Monday, February 28, 2005

Just a Ramble

Just a ramble tonight.

I feel awful. Not emotionally. I just have a cold. My mood is actually pretty good. I've had several ideas to write about today, but the suckiness of the body defeated the amiability of the mind every time. So go elsewhere for the important stuff tonight. Where this post goes is anyone's guess at this point, but "serious and topical" is not a likely outcome. You've been warned.

I truly do enjoy the television show American Idol, and this year looks like it will be a good one. Those who don't really watch the show think the attraction is in watching people ridiculed by the judges. Not true. The early auditions piece - which brought us William Hung last year - is really the least compelling part, and the ratings bear this out. What's interesting is to watch a bunch of truly talented people compete to see who can sing and perform the best. This year the talent pool is deep.

Tonight the "rocker" Bo Bice just about brought down the house in a defiantly non-pop performance at the end of the show. Totally unexpected he had that in him. Even the judges seemed stunned. But I still think Anwar Robinson has the inside track to win the whole thing.

Why is this relevant? It's not, as far as I can tell. But if this guy can take a month off to play with Legos, give me at least a night to ramble about mindless television programming.

Incidentally, I'd like to say that my favorite commentary about Idol is the blog Michele Catalano set up: Idol Tongues. Truly, I'd like to. But I can't.

The best site to follow the show remains Television Without Pity.

(insert transition music to shift the mood to something unrelated to the previous topic)

What the heck is it about my blogroll that attracts such attention? Ever since I posted that I'm playing with it and culling down the list, I've had people totally unexpectedly pleading not to be cut - even certain people who have far better blogs than mine (*cough* Varifrank *cough* Anchoress*).

Listen folks. I don't know who is spreading the word, but I'm not the heir to Instapundit's traffic when he dies. If you like reading this blog, great! Glad to have you around.

But being on my blogroll guarantees you not much more than me reading your blog. Which is nice, granted. I'm told I have lovely eyes, and the thought of them pausing to take in the text you wrote is no doubt appealing. But still. Blogads isn't bothering to track it.

But thanks all the same

(this time I'm controlling the transition music. And it's something super-funky! Think George Clinton, only better.)

Big themes of the day as far as I can tell... something going on in Lebanon. And the Democratic Leadership continues to marginalize themselves. Eh.

Yes these are important stories. But in both cases I rather feel I've been talking about this stuff for a while. You want an "I told you so," take a rain-check. Don't have the energy tonight.

And that is disappointingly all tonight. Hope to feel better soon so I can get back to pestering you on a more regular basis.

The Pontiff and the Will to Live

The Anchoress offers a very nice refutation to a disturbingly widespread strain of thought about Pope John Paul II, by responding to a Newsweek article on the pontiff by Christopher Dickey:

And Dickey seems just flabbergasted, no confounded...no, he seems almost downright insulted, that the Pope has not put forth a living will, with instructions on when the plug may be pulled so we can stop this damned impositioning of his will upon the oppressed Catholic people, and maybe finally get a pope in there who will get on board with the times! Let's go, JP, baby, move it on! We want a Pope Jason who is gonna start living the age throughout the faith and come to speed with abortion, divorce, gay marriage and euthanasia! If only the Pope had left some instructions, we maybe wouldn't have bothered with the tracheotomy, the other day!

Shrug. Maybe it's just me, but that's the sense I'm getting from Dickey, here. He thinks the pope has left no instructions.

Dickey doesn't realize - probably does not want to realize - that the pope, by NOT leaving "instructions" is giving us a tremendous instruction. He is saying, "leave what is alive, alive. The living person may not be living the life YOU'D like...but it is the life they HAVE, and it's not your job or anyone else's to get in the way of it, or shorten it, when doing so may very well be interrupting a larger plan that you (because you are not God) simply cannot comprehend."
She also (appropriately I think) ties this to the Terri Schiavo case, and even our current president. Read the whole thing.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Whatsisface v. Kennedy - So Are We On The Take?

Gary from ... um... TBFKADVK (we're getting together to pick another name later this week, honest!) has an important post tonight about the funding of our openly pro-Kennedy blog. I added a few of my own thoughts to the end of the post.

Like a Car Crash

Today Varifrank pointed me to an interesting dustup between center-left blogger Jeff Jarvis, and far-left blogger Oliver Willis. It's like a car crash. I shouldn't watch, but it's hard to look away.

Here we see Willis attempting to villify Jarvis for not being ideologically pure enough according to Willis (and no doubt many others like him):

It is actually in large part the folks within the Democratic Party who think like Jeff who lost the last election for us. The weakest points for the Democratic Party have been their moments when they have shunned what it is to be a Democrat (intelligent answers to complex dilemmas, common sense over corporate cronyism, justice over calculated acts of violence) in order to be "just like the Republicans" (ie. voting for the Bush tax cuts or the war in Iraq).
The weirdest thing about this sort of thing is that I've seen it once before... only from the right. I was a regular at Free Republic during the leadup to the 2000 election, and I admit now that I was on the wrong side much of the time. The wisdom of experience.

I backed Alan Keyes' ideologically pure vision (stop the snickering. I was younger, pro-life was my number one issue, he is an electrifying speaker on that topic, and he wasn't quite so weird yet) and opposed Bush's more moderate appeal. I had a hard choice to make when Keyes not only was out of the race, but clearly wasn't going to carry much influence at all in the party.

I argued and debated and read. But eventually came to see reason. I backed Bush despite the fact that we didn't 100% agree on every issue (partially thanks to this guy, though he may not remember our exchanges at the time). Since then I have come to learn that this is the essence of the American political system - compromise and coalition building. And it happens within parties far more often than between them.

This is why the Jeff Jarvis' of the world so interest me (though my interest and respect taints those of his ilk within their own party - blame Heisenberg). Jarvis is simply trying to understand the electorate and allow his party to build a winning coalition. It's not exactly a new idea.

But unlike among the Republicans in the 90's, the radicals have won control of the party. It's not that there aren't sane and intelligent voices who belong to the Democratic Party and would vote against my candidate. That's a given. It's how marginalized this element of the party has become.

Jarvis calls it the "politics of immaturity":

They operate on schoolyard rules:
: 'If I don't like your game, I'll take my ball and go home.' (See 'one-man circle jerk.' Clever product placement here.)
Or to promote them a few years, they operate on junior-high clique rules:
: 'If you talk to them then you can't be my friend.'
It's all about trying to create an exclusive club. It's all about exclusion.

They measure people on whether they (a) agree totally with them and (b) attack the other side with the same vitriol as they do and (c) dare to ever think of criticizing our side.

This is the politics of immaturity.


And I've seen this all before. It certainly does exist on the right. It's just marginalized.

Hugh Hewitt is convinced that this is a good thing. He believes only a true demolition can shake up the left into regaining some sense about the electorate and the country, and they have yet to experience that.

Me? I'm not so sure. The lack of a serious opposition is giving Republican elected officials a free hand to ignore the interests of their own base - where else can we go? From drilling in ANWAR, to Bush's prescription drug benefit for seniors, to the skyrocketing federal budget, to border and immigration control, there are plenty of things the Republican base has to complain about. But whom do we complain to? There is no credible opposition proposing anything better.

But since the current "center" of the Democratic Party sees the current administration as extreme right-wing as they can possibly conceive, they're not likely to even be capable of intellectually honest inquiry, let alone effective electoral strategizing.

This is the element the Willis/Kos/Atrios contingent of the Dems just totally can't see. Must be frustrating to be a Jeff Jarvis in that party these days.

The question is whether the party purges itself of centrists like Jarvis the way they did pro-lifers, or whether they can find a way to reconcile the ideologues with the pragmatists. My current assessment leans toward the former.

If You're Going to Watch The Oscars...

... and for the record I'm not, this is the way you ought to go about it. A little wine, a little company, and a whole lot of snarky commentary.

Lighter Fare

You're right. I am normally more talkative than this. Just a mood I'm in. It will pass. Meanwhile, here are a few fun things to pass the time:

If you're a fan of the television show Good Eats (and if you're not, you should be), here's a great site where a fan(atic) has taken the time to transcribe every single episode. Being a tomato fanatic myself, here are the links to transcripts of the Good Eats tomato episodes: Tomato Envy & Pantry Raid II: Seeing Red

And speaking of tomatoes, here is my favorite place from which to order heirloom tomato seeds: Tomato Growers Supply Company. The site is rather oddly organized, but poking around in there should reveal a staggering number of tomato varieties - both heirloom and hybrid -including pictures and descriptions. The scary thing is that in their print catalog, they have even more varieties in stock than you see on their website.

