Category Archives: Observations

Worth Reading

Presidential Election, Benghazi, and Power Shift in China

The Election – Michael Barone sums up the 2012 Presidential Election and predicts a Romney win. Agree or disagree, Barone is the undisputed authority on the American electoral system and has total command of its minutiae. “Barone: Going out on a limb: Romney beats Obama, handily

Benghazi – Posted a few weeks ago in National Review, this Mark Steyn piece picks apart the underlying issues – both political and geostrategical – surrounding the Benghazi attack and its consequences.

“Diplomatic facilities are U.S. sovereign territory — no different de jure from Fifth Avenue or Mount Rushmore. So defending them is one of the core responsibilities of the state. But that’s the funny thing about Big Government: The bigger it gets, the more of life it swallows up, the worse it gets at those very few things it’s supposed to be doing.” read more »

Observations Worth Reading

FT on ‘Nanny Regulation’

The Weekend FT had a lovely morsel on the confusion and inconsistency in government regulation [subscription required]. While their disdain is aimed at the UK Financial Services Authority, their argument applies to much of what the State chooses to do.  Here’s the key sentence:

Many protections are not stupid in isolation, but fail consistency tests. Why clamp down on unregulated investments (which may lose money) yet allow gambling (where losses are guaranteed)?…Nanny is confused.

So are we all.  Worth reading.

Worth Reading

Worth Reading: ‘Lars Man Standing’

Mark Steyn (@MarkSteynOnline) updates us on the free speech case of Lars Hedegaard, head of the Danish Free Speech Society and his recent acquittal. read more »

Musings Worth Reading

Chrystia Freeland on ‘Apple Authoritarianism’

Saint Paul, MN – Chrystia Freeland has an excellent piece on this morning highlighting the “paradox” of “catch up development” in the modern age.

Citing Daron Acemoglu, an economist at MIT, she argues that “[G]lobalization and the technology revolution mean that China’s authoritarian rulers have been able to deliver strong economic growth without read more »

About Town Musings

Cool places on West 7th

Great to see a number of new, vibrant, and smartly-sophisticated businesses on West 7th, west of Smith Ave – especially in recent months.

One new place is Claddagh Coffee. Clean, bright, great service, and a nice hangout vibe. I’ll go out of my way to come back regularly.



Just One Last Thing…

We were sad to learn of the death this week of Peter Falk who, among his many roles, intrigued the young Observer on Sunday nights as the frumpled-but-shrewd Columbo, added an understated element to The Princess Bride, and served as a fascinating narrative anchor in the under-appreciated Wings of Desire.

Requiescat in pace.

About Town Featured People

About Town: Irv Williams

A good sax player, over long years of playing ought to become known for range, deft handling of ‘the axe’, mellow tone, and skillful phrasing.

Irv Williams has mastered all these skills and more to attain a revered status, certainly among local jazz fans.

I’ll always remember Irv – not just for his skillful musical phrasing, but for one, very telling phrase. I was hosting an event at the University Club in the early 90s where he and his trio were hired to play. The crowd had assembled and, many of them having gotten their cocktails, started to have that ‘what now?’ look that crowds get.

Irv was sitting serenely in a chair at the far end of the room near the piano watching the crowd but showing no signs that he was on the verge of producing the mellifluous tones he’s known for. Although he came highly recommended, I’d never met the man before or heard him play so I walked over to introduce myself. We chatted briefly before I was able to bring myself to the key question: “When do you plan to start?”.

He looked me in the eye, paused for a two count, and let me have it:

“I play when I get a scotch and I’ve been paid.”

My eyes locked with his, I snapped my finger for a waiter and pulled out my checkbook, scribbling out Irv’s payment with a wry smile all the while taking his words to heart. The evening clicked along beautifully from there and I’ve been a devoted fan ever since.

In the years that followed, I’ve trekked all over town to hear him play. There were the gigs at the old Bristol Cafe in St Anthony Main and that lounge at the Doubletree Hotel in Minneapolis in the late 90s.

Recently, the LSW and I sat through a couple of Irv’s sets at Il Vesco Vino, the Italian restaurant that replaced The Vintage. Ably accompanied by pianist Peter Schimke, Irv is clearly as comfortable as ever blowing out a range of tunes, mostly mellow and gentle but with occasional bursts of energy. As always, too, he welcomes the audience request but will adjust the range and tempo of these standards to his liking rather than play them as we might be accustomed to hear them in what we might think of as their definitive, recorded versions.

Irv is a gentleman and a generous performer, but, in keeping with the best tradition of jazzmen, make no mistake – it’s his world and you’re just passing through it.

Williams and Schimke perform Saturdays from 8-10 at Il Vesco Vino and have just released a new CD called “Duo”


Sound and Fury: Looking Beyond the 2008 Elections

While standing in line today waiting to vote, I was reminded of that great line of George Carlin’s: “Think of how stupid the average person is and realize half of them are stupider than that.” Considering how sharply-but-evenly divided we are on the question of who should be the next US president, it is easy to think that the ‘other half’ is the stupider because they’re voting for ‘that guy’ and we are among the smarter – because we won or despite losing, whichever way it goes.

Although the choice of president is very important, he’s typically just the most visible element of the government. There are special powers and privileges and a gifted rhetorician can sway and engage popular opinion in support of his efforts to work with Congress. Nevertheless, let’s remember that much of what we have heard and been told until now is only so much sound and fury which signifieth, well, maybe not as much as we thought.

Regardless of which side you’re on, the most important thing to remember is that there are natural constraints to what the next president will be able to accomplish. We’re in a rough economy and we have a divided electorate. So, whether tomorrow you Greet the Dawn or fear the Apocalypse, let’s take a moment to look beyond the elections and consider the months ahead.

The Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s highly unlikely that Sen Obama, as President, would change the course of either of these wars from the one they’re on under current leadership. By leadership, I’m referring to the military leadership and not the Bush administration. The surge has shown itself to be a success with deaths in Iraq falling to the lowest point in the war. Indeed, there were fewer killings in Baghdad last month than occurred in Chicago. A president McCain can keep his campaign promise to support the troops and Obama will be forgiven if he accedes to realities on the ground if he abandons a fixed schedule for troop withdrawal.

The US and Worldwide Economy. Since government has only a few albeit very powerful tools available to influence the direction of the economy – the power to tax your money, spend your money, and throw you in jail if you don’t cooperate – much of what can be tried is underway: massive Keynesian stimulus spending via checks to US tax filers (not necessarily payers but we’ll discuss that another time) and massive, unprecedented bailout dollars to major financial institutions. In light of the major commitments already in place and the enormous existing government debt, it’s unlikely that the next president will be able to engineer major new spending programs in this weak economy. If McCain tried, the Democrat majority is likely to oppose his budget efforts. Massive spending by an Obama-led congress would probably risk a further market meltdown, as Clinton learned to his disappointment in 1993.

Where, then, can the next president get his way? For Obama, two places. Regulations, rules, and other soft-cost legislation and judicial appointments. Resurrecting the fairness doctrine, removing the secret ballot for union votes, and enacting other rules that are designed to guide the economy should be fairly easy for him to accomplish and the costs will be hard to calculate. A compliant, Democrat-led Congress will likely be quick to move on any judicial nominations they receive. A President McCain, on the other hand, would have a bigger hill to climb. He’ll need to be uncharacteristically Reaganesque and win the support of the public to put pressure on their own legislators to get his agenda through. And, assuming there’s no Democratic super majority, he’ll need to dust off the Veto pen.

In any event, we’ll soon see how my broad predictions pan out.


Sen Obama Becomes Dem Nominee for US President

Sen Barack Obama, addressing a cheerful and sporadically cheering crowd of supporters in Saint Paul tonight, declared victory in the primary contest and established his status as the Democratic candidate for the US presidency.

With the final Democratic primaries finishing earlier this evening in Montana and South Dakota, and with a significant number of undeclared super-delegates lining up behind him in the last 24 hours, Sen Obama today secured the 2,118 delegate votes necessary to attain an insurmountable lead over Sen Hillary Clinton.

“Tonight, I can stand before you and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States,” he declared confidently in the hall where his Republican opponent, Sen John McCain, will accept the GOP nomination in September.

Striking a statesmanlike tone and in a clear effort reunify his Democratic base as he shifts his attentions to the general election, Mr Obama paid homage to Sen Clinton, citing her efforts with healthcare and children’s issues. “It was an honor to compete with Hillary Rodham Clinton,” he said.

Setting the stage for the general election, Obama focused most of his energy tonight on Sen McCain. Visiting most of the liberal touchstones of the current election – Iraq, universal healthcare, US energy policy, ‘wealthy CEOs’, and ‘tax breaks for big corporations’ – Obama worked strenuously to tie McCain to the ‘failed policies’ of President Bush, giving a clear hint of what his strategy will be in the coming months.

While Sen Clinton congratulated her opponent earlier today, she has yet to officially withdraw from the race and there is continued speculation that she is seeking a negotiated exit from the competition.

Sen McCain spoke earlier this evening to his supporters in New Orleans.

People Politics

On Katrina

I have a friend who is unquestionably one of the smartest and typically self-confident people I know, who starts many of his observations with “Now I’m not a very smart guy, but… ” often enough to be noticeable, anyway. I also know him well enough to say that he’s serious. It’s not self-deprecating shorthand nor is he seeking empty compliments. I don’t know why he says it but there it is.

Near the conclusion of what had been a humorous, well-presented, and interesting speech, Jonah Goldberg pronounced the speech to be ‘terrible’ and I thought of my friend.

Jonah visited the University of Minnesota at the invitation of CFACT, Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow, to give a talk ‘On Katrina’, as the flyer indicated. Knowing a little of Jonah’s off-beat humor, I half expected the speech to be ‘On, Katrina!’, but never mind.

Jonah framed the topic of Katrina nicely as a package of stories that the MSM is most comfortable covering: natural disasters, the plight of poor minorities, in a nice global warming box tied up with a ‘get Bush’ bow. As evidence, he cited a decent string of unchecked-but-checkable rumors reported as fact: New Orleans sniper gangs, rapists roaming the Superdome, and others.

The irony is that the MSM holds up the Katrina story as a model of reporting – motivated by public service, uncovering government ineptitude and corruption. Whereas in reality the breathless reporting of outlandish stories (later to be proven indisputably false) while trying to lay the whole blame on W’s doorstep is a model of all that’s wrong in the modern mainstream media. A classic of ‘world about to end – minorities and women hardest hit’.

Jonah made sure to point out that Bush is far from blameless in the whole affair, citing Bush’s penchant for cronyism, (where FEMA appears to be a fertile landing ground) and FEMA’s role as a post-disaster check-writing organization rather than a first-responder.

Much of the most interesting portion of the evening came during the Q&A with a discussion of the philosophical underpinnings and motivations of modern environmentalism and the paganistic religious motivations of the movement’s founders and, knowingly or not, of its modern adherents. Without going into a detailed account, let me just say both the words ‘theodicy’ and ‘theotropic’ were used properly in complete sentences.

So in my mind, Jonah’s speech was good and interesting, replete with his characteristic humor (with a few forgettable ‘laff-lines’, to be candid) my favorite being a throwaway about New Orleans police corruption being part of a the city’s ‘rich, European tradition’.

I’m not a very smart guy, Jonah, but that was anything but a terrible speech.