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Is Pawlenty Doing His Job?

September 30, 2009 Leave a comment

Jack Jodell of the so-called Moderate Voice has written a ludicrous screed attacking Pawlenty.  I plan to address more of it in the next few days, but for now, I’ll focus on Jodell’s bizarre contention that Pawlenty is somehow abandoning his duties as Governor by traveling out of state.  He writes:

[Pawlenty] is now galavanting all across the country making speeches and appearing in support of conservative Republican candidates everywhere in a Nixonesque attempt to build party support for his own 2012 presidential candidacy. In the process, he has abandoned his responsibilites as Chief Executive of his own state in the best Sarah Palin tradition, the only difference being he has not officially resigned his post.

What are we supposed to make of this charge?  First of all, Jodell seems to have an almost unfathomable understanding of the duties of a Governor.  Minnesota statute forbids the state legislature to work for more than 120 days in a biennium.  Here’s the relevant bit from the official website:

The state constitution limits the Legislature to meeting 120 legislative days during each biennium. In addition, the Legislature may not meet in regular session after the first Monday following the third Saturday in May of any year (for constitutional provisions concerning the length of session and special sessions, see Minnesota Constitution, Article IV – Legislative Department).

The third Saturday in May.  By my count, the regular session of the legislature was constitutionally obligated to end over 4 months ago.  To go past that date, Pawlenty would have had to call a special session.  When are Governors meant to call special sessions?  Well, according to Article IV, section 12, of the Minnesota State Constitution, only on “extraordinary occasions”.

The state legislature website elaborates on the two reasons Governors typically call such sessions:

The legislature has not completed work on vital legislation during the time allowed for the regular session.

Changed circumstances require urgent legislative action after the regular session ends

After Pawlenty’s decision to un-allot, neither of these scenarios applied.  Does Jack Jodell expect Pawlenty to proclaim an “extraordinary occasion” during an ordinary occasion?  If not, it’s hard to know what he’s getting at.  Let’s take a look at the Pawlenty trips MPR outlined (which I addressed in a post last week).  They have 19 events listed and not one of them occurred during the 2009 legislative session.  Only 4 of those 19 were personal-trips which occurred on a weekday (bolded).  The remainder were weekend trips Pawlenty would have been justified taking even during a legislative session.  Here’s the list:

September 26, 2009 (Saturday)- Mackinac Island Michigan

October 2, 2009 (Friday)- Rapid City, South Dakota

July 2-3, 2009 (Thursday and Friday)- Aspen, Colorado

July 24, 2009 (Friday)-  Hudson, Wisconsin (state related trip)

August 14, 2009 (Friday)- Chicago, Illinois

July 8, 2009 (Wednesday)-  Nashville, Tennessee (state related trip)

September 12, 2009 (Saturday)- Orlando, Florida

August 22, 2009 (Saturday)- Orlando, Florida

July 30, 2009 (Thursday)- San Diego, California

October 16, 2009 (Friday)- Newport Beach, California

June 26, 2009 (Friday)-  Little Rock, Arkansas

September 9, 2009 (Wednesday)- Richmond, Virginia

June 5, 2009 (Friday)- Washington, D.C.

September 18, 2009 (Friday)- Washington, D.C.

August 4-5, 2009 (Tuesday and Wednesday)-  Washington, D.C. (state related trip)

June 29-30, 2009 (Monday and Tuesday)-  Washington D.C. (state related trip)

September 3, 2009 (Thursday)- Hackensack, NJ

September 19, 2009 (Saturday)- Mason, Ohio

August 15, 2009 (Saturday)- Guanaybo, Puerto Rico

Now, let’s compare this to a certain former Freshman Illinois Senator.  Where was Obama in 2005 (the equivalent year in the 2008 cycle)?  Well, it’s hard to pin down all the specific dates, but it’s clear he WASN’T in Illinois or Washington every weekend.  Here’s a bit from a late 2005 profile on Obama:

Sundays once were sacred in the Obama house, the day for school activities and reading, movies and catching up on writing in the family journal. But in the final months of the year, Obama’s political schedule began filling up, much to the chagrin of his wife.

“The hope is that that is going to change and we’re going to go back to our normal schedule of keeping Sundays pretty sacred,” she said, turning away from her interviewer and directly toward Robert Gibbs, the senator’s communications director, who helps dictate Obama’s schedule.

Here are other miscellaneous events Obama attended, out of state, that year.

