Friday, September 29, 2006

Brew Crew Review

Back in the spring, I made a bet with my son. I bet that, when the season was over, the Milwaukee Brewers would have a better record than the Minnesota Twins. At this writing the Twins have won 95 games, while my beloved Brew Crew has won 75. It’s not one of my finer moments and Ben has been quite gleefully reminding me on a daily basis how wrong I was. But it’s not all bad in Milwaukee, I think, and there’s reason to believe that the Brewers will finally take a leap forward next season. For the time being, their task is to help the St. Louis Cardinals complete the greatest collapse in baseball since the 1964 Phillies wilted down the stretch. But let’s take a look at what’s happened to the Crew this year.

Injuries have been absolutely brutal this year – Ned Yost was rarely able to put his best team on the field after Rickie Weeks and J. J. Hardy both went down early. Players like Tony Graffanino are stopgaps at best.

The pitching has been really strange this season. Closer Derrick Turnbow went from being an NL All-Star to a kerosene merchant over the course of the season. Francisco Cordero, who came over from the Rangers in the Carlos Lee trade, has done an admirable job, but he was available because of his inconsistency. Meanwhile, the Brew Crew has had to make due without two of their best pitchers (Ben Sheets and Tomo Ohka) for most of the year. Both are finally healthy now and it’s not coincidental that the Brewers have been playing better lately.

Bill Hall is my favorite Brewer player since Yount and Molitor. While his glove is a little shaky, he’s done a great job all over the field for the team. It’s not easy to find middle infielders who can put 30+ homers on the board.

There’s a lot of talent in Milwaukee, and more is on the way. Prince Fielder has been as good as advertised, and young Tony Gwynn, Jr. looks like he could be a pretty good player as well. If Corey Hart can become more consistent in his approach at the plate, the Crew will have something to build on.

It has been nearly 25 years since the mighty Brewers of Yount, Molitor, Thomas and Oglivie stormed to the World Series. I still think we won’t have to wait 25 more years to see the Brewers return. But I won’t bet my son about it….

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Benedict's challenge - part two

Life is often a slog. It’s easy to grow tired of the challenges we face and to revert to cynicism about everything. Never mind that magic and wonder are always in evidence. We in the West are especially prone to this tendency. Let’s cue Peggy Lee, circa 1968:


Peggy Lee

I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire.

I'll never forget the look on my father's face as he gathered me upin his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement.
I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames.
And when it was all over I said to myself, "Is that all there is to a fire"

Is that all there is, is that all there is

If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is


And when I was 12 years old, my father took me to a circus, the greatest show on earth.

There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears.
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads.
And so I sat there watching the marvelous spectacle.
I had the feeling that something was missing.I don't know what, but when it was over,I said to myself, "is that all there is to a circus?

Is that all there is, is that all there is

If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is

Then I fell in love, head over heels in love, with the most wonderful boy in the world.

We would take long walks by the river or just sit for hours gazing into each other's eyes.
We were so very much in love.Then one day he went away and I thought I'd die, but I didn't,and when I didn't I said to myself, "is that all there is to love?"

Is that all there is, is that all there is

If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing

I know what you must be saying to yourselves,if that's the way she feels about it why doesn't she just end it all?

Oh, no, not me.
I'm in no hurry for that final disappointment,
for I know just as well as I'm standing here talking to you, when that final moment comes and I'm breathing my last breath, I'll be saying to myself

Is that all there is, is that all there is

If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is

Faith in a better world to come is the antidote to Peggy Lee. Faith is Benedict’s business. But faith alone is rarely enough. And when faith is lacking, cynicism inevitably enters the picture. In the West, cynicism can be a comforting cloak. Why take it seriously? Why not think about the clowns and elephants and dancing bears? Why not let Jon Stewart explain it to you? Or why not let Mr. Dilettante explain it, for that matter. Snark can be very satisfying. If that’s all there is.

Alternatively, we can worry about the world we are in now. We can grow righteous about our sins and develop a catechism of rules designed to change the world. We can assert that global warming must stop, or posit a shadowy cabal led by evil Dick, or see everything through a prism of race or gender or class. And for some, the answer is jihad.

Jihad gives people purpose. In most of the Islamic world, conditions are such that improving one’s lot in life is, at best, problematic. Jihad promises a glorious war against an implacable enemy, with paradise on the other side. It’s easy enough for the West to dismiss the notion that Mohammed Atta and his pals were going to get 72 virgins after they crashed the planes. But if you perceive that you’ll get nothing and all the evidence indicates that your perception is correct, such promises appear more compelling. If I had a choice between scrapping with my countrymen over whatever Hosni Mubarak deigns to offer, or 72 virgins, I might see the path of Atta as the better path.

Benedict is offering a different path. Benedict is suggesting that faith, ground in reason, will lead to a better world. The predicate is where things get sticky. Can we have a reasonable conversation? Or do we choose idolatry and unthinking allegiances? Islam needs to have this conversation internally. But so does the West. No wonder why so many people see Benedict as an agent provocateur. We’d rather not talk about it. Let’s break out the booze and have a ball.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

After the trumpet blast, a yawn

So, President Bush will declassify the National Intelligence Estimate that was leaked yesterday, to an accompanying chorus of rent-a-generals and spontaneous coordinated outrage from the chattering classes. Bush suggests, as do others who have seen the whole document, that the conclusions recorded in the NIE are not nearly as dire as had been suggested. Will Bush, Rummy, etc. get a chance to say "I told you so," or will this simply be an Emily Litella moment and the results published on page G27 of the NYT and the Post? Place your bets, everyone.

