Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Who wants a dope slap?

So many candidates, so little time.

  • John Kerry phones in the orders from Switzerland, then leads the troops up the hill for a filibuster of Samuel Alito. He looks back and sees that nearly half of his soldiers aren't marching. He should enjoy watching Justice Alito being seated at tonight's State of the Union address.
  • A website supporting Coleen Rowley's campaign for the 2nd Congressional district photoshops a picture of incumbent John Kline into a Col. Klink uniform, then pulls the image from the site after the initial reaction turns negative. Captured copies of the picture are all over the Internet. Doesn't matter what you do, folks - the internet is forever.
  • Longtime libertarian David Boaz pulls a bunch of statistics out of the ether (or potentially other nether regions) in today's Wall Street Journal, arguing that because 17 million Kerry voters did not think that the government should do more to solve the country's problems, while 28 million Bush voters support either gay marriage or civil unions, that there are somehow 45 million people who have "broadly libertarian attitudes." The Libertarian Party stands ready to capture this underserved group of gallant Americans, as soon as their next candidate can move out of his mother's basement.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Moments of Clarity - Part Deux

We had another clarifying moment last week, which has been beat to death in the blogosphere but is worth a quick visit. Joel Stein is a columnist with the Los Angeles Times and he is, ostensibly, their humor columnist, filling the same niche that Dave Barry held for years with the Miami Herald and that James Lileks holds with the Star Tribune. He wrote a column last week that was many things, but funny is not one of them. Briefly, he wrote a piece in the Times in which he told America that he doesn't support the troops. The link is here:


He then went on Hugh Hewitt's radio show and demonstrated that, among other things, he doesn't understand what the troops do, how they think, or that he even really knows anything about the military. A transcript is here:


Mr. Stein has been visited by the furies from all over the blogosphere in the wake of this two-item parlay, but I would suggest that his honesty is yet another moment of clarity. His cheerful, even blissful ignorance allows those who are considering his arguments to accord them proper weight. There's an argument to be had about the proper role of the military, whether soldiers should be fighting in the Middle East or whether soldiers should be armed social workers who are airlifted into tsunami zones and the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, to use just two recent examples. But we haven't been having that argument. Maybe we should.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Moments of Clarity - first of a series

It's a common phenomenon; you know something, but you don't have clear, empirical evidence to support your position. Then something happens and it all becomes clear. As we start to get further into the new year, we are getting a few moments of clarity.
  • A democratically elected Hamas -- this one has something for cynics of all ages. Hamas is and continues to be a terrorist organization; despite that, you are already hearing stories about how Hamas has had a history of providing mutual aid for impoverished Palestinians and how they have demonstrated compassion in the wrecked precincts of Gaza. It's not clear how those gestures are exculpatory for the murders of Jews and Palestinians in Israel, but we don't want to dwell on those sorts of things, now do we? That a corrupt group might provide good works as a cover for their more nefarious activities is hardly a new story. Here's a history lesson. Back in the 1960s there was a particularly vicious Chicago street gang called the Blackstone Rangers and they managed to convince a lot of people that they were some sort of mutual aid society. The Rangers made an ostentatious display of feeding poor citizens, helping some kids get to school, taking meals to shut-ins and other similar endeavors; in a hilarious but cringe-inducing moment, they even managed to get a group of "youths" with their imprimatur a chance to sing "My Beautiful Balloon" on the old Smothers Brothers show on CBS. Given the low esteem earned by the Chicago Police Department in that era, it was not surprising that the Rangers were given a bit of a pass. But while the Rangers were publicly doing their good deeds by day, they continued to be the prime supplier of drugs to the neighborhoods of the south side, eventually killing off most of their competition. Once they completed their consolidation of power, they then mutated into a new organization called El Rukn, taking on some of the trappings of Islam while continuing to kill anyone who got in their way. Their leader, Jeff Fort, eventually decided he wanted to have more power and volunteered El Rukn services to Moammar Khaddafi, even volunteering to undertake terrorist activities and attempting to get a rocket for terrorist attacks. No word on whether or not they were brought down through a FISA wiretap, but they were brought down during the 1980s and Fort and his colleagues are aging gracefully in the Illinois correctional system. It's all quite clear now that Fort and his acolytes were simply gangsters, but a lot of otherwise bright people made excuses for them for years. Perhaps members of Hamas may get a chance to perform on American Idol in the coming weeks. And it's also quite clear that those who have been blaming Israel for building walls and barriers to protect its citizenry have not understood what the Israelis are up against. Perhaps now that the Palestinian citizenry has chosen an organization that expressly wants to destroy Israel as their government, they might begin to understand.

