Monday, February 28, 2011

Cities in the Sky

Interesting piece in Saturday's WSJ on the rise of the Aerotropolis--The Airport-Based Global City of Tomorrow:

Thanks to the jet engine, Dubai has been able to transform itself from a backwater into a perfectly positioned hub for half of the planet's population. It now has more in common with Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangalore than with Saudi Arabia next door. It is a textbook example of an aerotropolis, which can be narrowly defined as a city planned around its airport or, more broadly, as a city less connected to its land-bound neighbors than to its peers thousands of miles away. The ideal aerotropolis is an amalgam of made-to-order office parks, convention hotels, cargo complexes and even factories, which in some cases line the runways. It is a pure node in a global network whose fast-moving packets are people and goods instead of data. And it is the future of the global city.

This may come as a surprise to Americans, many of whom have had it with both flying and globalization and would prefer a life that's slower and more local. In the wake of the financial crisis, the bywords for the future have often been caution and sustainability. But there is no resisting the relentless, ongoing expansion of the world economy, and the aerotropolis—fast, efficient, far-reaching and filled with generic "world-class" architecture—embodies it. In places like Dubai, China, India and parts of Africa, cities are being built from scratch around air travel, the better to plug into the global trade lanes overhead.

More than ever, a city's airport(s) and the airlines that connect it with the rest of the world is a critical element in its potential for future viability.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Every Day Rage

Last week's news out of Madison, WI included union members showing up at the residences of elected officials to protest and of union-backed organizations publishing personal information about their opponents’ families, with sinister overtones. Also noted, in Idaho, proposals to reform the education system have been met with mass union protests and now vandalism to the personal property of union opponents.

People of good conscience rightly revile these thug tactics. I’m gratified to see that when they occur, *most* observers still express surprise or even shock. While I hope the American people will never cease to condemn this kind of activity, it’s about time we got over our sense of surprise. Because it happens all the time when government special interest groups feel threatened.

The “Days of Rage” tactics in Madison and elsewhere have me thinking about the last time citizens in my city challenged the education status quo. The motivating circumstances were different, but the means employed to quash dissent were the same.

In Stillwater, in 2007, there was yet another, in a continuing series, of school bond referendums. The administration, in lockstep agreement with the teacher’s union, were backing a doubling of funding of the operating levy, from $32 million to $64 million. Substantial property hikes would result for residents of District 834. One year earlier, in a high turnout election, the voters rejected a similarly large money grab decisively. But in the off year of 2007, school funding increase advocates gave it another try, organizing under the human shield worthy nickname “Yes to Kids!”.

As election day neared, yards signs, letters to the editor, and new blogs sprouted up on both sides of the issue. The tone of the debate was often acrimonious and it became clear this was a polarizing issue for the city. Alas, the confrontation evolved beyond mere heated rhetoric. In the weeks preceding the vote, vandalism, theft, and intimidation were becoming increasingly common. The atmosphere was summarized on True North:

The organized effort to systematically harass, intimidate and retaliate against citizens who oppose the Stillwater ISD 834 tax levy began during the Summer of 2007. 

An anonymous blogger known only as "Stillwater Infidel aka NSA" posted personal information about folks who publicly spoke out against the tax levies at School Board meetings, Open Forums, in Letters to the Editor, and/or posted campaign signs on their private property. 
On Sept. 11, 2007, Primary Election Day, a Stillwater couple, members of the group opposing the levy had a bomb blow up in their mailbox. They reported the incident to the Washington County Sheriff's Office.

The problems continued with anonymous posters stating on the CRS834 blog that members of CRS "deserved whatever happened to them" due to their campaign activities against the tax levies.

These stories were mostly the province of the alternative media and discussed through informal channels among the levy opponents. Eventually, they made their way to the mainstream press. For example, this from the Stillwater Gazette:

... several levy opponents contacted the Gazette to report that their yard signs had stolen or vandalized in the past week. Many found printed notes in their mailbox, apparently left by members of the Stillwater Area High School Class of 2008.

One note accused levy opponents of being selfish, arguing for the levies in a five-paragraph essay. Another simply said, "Please stop f-ing with students' futures. Love, The Class of 2008. P.S. You're not getting your sign back."

Although, by the time these stories made the mainstream press, the overwhelming one-way direction of the attacks had been diluted to “both sides” are at fault.

On Friday, the pro-levy "Yes to Kids!" group offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of levy sign thieves, noting that as many as 110 of its nearly 2,000 signs had been stolen in recent weeks. (…)

Leaders on both sides of the levy debate said the sign thefts show the level to which their opponents are willing to stoop, and they said their respective campaigns would continue to take the high road.

I have only anecdotal evidence, by my opinion is that these equivalency stories were bunk. They were ginned up to deflect the outrage people would have naturally felt toward the pro-levy movement if it became known what tactics were being used in their service. So the real intimidation continued in one direction, while the public story was that both sides might have gone a bit too far.

I’m not aware of any evidence turned up that union members were directly involved in the vandalism and intimidation tactics. It could have been independent actors, motivated to support their cause for who knows what reason. But it was interesting to note the reaction school officials had once they were asked to investigate the source of the problem. The threatening notes implied that high school students were acting as the storm troopers for the movement. When the very people who could have gotten to the bottom of this were asked to help, here was their response, from the Stillwater Gazette:

District 834 Superintendent Keith Ryskoski denounced the thefts, which he said reflect poorly on both sides. He considers them evidence of the tension and insecurity that many are feeling in advance of the Nov. 6 election.

"It tells me that there's a lot of interest - and anxiety - on both sides," he said. "But if people are trying to be supportive, I don't think this kind of behavior is helping their position ... regardless of which side they're on."

Both Ryskoski and Stillwater Area High School Principal Chris Lennox said they would cooperate fully with any police investigation into the sign thefts, but they do not at this time see a need to investigate the matter independently.

"We're not going to be taking time out of the activities of the school day to go and chase this down," Ryskoski said this morning. "If we become aware of information, we will make sure it gets in the right hands and work together to act on it, but we aren't going to stop the education of kids to go and figure out who's taking signs."

The serial use of the “both sides are at fault argument” and then refusal to actively pursue likely suspects for the self-aggrandizing reasons of “not stopping the education of kids”. A pathetic reaction.

Well, the lessons being taught in District 834 were not halted for a second by any investigation into these crimes and intimidation tactics. The levy vote occurred in early November, and the people said “Yes to Kids”, by a margin of 53% - 47%. (It should be noted, 10,000 fewer people voted in this off-year election of 2007, than when a similar proposal was defeated a year earlier in 2006).

I suspect the lessons learned from this experience were all of the wrong ones. Intimidation works. Deception works. The people can be bullied into irresponsible funding of government programs.

But there are lessons available to be learned on the other side as well. When opposing the education monopoly or other government special interest groups, EXPECT these kind of things to occur. At the outset, plan contingencies to prevent specific tactics which have been used in the past. Plan a strategy to identify the perpetrators and expose them immediately. Plan a strategy to refute false accusations of the “equivalency” of disreputable tactics. And, perhaps first and foremost, grow a thick skin. Expect to be demonized and threatened and attacked, but do the right thing anyway. Truth is on your side, you will win if you’re not scared away from the fight. The people who know that most of all are the ones who are trying to scare you.

