Monday, May 31, 2010

Debts of More Than Gratitude

Mark Helprin in the WSJ on our Memorial Day obligation:

Nonetheless, a universal connection links every living American with those who have fallen or will fall in American wars and overrides the lapses in sustaining and honoring their memories. We are and shall be connected to them by debt and obligation. Though if by and large we ignore the debt we owe to those who fell at Saratoga, Antietam, the Marne, the Pointe du Hoc, and a thousand other places and more, our lives and everything we value are the ledger in which it is indelibly recorded. And even if we fail in the obligation, it is clear and it remains.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor 2010 Elections Update

Time is running out for those of you who would like to do your part for soil and water as a county Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor. The filing period for the fall elections closes at 5 PM on Tuesday June 1.

If you are looking for an easy elective office to win, it is best to look elsewhere. The Twin City metro area races are already looking to be hotly contested with candidates filed for 15 of 16 races. (If you are looking for an easy race, consider a run for the Ramsey County Hospital District Board -- as of Saturday afternoon, there were no candidates filed for any of the three seats up for election this fall. Election to this office might look good on your application to be on one of the future Obamacare Death Panels.)

Rest assured that Fraters Libertas, unlike the mainstream media, will continue to offer full coverage of the metro area Soil and Water Conservation District races.

Here are the candidates who have filed for the races in the seven county metro area:

Hennepin County:
District 2
Amber Collett
Lora Jones
Greg T. Kryzer

District 4

Alex Farrell
David Rickert
Richard Strong

Ramsey County:
District 1
Janelle Anderson
Paige Wein

District 2
Gary Carlson
Mark A. Roosevelt
Robert J. “Bob” Simonet
Carrie J. Wasley

Anoka County:
District 3
John Ragan Anderson
Sandra Delaforest (Incumbent)

District 4
Mary Jo Truchon (Incumbent)

Carver County:
District 4
Jedd A. Braunwarth
Mark Zabel (Incumbent)

District 5
Robert Burandt (Incumbent)

Scott County:
District 4
James Fitzsimmons (Incumbent)
Ryan Love

District 5
Gary Hartmann
Jim Schwingler (Incumbent)

Dakota County:
District 1
Diane Blake
Scott A. Holm (Incumbent)
John Ross

District 2 Special Election
Anthony Nelson

District 3
Kevin Chamberlain (Incumbent)

Washington County:
District 1
Gary H. Baumann (Incumbent)

District 3
No candidates filed

District 5
Dan Unger

Friday, May 28, 2010

More Than A Day Off

For several years now, my family has attended the Memorial Day event at the Veterans Memorial Amphitheater in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. The organizers do a fine job honoring all those who served and especially remembering those who paid the ultimate price for their country.

But ever since we moved to Golden Valley a few years, we've thought that it would be good to have a similar way to remember the day and what it's supposed to mean a little closer to home. Now, thanks to the hard work of one Golden Valley resident named John Giese, we will have that opportunity.

This year, there will be a Golden Valley Memorial Day Parade. Hopefully, it will be the beginning of what becomes an annual tradition in the city.

Monday, May 31st 10:15AM – Seeman Park

Parade will proceed westbound on Golden Valley Road toward City Hall

Ceremony at 11:00 AM - Golden Valley City Hall, 7800 Golden Valley Rd

Speaker: Brigadier General Timothy J. Cossalter

Representation by Army & Air National Guard, Armstrong High School Choir and Symphonic Band, Girl Scouts, Minnesota Transitions High School JRROTC, North Hennepin Squadron Civil Air Patrol, Minnesota Sojourners, American Heritage Pipes & Drums,, 101st ABN Div 502nd PIR Fox Company, GV Little League, Military Order Of The Purple Heart and more!

FLAG ROW: 1.5 mile stretch of Golden Valley Road will be lined with Old Glory & POW-MIA flags.

FREE HOT DOGS, CHIPS, & POP for all in attendance after the ceremony.

Hosted by VFW Post 7051 and Chester Bird American Legion Post 523

Beer of the Week (Vol. LVII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the visionary folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help you reach the summit of your drinking needs. Stop by and stock up today for Memorial Day weekend.

One of the first nationally distributed craft breweries that caught my attention when I began my conversion to good beer was Sierra Nevada. The Chico, California brewery has a rich history and in the world of American micro brews, a long one. They were one of the first craft breweries that was widely available and also one of the first to "hop up" their beer with their flagship Pale Ale. It was one of first really hoppy beers that I experienced and over the years it's become a reliable go to beer when looking for good hop flavor.

Nowadays, there's a veritable "hops race" going on between American craft brewers, with many trying to "out hop" the competition by coming out with hoppier and hoppier offerings. Compared to the bevy of heavily hopped beers now available, Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale seems pretty tame. While their winter Celebration Ale is a hop sensation and one of my all-time favorite beers, Sierra Nevada didn't have an especially hoppy beer in their standard lineup.

Until last fall, when they added Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA:

Torpedo celebrates the brewery's dedication to 100% whole-cone hops all the way through the brewing process. The name itself comes from a device called the "hop torpedo" that was conceived, designed and developed at the brewery. The result is a revolutionary method of dry-hopping that harnesses the vital hop oils and resins that lead to an unusually flavorful and aromatic beer featuring the full, nuanced range of spicy complexity that hops have to offer. Designed with a mixture of hop varietals, each with their own unique character, Torpedo Extra IPA has layers of flavors ranging from citrus, herbs, black pepper and pine, with delicate hints of tropical fruit.

A hop torpedo? And people say America's best days are behind us?

Standard Sierra Nevada short brown bottle. Label also reflects the Sierra Nevada design (font, logo, etc.) with Kelly green background and lots of voluptuous hops.

Beer Style: American IPA

Alcohol by Volume: 7.2%

COLOR (0-2): Amber brown. 2

AROMA (0-2): Lovely scents of pine, citrus, and hops. 2

HEAD (0-2): Bright white, thick with good volume. Nice lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Strong flavors of rich hoppy goodness with a bite. At 7.2% it also has a little heat. Medium-bodied with some carbonation. Crisp and surprisingly drinkable considering the full flavors. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Dry with a sharp finish. 2

OVERALL (0-6): A very good American IPA. Not for the faint of heart, but if you like bold, hoppy beers Torpedo IPA will prove a very satisfying selection. While maybe not quite in the top echelon of double IPAs, it also isn't in their price range either. Hard to beat this when it comes to taste and value. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 16

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Rants, I've Had A Few

The Opinion pages in yesterday's Wall Street Journal offered such a treasure trove of riches that it's difficult to even know where to begin.

How about a timely and much needed editorial on the Politics of the Oil Spill:

This Obama finger-pointing has, if anything, backfired politically. The oil spill was an opportunity for Mr. Obama--who campaigned as someone who likes to wrap his mind around "complex" problems--to remind the country that energy exploration and engineering are not error-free disciplines. The U.S. oil industry has a remarkable safety record, even as it has moved into deeper and deeper water to provide the U.S. with affordable oil. But no industry is accident free, and Mr. Obama could have served the public better by explaining the technical challenges of fixing this deep water leak. His decision to pound on BP for not performing immediate miracles has instead fed the public's expectations that this is like plugging a hole in a swimming pool.

I found President Obama's anger about all the finger-pointing and redirecting blame that the companies did when they were hauled before Congress a couple of weeks ago to explain why the oil spill happened amusing. What did he expect them to do under the circumstances? They hadn't even stopped the leak (and still haven't) and the politicians were already demanding that they determine precisely who was responsible for what with billions of dollars in potential liabilities hanging in the balance.

Unfortunately, the performance of the GOP hasn't been much better:

Republicans have also done the nation no favors in their political rush to turn this oil spill into Mr. Obama's "Katrina." In an attempt to tie the disaster to the Administration, they've targeted the Minerals Management Service, suggesting agency bureaucrats weren't tough enough on Big Oil.

Never mind that there is zero evidence so far that this blowout resulted from lax regulation or shoddy practices. Never mind, too, that the GOP is targeting one of the few federal agencies that happens to believe in more domestic energy production.

Sarah Palin also didn't help the cause of public understanding by attacking Mr. Obama as too close to BP because he received campaign contributions from the company. Does she think such frivolous partisanship will further the cause of domestic oil production?

