Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Free to School

You would normally expect liberals to support public policies embraced by countries like Germany, France, Sweden, England, Belgium, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands. However, when it comes to public education they're adamant in their belief that the current American model actually is the best and only option.

In the January edition of First Things, Charles L. Glenn explained how misplaced this notion in an article called Disestablishing Our Secular Schools:

Most Americans are products of the public school’s 140-year near-monopoly on education, and have an understandable residual loyalty to our current educational settlement; many believe, as advocates of the “myth of the common school” have been arguing since Horace Mann, that only the public school can form citizens. But low test scores and concern over the moral vacuousness of both curriculum and school life dominated by peer culture have shaken faith in the public system. Parents are seeking alternatives, not only in private schools but in charter schools (legally “public” but functionally private), homeschooling, and cyberschools. Even those parents who do not want religion taught in the schools their children attend usually see no problem with other children attending schools whose religious character is preferred by their parents.

We have reason to hope that America may achieve a degree of pluralism in its schools, but important changes are needed. American public education should be disestablished and demythologized, liberated to provide a true education and not simply instruction, to be as concerned about the character of its students as it is about their academic accomplishments. Government should play a significant role, setting standards for essential outcomes on which there is a societal consensus and ensuring that family circumstances never prevent a child from receiving an adequate education, but public education should be no more synonymous with government-operated schools than public health is with government-operated hospitals. Parents should be free to choose the school their children attend without financial penalty.

This is only possible if we give up the fruitless effort to make public education “neutral,” as though anything so intimately associated with the shaping of human beings could ever avoid choices among alternative views of human flourishing. The sort of lowest common denominator schooling into which public schools have been forced, the “defensive teaching” in which their teachers engage to avoid controversy, can never provide a rich educational environment. Indeed, the false belief in neutrality has fostered an idea of teachers as a kind of secular clergy.

Educational reform and professionalization of teachers requires viewing them as no different from members of any other profession, under the discipline of commonly understood norms of ethical and effective practice, and with a responsibility to the client. This client is not simply the student (as John Dewey maintained) but also the family.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Help Wanted

One area where there appears to be bipartisan agreement among our political leaders is the need to create, add or “bring back” manufacturing jobs in the United States. These reasonable sounding objectives are often coupled with ignorant statements regarding the supposed decline in American manufacturing or even at times irrational claims like “we don’t make anything here anymore.” The truth of course-which has been pointed out time after time by numerous and varied sources-is that we manufacture more now than we ever have, it’s just that we do it much more efficiently requiring fewer workers. You could make similar silly statements about American farming if you based you analysis solely on the number of farmers now compared with say one-hundred years ago.

But the little talked problem with all these plans to create more manufacturing jobs is that the United States doesn’t currently have enough skilled workers to fill existing manufacturing jobs. Creating new jobs sounds great, but who are you going to get to do them?

Three recent stories provide evidence of this issue.

The first was post by Veronique de Rugy at The Corner:

Third, a key argument for encouraging manufacturing is to create jobs and reduce unemployment. There are many problems with this. The goal ignores the fact that unemployment today isn’t the result of the losses in manufacturing jobs. That decline has been going on for 30 years and has been largely made up for by gains in productivity.

In addition, it is pretty obvious that the president’s preferential treatment won’t bring back the low-skill jobs that were lost. A recent piece in the Washington Post explains that, while president is making a big deal about bringing U.S. jobs back to the U.S., “many manufacturers say that, in fact, the jobs are already here. What’s missing are the skilled workers needed to fill them.” Basically, as factories were transformed through automation, low-skill jobs were lost as the laid-off workers were unqualified to run the new equipment.

The second was an editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Enterprise Minnesota's annual State of Manufacturing survey was up against stiff news competition at the Capitol last week. It went public the same day that the Special Redistricting Panel issued new legislative and congressional maps. Legislators who missed the public-private partnership's announcement would be well-advised to circle back to it. The public policy concerns of 400 Minnesota manufacturing executives ought not go unnoticed.

Those employers provide the high-wage, high-tech, talent-attracting jobs that are key to maintaining Minnesota's prosperity. Manufacturing employment took a 50,000-job nosedive between 2007 and 2009 and has been slowly creeping back up since then. Keeping and adding to those gains is vital to sustaining the state's recovery from recession.

Notable in Enterprise Minnesota's fourth annual survey is the jump in worry about the ability to attract and retain qualified workers. Nearly a third of the manufacturers surveyed rated a shortage of qualified workers as a major concern, double the share who expressed that worry last year.

And finally a piece by that appeared in today’s WSJ by Thomas Hemphill and Mark Perry called U.S. Manufacturing and the Skills Crisis:

Yet this vibrant sector is being held back—and not by imports. Instead there is a serious labor shortage. In an October 2011 survey of American manufacturers conducted by Deloitte Consulting LLP, respondents reported that 5% of their jobs remained unfilled simply because they could not find workers with the right skills.

That 5% vacancy rate meant that an astounding 600,000 jobs were left unfilled during a period when national unemployment was above 9%.

According to 74% of these manufacturers, work-force shortages or skills deficiencies in production positions such as machinists, craft workers and technicians were keeping them from expanding operations or improving productivity.

A majority of U.S. manufacturing jobs used to involve manual tasks such as basic assembly. But today's industrial workplace has evolved toward a technology-driven factory floor that increasingly emphasizes highly skilled workers.

Any plan to add manufacturing jobs that doesn’t address this skills is not a serious proposal and is bound to fail. You can throw all the incentives you want at manufacturers in the form of tax breaks, enterprise zones, or less regulation, but if they can’t find workers to fill positions they won’t add them.

There are no easy answers to this problem, but some good places to start. One would be reinvigorating vocational training in high school and encouraging more kids to go into technical trades once they graduate. The college track is not for everyone and we’ve got more than enough college graduates. Kids need to know that not only do the technical trades actually pay pretty well, the technical skills that are most in demand are often transferable to a variety of jobs and industries. There will always be a need for those with these skills and while they may not be always doing the same work for the same company, they will be able to work if they want to. Can you say the same thing for someone picking up a sheepskin in one of the liberal arts majors?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Having More Than One

Great nugget from Doug Hoverson's Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota brought back some fond memories of the quest for the five dollar case:

In 1954, Pfeiffer purchased Schmidt and used it to introduce their flagship beer to the area in addition to continuing the Schmidt brands. The introduction of Pfeiffer was a flop, except among college students seeking the cheapest available case of beer, but the crew at the brewery on West Seventh Street began a period during which they routinely proved themselves to be the most efficient brewery in whatever company owned them.

It's amusing to know that Pfeiffer served the same role in the late Eighties as it did in the Fifties.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Talking Science

Vox Day on how the theory of the "multiverse" seems like a dance of desperation:

There is, of course, a fourth type of nothingness. And that is the amount of scientific validity contained in Krauss's desperate attempt to use a fraudulent veneer of science to avoid the obvious conclusions driven by the relevant philosophic logic. This isn't even science fiction, it's just purely evasive fantasy. If I were to seriously propose that full-grown unicorns, little rainbow-colored horned equines, could simply pop into existence, like bubbles in boiling water, ex nihilo, people would rightly dismiss me as a fantasist and a possibly insane one at that.

But substitute "universes" for "unicorns", and suddenly, we're talking science!

I’ve always been interested in science and have found that interest rekindled of late thanks to my children. So we end up reading books and watching a fair number of documentaries with a scientific bent (my wife and kids also conduct experiments as part of home-schooling).

And in the course of this pursuit of scientific knowledge, whenever I hear or read a sober minded, straight-laced science-talking guy start describing the multiverse theory I can’t help but chuckle. Many of these scientists would scoff at the notion of God and claim to only believe that which can be proven using the scientific method. Yet the entire notion of multiple universes is completely faith based. Is believing that there is a greater power that created the universe really so absurd compared to believing the theory of multiple universes? Well, only if you decide to call one “science.”

No Beer For You

We regret to announce that this week’s edition of Beer of the Week has been canceled due to the beer reviewer having picked up some sort of malicious bug which negates all the pleasure and wonder that one usually associates with drinking beer. We expect this situation to be temporary and the Beer of the Week feature will return next week. Until then, those of you who still capable of enjoying beer should continue to do so. I will attempt to find solace in my beer deprived condition by turning to an alternative beverage whose medicinal properties are well-established: whiskey.

SAINT PAUL PRESCRIBES: Or this may be a good chance to introduce a new feature, Cough Syrup of the Week and/or Antibiotic of the Week. Luxurious mouthfeel on the Robatussin. And the lacing on the Zithromax is exquisite!

