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Monday, April 26, 2010
Intellectual Betters?

Interesting paragraph from Richard Posner's book Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline that I caught from a reference in Paul Hollander's The End of Commitment: Intellectuals, Revolutionaries, and Political Morality in the Twentieth Century:

A proclivity for taking extreme positions, a taste for universals and abstractions, a desire for moral purity, a lack of worldliness, and intellectual arrogance work together to induce in many academic public intellectuals selective empathy, a selective sense of justice, an insensitivity to impatience with prudence and sobriety, a lack of realism and excessive self-confidence.

Sound like anyone you know?

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Selling Green

Dave e-mails to report that SpongeBob SquarePants wasn't the only kid's show going green on Earth Day:

I had the same thought yesterday morning. My 6 year old daughter got to learn about the importance of turning off appliances in your house and your neighbor's house on Handy Manny and how wind power makes the earth happy on the Imagination Movers. When the 'next up' commercial told me how Phineas and Ferb were going to discover the importance of doing something for the earth, I decided to get in the spirit of Earth Day. I told my daughter to turn the TV off and play with Lego's instead.

Now that's a true conservationist approach. I was spared being lectured at by cartoon characters on Earth Day this year, but I hope that Phineas and Ferb don't start taking themselves too seriously. With the decline of SpongeBob, Phineas and Ferb has become my favorite show that my kids watch.

In Saturday's WSJ, Jonathan Last noted the mixed message inherent in another well-known children's television character's crusade to get kids to think and act green:

Fior the most part, "Bob the Builder" is about normal kids' stuff: teamwork, conflict resolution, taking turns and the like. The show isn't overtly political--Bob's catchphrase, "Yes we can!" predates the Obama campaign. Instead, it peddles a slightly hectoring brand of environmentalism. Ever since Bob discovered his inner environmental conscience, he's been teaching kids about believing in recycling and being kind to Mother Gaia. "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" has become another one of the show's catchphrases. That's fine so far as it goes--aside from those evil Republicans, who doesn't love the planet?

But it's a little rich having Bob indoctrinate children about "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" while simultaneously prompting these children to beg their parents for plastic Bob the Builder trucks, and latex Bob the Builder balls, and plush Bob the Builder dolls. All of which are manufactured in far-away lands and shipped to our fair shores by the carbon-gobbling container-shipful. Bob the Builder is like one of those evangelists who lectures on the virtues of living green before hopping onto a private jet and flying back to his mansion in Nashville.

Think he's talking about anyone in particular?


Saturday, April 24, 2010
The Third Rail of Satire

David Harsanyi looks at what's Next on Cowardly Central:

"South Park" is the program that featured an image of Jesus Christ defecating on President George W. Bush and the American flag. It's the program that featured the Virgin Mary gushing blood while undergoing menstruation and Pope Benedict XVI inspecting her in a truly distasteful manner.

"That's where we kind of agree with some of the people who've criticized our show," Stone once admitted to "ABC News." "Because it really is open season on Jesus. We can do whatever we want to Jesus, and we have. We've had him say bad words. We've had him shoot a gun. We've had him kill people. We can do whatever we want. But Muhammad, we couldn't just show a simple image."

For those who bellyache about the impending Christian theocracy, it might behoove them to be a little more irritated at the thought of a television network censoring any depictions of a religious figure over some implicit threats.

There's a simple and obvious solution to the problem. Catholics need to start driving airplanes into buildings, cutting off people's heads, and sticking knives into the chests of anyone who produces any work of art that in any way offends Catholic sensibilities, real or imagined. Such a zero tolerance policy seems like it's worked wonders for reducing the mockery of Islam.

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Friday, April 23, 2010
Beer of the Week (Vol. LII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the stout-hearted men and women of Glen Lake Wine & Spirits.

When you think of Stillwater, Minnesota beer is not the first thing that comes to mind. Book stores, coffee shops, antique stores, bed and breakfasts, and neutered metrosexuals carrying their wife's purse about town do. Oh, did I mention that our own Brian "Saint Paul" Ward is also a proud resident of Stillwater?

But there are still a few manly men in the greater Stillwater area including the founders of the Lift Bridge Brewery. They've been on the local beer scene for a few years and the reach of their distribution and breadth of their offering continue to grow. One of their year round beers that's becoming more and more available throughout the Twin Cities is Crosscut Pale Ale.

Brown bottle with light brown label featuring a nostalgic photo from the days when the men of Stillwater were really men.

