Friday, July 28, 2006

Appleton, ho!

Not exactly the most inspiring call, but what are you gonna do? We're going to load the family up for a quick trip back to Appleton this weekend. My nephew Eddie will be baptized on Sunday at St. John's Church in lovely Little Chute. We're only going to be gone one night, but it will be good to see my siblings and get a change of scenery. As readers of this feature well know, I've been out of work for some time now and while we're surviving this blow, it's been getting more difficult as the weeks go on. I haven't left the state of Minnesota since Jill and I test-drove the Portland area in December, so we're long overdue for a change of scenery.

Every time I return to my home town, I get to resume my ambivalent relationship with it. I've long believed that Appleton was a great place to grow up, but throughout my youth I was eager to find a larger canvas and I haven't lived there for well over 20 years now. In many ways, Appleton is a very different place than it was in the 1970s. The population has swelled and has opened its doors to the world, for better and worse. The Appleton I grew up in was prosperous, provincial and sometimes uncurious about the larger world. It sent a famous magician (Harry Houdini), a largely forgotten early female literary lion (Edna Ferber), a genuine American hero (Rocky Bleier) and a greatly reviled villain (Joe McCarthy) into the national scene. Some 20 years ago now, Sports Illustrated chose Appleton as Sports City, USA, for the varied sporting opportunities available there. It's a baseball town that has sent numerous teams to the Little League World Series, but it also lies in the shadow of Green Bay, professional football's holy of holies. In the 20 years since, Appleton has continued to prosper, growing into a modern small city. As Appleton has grown, its contradictions have become more visible, but from my perch 290 miles to the west, it seems like a better place now than it was when I grew up. It has changed, and so have I.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Mo' Bulldog

It was passing strange that Mike (the Bulldog) Hatch, the endorsed DFL candidate for governor, made a formal complaint to the Minnesota News Council about a story that the Star Tribune had not run. Since there was no article, it seemed especially weird. The Strib reporters had been asking about Hatch's parking tickets, which were part of the dirt that Matt Entenza's oppo investigation turned up. Ordinarily, parking tickets are not that big a deal per se.

But the question is far more interesting when you are asking where the parking took place. The Strib decided to run an article today. Here it is - draw your own conclusions:

Hatch was smear target, a sheriff suspects

Location of attorney general's parking ticket spurred a private investigator's interest, says Dakota County's Gudmundson.

Mike Kaszuba and Pat Doyle, Star Tribune
Last update: July 26, 2006 – 10:54 PM

When Dakota County Sheriff Don Gudmundson heard last year that someone was asking his office about an old parking ticket issued to Attorney General Mike Hatch, he said he quickly became suspicious.

Gudmundson said Wednesday that he is convinced that a man working for a Chicago firm, hired by former state attorney general candidate Matt Entenza, tried to use the ticket to link Hatch to a park-overlook known as a gay-cruising area as part of what he surmised was a smear attempt.
He said any effort to link Hatch to the area and its reputation was "pure crap." But he said the firm may have thought it had "won the lottery" when it saw the ticket was issued to Hatch's car parked at the overlook.

Entenza was unavailable for comment Wednesday. Earlier this month, he acknowledged hiring the firm to explore the workings of Hatch's office, yet said he was "horrified" to learn later that broader inquiries were made without his knowledge or approval.

The firm has confirmed it collected more public documents than Entenza requested.
But if Gudmundson's theory is correct, the inquiry into the 2003 ticket illustrates the tough and unsparing digging into Hatch's personal as well as professional life by the firm, Gragert Research. After reports of the broader investigation surfaced, Entenza withdrew from the attorney general race. Gragert did not return a phone call Wednesday seeking a comment about Gudmundson's conclusions. V.J. Bustos, the man who sought details about the parking ticket on behalf of Gragert, also did not return a phone call. Both have declined repeated requests to discuss their roles.

Hatch didn't comment Wednesday on the sheriff's conclusion. His spokeswoman, Leslie Sandberg, said he was moving on to other issues "rather than rehashing what is now history."

Antennaes up
Gudmundson said when he heard about the inquiry he quickly surmised -- because of the location where the ticket was issued -- that the goal was to find potentially unflattering information about Hatch.

"I had no idea who was looking," Gudmundson said. "I didn't have a hint. I knew ... it would have been, what I would consider, opposition research."

Gragert's investigation of the ticket surfaced after the Star Tribune reported on July 12 that Entenza had hired the firm to conduct an inquiry into possible government spending by Hatch on furniture and artwork for his personal office and on travel. Bustos filed a request for such financial details, and the newspaper later obtained documents showing he also asked Dakota County authorities about the parking ticket.

It was issued to Hatch's car in December 2003 when it was parked after hours at the Big Rivers Trail scenic overlook parking lot in Mendota Heights.

Hatch's office has said that he and his wife each drove their cars to the Big Rivers Trail overlook, left their Buick at the site and drove in one car to a party they attended that night. The next day, they retrieved the Buick, discovered the ticket and promptly paid it.

Bustos inquired about the ticket in early 2005.
Said Gudmundson: "My antennaes were up right away, from the beginning, because why would anybody be interested in this petty parking ticket?"

He said he learned of Entenza's hiring of the firm only after reading about it in the newspapers. "My senior staff, my chief deputy and other people, they knew exactly what this investigator and Mr. Entenza was trying to find," Gudmundson said.

But Entenza previously said the broader inquiry wasn't his idea. He said Gragert, "in an effort to impress me and other clients in Minnesota," went far beyond his requests and conducted a full-scale investigation of Hatch's professional and personal history. "It's not right, it's not something I condoned," Entenza said.

