Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Talk Radio and the Origin of the MMLB concept

So much time is spent by conservatively disposed media sources expressing outrage against the mainstream media's so-called liberal bias that one wonders whence this began and why it has proven so effective in framing people's view of the MSM as left-leaning. Not only has the integrity of reporting come under attack by blogs and talk radio, but the very distinction by which the MSM defends its integrity, between facts and spin, reporting and editorializing, press and politics, has been discredited. Whatever the causes, the consequences have been a boon to the likes of FOX news and the disciples of Rush Limbaugh.

The politically-charged state of writing these days is revealed in the comments by David Faster Wallace (of Infinite Jest fame) in his sprawling, seemingly endless Atlantic Monthly (April 2005) article, "Host." "Host" is about Mr. John Ziegler, conservative talk radio in America, and the operations of his southern California talk show. In the magazine margins, Wallace complements the main text of his article with side-bar-like information with labels making explicit the point of view on offer. Nobody can accuse D.F.W. of being neutral, of coloring his views with the pretense of pure, value-free truth. "Editorial Aside," "Purely Informative," "Semi-Editorial," "Consumer Advisory," "FYI," "Contains Editorial Elements," "Contains What Might Be Perceived As Editorial Elements," "Editorial Quibble," "Just Clear-Eyed Dispassionate Reason," "Editorial Opinion," "Tiny Editorial Correction," "Editorializing, Or Just Stating The Obvious?" The labels function as WARNING signs, directing the reader to read fact as fact and opinion as opinion and never to get them mixed up—precisely what the subject of his article, John Ziegler, must confuse and conflate in order to be entertaining and "stimulating" on-air to sustain his audience's interest and animostity toward the "liberal" MSM.

Wallace doesn't criticize this common practice for being bad journalism. Talk radio, he says, is motivated less by ideology than revenue. "Political talk radio is a business, and it is motivated by revenue. The conservatism that dominates today's AM airwaves does so because it generates high Arbitron ratings, high ad rates, and maximum profits," he says. Conservative radio wouldn't have such high ratings, suggests Wallace, if it wasn't for Reagan's repeal of the 1949 Fairness Doctrine and the national syndication of The Rush Limbaugh Show. Without the latter, the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine wouldn't have meant much. Limbaugh's blend of news, entertainment and partisan analysis has become the great model for ambitious radio personalities to imitate.

More to the point, he was "the first great promulgator of the Mainstream Media's Liberal Bias idea." To quote Wallace,
"This turned out to be a brilliantly effective rhetorical move, since the MMLB concept functioned simultaneously as a standard around which Rush's audience could rally, as an articulation of the need for right-wing (i.e., unbiased) media, and as a mechanism by which any criticism or refutation of conservative ideas could be dismissed (either as biased or as the product of indoctrination by biased media). Boiled way down, the MMLB thesis is able both to exploit and to perpetuate many conservatives' dissatisfaction with extant media sources—and it's this dissatisfaction that cements political talk radio's large and loyal audience."

Welcome to the State of Nature: Bring your gun.

New Orleans, Aug. 31—Little food, scant water, no security—welcome to the state of nature, the consequence of political breakdown, an ever-present human possibility inherent in any organized political society. No commerce, no common law among men—in short, chaos and continual fear of violent death. As some commentators have recognized, New Orleans has slid back in time, not back to Mediaeval times, but rather into a sort of pre-political condition, a reversal of time. Life in such a state, as Hobbes famously remarked, is solitary, nasty, poor, brutish and short. Witness the looting (in the face of the police) and gun fights, dead bodies and violence in the streets of New Orleans. Thankfully, owing to the swift deployment of state and federal troops, the situation won’t slide into civil war (for it’s only a mitigated version of the state of nature after all). But it might get worse before it gets better. As we know from Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the state of nature makes nearly all persons evil, including children. Welcome to the state of nature: you’re lucky to get out alive.

The Gray Lady body checks Dubya

I just love this little cheap shot masquerading as a call to rise above politics in a time of tragedy:
"But this seems like the wrong moment to dwell on fault-finding, or even to point out that it took what may become the worst natural disaster in American history to pry President Bush out of his vacation. All the focus now must be on rescuing the survivors. Beyond that lies a long and painful recovery, which must begin with a national vow to help all the storm victims and to save and repair New Orleans." Classic New York Times.

Pie-Eyed Pickle of the Week

Our hearts go out to everyone on the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricane Katrina, the victims of which are in a pickle of imaginable size. The biggest pickle of all, however, may be reserved for those responsible for keeping New Orleans dry. By all accounts, everyone expected New Orleans to drown at some point...but will heads roll when they look at what could have been done to prevent such catastrophe?

P.S. With Venice sinking, perhaps we should just make New Orleans the new city of gondolas.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Gunpoint

For friends who I haven't told about this experience, which are most of you, I apologize. I've been quite busy with school starting this week. I feel a need to share what happened to me on Saturday night, however. I wrote the following at about 4:30 a.m. Sunday morning:

I was held up at gunpoint tonight. It was the first time in my life that I had seen a handgun. I walked down the street – a familiar one – and through the alley toward my apartment. Halfway down I heard footsteps behind me. I saw a man walking quickly behind me. He saw that I saw him. He asked if I had any money. I said no. It was the truth. He showed me a silver handgun; he grabbed me by the sweatshirt; my heart started racing. The young man pulled me into a driveway and again showed me his gun: “I don’t believe you.” I told him he could look for himself. I put my hands up. With my back turned to him, he started rifling through my pockets. I told him all I had was a cell phone, a wallet, a pocket watch, and a pack of cigarettes. He kept searching through my pockets, hoping, I assume, to find something worthwhile.