A couple of weird things via Michele at ASV:

Design yourself as a Lego, and Gallery of Unfortunate St. Patrick's Day Cards

And as if he didn't already have his hands full with his expected run for the 6th District (and just as his opponent shows signs of bolting the race in apparent fear), a local Elvis impersonator is planning to run for pope! (Note to the candidate: You platform looks solid to me. Simply find a way to get me named to the College of Cardinals and my vote is yours.)

Friday, February 25, 2005

Terri Schaivo Update and My Thoughts

My mood was bad enough tonight before I came across this (hat-tip Flown to the Roll):

Man Cleared to Remove Wife's Feeding Tube

I have promised a couple of people that I would better articulate my position on the assisted suicide issue in general. This isn't going to be that piece. The specifics of this case take this so far beyond the general point, that I'd rather concentrate just on that alone tonight.

From the judge we get this:

"The judge wrote that he was no longer comfortable granting delays in the long-running family feud, which has been going on for nearly seven years and has been waged in every level of Florida's court system. He said the case must end. 'The court is no longer comfortable granting stays simply upon the filings of new motions,' Greer wrote. 'There will always be 'new' issues.'

All Things 2 All responds:
It is disturbing to hear a judge sounding irritated because there will always be reasons why a beautiful woman should not be starved death. The issues are not new - they are the same issues that have needed to be addressed. Terri Schiavo is not on life support, she simply needs a feeding tube when nutrition and hydration are required. She is not comatose nor is she terminally ill, she is disabled. There are conflicting medical reports about her neurological functioning, and eye witness accounts that she can speak some words and is emotionally responsive and interactive with those she knows. Despite Michael Schiavo being awarded over $1 million for her rehabilitation she has never received any therapy. Her opportunity to regain more function has been prevented from being explored. Most importantly, a person should not be deliberately starved to death because some-one who has legal guardianship finds their existence inexpedient. The issues are the same, and one hopes they will finally be heard. Terri Schiavo is a woman in God's image. "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, that you do to me" - Jesus

If you're thinking about this case in some abstract sense of the right to die, you're fooling yourself. When they starve this woman to death in three weeks it will be murder. Legally approved murder. Like what they do to only the very worst convicted criminals - and only then after exhausting every other possible legal appeal.

Only it won't be exactly like that, because starving a convicted fellon to death violates the Constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. For good reason. It is without a doubt both cruel and unusual.

And for those who argue that maybe her mind is so far gone she won't even be able to comprehend, I respond with this: Did you just say, maybe?!!! Maybe we're not sentencing an innocent person to an agonizing death we don't even give to people on death row?! MAYBE?!!! To me that "maybe" screams STOP. This isn't some minor quibble. If you think that maybe you are about to treat an innocent human being worse than the law allows you to treat a felon on death row, or a dog for that matter, you don't go ahead and do it!! The side basic ethics requires you to err on here is crystal clear, and all the legal pleadings and abstractions can't change that.

This isn't a debate in philosophy 101, this is a real human life. What's more she has real parents who are asking the courts for nothing more than allowing them to take over her permanent care, since her "guardian" would prefer to snuff her.

Just to reiterate, she is not on life support, nor is she unconscious. She just needs assistance to eat and drink. So does my 10 month old. So do a lot of people.

In related news (yes it is), the Pope is recovering, though he required an operation to provide him assistance to breathe. Others I will not link to are starting to pipe up about what a worthless life he now leads. They're not exactly calling for him to be "euthanized." Not yet anyway. But there is a definite correlation between the way Terri Schiavo's life is devalued, along with the lives of others who become frail and vulnerable, and no one is so powerful to be immune from the sentiment.

If your mind is "maybe" persuaded the life-devaluers have a point, how about maybe erring on the side of caution and life, instead of leaning the other way?

The Star Tribune Admits It's A Surrogate of the Democrats?

I admit I was skeptical too. Around here, we're accustomed to watching the Star Tribune act like Minnesota's media wing of the Democratic Party, but we're certainly not accustomed to hearing them admit it.

Yet from today's editorial page:

This, alas, is how the Democratic Party works: Rather than debate issues on the up and up, it depends on surrogates to go directly at an "enemy's" strength. In Swift Boat Veteran's case it was their effective debunking of Senator Kerry's inflated claims of military heroism. In the case of President Bush, we're guessing it's the fact that his Social Security reform proposals might actually gain public approval.

Oh, and of course you can wait for the protestations that the Democratic National Committee had nothing to do with the anti-Bush campaign. But of course you wouldn't swallow that, would you?


Whoops! Clumsy me. Never could quite figure out this cut-and-paste stuff. Turns out everything in bold above was garbled in translation. Here's what the Strib editorial actually said:

This, alas, is how the Bush White House works: Rather than debate issues on the up and up, it depends on surrogates to go directly at an "enemy's" strength. In Kerry's case it was his distinguished war record. In the case of AARP, we're guessing it's the group's reputation as a rather stodgy but dependable and trustworthy advocate for seniors.

Oh, and of course you can wait for the protestations that the White House had nothing to do with the anti-AARP campaign. But of course you wouldn't swallow that, would you?

If you've ever done symbolic logic diagramming, plot both of those statements out, and see if you can find any difference. I certainly can't.

So despite their attempt to yet again smear the Bush administration by innuendo rather than... I dunno, providing actual evidence or something, just thinking out loud here... we have to leave open the possibility that this is in fact a carefully encoded confession of what many of us have suspected all along.

Jeff Johnson Talks About His Faith

Douglas at Belief Seeking Understanding has an excellent post today involving an e-mail exchange he had with candidate for Minnesota Attorney General, Representative Jeff Johnson.

Douglas asked Johnson to "share something about how his faith affects his conduct in public life."

The responses were refreshingly candid. Here's an example:

I grew up in a Lutheran family, with parents of very strong faith, but also with the underlying philosophy that your religious beliefs are a mostly private matter that are to be shared in church, but not worn on your sleeve elsewhere. To this day, while my Christian faith guides every decision I make, I'm still probably not as comfortable proselytizing or boldly testifying as some Christians are (or as the Bible might encourage).
Here Johnson knows he's speaking to an evangelical audience. But rather than pander by adopting the language of an evangelical, he speaks about his actual religious formation and admits a possible weakness.

But there is more to the exchange than just this. In my opinion, Johnson comes across as both sincere and humble in his understanding of faith in his political life. Read the whole thing.

There Goes The Neighborhood?

The revolution continues.

Discussing this with Craig Westover last night at our weekly conservative indoctrination session was interesting. He pointed out that a lot of bloggers hearing about politicians getting into blogging are reacting with the same elitism as journalists griping about bloggers getting into journalism.

True to a point. But not entirely without reason. Journalists started griping about bloggers after they had already been around, writing and gaining audience for a while. In this case we're frequently getting A BIG PRONOUNCEMENT about a particular politician having a blog before anyone actually does anything.

But that's politics. It's a dirty business, but I'd rather others do it than me. So to that extent I'll give them a break.

Also, I did suggest that Mark Kennedy start a blog on his web-page the very day I discovered his web-site, so I can hardly be classified as anti-politician blogging. Though I have a very real worry that poltico-blogs are going to range from the formulaic to the ghost-blogged to the so carefully vetted they'll be as dry as reading press releases.

But Craig made what I think is an excellent observation in response to that. All it takes is one. And the others will have to follow. Here's how he explained it, best as I can recall:

Say you're one of the candidates in a race seen as a long-shot. The press doesn't give you much attention. The party gives you the cold-shoulder. What do you do? Start writing bluntly and provocatively on your blog. That attracts the attention of blog-readers, who link and call attention to it. Uncomfortable questions arise for the more front-running candidates, and if they don't respond they start to lose credibility. Suddenly, the minor candidate is forcing other campaigns to engage in conversation instead of canned sound-bites.

A healthy thing for our electoral process as well as the blogosphere, eh?

Tommy's Excellent Adventure

What I want to know is when the heck did this happen, and who has been hiding it from me?

The "this" I refer to is of course:

Tommy Lee loves horticulture, finds chemistry to be unbelievably hard and was shocked when he found out he had to be out of bed at 6 a.m. in order to be on the Memorial Stadium field by 7 for band practice.

That early rising schedule is just one of the jarring lifestyle changes that the former Motley Crue drummer has encountered in "Tommy Lee Goes To College," the tentative title of a NBC reality television show that has been filming on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus since early October.
Tommy Lee - the former Motley Crue drummer, and co-star of the steamy sex-tape with his ex-wife Pamela Anderson - has apparently enrolled at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. And he apparently did so last fall. And why should I even care about that?

Because they're playing their cutesy little reality show dangerously close to something far more important! They let Mr. Motley Crue into the band at Nebraska football games!!!

