Friday, November 30, 2012

Music Diaries: Stage Fright

In September of 2011 I made a promise to the band that played my wedding. As the members are all Microsoft employees, it is a tradition that they play our annual Christmas party which is known as the Holiday Wine and Cheese. The name refers to the original party back in the days of DOS and 5¼ floppy disks when it was literally a wine and cheese shindig. These days it is of course a three day bacchanal resplendent in tales of our market exploits drenched in flagons of ale and the blood of our enemies. But I digress.

One of the cool things about the band is that they allow other musicians to come and rehearse new songs with them that they then play at the party. The promise I made to them last year was that I would be one of those guest musicians in 2012. Little did I know then that the earth would not be depopulated my Mayan gods by now, so it appears I have to honor my promise.

Since my motto is Cur deficiat semel cum multis faciam which means roughly, "why screw up once when you can screw up a bunch of times", I will be playing not one but three songs with the band next week.

The first of these is one of my favorite songs of all time and so I asked to play on it. Here is what it is supposed to sound like:
The 4:00 minute mark of that video is still one of the coolest things I've seen in a music video this side of Tool. The second song is one I suggested to the band:

That of course is Jack White fronting the Raconteurs. Awesome band, and unlike his old band The White Stripes, one that doesn't owe me a concert. Side note: the Stripes canceled a date in Fargo because Meg White had a bad case of can't play the drums anxiety. The group broke up before they could make the date up. If they ever play a reunion show, that show better be in Fargo, Jack White.
The last song in my trio is one that I was only asked to play on last week so I haven't had much time to prepare:


Now, for the bombshell you never saw coming: I'm actually playing the acoustic parts on this song. Mind. Blown. You're welcome.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Facebook and Politics

I've noticed somthing about Facebook that I think illustrates the way people think in light of their politics. It's election season, and that means a lot of Facebook statuses talking about it. I have friends -- both real friends and the Facebook kind -- on both ends of the political spectrum. Which means that, by definition, my friends and I all don't agree on politics.

But I've noticed that when it comes to Facebook friends, who they plan to vote for informs how they react to others' politics. There's been a solid uptick in statuses lately that hew to some variant of the following: "I can't wait for this election to be over. Some people spend way too much time on Facebook talking about their candidate. Does anyone really think they're going to change anyone's mind in regards to how they vote? Can we all just agree to stop talking about politics and stick to posts about kids, gardens, vacations, and things like that? You know -- important things?"

I've seen some version of that post by four different poeple in the last month and half, by my recollection. That in itself isn't all that interesting. What's interesting is that, based on other posts they've either made, liked, or commented on, it's pretty clear who exactly they'll be voting for in November. In every case I think it is safe to say they'll be pulling the lever for the status quo. Which is fine, of course. Everyone who is eligible to vote has a right to cast the vote for whomever they wish -- even if they're completely wrong.

No, what makes this interesting is not who they're voting for, but rather their preferred reaction to reading -- or presumably becoming aware of the gist of, since I don't think there's a law that says you have to read everything a Facebook friend posts -- political statements that don't gibe with their own views. Let's take a look at the options available to a Facebook user.

When you see that someone has posted a status or link on Facebook that you don't agree with and/or don't want to read, you can:

(A) Read it anyway; since if they're your friend and took the time to post something the least you can do is take the time to read it.

(B) Skip over it and look for more posts about waterskiing cats and lists of reasons why music today sucks.

(C) Wonder why you were ever Facebook friends with that person in the first place and unfriend them.

(D) Attempt to influence what other people feel comfortable posting on Facebook by calling for moratoriums on certain subjects.

Now, I don't think anyone in history has ever chosen option (A), and that's okay. Option (B) is what I usually do, though there are times I will read it if it looks like a useful link (i.e. not say, the Daily Kos or Democratic Underground. I may be an occasionally incredulous reader of Salon, Slate, and the Huffington Post in an effort to keep my horizons broadened, but I'm not crazy). And I will admit there are times when option (C) is sorely tempting.

At no time have I ever seen option (D) taken by a conservative friend though, and I think that's telling. There's a certain air to liberalism that seems to imbue adherents with the feeling that their cause is so just, their ideology so pure and self-evidently right, that it's only natural to try and shut other points of view down. We see it on a large scale when there are concerted efforts by leftwing groups to get Rush Limbaugh off the air. We see it when companies don't have the right viewpoint. And we see it at perhaps its most repugnant point when people don't vote the way people of their ethnic group are expected.

Back on Facebook, this tendency to argue that politics should just be left out of the sphere of acceptable topics is undercut by a simple search of the authors' timelines. In my personal experience, it's not hard to find examples of those same people liking and commenting on statuses and links from people who share their leanings. And hey, that's fine. But it's pretty disingenuous to turn around and play the "can't we just talk about kittehs?" card.

I talked about liberals being imbued with a feeling earlier, and I think that inadvertently got to the heart of the difference between liberals and conservatives. Liberals feel. They see inequality in the world and think, that's not fair. If people would just work together and sacrifice, we could get rid of hunger/poverty/homelessness/want/need/lack of iPhones for all. The problem is that that deep feeling is always steeped in the same foundation: but not me.

Occupy protesters marched around (then later, when they got tired, camped) shouting out poorly metered slogans about all sorts of injustices: the war in Afghanistan, Wall Street, the bottoming housing market, the inability of people with masters degrees in puppetry to find work. Among the homeless, the criminals and the people with nothing better to do were a lot of people who were spending a lot of time complaining that they wanted more and other people had it and why doesn't somebody make them give it to us? Take a look at this vignette from Occupy Wall Street that aired on the Daily Show. Watch the whole thing, as it's both funny and enlightening. But pay close attention to the 4:15 mark, when a man goes to great lengths to espouse the idea that everyone should have access to all the goodies life has to offer. Private property is evidently wrong because it deprives people of access to "the goods of life". Not his iPad though, because that's his. As he says, "I'm more against private property than personal property." In other words, "my stuff is mine, but other people's stuff should be made available to everyone".

