Sunday, February 28, 2010

Paths of Glory

If the general of your army is Nancy Pelosi, are you willing to cover the grenade? That's the question:

With Republicans unified in their opposition, Democrats are drafting plans to try on their own to pass a bill based on one Mr. Obama unveiled before his bipartisan health forum last week. His measure hews closely to the one passed by the Senate in December, but differs markedly from the one passed by the House.

That leaves Ms. Pelosi in the tough spot of trying to keep wavering members of her caucus on board, while persuading some who voted no to switch their votes to yes — all at a time when Democrats are worried about their prospects for re-election.

So it's back to the Blue Dogs, who would prefer to sit this one out back in their well-appointed kennel:

Representative Dennis Cardoza, Democrat of California, typifies the speaker’s challenge. The husband of a family practice doctor, he is intimately familiar with the failings of the American health care system. His wife “comes home every night,” he said, “angry and frustrated at insurance companies denying people coverage they have paid for.”

But as a member of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, Mr. Cardoza is not convinced that Mr. Obama’s bill offers the right prescription. It lacks anti-abortion language he favors, and he does not think it goes far enough in cutting costs. So while he voted for the House version — “with serious reservations,” he said — he is now on the fence.

“I think we can do better,” Mr. Cardoza said of the president’s proposal.

Note the cognitive dissonance here -- insurance companies are bad because they are "denying people coverage" but Cardoza is frustrated that the bill on offer doesn't go far enough in cutting costs, which would just mean that a different payer, perhaps a single payer, would do the same thing the evil insurance companies do now.

And if cognitive dissonance isn't enough of a problem, careerism might be, despite General Broulard, er, I mean Speaker Pelosi's entreaties:

Lawmakers sometimes must enact policies that, even if unpopular at the moment, will help the public, Pelosi said in an interview being broadcast Sunday the ABC News program "This Week."

"We're not here just to self-perpetuate our service in Congress," she said. "We're here to do the job for the American people."

Even if it's a job the American people don't want done, apparently. Time to take that hill, no matter how many are blown up along the way.

Her comments to ABC, in the interview released Sunday, seemed to acknowledge the widely held view that Democrats will lose House seats this fall -- maybe a lot. They now control the chamber 255 to 178, with two vacancies. Pelosi stopped well short of suggesting Democrats could lose their majority, but she called on members of her party to make a bold move on health care with no prospects of GOP help.

"Time is up," she said. "We really have to go forth."

So the time is right to take that hill. Will Cpl. Walz or Sgt. Kind be ready to march into that bayonet? Guess we're about to find out. Chances are they've already seen the movie.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

50B Finds Its Candidate

It was a spirited morning and early afternoon at Christ the King Lutheran Church in New Brighton as the House 50B Republican BPOU met for its convention. A total of 106 delegates and alternates met and participated in the convention, an impressive turnout. The headline is that the BPOU has endorsed a candidate to run against Kate Knuth, the orange-clad Green incumbent who has represented (so to speak) our district for the past two terms.

Our candidate is Russell Bertsch, an Arden Hills businessman who is a newcomer to politics but a passionate voice for reform. Russ earned the nomination from an impressive slate of candidates that also included Cody Holliday, a senior at Bethel University with a very bright future in politics, and Greg Meyers, a successful businessman from New Brighton.

Russ is following the Cincinnatus model of politics, choosing to put down his plow to seek office. He has watched with increasing dismay as the legislators in St. Paul have piled an increasing number of regulatory obstacles in front of his business. Russ is keenly aware of how these costs are affecting his business and expressed many of the same concerns that are driving conservative activists right now. Although he has only been pursuing the nomination for a little over a month, he's proven a quick study and has demonstrated a pretty good understanding of the local issues that will also animate this race, issues that Kate Knuth has largely ignored as she has pursued her larger environmentalist agenda.

Although Knuth has controlled the district for two terms, it's worth noting that 50B has been a swing district historically, but is a more conservative district now than it was in the past. The bulk of the residents of the district live in New Brighton, which tends to be purplish, but what has changed is that Arden Hills, which tends to be considerably more conservative community, is now part of the district, along with portions of Shoreview and Fridley. A conservative with a good message can win this district and should be able to hold it by providing good constituent service. There is every reason to believe that Russ Bertsch is that sort of candidate. Unlike Knuth, who has never done anything in her life outside the academic or political realm, Russ Bertsch has had to make tough decisions and understand the bottom line.

Although the final decision on the State Senate candidate will wait until District 50 convention on March 20, we heard from the two likely candidates, New Brighton City Council member Gina Bauman and Rae Hart Anderson, a nurse practitioner who was the GOP standard-bearer last time against the DFL incumbent, Satveer Chaudhary. Regular readers of this feature know that I have strongly supported Gina in past campaigns and believe that she would be a formidable challenger to Chaudhary, who has not been much of a factor in the Senate in his two terms there. Chaudhary's political strength is in the other half of the district, 50A, which includes Columbia Heights and Fridley, both DFL strongholds. The X-Factor in the Senate race is that 50A has a strong GOP House candidate in Tim Utz, who has run a very spirited campaign thus far and is making inroads against the DFL incumbent, Carolyn Laine. We'll have more to say about the Senate race as we get closer.

We also heard from a number of candidates for other offices, including four candidates who are hoping to earn the endorsement to run for Congress against Betty McCollum. It's only a first impression, but of the four candidates we heard from at the convention the one I liked the best was Teresa Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas, who is smart, polished and would likely have the shrill yet reclusive McCollum ducking debates all over the Fighting 4th. The other three candidates we heard from, including Brad Lee, Joe Blum and Gene Rechtigelz, all had some intelligent things to say as well. There may be other candidates looking to take on Betty as well. I'll take a closer look at this race as we move forward, but I have more research to do.

Then there was the white-hot governor's race. We'll talk about that, too. But that's another post.

Cross-posted at True North

Friday, February 26, 2010

I love the java jive and it loves me

Who needs a Tea Party when you can have a Coffee Party?

Furious at the tempest over the Tea Party -- the scattershot citizen uprising against big government and wild spending -- Annabel Park did what any American does when she feels her voice has been drowned out: She squeezed her anger into a Facebook status update.

Hey, if it works for Sarah Palin, why not for Annabel Park? Park's deep thought was, of course, highly emblematic of a certain type of American thought -- John Rawls meets Mickey Rooney, with a chaser of snark:

let's start a coffee party . . . smoothie party. red bull party. anything but tea. geez. ooh how about cappuccino party? that would really piss 'em off bec it sounds elitist . . . let's get together and drink cappuccino and have real political dialogue with substance and compassion.

While I suspect most Tea Partiers are fully capable of political dialogue with substance and compassion, we'll let that pass for the moment. Annabel Park's comment did get something started:

Friends replied, and more friends replied. So last month, in her Silver Spring apartment, Park started a fan page called "Join the Coffee Party Movement." Within weeks, her inbox and page wall were swamped by thousands of comments from strangers in diverse locales, such as the oil fields of west Texas and the suburbs of Chicago.

So what does the Coffee Party hope to accomplish? From their website, here is their mission statement:

MISSION: The Coffee Party Movement gives voice to Americans who want to see cooperation in government. We recognize that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans. As voters and grassroots volunteers, we will support leaders who work toward positive solutions, and hold accountable those who obstruct them.
Ah, it's that darned obstructionism again, known at other times as "checks and balances" or "the highest form of patriotism." And pay close attention to the idea that the government is the "expression of our collective will." Who could forget how well that idea played in 2005? But again, we'll leave that aside for now.

So what animates the Coffee Party? From a cursory glance at the website, the brew seems to be a fairly typical blend of leftish nostrums. Behold the words of an acolyte:

I have been searching for a place of refuge like this for a long while. . . . It is not Us against the Govt. It is democracy vs corporatocracy

If some Tea Partiers are looking for Galt's Gulch, it would seem that Coffee Party denizens are seeking Chomsky's Cove. And you know what? Good for them. I'm glad that Facebook and other social networking sites exist and allow these folks the chance to get together and express their views. I may not agree with anything the Coffee Party says, but the discussion is worth having.

