Friday, April 29, 2011

May They Live Happily Ever After

Benster has been watching the 10:00 pm news pretty consistently with us for the last couple of weeks. Many nights he has commented that the stories are violent and the news is negative.

That is not what I saw on the news this morning.

I saw huge a huge crowd of people milling around in the streets armed with cameras and flags, not guns.

I saw the police using words and hand signals to control the crowd, not riot gear or tear gas.

I saw the crowd being respectful of a famous building, not attempting to break into or camp out overnight in the famous building.

I heard the crowd applaud and yell "kiss, kiss", not shouting angry words.

Sometimes, when most of what we see around us is negative, that is when we really need to hear the story of a smart and beautiful woman falling in love, getting married in a tiara and a gorgeous wedding gown made specially for her, riding off in a carriage to live in a castle with her handsome prince.

Football in April

What, would you really want to talk about the Twins right now?

Benster made fun of the NFL Draft in this space the other day and there's a lot that merits derision about it, but the whole spectacle is some kind of marketing genius. 'Round about now, the NFL poohbahs would rather talk about anything other than the butt-kicking they received in federal court this week. And since we follow the news about the NFC North here, we do need to make a few comments about it.

From what I can tell, the locals aren't too impressed with the pick of quarterback Christian Ponder. My first impression was "Gary Cuozzo for the new century." For those too young to remember Cuozzo, which is probably most people, he was the Vikings quarterback in the short period in between the departure of Joe Kapp and the return of Fran Tarkenton. Cuozzo was a serviceable quarterback and was exceptionally smart, but was the sort of guy who you would want to replace. Ponder strikes me in a similar way. He's apparently off-the-charts bright (graduated in 2 1/2 years, already has a Master's degree) and he's had significant problems staying healthy. Guys like that don't stay long in the NFL, because if he's smart enough to blow through college in 2 1/2 years and get a Master's, he'll figure out that he can make plenty of money in the rest of his life without getting thrown to the ground by Nick Fairley. I assume the Vikings saw all the quarterbacks coming off the board and thought they'd better secure a guy they like, but I have to assume they could have still found Ponder in the 2nd round. I would have drafted someone else, but Ponder isn't necessarily a bad pick.

Which brings us to the problem pick of the draft, the selection of the Lions. It's a problem for everyone else in the division. The aforementioned Fairley is a stud defensive lineman from Auburn and he will now line up next to Ndamakong Suh in the middle of the Detroit defense and wreak havoc. What Detroit now has is a much younger and more athletic version of the Williams Wall on their defense. Life in the division was much easier for the other teams when the Lions were stupid. They aren't any more. I thought this was the smartest move of the day.

Da Bearz took Gabe Carimi, the huge road grader offensive tackle from the Badgers. It's a totally logical pick and Carimi will do a fine job for the evil Bears for probably a decade. Smart guy, nasty and will be able to keep Jay Cutler upright long enough for Cutler to survey the field and then throw an interception.

My beloved Packers, picking last, chose Derek Sherrod, a big tackle from Mississippi State. From all reports this was also a highly sensible and logical pick. Job one in Green Bay is keeping Aaron Rodgers upright and Sherrod looks like an imminent replacement for Chad Clifton, who has been the left tackle for the Packers since the Carter administration, or so it seems.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Evil Guns and Magical Thinking

Mitch Berg tipped his readers to an amazing column by long time anti-gun crusader Heather Martens. Mitch is calling for a full-on blog swarm from his evil conspirators. Allow me to twirl my Snidely Whiplash mustache a bit and just call out one absurd assertion, one out of many that Ms. Martens makes:

Normal people don't take another person's life unnecessarily. People who are inclined to do so are considered sociopaths. Shoot First laws encourage normal people to act like sociopaths, and provide a way for sociopaths to kill with impunity.
Really? If I were to hand Heather Martens a gun, does anyone think she'd shoot me with it if I looked at her crosswise? Perhaps she has a sociopathic toggle switch that flips every time she holds a gun in her hand, but I sure don't. I have never once held a gun and thought to myself, "hey, cool, now I can plug someone!" Have you?

I'd also be curious to see how a "Shoot First" law encourages a normal person to act like a sociopath. Does it trigger voices in your head?

Sociopaths are sociopaths and while a gun might make it easier for a sociopath to kill someone, random killings are exceedingly rare. And there are more ways to kill someone than with a gun. We saw evidence of that recently when some idiot got into an argument at a bar in Dinkytown, got into his car and ran down his purported antagonist, hitting a few innocent bystanders in the process. Did the car cause this idiot to kill?

If I really set my mind to it, I could kill someone with dozens of objects in my home before I ever got around to pulling out a gun. I have plenty of effective cutlery, baseball bats, paving stones, poison and more within a few steps of my home computer. Oddly enough, I've never killed anyone and none of the people who share my domicile have ever thought about using any of these implements of potential destruction to kill anyone, either.

The tool one chooses to kill isn't particularly relevant. Whether one wishes to act like a tool is another matter, of course. Sociopaths are out there -- there's little question of that. But there's no reason to believe that the presence of more effective tools will increase their number.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Benster and D Mock The Draft

'Twas the night before the draft, and all through the house, the sounds of Mel Kiper were getting waaaay too loud! Decrepit, now there's a guy who understands the finer points of HYYYYYPPPPPPEE!

And how to turn a head of hair into a feat of industrial engineering.

That's because he needs to shelter that giant brain full of 40-yard dash times and other draft jargon! Old dude, you know what?


We should mock the draft! You know what separates this blog from all those mouthbreathing weasels who write mock drafts and obsess about the standing vertical jump ability of guys from Abilene Christian?

Other than we write our blog at the dining room table instead of in our mom's basement?

Yeah, you hear me knocking, Geritol fan! We should literally mock the draft, because if there's anything that deserves mocking, it's draft nerds!

I'm with ya, dude. So, how do we do this?

Well, we could undertake a reasoned analysis of the NFC North and the various needs of its member teams. Or we could just make stuff up. I vote for making stuff up.

Okay. Let's go around the division, then. We'll start close to home, with the Vikings.

The Vikings seem to be lacking a certain amount of ability at the wimp position. What's that? You didn't know there was a wimp position in the NFL? Obviously you haven't learned the in-depth thinking of an NFL scout or executive. There's always a need for some wimpiness in every organization. Now that Brad Childress has left town, there's a crying need for a wimp on the team. Brad liked to act like a strutting little bald peacock dude with a Panama hat, but deep down we saw through that and saw his wimpitude. So if you need a wimp, one needs to stay close to home. The Twin Cities isn't filled with macho dudes, except me of course. So I've been busy scouting the local airwaves for available talent. And there's little question that the guy the Vikings need has been busy working as a sideline reporter for FSN. He's got the irritating, high-pitched voice, the stage presence of Tiny Tim and reminds you of a high school loser that never made it with the ladies. Oh, sorry, I started singing Aerosmith there. Anyway, the obvious choice for the Vikings is Robbie Incmikoski.

Robbie would be an intriguing pick, but I'm concerned that the uniform staff at Winter Park would have a difficult time fitting his last name on the jersey. So I think the Vikings ought to take a lesson from another team in town, especially one that has a lot of experience drafting high. That would be their crosstown neighbors, the Timberwolves. David Kahn has made a bajillion trades in the last two years and has turned his team from a 15-win squad to a 17-win squad. Now, that's not so good if you play 82 games, but the Vikings only 16, so if they could win 15 that would be pretty good. Kahn loves to draft guys who are "long and athletic," although that seems to translate into guys with overactive pituitary glands. The one guy who the Wolves really love, but haven't been able to bring to town, is the guy who might do the most to turn things around for the Vikes. My pick for the Vikings is Ricky Rubio.

Good pick, old dude! Now, let's get to the Lions. The Lions have a definite need for attitude. They've been kicked around for over 50 years now and they show up for work wearing really wimpy light blue shirts. Now that's okay if you are a claims adjuster or something, but there's a rumor that the Lions are actually in the National Football League, so they may need to step up their game a bit. I would recommend that if you want attitude in Detroit, you should keep the search local and find the Detroiter with the most attitude possible. I ruled out Jimmy Hoffa because he's been missing since 20 years before I was born, and I also ruled out former Pistons bad boy extraordinaire Bill Laimbeer because he's been hanging out with the Timberwolves and that's pretty much the kiss of death when it comes to toughness and attitude. My pick for the Lions is the real Slim Shady, Eminem.

