Author: Anton Northwood (Page 1 of 2)

Book Review: Harbach’s “The Art of Fielding” is My “The English Patient”

I’m a confused young man. I finished a novel that I believed I’d really like. The Art of Fielding is not a brand new book – it was published in the fall of last year – but conventional wisdom finally convinced me to pick it up. Before its release, it was critically acclaimed. The reviews described a splendid piece of storytelling and thoughtful dialogue, like Frank Darabont consulted on it. The Paper of Record put it on its “Best Books of 2011” list. I was informed I’d enjoy reading The Art of Fielding because it was a great story with an intriguing baseball subplot. I was told I’d like Fielding because it is set on and around the campus of a small liberal arts college – a Division III school – much like the college I attended. Friends and co-workers told me they cherished it, really enjoyed losing themselves in the story. “You don’t have to love baseball to love this book. It’s not just a baseball book,” I was told, over and over again. Fielding was supposed to move me because of the depth of the characters and the descriptive and good-natured writing of Chad Harbach – the first novel of a writer destined for greatness. But instead of a generational novel, Fielding reminded me of the greatest situational comedy of all time: remember the “Seinfeld” episode when Elaine saw “The English Patient” and despised it even as all her friends, colleagues and the critics fell in love with it? I feel like Elaine right now, and Fielding is my “The English Patient.”

Why is everyone talking about The English Patient…God, that movie stunk!” – Elaine Benes

It is a baseball book, and yet it isn’t. Here’s what I mean: anyone reading this book who is knowledgeable about baseball will question Harbach’s understanding of the game, and anyone not attuned to America’s fading pastime will, undoubtedly, continue to skip the games and saber metric analysis afterward.

Here’s an example of baseball jargon in Fielding:

“Izz Izz Izz…[W]hat izz what wuzz will be!”

“Let’s go, vendejos! Let’s go!”

“We ain’t letting these vatos walk into our house and take our shit! No sir!”

“Q Q Q!”

“Somebody woke up the Q!”

“Somebody woke up Henry!”

“Somebody brought back the Buddha!”

“Buddha Buddha Buddha!”

“O O O!”

“Nuestra casa!”

“O O O!”

I played baseball for many years growing up. Little league, Pony league, Bronco league, American Legion, High School, and so on. I was steeped in baseball and baseball culture for many summers, many years. The nonsensical garbage that Harbach passes off as trash-talking – baseball jargon – is utterly embarrassing. His dialogue now joins the pantheon of pathetic sports moments in popular culture along with Ed Norton’s dunk in “American History X.” When I read dialogue like what is above I was confused, thought I must have missed something. I didn’t.

And I can only imagine what non-baseball people thought reading it: people who play baseball talk this way? Do college baseball players get drunk before games? Is baseball dumber than I thought?

I could pick out a dozen more pieces of dialogue or scenes from Fielding that miss the mark, but just read Astonishingly Awful by some guy who had to write down his personal thoughts about Fielding at That should suffice.

No. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t. It’s too long.” – Elaine Benes

Fielding is 512 pages of under-developed, unsophisticated character development surrounded by laughable and outlandish scenarios that, for some unknown reason, the reader is supposed to understand, or consider, or empathize with. For instance, take the two main characters of Fielding: Henry Skrimshander, a dedicated and talented shortstop obsessed with baseball and bettering himself on the diamond, and Mike Schwartz, a hard-hitting, hard-drinking catcher whose dedication to his craft, his teammates and his school has created a magnetism no one can ignore.

When the two meet at the beginning of the book, Henry is awestruck by Schwartz’ aura: sheer manliness, a no-nonsense-let’s-get-to-work individual with unique leadership qualities. The two forge a bond, create an unbreakable friendship and begin to transform a baseball program.

The entire relationship-arch is utter nonsense.

At no point does Harbach make Schwartz into anything other than a borderline-fat, overly-critical miserable son-of-a-bitch with bad knees and a peculiar sense of self. There is nothing endearing about Schwartz. The reader doesn’t root for him at any point. He is the anti-protagonist and entirely forgettable. Then there’s Henry: a young man who miraculously develops into an outstanding collegiate hitter even though there is literally nothing in his past to suggest that Henry ever hit for a high average or power in his baseball life. He’s a rudderless ship who – for unexplained reasons – finds a captain in Schwartz who nurses him to life and changes his fortunes – only to watch those fortunes disappear in a terrifically stupid way.

Henry and Schwartz create the most asinine and fruitless partnership in recent published history.

It gets worse from there. Meet the college’s president Guert Affenlight who rose to prominence via his book, “The Sperm Squeezers.” (Don’t ask.) He’s an affable, well-read, thoughtful college president who bizarrely and inexplicably puts his career in danger by careening into a thoughtless – and totally unconvincing – love affair with an undergraduate and player on the baseball team, Owen. Owen turns out to be Henry’s roommate and although the reader is told over and over again he’s a talented baseball player, he spends most games reading books in the dugout – the kind of ridiculous and superficial add-on that has no basis in reality, though Harbach – weirdly – insists it does.