Will the Coffee Party make a difference, or is it weak tea? Hard to say. As the Washington Post article points out:

The Coffee Party is not so much a party or movement as a slow-drip ripple through online nano-politics. Within the past 10 days, its Facebook fans rose from 3,500 to more than 9,200, which is far more than the 5,900 fans of the central page of Organizing for America, the DNC-funded group supporting President Obama's agenda. What does that mean, though, when nearly 100,000 Facebook users have joined the Tea Party Patriots Facebook page and 1.5 million have joined a joke page titled "Can this pickle get more fans than Nickleback?"
I guess I'd interpret it this way: if the Coffee Party has 100,000 Facebook users after 1 year, that would be an indication that the battle is joined. And it's awfully telling that Organizing for America, Obama's Astroturf group, has only 5,900 fans. And although I haven't personally joined the page, I too prefer pickles to Nickleback.

There is a larger message, though -- we are at a point where we need to ask the Really Big Questions about the proper role of government and the implications of the Leviathan that has grown on the Potomac over the last 75 years. The Leviathan has its defenders. Time to engage them. Choose your beverage and let's begin.

Guess he didn't like what Paul Ryan had to say....

Stephen Green found this screen shot of President Obama while he was listening to Cong. Paul Ryan's deft takedown of Obamacare.

Remember, President Obama was going to change the tone in Washington. Guess he's managed to do that much.

By the way, sorry that we've been working a little blue around here lately.

Maple Leaf Red Auerbach

While I'm disappointed that the U.S. Women's Hockey team came up short in their Olympic championship game against Canada yesterday, I loved the aftermath:

The International Olympic Committee will investigate the actions of Canadian women's hockey players who celebrated their gold medal victory Thursday night by swigging beer and smoking cigars on the ice in Vancouver.

A number of players, including 18-year-old superstar Marie-Philip Poulin, were drinking alcohol on the ice following the team's 2-0 defeat of the United States. (The legal drinking age in British Columbia is 19.) Players lingered for more than 70 minutes after the awards ceremony reveling in the arena, which was empty except for media and arena staff.

Gilbert Felli, the IOC's executive director of the Olympic Games, said that drinking in public was "not what we want to see" from athletes at an Olympic venue. The organization will investigate the actions and will speak with the international hockey federation and Canadian Olympic Committee and ask them to "act accordingly."

Drinking beers and firing up stogies after the game? Right on the ice? I'm apparently supposed to be outrageously outraged by it. I'm not – anything that offends the sanctimonious and corrupt IOC is by definition cool.

Most of all, this behavior is conclusive evidence that women's hockey is gaining parity with the men's game, because the women are acting like hockey players have always acted. Good for them. I hope that after the Canadian women finally left the arena, they went out and had huge steaks for dinner and drank gin out of rain barrels.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

On healthcare, the Democrats suggest a new treatment

After a day-long White House summit on healthcare, Republicans returning to the Senate said that President Obama and the Democrats appear ready to go it alone on this issue.

“They’re not interested in putting a 2,700-page bill on the shelf,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, referring to GOP demands that the president start over with a step-by-step approach, focusing on issues on which there is broad agreement.

At the end of the summit, Mr. Obama said, “I did not propose something complicated just for the sake of being complicated.” He added, “The reason we didn’t do it is it turns out baby steps don’t get you to the place where people need to go.”

In other words, even though polls indicate widespread disapproval of Obamacare, and opposition to using reconciliation, the opinion of the people doesn't mean a hell of a lot right now. The president and his friends have decided that we have to get "to the place where people need to go," whether the people want to go there or not. I'm afraid the place that "people need to go" features a lot of banjo music.

*Ya might not want to click on that link at work.

I need a photo opportunity, I need a shot at redemption

As we prepare for today's latest exercise in Obamacare Kabuki, just a gentle reminder from the Times of London of why so many Americans aren't especially interested in the President's ministrations:

Patients were routinely neglected or left “sobbing and humiliated” by staff at an NHS trust where at least 400 deaths have been linked to appalling care.

An independent inquiry found that managers at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust stopped providing safe care because they were preoccupied with government targets and cutting costs.

How so?

Staff shortages at Stafford Hospital meant that patients went unwashed for weeks, were left without food or drink and were even unable to get to the lavatory. Some lay in soiled sheets that relatives had to take home to wash, others developed infections or had falls, occasionally fatal. Many staff did their best but the attitude of some nurses “left a lot to be desired”.

Which is what happens to people's attitudes when they don't really have to care to keep their jobs. It's what makes a visit to the DMV so much fun. But don't worry, the great minds at the NHS have figured it out:

Mr Burnham said it was a “longstanding anomaly” that the NHS did not have a robust way of regulating managers or banning them from working, as it does with doctors or nurses. “We must end the situation where a senior NHS manager who has failed in one job can simply move to another elsewhere,” he added. “This is not acceptable to the public and not conducive to promoting accountability and high professional standards.”

I suppose not. But is this a bug, or a feature?

But the families of those who died or suffered poor care branded the inquiry a “whitewash” and repeated calls for a full public investigation. The Conservatives accused ministers of trying to blame managers rather than taking responsibility for problems with national targets.
And the Tories are correct. Even in an irrational system, people generally behave rationally. And if you are judged on the results of the balance sheet, you will work to make your number or "national target" and not worry so much about those pesky patients. It's the sort of thing that insurance companies get bashed for all the time, but it's ludicrous to believe that government bureaucrats, protected by civil service, would behave any differently than the worthies profiled here.

And all this could be yours, if the price is right.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Man Who Beat Phil Krinkie Leaps Into Action

Good to see our old friend Paul Gardner is earning his keep:

A Minnesota legislator wants residents to be able to judge a book by its cover.

Rep. Paul Gardner, DFL-Shoreview, has offered a bill that requires phone book publishers to print directions on the cover for how residents can say no to further unsolicited deliveries.

The legislation, scheduled for a hearing Tuesday, says the directions should explain how to opt out either via a phone call or at a Web address.

Directory publishers would have to maintain a database of those homes.

It's about time that the legislature leaped into action to stop this sort of thing! All those phone books cluttering up people's houses and whatnot. It's an outrage. And the publishers would never think to do something like this without the ministrations of Rep. Gardner, right? Oh, wait:

Several publishers already have online ways to opt out. For Dex, for example, go to At the bottom, click on "Select your Dex."

On the next page, enter your ZIP code and click on "Proceed to select your Dex." Fill out your address information and enter "0" as the number of books you want to receive.
Well, it's just such a hassle to get rid of the things, because phone books have to be recycled and can't be thrown in the trash. That does pose a real dilemma -- I don't know how I'd ever think to put a phone book in the recycling bin.

It's a good thing that Rep. Gardner is keeping his eye on the big picture. That Phil Krinkie never would have thought of this sort of legislative innovation -- he was too busy trying to keep taxes low to pay attention to the needs of his needy constituents. Thanks, Paul!

Memo to Sack (Updated)

UPDATE: I actually did send the following note to Steve Sack, who was good enough to respond via e-mail. Since the exchange was private, I'll not share the details, except to say this: while I stand by by my take on the matter, he was very gracious in explaining his point of view. And unlike some people in the opinion-mongering business, he does put his name on his work each day and stands by it. That's a good thing. -- Mark Heuring, a/k/a Mr. D

February 24, 2010

Memo to: Steve Sack, Star Tribune Cartoonist

From: Mr. D

Re: Today's Cartoon

Mr. Sack,

Just so you know, the dog didn't eat the Republican homework. They've had a healthcare proposal online for months at this site. It's been widely discussed, pro and con, since at least November, 2009. Sorry that you apparently missed all that.


