "coloring" the e-mailer's views on Canada. With Slovakia's upset of Sweden last night and their thrashing of Russia, the road to the gold medal game now seems wide open for Canada. The US will have to get past a tough Finnish squad to get a chance to play for gold on Sunday. Although I'm not optimistic about their chances of besting Canada again, a US-Canada rematch would make for great drama. And throw a little more fuel on the "friendly" rivalry.

UPDATE-- James from Folsom e-mails to toss a match:

I have to confess, I am almost on the same page as your angry "F*** Canada" reader. For one, I am sick of all the "Canada is so much better than the US" crap I've heard for years. More importantly, I recall watching the US playing the hated Swiss at the World Juniors earlier this year (in Canuckistan) and the Canadian fans booed the US team mercilessly. So eff them.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

No Cake Walk

There seems to be a growing impression out there that the US hockey squad now has a relatively easy path to reach Sunday's gold medal game. While I wish it were so, the truth is that the next two games will not be easy and US victories are far from givens. Yesterday's qualifications playoffs showed once again that the talent gaps between the teams isn't all that large and there is scant margin for error. Even though all the top seeds won, the only game that wasn't close was Canada's 8-2 blowout of Germany. The Swiss needed a shootout to beat Belarus 3-2. The Czechs needed overtime to get by Latvia 3-2. And the Slovaks needed a third period goal to nip Norway 4-3.

There's no reason to think that today's games won't be as tight. And the Swiss team that the US faces today is just the kind of squad you don't want to face in an elimination game. They play solid team defense, don't make a lot of mistakes, and in Hiller have a goalie capable of stealing one from the team that on paper has superior talent. The US beat them in preliminaries 3-1, but it was a struggle. The Swiss stymied the Canadians for most of their preliminary matchup, which Canada finally won in a shootout. Team USA is going to have bring their game today and if there's any kind of a letdown after beating Canada or lack of effort, this could be the end of their road.

If they do beat the Swiss, the semifinal game against the Czechs or Finns on Friday will be another tough test. Both of these teams have veteran players with enough scoring and goaltending to beat any team in the world in a given game. Their matchup today should be a good one and I expect a low-scoring affair decided by a late goal or maybe even overtime.

I'm not trying to paint the US as underdogs here. Based on what they've done so far in the tourney, they should be able to win their quarterfinal and semifinal contests and get a shot at gold. But it ain't gonna be easy and no one should expect it will.

While I'm sure that US hockey fans are bummed that today's game against Switzerland is being played at 2pm (central) and will be difficult for many of us to watch, at least we'll be able to catch the Russia-Canada showdown in primetime (6:30pm central). That is a game that any real hockey fan will not want to miss.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gold Bug

With Switzerland and Belarus currently locked in a 2-2 third period tie in the first of today's playoff qualification games, it's a good time for a quick Olympic hockey review. We start with an e-mail from long-time Fraters reader James of Folsom, California:

No predictions? Seriously? Come on, no guts, no glory.

Honestly, I am embarrassed for you.

When a guy who plans his vacation schedules around the Frozen Four and the opening hours of the US Hockey Hall of Fame and uses Comic San MS as his default e-mail font is embarrassed for you, you almost have no choice but to respond. Here goes:

Although the Belarusians could be on the verge of playing spoilers early, I see all the higher seeds winning today. Tomorrow, I'll take Sweden over Slovakia and in a bit of an upset, see the Czechs knocking off the Finns. Canada and Russia should be a great one and I'm torn on the outcome. The home ice will be just enough of an edge to let the Canucks squeak by in a thriller. The US may struggle a bit, but should be able to get by either the Swiss or the boys from Belarus.

That would mean another stellar semifinal match up for Canada against Sweden. Again, a close game, but Team Canada comes out on top. The other semi with the US and Czech Republic facing off will also be a good one. But the Americans are on a roll and I gotta go with the hot hand.

Which would mean a gold medal game rematch between Canada and the US. Which would be incredible for hockey fans in both countries. Even those who don't follow the game closely in the US would likely want to tune in for this game. My heart says USA, but my head says that Canada has too much talent to lose twice to the plucky US squad on home ice. The entire country will finally be able to exhale as they win the gold on Canadian soil. Sweden grabs the bronze.

Having said all that, I just as easily could see the Russians besting the Canadians in the quarterfinals and winning the gold themselves. When you're talking single elimination hockey games with teams that are this closely matched, the sports cliché that "anything could happen" actually rings true. As we're seeing right now with Belarus and Switzerland headed to OT.

Wright e-mail to share his Olympic memory:

For me, Mark Johnson's goal with one second left in the first period of the 1980 game against the Russians was the Olympic moment to remember and treasure. I was on my way home from work listening to the game on the radio and had just come out of the Lowry Hill tunnel when he made that shot. It was an electrifying moment, totally changed the complexion of the game, and all of a sudden, all the dozens of cars around me on I-94 started blowing their horns. It was really something.

That shared experience is something that makes the Olympics special. When I came into the office yesterday morning, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that just about everyone--even people who don't know a forecheck from their forehead--was talking about the previous night's US-Canada game. Even here in the State of Hockey, you don't see that same level of interest over a Wild playoff run or a Gopher Frozen Four appearance. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to share further experiences over the next five days.

Finally, Mark e-mails with a story on one of the hardest working men in Vancouver:

Mike Emrick announced two Olympic men's hockey games Sunday--Russia's defeat of the Czech Republic and the United States' win over Canada--then relaxed with his wife, Joyce, in their hotel room to watch Sweden shut out Finland.

"I fell asleep in the middle of it," he said Monday by telephone. "I don't know if Joyce chose something else."

There is some fatigue in calling Olympic doubleheaders, as Emrick has already done six times in Vancouver.

Calling two hockey games in one day is a challenge. Doing it SIX times in ten days is a feat of vocal strength. While I'm usually pretty hard on announcers--especially in hockey--Emrick is about as good as it gets on the TV side today. My only suggestion for improvement would be for him to pronounce Parise the way it's been said in these parts for a long time. Al Shaver is my gold standard when it comes to hockey announcers and the proper pronouncement of player names.

Switzerland downs Belarus 3-2 in a shootout to set up a rematch in the quarterfinals with Team USA tomorrow. 2pm central time? (cough cough) I think I'm coming down with something.

Hot Diggity Dog

Dennis Prager was discussing how ridiculous it was for pediatricians to call for a choke-proof hot dog on his radio show today. He learned of this latest effort at safety at all costs from a USA Today story that he linked to at his blog. The story has all the scary details about the grave dangers posed by our hopelessly outdated hot dog design. It also included a nice riptose from a pro-hot dog source:

Janet Riley, president of the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, supports the academy's call to better educate parents and caregivers about choking prevention. "Ensuring the safety of the foods we service to children is critically important for us," Riley says.

But Riley questions whether warning labels are needed. She notes that more than half of hot dogs sold in stores already have choking-prevention tips on their packages, advising parents to cut them into small pieces. "As a mother who has fed toddlers cylindrical foods like grapes, bananas, hot dogs and carrots, I 'redesigned' them in my kitchen by cutting them with a paring knife until my children were old enough to manage on their own," Riley says.

Cutting the food yourself so that your children can't choke on it? A novel concept, but one unlikely to fly in our age of utter dependence on others to protect us from ourselves.

By the way, I have it on good authority that our own Saint Paul's dream job is to one day become president of the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council. Watch your back Janet.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Oh, Canada

Like many American hockey fans, I'm still reveling in the joy of last night's US win over Canada. It was a great game to watch and not only because of the outcome. The high level of play and intensity made for tremendous hockey. It was like watching an NHL All Star where the players actually cared deeply about the result and were willing to do whatever was necessary--laying out a hit, blocking a shot--to win. It was also nice to see the professional athletes on both sides so passionate about playing a game that they aren't getting a dime for. National pride definitely still does matter to these guys.

On the US side, the win provides a huge confidence boost for a young team. Beating the powerhouse Canadians on their home ice proves that if the Americans play their game and work hard, the can beat anyone. Such confidence will be needed when (and if) the US reaches the semis and finals and will likely have to face Finland, Russia, Sweden, or maybe even Team Canada again. This is probably even more important than securing the number one seed. Obviously having a day off and getting an easier opponent in the quarterfinals will help Team USA, but the road to gold is still going to be a very rough one and knowing that you can beat an incredible team like Canada is going to go a long ways to convince these guys that they can get there.

