Streets Of Saint Paaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaul

I walked out Monday morning to carry a bag of trash to the dumpster.  The alley was spotlessly plowed.  In Saint Paul, we have to contract for our own alley plowing; on my block, we pony up about $20 a year to hire a guy who, as luck has it, lives on the same block, so he has to plow the alley to get to work and back home again.

Anyway – blocks in Saint Paul that can work together are generally plowed quickly and effectively.  Mine’s luckier (and works better) than many, perhaps, but it works.

Which is great, because it gives you a nice clean bit of pavement to get a running head start onto the side streets.

I’ve seen roads this bad in Saint Paul – but usually only after double the snowfall.  Sunday was a bunch of snow – 12-14 inches or so – but we’ve certainly seen worse.

But Tuesday morning, it took me 70 minutes to get from the Midway to Highway 5.  That’s ten minutes worse than Monday.  Along the way, I saw…:

  • A truck with a horse trailer vainly spinning its tires for ten minutes, trying to get traction in the middle of traffic.  On Snelling, southbound on the almost imperceptibly gentle grade north of Selby, by O’Gara’s.
  • A row of cars on a steeper hill, behind a car that was spinning like mad, trying to find some scrap of traction.
  • God only knows how many fender benders
  • And, on Fairview southbound toward Ford Parkway, as I skidded for – I kid you not – half a block (ABS brakes rattling, feet eventually pumping) toward the cross street, a Honda Civic skidding in behind me, going waaaaaaay too fast.  I took the last bit of directional control I could find and steered for the plow bank.  The Civic, driven by a rattled-looking woman and coated with “Vote No” and “Obama” stickers, sailed past and into the intersection – and then gunned it across, through the red light.
  • And finally…streets in Bloomington that were in perfectly fine shape.

The City of Saint Paul seems to have gotten behind the eight ball; mid-day yesterday they put up an announcement on their website, which explained that…:

It has been repeatedly commented that the roads seem worse today than yesterday. That is a true statement,particularly at the intersections the roads are worse. The temperatures overnight caused what had snow had started melting to freeze as ice. The situation at the intersections is then made worse as drivers accelerate spinning their wheels and when they don’t move as fast as they thought accelerate even further creating more heat and water making the situation worse – Not better. (Tip: when at an intersection and stopped take your foot off the brake and let the car begin to move on its own and accelerate slowly. If wheels start to spin back off the accelerator until car starts moving again)

This morning we began adding sand to our salt mix to provide some grit. As of noon we have placed just over 700 tons of salt on the street. This is almost three times the amount of salt we use in a typical snow event. While we are working on our salt conservation we are NOT going light on salt. in fact, at 11am, we increased our application rate by 30% to 100% to help cut the thicker snowpack. The conditions at this time warrant the need for more salt and that is what we are doing.

That’s all fine – and there are some good tips in there.  And there’s no knock on the plow drivers, who are definitely out plowing roads.  And the announcement is right, inasmuch as the snow fell on warm ground (remember how recently the temps were in the forties?) and then got hit by snow and a cold snap.

But here’s a question directed at a city government that has jacked up property taxes by nearly half in the past few years, and whose surrogates respond to any guff about taxes “how do you think we pay for snow-plowing?”:  for the past two nights, I’ve driven north on a Snelling Avenue that feels like an Andean goat path, a jarring washboard ride that I think may have rattled a filling out of my tooth…

…until I get north of Larpenteur.  Where it gets nice and smooth and dry and safe.

Ditto Hamline, Lexington, Fairview, Cleveland…

…American Boulevard, France Avenue, Penn Avenue…

…you get the picture.  What do all of them know that the City of Saint Paul doesn’t?

Joe Doakes from Como Park writes:

Saint Paul never plows alleys and only plows residential streets during “snow emergencies” long after the snow is packed down by traffic.

Businesses privately plow parking lots and residents privately plow alleys, but what good are they if the street isn’t plowed?

St. Paul should allow residents to hire private side street plowing. Do it block-by-block and give a property tax credit to those who join. We’d get better service, plow operators would prosper, streets would be safer, city would save money. What’s not to love?

Joe Doakes

Como Park

Not sure if it’s “allowed” or not, but the guy who does my alley also gets one of my block’s side streets.   I think of it as our little oasis of street sanity.

This past few days, we’ve needed it.

Anyway, now I’m off to try to find a less-lethal route to work.

Anybody know where I can hire a Sherpa?

Stay Hard, Stay Hungry, Stay Alive If You Can

I got an email from MPR the other day.  It was actually a combo email from MPR News and “The Current” asking what song we thought best summed up the state of the nation during this election season.

I wrote back with my suggestion – a song that has layer upon layer of significance to our nation, our society, our zeitgeist and the election itself.  A song that’s all about dreaming a big dream, and having those dreams run up on the rocks, and hitting that moment where you have to think “was that a dream or was it a mirage?”.  A song about that moment when you have to decide – do I drown, or do I sack up and carry on?

A song about truth and consequences.  A song that, on a work week after a long trip across the prairie, reminds me of the huge swathe in the middle of this country, the square states full of bitter gun-clinging jebus freaks like me that are, in fact, my home and background and blood and my past.  And that is, with a blessing and a tailwind, may be our nation’s future.

The song is “This Hard Land” by Bruce Springsteen.

It’s a song he wrote during a John Steinbeck jag, for Born in the USA, and that should have been on the album (be honest – would anyone miss “Downbound Train?”) and was in its day one of the most sought-after bootlegs in Springsteen’s oeuvre.

So many layers to this song, and to the reasons I chose it.

First verse?

Hey there mister can you tell me what happened to the seeds Ive sown

Can you give me a reason sir as to why they’ve never grown

They’ve just blown around from town to town

Till they’re back out on these fields

Where they fall from my hand

Back into the dirt of this hard land

Thomas Hobbes, the 18th-century British intellectual who was one of the patron saints of conservatism as we understand it today, couldn’t have expressed better the fundamental conservative ideal that “life’s a bitch”, that there are forces that are bigger and more powerful than men and their dreams.

But well return to that.

Now me and my sister from germantown

We did ride

We made our bed sir from the rock on the mountainside

We been blowin around from town to town

Lookin for a place to stand

Where the sun burst through the cloud

To fall like a circle

Like a circle of fire down on this hard land

America is a land of myths.  Mostly big and glorious ones – like the ones that drew our forefathers, like the singer and his sister, from their old homes, the Germantowns and Norwayvilles and Saigon Centers, to This Hard Land.   Much of what America sees as its own self-image – whether the wilderness of the Badlands or the wilderness of the tradiing floor or the inventors garage or the moon or the neighborhood or the entrenched beliefs of the human heart – is about the epic American dream of going where your ancestors have never gone before, of being something they weren’t.

And over the past seventy years, it’s become about the marketing of those dreams, whether via John Wayne or “Hope and Change”.

But like all dreams – and their cousins, the myth and the chimera – they run afoul a brutal reality:

Now even the rain it don’t come round

It don’t come round here no more

And the only sound at nights the wind

Slammin the back porch door

It just stirs you up like it wants to blow you down

Twistin and churnin up the sand

Leavin all them scarecrows lyin face down

Face down in the dirt of this hard land

The prairie is dotted with the remains of old farm homes from families that just didn’t make it, flindered remains of their back doors still slamming in the wind.  Just as America is dotted with businesses that tried and failed, leaving behind empty buildings, rusty frames, doors drifting back and forth in the desultory breeze.  And yes, the wreckage of government initiatives like the one that’s dominated our political life this past presidential term, a dream – a chimera from a brief majority four years ago – of an undertaking that, despite the fervency of its dreamers’ beliefs, has failed as completely as the sodbuster in the song.  Whether through poor design, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or being fundamentally wrong or – like the singer and his sister – just from suffering a bad run of luck in the face of a merciless and uncaring Nature, all of human existence is a tough grind dominated by forces we don’t, by ourselves, control.

Being human, we attempt to control them anyway – to bring order to the chaos, and to tame the untameable:

 From a building up on the hill

I can hear a tape deck blastin’ “Home on the Range”

I can see them Bar-M choppers

Sweepin’ low across the plains

Its me and you, Frank, we’re lookin for lost cattle

Our hooves twistin and churnin up the sand

Were ridin in the whirlwind searchin for lost treasure

Way down south of the Rio Grande

Were ridin cross that river

In the moonlight

Up onto the banks of this hard land

It’s human nature to try to bottle up and contain Nature, whether the nature around us or the nature inside us.

And it’s one of the great dividing lines in human nature, the one between those who are content for their “home on the range” to come recorded, to have the almighty Bar-M or The Almighty  or The One out looking for the strays, for those who are just fine being Julia“…

…and those whose dreams, or mirages, embrace the chaos that ensues where life and Nature, natural and human, are in conflict.

And the last verse is for them:

Hey frank wont ya pack your bags

And meet me tonight down at liberty hall

Just one kiss from you my brother

And we’ll ride until we fall

Well sleep in the fields

Well sleep by the rivers and in the morning

Well make a plan

Well if you can’t make it

Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive

If you can

And meet me in a dream of this hard land

Whether it’s the pioneer seeking more elbow room from all the other settlers and their choppers and tape decks, or from bouncing back from a failure, or a big part of a nation taking a deep breath and saying “this is not the path we want”, or, I dunno, Atlas shrugging for all I know, this verse – with allusions to Okies loading up their trucks and bidding their relatives goodbye, or immigrants climbing on the boat and wishing their old lives auf wiedersehen, or men kissing their wives and kids and mustering down at Liberty Hall as the drums and the hobnails rattle on the wind, or a people saying “thanks, Julia, and all the best to you and that mysterious niece and/or nephew that appeared a few frames back, but I’m looking for something a little more…epically mythical” – is the American myth; the idea that we are a restless pack of strivers looking for a newer, better, freer horizon.

Beyond that, in terms of politics today?  Every generation dreams of leaving a better world to their kids, as I do for my kids and my new granddaughter. We have a distinct chance, as things go, of leaving them a world that my ancestors in the Dust Bowl would look at and whisper “there but for the grace of God…”.  And unlike the the Okies, our immigrant forefathers and protagonist in “This Hard Land”, this time there’s noplace to ride away to to start over.  We’re stuck with this hard land.

For me, the song also is further evidence that Springsteen – my favorite American R&R songwriter since Johnny Cash – is America’s best conservative songwriter. Looking at his prime output from the height of his muse, there’s a case to be made that once you peel off the rhetoric and the Hollywood and the political dross of the past decade, his music was fundamentally conservative.  And I’ll make the case, since American conservatism’s most important non-electoral mission is to engage in this nation’s larger non-political culture.

More on this after the election.

Anyway – ask a question, you’ll get an answer.  Usually.

UPDATE:  Hobbes, not Hume.  Sigh.  It’s been a few years.

UPDATE 2:  Welcome, Bob Collins’ readers!

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Chanting Points Memo: Slouching From Fargo

How do you measure success in a politician?

If you’re a liberal, it’s likely in terms of sheer volume of legislation created and money moved about.  Because to a liberal, government is about creating reams of paper, rules, laws, stuff for government to do.

If you’re a conservative, it’s probably more a matter of princple; of getting government out of the way, of taking pointless laws and needless regulations off the books.

We’ll come back to that.


Mike McFeely is a talk show host in Fargo.  He’s the current house liberal at KFGO, which was at one time the WCCO of the Fargo area, and like WCCO has shrunk greatly since its heyday (and since I left North Dakota).  He fills the role Fast Eddie Schultz used to play on the station, the token lefty.  Like Schultz, he’s apparently a former small-market sportscaster; like Schultz, he sounds like it.

And like a lot of liberal D-list pundits and pseudo-celebs, he’s got a jones for Mary Franson, GOP incumbent in District 8B and, like most uppity female and minority conservatives, the same sort of catnip for lefties that Michele Bachmann has been for the past decade and a half.  It started  a few weeks ago, with McFeely’s Schultz-like chanting of rumors that even some of the smarter regional leftyblogs long ago debunked.  McFeely came across in that case as a small-town crone abusing the “power” of his radio bully pulpit (and as much as KFGO has atrophied, it’s still not chicken feed)

I’ll give the guy kudos for at least trying to go legit in this letter to the editor in the East Otter Tail County Focus last week.

Rep. Mary Franson does not represent Greater Minnesota values and, by her own admission, will not have a strong voice for her constituents in House District 8B if she is re-elected.

Now, whenever a critic says their target has said something “by their own admission”, you can usually be pretty sure someone’s trying to play a rhetorical card trick; they admitted nothing of the sort.

While Rep. Franson has made embarrassing headlines nationally and statewide for, among other things, comparing her constituents who receive food assistance to wild animals (a claim she repeated even after “apologizing” for it on social media)

Now, when you’re a sportscaster, you can pretty much babble any kind of crap you want – because it’s just sports.  McFeely – like Schultz before him – seems to think politics is about the same.

But no – the smart people dispensed with that meme, too, and months ago; Franson pointed out, correctly, that long-term dependence dehumanizes people, and casts government in the role of the benevolent, responsible pet owner.   The remarks were taken out of context during a fractious session by a DFL noise machine that exists only to provide grist for their campaign mill.

And like a lot of D-list talk show hosts – and yes, my NARN pals and I are better than this – McFeely and “context” are never really on good terms:

At the event during which she repeated her comparison of assistance recipients to wild animals, Rep. Franson admitted that members of her own party did not support her and distanced themselves from her.

Yep.  During the “Animals” fracas, the House leadership shamefully backed away from Franson – one of several “ready fire aim” moments in a trying session for GOPers.

But teapot-tempests come and go; at the end of the day, always, “it’s the economy, stupid”.  McFeely takes a brisk dip into actual fact:

Despite low unemployment in Douglas and Todd counties

Wait – back up.  This Republican corner of the state is doing pretty well, you say?


So let’s take a quick breather and set up some actual, factual history:  Representative Franson was…:

  1. …elected in the Tea Party wave in 2010 on a conservative ticket…
  2. …to represent a traditionally conservative Republican part of the state…
  3. …that’s doing relatively well, and apparently – by dint of having sent a conservative freshman legislator to the legislature in the middle of a grueling recession – wants to keep it that way.

Just so we’ve got that straight.


Instead of spending time in St. Paul fighting for issues specific to her constituents – such as lowering property taxes for farms and small businesses in rural Minnesota – Rep. Franson spent her two years in the Legislature authoring bills that accomplished nothing.

Perhaps McFeely would favor us by showing us the bill where Franson raised – or declined to lower – property taxes.

Go ahead, Mike, We’ll wait.  Cough up that bill.

[Mr. McFeely – don’t look at this next statement.  Scout’s honor?  OK – all the rest of you know that property taxes are the role of county commissions and city councils.  The legislature doesn’t set property taxes.  Now, the Democrats have spent the last two years babbling about how lowering Local Government Aid inevitably raises property taxes.  McFeely would have you believe that on Franson’s watch, taxes rose as a direct, cause-and-effect consequence of lowered LGA.  It’s one of those chanting points the left throws out there to gull the ill-informed.  But, again, that’s the job of the counties and cities.  Assuming LGA was cut.  Was it?  We’ll come back to that – but I’ll give you a little spoiler; McFeely makes Ed Schultz look smart and ethical].

Got that bill, Mike?  Hint:  It’s between the snipes and the half-round squares.


Next, McFeely botches history – and by “botch”, let’s be charitable and assume he just doesn’t know the actual facts involved; if he does, then he’s just lying:

In her two years in St. Paul, Rep. Franson authored 36 bills. None became law. Very few were even discussed or forwarded. Even her own party wasn’t interested in the agenda Rep. Franson was trying to push. That is the definition of an ineffective legislator.

Wait – authoring laws that don’t get passed “defines” “ineffective?”

Let’s go back to the beginning of the post; conservatives don’t believe generating new laws defines success.

But let’s go by the left’s – and McFeely’s – definition of “effectiveness”.  None of Franson’s 36 bills passed into law.

Which is exactly the same record as House Minority Leader Paul Thissen; none of the two bills he authored passed into law, either!

Or how about a more rank-and-file member?  Ryan “The Intellectual Id Of The DFL Caucus” Winkler chief-authored 22 bills.  None passed; none even came close.

And do you know what?  Neither Thissen’s 0/2, Winkler’s 0/22 or Fransen’s 0/36 are even below average – because in a typical session (for example, 2008, the latest one with statistics) over 4,000 bills are introduced, and around 100 get signed.  That’s about 1 out of 40.

In other words, McFeely tossed out a number that is in itself meaningless without context.  Just like the “Animals” comment and his “property taxes” comment; either he doesn’t know what he’s taking about and doesn’t care, or he does and he’s hoping nobody checks his facts.  Like all Democrat campaigns, he – and by extension, the Cunniff campaign that McFeely is supporting – is hoping people aren’t curious enough to poke at those numbers.

Oh, we’re not done.


McFeely turns next from misleading context to just-plain-ignorance:

At the same time, Rep. Franson consistently voted to raise taxes on residents of Greater Minnesota. She supported elimination of the Market Value Homestead Credit, raising property taxes on all Minnesotans and particularly those in rural Minnesota.

MVHC was a subsidy of metro-area housing; it kept metro-area property taxes artificially low, and subsidized spending by the wastrel DFL governments in Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Duluth.  Like LGA itself, it transferred money from the parts of the state that support themselves to our basket-case metro areas.

But at least that was a chanting point with a coherent argument.  Next, McFeely wafts away into fantasy-land:

Rep. Franson sided with metropolitan legislators by failing to fight for an increase in Local Government Aid, a tool that provides property tax relief primarily for Greater Minnesota cities and towns.

Local Government Aid, as we’ve discussed in the past, was originally a way to transfer money to poor, outstate towns from the wealthy Metro, to allow them to buy some of the amenities of modern life; modern schools, roads, water treatment plants and the like.  It’s turned into a subsidy of Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Duluth (although Iron Range towns get the most aid per capita).

(And while McFeely doesn’t name, and I suspect doesn’t know, the “metropolital legislators” with whom he claims Franson sided, it’s worth noting that the Metro is divided between cities that are constantly begging for more aid, and suburbs that largely receive none).

The GOP ran in 2010 on a platform of returning LGA to its original purpose – supporting smaller towns that don’t have the tax base to buy the necessities of modern government. And how’d that work?

State funding for LGA has been cut 25 percent over the last 10 years and has remained flat since 2010.  Eliminating or reducing LGA will seriously weaken regional centers like Alexandria and small cities like New York Mills.

McFeely gives a statewide number – but since McFeely’s writing about Franson’s performance in re her district, 8B, let’s ask what are the district’s specifics?

Let’s track LGA payments in 2008 and 2011 – payments, not pledges – for the three counties in Rep. Franson’s district, as well as the state averages and the metro areas (measured in per-capita dollars actually paid to the various jurisdictions).  All figures come from that noted conservative tool, the State of Minnesota:

City or County 2008 Payment ($/capita) 2011 Payment ($/capita) Change
Douglas County 123 118 -5
Otter Tail County 237 245 +8
Todd County 262 273 +11
State Average 101 98 -3
St. Paul 178 175 -3
Minneapolis 178 166 -12
Duluth 321 321 Bupkes

Ah.  So that’s why McFeely gave a statewide number!  Because since 2008 – the only period Rep. Franson had any control over as a legislator – LGA actually rose in Otter Tail and Todd counties; it shrank by an insignificant amount in Douglas County, where Alexandria is. and where as McFeely himself admitted, the economy is doing better than the state average.

So if you’re a liberal?  District 8B’s LGA was steady to slightly up.  More money!  Franson was effective!

And if you’re a conservative?  LGA spending in the district was in line with the GOP’s platform, raising payments to smaller out-of-state jurisdictions that actually need it, and were the original intended target of this spending.  Franson was still effective!

And if you have a functioning BS detector?  Mike McFeely is out of his depth writing about anything that doesn’t involve throwing a ball, and is serving as a trained chimp reciting DFL chanting points he may not understand, and certainly hopes you, the voter in District 8B, won’t.

Like the following:

Under her watch, property taxes have risen sharply…

Although, as the state’s figures show, not because of anything the legislature did, least of all in District 8B.

…while she has embarrassed her constituents with controversial national headlines.

Which were cowardly manglings of context by people who are getting more and more desperate at their prospects in two weeks, and for whom female conservatives are like red capes in front of bulls.

Franson did get an 86 from the Taxpayers League, among many other spiffs from conservative groups.  She was one of the freshmen “Tea Party” class that held the line on things like spending, tax hikes, and giving money to Zygi Wilf, while erasing the deficit, reforming regulations, keeping Minnesota’s unemployment rate way below the national average, and working to reform our state’s business climate.

In short, she did what the majority of (pre-redistricting) District 11B’s voters – mostly Republican, mostly conservative – sent her to do.

And if this is how desperate her opponent, Bob Cunniff, and his campaign are getting, it looks like she’ll do the same for new district 8B.

And if you live in the area, feel free to let the East Otter Tail Focus – and Mike McFeely – know I said so.


So we started the article by asking how you measure a politician.  The answer – whether you’re left or right – most likely involves doing what one is sent to the Capitol to do.  Has Mary Franson done this?  That’s for the people in her district – not talking heads from Fargo or the Twin Cities – to decide.

So how about a media figure, an uninvited pundit?

Getting one’s facts straight, or at least being honest, would be a great start.

Chanting Points Memo: With “Experts” Like This, Who Needs Enemas?

Long before the Trayvon Martin shooting started dominating the headlines, gun law reform was in the news in Minnesota, and had already spawned a smaller, more “Barney-Fife”-y version of the disinformation mill that has been sweeping the nation these past few weeks.

I and the rest of the Minnesota Second Amendment community have been playing whack-a-mole for months now, as one dishonest public official or in-the-bag cop or another misinformed/disinforming editorial board excrescence essentially spreads the same vacuous chanting points.

Usually, whether the issue passes (like concealed carry) or not, it dies down between the final passages/vetos and the next session – because none of the people who write for the other side really know much about the issue other than what they’re told.

The Martin shooting has extended the disinformation season even here in Minnesota, though, as the DFL and media try to find a wedge issue to get their base frothed up and to try to peel off the uninformed, not-very-curious ones part of the swing set – the ones voted for Mark Dayton in 2010.

Which brings us to a piece from over the weekend at the MinnPost, by one Thomas Weyandt, a former St. Paul City Attorney’s-office prosecutor who’s  joined the cottage industry of instant pundits with opinions on gun laws:

With the national uproar over the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida, it’s a good time to take another look at the expanded Castle Doctrine bill that almost became law in Minnesota. Ours would have been even worse than Florida’s “Shoot First” law.

It’s an inflammatory statement.  Let’s see if he packs the factual gear to follow it up:

But first, my qualifications before I explain why. I was an assistant city attorney for St. Paul for 34 years. In about 1996, I became interested in the lack of knowledge of gun laws by police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges. I did a study of the results of 676 cases my office had prosecuted and then wrote a manual on how to do it correctly.

His auto-bio speaks of 30-odd years in workmen’s compensation law for the City of Saint Paul – but a “special interest in gun crimes”, leading to a book on the subject, “Investigating and Charging Weapons and Gun Cases“.  Book?  Manual?

Whichever.  He’s setting himself up as an expert..

I have taught police, prosecutors and defense attorneys at a number of classes. I also was involved in the prosecution of hundreds of gun crimes during the last 10 years of my work with the city. Since retiring, I have been a consultant to a group that deals with gun laws at the Legislature.