Mr. D

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Big Mac and Roids - V

So how ought we evaluate the really talented players in the Steroid Era? Especially, how ought we look at the sluggers who have changed the record books with their cheating? A few thoughts:

  • One thing ought to be acknowledged at the outset -- there is zero chance that the record books can be changed, because there is really no way of determining how many home runs a slugger might have hit if he hadn't used BALCO's Little Helpers. To understand why this is, consider the case of Barry Bonds. Based on the best evidence we have, Bonds was clean until 1998, when he became angry about the antics of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Up to that point no one disputed that Bonds was a Hall of Fame level player. He hit 37 home runs that year, at the age of 34. While he wouldn't have challenged Aaron without the help of his friends, there's plenty of reason to believe he would have hit upwards of 600 home runs, perhaps more, without using the juice. The number that Bonds always targeted was 660, the career total of Willie Mays. That number seemed plausible to me.

  • There were also players in the Steroid Era who put up huge numbers without arousing much suspicion, especially Ken Griffey, Jr. and Jim Thome. It is possible that we'll find out otherwise some day, but for now they are in the clear, as are contemporaries such as Frank Thomas, Carlos Delgado and Fred McGriff. Of these guys, there probably wasn't going to be much support for the Hall of Fame, at least initially for Delgado and McGriff, but that might change now that we are beginning to sort out the cheaters. In some respects, you can compare Delgado and McGriff to a recent HOF inductee, Jim Rice. Even though Thomas was a statue defensively, he was one of best hitters I've ever seen and I suspect he'll make his way into Cooperstown on the first or second ballot.

  • In addition, one must remember that these tainted hitters were also facing tainted pitchers. Does that negate the advantage the steroid users had? I really don't know that you could quantify it.

So how do you sort it all out? I have an idea. It's a quick and dirty way to dock the cheaters while still acknowledging their great skills as ballplayers, especially among the sluggers. I propose the following:

For the home run hitters, when you look at their career totals, dock 30% of their career home run total.

Why 30%? And why impose the sanction for their entire career, especially if a player only cheated for a portion of the career? Simple, really -- it ensures that the sanction is a sanction.

So how does it play out? Let's look at the numbers. The official records show the top 15 all-time home run leaders this way:

1. Barry Bonds 762
2. Hank Aaron 755
3. Babe Ruth 714
4. Willie Mays 660
5. Ken Griffey, Jr. 630
6. Sammy Sosa 609
7. Frank Robinson 586
8. Mark McGwire 583
8. Alex Rodriguez 583
10. Harmon Killebrew 573
11. Rafael Palmeiro 569
12. Jim Thome 564
13. Reggie Jackson 563
14. Mike Schmidt 548
15. Manny Ramirez 546

If you use the unofficial adjusted totals with the sanction applied, the cheaters drop down and the Top 15 looks like this:

1. Hank Aaron 755

2. Babe Ruth 714

3. Willie Mays 660

4. Ken Griffey Jr. 630

5. Frank Robinson 586

6. Harmon Killebrew 573

7. Jim Thome 564

8. Reggie Jackson 563

9. Mike Schmidt 548

10. Mickey Mantle 536

11. Jimmy Foxx 534

11. Barry Bonds 534

13. Willie McCovey 521

13. Frank Thomas 521

13. Ted Williams 521

As for the others, Sosa drops to 32nd place, McGwire and Rodriguez to 37th, Palmeiro to 42nd and Ramirez to 46th.

I understand the limitations of what I'm suggesting here. My approach is utterly arbitrary and I'm hoping that everyone who reads this post shoots plenty of holes in it. My son Benster will be putting up a post of his own later in the week to voice his disapproval. But one thing baseball fans do, especially the hard-core ones, is try to sort out the best players. This approach is one way to put the Steroid Era into a larger historical perspective.

And if you can figure out a way to rank cheating pitchers, please let me know. Have fun!

Give the assist to Chuckwagon Boy

My friend and former B of A colleague Paul, a/k/a Chuckwagon Boy, points us to Walter Russell Mead's apt summation of why the AGW movement has gone off the rails:

The climate change movement now needs to regroup, and at some point it will have to confront a central, unpalatable fact: the wounds from which it is bleeding so profusely are mostly its own fault. This phase of the climate change movement was immature, unrealistic and naive. It was poorly organized and foolishly led. It adopted an unrealistic and unreachable political goal, and sought to stampede world opinion through misleading and exaggerated statements. It lacked the most elementary level of political realism–all the more egregious given the movement’s politically sophisticated and very rich opponents. Foundation staff, activists and sympathetic journalists cocooned themselves in an echo chamber of comfortable group-think, and as they toasted one another in green Kool-Aid they thought they were making progress when actually they were slowly and painfully digging themselves into an ever-deeper hole.

There's a lot more, including Mead's suggestion of a particular scapegoat. As we say in the blogosphere, read the whole thing. And while you're at it, don't miss out on another Mead piece in which he uses a word that we're rather fond of 'round here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

I have to assume. . .

. . . that the Lord needs reinforcements in Heaven. I have to note the passing of two more people who have been part of my life.

I'd heard last week that my high school classmate, Steve Dorn, passed away over the previous weekend. Steve had an interesting journey in his life. I met him in high school and while we weren't close friends, we were friendly during our time at XHS. During his high school years he had to endure some behavior that bordered on the cruel. Steve was overweight, had a high-pitched voice and liked disco music. That wasn't exactly the winning social template in the late 1970s in Appleton, Wisconsin and he got a lot of crap from certain precincts. After he graduated, he went into the Navy and served with distinction there. Eventually he opened and operated one of the best restaurants in Appleton, called The Willow, and he was pretty successful at it. But along the way, Steve developed substance abuse problems that had him in and out of recovery various times. The toll it took on his health was noticeable the last time I saw him, which was about 9 years ago, but I was quite surprised to hear that he had passed away. Steve was the kind of guy who wanted to make people happy and while his high school years might have been tough, he'd earned a lot of respect among his classmates for the successes he had with The Willow. He was only 46 years old.

This afternoon I learned that Fr. Michael O'Rourke, the longtime pastor at my old parish, St. Mary's, died from complications of a head injury after he fell in his driveway last weekend. Fr. Mike had been pastor at St. Mary's since 1986, but since I had moved away from Appleton some time before I'd only dealt with Fr. Mike a few times. One of these times was crucial, though – he presided over my mother's funeral in 2000. He spent a lot of time with my family in the week between my mother's death and her funeral and his evident concern for our family made a huge difference in getting all of us through that terrible time. Clergymen have to preside over funerals and help loved ones as a matter of course; since they have to undertake this sort of thing all the time, it must be tempting for a minister to phone it in. Fr. Mike could have done that, but he didn't. Although I don't know for sure, it's highly likely that Fr. Mike presided over the funeral of Dave Balliet, my 7th grade teacher that I discussed earlier this month; Dave's funeral happened two days before Fr. Mike's accident. And now Fr. Mike is gone, too.

As much as we try, we are utterly incapable of understanding God's will. What I do know is that Steve Dorn and Fr. Mike, like Dave Balliet and John Kunstman before them, were faithful servants. They were men who understood that doing only what is necessary won't make the world a better place and each in his own way made a lasting contribution. While I am saddened that all four of these men have left this world so soon, I rejoice in the knowledge that they are now in a better place.

Guess they've never heard of Skype

Claudia Rosett notices that the UN eco-luminaries are meeting again. And check out where:

Now they’re at it again. The UN Environment Program, which is based in Nairobi, is convening a set of meetings this week – not in Nairobi, or New York, but at the same Bali beach resort (and convention center) where they sacrificed all that time for the greater good in 2007. Never mind the UN’s continuing campaign — in the face of its crumbling “climate science” — to restrict and control carbon emissions. Yet again, we are asked to believe the UN deserves special exemptions from its own preachings. Its conferees are jetting to Bali for the greater good of all the little folk, whose job is merely to pay the bills for such pleasures, and live with any resulting rationing and regulation. According to the Jakarta Post, some 1,500 people from 192 countries are expected to attend this shindig — where UNEP claims that envoys of some 140 governments will be present. The pre-session events (the UN goes in for a lot of those on Bali) have already begun.
Unless all the attendees arrived via the Kon-Tiki or something, this conference represents a lot of airline miles and features a Bunyanesque carbon footprint, doncha think? I guess I'd be more inclined to believe that there's an impending crisis if the crisis-mongers actually behaved as if there were a crisis.