A number of players had excellent games for the US last night. Miller, Rafalski, and Kesler come immediately to mind. (Quick aside--I was watching the game with my wife and kids last night. When Kesler scored the open netter by diving around the Canadian player to swat the puck in, my reaction was to jump up and blurt out, "What a freakin' play!" Except I didn't say freakin'. Thankfully, I think the kids weren't really paying close to attention to me or that game by that point.) One guy who was particularly impressive in my eyes even though his name didn't appear on the score sheet--except for a questionable penalty--was Patrick Kane. There were a couple of times when the twenty-one-year-old kid had the puck and was weaving around to create space where he appeared to be the best player on either team. Yes, that includes THE Kid too, who despite having a goal ended up being minus three for the game.

The only possible downside of last night's victory is that I question whether the US can repeat that magic against Canada if they face them again. Beating Canada once on their home ice was unexpected. Beating them twice might be impossible. Can you really expect Ryan Miller to stand on his head and shut down the powerful Canadian attack again? I wouldn't count on it. If the US is going to taste gold, they might need some help to knock the Canadian giant out.

On the Canadian side, the loss only increases the immense pressure that this team was already under to win the gold. Despite all their previous NHL playoff and Olympic experience, including multiple Stanley Cups, there were already signs that the Canadian squad was tightening up when they faced Switzerland in their second game. The talent on the Canadian roster is amazing and when they get it going, they play spectacular hockey. But when they're in close games and especially when they're behind, that hockey becomes more forced than flowing.

One of the keys to the US victory was getting that first goal so early in the game. And then, when the Canadians tied it up, to answer almost immediately with another goal to reestablish the lead. If the Canadians get up 2-0 against any team in the tournament, it might be lights out. When they're in control, they're confident and the crowd is behind them. But put them in a hole early and you put the pressure on them. And again, despite all the experience, talent, and accomplishments of the Canadian players, that pressure is real and it seems to matter.

But with all the wailing and gnashing of teeth going on today among our friends to the North (which is actually audible here in border states if you listen closely), there's no reason for Canadian fans to panic yet. The reality is that they outplayed the US for a good part of the game and if Ryan Miller hadn't been stellar between the pipes, the Canadians could easily have won it. They have a more talented team and usually when talent is given the opportunity, it comes out on top. If the Canadian players don't let the pressure get to them, there is no reason this team can't come back and win the gold. They've got to win four games now to achieve that goal, but when you look at that roster you see that they have just the team to do it.

Having said that, one interesting angle that is probably the subject of much discussion in Canada today is the goaltender question. Which goalie is most likely to lead Canada to gold? Last night was not Martin Brodeur's finest moment. It's not as if the goals that he gave up were that bad, it's just that he didn't seem to be able to make enough of the big saves when he needed to. This could be partially due to the fact that a few members of the US team are very familiar with him. Parise and Lagenbrunner are currently teammates of Brodeur's on the Devils and Rafalski played with him in New Jersey for many years as well. It was obvious that the US had a plan for how to deal with Brodeur's proclivity for handling the puck and used that to their advantage on more than one occasion. If the US and Canada were to meet again down the road, it wouldn't shock me to see Roberto Luongo in net for the Canadians. Who will play against other teams may also be an open question.

Not that it will likely matter much in Canada's next game. With the US, Sweden, Russia, and Finland getting the top four spots and a bye, here are the matchups for the qualification playoffs tomorrow:

#8 Switzerland vs #9 Belarus

#7 Slovakia vs #10 Norway

#6 Canada vs #11 Germany

#5 Czech Republic vs #12 Latvia

If things go as expected and the higher seeds win, the quarterfinals on Wednesday would look like this:

#1 United States vs #8 Switzerland

#2 Sweden vs #7 Slovakia

#3 Russia vs #6 Canada

#4 Finland vs #5 Czech Republic

The US would be facing the pesky Swiss for the second time after defeating them 3-1 in their first game. It would not be an easy game given the Swiss style and the goaltending they've been getting from Hiller.

The Canada-Russia contest could be a great one. I don't expect that beating German will take too much out of the Canadians and they should be geared up to take on the Russkies at home.

The other two games should also be hard fought contests. Slovakia might not have quite the talent of Sweden, but in a one game elimination format anything can happen.

Last night was a good way to start what should be a splendid week of hockey.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Beer of the Week (Vol. XLIII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the fine Americans at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help you strike gold as you watch others experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

The question of which state sits atop the craft brewing hill is one likely to elicit passionate and lively debate among American beer lovers. As I've noted previously, Michigan's prowess in this area cannot be underestimated. California fields a craft brewing bench that's wide and deep, although given the state's relative size--geographic and population wise--that probably is to be expected. Washington and Oregon both have and storied craft brewing histories and when taken together as the Pacific Northwest, it's difficult to imagine another region of the country besting them. But when it comes to one individual state standing alone, the arguments for Colorado's claim to the craft brewing crown are difficult to refute.

In terms of both quantity and quality, Colorado ranks among the best. New Belgium Brewing's Fat Tire may be the best known craft beer from Colorado, but it's only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to Fat Tire, New Belgium brews a number of other quality craft offerings. And the list of other Colorado craft brewers is lengthy. Avery, Boulder, Breckenridge, Fort Collins, Great Divide, Left Hand/Tabernash and Odell are breweries that immediately come to mind. Plus Colorado has a slew of brew pubs throughout the state and again it's not just the quantity, it's the quality. The ones that I've had the opportunity to visit are among the best in the country, pairing good food with great beer.

The Colorado brewing scene is not just concentrated in the larger areas either. You can often find breweries and/or brew pubs in some of the smaller towns, especially in the mountains. Places like Idaho Springs with a population just under 2000. Home to our beer of the week, Pick Axe Pale Ale from the Tommy Knocker Brewery Company. In case you're curious, there's more to the meaning of the name than merely what the fevered imagination of Stephen King has brought us:

The Knocker, Knacker, Bwca (Welsh), Bucca (Cornish) or Tommyknocker (US) is the Welsh and Cornish equivalent of Irish leprechauns and English and Scottish brownies. About two feet tall and grizzled, but not misshapen, they live beneath the ground. Here they wear tiny versions of standard miner's garb and commit random mischief, such as stealing miner's unattended tools and food.

Their name comes from the knocking on the mine walls that happens just before cave-ins--actually the creaking of earth and timbers before giving way. To some of the miners, the knockers were malevolent spirits and the knocking was the sound of them hammering at walls and supports to cause the cave-in. To others, who saw them as essentially well-meaning practical jokers, the knocking was their way of warning the miners that a life-threatening collapse was imminent.

Plain brown bottle. Main label and neck label both feature Tommy Knockers. The brown, black, and tan main label shows one wielding a large pick axe while his partner appears to be dancing a jig. The neck label has a Tommy Knocker knocking back a beer.

Beer Style: English pale ale

Alcohol by Volume: 6.2%

COLOR (0-2): Orangish amber. Very cloudy. 2

AROMA (0-2): Hoppy with a slight metallic scent. 1

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

TASTE (0-5): Mostly hops with sweet malt and light citrus flavors. Medium bodied and drinkable. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Dry smooth finish with a hint of metal. 2

OVERALL (0-6): A nice little pale ale. Doesn't stand out that much, but it's very solid. It reminds me a lot of another pale ale that I just can't quite put my finger on. Possibly Smuttynose. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 14

By the way, there's a free tasting of Naked Grouse scotch at Glen Lake Wine and Spirits tonight from 4pm-7pm.

Hanging Together

If you're an American of the conservative political persuasion, you probably believe that all in all, things are looking up for those who share your views. Especially compared to where conservatives were sitting just one year ago when it appeared that we would be facing a prolonged period of wandering in the political wilderness. When you consider that President Obama's major initiatives have now been stalled or stopped, the rise of the Tea Parties, the election outcomes in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, and the way the 2010 election appears to be shaping up, conservatives could be justified in feeling cautiously optimistic that the tide has turned much sooner than anyone could have expected a year ago when President Obama and his fellow progressives appeared absolutely ascendant.

Thus, you might be surprised to read the opening 'graph in this morning's WSJ story on CPAC:

The divisions roiling American conservatives were on display Thursday at an annual gathering of activists, with the movement's emerging leaders directly challenging the Republican establishment.

