Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bigotry at Hamline

I've had two interactions with Hamline University in my life. The first came back in 1974, when several of my high school buddies and I were trying to decide where to go to college. At that age it matters a bit what your friends think, and so we decided to visit several colleges together, even though we weren't likely to attend the same schools. But four of us made trips to different schools, sometimes taking advantage of the offer to spend the night, other times just making a day trip.

At each school, the person assigned to guide us around understood the drill. Only one or two of our group was considering the school, but the opinion of our peers meant something, and they took care of our group.

One of the guys wanted to check out Hamline. He had grown up Methodist, and Hamline was - at least marginally - still considered a Methodist institution in those days. So the four of us took off one day to tour the school.

Some staffer was assigned to meet us, show us around, get us to the cafeteria at lunch time, etc. My friend listened closely, asked some questions and was trying to size up the place. At one point in the course of the day, our tour guide asked me about my plans, and I told him that I was likely going to attend the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He asked another one of us, who mentioned that he was leaning toward the U of M's Morris campus.

At that point he started berating us, saying that we were "wasting his time" and "not being honest" by taking a tour when we were probably going to go to a different school. We were pretty taken aback and left soon afterwards. Needless to say, no one in our group went to Hamline, and the lasting impression I had was that the place was full of arrogant jerks.

I thought little about Hamline for the next 25 years or so, until my oldest son, Travis, announced that he wanted to attend Hamline. I told him the only impression I had of the place was that it was full of arrogant jerks, but if he wanted to attend, it was fine with me. So we set about getting him admitted, arranging financial aid and getting him set up in his dorm room.

And he came home in about 30 days. "Get me out of here," was more or less his plea, and when I asked him why, he said the place was "full of hippies." Everything was about gay rights and save the planet and the professors finding a liberal message in everything. Which pretty much dovetailed with my impression of the place, and so home he came.

(Keep in mind that Travis isn't some fire-breathing Young Republican. His views are considerably to the left of mine, he's a practicing vegan and makes his living as a manager at an organic food co-op in Minneapolis. We're not talking about Ron Paul, Jr. here.)

Which pretty much ended any thinking I did about Hamline until a few weeks ago, when the school again went out of its way to come off like a bunch of arrogant jerks. Former Republican candidate for governor, Tom Emmer, had reached an agreement with the school to do some teaching in the business department. The whole story can be read here, but in a nutshell, a handful of professors whined about hiring someone with conservative views, and the school reneged on the offer.

The opposition was led by a petty little associate professor named Jim Bonilla, who - get this - carries the title of "Consultant on Diversity in Higher Education," according to the school's web site. It's hard to find a better example of what a farce higher education has become: Putting a bigot in charge of "diversity."

The school's behavior is indefensible on so many levels, including the fact that Emmer is a bright, talented, engaging guy (he's an attorney who currently hosts a very entertaining morning radio show) who was more than qualified for the job. And then there's the entire question of what someone's political views have to do with teaching a business course.

The message from Hamline is loud and clear: We hold our liberal viewpoints near and dear to our hearts, and "education" can only be provided by those who share our politically correct views. A university is not for exploring other ideas or expanding minds, its sole purpose is to indoctrinate impressionable young minds in the ways of liberalism. Like the Italians, Irish and "Coloreds" in years past, conservatives need not apply.

I've written enough over the past year (see the archive list on the right) about the declining value of higher education, and this sordid episode helps make the point. The whole question of "value" is particularly acute for small, private schools like Hamline, St. Thomas, Carlton, St. John's and others, who have largely priced themselves out of the market for the middle class. A year at anyone of these schools will cost you close to what an Ivy League school costs, without any of the commensurate benefits. There is far more value to be had at a state college than at any of these schools, and given the competition, you wouldn't think Hamline would be going out of its way to tell the public what a closed-minded, bigoted faculty it has in place.

As for Emmer, he comes out of this looking far more classy than either the Hamline faculty or administration.

Sometimes the first impression is correct, and I'm more willing than ever to stand by the judgment I made in 1974.




Link

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A must-read article

National Review's Victor Davis Hanson is always worth reading, no matter what he is writing about, but yesterday's contribution is particularly worthwhile.

In addition to his teaching, writing, lecturing, etc., Hanson raises grapes on the California farm that has been in his family for generations. Yesterday's piece tells the story of what can only be called a breakdown of civilization in the beautiful farming valley he lives in near Fresno.

But it's not just a tale of some local crime spree; It's a look into the future of American society being brought to us by those who value "diversity" and "tolerance" above all else.

Read it here, and enjoy.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Vaclav Havel, RIP

A cynic might suggest that my only real knowledge of the Czech Republic comes from interacting with and watching so many of their hockey players over the years. And while it's true that I have much admiration for those in a long line that includes Hasek, Sykora, Hlinka, Jagr and so many others, there was one Czech in particular whom I admired, and I don't think he ever wore skates.

Vaclav Havel died yesterday at the age of 75, and if Lech Walesa was the man who led the downfall of Communism in Poland, Havel was the man who did the same for Czechoslovakia.

Havel never set out to be a political figure. He was a writer who used his work to try, at first, to "soften" the Communist system that enslaved his country. But when the Soviets rolled their tanks into his country in the 1968 "Prague Spring," effectively ending any attempts at liberalization, Havel realized that Communism could not be appeased, and must be stopped.

His writings reflected that belief, and the government took notice. First, they sentenced him to three months in prison for "subversion." When that didn't stop his writing, they charged him again, and sentenced him to 4-1/2 years, prohibiting him from writing anything but letters to his family.

Finally, the government put pressure on him to emigrate, figuring he would be less of a bother outside of the country. He refused to leave, instead working a menial job at a brewery and chipping away at the Communist regime. Finally, in 1989, after the Berlin Wall fell and Communism went on the run, a group of Czechoslovakian patriots gathered to form a new government, and made Havel their new president.

In 1992, as the Czech Republic and Slovakia began to go their separate ways, he resigned rather than preside over the breakup of the country. But when the separation was complete, he was elected President of the Czech Republic.

As President, he was very pro-American, having fallen in love with New York City in a 1968 visit, and he even continue to write essays and plays later in life reflecting his belief in individual freedom and liberty. Czech writer Erik Tabery summed it up this way: “While the Communists ruled for 40 years, most Czechs stayed at home and did nothing. Havel did something.”

One of my favorite old sayings is that "The pen is mightier than the sword," and Havel's life proved it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hypocrisy in action


You just can't make this up: Call it irony, call it hypocrisy, call it whatever, but the ongoing "amateur hour" vibe given off by the Obama administration was on display again yesterday in Texas.

Corrupt Attorney General Eric Holder (see Black Panther intimidation case, Fast and Furious, etc.) went to Texas to make a speech condemning efforts by legislatures to protect voting rights. Yes, that's right, Holder (shown at left, digging for some evidence) and the Obama kids are AGAINST laws to protect YOUR voting rights.

Over the past couple of years, more than a dozen states have passed laws requiring those who want to vote to show a photo ID before they can vote. It's in response to numerous instances in Minnesota, Wisconsin and other states where large numbers of people who later shown to be ineligible to vote have cast ballots.

Of course, every ballot cast illegally diminishes the value of YOUR vote, while also undermining the integrity of the election process itself. That's why so many states are trying to tighten up the process.

Holder doesn't like this. He's okay with weapon-carrying Black Panthers standing in front of polling places to intimidate voters, but he doesn't like asking people to produce an ID before they vote. Launching into Barney Frank-like hysteria, Holder said that asking people to show ID is a "deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, [and] minority and low-income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process.”

And I suppose that being required to show ID before boarding an airplane is a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students and minority and low-income voters from flying.

So, you ask, where is the irony? Where is the hypocrisy?

Well, in order to attend Holder's speech, you had to show a photo ID before you were allowed in the building!

"Do as I say, not as I do," is a long-standing liberal credo, and Holder provides us with another great example.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

GREAT customer service


I complain often enough about lousy customer service, so I think it's only fair that I take a moment to single out someone who provided me with a fantastic service experience.

Sunday night my cell phone died, which was a big disappointment. I've had a Palm Pre for a couple of years, and it's a terrific phone...Besides making calls, I can surf the web on it, take high-quality pictures, play music, do pretty much whatever I need to do. But the Pre has a small design flaw that sometimes results in the phone's battery being unable to take a charge. Something comes loose in the little USB port on the side of the phone, and when you plug it in to charge it up, nothing happens, and then the battery just slowly dies.

That's what happened with mine Sunday night. Fortunately, I've had mine long enough that the folks at Sprint have been sending me emails, reminding me that I could now upgrade my phone at a reduced price, if I would just renew my contract. So I went online to look for a new phone.

