Saturday, December 31, 2011
It is time for Republicans to get serious. After flirting with ideas to solve just about every conceivable problematic issue of our time: a $15 trillion national debt that is growing at an accelerating pace, a sky-high unemployment rates of 9% or 16% if you include discouraged workers, anemic economic growth rates well below 2% and a world where unstable anti-American regimes are actively developing nuclear weapons, it is time to come home to the one candidate who has the demonstrated ability talk around these issues without getting himself into trouble. It is time to eschew the bold and settle on the stable and unimaginative in order to win back the White House. It is time for Mitt Romney.
The “anybody but Romney” mentality has led some to embrace Rick Perry, whose conservative leadership allowed Texas to create more net jobs than the rest of the United States combined; Newt Gingrich, whose record includes actually balancing the Federal budget for the only period in the last 50 years; Ron Paul, whose distrust of Wall Street bailouts make him unfit to be president; and Michele Bachmann, whom I like very much, but whose articulate indictment of President Obama‘s foolish policies might anger squishy centrist voters.
The knock on Romney is that he is “not a real conservative.” But he has a solid record of conservative talk as a presidential candidate. Plus, as governor of Massachusetts, he was able to advance an agenda that could appeal to the most liberal voters. The “Romney isn’t conservative” meme is, frankly, a blessing. While the Bachmanns, Perrys, and Pauls of the world will be demonized by the liberal media for their willingness to embrace radical change to solve America’s problems, Romney won’t upset the apple cart. His appeal extends beyond the Republican base, to welfare queens on Medicaid as well as in executive suites. Romney offers something for everyone by literally offering something for everyone.
In electing a president, our team is going up against President Obama. It’s more important to win than to actually execute a preferred game plan. Romney has shown that he won’t let ideological purity stand in the way of Republican victory. He didn’t in Massachusetts, where he claimed to run “to the left of Ted Kennedy” as he worked with Democrats to achieve liberal goals including socialized Medicine. Some Republicans may dislike what he accomplished, but they still got to throw a swell victory party.
Romney was not my first choice in this election cycle, nor my second, third or fourth. But more conservative campaigns failed to catch fire, mostly because of what pollsters have said; after all, no votes have actually been cast yet. Other, more conservative Republicans like Paul Ryan, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio didn’t get into the race for the simple reason that they understand the American people want the benefits of government spending without the burden of higher taxes. Mitt Romney understands this and will give the American people what they want, at least until the bond vigilantes have their say. And once the bond vigilantes act and bring down the American economy, Romney is uniquely qualified with his Wall Street connections to attempt to pick up the pieces.
Romney might even beat Barack Obama. Do you think Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry can do that? The purpose of a political party is to win elections, not to implement their agenda.
So it's depressingly familiar yet hardly surprising to read an editorial in today's WSJ explaining how The Spenders Won 2011:
Amid this month's payroll tax fracas, few noticed that Congress passed a 1,200-page, $1 trillion omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2012. Maybe no one in Washington boasted because it's a victory for spending as usual. Republicans—in the House and Senate—need a better strategy.
The news is that after accounting for last-minute unemployment insurance extensions, "emergency" spending and higher Medicare physician payments, total federal outlays are estimated to be $3.65 trillion in fiscal 2012, up slightly from $3.6 trillion in 2011. The last year has seen no major reforms in any of the big entitlement programs—Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. Spending on food stamps alone is scheduled to reach $80 billion in 2012, more than double the amount as recently as 2007.
A chart that accompanied the piece put the spending problem in proper perspective.
Like a drunk who keeps promising that "next year I'll sober up," our elected representatives seem incapable of stopping the spending bender that's been going on for years. The longer this continues, the worse the eventual hangover is going to be once they quit the spending (which will more likely be a forced rather than voluntary decision).
Here's to hoping that 2012 will be the year we finally have the resolution to stop the spending madness. Experience tells me there's faint chance of actually seeing that happen.
Last week, the WSJ had a story on beers to share at celebrations called My, What a Big Beer You Have!:
The great thing about beer is its versatility. Beer can go high or low; we can gather 'round a six-pack, or something special brought up from the cellar; we can knock it back in a tallboy, or savor it in a snifter. But often, beer drinking falls back on plebian vulgarities, on pints pounded, on bongs and shotguns. Its tradition is grander: Think of the Egyptians who offered saffron-and-date beer to their pharaohs and gods, or the 18th-century English lords who brewed barleywine to mark a first son's birth, and opened it when he turned 18.
Beer, in other words, was once a drink of celebration. More recently, however, those laurels have fallen on wine alone, as a dinner party offering or holiday toast. But that's finally changing. Brewers have lately been courting the class (and cash) of the wine world with bigger bottles, heftier price tags, claims of terroir, even—or, at least—profound, boastful flavors. This new generation of beer demands a different kind of drinking: Raise a glass, and drain it slowly.
This season is the best time to try these celebratory beers. There's their fizz, of course, to punctuate your holiday with exclamation marks of popping corks (or hissing caps). There's their size—big bottles with more joy to spread, 750 milliliters and up (and up)—and their strength as well. These single-bottle beers are often more potent than their by-the-case brethren, meant to be savored, not slugged—warming and spirited, drinkable hearths.
The article featured five of these big beers in particular:
- Unibroue La Fin du Monde
- Brouwerij Bosteels Deus
- Anchor Christmas Ale
- Mikkeller Red/White Christmas
- Stone Double Bastard Ale
The last selection comes in a three-liter bottle (101.44 ounces) and goes for $80 a pop. Note to self: talk with Dan from Glen Lake about reviewing one of those bad boys next year.