More With Less

In yesterday's WSJ, Mark Perry pokes the latest hole in the canard that "America doesn't make anything anymore" with a piece called The Truth About U.S. Manufacturing:

In 2009, the most recent full year for which international data are available, our manufacturing output was $2.155 trillion (including mining and utilities). That's more than 45% higher than China's, the country we're supposedly losing ground to. Despite recent gains in China and elsewhere, the U.S. still produced more than 20% of global manufacturing output in 2009.

The truth is that America still makes a lot of stuff, and we're making more of it than ever before. We're merely able to do it with a fraction of the workers needed in the past.

Consider the incredible, increasing productivity of America's manufacturing workers: The average U.S. factory worker is responsible today for more than $180,000 of annual manufacturing output, triple the $60,000 in 1972.

These increases are a direct result of capital investments in productivity-enhancing technology, which last year helped boost output to record levels in industries like computers and semiconductors, medical equipment and supplies, pharmaceuticals and medicine, and oil and natural-gas equipment.

Critics view the production of more with less as a net negative—fewer auto plant jobs mean fewer paychecks, they reason. Yet technological improvement is one of the main ingredients of economic growth. It means increasing wages and a higher standard of living for workers and consumers. Displaced workers learn new skill sets, and a new generation of workers finds its skills are put to more productive use.

Our world-class agriculture sector provides a great model for how to think about the evolution of U.S. manufacturing. The U.S. produces more agricultural output today—with only 2.6% of our work force involved in farming—than we did 100 years ago, when farming jobs represented almost 40% of the labor force. Likewise, we're able to produce twice as much manufacturing output today as in the 1970s, with about seven million fewer workers. That means yesterday's farmhands and plant workers can become today's computer engineers, medical doctors and financial managers.

When people bemoan the "decline" of US manufacturing, they're talking about the number of jobs not the output. As Perry and other have noted, the same comparisons could be made with agricultural. Were we really better off with more people in the US farming, but producing less? Of course not. The same is true with manufacturing. Would we really be better with less efficient factories that required more workers to produce fewer goods? Not a chance.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Beer of the Week (Vol. LXXXIX)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the down to earth folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help you explore the natural splendor of wine, whiskey, and beer.

A couple of quick beer related notes before we get to the beer of the week:

* BREWPUBLIC-Yeast, Malt, and the Pursuit of Hoppiness is an excellent web site covering everything beer related in Oregon, an excellent state for beer.

* Robert e-mails with a tasting suggestion:

I tried something from Big Sky called “Cowboy Coffee” about a week ago…..very intriguing bunch of flavors in something that makes a stout seem mild in some respects. If you haven’t tried it yet, you might want to…

Further research has revealed that the beer is called Cowboy Coffee Porter and it's one of Big Sky Brewing's Limited Releases. I will definitely keep an eye out for it.

When you think of Napa Valley, beer is not the first thing that comes to mind. But maybe it should. For even in the heart of California wine country, you can now find craft beers from the Napa Smith Brewery:

Napa Valley is internationally know as a destination for those individuals seeking the best that life has to offer. Napa Smith is proud to contribute to the Napa tradition of hard work, craftsmanship, and artistry with the introduction of our unique family of beers.

We create our beers using proprietary recipes developed by our Master Brewer Don Barkley, with his 30+ years in the craft brewing industry. Only the finest domestic and European hops, two row barley, and malted wheat are used in the beer that we make.

Their Organic IPA is our beer of the week. Which leads to the question, just what is it that gets a beer designated that way anyhow?

Defining Organic Beer:

But are all organic beers created equal? Organic certification has several different levels. The highest level of certification is “100 Percent Organic,” and is achieved when only organically produced ingredients and processing aids are used (i.e. no chemicals or pesticides). Next is “Organic,” which are those products that contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients. The remaining ingredients must be proven not to be available in organic form in the quantity and quality needed for the product. The non-organic ingredients must be included in the USDA's National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. At present, hops usually comprise the non-organic component of certified organic beers, because some varieties can be hard to obtain in organic form.

The fact that 5 percent or less of the ingredients in a certified organic beer are not organic hasn’t deterred most consumers from the products. This is normally due to the consumer being unaware of the 95 percent threshold, they feel that 95 percent organic is sufficient, or because they have determined that their organic beers of choice are made with organic hops. However, some consumers, hops growers, and brewers feel differently. Some argue that consumers who choose organic beer are making a conscious decision about what they put into their bodies, and feel that any pesticides or chemicals are unacceptable. Some beer lovers also choose organic beer because organic farms help reduce pollution to soil and water.

Yawn. Let's get down to the real business of beer: what does it taste like?

Style: IPA

Alcohol by Volume: 7.1%

COLOR (0-2): Beautiful rich copper-brown and nicely clouded. 2

AROMA (0-2): Hoppy with floral and citrus scents. 2

HEAD (0-2): Off-white color, not a lot of volume, but good retention. 2

TASTE (0-5): Bitter hops and caramel malt with a light flavors of clove and grass. A bit of a metallic taste to it. Smooth with a medium body. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Bitter follow through, but a little harsh. 1

OVERALL (0-6): This is a beer that looks great in the glass. However, I found the flavor palate to be more confusing than complimentary. The flavors are not really bad per se, but it just doesn't really work the way it should. 3

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 13

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Middle Way

Here are some miscellaneous observations and ponderings from my trip last week to Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

- In some ways, Abu Dhabi and Dubai look like Chinese cities--cranes and construction--without all the chaos of the teeming masses of people.

While there was certainly traffic at times in both cities, it was usually nothing compared to what you typically find in metropolitan areas in China. There was a large public park in Abu Dhabi close to our hotel which was almost eerily empty whenever I ventured through it.

- It's be said that Dubai wants to be the Singapore of the Middle East. And it certainly looks like it's on the way. With new and uniquely designed buildings cropping up everywhere, the city is an architect's playground. But while the designs may be unique, what's being built--skyscrapers, shopping malls, amusement parks--are really the same things that exist elsewhere, only bigger and more extreme. Everything, and at times it seems, nearly everyone is from somewhere else.

- When it comes to the United Arab Emirates as a country, I was advised that Meatloaf's wisdom that "two out of three ain't bad" was applicable. They are Emirates. They are Arab. But they are hardly what you would call "United," especially as that title is understood here in the States.

- What happens when you're born into fantastic wealth with no expectation--unless you choose some form of "public service"--that you'll ever have to perform an honest day's work your entire life? No, I'm not talking about Mark Dayton. I'm talking about the people of the UAE, the Emiratis. It's not exactly clear exactly how rich each of the close to one million natives of the UAE are, but judging by the cars, boats, and upscale shopping in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, they're not exactly pinching pennies. The questions is what does all this individual wealth--"earned" by virtue of country's oil reserves--without any real responsibility mean for a society in the long run? Despite the attempt to set up Dubai as a the region's preeminent financial center in order to secure a post-oil future, it's hard to imagine that all the years of extravagant living from black gold won't come back to bite the UAE at some point.

- I found it amusing that there donation boxes at the Dubai airport where travelers could pitch in to help needy children. You would think a country as out rightly affluent as the UAE could manage that on their own. I gave at the gas pump.

- One sign of just how wealthy the UAE is are the changes they have made in the sport of camel racing. While gambling is not permitted under Islamic law, racing camels is a favorite past-time for Emiratis. We were told that prize camels can fetch millions of dirhams at auction, which lead me to wonder if there might not be a friendly wager or two going on underneath the table. In the past, the jockeys racing the camels were children , who were often mistreated and almost starved to ensure they weren't too heavy. But the UAE banned the use of children jockeys and instead now employ robot jockeys. Yup, it's all robot jockeys at the camel races these days. Operators with remote controls drive alongside the camel track and direct the mechanical jockeys to spur their camels on. When you can afford to have robots racing your camels you know you're doing okay.