Odd that he doesn’t favor the reader with the name of the “group” with which he “consults”.  I’m tempted to wonder if it’s “Protect Minnesota”, whose leader, Heather Martens, may be among the most discredited lobbyists on the hill – because she so habitually lies.  If so, that might be why Weyandt doesn’t give us the name of the group.  I’ll check up on that.

(UPDATE:  It’s “Protect Minnesota“, all right – check down in the “2009 Background Check Bill” section.  They’re hawking his “book”, in CD form.  Weyandt felt the need to buttress his credibility by proclaiming himself a “consultant” on the issue, but not to tell you he “consulted” with a group that’s been fighting a bit of an “Aboslutely No Credibility” issue for the past decade or two).

He also doesn’t say how he, a work-comp attorney, was “involved” in that prosecution.

There are two things to keep in mind as we proceed through Weyandt’s article:

  1. To A Lawyer, It’s As Much About The Information The Jury Doesn’t Get As What They Do:  A good trial lawyer never asks a witness a question whose answer he doesn’t know in advance.  They can also spend as much time arguing about the instructions the jury get about the law relating to the case as they do about the case itself – to make sure the jury doesn’t get the information that doesn’t help their case.  In this case, the “jury” is “the MinnPost’s audience”, and he’s already left out one key bit of information, the “group” with which he “consults”.  What else has he left out?  Oh, we’ll get to that.
  2. There Isn’t Just One Law:  Law really exists at three levels in this country; the Constitution puts down the basics.  “Statutory” laws passed by Congress, legislatures, county commissions and city councils fill in the implementation details.  And then “case law” – the stuff that makes lawyers rich – covers all the nuances that law develops over time and application to real-world situations.   We’ll come back to this.  Oh, yes, we will.

Back to Weyandt, the “expert” on gun law (and workmen’s comp!): he’s gotten his first key fact wrong.

So what’s wrong with Minnesota’s proposed Castle Doctrine bill?

Most important is the fact that there is no duty to retreat in a person’s home if someone enters illegally. That has been the major factor expressed by many in support of the proposal — “Come into my house and you’re toast.”

Pretty scary, huh?

Sounds like a pretty damning indictment of “Stand Your Ground”, doesn’t it?  The idea that Minnesotans would lose the “Duty to Retreat”, while in their homes?

Except that it seems to have escaped the “expert” Mr. Weyandt, Esq. that Minnesotans have not had a duty to retreat when in their homes – between the front and back doors – for almost thirteen years. .

It’s not in the state statute.  It’s in case law:

Case: State v. Carothers
Issue: Defense of dwelling, duty to retreat
Court: Minnesota Supreme Court
Cite: C8-98-86
Date: June 17, 1999
Decision: A duty to retreat does not attach to defense
of dwelling claims.

So why does Weyandt, the “expert”, not relate this fact?

There are really two reasons this could happen:

  • He doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and he’s letting it show.
  • He’s trying to shape a reality in his audience’s mind’s eye that furthers his goal, which isn’t the same as telling the truth.  LIke a prosecutor trying to make sure his “Jury” – the MinnPost audience – hears only the bits of information that he wants them to see, and none of the inconvenient facts that lead them away from his desired conclusion, he’s counting on his audience’s ignorance to make his case for him.

He’s not done.  Not by a long shot:

The proposal — sponsored by Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, and Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas — would have allowed for the use of deadly force without a duty to retreat in a great many places other than a person’s home.

Why doesn’t Weyandt specify what the “Great Many” are?

Either because he’s incompetent, or he doesn’t want to “pollute” the argument with the fact that  “the person’s property, outbuildings, vehicle or business” just aren’t and will never be a “great many” places; it’s small list indeed.

Which reason – incompetence, or a considered desire to mislead the public about the law – do you think Weyandt is exhibiting?

It also allowed a person to use deadly force if they reasonably feared harm. The proposal contained a provision that creates a presumption that the fear is reasonable. Current law requires the use of the reasonable-man standard and leaves the question up to the jury.

This paragraph is a dog’s breakfast of nonsense.

There’s an omission – from incompetence or via deception, again, and we have no idea – that presumes the fear of death or great bodily harm is reasonable “in the case of a person entering a dwelling or occupied vehicle by stealth or force”.  That’s a rather more limited set of circumstances than Mr. Weyandt seems to want you to think, now, isn’t it?

Beyond that, and speaking to the lack of integrity in Mr. Weyandt’s piece?  The law today allows a person to claim a homicide is justifiable if they “reasonably” fear death or great bodily harm.  Here’s the law, as it is today.  See the word?  It’s right there!

The difference – the only difference – is that under the circumstances covered in the proposal, in the home or vehicle or property or business, which is being entered by force or stealth, the county prosecutor will have to prove that the fear of death or harm was unreasonable, rather than the shooter having to prove it (at their own expense, with a lengthy jail term hanging over their head should they not prove themselves innocent after an admission of “guilt with an explanation”).

That’s it!

Whether someone’s fear is reasonable is something a jury can understand.

And there’s the point of view of the professional attorney speaking.

A jury – sitting in a nice, warm, well-lit room, protected by sheriff’s deputies, with coffee breaks and donuts and bathroom time, can certainly determine that.  But the jury also has to operate on information shaped by the way two lawyers – one of them a county prosector, working the case full time on the taxpayers dime, sitting in another nice, warm, safe, well-lit office, without, say, rapists beating down his door.  He’ll have the luxury of time to try to persuade the jury, not that a woman’s fear of death or disfigurement wasn’t legitimate, but that she didn’t try hard enough to retreat from that threat to satisfy his picayune reading of the law.  And if her attorney, charging her $250, can’t convince the county’s full-time attorney that that undefined “duty to retreat” was met, then she’s going to jail, even with her legitimate fear of death.

And that is the status quo that Weyandt – and Jim Backstrom, and at the end of the day Mark Dayton – are defending; the idea that a law-abiding citizen’s freedom hangs on a technicality to be decided by a bunch of lawyers.

Like Mr. Weyandt.

Cornish’s bill wasn’t a “shoot first” law.  It was a “prosecutors have to earn their pay, or at least playing rhetorically-onanistic and politically-motivated games with peoples’ lives, when the shooting is so obviously law-abiding that even a lawyer other than Mr. Weyandt could see it”.

Lamentably, that doesn’t roll off the tongue quiet as fast.

Proving beyond a reasonable doubt that it was not reasonable, as the proposed law would have required, would seem to be nearly impossible.

This is pure fantasy.

Walk through this list of cases – mostly fictional, all plausible.  They’ll show the “near impossibility” of a reasonably intelligent cop and prosecutor telling the difference between legitimate self-defense and murder, with or without the Cornish proposal.

Will some cases be more complicated than my examples?  Sure; the Martin case is one of them (at least in terms of information available to the public. There may be cases – few, indeed – where the circumstances force prosecutors to work to get their precious conviction.

There might be a reason for that; it just might be that the shooting was perfectly legitimate.

So far, I’m guessing “reading Weyandt’s book” would be a bigger handicap to prosecutors than Cornish’s proposal.

The Cornish/Hoffman proposal allowed the use of deadly force if someone is threatened with substantial bodily harm (SBH). The law defines that as including a temporary disfigurement. That means a punch to the face and a black eye would allow the use of deadly force.

This is unvarnished bullshit, and Minnesota law says so.

Substantial bodily harm is “bodily injury which involves a temporary but substantial disfigurement, or which causes a temporary but substantial loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ․

Go have a look for yourself.  It’s not exactly beach reading – but it’ll show you that under Minnesota law, Weyandt is talking nonsense.   A moderately-thorough scour through the cases didn’t find a single black eye among ’em.

Let me know how you do.

There are a couple of other especially troubling provisions:

• The expanded Castle Doctrine proposal would have granted total immunity from criminal prosecution.

They’re granted “total” immunity provided that the shooting was fully legal!  Read the law yourself (jump down to line 6.16)

• The proposal did not allow the arrest of the suspect until police have fully considered any claim of self-defense.

I’ve often wondered about people who object to this provision, which basically says “if the shooting was of someone who was entering a house/vehicle/property by force, and there was reasonable fear of death or substantial harm, and the force was reasonable, and every other part of the law was upheld, feel free not to arrest the shooter”.  That’s it.

Mr Weyandt’s desire to put people in handcuffs even if they are so obviously within the law that it’s transparently obvious to the cops borders on the unseemly.

So, if the police can’t arrest a suspect and bring him or her in for questioning, they have very little to no ability to determine if the person was acting in self-defense or not.  If the police can’t develop evidence that the claim of self-defense is false, there can be no prosecution.

Wait – is Mr Weyandt saying that, even in cases where the facts aren’t relatively obvious, that the best or only source of information is an interrogation after arrest?

If there is a prosecution, the proposal would presume the belief that the fear of harm was reasonable…

if the circumstances of the shooting were those covered in the law!  If the shooter reasonably feared death or sufficient harm, and were on their property/in their car or business, and if the “victim” was entering one of those places via force or stealth to commit a crime!

It’s just not that difficult – provided the cops and prosecutors are modestly competent.

Despite all my criticisms, I am not among those who think such a law would create an increased danger to police. Nor do I believe that it would result in shootings all over the place.

What I do know, though, is that this proposal virtually would have negated the ability to prosecute anyone who applies deadly force under virtually any circumstance.

Provided they were utterly incompetent.

And on, and on, and on.

The entire piece relies on two things, really:

  • Studiously misstating the context and effects of Cornish’s proposal
  • Ignoring Minnesota case law.

As such, it stands alongside the rest of of the long-debunked “Protect Minnesota” propaganda that this blog has been shredding for a decade.

Here’s a special invitation to my lawyer friends to pick apart Mr. Weyandt’s argument.  Use all the comment space you want.  Hell, email me; I’ll print it as a post.

Because humiliating this brand of partisan disinformation from the front page of the Minnesota Media would be a wondrous public service.

Art Of Valor

I went with the Morrisseys to see “Act Of Valor” last Saturday.  You’ve probably heard about it; it’s the movie ostensibly about Navy SEALs starring, well, Navy SEALs.

The film’s gotten mixed reviews from the usual film-critic suspects.  Some point to the quality of the acting (while there are a few C-list actors playing terrorists, CIA agents and government officials, everyone in a US uniform is a serviceperson, mostly active-duty SEALs); others say that the script swerves from simplistic to outright jingo; some call it a “recruiting film”.

But it’s gone over gangbusters with the critics that really matter, the audience; it crushed the (admittedly lackluster) competition to be the top-grossing movie  in the country in its first weekend out, the weekend before last.

I don’t go to a lot of movies – the last two I saw in a theatre during their first runs were True Grit and, before that, Gran Torino.  But I figured it was worth a quick review.

First, A Minor Quibble:  There are few things I find as tedious as people who pick over otherwise-watchable movies looking for continuity errors.  There are entire sites devoted to the practice – and beyond the few really obvious howlers, the practice bores me stiff.

That said, there was one error that stuck in my craw – and maybe mine alone, among people who were not in the Navy.  After the initial raid into Costa Rica (I won’t give any spoilers), the “LT” – the commander of the SEAL platoon that stars in the movie – is standing on the deck of the USS Bonhomme Richard, an “Amphibious Assault Ship” built to carry Marines and their helicopters (and the odd Harrier jump jet) to wherever they need to attack.  It looks like an aircraft carrier – and it literally is, in that it carries aircraft, in the form of helicopters and vertical take-off aircraft.

But in the scene after the raid, the “LT” is standing on the deck, talking with his wife on a satellite phone; he has to wait while an airplane (an S3 Viking antisubmarine patrol plane) gets shot off the deck by a steam catapult; think the opening sequences in Top Gun.  The scene ends with a long-shot of the Richard, its deck covered in choppers, and not a fixed-wing plane in sight – because the ship has no catapult to launch big fixed-wing planes.

It’s a minor quibble – but we North Dakotans are a seafaring race, and we take our ships seriously.

Next, A Major And Overlooked Spiff:  The cinematography is amazing.  Many have written about the  helmet-cam perspective shots during the firefights, so I expected heart-pounding, heavy-breathing first-person point of view shots.

But the rest of the movie is visually stunning on many levels.  The direction of action shots above and beyond the firefights is amazing; a scene where someone is being rolled into a carpet is not only edited with a blurry crispness that conveys the blurry confusion of the moment, but includes a shot from a rolling camera to complete the disorientation

The just-plain-cinematography – from the visual feasts of the Costa Rican jungle or the streets in the Philippines to the claustrophobic-yet-panoramic night fight scenes – was excellent, and often stunning.  If it weren’t for all the suicide bombs and exploding heads, parts of the movie could be shot for “Planet Earth”.

And visually speaking, it all comes together in one scene, where a bunch of drug-cartel sicarios who’ve been chasing the SEALS through the jungle wind up on the business end of a couple of boat-mounted miniguns during an incredibly adrenaline-blast exfiltration scene.  Between the cinematography, the film and sound editing and the direction, it’s an incredible visual of the mayhem on the business end of all that firepower; it’s an amazing bit of visual art, and I don’t mean that from an “America F**k Yeah!” or a “firepower pr0n” perspective.  Realistic?  I don’t know, I’ve never seen three miniguns hit a pickup truck.  Visually overpowering?  You bet.

The Acting: I’d heard all the stories, pro and con, about the movie’s “stars”, the SEALs (all credited pseudonymously, none of whom appear on the movie’s IMDB page) and their acting chops.

I’ve got three answers.

First – the goal of great acting is to make you forget you’re watching a performance.   Did the SEALs make me forget?  Yes and no.  There were scenes – mostly when the SEALs are off-duty and waxing colloquial – when you’re acutely aware that they’re saying lines from a script.  A few scenes play like high school theatre.  Not bad high school theatre, mind you – it takes a decent director to get things as close as they are.  I drove home thinking “if the movie were an indy film at Sundance about barristas in Seattle confronting their sexual confusion at an “Occupy” protest, starring real barristas, it’d be hailed as fearless and daring cinema”.

But – secondly, and perhaps obviously? – it was the scenes involving the SEALs plying their craft, doing the sort of things that in real life would send the most grizzled Hollywood stunt veteran running to his union to file a work rules grievance, that most made you forget you were watching a performance because, really, you weren’t.  The battle scenes, shot with a buzzy combination of traditional shots and rattly helmet-cam footage and edited to a modern sheen, tightly-edited enough to make Paris Hilton and Rosanne Barr look kinetic?  Sure, of course.

But if you’ve spent your life watching Hollywood action-adventure and war movies, with their somersaults and John Woo gun grips and all the other cliches that have grown up around the genre, one thing that impresses about the SEALs in the battle scenes is the extreme economy of their action.  There’s none of the dashing and Jackie-Chan-like somersaulting and pseudo-ninja buncombe of so many Hollywood movies on the subject;  my impression wasn’t so much “this is accurate” as “this looks real”.  There’s a difference.

The third bit about the acting is related.  There’s an interrogation scene – I won’t spoil it – starring the “Senior Chief”, the intelligence analyst of the platoon, an older SEAL (late forties, I’d guess) who has settled into middle age in the same way a rattlesnake settles into a cave; of the entire SEAL platoon, he, whoever he is, radiates the most effortless menace, with his grandfatherly (or Taliban-impersonating-ly) beard and his arklahoma accent and sense that he’s not trying to radiate anything.  He interrogates a suspect – again, no spoilers.  I joked with Ed afterward that the scene played like a community theatre production of 24.  I meant it as a compliment; as the Senior Chief drawls through his lines, there was also the acute sense that he wasn’t performing; that he knew the psychology behind what he was doing at a level that goes way deeper than Stanislavsky could ever teach.  He said his lines plenty capably; but he lived the role.  And while the scene took  some dramatic license – it took about five minutes, rather than the days or months it would have taken in real life – it was very, very effective.

Jingo – There are those – mostly on the left in Hollywood – who deride the movie as a “Navy recruiting film”.   There’s something to that; the closing credits are very, very long on people with ranks and billets in various Navy Public Affairs offices.  And Tom Clancy gets a producer-level credit.  Still, Obama-supporting Hollywood shouldn’t complain; since the President has both based his strategy on having lots of SEALs and other special operations forces while simultaneously cutting the regular militaries from whence those troops come, they’d best hope it works.

Beyond that, though?  As imperfect and occasionally mawkish as the film may seem to the jaded film fan’s eyes, it’s not Top Gun, or Rambo, much less Charlie Sheen’s Navy Seals.  There is a resemblance to Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan; all of them pay homage in their own way to a “greatest generation”.  The closing crawl broadly refers to all manner of those who risk all for others, and for all the rest of us – everyone from firemen to fighter pilots to lifeguards.

But I thought – what’s the perfect film analog?  And in thinking of the movie’s “narration” – by “The Chief”, a real-life chief petty officer who is the platoon’s second in command – it occurred to me. not since John Wayne’s The Green Berets has there been a movie that unequivocally held up the “Warrior Ethos” – duty, honor, sacrifice for a greater good – as unironically good things.

And even that wasn’t quite right.

The narration is the bookend for the movie – and to a life-long civilian, it almost sounds like something from a cartoon, at first.  “My father told me the worst part of getting old was that people stopped seeing you as dangerous”, it starts.  But as it dissolves into the movie’s opening scenes, and then wraps back in at the end, as a paeon not to “appearing dangerous” – which is, itself, counterintuitive to most people today – but to the even more counterintuitive-to-our-culture notion of an almost-monastic dedication to something the rest of the culture considers distasteful, foreign, or just something for others to do, whether that something is going into burning buildings, repairing people in inner-city emergency rooms, or going where the bad guys are and killing them quickly and violently.

And then I figured out why it was so hard to find a movie since the mid-sixties that so unironically exalted that way of life; because there really hasn’t been one.

Chanting Points Memo: “I Shot Him Because I Didn’t Like The Way He Snored”

Rep. Tony Cornish’s “Stand Your Ground” bill – which must be either signed or vetoed by midnight tonight (as this is written, neither has happened, although that may change; I write these posts between 5:30 and 7AM, because, well, I work during the day and can’t always follow the news in real time like some puling Sorosblogger), has come in for the most amazing avalanche of slander over its four years of consideration at various levels.

I’ve pointed out that most of the bill’s detractors – whether politicians, cops or the  DFL-promoting media – are lying when they say (and say, and say) that the bill would “legalize murder”, and that the bill merely changes the presumption of guilt to a  presumption of innocence when one is attempting self-defense on ones own property – in the home, yard, garage, or in the car or at a business one owns.

That’s it.

But some people learn better from seeing examples.

So let’s go through some compare and contrast exercises to look at the differences between current law and the Cornish bill.

A really stupid 10 year old boy enters a homeowner’s property to steal apples.  The boy is unarmed, by the way, and that’s above and beyond the fact that he’s a ten year old boy.  The homeowner comes out of his house with a handgun and shoots the boy, who dies on the scene.  The homeowner claims self-defense.

