Monday, March 30, 2009
The event is convened with a bearded youth singing a prayer. Our emcee then announces we'll have two short presentations before breaking for the evening prayer. Then we'll reconvene for the final presentation and Q&A. Meschke starts; he's going to explain how we got into the present economic mess. His presentation is straightforward; he uses this animation to give the audience the basics on the crisis.
Meschke essentially describes a problem of moral hazard: Key players are borrowing hugely knowing if they win they'll be zillionaires and if they lose they'll get bailed out by the rest of us. It's a failure of insufficient regulation or of a society too soft-hearted to build debtors' prisons. Meschke doesn't offer a hint of any belief in a religious solution to the crisis--let alone any preference for Islamic economics over the dismal science's Zoroastrian, Shinto or Pentecostal versions.
Next up is Mustafa Hamida, who begins with a religious invocation. Hamida speaks on Islamic economics, which we learn has almost nothing to do with real economics as practiced people like Tyler Cowen or Robin Hanson. Hamida is simply confusing social thought or history of economic thought with the social science called economics. He PowerPoints about the great medieval Islamic economic thinkers as he glibly asserts the benefits of dispensing with evidence-based reason and replacing it with on-your-knees groveling and dogma. Hamida notes that the non-religious stance of contemporary western economists is only a few centuries old.
Hamida continues: The non-religious perspective [of western economists, i.e.] is no less a faith than is his 'Islamic economics' folktale.
There's a unifying feature of all religious belief: It rejects evidence and refuses to admit prior error [as Eliezer Yudkowsky says]. The economics profession has shown far greater willingness to jettison failed theories and policy recommendations than have the major monotheisms. Non-belief is not a type of faith--it's the rejection of faith.
Hamida's job this evening is to convince us that the present crisis could be fixed with a spiritual cure. He has failed.
During the prayer break I chide Dr. Felix Meschke a bit. Isn't it your job, in this kind of forum, to cry 'bullshit'? Aren't you going to defend evidence-based thinking at all? (I remind him of Mustafa Hamida's statement equating reason with faith.) But Meschke is sitting on a fence; he puts forward Pascal's wager in defense of the plausible rationality of religious belief. (Was it Yudkowsky who recently said that--if you find Pascal's wager persuasive--you should adopt all religions, not just one?)
After the prayer break Wafiq Fannoun begins with his bilingual prayer and then gives a PowerPoint talk on Islamic banking and finance. Islamic banking is simply a three-card monte game that allows Muslims to charge interest without calling it interest. Fannoun puts forward the full-bore Islamic dogma. Dozens of devout-looking young Muslims are in the audience; they have to circle their wagons--I sense they think--given 'America's anti-Islamic ignorance'. (And they're sometimes justified in thinking so, I admit.) But left unpruned, this religion seeks hegemony over both individual and society; Islam clearly hasn't yet been beaten into a manageable little jewelry box. It even seeks submission from the academy itself. And the University of Minnesota appears willing. It shouldn't.
Friday, March 27, 2009
A somewhat odd event last night at Metropolitan State University: Nobel Laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel came to deliver the annual President's Lecture. Pérez Esquivel took on the junta in the 1970s and was tortured for it. About 30,000 Argentines died during the Dirty War. (Wiki: Central Intelligence Agency documents released in 2002 show that Argentina's brutal policies were known and tolerated by the United States State Department, led by Henry Kissinger under Gerald Ford's presidency, and that the Argentine military knew the U.S. supported the repression.)
The event was arranged with the assistance of Youthrive and Peacejam with a busload of minority youth in attendance (alongside the expected university crowd); there's some view that putting at-risk kids in touch with Nobel Prize winners will ignite leadership and ambition in them. There are a number of ideological systems at work, among them the old progressive notion that youth aren't being flattered enough these days: 'The vision of youthrive is peaceful and just communities where young people are recognized and valued.'
In the large auditorium a fair number of seats remained available; great theatrics go into the introductions. Youthrive board person Maya Babu introduces at length, laying great emphasis on the need for bringing leadership opportunities to young people whether incarcerated or not--a formulation she repeats. MSU President (and Hispanic name butcher) Sue Hammersmith reads us most of Pérez Esquivel's Wikipedia entry. Jesse Bethke Gomez emcees the event. Emiliano Chagil provides [occasionally iffy] simultaneous translation for the speaker (who delivers his talk in the hemisphere's other language of imperialism).