While I can understand the Republicans desire to hang the oil spill around President Obama's neck the way the Democrats and helpful media partners hung Katrina on Bush, it seems like a short-term political gain at the expense of a long-term erosion of principals. When Republicans say that President Obama hasn't done enough to stop the oil spill or prevent environmental damage they're reinforcing the assumption that government can and should fix everything. Instead of explaining that sometimes bad things happen and no matter how much money you spend or how much authority you give it, government can't always prevent them from happening and can't always magically make everything better, Republicans are buying in to the public's expectation that government is the ultimate solution and that if anything bad ever happens it must somehow be blamed on a failure of that government. And as we've painfully learned in the past, the response to government failures isn't less government, but more.

Next up is Randall Bloomquist's review of Bill Press' book Toxic Talk:

Surely Mr. Press, a former chairman of the California Democratic Party, understands all this. So why write a book bemoaning the "threat" and "corrosive power" of conservative talk? Simply put: to scare the folks on his side of the political aisle and mobilize them to action. With the Republicans in disarray and no leader to function as a lightning rod, talk radio has become the progressives' bogeyman. Mr. Press ratchets up the fear factor by claiming that conservative talk radio was created and nurtured by a cabal of wealthy conservatives using a media strategy devised in the Nixon era by future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. According to this gothic tale, well-heeled right-wingers bought radio stations, recruited conservative talk hosts and established think tanks to provide these mouthpieces with pro-capitalism talking points.

That certainly was the blueprint for the founding of the Northern Alliance Radio Network. Well, expect for the whole "well-heeled" part.

In reality, conservative talk radio as we know it dates from Rush Limbaugh's rise to national prominence in the late 1980s. The format's appeal to broadcasters is easily explained: It works. Radio stations succeed by attracting and holding a target audience that advertisers find desirable. As Mr. Limbaugh's success first demonstrated, affluent, conservative, middle-age guys love to hear conservative ideas aired--an uncommon phenomenon in the American media--and advertisers love affluent middle-age guys.

According to Mr. Press, progressive talk radio will languish until wealthy liberals get a clue and start buying up media properties. He confesses that he hasn't had much success in selling this idea to his liberal allies. Maybe they saw how well Air America worked out.

The true problem with conservative talk radio is that there's a glut on the market. In the over-leveraged radio industry, which is struggling to maintain its somewhat diminished place in media-saturated American life, cash-strapped station owners have in recent years eliminated hundreds of local talk programs in favor of syndicated right-leaning shows, which the stations receive in exchange for airing network commercials. The result is an off-putting sameness across dial.

I expect that analysis is far more astute than anything you would find in "Toxic Talk." In some ways, conservative talk radio has become a commodity. Other than Rush and maybe five or six other national hosts, there's little to distinguish the content or the characters whose voices we hear. With more and more stations going to national programming, there's not enough of the regional or local hosts who bring their unique styles and perspectives to the airwaves.

Finally, we turn to the good ol' Letters to the Editor. In the May 21st WSJ, Mortimer Zuckerman (hardly a Tea Partying neocon) had a piece on The Bankrupting of America:

City government was developed to serve its citizens. Today the citizenry is working in large part to serve the government. It is always hard to shrink government spending. It is particularly difficult when public-sector unions have such a unique lever of pressure.

We have to escape this cycle or it will crush us. One way is to take labor negotiations out of the hands of vulnerable legislators and assign them to independent commissions. They would have a better shot at achieving a fair balance between appropriate salary increases and the revenues and services of local municipalities. The electorate won't swallow any more red ink.

Not surprisingly, Zuckerman's article elicited a number of letters from readers. Almost all agreed with his view that something has to be done to reign in public employee unions and their generous compensation and benefit packages. With one notable exception:

Public-service workers such as police officers, social workers, teachers, firemen and sanitation workers deserve to be paid well. Their work is essential for our country, is often dangerous and continues 24-7. Moreover, these workers are highly trained and spend years in preparation prior to entering the job market. A civilized society requires dedicated public-sector employees who are compensated for their work. Our nation's deficit is a complex issue and must be addressed with intelligent and thoughtful solutions.

A word to my comrades in the public sector. Right now, the public as a whole ain't real thrilled when they learn of the sort of benefits you enjoy or hear you calling for tax increases to continue to fund these benefits, many of which they don't enjoy in their private sector jobs. The recent tough economic times have forced almost everyone to cut back. But despite looming deficits and growing debt, you don't seem willing to sacrifice much of anything.

Given that background, if you're going to make an argument in favor of high pay for your noble public service work, you're going to have to do a hell of a lot better than this. We’ll leave aside whether the work of social workers is "essential for our country" and how dangerous it really is to be a teacher or sanitation worker for now and focus on the supposed 24-7 aspect of these jobs. While cops and fireman are often on call at various hours throughout the day, I'm pretty sure they're well-compensated for any extra time they put in. In fact, I think there's a rather well-documented history of how many folks in these positions have milked their overtime for maximum benefit. I'm not aware of too many instances when sanitation workers are called on to work outside their normal shift, but I would imagine that they too are generously paid for every extra minute they have to work.

Teachers are available 24-7? Yeah, expect for those three months during the summer. Teachers who complain about having to correct papers or prepare lesson plans outside of their "core hours" crack me up. Welcome to the real world. In today's interconnected information world, more and more jobs involve working outside of traditional hours. Conference calls at night, e-mails any time of day, and business trips that require traveling on weekends are not unusual anymore. And most of the folks doing this sort of work aren't paid any extra for this extra time.

Then there's the "these workers are highly trained and spend years in preparation prior to entering the job market" claim. Really? Maybe you could make this claim for social workers (with dubious educational requirements), but for cops, firefighters, teachers, and sanitation workers? C'mon. Got a high school diploma and 12-14 months for the academy? Then you can be a cop. Some fire departments require post-high school education, but for most a high school diploma, meeting the physical requirements, and going through the required training is enough to get a job. No offense intended to any sanitation workers out there, but I don't think you need to be a Rhodes Scholar. And then there's the teachers who like to pretend that unless you've earned one of those prestigious education degrees (available on eBay for 19 cents) you can't possible teach, no matter how well versed you are in the subject matter. Please. Just because you zombie-walked through four (or five or six) years of college classes in "education" does not mean that you're so much more qualified to teach and deserving of being paid more because of it.

Again, I'm not attacking people who have chosen to work in the public sector. You do perform needed services and should be paid for providing them. But you shouldn't be paid more or enjoy benefits that far outstrip people in the private sector who also have time commitments and education and experience requirements that meet or exceed your own. If you truly want to be a "public servant," you can expect a pat on the back from us for your work. But you can't expect us to keep opening our wallets for you.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rich Corinthian Leather

Paul Mirengoff has a post at PowerLine featuring commentary from his cousin about controversial plans for a mosque two blocks from 9/11's Ground Zero in New York:

Plans to build Cordoba House, a 15-story Islamic Center two blocks north of Ground Zero, received a major boost yesterday when a Manhattan community board backed the proposal by a 29-to-1 vote. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said the center would help "bridge and heal a divide" among Muslims and other religious groups.

Perhaps the Imam is sincere but I find the whole project an outrage. The name Cordoba House at best conveys a total insensitivity to the families of victims of the attack at worse it shows sympathy with the terrorist's goals. Cordoba, was the Capital of Al-Andalus the Islamic Caliphate that ruled much of Spain during the Middle Ages. One of Al-Qaida's main goals announced after the 9/11 attack was the restoration of the Cordoba Caliphate in Al-Andalus.

Mirengoff's cousin goes on to assert that:

The Project is said to cost $100 million and no one seems to know who is paying for all of this.

Personal Money Store Blog answers that question:

The building would be funded by the Initiative, the American Society for Muslim Advancement and donations. The land for the Cordoba House is already owned by the Cordoba Initiative and does not involve any zoning changes.

This is one of those issues that will divide the right. Assuming that Personal Money Store Blog is correct, that the building and land will be funded by private investment, then I see this as a clear cut case for religious freedom. In America, we have laws prohibiting our government from interfering with the free exercise of religion.

The fact that the initiative chose the name "Cordoba" may indeed be offensive and insensitive. However, offensive and insensitive speech and offensive and insensitive religion are constitutionally protected, as is the right to do what you please with your own property. I see this situation as a litmus test. If we fail to grant religious freedom and property rights in this case, then such rights are in jeopardy for all of us.