THE ELDER HACKS BACK: Or perhaps a review of which whiskey and over-the-counter cough medications work best together. I think the nightime stuff that makes you drowsy packs the most punch. I'll do some research tonight and get back with a full report tomorrrow.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Almost Gone, But Not Forgotten

Last week my good friend and podcast colleague John Hinderaker launched another salvo against the Presidential candidacy of Newt Gringrich. Give him credit for at least being consistent. He has dogged Newt’s prospects repeatedly since their rise to respectability in the polls just before the Iowa Caucus. On the bright side, with Gingrich’s campaign now in what may be a death spiral, perhaps this is the last time I’ll have to hear his intemperate arguments toward this conservative standard bearer.

Before his rhetoric fades into history, I find it necessary to refute it one more time. The Internet archiveologists from the future (from distant, weird planets), need to know there was a counter argument!

From his Power Line post of last week:
It was obvious to everyone who remembered the history of the 1990s that Gingrich would be a disaster as a presidential candidate, however much we may enjoy his repartee and respect him as a thinker whose ideas are often good. Yet millions of Republican activists, heedless of the past and ignoring Newt’s obvious weaknesses, enthused over him as a candidate and made him the man of the hour. Or the man of two or three weeks, maybe.
Well, not all of those who vividly remember the history of the 1990s (such as ME) thought it was obvious that Newt’s candidacy this year would be a disaster.

I assume John is referring to how Newt’s Congressional career ended (with his resignation), and his low national approval ratings, as the “obvious” disqualifying history. Multiple factors led to this outcome. The combative leadership style that served Gingrich and his party so well in his rise to power in the early 90s had alienated even Republican members of the House. Bill Clinton had masterfully triangulated him on the issues, co-opting most of the benefits of the policy successes Gingrich achieved. The press did their standard hit job on his image. And the Democrats in Congress threw up a flurry of false accusations and ethics charges (of which Gingrich was ultimately exonerated).

The combination of these factors led to Charlie Sheen level approval ratings and even a revolt against him by the more radical Republican members of Congress. The GOP losing seats in the 1998 Congressional elections, and the emotional fall out of Clinton’s impeachment trial paired with word leaking out about Gingrich’s infidelities, ultimately finished Newt off. He resigned from the Speakership and Congress.

I will grant John one point, that absolutely, positively, Newt could not have won a national election in 1998.

But we are not living in 1998. That was 14 years ago, an eon in political years. There was no reason to assume that Newt Gingrich couldn’t have become a reformed and better man over this period. History is laden with examples of once losing or disgraced politicians learning from their experience and returning stronger than before: Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Marion Berry. (OK, not all of these are examples of becoming a better man, but two out of four ain’t bad.)

With age and wisdom, Gingrich’s problems were eminently curable. I’m not saying it’s easy to stop being arrogant, prideful, vindictive, skeezy, etc. But it is certainly possible.

If Newt had overcome these issues, one could then focus on his qualifications for the office, which are substantial. He’s intelligent, quick-thinking, and a creative thinker. He has the ability to articulate a conservative vision of governance that is persuasive. He’s a fighter for the causes he believes in and has a taste for the jugular. He’s got a solid record of accomplishment His Republican revolution of 1994, and the resulting policy changes, are the greatest Republican victories of the last 20 years. He knows how to pass legislation, he knows how to make advantageous deals with the opposition, he knows the pitfalls and pratfalls that the Washington establishment creates for any Republican. He’s articulate and clean and a nice looking guy, I mean that’s a storybook man. (That last sentence contributed by Joe Biden).

Combine that record and skill set with those of the other available candidates and there is no question who was the most qualified person for the job of President of the United States. Add to the mix Newt’s statesmanlike performance in the early debates and it was perfectly reasonable to “enthuse” about his candidacy. He could win and could be a great conservative president. Could you have said the same, with absolute certainty, about Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, John Huntsman, Herman Cain, etc.?

As we now know, Newt doesn’t appear to be an entirely reformed man. His reaction to the Romney’s campaign’s negative attacks revealed that the worst of Gingrich is still close to the surface. And with that, the specter of the late-90s vintage Newt hangs heavy over his prospects. Those prospects, as reflected in recent polling, are:

A CNN/Opinion Research poll showed 63 percent of All Americans viewed Gingrich unfavorably, compared to just 25 percent who saw him in a positive light.

Even accounting for the normal CNN bias/error rate, that is a sobering assessment of Gingrich’s viability in the general election, and a consideration that would have to be taken into account when deciding who to vote for in a primary.

John Hinderaker’s comments reflect the pragmatic determinism of his thinking (or is it his determined pragmatism?):

When I got ready to leave and put my jacket on, the guy who was working behind the lanes spotted the jacket and said he liked it. “Who you voting for?” he asked. “Newt?” I said something to the effect that I didn’t think so; we really need to win this one.

Yes, there is a time for practicality when deciding who to vote for. (Cue the ghost of Christine O’Donnell). But that time is not when the field is wide open, or before the primary season is even half over. That is the time to dream big dreams and enthuse over who you *think* might be the best man for the job. Dismiss him too early, and he’ll never get a chance to prove you right.

John wraps up with this comment about not just the rise of Gingrich, but also the rise of the other GOP poll leaders of the week (assumedly Santorum, Cain, Perry, and Bachmann):

The same pattern has been repeated more than once during the current, discouraging presidential nominating process. If the GOP loses this year’s presidential contest, the party will have no one to blame but its own activists.

Among those who have endorsed Gingrich are Thomas Sowell, Peter Robinson, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, JC Watts, Art Laffer, Fred Thompson, and Michael Reagan. If those are the irresponsible “activists” who are leading the GOP astray, I’d be proud to be counted in their number.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Put It On Ice

Hockey fans are no doubt already aware that this is the the thirty-second anniversary of the US Olympic team's improbable victory over the USSR at Lake Placid. So it's long since past time that a meme long associated with that particular game be put to rest once and for all.

I can't recall the number of times I've heard it over the years including at least a couple of times today. When someone wants to sound like they know something about hockey they'll roll out this little baby as if were a fresh pearl of wisdom rather than a long spoiled rotten fish.

It goes like this:

"Most people don't even know that the game against the Russians wasn't for the gold medal."

You know what? They do know. They know that the Friday game against the USSR was a medal round game and that the US still had to beat Finland on Sunday to win gold (which they did after Herb Brook's legendary "you'll take this to your F***ing graves!" speech before the third period). You know why they know?

Because smug know-it-alls like you have been repeating this trite little notion that they didn't for the last thirty-one years! Admittedly, I too was one of those smug a-holes for maybe the first dozen years or so, but over time realized how played out and untrue it had become. So let us hear it no more.

Only in America

The surprising success of the New York Knick’s point guard Jeremy Lin has become the story of the NBA this year. Chinese-American, Harvard-educated, and evangelical Christian is an unlikely profile for someone attending an NBA game, let alone being the best player on one of the premiere teams in the league. But Lin has excelled for over a month now and looks to be the real deal.

The Economist analyzed his success and what might have happened if this son of China (by way of Taiwan) had stayed in China. Excerpts:

Mr Lin is, put plainly, precisely everything that China’s state sport system cannot possibly produce. If Mr Lin were to have been born and raised in China, his height alone might have denied him entry into China’s sport machine, as Time’s Hannah Beech points out: “Firstly, at a mere 6’3”—relatively short by basketball standards—Lin might not have registered with Chinese basketball scouts, who in their quest for suitable kids to funnel into the state sport system are obsessed with height over any individual passion for hoops.

The machine excels at identifying, processing and churning out physical specimens—and it does so exceedingly well for individual sports, as it will again prove in London this year. But it happens to lack the nuance and creativity necessary for team sport.

What of Mr Lin’s faith? If by chance Mr Lin were to have gained entry into the sport system, he would not have emerged a Christian, at least not openly so. China has tens of millions of Christians, and officially tolerates Christianity; but the Communist Party bars religion from its membership and institutions, and religion has no place in its sport model. One does not see Chinese athletes thanking God for their gifts; their coach and Communist Party leaders, yes, but Jesus Christ the Saviour? No.

Then there is the fact that Mr Lin’s parents probably never would have allowed him anywhere near the Chinese sport system in the first place. This is because to put one’s child (and in China, usually an only child at that) in the sport system is to surrender that child’s upbringing and education to a bureaucracy that cares for little but whether he or she will win medals someday. If Mr Lin were ultimately to be injured or wash out as an athlete, he would have given up his only chance at an elite education, and been separated from his parents for lengthy stretches, for nothing. Most Chinese parents, understandably, prefer to see their children focus on schooling and exams.

