Wednesday, January 26, 2011

More civility twaddle

Chuck Colson (a man of God for whom I have much respect) and Jim Wallis (not so much) have teamed up to write a treacly piece in Christianity Today about the need for civility. Yawn. Let's see what they have to say.

Title: Conviction and Civility
We should not lose this moment for moral reflection and renewal.

Who are we? Do Colson and Wallis intend to morally reflect in this piece, and thereby renew?

We are both evangelical Christians who believe that our treatment of the poor, weak, and most vulnerable is how a society is best biblically measured.

Oh, so this is a piece on how we ought to treat the poor. I'm on board. Let's be awesome to the poor.

We believe these political differences are normal and even to be expected among citizens expressing their faith in the public arena, for God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican.

An admonition sometimes put into practice by one of the authors of this piece.

In the aftermath of the horrible and senseless shooting in Arizona and some of the troubling responses to it, we, as leaders in the faith community, affirm with one voice our principled commitment to civil discourse in our nation's public life.
Which again, the "senseless shooting", by virtue of being senseless, has literally nothing to do with civility. It's like saying:

In the aftermath of my being late to work due to traffic, I affirm the need to treat domesticated animals with respect.

In the aftermath of waiting 20 minutes for a table at Anchor Fish and Chips, I affirm the need to improve our public schools.

In the aftermath of the crisis in Haiti, I affirm the need to purchase more office supplies.

The President rightly said that no act of incivility can be blamed for the profoundly evil shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the tragic killing and wounding of 19 of her constituents.
So why bring it up? Why is this the introduction to your piece?

Nonetheless, we should not lose this moment for moral reflection and renewal.

If incivility had nothing to do with the shootings, why is THIS the moment for moral reflection and renewal?

We must re-examine the tone and character of our public debate, because solving the enormous problems we face as a nation will require that we work for a more civil public square.

How so? We've solved much bigger problems with acrimony. Which ended slavery, the Missouri Compromise or the Civil War?

We live in a world where evil is very real and, in Arizona, we have just witnessed a brutal example of human depravity that has broken our hearts.
Which again, as President Obama conceded, has nothing whatsoever to do with civility. It is either incoherent or disingenuous to relentlessly inject this into your argument.

Yet, at the same time, the nation has been inspired by the heroism of so many ordinary people who rose to that terrible occasion and demonstrated our most noble human virtues.

Civility not being one of them. But yes, noble human virtues are good. On this we agree.

We believe that the faith community should lead by example and model the behavior that is informed by our biblical teachings—behavior that also essential to the survival of democracy.

Is hypocrisy a biblical virtue? Just wondering.

We recall the example of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who could never be accused of a lack of passion; yet he persisted in the non-violent treatment of his adversaries, hoping to win them over rather than to win over them.

Non-violence is civil. Civility is not non-violence. Conflating the two isn't going to compel me to change. Also, Martin Luther King was a great man, but was not in the Bible.

The obligation to show respect for others does not come from a soft sentimentalism but is rooted in the theological truth that we are all created in the image of God.

The notion that we should respect people simply because man was created in God's image is not a Biblical principle. It wasn't one of MLK's principles, either.

That means that when we disagree, especially when we strongly disagree, we should have robust debate but not resort to personal attack, falsely impugning others' motives, assaulting their character, questioning their faith, or doubting their patriotism.
A visit to Sojourners, Jim Wallis' organization, yields this piece from Julie Clawson on the need for a Missionary Code of Conduct.

Persecution (i.e. people being offended by you) is seen as a badge of honor for many missionaries. There is little conception that the faith they present and how they present it can be toxic. Calling people to love actual people and not just see them as “projects” that must get saved is just not the way things are done.

Now, this is a lot of things (and might even be somewhat accurate), but it certainly questions faith, impugns motives, and assaults character.

To which, I'll say it again. Civility (i.e. people agreeing with you) is seen as a badge of honor for people with an agenda. Once it no longer serves that agenda, the notion of civility goes out the door.

Any serious reflection on civility should acknowledge this phenomenon.

We must take care to not paint our political adversaries as our mortal enemies.

Did Colson even read this piece before signing it?

The working of democracy depends upon these virtues of civility.

This whole piece is like a Mad Lib, where every blank is filled in with a warm and fuzzy bromide. Snow on the RAINBOW can cause ice dams, therefore the key to KITTENS is to LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR. Just be sure you have a good PEACE ON EARTH!

Standing for principle is crucial to moral politics, but demonizing our opponents poisons the public square.

So do meaningless cliches.

The scriptural admonition to pray for those in political authority is more than a religious duty, it promotes good civic behavior.

Good point. Also, don't drink too much, and don't get in fist fights. #scripturaladvicewithwhichprettymucheveryoneagrees

Now back to civility.