Into the Heart of a Child

Last week, Vox Day had a thoughtful post on how he came to his Christian faith. The whole thing is worth a read, this part in particular caught my attention:

Regarding evil, I simply mean behavior that is described as evil or wickedness in the Bible as well as the influences, autonomous or otherwise, that encourage that behavior. I see it in the world and I see it in myself. I have seen it in the transparent lies of an almost-innocent child, in the irrational fury of a hysterical woman, in the maddened glee of a violent man, and throughout the blood-soaked pages of history. I have seen it in the rich and the poor, in the brilliant and the dim, and in the beautiful and the ugly. Once, like many an arrogant non-believer before me, I thought I could construct my own valid moral code and live by it. And, like everyone but the nihilists, I failed. Not spectacularly, but worse, ludicrously and unnecessarily.

While being a parent doesn't automatically lead to belief in God and while I'm sure that atheists love their children too, for many people having children draws them closer to (or maybe back to) their faith and God. Some of this is no doubt due to bearing firsthand witness to the miracle of life. Some could also attributed to a desire to be better person for their children to model. I believe a good deal of the renewed interest is the result of what they see play out in the hearts and minds of their children.

Atheists like to say that children are brainwashed to believe in God. Their parents and churches begin the indoctrination at an early age and it's only later in life that some truly exceptionally individuals (like themselves) are able to escape from this conditioning and recognize the "truth." I think the opposite is true. Children seem to have an innate sense of God. It isn't something their parents or churches instill, it's just there. I believe that we're all born "knowing" God and it's only through years of "learning" that some lose sight of the simple truth.

It's somewhat ironic that atheists dismiss stories of God as nothing more than "fairy tales." As C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton have explained, the childlike sense of wonder and belief that children bring to fairy tales is a necessary component of the faith that adults have in God. We spend our lives running away from the God we know in our hearts--and knew as children--because of what we think we know in the world.

But along with this wonderful and pure sense of God that we see in our children, parents also see something darker. It isn't something that children are taught or conditioned to display. It's not natural behavior driven by their "selfish" genes. It's not a part of their development or adaptation to environment. The first time you witness it in your own children, you're startled and a little disturbed. But as much as you might not like what you see or as hard as you try to not admit it, you know what it is: evil.

Sure, it's not the big "E" evil such as murder, genocide, or the Subway Five-Dollar-Footlong jingle, but it's evil nonetheless. Again, this isn't something learned or modeled. It's just there (especially in second born children, a high percentage of whom actually carry the evil gene itself). When you see the fallen nature of man play out in your own living room day after day, it's a bit easier to understand its significance and appreciate its existence.

Further strengthening parents' belief in God is the sense of guilt that seems to inherent in children. Again, this is not guilt that's driven into the child's mushy little brain by their parents or their church. It's guilt that's already there. Parents see this sense of guilt on the face of very young children. The child very well may not fully understand why, but they know they did something wrong and they feel shame because of it. As Mary Eberstadt points out in The Loser Letters, none of the leading brights of atheism have satisfactorily explained why humans should experience shame and guilt.

In Mark 10:15 Jesus advised us that: "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." The experience of raising children is often a way that parents recognize how true that is.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Our Cup Runneth Over

The 2010 Stanley Cup Finals will open this Saturday in Chicago. The match up between the Flyers and Blackhawks does not lack for intrigue and promises to be an entertaining series for hockey fans for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it’s nice to have a Final with a couple of traditional NHL teams and not have one of them be the Detroit Red Wings. While the last couple of Finals with the Wings and Pens have been fun to watch, I think most hockey fans outside of Michigan have grown tired of seeing Detroit on the big stage. And as much I like watching Crosby and Malkin, I'm more than happy to see some new faces in the Finals.

Especially when both teams have a rich hockey history. No Hurricanes, Lightning, Panthers, or Mighty frickin' Ducks this year. It's the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers. Old-time hockey, like when we got started, you know? Jeez. Toe Blake, Dit Clapper, Eddie Shore…

And they both come in on a roll. The Blackhawks have won six in a row and the Flyers have won eight out their last nine. What's that old cliche? Oh yeah, something has definitely got to give.

Both teams also have great stories about how they got here. The Flyers did the impossible in the second round, overcoming a 3-0 series deficit AND a 3-0 goal deficit in Game Seven to stun the Bruins. They should have been playing golf two weeks ago. Instead, they're playing for the Stanley Cup. The Hawks meanwhile have pulled off one of the most impressive team turnarounds of late. From 1998 until 2008, they made the playoffs just once. In February 2004, ESPN named the Blackhawks the worst franchise in professional sports . But after owner Bill Wirtz died in September, 2007 and his son Rocky took over, things began to change. The Hawks added talented young players through the draft and supplemented them with key free agents. They reached out to their fans and got the Windy City interested in hockey again. Most of all, they put a better product on the ice, reaching the Western Conference Finals last year and this year the Stanley Cup Finals. They provide hope to destitute sports franchises everywhere (yes, even our local basketball squad) and are a tough team not to like.

Which brings me to my final point. Sorry North Star fans, but these are not the Blackhawks of the early to mid-Eighties. That rivalry, as bitter and beautiful as it was, died the day the North Stars left town. Had the NHL done the smart thing and put the Wild back into a new version of the old Norris Division with the Hawks, Wings, and Blues, perhaps it could have been rekindled. But those waiting for wisdom from the NHL powers that be should have learned long to lower their expectations. The closest thing the Wild have to a divisional rivalry today is with the Vancouver Canucks and even that is pretty weak beer. It's nothing like the glory days of "Secord Sucks!" and Dino flipping off Hawks fans as he left the ice. These days, most Wild fans are far too demur and it's difficult to imagine that Northwest Division battles with Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Colorado will ever stir the sort of passions that a good North Stars-Blackhawks brouhaha did back in the day.

But that's no reason to hate on the Hawks of today. They're an exciting and entertaining team who play a style of hockey that's both enjoyable to watch and pretty dang effective. After years of being put to sleep by the trapping, left-wing locking Wild teams of Jacques Lemaire, the Blackhawks are just the tonic for disappointed Wild fans. They're the team the Wild could have been. They're the team the Wild perhaps should have been. And they're the team that will be hoisting the greatest trophy in all of sport, Lord Stanley's Cup.

Well, as long the omen of Marian Hossa doesn't back to haunt them. Being on the losing end in the Finals two years in a row on different teams is a coincidence. Having it happen to you three straight years is a curse.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

In case you haven't yet heard, the Eighties television show "The A-Team" has been made into a movie which will open on June 11th. Back in the days of my misspent youth, I was a regular viewer of the original series. And you can't deny that it had a number of things going for it.

Beginning with a great backstory:

Ten years ago (in 1972), a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... The A-Team.

Followed by a great theme song:

With a great cast:

George Peppard--Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith
Dirk Benedict--Lieutenant Templeton "Face" Peck
Mr. T--Sergeant Bosco "B.A." Baracus
Dwight Schultz--Captain H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock

And some notable guest appearances:

Boy George as himself in "Cowboy George".
Isaac Hayes as C.J. Mack in "The Heart Of Rock N' Roll".
Hulk Hogan as himself in "The Trouble With Harry" and "Body Slam".
Rick James as himself in "The Heart of Rock N' Roll".
Joe Namath as TJ Bryant in Quarterback Sneek season 5 episode 4
William Perry as himself in "The Trouble With Harry".

Featuring a great catch phrase:

I love it when a plan comes together.

But in retrospect, looking back across the years, I have to admit that it was actually a pretty lousy television show. The story-lines--especially after the first season--were based on the thinnest of reeds. I know that part of the show's appeal for more mature audiences was its campy nature and willingness to laugh at itself, but that only works if the writing is smart and sharp enough not to overplay the smirking. The ridiculous non-violent violent means that heroes used to defeat their adversaries (explosions that blew people through the air but apparently never involved shrapnel, amazingly sharp shooting--often with automatic weapons held at the hip--to get people to run and hide without ever hitting anyone) started off as slightly silly and degraded into wince-inducing stupidity.

Given that the original show wasn't all that worthy to begin with, the bar for the movie should be set fairly low. Even so, I expect this latest TV to movie production from an increasingly lazy Hollywood to find no shortage of ways to disappoint.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cage Match

It's been a long time since I called in to the Northern Alliance, but Brian and John's discussion of the Connecticut Senate race precipitated a call from me to discuss the peculiarities of two of the candidates on the Republican side.

When Brian brought up the fact that World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon was leading in the polls for the Republican nomination, I felt the need to reminisce about McMahon's on screen role in the WWE.

I jokingly suggested that the fact that she had appeared on TV in a "drugged and wheelchair bound" state may be used against her. I didn't have time to discuss the fact that her involvement in an industry that has been known for pushing steroid use would certainly be used against her. Nor was I aware that she is accused of "tipping off" a physician and WWE (then called the WWF) employee about a Justice Department investigation into steroid distribution.