So China almost certainly has its own potential Jeremy Lin out there, but there is no path for him to follow. This also helps explain, as we have noted, why China fails at another sport it loves, soccer. Granted, Mr Lin’s own path to stardom is in itself unprecedented, but in America, the unprecedented is possible. Chinese basketball fans have taken note of this. Mr Lin’s story may be a great and inspiring proof of athleticism to the Chinese people, but it is also unavoidably a story of American soft power.

Wait a minute. You mean to that central planning, immense investments in bureaucracy, and a government with unfettered power to do whatever it pleases to the people ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be? Simply shocking news. And Thomas Friedman wept! This is becoming kind of a theme today.

A Time to Give

As we begin another Lenten season, David Mills encourages Christians to Give It Up, Whatever It Is:

Another Lent is at our throats. At least that’s the way it feels. William F. Buckley is said to have answered someone who asked if he liked writing, “I like having written,” and that is my feeling about Lent. I like having done it.

I would commend to you the old practice of giving up something, which I wrote about a couple of years ago in Just Give It Up. The experience of your own worldliness is always, even after giving things up for decades, a bit of a shock, and a salutary one, and what small increase in self-discipline you acquire a good thing in itself.

For some reason, the comments on the article disappeared. Several were very helpful, too, but there were a few — to head them off here — who went on in that chipper post-Vatican II nun-in-stretchpants St. Louis Jesuits guitar mass Jimmy-Carter-grin accentuate the positive Mary Poppins kind of way, that Lent isn’t about giving up things but about opening ourselves to God, etc. I can’t remember the jargon, but I remember it was very trying.

So: Yes, okay, sure, go ahead, have a positive Lent. But the rest of us, self-indulgent hedonists that we are, need to start with an exercise that reminds us of who we are, and how far we fall short of our ideals, or even our usual self-appraisal, and how much we need the grace of God. As I say, Just Give It Up.

It’s easy enough to say that you’re “going to open yourself up to God” during Lent. Putting that in practice on a daily basis however usually proves difficult for most of us. That’s where the sacrifice (however small) of giving something up comes in. Whenever you think about whatever it is that you’ve decided to forgo during Lent, it gives the opportunity to think about why you’ve chosen to do so. That is a trigger which can lead you to open yourself to God and allow him to enter into your thoughts, even if only for a brief period of time.

One of the challenges for Christians today is to not get so caught up in the everyday whirl of the world that we don’t set aside time for God. You can have the best of intentions of not falling into that trap, but it’s all too easy. Giving up something for Lent is one way to force yourself to avoid.

This doesn’t mean Lent can’t have positive aspects as well. Perform good works, give time and money to charity, and make time for prayer and reflection. But give something up too. You’ll like having done it.

Go West Yuan Man

It looks like Saint Paul is not the only one pondering moving away from a socialist paradise hellhole. An article in today’s WSJ describes the growing trend of China’s Wealthy Moving to the U.S. and Europe:

A survey published in November found that 60% of about 960,000 Chinese people with assets over 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) were either thinking about emigrating or taking steps to do so. The U.S. was the top destination, followed by Canada, Singapore and Europe, according to the survey by the state-run Bank of China and Hurun Report, which analyzes trends among China's wealthy.

Most people cited their children's education as the main reason, followed by concerns over air quality, food safety and financial security. Another survey last year, by management-consulting firm Bain & Co. and state-run China Merchants Bank, showed similar results.

Wait a minute. You mean to tell me that the high speed trains, immense investments in infrastructure, and government with the unfettered power to do what it sees as best for the people-all long lauded by the likes of Thomas Friedman-ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be? Simply shocking news.
I for one welcome this new wave of Chinese immigrants (and their money) to our shores. If they’ve managed to achieve success in the still largely statist economic environment of China imagine what they could do here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Head East

I went to bed last night in a prosperous, liberty loving hamlet, I wake up today in a socialist hellhole.

Slight exaggeration there, but thanks to the decision of some unaccountable “judges,” I’m going from Michele Bachmann as my Congressional representative to Betty McCollum. This is roughly equivalent to buying a plane ticket for Hawaii and in midair someone in the control tower deciding Fargo would be a better spot for you instead. (Don’t get any ideas for next week, Delta Airlines!)

I moved out of St. Paul six years ago in part because I did not wish to live under the one party DFL rule. The city government of St. Paul was the primary culprit, but Betty McCollum played her shrill, divisive, tax dollar devouring part as well. And now we’re reunited, for at least the next 10 years.

On the bright side, at least it gives me something to blog about.

Dare we dream that the now hideously elongated CD4 could actually hurt McCollum’s electoral prospects? They dragged in conservative leaning areas from Washington County like Woodbury and Stillwater. And McCollum has lead the environmental obstructionist movement against the Stillwater bridge, which will not endear her to east metro voters. Will that be enough to tip the scales against this profligate career politician?

In a word, nyet.

The rigid ideological conformity of the residents of the city of St. Paul give the Democrats a colossal advantage. A Republican hasn’t won this seat since 1946. McCollum won in 2010 against a terrific candidate in Teresa Collett, and in a historically Republican year, by 25 percentage points. At best, this year maybe McCollum will eek out a 10-15 point victory.

And maybe I should start checking real estate prices a little farther east in Wisconsin. She can't follow me there, right?

Follow the Real Money

In an attempt to discredit those not on the global warming Armageddon train , documents have been leaked (and apparently forged) from the Heartland Institute, a think-tank that has long championed a skeptical approach to man-made warming. While global warming alarmists no doubt hoped that these documents would provide evidence that the Heartland Institute was being funded with Big Money from Big Oil, in reality they show just how paltry the resources of those who dare question the global warming wisdom actually are. As an editorial in today’s WSJ explained, it turns out to be a Not-So-Vast Conspiracy:

Now comes a rare glimpse inside the allegedly antiscience behemoth, with the online publication last week of documents purloined from the conservative Heartland Institute. The files appear to contain detailed financial, donor and personnel information and outline the think-tank's projects. Chicago-based Heartland says one of the documents is fake and warns that others may have been altered.

Given the coverage the story has generated, you'd think some vast conspiracy had been uncovered. Heartland is, according to the Associated Press, "one of the loudest voices denying human-caused global warming, hosting the largest international scientific conference of skeptics on climate change." The Vancouver Sun reports that it is "heavily funded by right-wing industrialist Charles Koch," while the Virginian-Pilot dubs it "the ideological center of the denial movement."

So how flush is Heartland? The documents show the group is expecting revenues of $7.7 million this year, mostly from private donations and grants. Mr. Koch's "heavy" funding came to $25,000 in 2011, though the Heartland "Fundraising Plan" has it hoping for an increase in 2012. To put those numbers in not-for-profit perspective, last year the Natural Resources Defense Council reported $95.4 million in operating revenues, while the World Wildlife Fund took in $238.5 million.

Press coverage has focused in particular on Heartland's plans to produce and distribute "educational material suitable for K-12 students on global warming that isn't alarmist or overtly political." Heartland is budgeting $200,000 this year for the effort, which in the past has "had only limited success," per one of the documents. Little wonder if teachers aren't returning Heartland's calls: Last year the World Wildlife Fund spent $68.5 million on "public education" alone.

As for "the largest international scientific conference of skeptics," Heartland will, according to the documents, spend all of $388,000 this year on the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change. That's against the $6.5 million that the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change costs Western taxpayers annually, and the $2.6 billion the White House wants to spend next year on research into "the global changes that have resulted primarily from global over-dependence on fossil fuels."

Considering the billions of dollars of “excessive profits” that the oil companies have been making in recent years, they’ve been downright stingy when it comes to paying off people to deny anthropogenic global warming. Even one of the nefarious Koch bros is only good for 25 grand.

Meanwhile, no evidence of trying to falsify or hide data. This whole global warming denial thing really is about the worst conspiracy ever.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Wanting Doesn't Make It A Right

David French on ‘Rights’ and False Equivalencies at The Corner:

Pop quiz: Name the legal sources of the key “rights” in play in the HHS controversy. Religious employers are asserting rights of conscience and free exercise of religion grounded in the First Amendment, arguably the single-most important constitutional provision protecting individual liberty from state power. Competing against this 200-year-old foundational legal principle is . . . an executive branch regulation (not even a statute) establishing a “right” that has never before existed in the history of the Republic — a “right to contraception coverage at no additional cost” (to quote a recent DNC video).

And this is even a debate?

Sadly it is — largely because our ever-expanding welfare state inevitably leads to an ever-shrinking Constitution. After all, when the state has lofty goals for establishing “social justice” and micro-managing citizens’ health, individual liberty is an annoying impediment. “Rights” language is ubiquitous in our culture. It’s not enough to state a desire for a particular outcome (and I can certainly understand why anyone would want access to “free” drugs — contraceptive or otherwise), but now desires are rephrased as “rights.” And once rephrased, the debate changes. Serious-looking scholars start discussing “competing interests” and “balancing tests,” while citizens who (understandably) don’t study case law grow confused.

