Monday, April 28, 2014

How About a Little Fire, Scarecrow?

The Star Tribune has issued a red alert warning for all men made of straw in the 7-county metro area.  According to official reports, there is an assailant now at-large threatening to deliver periodic and repeated attacks, beatings, and potentially immolation of citizens of straw-based ancestry.
The suspect has been identified as one Mark Andrew, and his first straw man attack was featured in his inaugural post as one of the Star Tribune’s new “improved” and “high profile” Your Voices bloggers.

I'm interested in the relationship between media and public policy--how media coverage, such as it is, affects public attitudes on issues of our time. Is the media really too liberal or is CNN and MSNBC's reach dwarfed by the impact of FOX and the Murdock media conglomerate?

In addition to the grave danger presented to straw men with each and every Mark Andrew post, also considered at risk are second tier and artisanal brands of mustard:

The illusion of choice mimics real choice; time-strapped consumers default to media flavors that reflect personal views or offers high calorie, low nourshment entertainment that is a little too shrill or just plain dumb. I dont need 15 brands of mustard on my grocery shelf. 3 or 4 are plenty.

However, balancing these risks are the expected benefit to and proliferation of cherry pickers and red herrings.

This suspect is considered extremely dangerous. If Mark Andrew is seen in the vicinity of your Internet browser, please step away from your computer and contact the authorities immediately.  

Friday, April 25, 2014

Knowledge Without Wisdom

Helen Rittelmeyer had an excellent piece in the February edition of First Things on the perils of relying on expertise as our primary and often sole source of authority. Bloodless Moralism:

The mistake most frequently made by modern anti-social-science polemicists is to focus too much on their target’s philosophical shortcomings. This would be excellent high ground to stake out if Americans were attached to terms like “empirical” and “falsifiable” because they had all given deep consideration to the works of Bertrand Russell and Karl Popper, but the reality is more superficial. They put their faith in academics and research analysts because they have an idealized picture of the sciences as a self-policing community of disinterested truth-seekers with laboratories and databases and state-of-the-art modeling programs.

This superficiality is not negligence, really. Most of our decisions about whom to trust take place at this aesthetic level. You and I do not know enough neuroscience to refute a convinced phrenologist, but if we have a feel for the pseudoscientist type (say we have read Martin Gardner), we will have no trouble identifying our bumpologist as a textbook example. So it is, in reverse, with social scientists. We come to them with a jumble of opinions and half-formed personal judgments, and they repeat them back to us as facts. Their main contribution is not information, but authority.

But there are other kinds of authority than a philosophiae doctor. The civil rights movement deployed not only the authority of the gospel but also the moral authority that comes from nonviolent protest. Anyone who can withstand brutal treatment and still speak in a calm voice is someone saintly enough to demand a hearing. It is not so different from the moral authority of ex-generals, another phenomenon with precedent in American politics. In circumstances less conducive to displays of moral authority—and political issues very rarely invite actual heroism—there are other options. Christopher Hitchens was not an expert in anything, but people cared what he had to say for two reasons: It was evident that he had read widely, and he expressed himself beautifully. Both of these are forms of authority. Things that require discipline often are.

Authority does not have to be self-generated. It can also be borrowed, or rather assumed, like a mantle. When Rep. Herbert Parsons spoke in favor of child-labor laws on the floor of the House in 1909, he quoted Matthew 18: “Our doctrine . . . is that, if possible, ‘not one of these little ones should perish.’” I would guess that Congressman Parsons began with the same starting point a modern politician would have: a vague but definite conviction that the law ought to address child labor. When he proceeded to ask himself what it would sound like to make that assertion in a public forum in a way that would command agreement, the answer came back to him: Scripture. To a modern, it would have been: lifetime earnings differentials.

I do not mean to say that all political arguments should be made more biblical. I only suggest that, when we find ourselves looking for ways to bring some authority to our political convictions (or looking for spokesmen who might carry such authority), we should broaden our search. It may be that integrity, erudition, literary genius, holiness, or wisdom carry as much weight in a democracy as expertise.

