Thursday, March 31, 2011

Best Seat in the House

The WSJ reveals one of the best tools for planning airline travel in a piece called The Middle Seat: Outsmart the Airlines to Get the Best Seat in Coach:

Ordering a cup of coffee used to be a pretty simple transaction: regular or decaf. Likewise in selecting a seat on an airplane: aisle or window.

Now, picking a seat can be as complex as ordering a half-caf, no whip, extra shot, soy latte. Airlines have sliced and diced coach cabins into a hodgepodge of choices. Some coach seats have perks like extra legroom and power ports, often for an additional fee. Others seats are skinny and crammed in so tight they won't recline or lack under-seat storage.

Where others saw tiny tush space, saw opportunity. With seat layouts and ratings for 720 different airplanes flown by 100 different airlines, the website has become the authoritative source for cabin information. Using internal research and feedback from fliers, SeatGuru highlights the gems, like seats with unlimited legroom, and flags the duds, like window seats with no windows. Information is so thorough that SeatGuru says airline reservation centers use its site for information on their own planes. (Airlines confirm that.)

It's quite true that your preference for an aisle or window seat (I like the aisle myself) should just be the beginning of the process of seat selection if you want to maximize your flying comfort. For all coach seats are most definitely not equal. If you're a regular flier with status on an airline you usually can snag a exit row seat if you book early enough. But some exit row seats are better than others.

I've used SeatGuru for years. I'll usually open it along with the airline's seat selection page to ensure that I'm ending up with the best seat available. The nice thing is that it shows the aircraft seating configuration for the airline you're flying (they are often different) and they recently added a feature that allows you to input your flight number to determine which aircraft you'll be on. Typically, there are only a select number of seats that are highlighted as good or bad choices. But it helps to have the knowledge to try to land the best seat you can and even more important to avoid the lousy ones, especially if you're on a long haul flight. SeatGuru will also provide info on power options which is nice to know as well.

Take A Letter

One of the reasons we started this blog lo those many moons ago was because we wanted to have a forum where we could voice our opinions freely and widely. At that time (back in the early aughts), one of the only avenues for doing so was writing letters to the editor of the local fish wraps. Your chances of having a letter published were slim, especially if your were writing in support of positions that ran counter to the ideological line of the paper's editorial page.

Thankfully, I haven't even thought about writing a letter to the editor in years. Yesterday, a post at Power Line showed that even if you do get a letter published (in this case to the Star Tribune), there's no guarantee that the original context will survive intact. Plus ca change.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Common Cause

It's not every day that I find myself agreeing with the folks at, but when it comes to GE and its CEO Jeffery Immelt getting in bed with the Obama administration to direct its policies for the company's financial benefit I share their outrage:

According to The New York Times, last year General Electric (GE) made over $14.2 billion in profit, but paid NO federal tax. None.

In fact, thanks to the millions GE spent lobbying Congress, we American taxpayers actually owed GE $3.2 billion in tax credits.

Now GE is slashing health benefits and retirement benefits for new employees among non-union workers and is expected to push unions to accept similar cutbacks, while its CEO, Jeff Immelt, gets a 100% pay raise.

What's worse? Immelt now sits as chair of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness (Jobs Council), representing corporate America to the President on matters like job creation and corporate taxation. That's a slap in the face to every hardworking, tax-paying American—especially GE employees.

That's why we're teaming up with Russ Feingold and his new group Progressives United today to call for Immelt to go. Will you join the call?

Heck yeah. Let's kick this corporate statist to the curb and replace him with someone who really knows something about job creation and competitiveness. Like maybe one of the Koch brothers. You still with me guys? Guys?

Keep 'Em Separated

While here in Minnesota we grapple with proposed changes to our arcane state liquor laws to allow breweries to essentially operate as brewpubs and to allow liquor stores to open on Sundays, we're not the only state addressing such matters. As a story in today's WSJ reports, Colorado Abuzz Over Beer Fight:

A fight brewing in the Colorado legislature has lawmakers bitterly divided over beer.

"Abuzz Over Beer Fight," "A fight brewing," and "bitterly divided"? Nice to see that newspapers can still have fun with a story.

The state House of Representatives is expected to begin debate soon on a bill that would dismantle Colorado's great beer divide, which since 1933 has limited the sale of beer with higher alcohol content to liquor stores, restaurants and bars.

Supermarkets and convenience stores, meanwhile, have had a monopoly on beer with less than 3.2% alcohol by weight, which is equivalent to 4% by volume. Now, they want the opportunity to cash in on sales of the stronger stuff.

In 2010, Coloradans purchased nearly six million gallons of lower-alcohol beer, compared with 104 million gallons of higher-alcohol brews.

Colorado's beer laws, enacted after Prohibition to keep the most intoxicating brews away from teens, have created unusual situations. The Coors Light sold in supermarkets is made with a shorter fermentation period, which produces a lower alcohol content, than the Coors Light sold in liquor stores—though the brewer says there is no difference in taste, and the packaging is nearly identical.

Only four other states—Utah, Oklahoma, Indiana and Kansas—have similar rules.

Last time I checked, these beer regs sounds an awful lot like what we have here too.

At first blush, allowing convenience and grocery stores to sell strong beer might seem to be a no brainer for the beer-loving crowd. Upon further review however, you discover that more outlets for beer might actually limit the breadth of the available beer offering.

On the other side, liquor-store owners predict financial disaster if they lose their monopoly on stronger brews. Beer accounts for 60% to 70% of sales at most liquor stores in the state, said Jeanne McEvoy, who runs an industry trade group. She predicts that as many as 700 of Colorado's 1,660 liquor stores would go out of business if the rules were changed, throwing thousands of people out of work.

Colorado's 130 craft breweries are also fighting to keep the status quo. The proposal would greatly expand their potential market, by letting them sell their full-strength beers to chain groceries. But the brewers prefer to market their beer to independently owned liquor stores, some of which are enormous—50,000 square feet—and stock scores of niche brands and seasonal brews. Supermarkets don't have the shelf space, so if big grocery chains came to dominate the beer market, consumers might have less exposure to local products, said John Carlson, executive director of the Colorado Brewers Guild.

"I'm not saying it will be Armageddon," said John Bryant, president of Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont, Colo. "But it would change the dynamics of craft breweries in Colorado."

To me, the potential upside benefits to the proposed change--easier and more convenient to buy strong beer--don't outweigh the downside risks--less local craft brews to choose from on store shelves. I'm not all that familiar with the situation on the ground in Colorado, but in most parts of Minnesota it's not that hard to find a liquor store. Being able to buy beer when you buy gas or groceries would be nice, but not if the trade off is limiting the craft beer choices.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Covering The Knothole

(The following is a transcript of a telephone conversation between my wife and an agent at the Twins ticket office yesterday. )

Recorded greeting: Hello, you’ve reached the Minnesota Twins ticket office. Please listen to the following menu options carefully:

Press 1 for season tickets

Press 2 for single game tickets

Press 3 to get on a waiting list to see the Twins get swept in the playoffs

Press 4 for information on ticket discounts for Federal Employees

(Wife pushes one)

Recorded greeting: Please wait while we connect you.

Ticket agent: Thanks for calling the Twins ticket office. How can I help you?

(The sound of cash register constantly ringing can be heard in the background)

Wife: Hi, I’m calling about getting tickets for one of the Blue Bunny Kids Day games. That’s where you get two kids tickets for free for each adult ticket purchased, right?

Ticket agent: No, we don’t have that anymore.

Wife: You don’t?

Ticket agent: No. We still have Blue Bunny Kids Day games where children under fourteen get a free autograph and can run the bases after the game.

Wife: But no ticket discounts? Do you have any family ticket discounts?

Ticket agent: Well, we do have the Our Family Section. For only twenty-three dollars* you can sit in the alcohol-free family section and get a free hot dog and pop.

Wife: Twenty-three dollars a ticket? Don’t you have any other family discounts?

Ticket agent: No, we don’t.

(Sound of cash register ringing in the background grows louder)

Wife: You just lost yourself a customer!

Ticket agent: Wha? I'm sorry, Ma’am I couldn't hear you

(Cash register rings louder and more frequently)

Wife: I said you just lost yourself a customer!

Ticket agent: Huh?

Wife: You just lost yourself a customer!

Ticket agent: Ma’am you're going to have to speak up!

Wife: You just lost yourself a customer, mister!

Ticket agent: I've forced myself to wha?

Wife: You just lost yourself a customer!

(Wife shakes head and hangs up as ticket agent goes back to counting piles of cash)

One of the beauties of baseball is that the ball parks where the games are played have historically been a venue that your average family could afford to patronize. With eighty-one home games in stadiums that hold usually hold forty to fifty thousand seats, baseball was the cheapest ticket in professional sports. And baseball teams encouraged parents to bring their kids to the games by offering special discounts on seats in the bleachers.