- In general, Abu Dhabi is less cosmopolitan and more conservative than Dubai. We were warned against drinking alcohol or wearing shorts in public and heard that some foreign couples had been arrested on Valentine's Day for excessive public displays of affection (holding hands is okay as long as you're married). But for a short time visitor, there wasn't much that really cramped my style. I was advised to pick up a bottle of whiskey at the duty free shop at the Dubai airport as procuring booze in Abu Dhabi would not be possible and the hotels charged premium prices. Having my own reserves allowed me to pass on raiding my room's mini-bar and no doubt was much cheaper. I paid close to $10 for a pint of Guinness in one of the hotel bars and their prices were probably a little more inflated than usual. On Mohammed's birthday, none of the bars or restaurants in the hotel served alcohol although they would bring you beer with room service. Still, with a bit of planning and preparation, the disruptions were minimal.

- While unrest was rampant in other countries in the area, all was quiet when I was in the UAE. Being fabulously wealthy probably helps dampen the desire for democracy and it seems that the status quo suites most of the Emiratis just fine. The local English newspaper in Abu Dhabi provided what I thought was pretty fair and balanced coverage of what was happening in Egypt, Bahrain, Iran, Yemen, and Libya. Their international news in general appeared to be mostly uncensored and provided the same information you would be reading elsewhere. What was unusual was any reporting that involved the government and especially the sheiks who run the Emirates. The groveling, obsequious, boot-licking nature of that coverage would do Mr. Smithers proud. The way the paper presented it, the sheiks could do no wrong and the people loved them for it. It's probably not even active censorship as much as it the reporters know what they need to do to play ball. And if you don't want to play, there's always someone else willing to.

Drawing A Line

It's hardly surprising that the crew at is joining other liberal groups in throwing in with the government worker unions in Wisconsin.

The protests in Wisconsin are sparking something we haven't seen in years. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Madison to stop a radical, right-wing attack on workers. Protesters have occupied the Capitol building for the last eight days and nights.

Now, they need the rest of us to pitch in.

So we're putting videographers on a plane to Madison to get the protesters' stories out to a wider audience. We're buying air mattresses for the folks who are sleeping at the Capitol. And we're organizing emergency solidarity rallies in every state capital this weekend.

Because so far the media has pretty much ignored the protesters.

The MoveOn folks also recognize that the fight in Madison has broader political implications.

The situation in Wisconsin has captured the attention of the nation. And winning in Wisconsin doesn't just matter to Wisconsinites.

With Republicans using the wrecked economy as an excuse to slash vital programs and hurt workers, what happens in Wisconsin has huge implications for every one of us. If we can stop Governor Walker in Wisconsin, it'll send a message to every other governor who's thinking about trying the same thing.

And it'll help turn the tide in Washington, D.C., where Republicans are threatening to shut down the government next week in order to force Democrats to agree to devastating cuts. NPR, the EPA, food aid to hungry kids, clean energy research, AmeriCorps—all are threatened.

It's interesting to note what heads the list of what considers "devastating cuts." National Public Radio. In fact, the "starving" poster children whom the left have prominently employed for years whenever a Republican even mentions limiting government spending rank a mere third in MoveOn's hierarchy of endangerment.

UPDATE-- More from MoveOn with fresh plans for the weekend:

We're putting everything we've got into one massive display of solidarity nationwide. We'll all show up wearing Wisconsin Badger colors: red and white. And if we can get huge crowds across the nation, it'll send a clear message that progressives are fired up and ready to go.

A bunch of angry lefties dressed up like Badger fans? Yeah, that's going to win people over to your side.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I'll Go With C

Ramesh Ponnuru ends his piece on the possible Palin vs. Romney battle for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination (which appeared in the February 21st edition of National Review) with this warning:

If there are Republicans who would rather not see either Romney or Palin on the ticket, or just don't want to see a bloody primary battle between them, they had better unite behind another candidate. And given the speed with which the primaries are approaching--the Iowa straw poll is in August--they had better do it fast.

Stark words for those of us in the "none of the above" camp when pressed to make a choice between Palin and Romney. Palin is simply not electable and even if she were, I would still have doubts about her qualifications for the office. With the albatross of his health care plan in Massachusetts hanging around his neck, Romney would be a disaster for the Republican Party. All of the GOP's recent efforts to demonstrate that they are anything more than Democrats Lite would be for naught. No Romney, no way, now how.

But as Ponnuru notes, the clock is already ticking and those of with no horse yet in the race other than "anyone but Palin or Romney" will be forced to coalesce around one alternative candidate soon. At this point, no one in the field of likely or even potential Republicans candidates does much for me. T-Paw might make a fine president, but there's nothing to yet indicate that he'll be able to break through the single digit support he generates nationally. Mitch Daniels' almost obsessive insistence that social issues should not be part of the debate harkens back to Tom Emmer's similar stance in last year's Minnesota gubernatorial campaign and we all know how well that worked out for him. I lost most of whatever interest I had with Newt Gingrich as a potential contender when he started pandering to the farmers in Iowa by promising to support ethanol subsidies. Jeb Bush is eminently qualified for the job in all respects except his last name which I'm afraid would be a problem for much of the electorate. The other names that could inspire real interest--Christie, Jindahl, Rubio--are probably not ready to run yet in 2012.

Not exactly a field of strong horses to choose from. The reality is that whichever one emerges from the pack first will be the one that I end up supporting in hopes of avoiding having either Palin or Romney on the ticket.

Possible presidential contenders who aren't officially in the race are sort of like backup quarterbacks in the NFL. They look great warming up on the sidelines and maybe even can play well for a game or two of spot duty. But once they have a regular role, they almost always end up disappointing the fans. I remember hearing Rudy Giuliani speak in 2006 and thinking what a great candidate he would be in the 2008 primaries. Turns out he ran a presidential campaign about as effectively as Spergon Wynn ran an offense. Or speculating on Mark Sanford's prospects as a dark horse for the GOP nomination at some point in the future. Yikes.

So while I continue to hold out hope that a Reagan-like Republican candidate will come riding over the horizon and save the day, I'm beginning to come to grips with the need to settle soon for one of the acceptable options at hand in hopes of avoiding either a disastrous defeat or pyrrhic victory in 2012.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Days of Rodent Rage

Another formerly respected education professional disgraces himself. From the Star Tribune and photographer David Joles:

Gov. Mark Dayton, Rep. Keith Ellison, U President Bob Bruininks — and Goldy — were among those at a rally Tuesday called by the Minnesota Student Association.


I know I'll never look upon his leading the "Ni, Ni, Ni" chant at hockey games in the same way again. All this time, he was referring to his putting his knee into the tax payers' collective groin. Ski-U-Mah, indeed.

Getting To The Other Side

St. Joseph's Cathedral was not the only religious building that I visited during my recent stay in Abu Dhabi (although it was the only one I worshipped at). The hotel that I was staying at was quite close to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque:

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates and the eighth largest mosque in the world.It is named after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder and the first President of the United Arab Emirates, who is also buried next to the mosque(outer left side). The mosque was opened for worship since Eid Al Adha December 2007.

What the mosque may lack in history, it makes up for in appearance. The symmetrically pleasing design and high end materials employed in its construction have come together to create a spectacular structure to behold, both from a distance and up close.