McMahon is clearly a smart businesswoman. Over the last 30 years, she and her husband changed a schlocky regional wrestling league into a sports entertainment powerhouse. I don't pretend to know how the Connecticut voter will react to steroid allegations.

After discussing McMahon, we moved on to my favorite Senatorial candidate in some time, Euro Pacific Capital CEO Peter Schiff. Schiff is a serious financial scholar, who believes that America is in serious financial trouble. He produces a weekly 10-minute youtube video called "The Schiff Report," where he analyzes stock market performance and makes predictions. Overall, his projections are bearish.

Schiff is smart enough to crunch all sorts of financial algorithms, but plain spoken enough to get his point across to people who don't have an MBA in finance. He believes that the government spends too much money, borrows too much, and that the Federal Reserve acts irresponsibly. He believes that the stock market will be down for a long time, that inflation will accelerate, and that America faces an uncertain future. Not surprisingly, voters don't want to hear this and he trails in the polls.

The likely beneficiary from the eccentricies of McMahon and Schiff may be Rob Simmons, a former Congressman and Colonel in the US Army. Sure, he hasn't published any books about the impending stock market crash or his anyone over the head with a chair, but he is a solid conservative voice.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Woman of Letters

If you missed our interview with Mary Eberstadt, author of "The Loser Letters," on the NARN First Team last week you can now listen to the podcast here.

Read John Hinderaker's recap of the interview here.

Buy Mary's excellent book here:

Bo Don't Know

In a unintentionally hilarious column in today's New York Times, David Brooks tries to tell The Story of an Angry Voter:

For Ben, right and wrong is contained in the relationship between effort and reward. If people do not work but get rewarded, that's wrong. If people work and do not get rewarded, that's wrong. But Ben believed that America is fundamentally a just society. He loved his country because people who work hard can usually overcome whatever unfairness is thrust in their way.

But when Ben looked at Washington, he saw a political system that undermined the relationship between effort and reward. People in Washington spent money they didn't have. They just borrowed it from the Chinese. People in Washington taxed those with responsible homes to bail out people who'd bought homes they couldn't afford.

People in Congress were caught up in a spoils system in which money was taken from those who worked and given to those with connections. Money was taken from those who produced and used to bail out the reckless, who were supposedly too big to fail.

This was an affront to the core values of Ben's life.

Which in the world of Brooks means he's either voting for the extreme left or the extreme right. As he showed in a book by the same title, David Brooks knows BoBos. He does not know the "angry voter." At least none of the ones that I know. And I actually know a very angry voter named Ben too.

Almost as funny as Brooks' caricature of the "angry voter" is his pining for the glory days of American politics when moderates in the center could understand and appreciate the concerns of angry voters like Ben. Don't recall those days? Maybe it's because you're not harkening back far enough and using Abraham Lincoln as an example of this "moderate" ideal as Brooks does.

A lot has been said about Abraham Lincoln and a lot of words have been used to describe him. "Moderate" is not one that comes to mind often.

Beer of the Week (Vol. LVI)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the neighborly folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits. The thinking globally bit is up to you, they can definitely assist with the drinking locally part.

Given that we're currently in the midst of celebrating American Craft Beer Week and the first ever Minnesota Craft Beer Week, it's pretty much a no-brainer that our beer of the week is going to be an offering from one of the local micro brewers. It's also a good time to take a closer look at the state of the craft brewing movement here in the North Star state.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm happy to report that the state of our craft beer industry is strong. In fact, it's the almost undoubtedly the strongest it's ever been. Last week, I mourned the demise of James Page Brewing, one of the local craft brewing pioneers. It entered the scene close to the same time that Summit did, but never enjoyed anywhere near the success that the St. Paul brewery--now the local craft brewing godfather--did. There were other local micros that also went the way of James Page like Ambelside, Glacial Lakes, and Abe's (still have a couple of their wooden six-pack holders) and it wasn't certain that anyone other than Summit would not only survive, but thrive. The only other craft brewer with a decent presence was Lake Superior up in Duluth.

But the last five years been a renaissance time for Minnesota micro brewers. Brau Brothers in Lucan and Matorville Brewing in Mantorville (duh) have joined Lake Superior on the outstate stage. In the Twin Cities, we've seen the emergence of Flat Earth Brewing in St. Paul, Lift Bridge Brewing in Stillwater, and of course Surly Brewing in Brooklyn Center. If Summit is the godfather of the local craft brewing family, Surly is the cool cousin with the spiked hair and tattoos who plays in a rock band. More recently, beer from Fulton Brewing has been showing up at more and more places around town and a couple of more seem poised on the horizon with Harriet Brewing and 612 Brew looking to break through. It is indeed a good time for good beer in Minnesota.

And that bring us to the Beer of the Week. This week's feature is Farm Girl Saison from Lift Bridge Brewery in tony Stillwater, Minnesota.

Brown bottle. Classic looking label with a picture of Thirties era farm girl fraternizing with cows in a field.

Beer Style: Belgian Saison

Alcohol by Volume: 6.0%

COLOR (0-2): Gold and nicely clouded. 2

AROMA (0-2): Malty with light scents of bread and fruit. 2

HEAD (0-2): Sharp white color, light volume and decent lacing. 1

TASTE (0-5): Mostly malt and yeast flavors with hints of spice and citrus. Crisp and light-bodied. Refreshing and very drinkable. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Dry but somewhat empty. 1

OVERALL (0-6): As mentioned before, I'm not usually a big fan of the saison style. But Lift Bridge's Farm Girl Saison is a nice little beer. Even though it's a year-round offering, it best suited for warmer temps. A good beer to add to your summer drinking list. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 13

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Spring Cleaning

You may have noticed a few changes to your friendly neighborhood blog. After milking the most we could out of our logo that was created in 2004, we finally decided to pop for a new look. Pop in this case meant laying out for a case of Surly Furious as compensation to Derek Brigham, the well-renowned local graphic guru.

A case of beer may not sound like much, but remember that Surly comes in four-packs of pint-sized cans. Shelling out for six four-packs of Surly is not an inexpensive proposition, but one that seems well-worth the investment. We're just lucky that Derek didn't ask for a case of Surly Abrasive Ale or we'd have to take out a second mortgage on the Fraters Inc. world headquarters compound.

Along with the new logo, we're looking for a new template for the site. We're now back to the three-column look, which I (and apparently many readers) prefer. It'd be nice to find a template that fits better with the logo, but for now we're going with this one. You can expect to see a couple of new templates appear over the next couple of weeks and we tweak the look.

As always, we appreciate any feedback you may have on the matter.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fables of the Deconstruction

It's a good idea to at least occasionally peruse the work of liberal pundits so as to understand what the other side of the ideological divide is thinking. In the case of what Thomas Frank is thinking in his weekly column in the Wall Street Journal, the answer is usually, "not very much nor very hard."

Take today's "effort" called Jim DeMint's Capitalist Fairy Tales. Now with all that's going on in the world today; oil spills, debt crisis's, primary elections, Supreme Court nominations, immigration debates, Democratic lying and Republican philandering, you'd think there would be no shortage of fresh topics for Frank to opine on. Instead, he chooses to devote today's column to a book from Jim DeMint that came out last year.

Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina may well be the man for this insurgent political moment. The Associated Press calls him a "potential conservative kingmaker" as he rallies support for outsider conservatives like Kentucky's Rand Paul and Florida's Marco Rubio.

But who is Jim DeMint, this hero of the tea partiers? One way to find out is to read his 2009 manifesto, "Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America's Slide Into Socialism." The book hit the best-seller lists last summer, and if we want to understand the thinking of the newest right, it may be the place to start.

And indeed it might be if that's what Frank actually had in mind. Of course, it's not. No, he's writing about DeMint's book in order to demonstrate how wrong it is. The sub-heading of Frank's column is "The hero of the tea partiers is not much of a historian." With such a lead, one would expect that Frank would cite example after example of DeMint's historical ignorance and inaccuracy. But, as is usually the case with Frank, one would be disappointed with what he actually produced.

For when you read the entire column (as I did three times), you'd be hard-pressed to find even one concrete example that shows that DeMints' book is nothing but historically inaccurate fairy tales as Frank claims. One of the main criticisms leveled by Frank is that DeMint uses the term "socialism" too liberally (no pun intended).

