Monday, July 26, 2010

Monday Musings

Sweltering summer sadness? Magic Musing Magnificence! Let's roll...

------------

Much has been said about the Journolist non-saga, and little of it is insightful. Virtually every opinion piece from the right employs the following construction:

a) Introduction gratuitously explaining the Journolist concept.

b) Body enumerating the same 4-5 rehashed quotes.

c) Disingenuous hedging couched as analysis ("now, I'm not suggesting there is a conspiracy, and Joe Klein denied...)

d) Galling re-assertion of prior hedged analysis ("but its easy to see a conspiracy here.")

Here's my analysis. Liberal journalists did not need to conspire in order to forge the memes that would negatively define the 2008 presidential election.

Ezra Klein didn't need some other lunatic left-wing blogger to tell him what to write. He had the Obama campaign to do that for him. The guy from The Nation apparently needed help, but who the hell reads The Nation?

The Journolist e-mails tell us nothing. Polls have shown us that reporters tend to be very liberal. Studies have shown that this bias influences their reporting. The insipid garbage they write tells us that they are unprofessional hacks.

I'm glad this story is reinforcing this point succinctly, and hopefully it is one more nail in the coffin of the objective reporter myth. But for conservatives to belabor the point is just dancing on the grave, and doesn't make us look any better.

------------

Who the hell okay'd opening West River Parkway to traffic during the Aquatennial fireworks? Who benefitted from that? Spectators inhaling exhaust fumes? The drivers who found themselves forced to stop cold due to the throng of people?

------------

Obama's strategy for the midterms Blame everything on the Republican congress that was in power four years ago. I guess that's the best of some pretty terrible options. Here is an unenlightening paragraph from the Associated Press, which continues to devote ink to regurgitating Democratic strategy:

But the White House knows it can't just be about blaming George W. Bush, though the former president's enduring unpopularity helps Obama's case. Obama must try to take it a step further and get voters to view Republicans now running for office as little more than extensions of Bush who would advance the ex-president's same policies.
Oh, so if Blaming Bush is going to be your midterm strategy, you should suggest that your opponents are going to be like Bush? As opposed to ripping apart the ex-president, and then drawing a contrast between him and the Republican opponent? In the encyclopedia of political strategy, I think we can safely file this under "no s**t".

------------

In response, I actually do not think Republicans should, by and large, run against Obama. It will work, for the reason that Bush would defeat Obama in a November election this year, but not as well as other strategies. Focus on small businesses, taxes and liberty. It will make the anti-Bush ads seem beside the point.

------------

Is it legal to operate a Rascal while intoxicated? Is it a sad commentary that I am prompted to ask that question?

------------

Revisited a couple of favorites this week. Lemongrass Thai remains in the debate for best Thai restaurant in the cities, of course.

What I want to carry on about, however, is my meal at Saffron. The drinks and appetizers were exquisite, but the real winner was the chicken with eggplant lavosh. Chicken is surprisingly difficult to cook well on it's own, much less accompanied by the extraordinary balance of flavors on display. On the basis of this meal, I have to put Saffron near or at the top of the Minneapolis dining scene. You must go.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Krugman... Verbose hack.

Paul Krugman is enamored with his own ideas, such as they are, to the point where he has no apparent interest in expressing them coherently... You know the drill. Bold, not-bold. I take aim, and rewrite the piece at the end.

The Pundit Delusion

Does Paul Krugman not know that he is a pundit? I mean, that's how he makes his money. He wins awards and accolades for contributing to his field, but he gets paid for (hacky) punditry. Okay, moving on...

The latest hot political topic is the “Obama paradox”

On Planet Pundit, probably. In the real world, the hot political topic is the "I'm sick of this crap" non-paradox.

the supposedly mysterious disconnect between the president’s achievements and his numbers.

Yep. That's what everyone is wondering. How is it that, despite all the amazing things he has done, Obama continues to be unpopular? I ask myself that question every day, as do all of my friends.

The line goes like this: The administration has had multiple big victories in Congress, most notably on health reform, yet President Obama’s approval rating is weak.

