Thursday, September 30, 2010

Guilty Pleasures Part Seventy-Two -- Fearless Maria Hits the Books

Fearless Maria is back and it's really about time we get moving on another Guilty Pleasures. Why haven't you stopped by more often, Maria?

Oh, Dad! You've seen me! There's so much to study in the 5th grade! I haven't had any time for music, except for practicing for the band! Hey, here's a joke -- why did the skeleton go to the library?

Hmm, why did the skeleton go to the library?

To bone up on a few things! You know, you really need to keep up, Dad! A grilled cheese sandwich would have known that joke!

I'm more of a panini, actually.

Well, then get over to the deli, panini dude, while I get back to my books! I have so much reading to do that I'm not sure I'll even make it to breakfast tomorrow!

So you have a lot of books, Maria?

Well, sure! Maybe not as many as your nerdy English major friends, but I have a lot of stuff to read. So wait -- well, maybe I could take a break and do some Guilty Pleasures.

That's the spirit, Maria. And since you're so concerned about books, maybe we could do --

Songs about books! But I don't want any songs about the improper fractions in my math book -- I've seen enough of those, thank you very much!

Sounds good. Should we hit the Great American Songbook?

No, I'd rather not go over the rainbow tonight, Dad! It's already dark and I don't have one of those light-up hat things like Ben. Can you find some rock and roll songs instead?

I can do that. Let's start back in the 1950s, in the doo-wop era. This song was from a group called the Monotones--

Dad, if they are singing in monotone, it won't sound very good. That was one of our spelling words last week. Now I'm learning all those fancy words you like to use and I'll know what you're talking about!

That puts you one up on me -- half the time I don't know what I'm talking about. Well, in any event, these Monotones actually could carry a tune and this one was a big hit for them back in the day:

I can play the drums on this song, Dad! Boy, I did like that song -- it was quite catchy and the Monotones were very well dressed. But anyway, who did write the book of love? They never answered the question, did they? If you know, put your answer in the comment section, because I'm getting curious now!

I'm not sure who wrote it, Maria. But I know that the Beatles had a song about writing a book back in 1966:

"A thousand pages, give or take a few?" That's impossible! The longest paperback I've ever seen is the fifth Harry Potter book, but it was so big that it almost fell apart when I opened it! Do you think the Beatles might have been exaggerating a little bit, Dad? Or did they staple together 100 easy reader books?

I don't know, but I was amazed at the great sound quality they got considering they hadn't plugged in their guitars.

Dad, they were lip-synching! Kinda like Elvis does in Suspicious Minds. They did a lot of lip-synching in the 1960s, probably because they were too scared to speak up.

It could be, Maria. But I know of another song that came out a little later in 1966, or maybe it was early 1967, by a band from Los Angeles called Love:

Dad, I don't think the girls in the audience were the ones he was singing about -- I think they look a little nervous. That song is pretty tense with the throbbing beat! And what's the deal with the weird sunglasses? It looks like he stole a couple of pieces of stained glass from the windows at St. John the Baptist!

It was the 60s, Maria. I'm nervous just looking at it myself. But then again, the 60s had some other interesting fashions beyond the hippie stuff. Check out this video from a guy who knows something about books, Booker T., with the MG's:

Are you sure that's not Booker from the Ramsey County Library? That dog is so cute! Anyway, so my question is this -- why were all those beautiful women dancing with dorky guys that were wearing practically poisonous polyester? They should have known better, I think!

Again, I've given up trying to explain the 60s, Maria. But we can move to the 70s and listen to this song from the Talking Heads:

What, no video Dad? Just some weird orange album cover? Well, the album cover might be orange, but the lack of video is making me see red! If he's singing about living in the future and being ambitious, maybe he should have come up with a video! I'm not sure he's really that ambitious, Dad!

I guess he was too busy reading. Anyway, once we got to 1983, Elvis Costello got interested in writing a book, too. And he brought a video:

Well, that's a pretty good song, but what's with the outfits on the ladies? And do you think they made the couple look like Prince Charles and Princess Diana on purpose?

Well, yes -- I especially like the part where the Prince Charles guy jumps through the ring of fire.

Dad, I think if were really Prince Charles, he could hire someone to jump through a ring of fire for him! Like a stunt man or something.

Well, Elvis was interested in pulling stunts in the video, I guess.

Well, you know what's no stunt? Picking a winning song, people! So pick your favorite and put it in the comments section. And if you know who wrote the book of love, put that in the comments section, too! No one tells me these things around here!

A Few Fries Short of a Happy Meal

The Wall Street Journal offers the following report, which will make Kathleen Sebelius mad:

McDonald's Corp. has warned federal regulators that it could drop its health insurance plan for nearly 30,000 hourly restaurant workers unless regulators waive a new requirement of the U.S. health overhaul.

The move is one of the clearest indications that new rules may disrupt workers' health plans as the law ripples through the real world.
So why would this happen? Cost, of course:

Last week, a senior McDonald's official informed the Department of Health and Human Services that the restaurant chain's insurer won't meet a 2011 requirement to spend at least 80% to 85% of its premium revenue on medical care.

McDonald's and trade groups say the percentage, called a medical loss ratio, is unrealistic for mini-med plans because of high administrative costs owing to frequent worker turnover, combined with relatively low spending on claims.

That makes sense -- if you have a lot of turnover, you are almost certainly going to have larger administrative costs. It's not as if you can just put someone's policy in a file cabinet and forget about it. Apparently the great minds in Congress didn't think about that, or didn't care.

What drove the decision to require such ratios? Anyone who understands how Democrats think won't be surprised at the answer:

Democrats who drafted the health law wanted the requirement to prevent insurers from spending too much on executive salaries, marketing and other costs that they said don't directly help patients.

One might ask how losing a health plan entirely benefits a patient, but that would be churlish. But we're all about solutions here. So if the regulations are a problem, they can fixed, right?

"Having to drop our current mini-med offering would represent a huge disruption to our 29,500 participants," said McDonald's memo, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. "It would deny our people this current benefit that positively impacts their lives and protects their health—and would leave many without an affordable, comparably designed alternative until 2014."

The health law expands Medicaid and offers large subsidies to lower-income people to buy coverage, but those provisions don't kick in until 2014.
Oh, snap! But surely it's just those greedy capitalist bastards under the Golden Arches who would do something like this, right?

Insurers say dozens of other employers could find themselves in the same situation as McDonald's. Aetna Inc., one of the largest sellers of mini-med plans, provides the plans to Home Depot Inc., Disney Worldwide Services, CVS Caremark Corp., Staples
Inc. and Blockbuster Inc., among others, according to an Aetna client list obtained by the Journal. Aetna also covers AmeriCorps teaching-program sponsors, who are required by law to make health coverage available.

Aetna declined to comment; it has previously indicated that the requirement could hurt its limited benefit plans.

"There is not any issuer of limited benefit coverage that could meet the enhanced MLR standards," said Neil Trautwein, a vice president at the National Retail Federation, using the abbreviation for medical loss ratio.

Sounds like something Congress really ought to fix, right? Oops -- not gonna happen, since Congress has adjourned until after the election.

If you want to know why the economy stinks, this is why: a company needs to be able to plan. When a government acts in a capricious way, it can't. And people get hurt.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I Am Blogger, Hear Me Roar

Politico reports that bloggers aren't the White House's friends anymore. And the prognosis offered is from a blogger, Peter Daou:

Noticeably absent from Burton’s embrace was anyone from the blogosphere once courted so avidly by the White House. Peter Daou thinks he knows why:

“With each passing day, I’m beginning to realize that the crux of the problem for Obama is a handful of prominent progressive bloggers, among them Glenn Greenwald, John Aravosis, Digby, Marcy Wheeler and Jane Hamsher.”

Daou, a progressive strategist and blogger himself, offered the explanation in a post provocatively titled “How a Handful of Liberal Bloggers Are Bringing Down the Obama Presidency,” which put a face on Obama’s critics and suggested why their criticism might be so irritating.

The complaints these bloggers have launched against the Obama administration are, Daou notes, “exactly the same complaints they lodged against the Bush administration.”

So what complaints are those? Mismanagement of the economy? Fundamental weakness in dealing with enemies, foreign and domestic? Naah, it's something else, Daou believes:

“Contrary to the straw man posed by Obama supporters, they aren’t complaining about pie in the sky wishes but about tangible acts of omission, from Gitmo to Afghanistan to the environment to gay rights and executive power,” he wrote. “The essence of their critique is that the White House lacks a moral compass.”

A moral compass? From a Chicago politician?