All sides have grown quite adept at using rights language to describe their desires. I’m reminded of the quote in the Incredibles, “When everyone is super, no one will be.” When everything is a right...nothing is.

Working an "Incredibles" ref into a post on religious freedom, the Constitution, and rights? Outstanding.

This Job Would Be Great If It Weren't For the Voters

Scott Johnson says that there good reason that many Republicans have not backed Romney and instead continue to explore alternatives:

The inclination of Republican primary voters and caucus goers to support Gingrich or Santorum is not the sign of a character flaw or mental defect on their part. It is a sign that Romney is a problematic candidate for the party whose standard bearer he seeks to be. Decrying the failure of Republican voters for failing to fall in line behind him seems to me something less than a winning argument.

Note to Romney supporters: at this point in the campaign, launching attacks against those who have so far refused to jump on the bandwagon for your candidate is not a good idea. It will hurt Romney and the lessen the liklihood that Republicans will be able to unify after the primaries to defeat President Obama. Instead of blaming conservatives for not taking to Romney, you should be asking why Romney has thus far failed to seal the deal. There are still things Romney could do to at least cause conservatives to come around (however reluctantly) to accept him as the nominee. There have been no shortage of such suggestions made by Romney supporters among the right wing punditry, yet the campaign seems curiously reluctant to embrace any of them. Until that changes, don't blame for not settling for an inferior product.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Culture of Death

To me, the most striking aspect of the Obama administration’s plan to force coverage of contraception and abortifacient drugs on all health insurance plans has been its underlying assumption. That is, having children is something the government should be in the business of actively suppressing. Along with the Left’s vigorous advocacy of abortion, this reveals the belief that children are ultimately a burden on both individuals and society at large. The fewer of them, the better for us the rest of us.

This is utter madness, of course. No society has ever survived, let alone prospered, by eliminating it’s future generations. It is contrary to any conventional morality. As Mark Steyn has been pointing out for years, this ‘live for today, don’t think about tomorrow’ attitude is contrary to the principles of basic economics. And it’s contrary to an elemental survival instinct.

Yet those advocating this belief have yet to pay a political price for it. In fact, Obama’s approval ratings have increased since this controversy reared its gruesome head, evidence that this has become the dominant thinking of our culture. A sobering, depressing realization.

But we can’t say we weren’t given proper warning. It was nearly seventeen years ago that Pope John Paul II released his Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). This was the encyclical that introduced the term “the culture of death”to describe the direction in which the world was headed. What was a prescient prediction then now describes our reality:

This reality is characterized by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a veritable "culture of death". This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of society excessively concerned with efficiency. Looking at the situation from this point of view, it is possible to speak in a certain sense of a war of the powerful against the weak: a life which would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another. A person who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favoured tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated. In this way a kind of "conspiracy against life" is unleashed.

Or, to put it in other words, those of Barack Obama:

A couple more excerpts from the Introduction to the Evangelium Vitae:

… a new cultural climate is developing and taking hold, which gives crimes against life a new and-if possible-even more sinister character, giving rise to further grave concern: broad sectors of public opinion justify certain crimes against life in the name of the rights of individual freedom, and on this basis they claim not only exemption from punishment but even authorization by the State, so that these things can be done with total freedom and indeed with the free assistance of health-care systems.

The end result of this is tragic: not only is the fact of the destruction of so many human lives still to be born or in their final stage extremely grave and disturbing, but no less grave and disturbing is the fact that conscience itself, darkened as it were by such widespread conditioning, is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what concerns the basic value of human life.

Does that sound like any politicians or institutions that you know of?

The issue of contraception is also directly addressed, and anyone wishing to understand just what it is that Rick Santorum is attempting to advocate for, this is the source document:

It is true that in many cases contraception and even abortion are practised under the pressure of real- life difficulties, which nonetheless can never exonerate from striving to observe God's law fully. Still, in very many other instances such practices are rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfilment. The life which could result from a sexual encounter thus becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception.

The Evangelium Vitae is an extensive and sometimes difficult document, but brilliant, bracing stuff, especially for those who might wrongly believe there is no hope for our future.

Beer of the Week (Vol. CXXXV)

A special vacation edition of the Beer of the Week sponsored as always by the laid back folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help you find the whiskey, wine, and beer you need to relax and rest in style.

After having spent the past ten days in Miami, I’m happy to report that the ability to procure craft beers in the area has improved dramatically. It used to be difficult to find anything but easy drinking lagers and pilsners around these parts. Imported beers from Europe and Latin American took up most of the space on store shelves and the limited selection of regional beers were almost always bland and inoffensive. You could get some beers that weren’t available in Minnesota such as Yuengling Traditional Lager (from Pennsylvania), but that hardly satisfied the craft craving. Yuengling is a decent choice if nothing else is available, yet it reminds me of Grain Belt in being just a notch above the macro brews.

Things are much better these days. A visit to a local liquor warehouse offered a treasure trove of craft beers, many that are not available in Minnesota. This included various brewers from up and down the East Coast including but not limited to:

Cisco (Massachusetts)
Dogfish Head (Delaware)
Harpoon (Massachusetts)
Heavy Seas (Maryland)
Red Brick (Georgia)
Sea Dog (Maine)
Smuttynose (New Hampshire)
Stoudt’s (Pennsylvania)
Terrapin (Georgia)

There are also more Florida-brewed offerings available than in the past including tasty beers from Holy Mackerel, Inlet, and Cigar City. The latter brewer is located in Tampa Bay and has an interesting back story:

Cigar City Brewing was founded with two goals in mind. The first to make the world's best beer and the second to share with people near and far the fascinating culture and heritage of the Cigar City of Tampa.

From its past as the world's largest cigar producer to its Latin roots and the many other diverse peoples that call it home, Tampa draws on many sources to develop its unique culture.

At CCB we are fascinated by Tampa's history and suspect you will be too.

Even though this beer is not currently available in Minnesota, our special edition beer of the week is Maduro Brown Ale from Cigar City Brewing:

Maduro is a Northern English-style brown ale with some American affectations. Maduro is higher in alcohol than the common English brown ale and features flaked oats in the malt bill which imparts a silky body and works to mesh the roasted, toasted and chocolate components together in Maduro's complex malt profile. The end result is a remarkably full-flavored yet approachable and sessionable brown ale that pairs well with mild to medium cigars.

12oz brown bottle. Label has various shades of brown and a design that very much looks like a cigar label.

STYLE: Brown Ale


COLOR (0-2): Ruby brown. 2

AROMA (0-2): Sweet toasty malts with a hint of smoke. 2

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

TASTE (0-5): Rich malty flavors up front with a clean bitter finish. Like the smell, it features flavors of coffee, toffee, chocolate, and smoke. Smooth mouthfeel with a medium body. Decently drinkable. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Roasted, smoky flavor lingers pleasantly. 2

OVERALL (0-6): I’m not much of a cigar guy, but if I were I definitely could see this beer pairing nicely with a quality stogie. The flavors are rich, elegant, and complex. Yet the beer isn’t overly heavy and proves refreshing and quaffable. It went down well on temperate Miami nights and I think it would work equally well in less tropical Minnesota. If you get down to the Sunshine State (spring training starts soon) be sure to get your mitts on a Cigar City Maduro Brown Ale. You won’t be disappointed. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 16

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Talking Molehills Instead of Mountains

Tim from Colorado e-mails with a budget breakdown:

I don’t know if you saw this the other night on Bill O’Reilly’s show. It was presented by John Stossel, and he got the information from the Gainesville Tea Party website.

Let’s say a family has the following financial statement:

Last Year’s Income: $21,700

Last Year’s Expenses: $$38,200

New Debt on Credit Cards: $16,500

Outstanding Balances on All Credit Cards: $142,710

The family reviews this information and decides that their annual expenses must be cut in order to get their financial picture in better shape.

They decide to cut their ANNUAL expenses by...$385. Not $385 per month, not $385 per week; $385 per YEAR. Insane, right? They’ll never achieve financial security. That's only 1% of their expenses.

If you add eight zeroes to each of those figures above, you would have the financial breakdown of our government’s current budget and income. The problem is that people hear the word “trillion” or “billion” and don’t really understand how much money that is comparatively. So when a politician emerges from one of their budget meetings and grandly announces that all is right, that they have figured out a way to save the country because they’re going to slash $38.5 billion dollars in spending, everyone thinks “Wow, that’s a lot of money.” Except that it really isn’t when we look at the total budget; we’re still circling around the drain.