I recall seeing Twins games at the old Metropolitan Stadium where I think we paid two or three bucks a ticket to sit in the outfield. It wasn’t the best view to catch the action from, but we didn’t care. The important thing was that we were at the game. When the Twins moved into the Metrodome they continued to sell cheap blue plastic seats in the outfield for maybe four or six bucks a pop. It was one of the better deals in town and allowed families to bring the whole crew out to the ballgame.

Such is not the case with the Twins new home Target Field. I despised going to the Metrodome to watch baseball and was ecstatic when the Twins moved back outside where they always belonged (although I was not happy with the way the funding went down). We live a mere ten minutes from Target Field and I was looking forward to again enjoying baseball under blue skies and sunshine. I was also looking forward to bringing my sons to Twins games at Target Field as my parents had brought my brother and I to games at the Met when we were youngsters.

Last year, I was able to take the eldest boy (then four) to one of the opening exhibition games against the Cardinals. It was a beautiful spring day and he had a great time. He lasted through seven innings and acquitted himself well--with the exception of chucking an empty water off the deck we were seated in (I blame the bad influence of the uncouth ruffian he was sitting next to). We wanted to get back to the ballpark with the rest of the family at some point, but with it being the inaugural season of Target Field and all, tickets proved difficult to come by.

So this year when spring again rolled around (at least on the calendar), my wife decided to call the Twins ticket office and see about getting some ducs. And that’s when she learned that the Twins are too busy counting their money to worry about whether families can afford to attend their games. I guess you can’t really blame them. When it comes to sports, Target Field is the hottest ticket in town and with demand outstripping supply there’s really no reason for the Twins to offer discounts to anyone (well, except for those noble federal employees). Still, there’s something grating about an organization that was more than happy to dip their hands into the public coffers to scoop up as much as they could to build their magnificent facility not making more of an effort to allow more of the people who are paying for Target Field everyday to actually set foot inside it. If you’re not going to offer family discounts, can you at least throw us a bone and provide discounts for residents of Hennepin County?

There’s also something sad about families being priced out of major league baseball. With all the greed, scandal, and cynicism in professional athletics these days, baseball was the one sport that still offered families an opportunity to experience the joy of a simple day at the ball park together. With all that local baseball fans have gained with the opening of Target Field, I hope that’s not something that we’ve lost.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Are You Experienced?

The rumors circulating for the past couple of weeks are true. The First Team of NARN has risen from the ashes, Phoenix-like, and has been reborn, under a new name. It's the Hinderaker-Ward Report Show Experience.

The fine folks at have offered us a chance to recreate the Saturday morning magic you may remember from all those years on the radio. It's me, John Hinderaker, Loon of the Week, This Week in Gatekeeping, and analysis of the week that was with a Minnesota-centric focus. If we could only get a strange smell wafting in from the adjoining room, a Russian babe producer who has absolutely no interest in the proceedings of the broadcast, and angry guys from Nordeast phoning in with calls for fistfights on the floor of Congress, it would be just like we never left the concrete bunker at all.

The Hinderaker-Ward Experience (HWX) will be a weekly effort. Don't let last week's lapse concern you, it was a rare and well-deserved day off (see, it's just like the old show). So far we've been taping them on Saturday afternoon and they've been going up on Saturday night or Sunday morning. That schedule may change to some degree, but once a week (at least) is the plan.

There are several ways to catch the show. You can go to, where it's on the right-hand margin of the main page, in the august company of the rest of the Ricochet family of podcasts. These include the flagship Ricochet podcast, with a few people you may have heard of like James Lileks, Rob Long, Peter Robinson, Mark Steyn, Jonah Goldberg, etc. Also two other new and very impressive shows, one with Mickey Kaus and David Limbaugh and the other featuring Professors John Yoo and Richard Epstein, with Law Talk.

If you want to be sure catch every episode, and possess them for your very own, the podcast is available on iTunes. I encourage you to subscribe now, as I'm told that helps us in some vague, uncertain way.

Or for this episode, you can listen to it right here at Fraters Libertas, with the embedded player below.

This week's show features a discussion of theories on what we're supposed to be doing in Libya, the inside dope on our two MN Presidential candidates Pawlenty and Bachmann, Loon of the Week, and This Week in Gatekeeping.

The weeks to come will feature some great guests, who you might remember hearing on the old radio show, and maybe some live streaming or calls. Still working on those technical details, but we'll get it going as soon as we can.

The Hinderaker-Ward Experience on Don't you dare miss it!

An Expression of Liberalism and Liberality

Excellent piece at First Things by David Mills on Homeschooling Freedom and why homeschooling went from being viewed as part of the counter-cultural cool to kooky in the eyes of many liberals:

So I was surprised some years later to read the kind of people with whom I’d grown up, and others like them, suddenly alarmed at the growth of homeschooling. (And I first read them with such surprise when we still expected to send our children to the public schools.) The critics treated it as a threat to...well, exactly what it threatened they rarely made clear, beyond some expressed concern, surely dubious, for the homeschooled children.

The critics found themselves so alarmed, of course, because now politically, culturally, and religiously conservative parents were educating their children at home and rejecting the influence of a system in which the critics—so many of them former counter-cultural types themselves—were heavily invested. And also from which, in many cases, they drew their income. Teachers who explained American history in terms of commercial self-interest were not heard admitting, much less condemning, their own self-interest in maintaining the educational order and the systems of control over others it required.

The homeschoolers were no longer a few hippies and leftists, whose numbers were always going to be small and their influence marginal. Now the homeschoolers were a growing number of average parents, whose counter-cultural commitments were of the conservative and not the leftist sort, whose numbers might well increase and their influence grow strong enough to challenge the public school’s monopoly. (Not to hammer home a point, but the same teachers who railed against monopolies in business were extremely defensive of their own. Even the ones who would privately lament its effects in keeping incompetent colleagues and unnecessary administrators employed.)

Now people who have no obvious stake in the matter, like most of the people I described at the beginning, tend to side with the establishment against the parents. They’ve somehow absorbed the key elements of the ideology, like the concern for “socialization,” which is either a faux concern for the children’s well-being or a real concern for their being educated outside of and probably against the ideas public schools (with exceptions, I realize, as in some communities in the rural Midwest where the public values and the private still coincide) inculcate and impose.

Before someone remarks that some homeschooling parents are very odd or inept or (in a very few cases) dangerous: yes, of course, it is not a perfect system. But that doesn’t answer the question of who should educate the children. And it’s not, most definitely not, an argument for the public school monopoly.

This new criticism is, to someone like me, a very strange reversal. Homeschooling is an act of the kind of freedom I was taught our country provided, a freedom of self-determination that was one of its great glories. Even leaving out the idea I was also taught, that removing oneself from the system was a laudable act of counter-cultural liberation, with which I still have some sympathy, to teach one’s children oneself, being able to choose curricula and readings and custom the teaching to every child’s needs and gifts, is the kind of thing I was taught, by teachers of impeccable liberalism, to praise. It is, as it was once understood to be, in public affairs.

But I'll Make a Living, Just Where I Don't Know

Trying to predict the outcome of one and done tournament games will humble even the sharpest of sports minds. Just ask Dick Vitale, Digger Phelps, Hubert Davis, and Jay Bilas what they think of VCU now that the Rams have reached the NCAA Basketball Final Four after these respected basketball wags were waxing indignant that the squad didn’t even deserve to be included in the field of sixty-eight just a few short weeks ago.

While the four teams who will face off in the NCAA Frozen Four in St. Paul may not be as big a surprise as VCU, Butler, Kentucky, and U Conn reaching the Final Four in Houston, I doubt if too many had North Dakota, Michigan, Minnesota-Duluth, and Notre Dame in their bracket. With a #1 seed, a #2 seed, and two #3 seeds reaching the finals in a sixteen team tourney, those who went with the favorites did not do well. And many of those of us who tried to factor in upsets simply picked the wrong teams. My Frozen Four had two #1s, a #2, and a #3 seed. The only one that I picked correctly was one of the top seeds, North Dakota.

Since I have them winning it all, I still have points on the table that I can pick up. However, with a number of others in the Fraters groups also picking the Sioux the best I can hope for is a middle of the pack finish. The important thing is that no matter what happens I have already beaten former Minnesota Hockey Commissioner and current talk radio shock jock Hugh “Ralphie” Hewitt. Which really isn’t much solace since Hugh’s track record on sports predictions is about as good as championship records of the Cleveland teams he supports. You knew that as soon as he picked Miami of Ohio (a #1 seed in the Northeast Regional) to win the title, it was the kiss of death for the Red Hawks. The only surprise was how early and easy Miami went out as they lost their first round game to fourth seeded UNH.

With defeat comes remorse and bitterness. I’m experiencing a bit of both at the moment. My remorse comes from not following the tried and true formula of picking conferences over teams. In the past, I’ve usually gone with WCHA teams whenever they faced teams from other conferences in the tournament. Well, expect for SCSU for obvious reasons. This has usually worked our rather well for me, especially in the early to mid 2000s when the WCHA was the dominant conference in college hockey (five straight national champions 2002-2006 and the all- WCHA Frozen Four in 2005). But the WCHA has been down for the last few years and my natural bias to favor teams from the conference has waned.