That's not to say that convervatives don't feel, and it certainly shouldn't be taken as gospel that conservatives don't care about the poor or the homeless or the hungry. We just don't think government is the best way to address it, and that in that capacity to which government involvement is necessary, the goal should be to reduce the number of people dependent on aid. Instead, we seem intent on seeing how far the balance between those dependent on government handouts and those expected to pay for them can tilt until the whole thing collapses. The eminent sage Homer Simpson once declared that alcohol was "the cause of -- and solution to -- all of life's problems. Right and Left split that dichotomy when it comes to statism. The Right sees government as the cause, the Left as the solution.

So, to any Facebook friends who might be reading this, let me say, no.

No, I won't stop writing about politics, or posting statuses that make clear in no uncertain terms that I think our current president is far, far worse than George W. Bush on his worst day -- and W. doesn't exactly stand next to Reagan in my personal pantheon.

No, I won't stop posting links that point out all the ugly, horrible, racist things that liberals say and do. Precisely because your side regards it as self-evident that conservatives are racist by definition, as though proclaiming your support for Obama magically cloaks you from racism charges while simultaneously calling Stacey Dash an Uncle Tom (and far, far worse).

No, I won't stop posting links to malfeasence on the part of a press that frets over funding for Big Bird but can't quite bring itself to dig into Benghazi, Eric Holder, or the deliberate attempt to destroy a functioning energy base (coal and oil) for one that doesn't work no matter how much money we flush down the toilet.

If that means we can't be Facebook friends, I understand. I'll just have to figure out a way to overcome the loss of hearing about kids I've never met and cats I don't like (seriously, I don't see the upside to cats). I'll have to muddle through without your invitations to install Facebook apps that invariably infect my computer with viruses. Some of you I would genuinely miss, so I hope you don't dismiss me. But as for others, I'll take solace in the fact that I'll have one less "friend" telling me what is and is not acceptable to post.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Ten Debate Questions I Would Ask Mitt Romney

1. What specific measures will you take to restore small business owner confidence in the economy?

2. What steps will you enact to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon? (NOTE: "no measures are off the table" does not count as an answer.)

3. How can the process of becoming a U.S. citizen be made easier for those immigrants who want to do it legally?

4. Will you sign a bill into law that makes warrantless wiretapping illegal?

5. What specific agencies would you work to eliminate from the federal government?

6. Would you support across-the-board actual cuts to the federal budget (i.e., no outlays excluded)? (NOTE: reductions in increases to budgets do not count.)

7. Would you sign a bill abolishing the current tax code and replacing it with a flat tax?

8. Would you sign a bill repealing the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a."Obamacare"), and if so, what specific measures would you endorse to combat rising healthcare costs?

9. What specific actions will you take to increase transparency in the federal government?

10. Will you pledge to never sign any bill that increases the debt ceiling?

Also see: Ten Debate Questions I Would Ask President Obama

Friday, September 28, 2012

Ten Debate Questions I Would Ask President Obama

  1. Would you sign a bill into law that sought to criminalize offensive religious speech?

  2. Would you support across-the-board actual cuts to the federal budget (i.e., no outlays excluded)? (NOTE: reductions in increases to budgets do not count.)

  3. What percentage of incomes above $250,000 would you consider to be a tax rate at which those individuals are "paying their fair share"?

  4. What would you say to people who remember your statement, "If I don't fix this in three years, then there's going to be a one-term proposition"?

  5. Considering the United States has the second highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world and is one of the only countries that taxes corporations on foreign revenue, what would you do to improve the American business climate?

  6. If sanctions fail, what concrete steps would you take to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons?

  7. When the number of people on welfare rolls increases, do you see this as a success for the program, or a failure?

  8. Considering the CBO is projecting an 8% annual increase in healthcare costs between now and 2022, what specific steps will you endorse to reverse this trend and cut costs?

  9. What countries in the Middle East do you see as American allies and how will you utilize those alliances to combat Islamist extremism?

  10. Why is the prison at Guantanamo Bay still open?

Coming on Monday: Ten Debate Questions I Would Ask Mitt Romney

Monday, September 24, 2012

Horace Is Home

We're still getting settled into the new house in Horace, ND, but we're having a great time doing it. We've finished up most of the outdoor projects just in time for the weather to start cooling off. All that's left is a little bit of weeding and trimming. The indoor projects are another matter.

In the meantime, the leaves are starting to turn so I thought it was the perfect time to take some pictures...

A view from the driveway

Brink Drive

A view of the dining room. You might notice a familiar couple on the wall...

The lounge area

A view from next to the shed

The backyard

A few of our beautiful trees

Trees along the grassy area on the west side of the house

View from the northeast corner of the property

Grove along the north side of the property

MJ's room is the first one we've finished redecorating. She designed the whole thing.
Instead of a traditional closet, she has a wall of cabinets and drawers.
Another view of MJ's room

A view of my playroom. Needs some redecorating...

The living room. We're still in the middle of decorating.