Anyway, one of the targets of the administration's ire is Glenn Greenwald, who has been hammering Obama on his human rights record. But Greenwald isn't buying:

“I think that bloggers can have an influence in our political discussions and how politicians are perceived and the like, but I think any explanation of the political problems of Obama that doesn’t begin and end with the economic suffering of large numbers of people is fundamentally misguided,” he told POLITICO.

“I think the reason why people are so angry at Democrats and disenchanted with Obama has very little — basically nothing — to do with what bloggers have been saying and everything to do with the fact that there are no jobs and millions of people are having their homes foreclosed” on.

Ya think?

Look -- I'm a blogger. Outside of my readership, no one really cares what I think. There are a number of politicians, especially local ones, who know who I am, but I sincerely doubt that they lose much sleep over the broadsides that we fire around here.

What's been especially odd about the Obama administration is how sensitive it is to criticism, really any criticism. They've let Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin live rent-free in their heads ever since they've come to Washington. Apparently they've let Glenn Greenwald do the same thing.

For the most part, the Bush administration ignored its critics, which drove conservatives nuts. In striving to behave in precisely the opposite way the Bush administration did, Obama's team has spent too much time worrying about whether or not they are winning the news cycle. What they don't seem to understand is that you win the news cycle by making positive news.

Frogs Notice Scorpion on Back

So you're a politician and you're having a hard time motivating your supporters. What do you do? Barack Obama has decided to scold them:

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Obama made a point to argue — “with intensity and passion, repeatedly stabbing the air with his finger” according to the magazine — that his followers in 2008 must not stay home this year.

“It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election,” Obama said.
In fact, the President now has doubts that his followers are serious:

Whatever complaints they might have about climate change or other issues, Obama said, it is “just irresponsible” that some Democrats and progressives were lacking enthusiasm for the election.

“If people now want to take their ball and go home that tells me folks weren't serious in the first place,” he said. “If you're serious, now's exactly the time that people have to step up.”

No word on whether he came up with this theory on the golf course. Sorry, that was too easy. Still, you can tell that there's something amiss. The followers aren't so keen on following:

“I think it is a remarkably condescending message,” said Darcy Burner, the executive director of and the Progressive Congress Action Fund.

“The fact that they are frustrated and discouraged has as much to do with the rhetoric coming out of the White House as anything else,” she said. “And this is the latest example of that.”

Then there's this:

Progressive blogger Jane Hamsher was harsher in her criticism of Obama. “This isn’t about GOTV,” she wrote on her blog. “It’s about setting up a narrative for who will take the blame for a disastrous election. And once again, the White House doesn’t care if they make matters worse in order to deflect responsibility from Obama….”

She said Obama was engaged in “setting up a fall guy for November. The headline should really read: Obama Distances Himself From Democratic Voters.”

Well, Jane -- may I call you Jane? -- if blaming George W. Bush is getting old, the President needs someone else to blame, and that would be you. Congratulations on learning an important lesson: never go into battle with a leader who shoots the wounded.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Jester Testifies

Very late to the party on this one, but the question must be asked: why the hell was Stephen Colbert testifying before a Congressional committee on Friday?

The always-excellent Byron York of the Washington Examiner lays out the particulars:

This year the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate made a strategic decision not to pass a budget for the federal government. They feared their spending priorities might not win the approval of voters in November's elections, so they simply opted out of their budgetary responsibility.

More recently, the Democratic leadership made a strategic decision not to decide whether to extend the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire Dec. 31. If nothing is done, taxes will rise for every American who pays income tax. But, as with the budget, Democrats worried that raising at least some taxes might not win voter approval, so they left the most pressing economic decision of the moment unresolved.

Finally, last Friday, Democrats in the House invited comedian Stephen Colbert to testify, in character as a buffoonish right-wing anchorman, before an otherwise serious hearing on migrant farm workers. Given the gravity of the topic, and of the country's economic situation in general, the performance was so off-key that even Democratic leaders called it inappropriate.

What do those disparate events have in common? In matters large and small, the actions of Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill have created what could be the question of the final weeks of the campaign: Are Democrats really serious about running Congress?

It's an excellent question. I remember the scene 20 years ago, when we had actresses who appeared in farm movies testifying on the farm crisis. That was silly, but they weren't appearing in character. It's mind-boggling, really.

We need our jesters, but no serious government has ever allowed jesters to become involved in actual policy discussions. If Colbert is genuinely serious about these issues, and there are reasons to believe he is, he ought to drop the mask and say his piece without resorting to performance art.

But why would the politicians stage a stunt like this? Here's one view:

Democrats appear too timid to explain to voters why they're not doing what they should be doing. "Part of the reason they didn't want to lay out the budget is that they didn't want to lay out where they were going to take taxes and spending in the next few years," says a GOP strategist. "Any time they have to lay out the direction they intend to go, they believe it will be politically detrimental to the continuation of the Democratic majority."

If you have to evade responsibilities and hide behind jesters, you're in trouble. And deservedly so.

Monday, September 27, 2010

il miglior fabbro

So while I was away, the Star Tribune decided to release another of its much-derided Minnesota Polls, which purports to show that Mark Dayton has a 9-point lead in the gubernatorial race. No one really believes that, of course. And if you want to know why, Mitch Berg explains it well -- no need to say anything further about it.

Back to where all the money was spent - I

Got back last night from a quick trip to my alma mater, Beloit College. It was homecoming weekend and the occasion of my 25th class reunion. It's a long way to go -- about 5 to 5 1/2 hours, depending on traffic and the attentiveness of the Wisconsin State Patrol, but after a few early hiccups, it turned out to be a great time.

Beloit is a small school -- they have an enrollment of about 1300 now, but it was around 1000 when I was a student. Our class was small even by those standards -- less than 250. And for reasons that were never quite clear, our class never had much cohesiveness. And it was disheartening to see that only about 15 people from the class registered in advance for homecoming weekend, including almost none of my friends. After a lot of vacillating on the matter, I decided to go anyway.

I brought the family down there -- Mrs. D is also a Beloit alumna and the kids enjoy the chance to hang around campus. In the morning we met my one good friend who had registered, then went over to Middle College for the class picture, which seemingly confirmed my fears -- about a dozen people bothered to show up for the photo opportunity. We went down the campus bookstore and decided that $55 polo shirts with the college logo weren't a very sound investment, then grabbed a quick lunch at Domenico's, the one reliable restaurant within walking distance of the campus.

From there Benster, my friend Terry and I went down to the football stadium, where our beloved Bucs were laying waste to an inept squad from Knox College. Beloit has had a long reputation as an also-ran in Division III football, but somehow Knox was worse and the game was somewhat like watching a cat play with a dead mouse. By the time the score reached 35-0 in the third quarter, we decided to head back to campus, which is about a half mile from the stadium. As we approached the World Affairs Center, we saw a group of men chatting on the sidewalk. And I did a triple take: it was most of my best friends from those college days, along with the English professor who was my advisor and mentor. And from there, the weekend really began.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Congressman Joe Wilson Explained All This

Jon Stewart is disappointed with the President:

"I think people feel a disappointment in that there was a sense that Jesus will walk on water and no you are looking at it like, 'Oh look at that, he's just treading water' … I thought he'd do a better job," said Stewart.

Think about that. Why would anyone have thought of a Chicago politician as Jesus? And remember, this guy makes his living sneering at other people.

Better still, Stewart seems baffled about another aspect of the Obama administration:

"I thought we were in such a place [in 2008], much like the Tea Party feels now, that the country … needed a more drastic reconstruction – I have been saddened to see that someone who ran on the idea that you can't expect to get different results with the same people and the same system has kept in place so much of the same system and same people," he said.

This link is from Animal House is NSFW, but it pretty much answers that question, although I'm thinking that Jon Stewart never thought of himself in the Flounder role.

Let me lay it out for you, Mr. Stewart. Barack Obama wasn't about your wish fulfillment. He was about Nancy Pelosi's wish fulfillment. And Ted Kennedy's. And David Obey's. And John Dingell's. The waxworks up on Capitol Hill had been waiting 40 years for someone who would sign their bill of goods and Barack Obama was just the guy to do it. It's not that complicated, really. Even a rube like me who lives on the wrong side of the Hudson River understands it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Back to Belwah Edition

We're going back to the old dude's alma mater for his college reunion. What is this one, Decrepit. This is like your, what, 60th?

That would mean I was attending college well over a decade before I was born, so I think your math is a little off, Grasshopper.

I know that. You're going back for your 25th reunion, which means you are halfway to the Golden Hood! Whoo!

Yep. That's what they give people who graduated from Beloit College 50 years ago. That and a lot of fundraising appeals....

