Monday, July 21, 2014

Back to the Front

noun, plural rac·on·teurs  
a person who is skilled in relating stories and anecdotes interestingly.

There are many words that one could use to describe writer Mark Yost (some of them actually not obscene), but raconteur is probably the one that comes to mind first. From his work on the business of sports to his Nick Mattera series of thrillers to the new Rick Crane noir, Mark covers the base and does so with style and flair. 

His latest effort is to serve as a virtual tour guide for World War One's Western Front at a blog called The Western Front in a Week:

As many of you know, I am an avid World War I historian.

I lived in Brussels for three years, writing for The Wall Street Journal. I have visited most of the battlefields, monuments, cemeteries and museums related to what most Europeans still call “The Great War.” Along the way, I’ve written numerous articles over the years for The Wall Street Journal and other publications.

August 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of what many consider the major events that actually began the 20th century. Over the next four years, more people than ever before (hopefully) will be visiting the Menin Gate in Ypres, the British memorial at Thiepval on The Somme, and the Ossuary at Verdun.

Given all the renewed interest in World War I, I am offering my expertise. I can guide your tour across France and Belgium. I can help you plan your self-guided tour to make sure you visit the most informative museums, most moving monuments, and most haunting cemeteries. And, I am available to speak to your book club, luncheon group, or professional meeting.

World War I is an oft-forgot piece of history, overshadowed by World War II and other events. I hope that changes with the advent of the 100th anniversary.

In short, I’m here to increase your knowledge of World War I and make your trip to the Western Front enjoyable and informative, in whatever way I can.

Over the course of the next four years, I will be commenting here on the anniversary of important battles, republishing my articles past, present and future from The Wall Street Journal, and curating what I hope you will find to be a lively and engaging discussion on World War I.

Our boys will be studying World War One next year as part of their home school curriculum. At this point, requests to have Mark swing by for personal tutoring have not been responded to.  Check out Mark's new blog anyway and his other writing. It's all good stuff. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Goldberg Variation

Following up on the Friends Like These post from last week (on Sen. Tom Coburn and the cross ideological friendships in the Senate), the conversation continues at Ricochet with some insightful comments from the membership over there. 

This weekend, Jonah Goldberg also had an excellent analysis on the way liberals mask their political arguments that I think gets to the root of how people like Coburn can believe someone to be a destructive, wasteful, scoundrel and a great person and good friend. When Coburn says things like ...

They are great people. But, they lack the judgment to see what they’re doing. They’re blinded by their own ambition. A great person is .. I’m not questioning their motives, I’m questioning they’re lack of experience. That’s the difference. If you continue to send people here who have no real world experience, no real hardship, no real difficulty, no real successes in life outside of politics, you’re going to continue to get the same result. 

...  I think he’s just showing that he falls for the strategy they employ, as described by Goldberg: 

 … liberalism hides behind seemingly value-neutral or benign language in order to advance a value-laden and not necessarily benign agenda. Conservatives argue as conservatives. Liberals tend to argue not so much as liberals, but in a variety of disguises, each of which tries to draw on authority unearned by liberalism itself. Indeed, the history of American liberalism can be understood as a series of costume changes. A new nominally non-ideological discipline emerges — political science, engineering, public health, psychology, environmentalism, neuroscience and, these days, various forms of data prestidigitation — and liberals flock to it. They don the latest fashionable version of the white smock and say — à la Bill Murray in Ghostbusters — “back off man, we’re scientists.” Or to be more fair, they claim to be speaking for the scientists, engineers, psychologists, and other experts. “We’re not ideologues, we go with the facts.” 
… Today, the political landscape is littered with earnest, well-intentioned, and often, incredibly sanctimonious liberals who insist that they are simply pursuing truth and fact regardless of ideology. 