Beer Style: American Pale Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 5.5%

COLOR (0-2): Golden amber. Slightly cloudy. 2

AROMA (0-2): Light hops with hints of grapefruit. 2

HEAD (0-2): White shallow head with decent lacing. 1

TASTE (0-5): Hops and caramel malt flavors are pretty well balanced out of the gate. More bitter and citrus flavors as it unfolds. Medium bodied with a thinner mouthfeel. Very drinkable. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Lingering bitterness. 2

OVERALL (0-6): Doesn't fit the usual American pale ale profile. More amber in color and more of the hoppy grapefuit taste you would expect from an IPA. Different is good in this case and Crosscut Pale Ale is an above average beer. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 14


Thursday, April 22, 2010
SpongeBob Jumps The Driving Instructor

Over the last four-plus years, I've watched many an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants with my kids (and sometimes without them). While the show has brought no small amount of amusement into our world, there has been a noticeable decline in the quality of the episodes produced over the last couple of years, especially the "specials." Now, it seems almost certain that the show has passed the tipping point on its spiral into mediocrity :

SpongeBob SquarePants isn't trying to be greener than Al Gore, but he may have an advantage in reaching out to kids.

"He's funnier," jokes Steven Banks, the show's head writer.

In "SpongeBob's Last Stand," a special Earth Day episode airing Thursday (8/7c on Nickelodeon), SpongeBob and his friend Patrick learn that a superhighway is planned for Bikini Bottom--and that it's going to cut right through Jellyfish Fields. They start a campaign to stop it, even though everyone else seems to be apathetic or pro-highway.

The special, which follows two hours of nature-themed SpongeBob SquarePants episodes, features two musical numbers, including "Give Jellyfish Fields a Chance," a salute to '60s protest songs.

"Sort of Bob Dylan meets John Lennon," Banks tells

Sort of extremely lame meets excruciatingly insipid. When televisions shows are no longer satisfied with merely entertaining us their best days are definitely behind them.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Appallingly Ignorant Diatribe

The May edition of First Things rocks. Well, as much as any periodical devoted to serious discussions of religion, culture, and public life can.

Mary Ann Glendon looks at God and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Timothy Reichert examines how widespread contraception has been a Bitter Pill for women and children.

Joseph Bottum describes the Bad Medicine Americans will be swallowing after the passage of ObamaCare.

And I haven't even read George Weigel's piece called Truths Still Held?:

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of John Courtney Murray's We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition--arguably, the most important such reflection composed in our time.

But my favorite article has to be David B. Hart's lament on the decline of respectable atheism:

The principal source of my melancholy, however, is my firm conviction that today's most obstreperous infidels lack the courage, moral intelligence, and thoughtfulness of their forefathers in faithlessness. What I find chiefly offensive about them is not that they are skeptics or atheists; rather, it is that they are not skeptics at all and have purchased their atheism cheaply, with the sort of boorish arrogance that might make a man believe himself a great strategist because his tanks overwhelmed a town of unarmed peasants, or a great lover because he can afford the price of admission to a brothel. So long as one can choose one's conquests in advance, taking always the paths of least resistance, one can always imagine oneself a Napoleon or a Casanova (and even better: the one without a Waterloo, the other without the clap).

But how long can any soul delight in victories of that sort? And how long should we waste our time with the sheer banality of the New Atheists--with, that is, their childishly Manichean view of history, their lack of any tragic sense, their indifference to the cultural contingency of moral "truths," their wanton incuriosity, their vague babblings about "religion" in the abstract, and their absurd optimism regarding the future they long for?

I am not--honestly, I am not--simply being dismissive here. The utter inconsequentiality of contemporary atheism is a social and spiritual catastrophe. Something splendid and irreplaceable has taken leave of our culture--some great moral and intellectual capacity that once inspired the more heroic expressions of belief and unbelief alike. Skepticism and atheism are, at least in their highest manifestations, noble, precious, and even necessary traditions, and even the most fervent of believers should acknowledge that both are often inspired by a profound moral alarm at evil and suffering, at the corruption of religious institutions, at psychological terrorism, at injustices either prompted or abetted by religious doctrines, at arid dogmatisms and inane fideisms, and at worldly power wielded in the name of otherworldly goods. In the best kinds of unbelief, there is something of the moral grandeur of the prophets--a deep and admirable abhorrence of those vicious idolatries that enslave minds and justify our worst cruelties.

But a true skeptic is also someone who understands that an attitude of critical suspicion is quite different from the glib abandonment of one vision of absolute truth for another--say, fundamentalist Christianity for fundamentalist materialism or something vaguely and inaccurately called "humanism." Hume, for instance, never traded one dogmatism for another, or one facile certitude for another. He understood how radical were the implications of the skepticism he recommended, and how they struck at the foundations not only of unthinking faith, but of proud rationality as well.

A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection. Among the New Atheists, there is no one of whom this can be said, and the movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe.

The entire article is a must read. As is the entire issue.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010
What Color Is Your Petard?