I've always thought the reason the Lions stink is that they are, well, cheap. So it stands to reason that they won't want to spend a lot of money on this pick. They also tend to be absurdly loyal to people who are already on the payroll, which means that the right guy for the Lions should be someone who is already in the employ of the Ford family and who knows a little something about unpleasant tasks. Let's face it, being a member of the Lions is one of the dirtiest jobs around, so my pick for the Lions is "Dirty Jobs" host, and Ford spokesman, Mike Rowe.

Now, it's time to go on to daaaaaa Bearz. Let's face facts here, people. Da Bears have two things that they are famous for -- nastiness and a tedency to be evil. The problem is that it's really tough to get your evil street cred when your head coach is named Lovie. I mean, what? Thurston Howell III wasn't available? Maybe these dopes should change their names to the Care Bears and be done with it! What a bunch of weenies! I recommend that da Bearz get back to basics and live up to their ruthless past. Now what is more ruthless than a guy who calls in air strikes against his own citizens? He's also a little crazy like Dick Butkus was. The obvious choice for da Bearz is Muammar Gadaffi.

That's probably a pretty good pick for the Bears, but I think what they really need to do is ramp up their obnoxiousness factor a little bit. Bears fans are at their best when they are obnoxious, so the team really needs to take a guy who combines bad taste and a really, really grating voice. Since they can't draft their shameless homer broadcaster Hub Arkush, since he already works for them, I'm going to recommend that they go for the suddenly available one-time voice of the AFLAC duck, Gilbert Gottfried.

So that leaves us with our beloved, Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers! You did know that they won the Super Bowl, right? I realize no one in Minnesota has ever seen the Vince Lombardi Trophy, but trust me, it's pretty cool and we have four of them in Green Bay. Okay, that's enough Vikings bashing -- back to business. The problem in Wisconsin lately is that even though the season has been over for two months now, the people in Wisconsin continue to keep acting like they are in a scrimmage, except they use politicians instead of linebackers. Now, I'm really tired of this -- if Wisconsin is going to put all this effort into fighting, they need to have these folks suit up in Green and Gold and go kick some Lion butt! That's why I am recommending that the Packers select David Prosser.

I think you're on to something, Seabiscuit, but the problem is Prosser probably won't be available. I do like your theory, though, so I'm going to recommend that they select JoAnne Kloppenburg instead. She's available and she'll probably be ready to kick somebody's butt. And her hair is no more absurd than Clay Matthews's hair.

Now I know one thing, Decrepit -- there's no way that Mel Kiper could have come up with anything close to our mock draft. I am hoping that you'll get me a Mel Kiper fright wig for Halloween, though. But I have to ask you one thing --

What's that, young fella?

Would wearing that much fiberglass on my head cause me to have a slipped disk in my neck?

Possibly. Do you mean to tell me you aren't prepared to suffer for your art?

No, suffering for my art is the job of the readers. Ben out!

The NFL Gets a Smackdown

Chances are you've heard that the NFL owners lost pretty decisively in U.S. District Court here in Minneapolis this week. The upshot of Judge Susan Nelson's decision is that the lockout of players will likely end and that further negotiations will favor the players.

Most football fans really don't care who wins the dispute between the owners and the players. All they care about is football. It's difficult to muster a lot of sympathy for the Jerry Joneses and Zygi Wilfs of the world, who sit atop a magnificent marketing machine that delivers a product people desire. Everyone involved in the enterprise, owners and players alike, is well-compensated for their efforts.

My take is that the players won this round because they had the better case. It may be out there, but I still haven't seen a compelling rationale for what the owners wanted, especially expanding the regular season schedule to 18 games. Everyone agrees that the preseason is too long and the product on the field is exceptionally substandard in those preseason games, but given the physical strength and agility of the players, and given the laws of physics, the players had a pretty good argument about the toll that extra league games would take on their careers.

I remember watching an old clip from NFL Films that featured then-Atlanta Falcons coach Jerry Glanville admonishing one of his players for a dumb play. Glanville said something like, "you know what the NFL stands for, right? It stands for Not For Long." And that is the truth, especially for the players. Football is easily the most unsentimental of the major sports and it's the one that most rigorously enforces performance standards. If you can't play up to standards in the NFL, no matter the reason, you don't see the field. That's one thing that makes the game so compelling, but it also puts enormous pressure on the players to perform at the highly demanding level the NFL requires. The players aren't unreasonable in asking for whatever protection, and whatever compensation, they can get, because the opportunities don't last long. Judge Nelson recognized that in her ruling. Now I hope that the games can begin without further incident.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

This is the 2,500th post on Mr. Dilettante's Neighborhood

You're probably thinking, does this guy ever shut up? It would appear not.

We've been at this for about 5 1/2 years now, which works out to more than one post a day. I started this thing out as a lark, which is why I chose to include the word "dilettante" in the title. It's turned out to be something more than a lark -- 2,500 of anything is not a lark.

I still think there's a measure of dilettantism involved in our enterprise -- although I do know a little about music and have lotsa opinions on politics, I certainly claim no great depth of knowledge or insight. I've learned many things from this experience and have had some remarkably good blogging role models along the way. Like, to use just a couple of examples, this guy and this guy. And yes, this guy, too. Better still, I've made some great friends through blogging and have received great stores of wisdom, insight and encouragement from all of you. The joy in blogging is not throwing down words on a blank screen -- it's hoping that those who find this feature might get a little wisdom, insight or encouragement, too.

Night Writer posted a quote from "To Kill a Mockingbird" on a comment here earlier today:

"There's a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep 'em all away from you. That's never possible."

- Atticus Finch

We can't keep the ugliness away, but if our little enterprise can give you even a brief respite from it, we'll have accomplished something. Thank you for your support and encouragement. All of us who write here will do our best to make sure we deserve it.

DOMA Alone

One thing you rarely see is a law firm abandoning its representation of a particular client. I worked for a large law firm for nearly five years and can only think of one instance where it happened, when a client who was engaged in bankruptcy proceedings was hiding assets, a la the Denny Hecker case that we saw recently.

It's one thing to say you can't represent someone when you know they are engaging in criminal behavior, but quite another when a law firm abandons a law itself. That's what happened this week, as the law firm of King & Spaulding, which was retained by the House of Representatives to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, suddenly bailed on the case. Byron York reports:

Legal insiders knew there would be controversy when Paul Clement, the former solicitor general, signed on to defend the Defense of Marriage Act against constitutional challenge. But few could have predicted a controversy so intense that Clement's law firm, under fire from gay activists, would abruptly abandon the defense, forcing Clement to resign in protest. And yet that is what happened on Monday.
York explains the chronology:

The Act was passed in 1996 by overwhelming bipartisan majorities -- 342 to 67 in the House and 85 to 14 in the Senate -- and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. Gay activists have long opposed it, and many hoped that President Obama and congressional Democrats would repeal it. That didn't happen.

But in February, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the president has now decided DOMA is unconstitutional. Therefore, even though it is the Justice Department's responsibility to defend the laws that Congress passes, and even though the Obama Justice Department defended DOMA in 2009 and 2010, Holder declared the Department would no longer defend the Act against various court challenges that have been brought by activist groups.

That's where Paul Clement came in. When House Speaker John Boehner decided the House would defend DOMA in court, the House retained the giant firm King & Spalding, with Clement handling the case. Firm management considered the likelihood that the representation would be controversial -- that was pretty much guaranteed -- but still signed off on Clement's participation.

That's when the pressure started. King & Spalding prides itself on its diversity programs; in recent years, it has been a national sponsor of the gay-rights Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and boasts that it "actively recruits LGBT law students." When word got out that King & Spalding was defending DOMA, there was talk of gay groups cutting all ties with the firm. Of discouraging top students from joining the firm. Of protests.

Clement's representation caused tension inside King & Spalding, and on Monday that tension spilled into public view. The firm publicly withdrew from the DOMA case and Clement immediately resigned.
There are two things that strike me as particularly odd about this case. First, whatever the merits of DOMA, it's not a problem if the Obama administration opposes the law. What is a problem is the way they've gone about dealing with their opposition. It would be far more preferable for the administration to publicly support a bill in Congress that repeals DOMA, rather than bailing on its defense of the law. There would be a political price to pay for it, but if you are sincere in your beliefs, then you should make the case.

Second, the idea that a law firm would pull the rug out from underneath one of its partners is astonishing. As noted above, the firm was getting pressed by gay groups. York details even more pressure in his report. Still, lawyers don't fold under such pressures. Or at least they didn't until now.

What does it say about the state of American law that it is easier to get an attorney, and the full support of his/her law firm, if you are a terror suspect, than it is if you are the leader of one half of the legislative branch of government seeking to defend an existing statute? To me, it says the law, and the practice of law, is getting so thoroughly politicized that even basic standards of legal practice are on shaky ground. No matter what you think about the relative merits of the Defense of Marriage Act, that ought to scare the hell out of you.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Happy St. Mark's Day!