In the spirit of bigger, better beers made for sharing, our featured beer this week is Alaskan Brewing Company’s Smoked Porter:
Smoked Beer. Known as "rauchbier" in Germany, smoke-flavored beers were virtually unknown in the U.S. until Alaskan Smoked Porter was developed in 1988.
The dark, robust body and pronounced smoky flavor of this limited edition beer make it an adventuresome taste experience. Alaskan Smoked Porter is produced in limited "vintages" each year on November 1 and unlike most beers, may be aged in the bottle much like fine wine.
Introduced in 1988, Alaskan Smoked Porter has been credited with helping inspire an American revival of smoked beers. Alaskan Smoked Porter is one of the most award-winning beers in the history of the Great American Beer Festival and a perennial winner at the World Beer Cup.
22oz brown bomber that retails for $9.99. Beautiful label has black background and a sharp scene of three caribou on the move at sunset.
ALCOHOL BY VOLUME: 6.5%
COLOR (0-2): Dark black color. 2
AROMA (0-2): Smoky and slightly sour. 2
HEAD (0-2): Tan color, small bubbles, good volume and nice lacing in the glass. 2
TASTE (0-5): Pleasant smoke flavors that are rich but not overwhelming. Roasted malts, coffee, chocolate, and a little bit o’ bitter build on that to create a flavor palate that’s well-rounded and balanced. Smooth silky mouthfeel and a dry delicious finish. Medium-bodied yet a beer that you definitely want to sip and savor. 4
AFTERTASTE (0-2): Delightful as smoky flavors linger and slowly fade. 2
OVERALL (0-6): It’s rare when everything comes together just right in a beer the way that it does in Alaskan’s Smoked Porter. This is perfect beer to bring to a New Year’s Eve party both to establish your craft beer cred and please the crowd with a beer that’s complex yet approachable. Sometimes smoke beers overdue it and everything tastes like you’ve been sitting on the wrong side of the camp fire for too long. Alaskan’s Smoked Porter has just enough smoke to compliment the tasty porter flavors. 5
TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 17
My big beer lineup for New Year's Eve includes but is not necessarily limited to:
-Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest Fresh Hop Ale
-Lift Bridge Biscotti
-And to cap the evening off, a bottle of Surly Darkness that I've been holding in reserve for a special occasion
I wish you all a happy and joyous New Year.
Friday, December 30, 2011
From reading the transcripts of the interview conducted by the virulently pro-Romney talk radio host, I can see that my fears that members of the Republican establishment like Mr. Hewitt simply don’t get it are well founded. They view anyone who raises questions about the incestuous relationship between Wall Street and Washington as being out of the mainstream. They still believe that only those left wing lunatics from Occupy Wall Street are concerned about Wall Street’s influence on Washington and vice versa. They believe that criticizing Wall Street is the same as criticizing free-market capitalism and that’s not something that real conservatives should do. They believe that Mitt Romney’s experience running Bain Capital will be viewed positively by the American people and will help propel him to victory over President Obama. Obviously I believe they’re wrong. But then again, I’m a kook so what do I know?
Another glaring blind spot for Mr. Hewitt and other establishment Republicans is that their dismissal of Ron Paul supporters. Yes, there are many positions of Mr. Paul’s that conservatives have problems with. And yes, some of Paul’s supporters can justifiable deserve the label “kook.” However, that does not mean that the GOP can blow off the entire Paul campaign and with it the very real frustration and anger out there that have lead people to embrace Ron Paul.
In yesterday’s WSJ, Daniel Henninger explained the importance of The Ron Paul Vote:
The 2010 election was the result of a coalition that extends well past the formal tea parties. It combines Republicans of all stripes, libertarians, independents and worried centrist Democrats. They all are "fiscally conservative" and socially all over the map. The Republican nominee, however, will be produced by only one part of this fiscal-conservative coalition—the angriest, most politically committed Republicans and libertarians.
The Paul candidacy is of course doomed. But the Paul vote won't die. This vote has been building in the depths of the American political ocean since the spending spree of the second Bush term. These people see the upward spending trend in annual outlays and accumulated commitments not as a "problem," as the Beltway prefers, but as a threat to their well-being.
The Romney campaign may assume that this vote must land by default in their man's lap. By the relentless logic of the Romney camp, that's true. But if we've learned anything the past several months, it's that this is one of the most volatile Republican electorates in a long while.
Mr. Romney is running a campaign strategy indeed targeted at the broad fiscal conservative coalition that emerged in 2010: Hold the worried independents and centrist Democrats by avoiding what in his Dec. 24 Wall Street Journal Weekend Interview he called "incendiary things." OK, we get that. Independent voters are easily flustered, dependent as they are on the policies of strangers.
But if the former Massachusetts governor doesn't reach out pretty soon to the Paul-Perry-Bachmann Republican protest voters, he may never get them. The longer he waits, the more pressure will build for a third-party challenge that will cost him the election. That it would be led by a Ron Paul or Donald Trump is irrelevant to why these people would vote third party—or stay home.
GOP standard bearers can continue to downplay the anti-Wall Street sentiment in America and label those who bring it up as “kooks.” They can continue to belittle Ron Paul supporters and make no effort to win their support. But if they do, they shouldn’t be surprised if they wake up on November 7th, scratch their heads, and try to figure out how they’re going to live with four more years of President Barack Obama.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
What brought us to these dire circumstances? Who is responsible for this impending tragedy? Ultimately I suppose, Satan himself. But as with all things in the corporeal plain, old scratch needs a handmaiden. In this case, that role was fulfilled by Chad the Elder.