To demonstrate how much Nebraska's culture (I'm 100% Nebraskan on my dad's side) is focused around that football team, I watched every televised Nebraska game available last year - on pay-per-view when necessary - travelled to one game in person, listened to the rest of the games on the radio, and follow them in the news year-round (especially through here), and discuss them with my family - some of whom live in Lincoln and Omaha - on a regular basis, and this is the first I've heard of Mr. Lee's little adventure. It apparently wasn't a big enough story to squeeze in between speculation about Bill Callahan's first year as Nebraska's head coach, transitioning (painfully) from option football to the West Coast offense, and struggling with our team to its first losing record in 41 years.

Anyway, Mr. Lee seems to have behaved himself so far. And I can hardly blame him for the losing record last year, when there is such a wealth of material among the new coaching staff to condemn instead. But if I see even one cutesy little distraction from a game because of Tommy's Excellent Adventure next year, Mr. Lee will be hearing from me and about a gazillion other Husker fans.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Nick Coleman - Somebody's Monkey

For some reason, on his new radio show Nick Coleman has apparently taken to repeatedly insisting that he is "nobody's monkey." When one parses through the Nick-speak, this seems to be the Nickster's quaint way of stating that he is not beholden to another - he's free to write or say what he wants.

That's well and good. I have no trouble accepting that he acts like a partisan leftist hack by choice rather than compulsion. We've got a lot of those around here.

But there certainly is one item of note that would seem to challenge this notion. He gets a regular paycheck from the Star Tribune, a subsidiary of the McClatchy Company.

Well sure, but he's a professional reporter, right? Well no. According to his editor he's a columnist and when challenged in the past has stated Coleman's work: "... involved no reporting, and that the column's factual misrepresentations were tobe read in that light."

Okay, that's fine. But he is at least a columnist right? And all columnists in a big metropolitan area make big money, right? Well, no. It turns out they don't. What's more Coleman knows enough about this stuff to blab about it on his radio show.

But does he blab about the salary issue in general? No. Only about the financial goings on at a newspaper which just happens to rival his current employer. On the topic of the financial goings on at his own company - including how much he is paid - he's oddly silent. If Westover's pay is ridiculously low, what's the average columnist at the Strib making Nick? It's relevant to your point isn't it?

What's that sound, you ask? It's Nick screeching and hanging from the trees, because it turns out he is somebody's monkey after all. He's a bought and paid for monkey of The Star Tribune.

So Nick, now that you've broken the story, I'm dying to hear you tell everybody what what all the Strib columnists make. You brought the topic up, after all, so we can only assume you don't find such matters too private to discuss. A Strib monkey wouldn't tell us, because it might make the paper look bad. But you're nobody's monkey, right?

Go Look

No time to post anything original this morning. Fortunately, a couple of others did the work for me.

First, go read the First Ringer's first-hand account of a day on the campaign trail with Mark Kennedy.

Then, especially if you're a member of the Minnesota Organization of Blogs, go read Swiftee's warning about the new MOB blogroll.

And would someone please trackback to Learned Foot already? I would but I... um... gotta run.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Terri Schaivo - Other Voices

Peg at What If? has a post regarding the Terri Schiavo case.

We're not on the same page on this, but I encourage others to consider her position. And I mean that. Consider it. What does it mean ultimately for good or ill?

I respect Peg, but I truly think she's wrong here. But her opinion certainly deserves better than casual dismissal. What do you think?

The Diner is Back

To me, the big news came this morning. The Diner is back. Sort of.

It was one of my favorite radio shows, back in a period when I listened to a lot of them - mostly on am 1500 KSTP at the time (am 1280 the Patriot didn't exist yet). No kids yet. I worked days. The wife worked nights. I got my heavy political talk from Jason Lewis back then (who has sadly moved on to greener pastures). But as much as I enjoyed that stuff, I always looked forward to the time Jason wrapped up and politics essentially went to bed until morning. And in that respite came two wonderful, unpredictable, and totally unique radio shows. One of them is still around - The Mischke Broadcast. The other was The Diner (at the end of the dial).

I just listened to Lileks' new podcast version of the Diner tonight. The professional equipment is gone. The myriad supporting cast are gone. The callers are gone. But blissfully so are the commercials.

And you know what else? It kind of, sort of, works. It's not a clone of the old Diner, but you can certainly tell they're related. And not simply because you hear Lileks' voice.

The Diner was attitude... mood... it made you feel laid back whether that was your intention or not. But it also drew you into that state of mind with your curiosity and inquisitiveness piqued. If any of that makes sense to you, I'm amazed. But just listen a while, and maybe you'll agree.

Welcome back to The Diner!

Social Security: Insurance or Investment?

Over at Centrisity, Flash makes the point that Social Security is not an investment; that it is rather insurance. On these grounds he opposes the current investment-oriented reform proposals.

It’s not an invalid argument. As he points out the word “insurance” is built right into the acronym FICA that appears on your paycheck (it’s the “I” part, in case you were wondering).

But I would challenge his case on the following grounds: What the heck is it insuring against?

As Flash himself states:

“For those with an objective mind, think of the thousands of dollars you pay into health insurance, and hope you never need it. Where's the return on investment there. Think of the stack of money you pay for car insurance, and hope you never need it. Now look at the amount you pay on home owners Insurance, and have only had a few minor claims that no where near compensates you for the premiums paid.”


So why is it that all it takes to collect Social Security is to live to a certain age – an age well below the average life expectancy, which is a significant difference from what FDR instituted incidentally?

Flash states:

The premiums help support the security of our society. It is more then just a retirement account…


But Flash doesn’t consider the flip side of this point. Why is it a retirement account at all? If it’s really just insurance, shouldn’t it require something unexpected to trigger the payments?

If the left wants to institute means testing for Social Security – go for it! You won’t hear a single objection from me. I’m in the age bracket that doesn’t expect to see a dime returned from my “insurance” contribution anyway. From my perspective a bunch of older age brackets intend to plunder my paycheck as long as possible leaving people my age and younger to deal with the mess when their great Ponzi scheme finally collapses. Throw the whole thing out for all I care.

So, Flash and all who buy his argument, are you prepared to take the “retirement” part out of Social Security and make it into some sort of catastrophic insurance program? Color me skeptical, but I’m willing to listen.

UPDATE: Whoops. Gall and Wormwood points to an article today by Walter Williams containing a bit of bad news for Flash's argument:

In Helvering v. Davis (1937), the court held that Social Security was not an insurance program, saying, "The proceeds of both (employee and employer) taxes are to be paid into the Treasury like internal-revenue taxes generally, and are not earmarked in any way."
But I'm still willing to see is Flash can create some momentum among the left to turn Social Security into something only paid out in cases of need.

UPDATE 2: King Banaian checking in with even more background information.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Blogroll Culling

The first round is over, and already reflected in the blogroll.

I went through every entry in my blogroll and asked myself two questions.

1. Do I like and read this blog on a regular basis?

2. Has this blog given any reciprocal attention to MY blog?

Number one is the tie breaker. But woe be those who failed test one and two.

Varifrank was borderline and I LOVE his blog. And I'm not foolin'. I don't give a crap if his traffic is ten times mine.. or a hundred times mine. Do I read him or not? In this case yes. But since number two is likely to remain a no in this case, he'd better keep being freakin' awesome. Because he has unfortunately left himself no insurance with my new rules.

This blogroll redesign has stuff in flux, and this is not remotely the end.

Let me clear up some confusion...

If you're a Minnesota blog who posts at least a couple of times a week, and are currently on my blogroll, you're safe.

If you post less, sorry. Unless you always rock. On MY scale, not yours.

And if you don't care whether I blogroll you or not why are you reading this?

Speak No Ill of the Dead

Hunter S. Thompson is dead. I heard it same as the rest of you. But I missed something about it many of you found important.

I truly believe, in etiquette if not metaphysics, that it isn't wise to speak ill of the dead. Not the recently dead anyway, so I won't. I will turn this post toward the living.

Why don't I know enough about Hunter S. Thomspon to make me more mournful about his passing? Apparently he has a gazillion fans. Why hasn't a single soul made his work accessible to me, who came of age after he passed his interesting period?

Let me be frank. I've read parts of Leaving Las Vegas and a few other H. S. Thompson works and my reaction was, eh. But I have no doubt he had a real impact at one point. Why doesn't it translate? I blame the audience.

If the guy moved you, and changed the world of journalism, would someone please tell that story?! It's not up to me. I never saw it.

If this emperor had clothes, and from pretty solid testimonials I have to believe he did at some point, would someone please take the time to tell me what they looked like?