Arizona: He keynoted an Arizona Democratic Party event that raked in $1 million.

Florida: December 2005 (Dinner speaker at State Convention)

Nebraska: November 2005 (Delivered a speech in Warren Buffet’s living room)

New Jersey: November 2005 (Campaigned for Corzine at multiple events)

New Jersey:  March 2005 (Attended fundraiser for Lautenberg)

California: March 2005 (Met with and spoke with supporters in Los Angeles and Beverley Hills)

Massachusetts: Fall 2005 (Harvard Law School Reunion)

At least 2 of these trips occurred DURING the 2005 legislative session, when Obama had immediate duties.  Where was Jack Jodell condemning Obama’s country-hopping less than a year into his first term as Senator?

To be sure, Governors have duties outside of the regular legislative session.  But, as best as I can tell, they have no official constitutional or statutory duties that can’t be dealt with at the Governor’s convenience.  Jack Jodell is clearly out of his depth.

Misleading Pawlenty Poll

September 29, 2009 4 comments

So apparently the Minnesota Star Tribune commissioned a poll asking Minnesotans if Pawlenty should run for President and, if he did, whether they’d be likely to vote for him.  They write:

A majority of Minnesotans don’t want to see Gov. Tim Pawlenty run for president in 2012, but nearly as many say they would give him a look if he were nominated, according to a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.

The poll shows that only 30 percent of adults want to see the two-term governor make a try for the White House three years from now, while 55 percent do not.

But in a mixed message for Pawlenty, 25 percent of Minnesotans said there was a “good chance” they would vote for him if he became the GOP nominee, while another 25 percent said there was at least “some chance” they would vote for him. A solid 43 percent said there was no chance they would vote for a President Pawlenty.

Their headline gives the spin:  Most Don’t Back Pawlenty Run.  But, is this really bad news for T-Paw?  Hardly.  First of all, I can never figure out WHY they ask these particular questions over and over again when they prove to yield perfectly useless results.  Rasmussen asked the second question repeatedly throughout the 2008 race.  The results?  Well, here’s a snapshot from 2007, from the major Presidential contenders.  Rudy had 22% definitely for and 39% definitely against, for a score of -17.  Hillary had 28% definitely for and 46% definitely against (-18).  Romney 15% definitely for and 37% definitely against (-22).  Every single candidate was in negative territory and only Obama, a relatively cipherish Democrat in a Democratic year, and Thompson, a total cipher who’d yet to be attacked AT ALL nationally, were under -10.  This is just a question which yields STRONGLY negative results.  Pawlenty’s -18 suggests that he’s about as well positioned in Minnesota as Rudy and Clinton were nationally in 2007; i.e, fairly strongly positioned.

The other question isn’t much better.  There are all kinds of reasons why someone wouldn’t want a particular candidate to run and, really, only one reason why they would.  For instance, Romney supporters in Minnesota probably would not want Pawlenty to run.  Ditto Palin or Huck supporters.  Certain kinds of Obama supporters, who happen to think Pawlenty would be a strong challenger, would also answer no.  It’s no indication of how much they like/respect T-Paw in a vacuum.

Man and Sin

September 29, 2009 11 comments

Have you ever looked at Christian fiction?  Every other book has some girl in a bonnet and some guy wearing an old-fashioned frontier-style hat.  Practically all of the rest involve something super-natural- usually armageddon.  None of them engage secular difficulties on secularism’s turf.  Their themes seem almost childish.  Let me give you an example from the most popular Christian series, the Left Behind series.

Think of Buck Williams, played by Kirk Cameron (I told you he’d be back) in the movie.  What do we know about Buck?  Well, we know he’s an intellectual- he attended Princeton- we know he’s a world reknowned journalist and a senior writer for something bigger than the NYT.  And we know he’s not a Christian.  This point is critical to Buck’s development.  You see, when the rapture happens, Buck starts to doubt his atheism.  He begins to put pieces  (including a miraculous experience he had in Israel) together and finally decides to accept God.  Oh, one more thing we know about the pre-rapture Buck: he’s a virgin.

That’s right: a handsome, successful, famous, non-Christian, 29 year old intellectual is a virgin.  We know this because at one point he has a comical discussion about “experience” with a college student he’s sweet on.   I couldn’t get over this when I read the first book, probably a decade ago.  Even at 12 it seemed preposterous (now it’s almost unfathomable).  What were they trying to pull, I wondered?