More reputation than fact
Dakota County officials said the scenic overlook's reputation as a cruising area for gay men, while not generally well known, also is based more on reputation than fact.

"I don't know if the general public would know that," said Sgt. Brian McGinn of the Sheriff's Office's parks, lakes and trails unit. "I bet if you asked 90 percent of my friends, they'd have no clue."

Gudmundson said he telephoned Hatch in March 2005 to alert him to the inquiries about the parking ticket -- a move he said he made because Hatch was the chief law enforcement officer in Minnesota and, as a Burnsville resident, was also a constituent of Gudmundson's in Dakota County.

"He was surprised there was this reputation," the sheriff said. "He's like, 'What? I didn't know that.' "

Hatch this week referred to the call in a letter he sent to the Minnesota News Council objecting to questions from Star Tribune reporters about the ticket and other matters. Reporters asked about circumstances leading to the ticket after learning that Gragert had inquired about it.
The sheriff said he believed Hatch's explanation that he received the parking ticket after leaving a car there overnight because he and his wife were attending a social event and did not want to drive two cars.

Gudmundson said he kept a file on the episode and faxed a copy, including the private investigator's request for information, to Hatch. "I knew way back in March [2005] that I was going to get caught in the middle of this," he said. "It troubled me the whole time because I thought, you know, they're going to try to pin this on Mike Hatch."

Gudmundson said he is not a supporter of Hatch's gubernatorial bid against Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has also been a Dakota County resident. "I don't have a dog in this fight," he said. "The governor's my friend. Mr. Hatch is my friend

Burning Bright

Yep, it is time to talk about the Twins again. It was pretty easy to be skeptical of the Twins' recent run, since many of the games were (a) at home, and (b) against weak sister National League teams. But a 5-1 road trip against two credible division opponents, Cleveland and Chicago, indicates that the Twins are actually for real. Now comes the test - the Detroit Tigers are coming to town for a crucial three-game series.

The Detroit Tigers, only three years ago, were one of the worst teams in baseball history. For most of the 2003 campaign, they were challenging the record of the infamous 1962 New York Mets, who managed to win only 25% of their games. The '62 Mets were known for having a collection of has-beens (Richie Ashburn, the first Frank Thomas) and never weres (nearly the entire pitching staff). They were an expansion team and were brutally bad. The 2003 Tigers were different, though - they had three pretty good starting pitchers, but simply could not hit enough to win much. The young pitchers in question - Jeremy Bonderman, Mike Maroth and Rich Robertson, are still part of the squad, while this year the Tigers have unveiled Justin Verlander, a strapping young right-hander who has been as effective as Francisco Liriano has been for the Twins. Add a little hitting, actually a lot of hitting, and suddenly the Tigers are winning 67% of their games, on a current pace to win 109 games. In 2003, they won 43. It's an amazing transformation.

This year, the Tigers have been busily pounding lumps on the Twins, beating them repeatedly earlier in the year, often by shutout. This time it is likely to be different. The Twins have been retooling on the fly all season, replacing the dubious starters of April (Tony Batista, Lew Ford, Ruben Sierra) with significantly more productive players from within their organization (Jason Kubel, Jason Bartlett, Nick Punto). Even injuries to longtime mainstays Shannon Stewart and Torii Hunter have not mattered that much, as players such as Jason Tyner have been key contributors. The Twins have been frighteningly good since Memorial Day, winning 34 of their past 42 games. It should be a fun weekend at the Dome.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Without fear or favor (or content)

Well, the Minnesota Senate race is starting to heat up, and the two major candidates have now hit the airwaves with introductory advertisements. Amy Klobuchar, the DFL candidate, has come out of the gate with two ads touting two separate, non-impressive accomplishments. The first ad discussed her role in putting a corrupt appellate judge in jail for stealing from a mentally incompetent person for whom the judge served as conservator, while the second ad touted her efforts to extend hospital time for new mothers from 24 hours after birth to 48 hours after birth. Both ads sound real good, until you think about what she’s actually saying. In the case of the judge, it wasn’t exactly a profile in courage for Klobuchar’s office to prosecute the case. The evidence was overwhelming and the judge did not mount a vigorous defense. Any district attorney would have done exactly what Klobuchar did. In the second case, Klobuchar talked about her own experience after her daughter was born. Her daughter ended up having to spend time in the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU) before she could go home, but Klobuchar was required by her insurance company to be discharged from the hospital 24 hours after she gave birth. As it happens, my family was similarly situated – my son was born a month early (but healthy) and my wife had been on bed rest for a month prior to a bout of pre-term labor that required her hospitalization for five days the month before my son was born. You can argue that mothers should have an extra day in the hospital to recover, but the implication of the ad is that Klobuchar’s newborn daughter was somehow imperiled by limiting Klobuchar’s hospital stay. That is not how it works, of course: once the child is born, it becomes a separate patient and no insurance carrier forces a child out of the NICU, no matter what the expenses turn out to be. Klobuchar’s slogan for the campaign is “Without fear or favor.” Based on the ads she’s run so far, she seems to be bragging about her bravery in prosecuting a judge who was caught red-handed, and she seems to believe she was entitled to a favor (another night of hospital care) because her child was in the NICU. Is that too harsh an assessment? I don’t think so.