  • Current Law: The homeowner can not prove that the boy was a reasonable threat of death or great bodily harm.  She’s convicted of manslaughter or 2nd degree murder.
  • With “Stand Your Ground”:  The police investigation shows no evidence the boy was a threat to anyone.  The county attorney charges the homeowner with manslaughter or 2nd degree murder, and proves it to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.  The jury convicts her.
A homeowner feels a passerby has given him the “stink eye”.  The homeowner – a lawyer and leftyblogger – is walking up his front walk when he sees a man walking up the sidewalk towards him.  The homeowner believes the man has “given him the stink-eye” and pulls a Smith and Wesson Model 29 .44 magnum from his camera bag, firing six shots at a range of eight feet, hitting the man once, killing him.  Claiming to have felt threatened by the “stink-eye”, the homeowner claims self-defense.
  • Current Law: The homeowner’s claim that “stink-eye” was a threat of death or great bodily harm, his failure to even attempt to retreat from said “stink-eye”, and the unreasonableness of the use of lethal force against an unarmed man (“stink-eye” notwithstanding) is rejected by the jury, who convict him of second-degree murder.
  • With “Stand Your Ground”: The police investigation shows that the homeowner was not under threat of death or great bodily harm from the alleged perception of “stink-eye”.  The County Attorney, noting that there is no reasonable doubt that a jury will find “stink eye” not to be a lethal threat, and that using lethal force is not a reasonable response to “stink-eye”, takes the case to trial.  Based on the lack of lethal threat and the unreasonableness of lethal force, the jury finds him guilty of second degree murder; “duty to retreat” is no longer an issue, obviously. The homeowner, breaking into a curious German accent as his lawyer buries his face in his hands during the verdict, yells “But ze law zayz I don’t have to retreat to ze house, and zat I can kill for ze ztink-eye!” as the judge pounds the bench, and then the defendant, with his gavel.
A man – Man A – becomes irritated when another man, “B”, cuts him off on Cedar Avenue in Eagan during rush hour.  A flips B off.  B flips A off harder.  A accelerates around B, narrowly missing several other drivers.  B accelerates to keep pace.  A swerves to cut B off.  B bumps A’s bumper.  A races up the Cliff Road exit followed by B.  They pull into the parking lot at Doolittle’s at Cliff and Nichols.  B slams into A’s trunk.  A pulls away, turns sharply, and slams into the right-front corner of B’s car.  B backs away and accelerates, ramming into the front of A’s car.  Their cars both disabled, the men climb out and commence a vigorous fist-fight.  They pummel each other for three minutes before A pulls a can of mace and squirts it at B, catching him in the pants – which is useless for purposes of blinding him.  B responds by drawing a revolver, firing twice to knock A down, and four more times as he lies bleeding on the pavement.  He claims self-defense in the court with jurisdiction, Dakota County.
  • Current Law:  Are you kidding?  Dozens of witnesses testified that B was a willing participant (you can’t jump into a fistfight and then claim “self-defense” when it goes out of control), so the jury didn’t buy that.  They also rejected the claim that he legitimately feared death or great bodily harm from the mace, or that shooting was a reasonable use of lethal force (even if you leave out the four shots to finish him off, which, naturally, the county attorney did not).  Finally, B did not retreat, although that was the least of his legal problems.
  • With “Stand Your Ground” – While Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom had claimed that this was the sort of case that would have allowed “B” to walk free – apparently lacking confidence that the cops or his staff could successfully prove wrongdoing – the cops successfully interview the dozens of witnesses who noted that both parties were flailing away with aplomb, not to mention having been involved in a miles-long road rage incident – thus making “B” a willing participant.  The cops also noted that B was faced with mace, not a knife or gun.  They noted from the spatter and four bullets embedded in the pavement below “A”‘s body that at least four of the shots were against an unarmed, incapacitated and probably dying man, meaning lethal force was, at least for those four shots, not justified.   Even though his boss, JIm Backstrom, went on WCCO and “Almanac” claiming that “B” would likely go free because the “Stand your Ground” law meant the incompetent boobs who worked for him probably couldn’t win the case, his beleaguered assistant easily won a conviction, and a reprimand from Backstrom for making him look like an even bigger idiot than those pesky bloggers had done.
A homeowner, an older black woman, is surprised when  couple of of young latino men from the neighborhood walk through her open front door to ask if she’s all right; they, being good citizens, were genuinely concerned about their neighbor’s well-being.  The woman, afraid after hearing stories of latino-on-black violence in Los Angeles, comes out of her bathroom with a shotgun, and in a brief orgy of gender-and-race-based fear, kills one man and gravely wounds the other.  She claims self-defense.
  • Current Law:  The woman is in her home, so she has no “duty to retreat” under current law.  But the jury rejects her self-defense claim, as there is no evidence of a lethal threat (the men were unarmed) and the lethal force was unreasonable.   She quickly pleads down to one count of manslaughter and one of aggravated assault.
  • With “Stand Your Ground”:  The investigating cops find no sign of weapons, no evidence of a threat.   The county attorney gets the conviction.
A 100 pound Asian woman is tending her Frogtown garden.  A car with two white men – “Mark”, a 300 pound man with a long history of violent offenses (unbeknownst to the woman), and “Jeff”, a wiry man with facial tattoos who was recently released (again, unknown to the Asian woman) from prison after serving time for a sexual assault conviction, drives up.  “Mark” climbs out of the car and says “Bitch, get in the car!  We’re going to a party”.  The Asian woman says “no, and get off my property”.  As “Jeff” climbs out of the car, “Mark” says “Aw, honey, it’ll be a fun party!”, and advances toward her.  “Go away!” she yells.  “Mark” grins a chilling grin, as “Jeff” takes up what looks like a lookout position.  The womam backs away from “Mark”, draws a .380 pistol from her pocket.  “Mark” chuckles.  “Oh, no, don’t shoot me”, he says sarcastically, pulling down his zipper as he continues to advance.  The woman shoots him twice in the chest.  He falls to the found as “Jeff” jumps in his car.  The woman administers CPR until the police and paramedics arrive, saving his life.
  • Current Law:  Deputy County Attorney Jon Hesch – an up and comer who wants to be elected County Attorney someday – sitting in his office surrounded by metal detectors and deputies – notes that the woman was not in her house, so she had the ability to run away; being in shape, she could certainly have outrun a 300 pound man.  He also notes that the men were unarmed, and so the woman had no fear of death or great bodily harm.  Furthermore, “Mark” states from his hospital bed that he had been drinking, and was pulling down his zipper because he wanted to urinate, and that in fact they really really really did actually want to go to a party, not to try to rape her (and Hesch notes that there’s no way she could have known about Mark’s violent crime convictions), putting a “rape” claim in some doubt.  Hesch decides to prosecute for attempted murder.  The woman – and her husband – are not wealthy.  They can’t afford an attorney with the oomph to fight back against Hesch and the entire Ramsey County Attorney’s office; to avoid putting the family in the poorhouse, the woman pleads guilty to a lesser charge – felony aggravated assault – putting a felony on her record and a “conviction” and a “gun off the street” for ambitious young weasel Hesch, who duly files it away in the “win” column in time to make it to a cocktail party with Keri Miller and Alita Messinger.
  • With “Stand Your Ground”: Assistant County Attorney Hesch notes that the police investigation turned up no evidence that’d give him a shot of even insinuating, much less proving beyond a reasonable doubt, that the woman was a willing participant, or  that her fear or her use of force was unreasonable.  Trying to try the case would be a lot of work with almost no chance of a conviction.   As an ambitious up-and-comer, he decides to curry favor with the Asian community, declines to press charges, calls her a hero for getting a thug off the street, and makes his 5PM squash date with his supervisor.
While at an amusement park , a group of  young ruffians grope a teenage girl.  The girl’s father intervenes, getting in the lads’ faces.  The lads start beating and kicking the man who, outnumbered 6-1, eventually goes down.    Another man – a concealed carry permit-holder with a concealed handgun – assesses the situation and, nervous about how a county attorney would react, opts to yell at the lads that he’s calling the police.  One of the lads draws a 9mm handgun from under his Breck School sweatshirt and dares him to do anything about it, and brandishes the gun at the rest of the crowd, sending any would-be intervenors fleeing.  The man draws his own handgun and fires one shot, hitting Mr. Breck in the head, killing him and sending the rest of the perps fleeing.
  • Under Current Law: Good question.  If the “amusement park” is in Clay County, the cops probably shake his hand and offer to buy him coffee if they see him; the county attorney thanks his lucky stars there’s another scumbag off the street.  In Henco, of course, the County Attorney must appease the DFL, so the cops arrest the man; he’s charged with manslaughter.  He posts bail, cashes in his retirement account, and lawyers up.  The County Attorney could opt to pursue him using any number of approaches; he should have retreated, it wasn’t he who was under direct threat, and really, the cops were only 15 minutes away.  The man’s fate is in the hands of a Henco jury.  What would you do?
  • With “Stand Your Ground”: What, do I have to explain everything?  He’s not on his property. Nothing really changes.  More’s the pity.
A young female law student driving home to her apartment after night class is approached in her parking lot by two men.  They run toward her car.  She draws her gun – but ponders for a moment – “is my fear of death or great bodily harm legitimate?  Do I need to try to retreat before I draw and shoot?  Is this reasonable?”
  • Under Current Law: The crime scene investigator is called to a wooded area in Maplewood to investigate an apparent homicide.  In addition to ligature marks around the neck and signs of sexual assault, the woman’s face shows signs of having been hit by mace.  Back in her apartment parking lot, her car shows signs of that same mace; under the car lies an un-used handgun, traced to the woman, a law student who’d apparently just left night class.
  • With “Stand Your Ground”: The crime scene investigator is called to the scene of a shooting in an apartment parking lot.  One man with a long history of sexual assault convictions lies on the pavement, shot twice in the chest.  His accomplice fled, and is found, pantsless, in a nearby park.  The young woman’s inner monologue, not muddled by having to second-guess a county attorney, resolved itself in time to kill the mace-armed rapist.  His accomplice claimed he removed his pants in self-defense as he was bundled off to jail.  The Strib’s Matt McKinney writes a touching portrait of the dead man’s family, highlighting his sister’s claim that the “victim” was so close to turning his life around, this time…
A man is driving down the road with his pregnant wife.  Their two children are in the back seat.  He changes lanes, inadvertently cutting off another man speeding up behind him.  The second driver honks, enraged.  The first man – let’s call him “Marty” – waves, the universal Minnesota driver sign for “sorry about that’.  The second man – let’s just call him “Lyndon” – seethes with rage.  Finally Lyndon sees the chance to avenge his besmirched manhood.  He pulls up next to Marty’s car as it’s stuck between two other cars at a stoplight, rolls down a window, and points a Glock at Marty’s wife.  “It’d sure be a shame if your wife died because you’re such a f****ng stupid driver”, Lyndon yells.    Seeing his wife and children being threatened by a man with a gun – by definition, a lethal threat – and unable to drive away because he’s boxed in on all sides, Marty draws his own gun and fires three shots, wounding Lyndon.  He then calls the police – following the self-defense playbook to a T.
  • Current Law: Assistant County Attorney Hedda Blatz-Grehnbehlt notes that while the threat of death or great bodily harm was definitely present, and that the use of lethal force against lethal force meets the letter and spirit of the law, and there was no way to show that Marty was a willing participant, she did believe that Marty had the option of telling the kids to climb out the left door and dragging his wife over the transmission hump and out the driver’s side door, rather than shooting.  She informs Marty’s lawyer – as he charges $250 an hour to listen – that she’s going to take the case to court, with a bevy of witnesses to show that there wasn’t clear convincing evidence that Marty couldn’t have evacuated his kids from the car rather than shooting.  Marty’s attorney tells Marty “We should be able to win this one – but we’ll need expert witnesses to rebut the county’s contention, plus there’ll likely be a long, nasty trial against a team of county attorneys.  it’s gonna cost ya a minimum of $50K, maybe $100K, and that’s win or lose, and there are no guarantees.  Wanna roll the dice?  Or take the deal to plead guilty to aggravated assault, serve a year, maybe suspended, plus ten years probation, and get your life back?”  It’s a tough call for the guy, a working-class stiff who doesn’t have “a lawyer” of his own to call.
  • With “Stand Your Ground”:  Assistant County Attorney Blatz-Grehnbehlt shakes her head, declines to press charges, and leaves work early to go to a “Take Action Minnesota” rally.
A man walks, uninvited, into a garage in South Minneapolis.  The homeowner, working on his lawn mower in the garage, turns, alarmed, as a disheveled man walks toward him demanding money.  The man draws his permitted concealed handgun and orders the intruder to leave.  “F**k you, pay me!” the man yells.  The homeowner believes he sees a knife; he fires, killing the intruder.
  • Current Law: Knife?  Threat?  Reasonable?  Sure – but could the homeowner have tried to run away?  That’s up to the county attorney – and if the county attorney has seen too many kung fu movies, the homeowner will have to spend his life’s savings and then some to prove he couldn’t have – to  prove his innocence – beyond a reasonable doubt.    It’s a crap shoot.
  • With “Stand Your Ground”: Did the man do anything wrong?  The burden of proof is on the prosecutor.  Where it should be.
That’s the dirty little secret behind the DFL/Media’s “Legalizing Murder!!!!!” invective over this law; it’s to draw your attention away from the fact that vetoing “Stand Your Ground” will be a blow against everyone’s civil rights – especially working and poor people.

Matt McKinney’s Whitewash Job

Earlier this week, when three media outlets (WCCO-TV, KSTP-TV and Rick Kupchella’s Bring Me The News) released near-simultaneous hagiographies of Darren Evanovich – the Minneapolis man who was shot by a “good samaritan” with a carry permit after Evanovich allegedly robbed and pistol-whipped a woman in a grocery store parking lot – I said (in the comment section of an MPR piece on the subject), somewhat hyperbolically, that this looked like a concerted campaign by the media to whitewash Evanovich and demonize the shooter.  The Twin Cities media, of course, have always hated “shall-issue”, and have spared no perversions to “journalism” to try to kill it.

I thought I’d seen the worst the Twin Cities media had to offer.

I was wrong.  So very very wrong.

Mark McKinney at the Strib has delivered what may be the worst piece of journalism I’ve ever seen on a Second Amendment issue in  my depressingly-long career of finding awful journalism on the subject:

Nine days before his death, Darren Evanovich stopped by the south Minneapolis office of MAD DADS to say hi to V.J. Smith, who heads the local chapter of the street anti-violence program.

Evanovich made a video aimed at kids contemplating the thug life:

“Jail is not fun,” Evanovich confides at one point, “Not being able to see your brothers and sisters grow up isn’t fun. … You don’t see nobody. You have no friends once you step in there.”

We know how this ends, of course; last Friday, Evanovich (and, allegedly, his sister and one other accomplice) went down to the Cub on 26th and Lake.

McKinney relates the story – sort of:

On the evening of Oct. 20, a little more than a week later, a 53-year-old woman was accosted in a supermarket parking lot off E. Lake Street. The stranger was armed with a handgun, and after taking her money, he struck her in the head with his weapon, police said.

That sounds so cold and matter-of-fact.  Let’s put this in some context.

Evanovich – as we related this morning – robbed a woman twice his age, a Hispanic woman who cleans offices for a living.  He beat her in the face, with a pistol, giving her two black eyes and a bad cut and, let’s not forget, a very legitimate fear of being shot dead in a parking lot.

McKinney – with emphasis added to loathsome bits of agenda journalism:

A man nearby saw the attack. He had a state permit to carry a pistol, and he had one with him. He chased the robber behind a restaurant and shot him dead.

How does that read to you?  Like “the man” stalked, tracked and hunted Evanovich like he was a wild animal, perhaps?   Like Evanovich was just a leaf in the autumn wind, blown into the wrong place at the wrong time, the wrong parking lot with the wrong remorseless Dirty Harry wannabee?

No mention of the facts from the police’s statement on the incident: that Evanovich allegedly turned and pointed his own gun at the “good samaritan” (according to some accounts, fired a shot at him); indeed, only the most oblique possible reference to the fact that Evanovich was carrying a gun that could still be considered “honest”.

No mention of the fact that had the shooting been even in the least bit ambiguous, the shooter would have been detained, arrested, booked and charged pretty much immediately.

Apparently nobody involved in the case had any choice!

No, really:

The investigation ensnared Evanovich’s sister, Octavia Marberry, this week when she was jailed on allegations of fraud and aggravated robbery. She had been with Evanovich the night he died, and according to their mother, held him in her arms as he took his last breath.

Back that up a minute, here; Marberry was allegedly part of the robbery.  She allegedly participated with her brother in giving an older woman the choice “give us your grocery money or we will kill you” – the act that directly led to the chase, her brother’s alleged move to end the life of the man chasing him, that would justify the “good samaritan’s” alleged shooting and, finally, the heart-rending scene McKinney favored us with.

Evanovich grew up in Minneapolis and Gary, Ind., one of five children.

“He has a good, loving family, and he has lots of friends. He wasn’t 100 percent bad,” his mother, Mary Evanovich of Minneapolis, said in an interview Thursday.

Two members of that loving family were apparently involved in pistol-whipping a Latina working-stiff-ette, of course.

Look – I’m a parent.  I’m not going to do the end-zone happy dance over someone getting killed, even if it’s justifiable homicide.  As much “fun” as I had raising my own kids, I can’t imagine what it must be like watching yours go off the rails as badly as Mary Evanovich’s seem to have.

But let’s eschew the bullshit, here.  Darren Evanovich’s death is a personal tragedy; the path that led him to that godforsaken parking lot was a social tragedy.

But the shooting?  That was (so it seems right now) self-defense; as the late Joel Rosenberg taught us all, the second-worst of all the possible outcomes – if you were the “good samaritan” seeing a gun pointing at you in that wretched alley.

UPDATE: A source – let’s call him “Zack” – with extensive knowledge of the issue and some knowledge of the case – wrote an email to McKinney.  He sent me a copy.  He reached about the same conclusions, but more economically. I’ll include it below the jump.

Continue reading

The Conductor

It was a chilly, rainy night in March of 1983.

I had a horrible cold – but no matter.  I was standing on a riser in a tumbledown little church in Pendelton, Oregon, with 69 or so other college kids.   And by this time in the tour, cooped up on buses for day after day, most of us were sharing colds.

I had just finished a brisk walk up to the stage for the second of three sets of the evening’s performance.  It was our seventh or eighth concert in as many days and nights.

The house lights dimmed, and the stage lights came up, blotting the audience from view.  We focused on the conductor’s podium, where presently a guy in a formal tuxedo climbed onstage.  His cheeks were puffy and red, but his eyes were clear and sharp- “fierce”, I’d say, if the fashion industry hadn’t so devalued the word.  He smiled -partly greeting, partly saying “can you keep up with me?”

He lifted his hands, and brought them down.  And we sang – launching a capella and without fanfare directly into “Have Ye Not Known/Ye Shall Have A Song”, two movements from Randall Thompson’s oratorio “The Peaceable Kingdom”, a piece lifted from Isaiah 40:21:

Have ye not known?

Have ye  not heard?

Hath it not been told you from the beginning?

Hath it not been told from the foundations of the earth?

(Here’s a high school choir doing it).

I sang my part, nestled into the midst of seventy college kids who, for a couple of hours, felt like a single organism that was much better than the sum of our parts, as the conductor – listed on the program as Dr. Richard Harrison Smith, and never anything else – wrung the last little bit of execution, passion and yes, joy out of the evening.

And while I didn’t dare make any facial expression, or even take my eyes off the podium, I smiled inside.


I remember “Dick” Smith, as my dad always called him, probably about the same time he moved to Jamestown, ND.  He and his family – his daughters, Kristin and twins Karen and Kathryn, all about my age – came by our old house in Jamestown, along with his wife, June, who’d just been hired as Dad’s colleague in the Jamestown High School English department.   Smith had just taken over the music department at Jamestown College, after earning a PhD in music and an MA in Biochemistry.  I wonder sometimes if academia today would know what to make of a guy like him.

But  I was years away from knowing any of this.  I was six years old.

Now, if there’s one thing people in small college towns appreciate – or appreciated, in those days before the internet and ubiquitous TV and travel – it’s whatever scraps of culture they can get.  And Dr. Smith quickly started producing some amazing culture.

In town, we noticed this mostly from the college’s annual Christmas concerts – which morphed from sleepy little affairs into six-night runs with choir, concert band and elaborate production, lighting and sets, that drew packed houses and TV coverage.  Packing into the college’s Voorhees Chapel, to the smell of pine boughs and scorched gels, is one of the most potent memories of Christmas as a child.

Unbeknownst to me – because I was years away from caring about such things – Dr. Smith, starting in 1969, built the JC Concert Choir into one of the premiere college choirs in the United States.  One review from the seventies – and no, I couldn’t find it if I tried – placed JC’s choir among the top three small-college choirs in the US – in the same league as the legendary St. Olaf Choir, in the (choir geeks will know this) Christenson era.    In 1972, the Jamestown College choir became the first American choir to sing at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  In 1978, he engineered a visit to Jamestown by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra to accompany the choir in a concert – the highlight being Bach’s Magnificat, if I recall correctly.

You might be thinking “this is a small college choir that fought above its weight”.  It was – but that wasn’t even the amazing part.

The amazing thing about Smith’s choirs throughout their history?  While the other top-flight choirs, like St. Olaf’s, were made up of music majors and especially voice students, Jamestown just wasn’t that big.  In the seventies, the place had 600-700 students, maybe a couple of dozen of them music majors.   Over ten percent of the entire campus sang in the choir – less than a quarter of them music majors.  Imagine a tournament-grade basketball team that was 3/4 walk-ons from the Theatre and English and Nursing departments; it was the same basic idea.

And so year after year, for almost thirty years, Dr. Smith created top-flight college choirs from virtually nothing.


When I graduated from high school.  I didn’t know what I wanted to be – but I knew I wasn’t going to major in music.  Still, I’d had some musical training – none of it involving singing.  I played guitar, cello and harmonica, and sang in a garage band, in a voice that was best suited for shouting out Rolling Stones and Clash covers.  That was all the singing I ever wanted to do.  I was an instrumental guy, and proud of it.

I’d known Dr. Smith and his family for about 12 years by that point – his wife June was my high school creative writing teacher; Karen and Kathryn were classmates at Jamestown High School (Kristin graduated a year before me).

My mom worked as a secretary in the nursing department at Jamestown College, which would net me a nice tuition break, so in the spring of 1981 I enrolled at “JC”.  Of course, every penny counted, so I seized on every scholarship I could find.  I got a grant to work as a stagehand in the theatre department and, late in the game, was recuited to play cello in a chamber group, and percussion and guitar for the concert and stage bands.

One day, my senior year of high school, I went up to the campus to close the deal on the music grants.  I walked into Voorhees Chapel for a chat with Linda Banister – and my spidey-sense started buzzing away; something seemed just a little bit off.

There were always plenty of women auditioning. then and always, for 35 or so soprano and alto slots – but in a school like JC, finding guys who could fill the choir’s 35-odd tenor, baritone and bass seats was a constant battle.   Smith, and his assistant, Linda Banister (a voice teacher who did double duty as the choir’s manager) prowled the campus, looking for guys who sounded like they that could be jury-rigged into instruments in a choral ensemble; they filtered through high school transcripts looking for hidden semesters in “choir”; they staked out football practice, listened in the cafeteria, and even (rumor had it) prowled the dorms, listening for guys singing in the shower.  The men’s sections – the tenors, baritones and basses – were a grab bag of football players, computer-department night owls, and just-plain guys who could, to their amazement, carry a tune, most of them with absolutely no musical training whatsoever, most of them enticed by having $1,000 a year  lopped off their $4,000+ tuition; such was the choir’s clout.

Anyway – after a too-short discussion that ended up with grant in hand way too quickly, Mrs. Bannister said “Now you need to go down to Dr. Smith’s office”.

“Er – to  talk about the instrumental stuff?” I asked, warily.

“Yeah, sure!” she said, fast enough to make me even more suspicious.

I walked downstairs into Dr Smith’s office, in the basement of the chapel.  He was already sitting behind the piano.

“Hi, Mitch”, he said – first names were fine, he’d known me forever.  Then, before I could respond, “OK, say “Mi Mi Mi” and sing along with this pattern”.  He pounded out a “C” arpeggio.

Nonplussed, I sang.  “Mi Mi Mi Mi Mi Miiii”, up and down the “C” chord..

He walked me through several more patterns, up and down the keyboard, figuring out my range.  “You have a good ear; we can work on the technique.  You’re a baritone!”

And that was pretty much it. I’d been shanghaied. Linda Banister was waiting outside the office.  “We really need you in the choir…” she said.  Being a small-town Scandinavian, my need to please others would have kicked in even had she not told me that singing in the choir was worth a $500/semester off tuition.

And so I joined the choir.  I’d be in the baritone section come the fall.


Or would eventually, anyway.  Because before we could start choir that fall, Dr. Smith – and all of us, really – had a wrenching, existential diversion.

On top of being a great musician, arranger and director, Dr. Smith was also a footnote in medical history.  A very important one, actually.

In the summer of 1981 – the hot, arid three months before I started college – word made the rounds in Jametown that Dr. Smith had gotten very, very sick at the family’s lake cabin in northern Minnesota.  A very rare congenital enzyme deficiency had caused his body to start to destroy its own liver. He was in a coma and near death at a hospital in Fargo.

And at the metaphorical and literal last moment, the decision was made to fly him to the University of Pittsburgh for a medical procedure that teetered on the brink of science fiction at the time; a liver transplant.

At the time, liver transplants were almost as rare and difficult as heart transplants; the liver may be, after the brain, the body’s most complex organ.  The biochemical system that the liver manages is as convoluted as anything in nature.  And it showed, medically speaking; at the time, nobody had lived even a year with a transplanted liver.   The body inevitably rejected the tranplant, as if it was a bacterium or a splinter.  The way it was designed to do.

Liver transplants were so experimental, insurance companies were still years away from covering them.  The key to success – and it was an immutably elusive key, up until the spring of 1981 – was to quell the body’s immune system’s natural response of sequestering it off and killing it.

Shortly before Dr. Smith flew to Pittsburgh that summer, a new drug – Ciclosporin – was introduced.  Refined from a fungus found in the soil somewhere in Norway, it’d been used in treating a variety of other diseases – but it was going to be tried for the first time to prevent organ transplant rejection.

And Dr. Smith was Patient 1.

It wasn’t just the drugs.  Some of the very equipment and techniques that make the miracle of liver transplantation seem so commonplace today were invented as a result of Dr. Smith’s surgery.  From a Pitt Medical School publication on the transplant:

Fortunately, a donor liver became available. As Dr. Starzl  (the surgeon who pioneered the technique of the live transplant at Pittsburgh) pointed out in his book, the surgical team fought throughout the night to control the bleeding during Richard’s surgery.

Anesthesiologist Dr. John Sassano administered two hundred units of blood, pumping each unit by hand. When Richard survived the operation and Dr. Sassano’s job was done, Dr. Starzl reported that Dr. Sassano broke down and cried out of relief and exhaustion. Dr. Sassano went on to invent the Sassano pump, a rapid blood infusion system still in use today.

The surgery lasted 14 hours.

That I’m writing this article today should tell you it worked – all the pieces; the surgical skill, the brand-new, untried techniques and drugs, and of course the liver, from a 19 year old auto-crash victim.


It was a solid semester before he came back to the choir.  The cocktail of drugs he’d been given, including the Ciclosporin, had played hob with his system.  He’d gained a lot of weight; his formerly hawk-like face was swollen.  And he could only direct for short periods, sitting on a stool, before he’d get tired and hand the choir over to his backup director.

But once he started, you could tell he lived for it.

And during the second semester of my freshman year, Dr. Smith gradually worked his way back onto the podium; by the time of our spring tour, he managed to direct (as I recall) every concert at every stop on the way.

I’ll let that sink in; in eight months, he went from comatose to doing his job (albeit not at 100% just yet), with a stop along the way for a gruelling, body-crushing, experimental, never-before-seen bit of beyond-major surgery.