Now, older and wiser, I’ve figured it out: they were trying to create their own world, totally detached from the secular world, where the ordinary and the sinful were pretty rare and easily dealt with.   Even the obvious evil in the story fits this mold: Armageddon isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence.   Practically all of modern, conservative Christianity has disappeared into that make-believe world.  Thus the Amish books, and the bonnets and the strapping young lads with suspenders and impeccable manners.  It’s all a retreat.

How did we get here?  Bear with me but I think I have an idea.  Back when Christianity still dominated the intellectual landscape, the Christian novel read a lot differently.  Sinners showed up more often but they played an almost uniform role: they died.  Or they experienced some unthinkable tragedy.  You’d see plots that went something like this “girl is seduced away from virtue and soon afterward she’s…run over by a wagon”.  Do you see?  If you have sex outside of marriage you WILL be run over by a wagon.  This was serious stuff.  The virtuous were very good and the sinners very bad.  This wasn’t, by the way, just a literary thing.  Not a whole lot of people were literate and most of those who were only had time for the Bible.  But, it was a way of telling morality stories- even orally- that passed into the culture.

As society opened up, something happened.  The faithful realized that you didn’t automatically die after pre-marital sex.  They noticed that , you know, the virtuous didn’t always triumph.  And the virtuous didn’t always seem to be the virtuous- some Christians seemed rotten and some “sinners” seemed like basically decent people.  So you get novels like the Scarlett Letter.  Chillingsworth is essentially faithful, but clearly evil.  Hester and Dimmsdale are tormented, but their torment is more about shame of sin than sin itself.  We’re led to feel that, whatever their faults, they’ve basically gotten a raw deal- sin shouldn’t work like that.  So there’s a chipping away of the strictures of morality, but most of the ediface is intact.

Dickens, hardly an especially religious writer, illustrates this conflict and change.  In David Copperfield, the virtuous and patient Agnes prevails and wins David, while the sinful Little Emily ends up “beautiful and drooping” and essentially exiled.  Dickens differs from the prior tradition in that, while the sinful get their desserts, he doesn’t quite call them just.  Little Emily is a tragic, not an evil, figure.  It seems there was no doubt that sin led to “the fall”, but there was some doubt about whether “the fall” made you irredeemable.

Sometime after Dickens, this type of novel almost totally stopped.  People had “tragic flaws” that led to “downfalls” but the arc wasn’t totally explicable in terms of sin.  And the man on the street really knew better at this point.  He wasn’t going to stand for any of that malarkey.  Having realized that sin didn’t work quite as linearly as he’d supposed, he was free from the whole idea.  Oh morality and all that was fine, but basically you just wanted to be a good person.  Anything more serious and you were getting radical.  There’d been an overreach.

Which brings me back to the present (for now).  Where before the Christian writer smote the sinners, now he minimizes them.  Twenty-nine year old, intellectual, handsome, famous guys might be virgins.  In fact, they probably are if God has a plan for them.  Somehow it’ll work itself out.  Again, this is a form of retreat.  But, it’s worth noting- more than worth noting- that there was an alternative to the two traditions- between smiting and false dismissal.  This alternative was exemplified in the novels of Evelyn Waugh.  A few months ago, somebody over at NRO (and I can’t find the quote) claimed that while the love story worked in Brideshead Revisited, the religious plot hadn’t quite come off.  I thought this was incredible and absolutely backwards.

The love story didn’t quite work precisely because the religious plot was so central.  The Brideshead crew just couldn’t live well without God.  The whole second half of the book is based on that gorgeous Chesteron quote:

“Yes,” he said, “I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.”

They’d wandered but they were hooked and knew it.  They’d wandered because they were hooked and couldn’t stand it.  The novel is full of that sort of idea.  Life is glamorous; interesting; occasionally pleasurable.  But, it’s not quite full and they’re never quite satisfied.  Sin isn’t a demonic monster which immediately consumes every last good sensation, but neither is it a pathetic easily vanquished rodent.  Instead, it’s a real temptation which can feed you but never fill you.  Am I crazy to think that this is where we Christians ought to be going?  Am I crazy to think that this is the way it really is?  We should deal with the modern world manfully and acknowledge that sin exists and, while it cuts man off from God’s grace,  it can come out shining like the light.  But, it is not the light and it will never be enough to keep us out of the darkness.  Maybe the wages of sin is death, though a gradual death with many remissions.