The young man told me to lie down on the concrete. I obliged. I lay face down, hands by my head. Execution style, I thought. I felt the burn of a cold steel gun barrel against the back of my head. “I don’t believe you,” he said. With the gun to my head I heard him fumbling through my wallet. “I don’t believe you don’t have any money.” He asked me what my ATM pin number was. I couldn’t think; how could I with a gun pointed to the back of my skull? I blurted out random numbers. He asked, “How do I know that’s for real?” I said, “You don’t. You’ll have to trust me.” The pressure of the gun – which felt immeasurable, but was in reality probably quite gentle – left my head. His feet shuffled. I turned to see what he was doing. “Don’t look at me,” he said. The young man started walking away. Disobeying the order, I turned again and looked at him. Pointing the gun at me one more time, he said, “Don’t fucking look at me.” I dug my nose into the concrete and waited for what seemed to be an eternity until he fled.

Those are the facts, right? I guess so. That’s what I told the St. Paul police officers who arrived on the scene in an incredibly timely fashion. Three squad cars showed up and they even sent a K-9 unit up and down the alley. But what I can’t get out of my head is the in-between. What won’t escape me are the thoughts that rang through my brain, the one with a bullet less than six inches away.

My first thoughts – after my girlfriend who was waiting for me less than 100 yards away and my family in a small town far from where I was sprawled out – were of my future. I begin law school in one day, and I thought, “How could I defend this young man in court?” As one who believes in the sanctity of the Constitution, and one who is choosing a life meant to uphold the principles of that magnificent document, I couldn’t help but wonder how a minor thug like this – someone who didn’t appear to be desperate for money, someone who seemed like he had a home to return to – deserved zealous defense. After all, on the merits of this case alone, it’s seems quite possible that the perpetrator could be acquitted. I wouldn’t be able to identify him tomorrow, although I’d probably be able to make a good guess. But should justice really amount to good guessing?

The other predominant thought I had was more of a reflection actually. It was similar to one I had had after returning home a little less than a year ago, when I lived in Minneapolis, to find that two other young men had been shot to death in the alley behind my duplex during a drug deal gone fatally awry. At that time I was working in an AmeriCorps position with the University of Minnesota America Reads program, a literacy tutoring program that pairs college students up with primarily impoverished and underserved elementary students in Minneapolis and St. Paul. “What if we had gotten to this young man sooner?” I thought. Right now you may be sitting back in disbelief. How could I possibly be thinking such a thing as someone is pointing a gun to my head and threatening my life? That’s perfectly natural. But it’s perfectly natural to me to wonder about the way people act and the history behind those actions.

Don’t get me wrong; I make no excuses for the two-bit criminal that made me feel utterly powerless for a brown bi-fold wallet with nothing of real value in it. My only satisfaction is the fact that he can take no solace in what he stole from me. And if I could prosecute him myself – which, of course, is highly unlikely – I would hold nothing back from the distress he caused. However, in even the smallest acts of social disruption, the random hold-up in an ill-lit alley, there are larger social issues at play.

What if politicians made a serious, good faith effort to alleviate poverty? What if instead of having a doomed-to-fail and horribly inefficient War on Drugs, we focused on rehabilitation and psychiatric treatment? What if instead of repealing the estate tax and further entrenching regressive taxation in our society, we instead pushed for progressive taxation that would greatly benefit the largest amount of our population rather than the top five percent? What if the highest quality public education was a priority in our state and our nation, rather than a burden that some wish to eradicate? What if real gun control was enacted and enforced so as not to allow experiences such as mine to be repeated? What if…

I could go on, of course, but I won’t. I will say this, however; if any one of those things that I just mentioned were to come true – and you can call me naïve, you can call me liberal, you can even call me crazy – I guarantee I wouldn’t have had to experience what I did this evening.

Flogging a Dead Horse

The other day while I was doing yoga, after I ate a nice fritatta, fresh from unhealthily obsessing about a friend on the West Coast, I started to think about the GROW ACT (Growing Real Ownership for Workers Act of 2005 H.R. 3304) by Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Pual Ryan(R-WI). I am naturally inclined towards some form of Social Security reform that will keep social security revenues from becoming general fund expenditures, which they have been since the beginning of time(or 1969), and believe that the only way to ensure this is through some form of private ownership. Thus, I am soliciting the insight and explanation of anyone with a more expansive background in public finance than I have.
The Grow Act stipulates that the each individual's payroll taxes will be used to purchase marketable U.S. Securities (read: treasury bonds). Currently, payroll taxes are paid, a certain portion thereof goes back out to pay for Social Security obligations unencumbered in the present, the surplus is "borrowed" by the Treasury who in turn issues a security in its place (a T-Bill?), and the surplus revenues are spent covering holes in the budget and concealing the true size of the deficit. In fact, we only have a surplus on a cash basis but not when properly accounted for in an accrual. I guess my basic question, is what would change if an account were created, and a T-Bill was issued to said individual account, a lockbox if you will, as opposed to the Social Security Administration?
  1. Is it that the T-Bill is a marketable security whereas that debt issued by the Treasury to the Social Security Administration is not(I don't know if it is or isn't, this post is because I am too lazy to research this myself)? Though, this isn't necessarily all that different in so far as it puts payroll tax money in the Treasury, it just may mean that the publicly held debt is more secure in so far as the Government won't default (God forbid) on T-bills whereas it can write away the debt it issues itself (i.e. from the Treasury to the Social Security Administration) without having near the consequence on global capital markets.
  2. Would this cause the federal government to actually recognize its full deficit, i.e. the general fund deficit plus social security surplus revenues no long available to congressional plunder? If this were the case I believe this in of itself would be a worthy goal as the reported deficit would higher (and accurate) and we would be forced to actually question things like are the Bush tax cuts affordable, what are our spending priorities (Iraq War? Prescription Drug Plan?)?
  3. Or is it that this bill merely has the "virtue" of containing the word "ownership" in it?

Just some thoughts, obviously, as stated in the title, it is my view that social security reform is a dead horse, and this is not necessarily all bad. But any input on these issues would be much appreciated.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Egg and You

Whoever has chosen to make an omelette cannot do so without breaking eggs. However, if one likes to break eggs for its own sake, or if one breaks eggs but fails to achieve an omelette, it would be better to avoid eggs altogether.

Against Yoga

I don't do Yoga, and I'm not about to start.

It works?

