Thursday, May 29, 2014

Giving a Monkey a Shower

Michael Levin asks What Makes 'Phineas and Ferb' the Most Original TV Show Since Ernie Kovacs?:

Phineas and Ferb is unique among TV cartoons in that it treasures the creativity and resourcefulness of kids while at the same time preserving the dignity and wisdom of parents. Indeed, on P&F, people basically get along. The parents have a functional relationship (something that used to be known as a happy marriage). They appreciate each other's quirks and embrace their roles as spouses and parents. Phineas and Ferb are half-brothers; they get along, perhaps because Ferb doesn't seem to mind that Phineas does most of the talking. (Swampy says Ferb's character is based on an uncle of his who had a cleft palate and didn't say much, but when he did say one thing, it was such a wise statement that everyone sat up and took notice.)

The half-brothers get along with their older sister, Candace, whose voice is performed by High School Musical veteran Ashley Tisdale. Candace suffers from teenage angst -- she constantly obsesses over the state of affairs with her boyfriend Jeremy while determining just how much energy to divert into "busting" her brothers, whom, deep down, she actually adores.

Even the action figures of the piece -- a pet platypus who transmogrifies himself into Secret Agent P in order to do battle with the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz -- recognize how much they need each other. Says Povenmire, "We said to ourselves, 'Can't we do a show where nobody's a jerk or an idiot to each other?'"

Our boys have been watching "Phineas and Ferb" for quite a while and it is easily the best show on television for kids. The writing is witty and fun and hits the mark when it comes to hooking the kids while keeping adults interested at the same time. That's a rare combination in the world of children's television today.

I never really gave much thought to how the characters interact on the show until I read this piece, but the fact that they do get along is also part of the appeal of the show. The children aren't snarky brats and the adults aren't doofuses. It isn't that fake holding hands around the campfire singing "Kumbaya" crap that you find on some PBS shows. It's an animated children's show so it obviously doesn't reflect reality, but there's nothing wrong with having likeable characters who treat each other decently.

A show for kids where the characters don't insult each other and the writers don't insult the intelligence of the audience? Who'd have thunk it? The guys who created "Phineas and Ferb" did.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Smoke Blowing and Flame Throwing

The MN GOP convention is this weekend and the highly competitive endorsement for Governor promises to be the primary drama of the event.  To provide a preview, who better than long time media personality and conservative Cyndy Brucato?  From her regular perch at the liberal news site Minn Post:

[Dave Thompson’s]  from Republican-rich Lakeville. He appeals to the party’s influential Liberty wing. He’s an attorney and a good speaker who can match Dayton’s intellect. But his days as a radio talk show host offer ample fodder for Democrats who are drooling at the chance to remind voters of Thompson’s flame-throwing past.

Either Dave Thompson did a secret stint as a toy soldier model in the 1970s, or Cyndy Brucato doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about.

If Dave Thompson had a problem on talk radio, it was that he was too responsible in his rhetoric and topic choices.  He sublimated entertainment for dense, substantive argument, week after week after methodical, grueling week.  In the history of conservative talk radio in the Twin Cities, which is nearly devoid of anyone you can rightly characterize as a "flame thrower," Dave Thompson is the most responsible and mellow exemplar of the medium.  I doubt that there was a single segment of a show that could be considered “flame throwing” let alone characterizing his entire career that way.  Brucato’s use of this blanket stereotype for anyone associated with talk radio doesn’t speak well for her level of awareness or journalistic judgment.  Unfortunately, this should provide ample fodder for critics who are drooling to remind readers of Brucato’s vapid, TV news anchoring past.

Some Google research indicates Brucato isn’t alone in her resort to this cheap and easy analysis.  No less of a sage observer than "Two Put Tommy" said this in 2012:

Long story, short: for over 7 years, Thompson was a RWNJ Shock-Jock on AM radio in the Twin Cities.

Shock jock, it’s true, before there was Opie and Anthony and Howard Stern, there was Dave Thompson and AM Radio Shock Jock Hugh Hewitt.  It’s like a continuum of hate.  Not based on tone or content, mind you, but they WERE all on the radio.  The medium is the message, guilty as charged!  (Just don't tell that to Garrison Keillor or Al Franken.)