My other playroom. Tbe green will be going eventually.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

An Instructive Juxtaposition

The Obama administration's views toward free speech with regards to religion seem to be predicated on how violent the proponents of a given religion are willing to get. This is vividly illustrated with a couple of headlines from the end of the week: State Department spending $70G on Pakistan ads denouncing anti-Islam film
The American Embassy in Islamabad, in a bid to tamp down public rage over the anti-Islam film produced in the U.S., is spending $70,000 to air an ad on Pakistani television that features President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton denouncing the video. In the ad, Obama is seen talking about America's tradition of religious tolerance and Clinton is seen saying that the U.S. government had nothing to do with the video that contains vulgar depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. "We absolutely reject its content and message," Clinton says in the advertisement.
This, on top of earlier outing the filmmaker and an American Embassy's initial response and defense of an apologetic tweet shows an administration incredibly sensitive to the feelings of Muslims. Compare that with a piece of "art" that offends another well-known religion: WH Silent Over Demands to Denounce ‘Piss Christ’ Artwork
Religious groups are blasting President Obama for not condemning am anti-Christian art display set to appear in New York City and one Republican lawmaker said he is “fed up with the administration’s double standard and religious hypocrisy.
Maybe if Christians attacked the gallery where the piece was being shown en masse and killed some people along the way the White House would pay attention. No, that isn't a call to violence. But it is an idea that is being promoted by an administration that bends over backwards to apologize for free speech while ignoring the concerns of the "bitter clingers" to a religion that has done more to earn the moniker "religion of peace" than Islam. For the record, I don't think the administration should publicly denounce either the anti-Islamic film or the "Piss Christ" piece. But it has invested a lot of time and money in bowing and scraping to Islam in order to promote the idea that the United States respects all religions. If that's true, then be consistent. Right now, the message is that the U.S. will respect any religion that is willing to burn and kill.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Define "Everybody"

President Obama was quoted as saying, "If you want to be president, you have to work for everyone." I was wondering, does "everyone" include:

The "bitter clingers" of the midwest?

The non-union plant workers of Delphi?

The voters who don't vote for the right guy?

The shops who don't support the right right candidate?

The donors who don't write the correct name on the pay line?

The states that know how to manage their finances?

The followers of any religion or just the ones that get violent?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Rich Aren't Rich Enough

After reading an article at Canfield Press (linked below) describing America's slide from a wealth creation nation to a wealth transfer state, I remembered a short piece I wrote a couple of years ago about waiting tables as a method of illustrating the flaw in collectivist thinking. That got me thinking about the whole "fair share" argument when it comes to taxing the rich. Setting aside the fact that our tax base largely comes from a relatively small part of the populaton, I wondered just how much more "just a little more" really was. How much would represent a "fair share"? Short of adding up all the numbers on Forbes' 400 list there was no definitive amoung given for the total wealth of all of America's billionaires. However, using some simple calculations of the data that was readily available, I got some interesting (though not unexpected) numbers.

The total wealth of the world's billionaires as of March 2012 was $4,600,000,000,000 (source). Dividing that by the total number of billionaires in the world (1226), that averages out to roughly $3,752,039,152 per 1%er. There are currently 425 billionaires in the United States, so a decent estimate of the total wealth of American billionaires is about $1,594,616,639,478. That certainly isn't a perfect way of estimating it, and the number could be a bit higher or a bit lower.

Now, back to that wealth transfer thing. In 2010, total spending on entitlements was about $2,200,000,000,000. This means that if we simply confiscated all the wealth of all the billionaires in the United States, it wouldn't pay for one year's worth of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and all the other programs that fall under the Entitlements umbrella. The idea that if we just raise taxes, if we just ask the rich to "pay a little more", our money problems will be solved is fantasy. We're past the point where taxation can solve our debt woes. We're passed the point where we can ignore the reality that we have to spend less money. Slowing the rate of spending growth is no longer an option. Class warfare won't fix anything. The only thing that will work is to cut budgets. All of them.

The federal budget request for 2012 included outlays of over $3,800,000,000,000 and was based on predicted revenues of just over $2,200,000,000,000. In other words, we planned on spending nearly twice as much as we planned to take in. That's not sustainable, and it's not fixable with class warfare.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Four Excuses For An Obama Loss (And Why They Won't Wash)

If the ballots are counted in November and Barack Obama becomes a one-term president, the media will fall all over themselves to explain why. None of those reasons will encompass the simple truth that his policies have been a failure, that he wasted his solid majorites in Congress by focusing laser-like on Obamacare, or that the American people didn't buy into his class war rhetoric.

Admitting to those things would be to admit that the blame lies with the President himself.

Instead, the media will trot out ready-made excuses that place the blame solely on the American people. After all, we're just not smart enough to understand how lucky we are to have him. He is, after all, a lightworker, a man (or is he?) both devine and magical. Some even now refer to him as if he were the messiah.

Obviously someone so perfect can't be held responsible for breaking campaign promises (closing Guantanamo, fixing the economy, restoring transparency, rolling back rights abuses so (rightfully) decried in the previous administration). So certainly there must be some sinister forces at work to explain such a defeat.

1. Racism: Hey, remember when Obama was going to lose because Americans are a bunch of racists? Then remember when Obama won and suddenly Americans had "turned a corner" and we entered a post-racial era? Now Obama is up for re-election and guess what? We'll all be racists again. The race card is getting as played out as zombies-as-plot-device, but the media can't resist throwing it out there with a knowing glance and tut-tutting shake of the head.

The problem here is that for this to be a real cause, it means a lot of people suddenly became racist after voting for a black man for president. Where were these vast multitudes of black-hating Americans in 2008, who plainly should have risen up to vote, ensuring another white guy got to sit in the White House? Does racism exist? Of course it does. Does it explain why Americans may not relect Obama? Only if you ignore the fact that he was elected in the first place.

2. Money: The root of all evil. That stuff the 1% has and you don't. It's a total travesty that Republicans can buy an election just because they have more money to spend. Unless Obama has a good month. Then it's not so bad. Of course, this handwringing over money wasn't necessary in 2008. I wonder why? (Oh, and if you want to play the "pfft, Wikipedia" card, here is the original source. Look it up for yourself.)

