Friday, December 19, 2014

They must have changed the planogram

As a former Target employee team member, I find this amusing:
The first lady also described being mistreated at a Target store in suburban Washington, during a shopping trip she took in 2011. "Even as the first lady," she told the magazine, "during the wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf."
Things have changed since I was in the employ of the ol' bullseye. If the assistance of the FLOTUS was required, apparently Target is now stocking crappy school lunches on its high shelves. Either that or the FLOTUS is a Randy Newman fan.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Poetry quote of the day

We're not supposed to listen to Rudyard Kipling, but this seems apt:

It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
  To puff and look important and to say: --
"Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
  We will therefore pay you cash to go away."

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
  But we've  proved it again and  again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
  You never get rid of the Dane.

Only I can run but I can't walk

All night I tried and tried
I could not master the Cuban Slide

So we're going to normalize relations with Cuba, apparently. It's in all the papers:
The United States and Cuba ended more than a half-century of enmity Wednesday, announcing that they would reestablish diplomatic relations and begin dismantling the last pillar of the Cold War.

The historic move, following 18 months of secret negotiations and finally made possible by Cuba’s release of detained U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross, fulfilled one of President Obama’s key second-term goals.
Why normalizing relations with the Castros would be a key goal is puzzling, but we'll set it aside. The invaluable John Hayward has some fun with the reaction:
One consequence of the Cuba deal that Obama might not have gamed out all the way is the incandescent rise of Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio, who instantly emerged as his leading critic, at least temporarily eclipsing fellow Floridian Jeb Bush’s declaration of consideration of the possibility of a presidential run.  Bush isn’t happy about normalization either, but his mild statement of protest – “I don’t think we should be negotiating with a repressive regime to make changes in our relationship” – was drowned out by the thunder of Rubio’s thermonuclear eruption.  Rubio is so utterly beside himself that he appears to have replicated, appearing simultaneously on every media outlet.  He might be able to serve as his own running mate on the 2016 presidential ticket.
A few thoughts:

  • The timing is, shall we say, interesting, to say the least. In recent years, Cuba's primary benefactors have been such key U.S. allies as Russia, Venezuela and Iran. These countries, particularly Venezuela, have been able to help the fellas out because they are all oil producing countries. Thing is, oil prices are way down right now and maintaining Fidel and Raul Castro had to be a drain on the ol' finances. So that's a little curious.
  • The Castros aren't likely to change their ways, but apparently that concern doesn't matter.
  • Apparently the agreement was brokered by the Canadians and Pope Francis. I'll be curious to see what the Pope's role was and what the Vatican hopes to accomplish. 
Meanwhile, there are a few little details that deserve some attention, especially the five Cuban spies who are going back to Cuba in exchange for Alan Gross. Back to Hayward:
Ah, yes, the small matter of the Cuban Five, whose story the U.S. media seems completely uninterested in telling, because it makes Barack Obama look just awful.  They were part of a Castro terrorist network whose targets also included the U.S. Southern Command.  They helped Barack Obama’s wonderful new Partners in Peace shoot down two unarmed Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996.  No word on whether the humanitarian pilots had their hands up in the “Don’t shoot!” position when Cuban ordnance hit their planes.  Don’t expect the media to pay much attention to what their families think about the Cuba deal; they matter about as much as people who got rooked by ObamaCare.
We don't know how normalized relations will change Cuba, other than getting some newer vehicles on the road. The Castros are old men -- Fidel is pushing 90 and is rarely seen any more; Raul is well into his 80s. I would hope that some day Cuba Libre won't just be the name of a mixed drink, but there's reason for skepticism.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

St. Anthony gets its mosque

Two years ago, the village of St. Anthony denied a Muslim group the right to start a mosque in a building on Old Highway 8. Now they've had to "compromise":

An Islamic worship center once rejected in St. Anthony will open after all under a settlement reached between the city and the U.S. attorney’s office.

“The city’s decision will be reversed and soon members of Abu Huraira will be able to hold prayer services in this building,” said U.S. Attorney Andy Luger Tuesday, standing outside the office building that has been the focus of a two-year battle.