There I found something called the HTC EVO 4G. It sort of looks like the i-phone, had all the features I need (plus quite a few more) and best of all, it was FREE (with the renewal of my contract.)

I have an acquaintance at the Sprint store in South St. Paul, so Monday morning I sent him an email asking two questions: 1) Was this the right phone for me; and 2) Could I come up to the store and pick it up? Here's where the plot thickens.

He told me that in order to get all of the available discounts that made the phone free, I would have to start the ordering process online at the Sprint web site. During that process, he said, I would have the option to "reserve in store." By choosing that option, I could order the phone, and then two hours later show up in his store to pick it up.

So I went to Sprint.com and started through the ordering process. I got all the way through and was ready to place the order, but I still hadn't seen the "reserve in store" button. I didn't want to submit the order and then find out I had to wait for the phone to be shipped, which the site said would take 2-5 days. So, I called the customer service number on the side of the screen to make sure I could get the phone at the store.

My call was answered by a guy named Jeff, and I had every reason to expect that Jeff would be like most customer service people and would do only the minimum amount of work necessary to get me an answer and get me off the phone. I was wrong. Way wrong.

I explained the situation, and Jeff said that, yes, I should have been able to find a "reserve in store" button on the web site, and he seemed genuinely puzzled that I couldn't. He asked if he could put me on hold while he talked to some techie. I said that would be fine, and expected a long wait.

He was back within a minute or so, and explained the problem. It turned out that I had been on the right screen in the ordering process, but I missed the "reserve in store" button because it was disabled, and reserving in store was not an option for this particular phone. This meant that I could only order the phone to be shipped, which meant I would be 2-5 days without a phone.

(Which isn't the end of the world, but from both a business and personal standpoint, it's difficult. I have an office line, but almost no one calls it, because my clients have all been conditioned to call my cell since I'm out of the office a lot. Also, I have all of my emails forwarded to the phone, so that if I'm on the road all day, I can still respond to an email without waiting to get home at night. Plus, my kids are conditioned to keep in touch with me by texting me. And most importantly, I have to have a device to play Sudoku on before I fall asleep at night! So several days without my cell is quite an inconvenience.)

I said I would call the store and see if there were any other options, and apparently Jeff could hear the disappointment in voice. At that point, it would have been reasonable for him to say, "I'm really sorry, there's just nothing I can do about it. Place your order and we'll get it shipped out as soon as possible."

Instead, he said, "Call your friend at the store and see what he says, and I'm going to call you back in a half-hour or so and check on things."

I called the Sprint store, and my guy said, "Sorry, I guess we're stuck." But he assured me that if I ordered it, they usually arrived in just 2-3 days.

At that point I was resigned to calling my clients and telling them I had no cell service for a few days, and that I might not respond to emails very quickly.

Then Jeff called back.

First, he wanted to know if the Sprint store had been able to help me out. When I said "no," he said "I've had your case open here for about an hour, trying to figure out what we can do. What if I could overnight you the phones? Could you get by the rest of they day without your phone?"

I said that yes, I could get by for the day, although I wasn't crazy about having to pay for overnight shipping. "No, we won't charge you for that," he said. Then he went online himself, accessed my account, and placed the order to provide overnight shipping.

At that point, I was thrilled with the level of service. Then it got even better.

"Now, let's talk about the Palm Pre," he said. "Let's try a couple things to see if we can get it going." He had talked to another techie, who gave him a couple of things to try involving removing the battery, re-plugging the phone in, etc...Unfortunately, none of those worked.

"Well then," he said, "I can set it up to have all of the calls to that number forwarded to a different number for today if that will help." Yes, I said, that would help immensely. So I gave him my office number, and Jeff went to work setting up the forwarding of my cell phone calls to my office line.

In the middle of all this, something he said about the battery reminded me that I had another cell phone battery in the house. My sons both have Palm phones, and I had bought Travis a couple replacement batteries and a charger because his battery wasn't holding a full charge. I was going to give them to him on Wednesday, but I still had them in the house. So I took out my Pre's battery, put in a charged replacement battery, and my phone came back to life!

At that point, Jeff cancelled the forwarding, so that calls would again come to my Pre. So, in about a 90-minute period after taking my call, Jeff had:

-- Found an answer to my original question about the "reserve in store" button
-- Realized that it wasn't a satisfactory answer and started looking for a solution
-- Called me back with a solution that got my new phone ordered
-- Tried to help with my old phone, leading to a solution to that problem

And all the while he was friendly and chatty, telling me he worked just down the road near LaCrosse, Wisconsin, had been out ice-fishing already, etc., etc. By the time we were done, he had solved every phone issue I had, and now - only about 24 hours later - I'm sitting with my new HTV EVO 4G.

I don't know how he could have made this interaction any better, short of personally fetching the phone from the warehouse in Kentucky, driving it up to my home himself and waxing my car once he got here.

It was a phenomenal customer service experience, and it's a shame that it's so rare these days that it merits a blog post. So, Jeff....thanks, man.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Just because it's fun

For about 18 months back in the '80s, I lived on Capitol Hill in D.C., where neighborhood parking was always at a premium. So I can relate to the reaction this driver had when he saw a parking spot that was just the right size for his car. I can't condone it, but I can relate, and I post it here just for the comedic value. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why I remember Pearl Harbor

Today, of course, is Pearl Harbor day, the 70th anniversary of Japan's sneak attack that more or less launched the U.S. into World War II.

There are a few historical events that I consider myself pretty well versed on. From the time I was young, the Kennedy and Lincoln assassinations fascinated me, and I've read virtually everything I could get my hands on about those two events. (FYI - Oswald did it, and did it all by himself. Every other theory is crap.)

Another is Pearl Harbor, though I can't really take credit for it. Credit goes to a wonderfully gifted history teacher from Princeton High School named Pete Finelli.

We moved to Princeton after my freshman year, and U.S. History was a required sophomore course, taught by Finelli. I'd always enjoyed American history (see this entry about the Landmark series of history books I read as a kid), and on the first day of class, Finelli asked the class a series of pretty basic questions about American history, designed - I guess - to gauge where the class' knowledge baseline was.

I must have had a large number of shy classmates, because I know I wasn't any smarter than most of them, but I ended up raising my hand a lot and answering most of the questions. After class, Finelli came over, noted that I had recently transferred into the district, and asked if I had taken American history the year before at my former school. No, I told him, I just read a lot about history, and he seemed to like that.

Over the next few years, we moved beyond a normal teacher-student relationship and became pretty good friends. It turned out that Pete not only shared my love of history, but of baseball as well. He had been a minor-league pitcher, and served as a) the pitching coach for the high school baseball team, b) a sports writer for the local weekly paper and c) the play-by-play guy for the local radio station. Talk about two guys having something in common.

(Slightly off-topic story: I was reading a biography of Red Sox great Ted Williams, and learned that his first wife had been from Princeton. The next day after class, I rushed over to Pete's desk, anxious to share my discovery with him, and maybe amaze or surprise him a bit. I showed him the passage and asked, "Did you know Ted Williams' wife was from here?" It didn't have the desired effect. "Yeah, Ted and I used to go fishing together in the off-season," Pete said.)

And one of Pete's favorite topics was Pearl Harbor. Each year he would spend an entire week lecturing and quizzing on Pearl Harbor, getting us ready for a great learning experience: Watching the movie Tora, Tora, Tora. This will be hard for my children to understand, but in the fall of 1971, there were no VCRs, DVDs, computer downloads, Netflix or any other means by which to watch a full-length, feature motion picture in a classroom.

Unable to bring the movie to the class, Pete figured out how to bring the class to the movie. He convinced the local theater owner to rent the movie and screen it for Pete's history class. Preparing for Tora, Tora, Tora day was a big production. In addition to teaching us all about the attack, Pete would prepare us for some of the film's cinematic shortfalls, such as the way white letters were used in the subtitles, and didn't show up very well with white naval uniforms in the background.

Come movie day, we had a prescribed path to walk the 8-10 blocks from the school to the theater. A small herd of 150 or so kids would make the hike, watch the movie, then trek back to the school by lunchtime. It was about a 10-day immersion in all things Pearl Harbor, culminating with the film, and I have to believe that every kid who graduated from PHS in those years could quote Japanese Admiral Yamamoto saying, "I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant, and filled him with a terrible resolve."

As I mentioned, Pete and I remained friends beyond the classroom years. I dabbled in radio, and he eventually brought me on as his stat guy for football broadcasts, and as a color guy for baseball broadcasts. When he stopped writing for the local paper, he helped me get hired there for my first real sportswriting job. We were even linked to another historical event: I was in Pete's RV, along with his family, on the way to the state Legion baseball tournament in New Ulm on August 8, 1974, when we had a flat tire just north of Mankato. While waiting for the tow truck, we listened on the radio to President Nixon's resignation speech, and enjoyed sharing an historic moment together.

