Monday, April 30, 2012

Living in Untruth

Robert Reno on Paul Ryan and the Angry Catholic Left:

Today we face an even larger problem created by the social programs once endorsed by the Catholic Church: insolvency. When Paul Ryan spoke at Georgetown last week, it’s this problem that he put front and center: “The overarching threat to our whole society today is the exploding federal debt.” He did not back off from his claim that his budget reflects Catholic social doctrine. “The Holy Father, Pope Benedict,” he reminded his audience, many of whom had signed the letter of reprimand, “has charged that governments, communities and individuals running up high debt levels are 'living at the expense of future generations' and 'living in untruth.” During the last century the leaders of the Catholic Church—and many other men and women of good will—made countless prudential judgments about how basic Christian truths should be applied to the crises then facing modern industrial societies. Some were wise and led to good policies: minimum wage laws, for example, and unemployment insurance. Others such as wage and price controls weren’t so wise.

That the results were mixed is not surprising. Policies and budgets don’t follow like conclusion from syllogisms, as the simplistic logic of the letter of reprimand implies. Instead, we need to apply ourselves to solve the problems we face as best we can.

Today we need government programs to support the poor, the elderly, the unemployed, the vulnerable. And we need programs to help young people get educated, to rebuild our infrastructure, and defend our country. In short, we need to do all the things that a good, responsible government should do in a healthy society concerned about the common good.

We can argue about how to do all this and what takes priority. However, by Paul Ryan’s reckoning—and I certainly agree with him—we face a fiscal crisis. We can’t keep doing all the things we’ve been doing the way we’ve been doing them. And so his budget proposes changes.

Are the changes necessary? Are the workable? Are they wise? These are all questions liberals can insist upon asking. But enough with the high-handed presumption that no conservative can be concerned about the poor. Paul Ryan wants us to take political responsibility for the fiscal crisis we’re facing, and responsibility is the first virtue necessary for anyone seeking to govern in accord with Catholic social doctrine.

One of the perversions of the concept of the Catholic doctrine of “social justice” that has developed over the years has been to assume that it always involves supporting government solutions (and the accompanying higher taxes to fund them) to the problems facing the least and the lost. Instead of engaging in debate about which means may best achieve the goal of helping those in need, the religious left has instead sought to smear conservatives by claiming that we don’t support the same ends as they do.

Paul Ryan is forthrightly addressing the fallacy behind this smear and forcing the issue behind simplistic name calling by presenting the facts of the dilemma that we now face. We all want to take care of the poor, sick, and elderly of society and ensure that their basic needs are met. But we have limited resources available to do that and we can no longer afford to fund the “solutions” that we have tried in the past which more often than not have involved throwing more government and more money at the problem. Given these uncomfortable realities, which path should we take going forward? You can disagree with Ryan (and other conservatives) about whether the direction he espouses is the right one, but please stop pretending that he doesn’t share the same concerns for the poor that those harrumphing about “social justice” claim to.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Beer of the Week (Vol. CXLIV)

Another edition of Beer of the Week sponsored as always by the super staff at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who the powers to help you find the wine, whiskey, and beer to save the day.

Among local brewers that have emerged in the last decade, one of my favorites is Rush River Brewing Company:

Rush River Brewing Company in River Falls, WI provides locally brewed ales throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota. Owner/Brewers Nick Anderson and Dan Chang started the company in 2004 with the help of a third partner, Robbie Stair after relocating to Minneapolis from Seattle. Robbie owned a farm in scenic Maiden Rock, WI just above the confluence of the Rush River and Lake Pepin. After converting a pole barn into a fully functioning brewery, the trio produced a limited quantity of draft-only beers while steadily building a reputation for brewing high quality ales. After two and a half years of growth, it became evident that bottled beer was the next move to be made. Luckily, the town of River Falls, WI came to the table with an offer to build a custom building for a brand new brewery. In 2007, the new facility opened its doors with the addition of a refurbished bottling line, and additional fermenters. The new Rush River brewery was now poised to increase production and distributorship. We now have ten distributors in two states and produce nine brands including seasonals. Our small size still allows us to experiment with new styles, while the larger capacity for brewing and storage keep our regular brands flowing out the door.

We produce only unfiltered and unpasteurized ales. This more traditional method of brewing means that we need to stay local to keep our product at peak freshness. Without the filtering of our beer, which strips out the yeast and valuable flavor profiles, it is necessary to keep our products cool at all times. We don’t stabilize our beers with pasteurization so our ales are a fresh, natural product and we sell only locally to keep our flavor profiles intact. Each bottle and keg will have residual amounts of brewers yeast and proteins in the beer oftentimes giving it a slightly cloudy appearance in the glass. It also contributes to a heartier mouthfeel which is characteristic of a naturally brewed beer. Our brands are full flavored and stand up very well both in cooking and pairing with food. Our goal is to remain at the forefront of small batch, locally brewed ales. We brew for locals only concentrating on consistency of product and innovation of ingredients. We hope you try all of our styles, and enjoy them responsibly.

My first experience with Rush River was enjoying one of their Unforgiven Amber Ales on tap at Figlio’s in Uptown. It was obvious from the get go that Rush River was committed to producing high quality beers that would challenge your taste buds. Since that time, I’ve had the pleasure of quaffing most of their regular and seasonal offerings and haven’t been disappointed yet.

Beers from Rush River only became available at Glen Lake Wine and Spirits last year and so I haven’t yet had a chance to feature one as the Beer of the Week. That changes today with a review of their spring seasonal Über Alt:

Our Alt is a much stronger version of the traditional Dusseldorf Altbiers. An ancient style from the Rhineland, Altbiers are ales that were virtually wiped out by German lagers in the 1800’s. We use plenty of European hops and German pilsner malts to brew a remarkably clean beer. We then rest it in the cooler for two months to achieve the mellow finish that is the Überalt’s trademark.

Alt beers are an unappreciated style here in the United States and they can be hard to come by. The fact that a top notch brewer like Rush River produces an alt (and an uber one at that) is reason enough for cheer.

$10.99 for a six-pack. The label follows the standard Rush River design with a baby blue and maron color combo. There’s also an umlauted U and Germanic looking eagle to represent the style.



COLOR (0-2): Copper brown and well-clouded. 2

AROMA (0-2): Malty and somewhat peaty. 2

HEAD (0-2): Bright white color, good volume, laces glass nicely. 2

TASTE (0-5): Toasted malts with caramel and nuts. Very smooth and creamy mouthfeel. Clean and dry finish. Light to medium bodied. The heat is almost completely hidden and it’s quite drinkable. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Lingers pleasantly. 2

OVERALL (0-6): Another excellent beer from Rush River. It has all the unique qualities that make alt beers delicious and refreshing taken to another level. It goes down surprisingly easy considering the complex flavors and alcohol content. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 16

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Forever Indebted to You

Walter Russell Mead on the Bipartisan War on the Young:

Romney appears to be following suit, matching Obama’s calls for Congress to freeze interest rate increases for student loans. And Senate Republicans agree: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voiced support for the extension, although he took issue with Democratic plans to pay for the bill through higher taxes on businesses. For all the talk of unprecedented political polarization, we may finally have found an issue on which both sides agree.