Both Coburn and Goldberg agree that this approach is rarely vindicated in the long run by being on the right side of the truth in a matter. Coburn seems to hold out hope that someday they’ll learn (or that the people will elect more practical, logical liberals), while Goldberg notes that landing on the truth is not the point of the argument strategy, and before anyone can stop and reflect on the false arguments of yesterday, they’re already on to the next intellectual pose.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Beer of the Week (Vol. CXCIII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week, sponsored as always by the juicy folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can provide the perfect libation to quench any thirst.

This week we feature our first beer from Chicago’s Finch’s Beer Company:

Finch's Beer Co. is in the business of brewing great, craft beers locally in Chicago, Illinois. We use the best ingredients and take special care to make sure every batch is the best we can brew.

They have a summer seasonal called Wet Hot American Wheat which sounds like a perfect mid-summer beer.

Four pack of 16oz cans goes for $9.99. Sweet looking red, yellow, and blue can design that screams America and summer.

STYLE: American Wheat Ale


HEAD (0-2): Bright white color with decent volume and good lacing. 2

COLOR (0-2): Light straw brown and nicely clouded with yeast. 2

AROMA (0-2): Floral hops with a grapefruit/lemon finish. 2

TASTE (0-5): Yeasty and bready with citrus flavors and a touch of spice. The finish is crisp and a little bitter. Thin watery mouthfeel with a lighter body. Very refreshing and drinkable. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Flavors linger nicely. 2

OVERALL (0-6): A good American wheat that hits all the right summer notes. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 16

Saturday, July 12, 2014

HWX: Love Is the Law (with Mark Yost)

It’s a special, Saturday edition of the Hinderaker-Ward Experience, with John Hinderaker of Power Line and Brian Ward of Fraters Libertas reconvening from their summer hiatus to deliberate on the critical issues of our time.  Topics addressed include:

*  Invasion of Minnesota by a polar vortex and the MLB All Star Game 

*  Invasion of the southern border by the DREAMers

*  Elected officials abandonment of the rule of law and the efficacy of the available remedies
*  Loon of the Week:  Nancy Pelosi LIVE on the southern border

*  This Week in Gatekeeping: LA Times and the cold, hard facts on one man’s porn consumption and endowment size

They were also joined by the Houston Business Journal’s Mark Yost, discussing his new novel Cooper’s Daughter.  Mark also provided the Texas POV on the current crises at the southern border, the influence of mass immigration on the political future of the state, and on the future of book publishing (ecommerce vs. the traditional model).

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 below.  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.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Wrath of Kahn 2: The Return of Miss Demeanor

Disturbing news out of the West Bank of Minneapolis. From the cradle of Minnesota conservative punditry (as the former home precinct of legends such as Sarah Janacek, James Lileks and me), a fall from grace with shocking allegations of voter fraud and intimidation in the race for Minnesota House of Representatives, District 60B.

First, 42-year incumbent Phyllis Kahn accuses her upstart DFL opponent Mohamud Noor of benefiting from a biased election judge in the run-up to the primary election:

The filing alleges that election judge Fadumo Yusuf asked voters at City Hall whether they were voting for “our Somali brother” or “the old Jewish lady,” apparent references to Noor and Kahn. Election judges must be neutral under state law.

The only election law this appears to violate is the official oath taken by election judges, as detailed in Minnesota statute 204B.24:

Each election judge shall sign the following oath before assuming the duties of the office:
"I .......... solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will perform the duties of election judge according to law and the best of my ability and will diligently endeavor to prevent fraud, deceit and abuse in conducting this election. I will perform my duties in a fair and impartial manner and not attempt to create an advantage for my party or for any candidate."

It is arguable that Yusuf’s statements were a technical violation of this oath.  However, if truth is an absolute defense in a defamation case, it should be in an election judge oath case as well.  Kahn is an old Jewish lady. These are the facts and they are not in dispute.  In fact, if Yusuf were to say she is an old Jewish lady who could pass as a bad Harry Carey impersonator, that might pass legal muster as well.

As to the legitimacy of the fraternal order of all Somalis, who are we (me and Phyllis, two old Jewish ladies) to judge their concept of familial ties?