Well, I know what appeals to this audience -- game picking and watching the Benster dish out the hurt to the codger in the baseball hat!

Well, that sounds good. Let's see what you got, youngblood.

Northern Illinois Fighting Corncobs (+4) vs. Minnesota Pewter Gophers. What, you think they deserve to wear gold? Not after I picked them to go down in flames against South Dakota! I would love to say that the Gophers would right the ship, since they are a desperate team at home, but they pretty much blew that theory for me last week, so I'm not so sure about this. Tip to Tim Brewster -- the website you're looking for is, I think. Corncobs 28, Gophers 7.

Wow. That's a bold pick there, young fella! I don't see that NIU has much to recommend them this season, although DeKalb is always lovely this time of year. The Gophers probably have to win this game, which is an excellent reason to pick against them. But I think Adam Weber deserves a better fate and he'll get it done this week. Gophers 31, NIU 20.

Austin "Yo Man, Where's the" Peay (NL) vs. Beloved Wisconsin Badgers. Austin Peay is the alma mater of the legendary Fly Williams, who inadvertently went to Austin, Texas instead of Clarksville, Tennessee (where Austin Peay is located) on his first visit to the school, and was seen wandering around the Austin airport asking anyone who would pay attention, "yo, man, where's the Peay?" Looks like they play football at the Peay, too. Just not very well. Badgers 100, Yo Man, Where's the Peay 0.

Uhhh, no. I don't think Austin Peay will be much of a challenge for the Badgers, but Bucky Badger won't put up 100. I'd say they could get 49, though. In fact, I will say that. Badgers 49, Austin Peay 10.

Knox Lumber (NL) vs. Beloved Beloit Buccaneers. That's right, D-III football, baby! Why? Because it's homecoming weekend and the old guy's Bucs are going to be in action against the almighty Knox College Prairie Fire. Yes, that's their nickname, Prairie Fire. What the heck is that all about? Did somebody have a couple of beers before they picked a team name? Well, it doesn't matter because last year I picked against Beloit and I'll never make that mistake again. Buc Yeah 50, Knox Fire Department 17.

Actually, that score of yours could be pretty close. Beloit is getting a little better each year and Knox is pretty much the footwipe of the Midwest Conference, although one of my best friends from high school is a professor there, so I hope he won't mind me calling his school a footwipe. I just hope he doesn't read this. Beloit 34, Knox 7.

Detroit Tame House Cats (+11) vs. Minnesota Childress Job Watch. I did not imagine that the Vikings would have a must win game against Detroit. C'mon, man! It's obvious that the Vikings are having troubles, but I expect them to right the ship against the Lions, who should be playing in the XFL right now, or maybe against Yo Man, Where's the Peay? Harald Fairhair 125, Meow meow meow meow 0.

I don't even know who Harald Fairhair is.

Harald Fairhair was the guy who united Norway during Viking times. I'm trying to make the comparison that Brett Favre is Harald Fairhair. Take that, Columbus! You weren't the first guy to America, son. C'mon, man!

Well, thanks for the primer in Scandavian history, Grasshopper. But the guy playing quarterback for the Vikings ought to be called Wrangler Grayhair. And he'd better watch out for Ndamakong Suh. But the Vikes should win this week. Vikings 27, Lions 20.

Glorious Green Bay Packers (-3) vs. Bear Down Chicago da Bearz. Apparently the Bears are pretty good right now, so our friend Gino must be pretty excited. However, the Packers have gotten a lot better against da Bearz in the last year or so and A-Rodge is making the faithful forget about Harald Fairhair, who plays in the land of the ice and snow. But the Packers will be bringing the Hammer of the Gods. Packers 20, Ditka Ditka 19.

I sense it will be close, too. But I also think the Packers are a better team right now. And thus, they will win. Packers 31, Bears 24.

Dallas How 'Bout Them Cowboahs (+3) vs. Houston Texans. If you read these posts regularly, and you'd better be, you know that I, the Benster, do not like Tony Romo very much. He is the pro equivalent of Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who I also think is overrated and should be playing against Yo Man, Where's the Peay. News flash -- the Cowboys stink this year and Houston is good. Texans 63, Cowgirls 0.

Somewhere, Jerry Jones is muttering to himself, "who is this smart-aleck kid in Minnesota?" But he's probably also wondering what's wrong with his team. My guess -- their offensive line just isn't very good and that's a bad thing to have against Mario Williams and company. Texans 27, Cowboys 16.

I would not be surprised if Jerry Jones went out and got Allen "The Swinging Gate" Barbre. Also, Jerry, I'll tell you who I am. I'm your worst freaking nightmare! You spent over a billion dollars for a new stadium, but your team stinks on ice! At least you it's a good thing you didn't build it here, because you'd have Mark Dayton camped out on your porch. C'mon, man! Ben out!

Wacky Candidates in the News

I've read a lot about Christine O'Donnell, the somewhat wacky candidate who managed to win the Republican nomination for a Senate seat in Delaware. I'm not particularly concerned about her, because I assume that Delaware voters will judge her on the merits.

Here's a more interesting case, though: Loretta Sanchez, a congresswoman from California who first gained fame by unseating the always entertaining Bob "B-1" Dornan. Sanchez is getting a stiff challenge this cycle from a Vietnamese-American candidate named Van Tran. Based on the video that John Hinderaker at Powerline found, she doesn't like that much. Her comments are in Spanish, as they were delivered on the Spanish-language Univision network. Hinderaker notes:

Sanchez's polling must be turning negative, because she has launched--in Spanish--a racist attack against Van Tran and his supporters.

Prepare to be disgusted as you see this liberal Democrat fire up her Spanish-speaking base by telling them that "the Vietnamese and the Republicans are trying to take away this seat."

Actually, I'm not especially disgusted, because I'm not surprised. It would be passing strange to note that Sanchez believes that Tran, who is an immigrant from Vietnam, is anti-immigrant. But when you are steeped in identity politics and view people as hyphenated Americans first and foremost, it's should not be surprising that Sanchez would play this card.

Van Tran, like most people who have emigrated from Southeast Asia, came to this country with just about nothing. He has made his way to the point where he can be a credible candidate for Congress. That's worth celebrating, no matter whether or not it endangers the political career of Loretta Sanchez.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I Have a Deem

So tell me what you think of this. The always excellent Doctor Zero, writing at Hot Air, reports on a recent speech by the leader of the free world, who continues to emphasize how hard his job is, as he throws down a gauntlet at a straw man version of the Tea Party:

The problem long term are the problems that I talked about earlier. We’ve got — we had two tax cuts that weren’t paid for, two wars that weren’t paid for. We’ve got a population that’s getting older. We’re all demanding services, but our taxes have actually substantially gone down.

And so the challenge, I think, for the Tea Party movement is to identify specifically what would you do. It’s not enough just to say, get control of spending. I think it’s important for you to say, I’m willing to cut veterans’ benefits, or I’m willing to cut Medicare or Social Security benefits, or I’m willing to see these taxes go up.

What you can’t do — which is what I’ve been hearing a lot from the other side — is say we’re going to control government spending, we’re going to propose $4 trillion of additional tax cuts, and that magically somehow things are going to work.

It's always easy to win arguments when you control the terms of the debate, of course. And Doctor Zero quite rightly rejects the premise (emhasis in original):

Mr. President, let me make this very clear for you: our freedom is not contingent on telling you exactly what we plan to do with it. Trillion-dollar spending plans are not the only acceptable alternatives to trillion-dollar spending plans. Our Constitutional freedoms are not a primitive superstition you can dismiss with sneering insults.

Just so. DZ also suggests that some, ahem, radical surgery might be in order:

Controlling government spending will be difficult indeed. Step one is wiping out the Democrat Party, and replacing Barack Obama with a responsible chief executive. The President and his Party have made it very clear that this will be a necessary precondition of meaningful reform. The American spirit of individualism and limited government are wholly incompatible with their vision of the future… and since they haven’t been shy about imposing their vision through force, we would be foolish to leave them in a position of power.

Wow, that's some crazy talk, right? Well, if you think there's a way to make your peace with the Leviathan state, consider a trial balloon that's floating across the pond (emphasis mine):

The UK's tax collection agency is putting forth a proposal that all employers send employee paychecks to the government, after which the government would deduct what it deems as the appropriate tax and pay the employees by bank transfer.