We all need to pay attention to politician's little tricks in the way they phrase their words and call them on it; when they talk about budget cuts, they're actually talking about reducing the amount of a planned increase in spending, and not an actual hard cut to the previous year's budget.

At this point there are no sacred cows in the federal budget. I would bet a dollar to a donut that most federal departments and agencies could find a way to get by with 5% less than they received last year. And then next year we cut another hard 5%, and then step back and see where we're at for the third year.

The liberals in Congress think we can tax our way out of this mess. As many have pointed out, you could confiscate 100% of the income from the upper income-earners in this country and not put a dent in the deficit, let alone operate the country for a year. Federal revenues are finite, the government's ability to spend is not finite.

Forgive me if I remain dubious that anybody in this year's crop of White House candidates is going to do more than tinker on the margins of the federal budget. There are people in leadership positions in this country that know what needs to be done, but they are not running for president, and that's most disappointing. It looks to me as if once again, we're faced with throwing a GOP candidate out there that is a compromise of who we'd really get behind.

That's a sadly accurate, but true evaluation of where we're at.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Down With the Gardeners

David Mills on why the ideas behind homeschooling should (and used to) appeal to liberals in an article in the January edition of First Things:

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 children.

And it’s not an argument for the public school monopoly. For one thing, these failures and problems describe the public schools as well, especially if you think some of the ideological commitments that animate a great deal of the educational establishment is dangerous in themselves. I was taught, for example, the Enlightenment mythology of the dark, anti-intellectual ages dominated by the Church and the growth of human knowledge and freedom brought by those who rejected religion and discovered science. Which is, simply as an historical matter, wrong, and inculcates a religious commitment that is far from neutral.

In any event, the widespread presumption against homeschooling that I have encountered among self-styled liberals is, to someone like me, a very strange reversal. Educating your own children is an act of the kind of freedom I was taught our country provided, a freedom of self-determination that is 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 customize 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 an expression of liberalism and liberality in public affairs. It is one way of planting some of those thousand flowers.

What I learned then, I believe strongly now: that if mass production is bad in the creation of bread or cheese, it is much worse for the formation of vulnerable human beings. The work shuld be entrusted only to the craftsman who loves his materials and will have his name on the thing he creates.

As the twig is bent. I can’t help but think that homeschooling’s unctuous critics have betrayed the American vision of freedom with which I grew up, and rationalized the extension of social control in a way my peers and I learned to see and resist. It can only do our nation good to have parents so invested in their children’s education, and it certainly won’t hurt the cause of liberty to have the monopoly of the public schools so concretely challenged. Down with the gardeners. Let the flowers bloom.

The Rewards of Wrasslin'

The Importance of Roughhousing With Your Kids:

Unfortunately, in recent years, horseplay has gotten a bad rap. Parents, concerned about safety and preventing ADHD, limit the amount of rambunctious play their kids take part in. At least 40% of US school districts have eliminated or are considering eliminating recess, because teachers need more time to cram kids’ heads full of information for standardized tests, because they’re afraid of children getting hurt and the school being held liable, and even because play can apparently encourage violent behavior; according to a principal that banned recess at her elementary school in Cheyenne, a game of tag “progresses easily into slapping and hitting and pushing instead of just touching.”

But recent research has shown that roughhousing serves an evolutionary purpose and actually provides a myriad of benefits for our progeny. In their book The Art of Roughhousing, Anthony DeBenedet and Larry Cohen highlight a few of these benefits and the research behind them. Instead of teaching kids to be violent and impulsive, DeBenedet and Cohen boldly claim that roughhousing “makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, lovable and likable, ethical, physically fit, and joyful.” In short, roughhousing makes your kid awesome.

And it's a lot of fun.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It's More Than The Economy, Stupid

David Brooks on The Materialist Fallacy:

Murray neglects this research in his book. Meanwhile, his left-wing critics in the blogosphere have reverted to crude 1970s economic determinism: It’s all the fault of lost jobs. People who talk about behavior are blaming the victim. Anybody who talks about social norms is really saying that the poor are lazy.

Liberal economists haven’t silenced conservatives, but they have completely eclipsed liberal sociologists and liberal psychologists. Even noneconomist commentators reduce the rich texture of how disadvantage is actually lived to a crude materialism that has little to do with reality.

I don’t care how many factory jobs have been lost, it still doesn’t make sense to drop out of high school. The influences that lead so many to do so are much deeper and more complicated than anything that can be grasped in an economic model or populist slogan.

This economic determinism would be bad enough if it was just making public debate dumber. But the amputation of sociologic, psychological and cognitive considerations makes good policy impossible.

The American social fabric is now so depleted that even if manufacturing jobs miraculously came back we still would not be producing enough stable, skilled workers to fill them. It’s not enough just to have economic growth policies. The country also needs to rebuild orderly communities.

This requires bourgeois paternalism: Building organizations and structures that induce people to behave responsibly rather than irresponsibly and, yes, sometimes using government to do so.

Social repair requires sociological thinking. The depressing lesson of the last few weeks is that the public debate is dominated by people who stopped thinking in 1975.

Which explains why their pat answers to almost any problem facing the country is more money and more programs, despite the facts that we have forty-plus years of evidence that such approaches have done nothing to halt and verly likely contributed to the increasing divide in American society.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Saint Paul Takes a Dive

WSJ editorial on how the City of St. Paul caved when it counted:

The prospect of losing this political hammer against banks sent the feds scrambling to stop the St. Paul case. Justice, HUD and former Vice President and Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale counseled the city, which is run by Democrats, against pursuing the case.

St. Paul released a statement Friday saying it "likely would have won" at the Supreme Court but that "such a result could completely eliminate 'disparate impact' civil rights enforcement, including under the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. This would undercut important and necessary civil rights cases throughout the nation. The risk of such an unfortunate outcome is the primary reason the city has asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the petition."

To sum up: St. Paul has spent taxpayer money for almost a decade fighting a case to force slumlords to provide the poor—including minorities—with better housing. But just as it was on the cusp of what it claims would have been a victory at the Supreme Court, the city withdrew its appeal under pressure from the Obama Administration and liberals who feared they might lose a weapon of dubious legality that they want to use to tell banks how and to whom to lend.

It's enough to recall the old joke that liberals love the poor in theory—it's the actual poor they have a problem with.

Coming Home to Roost

Paul Rahe on American Catholicism’s Pact With the Devil:

Perhaps, however, Barack Obama has shaken some members of the hierarchy from their dogmatic slumber. Perhaps, a few of them – or among younger priests some of their likely successors – have begun to recognize the logic inherent in the development of the administrative entitlements state. The proponents of Obamacare, with some consistency, pointed to Canada and to France as models. As anyone who has attended mass in Montreal or Paris can testify, the Church in both of these places is filled with empty pews. There is, in fact, not a single country in the social democratic sphere where either the Catholic Church or a Protestant Church is anything but moribund. This is by no means fortuitous. When entitlements stand in for charity and the Social Gospel is preached in place of the Word of God, heaven on earth becomes the end, and Christianity goes by the boards.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

HWX, February 2012

The Hinderaker-Ward Experience (HWX) returns to Ricochet after a rare and well-deserved break to bring you THE FINEST in conservative podcast commentary. That is, as long as you’re excluding the main Ricochet podcast, Radio Free Delingpole, Law Talk with Epstein and Yoo, Left Coast/Right Coast, the Young Guns, and Dave Carter’s View from the Cab, and Mr. Sudsy’s Beer Bong Challenge (coming soon!). That still makes HWX top 10 podcasting, and you can’t argue with that.

John Hinderaker and I break down the news from chilly Minnesota. And at times it sounds like just plain breaking down. Both of us are rather glum about the current state of the GOP Presidential sweepstakes and the prospects of anyone defeating Obama. This leads to some spirited debate about the cause of the problem with this year’s primary selection process, and it all ends on a unified, positive note with some gratuitous shots at Democrats.

Later, a discussion of the ObamaCare dictates on birth control for the Catholic Church. Our position? We’re against it! I know, a controversial stance, but someone had to speak truth to power. This leads into a flock of Loons of Week, as Democrat members of the US Senate took to open microphones to condemn the real villain in this drama, you guessed it, right wing extremists.

Finally, they wrap things up with a double shot of This Week in Gate Keeping. First, Chris Matthews failing his geography final during a live interview with the distinguished Senator from South North Dakota. Then, an illustration of how your tax dollars are being used at American Public Media. Or, more accurately, how they’re not being used, for such things as fact checking and editorial discretion.

Many ways to hear the podcast, including over on the mothership at Ricochet. You can be sure to never miss an episode, by subscribing via iTunes or Feedburner. Or just use the player embedded below or in the upper right hand corner of this web site. If all of these fail, send me an email and I'll come to your house and read from the written transcript.

What's It All About?