It turned out be a bad year to short sell the WCHA. The five WCHA teams in the tourney (one #1, one #2, two #3s, and #1 four) went 6-3 overall and that includes North Dakota beating Denver in the Midwest Final and UNO getting jobbed against Michigan. Two WCHA teams will be playing in the Frozen Four and Colorado College had a nice run before falling short against Michigan. Why I thought that an ECAC team like Yale would be able to reach the national championship game is beyond me. I bought too much into their national ranking without factoring their conference in enough. I also didn’t count on the strength of the CCHA which also fields two teams in the Frozen Four: Michigan and Notre Dame. Which brings us to the bitterness.

As I mentioned earlier, I had a hunch that at least one lower seeded team would reach the Frozen Four. And I figured that team would likely be from the WCHA. But instead of picking UMD, I went with UNO. The Mavericks always seemed to play up to their competition and with an experienced coach like Dean Blais behind the bench, I thought they had a good shot to pull off a couple of upsets. And indeed they might have had they not been beaten in overtime by Michigan on a phantom goal. I call it phantom, because I have yet to see a replay that conclusively shows the puck across the goal line. Based on where the shot came from and where the goalie was positioned, you can assume that at some point the puck did indeed cross said line and was probably a goal. But “probably” is not the standard that should be employed in a overtime situation in a playoff game that ends the loser’s season. You need to have proof beyond a reasonable doubt that it was a goal before you make that call, especially since it was not originally called as such on the ice. I’m not sure what the officials saw or thought they saw, but the bottom is that UNO was hosed. And therefore so was my bracket.

The other open wound of bitterness concerns the other CCHA team to advance, Notre Dame. In case you haven’t been paying attention, The Nihilist in Golf Pants is an alum of Notre Dame and follows their athletic endeavors rather passionately (he’s rather hung today after overindulging and burning dumpsters into the wee hours last night to celebrate Notre Dame’s NCAA fencing title). Since I don’t get a chance to see much Fighting Irish puck during the regular season, I rely on NIGP’s opinions of the Notre Dame hockey squad. Just a few weeks ago, he informed me that the team wasn’t much better than the Gophers and definitely wasn’t going anywhere. So when I filled out my Northeast Regional bracket I took this into account. Unlike Hugh, I knew that #1 seed Miami would not be making the trip to St. Paul. Even though #4 seed UNH was essentially playing at home, I figured they weren’t much of a threat. And since the NIGP had assured me that #3 seed Notre Dame was going nowhere, I went with #2 seed Merrimack as my NE bracket winner.

As we now know, Notre Dame defeated Merrimack in OT on Saturday and then beat UNH on Sunday to advance to the Frozen Four. And the NIGP picked them to do just that. So after talking down the team to me, he turns around and takes them in his bracket. Sounds like a classic dezinformatsiya campaign that would have done the KGB proud.

My only hope now is that the Bulldogs of UMD smite the Fighting Irish (and the second worst looking helmets in college hockey) when they meet in the opening Frozen Four semifinal. That, combined with a North Dakota victory over hated Michigan in the other semi, would give us an all-WCHA final which would be fitting with the St. Paul setting. If only I’d have predicted it that way.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Have To Admit It's Getting Better

While it's tempting to fall in with those preaching civilizational decline and the dearth of progress these days, when you look at the hard numbers in a number of areas it's difficult to deny that things are indeed getting better.

A couple of recent cases in point are this presentation highlighted on The Enterprise Blog and this editorial in yesterday's Wall Street Journal:

These have been a gloomy couple of years for Americans amid recession and tepid recovery, so it's worth celebrating good news when we find it. Last week it arrived in a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing progress on health and well-being across American society.

Start with the fact that life expectancy in the U.S. rose again to 78.2 years in 2009, from 78 a year earlier. Life expectancy is one of the best measures of socio-economic progress because it captures improvements in living standards, health care, safety, nutrition and environmental protection, among other things. We have added an extra decade to American life spans since 1950, and three decades over the last century. As important, the CDC statistics indicate that Americans are living healthier and more active lives at every age.

Infant mortality rates hit an all-time low of 6.42 per 1,000 live births, as did death rates for children under the age of five. This means that the devastation of losing a child to early death is rarer now than at any time in history. In the last year the death rate fell an impressive 4.2% for those under the age of one, 7.7% for those between ages one and four, and 6.7% for those 15-24. As recently as 1950 a child was nearly four times more likely to die before the age of five than he is today.

The overall age-adjusted death rate (the probability of dying at any particular age) fell to 741 from 759 per 100,000—again in a single year, and the 10th consecutive year the death rate has fallen. What an irony that all of this progress took place over a decade when we were told that lack of health insurance was dooming millions to inadequate care. It turns out that advances in medical treatment matter far more to overall health progress than do insurance coverage rates.

This report should also give pause to those who question the quality of U.S. medical care regarding disease prevention and treatment. According to the CDC, the "age-adjusted death rate decreased significantly for 10 of the 15 leading causes of death," including heart disease, malignant neoplasm (cancer), various chronic diseases of the liver or respiratory system, influenza and pneumonia. Death rates from accidents and homicide also fell significantly.

The progress against the most feared of all diagnoses—cancer—continues a trend that began in earnest in the early 1990s. Today the five-year U.S. survival rate from cancer is 66%, virtually the highest rate in the world, and up from 50% in 1975, according to the National Cancer Institute. The death rate from heart attacks and stroke is now one-half to one-third the age-adjusted rate of 50 years ago, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, another tribute to the life-saving advances in medical technology, modern drugs and lifestyle education.

Another under-appreciated triumph has been combating the high death rates from AIDS. After a huge spike in the AIDS death rate from 1987-94, CDC reports that the death rate "decreased an average of 33% from 1995 through 1998, and 5.1% per year from 1999-2008." Last year the death rate fell another 9.1%.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Wanna Bet?

In a piece in the Pioneer Press, long-time friend of Fraters Gary Larson wonders whether racinos will finally crack Minnesota's gambling compacts?:

Contrast this free ride for the casino monopoly with the racino proposal, which would yield $250 million in benefits every biennium to the State of Minnesota, ad infinitum, possibly more in the future, besides creating jobs and tourist draws. Oh yes, and spurring a healthy boost for the state's once-robust horse-breeding and keeping industry.

Clearly it is a win-win-win situation for the people of Minnesota, both rural and urban. As for the DFL, a party that typically embraces higher taxation, it is expected its faithful followers will fall into line again with the monopolists. They have so very much to lose, honestly, as they re-run again for elective offices. Something is at work here, folks, and it ain't tiddlywinks.

Rather it is Big Money, crass and simple, connected to politics-as-usual, and shuffling of megabucks to one political party's campaign coffers.

Since 1989, affluent tribes now blessed with bustling, well-run casinos have enriched the DFL with millions — nearly $1.2 million in 2010 alone. It was all on the up-and-up, totally legal, through their PACs. A tiny metro-area tribe alone anted up nearly half that amount — $528,000 — as well as $50,000 to a "529" anti-GOP advertising fund called, rather ironically, "Win Minnesota."

In plain fact, state DFLers pulled in 94.6 percent of all tribal political gift-giving in 2010, according to state records. "Rs" got the table crumbs. It's true. You could check state campaign finance records.

Monopolists jealous of their monopoly, teaming up with social conservatives (a.k.a. moralists), will again label "racinos as "expansion of gambling." That was their mantra in the past. But is wagering at already existing state-licensed gambling venues, such as horse tracks, really, truly "expansion"?

Or is it public-approved "competition"? Monopolies abhor competition. So, too, does one political party, blessed at present by tribal largesse. As bright-eyed Bette Davis once said in a film, "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night." After that dark and bumpy night, state-tax-paying racinos might well be in the gambling mix in Minnesota.

I've been torn on the "expansion of gambling" matter for years. On the one hand, my libertarian instincts say that if people want to piss away their money at a casino and the state can realize some much needed revenue in the process, then why not allow it? On the other, my conservative instincts make me realize the damage to society that gambling brings and recognize the dangers posed when the state encourages its citizens to engage in reckless behavior that it ultimately benefits from. The problem at this point is that the gambling horse in Minnesota is so far out of the barn that closing the door now seems like a futile gesture. If we’re going to have gambling in Minnesota and the ills that come with it—and there’s no sign that there is any possibility of it shrinking any time soon—then we might as well manage it in a way that benefits the state as a whole rather than favoring particular groups with the right political connections.

Beer of the Week (Vol. XClll)

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

Beer Advocate recently updated their List of the Top 100 Beers from the Midwest which included brewers in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Going through the list beer by beer, I would guess that I’ve tried around thirty-seven or thirty-eight of the brews. It’s a little hard to determine exactly because a whopping 23 beers on the list are produced by Town Hall Brewery in Minneapolis. I’ve been to Town Hall numerous times over the years and sampled a good many of their offerings, but when it comes to remembering names things get a little fuzzy.