Blog Renovation Stuff

Okay, I realize there is now an official Minnesota Organization of Blogs list. And I realize I have yet to implement it. I've been busy.

But thinking about it brings a quandry in a couple of areas:

1. I use my blogroll as my reading list. And, no offense to any fellow MOBsters, some of the blogs on that list aren't regular reads of mine. Maybe they will be soon. But I don't like to pretend. So I'm going to need a little more subdivision of the side-bar to accomodate this change.

2. I've been avoiding implementing a "Top blogs" section of my blogroll, because I know dividing that way it is bound to piss off some who didn't make it. Human nature, blogger competitiveness, whatever.

I'm going to be thinking about ways to get around these problems in the near future. Any Solomon-like advice on the matter is welcome.

Slip-Sliding Away

*sigh*

Heavy-hearted tip of the hat to the Anchoress for reminding me of this.

I wanted to avoid this topic, because others are far more capable of discussing it eloquently than me. Everytime I think about this I get this mixture of anger and disgust and outrage and have trouble getting far beyond it.

Also I had been holding out the hope that our legal system hadn't possibly deteriorated this far. I could accept some judicial incompetence here and there. But eventually a good ruling must come down, right?

But it never did. It really has deteriorated this far. And a man is going to be allowed to have his wife murdered by-proxy. And all the while a frighteningly large portion of our country will applaud it as mercy. Most others simply won't care.

Thankfully, there are some out there who still haven't lost all hope. Here's a good place to go to find some of them.

Let's clear up a couple of misconceptions about this. She's not a vegetable. Her parents are perfectly willing to accept all responsibility - personal and financial - for her care. All the evidence you need to understand this is here.

It reminds me of this. It's a slippery slope we're on. Human life has been cheapened so much I keep thinking there must be a rebound at some point. But we just keep sliding further.

UPDATE: The decision has been stayed by another judge, at least for another day. Here's an excellent summary of the situation, correcting many of the inaccurate assumptions. (Hat-tip Stones Cry Out)

Monday, February 21, 2005

A Contrarian Post

Ahem...

Re: Prescription Drug coverage. Where the freakin' hooty-hoo is MY party?!! Free meds for seniors is not what I signed up for when I left the Wannabe Euro-Socialist Democrats!!!

Okay. I'm late. The War on Terror kind of supressed anything else for a while, and it's still my number one issue. Yet... What the f*ck?!What the f*cking, f*ck?!!

It's not like it ends there either. Illegal immigrant not-really-and-yet basically the-same-as amnesty is NOT a conservative principle.

Look. The moonbats are useless as an opposition because as soon as they see someone invoke God they've screamed "radical right wing" for the past 20 years. So that leaves the rest of us. And THIS ISN'T RIGHT!!!

There is more as well. And now that the elections are over IT IS TIME to make it clear what we as a party, and as a nation stand for. The last election proved we stood in support of the War on Terror, and God Bless America for that.

But there is more we need to mind. And now is the time to mind it.

Social Security reform is huge and crucial. And yet, I feel like Bush pissed away any benefit we might gain there with his prescription drug idiocy. And my party, labrador retreiver-like, followed along tongues a-wagging. Morons to a one.

Look. No matter what side of the aisle we sit on, we need politicians. They possess the skill of gaining enough votes to reach elective office despite the fact that no more than 30 percent of us can ever agree about anything at any one time. That's not nothing.

But it's not wisdom either.

I call on my party to let loose the restraints that made sense when the mission was electoral victory, and let loose the barking dogs of discord. They have a role. The role is to give voice to the will of the people. Now is the time.

Just Stuff

Busy, busy day. Thankfully I got the King Banaian interview transcribing and posting finished last night. So what did y'all think of it? I thought it was pretty good - and that's a compliment to King, not patting myself on the back. He provided all the content. I just provided the typing.

It's weird how many truly engaging and fascinating people I have met through this blog that I surely would not have met otherwise. These interviews really bring that out. It's one of the things that motivates me to do them. I learn more about some people I already find interesting, and in the process I provide some anecdotal refutation against the reactionary stereotypes about the people who compose the blogosphere.

My job is crazy this week, but in a positive way. Things are looking up. The whole industry is in a giant transition period at the moment. Chaos is the only sure bet. But it's nice to know it's not entirely storm-clouds and rough-seas anymore.

Look for some interesting developments at TBFKADVK later this week. And I'm not talking about a new name (though we are discussing that). First Ringer is losing his pajamas and doing some first-hand reporting.

Which brings to mind one of the things I think the blogosphere is only beginning to scratch the surface of - doing original reporting. In a certain sense, my interview is an example. But there are others I have noticed too. There seems to be an emerging consensus that blogs will always need the MSM around, because all they do is comment on MSM reported stuff. Get ready for a surprise. That will start changing just like punditry has.

I'm still looking for the Pioneer Press or Star Tribune to decide Rep. John Kline's endorsement of Mark Kennedy for Senate is worth mentioning. We reported that at TBFKADVK a couple of weeks ago. Gigantic news for a race that far away? Not according to them. But with the party's obvious attempt to unify behind a single candidate early and avoid a damaging primary contest, it's news to those of us who care about that.

The ability to pick which stories to give prominence is slipping from the MSM grasp, as Rathergate and Easongate showed. But there is no difference in kind between that and the ability to choose which stories to cover with reporting in the first place.

Is John Fund acting like a cad the stuff worthy of above the fold New York Times coverage? No. But it's a story with an audience. Some bloggers decided to cover it with original reporting, and it probably became more widely read than most non-front page news stories. There's a lesson there for those who care to look for it.

As I've said before, I'm more of a convergence than a replacement guy when it comes to thinking about blogs and the MSM. But I think many are selling the convergence short. The shakeup isn't well defined now. It's barely begun.

Enough rambling. Off to see what I've been missing all day.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

King Banaian of SCSU Scholars Interview

This is the second in my series of interviews with the bloggers of the Northern Alliance of Blogs. The first was with Mitch Berg, of Shot in the Dark, last September.

King Banaian is the blogger who writes SCSU Scholars, formerly a group blog but now a solo operation. Aside from blogging, he is a Professor of Economics, as well as Chairman of that department at Saint Cloud State University.

I met King Saturday afternoon following a broadcast of the Northern Alliance Radio show for this interview:



Me: Let’s start with some biographical information. Your life story as you choose to tell it.

King: I grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire, a city of about 90,000 people at the time. Oldest of three kids. My father is a first-generation Armenian American. My mom’s family goes back to Daughters of the American Revolution. They’re an interesting couple. A great family to grow up with.

I went to high-school and went to college in the same town – or just across the river in a little place called Goffstown, New Hampshire; Saint Anselm College. Graduated from there in ’79.

And during that time there, did a little bit of college radio. It was a carrier signal, which meant you had to plug your radio into an outlet that was on campus to hear us. Transistors could not pick us up. You actually had to have an electric radio plugged into a wall. It was amazing. I even managed to get myself thrown off radio for playing a song that had THE word that you can’t play on radio on it. Rolling Stones, Star Star. Not that I was a big Rolling Stones fan. I think I was just angry about something and decided to play that song.

Toward the end of that time… I had been pretty much committed to going to Law School. And then my senior year decided I really didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to borrow the money. And I watched Paper Chase, and Red One L. Both of those convinced me I didn’t want to do this. And one of my professors said, “You know, if you go to grad-school in economics someone might actually pay your way.” Which sounded good.

So I made some applications and I ended up in Claremont, California. Pretty much as far away from my family as I could possibly get, because I had lived with them up to then. It was time to get away. So I went to Claremont. After my first year of grad-school, I married my first wife. We lived there until 1984 when I got the job at Saint Cloud State as a new assistant professor; 26 years old when I arrived on campus, where it felt like some of the students were older than me, which was kind of weird. And I’ve pretty much stayed there since.

Me: What made you decide to go into academics instead of something else?

King: That’s a good question. My second year of grad-school, I was interested in making some more money because I had just gotten married, and we needed some extra cash. So I started teaching on the side for the school, at first as a teaching assistant, but eventually getting my own class to teach at Pomona College. And I thought that was just fabulous. I thought that was really wonderful. At the same time, the thing I wanted to do instead, which was to be a forecaster – to be one of these guys that predicts the economy – those jobs started to disappear during the recession that started just before Reagan went into office, in ’81. Those jobs were disappearing left and right. So I didn’t have much of a choice. The last thing was, 1983 rolls around, and my wife is pregnant with my son, and I realize I need a job. Now. And so I’m fetching around for a job, and I only get to offers, both of them in academia. And I decided to leave southern California and come up here.