The root cause of this Thompson character assassination appears to stem from way back in 2007, at this deservedly obscure and irresponsible blog:

Things may be improving for the Twins on the field of late, but it looks like there are some disturbing trends in the broadcast booth:
"[Manager Ron Gardenhire] met with team President Dave St. Peter on Saturday, expressing frustration with comments made on KSTP following Friday's game. Talk host Dave Thompson, who came on after the Twins' postgame show, made reference to the 10-game suspension Rincon received in May 2005 for violating baseball's policy on performance-enhancing drugs and suggested Rincon hasn't been the same.
"It's been talked about, and it's being addressed," Gardenhire said. "We've had our say with our president, and he's going to take care of it. He's going to talk to them. "They're supposed to be with us. And some of the things that were said were uncalled for and wrong."
What do the Twins expect when they leave their long time broadcast partner WCCO to link up with a station employing notorious shock jocks like Dave Thompson?

Good luck to Dave Thompson this weekend, in his fight for the gubernatorial endorsement and, more importantly, in overcoming this kind of prejudice which still festers in our society.  I have a dream that one day candidates will be judged on the content of their character and not the off-color nature of their previous career choices.

HWX, The Bold and the Beautiful

It's a special midweek edition of the Hinderaker Ward Experience (HWX), with John Hinderaker of Power Line and Brian Ward of Fraters Libertas reconvening to break down the critical issues of our time.  Topics addressed include:

*  Tips to beat the heat, as Minnesota swelters through its first upper 70 degree day of the year

*  Memorial Day and the balance point between honoring service and over-sentimentalization

*  The Veterans Administration scandal, and the associated scandal of people being surprised at the failures of socialism to efficiently deliver a service

*  Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, beneficiaries of a post-performance culture
*  The story of Meriam Ibrahim, on death row in Sudan for the crime of apostasy

*  Loon of the Week, Nancy Pelosi on a beautiful loser

*  This Week in Gatekeeping, a circulation count circus in Schenectady

There are many ways to hear the podcast, including over on the mother ship at Ricochet.   You can be sure to never miss an episode by subscribing via iTunes.  Or you can just use the player embedded in the upper right hand corner of this website.  If all of these fail, send me an email and I'll come to your house and read from a written transcript.  Hope you enjoy.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Pride Not Pity

In Saturday's WSJ, Phil Klay asks that we Treat Veterans With Respect, Not Pity:

Expert estimates of the actual prevalence of PTSD vary between 11% and 20% for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, according to the U.S. Veterans Administration. A 2012 VA report concluded that 247,243 veterans had been diagnosed with the disorder at VA hospitals and clinics. (For some perspective on these numbers: According to experts cited by the VA, some 8% of the overall U.S. population suffers from PTSD at some point in their lives, compared with up to 10% of Desert Storm veterans and about 30% of those from Vietnam.)

Some of these diagnosed veterans are my friends, and though their injuries certainly deserve all the research and support that we as a society can give, the current narrative about PTSD does them no favors. Even the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Finkel, who has produced some of the bravest and most admirable reporting on the Iraq war and its aftermath, can fall into uncomfortable generalizations. In his recent book "Thank You for Your Service," he writes of a battalion of 800 men: "All the soldiers…came home broken in various degrees, even the ones who are fine."

I don't know what it means to be simultaneously "broken" and "fine." I do have friends with real PTSD, which they manage with varying degrees of success. I also have friends whose pride in their service is matched by feelings of sorrow, anger and bitterness. But I wouldn't classify them as "broken." If a friend of yours just died on his seventh deployment in a war that hardly makes the news anymore and you didn't feel sad, angry and bitter, perhaps that is what counts as "broken." Likewise, if the absence of any public sense that we are a nation still at war doesn't leave you feeling alienated, perhaps that means you're "broken" too.

Pity places the focus on what's wrong with veterans. But for veterans looking at the society that sent them to war, it may not feel like they're the ones with the most serious problem.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

They're Down With OPM

City mulling extra $3.5 million for Nicollet Mall project
After receiving just below what they sought at the Legislature to renovate Nicollet Mall, city leaders are mulling whether to contribute $3.5 million to the project in order to leverage promised private dollars.

The overhaul of Minneapolis' signature street is expected to cost $50 million. The Downtown Council has said they are prepared to match up to $25 million, but the Legislature awarded the project $21.5 million in the final bonding bill.

