Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Oh yeah, that

Meanwhile, while we've all been busy issuing denunciations of racist basketball owners, a little housekeeping from the invaluable John Hayward:
All that spin from Obama apologists, gone in an instant.  All those questions about the original of the false “video protest” narrative pushed by the White House to save Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, answered at a stroke.  Yes, it was all a lie, and the White House knew it.  They ordered it, for blatantly political purposes, and kept the proof secret until Judicial Watch finally managed to uncover some long-suppressed correspondence with a Freedom of Information Act request.  Remember when our gigantic, well-funded mainstream media organizations used to conduct that kind of investigation, instead of just obediently passing along the President’s talking points?
Yeah, I do remember that. Good times.
None of these documents are exactly “shocking,” because they buttress exactly what critics of the Administration have been saying all along.  It’s another great example of Obama’s strategy for political survival by “winning,” or at least enduring, one news cycle at a time.  Bombshell revelations lose their explosive force over time.  Emails that would have ended the 2012 presidential campaign are now a historical footnote.  The Obama-friendly mainstream press is unlikely to bring the story they’ve been trying to bury for the past two years back to the front pages, just to inform their readers that all of spin they previously delivered was invalid.  Critics of President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were 100 percent right all along… but as the latter so memorably put it, “what difference, at this point, does it make?”
It would have made a difference, probably a substantial difference, in 2012, but so it goes. So let's review what we've learned:

  • The internet video story was crap from the get-go, and apparently dozens of people in the White House knew it, including Susan Rice, who wasn't a dupe after all.
  • One of the main spinmeisters for the White House who was involved in the spinning is Ben Rhodes, whose brother happens to be David Rhodes, president of CBS News. You'll recall that CBS spiked a number of critical stories about Benghazi that its reporter, Sharyl Attkisson, had been following.
  • Jay Carney told us the following with a straight face:
We get the government we deserve.

Separated at birth

Usually Brad Carlson's beat, but I couldn't help but notice this one.

First, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver:

Then, Nosferatu the Vampyre:

And finally, via Grant Wood:

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sterling and Silver

So the Donald Sterling thing goes on. First, the smartest comment on the whole affair that I've seen, from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:
What bothers me about this whole Donald Sterling affair isn’t just his racism. I’m bothered that everyone acts as if it’s a huge surprise. Now there’s all this dramatic and very public rending of clothing about whether they should keep their expensive Clippers season tickets. Really? All this other stuff I listed above has been going on for years and this ridiculous conversation with his girlfriend is what puts you over the edge? That’s the smoking gun?

He was discriminating against black and Hispanic families for years, preventing them from getting housing. It was public record. We did nothing. Suddenly he says he doesn’t want his girlfriend posing with Magic Johnson on Instagram and we bring out the torches and rope. Shouldn’t we have all called for his resignation back then?

Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizen’s privacy in such an un-American way? Although the impact is similar to Mitt Romney’s comments that were secretly taped, the difference is that Romney was giving a public speech. The making and release of this tape is so sleazy that just listening to it makes me feel like an accomplice to the crime. We didn’t steal the cake but we’re all gorging ourselves on it.
We should be angered by that. But apparently, most people aren't. At least not yet.

Adam Silver, the new NBA commissioner, got his chance to be on the stage today and he came down on Jabba the Clipper real good:

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has banned Donald Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers or the NBA, it was announced today at a press conference in Manhattan.

Commissioner Silver has also fined Mr. Sterling $2.5 million, the maximum amount allowed under the NBA Constitution. The fine money will be donated to organizations dedicated to anti-discrimination and tolerance efforts that will be jointly selected by the NBA and the Players Association.

As part of the lifetime ban, Mr. Sterling may not attend any NBA games or practices, be present at any Clippers office or facility, or participate in any business or player personnel decisions involving the team. He will also be barred from attending NBA Board of Governors meetings and participating in any other league activity.

Commissioner Silver also announced that he will urge the Board of Governors to exercise its authority to force a sale of the team.

The discipline issued today is based on the Commissioner's conclusion that Mr. Sterling violated league rules through his expressions of offensive and hurtful views, the impact of which has been widely felt throughout the league.
A few thoughts:

  • There's not a chance in hell that Sterling will pay the fine, so that's grandstanding.
  • Sterling is well known for being litigious, so this is going to play out for a while now. The NBA would like to make this go away quietly, but you can't make things go away quietly while simultaneously being ostentatious in your pronouncements. They might win the news cycle, but a billionaire can afford a lot of lawyers and can throw a lot of sand in the gears. And what else does an octogenarian without his plaything have to do, anyway?
  • I suspect eventually the provenance of these tapes and the motivations behind releasing them to the public will become part of the story, especially if Sterling's lawyers decide it should be part of the story, which they will. Riddle me this: if you wanted to have something that's valuable, say an NBA franchise, but that franchise were not for sale, how would you go about acquiring it? One good way would be to destroy the owner. And if it turns out that someone who was a friend of the girlfriend, who's also been known for his desire to own an NBA team, turns out to have had any involvement in the release of the tapes, the NBA is going to have an even bigger mess on its hands. I'm looking at you, Earvin "Magic" Johnson.
  • The most amusing part of the story is how Sterling could simultaneously be the worst racist in the world (today's edition) and a scheduled recipient of an NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award simultaneously. Another advantage of being a billionaire -- not only can you afford a lot of lawyers, but you can also buy yourself a lot of honorifics. I hope that the NAACP enjoyed their experience with Mr. Sterling more than "V. Stiviano" apparently did. But don't worry -- of course they'll respect you in the morning.
Meanwhile, Abdul-Jabbar makes another excellent observation:
And now the poor guy’s girlfriend (undoubtedly ex-girlfriend now) is on tape cajoling him into revealing his racism. Man, what a winding road she led him down to get all of that out. She was like a sexy nanny playing “pin the fried chicken on the Sambo.” She blindfolded him and spun him around until he was just blathering all sorts of incoherent racist sound bites that had the news media peeing themselves with glee. 
They caught big game on a slow news day, so they put his head on a pike, dubbed him Lord of the Flies, and danced around him whooping.
There's another reason this story has so many people "peeing with glee." It keeps other stories out of the newspaper. But we'll get to that anon.

