Saturday, September 29, 2012

HWX, with Steven Hayward

It’s a Saturday special edition of the Hinderaker-Ward Experience podcast.   John Hinderaker of Power Line and me Brian Ward of Fraters Libertas, joined by special guest, also from Power Line, the great Steven Hayward. 
It’s a lively discussion on the state of the Presidential race, including the characteristic optimism of John Hinderaker.  He doesn’t buy into the doom and gloom so many Republicans are feeling with regard to Mitt Romney’s chances in November, and he tells us to grab our pom-poms and not to believe the hype. 
We also get into the issues surrounding recent political polls and alleged bias with regard to over-representation of Democrats, and we preview the Presidential debate coming up on Wednesday.   Finally we wrap things up with Steve by putting our professional prognostication reputations on the line and predict what will actually happen on November 6.
Then it’s "Loon of the Week", courtesy of the fine folks at the Media Research Center.   They recently held their 25th Annual Dishonors Awards, and the "Obamagasm" of the Year is also LOTW.  And "This Week in Gatekeeping" with an international flavor, the editors and fact checkers in Iran  proving to be every bit as effective as their American counterparts.

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.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 28, 2012

They Might Be Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Children are naturally curious about the world around them and eager to explore and try to understand it. Our three boys are no different which means they are very interested in all things related to science. We attempt to foster and encourage this interest at every opportunity and are always looking for ways to make science more approachable and fun for them.

So when he heard that the band They Might Be Giants had a CD out full of science themed songs for kids, we jumped at it. The boys like to listen to music-their music-in the minivan and when it comes to children’s music, most of the material from TMBG is not like nails on a chalkboard to adult ears (with the notable exception of the “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” theme song-hot dog, hot dog, hot diggety dog...).

And for the most part, the CD Here Comes Science lives up to expectations. The songs are catchy and informative, the kids dig them, and we can listen to them without fear of losing our grip on sanity. However, the first song called “Science is Real” is troublesome:

Science is real
From the Big Bang to DNA
Science is real
From evolution to the Milky Way

I like the stories
About angels, unicorns and elves
Now I like the stories As much as anybody else
But when I'm seeking knowledge
Either simple or abstract
The facts are with science
The facts are with science

Science is real
Science is real
Science is real

Science is real
From anatomy to geology
Science is real
From astrophysics to biology
A scientific theory Isn't just a hunch or guess
It's more like a question That's been put through a lot of tests
And when a theory emerges Consistent with the facts
The proof is with science
The truth is with science

Science is real
Science is real
Science is real
Science is real

Why did they have to lump in angels with unicorns and elves? Why alienate a good chunk of your listeners when there is no need to? Our kids hear this and line and add their own rebuttal “But angels are real,” which causes us no small amount of parental pride. But why do those who seek to advocate for science so often believe that doing so must also entail advocating against religion?

Despite what many seem to believe, you don’t have to choose one or the other. It doesn’t have to be science OR religion. It can and should rightly be science AND religion.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has a book out that the relationship between science and religion called The Great Partnership: Science,Religion,and the Search for Meaning:

An impassioned, erudite, thoroughly researched, and beautifully reasoned book from one of the most admired religious thinkers of our time that argues not only that science and religion are compatible, but that they complement each other—and that the world needs both.

“Atheism deserves better than the new atheists,” states Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “whose methodology consists of criticizing religion without understanding it, quoting texts without contexts, taking exceptions as the rule, confusing folk belief with reflective theology, abusing, mocking, ridiculing, caricaturing, and demonizing religious faith and holding it responsible for the great crimes against humanity. Religion has done harm; I acknowledge that. But the cure for bad religion is good religion, not no religion, just as the cure for bad science is good science, not the abandonment of science.”

Rabbi Sacks’s counterargument is that religion and science are the two essential perspectives that allow us to see the universe in its three-dimensional depth. Science teaches us where we come from. Religion explains to us why we are here. Science is the search for explanation. Religion is the search for meaning. We need scientific explanation to understand nature. We need meaning to understand human behavior. There have been times when religion tried to dominate science. And there have been times, including our own, when it is believed that we can learn all we need to know about meaning and relationships through biochemistry, neuroscience, and evolutionary psychology. In this fascinating look at the interdependence of religion and science, Rabbi Sacks explains why both views are tragically wrong.

Why is it so hard for those on the “science is all there is” side to understand that religious believers can embrace and accept all that science offers while still believing that there are areas of our lives beyond the scope of science that require more than it can provide. That explanations are fine, but without meaning (without God), they are ultimately empty. That faith is beyond facts and that while the facts may indeed be with science, the real Truth is with God.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

New Droog on the Block

Tim drops a promotional e-mail:

Hi there....Regular reader and fan. I thought I'd pass along a blog link that combines some Minnesota politics and media bias, a couple of your favorite subjects. Feel free to use as little or as much of it as you want, all off of my blog.

And Tim Droogsma's blog does deliver as advertised. In fact, there are a couple of additional regular subjects that Tim opines on that hit close to home:

WARNING: If you don't like hockey, golf or baseball, or if you take your politics too seriously, or if you don't agree that my granddaughter is the smartest little girl in the universe, or if you don't believe that the Vancouver Canucks represent Satan and all his hosts, then you might not enjoy this blog. Read at your own risk.

Having never met Tim's granddaughter, I'm unable to verify that claim. However, the rest-especially the well-deserved Canuck hatred-seems hard to dispute.

UPDATE- Bob from Michigan e-mails to concur:

What a great recommendation. And, what more could one say about the town where he resides. It rolls off the tongue with respect, "Red Wing, Minnesota." Okay, chuck the Minnesota part and it's perfect. God, what a lucky man he is.