More moments of clarity anon.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Is there a Ford in your future?

For now, yes - the long-feared announcement from Ford Motor Co. came down today and, for now, the St. Paul plant that has been manufacturing Ford Rangers has managed to survive the ax. So the workers will continue to report to the facility, the developers will sigh and put their plans back in their hip pockets and new St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman can go back to worrying about more pressing matters, like crippling the Payne Ave. bars with smoking bans and other Nanny State initiatives.

And yet, the stay of execution hardly seems a reason to celebrate. There's a pretty compelling argument to be made that it would simply be better if the plant were to close now, rather than dragging the matter into the indeterminate future. As difficult and disruptive as it would be to those families who rely on Ford for their tidy incomes, many of the workers at the plant would simply be able to take early retirement and end up with a better overall financial position. Meanwhile, younger workers would be better off facing a future without Ford now, rather than waiting until they are older and potentially less able to adapt to new circumstances. Meanwhile, it's a matter of location, location, location for potential new developments at the site; a mixed use development with offices and new (read: expensive) homes could generate significantly more tax dollars for the city and surrounding area. And St. Paul will need the additional revenue once the bars close down because of the smoking ban.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Exit Patty Wetterling

It appears that Patty Wetterling is getting out of the race for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Mark Dayton. This is interesting on many levels.

  • Having Wetterling out of the race clears a path for Amy Klobuchar to get the DFL endorsement for the seat, which will allow Klobuchar to turn her attention to running against the prospective Republican candidate, Mark Kennedy. Klobuchar vs. Kennedy will be a great race, pitting two smart, accomplished candidates, both of whom are far superior to Sen. Dayton, whose performance in the Senate has ranged from anonymous to embarrassing.
  • Wetterling's long-standing role as an advocate for missing children, stemming from the 1989 disappearance/kidnapping of her son Jacob, has made her one of the most admirable figures in Minnesota. She had hoped to parlay the 15 years of goodwill she has earned into higher office. I've always wondered why she would believe that becoming a politician would be more helpful that what she's accomplished with the Jacob Wetterling Foundation. I imagine that her popularity actually was hurt once she declared herself a partisan, especially since it was evident during her 2004 campaign that she had not thought through many of the issues currently driving American politics.
  • Press reports indicate that Wetterling was essentially coaxed out of the race by the majordomos of the DFL, who have long preferred Klobuchar. While Wetterling's name recognition in Minnesota is close to 100%, Klobuchar is a much better candidate for the DFL and the party operatives recognized that.
  • It's not clear if Wetterling is now going to sit 2006 out, or if she will instead throw her hat into the ring as either a congressional candidate (for Kennedy's seat), or potentially as a candidate to become the 494th consecutive female Lt. Governor in Minnesota. Wetterling had previously endorsed the unfortunately named Elwyn Tinklenberg for the 6th District seat, but she may change her mind. If Mike Hatch offers her a chance to be his running-mate for Lt. Governor, it may be difficult to turn down the invitation. She certainly is qualified for the position, considering such non-entities as Joanne Benson and Mae Strunk have held the seat.
  • I do wonder about the politics of fame; does being a famous person of good reputation make you a viable candidate for political office? As much as I've admired Wetterling, I never once thought she was a serious candidate. On the flip side, this is the state that elected Jesse Ventura and that continues to send the moronic Betty McCollum to Congress. We'll see about fame - in Pennsylvania, former Steelers great Lynn Swann is running for governor and is already ahead of his likely opponent, Ed Rendell. I guess to ensure equal time, perhaps Rendell should attempt to be a sideline reporter on the college football broadcasts. Or maybe Suzi Kolber would like to throw her hat into the ring....