It’s interesting to note that over half the beers on the list--fifty-three—come from only three brewers. In addition to Town Hall’s twenty-three selections, sixteen beers from Surly are included, and fourteen from Boulevard Brewing in Kansas. I’ve had a few Boulevards in my time, but only one of the fourteen that were rated highly. You’ll notice that many of the beers on the list are seasonal or specialty offerings, so if you don’t live near the brewery your chances of having tasted one are limited. For example of the six Summit beers listed, only one is part of their year round offering. Their Oatmeal Stout has a limited production and the other four beers on the list are part of their Unchained Series.

One brewery whose beer I haven’t yet had a chance to savor is the St. Louis Brewery which produces Schlafly beers. I’ve heard good things about Schlafly and judging by this list they must be true since ten Schlafly offerings rated in the Midwest’s top one hundred. Gotta find a way to get me some of that.

Beer Advocate also lists the Top 100 Beers of the Great Lakes which includes the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. A quick perusal indicates that I’ve tried about twenty of these beers. More than a few from Wisconsin, but none from The Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. in Chippewa Falls.

Despite not cracking Beer Advocate's top 100 list, Leinie's does earn a place in our Beer of the Week with a special offering. Leinenkugel’s Limited returns:

Craft beer enthusiasts are in for a surprise addition to the beer case this season with the return of longtime fan favorite, Leinenkugel’s Limited. First brewed in 1986, the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company will reintroduce Leinenkugel’s Limited, the brewer’s first ever craft beer, for a limited time beginning Feb. 1.

Leinenkugel’s Limited, which receives numerous passionate fan requests daily via online and mail, was first introduced 25 years ago as a fall seasonal and became a year-round offering in 1990 in response to immense popularity. In 1995, Leinie Limited was re-named Northwoods Lager to more accurately reflect the brew’s year-round, “unlimited” availability. In hibernation since 2000, the beer was most recently offered for a short time in 2008.

Brown bottle. Sharp lookin black and white label with traditional font and classic Leinie logo.

Style: Lager

Alcohol by Volume: 4.9%

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

AROMA (0-2): Light sweet malt and bready. 1

HEAD (0-2): White color. Good volume, but fades quickly. Decent lacing. 1

TASTE (0-5): Malty, grainy, slightly bitter with a touch of honey. Well-carbonated with a thin mouthfeel. Light-bodied and very drinkable. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Follow through nicely. 2

OVERALL (0-6): A decent little lager from Leinenkugel's. I'm not sure if its disappearance really merits pining over, but it's a refreshing, easy drinking beer with just enough flavor to get by. 3

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 12

Thursday, March 24, 2011

There's a "New" Mexico?

Mitch Berg reminds us of this weekend's MOB gathering:

Don’t forget – the Minnesota Organization of Bloggers Winter Fiesta is coming up Saturday night at 7PM at Ol’ Mexico. It’s just north of Larpenteur on Lexington in Roseville!

It’s open to everyone – bloggers, blog readers, blog fans, non-bloggers, whatever you are! And it’s not just conservatives; politics really aren’t the goal of the MOB party. Liberal, conservative, moderate, apathetic, even catbloggers; you’re all welcome!

Feel free to RSVP via the facebook page, or at the yahoo dot com email address “Feedbackinthedark”.

Right Here, Right Then

RightOnline Minneapolis June 17th and 18th:

On June 17-18 Americans for Prosperity Foundation will bring our fourth annual RightOnline Conference to Minneapolis, Minnesota. For the fourth consecutive year RigthOnline will counter Netroots Nation on the same weekend of their yearly convention of left-wing activists.

The 2011 RightOnline Conference will bring together influential new media experts, leading conservative voices, and hundreds of citizen activists to provide important grassroots training, offering the tools and inspiration to more effectively impact public policy in favor of limited government and free enterprise. RightOnline will include workshops and panels led by prominent free market leaders and keynote speeches from the nation’s most influential conservatives, including Michelle Malkin and conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart.

Sounds like an excellent opportunity for a locally based blog to lend a hand. We'll be forming an exploratory committee to consider our options. Suggestions welcome.

Puck Lucky

There is still time to fill out your brackets for the College Hockey Pickem Challenge and join the Fraters group (password: Fraters). The NCAA tournament games start tomorrow so get your picks in today.

So far all of the Fraters contributors except JB and the Crazy Uke have filled out a bracket. Guess the Ukraine isn't much of a hockey country. Former Minnesota Hockey Commissioner and current radio shock jock Hugh "Ralphie" Hewitt is participating and word is that he's trying to coax one of the leading GOP 2012 presidential contenders with a hockey background to fill out a bracket and join the Fraters group as well (hint: working title of Hugh’s next book is “A Minnesotan in the White House?”). A couple of noted current and former local bloggers are also on board. Their hockey cred is somewhat questionable, but the beauty of the NCAA hockey brackets is that a couple of upsets here and there can easily spoil the best laid predictions of even the sharpest of hockey minds.

I’ll reveal my picks tomorrow and once the games start everyone’s brackets will be visible to all in the group to see. Then, the real mocking will begin. Get your picks in today to be part of the fun.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Missing the Genius

Thomas Barnett is a terrific military and foreign affairs commentator. I first saw him giving an amazing presentation on CSPAN about what the future may hold and how the US can best position itself to take advantage. Later I read his book, The Pentagon's New Map and we interviewed him on NARN. I continue to follow his blog, now from a new location, at an outfit called Wikistrat. The best thing about Barnett is that he's an exciting thinker, always bringing new ideas and new perspectives, to even the most over analyzed topics.

On the other hand, he's also an avowed Democrat. And a Packer's fan. I guess nobody's perfect.

Given his party affiliation, it wasn't a complete shock when he expressed support for Obama over McCain in 2008. Having someone I respect as much as Barnett get behind Obama gave me some hope that the guy wouldn't be a complete disaster while in office. The jury's still out on that verdict. Although I've seen some signs from Barnett that he's not been thrilled with Obama either, for example, this recent comment:

But of course, we now bow to the "international community," Obama's pet phrase decoded as, "I'm with chickens@$t!" Just some leadership here would be nice.

I thought perhaps the honeymoon might be over and that my respect-o-meter could get back in perfect harmony with my rigid ideology. Alas, that's not the case.

In a recent post for Esquire's Politics Blog, Barnett reveals that those rose-colored glasses haven't slipped entirely off his nose yet. These are excerpts from a longer piece, that merits reading in full, on Obama's actions with regard to Libya. While many critics say that Obama's actions exposed a lack of strategic planning and outright dithering, Barnett has a different perspective:

By waiting on virtually every imaginable stake-holding nation to sign off — in advance — before unleashing America's military capabilities, the Obama administration recasts the global dialogue on America's interventions. All of a sudden it's not the "supply-push" US intervention into Iraq, where it's all "this is what America is selling and if you don't like it, get out of the way!" Now, we're back to the type of "demand-pull" crisis responses by the US in the 1990s, where the world (aka, "international community") asks and America answers.

Moreover, by limiting US military participation up-front, the White House forces further "demand-pull" negotiations by our more incentivized allies (Vive la France!) and nervous neighbors as the intervention unfolds. That way, every step Obama takes can be justified in terms of the facts on the ground and how they make the rest of the world feel, while our cool Vulcan simply mutters in reply, "Fascinating."

But again, the key revelation: This negotiating tactic does an excellent job of uncovering the actual global demand out there for America's intervention & stabilization services. A lot of anti-interventionists (and sheer Bush haters) want to pretend that's a myth and that there is no such demand for the American Leviathan, but the truth is, there's plenty of demand out there. The question is US bandwidth, which Bush-Cheney narrowed considerably.

Obama's approach — so long as it works, of course — is true genius.

I must admit I did not see that coming.

Could it be true? That no clear articulation of US goals, inconsistent treatment of the various protest movements in the Middle East, reacting to the daily news cycle with contradictory statements, delayed action and then hasty agreement to participate in military action without getting the approval of Congress or a mandate from the American people -- it's not just making it up as he goes, it's true genius!?

That just blew my mind.

I have to admit, the dynamic he identifies, of the US getting to pursue its interests in a way that draws support from the rest of the world, would be nice. But I'm not convinced this is a war that is in our interest. Especially not in our financial interest, as Kevin Williamson from NRO details, the hourly cost of the operation so far is $4 million. And the cool, Vulcan like patience Obama shows in getting the support of the world community for US military action contrasts sharply with his ignoring of the US Congress.

I'll be shocked, shocked if our expensive, half-assed meddling in Libya proves to be ultimately beneficial to US interests. Then again, I ain't no genius.

The Crown That Fits

A couple of weeks ago, John Hinderaker offered up an audacious suggestion at Power Line. Let's Make Obama King:

Last night Col. Ralph Peters was on Bill O'Reilly's show, talking about Libya. Peters thinks we should act on behalf of the rebels there, but he expressed skepticism that President Obama will ever do anything. "Obama loves the idea of being President," Peters said, "but he can't make a decision."