Then there’s Mark Kennedy, whose opening ad is simply bizarre. He again reintroduces us to his family, who have authentic Meen-uh-SOH-tuh accents and who prattle on about how Kennedy had to share a bedroom with three brothers, who are shown sitting on a bunk bed with the candidate. Then the family assures voters that Kennedy is not a party guy, showing Kennedy wearing a party hat in grainy footage. Then various family members praise him for being an accountant. As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up. I don’t know how any of this helps to make Kennedy’s case. Kennedy has defeated three separate DFLers in the past three elections, but Klobuchar is not boring (like David Minge) nor a petulant limousine liberal (like Janet Robert) or a well-meaning novice (like Patty Wetterling). He won’t win unless he figures out Klobuchar’s weakness and exploits it remorselessly. Here’s a hint for Mr. Kennedy – she’s a lightweight. Problem is, based on the opening ad, it would be easy to conclude that Kennedy is a lightweight, too.

You must stop shooting at us so we can attend to our mission of hurling you into the Mediterranean

That appears to be the message that Israel is getting from Hezbollah, which has been getting a great big can of whoop-ass since they attacked northern Israel two weeks ago. I can’t believe that those who are calling for a cease-fire actually believe that it would hold, or do any good at all. You have to be either stupid or cynical to believe otherwise. So which is it, do you think?
I’m guessing that you can divide things between the cynical (like the Syrians) and the stupid (like the peaceniks). Then there are the anti-Semites, who are both stupid and cynical. But the good news is that the current U.S. government shows no sign of putting any real pressure on Israel to stop doing what is necessary, i.e., blowing away as many Hezbollah types as necessary.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Moments of Clarity - Revisited

Back when I started this feature, I had a number of posts under the heading "Moments of Clarity." A moment of clarity comes when something that should be obvious, but is obscured, becomes clear to everyone. We have had at least a few moments of clarity this week.

  1. The events in Israel and southern Lebanon, where the IDF has been fighting back against the terrorist organization Hezbollah, have brought unusual clarity. Ever since the British bugged out of the region in the 1920s, there have been countless squabbles over the region variously known as Israel, Palestine, the Holy Land, the West Bank, etc. The struggles over this land have occupied various governments and have been on the world stage ever since. Israel, a sovereign nation with well-established democratic institutions, has been under attack for nearly 60 years. The current battle against Hezbollah has provided conclusive proof that Israel's enemies, no matter what they say for public consumption, are implacable, and that the only solution that will mollify them is the complete destruction of the Israeli state. Once again, we have heard voices urging that the Israelis back down, that they accept a "cease-fire," that they sublimate their future to the ministration of UN peacekeepers, etc. This is the counsel of people like Madeline Albright, who apparently was U.S. Secretary of State at some point. One problem - Hezbollah is already violating various UN resolutions, so it's really hard to see how another resolution will solve anything. Moment of clarity - people who expect the UN to solve world problems are foolish.
  2. Matt Entenza's bumbling bid to succeed Mike Hatch as Attorney General of Minnesota ended this week amid a welter of scandals regarding his political activities and the murky responses he provided as explanations/justifications. Entenza left the race only six hours prior to the filing deadline for the primary. Somehow, by the time the deadline passed, five other DFLers were on the ballot, including former congressman Bill Luther and Steve Kelley, a state senator from Hopkins who lost the DFL gubernatorial endorsement to Mr. Hatch. This lineup of candidates has produced a cavalcade of yawns from most Minnesotans. Moment of clarity -- there are a hell of a lot of DFL politicians in this state and most of them are pretty lackluster.

Delusions are tough to relinquish, and what is clear at this moment will probably become opaque again, since there remain many, many people who want to believe that things would be better if only we had more "progressive" leadership, both in St. Paul and in Washington. It's worth remembering - the lies that are most destructive are the lies you tell yourself.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Good Questions

Good Questions

It’s a cliché to say that old habits die hard, but like most clichés, the truth is evident. One of my worst habits is that I continue to watch television newscasts, especially at 10 p.m. I’ve been a consistent watcher of the late news ever since my parents relaxed my bedtime back in the early 70s, so my habit has lasted for over 30 years now. Back in Wisconsin, it seemed that most of the local news involved bad traffic accidents and barn fires – this was apparently an especially acute problem in the Manitowoc area, based on reports by “Lakeshore Bureau” chief Carmen Winkler back on WBAY news. There was something almost soothing about these shows, with the calm litany of misfortune, followed by the avuncular weatherman, then the smattering of Packers news. A thin but nutritious gruel, and served comfortably warm.

Things change, though, and now watching a 10 p.m. newscast has become increasingly difficult. It’s almost like a toothache – you know you shouldn’t put your tongue up against the aching tooth, but you can’t help yourself. My wife and I typically watch WCCO, the long-time CBS flagship that has been, for better and worse, the gold standard of television journalism in the Twin Cities since the medium began 50+ years ago. The 10 p.m. newscast is a marvel of market research and focus group dynamics; news is shaped to fit templates and is presented quickly and typically without context. This can be irritating, especially when the earnest anchors and reporters prattle on about something that is demonstrably false, but it’s often worse when the news folks try to frame their reporting within a context of their choosing.

For most of this year, WCCO has decided to run a series of reports under the heading of “Project Energy.” The tone and tenor of these reports have been that of a jeremiad, essentially taking all of us to task for our profligate energy use. We’ve been treated to reporting that has asserted that we are now past “peak oil,” that global warming (sorry, I mean global climate change, since somehow global warming has made some places cooler) is quickly destroying the world, that we continue to use SUVs, which are apparently the mark of the beast. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for an Escalade driver to park at Ridgedale, I guess. Anyway, WCCO earlier this week asked, through their “Good Question” feature, “why aren’t we using less gasoline?” Since prices have been within sniffing distance of $3/gallon, apparently we were all going to stop using our cars and join the enlightened souls (and panhandlers) on the light rail. But it isn’t happening. Odd, huh?