3. Republican Obstructionism: Just think what could have been accomplished if Republicans hadn't been there fighting tooth and nail every step of the way. If only Obama had had a friendly Congress. Even for a couple of years. Wait. Well, okay, but if only Republicans had tried to work out a deal with Obama over the budget crisis, we could have... Crap. Well, at least senate Democrats tried to pass budgets as required by law. Maaannnn. Okay, well when the president's budget proposal went to the senate... okay, the House... Let's move on.

4. Dirty Campaigns: That evil Romney is always living in the muck. Accusing his opponent of favoring outlawing all abortions, even in the case of rape or incest. Running ads that purport to show women who are switching parties because of their disgust with their guy. Making up policy positions out of whole cloth. Blaming him for a woman's death. Shameful. Oh wait. Those were all attack ads for Obama against Romney. My bad.

If Obama loses in November, it will be because the American people don't believe he is the right person to lead this country. The media won't see it that way, but you'll know better.

(Crossposted at Say Anything)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


A Facebook friend posted a status today cheering on all the "free" benefits that are taking effect for women looking to have their birth control paid for by people other than themselves. After some back and forth about what "free" means when talking about something paid for with tax money, a commenter (who shall remain nameless unless you are mutual friends, in which case you know who to shake your head at) made the following statement:

It has nothing to do with who pays taxes. It is forcing insurance companies to pay for those services out of the premiums that YOU Already pay them!!!! Why is this so hard for people to understand? We are now getting more services for the money that we pay into the insurance company. They make less profits because they have to cover more services for us! This is a very good thing for all of us!!!!!!!!

Note the liberal use of exclamation points, each one adding an order of magnitude to the comment's inherent truthfulness. Exclamation points aside, here was my response (unedited except for the correction of spelling errors):
It has everything to do with who pays taxes. The feds are setting up a national exchange to administer healthcare. Who pays for that? Taxpayers. Set aside for a moment the fact that this will allow the goverment to pick and choose favorites among healthcare companies. While the feds are allowing states to set up their own exchanges (which of course, must meet federal guidelines on how they are set up, which companies can participate, and how money is distributed), most are sensibly opting out. This will increasingly put the decisions in the hands of a federal bureaucracy.

Ever heard of a federal agency that didn't get bigger and succumb to budget bloat? Me neither. This will only increase costs, especially when you consider that by government mandate, people who don't pay federal taxes (and thus don't pay for the upkeep of this behemoth) will still be covered. Who will make up these costs? The insurance companies? No. Economics 101. When costs go up to a supplier, those costs are passed on to the consumer.

One way the goverment will be tempted to combat this is to enforce price controls on what doctors can charge for services. This is how medicare and medicaid work. It has led to an ever-decreasing number of doctors who will accept patients on those plans. A similar effect will occur if the price controls are instead forced upon insurers: fewer companies will enter into the market and many existing ones will drop out. At the same time, more and more people will be forced into this government plan as companies who today pay for healthcare as a fringe benefit decrease coverage or drop it all together, further exploding costs to the taxpayer.

Ask yourself this: are you aware of any government programs which costs has decreased, which budgets have shrunk? No. Because the definition of a budget cut has been changed at the federal level. When you or I think of a budget cut, It looks like this: "our budget was $1000. We cut it 10%. Now our budget is $900". At the federal level, it looks like this: "Our budget was $1000. We wanted to raise it 50%. Instead we only raised it 30%. Therefore, our budget was cut by 20%."

This will not end well.

It never ceases to amaze me that there are still people who believe the following:

  1. Businesses don't pass their costs on to consumers.
  2. Arbitrarily setting prices for goods will have no effect on the producers of those goods
  3. It is somehow a good thing when a business has its profits shrunk or seized.
  4. A government that can run up trillions of dollars in debt will have no problem containing costs.
  5. The government can ever provide "free" anything to taxpayers.
Of course, my answer above didn't even touch on the other side effect of price controls: rampant fraud and abuse. Some of those doctors who don't stop taking medicare and medicaid patients instead find ways to overbill the system and reap profits off the taxpayer. If oversight and penalties were better enforced, even more doctors would drop entitlement patients.


Addendum: A later comment brought up the 80/20 rule in the law, that requires insurers to use 80% of revenues on "clinical services" in order to cap costs. Well, that's just another method of price control. And it leads to all the bad things mentioned above. Don't believe me? Then believe the feds, who have seen fit to grant waivers to entities that allow them to ignore the 80/20 rule.

Also, passing laws and then selectively allowing certain entities to ignore them: regardless of your political affiliation, shouldn't you be outraged by that?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Tax System Explained With Beer

This is an oldie but a goodie. I honestly don't know who to credit for the original, but I received this in an email from a friend years ago and it just resurfaced in this post at Say Anything:

The Tax System Explained With Beer

Every day ten men go out for a beer, and the bill is $100. They wish to pay the bill the same way we pay our taxes, so it breaks down like this...

The first four men (the poorest) pay nothing.
The fifth man pays $1.00
The sixth pays $3.00
The seventh pays $7.00
The eighth pays $12.00
The ninth pays $18.00
The tenth man (the richest) pays $59.00

And that's what they decide to do.

These ten men drank in that same bar every day and were quite happy with the arrangement, until one day the owner approached and said, "Since you are such good customers, I'm going to reduce your daily round of beer by $20.00."So now a round of beer cost $80.00.

The group decided to keep paying their tab in the same manner. The first four men were unaffected. They still drank for free. But what about the other six; the paying customers? How could they divide up the $20.00 reduction so everyone would get his fair share?