I think there is a lot of truth to that, even in domestic policy, where Obama has passively deferred to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi on all legislative matters. One can debate whether action is appropriate in Libya or not, but Peters is certainly right when it comes to foreign policy--it is a safe bet that Obama will do nothing, because doing something would require a decision.

That got me thinking: Obama enjoys being president, and he especially treasures the symbolic significance of being the first African-American president. That's how his supporters feel, too. I haven't heard anyone defend his actual performance in a long time, but there is still widespread satisfaction with the symbolic value of his presidency. So why don't we make him king? If being the first African-American president has symbolic value, just think what it would mean for the first King of the United States to be African-American! Plus, Michelle would be a queen and Malia and Sasha would be princesses. How cool would that be?

The way the recent military action against Libya has gone down has provided even more credence to John's idea. When commentators pointed out--as John did in his post--that President Obama had largely outsourced his domestic agenda (specifically the stimulus and health care) to Democratic Congressional leaders, his defenders had explained that such mundane matters did not present enough of a challenge for the brilliance that is Obama. His mind was operating on a plain far above that of mere mortal politicians and would only be adequately engaged by events on a global scale that had important historical implications.

But now that such events are unfolding right in front him, President Obama still appears singularly uninterested. His response to the revolution in Egypt was tepid, indecisive, and uninspiring. In regards to Libya he seems to have again outsourced the heavy lifting, this time to Hillary Clinton and the French. This whole foreign policy/military intervention thing just isn't his bag.

When President Obama was being inaugurated, comparisons were made with Lincoln and FDR. They were ridiculous at the time and appear even more absurd now. The Libya situation has made perfectly clear that when it comes to his duties as Commander in Chief, President Obama shows none of the war time leadership displayed by Lincoln and FDR.

So exactly what part of being president does interest Obama? Unlike Carter, he shows no zeal for understanding the details of the policies being implemented or the legislation being passed (perhaps to his credit). Unlike Clinton, he shows no ability to emotionally connect with the country and show that he shares its concerns. The Gulf oil spill was a perfect example. You know that within hours of the spill Clinton would have been on a beach in Louisiana helping clean oil off a duck with a tear in his eye. And unlike Reagan or the Bushes, he displays little of the strength or resolution that America expects to see when a president elects to send its forces into battle.

So what does he enjoy and excel at as president? Giving speeches and interviews. Appearing in ceremonial capacities to honor individuals or groups (like hosting the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks at the White House). Traveling to foreign countries. Talking about his NCAA basketball brackets.

Seems like the perfect portfolio of duties for a king. Or a vice-president.

Read, React

A couple of recent random samplings from the e-mail bag. First up is Robert from Michigan:

Many of the blogs appearing at Fraters Libertas recently have been outstanding. Two of yours were particularly so.

What are the odds that this particular e-mail would have been selected for posting?

The first dealing with the tournament of novels made me think of the NBA conspiracy that tries to ensure that the Lakers and an upper east coast team are always in the finals. Maybe, they're on the money. Looking at the novels remaining, I have to ask, "Was nothing good written after 1950?" A Canticle for Leibowitz and Catch 22 should be there. They were two of many I had to read in the modern novel class I took in 1966. As my friend Willy says, "Everybody knows that these tournament and playoffs are fixed by some Jewish and Italian gangsters in New York." Obviously, some must be literary agents.

The final round of The Tournament of Novels is playing out right now:

And then there were two.

The match-up we’ve seen coming/lamenting/dreading has finally arrived.

Austen vs. Tolkien. Mr. Darcy vs. Gandalf. Elizabeth Bennet vs. Bilbo Baggins.

Many people (including me) have questioned how The Hobbit made it to the final round. Does it really deserve to be in the final round? (The answer is no.) And while I don’t want to influence anyone’s vote, I think you Tolkien fanboys should keep in mind that if Pride and Prejudice loses there is going to be a riot. Just saying.

Vote now.

Your other commentary dealing with Twin Cities negativity was priceless. Twins, Vikings, Wild, Timberwolves, Gophers -- you really do have it tough. Take heart that Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota are in the NCAA Hockey regionals. North Dakota? Well, it's like Minnesota except it has a nicer climate. In any case, if you job ever takes you to another town, know that your current depression will adapt to Cleveland, Atlanta, Phoenix and Seattle to name a few.

Your colleague, the Nihilist in Golf Pants, had a good rant on college sports, graduation rates and the NCAA. Obviously, the man is a Notre Dame fan. I grew up in a Irish and Catholic household, so I, too, loved ND. But, once I learned to read, write and practice oral hygiene, I had to stop. The Golden Domers must be so proud for graduating their black athletes and awarding an honorary degree to a black abortion supporter. Oh, don't forget to put the white kid on the scissors lift.

Good luck and expect warmer weather.

Hard to harbor such expectations today when we're being blanketed with a fresh layer of snow. This may be winter's last gasp, Battle of the Bulge type counteroffensive, but that doesn't make its sting any less bitter.

Next we have Matthew from somewhere local:

Just a quick note. I thought your ranking of Smithwick's a bit low from what I would relish in this beer, but I have never bought it in bottles; always on tap. Speaking of which, Keagan's will have Surly on tap soon from what the owner has told me. And that is the only place where I drink Smithwick's though not in a while because they have really done a good job of getting some fine domestic taps.

I did mention in my review that Smithwick's is usually much better on tap. But I gotta review 'em as I drink 'em and until Glen Lake Wine & Spirits starts providing kegs for my taste testing, that drinking will be limited to bottles and cans.

I think Vox Day is wrong. I do not know of the policy of the Catholic church letting in open homosexuals into the priesthood. In fact I knew of some very intelligent men who were denied that sacrament for what might have revealed that propensity. (conjecture on my part) Well I have not been involved with the church for quite some time but that seemed to be the church's stand unless things have changed in recent years.

I think one point to be gleamed is that Priests are under a spot light as in some cases they should. I guess what is missing is how do these number compare with the general male population and other denominations.

While the Church's official policy on homosexual priests never changed, there definitely was a loosening of standards in the sixties and seventies, particularly at some of the American seminaries. While the Vatican did not necessarily condone this, they also didn't do enough to prevent it and so along with the American leadership in the Church bear some culpability for the abuses that followed.

UPDATE-- Robert also passed on this video celebrating the glories of pure Michigan:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Abolition Now

A few weeks ago Bill Simmons wrote a satirical column about the NFL owners and how their undoubtedly successful business model is starting to adversely effect the players and fans. His conclusion:

I will make more money than I did last year, and I will continue to regard employees and readers as disposable pawns. This isn't about common sense, dignity, relationships, long-term plans, or even preserving the fragile relationship between a customer and a provider. It's about generating more money in Years 5 through 8 than I made in Years 1 through 4. That's it. Oh, and steamrolling anyone who gets in my way. I forgot that part.

This was on my mind as I read the latest news from the Vikings:

Wilf: Lockout won't hamper stadium drive

The Vikings' push for a new stadium hit plenty of road blocks in recent years, but owner Zygi Wilf doesn't think the NFL lockout will become another issue that derails things.

"We're working very hard with everybody in Minnesota [at the Capitol] to get the stadium thing worked through," Wilf said Monday at the NFL owners meetings. "We realize that it's an important asset to the community and that it's to everyone's interest to make sure that we get a stadium that would serve not just football but all the other events the Metrodome served proudly for the last 30 years."

Well, that's a relief. The NFL owners squeezing the players for a greater share of revenue won't hamper this NFL owner from squeezing the taxpayers for more revenue. What Wilf lacks in the shame department, he makes up for with consistency.

I cannot believe that the new GOP majority in the state legislature will seriously consider bringing this billion dollar handout to a vote. It will be an interesting test of their tea party bona fides.

No matter how they come down, I'm with Adrian Peterson on this one. Fight slavery! No Viking stadium!

If Bush Were Still President

Listening to the radio this morning, the top of the hour newsbreaks were led by the report of the F-15 crashing in Libya. The tone was one of "all is well, nothing to worry about" and the safety of the pilots was the first thing mentioned in the story, followed by assurances that it was mechanical difficulties that led to the crash.

Well, that's one way to frame this story.

And one that most of the mainstream media is utilizing, to a remarkably consistent extent. The Star Tribune's reprint of the AP report is an example:

An American fighter jet crashed in Libya's rebel held east, both crew ejecting safely as the aircraft spun from the sky during the third night of the U.S. and European air campaign. Moammar Gadhafi's forces shelled rebels regrouping in the dunes outside a key eastern city on Tuesday, and his snipers and tanks roamed the last major opposition-held city in the west.

The crash was the first major loss for the U.S. and European military air campaign, which over three nights appears to have hobbled Gadhafi's air defenses and artillery and rescued the rebels from impending defeat.
In addition to the feel-good emphasis on the pilots safety, we are immediately reminded that Gadhafi's forces are still up to no good, yet the US/European campaign is going well so far.