Bugs in Fall

September 28, 2009 1 comment

Seriously, what’s the deal with all the bugs that seem to fly around in the fall?  Every year around this time I’m forced to give up running or biking outside, because I end up with a mouthful of flies (think Jim Carrey in Me, Myself and Irene).  It always feels like the “real” end of summer to me.  Any science geeks know of an explanation for this?  Or is it just my imagination?

Categories: Uncategorized

The Mentalist

September 28, 2009 1 comment

For some reason, I’m not a big TV guy, but every once in awhile I’ll get the urge to buy a show I’ve heard something about- if it’s on sale, I usually will.  Yesterday, I came across the first season of the Mentalist for$27 at BJ’s.  I’ve watched the first 10 episodes and here’s a kind of review.  Despite the surface similarity to the USA show Psych (they both involve consultants with fake psychic powers), the Mentalist actually plays more like Columbo.  In Psych, you’re shown, if only briefly, the clues Shawn notices.  You may not catch exactly what they mean- you don’t have his extraordinary memory for details after all- but you’re mostly following along.

The Mentalist’s extraordinary success has less to do with observable details (to the viewer) and more to do with his technique/personality.  Columbo was successful, in part, because he played a bumbling naif who opponents constantly underestimated.  And he was intriguing because that feigned innocence got the viewer thinking.  What was he up to?  There’s something of that in the Mentalist.  He’ll wander off, occasionally, to do something that seems totally random, but which turns out to be pertinent.  Most of these episodes work very well.  In one, for instance, they head to Nevada to and the Mentalist spends a large chunk of the episode gambling, while his team is trying to solve a crime.  Why?  You find out and it’s fairly clever.   Later, you can trace the plot so that the odd actions make a kind of logical sense.

More than a few episodes don’t work this way.  The Mentalist does things that seem inexplicable, even afterward, and he comes to conclusions that we never understand.  In one episode he’s trying to exonerate a man who was found in a room with a dead body.  The room was locked from the inside and therefore everyone insists that he must have been the only one in the room.  The “how did the real murderer escape from a room locked from the inside” is a key plot question.  But, the Mentalist just solves it.  There’s no Eureka moment.  There’s no clue anywhere, as far as I can tell, that could lead the viewer to the right conclusion.  It just comes out of nowhere.  Columbo’s “oh, and more thing” randomness, in contrast, is always a real clue for the viewer.

There’s another type of “solution” which I’ll call the “pop-psychic for the non-psychic” gambit.  It involves The Mentalist just “knowing” that someone is innocent or guilty- telling the truth or lying.  When asked to explain his remarkable intuition, he’ll say something like “it was in her eyes”.  Another variation of this is the “look into his or her eyes and mystically make them spill their guts” technique.

This is all baffling and stupid given the show’s premise.  The Mentalist became a consultant because his fake psychic career caused a serial killer to murder his wife and daughter.  He is now reflexively and rigidly anti-mysticism.  More than a few episodes revolve around this stance.  But, it’s hard for the viewer to tell (since he rarely bothers to technically explain these “feelings”), a lot of the time, why his “intuitions” aren’t as mystical as the stuff he decries.  It seems more mystical in some ways.  Traditional mysticism has a system.  That’s why we can watch Star Wars and not guffaw at the Force.  Because given the rules of the universe,  there’s nothing strange about it.   The Mentalist inhabits a rational world, but frequently resorts to non-rational solutions.  It detracts from an otherwise compelling characters and story.

And the characters are pretty compelling- wafer thin, like all the characters in procedurals, but compelling nonethless.  Well drawn, anyway.  Simon Baker, who plays the Mentalist, is a remarkably nice fit for the role.  Charming and breezy, but vaguely haunted; arrogant, but kind.  Granted, it stretches Baker’s smile (his only real talent) to the breaking point, but it all comes together nicely.  You get enough of the character to care what happens to him, but not so much that he loses the mystique he needs to pull off some of the deus ex machina-esque solutions.   The supporting characters all have fairly distinct personalities (again, in context).  Would I recommend it?  Probably only if you’re a big fan of procedurals.  Despite the flaws it’s an above average example of the genre.  Personally, I probably won’t watch past the season I own (I need through-plotlines in my stories to maintain interest), but I don’t regret buying it.