$20.00 divided by six is $3.33, but if they subtracted that from everyone's share, the fifth and sixth man would each wind up getting paid to drink their beer.

The bar owner suggested they follow the principle of the tax system and reduce each man's bill by a higher percentage the poorer he was, and they worked out the amounts each would now pay.

Now the fifth man, like the first four, drank for free... (100% savings)
The sixth man now paid $2.00 instead of $3.00... (33% savings)
The seventh man now paid $5.00 instead of $7.00... (28% savings)
The eighth man now paid $9.00 instead of $12.00...(25% savings)
The ninth man now paid $14.00 instead of $18.00...(22% savings)
The tenth now paid $49.00 instead of $59.00...(16% savings)

Each of the paying customers was better off than before, and now five of the men drank for free. But outside the bar, the men began comparing the amounts they saved.

"I only got a dollar out of the $20.00" said the sixth man. He pointed at the tenth man and said, "But he got $10.00!"

"Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man. "I only saved a dollar too. It's unfair that he saved ten times as much as me!"

"That's true," shouted the seventh man. "Why should he get $10.00 back when I only got $2.00. The wealthy get all the tax breaks!"

Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison. "We didn't get anything at all! This new system exploits the poor!"

So the nine men beat the tenth man up.

The next night the tenth man didn't show up, and the other nine sat down and had their beers without him. But when the bill arrived, they discovered they didn't have enough money between them for even half the total.

And that boys and girls, journalists and government ministers, is how the tax system works. The people who already pay the most in taxes will get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just might not show up anymore.

In fact they just might start drinking overseas, where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

For those who understand, no explanation is needed.

For those who don't, no explanation is possible.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Music Diaries: Drinking and Driving (Rhythm)

I've been jamming once a week with Rob, one of the guitarists from dFrag (a.k.a. The Awesome Band That Played At My Wedding). This involves messing around with learning this new song or that one, sipping on whiskey, and generally having fun. This led to a conversation about the effects of drinking on one's ability to play a guitar.

I quantify it thusly:

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bluestem And The Fargo School District Should Just Go On Judge Judy Already

So Dave Olig, the president of the Bluestem Center for the Arts in Moorhead, has written a letter pushing the idea that the Fargo School District should "forgive" nearly $5,000,000 in debt. Hey, there's no harm in asking. It's the argument he uses to defend his position that took some brass ones. His argument is one I see people use on Judge Judy all the time. Basically, Olig asserts the "they should have known not to give us money in the first place" defense. Here's what he wrote:
"The Fargo Public School District provided millions of dollars in loans to a volunteer-only organization, with no assets, at a zero percent interest rate and no repayment schedule," Olig wrote. "While we accept our accountability, we believe that the Fargo Public Schools should also acknowledge its role in putting taxpayer dollars at risk."
Let's parse that passage, shall we? "We came to you with hat in hand, desperate for money. The Fargo School District used taxpayer money to make us a super sweet loan deal. Now I don't want to have to pay it back, because, like, I don't have any money. I know I said that I was getting a big tax refund check in April, but I used it to buy a handbag. And besides, this is really your fault because you knew I was broke when you loaned me the money."

All he forgot to add was that the District gave the money as a gift, Bluestem didn't really ask for it anyway, and besides, Bluestem did all sorts of work around the district and watched the kids and helped out with utilities when they could so really, they're even.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Dinner and Drinks: Seared Pork Tenderloin With A Mushroom (beef) Demi-glace (And Extra-Special Secret Bonus Recipe Inside!)

It's been a while since I posted any recipes (or much of anything, to be honest). No particular reason; I'm just a busy man what with fixing up the house, being a dad, fighting crime, etc.

However, I still try to find time to cook and this Friday was no exception. I like to buy those huge pork tenderloins that go on sale at the grocery store once every couple of months or so because, hey, five pounds of pork tenderloin for $7. I cut it up into smaller portions for freezing. Some of it goes into a bag marked "stir fry", but some of it I cut into inch-and-a-quarter slabs. Like a pork filet mignon.

Since it's been a while since I posted one of these, I thought I'd turn a double play (baseball season!) and let you in on a 100% original recipe for potato pancakes.

Seared Pork Tenderloin with a Mushroom (Beef) Demi-glace and Potato Pancakes

For pork:

black pepper
chili powder
1 tbsp olive oil

For potato pancakes:

4-6 medium potatoes
1/2 stick of butter (melted)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tsp salt
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp garlic powder

For mushroom (beef) demi-glace

8 oz mushrooms
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 1/4 cups beef stock
1/4 cup red wine
1 tsp salt
1 tsp tarragon

Note: I strongly urge you to read this whole post before starting. There's a lot going on and some of it should overlap if you want everything to come out at roughly the same time. There's also some stuff about oven-safe skillets and other things that may sound boring at first. But if you've ever put a skillet in an oven only to find out it was meant for the stove top only, you know it's important.

Season the pork on both sides with the spices listed. If you cut your tenderloins as thick as I do (again, about and inch and a quarter), be generous with the spices.

Let's get the sauce started. In a saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Once it's melted, whisk in the flour until smooth. Put the pan back on the burner and increase the heat to medium. Add the stock, wine and spices. Stir well and add the mushrooms. Use whatever kind you want. I had portobellas on hand, so there you go.

Once the sauce starts to boil, reduce heat and simmer. The sauce should thicken as it simmers, so stir frequently. If it starts to get too thick for your liking, add small amounts of beef stock until it reaches the desired consistency. The longer it simmers, the better it will be, so let it simmer on as you prepare the rest of the meal.