Luger said he was “proud” of the agreement, which settles a lawsuit his office filed against St. Anthony in August. Eight local imams, four from the new center, stood behind him along with other Somali worshipers.

“God bless you and God bless America,” said Sheikh Abdirahman Omar, vice president of the center. He thanked the Justice Department and “all the neighbors who have reached out to us and offered your support and encouragement.”

St. Anthony Mayor Jerry Faust also praised what he called a “compromise” and predicted that the City Council will approve the settlement. That would undo its 4-1 vote in 2012 to reject the request by Islamic leaders to place the worship center in the building. “We welcome the Islamic Center to the city of St. Anthony,” he said.
This result is a lot of things. It might even be a desirable outcome. But let's not pretend it was a compromise. Andy Luger doesn't compromise.

Hurricane Jeb

No, we don't need another Bush in the White House. Despite that, Jeb Bush is running:
Jeb Bush answered the biggest question looming over the Republican Party's next campaign for the White House on Tuesday, all but declaring his candidacy for president more than a year before the first primaries.

Bush, the son and brother of Republican presidents, is the first potential candidate to step this far into the 2016 contest, and his early announcement could deeply affect the race for the GOP nomination.

He is the early favorite of the GOP's establishment wing, and his move puts immediate pressure on other establishment-minded GOP contenders to start competing with him for donors, campaign staff and national attention.

The 61-year old former two-term governor of Florida declared on Facebook he would "actively explore the possibility of running for president of the United States."
Heck, he's not the only politician past his sell-by date considering run. Remember this guy?
Add George Pataki to the growing list of Republicans who are considering running for president in 2016.

The former, three-term New York governor told the New York Daily News in an interview published on Tuesday that he’s “very seriously” thinking about making a bid for the nation’s highest office.
Maybe we could get Jim Edgar in the race. After all, he's got excellent credentials in that he's one of the few recent Illinois governors who haven't gone to prison. Heck, if we really want to go old school, I suppose we could chat up Al Quie.

So why do we have all these retreads coming back? A few thoughts:

  • Jeb's case seems to be more about divine right than electoral necessity; still, he's going to be formidable if he runs because of his name and his connections.
  • Hillary Clinton is not a strong candidate. In fact, I'd be surprised if she's actually the Dem standard bearer in 2016.
  • Jeb's early move is designed to suck all the money and oxygen out the race, of course. If Jeb runs, it's going to be difficult for either Mitt Romney or Marco Rubio, Jeb's protege, to get in. I don't know that either of them would have won at this point, but they aren't likely to get past Jeb.
  • There's been an obvious disconnect between conservatives and Republicans that has only grown in recent years. While there can be significant overlap on certain issues, most of the current Republican leadership, especially on Capitol Hill, isn't interested in reforming Washington or cutting the size and scope of government. And their patrons, especially at the Chamber of Commerce, have no particular issue with the barriers to entry that the leviathan regulatory state provides to potential competitors. The Ohio River separates John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, but not much else does.
  • Can another candidate emerge? Certainly one will, but it's difficult to see who it would be at this early point. I could envision a number of Midwestern Republican governors getting in the race -- Scott Walker, John Kasich, or Mike Pence come to mind -- and certainly Rick Perry will take another bite of the apple. I also suspect that Rand Paul and potentially Ted Cruz might try to use their senatorial perches as a springboard into the race. There won't be any shortage of candidates, but there is a shortage of resources.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ask an expert

When Joe Biden met Ayaan Hirsi Ali:
In her speech to the dinner guests in Washington, Hirsi Ali recalled meeting Vice President Joe Biden. He informed her that “ISIS had nothing to do with Islam.” When she disagreed with him, Biden actually responded: “Let me tell you one or two things about Islam.”

“I politely left the conversation at that,” Hirsi Ali said, to laughter. “I wasn’t used to arguing with vice presidents.”
No word on what Neil Kinnock thinks.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The best curmudgeon in the world

Gotta love P. J. O'Rourke, writing here on Lena Dunham:
The young people in Girls are miserable, peevish, depressed, hate their bodies, themselves, their life, and each other. They occupy apartments with the size and charm of the janitor’s closet, shared by The Abominable Roommate. They dress in clothing from the flophouse lost-and-found and are groomed with a hacksaw and gravel rake. They are tattooed all over with things that don’t even look like things the way a anchor or a mermaid or a heart inscribed “Mom” does, and they’re only a few years older than my daughters.