Then Harbach brings Pella Affenlight into the story – Guert’s wayward and estranged daughter – who, as far as I could tell, is little more than an unscrupulous whore intent on making bizarre and thoughtless – yet, completely unimportant – decisions.

Other bit players litter the book but none of them matter. A couple different times Harbach brings Henry’s sister into the fray. In one scene she gets drunk and makes out with some guy at a bar. I don’t remember any of the names involved, and I never needed to. There are dozens of long passages like that, including the debauched and criminally-thoughtless ending.

How can you not like that movie?” – friend of Elaine Benes

How ‘bout, it sucked?” – Elaine Benes

Conventional wisdom told me the Miami Heat were a prohibitive favorite to win the NBA title. Conventional wisdom convinced me Dicks cheeseburgers taste good. The iphone is a useful tool worth investing in, conventional wisdom told me. George Clooney in “The Descendents” = a noteworthy and conventionally solid performance. Conventional wisdom was right in each and every case. I listen to conventional wisdom because it’s correct, mostly. The Art of Fielding punched conventional wisdom in the marbles. It’s a dumb book with dumb characters and I wish I didn’t read it.

If the book is some kind of allegory and I’m missing the central themes, I’m sorry. I doubt it, though. I am beginning to believe the praise for Fielding is part of a grand conspiracy to trick otherwise intelligent people to glowingly marvel at slapped together novels in order to give publishers – like Little, Brown and Co., the publisher of Fielding – a push into a previously untapped segment of potential novel readers with cheaply written and easily reproduced stories, like James Patterson’s book factory. I don’t know. But I am a little confused.


KIRO-TV’s Chris Halsne Caught by News Council in Latest of a String of Sloppy Hit-and-Run Reports

A Leschi Elementary parent was shopping a story tailor-made for the local news: a black janitor with an arrested record, a hidden camera, a basement office, numerous complaints from the community, an uncooperative central figure, a school district unaware, and innocent school children.

A slam dunk. A no-brainer for a television reporter attempting to draw viewers during sweeps week.

KING5 television looked into the allegations and passed on the story. KIRO7 and reporter Chris Halsne decided to run with it, featuring the story as a five-minute package on its evening newscast. In doing so, KIRO 7 and Halsne decided not pursue ethical journalism, the latest in a string of stories of the years that have failed to meet even a minimum standard of ethics.

That story was the subject of a Washington News Council Public Hearing Saturday morning, the 16th, at Seattle’s Town Hall—a hearing KIRO7 refused to participate in. Complaining witnesses included a representative from International Union of Operating Engineers Local 609, the Union representing the janitor at the center of Halsne’s story, Chester Harris, debunking the relevance of Harris’ arrest record and Halsne’s allegation that the Seattle school district never conducted a background check on Harris. Two other witnesses, an office assistant at Leschi Elementary and a parent of a Leschi student, spoke glowingly of Harris’ professionalism and caring nature.

Probably the most outrageous aspect of Halsne’s story were the interviews he conducted with two members of the community who alleged Harris was a repeat offender, made children uncomfortable and family members uneasy. Turns out, the two concerned members of the community were related and the woman interviewed, identified only as a parent of a Leschi student–due to an “unrelated domestic violence issue”–was described at the WNC’s Hearing Saturday morning as a “nightmare” with complaints against him from at least 15 members of Leschi Elementary.

Halsne didn’t disclose those facts. He may not have even bothered to find out himself.

The amount of mistakes, misstatements, and outright lies in Halsne’s story have been described elsewhere and the results of the hearing Saturday morning can be found here.

At best, the story is professionally embarrassing. At worst, it’s criminal.

This is not the first time Halsne’s reporting has drawn wide-ranging criticism. In 2003, Halsne filed a story the Seattle Weekly reported on that drew criticism from many different circles and forced Halsne to attempt to defend himself on the radio. Then in 2008, KIRO7 ran two Halsne stories about alleged voter-fraud. Both stories were filled with factual errors and badly missed even mediocre standards of journalistic ethics.

The results of the WNC hearing Saturday morning, and some of Halsne’s previous attempts at  journalism, clearly show he is a television reporter to be wary of. It is disappointing that his employers have not issued an apology on his behalf.