Unfortunately, both sides get incompletes. Today’s students need more than cheap student loans. Lower tuition and better job prospects are the two things today’s students need most. A big fat federal program to lower interest on student loans will have the opposite effect: removing incentives for colleges to lower tuition while encouraging students to go into more debt to finance degree programs that are increasingly divorced from practical application in the job market.

This is perhaps the greatest irony. In their attempts to court the youth vote ahead of the election, both parties are letting down the young, sacrificing the needs of future generations for short-term political gain. But since that’s a pretty good description of the approach our political establishment brings to almost every question that comes up — why be surprised?

I see a couple of additional ironies here. The first is that while President Obama harps about how unfair it is to saddle kids with student loan debt, he's demonstrated that he has few qualms about hanging trillions of dollars of additional national debt around their necks. The second is that so many people fail to understand the connection between increased government subsidies of student loans and rising costs for college. The irony is that the more student loan support the government provides, the more the colleges can continue to raise tuition. This is the vicious cycle we’ve been stuck in for some time and those who think that government subsidized student loans somehow make college cheaper are delusional.

Cracks in the Veneer

There were a couple of darkly dispiriting pieces in last week’s WSJ on cultural decline in the West. The first, by Theodore Dalrymple, was called The Ugly Brutishness of Modern Britain

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, in England, come—obscenities. No one at the bus stop dared say, much less do, anything. For increasingly, the English are a people who know neither inner nor outer restraint. They turn to aggression, if not to violence, the moment they are thwarted, even in trifles. And those who are neither aggressive nor violent are by no means sure that the law will take their side in the event of a fracas. It is better, or easier, for them to pretend not to notice anything, even if it means living in constant fear.

Under the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that, according to a survey recently conducted by Lloyds Bank, a fifth of all people with assets of more than $640,000 are thinking of leaving the country. Personally I am surprised it is so few. Other surveys have shown that at least 50% of the population wants to leave, in the main to flee the other 50% of the population.

It is difficult to overstate the deleterious effect on the quality of life in modern Britain of incivility and bad behavior. One small manifestation is the littering of the country. No hedgerow, even in the most beautiful countryside, is without its discarded plastic bottles of soft drinks and wrappings of take-away food. In the matter of litter, the British are now by far the dirtiest people in the Western world, a sign of their unsocial mindset.

The second, by Peggy Noonan, hit closer to home as she weighed in on America's Crisis of Character:

In isolation, these stories may sound like the usual sins and scandals, but in the aggregate they seem like something more disturbing, more laden with implication, don't they? And again, these are only from the past week.
The leveling or deterioration of public behavior has got to be worrying people who have enough years on them to judge with some perspective.

Something seems to be going terribly wrong.

Maybe we have to stop and think about this.

When conservatives warn about the decline of Western Civilization, these examples of an unraveling of societal bonds and shrinking standards of public conduct are as much of a concern as the waning influences in economic and military matters. This hollowing out of the cultural core come about for a variety of reasons, chief among them a rise in secular and trans-national values (especially in Europe). People have been taught that no culture is better than any other and that there is nothing special or worth preserving among the traditional foundations of the West (church and family especially). Behaviors that once would have been discouraged by societal consensus are now tolerated and in some cases subsidized by the state. The only judgment that is now allowed is that we have no right to judge anyone.

The only hope of stemming or maybe more pessimistically managing this decline is through institutions that cling to the traditional values and ethics that once supported a societal consensus on what was right and wrong. You might find still find these values in businesses, although many have already succumbed to the rot of relativity. You would hard pressed to find them in most government institutions, with the exception of the military and perhaps police, fire, and other emergency responders. You will find them in the churches and synagogues, although to varying extents depending on how far they’ve strayed down the post-modern path. And, as mentioned previously, you will still them displayed, again perhaps in a somewhat diluted manner, in civic organizations like the Boy Scouts.

Our eldest son had his first Cub Scout camp out last Saturday. The weather was lousy. It was cold and rainy most of the time. But the boys had fun and generally conducted themselves well. And through activities such as raising the flag they learned about things like duty, respect, and reverence. On Saturday, as the rain pelted down, we had a ceremony to retire two American flags. This involved saying the Pledge of Allegiance, reciting a patriotic poem, and a prayer before the flags were solemnly lowered into the fire. One of these flags had flown over the Marine base at Da Nang during the Vietnam War which added an extra touch of poignancy to the event.

So despite all the clouds of despair and gloom on the horizon, there are still glimmers of hope. You just have to look a little harder to find them.

The Sea Was Angry That Day My Friends

Whale found dead in Wash. had swallowed golf ball:

SEATTLE (AP) - A gray whale found dead in Washington state's Puget Sound had been feeding on shrimp and also had some debris, including a golf ball, in its stomach, but scientists don't know what killed the animal. The stomach examination Monday found the shrimp, woody debris, algae, pieces of rope and plastic, the golf ball and some flat spongy material, NOAA Fisheries said.

The Seinfeld episode "The Marine Biologist"

George: I got about fifty-feet out and then suddenly the great beast appeared before me. I tell ya he was ten stories high if he was a foot. As if sensing my presence he gave out a big bellow. I said, "Easy big fella!" And then as I watched him struggling I realized something was obstructing his breathing. From where I was standing I could see directly into the eye of the great fish!

Jerry: Mammal.

George: Whatever.

Kramer: Well, what did you do next?

George: Then from out of nowhere a huge title wave lifted, tossed like a cork and I found myself on top of him face to face with the blow-hole. I could barely see from all of the waves crashing down on top of me but I knew something was there so I reached my hand and pulled out the obstruction!

(George pulls out of the inside pocket a golf ball)

(Jerry and George just stare at Kramer)

Kramer: What is that a Titleist? A hole in one eh.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

To Live and Die With L.A.

Bob from Michigan e-mails:

The comments about California made me think of the time machine trip I wanted to take when I was in my 20's. I always thought that being in pre-war southern California or immediately afterwards would have been a kick. What a place to be!! In addition, don't know if you've ever read Jack Cashill's “What's the Matter with California,” but he cites 1969 as the year in which the ultimate decline of the Golden State became inevitable. Some interesting political figures were around, too: Sam Yorty, Jesse Unruh, William Parker, Ronald Reagan. What a cesspool it has become.

Post-war California would have been quite an experience. The fusion of modern design, the cocktail culture, and West Coast jazz that emerged during that time in that place created a wonderful and uniquely American setting.

Now for the important stuff. Yes, the hated Wings are gone, but more importantly, those whining turds from Pittsburgh are also defunct. We must point out that an Ottawa defeat will remove a final Canadian presence and its inherent hockey jingoism from the mix. Screw Don Cherry. Anyway, from my old fart perspective of having vivid memories of eight Cup winners, I'm leaning toward Nashville. Defense, goaltending, and a very underrated coach in Barry Trotz being the difference.

May your region become so successful that there will be some reason to develop an antipathy for your teams.

I have to concur with Robert here. While the Western Conference playoffs have lacked the drama that we’ve seen in the East, for the most part the right teams have emerged. I’m bored with Detroit and San Jose and am thrilled to have emerging teams like the Blues and Preds moving on to round two. And even better, the hated Canucks have been dispatched in rapid fashion by the Kings. The only disappointment in the West is that the BlackHawks have been ousted by the Coyotes. In the absence of a local team to cheer for (at least in the playoffs), I’ve become something of a Hawks fan in the last few years. No offense Phoenix, but your team is not long for your parts anyway so even if they make a run this year any joy will be short-lived.