Pete has now retired and lives in Rochester, but I never get past Aug. 8th or Dec. 7th on the calendar without remembering a terrific teacher and all-around good guy who worked very hard to make history come alive for his students.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The war on jobs

George Will is almost always worth reading, and the column you can read here is a typically strong one.

There are so many failures in the Obama administration that it's hard to select the biggest one. But certainly among the most egregious is its assault on job creation. Whether it's blocking the XL pipeline, having the National Labor Relations Board try to stop a Boeing plant in South Carolina or trying to block domestic oil exploration, Obama consistently pursues policies that deter job creation.

Will's column focuses on the effect the threat of a fully-implemented Obamacare program is having on job creation. Here's the money quote from a CEO:

“...employers everywhere will be looking to reduce labor content in their business models as Obamacare makes employees unambiguously more expensive.”

"Reduce labor content" means "not hiring as many people." That's the effect Obama is having on everyone who needs a job. Enjoy Will's column.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Obama administration goes after freedom of the press

Of all the disgraceful appointments in the Obama administration, Eric Holder is probably the worst. Under his "leadership" the Justice Department has done things like dismissing a voter intimidation case it had already won because those doing the intimidating were members of the Black Panthers.

A bigger fiasco was Operation Fast and Furious, in which ATF agents allowed members of Mexican drug cartels to buy high-powered weapons, thinking that they could then "trace" the weapons and find out where they went. It went badly awry, they lost track of more than 1,000 guns and one of the guns was used to kill an American border agent.

Holder has done his best to stonewall a Congressional investigation into Fast and Furious, even going so far as to seal court records about the murder of the border agent.

As a result of Holder's bumbling, more than 50 members of congress have called for his resignation. His response: Tell the media to stop reporting it.

Yesterday, in this photo, Holder sticks his finger in the face of a reporter from the political website The Daily Caller and says, “You guys need to — you need to stop this. It’s not an organic thing that’s just happening. You guys are behind it.”

Imagine if a member of the Bush administration had told a reporter to stop writing about a subject he found uncomfortable. The cries of "fascism" would be deafening.

I don't think even Nixon was this paranoid about the media. You can get a thorough description of Fast and Furious here.

(Afterthought: I just noticed the expression on the face of Holder's aide standing on his left. She's thinking, "Uh-oh...time to update the resume, because this gravy train is about to come to an end.")

Newt on the rise

From the very time the Republican field began to form itself last year, my first choice for President in the entire group was Newt Gingrich, but I had convinced myself - as many others had - that Newt was simply unelectable.

As he rises in the polls, and seems prepared to emerge as the only credible opponent of Mitt Romney, I find myself rethinking that assumption.

Gingrich has been my favorite political figure since Reagan left the scene. In the 1980s, when I served on Sen. Boschwitz's staff, the conventional wisdom was that a Republican majority in the House of Representatives was simply unattainable. The Democrats had controlled the place since 1952, and the entire infrastructure of the House - members, staff, committee staff, everything right down to the janitors - had been controlled by the Democrats for a generation. A Republican majority was simply unthinkable.

Except to Newt, Vin Weber, Connie Mack, Dan Coats and a few other bright young lions who called themselves the "Conservative Opportunity Society." Unlike more senior Republicans in the House, who more or less accepted the permanent Democrat majority, Newt and his colleagues went to work, using the Reagan years to build public support for conservative ideas and set about the business of attracting candidates whom they hoped could someday provide a Republican majority.

They fought the battle on a lot of fronts. They recruited stronger candidates, then found innovative ways to train the candidates and provide some funding. They targeted resources on swing districts, and they slowly made gains, aided by an organization they founded and called GOPAC.

In 1992, I was one of their candidates. Running in Minnesota's First District, I listened to the training tapes GOPAC sent out every week. I took part in the conference calls, and I went to their candidate school in Washington. And while I had simply admired Newt before that year, it was in 1992 that I began to fully recognize his genius.

Newt has a way of taking almost any issue and turning it back into a values question. Instead of asking the question, "Should we cut welfare programs?" Newt would phrase the question as "How do we tear down a system that limits an individual's potential and leads to generations of dependence, and replace it with a system that allows each individual a chance to realize their fullest potential." He had candidates all over the country talking about "Breaking down the bureaucratic welfare state" and replacing it with an "opportunity society." He wasn't afraid to call, for example, the Detroit public schools "a particularly tragic example of the human cost of protecting unionized bureaucracy at the expense of serving the public."

During my campaign, I was always working more Newt talking points into my speeches. I'd talk about how "Earning by Learning," a volunteer-based inner city literacy program, worked better than 20 years of Title 1 funding, and I'd see people in the audience nod. Or I'd talk about Health Savings Accounts (a really radical idea in 1992) as a way to make the necessary re-connect between the consumers and the payers of health care, and people would come to me to say how much sense the idea made to them. Newt and GOPAC gave all of us the tools to compete.

Some of those GOPAC candidates succeeded in 1992, others didn't. (I was one who didn't...another story for another day.) But all of us who fought the fight were inspired by Newt's vision of a Republican House majority that could begin to roll back the cancers eating away at America. I still keep a letter I have from Newt, expressing his condolences on my loss.

Two years later he authored the "Contract With America," a series of 10 changes he promised the American people would be made within 90 days of the election of a Republican House majority. The Republicans rode the Contract - and the fecklessness of Clinton's first two years - into the Republican House majority that almost no one thought was possible.

Two things stand out if you get to know Newt at all. First, he has an absolute love of America, and believes in his heart that this country has a special duty to lead the world. "Without an America that is strong, and safe, and free," he said, "The world becomes a very dark and dangerous place."

Secondly, you learn right away that he has a world-class intellect, and that he is an incredibly fast learner when presented with a new idea or new perspective that addresses an old question. And I think the long series of debates over the past few months have given voters a window into exactly how sharp a thinker Newt is.

Does he have flaws as a candidate? A mountain of them. His personal life has been messy, to say the least. There have been poor decisions, incorrect opinions and hundreds of moments I'm sure he'd like to take back. In recent years, he hasn't always been the most conservative guy around, but I'm confident of this: As President, he will tackle every issue head-on, speak truthfully to the American people and never, ever apologize for the United States of America.

As I said at the top, I had sort of fallen into the "trap" of thinking that all of his baggage made him unelectable, and when his campaign staggered out of the gate, I decided I was right. But a steady diet of his debate performances and increased exposure to his thinking seem to be bringing Republican primary voters around.

I have no doubt that if he is the Republican nominee, he will beat Obama, and probably do so in a landslide. The contrast between his upbeat, innovative vision of what America can become and Obama's view of an America that needs to recede from the world and manage its own decline will give Americans a very real choice that I believe they'll embrace.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Scholastic Book Club

A few blog posts ago, (click here) I reminisced about the beauty of the Landmark series of American history books for children. Today, I was reminded of another great contribution to children's reading, The Scholastic Book Club.

The reminder comes via this blog post, written by Roger Kimball, who talks about a Washington Post book reviewer name Michael Dirda. Dirda has a new book out, and in it he recalls the incredible joy he would feel as a child when it came time to order from the Scholastic Book Club:

Each month Mr. Jackson would pass out a four-page newsletter describing several dozen paperbacks available for purchase. “Lying on my bed at home,” Drida recalls, “I lingered for hours over these news print catalogues, carefully making my final selections.”

The care was dictated in part by the budget imposed by Dirda’s mother, who stipulated a monthly budget of no more than 4 of the 25-35-cent books. Each month, Mr. Jackson sent in the class order. “Then in the middle of some dull afternoon, … a teacher’s aide would open the classroom door and silently drop off a big, heavily taped parcel. … Sometimes we would be made to wait an entire day, especially if the package had been delivered close to the three o’clock bell when school let out.”

But sooner or later, the swag was distributed and then Dirda, like his classmates, would

methodically appraise each volume’s art work, read and reread its back cover, carefully investigate the delicate line of glue at the top edge of the perfect bound spines. … To this day I can more or less recall the newsletter’s capsule summary that compelled me to buy The Hound of the Baskervilles. … “What was it that emerged from the moor at night to spread terror and violent death?” What else, of course, but a monstrous hound from the bowels of hell?

I had the same experience, over and over again, when those little Scholastic Book Service order forms came out, and the same argument with my dad over how many I could buy. I'm not sure Hound of the Baskervilles was ever one of my selections, because I was given that and other Sherlock Holmes books by a relative, but I know that over the years I ordered dozens and dozens of those little paperbacks, and I don't ever remember being disappointed by any one of them. There were many, many sports books, of course, and I was also quite taken with the exploits of a bright young kid named Encyclopedia Brown, who was great at solving mysteries.