Newt Gingrich and Republican Victims | Commentary

A close relative called Saturday morning and wanted to talk about one thing: Newt Gingrich. She was furious that the “elite media” would so flamboyantly attempt to derail his presidential nomination bid with a tawdry and outlandish interview of a spurned ex-wife. How could they, she argued, interview a woman on national television who “only had an ax to grind.” They – the “elite media” – had no shame. Sarah Palin is right: true conservatives, like Palin, won’t stop supporting Newt just because the elite media said they should – in fact, quite the opposite. When I quietly pointed out that the story was entirely newsworthy and there was nothing necessarily wrong with it, she accused me of ulterior motives. When I pointed out “the daughters” supporting Newt were not the spurned ex-wife’s, she dismissed it as an unimportant detail. Then I read this. And then this.

I get it now: Newt Gingrich has tapped into the counter-productive victimization complex of the Republican faithful. Conservatives in South Carolina ate it up with a knife and fork.

No one likes a victim and no one likes Newt. At least, almost no one.

However, he’s a viable candidate to myriad elite-media-haters in the Republican tent around the country because he understands their pain; he understands the frustrating reality of CNN, NBC, and The New York Times.

Forget for a moment that Newt is probably a bad person and a notorious train-wreck as a professional and leader. Forget for a moment that some people in America perceive him as racist. Forget for a moment that his idea of hauling judges in front of Congress is so profoundly stupid I refuse to believe he’s serious when he repeats it. And finally, forget that Newt will never be POTUS and can only damage the Republican Party nationally. Forget all of it because he’s running for the irrational Republican victims that love his righteous indignation.

In general, Republican victims believe the elite media has an agenda that includes demeaning all Republican politicians and voters, refusing to acknowledge Democratic misdeed and mistakes, and attacking Christianity and traditional family values. Therefore, that same elite media is complicit in most of what’s wrong with American politics and society today and throughout America’s modern history. Other than, perhaps, the Holy Trinity of CNN, NBC, and The New York Times, no one is exactly sure what constitutes the elite media though. What conservative victims do know, however, is that it isn’t Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Lars Larson, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, the other not-so-subtle conservative hosts, reporters, editors, and executives at Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial pages, thousands of conservative blogs and the many highly effective, respected, and conservative policy shops that publish newsletters, Op-Eds, and hold forums and events in a city or town near you. This, of course, is not an exhaustive list – just mentioning a few.  But remember, according to Newt and his victimized supporters, the elite media have the power and audacity to outmaneuver all competitors.

Of course, Newt’s strategy lacks staying power because it’s built upon irrationality and ignorance, not good governance and effective leadership. He’ll flame out (he better, or my whole argument is garbage).

Most Republicans in the United States want to nominate a candidate who is an effective leader and team builder, a competent manager and professional, with a history of success and sustained determination in his public and private life. Newt is none of those things. There is no scenario in which he and his third wife will inhabit the White House. He has, however, managed to gain the trust and support of victimized Republicans utilizing a simple axiom of retail politics: appealing to misplaced anger and fear.


[photo credit: DonkeyHotey]

Book Review: Steven Brill’s ‘Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools’

Steven Brill will be speaking Tuesday, November 1, at the Seattle Public Library downtown. For more information, click here.

As the title suggests, this book about public education in America is explained as a two-sided war. On one side stands America’s students, entrepreneurial and moneyed professionals, enlightened elected officials, and amazingly idealistic and energetic teachers. The other side is a bureaucratic monstrosity filled with paper-pushers, taciturn union officials, lazy teachers, and an intransigent and backward worldview.

In “Class Warfare,” Steven Brill, a ridiculously successful journalist and entrepreneur (he founded Court TV!), attempts to capture the origins, leaders, and timeline of the modern public education reform movement. The Book is filled with the usual suspects. The list includes, but is not limited to, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Wendy Kopp (the founder of Teach For America), Bill Gates, Eva Moskowitz, Robert Gordon, Rupert Murdoch, Steven Brill, and, finally, Beelzebub herself, Randi Weingarten. Weingarten must truly despise this book.

I’m only half joking by referring to her as Beelzebub. Brill explains in the book that he spent more time talking to Weingarten while writing this book than any of the other characters that appear on its pages. I imagine that’s part of his rationalization for painting her as the symbol for what is wrong with public education in America.

In 1999, Eva Moskowitz, a Johns Hopkins PhD-holder, a former professor at Vanderbilt, and an unrelenting critic of New York City public schools, won a seat on NYC’s City Council. By 2002 she had become the chair of the Council’s education committee. Just a year later, she decided to openly challenge Weingarten in the public sphere. She challenged Weingarten on her union’s contracts with the City and came out swinging, orchestrating testimony, lambasting the union head for protecting her interests – students be damned – , and generally being a “pain in the ass.” Weingarten punted, deciding to blame poor management for the City’s struggles and refusing to give in to a single point Moskowitz made. She survived, but barely. And so Weingarten decided to get even. Less than two years later, with Moskowitz running for Borough president, Weingarten used her union’s largesse to orchestrate a nasty campaign against her – on the radio, on sidewalks, and through phone calls – highlighted by a ridiculous charge that Moskowitz was opposed to anti-sweatshop laws. Moskowitz lost, big time, and the reader is left to imagine the grin on the face of a cruel and unwavering Weingarten while she laughs chillingly in a dark basement.