Got it? There aren't just divisions within the movement, these divisions are ROILING American conservatives. Funny, I don't feel particularly "roiled" at the moment. Sure, there are differences between conservatives as there always are within any group, especially one brought together by political philosophies and principles. But, as the progressives discovered during the eight year regime of George W. Bush, it's amazing how shared opposition can bring you together.

There may be a lot of debate between conservatives about the best way forward--as again there always has been--but for the most part that debate appears to be healthy. At this point what unites conservatives--opposition to President Obama's progressive agenda--seems to be a heck of lot stronger than what divides us.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

No Free Parking

Veronique de Rugy has a revealing piece at Reason Magazine on the history of government cost projections not even coming close to what the projects or programs ultimately ended up costing. She draws heavily on a study of cost overruns prepared by some Danish economists.

Nor is the problem limited to Washington. In 2002 the Journal of the American Planning Association published one of the most comprehensive studies of cost overruns, looking over the last 70 years at 258 government projects around the world with a combined value of $90 billion. The Danish economists Bent Flyvbjerg, Mette Skamris Holm, and Soren Buhl found that nine out of 10 public works projects had exceeded their initially estimated costs. The Sydney Opera House and the Concorde supersonic airplane were the most spectacular examples, with cost overruns of 1,400 percent and 1,100 percent, respectively. Budget busting occurred throughout the seven decades studied, with the totals spent routinely ranging from 50 to 100 percent more than the original estimate.

How did the United States do? According to the Danish researchers, American cost overruns reached an average of $55 billion per year. The table shows a small sample of these boondoggles. The Big Dig, the unofficial name of the Central Artery/Tunnel Project in Boston, Massachusetts, is the most expensive highway project in the history of the country. By the time the project was completed in 2008, its price tag was a staggering $22 billion. The estimated cost in 1985 was $2.6 billion. The Dig also took seven more years to complete than originally anticipated, and it ran into severe construction quality problems along the way.

These blown estimates aren't merely mistakes either:

According to the Danish study, such inaccuracies aren't just errors. They reflect widespread, deliberate lying on the part of public officials. "Project promoters routinely ignore, hide, or otherwise leave out important project costs and risks in order to make total costs appear low," the authors conclude.

Something to keep in mind as we're promised that the health care reform bill will be "cost neutral" by politicians whose track record in such matters doesn't exactly inspire confidence. A table in the article lists nine of the biggest boondoggles including the estimated and actual costs of the project/program. One of the more amusing was the Kennedy Center. The original price tag was tabbed at $18.3 million in 1995. In 2003, the actual cost was $22.2 million. A 21.3% overrun is actually stellar performance by government standards and the project wouldn't seem to deserve a place on the list had it not been for the next item; the Kennedy Center Parking lot. Originally estimated to cost $28 million in 1998, by the time the parking lot was completed in 2003 the "investment" required a cool $88 million. I guess there really is no such thing as free parking anymore.

And these are the folks we want running our health care system so that we can control costs?


The St. Paul Grill is starting a Scotch Club:

Join The St. Paul Grill Scotch Club today and begin the journey to a COMPLIMENTARY tasting the Midwest's, and one of the world's, most expensive scotches--The Macallan 55 (currently valued at $750 for 1.5 oz). The St. Paul Grill is only Minnesota venue to serve the 55-year-old limited edition, single malt Scotch. Created by The Macallan, a renowned distillery based in the Highlands region of Scotland. The Macallan distillery only produced 420 individually numbered bottles of the 55-year old Scotch, and it only made 100 of those bottles available for distribution to the United States. Most of these have been distributed to restaurants and bars on the east and west coasts and in Las Vegas.

To receive this complimentary tasting of The Macallan 55, purchase a 1.5 oz pour of each of The Grill's 52 scotches on the bar menu, except The Macallan 55. In addition to receiving a complimentary tasting and as a Scotch Club member, you will receive exclusive benefits and rewards along the journey and throughout the year.

* Taste all the single malt scotches in the Highland Category on the scotch menu and you will receive a complimentary 1.5 oz pour of Dalmore 21 ($21.00 value).

* Taste all the single malt scotches in the Speyside Category on the scotch menu and you will receive a complimentary 1.5 oz pour of Glenlevit 21 ($30.00 value).

* Taste all the single malt scotches in the Lowland, Campbeltown, Island and Islay Categories and receive a complimentary 1.5 oz pour of Laphroaig 30 ($42 value).

* The Grill will hold quarterly events to showcase various scotches and give you the opportunity to meet with distillers, learn more about scotch and cross some off your list.

Going through each of the Grill's 52 scotches would require a serious investment, both in terms of time and lucre. But what a journey it would be and what a reward when you reach your destination. And it's hard to think of too many better places in the Twin Cities to enjoy a good scotch than the classic bar at the St. Paul Grill.

UPDATE-- I should have known that if anyone was going to take the time to break down the costs and benefits of membership in the St. Paul Grill Scotch Club it would be the Nihilist in Golf Pants. Here's his financial analysis:

I did the math.

Since we don't have gatekeepers, I decided to determine how much you'd have to lay out to get your free taste of MacAllen 55. I assumed it would be less than $1000 since you'd have 52 pours at an average price of less than $20.

Additionally, the offer includes three additional free pours along the way as you complete the Highlands, Speyside and other groups.

The Highlands are the cheapest group, with 12 Scotches for $257.75, including your "free" pour of Dalmore 21. Since Dalmore is priced at $21 you're looking at an 8% discount.

The next cheapest group is the Lowland, Cambletown, Island and Islay group of 26 pours for $398.25, including your "free" pour of Laphroaig 30. Since Laphroag is priced at $42, that's a 10% discount.

The final group would be the Speyside, which lists 35 pours on the menu for $740.75. You are supposed to receive a "free" pour of Glenlevit 21, a $30 value. However, it's not listed on the SPG's online menu. I'll assume it's available, making the number of pours 36. Of course, if you complete this group last, you'd get a "free" shot of the good stuff valued at $750. That would make your discount on your round a whopping 52%.

Something's not right here. The SPG claims you only need to buy 52 pours, but there are 73 or 74 pours, depending on the availability of Glenlevit 21. Your total cost would be $1,396.75 (about $19 each) for a menu that retails at $2,239.75. And that's before appetizers and meals.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

We Don't Know What We Don't Know

David Harsanyi asks Who Doesn't Trust Science Now?:

It is true that most reasonable people concede there has been warming on the planet and that most concede they can't possibly fully understand the underlying science. I certainly can't, despite my best efforts.

The problem is that reasonable people also understand economic trade-offs. Many don't like intrusive legislation. Others can sniff out fear-mongering for what it is. Some even trust in humanity's ability to adapt to any changes in climate trends.

In the end, though, the burden of proof is on the believers. And if they're going to ask a nation -- a world -- to fundamentally alter its economy and ask citizens to alter their lifestyles, the believers' credibility and evidence had better be unassailable.

This is a good summary of the reasons for my skepticism from the beginning on both the existence of and dangers posed by anthropogenic global warming. I don't deny that there is evidence of a warming trend in the earth's climate, although it appears that warming has leveled off in the last decade or so. I don't pretend to know what caused this warming and whether it’s been brought about by one particular factor or a combination of several. I also don't know exactly how this warming would impact the world were it to continue in the future. There's a lot about climate that I don't know.

But I also have never been convinced that there was irrefutable evidence that this most recent warming has been caused largely by man. Anthropogenic global warming is a theory that explains the warming, one of several. But there simply is not enough proof to say with conviction that it is THE ONLY explanation. And even if one were to accept that it was, there is even less irrefutable evidence that the impacts of the warming would be catastrophic enough to require drastic action to mitigate it now. Warmists argue that we need to apply the "precautionary principle." That even if the evidence is not irrefutable, we need to act as if it is to prevent harm. But most versions of the precautionary principle involve some form of cost-benefit analysis and while evidence of the cost of the proposed "solutions" to global warming are clear, the benefits of preventing it are dubious at best and based far more on fear than fact.

