Monday, June 30, 2008

Monday Musings

It's Monday. It's nice outside. Time for me to sit in my basement and throw stones.

More than a year ago, I switched from Comcast to Direct TV, for the reason that Comcast failed to provide me equipment that worked, or otherwise exhibit any level of basic human competence with respect to providing me service. Now, I have received a notice that my credit card is being charged for a modem that is allegedly theirs.

I don't have said modem, and asked for a supervisor (one not from India) to call me back and help me get to the bottom of this. No response. I call back, and they said they had looked into the matter and didn't see a reason to call me back.

Note to idiots and Comcast, I am now telling hundreds of potential customers that my experience with your service was abysmal, and I'm going to file a complaint with the department of commerce, which in tandem will cost a heck of a lot more than a modem. How's that for a reason?

Suffice to say, Comcast sucks, in my view.


So, does Barack Obama agree with ANYTHING his friends and supporters have to say? To listen to him, you'd think he's the most disagreeable person on the planet.

Suffice to say, attacking McCain's military record is about as smart as attacking Obama's race.


The Science museum of Minnesota will be hosting a Star Wars exhibit in the coming weeks. A couple of comments. First, I can't think of anything that interests me less. Seriously, the trilogy came out thirty years ago, only to spawn three more insipid, maudlin piles of dreck twenty years later. The dorks have Lord of the Rings to obsess over now. Enough.

Second, how is this science? At least Star Trek fans take the time to learn krypton or whatever that imaginary language is.

Suffice to say, if my tax money is paying for this, I'm pissed.


If I appreciate anything, it's stories about people shooting belligerent dogs in self defense. That said, this piece of reporting is likely to fall short of a pulitzer. My favorite graph:

"Bonnie Bullcalf, who lives nearby, described the incident, "And I seen the dog lunge at the police officer and the police officer pushed him back with his two hands. And then the dog lunged at him again at that's when the police officer drew his gun, just started shooten.""

Thanks for the insight, Ms. Bullcalf, how's little Bisonslab doing these days? And, pray tell, did you specify to the reporter that "shooten" should be spelled with an "en" instead of an "in'". Did you pronounce it "shoe-ten"? That seems unlikely.


Jakob Dylan has a solo album coming out. You know what I like about Jakob Dylan? Unlike his father, I don't have to pretend I like his music. So I won't.


The peas are coming in nicely. Bumper crop this year, the peas.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

McLaren v. Dobson vis a vis Obama per Wallis

In response to James Dobson's representation of Barack Obama's theology, Brian McLaren, head of the emergent church (resisting the urge to put scare quotes around church) is "saddened".

Of course, it is important to do away with all things that make Brian McLaren sad. In a post on Sojourners, McLaren is calling for a regulatory body to monitor evangelical rhetoric. No, I'm not making this up. The Evangelical Council for Rhetorical Accountability will see to it that Brian McLaren is never sad again.

Meanwhile, snippets of Jim Wallis' holiday tirade against the Bush Administration are making their way around the internet. Here's a snippet of the rhetoric for which McLaren seems to be pining:

"I believe that Dick Cheney is a liar; that Donald Rumsfeld is also a liar; and that George W. Bush was, and is, clueless about how to be the president of the United States. And this isn’t about being partisan. . . . Almost 4,000 young Americans are dead because of the lies of this administration, tens of thousands more wounded and maimed for life, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also dead, and 400 billion dollars wasted—because of their lies, incompetence, and corruption...

I believe they should spend the rest of their lives in prison - after offering their repentance to every American family who has lost a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. Deliberately lying about going to war should not be forgiven."

Reasoned and thoughtful as always, Jim.

And what, pray tell, would an Evangelical rhetorical monitoring association, um, monitor for? McLaren outlines several areas of concern.

1. Inferring and Judging Motives (or: Do not judge - Matthew 7:1)

Notice he backs it up with scripture. Crackerjack theologian, this guy. And here I thought the Bible was cool with judging motives. Apparently, inference is off-limits as well for some reason. But here is Tony Campolo, describing evangelical Christians who support the Iraq War.

"Perhaps in the long run they put nationalistic jingoism and our lust for oil above the call of Christ to go into all the world and preach the gospel."

Gee, that sure sounds like an inferring a motive to me. Alert the ECRA. Unless Campolo heads the ECRA, in which case nevermind.

2. Scrutinizing the Biases of Others Without Scrutinizing One's Own Biases (or: Don't remove others' splinters before removing one's own planks - Matthew 7:3-5)

I'm speechless. If biases constitute planks, then McLaren and the rest of Sojourners are stumbling about in the dark.

3. Logical Inconsistencies (or: In your thinking, be mature adults - 1 Corinthians 14:20)

We need an organization to monitor logical inconsistencies? Suddenly, a post on McLaren's organization requires a JD.