Call this the East German paradox. What? Government has done what it wanted, but the people are unhappy? Das is paradox!

What follows is speculation about what’s holding his numbers down: He’s too liberal for a center-right nation. No, he’s too intellectual, too Mr. Spock, for voters who want more passion. And so on.

Allow me, then, to offer some entirely original speculation. People don't approve of Obama because they don't like his policies. Glad to be the first person to get that out there.

But the only real puzzle here is the persistence of the pundit delusion, the belief that the stuff of daily political reporting — who won the news cycle, who had the snappiest comeback — actually matters.

How is this a puzzle? Also, isn't political reporting, more or less, the topic of this piece?

What political scientists, as opposed to pundits, tell us is that it really is the economy, stupid.

Which resolves every question Krugman has raised to this point. There is no paradox. Obama's policies are terrible. They haven't been effective. People don't like them.

Today, Ronald Reagan is often credited with godlike political skills — but in the summer of 1982, when the U.S. economy was performing badly, his approval rating was only 42 percent.

A point completely ignored by pundits, which is why I have only read it approximately 25,000 times in the last ten months.

If the economy is improving strongly in the months before an election, incumbents do well; if it’s stagnating or retrogressing, they do badly.

Yep. So Obama should do as Reagan did, and he'll be fine. Good point, Paul.

Now, the fact that “ephemera” don’t matter seems reassuring, suggesting that voters aren’t swayed by cheap tricks. Unfortunately, however, the evidence suggests that issues don’t matter either, in part because voters are often deeply ill informed.

So Reagan's poll numbers did not matter, and neither, really, do policies, or the economy. Nothing matters because voters are idiots. This is Krugman's thesis.

Suppose, for example, that you believed claims that voters are more concerned about the budget deficit than they are about jobs.

Suppose, in other words, that there are only two issues voters cared about, and that taxes and spending are not one of them. The New York Times has doubled-down on this assumption, which is why their subscriptions are through the roof. Good job, Bill Keller.

(That’s not actually true, but never mind.)

Thanks for clarifying, Paul! Prior to your parenthetical, I did not understand your point of view.

There’s no point berating voters for their ignorance: people have bills to pay and children to raise, and most don’t spend their free time studying fact sheets.

Unlike Krugman, who, in spite of his inability to write 700 cogent words on a topic, is employed by the most prominent newspaper in the nation. His ignorance is organic, paid for and nurtured by the Gray Lady. What has Krugman's study of fact sheets taught him?

What should Mr. Obama have done? Some political analysts, like Charlie Cook, say that he made a mistake by pursuing health reform, that he should have focused on the economy.

For the record, Charlie Cook is a "political scientist, as opposed to a pundit". For a while there, that's what Krugman was arguing.

As far as I can tell, however, these analysts aren’t talking about pursuing different policies — they’re saying that he should have talked more about the subject.

Um, how can you "tell" this from what the "analysts" are talking about? From what Cook is saying, Obama made a mistake pursuing the wrong policy. For the record, Obama tried to sell his Health Care reform package as a boost to the economy, and the facts got in the way. But facts only matter to pundits, not to Krugman.

The best way for Mr. Obama to have avoided an electoral setback this fall would have been enacting a stimulus that matched the scale of the economic crisis. Obviously, he didn’t do that.

So, his polling numbers are based on his policies, and not ignorant voters.

Maybe he couldn’t have passed an adequate-sized plan, but the fact is that he didn’t even try.

So his polling numbers are based on the fact that he didn't try, which means his victories were not at all significant. What, then, is the paradox?

True, senior economic officials reportedly downplayed the need for a really big effort, in effect overruling their staff;

So, the... I'm struggling to keep a straight face here... The issue is that senior economic officials were ignoring their underlings? Interesting. Who hired these officials, the pundits?

In short, it looks as if the administration itself was taken in by the pundit delusion, focusing on how its policies would play in the news rather than on their actual impact on the economy.

And also, his economic officials supported a smaller stimulus. Remember the charts indicating that the stimulus package would hold unemployment to 8%? I mean, can you blame voters for being ignorant when their leaders conspire to render them so?