“Since we got something less than $25 [million], we’re talking now about what we might do so as not to leave money on the table, if you will," said David Frank, the city's director of transit-oriented development.

"We certainly don’t want to leave any money on the table," concurred council president Barb Johnson. "And our project budget is $50 million. So we’re going to have to talk about how that gap gets filled.

Just the latest example of how casually our leaders discuss spending other people's money (ours that is). In theory you can argue that the city is indeed "leaving money on the table" because it won't get the full $25 million in promised matching funds from the private sector. However, getting that $3.5 million in private funds involves finding a way to finagle another $3.5 million out of public funds otherwise known as dollars taken from us in the form of taxes.

No one quoted in the story floated the radical notion that perhaps, just perhaps the city could scale back its plans and spend a mere $43 million on the Nicollet Mall renovation instead of the original proposal to drop fitty million on it (chances that said project actually comes in at or below that estimate about as good as Wolves winning NBA draft lottery). Why even consider that option when it's other peoples' money you're talking about spending?

Pretending to Know the Impossible

Kevin Williamson travels spectacularly and entertainingly far afield to explain the inherent reasons for the failures of the VA system and similar government efforts in a piece at NRO called The Cloud in the Machine:

Markets, the brain, and weather are among the textbook examples of complex systems, and they have something in common: Their behavior cannot be calculated beforehand. There is no Laplace’s Demon, especially not for human systems. You never have the same party twice, or the same traffic jam. “The behavior of some simple, deterministic systems can be impossible, even in principle, to predict in the long term,” writes computer scientist Melanie Mitchell of the Santa Fe Institute.

So, back to my original question: How confident should we be that our policies will produce the desired outcomes? That will depend in some part on how complex the system is that you are attempting to influence. Housing and mortgage markets are very complex, and politicians’ efforts to turn them to their own ends went very badly in 2008, and will go very badly again in the future. Health-insurance markets and medicine are both very complex, and we see how political efforts to manage those have been going.

Operating hospitals is a complex business, too. Consider a counterexample: Our food-stamp program has many problems, but imagine what a Hieronymus Bosch nightmare it would be if, instead of the current practice of giving poor people vouchers for food, we applied the VA model and attempted to have the government deliver the service itself rather than simply paying for it. That would mean federally operated farms, ranches, and slaughterhouses, government grocery stores, warehouses, distribution centers, transportation networks, etc., all managed with the competence and decency exhibited by the VA. Rather than trying to politically steer the extraordinarily complex system of producing and distributing food — rather than biting off way more than we can cognitively chew — we instead chose the relatively simple method, giving poor people vouchers for food. Of course that has its problems and unintended consequences, but they are milder than, say, national famine, which is probably what would come of government-run agriculture. We let the complex problem of food production meet the complex solution of the market.

Not every regulation or government program is doomed to fail. But we might consider the slightly terrifying possibility that when government does get something right, it does so by accident, temporarily, and for reasons that it cannot understand or replicate. This may be why the sheer volume of law and regulation has been climbing so rapidly: Intuiting its own inefficacy, Washington is throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. The Entity with Whom politicians sometimes confuse themselves needed only ten commandments, not the ten thousand a year that Washington produces. Some of those coming down in the near future will be intended to reform the VA. The rational thing to do would be to abolish it. We’d be far better off paying veterans’ medical bills out of the Treasury than trying to operate a network of hospitals and clinics. And no matter what Washington promises to do to solve this problem, it is a good bet that the policy enacted will not produce the result intended. Reform is a random walk.

Another feature of complex systems is that some of them are very sensitive to initial conditions, as expressed by the butterfly effect. It may be the case that things have gone as well as they have for us in the United States not because of any current policy or because of the unique genius and saintliness of our national leadership as currently constituted, but simply because the right people with the right prejudices did the right things for a relatively short period of time in the 18th century, and what we have now is very little more than the compounded returns on that cultural windfall. That seems to me a more likely explanation for our relatively happy and secure place in the world than that we were led to this point by the kind of thinking, and the kind of men, who brought us the VA hospitals and those dead veterans.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Working Blue

In yesterday’s WSJ, Gerald Seibargues that while Republicans will likely not embrace Rick Santorum as their standard bearer in 2016, they would be foolish to ignore the message that he’s trying to get across in his latest book “Blue Collar Conservatives”:

Implicitly, Mr. Santorum's analysis recognizes one of the underappreciated trends in current American politics: the extent to which the two parties have undergone an identity switch Increasingly, college-educated and upper-income Americans, once assumed to be a comfortable fit as Republicans, have become core elements of the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, blue-collar whites, once the core of the Democrats, increasingly have become Republicans.