In short, the argument is between National Review’s Kevin Williamson and radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, over Williamson’s recent article, “Repo Men”. Williamson makes certain claims about Wall Street’s political rent seeking and it’s association with GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Hewitt had Williamson on his show yesterday. As an ardent supporter of Romney, Hewitt took extreme umbrage at the insinuation, accusing Williamson of being a “Bildebergerish” conspiracy kook. Williamson took extreme umbrage to this charge and the war has been raging ever since, with all the related collateral damage.
And it all may never have happened if Chad didn’t link to Williamson’s article. Evidence, from the transcript of the original Hewitt-Williamson interview:
Hewitt: My pals at FratersLibertas.com, Chad and gang who are virulently anti-Romney, have latched on to a new piece over at National Review by the deputy managing editor there, Kevin Williamson, to add to their feverish anti-Romney vapors. And so I thought I’d go talk to Kevin himself. Hey, Kevin, Happy New Year to you.
Hewitt: I’m just a Californian, and I’m out here being a traditional small government conservative who’s pro-life. And when I read what Chad quoted you saying ….
Hewitt: But your argument, if I can distill it down, and as it has been interpreted by Chad at FratersLibertas.com and others, is that we should be suspicious of Romney because Wall Street supports him.
According to Hewitt himself, he was minding his own business way out in California, blissfully ignorant of the screeds from back East. And then he read Chad’s post linking to Williamson’s article, and all hell breaks loose.
You’ll never find a bigger supporter of civil liberties than me. But I think you’ll agree, some speech must have limits. If shouting fire in a crowded theater is illegal, then throwing gasoline on the smoldering embers of Hewitt’s Romney rage should be as well. For the good of the country, the government should indefinitely detain Chad the Elder.
The bad news is that they’re requiring me to drive it around Iowa all weekend:
An exciting new opportunity has emerged regarding my Fraters Libertas company car. Negotiations are still ongoing, but if the Paul campaign offers to pay us in pieces of silver instead of that worthless fiat currency, we will have a done deal!
What makes the shot even better is the story behind it:
Hewlett was one of five people selected by Frenchie's Ford of Massena, New York to get a shot at the new 2011 Ford F-150 4x4. It's an insane shot and an even better story. Here's how Frenchie's general manager Scott Coupal describes the scene:
Hi folks this is Scott Coupal General Manager here at Frenchie's Ford Inc. I gotta tell you I've seen some cool things in my life, but friday night took the grand prize, Mrs. Brenda Hewlett 59 years old won a chance to be one of 5 people to shoot the puck to win a brand new 2011 Ford F150 4x4, Brenda had been in t...he dealership on friday morning to get some service work done to her old truck, & had said "god I wish I could afford a new truck mine is falling apart" Joe Jock my service manager said "here fill out this ballot & win one" both started laughing.
It's a one in a Gazzilion shot from 114 feet away, the opening is almost the exact size of a regulation size hockey puck. Mrs. Hewlett has never even held a hockey stick in her entire life let alone ever shot a puck. The finalists were all on the ice after I drove the new truck onto the ice, I had friends in the back of the truck throwing frisbee's into the crowd. After a lap around the arena, I gathered the contestants at the far blue line, I yelled out ladies first , Mrs. Hewlett said "Oh god I don't wanna be first I'm going to look foolish" She put a helmet on grabbed the stick I walked up next to her & said "Let It Go & Believe"
Well the whole arena must have believed & the Christmas angels were upon her. She pulled back the puck in akward stance Mrs Hewlett is only about 5'3 (the stick was way too big) and she let it fly, I myself & the crowd didn't even think there was enough steam on the puck to even make it to the target, after it passed the second blue line .. I yelled out .. OH ..OH .. the crowd started going absolutely CRAZY .. the puck then decided to get some wheels, feet, legs whatever you wanna call it & went straight into the hole with speed I might add. Needless to say the arena EXPLODED !!
My brother Randy, an avid reader since childhood, has gone for e-books in a big way. He loves their convenience and portability. But as he recently confessed to me, the new electronic format has at least one other advantage: Put simply, my brother is no longer haunted by the physical presence of books he hasn't read.
Like most bibliophiles, Randy still acquires many more titles than he has time to read, but now the neglected texts lie quietly in a digital file, out of sight and out of mind. With traditional books, on the other hand, the guilt of an unread novel, biography or history can linger visibly for a lifetime, the ghost of a good intention never fulfilled.
Book lovers will recognize that sense of guilt that unread books create. Sometimes it almost seems as if they're looking at you asking "Why? Why haven't you read me as promised?". Much easier to have them tucked away out of sight in your Kindle, Nook, or iPad.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
So, what does Wall Street want?
Here’s what Wall Street doesn’t want: It doesn’t want to hear from Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann or even Newt Gingrich, or suffer any sort of tea-party populism. It wants you rubes to shut up about Jesus and please pay your mortgages. It doesn’t want to hear from such traditional Republican constituencies as Christian conservatives, moral traditionalists, pro-lifers, or friends of the Second Amendment. It doesn’t even want to hear much from the Chamber of Commerce crowd, because those guys are used-car dealers and grocery-store owners and for the most part strictly from hick, so far as Wall Street is concerned. Wall Street wants an administration and a Congress — and a country — that believes what is good for Wall Street is good for America, whether that is true or isn’t. Wall Street doesn’t want free markets — it wants friends, favors, and fealty.