They're a little further down the primrose path in the UK, but the Obama administration is trying to catch up right now. To "deem" something is "come to think or judge." Is what the state deems paramount? If you accept the notion that we have to satisfy the programs and processes of the state first, then you should support the Democrats in this cycle and all others. A lot of people do. But I deem this sort of stance is why they are likely headed for a butt-whipping on November 2.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cully and the Facts of Life

I got the news about it over the weekend and it was very sad, indeed. My old friend Brad Culligan, the first new friend I made at St. Mary's School when I arrived as a 7th grader in the fall of 1975, had died in a house fire in Ashland, Wisconsin.

The details sound pretty grim, but the discussion of Cully was something else:

Barbara Storm is secretary of the board of directors for Genesis 1990 Inc. — a support center for those suffering from mental illness. Culligan ran the center's soup kitchen.

"Brad was the most beautiful person," Storm said. She had worked closely with Culligan the last four years. "He was a man who could not stand to see other people suffering."

She said Culligan would go to shut-ins in the neighborhood, bringing them donations.

"He was always going above and beyond the call of duty because he loved
people so much," Storm said.

I have an indelible memory of Cully, which dates back to that fall of 1975. St. Mary's was a new school for me and, at first, it wasn't an easy place for a new kid to navigate. Cully went out of his way to make me comfortable and we would often walk home together after school, as his house was on the way to mine. But what I remember is a conversation I had with him as walked along in Lutz Park, which runs along the Fox River and was in between his house and mine.

At that point I was 11 years old and my dad hadn't quite gotten around to telling me "the facts of life," so to speak. Cully and I started talking about a few things and it came out that I had no idea about why boys and girls might like each other. So I remember him saying, "Mark, I don't know why you don't know this stuff, but I'm going to tell you." And he did, but without any sniggering or locker room patter. Cully was about a year older than me, but that didn't make him an especially worldly fellow at the time. But he knew exactly what to say and how to say it. But I do remember that I was somewhat amazed that people would actually want to do the things he described.

They always warn parents that if you don't tell your children about the "facts of life," that the inevitable result is that they will learn it from someone else, probably out on the street somewhere. Turns out that they were right -- that's how it happened to me. But I don't feel like I necessarily missed anything by finding out at least some of these great mysteries from Brad Culligan. If you're going to learn the facts of life, and it's inevitable that you will, someone like Cully is the person you want. And it's hardly a stretch to say that the example of Brad Culligan's life in Ashland is one that provides an even more important lesson than a 12-year old kid's discussion of comparative anatomy.

Rest in peace, my friend.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Candidates to Support -- Gina Bauman

I have set up my list of candidates that this blog supports over on the sidebar and it's no coincidence that the first name on the list is Gina Bauman. Gina is running for the State Senate in District 50. Gina has already established her bona fides during her time at the New Brighton City Council, where she has been a consistent advocate for fiscal responsibility and accountability to the taxpayers.

Her campaign website has an excellent primer on the proper role of government in jobs, taxes and the economy. I strongly recommend you read the whole thing, but here are a few key observations that Gina makes:

Most of our current economic difficulties are the result of government losing sight of these simple concepts and over stepping its legitimate bounds and authority. Bad policies often result from legislation that is sold to the people with a "here’s what government will give you if you vote for me" pitch.

We see this over and over again in Minnesota, with LGA, the "Legacy Amendment" and a variety of other programs. What's important to remember is this: the government always pays itself first.

Another key observation:

The state budget currently is balanced as required by law (many may not like the way it was balanced, but it none the less is balanced). The so-called "deficit" is because the state plans on spending more than it anticipates taking in as opposed to a negative balance of funds in an account.

This is the magic of baseline budgeting, in which it is assumed that there's an automatic upward ratchet on anything the government does. If spending is kept the same, it suddenly becomes a draconian cut. You can't run your household this way, so you don't. It's not a given that government should be run this way.

And when it comes down to basics, Gina understands the home truth:

The purpose of the tax code is to raise sufficient revenue in a fair and equitable manner to fund the legitimate functions and duties of government. It should not be used to manipulate the economy, cultivate political power or influence, or implement social engineering.

Just so. And considering that manipulating the economy, cultivating politcal power and influence and social engineering is pretty much the "to-do list" of the DFL and its candidates, now is the time to put a stop to all this. If Gina is given the opportunity to go to the Senate, she will be an effective leader and advocate for a government that lives within its means and that hews to the legitimate functions and duties of government.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Combine and the Tea Party

Writing at the excellent Chicago Boyz blog, Lexington Green says something important:

In Illinois, there has long been an expression which describes the relationship between the two political parties: The Combine. Chicago Tribune writer John Kass seems to have originated this expression. See, for example, this article: In Combine, cash is king, corruption is bipartisan. Kass quoted former Illinois Senator Peter Fitzgerald: “In the final analysis, The Combine’s allegiance is not to a party, but to their pocketbooks. They’re about making money off the taxpayers,” Fitzgerald said. Kass went on: “He should know. He fought The Combine and lost, and the empty suits running the Republican Party encourage their friendly scribes to blame the social conservatives for the disaster of the state GOP.” Sound familiar?

America, welcome to Illinois.

The way it works is this. The Democrat party is the senior member of the Combine. The GOP is the junior member of the Combine. The game is exactly the same, and whoever is up, or whoever is down, based on the random behavior of those rubes, the voters, does not matter. The game is always exactly the same, and the people who are in on the game, from either party, have a shared stake in defending the game.

While I'm skeptical of Grand Explanations for Everything, there's a lot of truth to this construct. It goes a long way in explaining the behavior of people like Lisa Murkowski, who won't go away even though she was dismissed by the voters in the Alaska primary, as Green notes:

Lisa Murkowski’s family, and her career, exist because of the Combine. Her interest is in preserving the existing game. She is preserving her stake and her family’s stake in a game they have benefitted from. There is no mystery about this at all. There is no need for psychiatry to understand why she is trying to stop Joe Miller. He threatens the game. It has nothing to do with the label “Republican.”

If you want to understand why the Tea Party exists, and why the Murkowski family is especially antagonistic toward it, this is why.

And the Combine is bi-partisan. We have our own portside version of Lisa Murkowski right here in New Brighton, Rep. Kate Knuth. There's a lot more to be said about this. More to come.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Watch Me Take a Victory Lap, Baybee!

Old dude, I've only got one thing to say -- estoy en fuego! Can you feel the HYYYYYYYYYPPPPE!

Wait a minute, did you say you were on fire? Do I need to get some sort of extinguisher?

No, because last week I went 6-0 in my picks and even called the upset of the Golden Goofballs at the hands of Wile E. Coyote! I'm a genius, baybee!!!!

Oh. Good, then I'll put away the fire extinguisher.

I'm glad you did. But since I'm hotter than Hades, I'm ready to kick your ancient butt again! Let's get started, old boy. Bwahaha!

University of Southern California Probationers (-11 1/2) vs. Minnesota Hanging Their Heads in Shame. Last week was embarrassing if you were a Gopher fan. You can't lose to South Dakota Fanning or whatever those dudes were called, at home. Right now I doubt that Gophers could beat Eden Prairie High School. However, I'm going to invoke the theory about desperate teams at home winning. So, believe it or not, I say: Minnesota Repeat Insight Bowl Participants 18, Juvenile Hall 10.

Huh. Well, that's interesting. And you know what? I can see that possibility happening. Southern Cal hasn't exactly been blowing their opponents away this season and I'm not convinced that Lane Kiffin has any other talent than self-promotion. But the Trojans do have better players and that should be enough. Southern Cal 27, Gophers 20.

Arizona State Party Animals (+14) vs. Beloved Wisconsin Badgers. Arizona State's quarterback is a fellow named Stephen Threet. No, not Stephen Strasburg -- this guy's fastball wouldn't even hit 90 on a Wisconsin state trooper's gun, which we all know are rigged. Anyway, a couple of years ago this Threet fellow led a comeback win over the Badgers when he was at Michigan. However, ASU doesn't scare me. Badgers 40, Party U. 10.

These two schools haven't played each other since 1968. The last time they played, ASU creamed the Badgers. A lot has changed since then. ASU's long time coach, the infamous martinet Frank Kush, has long since left the scene. And the Badgers don't stink any more -- now they win a lot of football games. This one will be interesting, but I think this week Bucky steps up and shows a little more. Wisconsin 37, Arizona State 20.

Notre Dame Fighting Belgians (+3 1/2) vs. Sparty the Spartan. Brian Kelly won't have to worry about Denard "Michael Vick without the dog problems" Robinson this week. Instead, he gets the Spartans. I do expect the Spartans to be a middle of the pack team in the Big Ten this year and the Irish are a work in progress, at best. Sparty 28, Irish 24.

I suspect that the Irish will get better eventually, too. They have some good skill players and they still manage to get a lot of talent into South Bend each year. Right now, though, the Spartans are ahead of the Irish, especially at home. Michigan State 31, ND 23.