And when the "solution" that we're talking about is moving away from carbon based energy--literally the fuels that allowed us to build the modern world that we know today--we better damn well be absolutely sure we're doing it because we have no other choice. Warmists like to argue that even if it turns out that, aw shucks I guess we were all wrong about the whole global warming danger--our bad, the steps taken to mitigate it are ones that we should take anyway. This might be true if the proposed actions were prudent, reasonable, and cost effective. The reality is that they aren't and what they really want us to do is alter lifestyles, impose harsh economic burdens, and curtail not only the continuing advancements in already developed countries, but the advancements that less developed countries will need to make to raise the standards of living for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Such sacrifices are not to be undertaken lightly and should not be made unless we KNOW that they will in fact reduce global warming and avoid environmental catastrophe. The truth is the we--including all the scientists who make up the "consensus" on global warming--simple do not know enough about the earth's complex climate system today to make that claim with certainty. Until we do, reasonable skepticism would seem to be in order.

Mexico's Immigration Problem

A lot has been written about undocumented immigrants from Mexico entering the United States and putting a strain on our health care and other public services while often failing to pay their full share of taxes. Less common is an expose of Americans crossing the Rio Grande to freeload off the Mexican people.

But, a few weeks ago, the Star Tribune provided just such a story. It was a profile of one of my favorite musicians, Martin Zellar of the Gear Daddies. Zellar had been a staple of the local music scene since the early '90s. I have been to many of his shows over the years have never been disappointed. Like many musicians, he is also a standard issue lefty and even did a stint as Chairman of the Mower County Democratic Party.

A few years ago, Zellar went into semi-retirement and moved his family to Mexico - mostly to escape the harsh American winters, but there were other advantages:

"The way the economy works down there is perfect for me. There's no mortgage. Everyone buys their houses with cash. The property taxes are really low. There's no homeowner's insurance because it's all concrete, so nothing burns. Financially, it makes perfect sense for a musician."

That does sound like a leftist musician's dream (except the low property taxes part). But that's not all - there is also the socialized health care! This came in handy when Zellar's wife became pregnant while in Mexico:

"I am self-employed, so that means we're self-insured," said Zellar, who still pays U.S. and Minnesota taxes on his local earnings, by the way. "We would have been bankrupt 100 times over if we had been doing all this in the U.S."

Under Mexico's socialized health care services, Carolyn was able to get the weekly sonograms and numerous other tests required by her high-risk pregnancy for about $75 per visit, Zellar said. The delivery, a C-section with several doctors involved, cost only about $5,000. And Zellar swears the facilities, in the nearby city of Querétaro, were "nicer than what we had when the boys were born in St. Paul," and the doctors "unbelievably great."

Another good thing about Mexico: if there had been complications, they were only a short plane ride away from the world's best regarded health care system (no, not that third world St. Paul health system, I'm referring to Cuba, of course).

But who is paying for this world class socialized medicine? Sure, Mexico doesn't have to finance Maple Grove mansions for their fat-cat health care executives, but I'm assuming that even Mexican doctors and sonogram technicians need some money to live on. Zellar clearly isn't paying - he notes that his "property taxes are really low" and all of his income is generated in the U.S. and thus he pays primarily U.S. taxes.

So, the Zellar family gets its health care subsidized by poor Mexican agave farmers because he is too cheap to spend some of his "Zamboni" song money on health insurance for his family.

If Mexico is smart, it will act quickly to shut its borders to freeloading American musicians. Maybe build a wall or something.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Neutral No Longer

Team USA begins their Olympic hockey quest today when they take on hated Switzerland at noon Pacific time. They follow up with a contest against even more hated Norway on Thursday at noon Pacific time before closing out their preliminary round play on Sunday evening against that pariah of the civilized world, Canada. It's for good reason that US hockey fans have taken to referring to the three other teams in their pool as the Axis of Evil.

Okay, so the rivalries ain't exactly USA-USSR circa 1960 or 1980. But it is Olympic hockey and it promises to be a great tournament with national pride on the line. Canada comes in as the favorite with home ice advantage and the International Ice Hockey Federation's number one ranking. The other teams that the US has to face would seem to be easier pickings with Norway ranked #12 and Switzerland #7. But the US team is only ranked sixth and the Swiss proved to be scrappy in 2006 in Torino going 2-1-2 in the preliminary round and beating the Czech Republic and Canada in the process. The bad news is that there won't likely be any gimme games for Team USA in the preliminary round. The good news is that the preliminary round games don't really matter.

Well, they do matter in terms of seeding and possibly playing an extra game in the qualification playoff round, but they don't matter in terms of advancing in the tournament. After the preliminary round is complete, the top four teams in points will advance to the quarterfinal round. The other eight teams will be seeded #5 through #12 and face off in the one game qualification playoff. The four winners will then advance to the quarterfinal round and play the teams the top four teams who essentially had a bye. From there, it's on to the semis and then the Gold and Bronze medal games. So it's possible to go 0-3 in your preliminary games and still taste Gold. Confused? So was I. The tournament rules have changed since the last go round in Torino.

Rather than getting bogged down in the arcane details and various possibilities, the mission for Team USA is just win baby. Especially when we're going up against history's greatest monsters as we are today in our matchup with the sinister Swiss.

Going Viral

Long-time Fraters reader James from Folsom, California e-mails to report a disturbing outbreak in his neck of the woods:

Wellstone Progressive Democrats of Sacramento on Facebook

Seriously? Of Sacramento?

Honestly. Wellstone Progressive Democrats of Sacramento? Good God, make it stop.

I blame you (and I especially blame you for the Wellstone school song--which you guys "performed" on the NARN oh so long ago--bouncing around in my head right now.)

My school is Wellstone
I go to Wellstone...

Shoot me.

There's no denying that The Wellstone School Song is one catchy little ditty. It's also good to know that in the Age of Obama, aspiring leftists across the country still hold a candle for Saint Wellstone. Be the change James. Be the change.

Monday, February 15, 2010

They're Not Heavy

During Friday's Winter Olympic Opening Ceremony, we were reminded often that the host Canadians have a reputation for being friendly, polite, and mild-mannered. The pleasant disposition of its citizenry seems to carry over into the image that the country seeks to display on the world stage as well. Canada is the nice guy among the nations of the world. The one who'll always hold the door for you. The one you can always invite to your gatherings without fear that he'll say something to offend anyone. The one who encourages everyone else to get along and seeks to defuse tensions. The good friend.

One aspect of Canada's good guy role that's not appreciated enough is the circumstances that allow the country to play it. How did Canada end up being the nice guy? Was it the almost seamless blending of diverse cultures that was so exhaustively displayed during Friday's Opening Ceremonies? Is it just an attribute of the unique Canadian character that was forged by the challenges of forming a nation over the vast expanse of the rich, beautiful, yet formidable natural landscape? Or was it like real estate, all about location, location, and location?

It's not just a happy coincidence that the nation with a reputation for niceness is also the one that shares a border (its only one) with the United States. Being next to the US has allowed Canada to develop into the international nice guy without having to worry about concerns that the rest of the world has to face. It's hard to think of two countries in the world who have had a longer, more successful relationship in terms of security, trade, and shared interests than the US and Canada. And while the US has definitely realized much from this partnership, as the smaller (population wise) and weaker party it's been even more important to Canada. It's impossible to imagine Canada being what Canada is today without the United States.

Canada is like the little brother of the strongest and toughest kid on the block. No one is going to mess with him on the playground lest they incur the wrath of the older sibling. This provides a certain level of respect and stature that they didn't have to earn by their own actions. They don't have to be the tough guy, they can be the nice guy without fear of the bullies taking advantage of it.

The relationship with the US also opens up a whole world of opportunities to Canadians. Opportunities in business, entertainment and sports which would be difficult for them to create on their own. Again, this is a two-way street and benefits Americans as well, but given the relative imbalances in size and scale, the opportunities are far from equal.

This is not to say that being the little brother is a piece of cake. They have to put up with the big brother trying to tell them what to do, dealing with a big brother who always thinks he's right, and trying to keep the big brother away from their prized toys. But these problems are common to any sibling relationship and managing them is made easier by the fact that for of all his shortcomings, by and large the big brother happens to be a pretty good guy.

This isn't meant to knock Canada. I like Canada. I've traveled there many a time and can confirm that the Canadian reputation for being nice, easy-going, and funny is well-deserved (even among the constabulary). It's also impossible not like a country where beer and hockey are part and parcel of the culture.