Below the Fold

I realize it's impolite to talk about something else when there's a thought criminal on the way to the gallows, but if I were a resident of Southern California, this story would interest me considerably more than the deep thoughts of Donald Sterling:
Toyota Motor Corp. plans to move large numbers of jobs from its sales and marketing headquarters in Torrance to suburban Dallas, according to a person familiar with the automaker's plans.

The move, creating a new North American headquarters, would put management of Toyota's U.S. business close to where it builds most cars for this market.

North American Chief Executive Jim Lentz is expected to brief employees Monday, said the person, who was not authorized to speak publicly. Toyota declined to detail its plans. About 5,300 people work at Toyota's Torrance complex. It is unclear how many workers will be asked to move to Texas. The move is expected to take several years.
It makes sense for Toyota to move to Texas since many of its cars are manufactured in the South. Of course, there's another reason, which the Los Angeles Times gets to later on:
The automaker won't be the first big company Texas has poached from California.

Occidental Petroleum Corp. said in February that it was relocating from Los Angeles to Houston, making it one of around 60 companies that have moved to Texas since July 2012, according to Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Perry last month visited California to recruit companies. The group Americans for Economic Freedom also recently launched a $300,000 advertising campaign in which Perry contends 50 California companies have plans to expand or relocate in Texas because it offers a better business climate.

Like these other companies, Toyota could also save money in an environment of lower business taxes, real estate prices and cost of living.
The mayor of Torrance, California, laments the development:
Frank Scotto, Torrance's mayor, said he had no warning of Toyota's decision. He said he did know that the automaker planned a corporate announcement for Monday.

"When any major corporation is courted by another state, it's very difficult to combat that," Scotto said. "We don't have the tools we need to keep major corporations here."

The mayor said businesses bear higher costs in California for workers' compensation and liability insurance, among other expenses.

"A company can easily see where it would benefit by relocating someplace else," Scotto said.
On the bright side, Mayor Scotto can certainly look forward to the economic boom that will arise from another Golden State initiative:
Doubts about the High Speed Rail Authority’s ability to fund its estimated $68 billion program dominated last week’s Senate Transportation and Housing Committee hearing (see the background report in this PDF). Committee Chair Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) said he was “somewhat skeptical” about the Authority’s 2014 Draft Business Plan and questioned CAHSRA CEO Jeff Morales on the authority’s reliance on uncertain funding sources.

“You couldn’t get a [small business loan] based on what we’re assuming here,” DeSaulnier told Morales, referring to the high cost estimates and funding prospects in the Business Plan.
Don't worry about that, though, because there's a magic funding formula!
DeSaulnier asked all the questions at the informational hearing, since he was the only Committee member who showed up for it. However, he came well prepared, so instead of  yet another presentation on how cap-and-trade works, there was a pointed exchange about the funding capabilities of high speed rail.

DeSaulnier warned Morales that the Authority may have a hard time getting the necessary votes in the state legislature to pass the governor’s cap-and-trade expenditure plan, which proposes giving $250 million to high-speed rail from the proceeds of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions law, A.B. 32.
That's right, they are going to regulate their way to richness by controlling greenhouse gas emissions! And with a $250 million a year payment schedule, they'll have that light rail deal paid for in 272 years! Sure, they'll probably have other funding sources to get that $68 billion, so maybe they can get 'er paid for in 136 years.

So you've got a state that's spending money it doesn't have, losing businesses it needs, with a plan to continue taxing everything that moves, and things are getting desperate. Well, I'm sure it will all look better once Donald Sterling is gone.

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Sterling Performance

At first, when I started seeing that the interwebs were filling with tales of Donald Sterling, I assumed that he was some sort of composite character from the television show "Mad Men." He's made people mad, that's for sure, with some doddering comments he made to a mistress who seems to be plotting revenge.

It's good news for everyone, because we all get to fall all over ourselves denouncing Sterling for his addled observations. John Hinderaker gives the matter as much attention as it deserves here; his conclusion makes perfect sense:
So an 80-year-old man with a much younger, mixed-race girlfriend is sexually insecure–go figure! He has a friend, a negative-image Iago, who plays on his insecurity and teases him when the mistress posts pictures with black men, however innocent they may be. So the old man asks her not to do it. She can spend all day with black men and even sleep with them, he says, just don’t post photos or attend Clippers games with them. But the young woman already has one foot out the door, and she illegally records her conversation with the old man, and then turns it over to two of the most disreputable gossip sites on the internet.

This sad domestic drama has become the best evidence the Left can come up with of the ongoing legacy of slavery and discrimination. It merits denunciation by the President of the United States, who locates the old man’s sad story in the grand sweep of history.

On the tape, Donald Sterling says, “I love the black people.” I can’t vouch for his sincerity, but there is nothing in the DMZ/Deadspin tapes that belies that sentiment. It is telling that this domestic upheaval between an aging billionaire and his gold-digging, disloyal mistress represents the best the Left can come up with to support its claim that racism and the “legacy of race and slavery and segregation” is alive and well. As for Sterling, he is merely collateral damage. That Lifetime Achievement award was almost in his grasp, when he became more useful to the Left as a villain. Something tells me, however, that Stiviano will land on her feet.
The "Lifetime Achievement Award" that Hinderaker references was something Sterling was going to pick up from the NAACP, at an event next month in which he was to share the dais with Al Sharpton. The NAACP thinks better of bestowing the award now, of course, and since the checks have cleared they can certainly rescind the honor with a clear conscience and let Sharpton have the day to himself. No word if Sharpton will be receiving the award while wearing a suit from Freddie's Fashion Mart, but we'll check back on that later.