Miami Tuna Net Victims (+5 1/2) vs. Minnesota Favres. It seems that Brett Favre's strategy of not showing up to training camp didn't work out so well for him last week. He looked confused and did not show what we've come to expect out of him. The key for the Vikings is to not fall behind early, because when they let the opponent hang around, Favre has to win the game by himself and that's not always a good idea. The Dolphins don't have their secret weapon, the Wildcat, being a secret any more. I expect Leslie Frazier to plan for when that formation comes out on the field. Team AARP 30, Sorry Charlie 20.

Oh, I think the Vikings will be fine this week. Look for Adrian Peterson to take over and do very well against an average Miami defense. And maybe he won't even fumble this week. Vikings 31, Miami 13.

Buffalo Wild Wings (+13) vs. Glorious Green Bay Packers. I could go for some wings right now, Decrepit! But first I'll pick this game. Call me the Village Idiot --

If you insist --

Knock it off, old fella. I do the comedy around here. Brandon Jackson is a better fit for the Packer offense than Ryan Grant. Jackson is more of a receiving back and should get open, because defenses will be focused on the many Packer receivers. Buffalo is a team in transition and should be good in a couple of years. They aren't right now, though. Packers 81, Wild Wings 14.

Yeah, I think the Packers will win. But they won't score 81 points. They might score 40, though. From what I've heard, Buffalo is the worst team in the league. If that is true, they won't enjoy Lambeau very much. Green Bay 42, Buffalo 17.

New York Football Mannings (+5 1/2) vs. Indianapolis Mannings. It's the Manning Bowl! All Manning, all the time! Eli vs. Peyton, with Archie watching! No sign of former Brewers great Rick Manning, though. Anyway, the Colts are still smarting from their defeat at the hands of the Houston Texans last week. I do like desperate teams at home and the Colts fit that description. Look for the Sheriff of Indy to throw Eli in the stockade. Hope Archie won't mind too much. Colts 100, Giants 6.

So you're saying that the Colts are going to beat the spread, then? 100 points? Uh, no. Oh, I think that the Colts will score some points, even though the Giants typically play pretty good defense. I also think the Colts will win, but since I've agreed with most of your picks so far, I have to disagree on one more game. I'll make it this one. Giants 31, Colts 27.

Well, good for you, old fella! Glad to see that your Metamucil kicked in at the end and you actually stopped trying to copy my brilliance. I am a genius at work, I'll have you know. And after I kick your butt again, you are going to be on Revis Island, Early Bird Special Fan! Ben out!

Breyer Thinks It Through

Credit where it's due department: earlier this week I wrote about remarks that Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer made that indicated he might be willing to to look at banning the burning of the Koran. It now appears that Breyer has thought better of his earlier remarks. Eugene Volokh has the transcript of Breyer's recent interview with Larry King on CNN:

CNN’s Larry King: There’s no doubt that Pastor Jones, little church in Florida, had the right, he has the right to burn the Quran, doesn’t he?

Breyer: Yeah, I said it depends on what analogy you use, but the most one analogous case is that there was — you have the right to burn an American flag as a symbol....

King: ... Does [the flagburning decision] make us a great country?

Breyer: It helps. It helps.... [W]hat we’re saying is we protect expression that we hate. And protecting expression that we hate is not the only good thing in the world, but it is one good thing in the world. And when you have a country of 300 million different people who think different things, it is helpful. It is helpful to tell everyone, you can think what you want.

King: Hard for other people to comprehend why Nazis can march —

Breyer: There they are. You know, it’s so often I hear people say — and particularly this is a college students, sir. Well, that’s just so terrible what he’s saying. I say, oh, you think that free speech is only for people who don’t say things that are terrible....

Empasis mine. Much better. A welcome clarification from the Justice. As for Illinois Nazis, we already know the way to deal with them (link NSFW, of course).


Quick note: I have for now disabled the MOB blogroll. There appears to be a malware problem with the source and it isn't playing well with Google Chrome browsers, and potentially others. I'm hopeful this will be addressed soon.

Lightning Round - 091710

Another busy day, so a few quick thoughts. More later, I hope.
  • What makes someone a RINO (Republican in Name Only)? Depends on who is doing the defining, I guess. To be honest, I suspect that a lot of the people who use the RINO epithet most often are actually further estranged from the Republican Party than the people labeled as RINOs. It's worth remembering -- while there is significant overlap between conservatives and Republicans, they are not necessarily the same thing.
  • The Twins completed the sweep last night in Chicago and are now clearly on their way to the playoffs. I'm looking forward to it. In past years, you've always had the sense that there was no way the Twins could get past the Yankees, but there's reason to believe that things are closer this time around.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Candidate Link List is Up

I have posted links to a number of campaigns on my sidebar. We'll be talking about the individual races in the coming weeks. While I can't vote for some of these candidates, especially the Congressional candidates in Wisconsin, they all richly deserve support. Check 'em out!

Tell me if I'm wrong about this

If Mark Dayton didn't have a trust fund, he'd be Ole Savior.

Gardy deserves a little love

If you've been watching the pennant races, you'll have noticed that the Twins are now 8 games up over the White Sox and are within sniffing distance of having the best overall record in the American League. If you look at the Twins roster, you will see how amazing this is.

The Twins continue to win consistently without their best slugger (Justin Morneau, out for two months now with a concussion) and their longtime closer (Joe Nathan). Their starting pitching is pretty good, but they don't have any true stoppers. They regularly run journeymen like Jason Repko out on the field. Yet they win, repeatedly. For the past two nights they have laid waste to a talented Chicago White Sox team laden with sluggers and power arms. How does this happen?

I think the answer is Ron Gardenhire. His persona is a little gruff and he's often entertaining when he argues with umpires, but he's amazingly good at pushing the right buttons. He's also figured out the optimum way to use Jim Thome, who knocked the Twins out of the playoffs in 2008 and has now hit well over 20 home runs in part time duty for the Twins.

It seems like every year, some other manager gets the Manager of the Year award in the American League and Gardenhire finishes second or third. This year, given everything the Twins have had to face, they rank among the elite. If Gardenhire is not the manager of the year in the American League this year, he'll never win the award. But whether he wins or not, there is no better manager in baseball today. Twins fans shouldn't take him for granted, even if the national media do.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ms. O'Donnell (Attempts to) Go(es) to Washington

So Christine O'Donnell wins the Delaware primary over Mike Castle. Everybody wonders: What Does It All Mean? Beats me.

What I do know is this: we are at a point where sincerity trumps political standing. The Tea Party isn't a vehicle that the old bulls of the GOP can co-opt. In fact, it looks increasingly like a hostile takeover of the party is going on. Emphasis on hostile, given the emotions that have been spilling out of this race.

What's been most troubling to me is that Castle, like Lisa Murkowski, has apparently decided that they are personally more important than the party they have ostensibly served. Incumbency is not tenure and if there's a perception out there that the establishment is rotten, it shouldn't be surprising that establishment candidates are going to fare poorly. And in many respects, I think the GOP establishment has been pretty rotten.

When Barack Obama took office, many people hoped that he would change things in Washington, but that was never the game. What he did was unleash the old bulls of his party, who had been waiting for 40 years for their moment. My sense is that a lot of people who pulled the lever for Obama had little or no idea that Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, David Obey and John Dingell would start ramming through policies that few wanted. It's hardly surprising that many people who supported Obama and, by extension his party, now reject what they've done.

But the thing has always been this: the unpopularity of the Democrats doesn't mean establishment Republicans are now all the rage once again. There was a very good reason for the butt-kicking that the GOP took in 2006 and 2008. The point of the Tea Party has always been to get new people and new thinking into the Beltway. Its goal was never to reward John Boehner or Mitch McConnell. The Tea Party folks have, in the main, always understood that John Boehner is just as much of an impediment to real change as David Obey.

As for the elections themselves, I wouldn't worry too much about the individual results. While it's quite possible that Christine O'Donnell is unelectable in Delaware, there are still a number of weeks before the voters go to the polls. She'll have the opportunity to make her argument to the people of Delaware.

Meanwhile, we have a number of important elections in Minnesota and we have a chance to make some needed changes to the way the state has done business. It's time for us to get to work.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Freedom of Speech

Just so we're clear, you can say whatever you want, unless it's somehow inconvenient to someone, apparently.

It's been a rough week for the First Amendment. First, we had Kathleen Sebelius putting us on notice about mentioning things she'd rather not contemplate. The WSJ editorialists remind us of her subtle approach:

Witness Kathleen Sebelius's Thursday letter to America's Health Insurance Plans, the industry trade group—a thuggish message even by her standards. The Health and Human Services secretary wrote that some insurers have been attributing part of their 2011 premium increases to ObamaCare and warned that "there will be zero tolerance for this type of misinformation and unjustified rate increases."