Most Catholics can celebrate the feast day of a saint that shares their name. Today is St. Mark's Day.

Before I was born, my parents apparently had the plan that they would name any boys they had after the four Gospel writers. As a result, I ended up being named Mark, which is a pretty common first name for people of my generation -- there were 3 other Marks in my high school class, which out of a class of 150 is rather a lot.

As saints go, Mark is a pretty good patron to have. Mark was not one of the Twelve but came to the faith early and worked with both St. Paul and St. Peter. He also wrote the second Gospel. His works took him to Asia Minor and he was reportedly martyred in Alexandria some time after the year 60 AD. He is also associated with Venice, where St. Mark's Cathedral is located.

Of the four Gospels, Mark's is the shortest and he takes almost a Jack Webb approach to the matter. He lays out the facts of Jesus's life and pays most attention to the miracles, with less attention given to the teachings. Mark worked closely with St. Peter to write his Gospel, which is one reason why the details matter.

My parents couldn't have known that their son would some day wish to write. Although they were both clear communicators, neither were especially writerly in how they lived. Perhaps they knew something, though, when they chose my name. I do know this -- if you are going to have a patron, Mark is a pretty good one to have.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

John 20 1-9

1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

Rejoice, everyone! Jesus Christ is risen today!

Friday, April 22, 2011

One more time, since it doesn't seem to be sinking in with some people

A few gentle reminders:

1) Barack Obama was born in Hawaii and is a U.S. citizen.

2) Even if he weren't born in Hawaii, his mother was a U.S. citizen, which makes him a U.S. citizen. That would be true even if he was born in Kenya, or Indonesia, or beamed down from Planet Zorf. Which he wasn't.

3) We rightly ridicule Andrew Sullivan for the wild-ass theories he progagates about Sarah Palin's son Trig. We stare in disbelief at the spectacle of those who believe 9-11 was some sort of inside job. We marvel and scoff at the cottage industry that continues to surround the assassination of John F. Kennedy, nearly 50 years on. We do these things for good reason. And yet some of our putative friends throw all that common sense out the window, because they wish to believe conspiracy theories that are more in line with fan fiction than reality.

4) You can, I think, believe that Barack Obama's presidency is dunderheaded, inept, mendacious, intellectually vacant and morally bankrupt. You can mention with confidence the notion that he has surrounded himself with knaves, mountebanks, thugs and brown nosers. You can describe his performance in office as that of a dilettante (ahem), a malingerer and someone who is aloof to the point of catatonia. Even if all of these assertions are accurate, his presidency is not illegitimate. Barack Obama won the election in 2008, decisively. He is the President of the United States. So can we give this birther crap a rest, please?

Thank you. And have a totally bitchin' weekend!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Working Blue

Anyone have any idea what this means? Here's Derek Wallbank of MinnPost, describing the state of Michele Bachmann's current fundraising:

Michele Bachmann, quite frankly, has a pornographic amount of money. $2.8 million in the bank right now, despite her congressional committee spending more money in the 1st quarter of a non-election year ($787,000) than some campaigns will spend in an entire cycle. However, you can spend three-quarters of a million dollars without killing the bottom line when you raise $1.7 million, I guess.

Emphasis mine. So I ask, innocently of course, what makes an amount of money "pornographic?" If Bachmann had, say, $1.4 million in the bank, would her total be merely "ribald," or perhaps "bawdy?" And if she had $700,000, would that be "chaste" or even "prim?"

I ask the question for a couple of reasons. One, it's my solemn duty to bust Wallbank's chops, because he's actually a pretty decent reporter and there's a fair amount of useful information and analysis at the link. But I also ask because what gets described as pornographic is such a subjective thing. The most famous example was the observation of the late Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, in a 1964 case:

In 1964, Justice Potter Stewart tried to explain "hard-core" pornography, or what is obscene, by saying, "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced . . . [b]ut I know it when I see it . . . "
Perhaps where campaign money is concerned, Wallbank knows it when he sees it, too. But ought we to trust how he sees it?

The larger issue is what makes the word choice so interesting. As we are reminded, the blue-nosed Puritan killjoys among our cohort are always hot to ban the prurient and the pandering, because Puritan killjoys know that prurience has no redeeming social value. As the wags always note, there are plenty of Puritans out there who like their prurience just fine, so long as they can keep it from public view. As a dedicated wag, I can vouch for that.

The Puritans of the Left are always disapproving of money and ostentatious displays of wealth, of course. It is especially bad form for someone like Bachmann to have a pile. Whatever you think about Michele Bachmann's politics, she is a genius self-promoter and has done an excellent job leveraging her career. She is also a genius at driving bien pensants crazy. Those two factors are inextricable and are the formula for her success.

The thing about pornography is that it is illegitimate. If there is evidence that Bachmann is getting her money Duke Cunningham-style, that would be one thing. Bachmann gets a lot of her funding from individual donors. Are they somehow illegitimate too, because they have chosen to lavish their resources on Bachmann?

I don't expect Derek Wallbank, or anyone else, to answer a series of rhetorical questions. I would hope that Wallbank and his colleagues might think about how their word choices resonate, though. I'd wager his column will probably net Bachmann even more money, and I'd hate for a respected journalist to be an unwitting participant in a pornographic enterprise.

What you want and what you get

Over at MinnPost, Eric Black is gloating over polling results that would appear to be, ahem, problematic to the Republicans who are talking about structural reforms to entitlement spending:

In one question (really series of questions) the Post offered respondents five ideas for reducing the national debt. Four of the five were unpopular but the two that were most unpopular were “cutting spending on Medicare” (78 percent opposed) and “cutting spending on Medicaid" (69 percent opposed). Also unpopular, but not as much, were cuts to military spending and a broad tax increase tied to small changes in entitlement spending.

I took a poll of Americans 5 years ago and discovered that nearly 84 percent would like a parfait delivered to their doorstep every night. And in recent polling, I've found out that nearly 67 percent would oppose ending the Parfait Entitlement Act of 2006.

It doesn't matter whether Americans are opposed to cutting Medicare spending. It's hardly surprising -- programs that fund expensive things for people are always going to be popular. It doesn't change the fundamental problem of demographics. We are getting older and we do not have nearly enough young people to finance the costs. Nothing is going to change that. And when we are old and the bills come due, the young people won't be able to pay the bills. Waving a Washington Post poll from 2011 in their faces won't change that.

Republicans may very well lose this election if they actually fight this fight. That's fine. We'll get what we deserve, one way or another.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dead But Too Dumb to Lie Down

The headline to this post is a ripoff of a line from P. J. O'Rourke, which he wrote in 1991. O'Rourke was writing about communism. I'm writing about Joanne Kloppenburg*.

A few observations:
  • Kloppenburg is not going to win this recount. She knows this. There's ample evidence that the Waukesha County Clerk, Kathy Nickolaus, is inept. But there's no evidence that she did anything that was even close to malfeasance. Kloppenburg knows that as well.
  • So why is Kloppenburg pursuing the matter, if there's no chance she'll prevail? Because (a) she can, and (b) the Democrats have a vested interest in not letting this thing go. At some point the matter of the budget repair law will finally escape the clutches of the hack Dane County judge who is currently holding it hostage and will find its way to the Supreme Court. Since David Prosser would likely be, barring anything really unforseen, the deciding vote in favor of the constitutionality of the law, delaying his return to the bench is helpful to the cause. After all, given we've been through 2 months of scorched earth tactics, why not break out a little more butane?
  • As a practical matter, Kloppenburg's career as an assistant attorney general is over. Her boss, Republican Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen, may end up having to move against her at some point as this matter proceeds through the recount to its inevitable court challenge afterward. She can't stay there and while she's useful to her supporters for now, once this thing is over she'll have to find some other way to keep herself going. She might as well keep her name out there and maybe she'll be able to find something else to do with her life. Martyrdom can be lucrative, especially in the legal biz.
  • So why is she dumb, and why is this effort dumb? Because while Kloppenburg and her allies are still fighting, everyone else is really, really tired of this circus. The next step in the process are the various recall elections that embittered partisans are trying to impose on state senators. Do you suppose that the outside money will continue to flow in for these exercises in spite?  Maybe. But if you think the people of Wisconsin want to be trapped in a permanent election cycle, you are dumb. People are really tired of this crap. The backlash is coming and it's going to be something to behold.
*No, I don't think Kloppenburg is a Communist. Communists had more fashion sense.