As for Sterling, I suppose becoming a late-in-life cautionary tale and this weekend's Emmanuel Goldstein merits a lifetime achievement award of some sort. I also suppose that Cliven Bundy appreciates his efforts. And getting exercised about the Racism of the Rich and Famous is as much exercise as some people get. So good job, Donald Sterling. Your basketball team may be in ruins and what's left of your life may be a smoldering pile of recriminations, but you've made a lot of people feel very good about themselves because you've reminded them that they aren't like you.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The muse said

The muse said, “screw you, pal, I’m on strike.”
“I don’t have to bring you inspiration
 or schlep your dreams and
 I’m sure the hell not going to respond to your binding arbitration”

But I require your valuable services, I said.

The muse paused.

“Inspiration comes like a
 Mouse under the sink, tiny pellets and an unpleasant smell
A teenager in the basement howling about injustice in the Southampton Everton fixture
Last fall’s oak leaves a picket line along the easement
Satellite radio and concrete blonde”

The muse then said, “I won’t tell you what it means, I
Didn’t sign a contract and you don’t negotiate in good faith anyway.
Sift it as you see fit,
But I don’t care if you pull the larger meaning out of your butt”

The muse paused again.

“From what I can tell, pulling things out of your butt is a growth industry”

Are you through, yet?, I asked.

“Oh, I got plenty more. But I’m on strike and you wouldn’t understand the vector of sunlight through the vertical blinds,
the cocktail of lead and codeine,
the moral imperative of the self-congratulatory gesture,
the eye for the news hook ”

The muse smiled. “Good talk,” it said. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to take this call from Dolphin Temp.”

Friday, April 25, 2014

Lightning Round 042514

Happy St. Mark's Day! A few brief thoughts:

  • I'm not following the Cliven Bundy case very carefully, but from what I can tell, the current narrative is that because he's apparently a racist, he deserves whatever the federal government would like to do to him. While I'd like to think we can distinguish between actual crime and thought crime, that ship sailed.
  • The Byron Smith case up in Little Falls is fascinating. It's always dangerous to draw conclusions before all the evidence is presented, but a few things seem clear at this point. There's no question that Smith, an aggrieved homeowner who was on the business end of a number of burglaries, was the guy who killed the two teenagers who broke into his home. I have zero sympathy for the teenagers he killed, but it wasn't Smith's call to implement his own private sector death penalty for their crimes. I would also hope that the Little Falls police department ends up on the carpet for their lackluster efforts in dealing with the crimes that Smith had endured. It's not been established that the teenagers who were killed were treating Smith's house as their own freelance pharmacy, but there's reason to believe that was the case. I also think that this case wouldn't be as interesting to people if the two teenagers who met their Maker that day weren't so photogenic. 
  • I'm going to wait to comment on the depositions of Archbishop John Nienstedt and Fr. Kevin McDonough until I get a chance to study them more. I will say this much -- while it's clear that the Church made some horrible decisions in dealing with the predator priests in its midst, I'm not certain that the solution to the problem is enriching Jeffrey Anderson.

Thursday, April 24, 2014


The invaluable Walter Russell Mead, musing on one of the implications of the Supreme Court decision that came down on Tuesday:
Historical justice is in any case an impossible thing to define—much less to administer. What does an Irish person, descended from a long line of dispossessed peasants who suffered generations of discrimination and exploitation under British law, deserve today by way of compensation? What reparations should Russia, as the successor state to the Soviet Union, pay citizens of the Baltic republics for fifty years of brutal misrule? What should the innocent Jewish victims of Arab anti-Israel frenzy, often expropriated and driven out of their homes across the Arab world following the establishment of the State of Israel, get as compensation? How much do modern Americans owe the Cherokee—and on and on and on?
I would wager that the vast majority of Americans have ancestors who were under the heel of some form of tyranny. I am the great-great grandson of a German-speaking Catholic who left Bavaria to avoid being conscripted into the Prussian army, where he would have had the opportunity to be cannon fodder in a war against the French. My great-great grandfather left everything behind and settled in Wisconsin, as did thousands of other people. I am also of Irish ancestry, and my ancestors fit the description of dispossessed peasants; some of these ancestors arrived in the Midwest directly from County Cork, while others were the descendants of Irish indentured servants who had come to Canada as indentured servants in the 1700s. If you search your ancestry, you're likely to find a similar story.

Having said that, Mead also cautions that we ignore or minimize the effects of racism at our peril:
There’s a basic point that should not be forgotten in dealing with anything touching on race: The place of African Americans in the United States is a uniquely difficult and charged question. The history of slavery, segregation and entrenched racism in the United States cannot be denied and should not be minimized. The effects of this history are still very much with us today, and while the overwhelming majority of Americans repudiate racist ideologies and beliefs, the continuing presence of racist ideas, prejudices and emotions in this country is a reality that policy makers and people of good will cannot and should not ignore.

It is naive to think otherwise, and any look at how our system works and any thoughts about whether it works fairly have to include a serious and honest reflection on the fading but real potency of race.
He's right, of course. The devil is in the details, though, as in this example:
Affirmative action programs in college admissions often have perverse results. A young woman of Korean ancestry, for example, is likely to have to do much better than her African American or Latino peers (both female and male) to get a spot at the University of California. Yet this Korean girl in no way enjoys unfair advantages in American life due to past anti-black racism. Indeed, she is a victim of racist immigration legislation; anti-Asian immigration laws placed barriers in the path of her ancestors’ immigration to the US. She perhaps would be from a much wealthier family if her great grandparents hadn’t been barred by US law from settling here.