Now to the pork. If you have really thick tenderloins, pre-heat your oven to 350º. If your pork loins are more like pork chops, you can finish them on the stove, so forget about the oven.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until it just starts to smoke. Turn the heat down to medium, or be prepared for (1) burned tenderloins and (2) a very greasy stovetop. Immediately add the tenderloins to the oil, pressing down firmly for a couple of seconds. This will help make a nice sear.

Thick cuts: Cook for about 3 minutes on a side, making sure your sear looks good before you flip 'em. Once seared, move the skillet to the oven (make sure your skillet can be used in the oven -- if not, transfer the contents of the skillet to an oven-safe baking dish). Cook for another 8-12 minutes or until it reaches desired doneness.

Thin cuts: Cook until the sear looks good. This shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes or so. Flip when the sear looks good and repeat on the other side. Reduce the heat to medium-low and finish the cooking process.

Now onto the potato pancakes. A note on the potatoes: russets work just fine. I happened to have red potatoes on hand, so I used a few more as they're pretty small. Peel, wash, and grate the potatoes into a mixing bowl. You may notice that there is a lot of liquid in the potatoes. You can squeeze them and pat them dry with paper towels if you like. I've found that there's still a lot of liquid when it comes time to make the cakes, so I don't bother. But you do what you want; you have the power here.

Add all the other ingredients and mix thoroughly. I use my hands, but again, you do what you want.

Heat enough oil in a skillet to cover the bottom 1/2 inch over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, take a handful of the potato mixture and squeeze out the excess liquid. Form into small cakes (they should be about the size of hockey pucks). Place in the oil and fry until the bottoms are golden brown, about 4-5 minutes. Flip and repeat. Once they are done, put them on some paper towels to soak up any excess oil.

I had a glass of a 2010 Cupcake Vineyards Malbec with this meal. Okay, I had a glass while I was preparing it too, and a glass afterwards to celebrate how well it all turned out. It was a lot fruitier than a lot of the malbecs I've tried, but overall it was pretty decent. Generally if I want something that fruity I get a zinfandel though. Still, for $11 it was not bad at all. Very smooth. I would recommend something a little spicer for this meal though.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

One Week

So, MJ has increased her extracurricular activity load from "Soccer" to "Orchestra, Ice Skating, and Volleyball" in the last few months. Did I mention that soccer is starting again soon?

First she performed with her 5th grade orchestra at Moorhead High School last Thursday.

Then, she had a three-night run of her ice show entitled "The Best of Times" which may or may not have been sponsored by Best of Times Photography. She was a "50's" girl. It was her first ever ice show but she did great.

This weekend I'll be shooting some video and photos of her volleyball tournament in Lake Park, Minnesota.

Friday, March 2, 2012

If It's True Will I Get Reparations?

UPDATE: I forgot to throw a hat tip out to Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit for the link.

An archaeologist at the Smithsonian Instition are championing a "radical" theory about the history of North America. Namely, that the long-held view (the "settled science" if you will) that the continent was first settled by travelers taking advantage of an ice bridge from Siberia about 15,000 years ago is wrong. As it turns out, about 40 years ago some fishermen found a mammoth tusk in Chesapeake Bay that had a blade stuck in it. The tusk was a bit older than 15,000 years.
But the mastodon relic found near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay turned out to be 22,000 years old, suggesting that the blade was just as ancient.

Whoever fashioned that blade was not supposed to be here.
Other relics have been found in the mid-Atlantic region, all found in soil that dates back to over 20,000 years ago.

There are problems with the theory, as even the author points out. Mainly that the dating is of the media in which the artifacts were found (the tusk, the soil) rather than of the artifacts themselves.
“It’s an indirect date,” Dillehay said. “You need a feature like a hearth or something that’s clearly human. But it’s still suggestive.”
It's still way too early to tell if the long-held view of the settling of North America is in any real danger. But wouldn't it be funny if one day the conventional theory is that Europeans had settled North America first and were driven out by (what later came to be known as) Indians?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It Would Be Quicker To Make A List Of Things "Global Warming" Isn't Causing

A few years ago I stumbled across a hilarious link that itself was simply a page of hyperlinks, each of which in turn linked to a news report or other source claiming that global warming was having this or that effect.

It's hilarious because several of the links had mirrors; for example, one link led to a story that claimed global warming was causing forests to grow out of control, while another claimed it was causing forests to shrink worldwide.

I'm delighted to report that I came across the link again today and that the author has been maintaining it, including preserving links that have suffered from link-rot.

It's a great link that really displays marvellously the malleability of the global warming movement to include every malady affecting mankind and attach it to their religion.

And for the record, I still call it global warming because, even though great pains have been taken to re-brand the movement as being concerned with climate change, I will note the following:

There has never been a period in history in which the planet both (a) had a climate, and (b) said climate was static.

In A Perfect (Orwellian) World, All People Would Be Danica Patrick

Here is what Danica Partick, NASCAR driver, Go Daddy titillator, and statesman had to say when asked about the current debate over mandatory contraception funding:

"I leave it up to the government to make good decisions for Americans."

The problem, Ms. Patrick, is that in the eyes of government all Americans are equal but some are more equal than others.

(Bonus note: did you know you can read the collected works of George Orwell, Mark Twain, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Charles Darwin online for free?)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Most Offensive Thing I've Ever Read

It suddenly got cold in North Dakota today, with wind chills near zero this morning. So I guess it's as good a time as any to read something to make your blood boil. This article in the New York Times claims that the U.S. Constitution is losing its influence.
In 1987, on the Constitution’s bicentennial, Time magazine calculated that “of the 170 countries that exist today, more than 160 have written charters modeled directly or indirectly on the U.S. version.”