I think I’ll now adopt the Kings as my new favorite squad. They earned my gratitude for their elimination of Vancouver and they’ve got a defenseman with a name I can relate to.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Blast From the Past

There was a front page article in the “Review” section of Saturday’s WSJ called Rethinking the War on Drugs (sub req):

Prohibition and legalization aren't our only choices when it comes to drugs. Proven programs can greatly reduce the harm caused by hard-core users—and reduce our prison population, too.

The subject didn’t elicit any real interest in me and I surely would have completely passed it by had I not noticed one of the authors who penned it.


Dr. Kleiman is professor of public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Dr. Caulkins is Stever Professor of Operations Research and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. Dr. Hawken is associate professor of public policy at Pepperdine University. They are co-authors of "Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know."

Wait just a minute. Now while I know three, personally, professors named Mark Kleiman, I only know one who also includes those two middle initials. That had to be the same Mark A.R. Kleiman. You know, THAT Mark A.R. Kleiman:

Looks like Fraters today is going to be devoted to the settling of blood feuds. So let me throw down with one more. There’s a certain professor at UCLA who once called me “deservedly obscure” and “ignorant.” And get this - I never even took one of his classes! (There are dozens of University of Minnesota professors who can much more plausibly make those claims.)

Instead, the liberally bearded scholar-blogger, known primarily for his use of two middle initials, Mark A.R. Kleiman, was attacking my blogging as an example of conservative media bias. Actually he climbed down from his ivory tower only to use me as the instrument with which he could attempt to bludgeon his real target, Instapundit.

Long-time readers of Fraters may recognize the preceding words as being those of Saint Paul which he posted way back in aught-three.

The magic of the internet allows us to go back even further and find the original post from Mark A.R. Kleiman which was called How it works:

Did you ever wonder how it comes to be that anyone, after the 2000 and 2002 campaigns, still believes in the fairytale about liberal bias in the mass media? Well, here’s a tiny example.

Glenn Reynolds links to a post on a deservedly obscure blog called Fraters Libertas.

All these years later and it’s still one of my favorites. We used Kleiman’s quote on the masthead for some time and it has aged well. And it is hard to believe there are still some among us who believe in the “fairytale about liberal media bias” after the 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 campaigns when the media’s obvious conservative bent was so manifest.

It’s good to see that Professor Kleiman is still out there pushing his public policy prescriptions for society and no doubt indoctrinating a whole new generation of students at UCLA to steer clear of deservedly obscure blogs. And he's still as facially hirsute as ever.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Going Down With Cali?

Excellent interview in today's WSJ with Joel Kotkin on The Great California Exodus:

Mr. Kotkin also notes that demographic changes are playing a role. As progressive policies drive out moderate and conservative members of the middle class, California's politics become even more left-wing. It's a classic case of natural selection, and increasingly the only ones fit to survive in California are the very rich and those who rely on government spending. In a nutshell, "the state is run for the very rich, the very poor, and the public employees."

And people who don't belong to one of those three groups have been reading the tea leaves and fleeing the Golden State in droves. The question is just how long this tri-class model can last. Americans need not look to Greece for a preview of how the future will look if we continue down our current path. California once again is ahead of the curve and setting a trend that could become commonplace across this land. This time, the rest of us would do well not to emulate the ways of the West Coast.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Be Prepared?

As mentioned previously, our oldest son is in his first year of Lions Cubs, a relatively new program for kindergarten age boys that allows them to participate in Cub Scouts. This Saturday, his den will be camping out for the night at a park not far removed from the metropolitan area. And since Lions Cubs are always accompanied by an “adult partner,” I will be joining him in the great out of doors. I’ve done a fair amount of camping in my day so one night away from the comforts of home didn’t seem to be an especially daunting prospect.

Scouts follow the motto “be prepared” and to help us do just that they sent a list of things to bring for camping and rules to follow. As my scanned the page nothing really stood out until I came to the words “No Alcohol Allowed.” No alcohol allowed? While I hadn’t been planning to get knee-walking drunk or anything, I had thought that having a couple of beers in our tent before retiring for the night would be a good way to cap the day. Not in front of the other impressionable kids of course. But let’s be real. It would hardly come as a shock to our son if he were to see his dad quaff a beer in the privacy of our tent.

But it appears that this camping expedition will be a dry one. Not in terms of weather, since rain is expected for most of the day tomorrow. But it will be devoid of any real sort of liquid restorative. I actually can’t remember the last time I went camping without having the benefit of adult beverages for sustenance. It probably would have to have been all the way back when…I was in Boy Scouts. Funny how things have a way of coming full circle. Strange, not ha ha.

While I can understand why the Scouts do not allow alcohol at their activities, I do think it tends to contradict the “be prepared” motto a bit. The medicinal properties of alcohol are well established and I would hate to be caught unprepared in the event of a bear attack, rattlesnake bite, or need to remove a bullet or pull out an arrow from a wounded camper. Oh well, it’s only one night and I suppose we will survive it. Somehow.

Beer of the Week (Vol. CXLIII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week sponsored as always by the outdoorsy folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can you help find the wine, whiskey, and beer to enjoy the wonders of nature. Stop by and ask about their Earth Day specials.

Our beer of the week comes the state that bills itself as “the last frontier.” It is Alaskan Brewing Company’s Alaskan Birch Bock

Alaskan Birch Bock is a Doppelbock-style ale brewed with Alaska birch syrup. Adapted by Munich brewers from a 14th century ale recipe from the town of “Einbeck,” the bock style traditionally features a toasted malt flavor, low hop bitterness and lager-like dryness in the palate. Doppelbocks are a bigger and slightly sweeter version of the style.

Birch Bock is part of their special “pilot series” of beers which are available on a limited basis.

22oz brown bottle that sells for $9.99. Woodsy label with a moose in a thicket of birch trees. As usual Alaskan also provides the background on the label:

The Alaska paper birch, with its narrow, white trunk and light green foliage is a valued species for moose and man alike in the boreal forests of Alaska’s interior. The Alaska moose feeds on the resilient and papery bark to survive the harsh, 60-below winters while Native Alaskans prized this water-resistant bark to cover the exterior of their hunting canoes. Birch trees produce abundant sap in April and May, 80 gallons of which can be boiled down to one gallon of thick, molasses flavored birch syrup, used to flavor this uniquely Alaskan brew.

STYLE: Doppelbock.


COLOR (0-2): Copper brown and clouded. 2

AROMA (0-2): Sweet malt, slightly sour, with a hint of spice. 2

HEAD (0-2): Tan color. Moderate volume that settles quickly. Not much lacing at all. 1

TASTE (0-5): Mostly bready malts with a lot of sweetness and a light hop bite at the finish. You can pick up a bit of the sugary syrup, but it’s not a particularly distinct flavor. Caramel and spice flavors as well. Tastes pretty much like a standard doppelbock and the heat is apparent. Medium body with a thin mouthfeel. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Sweetness lingers. 2

OVERALL (0-6): While I’m not all that much of a fan of doppelbocks, this is a solid example of the style. I was a little disappointed that the birch syrup wasn’t more noticeable. It is a very sweet beer, but that seems to come more from the malt than the syrup. Birch Bock is a good choice for a spring beer, however the price is a bit steep for what you get. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 14

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Prager University: The Power of Profit

We're proud to announce the release of a brand new course from Prager University, this time with guest lecturer Dr. Walter E. Williams of George Mason University. His topic is "The Power of Profit" and Professor Williams succinctly explains why eliminating the profit motive from a society is the cause of more problems - more suffering - not less.