Me: About academia, I had a few questions about that. Most of us are removed because we graduated a long time ago. What about being in academia do you like or dislike? What about the life of an academic.

King: Well, for one thing I’m allergic to suits. So I can wear … the same sweatshirt I’m wearing today I wore on campus for a day. And I’m actually part time as an administrator, since I’m a department chair as well as a professor. And that’s great. I like that part. I like being able to call my own schedule.

And in particular I like being able to research the questions that interest me. I don’t have to answer any question that doesn’t interest me if I don’t want to. I think sometimes we do it early on in our careers to get tenure. But once we have tenure the research agenda is under our control. We can do with it what we want. Some people choose to do nothing. They get tenure and then just stop researching. For me I’m doing exactly what I want to do.

I’ll tell you a story. A few years ago I got offered a job to work in DC; to work as a policy analyst; to fly to different countries and do the kinds of things like I was doing in Ukraine, that we talked about before we started this. And while I was thinking about it… in fact I was close to taking the offer. It would have meant moving to Washington. It would have meant giving up Saint Cloud, my position at the university. It would have paid a lot more money than I make now. I went into a classroom, and I had not been in a classroom for four months because in that particular semester my administrative duties were fulltime. And I went into the classroom – it was a three and a half hour class with a break in the middle – in the middle of the class I went back to the office and I rang the people in DC and turned the job down. Because I had remembered why I had become an academic.

And that’s the great thing. You keep getting older, but the kids keep staying the same age. You keep getting to talk to people who are young, bright; some of whom are inquisitive; some of whom you’re trying to turn their inquisitiveness button on. And sometimes you do that, and those are such great successes. And you talk about wanting to touch people where they are in a particular point… There’s nothing better than watching the little light bulb go on above somebody’s head. I get a chance to do that pretty much every day at work, and it makes me want to get out of bed and go to work in the morning.

I certainly don’t enjoy… I’m an administrator because my department asked me to be, and I feel like I should do this for them. And I do this for them. But I don’t do teaching as much for them. I do it more for myself because I so much just enjoy that experience of watching the light go on. It doesn’t happen all that often, but when it does you’re just so jazzed to go back and try to do another one in the next two, three, four weeks.

Me: What are some of the experiences, I know we talked about Ukraine earlier, but what are some of the experiences you’ve gotten through your life as a scholar that you’re most fond of, or made the biggest impact on you?

King: Well, Ukraine I think was certainly a wonderful experience.

My daughter, who was at that time a year old, had a problem with her throat. And we were really concerned about the healthcare system there. So we decided to live separately. My wife and daughter stayed up here in Minnesota. I went to Ukraine. So it’s a little bit bittersweet, because I kind of missed a year.

But the experience of working with the Ukranians… actually working with the man who’s now president of Ukraine, Victor Yuschenko… it was just a fabulous experience. He’s such a bright, interesting, and again inquisitive guy. He was always asking questions about… What do you think about this? What do you think about that? And interested in a debate – in a discussion that moved things forward. He was very clear about what taking what you say, hear it, and then do something with it.

I’ve been able to advise a lot of other countries. I’ve been to Egypt, Indonesia, Armenia, Macedonia, Slovakia… I think that’s all of them. And I haven’t quite had the same experience as I did in Ukraine, so that was a fabulous experience.

I’ve had the experience of meeting Nobel Prize winners. I sat about as close as I’m sitting to you to Milton Friedman; not once, but twice in my life. And that’s just an amazing experience. One time carrying on a conversation with a bunch of us who were graduate students, and asking, “What are you doing with your dissertation? What interests you?” To think that this guy who was already… that would have been 1982… this gargantuan figure; to be available to us was unbelievable.

And then a few years later sitting at a conference about the same distance apart. And him saying hello. And he’d forgotten my name, no reason he’d remember it. But he certainly looked like he’d remembered me. And then when he saw my dissertation advisor, who’s paper I was there to hear, he put the two together and realized who I was and that was quite remarkable.

Me: Okay, one little aside here: the name King Banian. When I first heard it I assumed it was like “Hindrocket,” or “Saint Paul,” from Fraters Libertas. It turns out that’s your real name. What’s the story behind that name?

King: There are two stories. The short story is it’s my maternal grandmother’s maiden name.

The long story is my parents waited six years – six and a half years – before my mom became pregnant with me. She’d had a couple miscarriages. They were concerned. She was staying home with lots of bed rest. And my father worked nights. And so when my father got up at night to get ready to go to work, it was an exciting time for her. And so she’d always have lots of conversation. My dad was getting ready to go to work. My mom said, “George, what do you think about naming him Rex, if it’s a boy?” And my father is getting ready to go out the door, turns over his shoulder, the way he tells the story, to my mom and said, “Jesus Christ, Nancy. At least translate it out of Latin and call him King.” And on that note he goes out the door. He comes back from work, and the next morning he’s getting ready to go to bed. And my mom said, “You know, King’s a nice name. You know that’s my mom’s maiden name. I think that’s a perfectly good idea.” My dad said he had two choices then. His choice was either to have a fight in which case he would not go to sleep, or wish I was a girl. He chose to go to sleep.

Me: Okay, we’ll get back to the academic stuff now. You’ve written a bit about the political correctness on campus. That’s obviously a hot-button issue among conservatives. Why don’t you talk a little bit about what you think about it.

King: Saint Cloud State is kind of an unusual place. It has a strong faculty union built on a model that … I think the closest analogy would be the Teamsters. It’s very adversarial. It’s very much a militant us versus them. The collegiality that one might expect in an academic union doesn’t exist, really, in any serious way. As much as both sides have tried at times, it just doesn’t work out. So along with a desire to censor some people who express thoughts that do not conform with the academic mainstream, which is extremely liberal, you also get the force of a faculty union which can enforce its will upon the administration to sanction those who speak against that dominant liberal paradigm on campus. And so it’s almost like Saint Cloud State is a petri dish in which one can see what would happen if you were to allow the people who believe in these things to gain enough power to actually enforce their will.

And so when we started Scholars… And I should point out, Scholars was initially a group-blog. It had four people on it. …. The idea was simply to turn a spotlight onto Saint Cloud State – onto the petri dish and say, “Hey, look in here and see what’s going on.” So that was the idea of what we were doing.

What we’ve discovered is that whenever speech occurs on campus which they disagree with, their desire is to in essence shut it down. On Saint Cloud State’s campus there was a list-server that was basically just for discussion of various events. It still exists. But a year and a half ago the administration said, “We might need to censor that list. We might need to moderate that list.” And what’s happened as a result is that nobody ever posts on it anymore. It becomes one of those Usenet wastelands where a flame-war broke-out on soc.culture.Turkish, and all the Armenians and the Turks have a big word battle there and all you see is the smoking ruins of 1997 posts, and nothing since. That’s what’s become of the discussion list.

So our feeling is that we have the imposition of a dominant paradigm, which self-perpetuates; which is willing to avoid rules in order to self-perpetuate… which I think is the crux of the Ward Churchill story. The fact that some guy doesn’t have a PhD, has questionable scholoarship, and yet is tenured and a chair of a department at a major American university. I’ve got that thing going on in many places at Saint Cloud State. There’s that kind of thing going on at many schools. I have not written as much about Ward Churchill as some people because my reaction is… I’ve been telling you this for years. It’s been going on for years. You just happened to catch one guy who said the one thing that made everyone go, “Oh my gosh! You can’t say THAT.”

And so I think that’s the issue. The issue is that speech on campuses is being suppressed. Standards on campus are being reduced in a desire to not have anybody offended, or have anybody thrown out who has the proper viewpoint of the world. I think there’s a large group of faculty on campus who watch this, and they’re not happy about it, but they’re afraid to say anything. You have a vocal minority on our campus, because of the union, that minority can be a pretty good size. It’s 25 – 30 percent on our campus I would say. But on other campuses I would say it’s 5 or 10 percent dominating 90 who are afraid that if they say anything bad something will happen to them.

I think that’s what’s happened. We have lax standards. We have a suppression of free speech. Those are the two most important issues. The honesty of scientific inquiry is just vital to campuses around the world. That we can both present evidence to support a hypothesis, and that we can agree that the data supports or does not support the hypothesis.

Now there are places, particularly in the social sciences where I am, where you can get in debates over whether the evidence really supports or not. But you have the same goals in mind.
We have people on our campus though who use such things as Deconstructive theory, Post-Modernism, or so on, to sort of say that evidence is dead. I don’t understand that. If evidence is really dead than how do we ever prove that anyone is ever guilty of a crime for example? Or how do we prove anybody’s parentage? Think of all the things that would be true if all of a sudden that decision on what constitutes evidence is called into question. But that seems to be what’s happening.