Among the many reservations that I have about nominating Mitt Romney to run for president on the Republican ticket is how Romney's ties with Wall Street will play out in the general election campaign. As Williamson notes in his piece, Romney ran an outfit whose names sounds like what a James Bond villain would call his Wall Street firm: Bain Capital.
While it's easy to dismiss the Occupy Wall Street crowd, you can't deny that there is a strong sentiment throughout the land against much of what is perceived as Wall Street and the unfair financial advantages that its denizens have realized over the last few years. Having a guy at the top of your ticket who pretty much epitomizes Wall Street is not a recipe for success in this environment.
And it doesn't matter that President Obama is every bit (if not more) as in the pocket of Wall Street than Romney is now (or will be). It's all about perception and you know how the media will shape the public's perception of Romney while shielding President Obama from the same scrutiny.
More from Williamson:
So there you have it: hedge-fund titans, i-bankers, congressional nabobs, committee chairmen, senators, swindlers, run-of-the-mill politicos, and a few outright thieves (these categories are not necessarily exclusive) all feeding at the same trough, and most of them betting that Mitt Romney won’t do anything more to stop it than Barack Obama did. If anything, the fact that Romney is having the least luck with the firm that knows him best speaks better of him than does the enthusiasm he apparently inspires in Goldman Sachs et al.
Either way, the last thing Wall Street wants is for the Corzine scandal to launch a new round of frenzied outrage out there on the fruited plains where dwell people who don’t know an IPO from a CDS, and who might suspect that something here is not entirely on the up-and-up. They’re hoping that conservatives can be buffaloed with a bit of cheap free-market rhetoric into not noticing that something is excruciatingly amiss here. They are the repo men, headpiece filled with subprime-mortgage derivatives, and they are looking to repossess the Republican party they abandoned in 2008 (see “Losing Gordon Gekko,” National Review, March 9, 2009). Free-market, limited-government conservatives should be none too eager to welcome them back, nor should we let our natural sympathy with the profit motive blind us to the fact that a great many of them do not belong in the conservative movement, and that more than a few of them belong in prison.
It's time for conservatives to completely break away from the Wall Street-Washington axis that has created so many problems for the country in the last decade. And to choose a presidential candidate who will do the same.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Many European leaders quietly accept that the Greeks will fail and that sooner or later a new drachma will be born. What they still fight is the idea that the Italians won’t change much either. Prime Minister Monti will say whatever he must to keep the funds flowing, and the Italian parliament will pass any law if a gun is pointed to its head, but no power on earth can make those laws work. Italians have more than a thousand years of cultural experience resisting the demands, sensible and otherwise, of foreign overlords. Behind the technocratic new government, the old factions and alliances are constantly at work: imposing facades of reform programs will be built, but somehow the termites will have hollowed them out. As we’ve observed before, trying to force reforms on Italy is like trying to nail jello to the wall.
If Europe had tried to design the best possible currency regime for the people it had, it probably would have designed two different currencies: a neuro for the hard charging north and a seuro for Club Med. Instead, it designed a currency for an idealized European public that did not exist: more disciplined in the south and more generous in Germany than the actual Europeans are.
Europe’s core plan now seems to be to make the south disciplined enough so that the Germans become more generous: that is, under much worse conditions Europe’s leaders are doubling down on the original bet.
So the plan is to make the Italians behave a little more like Germans and visa versa? Cultures that have developed over centuries will be transformed in the next few years because bureaucrats in Brussels dictate it? As Mead says in closing his piece, we shall see.
The price for having the ability to serve up portable potables in style? A mere $495. Operators are standing by.
The boom in low-cost natural gas obtained from shale is driving investment in plants that use gas for fuel or as a raw material, setting off a race by states to attract such factories and the jobs they create.
Shale-gas production is spurring construction of plants that make chemicals, plastics, fertilizer, steel and other products. A report issued earlier this month by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC estimated that such investments could create a million U.S. manufacturing jobs over the next 15 years.
Lower energy costs means lower production costs means more jobs. In the United States, in places where manufacturing has been hit hard in recent years like Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
Monday, December 26, 2011
Gadgets are tested by monitoring the number of volts per meter coming off a device. The F.A.A. requires that before a plane can be approved as safe, it must be able to withstand up to 100 volts per meter of electrical interference.
When EMT Labs put an Amazon Kindle through a number of tests, the company consistently found that this e-reader emitted less than 30 microvolts per meter when in use. That’s only 0.00003 of a volt.
“The power coming off a Kindle is completely minuscule and can’t do anything to interfere with a plane,” said Jay Gandhi, chief executive of EMT Labs, after going over the results of the test. “It’s so low that it just isn’t sending out any real interference.”
But one Kindle isn’t sending out a lot of electrical emissions. But surely a plane’s cabin with dozens or even hundreds will? That’s what both the F.A.A. and American Airlines asserted when I asked why pilots in the cockpit could use iPads, but the people back in coach could not. Yet that’s not right either.
“Electromagnetic energy doesn’t add up like that. Five Kindles will not put off five times the energy that one Kindle would,” explained Kevin Bothmann, EMT Labs testing manager. “If it added up like that, people wouldn’t be able to go into offices, where there are dozens of computers, without wearing protective gear.”
Bill Ruck, principal engineer at CSI Telecommunications, a firm that does radio communications engineering, added: “Saying that 100 devices is 100 times worse is factually incorrect. Noise from these devices increases less and less as you add more.”