We knew it was remarkable back then; having nobody to compare it with – every previous liver transplantee had died in that kind of time – none of us knew how remarkable it was.


If my experience with high school music groups – orchestra, stage band and the like – was like Pop Warner football, choir with Dr. Smith was like suddenly walking into Vince Lombardi’s training camp.

Smith was a renowned arranger and conductor; his specialty, oddly, was traditional Afro-American spirituals; a Canadian paper once praised the Choir for being the most authentic-sounding choir of rural white kids they’d ever heard.

Beyond that?  The programming every year was very non-trivial.  It spun between spirituals, modern/avant garde choral work, and the classics of the repertoire – and by classics, I mean the hard stuff.

The highlights?  Every couple years, Smith would break out a new Bach double-choir motet.  My freshman and senior years, it was Motet Number 7, Singet Dem Herrn.  15 minutes and 90-odd pages long, it required the choir to split into two separate choirs, singing Bach’s, well, baroque composition in eight part counterpoint and harmony.

All from memory.  Smith allowed no sheet music on stage, and the choir was rarely accompanied (as in, one song that I recall in four years).

Go ahead and try it in the shower when you get a moment.

That took discipline.  All practices were mandatory; you got two excused absences a semester, and even those were discouraged (I don’t remember taking more than one in four years).  The rules on stage were simple and uncompromising; once Smith stepped on the podium, in concert or late “concert rules” rehearsals, you didn’t look away, at the risk of a ferocious tongue-lashing during the break.   If you got sick on stage, you did not walk offstage; you sat down on the riser and your neighors closed ranks around you.  If your nose itched?  You let it itch; scratching your nose, or anywhere on your face, inevitably looked like picking your nose.  You didn’t question Dr. Smith on any of this.

The choir practiced four days a week, over the noon hour, to accomodate everything from after-school football practices to afternoon chem labs.   You earned that $500 tuition break every semester.

To turn that throng of misplaced football players, dorm-potatoes, waylaid cross-country runners, computer science majors and the odd musician into a solid choir, Dr. Smith smacked us with something that most of us had never encountered before, and only rarely since; an uncompromising demand for excellence.

Excellence is a word that’s gotten abused horribly in the past thirty years.  A wave of business books perverted the terms into meaning  “a businessperson given him/herself license to be a prick”.

The word itself never came up, that I recall, in four years with the choir.  But it’s what Dr. Smith demanded of all of us.  Whoever we were – wrestlers, pre-meds and vocal majors alike, we had it in us to do great music – Bach, or spirituals, or avant-garde adaptations of Shaker liturgical chants alike – the way God himself intended them to be done.   Perfectly.

And he didn’t tolerate half-assed choral music, and he never cared who knew about it.  Botching an entrance or scooping a high note could earn a section, or a singer, a chewing out in front of the whole choir – and the privilege of singing the part yourself, solo, over and over, as the whole choir sat and listened, until you hit it perfectly.

So we – wrestlers, pre-meds, dorm-potatoes, phy-ed majors and voice majors alike – developed a keen ear and a sense of precision that was new to many of us, even if we had some experience with formal classical music.

He had no time for contemporary music.  At least once a year, he’d get frustrated by some bit of pop-music frippery, and bellow “Do you think people will be listening to the Beatles in 300 years?”  I was often tempted to respond “if there’s an entire academic discipline dedicated to seeing that it does, then sure!”, but he didn’t sound like he wanted a discussion…

Even other choirs felt his wrath.  A choir from another college performed an assembly before practice one day.  A “contemporary” choir with microphones and a PA and accompanists and a repertoire of mediocre modern choral music, they were also – by Smiths’ standards – unforgivably sloppy in their intonation and timing; they were also slow in tearing down their elaborate stage rig as we filed onto the stage for our noon practice, and milled about in the chapel, chattering away, getting ready to go back on the road themselves.   We saw Smith, fuming at both the late start and the sloppy music, and took our places quickly and silently as the other choir milled about the place.  We just knew this could not end well.

When Smith finally got the podium, his face was red with rage.  He uncorked one of his vein-bulging jeremiads about the worthlessness of sloppy, inferior music – he referred to “this…crap!”, as I recall, which shut the other choir’s kids up but fast.  He ran down their intonation, their entrances, their reliance on a mixer to balance their – shudder – microphones, their sloppiness – and compared some of our own traits with what he’d just endured.  Then he had us ready up one of our own songs, in a tone that strongly hinted we’d best blow the doors off that tune.

And we did, as I remember.  We didn’t dare not stick the landing.  We sang the hell out of that tune, as the other choir silently shrank from the sanctuary.

We were the JC Choir, dammit.

Of course, Smith’s temper was tempered with a sense of humor and an approachable affability.  Sitting in his office, or on the choir tour bus, or during a good rehearsal, he was quick with a joke – usually awful – and a smile and a word of encouragement.

And it’s worth noting that his relentless pursuit of precision and perfection didn’t cover every aspect of his life.  Navigation was a good example.  While on tour, generations of choir members learned the meaning of the”Smith block”, as in Smith ordering the bus to a stop in some strange city in a place where the bus had a hard time finding our destination, and telling everyone to grab their luggage and walk the rest of the way.  “It’s just a block”, he’d assure us.  I remember walking a solid mile through the streets of Basel, Switzerland, enjoying a warm, humid evening on a “Smith Block”-long stroll, lugging my backpack and my concert clothes down the Totengässlein, feeling like a tourist.

Smith could laugh about that along with everyone. There’s a reason generations of students loved the guy.


Jamestown College was a small, private, Presbyterian-affiliated school – a sister-school to Macalester, although without the political implications, in those days.  And like a lot of small colleges, Jamestown went through some lean years.  Part of it was the farm crisis; lots of small colleges failed back then.  Part of it was bad management; the college had a really, really bad president for a few years there.

But the school excelled at three things; athletics (the football, basketball and track programs were at the top of the NAIA Division III standings), nursing (one of the best nursing programs in the US at the time) and the Choir.

And so part of the job was to go out and raise money for the college.  For four years, our “spring break”, every year, was to go out on the road on a national concert tour.  Tours involved long days on the bus, taking off often before the sun rose, arriving in a new town late in the afternoon, setting up our risers and lights (that was my gig – I was a stagehand, after all), suiting up for the gig, taking a deep breath, singing a couple of hours, and then going home with a host family from the church that was sponsoring the gig.  We got a free day at the apex of the tour.

As of spring break my Freshman year, the biggest city I’d ever seen was Fargo.  Tour changed all that; each stop in turn, St. Cloud and Madison and Toledo and Philadelphia and Washington DC, was the biggest city I’d ever been in.

That’s us. We’re in the rotunda of the Cannon Congressional Office building, March 17, 1982. I’m in the third row, eighth from the left. Dr. Smith is conducting, natch. On the right is former longtime ND Congressman Mark Andrews.  Photo courtesy Katie Hall, who is “Doctor Hall” to you now, and lives in Fargo and is, I think, the far right girl in the front row.  

And in the three following spring breaks – Seattle, Denver and Phoenix, and every mid-sized city and tiny town with a Presbyterian church with a music-loving minister in between, we toured, ten or twelve days at a shot.

And the biggest tour of all – our trip to Europe, in 1983.  We sang in little villages – Uitgeest, Holland, and Altenburg, in Schwabia – and major cities, Basel and Mainz and Köln and, biggest and best of all, Notre Dame de Paris.

Where we stood, in a church nearly a thousand years old, built long before sound amplification systems were built, in a building designed to magnify the unamplified human voice, and sang at a mass stuffed with Bishops and Archbishops and other popery, and sang to packed houses, and thought for a brief moment that God had taught Man to build buildings like this just for choirs like ours.

And a few days later, in Köln, where we sang a duo concert with the Köln Polezeichor, the city’s police choir, themselves an excellent group.  After the show, the cops hauled us all and sundry to a bar frequented by Köln’s finest; our money was no good there.  And it was noted that Dr. Smith’s liver was now of legal age.  And as we partied into the wee hours, Dr. Smith had a beer (with his doctor’s blessing; Dr. Smith was as diligent with the gift that had saved his life as any human could be).  And as we walked – I was probably staggering more than walking – back to our hotel through the streets of Köln in the weeest hours of the morning, I looked at Dr. Smith.

And he was as happy as happy gets.  This – making music, and getting flocks of kids to make it, and make it very very well, was his happy place.


The last time I sang with Dr. Smith was October, 1994.  The college threw a 25 year “All Choir Reunion”.  About 400 people – around half of the people who’d ever sung in the choir in those 25 years – came back to Jamestown to sing a concert with Dr. Smith.  It was such a huge event, we used the Jamestown Civic Center.   And people from my class in the choir sat with and sang among several generations of choir “kids”; some who’d been there at the beginning in 1968, and who’d been at that first “gig” at Notre Dame in 1972; some who’d just graduated, and hadn’t yet assimilated all that Dr. Smith had taught them.

And it was a joyous night – one of a short list of highlights of my own life.  I was able to tell Dr. Smith pretty much exactly that; how glad I was to make the reunion, and the impact he’d had on my life.  Of course, I had to stand in a long line; I think everyone was there to say the same thing, one way or the other.

Smith retired in 1998.  The travelling was harming his health.


The average liver transplant holds out for ten years.  Partly it’s due to the whole “new liver” thing – all the risks attendant to transplants.

Partly it’s the drugs that bombard the body to make the transplant happen at all.  They take a terrible toll on the rest of the body – especially the kidneys.   Dr. Smith got a kidney transplant in 1997 – from his wife June, incredibly.   It bought time – and bought it for a guy who’d already run the account a lot further than anyone could reasonably expect.

Dr. Smith was the longest-lived person in the world with a liver transplant.  His transplant surgeon, Thomas Starzl, “the father of the transplant”, featured Smith prominently in his book Puzzle People – his own look into medical miracles and the people who live them.   Starzl chalked Smith’s survival up to many things – an iron-clad constitution, rock-solid faith, and a mission in life among other things- but at the end of the day, even that most gifted of medical scientists had little empirical idea how Smith had so clobbered the odds.

But the run ran out.  Dr. Smith died late last night; the kidneys, and the liver which had served two owners so well, finally gave out.  He was 73.  He leaves behind June – one of my favorite high school teachers – and his daughters, Kristin (a reproductive endocrinologist on Long Island), and the twins, Kathryn and Karen, my high school classmates, a teacher and nurse respectively, both in the Fargo area.  They’ll miss him of course – and so will the thousand or so of us whose lives he touched as director, and the hundreds of thousands who watched and listened to his work over the decades.

Yeah, me too.

Rest in peace, Dr. Smith.  And from the bottom of my heart, my condolences to June, Kristin, Kathryn and Karen.


Back on that rainy night in Pendelton in 1983, the song turned into its homestretch; from the bombastic “Have Ye Not Known!” of the fanfare, through a turbulent middle section that seemed to represent the nagging doubts of the faithful, into the ending, the best part; a three-minute canon, simply repeating one line, over and over again:

And gladness of heart…

The line never changed – starting with the sopranos, quietly hinting it; the altos came in, more broadly, then the tenors, and then the basses, in a broad, three-minute crescendo.  But the song modulated through a circle of…fourths?  Fifths?  Mostly?  Big, broad, beefy resolutions  that just as suddenly modified into another set of fourths, like doubts resolving into answers and then into more doubts with even bigger, more satisfying answers.

I looked at Dr. Smith, on the podium, growing more animated as the volume swelled- because looking at the director, and nothing else in the world, what you did in the choir.  But as the song swelled, the diffusion from the stage lights seemed to me to form a corona of refracted light around the Conductor; maybe it was a trick of the light, or maybe it was my eyes getting every-so-watery from the sheer sonic glory of it all.  And as his arms thrashed at the air, wrenching more sound, more passion, more joy from the moment, Dr. Smith looked ecstatic; the song and the choir were like a natural phenomenon, like he was playing a pipe organ whose pump was driven by a hurricane, like he’d wrapped his arms around a tornado with a “speed” button that only he could control.

Like God Himself could hear his choir, so he’d better keep us on our A game.

And I stood in the middle of that swirl of spine-tingling modulating fourths and fifths and ricocheting parts and,  for one shiver-up-the-spine moment, felt as close to transcending the here and now as I ever had, or have, in my life.

And I think Dr. Smith did, too.

It may have been a first for me.

Dr. Smith?  With all the choirs of farm kids and wrestlers and business majors that he wrangled into musicians?  He was a regular there.

Same Sex Marriage: “Shut Up”, They Explained

I’ve written about this before; I think the bill requiring a referendum on a Marriage Amendment is…:

That last is an important one; the gay marriage activists I’ve been talking to are really, really bad at it.

Indeed – without exception, the best,most intelligent, most articulate cases I’ve heard for defeating the amendment have come not from liberals and gay marriage proponents, but from libertarian conservatives like Rep. John Kriesel and GOP Comms guy, Craig “Captain Fishsticks” Westover.  Without exception.

As to the libs? These are the arguments I’m hearing:

“Proponents Are Nothing But Bigots!”: Well, some no doubt are.  For the vast majority, myself included, it’s more a matter of  “you want us to fundamentally change an institution that, for all of humanity’s infinite variations, and all of the institution’s zillion permutations, has one consistent feature throughout every society on earth going back to when time was recorded verbally; they all feature a guy and a gal, sometimes at least one of each”.  There may be a reason to change our minds on that; being called a “bigot”, or any names, really,  isn’t one of of them.

“You advocate a Jim Crow , “separate but equal” law!”: We who advocate civil unions, but leaving the state out of “marriage” as a religious institution, have been getting this one lately.

It’s nonsense, of course; “Jim Crow” was about taking peoples’ rights away; civil unions do no such thing.  “Separate but equal” was about keeping populations from  intermingling; it’d be absurd to claim that civil unions do any such thing, unless they’re performed at a “Gays Only” courthouse and could be adjudicated and dissolved only by gay judges.

This one leads us to the closely-related…

“You’re all hung up on a word“: There’s a smidgen of merit,here – and at least it veers away from browbeating.  But it peters out just past “smidgen”.

Most of us who oppose, on some level or another, Single Sex Marriage do so on religious grounds – but not everyone cares about religion.

Atheists can marry in our society, and most don’t bother with churches or their traditions.  They get married by justices of the peace, or by “Elvis” in Vegas, or ship captains or bus drivers or whatever authority signs civil contracts.  It’s “separate but equal”; it’s indistinguishable in every way from a civil union.  It confers no different rights than a church marriage – or a civil union.

There is no difference.

So I’m going to suggest that both sides are “hung up on the word” pretty equally.

“We do not vote on civil liberties!”:  Now, we’re getting somewhere.  It’s a good principle, in principle.  It’s also rubbish; we vote on civil liberties all the time.  It took activists eight years of nonstop smashmouth organizing to get the human and civil right to keep and bear arms put into Minnesota law in a meaningful way – and that’s a right that’s in the Constitution.  The real one, I mean.

No, the big question is, is there a “civil right”  to marry at all,  much less someone of the same gender?   On the one hand, someone – the tribe, the church/Islam/your tribe’s witch doctor/government/whatever people believe in –  has always said who could marry, and how; outside of whatever the institution was, people pretty much just shacked up otherwise.  Like they do now.

On the other hand, rights are not granted by the state; they are endowed to us by our creator, whatever you believe our Creator is.  And if you are a Tenther, you know that rights not specifically granted to the Federal government are supposed to be reserved to the states and The People.  Individual states have always taken on the whole notion of “who can marry whom”.

And so while in principle “we don’t vote on civil rights”, we do observe laws; we are a nation ruled by laws, not men (that’s another principle), even, hypothetically, if those men are judges.  And so whether you believe it’s right or nice to vote on civil liberties or not, them’s the facts.  Make your case.



I’m ambivalent about the amendment,for reasons I’ve spelled out over and over on this blog.  I support civil unions.  And I doubt I’ll ever bother getting a state license to marry, even if I ever do marry again.  I oppose real, actual hatred aimedat anyone, gays included – and I have put more on the line to back that up than most people, “progressive” or not.

And so when the DFL and the gay movement’s “best” line in support of SSM is “you’re a bigot”, “you support Jim Crow” and “you are a moron”…

…well, let’s just say they may need to work on their messaging before 2012.

The Gender Ghetto, Part II

Yesterday, we noted that critics like Kay Hymowitz are noticing young men today are “angry”.  They attribute it to the usual dog’s breakfast of feminist conceits; the young men are a little misogynistic, a little bit childish, a little bit full of inchoate rage over “poliitcal correctness” and changing gender roles.

I pointed out that while those roles are certainly changing today, they are no more jarring to the male sensibility than they were at any time from the 1960’s through the 1980s; I might argue that after three generations of “women’s liberation” and the broad acceptance of what used to be “Feminism’s” goals, young men today aren’t suffering any culture shock that men didn’t have, and much worse, a few decades back.

And we noted a scholarship program for “white” (more than 25% caucasian) males, which the Southern Poverty Law Center will no doubt classify a “hate group” before long.

And at the beginning of it all, we noted that subcultures that are attacked, persecuted, segregated or singled out over the long haul tend to adapt to it, in ways that address immediate-term survival over long-term good.

Why are 20-30-something males ostensibly turning away from dating, mating, and our society’s “courtship ritual” as it’s evolved in recent decades, in a way that their older brothers, uncles and even fathers and grandfathers didn’t?


Back when I was in fifth grade, I had my first male teacher.  Mr. Buchholtz was a big guy, a former football player who’d done a hitch in the Navy in Vietnam.  He was the first male teacher any of us had had.

And he did all sorts of things – showed us how to tackle, how to to do karate kicks, let us play “tackle pomp” and “cops and robbers” and “army”, complete with “guns” we made out of sticks, the whole line-up of things that might have mortified the women who’d taught us through fourth grade, had those women not come up through an educational system that let boys be boys.

And when I said let boys be boys, I meant “let them both exercise those “boy” traits – physicality, aggressiveness, spatial literacy – and learn to control them and use them appropriately.  You could play “cops and robbers”; you couldn’t accost Mary Jo Helmbarger with the toy gun and scare her.

Of course, the classroom itself was pretty well designed for girls, who develop verbally before boys do.  It all evened out.

And that was the system, thirty years ago.  Maybe even twenty-five years ago.

Mr. Bucholtz would be the subject of administrative discipline today, and most likely ostracized by his colleagues.

It was about twenty years ago that the theories of Harvard professor Carol Gilligan started to gain currency.  It was Gilligan’s theory that young girls suffered in school because boys, being more aggressive, were quicker to raise their hands and get attention; that young girls were neglected, and the neglect caused them to suffer – because the education system was just too masculine.  The theory – publicized in countless books by scholars, pop-psychologists and ideological feminists – was that boys’ innate aggression intimidated girls into being quiet and not getting their questions answered in class (among other charges), which in turn beat down young girls’ spirits, which was a form of systemic discrimination that had to be overcome.

And the educational academy reacted immediately.  Schools moved to start clamping down on “boy” things – aggressive play, games like “cops and robbers” and playground football and all the other ways boys have worked off their energy during recess since the dawn of the “sit your butt in the chair and learn what we tell you to learn” model of education.

Now, psychology has known for decades that if you make a person bottle up “who they are”, it’s going to cause psychological damage . It’s one of the reasons schools have bent over backwards, for example, to support gay students; because, they just know, if you make a person deny what they are for long enough, it’s going to cause damage.

Enlightened people would never think of demanding a gay student stop being gay.

But virtually overnight in pedagogical terms, it became the fashion to force boys to do just that; to bottle up who they were.   I’ve been noticing this for almost as long; I remember having this conversation when my stepson was in school, in the early nineties.  In one memorable conversation with a woman who was a teaching assistant at the University of London’s graduate educational psychology program back in 1998, I put that basic premise out there; her response, straight from the textbook of the day, was “yes, boys acting like boys is a pathology that gets in the way of good education”.  Direct quote.

Of course, Carol Gilligan was wrong. Christina Hoff-Summers, in The War On Boys, pointed out that Gilligan’s “research” was not only almost completely exempted from peer review, but Harvard wouldn’t release any of the raw data or methodology that led to her conclusions – which was, in those days before “man-made global warming”, considered pretty bad form.  Hoff-Summers pretty well shredded Gilligan, and the outcomes of the mania that had by this time swept the educational academy…

…but it was really too late.  School became a fairly dismal place for boys.  Especially the boys that couldn’t “go along to get along“.   Acting too much “like a boy” – being too aggressive, not channelling their energy into acceptable forms, which meant “being verbal, not physical” – could get a boy drugged into compliance.  Most outrageously, teachers started demanding  boys get drugged into compliance, and making the system make those demands stick.  In other words, raduates of the least academically-rigourous programs offered at most universities felt themselves empowered to act as practitioners in a field that took graduates of the most rigorous field, but one that even those practitioners know is still only vaguely understood.

Can you imagine what’d happen if science came up with a drug that could suppress a homosexual child’s identity?   The very fact that the idea had been researched would be condemned with vein-bulging fury, to say nothing of the actual act of producing and prescribing the drug.  And the furor would be right.

And yet our education system has been forcing half the student population to be something other than what evolution, brain chemistry and their physiology make them, and being drugged into submission and classified as “special ed”, and plopped onto the failure track  if they don’t go along.

And it’s having an effect.  The number of girls in college increased – from right around to slightly under half in the ’80’s, to closer to an estimated 60% of the population in the very near future.  It’s even more pronounced in the humanities and soft-sciences.   It’s gotten to the point that the mainstream media who trumpeted Gilligan’s “research” twenty years ago are fretting about the lack of men on campuses today.  If 12 years of school have been turned into an ugly ordeal, why should they stretch it out to sixteen years – even assuming that their drug-addled, special-ed sodden academic records allow them to get into a college.

So the question I’d like to ask Kay Hymowitz – the author of the book Manning Up that I went after yesterday – is “why are you asking why young men are shunning the dating life, when the real question is why do you expect young men who’ve had traditional masculine roles beaten down and treated as pathologies to be overcome  for their entire educational career and  young lives to suddenly turn into Prince Charming when they turn 22?”

As long as we actively suppress, and oppress, boys acting like boys – especially by way of learning how to be responsible boys, and thus responsible men, the way they always have – then Kay Hymowitz’ dating malaise is just the tip of the iceberg.

One Day At Jared ® Headquarters

SCENE:  At the headquarters of Jared ® Jewelry.   Patricia LOPEZ, the receptionist, is sitting at the front desk answering phone calls.

Phone rings.

LOPEZ:  Hello, Jared, the Galleria of Jewelry®…

VOICE on phone: Hello, this is Sol Gallivan, the Guardian of Empiricism.  What does your slogan “It can only be Jared” mean?

LOPEZ: Hello again, Mr. Gallivan.  It means the same thing it did yesterday.  It’s an ad slogan.

GALLIVAN:  But it implies that all meaning comes from Jared ®.  How do you substantiate that claim?

LOPEZ:  I don’t.  Can I help you?

GALLIVAN:  Yes.  Explain how you figure all meaning comes from Jared ®?

LOPEZ:  I really can’t, sir.  It’s just a slogan.  Thanks for your call.


(Phone hangs up).

(LOPEZ continues typing an email).

(Phone rings)

LOPEZ: Good Morning, Jared, the Galleria of Jewelry®…

GALLIVAN: Hello, this is Sol Gallivan, the Guardian of Empiricism.

LOPEZ: Hello again, Mr. Gallivan.

GALLIVAN: Could you please explain what you mean when your company says “it can only be Jared®?  Because it implies that there is some order to the universe, some eternal questions that are answered by your store.