Take, for example, the sudden popularity of the epithet "socialist," a fad which Mr. DeMint's book seems designed to fuel. At first the term seems merely to be an enhanced version of the old favorite epithet, "liberal." It gets applied to everything. Sometimes, in Mr. DeMint's telling, "socialism" means government that is "big," that runs up deficits. Sometimes it means Social Security. Sometimes we're on our way to socialism; sometimes we're already there.

While Mr. DeMint may believe the label applies in more places than Mr. Frank, that's more a matter of opinion than anything else.

Sometimes "socialism" is what we saw in the late Soviet Union. Sometimes it is what we see in the nations of Western Europe, which, we are told, capitulated to socialism in the 1940s and soon thereafter "declined into economic stagnation." Which is strange, since a brief check with the annals of reality reminds us that it was during those very postwar years that France, Italy, Belgium and Sweden--all of them called out by the South Carolina solon for choosing socialism after World War II--embarked on a great boom period.

One of the biggest problems with Frank's attacks is that he doesn't tell us what DeMint actually wrote in the book and then explain why it's wrong or factually incorrect. All we get here is that DeMint apparently says that many European embraced socialism after World War II and then "declined into economic stagnation," with only the last four words coming verbatim from the book. Frank uses this to claim that DeMint is wrong because the economies of these countries experienced strong growth in the post-war period. While it's true that Western Europe did enjoy a post-war economic boom, it's also true that at some point in the 1990s many of the countries entered a period of low or stagnate economic growth. As Daniel Henninger noted in his WSJ column last week:

The state of Europe can be summed up in one word: stagnation. Jean-Claude Trichet, the European Central Bank president who just agreed to monetize the debt that Europeans can't or won't pay, noted in a 2006 speech that "over the period from 1996 to 2005, euro area output grew on average 1.3 percentage points less than in the U.S., and the gap appears to be persistent."

Angus Maddison, the eminent European historian of world economic development who died days before Europe's debt crisis, wrote in 2001: "The most disturbing aspect of West European performance since 1973 has been the staggering rise in unemployment. In 1994-8 the average level was nearly 11% of the labor force. This is higher than the depressed years of the 1930s."

So unless DeMint said in his book that these countries embraced socialism after WWII and immediately declined into economic stagnation, Frank's attack is baseless. Of course we don't what DeMint said in full (or really any) context because Frank just gives us a snippet. I realize that words are precious for the print pundits, but if you want to convince us that the book is full of fairy tales and historical misinformation, you gotta give us more than that.

That's really the closest that Frank comes to proving his point too. He spends the rest of the column criticzing DeMint for not including enough socialist voices in his book (which incidentally is called "Saving Freedom" not "Explaining Socialism") and disagreeing with DeMint on what are really more matters of opinion than fact.

In a telling passage, Mr. DeMint describes the 2008 presidential debates as an example of our leaders "abandoning the cause of freedom and promoting socialist solutions." Then-Sen. Barack Obama, he recalls, referred to "markets running wild after deregulation." Neither candidate "defended free enterprise or explained how bad government policies had been the root cause of the problem."

Mr. DeMint does not correct this situation by showing us that markets did not run wild after deregulation or that bad government policies were, indeed, the cause of the financial crisis (he does devote five unconvincing pages to the latter subject later on); he simply points out that the future president made these arguments and is hence a man of "socialist principles."

Again, Frank may disagree with DeMint's interpretation of events and may not agree with the conclusions that he comes to, but none of this advances the argument that DeMint's book is nothing but fairy tales. I also love how Frank begrudgingly admits that DeMint does explain why he believes that government was the cause of the financial crisis, just not in a fashion that was convincing enough for Frank.
The is the best "look in the mirror" moment from Frank:

Mr. DeMint's thinking advances by a process of moral triangulation, not by proofs and demonstrations in the conventional sense.

Proofs and demonstrations in the conventional sense? Perhaps one day Mr. Frank will employ them in one of his columns himself.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Shot Down the Rising Sun

In a piece in today's WSJ, Mark Yost recounts his visit to a museum dedicated to America's battles in the Pacific in World War II. Where else would you expect to find such a museum but Fredericksburg, Texas:

If "The Pacific," the 10-part miniseries that just concluded on HBO, has piqued your interest in the war against Japan, then I'd suggest you make your way to this little town about 90 miles west of Austin. It's home to the National Museum of the Pacific War, which tells the story of Pearl Harbor, Midway, Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima in exquisite and engaging detail. Having been to all the major war museums in Europe and the U.S., I left here thinking this is perhaps the most comprehensive, well-organized and informative military museum I've ever seen.

When visitors enter the newly remodeled George H.W. Bush Gallery, their tickets are given a 48-hour time stamp. Many will use all 48 hours. The museum is organized into small galleries that proceed chronologically from the opening of Japan and China by the Western powers in the 19th century to the war-crimes trials that followed the Japanese surrender that ended World War II. Each gallery provides an overview of the topic--a particular island campaign, U.S. treatment of the Nisei, flying "the Hump" in India--and then breaks it down with informative plaques, interactive kiosks and relics that keep visitors engaged without overwhelming them with too much information. I particularly liked the panels posted periodically that told visitors what was going on in the European theater at the same time.

Unlike the more privileged members of society, I do not have access to HBO and the wonders of "The Pacific" series. John Edwards was right about there being two Americas after all. When is someone going to do something about the "premium channel" divide that separates our country and denies hard-working Americans their fundamental right to high quality cable content?

Don't know when--if ever--I'll be anywhere near Fredericksburg, Texas, but if I am I definitely will plan on hitting the National Museum of the Pacific War, however inelegantly it may be named.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Finest Things

One of my longtime staples of reading has undergone a signficant design change. Joseph Bottum on redesigning First Things:

And so we have now undertaken the redesign that begins with this issue. In the public discussions of America, First Things works for several things. The fight, for example, with those who want to strip the world of its religious clothing and create the naked public square. The long struggle against the murderousness of abortion. The attempt to sort out the good of modern democracy and science from the horrors that have emerged through what we insist are wrong turns taken in the name of modernity. And, most of all, the effort to be physicians to this Iron Age in which we live--the effort to reinvest the world with the richness, thickness, and freshness that is found only in truly God-haunted nations and societies.

But, as a magazine, First Things also works to preserve the high culture of intellectual journals: a culture that is fading under pressure from the Internet, from the weak American financial situation, and, not to mince words, from the absurd decline of print standards in this country.

Many magazines have given up on poetry--and so we print poems. Many magazines have given up on the long-form reporting that was once the glory of American journalism--and so we want to showcase that kind of story. Many magazines have given up on intellectual essays--and so we continue to present them, as we have always done, to our readers. For that matter, many magazines have given up on superior and intellectually challenging crossword puzzles--and so (over some internal objections, I should note) I demanded that we pick up, as well, that fallen standard of journalism.

Most of all, American magazines these days seem to have given up on elegance--and so we decided to demand art covers, and interior photographs, and fine text layout.

In other words, First Things defiantly refuses to accept the diminished condition of American print today. The object in your hands must be a pleasure to hold and read--or what good is a printed journal, with the cacophony of the Web sounding all around us?

Amen. Reading is about more than simply text on a page. The aesthetic side is important as well. How a book or magazine looks and feels still matters. Unfortunately, as Bottum notes, it seems that few publishers understand this or are committed to the same aesthetic quality they once were.

My copy of the new look First Things arrived in the mail on Saturday. While I haven't had a chance to paw through most of it yet, I do love the design of the cover and its feel.

Crossword puzzles and poetry aren't the reasons that I subscribe to First Things. It's the essays. And while reading the essays in the newly designed format won't be different from reading them in the old, I will find the overall experience a bit more enjoyable because of this change. What's inside is still what's most important, but having the content come wrapped in a visually pleasing package makes it even better. Well done.

The Mother of All Beer Weeks

Today marks the beginning of American Craft Beer Week:

Beer lovers, craft brewers, homebrewers, beer distributors, retailers, and even U.S. Congress are all making special plans for the annual American Craft Beer Week taking place across the country May 17-23. The "Mother of All Beer Weeks, " organized by the Brewers Association, celebrates small and independent craft brewers and highlights all that America loves about craft beer. In 2006, the week became the largest national effort focusing on American craft brewers and remains so today.

Now some of us already drink as if every week was American Craft Beer Week, but there's something about craft beer for everyone to celebrate from the novice to the hard core beer geeks. Especially here in Minnesota, where local brewers, liquor stores, and bars will celebrate the first ever Minnesota Craft Beer Week. It's always a good time for good beer, this week especially.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

One Precinct Over the Line

I believe it was either Mark Ritchie or Josef Stalin who said: those who cast the votes decide nothing, those who count the votes decide nothing, those who create extra precincts decide everything.