A quarter-century later, the picture looks very different. “The U.S. Constitution appears to be losing its appeal as a model for constitutional drafters elsewhere,” according to a new study by David S. Law of Washington University in St. Louis and Mila Versteeg of the University of Virginia.
No, that isn't so galling. After all, what difference does it make what constitutional model burgeoning democracies use? No, what's galling are the critiques of our Constitution contained within that supposedly show "what's wrong with it".
The United States Constitution is terse and old, and it guarantees relatively few rights.
Funny, we always hear how young America is, especially compared to our societal betters in Europe's old democracies. Now suddenly, we're too old. And, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" doesn't seem small to me.
In an interview, Professor Law identified a central reason for the trend: the availability of newer, sexier and more powerful operating systems in the constitutional marketplace. “Nobody wants to copy Windows 3.1,” he said.
The implication here is that our constitution doesn't work anymore and should be replaced. After all, that's what you do with an old operating system, right? Our constitution is more like a poem by a laureate or a painting by a master. It endures. It's still around because it works so well. It hasn't been replaced because frankly, there isn't anything better.
The rights guaranteed by the American Constitution are parsimonious by international standards, and they are frozen in amber. As Sanford Levinson wrote in 2006 in “Our Undemocratic Constitution,” “the U.S. Constitution is the most difficult to amend of any constitution currently existing in the world today.”
To keep the computer analogy alive, that's a feature, not a bug. If a constitution can be changed at a whim by whatever group manages to get power, it ceases to be a document that enumerates the powers and rights of a citizenry and becomes just another tool for those in power.
Americans recognize rights not widely protected, including ones to a speedy and public trial, and are outliers in prohibiting government establishment of religion. But the Constitution is out of step with the rest of the world in failing to protect, at least in so many words, a right to travel, the presumption of innocence and entitlement to food, education and health care.
We don't protect the presumption of innocence? That statement is so utterly false that there's really nothing else to say. Well, except this. The Constitution may not say "in so many words" that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. The law does say that however. And, as we'll see shortly, the author is very enamored with the idea of a judiciary expanding rights that aren't explicitly spelled out in a constitution, at least when Canadians do it.

The rest of that quote gets to the heart of some people's problem with the constitution. It doesn't list things like food, education and healthcare as rights. Well, that's because they're not. To borrow my own words: we have laws to define acceptable behavior in a society and to convey privileges (or restrict said privileges). Rights are things we can never envision or support being taken away.

There's a good reason the our constitution doesn't list every possible right. It's because the framers knew that was an impossible task. The very reason so many "newer" contitutions are easier to amend is because they attempt this impossible task. Just when they think it's perfect, along comes some new technology and, boom! New "right" coming through. Notice that even the NYT article uses the word "entitlement" to describe food, education, and healthcare.
It has its idiosyncrasies. Only 2 percent of the world’s constitutions protect, as the Second Amendment does, a right to bear arms.
I love that something so fundamental as a right to defend yourself through force of arms is labeled an "idiosyncracy". Guess we know where the author stands on gun control.

The author however, does love the Canadian Charter:
The Canadian Charter is both more expansive and less absolute. It guarantees equal rights for women and disabled people, allows affirmative action and requires that those arrested be informed of their rights. On the other hand, it balances those rights against “such reasonable limits” as “can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
"We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal." Sounds pretty expansive (the use of the royal "men" notwithstanding) to me. Also, the author is being disingenuous with the phrase "more expansive and less absolute". What that really means is that the Charter puts far more limitations on things like freedom of speech, religion and assembly than the U.S Constitution and relies on the courts to broaden those rights, which was somehow a problem with the U.S. Constitution.

It should also be noted that the Times author is conflating the Charter with a constitution. The Charter is actually analogous to our Bill of Rights, which makes the next bit especially confusing.
There are, of course, limits to empirical research based on coding and counting, and there is more to a constitution than its words, as Justice Antonin Scalia told the Senate Judiciary Committee in October. “Every banana republic in the world has a bill of rights,” he said.

“The bill of rights of the former evil empire, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was much better than ours,” he said, adding: “We guarantee freedom of speech and of the press. Big deal. They guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, of street demonstrations and protests, and anyone who is caught trying to suppress criticism of the government will be called to account. Whoa, that is wonderful stuff!”
The author wants this passage to read as though the Bill of Rights is somehow lessened by the actions of totalitarians in other countries. "Oh, the Bill of Rights," he seems to be saying, "the Soviet Union had one of those!" The Bill of Rights may be just paper, but so is the Canadian Charter. So is every constitution, everywhere.

It's a bit disengenous to try and tie the Bill of Rights' worth to that of the old Soviet Union. Is there really any comparison to how those rights were treated under the U.S.S.R. and the United States?

And, if as the author asserts, these are just pieces of paper, then what purpose does his article serve? Besides making my blood boil, that is.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ghost Trees

Artist Depicts Obama Standing On The Constitution

An artist's work depicting President Obama stepping on the Constitution and turning his back on both the Founding Fathers and a figure seated on a bench is making internet rounds.
In front of the White House a man is sitting on a park bench in the throes of depression. He is surrounded by all 43 presidents. In the forefront, purposefully ignoring the depressed man is President Obama, whose right foot is stepping on the Constitution. James Madison is next to Obama, pleading with him to stop.

This tableau is called “The Forgotten Man”, a painting by Jon McNaughton, an artist who is known for his politically-charged work.
The headline of the article is "Controversial Artist Depicts Obama Trampling The Constitution". As soon as I saw this, I figured the left blogosphere would be all up in arms, so in anticipation, I thought I'd go ahead and make their argument for them.

Depicting a sitting president in this manner is wrong, wrong, wrong.