The only redemption that might come from the horror we have seen in Arizona, and some of our worst partisan reactions to it,

Our worst? I'm sorry, the Republican partisan reaction to the murder was to pray for the victims. I didn't see a single Republican looking to blame this incident on politicians, left-wing crazies. I did, however, see plenty of Facebook posts (and one highly opinionated sheriff) accusing me, Sarah Palin and Fox News of having blood on their hands.

Also, had this not happened on a weekend, I can virtually assure you that Sojourners would have joined the chorus.

That would be a fitting tribute to those whose lives have been lost or forever changed by this tragedy.

Really? Like, if you lost a family member because some lunatic thought the government was trying to control him through grammar and gunned them down, you'd take solace in the fact that at least the tone of politics became somewhat nicer?

BS. The two have nothing to do with each other.

The left has newly discovered civility, and Barack Obama aptly defined what he means by civility when he said that we need to set aside our differences and rally behind his agenda. If that doesn't happen, it will be the fault of those who hate the poor, prefer ideology over reason, and are generally just stupid people.

Right is right, and it needn't be polite. Why Chuck Colson allowed himself to get roped into this hastily assembled collection of Democratic talking points is beyond me.




Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An Unsettling Event

Keep my wife in your prayers.

The doctors have discovered a growth in her uterus. Per their diagnosis, it began festering in November.

Over time, the thing will grow, gradually consuming her until the doctors will have no choice but to slice open her stomach and tear the thing from a morass of intestines and internal organs.

To add insult to injury, thanks to some obscure provision of the Obamacare bill (or the EPA, we're not sure which), we will be responsible to nurture and care for the thing for nearly two decades thereafter.

Preliminary research indicates this process is messy and expensive. Absurdly, once the creation is able to forge it's own living, it then has no fiduciary obligation to us.

I know a few people who have had this happen. They are pretty much exhausted, have so social life, and smell like pee. Ugh.

I'm naming it Voltron.

This is why I vote Republican, people.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday Musings

I didn't even have to scrape ice off my car today. A small victory with a nod to Ice Cube... Let's muse.

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Just about everything that could be said about Saturday's sickening assassination attempt in Arizona was said in an awful big hurry. That said, I'm a blogger, and I'm required to have an opinion, so here are some...

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At the service of his predictably hacky response, Paul Krugman makes a point with which I agree. He writes:

It’s important to be clear here about the nature of our sickness. It’s not a general lack of “civility,” the favorite term of pundits who want to wish away fundamental policy disagreements. Politeness may be a virtue, but there’s a big difference between bad manners and calls, explicit or implicit, for violence; insults aren’t the same as incitement.
Setting aside the "sickness" business, this is absolutely correct. Pity he doesn't take this reasoning to its logical conclusion.

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I'm really looking forward to the hair-splitting arguments about the difference between cross-hairs and bulls-eyes, aren't you?

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Here's a deal for my lefty friends. Just as I didn't remind you that you were once up in arms over George W. Bush's alleged cocaine use, I also will not remind you of your sudden distaste for political metaphors that invoke violent imagery. Why? 'Cause I'm not that guy, and it would get annoying pretty quick.

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I'm reading a lot of arguments along the lines of "it doesn't matter whether the shooter was leftist or rightist. The climate of hate is spurring people to violence.

Gibberish. There is no such thing as a climate of hate. You are either inciting violence or you are not. If you are going to accuse someone of inciting violence, you are going to need to make a connection between rhetoric and action.

You can't have your cake and eat it, too. If you want to accuse someone of inciting violence, you had better make that case in a compelling fashion. Citing some nebulous notion of the atmosphere and climate makes you sound like a pussy.

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Speaking of... About this Sheriff Dupnick fellow. When you are sheriff, as a mass murder by a disturbed individual happens on your watch, I'm interested in hearing about what you are going to do to make sure it doesn't happen again. Whether or not Rush Limbaugh is indirectly responsible viz. atmospheric tampering, the sheriff is the one paid to make sure people don't die.

I'm glad he has opinions on politics and stuff. That's real cute. It's great for people to be involved in our political process. Maybe he should run for political office someday.

Until you do, be a sheriff, eh?

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And, let's all be reminded, political rhetoric has ALWAYS been brutal. There has never, EVER been a point in American history when Americans said "you know what, I might disagree with some of these ideas, but I'm pretty much fine trying whatever."

Hamilton was shot in the testicles. Nixon was burned in effigy. Bush was compared to Hitler. Somebody actually took the time to kill James Garfield.

If you are just now discovering the fact that politics is a tough business, read some history. If you are pretending to do so, don't expect to persuade any reasonable person with your opportunism.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Coca-Colanomics and health care

An economics lesson...

-My company (of eight employees) generously supplies non-alcoholic beverages at no cost to employees.