That can be seen in a look back at Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling this year. In all polling conducted this year, half of those who identified themselves as Republicans had family incomes below $75,000 a year. And in the most recent Journal/NBC News survey last month, white working-class voters were more likely to identify themselves as Republicans than Democrats by a 37% to 35% margin.

Mr. Santorum is arguing for a GOP agenda that better reflects this rank and file. But the broader underlying problem for both parties lies in the indications that a populist uprising could be brewing among these folks.

This is not your father’s Democratic party. And it’s not his Republican party either. The GOP needs to recognize this reality and act accordingly.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Lost Boys

The latest and greatest course offering from Prager University is called "War on Boys":

What ever happened to letting "boys be boys?" Take these two cases: In one, a seven-year-old boy was sent home for nibbling a Pop Tart into a gun. In another, a teacher was so alarmed by a picture drawn by a student (of a sword fight), that the boy's parents were summoned in for a conference. In short, boys in America's schools are routinely punished for being active, competitive, and restless. In other words, boys can no longer be boys. Christina Hoff Sommers, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, explains how we can change this.

By the way, one of the best options for educating boys is homeschooling. Much easier to let them be boys and work around their energy and restlessness. And drawings of guns, fighting, and wars are not considered grounds for concern.

On Guard

Once again this year, Golden Valley Road (in Golden Valley natch) is lined with over 600 American flags from Douglas Drive Highway 100 to Winnetka Ave to remember and honor those who have paid the ultimate price for freedom. There is also a pre-Memorial Day event tomorrow night at the Golden Valley City Hall (also conveniently located in Golden Valley):

Minnesota Air National Guard Colonel Loren Hubert will present:

“From the Militia to the National Guard; 377 Years in Defense of our Nation”.


Master of Ceremonies is Northwest Community Television host Dave Kiser, also featuring professional story tellers Elaine Wynne and fellow veteran Larry Johnson, along with the Cooper High School band!

Join us in learning some history about our nation and also to have the opportunity to interact with questions afterwards. Pre-Memorial Day opportunity for all to enjoy and pay tribute to the fallen.

The event is free of charge and all are welcome to attend (even interlopers from Crystal).

Label Me

In Saturday's WSJ, writer Geoff Dyer participated in an on-going feature the paper has where they send a bottle to a particular person and ask for their perspective on it. In Dyer's case, he was presented with a bottle of El Segundo Brewing Company's Blue House Citra Pale ale. He has an interesting take on =labels. Geoff Dyer on a Microbrew Suited to Swigging or Savoring:

As befits the contents, the bottles are pretty cool too. We are living through a golden age of beer-bottle and label design. If I were younger I'd probably start a collection of them. In such a richly diverse field it's risky to generalize, but craft breweries seem to understand that it's not a bad idea to impart a suggestion of Grateful Dead-era psychedelia to their labels. Or, at the very least, a nod to the aesthetics of marijuana cultivation. At the same time it's important not to alienate the traditionalist, not to go too skate, surf and stoned.

When it comes to wine I am deeply conservative, reluctant to sample anything that doesn't feature a ch√Ęteau on the label. With beer I'm more open-minded, but I didn't know what the hell to make of Blue House Citra Pale ale from El Segundo Brewing Company, produced in Los Angeles County, where I now live. The bottle is brown—a good but not wholly unexpected sign. No decent beer comes in a clear bottle. But the label is impossible to decode. It's blue, featuring, in the midst of a hoppy wreath, some kind of clapboard house drawn in a style that is both cartoony and ominously expressionist. Over this, in rather creepy green letters, is stamped CITRA. I guess in El Segundo it's so infernally hot that it's smart to have colors that evoke three words: Numb With Cold.

But the combination of the Swamp Thing lettering of "Citra" and the looming house with its pitched roof brings us within psychic range of a horror movie, the kind of film no person of taste or maturity would consider watching. If I mis-time my arrival at a movie theater so that I am forced to see trailers for forthcoming releases, I realize I've passed way beyond the demographic most films target. Is it the same with beer? Was I wrong to think that the makers of Citra even care about a mature customer base when it's actually the teen and early-20s market that they need to get their hooks into? If so, then look out for Son of Citra or Citra II—coming soon to an under-age liquor store near you.