Even more importantly--if I may return to the sibling metaphor for a moment--Canada understands what it means to be part of the family. In June 1944, in was British, US, and Canadian troops who began the liberation of Europe by landing in Normandy. Last week in Afghanistan, it was British, US, and Canadian troops along with Afghan government forces who launched Operation Mashtarak to retake Marjah from the Taliban. Although technically a NATO operation, it appears that other than contributions from Denmark and Estonia, it's once again the Brits, Yanks, and Canucks doing the heavy lifting (quite literally when it came to the Canadian role in the operation's air assault). Their numbers in Afghanistan may be small, but the Canadians haven't shied away from the fight. They may be the nice guys of the world, but they're not pushovers.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Judge & Jury All In One

The Audi "Green Police" ad that debuted during the Super Bowl generated a lot of discussion. Some found it amusing, others a frightening portend of what may lie ahead. A front page story in today's WSJ on what the city of Boulder, Colorado is doing to "promote" energy conservation will likely provide more fodder for those in the latter camp:

"Everyone needs to do something," says Councilman Matthew Appelbaum.

Unless the city does it for them. Recognizing that, as Mr. Appelbaum puts it, "it's a real pain to do all that work," Boulder plans to spend about $1.5 million in city funds and $370,000 in federal stimulus money to hire contractors to do basic upgrades for residents.

In the program, dubbed "Two Techs in a Truck," as many as 15 energy-efficiency teams will go door-to-door. They'll ask home and business owners for permission to caulk windows, change bulbs and install low-flow showerheads and programmable thermostats--all at taxpayer expense. The techs will set up clothes racks in laundry rooms as a reminder to use the dryer less often. They'll even pop into the garage and inflate tires to the optimum pressure for fuel efficiency.

Well, isn't that nice of them? They'll just "pop" into my garage and inflate my tires for me? Only if you agree to this level of government intrusion into your lives of course. At least for now. When you're facing a crisis like global warming, extremism in the defense of the environment is no vice.

Jeff Hohensee, a sustainability consultant, invested $125,000 in home-energy upgrades--though with rebates, his cost was $35,000--so his home uses only as much energy as solar panels on his roof produce. To spur neighbors to follow suit, he suggests the city measure every home's carbon footprint and publicize the results.

Now you're on to something. Publicize the results. Publicly shame your neighbors. Maybe start marking their homes with a sign so everyone knows that they're not doing their part. Organize neighborhood block committees to keep an eye on these anti-social elements and report their activities to the authorities.

City officials aren't willing to go that far. But they are hoping to leverage peer pressure. They plan to post congratulatory signs outside homes that have let the "two techs in a truck" change the light bulbs. They'll offer prizes to churches and schools that get commitments from, say, 100 families to insulate their attics. They'll host energy-efficiency block parties and plan to hire a consultant to create a conservation buzz on Facebook and Twitter.

If your city, township, municipality, or whatever basic level of local government levies taxes on you, EVER starts talking about hiring a consultant to "create a conversation buzz on Facebook and Twitter" it's time to get the pitchforks and torches out.

Friday, February 12, 2010

We'd All Love To See The Plan

Yesterday, I caught Representative Paul Ryan's appearance on the Bill Bennett radio show and was impressed with the comprehensive plan Ryan has laid out to try to restore some fiscal sanity to the federal budget.

Today, Robert Samuelson writes on Paul Ryan's Lonely Challenge:

Ryan rejects this consensus. He would make choices now. Here are some features of his plan:

-- Social Security: For those 55 or older today, the program would remain unchanged. For those younger, benefits would be reduced -- with no cuts for the poorest workers. Workers 55 or younger in 2011 could establish individual investment accounts that would be funded with part of their payroll taxes. Government would guarantee a return equal to inflation.

-- Medicare: Current recipients and those enrolling in the next decade would continue under today's program, though wealthier recipients would pay somewhat higher premiums. In 2021, Medicare would become a voucher program for new recipients (those today 54 or younger). With vouchers, recipients would buy Medicare-certified private insurance. In today's dollars, the vouchers would ultimately grow to $11,000. Eligibility ages for Medicare and Social Security would slowly increase toward 69 and 70, respectively.

-- Spending Freeze: From 2010 to 2019, "non-defense discretionary spending" -- about a sixth of the federal budget, including everything from housing to parks to education -- would be frozen at 2009 levels.

-- Simpler Taxes: Taxpayers could choose between today's system or a streamlined replacement with no deductions and virtually no special tax breaks. Above a tax-free amount ($39,000 for a family of four), taxpayers would pay only two rates: 10 percent up to $100,000 for joint filers and 25 percent on income more than that.

Samuelson goes on to note that Ryan's plan is far from perfect. It still wouldn't balance the federal budget until 2063(!!!), which means it doesn't go far enough in raising revenues (read taxes) or cutting spending. But at least he has a plan and a place where we can begin the discussion. Unlike the Democrats:

But the larger point is that Ryan is trying to start a conversation on the desirable role and limits of government. He's trying to make it possible to talk about sensitive issues -- mainly Social Security and Medicare -- without being vilified. President Obama recognized that when he called Ryan's plan a "serious proposal." But since then, Democrats have resorted to ritualistic denunciations of him as pillaging Social Security and Medicare. Legitimate debate becomes impossible. If Democrats don't like Ryan's vision, the proper response is to design and defend their own plan. The fact that they don't have one is a national embarrassment.

What's even more embarrassing is the way that most of the media continues to let President Obama get away with setting up rhetorical strawman--"there are some who say we should do nothing"--and putting on the pretense that there are no alternatives to the course of actions that he and the Democrats support. There are plenty of Republican proposals out there that address the critical problems facing the country. Ryan's plan is by far the most specific and realistic approach to controlling spending and deficits that either party has laid out. Democrats may not agree with it, but it's time they stop pretending that Republicans are nothing more than the party of "no" when in fact they are the ones with nothing to offer.

Beer of the Week (Vol. XLII)

Another of beer of the week brought to you by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who seem to only get better with age.


One bourbon, one scotch, one beer
Well I ain't seen my baby since I don't know when,
I've been drinking bourbon, whiskey, scotch and gin
Gonna get high man I'm gonna get loose,
Need me a triple shot of that juice
Gonna get drunk don't you have no fear
I want one bourbon, one scotch and one beer
One bourbon, one scotch, one beer

Despite the admonition "beer before liquor, never sicker," beer and whiskey have a long and storied association. Often it's the kind of hardcore drinking that Thorogood is talking about. Most people are probably familiar with the Boilermaker. Although there are a number of variations in both the makeup of the combo and the process for downing it, the most recognized version is knocking back the whiskey in a swift shot and following it up by sipping on a beer. This is done both to the speed the process of intoxication and ease the burn of the whiskey, which in most cases was far from top of the shelf hooch.

But it's also possible to enjoy good beer and good whiskey together in a more civilized manner.. Sitting down in an easy chair with a good book, a quality whiskey (Scotch, bourbon, or rye), and a well-hopped beer is an excellent way to relax and wind down the evening. You don't pound the whiskey, you sip it. Follow it with a sip of beer and you've got a taste sensation. The subtle, complex flavors of the whiskey pair nicely with the more aggressive palate of the beer. A match truly made in heaven.

Brewers have picked up on this symmetry and created beers that evoke the whiskey connection. Tyranena Brewing has a Dirty Old Man Rye Porter. Goose Island brews a special Bourbon County Stout. Founder's excellent Red Rye PA is another example.

This week's beer of the week is as well. Michelob Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale is a winter seasonal aged in bourbon barrels that claims to be "rich with barrel aged flavor." Sounds great. But does it live up the promise?

Brown bottle with Michelob name engraved on top of the body. Label has a traditional font and features a snowman holding a beer wearing a scarf, hat, gloves, and (sigh) sunglasses. Like many of the big brewers efforts to cross over into the craft side, the design feels forced.

Beer Style: Winter Warmer

Alcohol by Volume: 6.0%

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

AROMA (0-2): Vanilla and sweet malt. 2

HEAD (0-2): Noticeably carbonated with small bubbles. Off-white in color. Fades fast with little retention or lacing. 1

TASTE (0-5): Vanilla and caramel malt flavors with a bit of spice. No real trace of bourbon. Thin mouthfeel and medium body. Drinkable. 2

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Dry and a little empty. 1

OVERALL (0-6): While it doesn't really live up to the true winter warmer style, it's not a bad effort from Michelob. Can't really pick up any flavor from the aging in bourbon oak casks, but you can definitely taste (and smell) the whole Madagascar vanilla beans. It looks pretty good off the pour and doesn't taste completely bland. Which for a major trying to be a micro is about the best you can expect. 3

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 11

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ring My Bell

In years past, I've had a curmudgeonly attitude toward the Olympic games. The 2008 spectacle in Beijing held little interest for me and I'm proud to say that I barely watched any of it. But as the 2010 Winter Games get set to kickoff in Vancouver tomorrow, I've come to realize that I don't despise the Olympic in general as much as I despise the Summer Games. I'm actually looking forward to the games in Vancouver and may even--stop the presses--watch some of the opening ceremonies.