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Adventures in Marketing

Do you have something to offer? And is anyone willing to buy it? Sometimes there are things that make you wonder.

I understand that Daunte Culpepper, NFL quarterback, is now expecting the Minnesota Vikings to renegotiate his current contract, as he believes he is worth more than what he currently receives. Prior to this season, Mr. Culpepper was known for his general passing prowess, winning personality and imposing physique. But in 2005, it all went bad for him. At times he seemed genuinely at sea without having Randy Moss available to make spectacular downfield grabs. He then became implicated in the infamous "Love Boat" scandal, apparently for enjoying a public lap dance. Then he had a severe kneee injury that may permanently alter the course of his career. Meanwhile, his backup, Brad Johnson, managed to quietly lead the Vikings to a six-game winning streak, salvaging a winning season and almost saving Mike Tice's job.

So this year's resume entry for Mr. Culpepper includes the following:
  • Shaky, even substandard performance
  • Embarrassing and potentially criminal behavior
  • A serious injury

But he's worth more now. You have to wonder what he's thinking.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Assisted Suicides

News came today that the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of assisted suicide in Oregon. While the decision was narrow, it was nice to see the Court actually stay out of something for a change. My own view is that the law is wrong-headed and I worry about the long-term implications of an assisted suicide law, but if we believe that the people should decide, we owe Oregonians great deference in making their decisions.

In another sense, the statute in Oregon may come in handy for some of the public figures who seem to be in favor of committing public, career suicide in recent days. My goodness, we've heard a lot of intemperate things in recent days. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin went deep into Pat Robertson territory with his musings about God's punishment of his city via Hurricane Katrina; one wonders what the mayors of Sodom and Gomorrah would have done if there were CNN cameras about. Hillary Clinton subtly compared the House Republican leadership to plantation owners while speaking in a church on Martin Luther King Day; guess that separation of church and state thing is a bit more malleable than we'd been led to believe. There's also a rumor that Al "No Controlling Legal Authority" Gore weighed in on supposed Bush criminality on Monday, but it's not evident that anyone cares what he says these days.

Meanwhile, the stench of Abramoff may be adhering to Republicans. There is a growing perception that the congressional leadership is fundamentally corrupt and needs to be replaced; the problem is that the most visible Democrats these days are people like Nagin, Clinton, Ted Kennedy and others of this sort. Can the Republicans fumigate themselves? Can the Democrats remove their moonbattery? This election cycle should be one of the strangest ones yet.

President Bush said he wanted to change the tone in Washington. As the banner said on the boat in San Diego -- "Mission Accomplished."

Monday, January 16, 2006

The creative imperative

My daughter celebrated her sixth birthday yesterday. She is a very sophisticated kindergartener, wise beyond her years. She has an active imagination and loves to draw pictures of her family, her toys and everything else she sees. Her production levels challenge the "starving artists" who ply their wares in suburban Holiday Inn conference rooms; if I were inclined, I could paper my entire office with her masterpieces.

What my daughter does with her crayolas and construction paper seems innate - she must create. I understand the urge; the rationale of the blogosphere is that people feel the need to create, to communicate, to share their world and worldview with others. One of the frustrations for those with creative impulses is that they are often ignored or even scorned. The most guilty group in this regard are the educated elites, those who "deconstruct" text and images, superimposing semiotics and other arcane theoretical constructs over the words and images. The process allows the elites to commandeer the meaning and the message of artists and writers.

This is the world my daughter is entering right now. She insists that she is an artist and plans to be an artist when she grows up, although that would mean ending her current career as the fourth Powerpuff Girl (she's apparently the Pete Best of this group). As she learns and grows, she will find that the world attempts to channel creative impulses. My hope is that she will have the opportunity to create as she sees fit. But I fear that she will not.