Keeping Kate Up to Speed

We now present word from the Guardian, a British newspaper with impeccable leftist credentials:

Scientists have been forced to withdraw a study on projected sea level rise due to global warming after finding mistakes that undermined the findings.

Nature Publishing Group, which publishes Nature Geoscience, said this was the first paper retracted from the journal since it was launched in 2007.

The paper – entitled "Constraints on future sea-level rise from past sea-level change" – used fossil coral data and temperature records derived from ice-core measurements to reconstruct how sea level has fluctuated with temperature since the peak of the last ice age, and to project how it would rise with warming over the next few decades.

In a statement the authors of the paper said: "Since publication of our paper we have become aware of two mistakes which impact the detailed estimation of future sea level rise. This means that we can no longer draw firm conclusions regarding 21st century sea level rise from this study without further work.

"One mistake was a miscalculation; the other was not to allow fully for temperature change over the past 2,000 years. Because of these issues we have retracted the paper and will now invest in the further work needed to correct these mistakes."

This is good and what should happen in science. The prediction in question suggests that oceans could rise by anywhere from 7-82cm (3in. to nearly 3ft.) by the end of the century. That's not exactly precise, mind you, but a 3ft. rise in sea levels would be an issue. More later.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Big Mac and Roids - IV

Time to get back to this one. Parts I, II and III of this series are linked here.

Bill James is my favorite baseball writer, primarily because when he writes about baseball, he'll often make a useful if tangential point that has nothing to do with the game per se. In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, he wrote the following:

What Watergate was about was not the corruption of government, as most people thought, but rather, the establishment of new and higher standards of ethical conduct. Almost all scandals, I think, result from the invention of new evils, but from the imposition of new ethical standards.

I think there's a lot of truth to that observation and I find it helpful to understanding what is going on as we attempt to make sense of the steroid era. James completed this book during the 2000 season, which was in the midst of this era. You can go through all 998 pages of information and you won't find much of any mention of steroids as an issue. Since much of what Bill James has tried to do in his career is to put players and eras into an historical context, he spends a fair amount of time talking about why offenses, particularly home runs, were such a big deal in the 1990s. James mentions that players have become more diligent about training year-round (which steroid use aided) and also pointed to the spate of bandbox ballparks built in the 1990s as the primary reason for the upsurge in home runs. Until Jose Canseco's Juiced came out in 2005, you didn't necessarily hear a lot about steroid use, although there were widespread suspicions about players using steroids.

As the scope of the overall scandal has become more clear, the outrage over steroid use has increased as well. Mark McGwire, who stands among the all-time leaders in home runs, has admitted he used steroids and there's an excellent chance that this admission will keep him from the Hall of Fame. It's quite possible that Barry Bonds will be denied admission to Cooperstown as well. They cheated and we can't condone cheating, or so we are told.

Fortunately, those already enshrined aren't of the same ilk as McGwire, or Bonds, or Rafael Palmeiro, right? Let's again turn to James as he discusses Babe Ruth:

In 1983 a traveling Hillerich and Bradsby exhibit featured a Babe Ruth bat. According to Dan Gutman in It Ain't Cheatin' If You Don't Get Caught, the Seattle players were admiring the bat "when outfielder Dave Henderson noticed that the round end of the bat didn't exactly match the wood of the barrel. The end was cracked, but the rest of the bat was not.

"'That's a plug!' said Henderson. 'This bat is corked.'"

As I pointed out in the Ken Williams comment, Ruth was caught using a trick bat in a game in August, 1923. As I see it, nothing could be more typical of Ruth than to use a corked bat if he could get by with it. Ruth tested the limits of the rules constantly; this was what made him who he was. He refused to be ordinary; he refused to accept that the rules applied to him, until it was clear that they did. Constantly testing the limits of the rules, as I see him, was Babe Ruth's defining characteristic.

Dave Henderson discovered Babe Ruth's crime some 35 years after Ruth died. In the case of McGwire, his crime was discovered much sooner. Now here's a question that we should ask -- if Babe Ruth had been born in 1964 instead of 1894, he would have been a contemporary of McGwire (born 1963), Bonds (born 1964) and Palmeiro (born 1964). Do you suppose that Ruth would have eschewed steroids if he knew that the others were using them?

We can't know the answer to that question. But we can say this much: the baseball writers who control access to the Hall of Fame today are using a much higher ethical standard than has been used before. Should they? I'll talk about that next.

Pitchers and catchers report

And my beloved Brewers are already hard at work. Baseball is finally here! Watch for a number of baseball posts here in the next few days.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Yoo Can't Always Get What Yoo Want

Reality wins again.

Bush administration lawyers who wrote "torture" memos have been cleared of allegations of professional misconduct after a Justice Department internal investigation, which recommends no legal consequences for their actions.

The report by the Justice Department concludes the high-ranking lawyers who developed controversial legal guidance on waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques may have exercised poor judgment, but not professional misconduct.

When CNN puts "torture" in quotation marks, that means something. The practical import of the matter is that John Yoo and Jay Bybee are pretty much in the clear now.

It's pretty easy to understand why career Justice officials quietly killed the efforts to go after Yoo and Bybee. If these Bush-era lawyers were prosecuted for providing legal advice by the Obama administration, the Obama-era lawyers would face the potential of similar action when the next administration comes to town. And if that happened, you'd have lawyers ducking tough calls every time. I don't see how that would benefit anyone. And if you can't imagine that the Obama-era Justice Department might not have some issue that a future administration might believe merits scrutiny, think again.

We struggle with this sort of thing all the time, because bright lines aren't always as bright as we imagine. I am aware that many people feel that the Bush administration engaged in torture, a problem that the Obama administration seems to be avoiding through outsourcing. We try, we always try, to be on the side of the angels, but we are sinners and we fall short. And when sinners try to be avenging angels, it usually doesn't work out so well.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sorting It Out at 50B

I went to the 50B "Carbo Load" event at Lakeside Homes in New Brighton last night and spoke at some length to 3 potential House candidates to run against incumbent Kate Knuth. It's not going to be an easy decision at the BPOU convention next week. It's urgent we get the decision right, though, and I don't want to prejudge the matter. I liked all three candidates, but for different reasons.

If you are a 50B delegate and will be attending the BPOU convention, which will take place on Saturday, February 27 at Christ the King Church in New Brighton, chances are good that you'll be hearing from each candidate individually, if you haven't already. When you do, be ready to ask questions. And make your questions tough ones. Part of the process is getting the candidate that emerges ready for the general election, which won't be gentle. Carbon Kate Knuth is highly vulnerable and she knows it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The candidates come to the Neighborhood - Part 4 - Vision or Clarity

Note: Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this series are linked.

Minnesota Republicans have a dilemma. There are two potential candidates for governor who both have undeniable talent, but also have widely varying skill sets. And the Republicans only get to choose one. How do you decide? Here's how I decided.

First a little history. When I came to Minnesota in the early 1990s, the governor was Arne Carlson, who was politically moderate, irascible but ultimately malleable. He was badged as a Republican, but was a classic example of that species now known as a RINO (Republican in Name Only). Carlson would occasionally apply a mild brake to the whims of the legislature, but he was usually willing to cut a deal. To the GOP faithful, Carlson was the equivalent of a mild toothache -- they could live with Carlson if they had to, but they preferred not to. In 1994, incumbent Carlson lost the GOP primary to Allen Quist, whose primary concerns were social issues. Carlson ignored the results of his caucus, defeated Quist in the primary and routed the hapless DFL scold John Marty to gain a second term. Marty is back for another go-around in this cycle, but we'll leave that aside.

Why does this history matter? For better or worse, Carlson was seen by many as a model of what a Minnesota Republican looks like - socially moderate, theoretically conservative on the fiscal side. To the bien pensants who held the reins of news communication in a pre-blog era, Carlson also represented the outer limit of what polite society would tolerate from the Republican Party. And although we are now 12 years past the Carlson era, his template still holds purchase in some important ways.