Pérez Esquivel himself appears a kind-hearted leftist, pacifist Euro Latin American. He mentions he's traveled recently to Iraq and been shown a bunker in which a smart bomb killed hundreds. Horrible things are happening too in Congo and Colombia, but he sees signs of hope and resistance. We must talk more to each other and teach people about peace, then somehow we'll be able to get around the Potemkin village of pseudo-internationalist CNN ideology. He refers to the Tower of Babel several times; his laugh lines get most of their appreciation prior to the translation.
So Pérez Esquivel's talk at Metro State consists mainly of platitudes. A more interesting introduction to his thinking is provided through his Stations of the Cross. If the poor weren't so bamboozled by late capitalist propaganda, the political breakthrough would come quicker, I seem to hear.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
'In your re-election, God has graciously granted America—though she doesn't deserve it—a reprieve from the agenda of paganism...'
'You owe the liberals nothing. They despise you because they despise your Christ. Honor the Lord, and He will honor you...'
'If you have weaklings around you who do not share your biblical values, shed yourself of them.'
In December 2008 President Bush--no longer beholden to his party's embarrassing ultras--revealed his left-wing spiritual views: He does not believe Christianity is needed to achieve salvation, he believes Christians and Muslims pray to the same god, he believes the bible is not literally true and he rejects Creationism. In other words, we now know that Bush successfully misled the religious right about his own beliefs. Luckily for President Bush, God's ethics are situational [Bush assures us, and himself].
The newly knocked-up [her terminology] Sheila Kihne heartily agrees with President Bush's new-found devotional liberalism. But today Kihne is again masquerading as a 'conservative Catholic,' asking readers to pressure Notre Dame against honoring President Obama. Does Kihne believe Notre Dame would be better off honoring George W. Bush, who built a career by lying about his religious views? And what legal change is Kihne calling for, on abortion?
If you think global warming is a leftist fraud and Obama is a socialist--as Sheila Kihne does--you're not prevented from sharing W's radiclib theological positions.
And Kihne shares Bush's religious views--that one can achieve salvation without Jesus, that her Somali neighbors and she share a deity, that the bible is occasionally wrong and that Creationism is stupid--so she's a liberal Catholic. Okay, the expectant blogger is upset with women who don't use birth control:
'I also think that if you get married- and are knocked up- you should get married quietly. At a courthouse, at a private home. There should be no 1. Dance 2. Dinner.
I've found that many people disagree and I ask the question again and again--what is with the out-of-wedlock kids? I heard the other day that now 40% of children are born to single moms. There are more kinds of birth control available today then lipstick shades. If you don't want to get pregnant- you don't.'
For the record, the Catholic Church teaches that artificial birth control--including coitus interruptus--is intrinsically wrong. Indeed, the Catholic Church has opposed the legalization of contraceptives whenever the issue has been fought out. Yet Kihne--a self-described 'conservative Catholic'--perceives no strangeness in mocking single moms who fail to avail themselves of the intrinsically wrong artificial birth control the Catholic Church would gladly outlaw.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
One day in 1978 my AP American History teacher marched our class into Edina West's library and provided an hour's worth of research advice. He held up a number of periodicals and called attention to the cultural centrality of The New Republic. I signed up and read TNR, occasionally delving into the fascinating archive--coming to appreciate the various heresies to which liberal minds might occasionally fall prey. I subscribed to TNR for two decades--it taught me everything I know about politics. The internet thing eventually weaned many--myself included--from closely following one publication.
(Aaron Brown's mention of Clay Shirky's marvelous print-is-toast piece brought TNR to mind.) Even if both major local newspapers died, the blog coverage of the recent congressional contest was far richer than the pre-blog MSM coverage of CD3 contests ever was. Granted, the seat was essentially owned by an incumbent then, but MSM coverage was formulaic and minimal, and the  blogging was staid. Yes--the candidate who won in 2008 is a weird pre-internet cultural throwback--but that's another blogpost.