Brilliantly, in more than 80 tidy chapters, Brill contrasts “rubber rooms” and powerful, anti-reform union officials – Weingarten being numero uno – with a cast of characters that inspire hope.

Brill’s greatest show of persuasion is by continually showing his reader the diverse professionals behind the education reform movement. As diverse as his cast of characters are, they all have one thing in common: remarkable success. Whether in business, technology, society, or politics, Brill does a convincing and charming job of painting education reform as the side of winners. In other words, if his reader happens to be opposed to charters or vouchers, bonus pay or strict teacher evaluations, or any of the other hallmarks of education reformers, than chances are, that reader is dumb. Is it possible to second-guess Bill Gates? Or Michelle Rhee or her fiancé, and Mayor of Sacramento, Kevin Johnson?

The villians in Warfare, like Weingarten, are interested in protecting the status quo of public education. Nearly every chapter of the book makes the reader wonder what there is to protect? One passage in particular showcases the mindset of the status quo.

During a public hearing over co-location of a traditional public school and a NYC charter school, Brill brings a little girl named Tiana and her mother Bernice into the good versus evil story-arch. Tiana gets up and grabs the microphone to address the packed auditorium: “My name is Tiana Wynn, and at my Harlem Success school they teach us to share and care about each other. Why can’t you?” she asks the crowd, to cheers from one side and silence from the other (good versus evil, again). Then, Brill quotes Tiana’s mother: “I’ve got one child in a charter and have had two in public schools…there’s no comparison. Tiana is in kindergarten and already reading books and writing stories.” At that point, Brill introduces the reader to New York state senator Bill Perkins, who proceeds to make an ass of himself: “[p]eople have to start to think about what a racket charters are…and how a lot of rich people are making money off of them…[w]e have to focus on improving the public schools for everyone. Choice creates a diversion. It divides the community.”

Brill’s book shows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the incredible power of the NEA and the AFT is systematically declining. The only hope the status quo has is democratic politicians whose coffers are filled by union activists (Bill Perkins). Eventually, though, even those elected officials will quietly recede from a truly indefensible position. Change is coming, no doubt about it.

Interestingly, while reading this book, I was alerted to three news items. First, the Wall Street Journal editorial page published another pro-charter school piece, eviscerating the oft-heard complaints about charter schools. Second, this piece of interesting news. And finally, on Saturday in Newcastle, democratic candidate for governor, Jay Inslee, was quoted saying this about education: “we are no longer going to tolerate a two-to three-year delay in removing underperforming teachers from the classroom.”

Soon, Washington State will join the reform that is shaking up states like New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, Colorado, and many others. A charter school bill will pass through the legislature in Olympia very soon. Don’t expect the WEA to be happy about it. Class Warfare is just starting in Washington.


[photo credit: thethingsitdoes]

CD Review: Mayer Hawthorne’s ‘How Do You Do’

Beautiful and simple, “How Do You Do” is another hit for the neo-soul savant.

Mayer Hawthorne (link), the falsetto-voiced neo-soul hit maker, has something in common with Republican presidential candidate Hermain Cain. Cain’s appeal, in a word, is simplicity. Hawthorne’s newest album, “How Do You Do” (link) is simple as well: love, loss, and loneliness. However, unlike Cain, Hawthorne’s music and message is multilayered, wholly original, and has staying power.

I suppose a track like “You Called Me” could be misconstrued as simple: the story of a man who is so in love with his lady that a simple message of “I love you” can change his miserable circumstances. First, the protagonist spills coffee on his shirt and, subsequently, misses his bus. Next, he realizes he’s a little short on cash while attempting to buy a dress for his sugarbear. In both circumstances, a message of I Love You from a special-lady saves the day. But the simple lyrics of You Called Me belie a sophisticated overall effort.

Funky rhymes, strings, horns, beautiful percussion arrangements, “How Do You Do” is a tour-de-force for the listener: dance-inducing, soul-grabbing and a reminder that good music is abundant, as long as one is willing to look for it. As far as I’m concerned, Hawthorne’s only contemporary in the neo-soul movement is Raphael Saadiq (link), a man best known as a member of Tony! Toni! Tone! Coincidently, Hawthorne begins the album by speaking in smooth, dulcet tones: a nod to the good ol’ days of 90’s R ‘n’ B when Keith Sweat, DeAngelo, and, yes, Tony! Toni! Tone! (link) made young people want to find love at the mall or in the backseat of a car or on their Mom and Dad’s couch. He croons, “I really wanna get to know ya/I wanna learn you inside out. I really want to get to know ya/we can have some fun right now. I really want to get to know you/I wanna make you feel all right…” – I think you get the picture.