The characters in Girls take drugs. They “hook up” in a manner that makes the casual sex of the 1960s seem like an arranged marriage in Oman. And they drink and they vomit and they drink and they vomit and they drink and they vomit.

It’s every parent’s nightmare. I had to have a lot to drink before I could get to sleep after watching this show about young people who are only a few years older than my daughters.
Sounds quite appealing, actually.

Res ipsa loquitur

Dick Cheney's appearance on Meet the Press yesterday was about as categorical as it gets. Read it yourself; here are a couple of exchanges with Chuck Todd that I find particularly illuminating:

So if an American citizen is waterboarded by ISIS are we going to try to prosecute for war crimes?

He's not likely to be waterboarded, he's likely to have his head cut off. It's not a close call.
--well, let me ask you this, why do you not have some doubt in the C.I.A.? This is the same intelligence community that didn't get it right on WMDs in Iraq. Why are you so confident that they're telling you the truth in these memos?

Well, because I know the people involved because I've worked-- five out of the six former directors and deputy directors are men I've known for years and trust intimately with the difficult problems they'd dealt with. Jose Rodriguez is one of the outstanding officers in the agency.

I know what they were asked to do and I know what they did. And I'm perfectly comfortable that they deserve our praise, they deserve to be decorated. They don't deserve to be harassed. Can you imagine what it's going to be like if you were out there now as an officer in the agency and you were undertaking a complicated, difficult, dangerous task and you had the view that ten years from now even though the president approved it, even though the Justice Department signed off on it, some politician on Capitol Hill is going to come back and want a piece of your fanny.
I'll say this -- the guy doesn't mince words. Lots more at the link.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Nine years of Dilettantism

It began on a gloomy Tuesday afternoon, during the lunch hour at Bank of America's Bloomington Loan Center. B of A was closing the office in Bloomington, combining its operations into another loan center within B of A's normal corporate footprint, so my job was going to Hillsboro, Oregon. I wasn't going to Hillsboro, though, so I would be out of work by April of the following year.

Seemed like a good time to start a blog. And so this blog was born.

It doesn't seem that long ago, but nine years is a long time. I was writing those initial posts about such luminaries as Samkon Gado and Bruce Bartlett. You'll be forgiven if you don't remember either of those people, although Bartlett is still in there pitching.

In the past nine years, we've posted 4,344 times. That's more than one post a day; it's a lot of posting. There were thousands, maybe even millions, of bloggers in the early days. Not many people are doing this any more. The information superhighway is strewn with the detritus of old blogs. Still, it seems like a worthwhile endeavor, so this blog goes on.

I've never made a dime from the venture, but the friendships that have come from blogging have been a reward beyond appraisal. Thank you for your support and your friendship. And thank you for reading.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- 59-Rip Edition

I promise you that this will be the last time the events of last Saturday evening will be mentioned here. Oh, sorry, hi everyone, it's me, the Benster. We all know what happened last weekend and if you really want to relive that, you must live in Toledo or somewhere else in the great state of Ohio, or at least lived there at some point in your desperate, pathetic life.

Not taking it so well, then?

No. And if I were Gary Andersen, I'd have run off to Corvallis myself. By the way, here's a picture of Gary's new office:

Welcome to Corvallis, baby!
That should work out well for him. Meanwhile, the college season is in a lull for the moment, as we shift our attention to the bowl games, which are still a week or more away. We'd pick the Army/Navy game, but Navy has won approximately 354,210 times in a row now, so I'm not feeling the HYYYYYPPPPE! Both teams feature upstanding young men who will defend our country with honor and distinction, but let's face it, we've got other agendas. Like the pros! So watch me work!

Minnesota Vikings (+7.5) vs. Detroit Motor City Kitties. If you're a Detroit fan, now is the time you expect the Lions to cough up a hairball. The Lions are claiming they don't do that any more, and so far, they haven't. But they have to win out to win the division and that includes a trip to Lambeau, where they have not won since Millard Fillmore was president. But first things first -- the Lions have to deal with the improving Vikings, who are quietly 6-7 and not completely eliminated from the playoff race. You doubt me? I have visuals!