Football News

We didn't get to celebrate it much, actually. Because the political situation in Wisconsin got so nasty in February, there really wasn't much time for otherwise contentious Cheeseheads to celebrate the fact that the Packers somehow won the Super Bowl earlier this year. Which is a shame, because I'd rather see this than this (second link is definitely NSFW).

We've talked about it before, but one of the reasons the National Football League has been so successful is that they can generate attention pretty much at will. Yesterday we learned about the 2011 regular season schedule, which probably will take place once the NFLPA and the league wake up and realize that the are being idiots.

So the interesting thing for the Packers is this:  they will have games on Thanksgiving Day (the traditional visit to Detroit), Christmas Day (at Lambeau against the hated Bears) and New Year's Day (when Detroit comes to Lambeau).

That's a tough holiday stretch. There was a time when the NFL wouldn't have scheduled a game on Christmas Day, but we're long past that now. I suspect that the Bears aren't especially keen about spending Christmas Day in the Fox River Valley, either.

Meanwhile, the Vikings don't get a lot of love or national exposure this year, although they do get a visit to Lambeau for a Monday night game in November.

The larger point -- the NFL is now at the point where it does as it pleases and the rest of the world responds to it. While that's nice work if you can get it, you have to wonder a little bit.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Transgressions Against the Transgressive

Things that make you go hmmm.

When New York artist Andres Serrano plunged a plastic crucifix into a glass of his own urine and photographed it in 1987 under the title Piss Christ, he said he was making a statement on the misuse of religion.

Controversy has followed the work ever since, but reached an unprecedented peak on Palm Sunday when it was attacked with hammers and destroyed after an "anti-blasphemy" campaign by French Catholic fundamentalists in the southern city of Avignon.

So what do we make of this? My first reaction was, "aww, that's a shame." Still, I sense there's more to it.

Clearly the work was meant as an insult, but is destroying the expression of an insult the way to go? It's a tough question, especially since I recently was deploring the way political opponents shout people down in Madison. How should one react?

I would say this:  we certainly shouldn't hold sacred an object that was designed to be blasphemous, but at the same time I'd have preferred either of two alternatives have happened:

1) We continue to talk about such things and make our displeasure clear, without resorting to destruction; or

2) The better option -- we do a better job of ignoring such sophomoric provocations when they happen, because doing so robs the provocateur of his power.

What say you?

La la la

I can't hear you.

The Obama administration moved swiftly to downplay ratings agency Standard & Poor's downgrade of its U.S. credit outlook, calling the decision a political judgment that should not be taken too seriously.
The truth hurts, I suppose. Let's stipulate a few things at the outset, since this our current financial travails are subject to all manner of tu quoque argument.
  • What we face has been a long time coming
  • We've been kicking the can down the road for a long time
  • Most of what we've tried to do in recent years (TARP, stimulus, etc.) hasn't worked very well and much of it has made the situation worse
  • While it can be fun to question the motives of those who passed these programs, it's not especially useful when we are trying to move forward, because
  • You can blame both sides of the political aisle for the problem and be correct
The question is this:  what do we do about it now? We are running out of time to make a palatable decision.

One last thing -- S&P really doesn't have an incentive to be political. In fact, as a ratings agency if they are overtly political in their judgments, they will lose credibility. They have strong reason to be as neutral as possible.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Crash-scene analysis -- the Timberwolves

You might have heard of these guys. I have it on good authority that they are an actual NBA franchise and that they regularly play some of the best basketball teams in the world, in much the same manner that the Washington Generals play the Harlem Globetrotters. One of their players seems to have a connection to the Beach Boys, too.

It's the Timberwolves, of course, perhaps the least-relevant team in town. They improved their results by over 10% this season, but going from 15 wins to 17 isn't so great when you still are the worst team in the league. So what is wrong with these guys?

I'd say it's pretty simple -- it's ownership. Glen Taylor built a hugely successful, multibillion dollar business in his day job, but he's never quite figured out how the NBA works. The team got lucky one time in the draft and got Kevin Garnett, but that was over 15 years ago now and for the most part they have been pretty rudderless since then. The current majordomo, David Kahn, is an arrogant dude who loves making deals but seems to have no sense of the big picture. He stocks up on point guards and power forwards but there's no coherence to the roster he's assembled.

Meanwhile, the coach he brought in, Kurt Rambis, seemed to be at odds with what Kahn wanted the team to do. If you bring in a bunch of young athletes and then market the team as a running squad, you probably don't want to bring in a coach who uses a complicated set offense that works best in the half-court game.

So what do we have in Minnesota now? The best player is Kevin Love, who fits the Rambis scheme. Most of the other guys who are on the team (Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, Martell Webster, etc.) don't. They await the arrival of Ricky Rubio, a 20-year old Spaniard who isn't exactly tearing up Europe. And they might, at long last, have the first pick in the draft, in a year where the best players are all power forwards.

What do you do? If it were me, I'd get rid of Kahn and bring in a guy who has built winners elsewhere. Give him the power to pick his own coach. And then wait. What would you do?


President Obama, caught on an open mike (but not really, of course):
"When Paul Ryan says his priority is to make sure, you know, he's just being America's accountant…," Obama said, "this is the same guy that voted for two wars that were unpaid for, voted for the Bush tax cuts that were unpaid for, voted for the prescription drug bill that cost as much as my health care bill -- but wasn't paid for. So it's not on the level. And we've got to keep on, you know, keep on shining a light on that."

Our friend Rich, who's obviously plugged in to the latest sounds, commenting here last week:

this is the same Paul Ryan who helped to run up this massive debt by fervently embracing the reckeless Bush tax cuts, the unpaid-for Iraqi and Afghani wars, a massive new and, again, unpaid for prescription drug benefit, TARP, etc. and now complains when Obama points out the obvious flaws in Ryan's plan.
Is it live, or is it Memorex?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Losing the Plot in Mad City

Sarah Palin and the Tea Party came to Madison on Saturday for a Tax Day rally at the Capitol. Not surprisingly, the ever-present Madison rent-a-mob was there, too, with their vuvezulas, cowbells, drums and their upraised middle fingers, trying to shout down the presenters.

You can see plenty o' video, pix and more at Althouse. The beauty post is the one about the 14-year old girl who gets booed as she addresses the crowd.

There's two ways to look at what happened. The first, which would be more charitable to the protesters, is that they have fought a hard fight and are still coming to grips with their loss. It must be galling to see Sarah Palin come to the place where many of them had taken up temporary residence and watch her spike the football in their faces.

The other way to look at thing is this way:  these are a bunch of spoiled children who have been participating in a tantrum for well over 2 months now. Their arguments have been made, heard and rejected. And instead of going home and thinking about better ways to make their argument the next time, they instead decided to throw turds in the punchbowl.

Not surprisingly, I think the latter argument is more compelling. It's clear that a lot of the protesters have lost sight of the bigger picture. No matter what you think of the propriety of putting a adolescent girl on the stage at a Tea Party rally, trying to boo her off the stage is behavior I'd expect out of pre-adolescents. The British have a useful term for such madness -- they call it "losing the plot." That seems to be what's happened to a lot of people in Madison these days.

My brother and my sister-in-law were there yesterday and my sister-in-law wrote the following on her Facebook page:

This was an experience for me. I have never attended a political rally. I must ...say, I was taken aback with the amount disruption of the "protestors" banging on drums, yelling profanities at the speakers, fliipping off the speakers, and yelling through bullhorns at the speakers. I was pleasantly surprised that they did stop drumming half way through the national anthem, when they figured out it was being sung. We taught our children at a young age what it means to be a "good audience member" I also know they were taught this in Kindergarten. I left the rally feeling good that I went, but also scratching my head in bewilderment, wondering how these people were raised, and why on earth they would think it is ok to behave in such a way?
One would hope, for the sake of my sister-in-law and everyone else, that those questions aren't merely rhetorical. My sister-in-law and everyone else in Wisconsin deserve an honest answer.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Guilty Pleasures Part Seventy-Eight -- Fearless Maria Fails to See the Glam in Glam Rock

Fearless Maria is here this evening and we're enjoying some new technological ability, thanks to the latest upgrade in the Blogger software.

Dad, here's the story. We can now embed the videos directly into the post. Which is cool, but there's still a problem.

What's that, Maria?

As long as you're still picking the videos, there's a chance that seeing the people right away might scare them off! Hello, Dad -- it's a nice Halloween trick, but you find some scary stuff!

I don't know, Maria -- is Halloween more scary than tax time?