Statistics, studies, and experts all have a place in the discussions and debates that we have on how to address the challenges we face. However, all too often they are the only things considered and are unchallenged and unquestioned. Even worse, we assume that they will not only help us understand the extent of the problem, but are also best equipped to provide the solution.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Keeping It Real

In a piece at NRO, Kevin Williamson says we need to get look beyond the current hype over growing inequality and focus on what’s going on in the real world. Welcome to the Paradise of the Real :

The physical economy — the world of actual goods and services — looks radically different from the symbolic economy. Measured by practically any physical metric, from the quality of the food we eat to the health care we receive to the cars we drive and the houses we live in, Americans are not only wildly rich, but radically richer than we were 30 years ago, to say nothing of 50 or 75 years ago. And so is much of the rest of the world. That such progress is largely invisible to us is part of the genius of capitalism — and it is intricately bound up with why, under the system based on selfishness, avarice, and greed, we do such a remarkably good job taking care of one another, while systems based on sharing and common property turn into miserable, hungry prison camps.

We treat the physical results of capitalism as though they were an inevitability. In 1955, no captain of industry, prince, or potentate could buy a car as good as a Toyota Camry, to say nothing of a 2014 Mustang, the quintessential American Everyman’s car. But who notices the marvel that is a Toyota Camry? In the 1980s, no chairman of the board, president, or prime minister could buy a computer as good as the cheapest one for sale today at Best Buy. In the 1950s, American millionaires did not have access to the quality and variety of food consumed by Americans of relatively modest means today, and the average middle-class household spent a much larger share of its income buying far inferior groceries. Between 1973 and 2008, the average size of an American house increased by more than 50 percent, even as the average number of people living in it declined. Things like swimming pools and air conditioning went from being extravagances for tycoons and movie stars to being common or near-universal. In his heyday, Howard Hughes didn’t have as good a television as you do, and the children of millionaires for generations died from diseases that for your children are at most an inconvenience. As the first 199,746 or so years of human history show, there is no force of nature ensuring that radical material progress happens as it has for the past 250 years. Technological progress does not drive capitalism; capitalism drives technological progress — and most other kinds of progress, too.

None of this should be taken as minimizing the problems faced by the poor, in this or any other country. But let’s stay in the realm of the real for a little while: What is it, in terms of physical goods and services, that we wish to provide for the poor that they do not already have? Their lives often may not be very happy or stable, but the poor do have a great deal of stuff. Conservatives can be a little yahoo-ish on the subject, but do consider for a moment the inventory of the typical poor household in the United States: at least one car, often two or more, air conditioning, a couple of televisions with cable, DVD player, clothes washer and dryer, cellphones, etc. As Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield report: “The home of the typical poor family was not overcrowded and was in good repair. In fact, the typical poor American had more living space than the average European. The typical poor American family was also able to obtain medical care when needed. By its own report, the typical family was not hungry and had sufficient funds during the past year to meet all essential needs. Poor families certainly struggle to make ends meet, but in most cases, they are struggling to pay for air conditioning and the cable-TV bill as well as to put food on the table.” They also point out that there’s a strong correlation between having boys in the home and having an Xbox or another gaming system.

In terms of physical goods, what is it that we want the poor to have that they do not? A third or fourth television?

Partly, what elites want is for the poor to have lives and manners more like their own: less Seven-Layer Burrito, more Whole Foods; less screaming at their kids in the Walmart parking lot and more giving them hideous and crippling fits of anxiety about getting into the right pre-kindergarten. Elites want for the poor to behave themselves, to stop being unruly and bumptious, to get over their distasteful enthusiasms, their bitter clinging to God and guns. Progressive elites in particular live in horror of the fact that poor people tend to suffer disproportionately from such health problems as obesity and diabetes, and that they do not take their social views from Chris Hayes — and these two phenomena are essentially the same thing in their minds. Consider how much commentary from the Left about the Tea Party has consisted of variations on: “Poor people are gross.”