This partly stems from the season. I've usually got better ways to spend my summer nights than watching pre-pubescent girls tumbling and somersaulting about in hopes of securing high scores based on subjective judging. However, here in the doldrums of dead winter, options--especially outdoor ones--are limited. Now that the Super Bowl is behind us and March Madness still a month out, we've entered the horse latitudes of the sports season as well.

The other reason for the attraction is the games themselves. I start off with an obvious bias toward the Winter Games because of hockey. Even though it's become more competitive since the Dream Team days, Olympic basketball still isn't all that compelling. It's going to come down to the US versus one of two or three other countries who can play at that level. Hockey by comparison features a far more wide-open field. The professional talent is much more evenly distributed between the countries. Consider that at Turin in 2006, Canada and the United States finished seventh and eighth respectively. That's correct: Canada finished in SEVENTH place.

This year, the Canadians will have home ice (on an NHL sized rink), but also all the pressure that comes with it. Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia all have great players and it wouldn't be a shock to see any of those teams win the gold. The US squad has finally transitioned to the next generation of players and if the young guns step up and if they get good goaltending, they could be reach the medal round. It should be a great tournament and it will be nice to be able to actually watch most of the key contests live.

But it's more than that. Whether it's speed skating, downhill skiing, luge or bobsled the Winter Games are just more fun to watch than their Summer counterparts. The activities feature more speed, better wipeouts, and often with the added natural elements to deal with. Heck, I'd rather watch the biathlon over most of the track and field events at the Summer Games.

The only downside to the Winter Games is also the event that will likely prove to be the most popular: figure skating. Whenever I come across some sequined toe-picking ninny prancing across the ice I always think, "What a waste. There could be a hockey game going on instead." Figure skating is the gymnastics of the Winter Olympics and I plan to watch as little of it as possible.

Luckily there are plenty of other real sports taking place in and around Vancouver over the next seventeen days to keep me busy. Let the games begin.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Embracing the Evidence

Don't look now, but there seems to be something astir when it comes to the world of American public education. And it doesn't involve pouring more money into the system in vain hopes that this time the results will be different despite forty years of failure to realize improvements from increased spending. No, it involves real reform as more and more people finally seem willing to tackle one of the real roots of the problem.

On his radio show this morning, Bill Bennett was talking with Senator Jim DeMint. Near the end of the conversation--after covering health care and spending--Bennett (former Secretary of Education) asked DeMint for the opportunity to come before Senate Republicans and discuss some very simple and inexpensive steps that would improve education. The key reform would be to get rid of the bottom 5% of teachers. Bennett mentioned that there is now a wealth of research that shows how critical teacher quality is to student achievement. It seems like a obvious correlation, but it's one that the national teacher unions and their liberal allies in the Democratic party have been loath to address. Talking about teacher performance or removing teachers who aren't getting the job done had become the third rail of education. No one wanted to touch it.

But there are winds of change in the air. As Saint Paul noted last week even long-time liberals like film critic Roger Ebert are being forced to face up to the fact that money is not why our education system is failing, it's the quality of our teachers. And no group has done more to contribute to the problem or resist any attempts to fix it than the teachers unions.

More evidence of an emerging consensus on this aspect of education that crosses political boundaries was presented by Stephen Spruiell in the February 8th edition of National Review (sub req):

It is equally difficult to argue now that teacher quality and student test scores are not correlated. Empirical studies from groups such as the New Teacher Project, Teach for America, and the Brookings Institution have demonstrated that teachers matter, and that test scores are a reliably accurate tool for measuring how much they matter. A Brookings study of Los Angeles public schools published in 2006 concluded that "having a top-quartile teacher rather than a bottom-quartile teacher four years in a row would be enough to close the black-white test score gap."

As in the debate over free trade, liberal journalists and policymakers are increasingly embracing the evidence. I first learned of the Brookings study from a Steven Brill article in The New Yorker that absolutely eviscerated New York's United Federation of Teachers for blocking reforms that would make it easier for schools to use tests in teacher evaluations. Amanda Ripley of The Atlantic recently wrote about Teach for America's groundbreaking efforts to track test-score data, link it to each of the organization's teachers, and use it to assess their effectiveness. Bob Herbert, the New York Times columnist, wrote a column in January praising Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, for her grudging acceptance of the notion that standardized test scores should be part of the evaluation process. (The National Education Association, AFT’s much larger cousin, remains opposed.)

Roger Ebert, the Brookings Institute, The New Yorker, and Bob Herbert understand (at some level at least) what the problem really is. If President Obama actually wants to "pivot to the center," "reach out his hand across the aisle," and "work together in a bipartisan manner," this would be a golden opportunity. Taking on Sister Souljah was child's play compared to what President Obama would face in challenging his allies in the teachers unions, but the political payoff could be equally significant. So far his administration's talk on education has been much better than its walk. This is an opportunity to put it to the test.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Okay, Now What?

Over the many months of a presidential campaign, it's usually difficult to pinpoint the precise moment when the balance was tipped decisively in favor of one candidate and the outcome all but decided. However, the 2008 contest between Obama and McCain was an exception. When you look at the weekly polling data--either through most of the individual pollsters or especially in aggregate--you can clearly see that something happened in late-September that allowed Obama to pull away from what had been a close race (some polls even showed McCain ahead) and cruise to victory in November.

The event that triggered this turning point was the collapse of the stock market and the government's efforts to stop the freefall and save the economy. But it wasn't the event itself that turned the tide as much as the candidate's reaction to it. John McCain suspended his campaign and went back to Washington to supposedly lead the way in working out a plan. At the time, I thought it was a bold move that would help highlight McCain's concern for putting the good of the country over politics. Of course, I assumed that McCain actually had some idea of what the end game might be.

Judging from Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's memoir "On the Brink," that assumption was wildly optimistic. Here's an excerpt that appeared in Saturday's Wall Street Journal:

By protocol, the president turned to call on the speaker of the House. And when Nancy Pelosi spoke, it was clear the Democrats had done their homework and had planned a skillful response for McCain.

Ms. Pelosi said that Obama would represent the Democrats. Then Obama sketched the broad outlines of the problem and stressed the need for immediate action. He said the Democrats had been working closely with me; he ran through the rough terms of the morning's discussion on the Hill, then mentioned the need for adjustments on oversight and executive compensation, as well as help for homeowners. He spoke without notes--much less a teleprompter--and spoke eloquently. "The Democrats will deliver the votes," he asserted.

Then he sprang the trap that the Democrats had set: "Yesterday, Senator McCain and I issued a joint statement, saying in one voice that this is no time to be playing politics. And on the way here, we were on the brink of a deal. Now, there are those who think we should start from scratch…. If we are indeed starting over, the consequences could well be severe."

But, of course, there was no deal yet. [Rep. Spencer] Bachus [R., Ala.] had been maneuvered into giving credibility to the appearance of one. But he, [House Minority Leader John] Boehner and [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell had since issued statements disclaiming the idea that there ever had been a deal. Now Obama and the Democrats were skillfully setting up the story line that McCain's intervention had polarized the situation and that Republicans were walking away from an agreement. It was brilliant political theater that was about to degenerate into farce. Skipping protocol, the president turned to McCain to offer him a chance to respond: "I think it's fair that I give you the chance to speak next."

But McCain demurred. "I'll wait my turn," he said. It was an incredible moment, in every sense. This was supposed to be McCain's meeting--he'd called it, not the president, who had simply accommodated the Republican candidate's wishes. Now it looked as if McCain had no plan at all--his idea had been to suspend his campaign and summon us all to this meeting. It was not a strategy, it was a political gambit, and the Democrats had matched it with one of their own.

Boehner said he was trying to find a way to get House Republicans on board. "I am not talking about a totally new deal, but we do need to tweak the core part of the program," he said.