Teflon dreams

So the Twins are in the playoffs, following a fairly routine 8-1 thrashing of the Kansas City Royals last night. Boof Bonser continues to make a strong argument for being the #2 starter for the Twins by taking a no-hitter into the 5th inning. Meanwhile, Torii Hunter joins Justin Morneau in the 30 homer club, continuing what has been an impressive hot streak since he returned from an injury in July. So, can the Twins go all the way?

The answer is yes, because everyone else in baseball has flaws, too. The Yankees have been riding their incredibly formidable lineup all season, and Chien-Mien Wang has been remarkably consistent all season long, probably the #2 pitcher in the American League behind Johan Santana. But the Yanks are not invincible. They have relief issues in front of the redoubtable Mariano Rivera and there are days when the bats have fallen silent. If the Twins draw Oakland first, it would be quite beneficial, but there's reason to believe that the Twins could do it anyway, even with their questionable starting pitching. On paper, I'd rather have Mike Mussina than Boof, and I'd certainly rather have Randy Johnson than Carlos Silva. Still, Mussina and the Big Unit are clearly running on fumes at this point. If Bonser and Silva are equal to the challenge, the Twins could win this thing.

One other thing - if the Twins get to the World Series, be sure to thank Ozzie Guillen for keeping his foot on the gas in the All-Star Game. Having the home field advantage could be huge against whoever emerges from the National League.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Snarkin' in the Boys Room

Item: Bill Clinton gives testy interview on Fox News, claims "right wingers" were critical about his "obsession" with Osama bin Laden.
Clinton usually is more careful with his lies, and with his interlocutors, than this. Chris Wallace is the mildest mannered guy at Fox News and his questions weren't especially tough. But clearly he does not want people to perceive his presidency as a failure, at least in this arena. But the thing is, Clinton can tell the truth and people will understand it. The truth is that Clinton believed that solving the Palestinian question would be the key to ending terrorism. He met incessantly with Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat in the last two years of his presidency in an effort to get some sort of peace agreement. He might have been wrong about this, but he wasn't dishonorable in pursuing this strategy. Pretending that he was some avenging angel about bin Laden is dishonorable, though, as the facts don't support his assertions. And Richard Clarke's book is not as exculpatory as Clinton would have you believe it is. We've said it before: when you build your legacy upon spin, you can never stop spinning.

Item: Packers 31, Lions 24
The Lions are better than chicken soup. Favre has another game for the ages, throwing for over 300 yards, three touchdowns and completing passes to 10 different Packers, including the temporarily available Koren Robinson. And now things don't look quite as gloomy as they did earlier. Still, much work remains. By the way, did you notice that the Packers are the only team in the division not running the Tampa-2 defense? Tampa may have left the division, but its legacy remains.

Item: Twins win 2 of 3 in Baltimore, return home to clinch playoff spot (presumably).
Phil Nevin finally chips in with a majestic dinger off Russ Ortiz, the $15M batting practice pitcher. It's all going well, but you'd still rather win the division because a wild card means an instant date with the Yankees. I've enjoyed the development of Boof, Garza, etc. as much as anybody, but it would be a heck of lot easier if the Tigers would have the task of softening them up first.

Item: Maplewood assisted living facility prepares to kick out elderly residents who smoke in their apartments.
Most of the folks threatened with eviction have smoked for 60-70 years and don't want to quit now. Other residents complain that second hand smoke is dangerous for their long term health. I'm reminded of Chuck Berry

C'est la vie say the old folks/Just goes to show you never can tell

There are probably several dozen other conclusions/punchlines that are available here, but ya know, sometimes it's simply better to slowly back away.

Benedict's Challenge - Part One

More than a week has passed and rivers of ink have flowed, but the impact of Pope Benedict XVI’s speech before an audience at the University of Regensburg continues to reverberate throughout the world. A nun in Somalia was gunned down and effigies of the Pope burn throughout the Muslim world. Death threats continue to pour into a nervous Vatican. But there’s more to the story.

Benedict is far more of a product of academia than his predecessor. Prior to arriving at the Vatican, the former Cardinal Ratzinger taught in universities, including Regensburg, and his worldview reflects his academic background. Catholic teaching has always stressed the need for both faith and reason as necessary precursors to belief. We use our ability to reason, which is the essence of what makes us human, to help us understand God. Faith flows from our ability to reason. Benedict sought to remind his audience of this home truth.

But here’s a question. What if a home truth is not a home truth? What if your worldview doesn’t comport with something as fundamental (to Western thinking, at least) as the role of reason? Where do you go then? And is dialogue even possible?

I have used the term existential frequently in discussing what’s going on right now. We are, however unwillingly, in the territory of Hamlet’s soliloquy. While it’s pretty evident that the Western world is sharply divided on matters of faith and religion, it’s also quite clear that the Islamic world has similar divisions. From what I can understand of it, some Muslims believe that Allah is beyond human understanding and Allah’s ministrations cannot be understood through human reason. And that’s a problem, because it means that, for those who have this understanding, they are not independent actors. They are compelled to submit to Allah’s will as they come to understand it. And if Allah’s will requires jihad, then you are pretty much duty-bound to take up arms against the infidels (i.e., the West). All the things that come with daily life – home, family, livelihood – are necessarily less important than jihad.

Benedict understands all this and it clearly concerns him greatly. We have a history going back well over 1,000 years with Islam and he quite purposely quoted obscure Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus’s challenge to a “learned Persian” correspondent. Here is the key portion of Benedict’s address:

In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: There is no compulsion in religion. It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat.

But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels,” he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words:

Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.

The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul.

God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death....

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: "For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality." Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practice idolatry
We are, if all this is true, way beyond the old “what we have here is failure to communicate” issue. We face something a lot more dire – the impossibility of communication in any way that does not, in the end, require atavistic means. Or, to be less fancy, words won’t work and the sword trumps the diplomat. All this is disquieting to the Western mind.