Don’t get me wrong, though. Hawthorne’s sophomore effort is not some sleazy ride through his teenage years. It’s a soulful throwback. Its music kids can listen to with their parents. Hell, its music teenagers can listen to with their grandparents. It’s like the Temptations and O’Jays and Teddy Pendergrass (link) and Clarence Carter all rolled into one. “A Long Time,” the album’s second track, is an ode to old-time Detroit: the cars, the grit and Motown. On track three, “Can’t Stop,” Snoop Dogg makes an appearance. It’s a little off-putting, but a valiant effort to expand the horizons of a hip-hop legend.

The show-stopper is “The Walk.” Filled with the kind of rhythm, style, and lyrical poeticism that is difficult to find, the track is an immediate classic. It’s the kind of cut that makes me want to simply transcribe the lyrics so I can take some derived pride in it, like quoting movie lines. Just trust me when I write that you want to listen to “The Walk” while you’re heading down the interstate around dusk.

Purchasing albums rather than downloading tracks from the internet – legally or illegally – is a worthwhile effort for many reasons, one of which is getting the chance to read the artist’s liner notes. Before thanking “all the beautiful women” for the inspiration, Hawthorne makes mention of his music in his notes as a thank-you to his crew: “thank you for showing me, and the rest of the world, that good music can still win.” A simple message from a musical genius on an album that is anything but simple.


[photo credit: Super 45 | Música Independiente]

Pete Carroll Should Be Fired

Has Coach Pete Carroll allowed Seattle's NFL franchise to go to the dogs?

I watched the Hawks game yesterday with a buddy of mine. He’s a Watch-Games-Every-Once-In-Awhile-Because-I-Like-Football type of Hawks fan. He was astounded by how below-average Tarvaris Jackson was playing. Here’s a typical exchange:

Him: “Wow. Tarvaris Jackson is a pretty bad quarterback.”

Me: “Tell me about it.”

Him: “And the Seahawks purposely signed him to be the starting quarterback?”

Me: “Yeah, that’s correct.”

Him: “Who made that call?”

Me: “Pete Carroll.”

Him: “I was under the impression he’s a good coach.”

Me: “Well, maybe, but he made a really stupid decision” (emphasis mine).

Did Pete Carroll stake his reputation on Tarvaris Jackson? If so, should he be held accountable for that?

The answer to both questions is yes. And he should lose his job.

Even casual football fans know Tarvaris Jackson is, at best, a functional back-up.  The entire Jackson-to-Seattle signing was a Carroll-orchestrated move. And from the very beginning, people were dubious. For good reason, too. Carroll could’ve demanded the Seahawks sign Matt Hasselbeck. Instead, the Hawks watched him thread the needle countless times for the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. Is Hasselbeck surrounded by better teammates and a talented offensive line in Tennessee? Yes, he is. But he’s also Jackson’s superior, clearly.

Jackson completed 20 passes for 159 yards on Sunday. That’s under eight yards a completion. Hasselbeck haters – of which, evidently, Carroll is one – used to crucify him because of a perceived inability to throw the ball downfield well. Jackson can’t consistently throw an out-route well let alone a deep ball. He doesn’t get rid of the ball when he should. His escape-ability is grossly overstated by his apologists. He is not a good quarterback and competent NFL talent evaluators and decision-makers know it.

But this isn’t only about Carroll choosing Jackson over Hasselbeck, because letting Hasselbeck finish his career elsewhere made sense. Or, at least, one could argue that. This is about investing in a quarterback – and immediately naming him the starter – who, one could argue, should not be a starting quarterback in the NFL . The Carroll-led Seahawks made the Jackson investment a year after investing in Charlie Whitehurst! I don’t mean to be rude, but what the hell is Carroll doing?

In a bizarro-world sense the only “What The Hell is Carroll Doing” theory that works is the Tanking Theory, or what a Facebook commentator called the “Suck for Luck Campaign.” The theory goes like this: Andrew Luck, the quarterback at Stanford, is such a can’t miss NFL prospect that Pete Carroll is intentionally ruining the Seahawks season in order to, potentially, get the first pick in the Draft, aka Andrew Luck. But that’s like believing President Obama is intentionally destroying America in order to usher in a socialist utopia. It’s silly – and offensive, if you ask me. Also, keep in mind that the NFL is littered with bad teams. The Seahawks could win two or three games this year and fail to get even a top-three pick. I can believe the Chiefs or the Colts may be employing the tanking strategy, but not the Hawks.

The most important position in all of professional sports is the quarterback position. Pete Carroll went all-in on Tarvaris Jackson and lost, big time. He should lose his job because of it.