It works if...I want to remedy what, exactly? Pain, you say. Well, of course it can ameliorate some sorts of pain—but it doesn't increase pleasure, in fact, according to Freud, it diminishes the potentialities of enjoyment.

If suffering is caused by our needs going unfulfilled, then one way to defend against suffering, a particularly self-sufficient way, is to, and I quote, "master the internal sources of our needs." Freud continues, "The extreme form of this is brought about by killing off the instincts, as is prescribed by the worldly wisdom of the East and practised by Yoga. If it succeeds, then the subject has, it is true, given up all other activities as well—he has sacrificed his life; and, by another path, he has once more only achieved the happiness of quietness." In contrast to the happiness of quitness, there is the "feeling of happiness derived from the satisfaction of a wild instinctual impulse untamed by the ego," which is "incomparably more intense than that derived from sating an instinct that has been tamed."

I've got enough quietness. I'll take the satisfaction of wild instincts any day.

Let the Debate Begin

The Draft of the Iraqi Constitution is here.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Crush the Equivocators!

I have been reminded recently of how common the logical fallacy of equivocation is in everyday arguments. Proponents of Intelligent Design (possibly my favorite target) exploit the equivocation attendant upon then imprecise use of the word "design.". The equivocation between design as a process and design as a product is exposed by professor Daniel Dennett in today's NYT.
"Intelligent design advocates, however, exploit the ambiguity between process and product that is built into the word 'design.' For them, the presence of a finished product (a fully evolved eye, for instance) is evidence of an intelligent design process. But this tempting conclusion is just what evolutionary biology has shown to be mistaken."
For example:

1. The eye appears to have a purpose, a design.
2. What bears a design - houses, cars, paintings - must have been begotten by a designer.
3. Therefore, eyes were designed by an unknown designer.

In the first line, "design" is used to name a quality of the eye as a finished product, but in the second line, design is used in the sense of "begotten by a designer," a process. So a semantic shift has occured, thus rendering the argument fallacious.

Darwin, as usual, spoke of the complexity of the eye most eloquently, under the heading "Organs of Extreme Perfection and Complication":
"To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree. Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real."

Saturday, August 27, 2005

John Stewart!

Fighting them there, fighting them here, Bush's Siren Song, my hobby-horse, has been discussed on two segments of the Daily Show—"MC Dubya" and Stewart's conversation with Christopher Hitchens.

How naive was I to think that Bush would retire his song after the terrorist bombings in London!

NWA: Murder was the case that they gave me


Due to discussion in the comments section of my post, Daily FAIR, it behooves me to clarify a position on the NWA mechanics' union strike and why it's more tragic than past labor negotiations. In situations such as these, most people don't know all the facts and history behind events because they are too numerous and often too involved. I will attempt to lay out my own opinion, which favors the union but does not absolve them of some faults, and may not have all the facts and figures correct, but the overall themes are basic truths.

First of all, a commenter, sam, raised the issue of wages. Sam contends that the mechanics have nothing to gripe about since they earn $70,000 a year and work 48 weeks. The airline is asking them to take a 26 percent pay cut, which would still leave them with $52,000 a year. The problem here, however, is that the mechanics earning $70,000 per year have worked 20 to 25 years with Northwest Airlines - probably more than a quarter of their lives - and that type of experience does not come cheap. Furthermore, a family of four or five that has come to rely on an income of $70,000 per year for more than 20 years, is obviously going to have to make drastic changes in their lifestyle. Most would probably have to sell their house, move to another town, sell their car, etc. On paper, it's easy to say, "Quit bitching when after cuts, you're still making $20,000 a year more than the national average," but that argument doesn't hold water in the face of real situations involving real people.

Xtrachromosomeconservative asked the question, "Is it really wise to strike right now?" what with the imminently disastrous financial problems plaguing not only Northwest, but the rest of the legacy airline carriers as well. Union members will tell that they either strike now or never. Northwest doesn't only want to cut wages among their mechanics and cleaners. They want to cut jobs. A significant number of jobs. And they want those jobs to be replaced by workers in other airports where the labor costs are drastically cheaper. It's the outsourcing (my apologies for the Lou Dobbs-style buzzword) of airline labor, and it spells doom for the way of life of many American workers. If this Northwest experiment succeeds, you can bet that other airlines are sure to follow. Why strike now? Because most of the mechanics and cleaners knew more than a year ago that Northwest was planning on eliminating their jobs strike or no strike. So let me ask a question: If you were faced with the elimination of your job now, or with quietly accepting a pay cut only to have your job eliminated later, wouldn't you try to make a public display about it?

You may ask: So what? So what if some of Northwest's jobs go overseas if it helps the long term stability of the airline and allows it to compete with low-cost carriers? The problem is two-fold. First, you're losing decades of experience in repairing and maintaining airplanes, the most complicated mass transit device in existence. I don't know about you, but I would much rather have a guy with 20 years experience fixing planes working on the fuel line for my flight to D.C. than someone with perhaps questionable training and experience in Beijing. I'm not being a protectionist, I'm being a safety-concerned consumer. Second, as MPR pointed out, Northwest has made the Twin Cities very reliant on them, not only for air travel, but economically. The loss of wages and jobs from them will have an increasingly negative impact on our local economy.

The other issue here within Northwest is much larger than simply the mechanics' union. Northwest wants concessions similar to these from all its unions, including pilots and flight attendants. It has a hole of more than $1 billion that it wants to fill on the backs of its most important workers. The mechanics have brought up the old rube about management taking cuts in salary as well, but NWA has no comment on that. And why not? Why shouldn't management take pay cuts - for the good of the company - if they expect everyone else in the company to take pay cuts? It's a pathetic and sad duplicitousness, and it's inhumane and disrespectful management.

Ilya has mentioned the possibility of government intervention in order to keep Northwest afloat, and not surprisingly, Xtra disagreed. I have to follow Xtra on this one. Northwest has already been bailed out by government before, and as long as the airline believes that an entity will always be around to salvage it - no matter how screwed up things get - it's corporate environment will never change.