Joe Bodell trumpets the Gallup Poll on EFCA's--and unionism's--popularity with the American public. But Bodell's interpretation of the data is skewed by his underlying policy preference: The poll results can't sensibly be rephrased--as Bodell does--'The Employee Free Choice Act will do exactly what that 53% firmly support'.
The EFCA issue is particularly salient in CD3, as the public is somewhat opposed [just my hunch, I admit], but unions wield great power in the selection of the CD3 DFL candidate. During the Madia-Bonoff wrangle, both candidates strongly supported EFCA. In the subsequent three-candidate general election campaign, Madia was relentlessly attacked on the issue by both of his opponents.
Rep. Erik Paulsen has never had to answer serious, sustained questioning. To this day he has never publicly accepted the concept of human-activity-driven global warming. Whether he still supports the Balanced Budget Amendment--his central campaign talking point--is anybody's guess. Despite his lengthy 100% MCCL lockstep, no one knows how he would punish women who sought out illegal abortions. After a two-decade CD3 tradition of Town Hall Meetings, Paulsen has cancelled this Democracy 101 fundamental--without a peep of accountability-in-government criticism from one CD3 conservative. The prevailing situation is a disgrace--to CD3 Republicans, to the MSM, to Rep. Erik Paulsen himself.
OTOH, Paulsen did send me a new email the other day--a form letter thanking me for opposing the 'so-called stimulus bill'. (After he'd previously sent me the opposite email, and I complained.) For the record, Paulsen suggested an alternative stimulus concentrating more upon deficit-financed tax cuts for small business. Paulsen's support for the alternative is weird since--during the recent campaign--he claimed to want to make deficit spending unconstitutional. And the line items he criticizes within ARRA-2009 are small potatoes. Paulsen's alternative does not constitute sound economic management either; it's a massive sop to his preferred political constituency--small business owners. In an apolitical, economically-sound stimulus bill, spending wouldn't get doled out to favor any particular business size.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Our municipal liquor operation had over $10,000,000 in total sales last year and produced over $1,000,000 for municipal improvement projects around the City. In our 2008 Quality of Life Survey, 89% of the respondents approved of the City being in the municipal liquor business.
Eden Prairie's city government hasn't chosen to monopolize the distribution of ballpoint pens or lawnmowers; I assume such a choice would illegal. When the city leaders chose to own the local off-sale booze biz, they knew that when you have a monopoly you increase prices and reduce total sales. They probably thought that a modest reduction in alcohol consumption would not make the suburb a worse place--and the million dollars in annual profit might pay many bills, such as Neal's $12,300 monthly salary.
Were Scott Neal to appoint me director of the city's liquor stores, I would remove alcohol-related advertising and promotional displays from the stores. (Though EPLS' promo for Ménage à Trois Chardonnay, linked to the image at the top of the post, can stay.) And I would display information on the negative effects of alcohol, and information on the options available to people living with alcoholism. If sales drop a bit, fine. As a government-owned establishment, the store shouldn't be cajoling people to buy more, or indeed, any.
Neal mentions that a bill has been introduced in Minnesota's state legislature to allow Sunday sales of alcohol. He theorizes that Minnesota's traditional Sunday sales ban is 'a remnant of our American puritanical past'--but then, so is the monopoly itself. Neal directs us to this WCCO report:
"To me that is an example of government legislating morality. It's an idea that isn't pertinent in today's world," said Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka).
If we're no longer going to legislate morality, great change is coming our way. But there's a giant industry--and great cultural inertia--behind 'anti-puritanical' thinking on alcohol. On alcohol policy--local, state and national--there remains significant room for political courage and honesty. For a start, it'd be cool for Eden Prairie's city government to stop participating in the culture's pro-alcohol ideology.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Shot In The Dark's Mitch Berg (a top-tier Minnesota blogger) claims he has 'already disposed of [my arguments] at least a hundred times'. If so, let's take a look at Berg's response to my central claim: Firearm rights are not important to democracy:
'...[Y]ou're wrong,' Berg informs me, 'about Taiwanese Democracy. Granted, it's good that they have one, but with the population disarmed, it exists at the pleasure of the government. To not distrust government involves a much higher degree of trust in ones' fellow man (especially those drawn to government) than is warranted.'