A second Xbox is not going to change that very much.

Williamson’s point about what elites want for the poor is a key one. Much of the concern about inequality isn’t borne out a genuine desire to improve the material wellbeing of those at the bottom. It’s about changing the way they live to bring it more in line with progressive values.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Time to Hit the BRICs?

Fascinating article by Michael Mandelbaum at The American Interest on the BRIC Bust?:

Whether or not the BRICs realize their potential for economic growth, that potential exceeds that of the world’s wealthiest countries because of what some economists call convergence. Rich countries already have in abundance what produces growth: the most advanced technology and techniques of production. For them, further growth requires inventing new techniques and technologies, a slow, unpredictable process. The BRICs, by contrast, can expand their economies simply by incorporating the technologies and techniques the rich have already invented. Incorporation is a much easier and faster way than invention to mobilize existing but underutilized economic resources—hence the buoyant optimism of recent years. All things being equal, the BRICs should lead the world in growth until they, too, reach the technological frontier.

All other things are not, however, equal. That is the reason for the outgoing tide and the uncertainty over the BRICs’ long-term economic prospects, and the political consequences of their growth rates. While certainty about their economic future is not possible, the range of uncertainty can be narrowed with a single observation: The extent to which the BRICs fulfill their considerable economic potential in the years ahead will depend, as do all economic matters, on politics.

Specifically, the economic growth rate for the four BRICs will depend on how well each copes with a feature of its politics that once served to spur economic advance but now hinders it. For Brazil that feature is the political tradition known as populism. For Russia it is the distorting impact of its large reserves of energy. For India and China it is their political systems: democratic and authoritarian, respectively.

Mandelbaum goes on to detail the particular challenges that each country faces and what they need to do to overcome them. If I had to pick one country with the best chance of turning things around it would be the one that has probably least realized its potential up until now: India.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

If Everyone is Special...

A few years back, the TSA started implementing Precheck security lanes. These lanes were designed for frequent fliers with a long-term travel history and later expanded to include those who have underground background checks to enroll in the Global Entry program. And for a while it worked great.

Those of us who qualified for Pre-Check could expect much shorter security lines with experienced fellow travelers who knew what they were doing. And we didn’t have to take our shoes off or our laptops or liquids out of our bags. By streamlining and improving a process that can be one of the more frustrating parts of flying, it significantly improved the overall travel experience for those who were part of it. After years of moving in the wrong direction, there was finally step in the right direction to make flying somewhat less of a hassle. Three cheers for Pre-Check!

Recently however, I began to notice that the lines for Pre-Check were getting longer and longer to the point where the “regular” security lanes had shorter lines. And more and more of those waiting in line with me didn’t fit the profile or an experienced or trusted traveler. What had happened to something that was actually working well?

An article in today’s WSJ provides an explanation. Trouble Selling Fliers on the Fast Airport Security Lines:

The Transportation Security Administration is aggressively trying to encourage more people to sign up for TSA Precheck. But the effort has run into traveler confusion and aggravation.

Trying to hook new enrollees, TSA has been funneling regular travelers into Precheck lanes for a sample of swifter security. Some of the newbies get confused, however, and end up clogging the expedited lanes, angering Precheck veterans. And some regular travelers are getting the free perk so often they conclude they are already in the program and don't need to enroll.

"It used to be great, but recently the Precheck lines have been the slowest of all the lines," said Fred Van Bennekom, who teaches operations management at Northeastern University and has timed TSA lines out of curiosity. "Sometimes there's almost no one in regular lines and we're all backed up at Precheck."

If everyone is Precheck than no one is Precheck. We ran into the confusion and clogging issue last week when returning from Miami. TSA agents were sending non-Precheck folks through the Precheck lane and eventhought an agent was standing right there carefully explaining exactly how Precheck works, they struggled to understand and actually took longer going through the “fast” lane than they otherwise would have had they gone through normal security. This despite the fact that Precheck is actually all about having to DO LESS to get through. The agent who was trying to herd them through was visibly frustrated and even though our delay was minimal it was still annoying. We are not alone.