4. Name-calling/Mockery (or: Don't stir up needless anger - Proverbs 15:1)

I would refer you to this insipid parody of the conservative viewpoint on national healthcare. Whether the tone is mocking, I'll leave to you, but perhaps we can also set the organization to the elimination of bad satire.

McLaren elaborates on this point.

"This tendency to mock the opposition might be deemed excusable if it were a rhetorical icing on the cake of solid analysis, "

And what, pray tell, was the solid analysis that led Jim Wallis to condemn our president to the gallows? A 60 minutes minutes report he saw the day before. Solid, indeed.

5. Misrepresenting Your Opponent's View (or: Do not give dishonest evidence - Proverbs 12:17)

Earlier this month, Sojourners' Kevin Lum excoriated Sen. Tom Coburn and six other Senators for threatening to stall funding for PEPFAR unless certain performance requirements were maintained accusing them of "playing politics with the lives of millions of people ". This in spite of the fact that Coburn has a demonstrated track record of sponsoring legislation to fight AIDS in Africa, and was one of the original proponents of the program.

6. Confusing Democracy with Theocracy (or: Don't pre-empt discernment by claiming "God says ..." - 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22)

A curious stipulation from a blog entitled "God's Politics".

7. Name-Appropriating (or: Calling yourself something doesn't make it so - 2 Corinthians 10:12)

Calling your organization non-partisan doesn't make it so.

Brian McLaren's call for an association to monitor evangelical rhetoric amounts to a call to end disagreement with his preferred ideological and theological precepts. Honest, civil dialogue is a desirable goal, but McLaren and Wallis work in dishonesty the way painters work in oils.

There is no criticism of Barack Obama that will pass muster with Brian McLaren for the simple reason that he is a liberal Democrat. He is free to tackle criticisms, but to claim the high-ground strains credibility, a clear violation of rule number three.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dobson v. Obama

Regular readers know that I have been unimpressed generally with James Dobson's forays into the political realm. His criticisms of Democrats and Republicans alike reflect a myopic worldview in which all things political are to be filtered through a rather narrow spiritual lens. He has consistently grafted the political mission of Focus on the Family upon the spiritual war we are fighting in America. In general, I just wish he would keep quiet.

That said, his criticisms of Barack Obama are spot on.

At a recent campaign rally put on by Sojourners, the nebulously religious left-wing advocacy group, Barack Obama asked "which passages of scripture should guide our public policy?"

This is a fascinating query, explored throughout the annals of Christian history by many of the great philosophers. Obama boils it down to a rhetorical question.

"Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is an abomination? Or we could go with Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount?"

Um, how about none of the above?

I should stop to note that Obama has touched upon my only theological pet peeve, which I call the shellfish fallacy... The fallacy is as follows: Enforcing any biblical principle requires us to enforce ALL Biblical principles. We must therefore evaluate our own shellfish consumption (in accordance with Levitical law), which renders the whole enterprise of enforcing biblical principle as trifiling and absurd as storming the local brasserie demanding a repeal of escargot hors'd'ouevres.

This logic is so stupid, it practically drools. Anyone who is confounded by the dichotomy between Levitical law and the Sermon on the Mount either hasn't bothered to at all educate themselves or doesn't want to. But no matter... Obama has no horse in this particular theological race, aside perhaps from a passion for oysters rockefeller.

More likely, he got a talking points memo from Sojourners, and his communications people frankenspeeched it for him. And so various members of the organization paid good money to watch a presidential candidate tell them precisely what they wanted to hear. That sounds like politics, doesn't it? Brian McLaren probably got chills.

"Folks," said Obama to cheers, "haven't been reading their Bible". Clearly not, or perhaps they might consider that Leviticus also delineates the Jubilee Year, which Sojourners frequently cites as a scriptural call for economic redistribution at a policy level. But this is not time to think! BARACK OBAMAAAAAAA!

Of course, no responsible Christian would use a forum such as this to draw a distinction between the Levitical code and the Sermon on the Mount. This leads us to three possible conclusions.

1) Barack Obama is not a responsible Christian.

2) Barack Obama is asserting that which he does not believe.

3) Barack Obama is ignorant.

I would submit that all three are true. The first two points are nearly indisputable. It is clear to any reasonable observer that religion has been, to some degree, a political tool for Sen. Obama. As such, his religious views can be adapted to conform to the moment. Such is the priviledge of lacking conviction.

The latter point, I think, will get him in trouble. I doubt very much that Barack Obama is familiar with the ideological excesses of the Sojourners movement, but someone on his team might have considered the ramifications of stating that our Defense Department would not survive the application of the Sermon on the Mount. Condemning military men and women to hell vis a vis the book of Matthew is not a winning strategy.

Enter Dobson... In an increasingly infrequent moment of clarity, the FOTF President took the time to challenge Barack Obama's theological assertions, suggesting that Obama is espousing "fruitcake theology", and "dragging biblical understanding through the gutter." I couldn't have said it better myself, though I could have done without the confectionery pejorative.