-Our office is evenly divided between Diet Coke drinkers and sugary beverage drinkers. Bottled water consumption is evenly distributed.

- Our office consumes far more Diet Coke than any other beverage.

The reason is complex, but revealing.

All beverages come at an equal monetary cost (specifically, $0.00) to employees. However, sugary beverages have a lot of calories. Consequently, there is a cost built-in to consumption; one not endemic to bottled water or Diet Coke.

Diet Coke has one notable benefit that bottled water does not. Namely, caffeine. Sugary soda has this as well, but has the built-in cost. As such, Diet Coke hits a sort of sweet spot (no pun intended) in terms of consumption.

For the company, there is an inherent benefit to providing free beverages. In addition to promoting morale, it keeps us from going to the store, thereby decreasing productivity. It also extracts a nominal cost on employees. After all, if money is spent on soda, it can't be spent on compensation.

Our present system, though, stocks soda based on the evenly distributed preferences of our employees. As such, we are always running out of Diet Coke, and the company is spending a lot of money on same. Further, it encourages the consumption of Diet Coke, almost certainly beyond that which employees would choose to consume on their own.

For a small company, of course, this is not big deal. It is much appreciated by employees, of course, but the productivity at our billing rate offsets the cost of soda very quickly.

But consider a larger company, one with 100 employees. Replenishing soda supplies requires a dedicated staff member, since simply throwing a few cans in the fridge is futile in the face of the beverage needs of 100 employees. Devoted refrigerator space becomes the least labor intensive solution.

So larger companies are faced with the prospect of purchasing more refrigeration units, or running out of space. In the latter scenario, what happens?

Well, it stands to reason the soda gets cold. 100 employees aren't going to drink warm pop without organizing a revolt. Refrigerator space available to individual employees is almost certainly compromised.

But remember, the system is designed to stock soda in accordance with the evenly distributed preferences of employees. The dedicated employee calls in an order that does not change from month to month. Inevitably, the Diet Coke supply will vanish. But so, too, has the fridge space devoted to individual employee needs.

What happens to the diet soda drinkers? Well, they buy their own, which is fine. Soda is a privilege, not a right. But they don't have anywhere to put it, because the fridge is full of raspberry-garlic ginger ale once requested by the eccentric accountant who got fired for looking at porn on his work computer eight months ago. The rest of the space is devoted to critical items, like lunch.

The simple solution would be to change the monthly order to reflect the increased Diet Coke consumption. Alas, Janie, the chubby admin in charge of ordering beverages, happens to like sugary soda, doesn't understand why the Diet Soda runs out first, and isn't going to let anyone else wrest her one opportunity to feel powerful.

So employees, many of whom were content bringing their own cans of pop from home, are forced to buy it cold soda from the store, at a heavy mark up. Meanwhile, they still incur the cost of the company's "free soda" perk.

Now imagine government subsidized health care. It sounds good, in theory. Everyone can get care whenever they want it.

But what happens? Absent any monetary cost, users will gravitate to services that have no built-in cost and lot's of built-in benefit. Think sore backs and Percocet vs. colonoscopies and mammograms.

Those who have genuinely hurting backs, and are willing to pay to have them checked (and who are also diligent about getting other, less convenient parts checked) will have to pay a premium, thanks to the Vicodin addicts. As an added bonus, they will be on the hook for the major long-term care that becomes necessary when those who avoided affordable-but-uncomfortable procedures are finally whisked to the hospital. At least the Diet Coke drinkers don't have to pay for the Mountain Dew drinkers' diabetes shots.

Reasonable tweaks to the system will become impossible, as powerful new administrators lobby on behalf of their union-inflated compensation package and undeserved power.

Of course, unlike soda, health care will eat up a sizable portion of our income. That amount will continue to grow until someone realizes that, in a company of 300,000,000 people, it's a lot more reasonable to have people bring their own soda to work.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Best of 2010: Restaurants

Decided to do something different with my best restaurants list this year. Simply put, these are my best meals of 2010, in very particular order. Congrats, Saffron, you are my restaurant of the year.


Everyone read this, and then check these places out in 2011


Saffron


When, I arrived, the host immediately wished me a happy birthday, and “Happy Birthday Kevin” was printed on my menu. Cheesy? Birthdays are cheesy.


More important was the food. Lamb brains and steak for me. Beet salad and chicken with eggplant lavosh for the wife. All four were simply outstanding. Chef Wadi has such an extraordinary command of such broad range of flavors that you find yourself fishing for analogies far cheesier than the “happy birthday” bit.


This was my third meal of the year at Saffron, and all have been amazing. This restaurant is running on all cylinders right now, and it’s the one restaurant I can confidently say would actually benefit from a move to a bigger food market. Don’t let that happen. Go.


Cave Vin


I think the words criminally underrated are in order. We popped by during restaurant week at my wife’s discretion. We were both thrilled with the result.