How We Forget

September 28, 2009 1 comment

So I went up to post a picture of my brothers’ new puppy Charlie.  Here he is:

Charlie1Everybody loves puppies right?  I was planning to name the category “Charlie and other Mammals” thinking that I’d start posting picture diaries Ann Althouse style, maybe even throw in pictures of my bird.  My bird.  The mammal.  Seriously, it took me over a minute to remember that birds aren’t mammals.  And when I tried to remember why– the differences between mammals and birds- all I could come up with is egg-laying and feathers rather than fir.  I remembered absolutely nothing at all about the differences between reptiles and amphibians.  I heard someone say, recently, that a modern man gets more knowledge from 1 or 2 books than the smartest “ancient man” acquired in his entire lifetime.  That’s probably true.  But, there are a whole host of things- super, super basic things- that we learn and almost totally forget; things that “ancient man” might of known cold, even if he couldn’t articulate them in exactly the same way.  How about you?  Can you say anything useful about the differences between birds and mammals (remember bats are mammals so flight isn’t  a total giveaway)?  Or are you as shockingly ignorant as I am?  I didn’t end up naming the category Charlie and other Mammals.  After a jaunt to wikipedia, I came up with an alternative.  Check it out.

Pawlenty on Foreign Policy

September 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Jennifer Rubin notes that Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich stopped by the big Foreign Policy Initiative Conference last week and made fairly lengthy, detailed foreign policy pitches.  Pawlenty was absent which is perfectly understandable.  It’s one thing for a sitting Governor, with no official national aspirations, to stump the country talking about domestic issues.  You can almost sell that as typical loyal party stuff.  If he started giving big foreign policy speeches he’d give the game away far too early.  But, I thought this would be a good time to lay down what Pawlenty has said about various foreign policy issues.  What’s the use of having access to different online databases (thank you, university) if you’re not going to use them to dig up obscure quotes? 

Iraq

Back in 2007, Pawlenty claimed to be skeptical about the surge and wondered if it shouldn’t have come earlier.  He said, in March 2007 visit to Iraq: 

“The war, of course, is not going as well as we all hoped,” Pawlenty said, “I guess I’d have to call myself a skeptic as to whether you can really turn it around [after] we let the situation deteriorate so badly. But now we’ve pulled the goalie, to put it in Minnesota terms, and we’re going all in with the surge. 

He expressed confidence in Petraeus’s candor and said, of the troops in the region:

They asked, ‘Where do you withdraw to?’ ” he said. “We need to maintain a presence in the region. There are big challenges ahead, and it’s not limited to Iraq.

So he was skeptical, but on-board. 

Afghanistan

In a March 2007 trip to Afghanistan, Pawlenty said:

“The snow is melting and they’re expecting a spring offensive from the Taliban,” the governor said Friday in conference call with Minnesota reporters. “It’s important that the United States of America press on and prevail from a national security standpoint.”…”It’s like going back 400 years, in some respects,” Pawlenty said. “It’s a very developing country, provincial and tribal, with a complicated culture and structure.”

Specifically, Pawlenty has since praised Afghanistan agri-development programs as “very important” for success. 

All-in-all, there hasn’t been a whole lot of meat on the Pawlenty foreign policy.  He has supported the major Republican foreign policy initiatives and has sounded hawkish themes at various points, but generally he’s preferred to focus on the troops.  He’s made an almost unbelievable 8 trips to Iraq and Afghanistan since becoming Governor which, I’m pretty sure, puts him ahead of our current President.  And you can’t search for “Pawlenty and Iraq” without turning up dozens of ceremonies and funerals he’s attended or pro-veteran laws he’s championed.  So I think its fair to say Pawlenty has an outsized interest, for a Governor, in foreign policy. 

Still, most of this is easy stuff; being CIC isn’t.  If Pawlenty wants to play on the world stage he needs to start making gradual, in-depth forays into foreign policy discussions.  He should go on cable news programs immediately after big foreign policy developments, ostensibly to talk about something else.  While there he can chime in on the news of the day in a detailed way and answer some big questions.  How does he see America’s role in the world?  What are the future international hot-spots (Romney identifies China) outside of the US?  Here are my two cents:  stay away from soundbytes and don’t overcompensate.  Governors always overcompensate on foreign policy, but this isn’t 2008 (Huckabee and his “bunker mentality”, Romney and his “radical jihadists”) or 1988 (Dukakis in a tank).  It’s more like 1992.  Foreign policy probably won’t be the overriding issue in the primaries.  Someone like Pawlenty has the luxury of not having to make foreign policy “news” to impress upon people his seriousness.  If he does the small stuff and seems conversant on foreign affairs he ought to be alright.