Which calls to the forefront probably one of the most important arguments in this deadlock: the fact that the mechanics' union made concessions to Northwest in past labor negotiations in order to save their jobs and to save the company. The union accepted pay cuts in the 1990s because Northwest management told them they had to or the company would go bust. For Northwest to continue to go back to its employees in order to cure the ills that management - and to be fair, a number of other factors including, but not limited to, sky-rocketing fuel costs, competition from budget airlines, and that economical catchall 9/11 - is nothing short of disgusting.

See also: Daily Strike, Daily Meandering, Daily CHAOS, The Pie-Eyed Pickle of the Week, and Daily Retread.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Taking the Fight to the Right

The new unabashedly and zealously political right-wing/conservative media explosion, whether on the television, radio or the Internet, with its admixture of opinion and reporting, facts and spin, is motivated by the conviction that all journalism, one way or another, is political—and this fact should be made transparent, says Hugh Hewitt, the subject of Nicholas Lehmann's article in the New Yorker, titled "Right Hook: Going After the Liberal Media." (The actual article is as yet unavailable online. Hewitt mentions the article on his blog here.) Sometimes journalism fares better by our forgetting this, at least temporarily, but the enemies of so-called liberal and mainstream media wish to remind us of this fact 24/7. Journalism is a battle, always, and one is obliged to pick sides, to decide who is Christ and who is Satan. In turn the competitors justify their arguments and try to deny the other party's goodness and legitimacy.

This sounds true enough, but in fact it is empirically false and morally unsound. Just as juries are prepared to be fair and instructed to retain the presumption of innocence unless convinced otherwise, so there is room for fairness in journalism. This is not a political or moral judgment, but a very practical social stance. But by Hewitt's basic assumptions and outlook, the jury is inherently partisan, period, and it would be quite digusting to think otherwise. Hewitt's sin is not only that he denies that there are two sides to every question, but he would deny us our right to hear about both sides and our right to choose (don't get me wrong, this is not to say that Intelligent Design creationism should be taught in science classes, that is quite a different matter). If journalists are not allowed to be objective, to point out the, say, good and evil results of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, then why should anyone not of their political persuasion sit down to read what they say?

Journalists, while they might be wrong, should and often do their best not to be biased. Even Hewitt's blogosphere ally praises this virtue in Lehmann's article, and yet can't see the problem with Hewitt's ideas about journalism.

The Revolution...

...will not be televised.

...will not be eulogized.

...will not be broadcast.

...will not be podcast.

...will be blogged.

Y'all better know that.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Intelligent Fools

Defending evolution has been surprisingly topical this summer. The Onion wrote a wicked parody—"Intelligent Falling"—of how Intelligent Design types (let's be generous) reason about things, such as gravity. Here's a taste:
"Gravity—which is taught to our children as a law—is founded on great gaps in understanding. The laws predict the mutual force between all bodies of mass, but they cannot explain that force. Isaac Newton himself said, 'I suspect that my theories may all depend upon a force for which philosophers have searched all of nature in vain.' Of course, he is alluding to a higher power.

Founded in 1987, the ECFR is the world's leading institution of evangelical physics, a branch of physics based on literal interpretation of the Bible.

According to the ECFR paper published simultaneously this week in the International Journal Of Science and the adolescent magazine God's Word For Teens!, there are many phenomena that cannot be explained by secular gravity alone, including such mysteries as how angels fly, how Jesus ascended into Heaven, and how Satan fell when cast out of Paradise."

This is a perfect case of Charles II's dead fish. The "failures" and "gaps" don't expose the theory to falsification becaue they are only "failures" from some erroneous point of view. There are always unaswered questions and questioned answers. To jump from the current inability on the part of scientists to answer possibly valid questions about evolution to Intelligent Design is to make a more drastic move than the question warrants.

Daily FAIR!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Daily Strike

Monday, August 22, 2005

Iraq Constitution Close...

...close, speak not of the cigar.



















(I know, close stokes the fires of the cigar!)

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Romulus of St. Paul

I suspect that it is not very well known that the original name of the settlement that became St. Paul was Pig's Eye. Named for the French-Canadian whiskey trader, Pierre "Pig's Eye" Parrant, who had led squatters to the settlement. Parrant had only one good eye. His other eye was piggish.

By employing my sleuthing skills (read: by searching Google Print), I found some of the story behind Pig's Eye in J. Fletcher Williams's book "History of the City of Saint Paul to 1875" (2004). Of course, Parrant was not the first to discover the land, for the Indians were already there. The story of the relations among the Indian tribes and between the Indians and Pig's Eye's whisky business is told in Gary Claton Anderson's book, "Little Crow, Spokesman for the Sioux" (1986).

The following is from Williams:

"Parrant, as before remarked, had only one eye that was serviceable. He had another, it is true, but such an eye! Blind, marble-hued, crooked, with a sinister white ring glaring around the pupil, giving a kind of piggish expression to his sodden, low features. Roswell P. Russell, now of Minneapolis, who was a sutler's clerk, at Fort Snelling then, and was frequently back and forth through the village during those days, bestowed on Parrent the suitable and expressive sobriquet, 'Pig's Eye,' and, after a little while, he was generally known by that appropriate nickname. (The Frenchmen called it O'eil de Cochon.) Finally, the name became attached to the locality itself, in the following manner:

"One day, in 1893, Edmund Brissett, a young Canadian, who had come to Fort Snelling in 1832, and was doing odd jobs of carpentering for the settlers hereabouts, such as furniture, doors, sash, &c., was stopping at Parrant's, and wanted to send a letter to Joseph R. Brown, who had a trading post on Grey Cloud Island, 12 miles below, and was a Justice of the Peace. But where should he date the letter at, was the problem? 'I looked up inquiringly at Parrant, (says Brissett, in relating the circumstances,) and, seeing his old crooked eye scowling at me, it suddenly popped into my head to date it at Pig's Eye, feeling sure that the place would be recognized, as Parrant was well known along the river. In a little while an answer was safely received, directed to me at Pig's Eye. I told the joke to some of the boys, and they made lots of fun of Parrant. He was very mad, and threatened to lick me, but never tried to execute it.' Thus the name bestowed on the place in a joke, stuck to it for years, and it is jocosely called by it to this day. After Parrant removed to the bottom, below Dayton's Bluff, some three or four years subsequently, the name became attached to that locality, and it will probably be known as such, until the end of time."