Me: Put yourself as the all-powerful university president for a day, what would you do to clean it up in practical terms? Not just idealism. I assume, you being part of the campus, you have some concrete ideas that you’d like to see implemented.

King: I do. I think first of all every faculty member would have to demonstrate, not only that they are good teachers, but that they are good scholars. And that means having their materials reviewed by their peers and found to be of professional quality. And I think you have to insist on that process. At least on my campus faculty are allowed to demonstrate their packages for promotion and tenure in any way they want. I would want that to be more standardized.

There are places on my campus where one is allowed to speak freely and places where you’re not allowed. There are free speech zones at Saint Cloud State. There are free speech zones on many campuses. My first act would be to abolish that. Not only for the faculty and the students, but if someone wants to come off the street and stand and scream fire-and-brimstone and wave a Bible over his head, the way you react to that is to say, “You know that’s not what the Bible says.” And you just talk back.

That’s the great thing about the blogosphere. It’s the ability to talk back to people in a way that hopefully doesn’t become the Usenet flame-war sort of thing. And a campus that could build that environment is a very vital campus.

I think I would require students to go through a core curriculum that reflects the basic tenets of Western society. I’m not only not in favor of multi-culturalism, I think it’s wrong. And I’m actually pro-West. I’m pro-American, and pro-England. I believe that that tradition, that Western tradition, is what lead people out of poverty. As an economist one of the things I tell people is that the history of mankind is that for about four thousand years we all lived at a subsistence level. Only in the last two centuries have we discovered that we can live well beyond the subsistence level. And it all happened in one place at one time and that was the West. And rather than denying the superiority of that we should be going and looking at that, and picking up parts and saying, “Here’s what caused the growth of the West in that period.” Western universities in particular ought to be able to teach it so we learn not to destroy what there is.

I think I’d describe it this way. I read this on a blog somewhere, I can’t remember where… You know how people always say think outside of the box? My view of it is respect the box. First figure out what’s the box, what’s in it, and learn to respect it. And then if there’s something outside it that could also be valuable, well then by all means bring it in. But first understand what’s in the box. I don’t sense that many academics actually do understand it.

Me: Last academic question, and then we’re going to move on to talk more about blogging. You specialty is economics. What is it that excites you most about economics? Why that as opposed to Law, for example, which is the other thing you said you might go into?

King: I like economics mostly because it helps me make sense of the world around me. Economics is sort of a description of everyday life. People interacting with each other. It’s social. It’s a social science. I do not teach in the College of Business. I teach in the College of Social Sciences, and I like that. Because it is a social science it describes interaction. It helps me understand what I see around me. And I think that’s the only criterion I would use for whether or not to be a lawyer, or a sociologist, or a psychologist. Does it explain the world I live in?

I’m very much a positivist about my view of how things work. That again descends from Milton Friedman. It’s amazing how many parts of my life came from Friedman at various points in time.

If I build a model about how the world works and it has the assumption the sky is green, if it helps me explain the world I’m not so worried about what that assumption is. What’s nice is economics has certain basic assumptions about people being self-interested. The story of no free lunch. The means by which everybody has to optimize their welfare. Do I think people actually behave that way? No, probably not every person in every place. But I get far more predictions right than I get wrong. And to me that’s what’s attractive to economics. It takes very basic questions, takes a very simple set of assumptions, and shows its power by showing it predicts a lot of behavior we see in the world. In rather interesting ways.

The other thing about it which I think is kind of funny is that economists like the kind of argument where you get a kind of ironic solution. Where someone says, “Well that’s good.” And then you can say, “Well, you know, it’s not really good because it’s bad this way.” And everyone says, “Oh, so it’s bad.” “Well, yeah it’s bad, but you know it’s good this way.” Economists love that kind of thing, and it somehow just appeals to my personality to have that kind of argumentation.

Me: Back to the blogging. You mentioned a bit about how it got started as a group-blog, but I discovered SCSU Scholars through other blogs that I read in the Northern Alliance. I didn’t see the early days. I think you spoke a little about the motive for starting the blog, but why don’t you talk about the mechanics. When was it? Who was in involved? How did it all come about?

King: September of 2002 I had been reading… in fact, I was reading two Northern Alliance blogs. I was reading Fraters, and I was reading Shot in the Dark. So I had read Mitch. And I had no idea who the heck “the Elder” was, or anyone like that. They just struck me as a couple of smart-alecks down in the Cities who were writing stuff that was really funny and insightful, and I said, “Hey this is cool! I want to read this stuff.” So I saw that.

And about that time I was talking to people about this desire of a lot of people on campus to suppress the ability of conservatives on the campus to interact in a public forum. This was coming. And so I kind of decided that I needed to stake out an alternative place where people could come and speak freely. And so I created the blog. I’m the one that signed it up, and I quickly lined up two or three other people who were conservatives of various stripes. One’s an English professor. One teaches insurance. And the other was a former professor of psychology. And I got them signed on and to learn how to use it.

Over time all the other three dropped out of it. And so SCSU Scholars, I’ve been tempted to change the template, to take the front page and cross out the “S” at the end, as sort of a smack on the other three.

But the whole idea was… and this is the part of SCSU Scholars that was amazing… I thought it was a blog just for the people at Saint Cloud State. I never intended it to have a large national audience. I did want the ability for students to see what was going on. Given some of my concerns about what’s happened with the administration over time, I wanted trustees, alumni, boosters of the athletic programs to be able to see what was going on.

But all of a sudden I’m getting comments from people in California who have never been to Minnesota. And I realized there’s a bigger market for this thing than I thought.

So when we started it we really thought… We would post a big piece that we thought was really damning of something that was going on at Saint Cloud State. And at the end of the day we’d all get together and say, “My gosh! We’ve had seventy visitors today!” There’d be high-fiving going on, and we’d be all so happy.

And so the purpose of the blog really evolved over time.

And then when the Northern Alliance began, in January of ’04… We joined the Northern Alliance in May of 2003, and that was kind of just on a lark. I had always been commenting, and goofing, and sending e-mail to Chad, and commenting on Mitch’s site. And Mitch had thrown me a couple links, and Fraters had thrown me a couple links. And you get dizzy on the fact that someone throws you a link and all of a sudden your readership goes up. Remember, we were going like fifty, sixty, seventy, and all of a sudden we’d have a day where we’d get two hundred readers. And we’d go, “Wooo! That’s unbelievable!” We were really happy about it.

And so what happened when they decided to do that, what happened was, Scholars began to evolve. We had been very firm about doing only academic issues; particularly about higher education up to that time. Then when we decided to do the radio show, I started to add K-12 education, particularly because I was involved somewhat with a discussion over the social science standards that were trying to be passed by then [former Minnesota Education] Commissioner Yecke. And eventually the other guys of the Northern Alliance said, “You know, you’re an economist. You should write about economics.” And I was.. “Yeah, but there’s so many other people doing that already.” There are far more economist blogs going on than there are academic blogs… higher ed blogs. The ones that are out there are also by and large written by young people who are adjuncts and they have a very different view of how the world works. And they’re also written very much by people who are in the humanities. I’m a tenured, department Chair, in economics. I have something entirely different than what they do. I really didn’t want to give that up.

But I have kind of branched out, in part to provide material for the radio show. And in part because I am finding more and more that there’s stuff going on out in the world that really interests me that I wanted to have a place to talk about. I thought I’d develop a second blog, but that just never worked out. So I’ve just put that stuff into Scholars.

Me: You mentioned the radio show. How did you get involved in that? What’s your memory of how that came to be?

King: I think the story is pretty well known.

I had never heard of Hugh Hewitt until we were told that we had to get approved by this guy who is the Commissioner of the Northern Alliance. And I was like, “Who’s he?” And so I find out Hewitt’s got a radio show. And I find out they’ve got a stream of the radio show, so one night I flipped the stream on, listening at the house. And I was listening going, “He’s pretty good, so alright.”

And so I started listening to Hewitt, occasionally sending him e-mail from time to time. . Occasionally he mentions the Northern Alliance. And every once in a while, he’ll send a link on one of his things to Scholars. And I was interested. I thought he was an interesting guy.

We get a note in early January in 2004 saying Hewitt is coming out for his Hewitt on ice event, his winter trip to [am 1280] the Patriot. And would I like to come to have lunch with him? Okay. I was thinking I’ve got my daughters in a chess tournament that day, and so I had to go do the chess tournament first and I said, “Well I might miss the lunch, but I’ll certainly come by toward the tail end of the lunch and visit with you all, because it’s down here and I’m up in Saint Cloud.”

So I drive down, and only when I arrive and I’m sitting having desert do I hear that the purpose of this is to discover whether or not we make a radio show.