While the mosque was quite close to the hotel it wasn't exactly easy to reach on foot. I had to cross an eight lane highway with traffic zipping by at 60-70MPH. Once I breached the first four lanes and reached the center island it was a good ten more minutes before I had a clear gap to clear the remaining four. A bit of virtual Frogger there and back.

The mosque provided plenty of photo opportunities with the setting sun and rising moon.

Since it was the Prophet Mohammed's birthday when I ventured over to the mosque, I was careful to keep a respectful distance from those gathered for the occasion. I did go inside the expansive marble courtyard which featured more spectacular views.

I would have liked to be able to get a glimpse inside the main prayer hall, which is said to hold up to 9000 worshippers. With the rather limited hours that tours are available my schedule did not allow it. But still, the views from the outside alone were well worth my trip across the road.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Oasis of Faith

As I've mentioned in the past, one of the many interesting aspects of international travel is the opportunity to attend Mass in different countries. While the Catholic Church is all one bread and one body in Christ, there are always regional and cultural differences in the manner in which the Mass unfolds.

One thing that I've not experienced before is going to Mass in a country that's predominately non-Christian. I was able to do just that last week at St Joseph's Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, UAE:

The parish has over 100,000 expatriate Catholics from all over the world.

With the growing economy within the region, the Church has also witnessed a steady increase in the number of faithful. Masses are celebrated in a number of different languages and the Church is generally seen packed to full capacity at most services.

And so it was when I went to St. Joseph's on a recent Saturday night. Since the weekend in the UAE is Friday and Saturday and because it chiefly serves guest workers from outside the country, the Mass schedule at St. Joseph's is a little unusual. There are ten Masses on Friday, three on Saturday, and eight on Sunday. Languages include English, Tagalog, Urdu, Arabic, and Malayalam.

Since my Urdu is a little rusty, I opted for the 7pm English Mass. Knowing that it would be busy, I arrived early just as another Mass was ending. By the time the Mass begin, the pews were packed and people were standing in the aisles. And almost no sooner had it ended, then people started filing in for the next one.

The crowd consisted mostly of Filipinos and Indians (recall that India is home to 17.3 million Catholics) with a smattering of Western ex-pats. Before the Mass began, many in the congregation joined in praying the Rosary, something that I've also witnessed at Mass in the Philippines. The music was a bit too "Glory & Praise"-ish for my liking which is also something I've noticed in the Philippines.

All in all, it was pretty similar to the Masses I've attended in Manila. The lyrics to the songs and all the prayers were projected on big screens. Most people sat rather than knelt while waiting to go to communion. And instead of shaking hands, we did a sort of "peace bow" to each other. I suppose all these commonalities shouldn't have been too surprising since I'm pretty sure the priest was a Filipino.

One thing that was different was hearing the Muslim call to prayer during Mass. There's a mosque right next to St. Joseph's as well as a Coptic Orthodox church.

St. Anthony Cathedral For Coptic Orthodox

One difference at St. Joseph's that I've also observed in other churches outside the U.S. was that there was no sugarcoating the message of the Gospel. The priest wasn't shy about talking about hell, sin, and Satan. It seems that the less comfortable the living conditions, the more people hunger to hear the Truth with all the sharp edges. And when you're in a area with a majority religion with no aversion to drawing clear lines between right and wrong, a watered down version of Christianity is simply not going to cut it. It's interesting to note that in addition to the Catholic St. Joseph's and the Orthodox Coptic St. Anthony's, to the best that I can determine the other Christian churches in Abu Dhabi are:

Arabic Evangelical Church
Evangelical Community Church
Indian Evangelical Church
St. George Indian Orthodox Church

That's not exactly what would be considered mainstream Christianity in the United States.

With all the coming and going between Masses, it was difficult to get a good shot of the area behind altar at St. Joseph's.

You can see that they while the crucifix and stained glass are familiar, the image of St. Joseph and Jesus has an obvious local influence.

More from a 2008 piece on attending Mass at St. Joseph's and the state of Christianity in the UAE:

We arrived ten minutes late for Mass expecting there would be plenty of room for us. In the United States we would have had our pick of seats. Instead, we shared standing room outside the doors as parishioners packed the aisles and spilled out of the entrances. In the church courtyard families sold raffle tickets for a Charity auction and a handful of women prayed silently in front of a make shift grotto.

This vibrant Christian community in the United Arab Emirates is no mirage. Flanked on its western and southern borders by Saudi Arabia, and separated from Iran only by the Persian Gulf, the UAE is an unlikely bulwark for Christianity. As Abu Dhabi and its neighboring Emirate, Dubai, have become cathedrals to capitalism, they have also become a testament to the importance of the Church in the developing world and the possibility of dialogue with Islam.

The UAE is a nation of superlatives: its skyscrapers, man-made islands, and ‘seven-star’ hotels have become international icons of excess. Yet, in a country so focused on projecting wealth and glamour, its Christian communities provide a gritty counterbalance. And without the parishioners of St. Joseph's, mostly expatriate laborers from India and the Philippines, little of the UAE's oil wealth could be invested in the infrastructure and industry that will allow the country to thrive beyond the oil boom.

I'm hardly an expert on the Muslim faith, but from what I do understand I found it difficult while I was in Abu Dhabi and Dubai to square the often ostentatious displays of wealth by Emiratis--cars, yachts, jewelery--with the tenets of their Islamic faith. Perhaps they have more in common with some of their Christian brethren than they realize.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Measure and Cause of Our Vitality

Mark Helprin eloquently explains why winter matters in a piece from yesterday's WSJ called The Fire We Tend Against Winter:

Dense winter air makes the roar of an overhead jet more exciting than the desultory sound one hears in summer. And what could be more lovely than the sound, just above the threshold of hearing, of falling snow? Or more striking than a landscape or a cityscape that this snow has effortlessly purified in white? What in the summer sky can approximate the windblown, glassy, whitened auroras blasted off mountain ridges or rising from the plains?

At the onset of the extraordinary winters of the mid-to-late '70s, I was studying in England. I missed the absoluteness and severity of North American winter so much that I put an early end to my nascent academic career. Anxious about my decision, I stepped out of the terminal at Kennedy and all doubts vanished. Even over Queens were stars such as I had never seen in England, and the air itself was a challenge such as I had never felt there. I was truly happy because I was truly home.

Emptied by the cold, the streets were tranquil and quiet. In Boston the Charles Basin froze over, in New York parts of the Hudson. At times you could ski all around Manhattan. The world changes as snow and cold test one's fiber and ingenuity, something that brings far more satisfaction than just living easily. You become both more contemplative and more alert. The fire you make and tend against winter is one of the great things in life if only because it stands for life itself opposing the forces that someday will end it.

And this may be the heart of it, that winter even as we fight it is both a measure and cause of our vitality. That though it may exist as an enemy, it is something of extraordinary beauty. And that though in representing the last season of our lives it symbolizes our death, year after year experience teaches us that, miraculously and invariably, after winter's inescapable conquests the new life of spring comes nonetheless.

As much as we who live in colder climes complain and at times despair of winter's harsh realities, I believe most of us could not imagine going through the seasons of life without experiencing it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Regular Programming

Just got back from a week long jaunt to the Middle East. I woke up at 6am on Thursday morning in Abu Dhabi, worked half a day there, went to Dubai for a team building desert safari activity, flew out of Dubai to Amsterdam at 1:30am Friday morning, flew seven hours to get to Amsterdam, spent four hours there before boarding a flight to Minneapolis, which landed at MSP nine hours later at around 12pm here. Needless to say I'm more than a bit tired, but very happy to be home. Beer of the Week will resume next week. Got a lot of catching up to do.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

John Henry Was A Pencil Pushin' Man

Edited and bumped:
Technology has displaced man in another field this week as IBM supercomputer WATSON is making minced meat of Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. The final segment of the challenge ends tomorrow, and while it's possible that the humans will win, WATSON's lead is nearly insurmountable, at $35,734 to Rutter's $10,400 and Jenning's $4,800.