See, I told you!
So can the Vikings win a game in Detroit? I think they can. Will they? Vikings 31, Lions 20.

Man, I hope you're right. But I don't think you are. The Lions are playing significantly better than they have in recent seasons because they are a more disciplined team under Jim Caldwell. They still employ a lot of nasty people, but they are nasty with a purpose. The key here is whether the Vikings offensive line can keep the Lions out of Teddy Bridgewater's face. I'm not sure they can. Lions 24, Vikings 17.

Glorious Green Bay Packers (-4.5) vs. Buffalo Soldier, Dreadlock Rasta. Bet you didn't see that reference coming, there, Decrepit! This game makes me nervous. Buffalo is better than you think -- they are above .500 and while they aren't on the radar screen for the playoffs, they are not eliminated at all. And they can play defense. Aaron Rodgers has been unbelievably good for the last two months, but this will be the best defense the Packers have faced in that time. Of course, it also doesn't help being on a short week. Having said that, we also are looking at Kyle Orton once again. You remember Kyle Orton, right? He's the guy who looks like he should have been in a dirty movie in the 1970s:

I am pretty.
You might want to try the regular coffee there, Kyle. Packers 20, Bills 18.

Yeah, this game makes me a little nervous, too. The Packers will get their points, but the record shows that the Packers have never won a regular season game in Buffalo. This would be a good time to end that streak. I say they will, but it won't be easy. Packers 28, Buffalo 20.

New Orleans Aints (-3) vs. Bear Down Chicago da Bearz. Wow, old dude! Da Bearz are not only eliminated from the playoffs, but they are a home dog against a not-especially-good Saints team that doesn't win on the road very much. What happened to da Bearz? Well, put it this way -- they might want to rethink their creative financing, since Jay Cutler is making a lot of money and delivering not a lot of production. In fact, it would be better if da Bearz tanked and hoped to get Jameis Winston. Yes, it's time to start over in Chicago. Aints 7, da Bearz 0.

I think the Bears should trade Cutler to the Redskins straight up for RGIII. They could exchange one train wreck for another. Change of scenery, they call it. It won't happen, of course, but I like the idea because it's a great way to mock both franchises. Anyway, the Bears do need to start over. Now that it looks like the Wisconsin Badgers have come to their senses and are going to hire Paul Chryst, I think that Bears could be looking at the start of the Bo Pelini regime in Chicago. Why not, right? Bears 24, Saints 21.

Okay, that's enough cruelty for one weekend, Geritol Fan! Think of poor Gino, who has to endure this dumpster fire of a football team! Oh, the humanity! Ben out!

Horrifying rumor of the day

Too horrifying to contemplate, actually:
When the news broke on Wednesday night that Gary Andersen was leaving Wisconsin to take the Oregon State job, a frequent suggestion on the Internet was that Wisconsin should take a look at Bo Pelini. Well, regardless of whether those suggestions were in jest or not, the former Nebraska head coach is reportedly an option to take over in Madison, according to 247 Sports.

If Pelini were to take the Wisconsin job, it would put a neat bow on what essentially was a three-team coach trade. Nebraska got things started back on Nov. 30 by firing Pelini and hiring former long-time Oregon State coach Mike Riley in a surprise move. Not to be outdone, Oregon State went and hired Andersen away from Wisconsin, which leaves athletic director and former head coach Barry Alvarez -- who will be coaching the Badgers in their bowl game once again -- in the position of conducting yet another coaching search.

Well, that calls for a poll.