Oh, thanks Dad! You just gave me a great idea! Next year I'm going to dress up for Halloween as an IRS agent! That'll get you to cough some candy, huh? Especially if tax time is more scary than Halloween!

Good thinking, Maria. Shall we test out our new technology?

I thought you tested it out on your practice blog, Mr. Dilettante's Earlobe?

True, but now we're on the big stage. So what I've decided to feature this time is stuff from the "glam" rock era of the early 70s. All these acts are British and a little weird, which should give you ample space to critique.

Oh no! British and weird? Just don't show me any pictures of the Prime Minister in a flaming headdress from Arthur Brown!

No, I don't think we have that. First, let's start with T. Rex:

That doesn't look too glamorous to me, Dad! What it looks like is that he took a white banana suit and dumped a bunch of glitter on it. And his hair is some 70s version of Mike Brusewitz's afro combined with a poodle or something. But the girls are all screaming. So Dad, what happened to T. Rex? Were they carnivores, or did an asteroid hit their band and they had a mass extinction?

Actually, Marc Bolan, the singer died in a traffic accident, so I guess you were right. Don't think he got hit by an asteroid, though.

How come singers always die in traffic accidents? Or they die in plane accidents in the Midwest! Maybe they should just travel by crowd-surfing!

That's not a bad idea, actually. But now we're ready to move on. Here's a band with a somewhat, ahem, unusual fashion sense. Straight out of the Black Country, complete with strangely spelled song titles, it's Slade:

A-ha! Dad, you are in some big trouble, buddy!

I'm in trouble?

Of course you are, Dad. And you thought that I would fall for it! But I know exactly what's going on here! You are in an alliance with Michael's Craft Stores! It's so obvious. Here are some good reasons! First you show me Jeepster, advertising glitter and special occasions fabric, and now you break out the Slade, with the painted stained glass, leather, rug and curtain material, with sequins the size of compact discs, which they didn't even have in 1972! And you picked "Mama Weer All Crazee Now" is to show how fashion doesn't really help the squares dancing on the set of Top of the Pops! And in literary terms, you were using symbolism!

Symbolism? I thought I was just picking videos!

Don't play dumb with me, pal. Let me tell you -- because you're in alliance with Michael's Craft Stores, the word "Mama" symbolizes leadership, or superiority in an allegiance and "Crazee Now" symbolizes that you can't get enough of it! Therefore, you're using the overgeneralization propaganda technique and also transfer!

I still think I'm just picking videos!

No, you're on to something far more sinister, Dad. As I was saying, you're using overgeneralization in that the company you agree to support, you tell so with no basis in fact. And transfer, in that you're associating 1970s glam rock celebrities with the company! Fraud! Treason! And yes, I did take the NWEA test today to determine if I'm in Challenge Reading class at middle school next year!

Either that or you're working on a doctorate in semiotics from Duke.

Harvard, actually.

Well, good to know. Meanwhile, we'll go to something a little more stripped down, but from the same era. This will seem absolutely minimalist compared to Slade. It's one-hit wonder David Essex:

Well, Dad, I think I'll shorten my comment this time, because I think almost gave you carpal tunnel syndrome trying to keep up with my ranting, and I am sorry for any false accusations I leveled in the course of attempting highbrow, academic-style humor. Wait, do your fingers hurt now?

Not yet.

Well, anyway, what it looks like to me is that whenever they have someone on who is wearing something normal, the video is all shadowy and dark.

Actually, in 1973, a sleeveless black t-shirt and jeans would have been kinda strange.

Well, maybe you needed to send him over to Michael's Craft Store for a makeover, Dad! Asleep at the switch again, huh? And don't start with the testimonial technique!

I'm afraid to ask. I think I'll just pick another video. It's my favorite Guilty Pleasure band and the inspiration for this whole enterprise, the Sweet:

Mom told me that in 1975, these guys weren't telling the truth. All her friends had the same hairdos that the Sweet is wearing here! Well, Dad, it looks like you're up to your old trick again. Now you're advertising hunting season!

Hunting season?

If the fox is on the run, then that means the hunter is trying to catch it! And it also means they have a bunch of beagles! Cute! Which reminds me of my proposal I've made so many times! Get a dog! We'll all be happier for the rest of our lives! Oh no -- wait, I'm using the faulty cause and effect propaganda technique! I've been poisoned!

If you're using a faulty cause and effect propaganda technique, it means you have a promising future as a political commentator, Maria!

Do they offer that at Harvard, too?

I don't know, but I'd suggest you get through middle school first.

What fun are you? Okay, I will. Anyway, the song was pretty good and the clothing wasn't that terrible. But can you pick a better song? C'mon, give it a try!

Well, see if you like this one, also from 1975. It's Roxy Music, with backup singers dressed like flight attendants and a singer wearing an eyepatch. Don't ask me why:

Well, Dad -- all that fog they have going probably gave Bryan Ferry an eye infection! And maybe the backup singers were doctors in disguise. And if you're a doctor, what better disguise is there than a flight attendant's uniform? Actually, I found the entire thing a little suspicious. I think there's more to this story than meets the eye. Even if it is only one eye! Get it?

Wow, that's Dixie Riddle Cup quality humor, Maria!

Very funny, Dad. I must be a mirror because I'm cracking up! But now we're out of songs, so it's time to vote, people! And don't vote for the Dixie Riddle Cups, okay! Put your pick in the comment section and be nice, or I'll give you such a critique of your propaganda technique!

You heard her, folks. Let's get voting!

Crash-scene analysis -- the Vikings

I wrote yesterday about the story state of the local sports scene. While I don't have a lot of time this morning, I thought I'd start a discussion each morning about what ails each team. We'll start with the team that has the largest emotional purchase on the local fan base, the Vikings.

As a Packer fan, I'm hardly a disinterested observer, but here's what I see:
  • One bad hire can hurt. You can never know it until later on, but it turned out that Brad Childress was the wrong guy. He didn't seem to have the skill set to manage a team. Leslie Frazier might be better that way.
  • The so-called "Triangle of Authority" is a poor idea. You need to hold someone accountable for things, beyond the coach. Who do you hold accountable at Winter Park? Everyone in the front office has some accountability, but when a decision needs to be made, there's no clear vision for what should happen.
  • You need to develop a quarterback in your system. Drew Brees won a Super Bowl in New Orleans, but generally speaking it works a lot better if it's your own guy. Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers are all homegrown quarterbacks. The Vikings had a pretty good homegrown quarterback in Daunte Culpepper, but they haven't since. They really need to find a guy in the upcoming draft.
What do you think?

Home Truth

A useful reminder from blogger Stacy McCain:

Contrary to all the class-warfare demagoguery pouring forth from Democrats and the media (but I repeat myself), conservatives do not oppose tax increases because we are beholden to the rich. Rather, the question is whether wealth does more good when it is invested in the private sector, to create jobs and economic growth, or surrendered to the federal government as taxes to support the metastatic growth of a pestiferous bureaucracy.
The related point is this:  the farther away the money is sent, the greater the difficulty of holding the politicians accountable. I may not always agree with the decisions that the mayor of my city makes, but I know him personally and he will listen to my concerns and act on them if I am sufficiently persuasive. As has been amply demonstrated, Barack Obama doesn't give a damn what I think.

There's a lot more at the link and it's worth your time.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Millionaires for Moral Vanity

They are Happy to Pay for a Better Minnesota Country, these swell fellas. It's the Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, who are demanding that President Obama raise their taxes.

They're not serious, of course. How do we know that? Two reasons:

1) If they were serious, they could write checks to the U.S. Treasury right now. No one is stopping them.

2) If you look at the website, you'll notice that they are soliciting funds to put their ad on television. These dudes are millionaires. What, they can't afford an ad buy?

Well, maybe if they get their wish, Obama can put their ad on PBS or something.

Multiple-car pileup

I grew up in Wisconsin and lately the sports news has been pretty good. The Packers won the Super Bowl after an improbable run through the playoffs. The Wisconsin Badgers won a share of the Big Ten title in football and a spot in the Rose Bowl. The Badger women's hockey program won the NCAA championship and the men's basketball teams from Wisconsin and Marquette both made it to the "Sweet 16" round of the NCAA men's basketball championship. Yes, the Milwaukee Bucks were terrible, but all in all, it's been a lot of fun lately.