People who would never get along if they met are brought together in harmonious union through the invisible hand of the free market, and once "profits" are removed from the equation, the entire system breaks down.

Comedian in Chief

WSJ editorial on Obama's Seinfeld Strategy:

On Tuesday President Barack Obama gave a speech about...nothing. At 11:27 a.m. in the Rose Garden, Mr. Obama did announce a crackdown on speculators in the oil markets. And he did call for more investigations, more regulation and more money for regulators. But we couldn't help wondering if perhaps a few pages had been left out of the TelePrompter.

Nowhere in his remarks did the President claim that speculation is doing any harm. He did not cite any negative impact on the oil market. He did not say that speculators are manipulating oil prices, nor did he describe in even the vaguest terms the individuals or institutions that might be involved. He didn't cite any research. Mr. Obama didn't even, well, speculate about whether oil prices would be higher or lower if not for unnamed actors who may or may not be affecting the markets.

But the President did make clear that if speculators were manipulating markets, that would be bad. "We can't afford a situation where speculators artificially manipulate markets by buying up oil, creating the perception of a shortage, and driving prices higher—only to flip the oil for a quick profit," he said. "And for anyone who thinks this cannot happen, just think back to how Enron traders manipulated the price of electricity to reap huge profits at everybody else's expense."

The Enron scandal happened more than a decade and two major financial-regulation laws ago. "So today, we're announcing new steps to strengthen oversight of energy markets," said Mr. Obama. "Things that we can do administratively, we are doing. And I call on Congress to pass a package of measures to crack down on illegal activity and hold accountable those who manipulate the market for private gain at the expense of millions of working families. And be specific."

That last line, delivered after a speech that contained not a sliver of evidence that even hinted at illegal activity, shows that at least Mr. Obama has a sense of humor.

Empty rhetoric about solving non-existent problems that result in nothing that actually addresses the real issues facing the nation? Sounds like a perfect summation of the Obama Presidency so far. Unfortunately, we're long past the point of being able to view this as a laughing matter.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

HWX, with Mark Yost

A fresh and FREE, all-access Hinkeraker-Ward Experience podcast is now available for your listening pleasure.

The latest Hinderaker-Ward Experience podcast is up and ready for your listening pleasure, fresh and free, as always.

It’s a rollicking 60 minutes of podcast action in which we discuss:

* John’s recent whirlwind tour of Ricochet headquarters in California

* Updates on our success and/or failure to get out tax returns in by tonight’s deadline

* Senate Democrats dereliction of duty in passing a Federal budget

*Party in the GSA, government employee convention spending bacchanalia

* Mitt Romney, the polls, and how things are shaping up against Obama (extra contentious!)

Then we talk to Wall Street Journal contributor and author Mark Yost about his exciting new thriller Soft Target:

“Soft Target” introduces readers to Nick Mattera, a former Marine Corps bomb squad technician who survived four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He's come home to his Italian-American neighborhood on Chicago's North Side and becomes one of the fire department's young hotshots. But Nick never expected to run into Abdullah and Jhalil.

The two al Qaeda terrorists have come to Chicago with one goal in mind: indiscriminately kill Jewish Americans and open up a whole new front in the War on Terror. Adding to Nick's troubles are Jack Weinstein, an opportunistic politician who wants to close Nick's firehouse, and Rachel Cohen, Weinstein's sexy legislative aide who has eyes for Nick and doubts about her boss.

The story that unfolds in "Soft Target" is best described as Tom Clancy meets Backdraft. Mark Yost is himself a firefighter/paramedic and gives readers an unparalleled look at life inside a firehouse. More importantly, he shows just how easy it would be for two dedicated extremists to use America's open society against it and carry out these dastardly missions.

The book is terrific, and a bargain at $2.99 (cheap), and Mark is always fun to talk to. It can be purchased here.

We wrap up with some Loons of the Week, Joe Biden on the legal acumen of funnyman Al Franken) and Arlen Specter getting porny. And finally, This Week in Gatekeeping, with a story on how the Daily Mirror mistook a serial killer from 1930s Yugoslavia with a fashion model from 2012. We just report the facts of gross media malpractice, we can’t always explain them.

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 be happy to come to your house and read from the written transcript.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Grab Bag

Catching up a few items:

- Long overdue congratulations to Polks and Swamptown for winning the Fraters College Hockey Pick ‘Em Challenge. They both finished with 21 points and since I’m too lazy to determine who won the total goals tiebreaker, I hereby declare them co-champions.

- Long-time Fraters readers may recall occasional e-mails from Barbara in Golden, Colorado and links to her blog called Golden Girl. It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything from her, but after a prolonged sabbatical, she’s back in business:

Anyway, even though it's an election year, I still don't think I'm ready to write about politics. I just don't have the Ann Coulter soul of steel to pull it off. I am, however, back to the world of blogging at Take a look if you run out of things to do. Or if you know someone interested in adopting from Russia. (No, it's not a site to help lonely basement pajama bloggers find a wife from Russia....but if that drives traffic, so be it). I've been glad to see that you're all still working hard and writing well. I had little to do in my convalescence from neck fusion (other than contract whooping cough with my son. that was fun).

Fight the good fight, and hello again from Colorado!

Sorry Sisyphus, but as Barbara notes the blog’s content is probably not what you’re Googling for.

- Tim, another Colorado connection, e-mails to comment on my recent post on Scouts;

I read your FL post about your son entering Cub Scouts. The Scouts are a great organization. At our first den meeting I was the last to say "not it" when the group was asked who would be den leader; in all honesty, I am forever thankful that I was allowed to help lead those boys through Cub Scouts. Out of our group of eight scouts, two are close to completing their Eagle Scout, and all are honor role students and are playing at least one high school sport, and some are two-sport athletes.

Like you, I also cannot understand why the Left insists on persecuting this group, when there are groups within their sphere of influence that could use a little scrutiny (ACORN and the New Black Panther Party come to mind).

Next year your son gets to participate in one of the most sacred of all Cub Scout activities: The Pinewood Derby. If you don't already know, the Pinewood Derby car is supposed to be built by the Scout (wink, wink).

Having said that, I offer your son (wink, wink) a little advice. Here's a little video your son (wink, wink) should start watching today to prepare for next year.

It's never too early for your son (wink, wink) to start on next year's car. Do you think Dale Earnhart waited until January to start preparing for the February Daytona 500? I also advise your son (wink, wink) to volunteer to store the Pack's track at your house; it's not against the rules for your son (wink, wink) to do early testing on whatever track he (wink, wink) may have at his disposal.

Another tip: .30 caliber bullets (just bullets, not complete cartridges) make great weights to add to your son's car to make weight during weigh-in, as they can be easily added to the car by drilling holes on the bottom of the car with a cordless drill and a 9/32 drill bit, and then secured with some Elmer's or quick setting 2-part epoxy. Plus, when you pull the box of bullets out of your pocket you can immediately get a read on the other parents' view of the Second Amendment: those that let out a gasp and pull their son closer probably aren't originalists when it comes to the Constitution.

I know you and your boys will have a great Scout experience.