I’d like to propose a few answers to this “Good Question.”

· Not everyone wants to live and work in the urban parts of the Twin Cities. Minneapolis and St. Paul are both lovely, but urban life has its hassles and many suburban areas are more peaceful.
· If you work in Blaine and live in Golden Valley, light rail is useless.
· Try to carry $75 worth of groceries on the bus sometime.
· The light rail won’t get you from your job to your son’s 6 p.m. baseball game at the Lily Pond. A car will.
· Panhandlers are never in your car.
· Cars don’t have second-hand marijuana smoke unless you put it there yourself. Bus stops on Hennepin Avenue often do.

There’s too much to unpack in a single post, but the war on the internal combustion engine is not going nearly as well as some would hope. I don’t begrudge anyone who chooses to use public transportation – I rode the 4 bus from my house to downtown Minneapolis for well over 5 years, and took other buses (the 33, the 94H, etc.) when I lived elsewhere prior to that. But making the commitment to doing without a car means that you have to change your life in fundamental ways. For most people, it’s not an option.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Rich Becker, please pick up the white courtesy phone...

It hasn't come to that, yet, but the Twins are dropping like flies. In the past week Lew Ford, Shannon Stewart, Torii Hunter and now Nick Punto have been injured. The Twins have had to bring up Jason Tyner, Josh Rabe, Rondell White and Rob Wilfong to replace them.

Okay, okay, I know that Wilfong played for the Twins back in the 70s, so it wasn't him. But I know this much - as much as I need a job, I wouldn't want Terry Ryan's job right about now. This is an amazing run of injuries and Ron Gardenhire is running out of bullets. If this keeps up, the Twins lineup will look like the Cantina scene in Star Wars.

"Is this mike on? Oh, #%@!"

So George W. Bush used a barnyard epithet in a conversation with Tony Blair yesterday. It's a scandal, dammit!

Oops, did I just say that? What the #%*@# was I thinking about? Man, did it again. If my dad were here, he'd clean out my mouth with a bar of #@*@# soap.

We'd talk more about the substance of the President's remarks, but I don't want to get into that #*&%.

Stick a fork in Entenza

He's done. The Star Tribune ( has the information. Lots of rumors going around right now, but only one declared DFLer in the race, a young (only 29) woman named Mattson, whose father and grandfather were political figures in Minnesota. Other potential candidates are Mike Freeman (Amy Klobuchar's predecessor as Hennepin County DA and the son of Orville Freeman) and Bill Luther, the former congressman. This race is getting a heck of a lot more interesting.

We'll do a little more schadenfreude on Mr. Entenza when I have time. Put it this way - even if you are a DFLer, this guy was the poster child for everything that's wrong about modern Democrats. The contrast between him and the other heavyweights on the ticket (Hatch, Klobuchar, etc.) could not have been more stark. Good riddance.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Memories of Governor Skip Humphrey

Minnesotans look back fondly on the administration of former Governor Skip Humphrey. Humphrey brought his well-known personal charisma and decisive character to bear in solving myriad issues the state faced following his 1998 election victory over former St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman and wrestler-turned-politician Jesse Ventura. Governor Humphrey was able to parlay his Minnesota successes all the way to the White House, where he ably serves President John Kerry as his Vice President.

Wait, you don't remember that? Really, it was all right there in the Star Tribune. I remember reading the results of their Minnesota Poll back in 1998, and it said that Humphrey has a comfortable lead over Coleman and Ventura. It was pretty much in the bag, as I recall, but then something really strange happened. The election took place, the lines at the polling places were out the door, filled with giggling guys with mullet haircuts, and somehow lead-pipe cinch Skip ended up finishing third. I always thought that was really strange, that somehow the Minnesota Poll could be so wrong.

Now we learn from today's Minnesota Poll that DFLer Amy Klobuchar has a 19 point lead over Congressman Mark Kennedy in the U.S. Senate race. The poll says that Klobuchar leads in all demographics, including outstate farmers. They find the results "surprising." Somehow, I think they picked the wrong word....

I Don't Want To Go Down To The Basement

But it's the place to be right now. On Friday I jinxed myself by mentioning that the air conditioning hadn't gone out. So much for that theory - it went out Friday night and has not worked properly since. The air temperature in the Twin Cities was officially 99 on Saturday, but the readings in certain locations (downtown St. Paul, for example) were above 100. This heat wave is supposed to abate as the week goes on, but we do expect it to be in the 90s again today.

One of the big disadvantages of unemployment is the lack of income, and that includes paying for repairmen to come to your house. But the basement is still cool and the kids don't mind being down there, since that's where the television is. So we spent a lot of time down there in the past few days, including sleeping down there the last two nights. Meanwhile, I do have an interview today, so maybe the income issue will start to abate as well.

Meanwhile, the Twin Cities are a good place if you are looking for free things to do with the kids. I continue to use the heck out of the Ramsey County Library system, which offers a lot of books and DVDs. We screened "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" for the kids on Saturday night; still one of my all-time favorite movies. I got a copy of Gaylord Perry's 1974 memoir, "Me and the Spitter," which is a very amusing look at his career up to that point. And we took the kids to the Minnesota Children's Museum in downtown St. Paul on Sunday; the third Sunday of each month features free admission. The kids love going there and they are old enough now that we can simply turn them loose, instead of guiding their efforts. Jill and I even got to sit down a few times. These days, that's a benefit I dare not overlook.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Visions of Johanna

My wife works every other Saturday. Today is one of those days, and it's often a challenge for me to find something for the kids to do. I took the kids to the beach at Lake Johanna today. Johanna is a nice little lake in Arden Hills, about one mile square, and the beach is level and smooth, with a nice pavilion. All along the lake are $700K-$1M domiciles, where some of the power brokers of the northern suburbs make their homes. The kids love going to the beach and my wife is pretty diligent about taking the kids at least a few times each summer. Me, I hate the beach, but you have to make sure the kids are happy and on a hot day like today, it's a sensible place to go.