Zero tolerance for expressing an opinion, or offering an explanation to policyholders? They're more subtle than this in Caracas.
Wonder how Sebelius would look with a parrot on her shoulder. Well, I'm not part of the insurance industry. Wonder if she'll come and get me?

Meanwhile, we had the spectacle of a sitting Supreme Court justice pondering whether a Koran can be burned (H/T Captain Ed):

Last week we saw a Florida Pastor – with 30 members in his church – threaten to burn Korans which lead to riots and killings in Afghanistan. We also saw Democrats and Republicans alike assume that Pastor Jones had a Constitutional right to burn those Korans. But Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer told me on "GMA" that he's not prepared to conclude that -- in the internet age -- the First Amendment condones Koran burning.

“Holmes said it doesn’t mean you can shout 'fire' in a crowded theater,” Breyer told me. “Well, what is it? Why? Because people will be trampled to death. And what is the crowded theater today? What is the being trampled to death?”
Let's be clear about a few things from the outset. The guy who wanted to burn the Koran was a rat bastard. But as the saying goes, hard cases make bad law. Do we really want to give anyone a heckler's veto over what is indisputably free expression, even if it is vile expression?

Apparently Breyer is willing to entertain this:

For Breyer, that right is not a foregone conclusion.

“It will be answered over time in a series of cases which force people to think carefully. That’s the virtue of cases,” Breyer told me. “And not just cases. Cases produce briefs, briefs produce thought. Arguments are made. The judges sit back and think. And most importantly, when they decide, they have to write an opinion, and that opinion has to be based on reason. It isn’t a fake.”
Do you trust Stephen Breyer to do this thinking for you? Do you trust Antonin Scalia? I wouldn't trust either of them, frankly.

I don't mean to be flip about this, but let's ask a hypothetical: would it be okay to burn a Koran if it were wrapped in an American flag? And if not, on what basis should the Koran (or a Bible) be afforded greater protection than an American flag?

Party On, Garth

It's good to see that the social whirl continues, despite everything:

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have a packed social schedule this week, with two major galas and a reception for college athletes.

Have fun, Mr. President.

Someone Tell Mark Dayton

Outgoing Chicago Mayor Richard M. "Shanks" Daley earns the Mr. Dilettante Strange New Respect Award for the following statement:

"This is a much more difficult economy than we have ever seen," Daley said. "This economy is not going to change around tomorrow. I wish it was, but it will not change."

Daley said that increasing taxes was not the solution.

"If anybody believes they can increase taxes today, I think they're out of their mind," he said.

Preach it, brother!

Crossing the Delaware and Jumping the Shark

The best thing about the Delaware primary contest between Mike Castle and Christine O'Donnell is that it has exposed the fault line in the Republican Party. We do need to talk about these things. The worst thing is that it seems like both sides have pretty much jumped the shark on the matter.

Personally, I have little use for professional Republicans and my heart is with the insurgents who are in the midst of taking over the apparatus. Having said that, it's passing strange to envision that losing elections gains much for the cause of conservatism in this country. From what I can tell, Mike Castle would be an East Coast Republican senator, with a voting pattern similar to that of Scott Brown or the Maine Sisters. In other words, he'd be on the side of the angels about 60-65% of the time and would cause considerable heartburn on any number of issues. Christine O'Donnell would be a far more reliable conservative voice, but she's not running in a state that is yet ready to elect a reliable conservative. That's the calculus here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lighting Round - 091310

Same as yesterday -- not much time:
  • Here's an article that will start a few arguments. The money graf: As long as she is viewed as a significant political figure, the left’s obsession with Palin will never wane because it does not spring from rational roots. She threatens something too deep and too profound in a political subculture built around the belief that a small percentage of human beings have a vastly superior understanding of the world compared to all the rest. Read the whole thing - guaranteed to anger the lovable lefty in your life.
  • As long as you're not a fan of the Vikings or the Gophers, it was a highly enjoyable football weekend. After losing to South Freakin' Dakota, Gopher coach Tim Brewster must feel like a dead man walking. And Joel Maturi, the man who hired him, is probably looking over his shoulder, too.
  • Tom Brady, the highly successful quarterback of the New England Patriots, makes a lot of money and rightly so. So you have to wonder why a charitable organization would feel the need to give him cars.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lightning Round - 091210

Lotsa stuff to do today, so this has to be quick:
  • The Instapundit nails it. "You were expecting a Chicago machine politician to show an enthusiasm for civil liberties?" As a practical matter, all the bloviating we heard about civil liberties, torture and the like during the Bush administration was just that. There are people I know who are genuinely sincere about the issue -- our frequent commenter Rich would be one example. But most everyone else wasn't. If they were, coverage of the matter wouldn't be limited to the op-ed pages.
  • I think the Star Tribune telegraphed its punch today with this editorial. Here's the punchline: "Tom Horner ranks as a serious contender, and he deserves full consideration by Minnesotans who in more ordinary times might not look at a third-party candidate. That's especially true of those who value a more centrist, pragmatic approach to governing than has so far been offered up by the GOP and DFL candidates." There was never any chance that Tom Emmer would get the endorsement, of course, but it would appear that the Star Tribune understands that Mark Dayton is, well, incoherent. The Strib is hoping that Horner would run things like a DFLer who pretends to wear a green eyeshade from time to time. How Horner could run anything other than his mouth without legislative support is one of those inconvenient questions that we ought to ask.
  • Of course, incoherence is a DFL strong point this year. Consider this wisdom from Barb Goodwin, the longtime party hack who has been tasked to hold the SD50 state senate seat in the wake of Satveer Chaudhary's indiscretions, as she lines up the usual straw man suspects: "Here's just how huge it is: We could shut down all of state government: let all the prisoners out of prisons, stop inspecting restaurants, fire all forensic scientists plus all fire and health inspectors, eliminate environmental protection and conservation activities, stop collecting taxes (which would put us further in debt), stop funding all bus service and other transit, close down all of the drivers' license and testing stations, end upkeep and public use of all state parks and trails, stop testing and trying to improve drinking water, river and lake quality, end all occupational licensing, reviewal and training activities, stop auditing city and state agencies, end all renters and homeowners credit, fire all state troopers and eliminate all the other things state government does and still not have enough money to balance the budget. That's because the overwhelming majority of our budget goes to education, health care for seniors and others, and local government aid to help keep down property taxes in property-poor cities. Those whose total solution is to just cut state government are wrong." Somehow Goodwin left out the part where Republicans kill kittens with their bare hands, although I'm sure that's an oversight. Still, it's a stirring synopsis -- never mind that no one has proposed doing any of those things. There's enough nonsense in that one Faulkner-length sentence to fuel a dozen blog posts.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nine years on

I wrote the following piece four years ago -- still don't think I'll improve upon it, so I offer it again, but with a few comments at the end.

It was an especially beautiful morning, and really a gorgeous day, one of those days that make September the best time of year in Minnesota. The sky was clear and the morning air was crisp. I climbed on the 4 bus on Foss Road and began my journey to my office in downtown Minneapolis. I arrived at my desk about the same time the first plane hit.

We all can remember what we were doing that day. I remember thinking that this was different. I remember the first reports coming around as routine office chatter – “did you hear that a small plane hit the World Trade Center?” Then we learned the second plane had hit. And the rumors were flying. Planes were crashing into buildings all over the country. The Air Force was shooting down airliners. We knew the nation was under attack, an attack we couldn’t quite comprehend. Work at my office crawled to a standstill as a single television set showed the smoking buildings. Broadcast e-mails from the top executives imploring everyone to “get back to work” were ignored. We didn’t know what we should do. A co-worker and fellow Catholic, who knew of my involvement at my home parish because we’d compared our experiences, suggested that we go to St. Olaf for noon Mass. A group of us did and found the downtown church filled to the rafters. We heard the pastor speak of peace, of remaining calm, of God’s love on a day when hatred was streaked across the skies and the airwaves. And we knew that Father Forliti was right. But we also knew that there would be a fight and the world had changed.

I went home that night and turned on the news. My son, freshly arrived from kindergarten, bounded down the steps, looking for his usual dose of Scooby Doo. My wife called down, “No, Benjamin, don’t go down there!” But he was there and he saw the footage of the plane striking the second tower. And he knew, in his child-like way, that this was real, and it was horrible. He started to cry and ran back up the stairs, screaming “I don’t want to see that!” I will never forget the look on his face.