It seems perverse and grotesque that someone who played no part in any racist history, a first generation immigrant from a hard working family, should suffer discrimination in an effort to remedy past injustices and one can hardly complain when voters tell their state governments that such policies must stop.
We've been pretty involved in the college admissions game lately. We're now at the point where many colleges are having trouble attracting male students, for a variety of reasons. If you were to ignore everything that happened before and address the current state of higher education in this country, if the proverbial man from Mars were to look at the issue, the conclusion would be that girls, especially white girls, have an unfair advantage, because in many schools the male/female ratio is approaching 40/60. Given the historical context of sexism, would you want to limit the opportunities of young women?

There aren't easy answers to these questions. This much seems certain -- by deciding that the state of Michigan can make its own decisions, the Court recognizes that social reform is always going to be problematic.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The debate is over/the behavior is eternal

Joel Kotkin noticed:
Let’s call it “the debate is over” syndrome, referring to a term used most often in relationship with climate change but also by President Barack Obama last week in reference to what remains his contentious, and theoretically reformable, health care plan. Ironically, this shift to certainty now comes increasingly from what passes for the Left in America.

These are the same people who historically have identified themselves with open-mindedness and the defense of free speech, while conservatives, with some justification, were associated more often with such traits as criminalizing unpopular views – as seen in the 1950s McCarthy era – and embracing canonical bans on all sorts of personal behavior, a tendency still more evident than necessary among some socially minded conservatives.

But when it comes to authoritarian expression of “true” beliefs, it’s the progressive Left that increasingly seeks to impose orthodoxy. In this rising intellectual order, those who dissent on everything from climate change, the causes of poverty and the definition of marriage, to opposition to abortion are increasingly marginalized and, in some cases, as in the [Mark] Steyn trial, legally attacked.
A few observations:

  • People who are serene in their beliefs don't worry about being challenged. They don't necessarily enjoy the challenge, but they accept that the challenge is coming.
  • As Eric Hoffer and others have noted, the nature of the belief isn't as important as the need to impose the belief, if you are a true believer. And faith in a mass movement is usually a substitute for a lack of faith in oneself.
  • You will always find people who are authoritarian in nature, or willing to support authoritarians. The predilection to boss people around is present in any setting.
  • Every generation becomes the Establishment eventually.
Back to Kotkin:

This shift has been building for decades and follows the increasingly uniform capture of key institutions – universities, the mass media and the bureaucracy – by people holding a set of “acceptable” viewpoints. Ironically, the shift toward a uniform worldview started in the 1960s, in part as a reaction to the excesses of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the oppressive conformity of the 1950s.

But what started as liberation and openness has now engendered an ever-more powerful clerisy – an educated class – that seeks to impose particular viewpoints while marginalizing and, in the most-extreme cases, criminalizing, divergent views.
On this observation, Kotkin is wrong. The tendency toward a clerisy has always been part of human interaction. There's little difference operationally between Michael Mann and Caiaphas, the high priest who plotted to eliminate Jesus. The whole point of being the high priest is that you get to impose your will. And the high priest will always have supporters.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Starting over in Woofieland

Rick Adelman is leaving:
Stepping away from a 23-year NBA career that included 1,042 games won, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman formally announced his retirement Monday morning, setting in motion the search for the franchise’s 11th coach.

“You know, it’s time,” he said in ending three seasons on the job, none of which ended up taking the Wolves back to the playoffs for the first time since 2004. “I wish I could have done more, but I enjoyed my time.”
It's tough to turn around a team with 25 years of dysfunction. Adelman gave it a shot, but his wife's health issues and his own advancing age were both pretty significant barriers to success. Meanwhile, Flip Saunders has a search to do:
Team President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders vowed an “extensive” and secretive search in which he would prefer a candidate with substantial head coaching experience, preferably in the NBA. He said he wants to find a successor who would bring a similar kind of offensive identity Adelman lent the franchise and used such qualities as “demanding,” “adaptable” and “flexibility” he will seeks in a coach.

He also once again refused to rule himself out as a possibility, even as he pledged to use his vast network of coaches to search “in a lot of places” for that new coach.
I really hope that Flip doesn't do his search by looking in the mirror. It would be a mistake. Some of the names that are floating around -- Fred Hoiberg, Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan -- are pretty unlikely. I've also heard that they might consider bringing in a random Van Gundy to do the job. Given the history of this franchise, they'd be likely to get Shemp Van Gundy, so maybe that's not the answer.

When in doubt, poll it:

Who should be the new coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves? (Multiple answers allowed) free polls 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Go go

He didn't last long in Minnesota, but Carlos Gomez is turning out to be a heck of a player. And a heck of an agitator, too.

He was known as the "Loose Cannon" when he played here, because apparently Ron Gardenhire decided that calling him "Gomsie" would be problematic. Bet a few Twins fans wish he were still here, though.

Crisis of faith

One of the many reasons that second terms don't go well in modern presidencies is that the passage of time has a way of revealing unpleasant things. Barack Obama is learning that now, as the Washington Examiner notes:
What Fox News found in its most recent public opinion survey was that 61 percent of Americans believe Obama “lies” about important public issues either “most of the time” or “some of the time.” No other president in living memory has conducted himself in a manner that warranted even asking if such a description was appropriate.

It comes as no surprise today that Obama's defenders are sparing no invective for Fox News in the wake of that survey. But it was the president, not Fox News, who repeatedly and knowingly misled the American people with two infamous Obamacare lies: “You can keep your health insurance if you like it. Period. You can keep your doctor. Period.” For better or worse, Obama will forever be known as the president who chose repeatedly to propagate two falsehoods. Those two lies were profoundly significant because they were designed to hide the truth about how Obamacare would affect the daily lives and health of hundreds of millions of Americans.