The win for the computer will be bittersweet. It represents another John Henry moment, where the human spirit can't keep up with technology. Yet it is also a human triumph, as IBM engineers that designed WATSON are humans who have advanced computing to a new level. Let's just hope they don't work on a terminator project next.

Day 3 Results
The final day, a separate tournament produced similar results to day 2: $44,131 for WATSON, $19,200 for Ken Jennings and $11,200 for Brad Rutter.

However, the more I think about it, the more this contest doesn't seem fair. My reasoning is that Jennings and Rutter received verbal clues from the ever-smug host, Alex Trebak, accompanied by verbiage on the blue screened TVs on set. WATSON received a file feed. It strikes me as impossible for the timing of each clue to be exactly the same. I'm sure it is possible for IBM to build a machine that could read the screen and hear Trebek, but it wasn't done for this contest.

SAINT PAUL NOTES: Roger Ebert, in a poignant essay bidding farewell to important things in his life due to age and handicap, identifies an area where the machines can't beat us yet:

When first coming to terms with the fact that I would never speak again, I filled my head with denial and coping strategies. I would use my computer voice, for example. And I do. But that is no way to participate in the flow of a conversation, and I realize so clearly now that conversations are all about the flow, the timing, the music. Now that IBM's Big Blue has beaten a grandmaster at chess and promises to win at Jeopardy, I have a challenge that will grind it to a halt: I challenge Big Blue to tell a joke in a voice that has the tone and the timing, the words and the music, just right.

More Than A Passing Fancy

I was fortunate enough to be seated next to gentleman from Egypt last night. He was very recently in Cairo and spent a couple of full days and nights in Tahrir Square with the protesters. It was refreshing to be able to actually speak at length with someone with firsthand knowledge of the situation instead of watching short interview clips or hearing the opining of the various yakking heads on television.

I also pleased to hear how optimistic this particular Egyptian gent was on the future prospects for his country. He is confident that the military would indeed hold elections in the next three to six months as promised and that they would turn over power to civilian control once the elections were over. He also does not think that Mohammed El Baradei will be the next president of Egypt, although he is not completely certain who will be.

One of the highlights of our conversation was when he explained that he had never really felt proud to be an Egyptian before the recent events. He said he loved his country in a way, but never felt that it was his or that he had a stake in it. Now, that had all changed and he understood what true patriotism meant for the first time. He explained that this was the reason the protesters had been cleaning up Tahrir Square after the protests ended. In the past, they might not have bothered. Now, they regarded it as their square in their country and they cared about whether it was clean. Let's hope that's a feeling that lasts well past the afterglow of the events of last week.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Islamic Law and "Human Rights"

The big brains over at Power Line are trying to pick a fight with the Human Rights Center at "The U" over its new Islamic Law and Human Rights Program and it does not appear that the good folks at the HRC want to play.

To be honest, I am not sure where the intersection of Islamic Law and Human Rights is, or if it exists. Will the Human Rights Center have forums on free speech in the Muslim world? Will they discuss female genital mutilation in the Muslim world? How about the Muhammed cartoon uproar? Maybe they could invite Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff? Or Ayaan Hirsi Ali? I have my doubts. While the U's program may have a lot of potential, anyone who thinks it will actually generate an honest and open debate about Islamic Law and human rights is simply naive.

Rules for the Sake of Having Rules

I work for a large California government agency that requires background checks for employment, after which you are issued a nice official government ID card. One would think that an identification issued by a law enforcement agency after a background check would be adequate ID for TSA when travelling. One would be wrong. You see, since our ID card does not have an expiration date, it's back to the standard issue drivers license. Because it has an expiration date. Seems reasonable, right?

Except TSA does not check to see if your license - with it's expiration date - has actually expired. Enterprise car rental does, but not TSA. So I was able to fly from Sacrameto to Minneapolis and back on an expired drivers license but I could not rent a car. I'm thinking I'd rather trust my security to the college kids at the Enterprise car rental counter at MSP than the highly trained specialists with the TSA.

"I am a government rule. I apply as directed without consideration of the purpose I am supposed to achieve."

Monday, February 14, 2011

How You Know You're On The Right Track has the latest on the evil designs of those dastardly Republicans in Congress:

I guess we shouldn't be surprised.

With Republicans back in charge of the House of Representatives, funding for NPR and PBS is in grave danger. Again.

The Republicans just released their budget proposal, and it zeroes out funding for both NPR and PBS—the worst proposal in more than a decade.

The worst proposal in more than a decade? Really? Kudos House Republicans. Kudos!

They probably think that no one will notice these cuts in the midst of so many others. But the millions of listeners and viewers who rely on public broadcasting for "Sesame Street," "All Things Considered," and independent journalism will notice.

We need to tell Republicans that cutting off funding was unacceptable last time they were in charge, and it's unacceptable now. why would a blatantly partisan organization such as be so pasionate about defending Public Broadcasting, that beacon of "independent" journalism?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

And the Hits Just Keep on Coming . . .

Minding my own business at Hockey Day Minnesota 2011 in beautiful Moorhead, Minnesota, when who shows up to drop the ceremonial pucks before each game? Failed comedian and failed radio talk show host and workers compensation deadbeat Al Effing Franken and "Governor" Mark "Brave Sir Robin" Dayton. And people applauded both of them? Whatever. You folks voted for them, not me.

Makes me proud to have Governor Brown as my governor.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Concensus Is...

Interesting nugget from an interview of Donald Rumsfeld on the release of his new book conducted by the WSJ's Kimberley Strassel that appeared in Tuesday's paper:

Mr. Rumsfeld devotes an early chapter to his meditations on the purpose of the National Security Council (NSC), accompanied by his judgment that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice did a poor job of airing and debating substantive disagreements between the State and Defense departments. Rivalries between State and Defense are nothing new, yet Ms. Rice's most "notable feature" of management, writes Mr. Rumsfeld, "was her commitment, whenever possible, to 'bridging' differences between the agencies, rather than bringing those differences to the President for decisions."

"Condi Rice is a very accomplished human being," he says in our interview, and "she had an academic background. Blending things and delaying things is okay in the academic world. She developed a very strong relationship with the president, which is critically important. And yet one of the adverse aspects of the way things functioned—and I wouldn't use the word 'dysfunction'—is that things did get delayed, and the president didn't get served up, in a crisp way, options that he could choose among."

The memoir relates notable instances when this dynamic played out, but none with more consequence than the muddled plan for postwar Iraq. The Defense Department pushed early on "to do what we'd done in Afghanistan"—where a tribal loya jirga had quickly anointed Hamid Karzai as leader. "The goal was to move quickly to have an Iraqi face on the leadership in the country, as opposed to a foreign occupation." Mr. Rumsfeld's early takeaway from NSC meetings was that "the president agreed."

Yet Colin Powell's State Department was adamantly opposed. It was suspicious of allowing Iraqi exiles to help govern, claiming they'd undermine "legitimacy." It also didn't believe a joint U.S.-Iraqi power-sharing agreement would work. These were clear, substantive policy differences, yet in Mr. Rumsfeld's telling, Ms. Rice allowed the impasse to drag on.