Tim Pawlenty, the outgoing governor, is far more conservative than Carlson, but on the political spectrum he is also more moderate than either of the two possible candidates in this cycle, Tom Emmer and Marty Seifert. Because Pawlenty was more willing to stand up to the DFL than Carlson ever was, he has moved the political spectrum in Minnesota to the right, perhaps significantly more than anyone thought possible in the 1990s. At the same time, Pawlenty has served the last four years dealing with a legislature that is far more ferociously leftist than the ones Carlson faced. And this ferociously leftist DFL caucus will select an opponent for either Emmer or Seifert.

So which Republican candidate fits the current moment?

If you believe that Republican progress is possible, but only incrementally, then Marty Seifert is the guy you should choose. Marty Seifert understands precisely where we are and is brimming with proposals to deal with the issues at hand. He brings great clarity and can tell you in great detail what ought to be done. He is a technician and tactician of the first order. He has followed the typical Republican leadership path -- pay your dues, work hard and rise through the ranks until your skill set matches the available leadership position. This is the model that brought us Pawlenty at the state level and George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, Bob Dole and John McCain at the national level.

If you believe that the moment is right for a more fundamental change, then Tom Emmer is the guy. Emmer is at a point in his career where he has seen how things work, but he hasn't really become part of the beast. He's a guy who inspires, primarily because he spends less time analyzing what is happening now and more time talking about what could happen. And while Seifert offers a snapshot and a plausible roadmap, Emmer is offering a vision.

Vision is a tough nut for Republicans and it's been exceedingly rare to find a Republican who has it. The obvious (and grossly unfair) example is Ronald Reagan. When Reagan won election in 1980, almost no one except Ronald Reagan could have envisioned that the mighty Soviet Union would implode in a decade.

I don't see evidence that Tom Emmer has a vision on that grand a scale, but I do think he has a vision of how to get to a smaller, more human-scale government in Minnesota. And I also think he has the skill set to communicate the idea to a larger audience than the GOP caucus. I also think that the moment is right to take an alternative, conservative vision to the electorate.

In the end, it comes down to this. Clarity is crucial, but a visionary leader can find lieutenants who can provide it. Ronald Reagan found George H. W. Bush. It's far more difficult for a clear-thinking tactical leader to find a vision. George H. W. Bush famously mused about the elusiveness of the "vision thing" throughout his career. Republicans will need both clarity and vision to win this election and to govern effectively thereafter. Tom Emmer has a better chance of providing both traits. And that is why I support Tom Emmer for governor.

Radio Free Dilettante — Ash Wednesday Edition

We don’t give up music for Lent; that much is certain.

Last Five:
Battle of Who Could Care Less, Ben Folds Five
Sunrise, The Who
Under the Falling Sky, Bonnie Raitt
This Time The Dream’s on Me, Ella Fitzgerald
Cakewalk Into Town, Taj Mahal

Next Five:
P.S. I Love You, The Beatles
Well. . . All Right, Buddy Holly
Tears of Love’s Recall, k.d. lang
One Mint Julep, Ray Charles
1979, Smashing Pumpkins

Read the whole thing

Click the link. Don't hesitate. A taste:

Environmental extremism is a breathless handmaiden for collectivism. It pours a layer of smooth, creamy science over a relentless hunger for power. Since the boogeymen of the Green movement threaten the very Earth itself with imminent destruction, the environmentalist feels morally justified in suspending democracy and seizing the liberty of others. Of course we can’t put these matters to a vote! The dimwitted hicks in flyover country can’t understand advanced biochemistry or climate science. They might vote the wrong way, and we can’t risk the consequences! The phantom menaces of the Green movement can only be battled by a mighty central State. Talk of representation, property rights, and even free speech is madness when such a threat towers above the fragile ecosphere, wheezing pollutants and coughing out a stream of dead birds and drowned polar bears. You can see why the advocates of Big Government would eagerly race across a field of sustainable, organic grass to sweep environmentalists into their arms, and spin them around in the ozone-screened sunlight.

There's so much more at the link. I especially commend this essay to the attention of Kate Knuth.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The candidates come to the Neighborhood - Part 3 - The Smartest Man in the Room

There is widespread discontent with the direction of government right now. The sense many people have is that the political system is dysfunctional and the political class has not been paying attention. That makes this moment a dangerous time to be a career politician. There is no doubt that Marty Seifert is a career politician. He is only 37 years old, but has been a member of the state legislature since 1996. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily.

While vision and inspiring rhetoric are essential tools of the political trade, there is no question that understanding the inner workings of government is a serious advantage. And if you listen to Marty Seifert for even a minute, it becomes evident that he understands many, many things. His intelligence is obvious and almost daunting, but he's not the sort to throw around a ten-dollar word when a two-bit one will do. His words are measured, well-chosen and sensible and his mind is razor sharp. He has met many people within the Republican Party apparat during his tenure and he remembers them all. He's the kind of person who has an internal outline that he follows and he is able to turn his knowledge into an understandable example, seemingly at will.

More importantly, Marty Seifert can give you all the examples you need. He provided the audience at Lakeside Homes specific examples of governmental decisions that have adversely affected people, and he told us in detail what the impacts were. If you want to know why Marvin Windows chose to open a facility in North Dakota, Marty Seifert knows the story. If you want to know why a vodka distillery would open in Iowa rather than in Windom, Marty can identify the ridiculous tax that drove the business elsewhere. If you want to know why high-tech laboratory jobs slated for Rochester are being performed in Tennessee, Seifert can pinpoint the "provider tax" that drove the work away. Marty Seifert also knows why these things are happening, because he has been in the arena and has been a participant in, and often an opponent of, the legislation that caused these dislocations to take place.

Because of Seifert's intelligence and organization, he was able to rise in the legislature to the position of Minority Leader and he was often a highly effective one. Because of his lengthy tenure in the legislature, he's cast some votes that cause conservatives heartburn, especially votes involving energy policy. Seifert's opponents have hung these votes around his neck and it has hurt him, especially in tandem with the widespread perception that as a career politician, Seifert has been part of the problem that Minnesota faces.

And yet it's not quite that simple. It is easier to maintain ideological purity when you are simply a member of the legislature and not part of the leadership. In some cases, Seifert was carrying water for a governor of his own party, a governor who has been an uncertain trumpet on a number of issues near and dear to conservatives. And there is no disputing that having encyclopedic knowledge of both the issues and the personalities in St. Paul is potentially a huge advantage for an executive. If Marty Seifert were elected governor, he would have no illusions about the challenges he would face and would have a keen understanding of his opponents.

One thing that doesn't help Seifert is that he doesn't have the charisma that his opponent, Tom Emmer has. Seifert comes across as smart, serious and focused, but he doesn't inspire the kind of fervor that a natural politician like Tom Emmer can. Marty Seifert has made the heavy lifting of politics his life's work and he has served the state very well. But will his resume be enough, in a time where vision seems to be required? That's the question we'll ask next.

Marty Seifert's website is

Next: Vision or Clarity

Monday, February 15, 2010

The candidates come to the Neighborhood - Part 2 - The Visionary

Tom Emmer doesn't walk into a room so much as he overtakes it. He has an undeniable presence and the bearing of a successful coach, a man who understands the big picture and has a definite vision of what he wants to accomplish. He's the kind of man who takes bold steps and leaves footprints.

One thing about people who leave footprints -- they understand what footprints can do. So when Emmer spoke to the audience at Lakeside Homes in New Brighton on Sunday, it was especially interesting that the first thing he mentioned were the footsteps that state employees are allowed to take. Specifically, he talked about the implications of the state's weed inspection program, which allows a state employee to enter just about anyone's property to inspect and potentially mitigate a weed issue on that property. And since the enabling legislation was poorly drawn, that employee could be anyone from an actual inspector to the governor. This is just one program but is emblematic of a larger problem, Emmer believes -- Big Government is everywhere.

It's a telling anecdote and it speaks to a life experience at the business end of an intrusive government. Emmer is a small businessman first and a legislator second. Like many people similarly situated, he found that the depredations of government required a response larger than filling out forms, so he followed the model of Cincinnatus and put down his plow, running for office to represent the Delano area. He has served in the legislature since he was elected in 2004. His district includes Waverly, the home of the greatest of all DFLers, Hubert Humphrey.