More disturbing are the allegations by Noor’s supporters of intimidation tactics by Kahn supporters:

The complaint follows accusations of two Kahn supporters attacking a political opponent on Saturday at the Riverside Plaza apartments. Minneapolis police cited Halima Elmi and Deqa Adan for fifth-degree assault of Marian Hersi, who is campaigning for Noor.  Adan’s older brother is the ward’s council member, Abdi Warsame, who also supports Kahn.

We’ll let the police sort out this sordid mess.  But West Bank resident Mohamed Jama seems to perfectly capture the tone of this Democrat House primary race:

“I have never seen this kind of politics — dirty politics,” [Mohamed Jama] said of the race in general. “What does that say about the city’s process? … It’s the voter’s choice.”

If past precedent means anything, you ain’t seen nothing yet Mohamed.

Phyllis Kahn merits more than just suspicion for engaging in election related hijinx , she’s already been convicted of it. From 2004, when Phyllis Kahn was a fresh faced whippersnapper, with only three decades in office:

State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, a 32-year veteran from Minneapolis and a key figure in the DFL House caucus, was stopped by New Hope police earlier this week after a citizen complained that she was removing a Republican House member's campaign literature from doorsteps and replacing it with a DFL opponent's material.
The case has been referred to the Anoka County attorney's office for possible charges, officials said.

Ultimately, Kahn admitted her guilt in court and was convicted, though the wrist-slap sentence she received included a dismissal of her conviction if she didn’t reoffend within 12 months.  Thankfully, the rat hole the government created for disappearing Kahn’s election related criminal history did not mandate expunging of the Fraters Libertas record of what went down in 2004:

July 23:  Because If It Is Close and The Wrath of Kahn

September 24:  Call Her Miss Demeanor

October 28:  Endorsement Paralysis

Despite Kahn’s admission and conviction, she was returned to office just a few months later in a landslide. IN 2004, fully 59% of the voters in this district (then called 59B) consciously and deliberately voted for a person of this character and criminal disposition.  And they have continued to do so every two years since then.

But maybe not this year.  Over the past decade on the West bank, the demographics of the voting population has been radically altered, from leftover 60s radicals and fresh college hipster doofuses, to, well, Somali brothers, and sisters.  Phyllis Kahn, who received 94% of the vote in the general election as recently as 2002, could not even secure the endorsement by her party this year.

The lack of an endorsement was a victory for supporters of challenger Mohamud Noor, many of them Somali-Americans, who chanted and lifted Noor on their shoulders after the convention was adjourned. “I deeply respect Representative Kahn, but I think they have spoken that there’s a time for change,” Noor said. “And I think we are moving towards that change.”

Mass immigration has been characterized by some as a way for Democrat politicians to elect themselves a new people.  In District 60B, it looks like its mission accomplished, with unanticipated consequences.

With their steadfast support of Kahn, the old majority of voters on the West Bank showed themselves to be content with corrupt political activities.  Given this, all adherents of good government and fair play should be happy to see a change in who will be selecting the person for this important office going forward and embrace the new population of 60B.  We at Fraters Libertas welcome our Somali brother (brother in good government), Mohamud Noor.

Just one tip Mohamud, keep your eyes on your campaign flyers.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Book Is Better than the Movie

There is a classic Saturday Night Live sketch from the 80s called “Ronald Reagan Mastermind”. It portrays Reagan as a hyperactive, genius, micromanaging executive behind the scenes, tactically playing the role of the doddering, avuncular figurehead president in front of the cameras. 

It’s funny in concept because it plays directly against the stereotype of Reagan in the imagination of the media and much of the public. (From the theory of humor by Thomas Veatch, laughs derive from "a subjective state of apparent emotional absurdity, where the perceived situation is seen as normal, and where, simultaneously, some affective commitment of the perceiver to the way something in the situation ought to be is violated.").

It’s funny in practice because of the performance of Phil Hartman, and a supporting cast including Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz, and a cameo appearance by Dennis Miller.