Coincidentally or not, I noticed this curiosity from the post yesterday on the 2008 Minnesota Legacy Amendment, in the official results at the MN Secretary of State website:

Precincts Reporting: 100.02% (4131 of 4130)

Well isn't that convenient? In an election with the fate of over $6 billion in tax increases on the line, the government just happens to find one more precinct than actually exists to count, and the measure passes.

Yes, the measure passed by nearly 500,000 votes. But who's to say this phantom precinct isn't the size of greater Tucson? Especially if they were counting illegal immigrants!?

The more layers of this we peel, the more it stinks.

Coast Guard?

This picture appeared in today's Wall Street Journal.
With the caption:

Workers Friday on Dauphin Island, Ala., watch for oil from the Gulf spill. Meanwhile, President Obama ripped the industry, and other drilling plans face deeper scrutiny. The spill has stunted the Gulf's tourism, creating a drag on the region's economic recovery.

A couple of things merit comment.

First, none of these workers appear to be "watching for oil" unless you count the tanning lotion on the bikini-clad sunbather. Uh guys, the ocean's that way.

Secondly, where did they dig these characters up from anyway?

Start with the gent on the far left, who looks like VJ Singh approaching the 18th green. Hard hats are apparently optional.

Next we have Chaz, who's proudly claims the title of "best dressed oil cleanup worker in the country." C'mon Chaz, we gotta hit the beach. Hang on, I just need to finish buttoning up my blue dress shirt.

Next to him, with head hung low is the runt of the litter. After repeated attempts to ditch him failed, they finally agreed to allow him to come along on the condition that they duct tape his mouth shut.

Then there's the self-proclaimed "playa" of the crew. This Camaro-driving, Member's Only jacket-wearing ladies man goes by the moniker "Z-man." You can easily identify him by his hard hat, even though he drew the "Z" when he was looking at himself in the mirror.

Finally, there's Gilbert. He grew up watching "Crocodile Dundee" and Steve Irwin videos and one day he's going to live in the Outback and wrassle crocs himself. Until then, he working a part-time gig for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Fear not people of Alabama, your coast is being safely guarded.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Enter Sandman, Exit Tax Dollars

It all seemed so innocent on November 4, 2008. Seventy-nine cute and fuzzy little words on a page, asking for our help:

Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to dedicate funding to protect our drinking water sources; to protect, enhance, and restore our wetlands, prairies, forests, and fish, game, and wildlife habitat; to preserve our arts and cultural heritage; to support our parks and trails; and to protect, enhance, and restore our lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater by increasing the sales and use tax rate beginning July 1, 2009, by three-eighths of one percent on taxable sales until the year 2034?

And 1.64 million Minnesotans dutifully responded: "Sounds good to me!"

For 10 months now, relentless waves of new money have been rolling in to fund the provisions listed in this Constitutional amendment. Well played Minnesota, I know my drinking water has never tasted more protected than it does today.

However, it turns out there was something else there on the page no one noticed. Something hiding in between the wetlands, prairies, forests, parks, trails, lakes, rivers, and streams. Something burrowed so deeply into our arts and cultural heritage that people didn't even know it was there.

Behold Minnesotans, when you voted for clean drinking water, you were really voting for this:

Last week Politics in Minnesota revealed that $45,000 in state tax dollars was spent to pay graphic novelist and fantasy author Neil Gaiman to speak for an hour or two in Stillwater. The money, for this noted author of "Sandman" and other essential macabre classics I've never heard of, came from the so-called Minnesota Legacy Amendment. The complete text, which is all voters were given on the ballot to consider this multi-billion dollar tax increase, is listed above.

That's politics in America for you. You vote for cleaning up the water in Minnesota and you end up with a British comic book author cleaning you out! (The preceding based on a joke about waiting in line at a government store for rutabagas, by Yakov Smirnov circa 1984).

I dare say, if the ballot language would have included even a hint of the millions of tax dollars to be spent by the government on this kind of activity, it would not have passed. Seeing in practice what they had in mind for the money, compared to the emotionally larded language they used to persuade voters, is appalling.

Neil Gaiman, when asked to comment about the disparity between the ballot language and how the money is actually being used, had this to say:

"There are only two worlds -- your world, which is the real world, and other worlds, the fantasy. Worlds like this are worlds of the human imagination: their reality, or lack of reality, is not important. What is important is that they are there. These worlds provide an alternative. Provide an escape. Provide a threat. Provide a dream, and power; provide refuge, and pain. They give your world meaning. They do not exist; and thus they are all that matters. Do you understand?"
Actually, that's an excerpt from the Neil Gaiman's essential comic book classic, Sandman: The Book of Magic.

But it serves equally as well to describe this amendment. There are two worlds. The real world, where middle class tax payers are forced to pay 40 grand so a millionaire author like Neil Gaiman can give a speech promoting his books. And there's the fantasy world, where well paid government bureaucrats think 40 grand is an entirely reasonable price to pay for an author's speech, even while the state budget is running a $3 billion budget deficit. After all, it's not their money, right?

Neil Gaiman actually has commented on this controversy on his personal blog:

I was asked if I'd come and talk at Stillwater, and be paid $40,000. I said, "That's an awful lot of money for a little library."

"It's not from the library. It's from the Legacy Fund, a Minnesota tax allocation that allows the library to pay market rates to bring authors to suburban libraries who otherwise wouldn't be able to bring them in. They have to use the money now as it won't roll over to next year and expires next month."


Well, that seemed fairly simple. They'd already booked a number of other authors. They had the money sitting there and were happy to pay me my rack rate. Either they gave the money to me or it went away -- it couldn't be used for anything else.

He shows a touching concern for our government's fiscal irresponsibility. But, upon assurances that this "awful lot of money" has to be spent on someone, he concludes that it might as well be him. Ah. The first and last refuge of all illegitimate recipients of tax dollars.

I have doubts that the story he was told is completely accurate. The sales tax revenue has already been collected. The government has the money. If they don't spend it on Neil Gaiman, it is unlikely that they must then create a bonfire with it on the Capitol mall. So what would happen to it instead? Beats me. That detail wasn't in the ballot provision I was asked to vote on. But here are a couple of ideas. Maybe they could spend it to help relieve the $3 billion the state government is spending in excess of its revenues. Or maybe they could spend it on protecting drinking water, wetlands, prairies, forests, parks, trails, lakes, rivers, and streams. Just a crazy thought.

Another crazy thought. Now that the public has a more accurate understanding of what they got themselves into back in 2008, how 'bout the politicians give us another shot at approving the Minnesota Legacy Amendment? Over the past year, I've asked just about every GOP state legislator we've had on the radio show about repealing or amending it. To a man (and woman), they've demurred on even the possibility of it. Although they didn't like it, the people have spoken, too difficult with a DFL majority, the arts lobby is too powerful, there are bigger battles to fight, blah blah blah.

To quote George Constanza misquoting George Bernard Shaw: I see things as they are and I say, 'no!' Uh, wait, you see things as they are not and you say… Wait, uh, you see things, do you see things as they are? What do you say when you see things? If I see things as they are, I would ask 'why' or 'why not?'

In other words, Republicans, find a way to do it. This is irresponsible spending and it will be unpopular with the public when it is accurately explained to them. If this amendment could be added to the state Constitution via public referendum, than it can be eliminated that way. Or, if you must keep your precious "clean water" funding, revise it to strip out the "arts and cultural heritage" provisions.

If I read the tea bags correctly, voters in the next election will be looking for a change toward fiscal responsibility. No better way for a candidate to demonstrate that than to pledge his support to getting a cost cutting change or repeal of the amendment back on the ballot at the earliest possible opportunity. And hurry, before Neil Gaiman is compelled to take $40,000 to speak about his comic books again.

Beer of the Week (Vol. LV)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the intrepid folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help you explore the wide world of wine, whiskey, and beer.

Local craft beer fans no doubt recognize the name James Page Brewing. It was one of the first craft brewers to emerge on the scene. At that time, James Page and Summit were pioneers who helped blaze a trail and pave the way for the many local craft brewers who have since followed. It's interesting to look back on the history of James Page Brewing:

The brewery was founded by Minneapolis attorney James Page in 1986. The brewery was located on Quincy Street in Northeast Minneapolis, in an aging industrial warehouse building. The brewery's infrastructure was cobbled together from secondhand equipment. Despite the fact that James Page started brewing operations at almost the same time as the Summit Brewing Company, Page never exceeded more than about 1500 barrels per year of production until it was sold to new owners in the mid 1990s.