Rumor mill suggests that Barry Alvarez is actually considering Bo Pelini. Your reaction?

 free polls

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Lightning Round -- 121114

Thoughts galore, limited time:

  • I've been mostly staying away from the UVa rape story that has been unraveling ever since it was published. It's only interesting in that it's yet another example of how narrative trumps the actual story. The Washington Post has been systematically demolishing the account of "Jackie" the victim and her chronicler, Sabrina Rubin Erdely. No one wanted to fact check the story, because the narrative is more important. Meanwhile, Allahpundit at Hot Air found a very amusing account from Erdely of another famous journalistic fabulist that she knew in college. Hit the link; it's worth your time.
  • Meanwhile, over at Smith College, President Kathleen McCartney got in trouble for bungling the slogan. The caption of this picture says it all:

    Whether your life matters depends on what the undergraduates at Smith believe. Be sure to get the narrative right.
  • Wisconsin football coach Gary Andersen bolted from Madison for lovely Corvallis, Oregon, where he will take over the program at Oregon State. Andersen had only been in Madison for two years and hasn't yet explained his reasons for leaving. It would seem like a lateral move, or even a step down, to go to OSU. While the Beavers compete in the Pac 12, they are eternally in the shadow of the mighty Oregon Ducks. Moreover, OSU has been a difficult place to win over the years. I'll eventually write a longer post about this topic, but I'd like to hear Andersen's explanation first.
  • Meanwhile, the Minneapolis City Council is trying to save the world by spending more money again. Actually, that's not news. Never mind.
  • Although I haven't seen him in many years, I know Fr. Mark Huberty, who was acquitted the other day of charges for criminal sexual conduct. He's got a long road ahead. We all do.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pump it up

You've certainly noticed that gasoline prices have dropped significantly in the last few months. I'm seeing about $2.45-$2.50/gallon in my part of town, and even in California the price is mostly below $3 a gallon. It's definitely a benefit to all of us in the short term. Still, issues may arise.

Oil is a commodity, but the cost involved in bringing a barrel of oil to market varies significantly. Some of the worst actors on the world stage are oil producers -- Iran, Russia, Venezuela. These countries are getting crushed:
The Opec oil cartel no longer exists in any meaningful sense and crude prices will slump to $50 a barrel over the coming months as market forces shake out the weakest producers, Bank of America has warned. 
Revolutionary changes sweeping the world’s energy industry will drive down the price of liquefied natural gas (LNG), creating a “multi-year” glut and a much cheaper source of gas for Europe. 
Francisco Blanch, the bank’s commodity chief, said Opec is “effectively dissolved” after it failed to stabilize prices at its last meeting. “The consequences are profound and long-lasting,“ he said. 
The free market will now set the global cost of oil, leading to a new era of wild price swings and disorderly trading that benefits only the Mid-East petro-states with deepest pockets such as Saudi Arabia. If so, the weaker peripheral members such as Venezuela and Nigeria are being thrown to the wolves.

The bank said in its year-end report that at least 15pc of US shale producers are losing money at current prices, and more than half will be under water if US crude falls below $55. The high-cost producers in the Permian basin will be the first to “feel the pain” and may soon have to cut back on production.
The BofA analysts may be wrong in the particulars, but I suspect the the general trend is true. I can't prove it, but I suspect the reason the Saudis are willing to make less per barrel is that the impact of lower prices on them is far less than it is on Iran. If Iran starts to become impoverished, things could get dangerous.

Enjoy it all while it lasts.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

What's the point, then?

The Baseball Hall of Fame is an irritating institution at times. Especially at times like this:
One more vote, and Tony Oliva would have been on a plane, heading west to warmer weather at the annual baseball winter meetings and a news conference about his induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Instead Oliva watched from his home in Bloomington on Monday when Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the Hall of Fame’s board of directors, announced that no one on the 10-person ballot received the 12 votes required for election into the Hall of Fame by the 16-member Golden Era committee.

Then Clark added the jaw-dropping details.

“The vote totals are as follows,” she began. “Dick Allen and Tony Oliva, 11 votes … ”

Many in the audience — many of them media members — groaned at the close call.
It's frankly a stupid exercise. If you aren't willing to vote people in, why have the committee at all?

Personally, I think the best player who was denied yesterday wasn't Oliva, or Dick Allen, or Jim Kaat, although I'd be willing to argue for Oliva and Kaat. The guy who deserves to be in is Minnie Minoso, a great player who lost a chunk of his career to the color line. I'd also argue that Luis Tiant is at least as deserving as Kaat. But it doesn't matter, apparently.