Since it became painfully clear in 2013 that Obama had lied about Obamacare since 2009, it has been increasingly difficult for many Americans to continue accepting at face value his statements on other major public issues. 
And yes, he said it repeatedly:

At this point, well over five years since the financial crisis of 2008, it's getting difficult to blame things on George W. Bush, who has kept an exceptionally low profile. While I suspect the Democrats will continue to try, it's going to be a stretch.

I never believed in Barack Obama, because you can never trust a Chicago politician. It's taken a while, but most people understand that now.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Reuben, Reuben, I've Been Thinking

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Michael Saltsman pokes a few holes in the minimum wage balloon:
 In a visit this month to the University of Michigan, for instance, the president stopped at the local deli Zingerman's. He raved about its Reuben sandwich as well as the generous wages that the business offers. Like [Costco CEO] Mr. Jelinek, Zingerman's co-founder Paul Saginaw supports hiking the minimum wage. He posted a minimum-wage manifesto on a company website last September.

As Mr. Obama relished the perfect sandwich prepared by well-paid employees, he neglected to mention how much he paid for the happy experience: Zingerman's Reuben costs $14. That's about three times as much as a Subway foot-long. When I was an undergraduate student at Michigan, I rarely dined at Zingerman's because it was so expensive.

If every deli could charge $14 a sandwich, then perhaps an $11 or $12 minimum wage would be feasible. But your local sandwich shop cannot match the price points of a shop serving a parent-subsidized clientele in a college town. Expecting restaurants everywhere to do so is a recipe for business failure.
Actually, the prices at Subway have gone up a fair amount in recent days and you can only get a $5 footlong when they have a sale going. But Saltsman is correct concerning the prices at Zingerman's. But it looks like they throw in a pickle, so that's something. But if you want chips and a drink, you're looking at about $20 a head. So a family of four wanting a quick lunch? $80, maybe more. I suppose some families can swing that, but I'd imagine that most people can't. I certainly can't, at least not very often.

And Saltsman makes an equally good point about pricing:
The president seems oblivious to pricing pressures that exist outside of high-end restaurant concepts in tony metropolitan areas. Labor Secretary Tom Perez's March visit to a Shake Shack in Washington, D.C.—again, to promote the company's above-minimum starting wage—was typical. While praising the restaurant's wage structure, Mr. Perez did not mention that the least-expensive double cheeseburger on the menu sells for $6.90, or more than 40% more than a Double Quarter Pounder at the McDonald's nearby.

If McDonald's could raise burger prices by 40% without losing customers, it would have done so already without input from Messrs. Obama and Perez. But customers are price sensitive. The same dilemma exists at restaurants, grocery stores and countless other service businesses across the country. If higher prices aren't an option for offsetting a wage hike, costs have to be reduced by eliminating jobs and other employment opportunities.
Emphasis mine. The Shake Shack's prices are closer to what you might see at a Champps or Red Robin, but if you're looking for a quick, inexpensive lunch, you're not going to be going to either of those places. And if you are looking at over $50 for lunch for four people every time you go out to eat, even at a McDonald's, you're not going to see as many people eating out, and those that do will decrease their frequency of doing so. So yes, some people will make more money, but if business is down you'll have less people working. Maybe that will work out well for everyone, but I kinda doubt it.

Friday, April 18, 2014

More Bad News for Winston Smith

Orwell was right -- there is a Junior Anti-Sex League:
Earlier this year, a psychology study found that babies will fake cry to get what they want — which was often their parents' attention. But according to new research at Harvard, manipulative babies have another reason for their crocodile tears: They want to prevent their parents from having sex.

According to David Haig, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard, babies don't want additional siblings competing for their parents' love. "I'm just suggesting that offspring have evolved to use waking up mothers and suckling more intensely to delay the birth of another sibling," said Haig. He encourages parents to train their babies to sleep through the night.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


What a mess:
After a harrowing two years on the sidelines, Todd Hoffner reclaimed his job Wednesday as head football coach at Minnesota State University, Mankato, only to be blindsided by a player rebellion at his return.

Instead of taking the field in uniform for a spring practice attended by Hoffner, the players gathered and read a statement proclaiming their allegiance to Aaron Keen, the coach who led them to two sterling seasons after Hoffner was dismissed following allegations that he had made pornographic videos of his young children.

“As a collective unit, we’ve all agreed that we will stick together and show our support in having Aaron Keen as the head football coach at Minnesota State University, Mankato,” junior safety Samuel Thompson read from the statement. “We’ve all become outstanding community members, students and athletes, in the last year and a half since the removal of Todd Hoffner. Throughout this process, our voice has been silent. It is time our voice is heard. We want information, we want answers, because this is our team.”
A few thoughts:

  • Hoffner was wronged, grievously wronged. He deserved to get his job back.
  • Having said that, I'm not sure he ever could go back to Mankato and expect things to be the same.
  • I do feel that the interim coach, Aaron Keen, was wronged as well. The players certainly are within their right to point that out, although their actions yesterday were pretty petulant.
  • Having said that, the town isn't big enough for Hoffner and Keen to both be the coach.
  • While Hoffner deserves to prevail, it would probably be better for all concerned if he instead took a big check and went back to Minot State, where he was the coach in his period of exile.

Paying the college

One of the things you learn when you look at colleges is that the price of attendance is not the real price. The real price is whatever the feds say you can pay. Once we filled out the FAFSA, that was it. The number it spit out was what the real price.