Republicans, by the way, seem less susceptible to this delusion.

Wait, what? Republicans are less susceptible to the delusion that tactics matter more than policy?

Since Mr. Obama took office, they have engaged in relentless obstruction, obviously unworried about how their actions would look or be reported. And it’s working: by blocking Democratic efforts to alleviate the economy’s woes, the G.O.P. is helping its chances of a big victory in November.

So, the delusion is that tactics matter more than policy. But voters are too ignorant to understand policy, and so tactics are what matter. And so Obama embraced tactics. But Republicans, realizing that policy matters more than tactics, emphasized the former, and have won both battles?

I have a simpler explanation. Obama's policies don't work, and are unpopular, partly because they don't work, and partly because he is an abysmal politician.

Can Mr. Obama do anything in the time that remains? Midterm elections, where turnout is crucial, aren’t quite like presidential elections, where the economy is all. Mr. Obama’s best hope at this point is to close the “enthusiasm gap” by taking strong stands that motivate Democrats to come out and vote.

So, Obama should take strong stands for political reasons, because the pundit class is wrong about emphasizing politics over... Okay, does anyone edit this damn paper?

But I don’t expect to see that happen.

Oh...

What I expect, instead, if and when the midterms go badly, is that the usual suspects will say that it was because Mr. Obama was too liberal — when his real mistake was doing too little to create jobs.

And, at the end of his piece, Krugman introduces his real thesis. Fantastic. This piece was terrible. It demands a rewrite.

What he meant to say was this...

Barack Obama has taken criticism for his policies. The conventional wisdom is that his agenda has been too ambitious for most Americans. In accordance with this wisdom, Obama has tailored a "centrist" platform.

Unfortunately, for him, the conventional wisdom is wrong.


No matter what the pundits say, Americans care about jobs. As jobs go, votes go. Obama spent his political capital appeasing a pundit class that was wrong all along. He'll pay the price in November. Americans will pay the price for years.

There is still time. Obama can reject the "centrist" platform, embraced by pundits and maligned by opportunistic Republicans (what, he thought they'd give him credit for his efforts?). A strong stance in favor of jobs will have give the American people what they want.

When Americans get what they want, so do incumbents, and so will the president. Conventional wisdom be damned.


That took me four minutes. I don't agree with any of it, and it's obviously light on specifics (specifics being the hobby horse of conservatives), but it says everything it took Krugman 700 words to say. It even has a pithy zinger and a stutter sentence.

I grew up reading Mitch Albom after all.

I don't expect Krugman to be correct, or even cogent. Is it too much to expect him to be precise?

Monday Musings

After a windy weekend, Fox Nine storm prophet Keith Marler predicts heat... Let's add fuel to the fire.

------------

Washington Post has a good op-ed (their conservative writers are rather less hackish, and far more literate, than their celebrity lefties) on health care reform in Massachusetts. I found this noteworthy:
"But much didn't change. Emergency rooms remain as crowded as ever; about a third of the non-elderly go at least once a year, and half their visits involve "non-emergency conditions."
Now, the talking point that we would save money on health care because poor people wouldn't be going to the emergency room as a last resort was always based on myth. There was no evidence that we could introduce significant cost savings by changing this behavior.

But you would think that subsidizing health insurance would, you know, change the behavior. If we can't even persuade citizens in this country to wait and go to the doctor for minor ailments, we have no hope of introducing any sort of affordable universal health care coverage. No hope whatsoever.

------------

And yes, I know Mitt Romney was the man behind the ill-fated health care overall. I was for McCain, thank you.

------------

I've been watching the ads for the DFL primary (which: overkill), and I have to say this is the most sterile, banal crop of political advertisements I have ever seen. I get what they're doing. The Dems see a pickup opportunity (one of a very small handful nationwide), and don't want to carve each other apart.

And so we are treated with treacly nonsense about how each of these candidates is a Minnesota institution that loves farmers and kids more than anything, unlike that son of a bitch Tom Emmer who sided with Tim Pawlenty when he destroyed farmers and kids for no apparent reason.