The influx of people to Precheck annoys some program veterans. Ann Fries says she sometimes finds 20 people in the Precheck line at Tampa, Fla., her home airport. Many get befuddled when told they don't have to take off their shoes and can leave liquids and laptops in bags. They ask why, slowing the line. Then they ask how they ended up in that lane.

We went from people who knew what they were doing to people in line who don't know what they are doing," said Ms. Fries, who signed up for Global Entry to get Precheck when it first started.

Precheck is still faster for her than regular screening at big airports like Los Angeles and Newark, which often have long lines at security screening, but Ms. Fries, an artistic director for a film festival, figures the Precheck changes have added 10 minutes to her average screening time during the past six to eight months. "It's still a billion times better than the regular lines, but it makes the benefit less of a benefit," she said.

Mr. Pistole said he has heard the complaints about Precheck lanes getting clogged, and TSA has already decided to stop moving travelers 75 years of age and older into Precheck service, unless they are enrolled, because they sometimes can take 10 minutes to move through. As Precheck enrollment grows, the "managed inclusion" effort will be phased out, he said.

I guess we should be thankful that there are some limits to the scope of those the TSA wants to go through Precheck.

Here’s a crazy idea to consider. How about we make almost all the security lanes Precheck and then only filter those who have a higher risk profile into “enhanced” security lanes? It would eliminate the benefits (increasingly diminished as they may be) that regular travelers get from Precheck, but it would make the experience of flying better for the vast majority of people who pose no real security risk.

Nah. Makes too much sense.

That's Entertainment

From the Star Tribune’s review of the Jungle Theater’s presentation of “Detroit”:
Howdy neighbor, welcome to hell — the smoldering ash heap of an American economy that once fed dreams, nourished families and created the greatest civilization on Earth. That America was a real place, with pretty neighborhoods and trees in the yard and friends who trusted one another. In Lisa D’Amour’s incendiary and brilliant play “Detroit,” fierce gods of fate rain down destruction on that remembered Eden.

Joel Sass’ staging of “Detroit” at the Jungle Theater pushes D’Amour’s script to the frayed edges of mythology.  His production team has created a fearless and swirling incantation that does what great theater should do: Grab you, scare you, haunt you and demand that you pay attention.

It’s true.  At least that’s the reason I’m going to see Stillwater Junior High School’s presentation of "Annie" this weekend.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Rise and Shine

Good article in today’s WSJ on The NHL's Unsung Star: The Anthem Singer:

In other sports, the singing of the national anthem is a formality. Fans stand and remove their caps. Then they sit and the game begins.

Hockey is different. In the NHL, 26 of the 30 teams employ regular anthem singers who give emotional performances night after night. Many are celebrities with cultlike followings.

Minnesota Wild anthem singer James Bohn says his status has helped him escape speeding tickets. When 33-year veteran New York Rangers singer John Amirante takes a night off, the fans chant, "We want John!" Singing the anthem for the Detroit Red Wings since 1990 has won Karen Newman stints as a backup singer for Michiganders Kid Rock and Bob Seger.

The Washington Capitals jokingly placed singer Bob McDonald on the injured-reserve list one season when his duties as an Army sergeant drew him away. In Philadelphia, before Lauren Hart begins to sing, fans shout, "I love you, Lauren!"

In addition to their familiarity, another reason NHL anthem singers are popular is their adherence to tradition:

The flamboyant national anthems sometimes heard at basketball and football games don't go over well in the NHL. In hockey, anthem singers perform the tune as written, note for note. Loud is good. Pop-inspired flash isn't.

"I don't want people to say, 'Wasn't that a lovely rendition of our anthem?'" Bohn, the Minnesota Wild singer, said. "I'd rather have them say, 'Yeah, let's play some hockey!"