Like many of the metro lakes, Johanna has a lot of activity. You can see boats nearly from the moment the ice goes out until the winter chill returns. The water is pretty good; we saw about half a dozen small yellow perch darting around in the swimming area near the beach, and there are walleyes and northerns to be had there as well, out beyond the buoys. Lakes are a huge part of Minnesota life - most Minnesotans have some access to the lakes, either through owning a cabin up north or having a relative or friend who has one. The northern lakes are gorgeous, especially the big ones like Mille Lacs, Winnibigoshish and Lake of the Woods. But one of the benefits of living here is that you can find a scenic lakeshore in a matter of minutes. And even when the lake is full of activity, there's serenity to be found. It's something that's easy to take for granted, but we shouldn't.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Maria is here and we're going to talk about our family

It's a very hot Friday afternoon and I have stopped at the Ramsey County library in Roseville. Maria and I decided to do some blogging this afternoon. Maria has already put a post up on her blog ( and now it's Daddy's turn.

Maria thinks we should talk about our family. I think that's a wonderful idea, since I am lucky to have such a wonderful family. Let's start with Maria. Maria is six years old and is enjoying her summer quite a lot. She has been spending a lot of time at Park Program at Hazelnut Park in Arden Hills and has made new friends and had a chance to make even more art projects. Maria never stops making art projects, of course, but that's okay, as we seem to have a big enough house to hold all of these projects, at least for now.

Maria would like to talk about Ben now. Ben recently finished his baseball season and is finally getting a chance to relax a little after that. He's already thinking about basketball and has been practicing his jump shot and dribbling. This year, he'll need to try out for a team, and that will be a new experience for him.

Then there's Mommy. Maria thinks that Mommy has been spending a lot of time cooking this summer, and I suspect that Maria is correct. Maria also thinks you should know that Mommy loves me. I'm very glad about that and am a very lucky fellow to have her in my life.

Maria now suggests that we discuss me and my great fondness for cherries. Maria has noticed that I eat cherry yogurt for breakfast at least 4-5 times a week. She finds that interesting and she often wishes that I would eat strawberry banana instead, since she likes to help me eat that in the morning. Somehow, we work that out.

That's it for today - Maria suggests that I say goodbye. So, goodbye it is.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Heat Wave

It's beginning to look a lot like 1988 here in Twinstown. We are in the early stages of what promises to be the worst heat wave we'd had here in a long time. Forecasts for Saturday and Sunday promise daytime highs of 100 degrees or more, which has not happened here since 1995. It's been pretty hot already and we've been battling with a balky air conditioner all summer, but so far it's holding up.

The heat rarely lasts that long, but I've had to make some allowances. I have already cancelled Maria's t-ball practice for Saturday; I don't like the idea of making her and her buddies run the bases in a blast furnace. We've also spent more time in the basement, which remains cool and comfortable no matter what. I am writing this afternoon from the Arden Hills Library, where I have been coming on Thursdays for most of the summer. This branch of the Ramsey County library is not much bigger than my house, but it has a remarkable DVD collection and enough good books that I've been able to keep the family entertained all summer. I was able to show the kids short films from the Three Stooges, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields and Buster Keaton in the last few days and have also introduced them to the Marx Brothers and Peter Sellers. We try not to let the kids watch too much television, but they have a strong allegiance to Cartoon Network and I find a lot of its programming to be strange. It seems to me that most of the fare on that network is either highly stylized anime or aggressively ugly sub-Ren and Stimpy comedy built on a barrage of non sequiturs. There's better stuff out there and I'd like my kids to see it. And this heat wave provides an opportunity.

Mo baseball for Budum

Baseball returns today after what was a pretty ho-hum All Star game. A few quick thoughts:

  • The American League's dominance is starting to get ridiculous. The NL team played well and was one out away from winning the game, but the AL was able to rally quickly and steal the game. When I was growing up, the NL teams would routinely crush their AL opponents, with an endless cavalcade of Joe Morgans, Willie Stargells, Tom Seavers and Johnny Benches whipping up whoever the AL would trot out. The NL has not won a game since the mid 90s now.
  • Although I know Budum would disagree, the Twins played a very minor role in the game. Johan Santana did pitch one inning and Joe Mauer did play for over half the game, but neither were instrumental. Meanwhile, Ozzie Guillen managed to mess up Francisco Liriano's vacation by calling him in at the last minute, then not using him at all during the game. Maybe next year....
  • If the Twins are going to get into the hunt, they'd better sweep the Indians this weekend. The primary reason the Twins are so far behind the Tigers and White Sox is that they have fared quite poorly against those squads. The Twins have whipped up on the rest of the American League and laid waste to the hapless NL teams, but if they want to win, they'd better do it now.
  • My beleagured Brewers are, despite everything, much better positioned for a playoff run. They are 5 games back and will be getting their ace pitcher, Ben Sheets, back for the second half. The Cardinals do not look as strong as last year and if a few things break right, the Brew Crew could be right there at the end.

Now, back to our regular programming.