[photo credit: Joint Base Lewis McChord]

Tension Between Feds and Property Owners on Northern Border at Heart of Helicopter Harassment Case

Last Wednesday, while the power and majesty of the Blue Angels was on display overhead on a beautiful and cloudless August day, Wayne Groen stood before Judge Thomas S. Zilly in a Federal District Court room in Seattle.

Groen was there to be sentenced for a conviction of incapacitating a Customs and Border Protection helicopter pilot on the evening of September 22. While handing down his sentence, Zilly described what Groen did as “stupid” and said he should consider himself “lucky” for not causing the helicopter to crash. Zilly ordered him to spend two months at the federal prison in Sea-Tac followed by 90 days of home detention, three months of community supervision, and a fine of $5,000. He will begin serving his sentence in the next couple months.

Groen, a Lynden farmer whose property abuts the international border, shined a spotlight into the cockpit of the helicopter that Wednesday evening after – as his attorneys described – he was awoke around 9:30 in the evening by the sound of it hovering above his house. His arrest and April conviction spurred protests, community meetings, and myriad media accounts. The details of the case are not in dispute; although Groen’s attorneys argued that the pilots “exaggerated” the danger Groen and his spotlight posed. The jury agreed, acquitting him of the more serious charge he faced.

Whether Groen acted recklessly that night is not really up for debate. He probably never intended to bring the helicopter down but that doesn’t minimize his crime. The most interesting aspect of the case is what Zilly excluded from it. Any past incidences between Groen and federal law enforcement on or near his property was excluded; as was any past incidences between Groen and local law enforcement. It’s safe to say Groen was an individual law enforcement in the area was aware of. In other words, he’s a hot-head and lost his temper and is now paying for it.

Living on the northern border at present is quite different from living on the northern border before September 11, 2011. The size and scope of federal law enforcement on and near the border has risen astronomically. Even so, the vast majority of residents have adapted seamlessly. Residents of Lynden used to be able to ride their bikes over the international border and any American could return to the United States from a trip into British Columbia with little more than a passing wave to the officer at the port of entry.

Not so much now.

It’s not at all unusual for a secondary check, even after the most routine trip to Canada. Border Patrol agents and their vehicles are more familiar than local law enforcement in a community like Lynden. The Seattle Weekly reported last week that 9-1-1 calls in Whatcom County are now being answered by federal law enforcement who in turn contact the proper authorities. Border Patrol agents and unmanned cameras keep close watch everywhere, even on The Spit at Semiahmoo. Personnel scour woods, farm land, and even backyards in search of illegal drugs, human traffickers, and undocumented immigrants. If their work leads them on to private property, so be it. Groen wasn’t willing to adapt like his friends and neighbors. He had the right to defend his Castle, but he didn’t have the right to irresponsibly harass law enforcement officers above it.

The reported after the sentencing yesterday that Zilly received more than 100 letters from Groen’s supporters describing his as a hard-working man fed up with harassment. A commenter at The Province described Groen as a “man’s man.” Call me crazy, but I don’t think a “man’s man” storms out of his house in his underwear in a rage to blind a pilot. I also don’t think of a “man’s man” as spending 60 days in a federal prison. But hey, that’s just me.


[photo credit: flickr]



Book Review: ‘The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers’


The Verdict of History

It is the story of Sanlu and its chairwoman Tian Wenhua that helps encapsulate the essence and importance of today’s China. Richard McGregor, the author of “The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers,” writes with astonishing detail and powerful insight about the company that began as a local dairy in Shijiazhuang and transformed into a milk-marketing giant – a company for The Party to be proud of. For fifteen years, Sanlu’s steady and entrepreneurial rise helped it become the top seller of baby formula in China. And as Sanlu grew in power, so did Ms. Tian: in 2005, she was named the ‘Most Respected Entrepreneur of the Chinese Dairy Industry’, a title that had as much to do with her powerful position in China’s communist party as it did with her position as chairwoman of Sanlu. You see, The Party began grooming Ms. Tian for a career in government as soon as her business acumen was evident.

So when stories began circulating in early 2007 that infants fed Sanlu’s formula were producing red urine and some were unable to produce any urine at all due to kidney failure, The Party knew it had a problem on its hands. In what McGregor describes as a ‘baleful coincidence’, the stories began circulating at the same time the propaganda department was tightening restrictions on reporters in a pre-Olympics crackdown. Therefore, rather than the scandal leaking out in the press and on television, the opposite became reality: breathless reporting about the high quality products being produced at Sanlu and the company’s impeccable service to the people of China since its founding. As the horror-stories continued to mount, however, some in the press attempted to report the truth only to be blocked by the local arm of the propaganda department. Sanlu’s board wanted to recall the tainted products; communist officials in Shijiazhaung overruled them. The problem was to be kept a secret. The Party could not suffer through controversy during the Olympic Games. But finally, on September 9, the New Zealand ambassador to Beijing alerted central government authorities to the undeniable truth and the propaganda arm of The Party went into full crisis communication mode.