Perhaps sensing an opportunity to make light of a relatively unpopular figure, Obama responded quickly, saying that Dobson was "making stuff up". Unwise words from an intelligent man.

In this case, Dobson was holding Barack Obama's statements to the light of what, in the view of millions upon millions of Americans, the Bible actually teaches. The average Christian has reconciled, through knowledge and wisdom, the teachings of Leviticus with the teachings of the New Testament. Without the Old Testament, the claims of the New Testament are meaningless. Barack Obama has inadvertently dismissed mainstream evangelicalism as a fairy tale.

Barack Obama has mistaken the left-wing Christian movement for an accurate cross-section of a faith community that is struggling to come to grips with a flawed presidency. In doing so, he may have planted the seeds that will ultimately alienate that community.

He also may have made James Dobson relevant yet again.

(editors note: Obama's comments were from a speech in 2006, and were only addressed over the weekend by both Dobson and Obama. Newspaper reports have been updated to clarify the issue).

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The Great (subversions of legitimate) Debate!

This election cycle, passions are running high. Unfortunately, actual knowledge is running quite low. Engaging someone with high passion levels by using actual knowledge is likely to render a hysterical response consisting mostly of whatever talking points said person ingested that day. Of course, in the political sphere, this generates a high number of logical fallacies and outright dishonest discussion. Here are a few of my favorite "debate subverters".



Chester: George W. Bush's domestic spying program makes him exactly like HITLERRRRR!


What the speaker has done here is associated GWB with Hitler. People don't like Hitler, and so a semi-famous pseudo-latin phrase is born. Of course, if Hitler had simply been a micro-manager who trespassed over certain liberties from time to time, we wouldn't remember him as evil, or remember him at all. Willy Brandt won a Nobel Peace Prize, and was Time Magazine's man of the year. How often do you hear about him?

Unfortunately for his legacy, he never murdered millions of people out of hate. Neither, as luck would have it, has George W. Bush.



Chester: All war is bad and leads to bad things!
Earl: What about WW2?
Chester: Argumentum ad hitlerum!

Conversely, it is reasonable to evoke Hitler if his entire body of work (so to speak) can be applied to a situation. The insistence otherwise renders many debates rather incomplete.



Chester: Earl doesn't care about poor children in America!
Earl: I care about them immensely. Where else will we get bio-fuels ;)
Chester: Earl literally proposes we devour children for fuel, so we can see where he is coming from.

In this example, Chester is being intentionally obtuse in an effort to cast his opponent as a monster. John McCain experienced similar after his "Barbara Ann" "Bomb Iran" schtick was lambasted by the left.

A corollary to this is the suggestion that beneath every joke lies a bit of truth. This is demonstrably false. For example:

Chester: I really respect Judi Dench as an actress.
Earl: Judi Dench is a slut.

This joke is funny precisely because it is at odds with reality.



Chester: One wonders whether Republicans even care about the poor. Many people have come to the conclusion they do not.

Translation: I do not think Republicans care about the poor. It is my opinion that Republicans do not care about the poor.

Of course, that doesn't exactly sound persuasive, does it?



Obama, Barack (D-IL)



Earl: I think Congress needs to take a look at the farm bill. It is time to extricate its individual components so that we can more pragmatically (etc, etc, etc...)
Chester: So you are saying that you don't want people to eat!

To be fair, caricature can be inadvertent. Many people believe they are living at the precipice of utter destruction, and that only their ideology stands between us and utter doom. As such, it can be difficult to understand the nuances of one's position, or even comprehend the need for nuance.


Chester: Bastards like Earl want to ruin the country by stealing from the poor and distributing the proceeds to their oil loving corporate cronies. Earl can go to hell.
Earl: I don't have any friends in the oil industry, I simply think that bee preservation efforts should be postponed until all the dats is in.
Chester: It looks like we are going to have to agree to disagree on this. You have your opinion, and I have mine. One thing is for sure, we both want more bees.

In this example, Chester quickly pivots from flaming screwball to conciliatory gentleman. He thus gets to have his cake and eat it to, appearing to win the argument about bee populations without having provided any evidence for his position.


Chester: Republicans just sit and wait for Pat Robertson to give them directions.

Similar to Argumentum Ad Hitlerum, Chester knows that people don't like Pat Robertson, and so wants to bludgeon his opponent with the ideological similarity in lieu of arguing his point. Of course, few people listen to Pat Robertson, largely because he is bonkers.



Chester: George W. Bush will probably declare military rule so that we won't have elections, then he can go about his plan to systematically eliminate black people.
Earl: I think George W. Bush will simply vacate the presidency.
Bill: You both have equally reasonable points.

Bill is sympathetic to Chester's worldview, and equates to decidedly unequal statements. Essentially, this is claiming the high ground by way of third party.

What are your favorites?

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Monday Musings

Happenings afoot! Let's muse.

So my friend Peter had his house broken into and his car stolen. Of course, this is Minneapolis, so there is no hope of catching the perpetrators or retrieving his possessions. After all, here is the man we elected to be mayor of our city...