Friday, January 13, 2006

McCarthy 2006

For those of us who grew up in the Fox River Valley of Wisconsin, the name McCarthy has an especially pungent resonance. We were the place from which sprung the man whose very name became synonymous with demagoguery of an especially odious, fact-free kind. Joe McCarthy, whose grave is about 1 mile from my boyhood home, represented Wisconsin in the Senate in the 1950s and became famous, then infamous, for his bullying performances in various Senate committees tasked with fighting the Red Menace. McCarthy rose steadily in prominence until he was brought low by his own overreaching, along with the now-famous scrutiny of Edward R. Murrow and Joseph Welch, among others. McCarthyism entered the language to describe unscrupulous behavior, specifically charging someone of disloyalty or some other malfeasance, typically without evidence or concern for the truth.

Lately the name McCarthy has been on display again, but not in conjunction with the disgraced senator resting at St. Mary's Cemetery. Another, very different McCarthy recently passed from this world - Sen. Eugene McCarthy, known famously as "Clean Gene" and fondly remembered for his 1968 presidential campaign. Eugene McCarthy was a complicated fellow, principled but typically unwilling to suffer fools gladly. He became known in his later years for being a poet and a bit of a contrarian, even supporting Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign against the Democratic incumbent, Jimmy Carter. Gene McCarthy told the truth as he saw it and while he was a bit of a maverick politically, he operated without fear or malice.

Joe McCarthy's main venue was in the committe meeting rooms of the Senate, where an absurd variation of McCarthyite behavior took place this week. Prospective Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito came before the solons, looking upward (as the witnesses do) at the assembled colossi of the Senate Judiciary Committee. There Alito was regaled by seemingly endless inquisitions about mutual funds, low-powered alumni organizations and decisions involving strip searched children and insufficiently regulated machine guns. While in McCarthy's day he was the primary inquisitor, Alito faced such paragons of morality as Edward M. Kennedy, Joseph Biden and Patrick Leahy, known respectively for drowning secretaries, plagiarizing Labour Party speeches and leaking classified information. It was an appalling spectacle; many of us waited in vain for a modern-day Murrow to showcase the performances of these gentlemen, alas in vain. But you have to believe that old Tail Gunner Joe would have admired the senators for their technique.

Finally, we saw yet another McCarthy emerge in the Fox River Valley, as the Packers selected Mike McCarthy as their new head coach. This McCarthy is touted as a straight-talking, tough minded Pennsylvanian who embodies the spirit and football know-how associated with the area near Pittsburgh, home of the sainted Marino, Namath and Ditka, among others. I'm hopeful that this McCarthy will turn out better than the one who emerged from further up the river 55 years before.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Lou Rawls

Way back when I started this thing last month, I said that Lou Rawls is likely more influential than John Rawls. Lou Rawls died last week and I've learned a few things about him that underscore that point. If you don't know who John Rawls is, I'll get to that in a moment.

Rawls began his career in 1960s and was a contemporary and sometimes singing partner of the great Sam Cooke. He was, for the most part, hard to classify - while he could sing gospel, jazz and r&b, he didn't really specialize in any genre. As a result, most people knew him for about two things - his 1977 disco-era hit "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine," a huge smash that nearly anyone who was beyond diapers at the time likely remembers well; and for his long-time association with Budweiser beer commercials. Rawls provided voiceover and vocals for the Busch family for nearly a generation.

But among Rawls's contemporaries, he was held in very high esteem - Frank Sinatra, among others, was a big fan;' Sinatra considered Rawls one of the finest singers in the business. And Rawls quietly used his fame for good work, including a long stint working with the United Negro College Fund on their telethon. Lou Rawls lived well.

John Rawls? He is viewed by many (especially those on the Left) as the greatest political philosopher of the 20th century. But I like Lou Rawls much better. I'll elaborate on the reasons in future posts.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Live from Brookdale Library

A few random thoughts on a snowy Sunday....