While reading up on the HHS Mandate, I came across this amazing interview with Walker Percy on the meaning of life:

Q: Are you a dogmatic Catholic or an open-minded Catholic?

A: I don’t know what that means . . . . Do you mean do I believe the dogma that the Catholic Church proposes for belief?

Q: Yes.

A: Yes.

Q: How is such a belief possible in this day and age?

A: What else is there?

Q: What do you mean, what else is there? There is humanism, atheism, agnosticism, Marxism, behaviorism, materialism, Buddhism, Muhammadanism, Sufism, astrology, occultism, theosophy.

A: That’s what I mean.

Q: I don’t understand. Would you exclude, for example, scientific humanism as a rational and honorable alternative?

A: Yes.

Q: Why?

A: It’s not good enough.

Q: Why not?

A: This life is too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then to be asked what you make of it and have to answer “Scientific humanism.” That won’t do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight, i.e., God. In fact I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less.

Percy spoke at my commencement ceremony as he received the Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame. The Laetare Medal is given annually to an American Catholic "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the church and enriched the heritage of humanity." I'm sad to admit that I was pretty hung over that day and don't remember much of what he said. If it was anything like this interview, then I missed a lot.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Beer of the Week (Vol. CXXXIV)

Another edition of Beer of the Week sponsored as always by the enlightened folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help illuminate the wine, whiskey, and beer you need to find your way through the darkness.

There was a time not that long ago, when many people divided beer into two camps: dark and light. These classification was entirely based on color and the faulty assumption that “dark” beers had more flavor (and were stronger). The reality is that beers that are light in color can in fact be packed with flavors and carry heavy alcohol content. And some “dark” beers like Guinness, while providing plenty of taste, don’t actually punch that much of a punch. A good rule is to not judge a beer by its color.

On the subject of colors, a beer style that seems to be increasingly popular among craft brewers is American Black Ale:

Also referred to as a Black IPA (India Pale Ale) or Cascadian Dark Ale, ales of this style range from dark brown to pitch black and showcase malty and light to moderate roasty notes and are often quite hoppy generally with the use of American hops. Alcohol can range from average to high depending on if the brewery is going for a "double / imperial" version.

Our featured beer this week is just such an offering, Mountain Standard Reserve from Odell Brewing in Colorado:

As the Colorado hop growers prove they can produce world class hops, we as a Colorado Craft Brewer want to showcase what our state can offer, not only with our hand crafted beers, but also with the ingredients used in creating them. Mountain Standard, Double Black IPA, features the homegrown hops our Brewers helped pick from farms along Colorado’s western slope. MST pours committingly dark with a light tan head and a slightly roasted hoppy nose. An ephemeral bitterness, the result of combining roasted malts with an assertive American hop profile, contributes to MST’s act of balance and harmony. As the season’s darkness sets in, why shouldn’t your beer become darker too?

A four-pack of 12oz brown bottles goes for $9.99. The label is the usual high quality product from Odell with a parchment colored background with a rendering of a celestial clock.



COLOR (0-2): Deep dark black. 2

AROMA (0-2): Citrus and pine. 2

HEAD (0-2): Tan color, good volume, laces nicely. 2

TASTE (0-5): Prominent hop flavors of citrus and especially pine balanced well with roasted malt and a bit of cocoa and coffee. The heat is mostly muted. Medium-bodied with a smooth mouthfeel. Considering the high ABV, it’s actually surprisingly drinkable. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Bitter flavors linger.2

OVERALL (0-6): A really well-made and balanced beer that combines bold hop flavors with rich roasted malty goodness. The flavors blend together well and don’t overwhelm the beer. Neither does the alcohol which can be a concern with when the ABV is close to 10%. A great choice for this time of year. 5

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 17

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Priest, A Minister, and a Rabbi...

A Catholic, a Protestant, and a Jew stand united for religious freedom in today’s WSJ:

Coverage of this story has almost invariably been framed as a conflict between the federal government and the Catholic bishops. Zeroing in on the word "contraception," many commentators have taken delight in pointing to surveys about the use of contraceptives among Catholics, the message being that any infringement of religious freedom involves an idiosyncratic position that doesn't affect that many people.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Catholic Church's teaching on contraception (not to mention abortion and surgical sterilization) has been clear, consistent and public. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's decision would force Catholic institutions either to violate the moral teachings of the Catholic Church or abandon the health-care, education and social services they provide the needy. This is intolerable.

And while most evangelicals take a more permissive view of contraception, they share with Catholics the moral conviction that the taking of human life in utero, whether surgically or by abortifacient drugs, violates the basic human right to life. Evangelical nonprofits such as Prison Fellowship would therefore also have to choose between violating their consciences or paying fines that would ultimately destroy their ability to help the people they are committed to helping.

Even worse than the financial impact is the breach of faith represented by Ms. Sebelius's decision. Her notion of an "appropriate balance" between religious freedom and "increasing access" to "important preventive services" stands the First Amendment on its head.

Meanwhile, the Nihilist in Golf Pants is more sanguine about the prospects of lay Catholics recognizing the importance of the matter and responding appropriately:

I know you're skeptical of the typical Catholic reaction to the HHS mandate. I've got a few data points to consider:

- My parents attend a fairly conservative Church in Florida; their pastor told the congregation in no uncertain terms last week that they couldn't vote for Obama in good conscience. I'm sure the issue will come up again as November nears (the best part about this is it came one day after my mom accused me of exaggerating the impact of the decision).

- Two liberal Catholic Washington Post columnists, EJ Dionne and Melinda Henneberger have been critical of the decision to the point that they said it must be reversed for them to support Obama in November

- (I hesitate to mention this because it's internet hearsay but) on NDNation's political board, a well known poster who claims an ND BA and a Harvard JD and bragged all 2008 about his high place in the East Coast Obama campaign staff publicly denounced Obama, admitted that he was played for a fool and started that he won't vote for O even if he reverses his decision. Previously, he's espoused the position that a vote for Obama was completely consistent with the Catholic view of morality.

I predict a comfortable Republican victory in November.

I wish I could be so comfortable.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Keep Bailing

Tim from Colorado e-mails on the Chrysler ad kerfuffle:

The Chrysler Super Bowl ad has created a lot of talk. Some of it warranted and some of it a little silly, if you ask me. This on thearticle FoxNews website misses the major point, I think; I couldn't care less if the advertising firm that created the spot had a couple people who created stuff for Obama's campaign; it could be full of Obama relatives for all I care.

I will preface my remarks from here on by disclosing that I was born and raised in a GM town in Michigan; in my home town a Ford is a foreign car, ok? Many in my family have retired from or currently work for GM.

The part of this story that struck me was at the end of the article where Jay Carney attempts to defend the administration's decision to bail out the auto makers. Mr. Carney states that the president's decision to bail out GM and Chrysler saved 1 million jobs.

No, it didn't.

Ther bail-out smells at many levels.

GM and Chrysler weren't ever in a position where they would have been forced to close their doors. Each might have been forced into one form or another of bankruptcy; as a worst-case scenario, one or both would have been sold, but neither would have been liquidated in its entirety. Might some workers have been laid off? Sure; it's a bloated industry where union landscapers get paid $60,000+ a year to mow the grass. As it ended up, a lot of people who worked at dealerships were let go as the Obama Administration dictated that some dealerships be closed; those folks were not UAW members, so tough luck for them I guess.

Bankruptcy would have allowed each to renegociate labor contracts and retirement benefits. Built-in to the sticker price of each car produced in Detroit is a few thousand dollars to pay benefits to people who no longer work for the company. Bankruptcy would have allowed GM and Chrysler to be more competitive the minute they walked out of the bankruptcy proceedings, making them competitive stateside as well as globally. As it turned out TARP money went into the underfunded pension funds for UAW retirees. I worked for ENRON up until the end; where's my federally-backed pension?

What did happen and shouldn't have been allowed to happen was the Administration pushing an unsecured creditor, the UAW, ahead of secured creditors. What does this say to potential foreign investors? What it says is "Whatever you do, don't invest in US companies; the US Govt. may decide to overlook your secured credit and reward its political cronies first."

As a side note, the Chrysler commercial was filmed in New Orleans, not Detroit. I get that New Orleans is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, but when is the Hollywood Welfare for Louisiana going to slow down? On cable TV we have "Swamp People", "Swamp Loggers", "Cajun Pawn Stars", "Sons of Guns", ad nauseum. Couldn't the Chrysler commercial's producers throw a bone to a few Detroit neighborhoods? And if Chrysler was complicit in the decision to film the copmmercial in New Orleans, then shame on them.