Three individuals were swiftly executed for their role in distributing the tainted formula. The Mayor of Shijiazhaung was fired and the head of the food inspection service was forced to resign. For her role Ms. Tian earned a life sentence and victims were, essentially paid-off for their cooperation – their silence. As Mr. McGregor explained, “Other than passing references to Ms. Tian’s position as the party secretary, the Communist Party’s role was barely acknowledged at all.” In the end, a Party that helped build a company into a behemoth also helped destroy it – quickly and quietly.

Mr. McGregor, a reporter for the Financial Times, and the publication’s former China bureau chief, does a superb job of explaining the mind-numbingly complex intricacies of The Party machine and its role in the incredible economic explosion that has vaulted China into the world’s second-most powerful economy. If one looks at the Fortune 500 list today, many state enterprises in China hover near the top of the list when little more than a decade ago those same state companies didn’t even make the list.

The Party makes no apologies for its bold and borderline reckless forays into foreign markets, like its economic successes in Africa and its 2005 bid for Unocal, a company headquartered in California with assets in the United States and Asia. The Party’s success lies in its ability to insulate its state enterprises, shielding companies from foreign competitors while at the same time inviting the kind of foreign investment China shunned under the old Party of the 70s and early 80s. Additionally, The Party is embracing the entrepreneurial and innovative instincts of its people like never before. For instance, Nian Guangjiu, a man jailed on three separate occasions, the first time, in 1963, for operating a fruit stand in his own home, is now viewed as a hero and man to be respected for his entrepreneurial drive and incessant ingenuity. In 1984, Deng Xiaoping decided The Party must celebrate his salesmanship, so, by the time Mr. McGregor sat down to interview him in 2008, Mr. Nian “had morphed from subversive capitalist into a state-sponsored business celebrity” and an example of The Party’s willingness to relax controls on economic matters all while tightening them on political ones.

Perhaps there is no better example of China’s tight political controls than the Central Organization Department. Centrally located just west of Tiananmen Square, the Department is not unlike the human resource management arm of any organization, public or private – except that it’s reach is unending. Anything related to the hiring, firing, or transferring of people within The Party or any state run enterprise is the business of the Department. Mr. McGregor – in perhaps the most chilling section of his book – explains the Department’s responsibilities this way:

“The best way to get a sense of the dimensions of the department’s job is to conjure up an imaginary parallel body in Washington. A similar department in the US would oversee the appointment of the entire US cabinet, state governors and their deputies, the mayors of major cities, the heads of all federal regulatory agencies, the chief executives of GE, Exxon-Mobil, Wal-Mart and about fifty of the remaining largest US companies, the justices on the Supreme Court, the editors of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, the bosses of the TV networks and cable stations, the presidents of Yale and Harvard and other big universities, and the heads of think-tanks like the Brookings Institution and the Heritage Foundation.”

Mr. McGregor is an Australian now living in London and one gets the sense that although he misses reporting in China, he is truly ambivalent about its future. He is brutally honest about the regressive and onerous controls in China, while staying away from too many democratic comparisons because, as he makes clear, The Party and the people of China are not interested in western democracy – the pride and spirit of China is distinctly Chinese. The Chinese people live in a country of rich history and incredible wealth that is forward-looking. Nothing will get in the way of China’s rise, and they’re proud of that. On NBC’s 30 Rock, Liz Lemon is slowing coming to grips with the idea that she will have to settle for a Brit she keeps bumping into on the streets of New York City. The Brit, an uptight and recently unemployed man, bemoans the Olympics coming to London because, as he explained it, “[W]e’re not prepared, Liz. Did you see the Beijing opening Ceremonies? We don’t have control over our people like that!” The Party doesn’t control the people of China. Rather, as Mr. McGregor puts it, The Party “harnesses and channels” the people.

In the coming decades, as China is forced to confront issues detrimental to its economic success – intellectual property rights and a level economic playing field being two – one must wonder whether the legitimacy the economy provides The Party is sustainable. As The Party and its people look outward and upward, will something be missed at home? And as the US continues moving forward despite an economic downturn that, mercilessly, seems to have no end, and looks toward – either longingly or loathsomely – a presidential election year, the rising dragon that is China must be handled with a deft touch.


[photo credit: flickr]


Some East Coast Opposition to New York Gay Marriage Bill Lacks Merit

I may lack the political sophistication to completely understand the ramifications of New York’s same-sex marriage vote last week, but I can recognize a weak rhetorical argument. The Wall Street Journal published a column by conservative Maggie Gallagher in Thursday’s edition in reaction to the vote in Albany.