LOPEZ: Yes, Mr. Gallivan.

GALLIVAN: Can you please tell me what those questions and answers are?

LOPEZ: No, Mr. Gallivan.

GALLIVAN: Because I’d like any empirical evidence that you have that your store actually imposes order on the universe.

LOPEZ: We’ll get back to you on that, sir.

GALLIVAN:  When exac…

(LOPEZ hangs up the phone).

(Jared LIGHT, CEO of Jared ®, walks in).

LIGHT: Hey, Patty.  What’s new?

LOPEZ:  Same as always.  That Gallivan guy is yapping about our ad slogan.

LIGHT:  (Yawns deeply).  OK.  Well, could you send one of the interns out for coffee…

(Phone rings.  LOPEZ holds up hand for a moment of quiet).

LOPEZ:  Jared, the Galleria of Jewelry®…

VOICE (on phone):  Yeah, this is Jeff Buckstein, security director for Jared’s ® Maplewood, MN store…

LOPEZ: Hey, Jeff.

BUCKSTEIN: Hey Patty.  I just had security haul off that Gallivan guy.  He was standing outside the store, yelling at people who were walking in.

LOPEZ:  What was he doing this time?

BUCKSTEIN: Yelling at people coming in the store that “there is no scientific evidence that It could, indeed, only be Jared ®”.

LOPEZ: Criminy.

BUCKSTEIN:  Please pass the word, OK?

LOPEZ: Will do.  Thanks, Jeff. (Hangs up).

LIGHT:  Gallivan again?

LOPEZ:  Yep.

LIGHT: Maplewood again?


LIGHT: It’s gonna be one of those days.


(Phone rings)

LOPEZ: Jared, the Galleria of Jewelry®…

GALLIVAN:  Hello, I’m Sol Gallivan, the Guardian of Empiricism.  I’d really like to know what you mean when you say “It can only be Jared…”

LOPEZ: It’s still just a slogan, Mr. Gallivan….

GALLIVAN:  I’m just wondering how you can sleep at night telling people untruths like…

(LIGHT motions to LOPEZ to give him the phone as GALLIVAN chatters away in the background).

GALLIVAN: …preying on the gullible and weak-minded…

LIGHT: Mister Gallivan?  This is Jared Light, CEO of Jared Jared, the Galleria of Jewelry®.

GALLIVAN: Mister Light, I’d like to ask you…

LIGHT: No, Mr. Gallivan, I’d like to ask you; if Jared Jared, the Galleria of Jewelry® is not what it can only be, what else can it be?


LIGHT:  Mister Gallivan?

(GALLIVAN hangs up the phone).

LOPEZ: Thanks, Mr. Light.

LIGHT:  No problem.

Hope 73. Tyranny 0.

It’s hard for us, today, to picture what the world was like seventy years ago.

The Nazis march into Paris.

For the better part of a decade, much of the world’s intelligentsia actively wondered if democracy’s day had come and gone.  Various flavors of totalitarianism – whose ghastly crimes against humanity had been hidden from the world by a compliant media – had their adherents and even admirers in the West; Hitler and Stalin had both won Time’s “Man of the Year” award – making trains run on time impressed journalists then no less than now.

Here in Minnesota, as in much of the US heartland, the demoralization of the thirties led to a splintered worldview; the Minnesota Democratic Farmer/Labor party was cozied up to Stalin (and would stay that way until Hubert H. Humphrey, in one of his great contributions to the integrity of American politics, tossed the reds from the party six years later), to the point where it opposed war with Germany, with whom Stalin was then allied via the Molotov/Ribbentrop Pact.  In the meantime, the upper Midwest was a haven for the Deutsche-Amerikanische Bund, which favored rapprochement with the Nazis.

Stalin, from a Gus Hall fan site. Gus Hall was from Minnesota. The poster says “Happy To Pay For A Better Smolensk”.

Worse?  The totalitarians had just spent four years showing that their supporters in the West might have a point.  They conquered Spain.  Naziism dragged Germany out of the Great Depression (which had started ten years earlier in Germany than the rest of the west) well ahead of the rest of Europe or the US.  By all appearances, the Soviets were doing quite well too.

Poster for Nazi “Kraft Durch Freude” (Strength Through Joy) movement. Remind you of any recent City Pages ads? Me too

And World War II seemed to be the final nail.  Germany had swallowed up Austria and Czechoslovakia without a struggle; Poland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and, finally, France – theretofore Europe’s greatest military power – all fell in dazzlingly short order, sending the Brits reeling across the Channel.  Britain had beaten back the Luftwaffe the previous summer, but everyone expected Hitler to get ready for another invasion attempt in the spring; his U-boat campaign to starve Britain into submission looked, to insiders, to have a great chance of doing just that.

London burns after Scottish soccer fans, angered by three straight 0-0 tie games, run riot.

The Japanese also were going great guns, as well as rolling up vast swathes of China before their military juggernaut.  State Shinto – a pseudoreligion not a whole lot different than Naziism in its own way – seemed a viable option to many as well.

And everyone expected war between the US and Japan, and probably Germany and Italy as well.  It was a year away – but the buildup to war had already begun; Roosevelt had instituted the draft and called up great swathes of the National Guard already.

And so even though the world hadn’t fallen off the cliff into complete cataclysm – Germany wouldn’t invade the USSR for another eight months – everyone knew that the world was a horribly bleak place on December 8, 1940.  And nowhere was it bleaker than for the world’s democracies.  There were those that thought the classical American notion of liberty was on its last legs.

To say nothing of America itself.  As the fascist wave crested, the Nazi and Fascist and State Shinto leaders arrogantly looked at America, demoralized by a decade of depression and softened by the decadence of its “refrigerators” and “telephones” and “movies” and “vaudville”, and thought that America would love its prosperity too much to fight for others’ liberty – or even defend its own.

The “experts” around the world counted America out.

It was the day of the eighth playing of the 1940 NFL Championship.    And the Washington Redskins were the prohibitive, odds-on favorite of the same media and punditry that had applauded Mussolini, who lauded and feted Hitler and Lenin, who’d uncritically published and eaten up Walter Duranty’s mash notes to Joseph Stalin.

Against them stood the Chicago Bears.  The Bears had been a dynasty in the thirties, but it was a new, harrowing decade, and, like Darth Vader swallowing up the Republic, things in the NFL had changed as badly for the worse as they had in every other part of the world.  The Redskins, led by Sammy Baugh, seemed to tower invincibly over the plucky Bears, like Dolph Lundgren over Sylvester Stallone.

Sammy Baugh

The Skins had beaten the Bears 7-3 three weeks earlier, toward the end of the regular season.  As the teams headed toward the championship, at Griffith Stadium in DC, the Skins’ owner, George Preston Marshall, told the media (who else?) that the Bears were quitters and crybabies – exactly as Hitler was telling his minions about America, halfway around the world.

The Bears, like the Brits, like the Chinese, like capitalism, like democracy itself, had no chance.  Everyone knew it.

The “experts” said so.


The Bears brought some of the same things to the table that America itself did, though.  Indeed, the juxtaposition should escape nobody; the Skins, led by the German-descended Baugh [*], faced the Bears, as polyglot a bunch of Yanks as the squad in any World War II war movie – with names like Musso, Osmanski, Clark, Stydahar, Macafee, Maniaci, Kavanaugh –  led by Brooklyn-born Sid Luckman, the son of pogrom refugees, and perhaps the greatest Jewish quarterback in the history of pro football.

Sid Luckman

And the Bears were at the forefront of a change in tactics; they ran from the “T Formation”, allowing greater flexibility compared with the ‘Skins’ single-wing formation – especially for Luckman, who’d become known by the end of his 12 year career as the NFL’s first great long-ball passer, even as under the bleachers at the nearly University of Chicago, other Jewish refugees were revolutionizing warfare forever as they carried off the first nuclear fission reaction.

The Bears, like America itself, brought a love of the underdog, and not a little bit of good ol’-fashioned America ingenuity and improvization skill.


And so that morning, inflamed by Marshall’s arrogance just as their forebears had been enraged by Santa Anna’s brutality at the Alamo, the Bears took the field, and took the game directly to the Redskins, like the RAF’s Spitfires and Hurricanes tearing into the Luftwaffe’s bombers.

And like the RAF – and like the US Navy would do a Midway a year and a half later, and the US Army would do at Omaha Beach in three and a half years, and in the Bulge in a little over four years – the Bears, against all odds, not only prevailed…

…but kicked the favorites’ asses.


The “weak”, “crybaby” underdogs prevailed against the favorites.

Just as America itself did, five years later.

Would it have happened without The Bears’ epic victory, 70 years ago today?

Thankfully, we’ll never need to know.

But it’s worth observing that, as America’s fortunes waxed during the war years, so did those of The Bears, who won championships in 1941, the pivotal year 1943 and then again in 1946, setting up the successful reconstruction of Europe.

The 1940 Bears. Not just champions; titans of liberty.

The point being that the fortunes of America the nation, the shining city and the great experiment are inextricably intertwined with those other palimpsests of all that is great about America, the Bears and conservative exceptionalism.

It was in 1963 when our nation – a month past the murder of its beloved, patriotic president – needed strength.  And the Bears, led by Bill Wade and the first of many great Bears linebacking threesomes (Joe Fortunato, Bill George, and Larry Morris), gave it to them with another come-from-underdog win against the New York Giants, featuring airtight defense and an appearance by a young Polish-American tight end, Mike Ditka, upsetting the Giants and putting a comforting coda on the end of a horrible chapter in American history.  Americans could to go bed that night knowing that all was well.

Of course, the Bears’ fortunes ebbed for the next twenty-two years – as did those of conservatism, and of America itself.  And the nation’s fortunes, as always, reflected that waning.  The drought years of the sixties and seventies coincided with the epic droughts in the rest of American society; the Bears, America and the GOP reached their nadirs, with  the fall of Saigon, Abe Gibron’s years as head coach, the WIN button, Stagflation, Watergate, Desert 1 – simultaneously.

And yet three great Americans rose from the ashes during this time, laying the groundwork for a resurgence; Walter Payton, and Republicans Ronald Reagan and Mike Ditka.  Payton led the Bears out of the Wilderness just as surely as Reagan led America.

Walter Payton…

Reagan and…

...Ditka. When America needed all three, they were there.

…Ditka. When America needed all three, they were there.

And in 1986, at the depths of the Cold War, when once again “the experts” united to claim that America had seen its best days and the “nuclear clock” was supposedly ticking down as remorselessly as the timer in “24”, and that the USSR and the Patriots might well be viable and unstoppable in the modern world, Ditka (mirroring the rise of that other great Pole, Walesa) and Reagan and Payton rose up, leading other great Americans, Singletery and Weinberger, Dent and Schultz, Kirkpatrick and McMahon, and against all odds scored epic victories for freedom at the 1986 Super Bowl and the Rejkjavik talks, both leading in their way to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism and, finally, the re-ascendancy of Western Civilization.

But history didn’t end in 1990.  The Bears, like freedom itself, choked in 2006, against the Democrats and the Clots, leading directly to the defeats of 2008.

And after those dismal seasons, there were those that said the Bears and Real America would need years of rebuilding to be contenders again – if, indeed, either could do it at all.  That The Bears, like conservatism itself, were relics of a past unlamented by the likes of pundits Keith Olberman and Ed Schultz, or sportscasters Ed Schultz and Keith Olberman.

But when America, and Western Civilization, need to be saved, then the true heroes who walk among us will step up;   The Bears unpredictably have been rising out of nowhere to shock the league; the Mama Grizzlies, likewise, rose from nowhere to shock the political world.

Will it stick?  On the one hand, it’s too early to tell if justice, the Bears or conservatism will win out in 2011 or 2012.

On the other hand – we owe it to posterity to see that all of them do win.

But on the field as in and about the land, there is hope.  For conservatism is rising, and the Bears are contending, and for now there is hope.

Today, as seventy years ago today, you can thank God, Guns, Guts, and the Bears.

[*] Yeah, I stretched that metaphor too far.  Baugh was a great American, and was named “The most versatile player in NFL History” by the NFL network.  Luckman, for his part, served in the wartime Merchant Marine, playing in odd spare Sundays with the Bears.

Chanting Points Memo: Buying Minnesota With Daddy’s Money

So far in this campaign, as the DFL hammers its way toward its primary next month, most of the attacks against Tom Emmer have come from a shadowy group, “Alliance for a Better Minnesota”.

I’ve busted them repeatedly stretching the truth and/or lying; Channel Five followed suit earlier this week.

But who are these people?  And where did they get the money to run all these slick (if utterly truth-free) ads, and all these posh (but amateurishly-designed) websites?

Because they run through a lot of money!

2006 Campaign – We first heard of “Alliance For A Better Minnesota” (A4aBM) during the 2006 campaign.  During that outing, A4aBM spent $2,545,162 – about $2.3 million of it in ads against Governor Tim Pawlenty.

Where did that money come from?

Their donor list is as follows:

  • CWA COPE $5,000
  • MAPE $5,000
  • Midwest Values PAC (Franken) $5,000
  • MN AFL-CIO $5,000
  • United Food Comml Workers $7,500
  • Ma Mah Wi No Min Fund1 (Mille Lacs Tribe) $7,000

Unions and Native American gambling interests so far; no big surprises.

  • Tom Kayser (MN) $7,500  [One of Mike Ciresi’s cronies]
  • Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux $15,000
  • MN Nurses $15,000
  • United Steelworkers $22,000
  • Afscme Council 5 – $25,000
  • Lks and Plains Carpenters $25,000
  • IBEW MN State Council $25,000
  • Intl Union of Operating Engineers $25,000
  • America Votes MN $30,040 [aka “ACORN 2.0“]
  • Coalition for Progress $50,000 (Mich)
  • Laborers Dist Cncl $60,000
  • Pat Stryker (CO) $100,000
  • SEIU MN State Cncl $100,000
  • Educ. MN $135,000
  • Tim Gill (CO) $300,000
  • Alida Messinger (NY) $746,000
  • Win Minnesota $778,500;

So – out of two and a half million dollars spent, about 20% – about $449,000 – came from those whom I thought were the most likely suspects, the unions.

And nearly 2/3 came from two sources – “Alida Messinger”, and a group called “Win Minnesota”.

We’ll come back to both of them.

2010 Campaign So Far – To date in the gubernatorial campaign, A4aBM has raised $93,386 (as of this past Tuesday).  They’d spent $72,383 of it as of Tuesday (on ads that were, as we ascertained earlier this week, wall to wall bullcrap).   Of that $93,386, 79.636 of it came from the “Win Minnesota PAC”.

So that’s two election cycles in a row (so far) where “Win Minnesota” has been the leading funder of scabrous hit pieces against Republican candidates.

Win Minnesota?  Seems pretty innocuous, doesn’t it?

Who is “Win Minnesota”, And Who Funds Them? – Here’s the list of major contributors to “Win Minnesota” during the 2006 campaign.  I’ll be adding the emphasis for reasons that’ll become fairly obvious:

  • Anne Bartley (San Fran) $25,000 [Linked via the Rockefeller foundation to Alida Messinger – whose maiden name was “Rockefeller” and who…well, we’ll get back to that.  She’s also linked to Hillary Clinton’s “Women’s Leadership Council” and former Clinton administration figure]
  • Shayna Berkowitz (Mpls) $100,000; ]
  • John Cowles (Mpls) $20,000; [Why yes, the former Strib publisher!  But don’t you dare say the Strib is biased!]
  • Andrew Dayton (Mpls) $1,000;
  • David Dayton (Mpls) $5,000;
  • Eric Dayton (Mpls) $1,000;
  • Mark Dayton (Mpls) $25,000;
  • Mary Lee Dayon (Mpls) $100,000;
  • Vanessa Dayton $1,000;
  • Sandra Ferry (NY) $50,000; [Yet another Rockefeller – sister of Alida Messinger]
  • Barbara Forster (Mpls) $25,000; [generic liberal with deep pockets]
  • Roger Hale (Mpls) $100,000; [Former Daytons’ executive]
  • John Harris (PA)$20,000;
  • Myron Kunin $5,000; [Hair care tycoon]
  • Kim Lund (Mpls) $25,000
  • Darlene Luther 47A Committee $10,000 ;
  • alida Messinger (NY) $165,000;
  • Midwest Values PAC (Franken) $20,000;
  • Linda Pritzker (TX) $30,000; [Scionette of the Hyatt fortune, big-time liberal with deep pockets; major donor to]
  • Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux $10,000;
  • Tina Smith (Mpls) $10,000;
  • Linde Uihlein (WI)$100,000; [Schlitz heiress, long-time political plutocrat]
  • Julie Zelle (MN) $5,000

That was a lot of Daytons, and people linked with the Daytons…wasn’t it?

So how about this year?

So far in 2010, “Win Minnesota” lists the following donors to “Win Minnesota”‘s current warchest (currently worth $1,173,500), again with emphasis added by me:

  • Andrew Dayton $1,000
  • David Dayton $50,000
  • John cowles $25,000 [Remember him from 2006?]
  • MaryLee Dayton $250,000
  • Emily Tuttle (MN) $5,000
  • Ronald Sternal (MN) $5,000
  • Alida Messinger (NY) $500,000
  • James Deal (MN) $50,000
  • Roger Hale (MN) $10,000 [Remember him from above?]
  • Barbara forster (MN) $25,000
  • Democratic Governors Association $250,000;

So of the $1.1 and change million warchest, $851,000 came from Daytons, and Alida Messinger.

But wait!  There is another fund registered with the state, with a different account number but with the same email and street addresses, that has $850,000 socked away but has spent no money.

And where did that $850,000 come from?

  • Alida Messinger (Mpls) $50,000
  • Win Minnesota $50,000
  • Education MN $250,000
  • Laborers District Council $100,000
  • MAPE $50,000
  • IBEW MN State Council $50,000
  • MN Nurses Assc $50,000
  • Local 49 Engineers $25,000
  • Vance Opperman $50,000
  • Afscme Council 5 $50,000
  • MN AFL-CIO $25,000
  • SEIU MN State Council $50,000
  • AFSCME (Wash DC) $50,000;

And who is this Alida Messinger who has contributed so mightily – over $1.46 million over the past four years! – to the cause of disinforming Minnesotans about Republicans?  Other than the youngest daughter of John D. Rockefeller III?

The ex-wife of candidate Mark Dayton.

So “Alliance for a Better Minnesota” is essentially a front for a group of unions and, to the tune of millions over the past four years, Mark Dayton’s family, friends and ex-wife.

They are paying millions of dollars to advertise – and hiding it from casual view behind two layers of astroturf.

Mark Dayton is trying to buy the election, but he’s taking great pains to make sure you don’t know about it.

Chanting Points Memo: The Alliance For A Deceitful, Sloppy, Not Very Bright Minnesota

The “Alliance For A Better Minnesota” – an astroturf group sponsored by a consortium of DFL-linked pressure groups – has been behind much of the smear-mongering against Tom Emmer so far this campaign. They’ve occupied themselves with a klutzy false-flag website, a couple of twitter accounts (one of baldfaced propaganda, and one, “StuffEmmerSays”, that tried to mock Emmer statements but actually made him sound like Ronald Reagan to the point I spent the last month mocking it as a pro-GOP site; it seems to have worked, and the account seems to have demised).

And if that’s the best the DFL can do, this election’s not going to be nearly as hard as I’d worried.

“A4aBM” ran the first anti-Emmer ad of the campaign this week; and the Republican Twitterverse has been redounding with bits and pieces of the information A4aBM got wrong.

Long story short; the ad is warm runny bulls**t.

Claim #1: Audio: “Tom Emmer sided with Governor Pawlenty and opposed a plan that would force corporations and CEOs to pay their fair share of taxes”  ABMBackup: “On May 18, 2009, Emmer voted against the second attempt at a DFL- written FY2010-2011 revenue bill…

Sounds pretty gnarly, huh?

The Truth: Tom Emmer did not cast a vote on this roll call.

Oh, my.  You mean, A4aBM got a fact wrong?

Well, the ad is 0-1 so far.

Claim #2: Audio: “They cut funding for education” ABM Backup: “On April 18, 2007, Emmer voted against HF 6, the K-12 funding bill, which passed the House with a huge bipartisan majority of 119-13. On May 8, 2007, Emmer again voted against the bill as it was re-passed on a similar 119-14 vote…

Voted against it twice?  Emphasis added:

The Truth: After April 18, 2007, there were no additional votes taken on this bill that year.  During the 2008 session, this bill was used as a “vehicle” and a delete-all amendment was added completely changing the bill.  The vote they reference on May 8, 2007 was actually a vote on May 8, 2008 and it wasn’t a vote on the bill but, rather, a procedural vote on whether the bill should be taken from the table.  Emmer voted against taking the bill from the table.

You’re trying to say A4aBM lied about the real intent of voting on a picayune procedural technicality in the life of a background-noise bill to try to smear Tom Emmer?  Say it isn’t so!

0-2 so far.

Claim #3: Audio: “[Tom Emmer and Tim Pawlenty] cut funding for education.”

The Truth: There is nothing in the bill cited that included a cut to education.  In addition, KSTP’s Tom Hauser recently had this to say about the claim that Governor Pawlenty cut education funding: “As for Pawlenty cutting education funding, that’s not true.  According to the education department, per pupil funding has gone up since 2004.”

0-3 – well, more like 0-4, really.

Claim #4: Audio: “[Emmer voted to cut] job training.”

The Truth: Nowhere in ABM’s backup is there any support for this claim.  “Training” is mentioned only once in the legislation, and that is in reference to home ownership education.  This bill had nothing to do with job training.

Zero for five.

Claim #5: Audio: “[Emmer and Pawlenty cut] job training and health care”.  On screen: “Source: Minnesota House Journal, 4/25/2005”

The Truth: According to the Minnesota House of Representatives Journal, the House was not in session on 4/25/2005, meaning there could be no Journal of the House for that day.  The Alliance’s citation, therefore, does not even exist.

So the lesson for today is, whenever “Alliance For A Better Minnesota” speaks, distrust and then verity.

Because the DFL asssumes that you, the people, are too stupid to know any better.

A Day In The Life Of Every Uppity Conservative

ME:  Hi!

REPRESENTATIVE GROUP OF LIBERALS (RGOL):  Conservatism is fundamentally racist!

ME: Um – beg your pardon?

“RGOL”:  Racism oozes from every pore of conservatism!

ME:  OK, that’s what we call “bigotry” where I come from, but what the hell, I love a good ad-hominem argument.  Do tell!

“RGOL”:  Nixon’s “southern strategy” brought all the racists to the GOP!

ME: Er, let’s get back to “the south” in a bit here.  You did read my post last week about Jacob Weisberg’s article in that noted racist conservative hangout Slate, that noted there are distinct differences between Northeastern, Southern and Western conservatism, right?  How Northeastern conservatism is largely comfortable with big government but with an emphasis on making big government more fiscally sane – think Mitt Romney – and race is largely a non-entity, and in fact part of the roots of Northeastern conservatism are at least partly in the abolition movement?  And how Western conservatism, the conservatism of Goldwater and Reagan, is fundamentally libertarian, which means racism is anathema, since libertarian government is utterly color blind, and all real racism – the racism that makes people unequal before the law – is entirely a function of excessive and illegitimate government power, right?  Which leaves southern conservatism, which certainly had racists among its adherents, but whose fundamental “racism” is at least partly a matter of framing by, well liberals?