Hart got the same message from her broadcaster father, Gene Hart, moments before singing her first anthem for the Flyers as a teenager: "Keep it straight … just sing the song," the Hall of Fame broadcaster told his daughter.

"I don't like it when they embellish," said right winger Jamal Mayers, who recently retired from the league after 15 years. "I see that all the time in football and basketball where they do their own little riffs and I'm like, you can audition for 'The Voice' another time; this is the national anthem."

Exactly. And there’s nothing better to get you pumped up for a hockey game than a classic rendering of said anthem (even better when you get both the Canadian and American versions). Especially if said game is a Stanley Cup playoff contest.

The quest to hoist the hallowed Cup this year starts tonight which makes this a wonderful time of year (even if it is snowing in mid-April). To make your NHL playoff experience even better (yes, it is possible) you can join the Fraters league in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoff Bracket Challenge.

All you have to do is pick winners in round one, round two, the conference finals, and the Stanley Cup finals. Easy, right? You can’t win if you don’t play so get your picks in today before the puck drops tonight.


This classic, cinematic portrayal best dramatizes the solemn, patriotic devotion by hockey enthusiasts for our national anthem:

Saturday, April 12, 2014

We Ignored The News Today, Oh Boy

CNN has officially become a joke.  Granted, I rarely intentionally watch the network that is, at best, a shameless cheerleader for the Obama administration.  I do, however, have their broadcast foisted upon me while working out at my local health club every other day or so (yes, people, I am becoming more health conscious in my old age).

For the last five weeks, the talking heads on this "news" network have breathlessly covered every single aspect of the Malaysian airplane that crashed into the Indian Ocean despite the fact that very few facts have been revealed.  They've spoken to every available expert. They've covered every single conspiracy theory.  They've replayed the timeline ad infinitum with sparkly graphics and ridiculous telestrator gymnastics. They've covered the history of the "black box" in a segment I've seen replayed at least three times. They've used the term "Breaking News" so many times that the meaning of the term has been forever bastardized.

Here is just a short list of current news stories that CNN is ignoring so they can provide the American people with hard hitting speculation and meaningless expert testimony:

Armed men seize police stations in eastern Ukraine

Kathleen Sebelius' resignation as HHS Secretary

TSA officials under investigation for illegal weapons distribution scheme

7.6 mag quake strike Soloman Islands

Standoff at Nevada ranch drags on

Syria rebels, government report poison gas attack

NCAA Frozen Four: Minnesota, Union title game shaping up as one for the ages

Now, I don't know if the American people are really that wrapped up in "The Mystery of Flight 370". Personal experience tells me that they are not. My suspicion is that CNN is unable to come up with any stories that bolster support for the increasingly unpopular Obama administration so they choose to fill airtime with mindless drivel about an unfortunate incident which we may never be able to explain.

Say what you want about Fox News, but at least they attempt to hold true to the definition of the word "news".

Oh, yeah...and Go Gophers!!!

Sunday, April 06, 2014

HWX: Quiet Riot with Sen. Marco Rubio

It was a special midweek edition of the Hinderaker Ward Experience, with John Hinderaker of Power Line and Brian Ward of Fraters Libertas reconvening to discuss the vital issues of our time.  These include:
  • An April blizzard in Minnesota and other developments in global warming
  • John's continuing fight to establish the truth behind allegations of coordinated attacks by the Washington Post and Senate Democrats
  • The Supreme court decision in McCutcheon vs. the FEC, and the balance between First Amendment rights and campaign finance laws
  • Loons of the Week (on moisturizers and stinkburgers)
  • This Week in Gate Keeping (what does the Tesla Roadster really sound like)
  • Rumors of a new challenger to Sen. Al Franken in Minnesota
And, they were joined by special guest Sen. Marco Rubio for an extended discussion on the lightly covered but vitally important recent developments in Venezuela and the uprising against their socialist government.
Here's the link for the show:  Quiet Riot, with Marco Rubio.
UPDATE:  And the player is back in action in the upper right hand corner of this web site.  