(Not quite) The Harvard of the Midwest

Newsweek recently named Macalester College, my alma mater, the "Hottest For Liberal Arts." "The 1,900-student campus in the middle of a vibrant metropolis has become a key recipient of the growing number of Harvard, Yale and Princeton applicants who are rejected for no other reason than that those schools don't have space for all the A-plus applicants. Macalester has one faculty member for every 11 students and an emphasis on international affairs, symbolized by one of its most famous alumni, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan."

I used to work and occasionally write for the school newspaper. In an issue from 1965, a student wrote that Macalester is "rushing toward Ivy league-ness." Despite the flattering mention of Macalester in the same breath as Harvard, Princeton and Yale, Macalester hasn't come a long way, baby. The speed at which Macalester has been rushing toward Ivy league-ness has been slow—yet it is holding steady in the national rankings.

I, of course, wish Mac all the luck, and have always thought that the ticket to the upper echelon of higher education lies in great professors and great students brightly skeptical of everything.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Pie-Eyed Party



9:25 p.m.O'Connell and Mags are enjoying the antechamber while the other early-comers chow down.




Anti-Everything!

9:58 - The boys from upstairs join Scott and Nads...

10:25 -Ilya!

10:26 - 2000 Selby sans Lessa, Tricia (Erin and ehem Tracy.)

PARTY!

UPDATE: I'm just now getting to the rest of the pics from the party.

The party moved to Billy's on Grand at around 11:30 p.m. (give or take)

Speaking with an almost indecipherable Southern drawl, this man - one of our new friends for the evening - insisted that we refer to him only as "Hotlanta." And yes, that mustache is real.


Uhhhh...yeah.


Megan disappeared on Grand Avenue later that evening. If you have any information about her whereabouts, please leave hints in the comments section.


Isn't that cute? No, really, you tell me.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Paulopolis

Below, in "The Great Divide: Townies vs. Hipsters," I speculated that hostility between Minneapolis and St. Paul dates back to the failed efforts by St. Paulites to create "St. Paulopolis." Well, I was right about the hostility but wrong about the name of the ideal city and the details of the story.

The story revolves around John Ireland. John Ireland was a real estate speculator in the late 1870s, and head of the effort to create “Paulopolis,” a city conceived to attract business to the growing railroad city of St. Paul. The following quotations (readily accessible thanks to Google Print) are from Marvin R. O'Connell’s biography of Ireland, titled “John Ireland and the American Catholic Church” (1998).

“…between downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis. Here, just to the east of the Mississippi, where he [Ireland] had established St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, he dreamed, in the grandiose fashion characteristic of him, that in due time would emerge the political, cultural, and commercial center of a single great city, ‘Paulopolis,’ an urban showplace and a rational alternative to two medium-sized ‘twin’ towns in perpetual and puerile competition with each other. ‘Tread reverently upon this ground,’ Ireland advised in 1890. ‘It is the Midway, the very heart of the coming great city. Look at it! Admire it! Has not providence been generous to it. It is the precious gift by which St. Paul will woo and win fair Minneapolis.’” The plan, says O’Connell, was to build the new state capitol in the Midway, “a first step, they hoped, in the merging of the Twin Cities into one.” But the legislature in 1893 decreed that the capitol must needs remain in its original site in the old downtown area, where it remains to this day.

The Great Divide: Townies vs. Hipsters

A low-level civil war rages continually between the residents of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Who knows for sure when and who started the conflict? It probably began when St. Paul lost its bid to name the Twin Cities “St. Paulopolis.” I guess, like any quite similar peoples occupying adjecent territory, the minor contrasts before long become major sources of aggression, like the English and the Scotch. And sometimes the tension bubbles to the surface, as in the conversation I overheard the other day at the Blue Moon coffee shop on Franklin in Minneapolis. To paraphrase:

Barrista: …yeah, what’s the deal with the war between Minneapolis and St. Paul?

Hipster-girl customer: Once you live in Minneapolis, you never go back.

Barrista: I know some people who moved back to St. Paul, those Townies.

“Townies” (not to be confused with “Tommies,” who tend to become Townies) are quite literally rooted in St. Paul. Townies are defined by the excessive charm they ascribe to St. Paul, especially Summit and Grand Avenues. They rarely venture to Minneapolis. Indeed, they’d rather not traverse the traffic—but, alas, hosts of jobs, museums, theatres and restaurants are located west of the Mississippi, so they grudgingly make the 10-20 minute drive to the land of “Hipsters” that is Minneapolis. "In Minneapolis," as novelist and performer Alexs Pate has observed, “hipness is as fast-footed as anywhere in the world.” From Seward to N.E., Uptown to Downtown, the Weisman to the Walker, First Ave to the Triple Rock, hipsters are everywhere: indie rockers, bike messengers, vegetarians, hippies, activists, academics, punk rockers, struggling actors, starving artists, literati, laptop rock artists, DJs, goths, gangsters, etc.

There is some truth in the self-image of both the Townie and the Hipster. There is a grain of truth in the Townies’ rose-colored view of St. Paul. The fact that there are less hipsters there suggests that it is a reasonably sweet place to live. After all, Garrison Keillor lives there. On the other hand, you are much more likely to run into someone with the New Yorker magazine and the latest album by The Hold Steady in Minneapolis, the city that served as Bob Dylan’s point of departure for New York. The contrast between Keillor and Dylan is instructive—the famous and beloved Townie that is Keillor is still in St. Paul, while the famous and enigmatic Hipster that is Dylan currently resides in Malibu, California.

Daily Meandering

Parable of Charles II's Dead Fish

"King Charles II once invited members of the Royal Society to explain to him why a dead fish weighs more than the same fish alive; a number of subtle explanations were offered to him. He then pointed out that it does not" (A. MacIntyre 1984, 92).