So there's absolutely no reason for the ban then? Other than to give Delta flight attendants another reason to yell at you.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
The complaints brought me up short. I am used to complaints today about NPR's coverage related to Muslims, but to say that too much attention was being paid to Catholics seemed to harken back to another era and my youth in the South. Anti-Catholic sentiment was high then. I am myself Catholic, though it is more nominal than anything. I struggle with whether any religion makes sense, though I wish I could easily believe. I have experimented with Episcopalianism, Buddhism and Judaism. Regular readers of this column with know that my father was Jewish, as was my maternal grandfather.
Yeah, I think it's pretty safe to describe his Catholicism as "nominal."
Ten days in Europe makes one pine for American craft beers and our featured beer this week is from one of my favorites, Odell Brewing Co. in Fort Collins, Colorado. Isolation Ale:
A funny thing happens here around summer’s end – our eyes start searching the skies for those first fall flakes. As we welcome autumn’s first snow, we celebrate the return of Isolation Ale. A sweet caramel malty ale that is balanced by a subtle crisp hop finish. Whether you ski, shred, or shoe, Isolation Ale will inspire you to make first tracks.
12oz brown bottle. Standard paper style Odell label with violet colors and a cozy and isolated winter scene featuring a cabin in the mountains.
ALCOHOL BY VOLUME: 6.0%
COLOR (0-2): Light copper brown, mostly clear. 2
AROMA (0-2): Mostly malty on the sweet side. 2
HEAD (0-2): Bright white color with good volume and lacing. 2
TASTE (0-5): Carmel malts with some spiciness and a little heat up front with a lighter hop finish. Medium-bodied with a smooth mouthfeel. Surprisingly drinkable for a winter warmer. 3
AFTERTASTE (0-2): Sweetness lingers with a just hint of bitterness. 2
OVERALL (0-6): Isolation Ale is lighter and more refreshing than most winter seasonal and is definitely one to have if you’re having more than one. The flavors are perfectly decent, simple, and straightforward but underwhelming. I’m looking for more robustness in a winter warmer and while Isolation Ale is a good beer it doesn’t quite deliver up to expectations. 3
TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 14
Whatever beer you’re drinking this weekend, I wish you a joyous and merry Christmas.
Friday, December 23, 2011
The idea being an alarming one, he scrambled out of bed, and groped his way to the window. He was obliged to rub the frost off with the sleeve of his dressing-gown before he could see anything; and could see very little then. All he could make out was, that it was still very foggy and extremely cold, and that there was no noise of people running to and fro, and making a great stir, as there unquestionably would have been if night had beaten off bright day, and taken possession of the world. This was a great relief, because "Three days after sight of this First of Exchange pay to Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge on his order," and so forth, would have become a mere United States security if there were no days to count by.
In the context of the times, 'American security' had the same connotation as "oil well", "Florida real-estate", "gold mine" or "dot-com stock" has had in others.
One of life’s little ironies: Dickens’ parable of a reformed miser was written for the money.
Martin Chuzzlewhit, his current serial, was falling in sales, and in an effort to boost his flagging income, Dickens dashed off a tale for the Christmas of 1843 in about six weeks. The manuscript for his “Ghostly little book” is a scant sixty-six pages, as compared to the usual eight hundred for the typical Dickens blockbuster, yet it is the biggest seller he ever wrote.
This … Christmas story is a reminder that Dickens is one of the few, if not the only, examples in literature of someone who did well by doing good. Like the old Scrooge, Dickens was a man of business, and like the reformed one, he never forgot that mankind was his business.
The Nihilist bahs: I was disappointed to see the musical from 1970 starring Albert Finney wasn't included on Brian's list. Here's a clip of my favorite segment, at the 6:30 mark, featuring the best song (and Atomizer imitation) from the film, "I Hate People."
- Yes Virginia, there is a Wizz Air. I flew the low-cost carrier with the distinct moniker from Dortmund, Germany to Cluj, Romania and back. I even picked up an official inflatable toy Wizz Air plane for my kids (available for purchase during the flight). While the base fares on Wizz Air may appear to be low, they nickel and dime you to death by charging you for everything and anything they can. It starts with a “ticketing fee” to book your flight. Hard to see how you could avoid that one. If you want check bags you can pay in advance or pay even more at the airport. If you print your electronic ticket yourself, there is no charge. But if you wait and check in the airport, they dock you ten Euro. Want to sit in an exit row? There’s a fee for that. Want to board the plane early? Pony up partner. If you think US airlines have gotten chincy by only providing peanuts and pop on domestic flights, consider that on Wizz Air you get nothing unless you pay for it. I was surprised that the bathrooms weren’t coin operated. It’s also reassuring when your plane touches down and half the passengers break into applause as if a safe landing was far from guaranteed.
- I didn’t think it possible, but the surly, dismissive attitude of Delta’s flight attendants appears to have become even more widespread among their ranks. Look, I know you’re job’s not always easy at time, but if you really don’t have any interest in you know, serving your customers (the people who after all allow you to have a job), then maybe you should get into a different line of work.
- Bulgaria is to Romania as Iowa is to Minnesota. Hungary is to Romania as Wisconsin is to Minnesota. Okay, that analogy is far from perfect. But I did find the attitude of Romanians toward their neighbors to be interesting. There’s no lack of bad blood between Romania and Hungary and while we often tend to minimize or overlook historical grievances, they appeared to still be very fresh in the minds of the Romanians I spoke with. One Romanian gent in particular who was usually quite good natured about everything, informed me a serious tone that one thing you don’t joke about is Hungary. Bulgaria on the other hand did seem to be a regular object of ridicule and derision. But not as a rival to Romania as Hungary was. Instead they regarded it as a place that was so backward and behind the times that you actually almost felt sorry for the poor souls who lived there.