Although Emmer and Humphrey have almost nothing in common politically, they share a common character trait -- both are happy warriors. You get the sense that, even if Emmer hadn't planned on a political career, he has taken to it and really enjoys the experience of being on the hustings. He speaks with great passion and conviction about the nature of leadership, about the importance of differentiating negotiation and compromise, about the importance of staying true to the principles of limited government. He speaks with obvious concern about the future that his seven children face, especially given the burdens that government has already put in place. It's a compelling vision and it's red, red meat for a conservative audience.

Emmer's vision has also gained a number of adherents. The perception has been that his opponent, Marty Seifert, has the support of the GOP establishment. Despite that, Emmer has managed to gain the endorsement of some key players within the party structure, including Lt. Governor Carol Molnau, Rep. Laura Brod and former United States Senator Rod Grams. It's a formidable lineup of support for a guy who has only been on the scene for 5 years. It's also a sign that, at least among GOP activists, Emmer is a formidable candidate and communicator.

Political figures come in many variations and Emmer's opponent is a very different type of politician. The question for Republican delegates is this -- because Tom Emmer is a dynamic communicator of conservative values, he is an exceedingly attractive candidate within the GOP caucus. But will that visionary style, painted in bold strokes, translate to the larger electorate? We'll get to that in the coming days.

Tom Emmer's website is Emmer for

Next: The Smartest Man in the Room

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The candidates come to the Neighborhood - Part 1

It's not how I'd planned to spend Valentine's Day, but when the two main Republican gubernatorial candidates make presentations within 3 blocks from your house, you really have to go. And that's what happened today. Tom Emmer and Marty Seifert appeared before a group of Republicans, primarily from House District 50B, this afternoon at Lakeside Homes in New Brighton. The contrast in styles is unmistakable and the decision before state Republicans is a difficult one.

The stakes could not be higher. The DFL commands large majorities in both houses of the legislature and there are a number of high-profile DFLers who are attempting to take the governor's chair, which has been out of DFL hands for 20 years now. While 2010 has the potential to be an excellent year for Republicans, there are no guarantees and the voice and vision at the top of the ticket could well be decisive, not only for the governor's race itself but also for races down the ticket as well.

At the outset, it's important to say this: both Tom Emmer and Marty Seifert are streets ahead of any potential DFL candidate. Whether you are looking at Mark Dayton, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Matt Entenza, John Marty, Tom Rukavina or any of the the others, you will get a committed liberal who will, if given a DFL legislature in partnership, move this state decisively to the left. You will get a completely untrammeled public sector and you will see punitive taxes imposed on businesses and individuals. In other words, you will see California-style governance. As those who have paid attention to the horrible situation in the Golden State well understand, that would be disastrous for this state.

Emmer and Seifert know this and both mentioned it at the outset of their respective presentations. Both candidates have young children and both candidates said that they worry about the bills that the spendthrifts in the DFL are running up right now. Both argue that we're at a point where fundamental changes must take place. Each candidate argues that he is the one who can effect the changes that are needed. How each proposes to enact these changes is where things get interesting. And we'll be talking about that in the coming days. I'll devote a post to each candidate and then offer my thoughts in a separate post. It's not the sort of thing you can cover in a single blog post.

Next: The Visionary

Things fall part, the centre cannot hold

Readers of this feature know that I love William Butler Yeats, the great Irish poet. One of his most famous poems is The Second Coming, in which he declaims as follows:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

When you listen to the acolytes of AGW, it seems as if they are providing this sort of dystopian vision:

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

This is Yeats providing an early template for Pete Townshend's similar observation, which came some 40 years later: Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss.

Sometimes that is what the AGW debate seems like to me. We have been told for years now that the science is settled and we are on the brink of doom. The rough beast is coming 'round, mainly because the worst, and I assume I am part of the worst, are full of passionate intensity. It's easy to believe such things if you listen to the likes of our local state representative, the orange-clad green acolyte Kate Knuth, or Al Gore, or IPCC honcho Rajendra Pachauri, who all fear that the falcon is not listening to the falconer. They are trying to save us from our base impulses by jetting round the world to declaim against our base ways. And for the most part, Kate, Al and their pals aren't challenged on any of these assumptions, at least in America. It's just these crackpot bloggers who nip at their heels with their passionate intensity.

There are things that are relevant to the discussion that we just don't hear very much. You really need to get your news from places where there's still some intellectual curiosity. Take this example from The Daily Mail in London, which lets us know that The Second Coming may not be at hand after all:

The academic at the centre of the ‘Climategate’ affair, whose raw data is crucial to the theory of climate change, has admitted that he has trouble ‘keeping track’ of the information.

Colleagues say that the reason Professor Phil Jones has refused Freedom of Information requests is that he may have actually lost the relevant papers.

The dog ate his homework, I guess. But we should trust Jones, as Kate Knuth does, because the science is settled. Well, maybe not:

Professor Jones also conceded the possibility that the world was warmer in medieval times than now – suggesting global warming may not be a man-made phenomenon. And he said that for the past 15 years there has been no ‘statistically significant’ warming.

Really? Huh -- good to know! Glad we had this little talk, Professor Jones. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail makes this wry observation:

The admissions will be seized on by sceptics as fresh evidence that there are serious flaws at the heart of the science of climate change and the orthodoxy that recent rises in temperature are largely man-made.

I suppose that might be possible. We are full of passionate intensity.

So besides selection bias and the dog eating the homework, what else might account for the warming reported that makes the science "settled?" Let's ask the Times of London:

The United Nations climate panel faces a new challenge with scientists casting doubt on its claim that global temperatures are rising inexorably because of human pollution.

In its last assessment the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the evidence that the world was warming was “unequivocal”.

It warned that greenhouse gases had already heated the world by 0.7C and that there could be 5C-6C more warming by 2100, with devastating impacts on humanity and wildlife. However, new research, including work by British scientists, is casting doubt on such claims. Some even suggest the world may not be warming much at all.

“The temperature records cannot be relied on as indicators of global change,” said John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, a former lead author on the IPCC.

And why would that be?

The doubts of Christy and a number of other researchers focus on the thousands of weather stations around the world, which have been used to collect temperature data over the past 150 years.

These stations, they believe, have been seriously compromised by factors such as urbanisation, changes in land use and, in many cases, being moved from site to site.

So the weather stations have moved? Or maybe a weather station that was in a field in 1950 now has a power plant 100 yards away? Didn't they tell us that?

Christy has published research papers looking at these effects in three different regions: east Africa, and the American states of California and Alabama.

“The story is the same for each one,” he said. “The popular data sets show a lot of warming but the apparent temperature rise was actually caused by local factors affecting the weather stations, such as land development.”
Those are human factors, of course, but unless we pave over entire continents, it's likely that the numbers aren't going to skew that much. There's always been an easy way to test changes in temperature yourself; you can always step out from underneath a tree into a sunny area. Oddly enough, it's warmer in the sunny area. Put a weather station in the middle of an asphalt parking lot and it might skew the numbers a bit.

Is the earth warming? Maybe. Is it warmer now than before? Maybe not. The point is, we don't know and the science is not "settled." In fact, the science is just beginning. Someone better tell Kate Knuth.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Professor Reynolds Explains

Glenn Reynolds, the University of Tennessee law professor who runs the highly successful and influential Instapundit, went to the Tea Party convention in Nashville. His excellent report in the Wall Street Journal is must reading and makes what's happening comprehensible, if you're willing to listen to what is being said. In fact, it's easy to understand:

There were promises of transparency and of a new kind of collaborative politics where establishment figures listened to ordinary Americans. We were going to see net spending cuts, tax cuts for nearly all Americans, an end to earmarks, legislation posted online for the public to review before it is signed into law, and a line-by-line review of the federal budget to remove wasteful programs.

These weren't the tea-party platforms I heard discussed in Nashville last weekend. They were the campaign promises of Barack Obama in 2008.

I don't know how many Tea Party folks voted for Barack Obama, but certainly some did. I do know that a lot of people took Barack Obama's promises seriously. And I'd bet there were some Obama voters in Nashville.