For some reason, Page just never really caught on the same way that Summit did. One of the reasons was their lack of a flagship beer like Summit's Extra Pale Ale. While their beer was good and much better than the mass produced alternatives, nothing really stood out about any of them.

In October 1995, James Page sold the brewery to a group of investors with a background in food marketing. Mr. Page continued to operate a home brew supply company until 1998 under the name "James Page Brewing", although there was no longer any tie to the brewery.

The new owners of the brewery, led by President David Anderson, thoroughly re-invented the brand. They created a fictional character to personify "James Page". This new James Page bore little resemblance to the founder of the company -- he was something of a rugged American frontiersman. They also stopped the unusual practice of trucking the beer to distant bottling lines. Instead, they produced the bottled product as a contract brew at various regional breweries (Minnesota Brewing Company in St. Paul, and then Stroh's in St. Paul). The draught product continued to be brewed at the Quincy Street brewery.

In the late 1990s/early 2000s, Page became the first American craft brewery to package their beer in cans. The canned product was brewed and packaged under contract at the August Schell Brewery in New Ulm, Minnesota. They won a contract with Northwest Airlines to feature the canned beer on certain domestic flights.

I remember when Page came out in cans, but I didn't realize they were the first ones in the country to do so. If you consider the number of craft beers that come in cans now--Surly being the most obvious example--they were obviously ahead of their time. Having Page in cans was extra nice when Northwest started carrying it. You could actually get a decent beer on a flight for a change.

Despite a more aggressive marketing push, the brewery's new management was not able to turn a profit. The James Page Brewing Company suffered from an identity crisis: although the Quincy Street brewery produced beer for their draught accounts, the bottled product was a contract brew. The beer in the bottles was not the same product as the beer in the kegs, and this could not help their reputation among beer aficionados. This was obviously perceived as a problem by Page management, as they made the acquisition of a bottling line a top priority during the late 1990s/early 2000s.

Although I didn't realize at the time that Page's product was not consistent between bottles and kegs, I do recall being generally unimpressed with Page's offerings whenever I purchased a six-pack. It's interesting to now know why.

In 2000, James Page had a stock offering, and the first $400,000 was specifically earmarked for the bottling line. They advertised their stock offering on their six-packs, and solicited investments as small as $285. They announced that they had successfully raised the maximum $855,000 from over 1,000 supporters in January, 2000. But the money was never used to fund expansion--instead it was used to lower their substantial debt burdens, and the bottling line was never built. 2001 proved to be a killer year for the company, as they continued to lose money. In 2002, the brewery was shut down. The company continued to contract-brew the beers at other regional breweries.

I remember the stock offering. While it was a clever approach, it also smelled of desperation and it wasn't surprising when the brewery went belly up shortly after.

In 2005, the company's final asset was liquidated when the Page brand name was purchased by the Stevens Point Brewery in Steven's Point, Wisconsin.

A pretty sad way to go out. Not only do you give up the name, you give it up to a brewery in Wisconsin which, despite having a storied history, isn't exactly known for producing high quality craft products. It looks like Point currently brews four of the original Page beers with the same names and label designs. So the Page name lives on. Sort of.

But the biggest legacy of James Page Brewing is not even mentioned in the Wikipedia piece. For even though there's really no longer any connection between James Page beers and Minneapolis, the James Page Blubber Run goes on:

Put on your running shoes and funny hats and come down to the 19th Annual 5k James Page Blubber Run, Walk or Whatever. If you're not a speedy runner, don't fret, costumes, creativity and a great sense of fun count most in this 5K race. Bring your friends, bring the pet, bring the kids, wear your goofiest outfit, just show up and join in the fun.

Nineteen years of Blubber Runs? Wow, doesn't seem like that's possible. Back in my pre-kids, pre-knees-shot-to-hell days, I participated in a number of Blubber Runs. They were about as serious running as I ever wanted to do, which obviously wasn't very much. If you want, you can drink before, during, and after the "race," which many participants choose to do. Since they take place in September, you never know what kind of weather you're going to get. Some years it was seventy-five and sunny, others forty and rainy. But either way it was always fun, especially post-race when everyone would enjoy brats, burgers, and of course beer while hanging around Peavey Plaza listening to music. Even though I haven't done it for a while, I'm glad the Blubber Run still exists. Some part of the James Page legacy still lives on.

All of this leads up to our beer of the week. JAMES PAGE VOYAGEUR EXTRA PALE ALE now brewed by Point.

Standard brown bottle. Looks like pretty much the original label with a yellow background and a picture of hearty French voyageurs guiding their canoe through raging waters. The James Page logo is on the front of the canoe.

Beer Style: American Pale Ale

Alcohol by Volume:5.4%

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

AROMA (0-2): Light hops 1

HEAD (0-2): Off-white color. Decent volume and good lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Some hops flavor with a touch of sweet malt. Not really a whole lot of there there though. Lighter bodied with a thin and somewhat watery mouth feel. Drinkable. 2

AFTERTASTE (0-2): A little hollow. 1

OVERALL (0-6): I'm not sure how much this outsourced version resembles the original James Page Voyageur Pale Ale, which as I recall wasn't much to write home about. This too is a very ordinary offering. The one thing that might recommend it is the price. At $6.99 a six-pack it's at least a buck of two less than what most craft beers run these days. Personally, I'm happy to pay a little more for better taste. 3

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 11

America, Frac Yeah!

There was a fascinating--if perhaps overly optimistic--article in Monday's WSJ on How Shale Gas Is Going to Rock the World:

Over the past decade, a wave of drilling around the world has uncovered giant supplies of natural gas in shale rock. By some estimates, there's 1,000 trillion cubic feet recoverable in North America alone--enough to supply the nation's natural-gas needs for the next 45 years. Europe may have nearly 200 trillion cubic feet of its own.

We've always known the potential of shale; we just didn't have the technology to get to it at a low enough cost. Now new techniques have driven down the price tag—and set the stage for shale gas to become what will be the game-changing resource of the decade.

I have been studying the energy markets for 30 years, and I am convinced that shale gas will revolutionize the industry--and change the world--in the coming decades. It will prevent the rise of any new cartels. It will alter geopolitics. And it will slow the transition to renewable energy.

Those are pretty high expectations, but if we come anywhere close to realizing the potential promise of shale gas we could see them come to fruition. And the world would almost certainly be a better for it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Shape Of An "L" On Her Forehead

Apparently Brian "Saint Paul" Ward enjoyed his hiatus from duty in the Patriot bunker so much last week that he's decided to once again pull himself from the NARN First Team lineup for this week's show. You best tread carefully my friend. Enjoying too many weekends away from the studio and your unpaid radio gig can become habit forming.

But First Team fans need not fear. Even in Brian's absence, the show will go on. In fact, I will be returning to the airwaves this Saturday and joining John Hinderacker for a very special appearance as a guest host. We'll have plenty to catch up in the first hour what with the British election, the Kagan nomination, the Greek bailout, and the Canadians stunning upset of the Penguins in the news.

In the second hour, we'll be joined by Mary Eberstadt:

Mary Tedeschi Eberstadt is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and consulting editor to Policy Review, the Hoover Institution's bimonthly journal of essays and reviews on American politics and society.

Eberstadt focuses on issues on American society, culture, and philosophy. She has written widely for various magazines and newspapers, including Policy Review, the Weekly Standard, First Things, the American Spectator, Los Angeles Times, London Times, Newark Star-Ledger, and the Wall Street Journal.