- We often hear that Europe has been secularized and that Christianity-which was once the continent’s civilizational foundation-is in such a decline that it risks disappearing within a few generations. Sure there are a lot of beautiful and historic churches in Europe, but now they serve mostly as tourist attractions or museums to a bygone era. So it was refreshing while strolling the streets of Amsterdam (the unofficial capitol of libertine hedonism) to stumble upon the Church of St Peter and St Paul:
De Papegaai is the lesser of the two parochial churches in the St Nicholas Roman Catholic parish in Amsterdam. The church is dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul; its name "De Papegaai" (The Parrot) comes from the time when Catholic churches were hidden. The church is on the busy Kalverstraat and invites people in for quiet, as well as celebrating Sunday masses in Latin and with Gregorian chant.
The church’s entrance off the bustling pedestrian street is discrete and easy to miss (probably owing to the days when it was hidden). Once you get inside you find a quiet and beautiful old church that’s remarkably well kept up. And as the Wikipedia article notes, it’s still an active church with regular Masses. Perhaps Christianity in Europe isn’t quite dead yet after all.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
8 bottles Rush River Winter Warmer
7 bottles Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
5 bottles Odell's Isolation Ale
4 bottles Rush River Amber
4 bottles Summit Winter Ale
4 bottles Rush River Porter
1 bomber bottle Alaskan Smoked Porter
1 bomber bottle Surly Darkness (in reserve for a special occasion)
23 cans Surly Furious
The beauties of the garage as expanded beer refrigerator simply cannot be exaggerated. Let the long holiday weekend begin.
The Nihilist is impressed: It looks like tomorrow will be the perfect time to pay an uninvited holiday visit to the Elder's residence for a bit of holiday cheer. I'll plan on stopping by after work!
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
The prevailing attitude among the Dutch was that while they were none too happy about having to bail out the Greeks, they still were supportive of the Euro and reluctantly accepted having to shoulder the burden to support less stable countries. This does make sense if you consider that the Netherlands is a small country that relies on exports for much of its growth. They would suffer if there were to be changes to the easy access to the European markets and shared currency that they now enjoy. But they did say that resistance to the Euro and further European integration was growing within the country and that the longer the current crisis dragged on, the stronger this movement would become.
This is reinforced in a front page article in today’s WSJ called Doubts Arise in Euro’s Birthplace:
The debt crisis convulsing the 17-nation currency zone has sown doubts even in a place regarded as the cradle of the euro.
The Netherlands' open and trade-based economy has long made it one of the strongest supporters of a more integrated European market. About twice the size of New Jersey, the country ranks as the world's 16th-largest economy, with global competitors like Philips Electronics NV and chemical giant Akzo Nobel NV. Fiscally healthier than even Germany, it has been a key proponent of budgetary rectitude among euro members, and supplied the European Central Bank with its first president.
Now, as financial anguish in the euro zone reveals flaws in the monetary union, the crisis is exposing deep divisions not only among Europe's national leaders but even within the consensus-minded and long-supportive Netherlands. A unified pro-euro position projected for years by the Dutch political and economic establishment has begun to crack.
If these cracks continue to spread and deepen, the entire proposition of a more united Europe could be in jeopardy.
The concern, he says, is that divisions over the common currency in traditionally pro-euro countries like the Netherlands make additional big and painful solutions to the crisis harder to achieve, and an eventual unraveling of the common currency more likely.
That’s why the longer this crisis continues, the more danger it poses to European union. If you lose the Dutch, it will make solving the current problems that much more difficult and would be a bell weather on the direction that Europe heads in the years ahead.
Of course, the country that matters the most to the future of Europe is Germany. The discontent among Germans about having to bail out and prop up their weaker Eurozone partners is well-known. One aspect of this attitude of being out upon that I had previously not appreciated is that how Germans in the western part of the country view the subsidizing of Greece, Italy, Portugal, etc. as a continuation of the sacrifices they had to make to rebuild the eastern part of the country after the Wall came down. For twenty-years, they’ve not been able to invest in their infrastructure because so much of their money went toward the east. Now that many of the roads, airports, bridges, etc, in the east have been brought up to or even surpassed their previous standards, they want to focus on their own back yards for a change. So when the PIGS come a callin’ asking for the German taxpayer to dig a little deeper to pick up their tab, you can understand their frustration.
The danger in Germany is the same as in the Netherlands. The longer the crisis drags on without resolution, the more this attitude is going to gain traction among the populace and to impact the political situation. Parties less enamored of the European project will gain strength and could tip the scales at some point soon.
Meanwhile, the Romanians I spoke to see the Euro as their path to growth and modernization. I was in the city of Cluj in the northwestern part of the country and the orientation among the people there is definitely to the west. For a developing country, the allure of the EU is easy to understand and they can’t imagine alternative paths to prosperity at this point.
One thing that almost everyone I spoke to did agree on was that Europe has reached a moment of decision. The current model is not working and can’t be sustained. There must either greater union or inevitable division. No one believes that the latter will occur, yet no one could really explain what the former would look like.
Mr. Klamer, the economics professor, was among the few in the Netherlands speaking out persistently against the project. "A monetary union without a political union is impossible to maintain," he wrote in a newspaper article in 1991. Some other Dutch economists voiced similar concerns but fell largely in line as monetary union became inevitable.