If I owned a Dodge..., well, never mind, that's just crazy talk.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Down With the Ship

For the record, I stuck to my guns last night at the precinct caucuses and cast my straw poll vote for Newt Gingrich (he actually won 21% of the votes in our precinct which went 9 Paul 7 Santorum 7 Romney and 6 Gingrich). Given the way things played out in our state and Colorado and Missouri, it seems increasingly likely that the final nail has been put into the Gingrich campaign's coffin. Newt's been written off for dead before of course, but its hard to see how he possibly can recover at this stage.

While I didn't join many of my fellow Anybody But Romney travelers and support Rick Santorum, I'm encouraged that Minnesota caucus goers put him at the top of the straw poll (unbinding of course). It would have been easy to roll over and accept the inevitability of Mitt Romney. The fact that voters in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado did not shows that there are still have serious concerns about Romney's candidacy among hardcore Republicans and Romney is going to have do a much better job alleviating them than he has so far.

One thing that should be noted from last night's results in Minnesota is that it's likely that Paul and Romney support among delegates elected to the local BPOU conventions is much stronger than their showing in the straw poll. It remains to be seen whether this will matter or not in the long run, but if the race stays close and isn't concluded in the near future, it certainly could.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Love the One You're With?

Tonight’s precinct caucuses give Minnesota Republicans a chance to have a say in which candidate is best-suited to face President Obama in November. Well, not really. The results of tonight’s vote are non-binding, which means no delegates will be awarded based on them. Which is the same way it works in a certain neighboring state whose caucus attract a great deal more attention. At least we should be able to conduct an accurate and timely count of the vote.

At this point, I’m torn about which way I should vote. I followed fellow Frater Saint Paul in jumping on the Gingrich bandwagon after he appeared to be the best and most viable alternative to Romney. While I still like a lot about Newt, his viability as the non-Romney candidate has now come into serious question. While I definitely think Ron Paul and his paleo-libertarian views have a place in the Republican Party, he is simply not a serious consideration for CIC. That leaves us with Rick Santorum. While Santorum raises concerns in a number of areas, it seems like he may now be best positioned to emerge as the chief contender to Romney. Wins in Minnesota and Missouri could help his campaign regain the momentum they briefly had (and lost) after the Iowa caucus. And a late switch to Santorum wouldn’t violate the Buckley Rule: “Support the most conservative Catholic candidate who is electable.” Okay, I may have added a little corollary there.

Pondering who to support tonight also lead to the realization that when it comes to GOP presidential primary endorsements (at least the contested ones), I’ve rarely had the privilege of been able to support a candidate from start to finish.

It started way back in 1980. Believe it or not, I was actually backing George H.W. Bush at the beginning of the primary campaign. Once it became obvious that Reagan was the man of the hour, I realized the error of my ways and became a confirmed Reaganite. Keep in mind that I was all of eleven at the time.

I don’t really consider 1988 to be much of a contest as Bush was the sitting VP and natural choice.

1996 was a different matter. Early on, I was actually intrigued by the candidacy of one Lamar Alexander. Yes, that Lamar Alexander. Anyway, once Lamarmentum failed to catch hold, I reluctantly came over to support the sacrificial lamb known as Bob Dole.

In 2000, I started out as a tepid supporter of George W. Bush. The media’s infatuation with “maverick” John McCain eliminated him from consideration and although I liked Steve Forbes’ policies, I just couldn’t see him winning a national election.

Going in to 2008, I was excited about having Rudy Giuliani in the hunt. Then there was the Fred Thompson bubble. Remember Sam Brownback? Finally, I settled (again) with John McCain.

Then there were the ones who never ran like Tommy Thompson or that former South Carolina governor who I was at one point convinced would make a fine candidate for president. Sigh. I’m not sure if this history is a indictment of my judgment or that of my fellow Republicans.

One thing is certain. No matter who I decide to vote for tonight, they won’t be the one I really want.

The Ice We Skate

This year has been a trying one for those of us in the business of building and maintaining backyard rinks. The weather has been mostly uncooperative for the period of time when it’s usually possible to support decent outdoor ice here in Minnesota (sometime from early-December to mid-to-late February depending on the year). Too many warm days and far too few cold ones made it difficult to first get that initial base you need to build on and then to refreeze and enjoy the ice regularly afterward.

It wasn’t until after Christmas that I was finally able to get said base established and it’s been a struggle since then to find days when the ice was suitable for skating. The weekend before last was one of the few all winter that had two decent days ice wise and we were lucky enough to be able to get out on both of them. Yesterday, we laced ‘em up for a quick skate before the Super Bowl and considering how mild the temps have been lately, the ice was actually surprisingly decent. But overall this year, the payoff that you get from being able to play on the rink has not been up to expectations given the effort involved in setting it up.

Which is part of the bargain of course. Backyard rink builders are like farmers in that we’re at the mercy of the weather when it comes to the quality of the product that we’ll be able to deliver. At least for us, it’s just a hobby and not a livelihood. And as disappointing as the results have been this year, it’s still an experience that I’m glad to have gone through. This is my second year working on a backyard rink and the weather, and associated challenges that come with it, has been almost entirely different from the inaugural season. Cold wasn’t as much of an issue last year as trying to keep the rink clear of snow. Hopefully, dealing with those differences has helped prepare me for further unpredictable conditions in future seasons.

This year’s rink was also a bit bigger than last year’s and that expansion, while not significant, presented its own challenges. I’ve probably reached the point where any further growth in the rink’s size would require some leveling of the yard. I’d have to weigh the cost/benefits of that carefully. I have already given thought to adding boards to next year’s edition. I considered it for a while this year, but the delays brought about by the mild temps diminished my enthusiasm for that additional effort. Besides at this point, the kids don’t have much of a problem keeping the puck or tennis ball within the current confines of the rink’s short walls. But next year...

One of the pleasures of the backyard rink is the feeling of satisfaction-however fleeting it may have been this year-of putting together and then enjoying something all of your own doing. And for those of us who sit in offices and bang on keyboards or talk on telephones all day long there is also the physical element required in it and working with (and sometimes against) nature and the elements. Not the things you get to experience when you’re putting together a PowerPoint presentation. So even in a year such as this when the rewards are small, the effort is still worthwhile.

It’s almost ironic that as we approach what would normally be the beginning of the end of the outdoor ice season, the forecast for the rest of this week actually calls for weather suitable for ice making (with a high of thirteen and low of six on Friday for example). And it’s also the week where we depart for a family vacation to Florida. Upon our return home, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see such cooperative conditions again which means that the useful season for our rink probably ends this week. The kids will still have fun enough playing on the ice and breaking it apart as it melts with the coming of spring, but the skating days are over. Until next year.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Where Are All the People?

There seems to be a widespread assumption that the Obama administration’s recent assault on religious liberty and freedom of conscience will be met with widespread resistance by American Catholics. While it appears that some Catholic leaders are responding thusly, I remain skeptical that there will any kind of mass Catholic backlash against President Obama because of this. For if the laity is to become engaged in the battle in a meaningful way, the people in the pews must be shaken out of their current passivity.

Many Catholics seem all too willing to erect their own wall between church and state and like to pretend that their politics has nothing to do with the Catholic Church and vice versa. The problem is that when the government breaks through that barrier and injects itself into the affairs of the Church by attempting to force it to accept policies that violate core tenants of its beliefs, the illusion of this happy little coexistence is shattered. Well, at least it would be if the Church were more consistent and forceful in explaining exactly what is taking place and why it matters to American Catholics.

My experience may not be typical, but so far little word of this current controversy has surfaced in our parish on any given Sunday. A few months ago, there was an insert in the bulletin that touched on it. Since then, nothing. No homilies, no presentations, no mention in the weekly bulletin. The only thing related to politics that has merited attention has been on the marriage front, with updates on the Minnesota Marriage Amendment appearing in the last few bulletins. But nothing on the Obamacare rules which are a direct threat to the freedom of the Catholic Church to exercise its religious beliefs.

In order for there to be action, there needs to be a call for it first. I fear that too many Catholic leaders are still reluctant to sound it.

The Bellweather Next Door

Gary Larson on what the effort to recall Governor Walker means to Wisconsin and how it could serve as a prelude to November's national election:

Pouring untold millions in recall elections effort, state and national unions seek now to overturn the results of the last real election. Recall looms for Gov. Walker and four Republicans legislators similarly targeted for their reformist ways.

Unions seek a form of jury disqualification on a massive, statewide scale. Facts are immaterial in labor-induced wars to get their way. Unions' collective wish here in Wisconsin is to restore a pushover state government which labor can “bargain” with (a-ha!) for members' privileges, a.k.a. entitlements, with payoffs at the end to legislators falling in line with their demand.

Frequently referred to — both by union biggies and their allies in news media, as “union rights,” somehow immutable, or Heaven-sent. They are not; rather these are man-made revocable labor contracts masquerading as “rights.”