Interestingly enough, our son actually had his first Pinewood Derby this year. And he finished second in his den of Lion's Cubs earning a much appreciated trophy and an appearance at the district finals next month. Not only did his car perform well on the track, but it was undoubtedly also the one that had the least “assistance” in its construction. He designed the car, he helped cut it, he performed the minimal amount of sanding he decided was necessary before painting, and he painted it. It wasn’t the sharpest looking car, but it definitely was his.

Carrying Your Own Weight

Interesting tidbit from an interview with Lagunitas Brewing founder Tony Magee:

On breweries using public funds to expand:

Magee: My peer’s kind of a corporate approach to running a business. You got to know that they went deeply into the public trough to fund the brewing operation which I could never do in a million years. What that yielded were state employment grants, tax deferments, special dispensation of cash. If anyone reads the papers is a pretty dry trough. So what’s a f&^$*#@ rich business like those doing that rather than just bearing their own weight and bringing value to a community. After we did the thing in Chicago, someone from the Mayor’s office was talking to someone we were working with and they were a little of upset that we hadn’t gone to them first to allow us all to make the announcement together. There was a desire from the political world to be involved in these sorts of things.

Interviewer: Well, they want to take credit for it.

Magee: Exactly. But the quid pro quo is that we would be indebted and I’m kind of a libertarian about things. We’re a quarter of the size of Sierra Nevada and this pays over and over and over again. I would be embarassed to have asked for public assistance.

Interviewer: Was it difficult to get the financing [for the Chicago deal]?

Magee: No. No. No. Not even a little.

Magee is referring to the recently announced plans for Lagunitas to add a new brewery in Chicago to increase their capacity and ability to distribute their beer nationally. If only all businesses shared that view of going it alone without relying on the public purse. Including our local sports franchises.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Just As God Made Me?

In the February edition of First Things, Stanton L. Jones had a fascinating article on same sex science:

Contrary to the assumptions of many social conservatives, biology does appear to play a modest part in determining sexual orientation. Contrary to the assumptions of many social progressives, psychological and environmental variables also appear to play at least a modest part in determining sexual orientation. In contrast to the hubris of those prone to making emphatic pronouncements, what we do not yet know about the causation of sexual orientation dwarfs the bit that we are beginning to know. And the fact that causation is indubitably a complex and mysterious by-product of the interaction of biological and psychological variables confounds the assertion that sexual orientation is just like skin color, determined at birth or even conception. And contrary to the suggestions of some, the involvement of some biological influence does not prove that change in sexual orientation is impossible. One of our foremost behavior genetics experts, Thomas Bouchard, has argued forcefully that “one of the most unfortunate misinterpretations of the heritability coefficient is that it provides an index of trait malleability (i.e., the higher the heritability the less modifiable the trait is through environmental intervention).”

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Can We Talk?

John O'Sullivan has a lengthy, but rewarding piece on the recent firing of John Derbyshire by National Review. It's probably the most thoughtful, balanced, and well-reasoned opinion on the matter that I've read so far. Derb and Discourse:

Moreover, I fear that Mark Steyn is right in saying that Derb’s departure will further narrow the already narrow limits of acceptable debate in American intellectual life. The tumbrils are already rolling, with Elspeth Reeve at the Atlantic Wire denouncing Victor Davis Hanson on obscure grounds and calling for a campaign to drive “racist” writers from their jobs. Driving people from their jobs, causing them to lose health insurance, bringing distress to their spouses and children — this seems a curious ambition for a young journalist of (presumably) liberal bent. Fifty years ago liberals denounced McCarthy for driving people from their jobs because, as Communists, they were supporting a state that was genocidal at the time. They raged against “guilt by association.” Are they now anxious to have their own witch-hunts against racists? But who will define “racist”? Will it be Ms. Reeve? Or a committee of public safety? Set up by whom? And will Ms. Reeve herself have to appear before this tribunal, having written several times for Taki’s Magazine and being therefore a colleague of Derb’s at one remove and so guilty by association? To get the nasty and vicious flavor of this enterprise, read the comments from the Internet Left where perhaps the most common theme is that National Review fired John because we are racists attempting to conceal our racism that he made uncomfortably explicit. There’s no pleasing such people, and we shouldn’t try pleasing them anyway.

That's the biggest problem that I have with the way that NR responded to this incident. Firing Derbyshire won't placate those who view any perspective that doesn't toe the standard "diversity is our strength" line as racist. It will only encourage them to seek out more scalps they can add to their tally.

The real shame in all this is that for all the talk of the need for America to have an open and honest discussion of race, once anyone comes out with an opinion that deviates from the accepted current day orthodoxy on the subject their voice is immediately deemed to be illegitimate and outside the bounds. Wouldn’t we be better off debating the merits of what Derbyshire said instead of rushing to the judgment that he shouldn’t have said anything at all?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

How Not To Insult the Intelligence of Conservatives

I just watched a preview for the upcoming Aaron Sorkin HBO series, The Newsroom. The clip features a scene where a news anchor defends himself against charges of liberal bias with the line (at about 1:10 in):

“I only seem liberal because I believe that hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure and not gay marriage.”

Uh, Mr. Sorkin, conservatives actually believe that hurricanes are characterized by LOW barometric pressure. If you are going to insult our intelligence, at least get your facts right.

I should probably cut Sorkin some slack until I see the entire show – maybe the anchor is based on Don Shelby.

All The News That We Find Fit To Print

The mainstream media has been obsessed as of late with the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida. They, along with the usual race baiting suspects, have turned this unfortunate incident into a rallying cry to fan the flames of racism, give people the opportunity to call white people crackers and make it fashionable to wear hoodies in public.

It's unquestionably clear that the shooting (which People magazine described as "An American Tragedy") is the latest focus of the national media swarm whores because it was a black man killed by a non-black man. Despite the lack of facts or evidence, the media has stormed ahead with allegations and accusations and insinuations (and all sorts of other things that end in -tions) that automatically label shooter George Zimmerman as a racial profiling, bigoted Neanderthal.

Unfortunately, the Martin shooting is not an isolated incident. It's not even an isolated incident on February 26, 2012, as this story explains:
Cincinnati homicide detectives have made an arrest in the shooting of a Sycamore Township man last month. 18 year old Neron Coston Jr. is now charged with murder for the shooting on February 26th.

Coston was arrested yesterday by officers from the Southern Ohio Fugitive Apprehension Strike Team and Vice squad cops.

Officers say Coston Jr. shot 23 year old Michael Callahan around 8:30 a.m. on that day. Callahan's car then crashed into a parked vehicle at the corner of Foraker Avenue and Alms Place in Walnut Hills.

When police arrived they thought they were investigating a fatal car crash. Then coroner's officials discovered the man in the driver's seat -Callahan- had been shot before the car crashed.

Police haven't said why Callahan was on Foraker Avenue. Callahan did not own the car he was driving at the time of the crash.
Was this just another shooting on the streets of Cincinnati? That could be. No national news outlet has even mentioned the incident so we don't know the story. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson haven't made angry television appearances to condemn the inherent wickedness of the shooter. The left wing spin machine hasn't worked themselves into a foam spewing lather blaming the Callahan's death on Paul Ryan, Ann Romney and George W. Bush.

No, this shooting, which occurred on the same day as the Trayvon Martin shooting, has flown under the radar of our supposedly responsible national media. How could that be, you ask? I think this story ought to give you a clue. Bottom line...the shooter is black and the victim is white prompting reporters everywhere to shamelessly say with their silence "Nothing to see here, folks. Move along and pay attention to the stories that WE think you need to hear".