Gayest. Mayor. Ever.


Those who know me know that I am decidedly unfond of rabbits. Specifically, I am unfond of rabbits that eat my garden. So I find a baby bunny munching away at my carrots. I am uncool with this. I trap the bunny into a corner and attempt a bunny-quietus scenario vis a vis a heavy brick.

No dice. I have bad aim, and hit the hindquarters. The bunny is maimed, but not killed, and flails about. While I have no compunction with respect to killing rabbits, I certainly take no joy in their suffering. The bunny regains his composure, and hides behind the tomatoes. I have ascertained that the bunny cannot, in fact, exit my garden.

It has grown (thanks, presumably to carrot consumption) and is trapped in the confines of our garden fence. How Dickensian. I left it some water this morning.


I can't wait to have a baby.


Hopeface McRace is at it again. At a campaign rally on Friday he announced “They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?”

This statement is ridiculous on several levels. First, Obama's supporters love Obama the way dogs love vomit. The idea that anyone (especially "they") would waste valuable time trying to get anyone (especially amongst Obama's cadre) to fear him is preposterous. And notice how is inexperienced gets thrown in a blender with the question of his name. To bother with trifling questions of qualifications is akin to mocking one's name. And what kind of idiot would do that?

Of course, "they" will be content to leave it to him to mention he's black, as he has done over and over and over and over and...


Incidentally, has any presidential candidate in history spent more time anticipating attacks against him? Of course, the attacks he anticipates come from hypothetical strawmen. One wonders if he has the integrity or intelligence to contend with the real argument against his candidacy...

But if integrity and intelligence constituted virtues in the Democratic party, what use would they have for Barack Obama?


Did I mention he's black?

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Top Ten Fridays - Ass Bands

You all remember the late 1990s. The tech bubble, Bill Clinton, SUVs, vinyl siding and, of course, legendary music. The early 1990s was littered with medicorities like Radiohead, Pearl Jam and Nirvana, who peddled music weighted down by things like originality and musicianship. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the ass band arose with a simple goal: churn out music that sounds a little bit like Radiohead, Pearl Jam and Nirvana....

We all have our favorites. Here are my top ten.

10) Collective Soul - Their hit single, Shine featured a funky guitar groove that didn't really go anywhere. Fortunately, they learned a valuable lesson. No more funky guitar grooves. Why make make false promises? They also did a song about crying.

9) The Wallflowers - Bob Dylan's son carried on the tradition of grand musicmaking by covering David Bowie's Hero, and I think we're all glad he did that. Stripped of David Bowie's empathetic wail and Bryan Eno's chilling ambience, the cover was a perfect fit for the Godzilla (1998) movie soundtrack.

8) Gin Blossoms - If there were prize award for band averageness, the Gin Blossoms would have won it. The Gin Blossoms actually had several hits, but really you can get the gist by listening to "Hey Jealousy". In one song, they fulfilled, and utilized, the entirety of their potential.

7) Dave Matthews Band - The perfect band to have in the background while moving furniture into a suburban townhome. Years from now, our children will listen to "Ants Marching" and will not conclude that their parents were dull and uninteresting. That would be an absurd conclusion.

6) Vertical Horizon - What a great name! This band had all the right hits at exactly the right time (1999), but they mean nothing to me. I don't know why.

5) Bush - They incorporated strings into one of their songs, which was utterly necessary.

4) Better Than Ezra - This band was very famous and I can't remember a single one of their songs. Quintessential ass band. Seriously, though, did they do that "Tell me all your thoughts on God" song? Or was that Dishwalla?

3) Tonic - Had two hits with "Open Up Your Eyes" and "If You Could Only See". This is the ass band that assumed you were blind AND deaf. They were really great, though.

2) Creed - Set the tone for the next decade of Christian music, then stopped being Christian. And people say church is lame.

1) Matchbox 20 - The king of the ass bands. With 14,353 Top 40 singles between 1997-2002, Matchbox 20 managed the astonishing feat of being the only band on the radio for a string of 3 consecutive weeks. Lead singer Rob Thomas, with his dashing locks and Kennedy-esque warble, became a heartthrob, a testament to the tastes of teenage women.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

An interview with a KFC Biscuit

Every now and then, my blog affords me the opportunity to interview various newsmakers. Today, I am honored to interview the KFC biscuit. Long considered the standard-bearer for the way biscuits should taste, the KFC biscuit enjoys a proud history amongst the legions of fast food comestibles. Without further adieu, I'd like to welcome the KFC biscuit.

KFC Biscuit: Thank you for having me.

TPWK: It is an honor. Now, I think everyone was taken aback by your early endorsement of Bob Barr, the Libertarian Party's candidate for the presidency. Why did you feel it was important to take this stance now?

KFC Biscuit: I think, in America, we have embraced the two-party paradigm... And, make no mistake, I am not a pie-in-the sky optimist with respect to the power of third parties to...