So when promises are broken, what do you do? Sulk? Or take matters into your own hands? Reynolds finds citizens who are doing the latter.

Mr. Obama made those promises because the ideas they represented were popular with average Americans. So popular, it turns out, that average Americans are organizing themselves in pursuit of the kind of good government Mr. Obama promised, but has not delivered. And that, in a nutshell, was the feel of the National Tea Party Convention. The political elites have failed, and citizens are stepping in to pick up the slack.

One thing that Reynolds noticed is that while there is anger involved, especially directly to the insiders who control both major parties in varying ways, this isn't an especially angry mob.

Pundits claim the tea partiers are angry—and they are—but the most striking thing about the atmosphere in Nashville was how cheerful everyone seemed to be. I spoke with dozens of people, and the responses were surprisingly similar. Hardly any had ever been involved in politics before. Having gotten started, they were finding it to be not just worthwhile, but actually fun. Laughter rang out frequently, and when new-media mogul Andrew Breitbart held forth on a TV interview, a crowd gathered and broke into spontaneous applause.

But is Breitbart a Tea Party leader? Not especially. Is Sarah Palin? Not necessarily. Reynolds:

Press attention focused on Sarah Palin's speech, which was well-received by the crowd. But the attendees I met weren't looking to her for direction. They were hoping she would move in theirs. Right now, the tea party isn't looking for leaders so much as leaders are looking to align themselves with the tea party.

And when the leaders aren't available, others from the ranks are stepping up.

It's easy to see why. A recent Investor's Business Daily/TIPP poll found that three-fourths of independent voters have a favorable opinion of the tea party. This enthusiasm, however, does not translate into an embrace of establishment Republicanism. One of the less-noted aspects of Mrs. Palin's speech was her endorsement of primary challenges for incumbent Republicans, something that is already underway. Tea partiers I talked to hope to replace a lot of entrenched time-servers and to throw a scare into others.

That's exactly right. I've long argued that the turn against the GOP in the 2006 and 2008 election cycles was fueled by the sense that Republicans, especially the Tom Delay/Dennis Hastert money-grubbing types, deserved to be fired. It never meant that the Nancy Pelosi/Steny Hoyer money-grubbing types were suddenly in favor. Democrats wanted to believe that and because they received a lot of votes in those two election cycles, it seemed plausible. But it was illusory.

I get the sense that a lot of Republicans, especially those in the establishment, are just waiting for the tide to come in. But they too will be challenged and deserve to be. Reynolds finds an example:

One primary challenger is Les Phillip. He is running against Republican Parker Griffith in Alabama's fifth congressional district. Mr. Phillip, a black businessman and Navy veteran who immigrated with his parents from Trinidad in his youth, got his start in politics speaking at a tea-party protest in Decatur, Ala., last year.

"Somebody had to speak," he told me, "so I stepped up." He did well enough that he was invited to speak at another protest in Trussville, Ala., after which things sort of snowballed. Of the tea partiers, he says, "Their values are pretty much mine. I live in a town in North Alabama where there are plenty of blacks driving Mercedes and living in big houses. Only in America can someone come from a little island and live the dream. I've liked it, and that's what I want for my children. [But] I saw the window closing for my own kids."

If you want to understand what's going on, you need to listen to Les Phillip. More importantly, you need to listen carefully. It's easy to dismiss what he represents as just another spasm of populism. It's not. This isn't a selfish movement fueled by resentment, although it could seem that way, especially given the dismissal of elites and elitism that is a common theme. Elitists certainly read things that way. The key statement Phillip makes is the last one:

Only in America can someone come from a little island and live the dream. I've liked it, and that's what I want for my children. [But] I saw the window closing for my own kids.

It's easy to dimsiss the American Dream, but it holds power precisely because so many people have lived their own version of it. And people are willing to fight for their children to have the same opportunity. And they will be heard on November 2.

Friday, February 12, 2010

They say you better listen to the voice of reason

Update: Mitch Berg, who actually has a successful radio program in this market, has much more.

Big news on the local media front, as KSTP, once the go-to place for conservative talk in the Twin Cities, will become the local outpost for ESPN. Brad has a lot of the details and David Brauer from MinnPost has more. A few thoughts:

  • Radio is a strange business, but the slow motion immolation of KSTP has been a sight to behold. A few years back they had a lineup you could listen to all day long, with all of it but Rush Limbaugh local. Now they are ceding pretty much everything but the afternoon drive to other stations, at least in terms of local content.
  • One of the signal dangers (bad pun, sorry) of listening to consultants is that you can get very bad advice, and the advice that the Hubbards got about the death of conservative talk radio was terrible advice. What the consultants never understood was this: while conservative talk radio was by necessity on defense during the Bush years, there was never any question that at some point the Democrats would return to power and the audience for alternative viewpoints would again increase. Rush Limbaugh's greatest successes have come during the Clinton era and now. KSTP took that success to the bank in the 1990s, but they let Limbaugh go and now a competitor is enjoying the ratings.
  • The guys that KSTP brought in, who were supposed to be a better alternative to conservative hosts like Jason Lewis and Bob Davis, were abysmal. Willie Clark was just about unlistenable and "Prebil and Murphy," whatever they were, were boring. And the ratings reflected this. It's awfully tough to do much in morning drive in this market, given the unparalleled success of Tom Barnard at KQRS, but a good morning show with a consistent format could have had a chance. These dudes weren't any good.
  • The remaining signature voices at KSTP are Joe Soucheray and Patrick Reusse. They can certainly do sports and are great together. It will do Reusse in particular a lot of good to stay within a tighter format. Reusse is a gifted storyteller and can be funny as hell, but his politics are cookie-cutter leftism of an especially dim variety and it made his morning drive show just about unlistenable. The question is whether or not Joe and Pat's shtick, which has been on the air here for 20 years, is past its sell-by date.

There's more to say about this and I'll get back to it in the coming days.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Teacher Appears

Too many sad posts lately. Unfortunately, here's another.

When I was in 7th grade, my teacher was a guy named Dave Balliet. Dave died this week. He was only 60 years old and he had suffered from a rare form of cancer for a long, long time. You could search the earth looking for someone who had a bad word to say about Dave Balliet. You would never find that person.

There are some tough jobs in the world, but teaching 7th grade has to be right up there. Your students are not really children any more, but they are hardly adults yet. Kids that age are a dog's breakfast, a tangled mess of emotions and partial understandings of how the world actually is. The typical 7th grader can figure get play the notes, but only rarely does a 7th grader understand the music of life.

In the fall of 1975, I met Dave Balliet. I was a new student at St. Mary's School in Appleton, having spent the previous two years attending a public school in town. I was supposed to go to St. Mary's, but the school didn't have ay available space, so I had cooled my heels at the public school, enduring two largely unhappy years. Before that I had attended another Catholic grade school, St. Therese, but we had moved across town in the summer between 4th and 5th grade. When I finally arrived at St. Mary's as a 7th grader that fall, I was generally a stranger on the playground and being the new kid in school is rarely much fun.

When you are a new kid in school, you have two learning curves -- the academic one and the social one. The second one is much more difficult, especially if you are even the tiniest bit awkward socially. Dave Balliet understood that and looked out for me. He kept an eye on the other kids and made sure that I was welcomed into the school. He also helped me to understand some of the social mores and gave me advice on how to handle some of the "knuckleheads." It took a while, but eventually I figured it out and Dave's counsel made a huge difference.

My great friend Mark Miller compared Dave Balliet's classroom to the televison show "Welcome Back, Kotter," which was airing at that time. It's a pretty apt comparison. Dave had been a student at St. Mary's in the 1960s and was still a young teacher in 1975, with only a couple of years of experience. But even then, he seemed a lot older and experienced than he was. And because he'd been a student, he understood the school and its history. And since it was a Catholic school, he might have gone to school with older siblings of students that were in his classroom in 1975. He understood exactly the kinds of kids he was dealing with -- generally good kids, mostly middle class, but with a few tough stories here and there.