“RGOL”:  Of course we did.  Now – look at this list of southern conservatives and the racist things they’ve said…

ME: OK, you’re more or less dodging the point here.  Can individuals be racist?  Certainly.  I mean, every human in the world is a “we-ist”, more comfortable around and attuned to people like their own community, and less to to people less like them in ways that are manifested as everything from pointed humor to muted suspicion to blind hatred.

“RGOL”:  Right.  Like conservatism!

ME:  Well, no.  Liberals too.  I mean, mention, say, a white fundamentalist from Mississippi who resurfaces driveways for a living…

“RGOL”:  Hah!  Dumb redneck wingnut!

ME:  …or an NRA member…

“RGOL”:  Bigger gun clinging snake-handling cousin-kissing Jeeeeeebus freak hahahahahahahaha!

ME: ….right, or Sarah Palin…

“RGOL”:  Hahahahaha!  She went to community college!  Trig is Bristol’s baby!  She can’t even write and has fake boobs and slept with her deputy mayor and …

ME:  …or the Japanese…

“RGOL”:  Er…what?

ME:  Well, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the godfather of the modern nannystate, did not only order the most singularly racist government action in the past 100 years – the mass internment of American citizens of Japanese descent – but did it after two terms in which he supported California’s deeply racist anti-Japanese immigration laws.

“RGOL”: …

ME: OK, fine, it was seventy years ago.  Still, your entire case that “conservatism oozes racism”  seems to be based on 1) a bunch of anecdotal stories of Republicans who said racist things 2) a bunch of memes from Media Matters and the like, that largely yank statements by the likes of Rush Limbaugh so far out of context you’re getting into borderline defamation, and 3) framing conservative issues as fundamentally racist.

To which I reply 1) Why does Robert Byrd never make it into those lists, 2) Gosh, a liberal flak group waterboarding context, notify the media, and 3) when your entire argument is designed to try to misleadingly frame your opponent as something evil – and we all agree that racism is a bad thing, right? – then you are committing a crime against truth!

“RGOL”:  What are you talking about?

ME: For example, every time a conservative talks about strengthening the Tenth Amendment, some idiot lefty will come back with “That sounds like “states rights”, which was once used to defend slavery.

“RGOL”:  Right!   Conservatism supports slavery!

ME:  {{facepalm}} No.  No, we are pretty much the opposite extreme; we are the party of individual self-determination.  And, by the way, it is a fact that Jim Crow after 1900 was largely a government initiative that overrode the free market; that in most southern states, the business community – which are stereotypically conservative, right?…

“RGOL”:  Bosses!  Bosses!

ME: …right.  They largely opposed Jim Crow, since Jim Crow took anywhere from 10 to 50% out of their markets!

“RGOL”:  But the southerners were racists!  And Nixon brought them into the GOP!

ME:  Well, no and yes and no.  The “Southern Strategy” sought votes from southerners who were upset over a variety of things – federal intrusions into property rights and free association as a matter of principle, the size and growth of government, and the federalization of an awful lot of things that had always been left to the states.  And yes, there were no doubt some among ’em that were upset that the Feds poked their nose into race relations – because a racist citizen’s vote counts just as much as yours does.  Which galls the crap out of me when I see some of those anti-semitic filth at left-leaning demonstrations, by the way – but I digress.  The framing of all southern conservatives’ flight to the GOP as race-related has become part of the conventional wisdom, to the extent that all defenses of the thesis become tautological.  Just watch:  “The southern strategy was not primarily about race”.

“RGOL”:  But the southern strategy was racist because it brought racist southerners into the party…

ME:  Thanks.  I rest my case.

“RGOL”:  …um…

ME:  Move along.

“RGOL”:  Yeah?  Well…what about Arizona?

ME:  Jeez.  More framing.  The Arizona law – which most Americans support, in its final form – is about securing our borders.  That is one of the missions of government, no?

“RGOL”:  But it’s racist!

ME:   Huh?  Let me ask you something; if Minnesota were awash in Canadians sneaking across the border, and illegal Canadian immigration were forcing down American wages, and if in coming here they rejected American culture and upheld Canadian culture with their back-bacon and hockey-worship and mass drunkenness, and if the Canadian Army were charging across the border to help out Canadian drug smugglers and killing people on our side of the border, that “illegal” Gordon Fitzpatrick wouldn’t replace the “illegal” Juan Jimenez as the boogeyman du jour?

“RGOL”:  But that’s just dumb.

ME:  What if our hypothetical Gordon Fitzpatrick was pro-charter schools and anti-card-check?

“RGOL”:  Then he’d be racist and he’d hate children…

ME:  Er, yeah.  Look – do our laws mean anything, or do they not? Are we a sovereign nation, or are we not?

“RGOL”:  Er…huh?

ME:  …

“RGOL”: You are obviously a racist.

ME:  Riiiiight.

My Tax Day At The Capitol Mall

So I not only got to attend the Tea Party at the State Capitol yesterday, but it was my immense privilege to be the lead-off speaker; mine was the first in a long stream of excellent speeches, including that of my NARN cohost  Ed Morrissey, whose speech I videotaped and is currently up at Hot Air, and Twila Brase, and Katie Kieffer, who will no doubt post video, also gave an excellent speech.  There were more.  Many more.

Lil ol me.  Courtesy Peter Anderson.

Lil’ ol’ me. Courtesy Peter Anderson.

I estimated about 1,500 people at the event at its peak around 6:30 or so.  It was good-sized, jovial crowd – but not quite as big as last year.  Some people were worried about this.  I’m not; last year, people were upset, and wondering what the hell to do, and the Tea Party was like a psychological life ring to a whole lot of people whose political activism had never gone beyond going to the polls, maybe, every couple of years.  Over the past year, though, conservatives have changed; we turn out for rallies; we call Congresspeople in vast numbers; better yet, of the 11,000 who attended last week’s Bachmann/Palin rally, over 1,000 volunteered to be election judges.   We saw similar results last night.  Conservatives are doing what they need to do to turn the spirit of the Tea Parties into the action this nation needs.

One group that was not in evidence were the “crashers”; this wasn’t the case everywhere, and the Saint Paul Tea Party was ready with a sizeable group of volunteers armed with orange vests and cameras to handle security – but other than half a dozen “Tax Me More!” activists who stood across the street for about half an hour, and a “Thanks To Taxes” billboard-truck that desultorily circled the capitol grounds (the billboard seemed to imply that we have children, sunshine and sex because of taxes), there was really no “opposition” at all.

And while last year I saw a few signs that made me cringe, I didn’t even see much of the far-out fringe in the crowd this year, either.  I mean, if you’re one of those lefties who gets the victorian vapours over references to John Galt, then yeah, I suppose the crowd was big and scary.  But the far-out, Alex Jones fringe was mostly absent from the rally itself.  I saw not a single “Birther” sign, much less anything I”d call racist.  Indeed, almost all the far-out fringe contingent…

…was up on stage.   For some reason, one of Toni Backdahl’s co-MCs was a guy from AM1710, a little 15 watt AM station in Maple Grove that could be charitably said to be out there on the Alex Jones fringe of the movement.   And one of the opening “musical” acts was a kid in an “” t-shirt (these are the folks that make the radical Randers shake their heads and go “good lord, how wierd”) who did a pseudo-rap rant that might have fit in at an anarchist rally and whose message would have made me cringe even had the kid not considered “intonation” part of a socialist conspiracy.  There were also a few speakers that sputtered about the unconstitutionality of the income tax, which is pretty much the norm at these things.

Now, I don’t fault the Tea Party’s organizers for including a lot of people that I, personally, disagree with strenuously – because that’s the whole point of the Tea Party.  It’s a group of people, some of whom would not normally agree about anyting, gathering together for a common cause; making government smaller, more responsible, and less frivolous with our rights and liberties.

And so I say “Yay” to all; the mainstream-of-the-mainstream Republican, the disaffected Democrat, the Ronulan, and everyone in between, and all of us who are united behind the idea that we are all created equal, and that people aren’t free until government is limited; let’s all kick ass in November.

Indeed, the only problem I heard about involved a reporter from “The Uptake”.  He’s a local leftyblogger who usually blogs anonymously; he went by “Steve” on the Uptake’s video.  Now, he interviewed me briefly last year; I never saw his final product, although I was told either his voiceover or his editing really mangled the context of my interview; I wouldn’t know – I don’t watch the Uptake much.  I did another standup with him after I got offstage – I figure if he and the Uptake want to Maye what I said, it says more about him and them than it does about me.   He referred to the people around him as “tea-baggers”; I gently corrected him, but I got a sneaking hunch it was a tell as to “the Uptake’s” overall tone of “coverage”.

But shortly after that, a few of the orange-clad security guys came up to me and said they’d been getting complaints about the Uptake’s crew.  I asked them for specifics; they took me to a couple that that said the Uptake’s crew hadn’t identified themselves as a “news” crew that was going to publish an interview online, and that they seemed to be trying to get them to say something stupid, to make them – Tea Partiers in general, it seemed – look stupid.    The woman said that the “reporter” seemed to be trying to pick a fight with her, trying to one-up her on her knowledge of issues; “I”m not an encyclopedia, I can’t answer all the questions he has right away”, she said, still visibly exasperated.   Her husband, a Vietnam veteran, echoed his wife’s thoughts; “he was trying to pick a fight; he was harassing us”.

I walked away, wondering – is “the Uptake” still trying to be an actual news organization, or are they down to trying to do bogus Jon Stewart-style “attack” man-on-the-street interviews?   It’s entertainment, I suppose, watching a self-professed “smarter-than-thou” taking pot shots at those he and his viewers consider inferiors for cheap yuks.  But is it “news?”

Now, I haven’t contacted The Uptake about this, and I doubt that I will; when it comes to “reporting” on the Tea Parties, even the mainstream media seem to find waterboarding context acceptable.  But I think it’s curious that an organization that is fighting for its standing on the Capitol Press Corps would seemingly take such gratuitous liberties with the whole idea of “journalistic ethics”, whatever they are, with this kind of behavior, if true.

Bill Salisbury at the Pioneer Press, and Jessica Mador of MPR both did good, balanced jobs of reporting on the event; or at least I got no complaints from security about either of them (except from the guard that Salisbury bowled over in his rush to interview Katie Kieffer).

I’ll be looking forward to next year.  Goodness knows there’ll be work to do.

Continue reading

One Day At The Oceanaire

(SCENE:  At the Oceanaire – a tony seafood restaurant in Downtown Minneapolis.   Representative Paul Thissen, Senator Tom “Baby Got” Bakk and Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson-Kelliher are sitting at a table with five empty chairs.  Anderson-Kelliher, bored, drums her fingers on the table.  Thissen checks his watch, and Bakk rock nervously in their seats. )

(Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak enters the room)


RYBAK:  Hey, Margaret!

(BAKK and THISSEN, deflated, go back to gnawing on toothpicks)

RYBAK:  Thanks for calling the meeting, Margaret.  What’s up?

ANDERSON-KELLIHER:  I’d like to lay out some ground rules and strategy for the campaign.

(SEN. MARK DAYTON walks into restaurant).

RYBAK: That’s a great idea.  (Notices DAYTON).  Hey, Mark!

DAYTON:  Aaaaaaagh!   (DAYTON dives to floor, rapidly low-crawls to the table, furtively sits in chair).

THISSEN:  What’s the matter, Mark?



ANDERSON-KELLIHER: …whatever.  (Turns to DAYTON)  What’s the matter, Mark?

DAYTON:  (Affixing a lobster bib) Er, nothing.  Why?

ANDERSON-KELLIHER:  Just curious.  (Looks at menu, as former Senator MATT ENTENZA, with wife LOIS QUAM, enter the restaurant.

BAKK: “Hey, Matt…”


BAKK: You told Paul to shut…

ANDERSON-KELLIHER:  Don’t care! (turns to ENTENZA) How are you today, Matt?

ENTENZA: I’m doing…

QUAM: (A little too effusive) He’s doing just fine, Margaret!  (ENTENZA abruptly stops).


(A loud belch issues from outside the entrance.  Rep. TOM RUKAVINA walks in, pounding his chest.  He shakes out another mild belch).

THISSEN:  Hey, Tom…(Trails off as ANDERSON-KELLIHER stares him down; THISSEN looks bash fully at his menu).

ANDERSON-KELLIHER:  Excellent!  I believe that’s everyone…(counts noses)…except…

(Harps play in the hallway.  A little dry ice fog obscures the floor.  Sen. JOHN MARTY, hands clasped as if in prayer before him, moves across the floor as if floating, and lands like a hummingbird on the remaining chair.  A golden aura briefly suffuses the room, then vanishes).


MARTY:  May the blessing of my presence bring you peace.

ANDERSON-KELLIHER: Er, yeah.  I called you all here today because voters are having a hard time telling the difference between us.  For the good of the DFL race, it’d be best if we all come up with some sort of differentiation between us before the convention.

RYBAK:  Primary.


ENTENZA: Yeah, convention!.

QUAM:  Primary!

ENTENZA: Er, yeah.  Primary.


THISSEN:  Convention, just like Margaret says…

ANDERSON-KELLIHER:  For the last time, shut the **** up! (ANDERSON-KELLIHER flings a salt-shaker at THISSEN, hitting him in the face.  He falls backward over his chair, and lies on the floor, motionless.  DAYTON dives for the ground).

ANDERSON-KELLIHER:  Like I said, convention.  So I’d like you all to think of things we can do to distinguish ourselves to the voters…

WAITRESS (Approaches with order pad in hand):  Hello, my name is Wendy, and I’ll be your…

ANDERSON-KELLIHER:  For the last ****** time, shut the **** up…

RYBAK: Er, Margaret?  She’s the waitress…

ANDERSON-KELLIHER:  Oh.  Go ahead, then.

WAITRESS:  Er, OK.  Any drink orders before we order dinner?”


RYBAK: Appletini, please.  Extra tini.

BAKK:  I’ll have whatever Margaret is having.

THISSEN:  (Groans incomprehensibly)

RUKAVINA: Grain Belt Premium!

ENTENZA:  I’ll take your house chablis…

QUAM:  He’ll take the house merlot, and so will I.

ENTENZA:  Er…yeah.

DAYTON:  A diet Pellegrini.

WAITRESS:  Sir, all Pelligrini is “Diet”.  It’s water…

DAYTON:  Two diet pellegrinis.

MARTY:  I shall have a glass of water.  But please bring it in gaseous form.

WAITRESS: Er…wait – you want a cup of steam?

MARTY:  As it is said, so shall it be poured.

WAITRESS:  Er, OK.  And would you all like to start a tab?

(All at table break up into uproarious laughter)

RUKAVINA:  Baby, you ain’t seen nothing.


ANDERSON-KELLIHER: OK.  I’d like everyone to say, for the record, what makes you different.  Paul?

THISSEN:  (Groans, puts hand on forehead).


ENTENZA:  (Looks at QUAM)

QUAM:  He will raise taxes for a better Minnesota.

(ENTENZA nods enthusiastically).

RYBAK:  Well, I’ll raise taxes for a better Minnsesota, too.

BAKK:   Well, I won’t…


BAKK:  Yes, I will.

DAYTON:  I will raise taxes.  For a better Minnesota.  (Eyes door furtively).  I will.  I will.  I will.

ANDERSON-KELLIHER:  OK.  Not getting what I want here…

RUKAVINA:  I’ll raise taxes more for a better Minnesota!


WAITRESS (Carrying tray of drinks):  OK, that’s two house Merlots,  a Grain Belt Premium, two Boilermakers, an Appletini, two “diet Pellegrinis” a cup of steam, and (looks at THISSEN) some smelling salts.

THISSEN:  (grunts painfullly)

WAITRESS:  That’ll be $77.


WAITRESS:  Er, maam?  I brought the drinks.  You need to pay up.


WAITRESS:  Maam?  This isn’t funny.  You wanna leave me on the look for almost $80 worth of drinks?


RUKAVINA:  Yeah.  Shut up!

WAITRESS:  I’m gonna call the police.

ANDERSON-KELLIHER:  (Stands at table)  Attention, everyone in the restaurant.  Please pay our drink tab!  It is for a better Minnesota!

(RUKAVINA, BAKK, RYBAK, QUAM, and ENTENZA applaud; DAYTON balances spoon on his finger; THISSEN groans)

MARTY:  As it is written, so shall it be done.  (MARTY disappears in a blinding flash of pure light).


There Will Be Drool

The DFL is heading toward a convention that will bestow its usual “kiss of death” to whomever gets it – usually the candidate that makes the “progressive” activists that control the party the most tingly; this will lead to a summer of hammer-and-tong DFL fratricide leading up to a September primary that will determine the real candidate for governor.

This combined with the fact that the DFL is in a historically disorganized state, and heading into a headwind of disaffection with Barack Obama and a GOP with new leadership at its head and a Tea Party chasing it to relevance, and the DFL and its minions are desperately in need of a sideshow to draw attention away from their own cage match.

Dave Mindeman at mnpAct wants to direct the reader to the sideshow they’re counting on – the neck-and-neck GOP endorsement battle between Marty Seifert and Tom Emmer:

The Emmer vs. Seifert free for all on the GOP side of the governor’s race is heating up. Both sides are capable of some prolific attack dog politics. And it will get nasty.

It is gradually developing into a conservative base vs. party establishment fight. Emmer is increasingly drawing endorsements and support from conservative bloggers, conservative activists, and conservative leadership. Seifert has support from old line party leadership and the more traditional Republican base.

Which is an interesting way for the local leftysphere to put it, given that both Emmer and Seifert are routinely portrayed as “conservative extremists” whenever they’re mentioned in any other context.  But it’s not untrue; Seifert’s got the organizational mojo, Emmer’s a conservative firebrand and the best stump speaker in Minnesota politics today.

The two have developed a recent history. Emmer had challenged Seifert for Minority Leader a few years back and then refused to vote for him for Speaker in 2009. Emmer has been waiting awhile for this opportunity and he is cashing in.

Add to all of this the fact that delegate strength to the convention is nearly evenly divided and you have the makings of an old style, no holds barred, nasty party convention.

Yep.  The GOP convention is going to be a donnybrook, very possibly crazier than the 2002 convo.

It is noteworthy that Seifert has been particularly critical of Emmer’s voting record of late. The in-depth research style has the definite ring of a Brodkorb type tactic. Although the former MDE attack blogger has been careful to be neutral in his capacity as party deputy chair, his fingerprints are almost detectable in the current Seifert strategy.

It’s no big secret; Seifert’s the “insider”.   The party has several years invested in Seifert as minority leader.

But this – and the idea that for every yin there needs to be an opposite yang – leads Mindeman to a fatally flawed assumption or, if you are more cynical, to the gaping whopper the DFL wants you all to believe about the MNGOP in the upcoming election; the sideshow, if you will, to try to distract the voters and encourage the DFL troops as they go through their own cage match this summer.

He starts out OK…:

Looking over the general Republican landscape, let me make a speculation…and mind you this is only an opinion.

The conservatives are putting a vested interest in Emmer. He is emerging as their consensus choice. Emmer has a wind at his back as he makes his case for the convention.

Yep.  The GOP’s conservatives are using the endorsement process as it was intended to be used; as the time to reject compromise, to declare “death or glory”, to come home with their shields or on them; to campaign for the most conservative candidate left in the race.  They don’t want the consolation prize; they want it all.  And correctly so; now is the time to fight like hell for the brass ring.

Seifert’s supporters, by the way, are doing exactly the same thing.  Because now is the time for the fight.

But it’s on May 2 that Mindeman’s theory goes to pot.

If Seifert manages to wrest the nomination away from Emmer in a bloody convention, you will see a party that will go into the fall campaign divided. A conservative backlash might just stop the conservatives from coalescing around Seifert, reducing his turn out and possibly moving toward some other third party or maybe even forming one.

Let me take you back in time to 2002.  Brian Sullivan – who was and is every bit as conservative as Tom Emmer – had the backing of the conservative base.  Tim Pawlenty – who held the same position in the GOP caucus that Seifert does today – and Sullivan were every bit as closely locked together as Seifert and Emmer are today.   And some of the punditry, especially on the left, predicted exactly the same result; that Sullivan’s supporters would stay home, that conservatives would break away, that the GOP would battle itself into irrelevance.

But the convention, as long and brutal as it got, had exactly the opposite effect.  To win the endorsement, Tim Pawlenty had to adopt one of Sullivan’s key driving points – the Taxpayers League’s “No New Taxes” pledge.  And for the imponderably vast majority of Minnesota conservatives, that was more than enough.

Tim Pawlenty took the pledge – and, more importantly, has honored it for eight years, now.  And I, as a fire-breathing conservative talk show host, could care less if he took a trip to the arctic with Will Steger that had absolutely no policy ramifications, as long as he stuck to the point that mattered – stymying the DFL’s plan, “spend like crack whores with stolen gold cards”.

In short, the bruising endorsement process had exactly the effect it was supposed to; a candidate won, but as a result of his fight to get endorsed, he took the keystone of his challenger’s platform to the Governor’s Mansion with him.

Emmer may have a better chance of holding the party together but he is going to carry some baggage as well.


Look – I’m not backing any particular candidate, at least not publicly.  Not yet.  But I’ll tell you this; even if you are a stone-cold Tom Emmer zealot, you have to realize that not only would Marty Seifert be a better governor than any of the DFL’s pack of hamsters, but that Marty Seifert’s voting record in the House is more conservative than Tim Pawlenty’s ever was.   Seifert is a conservative.  As conservative as Emmer?  Perhaps not – but plenty good enough.

So campaign like hell for whomver your candidate is – Seifert or Emmer.  Because for once,  conservatives are in a win-win situation.   Whomever gets the nomination will be a better, more conservative governor than any of the alternatives available to us today.  Neither will be perfect – but perfect, as they say, is the enemy of “plenty good enough”.

There will be blood.

No.  There will be coffee, and shouting, and more coffee, and pictures of delegates sleeping at 2AM with drool coming out of the corner of their mouth, and more coffee, and Excedrin, and five or ten or fifty ballots, and concession and acceptance speeches, and handshakes, and meetings, and buried hatchets and smoothed feathers, and looks out the window at the Tea Partiers who are done asking nicely for results.

And on the morning after the final gavel, there will be a campaign that hits the road at the head of a mostly-unified GOP that has a three month headstart building a winning campaign, on its way toward capping off an epic comeback.

There will be coffee, drool and victory.

Three words to live by.

Protocols Of The Elders Of Times Square

Freedom can be confusing.

We’ll come back to that.

I’ve told this story many, many times.  I think it’s still illustrative.  Back in the nineties and early naughties, you could predict a few things about GOP gatherings.

  • At precinct caucuses, you could be assured that there would be an avalanche of pro-life/anti-stem cell/anti-gay-marriage resolutions.  In the former two cases, they would be largely redundant with what was already in the platform.  No matter; they had to be debated and voted up or down, one at a time.
  • At legislative district (“BPOU”, in the MNGOP’s curious parlance) conventions, there’d be two big clusters of people in the room.  To stage right, there’d be a group of pro-lifers.  To stage left, there’d be everyone else.  And if one was running for a district office, one could expect a series of questions about one’s commitment to life.  “Are you pro-life?”  “How pro-life are you?”  “Please describe exactly how pro-life you are?”  “If your pro-life-ness were a mountain, which mountain would it be – Denali, K-2 or the Matterhorn?”