All three schools gave grants and scholarships that knocked off about half the price. All three gave out a combination of subsidized and unsubsidized student loans in the exact same amounts. The only difference is that one school tacked on an additional Stafford Loan.

The obvious thing about the process -- the schools really aren't competing on price. You might be able to negotiate a few things, but the FAFSA number is essentially the same. The differences among the expected family contributions were neglible.

There are some liberal arts colleges that can do more for students -- offer less in loans, more in outright grants. These schools are the ones that sit on bigger endowments; prominent examples in this area are Macalester and Grinnell, which both have endowments north of $1 billion. Because they have the money, they garner more applicants and can be more selective. You see the news reports that admissions rates at the Ivies and places like Stanford are now in the neighborhood of 5-8%; that's how the game works.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The old college try

We've been getting a lot of windshield time over the last few weeks, roaming the Midwest on college visits for the Benster. He has narrowed things down to three choices, all of which are small, liberal arts schools, of the sort that I attended. One of the schools in the running is the one I attended, Beloit College.

The college search has changed a lot since I was making college visits in 1980. I don't really remember a lot about my visit to Beloit College, but I do remember the visit seemed a bit perfunctory. I got down to the school in time to attend a class, have lunch, then meet with an admissions counselor. After that, we turned around and went home. What was more memorable was the date I visited, November 4, 1980. It was election day. The fear was palpable on the small campus -- while no one loved Jimmy Carter, the thought that the citizenry might be about to give the keys to evil Ronald Reagan was just about unthinkable.

What's unthinkable now about college is the cost, and it's evident that a lot of colleges sense that. The competition for slots in the very top institutions is insane -- Stanford rejects 95% of its potential applicants, many for reasons that are incomprehensible to the applicants. Meanwhile, smaller schools are scrapping to fill their available slots, often competing for the same kids. We met a family this weekend at Beloit who had also been at the other schools we had visited (Cornell College and Knox College), and was headed for one more visit next week, to Earlham College. All of these schools have similar reputations in the academic world; how you differentiate among them tends to be a crapshoot.

The costs associated with colleges these days are distorted for many reasons. I'll get to that next.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Still light posting for a while

We're coming to the end of the great overpriced Midwestern college tour. It's an unfortunate time to go silent, as there's rather a lot happening right now, but fortunately the blogosphere never sleeps and there are many able chroniclers of the passing scene who are taking note of things.

I'll be rejoining the fray next week. Meanwhile, a poll (more than one vote allowed):

What should Kathleen Sebelius do now that she is no longer trying to implement Obamacare?
  free polls 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Perfect Rejoinder

I wrote earlier today about the disgraceful performance of Brandeis University in disinviting Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was scheduled to speak at the commencement exercises at BU. The Wall Street Journal has published a version of the speech she planned to give at Brandeis. You should click the link and read the whole thing, but I commend her conclusion to your attention:
So I ask: Is the concept of holy war compatible with our ideal of religious toleration? Is it blasphemy—punishable by death—to question the applicability of certain seventh-century doctrines to our own era? Both Christianity and Judaism have had their eras of reform. I would argue that the time has come for a Muslim Reformation.

Is such an argument inadmissible? It surely should not be at a university that was founded in the wake of the Holocaust, at a time when many American universities still imposed quotas on Jews.

The motto of Brandeis University is "Truth even unto its innermost parts." That is my motto too. For it is only through truth, unsparing truth, that your generation can hope to do better than mine in the struggle for peace, freedom and equality of the sexes.
If you want to understand why Ayaan Hirsi Ali is fighting, you can read this account of the murder of her cinematic collaborator, Theo Van Gogh, who was slain in Amsterdam in 2004. The piece is from that notoriously right-wing source Salon. Here's the lede:
On the morning of Nov. 2 in a busy street in east Amsterdam, a 26-year-old Dutch Moroccan named Mohammed Bouyeri pulled out a gun and shot controversial filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was riding a bike to his office. Van Gogh hit the ground and stumbled across the street to a nearby building. He didn’t make it. As the Moroccan strode toward him, van Gogh shouted, “We can still talk about it! Don’t do it! Don’t do it.” But the Moroccan didn’t stop. He shot him again, slit van Gogh’s throat and stuck a letter to his chest with a knife. He was slaughtered like an animal, witnesses said. “Cut like a tire,” said one. Van Gogh, the Dutch master’s great-grand-nephew, was 47 years old.

After shooting van Gogh, Bouyeri fled to a nearby park, where he was arrested after a gunfight with the police. One police officer was wounded and Bouyeri himself was shot in the leg and taken to a police hospital.

The letter pinned to van Gogh’s chest contained accusations aimed not at him but at Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee and liberal parliamentarian, who for years has been fighting for women’s rights in the Netherlands’ widespread Islamic community. Earlier this year, Hirsi Ali and van Gogh had made “Submission,” a short fiction film that was shown on Dutch public television. In the film, a Muslim woman is forced into an arranged marriage, abused by her husband, raped by her uncle and then brutally punished for adultery. Her body, visible through transparent garments, shows painted verses from the Koran. The film, van Gogh said in a TV interview, was “intended to provoke discussion on the position of enslaved Muslim women. It’s directed at the fanatics, the fundamentalists.
Louis Brandeis wrote that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Perhaps soon the sun will shine on his namesake university.

Profiles in Courage

Louis Brandeis was, among other things, the first Jewish member of the Supreme Court. He was also an ardent Zionist. Brandeis University bears his name.

Brandeis famously wrote the following:
"Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman."
Brandeis University is now having a cloudy day:
Brandeis University has decided not to award an honorary degree to a Somali-born women's rights activist who has branded Islam as violent and "a nihilistic cult of death."