Canuck hatred can unite the most unlikely of folks.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Minnesota Gets an F for Business

Yesterday, the release of the results of a survey of Minnesota business owners and managers lead to a back and forth on Twitter between myself and my former state representative Ryan Winkler (prior to redistricting). More on that exchange in a moment, first let’s see what the survey said.

The survey, which involved owners and managers of 350 Minnesota businesses, found 31 percent saying the state’s economy is improving, up from 13 percent last year. But nearly half think it’s the same, and less than a fourth reported improved profits.

That’s not surprising in the current economic environment of slow growth bordering on stagnation.

When it came to barriers, 69 percent said high taxes were either the biggest or second biggest hurdle. It was 34 percent for health care costs and 33 percent for hiring and retaining trained workers.

This too is not a surprise as the tax burden is regularly cited by businesses as the chief drawback to doing business in Minnesota and one of the main reasons some firms have left the state.

The survey also found that 60 percent of business owners and managers thought the state’s budget problems should be solved with a combination of both reduced spending and new revenue, not exactly the Republican position of late.

This almost seems like a contradiction to the previous point that high taxes were their biggest problem. Until you read further.

When it comes to reforming Minnesota’s tax code, a top issue for the Minnesota Chamber in 2013, 57 percent of business owners think it’s extremely important to raise taxes on voluntary behavior such as gambling, and buying alcohol and tobacco. Another 55 percent would like to see the tax code simplified so that taxpayers can more easily understand it.

So business owners and managers (like many other groups) are all in favor of “new revenue” (read more taxes) as long as that those new taxes are paid by somebody else. The problem is you can only jack up the so-called “sin taxes” so much and I believe that when it comes to alcohol and tobacco, the state of Minnesota already takes a pretty healthy cut. There’s also the issue that these taxes tend to disproportionately impact those in the lower income brackets and raises the question of whether it’s really a good idea to hit Joe Six Pack in the wallet every time he lives up to his moniker.

A surprising outcome of the Twitter exchange with Representative Winkler was that we both agreed that corporate taxes were too high in Minnesota and that the tax code desperately needed to be simplified. Now while I’m sure that Representative Winkler’s vision of what this would actually look like in practice and mine are quite different, at least we were able to find common ground in that these matters do need to be addressed by the Legislature.

This was the nugget that was really captured my attention:

The majority, 55 percent, also think Minnesota has a good business climate.

The article summarizing the survey results actually seems to present this as a positive. And that’s exactly how Representative Winkler pitched it in his initial tweet that got things started. No need to worry about Minnesota’s business climate after all. Only forty-five percent of the companies surveyed believe it’s negative and therefore may be considering moving to friendlier climes.

Are we really prepared to lower the bar this low? Are we really happy that FORTY-FIVE PERCENT of the companies in Minnesota believe that the state’s business climate is not positive? If I were the Governor or in the Legislature I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night unless I was confident that at least eight out ten businesses thought they were operating in a state with a good business climate. Fifty-five percent is a failing grade.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Lucky Dog

The latest installment of Prager University features comedian and podcaster extraordinaire Adam Carolla weighs in on the importance of the hard work over luck:

You're lucky that you're unlucky. Digest that theme and you might be on the royal road to success. Or I could put it like this: waiting around for good things to happen is a surefire way to make certain that nothing good happens. The answer, the only answer, is hard work. Working hard lets you take control of your life.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Blaming the Victim

The US government sets up a complex corporate tax system under which, unlike most other countries, income earned by US companies overseas is subject to the same rate is income earned domestically. So...

...large US multinational companies develop strategies-all LEGAL within the framework of the existing tax laws-to seek to minimize their tax burdens. So...

...the US Senate conducts an investigation. And blames...

the companies:

WASHINGTON—Microsoft Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. used accounting strategies to hold down their U.S. tax bills while shifting profits in and out of the country, according to a Senate subcommittee investigating how multinational companies exploit the intricate U.S. corporate-tax code.

Senate investigators said much of the activity appears to comply with the letter of current tax regulations, though they regard some of the practices used by H-P as potentially abusive and subject to challenge.

Both tech giants said their strategies are legal.

The findings—from one of a series of reports on corporate-tax practices by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations—come as Congress prepares for a debate next year on an overhaul of America's business taxes.

It’s always amusing-in a sadly comic way-when the government creates a dysfunctional taxing system and then becomes surprised and angry when companies or individuals work LEGALLY within it to avoid paying more than they LEGALLY have to. Perhaps, just perhaps the problem here is not that Microsoft, HP, and a slew of other US companies and individual taxpayers are investing time and resources (which certainly could be better used elsewhere) to minimize their tax burdens, but rather that the government has created such an unwieldy system in the first place.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Back to Basics

Nick Schulz on the Hard Unemployment Truths About 'Soft' Skills:

American manufacturing has become more advanced, we're told, and requires computer aptitude, intricate problem solving, and greater dexterity with complex tasks. Surely if Americans were getting STEM education, they would have the skills they need to get jobs in our modern, high-tech economy.

But considerable evidence suggests that many employers would be happy just to find job applicants who have the sort of "soft" skills that used to be almost taken for granted. In the Manpower Group's 2012 Talent Shortage Survey, nearly 20% of employers cited a lack of soft skills as a key reason they couldn't hire needed employees. "Interpersonal skills and enthusiasm/motivation" were among the most commonly identified soft skills that employers found lacking.

Employers also mention a lack of elementary command of the English language. A survey in April of human-resources professionals conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management and the AARP compared the skills gap between older workers who were nearing retirement and younger workers coming into the labor pool. More than half of the organizations surveyed reported that simple grammar and spelling were the top "basic" skills among older workers that are not readily present among younger workers.