The result was the long, damaging regency of Paul Bremer as the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority—which Mr. Rumsfeld believes helped inspire the initial Iraq insurgency. Mr. Bremer, who set up shop in one of Saddam's opulent palaces, continued to postpone the creation of an Iraqi transitional government. He instead appointed a "governing council" of Iraqis but refused to give even them any responsibility. The result: delays in elections and in building post-Saddam institutions.

"You are always better having a president look at each option, at the pros and cons, and make a decision among them, than trying to merge them," says Mr. Rumsfeld, especially when positions are "contradictory to a certain extent."

One of the greatest pitfalls for a leader in any position is an insistence on seeking consensus among their staff before making decisions. LBJ was at times paralyzed in his decision making during the Vietnam War because he wanted a consencus to emerge from his advisors on what to do next. As Rumsfeld notes, leaders need to be presented with options for action and when those options conflict with one another, as they usually do, the leader needs to clearly decide on a option to pursue. In some cases, compromise is necessary and desirable, but in the most critical situations trying to do some of one option and some of another in order to placate all parties involved will almost inevitable end in failure.

Rumsfeld's revelations on the flawed decision making process in the Bush Administration help explain why the management of post-war Iraq was such a cluster-farg. It also serves as a helpful warning that those at the heart of this muddled leadership will not likely be the kind of people we want to put into similar positions in the future.


If you're looking for some background music for your work day, CSPAN Radio is streaming live coverage from the center of conservative thought and rheteoric this weekend, the CPAC conference. So far it's been alternately cringe-worthy and inspiring. In other words, great radio entertainment. Just heard a rip snorting speech by the NRA spokesman. Now, a rip-snorting and *surprise* speech by Donald Trump. Coming up soon, they tone things down a bit, with a speech from ....... Ron Paul.

UPDATE: They break away from Trump for the LIVE Hosni Mubarek speech. Wonder how the Donald will react to that news?

UPDATE: Hosni not stepping down, just re-vowing not to run for office again. The background crowd noise picks up to a low, riotous murmur. Wondering if that's the Arab street or an open mic at the CPAC courtesy bar?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Not Quite Hockey Day Minnesota

I'm not sure who this reflects worse on. Me (most likely), the TSA (to be sure) or the California DMV (what's to say?)

Anyway, I have arrived here in the Twin Cities fat, dumb and happy and looking forward to Hockey Day Minnesota in Moorhead. So, as I said, I arrive, get my luggage and trundlke my fat ass down to the tram and then to the rental car counter. Looking forward to a burger at Shamrocks and a Wild game.

But wait! Rental car boy notices something.


What? Seriously? uh oh. Wait, I renewed it on line. Paid my moneys and I wants my license.

Come to find out, California is issuing some new fangled ID/drivers license and it takes 6 weeks from renewal to receive the new license. So if you have the misfortune to have a birthday within six weeks of a vacation . . .

. . . you're sitting in a hotel room in Minneapolis wondering WTF?

Does make me wonder, though. Does TSA check to make sure the license is valid when going through security? Apparently not. Until I try and fly back home, no doubt.


UPDATE: No longer an undocumented immigrant in Minnesota. The California DMV came through and faxed confirmation of my license to me. The same day! Actual, real life government efficiency. And from the DMV. Go figure.

Does this mean I have to supoport government run health care now??

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Awful Truth

From November 2010, Don Shelby on the reasons for his retirement from WCCO TV:

"I have determined that I can be of no further help to WCCO," he said. "My kind of journalism is passé — the long-form, investigative pieces that hold the powerful accountable."

From February 2011, Don Shelby on the reasons for his triumphant return to the media:

I've got to tell you that I wouldn't be comfortable in a hammock or passing a lazy summer day fishing if I could help find the truth of these matters and tell them to people.

The employment status changes, but the arrogance remains the same.

Who says this kind of thing about themselves out loud, in public? Even if it were true, it's a one way ticket to becoming a laughingstock in any social or professional circle. Others can attribute these heroic, selfless qualities to you. Ideally in a eulogy. But it's an undeniable fact of life, people don't want to be reminded of your greatness, by you. Ever. This is especially true if you're delusional.

How has Don Shelby gotten away with this for decades in the Twin Cities without his colleagues and/or audience revolting? Looks like they'll get another chance to do so, with the announcement of a new weekly column from Don Shelby in the liberal website Minnpost.

About that "truth" which is compelling him to climb out of the hammock and speak to the world, here's how he describes his path to knowledge:

Why study the sciences? Fair question. I want to know, among other things, if the science supporting global-warming theory is correct or if some people -- fossil fuel producers, politicians who represent those businesses or states big on fossil fuel production, and blowhard pundits -- are correct in saying there is nothing to worry about.

Who's peddling the truth on global warming, the science or sinister financial interests and blowhards? Tune in at 10PM to find out!

Or next week, actually, for the next installment of his column. Even with a change in medium, good to see Shelby hasn't lost his objective newsman's instincts for framing an issue and relaying the facts.

Slip The Surly Bonds

When I hear news that involves a confluence of beer and politics it's almost certain that I'll take a swing at it. MN Beer passes on an announcement of The Big Surly News:

Thanks to you, our Surly fans, we’re celebrating five years of Surly Brewing. We’ve expanded our Brooklyn Center brewery as much as we can and brewed almost three million pints of beer in 2010, but you’re still thirsty, and we can’t keep up. So, we’re excited to announce our plans for a new brewery. But this ain’t just any brewery, it will be a destination brewery, worthy of our fans.

The new $20 million destination brewery will be a two-story, 60,000 square-foot building, complete with a roof deck beer garden, a 250-seat restaurant with mouth-watering view of our brewery, and a 30-foot bar.

That sounds absolutely spectacular. My mouth waters at the mere thought.

The brewery is good for us, and great for Surly fans, but it’ll also benefit our state by creating as many as 85 construction jobs to build it over nine months and 150 permanent Minnesota jobs, and offer a complete event center, for concerts, parties, business events, weddings, and more. Now there’s a reason to renew your vows.

Good for Surly. Good for beer drinkers. Good for the Minnesota economy. Let's break ground baby!

It’s a big idea but it’s not a done deal yet. We can’t be licensed as a brewpub because we brew too much beer so Minnesota law currently says we can’t sell beer in the new brewery. We are working with legislators right now in hopes of getting the law changed because a restaurant, bar and beer garden have to be a part of the new brewery. We may need your help soon, please keep checking our web page and our Twitter and Facebook pages for updates.

With the support of our fans and the great state of Minnesota, we can build this destination brewery and start cranking out 100,000 more barrels of Surly beer every year—more than 850 percent more beer brewed than last year. Getting thirsty yet? Hell yeah you are!

Let’s get more Surly!

Of all the Minnesota laws on alcohol still on the books from the post-Prohibition Era, the one preventing breweries from selling beer on site is probably the most egregiously outdated and detrimental. Beer lovers who've visited breweries in other states know how sweet it can be when one of your favorite brewers also can also be one of your favorite destinations for fresh beer and food. Surly has an awesome plan to create just such a brewery here, one that would be a win for everyone involved. The only thing holding them back is an antiquated law that serves no purpose other than to constrain growth for local brewers.

Minnesota beer fans should join together in asking the state legislature and the governor to free up the animal spirits of a successful local entrepreneur and help Surly realize their dreams (which are now my dreams too). This isn't just politics as usual, this is about beer. Mr. Dayton, tear up this law!