The moral of the story is: what may seem to stand in need of explanation, in reality might not.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Memorable Quotations from Long Ago

With four soldiers dying in Iraq yesterday and two dying in Afghanistan; with almost 45 innocent people dying in Baghdad yesterday; with more than 1,000 protesters showing up on the Lake Street Bridge yesterday; and with a Minnesota state senator and a candidate for U.S. Congress heading down to Crawford, Texas, to join the throngs of people clamoring for answers to questions about this war; with Republicans reframing their positions on the war in the run-up to the 2006 elections; I felt it was time to take a look back at another conflict, Kosovo, to learn how pro-American and "Support our Troops" Republicans backed up the president and didn't try to undermine our soldiers in the field. (Quotes supplied by PeP Supercorrespondent, Anti-Everything.)

"President Clinton is once again releasing American military might on a foreign country with an ill-defined objective and no exit strategy. He has yet to tell the Congress how much this operation will cost. And he has not informed our nation's armed forces about how long they will be away from home. These strikes do not make for a sound foreign policy." -Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA)

"No goal, no objective, not until we have those things and a compelling case is made, then I say, back out of it, because innocent people are going to die for nothing. That's why I'm against it." -Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/5/99

"American foreign policy is now one huge big mystery. Simply put, the administration is trying to lead the world with a feel-good foreign policy." -Representative Tom Delay (R-TX)

"I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. A month later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our overextended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today." -Representative Tom Delay (R-TX)

"Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?" -Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/6/99

"This is President Clinton's war, and when he falls flat on his face, that's his problem." -Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN)

"You can support the troops but not the president." -Representative Tom Delay (R-TX)

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Daily Chaos

  • You already know, of course, that Northwest Airlines (and the mechanics' union) are in the Pickle of the Week, but to make matters worse the normally stoic and straightlaced Minnesota Public Radio is running the headline "Northwest prepares for CHAOS." Run for the hills, everybody! It's CHAOS! MPR, however, is using this to describe a scenario called "Creating Havoc Around Our System," in which another Northwest union such as the flight attendants would strike in sympathy with the mechanics' union making for a very messy situation that would essentially ground the airline. The Strib is reporting, however, that NWA made a new offer to the union in their D.C. talks, but nobody's describing it. Dubious, at best.
  • State Senator Becky Lourey, a DFLer from Kerrick, Minn., and former FBI whistleblower (as well as current challenger for Republican John Kline's Congressional seat) Colleen Rowley, will join grieving mother/peace activist Cindy Sheehan at her impromptu camp outside President Bush's ranch. Lourey, who lost a son in the Iraq war when his helicopter was shot down, has been against the war since the beginning and made several attempts to introduce motions condemning the war in the Minnesota Senate. Sheehan, of course, has been derided as a publicity hound by some and hailed as a hero by others. Personally, I think this Crawford vigil is the apex of a tipping point in the war. Had this happened earlier in the conflict, Sheehan would have been called a media harlot, and many (though there certainly are some now) would have vilified her as anti-American. I believe her plight, while it has resulted in a media frenzy, is genuine. Her pain is genuine. And I think if something like this hadn't happened now, something else like it would have. It's representative of the fact that most Americans, though they may not want to admit it openly, question this war, why we're there, how we're going to leave, and how we got there in the first place.
  • Jack Uldrich, the Independence Party candidate for Mark Dayton's U.S. Senate seat, dropped out of the race. This is heart-breaking news for the four members of the Independence Party. Perhaps they'll start a Draft Jesse Ventura campaign.
  • Minnesota high schoolers scored the highest in the nation on the ACT. Now let's all give ourselves a collective pat on the back.
  • Perhaps you've seen the mysterious billboards announcing Nickelback playing at the opening of Myth, a new Twin Cities music club. Perhaps you don't know that it's in Maplewood, sandwiched between a Best Buy, a Matress Giant, and a Pannekoeken restaurant. Some are saying it's promising, despite its location. I think I'd rather go to Club Cancun.

Pie-Eyed Pickle of the Week

Hey ho, hey ho, Northwest Airlines is going to go...bankrupt! That's right, folks. With only a few days left before the mechanic's union strike deadline, neither side appears to be budging in the labor talks. Northwest is also hoping to eke $1 billion out of their unions to avert bankruptcy, and most experts agree that won't even do the trick. My, my, my they're all in a dilly of a pickle.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A Small Slice of Iowa

Some of you may have noticed that I did not post anything on PeP last week, which was a first for me. I was on a bit of a hiatus, working on a pre-law school service project and taking a trip to MK's hometown in Iowa. Here is a pictorial diary of my weekend in Charles City:

If you've ever eaten Mexican food in Iowa, you've noticed that Mexican chain restaurants south of our border have strange affinity for mixing Hispanic names with Irish ones. For example, when we arrived at our first destination, Mason City (birthplace of "The Music Man" creator Meredith Willson), we dined at Carlos O'Kelly's Mexican Cafe. What ever happened to Mexican restaurants with names like Chi Chi's? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Iowa is literally 95 percent white.

On Friday, things got really fun in Charles City, Iowa. Every other Friday night durng the summer, in what residents lovingly call "Chucktown," people get together at Central Park for "Party in the Park," displaying their civic pride and putting money into the local economy. Pictured at left is the lovable mascot of these festivities, Chuck. Now, if you're wondering why the town's mascot is an overweight, bald, white man rather than something cute and cuddly thing like a chipmunk, then you're thinking along the same lines as me. But, I'm told, if you're from Charles City, you understand it.


"Party in the Park" supplied the usual entertainment for such events. Milk and Honey, a band that plays mind-blowing covers of classic songs from the '60s up to today and a 2004 inductee to the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (yes, there is such a thing), jammed for about three sets. Chuck Chips were available for the purchase of food and beer. And, of course, a group of crotch rocket enthusiasts calling themselves Stunt DNA enthralled the crowd by performing wheelies, revving their engines very loudly, and spinning their back tires really really fast so as to create a smoke cloud from the burning rubber. There's no denying that it was a sight to see.