The SHRM/AARP survey also found that "professionalism" or "work ethic" is the top "applied" skill that younger workers lack. This finding is bolstered by the Empire Manufacturing Survey for April, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. It said that manufacturers were finding it harder to find punctual, reliable workers today than in 2007, "an interesting result given that New York State's unemployment rate was more than 4 percentage points lower in early 2007 than in early 2012."

The skills shortage is not just an absence of workers who can write computer code, operate complex graphics software or manipulate cultures in a biotech lab—as real as that scarcity is. Many people lack what the writer R.R. Reno has called "forms of social discipline" that are indispensable components of a person's human capital and that are needed for economic success.

This is not an exercise in blaming the victim. There's plenty of fault to go around, from America's inadequate K-12 education system to the collapse of intact families and the resultant erosion of human and social capital in many communities. But we shouldn't delude ourselves about the nature of the problem facing many of the millions of Americans who can't find work.

The gap between the skills that companies are looking for in workers and what those workers are actually able to do has grown in recent years and, Shulz notes, it’s more than just specific types of technical training and experience. Until this gap is closed, there is going to be a continuing problem with unemployment. You can create or save all the jobs you want, but if people don’t have the basic skills to fill them, they’re going to remain on the sidelines.

On other aspect of this not mentioned by Shulz is that if companies aren’t able to find minimally qualified workers in the US, they will look elsewhere. In recent years, there has been something of a reversal of the trend toward off shoring with more companies deciding to bring jobs back to the US or to add jobs here. There are a whole host of reasons for this change (rising labor costs in previously low cost countries, lower US energy costs, etc.), but if companies can’t get the workers they need here it may go back in the other direction.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Vacation From Politics

Just back from a five day family vacation in South Dakota. Apparently, the Romney campaign is now completely falling apart and plummeting toward certain defeat. At least that’s what the pundits and some panicked Republicans seem to believe. However, the pollsters appear to be telling a different story as the Real Clear Politics’ spread has actually narrowed in the last week. Are the polls lagging the “problems” with the Romney campaign or is the perspective of most pundits not shared by most voters? I’m inclined to believe the latter. We’ll know soon enough.

One aspect of our recent South Dakota sojourn that was surprising and somewhat refreshing was the visible lack of politics. The few campaign signs I noticed were for state or local races. There was almost nothing in the way or signs or even bumper stickers to indicate a preference for the presidential race. The only campaign commercial I saw was for a Congressional candidate and it was so bland and non-issue specific that I couldn’t tell which party this gentleman was standing for (later research determined that he is a Democrat who seems to be trying to moderate his way to victory).

Now this could be because South Dakota isn’t exactly a swing state. When you see banners advertising “Friends of the NRA” fundraisers, you figure the place is probably a pretty safe bet to remain red. But even among the many visitors we encountered on the way to and at the many tourist sites we hit, there was little in the way of politics on display. We checked off license plates from forty-three states (a fun game for kids and parents too), but again saw few if any bumper stickers for either Romney or Obama on these vehicles.

We’re only fifty days away from what we’re once again being told is the “most important election in history.” Given that, the general indifference to politics (at least on the surface) that we encountered on the trip seems unusual. Maybe people have just had enough and tuned things out or decided that politics simply isn’t that important to them. I don’t know what this means or what it could portend for November. I do know that those actively involved in politics, those that report on them, and those of us who follow them closely probably put far more emphasis on the importance of every “gaffe”, every “game-changer”, and every “gotcha” than such occurrences actually merit in making up the minds of most American voters.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

HWX, with Andrew McCarthy

The latest Hinderaker-Ward Experience podcast is up and ready for your listening pleasure.  John Hinderaker of Powerline and me, Brian Ward, of Fraters Libertas breaking down the week's news.   The disquieting events in the Middle East dominant our discussion, and we address John's theory that the official story of what happened in Libya is a cover up, his advice on how Mitt Romney should be framing the issue, and the really bad production values of "Innocence of Muslims," the movie that allegedly was the cause of all the hubbub.

Later, we're joined by the great Andrew McCarty of National Review.  We talk about his new book Spring Fever: The Illusion of Arab Democracy, and how its themes relate to the current crisis in the Islamic world. Andy is one of the world’s leading experts on Islamic radicalism, and the conversation is highly revealing.

We wrap things up with This Week in Gate Keeping and the Associated Press publishing the scoop on the real entirely fake story of the man behind the movie the "Innocence of Muslims".   Then the Loon of the Week, featuring a distinguished US Congressperson who apparently missed the day in school where they taught about basic US history.

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.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Beer of the Week (Vol. CLVIII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week sponsored as always by the fortunate folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help find the wine, whiskey, and beer you need to make luck your lady tonight.

Our beer this week comes from California’s Lagunitas Brewing Company. It’s their Lucky 13.alt Anniversary Release:

From the first day of the first mash of the first recipe in the first brewhouse in the first space to this oasis 13 years on the road; We have worked hard to walk in the footsteps of our hero brewers- The Noble Brewer of the planet’s only legal Steam Beer, and Oregon’s Rebel Brewer from Newport. Thirteen years down the road, we have found our own voice as brewers but our admiration for the Great Ones has not dimmed one bit. If we walked well down the hero’s path ourselves, perhaps we too have been an inspiration for others. Beer is a Bronze Age business and we feel honored to have left our footprints on its path into history, at the same time leaving our flavors on your buds. Thanks for your trust over the years and we hope you enjoy this specialty brewed Hi-Gravity Auburn offering.