Where's the media curiosity on the Michael Callahan murder? Where is the People magazine cover story declaring this "Another National Tragedy"? Predictably, they are nowhere to be found. The Callahan killing doesn't fit their agenda so it does not merit coverage. This story further exposes the media for the race baiting cowards that they are.

To be perfectly honest, I don't think either the Martin or Callahan killings are deserving of national media attention. This sort of thing happens daily in every major city and hardly a word is even written about it locally. But for the national media to turn the Martin killing into a racial crisis while completely ignoring incidents like the Callahan killing is grossly irresponsible and completely reprehensible. In other words, it's exactly what I've come expect out of them.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Beer of the Week (Vol. CXLII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week sponsored as always by the playful folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help find the wine, whiskey, and beer that best suits your game.

This week’s beer hails from Tallgrass Brewing Company in Kansas. Like all their beers, it comes in cans and this offering has a unique angle:

Just like those classic video games we all grew up with, 8-Bit Pale Ale is spectacularly simple at first glance yet remarkably fun and complex when you get into it. Our Hop Rocket infuses the character of Australian grown Galaxy Hops into an American Pale Ale, giving a unique tropical, almost melon aroma in a classic American style.

The Tallgrass site is currently running a poll asking “Which of these classic 8-Bit games was your favorite?”:

Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt
The Legend of Zelda
Mike Tyson's Punch Out
Metroid (spoiler: Samus is a girl!)
Super Tecmo Bowl

That’s a good list, but for me it’s gotta be Super Tecmo Bowl. Anthony Carter on the reverse was unstoppable. Now the question is whether the beer itself lives up to the reputation of the classic games it gets its name from.

A four-pack of 16oz cans goes for $8.99. Perfectly executed retro video game design on can. The colors, the shapes, and the font are all spot on.

STYLE: American Pale Ale


COLOR (0-2): Light gold color with a bit of haziness. 2

AROMA (0-2): Delicious aromas of hops with a little bit of honey and mango. 2

HEAD (0-2): Bright white color. Lots of volume off the pour. Good lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Like the smell, the taste mostly features hop flavors with more muted bready malt and a bit of sweet and citrus touches. The hops are well-moderated and the result is a smooth, pleasantly bitter beer that goes down remarkably well. Creamy mouthfeel with a medium body. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Clean finish with lingering, but subtle bitterness. 2

OVERALL (0-6): In some ways this pale ale reminds me more of a bitter than anything else. In a good way too. While pale ales are ubiquitous, bitters are harder to come by, especially good ones. 8-Bit is a very good beer from a can and I can only imagine that it would be awesome on tap. To relive the good old days in style, fire up your NES, pop in classic cartridge, and pop open a Tallgrass 8-Bit Pale Ale. And with the moderate alcohol, it's a beer that can carry you deep into a night of gaming. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 16

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lines in the Sand

Daniel Henninger on how the left's efforts to destroy Paul Ryan only seem to make him more willing to take the argument to them. Demolishing Paul Ryan:

What Mr. Ryan actually said is worth quoting, because it should revive the debate over the proper relationship between individual citizens, including the poor, and the national government:

"A person's faith is central to how they conduct themselves in public and in private. So to me, using my Catholic faith, we call it the social magisterium, which is how do you apply the doctrine of your teaching into your everyday life as a lay person?

"To me, the principle of subsidiarity . . . meaning government closest to the people governs best . . . where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that's how we advance the common good. By not having big government crowd out civic society, but by having enough space in our communities so that we can interact with each other, and take care of people who are down and out in our communities.

"Those principles are very, very important, and the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching, means don't keep people poor, don't make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life. Help people get out of poverty out onto a life of independence."

Subsidiarity—an awful but important word—attempts to discover where the limits lie in the demands a state can make on its people. Identifying that limit was at the center of the Supreme Court's mandate arguments.

The first major use of subsidiarity as a basis for public policy was in Pope Leo XIII's famous 1891 encyclical "Rerum Novarum" (though the word itself doesn't appear). Leo was seeking a way to protect the dignity of human beings caught during those years in the tension between unfettered capitalism and unfettered government. "The State," he wrote, "must not absorb the individual or the family." Arguments over where the balance sits have raged since.

The American left thinks this debate is settled. So, for example, any hint of Supreme Court dissent from settled doctrine justifies questions about its "legitimacy."

Paul Ryan insists the debate isn't over and that its locus is the federal budget, which isn't just numbers. The budget is the national government's formal justification for the scale of the demands it makes now and unto eternity on the nation's citizens.

This is the debate Barack Obama hopes mockery and rhetorical carpet-bombing can kill before the fall campaign. It's only a guess, but I'm betting his opponent is looking forward to forcing the president to come up with a better argument for establishing a government in the U.S. that is subordinate to no one.

This is exactly the debate that we should be having right now and one that I believe many Americans hunger for. It would be helpful if Democrats, especially President Obama, would honestly and openly engage and argue the substance of the matters instead of talking about the latest "war on ___" that Republicans have launched. I'm not holding out much hope for that, but I am confident that regardless of how they respond, Paul Ryan is going to continue to push forward and present the American people with clear choices about what path forward we wish to take. I'm actually beginning to think that Mitt Romney might (a big might) start consistently doing the same thing.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lord Stanley's Strap

A piece in today's WSJ called NHL Playoffs: Hockey Night in...America? detailed how this year's playoffs may afford the NHL the best chance to capture national interest in the US for many years:

The 10-year, $2 billion deal the NHL signed with Comcast Corp.'s NBC Universal unit last year gave the league both much-needed capital and a partner with both the will and the ability to take the NHL as seriously as it takes itself. For the first time in the NHL's 95-year history, every playoff game will be televised nationally, with most of the games appearing on networks that are available in at least 80% of homes with cable TV. And the league may be ripe for growth. NHL telecasts on NBC's channels reached 14.9 million viewers this year, up 14% from last season.

That exposure will give hockey its first legitimate chance to be followed nationally throughout the playoffs, instead of being a tribal affair which even devout fans tune out once their favorite teams are eliminated. As the league's chief executive, John Collins, said Monday, it allows "hockey fans to act like hockey fans"—something they haven't always done. "When there was no national broadcast, a lot of fans really didn't have an option," said the NHL's often dour commissioner Gary Bettman, who was downright giddy during a news conference Monday in New York. "Now they do."

Few sports experience the up-tick in quality the NHL does when the playoffs begin. Fighting virtually stops, skating speeds up, hits at center ice intensify and goals become precious. "Nothing has the pace or the urgency of playoff hockey," said Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports, which will show games on its broadcast network and cable channels NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) and CNBC. In the first two rounds, the NHL Network, the league-owned cable channel, will also show a handful of games.

First off, that Lazarus guy is on to something: there is nothing better in sport than the NHL playoffs. And while I would prefer to see the local squad still playing, whether the Wild are in or not, I will be watching as much playoff puck as I can.

Second off, it's a great relief to all us diehard hockey fan to not only see the NHL playoffs more available for viewing than ever before, but to also no longer have to suffer the indignity of watching them on something called "Versus." Sometimes the name does matter and NBC Sports Network sounds a hell of a lot better than Versus.