This is exactly what I would always challenge them with. Europe’s monetary union is not working and it’s obvious that it will only be successful with some sort of political union. So what will that political union look like and what will it mean for individual countries? This is where almost everyone became uncomfortable with the conversation and there was a lot of shrugging and puzzled looks. They all seem to believe that the only possible outcome is greater integration and political union of some flavor. And they all assume that somehow they will arrive at this solution although no one really has any idea of how.
Herein the real danger to Europe unity lies. The reality is that other outcomes are not only possible, but become more likely when there is no common understanding among those who favor a more unified Europe of what that next stage of unity will look like. They assume that’s the direction that the countries of the EU will move in, but if they can’t articulate a vision of what they would really mean they aren’t going to be able to make the case for it.
One thing that you hear people talk about a lot in Europe is culture. Americans are sometimes accused of being obsessed with race and you could say the same thing with Europeans and culture. But they do grasp more than most Americans do just how important culture is.
Reynier van Bommel, the ninth-generation CEO of a family shoe company that bears his name, says the finishing process on its shoes has benefited from training he received in Italy. But he has concluded that cultural differences within Europe, and a resulting disparity in productivity, make a common currency unrealistic.
"How are we going to explain to the Greeks that they need to work longer hours there because they are less productive than the Dutch?" says Mr. van Bommel, 38, walking through his factory in Moergestel. "So we have one currency, but there is no one Europe."
There is no one Europe today. And it’s hard to see how there will be one in the future. If you look at the history of movements that attempt to unify people politically, you will usually find strong leaders that drove that unity with a purpose and a vision of what it would mean. Where are the current leaders in Europe who could do that today? Or tomorrow?
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
It's none of the usual explanations: lots of scoring being better than endless nil-nil draws—I've been to cricket matches in which 1,000 runs were scored and you could hardly call them riveting. It's not the hoopla or the sport-as-family-entertainment thing either which soccer fans accustomed to English hooliganism are supposed to appreciate. (Have you ever been to an Eagles game?)
Baseball fans will have to forgive me here, but the answer, I think, is that football is the quintessential American sport. It's no accident it hasn't really caught on elsewhere (the annual NFL game in London notwithstanding) whereas baseball and basketball have at least a claim to a global following and participation.
In its energy and complexity, football captures the spirit of America better than any other cultural creation on this continent, and I don't mean because it features long breaks in which advertisers get to sell beer and treatments for erectile dysfunction. It sits at the intersection of pioneering aggression and impossibly complex strategic planning. It is a collision of Hobbes and Locke; violent, primal force tempered by the most complex set of rules, regulations, procedures and systems ever conceived in an athletic framework.
Soccer is called the beautiful game. But football is chess, played with real pieces that try to knock each other's brains out. It doesn't get any more beautiful than that.
That's one of the best explanations of the appeal of football that I've ever come across.
In a world where we can make our choices only among the alternatives actually available, the question is whether Newt Gingrich is better than Barack Obama -- and better than Mitt Romney.
Romney is a smooth talker, but what did he actually accomplish as governor of Massachusetts, compared to what Gingrich accomplished as Speaker of the House? When you don't accomplish much, you don't ruffle many feathers. But is that what we want?
Can you name one important positive thing that Romney accomplished as governor of Massachusetts? Can anyone? Does a candidate who represents the bland leading the bland increase the chances of victory in November 2012? A lot of candidates like that have lost, from Thomas E. Dewey to John McCain.
Those who want to concentrate on the baggage in Newt Gingrich's past, rather than on the nation's future, should remember what Winston Churchill said: "If the past sits in judgment on the present, the future will be lost." If that means a second term for Barack Obama, then it means lost big time.
If one chooses to, it’s easy to find flaws with Gingrich’s candidacy just as is with any of the other possible alternatives to Romney. But tearing down Newt doesn’t make Mitt any more palatable to conservatives. It seems if the strongest case for Romney is that he’s not as bad as Gingrich with this or Perry with that or Bachmann with another thing. And it’s true that Romney’s carefully calibrated positions and cautiously worded statements have allowed him to make his way through the campaign while making few waves or offending anyone. The question remains whether that’s what voters are looking for right now or if instead they’d prefer to take their chances with a candidate who’s not afraid to upset an applecart or two along the way.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Want names? Just google attacks on Newt Gingrich over the last week. Gingrich is neither Goldwater nor Reagan. But he is the only person left standing to challenge the certainty that, as the New York Times’ Bill Keller put it, the 2012 elections will be held between two “certifiably sane” people (Obama and Romney). The folks who come up on your google search deem themselves the arbiters of sanity. It does not occur to them that the American people have the right to decide for themselves between COMPETING VERSIONS of sanity.
Today as in the last two generations, the Republican Establishment’s message for Republican voters is something like “shut up and do as you’re told.”
You can probably figure out how he answered the question.
Palm Belgian Amber
Brinkehoff’s Number One Pilsener
Bavaria Premium Pilsener
The two beers from Westmalle were the best of the bunch while Palm’s Belgian Amber is a nice alternative that’s pretty widely available in the Netherlands. I did try a couple of other good Dutch beers that I didn’t have a chance to rate. In general, they seem to not stray far from the Heineken, Grolsch, and Amstel type offerings. And if you show up in Amsterdam expecting to find twenty-four hour party people quaffing Amstel Light (as in the commercials), you’re going to be disappointed. The regular version is all you see. I was pleased to notice a bar in Amsterdam boasting of having over twenty American craft offerings on tap, although I didn’t get to see what they were. The Romania beers were decent and the bear logo employed by Ursus is sharp.