22oz brown bomber bottle goes for $4.99. Label has a well done rendering of blonde pin up centered in a horseshoe holding a glass of namesake beverage.

STYLE: Strong Ale


COLOR (0-2): Light reddish-brown and clear. 2

AROMA (0-2): Citrus hops and sweet malts with a touch of floral honey and spice. Quite pleasant. 2

HEAD (0-2): Bright white color, decent volume and thickness. Good retention and lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Strong flavors of sweet malts, caramel, and toffee balanced with citrusy hops. Can’t really notice the heat at all. Medium-bodied and smooth with a thinner mouthfeel. Decently drinkable and rather refreshing. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Flavors linger than slowly fade. 2

OVERALL (0-6): A big beer with loads of complex flavor that remains approachable. For the price, it’s also a relative bargain. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 16

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Why Romney Will Win

The recent bounce that President Obama apparently has received after the DNC-still not sure how significant or lasting it really is-has many Republicans openly worrying about Romney’s prospects in November. I remain relatively unconcerned and still fairly confident that he will defeat President Obama. My confidence isn’t based on any in-depth analysis of the latest polls or electoral college projections on how key states will swing or comparisons with previous elections based on economic data. Instead, it’s more of a hunch based on observations and anecdotal experiences. There are three reasons why I believe Romney will win:

- I’ve spoken to more than a few people who voted for Obama in 2008 and now are going to vote for Romney. Is anyone who voted for McCain in 2008 going to go the other way? It seems unlikely that we’ll see much of that. So whatever change we see between how people voted in 2008 versus 2012 should be in Romney’s favor.

- While I still hear from a few conservatives who are not going to support Romney, it seems like most of the those on the right have come around-however grudgingly-to swallow whatever qualms they have about Romney’s true conservative credentials and vote for him. Having Ryan on the ticket has certainly helped as have the antics of the media and Democrats over the last few months. I’ve long been a skeptic of Romney, but have found myself being pushed more and more into his camp by the blatant bias of most of the media and the dishonest attacks from Democrats. Sure, some conservatives will still elect to sit this one out or vote for a third party candidate, but I doubt if there are going to be many.

- My last reason may be more wishful thinking than anything else. However, with the Obama Administration’s egregious efforts to infringe upon the Catholic Church’s religious liberty, with President Obama’s open support of gay marriage, and with the recent DNC battle cry seeming to have changed to “abort early and often” instead of “safe, legal, and rare” I can’t help but believe that Catholics who maintain at least some semblance of fidelity to the teachings of the Church will not, in good conscience, be able to vote for President Obama. This doesn’t mean that some won’t put aside their conscience along with the teachings of the Church of course, but there’s no way that number will be as high as it was in 2008.

Between voters who recognize the mistake they made in 2008, conservatives who recognize the true choice they face, and Catholics who recognize their conscience, Romney should pick up just enough support to turn the race in his favor. Just a hunch.

The Nihilist Concurs: to add to Chad's point #1, I would expect voter turnout to be down from 2008 levels.  I'd expect that a statistically significant number of Obama voters from 2008 stay in their parent's basements in 2012.  I don't expect the same from McCain voters.  A supposition related to  point #3: the gay marriage issue may dampen some of the enthusiasm of black evangelical voters for Obama.  Maybe the percentages won't change, but some of those people may stay home as well.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Their Cheating Was Even More Rampant Than Last Year, Sir

Big news out of Beantown as a Cheating Probe Hits Harvard's Teams (WSJ-sub req):

Harvard University has been abuzz since the Ivy League university announced recently that it's investigating whether 125 students cheated on an undergraduate take-home final exam last spring—an alleged scandal that Harvard said would be the biggest of its kind.

Now, there are reports that the inquiry is jolting Harvard's basketball team, which in March reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1946.

Harvard senior and basketball team co-captain Kyle Casey, a 6-foot-7-inch forward and the Crimson's leading scorer last season, is set to withdraw from school and miss the upcoming season after being probed in the scandal, Sports Illustrated reported Tuesday.

Harvard basketball coach Tommy Amaker didn't return a phone call requesting comment, and Casey couldn't be reached Tuesday. Kurt Svoboda, Harvard's assistant director of athletics, declined to comment, citing privacy laws governing student academic records.

The university announced on Aug. 30 that the Harvard College Administrative Board is delving into whether some 125 students in a "Government 1310: Introduction to Congress" class inappropriately collaborated or copied classmates' responses on a take-home exam turned in last spring. The allegations emerged after the teacher noticed strangely similar answers on multiple exams.

I had three immediate reactions to this story.

1. Harvard has “take home” exams? And this is an elite school that all the "smart" people want to get into? Color me unimpressed with that sort of academic rigor.

2. This alleged activity doesn’t register high on my outrage meter. Saying the students “inappropriately collaborated” seems reasonable, but when it comes to cheating this seems like a pretty low bar. Quick show of hands from everyone out there who NEVER engaged in a bit of “inappropriate collaboration” outside the classroom in the course of your schooling either at the primary, secondary, or post-secondary level. That’s what I thought.

3. These kids are supposedly smart enough to get into fair Harvard, yet they’re not smart enough to make sure they copy from each other without making it obvious? Doesn’t exactly sound like we’re dealing with the best and brightest here.

Proceed With Caution

Walter Russell Mead says yesterday was a bad one for the Obama Administration and posits on the promise and peril its events provide for the Romney campaign in a post called The Day The Roof Fell In:

The politics of this are at one level quite tricky for Republicans. It is not as if there was some magically effective Middle Eastern policy that the Obama administration is obstinately refusing to employ. Many American voters are likely to support whichever candidate they think will be less likely to get the country more deeply embroiled in the Middle East. “Apology tours” are unpopular, but after eleven years of unsatisfactory results, so are wars. Denouncing President Obama for insufficient hawkishness will stir some people up, but it may quietly reinforce the determination of many others to keep executive power out of the hands of a party which looks to be just a little bit too quick on the draw.