By the way, it has been reported that Surly's owner Omar Ansari has remarked that if he wanted to he could open up his dream brewery in Hudson, Wisconsin tomorrow. The Vikings moving to Los Angeles is nothing compared to the nightmare scenario of Surly moving to Wisconsin.

UPDATE: If only we knew a legislator who could champion this noble and just cause...

Anyone? Anyone? Banaian?

UPDATE II: More from Twin Cities Business:

Ansari announced the expansion plans to a crowded room at the Muddy Pig bar in St. Paul on Monday as Surly celebrated its five-year anniversary. He said he is fielding calls from Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and “other folks” interested in the expansion plans, and he hopes to garner support for the legislation and have an answer within a couple of months.

Surly has been at the forefront of a micro-brewery movement in the state, winning many awards for its ambitious brews. Ansari attributes much of the business’ success to brewmaster Todd Haug, who joined Surly after working for Summit and then Rock Bottom Brewery. Ansari was recognized by Ernst & Young as one of its entrepreneurs of the year in 2010. In fact, Ansari says that the award prompted him to consider expansion possibilities. “It opened my eyes that we could swim with the big fish and be more than just a small brewery in Brooklyn Center.”

Ansari hopes that the new brewery will be “a complete beer experience” and will become a part of the metro area’s “cultural fabric.” “This would be another great amenity for the Twin Cities,” much like other attractions such as the Mall of America and Target Field, he added.

I think I know a local architect who would be interested in the project. Will draw for beer.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Sign O' The Times

Tim e-mails on my post from last week on bringing coffee to church:

"leave the coffee at home and set aside an hour for a shot of God”

That totally belongs on the sign outside the Simpsons' “First Church of Springfield”.


Bearing the Cross

Color me quite a bit less sanguine about the prospects of the United States pushing for democratic change in Egypt than the Nihilist in Golf Pants is. While he's optimistically whistling the opening bars of "Wind of Change", I'm highly skeptical about the ability of the US to positively influence the outcome of events in Egypt and the wisdom of us even attempting to do so. Appropriate clichés to describe the situation the US finds itself in are "no good choices" and "hope for the best, plan for the worst." The two critical virtues we should practice in our diplomatic efforts vis a vis Egypt are patience and prudence.

But we should also not lapse in our duty to help protect the one minority group who always seems to get forgotten when we talk of oppression, discrimination, and persecution. In a piece at USA Joseph Bottum asks Who will defend Mideast Christians?:

Perhaps the situation in Egypt will resolve itself peacefully. Or perhaps we'll see a long stretch of public unrest before the nation finally stumbles its way into a new form of stable government. But there's one easy prediction to make: Whatever happens, Egypt's Coptic Christians are going to be hurt, unless the United States makes a major diplomatic effort to help them.

About 10% of the Egyptian population (and declining, down more than half over the past century ), these people have suffered discrimination under 30 years of rule by the now-embattled president, Hosni Mubarak. And they've seen that discrimination ratcheted up into open persecution during the current unrest, which began with a car bomb in Alexandria killing 21 at a Coptic church on Jan. 1 and continued through the massacre of 11 Christians in the village of Sharona on Jan. 30.

So why should they expect improvement from a new government? Particularly one in which the radical Muslim Brotherhood is certain to play a major role? The Copts are under the screw, and somehow, every time modern Egyptian history makes a turn, it ends up biting down harder on the nation's religious minorities.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Cheese Stands Alone

Before this year's NFL season started, I predicted that the Packers and Ravens would meet in Super Bowl XLV with the Ravens winning. Not a bad pick considering the Packers are indeed playing later today in this year's big game and the AFC representative is also from the the conference's North division and was the team that ousted the Ravens from the playoffs. It was certainly a better call than the one made by ESPN's Chris Berman who picked the Chargers and--snicker, snicker--Vikings to meet in Dallas.

While my heart would love nothing more than seeing the Packers suffer a humiliating, soul-crushing defeat at the hands of the Steelers today, my head just can't get come up with a plausible losing scenario for Green Bay. So far in the playoffs, Pittsburgh's defense has faced decent, but far from explosive offenses in Baltimore and the New York Jets. Today, they will be tested by the hottest offense in the NFL and I don't see how they can hope to slow the Packers down enough to keep it close.

If the game was being played in the wintery conditions of Heinz Field, the Steelers D would have a good shot at stymying the Packers and keeping it close. But the indoor fast track at Dallas plays to Green Bay's strengths on offense and I don't think the Steelers will be able to keep up with them. I also think those hoping for a close game will be disappointed. The Packers will get up early and never look back. The final score will be something like Green Bay 34 Pittsburgh 19. And we'll have to live with hepped up Packers fans and their insufferable gloating for at least the next six, maybe seven months.

If Steeler fans are looking for a ray of hope, it should be noted that I'm 5-5 in my playoff picks this year. And I'd love to proven wrong one more time.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Bad Vocabulary SAB

Comedian Ron White, who never did well in school:

I never had much of a vocabulary. In fact, my friend Bob Schnieder would still be alive today if I'd known the difference between "antidote" and "anecdote". He got bitten by a copperhead, and I'm telling him funny stories out of Reader's Digest. His head started to swell, I said "This ain't working". He goes, "READ FASTER!!"

And headline writers and editors at the Associated Press, who apparently didn't either, as reported by John Hinderaker at PowerLine:

Item number two is this headline by the Associated Press: "Black Eyed Peas anecdote for geriatric halftime." They meant "antidote." That's right: the nation's number one news organization doesn't know the difference between "antidote" and "anecdote."

Beer of the Week (Vol. LXXXVIII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the thrifty folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help you get the most for your money as you explore the wide world of wine, whiskey, and beer.

It wasn't all that long ago when your craft beer options at most Twin City liquor stores usually consisted of local favorites (Sunmit, Surly, Lake Superior, Liftbridge), regional offerings from Wisconsin (Capital, Rush River, Tyranena) and Illinois (Goose Island, maybe Two Brothers), and a limited number of brands with a wider distribution (Sam Adam's, Red Hook, Sierra Nevada, Full Sail, Bell's, Pyramid, Widmer, Big Sky). In the last few years, a number of new craft brewers have entered the Twin Cities market. It seems like it started with Colorado's New Belgium, best known for their Fat Tire Ale. They've since been followed by brewers such as 21st Amendment (California), Founders (Michigan), Great Lakes (Ohio), Magic Hat (Vermont), Tallgrass (Kansas), New Holland (Michigan), and Deschutes (Oregon) among others. It's never been easier to find good beer in the Twin Cities , whether on the shelf or on tap, than it is right now.

One of the latest brewers to make their product available here is Colorado's Odell Brewing Company:

Doug, Wynne and Corkie Odell started their brewing odyssey in 1989 in a converted 1915 grain elevator located on the outskirts of downtown Fort Collins. Odell's was just the second microbrewery to open in Colorado. No one knew what "craft beer" was in those early days of the industry and we had to educate our first customers on what exactly it was we were trying to sell them. Not home brew, or worse, bathtub brew, but small batch, hand-crafted, commercially brewed distinctive beers. Our success was immediate.

Doug brought his passion for crafting great beer to our new brewery. Starting in his kitchen in Seattle, Doug had spent ten years refining recipes and playing with brewing processes until he settled on two perfect recipes, although not yet the names - 90 Shilling and Easy Street Wheat. After brewing and kegging his beer, Doug would deliver it, pick up empties, and make sales calls out of his old mustard-colored Datsun pickup. Corkie cleaned out the tanks and Wynne paid the bills.