Five years on, I think a lot of us are still screaming “I don’t want to see that!” It’s a rare thing in this life to actually witness evil, to see malevolence on a grand scale, to view an atrocity happen before your eyes. Most of the time, evil tends to happen quietly, in the background, without wide exposure. Because we don’t often see it as it occurs, we tend to either recoil from what we see, or fail to understand what we are seeing, or deny that we see is evil. That’s natural – we call it coping. But coping is not enough. Taking off our shoes in the airport is coping. We can cope indefinitely. But evil remains.

And I think we have to call this thing what it is – evil. Flying planes into buildings is evil. Bombing nightclubs and mosques is evil. Providing a cash stipend to the families of suicide bombers is evil. Pushing elderly men in wheelchairs into the Mediterranean is evil. Blowing up subway trains is evil. This is what we still face, five years on. I cannot predict where we will be in five years from this day, but I can only assume that we will still face evil. And saying “I don’t want to see that” will remain insufficient.

And now we are nine years on. We have just spent the week watching a crackpot minister preaching out of a Quonset hut playing a game of geopolitical chicken that drew satellite trucks and camera crews from news organizations that, nine years previously, were a whole lot easier to take seriously. And you know what? I don't want to see that.

It's almost too easy to forget what happened that day. We had plenty to do today -- a day that was about as beautiful as that eventful Tuesday, nine years before. Mrs. D and I took the kids for eye exams, I ran to the home improvement store for tarps and gutter scoops, and we both spent time sorting out the detritus in the garage. Aside from listening to Mitch Berg and Ed Morrissey talking about the anniversary on the radio in between errands, I'll admit that I didn't think very much about 9/11/01 today, because there were other things to do.

As we flip from 9/11/01 to 9/11/10, a few things are clear. We don't cower in fear on this day and, to me, we conclusively demonstrate that the terrorists have failed through resuming our normal lives. Most people treated this day as a normal late summer weekend -- the football stadia were filled, there were people mowing lawns and washing cars on my block and the kids were riding their bicycles up and down the street. The only way this day was any different is that you noticed flags at half staff all over town. The horrific roar of death we heard nine years ago, as the towers collapsed, is only so much background noise today. There's a statement in that.

There is danger, too. Memories fade. We lose our edge, our awareness, just a little bit. We have a president who says that combat operations are over in the Middle East, but it's far from clear that the war is over. We have gone from shoe bombers to underwear bombers, but we still have bombers and the cynical men who send them forth are still waiting for the proper moment to strike again.

Nine years on, I worry that we are finding it too easy to forget.

Friday, September 10, 2010

High School Confidential

You may not know this, but I went to high school with professional golfer J.P. Hayes -- he and my brother were classmates. But that doesn't make me a professional golfer -- in fact, I couldn't break 100 if I had the only pencil on the course.

Why bring that up? Because some people seem to think that because Rush Limbaugh and the moron Florida pastor who wants to burn Korans both went to the same high school, it has some significance.

The only conclusion I can draw? There are a lot of people who have gotten through high school without learning the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy.

How does it work? This is the example I learned when I was young:

On a cold day, a cat put its kittens in the oven
Biscuits are always put in the oven
Kittens are biscuits

So what can we conclude about the relationship between these two high school classmates? Nothing. But go ahead and have a biscuit if you think otherwise.

Not So Super in the Superdome

Behold as the Packer fan tries to park his schadenfreude to objectively describe his thoughts concerning yesterday's game in New Orleans.
  • You always hear football people talk about "reps," which is short for repetition. I know that Brett Favre hates training camp, but the real reason it's important has changed from the days when football players used to come back from their off-season jobs as sales reps or whatever. You need practice time and reps so that players know what their teammates are likely to do in game situations. It looked to me like Favre wasn't seeing what he might expect to see on pass plays. Indecision is the one thing you can't have when 300 lb. dudes are flying at you at a high rate of speed.
  • The Vikings defense looked very good, almost surprisingly so. I thought that the Saints would be able to move the ball at will against an inexperienced secondary, but that really didn't happen. However, they gave the rest of the league a template for how to run the ball against the Vikings, especially in the second half when they actually tried to run. You get those big Williams guys on the move and they aren't always able to change direction that quickly. When it mattered at the end of the game, the Williams Wall appeared to be on casters.
  • Jared Allen was at the game, I think, but I can't be sure.
  • I don't know the extent of Bryant McKinnie's injury, but the Vikes had better hope he's not out for an extended period of time. Phil Loadholt is a good right tackle in the classic road grader style, but he was getting his butt kicked on every pass play when he moved to the left side.
  • The Vikings miss Chester Taylor more than they'll admit. There were a number of 3rd down plays that would have been, ahem, tailor-made for Taylor, but apparently Favre doesn't trust Albert Young, Taylor's replacement, yet. Toby Gerhart might as well have been on a milk carton yesterday.
  • Brad Childress still doesn't understand when to throw the challenge flag, either. It probably wouldn't have made a difference, but losing a timeout on a play that wasn't really that close was a big mistake.
  • My beloved Packers take the field on Sunday. We'll see if they look like a team that can win the division then. I certainly wouldn't assume they've closed the gap yet.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Paying rapt attention to morons

By now everyone but me has offered an opinion on the guy in Florida who is about to burn a bunch of copies of the Koran. I was going to offer one but Ann Althouse has already done most of the work for me. The key grafs, although you should definitely read the whole thing:

There's an immense difference between burning your own book as a way of saying "I hate this book" — which adds more expression to the marketplace of ideas — and the confiscation and destruction of other people's books — which is about depriving people of access to expression that they want to consume.

It's offensive to say "I hate this book" about a book that some people revere, but that's the point. It's a vigorous, vicious expression. Burning your own copy of a book is the same thing. Unless you possess the only copy of the book — or, perhaps, an artistically or historically distinctive copy — the burning is just a way of being showily expressive and getting a big audience. It's absurd that any clown who wants attention can light a tiny fire and become world famous. Get a grip, people.

I find it hard to believe that Niebuhr and hyperventilators like him are big readers of important books, because their minds seem pretty feeble to me. "Torch a book and you at least symbolically deny your fellow men and women that freedom." At least symbolically. Or, to put it another way, i.e., truthfully: You don't deny other people anything. You give them something: the information that is your hatred of a book. And as they "decide for themselves whether what they read has meaning," they can take into account that you hate the book. It's not going to be a very influential piece of information, because you're just some attention whore who burned a book instead of articulating a pithy critique of it.
I think the terms Althouse chooses are a spot-on way to describe the dork down in Gainesville who is doing this -- "clown" and "attention whore" are exactly right. I'd add also suggest the sobriquet "hateful moron." But that's all that needs to be said about him.

However, I think Althouse's other point is also very important. We have inflated this sulfurous souffle long past any real significance. The best way to deal with this clown is to keep the news cameras and reporters away from his little stunt. He should be ignored and shunned. There's no reason to show his pitiful conflagration. The publicity he's received is the oxygen that keeps his stupidity alive. If anyone feels compelled to go to Gainesville this weekend, they ought to stroll over to the football stadium and watch the Florida Gators take on South Florida. It will be a far more edifying experience then watching this attention whore try to get his 16th minute of fame.

And if you think he can't be avoided, remember that it's very easy to ignore people with a flair for self-promotion if we choose to do so. If you doubt that, riddle me this: anyone seen Cindy Sheehan lately?

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Meanwhile, in California

Unfettered executive power is apparently back in fashion:

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that former prisoners of the C.I.A. could not sue over their alleged torture in overseas prisons because such a lawsuit might expose secret government information.

The sharply divided ruling was a major victory for the Obama administration’s efforts to advance a sweeping view of executive secrecy powers. It strengthens the White House’s hand as it has pushed an array of assertive counterterrorism policies, while raising an opportunity for the Supreme Court to rule for the first time in decades on the scope of the president’s power to restrict litigation that could reveal state secrets.

By a 6-to-5 vote, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed a lawsuit against Jeppesen Dataplan Inc., a Boeing subsidiary accused of arranging flights for the Central Intelligence Agency to transfer captives to other countries for imprisonment and interrogation. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the case on behalf of five former prisoners who say they were tortured in captivity — and that Jeppesen was complicit in that alleged abuse.

You could call this the "I vas just following orders" rationale. On balance, I support that the need to protect private entities that are doing work at the government's behest. But there's a problem involved, which Allahpundit at Hot Air mentions:

If, in the interests of national security, your rights are violated, there’s no legal recourse against any party involved if the facts implicate “secrets”? Transparency fee-vah!