The order and competence dimension of a presidential election should not be underestimated. Voters generally don’t want presidents who drive the U.S. government like it was a Ferrari. They want a comfortable, safe ride; their kids are in the back seat of the car. Yesterday’s events damage President Obama because they call into question the story the campaign wants to tell—that President Obama is a calm and laid-back, though ultimately decisive person who brings order to a dangerous world and can be trusted with the car keys. But if Republicans respond by looking wild eyed and excitable (remember John McCain’s response to the financial crisis in 2008?), bad times will actually rally people to stick with the devil they know.

Yesterday rocked President Obama’s world and gave Governor Romney’s campaign some new openings. But one day in a long campaign is just one day. We still don’t know how these events will reverberate across the Middle East or how the U.S. response will develop. In some ways, trouble overseas distracts attention from the White House’s current domestic problems—the Woodward book and the Chicago strike. And the President can thank his stars that the German Constitutional Court decided not to plunge the world economy into crisis this morning and allowed the German government to complete the ratification of the most recent European bailout agreements.

As the dust settles, there will be more to say — about the politics of Egypt, the chaos in Libya, the President’s leadership, the strike in Chicago, the nature of blasphemy, the pitfalls of public diplomacy in the age of social media, the Israeli-Iranian confrontation and the state of the campaign. And there will be time to remind readers again about the courage and patriotism of so many American diplomats around the world like Christopher Stevens, the ambassador we are mourning today. But yesterday’s events should remind us that all the models and all the “laws” of politics that political scientists labor to uncover are really just rules of thumb and probability calculations. Presidential elections are driven by events as well as by “forces”, and many of the most important events are inherently unpredictable until, quite suddenly, they occur.

There certainly seems to be an opportunity for Romney here with the void in leadership from the White House in the face of these events. Of the two, the strike in Chicago is one that he should more easily be able to turn to his advantage. The situations in the Middle East-Libya/Egypt/Israel/Iran/etc.-are far more complicated and many previous presidents (and those who have aspired to the position) have been burned when seeking to play with those fires. Romney’s approach needs to be strong and steady, but also slow. Only fools rush in.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Explaining Evil

Explaining the 9/11 attacks to young children is not an easy task for parents and it inevitably brings up some tough questions. How old is old enough to know? How much detail do they need to know? How do you balance teaching them about an important event in American history without inducing unnecessary fear and worry? None of our kids were born on September 11th, 2001, but they’ve grown up in the post-9/11 world and at some level they need to know what it was all about.

There are no easy answers, but we’ve found that this books helps. America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell by Don Brown

The events of September 11, 2001 changed the world forever. In the fourth installment of the Actual Times series, Don Brown narrates the events of the day in a way that is both accessible and understandable for young readers. Straightforward and honest, this account moves chronologically through the morning, from the plane hijackings to the crashes at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania; from the rescue operations at the WTC site to the collapse of the buildings. Vivid watercolor illustrations capture the emotion and pathos of the tragedy making this an important book about an unforgettable day in American history.

No axes to grind. No politics. It is pretty much a straightforward telling of the facts of the day that helps explain what happened that day. You’ll likely still have plenty of questions to answer on your own though.

A Day To Remember

Linden Hills 911 Tribute:

Our 11th annual concert will take place on Tuesday evening September 11th, 2012 at 7 p.m. at the Lake Harriet Band Shell. Please join with us in an evening of music, flag waving and reflection as we honor the memory of those who lost their lives that day. We especially want to invite parents to bring their children. They will receive an American flag to wave as they march in the parade though the aisles. Come early and get a good seat.

We have attended this concert in most of the years (hard to believe it's now eleven) since 9/11. It is a great way to remember a horrible day.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Diminishing Returns

The latest Prager University course offering is on tax rates and revenue:

Do you know someone who thinks France's new 75% tax rate on "the rich" is a great idea and should be adopted here in the United States? Perhaps you know people who think it's just common sense that raising tax rates raises more revenue for the government.

If so, ask them to watch our latest course "Do High Taxes Raise More Money?" Have some smelling salts ready. They're in for a shock, hopefully one that will bring them back to their senses.

The lecturer is Tim Groseclose, Professor of Political Science and Economics at UCLA. This is his second Prager University course. Here he explains the relationship between tax rates and tax revenue. It's fascinating, compelling and clear.

Upon Further Review

This weekend, my lovely wife committed an act that any reasonable person would conclude was more than just cause to set divorce proceedings in motion: she sliced up the Review section of Saturday’s Wall Street Journal well before I had a chance to consume all its rich, readable goodness. She did have the decency to apologize for her horrific transgression and remind me that I could still access the as yet unread articles online, but still...

For those of you who don’t subscribe to the WSJ (sickos), it’s difficult to understand just how much those of who do look forward to each Saturday’s Review each week. The section is chock full of interesting essays, book reviews, and other miscellany articles. There’s usually so much good stuff that you don’t know where to start and need a whole weekend to ensure you take it all in.

Here are three examples from this past weekend’s edition that help illustrate this.

An excerpts from Robert Kaplan’s new book The Revenge of Geography:

If you want to know what Russia, China or Iran will do next, don't read their newspapers or ask what our spies have dug up—consult a map. Geography can reveal as much about a government's aims as its secret councils. More than ideology or domestic politics, what fundamentally defines a state is its place on the globe. Maps capture the key facts of history, culture and natural resources. With upheaval in the Middle East and a tumultuous political transition in China, look to geography to make sense of it all.