TPWK: You are not a pie at all, in fact.

KFC Biscuit: A different pastry entirely.

TPWK: On this, we are agreed.

KFC Biscuit: At any rate, I think Rep. Barr brings the, as they say in the beltway, "gravitas" to cast a shadow on this mockery of an election.

TPWK: You, then, are of the mind that the two parties are the same.

KFC Biscuit: With the exception of so-called "hot button" issues, this is manifestly true. Americans have dispensed with ideological considerations when electing a president, and I find that problematic.

TPWK: Now, your past writings do not necessarily suggest a libertarian stance. You initially supported the Iraq War, for example.

KFC Biscuit: And I still think that was the right decision. But the intrusions upon our liberty, vis a vis the Patriot Act et al... When viewed in tandem with a seemingly endless conflict in the Middle East, gives the impression of profound hubris on our part.

TPWK: We are overreaching, then.

KFC Biscuit: Overreaching, yes. Moreso, we are overexerting. Our government under George Bush has become more centralized, not less. In this election, John McCain is offering more of the same, and we certainly cannot rely on Barack Obama to turn the tide.

TPWK: And Bob Barr is the answer.

KFC Biscuit: You know as well as I do that one needn't be elected to influence an election. Ask any Democrat about Ralph Nader's impact...

TPWK: So you see your endorsement as an act of disruption, then?

KFC Biscuit: Disruption. Yes. I think that is the word. We need to jog America out of our two-party complacence.

TPWK: Some would say acquiescence.

KFC Biscuit: No, I don't think we are quite there yet. But we are perilously close to losing our representation in this so-called representative democracy.

TPWK: Do you think the war on terror is to blame?

KFC Biscuit: I do not accept the premise of the question. How can we conduct a war against a concept? This is the slipperiest of slopes. What constitutes terror? Doessupport of a third-party candidate, disruptive as it is, constitute terror? Who gets to define terror? These are questions the American people are not asking.

TPWK: And Bob Barr is asking those questions.

KFC Biscuit: He is asking us to ask those questions.

TPWK: Interesting. Shifting gears here, anytime someone runs for public office, people will have the opportunity to elect them.

KFC Biscuit: Correct.

TPWK: Now, and we have seen this right here in Minnesota, there is a genuine possibility that a third party candidate might actually be elected. My question to you is, what happens if?

KFC Biscuit: Well, that's what I think Barr brings to the Libertarian party. I spoke earlier of gravitas, but Rep. Barr certainly has the policy experience.

TPWK: Do you think he would make a good president?

KFC Biscuit: Absolutely. That's the value of having Rep. Barr on the ticket. The
What If?" connundrum does not apply, at least in my view.

TPWK: And so why a Bob Barr instead of a Ron Paul? Paul certainly established a track record of raising money and garnering support. Couldn't he carry the mantle.

KFC Biscuit: I think the difference here is that Rep. Barr knows how to get things done. Rep. Paul, and I have nothing but respect for the man, is viewed as something of an outsider. He is something of a walking conscience for the Republican party.

TPWK: Isn't this election, at least by your standards, about conscience, to some degree?

KFC Biscuit: Sure. But I think we have a question of stated aims. Ron Paul ran in an effort to shake up the Republican party. Without rendering judgment, I think we need a broader aims. BOTH parties have been shocked into complacency, as it were...

TPWK: Can Bob Barr speak to both parties? He was notoriously unpopular with Democrats.

KFC Biscuit: He is unpopular with the party faithful, but such people are immovable. You know and I know that the Democratic nomination process was a sham, which produced an arbitrary result. There are a lot of frustrated Democrats out there.

TPWK: So you don't think Bob Barr can cost McCain an election.

KFC Biscuit: The only person who can cost John McCain the election is John McCain. Each candidate runs on his or her own merits. The idea that we should, as it were, "play ball" by violating our conscience strikes me as a violation of the very liberty we enjoy in a democracy.

TPWK: Is this election about democracy?

KFC Biscuit: Any election is an exercise in democracy. We hold our leaders accountable. Each vote is an act of rebellion against tyranny. This is why I initially supported the Iraq War. I believe in the power of democracy.

TPWK: Are we at the precipice of tyranny, in your view?

KFC Biscuit: Let me give you an example. President Ahmadinejad is the "elected" leader of Iran. But he was chosen and groomed by the religious outfit that truly runs the country.

TPWK: I don't think any serious person considers Iran a democracy.

KFC Biscuit: Exactly. The people of Iran are given "choices" based on the desired outcomes of a handful of elite. Now, let's look at the election in America. We have the choice between a man who was chosen to speak at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. People speak of Hillary's inevitability, but how about this guy?

TPWK: And John McCain is not a reasonable alternative?

KFC Biscuit: John McCain was the man Republicans decided on after the other candidates didn't focus group well. I mean, what is a caucus if not a glorified focus group?

TPWK: And so McCain is the lesser of a number of evils.