The bulldog and the weasel

It’s early and it’s entirely possible that when November finally arrives, the whole thing will be forgotten. But it was highly, hugely entertaining. No, I’m not talking about Pirates of the Caribbean. I’m talking about the entertaining spat between the two men who will likely head the DFL ticket in the fall. Let’s set the stage:

In this corner, we have the bulldog, Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch. Hatch has decided to give up the AG position and is running for governor this year. Hatch has been a fixture on the Minnesota political scene for over 20 years now. He’s intensely partisan and not afraid of anyone. In many ways, he is more of an old-school DFLer than many of the folks in that party now – he grew up in the Duluth area and brings an Iron Range mentality to his job. Hatch does have a propensity for grandstanding, but it’s pretty clear that his heart is in the right place, even though as a DFLer he regularly proposes poor policy choices. On the political continuum, he’s center-left. He’s someone I can respect, despite my disagreement with what he says and does. While I strongly prefer Tim Pawlenty, I could live with a Governor Hatch.

In the far corner, we have the weasel, Matt Entenza. Immediately, the thoughtful reader objects to the term weasel, thinking it pejorative. Damned right it is pejorative, but accurate, I think. Entenza has risen through the ranks of backbenchers to become the leader of the DFL in the Minnesota House and he is running for Attorney General, Hatch’s current perch. Entenza is an attorney who derives most of his political muscle because of money. Entenza is a prototypical “limousine liberal” and used his great wealth to make huge contributions to specific House candidates in 2004; in some cases this spending may have tipped the balance in some tight elections. He also has become a fixture of news coverage in Minnesota, with his eat-your-spinach visage and his droning denunciations always available for a video camera. He is, in my view, a sneaky, opportunistic and sometimes vicious adversary.

Entenza has money galore because his wife, Lois Quam, is a senior executive at United Health Group, a gigantic and often controversial health care management concern based in the western suburbs. UHG has recently received a lot of scrutiny for the executive compensation package that former CEO William McGuire has received; he will leave UHG within shouting distance of being a billionaire. While there’s no evidence that Quam has done anything unethical, she has benefited substantially from the executive pay structure at UHG. UHG and its corporate conduct will likely be subjects for the Attorney General’s purview in the coming years; needless to say, if Entenza sits in that chair, he will a pretty substantial conflict of interest.

As for the battle itself, last year Entenza hired an oppo group out of Chicago to investigate Hatch. The group began asking Hatch questions about his office finances, what he was spending money on, etc. Hatch figured out what was going on, traced the matter to Entenza and then confronted Entenza about it. While both sides officially claim things have been patched up, there’s plenty of reason to believe this is not the case. Hatch has gone as far as asking other prominent DFLers to consider a primary challenge to Entenza, including such figures as former congressman Bill Luther and former U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug. Both Luther and Lillehaug would bring significant credentials to the battle, but at this point neither seems inclined to run.

We’ll be watching this matter closely.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What do you do with a Muslim terrorist?

It's not an easy question. Since the Supreme Court says the government cannot haul the Gitmo detainees in front of a military tribunal, the Bush administration has a real problem - they are holding a lot of people who, if released, would return to their jihadist ways, bringing death and mayhem wherever they alight. It's a lot like receiving a Fedex envelope filled with loose asbestos - you don't want the material and have to get rid of it, but how?

News reports seem to indicate that the administration will treat these individuals as if they were prisoners of war, proving them rights and protections that our soldiers don't have any chance of receiving if they are captured. The gruesome murder of two captured U.S. servicemen last month shows what we are up against. Our enemy is varied in many ways, but uniform in a very important way - they don't give a rip about human rights.

So what would you do? The floor is open to suggestions.

Phillies drop two in Saturday heat; season complete

It was a tough Saturday for our Arden Hills Phillies, who were eliminated from the Shoreview Area Youth Baseball 9-10 year old tournament on Saturday. The Phillies lost a tough 6-1 battle against the Athletics at noon at Perry Park, then were eliminated later in the day, losing 7-1 to the White Sox in a 6 p.m. game at Southpoint Park in North Oaks. Temperatures were in the 90s and a strong summer sun meant that the team was especially tired for the second game, against a White Sox team that had not played earlier in the day. My favorite Phillie was 0-1 in the first game and 1-2 in the second game, rapping a sharp single to right field in the 5th inning.

The Phillies end their season with an overall record of 7-10-1. This team was significantly better than the squad my son played on last year, on all counts. My son learned rather a lot about the mental aspects of baseball and is a better player for the experience. And that's what youth sports should provide.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Terrorists foiled - Democrats blast Chertoff

So the news today says that the FBI managed to stop a terrorist plot aimed at blowing up the Holland Tunnel in New York. Good for the FBI - they haven't had many positive headlines lately. So, what's the response from the loyal opposition? Check out the response of Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY, to the FBI success (from CNN):

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said no evidence existed that "in any way anything was done, either purchase of explosives or sending of money" and it "was caught" when investigators discovered "terrorists talking to one another."

"This is one instance where intelligence was on the ball," the New York Democrat said.

Meanwhile, Schumer's colleague, Senator Robert Menendez, D-NJ, had this to say (from Fox News):

"More than anything else, if true, these news reports offer incontrovertible proof that the federal government's homeland security strategy is flawed in its rhetoric and in its application. Let me be clear: Americans who face the greatest risk should receive the greatest amount of funding," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. "How anyone, at any level of government, could argue otherwise is beyond me and shows a flagrant disregard for the realities of protecting our homeland."

He continued: "For too long, the federal government has distributed security grants in a manner that seems to be based merely on whim. It certainly is not based on risk. It defies common sense that a would-be terrorist in Beirut with an Internet connection recognizes that the New York region is rife with significant landmarks, yet Homeland Security Secretary [Michael] Chertoff doesn't."

Way to stick to those talking points, boys. Wouldn't want to let a news cycle pass without throwing cold water on things, after all....