My question? Since none of these ads are actually saying anything, won't this make the primary about inertia and name recognition? If so, doesn't that stick the Democrats with Mark Dayton as their nominee?

If I were the Democrats, I would get to mudslinging posthaste.

--------

I have come to the conclusion that we need two sets of weather-people, one for the cities and suburbs, and one for the exurbs and rural areas. I am tired of every single newsroom going into hysterics every time there is a thunderstorm in Willmar, to the detriment of 90% of their viewership.

On Saturday, I just turned the TV off and made delicious hummus, like everyone else who lives in the city.
------------

Brian McLaren likes allies. That stands to reason, given that the man never seriously addresses, nor even seems to encounter, those with whom he disagrees.

In his meditation on allies, he cites Christian and Jewish allies of Jewish and Muslim people, among them, Birthright Unplugged (!) and ICAHD.

From Birthright Unplugged's website:

Our early mission was built around the rejection of the notion of a “birthright,” as embodied in fully-funded trips to Israel designed solely for Jewish people.
Yikes... ICAHD is operated by Jeff Halper, an Israeli Jew who is notorious for repeating Palestinian propaganda as fact. From their booklet entitled "Counter-Rhetoric":

But the Palestinian leadership, including Hamas, and the entire international community are united in calling for a two-state solution on the 1967 borders, something Israel is not willing to agree to.

Hamas is calling for a two-state solution? Um, no, and you have to be ignorant and naive (like McLaren) or dishonest (like Jeff Halper) to say as much. Hamas' charter famously calls for the destruction of Israel, and the organization has, to put it mildly, walked the walk on that score.

It is depressing that McLaren finds alliance with anti-Semites and liars, but he is hardly alone. Halper is a frequent speaker at Presbyterian church events, and has quite a bit of cache among the Christian left.

Depressing.

------------

What's not depressing? Q Fanatic. Especially when they have they're rocking their ghost pepper BBQ sauce. The place is getting some publicity, as evinced by the long (but worth it) line on Friday night. Go see.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wednesday Musings

Long time, no blog... Let's muse...

Harry Reid:

The GOP is betting on failure.

Um, no. We won that bet. You failed. We now are running on it.

------------

E.J. Dionne

The minute you say there are racist elements at the tea parties -- reflected in signs at rallies, billboards, and speeches from some of its major figures -- the pushback goes from cries of persecution to charges that those who are criticizing divisiveness are themselves the dividers.
Two points. First, it is a common rhetorical device, and a pet peeve of mine, to cast an opponents arguments as "crying" or "screaming". The goal is to make their point seem inherently irrational, the product of emotion. It is simply a form of poisoning the well.

Second, that's not the pushback. The pushback is that you have lost the intellectual argument, and are simply calling people names.

------------

Minneapolis is a finalist for the 2012 Democratic convention. Can we play host to two losing parties in a row? I hope so, but then we'll hear about the "curse of Minnesota" or some such absurdity.

------------

Johnny Northside comments on the propensity of graffiti vandals to post pictures of their droppings on the internet. Theoretically, this should make it easy for the police to locate the most prolific offenders. Alas, our mayor is ideologically opposed to the idea of cops, and so they continue to flaunt the evidence of their lawlessness.

He also gives readers the opportunity to play internet sleuth, and I will extend the same to you. Or you can just read the comments on the photos and be depressed at the state of humanity. That's what I did.

http://fiveprime.org/hivemind/Tags/minneapolis,shock

------------

Went to South Dakota to visit in-laws, who live in the metropolis of Aberdeen. Due to liquor license allocations, there are no sit-down chain bar/restaurants like Applebees. As a by-product of this, the locally-owned, established bar/restaurants in Aberdeen mimic the chains, right down to the ridiculous wall tsotchkes.

Just a thought before everyone goes about blaming chain restaurants for our culinary decline. They are, sadly, simply meeting a demand.

------------

Does anyone have a recipe that calls for about ten zucchinis?