Decorum started to evaporate as the meeting broke into multiple side conversations with people talking over each other. [Sen. Richard] Shelby [R., Ala.] waved a sheaf of papers, claiming they were from more than 100 economists who all thought TARP was a bad idea. The president jumped in to say, "No, this is a situation where we need to act. We don't have time to have hearings with a bunch of economists."

Finally, raising his voice over the din, Obama said loudly, "I'd like to hear what Senator McCain has to say, since we haven't heard from him yet."

The room went silent and all eyes shifted to McCain, who sat quietly in his chair, holding a single note card. He glanced at it quickly and proceeded to make a few general points. He said that many members had legitimate concerns and that I had begun to head in the right direction on executive pay and oversight. He mentioned that Boehner was trying to move his caucus the best he could and that we ought to give him the space to do that. He added he had confidence the consensus could be reached quickly.

As he spoke, I could see Obama chuckling. McCain's comments were anticlimactic, to say the least. His return to Washington was impulsive and risky, and I don't think he had a plan in mind. If anything, his gambit only came back to hurt him, as he was pilloried in the press afterward, and in the end, I don't believe his maneuver significantly influenced the TARP legislative process. A number of people I respect on the Hill believe McCain ended up being helpful by focusing public attention on TARP and galvanizing Congress to action. And John later did find ways for House Republicans to support legislation. But Democrats absolutely did not want him to get any credit. They wanted the economic issue as their own. Accusing McCain of blowing up a nondeal was just hardball political tactics. But when it came right down to it, he had little to say in the forum he himself had called.

One of the biggest fears that many conservatives had about McCain was that beneath the talk of patriotism, service, and duty, there wasn't much of a foundation of core principles that would help McCain grapple with tough choices and guide his decision making, especially when it came to economic matters. If Paulson's accounts of what transpired in those September 2008 meetings are correct, those fears would seem to have been validated.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Winter Wonderland

People, please stop calling every major snowstorm to hit the east coast a blizzard. Words mean things and blizzard means a snowstorm with wind speeds at or above 35 mph. Just because a 30" of snow falls does not mean there has been a blizzard. It simply means that a lot of snow fell on Washington DC.

And, frankly, just because a lot of snow has fallen in DC doesn't mean the rest of the world cares one little bit. It's winter, you with it for crying out loud and spare the rest of the country from your silly knees bent running about behavior. We have our own winter weather to deal with. Grab a shovel, dig yourselves out and shut the hell up.

Ad It Up

This year's Super Bowl ads were a decidedly mixed bag. A few were actually inspired. Some were simply awful. And the rest (the majority) were mundane and mediocre.

It's easy to make too much of these ads and overstate their importance or what they say about the state of our society. However, there was a thread that ran through a number of them that I found disturbing.

That was the apparent willingness of those depicted to surrender things such as honor, respect, and freedom in exchange for material possessions. This was clearly the message in the Dodge Charger commercial where a group of men as much admitted that they had pretty much completely given up control of their lives to their wives for the "right" to drive the car they wanted to. My wife has my pair in her purse, but as long as she throws me this one bone, I'll happily submit.

The angle in the Bridgestone ad was different, but it had a similar message. Rather than resist the dystopic thugs who wanted to take his tires, the "hero" of this story chooses to throw his wife to the wolves in order to keep his material goods. I'm sure the creators thought this was funny which in itself says a lot about what people think of the meaning of manhood these days.

The Audi "Green Police" ad has generated a lot of discussion about whether it's actually a not-so-subtle send up of the extremes of the environmental movement. Even if it is, we again see a situation where the person at the center of the ad--whom viewers are expected to personally identify with--is choosing the path of least resistance in order to maintain their own personal comfort. Rather than resisting the degradations and violations of liberty wrought by the Green Police, the Audi driver has found a way to reach an accommodation with them. As long as it's my neighbors and not me being hauled off to reeducation camps and I can still drive my cool car, I'm okay with things.

Again, perhaps I'm getting all worked up about nothing. Maybe these ads are just ads and there no relationship between their content and our cultural values. But when you see a similar message appear over and over during what has likely become America's premier shared cultural event, it causes me to worry what that message might imply about the character of our country.

UPDATE: Cap'n Ed has a post on the Audi ad at Hot Air and one commenter (darclon) suggests a better version:

This ad would have been awesome if an '67 stingray roared to life and broke through a green police barricade while the driver chomped on a cheeseburger and gave the cops the finger

That's exactly what I thought when I watched it last night. Then, maybe instead of "Dream Police," the ad could feature Rush's Red Barchetta. That version also would have been a fulfillment of what Daniel Henniger wrote about last May:

Maybe they'll bolt. Maybe the car culture will revert to where it began, when the whiskey runners in the South ran from the revenuers. This time the cars themselves will be bootlegged--fat, fast and gas-powered--racing through the night on off-map roads while the National Green Corps--enacted by Congress in the second Obama term--looks for them from ethanolic choppers overhead. Reborn to run.

National Green Corps? Let's stick with the Green Police. That's much easier for our Commander in Chief to pronounce correctly.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Cheap Shots

Updated and Bumped after seeing the commercial.

Audi of America will be airing a Super Bowl ad featuring their A# TDi clean diesel. Their message is a supposed environmental one, that driving an Audi is a friendly environmental choice. Hypocracy aside, the most interesting aspect of Audi's decision is their hiring of Cheap Trick to re-record their hit "Dream Police" to air in the commercial.

Cheap Trick took the lazy way out when re-recording their hit. They changed the name of the song to "Green Police," and merely changed the word "Dream" to "Green" throughout the song, leaving all other lyrics intact.

The result is an Al Gore wet dream, a song about a facist state hunting down those that don't meet the environmental mandates of big liberal government:

The green police, they live inside of my head.
The green police, they come to me in my bed.
The green police, they're coming to arrest me, oh no.

You know that talk is cheap, and those rumors ain't nice.
And when I fall asleep I don't think I'll survive the night, the night.

'Cause they're waiting for me.
They're looking for me.
Ev'ry single night they're driving me insane.
Those men inside my brain.

The green police, they live inside of my head.
(Live inside of my head.)
The green police, they come to me in my bed.
(Come to me in my bed.)
The green police, they're coming to arrest me, oh no.

Well, I can't tell lies, 'cause they're listening to me.
And when I fall asleep, bet they're spying on me tonight, tonight.

'Cause they're waiting for me.
They're looking for me.
Ev'ry single night they're driving me insane.
Those men inside my brain.

I try to sleep, they're wide awake, they won't leave me alone.
They don't get paid to take vacations, or let me alone.
They spy on me, I try to hide, they won't let me alone.
They persecute me, they're the judge and jury all in one.

'Cause they're waiting for me.
They're looking for me.
Ev'ry single night they're driving me insane.
Those men inside my brain.

The green police, they live inside of my head.
The green police, they come to me in my bed.
The green police, they're coming to arrest me.

Nihilist Adds: Over at Nihilist In Golf Pants, I've posted a more thorough rewrite parody of the song.

Update: after viewing the ad, it looks like Audi may actually be mocking the green movement. Here's the video:

Also, unfortunately, the Green Police was the nickname of a Nazi unit sent to move Jews to concentration camps. Definitely a curious advertising choice.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

No Sugar Tonight In My Tea

The left's seething hatred of the new conservative movement (regretfully, in my opinion, labelled as the tea party movement) continues to permeate the mainstream media. The latest example comes from yesterday's Washington Post (via today's St. Paul Pioneer Press). In describing events at the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville yesterday, Post reporter Philip Rucker writes:
Former Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., offered a fiery defense on Friday of Judeo-Christian faith and traditional American values, but there was no prayer or Pledge of Allegiance to open the convention. Nor was there an American flag in the convention hall.
Rucker is clearly attempting to undermine Tancredo's comments with completely unwarranted implications of hypocrisy. Oh sure...they talk (with FIRE) about Judeo-Christian and American values but where are the prayers and where are the flags and where are all of the other things that we would normally mock the movement about displaying had they actually been present?

The frustrating thing is that I'm absolutely certain Rucker would have written a similar condescending paragraph had prayers and flags been in abundance at the convention. I'm sure it would have read something like this:
In a convention hall still echoing with the rote prayers of the faithful and the required pledge of the patriotic, Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., offered a fiery defense on Friday of Judeo-Christian faith and traditional American values. Convention goers dutifully waved their American flags as Tancredo delivered his speech in front of an garishly enormous Stars and Stripes.
Okay, my projection of a non-existent Philip Rucker paragraph may be a bit over the top but the point is that these guys aren't even attempting to cover the conservative movement fairly. The bias is there and it is going to make it into the story despite the movement's growing popularity.