The story also struck a chord with John Hinderaker over at Powerline, who wrote this about his experience growing up in Watertown, S.D in a post titled "The Most Exciting Box in the World."

But it seems like yesterday: our teacher would, as Roger says, pass out a newsletter or catalog that listed and described the books available for order. I pored over that catalog for hours, studying the descriptions and wondering about the books. I would carefully make my choices after discussing them with my friends–you may say that I was a little weird, but I wasn’t the only one, to paraphrase John Lennon–and some weeks later the box would arrive.

It was the highlight of the year. Better even than Christmas, because this box didn’t contain underwear or socks; it contained only books–not only that, but the books we had chosen ourselves. The minutes in which the box was opened and the books were distributed to the kids who had ordered them were the most exciting of my youth.

I know the Scholastic Book Club still exists, although I'm not sure if it still distributes books the same way or if the Internet has taken over the process, but it was an incredible part of my childhood. Daughter Corrie, now a librarian, apparently inherited the same love of reading, and the gene appears to have been passed on to the grandkids as well, which is one of the few of my traits that I hope they have.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Catching up

Okay, I'm back from a little vacation, and I realize that I totally reneged on my promise to post a few things from the road. Sorry. Here's a few tidbits to get back up to speed.

Naples golf - It was my first trip to Naples, which happened instead of the trek buddy Pete Thrane and I usually take to Myrtle Beach. To be candid, the results are mixed. On the plus side, the weather is fantastic. October/November weather in Myrtle can be a little iffy, but everyone assured us that the 80 degrees and sunny skies we had almost every day in Naples was pretty standard stuff. The one day it was "cold" was when it only got up to about 72, and the locals were feeling the chill, breaking out the sweatshirts.

From a golf standpoint, there are a number of beautiful courses in the Naples area, but accessibility is an issue. Most of the courses are private, and we were fortunate enough to have a couple of contacts that helped us get on to some very nice courses, but without those contacts, it would have been tough sledding. We tried to fill in some schedule gaps by using the internet to find some public or semi-private courses, and it was really tough. Anything public seems to be somewhat older, with less than ideal conditions, or they have a "resort course" layout that is not particularly interesting.

The high point was a private club called Heritage Palms, just north of Naples in Ft. Myers. We were able to get on via the good graces of old friend Joe Quinn, a former legislator and retired judge that I have known since the 1980s. This was a very interesting design, in immaculate shape, and we're really, really grateful to the judge for getting us on. As DFLers go, Joe's a really, really good guy!

The one public track we played that we found worthwhile was called Panther Run, northeast of Naples. We liked it well enough that we played it a second time, and it was open enough that we ended up playing 36 holes, with a sit-down lunch in between, in about 7-1/2 hours. And along the way, we made the acquaintance of this local:

All in all, we determined that while the weather is certainly nicer, there is a lot more access to affordable, quality golf in Myrtle Beach, and it seems likely that we'll head back there next year.

Speaking of wildlife, I learned that the Florida Panthers hockey team is called that because there is actually a band of Florida Panthers. Turns out there are only a couple hundred of them, but most are located in the area between Naples and the Everglades. Lots of cool info can be learned by going to http://www.floridapanthernet.org/

The main road towards our resort had a couple of "Caution: Panther Crossing" signs, but I never saw one.

Then, via text message on the second day of the trip, came this announcement from home:



And, for some reason, I can't get the audio to work, but what little Annie is saying is "Opa, we're having a baby!"

Which is how I found out that The Smartest Little Girl in the Universe and grandson Sambo are getting a sibling next May, grandchild #3. Congrats to daughter Corrie and husband Sam!

While in Ft. Myers, I got my first look at Hammond Stadium, where the Twins have spring training. Nice looking ballpark that is part of a big complex. The Roy Hobbs tournament was taking place, which is sort of the World Series for 35-and-over baseball players.


And speaking of baseball, I flew in and out of Tampa, and my hotel was just down the street from George Steinbrenner Field, the spring training home of the Yankees. I stopped in to look around, and found a couple dozen guys involved in a "fantasy camp" which involves middle-aged guys paying $4,000 to come down and hang around for a week with former Yankees, playing a few ball games, drinking a


lot and listening to stories. (Most team, including the Twins, run similar things.) There weren't too many big-name Yankees around, but Cecil Fielder (now known as Prince Fielder's dad) was coaching first base. That's the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' stadium across the street.

Of course, the whole Penn St./Joe Paterno scandal broke while we were there, and Pete's legal mind was fascinated by it all. He foresaw a number of things that I didn't see coming, such as the Big Ten stripping Paterno's name from the championship trophy, and the possible downgrading of Penn State's bond debt by the ratings agencies. I still don't know what to make of the whole mess, and I don't really have the stomach to learn much more.

Also in the news, we learned that the Solyndra scandal just gets worse and worse. Now it turns out that as the company was failing and planning huge layoffs in October of 2010, the White House put pressure on them to delay the announcement until after the election. Nothing like playing politics with taxpayer dollars.

Finally, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street crowd and their wanna-be copycats, I'm thinking of starting my own protest, which will be known as "Occupy Sanibel Island." A few friends and I will sit on the beach, drink rum punch and refuse to leave until the tides stop rising and falling. It might not turn into a crime wave like the other "Occupy" encampments, but at least we'll have a point.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Off to the Sunshine State

As some of you know, my good friend Peter Thrane and I spend several days in Myrtle Beach every October. We've been going down there for about 13 years to enjoy the marvelous golf and great weather. It's a great way to end the golf season.

This year, however, we couldn't find October dates that worked. I never like to go when the Wild are at home, and we just couldn't make things work. And Myrtle in November can be beautiful, but you're also taking some real chances with the weather. So it looked like we might miss our annual golf trip.

But an opportunity arose, a couple things fell into place, the Wild are headed out on a road trip and so Pete and I fly out this week to spend a few days golfing in Naples, Florida. I've played a little bit of golf in Florida before - Key West, Daytona, Orlando - but it was always in the context of a business trip, never a golf-only proposition. Now we get a chance to go into our full-blown golf trip mode, which is pretty simple: Be on a course by 8 a.m., play 36 holes (or sometimes more) until sundown, have dinner, sleep, repeat for five days.

Our base of operations is GreenLinks golf resort (www.greenlinksnaples.com), but we hope to play several other area courses. I've never been to Naples, but hear great things about it, and I'll try to file a report or two along the way.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I'm staying out of the woods

I'm the first to admit that I'm not a big nature guy, so maybe I'm overreacting here, but then again, maybe not.

When I was a kid, and snowmobiles were a relatively new invention, it was considered controversial that snowmobilers up in northern Minnesota were using their new machines to hunt timberwolves. The news stations would show footage of snowmobilers chasing down the little critters and running them over. That wouldn't kill them, they would just pack down into the snow, but eventually they would get tired and the guys on snowmobiles could grab them or shoot them. Seemed like harmless fun to me.

But I don't remember the timberwolves being very big. They looked like I would expect a fox to look, or maybe an adult dog, like a black lab. A timberwolf didn't seem like a particularly scary animal.

And then yesterday I saw this picture of a timberwolf killed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. If I was on a snowmobile, and saw one of these, I'd be driving as fast as I could the other way.

I assume this is a little on the mutant side of the timberwolf growth scale, but still, if there are things like this out in the woods, I'll take my chances on the city streets.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A little Groucho talk....

Okay, I admit right from the top that this is a bit of an unusual topic to expect from my blog, but I found this story very interesting and wanted to share it.

In my high school years, I found myself fascinated with the Marx Brothers, particularly Groucho. For a couple of years, WCCO-TV had a Saturday night show hosted by a fellow named Alan Lotsberg that featured Marx Brothers movies. (Lotsberg was also a sidekick on the kids show "Clancy the Cop," playing detective Willie Ketchum.)

Every Saturday night, Lotsberg would introduce another Marx Brothers movie, and tell us a bit of the history of it, who wrote the script, which young actors played the bit parts, and then I would sit on the floor absolutely charmed by "Duck Soup," "Night at the Opera," "Day at the Races" and all the others.

As often happened when I would get intrigued by something, I headed off to the library and started reading everything I could about Groucho (real name: Julius) and his brothers. I didn't learn enough to become an expert, but I knew more than your average 10th grader.

(This also led, I believe, to a fascination with Woody Allen movies, which was not at all the norm for teenage Minnesota boys in the 1970s. But I digress.)

Over the years, I've read a number of interesting anecdotes about Groucho, or seen bits and pieces of interviews with people like Dick Cavett or Johnny Carson. But until the fellows at Powerline linked to THIS story, I had never read of the exchange of letters between, and subsequent meeting of, Groucho and T.S. Eliot. The relationship seems improbable, given Eliot's rabid anti-Semitism, but I found the article fascinating, and apparently they got on quite well. Click on the link and I think you'll enjoy the story.