Monday, July 05, 2010

Recipe sadness

Better Homes and Gardens has infiltrated my headspace with some recipes for the week. I'll preface this by saying I'm not a chef, but even I can tell you that this is not something you should bother cooking.

Monday - Sausage and Summer Squash

Not the most appealing combination, but let's see what's in it.

* 1/3 to 1/2 cup bottled Italian salad dressing

Yuck. Is there anything more disgusting that store bought Italian dressing*? Why don't we just start this recipe off with rancid pickles? Moving on.

* 2 cloves garlic, minced

Because if you can't be bothered to mix olive oil and vinegar, surely you'll want to take the time to mince fresh garlic. I'm surprised they didn't specify "from a jar".

* 12 oz. cooked Polish sausage links, halved lengthwise, sliced diagonally


Be sure to slice them diagonally, because that's fancy.

* 3 small yellow summer squash and/or zucchini, quartered lengthwise


So basically, we are substituting fancy slicing for flavor here.

* 4 wedges Italian flat bread, split

A Google search for "Italian Flat Bread" yields, as the first result "what is Italian flat bread?". Exactly. It's like the authors of this recipe had some bread sitting out of the package, had no idea what it was, and winged it.

Per the picture, it looks like ciabatta. Every magazine recipe bread is ciabatta.

* 1/4 cup sliced green onions
* Fresh oregano leaves

We just doubled the cost of this recipe, but at least we have finally added flavor.

* 1/4 cup coarsely shredded Parmesan cheese (optional)

I never understand why recipes consider parmesan to be optional. Have you ever tasted the stuff? Does it seem like an "optional" ingredient to you, especially in the shredded variety? By my lights, the mystery bread should be optional.

So how do we make this crap?

Preheat broiler.


Wait. We're broiling? This was described as an "easy summer recipe". Broiling is the opposite of easy, and is certainly the opposite of anything you'd want to do in the summer.

In small bowl combine dressing and garlic.


Because the store-bought "Italian" dressing couldn't be bothered to add things like, um, flavor, so you'll have to do the hard work on Wish Bone's behalf.

In extra-large skillet cook sausage and squash in 2 tablespoons of the dressing mixture for 8 to 10 minutes or until sausage is heated through and squash is almost tender, stirring occasionally.


For 8-10 minutes at what cooking temperature? High? Low? I guess we just do it until everything seems cooked. That's freaking helpful. Thanks, recipe.

Also, if you put store-bought Italian dressing in a pan and cook it, your house will smell like dog piss for hours. Be warned.

Meanwhile, place bread on broiler pan; brush with 1 tablespoon of the dressing mixture. Broil 3 to 4 inches from the heat for 1 to 2 minutes,


1 to 2 minutes? The author of this recipe can't get a broiling time down within 100% of the total? Keep in mind we are talking about putting oil under the highest possible heat (for most kitchens) at the closest possible proximity (ditto) to that heat as part of an "easy summer recipe".

Also, why are we smothering everything in cheap salad dressing? Have you ever been to a restaurant that does this?

until lightly toasted.


Or, more likely, burnt to hell.

Serve sausage and squash with toasted bread.


Thank heavens for the serving suggestion. I was considering drizzling some maple syrup on the bread and serving it to the homeless. Instead, I will now serve it with the meal.

Drizzle remaining dressing;


Oh, for crying out loud.

sprinkle green onions and oregano.


Oh good, the only flavor in the dish comes from the garnish.

Pass Parmesan cheese.


It's more optional that way.

Serves 4.


Serves 4? 3 ounces of meat and 3/4 of a small zucchini constitutes a main course? This is like a dark world Alinea.

People, please do not make this recipe.


* - Yes, store-bought French or "Catalina" (whatever the hell that is) is in the running. Wish Bone has done some terrible, terrible things.

Monday Musings

Fireworks are amazing. Take that, Afghanistan! Let's muse...

------------

The raw milk debate is heating up. I recently got far too engaged in a debate on the Simple, Good and Tasty blog on this issue.

By my lights, the battle over raw milk boils down to the question of whether emotion should trump data. The emotion side cites anecdotal examples of kids getting utterly ruined by the stuff. The data side notes that such anecdotes are rare.