Next – Peggy Lee and the idolatry of the West

Saturday, September 23, 2006

My children are marketing again

School has started and that means, for the modern schoolkid, a chance to show off their entrepreneurial skills. Okay, they're selling stuff. Again. This activity, the bane of parents everywhere, supports various initiatives at their school (Valentine Hills Elementary) and organizations they belong to (Cub Scouts).

So, what does that mean? Ben is selling Christmas wreaths for the Cub Scouts and both Ben and Maria are selling candy and tchotkes for Valentine Hills. They would love to offer their wares to vast Mr. Dilettante audience. If you are interested in supporting their efforts, give me a call and I'll hook you up. I can vouch for the wreaths, which are high quality and pretty reasonable.

Also, stop by their blogs for a visit - they'd love to hear from you:


And now we return to regular programming.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Happy anniversary

Today is September 21, 2006. Jill and I were married 15 years ago this day. That means I have been the luckiest man in the world for precisely 15 years. My wife and I have lived through some significant changes in this time, but we remain strong, despite the uncertainty we are living through at the moment.

One of the keys to a successful marriage is to understand that the person you married isn’t static; your spouse will change and my wife has changed. The one thing that’s most clear is that she has found her voice. By that, I mean she has a clear understanding of the world and is willing to share her understanding. She has less patience for foolishness now than she did in the past; she does not hesitate to call out folly when she sees it. She is resourceful and quickly figures out what to do. While she is always polite and gracious, she knows the score.

I think a lot about how we need to find our way in the world; my kids are always asking me about how things work, what things mean, why we see what we do. You have to explain these things carefully, because it is all too easy to color your observations with your own biases. I’ve always been fond of Walt Whitman’s poem “There Was A Child Went Forth.” Well over a century later, the words ring true:

There was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of
the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,
And the Third-month lambs, and the sow's pink-faint litter, and the mare's foal, and the cow's calf,
And the noisy brood of the barn-yard, or by the mire of the pond-side,
And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there--and the beautiful curious liquid,
And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads--all became part of him.

The field-sprouts of Fourth-month and Fifth-month became part of him;
Winter-grain sprouts, and those of the light-yellow corn, and the esculent roots of the garden,
And the apple-trees cover'd with blossoms, and the fruit afterward,
and wood-berries, and the commonest weeds by the road;
And the old drunkard staggering home from the out-house of the tavern, whence he had lately risen,
And the school-mistress that pass'd on her way to the school,
And the friendly boys that pass'd--and the quarrelsome boys,
And the tidy and fresh-cheek'd girls--and the barefoot negro boy and girl,
And all the changes of city and country, wherever he went.

His own parents,
He that had father'd him, and she that had conceiv'd him in her womb, and birth'd him,
They gave this child more of themselves than that;
They gave him afterward every day--they became part of him.

The mother at home, quietly placing the dishes on the supper-table;
The mother with mild words--clean her cap and gown, a wholesome odor
falling off her person and clothes as she walks by;
The father, strong, self-sufficient, manly, mean, anger'd, unjust;
The blow, the quick loud word, the tight bargain, the crafty lure,
The family usages, the language, the company, the furniture--the yearning and swelling heart,
Affection that will not be gainsay'd--the sense of what is real--the thought if, after all, it should prove unreal,
The doubts of day-time and the doubts of night-time--the curious whether and how,
Whether that which appears so is so, or is it all flashes and specks?
Men and women crowding fast in the streets--if they are not flashes and specks, what are they?
The streets themselves, and the facades of houses, and goods in the windows,
Vehicles, teams, the heavy-plank'd wharves--the huge crossing at the ferries,
The village on the highland, seen from afar at sunset--the river between,
Shadows, aureola and mist, the light falling on roofs and gables of white or brown, three miles off,The schooner near by, sleepily dropping down the tide--the little boat slack-tow'd astern,
The hurrying tumbling waves, quick-broken crests, slapping,
The strata of color'd clouds, the long bar of maroon-tint, away
solitary by itself--the spread of purity it lies motionless in,
The horizon's edge, the flying sea-crow, the fragrance of salt marsh and shore mud;
These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who now goes, and will always go forth every day.

This is not a poem about marriage, but it is a poem about life. And there are lessons aplenty that Whitman offers; his description of the father is especially important, because in the past 15 years Jill and I have become parents to two wonderful children. They see what we do and will likely emulate the behaviors we exhibit. And we need to be aware of that. But like the child, I too am still finding my way in the world. We all have to find our way in the world. I’ve been fortunate that, for the past 15 years, Jill and I went forth together. And every day I am grateful that we share our path.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I am snark, hear me roar

Item: Brian Williams is extraordinarily polite in his interview with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.
No surprise there. If you want to prove your journalistic chops, you bash around George W. Bush. I think what's most striking about the MSM is not that it's in the tank for the Democrats, but rather how cowardly it is. This was a perfect example - there were dozens of questions that Williams could have asked, but instead he went all Oprah. Sheesh.

Item: Hugo Chavez calls W. "the Devil" at the UN.
That is what you call playing to the audience. Hugo will probably get a guest shot on the Huffington Post now. And he may even start appearing on t-shirts like his hero Che.

Item: Twins within 1/2 game of Tigers.
It may all end badly on the turf of Yankee Stadium, but this is fun. Best pennant race I've seen since my beloved Brewers held off the Orioles in 1982.