In a column running next to a conservative voice in favor of same-sex marriage, Gallagher argues three main points. First, the majority of Americans oppose same-sex marriage. Second, the GOP base will now have a bigger impact in the presidential nominating process because it is fired up. Third, the vote in Albany will hurt NY’s GOP. All three points miss the mark quite convincingly.  It must be confusing for a conservative ambivalent on the issue of same-sex marriage to read Ms. Gallagher’s piece and walk away with a conclusion other than, ‘This is not a winning issue.’

Ms. Gallagher’s analysis begins by writing “the majority of Americans continue to oppose same-sex marriage.” Of course, that is true depending on who one believes. Thankfully for her, she believes a poll commissioned by the Alliance Defense Fund. However, polls conducted by the Gallup organization, CNN, ABC News/Washington Post, and Fox News show an American public much less decided on same-sex marriage. And remember, it’s not too difficult to determine that views on same-sex marriage will continue to liberalize. Blame whomever or whatever you want: public schools, political correctness, or weak religious organizations. Same-sex marriage is hurtling toward greater social acceptance.

Secondly, Ms. Gallagher writes that the vote in Albany will “fire up” the GOP base and “it will affect the presidential nomination process, starting with the Iowa caucuses.” She’s so convinced of her point that she predicts Herman Cain’s campaign for the GOP nomination will be stalled because he failed to support a federal marriage amendment at the New Hampshire debate. Wow, what a prediction. Herman Cain will fail to emerge as a “serious contender” for the Republican nomination? That’s pretty farfetched! If the GOP base is fired up it’s because the feckless Obama Administration’s handling of the economy; the fact that a year removed Obama’s “Recovery Summer,” real unemployment is well above ten percent. It’s the economy, stupid.

Third, Gallagher writes “Memo to Empire State Republicans: Abandoning your core values to get elected is wrong.” Memo to Ms. Gallagher: NY’s GOP has been abandoning their core values for awhile now. The same-sex vote in Albany is like the Bruins empty-netter versus the Canucks in game six.

If Maggie Gallagher’s rhetorical failure is the best defense of traditional marriage social conservatives have they may want to head back to the drawing board. Perhaps fire up the War on Christmas stuff again. Or scare people about polyamory. Or how about this for a novel idea: attempt to fix the institution of marriage.


In Support of a Huntsman Nomination

Today, Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, US envoy to China, and well-traveled Mormon missionary, will officially declare his candidacy for President after months of “will he, won’t he” speculation stretching from Washington, D.C. to Beijing, China. Long before his announcement today, a possible Huntsman candidacy has gained plenty of traction – and plenty of detractors.

The first talking point against Mr. Huntsman – and it will come, mostly, from the right – is his service as Ambassador to China in the Obama Administration, a position he resigned from in April. Yesterday, The Hill reported John Bolton as the most recent critic on the right.

Mr. Huntsman accepted the China post because he’s a perfect fit. He’s an international business man. He’s an international traveler. He speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese. He’s competent and he’s capable. The Chinese and ex-pats in China looked forward to his appointment and, once in his position, he did an exemplary job of supporting U.S. business in China, propagating the importance of revised policy positions in China (Intellectual Property Rights, Human Rights) and strengthening and developing the kind of cultural, political, and business ties that will prove invaluable as the world’s largest economies continue to adapt in the 21st century. In short, he served his country because he was the best man for the job.

And in case it matters, he also served in the Reagan Administration and both Bush Administration’s (although, I’m sure that may slip under the radar of the ‘What Have You Done For Me Lately?’ ideologues).

Mr. Huntsman’s defense of the so-called Ryan Budget in the Wall Street Journal was interesting for two reasons. First, he obviously understands the complexity of the federal budget, unsustainable entitlement programs, and the necessity of the next Republican nominee for President to take a hard stand on fiscal issues. Second, he understands the power of symbolism. Notice the title of the piece. It’s an obvious nod to Ronald Reagan’s speech in Los Angeles in 1964. And if you believe that’s just a coincidence, consider this: his announcement today in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty is the same spot Mr. Reagan kicked off his first presidential campaign in 1980. And, like Reagan, the Right of his party does not like some of his positions: he’s a longtime advocate of civil unions, he’s a leader on the issue of comprehensive immigration reform, and his ideas on health care and health care reform are unsettling to some. There’s no doubt, though, that Mr. Reagan’s “80-20 Rule” applies to Mr. Huntsman.

He’s smart and articulate. He’s ambitious and entrepreneurial. He’s a leader and a statesman. And, most importantly, he’s electable – and he can outspend almost anyone. Jon Huntsman was an extraordinarily popular governor and ambassador. He should be the Republican nominee for 2012.


[Views expressed here are those of the author and are not to be construed as an endorsement of a political candidate by The NW Daily Marker.]

[featured photo credit: White House photo used under Creative Commons license; post image credit: DonkeyHotey]

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