The private university outside Boston said it had decided not to bestow the honour on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Dutch parliamentarian who has been a staunch critic of Islam and its treatment of women.
Brandeis made a big show of saying that it wanted Ali back for dialogue at some other point. Ali's not having it:
What did surprise me was the behavior of Brandeis. Having spent many months planning for me to speak to its students at Commencement, the university yesterday announced that it could not “overlook certain of my past statements,” which it had not previously been aware of. Yet my critics have long specialized in selective quotation — lines from interviews taken out of context — designed to misrepresent me and my work. It is scarcely credible that Brandeis did not know this when they initially offered me the degree.

What was initially intended as an honor has now devolved into a moment of shaming. Yet the slur on my reputation is not the worst aspect of this episode. More deplorable is that an institution set up on the basis of religious freedom should today so deeply betray its own founding principles. The “spirit of free expression” referred to in the Brandeis statement has been stifled here, as my critics have achieved their objective of preventing me from addressing the graduating Class of 2014. Neither Brandeis nor my critics knew or even inquired as to what I might say. They simply wanted me to be silenced. I regret that very much.

Not content with a public disavowal, Brandeis has invited me “to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues.” Sadly, in words and deeds, the university has already spoken its piece. I have no wish to “engage” in such one-sided dialogue. I can only wish the Class of 2014 the best of luck — and hope that they will go forth to be better advocates for free expression and free thought than their alma mater.
That would be my wish, too.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Governor Misspoke

No oversight for you, pal:
Gov. Mark Dayton vowed Tuesday not to cooperate with a legislative panel that wants to question top officials in his administration about technical problems that marred the Oct. 1 launch of MNsure, the state’s health insurance exchange.

Republican members of the MNsure Legislative Oversight Committee want to interview several key officials involved in MNsure’s rollout, including state Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. Their request came in response to a Star Tribune report published Sunday that revealed how problems with the website were known months before the launch and that Dayton was warned about serious shortcomings 12 days before its public debut.
Don't remind him, y'unnerstand?
During a news conference Tuesday, Dayton said Republicans are “making a mockery of the word oversight” and engaging in a “propaganda campaign” aimed at destroying MNsure.

“It is really irresponsible,” Dayton said. “The fact that they can pretend this is part of the oversight process is just ludicrous. They want to trash MNsure. … They want MNsure to fail.”
There is a problem, though, because our man in St. Paul has left himself in trouble on the eternal "what did he know and when did he know it" question, which Dayton didn't precisely acknowledge:
At Tuesday’s news conference, Dayton also addressed allegations that he misled people by saying he was unaware of MNsure’s technical problems until sometime in November.

“I misspoke,” Dayton said. “There was a meeting on Sept. 19 where I learned for the first time there were operational problems that called into question whether MNsure could start on Oct. 1.”
Misspoke, he says. As a reminder, here is how Governor Better Minnesota characterized his knowledge of things in January:
Gov. Mark Dayton said Friday that he first learned at least six months later of controversial contract changes made by the state’s health exchange.

 He said he also didn’t know about the serious technical issues plaguing MNsure until after the exchange’s Oct. 1 launch.

 Dayton said he first heard about the contract shift in late October or early November. Before that, he said, it wouldn’t have occurred to him to question such a decision by MNsure.

At this point, the governor said, he didn’t know whether it was a good idea for the state to take over the project from its lead vendor, Maximus, Inc., early last year.

“When the problems persisted by … early November, and it became apparent they were not getting resolved or eliminated or new ones were coming up … that’s when these kind of arrangements became more concerning,” Dayton said at a Capitol press conference after highlighting a new Minnesota jobs initiative. “Certainly, at some point there, I was told about this.”
"At some point there" turns out to be a month or two prior to November. In a Better Minnesota, actual timelines don't matter so much, you see.

Meanwhile, April Todd-Mamlov, who ran MNSure's spectacular rollout until she was cashiered in December, but after she'd taken a 2-week vacation to Costa Rica with the state's Medicaid director, would rather not explain things, either:
Legislative Auditor James Nobles, who is conducting a review of MNsure, said Todd-Malmlov has so far declined to discuss her stewardship of the agency. Nobles said he will take the unusual step of issuing a subpoena and using the courts to compel her testimony if she does not come in voluntarily for an interview.

“We think there are a lot of questions that need to be answered in a thorough and objective way,” Nobles said. “We want to hear her perspective. … She was at center stage, so to speak, and knows more than probably anybody.”

Todd-Malmlov, who resigned from MNsure in December after she refused to accept a demotion, did not respond to a request for comment.
It's a Better Minnesota now. You don't need to have things explained to you. Just enjoy it.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Pennies from heaven

Happy days are here again, the skies above are clear again:
Minnesota’s legislative Democrats have struck a deal to raise the wages of the state’s lowest-paid workers.

Details of the agreement are expected to be released by House and Senate leaders Monday morning, but two sources with knowledge of the deal said Sunday that the minimum wage would rise to $9.50 an hour and future increases would be linked to increases in inflation.

“I feel really good,” said Deputy Senate Majority Leader Jeff Hayden, a Minneapolis DFLer who had long worked on the minimum wage issue. “I think there are going to be a tremendous amount of smiles [Monday.]”
Especially at this company:
This self-contained, automatic device sees raw ingredients go in one end and the completed custom-made burgers come out the other at the rate of up to 400 per hour. The machine stamps out the patties, uses what the company says are "gourmet cooking techniques never before used in a fast food restaurant,” applies the toppings (which are cut only after ordering to ensure freshness), and even bags the burgers.
Meanwhile, I got this great news from the internet yesterday:

See -- if we raise everyone's wages at WalMart by $5/hour, mac and cheese will only be a penny more per box! We can vote ourselves rich!