And pro-lifers weren’t the only single-issue voters.  During the nineties, after the nadir of the Clinton crime bill and Alan Spears’ various attempts to ratchet up gun control in Minnesota, the shooters came out.  And it could lead to comical results; pro-lifers would occasionally express revulsion at rolling back gun controls, while some of the shooters were visibly bored at the pro-life talk.  They came for their issues, and their issues alone.

That was then.

Now, we have the Tea Parties.  And while the left and media (pardon, as always, the redundancy) likes to try to portray the Tea Parties like Nick Coleman once referred to “peasants beating on the observatory door” with pitchforks and torches, they are actually a whole lot more complex – John Kerry’s word was “nuanced” than that.  You see a lot of people at these rallies who, two years ago, didn’t care about politics, who a year into the Obama administration have taken it upon themselves to educate themselves.

And there are many roads to education; there are as many stories at the Tea Parties are there are participants.  Some reacquainted themselves with Reagan.  Many others in Minnesota arrived via (Minnesota-based syndicated talk show host) Jason Lewis’ long-running Tax Rallies, and Lewis’ heady introduction to the Federalists and Limited Government; Lewis, with his MA in Political Science, gives a pretty compete education in Federalist history.  Others come via other media figures – Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Hugh Hewitt – to a new appreciation iof what limited government means, and how far off from that ideal we currently are.  Another contingent were brought to politics by the Ron Paul campaign.  And you can find others who filtered into the movement from immigration reform, pro-life and other groups, including a few from groups that we can tactfully call “the fringe”.

All of them – the good, the weird and the rhetorically ugly – come together for one reason; they want to put government back in its place.

Which, compared with the anything-goes, single-issue-bound GOP of 2000 and 2004, is pretty exciting stuff.

And as with anything that excites conservatives, the left and media (pardon, as always, the redundancy) must spin it as some sort of potential depravity or another.

Commenter “Master Of None” drew my attention to NYTimes piece on the Tea Party movement yesterday.   I read it.

At first read, it was almost encouraging; it seemed at first blush to pay some service to the most important facet of the Tea Parties; that represents a wave of self-education, an “awakening” if you will, on the part of an awful lot of people.   It almost seemed like the NYTimes might start portraying Tea Partiers as people; actual individuals with their own motivations, each as unique as they are.

I said almost.

The Tea Party movement has become a platform for conservative populist discontent, a force in Republican politics for revival, as it was in the Massachusetts Senate election, or for division. But it is also about the profound private transformation of people like Mrs. Stout, people who not long ago were not especially interested in politics, yet now say they are bracing for tyranny.

I chewed on that last clause for a bit.  A phrase like “bracing for tyranny” has two different meanings in our society.  To a big chunk of “Red” America, it means “being aware that unlimited government can not end well”, with a twist of “so let’s not let it get out of control” on top.

But to an NPR-listening, Times-reading, down-the-nose-at-the-hoi-polloi-looking putative “elite”, it’s a code phrase, for something the “fearful, Jebus-clinging, John Birch-reading gun freaks” do.

In other words, it’s something foreign.  Un-American.  Worthy of fear and, inevitably, fear’s eldest child, hatred.

These people are part of a significant undercurrent within the Tea Party movement that has less in common with the Republican Party than with the Patriot movement, a brand of politics historically associated with libertarians, militia groups, anti-immigration advocates and those who argue for the abolition of the Federal Reserve.

“Militia groups”.  It’s another media code word; the unwashed, insane, depraved, usually racist undercurrent that Blue America sees hiding under every rock between the Hudson and the Sierra Madre.

Urged on by conservative commentators, waves of newly minted activists are turning to once-obscure books and Web sites and discovering a set of ideas long dismissed as the preserve of conspiracy theorists, interviews conducted across the country over several months show. In this view, Mr. Obama and many of his predecessors (including George W. Bush) have deliberately undermined the Constitution and free enterprise for the benefit of a shadowy international network of wealthy elites.

“Shadowy international networks”.

You see some of that at the Tea Parties.  Again, it’s the fringe; the people with the beards and camouflage and the huge potbellies and the pamphlets that gather around the fringe of  the Tea Party rallies, mixing uneasily with the vast majority; the people in dockers and polos, or work boots and embroidered shop jackets, who make up the vast majority of people at the Parties.  People like you and me and, someone tell the Times, your typical Times reader as well.

Oh, the Times gets parts right – enough to make the whole thing worth a read:

The Tea Party movement defies easy definition, largely because there is no single Tea Party.

Defiance of easy definition notwithstanding, the Times wants you to accept their facile definition anyway.

And those facile definitions are always based on fear of the great unwashed unknown:

At the grass-roots level, it consists of hundreds of autonomous Tea Party groups, widely varying in size and priorities, each influenced by the peculiarities of local history.

“Ah”, I thought.  “This could be good!”.   The rural west is a fascinating sociological hodgepodge; my own hometown in North Dakota jumbled college professors with their urbane, sometimes far-left beliefs, together with engineers (from a few local manufacturers) and business people (mostly fiscal conservatives) and agribusiness types (conservatives who loved farm subsidies)  to a few drastically-misplaced hippies, and always, always the farmers – including a few who’d been driven to radical populism by the hard times.

Who do you suppose the Times would be focusing on today?

In the inland Northwest, the Tea Party movement has been shaped by the growing popularity in eastern Washington of Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas, and by a legacy of anti-government activism in northern Idaho. Outside Sandpoint, federal agents laid siege to Randy Weaver’s compound on Ruby Ridge in 1992, resulting in the deaths of a marshal and Mr. Weaver’s wife and son. To the south, Richard Butler, leader of the Aryan Nations, preached white separatism from a compound near Coeur d’Alene until he was shut down.

Of all the “local peculiarities” to pick, what do you suppose the odds were?

The piece focuses, throughout, on the Tea Parties’ most paranoid lunatic fringe – almost as if to say “pay no attention to the populist awakening behind the curtain, Boston and New York and San Francisco!  They are unclean!  These are the bitter, gun-clinging Jesus freaks we warned you about!”

If they can’t beat the Tea Party on the facts, it’s logical that the next step will be fearmongering.

Day Late, Millions Short

Brian Lambert shows why KTLK-FM had such a rocky start in the Twin Cities, in a piece that purports to be about Air America tanking; along the way, it also shows why liberalism is starting to gasp for air in the age of Obama.

Lambert starts with the genesis of his short-lived radio show:

I was summoned to a meeting with Clear Channel Communications “talk radio guru”/consultant, Gabe Hobbs, after only a couple weeks on the job. Having just spent a chunk of the previous 15 years covering radio consultants, or more accurately, the inanity and chaos they left behind, I was prepared to sit across from a complete cartoon.  (OK, not every radio consultant I had met or interviewed was a “complete” cartoon. But that’s a little like saying “some cigarettes are good for you”, to which you reply, “yeah, the ones you don’t smoke.”)

Lambo got that one right.  But I digress.  But so did he.

In their wisdom the local Clear Channel group had decided that “a WCCO for the 21st century” was the way to go for the FM talk experiment they were starting up.

Which was how I put it at the time; for whatever reason, a generation of consultants decided that conservative talk was dead (based largely on wishful thinking after the 2004 election), and tried floating the “all things to all people” format all over the country, including KTLK and KSTP-AM.

After saying that he wasn’t sure what to make of the idea of dogs and cats playing together, Hobbs conceded he was intrigued by the righty-gal vs. the lefty-guy dynamic. And then he got to the nut of modern (conservative) talk radio.

(I’m paraphrasing a bit here, but I swear the essentials are accurate.)

And he’s right about the consultant’s opinion being accurate – an awful lot of “talk radio gurus” deeply hate conservative talk; some of them are ideological liberals, but most of them are just dying to come up with a take on a format that clicks, somewhere, and makes them millions of dollars in consulting fees.  It’s not going all that well, by the way, after almost 20 years of trying.

One of the problems is the contempt these people have for “the talk radio audience”.  Mr. Hobbs would seem to have shared his with Mr. Lambert:

“Try to keep in mind,” said Hobbs, “that the average listener for a show like yours is a 42 year-old guy who doesn’t follow the news all that close but is listening because he doesn’t want to be left out of the discussion. What he wants from you is something he can bring to conversations at work and at home. Something that makes it appear he’s in touch with what’s going on. You’re not here to educate him so much as you are to give him a few ideas he can throw out to feel like he’s part of the conversation.”

Well, it must work; Pew shows that Limbaugh’s audience is better-informed on news and current events than the average American, testing about the same as the famously-smug NPR audience in terms of overall knowledge.

Which is – even Lambert might admit – at odds with what the consultant had to say about ’em.

Well, maybe Lambert wouldn’t admit it:

Since this image so thoroughly gelled with the image I’d had for years of the Limbaugh Dittoheads…

The point being that talk radio doesn’t square well with having contempt for one’s audience.  Consultant Gabe Hobbs’ advice famously splattered; KTLK-FM’s first incarnation, the “WCCO for the 21st Century” famously cratered on impact.  (Does anyone remember their first lineup?  Colton and Guest in the morning?  Pat Kessler? Sarah and Brian?  Dan Conry?  They wanted to be all things to all people so badly they practically adopted Norwegian accents).  Part of it was the concept; part of it was some of the talent wasn’t that talented.  But mostly, it’s that whether people really are as stupid as Gabe Hobbs thinks they are (and that image “gells” with that of Lambert, who is lest we forget one of the Twin Cities foremost media columnists) or not, they can tell in this day and age when they’re being condescended to.  When the whole concept for your format is based on the kind of cynicism that Lambert and Hobbs shared, you think it doesn’t show?

It did!

No, really:

A radio audience of middle-aged guys who, for whatever the reason — distraction, indifference, laziness and/or stupidity — haven’t done their own homework on the big events of the day but want to pretend they have among their workmates, pals and spouses, by staying up to date with the bumper sticker slogan du jour. Hmmm, and I guessed “Make Love Not War” wasn’t exactly what these guys wanted to repeat down at the office, across forklifts in the warehouse, or over dinner, to impress the wife and kids with how tough it is out in there in a real man’s world.

That is, of course, the conceit that drives the entire mainstream media; you, the people, are bunch of mindless cattle that need your news, your entertainment and everything short of your food carefully pre-digested for you, lest you choke from trying to think about something too big. Information is too precious a gift to get in too big chunk – at least for all of you lumpen peasants.

No.  Again, really:

Beyond Hobbs’ carefully parsed point, is this: The “pretense” of thoughtful consideration, at least in terms of a commercially successful narrative delivered via mass media, requires much … much … heavier doses of simplicity and indignant finger-pointing than scholarly nuance.

Lambert mentions “simplicity” – as opposed to condescenscion – like it’s a bad thing.  As if making complex ideas “simple”, or simpler, isn’t among the most important missions for all of journalism, from Edward R. Murrow through NPR down to the Highland Villager.

This is all a lot of set-up for a couple thoughts on the little-lamented demise of Air America, the “liberal alternative” to the monolithic presence of conservative-radio. There are roughly 12,500 radio stations in the U.S., 22% fall under “news/talk” and “religious”. The former describes a few, like WCCO, and WBBM in Chicago, but mostly its conservative talk,  and the vast majority of the “religious” are conservative-driven. Moreover, a significant of those conservative stations are full-power licenses, broadcasting across the entirety of  all of the biggest metro areas in the country. By … stark … contrast, from its inception in 2004 Air America was confined to much lower-power AM stations that only barely blanketed the entirety of the few  metro markets they could buy in to.

Lambert, the media columnist who chided [his mental caricature of] the conservative talk radio audience’s “simplicity”, apparently needs to oversimplify the issue himself.  Radio stations aren’t sinecures; every format has to prove itself at every station, every time the ratings “book” comes out.  Big conservative talk – Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck – settled on big AM stations because it pays the bills.

And the fact that Air America had to “buy in” to metro markets shows what an awful concept it was.  Becuase nobody pays to get Limbaugh.  The Rush Limbaugh show (and Hannity, and Beck, and Hugh Hewitt, Michael Medved, Dennis Miller and every other conservative show that matters) is free to the stations that carry it, provided they agree to carry the network’s commercials, 5-8 minutes worth per hour.  That’s it.

If there were any organic demand for Air America, they’d have been able to do the same.  But there was not.  So in New York, Chicago and LA, they had to pay radio stations to carry the programming.

And even that didn’t work.

It’s not as simple as saying “conservtives got all the big stations!”, but it’s in fact the truth.

But the bigger problem — by far — is the mindset of your average liberal, who, in my unscientific survey is a somewhat different animal than Gabe Hobbs’ mythical under-informed 42 year-old male.  For one thing, if the gender breakout of national delegates is any indication, the average liberal is more likely to be a woman than a man. But, in my experience, there’s also the very familiar liberal quality of believing you already are the smartest guy/gal in the room, which means you hardly need some cartoonish radio bloviator spoon-feeding you your “fact of the day”. More likely — if you’re a liberal in the media — the liberal audience with whom you think you are simpatico will rear up and quarrel with every interpretation of statistics, trends and historical reference you dare make. They know better and if just given the chance could do better.

Which is an interesting view which, I suspect, has more to do with Brian Lambert’s view of himself than the NPR/MSNBC/Air America audience’s actual merits.

Where conservative media audiences display a startling affinity for what I’ve called “The Big Daddy Guru Complex”, pompous-to-preposterous all-knowing father figures, liberals, more often than not, maintain the attitude that “big daddy” is a bit of a ponce, and needs to be brought down a peg.

Dunno, Lambo.  I sat in front of a room full of Air America fans with Matt Entenza, Michael Medved and Fast Eddie Schultz a while ago.  And the AA fans were a lot more prone to chanting pre-approved slogans and hissing on command than the people to stage and ideological right, if you catch my drift.

The idea is a trend in search of evidence; the closest they come to “evidence” is the fact that, yes, people listen to Rush Limbaugh.

But it’s a fact of human nature that any mass group of people gets pushed, or pulled, by someone, and that the best way to pull is not through the mind, but through the heart; Someone who captures the group’s fancy on some level; Martin Luther King, Richard Simmons, Rush Limbaugh, Thomas Jefferson, Bill Clinton, Lech Walesa, John Lennon, Jerry Falwell and Ronald Reagan all led people in improbable directions by simplifying complex ideas into forms their followers could feel as much as think.

Lambert quotes a few talking heads re the “problem” liberalism under Obama faces, and concludes:

The takeaway is this: The Conservative narrative dominates this country because it is simple, asks (and requires) nothing of its audience other than that they accept it and express a kind of rote indignation … at others.

Leaving aside the poison-pen fuming about the audience’s motivations – Lambert’s wrong, but then he’s supposed to be wrong about conservatives.  Simplicity in a narrative is a good thing.

And at the end of the say, it’s not all that simple.  Conservatism itself takes a lot more mental energy to wrap ones mind around than liberalism; the ideas of abstemiousness, enlightened self-interest, and rejection of instant gratification both personally and culturally are tough ones for modern people to choke down.

As opposed to leaden cop-outs:

Given the lack of 2000-plus radio stations to amplify a counter-narrative,

Which is balderdash; the liberals have four broadcast networks, NPR, and practically every newspaper in the country.

It’s just that their narrative, at the moment, isn’t selling, and certainly isn’t up to the competition it’s getting in the marketplace.

I actually let this post sit for a couple of days as I tried to figure out how to respond to this next line:

as well as liberal resistance to paternalistic “guru-ism”,

Remembering the masses of liberals who “rejected guru-ism” by chanting in unison waiting for Obama to appear, I’m going to have to keep thinking about it.

Obama and the few bona fide liberals in D.C. are at a profound disadvantage when it comes to a very real battle of relentless accusation and sloganized consensus-building , which, sadly, is what works quite effectively on largely apolitical 42 year-olds who just want to sound like they know what they’re talking about.

And just like Gabe Hobbs, Brian Lambert leads with the contempt.  We’ll see how it works.

And he says about the Chicago politican…:

Bottom line: The burden to deliver such a message of constant attack — utterly justified in the case of how this economic disaster started — falls to a guy, Obama, who finds shamelessly demagogic rhetoric and divisive-ness-baiting beneath him and his idealistic standards of statesmanship.

Speaking of simplification.

Give Me Half A Pound Of Soul

An ambulance crew brings in a shooting victim; one shot to the chest, one to the head.  There was a lot of blood loss from the chest wound, and the victim is in immense cardiopulmonary distress.

The head wound missed the medulla, at the brain stem, the part that controls the heart and breathing and the rest of the body’s automatic functions (and, for most of the Minnesota Progressive Project staff, their writing as well) – so the victim didn’t die instantly.  But the victim seems to be non-responsive; there are indications his brain functions are badly damaged; he may be in a coma, or worse.

So the doctors give up and administer a massive overdose of morphine to kill the patient, because it’s all over anyway and why drag it on?

Well, no.  They don’t. They stabilize the patient as best they can.  They check further to see if the brain is really shut down; if it’s not, they do what they can to restore function.

When in doubt, they err on the side of saving lives [1].

Now, I don’t write a lot about abortion.  I’m opposed to it, of course; I’m personally pro-life.  I find most of the arguments in favor of “choice” to be self-indulgent and childish.  I’m going to skip most of them – it’s nothing I haven’t written about in some depth, of course.

With that in mind, the argument about the “viability” – the idea that a fetus isn’t really all that terribly human until it’s “viable”, or capable of living on its own – is perhaps less stupid than most.  It’s wrong, of course; after three kids, I can say with authority that a “fetus” isn’t “viable” until it can get a job and pay its own rent.

More seriously?  I believe that since a fertilized egg, left to its own devices (no medical intervention for or against its existence – just like in our great-great-grandparents’ time) will gestate for nine months 75% of the time, and those who get that far will be born alive two out of three times (those stats are from primitive cultures like 1890-era rural Minnesota), it’s fairly clear that whatever the physics and physiology and metaphysics behind the process, the whole thing is intended to create living, breathing human beings.  Beyond that?  I think it’s fairly clear that since preemies have been successfully brought along to fairly normal lives as early as 22 weeks into gestation, that the idea that a “fetus” isn’t “human” until a 40-week fetus’ umbilical is cut is a self-indulgent, illogical absurdity.

None of the above, by the way, touches on spirituality at any level.  It’s nothing but logic, so far.

But I’m a Christian.  I believe  that every person (except Ryan Seacrest) has a soul.


We don’t know.

Souls are not measurable.  There’s no place in human physiology that’s been identified as a “soul fill valve”, leading to a “soul tank” where the ephemeral concept is kept.  It’s not like a brain wave, much less synonymous with it, and if it were, the gunshot victim in the example above would be out of luck.  Not everyone agrees that there is such a thing; atheists all bet the “under” on Pascal’s Wager.    No matter – if you assume there is no soul, and are motivated by anything other than naked self-interest, it actually makes the question harder to resolve.  We’ll come back to that.

So the question – part of it, anyway – is “when does a fetus get a soul?”

Dog Gone at Penigma writes a very long treatise that says, essentially,  we don’t know because spirutual authorities have never agreed on the subject:

I have read widely on the subject of our human soul and spirituality, and listened to many different voices pontificating ther dogma on the subject in the course of satisfying my own curiosity…This breadth of recognition might suggest some sort of consensus, some unanimity of understanding, a clarity and agreement on definition, right?

Of course, not.  Ecclesiastical bodies have fought long, bloody wars over the subject; when two of the great Christian denominations have been split for almost a thousand years over the Nicene Creed and the job description for saints, when Presbyterian congregations fall into epic near-blood-feuds over applause in church, to say nothing of gay marriage, looking for general consensus on the nature of the Soul is hopelessly optimistic.

There is no consensus across history or across the geography of our planet on any single specific aspect of that essence we name souls. We don’t agree on what it is; we don’t agree on when it is inside of us; we don’t agree on the origins. We don’t even fully agree on whether or not the soul is immortal or eternal; some believe that the soul can die, others that it grows as the body grows, with experience. We don’t agree on how, where, and from whom our souls derive. We don’t agree on who or what possesses a soul.

DG goes on to note that even within Christian tradition, the idea of the genesis of the soul has knocked around a bit:

The Christian tradition is contradictory. The roots of early Judaism posited that animals, at least some animals, had souls, as do other religious and spiritual traditions. In Islam, the belief is that the soul enters the body of a fetus in utero after 40 days. Not 90 or 180 days, not 30 minutes, and not at conception; they are quite definite on the 40 day figure. But then, in the Islamic faith, not only humans have souls either. Djinn and angels also have souls in that faith’s traditions. In the Druidic tradition, and in many other traditions (the many irreverent verses of “Give me that old time religion” are playing in my head) so do some trees and other inanimate objects.

Right.  But then, traditional religion from the dawn of time until pretty recently believed all sorts of stuff we find crazy today; insert boilerplate here about burning witches and kosher laws and selling indulgences and human sacrifice and stoning gays (oops; one religion still does that).

Of course, in that era people couldn’t tell with any certainty that the crop they planted in April wouldn’t be eaten to the ground by bugs in July or blown away by a sudden storm in August; people never connected “taking a dump upstream from where you get your drinking water” and the hacking, fever-ridden wave of deaths that would periodically befall the village; in a village where the people had raised vegetables and sheep for uncounted generations, humans were born the same way the animals were; the way nature had left the process.  And it was an ugly process; 1/3 of babies (of the 3/4 that weren’t miscarried earlier) were stillborn or died of complications during delivery, as did 10% of the mothers (with each birth); and that was even before infant mortality set in.

So given the exceedingly crude nature of “science” back when years had three digits and the world’s major religious leaders were half a generation removed from raising keff and goats, especially the understanding of human physiology and development at the time, the question “when exactly does the soul inhabit the body” was purely academic; like “what will I wear on my third date with Scarlett Johannson”, it might be fun to think about, but the practical application is pretty minimal.

But today, the vast majority of “fetuses”, barring pseudomedical interference and, of course, miscarriage, survive until birth and beyond.  Not only that, but as noted above “fetuses” born just past half-term go on to live normal lives – utterly unthinkable even a generation ago (which, if logic rather than politics reigned, would make most non-health-related third-term abortions murder).  We don’t know when life is viable, but the boundaries keep getting pushed back.

The objective boundaries, anyway.

And since, unlike my third date with Scarlett Johannson, the essense of life is actually a valid, testable question these days, the question “when does viable, human life begin” isn’t an academic question.

100 years ago, the gunshot victim in the first paragraph might have been given up for dead without bothering with a trip to a hospital.  Today, science can find out if there really is a brain function in there that can be nursed back into control of the body.  People what would have been give up for dead fifty years ago walk among us today.

And definitions of “when does a human become human” written a thousand years ago by people for whom it was an utterly academic question are no more informative to us today than surgery textbooks from 1700 are to the Mayo today.

Leaving aside the fact that the concept of “the soul” is ephemeral and unmeasurable in any way; even the fairly objective measurement of “when life begins” is, paradoxically, more difficult than ever, since science has made the instrumentation and criteria so much finer than before.

And so the paradox is, if you care about the intangibles that make humans human, the more we know about how life works, the less meaningful the attempts to put an arbitrary, “objective” limit on them.  How do you put a number on something that gets less measurable, the better able to measure it you theoretically are?

Since we don’t know – and, unlike the rabbis of the Old Testament and the druids and popes and mullahs of 1000 years ago, we know what we don’t know – then if you believe that human life has any intangible but real value (call it a “soul” if you want, or “worth as a human life” if you don’t), then the only logical response, as with the gunshot victim above, is to err on the side of life.  If we don’t know life to be absent in an organism that is intended to live, then you assume it – he or she – is alive.

And you can tell Pope Pius II I said so.