KFC Biscuit: At best. He certainly doesn't carry with him a mandate for change. Your looking at a man who has spent the last two years kowtowing to party interests.

TPWK: And so the system is broken.

KFC Biscuit: The system is fine. The system allows Rep. Barr to make his case before the American people. I plan to help him do just that.

TPWK: And with that, I'll give you the final word. I'd like to thank the KFC Biscuit for stopping by. One thing we can all agree on is that this is an important election, and every American should take part.

KFC Biscuit: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Monday Musings

Everything is different now. Let's muse.

Caught two movies over the weekend. The first, "Babel", left me with an uneasy feeling. The feeling that we are all interconnected, and that deep down everyone is just the same? No, that was what the movie clearly wanted me to believe. I got that part. No, seriously, I got it. I am 100% lucid on that point.

Rather, I was beginning to wonder if I could be entertained by movies anymore. Here was, in my estimation, a decidedly average film, with cheap contrivances, 'A'-list actors, and all sorts of cinematography. And yet, I wasn't particularly entertained. Nor was I, as liberal arts students are prone to be, challenged. I had given up, to some degree, on the power of cinema, or my power to comprehend said power.

Either way, I watched "There Will be Blood" the following evening. I guess I can safely say that the film restored my faith in movies.


Footnote: A shame the film had to be nominated against "No Country For Old Men". It will forever be "They Shoot Horses Don't They?" to the Coen Brothers "Midnight Cowboy".

...Only not the superior film.


It would seem that Barack Obama is a done deal. Short of confessing to some sort of high-octane sex crime (and perhaps not even then), he will saunter to the presidency unscathed. I mean, don't you think? Isn't that the deal? Isn't that what makes otherwise thinking people cast their lot with a mediocrity?

As such, I'll make little effort to change your minds. What would be the point? I argue with reason. Support of Barack Obama cannot be defended by reason. As such, I will resort to making feel inadequate those who vote for the dolt. Believe me, this will not be hard.


Football season draws near. I am a fan of the Detroit Lions. This is not a good combination. Matt Millen has taken a Tri-Minnesota approach to team management.


Gay marriage is legal in California! This makes everything better!

That said, here is the AP photo correlated with coverage of this historical event.

Perfect. If you oppose gay marriage, you oppose the happiness of two old ladies. There is no reasonable counterargument. Such is the nature of media bias.


My peas are growing strong. A lot of people had been asking that. I plan to begin harvesting in ten days. This is how I roll, with regard to peas.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Moving to Canada? Watch your mouth.

Democrats are fond of saying that they'll move to Canada if Republicans win this or that election. With Hopeface McRace looking more and more McInevitable, perhaps it would pay to take a look at what is going on in Canada that gets his supporters so damn excited.

A couple of years ago, Macleans, a Canadian political magazine, ran a feature story, "Why the Future Belongs to Islam". Why does the future belong to Islam? According to the article, it's because Muslims reproduce like mosquitoes and because, well, they want the future to belong to Islam. I'll set aside the question of whether this simply (albeit crudely) states the obvious.

Alas, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, an unelected body that is granted the authority to levy fines against aggrieved parties who claim to be victims of hate speech, recently heard the case of one of those parties. It seems the Macleans article touched off heated blog exchanges internationally. As such, it constitutes hate speech. The complainants in the case are requesting the tribunal demand Macleans to offer a 5,000 word rebuttal to the original article, over which Macleans will have no editorial oversight. Sounds reasonable... If you live in Tehran.

As journalist Andrew Coyne, who live-blogged the proceedings, notes, the conventions of the Tribunal are peculiar. There are no standard rules of evidence. In defending against charges of hate speech, one may not argue on the grounds of innocent intent (a staple of American libel law), good faith (ditto) public interest (a staple of the New York Times) , or TRUTH (so help me God).

In other words, someone can be held before a tribunal in Canada for innocently, and in the interest of the public, stating something that is empirically true. Um, yikes?

What's better, Canada apparently regards protections against double jeopardy as dispensable as protections of speech. One can also be tried (as Macleans will be) before the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which has the power to impose fines and sanctions against the offending party. One spokesperson for the commission was quoted as dismissing the freedom of speech as an American artifact that holds little interest.

Cute. Perhaps this explains why the commission has found for the complainants in 31 of the 31 cases brought before it.

Now, would any American reasonably support the establishment of unelected tribunals to determine innocence or guilt? No, but as the support for Barack Obama has demonstrated, Americans aren't all that reasonable right now. In the past, I have written about the speech codes that are proliferating among our nations (publicly funded) colleges and universities.

And hey, anything that reduces "hate" is a good thing, right? And if its the law of the land in Canada, where nobody is poor, everyone lives to 100, and all the women love men for their intellect, it can't be wrong.

As it is with all things European, we are to ignore the consequences of ideological excess. We are to pretend that handing decisions of morality and ethics to governmental institutions will have no repercussions. America, we are to assume, will find ways to achieve socialistic ends while maintaining individual autonomy.