You'd think it wouldn't be necessary to explain this to people, especially the highly successful professional who posted this video on Facebook yesterday as if it were holy writ, but here goes: if the only thing that mattered were the price of mac and cheese, the video would make sense. Everyone who is involved in making the box of mac and cheese -- the farmer who grows the grain, the factory that turns the grain into pasta, the box maker who prints the box, and the transportation company that gets the box into Walmart's supply chain -- will also pass their costs along if minimum wage changes go into effect. There's not a chance in hell that the price of the box of mac and cheese will only go up a penny. And meanwhile, the cost of everything else in your basket will go up, too.

But it's all good -- Jeff Hayden is happy. And of course, the lege took care of the home fires, too:
The minimum wage deal came just after resolution of another contentious issue at the Capitol: a new senate office building. Bakk had insisted the new building was needed.

On Friday, House leaders gave their approval.

Many Republicans and some Demo­crats had said that draft plans for the building were too luxurious and at $90 million, including parking structures, were too expensive, especially since the building would not have housed all 67 senators.

The plans House leaders approved last week actually increased the total cost of the building itself but included office space for 67 senators, stripped out some amenities and eliminated a parking ramp. Senate leaders are expected to give the building final approval Monday afternoon, clearing the way for construction of a $77 million office space.
A penny here, a penny there. It's a good bet that the Slate video people helped with the financial analysis.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Marketing 101

Before we begin, let's establish a baseline. Quickly:  Inbee Park is:

(a)  a 60s hit for the Small Faces
(b)  a bee sanctuary in Utah
(c)  the best female golfer on the planet in 2014

If you guessed (c), good for you, because very few people know that. Among her many exploits, Park won three majors on the LPGA tour in 2013, including the U.S. Women's Open. That's a remarkable accomplishment. So when Golf Digest decided to feature a woman on its most recent cover, it was obvious that they'd put Inbee Park on it, right?

Guess not. Here's your cover subject, supermodel Paulina Gretzky:

Nice mashie niblick you've got there, ma'am

Does Gretzky, who is the daughter of hockey great Wayne Gretzky, play on the LPGA tour? No, but she is the fiancee of PGA tour pro Dustin Johnson. So yeah, she's likely been on a golf course recently, although not necessarily wearing that particular outfit. And not surprisingly, some of the golfers on the LPGA tour aren't happy about it:
"It's frustrating for female golfers," Stacy Lewis, the No. 3-ranked player in the world, told reporters at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, according to USA Today. "It's the state of where we've always been. We don't get the respect for being the golfers we are.

"Obviously, Golf Digest is trying to sell magazines, but at the same time you like to see a little respect for the women's game."
Yep -- they're trying to sell magazines. And the last time they had a woman on the cover, it was another supermodel, Kate Upton, along with the legendary Arnold Palmer, in a variation of the ol' American Gothic pose that would have made Grant Wood drop his palette:

Not exactly Grant Wood
There are certain things in life that are immutable. Men like to look at beautiful women. And while Inbee Park is a great golfer, she's not precisely photogenic:

Play on, playa
And for her part, Park understands the game:
Top-ranked player Inbee Park related how it could affect the LPGA's ability to gain on the men's tour in popularity.

"That's just been the way it is for over 20, 30 years," Park said. "We are trying to get closer to the guys, but obviously we are never going to get there. That's for sure. The LPGA is getting better and better."
Actually, it's been longer than 20 or 30 year. If you're old like me, you might remember this magazine cover from back in 1977, which featured a successful Australian golfer named Jan Stephenson, who won three major LPGA events in her career. As a 13-year old boy at the time, it was a source of significant interest to me, as you might imagine:

Yeah, tell me about your backswing again
I had a subscription to Sport at the time, along with Sports Illustrated. As I recall, my mother tried to throw this particular issue away a number of times, as she also did with the Cheryl Tiegs-laden SI swimsuit issues of that era, but I became pretty adept at retrieving it.

Yes, we don't want to encourage adolescent behavior, but there's always a market for adolescents. And while women are rightly celebrated for their athletic achievements, beauty is always going to sell first. And even Stacy Lewis knows this:

Marketing 101

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Still busy

Only time for a few brief observations:

  • Prayers are in order for the victims of the shooting yesterday at Fort Hood, which from initial reports bears more of a resemblance to the Washington Navy Yard incident than the jihadi attack that Maj. Hasan perpetrated in 2009. I'm still struck at the absurdity of a "shelter in place" order going up on a military base. There's a lesson involved, I suspect.
  • The Supreme Court decision handed down yesterday is good, but I'd still like to see Buckley v. Valeo go away entirely. As always, I refer to the wisdom of P. J. O'Rourke's observation -- when buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first thing that is bought and sold are legislators.
  • You can believe that Obamacare has turned the corner if you'd like. From what I can tell, the fun is just beginning.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Taylor Strib

Interesting move:
Minnesota billionaire Glen Taylor has made a formal offer to acquire the Star Tribune, a purchase that would add the state’s largest media company to his diverse business empire.

Taylor said in an interview Tuesday that he has made a cash offer as an individual without any other investors. He declined to say how much he would pay, but he emphasized that the Star Tribune is the only media company he is pursuing.
Taylor is best known for being the owner of the Timberwolves, but his primary business is Taylor Corporation, which grew out of printing wedding invitations into becoming one of the largest privately-held businesses in the United States. And to a certain extent, his acquiring a newspaper is a matter of keeping up with the Joneses:
Taylor would be the latest billionaire to buy a major U.S. newspaper if he acquires the Star Tribune. Last year, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos paid $250 million for the Washington Post, and Boston Red Sox owner John Henry paid $70 million for the Boston Globe and other media properties.
I'm guessing that any changes in the way the Strib does business will be incremental, but I suspect there will be changes.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Light posting right now

Things are very busy. We'll get back to normal soon, though. So let's call this an open thread.