[1] Although with Obamacare in place, they’ll have to check with a committee of government accountants and lawyers for medical advice, first.

SITD Redux: How To Save Public Schools

This is a piece I originally published in April of 2005.  Some minor updates and copy-edits have been added.


When I hear blowhards like Nick Coleman ranting about how Republicans want to “abolish the public school system”, I get a chuckle. I grew up in the public schools – Dad was a high school teacher, and a great one. As far as conservatives go, I was long in the “we can fix the public schools” camp.

Of course, a huge percentage of the biggest proponents of mandatory public school for all – Coleman, Jay Benanav, Clinton, and on, and on – are either private school products or have their children in private schools.

As my kids wended through the school system – and, finally, are getting toward the end of it all – I got more depressed every year with the way schools in general – but especially the public schools – do their job.

In Saint Paul, the budget breaks down to over $17,000 per student – but there’s never enough money.  The graduation rates are lower than Chris Coleman’s tax increases, but there’s still not a crisis.  The achievement gap is the worst in the nation, but the schools still noodle around with unfunded PC mandates more than they actually bother with teaching.  Parents are leaving the public school system faster than a Vanilla Ice Fan Club reunion, but the only solution the ruling Democrats can think of is to gut school choice options.

And at the end of the day, our kids aren’t getting an education.

There’s an obvious, and I suspect workable, solution out there. It’s inexpensive, and, best of all, tens of thousands of years of human experience shows that it works.

Let’s abolish elementary school.

The more I watch schools, and the more I read about the history of the public schools and the assumptions on which they are built, the more convinced I am that elementary school in particular does more harm than good. I’m talking specifically about the “Sit your little butt in the chair for six hours a day and learn what we grownups tell you to learn” model of education.

Let’s be blunt; Elementary School is a bad idea for several reasons.

  • It’s unnatural
  • It turns everything about human psychology on its head.
  • It’s unamerican.

Let’s start at the top.


Let me throw out a couple of parallel ideas here:

  • Language is one of the most complex functions of the human brain. It involves a level of logic that the most powerful computers are only able to ape in the most comical fashion. Next to learning language, things like the scientific method, critical thinking and logic are child’s play, so to speak. And yet nearly every child in the world is functionally fluent in at least one language by age five, with no more help than mere untrained, uncredentialled parents, family members and friends to help. Indeed, when my son was in Kindergarten I sat, agog, as I watched a five year old H’mong classmate of his at a parent-teacher conference, interpreting the conversation between his parents and his teacher.  Fluently.  Without the aid of a “H’mong as a first language” class of any kind. 
  • Barring profound mental and physical problems, it’s nearly impossible to keep a kid from learning languages, to say nothing of every other thing that they can get their little fingers on. Reading? Pffft. Nothing to it, in comparison; it’s just assigning symbols to the sounds that the child has already learned to associate with the ideas that their little brains have been busy compiling since shortly after birth. You have to wonder – if kids do that well with something as wondrously, gloriously, impenetrably complex as language with mere parents, siblings, extended family and playmates to help them, imagine how well they would do if they had experts with PhDs in cognitive development to help them…!
  • …like they do with reading, for example. How is it that the same kids who learn one of the most complex cognitive processes known to mankind with almost no difficulty then toddle off to school and spend the next six, even twelve, years struggling and often failing the relatively simple tasks of reading, writing, adding, subtracting and simple arithmetic?

Imagine if your children were taught (by force of law, mind you!) to speak by professionals, rather than the way they’ve learned to speak for all of human time; imagine, further, that they were taught speech the same way they’re taught reading, math and history, by being herded into a room, plunked at a table, told to LEARN SPEECH NOW and don’t you dare go to the bathroom without raising your hand and getting a travel slip first. What’d happen? We’d have a boom market in speech pathology professionals, national concern about “why Johnny can’t speak”, academic programs dedicated to special speech problems, and demands for more money to solve our nation’s speech education crisis.

 Absurd, right? And yet that’s exactly where we are now.

Kids below age 12 would be better off out of school than in it. Note that this has nothing to do with the classic “school problems”, or with “problem schools”.  Even if you leave drugs, crime, and all the other highly-publicized dangers of our time out of the picture (and if you live in the inner city, you know that you can’t), and assume that all teachers are literate, caring, inspired practicioners of a noble craft, and that all administrators are boundlessly capable and unfettered by the pinheaded impedimenta of a system that, like all systems, is more concerned with self-perpetuation than mission.

Question: Where is the scientifically-valid evidence that a child who sits through six years in a classroom is any better “educated” than a child who spends six years just being a kid, learning what he or she needs, learning responsibility and reading and manners and math the way kids always have – by doing?

Start looking. I’ll help you out. There really is none.

I have a few friends and acquaintances who are involved in various alternative school systems; Sudbury, Waldorf, Montessori – and more that homeschool their kids. The literature on the Sudbury system – which, essentially, lets kids learn whatever their curiosity drives them to learn, coupled with a strong dose of individual responsibility for maintaining their obligations to others – is fascinating. Nobody tells the children at a Sudbury school “now is the time we learn to read” – and yet they all do. Nobody says “You will all learn math” – but when they decide they want to learn it, they frequently learn the math that takes kids six years in a classroom, in a matter of weeks.

My homeschooling friends tell the same story; if they leave the door open for their kids’ own fascination to drive them to learn…whatever, it will not only get learned, but learned at a pace that dazzles the parents, most of whom came up through the traditional public system.


So what’s wrong with school?

What could be wrong with an institution that:

  • Strictly breaks up the day into learning time and play time, conditioning a child to know, forevermore, that learning is drudgery. The message to the kids is crystal clear; unlike all the learning they’d done so far in life – learning how to talk with Mom and Dad, learning how to stack blocks with big sister, learning how to walk and throw and joke and climb, this sucks!
  • Imposing an external schedule on learning. Rather than letting them follow their own rhythms and attention spans – which happen to be the ones they actually learn by – we force kids to cut short the stuff that actually benefits them, and then jam their little butts into seats, pretty much arbitrarily, to shift gears and do something completely different. We try to set student’s mental agendas for them, telling them the subjects they “should” care about, regardless of what interests them, and when, and where.  And for some students, that works, to be sure; some naturally take to that kind of education; others learn to go along and get along.  Others never do.
  • Setting arbitrary standards that mean nothing to students (and, judged empirically, mean even less to grownups). 
  • Plop a kid into a system where they’re at the bottom of a complex, arbitrary hierarchy – teacher’s aide, teacher, principal, union, superintendant, school board – with them, all pretty talk aside, way down at the bottom of the pile. If you have to go to the bathroom, you have to ask permission. You stand in long lines for food, water, the rest room, recess, field trips, to see the nurse, the principal, to get out of the f*****g building after the whole miserable day is over! You move when the bell tells you to move; you sit when the bell tells you to sit; you repeat the process for twelve years, like an assembly line – only you’re the product, with the unionized factory workers bolting on little bits of knowledge at pre-programmed points on the line, regardless of whether that’s where your brain is at the moment.   And if you, the child, don’t feel like keeping your twitchy seven-year-old butt in that hard friggin’ chair, you get labelled “ADHD” or “special ed”. And you’d damn well better show up, or have an excuse that’s acceptable to that arbitrary and unreasoning authority, or you will be shunted into the “bad kid” track, and even into the fascistic, niggling cousin of the criminal justice system, which will make damn sure you keep your ass in that chair, at the risk of criminalizing yourself and your parents. If such a system were applied to adults, they’d call it prison. If it were a nation, it’d be North Korea. If it were an employer, every TV station in town would be bum-rushing the place with hidden cameras. And yet that’s where we send our kids.
  • You are a part of a group; you travel with the group, stand on line with the group whenever you leave your chair, are punished and rewarded as a part of the group, until such time as you learn to play the paper chase game well enough for the system to reward you – not so much for your learning, as for learning to play the system to your benefit. Those kids will go far. For the rest? Labels, concerned shrugs, and eventually a resigned sigh; “they fell through the cracks, even though they had so much potential.  If only they’d have colored inside the lines”.
  • Your education is separated from your “real life”. Even some of your crustier elders, in unguarded moments, will say it in as many words; “Wait’ll you get out in the real world”. School is totally unreal; the experiences and knowledge are all diluted through external filters; textbooks, teachers, state-approved curricula. The economics are diluted; it’s “Free”, so the children get no sense of the opportunity cost that goes into their education, nor of their responsibility toward those paying the cost (qualifying them to be DFL legislators, anyway).
  • Worse, the kids’ lives – and the lives of their families – are geared toward the rhythm the institution demands; up at 6:30, to school by 8, keep your hyperactive little ass in the chair until 3 with a couple of dingy, pre-approved breaks (if you behave, and if your school hasn’t been swept up in the “no recess” bandwagon), get dinner eaten by 6, do two hours of homework, be in bed by 9AM to repeat the process the next day, ad infinitum, for 12 years. There’s a meteor shower or an Aurora Borealis late at night? Don’t wake the kids, for crying out loud, they’ll be tired for their spelling test!
  • Which might be worthwhile, if there were any validity to the idea that it does kids any more good than the alternative – no school at all.

The question shouldn’t be “what’s wrong with the system”. It ought to be “what’s right?”


Let’s go back to the “North Korea” bit.

When De Tocqueville came to the US in the early part of the 19th century, he found a population that was staggeringly literate by world standards. What was the “system?” There was none. People learned to read, write, do math, and function in society by any means necessary – at church, at community schools, from neighbors or siblings, or any way they could. They did it because, to participate in our democracy, they had to. And they did.

It’s useful to note that the current model for public schools – the government monopoly with the professional teacher caste and a huge, self-feeding academy – is a product of the past 100 years or so, when people realized that in a nation awash in immigrants, we’d damned well better make sure that all our children are learning the same things. Exactly the same things, lest those filthy immigrants corrupt our society…

And so we have a system of elementary education better suited to the Department of Corrections, or the Prussian military (indeed, Horace Mann modeled many of his ideas upon the Prussian state education system, which introduced the magic element, compulsion, to the mix).

And so, in a system that purports to value individual responsibility, we send our children to “learn” in a system that systematically strips responsibility away (as long as you stay in line, you’re fine!). In a system that purports to value critical thinking, we entrust our children to a system that regards the very discipline as forbidden fruit. In a nation that claims to value the integrity, choice and value of the individual, we send our kids to schools that destroy all three.

“But what about universal literacy?” It’s worth noting that our society is little more functionally literate, in a practical sense, than it was 100 years ago; the ability of adults to read, write and figure has remained nearly static among adults for the past century, unbudged by changing educational theories, vast increases in education funding, and national fretting on the subject.

“But hey”, comes the next response, “I came up through the system. It’s not that bad”. That’s called “Stockholm Syndrome”. You owe it to your kids to do better. Saying you “survived” six years of elementary school is hardly a recommendation; saying “I survived it, my kid sure as hell will” isn’t education, it’s ritualized abuse.


So what exactly do we lose if we abolish elementary school? Say, start kids in school at age 12?

We gain, instantly, a generation of kids who haven’t learned to equate “learning” with “misery”.

We gain, over time, children who grow through their most formative years free of the distortions to their identity and self-respect that are a part of the canonical tradition of elementary school, undivided into “jocks” and “geeks” and “brains”.  They could get to the brink of puberty – the most awful time in life – without piling all that awful baggage on top.  They could spend six or seven years as humans, rather than as parts on an assembly line.

As part of that, they would be free to develop the skills that children develop more or less naturally; to think, to analyze, to tear things apart, on their own terms, without having an adult tell them “you’re wrong, do it my way” at every turn.

It goes without saying that they’d be free of the suffocating idiocy of too much of the educational/industrial complex – the rotating theories and methods and ideals that at best are just more turd-polishing, and at worst (see Carol Gilligan and the gender theorists) actively, and after a certain point maliciously, harmful. They’d grow up regarding learning as both an opportunity and, most importantly, their own responsibility. Which is, we’re told, the American way.

Inevitable response: “What about kids in lousy situations? Or where both parents work?”

So we take the $10-15K per student that we currently spend in the metro, and spend it on community centers, or daycare, or anything but elementary school. I don’t care if the idea saves not a nickel over what we’re already spending (although it inevitably will, in direct spending to say nothing of the social costs of our failing system); it’ll be better than what we have now, even for the vulnerable kids, the poor kids from the lousy neighborhoods. What could be worse than being a poor kid from a lousy neighborhood? Being all that, and having any possible love of the learning you’ll need to get out out of that rut beaten out of you by age eight.

It’s not just about the survival of our educational system.  It’s about the survival of our nation, our culture, and most importantly our children.

Abolish it.

Kill The Death Penalty

This post is an expansion of a comment in a thread way down below.  Partly because my monkeying with my code this morning put a crimp in my morning blogging schedule.  Partly because the subject deserves it.

I oppose the death penalty, not because I break with most conservatives on the issue, but  because I am a conservative.

Stay with me on this one.

Conservatism is about upholding time-honored truths.

One of those truths is that the individual – one of the “Free Association of Equals” that our society is supposed to be, in the conservative view of things – is of supreme importance, and should be protected from the excesses of government. It’s why we conservative natter on about things like the Tenth Amendment – because we uphold the worth of the individual; there are some things that, to protect the individual, the government should just stay out of.

This directly contradicts the notion that individuals are “eggs” to be broken in the interest of the state’s convenience to make a social “omelet”. Frequent liberal commenter “RickDFL”’s left a remark in the comment section yesterday, that actually sent me looking for a remark about eggs and omelets that I coulda sworn Lenin or Stalin or Mao or Hitler made. No dice – the closest I got was Stalin’s “one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic” – but Rick (I puke in my mouth a little bit in writing this) is right; it’s something one of them would say.

Conservatives do believe that the pursuit of good requires sacrifice; the Americans who died at Omaha Beach and Gettysburg and Chosin Reservoir were also of incalculable value, and they did nothing to deserve what happened except serving their country, and their loss was a tragedy for all of us. But they died (most of us believe) for a greater good, in a time and a place and for a cause for which there was no alternative, and which helped bring immense good as a result.

Killing an innocent person to “deter” the guilty? It brings no good (the guilty party goes free forever!) (I mean, what DA is going to say “oops – killed the wrong guy the first time! Let’s try this again!”), there is an alternative, and, lest we forget, it kills an individual who did no wrong – which is exactly who this society is supposed to protect.

And it echoes Andrea Dworkin (or Catherine McKinnon?  Jeff Fecke?  I get confused) who said it’d be “good” if men got falsely imprisoned for rape, to make all the real rapists a little more afraid. It’s an idea straight out of the worst of the French Revolution (which had no problem executing the innocent “pour l’encourager les autres“), carried on via Stalin and Hitler and Mao and Pol Pot.

Hypothetically, if the system could be “perfected”, would I support it? Sure. But that’s another tenet of conservatism; mankind can never be perfected; the hypothetical is pointless. And to a conservative, protecting people from the problems that human imperfection brings to government drives what government is supposed to do – including impelling government to back out of big parts of our society.

So since…

  1. Mankind – including prosecutors and the police – can never be perfected, and…
  2. these imperfections kill the innocent, and…
  3.  killing the innocent is immeasurably evil, and…
  4.  since a foolproof alternative exists that surely and swiftly punishes the guilty (remember – life in supermax without parole begins at sentencing; death takes an average of 12 years) while protecting the innocent, and…
  5. protecting the innocent is one of society’s supreme goods, then…

…abolishing the death penalty is supremely conservative.

To me, the logic of my stance depends on the five interconnected points above – all drawn from orthodox conservative beliefs to a finely-polished “t”.  If you want to disagree, by all means do it in the comment section.  But if you can’t successfully attack that five-point chain of logic, I’m not sure you’ll get a lot of traction with me.

Distrust But Verify. Then Distrust Some More.

The Violence Policy Center has a long record of cooking data to try to build a national case against civilian ownership of firearms.

They’ve failed, of course; more Americans own guns today than ever, while the idea of a link between crime and the demonstrably law-abiding armed citizen is almost too specious for modern physics to measure.  Gun control is a third rail like few others in American politics.

Which doesn’t mean they won’t try; the VPC – the very definition of an astroturf group – has masters with deep pockets to obey. And so they keep cranking out the material.

Like this “study” (which should be getting slavering coverage from the bought-and-paid-for lefty media) to show pervasive violence on the part of carry permit holders nationside.

The “study” summary:

As the impact of lax CCW laws grows, the evidence is now overwhelming that these laws have completely failed to reduce crime or increase public or personal safety.

Overewhelmingly lacking, at any rate; John Lott proved the case, and while astroturf hacks like the VPC may jump up and down and cry otherwise, they are bringing jackknives to sword fights.

But that’s really not the issue:

On the contrary, these laws have armed individuals who have murdered law enforcement officers and innocent citizens. Review of the devastating facts surrounding the 30 incidents detailed in this study alone should immediately halt any effort to create a national concealed carry system and, in addition, impel the
repeal of state “shall issue” laws allowing the carrying of concealed handguns.

Well, it’s an interesting conclusion.  Although not only is it not borne out by evidence in general, but even the VPC’s own evidence, viewed in detail, convincingly refutes the VPC’s own claim.

  • Over the two-year period May 2007 through April 2009, concealed handgun permit holders have slain seven law enforcement officers resulting in criminal charges or the suicide of the shooter. All of the killings were committed with guns. An additional three law enforcement officers were injured in these incidents.
  • Over the two-year period May 2007 through April 2009, concealed handgun permit holders have slain at least 43 private citizens resulting in criminal charges or the suicide of the shooter. All but one of the killings were committed with guns. An additional six private citizens were injured in these incidents.
  • In six of the 30 incidents (20 percent), the concealed handgun permit holder killed himself, bringing the total fatality count to 56.

So let’s look into the numbers in detail.  As noted above, “Carry permit holders” accounted for seven dead and three wounded law enforcement officers; 43 dead and six wounded citizens, and six suicides (all of them after other shootings).

But if you look at the individual cases, some facts emerge that the VPC found inconvenient to stress.  I broke them out into several categories:

  • Self-Defense Cases Gone Seemingly Awry: One of the problems with self-defense claims is that ones’ decision to respond to an attack that needs to be made in seconds under mind-warping pressure will be picked apart by prosecutors and jurors who have leisurely days and weeks to judge the results.  Two of the killings – one not charged as of yet, one resulting in a manslaughter conviction – fit this description.
  • Self Defense Against Law Enforcement Officers: One of the trickiest cases in all of self-defense is when a citizen believes – legitimately or not – that a law enforcement officer (whether known to them or not) presents them a lethal threat.  Law enforcement enjoys special protections under the law – usually for good reasons.  But cops screw up, too; in Minneapolis a few years ago, a SWAT team executed a no-knock raid – on the wrong address.  The owner of the house, an Asian man in a crappy neighborhood crowded with scumbags, had no idea who was charging into his house; he was eventually exonerated.  In the VPC report, two law-enforcement officers (federal and local) were killed and two wounded.  In one case, the killing was the result of a seemingly stupid response on the part of the shooter, and ended in a manslaughter charge (although, significantly, not murder). The other killing, and the two wounded, were the result of no-knock raids seemingly gone awry.    Note that these cases all took place in the citizens’ dwellings – and thus have nothing to do with the carry permits.  You don’t need  a permit, in most places, to have a gun.
  • Accidents: One of the killings was an accidental shooting involving a pistol owned by a carry permittee.  Tragic, certainly – but it has nothing to do with the permit.
  • Shooters Who Shouldn’t Have Gotten Permits: It’s generally agreed that people with criminal records, or records of mental illness or just-plain-violent behavior, should not be granted permits.  When this happens, it’s usually a matter of less-than-thorough investigation by the granting authority (usually a county sheriff), or, as is the case in jurisdictions where permits are issued purely by police discretion (this was the case in a shooting in New York state), faulty use of discretion.  Shootings involving people who should never have been issued permits included 12 incidents, involving 24 dead and two wounded.

And with all of those out of the way – the ambiguous cases or the people who should never have gotten permits at all – that leaves us with the actual, unambiguous crimes where a carry permit holder did something for which they were clearly, unambiguously at fault; Ten cases, involving 20 deaths.  It’s skewed a bit, of course, as it includes one mass murder case, the Michael McClendon case in Alabama which claimed ten people and the shooter.

Of course, concealed carry permits are hardly a direct contributor to mass spree killings; many have happened at the hands of people with no hope of ever getting a permit.  But for purposes of dealing with the article, let’s grudgingly count it among the 20 unambiguously wrongful deaths where no blame is shared with other peoples’ negligence.

Now – how many carry permits have been issued nationwide?  Nobody has a complete count, but the general rule seems to be about 1% of eligible citizens seem to apply; that ratio holds true in Minnesota (5 million people; over 50,000 permits issued).  Other states are higher, some might be lower.  Now, about 220,000,000 Americans live in states with shall-issue laws, or with no restrictions at all (Alaska and Vermont, where no permit is required); it seems reasonable to assume that 2.2 million Ameircans have some sort of carry permit.

2.2 million Americans with permits divided by 20 murders committed over the course of two years equals less than .5 murders – half a murder – per 100,000 carry permittees per year.  Even using the VPC’s numbers exactly as they are in the “study” means the 2.2million permittees are responsible for 56 wrongful deaths over the course of two years (ambiguous or not, related to carry permitting or not) gives a murder rate of about 1.4 per 100,000 permitted Americans.  Of course, the chance of any American being wrongly killed by a permit holder (using the VPC’s statistics, which as we’ve seen above are poppycock) are .014 per 100,000 Americans.

The overall murder rate in America in 2007 was 5.9 per 100,000.  In other words, Americans are 1/421th (roughly) as likely to be murdered by a carry permit holder as they are by a typical citizen – and that’s using the VPC’s numbers without qualification, which as we’ve noted in the past, one should never do.  If we leave out the ambiguous cases, the accidents and the others that have nothing to do with concealed carry, the average American is almost three orders of magnitude less likely to be killed by a legal carry permit holder than by, say, anybody else.

Let’s be clear, here; we want no unjustified killings by holders of carry permits, which are supposed to be a tool for the law-abiding.

But when you see this VPC study being flogged by the media, pass the word; there’s less there than meets the eye.

About 1/421th as much.

Roseville Vice

“It’s a bad one”, Sergeant Koziolecki said; the flushed look on his face showed that he wasn’t exaggerating.

“Whadda we got?”  I clipped my badge to my belt as we walked through the abandoned warehouse in the Saint Paul Warehouse District, ducking under the yellow “crime scene” tape.

“Four vics; two hispanic males, early twenties; one black male, late twenties; one caucasian female, late teens-early twenties.  Gunned down execution style” Koziolecki recited from fresh memory.

We rounded a dirty, ratty corner to what had been the lobby of a shipping dock, and saw the CSI crew going over the scene.  Four bodies were lined up, face-down, by a grafitti-clogged block wall.  “No kidding”.

“A bullet to the back of each head” Koziolecki read off the notes, pushing his readers up to the bridge of his nose.  The acrid smell of fresh blood was fading as we stood there, replaced by the smell of death.  Death and…I thought for a moment, not quite placing it.

“Killer or killers left a calling card”, Koziolecki continued.  “May I?” he asked the CSI guy, who nodded as he dusted, fruitlessly, for prints.  Koziolecki gently rolled the body of a girl – late teens, with tattooed arms and hair that’d been multicolored even before getting sprayed with her own and her friends’ blood and brains, who looked like a tank grrl or roller-derby chick.

Former roller derby chick.

And she had something in her mouth.

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