This is okay though. (Really, read the comments.)

And this. (I wonder what the artist thinks now that bin Laden is dead by President Obama's order?)

And this. (A poor effort by the standards of the medium, actually.)

And this. (Points deducted for the duplication of theme.)

And of course, we shouldn't forget the amateur artists out there, just doing their thing.

Friday, February 3, 2012

"Settled" Climate Science Just Got Unsettled

Well, actually it was never settled, but you get the idea. After years of trying to persuade us that we had to stop emitting carbon, like, yesterday or we would all be doomed to heat death -- okay, that's hyperbole. What they really wanted was the U.S. to sharply curb CO2 emissions (and damn the economic effects) and introduce global food rationing. So, I guess it wasn't that hyperbolic after all.

Anyway, after all the handwringing, it turns out that the warming trend we've heard so much about ended in 1997.
Meanwhile, leading climate scientists yesterday told The Mail on Sunday that, after emitting unusually high levels of energy throughout the 20th Century, the sun is now heading towards a ‘grand minimum’ in its output, threatening cold summers, bitter winters and a shortening of the season available for growing food.

Solar output goes through 11-year cycles, with high numbers of sunspots seen at their peak.

We are now at what should be the peak of what scientists call ‘Cycle 24’ – which is why last week’s solar storm resulted in sightings of the aurora borealis further south than usual. But sunspot numbers are running at less than half those seen during cycle peaks in the 20th Century.
Analysis by experts at NASA and the University of Arizona – derived from magnetic-field measurements 120,000 miles beneath the sun’s surface – suggest that Cycle 25, whose peak is due in 2022, will be a great deal weaker still.
There's a plaintive cry from some bitter clingers -- where on earth did I get that phrase from? -- that any reduced solar output will more than be compensated for by man-made global warming.

The problem with that argument is that we've been hearing for years that the earth is warming. It turns out that wasn't true. We've been hearing for years that the "science is settled". It turns out that it was only settled to the extent that "scientists" with a political agenda attempted to blacklist any scientists who disagreed with the International Panel on Climate Control and manipulate data that didn't fit those politics.

And of course, it must be asked: if human actions were artificially warming the planet then it must be true that the only reason global temperatures have remained steady since 1997 (rather than dropping) would be due to those actions. So, drastically reducing carbon emissions would precipitate global cooling. Following that train of thought leads to some unexpected and unwanted destinations for certain political factions, I daresay.

Oh also, it isn't global warming; that phrase is so passè. It's global climate change. So, all the handwringing over whether the planet is warming or not isn't important. What is important is that humans are destroying the planet! (Seriously, I see that a lot.)

My reply to that is to ask a couple of questions:

1. At what point in history has the climate of the earth been unchanging? (If you answer anything other than "never", you're wrong.)

2. If humans went back to a period of history before the industrial revolution -- heck, if every human and machine disappeared off the face of the earth tomorrow -- do you believe that earth's climate would settle into some ideal state and remain static for eternity? (Because if not, then I'll need more than the word of some obviously compromised "scientists" to work for either the permanent regression of mankind or its complete destruction. Also, you might want to think about question 1 before you answer.)

Now, with the revelation that the trumpted warming trend stopped fifteen years ago, I have another question:

If it turns out that we are headed for another "little ice age", would you support increased CO2 emissions in an effort to stabilize the climate?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Do You Know Who's Tracking Your Web Usage?

My friend Cheryl posted a link on Facebook to an article that describes the way in which Google Analytics tracks the websites you visit and even which searches you perform on those sites (a) while knowing your identity and (b) without your having used any Google product to get to those sites.

Here's what's going on behind the scenes:
First, we see a transaction to Google Analytics to retrieve some JavaScript. Part of this JavaScript's purpose is to enable tracking even when users have cookies disabled.

Once this JavaScript is retrieved and executed by the browser, the Google JavaScript prepares a second request to Google for a special image file. In the request for that image file Google embeds tracking information which will be used during the rest of the session on the IRS website...

Now, I enter some search terms into the IRS website search box. For the sake of emphasizing the point, I enter the terms "Offer in Compromise", and hit return. While the search itself is presumably handled privately by the IRS site, surprisingly, the search terms are also sent to Google. This happens when the search results page makes another request for Google's hidden tracking image we previously observed. Web requests typically contain not just the URL of the request, but also the URL for the page from which the request is being made...

Finally, I now click on one of the search results to view a specific document. The Google tracking image is again requested, and in that request, the URL for document I chose to click on is sent to Google. In this way, Google is informed of which documents I view on the [website]. This happens whether or not I arrived at the document by searching or navigating on the [site]...

We've now seen not only that Google is tracking your use of the [website], but also may be receiving information that specifically identifies you. I believe it is, in fact, likely that they are receiving specifically identifying information from many users of the site because many users are logged in to some Google web property while browsing. This includes anyone who's logged in to Gmail before browsing the [site].
This procedure can happen on any site that leverages Google intellectual property. How many sites' internal searches are "powered by Google" alone? Now add in sites that embed YouTube videos, pictures via Picasa... you're starting to get the picture.

The purpose of this post is not to bash Google, though there is plenty here to bash. Instead, I want to take the opportunity to point out that my employer has tools in its latest browser that prevents this sort of thing from happening. How? Internet Explorer (IE) 9 leverages something called Tracking Protection Lists. These lists are maintained by third parties (indeed, anyone can create their own as they like; it still works with the browser) and block ads, pop-ups, and, most importantly, block requests to your browser for just the sort of information that tracking cookies (and the Google Analytics shenanigans above) attempt to get from your browsing session.

How does it work? Well, this article explains it in detail.

More importantly, how do you set this up in your browser? That's easy.