Item: Oil prices drop $2 yesterday; floor not yet in sight.
There was at least $25-30/barrel of pure speculation in the prices this year; supply being what it is, the price should really be about $45-50/barrel. That would translate into gas prices back below $2, and soon. Remember, "Peak Oil" was first predicted in about 1911. Meanwhile, I hope Hugo Chavez enjoys the new oil prices as much as I am.

Editor's Note: I am working on a longer post about the debate over Pope Benedict's remarks at the University of Regensburg. This is a topic that merits a full-fledged essay, because there's more to Benedict's challenge than simply the gauntlet tossed at the feet of Islam. And what does Peggy Lee have to do with all this? I'll let you know, soon.

From the archives

I was going through some old disks and found this chestnut; the file is dated November 13, 1998. Hard to believe this all happened 8 years ago. Harder still, when you read this, is to realize how much and how little has changed.

Jesse Ventura Haiku

No, really, it’s true
Minnesota Governor
Jesse Ventura

For the motorists
Saving cash on license tabs
Tax the streetwalkers

Tells Jason Lewis
“Stick it where the sun don’t shine”
Where’s that? Maplewood?

He’s on St. Croix shore
Shouting “want a piece of me?”
Thompson hides ‘neath desk

Right behind the throne
He found a horse he could ride
Dean Barkley, not Charles

Blue collar dollar
Fuel the passing bandwagon
Anoka County

Mayor Norm Coleman
Minnesotans not quite sure
Voting with their feet

Clear in retrospect
The citizens didn’t want
Governor Skippy

Jesse’s ugly task
Save our cash but mollify
Pohlad and McCombs

Monday, September 18, 2006

Monday's snark has learned to tie its bootlace

Item: New Orleans Saints 34, Green Bay Packers 27
New Orleans gift-wrapped the game, but the Packers are currently too dim-witted to take it. You can't blame this one on Favre, but you can't assume that they are going to get any better. It's possible that the Lions are all that stands between the Pack and 0-16.

Item: Star Tribune Minnesota polls reveal Pawlenty and Hatch tied, Klobuchar up by 500 points
Okay, I guess it was only 24 points that Klobuchar was up. I've written at some length about the idiocies of Mark Kennedy's campaign and while I don't believe that Klobuchar has it wrapped up, he is in trouble. An honest poll would show Klobuchar's lead at about 8-10 points, so Kennedy has work to do. I saw his first negative ad last night. It won't be the last one, but he'll have to do that, because the local media will not lift a finger to help him explain what's wrong with Darling Amy; although if any enterprising reporters were so inclined, they might start by interviewing staffers in the Hennepin County Attorney's office. Oh, and if the Minnesota Poll says Pawlenty is tied with Hatch, that means Pawlenty is up by 8 to 10 points, minimum. I don't think Hatch is a bad guy; his heart is clearly in the right place. But he comes across as very angry on television. And Mrs. Dilettante's helpful suggestion is that Hatch get his teeth fixed. It's always a good idea to listen to Mrs. Dilettante, I might add.

Item: Pope apologizes for comments regarding Muslims
This is astonishing on at least two levels. First, Popes as a rule generally don't apologize for anything. For most of the past millenium the Vatican considered the Spanish Inquisition as a personnel matter. But times have changed, obviously, and Benedict XVI well remembers that his predecessor was the target of an assassin's bullet not long after he ascended to the throne of St. Peter. The message here - even Popes need to get with the program, which is as follows:

  1. Islam is a RELIGION OF PEACE.
  2. Those who take issue with this are infidels and will be killed.

Make sure you're taking notes on this, by the way.

Item: John McCain gums up Bush efforts to define CIA practices

McCain apparently feels that because he was tortured as a POW, that somehow if the US takes the moral high ground and eschews interrogation techniques beyond those given to 9 year old girls, our soldiers will not suffer the fate he did. Guess I missed the part of the Geneva Conventions that deal with beheading by scimitar, followed by worldwide broadcast on Al-Jazeera. Have to keep up with appearance, McCain says. The appearance he's keeping up with in this instance is, unfortunately, weakness.

The Strib's incoherence on Ellison

So, is Keith Ellison merely a misunderstood visionary who will represent Minnesota’s 5th Congressional district with distinction, bringing a Wellstonian fervor to the causes he champions? Or is he a corrupt two-bit pol with radical tendencies and a penchant for ignoring petty little things like existing law? Hard to tell; one thing for sure, don’t expect the Star Tribune to sort things out for you.

Consider the newspaper’s performance on this issue following Ellison’s victory in last week’s primary. Ellison’s Republican opponent, a fellow named Alan Fine, greeted Ellison’s victory with a fusillade of statements impugning Ellison’s character and fitness for office. In other words, Fine began his campaign by campaigning. Well, apparently he’s not allowed to do that, at least according to the Star Tribune. Fine made his comments on Wednesday, generating a broadside from Doug Grow, the more well-mannered of the two lefties that serve as Metro columnists for the Strib. His Thursday column is here:

The next day, the always excitable Nick Coleman, long known for being a champion launcher of invective, took Grow’s grousings one step further, essentially telling Fine that he should be quiet now. His column is here:

If that weren’t enough, Friday’s lead editorial in the Star Tribune made it quite clear that Mr. Fine needs to meekly accept his looming defeat and not do anything egregious, like point out Mr. Ellison’s shortcomings. The editorial is here:

Oddly enough, Katherine Kersten, the Strib’s only out conservative, didn’t toe the evident company line, as her Monday column detailed a fair amount of evidence contradicting the earlier assertions that Ellison and his apologists have made, and more importantly demonstrating that Ellison has willingly accepted support from arguably anti-Semitic organizations for his current campaign. That column is here:

In times like this, I’m reminded of one of my favorite rock lyrics, from the Dire Straits song “Industrial Disease”:

Two men say they’re Jesus/One of them must be wrong

Ellison can’t be simultaneously an honest visionary leader and a habitual flouter of the law.