Flash forward to 1994 and you'll find us in our newly constructed brewery, a vast 8,000 square feet, working hard to brew 8,300 barrels of beer. Two short years later, we amended our draft-only focus, added a bottling line and started churning out six packs for the drink-at-home fans. Numerous small expansions ensued. By 2009, having outgrown every inch and aspect of our brewery, we doubled our plant size to 45,000 square feet and our beer sold to 45,000 barrels - one barrel per square foot!

Today we're 57 co-workers strong and still dedicated to sharing our passion for delicious beer with our ever-growing family of fans. Experimentation with beer recipes, barrel aging and yeast cultivation coupled with our dedication to our customers and each other keep our creative juices flowing and our reputation for excellent, innovative beers growing.

We warmly welcome Odell to the area and feature their 90 Shilling Ale as our beer of the week.

We introduced 90 Shilling, our flagship beer, at our opening party in 1989. For a while, we’d been wondering what would happen if we lightened up the traditional Scottish ale? The result is an irresistibly smooth and delicious medium-bodied amber ale. The name 90 Shilling comes from the Scottish method of taxing beer. Only the highest quality beers were taxed 90 Shillings. A shilling was a British coin used from 1549 to 1982. We think you’ll find this original ale brilliantly refreshing, and worth every shilling.

Label has a paper-like quality that's pleasing to the touch. Buff colored background with an artistic rendering of a coin featuring the beer's name in yellow & blue over a mountain river. Well-designed.

Style: Scottish Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 5.3%

COLOR (0-2): Copper brown, slightly cloudy. 2

AROMA (0-2): Sweet malts, but faint. 1

HEAD (0-2): Off-white color. Not much volume, but laces the glass nicely. 2

TASTE (0-5): Malt and caramel flavors at the beginning with a bit of hops at the finish. Thin mouthfeel and medium-bodied. Goes down pretty easy. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Well-balanced sweet and bitter flavors linger. 2

OVERALL (0-6): A decent if not especially noteworthy Scotch Ale. The flavors are smooth and balanced and it's a wee bit lighter and more drinkable than many Scotch Ales. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 14

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Silence Equals Death

I'm still non-plussed over finding out that Minnesota tax payers are legally required to pay for abortions. Thousands of abortions per year, costing millions of dollars. Since 1995, this has been the law of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. It's possible I've simply missed the constant protests from our political and religious leadership on this issue over the past 15 years, but I doubt it. It seems most have chosen to ignore or had already forgotten about this issue.

Until now. The Minnesota Legislature is taking up a bill, sponsored by freshman Senator Dave Thompson. (Yes, THAT Dave Thompson, former talk show host and Fraters Libertas contributor.) And it looks like it will skate through committee and gain passage in both chambers. Why the sudden, dramatic change?

The answer is obvious, but it bears amplifying. This is the first time since then Republicans have been in charge. This past November, they took control of the both chambers for the first time in 38 years. Up until then, no challenge was possible. So beholden are they to the abortion special interest groups, the DFL hierarchy would never allow it. And look what happens now that they are out the door.

For the past 15 years the calculus was as simple as this: voting for Democrats meant voting for tax payer funded abortions. Voting for Republicans meant ending it. Abortion itself ain't that popular, and I'm sure that forced government funding of it is anathema to a strong majority of citizens. You'd think a statewide candidate might be able to win an election by reminding voters who stands on either side of this divide. Yet the most recent GOP standard bearer studiously avoided talking about it. For example, this exchange from a pre-election debate in September:

An interesting moment at the gubernatorial debate in Duluth today. A woman who identified herself as Elizabeth asked a question about abortion: "I would like to ask these gentlemen what their philosophy is on abortion and specifically what your policy is on taxpayer funded abortion in Minnesota?"

While Tom Horner and Mark Dayton left the door wide open by expressing their tacit approval of it (mostly by spouting inanities about sex education and keeping individual choice for abortion safe, legal, and rare), Tom Emmer chose to tap dance away from the threshold entirely:

"You know what, I appreciate the question, and, you know, Jacquie and I, we believe in life. But I've got to tell you, this election; it has to be about what is hurting the state of Minnesota--the loss of jobs. It's got to be, the economics are front and center.

I have to believe there were a lot more than 9,000 voters in the state for whom a sharp contrast on this issue might have proven decisive. Even in a deep recession, voting is about more than the all mighty dollar.

That's all water under the bridge now. Despite electing Republican majorities in the legislature, voting for a DFL governor almost ensures that tax payer abortions will continue unabated for 4 more years. But good for the Republicans in the legislature for forging ahead and doing the right thing anyway.

It's interesting to note the media backlash against this effort. Again I think its clear a strong majority of voters would agree with the Republicans on this issue. So, how can it still be defeated in the public forum? By demonizing the attempt to even discuss the issue.

Check out the remarkable Journ-o-list-like consistency of this messaging effort by a wide variety of local media outlets:

On January 21, in a news item from Eric Roper in the Star Tribune:

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, one of the bill's sponsors, said in an interview last m
onth that the fixing the state's budget problems would supercede all other issues.

Also on January 21, from Minnesota Public Radio:

After the election in November, legislative leaders discouraged talk about what social
issues the new Republican majority would pursue.

"If it doesn't have anything to do with business and jobs, it shouldn't be our first priority.
If you don't have a job, it's hard to be involved in an abortion rally," Rep. Kurt Zellers,
the speaker of the Minnesota House, told MPR's Gary Eichten.

"There's a lot of important issues and we will get to them. But the priority now is the
budget, jobs, and the economy," Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch added.

Today, a bill restricting funding for abortion was submitted to the Minnesota Senate co-sponsored by Koch. The bill, Senate file 103, is the first anti-abortion bill of the session.
From the Minnesota Independent on January 24.

Members of the Republican leadership in the Minnesota Senate have introduced legislation to ban state funding for abortions, just weeks after saying that creating jobs and fixing the budget deficit would be the party’s top priorities.

On January 26, from liberal blog MNPACT:

Remember the good old days when the House and Senate GOP were going to make the budget and JOBS issue number one?

Actually you should was three weeks ago. But that was then, this is now .... priorities seem to have changed.

On January 29, from the liberal blog, the Minnesota Progressive Project:

The 'all about jobs' GOP has set its sites on imposing further restrictions on abortion access, this time to rape victims.

And bringing things full circle, back to the Star Tribune in this February 1 editorial by John Tevlin:

Legislators introduced a bill to block public funding for abortions for low-
income women. (You can never have too many poor people.)

I thought it was all about jobs?

(Side note, separated at birth. John Tevlin, for supporting abortion to reduce the number of poor people, and Ebenezer Scrooge: "If they would rather die,'' said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.")

So, regardless of the merits of the bill that would end tax-payer funded abortions, there's something wrong if Republicans bring it up at all. And the full force of the local media is brought to bear in attempting to shame them into silence.

Not the first time we've seen this tactic. In the past few years, it has also used by liberals to:

Stop Republican candidates from talking about any social issues (or "the sideshows of guns, gays, and gynecology" as the Star Tribune called it)

The commonality of all of these issues is that they are losers for the Democratic party. Issues on which the party is on the opposite side of public opinion. Therefore, the only strategy is to stop the conversation from happening in the first place.

Tip to Republican candidates, on any issue you see this tactic used, it's the biggest tell in the world that your opponents are afraid of it. Or, more precisely, afraid that the voters might find out exactly what they're up to.