As a way of explaining world politics, geography has supposedly been eclipsed by economics, globalization and electronic communications. It has a decidedly musty aura, like a one-room schoolhouse. Indeed, those who think of foreign policy as an opportunity to transform the world for the better tend to equate any consideration of geography with fatalism, a failure of imagination

But this is nonsense. Elite molders of public opinion may be able to dash across oceans and continents in hours, allowing them to talk glibly of the "flat" world below. But while cyberspace and financial markets know no boundaries, the Carpathian Mountains still separate Central Europe from the Balkans, helping to create two vastly different patterns of development, and the Himalayas still stand between India and China, a towering reminder of two vastly different civilizations.

An article about using electronic devices on airplanes called Do Our Gadgets Really Threaten Planes?:

On Aug. 31, the Federal Aviation Administration requested public comment on its longstanding policy of prohibiting the use of personal electronics during takeoffs and landings. The restrictions date back to 1991 and were motivated in part by anecdotal reports from pilots and flight crews that electronic devices affected an airliner's navigation equipment or disrupted communication between the cockpit and the ground. Over the years, however, Boeing has been unable to duplicate these problems, and the FAA can only say that the devices' radio signals "may" interfere with flight operations.

To gather some empirical evidence on this question, we recently conducted an online survey of 492 American adults who have flown in the past year. In this sample, 40% said they did not turn their phones off completely during takeoff and landing on their most recent flight; more than 7% left their phones on, with the Wi-Fi and cellular communications functions active. And 2% pulled a full Baldwin, actively using their phones when they weren't supposed to.

Consider what these numbers imply. The odds that all 78 of the passengers who travel on an average-size U.S. domestic flight have properly turned off their phones are infinitesimal: less than one in 100 quadrillion, by our rough calculation. If personal electronics are really as dangerous as the FAA rules suggest, navigation and communication would be disrupted every day on domestic flights. But we don't see that.

And finally an article called Opting Out of the 'Rug Rat Race' which explains that there is more and more evidence that parents should worry more about character instead of cognitive development when it comes to ensuring their the future success of their kids:

At the root of this parental anxiety is an idea you might call the cognitive hypothesis. It is the belief, rarely spoken aloud but commonly held nonetheless, that success in the U.S. today depends more than anything else on cognitive skill—the kind of intelligence that gets measured on IQ tests—and that the best way to develop those skills is to practice them as much as possible, beginning as early as possible.

There is something undeniably compelling about the cognitive hypothesis. The world it describes is so reassuringly linear, such a clear case of inputs here leading to outputs there. Fewer books in the home means less reading ability; fewer words spoken by your parents means a smaller vocabulary; more math work sheets for your 3-year-old means better math scores in elementary school. But in the past decade, and especially in the past few years, a disparate group of economists, educators, psychologists and neuroscientists has begun to produce evidence that calls into question many of the assumptions behind the cognitive hypothesis.

What matters most in a child's development, they say, is not how much information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years of life. What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence. Economists refer to these as noncognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of us often think of them as character.

Those are just the three most obvious examples. There was plenty more to like with reviews of books on Paul Volcker, Phil Sheridan, and Dana Andrews. The Review section in Saturday’s WSJ has become a must read. Just make sure your wife understands that it’s not to become fodder for reuse until Monday morning.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Beer of the Week (Vol. CLVII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week sponsored as always by the level headed folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can provide clarity in your quest to find the wine, whiskey, and beer you need.

These days, it seems as if you can’t swing an empty growler without hitting a new craft brewer who’s just starting up operations in the Twin Cities. Consider this list of breweries that have opened in the last two years:

Badger Hill-Minnetonka (2012)

Boom Island-Minneapolis (2011)

Excelsior Brewing-Excelsior (2012)

Harriet Brewing-Minneapolis (2011)

Indeed Brewing-Minneapolis (2012)

Lucid Brewing-Minnetonka (2011)

Pour Decisions-Roseville (2012)

Steel Toe Brewing-St. Louis Park (2011)

And there are plans for more on the way. The more the merrier in my eyes.

While most of the brewers have limited distribution at this point, you are starting to see more and more of them appear at more and more places. One of those that I’m noticing more is of late Lucid Brewing. Their beers are now available at Glen Lake Wine and Spirits. And our beer of the week is Lucid’s SummerTide Saison.

22oz brown bomber bottle goes for $5.99. Sharp label design with Lucid logo and seasonal colors of summer.

STYLE: Saison


COLOR (0-2): Auburn gold and somewhat cloudy. 2

AROMA (0-2): Malty and peppery. 2

HEAD (0-2): White color, moderate volume. 2

TASTE (0-5): Sweeter malts with some banana and citrus flavors. Lightly hopped with a touch of spice. Light-to-medium bodied and pretty drinkable. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Mostly sweet with lingering spice. 1

OVERALL (0-6): A pleasant offering that offers a good blend of refreshment and taste for warm weather imbibing. The flavors aren’t as bold or as pronounced as some other Saisons out there. All in all, I’d say it’s a decent beer, but not especially exciting. Looking forward to see what else Lucid has planned for future releases. 3

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 13

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Fuel for the Fire

Another example of how the impact of the US energy boom goes far beyond the states where the oil and gas is being extracted. Egyptian Bets $1.4 Billion on Natural Gas—In Iowa:

Egypt's largest company announced plans to spend $1.4 billion building a fertilizer plant in Iowa, tapping into cheap U.S. natural-gas supplies and the nation's role as the world's most important food exporter.