There’s long been a tendency among certain leftists to rally around charismatic rogues. It is no coincidence that Che Guevara and Bill Clinton rank high in the pantheon. Both are seen as simultaneously transgressive and progressive. If they happened to leave misery in their wake, that wasn’t a big problem. I suspect that some of Ellison’s appeal stems directly from his essential dismissal of societal norms. Perhaps that doesn’t matter and Ellison will serve Minnesota well. But Alan Fine, Katherine Kersten and others who wonder about that are obliged to say so, even if the Star Tribune would prefer that they didn’t.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Mo snark

Item: Packers trade Samkon Gado to Houston Texans for Vernand Morency.
Well, that should right the ship, doncha think? Just make sure Koren Robinson doesn't pick up Morency at Austin Straubel.

Item: Steve Kelley complains about Mike Hatch assisting Lori Swanson in Attorney General race.
That's what friends are for, Mr. Kelley. And maybe you'll have to win an election before you'll have any political friends. Outside your own district, that is.

Item: Francisco Liriano out for year after re-injuring arm against Athletics.
Too bad - the Twins could have used him, but there's a reason the Giants were willing to include him in the Pierzynski trade. Just a guess, but it's quite possible that, when their careers are over, Boof Bonser will have won more games for the Twins than Francisco Liriano. Boof may not be pretty, but he's been pretty effective lately. Think of him as a tattooed Tapani and you get the idea. Meanwhile, Liriano is beginning to remind me of Juan Nieves, the electric lefty the Brewers had in the late '80s who quickly disappeared after a variety of arm injuries. Hope I'm wrong, but I'll bet I'm not. Meanwhile, the amazing Twins continue to soldier on.

Item: Gas in Twin Cities selling for $2.23/gallon in some locations.
There's long been a fundamental disconnect between the price of oil and the available supply. Most of the price rise was built on speculating, which happens when there's a bubble. Looks like the bubble has burst, at least in the short term. Don't be surprised if gas prices are back under $2 at a station near you soon. And don't be surprised if the price stays there for a while, too.

Item: Rumors float that Ellison/Hatch and Ellison/Klobuchar bumper stickers will soon be available.
Question is - will they be offered by the DFL or by the Republicans? Guilt by association is the oldest game in politics, and I'm increasingly convinced that the DFL fascination with The Other may end up biting them in the ass this time. And if you think I'm being unfair to Ellison because he's African American, I'll simply respond that I wholeheartedly support Obi Sium's candidacy in the 4th Congressional District. Diversity should also be about viewpoints, not just demographics.

Item: Bob Dylan has number one record in the country.
I know, I know, I brought this up the other day. But I'm still gobsmacked about it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The stench rising behind my hedge

My house is on the edge of my town, New Brighton. The land directly west of my house is part of a townhome development that is in St. Anthony Village. A hedge separates my yard from the townhomes and there are a lot of real borders represented by that hedge. On my side of the hedge you are in:

City of New Brighton
Mounds View School District
4th Congressional District
651 area code
Zip Code 55112

On the other side of the hedge, you are in:

Village of St. Anthony
St. Anthony School District
5th Congressional District
612 area code
Zip Code 55421

That's a lot of borders for one hedge to maintain. And like most borders, it is arbitrary in many ways. The land behind the hedge is essentially identical to my property. Based on what happened yesterday, it appears that my neighbors behind the hedge will soon have Keith Ellison as their congressman. Ellison won a plurality of the votes in the 5th CD primary yesterday, defeating former DFL chair Mike Erlandson and longtime DFL figure Ember Reichgott Junge. This is an amazing thing.

Ellison, for what it is worth, is a Muslim. He purportedly will be the first Muslim elected to Congress. He has also been a supporter/apologist of Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. Ellison claims that he no longer supports Farrakhan, but his claims are unconvincing. He also claims to be a progressive, whatever the hell that means these days.

There is little question that the Nation of Islam has long been a repository for anti-Semitism and it is nothing short of amazing that someone whose political career began in that particular miasma could somehow consider himself a force for progressive values. Somehow, Mr. Ellison was able to garner the DFL endorsement earlier in the year and that endorsement apparently was sufficient to boost his candidacy over his opponents. It must be said that Erlandson and Reichgott Junge both ran lackluster campaigns, with Reichgott Junge's campaign bordering on the bizarre (her message, as far as I could tell, was that she was running for Congress as some sort of therapy to make up for the untimely demise of various kin, who apparently all died because they did not enjoy nationalized health care).

Over on my side of the hedge, my representative is Betty McCollum, a shrill leftist whose primary claim to fame is her ability to parrot the deep thoughts of Nancy Pelosi. In a better world, she would only be able to get into Congress with a visitor's pass, but alas she will have her seat for as long as she wishes, because she has the letters DFL after her name. But as odious as I find Ms. McCollum, she has not flown under the colors of anti-Semitism in her career. I cannot imagine that someone like Keith Ellison will represent my neighbors. But that's what seems to be happening.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Snark o rama

Item: Green Bay Packers agree to terms with receiver Koren Robinson.
So, is it desperation? Probably not - we're only one game in and although my beloved Packers were historically horrible in getting slaughtered by the Bears on Sunday, it is possible that things will get better. I would say, however, that a fella with a well-known drinking problem probably ought to consider a different venue than Green Bay, Wisconsin, one of the drunkest places around. We'll have to see if the NFL drops the hammer on ol' Koren, too. I hope he finds his way, but there's ample reason for skepticism.

Item: Democrats complain that President Bush is "playing politics."
Ya think? Amazing that he would do that. Remember, he's allowed only to shut up.