So Berg holds that under some circumstances, he might seek to change the government by force of arms. (The solidity of American democracy is firmer than that of Taiwanese democracy--because our leaders know that if they muck up, we'll kill them, Berg seems to suggest.)
Please clarify those conditions for us, Mitch: Describe a set of political changes which would justify your shooting government officials, okay? Would you be making these decisions entirely on your own, or would some democratic process play a role? Would non-gun owners [or women] have any say? If you one day become much more outraged by our political situation than you usually are, what would constitute a legitimate, non-terrorist attack on our government? Where would you hit first, and with whom?
Thursday, March 12, 2009
But the insufferable geezer-hipster Jim Walsh's love affair with the microphone will forever scar my memory of the event. I wrote down a few of his sentences:
There are so many versions of square now.
Your mind will narrow as you get older.
I didn't join Facebook for the longest time...I said I draw the line there.
I've got another strip club story if you want to hear it...
If my obit was today, I think it would be storyteller.
I spoke to a class at MCAD once and I spoke about...
My old profs would kill me on that one...no they wouldn't.
[When viewing art] I wonder how it got in front of me.
I think context affects how I view things.
Write about what you love. I don't think you ever go too far beyond baseball cards.
[Your inspiration?] My one-word answer is desire and that would morph into curiosity. I know I'm going to be curious until I drop. So I'll always be interested in a new or old idea.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Friday, March 6, 2009
Thursday, March 5, 2009
I hadn't heard of David Longstreth before this afternoon, when I noticed the Walker was holding a free event this evening as a part of its Making Music Series. Longstreth--of Dirty Projectors--had just driven in from Milwaukee. At the <½ full McGuire this evening, he played three songs on a 12-string guitar, with two vocalists. Between songs, James Everest relaxedly interviewed Longstreth across a coffee table, as Longstreth projected images of musical influences and played YouTube videos from his previous projects. He discussed a back-to-the-land hippieish '90s upbringing, his recent collaboration (at the Rare Book Room) with the admirable, childlike, down for whatever David Byrne, his love of T-Pain's Buy You a Drink cover and his emphasis on hocketing. Longstreth ended the evening with the lovely Dirty Projectors' cover of Black Flag's Rise Above. Dirty Projectors perform tonight at the Walker; tickets are $18.
Mitch Berg flew off on a gun rant today--so I wanted to respond by making two obvious points on the Second Amendment. Berg describes himself as a Second Amendment advocate. The Second Amendment states:
So the amendment appears to be saying that the survival of the government (of sovereignty itself) depends on the militia (which was then composed primarily of farmers)--and in order to attain this collective good, people can maintain muskets in their homes so that they can participate in the militia.
The reigning interpretation of the Second Amendment equates it with a blanket right to buy and own firearms unlike any imagined by the founding generation. If you wanted a perpetual right to gun ownership put into the Constitution, you'd have written something very different from the Second Amendment. You'd insist that the contingent wording be dropped. You'd want the right stated as an individual freedom not tied to the accomplishment of any changeable military need. You'd make clear that technological improvement in firearm lethality is anticipated and included within the right.
So if you want freedom for individuals to own firearms, you should find the actual wording of the Second Amendment at best a bit clunky. When a right is stated 'In order to accomplish X, citizens have the right to Y' an unending interpretive fight gets baked into the cake. Rather than claiming to be a Second Amendment advocate, I wish Mitch could acknowledge
Point # 1: Two opposite interpretations of the Second Amendment are equally plausible--and he's simply defending the one that's in line with his political preference.
Point #2: Firearm rights are not important to democracy.
Taiwan's government has long been supported by American conservatives; in the late 1980's Taiwan--in part due to American pressure--went from being a right-wing dictatorship to a democracy. 'Legal private ownership of firearms and ammunition is severely restricted in' Taiwan. I've never met any American conservative who thinks Taiwan isn't a democracy due to its restrictions on gun ownership. And I don't recall meeting one Taiwanese person who believed the island's status as a democracy would be improved by a removal of restrictions on firearm ownership.