Phillies outlast Angels, prepare for mysterious Athletics

The mighty Arden Hills Phillies overcame a slow start and rallied from a 3-1 deficit to defeat a game Angels team 11-3 at Island Lake School yesterday. The first three innings were tough, as the Angels starter pitched magnificently against our Phils. During the playoffs, a pitcher can go four innings, so the Angels starter came out for the 4th inning, and that's when our Phillies struck, scoring 3 runs to take a lead they would not relinquish. My favorite Phillie was 1-3, rapping a sharp single in the 5th inning and scoring a crucial insurance run in the 5th.

The Phillies now move on with two games on Saturday. The first is a matchup against the mysterious Athletics, who played on the other side of the league this time. Game time is noon at Perry Park. A win would move them to the quarterfinals and a 3:45 tilt, also at Perry Park in Arden Hills . A loss would move them to the consolation bracket and a 6 p.m. tilt at South Point. If the Phillies win both games on Saturday, they will play again on Monday in the semifinals, this time at Sitzer Park in Shoreview. There are other possibilities, but listing all the permutations seems especially cruel to my faithful readership.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Marissa and the echoes

Two days on, the reality that our friend Marissa Irwin has passed away is only starting to sink in. I've also been thinking about another friend from Beloit, who left a long time ago. Way back in 1987, I lost another Beloit friend to cancer. Andy Boggs, son of a Beloit art professor, was quite a character. He was an amalgam of Jeff Spicoli and Johan Sebastian Bach. He absolutely loved to party and was a fixture in the various watering holes around campus. Somehow, though, he was an amazingly prolific musician who wrote and recorded dozens of songs and compositions, including many that were daring and even startling in their musical complexity. Following our junior year, Andy began to have difficulties and went in for some tests. It turned out that he had an inoperable brain tumor.

For the next three years, Andy waged a very public battle to fight the cancer that was ravaging his body. He became known throughout Wisconsin for his courage in facing the disease and, because of his talents and the friendships he developed, he was able to focus a lot of attention on cancer among youth. Andy threw out the first pitch at a Milwaukee Brewers game and, for a time at least, seemed to rally, even as he endured the ravages of cancer and the various regimens of chemotherapy and other treatments. Eventually, though, the cancer gained the upper hand and, in the warm spring of 1987, Andy left, only 23 years old.

Marissa fought much longer than Andy; her cancer developed more slowly, relentlessly and her struggle was much more private than Andy's was. She had the comfort of a wonderful husband and the support of an outstanding family. She also refused to feel sorry for herself, spending a number of years in India, assisting various organizations that were involved in alleviating poverty. She did not wallow in her misfortune. She understood that the time she would have was limited; she made the most of it.

I remember writing a poem about Andy shortly after he died; I happened to find it when I went through some old papers recently. The poem was alternately sad, angry, resigned and defiant, the work of a much younger man. But one of the thoughts I penned those many years ago remains - you can reach the essence of who you are, in the time you have. It's a challenge all of us face, but I am certain that both Marissa and Andy were at least close to that goal. And there's hope in that.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Ken Lay, RIP

Word came this morning that Ken Lay, the founder of Enron who was about to go to prison for his role in the widespread financial malfeasance that happened under his watch, died of a massive heart attack at his vacation home in Colorado.

After everything that's happened with the Enron scandal since it first broke five years ago, Lay's death seems like a very odd end note. While there were many people who wanted Lay to go to prison, it was never clear to me how sending Lay to a cushy federal pen really would have accomplished anything. The Enron scandal was a bit of a blank screen and most of the people who have opined on the matter have used the scandal as a cudgel by which to beat those they dislike, especially the current resident of the White House. Since most of the crimes took place during the Clinton era, it never made much sense to link Enron to Bush, even though Bush was the governor of Texas. We tend to believe that our governments have more power over our lives than they often do, of course, and there are those who believe that government needs even more power. These people, who have a rather dim view of human nature, are often called idealists.

Phillies prepare for Angels

The mighty Arden Hills Phillies begin playoff action on Thursday, with a 6 p.m. game against the Angels at Island Lake East. The Phillies are seeded 3rd in the South Division, while the Angels were 6th in the West. The two teams played earlier in the year, with the Phillies coasting to an easy victory. If the Phillies win, they will face a team they have not seen before, the Athletics, at noon on Saturday at Perry Park. A loss on Thursday would mean a 6 p.m. Friday matchup against the loser of the Rangers/Red Sox game; that game would take place at Snail Lake West. This is a double elimination tournament, meaning the Phils will play up to five games in the next four days. All your playoff action will be right here.


We knew it was coming soon, but we had hoped that the phone call wouldn’t come, at least for a while. But it did arrive yesterday. Our friend Marissa Irwin, who I discussed last month, died yesterday in Washington, D.C., succumbing to ovarian cancer at the age of 40. She is survived by her husband of 11 years, Hans Verlome, and by her family back in Connecticut.

It is distasteful, even horrible, to be forced to discuss someone you care about in the past tense. But that is where we are. Marissa was a true friend and genuinely fine person. She met Jill during their freshman year at Beloit and they became part of a larger circle of friends that was a typical gathering of people at our school. Marissa was a very bright young woman with an East Coast sensibility, but utterly lacking the pretensions that often come west with students who alight in Midwestern schools. She immersed herself in the hard sciences at Beloit, spending countless hours in the labs of Chamberlain Hall, diligently applying what she’d learned to various experiments and projects. In a small school like Beloit, you get to know most everyone. I met Marissa after I had graduated; I was working for the school at the time and still hung around campus a lot, and so our paths would cross regularly. The image lingers; Marissa, often with Jill and our friend Sue Law in tow, sitting at one of the long row of tables in Goody’s Bar, watching the passing parade intently, her dark eyes shining and an intermittent smile crossing her face. She enjoyed the camaraderie and laughed easily; it always seemed that she enjoyed escaping the confines of Chamberlain and joining the more devil-may-care collection of English and history majors you could always find at Goody’s.