There's nothing inherently wrong with this point-of-view. It's probably accurate and addresses the primary concern of the American reading public, that is, the safety of the American servicemen. Better yet, it does nothing to gratuitously undermine public confidence in the effort or call into question the judgment of our political leaders. Which is all well and good, practicing journalism the way it should be.

For that I say, mainstream media acting responsibly while in the act of covering our country at war, nice to have you back!

It's been a long time since we've had the opportunity to see what that is like. With some notable exceptions (e.g., John Burns of NYT), the coverage of our country's most recent military efforts in the Middle East had a decidedly different tone. A default assumption that tainted coverage from the outset.

If that same mindset were in place today, the day's events in Libya would have been characterized differently. Specifically, if GW Bush were still President, it would have sounded something like this:

In a sign that the attack on Libya may not be as trouble free as the Bush administration has indicated, a United States Air Force F-15 crashed while engaged in operations near Benghazi. The Pentagon claims the plane was brought down due to mechanical difficulties. However, a spokesman for the Quaddafi government said its anti-aircraft batteries shot down the plane and that Americans can expect much more of this in the days ahead.

Same facts plus a different point-of-view equals much different story.

Back in 2008, Victor Davis Hanson wrote a prescient column about the vitriolic tone adopted by many Democrats towards President Bush and how expectations for decorum and behavior would change with the onset of Obama.

Yes, the Left will suddenly adopt a new maturity about a President Obama, and responsibly demand of us all to excise from our vocabulary over the top hate speech, such as comparing an elected administration to Nazis or fantasies about killing American presidents.

And this, once again, will be as it should be, albeit eight years too late.

This applies to the practice journalism as well. The rules of decorum and responsibility apply only when Democrats are in charge.

The Boorish Manners of a Yalie

News that a big dog has entered the Fraters Group in the College Hockey Pickem Challenge is swirling around the water cooler here at Fraters Libertas World Headquarters.

And we can now confirm the rumors that nationally syndicated shock jock Hugh "Ralphie" Hewitt has officially entered the contest and submitted his picks for the NCAA college hockey tournament. While Hugh's past record in the field of sports prognostication is a bit it's downright terrible, you should keep in mind that Hugh was the Hockey Commissioner of Minnesota for some time. He was officially appointed to the post by Governor Tim Pawlenty and while Hugh’s tenure in the position ended with Pawlenty’s term of office, we can only assume that he learned at least a little bit about the sport while serving (yes Hugh, it is played on ice). By the way, just the other day current Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton announced his new appointment to fill Hugh’s loafers as the next Hockey Commissioner of Minnesota.

One of the reasons for Hugh’s miserable failures at predicting the outcome of sporting events is his unusual attachment to teams that hail from Ohio. Whether it’s picking the Buckeyes to win national championships in football or basketball, the Cavs to win the NBA championship, the Indians to win the World Series, or the Browns to win the Super Bowl (insert spit take), Hugh can’t seem to prevent his emotional connections to Ohio teams from overcoming his logic and wisdom. Surveying this year’s NCAA tourney field, it’s easy to spot the looming iceberg that will doubt eventually sink the good ship SS Hewitt. The number one seed in the Northeast Regional is Miami. And not the “taking my talents to South Beach” one either. It would be Miami of OHIO. There is simply no chance that Hugh will be able to resist picking the Red Hawks to win it all. And once he does, there is absolutely no chance that Miami will win it all given Hugh’s track record with Ohio teams.

So if you want to have a chance to give the former Minnesota Commissioner of Hockey a virtual face rub, this is the perfect opportunity to do so. Go to College Hockey Pickem Challenge, register, fill out your bracket, and then join the Fraters group. We’ve kept things simple for the St. Cloud State fans by making the password the same as the group: Fraters. The games start on Friday so don’t wait for the last minute to sign up. This may be one your last chances to get a crack at Hugh before he moves on to bigger and better things. Consider what the possibilities for honorary titles would be if Governor Pawlenty someday becomes President Pawlenty...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Head West?

They have oil. They have a booming economy. They have a highly ranked college hockey team that is playing in this year's NCAA tournament and isn't planning to leave the glorious tradition of the WCHA behind to play such noted rivals as Penn State and Ohio State. And--as e-mailer Steve from Grand Forks reports--they're on the verge of having a sweet state motto.

They have crossed the rubes’ big con.

State one step closer to a Latin motto:

BISMARCK – North Dakota is one signature away from having an official Latin motto, but whether the Legislature should continue to hear state symbol bills created some philosophical debate.

The Senate voted 34-10 on Friday to approve the bill promoted by a group of Fargo North students.

The approved motto is “Serit ut alteri saeclo prosit,” which means, “One sows for the benefit of another age.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Joe Heilman, R-Fargo, has said it’s a fitting motto, tying into agriculture and saving oil revenues for the future.

The Ice We Skate Is Getting Pretty Thin

Global warming has arrived at long last in Minnesota. After an especially long and trying winter, spring has finally sprung here. As our eldest son (all of five years) eloquently put it: spring and winter are having a battle and spring is winning. And that means that the backyard skating rink is on its way to becoming the backyard wading pool.

As a child, I remember that we loved to go outside in the spring and play in the melting snow/ice, running water, and squishing mud. And our kids are no different today. Last Saturday was officially dubbed an "ice party" by them and we spent no small amount of time breaking through the ice on the rink, falling down and splashing around in the water, and recreating our own version of continental drift. By the time it was through, we were all pretty much soaked, but the melting ice had provided a grand opportunity for family fun.

[begin Noah Wyle voice]

But such climate change is not such fun for all creatures.

Consider the poor polar bear who is set adrift as ice floes break off. Cut off from the ice that provides the sustenance of life their very survival is now in risk. Your actions may determine whether this magnificent creature will ever roam the ice of backyard rinks for future generations to enjoy. Act is if everything is at stake. Because for them it very well may be.

[end Noah Wyle voice]

(Note: no polar bears were harmed in this production)

Chosen Frozen

This year’s NCAA Frozen Four College Hockey National Championship will be held in St. Paul. The last time said event came to town in 2002, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers downed the hated Black Bears of Maine in overtime to win their first national championship since 1979 and the first of two back-to-back crowns. It was a glorious time to be a Gopher hockey fan and the memories of that title game remain fresh in my memory. However, the dominating era of Gopher hockey seems like a distant memory these days as this year—for the third straight season—the squad failed to even qualify for the NCAA tournament.

Just a few short weeks ago, things seemed to falling into place for them to at least have a chance to get in. And based on the way things played out for Colorado College, if the Gophers had somehow summoned up the will to beat powerhouse Alaska-Anchorage in the WCHA playoffs and then won one game at the WCHA Final Five, they would have earned a place in the tournament. Sigh.

There are five WCHA teams in this year’s tournament. While some fans are complaining that North Dakota (#1 seed) and Denver (#2 seed) might face off again in the second round in the Midwest regional, the matchup is in line with the final Pairwise rankings (UND #2 and Denver #7). UMD will face a tough road in the East having to get through Union and then likely top-seeded Yale. Things are potentially easier for Colorado College and Nebraska-Omaha in the West where the number one seed BC will have to travel to St. Louis. But that potential handicap is nothing compared to what the other number seed Miami faces. They have to travel to Manchester, New Hampshire where their opening round opponent will be...

...the University of New Hampshire. So they essentially have to play a road game to open the tournament. Nice reward for earning that top seed.

This year, U.S. College Hockey Online and Northland Films is sponsoring a College Hockey Pickem :

Welcome to College Hockey Pickem 2011, sponsored by Northland Films and Think you know who will win the 2011 Frozen Four? Sign up and make your picks. After all, why should the hoops fans get to have all the fun?

It's easy. Register a username and password to sign-up. Then create a bracket, make your picks and see how your bracket measures up with the rest of the nation. Create or join a group of friends to compete for bragging rights! And, if you're in first place after the final horn, you could win a $100 gift card from! Enjoy the game!

And don't forget...for complete coverage of all the action, visit your college hockey experts.

To makes things a bit more interesting, I’ve created a Fraters group. So know you have the ability to match your college puck knowledge against great hockey minds like Sisyphus, James from Folsom, and yours truly. All you have to do is go to the College Hockey Pickem page, register, and join the group. It’s so easy that even Sisyphus has done it (although his attempts to hack in and add the 2003 Gophers were rebuffed with extreme prejudice).

Group: Fraters

Password: Fraters

The brackets are easy to fill out and you can go back and make changes until Friday’s games start. I’m not sure if my current bracket will be the final one, but right now I’ve got two #1 seeds, one #2, and #3 going to St. Paul.

Sign up at College Hockey Pickem today and join the Fraters group if you want to join the battle for the ultimate college hockey cred bragging rights.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Everlasting Man

If you have a spare dime or two and are looking for a worthy cause to support, you may want to consider The Redleaf Challenge 2011:

Andrew Redleaf, founder and CEO of Whitebox Advisors, has announced that he is renewing last year’s Redleaf Challenge for Chesterton Academy. In a dramatic surprise announcement at this year’s Chesterton Academy Annual Benefit Gala, Mr. Redleaf said that once again has will match, dollar for dollar, any donations that come into Chesterton Academy between Feb 19 and April 1, 2011, up to $75,000.