Now, as I mentioned I did college radio at Saint Anselm. When I was at Claremont I did college radio for two years. Punk rock. All that bad stuff. Heck, I played the heck out of Gary Newman and Cars, as a 22 year old. I’m embarrassed about it. But I heard this, and I thought, you know I enjoyed my time in radio. That might be fun.

So I said how’s it going to work? And the initial thought was I was going to participate over the phone, or over a remote studio somehow up in Saint Cloud. I didn’t realize I’d drive down all the time. And that was the basis on which I said yes. We tried a few phone things, and it just doesn’t work. The way the chemistry works in that studio is everything is eye contact, everything is pointing at each other. Seeing the person you’re talking to on the radio makes all the difference in the world. It’s sort of like the difference between e-mail and real conversation. In e-mail you’ll say things that you would never say to somebody you saw in the face. In part because you’d be afraid they were going to smack you in the mouth.

It was really that event… Mitch and Ed went ahead and talked to the Patriot, and they said, “Alright. If you’re going to try it.” And I initially thought we’ll go down a few times, this could be kind of fun. But this is a lark. A couple months it will go away. Two or three months, it will be fine. I told my wife at the time, it’s going to last only two or three months, this isn’t going to go forever.

We’re coming up on a full year in early March. And I’m just stunned that it’s still going. That we’ve been able to do national shows. That there’s interest in the program. That there are sponsors. I expected absolutely none of it. Proof once again that I would be a horrible forecaster if that had ended up being my profession.

Me: Sorry to get to this, because it is directly contradicted by your previous statement. Where do you see the radio and the blog going? What’s their future?

King: I think the blog will stay there. It’s simply a nice part of my life. What the blog’s done is allow me to develop a writing style that only comes with practice. I got addicted to the whole thing about writing every day when I wrote a book about Ukraine back in the late 90’s. And for a couple years I tried to journal. And I’ve got like five or six books of stuff in there. And it’s only inertia that hasn’t caused me to burn them, because there isn’t anything I think particularly valuable in them. I just wanted to write this stuff down.

So when I formed the blog, part of it was to get the word out. But part of it was simply I like writing every day. I like that experience. And I like having a particular time at which I do it.

I think the blog will continue. I toyed with the idea of getting rid of the name, because it’s not really descriptive of what the blog does anymore. But it’s got enough cache now. It’s got a miniscule brand capital invested in it. And so I’m going to keep it the way it is.

The show? I don’t know what’s going to happen to the show. It’s a hobby right now in some part, I think in large part. I think there’s interest in seeing if there’s maybe something more professional we can do with it. I think there’s an interest in seeing… Can it be a regular profitable gig? Could it be syndicated? I think it’s possible. A lot of stations are playing repeats of Limbaugh or Savage or Hewitt on the weekends. And I think that live-radio over that time would be of interest to them.

Everything that’s happened lately has been about jumping the news cycle… getting ahead of the news cycle. And yet for talk radio, between Friday night and Monday morning, there really isn’t anything there. So we would have a chance to sort of jump in and say that here’s the big thing that’s happening this weekend. And if we focused on that… And we try to do that. When we do the week in review, it’s almost Friday night in review. When we do that I really think it’s something that could go forward. I’d like to see that happen.

Am I going to be part of it? No, I’m doing exactly the job I want right now. I like being an academic. I like being a professor of economics. I don’t like being a chair. I hate being a chair. But my department feels like they need me to do that job for them right now, and I love all the members of my department, and I’ll keep doing that. I’m not going to go off and do a career in radio. That’s just not how I see myself ever being. But if this is available as a second option to do from somewhere up here in Minnesota, I love doing it. I’ll keep doing it.

Me: These are some random questions I put together. I did the same thing with Mitch when I did his interview, but slightly different in your case because you’re not quite the same person as Mitch. One question is the same though. What are your top five books?

King: Hmm.. This is an odd list. The Road to Serfdom, by Hayek. Certainly.

The Bible.

And then to almost completely contradict that The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. It was a very important book at one part of my life.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which was the book I absolutely could not put down not only during college and grad school, but when my son was born I read the whole book while he was in the hospital with a small case of jaundice. During the week I just sat across from where the window was where I could look into the nursery and see him. And I just sat against the wall and read that book. And it ties me to him in some very strange ways. He’s never read the book.

And then I think it would have to be… that’s a hard question on the fifth one. I would guess Mark Twain. There’s a lot of books that could be the fifth book. But I think Mark Twain, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I think it was just the book that described America in the nineteenth century, which I think is a great time.

Me: Next one. Perhaps more challenging for you. You are restricted to five. Top five economists of all time.

King: Of all time? Wow.

Friedman. We’ve already talked about that. And Hayek. Certainly are two.

Adam Smith. Who is the father of economics. You can’t possibly do a list of economists without him.

I’m sorry, do you mean the top five ever, or the top five that affected me?

Me: Affected you.

King: Okay.

James Buchanan is considered the father of the public choice movement in economics. An eminent gentleman and a scholar. And a guy who gave the one piece of advice I’ve never forgotten, “Don’t get it right. Get it written.” Because in the process of writing it, you find out if you’re right or wrong.

And then, if you mean to me personally, than my dissertation advisor, Tom Willett at Claremont would have to be one of the top five economists, in terms of someone who affected my life, who taught me how to be a professional and to do my job. Watching Tom, editing Tom’s papers for three years as a grad assistant, there was no greater experience a guy could have in becoming an economist that working for a guy who was so prodigious in output and so giving of his time to his students.

Me: The final one. A little more close to my heart. These don’t have to be a top five, because that gets personal. But name five Northern Alliance blogs that you like a lot.

King: I think the first one would be Newmark’s Door. I think Craig Newmark has such a good eye. He’s just a linker, but he finds… Almost once a week I end up blogging something that he does. And so I love his blog.

Another economist’s blog I read a lot is Cold Spring Shops. Steven Carlson’s site. He’s at Northern Illinois. And I’ve met Steve, and he’s a great guy. I like reading his site.

What else am I reading these days? Those two places I go every day.

The Volokh Conspiracy I read every day. I know some of the other folks don’t like it as much because they do some arcane stuff. But I find that if I’m looking for someone who’s hitting the intersection of law and economics, I think that’s interesting. I think he does a good job.

I just found your blog a month ago, so I’m not quite in the habit yet. But certainly you’ve done well.

There’s one that’s called This Blog Sits at the Corner of Economics and Anthropology. And I find that’s really fascinating stuff. He does such interesting stuff. I’m forgetting his name right now, his first name is Grant. He does such really interesting things.

There’s only two more, and it would be the two other edu-bloggers that I think are just huge, which would be Critical Mass, Erin O’Connor’s site. And then Joanne Jacobs, out in Sacramento. I look for things on their sites that are of interest to me.

Me: Anything else you wanted to talk about? Make a closing statement?

King: First of all, thank you. I’m surprised that people are interested in who blogs.

I got this wonderful note just the other day from a news reporter up in Saint Cloud, who I have commented on and a couple of times been critical of in his coverage of things around there. Now I did not realize, but the Saint Cloud Times has at least a half dozen people there reading my blog. Anyway, he dropped me a note. And he said, “Hey, I wanted you to know I really appreciated all the stuff you posted on Ukraine. Because I worked in” … was it Estonia, or Lithuania? He worked in the Baltics as an English teacher back in the early 90’s. And he said, “You were reminiscing about some of the same things that I reminisce about.” He said, “ That was really neat.”

And I wrote him back, I said, “You know it’s amazing. I’ve known you for six or seven years. I had no idea you ever worked in Lithuania or Latvia.”

I think we all want to know each other in some ways but…. David Strom, who’s blog… I should count that. David’s not an NA guy technically. He’s a quasi-NA guy. But I read their blog daily. But David said something interesting on his show once. He said the great thing about what he does, is he gets to talk to a lot of interesting and intelligent people. That is the best thing about blogging. I talk every day through my blog, and through reading other blogs, to a bunch of really intelligent people. Some people who have viewpoints that are completely different than mine. But who make me ask, “Do I really understand why I believe what I believe about this topic? Can I defend myself?” And I find that really a treat.

And it’s part of that life of the mind. The thing that you imagine two centuries ago… the Salon with the conversation and the wine…. Now I think the blogosphere is where that thing’s happening. That’s almost like the Salon that I’m chatting in. It’s just that you can’t see me, and I can’t see you. I’m waiting for the day when blogs will actually have a talking head come up and say the blog rather than you read it. I wonder if that might not be a step at some point.