Needless to say, SNL is incapable of reprising this sketch for the modern day. They don’t have the talent of the cast mentioned above. And they don’t have the ability to see the President as a true target of ridicule. To them, he is, in reality, a genius, micromanaging executive. Therefore, their attempts at Presidential humor are usually directed at the President’s opponents or at the public which doesn’t sufficiently appreciate him. This will resonate with some of the American public, but only a minority, more partisan bloc. The lack of a shared stereotype between SNL (and establishment media in general) and the public means they will not achieve the mass appeal, or be considered classically funny, in the same way their predecessors could.

What would it look like if someone tried to parody Obama in the same way SNL did with Reagan? I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job than Gavin McInnes at Taki’s Magazine, with his article “The Real White House”.  It’s the tale of what might have transpired behind the scenes as the Bowe Bergdahl-terrorist prisoner swap transpired. It imagines the President as a tough, dedicated, experienced, results-oriented leader with his country’s best interests always foremost on his mind. Excerpt below, but I encourage you to read the whole thing and prepare for a state of emotional absurdity where the perceived situation is seen as normal, while some affective commitment by you to the way something in the situation ought to be is violated.

“Sir, with all due respect,” Susan Rice boldly states, “you did say no soldier left behind.” 
Obama closes his eyes with regret. Why did he appoint this publicist to such a high office? “What was I thinking?” he says to himself. Then he gives her a look that almost sets her weave on fire. 
She stares back at him, defenseless. She decides to double down. “It’s not up to us to decide which soldier lives or dies. This isn’t a death panel.” 
The president looks pensively out the window. He would love to strangle her because she talks like the enemy, but he’s not on the battlefield anymore. He’s in the highest office in the land and he has to use his mind, not his immense physical strength and seemingly limitless tactical training. 
“Susan” he says calmly, “Every life lost is the result of myriad complex calculations. Of course I wanted to negotiate this man’s release. So did most Republicans. The fact that we are at the point where we may have to give five prisoners for one deserter is a bad calculation. It’s also a very dangerous one. This will be a net loss for American lives.” The president’s voice has been getting incrementally louder and Rice is visibly shaken. “When the war is over—and believe me, this war will end—we will negotiate the release of all our prisoners. However, the war is NOT over. And do you know what war is, ambassador?” 
 The president inhales before bellowing, “WAR IS A F***ING DEATH PANEL!” 
 Susan Rice bursts into tears and runs out of the Oval Office sobbing. She won’t be back. Barack Obama is instantly composed and continues the discussion with his advisors. “If,” he says, with one finger in the air, “If we are beyond the point of no return and we must give five prisoners for this, this, ass-clown, let’s do it with as little fanfare as possible. I want the exchange to go down under the wire and I don’t want to hear about it ever again. When Bowe—” The president pauses to shake his head. “Who spells Beau b-o-w-e anyhow?” he asks. 
Two officers dare to smile. Obama wipes the grins off their faces with one glance. “When this f***ing spud returns home, I want a full investigation. If he deserted his post, that’s treason and the punishment for treason in this country is the death penalty. We lost what, five men tracking this guy?” he asks. 
“More like eight, sir,” an officer replies. 
The president clenches his fist and begins to walk out. His dinner might still be warm and he needs another drink. “Oh,” he says, turning back after opening the door, “Make sure the prisoners we released are taken care of. I don’t want to hear about it either.” He smiles before adding, “Old school,” and walks out of the room.

Friday, July 04, 2014

America The Beautiful

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

With Friends Like These

Steven Hayward at Power Line on the annoying habit of politicians in Washington claiming to be “friends” with their ideological opposites:

One of the first things you notice when you move to Washington DC from the rest of America is how the specialized vocabulary of the Beltway dominates everyday conversation.
I’d add to this list two of my own.  First, the Senate convention of referring to your ideological enemies in the other party as “My good friend.”  In a few cases it is authentic, but most of the time it is a lie.  (Does anyone believe that anyone—in either party—actually considers Harry Reid to be “friend” material?) 