I live in Minnesota, though. And here the sporting landscape is, well, dismal. Let's see:
  • The Vikings were supposed to have a Super Bowl run. Instead, Brett Favre suddenly realized he was 41 years old, the rest of the team performed well below expectations and then, to add insult to injury, the roof of the Metrodome collapsed.
  • The Minnesota Wild performed well below expectations, missed the playoffs and fired their coach.
  • The Minnesota Gophers were dismal up and down the line. The football team was at the bottom of the Big 10 and the coach was fired. The men's and women's basketball teams were both second division performers and the hockey programs made no progress.
  • And last, but certainly least, the Minnesota Timberwolves end the year with the worst record in the NBA, which likely means they'll draft about 5th this year, given their history.
It's weird, actually. There's no reason why all these things happened at the same time; most of these entities operate independently of one another and, in recent history, all have been successful enterprises. But here we are.

I'm planning to write a few posts in the coming days about the various travails of these teams and programs. I think it's an interesting story. Or, rather, series of stories.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Thanks to Jake Tapper for the first two:

“We're not going to be able to do anything about any of these entitlements if what we do is characterize whatever proposals are put out there as, ‘Well, you know, that's -- the other party's being irresponsible. The other party is trying to hurt our senior citizens. That the other party is doing X, Y, Z.”

That was President Obama in January, 2010. So what did he say today?

“One vision has been championed by Republicans in the House of Representatives and embraced by several of their party’s presidential candidates…This is a vision that says up to 50 million Americans have to lose their health insurance in order for us to reduce the deficit. And who are those 50 million Americans? Many are someone’s grandparents who wouldn’t be able afford nursing home care without Medicaid. Many are poor children. Some are middle-class families who have children with autism or Down’s syndrome. Some are kids with disabilities so severe that they require 24-hour care. These are the Americans we’d be telling to fend for themselves.”

Paul Ryan, in response, describes President Obama thus:

He's basically a pyromaniac in a field of straw men.

Rather than building bridges, he's poisoning wells.
This of course would be a more polite way of saying what Joe Wilson said in 2009.

Two things seem clear after today. First, no matter how much some might try to muddy things, the choices couldn't be much more stark in 2012. Second, Paul Ryan may say he's not running for president, and might not intend to run for president, but it's become increasingly clear that he is a guy who needs to run for president in 2012 on the Republican side.

Buy that man a drink

Glenn Reynolds, the University of Tennessee law professor who helms Instapundit, has a column out today in the Wall Street Journal calling for an end to the 21-year old drinking age.

This is well-plowed ground, but worth going over again. Reynolds makes a key point about what it means to be 18:

Along with joining the military, 18-year-olds can vote, marry, sign contracts, and even take on a crippling lifetime burden of student loan debt in pursuit of an education that may never land them a job. Yet we face the absurd phenomenon of colleges encouraging students to go into six-figure debt—which can't be discharged in bankruptcy—but forbidding them to drink on campus because they're deemed insufficiently mature to appreciate the risks.

That is an odd way to treat people. And there's more, including the key point:

Defenders of the status quo claim that highway deaths have fallen since the drinking age was raised to 21 from 18, but those claims obscure the fact that this decline merely continued a trend that was already present before the drinking age changed—and one that involved every age group, not merely those 18-21. Research by economist Jeffrey A. Miron and lawyer Elina Tetelbaum indicates that a drinking age of 21 doesn't save lives but does promote binge drinking and contempt for the law.
More than anything else, that's always been my largest problem with the drinking age change, which took place in the 1980s. We have in place a sort of 3-year Volstead Act right of passage built into our society. We also end up seeing people drink furtively and in large quantities, which is precisely the wrong way to go about dealing with drinking.
I don't drink much any more. I have had a number of friends and associates who have battled the bottle over the years and it's easy to see the pernicious effects that alcoholism has. No one disputes those things. But I do believe this:  we'd have less problems if people learned how to drink the right way, in a social setting, with the supervision and support of peers. You're a lot more likely to get into trouble if you're pounding drinks out on an abandoned highway than you are in a tavern.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Punk and My Father

I heard last week that a guy I knew well during my college days had died of stomach cancer.

It would be inaccurate to say that Tony was a friend of mine, because during those years he wasn't. He always seemed to be in my way. At least twice he and I found ourselves vying for the affections of the same coed, which is always a problematic thing. He was a punk of the Los Angeles variant and closer to the real deal than anyone I'd met before. That made him pretty exotic on the campus of a small Wisconsin liberal arts college and it was, shall we say, a competitive advantage in matters of l'amour. He was also a moderately talented guitarist, a better-than-average cartoonist and a guy who had undeniable charisma. He was the kind of guy who would pick up a guitar at a campus party and start banging out songs extemporaneously. And when he did it, he could be funny as hell.

Through a series of events that made little sense then and still don't now, Tony ended up coming up to my house for a few days during the mid-term break of my final semester in college to visit my stepsister. He brought his attitude, his volume of Charles Bukowski and managed to get into an argument with my dad within an hour of arriving. Oddly enough, Dad didn't turn out to be a big fan of Charles Bukowski. The one thing Tony didn't bring was socks, though -- I loaned him a pair of mine. My dad was the quintessence of a sturdy, Midwestern conservative businessman and this Californian who was in his house might as well have been from Mars.

At the same time, the contradictory tendencies Tony had were endearing, once you got past some of the bluster that young men have. And he put his visual talents to good use. After college he went back to California and started a company that was involved in repairing and restoring films, a highly noble thing. His company worked on some important movies -- I saw his name on the credits of the restored version of A Hard Day's Night, among others.

I might have heard from Tony maybe a handful of times in the 25 years or so since we left college. Although he'd stayed in touch with a few of my friends, he hadn't been heard from much lately. Eventually word reached us that he'd passed away. I can't even imagine what having stomach cancer must have been like, but in most cases cancer is a horrible way to die.

When you approach the age of 50, it's inevitable that some of your classmates will die. I've lost at least 5-6 of my high school classmates and several of my college contemporaries. The passions that animate your life when you are young seem pretty silly from this distance. Tony might not have been my friend, but I came to admire the guy behind the pose. I can only hope that he didn't suffer too much and rejoice that now he is in a better place.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Just a reminder

It doesn't matter whether or not Tammy Baldwin calls in Eric Holder to investigate the Wisconsin Supreme Court election results. Nor does it matter if the Democrats lean on Ramona Kitzinger, the Waukesha County election official, to recant what she said on Thursday.

The votes were in all along. They were contemporaneously reported here. The votes will count. In fact, they have to count, unless you'd recommend disenfranchising an entire city.

Lightning Round - 041111

Haven't done one of these in a while:
  • Who won the budget battle in Washington? You'll get differing views, but what I saw suggests that most people inside the Beltway remain clueless. The larger battle will come later in the year as we start to look at the 2012 budget. Paul Ryan's approach to the matter will get more of an airing at that point and it will force people to confront some things they'd rather not confront. So I'd call it a draw.
  • The structure for funding a Vikings stadium is out there now and one topic of local conversation is whether or not it would help or hurt the chances of Arden Hills. Tony Bennett, the Ramsey County commissioner who might be the dictionary definition of a RINO, has been on point for this pointless exercise and he's been encouraged. He's a fool -- there's no way the thing will get built in Arden Hills, because the Vikings don't want to be in the suburbs, especially suburbs that are some distance from their primary fan base in the western and southern suburbs. Whether the thing gets built at all is another matter.
  • Hey, if you can't win in reddish Ohio, or even in purplish Wisconsin, maybe you can win in deep blue Washington state, right? Truth be told, Washington is a red state with a huge indigo metropolitan area embedded into it. Still, if you need to do sleepovers in a place like Washington, one can reasonably surmise that the public employee unions are really in more trouble than they'd prefer to acknowledge.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

It's a Gas Gas Gas

The price of gasoline in the Twin Cities this weekend is $3.90/gallon. That's a tough price for a lot of people, including me. Other places it's even more.

Is there any relief forthcoming? Well, consider this anecdote, as related by Mark Steyn in a recent column:

The other day, Barack Obama was in the oddly apt town of Fairless Hills, Pa., at what the White House billed as one of those ersatz “town hall” discussions into which republican government has degenerated. He was asked a question by a citizen of the United States. The cost of a gallon of gas has doubled on Obama’s watch, and this gentleman asked, “Is there a chance of the price being lowered again?”

As the Associated Press reported it, the president responded “laughingly”: “I know some of these big guys, they’re all still driving their big SUVs. You know, they got their big monster trucks and everything. . . . If you’re complaining about the price of gas and you’re only getting eight miles a gallon — (laughter) . . . ”

That’s how the official White House transcript reported it: Laughter. Big yuks. “So, like I said, if you’re getting eight miles a gallon you may want to think about a trade-in. You can get a great deal.”
To which Steyn replies:

America, 2011: A man gets driven in a motorcade to sneer at a man who has to drive himself to work. A guy who has never generated a dime of wealth, never had to make payroll, never worked at any job other than his own tireless self-promotion literally cannot comprehend that out there beyond the far fringes of the motorcade outriders are people who drive a long distance to jobs whose economic viability is greatly diminished when getting there costs twice as much as the buck-eighty-per-gallon it cost back at the dawn of the Hopeychangey Era.