And beside, Canada's cold as hell.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Dirty Marketing?

Recently, Ochuk had a lengthy discussion about the power of marketing to influence young people. One commenter introduce an article from Fast Company, entitled Dirty Marketing, which takes companies to task for unfair creating needs and desires on the part of the consumer.

This is a common bludgeon against marketers of all stripes. Advertisers, we are told, are marketing unnecessary product to unwitting consumers, who would otherwise invest their money in bonds or orphan rescue missions. As such, we in the industry are purveyors of eeeeeeeevil... Allow me, then, to dispense with this canard once and for all.

As a case study, the article highlights Wisk's once-famous "ring around the collar" ads. In one such ad, a female cruise director rebuffs a young man for having this particular affliction. This is untoward, according to the articles authors, Dan and Chip Heath. By stigmatizing an unimportant detail, they argue, Wisk created a need that only be sated by Wisk.

Some observations are in order. First, everybody needs laundry detergent, and any reasonable women will observe whether or not a man's shirt is dirty or foul smelling, and make an assessment in accordance with this observation. The idea, clearly, was to develop brand loyalty amongst a demographic (young men) who made detergent-purchasing decisions on price alone.

Far from creating a stigma, then, the detergent simply uses Ring Around the Collar as a symptom of a larger problem with bad laundry detergents. Would the Heaths have preferred stained underwear as the offending subject? As the good people of Charmin lurch ever closer to stating outright that their toilet paper efficiently and comfortably extricates fecal residue from the human anus, I find myself pining for innocent times, when a nasty case of ring around the collar symbolized man's unkempt folly.

Is Wisk that much better at removing sweat rings then, say, Tide? Probably not, but we can hardly expect Wisk's marketing team to advertise "buy us or buy our competitor, but buy something, you smelly bastard!"

The Heath brothers (are they brothers?) then direct their ire at Visa. Specifically, they are irate about the campaign where everyone is dancing and generally having a good time at a purveyor of consumer goods, until some effeminate gentleman has the temerity to pay with cash. First of all, these ads aren't particularly good. They are overproduced and take far too long to introduce the product. Second, they are not nearly so nefarious as they seem.

The Heath's contend that the goal of the ad is to make one feel guilty for paying with cash. For starters, this goal is not attainable. If I have cash, I'll gladly bandy it about, with or without Visa's approval. More so, and the authors obliquely acknowledge this, the ad is trying to eradicate the notion that paying by credit card is time consuming. Gone are the days of the manual card reader and it's cacophonous ca-chunks.

And is it really "dirty" to make an observation that is empirically true? In most instances, the transfer of cash really IS more time consuming than paying by credit card. The alternative, of course, is for companies to tout the fact that having a credit card allows you buy crap you can't afford. To their, um, credit, most card companies have avoided this tactic.

Surely, there are examples of dirty, or disingenuous marketing. KFC famously pulled an ad touting it's chicken as a health food (by focusing on the poultry itself rather than the cooking method). Budweiser is running an egregious ad claiming other beers hide their imperfections with darker colors, as though Sierra Nevada and Guinness are teeming with dust mites or something.

But even those ads convey a (chicken?) nugget of truth. The vinyl-siding class drinks Budweiser BECAUSE it has no flavor. To them, an ale might as well be impure insofar as it tastes bad. Pound for pound, the most unhealthy thing at KFC is the biscuit (with 11g of fat!).

The marketing world has long since dispensed with the idea of creating needs. New metrics focus on the ability of advertising to deliver on pre-existing needs and desires. Someone who has a need for a top to bottom home remodeling solution will shop at Lowe's if prompted. Someone looking for a symbol of their adventurous spirit will gravitate toward Harley's award winning advertising.

Marketing helps consumers discover what they need. If that all sounds a bit altruistic, remember that companies spend money with the expectation of a return on that investment. That's the nuts and bolts of it. If it is possible persuade someone to spend money on a product they do not want or need, it is certainly expensive.

There are valid criticisms of a culture so immersed in advertising that it is literally inescapable. But Dan and Chip Heath are, at minimum, pursuing the wrong targets. They are resorting to the lazy sort of thinking that reinforces readers assumptions and sells, well, ad space. Seems a bit dirty to me.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Monday Musings

So, Barack Obama has finally locked the Democratic nomination, and the media is chilled to the bone at the grandiosity of the moment. This is a blog, so I’ll briefly summarize the weekend news reports

He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! He’s black! History in the black black black black black!


This also serves as a handy synopsis of his qualifications. Rest assured, we’ll be reminded of them ad infinitum until November.


I’m obviously not due for a restaurant top-ten list, but I should give a shout out to Jasmine 26. Jasmine Deli’s swankier younger sister (hmmm… that’s a creepy way of putting it) boast upscale digs, $3 taps (we’re talking Sapporo, not Pabst) and above average service. Many of the dishes sport a considerable Thai influence, without becoming nebulously Asian. Any joint that can get me raving about the cheese wontons deserves a shout out.