Outcomes of the recall elections will cast a shadow on national elections in November. In essence, one central issue – unrestrained government spending – dominates. And then, the $15-plus trillion dollar question will be answered: Do Americans really care about budget restraints, about shared sacrifices, about living within means, about bloated labor contracts, etc.? Or opt to continue to saddle their grandkids with massive, unsustainable debt loads?

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Beer of the Week (Vol. CXXXIII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week sponsored as always by the sporty crew at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who have the wine, whisky, and beer to make your big game Sunday most super whether your pulling for the Pats, the G-men, or are one of the millions tuning in for the sake of spectacle (and Madonna’s half time show).

We continue to focus on beers that are appropriate to the season even if this particular winter has been mostly unseasonal in these parts. Considering the foggy, damp days we’ve experienced this week, it seems like a perfect time for a Scotch Ale:

Scotch Ale is the name given to a strong ale believed to have originated in Edinburgh in the 18th century. Beers using the designation Scotch Ale are popular in the USA where most examples are brewed locally. Examples of Scotch Ale brewed in Scotland are exported to the USA, though may be available in Scotland under a different name. For example, Caledonian's Edinburgh Scotch Ale is sold from the cask in Scotland as Edinburgh Strong Ale or as Edinburgh Tattoo.

Strong Scotch Ale is also known as "Wee Heavy". Examples of beers brewed in the USA under the name Wee Heavy tend to be 7% abv and higher, while Scottish-brewed examples, such as Belhaven's Wee Heavy, can be found between 5.5% and 6.5% abv. On the other hand, Scottish brewed exceptions include Traquair House Ale which is brewed to a strength of 7.2% abv, and Traquair Jacobite Ale which is 8% abv. McEwan's Scotch Ale is also 8% abv.

As with other examples of strong Ales, such as Barley Wine, these beers tend toward sweetness and a full body, with a low hop flavour and aroma.

Historical hop levels are debated. Examples from the Caledonian brewery would have toffee notes from the caramelizing of the malt from the direct fired copper. This caramelizing of Caledonian's beers is popular in America and has led many American brewers to produce toffee sweet beers which they would label as a Scotch Ale.

This week’s beer is the first that we’ve featured from Dark Horse Brewery in Marshall, Michigan. Dark Horse seeks to lay claim to being the best brewery in the state, which is a bold boast to make considering the number of and quality of craft brewers who call Michigan home (Arcadia, Bell’s, Founder’s, New Holland, etc.). Our beer of the week is the equally bold and brash Scotty Karate Scotch Ale:

For those of you who don't know who "Scotty Karate" is... He is a local one man band who plays an amazing slurry of honky tonk influenced, punk country songs. His voice is amazing as well as his high energy shows. (Check him out @ www.scottykarate.com) So, we decided to make a beer and name it in his honor. This beer is a big, full bodied Scottish ale. It is 9.75% alc. but it is very smooth and balanced.

Retails for $8.99 for a four-pack of 12oz brown bottles. Label features a funky rendering of namesake one man band leader with purple and yellow color streaks. Based on the headgear that he’s sporting and the color scheme, this could be the official beer of the Vikings.

STYLE: Scotch Ale


COLOR (0-2): Dark copper-brown. 2

AROMA (0-2): Caramel malt with hints of alcohol. 2

HEAD (0-2): Tan color, light volume, tiny bubbles, decent lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Strong malt flavors predominate with caramel, toffee, and bread. Sweet, but not overly so. Some tangy fruit as well with a bit of a hop bite at the finish. Heavy-bodied with a smooth thick mouthfeel. You can definitely taste the heat although it’s not overwhelming. It is a beer that you’ll want to sip and savor. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Long lasting and rich. 2

OVERALL (0-6): This is a big beer with the robust flavors that you’re craving in the doldrums of winter. Yet it’s also surprisingly smooth. You’ll know that you’re drinking a beer with a ABV pushing double digits, but won’t be put off by the amped up alcohol content. This “wee heavy” comes in just right. 5

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 17

Wake Up Call?

Peggy Noonan says that while Romney's gaffe this week was serious it was nothing compared to the blunder made by President Obama. She opinines that taking on the Catholic Church is A Battle the President Can't Win;

The church is split on many things. But do Catholics in the pews want the government telling their church to contravene its beliefs? A president affronting the leadership of the church, and blithely threatening its great institutions? No, they don't want that. They will unite against that.

The smallest part of this story is political. There are 77.7 million Catholics in the United States. In 2008 they made up 27% of the electorate, about 35 million people. Mr. Obama carried the Catholic vote, 54% to 45%. They helped him win.

They won't this year. And guess where a lot of Catholics live? In the battleground states.

There was no reason to pick this fight. It reflects political incompetence on a scale so great as to make Mitt Romney's gaffes a little bitty thing.

There was nothing for the president to gain, except, perhaps, the pleasure of making a great church bow to him.

Enjoy it while you can. You have awakened a sleeping giant.

I wish I shared Noonan's conviction of a mass Catholic awakening over this. I'm afraid that it still may not be enough to jolt many Catholics out of their blissfully ignorant slumber.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Not Adding Up

Facebook Tracks Ascent of Google:

Profit margins are very similar as well. Facebook's operating-profit margins have averaged 49% the past two years. Google averaged 48% in 2004 and 2005, a level it roughly maintained until last year.

Oil Company Earnings: Reality over Rhetoric:

Industry profit margins are cyclical too. But on average, between 2006 and 2010, the largest oil companies averaged a profit margin of around 6.5%.

Dems propose Reasonable Profits Board to regulate oil company profits:

Six House Democrats, led by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), want to set up a "Reasonable Profits Board" to control gas profits.

The Democrats, worried about higher gas prices, want to set up a board that would apply a "windfall profit tax" as high as 100 percent on the sale of oil and gas, according to their legislation. The bill provides no specific guidance for how the board would determine what constitutes a reasonable profit.

Definition of reasonable by the Free Online Dictionary:

rea•son•a•ble (r z -n -b l) adj.

1. Capable of reasoning; rational: a reasonable person.

2. Governed by or being in accordance with reason or sound thinking: a reasonable solution to the problem.

3. Being within the bounds of common sense: arrive home at a reasonable hour.

4. Not excessive or extreme; fair: reasonable prices.

Board to Tears

There was an interesting piece in yesterday's WSJ on the lengths that airline travelers are going to in order to Avoid Luggage Check-In Fees (sub req):

Fights between passengers for overhead bin space are extremely rare, airlines say. But Catherine Jorgens feared mayhem was about to erupt on a Frontier Airlines flight where passengers did argue over jamming bags into already-full bins. "It was a madhouse of many people in many rows competing for sacred overhead-bin space,'' she said.

Going through security is no longer the worst part of the flying experience for Ms. Jorgens. "I think the boarding experience is the most unpleasant time for me,'' she said. Now she packs light and closes her eyes while others board, preferring not to look at the oversized bags being dragged onboard so she doesn't get upset.

"It is such a slow, tedious process,'' said Ms. Jorgens, a retiree living in Florida who travels regularly. "At what other time nowadays do you see such an endless line of people all bearing the same morose expression?''

You know, I think I would have to agree with that assessment. It used to be that light at the end of the arduous series of steps involved in air travel was when you reached the gate and were waiting to board the aircraft. Now, the battle for overhead space has introduced a new element of anxiety and stress. If you're one of those carrying luggage onboard that requires utilizing precious overhead space-as it seems more and more people are now since airlines started charging for checked luggage-you need to make sure you get on the plane before those bins are filled which they almost always are these days.

Priority boarding is one of the few perks of having elite status with an airline that really matters these days. Upgrades are getting harder and harder to come by, but being able to board the plane early at least guarantees that you’ll have open overhead bin space to stow your bag. But then you still have to sit there through the rest of the boarding process-which takes longer now that more people carry on-and listen to the inevitable wailing and gnashing of teeth when there’s no more room in the bins. It’s not exactly humanity at its finest and the misery is compounded when you have snarky flight attendants snapping at passengers who are just trying to find a place for their bag. Which has been the situation on pretty much every Delta flight I’ve been in the last few years. More bags stuffed into overhead bins also means that getting off the plane takes longer than it used. It gets ya comin' and goin'.

The worst part is that all of this pain and suffering which has been introduced into the boarding process has been inflicted because the airlines started charging to check luggage. Which is why it kills me when the flight attendants get all pissy about passengers carrying on bags. I want to scream, “It’s not their fault. It’s your company that created the problem. If you want to get mad at somebody, get mad at them and quit blaming the victim!”

I don’t have easy answers for how to fix this, but I know that there has to be a better way.