It turns out that the pale ale was suited to his tastes even if the label did give him momentary pause.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Gold in Them Thar Alps

I spent five days in Switzerland last November. Even though the visit was very brief, from what I could gather during my time there it seemed like the kind of place I could get used to living in. Recent news seems to confirm this.

Swiss Voters Reject Setting World's Highest Minimum Wage:

Swiss voters overwhelmingly rejected an initiative that would have introduced the highest minimum wage in the world.

The Minimum Wage Initiative, which had been proposed by the Swiss Trades Union Confederation, was defeated by a 76%-24% vote, according to Swiss television.

The referendum, which would have established a minimum hourly wage of 22 Swiss francs ($25), marked a move by Swiss voters away from legislating compensation. Last year, voters backed a proposal giving shareholders of publicly traded companies more say on executive pay. A subsequent vote on capping the salaries of the best-paid executives at 12 times those of a company's lowest-paid employees was rejected.

If similar referendums were held in the United States today what would you expect the results to be? Not only would be the vote be much closer than in Switzerland, I wouldn't be surprised if a national proposal to raise the minimum wage by an equivalent amount would actually pass here.

Spend It and They Will Come

This past Saturday local political dignitaries and others gathered to celebrate the opening of the newest light rail station at Target Field:

Who knew spending other people's money could be so much fun?

In a time of economic uncertainty, runaway entitlements that no one wants to talk about much less deal with, and rising national debt you might think our elected leaders would be at least a little more circumspect when it comes to our spending priorities.

“They thought let’s not just make this a plain old transit stop, let’s make this a public space,” Senator Amy Klobuchar said.

Yeah, 'cause why should we settle for a boring, less expensive option when we can get a cool public space for a mere $85 million. It’s not like it’s our money we’re spending anyway, right?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

HWX, with Guest John Yoo

It was a special weeknight edition of the Hinderaker-Ward Experience (HWX), with John Hinderaker of Power Line and Brian Ward of Fraters Libertas reconvening to brood upon the critical issues of our time.  Topics addressed include:

*  the Donald Sterling imbroglio and alienation from the culture

*  the upcoming Congressional inquiries into Benghazi and the IRS scandals

*  the predictive power of poll results on Obama’s performance vs. softer issues like women’s issues and gay marriage

* The continuing obsession of Harry Reid and the Washington Post over the Koch Bros.

We were also joined John Yoo, Ricochet podcast superstar, and author of the new book, Point of Attack: Preventive War, International Law, and Global Welfare.

There are many ways to hear the podcast, including over on the mother ship at Ricochet.  You can be sure to never miss an episode by subscribing via iTunes.  Or you can just use the player embedded in the upper right hand corner of this website.  If all of these fail, send me an email and I'll come to your house and read from a written transcript.  Hope you enjoy.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Hero Sandwich

There was a lot of excitement among Vikings’ fans last night during the NFL draft over the prospect of drafting Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel.  When the time came, the Vikings could have done it, it was within their grasp, and if they had, it would have given the fans a lot of happiness.  But, as demonstrated in so many Super Bowls and NFC Championships, the team simply isn’t in the business of making its fans happy. The Vikings chose to do something else instead.  Just another reminder, to be a Vikings fan is to suffer.

No fan base endures suffering for half a century without developing coping strategies, among these are finding silver linings in those gray clouds.  So, while our #1 draft choice isn’t bringing a Heisman trophy with him, he is bringing this:

UCLA’s Anthony Barr the latest NFL draft prospect to get a Subway sculpture. The sculpture is made entirely of vegetables that can be found on a footlong sub.  
The sculptor, Jim Victor of Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, got Barr’s face down so accurately that even his mustache and stubble (made of black olives, it appears) look real.
"It’s awesome,” Barr said. “When they first asked me about it, I said, ‘Oh yeah, that’d be cool,’ but I didn’t know what to expect. Now, I see this giant sculpture that looks just like me made out of veggies; it is spot on. I feel like I am finally and officially a part of the family.” 

You can keep your Johnny Football.  We’ve got Tony Veggie Delite.

How About A Fresca Danny?