Orascom Construction Industries opted to build the plant in the heart of the Corn Belt over a competing package of incentives from neighboring Illinois, highlighting the tough "beauty contests" between U.S. states for investment from domestic and overseas companies.

Natural gas is a key raw material used to produce fertilizer, particularly for use in growing corn, with demand expected to remain robust as farmers plant more acres amid record prices fueled by the U.S. drought.

The U.S. imports more than half of its nitrogen-based fertilizer, and the Iowa plant is seen by supporters as promoting what they call "food independence."

"This is probably the largest single country with a deficit in nitrogen," Orascom Construction Chief Executive Nassef Sawiris, a member of one of Egypt's most prominent business families, said in an interview.

Orascom Construction is one of the world's largest fertilizer makers, with operations focused in Egypt, Africa, Asia and Europe. It employs more than 72,000 people, with revenue of $5.5 billion in 2011.

Low gas prices have spurred other investments by chemical makers. Deerfield, Ill.-based CF Industries Inc., another big fertilizer producer, increased its projected capital spending on new nitrogen capacity to $2 billion through 2016, up from a prior forecast of $1 billion to $1.5 billion. Much of the capacity is expected to debut in 2015.

Dow Chemical Co. announced earlier this year it will build a multibillion-dollar plant to convert natural gas into the building blocks of plastic in Texas, creating 2,000 construction jobs before the plant is completed in 2017.

That news followed Royal Dutch Shell PLC's announcement it would build a similar, $2 billion chemicals plant near Pittsburgh, above the Marcellus Shale.

Oh, and for those who think taxes don't matter to a state's business climate:

Mr. Sawiris said that it rejected Illinois' overtures because of fears that corporate-tax rates would increase as the state tries to tackle its huge budget deficit. Companies last year threatened to relocate from Illinois before a last-minute compromise on corporate taxes.

"We were quite concerned, honestly, with Illinois' budget," he said. "We didn't feel like Illinois at this stage was the right place for we decided to locate on the other side of the river."

Morality Without Religion

Walter Russell Mead writes that Even Authoritarian Communist Countries Need Religion:

Chinese leaders know they need a force that acts on the consciences of individuals: to take care of the elderly, to fight corruption, to induce the rich to give to the poor, to influence the behavior of employers and so forth.

They are turning to Confucianism, an ethical system that has appealed to rulers for centuries because of its authoritarian qualities, but the appeals ring hollow in a country whose way of life has moved far from Confucian norms—and whose economic ambitions are radically at variance with traditional Chinese values. Nevertheless, large numbers of Chinese are turning to religion to find a center for their lives. Again the government prefers traditional Chinese observances over formal religions, which, among other things, also make ethical demands on rulers.

Ultimately China’s government is going to have to make its peace with the two world religions that have sunk deep roots among Han Chinese: Buddhism and Christianity. These great religions hold the key to the development of a sustainable Chinese society. Rather than trying to limit and control them, the government should be removing all obstacles in their path.

After one of my first trips to China, I noted that while the Chinese were no longer godless Commies, they were still for the most part godless. It will be fascinating to watch as the Chinese government continues to attempt to instill a moral code in society while at the same time limiting the religious freedom of its citizens. As Mead says, it seems likely that they will have to relax their approach to organizied religion if they really want to achieve that goal.

Purple Perspective

Jason Gay’s 2012 NFL Season Kickoff in today’s WSJ contained this sobering nugget for local football fans:

Which teams will be fun to watch?

The Carolina Panthers because of Cam Newton. The Seattle Seahawks because of rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. The Detroit Lions because they're pretty nutty. The Houston Texans. Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. The Iggles. Look, we could do this all day, I'm not saying the Vikings.

I’m afraid that Mr. Gay’s assessment of the viewing prospects for the Purple is an accurate one. This will not be a fun Vikings team to watch (again). They may post a marginally better record than last year-I’m going with 4-12 with none of those wins coming against divisional opponents (again)-but it’s going to a long and usually ugly season for fans to endure (again).

They will not only not be mediocre from a wins/losses standpoint, they will also not offer much from an entertainment angle. Bad teams can be interesting to watch if they are either historically inept (like the 0-16 2008 Detroit Lions) or if they have a profusion of young talent with the potential to develop into future stars (like the 1-15 1989 Dallas Cowboys with Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin). This Vikings team is neither that bad nor that young and talented (unless you buy into Christian Ponder as a diamond in the rough).

On the defensive side, what talent there is either past their prime or close to it (Winfield and Allen). On the offensive side, the most exciting player is coming off a serious injury. Until AP gets back to his normal self, the only reason to watch the Vikings on offense is Percy Harvin. And with no other credible receiving threats on the field (especially in the first three games when Jerome Simpson is sidelined), it’s likely that defenses will focus on him and largely shut him down.

So once again Vikings fans will have to suffer through another season that will offer few rewards for the fans. One that starts on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Are you ready for some football? Some really, really bad football?

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The Whole World is Laughing

So far, I’ve watched very little of the DNC. Very, very little. I probably will tune in to see Bill Clinton’s speech tonight. When it comes to political rhetoric, President Obama is a piker compared with Clinton. He knows how to connect with an audience and it will be fascinating to see him back in the spotlight.

Meanwhile, I’ll just have to content myself with watching this clip over and over again:

And again. Yes, playing fast and loose with the rules is nothing new at political conventions. And yes, the RNC had some not so democratic shenigans on the floor last week in Tampa. But nothing that could compare to this. It’s perfectly illustrative and deeply illuminating in what it says about the true state of the core of the Democratic Party today and as such is deeply injurious to their efforts to portray themselves as being mainstream and Republicans as extremist. It’s really almost too good to be true and I can’t imagine that anything that happens tonight or tomorrow can begin to approach how awesome this is.