Mr. Redleaf is a native of the Twin Cities and a graduate of St. Paul Academy and Yale University. A passionate supporter of classical education, Mr. Redleaf, who is Jewish, came forward last year to sponsor the largest fund-raising initiative ever for the young independent school, which teaches in the Catholic classical tradition. The result of a grass-roots movement of parents, Chesterton Academy offers a classical, faith-based education at an affordable cost.

Here's the scoop if you're wondering what the Chesterton Academy is all about:

The result of a grass-roots movement of parents, Chesterton Academy is a pro-family, independent high school offering an integrated, college preparatory curriculum centered on the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Focusing on the classics, the school develops complete thinkers who learn to draw on faith and reason for the purpose of building a culture of life. The integrity of what we teach is supported by the fact that each member of the faculty pledges fidelity to the Magisterium at the beginning of the academic year.

A worthy and much-needed effort indeed.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Great Right Hope?

I caught up with some old episodes of IFC's The Onion News Network this weekend, via Comcast On Demand. Some funny moments, although not a complete slam dunk, humor wise. Hopefully they'll get more consistent with time.

A couple of clips struck close to the home funny bone. This one is funny because its true, and also because they name check our buddy Ed Morrissey's Hot Air:

Man Becomes GOP Frontrunner After Showing No Interest In Government

On an earlier episode, they featured a breaking news alert about a Garrison Keillor sex tape getting released. It leads off this clip (NSFW, especially if you work for MPR).

Ear Of Genetically Modified Corn Begs For Death

A sex scandal was the first thing I thought of upon hearing the real Garrison Keillor alert yesterday that he's retiring in 2013. Given some of the man's past antics, anything is possible.

Beer of the Week (Vol. XCII)

A special Saint Patrick’s Day edition of Beer of the Week brought to you as always by the green-clad micks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help you find your pot of wine, whiskey, and beer at the end of the rainbow.

Let’s face it, while we can pretend that Saint Patrick’s Day is a celebration of the patron saint of the Emerald Isle and the culture of the Irish people, it’s really all about drinking too much and acting stupid. Which upon further reflection is probably the most appropriate way to honor the Irish after all. And while no small amount of Irish whiskey will no doubt be consumed today, the primary focus will be on beer.

Despite what you might have learned from hanging out at American bars on Saint Patrick’s Day, green-colored beer is not a traditional Irish beverage. So if you’re going to quaff an American macro today at least have the decency to drink it in its natural pale yellow hue. Even better of course is to stick with real Irish beer.

The obvious choice is Guinness, although if you get your hands on a Beamish or Murphy’s your Irish stout needs will also be well served. However, man cannot live on stout alone and so I suggest mixing it up a bit today. While some might prefer the lighter body and crisper taste of a Harp Lager, my personal choice for a widely available Irish alternative to one of the stouts is Smithwick’s Red Ale:

Smithwick’s is THE Irish Red Ale. Our "recent” 300 year history commenced with John Smithwick producing his first brews in 1710, thus establishing Smithwick’s legacy as “Ireland’s longest established brewer” and the “oldest working brewery in Ireland.”

While I recommend Smithwick’s as a good alternative to Guinness it is all part of the same family:

Smithwick's (pronounced /ˈsmɪθɨks/ or /ˈsmɪtɨks/, not like the town of Smethwick /ˈsmɛðɨk/) is an Irish red ale style beer from Kilkenny in Ireland. Smithwick’s was originally brewed in St. Francis Abbey Brewery in Kilkenny, known as 'Smithwicks Brewery' until c.2000. The brewery is situated on the site of a Franciscan abbey where monks had brewed ale since the 14th century, and has ruins of the original abbey on its grounds. It is Ireland’s oldest operating brewery, founded by John Smithwick in 1710 on land owned by the Duke of Ormonde. It is the major ale producer in Ireland. It was purchased from Walter Smithwick in 1965 by Guinness and is now, along with Guinness, part of Diageo. Smithwick's as most people know it today was originally created as a special brew for the first Kilkenny Beer Festival, later called Smithwicks No. 1 and now just Smithwicks. The head brewer in those days was Ron Girdham. Smithwick’s for the domestic market is brewed in Kilkenny and the higher strength export variety is brewed in Dundalk. Smithwick's is listed in the top five best tasting beers by the McHale beer rating club of Ireland.

Before you belly up and order a Smithwick’s today, be sure you know how to say the name. While there appear to be some slight regional variations, it you go with “Smid-iks” or “Smit-iks” you’ll be okay. Just stay away from the soft “th” sound.

12oz brown bottle. Green and gold label red trim features name in historic font and castle turret bearing the date of the brewery’s founder.

Style: Irish Red Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 4.5%

COLOR (0-2): Reddish-brown and clear. 2

AROMA (0-2): Light maltiness maybe a little grassy, but not much there. 1

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

TASTE (0-5): Caramel malt with bready flavors and very light hop finish. Medium-bodied with a thin and watery mouthfeel. Very drinkable. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Fades quickly. 1

OVERALL (0-6): It won't blow you away with flavor, but Smithwick's is a decent Irish ale that goes down easy. Which makes it a perfect companion to Guinness on St. Patrick's day. Like Guinness, I think it tastes better on tap than in the bottle as it's usually thicker and creamier. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 13

Church and State

Vox Day takes a look at the numbers when it comes to abusive social workers vs pedophile priests:

Note that in the United States, 10,667 people made allegations of child sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002 against 4,392 priests. This represented around 4 percent of the 109,694 priests who were ordained and active during that time. Given that there were 13,000 allegations of abuse in one state representing one-fifteenth of the U.S. population in 2009 alone, this indicates that state social workers are 951 times more likely to abuse a disabled person under their supervision than a Catholic priest was to sexually abuse a child.

This doesn't excuse what the pedophile priests did nor does it excuse the diabolical decision of the Vatican to permit homosexuals to join the priesthood in the first place. They eminently deserve whatever punishment they receive, in both this world and the next. But it puts the scale of their evil deeds into the proper statistical perspective. And while one could argue that physical beatings and psychological abuse are not as bad as sexual abuse and should be omitted from the comparison, one also has to keep in mind that none of the crimes committed by the priests rose to the lethal level either.

It also shows the tremendous hypocrisy of those who simultaneously claim that there is no truth to religion and yet attempt to hold religious individuals to a higher standard than they hold anyone else. Social workers and schoolteachers commit far more abuse, sexual and otherwise, than religious leaders, especially if religious leaders who are openly in direct violation of their religious standards are omitted from the equation as logic dictates they must be. (Why should we be surprised that a man who rejects the Church's stand on homosexuality should also reject the Church's stand on the sexual abuse of children or anything else?) But it is quite clear from the reaction of the state agency to the crimes of its agents that the Catholic Church's reaction to the crimes committed by its priests was an entirely normal bureaucratic one. It can, and should, be condemned by Christians who believe in a higher standard for Christian leaders. Secular individuals, who don't believe in any such standards, have no such grounds for similar condemnation, especially when they show so little interest in the far more common crimes committed by secular agents of the state.

As Vox notes, this is not an attempt to minimize the horrible abuses that priests engaged. And I don't know if I necessarily agree with his description of the Vatican's decision to allow homosexual priests to continue to serve as "diabolical," although the impact on the victims of abuse and the image of the Church certainly was.

The key point is that while Christians--particularly Catholics--are held accountable for every crime or misdeed ever committed by a priest, secularists--who in general support the power and authority of the state over religious institutions--never accept any responsibilities for the abuses, crimes, and, at times in history, mass murder perpetrated in the name of or under the authority of said state.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dancing On A Smaller Stage

A couple of interesting March Madness offshoots:

- Joe Carter is running The Tournament of Novels 2011 at the First Thoughts Blog. I'm hoping that Miller's "A Canticle for Leibowitz" will pull off a first round upset over Orwell's "1984." Other first round favorites include "The Hound of the Baskervilles," "Charlotte's Web," and "The Man Who Was Thursday." The most intriguing matchup has to be "Little House on the Prairie" against "Lord of the Flies." Slightly different visions of childhood to choose from there. Vote early and often.

- Big Top Liquors and Sid's Discount Liquors are having an NCAA tournament sale where each sale price is matched up with a team. When that team loses, the sale price ends. The selection and prices are not all that great, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be the winner of tonight's epic Alabama State-Texas San Antonio showdown. They'll be the sixteenth seed in East representing Red Breast Irish whiskey for $32.99 a bottle against top seeded Ohio State. Don't ask me why, but for some reason James from Folsom brought this to my attention. Researching liquor stores for a possible relocation? I suppose it is an important component of a region’s quality of life.

James did add this:

Anyway, there's reason enough to hope for an early elimination of Notre Dame. Coors and Coors Light? Please...