I had escargot, mussels and braised short rib. If you are going to ingest 8,000 calories in a meal (not an exaggeration), this is the way to do it. Nothing revolutionary, just fantastic technique on display in a subtly romantic room. I will remember that balsamic reduction for, well, until I eat their short rib again.


The Strip Club


I’m not a steak joint kind of guy. In Minnesota, we have access to great cuts of meat, and I know how to prepare them. Throwing down $60 for 26 oz. of meat and hash browns isn’t my idea of a good night.

Enter The Strip Club. First of all, they use grass fed cuts of meat, which feature a higher degree of difficulty. Second, my rib eye clocked in under $30.


Third, instead of 8 lbs. of cheesy potatoes on the side, TSC offers a remarkable array of small plates. The Devils eggs earn every accolade they have received, and the poutine is decadent fun.


Throw in great service, and one of the coolest spaces in the cities, and this is a steakhouse I can get behind.


Victory 44


Yes, it’s my neighborhood place. I’ve been there 44 times. I’m their mayor on Foursquare. I’ve been with it through it’s various iterations, including their time with the now Travail chefs at the helm.

What has impressed me is the consistency. Regardless of format, or chefs at the helm, the food has always been interesting and affordable.


Of late, the place has caught fire, culminating in a New Years Eve tasting menu presented by chef Erick Harcey. He is nothing if not ambitious, and his cuisine has the occasional rough spots, but when it hits, it really shines.


Highlights: Pork belly with pops of jalapeno balancing ribbons of apricot gel. A dessert made with foie gras, and black cod fused with prosciutto.


Black Sheep


Tradition holds that restaurants do their worst work during Valentines Day and New Years. And yet, one entry on this list was our NYE meal, and the other is Black Sheep, where I spent V-day with my lovely bride.


Black Sheep eschews the traditions prix fixe menus and crowded romances, and simply does its regular shtick. Get there early enough, and you get a seat. We picked up a place at the lovely bar. The room, sequestered in the basement of a warehouse loft complex in the North Loop, is redolent of charm and garlic.


A crock of olives and such was needlessly hot, but tasty, but that is some pizza to get hot over. Black Sheep nails everything, from crust, to ingredients, to reheating instructions. At the same time, it’s an exercise in elegant simplicity. Just like love.


La Sirena Gorda


The kid in candy store metaphor is overused, but it rings pretty true when I enter Midtown Global Market. That said, I find myself going back to La Sirena Gorda, in spite of the wonders around me.


The calamari tacos are simply one of the best plates you can find in the cities. That they clock in under $10 is every reason for you to go get them, and a testament to a chef who can make great food out of affordable ingredients.


Corner Table


The backlash against the localvore movement has commenced, but that doesn’t make Scott Pampuch any less a great chef. Handpicked for our anniversary dinner, Corner Table delivered on every score.


The nosh plate was lovely and innovative, and I say that as someone who hates the word “nosh” (it’s the first syllable of the word ‘nauseous’, and pretentious besides). But, having taken half a dozen stabs at gazpacho myself, I am extra-appreciative of how hard that is too pull off.


I’ll also note that this place has made me a fan of the “eggs for dinner” movement. Poached and perched perfectly on poultry. That’s the way to do it.


Sole Café


The ultimate underdog. Simply two great chefs making the best Korean food in the cities. The spicy pork stir-fry is lovingly prepared (and the chef will come out to make sure you love it), but it’s the Korean accoutrements that got to me.


To be honest, I have never understood why Korean restaurants feel compelled to serve patrons a salad bar of goodies. Thanks to Sole Café, I’ve gotten religion in that regard. All I can say is, go try.


Piccolo


Unapologetically fussy. Not as perfect as it needs to be. Still, it was a lot of fun to dine here. The service was near flawless, the wines represent a remarkable value, and the food…


About that. Piccolo has been a bit controversial for serving what, for this market, constitute remarkably small portions. The idea is that you can order a sequence of dishes to sate your demonstrated appetite. However, when going for a light bite, we were brought two baskets of bread.


Further, a couple of the courses needed work. But the hits were electric. The octopus was the best thing I’ve ate this year, and our cheesecake dessert was astonishing as well.


At present, this place is a bit overrated. But it’s hard to fault the critics for being excited about the potential. Just be prepared for the price point, and the portion size. It’s a different philosophy, and one that Americans would do well to embrace.


I Nonni


On the opposite end of the philosophy, I Nonni offers a three-course all-you-can-eat menu on Tuesdays. The three courses were delicious, the all-you-can-eat redundant. Three courses are plenty.


This is the best Italian in Lilydale, naturally, but also the Twin Cities. You cannot leave without eating the Veal Osso Buco. I’ll put it this way: there is more the Italian than pasta.