I’m shocked that it’s been this successful. I don’t get that many readers. I’m certainly the lightest readership blog in the Northern Alliance. But I get lots of links, that means other people are reading my stuff, and commenting on it, and carrying the conversation forward. What could be better than that?

Banian Interview Update

King Banian packs a lot of words into very small increments of time. I was thinking 45 minutes to transcribe was no big deal. I was WAY off.

Anyway, about ten minutes of conversation remain for me to transcribe. If I can get it ready, it will still go out tonight, but probably close to midnight. If I can't complete it, I'll post a partial and follow up tomorrow.

Foodie Holiday

Today, the Mama and I got a sitter to watch the kids in the afternoon, and headed out for some overdue couple-time. We're both foodies (for those unfamiliar with the term it's roughly equivalent of a sports-fan attitude brought to fine cuisine), so the outing consisted of a trip to a wine-bar for lunch, and Byerly's for a little browsing and shopping.

At the wine bar, we split a half-bottle of a very nice Marsanne from California's Santa Ynez Valley produced by Qupe. This feller.

This particular wine bar, Bobino, is famous for great upscale food. But to our surprise it had a much simpler "brunch" menu on Sunday afternoons. And it really hit the spot.

It was while dining there that we decided to go to Byerly's afterward. We needed a few hard-to-find things they carried, and hadn't done fun-food shopping together in some time.

A few of my prized finds:

Capers packed in sea salt. After rinsing, they're much less salty and truer to their natural flavor than those packed in brine.

Schizophrenic Chipotle
Smokey Red Sensation sauce.

A new Minnesota salsa I had never heard of before: Daniel's Fire Roast.

Tulocay's Artichoke Fennel Savory Sauce with Chardonnay.

Miso Soup with tofu and scallion.

Also two kinds of fresh olives, one a hard-to-find French variety, the other Greek and stuffed with sundried tomato. Also another jar of olives from the excellent Santa Barbara Olive Co.

We picked up a few other items as well, but this gives an idea that this was not a simple "gallon of milk, dozen eggs" kind of grocery trip.

Me happy. Transcribing yesterday's interview will be much more pleasant now.

Bush Goes To Europe - A Failure Before He Arrives?

President Bush has gone to Europe, and cynics everywhere are already pronouncing the trip a failure. Typical of such cynics is an article by William Pfaff this morning, titled straightforwardly enough: Why Bush will fail in Europe (found via RCP)

But let's examine some of the premises said failure is built upon.

The first is that the Europeans don't believe in the War of Terror:

American claims about the threat of terrorism seem grossly exaggerated, and the American reaction disproportionate and even hysterical. Three thousand were killed in the Twin Towers, but most advanced societies have already had, or still have, their own wars with 'terrorism' sustaining losses proportionately as severe: the British with the IRA, Italians and Germans with their Red Brigades, the Spanish with the Basque separatist Eta, and so on. It has been a condition of modern political existence.
Did you get that? Airplanes crashing into buildings. Get used to it. Europeans would. A moment later we get this telling statement:

To most Democrats as well as Republicans, 11 September was the defining event of the age, after which 'nothing could be the same'. Their imperviousness to any notion that this might not be so astonishes many abroad. Many European believe it is not the world that has changed, but the United States.
Um... hard to know what to say about this. Coupled with the confession above of European impotence in the face of similar events, this is hardly a flattering portrait of the modern European state of mind. If we're different here, I'm hardly persuaded it is the U. S. which needs to change its attitude.

The second cause of transatlantic disagreement is the American claim to global domination, and its hostility to Europe's acquiring political or military power commensurate with European economic power.
Now we're off in pure fantasy-land. American hostility to Europe's attempt to acquire military power is a European fantasy paralleling the wild consipracy theories among Arab nations blaming Israel for their every problem. Want a military? Go ahead and build one. No one is stopping you.

But please don't default on your already meager NATO treaty commitments because you're pretending you have this terrific new military just around the corner. It simply isn't true.

The obvious problem is that Europe can't afford to build a credible military while maintaining their welfare states. The very capable military of the United Kingdom is the last of its kind among EU nations which grew complacent about their own defense under an umbrella of U. S. protection.

Without a credible military, aspirations for U. S. level political power are always going to fall short of European aspirations.

Reading Pfaff's analysis is like listening to a delusional Hitler in the bunker, directing the movements of divisions which no longer exist. He cites Condoleeza Rice:

Speaking in Paris last week, the Secretary of State asked, 'why should we seek to divide our capacities for good, when they can be much more effective united? Only the enemies of freedom would cheer this division.' The alternative she proposes is an American-led international system that replaces Nato's principle of equality and collegiality with hierarchy.

*sigh*

We've been very patient with European insistence that we treat them like equals, despite the fact that they have refused to meet the obligations of an equal in any meaningful way. They don't equally contribute economically, or militarily to NATO, yet insist we must humble ourselves before them due to that alliance.

Well, no. Rice is the realist here. What she's saying is that Europe has two choices: help, or get out of the way. We'd prefer the former. If you ever get around to resolving that impotent military problem, give us a call and we'll talk about letting you share the lead. Until that time, stop living in the past and accept the situation as it really is.

The third basic disagreement is that the US has repudiated the system of absolute state sovereignty that has governed international society since 1648, and is the basis of modern international law.

Pure and utter fantasy. Would Mr. Pfaff care to explain how all the European wars of aggression, defense, and/or conquest differ in kind from the current war in Iraq? He doesn't even attempt it, preferring to assert the preposterous fantasy that no one other than the U. S. has ever crossed this bright and shining line respected by all nations since 1648.

More fantasy follows:

The US then renounced, 'de-ratified', or simply abandoned a series of treaty commitments. These included Geneva standards on the treatment of prisoners and the prohibition of torture. The US has deliberately chosen to place itself outside the regime of international law, to which all of the European Union nations are committed.
State the case one at a time, prosecutor. The Geneva allegations are absurd, and uniformly ignore Geneva's clear distinction between enemy combatants acting in a way that entitles them to Geneva protection, and illegal combatants which the Geneva convention specifically states are not provided protection. This is no small distinction. Geneva was written this way for the protection of non-military civilians.

As for the rest of the "abandoned treaty commitments," I am aware of abandoning the Cold War treaty against building a missile defense system. But the nation we signed that treaty with no longer exists, and the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction makes no sense at all anymore. Treaties are not suicide pacts - something Europe possibly has a hard time grasping.

This American role is avowedly benevolent, and in the eyes of many Americans, certainly including President Bush, it is of divine origin (Woodrow Wilson also believed this). Within the present administration, there are those who believe cosmic forces are in play and responsible for America's emergence as the sole superpower. The American belief in a divine commission goes back to its religious origins in the 17th century, and is not open to logical refutation.
Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition!

I really wish the shriveled offspring of the continent that brought Christianity to America spent a little more time studying it. Thomas Aquinas explained long ago how it was possible to square Christian faith simultaneously with belief in objective reality. Yet Europeans have convinced themselves that all of us God-talkers are clearly impervious to reason, generally refusing to examine evidence to the contrary. The irony would be funny, if its effects weren't so serious.

The American challenge is to the fundamental claim of other nations to sovereign autonomy. In the immediate future this is likely to be managed rather than solved.
*sigh*

No, it's really not. Americans want little more from Europe than to behave like adult nations. But what is becoming increasingly clear is that Europe is intent on producing comfortable fantasies rather than playing a constructive role in the world. Tony Blair might spare Britain from this fate, though he faces a public sentiment little different than that on the rest of the continent.

On Bush's trip to Europe, one hopes he'll discover some who don't share Pfaff's perspective. If he fails in that mission, the failure is not that of President Bush, The failure belongs to Europe itself.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Banian Interview Banked

I did the interview with King Banian of SCSU Scholars today after the NARN show. A really charming and engaging guy. Could have talked to him for hours. But I didn't want to transcribe hours of conversation. So we ended the interview after about 45 minutes, and shot the breeze for a while longer.

I'll be working on transcribing later this evening, but truly don't think I'll get it done tonight. Earliest likely time for that is tomorrow, unless I get a real burst of energy.

Talked to him briefly afterward about how I would love to do lots of these kind of interviews with bloggers and turn it into a book. Kind of an oral history of this unique moment in time, where blogs are starting to "arrive" in media. He told me I should do it, because if I don't within a year someone else will. He may be right. Something to think about anyway.

Before that, I caught the third hour of the NARN remote broadcast today. Frater Brian, who was the steward of the wandering mic, even talked me into entering their trivia contest on the air. And I won a remarkable collector's edition (the polite way of saying old) Patriot coffee mug plugging Hugh Hewitt in the process. Who says watching re-runs of old television shows is a waste of time? Can't wait to see the e-Bay market for that baby.