Link

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

He CAN'T be this stupid, can he?

The inventor of the Austrian language and supporter of the intercontinental railroad is at it again.

We've catalogued a number of the President's ridiculous mistakes/falsehoods before (there's a nice summary here) and once again, it's math that he's struggling with.

Yesterday he told supporters at a Las Vegas fundraiser that:

"Last week, we had a separate vote on a part of the jobs bill that would put 400,000 teachers, firefighters and police officers back on the job, paid for by asking people who make more than $1 million to pay one-half of 1 percent in additional taxes. For somebody making $1.1 million a year, that’s an extra $500. Five hundred bucks. And with that, we could have saved 400,000 jobs. Most people making more than $1 million, if you talk to them, they’ll say, I’m willing to pay $500 extra to help the county. They’re patriots. They believe we’re all in this thing together. But all the Republicans in the Senate said no."

Of course, an elementary school student could tell you that one-half of one percent on a $1.1 million income is $5,500, not $500. And this wasn't a one-time slip of the tongue: He said it three times in a 15-second span.

The President has pretty much cemented his reputation as a dim bulb, but something like this goes right to the very competence of his staff. Understand that it's a very long road from a speechwriter's keyboard to the President's teleprompter. A speech is reviewed by a higher-up in the speechwriting shop. Then it goes to someone in the policy shop. Then it's normally reviewed by the Chief of Staff, and all along the way there are other folks sticking their noses in and making comments, edits and suggestions. (Peggy Noonan's book, What I Saw At The Revolution provides great insight into the White House speechwriting process.)

And yet, NOWHERE along the line did ANYONE say, "Hmm, that math doesn't seem right. I should check that. Does anyone have a calculator handy?"

Set ideology aside for a moment and realize that this kind of mistake - happening on a recurring basis - indicates a White House staff that just simply isn't very competent. When things like bad numbers and the intercontinental railroad repeatedly make it to the teleprompter, it's easy to see why this administration has made so many really, really dumb mistakes. The diversity hire at the top isn't very smart, and he doesn't care if the people he hires are either, as long as they share his left-wing, socialist view of the world.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A man without his machine

I'm not a big fan of Conan O'Brien, but he had a nice little bit this week about the theft of the presidential teleprompter. Enjoy (and sorry I can't eliminate the commercial...bear with it.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

"If everyone has a degree, then nobody does"

Just a little while ago, I had a few musings (see here, here and here) about the declining value of a college education.

Now, it turns out that the same realization has hit many of those in the collection of communists, anti-Semites and anarchists who call themselves the "Occupy" movement. Whether it's on Wall Street, in D.C. or in downtown Minneapolis, the few coherent complaints that come from the group often boil down to "I have a degree and I can't find a job." National Review's Charles C.W. Cooke has spent some time in lower Manhattan, and filed this report, which I found interesting. Enjoy.

The number of people participating in the Occupy Wall Street sit-ins because they are angry that their education has not yielded the fruits that they hoped it would becomes more apparent by the day. Many of the protesters I have met are understandably ruffled that they are unemployed, and they often finish their remonstrations with a non-sequitur, delivered as if it were a knockout blow: “And I went to college!” Well, one might ask, “So what?”

I first noticed this “college = good life” fallacy back in England. A close friend of mine was looking for a job straight out of college, and remained unemployed for six months while he searched for what he described as a “graduate job.” Outside of those careers that rely on specific skills and expertise — doctors, veterinarians, and so forth — I have never been sure quite what this term means. My friend has a degree in modern history. Congratulations! But there is no obvious career path for this qualification. Why should it lend itself more to working in, say, finance than to working in a 7-Eleven? Compare this attitude to that exhibited by another friend of mine — a recently naturalized American citizen. After her parents escaped from the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s and fled to the United States, her engineer father worked as a garbageman for five years until he found a job which tallied more closely with his abilities. At no point did he complain. Was it a waste of talent? Undoubtedly. Did he have a right to a “post-graduate job”? No. That’s just not how free economies work.

Yet you would not know this from the prevailing attitude. Each year in Britain, scores of intellectually average people graduate from intellectually average institutions for no better reason than that they think they should. Emerging from graduation ceremonies, they proudly wave an expensive piece of paper above their heads, which in many cases is worth little more than the Munich Agreement. And months later, when the euphoria abates, they wonder out loud why they are no more employable than before. Given the promises of milk and honey that have been made to them, this is apprehensible. But those promises have always been laughably misguided. The late Labour government’s promise to send 50 percent of British children to college is based upon a staggering failure of logic, which has not yet been exploded. It was, until a few years ago, possible to draw a direct line between the possession of a university degree, and a better paying job. This was not the product of a timeless ironclad equation, but because the default was not to go to university; to have a degree thus set one apart from the crowd. But if everyone has a degree, then nobody does. We are now caught in a spiral in which a master’s is the new degree and, soon, a Ph.D. will be the new master’s. Would that economics classes had given our children an understanding of the importance of adding value. You don’t pay your plumber more because he has a degree in physics.

In the West, we are hard at work establishing a culture that fetishizes education, and instills the belief that college — regardless of its content or application — will, and should, inexorably lead to a better job, or a better life, or even a better America. Worse, that one has a right to these things. In doing so, we have created a Potemkin aristocracy, one based upon the erroneous and tragic conceit that having letters after one’s name intrinsically confers excellence. We are happily encouraging our children to join its ranks, regardless of whether there is any evidence that to do so will be in their interest. This is supremely ironic, given that so many of America’s billionaires — i.e. those who pay for more educations and create more jobs than anyone else — are college dropouts. Indeed, both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates failed to finish college. Can we say with a straight face that this has adversely affected them, or America at large?

On Thursday, I met a guy down in Zuccotti Park. He speaks six languages, but he has nothing useful to say in any of them. He is the movement’s perfect spokesman.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

9-9-9, Herm Cain and David Gregory

I first wrote about what an impressive fellow Herman Cain was back in May (click here for the post) so it's nice to see him doing well the past month or so. Part of his appeal is that he seems like a pretty straightforward, no-nonsense kind of guy who is willing to say what's on his mind.

Today he had an interesting exchange with David Gregory, host of Meet the Press, as Cain tries to explain his tax reform plan, which he calls "9-9-9" (9% income tax, 9% corporate tax, 9% national sales tax). I think the approach has a lot of appeal, though I need to study it more.

David Gregory, however, feels no such obligation for further study. His handlers in the Democratic Party have told him it's bad, and so he devoted a great deal of time this morning trying to trip Cain up about the plan, by talking about its effect on state sales taxes. Cain tries over and over to explain that the plan has nothing to do with state taxes, but Gregory just isn't smart to enough to figure it out. The relevant transcript:Link

MR. GREGORY: The other defect in the plan comes from fellow conservatives who say, “You’ve got some problems here.” … “The real political defect,” the Journal writes, “of the Cain plan is that it imposes a new national sales tax while maintaining the income tax. … A 9 percent rate when combined with state and local levies would mean a tax on goods of 17 percent or more in many places. The cries for exemptions would be great.”

MR. CAIN: Don’t combine it with state taxes. This doesn’t address state taxes. If you add them together, yes, you’ll get that number. This is a replacement structure. These are replacement taxes. They’re not on top of anything.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MR. CAIN: We replace capital gains tax. We replace the payroll tax. We replace corporate income tax, replace personal income tax, and replace the death tax. It is a replacement tax structure.

MR. GREGORY: But where do state taxes go? You’re saying they’re going to be repealed?

MR. CAIN: If you–with the current structure, you have state taxes, right? So with this new structure, you’re still going to have taxes–state taxes. That is muddying the water.

MR. GREGORY: How so?

MR. CAIN: Because today, under the current tax code, state taxes are there if they have it. If they don’t have a state taxes, they don’t have it. It has nothing to do with this replacement structure for the federal tax code.

MR. GREGORY: But that doesn’t make any sense to me. If I’m already paying state taxes, and I have a new Cain administration national sales tax, I’ve got more state taxes.

MR. CAIN: No you don’t.

MR. GREGORY: How so?

MR. CAIN: David, David.

MR. GREGORY: You’re not saying they’re going away.

MR. CAIN: Your state taxes are the same. Your federal taxes, in most cases, are going to go down. That’s muddying the water.

MR. GREGORY: The Wall Street Journal says you have one on top of the other. There’s a combined levy.

MR. CAIN: That is not correct, David.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MR. CAIN: Let’s try this one more time. State taxes are there today. The current tax code is a 10 million word mess. You have probably 100–you have thousands of loopholes and tricks and what I call “sneak attaxes” in the current code. State taxes today, whatever they are, zero or some number, has nothing to do with replacing the tax code. Nothing.