So, let's ask the same question that Allahpundit asks: are you okay with this?

Michael Moore Hardest Hit

It's a damned strange valedictory from the longest-running caudillo around:

But during the generally lighthearted conversation (we had just spent three hours talking about Iran and the Middle East), I asked him if he believed the Cuban model was still something worth exporting."

The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore," he said.

This struck me as the mother of all Emily Litella moments. Did the leader of the Revolution just say, in essence, "Never mind"?

I asked Julia to interpret this stunning statement for me. She said, "He wasn't rejecting the ideas of the Revolution. I took it to be an acknowledgment that under 'the Cuban model' the state has much too big a role in the economic life of the country."

The "he" is Fidel Castro, of course. No word if the old fella has been reading Hayek lately. And the sound you just heard is the floor dropping from underneath over a half-century of fawning analysis. You don't have to reject the ideas, but it's in practice where things get ugly.

Fascinating piece from the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg. Read the whole thing.

Now I Wanna Be Your Dog

President Obama must sense there's a hellhound on his trail, which explains why he complained about being treated like a dog in a recent appearance in Milwaukee.

Perhaps President Obama needs to realize that some kind of solitude is measured out in you. You'd think he'd know, but he hasn't got a clue.

Then again, the current economic situation must be weighing on him. It didn't take too long, til we found out, what people mean by down and out, right? The problem is when we sent him to Washington, eventually we caught him running around, spending our money all over town.

It makes me wonder why he must be like that, why he must chase the metaphorical cat? It's gotta be the dog in him, right? My advice for President Obama is that he needs to shake this creeping malaise. If he doesn't stand his own ground, how will he find his way out of this maze?

Obama Bohica

Here it comes again:

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday will make clear that he opposes any compromise that would extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy beyond this year, officials said, adding a populist twist to an election-season economic package that is otherwise designed to entice support from big businesses and their Republican allies.

Hey, it's only your money. You have enough anyway.

It is not clear that Mr. Obama can prevail given his own diminished popularity, the tepid economic recovery and the divisions within his party. But by proposing to extend the rates for the 98 percent of households with income below $250,000 for couples and $200,000 for individuals — and insisting that federal income tax rates in 2011 go back to their pre-2001 levels for income above those cutoffs — he intends to cast the issue as a choice between supporting the middle class or giving breaks to the wealthy.

I'm sure he does. That's the only playbook the fella has, really. Never mind this:

Martin Feldstein, who was economic adviser to President Ronald Reagan, said all the Bush tax cuts should be extended for two years because even letting those for the wealthy lapse would be “a blow to a very fragile economy.”

To the chagrin of the White House, Mr. Obama’s recently departed budget director, Peter R. Orszag, took the same stance on Tuesday in a column in The New York

So if you were a successful individual and were hoping to keep more of your money to either (a) invest in a new business or (b) pile it up in a vault and roll in it like Scrooge McDuck, tough luck, pal.

One other thing -- Mark Dayton would also like a word with you.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- NFL Week 1, Baby!

We're back, just like a bad Mexican dinner!

Yo quiero Taco Bell.

Knock it off, Decrepit. I do the comedy around here.

Based on the available evidence, I'm not so sure about that....

Did you hear something? I didn't hear anything. Anyway, we're back and you know I'm feelin' the HYYYYYYYYPPPPEEEE!!!!!!!

That reminds me that I might have to join Sam's Club so I can buy exclamation points in bulk.

WalMart is evil, old fella. Forget it. You're here to pick football games, anyway.

Is that what we're doing? Okay, I can do that. So what's the first game on the agenda, Seabiscuit?

South Dakota Wile E. Coyotes vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers (NL): This is a do or die season for Tim "Poor Man's Glen Mason" Brewster, and if the Gophers don't start winning, Gopher Nation will take Brewster to Pasadena and leave him in the middle of the Pasadena Freeway. You'd love to think that the Gophers would win this one, but recent history says that the Gophers will have struggles with teams that reside across the Red River. And I'm calling the upset: Acme Corporation 20, Golden Brew 19.

Wow. Getting off to a silly start already, young fella?

Expect anything less?

Good point. Now, where was I? Yes, the Gophers have had trouble against North Dakota State and South Dakota State, but the Coyotes are not much of a program. While in real life a coyote tends to beat (and eat a Gopher), that won't happen this time. I suspect the rest of the year could get ugly, but the Fighting Brewsters will handle these guys. Gophers 37, Coyotes 10.

Do You Know the Way to San Jose State Spartans (+37 1/2) vs. Beloved Wisconsin Badgers. Apparently Vegas doesn't know the way to San Jose. It's obvious that the Badgers have a chance to win the Big Ten and get into a major bowl this year. They won't lose on Saturday -- that much is certain. Badger Badger Badger 40, Dionne Warwick 17.

The Badgers were a little sloppy in Vegas, but I'm confident they'll play much better at Camp Randall. In other years, San Jose has had some good teams, but this time around, they look pretty feeble. Badgers 45, San Jose 7.

Penn State Paternos (+11 1/2) vs. They Call Alabama the Crimson Tide, Call Me Deacon Blue. They call Alabama the National Champions of the Money Conferences, but that's another issue (ahem Boise State ahem). I'm surprised that JoePa is starting a freshman quarterback, which means he's going off the deep end at the age of 172. Well, maybe he's not quite that old, but he's been around forever. Bama will be without Mark Ingram, he of Heisman Trophy fame, but like most NFL teams, Bama has a backup that should be starting anyway. Roll Tide! We're Not Au-barn 96, JoePa 7.

So you're saying that Alabama is going to beat the point spread, I guess. Well, as usual I'm shaking my head at this pick. I suspect the Tide will win, but Penn State will make it close. Well, at least closer than 96-7, that is. Alabama 24, Penn State 16.

Minnesota Vikings (+4 1/2) vs. New Orleans They Call Me the Brees. This game is arguably the most talked-about game this week (with the Irondale vs. Columbia Heights clash a very close second), because the Vikings and He Who Must Not Be Named are looking for revenge. However, the Vikings are not the same team that entered the Superdome in January. You have to wonder if Lord Favremort can avoid the hits that will come. Also, the Vikes will be without Sidney Rice, arguably their best playmaker since Randy Moss. I think that the skill of my Fantasy League Stud Quarterback (that would be Brees, not the old dude from Mississippi) will win the day, with help from a defrocked Heisman Trophy winner. In a shootout, I call it: Who Dat 84, Bad Ankle Brent 77.

Uh, no. I'm likely to hate myself for doing this, but I think that the Vikings owe the Saints one and will have just enough voodoo or juju or gris-gris to win this one. Vikings 27, Saints 24.

Glorious Green Bay Packers (-3) vs. Philadelphia Freedom. If you've been paying attention to the pre-season, what the heck is wrong with you! No, seriously, you know that if you've been paying attention, Aaron Rodgers and his mates on offense have been playing like the 2007 Patriots. They should have no problem disposing of the Eagles, who will begin the season with something called Kevin Kolb as their starting quarterback. Michael Vick is still with the Eagles, so they deserve to get their butts kicked just for having him. Look for the Packers to give poor Kolb a dose of the "Psycho" defense and Kolb to get really, really confused. Packers 34, Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose 20.

This game makes me nervous. I think the Eagles aren't as good as they have been in the past, but the Packers haven't won a game in Philadelphia since about 1771. I think that Cornwallis has a better record in Philly than the Packers do. But that ends this time. Packers 34, Eagles 27.

Motor City Kitties (+6) vs. Bear Down Chicago da Bearz. Can I just say one thing? The Lions still suck. I'm sure that in California, Gino has to be excited that his beloved da Bearz are getting the equivalent of an additional pre-season game. I've never been fond of Matthew Stafford, who spends more time in a hospital room than on the field. And Julius Peppers might be his latest ticket to the ICU. Also, be on the lookout for Devin Aromashadou, or however you spell that. I don't know if he'll do anything, but I just like saying Aromashadou. Jay Cutler will find defensive backs, but not today. Da Bearz 13, United Hospital 3.

You may not believe this, but I think the Lions are getting better. I do want to see Devin Aromashadou get tackled by Ndamakong Suh. Maybe by the time we reach mid-season, I'll learn how to spell those names. Bears win, but it won't be easy. Bears 24, Lions 20.

So, Decrepit, what did you think about last night's game, in which Boise State proved that they are for real?

Good game, terrible uniforms. Tell Boise to stop dressing like a bunch of pansies and maybe I'll give them a little more respect.

Boise's not going to lose, no matter what you think of their uniforms, old fella. Boise fans, book hotels in Phoenix -- you're going to need them. Ben out!