Naturally, lawyers prefer the emotional arguments, and they are circling like sharks over dairy farms in Minnesota. As such, expect this to quickly become a partisan issue, where Republicans are for legal raw milk, and liberals (in an effort to placate lawyers) will try to forge a highly regulated solution.

------------

Apparently, the revamped Taste of Minnesota is drawing poor reviews from vendors. The $20 admission fee seems like an over-correction to the "take all comers" policy of previous events.

The Taste had become an open invitation to poor urban youths to stake their territory, or whatever the hell it was they were doing. Five bucks would be sufficient to keep the trash out, but apparently organizers thought the public would be enthusiastic about the opportunity to pay $20 to see, um, The Counting Crows?

Is there anyone under the age of fifty making decisions for this event?

------------

Last Comic Standing continues tonight. In order to entice viewership, we are offered this line, from one enterprising comic:

"I saw a camel with real tiny humps. I hope she has a good personality."

That is a flatly unfunny joke.

------------

The Washington Post writes this:

IT'S ALMOST time to say goodbye to the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), the $700 billion bailout fund that pretty much everyone hated, even though it arguably saved the U.S. economy.


Saved the economy from what? We were told it would save us from double-digit unemployment, but that certainly was not the case.

Are we supposed to take it on faith that we were saved from something, by virtue of giving banks enormous sums of cash, which they promptly stored in reserve? Why? To which ideological argument does this argument conform?

If something "arguably" occurred, shouldn't there be an argument that it, in fact, occurred?

------------

The best answer to the question above is a banal Sarah Palin joke. The snickering you hear is the sound of me winning the argument.

------------

I just made a walnut beet salad. For you imperial stout fans, I've found a meal that can stand up to the stuff.

Peel and boil a couple of beets. In the interim, pan-fry 1/4 cup of walnuts with olive oil and a tbsp of brown sugar. Once the beets are done (15-20 minutes), dice them and add to the pan. Pan fry for about five minutes, cool, and top with gorgonzola and a drizzle of dark balsamic.

FYI, beets are a pretty difficult vegetable to ruin. Once they are boiled or roasted, they pretty much do what you want them to, like Al Gore after a couple of eco-friendly chardonnays.

People avoid them because the canned version is so disgusting. Same goes for Al Gore, now that I think of it.

------------

You know what's weird? I haven't even heard from Barack Obama in over a week. I'll assume he's on vacation. When Bush was president, we heard about his vacations, from the moment they began. Alas, the press gives this guy a break because it loves him.

That said, I was always aware that George W. Bush was president. Maybe it's better to piss off the press. Makes us feel like we have a leader.

------------

So, at what point do Twins fans begin to notice that Joe Mauer is not beginning to earn his contract. After posting arguably the best positionally-adjusted season in MLB history, he is now fourth in the MLB at his position.

That makes him overpaid to the tune of $8 million per year. Sucks when your premier player is a catcher. Suffices to say, the Tigers don't have that problem.

------------

In restaurant news...

Finally had a chance to head to Corner Table, a pioneer in farm to table cuisine in the Twin Cities. Most of what we had was very good. Be sure to catch to nosh plate, bits of this and that with different preparations. A large will feed 2-4 for $9.

I wish my chicken confit w/poached egg entree was a bit lighter. A magnificent spinach ensemble was the only respite from a see of creamy grains underneath. That said, the egg and chicken were exquisite. My wife's pasta moreso.

With the summer produce season in full swing, make your way there.

-----------

After two meals at Adelitas on Central, I am not convinced that it is ready to join the top tier of Mexican places in the cities. On a previous visit, I was impressed by the cuisine, which seemed to combine authentic and "Tex-Mex" sensibilities into a seamless whole.

However, the service is a real problem, they still serve 3.2 beer, and my salsa verde had no flavor whatsoever. Adelitas is, by a mile, better than La Casita, it's neighbor to the north, but compared to the amazing fare on the south side, it's just not there yet.

-----------

My tomatoes are falling over. I have no solution for this. I must leave.