I once heard someone say to another person, in exasperation, "I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you." The fact that David Gregory, entrusted with hosting Meet The Press, can't grasp the distinction between federal and state taxes tells you a lot about the pool of talent at NBC.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Another great moment in journalism

The Senate is preparing to vote on the President's "jobs bill" and the run-up to the vote gives us a nice glimpse of the mindset at the Star-Tribune and other mainstream media outlets.

The current makeup of the Senate is 51 Democrats, 47 Republicans and 1 "independent," the self-avowed Socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who virtually always votes with the Democrats. In addition, if there is a tie vote, Vice-President Joe Biden - to whom the Constitution assigns the role of President of the Senate - can cast a tie-breaking vote.

Again, important point: The Democrats control the Senate. Remember that.

Now comes the "jobs bill." It's not really a jobs bill, it's just a multibillion dollar tax increase coupled with more government spending, similar to the 2009 "stimulus" bill that failed to create jobs and ballooned the deficit. It's a bad idea, but that's beside the point for this discussion.

The bill isn't going to pass, and it isn't going to pass because the Democrats - who, remember, control the Senate - can't get 50 Democrat senators to vote for it. If they could get to 50, Biden could break the tie, and the bill would pass.

But there are a number of Democrats - current estimates range from four to six - who oppose the tax increases and/or other components of the bill, and who say they will not vote for it.

We keep hearing that "bipartisanship" is what we need in Washington. Well, the opposition in the Senate to this bill is very bipartisan: Both Republicans and Democrats oppose it, while the only votes in favor of it are coming from one party, the Democrats.

So how does the Star-Tribune headline the story on their web site? "Republicans prepare to kill Obama jobs bill."

Isn't that beautiful? A bipartisan coalition in an institution controlled by Democrats opposes a bill, but it's "the Republicans" who are going to kill it.

Don't ever doubt that the Strib and its fellow travelers at the New York Times, Washington Post, etc. are totally in the tank for the Obama administration, and that what they report is much more propaganda than it is journalism.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sorry Steve, you were no Edison

I know this will be hard for those of you who know me to believe, but I was a bit of a bookwormish little nerd as a kid, as opposed to the bubbling, outgoing, sparkling extrovert I have become. (Turn off sarcasm generator now.)

Early on - and I'm talking first and second grade - I learned to love the library. I was lucky enough to develop pretty good reading skills at a young age, and the school library was my favorite place to hang out. In particular, I loved a series of books called the "Landmark series" of American history. Whatever I wanted to learn about history - The Alamo, Abraham Lincoln, the Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson, Pearl Harbor - was all there in a book written specifically for elementary school kids. I learned to look for books that had that little Landmark chevron logo in the upper right corner of the cover, and I soaked them up.

And one that particularly captured my imagination was the Landmark biography of Thomas Edison (pictured here). I because engrossed in the story of his curiosity and his way of experimenting over and over until he could figure something out. I read dozens of these Landmark books, and Edison's story is the one I remember most.

Years later, I would end up working for General Electric, a company that was formed by merging the company Edison himself founded - Edison General Electric Company - and a competitor known as the Thomson-Houston company to become General Electric. Having admired Edison so much as a child, I got real pleasure in working for the company he founded.

(Today, of course, GE is practically a criminal enterprise, famous for making billions in profits without paying income taxes, dumping pollutants in the Hudson River for decades, turning out crappy appliances and getting government to subsidize its "green" business units that can't earn a spot in the competitive marketplace. (You know those stupid CFL bulbs that don't give you enough light and contain dangerous mercury to boot? GE became one of the first to figure out how to make them, then spent millions lobbying the government to make them mandatory.) But I digress...another story for another day.)

So....my point (and I'm getting to it) is that I always considered Edison an historical giant, which he certainly was. And though I admired the recently deceased Steve Jobs, I cringed a little when I heard or read commentaries about his death that called him things like "The Edison of his generation," because, frankly, there is NO Edison of this generation.

So I was pleased to come across this commentary in The American magazine, written by Vaclav Smil, which you can read by clicking on here: http://www.american.com/archive/2011/september/why-jobs-is-no-edison.

I don't write this to denigrate Jobs in any way, but it's a nice chance to bring Edison's name up to a new generation, and remind people of what a remarkable genius he was. And if you're rummaging around a garage sale and find any of those old Landmark books, buy them for your kids. Someday they'll thank you.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Oh, those "evil" corporations

You've probably seen this posted in several other places, but I like it so much I'm going to put it up here anyway. What little coherent thought that is coming out of the "Occupy Wall Street" and similar protests seems to be centered around the notion that corporations are evil.

Of course, corporations are nothing more than an organization of people who produce goods and services that people have the option of purchasing. I'm not sure what's inherently "evil" about that, but this graphic does a nice job of pointing out the silliness of the idea. Enjoy. (click on the picture for a bigger view).


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs, R.I.P.

I'm not one of those people - though I've worked with some, particularly graphic designers - who get emotional arguing about the utility and reliability of Apple computers vs. PCs. That doesn't limit, however, my admiration for Steve Jobs' story as an entrepreneur and innovator. But rather than have you read my own (inadequate) thoughts, I'm just going to turn this over to Kevin Williamson of National Review Online, who sums it all up pretty well, and uses it as a great illustration of what people with ideas and a vision can do for society, versus those who sit and wait for government to do something. Enjoy Kevin's work.

---------------------

By Kevin D. Williamson

I don’t know what Steve Jobs’s politics were, I don’t much care, and in any case they are beside the point. The late Mr. Jobs stood for something considerably better than politics. He stood for the model of the world that works. The model that made this:

into this:

and this:

into this:

That old Motorola cinderblock would cost about $10,000 in 2011 dollars, and you couldn’t play Angry Birds on it or watch Fox News or trade a stock. Once you figure out why your cell phone gets better and cheaper every year but your public schools get more expensive and less effective, you can apply that model to answer a great many questions about public policy. Not all of them, but a great many.

Jobs was sometimes criticized for not being a philanthropist along the lines of Bill Gates. Take this article, for example:

Last year the founder of the Stanford Social Innovation Review called Apple one of “America’s Least Philanthropic Companies.” Jobs had terminated all of Apple’s long-standing corporate philanthropy programs within weeks after returning to Apple in 1997, citing the need to cut costs until profitability rebounded. But the programs have never been restored.

CNN, being CNN, misses the point. Mr. Jobs’s contribution to the world is Apple and its products, along with Pixar and his other enterprises, his 338 patented inventions — his work — not some Steve Jobs Memorial Foundation for Giving Stuff to Poor People in Exotic Lands and Making Me Feel Good About Myself. Because he already did that: He gave them better computers, better telephones, better music players, etc. In a lot of cases, he gave them better jobs, too. Did he do it because he was a nice guy, or because he was greedy, or because he was a maniacally single-minded competitor who got up every morning possessed by an unspeakable rage to strangle his rivals? The beauty of capitalism — the beauty of the iPhone world as opposed to the world of politics — is that that question does not matter one little bit. Whatever drove Jobs, it drove him to create superior products, better stuff at better prices. Profits are not deductions from the sum of the public good, but the real measure of the social value a firm creates. Those who talk about the horror of putting profits over people make no sense at all. The phrase is without intellectual content. Perhaps you do not think that Apple, or Goldman Sachs, or a professional sports enterprise, or an internet pornographer actually creates much social value; but markets are very democratic — everybody gets to decide for himself what he values. That is not the final answer to every question, because economic answers can only satisfy economic questions. But the range of questions requiring economic answers is very broad.

I was down at the Occupy Wall Street protest today, and never has the divide between the iPhone world and the politics world been so clear: I saw a bunch of people very well-served by their computers and telephones (very often Apple products) but undeniably shortchanged by our government-run cartel education system. And the tragedy for them — and for us — is that they will spend their energy trying to expand the sphere of the ineffective, hidebound, rent-seeking, unproductive political world, giving the Barney Franks and Tom DeLays an even stronger whip hand over the Steve Jobses and Henry Fords. And they — and we — will be poorer for it.

And to the kids camped out down on Wall Street: Look at the phone in your hand. Look at the rat-infested subway. Visit the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue, then visit a housing project in the South Bronx. Which world do you want to live in?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Seems realistic, doesn't it?

As some of you may be aware, there is a group of nutjobs calling themselves "Occupy Wall Street" who have been setting up camp in New York's financial district for a couple of weeks. Copycats are springing up around the country, and they seemed to be the same types of protestors we had in St. Paul for the Republican National Convention: Anarchists who have no real aim other than generating attention for themselves.