Item: Northwestern Wildcats lose to Division I-AA New Hampshire.
The Wildcats are playing with heavy hearts this year, what with their head coach Randy Walker dying of a heart attack in the offseason. But you can't lose to New Hampshire. All told it was a pretty embarrassing weekend for the Big 10, with Notre Dame whipping Penn State, Illinois getting slapped around by mighty Rutgers and the Gophers being obliterated out in Berkeley. It's still not clear where the power in college football is, but aside from Ohio State it doesn't appear to be in the Big 10, at least this year.

Item: Bob Dylan tops pop charts with album "Modern Times."
Better yet, you can get $3 off the purchase price by showing your AARP card. As John Lennon put it in 1970, "I don't believe in Zimmerman."

Item: Tim Dolan named to become Minneapolis Police Chief.
Dolan seems like a good guy and he has the respect of R. T. Rybak and a lot of the local majordomos. He's got a tough job ahead, though, because R. T. Rybak and a lot of the local majordomos are idiots.

Item: Twins take 3 of 4 from Tigers, now only 1 1/2 games out of first place.
While I know my Wisconsin readers are really tired of Twinsblogging, it has to be said - this has been the most amazing string of baseball I've ever witnessed. There is no way that a team that has had to use 4 rookie pitchers in its starting rotation should be anywhere near first place. But here they are. Yet another reason why baseball is still the best sport - there's room in it for magic. Inferior football teams always lose in the end. Speaking of the Packers....

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years on

It was an especially beautiful morning, and really a gorgeous day, one of those days that make September the best time of year in Minnesota. The sky was clear and the morning air was crisp. I climbed on the 4 bus on Foss Road and began my journey to my office in downtown Minneapolis. I arrived at my desk about the same time the first plane hit.

We all can remember what we were doing that day. I remember thinking that this was different. I remember the first reports coming around as routine office chatter – “did you hear that a small plane hit the World Trade Center?” Then we learned the second plane had hit. And the rumors were flying. Planes were crashing into buildings all over the country. The Air Force was shooting down airliners. We knew the nation was under attack, an attack we couldn’t quite comprehend. Work at my office crawled to a standstill as a single television set showed the smoking buildings. Broadcast e-mails from the top executives imploring everyone to “get back to work” were ignored.

We didn’t know what we should do. A co-worker and fellow Catholic, who knew of my involvement at my home parish because we’d compared our experiences, suggested that we go to St. Olaf for noon Mass. A group of us did and found the downtown church filled to the rafters. We heard the pastor speak of peace, of remaining calm, of God’s love on a day when hatred was streaked across the skies and the airwaves. And we knew that Father Forliti was right. But we also knew that there would be a fight and the world had changed.

I went home that night and turned on the news. My son, freshly arrived from kindergarten, bounded down the steps, looking for his usual dose of Scooby Doo. My wife called down, “No, Benjamin, don’t go down there!” But he was there and he saw the footage of the plane striking the second tower. And he knew, in his child-like way, that this was real, and it was horrible. He started to cry and ran back up the stairs, screaming “I don’t want to see that!” I will never forget the look on his face.

Five years on, I think a lot of us are still screaming “I don’t want to see that!” It’s a rare thing in this life to actually witness evil, to see malevolence on a grand scale, to view an atrocity happen before your eyes. Most of the time, evil tends to happen quietly, in the background, without wide exposure. Because we don’t often see it as it occurs, we tend to either recoil from what we see, or fail to understand what we are seeing, or deny that we see is evil. That’s natural – we call it coping. But coping is not enough. Taking off our shoes in the airport is coping. We can cope indefinitely. But evil remains.

And I think we have to call this thing what it is – evil. Flying planes into buildings is evil. Bombing nightclubs and mosques is evil. Providing a cash stipend to the families of suicide bombers is evil. Pushing elderly men in wheelchairs into the Mediterranean is evil. Blowing up subway trains is evil. This is what we still face, five years on. I cannot predict where we will be in five years from this day, but I can only assume that we will still face evil. And saying “I don’t want to see that” will remain insufficient.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Football Stories

Football is the most episodic of sports, and therefore it is one of easiest sports to follow. You only have to focus your attention for one game per week for most teams, and most teams play similar schedules year after year. Although not born there, I am a Cheesehead and follow the two most recognizable Cheesehead squads (the Wisconsin Badgers and Green Bay Packers) closely. I also follow, from a distance, the exploits of my alma maters (Xavier High School and Beloit College). It's an odd assortment of teams and one that is not necessarily known for success. But lately things have been pretty good for most of these teams.

The Packers are down now, as Brett Favre slowly fades away. The team was unable to keep the talent level around Favre at a good enough level, and the current Packers look to be the least talented team they've fielded since the dismal 1970s. Those were the formative years of my Packer experience and there was a certain dread that accompanied Sundays in those days: the Packers would show up and someone (usually the Vikings) would mercilessly drub them. And once the game was over, we'd either go out and throw the Nerf football around or (if the weather was bad), we'd flip on the exciting AFC game, which in my memory usually involved Daryle Lamonica throwing bombs to Fred Biletnikoff, often against the Chiefs or Broncos, it would seem. Favre has, for over a decade, made football on Sunday enjoyable for the long-suffering Packer faithful. He even won a Super Bowl back in '96. But that era is ending.

The Badgers were Big 10 roadkill for most of their history. They reached the Rose Bowl a few times prior to the arrival of Barry Alvarez, but the last time was when my father was still an undergraduate. Then Barry arrived, and everything changed. The players would change - Brent Moss would become Ron Dayne would become Anthony Davis would become Brian Calhoun - but the success would continue. Three Rose Bowls in the 1990s, with three victories. Neither Woody Hayes nor Bo Schembechler accomplished that. And all this success in an era where another big bully (Penn State) joined the league. Barry is gone now, too, but the Badgers look well situated for the future.