If you too have a need to satisfy a craving for hops, there’s no time like the present. Glen Lake Wine and Spirits is offering a special on cases of Surly Furious for $55.99. Having twenty-four sixteen ounces cans of Furious on hand can help ensure that this is indeed a most merry Christmas.
HOUSTON—The U.S. shale-oil and natural-gas boom has cracked open another lucrative market—gas liquids used to make plastics.
The same drilling technologies that have unlocked vast amounts of crude and natural gas from previously unproductive shale formations across the U.S. also are reaping large stores of ethane, propane and butane, known as natural-gas liquids.
This growing bounty has resuscitated the U.S. petrochemical industry, which just a few years ago was being strangled by the high costs of the raw materials.
Processing ethane into chemicals is 50% cheaper than using crude oil-derived naptha and its availability has made U.S. petrochemical companies the envy of overseas competitors. It also brings the prospect of lower prices for auto parts, Styrofoam and other products.
Lower costs for US petrochemicals companies means more investment, more production, and of course more jobs. The shale energy boom could be the best thing that has happened to the US economy in years.
The explanation for the rabid following is stupid simple: Rye is damn good stuff. Think of it as bourbon's edgier cousin. Where bourbon is primarily made of corn, giving the whiskey a smooth and sweet flavor profile, rye is at least 51% of its namesake grain, lending it a spicier, fuller bodied, angular taste. If you like bourbon, but want to try something with more muscle, you need to get yourself some rye.
Although it's America's first whiskey—George Washington distilled it and bottles were as good as cash in 18th-century Pennsylvania—rye steadily fell out of popularity after Prohibition. It wasn't until the early 2000s that it became repopularized thanks mostly to craft bartenders who liked rye's robust flavors in cocktails, as well as its historical accuracy—rye was the original whiskey in classics like the Manhattan and the Sazerac.
Finding a little rye under the tree can help ensure a merry Christmas for any whiskey lovers you my know.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
The resolution to propose a constitutional amendment abolishing most limits on government power has seven co-sponsors in the House. In addition to the four we listed yesterday--Reps. Ted Deutch and Alcee Hastings of Florida, Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Jim McDermott of Washington state--they are Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Peter Welch of Vermont and Rick Larsen of Washington.
I think Taranto is intentionally using some hyperbole with that characterization of the bill, but the concerns about its propriety are legitimate. Here are some key excerpts from the so called “Saving American Democracy” bill that Ellison is co-sponsoring (H.J.RES 90.IH) to amend the Constitution:
Section 1. The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons and do not extend to for-profit corporations, limited liability companies, or other private entities established for business purposes or to promote business interests under the laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state.
Section 2. Such corporate and other private entities established under law are subject to regulation by the people through the legislative process so long as such regulations are consistent with the powers of Congress and the States and do not limit the freedom of the press.
Section 3. Such corporate and other private entities shall be prohibited from making contributions or expenditures in any election of any candidate for public office or the vote upon any ballot measure submitted to the people.
Section 4. Congress and the States shall have the power to regulate and set limits on all election contributions and expenditures, including a candidate's own spending, and to authorize the establishment of political committees to receive, spend, and publicly disclose the sources of those contributions and expenditures.
As with any modern legislation, lots of obfuscation and self-aggrandizing gobbledygook there. But even among the high minded rhetoric about democracy and freedom, the sinister nature of this bill oozes out from between the lines. Any time someone wants to enshrine into the highest law of the land words like “rights do not extend” and “subject to regulation” and “prohibited from making” and “set limits on,” when the target is the citizenry rather than the government itself, that’s trouble, Mister.
For a more learned and detailed criticism, check out UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh’s analysis here and here.
James Taranto distills Volokh’s thoughts and adds some of his own here, including this projection of the possible effects of Keith Ellison’s Constitutional amendment:
It would deny all constitutional rights to business corporations and disfavored nonprofits. Among other things, that would mean that the government (federal or state) could subject such entities to bills of attainder and ex post facto laws, impose criminal or civil penalties on them without due process, search their premises without a warrant and seize their property without compensation.
The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment wouldn't apply either, so that the government would be under no obligation to exercise these powers fairly. Thus what [this bill] is proposing amounts to a lawless regime of crony capitalism in which political officeholders would have unchecked power to enrich their corporate friends by persecuting competitors.
This all refers to that little “rights of the Constitution do not extend to” part of Section 1 of the bill, aimed at corporations and private entities that “promote business interests”. Granted, Taranto’s suggested consequences seem extreme. But the only thing that would prevent such a thing from happening if this Amendment were passed are the tender mercies of who ever happens to be President and who ever happens to be making judgments in America’s court system. Anybody here want to trust their freedoms to those illustrious institutions?
The good news is that this bill is, as Harry Reid is fond of saying about GOP efforts to cut spending, Dead On Arrival. As Taranto’s notes:
The [Saving American Democracy] Amendment is never going to become law. Even proposing a constitutional amendment requires two-thirds votes in both houses of
Congress … Still, it's a bit disturbing that such a monstrous idea does not make its proponents persona non grata in one of America's two major political parties.
That’s the real scandal of this Amendment. Keith Ellison is in such a protected position in Minnesota’s political and media culture that he can make goofy, extreme proposals like this and know that there won’t be any negative consequences.