This is my friend Frank Rottinghaus. He's the Floyd County Treasurer (Charles City is the Floyd County seat). On Saturday morning, Frank brought me along to a parade in Marble Rock, Iowa, population approximately 350. I drove the parade route while Frank handed out candy and shook some hands. The parade lasted all of 30 minutes, and one reason there weren't more spectators is because so many of the residents were in the parade. I also had a chance to meet their state representative, Mark Kuhn, and their state senator, Amanda Ragan, both Democrats. Nothing like some good old-fashioned politicking...

...which continued later that evening at the wedding of MK's friends. Kuhn, pictured at left, was the bride's uncle. After drinking a few Old Styles, I figured I'd take advantage of the situation, and asked him how things were going in Des Moines. He said they were better than in St. Paul. The partisan divide in Iowa is nearly identical to Minnesota (we have a few more Democrats, I think), but the Iowegians didn't need a special session to get things done. And they have a Democratic governor. Things that make you go hmmm. Later that evening, after an early departure from Retlaw's Riverside Bar and Grill, we again walked to Pat's house and enjoyed some coffee and snacks before heading back to MK's parents' house.

After some much needed rest, and steaks (the flames on the grill got away from MK's dad a little bit, but that's ok) and sweet corn (what else?) for lunch, we headed back to the Twin Cities on Sunday afternoon. And that was my weekend in Iowa.

Daily Dialysis

Monday, August 15, 2005

Daily Retread

  • I've been largely ignoring this story because I really wish it would just go away. It's close enough now to the strike deadline between Northwest Airlines and the mechanics' union to merit a top bullet point, however. The two sides have agreed to return to the bargaining table in D.C., after huffing and puffing their respective ways out of the room last week. The problem here: There can be no winner. Both parties are going to lose, no matter who ultimately "wins." The union is a dying organization that is truly in its "last throes," which is unfortunate for the workers. Northwest management may be in their "last throes" as well, although the company has pulled some Houdini tricks out of its hat in the past (albeit with the aid of Minnesota taxpayers).
  • I realize that in these heady times, complaining about fuel prices is the same as complaining about the weather. It sucks and there's not a damn thing you can do about it. But still, $2.69 in the Twin Cities and an average of $2.47 statewide? Sheesh! Be on the lookout for more Mobil Melees.
  • Speaking of gas prices/driving/commuting, the New York Times has a good article today on "exurbs," those burgeoning bastions of middle class security where the suburbs meet the country. While there's not much comparison between their example town - it's in Florida - and the phenomenon in Minnesota, it is a trend worth noting, particularly for me since I grew up in an actual small town that is now becoming an exurb.
  • According to the Bay Area Center for Voting Research (I can't find its Web site and have no idea what its credibility is), St. Paul is the 36th most liberal city in the U.S. out of 237 cities with populations of 100,000 or more. Detroilet ranked Numero Uno.
  • In a survey by the Center for Public Integrity, Minnesota ranked 4th (!) in lobbyist spending, behind California, New York, and Texas, three states with obviously larger populations. Some credit it to the sharp partisan divide, but a more likely culprit is Minnesota's lobbying disclosure laws, which are in sore need of updating. Campaign issue, anyone?!?
  • You know those annoying, almost-always-empty, mini-trains that snake their way through the State Fair every year and no one really knows where they go? Well, they're now on their way to the dustbin of history.
  • Of course Green Party activists use water-soluble markers for their covert graffiti pratices. Or were they set up?
  • Katherine Kersten writing about young people and religion? No...

Friday, August 12, 2005

Morning Beauty

I order a double latté at the Birchwood Café every morning, and it takes some time for the girls to make it because they take pride in their latté art skills. Looking at the fine work in my cup this morning, I asked the girl what she calls the design created out of the espresso crema. "Morning beauty," she said. I'll say! Now, that's a nice name.

Hollow, irresponsible sympathy

Yesterday, President Bush offered his "sympathy" to Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey, 24, died in a Sadr City ambush last year. "I sympathize with her," the President said. These words didn't come right to Sheehan. Bush has too many words to offer, but no real compassion, she believes: "But the best way to show that compassion is by meeting with me and the other mothers and families who are here," she said. She wants a more active sympathy.

But sympathy is not the right word, indeed, not the right emotion for the President to express in this context. Sympathy distances him from responsibilty for Iraq, as if the war just happend by fate, as if it were not the product of his choosing, and thus not his responsibility. Susan Sontag, in her last book, Regarding The Pain Of Others, illumines how sympathy can be irresponsible in such a context: "...it seems too simple to elect sympathy...So far as we feel sympathy, we feel we are not accomplices to what caused the suffering. Our sympathy proclaims our innocence as well as our impotence. To that extent, it can be (for all our good intentions) an impertinent—if not an inappropriate—response" (pp. 102-3). The way the President's sympathy flows really reveals his fatalistic outlook on history.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Oh, the things Al Franken knows

An article on girl crushes in today's NYT quotes Ms. Weeks, an outdoorswoman of whom other women are enamored, complaining about being seen as "some National Geographic chick": "When you're on a pedestal, there's no way but down," she said. "And it's lonely up there. You can't share your weaknesses."

It's lonely up there?

No. The bottom is lonelier than the top. It might be encouraging to tell yourself that it is lonely at the top, but, to quote Al Franken, "In my experience people at the top are immensely popular."

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Abolish Tipping Now!

Few know just how passionately I used to loathe the custom of tipping. There are hosts of reasons why the practice makes no sense. Tipping is clearly a haphazardly constructed institution (why do we tip taxi drivers but not bus drivers? slow-food servers but not fast-food servers?) badly in need of reform. The solution to this menace to society is obvious: abolish tipping. This can take one of two forms. In Japan, tips are nonexistent. In Europe, the service is almost always included in the bill. Both solutions are adequate, and the European way seems to be catching on in America.