We have a picture that was taken on Jill’s graduation day in 1988. The picture shows Jill and I sitting at a table with Marissa, Sue and Sue’s brother Bob, who did not attend Beloit but who frequently visited. The picture itself is unremarkable; it simply shows friends basking in the glow of accomplishment and preparing to find their way in the larger world. We all did go our separate ways, of course, not knowing what was ahead. What we could not have imagined is that one of us would be gone so soon. There is a lot more to this story, of course, and I’ll revisit it tomorrow.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Elian Gonzalez returns to television

I noted that CBS decided to put Elian Gonzalez back on television last night. When last we saw him, he was being sent back to Cuba by the Clinton administration after being taken at gunpoint from his Miami relatives in a midnight federal raid. Now 11, young Elian is the very model of a Cuban boy, denouncing the people who sheltered him and claiming that he was never happy living in that little house in Miami. The smiling, happy young boy, not much older than my own child, seemed altogether too serious, especially as he denounced his mother, who drowned while trying to escape.

I always thought that, of all the crappy things that Bill Clinton did, one of the crappiest was sending this boy back to Cuba. It was always obvious that the various family members that Castro had dispatched to the U.S. to reclaim young Elian were greatly fearful and were under a whole lot of coercion. Watching the rote answers that this young man gave last night hardly made me change my mind. Some day, when Castro finally keels over, there will be a lot of reckoning.

Obligatory Twinsblogging

I don't know what else to say, except that the Twins have been amazing lately. As of the Memorial Day weekend, the TC Men looked like a Baby Ruth bar in a swimming pool - gross and barely floating. But the past 30 or so days have been nothing short of phenomenal. The Twins have now won 10 in a row and 18 of their last 19 following an 8-0 thrashing of the Milwaukee Brewers yesterday. I have been following baseball for the better part of 35 years now and I've never seen a stretch like this, where a lifeless team suddenly becomes potent in every way. For those of you just tuning in:

  • Twins pitching has been nothing short of phenomenal. You have to begin with the performances of the two southpaw starters, Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano. Liriano and Santana currently rank 1 and 2 in the American league in earned run average, which is still the best single measurement of pitching effectiveness, especially for a starter. Liriano toyed with the Brewers yesterday, striking out 12 batters with a bewildering array of fastballs, sliders and off-speed pitches. Santana was merely the American League pitcher of the month for June. He has been as dominating as he was in 2004, when he won the Cy Young award in a runaway. This year he has competition, from his teammate Liriano. That both of these guys are still well short of 30 is even more amazing. No one in baseball has an answer for these guys.
  • Joe Mauer has received a lot of well-deserved attention for bringing his batting average within a few points of .400, but the real story in June has been the torrid hitting of the other JM, Justin Morneau. Morneau has been absolutely devastating in June, hitting home runs and driving in key runs on almost a daily basis. The shot Morneau hit yesterday in the Dome was one of the hardest hit balls I have ever seen. The ball was gone almost before announcer Dick Bremer could proclaim it so, and it was still rising when it hit the facing of the football press box.
  • The removal of Tony Batista and Juan Castro has totally transformed the offensive look of this club. Replacements Nick Punto and Jason Bartlett have quietly made key contributions all month long, including some very timely hitting that has started or continued big innings in front of Mauer, Morneau et al. You get the sense watching this team that everyone in the lineup can hurt you, even when a sub like Terry Tiffee is in the game. The only guy who isn't hitting for the Twins right now is Lew Ford, but he is seeing a lot less time now and it hasn't mattered.
  • Despite how hot the Twins have been, they haven't been able to make up much ground because the White Sox and Tigers have been equally hot. Ordinarily when a team wins 18 of 19, they will pick up a minimum of 5-6 games in the standings. That has not happened this time around.
  • Right now, the National League looks more like a AAA league than a major league. The Dodgers and the Brewers are contending in their respective NL divisions, but both teams looked feeble in comparison to the Twins. While the respective strengths of the leagues vary over time, the current dominance of the AL is absolutely shocking. The Twins finished their series with the NL teams with an overall 16-2 record. That just shouldn't happen.

Sunday nights and Monday mornings

Most people dislike Sunday nights. It’s a predilection that develops early, as a child contemplates having to return to the classroom after a weekend of fun. Then, as people enter the working world, it becomes the harbinger of the work week to come. Technically, for most people, Sunday nights are “free time,” but it’s a nearly universal thing that the following morning is the beginning of the work week and the start of additional obligations. Even for people who genuinely love their jobs, there’s a certain twinge of regret, a sense that something is about to be lost, on Sunday nights. It’s a temporary thing, but I think it’s pretty much universal.

When you are unemployed, it would seem that, at least in theory, Sunday nights would lose some of those resonances. If you don’t have a specific place to go the next morning, it shouldn’t necessarily matter as much. But it’s funny – at least for me, Sunday nights have been a lot worse since my job moved to Oregon without me. I have always found that, once you reach your Monday morning destination, things look better – there’s a challenge on your desk, you have a chance to chart your course for the week, you get to see your co-workers again. Once it’s about 10 a.m. and you are back in the swing, Mondays are often quite enjoyable. But right now, Mondays aren’t a lot of fun. And it’s making Sunday nights seem a lot worse.