She's also the author of a new book based on a series she originally composed for National Review called The Loser Letters: A Comic Tale of Life, Death, and Atheism. I'm about halfway through the book right now and have found it as good as advertised:

“As a Christian humorist, Mary Eberstadt is the rightful heir and assignee of C.S. Lewis, and her heroine in The Loser Letters is the legitimate child (or perhaps grandchild) of “the patient” in The Screwtape Letters.”
— P.J. O'Rourke, Author, Parliament of Whores

This is a wise, funny, and winning book.
— Michael Novak, author, No One Sees God

Mary Eberstadt is one smart cookie. If you don't believe me, ask Satan.
—George Weigel,author Cube and the Cathedral

"This book is a gem. Through letters of advice from A.F. Christian, an enthusiastic convert to the cause of the new atheists, Mary Eberstadt deftly exposes the flaws in their views. Using the lingo of pop culture to hilarious effect, she offers a scathing satire of their question-begging arguments and shows with great wit that they are not just wrongheaded but downright laughable. Yet this spirited defense of Christian faith is also a poignant commentary on what it means to be human."
—Fr. Peter Ryan, S.J., Professor of Moral Theology, Mt. St. Mary's Seminary

Eberstadt joins the growing list of authors such as Dinesh D'Souza, Vox Day, David Berlinski, and David Bentley Hart (among others), who have offered up compelling rebuttals to the aggressive atheism spouted by the likes of Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Onfray, and Harris (among others) that has emerged in the last decade. However, her satirical work stands out for it's unique, accessible, and entertaining approach. When it comes to employing wicked wit and humor to devastating effect against the leading Brights of atheism, she's perhaps only matched by Vox Day.

Remember, The Northern Alliance Radio Network starts at 11AM Central, locally on AM1280 the Patriot. Streaming LIVE worldwide at the web site. Following the First Team as always at 1 PM, Mitch Berg and Ed Morrissey. You can join the conversation at 651-289-4488. And, don't forget at 9 AM, The King Banaian Show over at the Patriot's sister station, KYRC (Business 1570).

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Stuck In The Middle With You

Earlier this week, a few of us Fraters were exchanging e-mails on Saint Paul's Both Ends Against the Middle post from last week and the two pieces by John Derbyshire and Michael Barone that he linked to in it.

We concluded that there seems to be a glorious opportunity for conservative politicians to reverse President Obama's attempts to play both ends against the middle, by aligning their message with the mood of those in the middle. Especially those running for Congress. While Democrats seem more and more willing to spend money (your money) on those at the bottom while also bailing out those on the top, what have they done to make things better for you or your children? Whether it's health care, the economy, or education it's pretty hard to point to much that your average middle class American believes has gotten better since the Democrats took control of Congress in 2006.

While there's always a danger of playing too much to populist passions, an effort to identify and align with middle class concerns would seem to be smart politics for conservatives candidates. Especially those in districts that traditionally have not been receptive to the standard conservative approach.

One of my frustrations with the Republican Party over the years has been that too often we have fielded candidates who are unwilling or unable to articulate the right message for their particular district. If you're running for Congress as a Republican in Minnesota's Fourth, Fifth, and to a certain extent Eighth Districts, you already are facing long odds. While rousing red meat conservative speeches may win you applause and accolades at the party conventions, they are not going to win over many voters in your dark blue districts. Michele Bachmann can talk about limited government, personal responsibility, and strict adherence to the Constitution all the time and still win election after election. Republican long shots in traditionally Democratic districts can't.

So if you're running in one of those districts and you want to have any hope of winning this year, you need a message suited to your voters. It can still be a conservative message, but it's got to be a conservative message that resonates with the people in your district. And this "playing the middle against both ends" strategy appears to be one that would. Especially this year.

Teresa Collett, Joel Demos, and Chip Cravaack take heed. Your best hopes of pulling off the improbable are to play to middle. Not from an ideologically perspective, but an economic one.

Separated At Birth?

Henry e-mails with another topical SAB:

ESPN's version of a silver-tongued, goatee-sporting prince of hockey commentators Barry Melrose...

...and South Park's version of the forked-tongued goatee-sporting Prince of Darkness Satan?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Time For Stabbing Not Starving

There's a growing realization in conservative circles that when it comes to controlling government budgets, cutting taxes is not the answer. The theory that the "beast" can be slimmed down by depriving it of sustenance has been disproved by what's actually happened over the last thirty years. Kevin D. Williamson had an excellent piece in a recent edition of National Review that squarely addressed the problem (sub req):

Properly understood, there were no Reagan tax cuts. In 1980 federal spending was $590 billion and in 1989 it was $1.14 trillion; you don't get Reagan tax cuts without Tip O'Neill spending cuts. Looked at from the proper perspective, we haven't really had any tax cuts to speak of--we've had tax deferrals. Reagan and his congressional allies had an excuse in the considerable person of Speaker O'Neill. But George W. Bush and the concurrent Republican majorities in both houses of Congress didn't manage to cut spending, either. Part of that was circumstances--9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, the subprime meltdown--but part of it was the fact that a poorly applied supply-side analysis has infantilized Republicans when it comes to the budget. They love to cut taxes but cannot bring themselves to cut spending: It's eat dessert first and leave the spinach on the table.

This isn't to say that there aren't perfectly valid reasons for cutting taxes such as to spur economic growth. But the history is quite clear that cutting taxes in the hope that such cuts would automatically lead to less spending is wishful thinking at best, a delusional fantasy at worst. As is the notion that tax cuts always "pay for themselves" through increased revenue. While it's true that a dollar in tax cuts usually does not equate to a dollar in lost revenue, it's also true that they aren't usually budget neutral. As Williamson notes in his piece, those who continue to claim they are should check with Mr. Supply Side himself:

Some people are more sensible about that Laffer Curve talk. Laffer, for instance. Arthur Laffer, whose famous (and possibly apocryphal) back-of-the-napkin diagram launched supply-side tax policy, readily concedes that the growth effects of tax cuts are oversold in the political debate. "Does every tax cut pay for itself? No. I think Irving Kristol wrote that, once--and then did a pretty good job of arguing for it. But if some guy running for Congress in Clayton County, Texas, says all tax cuts pay for themselves, what do we want to do? Go after him with a shotgun? Sure, they're going to cite me, and there's very little I can do about it. But there's the same amount of ignorance on the other side, ignoring the economic feedback effects of tax cuts."

The fact that a good part of arguments of the Left are economically ignorant does not excuse such ignorance among conservatives. If we believe that tax cuts are needed, then we should support them for the right reasons. But we should not pretend that such cuts will help improve budgetary matters.

Williamson has additional advice:

This we know: Tax cuts don't get us out of the spending pickle, and growth isn't going to make the debt irrelevant. Legislative mandates and gimmicks like spending caps and the like will not constrain the spendthrift habits of appropriators--because, if they do, they will be repealed, just like Gramm-Rudman was. You can't starve the beast if the Chinese and the bond markets keep lending him bon-bons by the ton. And the prospect of enacting a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution is a castle in the sky.

So, what should conservatives do? One, abjure magical thinking about tax cuts. Two, develop a rhetoric in which "spending" and "taxes" are synonyms, so a federal budget with $1 trillion in new spending means $1 trillion in new taxes--levies on Americans today or on our children tomorrow, with interest. Three, get a load of those tea-party yokels, with their funny hats and dysgraphic signage, and keep this in mind: They are opposed to the Democrats, but what they are really looking for is an alternative to the establishment Republicans, whom they distrust, with good reason, when it comes to the bottom-line question of balancing the budget and getting our fiscal affairs in good order. And then, finally, decide which angry mob you want to face: today's voters or tomorrow's bondholders.

Similar thoughts were voiced by Steve Chapman in a piece at the Washington Examiner called How starving government gets fat (via Joe Carter at First Thoughts):

This really shouldn't be surprising. In the first place, cutting taxes doesn't deprive the government of funds as long as it can tap the credit markets on a vast scale. Locking up the ice cream does no good if there's an endless supply of burgers and fries.

In the second place, cutting taxes instead of spending is seductively pleasant. It lets citizens enjoy more government services at no extra cost on April 15.

Forced to pay for everything they get, right away, Americans would undoubtedly choose to make do with less. But given the opportunity to party now and pay later -- or never, if the tab can be billed to the next generation -- they find no compelling reason to do without.

Think of it this way. If you want people to consume more of something, you reduce the price. If you want them to consume less, you raise the price. For most of the last 30 years, federal programs have been on sale, and they've found lots of buyers.

That's how the low-tax strategy has worked in practice. So if we are going to reduce the size of the federal government, we can't rely on starving the beast. We will have to tackle it and wrestle it to the mat.

In some ways, cutting taxes had the same impact on government spending that cutting interest rates had on consumer spending. Easy money allowed people to defer the day of reckoning for having to pay for the homes, cars, boats, and other toys they loaded up on before the latest bubble burst. Lower taxes have allowed Americans to defer having to pay for all the government goodies we've loaded up in over the last thirty years. The credit bubble has already burst, it's time to puncture the government bubble.

This is not going to be an easy message for conservative leaders to deliver. Taking on the beast head on means cutting spending. A lot. At levels that will have some impact on almost all Americans. But if there ever was a time for that message to be understood and accepted by a majority of the country, it's right now.