  • The Vikings chose well in selecting Brad Childress as their new head coach. After the paranoia of the Dennis Green era and the palooka-ism of the Tice regime, Childress will bring an air of quiet professionalism to what has been an increasingly bizarre organization. While watching the Vikings has brought much amusement to those of us who live here but do not support their efforts, it has been difficult for the fans of the team to go through all the intellectual contortions. The teams that have been most successful (Patriots, Panthers, Steelers, etc.) in the recent era have been rather dull. Dull seems to work. And it appears that's what's coming to Minnesota.
  • The "Bush Lied! People Died! Plus He Spied! So he must be fried!" line of argument that I've been hearing lately is less than convincing. Democrats have always treated some laws as holy writ (cf. the famous Boland Amendment of the 80s, which took on the mystique of a constitutional amendment), but simply have ignore other lawbreaking ("lying to a grand jury doesn't rise to the level of an impeachable offense") when it suited their purposes. Hypocrisy is always in season in Washington, so I would imagine that all this will end soon enough. Then again, perhaps 2009 can't come soon enough for some people.
  • Speaking of the next election cycle, one thing that will be most interesting is whether or not the two national politicians most associated with "centrist" thinking are able to get through the party faithful on both sides. I'm thinking of John McCain on the Republican side and Joe Lieberman on the Democratic side. Both arouse passion verging on hatred among the ideological foot soldiers of each party, to say nothing of bandwith-consuming amounts of vitriol within the blogosphere. Just a hunch - neither one is going to get the nod in 2008, even though both would likely be better for the country than the candidates likely to emerge from the upcoming primary season. And here we are writing about this at the very beginning of 2006.
  • I have a good friend named Julie who may have even read this blog at one point or another; she has complained about the content of the highly recommended Umlaut Free (www.umlautfree.com), so I know she does lurk about somewhat in these dusty precincts. She had an excellent take on the now celebrated "gay cowboy" movie, Brokeback Mountain. She noted that the movie, rather than being a noble exercise in showing the beauty of following your heart (often confused with your gonads, but never mind), is actually a portrait of two dishonest men who are living a lie and who break up marriages and abandon their families. She senses that there is nothing noble at all about the amorous wranglers. But for many in Hollywood and among our other elites, following the call of your genitalia is the highest form of aesthetic pursuit, even if it leads to a puptent in Wyoming. It's more authentic, doncha know.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Barry has left the building

Yesterday was Barry Alvarez's last day as the head football coach at the University of Wisconsin. Alvarez led his Badgers to an impressive 24-10 victory over the Auburn Tigers, who were a 10 point favorite over the Badgers. The Badgers dominated the game, outgaining the Tigers by a substantial margin, controlling the lines of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and, all in all, playing a more physical game against a team that was widely regarded as superior.

In order to understand the impact that Alvarez has had at Wisconsin, you need to understand how terrible the Badgers were prior to his arrival in 1990. The Badgers of the late 1980s were a horrible team, overmatched physically and lacking fundamentals of the game. There was a game that was especially emblematic of this era, when the mighty Miami Hurricanes came to Madison and gave Bucky Badger a 51-3 whipping, cavorting around Camp Randall Stadium at will and bashing the Badgers without mercy. The iconic ABC announcer Keith Jackson was in the building to describe the carnage and by game's end he was muttering about how the Badgers didn't look like a major college football program. For the Badgers and their fans, it was a humiliating moment. At that point, if you had predicted that by 1999, the Badgers would have won shares of 3 Big Ten titles and would have won 3 Rose Bowls, you would have been considered a lunatic. But that's exactly what happened.

The best part about Barry's last game was the last drive of the game. The Badgers received the ball at their own 1 yard line with about 9 minutes left in the game. If Auburn had made a defensive play, they would have been in position to score quickly and rally for a win. But the Badgers methodically drove the ball down the field, running and passing in equal measure and never going out of bounds, keeping the clock running. With less than a minute left, the Badgers had reached Auburn's 1 yard line, in a position to score yet another touchdown, having driven the length of the football field. The Badgers then took a knee and quarterback John Stocco ran over to the sideline in celebration, handing the ball to Alvarez. The drive was workmanlike, relentless, disciplined and completely successful. Just like the Badgers have been under Barry Alvarez.