Sane Travels

Roadmap to New Air Travel Security System Unveiled by Travel Industry:

The U.S Travel Association and a panel of travel and security experts today unveiled a groundbreaking plan to improve security at America's airports and reduce the burden on travelers. Among the most notable recommendations are the creation of a trusted traveler program and a requirement that travelers be allowed to check at least one bag at no additional cost to the ticket price as a means to reduce the amount of luggage going through the security checkpoint.

Among the better suggestions for improvement:

•Implement a risk-based trusted traveler program. Congress should authorize TSA to implement a new, voluntary, government-run trusted traveler program that utilizes a risk-based approach to checkpoint screening, with the goal of refocusing resources on the highest risk passengers;

This has been talked about for years and I believe some version of it is in place in some locations. But to really make a difference it needs to be much broader.

•Improve preparation of travelers. Industry stakeholders should work with TSA to improve their education and communication on security rules and regulations, targeting locations and sources that travelers are likely to review as they book or prepare for a trip;

Here's a simple one that I've noticed more at foreign airports than in the US. Have large, easy to understand signs in the security lines that explain exactly what people need to do when they reach the front. Shoes off, laptops out, liquids bagged, pockets completely empty, whatever the requirements are, clearly spell them out ahead of time.

•Encourage fewer carry-on bags. The Department of Transportation (DOT) should issue regulations requiring airlines to allow passengers one checked bag as part of their base airfare and standardize existing rules covering the quantity and size of items that can be carried onto an airplane;

The rise in the number of bags carried-on not only makes security lines worse, it also adds considerable time to boarding and deplaning. Some people have very valid reasons for carrying-on, but others have been driven to this behavior by the airlines charging for checked luggage. One free bag per person sounds reasonable.

•Reduce duplicative TSA screening for international arrivals. DHS should enable certain low-risk passengers who are traveling to another domestic airport to forego checked baggage and passenger screening upon landing in the U.S.;

This is a major annoyance and potential cause for missing a flight for international travelers. After you go through a security and screening procedure (that is often more extensive than what you typically go through in the US) at a foreign airport before a flight to the US, you have go through security again before boarding your domestic connecting flight. If your connection time is tight and the security lines are long, you're screwed.

On The Rebound

Those of you who have been gnashing your teeth in mourning since the demise of the First Team of the Northern Alliance Radio Network can remove the sackcloth and celebrate the show's resurrection. John Hinderaker reports on the Return of the First Team:

Somewhat weirdly, our show was canceled a month or two ago by the radio station, which sold our two-hour block to an investment guy for an infomercial. He left for another station not long thereafter, and last I knew the time was being filled with vitamin advertisements. I'm estimating the audience for the vitamin infomercial at somewhere between 15 and 20. Not ratings points, people.

I think John's being a bit unfair here. An in-depth discussion of the merits of riboflavin can be very compelling and the vitamin guys' weekly "This Week in Supplementing" segment is can't miss radio.

But Brian and I aren't sulking; au contraire, we are exploring our options with another radio station--one that has much higher ratings than the Patriot--and--now comes the point of this post--we have signed up with Ricochet to do regular podcasts. On Saturday, we recorded our first Ricochet podcast with the able assistance of Scott Immergut. Ricochet announces our new relationship here; you can listen to the first edition here. The podcasts should be available for subscription on iTunes in a day or two. We hope you enjoy the show!

Another radio station in town with higher ratings than The Patriot? That narrows the list down to pretty much every station in town other than the former local Air America affiliate. My hunch is that since 'CCO has just lost the Gopher football broadcast rights they're looking to add a marquee name to their Saturday afternoon lineup of equal appeal. Brian “Saint Paul” Ward working in the same studios that Steve Cannon once did? Dreams do come true.

In the meantime, you can find the new First Team podcast at Ricochet.

Modern Day Slavery, Minnesota Edition?

Only in the state that has elected Jesse Ventura, Al Franken and Mark Dayton, can a $40.5 million salary = Modern Day Slavery.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Skydog Slaver

I've been on vacation for the last week so I've had time to catch up on some reading and some puzzling and some drinking and some stuff that has been missing from my life while I'm out there every day living life with no fun of any kind. In this brief burst of time, I've had the opportunity to pick up Keith Richards' autobiography Life...which is a cracking good read, I must say.

The Rolling Stones have provided the background music for most of my life so to have Keef narrate the bands journey from obscurity to insanity is fascinating. However, it is his description of the scant resources they used to produce one of my favorite songs of all time that makes me wonder...what's wrong with today's rock and rollers?

I've always loved the acoustic guitar, loved playing it, and I thought, if I can power this up a bit without going to electric, I'll have a unique sound. It's got a little tingle on the top. It's unexplainable, but it's something that fascinated me at the time.

In the studio, I plugged the cassette into a little extension speaker and put a microphone in front of the extension speaker so it had a bit more breadth and depth, and put that on tape. That was the basic track. There are no electric instruments on "Street Fighting Man" at all, apart from the bass, which I overdubbed later. All acoustic guitars. "Jumpin' Jack Flash" the same. I wish I could still do that, but they don't build machines like that anymore. They put a limiter on it soon after that so you couldn't overload it. Just as you're getting off on something, they put a lock on it.

The band all thought I was mad, and they sort of indulged me. But I heard a sound that I could get out of there. And Jimmy (Miller) was onto it immediately. "Street Fighting Man", "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and half of "Gimme Shelter" were all made just like that, on a cassette machine. I used to layer guitar on guitar. Sometimes there were eight guitars on those tracks. You just mash 'em up. Charlie Watts' drums on "Street Fighting Man" are from this little 1930's practice drummer's kit, in a little suitcase that you popped up, one tiny cymbal, a half-size tambourine that served as a snare, and that's really what it was made on, made on rubbish, made in hotel rooms with our little toys.
Now THAT'S rock and roll.

Walzing Around The Truth

Last week Tim Walz, the Democrat Congressman from MN-1, felt compelled to stick his nose into Wisconsin state politics with this press release:

Our nation was founded on a simple, but revolutionary idea. That the government could be of the people, by the people and for the people. The people of Wisconsin are standing up for their right to band together to negotiate decent working conditions and a fair wage and they simply want their voice to be heard.

Yesterday, by voting on a non-fiscal measure to strip the people of their right to collectively bargain, Wisconsin Republicans proved what we have known all along. This has never been about the budget. It’s been about limiting the rights and the voice of ordinary, working Americans.

But you can’t silence Americans by cutting them out of the political process when it’s convenient or even by banning them from entering their own state capitol. I have every reason to believe the people of Wisconsin will continue to raise their voices for freedom and I applaud their efforts.
The comparison of the plight of public sector employees with the first principles of democracy is the primary talking point among the left. I tuned into MSNBC last week, during the height of one of the protests, and "democracy" and "rights" were the constant chant among the liberal pundits and activists interviewed. Looks like our intrepid Congressman got the memo on Message Discipline.

But it's a strange comparison, especially in the context Walz uses. The opposing forces in the Wisconsin debate are the elected government of Wisconsin versus its employees. The government is a product of that Lincolnesque ideal Walz uses as his crutch. It was elected by the people, for the people. And even if the Governor and legislators didn't get 100% of the vote, they represent ALL of the people. That's how we agree to govern ourselves, via a representative democracy elected by majorities.

On the other hand, government employee unions do not represent anybody but themselves. And their numbers are a distinct minority of the people. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010, the union membership rate in the United States was 11.9% of wage and salary workers. In Wisconsin, the percentage is slightly higher at 14.2%.

So, it's not, as Walz sez, "The people of Wisconsin are standing up for their right to band together to negotiate decent working conditions and a fair wage. At best, it's one out of seven people, organized as a special interest, standing up against the government of the entire people. (Actually, it's even less than that. 14.2% includes both public and private sector unions, the latter of which are unaffected by the proposed changes in Wisconsin).

Regarding that second part of his statement, employees trying to "negotiate decent working conditions at a fair wage", the BLS shines some sunlight on that as well. As measured by the median weekly salary of full-time wage and salary employees, those represented by unions had earnings 27% higher than non-unionized employees ($917 to $717). Based down to public sector employees only, unionized individuals earn 20% more than those not in unions ($961 to $801, per week).

These disparate compensation numbers reflect only salary and wages. They don't consider additional benefits like health care and retirement, both of which are given to public sector employees far more generously than what private sector workers experience. Taken together with higher salary/wages, about those negotiations for decency and fairness Tim Walz, I think they can stop, mission accomplished!

Unfortunately, the consequences of that accomplishment are fiscally ruinous to state governments. Even in high tax environments like Wisconsin or Minnesota, multi-billion dollar deficits are now the norm. If the expense structure of government is not changed, these shortfalls will grow even larger. Asking the people, many of whom are facing financial challenges themselves, to pay more and more to fund their employees already generous compensation packages is the opposite of fairness and decency.

If you're wondering why an elected Representative of the people, like Tim Walz, seems to care more for the 14% than the 86% forced to pay for them, the byline provided in his press release may give us a clue:

Walz is a high school teacher on leave from Mankato West High School while he serves in Congress.

Nice to see he hasn't forgotten his real constituency.