For the record, being polite to your fellow Senators while making floor speeches is required by the Senate rules on debate:

No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.

The practice of using flowery, elevated language while in the act of doing the public’s business has its advantages. When attempting to use the force of the state to do things to other people, there will be controversy.  And people, generally, are animals, even the hot house Ivy Leaguers and precious, patrician dilettantes that comprise most of our current political class.  Anything that tones down the emotion and keeps everyone focused on factual argument, like forced rhetorical respect for one’s opponents, is a good idea.

What happens when you ignore this rule?  The beating of Sen. Charles Sumner by Rep. Preston Brooks on the floor of the Senate chamber in 1856 serves as an example.  I have to think that even being forced to pretend his fellow Senators were his friends and worthy of respect might have defused this situation to some degree:

The inspiration for this clash came three days earlier when Senator Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts antislavery Republican, addressed the Senate on the explosive issue of whether Kansas should be admitted to the Union as a slave state or a free state.  In his "Crime Against Kansas" speech, Sumner identified two Democratic senators as the principal culprits in this crime—Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina.  He characterized Douglas to his face as a "noise-some, squat, and nameless animal . . . not a proper model for an American senator."  Andrew Butler, who was not present, received more elaborate treatment.  Mocking the South Carolina senator's stance as a man of chivalry, the Massachusetts senator charged him with taking "a mistress . . . who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean," added Sumner, "the harlot, Slavery." 
Representative Preston Brooks was Butler's South Carolina kinsman.  If he had believed Sumner to be a gentleman, he might have challenged him to a duel.  Instead, he chose a light cane of the type used to discipline unruly dogs.  Shortly after the Senate had adjourned for the day, Brooks entered the old chamber, where he found Sumner busily attaching his postal frank to copies of his "Crime Against Kansas" speech.
Moving quickly, Brooks slammed his metal-topped cane onto the unsuspecting Sumner's head.  As Brooks struck again and again, Sumner rose and lurched blindly about the chamber, futilely attempting to protect himself.  After a very long minute, it ended.
Bleeding profusely, Sumner was carried away.  Brooks walked calmly out of the chamber without being detained by the stunned onlookers.  Overnight, both men became heroes in their respective regions.

More problematic than the civilized rules of debate is the unofficial affection and camaraderie overtly displayed by elected officials of wildly divergent philosophical beliefs.  'Yes, I believe him to be dishonest, manipulative, naïve and that he’s unalterably ruining this country, but … there’s just something about his smile.'

Recently on CSPAN, Brian Lamb interviewed Sen. Tom Coburn and nearly the entire hour becomes Lamb’s repeated attempt to understand this exasperating Washington insider’s club mentality.  Coburn is as close to the ideal for a modern politician as a for which a conservative could hope.  But, his dissembling, evasive answers to very direct, simple question indicate the Washington mindset may be too much to overcome for anyone who’s been there for a prolonged period.

This clip is classic Brian Lamb, where upon being told that liberal Democrat politicians are “great people” and then that they’re also lazy, corrupt, ruinous scoundrels, and not getting a straight answer as to how that can be, he curtly asks Coburn to define what he thinks “great” is.

It’s an illuminating response.  Coburn believes liberal democrats have their hearts in the right place, and would vote the right way if they could, but they just don’t know any better because of their lack of experience in the real world.  They’re good-hearted, great people, but they are naïve.

As Michael Corleone once said to his girlfriend after being called naïve and being told that Senators and Presidents don’t have men killed, “who’s being naïve, Kay?”

It’s unquestionably true that Democrat politicians increasingly come from an isolated, protected, world where they don’t have to live with the consequences of their actions.  But to think that following their good hearts just accidently leads them into advocating increasingly socialistic economic policies and social justice schemes is absurd.