But I wanted to be fair, and so I went to their web site, where one of the protestors listed the demands the group has. They are:

Demand one: Restoration of the living wage. This demand can only be met by ending “Free trade” by re-imposing trade tariffs on all imported goods entering the American market to level the playing field for domestic family farming and domestic manufacturing as most nations that are dumping cheap products onto the American market have radical wage and environmental regulation advantages. Another policy that must be instituted is raise the minimum wage to twenty dollars an hr.

Demand two: Institute a universal single payer healthcare system. To do this all private insurers must be banned from the healthcare market as their only effect on the health of patients is to take money away from doctors, nurses and hospitals preventing them from doing their jobs and hand that money to wall st. investors.

Demand three: Guaranteed living wage income regardless of employment.

Demand four: Free college education.

Demand five: Begin a fast track process to bring the fossil fuel economy to an end while at the same bringing the alternative energy economy up to energy demand.

Demand six: One trillion dollars in infrastructure (Water, Sewer, Rail, Roads and Bridges and Electrical Grid) spending now.

Demand seven: One trillion dollars in ecological restoration planting forests, reestablishing wetlands and the natural flow of river systems and decommissioning of all of America’s nuclear power plants.

Demand eight: Racial and gender equal rights amendment.

Demand nine: Open borders migration. anyone can travel anywhere to work and live.

Demand ten: Bring American elections up to international standards of a paper ballot precinct counted and recounted in front of an independent and party observers system.

Demand eleven: Immediate across the board debt forgiveness for all. Debt forgiveness of sovereign debt, commercial loans, home mortgages, home equity loans, credit card debt, student loans and personal loans now! All debt must be stricken from the “Books.” World Bank Loans to all Nations, Bank to Bank Debt and all Bonds and Margin Call Debt in the stock market including all Derivatives or Credit Default Swaps, all 65 trillion dollars of them must also be stricken from the “Books.” And I don’t mean debt that is in default, I mean all debt on the entire planet period.

Demand twelve: Outlaw all credit reporting agencies.

Demand thirteen: Allow all workers to sign a ballot at any time during a union organizing campaign or at any time that represents their yeah or nay to having a union represent them in collective bargaining or to form a union.

So that all seems pretty reasonable, eh? Dissolve all debts, pay everyone at least $20 an hour whether they work or not and spend $2 trillion on infrastructure and "green energy." All that's missing is mandatory missions to the moon to harvest the green cheese, and free pixie dust rations for everyone.

I'm guessing that not too many of these kids have spent time in an economics class, or perhaps any classroom. But I'm sure it won't take long for the New York Times, Washington Post or Star-Tribune to call them something like, "An authentic voice of a generation yearning for social justice and equality."

How goofy is Maureen Dowd?

Granted, most people who live outside of the planet Manhattan - or its moon, Washington, D.C. - have never heard of Maureen Dowd. She's a New York Times columnist who has had her lips firmly planted on Obama's buttocks for a number of years.

In today's Times, writing about Chris Christie's decision not to run, she summed up the political mood of the country with this remarkably out-of-touch-with-reality sentence:

"Americans who have been hurt want to identify the villains, and Obama is loath to target villains."

Huh? Has anyone in the history of politics sought out and scapegoated villains more than Obama?

In less than three years in office, Obama has gone out of his way to demonize:

George W. Bush
Oil companies
Corporate jet owners
Insurance companies
Talk radio hosts
Millionaires
Israel
Oil "speculators"
Billionaires not named Warren Buffet
The Tea Party
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce
The European economy
Arizona
Greedy doctors
The Japanese tsunami
Large corporations
The Supreme Court
Pick-up truck owners
And of course, Republicans in Congress who would like to vote on his "jobs bill" (see post below).

There is almost no one in the world that the President isn't willing to demonize. He's managed to take an office once known as "the most powerful position on Earth" and turn it into an inconsequential little job that is totally controlled by a vast, worldwide collection of bad guys.

Of course, this may not all be recognizable from the Planet Manhattan, which would explain Dowd's continued defense of a failed presidency.

No shame in the White House

In case you doubted that the President's "jobs bill" was nothing more than a political play - rather than an attempt to create jobs - the White House removed all doubt with a ploy so cynical that even I'm shocked by it.

Republicans in the Senate are anxious to bring the jobs bill to a vote. In fact, Republican leader Mitch McConnell went to the floor of the Senate Tuesday to ask "unanimous consent" - a parliamentary move - that the bill be brought to the floor for a vote. But Democratic leader Harry Reid objected to the motion and blocked the bill from consideration.

Less than 15 minutes after this, the Obama campaign sent an email out to its supporters, complaining about Republican obstruction of the bill, and suggesting that people "Find Republican members of Congress on Twitter, call them out, and demand they pass this bill."

In other words, Obama and the Democrats have no intention of passing the bill, and introduced it only for the purpose of NOT passing it, then complaining about it not being passed, and trying to blame Republicans. These are the same folks that campaigned on "hope and change" and "no more business as usual." Their contempt for the American public is on full display, which may be why, according to this poll, ANY Republican candidate for President is six points ahead of Obama at this point.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Huh?

Once in a while a sports figure will give a sportswriter a really, really good quote. And then there are other times, when they something almost incomprehensible. The latter are much more common.

Today, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier was asked if - considering the team's 0-4 start - he might consider changing quarterbacks. According to the Star-Tribune, Frazier said:

"We're not in a situation where I don't think we're going to make a quarterback change."

I'm thinking the English faculty at Alcorn State might not be top-shelf material.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A staffer's nightmare


Anyone who has been a staff person for a high-level elected official - governor, congressman, senator, president - knows the nightmare: Doing something that makes you or your boss look like a doofus.

And because I had one or two such moments over the years, I can sympathize with the person in the White House press office who put together the credential pictured here for the President's just-completed trip.

As you can see from the list of cities on the credential, the President visited the states of Washington, California and Colorado. The staffer who designed the credential decided to illustrate this by highlighting the three states in white.

The problem? They highlighted Wyoming, not Colorado. Next time, double-check the atlas before you okay that printer's proof.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Take the last train to Sharksville


Demonstrating once again that there is no "added value" in an Ivy League education, the President showed up on the Kentucky-Ohio border the other day and informed the crowd that America was the nation that built the "intercontinental railroad." (See a transcript here.)

Really? We built a railroad that runs from one continent to another? Was that the one between North America and Europe, or between North America and Asia?

It's just another sign that Barry isn't that bright a guy. We've enjoyed the other examples, noted here, here, here, here and here, that reinforce the notion that not only is he not the brightest guy in America, he probably isn't nearly as smart as Dan Quayle.

But at least some of the mistakes - the "Austrian" language, the inability to pronounce the word "corpsman" - could be written off as one-time gaffes. It turns out, however, that this was at least the fifth incidence of his using the "intercontinental railroad" phrase, (see examples here) which means the folks in his speechwriting shop aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer either.

Think there's any chance you'll read about this in the New York Times, Washington Post or Star-Tribune? Doesn't seem likely, because it would interfere with their already-established narrative of Mr. Hope-and-Change being a brainiac, although a quick glance at the nation's economic statistics would seem to tell you otherwise.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A new blog for Minnesota Wild fans

Actually, two new blogs. As many of you know, I work part-time for the Wild, and one of the things I do is prepare a set of game notes before each home game. These are distributed to the Guest Services and Security staff, along with some others, before each game. They provide the staff with a little background info, some historical notes, standings, etc., in part so that they can have a little extra insight when they talk hockey with the patrons.

Anyway, this year I've decided to put those notes up on a separate blog, so that staff can read them before they get to the arena, and so that they also have a place to direct some of the fans who have learned about the notes and often request a copy. So before each home game, you'll be able to find the notes at www.wildgamenotes.com. I anticipate that I'll also share some post-game observations and maybe a little discussion will take place.

The second blog belongs to my oldest son, Travis, who is a very shrewd observer of both the Wild and the entire NHL. He has started a new blog at:

http://wildlybiasedobservations.tumblr.com/

and I expect it will be a lot of fun for hockey fans. Enjoy them both!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Line of the week

I'm not normally a big Jay Leno fan - his humor seems stuck in 1992 - but tonight he got off a really terrific line about the President:

"After saying the jobs bill is paid for, President Obama now says that it will be paid for by raising taxes over 10 years. I can’t figure out if he’s the kind of guy who makes infomercials, or the kind of guy who falls for infomercials."


It was said back in the '70s that people really knew Nixon was in trouble when Johnny Carson started making fun of him. I think it still holds true, and probably even more so for a Democrat: When Hollywood lefties like Leno think you're a buffoon, you're probably in big trouble.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Solyndra....get used to hearing about it

The White House predicated much of its economic recovery plan on the idea of "green jobs." The idea is built on the fantasy that there is some sort of available technology - solar, wind, biomass, whatever - that can be cheaper and more effective than our current energy sources.