I know - anybody who has ever worked in the hotel or restaurant business thinks tips are great because they rely on them to make a decent living. While tips might be a lucrative source of income, this comes at the price of the destruction of social relations between the service provider and customer. The very possibility of a tip turns any social relation into a cash nexus. I've felt this many a time talking to cute bartenders and waitresses. Is she being nice to me to get a bigger tip? You never know, and that's precisely the problem. If you're talking to a stranger who makes a living from tips, cash is the only thing doing the talking.

I found a nice formulation of this argument in Dissent (Spring 2004) magazine a while ago. It is worth quoting at length: "The relations between service providers and customers are also human relations. Within Italian society, barbers have a social role comparable to that of a priest or a psychoanalyst. One discusses politics, jokes with them, and confides those secrets that one wishes to spread around the neighborhood. To think that these human relations take place in the hope of receiving a more generous tip makes genuine dialogue difficult, if not impossible. I enjoy talking about food and wines with food servers and find it amusing to engage in heated debates. But when I dine in the United States I cannot avoid thinking that 80 percent of the income of my interlocutors is dependant on my tip. Is it even possible for them to contradict me when I argue that an Italian red wine is superior to a French red wine? The discussion is inevitably forced, with my interlocutors doing everything they can to please me. Their lack of freedom reduces mine."

Amen!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Debunking 9/11 conspiracy theories

“If we are on the outside, we assume a conspiracy is the perfect working of a scheme….A conspiracy is everything that ordinary life is not. It’s the inside game, cold, sure, undistracted, forever closed off to us. We are the flawed ones, the innocents, trying to make some rough sense of the daily jostle. Conspirators have a logic and a daring beyond our reach. All conspiracies are the same taut story of men who find coherence in some criminal act.”
—Don DeLillo, Libra, p. 440.

Extraordinary events, especially when government institutions and officials are involved, tend to provide rich material for those who would conjure up conspiracy theories, and enough complexity and conflicting interpretations to make them persuasive enough to many people. Ludicrous claims, such as that Israel carried out the attacks after having first warned the Jews who worked in the World Trade Center towers to stay home that day, or the charge that the highest American officials brought the horrors of 9/11 on America to bolster their popularity, surfaced soon after 9/11. Then there was the overreaction by the media over Ward Churchill, an ethnic studies professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He claimed, in a word, that the U.S. was responsible for 9/11, that is to say, that the terrorist attacks were "the inevitable result of a U.S. foreign policy that desregards the rule of law and results in massive death and destruction abroad."

The claims both of the conspiracy theories and of Ward Churchill are slanderous and preposterous. The appropriate response is to dismiss such views as beyond the pale of reasonable debate. Those who, in the context of America's war against terrorism, insist that America attacked herself on 9/11, through a list of foreign policy "failures" or whatever, only spread "inflammatory madness" which "festers...in the fever swamps of conspiracy theory."

Besides the more recent Ward Churchill affair, the foregoing examples and quotations are from Jean Bethke Elshtain's thoughtful defense of America's war against terror in her book Just War Against Terror (2003). Elshtain is particularly weary of those who trade in conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories aren't just harmless balderdash, they are part of the problem: "Those immersed in conspiracy theories are unmoved by empirical evidence or counterevidence, and they have a ready answer to every query or quandry. Because conspiracy theories proliferate on the Internet, such views gain a currency and pseudolegitimacy heretofore impossible. This too is part of the challenge we face."

"When I claim," Elshtain writes, "that changes in our policies would not satisfy Islamists, the reason is quite basic: They loathe us because of who we are and what our society represents." She calls this "basic" because it alone fits the facts: in the eyes of Osama bin Laden and his followers, Americans are "pagans," "infidels," or worse, a scourge that must be eliminated by any means necessary. To be sure, the terrorists justify their actions with reference to specific U.S. actions. But Americans would be fools to think, and President Bush, I think, is right to warn against the belief, that changes in U.S. foreign policy would cool the zeal of America's enemies. "It is reasonable to argue," Elshtain adds, "that certain changes in U.S. foreign policy might reduce the attraction of radical Islamism to many young men. It is unreasonable to assume that changes in U.S. foreign policy would disarm radical Islamism."

Elshtain's views are all the more insightful and prudent when one considers that she wrote her book well before even the threat of war on Iraq, as the American people were facing the immediate issue of Afghanistan: "Will the U.S. presence in Afghanistan suffice to prevent it from sliding back into tribal warfare or a resurgence of Islamist extremism? We do not know." In retrospect, this much anguish and uncertainty over Afghanistan may look too academic in the light of the great success the U.S. has achieved there. But in the light of the relentless insurgency in Iraq, such humility is praiseworthy.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

So I have this FABULOUS friend...

essa must have been sent by the gods to make her friends as fabulous as she is. Not only that, she is also a Grace for Beauty, and a Muse for Wit. I visited her in California, and now I write about it. Most of the rhymes clunk along unsurprisingly, but I hope a few sound Muse-inspired.


Friday, August 05, 2005

100 percent hypertext

Every word links somewhere else.

Daily Quiz

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Daily Scribble

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Pie-Eyed Pickle of the Week

We've been (or I should say, I've been) lazy this week. So we're going to outsource this week's pie-eyed pickle of the week: We bring you "Blair in a Pickle" via Patrick Basham of the libertarian Cato Institute. Tony (Downing Street Memo) Blair, that right-honorable gentleman, has been mired in the pursuit of terrorists abroad...oh, wait, that's our President. Rather, the right-honorable gentleman has realized, to his dismay, that his beloved England is chock-a-block with jihadist groups just as terrifying as those President Bush is hunting down in distant lands. Bummer dude. But, as the Minneapolis born and Oxford bred journalist Peter Bergen reminds us, "Our Ally, Our Problem." It would seem that there is just no way out of this pickle—yet.

Daily Dwindler

Note: I wrote a news posting in addition to the Daily Special Edition: Fun New Laws! yesterday, but it has mysteriously disappeared from the PeP. I don't know if this has anything to do with the addition of Xtrachromosomeconservative to our gene pool, but I wouldn't put sabotage past him. Be wary, PePpers... In order to make up for it, I've including some o the points I put down yesterday.