To be fair, gas was only $1.80/gallon for a little while and it was going to go up. But the same conditions that led to the last price spike in 2008 are back with a vengeance this time. And Steyn's larger point is spot-on: the President of the United States doesn't give a damn about it.

So it's time to have another contest for the Mr. Dilettante's Neighborhood audience. My questions are these:

1) What will be peak price this year in the Twin Cities?
2) When will it happen?
3) What will be the price on Christmas Day?
4) Will President Obama open up more oil drilling to help alleviate the situation and send a message to the world market that the U.S. is no longer going to be a spectator?

My answers are:

1) $4.80
2) Memorial Day
3) $2.80
4) No

Make your calls in the comment section.

Friday, April 08, 2011

What's next?

If, as appears to be the case, David Prosser did win another term in the Supreme Court in Wisconsin, you have to wonder what will happen next. A few observations and guesses:
  • Will the unions want to keep up the fight? They have to, doncha think? But how? One of the things that I've read in multiple places is that, aside from Dane County, in most parts of the state of Wisconsin Prosser won pretty easily, at a rate similar to margin of victory that Scott Walker had in November. That punches a pretty big hole in the narrative that the state had turned decisively against Walker and the Republicans. My sense all along was that while there was sympathy for the protests early on, the longer and more self-indulgent the protests became, things shifted a bit. There's always been a huge difference in the worldview of Dane County and the rest of the state and based on what we've learned thus far, that hasn't changed.
  • You now also have to wonder if the recall movement is going to work, especially for the Democrats. In order for recalls against Republican state senators to succeed, they will need to be successful in areas other than Dane County. The two senators currently in the crosshairs hail from La Crosse, which leans left, and Fond du Lac, which leans right. I'm not sure there's going to be much enthusiasm from the voters to have another election after all of this. So I'm thinking the whole thing might fizzle.
  • For his part, Walker has been pretty quiet throughout all this. In retrospect, it now seems that he made the right decision. In a sense what he's been doing is what Muhammad Ali called the "rope-a-dope" strategy:  take the blows of the opponent and survive long enough to let them punch themselves out. It seems to have worked. It will be difficult for the unions to come up with a new angle for the protests, since we've all heard their arguments now, ad nauseum.
  • Meanwhile here in Minnesota, the Republican-controlled legislature has been quietly doing its work and the ball will soon be moving to Mark Dayton's court. The problem for the DFL is that they anticipated that Dayton was going to be the gubernatorial equivalent of  Lt. Col. Henry Blake, the clueless character on the old television show M.A.S.H. who had to ask what he was signing every time. The plan had been that he would sign whatever a DFL lege would present and we'd get A Better Minnesota or something. But the lege is Republican, so instead of being Henry Blake, Dayton has to be Cesare Maniago. Not sure he has that skill set.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Recounts and Investigations Should Continue

I'll be the first to admit it -- I'm delighted that it appears that some form of incompetence/gamesmanship/??? caused a major miscount in heavily Republican Waukesha County, which has now delivered about 7000 more votes to David Prosser in the election against Joanne Kloppenburg, the union hack who was sent to take over the Supreme Court. That 7000 vote swing should be enough to pretty much guarantee a narrow Prosser victory.

Having said that, I completely understand that Democrats are going to be pissed, pissed, pissed about this. They should be. If you assumed you had won and there was a deus ex machina of this proportion pulled out the 11th hour, you'd have every reason to suspect that the result is tainted.

I was calling for all manner of investigations this morning when it appeared the Kloppenburg had won. Nothing changes. We need to know if this was an honest mistake or not. We also need to know if either side was cheating, or both sides were cheating. We need to prosecute vote fraud no matter who commits it, because either side doing it cheapens and demeans the government. Even those of us who favor limited government don't want its legitimacy to be threatened.

So let's investigate away. I trust that Prosser and his side played fair. If not, woe betide them.

A few modest proposals in re the Wisconsin Supreme Court Race

Just thinkin' out loud here:
  • If I were David Prosser, the first thing I'd do is have whatever legal team I've assembled look hard, real hard, at the college towns, places like Eau Claire, Menomonie, Oshkosh, etc. I'd look at same day registrations for college students and then compare the results to absentee ballots. I suspect you could find more 204 votes right there.
  • One thing that makes Wisconsin different than Minnesota in the Franken/Coleman election is this:  the state attorney general is J. B. Van Hollen, a Republican. As it happens, Joanne Kloppenburg works for Van Hollen. Van Hollen hasn't been doing much in the past 6-7 weeks, but he can do rather a lot now.
  • I'd also prosecute the crap out of anyone who is implicated in vote fraud. The only way to stop it is to make the price you pay for getting caught too onerous. Kloppenburg, as an officer of the court, should ostensibly be committed to making sure that election fraud does not take place. While the recount is ongoing, everyone involved should be asking Kloppenburg, every single day, about her commitment to free and fair elections.
  • Bottom line is this -- it's going to be very hard to overtun the results of the election, but Republicans can and should change the meaning of the election. It is absolutely crucial to make sure that everyone knows how Joanne Kloppenburg got 204 more votes than David Prosser. If there is any taint to the result, that must be known and understood. Would that make Kloppenburg's victory a poisoned chalice? Perhaps. Is it cynical to suggest such thing. Mais oui. But frankly, the Marquess of Queensbury stuff has to stop some time and this is a good time for it to stop
  • And on that note, one last thing:  isn't it long since past the time to throw Katherine Windels, the woman charged with making death threats against Republican state senators, in jail? It's time to go on offense and make the local politicos in Madison who are playing these games start defending their own decisions. 

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Less than 500 Votes

NOON UPDATE: Unsurprisingly, Kloppenburg is now in the lead, by about 250 votes. It might as well be a 90,000 vote lead, of course. The problem is a simple one -- Republicans and their allies run for office because they want to govern. Democrats run because they mean to rule.Until and unless Republicans and their supporters become as willing as their opponents to go to the mat, they are going to lose in situations like this.

UPDATE:  as of 7:45 a.m., Prosser's lead had grown to about 800 votes. Updates can be found here. More at lunchtime, perhaps.

At this hour it appears that David Prosser has won the Wisconsin Supreme Court election by less than 500 votes over Joanne Kloppenburg. Is that enough of a margin to withstand a recount? It depends. The eyes of the nation will be on Wisconsin. In general, Democrats find ways to make up close margins after the votes are cast (heh heh). I fully expect Prosser to get the Al Franken treatment. It will be up to the citizenry to hold the Kloppenburg camp accountable. Since I would imagine that people in Wisconsin are, above all, tired of all the controversy, that really bodes well for Kloppenburg, since there is a natural tendency for people to avert their gaze from the political shenanigans.

One other practice that happened yesterday, one that I really hate, is the penchant that certain counties have of holding off reporting their votes until after other counties do. There was a game of chicken going on between heavily liberal Dane County and heavily conservative Waukesha County last night. It makes you think that when that happens, it means at least one side is trying to figure out how many votes they need to win. And that sort of thing breeds distrust of the voting process. As it should.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Motivation in Sconnie

The eternal problem with spring elections, especially in what is generally an off year, is that they make it very easy for a motivated minority to control the results. That's my greatest concern going into today's election in Wisconsin, especially the race for the Supreme Court seat.

In an ordinary moment, a clueless hack like Joann Kloppenburg would get crushed. There is no compelling reason whatsoever to vote for Kloppenburg, save one:  she has promised to do the bidding of angry Democrats and their union paymasters in stopping Scott Walker's reform agenda cold. As the last 6-7 weeks have amply demonstrated, this is not an ordinary moment.

I have no sense about whether or not Kloppenburg will prevail, but I do know this:  her supporters are crawling-across-broken-glass-to-get-to-the-polls motivated. They are determined to win, because they are determined to rule. Prosser's potential support is wider, but significantly more diffuse. And in an off-year election, the smart money is on the motivated side.

If Kloppenburg wins, it won't be the end of the world in Wisconsin. But it will make it more difficult for reform to take place any time soon. Essentially, what it will mean is that Wisconsin is on the same timetable as Minnesota. Because we have Mark Dayton in office, there's no chance for meaningful reform of public employee union behavior until his term ends. Other states will begin to pull ahead of both Wisconsin and Minnesota as a result. And we'll have the same discussion again in 2015, except there will be more urgency. Because the underlying structural problems with government and the ruinous long-term financial commitments it makes to the public employee unions won't go away just because Joanne Kloppenburg holds a gavel.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Benster, Sports Genius

If UConn wins the NCAA men's basketball championship game tonight, our resident sports expert Benster will win my office pool. So let's get behind Goliath -- go UConn!