One more time.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Urban Gentry

At Ricochet, Paul A. Rahe analyzes the “Obama Coalition” and offers us Joel Kotkin's Take and Mine:

So, for Obama, the game is simple. Hold the African-American vote; get the Hispanic vote; and rally those who loved Seinfeld and Sex and the City. This may work in the short run -- though I strongly suspect that it is a recipe for disaster. In the long run, as Kotkin implies, it cannot work. The gentrification of the Democratic Party -- for it is perfectly clear that the new gentry are in the saddle and will remain there -- means the abandonment of economic growth and a reduction in unemployment as priorities, which in turn means that the material interests of African-Americans and Hispanics will get short shrift (as they have in the last four years).

What Kotkin does not say but certainly recognizes is that this portends a political realignment in the United States. Obama's top-bottom coalition cannot last -- for the interests of the top and those of the bottom are diametrically opposed. I doubt very much that this coalition can carry the day in 2012. In the long run, however, it is bound to cripple the Democratic Party. The gentry are not going to ease up on their grip on that party. They are not going to reverse its wholehearted embrace of the sexual revolution, of abortion, and of the city as a focus of entertainment, and they have nothing to offer those who are less well off.

There are those in the Republican Party -- Mitch Daniels among them -- who think that it should declare "a truce" on the so-called "social issues." There is one problem with this strategy. As this week's Democratic Convention will make only too clear, these issues lie at the heart of the struggle now taking place in this country. The welfare-entitlements culture and the sexual revolution are, in fact, inextricably linked. Forty percent of the children born in this country last year were born out of wedlock. If, as a nation, we do not find a way to reverse the trends that have produced this result, we really are doomed.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Beer of the Week (Vol. CLVI)

Another edition of Beer of the Week sponsored as always by the creative folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help find the wine, whiskey, and beer you need to inspire and amuse.

For some while now, Mark-chief beer guru at Glen Lake Wine and Spirits-has been touting the work of Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales:

Welcome to a land of open fermentation, oak barrel aging, and bottle conditioning. At Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales we are dedicated to more than the traditions of old world craftsmanship. Everything we do is designed to create ales of outstanding art and flavor. Focusing on traditional rustic country style beers brought to life through labor and love, we strive to create beers to lighten the spirit and soothe the soul. Sharing our joy to the betterment of mankind is the most that we could hope for.

Jolly Pumpkin is yet another top notch brewer from the state of Michigan. I finally got around to trying one of their beers recently. Our beer of the week is Jolly Pumpkin’s ES Bam Hoppy Farmhouse Ale.

$10.99 for a 750ML brown bottle that was bottled on 3/20/12. Nicey designed label has muted tones of green, tan, and brown with a rendering of the namesake pooch.

STYLE: Farmhouse Ale


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

AROMA (0-2): Banana and citrus combine with earthy scents. A hint of phenolic aroma as well. 2

HEAD (0-2): White colors, compact bubbles, and loads of volume. Excellent lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Citrus and grassy hop flavors predominate with a bitter bite. Spicy yeast and bready toasted malts are apparent, but more subdued. Medium-bodied with a thinner mouthfeel. Not especially drinkable as it’s heavier than you would expect given the ABV. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): The finish is mellowed and smooth, but the metallic, medicinal aftertaste is somewhat off-putting.1

OVERALL (0-6): This turned out to be a tough one to rate. The tastes changed as the beer warmed and the more I drank the harder its character was to pin down. There’s definitely a lot going on here and despite its relatively low alcohol content (still can’t believe that it’s 4.7%), the flavors are not overly moderated. After going back and forth on this for a while, my final verdict was a positive one. It was a unique beer drinking experience and made me want to discover what other pleasures lay in store from Jolly Pumpkin. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 15

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Still The Last Best Hope?

It's easy at times to lose faith in the collective common sense and wisdom of the American people, especially when we all too willingly embrace much of the trash churned out as part of our modern popular entertainment culture. So it's always encouraging when you see signs that we still have our limits when it comes to being force fed garbage.

'Oogieloves' Film Flirts With Box-Office Low:

"The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure" made a staggeringly weak box-office debut Wednesday, averaging $47 a screen in its first day in theaters and taking in a total of just $102,564 from 2,160 screens.

If the independently produced and distributed family film maintains its anemic pace, it will capture the dubious record for the worst opening-weekend average per theater for a wide release, according to

To put some perspective on just how weak this opening was, you also need to consider what it cost to make this monstrosity:

The Oogieloves, a trio of giggling, brightly colored puppetlike characters played by human actors in costumes, were to become the cornerstone of a franchise including two more films, merchandising, a stage show and television programming.

The movie follows the three Oogieloves, who resemble giant Cabbage Patch dolls but with jelly bean-colored faces, as they search for five magical balloons in their hometown of Lovelyloveville.

It co-stars singer Toni Braxton, Cloris Leachman and Christopher Lloyd, who play regular human characters.

The $20 million film was a risky project from the start.

A twenty-million stake to take in $100K on your opening day seems like a pretty poor ROI.

If you're like me, when you hear this story you probably were thinking "what the hell is an Oogielove?". But when I mentioned it to my wife, she was all too well aware that they were out there. Because the people behind this movie also ponied up a bit of cash to promote it.

The poor audience turnout came despite a promotional push that cost roughly $40 million, including ads on billboards and in newspapers and movie theaters nationwide.

Movie reviewers have been merciless in their reaction to the film, ridiculing its characters, story line and tone.

Twenty million to make and an additional forty mil to try to get us to buy this junk? And still no one went to see it? I'm proud to be an American.