So far, the opening night is living up to expectations. We had Philly’s dramatic rally to erase a three-goal deficit and win in overtime in Pittsburgh. We had the Predators of Nashville turning away the hated Red Wings. And early in the second, the eighth seeded Kings and top seeded Canucks are tied at one. The puckering of the Canuck’s fans, which was deafening in last year’s Finals, is already apparent. They’re scared and so far their team is playing that way. Long live the Kings.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Get to Know ‘Em

Many people claim there was nothing on the field worth watching during the Twins - Orioles opening series last week. I beg to differ. As this video from the opener shows, there was plenty of fancy footwork, good defensive instincts, and couple of solid hits at the end.

Given the Twins .165 batting average for the entire team so far this year, this guy is definitely the top batman we’ve seen in 2012.

True, this did nothing to help the Twins performance, but it did give Dick and Bert something to get indignant about, which they love to do five or six times a game.

Deadspin synched up multiple the Youtube videos of the Batman streaker with audi from the radio and TV broadcasts of the game for this entertaining summary. I just hope fear Dick Bremer’s quote “We have an idiot on the field” doesn’t become the slogan for this year’s squad.

Not to Save But to Savage

Pascal Bruckner on The Ideology of Catastrophe:

First you break down all resistance; then you offer an escape route to your stunned audience. Thus the advertising copy for the Al Gore documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" reads: "Humanity is sitting on a time bomb. If the vast majority of the world's scientists are right, we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet's climate system into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced—a catastrophe of our own making."

Here are the means that the former vice president, like most environmentalists, proposes to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions: using low-energy light bulbs; driving less; checking your tire pressure; recycling; rejecting unnecessary packaging; adjusting your thermostat; planting a tree; and turning off electrical appliances. Since we find ourselves at a loss before planetary threats, we will convert our powerlessness into propitiatory gestures, which will give us the illusion of action. First the ideology of catastrophe terrorizes us; then it appeases us by proposing the little rituals of a post-technological animism.

But let's be clear: A cosmic calamity is not averted by checking tire pressure or sorting garbage.

Another contradiction in apocalyptic discourse is that, though it tries desperately to awaken us, to convince us of planetary chaos, it eventually deadens us, making our eventual disappearance part of our everyday routine. At first, yes, the kind of doom that we hear about—acidification of the oceans, pollution of the air—charges our calm existence with a strange excitement. But the certainty of the prophecies makes this effect short-lived.

We begin to suspect that the numberless Cassandras who prophesy all around us do not intend to warn us so much as to condemn us.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Beer of the Week (Vol. CXLI)

Another better late than never edition of Beer of the Week sponsored as always by the bright-eyed folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help find the wine, whiskey, and beer to perk up your day.

Coffee and beer are two of the building blocks of civilization. For many of us, life without these two essential fluids would be unimaginable. And if they’re both so satisfying separately, imagine what they would be like together? Over the year, craft brewers have teamed up with coffee producers to seek to find that nirvana.

Our Beer of the Week is fruit of one of those efforts, Lagunitas Brewing Company’s Cappuccino Stout:

Big, Dark and Scary Imperial-esque Stout Brewed With Plenty of Dark Malts and Roast Barley And Loads of Sebastopol’s Hardcore Coffee for Deep Roasty Flavors and that Extra Krunk.

22oz brown bottle. Familiar Lagunitas label with tan background and the mascot mutt who appears often on their limited release beers. Goes for $4.99 a pop.

STYLE: Imperial Stout


COLOR (0-2): Dark black. 2

AROMA (0-2): Malty with a hint of vanilla. Pretty light. 1

HEAD (0-2): Off white color. Minimal volume which fades pretty quick. Laces the glass nicely. 2

TASTE (0-5): Rich roasted malt flavors up front with a bitter coffee bite at the end. A little nutty and a hint of chocolate as well. Surprisingly smooth with a thinner mouthfeel that’s also somewhat creamy. Medium bodied and fairly drinkable. You don’t notice the alcohol at all. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Lingers very nicely. 2

OVERALL (0-6): A well-balanced and ultimately satisfying mash up of stout and coffee. The flavors are strong and sharp, but play nicely together. Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout is a good choice to kick start your day or as a night cap to end it. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 15

Pitch to Contact

Peter Funt on The Lost Art of the Live Interview:

Interview questions should come quickly and cleanly. Yet on a recent broadcast of CBS's "Face the Nation," Bob Schieffer began two questions of Newt Gingrich with the extraneous phrase, "Let me ask you," and then he asked consecutive questions of Ron Paul that began, "Let me ask you this question." On CNN's "State of the Union," Candy Crowley asked six questions during one program that all began with forms of "Let me ask . . ."

The best interviewers do their homework, put their own opinions aside, keep questions brief, and listen closely for possible follow-ups. Live interviews are among the few elements in journalism not significantly affected by technology; they can't be replaced by blogs or tweets. But TV hosts too often fall short.

Amen. Too many TV interviews are all about long wind ups from the hosts with no pay off.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Baseball Matters, Part 1

On this day after Official MLB Opening Day a few baseball related notes, broken into three posts due to length.

Deadspin carried a review of the shiny new Marlins ballpark, featured in the unofficial opener on Tuesday. It’s all neon and steel and glass and fish tanks, and everyone seems to like it. I see it also has a variation of that sliding retractable roof originally planned (and thankfully abandoned) for Target Field.

Overall, the design is a decided departure from the traditionalist model in vogue for the last 20 or so new stadiums built for MLB. The retro ballpark trend was started by Camden Yards in Baltimore, a stadium that still seems new to me. As Deadspin notes, it’s not new and for some, it’s starting to show its age:

Oriole Park at Camden Yards somehow turns 20 this week, and there are sports fans reading this who weren't born when it opened to great fanfare and sold-out crowds for years and years.

Now it's just another ballpark. The 10th-oldest in baseball, in fact. … the O's have reverted to being terrible and you can walk up to the ticket window and buy $10 seats most every night. Camden Yards hasn't lost its charm, it's lost its uniqueness. In the wake of Camden's success, ballpark designers HOK (now Populous) went on a building spree. Texas and Colorado and Atlanta all got their retro parks, as did San Francisco and Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Metropolis Magazine features the design critic’s perspective on all these stadiums being built by the same company, with the same retro motivation:

With its ballparks, Populous has transformed the experience of attending a baseball game. Traditionalists lament that what the firm has created is not so much ballparks as “mallparks,” where the game itself is of secondary importance, something more like dinner theater.

“It’s just so contrived,” says Jay Jaffe, a writer for Baseball Prospectus. “It drives me crazy.” The dimensions of the classic ballparks on which the Populous stadiums are modeled (such as Ebbets Field) were the product of their constrained urban lots. But Citi Field was built in the middle of a parking lot. And therein lies the strange paradox of the Populous stadiums: though they are painstakingly manufactured to appear idiosyncratic, the willfulness of their design is inescapable; and now that there are nearly 20 of them around the league, their heterogeneity has come to seem altogether homogenous.”

Target Field in Minneapolis is another Populous creation, though one that doesn’t tend to bear this type of criticism, in part because it was actually built on a constrained urban lot, making its idiosyncrasies requirements rather than affectations. Beyond that, the Populous design team has received credit for not simply replicating what has been done elsewhere:

Nationals Park built off of Cincinnati's design direction 5 years later and in 2010, Target Field followed suit in Minneapolis. Similar to Cincinnati and D.C, the classical interior still feels familiar but its complex and dramatic exterior gives it arguably the edgiest appearance of any MLB stadium.