You may recall that during the 2004 presidential campaign there was a lot of discussion about the economy. Despite the fact that nearly all economic indicators were trending positive, the Democrats--lead by John Kerry--continuously harped on the theme that it was a "jobless recovery" and that as president George W. Bush had lost more jobs than Herbert Hoover. And it was indeed true that the job market markedly lagged the rest of the economy in rebounding from the 2000-01 recession. Eventually, jobs did come back, enough so that by the time the 2004 election actually took place, the Democrats could no longer get much play out of the issue. (In June 2003, the unemployment rate topped out at 6.3%, by November of 2004, it was at 5.4%)

So it's somewhat ironic--in a delicious way--to think that Democrats may be faced to make the opposite side of the jobless recovery argument this time around. By most indications, it's becoming increasingly clear that some sort of economic recovery is afoot. The strength and eventual staying power of said recovery is open to debate, but even the dismalist of the dismal scientists have to admit it's getting better.

But this recovery also appears to be one wherein job creation doesn't really begin until significantly after the recovery is well underway. In fact this time around, it may take even longer to make a dent in the unemployment numbers. While companies are beginning to see the light, most are still playing it safe and waiting to add to their payrolls. And while some industries can bring workers back fairly quickly once they decide to begin hiring, in many others the cycle time from a firm's leaders giving the thumbs up to adding headcount to a new worker actually starting a job can be lengthy.

From an anecdotal perspective, the company that I toil for is seeing a nice bounce back in sales, especially in Asia and the United States. It's actually come sooner than we had expected and the outlook for the rest of the year is far more positive than most would have imagined just six months ago. However, there's no rush to bring bodies back in to the organization just yet. The stresses on our the leaner and meaner work force are apparent, but the hiring spigot is going to be opened slowly and with careful calibration. I would imagine this is also what is happening in other companies throughout America.

So even if the economic recovery continues, it's probably not going to happen soon or be strong enough to really turn the tables before November when it comes to jobs. And when it comes to jobs, perception is reality. Even if the unemployment rate drops significantly between now and November, if people don't feel like there's a boom in jobs, they won't believe it. If their unemployed friends still can't jobs and if their relatives who just graduated from college can't find meaningful work, they will have a negative impression of the state of the economy. It's going to be fun to watch Democrats tout GDP numbers as proof of the strong economic recovery, while they dismissed the exact same figures as meaningless in the lives of "real" people back in 2004.

But what's even more likely is that the economy will not be the X factor in the 2010 elections. While economic health is often what tips the political balance for or against the party in power, it doesn't always hold trump. In November of 1994, the economy was booming and unemployment was at 5.6%. That didn't prevent the Gingrich Revolution. In November 2006, the economy was in great shape with unemployment at 4.5%, but voter frustration with the war in Iraq and the perceived Culture of Corruption in Congress didn't save the GOP. 2010 seem likely to be another year where it isn't the economy, stupid.

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Monday, April 19, 2010
Born To Be Dumb

Penn Jillette thinks owning a Hummer is stupid. But he understands that one of the keys to freedom is the freedom to be stupid. Which is why he penned his Homage to Hummer in Saturday's WSJ:

Hummers are stupid and wasteful and if they go away because no one wants to buy one, that'll be just a little sad. It's always a little sad to lose some stupid. I love people doing stupid things that I'd never do--different stupid things than all the stupid things I do. It reminds me that although all over the world we humans have so much in common, so much love, and need, and desire, and compassion and loneliness, some of us still want to do things that the rest of us think are bug-nutty. Some of us want to drive a Hummer, some of us want to eat sheep's heart, liver and lungs simmered in an animal's stomach for three hours, some us want to play poker with professionals and some of us want a Broadway musical based on the music of ABBA. I love people doing things I can't understand. It's heartbreaking to me when people stop doing things that I can't see any reason for them to be doing in the first place. I like people watching curling while eating pork rinds.

But if any part of the Hummer going belly-up are those government rules we're putting in on miles per gallon, or us taking over of GM, then I'm not just sad, I'm also angry. Lack of freedom can be measured directly by lack of stupid. Freedom means freedom to be stupid. We never need freedom to do the smart thing. You don't need any freedom to go with majority opinion. There was no freedom required to drive a Prius before the recall. We don't need freedom to recycle, reuse and reduce. We don't need freedom to listen to classic rock, classic classical, classic anything or Terry Gross. We exercise our freedom to its fullest when we are at our stupidest.

When it comes to religious matters, Penn is a prominent Triple Aer (aggressive, atheist arsehole) so he might not appreciate me weighing with an "Amen brother," but that's the response that he's getting anyway. He's right that the freedom to be stupid is a core American value. We all do things that others think are stupid; watch reality television, collect commemorative plates, ride recumbent bicycles, eat at White Castle while sober, but the beauty of America is that we all get to partake in our own particular style of stupid. When the government starts deciding that more and more things are too stupid for our own good, we move down a dangerous path of losing part of our core freedoms.

As Penn mentions, driving a Hummer may indeed be stupid. But so is not working out or eating too many donuts or skydiving or living in a 20,000 square foot house. The question is who should decide what's stupid or not. I'm a strong proponent of individual liberty and the individual stupidity that inevitably comes along with it.


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