Paul Ryan's Express

$4 trillion in spending cuts. That's what Paul Ryan is proposing:

During Ryan's appearance, he confirmed the broad strokes of the GOP's 2012 budget resolution, which is scheduled to be unveiled on Tuesday.

He said his budget will trim more than the $4 trillion in spending cuts outlined as a goal by the president's fiscal commission.

The GOP plan will call for statutory caps on discretionary spending and a cap on spending as percentage of GDP, but Ryan would not specify [a] number.

What Ryan did specify is what he expects as a response from his portside colleagues:

"We are giving them a political weapon to go out against us, but they will have to lie and demagogue to make that a political weapon," he said. "They are going to demagogue us, and it's that demagoguery that has always prevented political leaders in the past from actually trying to fix the problem. We can't keep kicking this can down the road."

He added, "Shame on them if they do that."
You can't use shaming as a technique on people who have no shame, of course. But Ryan is correct -- we really can't keep kicking the can down the road. The larger concern I have is that Ryan's fellow Republicans will go weak-kneed in the face of the demagoguery that is inevitable on this issue. I don't know if John Boehner has the courage to face it. We need to find out, though, and I'm glad that Ryan is taking the lead on this issue.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Quick followup

I wrote at some length yesterday about how two brothers who were abused by a Catholic priest in the 1970s have had their particular case turned into a political football in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race.
I was a 1st grade classmate of Todd Merryfield, who quite understandably hasn't wanted his personal pain to be used as a cudgel. If you want to hear how Todd Merryfield feels about the matter, you can hear his views here, which is a link to a podcast from Milwaukee-based talk radio host Charlie Sykes. Todd minces no words.
Godspeed to my old classmate.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Past and the Present

Wisconsin is a big place, but it's small world. And there hangs a tale.

Back in the fall of 1970, I was a 1st grader at St. Therese School in Appleton, Wisconsin. I didn't stay in the first grade for long, because my dad had taught me how to read when I was younger and the teachers at St. Therese decided that I should be pushed up a grade, so they moved me to a 2nd grade classroom after the first quarter. There's a lot more to that story, but it's not germane to what I'd like to talk about today, so we'll set it aside.

I don't remember a lot about being in the first grade classroom, but I remember a game the teacher, Mrs. Niedzwicki, used to play to keep the kids interested in reading. The desks in her classroom were arranged in rows and she would show a flash card with a word to the first two kids. The first kid to identify the word then got to compete against the next kid in the row. The idea was to see how quickly kids could identify the words. Since I already knew how to read, I tended to dominate this competition and would usually beat the entire class.

There was a boy named Todd Merryfield in my class. In 1970, Todd was a bright-eyed kid with a big smile and a lot of confidence. He lived a few blocks away from me and while we weren't great friends, I remember playing with him and attending a the birthday party of a mutual friend with him. I also remember something else about Todd -- he was smart as a whip. And he was the only kid who ever beat me in Mrs. Niedzwicki's flash card game.

As time went on, the Merryfield family moved from Appleton and I moved across town to a different school. I don't know that I ever spoke with Todd after, say, 1972 or so. So while I remembered Todd Merryfield's name, he just became part of the tapestry of my childhood. I have no idea if Todd Merryfield even remembers me today -- he'd have no reason to remember me.

Flash forward to the fall of 1978. By then, I was a sophomore in high school. My dad had always encouraged my brothers and I to help out the political campaigns of local Republican candidates. We'd go down to the Republican headquarters in downtown Appleton and the campaign officials would put us to work stuffing envelopes, doing literature drops and sometimes placing lawn signs for a variety of candidates. In 1978 the incumbent state assemblyman was a guy named Toby Roth, who was a friend of my father. Roth was running for Congress that year and we were there at my dad's behest to assist the Roth campaign.

We also helped out the Republican who was running to replace Roth in the state assembly, a young district attorney named David Prosser. I remember meeting Prosser when he stopped in the campaign office and shaking his hand, but I'm certain he'd have no idea who I am today.

As it happened, the 1978 campaign was a successful one for the Republicans in Appleton -- Roth was elected to Congress that year and had a long career representing the 8th District, while Prosser won the assembly seat, beginning a long career that has culminated with his current position as a justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Something else happened not long after, something that I did not know about at the time. The lives of David Prosser and Todd Merryfield intersected in a way that has had reverberations in 2011.

By 1978, Todd Merryfield and his younger brother Troy were living in Freedom, Wisconsin, a small town about 15 miles northeast of Appleton. While living there, Todd and Troy were victims of John Patrick Feeney, a Catholic priest from St. Nicholas Parish, who had abused both of the brothers.

The case had come to the attention of authorities and in early 1979 district attorney David Prosser had to make a decision: should he prosecute the priest and put the two boys through the trauma of having to testify at a public trial, or should he rely on the assurances of the Green Bay Diocese and the bishop, Aloysius Wycislo, that the offending priest would be punished. Prosser decided not to pursue the matter.

As was too often the case in those days, the diocese didn't deal with the matter at all until much later, by which time Feeney had abused others at St. Nicholas. Feeney ended up leaving the parish in Freedom but was simply recycled; he ended up serving at other parishes in the diocese, where he abused more children. Finally, in 2004, Feeney was brought to justice and the Merryfield boys were instrumental in making that happen.

Now, in 2011, the Merryfield case has been a big issue in the vicious race between Prosser, who is running for reelection to the Supreme Court, and Joanne Kloppenburg, the would-be avenging angel in the employ of the public employee unions, who is running to replace Prosser and who is essentially promising to use her potential Court seat to nullify the budget repair bill that the Wisconsin legislature has passed and that Gov. Scott Walker has signed into law, the bill that has so enraged the public employee unions in Wisconsin. And Todd and Troy Merryfield have become pawns in this larger game.

A third-party group, the Greater Wisconsin Committee, has been running ads that blame Prosser for not prosecuting Feeney. The ads were pretty flimsy and both of the Merryfields have been highly critical of what the Greater Wisconsin Committe has said about their case. Troy, the younger Merryfield brother, now lives in Virginia. While he was resentful of Prosser's decision earlier and said as much, he said this about the pro-Kloppenburg ad (PDF):

As a victim, I find the ad of by the Greater Wisconsin Committee to be offensive, inaccurate and out of context. I hope that organization will remove the ad. I hope Ms. Kloppenburg will encourage that organization to remove the ad. I hope all websites, blogs, and other purveyors of political information would stop portraying this case inaccurately and out of context. If I was a resident of the State of Wisconsin, I would vote for David Prosser in the upcoming election.
Kloppenburg hasn't honored Troy Merryfield's request, of course. Nor has the Greater Wisconsin Committee. So Troy Merryfield has now made this appearance in an ad sponsored by a pro-Prosser group, which calls Kloppenburg out in no uncertain terms. Throughout the events of the last few weeks, Todd Merryfield has stood with his brother in denouncing the pro-Kloppenburg forces who have used his family's pain for political advantage.

What's been happening in Wisconsin over the past 6 weeks has been extraordinary and vicious. Prosser has had a largely distinguished career, although he's had a few injudicious moments. Should he have trusted Aloysius Wycislo's assurances? As it turns out, that was a mistake. Troy Merryfield himself, even though he supports Prosser now, said in 2008 that Prosser "dropped the ball." We know a lot more about the the scandal of priest abuse in 2011 than we did in 1978 and Prosser was helpful in bringing Feeney to justice much later on, as Troy Merryfield has pointed out.

Prosser may lose his seat on the Supreme Court on Tuesday, because the unions and their allies have poured millions of dollars into the campaign to unseat him. No matter what you think about the merits of the budget repair bill, one thing is clear -- Todd and Troy Merryfield have been abused again through this process. Kloppenburg may get a seat on the Supreme Court as a result, but that result won't be a matter of justice.

Friday, April 01, 2011

A reminder to my cheesehead peeps

I've spent the better part of the last month chronicling death threats, extortion and other swell behavior from those who oppose the budget bill that Scott Walker and the Republicans have championed. Do you really want to reward the behavior of the Left? If you do, a vote for Joanne Kloppenburg for the Supreme Court is the way to go. But please understand this -- if you reward this behavior, those same methods can be turned against you some day. And they likely will. Just sayin'.