Super Bad

So far my "do the opposite" system for picking NFL playoff games has not fared well. Going 4-6 in the games leading up to the Super Bowl is hardly a stellar record. And the matchup between the Saints and Colts doesn't really present any obvious opportunities for bucking convention and past history. But if you look hard enough there's always an angle that can be played.

Heading into tomorrow's game, it seems that almost everyone outside the state of Indiana is pulling for the Saints, even if they think the Colts will ultimately prevail. This pro-Saints sentiment stems partly from a desire to see the team reverse the franchise's pathetic past, but mostly it's driven by the belief that the people of New Orleans somehow "deserve" to win the Super Bowl after what their city went through with Hurricane Katrina. The Saints and their city are such a feel good story that you can't help but cheer for them, right?

Wrong. I not only want to see the Colts beat the Saints, I want to see them trample the Saints. I want to watch as the Super Bowl hopes and dreams of the Saints and their fans are completely and utterly destroyed. Sorry about what happened with Katrina New Orleans, but you don't "deserve" to win a Super Bowl because of your suffering.

The better team deserves to win the Super Bowl and I don't think the Saints are that team. I still don't think Drew Brees is a big game quarterback and despite their propensity for creating turnovers, I remain unimpressed with the Saints defense. The Saints were fortunate to get to the Super Bowl, but it will take more than that to beat the Colts. The Colts will not give the game to the Saints. If the Saints want to be Super Bowl champs, they will have to win it. And I'm skeptical about their ability to do so.

Not only do I think the Colts will win and win big, I want them to. Many will complain about having to sit through a Super Bowl blow out, but I'll savor every second of it. Colts 37 Saints 12.

Friday, February 05, 2010

That Is One Angry Clown!

From the Seinfeld episode The Opera:


Jerry: (answering machine) leave a message and I'll call you back, thanks.

JOE DIVOLA: Jerry, Joe Divola. *Pbt* *Pbt* *Pbt* I have a hair on my tongue, I can't get it off, you know how much I hate that? Course you do, you put it there. I know what you said about me Seinfeld. I know you bad mouthed me to the execs at NBC, put the kibosh on my deal. Now I'm gonna put the kibosh on you. You know I've kiboshed before, and I will kibosh again.

From yesterday's Los Angeles Times Business section:

Doesn't look like comedian turned senator Al Franken is planning a return to NBC's "Saturday Night Live" anytime soon.

In his opening remarks about the proposed Comcast-NBC deal at a hearing held by the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, Franken (D-Minn.) ripped into the deal and the risks it could present to not only consumers but media competition as well.

Franken, who was a regular on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" for years and also had a short-lived sitcom on the network called "Lateline" in the late 1990s, dismissed the claims made by Comcast and NBC Universal that the partnering of the nation's largest broadband and cable provider with the entertainment giant would not harm competitors or the public.

"You'll have to excuse me if I don't trust these promises, and that is from experience in this business," Franken snapped.

I was made aware of Franken's attempt to put the kibosh on NBC via an e-mail from Cory. He sees a possible motivation for Franken's conduct that hasn't been much remarked on:

I'm not sure if you watched C-SPAN yesterday but there was a Senate committee hearing going on about the NBC/Comcast merger. When Al Franken got his chance to talk he went after the Comcast and NBC executives with a vengeance, accusing them of being dishonest and interrupting them repeatedly.

I think it's worth pointing out that there's bad blood between Franken and NBC, especially since he left SNL in a huff after he lost the Weekend Update slot to Norm Macdonald. Is he using his political power to settle a career grudge? Nobody seems to be writing about this possible alternative motive.

It would hardly be shocking to imagine that Franken sees this as an opportunity for payback. For all the humiliations he suffered at the hands of network executives. For all the times he felt that they were looking down their noses at him while he was just a performer trying to get by. Now, the tables are turned (literally). He's in the position of power and he's going to use it for all its worth to extract his pound of flesh from NBC executives.

It's hard to say if the story of Minnesota's angry clown will play out more as tragedy or farce. It's easy to say that we're certain to plenty of more drama in this theater of the absurd before the final aria is sung.

Facts Are Stubborn Things

An August 1, 2003 statement from Nancy Pelosi chastised President Bush for failing to create jobs:
The fact is that President Bush's misguided economic policies have failed to create jobs. Since President Bush took office, the country has lost 3.2 million jobs, the worst record since President Hoover. And today we learned that in July nearly half a million people gave up looking for a job.

Fact: There were 14.8 million unemployed in January 2010.

Fact: There were 11.6 million unemployed in January 2009.

Fact: 14.8 million minus 11.6 million equals 3.2 million.

Fact: Bush had been President for 2 1/2 years when Pelosi issued the above release.

Fact: Obama has been President for 1 year.

Fact: Nancy Pelosi will never acknowledge these facts.

Beer of the Week (Vol. XLI)

This edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who are always glad you came and, if you go there often enough, where everybody will know your name. You never know who you're going to run at the store either. Just this past Wednesday, I happened to bump into Johnny Roosh of Shot in the Dark renown. Mr. Roosh is apparently something of a regular and Dan (Glen Lake's owner/operator) always makes sure he has a fresh bottle of Boone's Farm Sun Peak Peach on hand to satisfy Johnny's imbibing needs.

By now, I'm sure everyone knows that because some rodent saw the comparative darkness that results from his body blocking light rays we're going to have to endure another six weeks of winter. Here in the Northland, we can only wish that would be so. Six more weeks of winter would be a walk in the park. We're likely looking at another two months of the long hard slog. And even then when "Spring" comes, it won't mean trees budding, flowers blooming, bird singing, blue skies, and sunshine. It will mean rain, wind, clouds, muck, and probably a late snowfall or two lest we get too hopeful that Spring has actually sprung.

But even though it still seems like a long ways off and it never really delivers on the promise, you can't blame us for dreaming of Spring. So even though it's ridiculously early to even be uttering the "S" word, our beer of the week is the first Spring seasonal of 2010. It's another offering from Flying Dog Brewery in Maryland called Garde Dog Biere de Garde:

Proving the French may actually know something we don't...Garde Dog is a traditional French Biere de Garde or "beer for keeping". This classic farmhouse ale was brewed in March for drinking during the spring and summer months. With its toasted aroma and spicy, malty sweetness Garde Dog will liberate you from the winter doldrums.

That's a promise of freedom that we all can drink to. In all my years as a beer aficionado, I've never heard of Biere de Garde:

The Biere de Garde is golden to deep copper or light brown in color. They are moderate to medium in body. This style of beer is characterized by a toasted malt aroma, slight malt sweetness in flavor, and medium hop bitterness. Noble-type hop aromas and flavors should be low to medium. Fruity esters can be light to medium in intensity. Flavor of alcohol is evident. Earthy, cellar-like, musty aromas and flavors are okay. Diacetyl should not be perceived but chill haze is okay. Often bottle conditioned with some yeast character.

Okay then. Now that we have the background, we can consider the beer itself.

Brown bottle. Usual gonzo style Flying Dog label with a rabid looking watch dog who would make the boldest intruder think twice. Tri-color design is a nod to the beer style's Gallic origins.

Beer Style: Biere de Garde

Alcohol by Volume: 5.5%

COLOR (0-2): Gold and mostly clear. 2

AROMA (0-2): Malty, sweet with a little wheat. 2

HEAD (0-2): White and pretty thin. Fades fast. 1

TASTE (0-5): Malty sweet flavor with spices and a bit of a bitter finish. Light to medium body. Very drinkable. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Dry and mostly clean with a little lingering burn. 2

OVERALL (0-6): I haven't had any previous experience with the Biere de Garde style so I'm not sure how Flying Dog's offering compares. There's not a ton of flavor yet it is refreshing. This is a beer definitely best suited for warmer weather and I'd probably favor it over many of the other Spring seasonals. Assuming that we actually see Spring around these parts while Garde Dog is still available on the shelves. You might want to pick up a six-pack now and garde it until Spring does arrive in Minnesota. You know, June maybe July. 3

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 13