I remember when the Target Field design was first unveiled, some decried the fact that it wasn’t traditional enough, in the spirit of Camden Yards. Not enough bricks, not enough exposed piping, not enough old funk. In retrospect, those people were design Neanderthals, and by ignoring them we have successfully avoided the withering scorn of effete architectural critics everywhere.

It’s just too bad we don’t have anybody here on the Fraters Libertas staff who could provide some architectural expertise and first hand knowledge of building Target Field to provide some perspective here. Maybe one of the summer interns can throw something together.

Baseball Matters, Part 2

CBS Sports’s "Eye on Baseball" interviewed Hold Steady front man, and Minneapolis expatriate, Craig Finn about his love of all things Twins related. It includes this exchange about the music played before games and between innings at Target Field:

EOB: I'm assuming you've been at a Twins game at least, where they've played one of your songs, but what was it like the first time you heard your own song at a baseball game?

CF: It was at the Metrodome. The music guy there got in touch with me and knew I was going to be at the game and he played eight Hold Steady songs during the Twins game. And the other music he played was Bruce Springsteen and the Replacements. So I felt like I was being serenaded by my own mix, so it was pretty amazing. I feel like my relationship with Minneapolis is strong. I sing about it a lot and we get good crowds there. There are times where I always feel like I'm really accepted by the city and that was one of them. I've heard (the Hold Steady) once in Target Field. Unfortunately they let that guy go and they used to have amazing music at the dome, they'd play smart music, stuff you don't always hear at the ballpark. I was disappointed they let him go and they got some sort of Top 40 DJ, playing Lady Gaga.

The blazingly bright ego necessary to characterize the music choices of those playing your music as “amazing and smart” is a thing to behold (steady).

EOB: That's terrible when you have a place like Minneapolis that's so rich in music history.

CF: You want the park to be connected to the city both architecturally and vibe-wise. I thought when I'd go to a game and hear the Replacements, this is what makes our city different. That we really understand what we have musically and honor that. I thought that was unfortunate that it's gone away. But whatever.

I like the Replacements, the favorite band of my college and post college years. But I also understand the limits of their appeal. Their music barely exceeded cult status in its heyday. 25 years later, it is narrowcasted nostalgia for me and those exactly like me (white, male, early 40s, Twin Cities reared, college rock appreciating, intelligent, good looking, punctual, excellent driving skills, etc.), and for a few fellow traveling hipster doofuses. Anyone outside of this slender demographic slice will not have their game experience enhanced by the presence of Replacements music. As for the playing of Hold Steady music at Twins game, the reach of their appeal is less than 1% of the reach of The Replacements. Sounds to me like they got rid of that Metrodome music coordinator for good cause. Baseball is entertainment for the masses, and it’s natural for the music to reflect that. You’ve got to play the hits. I can do without the Lady Gaga songs, as well. Maybe a steady Prince soundtrack is the happy medium for the local music mavens and the other 99.9%.

It’s just too bad we don’t have anybody here on the Fraters Libertas staff who could provide some music expertise and first hand knowledge of the local music scene for some perspective here. Maybe one of the summer interns can throw something together.

Baseball Matters, Part 3

Deadspin also had an interesting article addressing the source of the vast, ever expanding amounts of money MLB owners seem to have on hand these days. Recent examples include a small market team like the Reds paying Joey Votto $225 million, the Angels recently signing two players (Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson) for a third of a billion dollars, and the Dodgers getting sold for a cool $2 billion (nearly three times as much as any previous MLB franchise sale). Where is all this money coming from?

The surprising answer - cable TV subscribers. The new windfall for baseball is not based on the hundreds of millions in public subsidies for ballparks or $60 tickets and $10 beers sold to fans, the BIG money is in the broadcast rights sold to regional sports networks.

The Reds don't yet have a giant television deal, not like the Angels' 20-year, $3 billion contract. Instead, they extended Votto with a theoretically big TV payout in mind. Because TV is going to make everybody rich.

Right now, there are two kinds of regional sports networks (RSNs). Some are team-owned, like the Yankees' YES Network, and some are independent, like most Fox Sports Net and Comcast Sports Net channels. They make their money by charging a monthly per-customer fee to cable and satellite providers in the team's market, and the providers pass that fee onto their customers. All of their customers: nearly everyone with a cable subscription in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut paid an average of $33.60 to the Yankees' network and $28.56 to the Mets' network last year. And those networks get to sell advertising on top of those fees.

It's a great scam. So far, TV networks have provided their teams with tremendous cash flow—as with the Angels' deal—or equity. The Wilpons have borrowed $450 million against the value of SportsNet New York, the channel that carries Mets games.

The Twins’ regional broadcast network is Fox Sports North. They announced a new contract last year, though both sides refuse to reveal the financial details. One of the immediate consequences though was the ending of any free TV broadcasts of Twins games, as they had been doing since their inception, most recently via Ch. 29 on Sunday afternoons. The business model, forcing all cable TV subscribers to pay extra for access, demands a monopoly on supply. So if you want to watch the Twins you’re going to pay.

The Twins rationalize all of this as a natural outcome by forces out of their control:

Twins president Dave St. Peter said that the organization was sensitive to fan reaction, but that cable exclusivity in local markets was "inevitable." At least 16 teams have already gone that route, he said. The Detroit Tigers, for example, will air 152 games on its FSN affiliate with nine national games on Fox. Every team will have a similar setup by 2014, he predicted.

If it’s inevitable, I guess we should just relax and enjoy it. Thanks for being sensitive to our feelings though, Twins.

Another inevitable consequence of these deals is increased monthly bills for cable TV. The experience from other markets has not always been obsequious compliance:

According to reports (because none of this is transparent), Madison Square Garden wanted Time Warner customers to pay a 53 percent increase on its $4.65-a-month fee. That's $7.11 a month—or $85.32 a year, from every Time Warner subscriber in New York—for the Knicks, Rangers, Islanders, and Devils. Time Warner naturally balked, and might have held out longer if not for Jeremy Lin. In San Diego, Fox Sports San Diego is reportedly seeking a 400 percent fee increase from Time Warner Cable. Time Warner wisely has said no.

How will this all end? Something’s got to give, and Deadspin posits a worst case scenario:

But this rights-fees boom is premised on the assumption that cable and satellite providers will forever squeeze their customers at the whims of RSNs, and that the customers will forever tolerate it, and that the FCC will forever endorse it. All that happening seems highly unlikely.

The cable-riches scheme is quite fragile because of the already-big fees charged to people who don't care about sports. And the networks that carry MLB's teams are asking everyone in that system to pay more and more. The cable companies are fed up with it, and every fee increase they condone will further vex their customers, perhaps leading to revolt or desertion.

But the cable-riches scheme needs those unfettered giant fee increases, just like Wall Street relied on ever-increasing housing prices. Once the blips start, the whole scheme's doomed to collapse. And then this apparently good story, of the homegrown Votto getting a deserved payday from a beloved, old small-market franchise, will become the darker and more familiar one, of middle America making a financial promise it couldn't afford.

Will the Twins someday declare bankruptcy because they can’t pay Joe Mauer’s contract? Unlikely. As long as we have public servants RT Rybak and the Hennepin County Commission around, there’s probably always another hundred million or so tax payer dollars available for professional sports.