Dave's manner was unlike any other teacher I've had, before or since. The best way I can describe it is enthusiastic gruffness. He had a touch of the curmudgeon in him and sometimes his comments would have a little edge, but the edge was never directed at the students. And he loved to teach. His specialty was social studies and during that 7th grade year he made a semester-long project of following the 1976 presidential primary season. His classroom was filled with handmade posters for the various candidates -- Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Morris Udall and eventually Jerry Brown, who got in late in 1976. I think Dave even tried to talk some kid into making a Milton Shapp poster, but that was a pretty tough sell. We would spend significant class time talking about the race, handicapping the results, making predictions about the next week's slate and studying the history of previous elections. He would ask us to make predictions, but would also ask us to explain why we thought something would happen and wouldn't accept "that's what I think" as an answer. You had to think through the issue. There were more than a few political thinkers who emerged from his classroom.

And beyond the classroom, Dave was a coach. He coached football, basketball and fastpitch softball at St. Mary's and since it was a small school, most of the kids were involved in teams in one form or another. During my 8th grade year I was the student manager of the basketball team and played on the fastpitch softball team.

The enduring memory I have of that team was something that couldn't happen today. We played a season-ending tournament and the games were played at Holy Angels, a parish on the outskirts of town. Dave had to get the team to the games but there wasn't a school bus or other transportation available. So Dave improvised. His dad had an old Chevrolet pickup truck, probably about a 1951 or thereabouts. It was huge and dirty, since its primary use was at the family tree farm about 40 miles west of town. The picture I've included here is about what it looked like, except this one is a lot cleaner. Dave took Dow, the biggest kid on the team, and had him ride shotgun, while the rest of us rode out to the games in the truck bed. Since it was a 3-day tournament, we made multiple trips in the back of that truck. We were very fortunate that a cop didn't stop us, especially since all of us in the back were standing up half the time, hanging on the truck rails and yelling stuff at pedestrians while we rode down College Avenue, the main drag in town. It must have been quite a sight. And because Dave was a very good coach, we ended up winning the tournament.

A few years later Dave moved on to teach at the local technical college and stayed there for the rest of his career. But he never forgot his students from St. Mary's. I'd see him around town from time to time and he'd always want to know what was happening in my life and would have a story about someone I knew. He was genuinely interested in making sure that his students were coming along and continuing to learn.

The old saw has it that when a student is ready, the teacher appears. In the 7th grade, you couldn't have asked for a better teacher than Dave Balliet. At a time in my life when I needed both a teacher and a mentor, Dave was there for me. I have had some remarkably good teachers in my life, but I'm not sure I ever had a better one. Rest in peace, Dave. And thank you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Floor Wax AND A Dessert Topping

If you really want to know why AGW is such a great theory, here's why -- it can do ANYTHING.

Consider today's breathless dispatch from Time Magazine concerning how Global Warming is causing the string of snowstorms that has crippled the Eastern seaboard:

Brace yourselves now - this may be a case of politicians twisting the facts. There is some evidence that climate change could in fact make such massive snowstorms more common, even as the world continues to warm. As the meteorologist Jeff Masters points out in his excellent blog at Weather Underground, the two major storms that hit Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., this winter - in December and during the first weekend of February - are already among the 10 heaviest snowfalls those cities have ever recorded. The chance of that happening in the same winter is incredibly unlikely.

But there have been hints that it was coming. The 2009 U.S. Climate Impacts Report found that large-scale cold-weather storm systems have gradually tracked to the north in the U.S. over the past 50 years. While the frequency of storms in the middle latitudes has decreased as the climate has warmed, the intensity of those storms has increased. That's in part because of global warming - hotter air can hold more moisture, so when a storm gathers it can unleash massive amounts of snow. Colder air, by contrast, is drier; if we were in a truly vicious cold snap, like the one that occurred over much of the East Coast during parts of January, we would be unlikely to see heavy snowfall.

Okay, let's hold that thought. Do you remember other recent winters and the effect that Global Warming was ostensibly causing? Tell you what -- see for yourself, based on the testimony of various people who spend a lot of time in the Washington, D.C. area. Click the link and come back: I'll wait.

Hey, Robert Byrd, Barbara Boxer, Amy Klobuchar, Dianne Feinstein and Jay Inslee were quite worried about the lack of snow, which Global Warming was causing then. Now, apparently, it causes massive snow. It's a regular Perpetual Motion Machine of a theory. It's a floor wax and a dessert topping!

I suppose I'm just being provincial or close-minded here. After all, we've been able to share in the fun, too -- the 5-foot tall snowbanks from this year's snowfall (which the local meteorologists have assured me are just at the yearly averages) have turned my driveway into a luge run. This is the 13th winter we've lived in this house and the snowbanks are higher now than they've ever been. Then again, I remember 1979, which was snowier than this year by rather a lot and significantly colder, too. I think one thing is clear -- average doesn't mean much.

There is good news for Amy K. -- the ice fishermen have had no trouble getting their ice houses out on lakes this year. That Global Warming will kill us all and solve all our problems. I just wish everything was as efficient.

Lunch break

It pays to have intelligent friends. A few things I've learned from my friends and colleagues over the lunch hour:

Miss Me Blind

It had been up for more than a month and my Grumpy Old Men colleague K-Rod had noted its existence some time ago, but yesterday the rest of the world discovered the billboard on I-35 up in Wyoming, with the simple question: Miss Me Yet?

The "Me" in question is George W. "Chimpy McHitlerburton" Bush, one-time Leader of the Free World, a/k/a The Decider. Few presidents have left office as unpopular as Mr. Bush, who left as our current financial downturn really got going. This has earned him the nearly daily scorn of the administration that succeeded him.

So do I miss him? For a simple question, there's no simple answer.

  • I do miss his administration's foreign policy, especially in its general tough-mindedness. We have attempted to curry favor throughout the world on President Obama's watch and most of what has been returned has been scorn.

  • I don't miss his administration's fecklessness, especially on spending. He did very little to stop the relentless ratcheting of spending in Washington and ended up kicking the hard decisions down the road. He's hardly alone in this, of course.

Much of what was said about President Bush was unfair, or even stupid. He wasn't a moron. He disappointed many of his supporters on many issues -- all presidents do that. I guess the way I feel is this: I don't miss him so much as I regret what is happening now.

What say you?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

John Murtha, RIP

John Murtha, the old Pennsylvania bull who symbolized what is right about America but equally what is wrong with Congress, died yesterday at the age of 77. A few thoughts:

  • It's difficult to remember now, given everything that has happened since then, but Murtha and the rest of his colleagues came to Washington as reformers in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Murtha was unusual in that he was a Vietnam veteran and had served with great distinction and there was much hope that he might be a leader of the group, a group that also included a Norbertine Order Catholic priest named Robert Cornell, who represented my home district, WI-8.

  • Fr. Cornell left office in 1978, but John Murtha stayed on. And he soon became involved in the Abscam scandal. He managed to survive that and ended up serving 18 full terms in the Congress, becoming a porkmeister extraordinaire who survived by funneling ample federal largesse to his home district, while making occasional social conservative noises to deflect attention to the larger reality that he was part of the gang.

  • Murtha came to prominence late in his career when he became an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq. Because he was a Marine, his words carried far more weight than the typical Congresscritter. Unfortunately, his words were thoughtless and, in the case of his fellow Marines at Haditha, outright slander. My friend Leo Pusateri and his colleagues have amply documented Murtha's career at the Murtha Must Go blog.

So what do we make of this American life? I do not know the condition of Murtha's soul and must presume that a merciful God will welcome the Congressman. The larger issue is that a man can spend nearly 40 years in the Congress. He's hardly alone -- there are plenty of old bulls roaming the halls there. John Dingell has been there for over 50 years. Congressional seats should not be sinecures and it's up to the voters to look for new leadership from time to time. Congressman Murtha came to Washington to reform it, but instead he became part of the thing. His nearly 40-year career deformed him, deformed his district and further impoverished our politics. That's a legacy I'd wish on no one. I pray for his family and thank Congressman Murtha for his long service to the nation, but I regret the results of it. RIP.