Separated at Birth?

A longtime reader submits the following Separated at Birth.

REO Speedwagon front man Kevin Cronin and...

...ACA front woman Kathleen Sebelius?

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

What Did You Expect?

Today on the internet a bunch of people were grousing about their dissatisfaction with Monday night's ending of "How I Met Your Mother." I would note that this post contains SPOILERS, so if you're concerned about ruining the anticipation of watching the finale on DVR, I would advise you to GET A LIFE and stop reading now!

With that out of the way, I'll briefly recap a mediocre, yet long-running show with a mildly creative premise.

The entire show is a flashback from the year 2030 where the main character, Ted, is telling his teen-aged kids a story. The story is titled, "How I Met Your Mother," but the title is deceiving. At no time in the first 200 episodes does Ted really explain how he met their mother. Occasionally, he'll give a small hint, but it's usually an aside. The really bizarre thing about the stories Ted tells is their graphic sexual content. In most stories, either he or his friend Barney is horned up and going after some broad(s). These stories are not exactly the story a dad wants to tell to a teenage daughter (and son) if he wants her (or him) to develop a healthy sense of sexuality.

Barney is easily the funniest character on the show, because he has no moral compass and that can lead to some funny situations. There is a shade of truth to Barney, despite his antics which are amped up for TV, because there are plenty of guys like that out there. Normally, they are called 19-year olds. Never mind that Barney is over 40 by the end of the show. The other characters include Ted's  fairly normal married friends, who in real life would never hang out with a guy like Barney and certainly wouldn't help him act as a sexual predator on unsuspecting women. The final main character is a girl named Robin, who in the course of the show developed a romantic history with both Barney and Ted.

You will notice that I've listed the five main characters, and the "Mother" isn't included. She really wasn't ever shown until late into the 9th season. The show would have been more accurately titled, "How My Perverted Buddy and I Got It On With (Literally) Hundreds of Women Before You Were Born." Yet fans of the show actually believed the story would end with Ted meeting their mother and everyone living happily ever after.

One interesting thing about the show is the timeline. Because the story began in 2030 and flashed back to 2006, the time-frame only advances in the flashbacks. So in season one, the story of what happened in 2006 is being told in 2030, yet in the final season the story of what happened in 2014 is being told in 2030. That creates a problem with the kids. They would be in their mid-teens while recording the first episodes, yet  would normally (until Obamacare changed the rules) be out of the house and on their own nine years later. The creators solved this by recording the ending scenes while they were still kids, nearly a decade ago. On a typical show, the kids are only shown for a few seconds, so I'd imagine that it didn't take much shooting in 2006 to gather all of the footage required for the entire run of the show. In fact, one could argue that the final show has more dialog from the kids than all the other shows combined.

Now we the audience didn't know that the kids parts were recorded in 2006, but it was one of three logical options, the others being 2) get new kids for the final show or 3) bring back adults and try to make them look like kids through makeup and camera trickery. Since they have never done 2) or 3) despite showing the kids for a few seconds at the end of each episode, it makes sense to anticipate that the ending was planned years ahead.

On to the ending, which dissatisfied so many fans of the show. In the final episode, Ted meets the mother, they spend a few minutes together on screen, have two kids, she dies, and Ted concludes his story. Along the way Barney gets a girl pregnant, has a baby girl, and completely changes his personality. Ted's kids end up explaining what anyone who's watching the show already knew: the story wasn't about how he met their mother at all. I'm shocked that anyone could possibly be shocked by that.

To the fans who are upset with the ending, I'd advise you not to get too down on this bad ending to a mediocre show. Much better shows struggled to come up with endings that were even adequate. Seinfeld and Cheers were two of the best comedies of all time and their endings were widely criticized. The Sopranos and Lost took a lot of grief for insulting their audience with their bad endings. Of all the comedies that had a highly anticipated ending, only Newhart really lived up to the billing.