Beloit College is many things - a fine liberal arts school, an active, lively campus and one of the better "safety" schools around for the kids who don't get into the Ivies. But it has never been a football powerhouse. Ed DeGeorge coached the program for 30 seasons before retiring last season and managed to finish with a record slightly better than .500. Considering the talent level Beloit usually has on hand, this was a remarkable performance. In the 1970s, Beloit would regularly lose games by scores of 87-0. Now, they are at least competitive. They've even won shares of the conference championship in recent years. And they've figured out a way to get at least one win each year, guaranteed - they've made Macalester their primary non-conference opponent.

Then there's XHS. When the school was founded in the late 1950s, they had immediate success in all sports, including football. One key was that the Hawks fielded a fleet, powerful running back named Bob Bleier, who later gained fame at Notre Dame and with the Pittsburgh Steelers under the name of Rocky Bleier. Bleier was an authentic American hero, who served time and was severly injured in Vietnam, but was able to overcome his injuries and become a key contributor to four Super Bowl championships. But the reflected glory Bleier brought back to XHS was long gone by the time my classmates entered the school. Xavier was highly consistent the four years I was there - 2-7 each season, generally crushed by the same schools each season and with occasional victories over some other conference weak sister. It's been astonishing to see that these days, Xavier is again a powerhouse. The Hawks no longer play only Catholic schools and instead compete against smaller high schools from neighboring towns. In the past few years, Xavier has won conference championships and made it to the state semi-finals in 2004. Amazing.

All fans have their stories to tell. I'll tell a few more over the coming months.

Avoiding politics

Now that Labor Day has passed and the election is approaching, I’m sensing that more people (that is, more normal people) are finally starting to pay attention to politics. Let’s face it, political junkies aren’t normal. I would include myself in the abnormal demographic; I probably spend too much time discussing politics on this blog and I probably should turn my attention to other matters more often.

It’s getting difficult, though, because politics has a tendency to insinuate itself into other realms. You have a hard time getting through an interview with any Hollywood airhead without getting some sort of political harangue. Whether it’s Susan Sarandon or the Dixie Chicks, Sean Penn or Penn Jillette, they all seem to have some opinion on offer, and, to be honest, I’ve yet to hear an original thought from any of them, although Jillette’s f-you brand of libertarianism has some novelty value.

I’m also a big sports fan. For as long as I can remember, various politicians have attempted to corral sports heroes into varying political camps. One of the more fascinating passages in “When Pride Still Mattered,” David Maraniss’s excellent 1999 biography of Vince Lombardi, concerns the efforts of David Carley, a Madison-area businessman with strong ties to the Wisconsin Democratic Party, to enlist Lombardi into the Wisconsin political scene. Lombardi possessed a strong Jesuit sensibility that made him receptive to the Democrat message, but ultimately he could not stomach the anti-war crazies who were then transforming the party. And Marie was a Republican.

Still, I find that many people are quite capable of ignoring the politicians and thinking about the issues that underlie most of our debates. There are so many things to do in a given day that most people are able to find ways to avoid these sorts of discussions. I find I think about politics more and more, even though I have less faith than ever that my individual voice will make a lot of difference in how things develop.

So we talk about politics around here. That’s not gonna stop. But I am going to make a conscious effort to write about other things that interest me as well. I hope that the other topics interest you, too. If not, I always recommend a stop at

Thursday, September 07, 2006

American Idols

What a bizarre sight it was yesterday: thousands of people lined up around the perimeter of Target Center, waiting to audition for American Idol. Wondering if any of them have the wit to sing Sly and Family Stone's "Everbody Is a Star" for their audition? It's amazing how much impact this show has on the nation's consciousness. Ted Mack and Major Bowes never had it so good....

Broder takes Sid and Joe to the woodshed

Speaking of spinning, go read David Broder's column in today's Washington Post. Click here:

Two of the most partisan journalists around, Sidney Blumenthal and Joe Conason, get a real spanking from Broder, who is no friend of Karl Rove or anyone else in the Bush administration.
Highly recommended.


It almost feels unsporting to bring this up, but here goes. Is it not a little bit absurd for former Clinton Administration officials to complain about the upcoming ABC mini-series, "The Path to 911"? This group, perhaps the all-time experts at dissembling, are going absolutely ballistic about this show, because the movie portrays weakness from various officials in going after terrorism back in the 1990s.

That's the problem, kids - when your legacy is built on spin, you have to keep spinning. And you can never stop.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Item: Mahmoud Ahmedinejad challenges George W. Bush to a debate
Why would you do that? The premise underlying any debate is that there are two points of view being expressed, and generally the assumption is that there is a certain amount of validity behind each. Why would we even want to give Ahmedinejad even a semblance of standing? Does his rule over Iran truly represent the will of the Iranian people? We cannnot know this, because a free and fair election is not possible in Iran.

Further, do we assume there is any validity to some of the views that Ahmedinejad has previously brought forward? Is anti-Semitism an intellectually valid viewpoint? Is the destruction of Israel even worth discussing?

Item: Ayatollah Khatami to visit U.S., speak at Harvard
There's an old saying - if you are too open minded, your brains spill out onto the sidewalk. Perhaps that is the explanation for bringing Ayatollah Khatami, part of the gang of mullahs that are the powers behind Ahmedinejad and his regime, to speak at Harvard. This sort of thing is part of a long-standing tradition at Harvard, of course - who could forget when the school brought Hermann Goering to campus to speak in 1937? Or Pol Pot's famous stroll through the Cambridge greenery in 1977? Wait, you say, those events didn't happen? Yep, of course they didn't. But we're so beyond all those provincial notions now.