Here’s another attempt by Lamb to get to the essence of the truth in this matter.   After Coburn says that most people in Washington routinely lie to the American public, Lamb asks “why?”.  After giving a defensive, Star Trek-like “I’m a Senator, not a sociologist Jim!” preamble, Coburn lands on the cultural movement away from faith and religion:

The most insightful part of that is not Coburn’s response, but Lamb’s highlighting of the inconsistency between a claimed movement away from religion and nearly every politician in Washington wrapping themselves in the garments of overt religiosity.

Speaking of which, one more clip.  Here’s Barack Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast, talking about his “love” for his “good friend” and his “great friend’ Sen. Tom Coburn.

According to Coburn, the main problem with President Obama, in particular regarding his untruths in selling Obamacare, is that he was “poorly advised”.  Lord help us.

If that’s what the Republican leadership truly believes, that liberal Democrats like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton do what they do because they are merely naïve to the real world and are poorly advised, then they have unilaterally disarmed themselves, tactically and intellectually speaking.  And we should expect nothing but a continued string of legislative failure by them to come.

Circling back to the question of why egocentric politicians in Washington are desperate to be seen as being “friends” with each other, I’m left with a much more obvious explanation. Ego. It’s gratifying, and self-aggrandizing, to claim to be friends with powerful people.  The President of the United States, or the Speaker of the House of Representative, or the celebrity Senator from New York are the ultimate in trophy friends, no matter what destructive scoundrels they may be in real life.  Plus cross ideological friendship sets you apart from the petty, common motivations of lesser people.  Congress may be a dysfunctional, gridlocked institution, full of bickering partisans, but I rise above that and have good friends across the aisle (cue choreographed applause from hand picked supporters at televised campaign rally).

Say what you will about Senators getting beaten bloody with a silver tipped cane on the floor of the Senate, at least it spared the voters from this flood of mawkish sentimentality.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Exporting Your Support

Going into the World Cup the chances that the US team would advance far or even move out of their “Group of Death” were slim. To keep things interesting it helps to adopt other teams to follow. Before the first flop of the tournament, I decided to go with Uruguay and the Netherlands as my alternative squads.

Uruguay was a potential South American dark horse to cheer for instead of the Argentina and Brazil. Little did I know that the “cannibal of Ajax” would once again feel the need to feed, this time sinking his teeth into Italian shoulder meat (which I understand is usually a little gamey). Without Suarez and his fangs, the Uruguayans were unable to get through the round of sixteen.

The case for the Netherlands was more straight forward. I have a number of Dutch work colleagues and have visited the country many times. And it’s hard not to love the look of the Orange.

In today’s WSJ, Almar Latour makes the case for US fans to go Dutch:

Like the Netherlands or not, I think you can legally claim victory in any case if we win. Your grandparents freed our grandparents 70 years ago, so without you guys there would be no Dutch team. We won't forget that.

We sort of speak the same language. The Netherlands is practically Anglophone, but when we speak we mix in some throat clearing every other sentence to keep up the appearance of having our own language. Here are some quick language essentials that may come in handy with Dutch soccer: "Dat is geen duik" means "that's not a dive."

Just for your convenience, many Dutch soccer players come pre-packaged with easy-to-remember names like "Wesley," "Nigel," "Daley" and, of course, "Memphis."

And before I forget: Linguists say that the word "Yankee" very likely derived from Dutch: Some say the word stems from "Janke", or little Jan, once a common name in the Netherlands and in New Amsterdam. Others say it derived from "Jan-Kees", a common first name. Either way, if you're a Yankee, you're practically Dutch already.

The only reservation I have with completely shifting my loyalties to the House of Orange is their opponent in Saturday’s quarterfinal contest: Costa Rica. The Ticos are definitely the underdog team of the World Cup (despite US claims to the label which are laughable when you consider that Costa Rica has 4.8 million people and the US 314 million) and no one expected them to get to where they are. And I also have work colleagues there as well and know how wrapped up they are in the fate of their squad.

But I guess I’m covered either way. If the Dutch crush the Costa Rican dreams or if the Ticos continue their improbable run, I’ll still have a squad in the hunt.