That fact is that if such technology existed and could be properly harnessed, the private sector would be doing it. But liberals love to believe the fantasy that we can all slap a solar panel on our roof and a windmill in our backyard and fulfill all our energy needs without any byproducts.

It's a pipe dream, but it's a harmless one - until they start spending your money trying to fulfill it.

Which is where Solyndra comes in. Solyndra was a California start-up company whose founders claimed they could create thousands of jobs manufacturing solar panels, if only they could get a little help from the government.

And help they got. The company applied for a $535 million loan guarantee through a Dept. of Energy program. The application was being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which had a number of concerns about the project, and one OMB staffer even said that according to the business model, the company would "run out of money by September, 2011." That warning turned out to be prescient.

But the White House was undeterred. E-mails released this week by congressional investigators show an unrelenting pressure from the Obama administration to approve the loan guarantees. OMB finally bowed to that pressure, allowing the president to travel to California (see the NBC clip below) to boast about all of the "green jobs" he was producing.

Except, of course, it was just another liberal pipe dream. Solyndra burned through half a billion dollars, then filed for bankruptcy and laid off all 1,100 workers. The FBI has raided the business, and the Treasury Department has launched a fraud investigation.

So why would Obama push so hard for this project? Well, as Deep Throat said in "All The President's Men," "follow the money."

It turns out that a foundation belonging to billionaire George Kaiser was a big investor in Solyndra. Who is George Kaiser? He's an Oklahoma business man who:

-- Personally donated more than $53,000 to Obama's 2008 campaign
-- Raised and "bundled" between $50,000 and $100,000 for that campaign
-- Encouraged Solyndra executives and board members to donate another $87,050 to that campaign
-- Was a visitor to the White House on 16 occasions

The House held two days of hearings this week on the scandal, which is explained well in the NBC report below. You'll be hearing a LOT more about this story in the coming weeks.

"If you love me, you got to help me pass this bill"

His Holiness, Obama the First (and soon to be last) actually said that to a crowd in North Carolina on Wednesday, reported here by AFP.

So that's what it's come to, eh? His popularity plummeting, his policies ruining the economy and his fellow Democrats deserting him (see that story here) Obama is down to the only card he thinks he has left: The cult of personality.

It got him to the Oval Office, where his inexperience and ineptitude have been exposed. It won't get his flawed jobs program passed, and it won't get him re-elected.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A remarkable 9/11 story

Everyone is writing about their memories of 9/11/01, and being a bit of a contrarian, I wasn't planning to write anything special, since my experience was quite similar to that of millions of other people. Shock, disbelief, anger, etc.

But today I found a story worth sharing. It involves a pilot named Heather Penney, who was a Lieutenant on 9/11, stationed at Andrews Air Force base outside of Washington. You can read the entire account here, but the story in a nutshell is this:

On duty as a newly-minted Air Force pilot, Heather and her commanding officer learned of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks much like everyone else. Then came the news that a fourth plane was in the air, and believed to be heading for Washington. The two of them were told to get in their jets and stop the airliner.

The kicker to the story is that there was no time to put ammunition or missiles on their planes. The two of them went up in the air, prepared to fly their planes directly into the airliner, sacrificing their own lives to bring down the plane.

Read the story for all of the details, but it's a remarkable story of heroism that Lt. Penney - now a Major - has not talked publicly about until now.

I remember being with some friends a week or two after 9/11, and we talked about how encouraging it was to see people flying the flag, singing "God Bless America" and the general sense of patriotism that was becoming part of more people's daily lives. I said that while it was uplifting to see people reacting that way, I wanted others to know that some of us felt that same way on Sept. 10, and that we didn't need to be attacked to understand how much we loved America.

Heather Penney loved America as well, and was prepared to give up her life in a war that none of us even understood we were fighting at that point. She went on to fly two tours in Iraq, and still flies for the National Guard. As long as America continues to produce men and women with her kind of courage, we'll continue to be the land of the free.

Enjoy her story.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

If you don't believe me.....

....then perhaps you'll want to listen to Michael Barone. While Barone might be considered slightly conservative, most political observers consider him a middle-of-the-road guy - he wrote for U.S. News and World Report for 18 years - whose opinions are worth listening to. He has been writing about politics for several decades, and is the editor of The Almanac of American Politics. Educated at Harvard and Yale Law, and a former George McGovern supporter, Barone is hardly a flaming right-winger.

You already knew I was not going to be impressed with Obama's "jobs speech" on Thursday night, so I won't bore you with my take. Instead, I'll treat you to Barone's response, which I consider a serious, thoughtful analysis. Enjoy:

------

Barack Obama looked and sounded angry in his speech to the joint session of Congress. He bitterly assailed one straw man after another and made reference to a grab bag of proposals which would cost something on the order of $450 billion—assuring us on the one hand that they all had been supported by Republicans as well as Democrats in the past and suggesting that somehow they are going to turn the economy around. He called for further cuts in the payroll tax (which if continued indefinitely would undermine the case of Social Security as something people have earned rather than a form of welfare) and for a further extension of unemployment insurance (perhaps justifiable on humanitarian grounds, but sure to at least marginally raise the unemployment rate over what it would otherwise be). He called for a tax credit for hiring the long-term unemployed (unfortunately, these things can be gamed). He gave a veiled plug for his pet project of high-speed rail (a real dud) and for infrastructure spending generally (but didn’t he learn that there aren’t really any shovel-ready projects?). He called for a school modernization program (will it result in more jobs than the Seattle weatherization program that cost $22 million and produced 14 jobs?) and for funding more teacher jobs (a political payoff to the teacher unions which together with other unions gave Democrats $400 million in the 2008 campaign cycle). “We’ll set up an independent fund to attract private dollars and issue loans based on two criteria: how badly a construction project is needed and how much good it would do for the country.” Yeah, sure. Like the screening process that produced that $535,000,000 loan guarantee to now-bankrupt Solyndra. And Congress should pass the free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea. Except that Congress can’t, because Obama hasn’t sent them up there yet in his 961 days as president.

Obama assured us that this would all be paid for. But as far as I could gather, he punted that part of it to the supercommittee of 12 members set up under the debt ceiling bill. He now blithely charges it with coming up with more than its current goal of $1.5 trillion in savings by Christmas. Oh, and he’s going to announce “a more ambitious deficit plan” that will “stabilize our debt in the long run”--11 days from now.

In the meantime, he called for higher taxes on “a few of the most affluent citizens”—as if this could pay for all the spending he’s been backing. What’s interesting here is that he seems to have left the way open for a 1986-style tax reform, cutting tax rates and eliminating tax preferences, or at least that’s how I read these words: “While most people in this country struggle to make ends meet, a few of the most affluent citizens and corporations enjoy tax breaks and loopholes that nobody else gets [did he look up at his guest Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, which paid no corporate tax on $14 billion in profits last year?]. Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary—an outrage he has asked us to fix [actually, Buffett could volunteer to pay more if he wants to]. We need a tax code where everyone gets a fair shake, and everybody pays their fair share. And I believe the vast majority of wealthy Americans and CEOs are willing to do just that, if it helps the economy grow and gets our fiscal house in order.” As I read it, he’s not insisting on higher tax rates, though he apparently is not ready to agree to a tax reform that is scored as revenue-neutral, as the 1986 act was. Also, if Obama wanted a 1986-type reform, he could have used the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission’s recommendations last December as a springboard; instead, he brushed them aside without a murmur. So on balance I don’t think he’s serious on this, but there is a glimmer of a possibility that he is.

Straw men took a terrible beating from the president. He assailed “tax loopholes” for oil companies, the chief one of which is that they are treated like other companies classified as manufacturers. The administration proposal is that the five largest oil companies shouldn’t be, because—well, because we want to get our hands on more of their money. Today’s Republicans, he gave us to understand, want to “eliminate most government regulations” and “wipe out the basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades.” And, he suggested, they would never have created public health schools or the G.I. Bill or research universities.

When Barack Obama says, “This isn’t political grandstanding,” you have a pretty good clue that that is exactly what it is. Lest anyone doubt that, consider this from the third-to-last paragraph. “You should pass it. And I intend to take that message to every corner of the country.”

In other words, this was a campaign speech. It might result in passage of some of Obama’s proposals, and some of them might even do some good. But of course we didn’t see the kind of change of direction on policy that Bill Clinton made in 1995 and 1996, which enabled him to rise above his party’s 45% level of support in the 1994 elections (that’s the Democratic percentage of the House popular vote) and with 49% of the vote win reelection in 1996. (Ross Perot won 6% that year; polls suggest two points of it would have gone to Clinton had Perot not run.) I don’t think these proposals have the potential to turn around the careening economy, I don’t think many of them will become law and I don’t think this campaign initiative is likely to prove successful. From the demeanor and affect of the unhappy warrior at the podium last night, I suspect he may feel the same way.