Item: Katie Couric begins tenure as new anchor of CBS Evening News
Oh, did that happen yesterday? Funny that I didn't hear anything about it.

Item: Prosecutor Fitzgerald knew Armitage was leaker in Plame case
So what the hell has his three year investigation been about, then?

Item: Star Tribune endorses Mike Erlandson for MN-5 seat
The Strib can't abide parking scofflaws, so Keith (X) (Hakim) Ellison can't go. Actually, he might want to consider a career as a UN diplomat. We're not going to talk about Farrakhan here, no we aren't. Our little secret.

Item: Democrats living and dead all call for Rumsfeld to resign
We're all for free speech, just not for the SecDef. He can shut up, they explained.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

How dare you compare us to Neville Chamberlain/That is an umbrella in my hand and I am happy to see you

Ooh, did Rummy ruffle a few feathers last week. Apparently, it's just not nice to mention the similarities between the Democratic Party's apparent stance on the international scene and the stance of Neville Chamberlain, history's most infamous negotiator/appeaser. I've counted at least twenty calls for Donald Rumsfeld to resign this week, and that's just in the letters to the editor section of the Star Tribune. "I was appalled...." "I am outraged...." "Who in the hell does Donald Rumsfeld think he is...." "We're not appeasing fascists! Rummy is a fascist!" & etc.

Apparently the thought was that the Republicans were just going to acknowledge the Democrats' talking points and not defend their actions. This is the old "shut up, he explained" school of argumentation, whereby anything I say is fair and any criticism of me is out of bounds. Nice work if you can get it, but you can't get it for long. So now it's on. Good thing, too.

Back to School

We put the kids on the school bus again this morning. Summer vacation is finally over and they are back at Valentine Hills Elementary School for another year. We're happy they're back, but we're still a little skeptical about their school, based on some of the things that happened last year.

My son Ben is a fifth grader and this will be his last year in elementary school. He is nearly eleven now and he is, like many kids his age, really at an odd place in his life. He is a highly intelligent boy with an amazingly good mind for facts and figures. He has a lot of interesting things to say and is capable of some excellent insights. But he is still a kid in a lot of respects; he still is capable of prodigious whining if he doesn't get his way and he sometimes struggles with what one might call the social graces. This will be an interesting year for him, because he still doesn't know that many kids in his class; he went to a different school for the first four years of his education and entered VHES as a 4th grader. He is trying hard to find his place in this environment and in some respects his transition to middle school may be beneficial, since he'll be reunited with his buds from his old school.

Maria is now a first grader and she's coming along well. She read prodigiously over the summer and is now at the point where she pretty much knows how to read, which remains an important part of the 1st grade curricula. She continues to improve in her artistic ability and she remains almost too prolific; if you'd like some artwork, she'll be happy to create it for you, pretty much on the spot. She will likely do better at VHES than her brother, because she came in to the school at the same time as her classmates and has already made some good friends through her early Girl Scout experiences. Context and timing matter a lot to children; it's easy for us to forget that.

Friday, September 01, 2006

September pennant race time

The calendar has turned another page and the Twins are still very much alive in the pennant race. Rather a lot changed in August and so let's look at where the race stands.

  • The Tigers hardly look invincible any more. While they remain ahead of the Twins and the White Sox today, they have been wheezing of late and unless their pitching returns to early season form, they will be in trouble. Both Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander are looking mortal now.
  • The White Sox are still tough, but they have vulnerabilities as well. Everything went right last year for the Whities and their pitching was outstanding down the stretch. Arguably they should be a better team this year, especially with Jim Thome in the lineup, but they have scuffled as well lately. While Thome has been a big help, and Jermaine Dye is having an outstanding, MVP-type season, none of the front-line starters for the Whities have been performing as well as they did last year. It just seems like Ozzie Guillen has less buttons to push this year. I also think they miss Aaron Rowand more than they'll let on.
  • The Twins made a sensible move yesterday, picking up Phil Nevin from the Cubs for a box of rubber bands. Nevin is on the downside of his career, but he has more power than Rondell White and could provide 3-5 home runs in the next month if he sees regular action. The Twins have a larger problem, of course, which is that they are running out of starting pitchers. Francisco Liriano is still out and it's not clear that he'll be back. Brad Radke has been battling all season long and has done a great job with a ruined shoulder, but it's going to be difficult to depend on him going forward. That leaves Carlos Silva, who has become "enigmatic," i.e., unreliable, this year, and a trio of youngsters (Boof Bonser, Matt Garza and Scott Baker), who are all lacking in experience and consistency. The Twins may get a weather break this weekend since the remains of tropical storm Ernesto will be soaking the Eastern Seaboard, which could mean that one or more games against the Yankees may be washed away. That would benefit the Twins, because it would hasten the next opportunity for the one starter they can rely on, Johan Santana. Some combination of Silva, Bonser, Baker, Radke or Liriano must support Johan, because the Twins bullpen will not hold up if it has to pitch 6 innings every day for the next month.
  • The Yankees are looking formidable, but they may have more pitching problems than the Twins. As bad as the Twins starters look, the probables for the weekend series for the Yankees include a TBA on Sunday, so there's hope. It's starting to look like you can stick a fork in the Red Sox.
  • In the West, it looks like the A's are on the march again. The A's are the West Coast version of the Twins - lotsa role players, excellent management, but the nagging feeling that they don't have enough bullets.

All told, the American League has a number of good, but flawed, teams. Meanwhile, most of the National League teams are weak at best. The next month should be fun to watch, if a bit maddening.