The corner of Nicollet and 26th now sports a trifecta of reasons to get your car stereo stolen. One could theoretically pop into J-26 (forgive me) for an entrée, mosey over to Black Forest for a Liter of strong drink and then, the truth no longer in you, stumble over to Little T’s for really greasy stuff. As a nightcap, stand outside Azia and watch the sad people who don’t know they’re sad.


In my North Minneapolis neighborhood, the city is moving hell and highwater (to mix metaphors) in an effort to somehow improve our water supply. This has been going on for more than a year. At first, I thought that this was just a standard thing that cities do when water systems, such as they are, need improvement. But I have never seen such a project anywhere else. Nobody is tearing up half of Uptown to improve water quality by 8%. I have some hypotheses.

1) This project is being sponsored by the Victory Memorial neighborhood. Victory Memorial is the Edina of North Minneapolis, only the people don’t know how to clean up after their $900 dogs. What better way to stave off the foreclosure boom than to gut Shingle Creek, the only other livable neighborhood on the north side?

2) Did we actually elect that idiot who ran for the head of public works on an anti-war platform? I guess I just assumed we hadn’t.

3) This being North Minneapolis, nobody bothered to make even cursory updates to the water system after the infrastructure was built in the 1950s.

4) Nobody actually knows that this project is taking place.

5) All of the above.


I watched The Diving Bell and the Butterfly the other night. Normally, I am eager to jump down the throats of those who will not tolerate foreign films (or, more succinctly, subtitles). A plurality of the dialogue in this film, however, consists of people reciting the alphabet. In French. Out of order. After a half an hour I thought “the hell with it, I’m just gonna drink my wine and look at the pretty pictures.

And that’s just what I did.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Bill Pullman, RIP

Bill Pullman (1955-2008) - RIP

Forgotten in our minds. Treasured in our hearts. You were great in that horror movie.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A reasoned response

From time to time, my blog affords me the opportunity to address questions from my regular readers. Here are some of my favorites from the comment section.

From my post regarding Lesbians in my cereal:

"What the heck is wrong with you? What is so wrong about a potentially lesbian couple appearing on a box of cereal. Are you THAT insecure in your own sexuality that you can't stand to see two women together?"

-Craig in Seattle

Dude, I'm insecure in my own sexuality that I make my wife buy Kashi for me in the first place. That said, if the Trix Rabbit were being caressed by Sugar Bear in some sort of Sugar-Crisp-Trix hybrid (Sugarbrix?) wouldn't you, I dunno, blog or something? Could you handle that level of absurd irony? I don't think you could, dude.

From this week's Monday musings post:

"On an unrelated note, what were your thoughts on the Flip Saunders firing, Kevin?"

-Peter in Minneapolis

Gee, I don't recall you posting your thoughts on Saunders firing. Why don't you head to NBA City and enjoy a "Jefferson on the Rocks" as you watch "The House McHale Built" toe the Mendoza line all season. What? You don't know what the Mendoza line is? Of course not, because you are from Minnesota, land of passive-aggressive husbands who politely turn off the sports programming when it's time for potatoes au gratin.

"What is your problem, Kevin? "

-Anonymous with an apocryphal 15-year old daughter in England

Well, my father's in prison for a crime he didn't commit. I pay jaw-dropping property taxes for which I will never see anything in return. Almost everyone loves terrible wine, which means I need to drink terrible wine. Oh, and we're about to elect, to the presidency, an imbecile, the best defense of whom, from my politically-nuanced friends, is that he might not really imbecile but just seems like it right now because he is running against Hillary Clinton.

Also, it's hot and humid inside, but chilly on the outside.


Monday, June 02, 2008

Monday Musings

It's Monday. I'm hot and my ears are moist. Let's muse.

In tragic news, Barack Obama has informed his elderly grandmother that he has disowned her, citing "consistency".


So you may have heard that Universal Studios caught fire this weekend. This is unremarkable, as news reports indicate that most of Southern California is perpetually engulfed in flames. More remarkable, not only did the park not close, but the tour (aka the attraction that was ON FIRE) did not stop.


The designer of the Pringles can died recently. This is unremarkable. Package designers are mortal like the rest of us (albeit less so). What is remarkable is that he chose to have his ashes stored in an empty Pringles container. Even more remarkable is that I am NOT MAKING THAT UP.


Caught this on DailyKos:

"As usual, where the GOP cannot fight on the battlefield of ideas (after all, Americans prefer the Democratic position on nearly every major issue), it fights instead against a caricature"

This is not remarkable (except, perhaps, for its banality). More remarkable, it was alongside a picture of Dick Cheney putting the Constitution through a paper shredder.

Seriously, the only thing the lunatics at DailyKos have brought to the battlefield of ideas is a sledgehammer.


I've got a damn gopher in my garden.