What if--instead of having no Second Amendment--Taiwan had nothing analogous to First Amendment freedoms? In that case, Mitch Berg and I would easily agree that such a country could not be considered a democracy.
NRA types occasionally argue that due to unusual aspects of American history, gun rights are more important to American democracy than they might be elsewhere. But on the rights of citizens in a democracy, we tend toward universalism--and we tend to scoff when people make particularist claims. 'Saudi women don't want equal rights.' North Koreans don't need the right to free assembly. Bollocks. If a future generation of Americans decided to repeal or reinterpret the Second Amendment, that'd their business--and the country's status as a democracy would be unaffected by such a reversal. Wide open gun rights might be liked by many people. But they in no way determine whether a country--the USA included--is a democracy. They just aren't that important.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
For a long time I've been on Rep. Erik Paulsen's blacklist; no one really knows why. (It appears Paulsen simply refuses any communication with non-sycophants.) I've always been polite and honest with Paulsen, but he even bans his underlings from corresponding with me. On February 20, 2009, Paulsen accidentally sent me an email falsely suggesting that I supported ARRA-2009. I've repeatedly contacted Paulsen's office asking Rep. Paulsen to acknowledge his error--and to apologize for sending me the email. On February 23, Paulsen's spokesman Andrew Foxwell acknowledged awareness of my concern and promised he would look into the matter. And Foxwell implicitly acknowledged the reasonableness of my request--he ended our exchange saying 'I look forward to an open dialogue.' Unfortunately, since then, I haven't heard a word from Team Paulsen on the matter.
More than 400 people are following Erik Paulsen on Twitter, as shouldn't be surprising for a US congressman. It is somewhat surprising to see that Paulsen is following Lake Minnetonka Liberty--the witless, racist blog. This afternoon Lake Minnetonka Liberty published a disgusting, brownshirt attack, asking the government to deport Muslim US citizens--and to refuse all Mohammedans seeking US citizenship. The spineless, Paulsen-loving punk continues:
I've got some info for the Muslims. This is our country, we have our laws and traditions, and way of life here. You chose to come here, we didn't invite you. If you find it unacceptable here, quit your damn bitching, pack your bags, and leave.
I call upon Erik Paulsen to clarify for his CD3 constituents why he enjoys following Lake Minnetonka Liberty on Twitter. Does Paulsen respect LML? Or is our Congressman doing field research on fascist illiterates?
Monday, March 2, 2009
Photo by Mike McCarron
Brimnes, A Holm HomeBill Holm's death has evoked effortful protestations recently. Holm was a well-known Minneota, Minnesota writer and poet of Icelandic descent. Holm's memory has been saluted in Minnesota's MSM and in more than a dozen blogposts. Carol Connolly believes that with Holm's departure, part of our soul has died.
In the various remembrances of Holm, many claim he was a true Icelander. In his latter years, Holm spent a great deal of time in Iceland--having purchased Brimnes (pictured above) in Hofsós. Icelandic society is extremely well-connected and technophile. Reykjavík's newspaper of record, Morgunblaðið, published only a spare notice of Holm's death. Only one Icelandic blogger has even mentioned of Holm's passing--in a very bloggy country. Icelanders are nationalistic and exceptionally passionate followers of literature; they evince almost no eulogistic impulse toward Bill Holm.
Which is simply to argue against your taking Holm's writing seriously out of respect for his international following. He had none. The 300,000 people highly committed to honoring the true Icelander clearly do not so garland Bill Holm. Perhaps the Icelandic public foolishly disregarded a diamond in the rough. But he had plenty of time to close the sale there, and it's not as if his presence went unremarked. Holm was repeatedly profiled in the Icelandic media; his presence was widely known.
Garrison Keillor offers his own excruciating farewell to Holm--'I'm glad he got to see Barack elected'. And Keillor deftly calls Holm 'a colleague of Whitman' inadvertently reminding us of Randy McGovern's relationship with Titian. The other bloggers' farewells are at least as bad as Keillor's.
Don't blame the teacher: A former Holm student writes, 'It is because of the passion for reading and writing that he instilled in his students that I am a writer today' and 'He'll be tragically missed, but thankfully we'll always have his words.' We are blessed indeed.